Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fifty Under-Fives

Yesterday I joined children, teachers, and parents from my younger daughter’s school on a field trip. We went to a farm and then to one of those noisy child-centered restaurants for lunch.
I was struck by the easy grace with which the teachers managed the day. The teachers in my daughter’s class returned from the field trip to ready the children for afternoon naps and prepare themselves for activities with the children after nap-time. I went home exhausted to take a nap myself. I could see fatigue etched on the faces of other parents who had come along for the fun. As I closed the door on my daughter’s classroom it was good to see the teachers, though busy preparing cots for nap-time, still available with a smile and a hug for a tired toddler whose mommy was heading out of the door.
Child-care workers are not among the highest paid employees in this country though we trust them with our children - perhaps our greatest treasure. They are among the people who make our way of life possible.
Today please join me in prayer for all the people who take care of our children.

God, guard and guide all child-care workers.
Bless them in their work and in their leisure.
Sustain them with your loving presence when the children are a trial,
Give them loving patience.
May they be filled with joy in their special ministry.
In the name of Jesus. Amen

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Proper 12-Sermon for St. Mary's Foggy Bottom-July 26, 2009

2 Kings 4:42-44
A man came from Baalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.”
But his servant said, “How can I set this food before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” He set it before them, and they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord

John 6:1-21
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea f Galilee, also called the sea of Tiberius. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with is disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked u and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Sic months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered up the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done they began to say, “This is indeed a prophet who is come into the world.”

When Jesus realized that they were about to tale him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountains by himself.

When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. the sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him in to the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

My husband once told me that when he starts to feel anxious about money he reminds himself that this is the time to be generous and open-handed. God, he says, cannot put anything into a clenched fist.

His theory of stewardship is one that I have seen at work in some of the poorest of places.
I spent a year of my seminary education at the college of the Transfiguration, the Anglican Provincial seminary in Grahamstown, South Africa. I did what was called field education, hands on training, in two parishes there. St. Clement’s and St. Philip’s. St Philip’s was a Xhosa-speaking congregation in Rhini, the black township that clung to the hills surrounding Grahamstown. The population of Rhini was, for the most part, desperately poor. Unemployment ran at about fifty-percent. And that figure took no account of those who were underemployed. Many only worked two weeks each year during the period of the Grahamstown Arts Festival when the city became a tourist Mecca.

The congregation at St. Philip’s was marginally better off than average. That is not saying much. But some members of the congregation had steady jobs: they were teachers, nurses, shop assistants or domestic workers. Others relied on remittances from family members who had found work on the mines near Johannesburg or in coastal city of Port Elizabeth. No one was wealthy and many lived only a half-step from destitution.

On one Sunday of each quarter there was an ingathering of gifts. Individuals and families made their annual pledges not to the common pot but to their guilds, associations and societies. Every member of the congregation belonged to a guild or a society. The children belonged to the Sunday school or the youth guild; the young girls belonged to the St. Agnes Guild, the women to the Anglican Women’s Fellowship or the Mother’s Union, the men to the Bernard Mzeki fellowship. On the ingathering Sundays we knew to fill our pockets with change and to prepare for a long service. At the offertory each guild would process up the aisle with their gift dancing to a joyful hymn. They would be accompanied by people who did not belong to that particular guild. The intent of the accompanying congregants was to demonstrate their support. Adults would accompany the Sunday school; women would process alongside the Bernard Mzeki fellowship; men would dance alongside the Mother’s Union or the members of the AWF. The expectation was that to accompany a guild you must bring a coin to the table. The coin was, almost invariably, slammed down with a flourish. In this way each guild exceeded its pledged and collected income. The ingathering Sunday was a day of particular joy and fun. The joy and the generosity were surprising in those surroundings. It was a wonder that anyone had any extra to offer. It was a wonder that anxiety didn’t close its fist around those precious coins. Joblessness and hunger were not abstract ideas in Rhini. They were the immediate experience of those who filled the pews. So the question ‘if I offer this money today how will I have enough for tomorrow?’ was not an idle one.

The year in Grahamstown taught me so many lessons about the shape of faith. Dancing up the aisle on ingathering Sunday I was reminded that anxiety and fear can not make a home where faith lives.

Fear is something so familiar. We know the taste of it. For almost a decade it has driven decisions at the highest levels of government and at every level of citizenship in this country. Fear made racial and religious profiling okay. Fear opened a prison at Guantanamo. Fear dropped bombs on Baghdad. Fear has us stripping down at airports: unbelted, unbuckled, unshod with bags and jackets in clattering bins. Fear permitted all kinds of invasion of privacy and abrogation of civil liberties with barely a blink. The power of fear is that our fears are not baseless. Terrorists have struck this country. Enemy combatants may have had nefarious designs on our security. Airplanes have used as a weapons. And Richard Reed did hide a bomb in his shoe. Fear is powerful because it is based in fact. And fear is a flavor that we know all too well.

Now, the shape of our fear has shifted. Jobs are scarce. Each day we hear news of more layoffs. The newspapers are full of home foreclosures and short sales. The television and the radio tell us high rates of credit debt default. The money people have seen the money they set aside for retirement has vanished. We are facing an uncertain future and we are afraid. We are afraid that we will not have enough. The word of today’s Gospel is written directly to us.

The disciples in John’s gospel are seldom portrayed in a flattering light. The pericopes or stories that we read today are no different. If John’s gospel employed the “before” and “after” images of advertising the disciples would, generally, represent the “before” pictures. Unfortunately the disciples, all too often, represent us too. They personify our tenuous grip on faith. Philip’s practical observation sounds like the view from where we stand. “Six month’s wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little,” he says, looking at the swelling crowd. We can join him in that sentiment. Even if we had more we wouldn’t have enough. How are we ever going to...engage in outreach, repair the building, pay our assessment, cover our costs? The list goes on you can add your own concern. Our anxieties are not baseless. If they were baseless it would be the work of an instant to dispel them. In this version of the feeding Jesus doesn’t dissolve Philip’s fear in an explosion of miracle. He waits.

You see, Philip is right. The truth is that we never will have enough. There is never enough to go around. There is not enough love to fold us in a warm embrace. There is not enough money to meet our endless needs. There is not enough food to silence our hunger. There are not enough guns and bombs to keep us safe. We live in fear and our fears are based in fact. The fact is that when we rely on our own resources we will never have enough.

But, you know, there is another way. It is seen in the open hand of a young boy, “I have this...” Like Andrew, we may not trust the gift. After all, what are five loaves and two fish among so many people? What is the paltry coin that I have in the face of the overwhelming need? But faith puts what we have in the hands of Jesus who can take, give thanks, and share. Then whatever we have no matter how little or how much it is enough with some to spare.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thank you

This week I have had two unexpected thank you notes. I had done nothing that struck me as particularly noteworthy but the notes touched and moved me very deeply.
Saying thank you is such a small and easy thing. We teach it to children as a courtesy, “Say thank you.” or “What do you say.” But being on the receiving end of a genuine “Thank you” is being on the receiving end of a wonderful gift.
Give generously.

Loaves and Fishes

In my Bible Study this week we were reflecting on the feeding of the five thousand men as described in John’s Gospel. This is the feeding story in which a boy comes to the disciple Andrew and offers his lunch: “I’ve got this.” Andrew, presents the offering to Jesus who blesses, breaks, and shares the gift with the gathered crowd. Five thousand men were fed (not counting women and children) and twelve baskets of left-overs were gathered up.

We are in a period of economic anxiety. There is so much need and we often feel we have barely enough for ourselves and our families, let alone enough to share. Imagine how it would be to be the child who told the disciple “I have this...” No, it, alone, is not enough. But whatever we offer to God gets blessed, and broken, and shared and somehow the little we have becomes more than enough.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Trusting Our Own Prayer

My day is filled with “running prayers”. Running prayers are not the solid chunks of time to sit and study the Bible or to read for my spiritual edification. They are not the certain rhythm of the Hours: Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer and Compline. They are not the time of meditation of contemplation, just being with God. The “running prayers” are the chatty hanging with (what my twelve-year old would call) my bff prayers. “Good morning God, thank you for the night of sleep. Thank you for my husband getting up early with the toddler. Bless them into this day. Please shove me out of this bed to work out. Thank you. Unclench my teeth as I try to rouse the preteen. Help me to shape this day under your guidance.” Listening to the news of the day “Be with all the people who are homeless or are living in fear of losing their homes or their livelihood” “Attend those detained without trial. Be with hostages and their families. Be with those wrongfully arrested”. Then “go ahead of me into my meeting”...and so on through the day.
A friend sent me an email last week. She had helped out someone laden with too many bags. The person had emailed her thanks and said in the message “I had been praying for an angel to help me, and there you were.” What was interesting to me was the surprise. The surprise of having a prayer answered “Yes” in the moment. I do not write this as a criticism, I note it as a reality. A bishop once said “When I pray coincidences happen. When I don’t, they don’t.”

God always answers our prayers. God may answer “Yes”. God may answer “No” or the answer may be “Not yet.” Our role is to ask and trust that God wants good for us.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Moment at the Oasis

Summer slow down.
As the mother of two children, a busy toddler and an active preteen, I find the notion of slowing down for the summer to be a lovely fiction.
My father says we are all "closet contemplatives". I think I am more of a "water-closet contemplative". Sometimes it is only the moments in the bathroom that are meditative space.
Spiritual reading can be very discouraging in that way. The writers of these lovely prayer journals and meditations didn't have to concern themselves with petulant preteens or toddler tantrums. They had time for the beautiful unfolding of conversation with God. They could sit uninterrupted through an hour of lectio.
I have come to believe that God will take the whole of life as prayer if we offer it.
Even in the midst of the hectic lives we lead if we offer what we do to God, then God will take charge of how we do it.
Then, maybe, even the interruptions can be a part of our prayer.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Maybe the world has tilted on its axis, I don’t know.
The Episcopal church has voted to ordain gay clergy and Bishops. Perhaps we were only telling the truth of what has already happened. Maybe all we have said is that gay people need no longer lie about their sexuality in order to serve as they have heard themselves called. I have not yet experienced truth as a bad thing.

I am not in Anaheim. I was not present for the discussion or debate, I do not not know what form it took. Somewhere in me is an ache. I am sad that we make decisions in terms of winners and losers. I am sad that we are talking about marketing our faith and whether the consequence of this decision will be growth or decline for the denomination. I pray that each voting delegate had the courage to vote their conscience, to vote Christ as they have heard Christ speak to them.

For those who disagree with this decision I pose the question: Is the role of human sexuality the whole story of your faith? As you discern your denominational home is this the one thing that establishes or corrodes the foundation of this habitation?
For those who believe that the decision was right: Can you believe that there are those who faithfully differ with your understanding? What does it mean to be Christian when your views are on the winning side and those whose views differ may question a fundamental attribute of your being?
Where is Christ in all of this?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Acts 12: 1- 17 (NRSV)
1 About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. 2 He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. 3 After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) 4 When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5 While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him. 6 The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, "Get up quickly." And the chains fell off his wrists. 8 The angel said to him, "Fasten your belt and put on your sandals." He did so. Then he said to him, "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me." 9 Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel's help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him. 11 Then Peter came to himself and said, "Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting." 12 As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying. 13 When he knocked at the outer gate, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. 14 On recognizing Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, "You are out of your mind!" But she insisted that it was so. They said, "It is his angel." 16 Meanwhile Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the gate, they saw him and were amazed. 17 He motioned to them with his hand to be silent, and described for them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he added, "Tell this to James and to the believers." Then he left and went to another place.

I don’t know what captivates you in the stories of our faith. One of the things that strikes me is the small detail. The miraculous visitation of the angel who freed Peter from his cell, the grogginess, the broken chains the unlocked door are not what carried me into prayer. It was Rhoda, in her excitement, leaving Peter outside the gate while she ran to tell the news of his release. Such an unnecessary detail yet one that gives the ring of reality to the account. Sometimes faith flounders, it is then we need the human stories of very human people to remind that God is near. I pray that you experience the nearness of God in your own human story today.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

My Parents

That I may come near to her,
draw me nearer to thee than to her;
that I may know her,
make me to know thee more than her;
that I may love her with the perfect love of a perfectly whole heart,
cause me to love thee more than her and most of all. Amen. Amen

That nothing may be between me and her,
be thou between us, every moment.
That we may be constantly together,
draw us into separate loneliness with thyself.
And when we meet, breast to breast, my God,
let it e on thine own. Amen. Amen.

Temple Gardiner, (1873-1928) before his marriage.
Quoted in The Oxford Book of Prayer.

From what I have seen my parents have a lovely marriage. They delight in each other’s company. The kiss and tease like young lovers. They share private jokes and a public devotion. Before I married I asked my mother the secret to their marital success.
She answered that every marriage is its own garden. There is no single almanac that will work for every couple in every instance. Each couple must find the ways of life together that work for them.
You look so happy after all these years. How do you do it?
“A good marriage is like one of those gardens in a stately home: When you visit the lawns are manicured, the flowers bloom luxuriantly, the paths are clear and the beds are immaculate. It is as though someone has come with a magic wand and made it so. What you don’t see is all the hard work that creates the vision. The weeding and seeding, the mulching and digging, the plants that must be uprooted, the things that must hacked down and wheeled away. Marriage is hard work. Lots of prayer and hard work.”Perhaps that, then, is the ultimate secret of marital success: that we hide our hearts in God. If we can not each hide our hearts in God then maybe in marriage we had best find our way to each other through God.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sometimes it is movement that stills me. Sitting in contemplation can be a form of warfare for me. My mind is not a monkey, it is a battalion determined to destroy my composure. My preferred form of meditation is running. I do not have an ipod. I let the music of the breeze and the distant traffic noise accompany my steps. In my mind I repeat a prayer that came folded inside the Anglican rosary that one of my spiritual directors gave me:
Be the eye of God dwelling in me
the foot of Christ in guidance with me
the shower of the Spirit pouring on me, richly and generously.
I bow before God who made me
I bow before Christ who saved me
I bow before the Spirit who guides me
in love and adoration
I praise the Name of the One on high
I bow and adore the Sacred Three, the Ever one, the Trinity.
Thoughts and concerns drift into my mind and wash out again carried off by the sweat and the breath. In that hour Jesus gently untangles the snarled nest of my worries; running I rest.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

July 4th - A Day at the Beach

I asked four-year-old Onalenna to read the letter she had written:

Dear God,
Me and daddy and mummy and Nyaniso are going to the beach.
You have to put your bathing suit on.

I think God joined us at the beach last week; delighted by the simple invitation.


Four years ago my parents stood before me and renewed their marriage vows. Today, July 2, they celebrate fifty four years of marriage.
I am a great fan of the Anglican Prayer Book liturgy. It is the liturgy my husband and I used when we married. The promises we made were simple yet profound. We promised to love each other. We promised to comfort, honor and protect each other. We promised to forsake all others and be faithful to one another as long as we both shall live.
One of the saddest things I heard this week was South Carolina governor Mark Sanford’s declaration that he was going to try to fall back in love with his wife.
Perhaps in their marriage service the Sanfords promised to stay in love. The wisdom of the old liturgies is that they do not require one to do what one cannot, govern the unruly emotions. Being in love is how we feel. I know that in the course of my brief fifteen years of marriage there have been whole hours when I was not in love with my husband. But I have loved him every hour. Love is what we do. It is how we act. The promise to love is a promise anyone can keep. It doesn’t depend on how we feel. Jesus loved sinners, Jesus loved those who opposed him, Jesus loved those who nailed him to the cross. Did he feel a warm fuzzy affection for them? I would suspect not. Did he love them? Without a doubt.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rev. Tutu's Sermon-June 28th at St. Mary's in D.C.

Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus has crossed again in a boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and presses in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.
She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’”He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James “When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

I once saw a cartoon that showed a cow lying on its back its feet stuck straight up in the air. The caption read, “No, really, I’m fine!” That cow was an Episcopalian.

Clearly Jairus wasn’t an Episcopalian. Although he had status enough to spare he was not standing on ceremony. Here he was prostrate at Jesus feet pleading, not asking but pleading repeatedly for Jesus to come with him.

I don’t know what Jesus had on the agenda for that day. Perhaps a chance to gather with friends, maybe some time at the synagogue, after all he was just back in his home territory of Galilee after a trip across the lake into the land of the gentiles. But his fame had preceded him. He had been preaching and teaching and healing. Although he admonished those he healed not to say a word, clearly someone had said something because here he was, barely off the boat, and a crowd had gathered.

Here, in this crowd, Jairus fell at his feet. Jairus isn’t just anybody. He is described as a leader in the synagogue. That is a kind of biblical shorthand. It means that Jairus was a leader in the community and a wealthy man. “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands upon her so that she may be made well and live.” Perhaps it was that the plea was not offered on his own behalf that made it possible for the important man to so humble himself. There is no end to the kinds of discomfort we will endure on behalf of our children.

More than once, I’m sure, I have given my parents occasion to make a similar plea. One time that I heard my mother’s prayer it touched me deeply. The year I married I spent several months at home in South Africa with my parents. At the time my father was the Archbishop of Cape Town. I accompanied him and my mother on an archiepiscopal visitation to the diocese of Klerksdorp. On the Thursday of the visitation we went to the Mother’s Union meeting. The Mother’s Union is a organization similar to Daughters of the King a group of women dedicated to prayer and the ministry of marriage. The group met o Thursday because it was the traditional “Sheila’s day” (Sheila was the name that white employers gave to their black domestic workers because they could not be bothered to learn to pronounce their African names.) Thursday was “Sheila’s day” because it was the traditional day off for domestic workers. Not the weekend when the madam and Master might have need of her. Not Monday when she would be tasked with getting the household ready for the week, r Friday when she must ready the home for the weekend but Thursday so no one, but “Sheila” and her family would be inconvenienced. Most of the women gathered in that church made their living as domestic workers. A very few might be teachers or nurses, some were grandmothers and retirees but most cleaned houses, cared for other people’s children, cooked and did laundry for a living. I don’t know what message the women expected from my mother, a well educated world traveller and a very eloquent woman of deep faith. I don’t suppose they anticipated the prayer they heard from her. “I come to you not as the archbishop’s wife but as a mother like any mother. You see my child here. Soon she will marry and cross the sea to a land far from home. I ask you prayers for her and for her husband. I ask your prayers for us, her parents. Keep her under God’s guarding and guiding.” Like Jairus my mother went to Jesus as her first resort. Through all the joys, the sorrows, the tensions and turmoils of marriage I am comforted by the knowledge that my mother and that gathering of women of faith have prayed for our union, they asked Jesus to lay his hands upon it and keep it whole.

If Jairus and my mother came to Jesus as their first resort the woman with a flow of blood came to Jesus when she had reached the end of her rope. Jesus was her last resort. She had tried everything else and it hadn’t worked. Desperation drove her through that crowd. There are so few taboos in our society that it is hard for us to imagine the mixture of hope and anguish that made her take this risk. For twelve long years she had suffered with this flow. Twelve years and how many doctors had she seen? How much money had she paid? That piece is familiar, from our tabloids and news media or even from our own families and friends. We all know or have heard the stories of dwindling hope as patients travel the globe to try one treatment after another, “maybe this will be the one.” Sometimes it is. Often it is not. For twelve years this woman’s wealth had been consumed in the pursuit of a cure. In all that time she could have no place in the life of the community because she was ritually unclean. This day tasted like a jailbreak. She dared to step outside her house. She dared the walk to the shore with the crowd. Here she is hoping, praying, that no one sees her face, no one recognizes her. She is trying, despite the press of bodies, not to touch anyone, not to let anyone touch her. In a moment, there he is, Jesus. She reaches out her hand, Just a moment, just an inch, just a corner of his robe, and then...

Which calamity will finally force us out of the prison of shame and embarrassment and make us brave the crowd so we can touch Jesus? Some years ago, I think the first time I had taken a group to South Africa on a pilgrimage we worshipped on Sunday at a church my family often attends when in Soweto. It was a chilly rainy day and the church was packed, as was usual. International visitors often came to St. Paul’s because the worship was a rich sensory experience. The red and white of the acolyte’s vestments was softened by the thick fragrant smoke of incense. The polished wood of the cross and the brass of the candles gleamed through the haze. The service might have gone on for two hours. But it was two beautiful hours of polyphonic singing, dancing, clapping and prayers in many of South Africa’s eleven official languages. As the service drew to a close, the priest invited those with particular thanksgivings or petitions to come to the altar to ask the prayers of the church. There were the usual thanksgivings for an anniversary, for a piece of unexpected good fortune. There was a prayer for someone anticipating surgery. And then a woman stood to ask our prayers. “My son is in jail” she began. “He is charged with murder. I have no money for a lawyer. In January my daughter died. She was my only girl. She had AIDS. My husband couldn’t cope. He walked out of the house one day. He hasn’t come back. That was six months ago. I have come here with a heart so heavy. My burdens are so heavy I can’t lift them to Jesus.”

I don’t know if you’ve slid to the end of your rope. I don’t know if sickness or sadness has imprisoned you inside your own mind. Maybe your job has vanished or you home feels less like a slice of heaven than like a corner of hell. Maybe you are burdened in ways I can not even begin to imagine and you too are yearning to reach out your hand and touch Jesus. Maybe this is the day that you can not stand decorously through the prayers of the of people, this is the day that life has knocked you to your knees to plead. It’s okay, that’s why you’re here. This is not the country club where you are required to smile your brittle smile and intone the mantra “I’m fine!” This is the shore of Galilee where Jesus waits to lay his hands on your life and assure you that your faith has healed you and you can go in peace.