cairns me home

being still in God's big world

Author: Audrey Stewart (page 2 of 11)

Love Builds Up

Sermon for the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany – Year B

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 
(listen to it here)


I have never in my life heard a sermon preached about this passage from 1st Corinthians. In fact, earlier this week I got an email from Brett, who expertly read this passage for us this morning, making sure it was the right reading and we joked that he should do an interpretive reading complete with crumbly, gluttonous foods as props. I am slightly disappointed we didn’t have that pleasure this morning. But, kidding aside, there is a reason this passage is still important today. The challenge of exploring this type of seemingly outdated piece of scripture is vital in our lives as Christians and so, we must, if you’ll forgive the pun, dig in.

The Corinthian Christians to whom this letter is addressed are a well-off group who converted from a number of pagan faiths under the spiritual leadership of Paul. They are highly educated and socially adept. Thus, their question about whether or not they can enjoy feasts comprised of the meat of animals burned in sacrifice to gods and idols they know to be false is, for them, a question to confirm their assumptions – not one they actually believed needed to be answered.

For the Corinthians, they were – in a way – kissing up to their teacher. Paul, we know the idols those other folks worship don’t exist, so it’s still okay to go to their dinner parties, right?!

The surprise for them comes when Paul writes back to explain how their actions affect others around them. And what’s more, Paul uses this as an illustration to explain the concept of Christian freedom. Paul explains to the people how the seemingly innocuous act of participating in a celebration featuring food from sacrifice is actually creating a stumbling block for those who do not understand on as deep a level as the members of the church.

Paul is telling the people that it isn’t enough to understand for themselves – they need to let their actions communicate their convictions, even when that goes against the grain of what society expects.

For these aristocrats of Corinthian society, abstaining from eating the food from sacrifice is tantamount to social suicide. They must avoid the most popular parties being thrown in the community. They asked Paul thinking he would commend them for their knowledge, when really he explored more deeply the concept of Christian Freedom. To paraphrase John Philpot Curran, “The condition upon which God ha[s] given freedom to [hu]man[s] is eternal vigilance.”[1]To be truly free, is to be a slave to Christ – making us responsible for all people. Christ commissioned his disciples to go into the nations and share the Good News – we cannot do that if we are keeping our knowledge to ourselves and allowing our actions to disparage that which our Savior taught us.

So how, then, does this apply to us today? What is the food of idol sacrifice in which we partake?

A documentary series was released out of Norway this month and it has caused a stir all over Europe. The series, Sweatshop: Dead Cheap Fashion, takes 3 young, Norwegian fashion bloggers and sends them to live and work with Cambodian sweatshop workers. The bloggers, all interviewed before leaving for their trip, admit they have know about sweat shops and are aware they exist but figure that earning a wage, even if it is low, must be better than earning no wage at all. They know it isn’t fair, but that is how the industry works so they haven’t really paid that much attention.

Over the course of the series the audience watches as the doe-eyed young adults go from looking like they are on a world travel adventure to being horrified by the atrocities committed against the people they are getting to know on their journey. “‘The truth is, that we are rich because they’re poor,” [One of the featured bloggers] said. “We are rich because it costs us 10 euros to buy a T-shirt [at] H&M. But somebody else has to starve for you to be able to buy it. Those who make the garments should also be able to afford them,’ he said.”[2]

The idols in Corinthian society were false gods and prophets while the idols in our own society are just as damaging: vanity, wealth, popularity – just to name a few.

It feels overwhelming to consider how to change the world and so oftentimes we decide instead, like the Corinthians, to look the other way or ask how to change, hoping our own knowledge of the problem will be enough. Change is uncomfortable and confusing – but you know what? Jesus never said it was supposed to be comfortable.

Last Sunday night a wonderful group gathered to hear more about our upcoming medical mission to Haiti. Folks raised money for this worthy cause to share healthcare with friends who would not otherwise have access. Today, after the service when we all go to the annual meeting, a team of women have prepared a delicious lunch for us to share to raise money for El Hogar – a school aimed at bringing education to some of the most at risk children in Honduras. Each day volunteers from Epiphany head to the Blackstone Library to help ensure children of low-income families in the south end of Boston have access to all of the resources they need to succeed in school and beyond. Right now, on the Episcopal Relief and Development website there a “giving Super Bowl” happening between Pats fans and Seahawks fans in a pseudo contest to see who can donate the most money to help others before kick off tonight. (I guess there is some big football game on tonight? — Team Patriots is still down by $2,000 – click here to donate now!)

The Corinthians felt like they couldn’t take on this problem and affect real change. They were afraid of what their neighbors would think if they did things differently and separated themselves from what was popular.

We should be afraid of exactly the opposite. What will our neighbors think if they see us enjoying the rich blessings of this life with no regard for those upon whose backs we’ve built our lives?

If true Christian freedom from the law means that we are, in fact, free to live the life we choose because of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us – then aren’t we then obligated, by the blessings we enjoy, to give all that we have to ensure others have that same freedom?

The fact that we are free is by the Grace of God who loved us enough to send Jesus to walk among us. We now, in the midst of that freedom, must ask what we will do with this gift of life we’ve been given. By some lottery we were born into these lives that we live where we have roofs over our heads and warm food to eat. We know to come to this safe place each week and to learn more about the God who creates, redeems, and sustains us.

The idols are still here, as they were in Corinth 2,000 years ago. By virtue of our status and citizenship in a country, which protects our rights to free speech, we have a unique voice that much of the world does not have. So as we consider what we will eat or what we will drink, or about our bodies, what we will wear – we need to remind ourselves of the freedom we enjoy. As Jesus asked in his sermon on the mount, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” So we too must ask each morning when we wake up, “How will I use my freedom, today?”

***Update: as of 6:07PM Team Patriots is up $24,181 to $12,418 over the Seahawks – but the real winner is Episcopal Relief and Development who are going to do amazing things with this $39,774 (and counting!) that has been raised!



Getting an ‘F’ in Sabbath

I was reading an article today and I started to cry. Not ugly sobbing, just gentle tears. As I stopped to ask myself where it was coming from I realized quickly how much the article resonates with where I currently am. I am just “so busy.”

A couple days ago my fiancé and I were sitting down trying to figure out when we could get away for a day. We quickly came to the conclusion that we could get away for a day sometime in late January – hopefully.  How sad, that we have to plan 2 months in advance to get a single day away from the chaos.

Why is it like that – why am I like that?

One of my favorite books on Sabbath is Abraham Joshua Heschel’s, The Sabbath. In it, he writes: “Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.” Saying ‘no’ to things is at the root of Sabbath. We say ‘no’ to external and internal desires and distractions so that we can say ‘yes’ to God.”

I have not been saying ‘no’ enough – To others, to myself, to distractions, to anything – really. This frenetic pace of the world has seeped into my bones and I find my head trying to keep up against all better judgement. My heart is crying out and seeking space while my unconscious self has pushed passed the boundary of what is healthy and good.


For the next few weeks I shall be intentionally engaging in true Sabbath on Fridays. No email. No facebook. No cleaning. No Twitter. No TV. Yes reading. Yes writing. Yes painting. Yes hiking. Yes napping. Yes praying.


My reading list for these next few weeks include some tattered old friends:

  • Freedom of Simplicity, Foster
  • Sabbath Journey, Nouwen
  • The Sabbath, Heschel
  • Sabbath as Resistance, Brueggemann

I am getting a jump-start on Advent this year. How will my life change if every week, for the next 2 months, I intentionally engage in Sabbath for one 24 hour period every week? It’s not going to be easy. I can already identify some things that are going to have to come off the calendar. I can already identify weeks when I will need a moveable Sabbath, like a moveable feast, in order to succeed. But here goes everything!

And if you get an email from me saying I am unavailable for a meeting because there is something on my calendar, please congratulate me as we try to reschedule.

Undercover Priest

I went through my first year of ordained ministry wearing my collar every day. I did so intentionally on the advice of a couple mentors who recommend wearing it daily for the first year so I would then better understand when to wear it and when to go without. At the beginning of the experiment I “knew” I didn’t want to be a daily collar wearer. Nope, I just “knew” I would be a priest who only collared up when I was serving in a liturgical or sacramental capacity. Sure, there would be those gray areas of pastoral interactions or evangelistic opportunities – but all in all, I’d “made up my mind.”

(Isn’t it cute how we know so much when we’re fresh out of seminary?)

And then I was ordained and launched into this grand adventure. There were arduous days of paperwork and emails when I pulled at my stiff, plastic collar thinking, “this is so unnecessary.” There were days when I walked downtown forgetting it was there only to be met with stares and sideways glances. There were days that it felt like it was God’s hand on the back of my neck reminding me I wasn’t alone. Then there were days when I would be reminded of who I am by virtue of my office and it would help me to alter my behavior or language because of that physical reminder.

Somewhere in the course of that year I discovered that I am actually an *almost daily collar wearing priest. The funny thing is, while the black shirt and white collar immediately identify me as a clergywoman to the outside world, I rarely wear it for them. I wear it for me. I wear it on days that I need to remember my role as priest. I wear it not because it makes me better than anyone else, but because it reminds me to be my best self – to be the woman God is calling me to be.

There are still days when I wonder if I should put on a collar. Painting with the Thursday afternoon formation class? Leave the collar home. Spending the day updating calendars and emailing with parents. Wear the collar. Meeting a parishioner for dinner? Depends on the context of the situation. Going to the state house to lobby for equal wages for youth workers? Wear the collar. I have begun to recognize the signs – both inside and out for when I need to bust out that lovely piece of plastic.

But then there are situations like today…

I am writing this from the jury assembly room at the Middlesex Superior Court. Hooray for civic duty! I’ve been anticipating this day for weeks and have debated back and forth whether or not this should be a collar day. I know the collar is polarizing in some cases – so wearing the collar could bias folks in one way or another based on their context and history. I’m not sure which way it would bias them and so part of me feared being immediately excluded for wearing it while the other part of me contemplated if I would be chosen over others by virtue of my calling.


Those who know me know I am terrible at making decisions – especially minor, seemingly trivial decisions. Every decision is earth shattering to this ISFJ. The pros and cons list ends up being tremendously long and usually quite even. This was no different. I can think of 100 reasons why I should or should not wear the collar to jury duty. But I cannot escape the fear I will be seen as “using” that symbol for something other than it was intended. My friend Scott voiced that concern perfectly on the facebook status I posted to solicit feedback to aid in the decision-making process: “Whatever you do, don’t compromise your office to exert privilege from a symbol of the church.” I do not want to be seen as trying to use my priesthood as leverage – ever.

My calling as a priest is to a unique, sacramental ministry. My calling means that I often wear a visible symbol of the church I represent. My calling took years to accept and will take a lifetime to live into. My calling puts me in a position of authority, which is a humbling and awesome responsibility.

I wear my collar most days; often to remind myself who I am and what has been entrusted to me. I wear my collar most days, but not today. There are days when I should wear my collar in the world to serve as a reminder to others that the church is active and relevant – even today. But wearing my collar today, in this room, would not be seen as such. Wearing my collar today would be wearing a neon sign that says “I’M A PRIEST!!!” It would be screaming for attention in a room where my job is to blend in as a randomly selected peer. There are doctors, lawyers, students, teachers, parents, cashiers, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, Universalists, etc… sitting here and none of them are wearing neon signs. I couldn’t categorize these people even if I tried and that is the point. I was worried that leaving the collar home would be a denial of what I am – but a piece of plastic doesn’t dictate my identity. I know who I am and so does God. If justice is blind than she couldn’t see my collar anyway. She can see what is in my heart and that is the place where my priesthood is seeded.


Changed not ended

Fall seems to have caught me by surprise this year. It is as though in the blink of an eye the trees have turned golden and the night air catches me up short. What happened to August – or even September for that matter? Last I knew it was the end of July and now we drive by neighbors with Halloween decorations up. Life is like that sometimes – change happens suddenly whether we are prepared or not.

Last Sunday night, over dinner at YPF, one of our members was talking about the memorial service that St. Mary’s held for Winchester High School Senior, Patrick Gill, on the night his life was lost in a tragic car accident. This teenager was wide eyed as she said that the priest at St. Mary’s told the congregation that their relationship with Pat had not ended, it had changed. This turn of phrase, so central to our faith, was heard and made new in the circumstances our community has been walking through these past two weeks. In the blink of an eye we went from a community not quite ready to admit that autumn is upon us, to a community in mourning.

Parents have commented that they are hugging their children more tightly. Death somehow seems more real to our children and teens. A touch of innocence has been lost. But in the midst of it all our God reminds us, in the form of leaves the color of Holy Spirit fire and crisp air that invites us to walk more closely to those we love, that time continues moving forward. Our relationship changed, not ended.

I do not know the Gill family, but from all of the reports I have heard they are amazing people whose love is a force from which others are drawing strength in this time. As Christians we believe that our Lord entered into death in order to prepare a place for us. So as we watch the seasons to change and begin to root once again, we are invited into a time to remember what is sacred to us and to shine our love as a light to others who might need a guide out from darkness. My friends, we are an Easter people; “even at the grave we make our song, Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

Responding in Love

Sometimes… no… Oftentimes, the most difficult thing we are called to do as Christians is to respond in love. When we are met with anger, we are asked to respond in love. Greif? Respond in love. Hatred? Respond in love. What if I just want to be human sometimes? What if I want to respond with anger, sadness, frustration, or indifference? What then?

Then it’s time to take it into the stillness that is the heart of God. It’s time to ask God to remind us what is ours, what is theirs, and what is God’s. We can only do our best. We can only be ourselves. But when we consider that we are children of God, that God walked among us to share this crazy world with us, and that, at the end of the day, we are just a bunch of imperfect people trying our best to emulate the example of our Divine brother – it might not make it easier, but it reminds us it is possible and that we are all in this together.

All things are possible through Christ… even and especially, responding in love.


Thank You

A thank you letter to my parish – that really applies to my Facebook family as well:

How do you say ‘thank you’ for a greater act of kindness than you could have ever imagined? That is a question I’ve been blessed to meditate on for the past month. After emerging from the ocean of grief I swam in following my father’s sudden passing, I opened my eyes to see the life rafts all around me. I saw the care and love and prayers of an entire community enveloping me as I learned to move forward into a new frontier. Through this experience, I’ve come to understand that the Parish of the Epiphany is not simply a community: we are a family.

I’ve received literally hundreds of cards from members of the parish I know well, members who I only see once in a while, and members I’ve never met and who live far away but remain on our mailing lists because even when you are far away – you are still part of the family. Acts of kindness have surrounded me since I joined this family two years ago. From a rousing welcome as I moved from DC, to hugs in passing “just because,” to cards and meals and love these past few months of illness, grief, and recovery – I have been enfolded into a new and loving family by coming to the Parish of the Epiphany.

That question, how to say ‘thank you’ for an unimaginable act of kindness, is truly an Easter question. How do we thank our God for coming to Earth to live among us, die for us, and come back to lead us into a new frontier? The answer is: just say it. Our culture tells us we are supposed to repay the favor but we can’t pay it back nor is God asking us to do so. When someone does something that big for us all we can do is be grateful, say thank you, and continue on. The greatest way to demonstrate our gratitude and to say thanks is by living fully and well.

I know the family that is the Parish of the Epiphany is grateful. We live well and try to do better each day. I am grateful. I am grateful for the love with which you’ve buoyed me in this time. And now, I hope we are all ready to dive into the life of God and build up our programs so we can continue to welcome more people into our family. We have an opportunity everyday to say ‘thank you’ to God and to one another for the gift of this wild and beautiful life.

So, thank you. Thank you from the depth of my being. Thank you for being part of this family. Let’s be grateful and let’s make it great.


Move past the fear

Click for audio for my sermon for Good Shepherd Sunday – the one in which I yelled at my congregation a little. Ok, Miss Holy Spirit, let’s go there.

Based on John 10:1-10




50 Days of Hallelujah

My favorite part of Easter each year is the phone call I make to my grandma on the way to church. I call my grandmother Easter morning and she always answers the phone with a song instead of saying hello. The thing that makes this especially comical is because she does not care who is calling: regardless of who you are, you can expect a serenade of an old Salvation Army hymn if you call my grandmother on Easter morning.

Up from the grave he arose;

with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;

He arose a victor from the dark domain,

and He lives forever, with His saints to reign.

He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

It isn’t really Easter until Grandma sings me that song. I love the gusto she puts into the performance. I love that the word “Hallelujah!” in the last line really sounds like a joy-filled expression. Hallelujah is supposed to be an exclamation of praise and joy and gratitude and celebration.  Hallelujah is a word to be shouted from the rooftops. But oftentimes, when we use it in church, it sounds like we are reading a word that doesn’t belong to us out of a book. We need to take ownership over our Hallelujahs.

Hallelujah, when encountered in worship or scripture, is always written with an exclamation point. So why is it that that we say it like it is some ordinary word? We’ve just given up our hallelujahs for 40 days – let’s use this season of Eastertide to reclaim the exuberance of our faith! Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose to new life again. If that doesn’t warrant a hallelujah (!) than I don’t know what does! We are members of an amazing community of love and fellowship. The Parish of the Epiphany is an amazing family full of talent and fun, worship and learning, friendships and mission. We are blessed to call this vibrant church our parish home; let’s shout it from the rooftops!

In Lent we take on a discipline to remind us of Christ’s trials in the wilderness and to turn our focus back to God. How about we do the same in Eastertide – but instead of an inward journey, how about we take an outward one? There is a trend on social media right now from the folks at The goal is for folks to post pictures each day of the things that make them happy to see if they can find joy 100 days in a row. I have a similar goal I hope many of us can try: 50 days of Hallelujah! Let’s see if we can find a reason everyday of Eastertide to shout HALLELUJAH! Look for the Risen Christ in your everyday life. See where the Spirit leads you are look for Christ in your midst. Shout your hallelujahs, post them to facebook, email them to me, write them in a letter, etc… On Pentecost, I will post a bulletin board near Hadley Hall with the results of our 50 Days of Hallelujah experiment. Let’s see where Jesus is waiting to meet us on the road.

Hallelujah! Christ is risen!

It’s not fair

A Sermon for Good Friday

It’s not fair.

We have plans for the present and the future. We know how life is supposed to go and then, in the blink of an eye, it all gets taken away – death arrives, ready or not, and it simply isn’t fair. Sometimes it doesn’t go that way. When you work in a hospital you have the unique privilege and opportunity to walk through life’s final steps with families. A “good” death, if you can even wrap your mind around that phrase, is one when the family has an opportunity to say goodbye, they know and have accepted what is happening, they are all gathered together, and their loved one slips away peacefully. Unfortunately, a “good” death is not often what we see. Usually, death just happens. It’s not fair. We don’t plan for it, it sneaks up, and it disrupts the life we were planning for ourselves.

Jesus’ death was far from this notion of a “good” death. His death was not fair. He was tortured and brutalized for crimes he did not commit. But for which he went willingly, obediently, to the cross. His death was, however, preceded by many of the markers we see in some of those hospice-type death experiences. The night before he died, Jesus gathered his friends together for a meal. He washed their feet and gave them ways to remember him. Jesus instituted the Last Supper in a ceremony of leave taking: he was saying ‘good bye.’ However, despite the many verses of warning and foreshadowing we read in our scripture, Jesus’ family and friends are taken by surprise when Judas arrives with his kiss and waiting soldiers. Denial plays a large role in the story we walk this week.

Good Friday is the horrible day when reality dawns. Peter has denied Jesus three times, the disciples have scattered, and Jesus is left to face Pilot – and ultimately his own death. The people he came to save scream vile, hateful things at him as he drags his own implement of torture up the hill to the spot where his life will end.

It’s not fair.

In Kate Braestrup’s autobiography, “Here if You Need Me,” she details her experiences as a chaplain for the Maine Warden’s Service – serving almost exclusively in search and rescue missions in the Maine woods. She introduces the tale by sharing the moment in her life when everything changed. Rev. Braestup’s husband, Drew, was a Maine State Trooper. Early one morning, shortly after leaving the house for work and just a few miles from home, his cruiser was broadsided by a box truck, killing him instantly. Braestrup recalls with poignancy the ordinariness of the day when she received the call that forever changed her life: his white cereal bowl, half full with milk was still in their stainless steel kitchen sink, the covers on their bed were still twisted, and you could see the outline of where he lay the night before.

Braestrup writes that “love begins with a body.” Whether romantic or otherwise, we encounter people physically and it is our senses that first form opinions and feelings towards another. Hearing someone’s voice for the first time – seeing the light in their eyes – or the quirkiness of their smile… those are the things that draw us in. Death, like love, begins as a clinically physical thing. The heart stops, the organs shut down, and the cells begin to deteriorate. But in instances of both love and death, the physical nature is overshadowed by the emotion and soul connection shared with the individual housed in the physical body before us.

Having read extensively about what a body goes through after death, Braestrup instructed the funeral director that she wanted no embalming to take place – no makeup to be put on, she would wash and dress her husband’s lifeless body herself, and she would be the one to close the casket for the final time. She also asked to witness his cremation. The physical accompaniment of her husband’s body would be her final act of physical love for him and she would not walk away, no matter how painful. After all, “Drew would do this for me” she thought. She describes the act of gently washing his cold form with a soft cloth, of straightening his State Police dress uniform, and of leaving the room where his empty body lay for the final time. “I am his remains,” she thought.

It’s not fair.

Tonight we wait with John, the beloved disciple, Mary the mother of Jesus and the other Marys at the foot of the cross. We watch, in agony, as the body we love is tortured and as the curtain of heaven is torn in two as the soul of our beloved is released back into the embrace of God. It isn’t fair, but that is what makes is so painfully beautiful. Innocent though he was, Jesus drank from the cup he was given. He sacrificed himself on the cross and he did it for us. So tonight we wait and we cry. We breathe and we despair. We take his lifeless body down from the cross and gently clean it and lay it in the tomb. It isn’t fair, but it is our present reality. We are his remains and how we walk forward from this place is a physical statement about the love we shared.








How are you?

This is a question we hear on a daily basis. Perfect strangers ask as we order our morning coffee. Our colleagues ask when we arrive at work. We ask literally in passing when we see an acquaintance walking by. We rarely answer honestly because the question has become a nicety rather than a real question. “How are you?” is a natural follow-up to “hello” but giving an honest answer is rarely what we expect as passersby in life. This question is also one that is asked over and over again when you are grieving a loss. It’s so natural to ask that sometimes we forget how complicated it can actually be. Sometimes the question is frustrating in times that are trying: “How do you think I am?!” But in these past 4 weeks since my dad died, most of the time that question is a call back to this world and a good question to ask myself. My meditation for these past weeks has been asking over and over, mostly subconsciously, “How am I?”

The question reminds us that we are still here. The question reminds us that crushing grief, while overwhelming, is not all there is. For the first week or so, grief was the only discernable feeling for me – but after that week others started to break through. Hunger, thirst, stir-craziness, confusion, and fear were the most obvious upon first glance. But when I really asked the question of myself: “How are you?” I determined there were so many other answers: I am grateful for all of the love I’ve been shown. I am overwhelmed by the stories I am hearing and the sides to my dad that bring others joy. I am alive. I am moving forward, sometimes reluctantly. I am in need of a run. I am angry. I am grateful. I am.

A few months ago a friend of mine experienced a traumatic death of a loved one. I went to visit her and before I left she talked to me about the question: “How are you?” She talked to me about how exhausting it was to hear that question and that I should know better, as a priest, than to ask grieving people how they are. She was right in many ways, and absolutely correct for herself personally. There are so many other questions one can ask: How are you sleeping? How can I be helpful today?

For me, though, “How are you” is an excellent reminder that I have a right and responsibility to check in with myself and that it is okay to be something other than not well. “How are you?” when asked with genuine concern and a willingness to hear the truth is a vital human question. I might not always want to answer. (I might not even want to answer when I ask it of myself.) I might not feel comfortable in all situations to open up. But the concern and care that is encompassed in that simple, yet wildly complex, question is noted and appreciated. Let’s take back this question and only ask when we truly want to know the answer. It is not a cursory greeting, it is an invitation for human connection. And for this moment, my answer is: I’m still here.


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