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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”


What we talk about when we talk about Mary

On Friday, some parishioners asked if we could hold a vigil for the Dormition–a service in honor of the Virgin Mary.  “Sure,” I said.

We have a lot of former Roman Catholics who have migrated on over to Canterbury with us, and for them, honoring the Mother of Christ is a big deal.  I like Mary, though most of the traditional forms of mariology make me want to throw something, so I thought the service could be fun.

At the group’s request, I found a reading from a female theologian on Mary–because any excuse to buy a Dr. Elizabeth Johnson book is a good one.  And I came up with a reflection.



Here’s what I said.

Two days ago, Janelle Monae, from Kansas City!, put out a new single—pretty much a protest chant.  She released it with the other artists on her record label at a #blacklivesmatter march in Philly.

It’s not really a song—there’s a repeated chorus, and then the shouted name of one of the many people killed by police over the past few years:  Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Jonathan Ferrell, Eric Garner, and on and on and on—a litany of names.  In between, the crowd shouts—say his name, say her name.

It’s the protest form of the litany of saints:  that roll call that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches do as you run down the list of saints, asking them to intercede for you.  Like an attendance call in heaven, of sorts—running down the list of the worthy, the holy, the good.

In pretty much every religious tradition, naming has been important—more than important—naming has been holy.  God brings things into being through naming them, as the first act of creation.  To name something is to speak its essence, to control it—and to give it life.  Adam and Eve name the animals.  Jesus names when he heals.  It’s also why there’s that big aura around the name of God.

And so, because naming has this power, this effect—it is vital that we pay attention to who is named in our tradition and who gets to name them.  Who gets to say his name.  Who gets to say her name.

And when we do that, we discover that there’s a bit of an inconsistency.  Men are named—men get lots of names.  Fathers, sons, uncles, family names.  Lots of names.  Women get …fewer.

Because we not only meet Mary Magdalene with Jesus, we also meet Joanna and Salome, floating out in space, untethered by named relationship, and for Gentile women, it’s worse– the Syro-Phonecian woman (no name) and the woman at the well (no name, again.)

But that’s not so bad!  At least women are there, right?! So many women in the gospels!  So many! And yet, names themselves are less important than who says them.

In the book I just read from, Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ points out that for most of Christian history, only one group was really doing the naming.  Only one group decided what names got named. And so that affected the stories that got told.

The story of Mary. Mother of God, told this way, becomes a story about submission to authority, about purity, about self-denial, and at times, almost borderline erasure.  In many ways, the traditional telling of Mariology—all blue and white and hyperdulia, erased everything that made her unique.  Everything that made her human, so that she could be an even better story.  So that she could be a name that all women aspired to, and a name that reminded all women just how sinful we were.

But—(that never fully worked.) Did you notice?  Because all around the edges of this official, spiffed up story that the Church was telling, were these other stories.  Stories from different people, and not the people in charge.

Stories of Our Lady appearing as an Aztec princess to a Mexican man during the Spanish conquest, appearing as a grieving mother during the Plagues in Europe.  Mary being depicted as every tribe and race under the sun, even in priest’s vestments.   Mary never really seemed to get the memo on her ‘official story’.  Everywhere you look, Mary shows up in various not-exactly sanctioned guises.  One of my favorite iconographers, who’s work I borrowed for this service is Robert Lenz, who depicted Mary as a Latin American woman who lost a child to the death squads in the civil wars.  And as a woman in a Holocaust concentration camp.  And as a homeless woman.  And as a struggling woman in America’s inner cities.  Despite her official story, Mary has managed to reach out to women and the oppressed who find in her a a real person–a kindred spirit through the centuries.

And I don’t think that’s because the official naming of Mary by the church is so compelling.  (In fact, you can argue that the official “be good and quiet and God might love you” does a great deal of harm, but that’s another sermon.)

I think that’s because Mary does something no other woman in the Bible does.  Mary names herself.

When she greets Elizabeth, she sings the Magnificat—my soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior—from this day on, all generations shall call me blessed.  She defines herself.  THAT’s who she is.  A poor, pregnant, unwed teenage girl, in an occupied village, whom the whole world would say was anything but—She defines herself.

That’s her power, I think.  That’s her lesson.  For those of us whom the world would name as unworthy, as less than, as failed and as disposable, Mary reminds us in her witness and in her person, that in the reign of God we are all counted as beloved, all counted as worthy.  She gives us an example of naming ourselves blessed, of telling our own stories, for ourselves, in our own voices, as this is what God prizes, she assures us.  Because this is what the reign of God requires, what it is built on—this reign where the lowly are lifted up, the rich are sent away empty, and the hungry are finally fed.  In order for that to happen, all of our stories need to be told, all of us need to be named in this world.

For this naming is the work of the gospel, this naming is good news for all of us.


So long, and thanks for all the fish

Many of you already know this, but my time as Day School chaplain has come to an end.  The administration felt that a chaplain was no longer something the school required.  I’m sad, but life in  ministry is nothing if not changeable.

Needless to say, this context added an interesting flavor to the end of the school year.  I’ve been running around, trying to clean up everything at the school, so that whatever form the chapel program takes, it won’t have to be rebuilt from scratch.  And I’ve been thinking about what I want to leave the kids with.  I’ve worked with most of these kids every day for two years, and I really do like them.  (Most of them.  Most of the time.)  For some of them, I’m the sole representative of organized religion in their lives, so I thought a lot about what I wanted them to remember from this experience.

This is what I came up with–my sermon at the 8th grade graduation Baccalaureate.

Baccelaureate sermon

May 21, 2015

You know there are stories that didn’t make the bible, right?


In some of those stories, they talk about Jesus as a child–those mystery years of Jesus between ages 2-12, then ages 12-30.  What was he like?  What did he get up to?


The people who wrote the stories had some theories.  One story has Jesus bringing toy birds to life by the river, and scaring his playmates nearly to death.  One story has Jesus getting mad at the neighborhood bully, before turning him into a goat.  Then, Mary comes out, yells at Jesus, tells him that WE DO NOT TURN OUR FRIENDS INTO GOATS, and Jesus turns him back.

Another story has Jesus helpfully aiding Joseph in the woodshop.  Joseph would make a mistake, and cut the wood too short, and Jesus would stretch it back out again through MAGIC.  Eventually, Joseph got so unnerved by this that he sent Jesus to his room.


There’s a good reason these stories didn’t make the New Testament–they’re more than a little ridiculous, and they sound more like superhero stories than they do stories from the Bible.  But they do sort of underline something that comes through again in the Actual Gospel reading for this service–

Jesus must have been an obnoxious kid.


I mean it–he must have been a real pain to be around.  He must have sounded like one of those toddlers that you all were, not too long ago—asking why all the time, and rarely being satisfied.  He was into everything.  He didn’t take direction well.  And while it’s crystal clear that he had an enormous heart and was incredibly loving, I’m sure there were times (like in this story) that Mary and Joseph wondered why he couldn’t be just a little less high maintenance.    There must have been times when the two of them went to bed at night and thought about how they loved him a lot, and he was a really great kid, but man, he was tiring.

Because, all he did was ask questions.  That’s all he does when he goes to the temple with his parents in Jerusalem.  He runs away from them, hides for days on end, so he can stay in the temple asking question upon question upon question, and talking with the scribes and the priests.  So, you’ve got to figure that Jesus was one of those kids who wanted to know ‘why’ all the time and constantly.

(Do you remember being like that? Do you remember a time when all you wanted to do was figure stuff out, figure out the world around you?)

It’d wear anyone out.  Probably wore out the priests in the Temple, too, after 3 days.

But you know what?  All those questions turned out to be important.  All those questions were how Jesus learned.  They were how he figured out what parts of the world needed to be changed, and what parts were fine as they were.  They were how he came to love the people around him, by learning their stories and their weaknesses.  Asking questions, trying to learn, being curious—that was how grew in wisdom and faith.

That process, that asking questions process—that’s what we call an education.  That’s what we’re here tonight to celebrate.  Now, you graduates, you are here because we are marking together this milestone in your education.

And if there’s one thing I hope we’ve taught you it is this: questions are good.  They are, in fact, the goal of all this education, all these years of going to school, of studying books, of taking tests.  Because the best questions are not the ones that yield answers—the best questions are the ones that lead you to deeper and more profound questions.

The goal of education is to learn enough so that you can start asking the deeper, wiser questions, so that your questions can lead you further and further into that mystery we call truth.  The goal is not to teach you everything—to give you all the answers you need, so that you head out into the world knowing more than anyone else.

The goal of education is to illustrate exactly how much you don’t know, and exactly how much there is out there to learn.  Hopefully, over these past years here at St. Paul’s, your teachers have inspired you with curiosity to learn more, to ask more, to find out for yourselves.

Because your education, really, is just beginning. You are just now approaching the starting line of life–we’re waving the checkered flag at you now.

Going forward from this moment, you will be faced with a whole wide world to explore.  A wide world that you can confront in one of two ways—you can either hold on tight to the answers that you’ve been given, keep to the paths, and stare at your feet as you go, or you can let your curiosity lead you into new and winding paths, you can ask more and more, learn more and more, and gaze up at possibilities above your heads that no one ever saw before.

It’s your world out there.  Yours to explore, yours to uncover.  So as you head on out there, recall Jesus heading to the temple.  Remember this enthusiasm, remember this excitement.  And never be afraid to ask your questions.  It’s those questions that will make you wise.




Aside from Massive, Pre-Holy Week Funeral, there was also some preaching.

I preached on Good Friday, at the noon service, which was gorgeous as usual.  Because I encouraged/bribed them last year, the choir now chants the St. John’s Passion, which means that I now start choking up about halfway through Christ’s trial.  It’s awesome.

The three days of the Triduum are always tricky to preach on because I always feel that I should just wave my hands around and point to the liturgy and just end it there.  There’s not that much more to add.

But as the ever-brilliant Amy-Jill Levine has argued, you cannot let this text just sit there. It must be explicated.

So here’s what I said.
April 3, 2015
Good Friday, Year B

I was eight years old when I realized that Jesus died.
Prior to that, I’m not entirely sure what I thought happened exactly from Good Friday through Easter morning. I think that, in my child mind, I just heard the word “crucified” repeated a lot, and I didn’t actually know what that meant. It took our local priest explaining, in fairly graphic detail, how being nailed to a cross would damage you, for me to realize that Jesus actually died.
That wonderful guy Jesus, that I knew all those stories about, who seemed so great, and loving, and wise, someone who was always there, had gone away. And it was really awful—it felt like losing a family member, a close friend.
There’s something about hearing the Passion that hits you each time—each time it is newly painful, newly tragic. Even as adults, even as seasoned Christians used to the brutality of the world, used to the trauma of this story, it doesn’t get softer, because there’s so little to soften it.
The worst in human nature, the worst motivations we see, all running rampant.
The story of the cross is the story of the ultimate in scapegoating.  The fears and anxieties of the whole population are traded on the back of Jesus.
Let’s hold onto our narrow slip of power, say the high priests –publically kill those who stir up the people and threaten what we’ve got. Let’s keep our career alive, says Pilate–avoid the possibility of going against the boss, and keep that crowd happy when I can. Let’s hand over my friend, says Judas, because I can’t go down with this ship and the pay’s pretty good anyway.
We see every craven human impulse played out.
But perhaps the most upsetting part, the most confusing of the whole thing is Jesus. Jesus doesn’t do anything. Jesus is so silent.
All through the gospels, Jesus has been taking action, doing miracles, walking on water, preaching with fire and passion and teaching with gusto, and all of a sudden, he goes so quiet.
It’s not that Jesus seems confused or out of it—in John’s telling, Jesus is clearly always present. When the guards come to arrest him, his speech is so powerful that they fall to the ground, and that’s the Jesus we expect. Jesus knows what’s going on. He just doesn’t stop it. He lets it happen.
It’s the ultimate in kenosis. The ultimate in self-emptying. Every step along the way, Jesus’ response to the humans making the worst decisions all around him is just to let it happen. Let us see the full, unmitigated consequences of our bad behavior, our worst impulses played out on the best.
“Look,” the cross shouts to the skies. “Look at what happens when human hatred, ambition, greed, fear is given free reign. Look who suffers when you cannot remember what you are called to. Look at what happens. Look at the damage done.”
The cross stands, alongside every other tragedy in human history, as a reminder of what we can do when we forget to love God and love each other. It stands as a posed question: “This was Christ’s response—what will be your response?”
We who witness these things, we who stand at the foot of the cross, what is to be our response?  We who claim to be there in spirit when they crucified our Lord, what will be our response, when we see the consequence of human sin?
Will we pick up where Christ left off, will we carry the love of Christ into our world, will we witness to the needs and concerns of the world around us and try to help where we can…
Or will we wag our heads, saying “Oh well, you know. Some things just don’t concern me.”
This is the choice that Good Friday presents to us—this is where the cross draws us. It asks that we, too, stretch forth our hands in love to the whole world. It asks that we, too, reach out in love, showing all people the unbreakable love of God. It asks that we, too, reach out in compassion and love for a hurting world, Because now we can see what can happen when we don’t.
So, we can contemplate our sorrow over the sins of humanity for today. But let us also remember, that come Sunday, God shatters the grip of these bonds, and sets us anew on the path to live his love. May we be ready.

Telling stories: Absalom Jones

Last week was the week of All Preaching, All the Time.  In addition to preaching at the UMC seminary, I also was asked to preach at the diocese’s Annual Absalom Jones celebration.**  Each year, the diocese comes together at the cathedral to remember Absalom Jones, the first African-American ordained in the US (in 1795), now remembered with a feast day on February 13.

It often surprises people, even long-time Episcopalians, to hear that the Episcopal Church has roots and traditions that transcend the WASPy stereotypes.  (And thank God for that.  As fond as I am of the BBC and British culture, if that’s all the church was, we’d be well past an Eddie Izzard monologue by now.)

The diocese I grew up in had more historically Black churches than anywhere else, partly due to the zeal of a priest named James Solomon Russell. Born right before the end of the Civil War, in Southside, Virginia, he planted around 36 churches all over the woods of south-central Virginia.  He also founded St. Paul’s College, in Lawrenceville, Virginia.  (Two different dioceses asked him to come and be bishop suffragan for them, and he refused, citing his desire to keep doing real work.  This man is my hero.)

My point is:  the Episcopal Church has long been diverse–we’ve just been in denial about it.

Part of ending denial?  Telling our stories.

Here’s what I said.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan
February 7, 2015
Feast of Absalom Jones, transferred
Isaiah 61:1-4

“They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations”
It’s been said that Episcopalians are people of the book. We are a people of the Prayer book, surely—we hold it tight like a security blanket, like a child with a favorite stuffed animal. But we also belong to those who find our relationship with God, its ups and downs, its ins and outs, traced in another book—in the Bible. So there’s that, too.

But, I think, fundamentally, our love affair with books can be traced back to stories. We are a people of stories.

Stories that we tell to each other, to our children, to generations past and generations to come—to reassure ourselves, to challenge ourselves, to remind us who we are and where we come from. Stories comprise our identity as human creatures and images of God. After all, God is the one who created by speaking words into the darkness—the first story. So it has been ever since. We gather together the shards of our lives and we cobble together meaning in a story.

And we know this. We each have these stories of who we are, how we came to be, stories that we rely on. I can remember my grandfather, sitting by the fire, telling me tale after tale of our familial ancestors in Scotland—of the man who was so anxious to win a boat race and win some land promised from the English king that he chopped off his own hand. Of the first immigrants to the New World, who kept getting into bar fights, til one of them got sliced in half. Of the the later, more prosperous relatives who ran a flour mill in Spotsylvania County, and protected it from the invading Yankees, burying the silver in the backyard, and their sons, who fought for the Confederacy before ending up in a POW camp at Ft. Monroe.
The patchwork of stories that composed our family identity and told us who we were, what the world was. We were brave to a fault, we were loyal, and we were bad at decision-making.

We don’t only have stories from our families or from history books. We have these stories from our faith too, that we rehearse and we pass on from one generation to the next. Noah’s ark. Abraham and Sarah’s enduring faith. The deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. The establishment of David’s kingdom in Israel. The coming of Christ and his ministry in the world. His crucifixion, death, and resurrection.

We have these stories, these stories we love, and from these stories, we derive our identity, both as individuals and as a people. There was God, we say, God loved the world, God saved God’s people, and God sent Jesus as proof of this love and to seal this salvation and to open to us the way to heaven. That is our story.

Funny thing about these stories, though—some of them work and some of them don’t. Many of them work better for some of us than they do for others of us. In these stories, some of us appear, and some of us don’t. Some of us come off entirely as heroes, some of us come off as two-dimensional villains, and some of us are erased entirely.

Last summer, I took a trip back to Richmond, Virginia, near where my family is from–where that grandfather grew up–, and I walked the newly-constructed, I should say newly-rediscovered, Slave Trail. So named, because it traces the path that slaves took through the city, from the river landing where the slave ships first came into port, to the auction houses, and the hotels where the European tourists came to gawk, to Lumpkin’s Jail, which held recaptured runaways, or Black people who had otherwise stepped out of line. The path through downtown Richmond took me past buildings I had seen all my life, grown up seeing, and at each stop, there was a plaque, describing the sight. Here the Manchester Docks, here the site, where Willie Boxcar Brown sealed himself up for 3 days in a tobacco factory to make it to Pennsylvania and freedom. At each, my grandfather’s stories played in my head—and no where, in his stories, did he talk about these stories I was seeing. No where in his stories did he talk about the generations of enslaved people whose stories were intertwined with ours, whose lives and whose labor enabled my family to survive, to live as we had.
But now, staring me in the face, was the traces, the impact of these other stories which challenged the boundary of my family’s convenient story. It wasn’t large enough. It wasn’t deep enough. It wasn’t complex enough. Our story didn’t work any more.
When Absalom Jones and Richard Allen planted themselves in St. George’s Episcopal Church, Philadelphia that fateful day, they challenged the story—the safe story the Episcopal church had been telling itself up until then. That God loves everyone equally but on the inside, in an intangible, invisible way. They questioned the story. They pushed back. And initially it didn’t go so well—Absalom and Richard and the other Black men and women were asked to leave that day. But Absalom didn’t give up, because he knew that his story was true.

And later, when Absalom Jones went to William White, and asked for ordination so he could serve his community, he was doing it again–he was listening to his own story. He was listening to the story that said that Jesus saves not just in the hereafter, but Jesus came to liberate us now. Here, on this earth, in our lives, today–Jesus came to change the world.

He stood there, and through his life, he gave us not only the gift of his service, but he did something else too—he broke open the church’s story. He made this church begin to ask questions it hadn’t asked, see things it hadn’t seen. He made the church start to reconsider its story.
We have to—we HAVE to—be willing to question our stories. We have to be willing to open, to reexamine the fabric of the stories we’ve been telling. We have to be willing to enlarge them. Because a lot of these stories we tell, a lot of them don’t work–a lot of them are incomplete, because they’re too narrow. They aren’t enough.
Because the plain truth is that there’s never been just one story of the God we’re trying to reflect–no, not really.
Now, as the church, especially as the white church, (I’m going to get truthful here.) we’ve pretended that there has been for millennia, but it’s just not the case, as any one of you who remembers their bible study will tell you. There are two accounts of creation, aren’t there? Right beside each other,hitting you in the face, Genesis 1 and 2. There are two different accounts of the entrance into the Promised Land–one where the Israelites sort of meander in peaceably, and one where Joshua and co. triumph from behind, and murder everything in sight. There are even multiple texual sources telling practically every story, both in the Old Testament, then again in the 4 gospels.
So for all this time, while the white American church was comfortably telling its same story–there was God, God loved us, God came to save us, but in an inward and intangible way and definitely some more than others, and there are times the white church has been explicit about that, and times it hasn’t–Absalom had a different story that he knew. God was working in his life in a different and profound way, and when he planted himself in that seat at St. George, and when he pushed for ordination, he showed the church a new story, a story that proclaims that every human is made in the image of God. That every person under heaven is equal, not just hypothetically, not just after they die, but today, tomorrow, right now and forever, and Christ came to make sure we knew it. So our lives had better start reflecting that.

Point of fact–the church hasn’t always wanted to change its story. It wasn’t thrilled with the prospect then, and it’s not exactly thrilled now. Change isn’t enjoyable, especially to something as fundamental as your self-understanding, and few things like to admit their error less than the Church. Yet, God calls us to something greater than a simplistic adherence to that thing we’ve always thought. God calls us to honor all the stories. To watch for the hand of God at work all around us. And to be ready to admit when we’re wrong, when our story wasn’t big enough, to apologize and do better.

Because it is in the push and pull of difference, the tension of learning new ways of telling old stories, the recognition of God’s Spirit working in a stranger’s face, that we come to a truer understanding of the God who made all unique, made us all loved, and made us all one.


**Full disclosure: we don’t have a lot of Black clergy in WeMo. We have very few. We have two, is my point, and one was, I think, getting dialysis that day, and the other was on vestry retreat.  So the poor committee was left with me preaching.