A postcard for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost 10/02/22. Pictured: The Mulberry Tree in Autumn, by Vincent Van Gogh at the Norton Simon Museum.
I don’t know much about mulberry trees, but when I read this week’s gospel, I had a particular mulberry tree in mind.
Several years ago, while visiting the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, CA, I got to see Vincent Van Gogh’s The Mulberry Tree in Autumn. It is a relatively small painting in a large ornate frame. It was painted at the end of Vincent’s life while living in an asylum in Saint-Remy.
While in Saint-Remy, Vincent continued to paint everything: doctors, hallways, flowers, fields, and trees. In this painting, Vincent paints a single mulberry tree visible from his window. Vincent applied thick strokes of paint that created a three-dimensional image. Vincent was very pleased with this particular painting. He wrote about it three times in letters to his brother and sister, commenting that he believed it was the best of his mulberry tree paintings.
Vincent’s use of paint renders an ordinary mulberry tree into an extraordinary painting. Through it, we experience not just the image of a particular tree but are invited into Vincent’s feeling and experience of color. In his parables, Jesus ofter takes the ordinary to invite us into the experience of the extraordinary.
A sermon for St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Roanoke, Alabama, on the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, 10/02/22:
A postcard for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost 09/18/22. Pictured: Pepper, the dental therapy dog.
This week I had to go to the dentist. I get a lot of anxiety about the dentist, which results in prolonging a visit until absolutely necessary. Well, this past week it was necessary. I decided to try a new dentist, and amazingly they could get me in quickly.
After a few x-rays, the dentist came in to confirm what I already knew, which was I had a cavity that needed to be addressed. She noticed that I had put in my patient notes that I had dental anxiety. She informed me that they had a therapy dog and “would I like the dog?” My answer was an enthusiastic “yes.”
So in comes Pepper, a two-year-old Bichon Frisé. Pepper laid calmly in my lap the whole time. If I stopped petting her, she would nudge my hand.
I could have used her as I wrestled with this confusing parable that we hear from Jesus this week. There are no heroes in this story. No clear character to cheer on. Every decision made seems questionable, yet Jesus offers this parable to his disciples. What are they/we to make of it?
I still don’t like going to the dentist (I don’t think anyone does), but having Pepper there sure made the best out of an uncomfortable situation. Perhaps that is some of what Jesus is telling us, as disciples in this world preparing for the coming of the kingdom, sometimes we just have to do the best with what we have.
A sermon for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Greensboro, Alabama, on the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, 09/18/22:
A postcard for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost 09/11/22.
There have been a handful of moments in my life where I knew in the moment that I was living through a major historical event. The Fall of the Berlin Wall. 9/11. And now the death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8, 2022. I have never known a world without a Queen of England, and that stands true for a lot of folks.
As the Queen, Elizabeth was the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and this role goes back to England’s Reformation period in the 1500. The role presently is more ceremonial, but the British monarch has a role to play in the life of the Church of England and the larger Anglican Communion. Rowan Williams, a former archbishop of Canterbury, reflected on the Queen Elizabeth’s life, writing:
A servant of God, without doubt; a generous, courageous, patient, and prayerful person. And not least, someone whose living-out of her role kept alive the question of how increasingly secular societies find any kind of durable unity in the absence of the great common symbols of grace, in the absence of that “canopy” that offers us an identity larger than our own tribe and interest group and holds us in a kinship we haven’t had to invent for ourselves.
A postcard for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost 09/04/22. Late summer hummingbird visitors.
Summer comes to a close.
Officially summer has a few more weeks, but Labor Day marks the end of summer for most of us. Kids (or us) are back in school. Vacations from work have all been taken. And while it is still pretty warm outside, the sun sets a bit earlier each day.
I was thankful for the long weekend, which allowed me a bit of extra time to watch the humming birds at the feeders. I managed to snap this comical photo of a pair visiting the feeder on Saturday. Most of the time they were elegant, zooming around each other and the feeder. But this moment caught a bit of an awkward landing.
While Labor Day is the end of the summer for many, it is also a day to remember all those who labor so that we can have a better life and out interconnectedness.
Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2018
A sermon for St. Barnabas in Roanoke, Alabama, on the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, 09/04/22:
A postcard for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost 08/28/22
It is amazing what you see, if you take time to look.
Earlier this month, as I arrived at Messiah in Heflin, a large white bird near the lake shore caught my eye. I often enjoy the geese that frequent the lake, but this was the first time I had seen a bird of this size.
It was Confirmation Sunday, so I had gotten to church early with a whole long to do list to make sure that everything was ready for the Bishop and to celebrate our new members. Because I was early, I was the first one at the church and had time to take a closer look. Also because it was confirmation Sunday I had my good camera with me.
I stood and watched for a moment. As I stepped a bit closer, the bird noticed me. I knew that I was running out of time, so I began taking photos. Sure enough, the bird took a few steps, and stretched out their wings and took flight.
I consulted my bird identification app on my phone, which told me this was a Great Egret and common to the area. It may have been a common bird, but it was an uncommon experience for me. I’m glad that I got to church early that morning, and that I took time to appreciate God’s beautiful creation.
A sermon for the Episcopal Church of the Messiah in Heflin, Alabama, on the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, 08/28/22: