Sunday, July 13, 2014

Shore Leave 2014

For the next couple of weeks Susy and I will be off to Massachusetts to enjoy a bit of beach time in the pleasant seaside town of Scituate

--which is Susy's ancestral home.

Many thanks to Deacon Jean Chess and Assistant Dean Byrom for attending to pastoral concerns (call the Church Office if you need to be in touch with either of them) while I'm away.

Susy and I will be slipping into a back pew at St. Luke's, Scituate, for the next two Sundays, where my friend Grant Barber has been rector for a number of years now . . . .

And in the meantime on Sundays, July 20th and 27th, the 10 a.m. St. Andrew's service will be led by a good friend . . . our Priest Associate, the Rev. Dr. Philip Wainwright.

I of course will return rested and ready for action on Sunday, August 3!



Fifth after Pentecost: a Sermon by the Seashore

Proper 10A Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

Again grace and peace.  It’s very nice that in this summer in the season after Pentecost and in Year A of our Revised Lectionary we have the opportunity and hear and reflect on this long middle section of St. Matthew’s Gospel.  As I noted I think last week, Matthew is sometimes called “the Church’s Gospel,” because it often captures and communicates the attention that Jesus was paying in the time of his earthly ministry to the relationships and mission and ministry that his disciples would continue in the years and decades and generations to come.  I find this interesting and helpful especially for us, as we are here at St. Andrew’s approaching one of those milestone markers.  Looking forward to what we’re calling “Renaissance Sunday” this year.  Round Up Sunday of years past now cast in a new frame.  Sunday, September 7, and I hope circled already on your family calendar.  The dedication of the many renovations that have been made possible through the stewardship “Opening Doors” Capital Campaign, as Bishop McConnell will be here, as some have suggested, to cut the ribbon or to break a bottle of Iron City at the Parish House entry, for a great picnic with all kinds of entertainment and activities-- and as we will all find many traditional and new ways to launch into the fall season not simply as another fall but as a time when we have and do offer prayers for a true spiritual renewal in our lives and in the life of our church.  

That God’s Holy Spirit would work in each of us, in our homes and families, in our congregation and in our wider community, for a “renovation” of the whole household, stirring up faith and energizing our witness and outreach.  You think the new church floor and all the electrical and plumbing and heating infrastructure, new and renovated meeting rooms, elevators, all of it—you think that’s a great step forward.  You haven’t seen anything yet.  To see that this really needs to be all about our being the people and the church that Jesus calls to us to be.   Just wait to see what God is getting ready to do with us, in us, for us, through us. 

And the Biblical witness so important to guide us along the way.  That commission from Jesus that we heard a few weeks ago at the beginning of Matthew 10.  “He called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity.”  “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And preach as you go, saying ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.”  And “when they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

This not about sitting back and enjoying the show.  Not about standing on the sidelines or being consumers of some processed religious entertainment.  Not actually even about “going to church” at all, when you get right down to it.  Which is kind of the connection here with our Summer Book and our St. Andrew’s Lecture.  About a “missional” life, about being “People of the Way.”  It’s about who we are and what we are about 24/7/365.  How we raise our kids.  How we relate to our neighbors and friends.  What we tell them about what God has done in our lives, what they hear from us and what they see in us. A renovation that is less about events and programs and all the inevitable structures of busyness, more about what settles into our DNA, our identity.  Less about “where we go to church,” more about how we are and who we are at work or school, in the neighborhood, in our families. 

I love reading about the Desert Fathers, back in the earliest Christian centuries, and about how often the stories would be about how the Evil One would manifest himself to them in these burning hours of temptation in their secluded Egyptian caves.  Confronting them with doubts, offering seductive alternatives, testing their faith.  And how the spiritual strength founded in years prayer and fasting, singing psalms in the loneliness of the mountaintop cell, deeply ruminating on the words of scripture—how all that would gather together in power to push back in that moment of testing, to cast the Evil One out with a force of spiritual strength.  

But then to see that this isn’t something Jesus talks about as something for the few religious athletes of the ancient wilderness, but for all his disciples.  Each and all.  With authority over unclean spirits wherever they may be found in this world, and real authority.  In the deep places of our hearts and souls, and in the wide world, relationships, communities, nations and peoples.  To face the Evil Spirits head-on, and to cast them out.  And to think about what that looks like not just in Antony’s cave, but at home in the East End.  At the pool, the playgroup, the garden club, or in the office.  Here, for us.  About how we go into the towns and villages to proclaim for those whom God has prepared to hear us the saving call and announcement, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  To make an accurate translation of this constant message into the particular languages of our lives.  To think about what that looks like here.  To think about what elevators and meeting rooms and floors and ramps and six new accessible restrooms have to do with casting out demons, healing the sick, pointing to Jesus, announcing his Lordship, his Kingdom.

Back in the 5th chapter of St. Matthew Jesus began a famous sermon we call the “Sermon on the Mount,” and this morning at chapter 13 we get a second extended sermon.  Perhaps appropriately named for this summertime, “The Sermon By the Seashore.”   Everybody invited to apply some sunscreen and sit back and listen to Jesus as we enjoy the afternoon sun.  –It is a sermon that as it continues through this chapter is made up of a series of Parables, brief vignettes, often rich with metaphorical and symbolic and allegorical resonance.  A deceptively simple way of preaching and teaching, to allow the listener to continue the sermon internally, to think about the images and stories and to be shaped and informed and enlightened by the process of that rumination. 

The sermon begins in this morning’s reading with the Parable of the Sower, or sometimes it’s called the Parable of the Soils-- and our reading includes both the Parable itself in verses 1-9 and then the interpretation of the parable that Jesus gives in verses 18-23.

The sower sowing with such abandon, reaching into his bag and taking the seed and then tossing it wildly into the air, so that it just seems to be carried in the wind.  Some falling on the road, some in the brambles, some on the hard ground, and, finally, most importantly, some on good soil, where it quickly takes roots and brings forth a magnificent and abundant crop, better than any could have predicted.  And in the interpretation in the second part of the reading Jesus reminds us that we’re not just talking about corn or wheat here.  “But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in once case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” The Kingdom Harvest.  

In the words of the Morning Prayer canticle taken from Isaiah 55, “for as rain and snow fall from the heavens ad return not again, but water the earth, bringing forth life and giving growth, seed for sowing and bread for eating, so is my word that goes forth from my mouth; it will not return to me empty; but will accomplish that which I have purposed, and prosper in that for which I sent it.”

You might think on a first take that if you were the farm owner and this sower was a farmworker, you might want to send him back to agricultural school for more training.  Incredibly wasteful, just to be out there hurling handfuls of seed into the wind.  What kind of stewardship is this?  But to look again and see that it is in the sower’s extravagance that the point of the story seems to take hold.  The seed is essentially free, but the crop, once that seed finds good soil, is abundant and valuable.  And that process of finding good soil seems to be something the sower just doesn’t concern himself with.  He trusts.  He lets go of control, the idea that he can manage and micromanage.   If you could you might even follow the example of the farmers in Central California who plant from airplanes.  Just get that seed out there.  Don’t spend all day measuring it out in teaspoons, worrying about precision and order, trying to record and document every last grain.  Let it rip, and just see what happens then.  If we really believe God is in charge.  

If we have read the 21st Chapter of St. John’s Revelation and know how the story ends, we know that what needs to happen is going to happen, and not because we were running the show.  We’re going to make mistakes, and a lot of them.  But the abundance of the harvest is assured, not as the result of our mighty efforts, but as his free and good gift.

What that all has to do with us?  With this great place, now renewed and refreshed, with the stewardship our personal and corporate resources.  With these crazy ideas that people keep coming up with—and some of them do sound a little crazy sometimes.  Your grizzled old rector thinks to himself, and mutters out loud--“that will never work.  We tried it back in ’96, and it didn’t seem to work well then.”  In fact most of them probably won’t work.  But that’s not the point.  When you hear that from me, give me a quick slap I guess, and tell me to practice what I preach.  There’s just no telling, not by us anyway, when that seed as it’s tossed up into the air is going to find good soil. That’s God’s business.  He’ll get done what he needs to get done.   For us it’s about getting into the game with the extravagance of the Sower—and then trusting the one who is in charge to do what he will do.

Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fourth after Pentecost (Proper 9A)

Matthew 11: 16-30

Grace and peace on this Fourth of July/Independence Day Weekend—as it really begins to feel like summer, picnics and band concerts and fireworks.  A great time of year.   

There’s a tradition to call Matthew “the Gospel of the Church,” in that this first book in our New Testament seems to have a special focus to remember Jesus’ concern with  how his followers should organize themselves and live faithfully in years and generations to come.  Over the last few weeks in our Sunday gospel readings we have been moving through the tenth chapter of the gospel and listening to Jesus as he spoke to his disciples about--and commissioned them for--the work that they were about to begin as they would go out first into the local towns and villages and eventually into all the world, casting out demons, healing, blessing, in his name.  Mindful of the inevitable opposition and persecution that would come their way, they are to be seeking out and encouraging and enlisting those who were prepared to hear the good news and to respond to it by turning around their lives and joining the good work of God’s Kingdom.  Not a mission or commissioning for one day only or for them alone, but a charge to repeat again and again in the life of the Church.  We as Christian people who read the gospel are clearly invited to picture ourselves in the group of disciples hearing Jesus on that day, as we continue that work of confronting the evil one, proclaiming forgiveness of sins, the healing of the brokenness between God and his creation, pronouncing his blessing, the good news of Christ and his kingdom.

And then Jesus turns out not to be one of those arm-chair generals who gives orders to the troops and then retires to the rear.  In Matthew 11 immediately on the heels of his instructions to the disciples he launches himself right out into the thick of the action himself, into the cities and towns of the Galilee.  Into the synagogues and in the town squares, street corners and country crossroads.  If the disciples weren’t quite sure at first what this new mission enterprise was supposed to look like, they were right away going to see it begin to happen with their own eyes.

The first fifteen verses of this chapter, just before the part we have in our reading this morning, Jesus introduces himself and his message in the context of John the Baptist and his followers.  John we remember has been arrested and soon would be executed as a result of his confrontation with King Herod Antipas over the matter of his scandalous marriage to his sister-in-law, and there is apparently some question about whether John’s followers should now, with their master and teacher no longer available, shift their allegiance to Jesus.  They ask Jesus on John’s behalf if John should now tell his followers to join Jesus and his disciples, and Jesus tells them simply that he’s not going to make an argument.  They are instead to rely on what they can see with their own eyes.  “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”   In other words—think for yourselves, people.  Do you really think you need to wait for some leader to tell you what’s going on?  Open your own eyes and see what is happening.  “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”   Christian mission not some academic enterprise of abstract speculation, not about something someone named “God” might do in some far distant future, but about the power of God here and now to transform and renew.

And then the passage appointed for today, as Jesus turns from this conversation with John’s followers to address the crowd of bystanders.  “With what shall I compare this generation?  It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates . . . .”   Like five year olds playing dress up in the attic.  Putting on grown-up clothes and pretending to do grown up things.  But not for real.  Maybe that’s the alternative vision of the Church.  All show and no go. The neighborhood of Make Believe.  John the Baptist came, and you turned-out in great numbers to cheer his sermons, but then you went home again at the end of the day, and changed nothing about your lives.  Here I am, Jesus says, and you all gather around and cheer my sermons, but again, no change.  John had one preaching style and I had another, but the message was and is the same.  The time is now.  God is acting.  This is our opportunity to turn things around.  The day of decision.  And at the end of the service for both of us you shook our hands.  “Enjoyed the sermon today, preacher,” and out the door.

Woe to you, Chorazin, woe to you Bethsaida!  These little backwater villages of the Galilee.  If they had heard preaching like this in London and New York there would have been a revival that would made Billy Graham look like small potatoes. But the precious words of salvation, the call to repentance, an invitation to renewal, restoration, transformation, are for you like water off a duck’s back.  Nothing sinks in!   Woe to you, Capernaum.  If they had seen what you have seen, right here in front of you, right here, right now,   the whole city of Las Vegas would have lined up for the altar call.  The showgirls, gamblers, and pawnbrokers, sinners, con-men, criminals, the dregs of society:  they would hear what we’re talking about.  But it just sails over your head.

Fascinating, isn’t it, Jesus goes on, to see how the message of salvation is plain enough to be heard by uneducated fishermen and rough laborers and addicts and thieves and drunkards, and they are honest enough to look into the mirror and see what is really going on, and what they really need to do to turn their life around, and the word of God comes alive in them--but that it’s all just too complicated and nuanced and entertaining in an intellectually playful sort of way for those who are the better sort?  A friend of mine once said he wished his local church and congregation on Sunday mornings had even one-tenth of the spiritual seriousness and life-changing power as he found among the members of the AA group meeting in the church basement on Sunday evenings.  “Hidden from the wise and understanding,” plain as day to the babies.

The point is certainly that Jesus doesn’t pull any punches.  He’s not aiming for popularity here by telling people what they want to hear and patting them on the back and telling them that they’re just fine just as they are.  His message is that God is real, and that God means business.  The message, and a timeless message, is that if we want to be a part of what is real, if we want to be a part of what God is doing, if we don’t want to be left on the platform while the train is pulling out of the station, then we need to begin by opening our eyes and our ears—to see and hear him, and to get up out of our circles of self-absorption and mutual admiration, and to follow him.  Not only with our lips, but in our lives.

It looks really hard to do that.  Change always seems that way at first, as I can tell you from personal experience.  Maybe seems like it might be easier for those who don’t have so much invested in things as they are.  But that’s not true at all.   This change is all gift and grace and refreshment, if only we can bring yourself to taste and see for yourselves.  Like the transformative power of a gentle rain on a draught-stricken field.  Remembering that this is the same Jesus who says in John 10, “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  That’s not me.  Not me at all.   I come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  Gift and grace and refreshment.  Mercy, forgiveness, love.

Don’t know how many of you may remember the movie “The Matrix.”  But the scenario might be helpful.  The choice there.  The red pill or the blue pill.  Really a matter of life and death.  What Jesus and his disciples are about as they head out into all the world.  A decision with ultimate consequences.  Not playing games or putting on shows.  The choice  to continue to live in an artificially-induced dream world, or to wake up to a reality that for all its challenges the only place where true love and meaning and hope are possible.

Waking up is hard, no question.  At least in the first moment or two.  But not to be afraid—that’s the conclusion of Jesus’ sermon.  Remembering what I think the church does sometimes forget.  That this is good news.  Healing and blessing.  The invitation we would hear as we receive the gift of Holy Communion and then are sent out like those first disciples--the words of Jesus echoing in our ears, inspiring us, waking us up, filling our lives—to be not words of fear but words of love.  Tender assurance.  That he might dwell in us, and we in him.  What I have for you is better than a dream.  So much better than the neighborhood of Make Believe. 

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.”  #470 in our hymnal.  Always one of my favorites.  “There’s a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty.  There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good; there is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in his blood.”

And the conclusion of his sermon with the bystanding crowd, with the promise that our traditional Anglican Prayer Book tradition places immediately following the words of absolution.  Don’t be afraid.  An invitation as we would both hear and respond.  Not only with our lips but in our lives.  Having laid our old selves down at the foot of the cross, this is going to be good.   Very good.  A promise that can and will begin to be a reality in our lives, even today.  “Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Third after Pentecost, Proper 8A

Matthew 10: 40-42

Good morning, grace and peace.  It is wonderful to see you on this summer Sunday.

In the last few weeks in our Sunday lectionary we’ve been hearing and reading together the Tenth Chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel.  What the 17th and 18th Century English Biblical Scholar Matthew Henry called Jesus’ “ordination sermon.”  Not that we’re supposed to think about the twelve disciples here as  ordained or about-to-be ordained clergy, but more we would think about how Jesus is ordering his church—we might say, “giving us, all of us, our marching orders.”   Perhaps it was this moment with Jesus and hearing these words that St. Peter was thinking about many years later when he wrote in the second chapter of the letter we now call First Peter “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his glorious light.”  Chosen, possessed, called.  The “ordination service” for a “royal priesthood.”

In any event, in the first part of Matthew 10 Jesus confers spiritual authority on his twelve disciples.   Have to remember back a couple of weeks.   In verse one of chapter ten, anyway, he gives them, “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity.”  Wow.  They were to go out into the highways and byways, the towns and villages, seeking the “lost sheep of the house of Israel:” not simply to talk about the Gospel of the Kingdom, but to put it into action, effectively and with power.  And then a few verses on in this commissioning sermon Jesus tells them that this kind of power isn’t necessarily going to be received well.  On the contrary.  That it can and will incite anxiety, jealousy, even hatred.  Violence.  He warns them about the certainty of opposition and persecution.    As we read last week, he reminds them that all that opposition and persecution is not really just about them, but that it is a part of the deeper and we might even say the cosmic rebellion of evil against God.  The students are hit by the arrows aimed at the teacher.  That as his disciples suffer, they participate in the deepest way possible in his battle and then, finally, the victory of his Cross.  “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake,” he tells them in verse 22, “but he who endures to the end will be saved.”  The last sentence of the portion we read last Sunday, verse 39, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Serious business.

This ordination sermon, the marching orders and commissioning and commendation that Jesus gives his disciples as he sends them out into the field, coming to a rousing conclusion in these final three verses of chapter 10 this morning:  “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”   Encouragement perhaps after the words of warning.  These moments on the road, in these little villages and towns, as you offer what I have given to you to the poor, the broken, the lost, one by one, in quiet rural corners and dusty back alleys.  Seems like not much: marginal moments.  But really, this is cosmic, what you’re doing.  The whole arc of history bending to this hour.  Don’t underestimate for a minute what is going on here.  God working in and through and with you to set the world back into order, to renew and refresh, to cleanse, to heal.  Straightening things out.  Calling to repentance.  Proclaiming forgiveness.  Just think about that!  He says, I am with you every step of the way.  And then, “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous.”  This is what is happening.  As you are a prophet, speaking God’s Word, the one who hears you and welcomes you and  receives that Word, becomes one with you, as you are one with me, and I am one with the Father.  As you are righteous, walking with me, announcing the new work of the Kingdom, putting the love of God into action as I have commanded you, and as the healing you offer is received and welcomed, that one becomes one with you, as you are one with me, and I am one with the Father.  “And whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”   It’s not the scale of the response that matters.  Don’t expect or even concern yourself with fireworks and drama.  Not about filled arenas and national cover stories.  Not about Sunday morning attendance statistics or pledge drives or capital campaigns.   A story those metrics can’t even begin to reflect.  So much bigger, wider, deeper than all that.   It’s how the Holy Spirit has worked in the sincerity of the heart.  Converting and renewing.  Exercising spiritual authority over the forces and the force that rebel against God, casting out demons, pronouncing forgiveness, healing, restoration in the love of the Father.

So marching orders this morning.  Giving shape and substance and direction to his church. 

And off they go.  The Twelve.  The Church.  Commissioned and launched into the fray.  About as unlikely a bunch as you could imagine.  This is the plan?  Shaking our heads a little bit as we look around in the pews.  You’d think the Creator and Master of the Universe could come up with something at least a little  better than this.  Peter, Andrew, James, John.  We picture them out on the distant margins.  Broke, uneducated, rustic, the lowest rung on the social ladder, flawed in just about every way.   And the whole arc of history bending to this hour . . . . 

I’m reminded in all of this actually of the really lively and interesting conversation we had this past Tuesday evening over at Chris and Beth Schunn’s house for our first summer “Cottage Meeting” to discuss the Summer Book, Dwight Zscheile’s “People of the Way.”  Talking about bout issues of control and trust in the life of the church.  About not trying to organize God’s life and work for him, not trying to force the Holy Spirit into boxes and top-down structures that we imagine we can manage and direct.  How the church always seems to want to make it about a program, a strategy, a plan.  Which is of course not a terrible thing—so much important Christian ministry and mission accomplished over generations and centuries through program and strategy and plan.  But it can also be quicksand.

 Thinking instead here.  About how vulnerable these disciples are when Jesus sends them out.  About how they need to dig deep into their own hearts to trust that Jesus is with them, that he has gone on ahead of them and is already there, working secretly in deep and powerful ways in the places they are going.  Unfamiliar places.  Unsafe places.   Obviously some fear.  Sailing out of a harbor and into the open sea without a map.  How they have no idea what to expect.  Maybe that’s where some of us are right now in our lives.  No longer connected to the familiar mooring.  And even as we think about the life of this congregation.  A moment when something new seems to be approaching, but we’re not exactly sure what.  Standing in the sandals of the Twelve on this day with Jesus.  Trusting somehow, somehow, that they will be able to exercise the spiritual gifts that he has given them when the time is right.  “I’ll tell you what to say when it’s time to speak.  I’ll tell you what to do when it’s time to act.  Don’t worry.”  Trusting that he is with them, even when they can’t see him.  That even when they can’t see any results, or that even when the results they see may be negative, even if they are rejected, persecuted, killed, for his sake, God will receive their faithful offering and in his own time and in his own way use it to accomplish his purposes. 

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity.”

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Second after Pentecost, Proper 7A

Matthew 10: 24-39

Good morning, and grace and peace as we roll on now in summer, officially as of 6:51 yesterday morning, and today, Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7A , at the beginning of the long green season of ordinary time following Trinity Sunday that will carry us through the summer and fall with a couple of festival interruptions all the way to Advent.  In the far, far distance perhaps we can already hear the children of St. Andrew’s beginning to rehearse the traditional carols of the Christmas Pageant!

 In any event--through this “Year A” in the Sunday lectionary we are continuing to read a good deal through the Gospel of St. Matthew, and this morning in the 10th chapter I found myself humming along with the well-known Martin Luther hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” remember especially the great rousing and triumphant conclusion of the fourth stanza,

Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

#688 in our hymnal.

Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  And even the hairs of your head are all counted.  So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. “

“Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Back in the early 18th century the great English Biblical scholar Matthew Henry wrote of this passage, “Our Lord warned his disciples to prepare for persecution . . . .  Christ foretold troubles, not only that the troubles might not be a surprise, but that they might confirm their faith.  He tells them what they should suffer, and from whom.  Thus Christ has dealt fairly and faithfully with us, in telling us the worst we can meet with his service; and he would have us deal so with ourselves, in sitting down and counting the cost.”

That we might then  hear this passage this summer morning, be confirmed in our faith, and that we might be prepared and strengthened in heart and mind and body for the steeper climbs that are bound to come sooner or later as we walk with him the Way of the Cross. Persecution turns out in some difficult way to be good news.  Not that we would seek it out, but that when it comes, it comes with the assurance that we continue in his care.  That we experience a reinforcement in faith, as we share in his suffering.   Remembering the unsettling conclusion of the opening Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5, “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.” 

In recent weeks of course we’ve read and heard a good deal about renewed and reenergized and horrific persecution of Christians in places like Nigeria and Sudan, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt.  Story in the New York Times this morning about a young Christian convert from Afghanistan who lives in hiding and fearful of attack from his own family.  Assaults and murders, homes and churches fire-bombed, women and children brutalized.  Whole communities living under a shadow, in fear, because they are associated with the name of Christ.  And in those moments some amazing stories of courage and faith.  To read about them, to remember them daily in our thoughts and our prayers.  (And please do.)  Inspiring and I think humbling, and perhaps their stories and those prayers as we open our hearts and our imaginations will re-frame our own stories with a gentle discipline.  Seems odd to read about these things while I’m eating my Cheerios and drinking my coffee in the early morning, before heading out into the sunshine of a bright Pittsburgh day.  Thinking about priorities and identity, and with questions of character and value.  What is really important in my life?  Could I withstand the challenges they face?  Just so hard to know.

Certainly to be thankful to live in a local context where this kind of suffering isn’t a part of our day to day reality.   But not closing ears to the cries of those who are suffering so far away, and as well and importantly  to have in our minds that well-known word from Jesus in the 12th chapter of St. Luke’s gospel, about stewardship.  Including I suppose how we use our material resources, but in a wider frame than the annual pledge campaign.  What we do with our lives.  In any event, Luke 12: 48, “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required.”  As we pray for our brothers and sisters and fellow Christians around the world, probably to say that the best way to put that prayer into action has to do with being faithful where we are.

At the conference I attended last week one of the points of reflection and conversation about our lives and ministries we explored by brainstorming some familiar phrases about vocation, and what came to my mind at one point with great affection,  but also in a way that was and is a little challenging, was the title of the Oswald Chambers famous book of meditations, “My Utmost for His Highest.”  Is that what we can be about?  Every day, every day,  to be a day of discernment and stewardship, and to offer my best gifts,  as we so often say in one of the Post-communion Prayers, “send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord, with gladness and singleness of heart.”  For this first Sunday of the summer.  My utmost, for his highest.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Saturday, June 14, 2014


I'm very thankful that my good friend and colleague the Rev. Kathy LaLonde will preach and preside at St. Andrew's tomorrow morning while I complete my week at the CREDO II Conference in Delray Beach, Florida.

I would share this link to a lovely setting of "I Arise Today," the poem attributed to Patrick of Ireland and so often sung in an adapted version on this feast.  

St. Patrick's Lorica

Sunday, June 8, 2014


Grace and peace on this Feast Day of the Holy Spirit--the conclusion and grand finale of 10 days of Ascensiontide and the long and rich 50-Day Easter Season.  Trumpets and flourishes.  A dazzling moment.   The traditional name “Whitsunday” from “White Sunday,” and referring to the historical status of this day as a baptismal festival, in those ancient days when the liturgical colors for the day would have been not Red for the Spirit but all Easter resurrection white and gold, in the fresh baptismal robes of the newly baptized.

The holiday Shavu’ot, on the Jewish calendar 50 days after Passover, the celebration of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and in all ways the perfect day for Holy Spirit.  A perfect day.  My childhood friend Martin Cohen, now a professor of anthropology out in California, told me the other day that if on Thanksgiving we all enjoy turkey and pumpkin pie, on Shavu’ot Jews customarily eat cheese blintzes and cheese cakes.  Very lovely, and a Pentecost tradition I’d like our Hospitality Team to consider for next year!

Why a menu in milk and cheese?  You can look that up.  In Hebraic imagery “the Torah, God’s Word, is likened to milk, as the verse says, "Like honey and milk [the Torah] lies under your tongue" (Song of Songs 4:11). Just as milk has the ability to fully sustain the body of a human being (i.e. a nursing baby), so too the Torah provides all the ‘spiritual nourishment’ necessary for the human soul.” []

Whitsunday.  Pentecost.  In the Old Covenant the Torah is the instrument that transforms and guides and nourishes the Chosen People in the way of holiness and in relationship with God.  The Torah that is the source of identity and purpose for God’s Israel.  And now in the New Covenant given at the Cross and confirmed in Easter we are all in faith gathered in by the Spirit of that same God and made a new people, a chosen nation, a royal priesthood, and now we ourselves just like the first disciples that afternoon in Jerusalem marked as Christ’s own forever and sent forth to do the work he has given us to do, to preach, to teach, to bind up the brokenhearted, to forgive and to bless. Our identity, our purpose.  The New Covenant doesn’t replace the Old, of course.  God speaks himself in the Word of Scripture.  But in these latter days, he speaks himself afresh  in the Son, and in the midst of our he speaks himself in the Holy Spirit.  The Torah and God’s one holy Word continues to stand in its definitive way in our midst.  Now fulfilled and perfected.  Shavu’ot, Whitsunday, Pentecost.

And in the New Testament reading for this Pentecost morning, with all the jumble of the many tongues of the Gospel echoing around us, Jesus says, “as the Father sends me, so I send you.”

It’s a bit of a turn-around.  So often we talk about our lives as Christians in vocabulary about where we “go.”  A new neighbor might notice that our car rolls out of the driveway regularly on Sunday mornings and ask, “Where do you go to church?”   And we might reply, and I hope we would, “St. Andrew’s—it’s a great church, and perhaps you’d like to come with us next Sunday?”

But Jesus on that first Easter evening isn’t saying, “this is a really great Upper Room, and I hope you all will keep coming back here Sunday after Sunday, and bring your friends.” Let’s hear that as we get read to celebrate the great conclusion of our “Opening Doors” campaign this September.   Jesus doesn’t say, “come back here.”  He  says, “as the Father sends me, now I am sending you.”  Out from here, unlocking the locked doors, and certainly as we heard in the traditional reading from Acts this morning, out into the streets, out where the people are who aren’t in the Upper Room with them.  Who haven’t heard the news.  Who are lost, broken, hurting, and without the slightest idea how to move out of that psychological underworld, the realm of the dead.  Who yearn even though they don’t have the words for that honest meeting, not for pleasing superficial feel-good affirmation, but for a real assessment, and for the possibility not of another anaesthetic, but for real healing, real peace, mercy and forgiveness. 

This day not about where we go on Sunday mornings, but about where Jesus sends us, about the people, the life-situations, waiting for his presence.  Waiting in darkness for the light of his Holy Spirit, which would be burning and shining forth in us like those tongues of fire over the disciples as they tumbled out the door all those centuries ago to tell the news.

Nothing small about this.  Not just crumbs falling from the table.  But cheesecake!  Cheese blintzes!  ““the Torah, God’s Word, is likened to milk, as the verse says, "Like honey and milk [the Torah] lies under your tongue" (Song of Songs 4:11). Just as milk has the ability to fully sustain the body of a human being (i.e. a nursing baby), so too the Torah provides all the ‘spiritual nourishment’ necessary for the human soul.” []

What the soul needs, what the world is yearning for.  To whom we are sent.  From this place.  Doors opening out, swinging wide.  For what the world needs.  Jesus.  The one who is the first and the last.  What you and I need first, who we need first: and then out in expanding circles, wider and wider.  Going out from here: Whitsunday,  Shavu’ot, Pentecost.   And in him, reaching out through us,  healing, peace, mercy, forgiveness.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.