Welcome to Grace Notes! You can find an archive of my preaching and writing here. I welcome your comments and questions, as I always enjoy conversations about faith.
 
Grace notes are actually tiny notations in classical music that indicate a quick note decorating the melody. Grace notes always lead to the main thing. In my spiritual walk, the main thing is the grace of God in Jesus. This grace is God’s unequivocal gift of acceptance and love for you and me. That’s what fuels me, and that’s what I write about.
 
I look forward to sharing with you and hearing from you in this blog – and I hope you find the words and ideas here to truly be Grace Notes, filled with God’s grace. – PJ
Pastor Julie is a student of yoga and a lover of singing, a low maintenance housekeeper and a potluck foodie, a wife and proud mother of two young adults, and a passionate voice for connecting faith, daily life, and scripture. Born and raised in Columbus, she studied religion and music at Oberlin College and Conservatory, and received her MDiv from Yale Divinity School. Pastor Julie served four parishes in Connecticut before returning to her Ohio roots to become Epiphany’s senior pastor. 

Summer Freedom, Summer Sabbath

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Do you remember when you were a kid on the first day of summer? I remember waking up in my bed, thinking to myself, “What am I going to do today?” A limitless horizon stretched out before me: the entire summer. Of course there would be chores to help my mother, and weeding the garden with my dad. But at that moment all I could think about was me and my friends and hanging out at the pool. It was pure freedom.

On Memorial Day this week, the unofficial beginning of summer, I had the liberty of sitting out on my patio first thing in the morning and asking myself, what do I want to do today? I did have


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Speaking of Truth

John 15-16

One of the most haunting scenes to me in the Gospel of John is when Jesus stands before Pilate awaiting judgment and says that he came into the world to testify to the truth. Pilate, frustrated by Jesus’ unwillingness to exonerate himself, says cynically, What is truth?

I guess I have always been drawn to this passage because I want to know the truth: the truth about the way the world works; the truth about myself and other people; the truth about God. I long for knowledge and wisdom that lasts.

In the Gospel today, Jesus gives his disciples Truth—he himself is the truth. Jesus famously said, I


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Why the Wait?

Luke 24:44-53, Acts 1:1-11
 
My brother Steve’s first job out of college was working at a local department store. He had earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering and had a good internship working on radar. He’d presumed he’d get hired right away out of college, but it was a year after the fall of Berlin Wall, and the whole defense industry was reorganizing. No one was hiring. So, my brother, whose favorite look was a tie-dyed T-shirt, was arranging ties in the men’s department at Lazarus, waiting for the right job opportunity to come along.

Waiting.
That’s one of the operative words in today’s scriptures. By the way, if you felt like you were


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You Can’t Stop the Beat

Acts 10:44-48

The musical “Hairspray” ends with a dance tune called “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” It’s got this driving rhythm, and you can’t sit still when you hear it. The musical is set amid the racial discrimination of the early 1960s, as seen through the eyes of high schoolers. Tracy Turnblad wants to audition for the local TV dance competition but big girls don’t fit the mold. She then finds out that Black kids aren’t welcome either. She and her friends set out to integrate the dance competition and make room for girls and women of all body types to be beautiful. The song “You Can’t Stop the Beat” sums up the irrepressible motion of change and that everyone is welcome to join the dance.

That song was in my head this


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Walk and Not Faint

I lived in the town of Manchester, CT for 14 years in my early ministry. Every year, I walked the two blocks from the church to Main Street to watch the Manchester Road Race. I was not much of a runner—I had been told at an early age by a gym teacher that I wasn’t much of an athlete. I cheered on friends and parishioners and even my 70-year-old dad.

But the year I turned 40, I decided to try running it for myself. I started training in the summertime, jogging alongside the kids on their bikes as we headed toward the park. By the early fall I had worked up a 2½ mile loop. The end of this run was a great downhill through the park. I would just pick up my feet and let gravity take me. “I


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Embracing Uncertainty

Mark 1:14-20

When I was nine years old, my parents cashed in their retirement fund, packed up our family’s life into eight suitcases, and traveled to the other side of the world. My dad took a sabbatical, working at two universities in Australia, and my mom, brother and I accompanied him on the yearlong odyssey that spanned from Hawaii to Perth WA, across the continent, to Brisbane on the East coast, and to Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan on the way home. It was a leap into the unknown and an amazing journey.

As an adult, I have often thought it was kind of a crazy decision. It is, in fact, the kind of decision that the James and John, Simon and Andrew make in our gospel lesson today.

In this first chapter of Mark,


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The Water of Change

Mark 1    
                 

I’ve been washed by the water, I’ve been cleansed by the sea / I’ve been touched by the river of eternity / Though I don’t understand it I have never been the same / I can’t turn back the water, the water of change.

For five years when my children were small, I was like you: I sat out in the congregation. I was on leave from my official duties of ministry, and I did a lot of volunteer work in the neighborhood. One of the people I met was Gene. He was the guy who ran the barbeque every Friday at the HIV network next door. I was worshipping next to Gene when we sang this song, “The Water of Change,” by Dakota Road.

I wonder aloud where in the


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By Another Road

Matthew 2:1-12

When I was a child, my mother used to let me play with the nativity scene. We set it up on the lid of the piano and added figures as the story unfolded—a bare stable in Advent, with Mary and Joseph traveling across the room to ‘Bethlehem’ day by day, adding the baby Jesus at Christmas. Then we’d move the Wise Men closer during the 12 days of Christmas until finally on January 6, the festival of the Epiphany, the Wise Men arrive in the stable with the other figurines.

We spent a lot of time and attention getting the wise men TO the manger, but after Epiphany, we quickly boxed up the nativity scene with the other decorations and unceremoniously put them back downstairs.

It’s kind of the way many of us have thought of the story of the Wise Men. We sing “Star of


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Modern Day Bethlehems

It’s Christmas Eve, and we’ve got all the makings for a most incredible night. Stars in the sky. Celestial choirs. Good tidings of great joy for the whole world.

But I want to talk about things less lofty, things more earthly than holy. I am caught by Luke’s description of Jesus’ birth. In just three verses practically the whole Christmas story—Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem, Mary’s pregnancy, the birth of Jesus, and where they stayed while they were in Bethlehem. What usually takes the majority of a Christmas pageant was done here in the economy of 3 sentences.

I don’t know about you, but I would have thought Luke would have written more. After all, we’ve imagined it a thousand times over. In story books, in carols and song, in the contemplation of our prayer life.


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