“Is it possible to build something bold rather than shrink what we have?”

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 12.34.37 PM

The newspaper equivalent of church buildings turned into condos. 

 “Is it possible to build something bold rather than shrink what we have?”

The two institutions I love the most are: Church and Newspaper (Museums and Baseball are 3 & 4, respectively). I believe in their similar and quite different holy work to tell stories of Truth and Life, especially stories that are undervalued and unseen. I believe both have a critical role in cultivating a thriving civic ecology for all.

I’ve long noticed a similarity in the challenges and need for innovation of these two institutions whose place and authority were once presumed in our culture.

Boston Globe’s Editor Brian McGrory recently sent a memo to the newsroom. Media commentator Dan Kennedy posted it here. https://dankennedy.net/2016/04/07/globe-editor-mcgrory-its-time-to-rethink-everything-we-do/

I read the memo with great interest about the future of the Boston Globe. But, all I could hear were echoes of my own institution. Below is my creative writing exercise. My text is in red. Enjoy.

~ Laura

Hey all,

 It’s time to bring everyone up to date on a series of conversations I’ve initiated among senior editors bishops over the past couple of months, conversations intended to lay the groundwork for a no-sacred-cows analysis of our newsroom Church and what the Globe Church should look like in the future. It’s also time to get the room fully involved in the process.

You know it as I know it: The Globe, Church like every other major legacy news religious organization in Massachusetts, has faced what have proven to be irreversible revenue declines. The revenue funds our journalism ministry. The declines have mandated significant cuts over the past dozen years.

 There’s far too much good that goes on at this organization on a moment-by-moment basis to allow ourselves to be consumed by what’s wrong with the industry religious institutions. But we can’t ignore hard realities, either, or simply wish them away. My own strong preference is to somehow shed the annual reduction exercise that seems increasingly inevitable here and everywhere. So I’ve asked senior editors bishops to think about how we, at the very least, might get ahead of the declines, and in the best case, work to slow or even halt them. To help shape the discussion, consider this question: If a wealthy individual was to give us funding to launch a news organization Christian institution designed to take on The Boston Globe denominationalism, what would it look like?

 There are important issues to raise and explore in what I’ll call a reinvention initiative: Do we have the right technology? Do we train staff clergy & lay leaders in the right way? Should we remain in the current print physical format that we have now, same size buildings, same sections geographic isolation? Do we have the right departments divisions of ordained and lay ministry? Is our beat structure seminary process outdated? How can our work flows improve? Do we have too many of XX and not enough Ys? Should we publish seven days a week worship on Sunday mornings? Do print and digital in-person and online ministry relate in the right ways?

 The questions could go on and on. They could become bolder still.

Easy answers, as you well know, are elusive. The good news is that we’ve got an absurdly smart, dedicated collection of journalists ministers, many of the best in the nation, that has embraced profound and meaningful change over the years, always while maintaining our values. We’ve built two of the most successful websites  partnerships in the industry, first boston.com Addiction & Spirituality and now bostonglobe.com Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School. The latter site partnership is not only thriving, but growing rapidly, up more than 15 percent in uniques and page views this year over last, with the first session of “Foundations of Christian Leadership” outside of North Carolina, starting in New England in April and leading the league in digital-only subscribers in FOCL participants—the most important metric. We successfully overhauled key parts of the site last year Massachusetts Council of Churches’ leadership structure. We’re about to launch a major sports membership redesign this spring  summer, all while we confidently spread our wings with a broader array of stories ministries and topics geared first to our web emerging multi-denominational audience.

 At the same time, we haven’t just maintained print worshipping communities, but enhanced it over the past few years, with a great new standalone business section through the week, a Sunday Arts section that showcases some of the best critics in the industry, Address, premium magazines, broadsheet feature sections. I’m missing things, I’m sure. We saw quite clearly in January last winter just how much the physical paper worshipping community means to an enormous swath of our readership constituency.

The journalism ministry, through it all, has been consistently exceptional. We drove the Olympics BostonWarm debate. We launched a national debate on concurrent surgery thriving Christian institutions & the nature of councils of churches. We’ve been one of the smartest, freshest voices on the national political intra-Christian & inter-religious scene. We’ve chronicled poverty in rural Maine and economic segregation in greater Boston in deeply memorable ways ecumenical pilgrimages to Armenian Christmas Eve, the 200th anniversary service for the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a Feast Day of St. Mark at a Coptic Church, and Holy Tuesday in the Anglican Tradition.  Day in, day out, we are one of the most thoughtful metropolitan news organizations hubs for innovative Christianity in the land.

All of which is to say: We’re very good at change. We’re committed to high standards. We are well-positioned to go even further.

So I’ll frame the discussion one more way: Is it possible to build something bold rather than shrink what we have?

 It’s perfectly reasonable to ask whether this reinvention initiative is an excuse for more cutting. The glib answer is that we don’t really need an excuse to cut. The revenue declines require it. The more involved answer is that even without declining revenue, we should still be exploring reinvention, given the massive advances in technology and massive changes in reader worship attendance habits. And even without a reinvention initiative, we’d still have to cut. So the honest answer is that a reinvention would naturally take into account the realities of declining revenues.

I’ve sought some outside counsel to help facilitate the process, people who have thought long and hard about these issues and are deeply knowledgeable about what’s been tried at other news Christian organizations and how it’s worked. Tom Rosenstiel and Jeff Sonderman, Dave Odom the executive director and deputy director respectively of the American Press Institute Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School, plan to be with the new Massachusetts Council of Churches Working Board this summer, and heads of church meeting in December. in the newsroom on Friday—tomorrow—to meet in small groups with some staff. They’ll be joined by Marty Kaiser, the highly respected former editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who has worked with Tom on these exact issues. After Tom, Jeff, and Marty get an initial sense of our newsroom, we’ll discuss a path forward and how they might help. The key is to create a process that involves as many people as possible, at all levels, tapping into the wealth of creativity that is this newsroom’s Massachusetts’ trademark. 

This is a significant and important undertaking. It’s also an exciting one. We’re in a moment in this industry religious era and at this organization that requires us to be bold (have I used that word enough yet?) and imaginative, always in our journalism ministry, but also in determining how we best fulfill our civic responsibilities. There’s not the tiniest bit of doubt that we’re up to the challenge. 

I’ll be reaching out to some of you about meeting with Tom, Jeff, and Marty tomorrow, and then I’ll report back soon in a series of Winship Room gatherings about the road ahead.   We’re committed to a process in which everyone can effectively share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns. In the meantime, feel more than free to reach out to me directly.

Brian Jesus










“An intense religious experience, the exact nature of which is uncertain.”

All Saints, Brookline

Transfiguration Sunday, February 7, 2015

Luke 9:28-36, (37-43)

Let us pray: May we see. Amen.

Sometimes, truth lurks in the footnotes.

There, beneath the Gospel text, in The Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, Third Edition 2001, there, where the font gets small and squished, some unnamed, unknown editor wrote this:

“This account recalls an intense religious experience, the exact nature of which is uncertain.”

Strictly speaking, this statement is not Scripture. It is not part of the text handed down again and again in a Gospel we call Luke. But this footnote voices something that maybe the befuddled could have said, “This is an intense religious experience, the exact nature of which is uncertain.”

“Intense” is the modifier for all teen-age emotions. I was 14 when I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord & Savior. I remember what I was wearing: A homemade Bible costume made of bedsheets & Birkenstocks. I kneeled at the foot for a gigantic wooden cross that my youth groups had just paraded 3 miles through Suburbia. I think someone was playing Amy Grant & Michael W. Smith on a boom box. There, in the garden of the Community church of Mountain Lakes, I confessed my 14 year old sins and took Jesus into my heart. I’m less surprised that this all happened, at a United Church of Christ congregation no less, and more surprised that it stuck. It’s taken me years to be able to see and make sense of a God who shows up to tormented teenagers dressed in bible costumes. “This is an intense religious experience, the nature of which is uncertain.”

The disciples are utterly confused. Jesus brings Peter, James and John up the mountain to pray, but something far more cosmic occurs.

We don’t know how long has passed, then all of a sudden, Jesus’s appearance changes and then his clothes change too.

For many parts of the Western Church, it wasn’t just Jesus’s clothes that became white, but Jesus himself became white. For centuries, the Church has confused radiance with whiteness.

The appearance of Jesus’s face changed, as it did when Moses encountered the Lord. Jesus’s clothes became dazzling bright, radiant, reflective of the Glory of God: transfigured, or as the Greek reads, “metaphorphoses.”

We are in the midst of this profound moment where people with bodies previously considered ugly, unworthy, and expendable, are claiming their beauty, worth, and dignity. I think of a mantra that Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson has tweeted again and again: “I love my blackness. And yours.” The thing that the world despises? Dazzling. Transfigured.

Before this Transfiguration, Jesus told the disciples that his body will be taken by state-sponsored violence, rejected by the religious authorities, beaten, tortured, publicly humiliated, and killed. That which is despised? Dazzling. Transfiguration.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, an entire denomination that would not exist were it not for the racism of white Christians who would not see the equal dignity of Black Christians.

The founding cleric of the African Methodist Episcopal church changed his name from “Negro Richard” to “Richard Allen,” when he bought his own freedom. Transfiguration.

A companion and colleague of Bishop Richard Allen’s, Rev. Absalom Jones, the first African-America ordained as an Episcopal priest, cast aside the name of his former Master and changed his name from Absalom Wynkoop to Absalom Jones, a name intentionally chosen for the sound of its American-ness. Transfiguration.

And even in Absalom Jones’s intention to found St. Thomas’s African Episcopal Church of Philadelphia in 1794 you can here the aim of transfiguration: “to arise out of the dust and shake ourselves, and throw off that servile fear, that the habit of oppression and bondage trained us up in.” Transfiguration.

IMG_2249This week we woke up to the city transformed, blanketed in snow. Barren trees dazzled, trash on the sidewalk disappeared, every garbage pile became pure, and for a few hours, the whole world was glowed.

Transfiguration is more than just blanketing over. Transfiguration is an internal radiance that chances how we see Jesus Christ, the One who transfigures the suffering of the cross into glory, and the emptiness of the tomb into the fullness of life.

But true transfigurations are confusing. The mystics said that the Transfiguration both reveals and blinds. In a Transfiguration, we see the world as God sees, but that vision is utterly confusing. That Transfigured vision is so far from the world as it is, full of barren trees, trash piles, human division and brokenness all around.

In to that “an intense religious experience, the exact nature of which is uncertain,” Peter blurts out. Peter wouldn’t make a very good Quaker or contemplative. You get the sense that Peter is the guy who vestry meetings who couldn’t live with the tension or the silence, and just spoke to break the awkwardness. The radiant light is receding, Moses and Elijah are beginning to leave, and Peter interjects

“Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us build three dwellings…” (Luke 9:33).

Let us build 3 tabernacles here! If we just… If we just build three tabernacles!

If we just finish the building. If we just put in a new Sunday school classroom. … If we just had more contemporary music, if we just had more incense, If we just had more people, if we just could stay here. If we could just constrain where God decides to show up in ways that are more dependable and less uncertain. Peter turns to what is familiar, the Jewish festival of the Tabernacles, a harvest festival to commemorate God’s provision of the people while they were in exile. Let’s build something solid to escape our wandering.

The Church struggles mightily with this, to live with uncertainty. We are loath to acknowledge that for a pilgrim people, we’ve gotten mighty comfortable in our established buildings. Our churches become shelters from the storm rather than basecamps for the journey. When I am anxious, I share Peter’s impulse to sequester ourselves in our mystical experiences or our nice church buildings. Peter is our institutional id here, voicing our anxious impulse to fix solid what we cannot control, to settle in, and build a structure with clear boundaries that says here but not there.

But God won’t let Peter. The same Savior who cautions to take no extra pair of shoes, won’t let them stay put either. Jesus brought them up the mountain, and will lead them back down. Up and down, back and forth, toggling between worship of God and work in the World. Not just duty but delight, that they might be transfigured too.

The Massachusetts Council of Churches, on our best days, aims for this Transfiguration too, this back and forth of common worship and common work. To move our churches from our denominational silos, our safe tabernacles, to ministry in the world together. We are convinced that what binds us together in Christ is stronger that anything that divides us, and there’s plenty that still divides us.   And we are convinced that when Jesus prayed in John 17 that the Church might be one, so that the world might believe in the One who sent Christ- this was not a polite recommendation from Jesus, but a mandate. Our unity is essential to our ministry. How can we show the world a loving God who reconciles all things to God’s self when we cannot be reconciled to one another? This is our work at the Massachusetts Council of Churches, to see with transfigured eyes, to see the Church not in all its divisions but in glorious union of what could be. Maybe you’ve seen the Church on those good, transfigured days, when the dividing walls fall down, when you’re serving together, when you can receive at the same table. Those days when you stand on the side of the mountain with the radiant Christ above, and the broken world below.

We stand here, awkwardly perched in the in-between, in front of a religious experience we may not understand, our feet sliding on the gravel that rolls down the mountain. It good for us to be here. Not necessarily easy, but good. Like the disciples, It is hard to stay woke to the uncertainty. It is Good for us to be here in the uncertain. Christ is here.

Many other Christians today are reading this Transfiguration text on the last Sunday before Lent. In Lent, we wander between these two peaks- The Mount of the Transfiguration and Golgotha. The days in-between these two mountain top experiences are set aside to examine that which is within us and around us that keeps us from being transfigured.

I’m honored that you award me today with All Saints 2016 Spirituality & Justice Award. You know this in your bones, spirituality and justice go together, indivisible. You practice this in your parish, the deep commitment to see every child of God as fully human, as deserving of equal dignity, maybe even as radiant.

I believe this is our work for the Church in this era, when we are no longer propped up by cultural norms, when the protest songs chanted in the streets are not necessarily the hymns of our churches. I believe that our common Christian witness is not just for our own good, but for the sake of the world.

  • The more I pray, the more I long for our earth as it is in heaven.
  • The more I read Scripture, the more I want to shout against false prophets and anemic Christianity.
  • The more I come to the table, the more I notice the people who are missing.
  • The more I come to the table, the louder the rumble in my belly for all to be fed.
  • And the more I do this work for justice, the more I turn to God in awe and uncertainty.

350 years ago in France, an eighteen-year-old man sat in a drafty farmhouse, gazing out onto the desolation of the world in winter. Only barren trees were before him. But slowly, he began to see things on the naked branches. First leaves would appear, followed by flowers and fruit. In the depth of winter, God showed Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection all the abundance, all the power, all the radiance of God’s provision. Brother Lawrence spent the rest of his life in this practice of the presence of God, looking upon the barren branches and seeing God’s provision, looking upon the cross and seeing God’s glory.

“An intense religious experience, the nature of which is uncertain. “

May we see with eyes of the Transfiguration.

May we be transfigured, too.

Why I love the African Methodist Episcopal Church

200th Anniversary of the African Methodist Episcopal Church

New England Annual Conference Bicentennial Service

Sunday February 7, 2016

Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Jamaica Plain MA

Rev. Laura Everett, Executive Director, Massachusetts Council of Churches

Note: This Response was given at a Bicentennial Service commemorating the 200th anniversary of the AME Church. Throughout this year, you can join celebrations, including the release of the Bishop Richard Allen USPS Stamp & celebrations in Philadelphia.  More info at: http://www.firstdistrictame.org/index.html 


Giving Glory to God, and honor to:

I bring you blessings and greetings on behalf of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, a network of individuals, congregations and denominations, including the New England Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, convinced that what binds us together in Christ is stronger than anything that might divide us. Let me say that again: convinced that what binds us together in Christ is stronger than anything that might divide us.


Rev. Laura Everett, Mass Council of Churches & Presiding Elder Herbert Eddy, New England Annual Conference, First Episcopal District African Methodist Episcopal Church


You know well all those things that might divide us. The necessity of establishing the African Methodist Church is our uniquely American contribution to the history of Church division, one of the rare divisions in the Church when the body of Christ was divided not by doctrine but by racism. 200 years ago, the AME came into being in part because of the racism of white Christians who could not, who would not see the equal dignity of Black Christians. We did not did not divide because of doctrine but because of the sin of racism. I grieve our inherited legacy of division.

In many parts of the Christian church we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration today, a day when we remember Jesus climbing up the mountain to pray, being reunited with the ancestors Moses and Elijah, and basking in the splendor of the Spirit, radiant with the light of God.


For many parts of the Church, it wasn’t just Jesus’s clothes that became white, but Jesus himself became white. For centuries, the Church has confused radiance with whiteness.

When White Christians pulled Richard Allen & Absalom Jones off their knees in prayer, the Church confused radiance with whiteness.

When even after black Christians were relegated to the back pews, the choir loft, the balconies, when even that was too much and a white Boston church would rather remove every pew in the sanctuary than to have accidentally sold a pew to a black family, even here in the progressive, genteel city of Boston, the Church confuses radiance with whiteness.

When we save the hymns of the black church tradition for MLK Sunday and nowhere else in the year, the Church confuses radiance with whiteness.

And when, somewhere along the way, a young man who had been raised in a primarily white Protestant Church, gets it in his head to destroy black bodies, and brings a gun to a bible study, the Church has confused radiance with whiteness. And our nation confuses the second amendment with idolatry.

Even in that oppression, compression, depression and confusion, the African Methodist Episcopal Church has faithfully modeled the transforming love of God, lo these two hundred years.

For two hundred years, through every danger, toil, and snare, you have been faithful to Christ with a faith stronger than slavery, a faith stronger than a civil war, stronger than a national depression, a faith stronger than segregated schools, a faith stronger than the redlines that would divide us. In you, I see the Resurrection.

I want to tell you why I love the AME, and why the rest of the Church needs your particular witness to the way God continues to transfigure us. May I tell you why I love the AME?

I love the dignity of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Every time I enter an AME Church to worship, I see the dignity of entering God’s courts with praise. I see the presumption of Kings and Queens, royalty in the household of God. I see bodies beautiful and adoring of the Lord of Lords.

I love the unabashed African-ness of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. I honor your deep history that is more than just the theologians of books, but the unnamed women and men who shaped and sustained and passed on the faith.

I love your Methodist-ness, your Wesleyan fire stored up in your bones.

I love your Episcopacy, your defiant, true conviction that you are heirs of our apostolic faith.

I love your Church, your widest part of the body of Christ- not just an American church, but a global Church.

I love your core conviction that the Gospel of Christ is in fact Good news, and even in snowy New England it might be ok to show some joy.

I love the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s sense that the Gospel still liberates, still releases from bondage, still heals up the broken-hearted. I love your conviction that the Gospel heals not just in some metaphoric sense but heals and liberates flesh and blood, real bodies, real brokenness.

I love the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s unwillingness to divided worship from work, Sunday from Monday.

I love the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s ability to move with the Spirit, maybe even past where you are initially comfortable- the Spirit that moved you to ordain women, and then to consecrate women Bishops. I love that you are willing to let the Spirit move you still.

Finally, I love the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s conviction that the doors of the church are open, not just so that others might come in, but that we might go out. I love your conviction that if our churches aren’t changing neighborhoods for the good, then we are not fully embodying the transforming Gospel.

I love the African Methodist Episcopal Church. I am grateful for you. In the same breath, I grieve the racism by white Christians that prompted our division, and give God thanks for your faithfulness over 200 years. You have been signs of the Resurrection. May God continue to use the African Methodist Episcopal Church to transfigure the whole Body of Christ and transform the world.



Bodyshaming the Black Body of Christ

Christ Lutheran Church, Natick

Sunday January 24, 2016

Body-Shaming the Black Body of Christ: A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a

IMG_1704This is a sermon for you if you’ve stood in front of a department store mirror near tears because, too fat or too skinny, clothes don’t fit your body.

This is a sermon for you if you’ve ordered clothing online or from a catalogue so as to avoid standing in front of that department store mirror.

This is a sermon for you if you’ve ever been followed around a department store because of the color of your body.

This is a sermon for you if you never bought clothes in a department store, instead wrapping hand-me-downs and thrift store finds around your poor body.

This is a sermon for you, if you’ve ever been called too fat, too skinny, to short, too tall, too dark,

If you have known the shame of feeling that your body is not welcomed, not beautiful, not safe.

This is a sermon for you if you have a body.

This is a sermon for us, since we are Christ’s body.

Let us pray…

The Church is One. Always and forever. Nonnegotiable and indivisible. Others can’t cut you out, and you can’t amputate away other Christians you find repugnant.

And yet, the Church is Divided. Denominations and divisions, sects and schisms and splinters and movements and allegiances. We are here at Christ Lutheran, and not at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, St. Mark’s Coptic Church, Eliot Congregational Church, Fisk Memorial United Methodist Church or Natick Church of Christ.

The Church is One and Divided, both true at the same time.

In our Scripture reading, St. Paul is counseling the Church in Corinth experiencing this unity and division. Don’t let anyone ever romanticize the early Church for you as gloriously simple and unified. It wasn’t. The early Church in Corinth was complicated. Corinth had a muddled past- it was the place where Rome sent the surplus, undervalued population- think the Britain sending convicts to Australia. But then, Corinth became trade hub for the Empire, and some people got rich, really rich.

In this urban outpost, a small Christian community is emerging, but there are lines of division. Where are two or three are gathered, Christ is in the midst, sure. But when two or three are gathered, divisions emerge.

In Chapter 11, Paul calls out the divisions. It turns out that when it is time to gather in these small house churches, some are eating while some are going hungry. Paul lays into the Corinthians, accusing them of showing contempt for the Church of God, and humiliating those who have nothing (1 Cor 11:22).

What those Corinthian Christians were doing wasn’t wrong by the cultural standards around them. The wealthier ate first, and the poorer served. They weren’t necessarily individually bad people, just following the cultural norms of the system around them.

But Paul says, No, the Christian community must behave differently than the wider culture, and this difference must be public. This ethic around unity is not just for the good of the Church, but for the integrity of their witness.

Into this division in the Church, Paul introduces the metaphor of the body. Here, among these divided people, a minority community amid a dominant majority culture, Paul writes, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Cor 12:12)

Bodies are complicated. They are visible and vulnerable. They ache and thrive, move and slip, fail and repair. Bodies are thick metaphors to explain the Church, or a nation, or a body politic. In Paul’s time, other communities were using the metaphor of the body. The metaphor wasn’t new, but his significance was. When the Emperor used the metaphor, he is the head and everything else was subordinate. But Paul flips the metaphor to say, that each part of the body is integrally important. Paul says, “The head cannot say to the feet, I have no need for you. On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Cor 12:22).

I’ve never thought much about my little toe. But I know a woman, always impeccably dressed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in blue jeans or a hair out of place. She had the best shoes, too. Shiny and delicate, shoes that you didn’t think could even allow for movement, works of art, really. And then, through a curious series of events, she needed to have her left pinkie toe removed. Just that tiny little toe on the left, less than two inches of a part of the body that barely did anything but serve as a canvas for the tiniest spec of red nail polish. But when that toe was removed, she could barely stand upright. Her entire balance was off. Walking was something to be taught, relearned really. The beautiful shoes were gone, traded for practical footwear and daily trips to the physical therapist, an embodied lesson in the importance of a seemingly insignificant part of the body.

You know this: You know the 3 am knock on your door from a child with an ear ache, that ends up keeping the whole house awake. You know the cramping that sneak attacks every month, landing you flat on your back, clinging to a hot water bottle for just an ounce of relief. You know the migraine headache that makes your whole body pulse in agony. You know the unseen anxiety that paralyzes every decision, that ties your stomach into knots, that sends your heart racings in ways you cannot control. You know the tiny tick bite that seems to grind every movement of every joint. You know the devastating possibility of shingles infecting everyone on the floor of your nursing home. We know the pain of one part of the body that wounds the whole.

Right now, there are parts of the body of Christ that are suffering. I think St. Paul is asking us: do we have the ears to hear?

The hard truth is that the American mainline Church has not fully or adequately acknowledged the depth and breadth of suffering of black Christians in the body of Christ. We sing a few gospel hymns, we celebrate MLK Day, and we go back to the institutional racism in our denominations where white congregations have the majority of the financial resources, the majority of the full time pastors, and the majority of the buildings they owned themselves.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, an entire denomination that had to be established because white Protestants wouldn’t ordain black Protestant clergy. Two hundred years later and we are still unable to reconcile the divisions in our churches wrought by the pernicious belief that black bodies are less valued, less beautiful, less dignified, less holy.

There are parts of the body that are suffering, not just the big shootings and the structural racism, but the small indignities, the thousand little paper cuts that carve away, millimeter by millimeter, at the body of Christ. The paper cut of having your name constantly mispronounced because it’s not Anglo enough; the paper cut of having the music of your culture be reserved for “World Communion” Sunday, but not any regular day; the paper cut of again and again being asked “when your family converted” because you’re both black and Lutheran and no one seems to have the imagination that you could have always been both.

In recent years, activist have claimed the term “body shaming” to talk about how some bodies are pressured into standards of acceptability and beauty that contort and distort. We internalize unreachable standards. We have a whole vocabulary developed just to body shame: Muffin tops, and beer guts, and back fat. We have created whole industries to capitalize on our body shame! If your thighs are too big for that slinky dress, you can by Spanx to suck them in. If your hair is too kinky, we have lye relaxers to burn curly hair straight. If your skin is too dark, it can be bleached. If your eyelids are too “Asian,” so-called “corrective” surgeries abound. While our God proclaims that each of us is wonderfully made, we have body-shamed one another into changing our God-given bodies.

IMG_1194But some bodies, some bodies are shamed and vulnerable in unique and particular ways. There are bodies whose very existence is an existential problem in a country build on enslaved labor. In a letter to his son, Ta-nehisi Coates writes, “Sell cigarettes without the proper authority and your body can be destroyed. Turn into a dark stairwell and your body can be destroyed. The destroyer will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions. And destruction is merely the superlative form of a dominion whose prerogatives include frisking, detaining, beatings and humiliations. All of this is common to black people. And all of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible”(Between the World and Me, 9).

There are parts of the Body that are wailing in suffering, bleeding in the streets, bruised in the schools, crying in the opinion columns and on the Internet. I wonder how we hear this suffering. I wonder how we make true St. Paul’s words “If one part suffers, all suffer with it”(1 Cor 12:26). Because right now, I don’t suffer. I can keep going along my merry way and plug up my ears.

I come from a family with a parent who was loath to go to the doctor. My Dad would stoically suffer through rather than acknowledge that part of him was hurting. We have to learn to notice the pain in order to attend to it.

Why does this matter? Why can’t we just live without our baby toe on the left foot? I think, part of the reason why Paul comes down so hard on the Church in Corinth is that he knows that they long for something deeper. They aspire for that heavenly banquet where there is no Jew nor Gentile, no slave nor master, where the mighty have been brought down from their thrones and the lowly lifted up. The table is the place where all that possibility exists, where we might get a foretaste of that day.

The challenge of unity in the body of Christ is not to shame any part, but to recognize the integrity. God is not asking us to be anything other than what we are- not asking you to be an elbow if you are a kneecap, not asking you to be AME if you are Lutheran, not asking you to be black if you happened to be born white. But we are being asked to hear the cries of pain and see the system that breaks certain bodies. Maybe too we are being invited to notice our own longing for unity.

Coates continues, “There is nothing uniquely evil in these destroyers or even in this moment. The destroyers are merely men enforcing the whims of our country, correctly interpreting its heritage and legacy. It is hard to face this. But all our phrasing- race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy- serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.” (10)

“You must never look away from this.” This is the challenge: to not ignore the reality of black bodies suffering just because my part doesn’t suffer in that way; to not ignore the toe writhing in pain just because I am a finger.

If we, especially we in the white parts of the Church, cannot learn to hear the suffering of the black body, we cannot follow Christ. I have no answer, no magic formula, just the confession that I am trying to learn to listen too. I’m messing up, failing, misspeaking, saying things I shouldn’t, keeping silent when I should have spoken, stumbling, and trying to hear too. From wherever you sit, and wherever you’ve been, I am certain you have an experience of being left out, of being looked over, of being excluded, or in pain. I think we take that as a starting point to hear the pain of others. For we Christians who are also white, I think this is process of un-learning some things we accepted as true and, re-learning to listen to the pain of parts of the body. This is what it will take to re-member us.

Bodies are remarkably resilient. Tissue repairs, though not without scars. New cells can be generated, though not without time. Not every wound can be healed, not everything cut off can be re-attached. Not impossible, but also not optional to re-member the body of Christ.

In the depth of my soul, I believe there’s enough sympathy to go around. We service a limitless God who invites us to care for not just our own pain, to see and reject our own body-shaming, but also the pain of the whole body. Truly hearing the pain of the black Body of Christ does not diminish my own particular part of this body.

Paul’s own word choice bear this out. You can pretend like your Baptists and look in your Bibles at 1 Corinthians 12: 26. “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” Paul takes regular verbs and adds the pre-fix “syn” which means “with” or “together” as in symbiosis or symphony. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it. The verb is συμπάσχει / sympaschei, to suffer with: sym & pathos. If one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. The verb is συνχαίρει/ synchairei : to celebrate with, to rejoice with. Our unity is not accidental or incidental, but God’s intention and design from a Savior who suffered with a human body so that we might also share in Christ’s joy. This is possibility held out, held out at the communion table where everybody, every body is welcomed, that we might share in our suffering so that we might share completely in one another’s joy.



The Idolatry of Independence: A homily on Ephesians 4

Charge of Interdependence Among the World to the Connecticut Conference, United Church of Christ

First Congregational Church, Chesire CT Sunday May 31, 2015

 Ephesians 4: 11-16 

My geographically separated brethren, I greet you in the name of the One who calls us to be one. If a flock of Connecticut church leaders is willing to hear a word from a Massachusetts pastor, even if only for 7-9 minutes, I think we are at least halfway to the unity that the Ephesian church longed for! I’ll take the liberty to presume I speak among friends, kindred Congressionalists- we know that New Hampshire isn’t the only place that subscribes to the mantra “live free or die.” We know that a presumed self-sufficiency, a functional congregationalism no matter the denomination is endemic in this land. The Disciples of Christ pastor Michael Kinnamon said “Denominations make powerful adjectives, but idolatrous nouns.” We know that tucked in the back of our locked cabinet, behind the good silver and the musty church records, is a porcelain idol of independence- and maybe, secretly, we like it there. Maybe, secretly, we don’t want move it out on the front lawn for the parish rummage sale to be sold for $0.50 along with some mismatched wise men and shepherds from an incomplete crèche.

Now, “maybe there are no more cowboys in this Connecticut town,” And maybe this isn’t true in your churches, but certainly in Massachusetts, our churches act as if accepting help of another is a sign of weakness. We drag our feet. We go at it alone before trying together. Collaboration is for the weak, not the strong. In a town that shall remain nameless, I visited a UCC church next door to an Episcopal parish. The UCC deacon showed me the exact spot where you can inconspicuously spy on the Episcopalians to see whose parking lot is fuller, because if someone else is winning, we must be losing… With this mythology of competition, collaboration becomes a second option, rarely the first. Yet, deep down, beneath the rock and the clay and the silt and the sand, 6 feet below where the earth is still cool from winter, we know that our splendid isolation will leave us entombed in clapboard white coffins.

Therefore, I charge you, sisters and brothers, be worthy of the holy calling to which you are called, only connect. Build up the body of Christ, not just your own parish. Build up the body of Christ, not just your own denomination. Build up the body of Christ, for the sake of the world. We in the ecumenical movement have done a lousy job of remembering the second half of John 17. We remember that our Lord and Savior, just before his death, prayed that his followers might be one. We forget that he prayed that his followers might be one, so that the world might believe in the one who sent him. Our unity is not simply for our own good, to tamp down the tempest in the teapot that is the divided Church, but for the sake of our reconciling witness to the world! Reclaim the wide, thick commitment to the oikoumene, not just the Church, but the whole inhabited world. Reclaim the oikoumene, and maybe start in your neighborhood. I wonder if the end of an official ecumenical structure in Connecticut doesn’t actually free you for more vitality and life at the local level. To butcher Tip O’Neill, maybe all ecumenism is local.

About a year ago, I developed an unexplained pain in my right hip. I had been in a cycling accident, but the injury was to my back, not my hip. The doctors tried to treat the site of my pain, but no relief. Finally, a doctor diagnosed my suffering as “referred pain.” The site of the suffering is not the same as the source. While riding my bicycle again, my legs had gotten strong, but my back and core were still weak- so my hamstrings were pulling my tendons tight across my hips without the rest of my body compensating. The Church in Ephesus was told to attend to each part, because when “each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”

Therefore, I charge you, the body of the United Church of Christ in Connecticut, join and knit together. Bind up the broken, so that every ligament, each part is working properly together. We’ve learned to compensate for our brokenness, hobbled by our fractures yet unable to remember what it was like to be working properly. We’ve grown familiar with our “referred pain,” unaware that the site of our suffering is not the same as the source. We’ve grown so used to our divisions that they seem natural, pre-ordained even. We can barely imagine the possibility of working with the Roman Catholic parish next door. And yet, to the wider world, to that whole oikuemene, the difference between a Congregationalist and a Lutheran and an Episcopalian and an Evangelical means less and less and less. Massachusetts is the fourth least religious state in the nation at 28%, and you, always just a bit better than us, are the eighth, with only 32% identifying as ‘very religious.’ All our denominations are religious minorities now. Our differences are small compared to an entire oikoumene that does not know, does not care about our precious denominational divisions.

A few year’s ago, a colleague from Duke Divinity School came for a few days to visit and observe the church in Massachusetts. I showed him our fine buildings, our town squares, our attempts at adaptation. At the end of the visit, he said, “You still have all of the burden of being establishment and have not yet claimed all of the creativity of being marginal.” Church, I charge you, for the sake of Gospel for the whole inhabited world, claim the creativity of being marginal.

Finally, I charge you, beloved servants of God:

“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon.

Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted,

And human love will be seen at its height.

Live in fragments no longer.

Only connect…”


You Do You: A Sermon on Christian Jealousy

Preached Sunday March 8, 2015 at the First Congregational Church of Dudley, MA on behalf of an Ecumenical Lenten Service for the Dudley, Webster & Oxford clergy association.

Mark 9: 38-41

Space Saver

Space Saver

Sometimes jealousy creeps up on you. Yesterday, I went into our local coffee shop in Boston- the kind of place full of young families and urban empty-nesters that any local church pastor would give her right arm to have in the pews on a Sunday. There, near the soy milk and the raw sugar, a post-card caught my eye. Beautifully designed with an image of the very building I was standing in, the postcard said “A New Church in the Neighborhood You Love.” And now the confession: I did not think to myself, “Oh good, a new church in the neighborhood! This is wonderful, since so many people here don’t go to church!” No, I thought, “Shoot, this postcard looks good and is well placed. My church needs to put our postcards here too.” But Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Let us pray…

Oh John. St John here says what we all sometimes think, and for this, I am deeply grateful to the Gospel writer Mark. If you want to make like Baptists and actually open your pew bibles to read along with me, look back in Mark 9 on page_____. From Mark 9:14-31, we get an complicated story about the disciples trying, and then failing to heal a child tormented by an unclean spirit. Shortly after this, we get our passage beginning at verse 38.

Somewhere in Capernaum, the disciples and Jesus sit down for a chat. And, John, dear John says to Jesus in verse 38, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” It’s appropriate that John calls Jesus “Teacher,” because this sounds most like one student ratting out another one for doing unauthorized good!

Lent is a time to get honest about our lives. Lent is set time to examine what in our lives has become unmanageable and overgrown, and prune it back. Lent is when we take the time to examine whether our assumptions about ourselves hold up in the light of the Gospel. And so here, together in Lent, it is appropriate to talk about Christian jealousy. Here, in Lent, it is safe to name that nasty, sneaky, niggling little tendency we have to compare ourselves to one another and plaintively cry, “Jesus, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

There in verse 38, John gives voice to all our Christian anxiety and jealousy. John says what we were all thinking. John says aloud, hey! Someone else is taking all the credit! Someone unauthorized! Someone from another denomination! Someone we don’t know!

In Boston, our anxiety and jealousy has shown up in the form of old lawn chairs and garbage bins. Maybe this is not as much a problem outside the cities where you have more space, but in Boston, this winter has brought out our worst anxiety and jealousy. We simply have too few shoveled parking spaces for the number of cars. It’s an adult game of musical chairs, but nobody is having any fun, and the last driver is left trolling the block to find a spot to park their car for the night. Last week as I was walking home from the T stop through my neighborhood where the snowbanks still rise above the roofs of cars, I saw a note on a car with out-of-state places. The note read, “You didn’t shovel this.” In our very real anxiety about the lack of parking, we’ve taken to using “space-savers,” old chairs and garbage pails to mark our turf. Mine. Mine, Mine, Mine. Except it’s all a public street. And there’s plenty of space if we all shovel out not just our own spot but our neighbor’s too. Can’t you hear John saying, “Teacher, I shoveled it out, but someone else is parked in my spot!”photo-4

It’s no coincidence that shortly before St. John speaks to Jesus about who is in and who is out, the disciples are struggling. Look back to Mark 9:14- the disciples tried to heal a child with a demon and couldn’t do so. And what’s John worried about? Other people casting out demons! When we get anxious, we get small. When we feel like there isn’t enough to go around, we get concerned that someone else might have gotten more. If you grew up in a family where there wasn’t enough food, you know this anxiety. If you live with the sense that there’s not enough money, you know this anxiety. We get anxious and then we get small.

Our churches get anxious and then they get jealous. We don’t talk about it much, but I hear it. It creeps in. We get anxious because we see our numbers decline and think we are the only ones. We get anxious when another church is in the news and we aren’t. We get anxious because what used to work ten years ago doesn’t work any longer. We get anxious as the cultural privilege once afforded to the Church is crowded out in an increasingly secular world, as hockey practices competes with Confirmation Class. Upon hearing that the church next door has hired a really good preacher who might just draw new parishioners, no pastor has thought to himself “Oh that’s great news!” With a mindset of scarcity, we get anxious, and then we get jealous. We look longingly at the new furnace in someone else’s basement. We secretly count the number of cars in the parking lot at that other parish as we drive by. We see that other church’s growing youth group, and feel badly about our own. We look at the slick new postcards advertising another church in our local coffee shop and think, “Shoot. I should be putting my church’s advertisements here too.”

The strange reality of the Church in Massachusetts is this: we are all marginal now. Massachusetts is the 5th least religious state in the nation. According to a 2014 Gallup poll, only 28% of MA residents attend any religious service at least once a week. That leaves 72% of our neighbors not attending any of our churches. The competition isn’t the church down the street! It is not a zero-sum game, where if the Episcopalians increase then the Congregationalists must decrease. You can almost hear John complaining, “Someone else is liberating the people! Someone we don’t know is relieving their suffering! Someone unfamiliar is participating in the reign of God and they are not from our denomination!”

In the disciples’ quest for exclusivity, they betray their real concern: not did whether or not someone was healed, but who got credit. Notice that the disciples want to curtail someone outside their tradition doing good!

The disciples are looking to bring judgment on this outsider not for what he or she has done, but with whom they are affiliated. Jesus says, “Do not stop him,” or in a more modern interpretation, Jesus says “you do you.” Worry about your self. Focus on your own behavior & heart. Don’t worry about them, because anyone doing good in my name is with us: an alternative version of Christian unity.

John is concerned about who gets credit; Jesus is concerned about who gets healed. To John’s question about unauthorized ministry not from “our” people, Jesus responds in verse 40, “whoever is not against us is for us.” It’s wildly inclusive- as long as you’re not against us, you’re with us. Everyone on the same team! Jesus takes the maximally inclusive stance. But we are more familiar with the opposite. We think, “whoever is not for us is against us.” Just two days after 9/11, then Senator Hilary Clinton said, “Every nation has to either be with us, or against us. Those who harbor terrorists, or who finance them, are going to pay a price.” And lest you think I’m just picking on Democrats, seven days after Senator Clinton said so, then President George W. Bush declared to a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001 “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

Our inclination is to divide the world into us and them, black and white, those who are with us and those who are outside our tradition. But Jesus, sweet Jesus who upsets all our divisions and draws the circle even wider, proclaims, “whoever is not against us is for us.”

On the 50th anniversary of the March from Selma to Birmingham, President Obama said, “Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person. Because the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” We The People. We Shall Overcome. Yes We Can. It is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.” Maybe part of our Lenten discipline is to reclaim a sense of unity, a sense that we are in this together- to resist dividing the world into those who are with us and those who are against us, Democrats and Republicans, Protestant and Catholic, male and female, gay and straight, slave and free. Maybe it doesn’t matter so much as to who gets credit but that all get made whole.

We serve a God of abundance. It can be so hard to remember this especially when the snow rises higher and the resources seem fewer, but we serve a God who is bigger and wider than anything we can imagine. We serve a God who promises not just life, but life abundant. St Paul says to the church in Rome, he says “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Church, I say to you, do not be conformed to this world that would divide us into winners and losers. Take this Lent to renew your mind, to recall the promises of God. Recall again the promises of God in 1Peter “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Christ who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” May we proclaim so together today. Amen.

The other Good Samaritan

The other Good Samaritan: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2015

Friday January 24, 2015 Assumption College, Worcester

Sunday January 25, 2015 Union Baptist Church, New Bedford

 John 4: 1-42

Icon of St Photini

Icon of St Photini

It happens now every time I see him. I have a wonderful, kind, and wise colleague. We don’t see one another often, but every time I see him, he seems happy to see me. He opens his arms, and says “Laur….en, how good to be with you again!” Which is lovely, and kind and welcoming. But my name is not Lauren. It’s Laura, not Lauren. Every time. Every time he sees me, he calls me “Lauren.” It’s been going on for a few years now, and I confess I haven’t had the heart to correct him. And the longer it’s gone on, the harder it is for me to say, “that’s not my name.”

Sung:  Will you come and follow me
If I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know
And never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown,
Will you let my name be known,
Will you let my life be grown
In you and you in me?

(Verse 1: the Summons by John Bell)

Let us pray… Holy one who calls each of us by name, stir our hearts again this day. My Lord, I am bold to stand before your people and proclaim a holy word, so send your Spirit among us to give us the Word we need for the road ahead. I claim you as my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ, reverend clergy, I bring you blessings and greetings from the Massachusetts Council of Churches, a network of seventeen Orthodox and Protestant denominations, congregations and individual Christians from across Massachusetts convinced that what binds us together in Christ is stronger than anything that might divide us. I also come to you to prove that someone from Boston can find her way to Worcester/ New Bedford ! Our divisions in the church are not just denominational, but sometimes geographic! Our divisions are not just geographic or denominational, but racial too. There are whole denominations that exist because white Christians refused to worship with black Christians. In Boston, at the old African Meeting House, the freed black parishioners were only allowed to worship in the balcony. A black family tried to do what every other white parishioner had done and purchase a pew for their family. They found a pew in the balcony. Paid for their pew in the balcony. They came back the next Sunday and all the pews were gone from the balcony. For as many times as the Church has gathered as one, we have found ways to separate ourselves- separate men from women, separate white Christians from black Christians, separate Protestants from Roman Catholics, separate ourselves from God. It is good to be together in worship, a foretaste of the unity Christ promises his Church.

As good as it is to be here tonight, I confess that I wasn’t thrilled about the scripture passage this year for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (or the welcome letter from the WPCU team- written by four men). We finally get a Gospel story that focuses on the life and struggles of a woman as a follower of Christ and she goes totally unnamed, so unconcerned were our ancient forbearers in remembering her identity! The Gospel of John gives us this major, countercultural exchange that shouldn’t really happen between a Jew and a Samaritan, a man and a woman, a healing, wandering rabbi and a woman who must trudge up hill to just gather water for her home– and no one could bother to remember a sister’s name? And I confess, that this story from St John troubles me because of the way the Christian tradition has most often characterized this woman as a prostitute. If you want to be very Baptist, I’ll invite you to open up your Bibles with me for a close read of the text- so you can see that in verses 17-18 when Jesus asks her about her former husbands, we could see that there’s nothing in the text of the passage that points to her as a prostitute. We could see that Jesus does not say a word about repenting or speaking of sexual sin. As New Testament scholar and President of Lutheran Theological Seminar in Philadelphia, Rev. Dr. David Lose writes, “She very easily could have been widowed or have been abandoned or divorced. Five times would be heartbreaking, but not impossible.” We know that heartbreak can be that big, that often, that heartbreakingly sad. Or she could have been in a Leverite marriage, an ancient practice where “where a childless woman is married to her deceased husband’s brother in order to produce an heir, yet is not always technically considered the brother’s wife.” Dr. Lose again writes, “There are any number of ways, in fact, that one might imagine this woman’s story as tragic rather than scandalous.” But for centuries the Western Church has left her unnamed and besmirched as a prostitute.

And yet, look at the end of the passage, vs 39-42. Because of this woman’s powerful testimony, many people came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. She is most like John the Baptist, pointing towards the one who would break every barrier and re-connect a splintered people back to God. And no one could remember her name? For a very long time, the Church has thought of this unnamed, widowed woman who proclaims Jesus as the Messiah as scandalous and forgettable rather than tragic, prophetic, and bold.

And yet, as a Christian from the Reformed side of the family, I carry that strong sense that even when we struggle, or perhaps especially when we struggle with Scripture, God has something new to teach us.

When we think of Samaritans, most of us think of the Good Samaritan, the story along the Jericho road in the Gospel of Luke. That Samaritan goes unnamed, but he was deemed “Good.” And even in pop culture, the Good Samaritan is a story most people know and hold up as a model for ethical relationships and the answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?” In Luke10, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, the man who stops along a dangerous road to care for a wounded stranger. The Good Samaritan brings him to an inn and leaves some money for the innkeeper to care for him. Christian tradition often makes a helpful distinction between acts of charity and acts of justice- charity is bandaging the wounds of the stranger, justice is challenging and working to change a broken system where so many people are getting hurt on the Jericho Road. When preaching on the Good Samaritan and the Vietnam War at Riverside Church in New York in 1967 Martin Luther King said,

“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

The temptation of the Good Samaritan parable is to just give our money and let someone else do the messy work of being in relationship with the stranger, or those other people from whom we’ve been separated.

But this story, our story, in the Gospel of John today of the Samaritan woman asks more of us than just outsourcing our compassion and flinging a coin to a stranger. The scandalous, challenging good news of the Samaritan Woman at the well is this: God doesn’t just ask for our charity towards the stranger, God wants our intimacy as well. Jesus doesn’t just asked to be relieved of his thirst, but wants to know this woman’s life and struggles, to see and be seen, to know and be known. This woman at the well, this woman engaged in a back and forth with Jesus, and her preaching and witness to her village, she is our other Good Samaritan!

I take great comfort in the fact that we are already one in Christ. Despite centuries of division, denominational malaise and sometimes, active hostility towards one another, we who bear the name of Christ are all baptized into the same body. Like it or not, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. There is nothing you or I can do to change this. This is good news. The Church of Jesus Christ is one, already.

Now, we can fail to receive one another’s gifts. We can pretend like the other doesn’t exist, like the priest and the Levite who pass the wounded stranger on the Jericho road. We can treat our particularities as idols, and think our differences are more important than our commonalities. We can forget one another’s names. We can fail to live up to the unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17. We can refuse one another’s gifts. But for all who bear the name of Christ, we are already one. In my frustration over the western Church’s tradition of shaming and then forgetting our other Good Samaritan, I discovered a gift of our Orthodox sisters and brothers- they remembered and named our Good Samaritan woman, Photini.

The Antiochian tradition remembers St. Photini like this “She went and told her townspeople that she had met the Christ. For this, she is sometimes recognized as the first to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. She converted her five sisters (Sts. Anatole, Photo, Photis, Paraskeve, and Kyriake) and her two sons (Victor and Joses). They all became tireless evangelists for Christ. The apostles of Christ baptized her and gave her the name of Photini which means “the enlightened one.” She is remembered by the Church as a Holy Martyr and Equal to the Apostles.”

And for our Greek Orthodox brethren on St. Photine’s feast day on February 26 & following Pascha, they sing “The Samaritan Woman, having come to the well in faith, beheld You, the Water of Wisdom from which she drank plentifully and inherited the Heavenly Kingdom as one who is blessed forever.”

Church, I am so grateful for these Christians who remember and call out the name of Photine, because, to be intimately known requires that we know one another’s names. To be known to one another as Christ knows us requires that we actually know one another, on a first-name basis.

Maybe your name has been forgotten. Maybe someone forgot your family’s name at Ellis Island. Maybe your family name slipped into the sea somewhere in the Middle Passage or your name was changed without your consent on these shores. Maybe people perceive your name as hard to pronounce, like the Patriots tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and so people give you a nickname like H-man, since while we can learn a Russian name like Tchaikovsky but not a Polynesian name like Hoomanawanui? Maybe someone forgot your name as you walked down the street, as they shouted “Girl, why don’t you bring all that over here?” Maybe someone forgot your God-given name as someone shouts “Hey, Hey, Hey you?” Maybe you’ve been called so many other things than a beloved child of God that you have forgotten your own name too?

We need one another to remind us when we have forgotten our names.

Recently, I confessed to an older pastor that I had this colleague who gets my name wrong. She suggested that the next time I see him, after he calls me “Lauren,” that I gently put a hand on his arm and say, “Tom, my closest friends call me Laura.” I promise you that the next time I see Tom, I will tell him my name, so that he can truly know me and we can truly start to repair the divisions in the body of Christ between us. And Church, when you pass the peace, consider this: Tell that other person your name. Say “My name is Laura. The peace of Christ be with you.”

Sung: Lord, your summons echoes true
When you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you
And never be the same.
In your company I’ll go
Where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow
In you and you in me.

May you hear your name called, and follow the Messiah we call by the same name this night, Jesus the Christ. Amen.