by whitneyrice

The Red and Blue Bridesmaids

“Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

How many of us have been keeping that commandment of Jesus from our gospel today all too literally this week as we waited for election results?

I’m usually asleep at a deeply unfashionable 10 p.m., but on Tuesday night, actually Wednesday morning, I was up at 1:30 a.m. waiting for returns. I did that even though I knew full well it would be very unlikely for us to have a final result on day one, two, or even three of this election week.

We spent all week knowing neither the day nor the hour of a conclusive election result, and honestly it’s been one more exhausting ordeal in a year full of them.

It was a little 2020-ish in our story from the Gospel of Matthew as Jesus tells it.

This is not a happy group of women waiting in the house for the result.

You might say they were divided.

You might say they were polarized.

You might say they were unable to find common ground.

I feel like maybe half of the room was painted blue and the other half red.

The interesting thing was they all had lamps. But only half of them had oil.

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We Need Mustard Seed Churches Now More Than Ever

Well, first of all, congratulations! You have a new priest! I’m so thrilled for you, and Grace Church will be very much in my prayers as you live into this next chapter of ministry with Father Bill.

We talked last week about what a precious time this season of transition is.

Often congregations want to kind of fast forward through the time between priests.

There’s a complex mix of emotions.

There’s grief from losing your previous rector.

There’s uncertainty over how the Spirit is leading the next steps of the church—are we making the right choices?

There’s anticipation but a bit of anxiety as the days tick down before your new priest arrives and joins your ministry.

Will things work out? Have we made the right call?

And that is a challenging set of emotions in normal times.

Add in the additional set of roadblocks that come with facing a transition during coronavirus, and anyone would want to throw their hands up in frustration.

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The Present Sufferings, The Glory to Come

What a blessing it is to me to be with the people of Grace Church today, a congregation that has been so good to my family.

I feel grateful to be with you at this particular moment in your journey as well.

You are in a season of transition, and so am I. Everything seems unfamiliar and strange.

For me, it’s a new job; for you, it’s looking for a new priest.

These transitions would be difficult enough during normal times, but we are tackling them in the midst of a global pandemic, an economic downturn, and God’s clarion call to grapple with racial injustice.

If you’re feeling a bit at sea, you’re not alone!

So how can we navigate this time of change together?

Where do we turn when it’s so difficult to see the next steps on the path ahead of us?

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Judas The Healer

Today we see Jesus sending out the apostles to spread their wings and try a little ministry on their own.

He “summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.”

That’s pretty important work, and pretty advanced work for a group of people who much of the time seem to not just have trouble understanding Jesus’ instructions, but often behave according to the exact opposite of what he’s trying to teach.

But Jesus, in a spectacular instance of the risk-taking behavior he so often displays, trusts them with significant power and authority.

And what drew my eye as I read it this time was the last name on the list.

“These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.”

Judas.

Jesus sends Judas out with power over unclean spirits and the ability to cure every disease and sickness.

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Raise Your Hand If You’re Honestly Terrible At Anti-Racism

Today is Trinity Sunday. If you’ve been in church circles for awhile, you’re used to hearing a priest get up and fumble around in the pulpit for 15 minutes with no real idea of how to say anything helpful.

It strikes me that this is remarkably similar to how most mainline white clergy feel about racism as well.

We get up in the pulpit and fumble around for 15 minutes with very little idea of how to say anything helpful.

That’s where I am today, so God bless you for sitting here and listening while I ask for a Word to share from the Holy Spirit.

What have the events since George Floyd’s death on May 25th revealed to us?

They have shown us a white church having had very little impact on police brutality and systemic racism.

They have shown us an Episcopal Church that didn’t really get outraged until one of our precious historic buildings was threatened.

And they have shown me how much I was allowing white fragility and white silence to drive my behavior, and I didn’t even know it.

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Questioning Evangelism

Today we grapple with the knowledge that God is both the problem and the solution, the search and the treasure, the hunger and the sustenance that lie at our very core.

It is God for whom we long most deeply, God whom we sometimes find it so difficult to feel and perceive, and it is God who is the endpoint of all our journeys, in this life and the next.

Remember the algebraic equations that made your 5th hour class a living hell all the way through eighth grade?

They all had some incomprehensible string of letters and numbers followed by the dreaded phrase: “Solve for x.”

God is the x hiding in the string of letters and numbers and the x in the final worked out solution.

But we are forever thinking we have reached the solution only to discover it leads to another question. Continue reading

I Am The Gate, But You’re Not Going to Like It

This week I’ve found myself thinking about boundaries and barriers.

You hear a lot of talk in the church about healthy boundaries—they’re so important.

And we have now found ourselves in a position of having to observe endless physical boundaries.

We stay at home, we wear masks when we go out, we observe six feet of social distancing—we have to stay separated not just for our own safety but for the safety of our community and its most vulnerable members.

But as you’ve seen on the news, there are some people who are tired of those restrictions and are demonstrating for the government to suspend them.

A lot of people are experiencing serious financial hardship because of the lockdown.

It’s a confusing and frightening mess.

Well, we are in luck because Jesus’ central metaphor in his teaching today is a fence, a boundary, a barrier. So let’s go to the scripture together and ask to be taught, to be healed, to be loved.

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Seven Miles From Jerusalem, Chased Down By Jesus

As you all remember, the Road to Damascus is the story of when the Apostle Paul had a vision of Jesus and was so overcome by the glory that he was knocked off his horse and went blind.

The Road to Damascus moment is an incredibly vivid and immediate experience of God that instantly changes your life forever.

Many people in the Bible have Road to Damascus moments besides just Paul. Moses sees the burning bush. Isaiah is taken into God’s throne room. The shepherds tending their flocks by night are overwhelmed by the heavenly host of angels.

Each of these is a life-changing experience of God that floods the senses and sets one’s soul ablaze with the Holy Spirit.

But we aren’t studying the Road to Damascus moment in our Gospel lesson today.

We’re given the Road to Emmaus.

The Road to Emmaus is the polar opposite of the Road to Damascus.

The Road to Damascus is marked by suddenness, awe, intensity and clarity.

The Road to Emmaus is shadowed by fear, uncertainty, grief and delay, and the final, healing understanding comes only in the aftermath. Continue reading

Normal Dies, Resurrection Comes

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the [coronavirus], Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’”

That’s my rewrite of the first line of our gospel

Of course the original text does not say “locked for fear of the coronavirus,” it says, “locked for fear of the Jews,” which was the label the community of the Gospel of John put on their fears. 

But the fact that we can replace only one word of the gospel, the story of faith written two thousand years ago, and have it so exactly reflect our own experience, tells you something. 

We are nearer in spirit to our ancestors in faith than we perhaps have ever been before.

Notice what happens here.  The disciples are hunkered down behind locked doors just like we are. 

They can’t go outside for fear of an external threat, just like us. 

And the amazing thing is that Jesus comes to them. 

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This Illness Does Not Lead to Death

“The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’”

Never in my life have I felt I understood Ezekiel’s experience more.

It has been another very scary week.

The coronavirus cases have climbed and climbed until the U.S. has more than any other nation in the world.

We have watched as frontline healthcare workers struggle to do their lifesaving jobs while being catastrophically underequipped.

Most of us are in one of three situations.

We are either sheltering in place and working from home, trying to keep kids active and learning or bearing the isolation of living alone.

Or we work in essential services so we are risking contagion every day as we continue to do our jobs.

Or we have been laid off and are suddenly facing complete unemployment and financial freefall.

We’re looking at the dry bones of how we used to live our lives. Comfort, security, normalcy, predictability, even safety are like so many scattered skeletons around us.

And the terrifying thing is these are only the first of the dry bones that will fill our valley.

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