stripping the altar // packing the tabernacle

Poignant thoughts for Holy Week from Katie Kuntz-Wineland

growing up, i always hated good friday.
blood, suffering, death,
and at the end of the night:
the altar stripped
the sanctuary lights overcome by darkness
the body of christ left alone in silence.

good friday came early this year.
we haven’t even waved palm branches,
there have been no shouts of hosanna,
we’ve made no attempt to crown a king.
and before the holiest days even begin,
it’s time to say goodbye.

today the altar of my heart was stripped in a different way—
not for three, now predictable, days,
but for a longer, unknown season
whose days my tradition didn’t teach me to number.
not to remember a death,
but to invoke a long journey, just begun.
with tears we packed our tabernacle
and prepared to walk the wilderness with you,
our God,
who promises to be for us
a pillar of cloud by day
and fire by…

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New Wineskins


21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” Mark 2:21-22

God in God’s great mercy has pushed a reset button. (I am not ascribing suffering to God, but I do hold that things that are meant for evil can be turned to good by God – as Joseph once said to his rotten, conniving brothers in Genesis 50:20.)

There is a reset button for his children who could not speak civilly to each other.  Now we’re on a time out.  We’ve been sent to our rooms.

There is a reset button for a world, literally, on fire.  If we can’t go to the ocean, we can’t throw plastic into the ocean.  If we can’t leave our homes, we can’t push carbons into the atmosphere.  You get the idea.

There is a reset button on too busy.  Mandatory sabbath, resting in the essentials over against “Activities”.  It’s almost like we are getting a month of Sundays, to make up for all the times we refused the rest and goodness intended by setting a day apart.

Which brings us to the church building, and wineskins.  Overnight, after decades of refusing to come forward into God’s new thing, God pushed the reset button.  Where does worship happen?  The answer is yes, all of the above.  Church happens in our phone calls, church happens on the interwebs, church happens when the hungry are fed.  For the meantime, ladies and gentlemen, church has left the building.

We struggle against this reset button perhaps harder than all others.  Because this is what we know how to do.  For hundreds of years, we know how to have worship in a sanctuary.  So I am seeing many places where we preachers, alone in a pulpit, are delivering an hour service.  As though.

I am an imperfect human being, given to error.  I run three steps ahead and then am surprised when nobody gets “it”, whatever “it” is.  I need to slow my roll.  However, this:

God put on flesh and tabernacled with us.  The first worship centers were nomadic tents.  The first churches were in homes.  We stopped seeing the Temple in Jerusalem as the only right place for worship a long, long time ago.  Through the diaspora God taught that God values those who worship in spirit and truth.  Jesus came out of the synagogue and taught on hillsides and in boats and in town squares.  God values those who learn how to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.

So why on earth are so many of us videoing from an empty sanctuary?  Perhaps we have become accustomed to the illusion of  “serving” in that unpopulated tomb.  We have many technological tools to help us remain engaged.  Let’s engage our brains too and behold the new thing God is doing.  Let’s not put this new wine in old wineskins.  Those old wineskins weren’t getting it done anyway.  We do not need to create an illusion of the way things used to be.  We need to worship in the here and now.

One day, finally, we will be able to gather together once again.  Perhaps the time apart will have decisively set in us the value – not of the building – but of the community, and we will understand this: We go in for the purpose of being sent out, once again, into the world God loves, to love not only in speech but in truth and in action (1 John 3:18).

God equips us to give him glory.  Let us have eyes to see and ears to hear and tongues to taste that sweet new wine.


Life Passing Before Our Eyes

Monday March 16, 2020

Yes, This Happens to Other People Too

Exodus 13:14 When in the future your child asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall answer, ‘By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.

Exodus 19:26 But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

Isaiah 43:19 I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

One of the things that happens when human beings are in a strange time is that we often experience, without bidding it come, a life review of past events.  Like “my life flashed before my eyes!”  What makes that happen?  Does that mean we’re gonna die?

Honey, we’re all gonna die someday. (Nobody gets out of here alive, although I do believe we’ll get out of here with an eternal life.)  That being said, why does this happen?

Your brain is working over time to make sense of what’s going on.  If we didn’t have a “normal”, we wouldn’t know we are out of normal.  Necessarily there’s a before and after, and your brain is quite stressed.  Your brain wants to know what’s going to happen going forward, but all it knows is what went before, so it’s spending a lot of time there. A LOT of time. You know what I mean.  Your first true love, that cute little rental in Missouri, that time you said that stupid thing, what you really wanted to be when you grew up…

And then you get both depressed AND frustrated!  Depressed because what was familiar is gone and it seems there is a vast space in its place.  Frustrated because you absolutely have no way to prepare for what you haven’t known before.  Faith, friends.  As we sing in the hymn “Out of Deep Unordered Water”: “God has been this way before”.

We know this. God is the before and the after.  The alpha and the omega.  The beginning and the end. In this “liminal” time (Isn’t THAT a fancy word? From the Latin, meaning “threshold”), we should not just review our life, we should reflect on the promises of God which sustain us from age to age.  We are in an in-between time, at the threshold of something new.  Embrace this time as a call to prayer.  As a chance to see life differently.  As a breath before the birth.  Behold, God is doing a new thing.

Shelter In Place

Meditation for Coronavirus; #1; March 16, 2020

From Genesis 28, selections, New Revised Standard Version:

10 Jacob… came to a certain place and stayed there for the night… Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12 And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac…15 Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go…16 Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” 17 And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Continue reading “Shelter In Place”

Of Ashes and Princesses

Public Service Announcement:  Princesses don’t stop being Princesses just because it’s Ash Wednesday.

And so.

She came to church in her very best Cinderella sparkly dress that she probably doesn’t take off even to play in the sandbox, or the dirt, and maybe even the bathtub.  She probably naps in it, dreaming dreams of twirling.

And on Ash Wednesday she twirled.  She came right up into the chancel and if she could’ve stood on the pulpit, I believe she would have, proclaiming the Good News in her liturgical dance (and no, Presbyterians aren’t very big on that sort of thing, but sometimes the Holy Spirit has other ideas, the Holy Spirit being something of a twirler Herself) PROCLAIMING THE GOOD NEWS that even though we are mortal, and to dust we shall return (buried in our very best fairy princess dresses) that there is joy in this dusty mortal life, thanks be to God, so don’t save your fairy princess dress for the grave, for heaven’s sake!

She twirled through the solo of “What Wondrous Love Is This?” much to her mother’s chagrin.

Let’s have a moment of silence for all the mothers of twirlers.  No easy job that.  Poor Mary, standing by while Jesus upset the Pharisaic apple cart, she part mortified, part engaged in the something else beyond her that was between her child and God, that was her child and God, that was God.  Not worshipping per se, because dear LORD have mercy it’s hard to “worship” when you’re the mother of a twirler.  But THERE.  Present.  Present and accounted for.  Voting through the chagrin to raise her children in the church even though it’s passé.

Chagrinned Mother of Princess Twirler heard the call before it was spoken from the pulpit, may she be honored!   The Ash Wednesday call from Isaiah: to bring everybody in their every condition – even the aged, even babies at the breast, even the bridegroom, even the bride in HER fairy princess dress should leave her Maybelline and her chamber and come and remember.

And so the princess’ parents obeyed the Word of the Lord and brought the twirler.  And oh their hearts were rent, but not that garment.  They made a choice to bring Twirler and her non twirler sister and they sat in seats that might otherwise be occupied by elders, but one elder had the flu, and one elder forgot it was Ash Wednesday, and one elder had to work, and one elder was too tired.  And they sat in seats that might have been occupied by the confirmands, but it’s a Wednesday and that means track, and Latin, and Advanced Geometry.  And they say in seats that might have been occupied by say, people who need to hear that Ash Wednesday line “AS IF they were a nation that practiced righteousness.”

And God knows how they do it, because Holy God it’s hard to bring kids to church, especially twirlers, but there’s holiness in that.  There’s holiness now and there’s holiness later when that Twirler will say “I grew up in the church,” but don’t miss it – there’s holiness in the holy disruption of What Wondrous Love Is This because if you get it, if you really get it, you’ll want to put on your best clothes and show up in God’s living room and twirl.  For if not for God twirling the story a different way, ashes would be the end of it.

A Sonnet for the feast of the Transfiguration

Malcolm Guite

Transfiguration by Rebecca Merry

Continuing my series of sonnets ‘Sounding the Seasons’ of the Church’s year, here is a sonnet for the feast of the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration is usually celebrated on August 6th, but sometimes on the Sunday nearest, and sometimes in mid-Lent, which is a good time for it too, as I believe the glimpse of glory in Christ they saw on the mount of the Transfiguration was given in order to sustain the disciples through darkness of Good Friday. Indeed it is for a disciple, looking back at the transfiguration from Good Friday, that I have voiced the poem.

I am honoured to have had my work interpreted by two other Cambridge artists. The painting above is artist Rebecca Merry‘s response to the poem. Rebecca is well known for her paintings in egg tempora and in responding to this ‘iconic’ moment in the life of Christ she…

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Discipleship: Do, Love, Walk

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Gospel Matthew 5:1-12 

1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

18For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

19For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation,to save those who believe.

22For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23but we proclaim Christ crucified,a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks,Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

25For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

26Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.

27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  28God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are,  29so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

30He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus,

who became for us wisdom from God,

and righteousness and sanctification and redemption,

31in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

The Sermon: Do, Love, Act

The job of preaching, someone has said, is to “Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”

However, I read somewhere this week that “right now everyone’s afflicted.”  Blessed are you, poor in spirit, for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.  Really Jesus?  Really? Who is super abundantly happy at in times such as these.  Call them The beatitudes?  Try the provocatudes. For even comfort challenges us in days like these.  But this is the wisdom of God.  And while such wisdom seems foolish to the world, it is our calling.  Yours and mine, to proclaim in word and deed and deed more than word that this is the life we are to lead: to bless the poor, to bless the meek, to bless those who are reviled and persecuted, to be peacemakers, to hunger and thirst for righteousness.  To do justice.  To love mercy.  To walk humbly with the Lord our God.  To Do. To Love. To Walk.  Do. Love. Walk.  Do. Love. Walk. Sleep.  Repeat.

But how?  Where do we start with so much need?  There was a discussion on RevGalPals last night.  Many of us feeling quite overwhelmed by the contrast between the state of the world – and the statement of the Gospel. Overwhelmed to the point of not being able to write, because there is just so much.  Just so much.  The author of the post called it preaching paralysis.

Perhaps you have it too, somehow, in your calling, with all that’s going on Beloved.  End up going in circles.  Not sure how you can possibly impact the need – how you can do justice with so much injustice in the world.  How your heart can counter the hate.

As author Johnathan Katz put it: First they came for the Latinos, Muslims, women, gays, poor people, intellectuals and scientists… and then it was Wednesday.

No wonder we are overwhelmed. We are in a season of whelming.

How can we do justice in the midst of this storm?  In little ways.  One step at a time.  One day at a time.  The next right thing.  As Mother Theresa said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

And small things are God’s way.

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world,things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

If you recall, last week I was reduced to nothing by the low and despised flu bug.  Think of that science.  A little organism, a sphere about 80 nanometers long.  How big is that?  Well, take a hair from your head.  The circumference is about 75,000 nanometers.  And a flu virus?  80.  By that, something that is so tiny I can’t see it – I was reduced to nothing.

And then, you people, YOU people, started doing small things with great love.  I was texted.  I was emailed.  I was called.  I was sconed and muffined.  I was souped by Presbyterians.  And I am grateful.  For here I am.  Well enough to stand and to hold forth the foolishness of proclamation.

Which is this: you can convert every single thing you did last week to justice this week.  No big things.  Just small things with great love, body of Christ.  Text your representative concerning refugees.  Email your name to the alt national park support sign up.  Call your neighbor and enlist their help.  I was sconed, muffined, and souped.  Blessed am I, now bless those who hunger for righteousness.  Let’s cook up some Good News!

And walk humbly while we’re doing it, beloved.  Because you know, there is no wisdom but God’s.  “The discernment of the discerning he will thwart.”  Listen up –  This is not a political issue in the sense of Republicans and Democrats.  Scripture does not allow this division between us.  We proclaim Christ crucified,a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, a stumbling block to conservatives and foolishness to liberals –24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, both conservatives and liberals – Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

We are Christians! You know this week a hold was placed on travelers, we of the faith that fled into Egypt.  A hold was placed on travelers, we who are called to demonstrate hospitality to strangers.  A hold was placed on refuges, we who sing that Jesus loves the little children of the world.  We, we the body of Christ, must be the ones to say Let the little children come, and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.  You can do it.  You can do one small thing with great love.     Don’t know what to do first?  Google the Indivisible Guide.  Google “The time for Welcome is Now: Ten Ideas”

Father James Martin says, “We turn away refugees like the Jews were turned away. We close the door on those who suffer most. We have forgotten. And we are anti-life.”

And our Holy writings say, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.  The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.  Love them as you love yourself, for you were once foreigners in Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

And writer Rev. Rachel Held Evans says, “…Every mama should be able to rock her baby to sleep in safety each night. Today, America made that harder…Every night, as I nurse my little boy for the last time before bed, I pray for all the mamas nursing their babies in refugee camps & rafts..


Listen to this poem by Warren Price:

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles traveled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one’s skin would be tough enough…

Or if that story doesn’t get you, perhaps this one will:  Matthew 25:31-

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.

32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand,

‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father,

inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

35 for I was hungry and you gave me food,

I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,

I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

36 I was naked and you gave me clothing,

I was sick and you took care of me,

I was in prison and you visited me.’

37 Then the righteous will answer him,

‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food,

or thirsty and gave you something to drink?

38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you,

or naked and gave you clothing?

39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

40 And the king will answer them,

‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’

45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it for me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

This is the wisdom of God. 30He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus,who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption,

So do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord.

Do Justice.  Love Mercy.  Walk Humbly.

Do Love Walk

Do Love Walk



In the name of the Father an the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.