A Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

August 20th, 2023

Like it or not, I guess, when we were born into this world, we inherited ‘lines in the sand’ that had already been drawn. Those lines in the sand were already there as soon as we began to learn how to walk on our own two feet and began learn how to speak for ourselves. In fact, some of those ‘lines in the sand’ influence where we think our feet can take us and what words we can say or not. As we grow up we find out about those lines sometimes when we accidentally cross one of them. And sometimes we’re told about those lines pretty explicitly. I remember hearing: ‘you’ll be known by the company you keep’, or, ‘if you lie down with dogs you are going to get fleas’.

I was hanging out with some boys in my neighborhood when I was a kid who were a little rougher than my mother was comfortable with and she told me so. I thought she just didn’t understand them. But one summer, some of these boys got in trouble with the police for breaking into a neighbor’s house when they were away on vacation and vandalizing the house. I didn’t have anything to do with it but that didn’t stop a Chesterfield County police officer from coming by our house and questioning me. To my mother’s credit, I don’t remember her saying, ‘I told you so’. I guess she didn’t have to.

But then there are lines drawn in the sand that don’t seem to have anything to do with getting fleas. I wish it was as simple as that. One afternoon, at least twenty years ago, I was driving downtown to visit a parishioner who lived in the Mosby Court. She’d been at my parish for two or three years and she was living proof that God’s mission for the church is about opening doors not closing them. I was stopped at a light near the housing complex where my parishioner lived and a young man came up to my car and motioned for me to roll down my window. I did and he said, ‘hey, what’s going on?’ and I said, ‘I’m heading to see a parishioner’. He said, ‘Yeh, that’s good. Look,’ he said, ‘you don’t really want to be around here, ok?’ I said, ‘what?’ He said, ‘yeh, you probably just want to go on now’. And then he walked off. It wasn’t a warning. And it wasn’t concern for me. It was just a simple statement.

The truth is that a line in the sand had gotten crossed that neither I or that young man had put there. But that didn’t matter. There was no right or wrong about it. It just was. It was just one more example of Martin Luther’s famous words that our lives are cut out of crooked wood. I remember sitting there at the light feeling like everything was starting to swim around on me, like I’d just caught ‘situational vertigo’. Everything had gotten sort of weird and unsettling. But I think that’s what it’s like when we come upon those ‘lines in the sand’ and cross over into this borderline ‘no-man’s zone’, where people find it hard to be people with each other.

The Gospel reading this morning plunks us down in one of those places. Jesus, fresh from bickering and arguing with a group of Pharisees, leaders of his own people, people on his side of the line, goes for a long walk with his friends. Maybe he needed to clear his head. Maybe he just wanted to walk it off. Maybe he wasn’t paying attention, but he walked and walked til he went past all the familiar signs of home and crossed over the line in the sand between his own people, the Jews, and ‘those other people’, in this case the Canaanites. The Canaanites were the people who were already living in the Promised Land when Moses led the children of Israel in to possess that land as their new home. The Canaanites were an old and ancient enemy and they lived over there, not here. And they were the kind of people you told stories about – the way they lived, what they thought about things – but had never actually met. They were the kind of people you didn’t need to concern yourself with much, at least not as real people. We are us and they are them. Line in the sand drawn. Case closed. End of story. It has been that way, it will stay that way. Nothing else to tell.

Most people if they find themselves in one of those borderline places observe the niceties with their eyes down, mouths closed, and just keep moving til you can get back to your side of the line where you can be yourself again. And that’s what looks like is happening with Jesus and his followers. They are just passing through.

And then the most amazing, strange, confusing, disturbing, glorious thing happens. A Canaanite woman – the kind of person you hear about but never meet, – decides not to keep her eyes down and her mouth closed, but raises her face and looks Jesus in the eye and opens her mouth. “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”

Well. Her baby girl is in agony. She can be forgiven for breaking form, for stepping over the line. Your own heart tells you that.

But when lines get crossed, things start swimming around, ‘situational vertigo’ sets in and what you thought was up is down. What comes next for us is like a compass needle spinning unable to find true north. Our own hearts tell us that we could easily find words to say to her in response like how sorry we are or even to ask for her name so we could pray for her. But Jesus doesn’t say a word to her. And even when the woman meets his silence with more words, pleading for her daughter, those words are met with harsh words from the disciples: be quiet, get away, you probably just want to go on now, they say.

Jesus finally speaks to say that he must be obedient to his call to feed the lost sheep of Israel. He must remain himself – feeding the children and not throwing what little there is to the dogs.

Which are words that send the compass spinning even more wildly. What in the world are we to make of his words? Is he testing her? Is he testing himself and his own call as Messiah?

And what comes next is the assurance that however obvious and clear a line in the sand seems, however certain it appears that the story about us and them has been told to the end with no more words to come; we see that the story that we were sure was finished, isn’t. The Canaanite woman says to Jesus that the mercy with which he is feeding the lost sheep of Israel is enough to feed her too. Even just word that there’s a man like him in the world doing what he’s doing, even just word of that, gives her enough faith to hope he might care about her life too.

And the spinning compass lands square and solid on true north with Jesus words, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly. Mercy, and not lines in the sand, are the final word.

We may not on any given day be called to be as brave as that Canaanite woman. Especially those times when it seems like God is silent to us too. We know that there are lines in the sand drawn that were laid down long before we came onto the scene. Sometimes those lines seem to be an immoveable ending. But we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, free to let our feet follow where he leads, and where those ‘lines in the sand’, become the place where the newest words of the story that God is telling that heals the world, begin. Amen.

The Rev. David May

A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent

Sunday, November 27, 2022

By: Kilpy Singer, Associate Rector


In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Okay, I’m about to ask a series of highly fraught and contested questions, so just be assured that this is a judgement free zone, alright?

Raise your hand if you’ve started listening to Christmas music.

Raise your hand if you’ve already put up and decorated your Christmas tree.

Has anyone here purchased, wrapped, and placed gifts under that Christmas tree?

In my mind, there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of that. The Christmas season starts when you need it to start. If tinsel and jingle bell rock and Fraser firs bring you cheer, then why not? Life’s too short to put off these simple things that bring us a little extra joy.

And, and, here in this place, the weeks leading up to Christmas mean something different than they do out there. In this place, we observe Advent, and Advent is not just a Christmas pre-game. Once again, nothing wrong with decorating our homes and participating in the lovely culture of Christmas all December long. However, we as followers of Jesus are also called to participate in this season, these four weeks of Advent, with intentionality, in the way that our Christian ancestors have year after year since the 5th century.

Advent is this time when we are to remember and prepare. We remember when Jesus came to our world as a baby in a manger, and we prepare for that day when he will come again. Now, remembrance we do pretty well. The church universal has mastered the telling of this miraculous story through pageants, nativity scenes, Christmas hymns, the Jesse Tree, and scripture countdown calendars. We have built tools for people of all ages to relive and remember that first coming of Christ on that holy night.

And the other half of Advent, the part about preparation, well, what do we do to intentionally prepare for the final Advent, the second and final coming of Christ, in these four weeks? The more I thought about this over the last few days, the more I realized that we as Christians are brilliant at retelling the story of how Christ came down to us, but it’s harder for us to talk about preparing and watching and waiting for Him to come again.

It’s hard for us to live it out, even. To know how to exist in this already-and-not-yet sort of placeholder that we are in, in which the redeeming and salvific work of Christ has been already done, but the fullness of his perfect and eternal kingdom has not yet been made complete here on earth.

And perhaps it’s hard to talk about and even harder to live out this watching and waiting for Christ to come again, because maybe we’ve lost sight of it in the first place. Not due to any fault of our own, but because of the fact that it’s been a long time since Jesus was here on earth, and it’s been a long time that we’ve been waiting, and it’s hard to prepare and keep ready for something that, frankly, we may have lost hope in anyway. We remember that Jesus came to us once before, and we will retell the story with gladness in our hearts, yet we’ve forgotten, I have forgotten, how to prepare for his coming again.

Looking at our gospel passage today, this text is taken from Jesus’ final sermon to his disciples in which he talks to them about the time he will come again, and how they might live faithfully until then. It comes from the Gospel according to Matthew, which, as a reminder, is one of four accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings. This Gospel which is attributed to the disciple Matthew was written later in the first century, after the writing of Mark and Luke, maybe around the year 80, and so the community that it was written for was living 50 years after Jesus’s time on earth.

Many first century folks really expected Jesus to come back soon after he ascended, like any day now. And as each day passed, they got a little more concerned and a little more anxious. And Matthew is writing his account of Jesus’s life for that community, this people that has been waiting and waiting and waiting for Jesus to come again, a people who had forgotten how to prepare for his coming again, a community that had lost hope in His return, having watched half a century go by since he last left them.

Like any good author, Matthew wrote with his audience in mind, and so this portion of Jesus’s final teaching, his final sermon, is tailored to them. Matthew’s account that we read here has its own spin… is unique to this Gospel….because Matthew was focused on giving a word of hope to a congregation that had lost hope. He emphasizes that Christ will come again, he is coming, and at a totally unexpected time, thereby pacifying their anxiety that if it hadn’t happened now, it wasn’t going to happen at all. And he also encourages them to keep working and keep watch. Keep living faithfully in this in between time, the already and not yet, even when you can’t see the end.

At the end of his time on earth, Jesus wanted to prepare his disciples in his final sermon, for the time when he’d be gone and the time when he’d come back again, and Matthew wanted to reignite the hope of the later generations of believers by reminding them that Jesus’ promise was true and encouraging them to shape their lives around this expectation of Christ’s coming kingdom.

And Matthew’s poignant take on Jesus’ sermon is a word for us, still today. Because even all these years later, even though we’ve lost hope or simply lost interest, Jesus’ promise that he would come again to bring about the fullness of his Kingdom is as real and true as ever. Some 2000 years later, Jesus’ promise has not run dry. And in the meantime, in this already-and-not-yet, we are invited to shape our lives around this expectation, to keep watching and keep working to prepare our world for this reality. We are called by God to be a part of the preparation of the world for Jesus’s return. As scholar Wesley Allen says, Having already been transformed by the first coming of Christ to this world, the church is invited to participate in the transformation of this world yet still in process.

And in no uncertain terms, Jesus gives us an idea of what this preparation, this transformation, might look like. In this very same sermon, just a chapter later, he tells the famous parable that demonstrates how, when his followers served the world in need, the least of these, they served him, and in serving him, they were partaking in the work of the Kingdom. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

So, these next four weeks, as we continue our really good work of remembering the first Advent story, when Jesus came to us as that humble baby boy, and as we lean into the challenge of preparing the world for that final Advent when he comes again, keep hope that Jesus’s word is true and he will arrive one day, once more to be with us. And keep watching, and keep working, for the service of all God’s people, so that we can prepare ourselves, and prepare this place, a world that is still becoming, to be more and more like the perfect, radical, life-giving Kingdom that Christ promises it will one day be. Amen.

A Sermon for the Last Sunday After Pentecost: Christ the King

Sunday, November 20, 2022

By: David May, Rector

I ran across a book in my library at home the other day that may have one of my favorite book titles of all time.  The book is called, ‘Where Do You Go To Give Up?’.  It’s author is Baptist preacher and scholar Welton Gaddy, a generous and good soul.  I like the title so much because it makes me laugh at myself for all those times where I feel like I’ve finally just had it with the ‘rat race’ that life too often feels like. So that, you know, frankly, if some other rats really wants to win so badly, well fine, count me out, I give up.   Because as they say, even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.

But as true as that feeling of just wanting to give up sometimes is, it runs crosswise with something we also know is true:  you can’t just give up.  You can’t.  You have to ‘keeping going’ no matter what; we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and keep going.  You can’t just ‘give up’ when life is hard or heartbreaking or perplexing or exhausting, can you?

Well, no….  But that’s not quite the kind of ‘giving up’ that Gaddy wants us to think about.  Remember, he’s a Baptist preacher and this is a book for church folks.  So Gaddy is talking about giving up in a different way.  Here’s a searing quote from Episcopal priest and New Testament scholar Robert Farrar Capon that gets at the kind of ‘giving up’ that Gaddy wants us to think about.  Capon writes:  “The gospel of grace is the end of religion, the final posting of the CLOSED sign on the sweatshop of the human race’s perpetual struggle to think well of itself.”

In other words, giving up means giving up on the endless effort to get yourself spruced up enough in the eyes of, well whomever, with the hope that that will be enough, some day, to be ok, acceptable, loved for who you are by others and by God.

The Apostle Paul’s great teaching that we are justified by grace through faith shows us that there is no arithmetic involved in tallying our deeds done or left undone that leads to earning God’s favor and blessing.  We know that.  We say that.  Except that, sometimes, I wonder do we really buy it in our heart of hearts where a voice sometimes says, “yes, but if you really knew me….”

So just in case, you find yourself keeping score on yourself, and running a tally of the good and bad of who you, and the virtues and vices, and successes and failures, and kindnesess and cruelties, and winning and losing, and what’s loveable and what’s not, what’s praiseworthy and what’s not.  If you’re anything like me, it can become a pretty long list.  It’s a lot to keep up with: all those different ways that the human race struggles to think well of itself.  All those ways, to use Capon’s words, that the human race tries to save itself, to save ourselves.

Which is a familiar refrain in this gospel reading where the dying King of Heaven speaks his last words to another human being.  And with these words shows us the answer to the question “where do you go to give up?”.

First the religious leaders taunt Jesus to save himself if he is the high and mighty Messiah of God.  Then the soldiers detailed to carry out the day’s execution mock him by saying if you are the King of the Jews, well then save yourself.  That’s the only way they understand the power of a ruler and a leader, a King – someone who saves himself.

That’s what Kings do, they save themselves.  Everybody knows that – the religious leaders know that, the soldiers know that.  Even one of the thieves dying beside Jesus knows that.  He cries out, “Save yourself,” and then adds in desperation:  “and us!”

We come to the conclusion of the Church Year today, the 24th Sunday after the Day of Pentecost and where things end up is important.  For about a hundred year, this Sunday has been known as Christ the King Sunday for many Christians.  And this picture of the King of Kings dying between two criminals is heartbreaking and shocking.  Because what are we to say about a King like this whose life ends like this?  King’s exercise power, command others to fight and die for them.  Kings save themselves, as those taunting Jesus know.  Before anyone else, they think, surely the King’s life will be preserved.  But this is a serious flaw in their understanding of what it means to lead as Jesus leads us.

The Queen Mum (Queen Elizabeth II’s mother) during the Battle of Britain understood it better.  “I’m glad we’ve been bombed”, she said bluntly after Buckingham Palace was hit during the London blitz.  “It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face.”  The East End of London at that time was a misery of poverty and violence and sickness, and the home of desperate people and criminals.  The little lady in the big hats trudged with her royal husband through the rubble of bombed-out apartment buildings, clasping the hands and looking into the eyes of the people who had called them home.

Her own bombed out home earned her the right to look criminals and skinny children in the eye.  She could’ve been spirited away from the horror to the safety of some idyllic palace, far from human suffering.  But she wouldn’t go.  She wouldn’t leave her place beside those in misery and suffering.  And she lived to tell a story that inspires us.  “It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face,” she said.

And as moving as that story is, it doesn’t do for us / what the story Jesus couldn’t live to tell for himself / does for us.  The picture of Jesus between two dying criminals, side by side, face to face, dying himself, is the picture of the whole Gospel in miniature.  As he has always done, he will not let us – any of us the loved and the hated, the privileged and the forgotten – be anywhere where he is not also.  No good deed of our own doing can make this possible.  No upright behavior, no inspiring character, no virtue.

Because this is the place beside dying criminals where Jesus goes ‘to give up’, to give up his life for the sake of love for you that overcomes through his forgiveness the sin of the world and saves it.

Where is the place you go to give up?  Well, first, consider for yourself, what do you want to give up?  Whatever it is, the place to go to give up is the Lord’s Table, side by side by one another, by the side of the King of Glory with the words of a dying criminal upon the lips of your heart, saying: ‘Lord, remember me, when you come into your kingdom?’  And be fed by his words, “Today you will be with me….”  Amen.

A Sermon for the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, November 13, 2022

By: Kilpy Singer, Associate Rector


The other week, I got home from work and saw my neighbor in their front yard with his kids. I went over to say hello and ask the usual “How are things,” but our relationship is beyond the evasive, “fine thanks, how are you”. We usually cut straight to it, the good and the bad, wasting no time on pleasantries. So, I asked, “How are things,” and he said “Ehhh, not great. I don’t really know what my relationship with Christianity is anymore…” Huh. I figured I had two options. Lean in, or lean out. Ask the follow up question, or pretend to suddenly get an important phone call and scurry away. I love this neighbor so much, and am invested in their general wellbeing, so I leaned in with a gentle “Tell me more,” a phrase I learned from the brilliant author Kelly Corrigan.

He went on to share that he was so overwhelmed with life, the constant grind of paying the bills and raising the kids and keeping food on the table and balancing a demanding job with a difficult personal life. And when he tried to look outside himself for some signs that things weren’t all that bad, all he saw was a world at war, mistreatment of immigrants and refugees, continued refusal to acknowledge that our society treats people differently based on how they look or where they live, and this deeply unsettling division growing between political parties.

He said, Why does it feel like the world is getting worse? And how can I believe in a God that lets this all happen?

On the one hand, some of you might be thinking “How depressing. Life’s not that bad.” On the other hand, others of you might be thinking “How wonderful. I’m not the only one!” Whether you are in that place right now or not, I think we’ve all asked these same questions. I know I have. Most days we might be able to push through and focus on the here and now, but every once and while, we all reach that point of overwhelm with our own circumstances or the condition of our nation and our world, and, like my neighbor, are left with the paralyzing question: God, how could you let this happen? Is the world really going to hell in a handbasket, as grandma always said? Do you even care?

With these questions and that conversation with my neighbor in the back of my head, I’ve sort of stumbled around the past ten days, beginning to wonder if we are a part of some crazy new phase in the world’s timeline. Are things are finally getting so bad that Jesus is like, “Alright alright, alright, I’ll come back now.” I joked about it with a wise, old friend, and she responded “Oh honey, we’re not all that special. This isn’t anything that hasn’t happened before”

At first I was like “you’re not hearing my pain or being attentive to my truth and you’re really just making excuses so you don’t have to be a part of the work to make this world a better place”. Why yes, I am a millennial, if that sentence didn’t give it away. But in all seriousness, I did keep thinking about her response, it challenged me in some unexpected way, and then I fell into the gospel passage for today in which Jesus essentially just says to some of his followers “Bad things are coming”.

He goes on to describe what that might look like. For instance, wars, and uprisings, and divisions, and widespread sickness, and natural disasters, and hate. Sounds familiar. And on the one hand, that could seem unsettling, Jesus sort of listing the exact calamities ahead, like he’s predicting them. But it actually felt like a huge comfort to me, and maybe to his followers, to see Jesus acknowledging that life comes with some big, scary things, to hear him naming that reality, and moreover, that he wasn’t all that surprised.

And with my friend’s comment and Jesus’s words I realized the profound gift of remembering that no, we are not special and no, the things we’re facing aren’t anything new. God has seen everything under the sun. There’s literally nothing that could shock God.

And there is such relief in this, because we can acknowledge that yes, life can get hard. Bad things happen. But while we might be largely unprepared to handle them, God is not. God is a seasoned pro, at the ready, sincere in his understanding of us and unwavering in his presence with us, right? God can relate to us in our difficulties with solidarity, because God actually lived a life as one of us. God came to us as Jesus and took on flesh, and in doing so God also took on pain, and suffering, and a human death, God lived a life and in doing so said,, “I’m experiencing this with you, and I understand you. And I will always be here with you.”

There is this video by Brene Brown that I just love and sent around to our pastoral care teams recently. Brene talks about the difference between having sympathy versus empathy. At one point she says empathy is when someone’s kind of in a deep hole, and they shout out from the bottom and they say “I’m stuck, it’s dark, I’m overwhelmed,” and then we look and we say “Hey, I’ll come down, I know what it’s like down here and you’re not alone”. Whereas sympathy is like peering over the edge of the hole and saying “oh its bad. Yeah, no. you want sandwich?

This is such a helpful way of orienting how we approach others who are in hard times. As I spoke with my neighbor, I tried to channel Brene and remember to climb down in the hole, not peer from the outside with unhelpful and distanced comments. And the more I’ve thought about Brene’s video this week, and her genius perspective on how we can orient ourselves to others, the more I’ve realized that it’s not all that unlike how God orients Godself to us. Instead of peering at us from above, thinking “oh yeah, that’s bad. I’m out.” God climbed down to us, breaching the distance between us, by becoming a vulnerable human like us.

So when we are faced with life’s tragedies, and we reach the point of overwhelm, and we question if God even cares, we can rest assured that God is with us. That is the mystery and the beauty of the incarnation. And maybe it’s not only about how God is oriented towards us, but it can serve as a model for how we are oriented towards one another. Leaning in, not out. Climbing down into that hole, not simply peering from above.

Now is there more going on here than just God being with us in hard times? Absolutely. Don’t hear me wrong and think I’m limiting God’s involvement in our lives to just that of a good friend. And we are turning the corner towards Advent and will get to cover lots more about all the implications of God coming to us as a baby and that baby being Jesus, the savior of the world. But for today, maybe it’s enough rest in the simple yet radical reality that we have a God who fully understands us, fully loves us, and promises that we never have to be alone.