Guest Preacher

Guest Preacher

During the years 1976-1993 ABC carried the tv show Family Feud. This was a busy time in my life. I was the priest of a large parish in Davenport, Iowa and had little time to watch tv. But I did hear about the show and even watched a few episodes. The “Feud” pitted two families against each other to see who could name the most popular responses to a battery of survey questions that ABC had given to its tv audience. The goal of the game was to win cash prizes. There was nothing personal. However, when family feuds do get personal, people are often hurt, humbled and alienated.

I remember a disagreement I had with my grandpa, Pastor T.A. Holmes. Pastor Holmes did not like to be challenged by anyone much less a kid who was all of 10 years old. One day my father, Grandpa Holmes, my younger brother and I were riding together in a car in Houtzdale, Pennsylvania. A handsome Lincoln Continental passed us on the road. I made a comment about the Lincoln company that manufactured the car. Grandpa emphatically told me the Continental was not manufactured by Lincoln but by Ford. I disagreed. We drove past the Ford dealer and Grandpa commanded my father to “Stop!” He then proceeded to run into the show room and triumphantly returned saying, “It’s a Ford product, not a Lincoln product.” He was not going to lose an argument to his ten -year-old grandson. Yes, Grandpa was right. Lincoln was a division of Ford motors. But I was hurt by his triumphant attitude. That was over 66 years ago, and I’ve not forgotten.

Family feuds take center stage in all three of our lessons for this morning. Each has a different focus. I will look at each and share some examples of related family feuds that did not always end well. I’ll start with our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures from Genesis Chapter 45 when father and sons carry things too far but first an example from my life.

My dad was a very successful pastor with a parish of 1,500 parishioners. One day when my brother Paul and I along with our families were visiting him we engaged in a theological discussion. My brother and I are both ordained pastors, we got into a discussion with our dad centered on the issue of whether the Bible should be viewed as a metaphor or taken literally. My father believed the Bible to be factual including the story of Jonah being eaten by the whale. Paul and I disagreed. We began to vociferously advocate our positions. Our voices became more and more heated causing my mother to storm into the room saying, “Will you three please stop it. Quit this now and settle down!” I’m not sure where our discussion aka feud would have taken us. In truth the three of us were relishing our argument but to placate our mother we calmed down with no winner or loser.

Jacob, the father of all the tribes of Israel, so loved his youngest son Joseph that Joseph’s older siblings grew to hate him. Joseph was the kid with the coat of many colors if you remember. We all know the story. The elder brothers faked Joseph’s death and packed him off to Egypt as a slave. After years of ups and downs, Joseph became the most powerful man in Egypt after the Pharaoh himself. Drought and famine hit the world and Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to try and obtain food. The Egyptians under his leadership had stored food and their warehouses were full. When the brothers came to ask for food, Joseph recognized them immediately although they did not recognize him. Joseph could have taken vengeance on his brothers for what they had done to him. Joseph reveals himself and instead of anger he embraces all of his brothers. The wounds are healed. Joseph forgave his brother. Yes forgave.

Forgiveness is often the hardest thing to do when one is wronged. Joseph did not wait for his brothers to say “We are sorry.” Forgiveness, true forgiveness, does not expect another to grovel or even say, “I’m sorry.” Forgiveness has no caveats, no exceptions. Remember the words from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And also these words from scripture, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Forgive and move on.

The second story of a Family Feud is in Paul’s fist letter to the Corinthians when he speaks about Adam and Eve. Recall the tension that took place between these two when God came and calls after they had eaten the forbidden fruit. The following story might illustrate the conundrum the Divine faced at that moment. Years ago I held a wedding for a young couple. During one of our pre-nuptial sessions the bride and groom told me that the bride’s mom disapproved of their marriage and would not be in attendance for their nuptials. The wedding was scheduled to start at 4:30. The bride was beautiful; the groom was nervous; the one hundred guests were seated. At 4:20, ten minutes before the bride was to walk down the aisle, the phone rang in the church office. I answered. It was the bride’s mother. She had changed her mind. She wanted to come to the wedding. I asked the bride and groom, “Do we wait?” We all agreed yes. The mother of the bride was 10 to 20 minutes away from the church. I went to my wife, the organist, and said, “Keep playing!” She would know when to start playing the Wedding Processional when the mother walked down the aisle. The wedding began at 4:45. Mercy and compassion had prevailed. So, back to the Garden of Eden. God could have struck both Adam and Eve dead and started over. But instead he saved them.

In many of our corporate prayers the congregation responds with “Have mercy upon us.” Oh, how we depend on that mercy as descendants of Adam and Eve. It’s why Jesus was sent to Earth 2,000 years ago to create a pathway to eternal life thru him. It is his compassion, his mercy that saves us. Nothing we can do to deserve it. It is a gift to all humankind.

Quickly, I’ll move on to the gospel lesson. In Luke Chapter 6 Jesus talks bout the power and efficacy of love. I had my seminary year of internship in Bridgeport, Connecticut back in 1966-67. One of the most active members of this congregation of over 1,000 renounced his daughter and cut all ties with her when she married an African-American man. The mother continued to stay in contact with the newly weds but he would have none of the biracial marriage. For two years the family feud continued but then the first grandchild was born. His own flesh and blood. His wife shared with him all the stuff the new Grandma could about the child. Soon this angry and distraught father/grandfather relented and went to see the new baby. Guess what? He picked up his biracial grand baby and fell in love with him. He could not resist this adorable child. Reconciliation occurred. He was present at the baptism. Love can conquer all. That’s why Jesus said, “Love your enemies. Bless those who persecute you. Do good to those who hate you. Do not judge. Do not condemn. The measure you give will be the measure you get back.” A family feud such as that one I described disintegrated though the power of love.

A song I learned decades ago and have passed on to 50 years of Sunday School children is called, Love, Love, Love. Many of you may know it. It goes like this.

                  Love, love, love, that’s what it’s all about.

                  ‘Cause God loves us as we love each other.

                  Mother, Father, Sister, Brother

                  Everybody sing and shout

                  ‘cause that’s what it’s all about.

                  It’s about love, love, love.

                  It’s about love, love, love.

Yes, it’s all about love and mercy and forgiveness too. Family feuds? They will arise but we need to meet them with mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. It’s remarkable what that combination can do.


Sermon by Rev. Mark Holmer


September 8, 2018

Our guest preacher, Laura Adelia, has a blog. Her sermon is available there.

       From your faces, I can see that you folks are as happy to be here as I am. Aren’t we all so blessed to be part of God’s creation? We know God’s GOT us. God’s got our backs, and God does everything RIGHT. And along with that, we have each other. We could, and maybe SHOULD, be dancing in the aisles! We’d like to hug the Lord our God, but we’ll just settle for hugging one another. The Holy Spirit hangs out in Churches, as well as in all creation, but I’m pretty sure -

Transfiguration is on the “A” list.

       Did you catch that Collect? We pray that, “With God as our ruler and guide, we may so live our lives that as we pass through this life, we will not lose our lives in the world to come.” Is that amazing, or what? Not only does God so ordain creation that we are intended for eternal life, God provides us with the help we need to get TO that life. With God, it’s win-win for us, for all creation, if we just say YES to God.

Think that’s what we’re doing when we say ”AMEN”

                  Then, when we’re beginning to realize what a wonderful deal, if you will, God’s got going for us, we hear the Hebrew Scripture from Second Kings. What a story! We got Elisha the prophet, successor to Elijah, prophet extraordinaire, along with Elisha’s servant, and the fella’s are hanging out in Gilgal, a place in Ephraim, where there is a famine, taking a little break from the rather chancy business of prophesy, when one of the faithful from Baal-shalishah comes along, as he ought to do, in accordance with God’s command, dragging “food from the first fruits to the man of God.” Now Elisha’s a proper shepherd of God’s flock, and he tells his servant to “set the food before the people, and let THEM eat.”

       Naturally there’s a crowd hanging out, just in case something glorious falls out of Elisha’s mouth, which WE know will happen, because that’s what God recruits prophets for, and all that waiting and listening has made the folks hungry, and this God knows, and has already solved that problem. God’s GOT this. But the servant is all, “How can I set this before the people; what ARE you thinking, this is a severe deficit in the necessary amount of food.” So Elisha repeats himself, “Give it to the people and let Them eat.” Then Elisha provides the irrefutable rationale: “for thus says the LORD, ‘they shall eat and have some left.’” Oh, yeah! Elisha knows, God’s GOT this! God’s not only gonna do what God’s gonna do, GOD IS GOING TO DO WHAT GOD SAYS GOD IS GOING TO DO. Just like the Psalm says, “…You give them their food in due season. You open wide Your hand and satisfy the needs of EVERY living creature. The LORD IS indeed righteous and loving in all His ways.” We’re not arguing with that, but sometimes we lose sight of what that means, for us, AND for the rest of creation.

Fortunately, GOD never loses sight of anything!

       And our old friend Paul is well aware of this. Most of Paul’s writing is engaged equally in PRAISING God, and helping the early Christians understand what it means to be followers of Christ. The obvious thing is that Paul never shifts his focus from God as manifest in Christ. It becomes clear to us that our faithful focus on Chris t, is a recipe for the best kind of human life. In today’s Epistle, Paul prays that God will “strengthen our ‘inner being, our souls, our spirits, with power from the Holy Spirit, that we may ‘comprehend the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.’ Now, as we know “comprehend” can mean ‘understand.’ And it can also mean “include,”or” encompass.”

We want it both ways!  Paul prays that we may both understand and encompass Christ’s Love.  Now THERE’S equipping for ministry! With Christ’s love for creation, and our faithfulness to Christ, Paul states that God will accomplish ‘far more than we can ask or imagine.’ And we WANT to be a part of this! Of course we do.

      In today’s Epistle, the passage from Ephesians, Paul urges us not to wait until WE feel strong and competent, but to start praying and jump in, because God’s GOT this, and God is willing to use us, too. All RIGHT!

GOOD News!

       Then there’s that wonderful Gospel story, parallel to the passage in Second Kings. Jesus is dealing with Elisha’s situation. Here’s the large, hungry crowd, eager to hear what Jesus has to say to them. We are THERE, we want to hear Jesus, too. And Philip, Jesus’ follower, plays the part of Elisha’s servant – complete with the momentary lapse in recollection of God’s promises. So, Jesus says to Philip, ’Bro, how are we going to buy food to feed this crew??’ That’s Philip’s cue. ‘ Six month’s wages wouldn’t buy that much food.’ But God has GOT this. Andrew says, ‘ There’s a little boy with 5 barley loaves and two fish – but how’s that going to help?’ Andrew and Philip’re like all of us, a little slow on the uptake. ‘Make them sit down,’ says Jesus; Who then asks a blessing on the food. Now Jesus is NOT into wasting food, so, when everyone is full and content, the left-overs are gathered, and an extra twelve baskets are available. Seeing this, needless to say, everyone gets excited, decides that Jesus is clearly the longed-for Messiah, and their job is to make Our Lord king, an objective with which Jesus wants no part. So Jesus makes Himself scarce, and the disciples hop in the boat and head to Capernaum. Evidently, a monsoon arises; we imagine the Holy Spirit saying, “So, Jesus, Buddy, Your homies are getting a wee mite nervous out there on the lake, due to a brief lapse in their realization of WHO they’re dealing with; and shortly, the poor terrified disciples are delighted to see Jesus strolling across the Sea of Galilee toward them. Jesus says, ‘Chill, guys, it’s Me,’ at which point everyone finds themselves safe on the land toward which they had been rowing.

See, with God, there really IS a happy ending.

       Don’t we just love Scripture!?!   When we can lay aside our awareness of cultural, historical, and linguistic differences, and HEAR what the Lord our God is saying to the people of God, and know that all the differences we concern ourselves over are truly irrelevant to the blessing inherent in the message for the people of God, then we realize that these ancient people are US; and that Scripture is OUR history, OUR story of God’s love and care for us, and God’s involvement with us.

And then,

       We can live our lives knowing, and depending upon, the realization that God’s GOT this!

THANKS BE TO GOD!                          Written by Susan Smith-Allen




I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to conduct a wedding in Marseille, France on the Mediterranean. I had met the bride seven years ago in Cameroon. I

was helping my college roommate there for three months with her non-government organization, monitoring orphans scattered throughout seven villages to the north

of the city she lives in.


This bride, Elodie, a French student nurse, came to Cameroon to serve an internship in rural clinics. So she lived with us for a month there. Four years ago

she and her partner actually came to the U.S and share our Thanksgiving dinner with us. Suddenly, last winter I got an email from her asking if I would officiate at

her religious ceremony in France. Of course I said yes. When I was pondering what sort of homily I would give at the wedding, I

happened to be reading Brian McLaren’s book: The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to be Christian. In it I was deeply moved by his discussion of God’s love. It seemed a fitting center for

that homily, and it came to my mind again as I read the scripture lessons for this Sunday.

These were the words that so moved me:

1. You can’t learn to love people without being around actual people – including people who infuriate, exasperate, annoy, offend, frustrate,

encroach upon, resist, reject, and hurt you, thus tempting you not to love them.

2. You can’t learn the patience that love requires without experiencing delay and disappointment.

3. You can’t learn the kindness that love requires without rendering yourself vulnerable to unkindness.

4. You can’t learn the generosity that love requires outside the presence of heart-breaking and unquenchable need.

5. You can’t learn the peaceableness that love requires without being enmeshed in seemingly unresolvable conflict.

6. You can’t learn the humility that love requires without moments of acute humiliation.

7. You can’t learn the determination that love requires without opposition and frustration.

8. You can’t learn the endurance that love requires without experiencing unrelenting seduction to give up.


Now, hold those words about the radical nature of love God intends for us and consider the lessons this morning.

Jeremiah says: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture.” There is this persistent ethical thread throughout the Hebrew Bible. God

requires the community to be ruled with justice and righteousness, unity and love. In the previous chapter of Jeremiah we read that one manifestation of how well a

ruler is doing on this front is the treatment of the alien, orphan and widow. In this passage, we read that the leaders do not have the capacity for love here.

But God has compassion for this community of exiles.

For those alienated from their homes..

For those separated from their families...

For those taken away from all they knew.

God always reaches out in love to every exile, every dispossessed person.


Mark talks about the love Jesus has for his sheep. He heals many in his own land, in Galilee – and then, after a time away for prayer and re-centering, he and his

disciples cross the Sea of Galilee to Gennasarret. That’s Gentile country, you know. Immediately, he is called upon to heal – the foreigner, the alien, and the

stranger. He is confronted with the overwhelming need of “the other” and rises to the occasion. For most of his ministry we see him in the thick of the people,

among those in greatest need. I can relate. In Cameroon, while assisting some nursing students provide health assessments of children, we ran out of time while

there were still dozens of mothers and children waiting. “Oh please,” they said, “just see my child.” And, “please, I need one of those mosquito nets, too.” The

press of those in desperate need was heart breaking.


In both the OT reading and the Gospel there is this clear message: the exiles – the alien – the stranger – the orphan – are also God’s people. The Epistle reading

raises the question of those pesky Gentiles as well. We know that the early church was struggling with questions of who is in and who is out. The Jews who had

come to accept Jesus as the Messiah couldn’t figure out what to do with those Gentiles who wanted into their fellowship. How could someone who was not

circumcised possibly become an insider? How could one who didn’t share the story of the People of Israel even begin to understand what Jesus had done for the

Jews? But in the Kingdom of God, even those pesky Gentiles are be counted as in.


In Ephesians we read that Jesus made both groups into one. He broke down the dividing walls between them. Then there were no longer any strangers or aliens. It

is at the very core of our understanding as Christians that we should grow more and more into this radical kind of love that Jesus had for absolutely everyone. It is

a difficult journey. But one we MUST take. And that brings us right back to Brian McLaren’s discussion of love.

1 You can’t learn to love people without being around actual people – including people who infuriate, annoy, offend, and encroach upon us. We are called to surround ourselves – as Jesus did – with those who are the most difficult to love.

2 You can’t learn the kindness that love requires without rendering yourself vulnerable to unkindness. Now there’s a challenge for us – allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, even to possible unkindness.

3 You can’t learn the generosity that love requires outside the presence of heart-breaking and unquenchable need. Being in the midst of people with unquenchable need is not a comfortable place to be. We can feel pretty overwhelmed as – indeed – Jesus must have felt. It’s exactly why he had to take time away from the crowds.

4 You can’t learn the peaceableness that love requires without being enmeshed in seemingly unresolvable conflict. It’s one thing sitting in our comfortable world praying for peace. It’s altogether another thing to become immersed in resolvable conflict. But how else can we possibly learn of God’s peace – that passes all understanding.

5 You can’t learn the humility that love requires without moments of acute humiliation. We know of the acute humiliation Jesus suffered. How can we possibly understand it unless we, too, experience humiliation. Perhaps one of the dilemmas that we people of privilege share is that we don’t often experience humiliation.

6 You can’t learn the determination and endurance that love requires without opposition and frustration and an unrelenting desire to give up.

You see, the kind of love Jesus modeled – and wants us to learn – is a life long school. If God loved the exiles in Babylon then we need to be schooled in loving

the exiles in our midst. If God loved the Gentiles of the early church then we need to be schooled in how to love and include the strangers all around us. If Jesus

could go out – among those in greatest need, day after day after day – then we need to be schooled in that kind of endurance and determination.


It’s not an easy school to attend. We can drop out any time. We can settle back into the sofa cushions of God’s embracing love ..... or we can accept the challenge

and enroll in God’s school of love. When we flunk out, as we surely will, we can enroll again and again until we enter the everlasting kingdom of infinite love.

Oh, my Lord! Let the whole Church say Amen! Say it again. Say it one more time! Amen! I’m out of breath for ya. This is a blessed night. It is a blessed night. We gather this night. Many of us are Episcopalians. Many of us are from other Christian traditions and families. Many of us are people of good will of no particular denomination or stripe. Some of us are probably Republicans. And, some of us are probably Democrats. Some of us are probably independents. But all of us are children of God. All of us! All of us! And that’s what we celebrate this night. We come together as the children of God. Like that old song used to say when I was a kid,

Red and yellow, black and white,
All are precious in his sight.

All! All! All!

Allow me if you will then, to on your behalf thank all of those who have made this night possible. We thank you! We thank you! We thank you! And allow me also on your behalf to the thank the bishops and people of the Diocese of Texas. Thank you, Texas! Thank you, Texas! Thank you, Texas! Texas! Texas!

Well I’m in an awkward position because I have a feeling we are the only thing standing in the way of food. This is an unenviable position. So let me hasten to my text. From the New Testament, the Gospel of John, near the end of John’s gospel. In fact some scholars say chapter twenty ends the gospel. But if you look in your Bible, you’ll see there’s another chapter. And scholars have all sorts of theories about whether chapter twenty-one is an addition, an extension, or an appendix. I’m not a scholar. I’m a country preacher, and I know preachers, and you do too. I’ve got a feeling John finished his sermon in chapter twenty, the plane was landing, and he remembered somethin’ else. And took off and came around again. That’s what happened. So on his first landing, which is chapter twenty, he almost brings it to conclusion. And he does so with these words:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book. But these few are written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.

My brothers, my sisters, my siblings, God wants you to live. God wants us to live. God wants this world to live. God wants us to live! You can almost hear it in the text. John is tryin’ to land the plane, and he says there are many other things that I could’ve written, but these few things that I have written, in this whole Gospel of John, the stories of Jesus turning water into wine, the story of Jesus meeting old Nicodemus, the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman that Bishop was talkin’ about, by the well, the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 folk, (ain’t she wonderful [referring to interpreter]?). All these stories, the story of Lazarus, the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, the story of him being raised from the dead, I could have told you more stories. This is Jesus Christ we’re talking about! This is not John Doe! This brother was incredible! I could be telling you stories all night, and you’d never get your barbecue! But these few stories I have told you so that you might come to believe. And believing means just trust. It doesn’t mean you understand. It doesn’t mean you got it figured it out. It means I’m just going to trust you. These have been written so that you might believe that Jesus really is, really is the Messiah, the Christ, the human face of God, the incarnation of God’s love in the life of a human person. Or as the Nicene Creed says:

God of God,
Light of Light,
Very God of very God

This is not John Doe we’re talking about! These have been written so that you might believe. That he really is the sign, the ultimate seal of how much God loves you. And this has been written so that you can have life. Life. Real life, not life you can barter for on E Bay. Real life! Life that the world did not give, and the world cannot take away. Life! Life! And in John’s gospel it’s incredible . . . I wanna make sure, how ya’ll doin’? I wanna make sure. We want to make sure everybody’s in. If you look at John’s gospel, the theme of life is woven from beginning to end. At the beginning of the gospel with that wonderful poetry,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. And the Word was God. In him was life.

And that life was the light of the world.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

This is life! Life with God! Life! And it goes on. I’m not making this up. It’s in the book. He says in the sixth chapter, “I am the bread of life.” In the fourth chapter, he says, “I am the waters of life.” In the third chapter, Jesus meets, he meets, he meets the first Episcopalians. It’s true! I am convinced that Nicodemus in the third chapter of John was the first Episcopalian. If you read the text carefully, it says that Nicodemus, who was a member of the Pharisees, probably a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the high court, he was a sort of an aristocrat, smellin’ like an Episcopalian to me! But even better than that, John’s gospel says, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. Only an Episcopalian would try to get close to Jesus when nobody was looking. That’s an Episcopalian! But Nicodemus was alright, ‘cause when push came to shove, Nicodemus defended Jesus in front of the Sanhedrin. And Nicodemus got with Joseph of Arimethea and made provision for the burial of Jesus. That’s also an Episcopalian. My reason for mentioning that, it was in the conversation with Nicodemus that Nicodemus said, “You know Lord, I want to know more about your teaching.” And Jesus said to him, “Nicodemus, don’t give me that jive. We’re not on Oprah Winfrey”. He said Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” In the Greek it can be translated, born again, born anew, or born from above. And the point, I think, the only reason to be born is so that you can live! God wants you to live! God wants us to have life, and God wants all of his children to have life! I could go on but I won’t.

It goes on in John’s gospel, he says, “I am resurrection and I am life”. He says in the fourteenth chapter, “I am the way, and the truth and the life”. In the tenth chapter, “I have come that you might have life.” And then at the end of the gospel, I’ve written all these things so that you might believe and have life! The whole point is life! Life abundant meant for each. Life for rich folk and life for poor folk. Life for Democrats and life for Republicans. Life for Independents! Life for Deputies! Life for Bishops! Life for everybody! Life! Life! Life! Life. Life. And the truth is it’s so easy to be deceived about what makes for real life. John’s gospel noticed that Jesus wasn’t talking about biology. Biology is important. ‘Cause you got to start somewhere. But that’s the basics. I mean the truth, is we are all human beings, and biologically that is who we are as human beings. But biologically, we are simply part of the animal world. We’re basically like that pigeon in the House of Deputies. I leaned over to President Jennings and said, “Madam President, ya’ll got a pigeon in this house.” But that’s basic biology. We’re part of the animal world. And I’m going to be careful here, because I know Bishop Katharine is in here somewhere and she’s a scientist. I don’t want to get out of my pay grade, but I think my eighth grade teacher taught us in living things that members of the animal world have certain characteristics, that among these are three: they breathe, they eat, and they make more of their own kind. Respiration, (sounds better in Spanish, I like that), respiration, consumption, and reproduction. They eat, they breathe, they make more of their own kind. My wife has two cats who can do that. Actually they’ve been to the vet they can do two out of the three. And that’s fine, but the truth is, life is more than that. Jesus said as much. Is not your life more valuable than even the sparrows? Those priceless creatures of God, you are of more value than the sparrows. You need clothes, but how much do you need? Consider the Lillies of the field. They grow, they spread. They toss. They turn, and even your heavenly Father takes care of them. And how much more valuable are you? I’ve come to show you life! Not just biological life! Not just existence! Not just surviving! Not just getting by! To have life! Life as I dreamed it!

Life as I intended! God wants you – are ya’ll with me? And the truth is, I’m convinced, that love is the key to life. I have a theory, and I know there’s some theologians in this room, I’m gonna be careful, but I’m convinced that the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is selfishness, and hatred is a derivative of selfishness. Yeah, I think we’re onto something here. See selfishness, or self-centeredness, or as the ancient mothers and fathers used to say that hubris, false pride, yeah, that false, self-centered pride that puts me in the center of the world, and you and God and everybody else on the periphery, that selfishness, it is the root of all evil. It is the source if every wrong. It is behind every bigotry. It is behind every injustice. It is the root cancer of every war. It is the source of every destruction. That selfishness destroys homes! It will destroy churches! It will destroy nations! And left untethered, it will destroy creation! Selfishness! Selfishness! Selfishness! Selfishness!

And love is the cure. I had to say that briefly at a wedding recently. I had to get it in in a little bit of time. I’m not going to go too much longer with you all either. But love is the Balm in Gilead. Love will heal the sin-sick soul. Love can lift us up when the gravity of selfishness will pull us down! Love can bind us together when selfishness will tear us apart. We actually have a television show which is the incarnation of selfishness. And actually there’s another word for selfishness, believe it or not. It’s called sin. That’s why we have Lent, a season to deal with sin. But love is the cure. We got a television show, and you know the one I’m talking about. It’s the television show Survivor. Now it’s just a television show, I know. But think about the premise of the show. The premise of Survivor is that you put all these people on a desert island, and the goal of their life, is to find life by getting everybody else kicked off the island. That’s a parable of selfishness! ‘Cause eventually selfishness gets everybody kicked off the island! And there’s nobody left but you! And you are incredibly boring by yourself!

But love brings us together. Love heals the wounds. Love can lift us up. Love is the source of setting us free, and it is the root source of life. In fact the truth is the only reason we’re here is because of love. Give me another minute or two. I mean stop and think about it for a moment. We Christians believe in God. We believe in one God, and yet we believe in God the Holy Trinity. Am I right about that? Please say that with more confidence, it really is true. We have one God and yet we know this one God in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. But we don’t have three gods, one God! We just know this one God in magnificent ways! We got ourselves a many splendored God! And God you see, the Holy Trinity is our tradition’s way of telling us that God can embrace individuality and multiplicity all at the same time! God is not worried about uniformity. God can have unity and diversity, not uniformity at the same time. Ya’ll hear what I’m gettin’ at now? The truth is God has in God’s self everything God that needs to be whole and to be fulfilled, and to be complete. St. Augustine of Hippo, no flaming liberal to be sure, Augustine of Hippo once said, that the Trinity means that God is a community of love in God’s self. And First John, chapter four, verse says, “Beloved let us love because love is from God, and those who love are born of God, and know God because God is love. God is love! God is love! And guess what, guess what, that’s the reason we’re here! God is the Trinity. God had all the company God needed in God’s self. Which means God did not need y’all! God did not need the world to be a headache. But love moves over and makes room and space for the other to be. Love says, let there be light! Love says, let there be a world! Love says, let there be Andy! Love says, let there be Byron! Love says let there be Deena! Love says let there be Hector! Love says let there be Jeff, well Jeff, let me think about it. Love, the reason we are here, the reason there is a world because God is love. We are here. We have life because of love. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you that you love one another.” And after he rose from the dead, he asked Simon Peter, “You want to follow me now?” It’s not about mechanical following. He says, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said, “Yeah Lord, you know I love you.” “I want you to take care of my sheep. Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Lord, I just got through sayin’ I love you. Yes I love you. You knew that.” “Then take care of my sheep!” He says, “Simon son of John, DO YOU LOVE ME? If you love me, you will overcome your self- centeredness, and another will take you by the hand, and may lead you to where you do not want to go. But it won’t be all about you any more. It will be about following me!” And then Jesus said, “Now follow me.” The key to following Jesus, the key to being his disciples, the key to life is love! Is love! Is love. It’s love.

Well, I’m going to stop now. I’m getting older now. That’s an understatement. But you know the older I get the more I am convinced that we waste a lot of time in life in stuff that does not give life. And some of that’s human, we’re human. And that’s okay I’m not puttin’ all that down. But at the end of the day, we’ve gotta live. We’ve got to live in a world where little children are not separated from their parents at our borders. We gotta live in that kind of world. And the work of love is to make a world with the possibility of life for all is real. That is the work of love. And I really believe that’s why I am a Christian, better yet why I’m a follower of Jesus. A very faulty one, by the way, but a follower nonetheless. But I am because I believe Jesus was right. The way to life is the way of love. Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbor. And while you’re at it, love yourself. That’s the key. Well, all this is predicated on a prior conviction, a conviction that (To audience and referring to interpreter: We do this all the time, you should have seen us in Honduras. We were even better.) It really is based on a conviction that God knows what God is talking about. Think about that for a second. Everything I’ve said, everything I’ve said is based on the conviction that Jesus knows what he’s talking about. That God knows what he’s talking about. If he doesn’t, then ya’ll might as well go eat barbecue right now!

I realized that years ago. I was a parish priest in Baltimore – Diocese of Maryland, there’s probably somebody around – and our youngest daughter was probably three years old, and my wife went off to teach school, and I think our oldest daughter went off with her, I can’t remember now. But they would go out and then I would take the young one to nursery school. (To audience and referring to interpreter: I don’t know what my sister said, but you all obviously enjoyed it.) Okay. So anyway, I’m there at home, I’m with Elizabeth and we were waiting a little while before we went off to school. And so I said, “Elizabeth I need you to go and put your raincoat on.” And she looks back at me, at three years old now, and here I am the rector of the rector of St. James Church, the third oldest African-American Church in the Episcopal Church. A historic church, the church that gave you Thurgood Marshall. Yeah! This is a serious church! Yeah! So here I am the rector of St. James and here’s this little three year old person. I said, “Elizabeth go put your rain coat on.” And she said, “Why?” I said, “Because it’s going to rain.” She ran to the window in the living room, and looked out the window and said, “But it’s not raining outside”. I said, “I know that, but it’s gonna rain later.” She said, “Mommy didn’t say it was gonna rain.” See you got to know the source of authority. I said, “I know Mommy didn’t say it was gonna rain, but Al Roker said it was gonna rain.” I tried to explain to her about weather forecasting, and I showed her the newspaper. And I finally said, “Why am I doing all this? Elizabeth just go and put your raincoat on!”

So we left the house and got in the car, and drove off to nursery school. And so I took her in school. And I came back out and I sat in the car. And I sat in the car. I said I can’t believe that little thing. She actually thought she knew better than I do. Here I am the rector of historic, St. James. Thurgood Marshall, Pauli Murray, they all came out of that church. Yeas! Here I am and she actually thought she knew more than I did. I spent more time in seminary than she’s even been on the earth. And she actually thought she knew more than I did! And it occurred to me that that must be what we look like to God! That’s what! And I have this fantasy of God putting his hands on his cosmic hips, and just saying, they are so cute! They think they know so much, but don’t they know that I was the one that called this world into being in the first place? Don’t they know that I created the vast expanse of interstellar space? Don’t they know that I told old Moses, go down Moses, way down in Egypt land, and you tell old Pharaoh, let my people go? Don’t they know that I’m the author of freedom? Don’t they know that I’m the creator of justice? Don’t they know that I’m the God of love! Don’t they know that I came down as Jesus to show them the way, to show them the way of love, to show them the way to life, to show them how to live together! Don’t they know how much I love them! How much.

My brothers, my sisters, my siblings, we have work to do. To stand for Christianity, a way of being Christian that looks like Jesus of Nazareth. A way of being Christian that is grounded and based on love. A way of being Christian that is not ashamed to be called people of love. So go from this place and be people of the way. Go from this place as people of Jesus. Go from this place as people of love! Go from this place and heal our lands! Go from this place and heal our world! Go from this place until justice rolls down! Go from this place until the nightmare is over! Go from this place until God’s dream is realized! Go from this place and help us live!

God love ya! God bless ya! And GO!

Go! Go!

June 3 2018

If you are or were in a teaching profession, you might be familiar with the concept of the syllabus creep, or syllabus bloat. For those unfamiliar with it, a syllabus is the document that tells you what you can expect in the college or technical course you are taking. “Syllabus creep” or syllabus bloat is the term teachers and professors use to describe the tendency of a syllabus to get longer over time because you might feel like you have to address problems from previous semesters. It’s the desire to cut down on fifty students (no really, fifty) asking you the same question. A couple of years ago when I started teaching a sociology course at ASU, I looked at the syllabus of a colleague who taught the same course. I thought it looked huge, but I also quickly realized the syllabus was the result of years of issues popping up in his class. I adopted his course policies wholesale. Except for one major difference. One recent figure I saw is that profs spend around 28% of their time answering emails. A lot of those emails are things that are answered somewhere in the syllabus or the course material. I toyed around with an idea from a professor at Salem College who would only respond to emails from students requesting an in-person conversation. But I got cold feet on something so drastic, even if the reported results of that policy were amazing. Instead, I told my students that if they emailed me after 5pm, they should not expect a response before 9am the next business day. There was no complicated decision tree for when to email me; just an expectation about when students could and could not expect a response from me. I don’t have enough information to tell if it changed my students’ habits, but it did change mine. It felt like I had given myself permission to be with my family even if I had seen the email from a student. I had given myself permission to leave my phone and my laptop in another room. Folks who work in a number of fields can tell us that technology has changed our work habits. As a culture, we are already working the jobs that years ago, two or three other people would have been hired to do. One university official at ASU I know absorbed the work of three people in his department when they left their jobs. Email and smartphones and other technologies further blur the lines between time at work and time at home. And even if some of us are able to stave off the personal push to “sacrifice in the name of accomplishing the goal” or coworkers may not, and so they may resent our “tuning-out” or we risk the reputation of one who is “uncommitted.” As Rabbi Arthur Waskow puts it, “Most Americans today work longer, harder, and more according to someone else’s schedule than they did 30 years ago. We have less time to raise our children, share neighborhood concerns, or develop our spiritual life…this life situation crosses what we usually see as class lines: single mothers who are working at minimum wages for fast food chains and holding on by their fingernails to a second job to make ends meet feel desperately overworked; and so do wealthy brain surgeons.” Further, in this culture of convenience in which we can order something from Amazon and have it at my door within two hours, we do not often think of what it takes other human beings in order to make that happen. I think about that when I’m ordering an Uber or a Lyft at 3 in the morning to get to the airport, and I talk to the driver about his kids at home, asleep—the the other job he works. I think about it when the most persistently difficult part of my job as a campus chaplain seems to be getting more than seven students in a room at the same time. Often, it is not an issue of willingness on their part; it’s an issue of time and aligning schedules as they go between their two to three jobs each, in addition to their course schedule, ongoing resume-building projects, unpaid internships, and appointments to sell their plasma for rent money. And while news outlets are telling us that millennials are killing off industries by the dozens—mostly because they have less purchasing power due to stagnant wages—or when it is bemoaned that they are not willing to work beyond what they are getting paid for to signal their “commitment”—when it’s more accurate to say that they are not willing to be exploited by companies with no reciprocal notion of loyalty, I’m reminding them that I’ve never heard a person near death say that they wish they had taken more hours away from their family for work. Welcome to the new realities of campus ministry. Jesus said, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” I want to go back to the reading from Deuteronomy, and I want to leave us with two lines of consideration: the first is a social pondering, and the second will be a question about one’s personal practice of Sabbath. So, let’s go back to our first reading. there is something quite important to notice here: “You shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day. This is known as the third of the ten commandments, and what is so fascinating is that here it appears to be a hinge between the commandments that deal with our relationship to God and our relationship to others. In essence, God is saying that because the Israelites knew the experience of slavery in Egypt, the working according to someone else’s schedule and the inability of worship according to God, God will not allow the Israelites to treat others that way. Everyone gets the Sabbath off. The Israelites could not even require of their own slaves or the immigrants among them to keep commerce going in their stead, hence closing off the possibility of an exploitative work practice. In other words, the Sabbath is not simply to make the worship of God possible; it’s a regulation of our treatment of others. We now live in a society that, due to our multiculturalism, does not take a common time of breath or rest. In the age of 24 hour stores, a gig economy where folks have to hustle for a living, a sleepless internet and marketplace, and parental anxiety over making sure their kids stay on track for free college through over-programming their lives, we are sorely lacking in a time to collectively take a pause. While I’m not a fan of enforcing religious laws over a populace that may believe differently, it’s worth recognizing that we’re missing something that once existed to our benefit. And I wonder what the implications would be on considering how a faith community, willing to live simply one day a week, would make a difference on the work and life of others. What if we were as committed to our neighbor’s time of rest as we were to sating our desire for convenience? Now, I’m not interested in telling you how to rest—that you need a day every week that you do nothing. As much as I’d find that to be an ideal for everyone, I need to admit that I’ve been particularly bad about that. But I want to ask you to consider something. I’ve noticed that this frenetic pace of modern life and a general sense of unhappiness with the over-work we experience has a positively toxic side effect. We tend to feel alienated from—and joyless in—our work. As a result of that, many of the ways we take off our time is numbing rather than resting. There is a difference between that which numbs us from our life and that which rejuvenates us. How have you seen that difference? Sabbath is not simply time off to recuperate so that we may increase our value as an economic producer. So, how do you tell the difference between what is deadening you from what gives you life? Recognizing that difference and moving toward the life-giving will move you closer to the orbit of God. Recognizing the difference may help you drop the habits that keep you in a unrestful stasis—perhaps dropping the habits that leave you feeling guilty afterward. May your discernment of your rest this summer be life-giving—and may you guard your life-giving leisure. Preacher: Robert Berra

May 27 2018

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen. Good morning everyone! How wonderful it is to be back here with you at Church of the Transfiguration! It’s been awhile! And I know that as you drank your morning coffee, you were contemplating the sacred mysteries of the Trinity, being that today is Trinity Sunday. But hey, did you know that the number three is a sacred number? Trinities & sacred threes were actually around long before Christianity. In fact, Trinities & sacred three’s go back to ancient cultures & prehistoric religions! It’s true! Much like how ancient people celebrated winter solstice before the holiday was absorbed by Christianity & became Christmas, (celebrated three days after winter solstice by the way), the Trinity / sacred threes have been around a very long time! So, what is it about the number “3”? Notice the number three is everywhere! Just look at this weekend, it’s a 3 day weekend, it’s Trinity Sunday, & in Isaiah’s scripture reading for today we have Seraphs flying around singing “Holy, Holy, Holy”! And although the number 3 is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, we see patterns of the number 3 in many places. Examples? In Genesis there are the 3 Patriarchs; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. And the story of Abraham & Sarah being visited by 3 men who were really 3 angels. This story is depicted in the famous Russian icon “Troitza” (Trinity). And let’s not forget the story of Jonah, who spent 3 days in the belly of a whale. And, we see the number 3 is also the number of the Resurrection, where Jesus rose on the 3rd day. Trinities & sacred threes not only exist in religion, but many cultures, in the arts, music, mythology, and yes, even in mathematics & the sciences! Can you think of any? Celtic art – Celtic art has many designs based on three. spiral Greek mythology – 3 Furies, the 3 Fates, and 3 main gods; Zeus (land), Hades (underworld), & Poseidon (the sea). Eastern religions – Hinduism has the Trimurti; Brahma the creator, Vishnu the sustainer, and Shiva the destroyer, the three top gods that keep the universe going thru endless cycles of life, death & rebirth. In health, wellness & spirituality – “body, mind & spirit”! mindbodyspirit The Sciences – 3 dimensions of space, 3 states of matter; solid, liquid & gas, 3 types of electrical charges; positive, negative & neutral, and atoms have 3 particles, the proton, electron & neutron! And DNA is one of the 3 major macromolecules necessary for life! Math – 3 sides to a triangle, the most stable of geometric shapes. Number 3 is big in Cartoon image of Pi symbolthe Golden Ratio, the Fibonacci sequence, exponential power of 3, cubed. Pi is 3.14. Storytelling – The 3 Musketeers, the 3 Little Pigs…3 Blind Mice, Three Billy goats Gruff, The Good, the Bad & the Ugly! Time – perception of time is described in threes as well, yesterday, today, tomorrow. Beginning, middle, end. Birth, life, death. Symbolically – 3 is a sacred number in many ancient rTriple moon goddesseligions. Symbolically it is similar to the number 7, which means wholeness, completeness. 3 is considered a “perfect” number, the unifier of dualities! Ancient religions – Rule of Three, also known as the law of return. It basically states that whatever energy a person puts out into the world, whether it be positive or negative, it will come back to you threefold. Three is a sacred number in many religions. Triple Moon Goddess, maiden, mother, crone. Music – There are triplets, 3 beats per one beat. Western music tends to be very 4/4 tripletswith a straight ahead beat & rhythm. But in many other cultures, many rhythms are based on three, such as the triplet. It gives a very “circular” feel. And Nikola Tesla, the genius inventor who designed the alternating current (AC) electrical system said “If you want to know the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”20603-Nikola-Tesla-Quote-If-you-want-to-find-the-secrets-of-the-universe.jpg As we can see, the concept of a Trinity & the triadic nature of the divine & sacred threes have been part of our psyche for thousands of years! Are all these things about the number 3 just a coincidence? It does makes you wonder!! One really interesting take on the Trinity / sacred number 3 this is from Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault. She explores this deeply in her book The Holy Trinity & the Law of Three; Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity. She observes that in our modern day Western world we tend to think & view things dualistically in “twos”, such as in opposites, not so much in “threes”. Can you think of a few dualistic thinking examples? “Good vs. evil”, “light / darkness, “two sides to every story”, “this, or that”, “yes or no”, “you are with us or against us”, “democrat or republican”, “liberal / conservative”, etc. There is no middle ground in dualistic thinking, and there tends to be no movement, no flow forward. It’s just “this, or that”! And that is that!! Thus, dualistic thinking can be very stagnating & very divisive, not only politically but also spiritually. It can lead to feeling stuck in a spiritual dead-zone. In fact, if you have been feeling spiritually “stuck” lately, you are not alone! But just look what happens when we integrate a third perspective into the picture… A third force (or idea, or entity, or person) can help eliminate being stuck in the gridlock of dualistic “either-or” thinking. It can lead to something totally new! Synthesis! Thus, three is a unifier of dualities! It is much more holistic (whole). Viewed from the Law of Three, the Trinity in essence is about process. Flow. Growth. Awakening. Transformation. Being that I have been a musician, I tend to think of threes as a triplet, like a circle in time. Musical triplets bring a circular flowing rhythm & groove to music. Like a galloping horse, it has a lot of wonderful energy & feels circular or cyclical, but at the same time feels like it moves us forward! The Gospel story for today is a great example of the difference between thinking dualistically (in 2’s) and holistically (in 3’s). Much like our mainstream modern western world, Nicodemus displays dualistic thinking, very literal & linear. He doesn’t understand Jesus’ teaching on how anyone can be “born again” when they are older. Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus on the other hand thinks much more in metaphors & more three’s. Not at all black and white or “either / or”. He tells Nicodemus, “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit… You must be born from above. The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” What is Jesus talking about? He is talking about spiritual awakening! So, if you have been feeling stuck spiritually, try thinking, praying & visualizing in different ways. I know, easier said than done. Let go & let the Spirit flow. The wind blows where it will. Don’t try to control it. Let it flow! If your image of the Trinity is a triangle, try praying & meditating on it as a circle of light instead. You may be amazed where it takes you! Let us pray… Almighty and everlaTroitsasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen! [NOTE: The above was a sermon given at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration,Mesa, AZ May 27, 2018 by the Rev. Laura Adelia]
It’s Pentecost. Happy Birthday, Church! Since we are a liturgical church, with our liturgy and worship organized around the events of Jesus’ life, and our lectionary selections deliberately chosen to set a traditional and historical paradigm for our celebration of Christ’s life, we can say, ‘of course it’s Pentecost’ because the liturgical year is part of our worship. But if we allow ourselves to get comfortable in our liturgical cycle, and congratulate ourselves on our (generally) well-chosen readings, we may miss the call our Lord extends to us. Now, granted, there are Propers for some weeks that may leave us wondering what the folks who formulate the lectionary were smoking, but we usually draw inspiration and guidance from our readings. If we’re stuck, then sometimes, the Collect will provide clarification. But if not, just maybe, the obscurity is meant to lead us further into Scripture, and maybe, conversation with one another. Not at all a bad outcome. But in this Season of Easter we have just come through, we can clearly see the joyous possibilities to which we have been brought. The readings for today encapsulate this journey! Last Sunday, Deacon Dan spoke to all of us about God’s call on each of our lives. Our Deacon spoke eloquently about what our God expects of us – lives of love and service to God, through love for, and service to, all of God’s creation, especially our sisters and brothers. Transfiguration is truly amazing at this kind of love and service. That’s a good thing. We take very seriously Jesus’ admonition in 1 John, that we can scarcely claim to love God, Whom we cannot see; if we turn away from those sisters and brothers we do see, or from those of whose existence we are at least aware. Now, even when we have an objective, we humans can, and sometimes do, bog ourselves down in conversation over Who, Where, What, and How we make that love and service happen. So we pray that when we like sheep start to go astray in that manner, the Holy Spirit is standing by with a VERY loud wake up call. Perhaps that’s part of what we do for one another; and perhaps we can extend our prayer to the Holy Spirit that we may have the grace to hear God’s call on our lives, however it comes to us. In the reading from ACTS which we heard this morning, Peter astounds us. We all love Peter. He is US. The fisherman we meet in the Gospels often doesn’t know what to say, let alone what to do. But that never keeps him silent, and Jesus is very patient with Peter. Even after Peter denies Christ three times, Jesus states forgiveness three times. Peter finally gets a little cranky with the three times our hero Jesus asks if Peter loves Him, but his answers are always affirmative. And our Lord says “Feed My sheep,” “Tend My sheep,” “Feed My sheep.” Here again, Jesus makes clear our instructions on how to live. And we see that God’s love for US is a “No Matter What” kind of love. Peter is US. Then, on Pentecost morning, when Jerusalem is full of all sorts of people from all sorts of places, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate promised by Christ, descends upon the disciples. We are NOT surprised when those gathered around begin to accuse the disciples of drunkenness, because after all, do we humans not often ridicule what we do not understand? Do we not fear what we do not know? No, we are not surprised at the crowd, but when our beloved Peter, who so often appears clueless, speaks up to defend the disciples, we ARE surprised. Peter is a devout Jew, and he does know his Scripture. Quoting the prophet Joel, his defence of Jesus’ Disciples is wonderful. And we recall that after the Resurrection Peter has boldly critiqued the Temple Establishment – “This Jesus, Whom YOU guys crucified. . .” Peter is given the words he needs in the moment he needs them. Peter is enabled by God to do what God calls him to do. Peter ultimately speaks and writes glorious theology. Look what God does. We LIKE Peter. He IS us. In Peter we see hope for what God will do with us! In the passage from Romans we are reminded that human history has always been painful. We have no trouble relating to the groans of all creation for redemption. One newscast, a little television, a little conversation with our friends and neighbours, and we KNOW through reading Scripture that we humans are still pretty much doing business at the same old stand. And STILL the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Still our hope is in God. Because in today’s Gospel, Jesus promises us all the help and support we could ever need, if we heed God’s call to us. Just like Peter and all the followers of Christ. And thus we understand what the Lord our God asks and expects of us. We know that God does love us amazingly, and we respond to God’s love with love for God and all God’s creation, all the days of our lives, hopefully. We know that God can and WILL use each of us, clueless or not, whatever our supposed weakness. We know What, we know Why, and we know How and When. If we think we don’t, we just need to ask. So, Happy Birthday, Church! THANKS BE TO GOD! Preacher: Susan Smith-Allen