Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that a massive Antarctica iceberg—almost the size of the state of Delaware—broke loose from an ice shelf. This iceberg was already floating,[1] so may not add to the global sea rise. Yet it may de-stabilize the remainder of the Larsen-C ice shelf. It also gives map-makers more work to do, because this break-off will require “a redrawing of the Antarctica coastline.” Long-term? No one knows. Yet anyone who cares about global air and water temperatures is uneasy today.

I live on the East Coast of the United States, near Washington, DC. I am not a scientist. I don’t ship freight in Antarctic waters. I don’t own ocean-front property that would be destroyed by rising sea levels.

Why should you and I care?

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First of all, I invite you to follow along with the Genesis text* in your bulletin, as it will serve as a guide to what I have to say this morning. Second, I offer two caveats before I actually begin to explore the text with you.

A. We cannot ignore the fact that throughout the centuries, this text from Genesis 22 has been mis-used. Just as some have selected particular scripture passages to justify slavery, others have used passages like this “to justify the abuse of children.”[1] Specifically, in some artists’ renderings, Isaac is not only silent, but we do not see any personal features.  Isaac is rendered by many artists, for all intents and purposes, as an object, not a human being.

Rembrandt The Angel Prevents the Sacrifice of Isaac c 1635.jpg

This passage is also not meant to justify the very ancient pagan practice of child sacrifice. In fact, some scholars argue that one reason this text was included in scripture was to set the Israelites apart from pagan tribes who followed this practice.

B.  Abraham calls his son “the boy” when he speaks to the servants—“The boy and I will go up there; we will worship and we will return to you”—so we interpret that to mean Isaac is a child. However, the evidence in the text itself does not really support this. In the 21st chapter of Genesis, just before this story, we read that Abraham was gaining power, land and sheep as he made deals with some local tribes. Chapter 21 ends with this sentence: “And Abraham resided in the land of the Philistines a long time.” Chapter 22 begins: “Some time afterward. . .”

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Summer Journeys


Picture of “The Way” accessed through On Being website

Many of us will go on a trip this summer–on vacation, or to visit family, or to be with good friends. That means trips to the beach, or to the mountains, or other places. Some will have a “staycation,” and get some stuff done around the house.  And the children will, of course, get to enjoy some pool and play time.

A summer trip has a beginning, and an end. A journey? Well, it’s hard to pin a journey down in that way. We do begin our earthly journeys when we are conceived, spend (about) nine months inside a human mother’s body, and then emerge to take our first breaths in “this” part of existence.

So there is a physical, human journey. Yet there is also a spiritual one, and this kind of journey takes some meandering paths, some dead ends, some detours that we never imagined. Recently, I received a manuscript, all typed in capital letters, written by a great-uncle of mine. He was born in 1897, and according to this manuscript, he was eighty and “nearly blind.” It seems as if he had a wonderful imagination, as I cannot imagine that all of his tales are true. But the ones of my ancestors crossing a mountainous terrain with wagons, with only the ill and children riding, and forging their own trail (none visible) was compelling. He told of one man who had gone on ahead two years earlier, but none of them had any idea whether that man had lived, or died. And I could almost feel the disappointment when the group ended up not in the west, as they had hoped, but north, in Kentucky.


Photo by Stefan Steinbauer on Unsplash

You may ask, “How did people not know in which direction they were headed?” A good Boy or Girl Scout would have figured that out. (See where the sun is!) Yet it sounds like the dense growth and forest cut out much of the sunlight, and I suspect that without the help of Native Americans (one of whom was a common-law wife of my great-grandfather), they would have died. I can only imagine what a journey they took. What a difficult, demanding one it was.

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Genesis 21:1-21

Eyeglasses clem-onojeghuo-143743

Eyeglasses clem-onojeghuo-143743 from http://www.unsplash.com

What does it mean to you, as a human being, when someone sees you? When you, as a human being, really see someone else?  How do you know that you are really being seen?

In the 20009 science fiction movie Avatar, the alien people, the Na’Vi, greet each other this way: “I see you.”  “Like mystics here on Earth, the Na’Vi have an experience of unity of consciousness with other beings, all of which (themselves included) are really just manifestations of one Being, which they call Ai’wa.”[1] Now on some level, one can argue that this is like people of faith who say to each other, “the God in me sees—and acknowledges—the God in you.” Or as we say in yoga, “Namaste.”

Now I don’t mean that we are all gods. Yet there is God’s DNA in each of us. It is this spiritual connection that offers the potential of seeing and of being seen. In today’s Old Testament stories from Genesis, we have some clear examples of people who see and do not see each other. People who hear and do not hear each other. People who allow their own selfishness and jealousy to push aside compassion and welcome for the other.

Last week, we reflected on the story of three angels who visited Abraham and Sarah. The LORD promised that in their old age, they would finally have an heir. You may remember that as Sarah overheard the divine visitor promise this, she laughed in disbelief. Yet there is nothing “too wonderful for the LORD,”so the next year, Isaac was born. Isaac’s name means “He laughs.” So the baby laughter of Isaac joins the childish laughter of Ishmael, the son born to Abraham and Hagar, his Egyptian slave.

When Isaac is weaned, Abraham throws a big party to celebrate, because in the ancient world, a baby’s survival to childhood merits celebration. Yet on this feast day, Sarah sees Ishmael, Hagar’s son. But she does not see him in a positive way. What is Ishmael doing? Laughing. Probably enjoying the feast, along with everyone else. Yet as Sarah watches Ishmael, she does not see a happy teenager. Instead, she sees the heir-apparent—someone to threaten the future of her own son.

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Whether you look in the mirror, see someone you love, or look online at the news, you know that lots of folks need healing and connection. There is no doubt that reading newspapers or listening to/watching news or reading news online is discouraging.

“Is there no balm in Gilead?” Contrary to the reassurance of the old gospel hymn, we may wonder if the answer is “No. None.”

I have decided that at least three times this summer, I am going to offer the chance for you to have healing prayers–either for yourself, or for someone you love–on Sunday morning during the liturgy. Alternatively, if you don’t need healing, or need prayers for that, then perhaps you would just like a prayer of blessing.

In case you didn’t realize this, we have a rite for this in our Book of Common Prayer. “Ministration to the Sick” begins on p. 453. On p. 458, you will find “Prayers for the Sick” and on p. 461, there are several prayers “for use by a Sick Person.”  The prayer that I learned many years ago is one I almost always use (with a small variation at the end) when I make the sign of the cross on someone’s head, then lay my hands on top of their head:

“I lay my hands upon you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, beseeching our Lord Jesus Christ to sustain you with his presence, to drive away all sickness of body and spirit, and to give you that victory of life and peace which will enable you to serve him both now and evermore. Amen.”

So this Sunday, bring someone with you who needs prayers–whether those are healing prayers or prayers of blessing and peace. Drink from God’s well. Drink deeply. Be refreshed. Be seen. Be heard. Be healed. God loves you.

And if it would help you to listen to the hymn “There is a Balm in Gilead” sung by the late, great Mahalia Jackson, here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFMY4V7RdbU

Photo of water taken by Samara Doule. Accessed at http://www.unsplash.com



Genesis 21:1-21

Genesis 21:1-21  (translation from the TANAKH, the Jewish Bible)


The LORD took note of Sarah as He had promised, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had spoken. Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken. Abraham gave his newborn son, whom Sarah had borne him, the name of Isaac. And when his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God had commanded him. Now Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Sarah said, “Go has brought me laughter; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” And she added,

“Who would have said to Abraham

That Sarah would suckle children!

Yet I have borne a son in his old age.”

The child grew up and was weaned, and Abraham held a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.

Sarah saw the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham playing. She said to Abraham, “Cast out that slave-woman and her son, for the son of that slave shall not share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

The matter distressed Abraham greatly, for it concerned a son of his. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed over the boy or your slave; whatever Sarah tells you, do as she says, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be continued for you. As for the son of the slave-woman, I will make a nation of him, too, for he is your seed.”

Early next morning Abraham took some bread and a skin of water, and gave them to Hagar. He placed them over her shoulder, together with the child, and sent her away. And she wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.  When the water was gone from the skin, she left the child under one of the bushes, and went and sat down at a distance, a bowshot away; for she thought, “Let me not look on as the child dies.” And sitting thus afar, she burst into tears.

God heard the cry of the boy, and an angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What trouble you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heeded the cry of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water, and let the boy drink. God was with the boy and he grew up; he dwelt in the wilderness and became a bowman. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.



Monday, 19 June, 2017

Flag at 9 11 Site

St. Philip’s Parish in Laurel has our share of people who come and go. We are not a Capitol Hill parish, which often means that folks move with presidential administrations, or make moves associated with the State Department.  However, we are close to Ft. Meade, which results in a different kind of transition.  Some people come through our doors and stay for a year, some for three.

Yesterday, the proverbial stars aligned. We have a couple, one of whom is military, and they are being transferred overseas.  I had already planned to bring them up front at announcement time and do a special blessing. Yet as I looked, I saw other faces:

A young couple whom I had married, who are currently stationed in NC, but he is here for training, and as it turns out, as he gets ready to retire from military, his wife has been accepted as an officer in the Air Force. So they are preparing to switch parent duties for their two young sons.

Another couple was sitting in worship, one of whom is, at the moment, in reserves, and the other an active duty nurse in a nearby hospital.

A woman was in the back, whom is a retired teacher, but who was in military, and now may still be in the reserves.

Then I looked, and saw the parents of a young woman who is now in the Navy, who lives not too far from Laurel, but who grew up in this parish.


david-beale-194104.jpg, at http://www.unsplash.com

So I had a thought. At the end of the service, after I did announcements, I asked ALL of them to come forward. And I asked the mother of our Navy person also to come forward, in a kind of proxy.  I introduced them, in case people did not know them (and few knew the young couple well.)  Then I said, “You guys work for this country. I know that some of you do stuff you cannot talk about. And so I want to say thank you for your work on behalf of our safety. ”

Then I said, “You know, people come into this parish, and for a time, they walk with us, and we with them, in our spiritual journeys. Then they leave for other, sometimes far-flung places. But we hold them in our hearts, and we pray they do the same. So I want you guys up front to gather around and lay hands on A & B (initials changed), and we are all going to bless them.”

It was a wonderful moment. Keep in mind that several of these men and women did not even know each other. Yet they are all bound by a common bond. They are military, in various branches, or they are family of military. They understand the fragility of life. They deeply understand the value of support–for them and for their families. They have worked hard to achieve what they have achieved. They are willing, by virtue of their being in the service, to go into danger at a moment’s notice.

As we prayed together yesterday morning, I felt like this little “tribe” up front, praying and being prayed for, was surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, and by holiness. In the midst of craziness, chaos, conflict and division in this country, I pray that these children of God received a blessing yesterday, and a sense of peace.

They are not alone. The love of St. Philip’s goes with them. More importantly, the love of God surrounds and goes with them too. ~Sheila

Note: photo of flag at top taken by McJilton in New York City, at the 9-11 Memorial site.