A Divided Heart Finds Healing With Jesus’ Love

A sermon preached at The Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter in Atlanta, GA on August 14, 2022

All of today’s readings offer wonderful images for a holy life. In our first reading, God planted a vineyard. God’s intention was to cultivate grapes that would produce spirited wine. Instead, wild, bitter grapes were found, and the vineyard was let go in order for nature to take its course. It was an opportunity missed.

Today’s Psalm takes up this theme of God as vineyard planter. This time, hearts cry out for help. There’s a desire for intervention, and relief is found outside ourselves because we’re in, over our heads. We need the planter. We need a savior.

Instead of the image of a vineyard, the book of Hebrews, which was our 3rd reading today, reminds us of the saints of God that came before us. They and their stories become our examples for the holy life; and in their death, they surround the living like a great cloud calling to us and cheering us on to keep the faith. 

Finally, we come to today’s Gospel where we learn that following Jesus often leads to division, conflict, and sometimes martyrdom. Truth so often divides people in their interpretations of how to live out truth. This is further complicated when followers of Jesus see signs of crisis all around; yet, choose to ignore, deny, or neglect emergencies. Put differently, we often ignore the truth that is right under our noses not knowing how to discern right action. Understandings of how to faithfully act and follow Jesus are as diverse and numerous as the saints, and is further complicated when Jesus himself claimed that he was and is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

I believe all of these images of grapes, vineyards, clouds, and truth point us to what our opening prayer asks of God, that is, to look to Jesus as an example of godly living, and to follow daily in his blessed steps of his most holy life. How God leads us to interpret exactly what this looks like on the ground, and in our daily lives, has the potential to not only divide our own hearts as we discern what’s best, but also our families, culture, and society itself. A quick survey of Christian history reveals this fact. What, then, are we to do? 

I recently had the privilege of serving for a year or so at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. For the past several months I’ve been the chaplain at the Heart Center. The Heart Center is divided up into the cardiac ICU and the cardiac ACU. The ICU treats the children whose hearts are the sickest, while the CACU is a step down unit used for teaching caregivers medical interventions so that their little ones can be discharged from the hospital once medical education and practices are mastered. I was always amazed at how long a child would be in the ICU either recovering from heart surgery or a transplant, or visa-versa, waiting for a transplant or heart surgery. I learned that heart surgery is not a one and done medical intervention for children. In fact, there are mini procedures and surgeries needed prior to the ultimate or desired surgery. It is not uncommon for a child to undergo 4 or 5 surgeries before they are teenagers, and the reason is simple. The heart, like the child must grow. Certain surgical interventions can only happen once the heart is the proper size. Put simply, it takes a long time, and can be taxing on the patient, families, and hospital staff. 

Every once in a while, a patient is not recommended for surgery because the medical staff believes that the costs outweigh the benefits. Patients and their caregivers have a right to receive a second opinion. Sometimes the second opinion comes in and agrees with the initial hospital on how to proceed. Sometimes not. When there is not consensus the patient and caregivers then face moral and ethical questions: What is the right thing to do? What will be the patient’s quality of life with surgery, or without it? At what point are medical interventions doing things to the patient versus providing for and helping the patient? How long do they really have? With these types of questions, anxious, spiritual hearts are divided. They want life, and want it more abundantly for their child. They’ve been in the hospital for months, and now these dilemmas manifest.

As a chaplain, I had the privilege of walking alongside families through these difficult times, and it never got old for me when I witnessed what started as a divided family putting aside their own individual agendas and making a decision that was best for their child. A sense of peace fell on the room and everyone seemed to know the inevitable without having to say it. Sometimes we call these times moments of peace or acceptance, and everyone, most importantly, the child is the one who benefits most because love undergirded the discernment. Like a planter who sees that the garden has taken on a mind of its own, the parents ask for help and divine intervention comes along to clear the heart of negative, spiritual debris. 

Perhaps it’s planting season in our divided hearts, and we need a planter. We need an intervention. We need a Savior. We may not have the whole picture of what following Jesus will entail, but we have some saints to give us ideas as to what colors, shades and shapes to use. We don’t know if we will offend, who’s hearts will turn away and need a second opinion. What we do know is that he will be with us every step of the way. What we do know is that we are called to carry our crosses because Jesus first carried his. What we do know is that he wants what is best for us, and what is best for us is Him. Jesus reminds us of love, and in fact, is love incarnate desiring to further cultivate our hearts to follow daily in his blessed steps of his most holy life. You have an invitation this morning to follow him in his most holy life. Come and taste the fruit of his vine, and the bread of his labors for he is good. He is love. He is truth.

The Episcopal Church’s Views on Abortion

Below is a historical/archival list of The Episcopal Church’s General Convention Resolutions speaking on the topic of abortion from 1967 to 2014. The General Convention is the governing body of The Episcopal Church. Every three years it meets as a bicameral legislature that includes the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, composed of deputies and bishops from each diocese. The 80th General Convention of The Episcopal Church will meet next month, July 8 – 11, 2022 at the Baltimore Convention Center in Baltimore, Maryland.

General Convention Resolutions

1976-D095 – Reaffirm the 1967 General Convention Statement on Abortion

1982-B009 – Reaffirm the Church’s Guidelines on the Termination of Pregnancy

1982-D016 – Reaffirm the Right to the Use of Artificial Conception Control

1982-A065 – Condemn Use of Abortion for Gender Selection and Non-serious Abnormalities

1988-D124 – Condemn Acts of Violence Against Abortion Facilities and Their Clients

1988-C047 – Adopt a Statement on Childbirth and Abortion

1988-A089 – Promote Use of Materials on Human Sexuality and Abortion for All Age Groups

1991-C037 – Oppose Legislation Requiring Parental Consent for Termination of Pregnancy

1991-A096 – Continue Discussion on the Use of Fetal Tissue for Research Use

1994-D105 – Commend the Work of Pregnancy Care Centers

1994-D091 – Deplore Practice of Forced Abortions and Sterilization in China

1994-A054 – Reaffirm General Convention Statement on Childbirth and Abortion

1994-D009 – Reaffirm Family Planning and Control of Global Population Growth

1997-D065 – Express Grave Concern Over Misuse of Partial Birth Abortion

2000-D104 – Affirm Adoption and Support Legislation on Adoption Counseling

2018-D032 – Equal Access to Health Care Regardless of Gender

Resolves of the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church

Opposition to the Human Life Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, 1981

Affirmation of the International Conference on Population and Development, 2004

Support for Women’s Access to Healthcare, 2014

Four Loves

Last week I finished C. S. Lewis’ classic examination of love. In his book, Four Loves, Lewis lays out love with the help of the ancient Greeks. They defined love as Storge, Philia, Eros, and Agape – this last one, Agape, is known in Christianity as Charity. Let’s take a moment to see these loves through Lewis’ eyes, then wonder with St. Peter and Jesus how we may respond to love in all its forms.

Storge may be translated into “Affection” – “affection, especially of parents to offspring”; but also of offspring to parents. Thinking about infancy, a child is completely dependent on the mother for nourishment, comfort, and care. Paradoxically, the mother is also dependent upon the little one. She’s dependent on her child through the maternal need to give of herself. It’s a love that needs to be needed joined to the need-love of the child[1].

Storge, Lewis argues, can also be attributed to things other than humans. For example, we can have affection towards our pets, nature, our country, town, or parish. We sometimes hear people say that they love pizza, a movie, or chocolate. All these types of affections are considered storge love – again, affectionate love.

Next comes friendship, or “Philia.” Here, Lewis gives us a contrasting image of lovers and friends. With lovers, we may picture them gazing into one another’s eyes. They are face-to-face. With friendship, however, friends are side-by-side with their eyes fixed ahead.[2]They don’t look ahead at different objects, but stare at the same thing. It’s like going to a concert and you bump into someone you half-heartedly knew, and you look at each and seem to say, “You too? You like this band? I thought I was the only one.” And here begins the friendship where the bond strengthens because of a common interest, love, or desire.

Lewis quotes Emerson who quoted Jesus’ question to Peter found in our Gospel reading this morning, Do you love me? which means “Do you see the same truth? – Or at least, “Do you care about the same truth?”[3] Friends are the ones who after being apart for weeks, months, or even years pick up the conversation, the argument, the discussion where it was left. Time passes, but the common pursuit holds fast.

The next love is Eros which Lewis says is the “state which we call “being in love”; or, if you prefer, that kind of love which lovers are “in.” Where we might have a flexible amount of friends and affections, with eros, we discriminate and are distinct. Lewis writes, “Now Eros makes a man really want, not a woman, but one particular woman.”[4] In our own prayer book’s marriage rite, the woman consents to the man, and the man to the woman when they say they will love, comfort, honor and keep one another in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others, be faithful to this one as long as they both shall live.[5] Theologically, the marriage rite points to the “mystical…union between God and Man,” the Incarnation – or Christ, the bridegroom, and his bride, the Church. Ultimately, Christ as groom gave his life for the bride, the Church, so that she may have new life in him.

The fourth and final love Lewis speaks of is Charity or Agape. For Lewis, Agape love is grace-filled. If storge, philia, and eros are natural loves, then agape is supernatural. It comes from outside ourselves, and we participate in this love like playing with a new gift. We’re surprised by this love, mystified by this love, and forever grateful when we get hints of it – or see it out of the corner of our eye. The great Biblical example of receiving this type of love is the divine fiat of Our Lady in the Annunciation, “Let it be unto me according to thy will.” Listen to Lewis again, “We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.”[6] Mother Mary would later learn that her own heart would be pierced like a sword because of her sorrows…because of her charity towards her Son, and thus God.

These are the four loves of antiquity, and in today’s Gospel, the writer plays with half of them. There’s a conversation between Peter and Jesus using agape and philia.

“Do you agape me, Peter?” Yes, you know that I philia you.”

Jesus begins with the highest form of love, a love that is unconditional. He invites Peter into its company. Perhaps it’s too much to ask at this point because Peter desires friendship. I love you like a friend, he might have said. The second time Jesus asks the same question. Peter answers the same way. “I love you like a friend.” Then something amazing happens. It shouldn’t surprise us and at the same time it’s a bit haunting. Jesus asks Peter for the last time, not “Do you love me unconditionally (agape),” but Do you love me like a friend? In other words, Jesus meets Peter where he is in his Philia love. Quoting Lewis again who was quoting Emerson, Do you love me? which means “Do you see the same truth? – Or at least, “Do you care about the same truth?”[7] Peter, answering in the affirmative, is now charged with “tending” and “feeding” Jesus’ sheep. In other words, learning to love others as Christ loves Him. And how did Christ love him? As a friend who laid down his life for him. The scriptures go on to tell us what kind of death Peter would have. It would be a death where he too laid down his life for his friends, and perhaps before then, receiving the divine gift of agape love, of unconditional cooperative love that wills the good of the other.

This week, why not meditate on love? Perhaps you may read 1 Corinthians 13, sometimes called the love chapter in the Bible. Maybe 1 John chapter 4 where John boldly claims that God is Love. Those of you who are married, why not pick up the prayer book and together read the marriage liturgy within it. This week, look for the various nuances of the four loves, and laugh at yourself when you find one. Be surprised by love this week.

[1]                The C. S. Lewis Signature Classics, The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis (HarperOne: New York, 2017), 763.

[2]                Ibid., 786.

[3]                Ibid., 786.

[4]                Ibid., 805.

[5]                The Book of Common Prayer, pg. 424

[6]                Ibid., Lewis, 824.

[7]                Ibid., 786

Wednesday in Holy Week

Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday in Holy Week

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday in Holy Week

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The First Creed of the Christian Church

I’ve had a strong pull, or better, a push to look ahead and see what’s out there on the horizon. It is, after all, a new year. Even with this mental exercise I’m reminded that Jesus once warned that those who are to be his followers should not look back on the life they had, but to plow forward into a new life with him. He labeled this forward thinking and being and reality the kingdom of God (Lk 9:62). When Lot’s wife, so the story goes, longingly looked back on her cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, she became a pillar of salt, trapped in the nostalgia of two great cities now gone (Gen 19:26). When I say that I’ve had a strong push to look ahead, what I may mean is that I don’t necessarily care much for 2021, so why not look to 2022? But even looking ahead to 2022 gives me similar notions of despair that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps I’m mourning an out-of-control culture with its wars and rumors of wars. Society, so it seems, has lost its footing with many saying there is no footing at all, so find your own! Ideologies such as these leave individuals and families isolated and confused having no common values in which to begin healthy conversations, much less – debate. Maybe I lament that everything (and I mean everything) has been and continues to be reduced down to politics. If I hold onto these anxieties for too long, I start to turn to salt. I end up clenching my fists, tightening my jaw, wanting to scream, “Is there anything sacred anymore?” Maybe I’m just getting older, and I’m finally to that mid-life question, “Am I the last of my kind?”

I believe God saw I was feeling sorry for myself so he sent me an article from the catholic journal, First Things, by one of my favorite journalists George Weigel, who had similar sentiments as me at year’s end. In his latest article, George tells how he called up a friend and simply said, “Give me some good news.” To which [his friend] immediately replied, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” After his encounter, George wrote, “It’s always good for the Church to make that basic confession of faith [Jesus Christ is Lord], but especially when the shadows are lengthening across the historical landscape.”[1] He shares how the ancient Church had a custom on the Solemnity of the Epiphany (which the Church celebrated last Thursday) to look ahead. They did this by giving a preview or an itinerary about holy days on the horizon. The ancient Church announced the date of Easter and the other moveable feasts throughout the whole of the Church Year. For example, Ash Wednesday falls on March 2nd this year. Palm Sunday’s April 10th, and the following Sunday, Easter Sunday, is on April 17th, but not before Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday a few days before, and on and on and on the calendar of God’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church goes. The point was (and is) to look ahead, and not to the chaos that most certainly lay on, but to the calm, the real, and the truth that is the kingdom of God. 

Weigel ends his piece with these words,

“No matter what the vicissitudes and trials of history, Christians live in a different time zone: the time zone of salvation history. That is the truth to which the solemn liturgical proclamation of those dates attests. And that is why, however shaky the grounds for optimism, there is every reason for hope.”[1]

~George Weigel

My friends, right now (today) is one of those days for hope. On Sunday, Jesus got baptized, and not for the sins of the past but for the solemnity of the present. Getting into those muddy waters showed everyone that God was willing (and is willing) to get dirty with us, walk alongside us, and even be broken and suffer with us. Jesus Christ is Lord, and I am not. Jesus Christ is Lord, not the powers and principalities of this world. Jesus Christ is Lord…Jesus Christ is Lord. 

Finally, it’s my hope and my prayer for you and me right now (today) that when you get stuck in your ruminating mind, when someone else pushes you to your limits, or when you feel all alone, recall that ancient creed of the Church which brings us back into the time zone of salvation and on and into God’s home of hope. It may be another rough year ahead, only God knows, but thanks be to God that Jesus Christ is Lord.

[1]                George Weigel, “No Optimism, Much Hope,” First Things, (https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2022/01/no-optimism-much-hope) accessed on 1/5/2022.


During my time as a hospital chaplain I’ve had the privilege of interacting with a variety of foster parents. Many feel called to the compassionate task of caring for children with chronic illness and differing abilities. They spend a lot of time in doctor’s offices, appointments, and children’s hospitals. Sometimes the biological parents are involved. Sometimes not.

The other day I was called to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) by a patient’s nurse. She informed me that the biological mom was tearful while the foster mom was holding steady. Both were bedside. The little boy in the hospital bed was very sick, and the family (biological and foster) made the impossible decision to withdraw care in order to take away the suffering that this small patient had endured for far too long.

When I entered the room the biological mom was having a hard time, and after introductions she said she needed to step out of the room. I escorted her to the lobby and showed her where she could find the garden. She excused herself full of anticipatory grief. I went back upstairs into the patient’s room again to discover the patient out of bed with the foster mom cradling and rocking him in her arms. With tears now in her own eyes, she hugged him close and comforted him with her soft, soothing voice. For me, the scene was so intimate, I like the biological mother, had to excuse myself. I left them to be family one with another.

Pietà by Michelangelo

Mary, we might say, is both Jesus’ biological and foster mom. Biological because she gave birth to him. Foster because she knew that ultimately he came from someone else and belonged to everyone through love. Mary is also remembered as birthing the Church, and through holy baptism we become adopted children of God.

“God destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will…”

~Ephesians 1:5

As we make our way through these last fews days of Advent, meditate on the love your Heavenly Father has for you. Ponder, also, the great mystery of the Church, and how through it we meet Jesus who loves us like a Mother.

Friends of Jesus

On day I was praying the Rosary, reflecting on the Luminous Mysteries, two of which contemplate the Wedding in Cana (Jn 2:1-12) and the Institution of the Eucharist (Lk 22:14-20). It dawned on me that Jesus brought the words of his mother from Cana into his last supper with his disciples when he commanded, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Mary said something similar when she commanded the servants attending to the wedding, “Do whatever he tells you.” When we do the things Jesus tells us, we are no longer called his servants, but friends (Jn 15:15).

Contemplate what it means to be friends with Jesus. Listen for his voice. If that’s too hard, listen for his voice in others like Mary. Continue on in this season of Advent asking God to reveal his Son to you through luminous mysteries galore.