For God So Loved the Wind

Gospel According to John 3:1-17

March 5, 2023, Lent II

The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT 

 For There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?”Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

This morning’s lectionery is a powerhouse!  It includes four of the most theologically fundamental readings in our canon.  All stacked up in one week!

*Genesis 12 – the fulcrum in God’s relationship with humanity. The moment when God’s approach changes from levying curses to offering blessings.  A brand new start with the blessing of humanity through ordinary Abraham.

*Psalm 121 – Short sweet and crystal clear that God is above all, our keeper. Not just our Maker. 

*Paul’s Letter to the Romans which lays out the fundamental kernel of Paul’s theology, which is grounded in chapter 12 of Genesis. We, and all of humanity, are heirs to God’s blessing through Abraham, not through Jewish law. Loosely translated, we do not need to be Jewish to belong to God.

*And the Gospel reading from John. Maybe the most recognizable piece of Christian scripture in our canon. For God so loved the world…… 

But this morning in the second week of Lent, we get the story that immediately precedes that familiar bumper-sticker of a verse. We get the context for our belief in eternal life.  The pre-requisite to our belief, says Jesus, is our willingness to ride the wind.

Anyone who wants to enter the Kin-dom of heaven must be born of the Spirit….also known as wind. And the Wind, also known as Spirit….is axiomatically wild. As in wilderness.

The wind/Spirit is on its own path. The wind/Spirit has a mind of its own. It observes no borders. It does not discriminate. We can measure the power of the wind/Spirit only by the displacement of that which it touches. And the kicker is that this agent of wholesale transformation is comprised of nothing more than ordinary air.

The same ordinary air that inspires our lungs every 2 to 3 seconds. The ordinary air that keeps is alive.

Which is why our ancient scriptures use the same word for breath, wind, and spirit. All three ideas are expressed with the same word. In Hebrew the word is ruach. In Greek it is pneuma. The translation is interchangeable.

The wind/Spirit/breath blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

So it is with everyone who is born of the wind.

So it is with everyone who is born of the breath.

All equally accurate translations.There is no distinct difference between the Breath of life that God breathed into humanity in Genesis.  And the Spirit that breathes new life into us as we open our hearts and minds to God as Jesus suggests this morning. That Breath/Wind/Spirit is what ushers us into the Kin-dom of God.

To which this morning’s title character, Nicodemus, responds: “How can this be?” It is the response of the religious elite in a nutshell. He does not understand the role of the wind/Spirit. For Nicodemus is a Pharisee, a “ leader of the Jews,” a “teacher of Israel.”  Nicodemus represents the best that the Jewish elite has to offer. And, not for nothing, the most polite. He calls Jesus Rabbi, and he admits that Jesus has indeed come from God.

But he cannot get his mind around the power of the Spirit. He is grounded in his commitment to the power of…Privilege. Education. Position. Piety.Earthly attributes. Not windborn graces.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the dead of night. It’s a wonderful cinema-graphic metaphor for his total and complete ignorance.  For all of his learning and privilege and status, in the end,  Nicodemus is still in the dark at the conclusion of this passage. He just does not get it. 

He is too petrified in his perspective to allow the fresh air of what Jesus has to offer blow through his very starched and stagnant way of understanding the world. He can only think and see and understand in and through the lens of his learned logic. There is no room in Nicodemus for the wild and uncharted ways of the Holy Spirit. 

And I get it. I was a bit of a Nicodemus myself. Until one warm summer August morning a couple of decades ago. I was about half-way through the ordination process. And feeling a bit…uncertain about my calling. And uncertain about who was calling. Was it God calling? Or was it just a selfie?

I was about to begin my last year of seminary at the Episcopal Divinity School. And one of my theology professors had connected me with an Australian sculptor/priest/nun who was the artist in residence that year at EDS. Rev’d. Sr. Angela Solling.  She was a larger than life personality….a larger than life Spirit.  And she often felt like the wind incarnate!

And, she was a bit of a legend in her homeland as both a sculptor, having fashioned the pectral cross for the Archbishop of Canterbury Rumsey. And as a religious force of nature, having founded a convent in the outback and constructed its monastery out of nothing but mudbricks.

She was looking to resurrect a book deal that had fallen through with Random House Australia. Her biography was to be one of 12 published in a series about remarkable Aussies in the wake of 2000 Olympics hosted in Sydney. But Angela’s biographer had botched the draft, and her edition had been dropped from the line-up.

I had some experience as a ghost writer, and so I was introduced to Sr. Angela as a breath of fresh….biographer. We hit it off. She offered me the job.

And after some serious discernment, I was just about to pick up the phone and accept her offer when it rang in my hand. 

I remember that first gust of wind as though it were yesterday.

The voice on the other end of the line said: “Dahling, wouldn’t it be simply gorgeous if you and I took a trip to the Center [she was talking about Australia]. We could just sit there in the desert, with the Aborigines, and listened to the stillness. Wouldn’t it be gorgeous?!!!”  

I reiterate, I hardly knew Sr. Angela well enough to go around the block with her, let alone around the world.  But, I thought, why not. I’m an adventurous soul and a journey to the outback might be just what I need as a bridge from seminary to whatever comes next.

And then came the kicker – for she insisted, and I mean insisted, that we make the trip immediately. 

The breezy wind was beginning to gust!

Sr. Angela was adamant. But I was shell shocked.  I couldn’t go halfway around the world right now.  I had commitments…. school… family…… my discernment process…I had no time…no money….no one to take care of my dog. Did I mention she was 75 years old!? And it would just be the two of us! 

And although I was leaning….heavily, towards thanks, but no thanks, I learned in short order that the spirit rarely takes no for an answer. 

The Wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

I had mountain of very good reasons why immediately was not the best timing for this trip.

At the top of the list was that I was not likely going to get an official leave of absence from the fall semester at EDS in time for the trip. So I would be risking my academic standing if I just up and left without any formal approval or dispensation.

But even more problematic was the fact that neither Angela nor I could afford the trip…at least not a last minute trip. I was a student and she was a nun! And she was not just a nun, she was a Poor Clare nun.  She took not only a vow of poverty, but a vow not to have any means of support other than God. So even if her plan to provide for our lodging was failsafe, even if she could come up with a string of friends in Australia who might be willing to put us up on their couches (and I was not at all sure that she could), how would we pay for the airfare? For the exorbitant last-minute price of 2 airline tickets?

Maybe we should wait until next summer, I suggested. Spend the year planning the trip and raising the money and we can go next July….like reasonable people. But that, according to Angela, was out of the question. We had to go immediately. 

The gusts of wind were gaining momentum.

So, the next time we met, I said to her (confident that this would never happen), if you can figure out how we can afford the plane tickets, I’ll go. “Ahhhh, Great!” she said.  And she wrote a name and number on a piece of paper and handed it to me. The name was Liz Hall. I had never heard of her.

Angela said, “Call her and ask if she will pay for the tickets.” “You call her,” I said.  “No,” said Angela, “it will be easier for her to say no to you.  And I don’t want to put her in a box. All we need are the tickets. Just call and ask.”

So I waited a few days, talking myself in and out of calling this complete stranger to ask for what felt to me to be a small fortune. Eventually I dialed the number. I got her voice mail, thank God. “Hi,” I said….tentatively. “You don’t know me, but Sr. Angela Solling gave me your number and I am hoping that you know her. She wanted me to tell you that we are planning a trip to Australia next month to write a book about her life and ministry and she thought that you might be willing to help us fund the plane flight. I know this sounds ridiculous. But if you want to call me back, my number is blah,blah,blah.  If not, please no worries. And I’m sorry to have bothered you.”  

I know almost exactly what I said because I had scripted it. I wrote it down to make sure I did not ramble on about what a ridiculous thing I was asking for. 

Within the hour my phone rang. It was Liz Hall. “I’m so glad you called,” she said. “How is Angela? When are you going? What do you need?” Right off the bat I began to qualify what I was asking for. “Well,” I said, “for some reason Angela thinks we need to go immediately so it is a lot more expensive that it might be if we were not on this crazy cosmic clock. But we are thinking of the second week in September and two tickets are about”, I gulped, “$5,000,  which I know is so much but….”

She interrupted me “oh drat, I would love to come along but I can’t go in September. Never mind, give me your address and I’ll put a check in the mail. Have a great trip!” And sure enough, two days later, in my mailbox was a check for $5,000 from a woman I had never met, made out to me, a woman she had never met. 

The wind was reaching gale force. And all at once I realized, uh oh, Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw, you are not in Kansas anymore. You are on your way to Oz. To the outback. A thoroughly foreign land, half-way around the world with an elderly stranger who will be in your care.

But…..The wind blows where it chooses.

And so before I knew it, I was withdrawing from school for the semester, making travel arrangements , and packing for the wilderness. And I covered every base.

I reserved a 4-wheel drive vehicle to conquer the wild desert terrain. I rented an international cell phone to keep in constant contact with civilization at all times. I packed every conceivable necessity for a trip into the outback. I had a direct line to L.L.Beane – high tech hiking boots, Arctic caliber cargo pants, a battery powered mess kit, a solar powered flashlight, snake bandages, a first aid pouch out of which I could have performed an emergency appendectomy and triple bypass surgery. I was thoroughly, completely, comprehensively prepared and packed for the journey and the wilderness. I had made every arrangement. Tied down every detail. Anticipated every possible need. 

By the Monday morning before our Wednesday departure date I was ready to go…bring on the wilderness! That Monday was September 10th 2001. I was booked on the 9am American Airlines flight from Boston to L.A.,  Flight 11, on Wednesday September 12th 2001. Same flight. One day later than the tragic disaster of 9/11. The wilderness came to me.

Because despite my pleading with Sr. Angela that we cancel the trip, she insisted, and again I mean insisted, that we reschedule on the first available, allowable flight to LA.  And so as soon as Logan Airport opened up, which was Saturday, September 16th, I was on the first American Airlines flight to the West coast.

There were about 35 more-than-nervous people on a jumbo jet. With 6 US Marshalls, in khakis and polo shirts, armed to the teeth, sitting in the aisle seats of first class.

That whole trip to Australia was pure Wind. Pure Spirit. 

Five weeks later I returned home with a brand new sense of myself, and my purpose and my vocation. And my first order of business was a thank you note to Liz Hall….the wind that gave us wings. Liz Hall made it possible for us to go to Australia….immediately. 

And immediately made all the difference.

First, because had we not gone in the wake of 9/11, had I not come so close to being on the fated plane, the trip might have been a great adventure. But it could never have been the wholesale transformation that it turned out to be.

Without the fear and uncertainty and mysterious surrender that was absolutely required by the timing of our journey, I would never have let go of my…….Nicodemus. I would never have been liberated from my….self. I would never have been so thoroughly dependent on the kindness of strangers. I would never have been so utterly vulnerable to the wind and all of its whisperings. I would never have seen the depth of my own humility. I would never have let go.

And the second reason why immediately was so important is that Angela died of a massive stroke three months later, on January 22, 2002. 

I never hear this passage from John’s Gospel without remembering the mighty wind that blew me into my priesthood and the rest of my vocation. It was the single biggest contributing factor to my decision to continue to seek ordination. My trip to Australia with Sr. Angela, was a trip to infinity and beyond . A transformative breath of fresh and life-giving time and space. 

But it was such an unlikely happening, to say the least. It would have been so easy to just say no. Some of my most trusted friends and advisors tried to convince me that saying no was the only reasonable answer.  Because the thing about saying yes to the wind, is that we must be open to letting it move us. In ways that we cannot foresee or control. 

The only way to receive the wind is to let go and roll with it. But my experience tells me that if we are willing, God will be able. And as Jesus said in this morning’s passage: Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen.

And what I know; what I have seen for myself is that:

The Wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.


© March, 2023 The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

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Welcome Home!

Luke 15:1-10

September 11, 2022: Welcome Home Sunday

The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT

 All the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he told them this parable:

4‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

8 ‘Or what woman having ten silver coins,* if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’ 

                                                                                                                                                                               Luke 15:1-10, NRSV

Welcome back on this lovely September Sunday!

My first Welcome Home Sunday in your midst.

And as I said in my Mailchimp Newsletter yesterday, I am delighted to be here!

We could not have chosen a better Gospel reading for this morning than the one that has landed in our lectionarial laps. For it is the first two thirds of  Jesus’ parables in Luke’s Gospel known as the Lost and Found parables. The two we hear this morning about the lost sheep and the lost coin, and then the most famous of the lost and found stories, the Prodigal Son, which we heard earlier this year during Lent. All three could well be called the Welcome Home parables.

These stories remind us, emphatically, that hope is born into our DNA as children of a Creator who will always seek us out with the fierce resolve of a divine amber alert whenever we disappear from the fold…God’s fold, that is. No matter how lost we feel, no matter far away we have strayed. Or how long we have been gone, we will always be welcomed back. By the One who loves us from their divine toe bottoms.

The story we just heard from Luke’s Gospel about the lost sheep, occurs also in Matthew – but in that Gospel that sheep just “wanders off.” And then the finding of the sheep in Matthew’s telling is passive and hypothetical. In Matthew this message is about a situation, about the way we humans inevitably stray. We inevitably get lost, but we will always be found. It is almost in the passive tense. We will be lost. We will be found.  And so relax. Keep the faith.

But in Luke, the sheep has more than wandered off. The sheep is gone. In Luke, the sheep is seriously lost, not just wandering away. And the moral is not as much that the sheep will be found (passive voice, the subject is the sheep). The sheep will be found. But that God will find that sheep (active voice, the subject is God). God will find the sheep. It is less about the wandering nature of the sheep and more about the deep desire of the shepherd.  

In Luke, the shepherd is actively and intently working to find that lost lamb. In Luke, the verbs are not passive, they are active. In Luke this story is not situational, it is relational. It’s about the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd. About the deep, unrelenting love of the shepherd for the sheep. It is not so much about how it is to be human…wanderers that we are. It is more about how it is to belong to God….faithful and forgiving as God is. It is not so about how we roll, but about where we belong. Here, with God. It’s a Welcome Home parable if ever there were one!

Because the point is that there is nothing, nothing we can do to divest ourselves of God’s love.

No matter how dastardly our deeds, no matter how diabolically depraved, no matter what deception or debauchery, or decay we present, no matter how despairing or desolate or destructive or despondent or demented, disheartened, dismal, dishonorable, damnable, disobedient, displeasing, disparaging, disorderly, disrespectful, (thank God for the dictionary) disreputable, dreary, dreadful. Even if we are thoroughly driveling, drooling, dubious, drunken, dull, doltish, dwindling, dilapidated, dissident, dissolute, distressing, divisive, ditsy, dolorous (that’s a good one!), dumb, doubting, dough faced, deluded, depressed, defeated, defensive, deflowered, deformed, deficient, degraded, demoralized,  deteriorated, distracted, devilish (another goodie!), dishonest, disagreeable, disbelieving. No matter how discontented, discommodious (I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel here) discouraged, discourteous, disgraced,  deviant, difficult, damaged, dehydrated or downright reprehensible we are. We are all always welcomed back by God.

Good Lord, I never realized how depressing the D’s are!  

But I suspect that litany of nouns and adjectives just about covers all of us; something in that list hits at least one nerve in each and every one of us. One place where we feel so lost that we may not be found….or even more torturous, one dimension of our essential selves that makes us not worthy of being found. Or maybe even not worth being looked for. One place that we think stands firm as the divine deal breaker.

And so, Jesus offers these parables to each and every one of us. Because they apply to each and every one of us. No matter what our status…, political, economic, religious, or otherwise. No matter where we are. From where ever we come with whatever we bring.  We are always welcome home.

These lost and found parables are told in response to a complaint on the part of the religious elite who declare that the folks on the margins of society, the tax collectors and sinners, the ones who are apparently unwanted and unwelcome in their houses of worship, are unworthy to eat and drink with Jesus. These religious elite declare that these folks on the margins are even unworthy to hear Jesus preach.

All the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus preach.  2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them. So Jesus told them these parables.

The charge against the lost ones is that they are coming to be found. They are coming to hear what Jesus is preaching. They are coming to church! And the charge against Jesus is that he welcomes them, that he is hospitable. He “welcomes” them, as though they were invited all along, desired to be there, sought out even.

This itinerate preacher who makes his home on the road, traveling from town to town, himself seemingly homeless and ungrounded in the social structure. One who might as first glance look like a lost sheep himself. And yet where ever he is, he is home with God.

This parable is about the despicable almost scandelous hospitality of the living God.  Because although we tend to think of hospitality as opening our doors and welcoming everyone in. These lost and found stories tell us that God’s hospitality is not just welcoming in, it is fundamentally seeking out.

If we want to live with Gospel hospitality, we must be seekers. Which means we must change our understanding of who belongs in the fold. And we must be willing, ourselves, to be changed by the strangers whom we welcome. We must work to build the Kin-dom of God rather than just the church filled with our friends. Because the church is far too small to contain the depth and breadth of God’s hospitality.

A few years ago a Roman Catholic church in Florida posted this welcome sign in its front yard[1]. It’s a fairly long sign, so make yourselves comfortable. It said, and I quote:

“We extend a special welcome to those who are

 single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, or no habla Ingles.

We extend a special welcome to those who are

 crying newborns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli

or if you are like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket.

You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail.

We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope,

 or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.

We extend a special welcome to those who are

over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast.

We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers,

 latte-sippers, vegetarians, and junk-food eaters.

We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted.

We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps

or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.

If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here.

We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat,

Who work too hard, who don’t work at all,

or if you are here because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both.

We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now,

to those who had religion shoved down your throat as a kid,

or to those who just got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake.

We welcome tourists, seekers, doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!

As the sign says, every sheep in God’s flock, which is every sheep with a beating bleating heart, is welcomed by God. And that makes the hospitality of God is a fearful and awe-inspiring thing! It a thing that makes all of our constructed social and political divisions moot.

A few months ago I was talking with a friend about my coming to this parish to serve as your priest. She asked if this wasn’t the “red” part of CT. And she wondered if I would be a good fit here. And so she asked, “What color is your church?” I tilted my head like my golden retriever Fin when he has no idea what I am asking of him. And she said, “red or blue, what color is your church? Generally speaking.” she added as a qualifier.”

Oh, I said. Well, what color is kindness? What color is compassion? What color is justice? Mercy? Generosity? Friendship. What color is peace?

What color is the peace that obliterates all partisanship? The peace that comes when those who feel lost are welcomed home. The peace that speaks truth to power with love. The peace that surpasses all understanding.

That is the color of my church. We humbly and fiercely stand for every shade of peace.

And so on this Welcome Home Sunday, as we celebrate the endless, ceaseless love and care of our shepherd and the open arms of our flock, I invite us to gather our hearts and minds and courage. And to put ourselves to work this program year painting the world the color of Gospel hospitality.

Welcome Home Friends!



© September, 2022 The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw


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Psalm 139:1-18

September 4, 2022

The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT

Psalm 139 , NRSV

 O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up;   you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down,   and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue,   O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before,   and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;   it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?   Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there;   if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning   and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me,   and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,   and the light around me become night’, even the darkness is not dark to you;   the night is as bright as the day,   for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts;   you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.   Wonderful are your works;that I know very well.    My frame was not hidden from you,when I was being made in secret,   intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written   all the days that were formed for me,   when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!   How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand;   I come to the end—I am still with you.

If there were one promotional phrase, one bumper sticker from scripture to promote God and the value of a religion that finds its hope in God, this first line from Psalm 139 would be it… my humble opinion.

Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways.

And, in my humble opinion, Psalm 139 is a perfect passage of scripture for this moment in time.

It’s a moment in this nation and in the wider world we need some grounding for hope; some reason to believe that the violence and the racism and the bullying and the greed and the seeming wholesale destruction of our planet, our political system, our civility as one nation under God, our sense of security, and a hundred other losses will some how, some day stop.  

We need a reason to hope in this weary and broken world; in this world in which we seem to have forgotten how wondrously and marvelously, albeit differently, made is each and every one of us. We are each and every one of us created by the same God. Who is neither a Democrat, nor a Republican, nor even an Independent. Who is neither white nor black nor yellow nor any other shade of the rainbow. Who is neither American, nor Russian, nor Chinese, nor any other nationality. Our Creator is beyond every label. And etched on every heart.

Psalm 139 is a bit of an odd duck in our psalter. It is the only psalm in the book that focuses on the individual. In fact, it might even be the only place in the entire Hebrew Bible where the state or fate of the individual is not only addressed, but stressed.

The Hebrew Bible is almost always the story of the people of God; never a single person of God. But Psalm 139 speaks directly and specifically about the intimacy of our personal relationship with and to God. 

The first 18 verses of the psalm are divided into three parts.

Part one, verses 1-6 say unequivocally that God knows us through and through, top to bottom, stem to stern, inside and out. Yahweh, You (and it is the emphatic you) have searched me and You know me.

Part two, verses 7- 12 say that no matter where we flee, or how far we run, or how dark the hole in which we are buried, God will always find us. Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? And the unequivocal answer is, loosely translated, nowhere.

And then part three, verses 13-18 insist that God knows us fully and stays with us always because God has woven every thread of our being into the tapestry of our unique selves by hand…..intentionally….joyously…..without one single regret. No matter who we think we are.

No matter how many regrets we have for ourselves, God has none. Not a one.

This psalm is the story of who each and every one of us is as beloved individuals of God’s wondrous creativity to serve God’s unfathomable purpose. And so it is very personal. The God of Psalm 139 is not Our Father who art in heaven. The God of Psalm 139 is the author of our existence who dwells within us right here on earth. The God in whom we live and move and have our being, as it says in the Book of Acts. The God who knows us fully and from whom there is no escape – a God who is with us always because we are God’s most precious creation; and not just created, not just constituted as the work of a divine potter, as this morning’s reading from Jeremiah says.

But in Psalm 139 God has not just made us, God has knit us together –woven us out of whole divinely endowed cloth….the first knitting ministry, as it were! And we are the pearls of God’s labor.

It’s an image of God’s creativity as a process of careful integration and intricate design. We are the way we are, every mole and freckle, every nook and cranny, every warp and woof, knit and pearl of our being is by God’s grace-filled design. And this is, as I see it, a sort of good news / bad news situation.

Because it means that where ever we go, however hard we try, we cannot escape the knowing breath of God. We cannot preclude the unbearable vulnerability that comes with God’s unyielding attention and interest. However desperate we feel to free our fragile egos from the terrifying assurance that we are simply and inherently good enough, that our brokenness may not be a mistake or a failure, but may in fact be by design – whatever it is that haunts us in our self-proclaimed unworthiness, it is not a fatal flaw or an original sin, but rather a beloved  built-in opportunity for growth and reconciliation and eventual magnificence – an opportunity that would hardly exist if we were perfect from the get-go…..which of course we are, as this psalm tells us in no uncertain words.

But here, then, “perfect” requires some serious revision and redefinition, does it not?

For if we are awesomely and wondrously made – perfection, each and every one of us, in our own unique ways – then our old connotation of perfection, our old notion that perfection is some universally objective quality that precludes cracks or wrinkles or character – the idea of perfection as that without room for improvement, well, that is clearly not what God intended in God’s perfect creation of humanity. For we are indeed a collection of uniquely perfect opportunities for magnificent creativity and growth, each with our own unique cracks and unsightly crevasses.

 And so this psalm speaks not only of our magnificence, but also of our vulnerability, our built-in propensity for falling down as a part of our wondrous and awesome creation. Let us stop lamenting our failures. They are built in.

But this psalm speaks to that inner fear that each of us has experienced at one point or another in our perfectly insecure lives. That deep and abiding suspicion that if we were truly known…that if our true selves were ever revealed, we would be sooooo busted. Busted as the unworthy children that we know ourselves to be. Busted as worthless, shameful, unlovable failures.

This is our secret fear….well, I’ll just speak for myself here, but if the shoe fits….then this psalm may fit you, too. But, it assures us that although we ARE known, fully, completely, without any privacy whatsoever when it comes to God, although God sees it all, still we are loved beyond our wildest dreams; and not just loved, adored.

We are each the center of God’s full attention. And so God is inescapable.

But the Good News in this psalm is not that God is inescapable, it is that only God is inescapable.

Which is why this psalm comes not a moment too soon in this season of vicious and seemingly hopeless political warfare. A moment in our American history when our ugly arrogant heads have been given full throated voices and our self-centered self-righteousness plays out in unbridled incivility and violence in our streets and even in our schools, almost on a daily basis.

But hear this, Psalm 139 assures us that no matter how dire the civil climate, how impossible the odds, no matter how high the mountain, no matter how unjust, unkind, unfair, uncompassionate, or unlikely that our current state of affairs will be, or can be changed…the only constant is that God is still here. Inescapable. And our steadfast hope lies in the sure and steady knowledge that only God will prevail. Everything else will change, eventually. Only God is inescapable.

For as the Psalm says, even the darkness will not be dark to You, O God.

This is the psalm for these trying times.

I would like to close with a poem that I wrote twenty five years ago, long before I had ever really heard of psalm 139.  I wrote it for my then 6-year-old niece and godchild, Lauren.

It was included as the first of a collection of poems about nature, well, insects to be exact, called Big Bug Creek that was published in 1998. And today I would like to dedicate it to an undying faith that with the Gracious and Ever-Loving God of our creation, anything and everything is not only possible, but possible within our current means….That is to say, inescplicable, miraculous possibility is already here and now.


Pursuant to the theories of most scientists renowned,

The bumble bee, all quite agree, should not get off the ground.

The principles and test results will verify with might,

That bumble bees, like black eyed peas, were not designed for flight.

It’s simply that their shape and weight are not in right relation

To the wingspan that is needed for this mode of transportation.

Sure, we of sound and solid mind indubitably know

That what the laws of physics say is surely what is so.

But somehow, somewhere, someone failed to thus inform the bees;

And so although we’re in the know, they buzz off as they please.

It’s utterly impossible, preposterous, no-can-do;

Unreasonable, high treasonable, and yet, by gosh, they do.

It could be simply strength of will, or winging on a prayer,

Or possibly the bumble bee is just a fluke midair.

It doesn’t really matter which, the point is when they say,

“It can’t be done, you’re not the one,” just smile and fly away.

And the peopel said: Amen.

© September, 2022 The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

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No Other Way

Gospel According to John 14:1-14

May 7, 2023: Fifth Sunday of Eastertide

The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT

 ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Gospel of John 14:1-7, NRSV

Good morning! On this fifth Sunday in the hopeful season of Eastertide! This morning’s reading from John’s Gospel begins the section known as the Farewell Discourse. It is the part where Jesus tells his disciples everything they are going to need to know before he leaves them. It is the passage we read in this season of Eastertide when the disciples are called to rise to the occasion that God is to be made manifest in a whole new way.

These disciples are being called to change their spiritual addresses and revision their orientations. To move out into a wider world beyond their previously small contingent with Jesus at the helm. This will require a change in their footing and their perspective.

For the first 13 chapters of John’s Gospel, God descends from heaven to humanity, joining the human condition in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth. In the last 8 chapters of John’s Gospel, humanity is called to complete the transaction by receiving the indwelling of God. This is where we join the disciples this morning.

Despite its connotation, this is not a passive calling, receiving the indwelling of God. It’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s not a Door Dash sort of transaction. It’s more like…….like……catching a Hail Mary pass. Difficult. But not impossible, at least with God.

Because every one of us was born to be such a holy wide receiver. Not by nature, but by birthright. It’s going to take some effort on our part. The trick is to get ourselves in shape, show up for practice with the team, and keep our eyes laser focused on the ball. And eventually, Hail Mary full of grace, the indwelling of God will lift us to our best selves.

Today’s reading from John’s Gospel reiterates that every one of us is called to do this work. To receive the indwelling of God that is there for any and all who reach out for it. No matter who we are. No matter where we’re from. No matter what gifts we think we can bring or not bring.

Jesus said: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places

I can still hear my grandfather reciting The King James version: In my Father’s house there are many mansions. This passage promises that there is a place in the heart of God for every one of God’s children. Just as we are. Where ever we fall on the social ladder. No matter where we live, we can call God’s house our home. In God’s house there is room for everyone to belong.

This was a great comfort to me as a child. As a kid I thought, how great is this – no matter how different I am….no matter how poorly I seem to fit in this life, there is a place somewhere in God’s house where I belong. I have always walked a bit on the margins of my context. I have never quite fit in with the dominant crowd.

I grew up in a Beaver Cleaver world where my brother and sister and I were the only children of divorced parents in our small Midwestern town in the 1970’s. We were products of what people often called a  “broken home.” Which often made us think that maybe we were broken too.

We had no social capital. We were not generally included in the social life of our community. As though our “broken home” might be contagious. And so we were out on the edges of …everything.

And our home was not just “broken,” it was poor. We had no money. At all. My mother regularly sent me, the oldest, next door to borrow milk from our disapproving neighbors.

If that were not enough, I had a fairly tough adolescence. The older I got the more I realized that I was much more interested in badmitten than boys….and let me tell you I was not that interested in badmitten. I had no idea where I belonged. Or if I belonged. Anywhere.

So this assurance that God’s house had more than the narrow, straight laced, rigidly conservative dwelling place where I currently resided, felt like a sort of biblical comfort food for my marginalized life for a very long time.

However, in time, I began to grow a bit uneasy with this comforting passage. I began to see it as a sort of good news / bad news proposition. Because on the one hand, it sounds like we are welcome whoever we are, whatever road we have traveled, wherever we find ourselves on matters of politics, or social or economic location or even religion – there is ALWAYS room for us in the heart God – do not let your hearts be troubled. In God’s house there is room for all of God’s children.

BUT, just three short verses later, Jesus says: ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to God except through me.’ Wait a minute…. what happened to the many mansions? To the many dwelling places? What happened to room for all of God’s children in God’s heart?

Maybe the most inclusive piece of scripture in the entire Holy Bible is immediately followed by one of the most exclusive pieces of scripture. And in the blink of a single verse, that unconditional welcome into God’s heart and home becomes a very conditional invitation….a very exclusive invitation issued only to we who call ourselves Christian.  Is there really only room in God’s house for Christians?

I am a Christian. But there is no way I am checking in to any mansion that does not welcome my non-Christian friends. Because that does not seem like Good News. And, I do not for a second believe that there are not some rooms, maybe just as many rooms in God’s mansion reserved for Jews, and Muslims, and Zoroastrians, and every other faith tradition, and probably even a few atheists who just can’t bring themselves to speak of love in the language of God.

Not every room in God’s many mansions can be is reserved exclusively for Christians. Because if that is the case, then maybe I’m not a Christian. Because if that is the case, maybe I do not belong in the Christian tent. And not because of my … of badmitten, but because of my love of Jesus Christ as the way.

And yet, this proclamation in John, of Jesus as THE way, the only way,  has always felt troubling to me. How can I, as a Christian who respects and welcomes all of God’s children, of whatever faith or none at all, how can I, how can we hear this passage from John’s Gospel without hearing it as obnoxiously, unconscionably exclusive?

One of my favorite preachers, Barbara Brown Taylor is fond of saying that when we are having trouble with a passage, we would do well to remember that often times our scripture does a better job of interpreting us than we do of interpreting it. William Sloan Coffin, another of my favorite preachers says that he does not so much read the Bible, as the Bible reads him. Which is to say, the meaning is not in the text alone, but in the context, in our particular relationship with the text. And so although it might sound like there is only one way to hear the Word of God, there are as many ways to hear each passage as there are rooms in God’s mansion.

Marcus Borg tells the story of a poorly planned interfaith worship service in which a Buddhist lector ends up reading this very passage from the Christian Gospel of John. And after he reads it, there is an awkward extended pause in which the whole auditorium seems to be holding its breath. But the Buddhist monk looks up, smiles, and says: “This scripture is absolutely true —Jesus is the way— and Jesus is the only way that one comes to know the divine.”

A pretty fabulous response, if you ask me. What the wise and gracious Buddhist meant of course, is that the way of Jesus, Jesus as the embodiment of the way, is the only way to the divine. Not that Jesus himself is the only one on the way, but that the way that Jesus walks is indeed, the only way to God. The Buddhist monk is saying that the way that Jesus IS is the only way. In this way Jesus is the only way.

And so this passage calls us not just to the comfort of knowing that we are welcome in God’s heart, no matter who we are; but also to a radical welcoming of others who are also on the way of love, albeit not necessarily the Christian way. As Christians, we are called to follow the radical way of Christ; the one who heals and teaches and comforts and welcomes first, and asks for ID later.

I think the second part of this morning’s Gospel reading, the part about only getting to God through the way of Christ can only work if it is modified by the first part. The part about the many mansions. The part about our unconditional acceptance into the heart of God. And our unconditional acceptance by God requires that we unconditionally accept each other. It’s the only way.

I think this is exactly what Jesus means when he says that he is the way and the truth and life through which we come to God. And we can only come to God through this one way. To God who has room for each and all of us, no matter what sport we play. No matter what form our families take. No matter where we work or live or how we manage to feed our children. No matter what guilt or shame or unholy secrets we bear. No matter where we stand on what ground….as long as it is common ground. God has a room for each of us in God’s home. And it is a home that celebrates both our broad diversity and our individual particularity. Otherwise, why would God need so many mansions, if not to welcome so many walks of life.

So do not let our hearts be troubled, friends. We will always be welcomed home with love.

And welcomed home with love is the only way.



© May, 2023 The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

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Alleluia! Lost and Found!

April 9, 2023

Easter Sunday

The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Matthew 28:1-10

Alleluia, Christ has risen!

Today is the feast of the resurrection! And that is all the news we have to tell!

But let’s face it, the resurrection is a beastly concept to articulate.  It’s tough even for priests. It’s tough even for bishops. The Lambeth Conference is the once-a-decade gathering of all of the bishops in the Anglican Communion at Canterbury, England to talk about….the faith.  And at their 1990 gathering, the bishops were asked: Imagine someone comes up to you on the street and says: “My bus leaves in two minutes. Tell me about the resurrection before I go.” And the most authoritative collection of leaders in the Anglican Communion apparently had a very tough time responding.

What would YOU say?

I think we all know about resurrection existentially. In our own experience. In our own lives. We watch the flowers burst forth from the barren land every spring. And we experience brand new life in all sorts of ways. When chronic pain is relieved. We feel resurrected. When an addict gets sober. When love dies in one relationship and then is reborn in another. Resurrection is all around us. We experience new life in all sorts of ways.  I’ll bet each of us can think of a few examples in our own lives when brand new life has sprouted from the grave of something that we have utterly lost. We see new life rising from death all the time.

Theologically, however, we know about the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the Gospels. This morning we heard Matthew’s version.

Matthew’s account of the resurrection, is perhaps the most theologically and realistically persuasive of all four Gospels. Partly because Matthew’s account is the ONLY one in which the stone has not yet been rolled away from the tomb when the witnesses arrive. In every other Gospel account, we assume that Jesus’ body has been resurrected, but I’m pretty sure there is an episode of Law & Order out there where the body behind the stone was not raised as promised, but stolen for some nefarious reason.

I have always been suspicious of the Gospel accounts  where the stone has been rolled away when the women arrive.  But not in Matthew. In Matthew the tomb is sealed when the witnesses get there. And the first witnesses were women. In all four Gospels. Other than the empty tomb, the only thing that all four Gospels have in common in this story is that the first witnesses were women. The only corroborated parts of the story are that the tomb was empty and the witnesses were women.

That’s all we know for sure.

In every Gospel the tomb is empty and Mary Magdalene is the first one of Jesus’ apostles on the scene.  And in Matthew, when she and the other women arrive, the tomb it is still sealed. Tight. It’s hard to imagine what they intended to do given the weight of the stone sealing the opening. Maybe they just wanted to be there, as they had been at the foot of the cross when Jesus breathed his last.

But as soon as they get there a great earthquake erupts, just as Jesus had predicted. And an Angel of the Lord descends from heaven.  And the Angel rolls away the stone. Effortlessly. And then he sits on it. An odd detail. The Angel of the Lord just….makes himself comfortable. And then the angel says to the stunned women (and how could they be anything other than stunned) what an Angel of the Lord always says: Do not be afraid. And that is exactly what Jesus would have said: do not be afraid.

Because the situation is not only out of this world strange, but out of this world distressing. There is no way that these women were not scare stiff. And, they have lost everything. Their preacher and pastor. Their teacher and prophet. They lost his life on the cross. But now they have even lost his bones. There is nothing even to bury. Their Jesus is now, to them, utterly lost.

And so they have also lost their community. The community built around their Jesus. Who are they now? Where will they go? Who will they become?

Everything has changed. Nothing is left. They are disoriented. Disappointed.  And certainly experiencing one of Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s stages of grief. And yet, when they hear the Angel of the Lord instruct them to go and tell the rest,  they pick themselves up and head out. They get back to the business of life. They go to find their community. The text says they go forth with fear and great joy.

And on their way to find the rest of their community, Jesus finds them.

As the women leave the tomb in awe and great joy and run to tell the disciples what they have witnessed, Jesus appears to them on the road. And he greets them, heartily, says the text. And they recognize him, immediately. And he confirms his identity with that trademark phrase, now the second time they have heard it on this amazing morning: Do not be afraid.

And there they were, these faithful frightened women, feeling utterly lost when they were standing in that agonizingly empty tomb, and now utterly filled with joy at the feet of their beloved Rabbi. Their expectations transformed in less than the time it takes to walk from here to the parish hall. Utterly changed from what must have felt like utterly lost to thank-you-God found.

This is the lesson we learn from these faithful women who have followed Jesus from Galilee, who stayed with him at the foot of his cross, and who have now come to start the next generation of ministry. This pattern of Christian faith: lost and then found. Lost and then found. Keep repeating the pattern until everlasting life kicks in.

Because in that cadence of losing ourselves in faith and finding ourselves in faith, over and over and over again, we are slowly but surely transformed… were these women when they recognized their beloved Jesus on the lost road to finding their new life.

This early Christian paschal experience of responsive transformation, of constantly renewing relationships in the face of uncertainty and change reminds me of Darwin. For you will remember that survival of the fittest does not favor the strongest of the species, or the most plentiful, or the most

intelligent, or the most simple or the most complex. Surviving, and indeed thriving, favors those who are most willing and able to change. Not impulsively. But intentionally. Those who are so grounded in their core value that nothing can stand in their way, not even death. And so they are willing to embrace change without fear. In this context, transformation is just another word for….an empty tomb.

For Darwin that core value that outweighed all else was survival…of the fittest.  Actually, that is not what Darwin said. Darwin actually said, survival of the fit. Because this life is not a competition. It’s a dance.

And this is a chance for us to remember who we are, as well. Re-member.  Put ourselves back together again, as a Christian community.  This beloved community that is now a holy amalgam of at least three communities. St. Phillips. St. Albans. And Trinity Church.  As the disciples and beloved followers of Jesus did 2000 years ago today. Renewing our relationships with each other and with the Christ who calls us to this holy party!

And there is no better time for that re-membrance than Eastertide.  Today, we are in the right place at the right time to reconstitute our community in Christ. So we might want to keep our eyes open for that Angel of the Lord because the stone is slowly but surely rolling away. And so we would do well to remember that change is just part of the design of God’s good creation.

Everything in creation was born to change. And as we cope with that inevitable change, this is what Matthew wants us to know about resurrection. About the new life that is also part of God’s glorious design.

First, where ever we are, whatever trauma we are experiencing, whatever loss, whatever rewiring of our whole world; however lost or disoriented we may feel, God will find us. As soon as we can move forward into life, even a bit, Jesus will meet us on the road to reconciliation. Where ever we are. God will find us. Jesus will track us down on whatever road we are traveling and assure us that our new life is just beginning.

And second, the first thing God will say to us in the maelstrom of our grief and disbelief over what has happened is not believe in me, it is be not afraid.  God says it twice in 10 short verses. Be not afraid. Period.

That’s it. Jesus will find us where ever we are. And there is nothing to fear. According to Matthew, that’s all we need to know.

Oh yeah, and the part about how Jesus has risen and life has now overcome death. But we’ll save the detailed parsing of that Good news for the next 50 says of Eastertide.

Today, I want to leave you with a blessing for Easter Day by Jan Richardson. It’s called:

The Magdalene’s Blessing

You hardly imagined standing here,

Everything you ever loved suddenly returned to you,

Looking you in the eye and calling your name.

And now you do not know how to abide this hole in the center of your chest,

Where a door slams shut and swings open at the same time,

Turning on the hinge of your aching and hopeful heart.

I tell you, this is not a banishment from the garden.

This is an invitation, a choice, a threshold, a gate.

This is your life calling to you from a place you could never have dreamed,

but now that you have glimpsed its edge, you cannot imagine choosing any other way.

So let the tears come as anointing, as consecration, and then let them go.

Let this blessing gather itself around you.

Let it give you what you will need for this journey.

You will not remember the words – they do not matter.

All you will need to remember is how it sounded

When you stood in the place of death

And heard the living call your name.

Alleluia, Christ has Risen!

The Magdalene’s Blessing is from Circle of Grace, Jan Richardson, (Wanton Gospeller Press, Orlando) 2015

© April, 2023 The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

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The Last Fully Human and Thoroughly Divine Straw

Gospel According to John 11:1-45; Raising of Lazarus

March 26, 2023: Lent V

The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’ When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’ Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’ Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Gospel of John 11:1-45, NRSV

This morning we are remembering the life and ministry of Father Ron Glaude who served as the pastor and priest of this parish of over 28 years. That is a whopping long stretch of service. Worthy of remembrance. In a few minutes we will offer our gratitude in the prayers of the people and dedicate our Eucharist to his memory. And it seems fitting for the Gospel reading this particular morning to be an account of the resurrection of a friend of Jesus. An account of how God both lifts us to new life even when we are in the clutches of death.
But also, and maybe more importantly, how God can turn a story that begins with deep grief and sadness into a divine sign of hope and everlasting life.

The good news is that this morning’s sermon will not be as long as this morning’s Gospel reading. The bad news is that this reading invites us to see ourselves and our life-force in a new way. And not a cocky, rosy, all is well and good sort of way. But in an honest, heart-wrenching, come-to-Jesus sort of way.

Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench…

The scripture is so graphic in its description of the stench
that emanates from the tombs in which we encase our dead….ness. Death stinks. But with God, life always overcomes the stench. Life always overcomes death. This passage is about the power of God to resurrect life.
All life. All parts of life. Even an ordinary human life. Entirely.

But Jesus does not just raise Lazarus.
He also raises Mary and Martha, albeit in a much less physical way.
But the tangential message is that if God can raise a human being from the dead, Think of what God can raise in us while we are still alive. Think of the parts of our lives that seem beyond salvation.
The parts within us, the relationships among us, the hopes and dreams around us that feel dead or dying.

Not literally, but metaphorically. We all have facets in our lives that we have allowed to wilt and wane and maybe even gasp for air. Things that could use a bit of divine resurrection. Some part of our lives – our relational life, professional life, family life, spiritual life that is in dire need of resurrection.

My grandmother used to say that festering lilies smell worse than weeds. It’s the stench of a good thing gone bad. And I have known that adage from the inside out. I bet you have too. In many ways my time here with you as your PIC is a sort of resurrection for me. My vocation had been lingering for …awhile. And I was not at all sure that it was not …..on its way to the glue factory, as we horse folk say.

But here I am. A new lease on the life of my vocation here with you.
Taking my own place in the long line of faithful pastors whose vocations have flourished here. I did not orchestrate this resurrection. God did.

We are all at one time or another, Lazarus. All in need of a shot of new life. We are all entombed in…whatever entombs us. And when we fester too long, we begin to stink to high heaven.

Our challenge is to respond to Jesus – who will inevitably call (it might take three days, or three years, or an opportune time) but he will call to awaken us from our inaction, and summon us to come out of our tombs, otherwise known as our comfort zones….and live into the dangerous calling of loving ourselves and each other…and the God who is the giver of all life.

The raising of Lazarus is a call for each and all of us to rise when God beckons.
And not because we necessarily want to rise. Lazarus did not ask to be raised. God insisted.
Rising from the stench of the tomb was not a suggestion, it was an imperative. Come out! No one asked Lazarus if he wanted to be raised.

I am guessing he did not. Death is peaceful. Life is hard.
And very few folks die without enduring some serious suffering of some sort on the way to their passing. Did Lazarus he want to rejoin the land of the suffering mortals? Did he want to have to die all over again? To leave paradise with God. Maybe not. But he did not have that option. Jesus commanded him: Come out!

And eventually, we too are called to hear those magic words; that liberating imperative, even when the prospect of such new life may frighten us to death. The command to: Come out! is a command to wake up and rise to the power of love. And it is the moment we understand what it means to lose our lives in order to gain our lives.

This story of Lazarus stands alone in the Gospel according to John.
There is a story about a man named Lazarus in the Gospel of Luke, but unlike the nearly anonymous beggar in Luke, John’s Lazarus is the brother of Mary and Martha, and the friend of Jesus of Nazareth. And most importantly, for our understanding of John’s Jesus, this story is the last straw before the authorities arrest him.
This show of absolute power over life and death is the thing that makes Jesus absolutely unacceptable to both the political and religious authorities. At least in John’s Gospel.

But in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke the last straw is the story of Jesus chasing the money-changers out of the Temple. In those three Gospels, that act of civil disobedience is the final straw
before the powers-that-be arrest Jesus. In those Gospels, the last straw is his assault on the political power structure. When Jesus is seen as a political activist, the authorities have finally had enough.

But in the fourth Gospel, the Evangelist John puts the cleansing of the Temple not at the end of Jesus’ ministry, but at the very beginning. Political activist is where Jesus starts in John. The disruption in the Temple is not conveyed as the reason for Jesus’ arrest, its the inauguration of Jesus’ mission.
In John’s Gospel, civil disobedience is not the last straw, it is Jesus’ job description.
His very mission is to re-vision and re-form the standing and understanding of God on earth. John is doing nothing less than turning the tables on the very identity of God.

And so the last straw in John’s Gospel is not a show of Jesus’ strength in the political arena
but this morning’s showstopper of divine proportions. The raising of Lazarus is the end, the finale of Jesus’ ministry in John. It is the divinity of Jesus, exemplified here by his absolute power over life and death, that is both the reason for Jesus’ demise on earth and the message in the Gospel of John as a whole.

And the message for us is that no matter how dark the tomb in which we find ourselves, God can and will raise us to new life….whether we want it or not. God has the power to change everything in the blink of an eye.

The name Lazarus is a shortened version of the Semitic name El-azar, which is literally translated as “God helps” – El (God) Azar (helps). Lazarus. But God’s help, God’s power to raise life from the dead,
is not the only phenomenal gift of God on display in this morning’s passage. Equally powerful, at least to me, is God’s ability and willingness to feel our pain. It says so in black and white. The shortest verse in our canon.
Jesus wept.

It is astonishing to me that the only place where Jesus experiences this abundantly human thing is in the one Gospel where Jesus is barely fully human. In John Jesus is not God’s Son, Jesus IS God. And so because this happens in this Gospel it says, unequivocally, that God’s own self weeps with us. Not just God’s agent, not God’s Son, God’s self.

No wonder these tears were not ordinary tears.
The verb used here, is unique in the entire Bible. Nowhere else does this particular verb for “wept” occur. Anywhere. God’s empathy is a unique brand of compassion. And it is definitive. Because he wept only once. Ever. He did not weep for hundreds the legions of sick and dying and dead that Jesus must have encountered over the course of his ministry. He did not weep in the Garden of Gethsemane. Nor at his own crucifixion. He wept only once. He wept at the death of his friend Lazarus.

But we must be careful here, Jesus knew that Lazarus would be raised. And so we must be careful not to misinterpret his tears. Jesus did not weep for Lazarus, he wept with those who wept for Lazarus.
He wept with Mary and Martha. Not for Lazarus, with Mary and Martha. Jesus’ weeping was pure unadulterated compassion. Com-passion. Suffering with another. He did not weep for his own loss, his own pain, he wept for the pain of others. Jesus wept for the depth of suffering that came when his beloveds were in abject pain. Jesus wept for the grief of the living not the fate of the dead.

These tears, these rare tears of our Savior, tell us how deeply God feels the depth of human suffering. How deeply God feels our suffering. When we suffer. God suffers. When we are overcome with grief, God is overcome with us.

It is indeed a Christian comfort to know that God can and will resurrect each one of us when we die. But the real comfort in this passage, at least for me, is knowing that while we live, God lives with us. Fully. And that our suffering is always shared by a God who weeps with us.

But who taught God to weep? I suspect that weeping was a human gift to God.
I am guessing it was a new and startling phenomenon for Jesus. He must have been flabbergasted when those tears poured from his fully-human-and-also-divine eyes. It took him 11 chapters in John to finally break down. But he got there. He wept.

And not for nothing, I think in this new experience of empathy Jesus is teaching us how to resurrect each other. How to lift each other from our own tombs of suffering and grief. We humans do not have the power of life over death. But we do have the power to genuinely share each other’s tears. I saw that in living color at yesterday’s healing service. We have the power to resurrect the spirit in each other. And it is a mighty power. It may be our one true superpower.

As I said at the start, this Gospel is very well suited to this morning’s remembrance. Both in its assurance of resurrection. And in its invitation to share each other’s tears.

Jesus said: I am the resurrection and the life.

And then he wept.


© March, 2023 The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw


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I’ll Drink to That!

Gospel According to John 4:5-42

March 12, 2023: Lent III

The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT 

 Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, `Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, `I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.               

This stretch in the Holy Season of Lent bestows on us a four-week series of blockbuster stories from the Gospel according to John. And each os these stories is unique to John’s Gospel. All but the first one run almost 40 verses long. And the cast of characters is impressively diverse. 

Last week we heard from the Pharisee Nicodemus. This week the multi-marginalized woman at Jacob’s well. Next week the average-Joe, but blind, man spontaneously healed with mud and spit. And the final Sunday before Holy Week is the grand finale – Jesus’ raising of his friend Lazarus.

Yesterday in our Quiet Day we read these four stories in tandem so we could discern and delight in the common threads that John is weaving together into his very clear and unequivocal message that Jesus IS God. Period. Jesus is the light of the world who overcomes all darkness and saves us, heals us, resurrects us for nothing more or less than our unwavering belief in him.That is all that John has to say. 

But says it in four thoroughly distinct ways in these four readings. This morning’s reading is the most challenging and the most enlightening of the bunch.  It is the story that my long time former spiritual director most often suggested I turn to when asking the question, where is God in my life? 

It is the story of the Samaritan woman who has a life-changing encounter with Jesus at Jacob’s well. This passage contains the longest conversation between Jesus and anyone, in our canon. A woman. And although she is unnamed, she has a voice. And she uses it.

Last week we heard Jesus explaining the finer points of the Spirit to the privileged yet thoroughly thick Nicodemus, who never quite got the message. In today’s story, the woman at the well is the abject opposite of Nicodemus in terms of social location. But she gets it. Not at first. But in the end, she is the model of apostolic discipleship. Even when compared to Jesus’ hand-picked disciples who spend this passage shopping for supper rather than spreading the Good News. 

In comparison with Nicodemus, the elite Pharisee, this woman – unnamed, uneducated, unacceptable as she is on any sort of social scale, in her time and place – she is the model of Gospel discipleship. Like Mary, the mother of our Saviour, humble and without status, who’s soul magnified the Lord, so too does this unnamed Samaritan woman, who is as marginalized as anyone Jesus encounters. 

And yet she is the face of true discipleship. She listens. She understands. She believes. And then she heads to town to spread the Good News. And on account of her witness, says the scripture, several other Samaritans also come to believe. Among the main divine differences between Nicodemus and this unnamed woman is her willingness to cross myriad boundaries. This story is all about boundary crossing.

At the start of the story, Jesus is on his way from Judea to Galilee.  Galilee is the site of Jesus’ first miracle in John’s Gospel; the changing of water into wine and the wedding at Cana. And he is heading back that way. But with no easy route, he crosses over into Samaria, a foreign land to a Jewish rabbi.

Nevertheless, there he is.  And at midday, high noon, says the scripture, tired and thirsty from his long journey,Jesus finds himself at Jacob’s well in the center of the town of Sychar in Samaria. His disciples have gone to fetch supper. And so he is alone at the community well until a Samaritan woman approaches. 

Please note that everything about this encounter between Jesus and this unnamed woman, from the get-go, is a cultural boundary violation. And so this unknown woman is about to have what Elizabeth Kubler Ross has called a radical and scandalous encounter with the divine. 

But, she is the living lesson that sometimes God meets us only when we are willing to swim against the tide.Only when we are willing to cross a few boundaries.

The first boundary crossing is in the timing of this event. Noon is absolutely not the acceptable time to draw water from a well in the middle of the desert. The sun is too high, the stones are too hot, there are no shadows for relief or cover.  So, right off the bat, the very timing puts us on unconventional ground.

And, it is ground that is initiated not by Jesus, but by this unidentified woman who approaches him.And at high noon.  Notice this is the abject opposite of the encounter between Jesus and the Pharisee Nicodemus which happened in the dead of night, under cover of darkness. 

And the unsanctioned timing of this encounter is just the beginning of the scandal in this story.  A woman would never typically approach a strange man in public. Further, this strange man is not even a Samaritan. He is a Jew.  And as the woman says, Jews and Samaritans have nothing in common. Or so she thinks. 

It is hard to overstate how unlikely and radical is this encounter between a Jewish man and a Samaritan woman in the center of town in the middle of the day.  She has no earthly business approaching Jesus, and he has no earthly business speaking to her. Everything in this story goes against the grain of convention. 

Anyway, Jesus is sitting alone at Jacob’s Well, where Jacob offered his son Joseph the gift of living water in the Book of Genesis. It’s all woven together! Water has always been the scarcest of resources in the tradition of the Israelites, the Red Sea not withstanding.  As we heard this morning in our reading from Exodus, water is among the number one commodities in the business of sustaining life. It is right up there with breath. There are biblical scholars who believe that the stories of the Hebrew Bible and the current situation in the Middle East are fundamentally and primarily about the control of sources of water. 

And so this is a land in which the social custom of water-giving is more than a blessing. In fact, it is tantamount to an offering of life, not to mention hospitality and friendship. In the desert, the offer of water is a foundational bond.

So Jesus says to the woman as she approaches him: “Give me a drink.” And given her social status, which is none at all, she might easily say: There’s the well, help yourself.  But she does not. She fills his cup. She gives the water. She forges the foundational bond.

And he takes the water, and proceeds to talk to her about a different kind of thirst; A thirst for God. A thirst for God’s friendship. A thirst for eternal life.  And at first she doesn’t get it. But as soon as Jesus identifies himself as the Messiah. Her thirst is immediately quenched. She believes. And she heads straight into town to spread the Good News….just as the disciples are coming back from their excursion to the Samaritan Stop and Shop. 

This woman is the ultimate disciple in John’s Gospel, because she believes. The Gospeller John does not much care about whether or not we follow Jesus, he cares only about our belief; that we believe that Jesus is THE Savior. John’s Gospel is all about believing that Jesus IS God. Drop the mic.

And the Samaritan woman believes enough to spread the Good News! Although she is unnamed, she is not anonymous.  And actually, she is only unnamed until her story becomes our story. 

One of the ways I have related to this story is through Neal LaBute’s gut wrenching play, Reasons to be Pretty. Neal LeBute is not my favorite playwright. But he always leaves me with a lot to think about….usually about how much I hate his plays. But this play is a bit of an exception. 

It is a harsh and deeply unsettling slice-of-life that peeks in on the relationships between four twenty-something friends who are paired in couples, until one of the couples shatters under the weight of a sort of off handed remark made between the two guys over a beer, in what they thought was a casual and private setting. Maybe they should have ordered living water instead!

I won’t recount the whole plot for you, but the core conflict arises when Greg, thinking he is affirming his relationship with his girlfriend, says to his drinking buddy that “Stephanie is regular looking, BUT HE WOULD NOT TRADE HER FOR THE WORLD.” 

Of course this conversation is overheard by Stephanie’s friend. And when Stephanie hears what Greg has said, she hits the ceiling. She is furious and hurt and angry. Because all she hears in Greg’s statement is that she is not attractive.  All she hears is the part about her being “regular” looking. i.e. not hot. She completely misses the part about his undying love. Greg’s intended compliment lands as a slap to Stephanie’s defensive face. The words are the same. But the message got lost in translation.

And the remainder of the play is consumed with the vicious and hurtful unraveling of their relationship. All from a single utterance that neither party disputed word for word, but that each heard so differently that the very fabric of their life together was changed forever.

This unbalanced hearing of undisputed words is why I think I have struggled with this passage for so many years. Because although it begins with Jesus saying to the woman: Give me a drink.  I typically blow right by that opening line and focus only on the deep and heady spiritual teaching that comes next. The part about thirsting for something more than well-water. The part that usually leaves me falling short of the mark.Because who can forsake well-water for spiritual water? That is a very tall order. Too tall for me.

And so sometimes I hear this passage with a dismissive yeah, yeah, yeah. Thirst only for living water. Let go of everything else. Moving right along.

But I think that like Stephanie in Neal Labute’s play, I have been stuck on the wrong part of the message. I think the real living water is in the very first line.  The first words that come out of Jesus’s own mouth. God’s own mouth, according to this Gospel. Give me a drink.  Give ME a drink.

This passage is not just about my thirst for God, it is also, and maybe foundationally about God’s thirst for me.The first thing out of God’s mouth is: Give ME a drink. God is thirsty. THAT is the pearl in this passage. THAT is the punchline.  God’s thirst comes first.

Our job to quench God’s thirst.

As the today’s hero demonstrates, the proper response to a thirty God from a true disciple is to fill God’s cup.  And, holy cow, I can drink to that!


© March, 2023 The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

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Psalm Sunday

Psalm 119

February 12, 2023 

The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT

1 Happy are they whose way is blameless, *
who walk in the law of the Lord!

2 Happy are they who observe his decrees *
and seek him with all their hearts!

3 Who never do any wrong, *
but always walk in his ways.

4 You laid down your commandments, *
that we should fully keep them.

5 Oh, that my ways were made so direct *
that I might keep your statutes!

6 Then I should not be put to shame, *
when I regard all your commandments.

7 I will thank you with an unfeigned heart, *
when I have learned your righteous judgments.

8 I will keep your statutes; *
do not utterly forsake me.

Good morning!

Today is the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany, and we are just one more Sunday away from the Holy Season of Lent. In this stretch of Sundays between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday we hear some of the most familiar stories in our canon. The baptism of Jesus. The calling of the disciples. The beatitudes. And next week we will hear the story of the transfiguration of Jesus.  Each of these familiar passages is told every year from a different Gospel perspective. 

So this Sunday we are going to take a break from the thoroughly familiar and embrace an opportunity to appreciate one of the truly great, and yet truly under-sung masterpieces in our biblical repertoire. Psalm 119. I never paid the Psalm much mind until….now. It always seemed too long. Too complicated. Too repetitive to be given much headspace.

But when the first 8 verses came up in this week’s lectionary….I just kept reading. And reading. And reading. Because as it turns out, this psalm is the It is the longest composition in our Holy Bible, weighing in with a whopping 176 verses. Psalm 119 is the mother of all psalms.

And not just because of its length. Although the length is part of it. Because it provides an opportunity for some gorgeous languishing poetry. But beyond its Guinness Book of Record breaking word count,  it is a marvel of poetic and prayerful compostition by any literary stretch of the imagination. It is remarkable for both for its message and its mechanics, its structure. So much so that I am proposing that we designate this morning as Psalm Sunday! 

Because psalm 119 has it all. Beginning with its structure. This 176 verse psalm is set up like an acrostic poem with 22 stanzas,  each beginning with the consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. And it’s not just that the 22 stanzas are alphabetical. Each stanza is comprised of 8 lines that are faithful to their designated letter.

So all 8 lines in the first stanza begin with the letter alef. The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. All eight lines in the second stanza begin with a beit, the 2nd letter of the Hebrew alphabet. All 8 lines in the third stanza begin with a gimmel. And so on. Holy cow! 

If we were to write a similar prayer following the English alphabet. We would have 26 stanzas of 8 lines each. And every line would need to begin with the same letter. I’ve been trying compose such a prayer all week. And let me tell you it is wicked hard!  I can’t even get past the first stanza.

Almighty God, you are the center of all life.

Absolutely every fibre of my being yearns for you.

Advise me with your wisdom and lead me with your word.

Allow the light of your countenance to grace my path.

Avoid will I the pitfalls of my own self-centeredness.

Amazing is your patience with my stumbling.

Agony awaits we who heed not your guidance.

And …..oy ve I’m tired!

That’s only the very first stanza! Imagine how taxing the Q and the X and Z stanzas must be! And yet, the psalmist of 119 just did it!

Very unfortunately, we have no way of appreciating this monumental feat unless we read this psalm in Hebrew. And so it is a masterpiece that is sadly, but utterly lost in translation. But the  message and the poetry is not.

I made a word cloud of this psalm. IT is a language art program on the internet. The computer algorithm weighs the number of times every word is used in a given piece of text and then sizes each word according to its number of occurances. So, out of the approximately 2300 words in this psalm (more than are in this sermon I might add). And here is the cloud.

What do you think this psalm is about?

Yep. It is about the value of keeping God’s word…..and all of the other words that mean the same thing. commandment, statute, ordinance, decree, Word, precept, promise and law (or torah)  These eight words that all point to God’s Word occur over and over and over again in 176 lines. Word occurs 27 times. Law occurs 25. Ordinances 23. Commandments 22. Statutes 21. Precepts 21. Promise 15. And Decrees 14. They occur so often that they simply wear the reader down.

Stating and restating in beautiful language the singular message of this brilliantly composed prayer. The message that the word of God, the law of God, the decrees of God, the promises of God are the key to life. God faithfully provides the answers. We just need to faithfully hear them. Follow them.

And the structure of the psalm is set up to help us do just that.  All we have to do is follow the abc’s. Like the alphabet. Letter by letter. Just get your feet in the groove says the psalmist, by the very design of the psalm. Just get your feet in the groove and walk on. Down the line. Letter by letter.  In perfect order. If we follow God’s law there will be an order to our lives. And a memorable order… alphabetical order.

And unlike psalm 1, which is also about obeying God’s law, this whopper of a psalm it is not just about obeying God’s law in a general sense. This lengthy psalm stretches its legs into every crevice of our lives, covering every facet of lives that are actively lived.  Walter Brueggemann says, this psalm makes a, “comprehensive statement of the adequacy of a torah-oriented life.”[1]

There is nothing beyond the bounds of its reach. God’s word applies to every circumstance in which we might find ourselves. Every conflict, every conundrum, every celebration, every hope, every fear, every breath. God’s Word spans the full circumference of our very language. from Alef to Tav. From A to Z.

The order and cadence of this psalm say in no uncertain terms that this prayer is primarily about obedience. Our obedience to God’s word, law, commandments, precepts, decrees, ordinances, statutes, promises. 

Again Walter Brueggeman  (because he is a scholar’s scholar on the (psalms)  He writes that the sort of focus on the torah that is offered in this psalm (and also psalms 1 and 19) emphasize the, “ethical context of our faith, and the public character of true religion….The Torah at the center reminds us that the primal mode of faithfulness and knowing God is obedience.”[2]

Now, obedience is a dicey concept. At least here and now in our 21st century western world. Obedience has the connotation of blindly handing over one’s agency to some sort of higher authority. A relinquishing of one’s individual choice. A required submission of personal power.  Obedience is for dogs and children. Not for fully formed adults with God-given free will.

But the concept of obedience in the Hebrew Scriptures, as I understand it, is not about the surrender of agency, it’s about choosing to use one’s agency in concert with God’s…..wisdom.  God’s love. God’s truth. God’s ways. In the Hebrew Scriptures the word translated as obey is the same word that is translated as hear.  To hear is to obey. If we are not following God, we have not truly heard God.

Hearing is obeying. But hearing requires agency.  It is not a surrender of agency, it is a proper employment thereof. The role of obedience in the roots of our faith tradition run deep. Among the most sacred statements in the Torah is the schema. From Deuteronomy 6:4. 

Hear O Israel. The Lord is Our God. The Lord is One. (schema Israel. Adonai elohanu. Adonai ehad)

It is the solemn declaration that our God is One God. Obey O Israel. Obey this above all else. But this heard obedience is not meant in legalistic sort of way.

And the language of this morning’s psalm is clear.  It is not an instruction manual, it’s a dance card. Back and forth. It’s a conversation. A mutual give and take.  Life with God is a mutual endeavor. A two-way street. It’s about walking, choosing to walk, through every conceivable heartache and highpoint of this life, In the presence of God. 

Just hear the poetry of this mutual relationship in the rest of this morning’s psalm:

I will walk in liberty.

Teach me. With my whole heart I seek you.

Open my eyes. Revive me.

Graciously teach me your law.

Enlarge my understanding

I find delight in your commandments

I will meditate on your statutes

Your promise gives me life

Your statutes are my songs

Your decrees are the joy of my heart

Your words give understanding to the simple.

With open mouth I pant,
   because I long for your commandments

The sum of your word is truth

My tongue will sing of your promise

How sweet are your words to my taste,
   sweeter than honey to my mouth! 

Your word is a lamp to my feet
   and a light to my path.

I am yours.

This psalm could easily be a valentine. Because this is the language of love.

In this prayer obedience is not restrictive, it is liberating. And not because it is all sweetness and light. The psalmist interrogates God’s fidelity several times.  How long will it take you to free me my God? When will you comfort me?’  How long must your servant endure? I am persecuted without cause; help me! 

And yet, says the psalmist, I have not forsaken your precepts. If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my misery

This psalm speaks of life as we live it. And in the end, the underlying point of this poem may be more about God’s mercy than our obedience.

Verse 77 says it all:

77 Let your mercy come to me, that I may live;
   for your law is my delight. 

May it be so.

I highly encourage you to read the rest of this psalm. Maybe on Valentines Day. Find a quite 30 minutes. Steep a cup of your favorite herbal tea. Make yourself comfortable. And read these 22 stanzas in their glorious entirety. And I predict you will fall even more in love with God than you are right now!

And the people said: Amen.

© February, 2023 The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

[1] The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary, Walter Brueggemann, pg. 40

[2] Praying the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann, pg. 50

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Are You THE One?

Gospel According to Matthew 11:2-11

December 11, 2022: Advent III
The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” – NRSV

Welcome to the third week of Advent!
It is the second week in a row when the main character in our Gospel reading is John the Baptist.
And he poses a question in this morning’s Gospel reading that is front and center in the Jesus story for Christians and non-Christians alike. And front and center in this season of Advent.
It is the question at the heart of our faith.
John asks Jesus: “Are you the one, or should we wait for another?”

It’s a question that begs the consideration of a big word in our theological toolbox. Epsitemology. Etymologically, epistemology is the study of knowledge, from the Greek episteme.
It is about the quality and nature of knowledge;
about the ways in which we distinguish between what is the truth and what is….not.

A timely subject for this One Nation Under God that has adopted an affinity for “fake news.” But that’s another sermon for another day.

The theological textbooks talk about epistemology as the intersection
between truth and belief and justification.
What makes something true? How do we know what we know? And how do we justify our knowledge?

Such questions are at the heart of how we talk about ourselves as Christians in the world.

And such questions are implicit in John the Baptist’s question of Jesus: Are you the one?

Which is a thoroughly reasonable question given the state of the world.
Because if the one we are waiting for is already here….why haven’t things changed?
But, John’s question is also relatively bizarre given last week’s Gospel where John was so very resolute about the identity of Jesus. Remember? You Brood of Vipers! Repent!
Prepare ye the way for the one who comes with fire and a winnowing fork.
John was the steadfast herald of the news that he seemed to know to be true without question or qualm. Last week John was a rock…utterly sure of himself and his message:
Repent! For the ax is lying at the root of every tree, and any that are not worthy to bear good fruit will be chopped to the quick, and burned to the core in an unquenchable fire…. Holy cow!
There was no inkling of any uncertainty in John last week.

But this week, John is cooling his heels in a Roman jail cell as he tries to get a grip on the perplexing posture of this so-called king about whom he has been preaching and for whom he has been waiting. And his tone takes a distinct detour. He goes from: Repent! Prepare the way of the Lord!
To: Uh, are you sure you’re the Lord? You’re the one we’re waiting for? Get outta town.

I mean, no disrespect Jesus, but where’s your sword and your scepter.
Where is the pomp, the parade, the power and the glory that we were…preparing for?
How exactly do you plan to overthrow the forces of evil in a…a…sackcloth and sandals?
Frankly, Lord, you’re not exactly…actually not at all what we had in mind…in fact, forgive me,
but you don’t look all that different from us.
And more importantly, you don’t seem to have much more clout with the authorities than…than…than a camel with out-of-state plates. If you’re the king, you know, the one, then why is my rear end still in this jail cell? Are you sure you’re the one?

It almost makes us want to turn the question back on John;
Are you sure that you are the one, the prophet sent by God to herald God’s coming?,
Or are we to wait for another, perhaps one who will have a better handle on the Lord he is lauding. Because if you don’t know whether or not this Jesus is the one for whom we are waiting,
then who should we ask?!

Still, it is not too difficult to see John’s point, is it?
I can feel John’s predicament. Especially now, in these troubled times.
It seems perfectly reasonable to ask. Because…..
Number one, Jesus does not fit the expectation of the messiah.
And number two, the world is still a mess, still brimming with greed and selfishness and evil.

So I think we all want to know,

Jesus, are you the one, the Good News of God, or should we keep waiting?

In fact, it seems only logical to question the devastation, the oppression the injustice -which has, incidentally been reoccurring throughout the whole of human history, and did not appear to be even slightly curtailed by the birth, life, death, or resurrection of God’s own flesh and blood.
Henri Nouwen says that we are the first generation for whom the future is actually optional.

In the face of such a world, the question to Jesus, “are you the one who is coming” is not at all uncalled for.

And yet, it is not incumbent upon the distinctly divine to explain anything to the wholly human. Speaking strictly for myself, I am so not capable of comprehending God’s big picture plan, or, even less, of doing anything about it even if I were to be granted the inside scoop.
Explaining God’s design to me would be akin to Pythagoras explaining his theorem to a turnip. There’s just no point.

But Martin Smith says that Advent is about the mystery of God’s choice to embrace the limitations of human life. Advent is the space where our demand for knowledge meets God’s insistence on mystery. Where we sit in the dark (and getting darker every day) with nothing but our faith to hold on to. Certainty and uncertainty all wrapped up……in the same present. Here and now.
Advent is where we begin the dance.

It’s strange that a new beginning is often characterized by a theme of waiting. But the word in this morning’s passage that is translated as “wait” – are you the one who is coming, or should we wait for another – is really more appropriately translated from the Greek as “expect.” Which carries a bit of a different connotation than wait. We can wait for something about which we know very little.
But expectation comes with…….baggage. It comes with some knowing. Expecting comes with some knowledge of that for which we are waiting.

This verb is used 29 times in the New Testament, 23 of which are in the Gospel of Matthew. That otherwise boring statistic, tells us that Matthew is the Gospel of expectation.
Of knowing what is coming. Of prophesy fulfilled.

The fabric of expectation is grounded in a recognition of that which is awaited.
To re-cognize….to re-know…to know again.
Expectation is about waiting for something we already recognize, something we already know.

The danger, of course, is that our expectations can and often do color our eyesight. We often see only what we expect to see.

Like the police officer who had been staking out a bar on a busy road. After last call the officer noticed a man leaving the bar apparently so intoxicated that he could barely walk. The man stumbled around the parking lot for a few minutes, with the officer quietly observing. After what seemed an eternity in which he tried his keys on five different vehicles, the man managed to find his car and fall into it. He sat there for a few minutes as a number of other patrons left the bar and drove off. Finally he started the car, switched the wipers on and off–it was a fine, dry summer night – flicked the blinkers on and off a couple of times, honked the horn and then switched on the lights. He moved the vehicle forward a few inches, reversed a little and then remained still for a few more minutes. And at last, when his was pretty much the only car left, he managed to safely navigate the parking lot and pull out onto the main road .

The police officer, having waited patiently all this time, started up his patrol car, put on the flashing lights, and promptly pulled the man over and immediately administered a breathalyzer test. But to his amazement, the breathalyzer indicated no evidence that the man had consumed any alcohol at all! Dumbfounded, the officer said, I’ll have to take you to the police station in my cruiser.
This breathalyzer equipment seems to be broken.’
‘I doubt it,’ said the man. ‘Tonight was my night to be the designated decoy.”

Are you the one, or should we wait for another?

It’s a joke that rests on an unethical premise, but you get my point.
Seeing may be believing. But the question is always, what are we seeing?
Sometimes what looks like a duck and smells like a duck and acts like a duck….is just a decoy.

And so John asks Jesus: Are you sure you are the one?

Maybe rather than the season of expectation, Advent is really the season of expectation management. John was expecting the Messiah, …with a capital M.
The kind of Messiah that was promised in the Book of Isaiah.
Isaiah prophesied that such a Messiah would be named “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace.” Handle’s Messiah. Isaiah’s Messiah. This was the Messiah that John expected.

John expected a king…a warrior like David…a prominent priest…a prophet like Elijah…John was not expecting a poor, powerless (by any political and social standards), peasant with a relatively rotten temper and a radical disregard for all earthly…..expectations.
This Gospel reading does nothing else, it reinforces the inadequacies of our expectations over, and over, and over again.

And so it is not all surprising that Jesus did not answer John’s question as we might hope or expect.
” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.
And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

This is not an answer to the question “Are you the one?” There is no first person verb or pronoun in Jesus’ answer. Jesus does not respond to whether he is or is not the one.

And this is worth noting about Jesus. He never defends or even defines himself.
He is always pointing toward God. Never pointing toward himself. Never clarifying who he is. Only and always talking about the Source of his Authority with a capital A.
Because identity is almost always grounded in the Source of Authority.

If we want to know who someone is and how they are likely to behave,
the first thing we want to know is where they get their authority.
Where do they get their marching orders? And how do they know what they know? Whose truth are they telling?

And so, getting back to epistemology, it is all about authority.
Advent is all about the question: Who is our authority as Christians? Who is our God? And if the light arising from the darkness does not look like Jesus of Nazareth.
If the gift does not come wrapped in a homeless migrant
who preaches for his supper and heals for his vocation;
If our God does not look like Jesus born in Bethlehem,
a brown-skinned baby without a modicum of social stature or a single denari to his name. If our authority does not come from the unsightly, uncomfortable margins,
Then like John, we will be trapped in a prison of our own poor expectations management. We will be waiting for a…..while.

The Good News of Advent, is that we already know what we await, as Matthew suggests. It is already etched on our hearts. We are waiting for our own divinity to shine through the night, to be delivered.

Let us be the Advent blessing that God awaits and expects in us.


© December 2022 The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

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Plow Peace

Book of Isaiah 2:1-5

November 27, 2022: Advent I

The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT

Here it is, the first Sunday in Advent. Again.
Just like last year, and the year before, and the year before that, here we are beginning our story, again. Our same age-old story, in a new year, presumably in a new way, and yet, it is not a new story, not even close. For some of us, Advent could easily feel like a rut, like a broken record,
like Spotify stuck on repeat until we have heard that same old song…enough already.

Every year we hear the promise of peace on earth.
But every year we wait with joyous expectancy for a gift that continues to elude us. Where is the peace on earth already?
Are we that foolish? Or is God that untrustworthy?
How can it be that God has come to earth, every Christmas for over 2 millenia, And still we wait. Still no peace on earth.

This morning’s first reading from the Book of Isaiah puts the promise in black and white. We read it every three years in this season of Advent.
And it proclaims, in no uncertain terms, the coming of said peace on earth.

All of the people will come to the mountain of God.
And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
And we will all walk in the light of the Lord!

It’s a lovely dream. But it’s not true….at least not yet.
Just ask the good folks of Ukraine. Peace has not yet graced our earth.

And yet, I think I know that peace of which Isaiah speaks.
It’s not an entirely foreign concept. Peace on earth.

This very morning, as I was finishing this sermon, I watched the night sky give way to the most amazing morning light. The most gorgeous pink horizon began to lift above the bare tree tops across my back yard. And I thought, if this sight is not peace on earth, I don’t know what is.
And I started to wonder about truth, the accuracy of this sermon.

Maybe there is a different way of understanding peace on earth. Maybe it’s just not ….not…..manifested in the way we expect. Because I think we are waiting for some switch to be flipped.

For the violence and the hatred and the forces of domination and oppression and fragmentation That make this world so violent, to just stop. On a dime. All at once.
And then, out of the blue there will be peace….on the whole earth.
Everywhere. No exceptions.

I think we think that when peace finally does come to earth,
humanity will instantaneously become…..all-loving and kind and generous and respectful. Like the Manchurian Candidate.
God will utter a divine word, and peace will just spread like jam over the whole earth.

But I am thinking that that is not how this swords into ploughsahres thing works.
I am thinking it might work the way Advent works.
Which would be why this reading shows up in Advent rather than Eastertide where really belongs, in my humble opinion. Because Advent, in the true meaning of the word, is the only possible context. For this scenario put forth by our prophet Isaiah.

Advent is from the Latin adventus. And adventus in Latin is a very particular verb form. It is a perfect passive participle.
We don’t have this form in English.
But in Latin, the perfect passive participle has a somewhat contradictory meaning.

The perfect passive part denotes something which has already happened. But the participle part is something that is happening as we speak
and continues to happen into the future.
So, Advent, from the perfect passive participle adventus, is:

1)  something that is happening now and is ongoing.

2)  and also something that has already happened.

We can’t get our arms around Advent if we are thinking in a linear way.
If we are waiting for a switcxh to flip on or off.
We can’t get our arms around the coming of God if we move from start to finish,
from beginning to ending.
The very meaning of Advent tells us that we can’t put one foot in front of the other and get to God. Advnet tells us that we have to live and work spatially rather than chronologically.
Because God’s Chronos…God’s time, is not linear.

It is all around us and as we live and breathe, and still to come as we hope and dream.
If you ask me, the very concept of Advent is the perfect gift for Christmas.
And maybe Advent is not the time of waiting, but the space and place in which we wait. And that means that Advent is not really about waiting in time, but about filling our time.

I think if we hear this passage from Isaiah as a perfect passive participle we may be on to something.

Because Isaiah himself is writing this passage in the middle of a raging war.
He talks about beating swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks as though it has already happened. And yet Isaiah could have been writing in President Zelkensky’s foxhole
as Russian missiles explode around him.
But Isaiah is insistent that our instruments of violence will be transformed into instruments
of peace….and not just peace…..prosperity.
They will be transformed into Ploughshares (instruments of employment)
and pruning hooks (instruments of growth).
A transformation from war, not just to not-war, but to creative work.
Not just to peace, but productivity. Not just passivity, but actively planting.

And I got to thinking, maybe we have the process out of order.
Maybe war does not become peace and then peace becomes prosperity.
Maybe the antidote to war is not peace (which would take a miracle from God),
but work (which is well within our human purview).
Peace may still be the result.
But maybe, short of a miracle, work is the agent of transformation.
Swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks.
That sounds and feels right to me.
Because when I’m working, when I am constructive, I am much less likely to be destructive. Maybe the answer to our broken world is not peace but engaging employment.

You might have heard of Fr. Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest whose memoir is called Tattoos on the Heart. It chronicles his work in Los Angeles with some of the most violent gang members in….anywhere. This year is the 30th anniversary of his work of changing swords into ploughshares.
His organization could have been called Isaiah Inc. But he called it Homeboy Industries.

The mission is to respond to gang violence in the streets of Los Angeles by putting some of the most incorrigible gang members in that city to productive work.
Fr. Boyle writes: “Homeboy Industries seeks to improve and transform the lives of gang members by employing them at one of the Homeboy businesses, which include a Homeboy Bakery and Home Girl Café, a silkscreen and embroidery shop, among others. Homeboy Industries also provides support services including therapy, GED classes, and tattoo removal…”1 And more planting and growing endeavors.

In the beginning, Fr. Boyle says he actively worked to draft peace agreements and ceasefires among warring gangs. But none of those endeavors worked. At all.
Because, he says, peace-making agreements require that a conflict be solved.

But there is no actual conflict in the realm of in gang warfare.
There is plenty of violence, but it has no reasonable foundation to be reconciled.
Fr. Boyle explains “It’s about a lethal absence of hope. It’s about kids who can’t imagine a future for themselves. It’s about kids who aren’t seeking anything when they join a gang.” They are no seeking, they are fleeing. “They’re always fleeing something,” he says.
They are kids who have no productive focus for their lives.

And this description jives with what we know about recruitment for all gang-style warfare, especially terrorist organizations like ISIS and al-Shabbab and others.
The perpetrators are first and foremost grossly under-employed.
And so, when Homeboy Industries first started, it was mostly an employment referral agency. The slogan on its T-shirts still reads, “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”

And Homeboy Industries has been proving that slogan to be true for three decades.
Today, Homeboy Industries employs roughly 250 ex-gang members a year, most of whom have been to prison. And the organization has a 75-percent retention rate,
which means 75 percent of the people with whom they work, do not return to prison.2
They have permanently turned their swords into ploughshares.

For that 75%, peace has come on earth. Swords into ploughshares into peace.

This is how peace comes to earth.
But the peace is not something that has happened once and for all.
Just like Advent, it has happened and it must keep happening.

We must keep plowing and planting and pruning. And by getting to work we will get to peace.

Fr. Boyle’s business strategy hangs on his belief that:
“The role of people on earth is to try to imitate the kind of God they believe in.”
If we believe in a God that is ever creative, ever creating, the greatest gardener of all time! Then plowing and planting and pruning are the way.

As Matthew says in this morning’s Gospel reading, the way to be ready when the Son of Humanity comes again is to keep our eyes on our work before us.
Forget the signs and the prophesies. Forget the wishful thinking.
Forget waiting patiently for the switch to flip.

Instead, let us drop to our knees in God’s garden and sow peace for the harvest!

As I was on my way to church this morning, a friend of mine, Rick Cinami, sent me a text. I don’t think I’ve ever received a text from Rick on Sunday morning, so when I saw his name come up on my phone, I was bit a worried.

I opened it immediately and this is what I saw.

“Peace on Earth”

Just in case the morning sky outside my own window was not enough to get it through my think head and heart, God, in God’s infinite wisdom, resorted to social media.
And put my peace on earth in a text from a friend who was thinking of me and my parish at 6am. Enough to stop his truck and take a picture. And send it with his best wishes for a lovely day.
This day which God has made and laced with sweet peace in places where we least expect to find it.

God is good. All the time.

All the time. God is good.

And peace is here all over God’s earth!


© November 2022, The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

[1] On Being with Krista Tippett, April 2, 2015

[2] ON Being blog, by Mary Desmond, Jesuit Preist Takes LA Gang Members and Provides Jobs and Hope with Homeboy Industries. This article appears courtesy of The Chautauquan Daily.

[3] Mary Desmond article.

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A Day for Thanksliving

November 20, 2022: Ingathering Sunday

The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT

I love Thanksgiving. It has always been among my favorite holidays.
It is the holiday that is strictly reserved for food and fellowship. No gifts to wrap. No presents to buy. No apologies or excuses or consternation about what to give whom.

We all know from the get-go what to give whom.
It’s Thanksgiving. The holiday of thanks giving.
The only holiday reserved especially and exclusively for our expression of gratitude to God for God’s grace.This is the only holiday devoted to the goodness of God that is not denominational.
The only religious holiday (for those of us who consider it a religious holiday)
that I can celebrate in earnest with my friends of all faiths.

I especially love sharing Thanksgiving with my friends from around the world.
Because although Thanksgiving is historically an American holiday, I think it is fundamentally a human holiday. For there is no one on the face of God’s gracious earth who does not have something for which they can be thankful. No one. No matter how trying our circumstances. No matter what pain or sorrow we are enduring.We have all tasted the sweet miracle of life but by the grace of God.
Every one of us is a pilgrim. And we travel each day at God’s pleasure.
Every life is a pilgrim’s process. And every pilgrim’s progress is a gift from God.
Long or short, our lives are God’s works of art. God’s miracles.

Even Cicero, the ancient pagan orator, called gratitude the mother of all virtues, the most capital of all duties. Cicero used the words grateful and good synonymously; inseparably united in character.[1]
And so, long before the dawn of our common era, the great thinkers of the day knew that living a “good life”, was somehow wrapped up in living a grateful life.

Even when gratitude is at a premium. Yesterday was the burial service for our beloved warden Becky’s nephew Andrew and unborn grandniece Elizabeth. Both lost their lives in a horrible car accident less than two weeks ago just down the road from here. And so I have been thinking a lot about grief and gratitude as we approach our feast of thanksgiving.

Is gratitude a relevant virtue in the midst of abject suffering and grief?
It’s a question we might all have asked over the last couple of pandemic laden years.
Does gratitude have a place in our grief? And I think the answer is a resounding yes! Gratitude is not only relevant in the midst of grief, it might be the most holy response to grief, and maybe to all forms of suffering.

Because gratitude is the realization and the acknowledgement that we are not in control.
Unlike anger, which rests on the notion that we should have some control,
Gratitude accepts that we are contingent. That we are dependent on forces beyond our ken or capability. And so the mere fact that we have had life in the first place must make us grateful from our core.

And so gratitude may well be the most helpful response to grief.
The best way to cope with loss is to remember with thankful hearts what we had to lose, and what we have left. To identify the empty tomb in the midst of our despair.
And to begin to appreciate and claim whatever new life and love arises out of the ashes of our sorrow.
I think gratitude is the holy response to grief.

Gratitude is thanksgiving.
The word thanksgiving is used over 200 times in the New Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible. And it is integral to the texture and the essence of the right relationship between human beings and God, in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.
Psalm 50 says “Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me.”
Thanksgiving is the premier offering, and the precursor for going along the “right way” to God.

Which is why from the time of Cicero and the Hebrew Scriptures,
gratitude has been characterized as the apriori condition to living a “good” life,
as oxygen is apriori to living a biological life.
That is to say, it is impossible to live a good life without living gratefully…without living with thanksgiving. We could call it thanksliving.

It is no surprise that in the New Testament, the Greek word for thanksgiving is eucrivstia. Eucharist. The Greek word for thanksgiving is the central act of Christian worship.
Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we literally celebrate Thanksgiving.
And, as we all know, the origin of the Eucharist was the last supper,

where Jesus, enjoying food and fellowship with his disciples, offered thanksgiving to God. Thanksgiving is our most holy Christian expression of our communion with God.
And so for we Christians, the Last Supper was the first Thanksgiving.

And thanksgiving begins with appreciation.
Appreciation is the feeling of thankfulness.
Appreciate is from the Latin ad pretium, which literally means to add (ad) value (pretium).
To appreciate something is to add to its value. When we appreciate something, we increase its worth.
So when we are thankful for God’s gifts, when we appreciate them, we are actually enhancing their value.

Now that is an awesome concept.
To think that the value of God’s gifts can be increased by the way in which they are received. To think that I, a broken, bruised, flawed, fractured, frightened, fledgling featherless bi-ped

can add value to the incredible gifts that God alone has bestowed. That I, that you, that we have a hand in the quality of our blessings. How great is that?! And how daunting!

And yet, thanksgiving is not a cursory, perfunctory, obligatory act
that we are programmed to perform so that we may remain in God’s good graces. It is not good business. It is not good manners.
True thanksgiving is neither a reflex nor a requirement.
It is rather a freely offered critical and crucial completion of the creative process. We complete the process by appreciating the value of God’s creation.
We increase the value of the creation when we give our thanks.
Without our appreciation, the gifts of God cannot realize their full potential.

Wow! Gratitude is that powerful!

When we are truly thankful, with our whole beings, with our full completment of resources and gifts, We become, in the words of Richard Hooker, one of the 17th century fathers of Anglicanism, “associates of Deity.”[2] By appreciating the gifts of God we become partners in the process.
We are needed by God to glorify God’s gifts. The fullness of God’s grace is, to some degree, in our hands.

It is no accident that our Ingathering Sunday is perched just before Thanksgiving.
It’s a day when we as a community give thanks for the blessing of our little corner of the Jesus movement that we call Trinity Church in Brooklyn.

The tradition of an ingathering sabbath dates back as far as we can remember in our faith tradition.
Our Jewish foreparents celebrated their good lives by bringing a portion of their harvest, God’s harvest, to the Temple at the end of every growing season.
It was a way of acknowledging with a substantial sacrifice of their harvest,
the deep spiritual value of their common life as a community of faithful souls.
Our scripture teaches us from the very start of Genesis, that sacrifice is the proper response to gratitude.

So today we offer our pledges of personal sacrifice, of time, talent and treasure to this beloved community of God. Today we can put some teeth into our thanksgiving. To turn our thanksgiving into thanksliving.
To offer whatever we have to offer to the glory of God and God’s purposes through the work and companionship that makes this parish such a special sanctuary in our weary and broken world.

I want to close with a poem I wrote in honor of Lancelot Addrewes.
One of the founders of Anglican spirituality.
Lancelot Adrewes is famous for his book and habits of devotions.
He is said to have prayed with abject thanksgiving at least five hours every day. Unless he was really busy. On those days thanked God in prayer for 7 hours.

A Thanksgiving Day Poem Dedicated to Lancelot Andrewes

We lift our hearts unto the Lord. We bow our heads in praise. Through hope and disappointment, with all ends and means and ways, Every day, and every moment, with each breath, and every blink, Everywhere, in every cranny, in the heart and on the br ink,
In all times and in all places, in the rare and the routine,
In antiquity, eternity and all that’s in between;
For our coming and our going, for our work and for our rest,
In our rising and our falling, feeling cursed or feeling blessed;
With glee, and joy, and gladness, with respect and awe and praise,
For compassion and forgiveness, through our trespass and malaise; Through our angst and our elation , when we’re brilliant or a fool,
For curiosity, commitment, creativity and cool;
For the whole of your vast heaven, and the fullness of your earth,
For community and family, and membership at birth;
For the warp and woof of nature, for the yin and yang of time,
For the order of the universe, its meter and its rhyme;
For lavender, and chartreuse, for bashful, bright, and bold,
For summer squash, and autumn leaves, and snow and marigolds;
For every mole and freckle, every sniff and every snore,
For every rotten wrinkle, every follicle and pore;
For every living thing, every fern and every fungus,
Every being, every beetle, Lord, for everything amongus;
Within, around, above, below, beside, beneath, between,
For everything for evermore we’ve ever never seen,
We’re humbled and we’re grateful; with our lives we sing your praise. And we’ll thank you from our toe bottoms for all our blessed days.

God bless our Thanksgiving!


© November, 2022 The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

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Saint Zacchaeus

October 30, 2022 – All Saints Sunday

The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Luke 19:1-10, NRSV

Good morning! Today we celebrate all saints. So good morning saints!

My friend Rev’d. Dr. Mark Bozutti Jones who is the Director of Spiritual Formation at Trinity Wallstreet used to say that there is no difference between Christian saints and Jewish saints, except that Christian saints are absolutely perfect and Jewish saints are abundantly flawed.
And so the Apostle Paul, a Jew his whole life long, said that we were all born to be saints.

Every one of us. We all have a scoshe of the holy in us.

This morning’s Gospel invites us to think about the criteria for sainthood. It tells the story of the chief tax collector in Jericho named Zacchaeus.

It’s a great name. Zacchaeus.
It’s got girth and substance and it is not yet overused.
In fact, a Google search of Zacchaeus reveals that it is used only once in our public sphere. And it is here in this morning’s reading from Luke’s Gospel.

And, Zacchaeus shows up only in Luke.
And not only the name Z, but the very term, “chief tax collector” appears only here in Luke. Nowhere else in our New Testament is there a reference to a chief tax collector.

This story of Z falls at the end of a whole portion of Luke that appears only in Luke. Most of chapters 15 to 19. They are aptly called the “L” source section….as in, only found in Luke. But the “L” section is very aptly named. Not loser to God, but definitely on the margins of our own social scale.
Because most of the characters in this section “L” are outcasts and sinners….losers in the social sense. Parables about lost sheep, dishonest managers, rotten rich men, lepers, poor widows and unjust judges, and this last parable about the unpopular, untall, head tax collector Zacchaeus.
The “L” section.

Just the sort of folks that Jesus collects. The folks on the margins…..on every margin.
Like Zacchaeus who, despite his affluence as a tax collector, also qualifies as an outcast.
Because he is….well, said to be short for one. And hated by everyone from whom he collectes taxes. And the author of this text seems to want us to think of Z as a loser. Big time.

Elisabeth Kaeton (an Episcopal priest with a long and impressive resume of service to the church) – writes in her blog “Telling Secrets,” that this tale of Zacchaeus is perfectly placed around the time of Halloween. Because, she says, the whole story is about how we are tricked into treating Zacchaeus as someone who is disgraceful, someone who fails to measure up against the moral yardstick of the day.

No one else is reprehensible enough in all of the Gospels to be called the chief of tax collectors.
It’s not bad enough to be a regular tax collector, like the one denounced earlier in the L section. Here, Luke adds another layer of disgust.
Zacchaeus is the chief of all of the dirty rotten scoundrels who collect tribute for the Roman Empire.

And so from the get-go, we know that Zacchaeus is rich.
The supreme moral knock against his character in the ancient world where wealth was a zero-sum game. Those who were rich always got that way at the expense of those who were poor.
A rich tax collector was virtually swimming in sin.

And as the icing on the deficiency cake, the text says that Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore tree because he wanted to see who Jesus was and, “he could not see because he was short in stature.”
Many commentaries take this insinuation that Z was short as another derogatory slur.
He’s rotten, and he’s short.

But I think it is not clear whether the author is referring to Zacchaeus as short in stature, or to Jesus as short in stature. “He could not see because he was short in stature.”

It seems a small point (pun only slightly intended), but its one of the reasons that I love this passage so much. There are so many unclarified nuances that invite the reader to ponder our assumptions.
To question the many ways in which we are prone to judge a book, or a chief tax collector, by their cover. It is jam packed with little mirrors that challenge our most basic assumptions.

Like who is and is not a saint? Who is and is not a sinner?
But, we are led to believe that Zacchaeus is firmly in the latter category.
And if not a sinner, at least a wildly unpopular fellow.
And so right off the bat we are led to think of Zacchaeus as a rogue who needs a change of heart.
We think of him as we think of the Pharisees, and rich Lazarus who tosses a single coin to the leper at his gate, and a host of other Richie Riches in the Gospels who loot the public coffers and take advantage of those who are less fortunate.

So by the end of verse 2 we have a fairly poor impression of Zacchaeus.
But he wants to see “who Jesus is” so he climbs a sycamore tree and waits for the procession. And when Jesus passes under that tree, looks up, as though he knows Zacchaeus is there,
and somehow he knows Z’s name.
Jesus calls up, “Zacchaeus, hurry down out of that tree, for I must stay at your house today.”

Can you imagine? There you are, perched in a sycamore tree like a kid hoping for a better view of a parade… or maybe like a rogue seeking camouflage, or both –
another little uncertainty to chew on in this text.
Why is Z in that tree? Because he literally cannot see Jesus otherwise? Or because he is so hated that he needs to hide as protection from the public mob?

And imagine how shocked he must have been when Jesus not only knew his name, but insisted on coming to his house.
“I must stay at your house today,” said Jesus.
And just like that, Z, guess who’s coming to dinner!

And so Zacchaeus scurries out of the tree and “joyfully” welcomes Jesus.
There is no grumbling on his part for the unsolicited self-invitation on Jesus’ part. Zacchaeus joyfully welcomes him. It’s the same word “joyfully” used by Martha when she welcomes Jesus to her home.
I don’t k now about you, but if someone I did not personally know announced that they must come to my house tonight for dinner, out of the blue, there might be a bit of grumbling.
Not Zacchaeus. He responds to Jesus’ unsolicited invitation with utter joy!

However, as the scripture says, everyone else grumbles.
Not just the scribes and Pharisees who are the typical grumblers in Luke. Here, everyone is grumbling, disciples and apostles and the whole crowd in general.
Everyone is passing a mighty judgment on this rich chief tax collector whom they all take to be unworthy of Jesus’ attention. He’s no saint. He is a sinner! Not good enough for Jesus.

And it’s easy to see their point. What is Jesus doing going to the home of this elite money-launderer? Why is Jesus spending his time at the home of this rich guy?
Isn’t Jesus supposed to be focused on the meek, the poor in spirit,
those who hunger and thirst for righteousness?

And here is where we really need a good translator to properly interpret this text.

Because the next line can make or break the way we hear the point of this story.
In my humble opinion, I think the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, the one we heard this morning, offers a bit of a…..mistranslation.
But because Luke’s Greek is so precise, the translation needs to be precise.

The NRSV reads: Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”

Halleluiah, we think. Jesus has changed Zacchaeus’ wonton ways.
His heart has been converted.
He was a rich tax collector, but now he is found, was blind but now he sees. He was a sinner. And now he is a saint.

Almost every Bible translation that I have found, and the preponderance of commentaries
present this story as a conversion story. A story of repentance and reconciliation.
I was at the Massachusetts diocesan convention yesterday (because I am canonically resident there) And every committee presentation that referred to today’s Gospel passage, and there were several, Called it a conversion story.

One of my favorite theologians, Frederic Beuchner agrees.
His commentary says: Zacchaeus was taken so completely aback by the honor of the thing that before he had a chance to change his mind, he promised not only to turn over fifty percent of his holdings to the poor but to pay back, four to one, all the cash he’d extorted from everybody else. Jesus is delighted.1

And I love Frederic Beuchner, but not so fast…..
Because the fact is, that the Greek verbs in this sentence are not in the future tense.
The literal text does not read “I will give to the poor” and “I will pay back what I have defrauded.” No. Because both of these verbs in verse 8 are in a present active tense.
It literally says: “I already give to the poor,” and “I am already paying back four times what I have defrauded.” According to Luke’s Greek, Zacchaeus is already doing the right thing.
Not for nothing, but in Hebrew “Zacchaeus” literally means “righteous.”

He already shares his wealth and he makes amends if anyone is cheated. And he has been doing this all along. And so when we use this story to think about the criteria for sainthood, We need to be clear.

Zacchaeus is not converted to a righteous life, he is a witness to a righteous life.
Because I might suggest that saints are not spotless souls made exceptionally faithful by conversion. Saints are faithful souls who choose to live boldly as witnesses to that faith.
Saints are those among us who bear witness to the love of God.
Not those among us who are lucky enough to be converted into something we were not already.

And so when Jesus says to Z “salvation happens in this house,”
he is not talking about his own saving power.
Jesus is talking about the substance of salvation as the way Z has chosen to use his gifts and live his life. The way that Z has already chosen to share his wealth and his resources,
and to make amends for his trespasses.
This is the measure of a saint of God.

This is the only place in Luke’s Gospel (other than the infancy narrative at the very beginning) where the word salvation is used as a noun.
That is to say, salvation is not something that Jesus is doing, it is something that already exists. Jesus tells Zacchaeus that “salvation” is already here in his house.

I hear Jesus saying, Z, you are already a saint.

And that, dear friends is what I think you and I are called to on this All Saints Sunday.
Not to change who we are. Not to become better people, as it were.
But to become braver witnesses, to choose a life that boldly puts our faith front and center, even if we are short and unpopular.
Our faith in God and in God’s Son and in God’s Spirit will carry us through.
When we ooze God’s love, we are living into our birthright as saints of God.

From Abraham to Zacchaeus. We are all born to be faithful, flawed followers of a living God.

And the saints among us said: Amen.


© Octobert, 2022 The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

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