Our Sister Phoebe, a Deacon

Theological musings inspired by the Spirit and totally Ellen…

Archive for the category “Uncategorized”

In the Footsteps of Christ?

This year was the first in sixteen that I did not find myself in church for Holy Week.  Yes, I am on sabbatical for eight more weeks, but I decided to do something different.  I went about the normal business of the day and observed people, talked to them when I could, prayed for them and look for Christ in every face, engaged in lectio divina.  By Thursday of this week, I discovered that Christ wanted me to be still this year.  There are more years before me, many more Maundy Thursdays to wash feet and strip the Sanctuary, many more Great Vigils where I can carry the lit Paschal Candle into a dark church and sing, “The Light of Christ!” and later, offer the deacon’s prayer for all of creation, The Exsultet.  There are more Easter Days when I can sing ‘Hail Thee Festival Day!” and proclaim the Gospel of the Resurrection.

Yes, this was a year when Christ said, “Be still!”

Christ said, “Listen!  What do you hear?”

So many times I’ve wanted to walk in Christ’s footsteps during Holy Week, and experience that historic event that gave life to us all, and so very many times I failed.

Does Christ want me to give up my life for him?  Not in the sense that most people would think of giving up life – the physical life, but dying to self.  Making the core of my being the spark of life that is God, the breath of life that is the Spirit and the love that gives us life that is Christ.

The saints were every day people who led uneventful lives until that spark was ignited in them.  They were people like you and me.  It is what they discovered in the stillness when Christ asked them to be still that made them extraordinary.  It is what they did to proclaim the Gospel and live it.  It was reading past John 3:16, the Christmas Story, the letters of Paul, and getting to the very core of Christ’s ministry and message: “I have loved you, now you must love each other. Every time someone asks for a cup of water or a loaf of bread, I am asking for these things from you.  Every time you ask someone how they’re doing, you’re asking how my day went.  Every time you pray for a friend, a loved one, that guy on the bus who just found out he has cancer, I join in those prayers and even though you may not think it, I do hear them.  How you respond when that prayer is answered is up to you.”

Do you hear that in the stillness, the still, quiet voice?

I believe that at last, I am.


Ellen+, Deacon


99 + 1 = All of Us in a Holy Week, A Holy Life of Right Action

There is a wonderful blog entry making its way around Facebook. The author is David R. Henson and it is entitled “Protesting Holy Week.” Henson encourages and dares us to not just sit silently and adoring Christ in a pew this holy week, but to walk the walk and talk the talk. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and it is said on the very day and at the same time as the Roman prelate entered Jerusalem by a different gate with his armed cohort. Jesus’ followers were armed with palm fronds and hosannas. Later he trashed the Temple and upset the local economy, he healed, he taught, and later became a sacrifice. What can each of us do to live our holy week like that? What do we have within ourselves to emulate the extraordinary works of solidarity and humanity and more importantly, of love, that Jesus of Nazareth performed in that incredible last week.

Friends, don’t stand in place in the pews and feebly wave that palm, tomorrow morning; do something revolutionary. Do something that will help another person in some way. In taking that right action you will be taking a step in living out the mandate to love one another as Jesus loved and loves us.

Go in peace boldly, my sisters and brothers, go with conviction, go in the face of convention, to love and serve one another as the Lord serves us!

E+, Deacon

There is Life After Christmas…

Today is the third day of Christmas, a season the retailers would have you think starts in October and ends December 24th, but throughout the centuries, Christmas began on the feast of the Nativity and was celebrated for twelve days – the last day, the twelfth night, being the feast of the Epiphany when Christians traditionally celebrate the arrival of the three wise men to the place where the Holy Family resided after Jesus of Nazareth’s birth and when gifting of presents to one another in remembrance of the gifts of the Magi to the Christ Child, originally began.

What more can be said of a holiday that everyone knows, many celebrate, and for many, is held sacred and dear?

Christmas decorations are being pulled down, trees are kicked to the curb, and SALE signs replace gawdy displays in storefront windows; carols are forgotten until next year.

Now is the time to sing those carols!  Now is the time to ponder anew on the birth of a child that would become one of the greatest and yet unknown men in humanity’s history.  Now should we light the candles and raise cups, cherish our time with loved ones.  The greatest gift has been given to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and we in turn, can offer this gift to others as witness to a faith that ever changes with new possibilities and strengths, even in those times when we think faith is not there.

Every year at this time I remember back to my childhood and how I called the time after Christmas the ‘dark time.’  All of the peace on earth and good will towards all seemed to get kicked to that curb with the trees stripped of tinsel and lights, baubles.  The smiles and cheerful exchanges of “Merry Christmas!” and “Happy Holidays!” have dissolved.

This time after Christmas and through January seemed so dark to me.

But how wrong I’ve been!

There is light and something bright and new in the world and it comes every year at this time.

The birth of Christ reminds us that from humble beginnings and a small child will come great love and salvation.  Shouldn’t that be something to smile about?  Something to look forward to every day?

How wonderful it would be if we could just learn to keep Christmas in our hearts all year ’round – the darkness and disappointment would be nothing.

Merry Christmas!




Let it be With Us…

I don’t think any of our great Oscar-winning film directors could do justice interpreting the story from Luke that was this morning’s Gospel lesson – we know it as the Story of the Annunciation, found at Luke 1:26-38, when an angel appears to Mary of Nazareth and informs her of God’s plan and her important part in that plan.  How can you truly capture the beauty, profundity, and humanity of that brief moment in history that changed all of our lives?

Artists working in every medium have interpreted the Annunciation of the Lord – the Italian masters with their elegant madonnas seated before prayer desks and reading scripture in Tuscan porticoes and villa gardens, the Flemish school with its serene and clever-looking Maries receiving their heavenly messengers in opulent, well-appointed bed chambers and libraries in town houses overlooking canals.  Each of these paintings proclaim the good news that came to Mary of Nazareth and became even greater news for all of us.

It is, in my opinion, the nineteenth century painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti that conveys the story best of all.  It was executed between 1849 and 1850 and is entitled Ecce Ancilla Domini! – Behold the Handmaid of the Lord!, or The Annunciation. I came across this picture when I was a teenager and that painting has stayed with me.

Painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1849-1850, The Tate Gallery, London

Rossetti has captured the moment Gabriel appears to Mary.  The setting is a sun-lit, sparse bedroom.  You can almost feel the heat of the morning, a spring morning.  None of the opulent clutter and color of the medieval and renaissance masters are here, for everything is clean and white in appearance, from Gabriel’s sleeveless tunic to the linens on Mary’s bed – but there are touches of color.  There is a blue drape hanging near the bed and a bright red scarf upon which a lily is embroidered.  Gold flames encircle Gabriel’s feet – the presence of the Lord, or the means by which the archangel has appeared?  Or both?

The archangel is in mid-step, approaching the bed where Mary is cowering.  She looks a bit apprehensive, a bit perturbed.  Off in the background and ready to light is a small white bird, a symbol of the Holy Spirit – barely noticeable yet present in the moment.  We’ve experienced that ourselves, haven’t we?  Moments and instances when we knew, we absolutely knew the Holy Spirit was with us.

And it was so with Mary, in life and in this painting where we see Gabriel’s left hand raised in greeting.  In the archangel’s right is a lily, a symbol of purity, that is offered.  Mary, as I’ve mentioned, is up against the wall in a corner, looking apprehensive and perturbed.  She looks to me as if she wants to be as far away as possible from this heavenly being.

I know I would – at first.

After all, it is very human to be afraid of what we do not understand, nor is logical to our modern mindset.  I don’t know what I’d do in the circumstance, I really don’t know – except be frightened.

What would you do?  Would you shriek in terror and cower against the wall, clutching a pillow for defense?  Would you roll over, pull the covers up over your head and ask Himself to shut the door on its angelic way out?  Would you yawn, mumble, grab the alarm clock and check the time?  Make it a WTF moment?

What would you do?

What Mary does is astonishing.

She accepts what is given to her,  a place in humanity, with obedience, surety sight unseen.

Mary receives some very sobering news from Gabriel.  She has found favor with God; she will conceive and bear a son whose very existence will transform the world.  The author of Luke tells us that she accepts the news, not that she ponders it for a moment, but simply states, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your Word.”

God has made the decision and it is good enough for Mary.

Now, did Mary understand what had been decided for her?  Did she know what she had gotten herself and the world into?  I wonder what would have happened if Mary had simply said, “No.”  Would God have gone about looking for another girl in a small Judean village?   What if no one had said yes to God?  Our world would be a lot worse than it has been in the past and recent times!

Mary’s unconditional acceptance of God’s will would ultimately lead to the greatest sacrifice of all – giving birth to a child who would grow into manhood and sacrifice himself for us out of acceptance of God’s will, out of love for God and out of obedience to God.

She would watch him die a criminal’s death.

During that agonizing day, did Mary reflect back on the morning the archangel appeared to her, remembering how it all began?

The news was undoubtedly unsettling to Joseph and to her own mother, Anna, yet they, too, accepted the Lord’s will.  One can imagine that Mary settled into her role as wife to Joseph the Carpenter and as the child grew in her womb, felt the baby move, anticipated the birth of this, her first child, and dreamt about what the child would look like, consider his future, ponder all the things young mothers are wont to do.   Perhaps the archangel’s message never strayed from her thoughts.  She knew she was not your typical young mother in first century Palestine.

Mary’s acceptance, obedience and sacrifice have her a place in the kingdom of heaven set apart from the rest of us.  She has been called the Queen of Heaven and revered as a mediator, our lady of sorrows who wipes away our tears and comforts us; she is the mother of us all.  She is above all, the Christ Bearer, a child theotokos that no woman alive in the past or present could equal, yet we have been held to her standard by some to this day.

What if I told you, as I mentioned before in an earlier post, that Mary was like you and me?  She was a Jewish girl who lived an ordinary life until that moment, expected all that came to girls of her time, and received something entirely different.

And yet, she was a girl.

She is that apprehensive girl, she is a person who loves God and wants to please the Lord by doing what is asked of her.  She is someone going about her business when God spoke and she responded.

God speaks to us and we respond.  We may not have been chosen to bear the savior of the world, but even so, we respond as best we can and within our means to do so.


By returning God’s unconditional outpouring of love and loving Christ and transforming that love into a community of faithful that has withstood many trials and tests over time.  Here it is close to the middle of the first decade of the 21st century and here we are, days away from commemorating the birth of his Son, and today remembering a young girl who said let it be.  Let it be according to your Word.

I invite you to look at this marvelous painting by Rossetti I’ve described here, or any of the countless painting and illustrations of the Annunciation and meditate on what this young girl of Nazareth did and how simple acts of acceptance, obedience and sacrifice improved our lives.  That about what it would be like to be visited by a stranger who carries good news from God – news that you or I could make a difference to others and to the world.

We can hide under the covers or stare in trepidation at the messenger before us and wonder what’s up, but ultimately, I hope you and I will, knowing that it is right and good, give ourselves completely to God, and be like Mary, saying let it be with us according to God’s word.

Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord,


Its Not Me.

As it happens on the third Sunday of Advent, we turn to the most Christological of the four Gospels, John, for our lesson: John 1:6-8. 19-28.  Again, the lesson introduces us to John the Baptist.

John’s ministry is full-blown when we meet him.  He is at Bethany near the Jordan River baptising and making new converts to his call to repent.  It is on quite a few peoples’ minds that this prophet out in the desert may just be the Messiah the people of Israel were waiting and praying for – chiefly, the Pharisees, who have sent the priests and Levites to question John.

Are you the one who was foretold, they ask?  Are you the Messiah?

No, it isn’t me, John replied.  He wasn’t worthy enough to untie the dusty, dirty sandals of the one who would follow.

Just who was John?

We know he was a cousin of Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah.  Prior to his ministry, John may have been a member of the community at Qumran in the Judean Desert, but this is not proved.  As with other community members, John had priestly connections and believed in imminent divine judgment; he opposed Jerusalem and the Temple, and used water as part of his ministry and the focal point of it.  The quotation from Isaiah 40:3 may have given the community its rationale for being in the desert:  “A voice cries out, ‘In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.'”  However, these links between the community at Qumran and John are not strong and the Gospels have John working independently from it, or any other religious group.  John’s work anticipated and overlapped Jesus; indeed, it will be John who baptises Jesus.

John’s ministry of baptism was directed to the oppressed people of Israel to make a new beginning with God.    As I mentioned last week, the location of this work was very significant: the desert wilderness was a place of new beginnings; people were called to come to John in the desert and seek forgiveness not by a Temple sacrifice, but by a ritualistic cleansing.  Just as the Israelites came out of the wilderness to the Promised Land, came through the Red Sea out of Egypt, now people were making a new covenant with the Lord, a new commitment, by confessing their sins and being washed with the waters of the Jordan to begin a new life.

This work put a chasm between John the Baptism and traditional Jewish values and law at the time Temple authorities sent the priests and Levites to question John.  No, John said, undoubtedly over and over, he was not the Messiah, but was preparing people for the one who would come after him, someone more powerful than he.  That someone was Jesus.

John’s ministry marked a transition between the old age and the new age that would begin with the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth after his baptism in the Jordan.

No,  it wasn’t John.  It was someone greater.

But one cannot deny John’s place in history as a great prophet and as a leader who turned peoples’ hearts and minds to what was truly important – love of God and one another.

Go in peace,


A Man From the Wilderness

The church year renews itself and for 2011-2012, we use Cycle B, which is the Book of Mark for our Gospel lesson.  Yesterday, we read the beginning of Mark, Chapter 1, verses 1 through 8.  This text quotes the Hebrew scripture for the day, Isaiah 40:1-11, including the powerful “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

The desert was where things happened.  And where people ran to hide – Moses fled there after he killed the Egyptian overseer; Elijah hid from Jezebel; David hid in a desert cave from his enemies; Jesus went there after John the Baptist was executed.  In the early centuries of the Christian church, men and women seeking solitude to pray to God and live contemplative lives left the cities and towns and lived in the desert.  John the Baptist undertook the ministry bestowed on him by God in the desert.

We don’t know why John chose the desert, but it’s a good guess that he knew he was called to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy, to prepare hearts and minds for the advent of Jesus of Nazareth.

John was preparing people for a new way of thinking, of doing, of being.  His plunging of people into the waters of Jordan reenacted the people of Israel being delivered from the Pharaoh, of coming through the Red Sea.  This was an act of salvation, deliverance and commitment.  By rising up from the water, the men and women who came to John made a promise to God to live differently than they had before – honoring God before all else in life, make a new start, just as the Israelites had when they crossed through to the promised land.  John was also called to prepare people for the moment when this new idea would be taken a step further, and that would happen when Jesus arrived on the scene.

John is one of those prophets that intrigues and frightens.  Let’s be honest: if a man wearing camel hides, dirty, disshevelled, gaunt, sunburnt, came walking up the center aisle of your place of worship, what would be your first reaction?



Would you know he was a prophet?  Would you ignore him like so many of us ignore the homeless and the different folk that sleep on our sidewalks and under our bridges, in shelters made out of refrigerator cartons?  The people who ride transit all night to stay out of the cold and rain?

Would someone like John be welcome in your faith community?

Sometimes the message is even more disturbing than the messenger.

It’s easy to look past the person and pretend he or she doesn’t exist.  But what if the message is so compelling you can’t forget it, can’t shake it?  That’s what John was doing.

And when Jesus came along…hold on to your hats.


Awake, Awake, Yes, I’m Trying to Stay Awake…

The church year begins this morning, and we enter a brief season of anticipation, we now hear the words of the Gospeller Mark at chapter 13:25-37.  Jesus’ last words in this portion of scripture are “And what I say to I say to all: ‘Stay Awake.'”

When I read this scripture, I immediately was drawn to those Christmas Eves when I was a child – going to bed as told at 8:30 a.m. and then lying awake until midnight or past, waiting breathlessly for Santa and the Christ Child, in that order.  And still you and I wait.  Now we don’t wait to run into the living room to see what is left under the tree; now we wait for the advent of Christ in human form, God made manifest in a child who became a man, who offered himself up as the supreme sacrifice of us all.  This is a yearly vigil that is refreshed every autumn at this time.

What should we do to keep vigilant?  To stay awake, for we don’t know the day or the hour, the time in which Christ will return to humanity and a new world order proclaimed?

As we prepare for the coming of Jesus, we take this time to cleanse our hearts and minds of those things that keep us from hearing the Word – anxiety over daily tribulations, petty jealousies, finding ways to get ahead, envy, greed, selfishness.  These next weeks give us an opportunity to empty ourselves and make room in our hearts, minds, and souls for the unconditional love of God and Christ Jesus, a love that transcends all else.  In doing so, we prepare ourselves for the work we have been called to, each to their own ability and capacity.  We open ourselves to ministry to one another and ourselves and Christ and this season of preparation makes us ready for another year of holy work by holy people.

Stay awake – when you see someone passing by, wonder in your heart if that is the face of God and give thanks for the blessings bestowed; stay awake to hear the good news either preached with words or by deeds; stay awake to extend Christ’s love to someone in need.  Stay awake, for when Jesus arrives, he will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant – thank you for keeping watch.”

Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord!


La Vita Nova

Today begins a new year and la vita nova for me – the new life.  I’ve come down the moutain a tiny bit and now I will worship in new places with new communities, while I hear the still, quiet, voice, listen, and discern what it tells me.  I am soooooooooooooo excited!  And a bit scared, too.  Who wouldn’t be?

Who Do You Say He Is?

The Gospel assigned to this morning, a feast day traditionally called “The Feast of Christ the King,” is Matthew 25:31-46.  In reading it, I see very little of the pomp and circumstance of royalty, save the Son of Man coming in glory and sitting on a heavenly throne with all the peoples of the world coming before Him.  Here, he separates the sheep from the goats.  The sheep are those who follow Jesus of Nazareth’s mandate that whatsoever we do to comfort the afflicted, whether it be feeding, clothing, offering counsel, quenching thirst, healing, we comfort Jesus – we do it to him and for him.  The goats are those who do nothing and they don’t get to stay there at the throne.

This is not a temporal king.  Jesus himself in the gospels never once said that he was a king, let alone a wordly king – a king that some of his followers hoped he would be, the kind that overthrew empires – he was proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of Heaven was there and then on earth, it was and is now.

What we may read in this morning’s pericope is the job resume of a man who shepherds his flock (that being the children of God and especially Jesus’ followers) and attends to their needs, inviting members of the flock to care for one another as a show of love for him and each other.

Can’t remember a king in history doing that, other than Martin Luther King, Jr.

So what is this Feast of Christ the King?  Why do we insist on calling Jesus of Nazareth the King of King and Lord of Lords?

A review of church history shows that this particular feast is not an ancient one; it was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 to celebrate and observe the all-embracing authority of Christ, which would ‘lead mankind to seek the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ.’ *  Since 1970, the feast has been kept on the last Sunday of the church year, i.e., the last Sunday before Advent.

Some Anglican churches observe this feast, and that has always been a puzzlement to me, since the Anglican Communion grew from the Church of England, which was founded by Henry VIII as a way around the control of the Papacy, the ultimate medieval monarchs with power and control issues.  In the United States the Anglican Church took root after the English settlements of the 17th century, and after the Revolutionary War, the Episcopal Church was founded as an autonomous body and is now one of the members of the Communion.  There were and are no kings in America.

And yet today we call Christ the King.

If we’re going to perpetuate this feast and this observance, then let’s put a different spin on it, shall we?

This king is no monarch set on a dais clothed in ermine and holding sceptre and orb surrounded by his nobles.   This is a man for all  people.  All are welcome at his table, not just dukes, earls, barons and emissaries.

Jesus does something few monarchs on earth have done.  He cares for the poor – not just as slaves and laborers, but as individual children of God.  When he rallies his vassals to wage war, it is not on another kingdom but on the worst of human conditions: poverty, injustice, prejudice, ignorance and disease.  The largess he distributes is not purses of gold for jobs well done in tournaments or spying in other courts, for building massive keeps and tremendous cathedrals, but the Word.  It is given to all who believe and it is incumbent upon us, his disciples, then and now, to continue gifting this precious coin of God’s realm.  He invites us to believe in him, in his mission and ministry and to accept the unconditional love of God.  We do not walk on this journey of faith and social activism alone.

No, this is not a king that we’re used to.  We get a glimpse of that kind of monarch in the book of Revelations, but is this really the Jesus that walked the earth and spoke to the people, upset the merchants and moneylenders in the Temple, healed and comforted?  Matched wits with the Temple authorities and the Romans and won on so many levels?

If Jesus is the kind of king that sits on a throne with angels surrounding him as we approach the great audience chamber where the robes fill the room to the doors, I just bet that Jesus would also be the kind of man who would rise from his throne and extend a hand in greeting as he walked halfway down the hall to meet you, and offer an embrace and welcome you into the Kingdom of Heaven; he would be the person standing beside me as I help feed the hungry and clothe them, comfort the afflicted, and stand up to the comfortable.

*Encyclical Quas primas, 11 Dec. 1925

What’s Fair in the Kingdom

Today’s Gospel lection is taken from Matthew, chapter 25, verses 14-30 – we know these verses as “The Parable of the Talents.”  A wealthy landowner gives three of his slaves money, talents, to safeguard for him while he goes on a journey.  To one of the slaves he gives five talents, to the second, two talents, and the third receives a single talent.  The first slave doubles the five to ten by his trading, as does the second – doubling his talents to four.  The third slave, however, takes the single talent and buries it the ground.  When the landowner returns, he rewards the first two slaves for their efforts by entrusting them with more responsibilities and gives them his favor.  The last slave, however, states that he knows the landowner is dishonest and makes his living off the toil of others, ‘reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed.’  The slave’s fear of the master prompted him to hide the money and then return it to him.

“Well done, good and trustworthy slave!”

Was it?  Was it well done?

Two thoughts came to mind as I read this scripture.

This is a parable about God entrusting to his children of the Kingdom the task of evangelism, of building His church by taking a community of five and growing it to ten, of taking a group of two and making it four, so that the Good News is shared and sent to other communities where it can be heard, marked, and inwardly digested.

This is a parable about the wealthy increasing their wealth and the poor having what little they already have taken away, a cautionary tale about choosing what side to play on, what principles to put priority on, what kind of life that we live.

Or, it can be both: we take the mustard seed and plant it, giving God the credit for our efforts, for it is God in Christ that inspires the words with which we proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven in our midst and watch as five grows to ten, two becomes four, and so on.  We fail miserably if we take that one coin and hold it in our hands, be fearful of God and hide it away so that it won’t be stolen, and do nothing with it, sort of like, “I’m not religious, but spiritual; I don’t need to attend a church to believe in God or a higher power.”

Yes and no.

Some of the greatest theologians in the Christian Church were contemplatives, spritual people, who in their solitude and quiet, connected with God and gave us some of the most beautiful Christian thought; and yet, everything Jesus did was in a community – yes, he had solitary moments, but all of his miracles, all of his teaching, and his ignominous death were public – shared by the community.  You can have your prayerful moments, but the real work in expanding the Kingdom comes when we do it as a community with like interests and goals. Again,  Jesus of Nazareth didn’t proclaim the Gospel alone; he had twelve men that we know of in his inner circle, and many more women and men to follow his teaching and way of life, to take a movement and turn it into a force for love and good.

Like my Anglican faith, I am ‘via media’ – the middle road.  I am both contemplative and a person of right action and use each of these charisms separately or in combination depending on the situation or work that needs to be done.

In any event, what we are required to do, what is mandated, is that we proclaim the Word that is Christ in our actions and our word; we are called to love one another as we love ourselves and more importantly, as we love God.  We have been given the coinage of the realm, the Gospe,l to increase in the hearts of the faithful, and it is our responsibility to make sure  those who have an abundance are prevented from taking away the ‘nothing’ from those who already have nothing and are less fortunate in their circumstance.

The Kingdom of Heaven is where equality is the norm.  It is a place where all are good and faithful servants for they take what is given to them and see that it is increased for the good the community, and protect what little some have.

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,

Ellen, Deacon

Post Navigation