Dear Folks,

What do you do with Judas?  Do you heap coals on his head?  Single him out as the bad apple in the group?  Pronounce “good riddance” and move on?  Maybe you say that his treachery regarding Jesus was inevitable, or part of some grand design, or initiated not by him but by the Tempter?  It’s tough not to get stuck on him, or with anyone involved in such destructive behavior, but casting blame may not get us anywhere good.

Are you aware of similar patterns in your own family or workplace, the tendency to focus on one member who seems to be “the problem,” the fantasies you nurture about that person “just getting himself together,” or “taking care of her business” so that the family could have some peace?  I am not suggesting that individual members of systems don’t bear responsibility for their actions, both good and bad, but healing comes from an honest look at the whole.  Consider: what is at the root of a person’s actions or feelings or identity?  How might the family inadvertently contribute to his/her struggle?  Does the system in some way benefit from designating one person as the source of its pain, by taking others off the hook?  What would happen instead if each of us faced our own demons?

No one can be sure why Judas did what he did.  According to John’s gospel, he sometimes pilfered the money given for the poor.  Since all of the disciples worried about where they stood in some imagined pecking order—who’s first, who’s last, who’s the one most likely to sit at Jesus’s right hand—he might have been reacting to some perceived slight.  He might have gotten frustrated with waiting for Jesus to set the world straight, once and for all, and “hoped that betraying him might force (Jesus) to show his hand at last.  Or maybe, because nothing human is ever uncomplicated, something of all of these was involved.” (Frederic Buechner)

Maybe we have to admit that “Judas’s betrayal of Jesus is unremarkable,” writes Dan Clendenin, not because it is inevitable, but because it’s ordinary.  Even common.  After all, Peter promised that he would never deny the Lord, but then he did so three times.  The other 11 disciples each made the same pledge, yet when Jesus was arrested, they all fled for their lives.  And after the fact, Judas and Peter respond to their betrayal and denial in similar ways.

On some days I hold the disciples at arm’s length and wonder about their hard hearts and even harder heads!  But in my more grounded moments, I see myself in each of them and them in me—including Judas.  Consider the old hymn:

“Ah, holy Jesus… By foes derided, by thine own rejected, O most afflicted!  Who was the guilty?  Who brought this upon thee?  Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!”

This is hard stuff, but I bring it up because the alternative is often to cast the blame on a single person or issue… like the family that blames their pain on the teenager who has a drug problem, the sister who shuts out her depressed brother, the faculty room that buzzes about the teacher who lost her temper, the husband who holds his wife responsible for his infidelity, the country that demonizes the unemployed, the city that believes an ever more sophisticated police department will keep them safe.  All of these “diagnoses” run the risk of choosing a quick fix over the difficult work of seeing all of what’s there and addressing it in some humble and holistic way.  Remember Jesus’s practice of healing: he stops, he listens, he sees the person and her context, they engage with each other.  Reconciliation is born of this kind of communion.

When a part of us is hurting, the whole is always affected and diminished, and while in rare circumstances an individual is so toxic to a system that he needs to be isolated for his and the other’s well-being, more often than not, the work ahead is group work and calls for shared accountability.

Consider the practice outlined in the Lord’s prayer—forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us—the model of Jesus calls us to hold ourselves accountable for what we have done and left undone, to consider how we are involved when things don’t work well for everyone, to demonstrate mutual respect especially for the wounded one, who is the one most likely to wound others.  But we tend to scape goat when we are afraid.  The easiest way out of a problem, we think, is to blame someone and move on.  We can do better than that.  We have to.

Blaming the other, the enemy, the one we have all the problems with, doesn’t get us anywhere, and Jesus offers us a better way.  God goes to hell with the betrayer.  God lives the hell with the part of us that is most in pain, most wounded, most lost, most hurt.  Rather than heaping coals on our heads, God meets us in the hells that have been thrust upon us or that we have helped make ourselves.  God goes to that place of deep darkness.  And if God can be present with us in our most awful dimensions, then who are we to dismiss or discredit anyone?  The one most likely to hurt others has been hurt herself.  And when we struggle to love her, God goes there ahead of us, making a way where there was no way.


It was two years ago that I returned to Redeemer at David’s invitation to fulfill his vision to start a new initiative that would be a resource for the parish and for the Baltimore community. And thus, The Center for WellBeing was begun. Our goal was to offer programs and speakers that focused on physical, emotional and spiritual wellness. We also wanted to be a source that could refer people to other similar opportunities in the community. Mental Health First Aid Training was an important component as well as individual and group Spiritual Direction. As the pandemic altered our plans, our unofficial motto was to concentrate on what we could do and not on what we could not do. Therefore, The Center has been a success to date in a wide range of areas, some expected and some unexpected!

What drew me to this opportunity, besides the wonderful people of Redeemer, was the chance to create something from scratch. As I look back over my life, there is a thread of my being drawn to start new things; that process gives me joy, whether it was a new painting, a new garden, or a new club, among other endeavors. Even at Redeemer in my former role, that thread emerged as I was able to start ministries like the Women Who Wonder, The Sacred Space for Grace, the Knitting Group and the St. Lukes’ Ministry.

Now at the two-year mark, it feels like the right time to step aside and let The Center continue to grow under new leadership. Therefore, I am concluding my time July 1st. With a bit of humor, this will be my third leave taking from Redeemer and so the phrase ‘three times is a charm’ takes on a delightful meaning. I depart with tremendous gratitude for all the opportunities and tremendous relationships I have encountered over many years, along with a curiosity of what might lie ahead as I continue to live into my call!

With profound gratitude,

The Rev. Caroline Stewart

My son Ben, who just turned 13, likes playing baseball.

His first couple of years in little league were … endearing. David, “Bubbie” and I would sit in our folding chairs and watch, as he and his teammates learned how to play the game. Ben’s teammate Phoebe was a particular favorite of mine.

I think Phoebe must be a poet. She would stand in the outfield and stare into the sky (as a pop fly would come her way), composing, I suspect, verses in her mind about the blueness of the sky and the wispiness of the clouds. The ball would then land just a few feet away from her as she continued, I suspect, to compose more poetry, looking thoughtfully at the trees and the sky around her. Aaaaahhh, Phoebe!

While I miss Phoebe, I do enjoy watching Ben and his teammates play these days. My gum, they are actually playing baseball! Fielding grounders (often), throwing and catching (more and more of the time), and hitting that ball.

A few weeks ago, I noticed something had changed in Ben’s hitting. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, so one day recently, I asked him about it.

“Well,” Ben said (in his new, low register that makes me marvel and also wonder if I’m losing my hearing, since I can’t always understand what he’s saying, it’s so low!). “Before, I would mostly just try to get a walk. But now, when the pitcher throws a ball in my strike zone and I think I can hit it, I swing the bat and actually try to hit the ball.”

Well, there it is. When the pitcher throws me a ball I think I can hit, I actually try to hit it. I try …

So simple. And such a powerful discovery, when you discover this for yourself … and find yourself …actuallytrying ….

Trying, of course, means you run the risk of failing. Sometimes, you’ll swing and miss; you might even strikeout. Sometimes, you’ll connect, and the ball will go foul … or get caught … or be fielded and thrown to first, before you get there. But sometimes (and more and more often, if you keep practicing and working at it) you’ll connect … and get a hit …

It’s been helpful recently, to have this simple yet powerful reminder — to just go ahead and swing that bat, to go ahead and just try — when faced with other, more daunting challenges. Whether it’s a personal or work situation, or something even more fearsome and seemingly impossible — like how to repair the breach of racial injustice in our communities and in our nation — we must, at least, try.

Becoming more educated and continuing to be open to learning what we don’t know and were never taught, about our nation’s history, is one essential way to at least try. As many of you know, our Sacred Ground groups have just recently finished, or are wrapping up, the 10-session film- and readings-based dialogue series on race, grounded in faith, put together by The Episcopal Church, as part of our long-term commitment to racial healing, reconciliation, and justice in our personal lives, our ministries, and our society.

As a co-facilitator of one of these groups over the past several months, I have found the experience to be humbling, heart-wrenching, galvanizing and transformative. Individually and collectively, our small group has navigated our way through countless miles of heretofore unknown-to-us history and soul-terrain. In retrospect, I can’t imagine not knowing what I know now, and not learning what I’ve been learning; and I can’t imagine doing this essential work alone.

Today in the church we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, marking the event of our Lord Jesus departing our earthly realm to return to the realm of the unseen. As he does so, he promises his followers and friends that we will not be alone, in carrying on God’s work of healing and reconciling the brokenness in our world, but that we will be empowered with God’s holy and life-giving Spirit.

We are, indeed, not alone …

So let us, at least, try.



Let us pray.  All of our fears like Jericho walls gotta come down, come down, Oh Lord: rebuild us from the ground up.  All of our fears like Jericho walls gotta come down.  Our prisons turn to ruin when your love moves in.  All our fears like Jericho walls gotta come down, come down, come down.  (based on the song Jericho Walls by Andrew Ripp)

That the scripture appointed for our Annual Meeting 2021 is set on a wilderness road sounds about right—this year it’s familiar territory for most of us.  But Philip and the man he encounters in the book of Acts are on their way home… they get through.  And so will we.

He is not given a name, but he was the secretary of the treasury for Candace, Queen of Ethiopia, and he had been to Jerusalem on a religious pilgrimage.  If he is like other eunuchs of the near and far east, he was castrated against his will, just prior to puberty, in order to serve the queen in her innermost circle.  His home is called Africa in some translations, which suggests that he was brought to the queen’s court in Ethiopia from an even more foreign place, and the ritual sexual mutilation he undergoes is to insure his loyalty to her.  Literally and figuratively, he is cut off from his country, his family, the children he will never father, and even from God.  Because religions at the time were quite focused on fertility, and squeamish about any body that wasn’t perfectly formed, a eunuch was considered damaged goods and often shunned.

Because he has been to Jerusalem and is reading Isaiah, the eunuch is probably what was called a “God-fearer,” invited to stand in the narthex, but behind a screen, welcome to listen to the services, but excluded from the ritual life of the Temple, and so, the social life of its people.  He is a curious outsider that “proper folks” are trained not to see or hear or engage with in any way, as they push past him to get to where they are going.  He is the other that societies tolerate when their members are feeling safe, perhaps, or the stranger that we turn on when the world feels chaotic and when we are looking for someone to blame.

So he is a test, if you will, of anyone who says that he follows Jesus (the one who is the embodiment of love that heals every human separation).  What I mean is, if we say that we believe in the one who has broken down walls that exclude… if we say that we are followers of the one who has confronted systems which privilege a few and diminish so many others, then this story asks “How will you be a part of that movement?” Now that we have a taste of being healed ourselves, the text wonders, how will we be healers ourselves?  Let’s look at Philip:

The eunuch is riding is a chariot, going over the scripture out loud, when Philip happened to overhear him and asked if he understood what the words were all about.  The eunuch said he could use some help on one passage in particular:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before his shearer, so he does not open his mouth.  In his humiliation justice was denied him.  Who can describe his generation?  For his life is taken away from the earth.”  Who is the prophet writing about, the eunuch asks?  Is he describing his own situation or someone else’s calamity?

The eunuch doesn’t have to say who he is.  There is no mistaking the trappings of a royal servant—able to read, sumptuously dressed, but still bound inside his golden cage.  His high voice, softened features, and access to the queen communicate without words that he is a person on a threshold, neither fully in nor totally cast out, kept in his place if you will, relegated to the suspicious margins of that culture.  No wonder he is drawn to the prophet’s words about a lamb without a voice who is cut off from his generations, humiliated by sacrifice, and denied justice.  No wonder he wants to know who the prophet is writing about.  I imagine he also wonders if the prophet could care for a person like him who has been warped by the system?  Is there room in the family for his kind of wound?

Philip gets it, and the miracle is that he sees the eunuch, and stops to hear him, gets in the eunuch’s chariot and sits beside him the way peers do or friends do, and shares the story of his life and his conversion.  “Isaiah is writing about a Suffering Servant,” Philip might have told the man, “a glimpse of the holy one who is broken and vulnerable like we are, and who shows us that God is present with us even in our poverty and our agony, and that the wounded one that we are likely to reject is the very child of God.  And I have met this child of God,” Philip’s actions say, “the son of Mary and Joseph, and he has seen God in me—in all of us—and when I follow in this way, of embracing the God in you and the God in me, the God who makes dust of every wall of separation we build, then salvation comes.  Living this way repairs the world, and it heals me in the bargain.”  So no wonder Philip’s companion wants to be baptized, to put down an old way of being and put on a whole new mind.

And then even more social and religious lines are crossed.  In those days converts would be baptized naked, so the royal figure must have taken off all of his finery and the symbols of his office, exposing his physical mutilation in the process, not to mention his black skin and, following, Philip’s brown skin, and apparently both he and Philip are fine with that.  They go down into the water together, stripped and vulnerable and wet with living water, both being born again through this action w.  And that intimate, embodied conversation is the gift of this story, and an image for each of us to carry.  This is the call of any who would follow Jesus, it says—unlikely partners brought together, willing to open up to each other, both healing, able to see God in themselves and in each other, across seemingly unbridgeable divides of race and class and sexuality and country of origin (maybe even political party!), through the work of mutual respect fostered by taking the time to listen deeply.  That’s what goes on in this story: they listen deeply to each other.  They share their stories with each other.  There’s no shortcut to knowing each other.  That’s how we’re healed.  That’s how systems are changed.  That’s how the world is repaired.

Karyn Wiseman tells this story: About 10 years ago, my son and I were at a local park playing on the swings when a group of boys started taunting a small child with a disfigured arm about 50 yards away from us.  They were calling her ugly names and throwing small rocks and sticks in her direction.  We had seen this little girl playing happily, running around, and laughing with delight.  And now she was terrified.

I heard the taunts and began moving in that direction to intercede, but my son outran me.  Only six-years-old at the time, he yelled at the boys, “Leave her alone.  She’s just like us.”  The boys saw and heard my son and likely saw the adult close on his heals.  They abandoned their harassment and ran away.

The young girl, Mandy, was crying and scared.  I wanted to thrash the boys for scaring and taunting her, but my son knew better.  He knew that what Mandy needed was (some company)… He touched her disfigured arm and said, “You want to come play?”  And off they ran, holding hands and giggling wildly.

The young girl’s mother showed up after the episode occurred and I relayed the story to her.  She lowered her head and said, “This happens (all the time).  How do I protect my child from people who fear her differences?” (Sojourner’s magazine)

I’m not sure I have an easy answer for that mother and her pain, but it occurs to me that the boy and the two men in the scripture this morning are doing the same thing.  They stopped and listened and saw the other person as someone worth their time, even though the rules of the playground would say to shun her or ignore him.

There is always the possibility that we will circle the wagons and cut ourselves off from whomever is beyond some imagined line or accustomed wall.  There will always be an “other” if we let ourselves think that way.

Or we can go down into the water together, stripped of categories and pretense, open to possibility, sure of this good news: in Christ we are one great fellowship of love… no longer slave or free, Jew or Greek, male or female.  In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north—I’m talking to you Baltimore… no longer strangers or enemies, but brothers and sisters, partners and friends.  One family, one city, one world under God.  Whatever the wilderness, however rough the road, if we are together, we are on our way home.