“Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
Happy Pride Sunday! Again, such an honor to be here. It’s wild that I grew up here but never could I ever imagine as a young queer kid how church could ever be a safe or welcoming space for me. Or people like me. Can I just say real quick, PRAISE GOD FOR PLACES LIKE ST. AUGUSTINE’S! YA’LL ARE SAVING QUEER KIDS LIVES. AND THIS IS GOD’S WORK YA’LL. THIS IS KINGDOM WORK YA’LL ARE DOING OUT HERE. YES. IT. IS. CAN I GET AN AMEN?!
The gospel reading is pointed, isn't it? Jesus gives us the powerful and rich mystical truth of radical hospitality that shatters all cultural and social norms. Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, he says. And whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me.
Jesus gets at the basic truth of our theological anthropology here, that we are made in god’s image and when we welcome others we welcome God into our lives. Now this is a different kind of understanding of what it means to welcome. It’s an opening to a radical hospitality.
Jesus’ definition of welcome directly includes interacting with the Holy. Before we dive deeper into Jesus’ definition let’s think about what it means to welcome. What do you think about when you think about being welcomed?
Feeling at home? Feeling safe? Loved? Acknowledged? Seen? Heard? How about a warm and fuzzy? All of this makes up that beautiful word - welcome. I firmly believe this is why we chose the rainbow flag to be our flag, like who is offended or scared of rainbows? They are like God’s smiley face in nature! But that’s the point of such a symbol for the queers, we just want you to feel all the love and the warmth in the world ya’ll! And have you ever been around a group of queers? I know this Church loves itself a Pride Parade, Come on! But oh how joyful and beautiful and diverse WE ARE. Made it God’s glorious diversity.
Indeed, all gender identities, sexual orientations and human bodies are GOOD, A GIFT FROM GOD.
So Jesus knows this already and he is pointing us to this theological truth here again. When you welcome these folks, the least of these, the littles ones, he says - YOU ARE WELCOMING ME. Can’t you see folks, God is in all created order, every living thing. Even in the folks that you despise or find odd or make you uncomfortable by the way they look or perform their gender. And by the way there is a difference between discomfort and danger.
Our baptismal covenant reminds us that we are to respect and honor the dignity of every human being. This is what makes us Christians. This Christ-like attitude and way of seeing the world is what Christ always brings us back to - because it’s really damn hard. Because seeing the world as Christ does WILL MAKE US UNCOMFORTABLE. It forces us to look at ourselves and our own garbage we bring to relationships!
For example, It says more about YOU if YOU find a same-sex couple holding hands off putting. It says more about YOU if you can’t use they/them pronouns when someone asked you to! That’s your problem. Not theirs. God made that couple GOOD. God made gender queer and trans folk GOOD. WE have to do the inner work of stripping down our cultural and social assumptions and the stories our egos tell ourselves to really be able to see as God sees. This isn’t easy work. (We will get more into this later)
Another part of welcoming someone and making them feel seen and comfortable and all those words we mentioned earlier, is to actually know them! Know them well enough to know what would make them feel those feelings! Right?
You can’t tell a trans man he’s gotta use a woman’s bathroom just because YOU are confused and uncomfortable. This isn’t meeting someone with God’s love. This is meeting someone with fear. Have you ever talked to a trans person? Like really had a conversation with one of these beautiful souls? Read a book about them from their perspective? Watched a movie? I’d highly recommend Disclosure, which is Laverne Cox’s new documentary made with an all trans cast exploring the ways in which trans folks have been portrayed in film and television throughout American history.
It will take your breath away.
You see Jesus is asking us to essentially put ourselves in another’s shoes.
One of my favorite intellectuals and Black social activist, Rachel Cargle, insists that true allyship contains three movements - knowledge, empathy and action. I really think this resonates deeply with what Jesus is doing here. In order to welcome someone as God would, we must learn about God’s people in all their diversity - we must consider their perspective putting it over and above our own, lift it up as valid - and those feelings God gives us from loving God’s people without our baggage is what allows us to be transformed and act on behalf of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in the world.
Let me paint a picture of these movements for you.
A good friend and colleague of mine from Casady sat me down in his office a couple weeks ago and shut the door and told me he had been wanting to speak to me about something very personal. His college age son just came out as gay to him and the immediate family. And with tears in his eyes he said, “Sarah, as a gay woman that holds herself with such grace and strength, how do I support my son so that he turns out to be like you?” Okay so now I’m crying, we are both crying! “What a beautiful, honest question,” I said.
I said this is the first part, friend. You got over yourself and whatever garbage you have in between you and your feelings about this and made it first and foremost about your son! Because this IS what this is about. Your son just disclosed something so intimate and personal to you in complete and utter vulnerability in hopes that you would love him. And then you said “of course I love you, son, I’ll always love you, now how can I support you?” Ya’ll how beautiful is that!? Really?? I wish every queer kid had that reaction from their parents. We’d have a lot less pain and suffering in the world that’s for sure.
But my answer besides naming the movement he made in his heart to love his son first, was BE A PART OF HIS LIFE! ASK HIM QUESTIONS! ASK HIM ABOUT HIS EXPERIENCE! I don’t know why this part people seem to suck at so bad or why it is so frightening to treat LGBTQ folks as NORMAL HUMANS, GOOD HUMANS MADE BY GOD, IN GOD’S IMAGE! If it is normal for you to ask a straight person about their love life then why on earth aren’t you asking about your gay friend or daughter’s love life!?
Silence is violence. It severs vulnerability and authenticity in relationships and allows one person to hold all the power. It erases one person’s experience altogether. Silence erases queer stories and queer lives. Again, put yourself in my shoes. How would you feel if someone never asked you about your life? Your love? Your hopes and dreams? What if you couldn’t put a picture of your family on your desk at work for fear that you would get fired for who you love? How would you feel if people kept calling you the wrong name? If people kept assuming you dated men? It’s not just annoying, it’s exhausting and it completely shuts off the ability for God to work in and through our relationship.
Because when you refuse to see me, love me, receive me and welcome me with open arms like God does then YOU ARE REFUSING GOD.
If you refuse me, you refuse God. I’m gonna let that sit for a minute.
At the end of this gospel passage, Jesus promises reward for those who welcome him and others as God would welcome. And I don’t think it's the reward we have been trained in our evangelical culture to think it is. If we think of this as eternal life in heaven I think we’ve missed the point of this axiom.
The reward is more LOVE.
The reward is knowing God more through one another. That is more LOVE.
God’s LOVE is transformative. God’s LOVE Heals. God’s LOVE defies all our garbage, all of our dualistic categories and political affiliations. God’s LOVE is that whole milk that nourishes our souls and our hearts so that we don’t have to hate each other anymore. It’s a feeling of wholeness and peace that makes us stop caring about the divisive ways of this world and start loving one another, seeing one another and welcoming one another as Christ loved us first.
Now... let’s go Dance together, It’s Pride Month!!
~ Sarah E. Smith
In Christianity’s earliest days, every community had its own bishop. The bishop, assisted by presbyters (priests) and deacons, presided at Eucharist. At each Easter Vigil, the bishop would baptize, anoint with oil in the sign of the cross, and lay his hands upon the white-robed catechumens who had undergone a year of instruction preceding this event. As Christian communities multiplied in number, a bishop became responsible for several communities. Because a bishop could not be present at each baptismal celebration, priests assumed the responsibility for baptism. Subsequently, the bishop would anoint and lay his hands upon the baptized to “confirm” the baptism performed by the priest. In this paradigm, a bishop’s confirmation of a priest’s baptism had nothing to do with a reaffirmation of personal commitment. As the Church evolved, the perception of confirmation changed radically. Today, confirmation is perceived as an individual’s affirmation of their faith, and an individual’s baptism by any person is sufficient. In early times, catechumens were asked to leave before Eucharist was celebrated. Our current canons do not require a person to be confirmed to receive Eucharist. However in 2012 our national church rejected a resolution removing the requirement for baptism.
~Dr. Gil Haas
In Exodus, God instructs Moses to place one “omer” of manna in a jar “for your generations”. This jar of manna was placed before the Tabernacle for the next 40 years until the Israelites arrived at Canaan. An omer is a volume unit for grains, and the writer of Exodus explains that it is one tenth of an ephah. An ephah was defined as being 72 “logs”, and a log was equal to the Sumerian “mina” which is one sixtieth of a “maris”. The latter is the quantity of water equal in weight to a light royal talent; i.e., about the size of an average amphora or jar (around 30.3 liters). This makes the omer equal to about 3.64 liters. The omer does not fit well with the remainder of the ancient Jewish measuring system, as it constitutes 0.32 se’ah. A se’ah contained a volume which could be filled with 144 eggs. A mikvah, which is a ritual bath used for ritual cleansing after an impure incident contained 40 se’ah so that all parts of a person was covered. We should be grateful in our local Homeland’s produce section that we are not shopping in ancient Israel.
~Dr. Gil Haas
Excerpts from a Sermon Delivered on
The Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 21, 2020
The Reverend Joseph C. Alsay
“His Eye is on the Sparrow”
At the 86th Annual Academy Awards, the movie— 20 Feet From Stardom won the Oscar for best documentary feature film. The movie honors the unknown musicians who sang backup vocals for Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, U2, and many other stars.
Many of these backup singers were African-American women who grew up in church. Many of them had fathers who were pastors — like Darlene Love. Love, who is featured prominently in 20 Feet From Stardom and accepted the Oscar on behalf of the film. She wasted no time in her acceptance speech to Hollywood's glitterati: "Lord God, I praise you, and I am so happy to be here representing the ladies of 'Twenty Feet From Stardom.'"
She then burst into an enthusiastic rendition of one of the most famous gospel hymns ever: "I sing because I'm happy, / I sing because I'm free, / His eye is on the sparrow, / And I know he watches me."
The song comes from the words of Jesus in this week's gospel.
That's the message of this week's gospel "Don't be afraid."
It has been said, that particular phrase is used over 70 times in the entire bible.
"Don't be afraid," "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father."
Don't be afraid, for God sees and hears. He knows.
This is also the message from this week's reading from the Hebrew Scriptures.
Here we recall the rich family saga of Abraham and Sarah, the patriarch/matriarch of Israel, the founding couple of the people of YHWH.
After God promised Abraham a progeny with his wife Sarah in Genesis 15, they laughed in disbelief, then took matters into their own hands. This is a story that we sweep under the rug. This the skeleton that we relegate to the dark corner in the back closet.
Predictably, the pregnancy provoked Sarah's acrimony and jealousy. Sarah abuses and demeans her slave-girl. I can imagine that during their “Pillow Talk” Sarah told Abraham that we have an “uppity slave and you have to do something about it.” Abraham being the upstanding man that he is responds, “Whatever you say, honey. The slave-girl is yours. You take care the problem” So, wonder of wonders Hagar hits the bricks and flees like a runaway slave. Who could blame her? She goes not just around corner, but escapes into the yellow hot sands of the desert towards Egypt.
It is there, in the searing heat, that the angel of God found Hagar in the desert.
The child to be born would bear a special name. "You shall name him Ishmael," said the angel, which in Hebrew means "God hears me," for "the Lord has heard of your misery."
Hagar then "gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: You are El roi 'You are the Living One who sees me.' Beer Lahai Roi: " In a delightful play on words, Hagar exclaims, "I have seen the One who sees me."
Fast forward fifteen years to Genesis 21, which back tracks to the story of Ishmael.
One day, Sarah sees Ishmael "playing," with Isaac, and she cannot stand his very existence.
So once again, Sarah demands that Abraham banish Hagar and Ishmael. “Throw out that child and her slave mother, too."
Abraham gives Hagar a bit of bread and water and drives her and her child, Ishmael, out of the camp, dooming them to a terrible death in the desert.
Too easily any one of us may forget our own origins, may assume that we are far grander than we in fact are, and may begin to treat others as slaves and lesser beings.
Wandering in the desert of Beersheba, Hagar’s waterskins empty, she can’t bear to see Ishmael, the child she loves and bore, die in front of her eyes. So, she " began to sob" with the love of a mother for her child.
Then, from out of the ground, a well springing forth with water, a gift of God appears and saves the lives of Hagar and Ishmael.
Such an old story, and yet how current it finally is, offering a lesson that we still have yet to learn.
God is not deaf, dumb or blind or banal. He's not implacable or impassible, without feeling or emotion. He's not an absentee landlord deity or forgetful father.
God is infinite, but the story of Ishmael and the words of Jesus remind us that he's also intimate.
~ Fr. Joseph C. Alsay
The Feast of Corpus Christi is not found on the Episcopal calendar. The feast commemorates the institution of the Eucharist by Jesus on Maundy Thursday. The establishment of the feast resulted from many years of work by a Belgium canoness, Juliana of Liege. She experienced a vision of the moon with one dark spot on it which she interpreted as signifying the absence of a feast honoring Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. When this vision was relayed to her bishop, he celebrated the first Feast of Corpus Christi in 1229. Thomas Aquinas wrote our hymn 320 for this feast’s gospel hymn, and he wrote our hymns 329-331 for its vespers. This feast’s mass often includes a procession of the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance which is used in a special blessing of the congregation in a service called Benediction. In addition, many children receive their first communion on the Feast of Corpus Christi. On this day in 1519, Spanish explorer Alvarez de Pineda discovered a semi-tropical bay in what is now southern Texas. He named the city Corpus Christi in the Feast’s honor.
~ Dr. Gil Haas
Sitting was originally only the prerogative of the local bishop who, at the Eucharistic celebration, was the enthroned president. He was surrounded by the senior members of the congregation, or presbyters, who were seated alongside him behind the altar. No other seats were provided in churches, except for the elderly or infirm, until monastic choir stalls with misericord seats made their appearance. Misericord seats (also known as a “mercy seat”) were constructed so that the seats could be turned up when the monk was standing. Their underside had a small shelf, or misericord, which allowed the standing monk to lean against it, slightly reducing his discomfort during the lengthy divine offices. During the medieval period, backless benches in churches provided additional seating. However, it was not until the Reformation that extensive seating become common in deference to the prolonged musical settings of this period. Until the nineteenth century, the renting of pews to families was the primary way that churches collected funds for their operation. Contrariwise, free pews were common in city missions that served poorer communities. The first non-mission Episcopal church without a pew fee was the Church of the Holy Communion, New York.
~ Dr. Gil Haas
What do you think about, when you hear the word disciple?
The definition of disciple is: a student, a follower of a particular teacher or set of teachings, a devotee, a believer or admirer.
I wonder do you know any disciples?
In the bible we hear stories about disciples all of the time. We especially hear stories of Jesus’s disciples.
Today, we hear a story of a time when Jesus out teaching was in the countryside. He was feeding the hungry, healing the sick, teaching about the kingdom of God, setting prisoners free, resisting evil, and telling everyone he met the Good news of God’s unconditional love for them. While he was doing this, which is the thing Jesus always did. He called twelve of his closest followers to himself, and then sent them out.
He gave them a very special job. That was to go out into the world and be like him.
Being a disciple is sort of like that bracelet that was made famous in the 90’s was based off of Charles Sheldon’s book written in the 1800’s “In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do.” WWJD?
He asked them, he gave THEM authority to go out into the countryside and do the very same things He had been doing: To take care of the sick, to feed the hungry, set the prisoner free, to resist evil wherever they saw it; all the while to proclaim the unconditional love of God to everyone we meet.
That is exactly what they did.
It means we are all followers and students of Jesus.
It doesn’t mean we are perfect at it.
Look at the writer of our Gospel reading. Tradition tells us that Matthew was a tax collector.
Tax collectors were Jews who worked for Rome.
Because tax collectors worked for Rome, they could count on Roman cooperation.
Jews had a second reason for disdaining tax collectors. They believed that God alone was king. To pay taxes to the Roman emperor was to give to him what rightly belonged to God alone.
This helps explain why tax collectors were barred from synagogues and lumped together with sinners and outcasts.
So, when Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector, to be one of his closest associates, it was truly remarkable. It was yet another example of Jesus’ ability to see beyond what people are to what they can become, by God’s grace.
Jesus saw something in Matthew that other people did not see.
What does all of this mean for us?
It means we are all on a journey to become more and more like Jesus.
It tells us that Jesus didn’t always choose the most savory and most likely people to be his closest associates. He often chose the most unlikely, unimaginable and ordinary at least in our eyes, to do the extraordinary.
Second, it tells me that Jesus looks beyond what we are to what we can become.
He is not interested so much in our past as he is in our future.
He is not interested so much in our liabilities as he is in our possibilities.
He is not interested so much in our ability as he is in our availability.
Finally, it tells us that each of us without exception is a candidate to be called by Jesus to work with him in a special way for the spread of God’s kingdom on earth.
Because, now more so than ever, does the world needs the disciples of Jesus to help to bring about needed change we so desperately long for.
~ Fr. Joseph C. Alsay
The Book of Occasional Services is a wonderful depository of services for a wide variety of situations not mentioned in the Book of Common Prayer. One of these is for the “Celebration for a Home”. For this service a priest assembles with the members of the household and their friends in the living room of the home to be blessed. The service’s beginning can be elaborate (with Bible readings) or extremely simple. After the opening ceremony, the group (with one of the household members carrying a candle) move from room to room in the home - concluding in the living room. In each room, the priest reads an antiphon followed by a short prayer followed by a blessing and sprinkling of the room with Holy Water. There are specific prayers for a child’s room, a guest room, a bathroom, a workroom, a kitchen, a dining room, a terrace or garden, and a living room or family room. When the group has returned to the living room, a final prayer and blessing are given. Afterwards the people greet one another in the name of the Lord, Eucharist may be celebrated, and a dismissal is given. Convivial festivity follows.
~ Dr. Gil Haas
Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels mention James, Joseph/Joses, Judas/Jude, and Simon as brothers of Jesus. The same verses also mention “sisters of Jesus” (who are named in The History of Joseph the Carpenter [an apocryphal book written in the 5th century] as Assia and Lydia). However, to confound these statements, the Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary had become well established by the 3rd century, and this doctrine was accepted by Martin Luther (founder of the Lutheran church), Huldrych Zwingli (founder of the Reformed Church), and John Wesley (founder of Methodism). The History of Joseph the Carpenter explains that Joseph had a first wife who died, but she was the mother of James and the others - making them stepbrothers and stepsisters of Jesus. The Catholic doctrine further states that Joseph was 80 or 90 years of age when he married Mary, and their relationship was never consummated. Regardless, James became an early leader of the Jerusalem Church until he was martyred in the first century. Jude is believed to have written the Epistle of Jude. Joseph ‘Joses’ may have been one of the candidates to fill the vacancy left by Judas Iscariat.
~Dr. Gil Haas
With those few words we just heard, the entire movement of Christianity was set in motion. It’s called The Great Commission and Jesus sends out his disciples and friends into the world, to tell others about the good news of God’s love. He invites all people everywhere to be his disciples and followers. These words have significance in our family, in our church, in our country and in our world.
The understanding, that we had been commanded and commissioned by Christ to go into the entire world and share our witness with young and old, rich and poor, men and women, and those of different cultures, traditions and faiths is incredible.
The message of hope and light and love, in itself is phenomenally good news.
But when I look at the annals of history, I see a plethora of hurt, pain, loss and suffering.
That’s at the root of what we are dealing with right now.
The Rev. Dr. Jim Wallis has mentioned in his book “American’s Original Sin” is that our country’s foundation was tied to the near extermination of one race of people and the enslavement of another.
As many of you know, often when I preach, I choose a word for the day. A word that invites us to talk together, to learn together and to practice our faith together. The word for today, is not an easy word. The word I want you to grapple with and begin to have meaningful dialogue about, is the word Racism. I want you to talk about the word racism. I want you to think about the sin of racism.
Dr. King said, “Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots.” “But in the final analysis, a riot is the language or voice of the unheard.”
“What is it that America has failed to hear?”
We are not valued, respected or honored as being beautiful and made with the imprint of God on our very being. We are having protests and demonstrations to remember the lives of people who for over 400 years have been thought of as “less than.” Too often in our country African-Americans are killed simply and solely for being different.
So, when we hear Jesus mentioned in the gospel today, the Sacrament of Baptism. God is inviting us to be agents of change. God is inviting us to commit our hearts and our lives to dismantling the sin of racism.
In baptism, we promised to honor, celebrate and respect the dignity of every human being.
The God, who as we heard in our reading from Genesis said on the six day that humanity…the crowning apex of creation--was good.
Because every body is sacred and matters to God. If they breath they have purpose. If they breath that means God’s hand is on them. If they breath, they have the very spark of God residing in their being.
It matters not if they are red, yellow, black, brown or white. They are still all precious in God’s sight.
It matters not if they are gay, straight, bi, lesbian or trans. They are still beloved by the God who made them.
It matters not if they are Republican, Democrat, Independent or undecided they are of infinite worth.
It matters not if they are a saint, sinner, skeptic or seeker. They are still a child of the progenitor of all.
We’ve been given this opportunity in time to change the pernicious course we have been venturing down. We can choose to transform this season in our nation into something redemptive, or leave it as simply rubble and ruins that will testify to, and speak volumes of our unwillingness to listen to the cries of our siblings in their hour of distress and need.
~ Fr. Joseph Alsay
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.