Posted by: jaimemwsanders | June 29, 2020

God Sees a Way

When two people of faith but very different ages and life experiences see the same thing in a Biblical text, I pay attention.

Yesterday in my church’s Zoom worship, Fr. Gary Heide preached on the story of Abraham and Isaac, tying it to the gospel passage. If I may presume to summarize the message in one sentence, it was, “let go of the past; trust the future to God.” You can watch the service here.

Today, I read a blog post from The Rev. Dr. Jay Johnson, a gay scholar and priest who is a generation younger than Fr. Gary, on the same passage. I recommend that you read it for yourself, here: But if I may presume to summarize the message in one sentence, again, I hear, “trust the future to God.” Not in the sense of not acting for justice, not in the sense of passive non-participation in creating that future, but in the sense of trusting that God sees a way when we do not.

The picture (thank you to Easton Mok on Unsplash) is of a flooded river. The past is like a river channel, shaping the future. We are now in a time of flood. It is dangerous. It swamps our belongings and upends our lives. But floods are what shape new channels. Let go of the past; trust the future to God. God sees a way; God will provide.

Posted by: jaimemwsanders | March 20, 2020

Sheltering in faith

Allie Smith

When I worked in a hospital, I felt like my right hand was tied behind my back. I had been used to work with hospitals – as a nonprofit tax lawyer. A hospital executive or managing physician would ask a question, and I would answer it. I had expertise and experience.

Then I wasn’t a lawyer anymore, I was a student chaplain. Even when there was something practical that I knew how to do, I wasn’t allowed to do it. I was supposed to only be providing spiritual care, and leaving the practical help to the highly competent health professionals. Much of the time, I felt helpless.

I wonder if that is how doctors and nurses are feeling now, as they see the COVID-19 epidemic rising? An experienced nurse told me that the very worst thing for a nurse or doctor is to see someone gravely ill and not to be able to help. In this situation, their ability to help is limited by things completely outside of their control. By decisions made in Washington DC about how to prepare (or not) for a pandemic. By the behavior of millions of individuals, who do or do not believe in the seriousness of what is coming, and do or do not have the power to change their routines. By the fragmented nature of our healthcare system.

We expect so much of our healthcare professionals. We expect them to put their personal lives second to the needs of patients. We expect them to always be heroes, when sometimes they want to be allowed to be weak and afraid. We expect them to know the answers, when we are in a situation in which the truest answer to many questions is, “we don’t know.”

I woke up this morning having fantasies of doing something to help our doctors and nurses and nurses aides and the chaplains and cleaning staff and all the other people on hospital staffs. I thought of pitching a little tent, on the sidewalk in front of a hospital, and offering coffee and ice water and a chair and a listening ear if they want to rant or lament.

Because that is all I discovered about what to do when I felt overwhelmed with the sadness around me and helpless to do anything to fix it. To find a moment of quiet, and a cup of coffee, and a moment of honesty. A moment of honesty with myself and with God.

I probably can’t do what I was dreaming of. Hospital sidewalks are crowded places, and the doctors and nurses would probably just worry about me sitting there. It needs more of a relationship of trust to allow moments of honesty. And what they have asked of me and everyone like me, who doesn’t have any medical skill to lend, is to stay home. Flatten the curve. So that is what I am doing.

But as I stay home, I am praying for the people working in hospitals. I am praying for the patients, for whom today’s psalm speaks:

I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; I have become like one who has no strength;

Lost among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave,

Whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand.

Psalm 88, verses 4-6

I am praying for the nurses, exhausted, scared, doing what they can for as many patients as they can, living with the sorrow that it will never be enough. I am praying for the doctors, whose training and skill did not prepare them for the circumstances in which they now find themselves, but using all their training and skill to fight death anyway. I am praying for the chaplains, some of whom are not even allowed to come to work when their gifts are most needed. I am praying for the less skilled staff, risking their health for inadequate pay, worried about their families at home.

I pray that each of them finds some moments of grace, some words of thanks, a listening ear. And, if they are too busy, and too overwhelmed, and too tired to be able to pray, I pray that they know others are praying for them. At home, because that is what we can do to help.

Posted by: jaimemwsanders | March 19, 2020

Jesus Was A Carpenter

Today, March 19th, The Episcopal Church commemorates St. Joseph, the worldly father of Jesus. Joseph is said in scripture to have been a tekton, or builder, commonly translated, “carpenter.” Justin Martyr, who was born in Palestine around 100 C.E., wrote that he had seen plows and ox-yokes still in use that had been made in Joseph’s shop in Nazareth. (This fact courtesy of James Kiefer, writing on Tradition says that Jesus learned carpentry from Joseph, and pursued that trade until the beginning of his public ministry when he was around 30 years old. Hence the song, “Jesus Was a Carpenter.”

We often think of Jesus’ identity as a carpenter as, in this song, emblematic of his humble birth and lack of social power and status. But I would like to invite us to think of another aspect.

One of the characteristics of Jesus’ teaching was his encouragement of people to see. “Consider the lilies of the field,” for example. This emphasis on learning from close observation of everyday life is typical of the Jewish wisdom tradition. But I wonder if it isn’t also something Jesus learned in carpentry.

From my husband’s grandmother, we inherited the Windsor chair in the photo above. Eva was born in 1898, and this chair was made by hand by methods passed down for generations. The craftsman had to have an eye for wood, for its grain and characteristics, as well as skill and patience. If you hurry in using an adze, you can wreck the piece you are making – and wood was not common in Israel!

As I write these words, restaurants and many stores are closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all being encouraged to stay at home unless it is really necessary to go out. Perhaps it is a time to cultivate the art of seeing. To appreciate the grain of wood. To have patience, and learn a skill. To remember that Jesus was a carpenter.

Posted by: jaimemwsanders | March 17, 2020

Faith, Not Fear

Cindy Boren of The Washington Post reported yesterday (March 16, 2020):

Although sports leagues around the country suspended competition last week because of the coronovirus pandemic, the National College Wrestling Association held its national championships over the weekend, with the organization’s executive director explaining, “We’re going to operate on faith rather than fear.”

There have been other reports of churches refusing to suspend services, alleging that this is an act of faith and trust in God. (And, by inference, that those mostly mainline Protestant and Catholic churches must lack sufficient faith.)

But which action in fact requires more faith? To continue with business as usual? Or to take new action in love of our neighbors, trusting that God will sustain our faith even in new ways of being community?

It is scary to suspend Sunday services. For over 150 years, my church has gathered together on Sunday to pray, to hear Scripture, to learn, to share meals both spiritual and material. The joke about my people, the Episcopalians, is that the reason we do things the way we do is that, “that is the way we have always done it.” We are – with a few exceptions – not early adopters of technology. We do not lightly suspend our beloved worship services and embark on the mostly uncharted territory of “virtual church.” We have fears – “how will we know who needs help?” “will people come back to church, or will they just get out of the habit?” “if I put video sermons online, will anyone like them?” (Ok, I admit, that last one is just my fear.)

But when each of us was baptized, we were asked these questions, and gave these responses:

QuestionDo you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your
AnswerI do.
QuestionDo you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
AnswerI do.
QuestionDo you promise to follow and obey him as your
AnswerI do.

And our Lord ordered us to love our neighbors as ourselves. So when scientists and public health professionals tell us that by gathering in groups we are increasing an already-significant risk that our neighbors will die of a new disease, we stop.

We stop in faith that this is the right thing to do.

We stop despite our fears.

We stop out of love and faith.

Posted by: jaimemwsanders | May 28, 2020

Reluctant Televangelist: Christ Church Online

Liturgy – the structure and poetry of communal worship – is at the heart of my church tradition. Due to the strange way the Reformation unfolded in the United Kingdom, Anglicans have been less united by what we believe than by what we do. In the Episcopal Church we have an elaborate system of self-governance, with a House of Deputies and a House of Bishops. The thing that they do that has the most impact on the church is to approve the Book of Common Prayer.

Ask an Episcopalian what they think happens when they die, and you will get answers ranging from “I don’t know” to “we go to heaven” to “we are reincarnated.” (The last, by the way, is not official church doctrine.) And, by and large, they are fine with knowing that the person sitting next to them in the pew has a different idea than they do. But if you want to start an argument, change the response to “The Lord be with you” from “And with thy spirit,” to “And also with you.” I have personally talked to people who left the church over that change!

All this is to explain that, for us, the shift from Holy Eucharist Rite II every Sunday to online worship is a BIG change! While some congregations have been in the habit of videotaping the sermon, and posting it online afterwards, it has been a one-person initiative – usually the priest’s spouse with a smartphone. My little congregation tried it once, but we couldn’t figure out how to get it uploaded.

But, as Bishop Steven Charleston posted recently, the gift given by the Spirit to the tribe of humans is “to see the future and adapt to it.” So we are gradually learning how to use the gifts of technology to continue to worship together.

The first thing we did was to make sure everyone had the old technology that fueled the Reformation – a printed book, the Book of Common Prayer, and instructions on how to find the Scripture readings for Morning and Evening Prayer. The second thing was I started reading them aloud, at home, and recording it on my phone and posting to YouTube.

We are now hosting a weekly Zoom Evening Prayer on Wednesday evenings, which are not recorded, so people can share prayer requests and what is going on in their lives. (Email me at if you aren’t getting the invitations and want to.) And for Sunday I am creating PowerPoint Morning Prayer services, with pictures and music, which are prayed by me and a lector via Zoom and recorded and posted on YouTube. You can subscribe to the channel here

And, I have to admit, it is fun. It adds another dimension to liturgy, to be able to add pictures. And I am grateful that people are joining me in prayer, even remotely in time and space. The church is not the building, and worship is not a book, but souls reaching for connection to our ineffable God.

Posted by: jaimemwsanders | May 8, 2020

Rubbish of Life

“Handing over our sins, one by one, God can make even them into something beautiful. It is the mystery of the cross.” Something like that is what a young Jesuit just said in an online Examen. It struck me, as if for the first time I understand the cross. Jesus gathering our human sins. Our greed, and fear, and jealousy, and handing them to God to do with what God will. Raw material for new creation.

We try to give God just part of ourselves. Just the love. Just the creation of something good. Just the generosity or compassion.

But what if God needs all of it? What if the raw material of God’s re-creation is also the greed, and the failure and the sin?

What if that is part of the energy and passion that God needs in creating the next world?

How do we give that shadow self to God, relinquishing our control over it, and letting the Creator use it in a new creation?

There is a book about architecture, A Pattern Language, that recommends that we build our house not in the beautiful place on a piece of land, but on the ugly or impaired place. The beautiful place is already beautiful. The rubbish dump is where we can improve it by building.

God, take the rubbish dump places of my life. Use them as the raw material for creating something new and beautiful. I give them up. I hand them over to you.

Thanks to Bernard Hermant for sharing their work on Unsplash.

Posted by: jaimemwsanders | April 3, 2020

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord

At my church, there is a box of palm leaves waiting for people who aren’t coming this year. The altar has been bare even of greenery during Lent. Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, fans of palm branches bring a foretaste of the flowers to come.

But this year, the church will be empty on Palm Sunday. It will be empty on Easter. No choir singing “Alleluia!” No white and gold vestments. No massed lilies. No children hearing the story of the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem, or being amazed at an empty tomb.

But Palm Sunday and Easter are not ends in themselves. We gather together for a purpose: to be transformed by God’s grace and, in our turn, to transform the world.

Not the whole world, but our little corner of it.

And so the church is not empty; the church is dispersed.

The people are the church. People who are staying home to not endanger their neighbors. People who are sewing masks for friends who need to be at work. People who are calling their fellow parishioners who live alone, checking up on them and sharing a virtual coffee hour. People who trying to keep their family’s business afloat, who are at work providing essential services. Parents who are learning to teach children who would normally be at school, and children who are learning to help their parents at home.

When Jesus’ followers accompanied him into Jerusalem, they proclaimed, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Who is it who comes into our lives in the name of the Lord? It is not the one who loudly proclaims this of themselves. It is the one who, when we see them coming, we say, “thank you, God!”

The one who comes in the name of the Lord might be a Christian, or a Jew, or a Buddhist, or “spiritual but not religious.” They might be wearing a surgeon’s white coat, or a blue shirt with their name on a badge. This Palm Sunday, may God give us the grace to recognize and give thanks for the person in the world who comes in the name of the Lord. Who brings a blessing into our lives.

Posted by: jaimemwsanders | March 31, 2020

Grace Under Pressure

The link is to videos from Bishop Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, on “Habits of Grace.” I found the one for this week helpful. What can I do today to love God, love myself, and love my neighbor?

When we are under stress, our timeframe shortens. It is hard to make plans or set goals for next month when I don’t know whether we will still be sheltering in place. So Bishop Curry’s emphasis on today is helpful. Today, what can I do to love God? Today, what can I do to love myself? Today, what can I do to love my neighbor?

Today, I can love God by starting the day with prayer instead of with the news.

Today, I can love myself by getting some exercise.

Today, I can love my neighbor by remembering that we are all operating under stress, and giving others some slack. A mentor introduced me once to a phrase for difficult people in a congregation: “Extra Grace Required.” Right now, we are all in need of some extra grace.

What can YOU do today to love God? What can YOU do today to love yourself? What can YOU do today to love your neighbor? Pick one from each category. Pick one that is easy. Notice when you do it. Notice how it feels. At the end of the day, say, “Thank you, God, for helping me today to love you, love myself, and love my neighbor.”

May God bless us, every one!

Photo by Mahkeo on Unsplash

Posted by: jaimemwsanders | March 28, 2020

The greatest of these is love

“If you have had enough of coronavirus news for the moment, here is a picture of a very fluffy cat showing you his belly.” That was my Facebook post that got the most “likes” and “loves” of any in the past two weeks. Far more than any of the theological reflections.

Maybe we are looking for meaning in this time of pandemic. But, if so, it is because we are looking for love. The search for God in hardship, the quest for meaning, what theologians call theodicy, is at its root a search for love. “If God loves us, why do bad things happen?” The playwright Archibald MacLeish expressed the conundrum as, “If God is God, God is not good; If God is good, God is not God.” (J.B., 1958, quoted from memory) From this dilemma comes classical doctrines of original sin and many bad modern sermons.

But, when people are hurting, is it understanding that they are truly searching for? Or is it simply love? Some comfort? A friendly and soft fellow creature asking us for attention. The song of a bird outside the window. A warm loaf of bread. For

malt does more than Milton can To justify God’s ways to man.

from A Shropshire Lad by A.E. Housman

At this time of grief and fear, the Daily Lectionary of the Episcopal Church gave us today 1 Corinthians 13.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

1 Corinthians 13:1

Let us look for and accept love where we find it. Even in a fluffy cat showing us his belly.

Posted by: jaimemwsanders | March 24, 2020

The Golden Rule is Not Suspended

The news today is that the Summer 2020 Olympics has been postponed. Here in Oregon, Governor Brown has given into pressure from mayors and hospitals and issued orders requiring most people to stay home except for trips for essential things like food and medicine. Our normal routines are suspended.

You know what isn’t suspended? The Golden Rule. Jesus didn’t say, “love your neighbor as yourself unless there is a pandemic that originated in their country.” Jesus didn’t say, “worship God, not Mammon, unless that would be bad for your company’s bottom line.” Jesus didn’t say, “Do to others as you would have them do to you unless that would be inconvenient.”

This is a time for everyone who calls themselves Christian to reread the Sermon on the Mount, (Matthew, chapters 5-7), or its parallel, the Sermon on the Plain (Luke, 6:17-49).

When you hear someone suggesting that lives should be sacrificed for the sake of “the economy,” remember these words of our Lord:

“No one can serve two masters, for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Matthew 6:24 (NRSV)

When someone expresses animus against a Chinese-American, or a Chinese visitor to the United States, because the novel coronovirus first emerged in China, remember these words of our Lord:

‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?

Matthew 7:1-3 (NRSV)

If you don’t remember these specific words, you can remember the Golden Rule, common to not only followers of Jesus but to other people of morality and goodwill:

‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

Matthew 7:12

And when you are fearful, as we all are just now, and with good reason, remember these words, also from the Sermon on the Mount:

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? . . . But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:25-27, 33

Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

Posted by: jaimemwsanders | March 18, 2020

Same as It Ever Was

In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (still the official prayer book of the Church of England) there is this prayer for “In the time of any plague or sickness:”

O Almighty God, who in thy wrath didst send a plague upon thine own people in the wilderness, for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron; and also in the time of King David, didst slay with the plague of Pestilence threescore and ten thousand; and yet remembering thy mercy didst save the rest; Have pity upon us miserable sinners, who now are visited with great sickness and mortality; that like as thou didst then accept of an atonement, and didst command the destroying Angel to cease from punishing, so it may now please thee to withdraw from us this plague and grievous sickness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

By 1928, in the Episcopal Church, the emphasis in the prayer for a “Time of Great Sickness and Mortality” had changed from the wrath of God to human knowledge, skill, and wisdom.

O MOST mighty and merciful God, in this time of grievous sickness, we flee unto thee for succour. Deliver us, we beseech thee, from our peril; give strength and skill to all those who minister to the sick; prosper the means made use of for their cure; and grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is, we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In the 1979 Book of Common Prayer there is no prayer for times of epidemic. Yet, an epidemic is upon us. An epidemic for which there is as yet no cure, and for which our civic authorities in the United States appear to have been woefully underprepared, so that most people cannot even determine whether they have the virus. Libraries, churches, and restaurants are closed. Hospitals are postponing routine surgeries in order to free up capacity for patients needing respiratory support. The headline in this morning’s online New York Times is “Nations Pledge Trillions to Stave Off Economic Catastrophe.”

We thought that we could control our destinies. We thought that with sufficient wisdom and scientific knowledge, we would no longer be subject to the terrifying sweep of illness and death that we cannot control. We thought that we no longer needed a prayer for the time of plague. We were wrong.

I read an article a couple of weeks ago about people who are “re-wilding;” rediscovering skills required to live without the support of modern civilization or technology. The journalist was surprised to discover that spending time with them brought her not into solitude but into closer community. At our essence, we are interdependent with all of nature and with one another. The bats in which the novel coronovirus originated share our mammalian nature. My health depends on the behavior of people who go to clubs on Saturday night instead of church on Sunday morning. As theirs depends on mine.

Almighty God, in this time of grievous sickness, we remember our frailty and mortality; our dependence on you and on all your creation. Forgive us our hubris, our selfishness, our wastefulness. Accept our repentance, O God, and set our feet into paths of healing and wholeness. Protect, O merciful God, those who care for the ill; give them strength and courage. Guide, O Wisdom, those who govern and hold power in our society, that they may use their power for the common good. And give us grace to serve not ourselves alone, but our neighbor, in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior.

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