Monday, June 16, 2014

Sermon for June 1, 2014, preached by the Rev. Linda Wofford-Hawkins

Today is perhaps the most poignant Sunday of the Christian year, this time in between.  We have known the joy of Christ’s presence and his resurrection victory over death, but he has both come and gone.  He has left his earth, leaving us to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.  In these days between his Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we live mostly with his absence.  We stand in that challenging place of transition when the past is gone and the future unknown.  Some call this Expectation Sunday, but how do we live in such a time?

We, like those early Christians, must ask ourselves--How do we make it?  How do we manage when we are left behind to carry on?  So we pray, “Do not leave us comfortless.”  On his last night with his disciples, Jesus prayed that we might be one, one as he and the Father are one.  Before he ascends, he promises the Holy Spirit to strengthen us.

Yet we let one another down, and we let Christ down.  The ways we fail and hurt one another are a constant obstacle to unity.  We know this in our families, in our church, in the nations of the world.  We know this in the life of St. Barnabas.’

Yet unity is not about liking each other, agreeing with one another, or sharing every part of our lives.  Unity comes from sharing a larger purpose and, therefore, making a commitment to one another because of that larger purpose.  So it is with marriage vows.  Christian marriage has that third partner, Christ, at its center and looks out to the world that it serves.  We pray in the marriage service: “Give them grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other’s forgiveness and yours.”  

Since his death I have thought much about Nelson Mandela’s leadership of South Africa through a dramatic transformation.  The level of unity achieved began with his forgiveness and lack of bitterness as he left prison.  He united his country by finding ways for divergent groups to value one another’s traditions.  He brought out the better angels in all parties.  Michael Mayne, Dean of England’s Westminster Abbey in those days, called it the “lesson of Good Friday and Easter, a dying that brings forth new life.  A dying to the clamour of self; a dying to prejudices and past hurts, to remembered injustice and unforgiven words and actions; a dying to my needs and desires for the sake of the greater good of another….” (Pray, Love, Remember, p. 122)  

Forgiveness was the foundation of South Africa’s transformation and new life.  It lies at the center of all healed relationships.  It heals the one who forgives most of all as well as the one who is forgiven.  When we do not forgive, we pass up the gift of Easter’s transformation.  As has been said, “Refusing to forgive is tantamount to re-crucifying Christ.  Instead of seeing stones rolled away, we throw stones at one another.” (John Christoph Arnold, “The Power of Forgiveness”)  The power of forgiveness can roll away the stones that entrap us.

I remember late in her life when my mother confessed a regret that troubled her.  She apologized for the time when I was a seventh grader in the hospital being evaluated for seizures.  After going to church and singing in the choir, she arrived at the hospital to discover I had already had a spinal tap.  After all those years, she sought my forgiveness for not being there.  For me, that was nothing to forgive.  Frankly I loved the independence of the experience.  Yet she needed the assurance to forgive herself.  Now there were other things for me to forgive and plenty of reasons for her to forgive me.  So that request for forgiveness healed many memories.

That is the way we live with brokenness.  Never do we have perfectly forgiven and reconciled relationships.  Yet we commit to a journey with one another.  We do what we can to find healing and come together as the imperfect persons that we all are.  There will be times of surpassing unity and times when only partial communion is all we can reach.

Our unity in the church is based on Christ at the center.  Perhaps this moment between the Ascension and Pentecost is the place where we usually are in this life.  We stand in the time of remembering—remembering the mighty power of God among us, the victory over sin and death, Jesus among us in both power and powerlessness but always in love.  Like the early church, we also remember betrayals and disappointments—memories that need to be healed.

Michael Mayne gives us some guidance here with his title, Pray, Love, Remember—words that sum up the essence of the Christian life.  Here are his wise words:  “Why do we need to remember?  Because the opposite to remember is to forget, and what is forgotten can never be healed or forgiven.” (p. 123)   He also tells us, “…to remember is not only the opposite of ‘to forget’; it is also the opposite of ‘to dismember.’  To dismember a body is to take it apart, limb by limb, like a man strung up on a cross until his heart ceases to beat.”  (p. 128)

So he invites us to re-member, a hyphenated word—to put those pieces together again.  It is what the thief on the cross seeks when he says to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  So we like him say to Jesus: “Lord, re-member me, recreate me, make me anew, put me together again, but now in your own likeness and   as you have always intended me to be.’”  Here is the purpose for us all.  Finally this is our calling.  As he says, “That is what every Church on earth exists to do: to bring us into the Kingdom, damaged, dysfunctional people that we are, and re-member us, recreate us as the Body of Christ in the new creation that exists since that first Easter day.” (p. 128)

So we do the work of re-membering and asking Christ to re-member us, weaving the threads that can make each of us whole and draw us into greater unity in Christ.  In our life together here at St. Barnabas’ in recent months, we have begun that re-membering in conversations of confession and seeking forgiveness.  Some of the threads of re-membering are there as we forgive others and forgive ourselves.  We have begun a journey into the unity for which Jesus prayed.  It is truly said, “The way through the door of unity is on our knees.” (Thomas Ryan)  Unity indeed requires the constant prayers of us all.

Now we draw near to Pentecost, the arrival of the Holy Spirit, a time of reconciliation of divisions.  We await the reversal of the Tower of Babel as every tribe, language, and nation comes together.  For several years now in our Dialogue on Race, we have pondered our movement from repentance to reconciliation.  Early on we asked, “How will we know when it is time to celebrate reconciliation?” 

Once we laid a hope for this Pentecost, we realized that it is a journey.  We will not fully arrive in this life as a reconciled people, but we still live into the promise and hope of forgiveness and reconciliation.  So it is in our personal relationships, in racial relations, in our church community, in our world.  We look toward the promise.  We celebrate the glimpses of reconciliation that are ours—even as the journey continues.

In the meantime, we gather at a table, the place where the gospel is remembered.  We come to be molded into the pattern of life Jesus gave us.  He says to us:  “This is me.  This is the pattern of my life.  You are now to re-member me…to be my body in the world, your lives offered to God, your lives lived thankfully, your lives broken and shared in the costly service of others.”  In his body and blood, we partake of Christ’s glory.  At this table we find our unity in the truth of the gospel.  Here we receive our commission to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Let us remember.  Let us remember the past to find strength for the present.  Let us remember the past that we might be healed.  Let us remember God’s future that we might know the Kingdom of God among us even as we pray for its coming.

-- Rev. Linda Wofford-Hawkins, St. Barnabas' Episcopal Church

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Michael Podesta

The Rev. Linda Wofford Hawkins

“If, as Herod, we fill our lives with things, and again with things; if we consider ourselves so unimportant that we must fill every moment of our lives with action, when will we have the time to make the long, slow journey across the desert as did the Magi? Or sit and watch the stars as did the shepherds? Or brood over the coming of the child as did Mary? For each one of us, there is a desert to travel. A star to discover. And a being within ourselves to bring to life.”

- Anonymous

This piece was sent anonymously to the calligrapher, Michael Podesta, who rendered it in his art form. May it speak to us as it spoke to him.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Pots and Pans

The Rev. Linda Wofford Hawkins

“I found him very easily among the pots and pans.” So said St. Teresa of Avila as she reflected on the intersection of her inner life and outer life. In this season as we count the days until Christmas, many of us spend lots of time among the pots and pans, in the rush of traffic, or in the frenzy of the shopping mall. The presence of God can escape us in those places.

So how do we develop the perspective of St. Teresa? My best advice received over the years came from an elderly woman who shared her secret. She always prays for the people who will eat the food she prepares whenever she enters the kitchen. That simple spiritual practice has a centering power. It is a start toward opening the door for the presence of Christ in the midst of the pots and pans. It reminds us of our link to those we serve and the God who empowers us for service.

So in these last hours before the coming of Christ, I wish you the best among the pots and pans. May you find Christ even there.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Richard the Lionhearted

The Rev. Linda Wofford Hawkins

            The favorite crèche in our family collection is a set of wooden figures carved by a man who took up his art form after being paralyzed in an accident.  For several decades he carved one figure per day.  Years ago we placed our crèche in a central spot in our home and let it grow, adding various carved animals collected in our travels.

            One day we noticed yet another addition to the scene.  Our young daughter had added a stuffed animal—a lion in the midst of the farm animals—Richard the Lionhearted no less.  We laughed at this strange addition, yet she was only taking Isaiah at his word.  Only a little child would carry this scene to its logical conclusion.  Only a little child would truly dream that the impossible might happen.

This improbable scene depicts the peaceable kingdom promised in scripture. 

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them. 

This  peaceable kingdom embraces humankind and the whole of creation.  Perhaps the greatest transformation is the end of human violence when swords are turned into ploughshares.

            As we observe the first anniversary of the slaughter of twenty young children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, we are acutely aware of the violence that besets us.  We have seen all too many stuffed animals offered up in remembrance of the lives of innocent children snuffed out in a season of joy and peace.  In this year, the killings have continued in other mass murders as well as in the less publicized deaths in our streets and in the epidemic of suicide that plagues us.

            Families of Newtown have already committed themselves to the work of social change that would stop this madness.  As they have begun foundations and programs, they testify to the power of their fallen children urging them on.  They feel the power of their children pushing them to make a difference so that other children will not have to die.  As we Christians look toward the Feast of the Incarnation, we show forth the power of a newborn child drawing us toward a kingdom of peace and good will.

            For several years, I have been powerfully moved by an anthem by Glenn Rudolph as sung by The Washington Chorus in this season.  It is “The Dream Isaiah Saw” underwritten as “A prayer for our children and a forthcoming season of peace.”  The refrain is haunting:
            Little child whose bed is straw,
            take new lodgings in my heart.
            Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
            life redeemed from fang and claw.

The kettle drums drive home the power of this little child to transform the whole world in a revolution of the human spirit.  May we in this season allow ourselves to be led by that little child into a world redeemed from the violence that reigns among us.  May we prepare to give this child new lodgings in our hearts.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Holy Innocents

There is an old English carol (16th century, or older) that I think is worth mentioning.  Often called “Coventry Carol,” it is listed in our hymnal as song number 247, or “Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child.”  This is not strictly speaking a song for advent, but for the days immediately following Christmas, and more especially December 28, for the remembrance of the Holy Innocents. 

This carol is sung from a first person point of view, that of someone singing a lullabye to his or her child and lamenting the actions taken by King Herod upon the children of Bethlehem.[i] 

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
bye-bye, lully lullay.[ii]

When Jesus was born, three wise men travelled from the east to Jerusalem and sought King Herod’s help.  These wise men, bearing gifts for the son of God, the new King of the Jews, saw his star in the night sky and followed it.  When Herod heard the news that there might have been born a new King in his land, he was obviously troubled.  This baby, worshipped by his citizens, would almost certainly undermine his authority.  He consulted with his advisors and decided to use the wise men as a tool to help find this potential usurper.  He directed the wise men to the town of Bethlehem and asked them to report back with the young child’s location so that he too might “worship” him. 

Thankfully, the wise men had been warned that they should not return to Herod.  After presenting their gifts to baby Jesus, they left and avoided King Herod entirely.  Joseph had received his own warning from an angel saying, “Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.[iii]

Once Herod realized that the wise men were not coming back he had his men descend upon Bethlehem like a plague to kill all the boys under the age of two.  These boys, killed by a King jealous to preserve his title as King of the Jews, are the Innocents. 
Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
bye-bye, lully lullay.

I first read that this song was expressing the sorrow Mary had for her child, seeing that he had barely opened his eyes and was already being hunted by ruthless men.  In writing this post I went back to the lyrics and the source scripture and thought about the words a little more.  I now wonder if perhaps the song is not more about the other mothers in Bethlehem and their children. 

Whenever I have had a chance to sing it, we let the higher voices (tenors and altos) take the lead on the first verse which really highlights that the women of Bethlehem are expressing their sorrow.  That, as foretold in Jeremiah 31:15, “[Rachel] weeping for her children, refused to be comforted for her children because they were not.[v]

O sisters, too, how may we do
for to preserve this day
this poor youngling for whom we sing,
bye-bye lully lullay?

On the second verse, we ask the basses and baritones to step up their game and project, really highlighting the rage of King Herod.  I also think the lower voices make the verse and melody that much darker and dramatic. 

Herod the King, in his raging
charged he hath this day
his men of might, in his own sight,
all young children to slay.

- Jeff Schaefer
Member, St. Barnabas’ Episcopal Church, Annandale, VA

Note:  This Sunday, December 8, the Adult Forum will feature Stephen Ackert, Director of Music at the National Gallery of Art, on the Music of Yearning and Longing through the Ages.  

If you feel like there is a lot of darkness that needs dispelling this time of year, please consider attending the Adult Forum on December 15 at 9:15 a.m., or the Blue Christmas service on December 19 at 7:30 p.m. 

[i] Matthew chapter 2
[ii] Verse from the Hymnal 1982, song 247, found online via, last accessed on Dec 7, 2013.
[iii] Matthew 2:13
[iv] Verse from the Hymnal 1982, song 247, found online via, last accessed on Dec 7, 2013.
[v] The full text of the verse from Jeremiah 31:15 reads, “Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.”  Matthew 2:17-18 restates this verse as proof that the prophecy was fulfilled, and calls the weeping  mother Rachel. 
[vi] Verse from the Hymnal 1982, song 247, found online via, last accessed on Dec 7, 2013.
[vii] Ibid.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela and Advent

In preparation for playing the movie role of Nelson Mandela, Idris Elba spent a night in the prison on Robben Island where Mandela spent eighteen of his twenty-seven years of imprisonment for his fight against apartheid in South Africa.  As luck would have it, I began this day reading of this actor’s terror on the first day of filming as he felt the daunting challenge of portraying this living saint.  As this day ends, I join people all over the globe both mourning and celebrating the life of this liberator and reconciler who allowed that prison to become the crucible for his transformation and thus the transformation of his nation. 

In this season of Advent, prison is both a powerful reality and symbol.  Some of the most profound Advent meditations I know were written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Alfred Delp, both imprisoned in Nazi Germany but still looking in hope toward the coming of Christ.  As we seek redemption for a broken world, we are confined in prison waiting for release.  The prison door can only be opened from the outside.  So we wait for the day of peace for which we yearn, knowing that only the power of God can change this world that holds us captive.  Yet we also know that God does this work through human beings who allow themselves to be used at times of crisis. 

Rarely are we blessed to see such a revolution—both spiritual and political—as that led by Nelson Mandela.  The transformation of a society began when one man turned his prison cell into a monastery where he wrestled with the bitterness of oppression and found a way to forgive and thus lead his nation to peace and reconciliation.  This night a grateful world gives thanks for a glimpse of what we await—the reign of peace and justice where people of all tribes and nations can live in harmony with God and one another. 

The Rev. Linda Wofford Hawkins 
December 5, 2013