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Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

On Sunday, we played host to the choir from the local Jesuit boys’ high school.  This was fun, because they are a good choir, and it really amuses me to hear people from outside the Anglican tradition sing Anglican choral music.  (It’s  like hearing British actors turn their American accents on and off.  “Ha!  Yes, we do love to pronounce the letter ‘r’!”  “Yes!  We do enjoy 4-part harmonies modelled on the peregrinus tone!  Aren’t you clever for trying!”)

I mention this, because I got the impression, from feedback on my sermon, that the congregation felt the rector and I had concocted some brilliant, crafty plan, to have me preach, and preach specifically on the Blessed Virgin Mary, the better to convince the unsuspecting choir kids that the Episcopal Church was awesome.  Lots of pats on the back, and “I’m so glad they got to hear that from you!”-type responses.

While I find this touching (also hilarious.) , I also think this is  giving us way too much credit.  My aspirations do not extend to converting an entire choir in one fell swoop, and in any case, only about 3 of the kids were willing to receive communion, so clearly, my “secret plan to enlarge the church” needs much work.

But in any case, here’s what I said.

And now, some kids who hadn’t ever heard a woman preach before, have heard one.  So I’ll take that.


December 14/15, 2013

Advent 3, Year A

Canticle 15/ Magnificat


In the cathedral in Santa Fe, there are two statutes of Mary.  One statue is called La Conquistadora in Spanish,  titled “Our Lady of Peace” in English, which is NOT what that Spanish means.  It’s the statue brought by the Spanish Jesuit monks who came to convert the natives.  Depicted in this statue, Mary is tiny, about 2 feet tall, paler than me, she’s dressed in gorgeous robes, and a real golden crown, ruler of all she surveys.

That statute was brought over by the Jesuits when they came to the New World, and they believed the Blessed Virgin Mary lent her protection to their mission to colonize the natives, and when the local Pueblo Indians rose up in revolt, they believed that it was this version of Mary that allowed them to return, and re-conquer the territory.

The statute is definitely what you might call the traditional school of Mary-stuff.  She’s really calm.  She stands there
 and looks slightly downward, eyes downcast meekly.  She’s wearing white. And she looks childlike, other-worldly, removed from time and space and context.


But then, there’s the other statue, on the other side of the cathedral–Our Lady of Guadalupe stands over the other altar.  She looks nothing like the first statue, the earlier one. This Mary looks like an Aztec teenage girl.  She looks fiesty–she’s staring you in the face, making direct eye contact, she’s painted in bright colors, and she’s got her foot defiantly on a snake.  Sun and moon beams coming out from behind her head,  No gold jewelry anywhere near this lady.  She’s wearing the clothing of a peasant, of a native woman, from the time the Spanish first had contact in what is no Mexico.  Very different depictions, both of–apparently! the same person.


And granted, I’m reading some things into these statues, but I’d argue that they play into some definite traditions around the Virgin Mary.   Because think of how Mary is usually described, how Mary is usually depicted in our Western world– think of Christmas cards, Christmas carols, for starters. Mary, as we usually see her depicted, is all white and blue and meek and mild.  As she generally is, in our Western Christian American world.  That seems to be the prevailing pop-culture take on the Virgin Mary. She was meek!  She was quiet!  She did not make a fuss!  She’s all white and blue and more than likely blonde!! (Which was definitely it’s own little miracle for a Palestinian Jewish girl, but hey.)


And on its own, there’s nothing wrong with any of that.  I’m an introvert myself, and on one notable occasion, the Commission on Ministry described me as ‘meek’.  (It was a mistake, and they took it back.)


So there is nothing wrong with any of that!  Those things are good, they are fine attributes–if you actually have them, if you come by them naturally.


But we get into trouble when that’s all that Mary is–when we restrict her to that one, white and gold La Conquistadora statue.  Because Mary is so important, because she gets an important role in the gospel narrative, she’s practically the first person we meet, because she gets touted as the ideal faithful person, when all Mary is is that quiet, meek, pale-ish girl in the corner who doesn’t say much, then that can become a problem. Because that does some weird things to faith.


Because that is a pretty narrow category to fit into.  Those are some pretty rigid expectations.  And while we need people like that around, holding all people of faith up to that single way of being,  especially up to that single way of being faithful, ends up excluding a lot of people.  Because it turns out, not all people are good at sitting still and benig quiet.  And what, pray tell, are they all supposed to do?  All those of us who have never been quite so good at sitting still, or quietly assenting to things.


It matters how we depict things.  It matters how we depict people we hold important in our faith, especially very important figures like Mary and Jesus, because in depicting them, we’re implicitly saying what we think our faith ought to look like.  We look up to Mary because Mary had faith, Mary had faith that she demonstrated when she agreed with this outlandish story Gabriel was telling her.  So it matters how we depict that faith.  It matters how we depict people–and it matters if badly informed news anchors decide that Jesus is white, JUST WHITE, all of a sudden.  That matters, and that is a problem, because it affects what faith looks like.


It matters, and IT IS A PROBLEM, if the only depictions out there, or if the dominant depictions out there are of Mary all meek and mild and passive.

So hooray, then, the Song of Mary, which we read today, comes as a great relief.  Because here is Mary saying quite a lot of things actually, all at once, and not sounding the least bit meek or mild.

In fact, most of the Magnificat comes out like fighting words.  He has scattered the proud in their conceit.  He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, the rich he has sent empty, away.

That’s pretty brave talk.  And that’s AFTER this unwed pregnant teenage girl declares herself to be the most blessed among all generations.  (This is some Beyoncé level swagger, y’all.)


This isn’t meek or mild talk, this isn’t the talk of someone who’s primary role in life is to be passive and to obey when told.  This song of Mary is the talk of a prophet.  And in fact, when Mary has her conversation with Gabriel, she doesn’t just say Yes, whatever you say.  What she says is Here I am–the same thing that every prophet in the Jewish tradition says when God calls them. That’s a very specific word in Hebrew, and it’s what Isaiah and Amos and every other prophet says when God calls them to prophesy, and it’s what Mary says to Gabriel:  Here I am, the handmaid of the Lord.  Mary’s accepting her call.


Mary’s got backbone.  This Mary, the one we meet in the Magnificat, and the one we meet arguing with her Son to conjure up some more wine at a wedding, and the one who knows what’s going on when no one else does–this Mary is her own person, she has strength, and she has courage.

She doesn’t just get moved around on the chessboard of God’s larger plan.


And that’s important.  Because for an icon of faith, to have real faith that makes a difference, you have to have strength.  Faith takes courage.  Faith doesn’t go anywhere, faith doesn’t get off the ground without courage.


Think of those proclamations in the song of Mary–the hungry fed, the rich sent away empty, the proud scattered, the lowly lifted up.  To believe in a world like that, to believe a world like that is possible, while standing in the middle of this world, takes courage.  It takes courage to believe that the world could be different.  It takes real strength to see how the world is unjust and to believe that God is working out a better way.

Otherwise, you’d just give up, throw in the towel, and move to a beach somewhere.


But Mary’s kind of faith, this brave kind of in-your-face-faith, proclaims that even though the world is broken, and unjust now, God is working out a better way, even as we speak.  And God is calling the most unexpected people to work with him, God is lining up volunteers right now.


And so, to take on that call, to join in the work of God, to join in the remaking of the world into that just, good place that God wants it to be, requires bravery.  Requires a brave faith, because faith asks us to step out into the world as it is, and do something to make the world into what it should be. Faith requires us to be like Mary and do our part to help incarnate Christ in the world.


And so that’s what we’re called to do.  To be brave.  To be fearless.  To proclaim boldly that God has blessed us mightily and has lifted up the lowly and cast down the haughty and has fed the hungry and sent away the rich.  To be brave enough to go out into the world and give God our hands and our feet, our bodies and our flesh for his use.


That’s the faith we need.  And thankfully, that’s the example we have.





Lepers, then and now

Two thoughts.
1. Pope Francis is around, being awesome again this week, ministering to a man afflicted with a skin ailment.  So while leprosy, and the knee-jerk reaction it once elicted, might seem like a historical memory, while it might seem like we’ve all moved past that–there’s ample evidence to the contrary, as we all are amazed again by the pope actually doing what we’re all called to do.

2. I don’t tell this story in the sermon much, because of Rule #3.  Also, it feels odd to condense the whole life and witness of a person to a few lines in one of my sermons.  So here’s hoping I did them justice, at least a little bit.




October 12-13, 2013


Proper 23, Ordinary Time, Year C


Luke 17:11-19




When I was a small child, my family had two friends: Mark and Arliss.  To my child-centered mind, I thought Mark and Arliss were terrific, mainly because they played Barbies with me when I asked nicely, and listened to interesting music, and visited our local pool on occasion to go swimming. They were great.


They were so great, that I found everyone else’s behavior very strange, bordering on inexplicable. I didn’t understand when my mother had to remind me to lie and, if I was asked, tell the neighbors that Mark and Arliss were relatives–or the neighbors wouldn’t let them come back to the local pool.  And when Arliss was in the hospital, nurses refused to treat him, and everyone else on staff wore multiple layers of gloves, layer on layer on layer, and got out of his room as fast as they could. Because Mark and Arliss had AIDS, and this was the late 1980s, and this was Southern Virginia.


Except for a handful of people, they were isolated, totally isolated.  Society viewed them with suspicion at best–and that is an awful way to live a life.




It’s draining, it’s dehumanizing, when every interaction with the world is shaded with the world’s distrust and fear.  And I watched the toll it took on my friends.  The modern day leprosy, the news pundits called it, at the time.




Leprosy! Practically the standard by which all shunned people are measured!  And here in the gospel today, we have ten lepers. Because Jesus is travelling from Galilee to Jerusalem, and passing through the wilderness, he runs into what amounts to a leper camp.


And now, two things become important here:


one: anyone diagnosed with leprosy would have been shunned:  kicked out and shunned immediately by everyone, either until they died, or until they were cured.  No one would have come near them, or touched them, or given them food or work.




And two: a cure wasn’t a crazy thought, because what we translate in the Bible as leprosy was any spot or rash appearing where it ought not to appear..  So this included anything from an allergic reaction to bed bugs, to the thing everyone was terrified of: actual leprosy–that would kill you and spread rapidly from person to person.


But it also included things like mold, or mildew.  There’s a really entertaining section of Leviticus that details how to cure your house and books of leprosy.




Anyway, Jesus encounters ten people with skin problems living cast out of society because of their affliction and he’s travelling, and they cry out for help.  “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”


Even as they ask him for help, they don’t approach.  There were strict rules about how people classified as lepers were to behave, because there was so much fear of the disease and its spread.  You had to stay so far away from the uninfected.  You had to warn people who were approaching, in case they didn’t notice you, and they bumped into you accidentally.


All in all, it was an incredibly dehumanizing and lonely experience to be treated as a leper, because the society was so terrified of even the possibility of this disease.




And so it’s not hard to imagine that the lepers, or those so diagnosed by society, were used to that, to some extent. After months, years of being avoided by everyone they knew, they might have grown used to it, or thought that since that was the way society operated, that was the way it always was, and always would be.




Being oppressed, being cast out like that, does something to a person.  It wears on your spirit–when the voice of society questions your worth, your value at every turn.




All of which is to say–when the one ex-leper returns and approaches Jesus–that’s a surprising moment.  Not only is he a Samaritan, so he’s crossing some religious lines here, but he’s going against everything society had been telling him he was meant to do.  Don’t talk to people, don’t go near them, certainly don’t touch them.  He does that in one moment of gratitude.


And Jesus marvels.  And notice that in Jesus’ comment about gratitude, and where the other healed lepers are, he doesn’t take back the miracle.  God’s healing grace, it turns out, doesn’t depend on our being grateful enough for it, or praying hard enough, or some imaginary yardstick. God is gracious because God is gracious.


Jesus marvels, and Jesus comments on the man’s faith.  Your faith has made you well.




Because, Somehow, through the grace and power of God, this man has held on to his belief in his essential humanity.  He held on to a faith in the idea that no matter what the voices around him said, God loved him, and God created him in God’s image and nothing could destroy that– no isolation or fear or disease.  So when Jesus restored him to health and to community, he didn’t run away.  In faith, in a way, he had been there all along.




For all of us, there are constant voices telling us that we aren’t what we are supposed to be.  Advertisers who would like to sell us something. Politicians who would like us to vote for something.  In our society, we are constantly being told that we aren’t quite what we should be: we should all be richer, thinner, paler, (or tanner, as the case may be), younger or older, depending, we should be healthier. We should have more stuff. We should care about different things than we do.  And we should all certainly be cooler than we are.  And then, we will be perfect–ever more perfect each year.


It’s a constant Greek chorus of doom, that warns that the consequence of not being so perfect means that we will end up alone.




So this preys on what we know, what we were told at our baptism, and what we reiterate  each week here: we are made in the image and likeness of God.  We are loved by God, and nothing changes that.  No sickness, no fear, nothing the world derides as imperfect separates us from the love of God, or his image in us.




It is that faith that carries us through and empowers us to recognize the image of God in other people.  It is a faith that opens us up to see the grace of God bringing healing to our lives and our community.  And it is this faith in the image of a God in us that lets us act as agents of that grace in the world.




Because the world has enough voices counting the ways we aren’t good enough. It really doesn’t need any more.  What the world needs are people who believe in the love of God for each person.  The unshakeable, un breakable love of God imprinted on each human heart that will not quit, no matter what.


And when we rely on our faith in that, when we carry our faith in a God of that kind of love, out into the world, that is the sort of faith that brings miracles.






On Preaching, Part 3

Oh hey, and we’re done!  If you’ve been cowering somewhere in a corner, waiting for this meta- preaching blog series to end, hooray!  Almost there!

Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.

5. It’s alive.

There is an ongoing debate over whether manuscripts are evil, or whether the pulpit confines the Spirit, and roaming down on the floor is the only way to go.  Those are primarily cosmetic, I think.

The important thing to bear in mind is that any good sermon happens as a chemistry experiment between you, the Spirit, the moment and place in time where you are preaching, and the people who hear it.  Remove or change one of those elements, and it won’t work.

So you have to go into sermon-prep paying attention to ALL those elements.  Not just the ones that seem obvious.

You can’t get so caught up in the intricacies of the text that you forget that the people you’re talking to have to pay bills and go to school and work the next morning.  And you can’t get so involved in the grind of daily life that you forget to listen to the text, and the whisper of God.

Your job, as preacher, is to let the elements interact.  How does the text speak to people with jobs, to people who have retired?  To people whose spouse has just died, or whose parent has just died?  To people who have just had a baby or gotten married?  To people who have just started at a new school and don’t know anyone, or whose biggest problem is learning fractions?

And how does the text speak to the whole gathered community, in this moment in time?  How does this text sound different today, than it did three years ago?

At every point, while reading, while thinking, while writing, and while speaking, you need to leave room for the Spirit.  On a practical level, this means that, regardless of whether you use a full manuscript, notes, outline or memorize it, you need to know your sermon well enough that you can be watching your congregation at least 80% of the time.  It’s in this watching that the chemistry happens–you’ll know when you need to add something, change something, get louder or softer, in order to keep your audience with you.  And it frees you up if you realize halfway through that you need to go in a slightly different direction than you’d planned.

In this way, good preaching is like good liturgy (perhaps good anything)—you should prepare so much in advance that everyone watching assumes that you aren’t trying at all.

6. All you need is love.

I really love preaching.  For one thing, I don’t mind public speaking. Not everyone shares this affinity, which I understand.  (A priest I knew once told me he still took blood pressure medication before he preached, to help with nerves.  He’s a bishop now.)

But more importantly, preaching is an opportunity to talk about something that matters with people you care about each week.  That comes from love.

You need to love the people you preach to, or at least, be able to access God’s love for them (if you don’t know them).  And you need to love the message you’re telling them, or at least what it will do for your common life.

You can’t give a good sermon out of anger*, or disinterest, or annoyance, or disappointment, or anything else, really. Good sermons come out of being fired up with excitement about how much you like these people, and how much you want to tell them this ONE GREAT THING you’ve discovered.  As a preacher, you’re like a kid who worked all day on a finger painting, and all you want to do is show your mom when she comes to pick you up.

That level of excitement.

And that comes only from love.

And once you find that, you’ll be an unstoppable, utterly awesome, preacher.

*I should clarify that: anger, in general, isn’t bad.  Anger at injustice has led to some incredible sermons.  But it’s always rooted back in profound love for the people you’re serving.  Not at them.  There’s a big difference.

Once More, With Fire

So I’ve slacked off with the sermon posting of late.

This isn’t because I haven’t been preaching; it’s because I’ve been busy writing about other things, finding a house for Canterbury.etc.  Also, I am unwilling to inflict ALL SERMONS!ALL THE TIME! on you, because even to me, who loves sermons!  That seems like a lot.

But last Sunday was Pentecost, which found me at St. Luke’s, in Prescott.  Like last year, when I was spending Pentecost on the edge of the Wallow fire, this year Prescott was on the edge of the Gladiator fire which burned up the community of Crown King.  (That whole ‘fire and wind’ metaphor is sort of agonizing in Northern Arizona, let me tell you.)

Here’s what I said:

Pentecost, Year B

Acts 2


I have a thought exercise for you:  right now, as you’re sitting there, think of all the words we use to describe the Holy Spirit.  All the different metaphors you can think of that you’ve heard of for the Spirit.

Go on, I’ll give you a minute.

For some of you long-time Episcopalians, this might be a trick, since we’re not what you might call a charismatic denomination.  But we do talk about the Spirit a fair amount, even so,  even if we don’t dance in the aisles, or speak in unheard of languages, or  manage to clap in time.

So what you come up with?  Show of hands.  How many got wind?  Which we definitely know something about in this part of the world. How many got fire?  How about dove?

The Holy Spirit is that one aspect of the Trinity that we seem to love giving different names to.  Even starting in Scripture– no one can seem to refrain from going off in lots of different directions when describing this thing.  There’s the spirit that descends like a dove at Jesus’s baptism.  There’s the spirit that moves like a breath over the waters at creation.

And in the gospel, that word that Jesus uses about the Spirit , “the Paraclete” in Greek is all sorts of complicated.    Sometimes translated the Advocate, sometimes translated Comforter, it has legal connotations– like a lawyer in a court who comes to your defense, and argues for you.  In a good way, not a slimy, ambulance chaser sue you into next week sort of way.

All of these images, all of these pictures we have of the Spirit’s moving in the world– what are we to make of them?  This Pentecost, we remember the Holy spirit coming into disciples and forming them into the church, how do we follow in their footsteps and seek this elusive Spirit?

Frequently it seems that when we talk of the Spirit in church, we talk about the dove.  Or that gentle breeze that comes on lazy summer days.  We talk in terms of the Comforter.  Calm,  Happy,  Peaceful, steady things.  That old revival hymn– (sung) there’s a sweet sweet spirit in this place/ and I know that it’s the spirit of the Lord.

Good old hymn, nice picture…but is it a complete picture of the Holy Spirit?

Sure, the Holy Spirit is a dove, in the gospels,  descending on Jesus at his baptism, but as that dove descends, the sky is torn apart.  And a voice declares Jesus’ identity in a big scary booming voice, and his ministry begins.

And in John’s gospel today, when Jesus speaks of that mysterious Paraclete— he says that he will come and not leave us comfortless– that’s the part that the lectionary skips!  And testify on our behalf, which also sounds good.

But then there’s this part about how Jesus has still much to say, but cannot say it, because the disciples cannot bear it now.  So the Spirit will come and lead them and us into it, bit by bit,  this new and ongoing revelation of truth.  That sounds less warm and cozy by the second.

The spirit, when we see it in the Scriptures, isn’t just cozy, and it isn’t just safe. It doesn’t protect us from change and distress, and things that might annoy us–   It comforts, in the truest sense of the word.

It gives strength.  It fortifies.  The spirit empowers for ministry.

And that’s not always a calm, or peaceful or particularly orderly experience.  The Spirit in Acts comes like a blowing gust of wind, descending like tongues of fire.  The disciples all of a sudden seemed like drunk people, all talking funny, in languages they didn’t understand themselves. One minute, quietly in a room together, the next, spouting off in Mesopotamian.

On the one hand, speaking a lot of different languages is a neat superpower to develop.  On the other hand, it invited accusations of being drunk at 9am in the morning, and missionary activity to the ends of the earth.  Because now, all the earth, all of those people were included in the embrace of the baby church.  The fall of the Tower of Babel gets undone in the blowing wind of the Spirit.  The disciples get a power, and they get it for a purpose.  They get comforted, and sent, by the Spirit.

There are times we get lulled into wanting the Spirit just for the peaceful part.   We want that pretty white dove, and not the wind and the fire that comes with it.  Living in Northern Arizona, this is entirely understandable on a literal level, but that’s not how the Spirit operates.

The Spirit doesn’t lull us into passivity. It doesn’t take away all our problems–it helps us through them.  It moves us to service.  It stirs us, even when we are tired, and sure that we’ve done all we can do.  It shows us a new path forward, when we’re sure that we’re caught in between the hardest rock, and the toughest hard place you can imagine.


It is our breath, as the body of Christ.  When we were dead and raised again in baptism, we were sealed with the Spirit, we were empowered and called to serve the world in Christ’s name.  Like those dried bones in Ezekiel (which we heard about/was also one of the readings today) we are pulled together by God, and enlivened by the Spirit’s breath.

So yes, at times, the Spirit may be unsettling, and yes, it may be startling. The spirit may, at times, take us by surprise, and point us into places, and challenges that look crazy at first glance.  But that’s part of the journey, part of this relationship with a triune God that gives us not just “solace, but strength, not just pardon, but renewal.”


And if we want to be faithful to that early, frightened, exuberant church so many years ago, then we have to be ready of all of it.




Look, in the sky!

Friday afternoon, as I was trying to avoid writing my sermon by messing around on Twitter, I got a call from St. Andrew’s in Sedona.  The priest was stricken by the dastardly flu, and could I jump in for Sunday?

While I felt really bad for their rector, I love this church.  They are wonderfully friendly, have very good coffee, laugh at my jokes, and, most vitally, sponsor the Annual Rummage Sale.  This is a yearly garage sale for the church, and they invite Canterbury to come help pack things up when it ends…and take whatever they want, for free, from the leftovers.  (The tales of the findings at this sale have spread far and wide among the hipsters in Flagstaff.  Checkered blazers!  Suspenders!  Record players!  Such irony as has never before been seen.)  The students look forward to this sale ALL YEAR LONG.

So I was pumped to drive down the hill and jump in for 2 services.

I had to keep reassuring people that the fact I seemed to know what I was doing was not a product of divine intervention, but because the liturgy was written down!  (And I had done this before.)

Here’s what I said.


February 24, 2012

Lent 1, Year B

Mark 1: 9-15


When I was a college student, I decided to spend the summer I turned 21 living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  I had received a fellowship to ‘discern‘ my life’s work, and I wanted to go; I had never been before.  My experience of being outside the country was limited to 2 weeks in France with my grandmother, and a weekend in London.  So, I found a place to stay, I found a volunteer job, I found people to help me.  My parents weren’t thrilled, but they weren’t stopping me either.

Right before I left, a friend from college asked me if I was afraid.  I can’t recall what she said, but I think it was something along the lines of “People blow up over there; aren’t you scared?”

I thought about it.  I wasn’t scared for my physical safety.  I didn’t have a clear concept of that.  I was twenty!  I was magic!

I was afraid of something else.  I was afraid that I wouldn’t come back the same person as I was leaving.  Of losing the last of my comfortable notions about the world as a good, safe place, with cooler, wiser heads (which weren’t mine) prevailing in the end.  And I didn’t want that.  I was fine as I was, thank you very much.  I could see the rough outlines of the wilderness demons staring at me from the distance, and I was not keen on heading there.

But it dawned on me , as I was kicked out of my taxi on the way to St. George’s the morning I arrived, because the driver refused to drive on the Arab side of town–I pondered, as I tugged my giant flowered suitcase down the street, that this was really not up to me at all.  I had agreed to come on this journey, so I agreed to be shaped by the experience, scary or not.  If my “Yes” had been authentic, then it had to be complete–prospect of demons and all.

Because, really, you don’t get faith without freakouts.  Or, rather, you don’t get the pretty heavenly dove without then getting driven into the wilderness.


In Mark’s version of events, we hear again the story of Jesus’ baptism.  But in typical Markan fashion, what is a blissful, pastoral scene in Luke, and John, and Matthew, has elements of the traumatic here.  Jesus is no sooner baptised than the sky is ripped apart— this image which will reappear only at the crucifixion,  the Spirit swoops down on him and a voice booms out.  “this is my Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

and it’s this same descending spirit, we’re told, that immediately drives Jesus out into the wilderness.

One minute a dove, the next minute, a harassing, driving force.  The Spirit is both,  for Jesus in Mark’s gospel.  And his call to minister, to be faithful is not just enlivening, pastoral words of love and comfort– those words in a broken world lead him necessarily into a wilderness of demons and turmoil.


Because for Jesus to live into the truth of what is said to him at his baptism, then he must go to the wilderness. He can’t just dance around it.  If Jesus is going to live fully as God’s Beloved, and proclaim that all creation is beloved as well, then that mission will take him into conflict with the parts of creation that were broken. The parts of the world that don’t operate as if all of creation is good, or if all people are beloved by God.  Jesus will have to confront those forces, in some way, in order to live out his baptism.  He’ll have to go to the wilderness, and even to the cross.  Jesus’s mission encompasses all of it.


And we are not so different ourselves.  When we stand and say what we believe, we walk into wilderness too  When we proclaim our belief in a loving God who made a good creation, we have to confront the fact that there are currently parts of creation that don’t seem so good.  That are broken, and out of step.  When we assert our belief that Jesus came so that all would know the unending love of God, we must confront the fact that right now, there are systems at work which hurt the children of God, and make them feel unloved.


In other words, that pretty looking dove will end up pushing us into some uncomfortable seeming places.  Places where we have to look at things we’d rather not have to see.  Think about things we’d rather not have to think about– all the broken and chaotic mess of the world.  We’d like to stay happily on that riverbank, hanging out with John the Baptist, but eventually, like it or not, the voice of the Spirit pushes us on.


And really, that’s what Lent is for.  Lent is for spending time in that wilderness, that discomfort.  It is for taking time to examine how our world fails to match up with what we believe.  There are ways in which our world is broken.  There are ways in which our world is unjust, and there are ways in which we are broken, too.


Lent is when we stop and examine how well the way we live matches up with what we believe.  We say God loves unconditionally and without limits, and that we’re called to do the same–how are we doing on that score with the folks around us?  We say  we are called to forgive like Jesus forgave– how are we doing?

Our baptismal promises pledge us to respect the dignity of every human being, to see Christ in all people, and to work for justice and peace for all.  Do we live in a world that honors these promises of ours?


We won’t get it perfect.  But we are called into those uncomfortable places of conflict because we have been marked as beloved by God.  Because we, and everyone else, are so valued by God, that God has redeemed this world in the Incarnation, and God is perfecting the whole creation even now, and wants us to help out.  People of faith don’t get to sit back in safe denial on the riverbank. This is our chance to pitch in, in the various ways we’re called to.


When I got back from Palestine, after that summer abroad, I wasn’t noticeably different, not really.  Only a few things were different.

I had some trouble reading Middle Eastern history books for my thesis, because I got too emotional.  I got overwhelmed in the grocery store by all the food, laid out like a kaleidoscope.  I still can’t watch American news coverage of the Middle East. Small things.


But I would not trade that experience for anything.   I had assumed that being faced with the realities of poverty and violence in the world would make me an unhappier person, a colder person.  That didn’t turn out to be true.


Instead, ironically, I like to think I became a more driven, empathetic person.  I came back, determined to do everything I could to help, and then everything after that.  I was 20!  I was magic!

To my shock, the wilderness I had been skeptical of, the truth that I had been wary of, hadn’t erased me.  God was pulling me on, the whole time, and didn’t let me go alone.


So as we begin the journey of Lent, as we look towards our wildernesses, and we examine all the ways in which we are broken, the ways we fall short of who God knows us to be– be not afraid.  There is no brokenness so messy, no demon so wild, no wilderness so deep that the God who called in the first place is not there already.