Epiphany 5C Call of Peter, 12 step Eucharist, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, February 6, 2019

Epiphany 5C. call of Peter

February 6, 2019 12 step St. Mark’s Episcopal church

Luke 5:1-11

“Yes, Mrs. Simon Peter speaking. What! Zebedee, slow down, I can’t understand you. You are alone on the shore with two boat loads of fish that are about to sink, and Simon Peter and James and John are off talking to a new rabbi! Give me a few minutes to find someone to care for my mother who is in bed with a fever, and I and everyone else I can find will be right there!”

“Can you believe this is happening? Right when we are in the middle of building a new home in Capernaum.”///

Don’t you just love Luke’s action-packed, somewhat humorous story of the call of Peter, James, and John! Jesus calls a frustrated and tired Peter to go out deeper where he catches so many fish that his nets are about to break. James and John’s boat comes to help him and their boat as well become so filled with fish that they are about to sink. Jesus tells them, “Don’t worry, you will become fishermen of men.” When they come to shore, Peter and his partners have changed their priorities, their old way of life, and leave everything including John and James’ father and their boats filled with fish and follow Jesus.

We are here in this place because we too desperately want to know what it is like to be called by and hear the voice of God like Peter. Today Luke clearly tells us what that call looks/ and sounds /and smells like.

Consider where Peter is, and what he is doing when he is called? Peter is not doing anything particularly religious, but is busy at his workplace trying to make a living. We may hear God call us in this church, but we are very likely to hear that voice in our everyday life, at home, school, at work.

This call often also comes in an interruption in our daily routine. Pay very close attention to the interruptions that present when we are much too busy for them: people and places whose names do not appear on our agendas./

God consistently comes to us where WE are. Luke tells us that Jesus begins his ministry in synagogues, but he doesn’t call his disciples by putting an ad in the Galilee Democrat Gazette saying, “Local teacher needs staff. No experience necessary. Apply to Box 534.” Instead, Jesus makes a personal appearance to our homes and workplaces when he calls.

Notice that Jesus tells Peter to go out into deeper water to fish. Those in 12 step Recovery know exactly what motivates Peter to go in another direction. We most often make these life-changing decisions when we like Peter, are exhausted, “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” We hit a bottom and have no more answers. One of our children gets into trouble and we can’t fix it; our spouse is sick and is not getting better; we lose our job and have difficulty finding another one. Our addiction is ruling our lives. Suddenly we are open to a memory from childhood, a conversation with a stranger or an old friend. We read again a scripture passage, or see an old movie that motivates us. We make a call or are given the courage to speak to someone we know who is in recovery. And God comes to us and transforms us in ordinary relationships with people who understand where we have been,/ and our nets become filled to overflowing.

Notice how Peter’s confession of his humanity, his shortcomings, his 5th step is so important to his call. Part of Peter’s greatness is this ability to see his own powerlessness. But that same power which causes him to fall on his knees also lifts him up. Jesus says to him, “Fine, now we are ready to get going. If you hadn’t had any awareness about yourself, this wasn’t going to work.”

Let’s return to the two boat loads of fish left by the Sea of Galilee. Is Jesus telling Peter now to give up fishing? Is that what catching people instead of fish means?/ My experience is that God uses the talents we have perfected in our worldly vocations for God’s purposes. The skills that Peter learned in fishing will be used now for the kingdom. Nothing is ever wasted. Fishing may now be the best way Peter will meet others who are seeking the Christ as well as others seeking recovery. As a fisherman Peter learned patience; working in community; putting out a net, a feeler, a fishing line to find something completely unknown beneath the surface ; seeing God’s presence in nature, feeling God’s pleasure in the sun and wind on his face and the salt in his hair, being constantly surrounded by images in a natural world greater than himself.

So, this is the call. Do you hear it? God is calling each of us, most a bunch of rank amateurs who can’t distinguish port from starboard. We are not called because WE are able, but because God is able, because God is constantly getting into the boat with us, into the messiness of our lives, usually at odd and inconvenient times, and leading us and going with us to deeper waters, a new life, where our nets will repeatedly be filled.

Joanna. Joannaseibert.com

Epiphany 2C, John 2:1-10, Wedding at Cana, Extravagant Abundance, St. Mark's Episcopal Chruch, January 20, 2019

John 2:1-10, Epiphany C2 Wedding at Cana, Extravagant Abundance, St. Mark’s, January 20, 2019

Joanna Seibert

Are you having any difficulty understanding any of the details of this most famous of all Jewish wedding feasts? If so, come with me to make a visit to Mary, Jesus’ mother, to find out what really happened. Let’s travel back to the late first century. It is many years after the resurrection. We must journey to Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province of Asia, now in present day Turkey. We hear that the disciple John/ brought Mary to Ephesus when the persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem became particularly severe.

Our guide leads us to a very small stone house on an uneven plateau near the top of a hill just to the left of the road from Jerusalem.1 The door is already open for us, and we are escorted in by a young woman. The main part of the house is divided into two by a fireplace in the middle.. We sit by the fire, but then stand when Mary slowly enters from the door to the right.2

“Mary, thank you for seeing us. We have made a rather long journey from Arkansas just to find out a few more details about what really happened at the wedding at Cana.”

Mary motions for us to sit down. She ponders our question for several minutes, and then speaks.

“ Our whole family went to this wedding at Cana, a dot in the road about 10 miles north of Nazareth. He was thirty when it all happened.

There was no warning;

He had never done anything like that before at other gatherings,

But this was a really big wedding.

It was our friend, Isaac Levinson’s daughter

who was marrying Jacob Abramson from the nearby big city of Sepphoris,

and everyone in our village was invited.

So, I say to him,

‘Listen, Jesus,

there’re going to be a lot of nice girls at this affair.

You’re 30,/ and you’re not getting any younger.

So, don’t be backwards about being forward

just because your old mother is there.

I’ll not be watching and checking up on you.’

Well he just rolls his eyes the way his father used to.

So, I say no more.

We get to the wedding

and into the reception,/ a huge crowd, probably more than the bridegroom expected, so we eat first.

What a spread:

Breaded octopus,

roast quail in pomegranate sauce,

pickled locusts,

mushroom omelets for the vegetarians.

Everything is magnificent,

except for the olives.

Now personally, I don’t like olives

but everyone who ate them said they were very salty.

So between the salty olives and the heat

(It was close to 90 degrees.)

there were a lot of thirsty people thereon this third day..

We must have been sitting at the table for hours.

People were talking at the top of their voices./

And then I notice it gets distinctly quieter./

So I turn to Jesus and say.

‘I have a feeling that the wine has run out.’

He just turns to me, rolls his eyes and says,

‘Mother, your powers of observation are beyond priceless.’

But I know from the way he says it that he must be up to something. I know if I had noticed it, he would have sensed it long before me;

so when I see him rising from the table

and going into the kitchen,

I say to one of the waiters,

‘You see that man walking towards the kitchen,

that’s my son.

Follow him and do what he tells you.’

Well, exactly what happens after that, I don’t really know.

There are about a dozen different stories.

According to Jesus,

he just asks

for the big water jars to be filled “to the brim.”

Then he helps lift them one at a time,

gives them to the waiters

and tells them to take them to the chief steward.

I can still remember the delicious sweet taste of this new wine,/ but I did not crave more. I was satisfied with what I had at that moment. Its aroma was earthy. I stayed in the present moment as I drank it and was filled with thanksgiving and gratitude.

Well, in no time at all, the noise level is back at its peak

and everyone is congratulating Jacob

on the Beaujolais nouveau./

When Jesus comes back to the table,

I say to him,

‘Jesus, how come with all the water jugs in my own kitchen,

you’ve never turned your hand to this wine-making before?’

He just rolls his eyes the way his father used to

and says,


I just wanted the family at this wedding to experience a taste, just for a moment, of the miracle of joy and thanksgiving,/

just as you know every day in your own kitchen/ the miracle of a joy filled life/ of gratitude and forgiveness/ with no need for the wine.’2

Now Mary is quiet. We can tell she is going more deeply into the past. She holds onto her heart and proclaims in a voice louder than we thought was left within her, “ This whole miracle can only be described as extravagant abundance, extravagant abundance3./” Then she begins to giggle.

We ask, “Is there something else you remember?”

Mary speaks again intermittently through her laughter, “Jesus miraculously made 180 gallons of wine in those six stone jars “filled to the brim” that day. There was so much wine left over after Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana that the bridegroom, Jacob Abramson, quits his job working with his father and becomes an alcohol distributor for all the wine in our area of Galilee!”

Mary becomes more serious and cries out again, “extravagant abundance,3 extravagant abundance in the most unexpected places.”

Mary continues, “ Do you realize that from then on at every meal where Jesus is present, the many banquets, the feedings of the thousands, even and perhaps especially at his last meal with his family and friends, that Jesus always provides extravagant abundance/ especially when it is least expected it!

Later writers have sensed this. Do you remember in in The Brother KaraMAzov where Dostoevsky describes A/exei Karamazov falling asleep and dreaming about this wedding at Cana, It is a dream for him of indescribable joy. When he wakes from the dream, he throws himself down on the earth and embraces it. He kisses the earth/ and among his tears that are in no way sentimental, he forgives the earth and begs its forgiveness and vows to love it forever.4”/ Did you like Alexei become aware of God’s extravagant abundance in a dream or maybe on your trip here as you looked into the night sky, or as you walked outside and saw the majesty of the trees and the rolling hills around you even on this crisp, cold wintery day. Are you aware of God’s extravagant abundance of forgiveness? Is there something you think you have done for which God cannot forgive you? Listen to me, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, which we might do that God will not forgive us,/ and by the way God asks us to do the same./ This is the miracle of extravagant abundance./

There is long silence. We now decide to get a little braver in our questions. “We have always wondered why John, who takes care of you so well never mentions you by name in his gospel. He only refers to you as the mother of Jesus.”

Mary lifts up her head and looks us in the eye. “Well, you must ask John about that. I can only say that this story about Jesus and his mother at this wedding at Cana is only in John’s gospel, so perhaps John alone knows the depth of the extravagant love relationship between a mother and her son.’ /

Mary is quiet again and then speaks, “Well, that is all in the past.2

But after that day

There was a constant flow of invitations

from people who wanted Jesus to come to their weddings.”/

We can then see that Mary is thinking out loud,/ “Now, I have heard that at St. Mark’s you have many weddings, but you especially honor relationships and birthdays and marriages as people come every sabbath to your altar to pray on the anniversaries of birthdays and marriages.”/

Another long silence. Mary then motions for one of the women to come and help her up. As she rises,/ she bows and unexpectedly gives us a kiss, and softly says, “And as I take your leave, I only ask you to remember this story of God’s extravagant abundance3/ that God constantly offers us in the special events but also in the very ordinary parts of our lives,/ just as Jesus reminded me about the abundant joy I experience every day with him in my own kitchen.//

I ask you always to remember/ to invite Jesus into your special days, your birthdays, your weddings, your anniversaries,/ but also invite Jesus into your ordinary days, into your homes;/ invite Jesus into your kitchens;/ invite Jesus into your everyday lives/// ….and be ready/ for the miracle.”

Iona Community, The Wild Goose Worship Group, “The Wedding,” pp. 54-56, Present on Earth .GIA Publications, Inc. 2002.

Donald Carroll, pp. 1, 44, Mary’s House. Veritas 1843.

3 Ernest Hess, “John 2:1-11,” Feasting on the Word, p. 265, Year C, vol. 1.WLK. 2009.

4. Frederick Buechner, “The Wedding at Cana,” pp. 93-94, The Hungering Dark, 1969.

Joanna joannaseibert.com

Meeting Epiphany, 12 step Eucharist, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Little Rock, AR, January 2, 2019

Meeting Epiphany 12 step January 2, 2019

Sunday we will be celebrating the Feast Day of Epiphany. I first met Epiphany when I was eleven or maybe twelve years old. A boyfriend and his parents took me to visit her on an icy winter night on January 6th in the mid 1950’s. I sat in the candlelight in the small Episcopal Church in my hometown in tidewater Virginia and heard her ancient liturgy and her haunting mystic melodies. As we walked out of the small-town white wooden church into the bitter cold January night carrying our small candles, the first winter’s snow also came down to celebrate her. Epiphany led me to an experience I wanted to have again and again.

Epiphany revealed to me a living presence, a God, greater than myself that was also greater than time, eminent and transcendent.

But like many epiphanies, I soon became caught up in growing up and going to school and succeeding in life and let her slip away and did not again seek her out for many years until I was a junior in medical school. I was studying and working at a frantic pace. My marriage had recently failed. I felt alone, exhausted, and damaged. I was open to Epiphany’s call. I connected to the dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis, William Dimmick, and he led me by the hand back to her feast day this time in St. Mary’s Cathedral.

This January 6th the darkened stone church was packed with young people. Now I heard haunting ancient as well as contemporary music. The priest of the Greek Orthodox Church read the gospel in Greek. At this service three ornately adorned wise men sang as they slowly and majestically processed down the long center aisle of the nave and laid their gifts on the memorial altar. The service ended as we sang hymns and the cathedral came ablaze with light as our candles were lighted. Like the wise men, we continued to sing as we processed now in the opposite direction, recessing away from the altar and out into the dark night taking our new light out into the world beyond the cathedral.

That January 6th I stayed with Epiphany and she has been my companion for fifty years. Each year we continue to celebrate her gifts twelve days after the feast day of Christmas. She is a reminder of God’s coming, God’s presence to the entire world, not just to a chosen few. We are strengthened by worshiping in new and old ways, the manifestation of the living, eminent, incarnate God, and as we also are strengthened and enlightened, we are called to take that light, that love, that enlightenment out, out into a world that is often cold and exhausted, and dark and damaged and lonely. Epiphany yearly also shows us one more revelation. Out in the world, we see her path in the dark night more clearly because of her great light from so many more candles than our own light. Like 12 step groups, Epiphany calls us to community, a larger community than we can ever imagine.

Joanna Seibert. joannaseibert.com

Deacon St. Mark’s, Little Rock, Arkansas

Christmas 1 John Christmas Pageants, December 30, 2018, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Little Rock, AR

Christmas 1 John Christmas Pageants, December 30, 2018

John 1: 1-18 St. Mark’s

One of my favorite parts of Christmas are the pageants. On Christmas Eve night at five o’clock every child at St. Mark’s has the opportunity to be a part of a Christmas pageant where the nativity story from Luke is portrayed. Next Sunday on Epiphany we were reenact the nativity story from Matthew.

But today we are reading the Christmas story according to the gospel of John. A Christmas pageant based on this fourth gospel would be dramatically different. The birth story would feature one child,/ speaking one line/ in front of a black velvet curtain: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”/ While this certainly would be a great savings in costumes and props and relieve anxious parents and teachers about each child’s part, but we,/ and especially the children,/ would feel seasonally shortchanged./

However, I do know about several Christmas pageants where one child unknowingly does attempt to perform a John Christmas pageant.

I begin by sharing another clergy person’s first experiences with a children’s Christmas pageant.1 At her church, baby Jesus traditionally is a bright plastic baby swaddled in a blue and white blanket in the hay-filled manger. On her first year as the new rector she has the brilliant idea to have a real live baby Jesus when she discoveres that this year’s Mary has a brand new three-month-old baby brother, Jimmy. All goes well on Christmas Eve until, on cue, the choir sings “No crying he makes.”2 With the sharp hay stabbing holes in his backside, just at that moment, baby Jesus lets out a bloodcurdling scream./ Mary, in desperation, who has heard Jimmy’s wailing at home too many times, wheels around when to no avail, she cannot comfort the infant and looks straight at her baby brother and shouts, “ shut up, Jesus!”/Of course, this does not stop the infant playing Jesus from crying out,/ and neither will the hound of heaven ever stop trying to reach out to us, even when we do not want to hear what he is saying./ “And the word became flesh and” continually cries out to us, sometimes in a cooing whisper,/ sometimes in a bloodcurdling scream./

Frederick Buechner tells us about the second pageant which takes place at another unnamed Episcopal church.3 The manger is down in front at the chancel steps as always. Mary is there in a blue mantle and Joseph in a cotton beard. The wise men are there with a handful of shepherds, and of course in the midst of them the Christ child lies in the straw. The nativity story is read aloud by the rector as carols are sung at the appropriate places, and all goes like clockwork until it is time for the arrival of the angels of the heavenly host as represented by the children of the congregation who are robed in white/ and scattered throughout the pews sitting with their parents.

At the right moment they are all supposed to come forward and gather around the manger and say “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men,” and that is just what they do except there are so many of them that there is a great deal of crowding and jockeying for position with the result that one particular angel, a girl about nine years old who is smaller than most of them ends up so far out on the fringes of things that/ not even by craning her neck and standing on tiptoe can she see what is going on. “Glory to God in the highest,” they all sing on cue, and then/ in the momentary pause that follows,/ the small girl electrifies the entire church by crying out in a voice shrill with irritation and frustration and enormous sadness at having her view blocked, “Show me Jesus! Where is Jesus! I can’t see Jesus, show him to me!”

There is a lot of pageant still to come, but Buechner’s friend says that one of the best things she ever did in her life was to end everything precisely there. “Show me Jesus!” the child cries out again, and while the congregation is still sitting in stunned silence, the rector pronounces the benediction, and everybody files out of the church with those unforgettable words ringing in their ears. “Show me Jesus!” “And the word became flesh and lives among us.”/

“In the fullness of time, the Christmas story says, a girl gave birth ringed by animals. She lay the baby in one of their feeding troughs, where animal bodies would warm the air around his fresh-born human body. Mother and child fell asleep and woke to their chuffs and shuffling hooves, their calls and the shuddering of their hides… To recognize him they should look for a child at home among animals.”4

Not too far away in another church a third pageant begins to start.5 The second and third graders are the animals and are making their most realistic animal sounds. The new pageant director does not realize how long it takes to dress/ and move/ and fix the hair/ of the heavenly host, especially when they are thirty-two angels all between two and four years old. It is looking like a rough night in Bethlehem. Mary has been sick all morning and the bucket next to the manger is for her. Joseph may have been a “righteous man and unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace,” but he is also thirteen years old and decides about ten days ago that he is not going to enjoy this pageant at all. When the mooing and barking and meowing and baaing animals arrive behind the shepherds, any hope of heavenly peace vanishes. They take over the whole chancel and elevate “lowing”2 to a new cacophonous hip-hop rap-sounding art form. And the angels—well, the moms and dads working with the little angels backstage completely miss their cue, so the host arrive long after the wise men, even after the congregation has sung “Angels We Have Heard on High,”/ even after the teenaged narrator has said four times, “and suddenly there was with the angels a multitude of the heavenly host.” /But when the angels finally do arrive, they look good: their halos are perfect and their hair is just right./

But right near the end, right before everyone is to sing “Joy to the world!,” the narrator fights his way to center stage for his last line. He steps on and over an abundance of sheep and cows, even some dogs and cats and one child who came as a mouse. The angels’ parents in the congregation are paying no attention to the narrator, making up for lost picture-taking time and completely ignoring the request about no flash photography.

Mary is reaching for the bucket, and Joseph has rolled his eyes so many times that they just about fall out of his head. So our star narrator has to shout over the barnyard noise,/ and he never gets the parents’ attention. /He throws his folder down, stretches out his arms and with no small amount of exasperation yells, “Christ was born for this??”6 And the exhausted pageant director cries out, “It is an exclamation point, not a question mark!”/ //

BUT, INDEED, IN ALL OUR MESS… “The word did become flesh, and lives among us.”/

Some days the birth of Christ does feel like a question mark. Underneath the surface of our lives that look so good on the outside are hidden, secret hemorrhaging and fractured relationships. In our darkness we long to see Jesus’ love and peace and light. That scared inner child in each of us cries out,/ “Show me Jesus!”.//////

The child holding a single candle in John’s Christmas pageant says, “Here is the light we have been waiting for,/ the very presence of God among us, with us, beside us, at the table, and in us.” That light of Christ miraculously enters our wounds and daily will heal us most often through neighbors,/ friends/ and especially through this community gathered today/ if only we open our eyes and our hearts to see this light already in each other and ourselves, and at this table.

This light is a gift,/ but John tells us it is also an assignment. We are not called to “keep Christmas” in our hearts. We are called to give it away, to tell what has happened, to share our story,/ to share OUR OWN CHRISTMAS PAGEANT,/ about when that light of Christ came into our life,/ often when we least expected it./

In our rich pageant of life, we are called to be that child holding a candle and telling John’s Christmas story. Sometimes we will have to cry and shout over the world’s noise. But we are called to proclaim, not with a question mark, but with an exclamation point, “The word became flesh” and dwells among us.… “Christ was born for this!”

1Daniel Harrell, “Living the Word,” Christian Century, December 11, 2013.

2 “Away in a Manger,” The Hymnal 1982, 101.

3 Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark A Life in Sermons, p. 268. Harper Sanfrancisco 2006.

4 Gayle Boss,“Jesus, the Christ,” All Creation Waits.

5David Davis, A Kingdom we can Taste, Sermons for the Church Year. pp. 25-30.

6 “Good Christian Friends,” The Hymnal 1982. 107.

Joanna joannaseibert.com

Advent 1C 12 step Eucharist End Times St. Mark's Episcopal Church LIttle Rock,Wednesday December 5, 2018

Advent 1C 12 step Eucharist End Times

Luke 21:25-36

The gospel on the first Sunday in Advent traditionally is about the end of times. Everything awful is happening. There is an eclipse of the sun, we cannot see the moon at night, shooting stars are plummeting to the earth, and earthquakes are erupting up into the sky all around us. Then Jesus comes with his angels and saves “the elect.” Pretty scary scene. Many of us may be thinking, I don’t know if I am really one of “the elect” that will survive all this.

The scene is about darkness, and disaster, and knowing what you know of your life has come to an end. Could Mark be writing about more than that second coming of Christ that the New Testament followers of Jesus expected any minute? This passage can also speak to us today, when disaster, and darkness are all around us. My experience is that this is when Jesus comes into our lives most profoundly. Only when we realize that we have no control over our lives, do we surrender and let God enter that door, that gate at which he has been knocking throughout time. Our only hope of leaving the darkness inside and around us is to open that gate. This is what happens in 12-step recovery. The life of the alcoholic or addict has become like a series of continuous erupting volcanoes. The addict and alcoholic live without the sun or moon. My experience is this is a time when a person is the most open to God coming into his life, and the answer out of the disaster is a surrender of will and life to that God.

And who are the elect? I haven’t met anyone yet who didn’t seem like a member of the elect. I think this offer is open to everyone of us but most especially in times of darkness and disaster, whether we are living with an addiction, a financial crisis, or the physical illness or death of someone who means the world to us. Christ comes with his angels from the ends of the earth and the ends of the heaven to gather us up. He is at the gate. He is very near. He is very near.

Joanna Seibert December 2018

Luke 21:25-36

Jesus said, "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."