A Sermon for the First Sunday after the Epiphany

Sunday, January 9, 2022

By: Amelia McDaniel, Lay Associate for Christian Formation


I ran across a poem recently. Poems I particularly admire are written with an economy of words. The barest number of words can be used to evoke a universe of thoughts and feelings. I want to be clear I came to appreciate poetry later in life. Not long ago at all really. Maybe it’s because I have realized that I myself use way too many words that I have come to this appreciation.

This poem, by Maggie Smith, struck me when I saw it on New Year’s Day.

The rain is a broken piano, playing the same note over and over.
My five-year-old said that. Already she knows loving the world means loving the wobbles you can’t shim, the creaks you can’t oil silent – the jerry rigged parts, MacGyvered with twine and chewing gum.
Let me love the cold rain’s plinking. Let me love the world the way I love my young son, not only when he cups my face in his sticky hands, but when, roughhousing, he accidentally splits my lip.
Let me love the world like a mother. Let me be tender when it lets me down.
Let me listen to the rain’s one note and hear a beginner’s song.
Maggie Smith

There is so much I love about this poem. I understand the imagery because it is true for me too.

I particularly love her description of getting walloped by a child. I’ve had my own lip split open more than once by the ginormous head of a kid. Maybe you have too. It’s an out of body experience. Because your brain’s fight or flight mode is triggered when you receive a blow like that. And here you are holding this fragile creature who has effectively just punched you. All the tenderness and love you have for the little boxer you are holding in your arms meets with the rage you instinctively feel. It’s an odd sensation. Because love washes that adrenaline fueled rage away. Maybe not instantly, but pretty darn quickly. And you gaze at your own prize fighter with adoration with a sense of I love you no matter what.

As I read this poem, the beginner’s song the poet refers to, the song that plinks down steadily, in one note, that I heard is I love you, no matter what.

Read more

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Sunday, December 19, 2021

By: Amelia McDaniel, Lay Associate for Christian Formation


There are many things that I am proud of when I say that I am from Tennessee. I know there are great people and places in every corner of this earth, but home is home and your people are your people. One of the Nashvillians I am proudest of is Episcopal priest, Becca Stevens, who runs Thistle Farms. She founded Thistle Farms to address the needs of women who are survivors of addiction, trafficking and prostitution. The two-year residential program helps women create new lives through counseling, education and job training. Their motto is Love Heals, and it has been at Thistle Farms for the more than 20 years. And Thistle Farms has grown to serve women around the US and abroad.

Stevens travels frequently and she brings with her women who are about to graduate at Thistle Farms. Their stories are powerful and humbling. Stevens tells of one woman she was traveling with, a survivor of abuse and life on the streets. The woman was so anxious about giving her speech to the group they were visiting she rewrote it multiple times as she was on the plane and in the hotel the night before the event.

The following morning, when Stevens and the woman arrived at the community to speak, Stevens got up and said, “This is making me nervous. I think it will go much better for her and for us if we just go ahead, cut to the chase, and give her a standing ovation now.” Of course, the group complied, and the woman began weeping as did the audience and Stevens says “it was a big love fest without any words.” The woman’s witness to the healing power of love, without one single word being said was enough.

This story reminds me of today’s Gospel reading. A preemptive ovation and witness to what God’s love can do.

Read more

A Sermon for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, November 14, 2021

By: Amelia McDaniel, Lay Associate for Christian Formation


One year at Easter my father was given the job of saying the blessing before brunch. As I am sure many of you have experienced firsthand … by brunch on Easter there can be a couple of things happening.
Parents of young children are particularly tired because their children are either a. in a jelly bean induced hysteria or b. have already experienced the sugar crash and things are off the rails.
Grandparents can be simultaneously filled up by the presence of their children and grandchildren while also being extraordinarily annoyed by the mayhem.
The brunch host is exhausted and usually worried about a dish or two that did not come out as planned.
You know. Everybody is in a great mood by brunch on Easter.

My dad started in on the prayer as we were gathered around ham and biscuits and cheese grits. I knew things were going to go long when Daddy started all the way back at Creation, like it was the Easter Vigil. By the time he got to the morning of the resurrection, he started with the line “And thank God for the women”
To which my Aunt Elsie loudly replied. AMEN. And blessedly, there ended the blessing.

Thank God for the women. Amen.

In the last few weeks, the Old Testament readings have offered us glimpses of some powerful women. Esther and Ruth have both been in our lectionary readings and David and Harrison both have preached about them. And yes, dad was right. Thank God for Esther and Ruth and those women at the tomb and for the all the brave women of the Scriptures.

Read more

A Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, October 3, 2021

By: Amelia McDaniel, Lay Associate for Christian Formation


“Good Lord, Amelia. This is biblical.” That was my aunt’s text to me.

It was a Sunday night, and I was sitting at the emergency vet with our then 12-year-old yellow lab, Ruth, and two very tearful children. An hour earlier we had all been sitting in the living room when she was suddenly unable to stand. If you are a dog person you know this is the stuff that strikes fear in your heart. My aunt is a dog person and I had texted her knowing that she’d understand.

The Sunday before had been begun a week of unbearable sadness. We were together in the same living room when I had to tell my children that their father had died. Ruth had dutifully nudged and loved on each one of us as we sat there together. And now we were tearfully nudging and loving on her. Willing this problem to be fixable. Praying that this would not be the night to say goodbye too.

Looking into the faces of my terrified children, running the scenarios of how this could all play out in my head, feeling the sorrow heap upon sorrow, it did feel a bit “biblical” as my aunt had suggested. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I got down and whispered into my sweet dog’s ear, “Not tonight. No ma’am. Not tonight.”

Of course, my aunt was referring to Job whose story we begin in the lectionary today. Job, the blameless and upright man who feared God, who suffered mightily in the course of his biblical narrative. He is a Scriptural symbol and even secular code word for suffering, and I would guess that we are all familiar enough with his story.

Thankfully Ruth pulled out of that night and bless her she’s still with us today. And I can say with certainty that we definitely don’t deserve her because she is as blameless and upright a creature in this Kingdom as Job.

Job loses everything, his family, his home, his livelihood as the story unfolds. Job’s suffering is deeply relatable to us all, whether we’d like to own up to it or not. Job did not escape tragedy and losses through his good behavior or even the goodness of his heart. There was no way for Job to manifest good fortune for himself by changing his attitude or meditating or giving money to some cause.

Read more

A Sermon for Holy Saturday, Easter Vigil

By: Amelia McDaniel, Lay Associate for Christian Formation


I speak to you in the name of the Good Shepherd whose great love brings us over into new life.

I fainted at the first Easter Vigil service I attended. This would in any circumstance be a problem, but I was also acolyting and holding a torch. My friend, Patrick, and I were standing on either side of the priest as he read by candlelight these stories of our faith we have just heard told by some of our parishioners. I locked my knees at some point. That was my mistake. Thankfully the whole thing wasn’t too dramatic, and no hair was burned. And thankfully this memory has not colored my love for this service.

This ancient service is so beautiful. In the early church this is the night that those who wished to become Christians were baptized. There are several more readings that can be included in this service, each of them telling of God’s saving love for humanity and all of creation. And although we are experiencing this service differently tonight these stories of our faith stand firm and solid and true. Their truth has knees that do not lock. The truth they tell has spoken to many generations of believers before us who relied upon God’s never-failing love. They spoke to the believers in times of want and in times of plenty. And they speak to us.

Tonight, I find myself hearing to these stories with a “listening heart” as my younger learners and I would say. Although I don’t think I had fully recognized it, I had become agile at least attempting to avoid the fragility and tenuousness of this life through the notions of invincibility and self-sufficiency. But, in these last few weeks as the world has so rapidly changed around us, my heart too has had to change.

Read more