Archive for the ‘The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman, Chaplain for Episcopal Ministry’ Category

August 15

Never Hungry

By Marsh Chapel

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John 6:51–58

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-The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman, Chaplain for Episcopal Ministry

June 20

Peace! Be Still!

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 4:3541

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-The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman, Chaplain for Episcopal Ministry

October 11

The Clothes Make the Person

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 22:1-14

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-The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman, University Chaplain for Episcopal Ministry

August 9

Faith and Fear

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 14:22–33

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-The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman, University Chaplain for Episcopal Ministry

June 21

Have You Ever Been Afraid?

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 10:2439

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-The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman, Chaplain for Episcopal Ministry

November 24

God Forgive Them

By Marsh Chapel

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Jeremiah 23:1-6

Colossians 1:11-20

Luke 23:33-43

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“We seek to truly see each other as beloved children of God.  Our calling is to empower our neighbors and ourselves to love hopeful lives and gratefully offer our own gifts for the glory of God. We are called to share our authentic selves with our neighbors in right relationship”…. – The Rev. Joseph Wallace-Williams

Who is Your Jesus?

Who is Your Jesus?

Today is the last Sunday of Pentecost.  Also known as Christ the King Sunday.  I invite you to reflect on who has your Jesus been for the past church year.  My Jesus is always changing.  My Jesus is not the same Jesus of my childhood or even a few years ago.  Life experiences, pray and the study of scripture feed my “Jesus Roots” and deepen them.

  • The Jesus of my youth – church school Jesus
  • The Jesus of my teens – questioning Jesus in the world
  • The Jesus of my 20’s – Jesus who?
  • The Jesus of my 30’s – globalized Jesus, forgiving Jesus, sustaining Jesus, life-changing Jesus
  • The Jesus of my 40’s – womanist Jesus, radical Jesus

What has been your personal journey with Jesus?

Except for my 20’s my Jesus has always been in tandem with other people’s Jesus’

Christ the King Sunday is a relatively new development.  It does not bear the history of many long held church traditions such as All Saints and All Souls.  I once heard by one of my clergy colleagues that he glosses over this Sunday because it’s too Catholic. I remember in seminary when during our weekly Eucharist one of my classmates shoved the bulletin back in my hand stating that “she refused to participate in a liturgy with patriarchal language.  Looking back I think she missed the point.

This Feast Sunday was brought into the church’s liturgical year by Pope Pius XI in 1925 to advance the message of God in Christ over and against the political questions regarding papal territories, and in response to growing secularism, nationalism and anti-clericalism.  Addressed to the hierarchy of the church the document warns that “as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations”.

While we may find the Popes words archaic our take away is “Do we belong to Christ or do we belong to the world”  Pope Pius was moving into a world that was about to usher in the rule of Hitler and Mussolini so his statements were bold a provocative but those words and statements are very relevant for our life in the world today.

As we lead up to an election year candidates for all office tout that God is on their side and all we have to do is support their coronation by casting our vote.

The royal crowns rattle in the church’s cupboard every election year.  What’s the reason for this fascination?  Perhaps it’s based on a lust for raw political power.  Perhaps the unreserved endorsement of candidates who support “faith-based initiatives” stems from the anxiety that pervades our time and culture.

However we are mostly uncomfortable with the notion of Kingship.  The notion of a King reflects on principles that America was not built upon.  The notion of King also means big shoes to fill.  My dear friend Carl  (name changed) belongs to a family long held to be as quoted in the press “America’s royalty”.  I once asked Carl what is what like to be part of that family dynasty.  He laughed and said for the most part people leave him alone, except for his public display of drunkenness over two decades ago and his admitted botched and ill-fated attempt at a career change.  He said since I look like my mother’s side of the family I am unrecognizable in public.  I am able to be left alone to do the work of trying to leave the world a better place than I sound it.  “I have my faith and my family, my humility and my gratitude and it has taken me a lot of years, and a lot of life experiences to work that out”

Our readings on this Christ the King Sunday, challenge us to examine our priorities and to see who- or what – holds our allegiance.  As I see it there are two ways of looking at this Kingship.  The King of our outward being and appearances and the King of our inwards hearts.

If we belong to the Christ King of the world our outward being is the one who nods and pays lip service to issues of injustice, oppression of the other in any form.  You know the people who are on committees or involved in activities that make them feel better, but not willing to do the deep internal radical welcoming work that will bring systemic change.

But the Christ King that occupies a place in our hearts in about servant leadership.  It doesn’t matter if their name is on the committee.  There work is one on one getting to know the other better.  Being an ally, and all that involves for deep systemic and personal change.  Because when you are an ally, when you support when you feel, when you are able to get out of the way of your ego.  Then the deep work of empathy, change, restorative justice can take place.  If we belong to the Christ King of our hearts we forgive.

Forgiveness is one of the hardest things that we can do.  As my friend Donnie was famous for saying “God forgives you immediately, but it takes me a while”.  In her reflection piece for Parabola Magazine entitled “Forgiving: The Art of Mercy” the author and speaker Mirabai Starr begins with a litany of “I’m sorry’s “I’m so sorry that I broke your heart that I was too demanding of your approval.  I’m sorry I was so quiet. I’m sorry I interpreted your rejection as rejection, rather than as the cry for love that it really was”.  She then moves in to her forgiving: I forgive you.  I forgive you for talking about me behind my back.  I forgive you for not seeing me.  I forgive you for being blind to your own shadow, for your participation in institutionalized racism, misogyny, heteronormativity.  I forgive you for the slave trade, for sex trafficking, for treating garbage collectors like garbage. I forgive you for putting profits ahead of people, technology ahead of clean air and water, head ahead of heart.

Forgiving you was the best thing I ever did. Forgiving you set the bird of my heart winging through the universe.

So here we are in the last week of the Christian year where we are about to enter into the midst of the turkey coma, and a secular world that tells us that we really need this that and the other to make us feel better, can we make room for the sole source of divine power and reign, Jesus Christ?  So once again in the midst of this “Who is your Jesus?”

Centuries before Jesus, the prophet Jeremiah address the issue of kingly power as he strongly denounced the leaders of Judah for abusing their authority.  Jeremiah looks toward the future where the followers will be brought back into the fold.  A place where they will be guided and protected by a loving God.

The reading from Colossians was written in response to a dispute within the community.  The question that they raised was “what exactly was accomplished by Jesus”?

So if we use these lens’ to look at this last Sunday before Advent this Christ the King Sunday reminds us of our Jesus we are reminded of the ultimate price Jesus paid for US.

In today’s Gospel we are told that two criminals were crucified with Jesus.  The first man mocks Jesus saying if you are the Messiah then save yourself.  He was interested in his own well-being, and reflected the attitude of those who followed Jesus for what they hoped to gain.

The second man had a very different attitude.  What has been described as being the gospel within the gospel.  The man recognized his own sin and the innocence of Jesus … we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.  He then turned to Jesus with a profession of FAITH as he asked that Jesus remember him in his Kingdom.

Jesus answered with an assurance of forgiveness and eternal life.  “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.  Here salvation was extended first of all to a repentant criminal, who would now share eternal life with the Lord.

Where are we are in our lives in terms of our capacity for forgiveness? An article from The New Yorker titled The Afghan Way of Death: Upended Peace Talks. Civilian casualities keep climbing. Afghans are suffering more than ever, dated October 28th tells many stories of a suffering people but the one story that stood out for me was the story of Jamila Afghani, a promoter of gender equality.  She tells the story of seven-year old Ahmad and eight year old Shadh Agha who were born in a rural part of Ghazni Province.  Their father Noor Agha was a farmer.  After the night raids intensified in his village, he decided to move the family to the city.  This required abandoning his land and his livelihood, which plunged them into poverty.  The father arranged for his sister to be married to obtain a bride price.  Ahmad and Shah Agha made the wedding invitations and accompanied Noor Agha when he delivered their work to the groom’s family who lived in another neighborhood. According to Afghani, police officers in the area, identifying a strange vehicle, opened fire without warning. Noor Agha was killed and Ahmed sustained a glancing wound on his face. When Noor Agha’s father heard the news, he had a heart attack and died. The money from the marriage was spent on funerals and medical bills, Afghani said.  Ahmed and Shah Agha moved in with their grandmother and Afghani paid to send then to a private school – which had just been bombed and the boys had been wounded by shrapnel.  Afghani was in tears when she finished telling the story “Why are you killing us?” She wailed at a conference she was attending.  One of the other participants told of his being tortured and said to the gathered group, “I am willing to forgive you for what you have done to me and the rest of society. But that forgiveness must have meaning. The meaning lies in your heart not in the world.  Are we not called to love and to love abundantly.

We mark the end of the church year today as next week we begin the season of Advent. A season to once again look and reflect on who is your Jesus.  A season of God’s love for us.  A season that is marked by an expected anticipation.  We will be reminded of the anticipation and fear of a teenage unwed mother to be.  We will be reminded of the light of Christ birth that will shine upon all of us without exception.  We will take these shorter winter days to be in reflection, contemplation and exploration of the one who loves us beyond all measure.  The one who forgave and was gracious even in death.

After service today we will be making Advent Wreaths.  I started making Advent wreaths with the youth when I was serving at Christ Episcopal Church Needham.  It was a time of wonderful organized chaos.  But it is also a time of narrowing down and focusing in.  I invite you to take the coming week to prepare for Advent much like we would prepare for Lent.  Find time for quiet reflection and contemplation.  If you have an Advent wreath put it out early or reflect on the wreath you made. Water it with intention and prayer.

We are all invited to the throne room where Christ is exalted and worshiped.  We have come full circle in our church year and are at the end of this journey and ready to move on the next.  Who is the Jesus that you take with you into the next year?  Jesus the living God, the living King is found right here and right now in the midst of us, in the midst of our secular and over commercialized world, in the midst of canned Christmas music at every store that you will enter over the holidays.

This is all good news that we celebrate here today.  Jesus is King throughout the year, throughout all time and in every place.  There is an expression about turning your will and life over to the care of God it ends with the statement  “There is a God and I’m not it”

  • We don’t need to seek another king.
  • We now longer have to judge one another
  • We don’t have to control what other people think and feel or force then to fit our expectations

What happens is that in this control filled society:

we find power,

we find the reign of God when we let go,

when we realize that the reign of God is here and now, here in our hearts, here in our community both physically at Marsh and elsewhere one is connected to us!

It’s a liberating idea.

Who is your Jesus?


-The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman, Associate Chaplain for Episcopal Students

August 25

Weight of the World

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 13:10-17

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Let there be peace among us and let us not be part of our own or another’s oppression.

It was a perfect late fall day.  You know one of those days where the warmth of the sun on your face and the light jacket that you are wearing has everyone remarking to each other that it looks like a mild New England winter may be in the making.  “If it could feel like this in February, that would be wonderful”. Nodding in agreement with the full knowledge that New England winters never work like this.  

I had been ordained to the priesthood two months prior and was serving as an assistant priest in a parish west of Boston, the beginning of the church year was in high gear.  Parish activities were fully underway, church school, bible study, pastoral response ministry, cooking lunch for those on the margins, the resale shop to name a few of the goings on.  

That day I had just returned from visiting Ellen one of our homebound parishioners.  While her body didn’t allow her to attend Sunday worship, her mind was sharp, and her quick wit was always provided a delightful visit

I walked into the office and our parish administrator said “Rob called and said his son was gone and is sobbing uncontrollably”.  “He want either you or the rector” to call him immediately. I must note here due to the sensitivity nature of the story, I am using pseudonyms.  Rob’s and his family were a fixture in the town. His wife was his high-school sweetheart, his sons were smart, popular, and handsome and played a lot of sports. I called and said “Hi Rob, M said to call you”.  Rob replied: “my son is gone, my son is gone” still sobbing uncontrollably. I said: “I am on my way to your house right now”. On my way out the door the rector was getting out of his car having run out to meet with someone and grab a sandwich.  I said “hand me your sandwich, Rob just called and said his son is gone, I was on my way to the house but feel it is better if you go”. “I’ll stay here and hold space”.

The rector called me a little while later from Rob’s house and said that Rob’s son who was a freshman in college had taken his own life.  It hit all of us like a brick wall. Rob’s wife and his mother were both in shock. The entire town was in shock. News travels fast in a small town.  Many of our youth group members and their friends came to the church and wept openly. Many parents came to the church and wept openly and held their children close.  Many people we had never meet came to the church as a place of solace. 

Later that evening I was sitting in my office which overlooked the side street where the church was located  an saw three police cars and an ambulance pull up and run into a house three doors up. I only saw flashlights scanning a corner room when more students came into my office.  We found out the next day another young person had taken their life. In the following weeks there would be additional young people who would take their own lives. The air hung heavy everywhere in the town.  Parents were fearful, youth were fearful. The schools partnered with the town and houses of worship to be with each other. To provide support, to hold space, to offer a shoulder or a meal, to provide love. An entire town was weighed down with grief.  

I don’t know if the expression “we made it through” is an apt description.  However, we were all bent over carrying the weight of the world, the weight of grieving parents, the weight of grieving young people, the weight of an entire town.  What I do know is that people in this town and surrounding towns came together, supported each other, cooked for each other, held each other, cried with each other, held space for each other when on some days that was all that was all we could offer.  Rob and his family have moved out of the town but is still active in the church and he serves on a foundation for suicide prevention. The school system and houses of worship still work together most recently to address the opioid epidemic among young people.  A tragedy brought people together. It is love and an awareness that no one should have to shoulder anything alone that keeps them together.

I want us to try something this Sunday.  You know they say that when we are tense we tend to hold our shoulders up near our ears.  So try this, hold your shoulders up to your ears in a tense position. Then try to move your head to the left, now to the right.  It’s hard right? Now try and move your body, to the left, to the right. It’s hard. Now let go with an exhale.

There is an expression “he / she looks like they are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.” What we just did was an example of that statement.  

When you are carrying the weight of the world it is hard to move.

We don’t know what weight the bent over woman was carrying: perhaps she was the victim of some sort of oppression, perhaps her binary pronoun did not match their non-binary authenticity, perhaps she was the victim of domestic abuse.  If it wasn’t for the fact she was bent over she would just have been another woman going on with her day to day activities.  

But Jesus noticed that she was carrying the weight of the world and had been for so long that people assumed that she had an infirmity.  But Jesus sees her suffering and he heals her on the Sabbath. Notice here that Jesus approaches the woman. Not the usual healing stores of the infirmed approaching Jesus for healing. 

In the second half of the Gospel the woman recedes from the narrative and we move into Jesus’ encounter with the leader of the synagogue. It’s not the healing that concerns the leader of the synagogue, it’s that Jesus heals on the Sabbath day.

The Sabbath was meant to be a complete day of rest as God had rested on the 7th day.  No work was to be done; no farming, no fishing, no shopping, no cooking, no healing.  The leader was caught up in the when’s and the where’s of the letter of the law by pointing out that this was not the day.  Pick another day to heal. But Jesus saw the same law much differently. The law did not trump God’s action when it came to God’s children especially this child of God, the daughter of Abraham.  From where Jesus stood, what better way to honor the Sabbath than by setting a captive free?

This is why he came after all.  Early on in Luke’s Gospel Jesus made know his work in the world as he read the words of Isiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Luke 4:18-19. 

The invitation that Jesus gave the woman who was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders is the same invitation he extends to us today.

Jesus says: Stand up!  Breathe and let your shoulders down with whatever the weight of the world that you are bearing.

He invites us to stand up and be transformed, and to be released from the things that leave us bent over, feeling low and less than, to be released from whatever bondage messes with our self-worth and our self-esteem.  We are invited to come from out of the shadows and valleys, and into the light of God’s amazing and healing love.

So many times we try to put our best foot forward and never let on how burdened we may really feel.  Some of us come into a place of worship with our brokenness and we feel that if we keep a smile on our faces and pretend that everything is alright no one will ever know the weight that we are facing.  Once inside places where we think we are safe we still are unable to look up and see the world around us. We may feel alone or forgotten. We may struggle to see and remember that God is present. But like the woman who stood tall in the synagogue that day, we are the children of a loving and caring God.  God’s grace working among us and through us helps us to stand up straight.

This week in a news release from the Public Affairs Office of the Episcopal Church the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry and the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Southern Virginia, The Rt. Rev. James B. Magness have invited Episcopal Churches to take part in a national action to remember and honor the first enslaved Africans who landed in English North America this week in 1619.  The Bishops have asked that Episcopal churches toll their bells for on minute today at 3:00 pm Eastern Time.

To quote Bishop Curry “I’m inviting us as The Episcopal Church to join in this commemoration as part of our continued work or racial healing and reconciliation.  At 3:00 pm we can join together with people of other Christian faiths and people of all faiths to remember those who came as enslaved, who came to a country that one day would proclaim liberty. And so we remember them and pray for a new future for us all.”

Bishop Magness in his response says “ The 2019 commemoration of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to North America is for me a highly personal occasion.  As a descendent of slaveholders, and as a white male who came of age in the racially polarized south during the 1950’s and 1960’s, I am painfully aware of my own complicity in furthering and perpetuating the subjugation of my African American brothers and sisters.  At a time when the racial divide in this country seems to be growing rather than diminishing, we are in dire need of a moment, an event when we can stop and take stock of our responsibilities to bring races together, perhaps in a new manner that truly is an embrace of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ”.

The Rt. Rev. Susan Goff, bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia further notes “The first African people were brought to this continent in harrowing and dehumanizing circumstances.  As we remember the 400th anniversary of their survival, I pray that we will do the hard work of reconciliation that God longs for us to do.” “God forgive us. God give us courage and resolve. And God bless us.”

On the cover of the The New York Times Magazine Section of August 16th there is a grey hued photo of water and the caption below reads “In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the British colony of Virginia.  It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. American was not yet America, but this was the moment it began. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the 250 years of slavery that followed.  

The 1619 Project, a major initiative from The New York Times was born to not only chronicle that day but to place the consequences of slavery at the center of a larger story that we tell ourselves about where we are as a country.  You can find the entire article and supporting and educational material on The New York Times website.

My sisters and brothers, I want to tell you: there is no day, week, hour or moment that the God who formed and created us does not see our plight or hear our cries.  Our God energizes us and gives us hope no matter what trail, burden, or injustice we might face. And God gives us one another to share in that hope.

I would like to stand before you and preach that we are beyond being bent over carrying the weight of the world but we all are aware that recently we have witnessed firsthand the actions of the weight that is being pressed down on innocent children, the weight being pressed down on those who feel that they are not heard, the weight of families whose loved ones have died as a result of guns violence.  We are never in a position in God’s eyes to oppress another, belittle another, scare or gaslight another or to act like another is less than. That thought that it doesn’t happen here, it won’t happen here, it doesn’t apply to me disconnects us from the love of God and from our neighbor.

Like so many prophets known and unknown, past and present, like Jesus himself, we have been put on this earth so that we might find a way to ease one another’s pain and release from bondage and set them free, to raise up people and children who will stand tall knowing that they are precious children of God and worthy to share in God’s love.

It was a Sabbath day when the bent over woman was told to stand and stand she did and she praised God.

With God’s help, any day is a good day to help others to stand.  Amen.

- The Reverend Dr. Karen Coleman

January 20

God Can’t Forget You

By Marsh Chapel

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Isaiah 62:1-5

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

John 2:1-11

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Let us pray:

Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Holy Men, Holy Women, page 161)

Growing up in Detroit I always relished the stories of the accomplishments of my parents and their friends.  It took a lot of perseverance in the face of racism and discrimination for them to get to the table yet alone have a seat at the table.  

I remember one story in particular of the late Wade H. McCree Jr. distinguished judge, Solicitor General, and professor.  Quoting from his obituary from the New York Times:

Judge McCree was appointed by President Kennedy as a judge on the First District Court in Detroit in 1961.  Five years later, President Johnson promoted him to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit which served Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.  As a judge, he won wide praise in legal circles for intelligence and judgement.  And as Solicitor General, he enjoyed great good will from the Supreme Court justices who respected his character and legal achievements.

The story I heard growing up was: Judge McCree grew up in Boston, graduated from Harvard’s Law School, was offered and accepted at a prestigious law firm in Boston where when the partners found out he was African American immediately rescinded the offer.

When I was writing this sermon I called his son, my childhood friend and lawyer Wade III for clarification.  The corrected story goes like this:

Judge McCree did indeed grow up in Boston and attended the prestigious Boston Latin School.  He is the only African American to have his name inscribed on the famous frieze of the school which also include the names of Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He did indeed attend and graduate from Harvard’s Law School after taking a leave to serve in World War II.  So here is where the story changes.  Judge McCree was recruited by the prestigious law firm Miller Canfield, not in Boston, but in Detroit. Judge McCree arrives for his first day on the job and is asked to wait in the lobby. Time passes and no one is coming out to welcome him on his first day on the job.  He finds out later that phone calls were being made to Harvard’s law school to verify that he was a graduate and not an African American man pretending to be a lawyer.  The managing partner finally comes out to say that the firm’s white clientele would be comfortable with an African American lawyer. Judge McCree would then find immediate employment at the African American Law Firm of Harold E. Bledsoe and Hobart Taylor.  I wonder what he must have been thinking as he sat in the lobby of Miller Canfield law firm. What was the first sign that he had that the situation may not go as expected? What was plan B?  When did he know that his life’s work would be one to champion for social and economic justice from the judicial bench no less.

Daily we all observe signs to one extent or another and most of us have attended a wedding or two in our lives.  What makes these seemingly ordinary experiences, extraordinary in the life of Jesus.

Here we are on this second Sunday after the Epiphany as we read John’s gospel about Jesus’ first sign at the Wedding in Cana and the signs of God’s grace.

This passage has something important to tell us.  First it tells us who Jesus is.  Second it gives us information about God’s grace.  Third it shows us what God has in store for us.  

For the community that the writer of John was addressing we must understand two key points.  As Dean Hill points out in his book “The Courageous Gospel” the “Jesus Movement” was quote moving away from Judaism end quote”.  Dean Hill further points out the despair and disappointment in the delay of Christ’s return. What is a community of believers supposed to believe?  What is a community believers charged with doing?  How do they and we continue to live as loving and caring people of faith? What are the signs?

Signs are very important.  They give us information.  They give us a sense of direction.

I remember when I first moved to Boston.  I had been in the city of Boston proper many times for work, conferences and the annual trek with Decatur Street friends from Brooklyn to visit the original Filene’s Basement.  I was always able to navigate Boston by the T and perhaps a short walk.  When I moved to Cambridge to attend graduate school I felt confident that my navigation of Boston and surrounding areas would not be difficult.  After all I learned my way around all five boroughs of New York City, I learned my way around the greater Los Angeles area. I can hear you chuckling now.  I have never gotten so lost in my entire life. No one tells you that I-95 turns into 128.  It was counter intuitive when I was working in Randolph which is south but you have to head north toward Boston instead of going south to Canton. And if that wasn’t bad enough, nothing in my driver’s education training prepared me for navigating a traffic circle.  To this day I still cannot grasp the unwritten rules of exiting the Massachusetts Turnpike at the Alston/Brighton tolls.

In this passage, Jesus and his followers, including his mother, are attending a wedding. The wine for the wedding is running out the steward is concerned. The steward is like the caterer at today's wedding. He would make sure there was plenty of food and refreshments on the tables as provided by the wedding party. If the food or drink got low it was the wedding party's responsibility to procure more or basically end the party. Somehow, Mary found out about the predicament. She wants Jesus to fix the problem. Evidently, Jesus' identity is no secret to her. Jesus' response clues us in on Jesus' identity. Jesus is looking ahead to what he is to do. His hour has not come.

The word hour in John's Gospel always points to fulfillment of the end times. Jesus is the One who has come to fulfill the Word of God, to usher in the Reign of God. At the right time, the right hour, Jesus will bring in the fulfillment of the Reign of God. In just a few short verses we find out Jesus' identity as the Son of God. We haven't even seen the sign yet.

While Jesus' response to Mary is a harsh rebuke but, he does what she says.  The servants fill six stone jars with water. These are large jars and we are talking about a lot of water. After they fill the jars the servants draw out the contents and instead of water it is wine. The wine is excellent. The steward is surprised by the quality of the wine. He knows nothing about Jesus' intervention. He believes the groom has pulled a fast one. At a wedding the best wine was always served first. Then after everyone had plenty, the wine of lesser quality was served. The quality of the wine now presented to the steward is better than the wine he served at first.

It is important for us to understand the “sign” that the wine is making in this narrative.  To paraphrase the New Testament scholar Allan Dwight Callahan:

In Judean apocalyptic literature, wine is a symbol of the coming messianic age of peace and righteousness. Enoch 10:19 looks forward to the vine yielding wine in abundance, and in 2 Baruch 29:5 each vine shall have one thousand branches and each branch one thousand clusters.  The abundant wine suddenly flowing at the wedding in Cana is a sign has come.

The amount of water turned into wine is a sign for us of the abundance of God's grace. If we stop to figure it out Jesus turned 120 to 180 gallons of water into wine. I don't believe the wedding party was that large but God's grace is abundant. God's desire is for us to receive that grace. The guests received the wine even though they had no idea where it originated. We receive God's grace daily. We open our eyes to a new day that is God's grace. We see people we love and for whom we care. That is God's grace. We have food to eat and a comfortable place to sleep. That is God's grace. We know what Christ did for us on the cross and that we have a place in God's Reign. That is God's grace.

Not only do we see the abundance of God's grace, we see the quality of God's grace. We see what God has in store for us. The wine is excellent. It is the best wine. God intends the best for us. God's desire is for us to receive the excellence of his grace and respond to the best of our ability. We receive God's excellent grace freely. It is up to us to respond. First, we receive it and then we share it. We share the love God has given us one to another. We share the richness of what he has given us one to another. We take care of one another and support one another. We share the story of Jesus to others. We have just defined stewardship. Good stewardship is in response to recognizing God's grace for us. Let me say that once more, Good stewardship is in response to recognizing God's grace for us.

We can take the time on this snowy weekend to honor not only the life and legacy of Dr. King by meditating on ways that our lives have been influenced by the people who have champions of social and economic justice in our lives.  Who led and lead ordinary lives that impacted us in extraordinary ways.

As a child Judge McCree and his late wife Dores were known to me as friends of my parents.  The McCree Family along with the Bell’s, the Bledsoe-Ford’s, the Reid’s, the Holloway’s, the Hylton’s, the Lowery’s and other families who were part of a Detroit who broke racial and societal barriers during the time of Dr. King

These individuals also need to be raised up in celebration this weekend.  These men and women laid the foundation that opened the doors for their children and others.  They made sure that we were not excluded from the table. It is my duty as it is our collective duty to make sure that no one is ever excluded from the table.

On this weekend where we celebrate the life of Rev. Dr. King let us recall the part of his acceptance speech on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1964.

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “is-ness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

This first sign to us is of God's incredible grace through Jesus. Do we see the sign for what it is? Are we willing to accept the sign and follow Jesus? Are we willing to trust that God only wants the best for us? We have the choice. We can accept God's grace or we can turn away. Amen.

-The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman

August 12

We are the Bread of Life

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to listen to the full service

1 Kings 19:4-8

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Click here to listen to the sermon only

“Let there be peace among us and let us not be part of our own or another’s oppression”

When I was a child my parents and I would drive out to my great Aunt Jessie and great Uncle Stewart’s place “in the country”. We were usually accompanied by my cousin, my aunt and my grandparents.  It was a place where my cousin and I were pretty predictable in our actions.  First, we would stop in the kitchen to see if Aunt Jessie was going to make peach ice cream, which also meant that we were going to take turns hand turning it on the front porch.  On the counter there was a large beige earthenware mixing bowl covered with a damp dish towel. 

That was the indication that we were having rolls with dinner. My cousin and I were then given instructions on what fresh vegetables were to be picked for dinner: Kentucky wonder beans, corn, tomatoes, lettuce to name a few.  Returning from our outdoor farmers market, my cousin and I then took a walk down the dirt road to Mr. and Mrs. Mack’s house.  The Mack’s had a real farm complete with a barn, and animals.  Mr. Mack would ride us around on his tractor and let us feed the chickens.  Mrs. Mack would then treat us to fresh squeezed lemonade and homemade chocolate chip cookies.  Quite satisfied we would then run back to the house to begin the churning of the ice cream. My father would take the sealed metal container of milk, cream, sugar and peaches and secure it in the ice cream maker, surround it with ice and top it off with rock salt.  I preferred to churn later in the process as what I really wanted to do was to punch down the dough for the rolls.  I remember my Aunt Jessie saying “give it a good punch”.  My small hand lost in the dough that then surrounded it.  She would then take the back of a dinner knife and scrape the dough off my hand. I would watch her intently knead the dough.  She had arthritis of the hands and I never grasped the full weight of how difficult a task this might have been.  She rolled the dough out on a wooden board that she had spread flour.  Taking a drinking glass, dipping the rim of the glass into flour, she would cut circles of dough to form the rolls.  She would then pick up each circle and fold over the top third of the roll.  Then taking each roll and placing it carefully on a greased baking sheet.  The remaining dough would be gathered and the process repeated until there were two full pans of rolls.  Another rise, then brushed with melted butter and placed in the oven.  The house smelled wonderful.  It was as a young child that I learned that Making Bread is An Act of Love.

Over the years I have made yeast breads but nothing ever equated my Aunt Jessie’s rolls.  But I continue to hold my truth that the making of bread is an act love. I recall making a loaf of challah and my father and I sitting at the dining table, a warm loaf of bread and a plate of butter between us. 

My current love for bread baking came after I read Michael Pollan’s book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. Bread in the modern context as we have come to know it, is the result of the advent of roller mills that made white flour widely available and of the commercialization yeast in the 1880’s.   While it made life easier it took much of the nutrition out of bread and made bread commercially available for purchase.  It was a staple of the dinner table in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s predictable in color and pretty tasteless, it had preservatives so it had a long shelf life. It must be noted that for most of European history, bread represented more than half the calories in the diet of the peasantry and urban poor according to French historian Fernand Braudel.

But ask any serious two thousand and eighteen, bread maker and they will tell you time and time again, that making bread is an act of love.  My friend Julie Carson, gifted me with starter yeast last year.  Since then I have tended, fed and used the yeast to bake bread. Now that act of love hasn’t been easy and at many times it appears one sided in the yeast favor.   Yeast has popped out of containers moved in mysterious ways along the kitchen counter and made its way onto the floor.  Only to continue to expand in the process.  Julie says this means that I am doing it right.  Baking bread is a gift of love and an abundant, life giving and sustaining gift.

So, when Jesus says “I am the bread of life” are we looking at Jesus as boring factory-made bread?  What comes to mind when we hear “I am the bread of life”?

Perhaps some will think of the bread that we used for communion.  In most Episcopal and Anglican churches to commemorate the Lord’s Supper we use the communion wafer.  It’s easy, it’s convenient and it comes in a resealable container of 500 and it has no resemblance to the taste of bread.  Is this the “bread of life” to which Jesus likened himself to? 

Today’s Gospel reading begins with Jesus’ proclamation “I am the bread of life.” Earlier we read the story that has come to be known as the feeding of the five thousand, where many hungry people are feed because there was love and sharing enough for all.  The focus of this feeding story has been on the meal and very little attention paid to the bread itself and what is might signify.  In the same way that the focus on mass feeding has been on the miracle and not on the food itself, so, too, with today’s proclamation that Jesus is the “bread of life,” we usually focus our attention on Jesus rather than on the bread.

But how can we begin to understand what Jesus was saying about himself until we look more closely at the bread?  When Jesus talks about the bread he is looking about a community that is all inclusive.  All inclusive, means all-inclusive because if we don’t include ALL we place restrictions on the way that we live our life in this world.  We get predictable bread.

When I visited South Africa a few years ago I was introduced to a rich dense brad they call Seed Loaf, boasting different seeds and grains which yield a loaf of complex texture and rich flavor.  This is how it was described on the market’s web site “Seed Loaf, our healthiest loaf, is hearty and moist.  Made from white flour, whole wheat flour, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, bran, sunflower oil and honey and yeast.”  This is definitely the sort of bread invoked by Jesus’ claim: I am the bread of life.

The passage from John’s Gospel is a lesson is about love, believe, and abundance.  It is difficult to associate mass-produced bread with the actual kneading and baking of a loaf of bread.  We are all accustomed to a huge aisle devoted to bread in our local market. Abundance, yes. Not so much anything else!

Consider Berkshire Mountain Bakery in Western MA, a small bakery. Berkshire Mountain makes its own yeast and only uses fresh milled flour.   Online orders need to be placed by Sunday at noon to be baked and shipped on Tuesday. They have a sort of cult following of “breadies” and followers of the bread guru Richard Bourdan.  One can order:

Cheese & Herb Bread

Cherry Pecan


Dark chocolate

Jalapeno and Cheese

Peasant French Pan

Spelt Bread

Visiting the bakery is a bread Disneyland. Driving through small towns in Western MA confused by the GPS, I was on a mission to search out and buy “real bread”. When we finally arrive, I stood in front of a small wall of daily selections speechless and mouth ajar. Here I was with real bread, food for the soul, handmade, made with care, made with love. When the bread is sold out for the day there is no going to the back of the bakery to retrieve additional loaves. No bread comes in a plastic sleeve.

Our lives – our families and friends are enriched – with a diversity of likes and dislikes.  Why not our bread? And to turn that around: When Jesus spoke of himself as bread, as the Bread of Life, is it possible that he was speaking of richness of texture, of boldness and flavor? That he was inviting us to a greater feast in our life of faith?

Jesus’ ministry was built on the rich foundation of many stories of feeding and being fed.  We have one example in Today’s reading from the Hebrew Bible.  I reading from Kings, Elijah sets out on a long journey sustained by the gift of the angel of the Lord: food! Not just once does the angel feed him, but twice.  The angel commands him: “Get up and eat!”.  This wasn’t just any food, but bread.  Elijah “got up and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.”

Jesus was well-acquainted with the Exodus story, and would have known the tradition that the Lord God sustained the Israelites in the wilderness with manna – bread—from heaven.  Which is actually not bread as we know it but is a sustainable, edible food that combines morning frost is edible and tasted like bread.

The Exodus theme permeates John’s Gospel, setting up a tension between the manna given from heaven to feed the people in the wilderness and the Eucharistic bread that feeds us in the wilderness of our souls.  Somewhere in the midst of that tension we find the bread of life: not manna from God, not the flesh of Christ, but the Bread of Life, the Bread that brings LIFE.

Now if we continue on with the reading we have those who aren’t quite sure about Jesus’ claim of who and whose he is. Now, bear with me one moment as I am going to change the context of some of the commentaries about this passage. I am going with the phrase the crowd began to complain.  I have been blessed with long longevity on both my mothers and fathers’ side of the family.  Part of this blessing is that I was blessed at an early age with the importance of listening and being with the elders.  Respect was given by me and in turn stories were given to me as an oral history of struggle and triumph.  In my own family, my grandfather moved north for the promise and fulfillment of a good job at the Ford Motor Factory.  The pay was good and steady and moved many African Americans into the middle class. My father’s older brothers went to work at Fords, however my father after his first few months of working at Ford as a welder was pulled aside by a fellow auto worker who said to my father: “this work is not for you, go to college”.  It was a few weeks later that my father fell off a scaffolding and was given the time and space to consider his career path.  His choice to go to college was initially met with a community that wasn’t sure how a college education was going to lead to steady employment and to provide for a family.  Many a neighbor said “you know Wyatt and Christine’s child… “He’s going to college, He’s thinks he better, who does he think he is? 

My father received a PhD and encouraged his younger brothers to obtain a college degree. We have all known a person or two or three in our lives who said “you know what so and so’s child is doing…”.   Do we say that in disbelief or do we say that in amazement for blessings that have been given to that person?  This is not an old conversation.  The writer of John knew the people they were writing to and knew the questions on their heart and minds.

Jesus was baking something new.  Creating the yeast that would break from the plastic container on the counter and flow onto the kitchen counter and onto the floor and carried out the door to feed the people.

This vision of bread given to us in John’s Gospel teaches us that we will be feed that we are enough, that we are loved.

To eat the bread of life in love means that communities come together to have conversations about their differences and support each other when forms of racial hatred are expressed in their communities.

To eat the bread of life in love is to check our privileges at the door and stop for a moment to let the Holy Spirit into our hearts and into our thoughts.

To eat the bread of life and love is to have compassion for one another even under the most difficult of circumstances,

To eat the bread of life means we struggle and wiggle in comfortable and uncomfortable conversation with the other of differing opinions and we stay present.

To eat the bread of life means we don’t discount, belittle or shame the other as we are all “the other” at times.

The author and humanist chaplain, Jim Palmer wrote this week:

My God is better than your God

My religion is better than your religion

My belief system is better than your belief system.

My philosophy is better than your philosophy.

My ideology is better than your ideology,

My ism is better than your ism

My race is better than your race.

My socioeconomic class is better than yours.

My degree is better than yours.

My cause is better than your cause.

My political party is better than your political party.


And the wheels on the bus go round and round.

Meanwhile, there is something beneath all those layers that unite all of us together as one.

We are operating out of the beliefs, mindset, narratives and ideologies that are programmed in our heads.  We are divided and separated.  But when we allow ourselves to sink down into our innermost being and common humanity, we discover we are more alike than we are different.  We desire and fear the same things, we are caught up in that inescapable network of mutuality and single garment of destiny, and when we let ourselves go there we know in our deepest self that love goodness, peace, harmony, beauty, solidarity and compassion is what’s most real.

We are one human special and family: there is no real conflict or division between us.

Stop listening to them, Start listening to you.  –Jim Palmer

 To break real bread is messy, crumbs fall everywhere, bread broken by hand is never even, but there is a joy and a love in the sharing with others.

Breaking bread is beautiful.  Breaking bread is messy. Breaking bread is comforting.   Breaking bread is an amazing act of love. 

Let us break, bread together on our knees, or at our table or when we encounter the other or one another daily in our journey.

-The Reverend Dr. Karen Coleman, Associate Chaplain for Episcopal Ministry