The Invisible Among Us

Sermon Given on October 13th, the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 23.

It’s tough being on the outside, to be excluded from the group.

 We don’t choose to be excluded most of the time, except for those moments of principle:  it simply happens to us.  We get sick; we become part of the class of people who is unhealthy.  Sometimes we are quarantined; and then we feel contagious, so we avoid others; or deserving so we are ashamed.  If not, we ask, “how did I become such as one of these, a leper, an outcaste?”

We’ve been a part of the tribe;  we begin to notice the way people avoid our faces, who stop returning our phone calls, who quickly end their conversations with us.  Or there are the voices of pity and feigned concern, just enough time to assuage their guilt and truncate the relationship.  We become lepers.  Continue reading “The Invisible Among Us”


Fifty days after Easter, the spirit gave the apostles the power to speak in the languages of all the peoples.

It is a reversal of the story of the Tower of Babel. In that story, we tried to become like Gods by building a tower to the heavens. We were cursed to misunderstand and mistranslate. We would be caught in perpetual confusion, a consequence of our audacity. The source of violence in human culture was named: pride and misunderstanding – competition with the Gods for power.

Yet in this week’s reading, the spirit brings people together. Language to understand and comprehend rather than divide. The most holy work, in this case, is one of translation. And translation requires charity, because no translation is ever perfect.

Our age, however, has so compressed time and space that comprehension becomes very challenging: in part because there is too much to comprehend; and our words move exceptionally fast. Add that the same youtube video seen by people of two completely different cultures may be translated completely differently.

What characteristics do we need to handle our contemporary problems of “translation?”

First: we should remember that church – or any institution – should be an adventure. Charting new territories is fun and rewarding. Safety, quick solutions, and fads just postpone the inevitable.

Second – Tenacity: keeping attentive to the different ways we can improve. It means, also, plotting out small steps. A big vision is very useful, but it is also to map our small successes along the way. tenacity is how one learns a language – we are willing to keep speaking, even if we make a mistake. We listen carefully so that we can be sure we understand.

Last: listening. It is perhaps most true that the apostles were not just speaking in the language of the people, they were listening to the world.

There are immense difficulties here at St. Barts. And yet, there are also great opportunities. Let it be an adventure; and may we be both steadfast and resilient in the days ahead.


Pentecost Notes

Pentecost is one of those events that a good preacher is always wondering about. There are lots of opportunities in the readings.

The first reading, for many Christians, prefigures the resurrection. I’m not interested if this is a correct interpretation of the prophet, but it may allow for an interesting shape of what it means to be raised. A few questions come to mind: First, where are the bones from? How did they die? What made them perish? I may discuss how institutions die, stay stable, or thrive.

The passage from acts makes me consider language: how do we learn to understand each other? It reminds me of a book I read on the language of cats and dogs: that they have exact opposite signals when it comes to hunting or being friendly. Yet, some get along. I might discuss the problem of translation – that good translation requires charity. It is enough to understand to get the work done: not to get the sentences perfect. The apostles are given the gift of understanding – not just speaking. Perhaps the holy spirit is not really about being able to speak – but being able to LISTEN. Once we listen then we can practice the words we say.

The gospel. Here are the sentences that hit me: “And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” What does the world believe about sin and righteousness and judgment? It believes that people deserve the evil they get.

I admit, I find Jesus cryptic here when he says everything that is the Father’s is His and that it will come to us, or the hearers of the gospel. What is the father’s? What is it that will come to us? A feeling of peace? There is a sense that what comes from the father is the divine affection, a sense of wholeness, of being liberated, of not being afraid. How do we find ourselves in this place?

I might also use this time to preach about the nature of being a baptismal community: what does it mean to us? How does it feel? I might have them remember the last time they felt complete joy. The other day I was thanked and appreciated; I heard an inspiring song; one’s wedding. It might be a completely altering experience, like diving into freezing water. A baptized community encourages people to live their passions and share them with one another. I may extend the “song” metaphor: we’re baptized into God’s song….

Another way to look at language: people build language when they work together: sometimes it is more important not to talk, but to make things happen. As people work together, they create a new language.

God happens, the church happens: it is not just an institution – institutionalization may signal the death of the energy in a parish. The church, perhaps, is a catalyst for people making their lives happen.

Now time to go feed people.