Trinity: A Sermon


The Sunday after Pentecost is, by tradition, the Feast of the Holy Trinity. As feasts go, it’s relatively late (14th Century). There is, I suppose, some logic to it liturgically: with the Holy Spirit cleary onstage (Pentecost), we pause to recall what the language we use throughout the year means.

  • In the Eucharistic Prayer, we pray to the Father, asking that by the action of the Holy Spirit the bread and wine become for us the Body and Blood of Jesus.
  • We baptize in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  • We bless in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Let me come at this from three directions.

First, the doctrine of the Trinity guards against misunderstanding our Scripture and liturgy. We confess God as the Creator. So the fundamental divide is between Creator and creation. Where do we put Jesus? Jesus’ actions and words, actions like forgiving sins and words like “I and the Father are one” pointed towards either Jesus being fully divine, or the Jews having been right to hand him over to Rome as a blasphemer. The description favored by many today, Jesus as a very good person, was simply not in play. Good people don’t go around pardoning sins committed against other people, or identifying themselves with God; they’re too aware of their distance from God. So, one of the early desert fathers on his deathbed. His disciples are assuring him that his holiness makes him a shoo-in; he responds: “Oh my brothers, I’ve not yet begun to repent.”Scripture and our liturgy are only coherent if we confess Jesus as fully divine.

And the Spirit? Likewise on the Creator side of the Creator/creation divide. Texts like today’s Epistle and Gospel become really strange if we give another answer.

Why does it matter that Jesus and the Spirit are on the Creator side of the Creator/creation divide? I’ll grossly simplify. Jesus says to Philip “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). So we don’t need to fear a hidden god behind Jesus, good cop/bad cop on a cosmic scale. Jesus: “Come to me, all you that are weary…”; the Father: “But not the preacher!” Jesus leaves and the Spirit comes. So now we’re stuck with the B-team? No: the Spirit is fully divine.

So Christians worship three gods? No. All the New Testament writers were Jews, and the Shema was firmly written into their DNA: “HEAR, O ISRAEL: THE LORD OUR GOD, THE LORD IS ONE” (Deut. 6:4 JPS).

Do we know how Father, Son, and Spirit are one? No. Remember the Creator/creation divide. We’re on the creation side, and our analogies only get us so far. The technical language in the Nicene Creed (“of one substance with the Father”) serves to guard the mystery, rather than explain the mystery. Some of the church fathers spoke of the Son and the Spirit as the two hands of God, and, as metaphors go, that’s not a bad one.

The Doctrine of the Trinity: rather than having a very distant and uninvolved god off there somewhere, we have a loving Father extending his two hands. One hand: Jesus Christ, who has taken on our flesh, who knows well what it is to live as a human being. The other hand: the Holy Spirit, God moving in our midst, not only empowering the Church, but also working throughout the world to spread the knowledge of God’s love made known in Jesus.

Father, Son, Holy Spirit. So God is more like a man than a woman? No; God is beyond gender, and Scripture uses both masculine and feminine images. But. The conduct of too many men, some hijacking “God the Father” to justify their violence and violations, have desecrated this language, leaving deep wounds. With the psalmist:

O God, the heathen have come into your inheritance;
they have profaned your holy temple;
they have made Jerusalem a heap of rubble. (79:1)

So when Paul says we “groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom. 8:23), that’s also about the damage done to the language God’s given us.  Who would have guessed that Paul’s “we have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor 4:7) is understatement?

Second. We say “God is love.” But what possible sense does this sentence have before the creation? The confession of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit responds to this question with unexpected beauty. God is love, because love has existed eternally between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The fundamental reality of the universe is not a solitary god, but the Unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, an eternal community of love. From this community God created us. We are created for this community. So as God invites us into community this is not about forming a new community, but about entering into the Dance that has been going on for all eternity.

Third, in today’s Gospel reading Jesus prescribes the form of baptism: “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This command, this use of the Divine Name, is primarily not an invitation to contemplation nor to writing thick theological tomes, but to action. It’s like the revelation of the Divine Name ‘Yahweh’ to Moses from the burning bush. What Yahweh wants of Moses is neither contemplation nor theologizing, but to return to Egypt to bring out the people. Here, on another mountain, Jesus employs the Divine Name, and again in the context of mission. He commissions the disciples—and with them, ourselves—to a task which encompasses all our lives: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

At various points we naturally wonder what we’re going to do with our lives. Today’s reading reminds us that we Christians don’t ask this question in a vacuum. How can I best respond to this commission? How is my life—in whatever form it currently takes—also going to be about making disciples? We’re always already witnessing to something; how is my life witnessing to my participation in that Community which is the Holy Trinity?

I began this homily by recalling the ways our weekly worship is profoundly trinitarian in form. So the Trinity exists only within these four walls? No. We speak to and through the Trinity here also so that we can recognize the work of the Trinity everywhere.

And this is the invitation that this day presents: to live the coming week with the senses fully awake to the presence of this Triune God. The loving Father continues extending the two arms—the Son and the Holy Spirit—to embrace us and to draw us into a dance which has no end.

Pentecost: A Sermon

Readings (Acts, 1 Corinthians, John 20)

The Spirit has arrived. Alleluia? Alleluia!

Let’s start with the simplest. Pentecost, like all our major feasts, celebrate God keeping God’s promises. Jesus promised the Spirit; the Spirit arrived. Living, as our Bishop reminded us last week, in the inbetween, that God keeps God’s promises is something to remember. In a typical week it’s something I need to remember multiple times.

We heard today’s Gospel reading also on the second Sunday of Easter. The part relevant to today’s feast comes towards the end: “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” That, in passing, is the basis for the Absolution that follows the Confession. The bishop—or priest under the bishop’s authority—isn’t improvising, but doing what Jesus has authorized.

OK, so how will Peter use this power on—say—the Day of Pentecost? Recall Luke’s earlier story: Jesus and the disciples are headed to Jerusalem, and a village refuses to receive them. “When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’” (Lk 9:54) That’s for refusing a night’s hospitality; what when Jesus is arrested, tortured, and executed?

We heard the beginning of Peter’s sermon in today’s reading; we heard the rest of it in the second through fourth Sundays of Easter. Right after that lengthy quote from Joel, “Jesus of Nazareth…you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up.” The crowd asks “what should we do?” And how does Peter answer? “Do? You’re toast. Remember John the Baptist? ‘The chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire’” (Matt. 3:12).

The Spirit has arrived. The Spirit has given Peter the freedom not to default to “eye for eye.” But how to respond is in Peter’s hands. And thank God he remembers the “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” part. And how did the Father send Jesus? With “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). So Peter offers forgiveness to everyone present. So for that reason the Day of Pentecost is a day of celebration rather than a day of mourning.

Where does that leave us? There’s a necessary role for confrontation in our playbook, what John Lewis called “good trouble.” Peter names what has happened. But it’s subordinate to the primary message, that God desires the prosperity of those who are currently our enemies. This is the “gentleness and reverence” we heard Peter talking about in his letter two Sundays ago. On the other hand, Peter’s sermon is the definitive “no” to our recurrent temptation to weaponize the Spirit’s coming. God’s with us, and therefore against our enemies. Christian nationalism as practiced in Russia and this country come to mind, the voices that shout “I have no need of you.” But the clarity with which I see these specks in my brothers’ eyes does give me pause. Surely there are no logs in mine…

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians gives us a second look at how we respond to the Spirit’s arrival. Corinth was a proverbially competitive place, and from Paul’s letter it’s clear that some of the Corinthians have taken the Spirit’s arrival as another opportunity for one-upmanship. There are different gifts; some must be more important than others; if my gift is more important then I’m more important. So, later in the chapter: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (v.21). So Paul encourages them—pleads with them—to understand themselves as a body in which the different gifts are given for “the common good.”

The frightening thing about using the Spirit’s gifts for the one-upmanship game is that it probably didn’t involve any conscious decision. If I’ve got something that I can use as an advantage, I use it.

This is where God’s love for us, love for our freedom is—depending on your mood—overwhelming or frightening. God gives us gifts. God doesn’t control how we use those gifts.

Last Sunday our Bishop spoke of prayer as paying attention. So if Paul tells us to pray without ceasing (1 Th 5:17), perhaps we need to pay attention without ceasing. The Spirit has arrived. (Alleluia? Alleluia!) The Spirit gives us freedom. The Spirit doesn’t—typically—mess with our default settings, our habits, our ingrained patterns of behavior. That’s our work. The Spirit has given me this gift, this moment, this opportunity: how am I going to use it?

The Feast of the Ascension: A Sermon

Readings (Psalm 93; Daniel 7:1-14 in place of Ephesians 1:15-23)

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Today’s Feast does add an additional layer to that, doesn’t it! But what does it mean? If all we had were these two texts from Luke, it would be like having our experience with weddings reduced to watching the bride or groom head off for the ceremony. Fortunately, we have Daniel’s vision.

Daniel’s vision. In one of Charles Schulz’ cartoons Snoopy is chasing leaves, only to be stopped when a large rack slams down right in front of him. He concludes “The one with the biggest teeth wins.” So in Daniel’s vision: something lionish, something bearish, something leopardish, then something that defied description. And if the vision had stopped there, we would have the despair powerfully captured in Brecht’s Threepenny Opera: “A man just keeps alive by completely / Being able to forget that he’s a human being, too.” “Grub first, then ethics.” So Great Britain’s mascot is the lion, Russia’s the bear, ours the eagle. And so the statement attributed to Roosevelt about the brutal Nicaraguan dictator Anastastio Somoza García: “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” (If we want to understand what’s happening at our southern border, that might not be a bad place to start.)

And then in the vision, the unexpected. The Ancient One appears, and “As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.” Human history is finally human, not bestial.

Psalm 8 asked the question:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them? (Ps. 8:3-4)

What are human beings? Oh, the ways that question gets answered! “The one who dies with the most toys wins!” That’s one of the more popular answers, and our economy would probably collapse without it. Macbeth, facing his own death: human life is “a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing” (V.5.25-27). The prophet Isaiah cries out in near despair “All people are grass, / their constancy is like the flower of the field” (40:6). The good news of today’s feast: Jesus’ ascension is the definitive answer to that question: human beings are those destined for “dominion and glory and kingship.” For that the Father created us; for that Jesus took on our flesh; for that the Spirit empowers us.

Today’s texts give us two additional ways of approaching this what are human beings question. In Luke’s texts what isn’t said is as important as what is said. There’s no hint of Jesus shedding our humanity (“Finally!”) to return to being, well, simply divine. Jesus in all his humanity—including those wounds he’d invited Thomas to probe—ascends. The Greeks got it wrong: progress isn’t about distancing ourselves from the body, from matter; these are part of God’s good creation. Nor is progress about erasing the hard, painful, or even dumb moments in our pasts. Jesus ascends with those scars, and they’re part of his glory. So, whether it’s that strange assortment of voices that is my self, or the equally strange combination of events and circumstances that constitutes daily life, there’s nothing that God isn’t out to touch and transform.

What are human beings? Our answer to that is inevitably shaped by our experiences with those more powerful than ourselves. “Children should be seen, not heard.” “Yes, you can come in, but don’t touch anything!” Is that what our humanity comes to before divine grandeur? We focus too much, I think, on divine grandeur and too little on divine generosity. Recall last week’s Gospel: “we will come to them and make our home with them” (Jn 14:23). The God revealed in both the Old and New Testaments desires to share as much of God’s self as we can take in, to share as much of God’s love, God’s joy, God’s peace as we can take in.

What are human beings? Invitees to a celebration that has no end. And all this underwritten in Jesus’ ascension.

Deep breath, and on to a much shorter part two.

“While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” That’s a real break: Jesus is there; we’re here. It’s an unnerving enough break that our two collects do their best to dance around it. The first collect: “give us faith to perceive that…he abides with his Church on earth.” The second collect: “so we may also in heart and mind there ascend and with him continually dwell.” Absence, what absence?

Now in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says “I am with you always” (28:20). So how is this absent Jesus present? The short answer is through the Holy Spirit—in an astonishing variety of ways. For one of the more important ways, let’s recall that story in Luke just before today’s Gospel. On Easter Sunday two disciples are walking to Emmaus and a stranger joins them. They talk about the week’s events and…

“Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he [the stranger] interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight” (24:27-31).

Jesus opens the Scripture; Jesus breaks the Bread. It’s a one-off event; it’s the pattern of every Eucharist. Through the Holy Spirit in every Eucharist Jesus is present. “The Word of the Lord.” “This is my Body…This is my Blood.” All very material: ears, mouths, bread, wine. God likes matter; God created it.

Jesus with us in the Eucharist: it’s a hinge in time. We hold up our recent past: praise, offerings, confession. The Scripture, the Bread, the Wine: these propel us into the new week. The Scripture: how do we incarnate this Word on Monday morning, Wednesday midafternoon with the clock moving at glacial speed, Friday night? The Bread and Wine: Jesus’ Body and Blood, and the model for everything our hands touch during the week. How do I lift this moment, this situation up to God so that God can do something extraordinary with it? The good news: we’re not alone in any of this. Jesus—through the Spirit—let’s do this together. “I am with you always.”

Ascension Day: the glad proclamation that also when Jesus’ way is hard, it is the human way, and it leads to unending joy—for all peoples, nations, and languages.

The 6th Sunday of Easter: A Sermon


If the resurrection of Jesus is a crisis for the world and its institutions—a theme that ran through last week’s readings—the ascension of Jesus is a crisis for the disciples. Since the Feast of the Ascension is this Thursday (Mass at 7 PM), it’s worth listening to what Jesus might have to say about this.

The Ascension is a crisis for the disciples and for us. We know where Jesus is: at the right hand of the Father. That’s the center; we’re not centerstsage. So how about us: how can we live, how should we live, in Jesus’ absence? (“Jesus went to heaven; all I got was this t-shirt”?) Doesn’t this leave us orphans, left to ourselves to figure out how to put our identity and calling into practice?

It’s precisely in the context of this fear, this terror of being abandoned, that Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, the Spirit of Truth. The very breath of God, which gives life to all creation, which inspired the prophets, now will be the means by which the Father and the Son take up residence in the Church and in every believer. As Jesus says, “we will come to him and make our home with him.”

Now, of the three Persons of the Trinity, the Spirit is the One that often remains a sort of blur. It helps to go back to the Hebrew, where ruah, the word we translate as ‘spirit’ is used for both breath and wind. Few things more intimate than breath; few things more powerful than wind. Ruah, spanning everything from the softest breath to the strongest wind—that’s not a bad image to keep in mind when we speak the word ‘spirit’.

The Spirit, in the words of our Catechism (BCP 852), “leads us into all truth and enables us to grow in the likeness of Christ.” That is, the Spirit enables us to receive the Word of God and the Sacraments, and transforms us over time into the image of Christ. The Spirit functions as a sort of catalyst in the chemical sense, not adding anything to the chemical reaction, but making it happen.

How am I supposed to recognize the presence of the Spirit in my life? Pentecostal and charismatic Christians emphasize the extraordinary gifts, such as speaking in unknown languages. We don’t discount these gifts, but we don’t demand to see them in order to recognize the Spirit’s presence. Again from the Catechism: “We recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation.”

That’s a useful answer because it makes clear that the Spirit enables not just my relationship to God, but a thick web of relationships that extend to all creation. As the ecologists remind us, everything is eventually connected to everything, and the Spirit is concerned with nothing less.

It’s also an answer that needs some unpacking, because confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and achieving harmony with ourselves and our neighbors don’t always converge in the short term. Paul’s witness in Athens (our first reading) is met with scoffing, and the backdrop of Peter’s letters (our second reading) is that faithful witness regularly meets with persecution. This doesn’t mean that we stop confessing Jesus. It does mean that because our desire is for harmony, there’s no place for arrogance in our witness. Recall Peter’s words from today’s reading: “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”

If we have been baptized, we have received this gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the confidence that we have as Christians: a loving Father before us, Jesus Christ our brother beside us, and the Holy Spirit among and within us, enabling us to respond with Jesus to the Father.

Let’s continue in the Catechism (BCP 853): “Q. How do we recognize the truths taught by the Holy Spirit? A. We recognize truths to be taught by the Holy Spirit when they are in accord with the Scriptures.” The Spirit is not going to contradict the Scriptures. The Spirit is going to stretch our understanding of the Scriptures, show us the inadequacies of our current ways of reading Scripture—recall the Spirit drafting Peter into preaching to the Gentiles. Do I ever get to the point where the Spirit doesn’t need to stretch my understanding of the Scriptures? Probably not.

So far the Catechism. But what of personal experience, on which our culture puts a great deal of value? There doesn’t seem to be much about personal experience in these lines from the Catechism. Isn’t there more to say?

Well, yes. Recall the second lesson. Peter is talking about the Noah story and says: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience.” That phrase “an appeal to God” reminds us of the central role of desire in our Christian life. The Christian life is a life marked by desire.

My baptism is not simply something in my past, but equally the definition of my identity now: a desire to live, to live as a human being, to live as Jesus lived (three ways of saying the same thing).

We think of God as characteristically telling us what to do. But God equally characteristically asks us what we want, what we desire. A knitter will save a lot of effort if she decides at the start whether she’s knitting a scarf or a stocking cap, rather than figuring it out later. We save a lot of effort—God knows—if we decide what we want, who we want to be sooner rather than later—and stick to it.

Staying clear on this desire in this sense is easier said than done in our culture, which specializes in inciting in us unlimited contradictory desires. We periodically fall for it—so confession is a regular part of our worship. So we need to be in the habit of asking ourselves: are my decisions and patterns of life nurturing and protecting this desire, or letting the world sidetrack it?

Meanwhile, Jesus in the Gospel speaks of guarding his commandments or words. Do we desire to experience the Spirit working in our life? Obey Jesus. It’s a cycle: the Spirit enables us to obey Jesus; obedience opens us to the power of the Spirit. Is there a limit to the effects of this cycle? It would appear not. In last week’s Gospel reading we heard: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

This is one of the reasons why our tradition speaks so frequently of the importance of a daily encounter with Scripture. How are we supposed to guard Jesus’ words if we don’t know them? If I’ve got CNN on my Smartphone, I probably want the Daily Office there too.

A final observation. In our world, as in Athens in Paul’s time, there are plenty of philosophic and religious traditions about God. How to distinguish between the true and the false? Recall Jesus’ answer to this question. It’s not simply: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” but (from John 8) “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Follow Jesus’ teaching and see for yourself what happens. If the bumblebee started by trying to work out the aerodynamics of its flight, it’d never get off the ground. So in following Jesus: walking on the water doesn’t look like it’s going to work—until we’re doing it. And this is a lesson some of us have to learn over and over. And this is simply another way of saying what we’ve heard in today’s Gospel: guarding Jesus’ commandments, Jesus’ words, opens us to the life-giving and transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

With Jesus’ ascension we are not left orphans. The ascended Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit. Keeping Jesus’ words, we open ourselves to that Spirit’s presence and power. Alleluia.

The 5th Sunday of Easter: A Sermon


“Like living stones,” writes Peter, “let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” “Spiritual sacrifices:” what is Peter going to talk about? Not, as we might expect, the Holy Eucharist as celebrated every Sunday, but “For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution” (2:13). So Peter goes on to talk about the empire, slavery, and marriage. Most of that is omitted by our lectionary, maybe because Peter’s words have been too often abused. But if Peter wants to talk about “spiritual sacrifices,” let’s let him talk, and we might be surprised at what he has to say. But for that we’ll need a running start, which we’ll get through the other readings.

In our Gospel we hear these well-known words: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, except through me.” These words continue to play a role in our conversations about what Christian mission is about. After we’ve said all that we need to say about God’s Spirit creatively reaching out to all peoples in all times and places—and sometimes we need to say a great deal more than we have said—if anyone is to come to the Father, it is through Jesus.

But in our text Jesus says “no one comes to the Father, except through me” not to start talking about evangelism, but to emphasize how closely the Father, Son, and Spirit intertwine, and that the disciples’ life depends on staying intertwined in this divine life. “The way, and the truth, and the life:” this isn’t about life in the world to come, but about this life, how one might live humanly now. And the claim is that Jesus is central to this human life now. Let’s see how that plays out in the other readings.

Our psalm is a cry for deliverance, assuming a world that we know too well. We may lack many things, but we don’t lack enemies, folk whose pursuit of their goals doesn’t translate into good news for us. As the wag rewrote the beginning of Kipling’s “If”: “‘If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs…’ you obviously don’t understand the situation.” Yep, our world.

Now, if we start with that psalm, how is Stephen’s trial going to turn out? Stephen had been giving powerful testimony to Jesus, he’d been hauled before the high priest’s council, he’d delivered a powerful but not very conciliatory defense, and now our text. If anyone needed deliverance, it was Stephen. But, the text tells us, he was stoned to death.

Now, our psalm reading ended with “Make your face to shine upon your servant, / and in your loving-kindness save me” and Acts reports Stephen saying “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” So it sounds like Stephen was not feeling short-changed.

We may be. Some days I’d prefer an ending in which Stephen is whisked away by a squad of heavily-armed angels, and if they leave the temple leadership with a bad case of hemorrhoids, so much the better.

But here’s the thing. God’s not about just delivering Stephen. God’s about delivering the high priest, the folk who dragged Stephen before the council, and even that young man Saul who took charge of the executioners’ outer garments so they could carry out the stoning…vigorously. God’s going for all the marbles, and that, as Peter’s letter makes clear, even includes our institutions, like, say, the empire, slavery, marriage.

After what Jesus and followers like Stephen experienced, it would be very easy to write off the world’s institutions—like the Essenes who withdrew to the edge of the Dead Sea. If we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,” why should we bother with all these worldly institutions?

Nevertheless, here’s Peter saying “For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution.” Is Peter selling out? No. Peter understands Jesus being the Way, the Truth, and the Life to mean that Jesus is about transforming human institutions from the inside out. Peter could have talked about any number of institutions; he focuses on three: the empire, slavery, and marriage. Here’s an institution: what is Jesus going to do with it?

Empire. The core of what Peter wants to say about the Empire is contained in the following lines with their careful choice of verbs. “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” “Honor the emperor.” Honor: give him neither less nor more than his due. Not “love the emperor”—the object of love is the brotherhood, that is, other Christians. Not “fear the emperor”—fear is reserved for God. So worship of the emperor is out, and Christians would pay for that exclusion with their lives until Constantine’s conversion some 300 years later. No, “honor the emperor”—the honor we owe any other human being.

Slavery. “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.” Peter is breaking new ground. In first Century moral discourse there was plenty of advice and instruction to owners regarding how to handle their slaves. But one didn’t speak to the slaves themselves, for they were not considered moral agents (and the same logic applied to women). So, simply to address the slaves and address them as moral agents, as full members of this chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, is already to begin shaking the foundations.

And it is for the slaves that Christ’s conduct serves as an example: “because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” The owner may think that the slave obeys out of fear; the Christian slave obeys as a way of imitating Jesus.

Do you see how Peter is rearranging our mental worlds? Where do we encounter the following of the resurrected Christ, so glorious, so splendid? Not in the glory and splendor of the owners, but in the obedience of the slaves. It is not that God is any friend of slavery—the exodus from Egypt should put that fear to rest—but, says Peter, if we want to watch the followers of the glorified Christ—watch the slaves.

Over time Peter’s rearranging of our mental worlds combined with Genesis’ affirmation of all bearing God’s image helped us realize that the transformation Jesus wished to make to the institution of slavery was its abolition.

There’s much more we could say, but let’s at least remember this: these words to the slaves speak to all persons in a subordinate position in any social or economic arrangement. Are you suffering unjustly in your work? You have Jesus Christ as your companion.

Marriage. Here Peter addresses both wives and husbands, recognizing both as moral agents. The wives are called to submission, the husbands to considerate living and to bestowing honor on their wives.

Christians at the “conservative” end of the spectrum take Peter’s words as expressing God’s will for marriages today. They’re probably making the same mistake the folk who thought God liked slavery made. Given what Peter’s already done with empire and slavery, I think it’s much more likely that Peter is simply starting with the institution as it then existed and pushing it in the direction of God’s will.

In a discussion of the same institution in Ephesians, Paul speaks of being subject to each other. Peter does not use that language, but his call on the husbands to considerate living and to bestowing honor on their wives comes to pretty much the same thing. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

From our cultural context we hear Peter’s words as hopelessly hierarchical. What we forget is that in most times and places Peter’s words (and similar words elsewhere in the New Testament) are plenty revolutionary. What calls to “considerate living” and “bestowing honor on their wives” can do is begin to conform male desires to female priorities. Less money on the mistress; more money for school clothes.

My favorite story about this comes from a town Elizabeth Brusco encountered during her doctoral field work in Colombia. Like many towns one of its major festivals was that of its patron saint, and at that festival the town insured that no one went thirsty (free beer). Plenty of scores would be settled, and typically the birth rate would spike about nine months later, the father of most of the newborn designated as St. So-and-So. One year they had elected an evangelical mayor, whose church devoted considerable attention to texts like 1 Peter. So at the festival he announces: this year in honor of our patron saint the children will have all the milk they want. The milk will flow like rivers. Of course the wives are submitting—but to priorities that have more to do with their interests.

I do not imagine for a minute that I’ve addressed all the issues that come up with regard to Christian participation in these institutions. I haven’t tried; nor did Peter, and I think he’d be horrified at the suggestion that his words were the only words that would ever need to be spoken regarding these institutions. Rather, what Peter has done is give us an overall strategy: rather than withdraw from these institutions, or check our Christian identities at the door when we participate in them, participate in them as Christians and let that yeast ferment the whole loaf. This is a strategy for the long haul in which whether we are “successful” individually is less important than whether we are faithful. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life also with regard to our life in these very imperfect but transformable institutions.

“The kingdom of heaven—Jesus said—is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

The 4th Sunday of Easter: A Sermon


Today’s readings: such a tapestry! Let’s look at three of the threads.

First thread: “The LORD is my shepherd” sings David; in the verse just after today’s Gospel reading we hear Jesus: “I am the good shepherd.” “Shepherd” in David’s time was a potent political metaphor. The LORD is shepherd of Israel; the king is shepherd of the people.

The kings liked to portray themselves as good shepherds. Israel’s prophets, particularly Jeremiah and Ezekiel, heard a different divine verdict. Here’s Ezekiel: “Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel…  Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?  You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.” This goes on for a good bit. Then, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD.” (Ezek. 34:2-15) When we hear Jesus’ “I am the good shepherd” we know that Ezekiel’s words were not empty.

Peter, later in the letter our lectionary has us reading, will say “Honor the emperor,” not because the emperor’s doing such a fine job shepherding, but because Peter has just said “Honor everyone,” and the emperor is included in “everyone.” When the emperor and his lackeys overreach, Jesus’ “I am the good shepherd” translates into Peter’s “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29). We may have the political leaders we deserve; the good news of the Gospel is that the Good Shepherd has arrived, and Jesus bats last.

Second thread: what do we expect of this Good Shepherd? Two weeks ago I talked about how the petition psalms struggle to hold God, the enemies, and the psalmist in the same frame, appealing to God to do something. Sometimes the psalmist’s confidence that God is doing something takes over the psalm, as in today’s psalm. It wouldn’t take much adjustment for it to sound like a generic petition psalm: “Lord, I’m in the middle of the valley of the shadow of death.” “Lord, I can’t even take a bite without those who trouble me crowding around.” But the psalmist understands—in the gut, not simply in the head—that “you are with me,” and that’s bedrock.

By the way, it isn’t better to pray Psalm 23 than one of the “Get me out of here now!” psalms. The Psalter is such a large collection because we can be in so many places, and wherever we are, we’ll need some words. As the saying goes, “pray as you can; don’t pray as you can’t.”

Nevertheless, the psalmist’s “[nevertheless] you are with me” sets us on a trajectory towards Jesus’ “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (v.11, just past today’s reading). The LORD is Jesus’ Good Shepherd, and “with me” turns out to include, not exclude, the cross. Peter in our second reading applies this pastorally: following this Shepherd can mean suffering.

If we wonder what, if anything, our suffering accomplishes, Peter is silent, but we have his colleague Paul. In his letter to the Colossians we hear “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (1:24). There’s no description of the “how,” but it’s clear that the LORD can employ also our suffering for the healing of the world. This in turn shapes what we expect of Jesus, our Good Shepherd.

Third thread. Up to this point we’ve been assuming that we’re the known factor as we attempt to understand God’s conduct. But then there’s that verse in the Gospel: “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” The rabbis have a story we might want to think about.[1]

Rabbi Yehuda of Prague dreamt that he had died and was outside the gates of heaven. An angel read the names of those invited to enter, but he did not hear his name. He begged the angel for an explanation. The angel replied: “But many come here who have never heard their true names on the lips of man or angel. They have lived believing that they know who they really are, but they don’t know. And so when they’re called to heaven by their names as who they really are, they don’t recognize themselves. They don’t realize that it’s for them that the gates of heaven are opened. So they must wait until they know their true selves and so recognize their true names.” At this Rabbi Yehuda woke and, rising from his bed with tears, he lay prostrate on the ground and prayed, “Master of the Universe! Grant me once before I die to hear my own true name as who I really am.”

When Jesus calls me by name will I recognize that name? Holy Scripture thinks that’s a serious question, and so invites us to follow, also so that in the following we make some progress in knowing our own names.

[1] Adapted from a story attributed to Rowan Williams on a now inaccessible website.

The 3rd Sunday of Easter: A Sermon


When I was attending elementary school in California in the 50’s we had air raid drills. The siren would sound, we’d huddle under our desks, the teacher would draw the blinds, and we’d crack jokes. Great fun, unless we connected these exercises with the pictures of ground zero at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The seasons would change, spring to summer, fall to winter, but the Soviet Union was, we assumed, eternal.

Then along came Pope John Paul II, someone whose encounter with the holy God saved him from that assumption. Like Isaiah, when you feel the foundations shaking and hear powers beyond your imagination calling out “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts” you never quite see nations and states the same way. He returned to Poland, preached—like Peter—Jesus as “Lord and Messiah,” and Poland and the Soviet Union never quite recovered.

The section from which today’s epistle is taken, in fact, zeros in on holiness: “as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”

‘Holy’: our culture tends to have an allergic reaction to the word, which in common usage shows up primarily in expletives or phrases like “holier than thou.” Now, although we’ve all eaten really bad food and had bad music inflicted upon us, we still seek out good food and good music. So this sermon is an exercise in recovery: what’s holiness about, and what might it mean?

The holy is, first, the completely other. It’s someone from a two-dimensional world encountering somehow a three-dimensional world. It’s Hamlet encountering not some ghost, but Shakespeare himself, Captain Kirk encountering not the Klingons but the accountants at Paramount. Very unsettling, but good for us. We fall into the habit of thinking that our world’s the given, and may wonder if God is a figment of our imagination. We forget that our world depends on God remembering us, that our world has in itself all the permanence of a soap bubble. To encounter the holy is to encounter a bit of that reality.

Holiness, second, what is set aside from common use, and drawn into the service of this completely other. It’s like what happens in most homes: some things are for when company comes. And some things, some people, are set apart for God. If we’ve been baptized, we’re in that category. And we set ourselves apart again at every Eucharist. As Prayer B puts it “Unite us to your Son in his sacrifice, that we may be acceptable through him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” We place ourselves at the service of this Holy God. Which brings us to the third of four dimensions of holiness.

Holiness, third, the character of God we are called to imitate. And what this means is laid out in considerable detail in the Law of Moses. It’s easy to forget how much of this is simply good news. The Sabbath. Historically, the alternative to the Sabbath was pretty much working every day —unless you’re among the ruling elites. An eye for an eye is harsh, but a real improvement on both eyes for one eye, or multiple teeth for one tooth. Now, from the start we Christians have had trouble reaching agreement on the application of some parts of the Law, but all have agreed that the call to holiness is central.

“You shall be holy, for I am holy.” Like the audience for this epistle, many in our congregations are written off by society. Recall Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (1Co 1:26 RSV). But Peter here wants us to remember that we have received an invitation whose honor puts any other honor in the shadows: God Almighty addressing each one of us: “Be holy—like me.” What does it matter what’s in my wallet if that invitation’s in my wallet?

This call to holiness is at the center of the questions put to the candidates in baptism: putting off the old nature & putting on the new. It keeps us occupied all our lives, individually and corporately. Individually, battling our cherished addictions. Corporately… when in the 19th Century Anglicans in the UK fought against slavery and child labor and in the 20th Century Episcopalians here fought against segregation that was about holiness.

Which bring us to the fourth dimension: holiness as dynamic, the core of mission. When Moses encountered the burning bush —“Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground”— the result was not a new retreat center. (Pharaoh might have put up the money for that!) It was a return to Egypt and to struggle: “Let my people go!” Peter gets a glimpse of the holy and says to Jesus “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” The result, not a retreat center, but “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” It’s an outrageously mixed metaphor: “I will build” —something stationary; “not prevail” —the church as battering ram for God’s Kingdom. (Recall John Paul II in Poland.)

Holiness, then: the completely other, what is set apart, how we imitate God, mission.

Lest all of this sound a bit abstract, there’s a lovely illustration of how it plays out in today’s Gospel. Jesus encounters two disciples heading for Emmaus in mourning. They think they have all the information they need. One says: “some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.” But they know not to trust the testimony of slaves, children, and women. How do they know? The chief priests and other leaders have been telling them so, the same chief priests and leaders who’ve just engineered Jesus’ crucifixion. Holiness—the completely other, the imitation of God—means taking a second look at what our culture tells us. Holiness means listening to the voices we too easily discount.

In our first reading Peter is faced with an audience who 52 days ago had made it quite clear that they preferred Barabbas to Jesus, and whose working theory about the apostles’ behavior is that they’re quite drunk. That’d be enough to encourage any of us to keep very quiet. But Peter has responded to God’s call to holiness, and so Peter tells the story, and many that day pass from death to life.

For John Paul II, holiness meant inviting the peoples of Eastern Europe to personal and corporate holiness—including the labor union Solidarity in Poland. And one day, the Soviet Union I had grown up learning to fear simply disappeared.

“You shall be holy, for I am holy,” this wouldn’t be a bad time to hear and respond.

The 2nd Sunday of Easter: A Sermon


Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

The dominant—maybe the overwhelming—emotion in today’s readings is that of joy. It’s the base melody for Peter’s sermon. We hear it again in Peter’s letter

 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, (1:8)

It’s a dominant part of the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ appearances in the Gospel. But perhaps it finds fullest expression in David’s psalm:

9 My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; *
my body also shall rest in hope.
10 For you will not abandon me to the grave, *
nor let your holy one see the Pit.

Joy on David’s lips is all the more remarkable when we notice the implied setting: David very near the Pit, with plenty of enemies pressuring him toward it, the Pit his probable destination unless the Lord responds to the cry with which the psalm begins (“Protect me, O God”). So what might we learn from this psalm and the Gospel about how to experience this joy? In our collect, after all, we prayed “Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith.” If the lessons are any indication, what we’re praying that we “show forth” has something to do with an authentic joy. How do we get there?

The psalm, as we’ve noticed, starts very far from joy:

Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;
I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord,
my good above all other.”

The psalmist is facing some sort of lethal threat; here, as in many of the psalms the language is kept general so that the psalm can be used in a variety of situations, whether grave illness or enemies’ plots or an oppressive social order. And in that first verse two decisions have already been made. The first is to seek the Lord’s aid—that’s the proper name lying behind the first ‘Lord’ in the verse: “I have said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord.’” The psalmist is in a religious environment even more pluralistic than ours, some of which is reflected in the following verses.

The second decision: to not try to put the problem out of mind. Then, as now, many ways to dull awareness. Precisely in praying the psalm the psalmist is discarding that option.

This psalm, you see, like many of the psalms, works with three foci: the Lord, the psalmist’s enemies, and the psalmist’s situation. And the whole work of the psalm is to hold those three together until The Lord does something. The psalmist has no idea what that’s going to look like. That takes effort; that’s why some of these psalms are rather long. The options of seeking another patron or seeking oblivion continue to present themselves, and each time have to be set aside. Sometimes “The Lord does something” happens quickly, sometimes not. If you want an image for this, think of the patriarch Jacob wrestling all night with the angel: “I will not let you go, unless you bless me” (Gen 32:26).

And sometimes, as in this psalm, “The Lord does something” also means The Lord giving the gift of confidence and joy before anything else happens, before there’s any obvious reason for confidence or joy:

I have set the Lord always before me; *
because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

What I’m describing here is a spiritual discipline, or practice, which in most times and places involves swimming upstream. Much of what we encounter on the internet or other media assumes our God’s absence. So it takes regular discipline to reorient ourselves, which is why the Daily Office is at the beginning of our prayer book. And the testimony of generations of prayer book users is that a predictable outcome of this discipline is joy.

So that’s one answer to “How do we get there?”

The other answer is in our Gospel reading.

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” (20:19)

As John tells the story, the appearance is completely unexpected. And of the many things we might notice in this account, one is certainly Jesus’ strong desire to be with his friends.

(Returning to Matthew for a moment, recall that the night of his arrest Jesus told his disciples he would meet them in Galilee [26:32]. But, as in John, he meets Mary Magdalene at the tomb that Easter morning. He can’t wait for Galilee.)

And so in the different accounts of the post-resurrection appearances in the Gospels, it’s rarely about teaching; it’s primarily about being with, about friendship, about love.

So that’s the Gospel reading’s answer to “How do we get there:” pure gift, Jesus’ presence. And what we learn from this and the other stories is that this presence is something Jesus wants at least as much as we do.

Joy. On the one hand, a product of the discipline of, with David, holding The Lord, our enemies, and our situation in the same frame. The joy’s not automatic; it’s not something that can be forced. It’s us the lovers seeking the Beloved. On the other hand, it’s the product of Jesus’ unexpected gifts of presence, quite outside our control. And there it’s Jesus as lover, seeking us. So one of the Bible’s recurrent images for the culmination of this long history of The Lord and humankind is the wedding. That’s the human future. Whether with David on the run or Peter in Jerusalem, that’s the future we have the privilege of announcing to our neighbors.

Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Easter: A Sermon

Readings (Jeremiah; Psalm; Acts; Matthew)

Alleluia. Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

One of the things I love about our liturgical tradition is that at the major feasts our  liturgies say pretty much everything that needs to be said. So the sermon: it’s quite enough to add a few program notes. Notice what the woodwinds are doing here. Notice how the composer circles back to the opening theme there. So here are a couple program notes.

From the material unique to Matthew’s account, it’s clear that in his context he feels the need to respond to the the-disciples-stole-the-body story. We heard that in the verses preceding and following those assigned by the lectionary. No: the disciples didn’t steal the body—and the guards, priests, and elders know it. What actually happened matters, both then and now. I normally don’t devote much sermon time to “what actually happened.” Holy Scripture uses pretty much all the available genres (myth, legend, fable, satire, history, apocalyptic, etc.) to give us a true account of our reality. But here what actually happened matters. If some version of his disciples stole the body is true, will the last one out please turn off the lights.

But Jesus has been raised. God bats last.

Then there’s the end of our assigned reading. The angel’s instructions were clear: the next scene is in Galilee, that’s where Jesus will appear.

But then Jesus goes off script: “Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’” No need for it; Matthew’s already told us that the women are running to tell the disciples. It’s not clear that it accomplishes anything. But it briefly lifts the veil on something that’s been implicit throughout Matthew’s Gospel. At the beginning: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, ‘God is with us.’” At the ending “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Why? Because God has to (being omnipresent and all)? Hardly. Because that’s God’s job? But surely being God means writing your own job description. Because that’s what God desires. I wonder if we’ve really let that sink in.

Alleluia. Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Good Friday: A Sermon


“The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.” How do you follow that? But there it is in the Book of Common Prayer (p.277): “The Sermon follows.”

This year we’re hearing the passion narrative three days out from a bitterly contested election. The last few elections have been bitterly contested; there’s no reason to think the next ones will be different. And I’d guess that most of us feel like we have a real stake in the outcomes. And here in the middle of that narrative we hear Pilate interrogating Jesus about, well, politics. Let’s hear it again:

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”  (Jn. 18:33-38a)

To risk a summary, Jesus’ kingdom is not “from this world,” and to be king in this kingdom is about testifying to the truth. And we have a real stake in this too. This is the kingdom in the prayer Jesus taught us: “Your kingdom come.” This is the kingdom to which Jesus pointed us: “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33)—“all these things” presumably including what we perceive to be at stake when we go in the voting booth.

Jesus’ kingdom: not “from this world.” You may recall the KJV translation: “Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world… my kingdom [is] not from hence.” Paying attention just to the first part, we could hear Jesus saying “My kingdom is otherworldly.” But even in the KJV he ends with “my kingdom is not from hence” (from here), so the NRSV gets it right: “My kingdom is not from this world.” Jesus’ kingdom doesn’t depend on the fighting, the violence, that underwrite the current membership of the United Nations. Jesus’ kingdom does belong in this world: “Your kingdom come.”

And Jesus, the king, here to testify to the truth—whether or not it promises to be of any use tactically.

There is, by the way, a strong echo of Deuteronomy in Jesus’ responses. Deuteronomy is the only chunk of Moses that legislates regarding the king. While kings in that time and place usually lead their armies, Deuteronomy is loudly silent about that role. What does the king do? Hear the text:

18 When he has taken the throne of his kingdom, he shall have a copy of this law written for him in the presence of the levitical priests. 19 It shall remain with him and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes, 20 neither exalting himself above other members of the community nor turning aside from the commandment, either to the right or to the left… (Deut. 17:18-20)

The king studies Torah, and in Deuteronomy’s description, testifies to the truth by his actions, e.g., not “exalting himself above other members of the community.” (We might recall the text we heard yesterday, Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.)

“Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Jesus’ witness in today’s text in unison with the rest of Holy Scripture makes it clear that however we’re striving for that kingdom, we don’t do it with violence and we don’t do it by spinning the truth.

Oh that that were a no-brainer. But throughout the church’s history it’s been tempting to follow the apostolic example (Peter—who else?) and pull out the sword, tempting to spout Scripture when it supports us and plead laryngitis when it doesn’t.

OK, but we Christians are also citizens of this or that country, charged with bearing witness to the righteousness of God’s kingdom within the limitations of our particular context. What happens to Jesus’ example of non-violence and not spinning the truth in these contexts? Here we’re back to Paul’s “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph. 5:10). Here we’re really grateful for the witness of the saints who enrich our calendar: Oscar Romero (3/24), Martin Luther King Jr. (4/4), Frances Perkins (Secretary of Labor in FDR’s administration; 5/13), Joan of Arc (5/30), Jonathan Myrick Daniels (8/14), Thomas Becket (12/29).

On Sunday morning we’ll be renewing our baptismal vows, including “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” Today’s text is worth reflection. Jesus’ commitment to non-violence and not spinning the truth seriously limit his options, with Pilate—at least for the moment—getting the last word: “What is truth?” That’s a situation none of us want to be in. The baptismal vows can nudge us in that direction, in which case the saints—and Jesus—don’t make for bad company.