Proper 9(B): Expectations Get in the Way

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By: The Rev. Patrick Faulhaber

When I was commissioned as an Elder in the United Methodist Church, I sent a letter of thanks to the pastor of my church growing up. I wanted him to know how grateful I was for his kindness, compassion, and care for me in an awkward stage of my own development. Bob had been a coach for my soccer team, a confidant for my development, and had even been the one to pick me up from the floor with my dad after overindulging in a celebration after a lacrosse championship. He was a good man. 

I sent the letter and put it out of my mind. A few weeks later, I got an email from him, thanking me for the note. It was exactly as kind, thoughtful, and gracious as I had remembered him to be. So, I went searching to find any recorded sermons from his current church, simply out of nostalgia. 

When I found his current church’s page, I found a list of audio links for sermons, I clicked the first one– the most recent one. And, wouldn’t you know it. It was a sermon about how God had worked miraculously in a former youth parishioner of his. The basic message was that there is no one that God cannot use for the Kingdom work we are all called to. Of course, he remembered who I was. 

As it turns out, no one really forgets who you were. Our identities are a unique combination of who we were, who we are, and who we might be. Each decision we make, each interaction we have continues to shape the people that we will be. The best people can hold each of those aspects of us lightly. They can see the past, the present, and the potential together without judging who you might be based on who you once were. 

That is a gift. It is a rare gift. 

As Mark illustrates for us, it is really difficult for people to let go of old memories and expectations. In the best of circumstances, those expectations help create potentially healthy norms in society: the oldest child should always be the one caring for his mother, the neighborhood handyperson should always be a phone call away. And, of course, those expectations can be really limiting and isolating: the “crazy” bastard son of Mary will always be “crazy” and unworthy of any reverence. 

And, of course, Jesus breaks each of those expectations. This isn’t even the first time. The last interaction Jesus had with his family was only three chapters earlier. They came to bring him home because he had stepped so far out of his expected role that the people were calling him crazy, and the religious folks were equating him with the embodiment of temptation itself. 

Expectations always get in the way. It seems that expectations can even limit the power of God. 

Mark tells us explicitly that he was “unable to do miracles” and that he was “appalled by their disbelief.” (Mk 6:5a, 6) 

Jesus’ own community stands in stark contrast to the stories that bookend this encounter in his own hometown. In Mark 5, we see two miracles. One marginalized woman who had been bleeding for 12 years–making her ritually unclean, reached with faithful hands to touch Jesus’ clothes and was suddenly free of her affliction. And one 12-year-old girl who was declared dead was given new life. Each of these women was given a new life, literally– because of their faith. 

And in the remainder of today’s passage, we see how quickly and easily Jesus’ message and power multiply in the parts of the world that are open to the life-changing invitation of God’s Kingdom. 

The only people who seem to be left out of this work are the people who let their assumptions get in the way of God’s work. Whether they are relatives, friends, neighbors, scholars, pastors or leaders, they are left out of the redemptive story of God’s Kingdom when they try to relegate God to the narrow confines of their expectations. 

My former pastor has modeled that kind of openness for me in my life. I’m sure you can think of people in your life who know who you were, but who also remain open to who you might be. As it turns out, their faith creates the space for transformation– at least that is true in my life. 

I wonder how God is calling you to hold your expectations lightly in order to see transformation in your own life. I wonder what expectations you have for your life that might need to be let go of in order to live a new life. I wonder how your congregation might hold expectations, assumptions, traditions, and customs lightly enough to witness Christ walking just beyond our sight. 

May Christ never have to wipe the dirt from his feet in your presence. 

The Rev. Patrick Faulhaber currently serves as the pastor to North Decatur United Methodist Church in Decatur Georgia, and as an associate to the Greater Decatur Cooperative Parish. He and his wife Susannah Bales live with their dogs in Decatur, where they enjoy the wonderful food, fabulous walking trails, and creative spirit of the community.

Proper 8(B): Work on the Way

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By: The Rev. Canon Lee Curtis

“The interruptions are the work.”

This was one of the first things that was said to me when I started my first year of Contextual Education at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter in Atlanta, a parish where more than three-quarters of the congregation lives with a chronic mental illness.

I didn’t understand it then, but it became a mantra. Someone stands up, starts talking to themselves, and leaves a service.

The interruptions are the work.

You have to stop running your evening programing to break up an argument.

The interruptions are the work.

Someone stops your conversation to tell you how much what you said two weeks ago made them feel loved.

The interruptions are the work.

Good or bad, right or wrong, convenient or not—The interruptions are the work.

This has become a mantra for my own ministry. Sometimes it has served me well. Other times it’s gotten me into trouble, made me late, or thrown me off the great and holy ministerial workflow. But its always been there.

In interruption there is wisdom. Let us attend.

When Jesus gets off the boat, he’s given something to do. The leader of the local synagogue pleads with him “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” It’s a task that Jesus takes on, and he sets down the road to Jairus’ house.

Then comes the interruption. A woman who has bankrupted herself in healthcare costs makes one of the most amazing statements of faith, that If I only touch his cloak, I will be made whole, and presses through the crowd, straining to touch the hem of his robe.

It would have been imperceptible to anyone but Jesus. It could have been entirely ignored. A silent miracle, one more thing amongst the works of Jesus that, as St. John says, would fill more volumes than the world could contain. (John 21:25, KJV) But Jesus stops, not because Jesus is offended by a perceived theft of power, but because Jesus wants to encounter this woman. Because, the Lord knows, the interruptions are the work.

But work or not, interruptions take time. Time that Jairus’ daughter didn’t have. And a scant few verses later, Jesus is being told to go home. It’s too late. Don’t bother. We hear the words of Martha echo in our ears “Lord, if you had been here…” (John 11:21 NRSV) And where we see death, we see the end of this young woman’s life. Jesus sees but an interruption. Jesus gets to work.

I’ve had to nuance my understanding of what it means to find the holy in the interruption. Interruption is not always good in and of itself. What makes interruptions good and holy is that we attend to them knowing what our end, what our goal, is.

This kind of attention to interruption only worked at Holy Comforter because we knew in our bones that the mission of that parish was to be beloved community for those who were cast to the margins of our society, and anything we did, any interruption we attended to would be in service of that mission.

If we get clear about where it is we’re going, and what it is we’re doing, then we can abide the interruptions, and not let them become distractions.

What we see in the Markan pericope is Jesus clear that he is moving toward the healing of Jairus’ daughter, setting her as a type of the kind of life that Jesus is to bring. New, abundant, resurrected life. Everything that happens on the road to Jairus’ house works in the service of that end. The hemorrhaging woman, though an interruption to the task at hand, becomes another opportunity to share life and healing in the service of Christ’s purpose— to make known the reign of God come near.

What this means for us then, us as church, is that we have to get clear about what our end, our telos, our purpose, is. Is it to, as the Book of Common Prayer puts it, “restore all people to

unity with God and each other in Christ”? (P. 855, BCP1979) If so, what does that mean for those who we would encounter as interruptions on the way? Can we see them as moments of the spirit breaking in? Will we allow ourselves to be conduits of Christ’s love and power? Will we be tools for healing?

If we know in our bones whose we are, and what it is that we are working for, then we can have the grace to let the interruptions be the work, and not to grow weary.

The interruptions are the work.

Blessed be the work.

The Rev. Canon Lee Curtis is Canon to the Ordinary in the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande. This essay was originally published in 2018.

Proper 7(B): Giving Voice

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By: The Rev. Dr. AnnaKate Rawles

Psalm 107 is a liturgy of thanksgiving, a psalm likely offered at festivals and holy days in Jerusalem. The psalm can be broken into 5 sections: an introduction and thanksgiving, and four groups of people who represent the redeemed of the Lord. These groups of people have been redeemed from the hands of oppression by God and gathered together “from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.” These four groups of people represent God’s action and redeeming presence in all places throughout the world. The first group are wanderers in the desert, who arrive at their destination because of God, the second are prisoners who are set free, the third are the sick who have been healed, and from the lection today a group of sailors caught in a storm.

Each piece about these groups follows this pattern:

  • A description of the pain or distress
  • A prayer
  • How God has delivered them
  • Thanksgiving to God
  • A repetition of two refrains

The refrain “They cried to the LORD in their trouble; and he brought them out from their distress” is repeated for each situation. A description of how God has redeemed them is given and then the refrain “Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love; for his wonderful works to humankind” is given.

This Psalm is centered on the faithfulness of God in hearing the cries of God’s people and responding. Scripture is filled with examples of God hearing and responding to God’s people. The people cry out to God and God acts, speaks, delivers. God’s presence and faithfulness to hearing God’s people never fails. This Psalm, in many ways, mirrors the prayers of the people. We lift up parts of our world, lives, communities to God and expect that God hears our hopes, joys, and worries.

We are never at a loss of chaos, oppression, sickness to share with our communities and with God. Perhaps this week a sermon takes on the style of the Psalm and the prayers of the people. Give voice to the people, places, experiences that need attention. Pray over these things, and then share ways in which we, as the people of God, are able to do God’s work in the world. We pray for the people of Palestine, and then we educate others on Israeli Settlements that have made Palestinians homeless. We pray for the hungry, and then we work with organizations to find sustainable ways to end hunger in our town. We cry out to God in our troubles, and on behalf of those who are in trouble, and then we listen and act in ways that God would to bring others out of distress. We give thanks to God for God’s love and is apparent in our communities and gatherings.

AnnaKate Rawles has a BA in Literature and Religion from Converse College, Master of Divinity from Candler School of Theology, Certificate for Theology in Ministry from Cambridge University, and a Doctor of Ministry from Candler School of Theology. AnnaKate is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and is currently serving as Associate Pastor at St James Atlanta United Methodist Church. She is passionate about full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the Church, conservation efforts especially around endangered and at risk animals, and sustainability and creation care at home and in the local church. She enjoys traveling, volunteering at Zoo Atlanta, and pondering ways to escape quarantine.  

Proper 6(B): Ancient & Modern

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By: The Rev. Dr. Marshall A. Jolly

“The LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

Well that’s a relief! Discipleship is not a beauty contest! That means there’s hope for me after all! Preachers who choose 1 Samuel as their text will find fertile ground for proclaiming the Gospel over and against the pseudo-Gospel proffered by our culture, which insists on the idolatry of the perfect waist or bust size; the perfect skin tone or hair style; the perfect trends in fashion and style. There is an endless supply of material available for preachers whose people need to hear a word spoken against consumerism.

There is also plenty good room in this text for the preacher to focus on the character of the heart, and what God requires of those who seek to follow. This text cuts both ways. Yes, God does not focus on our outward appearance, but God does focus on our inner character and condition. It’s much easier to mask and dress up the former than it is the latter. In fact, one could argue that at least part of our culture’s obsessiveness on outer appearance is rooted in feelings of shame or guilt or inadequacy about the content of our character.

What are we to make of God’s choice of the younger and “ruddy” David over his older (and customarily preferred) siblings? There is something of a pattern here. God also chose Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, and Gideon over his older siblings. There are echoes here of Hannah’s song, and even a faint whisper of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Magnificat, where God acts to lift up the lowly. Where we see a meager shepherd, God sees a King in the making!

If the preacher is planning to continue along Track I for a few more weeks, or for the rest of the season, there is also plenty to ponder in terms of preaching a series on 1 & 2 Samuel. One potential starting place might be to focus on the fact that, at the moment David is anointed King, there is another King of Israel who is alive and well: Saul, whom God has rejected.

The symmetry between the anointing of Saul and the anointing of David is striking: God commands Samuel to anoint David, just as God earlier commanded him to anoint Saul. Saul had sinned, leading to God’s rejection of him. David will also sin grievously. The Spirit of God rests upon David, just as the Spirit rested upon Saul. David will rise to supplant Saul, and in so doing, bear witness to the will of God being accomplished, despite the fickleness and capriciousness of God’s servants.  

1 & 2 Samuel portrays the radical growth and expansion of Israel from a lowly tribe of Hebrews into a geopolitical force. As Walter Brueggemann noted in his watershed commentary on the books of Samuel, there are three distinct factors at work in this transformation: political power, social pressure, and technological possibility.[1] This text wrestles with questions of international diplomacy and military action, the development of infrastructure, economic policy and wealth distribution, land use policies, and the emergence of socio-political factions and policies. Those who treat this ancient text as if it has no wisdom to impart do so at their peril. Indeed, as patient, careful, and imaginative preachers will discover, 1 & 2 Samuel is every bit as timely and contemporary as the Sunday newspaper headlines!


[1] Walter Brueggemann, “1 & 2 Samuel” in Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching James L. Mays, Series Editor (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 1.

The Rev. Dr. Marshall A. Jolly is the 26th rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Morganton, North Carolina. He is a graduate of Transylvania University (BA, American Studies) and Emory University’s Candler School of Theology (DMin, MDiv, & Certificate in Anglican Studies). In his elusive moments of spare time, he enjoys running, reading, and cooking–though not at the same time! Husband to Elizabeth, he is also the editor of ModernMetanoia.org.

Proper 5(B): Shut Up!

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By: Chris Clow

“Shut up! Stop talking! You’re hysterical! That’s crazy talk! We know who you are, so stop this madness and come back home! Be quiet!”

Quite a response, huh? Jesus is trying to teach about the love of God and healing those in need, having to fend off the scribes and religious officials who are challenging him and saying he’s possessed by the devil, all while trying to keep this massive crowd under control, when he starts hearing people tell him to stop and try to hold him back. But it’s not the scribes, and they didn’t tattle to the Pharisees. It’s not the Romans either; and it’s not the crowd.

It’s his family. His own family are unwilling to listen to what Jesus has to say. Imagine what this would have felt like to him: to be trying to do what you were put here to do, only to look up and see your relatives going “Yeah, ok, carpenter boy. Big talk here. It’s about time you come on home, huh?”

A prophet is not welcome in his own house, indeed.

There are harsh lines at the end of this gospel: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Can we really be surprised, though? Jesus—while trying to do some good, contain the mob that is following him, and answer the religious nuts who hate him—is now having to fend off his own family who are trying to silence him. I’ve typically heard these lines discussed as opening up the concept of family beyond just biology and the unity of the community of believers—that Jesus is saying all of us who do God’s will are his family—and that may still be true. But I suspect this is also Jesus’ frustration rightly boiling over: “You say you’re my family, yet you are trying to get in my way and stop me. Is that really what my family would do?” You can understand Jesus’ relatives being concerned; this is behavior they haven’t seen from him and getting into theological arguments with the religious officials seems a bit beyond a poor carpenter’s son.  They might feel embarrassed, or concerned, or even outraged at his behavior. Yet Jesus, and in hindsight we, know that he is proclaiming the Gospel. We are able to see the change that his relatives couldn’t at the time. “See, I am doing something new,” it echoes in Isaiah 43. Yet they refuse.

Some of us are lucky enough that we haven’t ever had large blow ups like this with our family members, but I’m willing to bet far more of us have had something like this happen. Times when we felt a call to do something that others wouldn’t understand—maybe our family, our friends, or our coworkers. This moment certainly is a troubling time in our country. From the institutionalized racism and police brutality that people of color experience on a daily basis, to the immigration crisis at our border, to simply whether wearing a mask and getting a vaccine to a global pandemic is a good idea or not. And yet, instead of giving us a common goal to move towards, we continue to see more division, some speaking out, while others tell them (in essence) to be quiet. A common refrain is that we all have to “come together,” away from the extremes, back toward common ground, and be united again. It is a nice idea to have, and working for unity is not itself a bad thing.

However, it can be tempting to hear Jesus say, “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” and then conclude that unity is some supreme virtue which we must always strive for. Jesus’ relatives were united in wanting him to shut up and stop calling attention to himself. But unity which is against the good is not virtuous at all. Jesus’ preaching and witness here is a threat to the unity of his time. Both the religious officials and his own family would rather he stay quiet, not bring these crowds of people out, and not threaten the status quo that they prefer. His family may or may not have liked the religious officials; they may have even agreed with what Jesus said, but by wishing that he just stayed quiet, they wound up standing in opposition to his message.

Similarly, I think we must be very careful when we hear (and participate in) calls to “meet in the middle.” It is one thing to learn how to better listen to those we disagree with. It is another thing entirely to decide that simply finding a balanced “middle” position is automatically a good thing.  If a scale is tilted to one side, you do not balance it by putting weight in the center of it. The problems in our country, such as the racism and police brutality experienced by people of color, the continued plague of gun violence, growing inequality, and the ever-widening wealth gap, will not be solved by waiting and half measures that appeal to a simple unity. It will take real, substantial change, and that change will upset some people. But silence is not the same thing as peace, and if in our desire to bring people together we sacrifice working for justice for those in need, then we become complicit in the injustice we claim to fight, and the silence that we have substituted for peace will not last for long.

Harsh words, perhaps, but I think we’ll hear harsher if we consider ourselves a part of Jesus’ family of believers and do not act like it. “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Even when it gets difficult, may we find the strength to not back down from proclaiming the Gospel in our actions and words, so that we may rightfully be able to call ourselves brothers and sisters in Christ.

Chris Clow is currently a stay-at-home dad, but he was doing it before COVID hit and everyone started doing it. In a past lifetime, he was also a campus minister and liturgical musician at a small Catholic university. He now lives in Omaha, Nebraska with his theologian wife, Emily, their son, Xavier, and their soon-expected second child.

Trinity Sunday(B): Speaking of the Trinity

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By: The Rev. Dr. Lori Walke, JD

Perhaps the text from Isaiah is not the preacher’s first choice for Trinity Sunday for the obvious reason that Jesus had yet to make an appearance at the time of writing and would not for quite some time. Having all three “persons” of the Trinity would seem to be a prerequisite if the focus is on this particular designated doctrine. It almost feels like organizers of the lectionary knew they had to include a pericope from the Hebrew Bible, saw Isaiah’s thrice repeated, “Holy, holy, holy” in verse three, and called it close enough to include on this liturgical Sunday!

To be fair, none of the suggested lectionary texts in the Hebrew Bible or New Testament lay out an explicit explanation of the doctrine, in no small measure because the word “Trinity” itself does not appear in Scripture. The reality is that opting to read from one of the gospels or epistles is no guarantee of making Trinity Sunday any easier.

It is at this point that some preachers bail on talking about the Trinity at all (No? Just me?). But I suggest that the Isaiah text is a microcosm of our attempts to speak about experiences of God and the very real feeling of God’s presence in our lives. This was, after all, the purpose of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity in the first place, for like other doctrine, “it is not the development of purely intellectual considerations but is also an attempt to express the faith the church experiences in worship.”[1] In other words, when considering doctrine in the most generous light, its purpose is to deepen our spirituality and life of faith beyond a “just the facts, ma’am” approach.

Isaiah’s experience of God, the vision that we read about beginning in chapter 6, is one of those attempts at expressing faith. Some experiences of God were so clear and intense that the prophets try to share them in ways that the reader is invited to see and feel it, too. The prophet Isaiah manages to capture the unimaginable expansiveness and power of God using all of his senses. Whatever happened to Isaiah was a holistic event, felt spiritually and physically. We read of experiences like this from other prophets, including Jeremiah 15:16, where Jeremiah says he “found” and “ate” God’s words, and they became a “joy and delight of my heart.”

Walking line-by-line through Isaiah 6:1-8, we are repeatedly invited to connect with God using all of our senses and holy imagination. While some of the imagery is more easily modernized than others, it is clear that Isaiah is attempting to make real to others his experience of God.

Isaiah’s descriptions remind us of those moments in our own lives when God’s presence is larger-than-life: God’s presence is so large, just the hem of the Lord’s robe fills the temple. Some experiences of the sacred and the holy are so all-encompassing that it can feel like we are only seeing a few strands of the tapestry. 

Unfamiliar and strange creatures are part of Isaiah’s vision. Unexpected embodiments of God happen all the time, from the someone panhandling on a street corner to an artistic teenager to elements of nature. Instead of responding with mistrust, cynicism, or trying to rationalize, it may be that we just need to receive the experience with awe and wonder.

The prophet tells us that the scene was a bit hazy, for “the house filled with smoke.” Even if we have never been in a house filled with smoke, most of us have looked through the not-quite-invisible waves that drift in the air after blowing out a candle and noticed how it changes what is seen and unseen. There are some experiences of God and the Christian life that are not yet clear in their meaning to us yet. We may see the path forward as a fuzzy outline, as if obscured by smoke, but we can choose to trust that the Spirit is letting us see just enough that it still requires faith to take the next step.

Even if we struggle to identify with what might seem like over-the-top descriptions in Isaiah, we can use these passages to focus in on experiences of God that are more relatable—concrete, grounded, dirt-under-our-fingernails experiences of God. To circle back to the Trinity, the text with its grand descriptions may actually prompt us to think about the embodiment of God in Jesus as a person who experienced hunger, thirst, grief, and joy—all of which we can relate to.

On this Trinity Sunday, preachers can invite the congregation to think about experiencing God as a holistic event, just like the prophets in the Hebrew Bible did. Our ancestors of faith have always made a sacred effort to express our faith, and Isaiah is just one more example of this work. How might we add to this effort?


[1] Justo L. Gonzalez. Essential Theological Terms (Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, 2005), pg. 175.

The Rev. Dr. Lori Walke, J.D., is the senior pastor of Mayflower Congregational UCC Church, a graduate of Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma City University School of Law, Phillips Theological Seminary, and Emory University. She was once described as a loose cannon. Lori is married to Collin Walke, an attorney and State Representative for House District 87, and together the “Rev & the Rep” try to make as much trouble in the name of Jesus and justice as they can.

Pentecost(B): The Language of the Heart

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By: The Rev. Chana Tetzlaff

How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” The miracle of Pentecost is, indeed, just that. A miracle. Each person present heard the good news that God loves and values them, in exactly the way they needed to hear it, in fluent, flawless, perfect language of the heart.

In Luke’s extension of his good news, the Acts of the Apostles, Pentecost is the day that the Church celebrates the gift of God’s Spirit to the whole world. Viewed from a distance, from God’s perspective, the messy chaotic cacophony of voices shouting out good news all at the same time is sacred. Holy. Beautiful. But for those on the ground… I wonder. What is music to the Divine, more often sounds discordant and confused to us humans. Where God can see how all the tones fit together in the transcendent symphony of a universe designed for good, sometimes we encounter the discordant note right in front of us and wonder how it possibly fits into the whole. Standing on the ground, in the middle of the crowd, here and there we might discern a clear tone – here the mournful wail of a soul yearning to be seen, to belong; there the joyful trumpet of a heart’s desire fulfilled. Here the steady beating of a passionate heart for justice and mercy, there the screech of a misplaced intention interrupting the intended harmony.  

Anyone who has ever worked with a musical group, or a community of human beings, knows that it takes a lot of time, intentionality, and practice to become proficient in the language(s) of the whole. The flute has to understand how to give way to the French horn, the timpani to enter softly so that it doesn’t drown out the violin, the tenor to listen intently for the bass in order to keep concordant rhythm. To achieve transcendence, there must be an understanding that each instrument has purpose and place in the grand melody… or else we end up with a jarring, jangling mess. As followers of Christ, we can be in sync or out of kilter with the activities of God’s conducting Spirit, and sometimes it’s hard to tell exactly where we are, whether the Spirit is playfully disrupting our carefully laid plans or calling us to enter the song with a little more flare than our natural inclination. The language of music operates much as the language of the heart. And to speak to the heart, we must learn to speak to one another in the language that doesn’t come naturally to us, the language of the other.

Jesus was proficient in many languages. He was fluent in the language of religious insiders, and in the language of the outcast and shunned. He spoke the language of the common people, with an earthy, wry humor; he spoke the language of heady intellectuals, teaching at dinner parties in the halls of the influential. Against the language of dehumanization, Jesus spoke sacred worth. Against the language of fear, Jesus spoke peace and comfort. Against the language of violence and death, Jesus spoke self-offering love, the language of hearts turned to the fullness of Divine life powerfully present in their midst.

In a world that still clamors in a Babel of fracture and division, violence and dehumanization, fear and death, Spirit-filled people continue to sing out the good news of God’s justice, God’s grace, God’s care and concern for all of God’s creation. The Divine Work is often messy and creative, brilliant and tumultuous. The Spirit doesn’t always stay within the neatly marked lines we prefer –she throws in a playful trill here, a rest there; here a melodious glissando, there a diminuendo. Often, we find an ostinato (a repeated musical phrase or rhythm) in places that make no sense, and a coda where we anticipate a new verse. But with curiosity and awareness, intention and practice, listening beyond the dissonance of our own fears and disordered desires, we learn to enter spaces gently and to give way for a diversity of instruments and voices to join the holy Work. And when we’ve known, together, Christ’s love and agony in the yearning places of our conjoined lives, perhaps we will better hear and sing that transcendent harmony that reverberates through time and space: the music of Christ’s own heart beating as One with you and with me.

The Rev. Chana Tetzlaff is an Episcopal priest with over two decades of leadership experience that includes public advocacy, social justice, teaching for transformative change, and interfaith collaboration. She currently serves as the Associate Rector at St. Christopher’s in Carmel, Indiana. Her great joy in ministry is helping people of faith ask the hard questions of life and God, to discover that “it is in the shelter of each other that the people live” (old Irish proverb). Or, as Jesus said it, we truly show our love for God when we embody care and concern for each person we encounter. In her spare time, Chana can be found fulfilling her bucket list items before she turns 65 (so far 23/75!), playing D&D, enjoying fine food and whiskey, or exploring local activities and events with her husband, TJ, and their dog-children, Molly and Momo.

7th Sunday of Easter(B): Called in Prayer and Sustained in Love

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By: The Rev. Kimble Sorrells

This Sunday’s text invites us into an intimate moment in the life of Jesus: his prayer and conversation with his Father amid his farewell to his disciples. While the opening and closing parts of his prayer are selections for other days of the lectionary, this central section focuses on his prayer for the disciples as he anticipates their life without him.  

Jesus’ words convey that the disciples are called into his mission and will be sent into the world to live out their lives of faith. There is no escaping the world or its hardships; indeed, he says that the world will hate them. Yet they are called to be set apart as holy and a witness—to live in the tension of being “in the world but not of the world.” It’s important to note that while the prayer carries a weight of responsibility, it also reflects reassurance that they will not be left alone, but are entrusted to God’s ongoing care, guidance, and protection.

It is easy today to see faith and spirituality as a personal matter—something that I do for my own self and my own wellbeing. We might see it primarily as being about feeling filled and connected to the Divine presence. As someone whose ministry is primarily focused on contemplative practices and retreat ministry, these aspects are obviously something that I think are important. However, this prayer reminds us that Jesus’ final request for his followers was for our faith to be about much more than or own personal lives. While it’s good to rest and withdraw from the world to recharge, we must return to engage the world around us. As followers of Christ, we are called to bear witness to God’s ways of truth and justice. A faithful follower and faithful community must take seriously its role of being in solidarity with the victims of injustice and marginalization, calling out the broken systems and engaging in active witness to God’s ways. 

It seems that the times we are living in have made this tension even more apparent. Many in our faith communities are likely experiencing a bit “world-weary.” We have now lived through just over a year of a life-altering pandemic, and while we have hope of vaccines, we are certainly not out of the woods yet. Through this time, we also have experienced heightened suffering due to systemic racism, especially in the areas of police brutality and violence. Our country has grappled with the epidemic of gun violence as we see ongoing mass shootings. And of course, the threats to democracy that seemed a given shook our sense of security in a peaceful state. This isn’t an exhaustive list of all that’s happening, but it does seem exhausting.

To say that many of us are tired would be an understatement. If Jesus was sitting in front of me praying right now, I will be honest that I would much prefer that he pray for me to have a nice vacation—perhaps a little get away to the mountains. However, when Jesus prayed for his disciples (and that does include us today), he prayed that they not be taken out of the world but rather be made holy as a witness within it.  

The key of holding this tension lies in the hope that Jesus also entrusted us to God’s care, guidance, and loving presence. We can find fulfillment, rest, and joy as we experience connection to God and feel God’s love. This allows us to live as called people bearing witness to God’s ways in the world. In this way Jesus’ prayer offers us both a weighty responsibility and the reassurance that we are not alone; that God is with us. 

In preaching or teaching on this text, one might spend time exploring what this tension looks like to your community.  How is it that they might need to find ways to retreat and tap into and connect with the Joy of God’s love, and how is it that they might need to bear witness to that by engaging in the world around them? What is happening locally that contrasts with Jesus’ radical message of justice? How is it that your community might engage in faithful witness—both individually and collectively? What ways do you need to examine your own community of faith? Are there ways that it falls short of the ways of justice and inclusion? 

In preparing for worship or meditation, you may wish to examine the ways that your community may be feeling world-weary as well. What would serve to connect to God’s Love at this time? How might you spend time resting in the joy that Christ prays his disciples will experience? As we listen anew to the text for this week, we are invited again to overhear this intimate conversation between Jesus and his Father. We are invited again to receive a prayer on our behalf and lean into the call of discipleship, held and led by the Love of God as we go forth into the world. 

The Rev. Kimble Sorrells is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ  and a graduate of Candler School of Theology (Emory University) and Berry College. Kimble’s interests are in using spirituality and contemplative practices to equip us with the peace and resolve to be justice makers in the world. They are also a Registered Yoga Teacher and draw on this and other spiritual traditions to inform their ministry. Kimble has experience in a variety of ministry settings. They have worked in LGBTQ advocacy for many years including  as staff for Reconciling Ministries Network and the Atlanta Pride Committee, and organizing with Atlanta’s Trans and Queer community. They have also served in local congregations and as hospital chaplain. Kimble is also dedicated to civic engagement and is a member of the Civil Air Patrol and an Alumni of Americorps Program. 

Ascension Day(B): God has Gone WHERE with a Shout?

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By: The Rev. Joseph Graumann, Jr.

After eons of God scooching ever closer to us on the Divine Couch, Emmanuel walks with us for thirty-some years. This past Lent, we read the stories of ever-closer covenants between God and God’s chosen people. God moves from promising not to kill, through promising deliverance, to promising to write God’s law upon people’s hearts. Christians believe that the incarnation of God in Jesus is the culmination of this movement from heaven to earth, to God-with-us. When we again try to separate ourselves from this narrative by killing Jesus, he rises from the dead to share a few meals. My understanding of God’s relationship with humanity imagines a God constantly seeking greater unity with God’s people. This God, scripture tells us, is to one day gather all the world into God’s divine presence.

It does not fit my neat little narrative for God-on-Earth to get sucked up into space, away from the action. Thankfully, I am not alone in my perplexity, as early Christians also similarly struggled with the bodily absence of their Lord. After all, the epistles are brimming with conflicts among Christians that the presence of Jesus would have handily solved. Perhaps, if Jesus had stuck around, we might have avoided all those nasty debates about circumcision, and women would have maintained their rightful roles as leaders in the beloved community. Today, Christians are even more complexly divided, and it would be handy to have a godly referee to call the shots.

Sometimes one must step away to move closer. In the Book of Common Prayer, the first collect for Ascension Day sums it up nicely, saying that Jesus “ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things.” By removing himself yet again, Jesus invites us to look elsewhere, once again reimagining the relationship between God and humanity. When Jesus is transfigured, he retreats up the mountain with Peter, James, and John. The disciples saw their Lord lifted up above all on the cross, upon which he brought salvation. The good news of Easter is first learned, not by the presence of Jesus, but his absence. He is not where they laid him! Often, the disciples ask, “Where is Jesus?” and the answer is rarely what one expects.

As in Luke’s account of the resurrection, his account of the ascension in Acts features the appearance of divine messengers, robed in white. On Easter, the women are greeted by two men who ask, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”[1] In Acts, after Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will come to them, he is lifted up, and a cloud takes him out of their sight. Again, two divine messengers appear saying “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”[2] Once again, God works great things in Jesus, and once again his absence leaves his followers dumbfounded.

We modern disciples stand with our forebears, slack-jawed, craning our necks toward the heavens and scratching our heads. The angels tell us to look around, promising Jesus’ return and leading us to Pentecost. Soon, the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, the indwelling God who would imbue the church with holiness and complete the Divine Scooch. The God who slipped into Jesus’ skin will soon dwell in the disciples’ hearts, answering once-and-for-all the question of God’s dwelling place. We modern disciples have the benefit of this presence by virtue of our baptisms, enabling us to see God’s presence among us today, once again in flesh and blood.

To ask the question, “Where is God?” is the constant struggle of the Christian. Left without the body of Jesus to meet, we instead see God all around us. Wherever the Gospel is proclaimed and the sacraments administered, the church, the Body of Christ is there. When bread is broken and wine is poured in remembrance, Jesus is there. When water washes away sin, Jesus is there. Jesus is the “least of these” and the greatest. We need not look to the heavens. We need not look to the tomb. God’s messengers guide our eyes to each other, to creation, and to the church.

It’s hard to imagine the absence of Jesus as good news. Surely, we disciples would prefer a Jesus in flesh and blood. Yet, Jesus’ retreat marks a step closer to us. The good news of the empty tomb is reflected in Jesus’ ascension, and the disciples are encouraged to move past their confusion into the world. After all, God soon sends the Spirit to dwell in each Christian’s body, making them holy and embracing the church in power. No longer next to God on the couch, but surrounded by God on all sides, we are free to see God at work throughout all creation.

[1] Luke 24:5. NRSV.

[2] Acts 1:11. Ibid.

The Rev. Joseph Graumann, Jr., is the pastor of Saint Stephen Lutheran Church in Marlborough, Massachusetts. He is a native of the Jersey Shore, and he thinks sand in his car is the mark of a summer well spent. Joe is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.



6th Sunday of Easter(B): God’s Kind of Friendship

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By: The Rev. Kim Jenne

Growing up, I bristled when my church sang the popular hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” As a kid, I thought the song too sappy and monotonously rhymey. In my small Illinois town, I was firmly in the minority opinion, given how often the song was chosen during hymn sings. The song has long maintained a love-hate relationship among critics and the masses. As the Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal notes, “In spite of the fact that this hymn, with its tune, has been criticized as being too much on the order of the sentimental gospel type, its popularity remains strong, and the hymn retains a place in modern hymnals.”[1] My teenage condescension seems to have been made harmless by the tremendous service the hymn has provided to generations through the years.

Looking back, my reaction to the song’s sentimentality probably had more to do with the quality of my friendships at the time than my relationship with God. I couldn’t identify a friend in whom I could share all my weaknesses and sorrows. I had learned quickly that middle school friends were often not the best equipped to help bear my griefs and burdens. My “friends” seemed to delight in my trials and tribulations so the metaphor of “Jesus as friend” was not one I desired. I wanted my Jesus to be my rescuer, my defender, my God.

In middle age, I am becoming more appreciative of the song’s sentiments – even if they still seem a bit saccharine – especially as I spend more and more time in the fifteenth chapter of John’s Gospel.

Typically, during the weeks of Eastertide, we remember the accounts of Jesus’ appearances during the forty days between his resurrection and his ascension and then the 10 days of waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But this week, we don’t read a resurrection story.

Today’s lection is a speech of Jesus while he was still alive. These speeches are read during Eastertide because they are a sort of preparatory teaching – preparing the disciples for what lies ahead. This part of the Gospel of John sometimes referred to as the Book of Glory (13.1-20.31), a section demonstrating how those who believe in him become children of God. Scholars have identified chapters 14-17 of John’s Gospel as a presentation of several of the teachings of Jesus in the form of a “farewell address.”

Because of the repeated themes in chapter five, the careless reader might be tempted to speed through the verses set aside for the sixth Sunday of Easter. In doing so, they will miss some of the most intimate indications of God’s desire for relationship with humanity. Or they may find themselves collectively humming, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” as verse 15 is read aloud. Either way, the skilled preacher might consider unpacking what’s it means to be a friend of the Godhead including the notion of consent (according to Jesus, we get a choice in this relationship) and reciprocity (this is perfect friendship, shattering the barriers that often cause human friendships to stumble).

Jesus tells his disciples that his relationship to the Father has forever changed how we will be in relationship with God. Key to this relationship, according to Jesus, is remaining in his love. Remaining or abiding, from the Greek menó (to stay, abide, remain; of him who cleaves, holds fast, to a thing) should come as good news. We have a Creator who wants to be with us. Yet, in my experience as pastor, many church-going folks would prefer a root canal over hanging out with their Lord and Savior. Philosopher and spiritual formation teacher Dallas Willard reminds us that “the single most important thing about us is our idea of God and its associated images.” Far too many people have a picture of God that conflicts with the image Jesus shares in today’s reading. That picture often causes people to want to keep their distance from the Father.

Friendship as Being

But Eastertide offers preachers an opportunity to disrupt old notions of God for new generations. It also affords the teaching office to dispel any possibility of discipleship shortcuts for an on-demand culture. My spiritual director used to start our conversations by asking, “Are you still on speaking terms with God?” She was asking, have you been remaining or abiding in God’s love. Was I putting in the work to be the kind of friend that God’s desires in me? This is a life-long pursuit of investing in my friendship with God.

In “Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life,” Rowan Williams describes relationship maintenance with God in this way, “Discipleship is a specific way of being. It’s not intermittent. It’s keeping company with Jesus.” Keeping company with Jesus may sound easy. It is certainly what the early followers of Jesus did. Repeatedly, we hear of people – some committed, some simply curious – following him around the countryside. Classically, students hung out with their teacher as a way of learning. Jesus, in the role of the good rabbi, has a group of students who are abiding with him and learning first-hand what it means to be in true relationship with the Father. The Twelve certainly would have understood their relationship to Jesus in this age-old pattern of teacher to student. In his farewell address in John, Jesus is clarifying that their relationship is far more intimate than teacher and student. It is one of abiding friendship and love.

Learning rather than Trying

For disciples who are in pursuit of this kind of relationship with God, but have struggled with commitment to their spiritual practice, a pastor might encourage them to consider eliminating the word “try” from their vocabulary. A spiritual mentor once suggested this after listening to me complain about my fits and starts in my spiritual journey. “Embrace the role of a life-long learner of Jesus,” he suggested. “Instead of try, what if you used the word, learn? You’re not trying to keep the company of Jesus; you’re learning to keep the company of Jesus.” This psychological shift has given me grace to continue learning how to be a better friend to Jesus.

Which is a lesson we might all need to learn. We are learning to abide in God’s love. We are learning to keep God’s commandments and we are learning to love one another as God has loved us. Jesus sets the groundwork for a disciple’s learning plan in this lectionary reading.


[1] W. G. Polack. Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal (1941). St. Louis: Concordia. p. 323.

The Rev. Kim Jenne serves as Director of Connectional Ministries for the Missouri Conference of The United Methodist Church. Before her current appointment, Kim served as pastor of Webster Hills UMC in St. Louis. She is a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan, loves NASA and is sorely disappointed we aren’t already living on Mars. She considers herself an inconsistent but persistent disciple of Jesus. She is slowly learning to keep company with God on a more regular basis.