All Saints’ Day(B): Living, Breathing Saints

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By: The Rev. Dr. Lori Walke

The Gospel lesson today is another one of those times where what Jesus does in a story is impossible for us to replicate. It falls under the same category as walking on water, opening the eyes of the blind, and restoring hearing to the deaf. There are just some things that Jesus did that we cannot do. Imagine, for instance, being at a funeral service and attempting to answer the question, “What would Jesus do?” based on this story. Who among us is willing to try to raise the dead? It is likely there would be no volunteers to make the first attempt, much less have a second go at it upon initial failure.

But of course, few (maybe none?) of us have ever witnessed anyone earnestly trying to raise someone from the dead. The dead are dead. We simply cannot do what Jesus did in this situation. Even pastors, who some might think have special training or at least a better chance, do not know these trade secrets. This is not covered in seminary (among other things, like church finances or how to avoid fights over the color of the carpet in the sanctuary).

As we consider this story in the context of All Saints Day, we might admit that we usually feel the same way about those we have named as saints. It is common to understand saints as a “special class of believers.” This is true even for those in traditions that do not award sainthood posthumously, after a formal ecclesiastical process. Saints have an “extra something” that the rest of us are missing. We simply cannot live up to their standard. They are saints, and we are not.

But in the New Testament, we find a different understanding of saints – they are living, breathing, active believers, and sometimes named as whole faith communities (i.e., Acts 9:13, 1 Corinthians 1:2, and Ephesians 4:12). They are ordinary Christians doing the work of building the kingdom of God on earth. Saint comes from the Latin word sanctus or holy. The basic definition of holy is “dedicated to God.” Saints, then, are people dedicated to God.

Even if we were to read the text without layering on developed doctrine, traditional teachings, or creeds regarding divinity, we would likely describe Jesus as a saint. Why? Well, the obvious answer is that he raised Lazarus from the dead.

But it could be for other reasons.  

Leaning into the New Testament’s description of saint(s), we might reread the passage and reconsider what makes Jesus a saint. Perhaps it is because he showed empathy: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved . . . Jesus began to weep.” In a world where we are taught to keep a stiff upper lip and to “never let ‘em see you cry,” mourning with one another is a radical act.

Study the passage with an eye towards seeing the “ordinary” as “extraordinary.” In doing so, the powerful acts of Jesus expand far beyond raising Lazarus from the dead. When Mary expresses disappointment (and anger?) in Jesus, he does not leave in a huff. He understands she is grieving. Jesus also does not pack up and move out upon hearing that Lazarus is dead. Instead, he moves towards death, closer to people who have big feelings, and nearer to that which was considered unclean and untouchable. These actions are certainly profound, but none of them require divinity or special ecclesiastical dispensation. What else might be included.

Suddenly, in situations that might have before seemed like there was nothing to be done, the act of showing up takes on the quality of remarkable. It may scare us to know that we really can seriously ask, “What would Jesus do?” and be able to realistically model his actions, since they do not necessarily require superpowers. Not all will hear this as good news.

Hopefully, this understanding is also empowering. There is so much more we can do to respond faithfully in any given situation when we stop thinking that we need a superhero cape.

Happy All Saints Day, indeed.

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.

Proper 20(B): Building New Life

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By: The Rev. Leah Lyman Waldron

“But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.” (Luke 9:32)

The disciples often make it easy to shake our heads in disdain as they completely miss Jesus’ point or hide their heads in the sand, but I have a lot of empathy for them here. Jesus has just come down off the literal and figurative peak of his ministry where he stood in glory with Moses and Elijah, then followed that up with healing a boy whose affliction had evaded the best efforts of his followers to cure it—but then he reminds those same followers that all too soon, the party will be over and their leader will be betrayed and murdered.

This isn’t the first time the disciples have been let down after a mighty ministerial victory; there was the feeding of the four thousand and the healing of the blind man, followed by the foretelling of Jesus’ suffering and death in chapter 8. It must have felt like whiplash to reach such high highs and then dip to such low lows; and the temptation to stay on the mountaintop and avoid those steep valleys—just as Peter urged Jesus at the Transfiguration (9:5)—must have been strong.

The first time Jesus foretells his death, Peter’s fear-strangled love for his teacher pushes him to address it directly; he tries to talk Jesus out of the road that lies ahead of him (8:32). The second time (our passage), the text explicitly mentions the disciples’ confusion and fear (9:32) before we watch them turn the conversation to something more palatable: their own importance (9:34). By the time we get to the third prediction of Jesus’s passion, their fear is only a quick aside (10:32) before James and John skip straight to the boldest favor asked in all of history: that they might be given the honor of sitting on either side of him in glory.

It’s clear that they do not know what to do with the bewildering, heart-sinking news Jesus keeps waving in front of them. Instead of digging deeper—asking Jesus questions, working through their fear in an attempt to understand—they take the much easier route of turning away, pretending it isn’t real or that his sense of doom is blown out of proportion. I imagine they find a certain comfort in turning to the illusion that their greatness will save them from the turmoil to come.

So often when we are confronted with bad news, we too are confused and afraid like the disciples, and we too turn to arguments about far less important issues, squabbling amongst ourselves in an effort to feel as though we have control when we’ve just been brutally reminded that in reality it’s the opposite.

Whether it’s another bout of climate-change-fueled forest fires, or the uptick in Covid numbers despite the availability of the vaccine, or the rising tidal wave of misinformation and willful ignorance against a backdrop of white supremacy…there is a lot of bad news in our lives and in our world. Our fear and confusion (and our fatigue) cause us to look the other way, to put our energy towards things we feel like we can win: Facebook arguments, spats with a less-than-gracious neighbor, church council disagreements, political posturing in an age when we can simply ignore facts that don’t suit us and our own errors in judgment. Congressional leaders in particular excel at focusing all energy on the question of who can dominate the public conversation while conveniently ignoring the human and natural devastation wrought by solvable problems; but to a lesser extent, many of us do the same.

The disciples had been on the road with Jesus for months, uncertain where they would find their next meal or the next roof over their heads, trying to absorb teachings that turned their perspectives upside down. They must have been exhausted. We too, living in a pandemic hyped up on an instantaneous online news cycle, constantly inundated with every terrible thing that has happened in every location in the world, are exhausted. And when we’re exhausted—and if we have the privilege to do so—we want to look away. It feels like a way to save our sanity.

But where does our energy and attention go when we take that break? Does it go, like Peter, to trying to convince the bearer of the bad news that they’re wrong, or it’s not as bleak as they say it is? Does it go, like James and John and the rest of the disciples, to shore up our fragile sense of agency and importance in an out-of-control world? Or does it go to whatever grounds us in the One whose hard teachings and dire predictions always, always, come with good news, too?

Did you notice that each of the three times Jesus foretells the crucifixion, he also foretells the resurrection? The disciples jump right past that part—and understandably, because the torture and execution of your beloved rabbi and the brutal (presumed) end of his ministry is a lot to take in. But the fact remains that even as he is preparing them for the worst, he is also, consistently, telling them that the worst is not the end. He is doing all he can, through his teachings and healings which the disciples are witnessing firsthand, to prepare them for the new life that comes after.

What does it look like for us to look bad news squarely in the face; to choose, when it becomes too much to bear, not self-aggrandizement or the illusion of control, but restorative sabbath; to envision what might lie beyond the acceptance of the bad news; and to pay attention to how Jesus is preparing us to be a part of building new life on the other side of it?

The Rev. Leah Lyman Waldron serves as the pastor of Park Avenue Congregational Church United Church of Christ in Arlington, Massachusetts. A self-proclaimed thriftvangelist, her ideal day involves some good thrift shopping, a nice long walk, and a dance party with her two young kids and her pastor husband, Chris.

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.

3rd Sunday of Easter(B): Living Scripture

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By: The Rev. Charles Lane Cowen

Prior to ordination, I spent over a decade as a professional theatre artist. I worked as an actor, director, puppet builder/puppeteer, and improviser along with many other roles. Because my work was so varied, when people asked me what I specialized in, I simply said, “I’m a storyteller.”

When I think back over my life, I realize that my vocation as storyteller began at a very young age when my parents and grandparents told me stories. Our favorite genres were family history and stories of the Bible. I can remember loading all the stuffed animals into the top bunk of our bunk beds and screaming in terror as I imagined the room filling with water. I was Noah, chosen by God to save the animals. Every time we went to the fancy grocery store with the automatic glass doors that parted in the center, I would run ahead of my family, spread my arms wide, and shout, “Let my people go!”

As embarrassing as I’m sure these antics were to my family, they solidified the biblical narratives not only in my imagination, but in my very body. To this day, when I hear of Moses leading the people across the Red Sea or Elijah and Elisha parting the Jordan, I can feel the energy in my arms and imagine the wind roaring through my hair. My internalization of the biblical stories lives in my muscles and nose and ears and mouth.

Jesus, through his incarnational presence of God made flesh, not only brings God intimately into the world, but Jesus puts flesh and bone onto the promises of the Law and the Prophets. In today’s post-resurrection reading from Luke, Jesus says, “Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Lk 24:39 NRSV). It is vital for Jesus that his disciples know that this is not spirit only, but God made flesh resurrected in spirit AND body. Jesus goes on to say, “’These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (24:44 – 45). All of Holy Scripture points toward the promise of Jesus and his reality that dwells here and now in our physical world and bridges the gap between God and humanity.

If Jesus establishes a physical reality and relationship between the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels, it follows that this physical reality continues through all Christian witness from the Christian Scriptures, through the history of Christianity, and into our present reality. We who have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection live an incarnational continuation of this story until our own ascension with Christ.

This incarnational understanding of Holy Scripture certainly informs today’s Gospel reading, and I would argue that it should inform all readings of the Bible. Drawing on my own experiences as a theatre artist and techniques I learned from David Rhoads, Joanna Dewey, and Donald Michie in their book, Mark as Story,[1] I often begin the study of any pericope by writing out the characters and the setting. When I begin thinking about these stories in a realized, incarnational way, I often glean new information that not only informs my preaching/teaching but allows me to experience and internalize the Bible in an intimate way.

Let’s explore this method using today’s first lesson from Acts. This pericope has a deeply rooted and horrific history of interpretation that allows Christians to blame Jews for the death of Jesus. This kind of hatred has led to senseless, cruel, and theologically unsound violence against Jews in movements such as the Inquisition and the Holocaust. Preachers/teachers today have an ethical responsibility to condemn such an interpretation, and I believe this method of narrative analysis helps us do that.

For example, in the Acts lesson appointed for today, I began with a list of characters. Immediately visible are Peter, John, and the people Peter calls “the Israelites.” Looking more closely, I also realized that the newly healed beggar born lame is present. If we read back, we see that many of these Israelites are the faithful Jews who daily carried this man to the Beautiful Gate of the temple in order to help him in his alms collecting. Some of those gathered had deep pity for the man. Others may have seen him as an annoyance. Imagine our own thoughts, reactions, and emotions when we see people begging outside our own churches. Either way, there is deep relationship between the man healed and the crowd Peter is addressing.

Furthermore, Peter names another vital character in this scene: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors” (Acts 3:13). God not only acts within this story, but the nature of God—which God; whose God—becomes known in this familial description.

Turning from characters to setting, we see that the crowd is in the Portico of Solomon in the Court of the Gentiles at the temple. We learn in the preceding pericope that “Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon” (3:1). The setting for the narrative, then, is one of pious Jews going into the temple for prayer, and they are stopped at the liminal space right before entering a holier part of the temple set aside for Jews.

Synthesizing this analysis, we see that we have an entirely Jewish cast in a Jewish setting. As theologian Willie James Jennings remarks, “Peter speaks to his people. This is an in-house conversation. We have lost the sense and struggle of this family argument.”[2] Utilizing the actor’s tool of imagining how something must feel as we draw upon our own experiences, most of us know what it’s like to be in a family feud. Most of us know what it’s like to be in a church argument. Anyone who has served on a vestry/church council/leadership board, has certainly experienced or can imagine the awkwardness and sometimes pain of disagreement and the effects those have on the community. Likewise, we can imagine the healing that comes from acknowledging our histories and turning toward our communal, life-giving goals.

As you prepare to preach this or any text, I invite you into an imaginative process that brings the text to life. For me, I have the most fun when I do this with others. It may feel silly, but gather a group of adults, make costumes from things lying around the office, and act this scene out. Through imagination, empathy, and incarnational living of the Scriptures, you may find that their meaning becomes deeper, and they will become part of your physical reality as a baptized member of Christ’s own body.

[1] David Rhoads, Joanna Dewey, and Donald Michie, Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1999).

[2]Willie James Jennings, Acts, Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), 43.

The Rev. Charles Lane Cowen serves as Associate Rector of Trinity Episcopal Parish (Trinity and Old Swedes) in Wilmington, Delaware, working alongside English and Spanish speaking congregations. He holds an M.Div. from Seminary of the Southwest, where his theatre background particularly informed his study of liturgy and biblical hermeneutics. During the pandemic, he has channeled his energies into learning to crochet, cooking new foods, and binge-watching shows that have convinced him that English clergy do very little parish ministry and lots of crime solving. 

Holy Name: What’s in a Name?

Luke 2:15-21

By: The Rev. TJ Tetzlaff

The Feast of the Holy Name celebrates the naming of Jesus. In Deuteronomic Law, all male children were circumcised 8 days after they were born. The circumcision and naming of a child marked them as an inheritor of Abraham’s covenant with God and also created the child’s identity within a family.  A name is the fundamental building block of our identity. Our names define who we are and how we are known. In the ancient world there was a widely held belief that names had power and to know someone’s name would give you the ability to influence or control them, similar to the second chapter of Genesis when the creatures of the earth parade in front of Adam; as he names them all, he is then given dominion over them. Names have power and significance and none more so than the name of Jesus. 

For many figures throughout the bible an encounter with God would result in a new identity and being re-named. “Abram” is named “Abraham” when God speaks to him about the covenant and his promise for the future. God gives his wife “Sarai” the name “Sarah” and promises to bless her. “Jacob” wrestles with an angel of the Lord and becomes “Israel”. God never leaves us in the same place we  were when we encounter him, and an encounter with God can change the foundation of someone’s identity.   

Yet, in all the naming and renaming that takes place God’s name alone remains a mystery. Throughout the First Testament God’s name is kept unknown.  Various terms are used to describe the God of Israel, but none of them claim to be God’s true name. The tetragrammaton abbreviated as “YHWH” is intentionally kept unpronounceable, and “Adonai” is a term of respect translating to “My Lord”.   At the burning bush Moses asks God’s name and the only name he’s given is “I Am” or “I will be what I will be”, perhaps telling us that God’s identity is “Be-ing” itself.  

The power in the name, Jesus, or Yeshua, “God saves” is that it is the name God gives God’s self. God reveals his identity and is made known to us in the human incarnation of God’s saving action, named Jesus. By giving us his true name God invites us into relationship, and as we draw closer to him we also become transformed. Like those figures in scripture who were renamed after having an encounter with God, we are also given a new identity and a new name.  Through Jesus we discover the name God uses for us. Whoever we are and whatever name or term we use to talk about our God, we are each called by our own name: “Beloved”.

The desire to be seen, to be known and understood, finds its true fulfillment in the One who comes to save us from our loneliness and isolation, our despair and our selfish tendencies, our dependence on all the things that draw us away from true life. This feast day, may you know and celebrate your true identity, eternally Beloved of God. And may you share the joy of that identity with each around you, inviting them, too, into the loving embrace of our true home: held safely in the very Heart of God.

The Rev. TJ Tetzlaff serves as Priest-In-Chart at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Noblesville, Indiana. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife, Chana, and their two dogs, Molly and Momo. In his free time, he enjoys reading, going on hikes, spending time with his family and playing chess (poorly).

1st Sunday of Christmas(B): Looking Beyond Ourselves

Luke 2:22-40

By: The Rev. Patrick Faulhaber

There is a lot to take in in these 18 verses. A beautiful sermon could be preached about the importance of ritual and custom in Jesus’ family, naming the absolute confirmation of each temple law regarding a first-born son. This reality serves to substantiate Jesus as a reformer within the Hebrew faith rather than an instigator from outside the covenant and lineage. Jesus is a righteous child in a righteous family being prepared to be the restoration of righteousness in Israel and beyond Israel.

What really stands out to me as significant to me as I sit with the text are the two interactions with the elders, Simeon and Anna. Each of these town elders embody the depth of wisdom that only comes at the end of a long life spent with God. They have attuned their hearts and minds so closely to God’s vision that their first instinctual response to seeing the infant Jesus in Mary’s arms was to break into song (Simeon) and begin sharing the good news of God’s promise fulfilled (Anna).

The wisdom they have is innocent and foolish while also being so honest and heavy. Simeon seems to grab Jesus out of Mary’s hands with joy in order to marvel at the infant child who he recognizes to be the salvation of the whole world: “a light of revelation for the gentiles and a glory for all [God’s] people, Israel.” And from that place of utter joy and anticipation, he indicates the implications of Jesus’ presence. He will cause the “falling and rising of many… He will be a sign that generates opposition… a sword will pierce your soul.”

Salvation, falling & rising, opposition, a pierced soul. The ramifications of Christ’s presence in and through the infant child, Jesus are life changing. They are world changing. Christ’s birth to a family unable to make the preferred animal sacrifice on behalf of their firstborn child (Lev.12:8), in the context of a roman occupation which many religious folks had grown accustomed to would inevitably lead to a profound upending of society.

The news is good for people who are devoted to righteousness and faith despite the circumstances. The news is painful for people devoted to the circumstances despite their inherited faith.

That reality is as true for us today as it was in the first century. In God’s Kingdom envisioned by the prophets from Amos through to Anna, there will be people who fall from their pedestals and there will be people who are elevated. There will be people who claim faith in God who oppose the will of God. There will be people who bear the presence of Christ into the world who will have their heart pierced as they watch crowds turn against them because of an institutional call for order, unity, and tradition.

There is so much to celebrate and there is so much to mourn. This is why my heart is drawn towards the deep sage-like joy that Simeon and Anna have. They know what is coming. They know how hard it will be. They know what trusting Christ will mean for their community. They know the pain that will come, and yet they celebrate, they give praise, they offer blessing, Anna spreads the good news, and Simeon submits his life to God– Trusting that God will fulfill all of the promises made, even if it is hard for some of us to stomach.

What are the things that need to fall in your church? What are the things that need to be elevated? What is God calling your church towards that will inevitably be painful? How might you help people see a vision beyond themselves?

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.

Christmas Eve(B): Celebrating Muck and Mundanity

Luke 2:(1-7), 8

By: The Rev. Chana Tetzlaff

How do we celebrate Christmas in the year 2020, this “unprecedented,” “undefinable”, “apocalyptic” and dumpster-fire-meme-inducing year?[1]

How do we preach “good news” in this year that has overwhelmed and exhausted us with ongoing disaster after disaster, tragedy after tragedy, and incalculable death and loss? How do we fill our people with the light of love, hope, joy, and peace when it feels like this year has held anything but? No matter what, we can’t “pretty up” Christmas this year. There’s no way to pretend that anything is normal, or that even keeping it quiet and simple will be anything but a shadow of celebrations before. Instead of the wonder and cheer of previous years, this year Christmas just feels a little too risky. But what if that right there, that notion that Christmas is a little bit daring, perilous, precarious … what if that is the good news?

We’ve heard the story so many times before that it’s become comfortably familiar, like the warm Christmas sweater we snuggle into this time of year. The tender glow of nostalgia paints a comfortable, welcoming picture into which we can almost place ourselves: we bask in the humid warmth of the cozy, wooden stable; we smell the sweet hay; we hear the melody of the animals – the treble baaing of the sheep, the bass of the cow’s low, the rustle of the hay crackling at our feet. We savor the honeyed aroma of contentment and peace. With Mary, we ponder the perfection of this moment heralded by the angels. Peace, good will, and joy to all! This is the magical moment when we hear that all is right with the world, the perfect birth story of God’s own perfection incarnate in the sweet, snuggly Baby Jesus. The story is so familiar that we let its nostalgia mask the scandal. 

My favorite Nativity icon is this Orthodox scene.[2] 

What I love about this icon is its starkness in comparison to other Nativity images, its reality, its daring. A cold, bleak cave replaces the cozy stable scene. Joseph, outside the entrance, ostensibly keeping watch, listens to a hooded, shadowy figure that represents the Adversary whispering “what if?” into his ear. What if it’s all a lie, a dream? What if, because we all know virgin birth is impossible, Mary has been playing him the fool? We see the conflict in Joseph’s brooding posture. Inside, Mary reclines in a pool of red –the residue, perhaps, of a labored birth process? What would it be like to give birth in a cramped, hard, uncomfortable and inhospitable space with no soft place to land? And the baby, instead of cozily snuggled in Mary’s arms, lays not amidst warm crackling straw, but in a stone box that looks less a feeding trough and more an ossuary swaddled tightly in bands of cloth, set deep back in a crack or niche in the wall of the cave….remarkably similar to the family tombs that dotting the Bethlehem hillside. And the gifts the magi will bring include the embalming herb, myrrh. Jesus is hunted as a rival by a jealous Herod. Even at his birth, the gospelers foreshadow Jesus’s death. Jesus is not safe.

Preacher David Schlafer writes that Christmas is about the “birth of the unexpected in the most unlikely of circumstances.” Over the years, we have heard the story so many times it has lost its edge. Christmas has become wrapped in the glow of nostalgia. We forget that Christ came into a politically dangerous world where Rome oppressed Judea with military dominance and heavy taxation. We forget that Christ came to a rigid world much like ours, where the religious and social class structure were unyielding, where the sick and outcast and foreigner were synonymous with the unclean or immoral. We forget that Mary and Joseph were “nobodies,” completely ordinary working-class people who lived in a backwater town in a backwater province of the Empire.

Such a dangerous, difficult world isn’t hard for us to imagine. In fact, it sounds an awful lot like our everyday reality. Jobs to do, taxes to pay, life marching onward against the backdrop of the empire’s power struggles and economic domination. These are not the things we want to focus on at Christmas…and so we settle for the comfortable fairytale, the illusion of peace and contentment wrapped in cheery paper at the foot of the evergreen tree; we hold to the familiar nostalgia of sweet baby Jesus, unassuming and unthreatening, simply there in perfect simplicity. Warm, snuggly, safe. But there is nothing about Jesus that is safe.

This icon reminds us that at the scene of his birth all is not cozy. And yet the good news of salvation, Schlafer notes, is that “the incarnation of God comes in the form of an illegitimate child; the birth announcements come to lowlife shepherds and pagan foreigners… God did not choose to come to earth at the highest point of life, but at its lowest point. God did not choose to enter the safe world of decorated churches and hallowed sanctuaries; instead God chose to enter the rough and tumble world of people with jobs to do, fields to tend, and government breathing down their necks at tax time.” Christ, the Savior, is born unexpectedly in in the most unlikely of circumstances.

Little wonder, then, that the first words of good news, the Gospel, counsel us “Do not be afraid!” This icon resurrects the inherent risk, the precarious danger surrounding the birth of this child, and points us to the paradoxical “good” news present at the very inception of this particular Child’s life – Savior because of, and through, his own death, his own fully embodied gift of self-offering, self-emptying, unconditionally gracious Love that is the very nature of God. Christ comes amid the muck and mundanity of everyday life rife with what ifs, loneliness, conflict, pain, shadow, death and loss—if we but seek, accept, and trust the light and Life to all he brings.

And, of course, this icon is not all stark realism. Good news surrounds the core promise, and the whole of creation receives this Child who redeems the whole of God’s Creation. God comes first to shepherds, representing those who are poor, marginalized, outcast, lonely and alone. God invites and includes them first in the great joy for ALL people. God comes to pagan strangers and foreigners, depicted here in this icon as both bearded and unbearded, those who are older and those who are young. God comes to the women, two of whom are inevitably midwives (a subtle nod to Shiprah and Puah) who would absolutely have been present and, likely, members of Joseph’s own extended family (since they returned to that area for the Census). The star still shines, the animals keep watch.

The paradox, this dance “between” – good and evil, light and shadow, joy and despair, gift and loss – is the reality of our human existence. In that, 2020 is not really “unprecedented, not terribly unlike any other year. What makes us feel like Christmas is “special” in years past has little to do with the reality of God’s presence coming into the muck and mundanity, and instead has largely been driven by our nostalgia around traditions. That’s not to say Christmas celebrations are not worshipful or beautiful experiences of God’s presence. They are. But beauty and warmth and glowing light are not really what Christmas is, or ever has been, about.

Christmas is about what’s Real. No matter the circumstances of our lives, we can trust that God is present with us. And the first message of Christmas is “Do not be afraid.” In a world filled with things to fear, a world filled with war and violence and oppression and degradation, with sickness and poverty, and waste and disaster, into this world Christ is born and the good news of God’s overwhelming, unconditional Love breaks in. Love sets us free – free to embody the light and love of Christ that lifts people from bondage and captivity to fear. And what is more real, or terrifying, than offering our very selves to God (to do with as God will) and to each other?

So take a risk this year. Do not be afraid. This year, keep Christmas real. Keep it messy. Keep it with joy, hope, peace, and self-offering love. Keep it a little dangerous and terrifying and awesome. Because THAT is what Christmas is all about – shaking us out of our comfort zones to meet a God who discomfits and disquiets us with unconditional love and grace from his first coming to his coming again. For that, may we rejoice!

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.

[1] Image for purchase at:


Advent 4(B): Lifting Up

Luke 1:46b-55

By: The Rev. Dr. Hannah Adams Ingram

The Magnificat is one of my favorite passages to preach on, but I must admit (as a not faithful lectionary preacher) that I reference it just as often outside of the Advent season as I do within the Advent season. The song of Mary is an all-year-around text, to be sure. In my context, I believe we would do this passage a disservice by limiting it to being just a prelude to the Christmas story.

I believe the Magnificat is a powerful example of the prophetic witness of youth in our world, and as a college chaplain, I am eager to herald Mary’s song as a testimony to the young people who know the world is not as it should be.

In this song attributed to Mary, she proclaims that God “has scattered the proud in their conceit…cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly…filled the hungry with good things, and the rich God has sent away empty.”

And yet, we know that Mary would have been a young to middling teenager, and even though age has different symbolic meaning during that time, she is still an example of youthfulness proclaiming the justice of God. And it is not only her age that makes her a remarkable example in this way, but her gender as well. She joins the cloud of women witnesses throughout scripture who testify to the goodness of God.

The prophetic witness of young people is an important motivator of social change in society. Youth provides the conditions in which a distaste for injustice coincides with the imagination for change. This stands in stark contrast of those who have grown accustomed to the status quo—who even if they do not like it, have found ways to complacently exist in static systems. Young people have no such patience or expired optimism, but instead, see the world with fresh eyes and can imagine new ways forward.

I think of John Lewis who was only 25 when he was beaten in Selma.

I think of Emma Gonzalez, who was only 18 when she called “B.S.” on the lack of political will to change the gun laws.

I think of Greta Thunberg who addressed the United Nations, pleading for climate change attention, at only age 16.

I think of those people we all know as public inspirations, yes, but I also think of my students who will not make the news but are making a difference every day. I think of the students who are hosting club meetings at night to talk about intersectionality and how to advocate for each other across identity categories. I think of the students who, when invited to share their experiences with injustice on campus to the board of trustees and the college president, respond boldly and courageously to speak truth to power. I think of teenagers who are blowing apart the gender and sexuality binaries and replacing them with freedom.

What’s so beautiful about the Magnificat is that Mary was also an unknown young woman—who rather than questioning her own strength for the task ahead—took the news of the pregnancy and praised God and testified to the power of God to redeem an unjust world.

Advent is primetime in our churches. What if we use this week to lift up the youth of our society, not to place undue burden on them, but to celebrate who they are in our world now and what they bring to us? Are we listening to what they tell us about the divine power in the world? And when we listen, do we affirm them not only as the future, but as the present?

Our biblical tradition honors Mary as a young woman who stood confidently in the conviction that God had a plan for justice in the world and that she was part of it. Not in the future, but now. May we use this opportunity to honor the young people and their vision for our world.

The Rev. Dr. Hannah Adams Ingram is Director of Religious Life and College Chaplain of Franklin College. She lives with her spouse in Franklin, Indiana. Her 2020 hobbies include sending mail, spending all social time with only a scarce few people outside, and watching uplifting comedies like Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso on repeat.

Thanksgiving Day (A): Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving Day (A): Giving Thanks

Luke 17:11-19

By: The Rev. Caleb Tabor

This is a story about giving thanks! So, let’s use it on Thanksgiving! The lectionary folks really were just looking for key words on this one (sorry to be catty, it’s been a long year). Giving thanks is a big moment in this story, but I don’t read this as a story about thanks. I read it as a story about healing. It is also one of those ones best taken step-by-step, so here we go! 

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 

Jesus was walking the line. From the perspective of a traditionalist at the time, one might say that he is not just walking geographic border, but he’s walking a bigger metaphorical line. People on one side were God’s people who did things the right way. People on the other side were not because they didn’t pray the right way, weren’t the right skin color, didn’t have the right last names, had a heretical religion, didn’t have the right customs, and eat the right foods. And the bad people were the…Samaritans. Jesus was walking this line by going through this region between these two places. We tend to think of Jesus as on either the good or the bad side of things, not spending a lot of time in the gray area between.

As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. 

Whether a Galilean, a Samaritan, or a Roman citizen, if you were a leper, no one wanted you around. They were equally bad, threatening, and scary for folks. It is important to recall that many folks might have even felt that the lepers brought their illness upon themselves due to their sinful ways that displeased God (any person nowadays with an STI, HIV, trauma-induced addiction, etc…) While Jesus was in a land that no one liked, ten people that no one wanted came up to him.

Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 

Keeping their distance. Maybe because they were sick and didn’t want to get Jesus sick, but that doesn’t seem like a right reading to me since they are asking for the rabbi’s mercy. More to me it seems like maybe they have been harassed by others and were afraid to get close to anyone, not the least a community leader or a religious figure. A lot of people presently stay away from Jesus because they’ve been hurt by the communities that gather in his name.

When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 

This seems like a terrifying prospect. Nearly everyone they know would change their minds about them if the priest ruled that they were “clean” again. However independent from our leaders we may perceive ourselves, as it turns out, most people follow the example, word, or ruling of the leaders they respect the most, whether a minister, a jurist, or a president (please stay off of Twitter). The lepers were made clean as they left and did as Jesus commanded. It is interesting that this is one of those healings where Jesus doesn’t touch anyone. He just wills something, and it is done.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. 

One of them didn’t follow Jesus’s instructions.[1] Anyway, one of them comes back and his himself a little thing folks in my evangelical friends call a “praise break.” Now, not thinking about the story itself, but thinking about the reception, it seems reasonable to me that folks at this point are really on this ex-leper’s side. He’s showing gratitude for being healed. Piety, joy, love, and a witness to a miracle. What a hero. I wish I was that grateful for most of the mercies in my life, but honestly, I usually just take them for granted.  

And he was a Samaritan. 

Aaaaand there it is. This is when the gospel lets the other shoe drop. It gets us all on this person’s side and then tells us that he is one of them.[2] This is where one is tempted to take refuge in the idea that the Samaritan who was healed didn’t actually follow Jesus’s instructions. There’s hope yet for us, friends, that the Samaritan may get a good chiding from Jesus for not following a divine command. Just like a Samaritan to get God’s instructions wrong.[3]

Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

And, if we’ve really been following the themes of this story, then we’re not happy here. Jesus praises the person with the heretic religion, the stupid culture, the dumb habits, and the gall not to follow Jesus’s instructions like the others did. At this point, we should be the ones begging Jesus to have mercy on us and declare the degenerate unclean again. Alas, we suffer still. And that’s all he’s got to say to us about it.

            Now, the reflections above are precisely why having this as the reading for Thanksgiving Day is really only moderately relevant (read: sloppy). Giving thanks is an important function in an overall story about Jesus pulling a switch on us by transcending our prejudices. That borderland between Galilee and Samaria is a powerful metaphor for the reader if we take the time to look deeply and contextually. It is the border between the people we like and the people we fear. That border is everywhere in this world. It is everywhere because is exists primarily in human hearts, and just plays itself out in ways that diminish, hurt, ruin, and even end human lives. I’ll bet you more money than I’ve got that each and every one of us has that border in our own hearts too. 

This is a story we need at the moment. As I write this, the 2020 elections haven’t yet been held. I’m no prophet, but I imagine that things won’t be much better afterwards. This is not an invitation to make peace with injustice and it isn’t a “bothsidesism.” It is a plea not to forget the humanity of the people you hate, dislike, or fear. Robbing someone of their humanity is easier than you think. Often, it isn’t a drastic step, but rather a series of little moves that takes us down a truly cruel path. In this story we get an invitation to break the dehumanizing cycle we trap one another in. May we be wise enough to accept it.

[1] Some commentaries suggest he did. You can die on that hill if you want to, but I just don’t see it, honey.

[2] You can fill in the blank here on what “them” is in your life; a flaky liberal, a conservative bumpkin, someone who wears white after Labor Day, etc…

[3]You know how those people are…

The Rev. Caleb Tabor is the chaplain for Episcopal Campus and Young Adult Ministries in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was educated at Elon University, Emory University, and Virginia Theological Seminary. Originally from Efland, North Carolina, he has settled down close to home, where he lives with his husband.  

Ascension: Why Do You Stand Looking Up Toward Heaven?

Ascension: Why Do You Stand Looking Up Toward Heaven?

Luke 24:44-53

By: The Rev. Chana Tetzlaff

As I write this commentary, a growing restlessness pervades the United States. Hopes and rumors that stay at home orders will soon be lifted abound. A roiling vortex of emotion about those decisions –joy and disbelief, relief and anger, grief, fear and hope – swirl together in a complex coil. No one knows what the future will look like. No one knows, with 100% certainty, if lifting the orders will result in greater death and economic disruption, or if our lives will slowly settle back into familiar patterns of the prosperity some of us have known. Experts and authorities are at odds with one another; antithetical messages battle for supremacy. And yet, through the melee a universal question surfaces over and over again: is this the time of our restoration? Is this the time when our economic vitality will rebound? Is this the time that will force us to bridge our partisan divides and pull together? Is this the time that will catalyze our country (our kingdom), once again, to greatness?

As our church leadership thinks through what our communal life might look like in the aftermath of physical distancing, I hear the same question, and the same roiling emotions, surface: Is this the time of our restoration? Is this the time when we go back to our beloved buildings to gather together the same way we’ve always gathered, with the same experience of sacrament and space? Is this the time when people will return to the church and thus return the Church to its former role as a pillar of society? Is this the time when the Church will be restored, once again, to greatness? Yet even as we ask the question, there is some recognition that the worship traditions we cherish, and the way we’ve always practiced them, will likely have to change.

In some ways, the Church today asks Christ the same question that the disciples asked: will we be restored to our former glory? The disciples, even in the midst of their immediate, personal experience of the new thing God was doing in the Incarnation, got caught up in the religious and political expectations of their time. Expectations that the Messiah would deliver them from the yoke of Rome’s oppression, that Messiah would restore the kingdom of Israel who had experienced centuries of inter-tribal division, the destruction and desecration of her Temple, the Exile and diaspora of her people, and the fracturing of her political independence and self-governance.

Our context today faces a similar political challenge, but the hope of restoration is different. The largest age demographic in most denominations are those who are 65+, aka the Boomer generation.[i] As children in the 1950s and 60s, their experience of religious life was as the epicenter of social and civic life. Sunday school classes were bursting at the seams, churches were planting roots in flourishing suburbs, volunteerism was at an all-time high because serving on a religious committee was socially emblematic of being a good citizen. However, in the longer scope of Christian history, what our tradition considers “normal” and what we long to return to is anything but. The dominance of Christian life in the 50s was an outlying blip on the overarching span of church history. What we long to return to as normal never was the norm and, I hope, will not be the vision we hold up as our longing for the future to come.

Which is why I appreciate the scene of Jesus’s Ascension in Acts Chapter 1. I confess that, in this time of physical distancing and pandemic isolation, I hear the words of this text differently than I have before: Jesus “ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father;” that “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…[and] you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”[ii] Then as Jesus ascends into heaven, I’m sure with great cloudy fanfare and divine pyrotechnics, the disciples stare after him in awe, ostensibly taking Jesus’s instructions quite literally.

While they are waiting, in verse 11, two (angelic?) messengers give them the proverbial divine slap upside the head with the question “why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” And so the disciples return to the city, where they spend many days “constantly devoting themselves in prayer” with other faithful believers. This period of prayer is followed by God fulfilling God’s promise at Pentecost, sending the Holy Spirit upon them and empowering them in language and deed to proclaim the good news of God’s love for all.

At the time of his writing, Luke’s context was not a pandemic, nor were the events global, and yet there is a global call to the work God gave the apostles, and us, to do.  Which is why I confess it difficult to empathize with the preoccupation to be restored to our buildings, to what we’ve always known, and the grief at how the church must change to adapt to meet the needs of the world around us. Hasn’t it always been our mission to meet the needs of the world with God’s love and power working through our hands and our feet? Has not God constantly been doing a new thing, shaking the foundations of our human structures, boundaries, and expectations? Do we not believe that baptism is our initiation into Christ’s body and a lifelong process of transformation with the help of the Holy Spirit working in us (sanctification)? Why then, would we expect to return to what we have been instead of anticipating what God is preparing us to become?

Much of my ministry as a priest has been to encourage communities to ask themselves the hard questions of if and how they are deepening their relationship with God, if and how they are listening for and to the Holy Spirit (who, in my experience, is constantly doing a new thing and constantly pushing us out of our comfort zones), if and how they are ministering to the needs of their neighbors around them in an authentic way, if and how they are willing to change in order to become the beloved community that God envisions, that accepts and welcomes ALL people created by God in God’s image.

As much as we declare ourselves to be people of resurrection, resurrection is uncomfortable. Resurrection is hard to define, takes time to come to fruition, and never looks the same. Resurrection requires a comfort with uncertainty and the Unknown that is not an innate human characteristic, but is a skill developed over time as we are pushed into growth situations (often against our will). Resuscitation to the old life we’ve always known would be much easier and much more comfortable.

Becoming people of resurrection means helping our churches become comfortable with the unknown. It requires immense courage and adaptive leadership: diving into the wilderness, trying new things, learning from failure, and picking up and trying again. [iii] It requires all the baptized to reclaim their baptismal gifts, empowered by the Holy Spirit to continue God’s mission and ministry. Getting comfortable with the unknown means taking risks and making decisions that may not be popular with those who want to return to the status quo. But risky, daring, bold, courageous leadership is needed from every heart if the people of God are going to survive and thrive in the midst of a “foreign (read secularized, unchurched) land,” on the margins, and in a “tent of perpetual adaptation.”

These are not skills valued by an institutional structure in its death throes and resisting, with every fiber of its being, the new life it is being called into. As a bishop once said to me, “such a style of leadership is not helpful for our institution.” He’s not wrong. But when did God call the church to become an institution? The church’s call has always been to continue the mission and ministry of the Body of Christ: proclaiming the good news of God’s love, offering healing and restoration to those who seek reconciliation with God, and serving our neighbors as we would serve ourselves. This moment requires of us the difficult, messy work of creative reimagining. In order to live into the new life of resurrection, we have to die to the old self and let go of the former ways of being. Easier said than done, as our hierarchies and structures have demonstrated, and mourned, for decades now.

I do not believe that the church is dying. I do believe that the institution as we know it is dying. I do believe that religious life as we know it is changing. But I do not mourn these things. This moment, this opportunity for exercising our God-given ingenuity and creativity to rethink our spiritual growth, mission, and ministry models fills me with hope, not dread or grief, or fear. I see a higher attendance rate and far more newcomers dropping in on our online services and offerings than before, and that tells me that the world is still hungry for God’s love and God’s presence, and our ability to mediate and interpret that with meaningful and tangible means. It is my hope that this moment may indeed call us to metanoia, conversion, awakening to reclaim the essentials of our calling and mission. As a wise colleague once reminded me, God is going to do what God is going to do, with or without the Church institution. We haven’t managed to kill the church through millennia of human history, action or inaction. The Body of Christ is the faithful who remember that God has acted before, abide in the promise of Immanuel: God with us, wait expectantly and eagerly for the new life to show up in unexpected ways, boldly venture into the unknown trusting the power of the Holy Spirit, working in us, to do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

In his seminal work, liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez exhorts the church to stop looking up toward heaven, waiting for God’s return or waiting for escape from the chances and changes of this life, and instead to focus on proclaiming the good news of God’s love in the here and now, doing our part in helping to usher in God’s kingdom of justice, love, reconciliation, and peace with the people beside us, part of the church or not.[iv] It is time for us to get evangelical, if you will, by which I mean reclaiming that word to its true meaning – proclaiming the good news of God’s love. To reinforce words with action, to do what we profess to believe. So what is the work of the Church in this time? There are several things that happen in this text that we can put to use as we creatively reimagine our models for mission and ministry:


An essential part of the work of the Church is to give people a framework for interpreting and making sense of the events of their lives. Theology is important; how we understand God and what we believe about God shapes how we act in relation to God’s promises. Preach the message you discern that the Holy Spirit wants her people to hear, and teach boldly in a way that fosters spiritual growth. Challenge clichés, sit with the difficult questions and uncomfortable moments when questions can’t be answered, listen for the insights, wisdom and passion of the people you are teaching and learn from them, too.

Trust the promise:

Remember God’s good action and promises fulfilled in the past, and watch expectantly for God’s power to pop up in unexpected times, places, and people. God is constantly drawing outside the lines, calling us beyond our boundaries, asking us to meet Her in the wilderness moments of our lives, bringing forth streams in the desert and making crooked ways straight again, leveling high places and lifting up the lowly.

Receive the power of the Holy Spirit:

Say these sentences aloud, every day.
“God called me for a time such as this.”
“God gave me gifts to help build me up and to build up the people around me.”
“God gives me power and help to accomplish the purposes God intends for me.”
“God will work through whatever I offer, large or small, to do infinitely more than I can ask or imagine.”


Tell others how God has shown up in your life. How has God healed or restored you? Where has God helped change your heart and renew your mind because of your participation in a faith community? Ask yourself why your relationship with God and God’s people is important to you, why it matters to you to get up and go to church or online worship each week? After you take time to reflect, write a Facebook post or tweet on Twitter giving thanks for a spiritual blessing you have discovered or a person who has helped you recognize God’s action in your life.

Finally, and most importantly, Pray:

The first thing the disciples did after this scene was to “constantly devote themselves to prayer.” They did this gathered together and, I presume, also on their own. Prayer in and for the power of the Spirit is the essential foundation for the tasks of ministry. It is not enough to simply experience Christ’s presence or know the words of scripture to be an effective minister; our tasks will simply be “doing” if we are not also grounded in the “being” of God’s presence. Prayer is as simple as inviting God to fully participate in all that we do, but there are also specific things everyone can pray together in unity for at this time:

  • For our church leaders to be given courage and confidence to have hard, truthful conversations, to make difficult decisions, to let go of the fears that create barriers to God’s mission of love and reconciliation.
  • For God to show us the people and needs God wants us to minister to, who need to hear the message of justice, reconciliation, and peace of God’s love.
  • For God to show us the gifts for ministry present in ourselves, in our faith community, in people we might not expect that can be asked to help us creatively reimagine how God would have us fulfill God’s purposes.
  • Or together to pray this prayer: Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even as we grieve the loss of power and influence we have enjoyed, even as everything we have known to be “normal” changes around us, even as “the way we have always done it” gives way to experimentation and failure and new ways of being, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

These are not new and innovative tools, but they are essential to braving the unknown with courage, gaining clarity in discernment, and getting our heads out of the clouds into the work God has given us to do right in front of us. I hope our faithful vision will be open, even amidst change and uncertainty, to the new thing God is doing in our circumstances, and the new life that will come out of it. At the root of apostolic faith (and the word, apostle) is an expectation to be sent out, to the ends of the earth, but also in our own communities to proclaim God’s love, God’s power, God’s justice, and God’s peace. The world is hungry for those promises. What are we waiting for?

May the God who shakes heaven and earth, whom death could not contain, who lives to disturb and heal us, bless you with power to go forth and proclaim the gospel of new life amidst the fear of death.[v]


[ii] Acts 1:4-5, 8. NRSV translation.

[iii] For a great resource on adaptive leadership, see Tod Bolsinger’s book “Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory.

[iv] Gutierrez, Gustavo. A Theology of Liberation.


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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 show care and concern for every person we encounter, like us or not. In her spare time, Chana can be found fulfilling her bucket list items before she turns 65 (so far 23/75!), playing D&D, dancing Lindy Hop, or exploring local activities and events with her husband, TJ, and their dog-children, Molly and Momo.