Easter 4 | St. Paul’s, Evansville | Joanna Benskin | 30 April 2023 | Acts 2:42-47 |Psalm 23 | 1 Peter 2:19-25 | John 10:1-10

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God of abundance. Amen.

Good morning, friends. It is good to see us all together in one service today, being the church together on this beautiful Fourth Sunday of Easter. We get to share communion all together in one place, and we get to feast together with a potluck too. We are in the midst of a season that celebrates resurrection life, and today we get to celebrate the life Jesus gives us all together.

In our Gospel today, Jesus says he came that we may have life, and have it abundantly. Jesus is the gate and the good shepherd; others destroy the flock, but Jesus comes not only to preserve life from danger, but to give abundant life. This is why Jesus is here. And so today I want to ask, what does it look like to have life, and have it abundantly?

We’ll look at what abundance is, and what it’s not. We’ll look at the image of abundance in Acts, and a some in other scriptures. Maybe we have our own images of abundance too. And we’ll reflect on why these stories and images matter, and what abundance might mean for us.  

So, what is abundant life? When Jesus says he came that we may have life and have it abundantly, abundantly is περισσός. Abundantly is a good translation of that word; we could also say exceedingly or excessively or to the fullest. There’s a verb form of the same root, περισσεύω, that means to exceed or to overflow.

So I think when Jesus says he came that we may have life, and have it abundantly, he means that we’ll have even more life than what we need. There’s a baseline of survival where our needs for living are met; we have food and shelter and enough safety and freedom and connection and meaning that we’re doing okay. And abundance is over and above that.

Having life and having it abundantly means that we’re not just surviving but thriving. We not only have enough of what we need to get by; we have enough to share and enough to enjoy. Abundant life means we have enough to help our neighbors be more than okay, and enough to be more than okay ourselves.

And I want to say that when we talk about sharing in abundant life, it isn’t the same thing as the teachings known as the Prosperity Gospel. These are teachings that treat giving as a magic trick to get rich quick. You may have encountered those teachings in preaching or on TV or in pamphlets that show up in your mailbox and tell you how your gift will be multiplied back to you a hundred times.

I don’t believe that when I give away money, God is going to do a miracle to give me back more money than I gave away. I don’t believe Jesus wants me to have a private jet. But I do believe that the abundant life Jesus dreams for us all becomes possible when we open our hands to each other.

This is what happens with the early Christians in Acts, so we’ll look at that image of abundance. This part of Acts comes right after Peter preaches to the crowd at Pentecost. This is the moment when the small group of Jesus’ followers expands. So we already have abundance in the community itself. They are learning about Jesus in the apostles’ teachings; they are learning about each other in fellowship; they are breaking bread together. 

And at this stage of overflowing expansion, the new believers share what they have with one another. Some of the believers don’t yet have their needs met, and they all come together to fix that. When anyone has more than they need, they give it away in order to bring everyone else up. The image is open hands, tables piled high, awe and wonder.

This abundant sharing comes from a place of wonder. The result is that everyone’s needs are met, but the story doesn’t start with need. It doesn’t start with being worried for those who have less, or with guilt from those who have more.

It starts with awe. It starts with signs and wonders. It starts with the amazement and the mystery of the Gospel. It starts with sharing in Jesus’ resurrected life together as a community. It starts with celebrating together what God is already doing. It starts with joy.

I attended a conference online earlier this year, and a keynote from Bishop Deon Johnson of Missouri has stuck with me. Bishop Johnson talked about joy in ministry, and the way that God calls us to our best and most generous work through joy. Bishop Johnson went so far as to say of church ministries, “If it’s not joyful, don’t do it.” And joy and abundant life are part of the same thing.

In the abundant life Jesus came for, this joy is both where we’re going what draws us there. When we have enough, and more than enough, there is joy. And when there is joy, we are able to see the abundance we have better; when there is joy, we are more free to share what we have in community, as the disciples did in Acts. 

The disciples as a community have enough and more than enough because they help each other. They know each other’s strengths and each other’s needs, and they come together to make it work. They respond in joy to the wonders of this life they share. It’s a beautiful image of life abundant.

Scripture is full of these images of abundance—the lilies clothed in splendor without laboring and the ravens God feeds; the righteous person as a tree planted by streams of water, bearing fruit and not withering; Jesus’ miracles of feeding thousands with a few loaves and gathering baskets and baskets of leftovers after.

Psalm 23 is another one. With God as our shepherd, we have enough nourishment, we have enough safety, we have enough rest. The table is set, and our cup overflows.

And maybe we have our own images of abundance, our own stories of joy and connection and plenty. Maybe we’ve seen what it means for our cup to overflow. I’d love to hear sometime how abundant life has shown up for you.

For me, I think of the time when Brian and I moved across the country for seminary. We didn’t know what it would be like. We didn’t know how we’d make friends or what our life would look like or whether we’d have enough. And that first night when we drove in, people we’d never met before cooked us a delicious meal. We gathered around a full table in the courtyard of our apartment building, and we ate pasta and drank wine and shared stories and laughed together. And in that moment, we knew we’d have enough and more than enough. We knew what abundant life was, because we were living it together. We were feasting on it together.  

And today when we take communion together, we’ll be feasting on that same abundant life Jesus has for us. And after this service when we eat lunch, we’ll feast together in a different way. Where better to find abundant life than in a church potluck? And maybe in that feasting, joy will call to us as it did to the early Christians in Acts. Friends, I wonder what Jesus’ dream of abundance looks like for you.

I wonder what your stories of abundance are, and your hopes for the future. I wonder what gets in the way of joy and abundance for us, what needs we can meet when we come together, what stories of “not enough” keep us more stuck than we’d have to be. I wonder how we can we receive the abundant life Jesus wants to give us in this moment. I wonder how can we be part of abundant life for our neighbors. I wonder where we are witnessing resurrection life in this season, where joy might be calling us.

Maybe we can start there: by noticing joy. There’s a lot that’s hard right now. But maybe there’s a whisper or a shout of joy somewhere in our midst, and maybe stopping to hear that joy is the start of the life Jesus wants to give us.

So friends, let us tell each other the stories of abundant life we have, and let us make new ones together. Let us pay attention to where the joy of the resurrection life stirs in our community and where that joy might be calling us as we feast together today. Amen.

Paul Cezanne’s ~1890 Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses (in the Public Domain and accessed through the Met Gallery).

Lent 4 | St. Paul’s, Evansville | Joanna Benskin | 19 March 2023 | 1 Samuel 16:1-13 | Psalm 23| Ephesians 5:8-14 | John 9:1-41

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our shepherd. Amen.

Friends, we are more than half way on our journey of Lent. This Fourth Sunday in Lent is also known as Laetare Sunday. Laetare means rejoice. This Sunday is a chance to catch our breath and remember that Eastertide is on the way, even though we’re still in Lent. Springtime is on the way, despite the snow this morning. Resurrection is on the way, even if we find ourselves in the midst of grief. 

And today we pray the beloved Psalm 23. It’s a Psalm that has comforted the dying and the grieving and those in peril. Many of us know it by heart in the King James Version, whether or not that’s the Bible we grew up with. It’s a Psalm that gives us a glimpse of joy even when we’re still in the thick of it.

And so we’ll look at the psalmist’s faith that God is with us even when all is not well. And we’ll look at the Psalmist’s vision of God’s care for us, and the ways God wants to help make things well, the ways God wants to lead us into joy and abundance and rest. And we’ll reflect a little on how we might be called to receive God’s shepherding love for us in this season, and how we might be called to be good shepherds to each other.

The first thing I want us to notice about Psalm 23 today is that this Psalm already knows that all is not well with the world. Even as this Psalm expresses a deep faith in God’s goodness, it’s not written with naïve expectations that everything will be easy.

The valley of the shadow of death is right in the middle of the Psalm. It’s not always green pastures and still waters. The Psalmist’s enemies even make it in here—there are people who want to cause hurt and harm. And the Psalm doesn’t turn away from either of those things.

We have the valley of the shadow of death, which is a mythic, larger-than-life image of the hardships that come to us in this mortal existence: death and loss, and all the fear we experience knowing that we will die someday, and that so much of what we love is vulnerable to loss. So much of what makes us happy can be taken away. The valley of the shadow of death is not something we can avoid in this life, though we may feel we’re in it more intensely sometimes than others.

And then we have the Psalmist’s enemies, maybe an image of those more particular and petty struggles. Maybe these are the conflicts could have been avoided if people had been kinder, or if we’d been wiser. But they’re not always avoided; they’re still in the picture for the Psalmist.

Yet in the valley of the shadow of death and amid the threat of enemies, God is there. God does not make these difficult things go away, but God is with us to lead us and to feed us even there. Sometimes there’s no other way but through the valley. And yet, God is always, always with us.

As we come toward holy week, we are preparing to celebrate God’s presence with us even in death. We confess our faith in a God who became human in Jesus “to live and die as one of us” as our prayer at communion says. God is with us even when we are at our worst as humans, and even when we are facing the hardest parts of being human.

And God gives us courage because we know that we’re not alone in what we face. The Psalmist says, “I will not fear, for you are with me.” All of us are afraid sometimes. And a little fear is sometimes a good thing; it might help us avoid some of those dangers we can avoid. And yet, because God is with us, fear doesn’t have to be our way of life, even when we know that some dangers can’t be escaped.

We can walk with courage because our shepherd is with us even when all is not well, and we are far from thriving, and when (as the 1928 Prayer book says) “there is no health in us.” God is our shepherd even then, and God is always with us.

And at the same time, we see in Psalm 23 that God wants to lead us toward our flourishing. God wants to make all things well for us. God wants us to have what we need and more. God wants us to rest and enjoy. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside still waters; he restoreth my soul; my cup runneth over.”

These images of beauty and plenty and peace remind me of Isaiah’s prophetic visions of the world God wants to bring about. It’s a world where everyone has enough, and all hurts are healed, and all creatures can enjoy the beauty of God’s gifts together. It’s a resurrection world where death doesn’t get the last word.

It’s a glimpse of the life where God wants to lead us. The green pastures and still waters are what God wants for us. It’s abundance—there’s plenty to eat and drink. It’s beauty—enjoying the peaceful and lovely parts of God’s world. And friends, it’s also rest. And I hear so much exhaustion in our community; rest is something we need.

I hear the tiredness from teachers and healthcare workers and students and parents. Folks who work in demanding jobs are tired. A lot of retired folks are tired too. Folks who do the hard and holy work of caring for family members are tired. Folks struggling with food insecurity are extra tired right now as they try to meet their family’s needs. Folks dealing with health crises are tired. I’m tired too even though I’m well and have everything I need. And sometimes it’s a lot of work to be a person and to be aware and to witness this world’s troubles.

Now, a Psalm is holy poetry, and I don’t want to reduce it to advice or directions, because it’s more than that. But at the same time, when I read this Psalm in light of the exhaustion I see in this community, “he maketh me to lie down in green pastures” really looks to me like God wants us all to take a nap if we need one. There is much more to the Psalm than “go take a nap.” But I do firmly believe that God longs for us all to flourish and be well, and resting is part of that.

Our value and our purpose in God’s sight are more than the work that we do. We are not just here to accomplish things—though our accomplishments can be good and worthy, and part of the paths of righteousness in which God wants to lead us. And this may be controversial: we are not here just to help others—though helping others is part of our calling as we share God’s dream for everyone to flourish.

Psalm 23 gives us a glimpse of purpose other than being useful. Maybe we are here to walk with God and follow God’s leading. Maybe we are here to witness God’s presence in the good and the bad. Maybe we are here to delight in the gifts God wants to give us. And so maybe our rest is just as good and holy as our work. Maybe we are called to lie down and rest instead of get up and do another thing. Maybe we are called to pause and let goodness and mercy catch up to us.

And so as we continue this holy season of Lent, I invite us to listen for where God might be leading us toward rest and joy.

I invite us to reflect on what the path of righteousness might look like for us in this season—because it doesn’t always look the same. Maybe we are called to prayer or study or listening. Maybe we are called to go outside and enjoy creation. Maybe we can enjoy the beauty God has given us through one another’s creativity in music and art and literature. Maybe this week we’ll taste God’s goodness in a delicious meal. Or maybe we’ll lie down for a God-given nap.

And perhaps we’ll be called to be good shepherds to others as God has been a good shepherd to us. Perhaps we’ll be called to share what we have so that someone else’s cup can run over instead of running dry. Perhaps we are even called to walk with someone through the valley of the shadow of death. Perhaps we’ll see a moment to offer rest or joy to someone else, knowing God wants us all to have rest and joy.

So friends, let us listen for the leading of our good shepherd. Let us claim the goodness God offers for ourselves, and let us share it with others freely. Amen.

Kelly Latimore’s beautiful icon, The Good Shepherdess.

The Second Sunday of Advent (Year W) | St. Paul’s, Evansville | Joanna Benskin | 4 December 2022 | Genesis 17:15-22 | Psalm 78:1-7 | Romans 8:18-25 | Luke 1:39-45

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God who fills us with your spirit calls us to carry hope in community.

This is our second week using A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church by the Rev. Dr. Wilda Gafney. So I’ll say something about this special resource to build on what Holly said last week, and then we’ll dig into today’s Gospel reading about Mary and Elizabeth’s visit.

So: A lectionary is a group of Bible readings picked out to use at certain times, such as the Sundays of the church year. We normally use one called the Revised Common Lectionary, a three-year cycle of readings. With Bishop Jennifer’s permission, we’re using a different lectionary for the season of Advent. This one highlights the stories and perspectives of women in scripture, both in what passages are chosen to read and in and how Gafney translates them.

I really value this shift in perspective. While we believe that God loves all people and created all people in God’s image, human history has made it so that we tend to focus on some people’s stories and some people’s value above others. Because of the cultures and power dynamics that existed when it was written, the Bible tells a lot more men’s stories than women’s. That isn’t surprising.  

But what did surprise me is what Dr. Gafney found as she compared the whole Bible with the selections we normally use. She says: “women are even less well represented in [the lectionaries] than they are in the Biblical text.”

Proportionally, the ancient texts of the Bible spend more time with women than the parts that churches picked out in the 20th century to read together in worship. I would have hoped that as both our culture and our Church have learned to value women differently, our readings would reflect that shift, but alas, they don’t.

It turns out that we still have trouble valuing women and women’s stories in our Church. We still carry a lot of bias with us that we may not even recognize. And that means that sometimes we need to do some re-balancing in order to appreciate what God is doing in the world and in order to align ourselves more fully with God’s love for all of us.

So I invite conversation about the lectionary readings this Advent—I’d love to know how these readings are sitting with you, what you love about them, what lifts your spirit, what causes discomfort, and what questions arise for you.

In her introduction, Dr. Gafney describes the point of her women’s lectionaries for preaching. She says, “The task of preachers is to proclaim a word—of good news, of liberation, of encouragement, of prophetic power, of God-story, and sometimes, of lament, brokenness, and righteous rage. These lectionaries will provide a framework to do that and attempt to offer some balance to the register in which the word has often been proclaimed.”

So with that framework in mind, let’s turn to our Gospel. Let’s see what word of good news, what lifegiving piece of God’s story, what prophetic power we might find in today’s story of Mary and Elizabeth.

It’s a meeting of two cousins, two pregnant women, two people brought together to share a secret hope about what God is doing in the world. Elizabeth is old; like her ancestor Sarah, she had given up hope of carrying a child. Mary doesn’t have a husband, and her pregnancy is a scandal. Neither of them expected to be expecting this way.

But Mary and Elizabeth are God’s partners in changing the world. They are the mothers of salvation.

In Dr. Gafney’s commentary on today’s readings, she asks us to reconsider what bearing children means in the stories of women like Sarah, Mary, and Elizabeth. She notes that sometimes with scripture’s annunciation stories, we end up reading women as “incubators” who are mostly valuable because they give birth to important sons.

Dr. Gafney invites us to shift perspective and consider “the symbolism of children for a world that continues under God’s care no matter the present circumstances.” It’s a broader view of these annunciation stories. It’s not just that one woman here or there changes her own standing by having a miracle baby, it’s that welcoming a child implies trust that God’s love will continue into the future. Welcoming a child brings people together to nurture and adore and teach and provide and rejoice.   

When I start to think in this direction this Advent here at St. Paul’s, I reflect on the hope God offers us, and on the gift of community that spans generations. We are part of the same hope that Mary and Elizabeth share in today’s Gospel, the hope that God is changing the world and lifting up the lowly. We are part of the same community that began with Mary and Elizabeth, the community that is filled with the Holy Spirit and rejoices to welcome Jesus among us.

So today I invite us to consider how blessed Mary and St. Elizabeth might be our teachers, and what this beautiful moment between them might have to offer us. Mary and Elizabeth keep hope alive, and they do it together in community, in holy friendship.

I invite us to reflect today on hope and community. I wonder where you find hope most difficult to sustain, and where you find it flourishing and blooming on its own. I wonder how you nourish the hope you have, and who helps you carry it. And if you are struggling to find any hope in this season, Holly or I can sit down with you and see if we can find some together.

And I wonder how community, here at St. Paul’s or elsewhere, has given you joy and strength. I wonder where you have been called to holy friendships. I wonder whose heart leaps for joy when you come into the room, and who gets that response from you. I wonder how you are holding hope in community.

That’s our call in the church this Advent: to carry hope in community. And it’s a difficult calling. There is a lot of bad news in the world; there’s a lot of uncertainty about money and politics and the climate; there’s a lot of hate; there are a lot of very real reasons to worry about the future. This is true for us, and it was true for Mary and Elizabeth as Jewish women living in an empire that hated them and would eventually murder both of their children. The world’s violence is real, and there are reasons to be afraid.

But Mary and Elizabeth held hope anyway. Not knowing what would come after—not yet knowing either death or resurrection—they rejoiced together in that moment. They carried God’s hope for the future in their own bodies.

And we can too, as we find our own callings. Mary and Elizabeth were called to carry God’s hope in the world as mothers, and that might be part of the call for some. Not all of us are able to bear children, and not all of us who are able will choose to; there are many other ways to embody hope.

We can practice hope by using our imaginations to envision a better world and using our actions to bring that world a little closer. We could practice hope by caring for children and young people (whether or not they’re our own children), listening to what they care about, and acting in line with hope for their future.

We can practice hope by sharing from the abundance we have, in trust that there will be enough for us in the times to come. We can practice hope by caring for “this fragile earth, our island home” well, even when we don’t know what happens next.

We hold hope by doing it. We don’t have to feel optimistic all the time or ignore our fear and grief in order to do hope. Activist Mariame Kaba likes to say that “Hope is a discipline.” It’s a practice. It’s worth struggling for. And we hold onto hope not by squashing down all the bad feelings, but by acting on hope together, even amid uncertainty. Paul says we hope for what we do not see. It’s an act of faith.

And for Mary and Elizabeth, hope was an act of defiance, an act of rebellion. Hope in God’s salvation meant that the empire wasn’t the ultimate authority; another regime was on the way. It meant liberation was possible for everyone. It means that God’s transforming love reaches everywhere, and the empire no longer gets to tell us who is unworthy, who gets thrown away, who goes hungry, who gets silenced. It means casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly, as Mary will say.  

In this family visit between two pregnant women in Palestine, hope was a conspiracy. Have we talked about where the word “conspiracy” comes from? In Latin, “con” is “with” or “together” and “spirare” is “to breathe.” So conspiring is breathing together. Mary and Elizabeth are breathing together in this moment. And Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit; God’s own breath is breathing right there with them. The Holy Spirit is in on the conspiracy. The Holy Spirit is part of this shared moment of dangerous joy.

God is present, helping Mary and Elizabeth to carry hope, and God draws them together in community. They need each other. They need to take this moment and breathe together in order to hold the hope God has entrusted to them. They need to strengthen and uplift each other with inspired joy now in order to face what’s coming. Carrying this hope is so difficult that neither one of them is asked to do it alone; God calls Mary and Elizabeth to a holy friendship.  

Last week we read the story of how the angel Gabriel came to Mary to announce Jesus’ birth; let’s not forget the part of that story where Gabriel tells Mary that Elizabeth is also pregnant. The news of Jesus’ birth—this message that upends Mary’s life and promises to transform the whole world—it also includes this gentle guidance towards community. Gabriel tells Mary: “Elizabeth is pregnant too.” And that means that when Mary is called to a revolutionary hope, called to do something impossibly brave, she is also called to community. She is not alone.

The angel Gabriel tells Mary where to find her next co-conspirator. Joseph will become a co-conspirator along with Elizabeth. And eventually, Peter and John and Mary Magdalene and all of Jesus’ followers will join in. They will all breathe with Mary and help her to bear the hope of Jesus’ coming reign. And so will we. Elizabeth was the first member of this community to breathe with Mary and the Holy Spirit, and now we’re all part of it.

We carry this hope together in community. God calls us to a dangerous and difficult hope—and God calls us into community to make it possible. God calls us to holy friendship. God calls us to care for each other in grief and lift each other up in joy, and that is where we find the strength we need.

God calls us to breathe together with the Holy Spirit. And in that act of breathing together, we claim our moments of peace amid the chaos; we find what it takes to carry hope through this world against all odds.     

Friends, in this Advent season of watching and waiting, I pray that we will find that space to breathe with the Holy Spirit and with our co-conspirators. I pray that we will find the community we need to hold hope. I pray that we will find grace to follow our teachers Mary and Elizabeth, and that with them we will carry God’s hope in our bodies and breathe with the Spirit more and more deeply.


A 15th-century German engraving of The Visitation (Mary and Elizabeth’s visit) accessed through the Met Gallery and in the Public Domain. Master ES (German, active ca. 1450–67) The Visitation, 15th century German, Engraving; sheet: 6 3/16 x 4 11/16 in. (15.7 x 12 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1922 (22.83.2)

The 21st Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 26) | St. Paul’s, Evansville | Joanna Benskin | 30 October 2022 | Luke 19:1-10

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our joy and our salvation.

Good morning, friends. Today we hear the story of Zacchaeus. It’s a heartwarming tale of tree climbing, repentance, joy, and salvation. It’s also a story about money, and how a person’s relationship to wealth changes dramatically after an encounter with Jesus.

So, fair warning: we are going to talk about money today. That can sometimes be uncomfortable—but Jesus talks about money a lot, and I think it can be liberating for us to work with our discomfort. So, I promise I won’t ask anyone to pledge half of their wealth to support St. Paul’s in 2023. But we will look at how giving money away is one part of Zacchaeus’ spiritual transformation, and how it might be part of ours too.

So let’s start with our friend Zacchaeus, who is a tax collector. We heard a little bit about tax collectors last week. And some of us might not have warm fuzzy feelings for the IRS, but this is so much worse. Tax collectors like Zacchaeus were in league with the enemy. Palestine was occupied by the Roman Empire, and tax collectors were the ones willing to betray their own people in order to help the Roman Empire squeeze wealth out of the lands they ruled.

Not only that, but tax collectors were known for collecting extra money unfairly and getting wealthy off of doing it. The occupying Roman forces backed up their tax collectors, so people couldn’t do much about it. Zacchaeus is rich, and this is probably how he got rich.

But when we find Zacchaeus in today’s story, his mind isn’t on his money. We find him “trying to see who Jesus is.” It’s said in passing, but there’s a lot going on there. Zacchaeus is doing something vitally important. 

If somebody were to ask what it is we do in church “trying to see who Jesus is” would be a pretty good answer. Zacchaeus realizes that he doesn’t know who Jesus is and that he needs to find out.

And we don’t know for sure why Zacchaeus has such a burning desire to see who Jesus is. Maybe he’s heard Jesus’ teachings against oppression, and he’s concerned. Maybe he’s heard about the parables and the miracles and the world-changing love, and something sparked his curiosity. Maybe he caught a whisper of hope that things could be different from the way they are. Whatever Zacchaeus is thinking in this moment, we can trust that the Spirit is moving in him.

And the Spirit moves in us too. Many of us can name those tipping points where we might or might not know why it happened, but we found clarity where there was confusion. Or we were able to escape a false certainty that had trapped us. We felt our love kindled for God or for a neighbor. We knew we needed to seek Jesus out in a way we hadn’t before.

Zacchaeus needs to see Jesus so badly that he climbs a tree. It’s not a dignified thing for someone of his status to do. Maybe people who used to be scared of him point and laugh. Maybe he’ not used to climbing trees either. So maybe he scrapes an elbow or gets sticky sap all over his hands. Maybe he tears an expensive piece of clothing. But Zacchaeus needs so badly to see who Jesus is that he doesn’t care about any of that.

 Whether or not he knows it, Zacchaeus is called to climb a sycamore fig tree, and he answers the call. And friends, we could stand to climb a tree now and then too—it’s a change in perspective. Lazarus’ unexpected tree-climbing reminds me of a scene from the movie Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams’ character invites his students to climb up on top of a desk in the middle of English class and see the room from a different angle. Zacchaeus finds that new perspective. From his vantage point among the leaves, Zacchaeus finally sees Jesus.

But what turns out to be even more important than that is that Jesus sees Zacchaeus. Jesus sees a man who needed Jesus so strongly that he climbed a tree just to get a better look. Jesus sees a beloved child of God who has lost his way in this world. Jesus calls Zacchaeus to come down, and Jesus invites himself over to stay and Zacchaeus’ house.

And then it says in the Greek, Zacchaeus “hurried, came down, and received him rejoicing.” Zacchaeus is filled with joy when he knows Jesus will be at his house. We don’t know what he felt when he went up the tree to see who Jesus was, but now we know he’s rejoicing. And this rejoicing is the ground for everything that happens next.

In this joyous encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus finds what he needs for transformation, what he needs to get un-stuck. When Jesus sees him and feasts with him, his whole life changes. He sees the world from a different perspective. And finally he is seen and loved for the glory God gave him as a human being, not for his wealth or authority.

Jesus sees Zacchaeus as a child of God’s promises. And I believe Jesus’ love is what saves Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus’ achievements don’t impress Jesus, and Zacchaeus’ very real sins don’t scare Jesus off either, even when other people grumble. Jesus already loves Zacchaeus just for being a person, and Jesus knows that Zacchaeus has it in him to be a very different kind of person than he has been in the past.

And in the joy of Jesus’ love for him, Zacchaeus’ whole life transforms and blossoms. He starts to be a different kind of person than he has been in the past. He gives away half of the wealth he’s shaped his whole life to pile up. He begins to make amends to those he’s harmed. And Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house.”

Bible scholar Pete Enns talks about the story of Zacchaeus as a story of salvation centered in this present life. In his blog “The Bible for Normal People,” Enns shares that he used to see “salvation,” or being saved, as only about what happens after we die. Like me, Pete Enns grew up in churches that put a lot of emphasis on heaven and hell and see salvation in terms of being saved from hell and making sure we know we’re going to heaven when we die.

But in this story, Enns sees salvation as something that happens now, that happens all along, that can happen every day. Zacchaeus needs Jesus to save him from his greed, which is making his life and his neighbors’ lives worse in tangible ways. Enns sees salvation in the present here.

And I agree with that reading. In this story, salvation happens “today.” It happens when Jesus comes to Zacchaeus in love and joy. It happens when Jesus’ love frees Zacchaeus to live differently than he did before.

Zacchaeus starts to get free from the life that was about using his position to extract as much as he could from other people. He has been orbiting around the weight of his wealth for as long as he can remember, and somehow Jesus helps him to break free of that gravity and fly off in a completely new direction. Jesus saves him.

Salvation begins to transform Zacchaeus’ relationships with his neighbors and with money. We don’t know if he gives up his position as a tax collector in a corrupt system after this, or if he stays and tries to change how it works from the inside. We don’t know what it looks like for Zacchaeus to give his money to the poor as someone who might have made a point not to know poor people until now.

There’s probably a lot left for Zacchaeus and his community to figure out in the wake of this transforming encounter. Maybe Zacchaeus will sometimes have trouble remembering Jesus’ love for him when Jesus isn’t sitting at his table in the flesh. Salvation is an ongoing process for Zacchaeus and for us.

The Spirit moves us, and we have our moments of new perspective, our joyous encounters with the love of Jesus, our choices to act within that love and to claim the freedom Jesus offers us. We have our struggles and failures too. And day by day, we are being saved.

Our salvation is happening now. God will save us after our death and bring us to the communion of saints, and God is already saving us now. Our salvation is happening when we know in our bones that Jesus loves us. Salvation is happening when we see God’s image in another person, and when we love our neighbors. Salvation is happening when we rejoice in the beauty and bounty of creation. Salvation is happening when the Spirit moves us and we find a new perspective (with or without actually climbing up a tree).

Today, salvation has come to this house. And salvation is also happening when we choose to share the resources we have. For Zacchaeus, joyfully giving money away was part of a spiritual transformation in response to Jesus’ love. Zacchaeus was saved from a life that centered on piling up more and more, and was saved for a life of joy and connection and helping his neighbors to flourish. Giving was one part of Zacchaeus’ turn toward grace, and it came from his joy in Jesus’ saving presence.

With Zacchaeus, some of us may find that there is something radically freeing about giving money away at all, no matter the amount.

In this world we hear so often that we have to hold on tight to make sure we have enough money, no matter how much we might already have. So sometimes giving something away can help us to move past a false story of scarcity. It can help us see how we might be part of the abundance God offers so that all creation can flourish and be well together.

Now I want to be clear that some scarcity is real, and if you’re struggling to meet your needs, we don’t want you to give in any way that causes more suffering. This is not about giving until it hurts, and it’s not about giving in expectation that God will multiply your money back to you.

What it is about is being more free from whatever it is that might trap us. It’s about helping each other whenever we can. It’s about is making a prayerful choice to open our hands and be generous toward the things that matter most to us.

It’s about walking forward into the transformation that Jesus offers and discerning what that looks like for us day by day, in all aspects of our lives.

In Jesus, we are called to move toward own freedom and our neighbors’ flourishing at the same time. For Zacchaeus, that happened to involve giving away a big chunk of money. For some of us, it might look like setting aside a percentage of our budget to give—this is what Brian and I do, and I’m happy to talk about that practice with you if you’d like. Some of us might give in a different way. Some of us may not be ready to give financially right now, and we may be experiencing transformation and generosity and gratitude in other ways in this season.

And friends, God is present in all of it. With Zacchaeus, we rejoice to welcome Jesus every day, and we are being saved every day. We give thanks for so much. I’ve been reading the beautiful words of gratitude we’ve shared in our jar. Some of us gave thanks for family and friends.

Some of us gave thanks for St. Paul’s—for the growth and courage and friendship we find here. Some of us gave thanks for the wonders of creation—for sunsets and sunrises and the Ohio River. Someone gave thanks for being accepted and loved in their own quirkiness. One of the cards just said “cheeseburger.” Whoever that was, I’m with you friend.

Salvation is happening among us—in the fellowship of our families and friends, in the growth we share together, in the beauty God gives us, sometimes in the delight of biting into that delicious cheeseburger, in the affirmation of being seen and loved for who we are, and in the grace to turn to God and give thanks. Jesus is saving us every day.

Salvation has come to this house. So with Zacchaeus, may we listen to the Spirit’s calling together and find the perspectives we need. May we rejoice in the salvation of the Savior who sees us. And may we live and move and give and flourish in the embrace of our Maker who loves us.


A 15th-century woodcut of the story of Zacchaeus; in the public domain and accessed through the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Feast of St. Francis (Transferred) | St. Paul’s, Evansville

Joanna Benskin | 9 October 2022 | Job 39:1-18 | Psalm 121 | Romans 8:18-25 | Matthew 11:25-30

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may, for love of you, delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today we welcome animals into the church, and we celebrate the life of St. Francis. We’ll keep things simple today; we’ve got critters to bless and vanities of the world to renounce and creation to enjoy. So we’ll remember St. Francis’ story and reflect on the gifts his holy life offers us now. In the words of our collect, St. Francis renounced the vanities of this world and delighted in God’s creation.

Francis was a generous kid drawn to spiritual things. His family had made a comfortable life as silk merchants in medieval Italy, and Francis enjoyed the luxuries of that life.

The stories tell us that in his early 20s, Francis had a vision in a church near his home. Christ appeared to him and called on him to repair the church. Francis tried to use his family’s wealth to pay for repairs, and his father beat him, locked him up, and took legal action to disinherit him.

Some versions of the story even say that while the trial was going on, Francis renounced his inheritance and stripped naked to give back the clothing that belonged to his family. The bishop then covered Francis with his robe.

Francis went on to found the Franciscan order, a brotherhood of monks dedicated to poverty. With them, Francis preached the good news of Jesus, lived simply, prayed, and found holiness among people begging and sick people, where he saw Christ’s presence most clearly on earth.

St. Francis saw all people as sisters and brothers and siblings, and even claimed a kinship with God’s non-human creations. There’s a story about Francis negotiating a peace treaty with a wolf that was terrorizing a town called Gubbio.

There’s also a story that when Francis was travelling with some of his brother monks, they came up to some trees full of birds. And Francis said, “Wait a bit. I’m going up there to preach to our sisters the birds.” And he came close, and he spoke God’s love to the birds, and they didn’t fly away.

St. Francis is known for his delight in God’s whole creation as good and beloved and interconnected. We see that joy in creation in our reading from Job. The mountain goats and the wild donkeys and the ostriches might be beyond our control. Sometimes the world’s creatures are beyond our understanding. And yet, God made them too. God delights in them too, and we can share God’s delight in them. They are part of creation with us.

St. Francis wrote a prayer called the Canticle of the Sun to give thanks to God for different parts of creation and claim them as our sisters and brothers and friends. He wrote:

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and pure.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night; and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.

And so this is one of the gifts of St. Francis’ life for us: to help us see the beauty and wonder of creation around us. This is why we (and many churches) bless animals near St. Francis’ feast day—because St. Francis saw God’s creatures as holy and good and worthy of our respect. St. Francis shows us how to “delight in God’s whole creation with perfectness of joy.”

And this might seem like a paradox in St. Francis’ life—he both rejects the world and loves the world.

He turns his back on the life that’s expected of him: the money, the busyness of the family trade, the comfort and respectability that his family worked so hard for. And in doing so, he turns to face the world God offers—the face of Christ amid poverty and suffering, a kinship that includes the sun and the moon, the water and the wolves and the birds.

He says no to one form of enjoying the world in order to say yes to a different one. We see this in the language we use at baptism: Our faith calls us to “joy and wonder in all God’s works,” and at the same time calls us to renounce “all sinful desires that draw us [away] from the love of God.” Though most of us aren’t going to be saints like Francis, we are called to this same tension.

This paradox—where we both love the world and reject the world—exists for a reason. It’s because the world itself is in a crisis of identity, and we’re right there with it. St. Paul tells us in Romans that creation itself longs to be set free.

Creation is in labor; creation is still waiting for what God will do. God is in the process of redeeming this world, and right now it is both wondrous and wandering astray. The world we live in is both God’s glorious and beloved creation and at the same time, it’s a place full of distractions and cruelty and confusion.

And so it makes sense that we both need to “renounce the vanities of this world” and “delight in God’s whole creation.” For St. Francis, the renouncing led to the delight. Giving up his share of wealth and comfort and social importance was what led him to the kind of life where he could see Christ in his poorest neighbors and commune with the birds.

So I wonder what that call might look like for us now. I wonder how we might reject the vanities of this world in order to delight in what God has made and claim our kinship with creation. We can start small.

 Maybe instead of buying something that we don’t need and that won’t last, we could share that money with someone we know who could use a hand.

Maybe there’s a claim on our time this week that we might do out of habit or obligation, but we kind of know it will be neither useful nor joyful—and maybe we could try crossing that thing off the calendar this time. Maybe we could take a walk in the woods or snuggle an animal instead.

Maybe we’re being hard on someone and we could ease off. Or maybe there’s a relationship where we never feel like we’re seen as good enough; maybe we could start to let go of that person’s expectations a bit and make room for joy.

Because God wants to give us joy, friends. God wants to free us along with all of creation. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Perhaps like St. Francis, we’ll find that when we renounce the vanities of this world, it’s our own heavy burdens that we’ve laid down. And we can walk a little lighter.

There’s a lightness to St. Francis’ way in the world—he suffered pain and trouble on the path he chose, and yet his gift was to see the beauty God gave in the midst of it. Releasing control opened St. Francis up to new kinds of joy and wonder and connection and playfulness.

The Irish poet Seamus Heaney gets at this sense of play in a poem about St. Francis preaching to the birds, and we’ll end with that:

When Francis preached love to the birds

They listened, fluttered, throttled up

Into the blue like a flock of words

Released for fun from his holy lips.

Then wheeled back, whirred about his head,

Pirouetted on brothers’ capes.

Danced on the wing, for sheer joy played

And sang, like images took flight.

Which was the best poem Francis made,

His argument true, his tone light.

Friends, may we also find such lightness as we lay our burdens down and delight in God’s whole creation. Amen.

A manuscript illumination of St. Francis with birds and animals, from Italy ca. 1320-42; in the public domain and accessed through the Met Gallery online.

The Seventh Sunday After Pentecost | Proper 12 | St. Paul’s, Evansville

Joanna Benskin | 24 July 2022 | Hosea 1:2-10 | Psalm 85 | Colossians 2:6-19 | Luke 11:1-13

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God who loves to hear our prayers.

Good morning, friends. There is a lot going on in our readings today, and maybe we’ll get to Hosea another week. But today’s gospel gives us the prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples. So today I’d like to talk about the practice of prayer, what we might learn from the Lord’s Prayer, and how God delights to hear us pray.

The first thing that happens in today’s Gospel story is that Jesus’ disciples see that he’s been praying, and they ask him to teach them how to pray too. They understand prayer as a skill they want to learn, and not something they automatically know how to do. Even the people who walked with Jesus on this earth wanted help to learn how to pray.

So, if you feel uncertain, all’s well; you’re in the company of the saints. And if you already feel skilled and confident in prayer, there’s always more to learn from this rich moment where Jesus teaches his people how to pray.

For folks learning how to pray in the Episcopal Church, often the growing edge is praying without the Prayer Book (or a bulletin, or other prayers that are already written out). We have this beautiful tradition of prayer at hand, and so not everyone here has learned the skill of finding their own words to pray in the moment.

I grew up in a church where we never used pre-written prayers. In worship and on our own, all the prayers were extemporaneous—we just started talking to God, and however it came out was the prayer. Speaking to God with the words I could find was how I first learned to pray.

When I first came to the Episcopal Church, Prayer Book prayers were a revelation to me. I admired how beautifully crafted they were in language and theology.

I loved the ability to just settle into the prayer without having to struggle for words or worry about what strange thing somebody was going to say next. I learned that using written prayers can be authentic and sincere—you absolutely can pour your heart out before the Lord by using words that have been passed down for hundreds of years.

After a while, I also circled back to reclaim the kind of prayer I first learned and find new beauty in it. Sometimes it comes out a jumble, and there’s a holiness to that confusion; we can trust that God gathers up the broken pieces. And sometimes the Spirit moves and words come out more right for that moment than anything we could have prepared.

As I’ve deepened my practice of prayer over the years, I’ve been grateful for the gift of having learned these two very different ways to pray. I’m thankful for the people who taught me to pray and the ones who are still teaching me. Because learning how to pray is an ongoing process.

We can trust that God hears us and God loves us and delights to hear us pray even when we don’t know what we’re doing. And we can also learn the skill of prayer—Jesus is willing to teach the people who ask in this Gospel.

Jesus’ prayer, this prayer that so many of us have learned by heart, can be a foundation for us as we learn more ways to pray. We can use this core prayer to anchor us when we lean into the prayers we know, when we pray in our own words, and even when we pray beyond words.

So let’s look at Jesus’ prayer here in our Gospel. (I want to note quickly that we have different versions of Jesus’ prayer in the manuscripts of the New Testament; maybe Jesus said different things at different times, or maybe early Christians expanded it to give us the longer version we use in worship.) In this prayer, Jesus teaches us some of the most profound ways we can pray; these are movements we’ll use again and again in different ways. We might not use them all every time, but each part of the prayer has a lot to teach us.

It starts, “Father, hallowed be your name.” Jesus prays by naming God as his Father and praising God as holy. He claims a relationship with God by calling God “Father.” That Father language might work well for us, or we might want to claim our relationship with God in different words, like “Mother” or “Friend.” In Genesis, Hagar names God “The One Who Sees Me” when she’s wandering in the desert; our names could come from our own stories. We can try different ways to name God and praise God and claim our relationship with God in words.

Or we could even just be present with God in silence when we pray—that can also be a way to come close to God and praise God too. We might try taking a few deep breaths without words, trusting that the Holy Spirit breathes with us. We might take a hike someplace beautiful that helps us feel close to the majesty of God. Whether we use words or not, Jesus is teaching us that in prayer we name God, we find our relationship with God, and we praise God for who God is.

Okay. We could stop there and it would be prayer. Some prayers are just this one move by itself, and that’s beautiful. If we learn how to name God, and praise God and be present in our relationship with God, we have learned to pray. But Jesus gives us even more.

“Your kingdom come.” I don’t want to give the game away early, but this is my favorite part of the Lord’s Prayer. The longer version says: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In this part of the prayer, Jesus holds onto a radical hope that God’s reign can come here among us. The world doesn’t have to stay the way that it is now. Transformation is possible, and in prayer, we keep that hope in God’s coming kingdom alive.

That’s how our Psalmist today is praying too, crying out to God for a better world: “Truly, God’s salvation is very near. Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.”

This is “your kingdom come.” This is prayer as visioning, lining up our imaginations with God’s imagination.

We might pray “your kingdom come” by asking God in our own words for the transformation that we believe is in line with God’s dream of mercy and truth and righteousness and peace. We might pray “your kingdom come” by daydreaming with intent, or by stretching our imaginations in poetry or art. We might pray “your kingdom come” with our hands and our feet and our bank accounts in acts of mercy and justice. “Thy kingdom come” is a prayer about transforming the world.

And right alongside that we have “Give us each day our daily bread.” Because prayer can also be about simply asking for what we need. And the world-shaking prayer for God’s kingdom to come on earth is connected with the humble prayer for our daily bread—because we can trust that God’s vision for the world includes everybody getting to eat every day.

God cares about what we need, and God wants us to ask for the things that sustain us.

Praying for our daily bread can be as simple as naming needs and wants before God. Asking God for help like this is maybe the most primal kind of prayer. It isn’t selfish to do; it’s another way of coming close to God in prayer, and it’s right at the core of the prayer Jesus taught us.

Jesus also teaches us to ask for and give forgiveness in prayer: “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” In prayer we can unload some of the burdens we carry and give them to God. We might go through the day beating ourselves up for things we did wrong, or replaying a conversation that we think did not go well. We might also be carrying a lot of resentment toward other people. We might carry deep guilt for real harm.

And when we pray “forgive us our sins,” we can be honest about what hurts and what’s gone wrong, and still move toward freedom from it.

When we pray this way, we can name our problems without trying to say they’re no big deal, and still turn toward God’s compassion for u and for other people. We can find both accountability and grace.

Some people find it helpful to kneel for prayers like this, expressing our humility with our bodies. Some people find that running or other exercise is the best way to let burdens fall away. (That’s not me, but God bless y’all.)

For some of us, remembering specific ways we’ve fallen short is helpful—naming those hard things can bring them into the open for us and stop them from nibbling away at the back of our minds.

For others of us, listing off sins only creates anxiety, and we’re better off staying with the big picture: we fail, and every time we do, God is there to pick us up again and comfort us and get us back on our way. So we pray in faith that God forgives, that God can deliver us from what we do to ourselves as well as from the dangers of the world.

The last part is about those dangers. “And do not bring us to the time of trial.” The longer version adds “deliver us from evil.” We can talk about the different ways this is translated, but the gist of it is that this is a prayer for God’s protection. Sometimes this can be a prayer from the brink of suffering, asking God to shield us from the worst of it.

Sometimes we pray God’s protection for those we love as well as ourselves. We do this in our Prayers of the People when we pray for folks who are ill or in danger. I think our acts of care for people who are in need or trouble can be part of this prayer too—any time we can be part of some small moment of deliverance from evil.

We might also pray a protective prayer like this when we’re driving and suddenly something dangerous happens. That prayer might include words I’m not going to say from the pulpit today, and it’s still a prayer; God has heard worse, I promise. We serve a God who knows life’s pains and perils, and God is with us when we cry out in pain or trepidation.

So that’s the prayer Jesus teaches: “Father, hallowed be your name.” (We name God, we come close to God, we praise God.) “Your kingdom come.” (We take part in God’s dream to transform the world.) “Give us each day our daily bread.” (We ask for what we need.) “Forgive us our sins.” (We bring our burdens to God.) “Save us from the time of trial.” (We ask for help in suffering and danger.)

These are not the only possible ways to pray—for example, Jesus’ prayer here in Luke doesn’t include thanking God. But we can use the movements of Jesus’ prayer as anchor points when we explore new ways of praying. So, I invite you to take the Lord’s Prayer home with you, either in your memory or in the bulletin, and see how you might be called to pray this week. Holly and I are also here if you ever want to pray together or learn more about how to pray.

But for some of us, the trouble isn’t so much how to pray but why we pray, or what happens when we pray.

For some of us, unsettled questions about what prayer is and how it works can make it hard for us to practice and learn and grow in prayer. So I want to say that our branch of Christian tradition has room for many different understandings of what might happen when we pray.

Some of us believe that God answers our prayers with miracles like the ones in the Bible. Some of us believe that God answers our prayers in more subtle ways, that God meets needs and averts disasters through little nudges that other people would call coincidence.

Others of us believe that prayer is important because it shapes our own lives in relation to God and God’s vision, but that God usually does not change material things in the world because we prayed.

Some of us believe that by God’s hearing them, our prayers become part of a larger web of reality, part of the love that connects us all and pulls things together for good.

The differences between these understandings do matter, and they have implications. We can talk about that together too if you’d like—but there’s a range of ways to believe faithfully here. And if you’re able, it is okay to keep right on praying even if you’re in a space of questioning or transition and you don’t know for sure what you believe about prayer. We hold each other up in prayer, and you don’t have to hold it all by yourself.

We are in this together, and God is with us. Wherever we are in our understanding of prayer or our process of learning how to pray, God hears our prayers. That may be the most important thing to learn about prayer—that God hears us praying, and God delights to hear us as we learn to pray.

We get an inkling of this in the end of the Gospel story where Jesus is talking about parents and children. Jesus says that even we, who are flawed people, are able to respond to children with love when they ask for what they want—and God’s love is so much deeper than ours.

We get other glimpses when the prophets envision God rejoicing over God’s people with singing, or caring for God’s children like a mother. So, we can imagine God responding to us as we learn how to pray the same way that we respond someone we care for learns how to speak to us.

When a baby is born to a loving family, and that baby has the strength to cry, those cries are heard and valued and tended. We might wish the baby could tell us exactly what they need, but we don’t blame them for not having that skill yet. And God cares for us that way, even when we don’t know how to pray—even when our prayer is just a burst of need, God delights to hear us and to hold us in love.

And then the little one starts to form syllables or signs, and the caregivers look for the delight of being called by name—“Mama” or “Dada” or “Aunt Joanna” or however the child calls us, in whatever language they can form. And God takes that same delight when we name God in prayer, when we say “our Father” or any name we might use.

And even once the basics of language are locked down, a person keeps on learning how to speak, and the people who love them take delight in seeing it happen. A parent is thrilled and proud to see their teen articulate who they want to be in this world. Friends support each other when one of them finds the words to tell a new truth about a marriage struggle or a career change or a deepening faith. Spouses fall in love more deeply when they learn new ways to tell each other what they need and what they hope for and who they are.

And this is how God is when we pray. God delights in us as we learn how to speak to God more and more deeply, how to relate to God and each other, how to tell the truth, how to dream the dream. God is brimming with delight in our prayer. All of it is precious in God’s sight—babbles of joy, cries of anguish, literary masterpieces of the Prayer Book, unanswered questions, silences, songs, sighs, tears, naming God in the dark as best we can.

Whatever words we use, and even if we don’t use words at all, God holds us in love as we pray. We keep on learning how to pray as we dwell with Jesus’ teachings, as we use the traditions we have, and as we practice prayer and find out what works for us.   

So I invite you to turn to the Lord’s Prayer in your bulletin if you’d like to have the words in front of you, or you can close your eyes if you prefer. Let’s pray the prayer that Jesus taught us now, and rest in God’s delight to hear us pray.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name,

thy kingdom come, thy will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory

            for ever and ever. Amen.

Daily bread of the sourdough variety (J. Benskin, 2021).