Stories To Live By



Science may be described as the art of systematic oversimplification – the art of discerning what we may with advantage omit. Karl Popper

Blinded by the language of scientific oversimplification with its emphasis on proceeding by falsification our culture no longer understands the nuanced power of story.  Stories are things we tell our children as a substitute before they absorb a scientific simplified picture of the universe. Thus, we fail to see just how much our experience of reality is still story shaped because we are storied beings. So the important question concerns which stories are shaping our worldview. Stories can be dangerous.

Being unconscious of the multiplicity of stories shaping the way we see the world, we easily become vulnerable to the pernicious cultural-collective stories that claim us in ways we may not always be comfortable with.


school-bus-linus-and-lucy-peanuts-6273388-1280-960In the Peanuts cartoon, the following conversation takes place between Lucy and Linus.

Lucy: I have a lot of questions about life, and I’m not getting any answers!

Linus: Looks at her blankly

Lucy: I want some real honest to goodness answers….

Linus and Lucy now gaze into the near distance

Lucy: I don’t want a lot of opinions … I want answers!

Linus: Would true or false be all right?

Story and culture

Like Lucy, do we not also insist on reducing life to a series of true or false answers? The problem is that stories that shape our awareness are never simply true or false. Instead, we might better ask – is this story effective or not – how complete or incomplete a description of experience is it – is it expansive or restrictive – inclusive or exclusionary? Stories that are more complete, more expansive, more inclusionary are more effective than stories that restrict human experience, imprisoning us in definitions of identity and worldview that are too small and cramped to allow us to flourish.

Materialism is the pervasive cultural story of our time. It’s a story that promises a good deal more than it delivers. We live out personal and communal stories that promote an illusion; that our pursuit of more and more things or a better, glossier experience will plug the emptiness inside us. Our drive for more and more success, more and more power, and more and more attractiveness delivers less and less of that for which our hearts yearn.

Satiation is often the illusion we mistake for satisfaction, an overarching story that ruthlessly claims our allegiance.


What happens when the materialist story, a principal narrative through which we explain ourselves to ourselves, comes under threat? In 2018, much of the fear and uncertainty we are living through is the result of our materialist narrative now coming under threat from changes in the world we can no longer control.

Healthy stories do not necessarily replace unhealthy ones. Under threat, our materialist story is giving way to more primitive stories, stories of nationalist, xenophobic, and tribal identity that once again seek to claim us. The materialist narrative gives way before older, primitive stories that define our identity through suspicion and fear of the other.

For instance, we mourn the loss of an effective political direction for our society, because our current political narratives imprison us in identity spaces that are actually highly toxic to human flourishing. Current political narratives are too tight and rigid. They fail to provide us with enough wriggle room, something essential for growth.

In unstable times we become vulnerable to pernicious cultural-collective stories that claim us in ways we may not always be comfortable with.


As storied beings, we humans shape our future through the stories we choose or reject.  We can fill the uncertainty of the future with stories of fear and foreboding. Or, we can see the open-ended-ness beyond the shaken-up turmoil of the present, as a space to fill with the epic themes of courage, faith, hope, solidarity, and love.

As the old certainties of a social consensus collapse before our very eyes, we mourn the loss of shared civic values like honesty, truth, decency, and the cherishing of the common good. The vital question for today, Easter Day in 2018, surely, is this:

what stories will we choose to actively shape a future different from the present we are living through?

In 2018, we receive the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection as the next chapter in the longer Exodus epic story of liberation.

The Exodus-Resurrection epic story has indelibly and distinctively shaped American expectations. We hear its theme of expectation in the Founders Enlightenment language of liberty, fraternity, and the pursuit of happiness. We also hear it in the words of African Spirituals; slave songs of yearning-steeped-in hope, hope for liberation into the promise of new life. The expectation of inalienable – God-given liberation, is the shape of American cultural progress.

In a world desperate for the good news of God’s promise of new life, how might this story once again become the guiding story that shapes the choices to take us into an uncertain future?

I offer some brief observations on this question.

Responding to an invitation to collaborate with God in the restoration and healing of the creation, the first Christians became transformed, not as individuals by themselves, but as communities no longer afraid, no longer looking for places to hide from fear, no longer looking for scapegoats onto which to project their fear.

They became God’s instruments in a redemption from cruelty in a world long grown old. They discovered liberation from the cruelty of empire, i.e. harsh systems that worship power in a zero-sum game of winner takes all. Their liberation came through a story about love.

Learning from those who have traveled this road before us, we rediscover God’s promise of new life articulated in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a magic wand, reducing the complexity of the world to a series of simplistic true or false answers. It’s an invitation.

God invites our collaboration in the ongoing work of restoring the creation. Such collaboration requires we live resurrection-story shaped lives.

New life is not an individual gift, but one to be participated in through our membership of faithful, and loving communities. The Early Church Father, Tertullian noted one Christian is no Christian. What this means is together we participate in God’s invitation to be part of the solution of the transformation we long for.

Living resurrection-story shaped lives we discover first-hand that faith-inspired-love is stronger than violence; more effective and expansive a story to live by than stories that feed our fear and hatred.



What Lucy can’t quite grasp is that truth and the courage to believe come not through the certainty of a series of true or false answers. Truth and the courage to believe come instead through story shaped living.

We are the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and to one another about how we see the world. Our future will be influenced by the stories we choose today to be shaped by.

Resurrection is our Christian story about God’s doing with Jesus on the third day. But Jesus is simply the first fruits of God’s promise to heal and to restore the creation; a promise that continues to unfold through us in our own day.

The old, hard stories of fear play themselves out, and history shows repeatedly the ends to which they lead. This means that on Easter Day, 2018, our focus is not on Jesus’ resurrection – true or false, but toward what God might be doing in our resurrection-shaped lives. We stare in the headlights of the resurrection story of new life .

Can our future be different from our past? The answer will depend on which stories we – and here I mean we as a people, choose to live by.

May the stories we choose, awaken us to the invisible geography that invites us to explore new frontiers,

as we break the dead shell of yesterdays we risk being disturbed and changed,

to live the lives we long to love.

Living our resurrection shaped story we postpone no longer the life we came here to live and waste our hearts on fear no more.

Paraphrasing of John O’Donohue’s Morning Offering.


Good Friday Reflection 2018 from the Rev. Linda Mackie Griggs

There is a church near New York City where, at the beginning of Holy Week, the Celebrant at the Eucharist places a small nail in communicants’ hands with the host.

She kind of sneaks it in—you don’t see it coming; you just notice something metallic and sharp beneath the little wafer. You pause in a bit of confusion, registering after a second, that with Jesus comes a nail.

It’s an unexpected invitation to ponder.

You’re holding a nail.

Nails are normally used to connect; to construct. Yet today we are confronted with Nails that connect in order to destroy. They are joined with the Cross, as instruments of torture and death.And in that church in New York, each person has a nail.

What if everybody attending Holy Week services had a nail?

That’s a lot of nails.

The nails in the Cross on Golgotha weren’t just functional nails to effect a single crucifixion. These were nails of Empire.

Nails of oppression.

Nails of injustice.

Nails of indifference.

Nails of complicity.

The wounds from these nails weren’t just wounds in a single body. They were wounds of all the crucified.

The ignored.

The marginalized.

The enslaved.

The abused.

These are the wounds of all the broken.

When we gaze upon the cross, we are challenged to regard the nails; not just three of them, all of them. To gaze on the wounds; not just five of them, all of them.

We are here tonight to witness to the fact that each of us is holding a nail.

But that’s not the whole story.

The body that bore those wounds carried that cross and was nailed to it because of his passion for the dream of God—a dream of justice, compassion and nonviolence.

A dream that ran completely counter to the Empire and authorities that saw him as a threat and a disruption.

Jesus, the embodied Christ, carried that cross and hung upon it, and in doing so transformed it.

He transformed the cross.

He transformed the wounds.

He transformed the nails.


On November 14, 1940, German planes firebombed the city of Coventry England.

Hundreds died, thousands of homes were destroyed, and the medieval cathedral of St. Michael was left a smoldering shell. The following morning – Not a year later,

or after an endless series of committee meetings and feasibility studies,

but the next morning, the decision was made was to rebuild as a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world.

No hesitation.

In November of 1940, in the middle of the Blitz, surely by the grace of God,

grief and revenge were transformed into faith, hope and trust.Since then the rebuilt Cathedral has become a center for the Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation,

supporting efforts to ease conflict throughout the world.

And the symbol?

cross of nailsNails.

A local priest found three medieval roofing nails in the rubble of the Cathedral and formed them into a Cross. It has become an iconic symbol of hope, and healing for the broken—nails as they should be: connectors and builders.

It was a spirit of faith and hope that transformed the grief of Coventry into a tangible gift of reconciliation. It was that same forgiving love that Jesus embodied, offering himself as a free and costly gift for the healing of the world.

He forgave the cross, the wounds, the nails.

All of them.

Tonight Jesus invites us to the Cross. To regard and to feel his pain and the pain of all the forgotten, the marginalized and the victimized that he loves even now

and to the end.

Tonight let his love transform us, and the nails we carry.


Journeying With

imagesHe had come to celebrate the Passover. Having traveled from Bethany, Jesus entered Jerusalem through one of its eastern gates to wild acclaim from the crowds that greeted him by stripping the fronds from the palm trees lining the road.

The waving of palms was a gesture that tells us something of popular expectations for Jesus. Some 160 years before the triumphant Judas Maccabeus led his victorious partisans into the Temple, bearing palm branches with which they cleansed and rededicated it after the defilement by the Syrian tyrant, Antiochus Epiphanies. The waving of palm branches reveals something of the expectations of Jesus as another liberator, who in the mold of Judas Maccabeus had come to free them from the hated Roman occupation.

At the same time as Jesus was entering from the East, another triumphal entry procession wound its way into the city from the West. The Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate, at the head of his Roman Legion had also come up to Jerusalem for the Passover.

Pilate did not live in Jerusalem. He chose to avoid the city’s ancient warrens seething with civil and religious discontent. Pilate and his Roman administration preferred the sea breezes and Mar A Largo conveniences of Herod the Great’s former capital at Caesarea Maritima, now the administrative center of the Roman occupation of Judea.

Pilate hated and feared the crowds of Jerusalem most especially during the Passover celebrations. But he had to come up to the city on his once a year visit with a show of preemptive force in order to forestall the potential for insurrection during the flashpoint of the Passover. A wise move, for the crowds that hailed Jesus, were in insurrection mood.

Holy Week commemorates the events beginning on Palm Sunday of Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem before the Passover. Three narratives or storylines intersect and clash with an alarming result as Pilate, the crowds, and Jesus all become caught up in an escalation of events none could control. The storyline of worldly oppression and political violence intersects with a storyline of populist resistance and nationalist longing for liberation at whatever cost. Both confront the third storyline which concerns the next installment in the epic narrative of God’s love and vision for the world.

Events take an unexpected turn and rapidly spiral seemingly out of control, culminating on the eve of the Passover with Jesus celebrating the Last Supper with his disciples, followed by arrest, mock trial, and crucifixion the following day.

On Maundy Thursday we will gather to celebrate Jesus’ Last Supper during which he washed his disciple’s feet, mandated (maundy) them to love one another, before instituting the Eucharist by establishing a lasting association between the Passover bread and wine and his body and blood soon to be broken and shed on the cross.

Holy Week is the week during which we accompany Jesus on the way of his passion. For some of us, this can be an intensely personal experience as our own experiences of loss and suffering – our passion surfaces in identification with that of Jesus. For most of us, however, the nature of our Holy Week experience is less personal and more communal. We journey with Jesus as part of a community that journeys to the cross bearing within us not only our individual maladies and sufferings but the maladies and sufferings of the world around us.

Liturgy is a form of dramatic reenactment through which as a community, we are transported into sacred time. In ordinary time and space, we remember. In sacred time we become participants in the timeless events that engulf Jesus.

By timeless, I mean that liturgy is more than ordinary remembering, it is remaking again the past in the present. Liturgy ushers us into a dimension called sacred time where the temporal divisions of past, present, and future blend together in the eternal now. In sacred time we become participants with Jesus – as if we too are part of his band of disciples during that eventful last week:

  • Like them at his Last Supper, we experience the uncomfortable intimacy symbolized in his washing our feet.
  • With them, we share in the breaking and sharing of Jesus’ Passover bread and drink from his Passover cup.
  • With the disciples, we accompany Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane where we keep watch with him until Midnight.
  • Over the following 15 hours of Thursday evening and into the Friday we call Good, we follow as part of the band of his disciples viewing with dismay and from a safe distance, the unfolding of frightening events of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion.

On Good Friday, the Gethsemane Watch begins again at 5:30am.  Departing at 8:30am, , members from St. Martin’s join other Christians’ en-route to the State House for a public marking of this day. The Good Friday Walk is not an action taking place in sacred time but in the here and now. It is an act of solidarity that looks in two directions; towards solidarity with Jesus, and at the same time solidarity for the alleviation of hunger among God’s sons and daughters, our sisters and brothers. I hope that many of you will find time for both forms of participation on the Friday we call Good.

Stations of the Cross will take place at noon and the Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday at 7 pm.At the end of the Good Friday, we sing a hymn based on Jesus final words from the cross – it is finished. With the death of Jesus on the cross, the old order dies as Jesus begins his journey into hell where he vanquishes the ancient hold of evil over the world. We mark Jesus’ descent into the realm of the dead on Saturday.

On Saturday evening we gather in the waning twilight to celebrate the ancient liturgy of the Easter Vigil. Here in dramatic and timeless actions:

  • we kindle the new fire and welcome the new Light of Christ into the world.
  • we listen to highlights from the long epic story of our communal relationship with God
  • we renew our baptismal covenant and welcome the newly baptized into the Church
  • we celebrate with joyful noise the resurrection followed by an Easter party with champagne and chocolate.

On Easter Day we continue, joined by many from our wider community and beyond who are drawn to celebrate with us the resurrection – the new chapter in the epic narrative of God’s promise of new life.

Our memory fails us if we think of Jesus’ resurrection only in terms of “then” and not also in terms of “now.” We are not re-enacting Jesus’ resurrection; we are reappropriating Jesus’ resurrection power.-Br. Curtis Almquist SSJE

Visit our full Holy Week and Easter schedule here.

Finding and Being Found


I was nine years old and my family was on a camping holiday in the summer resort area of Arrowtown, but a stones-throw from the now fashionable ski resort of Queenstown in Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island. Each night the campsite hosted an evangelistic group, part of the Billy Graham Crusade, who showed movies and then issued a familiar evangelical ‘altar’ call. I remember thinking that I did want to put my hand in the hand of Jesus and make him my Lord and Savior. So I heeded the call and went up.

Did I understand the meaning of my action? No, I didn’t. Yet, I was motivated by something strongly felt within. Afterward, the evangelists escorted their new convert back to his family campsite, whereupon my essentially secular-minded parents reacted with concealed horror and quickly sent them away. I don’t know if a fear of child grooming was in their minds – in those far of days of social innocence concerning child abuse, I doubt it. Yet, an anxiety had raised its head; the anxiety of their son becoming one of those nutty religious people.

My essential childhood rebellion was, in fact, to become religious. Not in the nutty evangelical way my parents feared, but in a more conventional manner. After a flirtation with the heady energy generated by Vatican II Catholicism, I became a lifelong convert to Anglicanism – admittedly of a colorful Anglocatholic variety.

It seems strange and certainly unfamiliar to place the verb convert and Anglican in the same sentence. As the old Episcopal joke goes, those who should be Episcopalian already are. But conversion is what happened to me. My 9-year-old inarticulate desire to place my hand in the hand of Jesus found its fruition when at 15 I discovered the inestimable joys and richnesses of my first Choral Evensong.


Over the past five weeks, we have been invited into an intimate engagement with God through Jesus. In John, the identities of God and Jesus are impossible to separate out. This merging of identities between Jesus and God is a principal aspect of the theology of John’s Gospel, a theology of intimacy and the primacy of love mediated only through relationship.

This year’s Lent program Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John has welcomed us into a relationship with John’s theological priorities via short and pithy one or two liners, each a daily text upon which we have been invited to meditate and journal our thoughts and responses. I haven’t managed to journal every day, yet nevertheless, each day I have been reminded of my 9-year-old self’s desire to place my hand in the hand of Jesus. My 9-year-old self-felt the intimation of something it didn’t really understand. Today, some 54 years later, I now understand it as an early soul yearning.

Soul yearning is a painful business because the yearning seems never to be fulfilled in the manner we expect.


 Where are we to find God?

We approach John with confidence in its canonical status. We notice that it’s a different kind of chronicle from the synoptic tradition represented in Mark, Matthew, and Luke, but nevertheless, we assume its ‘gospel truth’ and we normally don’t puzzle much over how different John is from the other gospels. Yet, such is the difference between John and the synoptic tradition that it’s an amazing thing that the Church ever thought of putting John on an equal footing alongside the other three.

In the gospel for Lent V we listen-in on a snatch of conversation between Philip and a group of Greeks – maybe Greeks, maybe Hellenized Jews, it’s hard to know. But the gist is they approach Philip and ask him: Sir, we want to see Jesus. The Johannine Community was formed from at least three very different groups coalescing around the teaching of the man we identify as John the Evangelist; a gradual process beginning in second half of the 1st-century A.D. and completed around A.D. 90 with the writing of the gospel.

The alchemy of this process of assimilation led to the development of a distinctive theology that emphasized a high Christology that placed Jesus and God on the equal footing of preexistence. Drawing from the imagery of the opening verses of Genesis John begins with:

in the beginning was the Word (Jesus), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John’s Jesus is no longer the earthly Son of God, but the Logos or Word of God. God is Love, and Jesus is the divine communication of Love. Jesus becomes human in order to share with the world what divine Love looks like. The model of the relationship between God and Jesus then becomes the template for the relationship with divine Love for those who come to believe in Jesus. Believing is thus the paramount human response to God for John. Jesus’ commandment to those who come to believe in him as divine communicative Love is likewise simple;

love one another! By this shall the world know that they are of God.

Another distinctive aspect of the Johannine Community and its theology was the way the Holy Spirit becomes a personalized presence in each believer. Each believer is personally guided by the Holy Spirit. This gives the Johannine community a flattened hierarchy. It lacks an Apostolic teaching authority. Neither does it seems to need sacred spaces and rituals to worship God. John’s message is that God is worshiped only in Spirit and truth among those who practice the commandment to love one another.

John’s community is known as the beloved community. In his Gospel, everyone is simply a disciple following the inspired personal direction of the Spirit. The beloved community traces its identity through a collective memory not to Peter and the other Apostles, but to the disciple Jesus loved – the disciple known as John, the one who placed his head on Jesus’ breast at the Last Supper.

The end result of the absence of structure and hierarchical order, with everyone a free agent under the personal tutelage of the Holy Spirit, rendered the Johannine Community vulnerable to splits. In the early decades of the 2nd-century, we find in the 1st Epistle of John, written not by the same author as the gospel, the outlines of a condemnation of a secessionist movement within the beloved community.

John’s beloved community splits asunder in the second decade of the 2nd-century A.D. The split is essentially over what it means to yearn for intimacy with God – or as I have put it – to place one’s hand in the hand of Jesus. The secessionists, perhaps the larger part of the Johannine Community, played down the earthy importance of the incarnate Jesus, believing that they enjoyed a direct intimacy with God through the Holy Spirit. For them Jesus became redundant. Consequently, they no longer felt bound by the commandment to love one another as the principal hallmark of membership in the beloved community.

The remnant of the beloved community in response now draws closer to the Apostolic Christians who receive them in, eventually embracing their high Christology as a defense against the threat from the secessionist gnostic heresies of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The Apostolic Church gradually accepted the writing of John the Evangelist as a gospel, and by the end of the 2nd century has placed it in the canon alongside that of Mark, Matthew, and Luke.

What kind of God do we desire?

The renowned Catholic scholar on John, Raymond Brown summarizes the importance of placing John’s Gospel alongside Mark’s, Matthew’s, and Luke’s. The Apostolic Church:

Chose not a Jesus who is either God or man but both; it has chosen not a Jesus who is either virginally conceived as God’s son or preexistent as God’s son but both; not either a Spirit who is given to an authoritative teaching magisterium or the Paraclete-teacher who is given to each Christian but both; not a Peter or a Beloved Disciple but both. (Raymond Brown. The Community of the Beloved Disciple)


The Old Testament lesson on Lent V comes from the 31st chapter of the Prophecies of Jeremiah. In it Jeremiah looks toward a new dawn when God will make a new beginning with Israel:

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts … No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest…   

Jeremiah’s proclamation witnesses to an older and enduring human desire to place our hands in the hand of God and to know God not as other, but as intimate self. Both Jeremiah and John the Evangelist emphasize that this self-giving of God is to us as a people and not a personal gift to us as isolated individuals.


I think I was a lonely 9-year-old. Perhaps I felt no less lonely at 15, yet what I discovered then was that God found me in and through my encounter with a community.

My conversion was an experience not of finding, but of being found within a community at worship.

Since then, the continued pain and frustration of my futile search for God is because I keep forgetting that God finds me only in the presence of others, and not on my own.

Somehow this feels less of a gift to me than my expectation of being found personally, and uniquely.

In the face of my individual yearning to capture God and hold him to myself, God remains elusive.

We can so easily cast ourselves in the role of the seeker, diligently searching for God. Why is this? I think it’s because when we are the seeker, God hides. God hides, not from our soul’s desire, but from our searching-seeking-ego driven selves. In all our searching we fail to remember that God’s promise to us, a promise that echoes across transgenerational time from Jeremiah to John the Evangelist, is that God has first and foremost found us. We are not those who need to seek God, we are those who need to realize what it means to be already found by God.

The tension that destroyed the beloved community lay between those who believed that they could find God in an individual, personal, and privately special experience and those who believed God had already found them through their participation in the beloved community. It was these Johannine Christians who rejoined the church of the Apostles, which also believed that we are found by God in community, as a people.

As Anglican Christians, Episcopalians belong to this ancient Apostolic Tradition. We place community worship and solidarity of social action at the heart of any experience of being found by God. By being faithfully present in worship we commit ourselves to social solidarity with others, not in order to seek God, but because, together we hold to the promise from God that we have already been found


As we enter into the season of our Lord’s Passion; as we walk with him the way of the cross, we do not make this journey privately or individually, but in the company of others. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday. I invite you to be present this Easter not just on Good Friday or Easter Sunday, but throughout the unfolding of the liturgical journey throughout Holy Week leading into the Great Three Days of Easter. Be present with us as members of a community walking with Jesus to the foot of the cross – and from there, to journey on into the experience of new life on Easter morn.

The Homeopathy of the Cross


Allopathy treats illness by introducing substances different from those that cause the disease. The central idea is to use a substance that is designed to combat and kill the disease. Western medicine is largely based on the philosophy of allopathy. We are all immensely grateful for antibiotics.

Homeopathy treats illness by introducing small amounts of the very same toxin, which in larger amounts is the cause of the disease. Homeopathy aims to use the same toxins as those causing the affliction in order to strengthen the body’s tolerance and resistance, eventually enabling recovery. Many Western medical practitioners remain skeptical of homeopathic philosophy, yet the action of a vaccine as compared to an antibiotic operates in a very similar way to homeopathic principles.


I’m fascinated by the story in Numbers 21:4-9 about the infestation of the Israelite camp by venomous serpents. It seems that in response to their endless grumbling, God’s patience yet again comes to an end. God punishes the Israelites by sending an infestation of poisonous snakes among them with the result that many of them die. What really fascinates me is the implication of this story for a holistic understanding of spiritual-emotional-physical healing.

It’s an image of fighting fire with fire rather than deluging it with water. As is often the case, it doesn’t take God long to relent from his hasty acting out of anger. God instructs Moses to cast in bronze an image of the snake and raise it up at the heart of the camp. Anyone with snakebite has only to look up at the image, in order to be healed.

The real snake kills. The image of the snake of bronze heals. Fighting fire with fire rather than with water.

Numbers 21:4-9 is a graphic example of spiritual homeopathy. The same toxin has both the power to kill or to heal. The bronze image works like a psycho-spiritual totem. Healing is mysterious in the sense that while it may be impossible to trace the links in the steps of cause and effect – something the scientific mind likes to do, the effect produced is nevertheless real. Totem is the spiritual term that describes the bronze serpent.

A totem is a natural object believed to have spiritual significance. The totem of the bronze serpent raised in the heart of the Israelite camp exploits the matrix within which the poison that kills is now associated with the image that heals.

As a brief aside, it’s interesting to note that the caduceus, the double or sometimes single-headed snake symbol also known as the Rod of Asclepius is the symbol of Western medicine, the origins of which we trace back to classical mythology. But it also seems plausible that the imagery of the bronze serpent in Numbers draws from a larger tradition common across the fertile crescent of the ancient Middle East, eventually emerging into Greek mythology.


Some weeks ago in my post On the Loss of Transcendence, I drew upon the fundamental connection between joy and suffering. From within the matrix of self-transcendence both joy and sorrow flow. This is the paradox of human spiritual and emotional life; positive and negative feeling, weakness and strength, are but the double sides of the same coin.

This Lent we have been journeying in our daily program with the Gospel of John. On Tuesday evenings we have been exploring our experience of the daily program. St Martin’s folk, like most middle-class Westerners schooled in rationalism, find directly reflecting on spiritual experience to be challenging. Temperamentally we prefer to know about, rather than know directly. Therefore in the interests of balance, in the Sunday adult forums, Linda+ and I have been presenting on the historical and communal context that gave rise to the unique theological themes of John’s Gospel.

The Gospel for Lent IV is drawn from John chapter 3, where the writer we know as John draws explicitly from Numbers 21. In so doing he forges an astonishing theological connection between the totem of the bronze serpent raised up in the midst of the Israelite camp and Jesus, raised high upon the cross.


Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world …. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Jesus is raised on the cross, not as an allopathic (combative) condemnation of sin, but as a homeopathic source of healing. As we gaze on an image of suffering, John’s core theological theme of God is love connects joy with sorrow, love with fear. Like joy and sorrow, love and fear are both manifestations of the same emotional matrix. Within the shadow cast by the totem of the cross, the impulse of fear that erupts in hatred is transformed into new energy for love.


Socrates said that the unexamined life is a life not worth living. The season of Lent is akin to a laboratory for honing our capacity for spiritual reflection on the deeper currents that flow beneath the surface of our lives.

Beneath the surface of our day-to-day living, lie the toxins of shame, guilt, and the pain of relationship loss and failure –

that which the Irish poet John O’Donohue in his poem A Morning Offering calls the dead shell of yesterdays. But here also we find the grace of restoration and liberation or to draw from O’Donohue again to do at last what we came here for and waste our heart on fear no more.


Mostly, we try to manage this process of self-reflection by ourselves. But we can’t always manage it alone. We are relational beings, and so there is a limit to how far we can get by simply talking to ourselves or even talking to God within the privacy of our own minds. When we can’t make progress on our own, what is needed is to be able to share our struggles with a trusted person within a larger context of God’s grace.

On page 447 of the Book of Common Prayer, many Episcopalians are surprised to discover the section called the Reconciliation of a Penitent. Reconciliation is one of the objective sacraments of the Church. It sets out a process designed to aid us when we feel emotionally or spiritually stuck, as when we sense that something is blocking the reworking of the toxin of pain and confusion. Unlike modern counseling which brings a psychological framework to bear on self-examination, Reconciliation brings a forgiveness framework to bear on our internal struggles.

The challenge of forgiveness is not whether God forgives us, but can we forgive ourselves!

Self-forgiveness flows from the grace of knowing we are already forgiven. We encounter that grace when we come to stand in the shadow of the cross.

Infected by the venom of life’s snakebites, feelings of self-condemnation, feelings of shame and sorrow, we come to stand in the shadow of the cross. Here we discover that our sorrow brings us to a deeper appreciation of joy.

The principles of spiritual homeopathy show us that sorrow and joy form parts of a single matrix.

Standing in the shadow of the cross we come to also face those inarticulate longings of the deepest regions of our heart.

In the shadow of the cross we come:

haunted by the ghost-structures of old damageto be blessed by the longing that brings us here and quickens our soul with wonder – and the courage to listen to the voice of desire – the wisdom to enter generously into our own unease and to discover there the new direction our longing wants to take. (My paraphrasing from O’Donohue’s poem For Longing)

The Episcopal Church best sums up access to the sacrament of Reconciliation as all may, none must, but some should. Some people find in the Reconciliation of the Penitent a valuable and regular part of their spiritual formation. For others, it is a homeopathic healing action, taken at a particular time in pursuance of a restoration of an emotional and spiritual balance and health. Either way, this Lent why not consult with a priest near you?

“Let your anger depart from us.”

A sermon from the Rev. Linda Mackie Griggs on John 2:13-22


Lent came quickly this year, didn’t it? Hard on the heels of Christmas. But for some people that I spoke with before Ash Wednesday, it couldn’t come quickly enough. They may not have been mentally or logistically ready, but they were spiritually ready; for a season of reflection, prayer, and repentance. When the world comes to be too much with us it can be a genuine relief to step back, breathe, and relieve our hearts’ burdens by laying them down, opening them up, and naming them. That’s the beginning of repentance. It can be hard work to look deeply and critically at where we have missed the mark, but having done so we have a chance for a new start. And it’s easier to make a new start when we’re not carrying so much baggage.

So to that end, three weeks ago we began the annual journey of relearning who we are as Christians and whose we are as children of God. On Ash Wednesday, after receiving the ashes as a mark of our creatureliness and our mortality, we said the Litany of Penitence (which I commend to you for reading and prayer—p. 267 of the Book of Common Prayer.)

The Litany of Penitence is a confession, yes, but it’s more detailed than our General Confession. It gets specific about our sins, and I do mean Our. It is really important to read the Litany in the dual context of our selves as individuals and ourselves institutionally and culturally. This is when we turn our gaze not only to what have we done—or not done– but also to those sins in which we are complicit. It can be a searing examination:

We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us… Have mercy on us, Lord.

We confess— Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people, Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work. Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty, 

Have mercy. We confess. Accept our repentance. We are called to own up to our failings and to accept God’s invitation to do better. The Litany of Penitence makes viscerally real the harm that we have done to God’s people and to God’s creation. But the purpose is not to make us wallow in guilt. It is to make us pay attention. And change. That is what true repentance is—it is a returning, a realigning, a reconnecting.

Okay so far. But here’s where we can be drawn up short: 

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

“Let your anger depart from us.” 

I confess that I have struggled here. I have stood in this pulpit, and in that chapel, in KidZone upstairs and sat at the coffee shop in Wayland Square proclaiming a loving, merciful, creative and compassionate God, yet, here it is; a God whose anger seems to need to be appeased in order for me to obtain mercy. How do we absorb this? How do we reconcile these competing images?

“In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 

How do you un-see an angry Jesus? You can’t. Or perhaps it’s better to say, you shouldn’t.

Many of us—most of us, probably– prefer an image of Jesus’ face filled with love, wisdom, and compassion. The vision of Jesus’ visage instead suffused with anger, even outrage, wielding a whip of cords—this is hard to face, particularly for those who might have experienced anger directed negatively; in a way that is abusive, controlling, and manipulative. For these people, an angry Jesus is especially difficult to un-see, or to see in anything but negative, un-hopeful, light.

It is important, though, to remember that, just as love has many definitions—romantic love, agape love, parental love– so does anger. And if we are to engage this morning’s Gospel constructively we need trust that the anger of Jesus here is not controlling or abusive, born of his insecurity or fear. This is the protective anger of a parent who sees a child darting into traffic, yelling, “Stop!!!” This is righteous anger; an anger born of a need and desire to bring into alignment something that has gone off track—the kind of anger that can catalyze change. The kind of anger that can make people stop and listen.

So no, you can’t un-see an angry Jesus. But you can stop. And listen to him. You can try to see what he sees. According to New Testament scholar Raymond Brown, one of the motifs John uses in this passage is a framework of replacement:


’Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ … he was speaking of the temple of his body.” 

In positing Jesus as a replacement for the Temple, the author of John’s Gospel was alluding to the alienation of his community from the synagogue, and their need to reinterpret Jewish institutions from a Christian perspective. Here Jesus was redefining what was holy for God’s people. He was saying that the Temple authorities had forgotten who they were by effectively allowing commercial interests to be the driving force behind the worship of God. People could not have access to worship if they did not have the right currency with which to purchase animals to sacrifice—doves for the poorest and livestock for the wealthiest. No money, no sacrifice. No sacrifice, no worship. And this was a crucial issue. The Temple authorities had become gatekeepers, focused more on what could keep people out rather than what should invite them in. They had forgotten the essence of their identity—People of God who, before all else, were called into exclusive relationship with their Creator and Liberator: “I am the Lord your God…you shall not make for yourselves any idol…” The idol had become money. The idol had become access and control. And Jesus was calling them out.

Jesus was calling them to remember who they were. And in remembering their identity they were invited to see where holiness truly lay. Not in the stones of the Temple but in Jesus himself. The temple of his Body.

Think for a minute about Incarnation. The Incarnation—the embodiment– of the Christ in the human form of Jesus is an expression of God’s creative love for us; showing us how precious we are, and not just us, but all of Creation, which has been called the first Incarnation. Creation is holy. Creation is sacred—loved into being at the very beginning. And when Jesus stood in the Temple and declared that he was the Temple—tear this temple down and I will raise it up in three days—he was saying a couple of things. First, he was saying that God resides in the Temple of his body—a prime example of the High Christology that marks this Gospel. And he was also saying that not just his Body was holy, but all that God has created and called beloved is holy as well. Jesus may be the ‘big I’ Incarnation, but ‘little i’ incarnation is all of us, and it is no less holy, sacred and beloved.

So Jesus was grieved—righteously angry that the people had forgotten what was holy, and he challenged them to remember who they were and whose they were.

To repent

To repent is to turn. As we look into the face of an angry Jesus we are called, not to face him and fear him but to turn and to stand with him. With him and in him. To see what he sees. To see where we have gone off track, or where, like a cherished child, we’ve run into traffic, headed for disaster. He calls us to stop! To turn and see through his eyes the many, many beloved creatures of God that we do not see—that we do not truly see– for how precious they are.

The Litany again invites us:

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done:…for our blindness to human need and suffering… For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us, For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us…

Accept our repentance, O Lord. Help us to see what you see, through your eyes—the eyes of love. Accomplish in us the work of healing, wholeness, and reconciliation, that we may show forth your hope, your compassion, and your glory in the world. Amen.

















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