Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
3745 Kimball Avenue
Memphis, Tennessee 38111
901 743 6421


A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Lent
Almighty God,
you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves:
Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls,
that we may be defended from all adversities
which may happen to the body,
and from all evil thoughts
which may assault and hurt the soul;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
~ The Collect for the Third Sunday of Lent
Soon after I began to serve as the rector of an historic downtown church in
another state, the husband of one of the parish matriarchs died. He was a retired
military officer, someone well-known in those parts. The Bishop, whom I had
met during my interview process just a few months earlier, was asked to preside
and preach at his funeral. My only job was to be a pastor to his widow.
As has often been my experience, she was a pastor to me. She had come to
grips fairly quickly with the untimely death of her husband. My sense was that
she was someone from whom I, still relatively new as a priest, might learn some
lessons. Before the funeral she told me she had been considering what life
without her husband might be like. She declared, “This is my new normal.”
On that day, a grieving wife gave me some wisdom for the ages. Since then,
I’ve often heard and used the phrase “new normal.” I don’t know about you, but
I’ve had several seasons in my life during which a new normal began. I’ve also
learned there’s something my new normal moments and seasons have in
common: for me, they always seem to have something to do with grief and loss.
We may be shocked at the arrival and presence of this novel Coronavirus
called COVID-19. We may be looking forward to things getting back to “normal,”
whatever that normal was or is for us. A local columnist recently came to a
different conclusion: “Just because we’re...using sanitizer and bumping elbows
doesn’t mean we won’t be affected in the Mid-South....This is the new normal for
now” (Bruce VanWyngarden, Memphis Flyer, 3/12/20).
Whatever this season of our common life becomes, I believe it is our new
normal, at least for now. It feels hard, if not impossible - borrowing words from
the Serenity Prayer - to accept this thing we cannot change. So many of our old
behaviors have been turned into new warnings (“Don’t touch your face! Keep
your distance!”). At least for now, we have lost the ways we’ve been used to, ways
in which we have lived, moved, and had our being in the world.
I believe that as a church, a nation, a world, we are in grief, and in the days
to come, we do not know what else we may need to grieve. We do know we don’t
have to go it alone. We can and we must care for one another in our grief. (I’ll
have more to say about grief in the April Tract newsletter.)
Throughout the New Testament, people misunderstand Jesus when they
first encounter him. The story of the woman at the well in John’s Gospel (4:5-42)
is not unlike the stories about the disciples when they met Jesus. His friends had
a certain belief, a theological understanding of who their Jewish Messiah would
be and what he would do. The Samaritan woman also thought she knew how this
strange, Jewish man would behave - until he says, “Give me a drink” (4:7).
She replies, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of
Samaria?” By the way, John says that “Jews do not share things in common with
Samaritans” (4:9). But Jesus is not your normal Jew. He explains that he can
give her a new kind of water, living water, that “will become...a spring...gushing
up into eternal life” (4:14). His water is also not “normal.”
The Samaritan woman asks Jesus for that living water, and he does give it to
her. But here’s the catch: First, he tells her everything she’s ever done - including
the fact that she has been married five times. And the fact that the man she’s
with currently is not her husband. No fake news here.
Now, she knows Jesus is a prophet, and yet, once again, Jesus is not offering
normal prophecy. He is also the Christ, the One who heals in God’s name.
Suddenly, the disciples appear, astonished to find him speaking to a woman. She
returns to the city, and exclaims, “Come and see a man who told me everything I
have ever done!” Then she asks, “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”
Once the woman’s Samaritan friends hear her share this Good News, they
start catching what she caught. “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him
because of the woman’s testimony” (4:39). Jesus is not a virus. But Jesus is
definitely contagious. Fear is also contagious, but God’s highly contagious love
casts out fear. When we encounter Jesus, he invites us to let go of our losses, so
we can catch something liberating and life-giving: a new/old normal called love.
In these trying times, how does Jesus want to be caught now? How is he
inviting us to follow him into a new/old normal? What if this season of Lent is
about those old practices - prayer, fasting, and self-denial - done in a new way?
Poet and minister Lynn Ungar wrote a piece about COVID-19 last week.
Perhaps her words have some answers for us:
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love--
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg
March 14, 2020




from the February TRINITARIAN Newsletter

The Spiritual State of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church: Part One


Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house...

God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him

who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. ~ I Peter 2:5,9


         I have been your Vicar since June 1, 2019. For twenty months we have been partners in ministry. The first half of our time together we were “in person” at 3745 Kimball Avenue. During the second half of this time, we’ve been learning how to be a different kind of church, a different kind of spiritual house, a house of marvelous light.


             I believe the spiritual state of Holy Trinity is strong, because you are doing what you have always done: trying to love one another as Jesus loves. I believe we have been seeking and finding ways, both old and new, to stay spiritually connected with each other and God during these dark pandemic times. And I believe we, as a 2021 church, are still being called to proclaim God’s mighty acts in our own small, mighty way.


               Let me say more about that within three of our major areas of our ministry:


         Worship. Since Palm Sunday, 2020, we have been sharing and experiencing what I now call “the blooming of Zoom” worship. (I wrote about this in last month’s Trinitarian newsletter.) Now, as we begin Lent, 2021, our worship format will change.  

             Weather permitting, we will offer what the Episcopal Church has come to call “Ashes to Go” in the Holy Trinity parking lot on Ash Wednesday (February 17th), from 4:30 to 6:00 pm. Look for more details early next week.


           Beginning with the First Sunday of Lent (February 21st), we will resume in-person worship. It will be live-streamed on Facebook as well as recorded. This means you can either join us in the Nave on Sundays or watch services at your convenience. Look for more details early next week.


               Education and Formation. In addition to the booklets we mail out every three months (“Forward Day by Day”), this Lent we will be e-mailing you daily Lenten devotions from Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD).

                 Starting Sunday afternoon, February 21st, at 4 pm, we will also offer a virtual book study of our Presiding Bishop’s new book Love is the Way. Look for an invitation to join us in this newsletter!


                   Prayer and Care. Our need to pray for and care for one another and the world during this Lenten season may never be more important. Please help us help you by keeping our congregational Prayer List up to date! Do not hesitate to add (or remove, when the time comes) the names of anyone you know needing care or prayer.

~ Love, Tom+

SERMON - January 31

The 4th Sunday after the Epiphany


The Authority of Healing: Do What You Say             Mark 1:21-28                                                                                                         January 31, 2021

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany and

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church’s Annual Meeting Sunday


         There’s an old joke that used to make its way around Episcopal church circles. It starts with a question: What is the source of all authority?


           The answer? The source of all authority in Catholic churches is the Pope. The source of all authority in Protestant churches is the Bible. The source of all authority in Episcopal churches? The previous priest.


         In today’s passage from the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus goes to a synagogue to teach on the sabbath. His new disciples are fresh from being hooked on a fishing trip, when he had invited them to fish differently. Now, they’re hooked again, “astounded” and “amazed.” Why? Jesus taught them, Mark says, with authority.


               What is authority? In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome he said that everyone is to “be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist...have been instituted by God” (13:1). Maybe, maybe not.


         Paul’s words fall differently on our 2021 ears. After all, the elected official who held primary governmental authority in our country has been impeached. Twice. I guess you could say the great divide in these United States these days has everything to do with authority: who has it, who wants it, who gets it and how.


             Our Gospel story is, of course, about the authority of God.   In last Sunday’s story from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus began his public ministry by preaching: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people” (1:17). This week, he drives his preaching home by teaching - in an amazing, authoritative way.


               Jesus goes to a synagogue, the Jewish place of public prayer, to teach as all good rabbis do. Suddenly he discovers a man with an “unclean spirit” who cries out. Jesus casts the spirit out of the man, and all are amazed. Jesus teaches with authority.


               Actually, Jesus teaches with the authority of healing. At the root of the word “authority” is the word “author.” In one of our Eucharistic prayers, we call Jesus the “author of our salvation.” And at the root of the word “salvation” is the word “salve.” Jesus is our balm of Gilead, the salve for our sin-sick souls - the one whose healing authority and power comes from the healing authority and power of God.


               Agnes Sanford, both a mother and a wife of priests, was a well-known teacher of prayer. She once said the primary ministry of priests is to teach, to preach, and to heal. She went on to say that the clergy seem to know quite a bit about preaching and teaching. With the power and authority of her own experience, Sanford said this about the clergy and healing: Clergy can be just as skeptical, just as skittish, just as scared as anyone to offer healing or to receive it. After all, isn’t that a doctor’s job?


               Several years ago an image captured me. It’s stayed with me ever since. It’s an image of the church, we who seek to follow Jesus.   I want to share this image with you, on our Annual Meeting Sunday, because, for me, it describes who the people of Holy Trinity are. It also describes who you have become for me, your priest. It describes who we keep being called to be - now, in what has become a long, long season of COVID-tide.


          My image of the church began to take shape during a continuing education experience - in Italy, for doctors. Eyleen and I were invited by a doctor friend to join several other doctors and their significant others on what became, for a time, an annual event. It was a pleasure and privilege to travel Italy with them and to study the physical health of people who live by what has come to be called the Mediterranean diet. We also learned how cities like Florence and Venice survived the Black Death. It was an amazing opportunity for all of us to learn more about health and wellness - especially us, the people of Memphis, where poverty and obesity are particular challenges.


         The title of our educational experience: “In Search of a Healthy City.” Afterward, I came upon an article entitled “A Church that Heals.” The image of church that came to me from that trip, from those two titles - the image that still holds me captive today - happened when I put those two titles together: “In Search of a Church that Heals.”


               When a reporter asked Pope Francis what kind of church the world needs, he replied, “I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.”


         I believe everyone is in search of some kind of healing. Whether we want to admit it or not, whether we know it or not, we are all in need, all our lives, of healing, health, wholeness, wellness - in mind, in body, in spirit. The 2021 question is: How can Holy Trinity, Emmanuel, or any church become, more and more, a church that heals?


             As for Jesus the healer, one preacher writes, “Too often in postmodern America, if Jesus is discussed at all, he is considered...one teacher in a pantheon of other great teachers....In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is the...teacher worth attending to by setting everything else aside....Even the most demonic forces of the day recognize the teaching, healing, life-giving authority...of Jesus” (Gary Charles, Feasting on the Gospels, p. 35).


         Another preacher and teacher who translated the entire Bible puts today’s second verse about authority like this: What’s going on here? A new teaching that does what it says! (Eugene Peterson, The Message, my emphasis)


             Sisters and brothers in Christ, in these troubling times, what might it mean for us, the people of God - especially the people of God called Holy Trinity and Emmanuel, two churches worshiping together today - what might it mean to follow Jesus, who is not just our preacher and our teacher, but also our healer? In these times of trial, what might it mean to be the kind of church other people search for: a church that heals? In these tough times, what might it mean for us to do what we say?


               I believe that to be a church that heals, to be followers of Jesus, is to learn how to do what we say. If we say we are a church that heals, then what do we need to be doing to incarnate that claim, to live into and out of healing - like Jesus did. When Jesus taught with the authority of healing, he was, he is doing what he says.


             This Sunday, Jesus says to the man: Be silent! Preachers and teachers really do need to learn how to be silent. Let me start my silence by having someone else read the words of one more Christian who reminds us: the source of all authority for Christians is Jesus. Her name is Debie Thomas. She writes:


          Consider the question the (unclean) spirit asked before it left its victim: What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”  Theres only one answer to that question.  “Everything.  I have everything to do with you.”  Wherever pain is, darkness is, torment is, God is.  God has everything to do with us, even and maybe especially when we're at our worst.  When the shadows overwhelm us, when the demons shriek the loudest, when the hope of liberation feels like nothing more than fantasy -- that is when Jesuss authority (of healing) brings the walls down.


             More about doing what we say later. “The Lord be with you....Let us pray.”


         Sanctify, O Lord, all your ministers of healing, especially doctors, nurses, and all whom you have called to the study and practice of the healing arts. Strengthen them and us by your life-giving Spirit, that by all our ministries the health of our communities may be promoted and your creation glorified; through Jesus Christ, the author of our salvation, our savior, our healer, our Lord (For Doctors and Nurses, alt., BCP, p. 460).






~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

3745 Kimball Avenue

Memphis, TN 38111




             Winter clears the landscape, however brutally,

giving us a chance to see ourselves and each other more clearly,

to see the very ground of our being.

~ Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak



             I don’t know exactly when it happened. I do know that, despite all the challenges and differences it brings, I love “doing” and being church via Zoom.


         Maybe it happened when Ruth began to join us for our 10 am Zoom worship on Sunday mornings. With help from Ann-Marie and Ruth’s daughter Angela, Ruth now CALLS IN on Sundays. We can’t see Ruth, but her voice always cheers us up. We continue to pray for her husband Chuck, in hospice, who, thankfully, is home with her.


             Maybe it was when Sam bought a new speaker for his computer so he and his mother Mary Beth - our oldest “couple” - could hear us better every Sunday morning for worship and every Wednesday noon for Bible study. Whether it’s via Zoom or in person, Sam and Mary Beth ALWAYS come to EVERYTHING Holy Trinity offers.


               Maybe it was when Jamie and Tim - our youngest couple - Zoomed in with us one Sunday morning, as they do. This time, we noticed something different: they were not in their home. They were joining us FROM THEIR BICYCLES, amidst sunshine and sunflowers. They wanted to be with us, no matter where they were.


             Or maybe it was when Ty, our organist and administrator, said he would be glad to help Tommy, our “senior” Zoom host, make Sunday mornings MORE MUSICAL. Ty finds music videos that Tommy can “screen share” with all of us. We can’t sing in ways we used to, but that version of “Joy to the World” sure did jazz up our Christmas Eve!


               Maybe you can tell how “jazzed” I am about all the ways we keep on staying connected, through this COVID Christmas season and into the New Year we long to see. 2021 will definitely be different from last year, but we do not yet know how. Some say good riddance to 2020. I hear and share that feeling. I am also feeling some gratitude.


               2020 was the year in which Holy Trinity proved, once again, that God is not finished with us yet. We are still, as the little introductory video we made for this year’s Diocesan Convention put it, “alive and KICKING!” While we prepare for Bishop Phoebe to make her annual visitation - this year, it’s online: January 24th - let’s keep kicking!


               The 2021 winter will “clear the landscape.” Meanwhile, we keep being given the opportunity to see ourselves and each other, albeit virtually, more and more clearly. May Parker Palmer’s wisdom be especially true for Holy Trinity in this brand, new year.



Love in Christ,



See What You Hear                                                      

The Last Sunday after the Epiphany

Mark 9:2-9                                                                               


         Have you ever had a mountaintop experience? Here’s how one man described his: I've been to the mountaintop....Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land.


         Those aren’t the words of Peter, James, or John. They are words spoken by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the day before he died in Memphis. For years he had heard God’s Word. He knew everything began with the Word of God. In the beginning, there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1). Finally, Dr. King went up the mountain. He saw the promised land. He got a glimpse of God’s kingdom, God’s reign - here, on earth.


           What about Peter, James, and John, on their mountaintop? What did they see?Here’s a bit of context: Today, we are at the beginning of the ninth chapter of Mark’s Gospel account. Since the 1st chapter of Mark, Jesus has been preaching, teaching, and healing. Everything Jesus says or does begins with and comes from the Word of God.


               Mark, Chapter 1: The kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the Good News (1:15). Chapter 2: Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick... (2:17). Chapter 3: If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand (3:25).


               It doesn’t end with Chapter 3. Peter, James, John and the other disciples kept hearing the Word of God from the lips of Jesus, all the way up to and past today’s text in Chapter 9. They heard him, and they heard him, and they heard him. Often, what they heard was not easy to hear. Not easy for them or for us. Especially by the end of Chapter 8. Just before today’s Gospel text, Jesus began to teach: The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected...and be killed.


             Jesus did add, “and after three days rise again.” But Peter, his prime pupil, took Jesus aside and tried to teach Jesus a thing or two, to tell him he was all wrong. And Jesus turned to his disciples, corrected Peter, called out to the crowd all around them, and said: If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel will save it (8:31-35).


               This was the Word of God the three heard before that mountaintop experience.


               Let me give you a bit more context. The Rev. Dr. Mitzi Minor, professor of New Testament at Memphis Theological Seminary, says we need to remember that, in the time of the Gospel of Mark and of all the Gospels, there was no democracy. There was no middle class, no separation of church and state, and no diversity, equity, or inclusion. The Roman Empire ran the world in a “divide and conquer,” us-versus-them, hierarchy. It’s in this setting that Jesus declares the kingdom of God has come near.


               And it is in this, today’s setting, in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, that Jesus lives into, illuminates, and embodies that reign of God, that heavenly kingdom, as if it had come very near indeed. The bottom line of his teaching, the point of his parables and preaching, Dr. Minor says, is to help Jesus disciples’ see what he is saying. In other words, Jesus helps his disciples, then and now, to...See. What. You. Hear.


               See. What. You. Hear. Early on in the Black Lives Matter movement, the young women who were mobilizing things said to their white allies - especially us well-intentioned white clergymen - something like this: “Shut up; sit down; listen to what we are saying; and then, believe what you are hearing.” Hmm. Sounds like Jesus to me.


               Perhaps Dr. Minor is telling us that Jesus was saying, especially in Mark’s Gospel, that, unless and until we listen and hear the Word of God and believe what we are hearing, we will not see. For Peter, James, and John, the Transfiguration, seeing Jesus change from the inside out on that mountaintop, seeing God’s glory revealed, will depend on them hearing what God says to them: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (9:7). Only then, when they listen, can they see what they’ve been hearing.


               On my journey with Jesus, I have gone up and down the mountain, more than once. In a way, my work of becoming an anti-racist keeps me mountain-climbing. In recent years my sisters and brothers of color have helped me listen and learn how there is always more to hear - and then, more to see - on this journey we all share.


             February - Black History Month - is a good time to listen, to hear, and to see what God is saying and doing through the Word of God and the words of others in the life and work of women and men of color. Several moments in African American history have already been memorialized this month. Let me lift up three of them for us.


           February 1st, 1960. Four Black college freshmen, Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr. and David Richmond, sat down at a "whites-only" Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, and politely asked for service. In a time when mob violence has reared its ugly head, the non-violent protests of the Greensboro Four and others are still a witness to the Word of God speaking peace to us.


                   February 4th would have been the 92nd birthday of Rosa Louise McCauley Parks. Ms. Parks’ memorialized moment on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus gets in the way of celebrating the full, rich life of service she offered our country. The United States Congress called her “the mother of the freedom movement.” We need to learn more about how God spoke and worked through Rosa Parks, so we can more clearly see her.


               Yesterday, February 13th, was a day on which we honor an official saint in our Episcopal Church calendar. While he was enslaved, this man taught himself to read the New Testament. Later, he saw his way clear to buy his own freedom. In 1802, Absalom Jones became the first African American to be ordained priest in the Episcopal Church. There is now a Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta named after him. The Union of Black Episcopalians will honor Absalom Jones again this year on February 27th.


               It has taken me years to listen to Jesus and to hear what I now need to learn about diversity, equity, and inclusion. There is so much more to learn, as I listen to the Word of God and to those teachers who speak in their own words. James Baldwin, Amanda Gorman, Ibram Kendi, Catherine Meeks, Howard Thurman, Isabel Wilkerson. When I hear them, I begin to get a glimpse of their vision of God’s kingdom on earth.


               We give ourselves over to the process of hearing-then-seeing imperfectly. We should never underestimate the challenges to see, even when we hear. Peter babbles about building three dwellings to his three heroes of the faith: Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. It’s so easy to want to build a shrine! “He did not know what to say,” Mark tells us, “for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them” (9:6-7). Following Jesus can feel like traveling in a cloud. Moments of clarity are rare indeed. Hearing and seeing Jesus may uproot us from everything we think we hear, see, or know.


               See. What. You. Hear. In 1985, Archbishop Desmond Tutu stepped away from his social justice work in South Africa and took a sabbatical at the seminary in New York City where I was a student. He exercised, rested, taught a class. He also visited and talked with the children, including my toddler son, in the day care center. We all heard and learned many things from him, including this: “We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.”


               I’d guess Bishop Tutu still has a soft spot for children. All the children loved it when Bishop Tutu made his weekly visit to spend time with them. After he finished his sabbatical, Bishop Tutu went back to South Africa and continued his anti-apartheid work. Finally, apartheid ended, and in 1984, elections were held in South Africa. Those were the country’s first elections in which citizens of all races were allowed to take part. Talk about a mountaintop! Talk about Good News!


               A quarter-century ago, on the day Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela voted for the first time, the whole world was watching. My son, who was twelve, saw Tutu on TV, and he cried out, “Look! Bishop Tutu! I know that guy!” John and all of us who had ever been touched by the lifelong work of Tutu and Mandela and so many others were finally seeing what we had heard. The kingdom of God had come very near to us.


               See. What. You. Hear. May God give us the wisdom so to do. Amen.



~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

3745 Kimball Avenue

Memphis, TN 38111