Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Midnight Cry

Today's daily Advent reading is from Matthew 25:

‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids*took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.* 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.6But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” 7Then all those bridesmaids* got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” 10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11Later the other bridesmaids* came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” 12But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.”13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

We begin Advent by talking about light. At this time of year when the dark gathers earlier and earlier, light catches our eye and warms our hearts. And we talk about preparation. Christ is coming; will we be ready with our small lamps to greet the holy one we call Light from Light and join our light to his? 

How can I prepare for such a thing that seems beyond my comprehension and perhaps my ability? Truth be told, I sometimes am tempted during this season to strive for excellence rather than to live into the mystery of salvation, to work for worthiness rather than simply to bring my brokenness into the light, trusting that I can be made whole by Love. 

I count among my favorite music for Advent “The Midnight Cry,” one of the shape note hymns from early American hymnody, which is about the story of the wise and foolish virgins. The last two verses remind me that using my light to draw near to Christ is all I really need to do:

“Virgins wise, I pray draw near, and listen to your Savior; he is your friend, you need not fear, oh, why not seek his favor? He speaks to you in whispers sweet, in words of consolation: by grace in him you stand complete, he is your great salvation. Dying sinners, will you come, the Savior now invites you; his bleeding wounds proclaim there’s room. Let nothing then affright you - room for you and room for me and room for coming sinners: Salvation pours a living stream for you and all believers.”

There’s room for you and room for me. Let’s go out to meet him with our lamps, however faltering our flame.

Collect for the First Sunday of Advent

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Family Caturday!

Post Thanksgiving nap selfie by Bella.

(Not really. But the kitties were amazingly calm during all the food prep and didn't try to eat anything off the counters or the table. This was a little shocking but certainly welcome!)

And happy Thanksgiving weekend from our family!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Living Thanks

(This is the sermon I delivered at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church this morning. The Thanksgiving Day service at St. Stephen's has a long history and includes singing the traditional Come Ye Thankful People Come at the beginning and our national anthem at the end of it.)

We have come together in the presence of Almighty God to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at God’s hands and to tell the people what things the Almighty has done.

Now perhaps for you, this is a “well, duh” kind of way to speak on Thanksgiving Day. Of course we are here to give thanks. It would be hard to miss the “giving thanks” part of today. It’s in the name, first of all. And second, we are in church, and everybody knows that we do a lot of thanking our God in church. We are the thankful people who have come to God’s temple to glory in the harvest, as we sang a few minutes ago.

When we leave here with our hearts stirred after singing our national anthem, many of us will head into our kitchens to make a thanksgiving feast. We will roast turkeys and whip cream and stir gravy and either mash potatoes or put marshmallows on top of them. We will concoct some kind of dressing. 

(There are many ways, of course, to make dressing or stuffing, although I will tell you now that my mom’s cornbread dressing is the best.) 

We will put on a spread like no other day of the year.

And then we will bow our heads over our plates and we will give thanks for the abundance on our tables, and perhaps we will be inspired by the heaping platters of food and the number of people crowded around the table and the warm feelings we are experiencing to take some time to reflect more generally on God’s abundance in our lives. 

Because when Jesus said, I am the bread of life, he took the whole food thing to another level. Jesus didn’t just prepare a feast of loaves and fishes on the mountain to feed the five thousand, which is the event that sparked the conversation Jesus is having with the crowd in today’s Gospel, but he gave himself, his very life, he gave everything so that we might know just how much God loves us. 

Jesus knew that love is stronger than death and he was willing to lay down his life so that we might see God’s power when he was raised.

And so the feeding on the mountain, the food, was not the whole story. There is more to God’s abundance, God’s generosity, to God’s power than bread and meat, no matter how delicious it is. Jesus wanted everyone to understand that God was about abundant life and to be assured that this abundant life was available to everyone everywhere, to all who wanted it. 

That’s why he turned the water into wine at Cana; that’s why he gave away thousands of loaves of bread on the mountain; that’s why he raised Lazarus from the dead - to show that there is no limit to God’s generosity.

And if we can accept that love and understand the unlimited and unconditional quality of it, then we will become free to respond to God’s abundance with generosity of our own. We won’t be grasping and worrying that we won’t have enough. 

We will know that we do have enough and can move on to opening our own hands wide even as God’s hands are open wide. Our Thanksgiving meal is meant to be to us a symbol of God’s abundance. 

And when we have eaten our fill of the feast, we will be strengthened to serve others in God’s name.

So, today we have come together in the presence of Almighty God to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at God’s hands and to tell the people what things the Almighty has done.

I remember a time, when I was a little girl in Sunday school, a second grader or so, when we were all standing in a circle to say our prayers. Each of us was to say something specific that we were thankful for. Someone started out by saying “my family.” Another said, “my dog.” One boy, the usual suspect, announced that what he was thankful for was the ketchup and mustard he could put on his hot dogs. He was about to go into pickle relish and steamed buns when, amid the snickers he undoubtedly meant to elicit, the teacher moved things along to the next child, which was me. 

Determined to pray with more appropriate piety and drawing upon lessons I’d learned 
through Vacation Bible School songs, I gave thanks for the whole world and everything in it. How’s that for telling the people what things the Almighty has done?I was pleased with myself, sure that nobody else would be able to top my all-encompassing prayer. I didn’t have to bother with thinking up anything in particular for which to be thankful - I had said it all in one fell swoop.

I don’t remember what anybody else mentioned in their prayers. I was too caught up in my own sense of superiority to notice.

Looking back, I see that my young friend’s specificity, even though it was meant to be funny, in truth made for a pretty good prayer. Where I had made a sweeping generalization so bland as to be almost forgettable, he had named something that delights him. He had, indeed, done what the teacher had asked, to say something specific for which he was thankful.

Now, I stand by my Sunday school prayer, if not my attitude about it - it is our Creator who has done all these things, who has made the very Earth that brings forth such delightful bounty, from ketchup to my mother’s Thanksgiving dressing. We are called to give thanks for the specific even while we recognize that everything we have comes from God. The two of us managed to put together a decent prayer for a couple of second graders. We gave thanks for what we enjoy having AND we told what things the Almighty has done.

For us Christians, Thanksgiving isn’t just about the food. It’s also about the one who gave us the food, who made the fertile Earth and the people who tilled it and produced the food, the one who has promised us the kind of abundance that makes our tables laden with turkey and gravy and pumpkin pie pale in comparison. 

And it is about the telling, too. 

And so today when we sit around the table with our family and our friends, let’s tell each other what God has done for us, for the community, for the world. Let’s tell each other about the great benefits  we have received at God’s hands, and let’s be specific. Tell about what delights you, about what moves you, about what blows you away about God’s abundance. And let’s listen to each other  marvel at our many blessings.

And after we have marveled, let’s do one more thing. Let's live thanks. Let’s decide to respond to God’s generosity with generosity of our own. Let’s decide to be a blessing to others in some specific way. Because not only have we been given food to eat and families to love and a wonderful country to live in, but we have been given eternal life. Jesus said, I have come that all may have abundant life! I am the bread of life!

So let’s make today about more than the food. Let’s even make it more than about our own blessings. Let’s use all this bounty strengthen us and free us to open our hands and reach toward others in the name of the one who indeed made this beautiful, bountiful, verdant, excellent world and every delightful, true, honorable, just, and pleasing thing in it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Collect for Social Justice

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 823)

Monday, November 24, 2014


Jubilate    Psalm 100

Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; * 
    serve the Lord with gladness 
    and come before his presence with a song. 

Know this: The Lord himself is God; * 
    he himself has made us, and we are his; 
    we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving; 
go into his courts with praise; * 
    give thanks to him and call upon his Name. 

For the Lord is good; 
his mercy is everlasting; * 
    and his faithfulness endures from age to age.

(BCP 82)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Collect for Christ the King Sunday

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well¯beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


Sally and Bella check out all the front yard action on a beautiful fall day. They are still young but definitely growing. And eating. And sleeping. And playing.

Happy Saturday, y'all!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Movie: Nature.Beauty.Gratitude

This video will take you a few minutes to watch, but every second will be worth the time. Louis Schwartzenberg and Brother David Steindl-Rast are speaking my language. Every day is a gift, and we should live each day as if it were the only day, for in truth it is. Let us wander through the world with eyes attuned to wonder, ready to be amazed at all that is around us. Let us look at faces with love and curiosity. Let us give thanks, this day, every day.

Now go out there and be blessed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Sacraments

A baptismal font (I think) on top of a gravestone just happened to catch the light. 
Blessed are they who die in the Lord.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Collect for the Conservation of Natural Resources

Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth, you made us fellow workers in your creation: Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 827)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cemetery Angels

I spent some time in the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond this weekend. I've been there before, both to wander around and to bury parishioners, but it was  particularly lovely on a cold mid-November morning as red and orange and yellow leaves were falling or had already fallen around us while we listened to a tour guide tell tales and point out some of the quirks and intricacies of the place.

Fall begins so beautifully with all the colors everywhere, but in a cemetery, the season can take on a more melancholy look as the leaves begin to fall in earnest.

Hollywood (formerly Holly Wood because of the holly trees) was opened in the middle of the 19th Century along the James River, out of town (at the time). There was concern that nobody much would be buried there, but that changed quickly after 1861. There are more than 18,000 Confederate soldiers and 38 generals buried in the cemetery. It is also the final resting place of two U.S. Presidents, John Tyler and James Monroe, as well as clergymen, bishops, and thousands of "regular people."
There is much beautiful (and some sort of odd, truthfully) statuary in the Hollywood Cemetery - many angels holding up lights (or used to before their arms broke off) over entire plots, and lambs lying peacefully on top of small gravestones. Angels are the most popular statues, not surprisingly. We like angels and want them to watch over us night and day, forever. Some of them seem to only express otherworldly calm while others sit in postures of grief.

I particularly liked this one, an angel neither standing sentinel nor sitting in report, but active, engaged, about to drop a rose upon a grave.

Collect for Joy in God's Creation

O heavenly Father, who hast filled the world with beauty: Open our eyes to behold thy gracious hand in all thy works; that, rejoicing in thy whole creation, we may learn to serve thee with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 814)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Collect for the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28)

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Friday, November 14, 2014

Thursday, November 13, 2014

O Gracious Light

O Gracious Light Phos hilaron 

O gracious light,
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!

Now as we come to the setting of the sun,

and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,

O Son of God, O Giver of Life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds. 

Thursday Afternoon Bird Photo: The Look

This titmouse is giving me The Look.

Collect for the Renewal of Life

O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the 
night and turns the shadow of death into the morning: Drive 
far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your 
law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having 
done your will with cheerfulness while it was day, we may, 
when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus 
Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 99)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Toad

Evening Toad.

I took this photo back at Toad Hall in Williamsburg. I am sure we have toads here in Richmond, too, but for whatever reason, I don't see as many of them. Perhaps I need to official name my Richmond house Toad Hall and then they would come?

Night Prayer

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness;  through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 133)


Eastern Towhee

Venite    Psalm 95:1-7

Come, let us sing to the Lord; * 

   let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation. 
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving * 
   and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.

For the Lord is a great God, * 

   and a great King above all gods. 
In his hand are the caverns of the earth, * 
   and the heights of the hills are his also. 
The sea is his, for he made it, * 
   and his hands have molded the dry land.

Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, * 

   and kneel before the Lord our Maker. 
For he is our God, 
and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. * 
   Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Prayer Attributed to St Francis

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is
hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where
there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where
there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where
there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to
be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is
in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we
are born to eternal life. Amen.

(BCP 833)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Now the Day is Over . . .

Collect for All Baptized Christians

Grant, Lord God, to all who have been baptized into the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ, that, as we have put away the old life of sin, so we may be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and live in righteousness and true holiness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

(BCP 252)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Some Thoughts about the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids

Find this week's lectionary readings here.

I remember the first time I really paid attention to this parable from Matthew. I was sitting in the basement of my EfM mentor’s home, a great meeting room with comfy couches and a big whiteboard upon which we wrote all kinds of things, complete with arrows and circles and badly drawn stick figures, and I was stuck on defending sharing as a good thing. I couldn’t get past it. Was Jesus really telling us that in the Kingdom of God, people don’t share? Come on. That doesn’t sound right, I said. Surely we ought to share. My mom taught me to share. We learned about it in kindergarten! 

One of the folks in my group said, oh, this parable isn’t about sharing, it is about how you have to work out your own salvation. You have to do that yourself, without help from others.

Yeah, someone else chimed in. The oil is really a representative of good works, and we can only DO those, we can’t give them to others.

Huh, I thought. I guess you do have to work out your own salvation. With fear and trembling, as I think St. Paul said. I guess it’s true that nobody can do that for you. But the whole thing still bothered me. Are we not a community that bears one another’s burdens? Aren’t we about the strong helping the weak and all that? Are we not in this together? Can’t people do that WITH you? What about SHARING?!?

So I was still pretty much stuck where I started.

One of the great things about being a Christian is that we have this fantastic collection of writings we call the Bible, our Scripture, and we are called to read it every day. Through the lectionary’s daily readings in morning and evening prayer and the weekly readings on Sundays, or even just on our own, we get to read the Scriptures again and again. We get to consider and reconsider, for a lifetime. We get to put the things we read in the Bible beside the way we live out our lives and what we see in the world around us. When I was young, I thought you just learned once what the Bible said and then you were done with it. But I turned out to be wrong about that.

These days, I see this parable in a different light, if you will. I have shifted my focus to the bridesmaids who light their lamps to go out and meet the bridegroom. Somehow, and the parable doesn’t really make this clear, they have figured out how to both prepare and wait during the time of uncertainty so that they can, at the right time, go out and light the way for his entrance to the party.

During this point in the church year, we begin to hear more through our readings about Jesus’ eventual return, the time when Jesus will come back and make all things right in this broken world of ours, and we are encouraged to think about waiting and preparing ourselves. I find it more profitable, however, to pair that with the notion that Jesus appears all the time and yet we often cannot see that appearance. Perhaps because we are blind, but more likely because we are not looking. We are not open to it. Our eyes are drawn instead like magnets to disaster and brokenness, to what is wrong in our world, not to mention the sensational and supposedly entertaining (watch a man be swallowed by a snake on TV!) while the quiet work of healing goes on in the background beyond the blare and the glare.

But God’s work is always going on, all around us, at home, at church, at school, at work, in the streets, at the Farmer’s Market, at the bank… you name it. God’s work is going on in our world - in our lives! - right now. 

During the last week, a number of men, women, and children, some of them still in cribs, some of the women pregnant, have arrived here at St. Stephen’s by bus every afternoon around 5 o’clock so that they could eat dinner in our fellowship hall and sleep in our basement because they do not have anywhere else to sleep. And every morning at 6 a.m., after they’ve eaten a good breakfast in the fellowship hall, they get back on the bus with bagged lunches in hand and head out for the day, most to jobs that don’t pay enough for them to be able to afford housing. We are one of the host congregations for CARITAS, the largest provider of homeless services in Richmond.

Every day this week, I have seen evidence of Jesus’ presence with and among us. Last Sunday night, someone who had attended the Celtic service asked me if it would be ok to sit and eat with one of the CARITAS families at our Community Supper. Every day this week, I’ve seen all sorts of folks, including moms and dads and kids, in our kitchen preparing meals - supper, breakfast, bagged lunches - for our CARITAS guests. I understand some folks have donated entire meals on some nights. I’ve seen staff members still here after 8 p.m., making sure there were enough lunches (and prepared to make more) for the next day.

Also this week, a couple of folks I know have put a lot of effort into creating a network of practical support for someone undergoing complicated medical treatment. And on the larger stage, I saw that a teen in Washington state took to Twitter to express his love and forgiveness for his cousin who shot him at school.

These things I have seen because they are illuminated by the lamps that light the way for Christ. These acts of healing and neighborly love are the light of the world, which Jesus says we all are and are to be.

What I have a seen this week, and what I can see every week if I will have the eyes to see, is justice and righteousness rolling down like the waters and flowing through our community and the world. Justice is not just about righting wrongs, but also about bringing wholeness to those who are suffering. In a similar vein, righteousness (not moralistic self-righteousness!) is about being in right relationship with God and our neighbor through acts born out of both respect and compassion. 

And so, in a way, we are back to sharing. Maybe not sharing oil, whatever that means, but certainly sharing the light. Bearing the light with which we light the way for and accompany the Christ who redeems not only us but this whole broken world. Sharing the love of Christ. Bearing the light of Christ. Carrying the lamps ourselves, being the light of the world.


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