“A Tiny Seed” | Sermon by the Rev. Paul J. Carling, Ph.D. | December 20, 2015

Micah 5: 2 – 5a | Psalm 80: 1 – 7 | Hebrews 10: 5 – 10 | Luke 1:39 – 55

The Rev. Paul J. Carling, Ph.D., ECY Chaplain
The Rev. Paul J. Carling, Ph.D., ECY Chaplain

One thing I really love about this extended fall we’re having is that I can spend more time in the garden. Several years ago, Cherise and I moved into a house in Bridgeport with amazing perennial gardens. The problem was that, as a kid who grew up in Manhattan, I had absolutely zero experience – I couldn’t tell the difference between a weed and a flower. So I either had to hire a gardener I couldn’t afford… or learn how to do it myself.

As grace would have it, a parishioner in her 80’s volunteered to teach me. And the first lesson had to do with the fact that there is no consistent relationship between the size of a seed, and the plant it eventually produces. In fact, some of the tiniest seeds can produce the most extravagant vegetation. Remember Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed?

It’s a seed like this that makes its appearance at the end of today’s gospel, arguably the most beautiful canticle in the entire Bible, The Magnificat. “My soul magnifies the Lord;” Mary says, “my spirit rejoices in God my savior… Surely, from now on, all generations will call me blessed…

And we have. Generations of the world’s greatest artists and musicians have tried to capture Mary’s powerful and prophetic words in gorgeous paintings and exquisite musical compositions, but in the end, the words themselves carry the starkest beauty. And the fact that these words are spoken by one of the few women prophets who survived generations of mostly male scriptural editing, makes them even more extraordinary.

Because the words carry such power, such confidence, it’s easy to forget Mary’s actual circumstance – a very ordinary young teen, betrothed to an older man, who experiences some kind of other worldly encounter with a frightening creature full of light, who gives her what only an extraterrestrial could call good news: “You’re going to get pregnant by some spirit, and have a baby you’ll call Jeshua – he who saves. But don’t worry, I’ll send another extraterrestrial to your fiancée in his sleep to break the news. What do you think? Are you game?”

Well, I’d like you to remember back to your early teen years, and imagine yourself in whichever role would fit best – Mary or her fiancée. Really, how do you think you might respond?

Mary must have felt the same range of emotions we would – including panic. But rather than take one look at this awesome creature and bolt, she apparently focuses not outside, but inside. She accesses some inner wisdom, some strength that allows her to say the words that always send a chill down my spine –
Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Because we know the rest of the story, we know what that “Yes” will cost Mary.

The power and inspiration that Mary accesses is the tiny seed of faith, a modest share of divinity planted deep within each of us. That’s part of what it means to be made in the “image of God,” the ability to overcome our egos and the rest of our human limitations, and actually try to make decisions as if we had something in common with God.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t scary for Mary to say “Yes” to God, just like it’s scary for us. French abbot and poet Michel Quiost puts it beautifully,

“I am afraid of saying ‘Yes,’ Lord.
Where will you take me?
I am afraid of drawing the longer straw,
I am afraid of signing my name to an unread agreement,
I am afraid of the ‘yes’ that entails other ‘yeses.’

Mostly we’re unaware of this tiny seed, but it’s there. And because it’s there, it allows us to consider saying “Yes” to the most outrageous invitations God offers.

When have you found yourself, against all odds, able to say “Yes?” Maybe it was the decision to believe in yourself enough to apply to Yale. Or maybe, after a really tough first year, it was the decision to stay. For some of you, it meant coming out to those closest to you, about who you really are. For others, it was standing up for someone or some cause that was really unpopular with your peers. For many of us, it’s when we choose to enter into the chaotic life of someone we care about, no matter how disruptive to our own lives. simply because they needed us.

In those tough moments, how did you find the courage to rise above your fear and do the right thing? Well, maybe the answer lies in the fact that God, knowing we are human, doesn’t stop by simply planting the seed of divinity within us. God also provides the continuous loving encouragement of the Holy Spirit to water and nurture that seed so that it grows and spreads, so that it will be as strong and courageous as we need it to be when the going gets tough.

And the Holy Spirit has lots to work with. For example, she offers you any number of wonderful individuals to be friends with, people who will respect you, support you, and encourage you to make healthy choices. She deepens your faith by giving you the wisdom to choose from among the incredible multiplicity of activities Yale offers, and to pick the ones that will strengthen you emotionally and spiritually. She does it by planting within you a yearning, a kind of unsettledness that neither human relationships nor all kinds of busyness can ever fill. “You have made us for yourself, Oh Lord…” St. Augustine famously said, “…and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

And finally, she does it by inviting you into a community like ECY, fragile, flawed, funny, and foolish, a motley group of souls who commit to loving each other as God loves us, to picking each other up when we stumble, and to helping water that tiny seed of our faith during the times when we feel bone dry.

Face it, we’re all worriers. We especially worry whether we will have enough faith, enough courage to do the right thing when the going gets really tough. But don’t worry, here’s the real miracle of God’s gift of that tiny seed. All we need to do is to develop the habit of looking around every day, seeing all the resources God provides us, take a deep breath, and say “Yes,” to all the little choices we are faced with. That way, when the really tough ones come along, we may just find that they’re a piece of cake.

“Behold I Make All Things New” | Sermon by Kathryn Greene-McCreight | November 1, 2015

Revelation 21:1-6a

The Rev. Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Ph.D., Associate Chaplain
The Rev. Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Ph.D., Associate Chaplain

I speak to you today in the name of the One who is, who was, and who is to come.

Today is the Feast of All Saints. I suppose I could just tell you that you and I all are saints along with all the saints venerated by the Church, which of course is true, and then I could just sit down. But I am not going to do that. Because our Scripture texts for the day are just too beautiful, too rich, for us to ignore.

The text that most grabs me is our second reading, from the Revelation to John. We often think of the Revelation as foreign, wild, impenetrable, even horrifying. Some of us may have heard it interpreted so as to scare the pants off of us. Read that way, it is not very welcoming, and avoiding it would be the better part of valor. But I myself like the hard parts of the Bible. They are the juicy bits, because they pose a challenge for interpretation.

But today’s lesson from the Revelation is not horrifying, not off-putting, not scary. It is comforting. It is the Balm that indeed there is in Gliead. It is about saints long ago and far away, and saints here and now, up close and personal. About all those throughout time and space, including of course you and me, and all who confess the Name of Jesus.

So here are some of the themes in the text I want us to think about this evening. You might want to look at the passage as it is printed in your bulletin. Here we find three promises: the promise of a new creation that brackets the whole passage [v 1: “a new heaven and a new earth”; again in v 5: “See, I am making all things new.”]; the promise of God’s presence [the first half of the voice from the throne, v 3: “God will dwell with them…”); and the promise of suffering overcome [the second half of the voice from the throne v 4: God will “wipe every tear away…and death will be no more…”].

The first promise: God is doing a new thing. Sounds great. We like new and improved things. The ancient world did not. A long-standing pedigree was important. So notice: the new thing God does here does not contradict the former thing God did in the past. It is the city of Jerusalem, not some other city in the Ancient Near East. It could have been, I suppose, but God recreates the people He already has chosen. And along the same line, the New Testament does not outrank, stifle, or abrogate the Old Testament. After all, the message that God is doing a new thing runs throughout the Scriptures of the people of Israel. Even if we look only to the prophets: Is 42:9; 43:19; 48:6; 65:17; 66:22; Jer 31:31; Ezek 11:19; 36:26, etc.

The second promise is that God is with us. Sometimes our world, indeed our hearts, can in fact be frightened and frightening, full of pain, afflicted by suffering. To the casual reader of any world newspaper, violence appears to reign. It seems that at every turn we hear of another mass shooting, or African Americans being beaten and killed by those who are meant to protect us all. I could go on, as you know, but I won’t. You know the tragedies as well as I. Sometimes it seems that God is NOT with us. Nevertheless that is the promise of God through Scripture: God is with us.

At ECY we are trying to grapple with the issue of our culture’s thirst for violence. We have begun to organize a project that I hope all of you will participate in. We will be trying to have a conversation about our nation’s bent towards violence. Think about it: we spend huge amounts of money and time indulging in it. We watch it on TV; we play it out in electronic games; we perpetrate it in subtle and not-so-subtle ways in our relationships. And as we struggle with the matter of violence in our own country, we find that it is tied to the very grave injustices of poverty and racism. This we cannot turn away from. As Christians we are called to expose to light the evil that lies hidden in the shadows.

The third promise here is that even our pain, our tears, our sorrows will be wiped away. It is not for nothing that today’s reading from the Revelation to John is one of the Scripture texts in the Burial Service in our Book of Common Prayer. Mourners at the funeral of a loved one hear this:

“[God] will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes. Death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away…Behold, I am making all things new”.

Part of God’s recreating is overcoming all violence, all sorrow, even the places in us that we would prefer to hide from everyone, even ourselves. God is recreating not just the heavens and the earth, but also the saints, and we know that means all of us too. We are being changed from glory into glory (a phrase from 2 Cor 3:18). Being changed from glory into glory is the only way we can shed God’s light into the “Dark Side”.

We are indeed changed from glory into glory. But the new things God does are never detachable from the former things God did. And that is true of us, also. In our transformed identity we will still be recognizable as us in God’s future. God doesn’t want to turn us into somebody else, into someone we are not. God just wants to transform us. We are most truly ourselves when we are most truly God’s. When our life is hidden with Christ in God.

And that recreation begins to happen here at the altar. We eat of the Body of Christ and so are nourished in His love. We drink the Blood of the Lamb and so are empowered in His life. We are able to confront the devils of our world, like violence and oppression, in the might of Jesus’ cross and in the promise of the empty tomb. We can, as saints, shed the rays of light that come forth from that empty tomb. We can speak a word of hope into a world torn by violence. “Behold, I make all things new.”

In the Name of the one God who promises that healing presence always, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Sermon by Pauline Samuel, YDS | November 8, 2015

Pauline Samuel YDS '17
Episcopal Church at Yale Seminarian Pauline Samuel, YDS Class of 2017

The gospel reading for today highlights the story of the widow’s offering. Many of us may be familiar with this story and the messages of stewardship, charitable giving as well as sacrifice to God that can and have been interpreted from it. And while these are great interpretations, today I challenge us to go deeper. Jesus was in the Temple teaching earlier on in this 12th chapter of Mark. When he was finished teaching, he sat down across from the treasury and he watched the crowd as they put money into the treasury. Then Jesus called his disciples and drew their attention to a woman who Mark describes as a poor widow. He called attention to this widow and said to the disciples that she gave more than just two copper coins, she gave all that she had to live on.

What’s even more significant than the poor widow’s sacrifice is what Jesus does. He sits down and he watches. He watches the crowd. He watches the crowd of people as they move about depositing their money into the treasury. Jesus is watching, he’s being observant. He sees something. He notices what the others around him are oblivious to. He sees the shenanigans and opulence of the wealthy, their posturing and pretentiousness, making a show of dropping their large sums of money into the treasury. He sees their arrogance, exclusion and insensitivity to the poor. Conversely, he sees this woman, an impoverished widow, a woman living on the margins of society solely dependent on the grace God to take care of her. Could she be a victim of the injustice Jesus had just described when he denounced those scribes that devour widow’s houses, forced out of her home with nowhere to go? She makes her way forward and Jesus watches as she quietly drops her two coins into the treasury. Jesus doesn’t just see the obvious; he sees things from a different perspective, at a deeper level. Jesus sees people beyond the labels of rich or poor, of race, gender, sexuality, and other manmade limitations. Jesus also sees the inequalities, the injustices, the hypocrisy and the hurtful actions that cause pain and division. Then Jesus calls attention to all that he is witnessing. He calls his disciples to open their eyes and see it all for themselves.

My friends, Jesus is calling us to see what is going on around us, to pay attention to all that is happening in our communities. To be aware of our actions or inactions and how they affect others. Jesus is calling us to see and love our neighbors. Our neighbors are more than just the persons who live next door to us. They are more than our families and friends. Our neighbors are our classmates, professors, co-workers, the persons sitting in the pew next to us on Sundays; and even the displaced and the destitute. Our neighbors are racially, culturally, economically and socially diverse. When we love our neighbors we are in fact loving the beauty, the richness and the diversity that God created. When we love our neighbors we love and value all that they are and we are able to see the image of the divine, the image of the one who created us.

Like the disciples, Jesus is calling us to look deeper, look beyond the surface, beyond the obvious, beyond the material and see the inequalities, see beyond our own prejudices and instead see the best in humanity. Jesus is calling us to a heightened sense of awareness. Jesus is calling us to be aware that our words and actions have the power to hurt, divide and destroy. But our words and actions also have the power to give life, to heal and to restore.

When Jesus pointed out the widow to his disciples, he told them that she had put in more than all those who were contributing to the treasury. But Jesus was not focusing on the monetary amount of her contribution. The widow emptied her livelihood but more than that she emptied herself. When you empty something in essence you are making space. When we empty ourselves of the non-essential things in life we make space for God to move in our lives. We also make space to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. When we empty ourselves we make space to widen our circles of fellowship welcoming and loving the other. As we read in First Corinthians 13:4-7, it says that Love is patient and kind, love endures all things and hopes all things. But we must remember that love is not self-centered, rude or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrong doing but it does rejoice in the truth.

And the truth my friends is that Jesus is asking is us to empty ourselves, just like the widow at the treasury. We are called to empty ourselves to make space for love and to love. A few weeks our new Presiding Bishop Michael Curry spoke up the hill at YDS during Convocation. He said, “The way of Jesus is the way of the cross and the way of the cross is love, and the way of love is the way of life.” Love has the power to stamp out all evil, division, malice, prejudice and hate. Let us empty ourselves so that we may be full of love, able to love God with all our hearts, all our souls and all our minds and with all our strength. And let us love our neighbors just as we love ourselves. Amen.

St. Francis Day | Sermon by Angela Shelly Wiggins | October 4, 2015

Matthew 11:25-30

When we commemorate St. Francis’ Day, we often think about creation, animals wild and domestic, and about the beauty of nature. One of my favorite natural places in north Florida was Wakulla Springs, a 6000-acre wildlife refuge surrounding an underground system of caves and springs pumping millions of gallons of cold water every day. It’s a beautiful place, so lush and wild that several Tarzan movies were filmed there. The wildlife is abundant – Great Blue Herons, Anhinga, Egrets, all sorts of ducks, plus deer on the shore. And of course, many large alligators. Ubiquitous alligators, says the website.

I never realized just how ubiquitous until we went canoeing in the river fed by the springs. We were hoping to see manatees swimming alongside us, a peaceful day enjoying nature on the river.

Thirty seconds after we launched the canoe, however, I realized this might not be a peaceful encounter with nature. There was a sign warning motorboats, “NO WAKE – Canoes and Alligators in the area” – complete with stick figure drawings of a canoe-er being ejected into the waiting jaws of an alligator. We could be an alligator’s next meal.

So my beloved thought he should test the canoe, to see how steady it was, and how it would react if we did encounter a wake. So he began gently rocking the canoe.

That’s when I discovered I was much more terrified of alligators than I had ever imagined. I don’t have words to describe the depth of my terror – well, not words we use in church. Just imagine the music from the Psycho shower scene.

The spouse asked if I wanted to go back, but I didn’t want to give up.

It’s hard to paddle straight when you’re inexperienced, especially when you’re screaming. So we kept drifting off-course, toward the grass where the alligators lurked. And I would scream again.

But they didn’t budge. No matter how loudly you scream and no matter what you yell, you cannot scare away alligators. They have nothing to fear, and nothing to do but wait for food to swim past. We must have seen 50 that day; some close enough to touch with our paddles.

This was NOT what I had imagined. It was not peaceful or beautiful or fun. It was just misery. But I wouldn’t quit – I wanted to see the manatees. I didn’t want to be defeated by the river or the alligators, but mostly I didn’t want my fear to win. We were going to finish.

That day I needed Kenny Rogers singing in my ear, “You gotta know when to walk away; know when to run.”

Or maybe I needed to remember these words of Jesus, “Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” Jesus invites us to live in a relationship of grace, not of striving. But it’s not easy to break the habit of constant striving.

I suspect I’m not the only one here who’s been canoeing with alligators. This room is filled with achievers, people who work hard and strive for excellence. But that inner drive can become a tyrant and lead us to focus so much on competing, on winning, that we miss out on the joy and wonder of the adventure we’ve undertaken. Then suddenly we realize the river’s full of alligators. And we need to hear Jesus’ invitation.

The Message paraphrases it, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out?….Walk with me and work with me; watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I’m not advocating that you not study for midterms. Instead I’m thinking of how healthy impulses can become distorted, drowning out the impulse to embrace life. The habit of striving and never giving out can block even the invitation of Jesus, “Come to me…I will give you rest…Take my yoke…Learn from me…Find rest for your souls.”

This call from Jesus is not the loudest message out there; we have to practice hearing it. Just as musicians train their ears, and artists train their eyes, we need to train our hearts to listen for the voice of God calling us to a life of grace, love, and deep joy.

You see, there’s another way of being in the water. Just a few mile away was the Ichitucknee River, also spring-fed with beautiful waterfowl, but no alligators. The water is always 70 degrees, and giant oak trees shade the river. Instead of paddling upstream, you float downstream in an inner tube. The river does all the work.

The Ichitucknee flows so gently that you can leave your inner tube with a friend and swim for a few minutes, down into the cold water to explore the sandy white riverbed. It is beautiful, relaxing, and peaceful. A true respite.

That’s the respite Jesus invites us to find in him. As the Body of Christ in this place, we’re part of that respite. In offering ourselves and in receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, we’re transformed into the Body of Christ for the world and for each other.

As the Body of Christ, we offer each other respite, a place of deep welcome and belonging, a rest from striving and competition, from always trying to be our best selves. Offering instead our authentic selves – our joys, fears, hopes, and even our defeats. And in that sharing, there is grace. We experience grace like cool, gently flowing water on a hot day. In the embrace of Christ and community, we’re made free.


“Beyond Nice” | Sermon by the Rev. Paul Carling, September 27, 2015

James 5:13-20  |  Mark 9:38-50

The Rev. Paul J. Carling, Ph.D., ECY Chaplain
The Rev. Paul J. Carling, Ph.D., ECY Chaplain

A dear monk friend of mine from the Midwest, once told me the defining characteristic of Christians in the heartland. “Be nice to others,” he said, “and they will be nice to you.” If that’s all there is to being a Christian, talk about “salt losing its saltiness!”

This week belongs to Pope Francis. More than any predecessor, you simply never know what’s going to come out of his mouth. And you never know what kind of t-shirt he’ll be wearing when he says it – a “Stop Global Warning,” or a “I’m one of the 99%.” Here are a few of his gems:

  • It’s not necessary to believe in God to be a good person. Traditional religion is outdated – you CAN be spiritual and not religious.
  • I believe in God, not in a Catholic God; there is no Catholic God.
  • All religions are true. Proselytism is solemn nonsense.
  • The internet is truly a… gift from God.
  • One day we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is for all creatures.
  • Evolution and big bang theory are right – God’s not a magician with a magic wand.

Since his election, Francis has an opinion on everything, and they’re mostly surprises. We each have our favorites. Personally I’d like a few more related to women, and to human sexuality, but no one can deny he’s been a breath of fresh air.

Francis’ words today are as radical as Jesus’ were in his time, a time when life was all about sect and tribe, who you belonged to. So when his disciples say someone’s healing in Jesus’ name, but is “not one of us,” they expect Jesus to retaliate and condemn these amateurs. But Jesus understands the complexity of faith AND the political realities of his day. “Don’t stop him,” Jesus says. The world desperately needs good works; don’t stop him.

But Jesus goes on, “No one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me.” This practical politician, knows how divided the world will soon become over his mission. He wants to gather as much company around his beloved friends as he can.

Within all the hoopla, somehow I find Pope Francis’ words on economics and politics most courageous. To those who say priests shouldn’t meddle in politics, Francis responds:

Politics is an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the common good… a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life.” He sees politics as sacred, in that they are the major vehicle for promoting God’s dream of shalom in this weary and troubled world. “If politics must truly be at the service of the human person,” he concludes, “it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and to finance.” Cleverly, rather than condemn both politics and economics, he says a new politics is responsible for building a new economic order.

This was a bad week for those who believe in the impenetrable firewall between religion and politics. One prominent journalist quipped, “I guess that means that if he could vote, Pope Francis would choose Bernie Sanders.”

What struck me most about Francis’ words was the rare combination of faith, political and economic sophistication, the same that we heard in Jesus’ words today. Listen:

  • “We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise, in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”
  • “While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling. This imbalance results from ideologies of the absolute autonomy of markets and of financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to states which are themselves charged with the providing for the common good. Such an economy kills… our souls and lays waste to the lives of the poor… This inequality is the source of most violence in the world today.”
  • “Some people continue to defend trickle down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile the excluded are still waiting. We can no longer trust in these unseen forces and in the invisible hand of the market. We must attack the structural biases of inequality in society.”

The Pope’s words grate against the conventional wisdom about what is possible, against the paralysis and polarization that has become our national political scene, and they are easy to dismiss as unrealistic, unattainable, too contrary to our own varieties of self – interest.

But isn’t that exactly what Jesus suggests in his hyperbole about cutting off our hands and feet, and plucking out our eyes – that we need to cast away those parts of ourselves that separate us from God and from our neighbors.

Which is why I am so deeply grateful that we have ECY. As the letter of James suggests, we cannot do any part of this business of following Jesus, of being disciples, in the absence of a community like ECY, where we create a safe space – without shame or blame – to grapple with the meaning of the gospel and how to live it out in each of our very different lives. “I need a community,” Pope Francis says. And so do we.

By daring to embrace a community which cares about our faith – as diverse as it is; which cares about our world’s problems, though we have a hundred different perspectives on what ought to be done about them; which cares about all of God’s beloved children, even when we often feel clueless about how to help them. It is in community, that we fulfill Jesus’ essential mandatum – to learn how to love. First to love ourselves, in spite of everything we may have been told to the contrary, then slowly but surely to dare to love others, so that our hearts, nourished by the most extraordinary gift God has to offer, begins to overflow so abundantly that we can’t help but share that love with the rest of the world.

Go,” says Pope Francis, “Go forth and love.”

“On Welcoming in Jesus’ Name” | Sermon by the Rev. Kathryn Greene-McCreight, September 20, 2015

Jesus and his disciples went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”


– Mark 9:30-37

The Rev. Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Ph.D., Associate Chaplain
The Rev. Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Ph.D., Associate Chaplain

First in our Gospel we hear Jesus speaking further with his disciples about his own suffering to come. That he will be betrayed. And as if that is not bad enough, that he will be killed. But then he adds something: he will rise again. This whole speech seems so odd to them that they don’t understand. They are even too afraid to ask what it all really means.

I always used to think that the disciples were most confused by the third part of the message: that Jesus would rise again. Because that is an odd thought, rising from the dead. But for many Jews in Jesus’ day that was not such an outlandish idea.

But now when I read this, I hear something else. I think what really troubled them was that Jesus said he would have to suffer and be killed. How could it be that their friend, their wise rabbi, this gentle healer and wonder worker, how could this story end that way? This is madness. The disciples have already had a hard time hearing Jesus talk about his own suffering and torture yet to come.
So here, look what happens: the first thing they do is to start arguing among themselves over who is the most important. It seems they were they trying to one-up each other. Or even worse, were they jockeying for power over who would be head honcho after Jesus died?

And they are ashamed even to tell him what they had been talking about. He already knows, of course. And they know that he already knows, and that makes them all the more ashamed. This is not at all like last week’s Gospel reading where Jesus chewed Peter out for refusing to accept Jesus’ foretelling his own death. Last week Jesus told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” But here in this week’s lesson Jesus specifically does NOT chew them out.

Notice what Jesus does instead. He gently shows them who they are to be. Not power-hungry or self-centered. The opposite: caring, embracing, protecting. He picks up a little child, holds her in his arms, and says: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” We, like those disciples, are to gather the little ones into our arms.

Clearly Jesus is telling us that the kind of greatness he calls us to embody does not rest on competition or coercion. The disciple of Jesus must show greatness through welcoming the weak. The cross of Jesus makes a flip-flop of weakness and strength, and Paul says “When I am weak, then I am strong.” We in Christ are called to embrace those who have no power, those who are vulnerable. The little ones.

But who are those little ones? Today when Jesus tells us to welcome little ones he means more than just children. In our day we might hear this as a call to welcome those with no voice, those with no home, those with no country, those with no next meal. We might think of the little ones as those who suffer because of others who have more than they need. And so our thoughts go to our work earlier today at Chapel on the Green: feeding the souls of the little ones n worship, and feeding their bodies with lunch afterward.

To say that this is crucial for Christian witness is an understatement. Or we wouldn’t have done what we did earlier today at Chapel on the Green. There is a but, though. I have also heard especially from young people how focusing on other’s poverty can lead to our despair. Surely we are those who have more than we need. Surely we are those who oppress the poor, simply by our privilege. Surely we fail to embrace the little ones as Christ would have us. And there is nothing we can do about that.

Here’s the thing, though. When Jesus says “little ones” he is referring to his own disciples as well. His own little ones, his own dear ones. So he means all of us as well, you and me. The disciples can’t jockey for power precisely because they are little ones themselves. And we too are included among those whom we are to welcome. An odd thought.

What would that mean for privileged folk like us? Here is an idea. I have been thinking a lot about the beginning of Genesis, how things were created to be so amazing at the beginning. And then in the following chapters we get a string of stories that show a deterioration in the quality of our relationship with God, and with each other.

The story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4 is one of these stories. Cain gets jealous of Abel and murders him. God notices Abel is missing. “Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.” And God asks Cain where his brother Abel is, and Cain’s response is: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In other words: “Leave me alone.” But the implicit answer to Cain’s question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is, of course, yes. Yes, you are your brother’s and sister’s keeper. [The word here for keeper is also the biblical word for shepherd, and that was Abel’s profession, keeping sheep. The false prophets of Israel are described as shepherds who lead astray the sheep. The true prophets guard them in the path. Jesus says he is the Good Shepherd. In Ps 23, God is our shepherd, and we shall not want.] Shepherding, then, is not possessing, not controlling, but guarding and guiding and protecting.

Am I my brother’s and sister’s keeper? Yes, of course. And so with Chapel on the Green, we are their keeper, and they are ours. And so with ECY. This is what we are to be to each other in the Body of Christ, his little ones. Guarding, guiding, protecting each other. Because love of neighbor includes love of self (we forget this too easily), this means that we each must guard, guide, and protect ourselves, so that we can welcome each other.

Welcoming the little ones means welcoming all. And welcoming includes sharing. Notice I say sharing, not giving. When we give alms or charity or relief aid it is precisely NOT giving. It is sharing. It is welcoming. It is seeing in the other our own vulnerability, our own humanity, our own little one-ness in the Lord. But this can be hard. Seeringly hard. We often would prefer to be like the disciples in today’s Gospel lesson, grasping at control over the other, each of us in our own isolated sphere of independence.

I leave you with an example of how truly difficult it can be to welcome the little ones of Jesus. I rec’d on Friday an email from Grant LeMarquand. He is an Anglican Bishop in the Horn of Africa, an area which includes Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Djibouti. This area is part of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt, which itself is part of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East.
Bishop Grant’s flock have been having an exceedingly hard time this week welcoming each other as Jesus’ little ones. And true welcome of course involves reconciliation. Reconciliation is very easy to talk about but very hard to embrace in a meaningful way. And in their context reconciliation presents difficulties we can only imagine. Here is Bishop Grant’s email:

Although the Gambella Region of Ethiopia has been relatively free of violence since the war in South Sudan began in December 2013, the presence of hundreds of thousands of new refugees in an already underdeveloped area is bound to have some repercussions. We have seen a rise in theft and we have certainly seen shortages in everything from water and electricity to diesel fuel and cement. But little violence.

Last night (Sept 17, 2015), however, fighting broke out between two rival Nuer clans over a disputed local election. Sadly, the families of two of our students at St Frumentius Anglican Theological College were involved, the relatives of one student killing two relatives of another student. To complicate matters, the two students are roommates. Quite a number of people were also injured in fighting. Order has been restored and the town is now calm.

This took place in the midst of a 5-day workshop on ‘Healing from Trauma’ being held at the Gambella Anglican Centre. One of the professors wrote: “the pain in our classroom this morning as one man prayed for the other and each other’s families has shaken us all. Weeping in this culture among men is not at all common, but there were tears shed this morning.”

Please pray that our church here can be a place of healing, reconciliation and peace.

We, too, my brothers and sisters, are called to healing, reconciliation, and peace. In every corner of our lives, throughout our days, this is who we are to be: agents of healing, reconciliation, and peace among the little ones in the name of Jesus, our Good Shepherd. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…”. AMEN.

Senior Day Sermon by Jacob Schafer | 26 April 2015

Jacob SchaferIn September 2011, I was a freshman living on Old Campus, as many of you are or were at one point. One Saturday, a knock came on my door. It was Abby Bok and Dacie Thompson, two ECY upperclassmen whom some of you may know. As I soon discovered, they were bringing me three things: an invitation to ECY, a small pamphlet with dates, times, and so forth, and, most importantly, a Snickers bar.

Now, at this point, I had not had much contact with ECY. I was a cradle Episcopalian, and so sure, I had turned in the card to the chaplain’s office identifying me as an Episcopalian. ECY had sent me a packet at the beginning of the year with, among other things, an ECY hat. I was now receiving periodic emails giving me information about ECY’s weekly services. But until then I hadn’t yet made the time to come to ECY and see what it was about. Whether it was the personal contact, my desire to find a home church at Yale, or the Snickers bar, I couldn’t say, but I ended up going to ECY the next Sunday, and I’m so glad I did. That Sunday, ECY happened to be doing a choral Evensong in place of the regular service, and were performing Charles Villiers Stanford’s Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis. It immediately brought me back to my home church, where as a chorister I had actually sung the soprano solo in the Magnificat. Yet even more importantly, throughout the service I felt the presence of God and a connection to this place, and to ECY. From then on, I have attended ECY services, bible studies, evening prayer, outreach programs, anything ECY has put on, as much as I could.

At ECY, I discovered a place where every Sunday we reach God’s presence through worship and music. As many of you know, music has been an important part of my time here at Yale, and I’ve really appreciated being part of a community that has shared my appreciation of music, and where I can find not just an aesthetic or intellectual interest in music, but a deep spiritual connection to it as well. Yet at ECY I also discovered a place where we can have fascinating, insightful, and wide ranging discussions at Bible Study, where we strive to give back to the community, and most of all where there’s a community of friends in Christ.

Throughout my four years at Yale, a lot has changed. I’ve changed majors, taken different classes, and (I hope) grown as a scholar, a musician, and as a person. ECY has had changes, too, from its membership, to its choir and choirmaster, to, yes, its chaplain, but through it all, it has remained a supportive and close knit community, a community I have often relied on to get me through Yale. Even if I only got one Snickers bar out of it, ECY has been a constant presence through my college years, and for that I’ll always be thankful.

Senior Day Sermon by Austin Schafer | 26 April 2015

Austin PreachingMy sister, Allison Schaefer, is a sophomore at Brown University. Right now she’s taking a writing course in creative non-fiction, and she wrote her final paper on her faith journey in college. I’m going to begin with a passage that she wrote just last week:

It’s 5:27 pm. There are only two other people at the service—neither of them students. Today is the last day of “Spring Weekend,” Brown’s annual three-day concert extravaganza which features rappers and rockers, dazed and confused students, and dangerous levels of intoxication, amidst a general splattering of chaos. The silence of the small chapel is interrupted by music blaring out of a fraternity window across the street. The two other attendees, older gentlemen, exchange irritated glances.

Spring weekend is not over, I think. People are still partying—still having fun. Why am I spending my Sunday evening at Church when I could be out with my friends? There are four of us in the chapel, while thousands of students are tanning, dancing, and singing out on the green. Why am I here?

Father Blake glides in, wearing his long, black cassock. As he begins the service, I open to page 62 in the prayer book.

It only takes a few seconds for these thoughts to leave my head. The gentle rhythm of the opening prayer spoken in unison, the aroma of fresh candles burning before me, the rainbow pallet of colors shining through the stained glass window all cause me to understand why I came to Church at 5:30 on that day.

These words could not be more timely. Just yesterday, many of us in this room were similarly enjoying the debaucherous excess of Spring Fling just outside these doors. Luckily, we didn’t have to choose, as Allie did, between evening prayer and bacchanalian frenzy.

What struck me most about Allie’s words was not this timely coincidence, however, or the way she’s grown into such an eloquent and expressive writer. It was the eerily parallel experiences we’ve had with faith in college. We grew up in Wilton, CT and regularly attended services at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church with our parents, who are seated here today. Faith, to us, was not an ecstatic emotional experience, but a weekly routine. Allie put it much better than I possibly could, so I’ll quote her again:

Going to Church had been like visiting a distant relative. I went when protocol required it. I was polite, gracious, and attentive. I went through the motions, but didn’t understand the movement. I recited the words, but didn’t know whom I was talking to.

Like Allie, when I came to college as a freshman, going to Church was a comfortable routine that, for reasons I couldn’t articulate, felt good to do. I lived in Farnam Hall, just across Old Campus, and when I heard the organ music start playing at 5 pm every Sunday, I would wrap up whatever I had been working on and amble across the green to Dwight Chapel.

Attending services at ECY was comforting, and it added structure to my week—dedicated time for solemnity and reflection. But at the same time, I struggled with my identity as a Christian. At such a highly intellectual, secular place like Yale, many people don’t openly discuss their faith. Atheists and agnostics enjoy a sort of intellectual satisfaction—or perhaps intellectual conceit—that people of faith don’t, and I’ll admit I was embarrassed to discuss my faith with people who I worried would consider me unintellectual. Even to myself, I was unsettled by my inability to rationalize my Christian beliefs. God, in fact, is easy to rationalize—someone had to invent the laws of physics. Christ is more difficult—how can I accommodate the Immaculate Conception or the Resurrection with my understanding of the universe as an orderly place, governed by strict rules without exception. And I’m not a deist, satisfied with an understanding of God as a disinterested, divine clockmaker. I’m a Christian, and I want to be a Christian. Like Allie, I could go through the motions, but I could not understand the movement. And I found this immensely frustrating.

Gradually, however, I came to realize that I had been thinking about this in entirely the wrong way. People here are really intelligent—often too smart for our own good—and we’re used to being able to figure things out. Not until I began to shed this intellectual vanity—the assumption that I could somehow figure Christ out—could I ever hope to be satisfied with my Christian identity.

Just as Allie found meaning in the scent of the candles and the light shining through the stained glass, I’ve finally started to feel Christ’s presence in the world in sublime, ineffable ways. When the choir sings the Anthem at the Offertory, when the organ plays the closing voluntary, when the Congregation reads aloud the ancient words of the Nicene Creed—this is when I feel the Holy Spirit. I shut my eyes, empty my mind of thoughts, and feel the presence of God.

I will never be able to rationalize Christ. Nor should I even try. All I can do is take comfort in the knowledge that Christ is peace; Christ is love; Christ is life.

Senior Day Sermon by Chamonix Adams Porter | 26 April 2015

Chamonix PreachingI was a bit of a late bloomer, spiritually. I never really belonged to a congregation as a child. When I arrived at Yale, I, like many freshmen, packed my schedule with meetings and decided that I couldn’t possibly make time for church.

By the summer after my sophomore year, I felt exhausted and aimless. I’d spent hundreds of hours on social justice projects, taken dozens of classes to teach me how to change the world, and yet I still felt stuck. So, early in my junior year, I came alone to a service at the Episcopal Church at Yale.

For me, ECY has been a place both of rest and of action.

As today’s readings remind us, God is a refuge—God makes us lie down in green pastures. Similarly, ECY has been a place of rest for me—a place of quietness, prayer, and reflection, a place to escape the busyness of campus and be still.

At the same time, as today’s readings remind us, God calls us to action. At ECY, I have learned that God calls us to so much more than just “being nice”—we are called, instead, to “lay down our lives for the brethren.” At ECY, we respond as a community to Christ’s call to action. In conversations and prayer, we have asked what it means to follow Christ. Our leaders, Rev. Paul and Rev. Kathryn, have offered us examples of godly lives. Together, we strive to love God and love each other.

When I first came to ECY, I could have never imagined the impact that it would have on my life. I saw it as an experiment, and it became a home. ECY is a place of rest and a place of action—just as our God is a refuge and a shelter, but also a living presence that moves our world to greater justice.

As we leave this place, I know that we will each carry this community with us. Together, we have built a community that strives every day to know and follow God: in rest, in work, and in every moment.

“The DNA of God” Sermon By Emily Boring ’18 | 19 April 2015

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

-Luke 24:36b-48

Emily Boring '18
Episcopal Church at Yale student Emily Boring, Yale class of 2018

When I was in 8th grade, I decided that I would grow up to pioneer a field called “theo-biology”. My first and foundational book would be titled, “What is the DNA of God?”

This proclamation usually received a predictable response. “What on earth is theo-biology?” Let me explain. I’d long observed, through lessons about Darwin and Galileo, that science and religion seem to be at odds with one another. Theo-biology, in my mind, was a simple solution to get around the conflict between fact and faith. It was a pairing of two of my favorite things: biology, with its hard evidence and steadfast methods, and a search for the “big questions” of religious faith.

My middle school self was a little ambitious. I thought I’d start by tackling the idea that Jesus entered the world through Immaculate Conception and is truly the Son of God. The fact that some people doubt this miracle was, in my mind, simply a problem of insufficient evidence: In the early days of the Roman Empire, we hadn’t yet invented paternity tests. My faith and enthusiasm were enough to convince me that if Jesus’s DNA were passed though gel electrophoresis and sorted to determine its genetic makeup, the result would not match the genes of Joseph or any other earthly man. What is the DNA of God? We’d clearly see an image of heavenly hereditary material– or maybe the machine would simply go haywire. Either way, such a test would decisively prove the miracle of Christ’s birth.

One of my favorite quotes is related to this questionable line between reason and faith. A climate activist once said this: “People sometimes ask me if I “believe in” climate change. I often reply, do you “believe” in gravity? Climate change is a scientific fact, not a religion. You can disbelieve in gravity, but you’re still going to hit the ground hard if you jump off the roof.”

Climate change is a scientific fact. It’s not a religion,” she says. But what does that imply about the line between religion and fact? Was my 8th grade self right to try to pair them? Is it relevant, or appropriate, or helpful, to think of these things together?

It is through this lens of evidence and faith—of proof and belief, and the whole mess of applying one to another—that I want to examine today’s Gospel reading. In this passage, Luke puts words to one of the greatest miracles of the Christian faith: “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name. You are witnesses of these things.”

Let’s pause for a moment and let these words sink in. The language is so familiar, such a central part of our Christian faith, that it’s easy to let the words wash over us without pausing to appreciate them. But imagine that you are one of the disciples hearing these words for the first time. You’ve just been told of the ultimate miracle: Christ has done the physically and humanly impossible: He has died, and after three days, He has risen from the dead. And you are called upon to be a witness.

So what does it mean to be a witness? What should we make of our calling to be witnesses to something as huge and significant as Jesus’s return? Words like proof and testimony—legal words, concerned with fact and logic and proof—come immediately to our minds. And this is where the theo-biologist in me kicks in. Taken at its surface, Luke’s passage seems to be an invitation to scrutinize the miracle of Christ’s resurrection through the lens of a scientific mind. How can we be sure that the man who has returned is not a ghost? How can we validate the miracle before our eyes? How can we explain?

Let’s pretend, once again, that you are one of the disciples in the room that day. Jesus walks in—a man whom you know to be dead—and begins to speak. Of course, he anticipates your reaction. “Why are you frightened?” He asks. “And why do doubts arise in your hearts?”

As human beings, we have many ways of dealing with doubts. We gather evidence about our surroundings with 5 go-to methods: sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch. Sure enough, the disciples try sight first. “Peace be with you!” Jesus announces. They look… and they assume they are seeing a ghost. Well, that’s predictable. Vision, as we all know, can very deceptive. Have you ever seen a mirage on a hot street or looked at the way a straw bends in water? We’re skeptical of vision. We can be face-to-face with a miracle, but dismiss it as an illusion.

So mere sight will not be enough to validate this miracle. What, then, should be our next attempt at “witnessing” the return of Christ? Jesus gives it to us in his own words. “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

Ah. Touch. All of a sudden, Luke takes us from a lofty world of huge miracles and deceptive vision, and he grounds us in the language of physicality. “Touch me and see.” The visceral. The mundane. The human. As I read Luke this week, this concept of “touch” stood out to me. I spent some time sitting with it, inhabiting it, thinking about what this word means.

Our sense of touch is our route to intimacy and connection. Have you ever spent a good amount of time looking at your hands? If not, I’d like to invite you to do so now. Marvel at how gentle and soft they can be, while holding the key to everything you know about texture and sensation. Trace the mountains and valleys of your knuckles, the veins of your palms, and notice their similarity to the veins of a leaf. As humans, we use our hands to explore, to trace, to feel, to know the world outside of us. To touch is to be profoundly human, profoundly connected to the physical world.

And yet, there’s also something about touch that inevitably brings us the world of the Other, the world of the Divine. In this way, it is the opposite of vision. When we see, we feel obligated to explain. “That man who my eyes say stands before me is not really Christ, He is an illusion.” “That strip of DNA is a machine error, it can’t possibly belong to God.” But when we touch, it is difficult to deny that we are entering into some sort of deeper, undeniable Truth. We use the word “touch” to describe a story that moves us deeply, or a song that reaches in and tugs on certain wells of emotion. Every child learns touch to enter into wells of belonging, tenderness, warmth, and love. Touch is also the sense through which we experience pain and move through it. Think of a moment in which you felt lost, broken, empty. Think of how sometimes, the only consolation is to be embraced and held.
At the highest moments of human intensity, words become silent. Then, the language of touch gets a chance to speak.

What exactly is the language of Christ’s touch trying to say? The theo-biologist in me wants to conclude that this Gospel is a victory for the pairing of religion and scientific fact. In the face of a miracle too huge and mysterious to comprehend, the disciples reach out to confirm their world through physical evidence. Luke provides undeniable visceral proof that Jesus has returned and taken a human form. But I’m not only a theo-biologist. I’m also a person who has hands and “feels” the world and was just “touched” by the music of the choir and the words of our prayers. Because of this, I have to believe that Christ’s touch offers a little bit more.

Of the senses, Touch makes us most simply and surely human. We see here that Jesus uses it to reinforce his humanity—to “stand among” the disciples in unity and equality. And yet of the senses, Touch also leaves the most room for mystery and the divine. What does it mean that Christ shares this capacity? It is affirmation of his miraculous duality. He can arise from the dead, and He has hands and feet like we do. Christ is human, and Christ is divine.

But I think there’s one more thing to be drawn from the language of Christ’s touch. It shows us that, at His core, Jesus is the essence of relationship. His touch affirms his basic desire to form connection—with the disciples, with strangers, with every one of us. In the weeks following the Resurrection, Jesus appears on Earth many times. Each time, he must choose a way to reveal himself. Does he return with the sole objective of making people “believe” in his miracle, offering concrete proof? No. He chooses to come through touch. Of all the ways He could have appeared, He chose the universal symbol of comfort and closeness. ‘Look,’ he tells us. ‘I am here. I am among you and within you. I am in every foot and hand. I can eat and drink and be in your midst.’ And because of this, he invites us into an eternal relationship with Him, with God, and with each other.

So what does it mean to be witnesses of God? Should we take up our DNA kits, as my 8th grade self wanted to do, and go about using the evidence of Christ to “prove” our miracles? Or will we accept Christ’s touch as the invitation to intimacy that He intended it to be?

Being witness gives us a clear calling to walk through our days with openness and intention. It means attuning our hearts to Christ’s essence moving between us and within us. In our dorm rooms and dining halls and families, His touch is present. As we look at our palms and embrace our friends and reach out to those in need, He inhabits every thread of connection. To be a witness is to reach out with our hands and step into the comfort of God’s eternal intimacy– that our faith may be bold, our love deep, and our hearts generous, as we go forth to build the relationships that Christ’s touch has shown.