Sunday, July 31, 2011

Seventh after Pentecost

July 31, 2011, Proper 13a

Grace and peace, on this warm midsummer Sunday morning. It is wonderful to be here with you and to be back home, as Susy and I yesterday afternoon arrived home after a couple of weeks up in New England, as we have spent our summer vacations for so many years now.

Scituate, Massachusetts, where a branch of Susy’s family has lived for about 350 years. Susy’s younger brother Mike, whom many of you have met, now has the family home actually where Susy’s mom was born, and we certainly always enjoy a time of summer relaxing by the shore, afternoon swims at the town beach, lots of great meals and conversations. Just a very nice time—though honestly with e-mail and the IPhone I guess we never really cut the cord entirely, and after a week or so I do find myself beginning to think more and more about life here, and am glad to get moving on for the return.

In all that I’m very appreciative of the way Phil Wainwright and Dean Byrom made themselves available for any pastoral concerns that might have come up while I was away, and of course for Joan and Becky and Pete and Liz and all of you for keeping “summer at St. Andrew’s” on track. Probably a lot of that is actually easier when I’m not around to pester and cause problems.

And of course with thanks to Junior Warden Brandon Cooper and Dr. George Knight and our Property Committee for completing the installation of our Church Air Conditioning system and getting that all up and running over the past two weeks. A great relief to us all . . . .

While we were away we did enjoy two Sundays with our friends at St. Luke’s Church in Scituate, and I also found it very meaningful to read the two sermons that Phil preached over these weeks, as they were posted on the Rector’s Page blog (which you can get to by way of the St. Andrew’s website, or just send me an e-mail and I’ll be sure you’re connected, if you’re not already). [Scroll down past this entry in the blog to read Phil's sermons.]

I do learn really so much from Phil especially as preacher and teacher of scripture, and I hope we would all be developing a rich sense of what a gift that it is to have him with us here. Certainly I know I have been richly blessed in this, and really enjoyed reading his reflections on the series of parables in the “Sermon by the Lakeshore” that Jesus preaches in Matthew 13.

Just thinking back to Matthew 13:10, as the disciples ask Jesus, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And his reply: “It has been granted to you to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to these others it has not been granted.” You disciples have me right here with you in this close personal way, but others will need to follow a more indirect path, and these words of mine here will help them find their way. And then at verse 16, “Happy are your eyes, because they see, and your ears because they hear! Many prophets and saints, I tell you, desired to see what you now see, yet never saw it; to hear what you hear, yet never heard it.” Again, to focus on what it means for the disciples to be with Jesus in such a personal and intimate way.

After the Sermon by the Shore Jesus heads on home to Nazareth, where there is something of a buzz about his new fame, and perhaps a little jealousy. That's where he says, "A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown." And then comes the news that John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus and like Jesus a preacher who has caused a great stir among the people—John the Baptist has been arrested by Herod, and then the story of his execution.

It appears to be a dangerous moment for preachers, and Jesus moves away from Nazareth, perhaps hoping to spare his family and friends the danger of Herod sweeping down on them. We might even remember that it is Matthew who had told us just a few chapters back the story of this Herod’s father and the visit of the Wise Men from the East and then, in such a horrifying way, the Slaughter of the Innocents in Bethlehem, which Jesus must have had in mind in this moment of gathering conflict with the authorities. And these days as we read this it’s hard not to be reminded of what so many have been dealing with in Iran and Syria and Somalia and the Sudan. This sense of a gathering storm of violence, and the kind of fear that would take hold.

But then following along in Chapter 14 this morning, and despite the danger, the crowds continue to seek Jesus out. Despite the danger. They’ve heard something in those Parables, they have for themselves begun to catch a glimpse of what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about, and nothing will turn them aside.

And so Jesus continues as well. As I read the stories of these two great miraculous signs I can’t help but think of that famous saying attributed often to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach constantly. When necessary use words.”

Here Jesus we might say begins to preach in a different language, with a vocabulary not of words this time, but to reveal the infinite depth of his divine love in action.

He sees the crowd first, and Matthew says “his heart goes out to them.” And the first stunning miracle: he cures all of them who are sick. No disease in heaven, no brokenness, no decay. The wages of sin is death, but in his presence there is healing and renewal and restoration and abundance of life. And then he lifts up his eyes over the crowd and he senses their hunger. Their physical hunger, but also their deeper spiritual hunger. And there follows the miraculous Feeding of the Five Thousand. Five loaves, two fish. St. John tells us in his account that this small beginning was the gift of a young boy, shared now and increased and multiplied, in abundance, all filled, and even the baskets at the end overflowing. Bread and fish, and blessing, and a glimpse of heavenly banquet. From the beginning Christians have connected this story with the story of the Last Supper, and with the story of the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, as Jesus blessed and broke bread with them, and to know that even as we come forward to the Table of the Eucharist this morning we share with those who were with Jesus in his presence and blessing. More than words. We are lifted up for a moment in anticipation, to the courts of Heaven. The Parables of the Kingdom of Heaven, coming alive in our hearts and in our lives.

I would just pray that it would be so for us all this morning. For each of us as individuals, as we grow in faith and grow into Christ, and for the life of the whole Church in the midst of such troubled times in the wide world. That as we hear the Word of Scripture we are brought into his living presence. That as the Bread is Broken and the Wine is poured out, we would be drawn to him. A desire to conform our lives to his, in obedience and in love. That even now as we affirm our loyalty to him and to him alone, we would begin to know the blessings of his Kingdom.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Guest Preacher

With the Rector on his annual shore leave, the good people of St. Andrew's have heard from our Priest Associate, the Rev. Dr. Philip Wainwright, on Sundays July 17 and 24. His two sermons are shared here. With the Rector's deepest appreciation.

The Parable of the Weeds
Matt 13:24–30, 36–43

In the gospel readings last week and this week and next week, Jesus is telling parables. If you look closely at the gospel reading for this week, you’ll have noticed that we skip some verses, vv 34–43. In those verses Matthew tells us how important parables are: Jesus hardly ever taught without using a parable, Matthew says, and much of His teaching has only been preserved in parable form.

In Matthew 13, the disciples ask Jesus why He teaches in parables. You can sum up Jesus’s answer like this: parables make a point that can be easily rejected or ignored if you don’t like it. Parables are easy to brush off. ‘I don’t know what he’s talking about, first the kingdom of heaven is like mustard, then it’s like a pearl, then it’s like yeast, now it’s like a field—I can’t make sense of it, I’m not going to bother with it.’

Parables make their point in a way that is easy for us to miss, and if we’re not really determined to learn from Jesus, we will misunderstand them. The first step in understanding any parable is the belief that Jesus has something to teach us which only He can teach us, and which we want to learn. When you approach the parables in that spirit, you find that they always have something new to teach you.

So in that spirit, let’s look at the parable of the weeds, that Jesus tells in today’s gospel. It’s a good place to start if you’re not familiar with parables as a teaching tool, because it’s one of only two parables that Jesus explains. Usually, He doesn’t do that; He simply tells the parable and says no more, or says something along the lines of ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’ With this parable, Jesus also takes the time to teach us how parables work, how He uses them to teach. But even in His explanation, He doesn’t cover everything, but leaves us with something to discover for ourselves, as we’ll see.

The parable is in vv 24–30. A farmer sows good wheat seed in his field, but when it grows, weeds turn out to be growing right there with the wheat. The weeds have grown from seed that has also been deliberately sowed, but by the farmer’s enemy, v 28 says. The farm workers say ‘don’t worry Mr Farmer, we’ll pull them up’, but the farmer says no, don’t do that, in case you pull up the wheat too. We’ll sort them out when we harvest them.’ That’s the parable.

Then in vv 38 and 39, Jesus explains the parable: the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; the weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Then he adds some wonderful fire and brimstone stuff about the ultimate fate of the weeds, but I don’t need to dwell on that with all of you, because I’m sure all of you are already eager to be sons and daughters of the kingdom, not of the evil one. If you’re not, you can think about those verses while I stress a couple of other points instead.

The sower is God, of course, but who are the servants of the sower? Jesus’s explanation doesn’t mention them. This is one of those areas where Jesus has left us something to discover for ourselves. If the sower is God, these are the servants of God; they could be angels, who are certainly servants of God, but Jesus says that in this parable the angels are the harvesters, the reapers. So I think in this parable the servants must be God’s human servants, not God’s angelic servants. In other words, you and me, members of the church, all those who are trying to do God’s work in the world. And if that’s true, there are a couple of important reminders for us in this parable that I’d like you to think about.

First, notice that these servants don’t really understand how God is working, do they? First they appear to think that God sowed the weeds as well the wheat, and when God explains that it is Satan who sowed the weeds, they think the proper thing to do is to pull up the weeds, and God has to say ‘No, no, don’t do that, you’ll pull up the wheat as well.’ They don’t have a very good understanding of what God is up to, or what to do when God’s work isn’t going the way they think it should. The parable suggests to me that God’s human servants assume that the first idea that comes into their head about God’s work is the right one, and then act on it. And while it’s not in the parable, my experience of God’s human servants suggests that the next thing they do is condemn those who disagree with them about God’s work, and either drive them out of the church, or walk away from them to found their own church. We have very recent experience of this that comes to all our minds, I’m sure, but it’s nothing new or exciting. My experience over the years I’ve been a Christian is that this reaction is not confined to one strand of churchmanship, or one theological approach. No matter where any of us stand on the various issues that divide Christians, we may be wrong, and we need to remember that possibility. We may be jumping to conclusions.

We need to be like the servants in the parable, and be ready to be corrected by God’s word. They thought one thing, God said something different, and they revised their position in the light of God’s word. For us, that means Scripture. If we can’t find support in Scripture, or if those who differ from us can find as much support in Scripture as we can, we need to consider that we’re not hearing the Holy Spirit as clearly as we think. That is the classical Anglican approach: look on p 853 of the Prayer Book, in the catechism, top of the page: We recognise truths to be taught by the Holy Spirit when they are in accord with the Scriptures. The only way to be sure that we are doing what God wants is to follow Scripture.

If we look at ourselves from another point of view in the parable, we see the same lesson being taught us. Let’s think of ourselves not as God’s servants, but as the growing seed, hopefully the ones growing into sons and daughters of the kingdom. In v 30, the Farmer in the parable says ‘Don’t pull up the weeds, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest’. When the Farmer says ‘you might pull up the wheat with the weeds’, He is saying, ‘you can’t always tell the difference between the wheat and the weeds’. The sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one have a lot in common, we look very much alike at times. We think we know which we are, but we only see part of the picture. Only God sees the whole picture. That’s why it’s not our place to judge. Our business is to grow in love and knowledge of Him, His business is to judge.

The wheat is still growing; harvest-time is not until the wheat is fully grown and ripe. God’s people are not yet ready to be harvested, we’re not fully grown. We’re not ripe. Most of us don’t know this. It’s a characteristic of human beings that we all think we’re as good as we’re ever going to get, even as good as anyone could ever expect us to be. Jesus says that God still has some growing for us to do—even those of us who have been His followers for years and years. In our opinion we are ready for harvest now, but God can see we still have some growing to do.

Even when harvest time comes, it won’t be those who are so eager to see the weeds pulled up who are given the job. The angels will do that, Jesus says in v 41. So those who are wrong about God’s will, the weeds, the unfaithful, the disobedient, are not ultimately our concern at all. We can leave them to God, and concentrate on what is our concern, which is growing in faith and love until we have become all God plans for us to be.

This not to say that in the church we shouldn’t try to exercise discipline, of course. The Bible tells us to do that when we can. But we know that even on the human level we sometimes get it wrong, that there are miscarriages of justice; so when it comes to ultimate things, to the world of eternity, it really is best that God and His angels take care of that side of things.

Our business as far as eternity is concerned is ourselves. In this parable Jesus is reminding all of us here today that we’re not yet what God wants us to be. We can ignore His words, or pretend that we don’t know what He is talking about if we like, but how smart is that? And we know it’s true anyway. Jesus is calling us to listen less to our own ideas, and more carefully to God’s word, and to apply it more thoroughly to our lives.

The Kingdom of Heaven
Matthew 13:31–33, 44–52

I mentioned last week that in our Sunday gospel readings we are in a season of parables, and in today’s gospel we get five of them—the parables of the mustard seed, the yeast, the buried treasure, the pearl of great price, and the net full of all kinds of fish. I thought about doing five three-minute sermons, but I have a friend who is a juggler and he seems to have a lot of fun, so I’m going to preach on all five at once and see what happens!

Actually, it’s easy to do because there’s a very important thing that links them all together; the phrase kingdom of heaven. Jesus begins each of these parables by saying The kingdom of heaven is like. And we should also note that last week’s parable, about the wheat and the weeds growing together, was introduced by the same phrase, and so is one more that comes later in Matthew’s gospel, the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. These seven parables, all of them in Matthew’s gospel, and only these seven, are introduced by this phrase. So let’s begin by thinking about what that phrase means.

Now it can’t simply be another way of saying ‘heaven’. We know that from last week’s parable, where the weeds and the wheat were growing together. The good and the bad grow together till the harvest, when the weeds are burned and the wheat brought into the barn. The barn could be heaven, but the parable is not about the harvested wheat, but about the wheat and weeds growing together. It’s about ‘before heaven’. Today’s parable about the net full of all kinds of fish makes the same point: in the net are good fish and bad fish, which will be sorted out later. Then the good fish will go to heaven, and the bad fish to the cat-food factory. But both parables are about life before heaven. Kingdom of heaven refers to something in this life, not the life to come, life before we go to heaven, not life in heaven.

Next, what about that the word kingdom, what does that mean here? It’s not quite what we usually mean by that word. We usually think of a Kingdom as a place. Earthly Kingdoms are places; they have geographical boundaries, which mark the area within which a King—or whoever is the sovereign—has authority. Queen Elizabeth has authority everywhere in the island of Great Britain, but no authority anywhere in the United States. When the Queen visits this country, she loses whatever authority she has in England. Not only does she have no authority, but she comes under the authority of someone else, in this case of Congress. She has to obey laws here that she doesn’t have to obey in her own Kingdom. And so does any congressman who goes to Great Britain. You are under the law of the place you are in, because you are in it, whether you approve of the place’s laws or not, whether you think they are good laws or not.

God’s Kingdom is not that sort of kingdom. His authority is not connected with place. You don’t come under His authority by being in a certain place—even a church. People sometimes talk about the church as though it were that earthly sort of Kingdom, as though when you come into the church, you’re in the place where God’s law operates, and you’d better obey it. People occasionally say things to me at the coffee hour, and then hurriedly add, ‘Oops, I’m not supposed to say things like that in church, sorry!’ But that’s not how God’s kingdom works. No one comes under God’s authority just by coming into a church. God’s Kingdom is not a place, but the human heart; when God is our king, we submit to His authority no matter where we are, and no matter who else claims authority over us. Christians live under His rule by their own free choice, and they live that way wherever they go. That’s why there are no officers with power in God’s Kingdom—Jesus’s disciples were always arguing about that: of course Jesus is in command, but who’s second in command? Who’s next most important, after Jesus? No one, Jesus says. His Kingdom is made up of people who have freely submitted to His authority, so no other officers will be necessary. The only way to be useful in this Kingdom is to be a servant. Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. No hierarchy of power, just Jesus and His servants, some of whom serve other servants as well as Jesus. And all seven parables are about life when you’re the subject of one king while you’re living where another king has authority. They are about living as a Christian in a non-Christian world. When Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like Jesus is saying ‘life under my authority is like, the Christian life is like’.

These parables make important points about Christian living. Those who don’t obey our king aren’t our problem, we heard last week in the parable of the weeds, and the same point is made in the parable of the fish: the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous. Not our job—the angels will do the sorting.

Although there’s more to it than just a repeat of last week’s parable; the parable of the fish tells us something else too. It tells us that the Christian life is like a net, it’s designed to catch people. I will make you fishers of men, Jesus told the disciples when He first called them to be His followers. He sends His followers out to share the good news of salvation in Christ with others, so that those others will be part of the kingdom of heaven too. And we’re to share that news with everyone, to cast that net as wide as we can and fill it as full as we can.

And the other parables in this series also teach us important points about the Christian life. The parables of the mustard seed and the yeast tell us not to stress too much when it seems that our own efforts don’t amount to much. Living the Christian life can seem like a small thing; just trying to obey God’s word in our own lives and helping others in small ways, when the evil in the world seems so powerful and so well-established. Yet the parable of the yeast says that living the Christian life has an effect far beyond itself, an effect on the whole, and eventually spreads far and wide, and the parable of the mustard seed says it may be tiny, but in it is contained something much greater. Like the wheat and the weeds, we can’t see the whole picture; but God can, and He tells us here that there is more going on than we can see in our simple daily walk with Christ, and that we can trust that He is at work in what we do when we are faithful, little though it sometimes seems to us.

The parables of the buried treasure and the pearl remind us that in fact the Christian life is the most valuable thing there is—it’s worth sacrificing everything else in order to be able to have it. It’s certainly worth the criticism you get when you live by what the Bible teaches instead of what the world thinks is right—if that’s the most that you have to put up with because you’re a Christian, you’re getting a real bargain.

We don’t come under God’s authority by being in a certain place, even the church, in fact we don’t come under God’s authority even by being in heaven. Rather, the reverse is true: we enter heaven by being under God’s authority. Not by obeying His authority—only Jesus obeyed God in everything. The rest of us, even the most devoted Christian, disobey God again and again. But not because we reject His authority; we disobey Him because of our own failings, not because we reject His authority. We accept His authority, and when we do disobey Him, we ask His forgiveness and His help in doing better in the future. That’s faith in action—faith that when God says in His word that through Jesus Christ He forgives those who repent, He can be trusted. And it’s that faith that takes us to heaven, and even gives us a taste of heaven in this life. That’s why the Christian life is the Kingdom of Heaven already. It’s worth making sacrifices for. It’s wonderful now, and will be even more wonderful when Christ is all in all.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Fourth after Pentecost

Isaiah 55: 10-13; Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23
Holy Baptism: Ada Alvarez Munson

Grace and peace once again on this summer morning, and a great day for a baptism—which it always is: a great day for a baptism. Ada Alvarez Munson. It was fun and wonderful to watch her grow during her gestational months and certainly as wonderful now to see her in this moment and to celebrate with her mom and dad and her godparents and all her family and friends the great blessings of this holy sacrament. In a way I've had her in mind from the days all the way back four years ago now and more when I first got to know Alison and Clark in the time of preparation for the celebration of their marriage. I knew just intuitively that you guys would have in your lives the foundation of a great family, that you would be wonderful parents, and now that intuition is beginning to be fulfilled . . . .

At the end of Matthew Christ commands his church to go forth, to teach, and to baptize, and it is a privilege and a joy to come together this morning in obedience to that command and in the love that surrounds that obedience. We’ve had quite a few baptisms this year here at St. Andrew’s, and now two, two July Sundays in a row, which is very exciting. Sometimes perhaps sensing God tapping us on the shoulder and saying, “pay attention to this.” And even, “Let’s hear it twice, to be sure we really do hear the word for us.”

We may be invited in this year to allow the sacred mystery of the font to enter into our lives, individually and as a congregation, to give shape to our sense of who we are as Christian people, to be a source of refreshment and renewal in our going forward in mission and ministry.

The two readings for this morning seem to me to be just perfect for a baptismal day. The great song from the second part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. “As rain and snow fall from the heavens and return not again, but water the earth, bringing for 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 . . . . The mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

Like the reading from the Prophet Zechariah last Sunday, this is spoken by the Prophet for that moment when the exiles of Jerusalem are about to return. A word of hope, a word all about renewal, about rededication to the Covenant at the heart of the relationship between God and his people. About the wonderful blessing and power and joy that will burst force in this new beginning. The water of baptism, in the soil of our lives. “Bringing forth life and giving growth.” Wonderful, and may we all have been showered with those baptismal waters this morning.

And something of the same in the famous parable of the Sower and the Seed in Matthew 13. The seed is scattered, and at first the story doesn’t seem too promising. Hard ground, thistles, burning sun. But then there is the seed that is sown now in the fresh new soil of God’s word, and it results in this miraculous and abundant harvest, growth in abundance.

It’s all transformation, new birth, resurrection. In the words of the Easter hymn, “as in Adam all die, but even so in Christ shall all be made alive." The Greek word we translate as "repentance," metanoia, means more than simply a sense of regret for something said or done. It indicates "another thought," or even, "another identity." It is about being changed, deep down, through and through. In repentance at the font we turn from sin and death and we turn to the one who is the Giver of Life. And in him we are changed and made new.

As we have been privileged to be a part of that this morning, and as we are privileged to be a part of that as Christian people again and again. His arms open in blessing—for Ada this morning, and for each of us, as we dedicate ourselves to him, as he comes along side to walk with us, day by day and all our life long.

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

Memorial Service: James Vern Kennedy

Good afternoon friends, and grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. I welcome you to St. Andrew’s on this warm summer afternoon as we would give thanks for the life of Jim Kennedy, as we would hear in scripture and in the ancient prayers of the Church the gospel word of the assurance of God’s continuing love, and of the promise that is for us in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and as we would express our continuing love and care for Pat, Lisa, and Vern and for all those who mourn the loss of such a great man.

Husband. Father and Father-in-Law. Grandfather. Colleague. Friend. Fellow-worker in so many ways in the mission and ministry of Christ’s Church. It is a privilege for me, and I know for our pastoral assistant minister Dean Byrom, and for all of us of St. Andrew’s to be a part of this today, to reflect these past few years as Jim and Pat have been a part of this church family, and I’m honored as well to share this service with my good friend and colleague Tom Phillips, rector of the Fox Chapel Church, where Jim and Pat also worshipped for a number of years, and I think both of us perhaps symbolizing and representing a number of churches in many places, east and west, north and south, where Jim and Pat and their family have contributed and shared in rich ministry in so many ways.

I know I was talking just recently to another friend and colleague, John Bailey, rector of St. Andrew’s up in New Kensington, who worked very closely with Jim some years ago as they developed the Stephen Ministry program when they were both at the Fox Chapel Church, and John was just so very effusive in saying how impressed he was with Jim’s faithful dedication to that work, to say that “it couldn’t have happened without him.” And John and Karen are away this weekend, but I know he is with us also in thoughts and prayers.

Certainly I have known Jim as a man of such great interest and engagement and desire to contribute, to make a difference. How even in the last months of his illness before his death last May he was so very connected and committed to thoughtful conversation, study, reflection. To talk some about his career and about his life in the church. To talk about things known and unknown, questions answered and questions still to be explored.

And just to notice that as we talked about the leaflet for the service here this afternoon we wondered if there was a “patron saint for chemists.” I couldn’t find that exactly, though that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. But Albert of Cologne, Albertus Magnus, revealed himself to us in that bit of research in a wonderful way, one of those early bridge characters in the first years of the scholastic movement and the renaissance, who was chiefly known for his somewhat controversial commitment to the co-existence of science and faith, rejecting neither one nor the other, and pursuing both with energy and enthusiasm. And that seemed just right for Jim. A man of faith, who was a man of inquiring faith, curious, skeptical, questioning, exploring faith. And a man of science, who was in his search for knowledge as well a man who trusted deep down in God’s love and God’s faithfulness.

In this I am so very appreciative of Peter’s reading just now from the Book of Proverbs, in the second chapter, a reading selected by Pat and Lisa and Vern, to speak of the man of wisdom: knowledge and understanding, grounded so completely in the service of God and sharing God’s love for a righteousness and peace among all people. That’s just right for Jim. Touching all the right notes.

As Christian people our Lord stands with us in the full integrity of who we are, and at our very best curious and questioning and creative, energized by the exploration and adventure. And at his Cross he drew us all to himself. In his death, reconciliation and healing.

Bringing restoration, and opening the gate of New Creation: sharing with us that reasonable and holy hope. That where he is now, there we might also be. Rejoicing in God’s love for us in Christ Jesus, we would today give thanks for Jim’s life, and we would look forward to the good things God has in mind for him and for us in the life of the world to come.

As we would remain seated, let’s turn to the service leaflet again, to the middle of page 4, and read together in unison Psalm 100.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Third after Pentecost

July 3, 2011 Third Sunday after Pentecost RCL Proper 9A/Track #2
Zechariah 9: 9-12
Baptism of Arden Marie Bursick

Grace and peace to you on this summer morning, and in the midst of a holiday weekend. And to express my hope that it is a “safe and sane” weekend for you, as the fireworks advertisements used to say, and with much fun all around us, Pittsburgh Regatta and Independence Day and Fourth of July Weekend. And of course with that major holiday and festival next Tuesday. The joke I’ve made in our family, how all over the country people gather for band concerts in the park and picnics and then with glorious fireworks to fill the night sky, all in celebration of the Fourth of July, otherwise known as “Brucemas Eve.” Number 58 for me this year, and time certainly scooting along.

So we have the flag out in front of our house this weekend. Not to celebrate my birthday, of course, but with a sense of enjoyment and pride to acknowledge Independence Day. I don’t personally have anything against the British, of course. (Trust me on this, Phil!)

Actually very much the opposite. And especially here as Anglicans and Episcopalians, as we have received these great traditions of Church architecture and music and of course the Prayer Book and the very meaningful inheritance of sacramental life and apostolic community. I loved watching the recent Royal Wedding, and Susy and I continue with much pleasure from time to time to share memories of the wonderful trip to England that we had back in 2004 as such a generous and unexpected gift from you all in observance of my tenth anniversary as your rector. And we do enjoy spending a bit of time on Sunday evenings when we can with Masterpiece Mystery and are looking forward to the next season of Downtown Abbey. And to the last chapter of the Harry Potter . . . . So on the Fourth of July I don’t get too worked up about terrible old King George III, who in many ways as I’ve read history I’ve come to like, and you won’t find around me really any anti-Tory feeling at all.

In saying that, though, I would also say that I enjoy this weekend and holiday as a time to express what I do feel as a strong sense of patriotism. I’m not blind to the problems, and certainly we have always more to do generation by generation to preserve the great gift of our heritage of a society founded not to protect the powerful but to establish the greatest possible sphere of liberty for the individual. And of course to celebrate the great heroes of our national life, the defining events, from Washington and Adams and Jefferson to Lincoln and right on to our own day. Andrew Jackson and Alexander Graham Bell, Amelia Earhardt and Babe Ruth, Mark Twain and Warren Buffett. It’s a great country. And a culture that has not without some stress, obviously, including a horrific Civil War and all kinds of political and social polarization and distress in pretty much every generation-- but probably even so more successfully here than anywhere else figured out how to expand, grow, and yet also remain distinctive in the context of our more integrated global reality.

So, to all, Happy Fourth of July. Hot Dogs, Yankee Doodle brass bands, Baseball of course, picnics, fireworks. The whole package, and in the great traditions of our Church this a day of offering prayers of thanksgiving and remembrance and of praying for our leaders and for the role our nation plays so importantly among all the nations of the world. The Collect for Independence Day in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, composed by Bishop Edward Lambe Parsons of California: O Eternal God, through whose mighty power our fathers won their liberties of old; Grant, we beseech thee, that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain these liberties in righteousness and peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So I’m thinking all this, this week, in the context and with these readings for this Sunday, Proper 9A, Track Two, in our new lectionary, and on the special festival occasion of the baptism of Arden Marie this morning, and I found myself especially coming back again and again to this reading from the Prophet Zechariah in the ninth chapter—a passage we are most familiar with in reference to the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. “Humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Zechariah was a prophet writing in those very early moments, actually like the prophet Ezekiel and the second part of the Prophet Isaiah, the very beginning of the time of return from exile, as a new empire and Persian administration begins to allow the refugees from the Babylonian wars of the previous generation to return to their homelands. And of course we would imagine that there must have been among those returning and those who were beginning to think about joining in the journey back to Jerusalem a real mixed bag of thoughts and feelings.

Memories, perhaps romanticized and airbrushed, of the glories of earlier days, hopes for the future, plans and even plots and political schemes. What we’re going to do when we get back, how we’ll start things over again. And after all those years in the refugee camps and the general post-war diaspora, a renewal of nationalism. A yearning for the restoration of king and high priest, palace and temple, all the great signs and symbols of the City and the Nation.

And in the midst of this, the Prophet sounds a welcome and gives voice to praise a different kind of King, and a different kind of nation.

It is, and I think we all know this, so tempting at times to experience our hopes and aspirations as they would be focused on political leaders, those at the head of social movements, the great men and great women of charisma and power, influence, holding the levers of control of governments and institutions. I heard a radio news program in 2008 about the phrase, “this is the most important election in our lifetime.” Tracing it as it has been used in one form or another by politicians and candidates in essentially every American election since the early 19th century. The watershed moment. The critical day of decision.

But then to think about disappointments. About how things always turn out to be messier than you thought they would be. You think, if only this candidate could win, if only that party take power. But how even when you may sometimes get the result you want from the election, life goes on in ways you didn’t expect.
But I think this morning, even on a Fourth of July weekend, we hear old Zechariah tapping us on the shoulder. There is a lot of work to do in the neighborhood, the nation, the wide world. Walls to rebuild, cities to reclaim, and of course there will be leaders and institutions and government ahead. Some better than others, I suppose—though it’s always a little problematic to try to make those judgments in real time.

But today at the font with Arden Marie and her family we all of us together celebrate an even more important citizenship. Echoing from the Old Testament prophet: Israel, the Lord’s people, hear the word of the LORD: remember that your true King is coming, remember that God’s plan is bigger than the next election, the next mayor or governor or president: way bigger. Almost to hear Zechariah singing the old hymn: Pride of man and earthly glory, sword and crown betray his trust; what with care and toil he buildeth, tower and temple fall to dust. But God's power,hour by hour,is my temple and my tower.

In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews there is this list of some of the great heroes of the Old Testament, Abel and Norah and Abraham, and these wonderful sentences. “These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”

Strangers and exiles on the earth, seeking a homeland. In the 24th chapter of St. John Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you.” And so we look forward. And so we would celebrate appropriately our citizenship in one country, one homeland, this weekend. Flags and brass bands. But as we do, and as we come to the Font and to the Holy Table this morning, we remember that we are also citizens of that “better country,” learning to live, and to hope, as subjects of the King who comes, as Zechariah sings, “ triumphant and victorious. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

And now let us renew the citizenship we know and look for in Christ, as we would invite Arden Marie Bursick and her mom and godparents to come forward, to begin the service of Holy Baptism.