There is a balm in Galilee

There is a balm in Galilee. 

Or at least that’s what I’m looking and hoping for, a balm in Galilee. 

The better known Balm of Gilead is only mentioned a few times in scripture and always as something with extraordinary healing properties, rare, and valuable.  The idea was later adopted and incorporated into an African American Spiritual.  “There is a balm in Gilead/to heal the sin sick soul.”

I’d take the balm of Gilead.  I’ve a chronic condition, or few, that it’d be nice to treat for the last time.  But the balm I’m looking and hoping for in Galilee, especially in Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s metaphorical Galilee, is not the mythical or magical balm of Gilead.   

I want the balm that will help the church, my well loved church, see me as a priest with chronic health issues, not as a problem to be fixed with doctors notes or only spoken of in hushed tones among trusted confidantes or endlessly suspect (“she says she has migraines, but who really knows” or worse “how can she pretend to do this demanding job if she’s in as much pain as she says”). 

It’s only been in the last year that I’ve found the courage to risk telling people I didn’t already trust about my chronic health issues.  My suspicion was well learned.  My health issues preceded my ordination and it was mentors and leaders I’d both trusted and been required to trust with my still new realities that advised me in my first job search not to mention the brain surgeries or the migraines, or suggested a doctors note certifying that I could work, and (in the same conversation) assured me that any congregation which rejected me for these reasons wasn’t worth working for.

That was a long time, several jobs, and many blogs posts ago.  And the church hasn’t changed.  I know I’ve lost jobs for alluding to my health conditions and I prefer not to think about those who may have seen the same sentences and just never responded.  I’ve received various advice from colleagues and congregants about my migraines, little of which my doctor agreed with.  And I’ve learned that I’m not alone.   

Along with friends who also live with chronic health conditions, more and less formal collegial groups who live with chronic health conditions, and friends who know how to listen, I’ve done my research and reading. 50% North Americans live with a chronic health condition, many of which we cannot see and society and the church prefer we not talk about.  Half of us. I am so far from alone.

The balm I want Galilee to hold is not a cure for me.  It is a road to Damascus falling away of the scales for my Church.  Stop pretending I’m not here.  Stop talking as though only old people were sick or in pain.  See me, hear me.  Find a way to hold both my gifts and my pain.  More concretely

  • Unlearn cliches.  (Some examples here)
  • See people not diagnoses.
  • Don’t offer treatment advice unless asked.  Not even that thing that was a miracle for your aunt/cousin/self.
  • Respect their language choices.  Some people use disability, some chronic illness.  I’ve opted for chronic health condition here.
  • Make one change every year to make your church more accessible.  Here are 50 ideas. 
  • Stop preaching in Jesus’ healing as psychological or community wholeness.  It was, but scripture says people were healed.  Some of us would love to have our pain relieved and it hasn’t happened even after, in many cases, sincere faith and years of prayer.
  • Get serious about the health benefits you provide your employees.  Copays for doctor visits, medications, limited sick days, plans that only cover the ER if you are admitted to the hospital are some of the barriers to people taking care of themselves. 
  • Stock some Empathy Cards and send those.
  • Chronic illness is long term and one day at a time.  There are good, bad, and in between days.  Trust people to judge their ability that day.
  • Educate your parishioners.  That can be serious or silly. 

Most of us live with, care for, or love someone with a chronic health condition.  May Galilee be a place where the Church can be healed of it’s blindness and ableism; a place where all of God’s children are encouraged to participate in the ways that best suit them.

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Religion(s) of Peace, November 2015

Robyns SermonsMorsels and Stories: I talked about options for how to participate in Communion (or Eucharist).

Sermon: I preached about a Christian response to the deaths in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad.  How do we respond to violence, even when it’s done in the name of a peaceful religion?

The lessons for today can be found by clicking here.  I worked most closely with Mark 13: 1-8.


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The Kingdom of God doesn’t include poverty, Novemeber 2015

Robyns SermonsMorsels and Stories: We talked a bit about The Hon Capt Davis, the first rector of St Peter’s and military chaplain.  You can read more about his military career here.

Sermon: The widow’s mite is about the widow and her mite, and what the people of God weren’t (and aren’t) hearing in Jesus’ comments.

The lessons for today can be found by clicking here.  I worked most closely with Mark 12: 38-44.



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Christian Fish, All Saints 2015

Robyns SermonsToday we celebrate All Saints, part of a three day period where we remember those who have died, whether we all or individually remember or have forgotten their names.  Today I shared a weird and ancient Christian symbol.

The lessons can be found by clicking here. As happens, I preached on the theology of the day more than any particular lesson.


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Following Jesus, October 2015

Robyns SermonsMorsels and Stories: another story from Does God Have a Big Toe: Stories about stories in the Bible.

Sermon: The end of Job’s story and Blind Bartimaeus–both sound like happily ever after but is that what Jesus offers us.

The lessons can be found by clicking here.  I worked most closely with Job 42:1–6, 10–17 and Mark 10:46–52.


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Morsels and Stories: Sung Faith October 2015

Robyns SermonsMorsels and Stories: I spoke about the faith we sing, using the first verse of the last hymn today as an example.

If you want to see (and hear the melody) the hymns you can find them online here.



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Love and Legalism

A couple of weeks ago the audio of my sermon got lost due to a tech mishap.  Because I had most of a manuscript and thought it was a good sermon on a hard passage, I committed to (re)creating a written version of the sermon. The text I preached is Mark 10: 2-16 and can be found here.

(NB Sermons and writing are similar but not identical practices for me.  What I’m posting here is a bit of a cross between the two.  I’ve adapted some of the techniques I’d use while preaching because this will mostly exist as writing; I’ve left others. I’ve left in many time specific references because rewriting them didn’t work for me.  As you read, remember that in some ways this exists primarily on Oct 4 2015. I’ve also left in some things I would’ve softened when I was preaching.)

Jesus is on a bit of a roll here, isn’t he?   A few verses ago it was cutting off body parts, now it’s hard answers about divorce.

Before we get into what Jesus said, let’s be clear that divorce is emotionally laden for all of us.  For some of us divorce is the great tragedy of our childhood, or that we forced into our children’s childhood.  For some of us divorce is what made us free, what gave us a life worth living back.  For me, of course, divorce is the topic I most wanted to preach on two weeks after getting married.

For a little bit, at least a few more paragraphs, let’s set all of our emotional baggage to the side and look at what happens. 

Jesus gets asked about divorce.  But this is about more than divorce.  We’re more than halfway through Mark’s gospel so things are about to go badly–trials and crucifixion are coming soon.  And then a Pharisee shows up.  Pharisees are the detail oriented sect of Judaism that Jesus probably hung out with most.  And the question is about Jewish law–what is and isn’t permitted.  And it’s not just a question, it’s a trap. 

This is a challenge religious scholars are posing to ask Jesus to choose between common practice of the day (when men and women were divorcing each other—a process that included negotiating a complex document—a get—that spelled out how both parties would be taken care of) and what Moses said (which is presumably what God wants).  So does Jesus pick the crowds whose support is increasingly keeping him alive or does he pick Moses who spoke with God and transcribed the Law?  It’s a trap all neatly wrapped up in question.

In my imagination there’s a pause between the question (trap!) and Jesus’s answer.  In my imaginary pause Jesus looks at the crowd who loves him, who Roman authorities fear angering, who is keeping him out of jail and away from death, and then Jesus looks at this Pharisee, this Jewish scholar whose life is in pursuit of the best way to keep God’s commandments.  Does he pick what the people want, what Moses said?

Then Jesus (and my imagination wants Jesus to have a mischievous glint in his eyes here but my faith tells me it’s more likely a smile tinged with sorrow) answers.  Not the crowd, not Moses, but Eden. Option C.  The answer that ignores the framework the question suggests: not a or b, but something more important than the crowd or Moses.

Eden.  That time we tell stories about when everything was perfect, before the stories we tell about our sinning, our hardness of heart to use the biblical euphemism.  “What God has joined together, let no one separate,” Jesus quotes from Genesis.  This is a quote from when we could always be our best selves, when the world was in perfect accord with God’s will.

We don’t live in that world.  (Sometimes the obvious needs stating.)  Here are some of the ways, which often contribute to divorce, in which our world is unlike Eden:
-no abuse (physical, verbal, or emotional)
-no societal cues for what a good marriage ought to look like (the man brings home the bacon and the woman keeps house and raises kids, also not biblical but more post-WWII)
-no poverty
-no wealth disparity
-no politics or other deeply held beliefs to argue about
-no in laws to abuse, ignore, or meddle
-no sexism
-a society which doesn’t value male flourishing more than female flourishing
-no jealousy
-no social (and often religious) disapproval of sexuality, especially anything that’s not cis, straight, white masculine sexuality

That’s a list of personal and societal sins. It’s a list about family histories and human limitations. On our best days we can rise above the limitations and sins that we inherit and that we inherently possess.  But marriage is about being together “for better and for worse” and sometimes, especially when items like those I just listed are involved, two people can’t live together through their “worses”.

Two weeks ago I stood right here (gestures to the space in front of the pews where I was married) and made extravagant vows, wild and crazy promises about for better and worse, about for as long as we both shall live, about sickness and health.  Two weeks ago the Bishop reminded many of us that  marriage is an image of God’s love for us. And in many ways marriage is a great image and metaphor for God’s crazy, extravagant, abundant, intimate love for us.

Let’s remember that we are to struggle to live into the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control we are assured are fruits of the Spirit.  When someone we know needs to end their marriage, let’s not look for traps and legalistic points to fixate on.  Let’s look for ways to be supportive, to help them mourn what is ending, that it needs to end, and celebrate the new possibilities that will come; Let’s look for ways to act out the fruits of the Spirit, much less perfect practice a love like God’s.

When we hear Jesus talk about divorce let’s try to remember a much bigger story—the bigger story Jesus is in the middle of and the bigger story we are all, always, in the middle of. Let’s try to remember that we are not perfect people any of us, and that some of our “worses” don’t allow another person to healthily live with us in the intimacy of marriage. 

Jesus is asked a question about divorce and legalism.  Let’s make sure all our responses are about God’s love.

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Love, not Perfection, September 2013

Robyns SermonsMorsels and Stories: I read The Queen Who Saved Her People.

Sermon: Jesus gets all extreme today.  How do we deal with that?


The lessons can be found by clicking here.  I worked most closely with Mark 9:38-50.


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Early Birds and Second Mice, September 2013

Robyns SermonsThis was a fairly interactive morning and on these days, I tend to let Morsels and Stories run into the sermon.  As it was interactive, the audio can be spotty, I try to make sure that the gist of the conversation gets picked up but there may be stretches where some things are hard to understand.

The early bird gets the worm.  The second mouse gets the cheese. Modern proverbs to help us practice thinking critically about the Bible.

The lessons can be found by clicking here.  I worked with Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 and Mark 7:24-37


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REACHing Breakthrough, August 2015

Today was Commitment Sunday, the official end of St Peter’s REACH Campaign.  REACH is a parish based, diocesan capital campaign to raise money for mission and ministry.   You can read about the Diocesan portions of the campaign.

At St Peter’s we’ve been focused on ways we can make our parish more accessible.  To that end $98,800 have been committed by parishioners.  Which is amazing.

Today, for Morsels and Stories and the sermon, I talked a bit about why we’d do something like REACH and everyone present was invited to fill out a commitment card which we then placed on the altar and prayed over.  (The audio stops once we start filling out the cards.)

Here are before and after pictures of the box of problems:

REACH chocolate REACH box









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