Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ni de aquí, ni de allá (repost)

Tiny Church is beginning a discernment process, and my sermons are beginning to focus toward that. This results in an internal conversation that is about as interesting to folks outside that process as watching paint dry. So here is my sermon from last year on the Slaughter of the Innocents and God's transgression of borders. May we remember that God transgresses more than just physical boundaries--none of our assumptions or hopes about God are safe from the Holy Spirit.

A prayer from Gideon Addington, my twitter friend who took his own life last week (Dec. 2009). He would have liked this sermon.

"Let us be still, O Lord, let us dwell in the gentle silence of your approach.  You who lift up the weak who repairs, the broken who heals the sick; we await You.  We struggle to remember that Your Kingdom is at hand.  Guide us Merciful Judge, in being instruments of your peace. 
May grace more abound within us!"

Sermon by Katie Mulligan
December 27, 2009
First Sunday After Christmas Day

(Audio recording of the service can be found here: )

First Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:1-12
Second Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:13-23

There is a LOT to unpack in these 28 verses of scripture.  But let me say this up front: I won’t get to it all. AND today’s scripture reading is about movement and borders, violence and refuge, remembering the past and visioning the future.

Let us begin with movement and borders.  From Luke’s gospel, we know that after Mary conceived a child, she traveled to see her cousin, Elizabeth. Then after returning home, she and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem for the census, where Jesus was born. Next, Matthew tells us, three wise men from the East came following a star in the sky, leaving behind their home and comforts to see if their astrological predictions had come true.  They stopped in Jerusalem, a center of power, in the same way that one might stop in the state capitol if one was looking for the governor.  But the only King of the Jews to be found there was King Herod.  Fearing for his own power and authority, King Herod set the priests and scribes of the kingdom to the task of figuring out where the baby Jesus would be born. And then he sent the wise men on their way, wandering toward Bethlehem with instructions to return to Herod with additional information.  The star in the sky went ahead of them, perhaps a bit like the pillars of cloud and fire went ahead of the Israelites in the wilderness, guiding them along their way.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Single Parent Christmas

A quick shoutout to the single parents trying to pull together Christmas this year. Whether your tree looks like this:

or like this:

I've always found Christmas a bit hard to manage. There are expectations swirling in the air. I started to list them for you, but then I hit the backspace. If you know what I mean, you don't need the list. If you don't get it, you don't want to hear it.

I think the hardest thing about Christmas the last few years has been the break in our family rituals. We used to always get our Christmas tree on the 10th of December (give or take a day). Very important was a straight tree. There were different things we each did that had become ritualized for us, and they signaled the beginning of the Christmas season.

I am known in my family as not liking Christmas much. Which is why I find it ironic to now be the keeper of the Christmas rituals. We get a tree all right, but usually within days of Christmas. Frankly, I didn't even realize Christmas is this week until yesterday. And we go to the same single lot to find a tree: the guy who runs an A&W a Stewart's root beer stand in the summer imports trees at Christmas. And we never get a straight tree--never. I gave up that first year when I realized that by December 23rd, all the straight trees are gone. And anyway, I can't tell if it's straight or not until I stick it in the stand.

Last year, when we got our tree so late, I brought it home, only to realize that the Christmas tree stand had a hole in it. I realized this after all the water leaked out onto the carpet. I ran about town trying to find a new stand, but every store was sold out, so I used a variety of household items to make do (after trying to caulk the hole w/bathtub sealant). This year we got a stand, but the tree leans badly. I have tied it with ribbon to the curtain rod.

I have, for nearly 20 years, been in charge of putting the lights on the tree. Once upon a time I wrapped them painstakingly around each branch. At this point in my life I sort of throw them on the tree. Oldest refuses to assist with the ornaments. The Little Guy is very enthusiastic for a while; every ornament goes on the same three branches (which doesn't help much with the leaning problem). Tonight the cats will jump on the tree and shake everything lose, and in the morning I'll put the fallen ornaments back on more securely.

I like tinsel, but the cats eat it, and it comes out in interesting ways.

So I'm hitting the liquor store in a bit to grab a bottle of wine. And I'll raise my glass to you a bit later, as I think about what's important this year and what's not. The year I was pregnant with Oldest, I did nothing for Christmas except vomit. And that was alright too.

Love to you all.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Chosen Families

Dedicated to Gideon Addington, known to my Twitter community as @gideony, who took his own life a year ago today on December 12, 2009. We miss you and love you and wonder how it is that you're gone. And to all of my chosen family on Twitter, my love to you. Gideon would have loved to see how we have grown together.

Sermon, Sunday December 12, 2010
by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings: Psalm 146 and Matthew 1:18-25

We are coming close to Christmas Day. Can you feel it yet? The air is pregnant with the coming of a child, a tiny infant who will enflesh divinity, fulfilling prophecies and toppling kingdoms. Stars will fall out of alignment and angels will sing to shepherds. Bells will ring and the glorious song of olde will creep upon the midnight clear. But a little longer—we’re not quite there yet. The trees are everywhere with their ornaments and stars. My email inbox is stuff full, alternatively with advertisments for more stuff I can buy for my loved ones and inspirational yuletide chain letters. It’s the most wonderful time of the year—or at least the busiest. So much to do. So much to do. So much to do.

In a sleepy village in Palestine, there was a woman named Mary and a man named Joseph. They were engaged to be married, and before they lived together, Mary became pregnant. And Joseph was sure it was not his child. We do not know much more about Joseph and Mary except for that: a man and a woman engaged to be married, and the woman got pregnant. Tradition makes Joseph to be a carpenter, although he could have been any kind of craftsman. Some say Mary was a child bride—12 years old, too young to marry right away and so still living with her parents. They say that Joseph was an old man, a widower, with children from a previous marriage. Some say that he died at the age of 114. But the truth is that we have no record anywhere of Joseph’s age or Mary’s, nor do we know when Joseph died—he simply disappears from the scriptures after Jesus was 10. We can infer a lot, we can guess a lot, we can read a lot into the text. But what we know for sure is very simple: a man named Joseph was engaged to a woman named Mary. And she became pregnant with a child who was not his.

I attended a worship service recently where this same passage was preached. And when the preacher came to this point—that Joseph was confronted with the fact that his fiancé was pregnant with someone else’s child—everybody laughed a little along with the preacher. Truly a dilemma, you see! What was Joseph to do? And the laughter in the room was connected to a sense of scandal, a delicious sense of moral certitude which made each of us nod knowingly. A young woman pregnant, and the fiancé is not the father? We know how that conversation went! The shame! The scandal! The indecency! And even though we as readers are given the knowledge in advance that this child is the responsibility of that tricky and irrascible Holy Spirit, Joseph didn’t know that. We watch him, fascinated, mulling over the options. What would we do? Would we keep the wife? Put her out on the street? Sue to see if she is not a virgin so we might keep the dowry? Chase after the other lover? Perhaps these days hire a private investigator or check her facebook. At the very least we imagine the conversation: the angst of infidelity, her protestations of innocence, his confusion and disillusionment, her stubborn refusal to be shamed. All this and more fluttered through our imaginations as we listened to the preacher laugh softly at this confrontation, and our own laughter reflected moments of discomfort, disillusionment, betrayal. Most of us have been on both sides of that story at some point—the one betrayed or the one who betrays. Oh yes, we know how that conversation went.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Wrestling in the Pews

I am not preaching tomorrow, but here is a sermon from a while back for those of you who like them. This was the first sermon I preached at Tiny Church--an audition, if you will.  As anyone there can tell you, everything went wrong in that worship service; even the electric keyboard stopped working, and I had to lead replacement hymns a capella. I figured there was no way they'd hire me after that service, but session met in the foyer and hollered a job offer across the parking lot before I could drive away. Such is the way of tiny churches.

Possibly the most memorable part of that worship service (for me anyway) was the reading of scripture, specifically this verse from Genesis 25:  
Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife because she was barren, and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. The children struggled together within her; and she said, "If it is to be this way, why do I live?"
At that exact moment, my oldest child caught his brother in a headlock. The little guy shrieked with rage, leaped up from the front pew, and ran underneath my skirt. Oldest casually strolled up and leaned into me, smiling out at the congregation. As I stood momentarily stunned, the congregation giggled a bit, and after depositing my two weasels back into the pews, I continued on with my debut sermon. I will simply say that pastoring as a single mother is an interesting experience.

Here is the sermon. Enjoy, dear ones.

Sermon, Sunday, July 13, 2008
by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings: Genesis 25:19-34 and Matthew 12:46-13:9

Jacob and Esau were the grandsons of Abraham and Sarah. They were the only children of Isaac and Rebekah, and they were born late in Isaac’s life, when Isaac was sixty years old. For twenty years Rebekah had been barren, unable to conceive children. Isaac prayed to the Lord, and God answered their prayers for a child. In God’s usual way, the prayer was answered mischievously, with a pair of twins. From the very beginning, even in the womb, Jacob and Esau fought with one another. They were so rowdy in their mother’s womb that Rebekah sought advice from the Lord. Foreshadowing the pain and struggles to come for their little family, Rebekah asked the Lord, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” Siblings who fight can cause unimaginable grief in a household, and these two were already going at it before they were even born. The Lord’s answer can hardly have been all that reassuring. Two nations at war in her womb, the elder shall serve the younger, a recipe for disaster in a world where peace in a household was maintained by birth order.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Crocodile Teeth

Sermon, Sunday Nov. 21, 2010
by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings:
Genesis 1:20-25
2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Today is the last day of the liturgical year. Or in other words, this is the last Sunday of the church calendar. It is the end of Ordinary time. It is the last Proper Sunday. No more green until January. Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, and also the beginning of a new year for the church.  Today is Christ the King Sunday—the grand ultimate ending to our year.

In keeping with the quiet beginnings of a baby, I'm betting next Sunday will be a quiet Sunday for most of our churches. Bloated from holiday eating, and spending binges on Friday, exhausted from long hours of travel and/or entertaining holiday guests, attendance on Sunday will be a bit low, I suspect. Perhaps you will be cruising along a turnpike somewhere this time next week, rocking out to a chorus of “Are we there yet?” and “Stop touching your brother!” and “Moommmm! I’m hungry!”

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Unzippered in Church

I dedicate our reading from Habakkuk this morning to Oscar Grant and his family. Mr. Grant was fatally shot in Oakland on January 1, 2009 by police officer Johannes Mehserle. He was unarmed, face down on the ground, and shot in the back. On November 5, Officer Mehserle received a sentence of 2 years, including time served. Davey D, a reporter and activist in Oakland has written extensively about this trial.

I don't have the answers. But for those of you closer to me, there is a rally for Mumia Abu-Jamal on Tuesday, November 9 in Philadelphia. The Third Circuit court is determining whether Mr. Abu-Jamal is to be executed or receive life in prison. Information on the rally can be found on the Free Mumia website. Additional information about his case can be found at Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The effects of centuries of racist violence in our country are undeniably at the root of both Mr. Grant and Mr. Abu-Jamal's cases. Read the Habakkuk scripture. And then the sermon about Zacchaeus. And then let us ask ourselves, in a moment of naked honesty, what have we taken and how do we pay it back?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Arise My Fair One

This morning's sermon I have preached before. I defend myself with some words from G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy:

“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
To get you in the mood for Song of Songs,
here's Norah Jones' "Come Away With Me"

Sermon, Sunday October 24, 2010
by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings: Song of Songs 2:8-14 and Matthew 11:28-30

So, a love poem and a few words from Jesus. Our theme this morning is love and desire, passion, and finding peace in the arms of a beloved other.  I wish I could tell you that today’s texts come from the lectionary, that I am not responsible for their selection, for to speak of love and desire is always risky. In our Prayer of Confession this morning we prayed these words: “Almighty and merciful God, we have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against your holy laws.” It may be that we too often follow the devices and desires of our own hearts, but I wonder sometimes if we Presbyterians might be more guilty of following our rational heads too much. So I must admit that I chose these texts this morning, for in the midst of a hard and busy schedule, I am longing for the playfulness of falling in love.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dropped out of the Almighty's Pocket

1796 half dime
For all of those whom I have lost
for so many reasons. 
My love to you.
may we meet again.

Sunday September 12, 2010
by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 and Luke 15:1-10

A quick note: The Jeremiah passage is from the lectionary. But I had no idea what to do with it this week. I offer it to you as from a pastor who has lost her way a bit in the scriptures. Make of it what you will.

So then on to Master Luke.

I have often wondered what it means that there are three stories of being lost, one right after another, in the gospel of Luke.  Often we focus on the prodigal son story—and why not? After all, there’s something for everybody in that story. The younger brother who gets too big for his britches, or just tired of sitting in the shadows, and goes off to see the world and find himself. He takes with him his inheritance, squanders it, and gets into trouble. We see the younger brother and see ourselves, or our loved ones, as we have been (or are perhaps now), wasteful, lost, sinful, bringing doom down upon ourselves. And who among us hasn’t had the opportunity to truly humble ourselves to another?  The prodigal son’s return mirrors our own journeys back into relationship. Perhaps we’ve found such grace that he did, or perhaps not, but eating humble pie, well we’ve all had to do that.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

On Being at Table and Respect

I brought you into a plentiful land 
to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered
you defiled my land,
and made my heritage an abomination

~Jeremiah 2:7

Sermon, Sunday, August 29, 2010
by Katie Mulligan

Yesterday was the 47th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s address at the 1963 March on Washington: “I Have a Dream”.  Nearly five years after that address, Dr. King was dead, assassinated on April 4, 1968 while standing on the balcony of his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee. He was planning to lead a protest march with striking garbage workers. (A brief bio here)

As a black man pushing against injustice, even in non-violent ways, Dr. King was subject to arrest and assault, endless attacks on his character, and his home was bombed. And yet he persevered, daring to speak publicly, openly, loudly, what so many cried out in their hearts. He pulled together a broad coalition of people, men and women, straight and gay, black and not black, rich and poor. At the age of 35 he won the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest man ever to do so.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thoughts from a Walk and Ecclesiastes

One day we will fade away. School children will wonder how to pronounce Usains. They will confuse us w/Ukians & Ukranians & Uruguayans & Uzbekistanis. They will wonder if it was really Usanis & not Usains and whether there is a linguistic connection between Usa & Asia. A teacher will insist the children mark Uganda & Usa & Uk & Uzbekistan & Uruguay in the right place on a map w/out activating the chip in their head.
For all is vanity and a chasing after the wind. 
There is nothing new under the sun and especially not us. Or Usains.

Therefore there is nothing better for mortals than to eat, drink, and find enjoyment in their labor. This too is from God.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Someone Else's Words

A Non-Sermon
Sunday, August 8, 2010

I am exhausted. I've had a cold. I miss vacation. The cats are cranky. School starts soon. The house is a mess. It seems that many of the people I love are in crisis--the kind of crisis where you lose your faith. So I have no words of my own today. Which is fine, because Christians are a loquatious bunch and there are plenty of other people's words to borrow.

You may think this is about mushrooms, because of the picture. And I did once write a paper titled "Jesus the Fungus", describing our Savior as a contaminating, house-eating fungus whose corosive quality eats away at the U.S. house of racism and bigotry. If you want it, e-mail me. But today was about seeking after the divine and not finding that sneaky, shifty, crafty, low-down skunk of a God.

So we read this scripture, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen...All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.

Ok. There's more to the scripture than that. Click on the link, go read, I'm not stopping you. But I am about to crash for a well-earned Sunday afternoon nap. I could just stop with "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." But I'm a preacher, so a little more.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mangos for Jesus

Mango w/Sticky Rice
 "The reign of God is a warm, fleshy, all-encompassing body with enough spare flesh for all to be nourished."

Elizabeth Stuart, Introd. Body Theology
cited by Lisa Isherwood, The Fat Jesus

Sermon: August 1, 2010
by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings: Ecclesiastes 1:1-14, 2:18-24 and Luke 12:13-21

We are continuing this week in a mini-series about prayer.  Last week we talked about angry prayer—those prayers of rage and despair that we sometimes refuse to allow out of our hearts.  Today we will talk about food. And more precisely how food can be a way of prayer.  And then later we’ll take communion together. It will be an act of prayer masqueraded as an act of food, and together we will celebrate Christ in our midst. In the best of our acts of food, this is what we are doing.

Our first passage this morning was from Ecclesiastes, and probably you have heard much of it before. All is vanity, all is dust in the wind. There is nothing new under the sun.  It is an unhappy business the Lord has given us, to toil fruitlessly on earth. All that we are and have will pass away into the hands of others, and there will be no trace of our lives left on earth. All our days are full of pain, and our work is a vexation; even at night our minds do not rest. All is vanity.  Perhaps you resonate with this passage? Have you had your mid-life crisis yet? (Or your quarter-life or two-thirds-life crisis, or even your end-of-life crisis?)  Have you found yourself waking up one morning and realizing that this is it?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Looked Good on Paper, eh God?

Sermon July 25, 2010
by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings:
Luke 11:1-13, Hosea 1:2-10, 2:1-3, 14-16

A few folks have asked me to speak about prayer. Different kinds of prayers, how one might go about praying, what is the effectiveness of prayer—there have been a number of requests in different ways, and so I thought today that I might talk about angry, desperate prayer.  Prayers that go out in the midst of harsh circumstances.  Prayers for mercy, for deliverance, for revenge. I thought, perhaps, I might start here, with anger and desperation, because so often we find ourselves in hard times, and then we find ourselves unable to pray.  We wonder, if there is a place in the church for such rage as overtakes our soul.  We imagine that Jesus would have handled our life with more grace, and that therefore we ought to as well. We question whether God is capable of handling the level of our rage and grief—and if She can, whether She will tolerate our sass past the first few words that tumble from our hearts.  We are taught, after all, to offer up songs of praise and gratitude, regardless of the circumstances. The songs of lament and prayers of imprecation dry up, and so do our souls. What good is a God who can hear only the happy endings—if this is what we are offered, I want my money back. Or whatever goat or dove I laid down on the offering table.  No, I insist upon a God who can take it all and who will abide with me through all of the twists and turns of my life, through the moments when I have caused grievous pain, and the moments when others have committed atrocities upon my person. I hope we will all gather round to hear each other’s stories, and insist that the Almighty be present and accounted for in each and every life.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


If my son's reaction to his popsicle touching his apple slice is any indication, Leviticus was written by a very small boy acting out.

Peace to you.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Clever, Crafty Giggle of God

Disclaimer for my insistently orthodox friends: I am not denying the Trinity. See my statement of faith. Thanks.

Holy God, we long to fully know you, and yet our words fail us. We seek your face, yet flinch away in fear when we get a glimpse of you. We read your Word and find it hard to digest. We long for your Spirit, yet resist surrendering to the life you call us to. We ask "What would Jesus do?" to avoid the question "What did Jesus do?" Come, sweet Spirit, and light upon our hearts. In this moment we rest in you.

Sermon, Sunday May 30, 2010
by Katie Mulligan
Scripture Readings: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 and Romans 5:1-5
Today is Trinity Sunday, that day in our church calendar when we lift up the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  As I was thinking about this high holy day and all of its formulaic glory, I was reminded of this t-shirt I’m wearing this morning. I went to MIT my first year of college. On the day of the first freshman physics exam, and organization named SPAMIT sold t-shirts outside the lecture hall. SPAMIT stood for Stupid People At MIT.  Nearby, perhaps more of a comfort, a Christian organization was selling t-shirts; this one has five Bible verses translated into Calculus equations (the specific scriptures are listed at the bottom of this sermon). The Trinity doctrine reminds me a bit of Calculus—in some ways it is simple and elegant, and in others convoluted and tortured.

The Trinity is an important part of our tradition, and it dates back to the Council of Nicea when the heated question of “What is the nature of God” threatened to split apart the unity of the early church.  Was the Father and the Son of the same essence?  How did the Spirit relate? Who proceeded from whom? How can we claim three persons in the Godhead and still insist upon only one God?  Is the Spirit of the same essence as the Father and the Son?  What is the function, form, relationship of the three persons in the Godhead? Like any question of the nature of God, it did actually split the church, into winners and losers, orthodox and heresy, those who were of the true faith and those who must be rooted out.  We’re still doing that by the way.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Starting Over

Sermon, Sunday, April 25, 2010
by katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings: Lamentations 3:1-24 and Acts 9:36-43

As I was reading through the scripture one last time this morning, I wondered about that moment that Tabitha opened her eyes.  I wondered if it had been anyone else except Peter standing there if she would have just rolled over and gone back to being dead. Sometimes it matters who is trying to call you back to life. But that isn’t the point this morning. Rather, I wish to speak to the prospect of starting over. Of resurrection. Of new life.

Perhaps you remember a time when you were little.  You had broken something of your mother’s—a vase, a favorite cup, a picture. Maybe you’d scribbled on the wall in crayon. Maybe you lost your father’s keys. You unscrewed all the screws from the bottom of the desk and it fell apart.  Some kid got in your face and said something nasty, so you punched her. Somebody punched you, so you said something nasty.  Maybe you were not going to eat those peas, no matter how long you sat at the table, no matter how many meals those peas kept appearing. Maybe you stole a pack of gum from the store (and I’m not admitting to anything here).

But you remember, don’t you, that moment when you made a mistake and you knew you were dead?  In the face of certain death and doom, you looked at your parent and said in the smallest, most pathetic voice, “Can we start the day over?”

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Sermon, Sunday April 18, 2010
by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings: Acts 9:1-20 and John 21:1-19

This was the music playing in the background as I wrote this sermon, and as you will see it highly influenced my interpretation of these texts. Enjoy! Sermon is below the video.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Poised at the Edge

Forgive me, I have not blogged in a while nor posted sermons. Sometimes it's just complicated.

My Easter sermon, along with my confession that I prefer Ordinary Time to the High Holy Days.  Perhaps Marcella Althaus-Reid put it best:
There can be no sanitization here, or something of the divine essence will be lost—it is not the genetically modified, metaphysical Son of God that declares the divine-human conjunction, but the screaming baby born amidst the cow shit and fleas, covered in his birthing blood and received into the uncertain arms of his child/mother, who declares salvation for all...the divine is earthy, messy and partial and is to be found there in all its glory, not in splendid doctrine stripped of all humanness. (1)
Sermon, Sunday April 4, 2010
by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings:
John 1:1-5
John 20:1-18

After all they had been through in the last week, Jesus’ followers deserved a break from the fear and unrest that had become such a part of their lives.  After all, it was only a couple of weeks ago that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead.  Jesus had been talking strangely of his own death for quite some time, and after Lazarus, the religious leaders began to plot to kill Jesus.  So they had gone to a little town near the wilderness to hide until the Passover, when Jesus decided to walk right into the death trap that had been set for him.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Laura Downton

Women's Herstories: 
Laura Downton

Laura is in her last year of theological studies at Princeton theological seminary.  Throughout her time at PTS she has been dedicated to lifting up women's voices and cultivating an anti-racist atmosphere at the seminary. Students at PTS have the opportunity to preach in Miller Chapel once during their senior year.  Laura's sermon on Queen Vashti from the book of Esther is magnificent, and she has allowed me to post it here.

Scripture Reading: Esther 1:10-22

Prayer: Challenge us, God who is Love, in this time of Lenten waiting & turning. May we hear Vashti's 'no' and in it somehow find our yes, with your healing balm. Amen.

Sermon: Her No Was Her Yes

     A refusal stirs through the years, the translations, the pages before us. Our text introduces us to a Queen whose words we are not able to hear. Yet in Queen Vashti's action, we hear a resounding, pealing, earthshattering 'no.' A blatant, glaring, unexplained, unapologetic refusal. Queen Vashti's 'no' comes in her refusal to obey the king's order that she come wearing her crown- and only her crown, to expose the beauty of her body to the King's palace officials. He has summoned her at an hour reserved for the concubine. 'Proper wives' have been dismissed for the evening and as the wine has continued flowing, Queen Vashti has been ordered to come. A complex matrix of honor and shame are hanging by threads wound tightly in the tangles of her next move of acquiescence or resistance.
     We can almost hear the palace walls shake with rage, dishes flying, glasses breaking as the king receives word that the Queen will not come when bidden.
     Queen Vashti's defiance has widespread consequence. Her refusal threatens not only the King's authority over her, but that of every husband in the kingdom. You see, her 'no' is so threatening, so upsetting to the order of the day, that a royal decree is necessary throughout the whole land that asserts that the man is to be master of 'his' household.
     What if word spreads to the women of the land? Vashti's defiance will be a model for the women of the kingdom.
     Queen Vashti's rebellion against being made the King’s toy comes at the cost of her crown, her status, her life as she knows it. Her story lays bare the consequences of confrontation of domination- the danger of refusal to be the object. The Queen is disappeared from the narrative. The danger of her refusal ripples out into a threat to the way power is wielded, held and denied.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Women's Herstories: Why Gomer Married Hosea

Today's sermon was not easily transcribed. So instead I am posting a short story I wrote a while back.  This is the story of why Gomer bothered to marry Hosea, which I have often wondered about. In 2007, I took a class from Dr. Jacqueline Lapsley at Princeton Theological Seminary on Women in the Old Testament. At about the same time I read Dr. Lapsley's book, Whispering the Word: Hearing Women's Stories in the Old Testament. Both the class and her book urged us to listen for women's voices in the silences in scripture. In the places where women's voices are not recorded, we might discover new possibilities for how to understand scripture, long lost whispers from women silenced by violence, fear, and neglect.  Scripture does not record how Hosea felt about Gomer or what Gomer thought about being married to Hosea. For centuries, theologians and pastors have speculated about their states of mind and recorded their speculations as fact. Listening to Gomer as a woman who has also known sexual violence, this is the story Gomer whispered to me as I wrote my midterm for Dr. Lapsley's class.

Fair warning: The story of Gomer and Hosea is dominated by themes of sexual, physical and emotional violence. This short story is not particularly explicit, but it is haunting. If you are uncomfortable with these themes, please feel free to not read!

“So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim…”
(Or The Story of How Gomer Came to Agree to Be Hosea’s Wife)
Loosely based on the missing pieces in Hosea 1:2-4

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Nawaal El Saadawi

Women's Herstories: 
Nawal El Saadawi

Nawal El Saadawi is an Egyptian author, activist, and speaker. She is a professor and medical doctor. She is often in some trouble with religious and secular authorities. I admire her tremendously.  You can find an excellent and brief biography of her life at her website, and you can also follow along the news of her court trials.

Her own memoirs are beautifully written. Her life has been complex and full of adventure and sorrow, and she shares deeply of what it has been like to live on this earth so far. At the top of her website are these words: "To the women and men who choose to pay the price and be free rather than continue to pay the price of slavery."

I first read one of Nawal El Saadawi's novels in seminary: The Fall of the Imam. The novel fascinated me with its flowing time and deliberately complex characters. It is the story of a girl named Bint Allah (the Daughter of God), and it is the story of the weaving together of silences and solidarity, resistance, death, and the life to be found in refusing to accept meaninglessness. It is a puzzling novel, and at times the women's characters flow into each other without border. It is a sad novel to read, but having known violence from men, this novel speaks to my heart. There are places where I simply nod, "yes, I have known that."

I read her memoirs next: A Daughter of Isis and Walking Through Fire. These led me to two of her books which have influenced me in different ways.

Women's Herstory Month

This month is Women's Herstory Month. I thought I might do a few posts about women creators who have influenced me. My own stories are woven between these women through my sermons and my life, and I am grateful for the men and women who have pointed me to these grand story tellers.

A quick note about feminism: Feminism is a very broad term that means different things to each and every person who claims it. To me, feminism is a discipline that seeks the freedom and voice of all people, understanding that women's voices have been particularly silenced and distorted. This includes cis women who have lived their entire lives as women. This includes trans women who have chosen to embrace their bodies as women. This includes trans men who perhaps have lived part of their lives as women and have embraced their bodies as men. And, beloveds, feminism includes the men who stand in solidarity with us, bearing witness to our struggle, knowing that they are not truly free until we all are.  Gender is a fluid concept, and not all of us fit cleanly into one category or another. Gender interacts with race, class, religion, sexuality, and other aspects of our identities to form each unique and beautiful creature. May each of our stories, as told by our bodies and souls, be lifted up in voice and song. And may we honor one another deeply in the telling.

And if you have to ask me "What does this have to do with God or Jesus?" then you haven't been listening to my story.


Sunday, February 28, 2010

These Broken Clay Jars

Sermon, February 28, 2010
by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings:
Psalm 27 and 2 Corinthians 4:6-12

This has been a week of many contradictions, at least for me.  We have had snow and sunshine and slush. My children’s schools were closed again for a day and a half, and while I enjoy the time at home with them, unexpected snow days fill me with restlessness and impatience for all of the things I feel I should be doing (not to mention all of the things I would like to be doing).  For me, at least, this has been a week of tremendous ups and downs, good news mixed with bad, and I have felt out of sync with the rest of the world. Perhaps this happens to you sometimes?

This week brought me delightful news at precisely the moment that I was hearing about the earthquake in Chile and that it is raining in Haiti.  At the moment when I was dancing in the street, good friends of mine were grieving the serious illness of their beloved cat. It has been difficult this week, as I have felt out of sync, to know when to celebrate and when to mourn, how much of myself to expose to the world, and how much to keep still in the depths of my being.  Perhaps this happens to you sometimes?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Of Difference & Anxiety in Church

Sermon February 21, 2010
by Katie Mulligan

If you are troubled by this sermon, well, that's what I was hoping for.

First Scripture Reading: Isaiah 58:1-12
Second Scripture Reading: John 15:12-17

Let me share with you first that my head is full of many things this week. I have been buried in my books again this week (Albert Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, and C.L.R. James’ The Black Jacobins), and I have been watching documentaries: Che Guevara: As You Have Never Seen Him Before, and The Betrayal - Nerakhoon: a movie about a family in Laos forced to emigrate to the U.S. after our government militarily trained and abandoned the Laotian people during the Vietnam War. The movie about Che Guevara was made  by a Cuban film company, and so you can imagine that the narrative of his life was told somewhat differently than it might be in many U.S. history classes.  I have been thinking about alternative narratives this week in part because today is the anniversary of the assassination of Malcom X.  And I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, Malcom X and Che Guevara were often pointed to as two of the most fearsome people on the planet. And yet, as I grow older and begin to listen to how other people tell their stories, I have come to appreciate deeply the fact that there are many ways a story can be told, and that when I was growing up, the stories I was told were skewed.  Today’s Hebrew scripture from Isaiah speaks of justice, and justice begins with truth telling, and so today I’ll simply say that we have a problem in our church we need to attend to.  As we come into Lent, let us take a hard look at our congregation and see if we might find a way to move forward in a way that honors God.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

James Baldwin

I have been participating in a community education class focused around issues of justice. It's been a delight to spend time with people who make space for each other's experiences, to be in a place where we can speak of hard things like race, gender, sexuality, class openly and honestly.  The class is facilitated by Darnell Moore through Newark Pride, and we have 6 more class sessions. If anyone's interested in coming, each week is open to new folks.

This week we watched a piece of an interview with the author, James Baldwin, who was involved in the civil rights movement.  Of his books I've read Another Country, a novel that  exquisitely details passion and love and conflict between its characters, often around racially charged themes.  Watch this clip--it is beautiful.

James Baldwin is the 4th clip

Moral monsters is about right, inhuman as I am inhuman.
But I would give the rest of my life to see another smile like that.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's, Olympics, Tranfiguration.

Today's sermon follows below. But I did want to say this to those of you who read on-line. Sermons are always targeted at a specific audience, usually the congregation a pastor serves in. This means that what you are reading in the sermon is only a part of an on-going conversation--like listening to someone talking on the phone.  So while there is a lot of me in the sermons, and the Word is the Word, what you don't know or read about are the stories of the people I work with and love in my tiny church. Who they are shapes what I say as much as who I am. Love to you all, and enjoy!

Sermon, Sunday, February 14, 2010
by Katie Mulligan

First Scripture Reading: Exodus 34:29-35
Second Scripture Reading: Luke 9:28-43

Now look. Today is Valentine’s Day. And I hereby give you permission to love it or leave it (says the divorced pastor). Today is the second day of the Olympics. And I hereby give you permission to love it or leave it. Today is Transfiguration Sunday. And I hereby give you permission to love it or leave it. But on this day, like every other day, we must attend to the complexities of life as best we can, and we are called to love and care for our neighbors as ourselves, other countries as we love ours, people who look and act differently than we do just as we love those who are practically carbon copies of our selves. I should just end the sermon right here.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Women I'm Watching at the Olympics

So I got all excited because someone put out a list of "Model Women" olympians. I jumped on that link and started scanning through the pictures and bios, and quickly realized that all of the women on the list are white.  A quick scan through the entire list of U.S. athletes showed that there are few women of color competing this year, but this "model" list included women from other countries as well. The "model" list could have included a more diverse group of women.

Alrighty then. Here's a list of five women, female olympians, that I'm paying attention to for these games.  I'm gonna be updating their accomplishments during the games, starting with the fact that Holy WOW these women made the olympic team!!!  Check these women out--I'm in awe. Clicking on their names will take you to photos and bios.

Women's Bobsled
26 years old, from Chico, CA
Ms. Azevedo is the brakeman for a 2-person bobsled team
Her events kick off on February 23.

More after the jump!

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Valentine for Those Who Fear

Valentine's Day is coming, and I watch with envy the couples around me sweetly wooing one another.  As lovely as it is to witness love, I also know that sometimes love comes with violence and fear. If that is something you relate to you're not alone. A group of us gathered in October for a service focused around intimate violence--the violence perpetuated by family members, close friends, lovers, spouses, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles. We meditated on what it meant to live in fear. And we remembered. You're not alone in this, but if it feels that way, make your way to my doorstep. Email is and this meditation is my valentine for you.

October, 2009, Princeton Theological Seminary
by Katie Mulligan

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

There are days when I cannot stand being in church. This is one of them. There are days like this one when my reflection on the violence around me sensitizes me to the abuse of power, words, and bodies to the point that I can barely stand to be enclosed within four walls. On those days, when the memories of fear and shame are triggered by the everyday, careless uses of power around me, I come to church wondering how this can be a place of healing and safety. I long for wide open spaces.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Short One

A short sermon this week, reminding us all that we have work to do in the world. At the end of the service, I charged the congregation to listen for prophets in their everyday lives and especially in the places they least expect to find a prophet. So that's your assignment too.

Our collection of supplies for Haiti continues through Sunday. If you'd like to contribute items or donate money for Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees to help with costs, send me an e-mail. I'm dropping off the supplies in Manhattan next week. If you need a copy of the list of supplies, here is a link to the original blog post that inspired our collection by @profsusurro on Like a Whisper.

And truthfully, my silence the last couple of weeks has been rooted in a persistent awareness that I am not doing enough work in my corner of the world. It was another of @profsusurro's blog posts that hammered this home: Want Ad For Feminist Revolution.  Go read this. Ponder it. And then make some changes in yourself and the world around you.

Here's that sermon.
Sunday, January 31, 2010
by Katie Mulligan

First Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10
Second Scripture Reading: Luke 4:16-30

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Child, Where Were You??

Click here for disaster relief programs for Haiti, centered around women and children. There are several organizations and a list of supplies needed. TinyChurch will be accepting donations of items on the list for the next 2 weeks. Feel free to have things sent to the church or bring them to me personally. We'll take a load to Haitian Woman for Haitian Refugees in Manhattan the following week.

Please keep the people of Haiti in your prayers. Today is the 5th day since the earthquake and time is running out to find survivors in the rubble. There are still huge needs for food, water, and basic medical care. Without the basics, more people will die. Here are two excellent organizations:

Direct Relief International: A U.S. based non-profit that supplies local partners with medical supplies.  They have been working in Haiti for years and have existing partnerships in place to accept and distribute supplies. Nearly 100% of donations go to relief work as they have an endowment which funds their administrative costs.

Partners In Health: Based in Boston, PIH provides healthcare in 9 countries, including Haiti. Several of their hospitals and clinics are in outlying areas outside of Port au Prince and are able to provide medical care. The U.N. is working closely with them to provide triage care in Port au Prince as well.

So then, today's sermon, written with a prayer that I do no harm.

January 17, 2010
Sermon by Katie Mulligan

First Scripture Reading: Psalm 18:1-19
Second Scripture Reading: Luke 2:39-52

This week, as images of the destruction in Haiti have poured through the television and internet, I have been struck by this persistent question: "Where is God?"  I know that this is not everybody's question or reaction to the death and destruction occurring in Haiti, but it is my question and so I bring it to you this morning.  Others have said to me this week "Why does God let such things happen?" or "We cannot know the mind of God." or "There is no God, it's just tectonic plates." or "This is God's judgment on the Haitians, the French, the United States, the bourgeois, the rich, the greedy, the corporate, the poor ."  I have heard people say on both ends of the political spectrum in the U.S. that the other side will use this disaster in Haiti to perpetuate agendas. I have listened to Haitians say they do not wish to be used in this way.  This week I have heard people praising God for their survival next to the strangled cries of those who are dying or have lost loved ones.  I have noticed extraordinary acts of heroism and watched others walk away. I have struggled with my own guilt and helplessness that I cannot do more--that I cannot fly to Haiti yesterday and fix everything, because it seems like we should have that power.  And so in the middle of this, this question haunts me, "Where is God?"

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Earthquake in Haiti

I just read with sorrow the news of the earthquake in Haiti tonight. Haiti has been hit hard by several hurricanes these last few years in addition to dealing with intense poverty and political difficulties.  

Direct Relief International is a non-profit organization that is sending emergency medical supplies. They have an excellent track record of sending medical relief into regions that are badly in need, and they are efficient with donations and volunteers.  I highly recommend them as a place to send donations.

Also, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has created a fund specifically for Haiti.

Please pray for the people of Haiti. Haiti is the poorest country in our hemisphere, and they are still hurting badly from previous disasters.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Today's Mess

A confession: I am a manuscript preacher, and ought not preach from notes. I also struggled greatly with this passage. The end result this morning was rather graceless. Preachers have those days.

That said, here are my thoughts about Isaiah 43:1-7, gathered together from my notes and preaching this morning.

I found myself troubled yesterday as I was contemplating what to say this morning. On the one hand, these are beautiful words:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
These are words people live by in the most difficult of circumstances, and I do not mean to diminish their power. On the other hand, the next verse continues:
I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.
When I get to these words, I stumble over the thought of what it means for one person's salvation, or one nation's salvation, to come at the expense of another's.  While I long for God in my most difficult moments, I hesitate to pray or hope for the death or pain of another in order to save my own skin. Or at least, I hesitate to say it out loud. There is a certain competitive viciousness in the human spirit that comes to mind when I read this passage. Let me give you two examples; one is somewhat frivolous, and the other somber and horrific.
On Friday I took my sons to a monster truck rally in Trenton.  The arena had replaced the ice hockey floor with mounds of dirt and wrecked cars to make an obstacle course for the six monster trucks that would be competing that day. If you've never been to a monster truck rally, it was exactly as you might imagine it. Extremely loud, exhaust fumes, humongous trucks smashing up old cars and revving their engines.  At the half time, the arena brought out 3 sets of youth to run motocross races (basically youth on motorcycles racing through and obstacle course)
Two of the motocross races were with young children, but one was teenagers on bigger bikes. It was exciting to watch them fly off the top of hills, and two of the racers quickly took the lead. They jockeyed back and forth for first place, cutting each other off at corners; it was all fairly sportsmanlike. Until. The home stretch. The racer in second place came from the side and knocked the first place racer off his bike, then crossed the finish line to secure his win. It was a cheap shot. The would be winner, instead of taking second, stood outraged next to his boke and then flipped the other guy the bird. Finally, he got back on his bike, finished last, and rode his bike back to the starting line. Where he proceeded to run over the kid celebrating his stolen victory.  A fight started to break out, and adults took charge, holding the boys back from each other.
There is something in the human spirit that desires a win at all costs and revenge when we are unjustly treated.  There are times when our deepest emotion (which we dare not express) is delight in the misfortune of others. There's even a word for it: schadenfreude.
The second example is terrible and heartbreaking. It comes from Primo Levi's book If This Is A Man or Survival In Auschwitz. Primo Levi was an Italian Jewish man who was imprisoned in Auschwitz, a nazi concentration camp during World War II in Poland. Trained as a chemist, Levi wrote of his experiences there with precision and a keen awareness of the extremes of human nature, brought out by the horrific conditions of the camps. He describes an afternoon where the entire camp of 12,000 men is evaluated by the guards and marked to either live or die. Naked, they run a few steps between dormitories, and the guard gives each man's card to another guard on his left or right. The men are not told which side means death and which means life, although they speculate and quickly figure it out. It is still two or three days before the condemned men are executed, during which they all continue to live and work together.
Now everyone is busy scraping the bottom of his bowl with his spoon so as not to waste the last drops of the soup; a confused, metallic clatter signifying the end of the day. Silence slowly prevails and then, from my bunk on the top row, I see and hear old Kuhn praying aloud, with his beret on his head, swaying backwards and forwards violently. Kuhn is thanking God because he has not been chosen.
Kuhn is out of his senses. Does he not see Beppo the Greek in the bunk next to him, Beppo who is twenty years old and is going to the gas chamber the day after tomorrow and knows it and lies there looking fixedly at the light without saying anything and without even thinking any more? Can Kuhn fail to realize that next time it will be his turn? Does Kuhn not understand that what has happened today is an abomination, which propritiatory prayer, no pardon, no expiation by the guilty, which nothing at all in the power of man can ever clean again?
If I was God, I would spit at Kuhn's prayer.
Desperate circumstances bring out our survival instincts. None of us wish to live or die in exile or under oppression by another. In times like that we turn to passages like Isaiah 43

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Song of Songs

No sermon today as we had a more experiential response to the Word and then shared communion. But for those who really like sermons, here's one I preached in the summer of 2008 as a guest preacher. I love to preach on the Song of Songs...

Sermon by Katie Mulligan
July 6, 2008

First Scripture Reading: Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) 2:8-14

The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look, there he stands behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice.

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away;
for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth; 

the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.

The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance. 
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
O my dove, in the clefts of the cliff, 
let me see your face, let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.

Second Scripture Reading: Matthew 11:28-30

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

So, a love poem and a few words from Jesus. Our theme this morning is love and desire, passion, and finding peace in the arms of a beloved other. I am tempted to hide behind the lectionary by saying that these texts were assigned for today, July 6, 2008, because to speak of love and desire is always risky. In our Prayer of Confession this morning we prayed these words: “Almighty and merciful God, we have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against your holy laws.” It may be that we too often follow the devices and desires of our own hearts, but I wonder sometimes if we Presbyterians might be more guilty of following our rational heads too much. So I’ll come clean with you and admit that there were several texts assigned for today, but these were the two that spoke to my heart.

The Song of Solomon is also known as the Song of Songs, or the Canticle of Canticles. It is spoken of in this way as THE song of songs, as in the best of the songs, because the poem is about two lovers who are magnificent in every way. Tradition holds that the song was written by Solomon because his name appears once in the text. It is a difficult text to date, however, and it was fairly common to ascribe literature to Solomon or David or another prominent figure. Some scholars believe that the song was written by a woman. Regardless of who wrote the song, perhaps what is remarkable is that it has been preserved as scripture in our Bibles. The Song of Songs is eight chapters of scripture that speak frankly of passionate longing for another person. It begins with the woman calling out for her beloved. She desires to meet with him, and he tells her where she can find him, in the pastures at noon. They flatter each other playfully and sweetly, with tender words of love and adoration. She claims to be a rose, a lily; to her friends, the daughters of Jerusalem, she tells how wonderful is her companion. And then she says, “The voice of my beloved! Look, here he comes.”

Do you remember how it feels to be in love like that? Close your eyes for a moment and conjure the image of somebody you have loved. Perhaps it is the person sitting next to you in the pew. Perhaps it is somebody long gone from your life. Perhaps your beloved is no longer living. Perhaps there is a hole in your heart where he or she resided. Do you remember how you longed to be with that person? The thought of your beloved brings a smile to your face, causes your breath to catch, changes the way you see the world. The woman in the song says, “O that his left hand were under my head, and that his right hand embraced me!” Our human hearts hold so much longing for love, don’t they? The sound of a beloved’s voice is unmistakable, even across a crowded room, their laughter fills our heart. When we are madly in love, we know the way our beloved walks; from a distance we can pick them out with our eyes. As a teenager I fell madly in love with a young man who met me at my bus stop to walk me home one day. I was not expecting him, but every day after that I looked for him. Years later I rode that same bus to my parents’ home, and even though he’d been gone from my life for a long time, when I stepped off the bus, I half expected him to be there. The people we love passionately leave a deep imprint upon our souls.

The woman tells to the daughters of Jerusalem the words of her beloved. “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land...Arise my love, my fair one, and come away...let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” Can you imagine such beautiful words? Who would you call to tell about your beloved? A former youth group student called me out of the blue a few months ago. It had been some time since I had heard from him, so when I heard his excited voice on my cell phone say, “Katie, guess what?” I said, “You’re getting married!” “How did you know?” he asked. In the background I could hear his fiancé squealing with joy as she too called everybody on her phone list to tell them the good news. Three thousand miles away, their joy bounced off a satellite over cellular phone networks. Romantic, passionate love is a powerful emotion.

And so the song goes for six more chapters. The lovers meet, separate, meet again. They whisper sweet words of love, appreciation for the other’s physical beauty. They call to one another, they play, they love.

If you are a grown up, you have probably already figured out that romantic, passionate love, for all its power and beauty, does not always end sweetly. The Song of Songs is a vignette, a sneak peek into the romance of two lovers. Real life gets in the way of such things. There are children and dishes and laundry and bills, the IRS, the boss, homework, and tragic endings. Unrealistic expectations have killed more than one marriage or relationship. It is tempting to give up on the kind of love written about in this song, but there’s something there that’s hard to give up, isn’t there?

From the very beginning the Song of Songs has been interpreted in different ways. For some it is a love poem between two lovers and that is that. But for those of us in the church, those of us with a religious bent, the Song of Songs carries additional meaning. My New Interpreter’s Study Bible says, “Both Jewish and Christian traditions agree that the Song of Songs mirrors the love relationship between God and people.” An ancient Christian theologian, Origen, who lived in the second and third centuries, believed that the Song of Songs was written as an allegory (or metaphor) for the relationship between God and the Church. For although God is never directly named in the Song, the Song is, after all, included in our canon of Holy Scripture. Origen says, “If these words are not to be spiritually understood, are they not mere tales? If they contain no hidden mystery, are they not unworthy of God?” According to Origen (and many other theologians over the ages) the man of the song was God and the woman was the Church. It is hard to imagine reading the Song of Songs only as a metaphor of God’s love for the Church. The very human love of the man and woman in the poem fairly leaps off the page. Yet Origen is right—this love poem is included in a book of Holy Scripture. This song of all songs has been preserved for us in our Bibles. As we turn to the gospel of Matthew, keep in mind the memory of your beloved.

Our second text comes at the end of chapter 11 in Matthew. Jesus has been teaching his disciples, and he has been teaching them many hard things. In chapter 10, Jesus said things like, “You received without payment; give without payment.” In other words, being a disciple meant not drawing a salary. Jesus said to his disciples, “Brother will betray brother to will be hated by all because of my name.” And on it goes in chapter 10, difficult teaching after difficult teaching. In chapter 11 we learn that Jesus’ cousin, John, is imprisoned for his religious teachings in the wilderness, and Jesus reproaches the cities where he had done most of his miracles, because even after he performed deeds of power, the people of those cities did not repent and believe. Perhaps in exasperation, Jesus says, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” It seems that only children and fools follow after this Jesus.

And then, suddenly, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Immediately following our text this morning, chapter 12 picks up with the Pharisees attacking Jesus for allowing his disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath. Jesus heals a man, also on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees begin to plot to destroy Jesus. Can it be that Jesus was also weary? Between verse after verse of exhausting teaching, healing, and defending against those who sought to destroy him, Jesus offered rest to the souls of those who would come to him. It is as if Jesus held out his hand and said to his followers, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away...let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” “I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” These are a lover’s words, surely. Come to me. Arise my love.

Do you remember your beloved? Do you remember what it is like to be in the presence of your beloved? To hear your beloved’s voice, to behold the face of your beloved? There are many ways to understand or experience this mysterious God of ours. I am not suggesting romantic love is the only way to know God. But perhaps we might glimpse, if only imperfectly, what it is like to be loved by God through the eyes of our beloved. When we are head over heels in love, the whole world is different, isn’t it? Our bodies, our minds, our souls, long to be with that other. When we are apart, it is painful. Perhaps there is something of that experience that correlates to our love for God and God’s love for us. Do we not long to be loved like that, to love like that?

I once knew a couple passionately in love. They were a youngish couple, who had been married for a few years, and who were utterly devoted to each other. Ten years later, two kids and a mortgage, they were still utterly devoted to each other. Often the woman spoke to students about experiencing God’s love in her life. In particular, she spoke about the blessing of her husband's love for her. She told the story of how one night she was terribly upset. Crying, unable to sleep, she lay in bed with her tears soaking into her pillow. He took her into his arms and held her. He prayed out loud over her body and gently stroked her hair until she fell asleep in his arms. When she told the story, the room was utterly silent. From all of us, adult and student alike, came an overwhelming sense of longing. A longing to experience that kind of love, to give and receive that kind of tender care to another.

Her husband is like me, preferring to work late into the night. This meant that he was often sleepy at retreats and meetings. Sometimes he would doze off mid-discussion. One weekend we asked the students to lie down on the floor for a guided meditation. We imagined ourselves as meeting up with Jesus in a place of safety and comfort. We asked the students to go off on their own for a half our to pray, to spend 30 minutes talking with Jesus. My friend got on the floor with the students, put his head down, and promptly fell asleep. Later I teased him about falling asleep on God, and he said, “Nah, I was just resting in the arms of Jesus.”

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” We have in the Song of Songs a short interlude of two lovers head over heels in love. My friend told the story of one night in her marriage. And another time her husband rested in the arms of our Savior for an afternoon. Jesus called sweetly to us in three short verses. The rest of it all is a mess, isn’t it? Love dies or we kill it out of fear. There are demands on all sides for our time and attention. In the midst of the complications of life we can become so weary and so fearful that we can no longer hear the voice of our Beloved calling out to us.

But we have our Holy Scriptures. And here we are, gathered together to worship in church. Let us reach out to one another in love, tenderly and sweetly. In our Prayer of Confession this morning we did indeed confess that we follow too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. But we also confessed that we have left undone those things which we ought to have done. With abandon and joy, let us fall in love again with each other, with the world, with Jesus. For Christ loved us passionately and without reservation. This indeed, is the good news of the gospel. Let us throw caution to the winds, and open our hearts to God and God’s creation. Let us lay down our burdens and rest in the arms of Jesus. Through the words of the poet, through the words of your beloved, know that you are passionately and joyously loved by God.

“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away...let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”