Archive for the ‘The Reverend Jered Weber-Johnson’ Category

Dear Friends in Christ,

In the strange but beautiful production Hadestown, audiences are plunged into something of a New Orleans prohibition era gin joint that is simultaneously the proscenium of Greek antiquity, retelling the two tragic myths of Hades and Persephone as well as the lesser known story of Eurydice and Orpheus. As I watched the play on a recent trip to New York, I was heartened and disturbed at turns as the story explored the tension between themes like beauty and brutality, love and regret, and, especially, madness and hope. As we stand here on the precipice of late winter peering ahead into spring, it is easy to enjoy the story particularly of Persephone who each year returns from the Underworld, from her annual visit with her lover Hades, and in so doing, bringing hope and rebirth, releasing the world from its wintry death, inaugurating spring and new life. For the ancient Greeks the seasons could be traced by Persephone’s departing and returning. So it is that when the Christian calendar maps loosely onto this larger drama of the change of seasons, it is easy to view the Christian narrative like the pagans, as a natural and always recurring cycle. There is life and death and the story repeats. The story is, as Hermes reminds his audience, an “Old story…a tragic story.” But we sing it again. There’s a stirring note in this assertion, that the story is worth hearing anew, hoping that something can change, if not for the tragic characters in it, then for us. But, such an expectation lingers on the knife’s edge of hope and madness. Is it not madness to repeat the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome?

But, the Christian story is not just about a recurring cycle of death and rebirth – of love and loss and love again. The Christian story, while following a pattern of recurring cycles is a story with a definitive beginning and a definite end. Our story starts with the clear words “In the beginning…” and unfolds a passionate yet nuanced and complicated story of a God who yearns for relationship with God’s creation, who enters into it, who seeks out people to accomplish God’s purposes, who is always calling God’s people to transformation and growth. The story ends with all things finding their homing and bliss in the presence and unity of God’s self. And, this story is told fully in the one life and one body of Jesus of Nazareth, who, as our own John the Evangelist proclaims, “was in the beginning with God,” and whose death upon the cross marked the end of all things, inaugurating a new possibility of life with God forever, here, now, and in the life to come.

We encounter death and resurrection each year in the recurring cycle, but the One we encounter is inviting us into a way of life that means we and the world will never be the same, will never be as we left it. The story changes because we are brought into it. It is not a tragic tale. It is a tale of power and new life, if we were only to claim it. As former Archbishop of Canterbury once told an audience, “If the world as it now is, after the Resurrection of Jesus, doesn’t look like the Kingdom, it’s because we have decided not to live as if the Kingdom were real.” 

The only tragedy in the Christian story is the way in which the baptized often despair of the world as it is, believing that it is always thus, that we have no agency to participate in the Resurrection of Jesus. For, nothing is further from the truth. Christ is raised, and we with Him. And in Jesus’ Resurrection we have seen a new way of being with one another and with the world God made. Throughout our church communications, I hope you hear some of the ways that you are being invited to transformation, and ways you are being beckoned into the kingdom inaugurated by the Resurrection of Jesus. Now that is a story I would happily sing again!

I will see you in worship!

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The Faith Agenda emerged in 2017 when ISAIAH, a multi-racial community organizing coalition of faith communities from across Minnesota, hosted hundreds of house meetings in our state, listening to the concerns of citizens from all walks of life. The overlapping concerns, anxieties, values, and beliefs participants in those meetings articulated, shaped an agenda that spoke to a desire for unity over division, hope over fear, and abundance over scarcity. The Faith Agenda expressed these intersecting hopes, aspirations, and desires for a better Minnesota with one platform steeped in the language of faith, and guided by a desire for a politics in our state that brings people together.

The Faith Agenda was then brought to the Caucuses in 2018 by nearly 4000 “faith delegates” of all political persuasions, and those delegates in turn put themselves forward to move from the caucuses through their party’s process and in so doing, brought the Faith Agenda along with them. As hundreds of faith delegates showed up to their party process, candidates were brought into conversation with the agenda, and could see a growing movement in the state. ISAIAH had real numbers and real power. 

As our ISAIAH coordinator at Saint John’s, Jamie Bents, reminded those of us gathered on the 15th, because of those numbers and that power, “We had seven legislative issue priorities on our faith agenda in 2019. Seven of the first ten bills introduced by the Minnesota House were our top seven issues. The House led boldly throughout the session. The Senate was not up for election in 2018, and so they weren’t formed by our path. We have an opportunity to form every candidate for the legislature around our vision for a caring economy and a multi-racial democracy in 2020 if we lead together, but it starts with us being grounded together in what we are fighting for!”

On December 15th, some twenty or more members shared what difference the Faith Agenda, if enacted into policy and practice in our state, might mean for them and for the lives of those they loved. Saint John’s parishioners talked about the challenges of finding affordable housing for seniors, the ever expanding cost of healthcare, fears for how immigration policy might detrimentally impact their neighbors, families, and loved ones. Like those who attended the house meetings in 2017, we needed to get “grounded together in what we are fighting for” in 2020. It was clear that a politics and a state guided by the values articulated in the Faith Agenda would make a difference not only in the community beyond our doors – it could change lives for the better even in the pews of Saint John’s. 

So, what is the Faith Agenda, you might be asking? It defines a politics that “honors every person’s dignity,” focusing on racial equality and reconciliation, legal justice that focuses on restoration and rehabilitation, recognizing our inter-connectedness and dependence on one another, an emphasis on welcome of the stranger and immigrant, gender equity, public education that supports all children, and a caring economy that supports all families, truly affordable housing, access to sustaining and life giving healthcare, access to wealth, and an ethic of environmental stewardship. In short, it is a politics that sounds eerily similar to the baptismal covenant of the Episcopal Church with its emphasis on neighbor love and an ethic that strives to respect human dignity, justice, and restoration as defining of the Christian life.

It sounds too like what Martin Luther King described as “Beloved Community,” a vision of society that he believed was both realistic and achievable; which he thought could be realized through numbers of people of goodwill turning out to nonviolently change our politics and our communities. As the King Center describes Dr. King’s Beloved Community, it is a “vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry, and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.”

In the wake of the landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to desegregate the buses in Montgomery, Alabama, the fruit of a years long campaign for justice and equality, King pointed those engaged in the Civil Rights movement back to this bigger vision, to his faith agenda. He said “the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

This vision of a world restored and reconciled is not pie in the sky. We believe that in Jesus, as Mary sings, God is casting down the mighty and raising up the lowly. In Jesus, in the body of Christ, which is us, the hungry are fed, the poor are given dignity and new life, and those on the margins are brought to the center. We can help build a reality just like this, one of justice and peace, beloved community, by working with ISAIAH and Faith in Minnesota, with partners from every political and religious persuasion, we can bring a vision like this into reality in Minnesota.

If you’d like to be a part of just such a movement, I encourage you to reach out to Jamie Bents (jtbents@gmail.com), Jenny Koops (jenny.koops@gmail.com), Dave Borton (dave@sidewalkmystic.com), The Reverend Stephen Whitney-Wise (stephenwhitneywise@comcast.net), or myself. Throughout January there are “Caucus Trainings” that will guide you through the Faith Agenda and the Caucus process toward the 2020 election and how we might make this platform a reality in our state and city. On January 19th we be heard from our Saint Paul ISAIAH organizer, Vivian Ihekoronye (vihekoronye@isaiahmn.org), about this path and this process. Pray for this process, that through the organizing efforts of people of good faith, across our state, we might institute and implement this vision of a state and community that is united and not divided, that cares about the least, and that truly embraces Beloved Community!

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Dear friends in Christ,

It will come as no surprise that one of my new obsessions is a punchy little show on PBS called Broken Bread. The host is food truck icon and LA celebrity chef Roy Choi, who takes you deep into his hometown of Los Angeles to neighborhoods like Watts and Compton: place names that are synonymous with inequality and poverty. There he explores the intersections of food and race, sustainability, the environment, and identity.

What I love about this show (besides the focus on food) is the way Choi sometimes sounds like a prophet and a pastor, righteous yet humble, zealous but clear-eyed. This is a smart show that walks a fine line between telling stories and preaching. What sets it apart from other shows is the way Roy Choi tells stories of places and people on the margins—refusing to let Watts and Compton be known only as a byword, as plot points in the story of America’s struggle with racism, violence, and inequality. He goes to the margins and helps us see and notice how much fullness, life, goodness, and humanity are there. “You have to go to the margins,” he says. “You have to care and invest with those that no one else wants to work with.”

His stories are not all about triumph, either. The heroes of his stories are often like the heroes of our biblical narrative: people who have seen much sorrow, whose lives are riddled with mistakes and tragedy and struggle. Social entrepreneurship fails more than it succeeds. The planet is irreversibly damaged by global warming. In his clear-eyed telling, we celebrate the lives saved, but we do not pretend that lives haven’t been lost.

In each story, food is the medium through which lives are being transformed and beloved community is being created. In this way, Choi is celebrating the way food becomes sacramental. As the show’s title Broken Bread implies, Roy believes in food as a means toward restoration and reconciliation. In the opening credits to each show you hear him say:

I want this show to be about the power of us as humans to come together again. Let’s not make assumptions. Let’s not make stereotypes. And from there we can talk about these things and maybe understand each other. Whether your beliefs differ from mine—we’re breaking bread!

This fall, our Formation Commission will host a series of discussions where we’ll see and notice how Eucharist shows up in popular culture. It happens all of the time, from shows like this one to movies like Babette’s Feast and Tortilla Soup, and so many other ways. Eucharist is our sacrament of thanksgiving, a place where we see and notice the grace of God poured out through earthy stuff like bread and wine. And it’s a place where all our stories, especially the stories of broken people and broken places, stories from the margins, are brought together and reconciled at a common table.

Broken Bread is encouraging me to take special care, to see and notice the stories I might otherwise pass by—stories that require showing up at First Nations Kitchen and Hallie Q. Brown, and maybe even at coffee hour, where a loaf of bread, a bowl of soup, or a cup of coffee and a cookie become the meeting ground of precious stories and honest sharing.

I hope you will join me in seeing and noticing where Eucharist is showing up in popular culture, on the margins, and in your own lives.

I will see you in worship!



Originally published in the September/October 2019 Evangelist.

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Originally printed in the March-April 2018 Evangelist.

Dear Friends in Christ,

Of all the liturgies the Episcopal Church has to offer, I am grateful that the Prayerbook includes Compline. It holds a cadence and rhythm of grace and rest that is so needed at the end of a long day. One of the Compline prayers within I have come to cherish most is this:

Be present, O merciful God,
and protect us through the hours of this night,
so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life
may rest in your eternal changelessness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I often find myself ruminating on this prayer at the end of a particularly difficult day. Change and chance are indeed wearying, but they are ever-present companions on the road of life.

We certainly experienced change and chance at St. John’s last year: staff transitions, the loss of some longtime members, and the joining of many newcomers. And in the coming year we will attempting further changes for the betterment of ourselves and our communities.

Because we can grow so “wearied” by change, I wanted to tell you about how we are addressing some of our upcoming transitions at St. John’s with planning and care:

The Associate Rector application deadline was February 5, and many well-qualified, gifted, and passionate priests applied. I will pull together a small advisory team to interview finalists, and together we will discern who our next associate rector will be, hopefully no later than Easter.

The Music Director search team has been assembled. They are finalizing a job description that will be posted by the time you read this letter. We are hopeful that there will be a wonderful slate of candidates to interview, so a finalist can be selected before I depart on sabbatical.

Presently we are blessed to have the Reverend Julie Luna with us as transitional deacon and seminarian intern. She has been faithfully tending our liturgy team, and she has been serving and learning in a variety of contexts under the guidance of a lay committee and her colleagues on staff. Julie’s time with us will end in May as she prepares to graduate. In June, God willing and the Bishop consenting, she’ll be ordained to the sacred order of priests. We are planning for that transition, and looking forward to celebrating the work she has done in our midst.

New vestry members and wardens were elected; now plans are coming together for our annual vestry retreat, where we’ll focus on vision and mission. This includes the work you heard about at Annual Meeting: begun by our Building Committee in collaboration with an architectural firm, and now discerning with the congregation where we want to go with our 1950’s parish house (the part of our physical plant that contains offices, classrooms, the gym, and adjacent rooms). They’ll be exploring whether a major renovation is in store, and whether other projects in our building are needed to better enable us to meet God’s mission in the decades to come.

And, as I said at our Annual Meeting, we are a growing faith community. Growth is by nature challenging. It requires adaptability and flexibility. It requires us to move over, create space, and welcome others with new ideas and new personalities.

To meet change faithfully requires us to work at our own transformation, and that can be wearying. As people of faith, we have to trust that the changeless One is always and ever in our midst. It is that Spirit that empowers us to work and serve in the midst of change. It is that same God in whose changeless presence we are given rest. And our essential selves share in that changelessness. For, if we are made in the image and likeness of God, then there is some unchangeable part of us that is colored by the Divine.

I’d like you to join me in the work of transformation at St. John’s in three concrete ways in the next several months:

  1. Pray for our search processes and for the people leading them and those discerning their call to come be our next Director of Music and Associate Rector.
  2. Spend time inviting the Holy Spirit to stir and inspire you to imagine what St. John’s could be. Share your imaginings and inspirations with your vestry and staff and one another.
  3. Welcome a visitor. Get to know them. Listen to their story. Tell them about St. John’s and about yourself. Invite someone you don’t yet know out for coffee or lunch.

I continue to be amazed by St. John’s ability to adapt, grow, reach out, rise to challenges, show up, and give for the transformation of the world. I am grateful for this place and its heart that is always seeking to be faithful. I am grateful for the ways in which you all help create community that nurtures, feeds, serves, and loves. That is something I hope never changes.



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As a father, as a concerned citizen, as a leader, and as a person of religious conviction, I have been struggling for a while now to find my way in – struggling to figure out a way to faithfully engage with the complex issue of racial injustice and systemic racism in the city and community in which I live and work. I am heartbroken by the statistics and stories of inequality in our state and city, how the systems and communities here, as in so many places in our country, seem to be almost intentionally structured to negatively impact African Americans.

While Minnesota may top the list over other states in literacy, public education, livability, the economy, and quality of life, the census data for the black community within our state tells a different story – we rank dead last in almost every category. And, there is a subtle and sometimes implied belief in our country that the disadvantages and suffering of the black community are at least partially deserved. As Ta-Nehisi Coates said in accepting his National Book Award, “At the heart of our country is the notion that we are okay with the presumption that black people … somehow have a predisposition toward criminality.” Like Coates and many who have raised their voices, I refuse to be co-opted into this lie. It simply isn’t true.

Yet, because of the fear that we might be asked to face some of our own culpability and participation in systems of oppression and white supremacy, the problem remains largely unaddressed. Survey after survey and poll after poll tell us that a majority of white Americans have deep trust in the judicial system and law enforcement officials, while African Americans have a disproportionate distrust of those same structures. Could it be that our experiences are vastly different, and could it also be that it is time we listen to the experience and stories of our brothers and sisters in the black community, and take them seriously?

As I have come to grips with these disturbing truths from where I sit firmly ensconced in a position of white privilege, a privilege that I neither earned nor deserve, I have wrestled with what I can do. How can I begin to live responsibly and intentionally in ways that repair the gap and address the inequality? How can I teach my children to not only be “nice” to people whose skin is different from their own – rather, how can I teach them to eschew the privileges they will unjustly gain at the expense of their peers of color?

How do I live as Christ lived and as he taught, reconciling Jew and Greek, male and female, black and white? How do I proclaim and practice the healing and reconciling love of God, that I experience in Jesus? How can I be transformed into a person who practices justice and peace in my life?

In seeking to answer these questions I have been listening deeply to the stories and witness of the African American community. I am allowing myself to be disturbed by the hard truths of injustice. I have also been praying that the Holy Spirit might lead me into places and opportunities where as a citizen, leader, pastor, and father I might be able to be an agent of God’s reconciliation. This week God answered that prayer when a colleague, my sister in Christ, the Reverend Letha Wilson-Barnard,

from Holy Apostles Episcopal Church (our companion parish) invited me to join her at a protest at City Hall. I went, I listened, and with other clergy from around the city, I used my status as an ordained person, to help (I hope) create space so that the protest might be heard, that the stories and suffering and demands of black lives, might actually be listened to.
Our bishop asked that we look to the “abandoned places of empire” in our neighborhoods and around the city. I have been looking and listening and praying – as I am sure are many of you. I have been wondering where in the neighborhood around St. John’s we might engage on the margins with those who have suffered under structures of racism and injustice. And, then again this week I received another invitation to join in a conversation being hosted by the Wilder Foundation on December 9 at 6PM (451 Lexington Parkway N.). The conversation is called “Engage!” and is being convened by the St. Paul Public Schools and Ramsey County leaders to collaboratively reduce the number of children and youth of color in the criminal justice system. The conversation is open to neighbors, stakeholders, and community leaders as well as youth and children from the surrounding community. I have invited our Senior Youth group to join me and I invite any and all from the St. John’s community who, like me, have been struggling to find a faithful way to engage with systemic racism and injustice.

I don’t have a lot of answers but I am tired of waiting to do something personally to engage and take action on this important issue. If you’re tired of waiting and want to act, let me know.

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Dear Friends in Christ,

I don’t often post on EpistlesandEpiphanies, but I do enjoy reading Barbara’s monthly reflections here.

However, in the midst of all that is going on in the life of our city and the life of the world, I have felt acutely the last few days, the need to say something to our faith community about the events in North Minneapolis. Like so many of you, my heart has broken again and again at the news of violence and unrest in our twin city across the river, just as my heart breaks at the systems of oppression and hate that infect our world and affect even our own neighborhoods here in St. Paul.

As I sat down to write something to you last night, I received the following pastoral letter from our bishop, the Right Reverend Brian N. Prior, speaking to the same events and offering counsel, prayer, and opportunity for action. What he has written is powerful, challenging, and as good or better than anything I could write or say on the matter. Since Bishop Prior is the chief priest and pastor of our Diocese, the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, I will pass along his letter to you here and commend it for you to read, mark, and inwardly digest. I agree with our bishop that “As the church we can be complicit in supporting white supremacy or we can join with the Holy Spirit in actively interrupting the cycle of violence. We cannot choose the illusion of neutrality. To be ‘neutral’ is to support a status quo that ‘corrupts and destroys the creatures of God’ as we say in our Baptismal Covenant.”

We will be praying for justice, in North Minneapolis, and in our own neighborhood, this Sunday. Moreover, I invite you to join me, as the bishop has invited us to join with our brothers and sisters in Christ across the Episcopal Church in Minnesota and across faiths, to “look in our own communities for neighbors and neighborhoods that have been abandoned” and to seek to find ways we can engage as people of faith with others who are there on the margins and together with them seek justice and peace.

My prayers are with you and with all our community this Thanksgiving weekend, that we might choose to embrace one another and the world that God came to love and save.

For the full text of Bishop Prior’s letter, see below.

I’ll see you in church.






The Roman Empire turned its back upon tiny Bethlehem, and yet God showed up. Ignored by emperors and kings, Bethlehem was a speck on the map – if it even appeared at all. Yet Jesus entered the world in this place abandoned by empire and was Good News for those who lived there.

In the same vein, Minnesota turned its back upon North Minneapolis. White supremacy, economic disinvestment and government disinterest have been present in North Minneapolis for generations. We weep and mourn with the families of Jamar Clark and the five protesters who were shot – and we also acknowledge that this is not a new narrative. Still, as Christians we believe that Jesus is present: creating, transforming, and proclaiming Good News to a world that deeply needs it.

As you reflect upon the events of the past eight days since the shooting of Jamar Clark, we invite you to deeply consider engaging with the abandoned places of empire, at the margins of society. For some of us this might mean physically moving and buying one of the vacant properties in North Minneapolis. For others, this might mean finding ways to intentionally spend time, talent, and treasure in that neighborhood. Yet others might look in our own communities for neighbors and neighborhoods that have been abandoned, and add prayers for justice in North Minneapolis to our prayers.

As the church we can be complicit in supporting white supremacy or we can join with the Holy Spirit in actively interrupting the cycle of violence. We cannot choose the illusion of neutrality. To be “neutral” is to support a status quo that “corrupts and destroys the creatures of God” as we say in our Baptismal Covenant.

Below, there is a prayer that you can use. If your faith community plans to gather or participate in events responding to this situation, we invite you to let us know so that we can communicate your event. If you don’t know what to do, please contact Missioner for Community Engagement Rachel Babbitt, Rachel.B@episcopalmn.org.

Prayer in Response to Events in North Minneapolis

Gracious God, our times are in your hands.
You gave hope to our ancestors when they thought they were lost.
Your son Jesus taught us how to live with compassion and integrity in a time of great division and fear. 

We pray for Jamar Clark, his family, and those protesters who were shot; for the police officers involved and their families; for those who incite violence; for the Minneapolis mayor and police unions; for the leaders of Black Lives Matter, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, and all those affected by the events of recent days, especially residents of North Minneapolis and abandoned neighborhoods anywhere in our state. 

Give us a holy intolerance for oppression – whether we are the oppressed or the oppressor.

Send your Holy Spirit into our hearts to replace our fear of each other with a longing for connection and trust.

Compel us to see your image in the Other, in our families, neighborhoods, houses of faith, workplaces, and civic conversations.

Give us the will to commit to reconciliation through relationship building and reinvestment in our neighborhoods.

Give us the guiding star of your Holy Spirit as we seek to heal our community. 

In the name of Jesus, who broke bread with sinners and saints, friends and enemies, and spoke words of Good News into their hearts, and ours. Amen.


The Rt. Rev. Brian N. Prior
IX Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota

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Mark_Twain002_bw_webOnce in an interview Mark Twain noted of humor, that “It is nature’s effort to harmonize conditions. The further the pendulum swings out over woe the further it is bound to swing back over mirth.”

The pendulum has been swinging far “out over woe” these past days, and like many of you I am anxious for a return to laughter – for a ray of light to break through the dark clouds settling over so much of our national life.  Last weekend in a speech delivered at a memorial service for the victims at Newtown, our president relayed a story from that terrible day.  Reminding the gathering of the hope buried in the midst of their pain he described for them

“the scenes of the schoolchildren, helping one another, holding each other, dutifully following instructions in the way that young children sometimes do; one child even trying to encourage a grown-up by saying, ‘I know karate. So it’s okay. I’ll lead the way out.’”

Did you catch that?  Two jokes in one sentence – “the way that young children sometimes do….’I know karate’” – jokes! And people laughed.  Not just chuckles, but, honest to goodness laughs.  There, in the midst of such terrible darkness and sadness and pain, there was light, and it came in the form of humor.

I know this hardly makes me a revolutionary or a genius, but I’ve long contended that humor is one of God’s greatest gifts to us.  It isn’t just an anesthetic from the suffering of life or a protective wall behind which we can hide, it is the very road to understanding and reframing life’s setbacks and pain. I’m sure that is part of why the Bible is riddled with humor and jokes.

Humor tells the truth.  It is true that young kids do, every once in a while, follow instructions.  A child’s bravado in the face of terrifying circumstances does bring a smile.  These stories remind us that these kids were more than victims – they were kids – honest, and foolish, and brave.  And, like kids should, they make us smile and free us to laugh.  They are funny.

I know the darkness is not past.  I know that we cannot shirk the serious and difficult conversations ahead.  I know that in many cases, humor is but a momentary reprieve – a breath of honesty in an often-dishonest world.

But, just as those shepherds and wise men stared into a feeding trough and realized that the peasant child lying there, vulnerable and fragile, must have felt laughter welling up inside them.  Just as they came to understand that this vulnerable and humble creature was the one of whom prophesies spoke – this was God come to be with us, full of grace and truth.  My hope is that we, who face the humble and humbling realities of this present day, are able, at the end, to laugh – not the cynical laughter of the hopeless but of ones who have seen the truth and been set free.

See you in church!


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