Sunday, July 28, 2013

Tenth after Pentecost

 (Proper 12C2) Ps. 138;  Galatians 2: 6-19; Luke 11: 1-13

Grace and peace this morning.  I know I’m very thankful for my friends Dan Hall and Phil Wainwright, two priests for whom I have just the highest degree of affection and respect, and I hope your Sundays with them to preach and preside at these services were all good.  Sometimes people on my first Sunday after vacation will say, “Oh, you’re back already?”  And perhaps with a little twinge of disappointment—just to let me know that the supply clergy have been doing a great job in the interval! 

Prayer at the center of our appointed readings this morning.  

The fourth verse of the psalm, Psalm 138, speaks with a kind of assurance that is I think not always my experience, anyway, and least in the present tense.  “When I called, you answered me.”   More often I find myself saying, “Here I am calling, Lord.  Where is your answer?”  Not very often anyway does it come as an instant messenger reply, immediately and in real time.  Perhaps sometimes a sudden bolt of insight and sense of God’s clear direction.  But mostly if I can pray along with the psalmist at all here it is only in one of those long time frames of reflection.  How I can look back perhaps over days, months, years, decades, to see how God’s answer is given.  Sometimes because the answer itself was long in coming.  Sometimes perhaps because whatever answer there is has been given in a vocabulary that I was not in the moment able to interpret and understand.  So often even when I think I know how the prayer is answered, I can see in the perspective of years that my first take was off base, or at least far too limited.  In this way perhaps an echo of the familiar illustration of the footprints in the sand.  “Where were you Lord, when I needed you?  I look behind me on this lonesome journey and see only one set of footprints on the sand.”  And the reply, “I’ve been carrying you the whole way.” 

What Jesus talks about here in this passage from Luke not about some magical formula or incantation, but about an attitude that is persistent in relationship.  About prayer that is not a spell or charm, not a Christmas Wish List, but instead an act of mind, body, emotion, spirit, will, of holding on.  Trusting. 

I’ve mentioned a number of times a book about Christian life and ministry that was very influential for me.  A priest named Barry Miller, at that time the Rector of the Episcopal Church in Nevada City, California, more than 30 years ago gave it to me as a gift.  Eugene Peterson’s “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.”  Peterson a Presbyterian pastor and scholar, so perhaps nice to think of him as we worship in this Chapel.  The book a series of mediations on what are sometimes called the Psalms of Ascent—psalms associated with the journey that people would take as they were on their way up into the hill country to Jerusalem for the celebration of festivals.  Pilgrim psalms. 

Not to get too far into the book this morning, but to say that I think what touched me so much on reading it is similar to an aspect of monastic culture and life when I spent my sabbatical ten years ago reflecting on what St. Benedict continues to have to say in the life of the Christian family.

I like to conjure up the image of the typical young Benedictine novice beginning his exploration of religious life.  How after the taking of his first vows he would be taken by the novice master and shown around.  “From now on this place in the refectory will be where you eat your meals.  From now on this desk in the choir is where you will pray your psalms and sing the office. Brother John on your left, Brother Thomas on your right.  From now on this bed in the dormitory will be where you sleep.  And over here, in this plot of the cemetery, is where you will be buried.” 

You will have great adventures—of the mind, the heart, the imagination.  Insights and moments of great creativity.  Spiritual depth and struggle, joy and sorrow.  The journey of a lifetime in all its richness.  Within the enclosure of these walls, and with these imperfect companions.

It is kind of countercultural, whether here in the 21st century or in the 11th century or in the first century.  Commitments make us nervous.  Distant pastures look greener, somehow.  Always thinking that the next thing will be better than the last thing.  We all of us I think suffer from a kind of Attention Deficit Disorder.  As the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.”  Variety:  the spice of life. 

You know the image of Susy’s favorite movie, the Harold Ramis film “Groundhog Day.”  The Bill Murray character stranded for an eternity in Punxatawney, lost, restless, yearning to be somewhere else, anywhere else.  An endless circle of untethered despair.  Until in the end his heart is opened by love, and he is able to take wonderful Andie McDowell by the hand and to look out at the snow-covered streets of Punxatawney, and to say, “Let’s live here.” 

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.  Thinking about that this morning in the reading from the second chapter of Colossians.  Paul writing to his young Christian community with the urgent prayer that they not get swept away by the Next Big Thing.  (Note capital letters: N ext B ig T hing.)  That they not let the most recent philosophical or religious fad or trend or pop-star guru or evangelist push them off their moorings. Running off one way or another in search of the next mountaintop experience.  Lost among the dazzling titles in the Barnes and Noble Christianity shelf.  That they show some real and well-grounded maturity of purpose as they hear what might at first sound like seductive invitations to add to the pure gospel message that he has shared with them, and that had been the foundation of their new life in Christ.  He’s not telling them not to be informed, not to engage. Not to read, not to think.  Not telling them to bury their heads in the sand.  But what he is telling them, in the security of the gospel, the Cross, the Resurrection, the forgiveness of sins, life everlasting: Let’s live here.  Hold on to Christ and Christ alone—“for in him, Paul says, “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness . . . .”  You don’t need anybody else.  You won’t need anybody else.  Ever.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Phil Wainwright's Sermon, July 21, 2013

Colossians 1.15-28

If you were here last week you heard Dan Hall, an Episcopal priest on the
staff of First Lutheran Church downtown, preaching salvation by faith, not
works. And he mentioned that the belief that we are put right with God by
doing the right thing was what made Paul write his letter to the Christians
in Colossae, from which we heard a passage this morning. So I thought I
would follow up his theme, and see how Paul recommends that the Colossians,
and anyone else stuck in the same misunderstanding, can find an antidote to
the idea that we can please God by what we do, can get back on track and
move ahead.

So let’s look at the passage printed in the leaflet, from cap 1, vv 15-28.
First Paul reminds us just Who we are talking about when we talk about

15-17: [The Son, Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of
all creation; for in Him all things in heaven and on earth were created,
things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or
powers--all things have been created through Him and for Him. He Himself is
before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

This is pretty radical stuff. Just think about it. None of us can see God;
but if we want to know what God is like, we have only to look at His visible
image: Jesus Christ. 'He who has seen me has seen the Father,' Jesus Himself
said (John 14:9). Jesus makes God visible. And what He makes visible is
first God’s power, and second God's love. It's God’s power that Paul
stresses first, because in that is the antidote to the myth that we can
please God with what we do in our lives. So what we see when we look at
Jesus is the one Who made everything, the one to Whom everything belongs,
the one in charge of everything, everything. Thrones and dominions and
rulers and powers are all names for legions of angels in Jewish tradition.
We sometimes think of angels as beings of a high spiritual nature, but they
are created beings, and Jesus makes them His servants. Jesus himself tells
us that He could have summoned twelve legions of them if it were His will to
do so. But not only angels: it's all things; all things have been created
through Him and for Him. In Him all things hold together: His power keeps
all things in existence. Even you and me. We would not take another breath
if it were not for Jesus sustaining us by His word of power, as the epistle
to the Hebrews puts it.

Paul stresses all this because it's so easy only to see a good man when we
look at Jesus, and it is when we see Him as only a man that we feel the need
to do the right thing, instead of admitting that we don't do the right
thing, and just trusting His word of salvation anyway.

The point made in v 18, He is the head of the body, the church, sounds at
first like just another way in which Jesus is supremely in control of
things, but in fact Paul is introducing the way in which we can have faith
in the ruler of the universe, trust the ruler of the universe, rather than
just admire (or fear) His power. Jesus invites the whole world into His
body, the church; by putting our faith in Him rather than ourselves we enter
that relationship with Him, and He becomes our 'head', in all the senses of
that word. The person in charge of our lives, yes, but also the means by
which we think and make judgements. Something with which enjoy a
relationship all the time. And remember that 'church' here does not mean
what we so often mean, which is just our local church, or on those rare
occasions when we're thinking globally, our denomination. It means all those
whose faith is in Christ, whether they are Catholic or Protestant, black or
white, old or young, educated or ignorant, rich or poor. All those who
relate to Christ as the organs relate to the brain in a human body, those
whose actions are determined, to the extent that their ability to respond
permits, by His will, not their own. Those who follow where He leads, for He
is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have
first place in everything. The first born, but not the only one; those who
follow Him will also be born again from the dead, will rise with Him and
eventually reign with Him. Where Jesus leads, we follow; if we are not
following, He is not leading, but leaving--leaving us behind, with our own
miserable best our only hope, which is no hope at all. Because when Dan said
that Jesus was all we need, that our own good works can't do what Jesus can
do, he wasn't exaggerating. If the creator of the universe is not enough, if
the one in Whom all the fullness of God lives is not enough, well, I don't
know where you're going to find something better, but I'm pretty sure it
won't be in you or me. If He is not enough, no good work of yours or mine is
going to be better. If you think that God is going to be impressed when you
say 'I did my best', I'd think again. God offers me all His fullness, but I
politely ignore Him and say I thought it would be better if I just did my
best instead? I don't think so.

Having made God's power visible, Paul then, and only then, goes on to show
how Jesus makes God's love visible. He reminds us what Jesus has done for us
and how we are to take advantage of it. Jesus has reconciled sinful people,
people whose best can never be enough, so as to present them to God holy and
blameless and irreproachable--'provided that you continue securely
established and steadfast in the faith'. Not provided that you always did
your best, not provided that you never harmed anyone, not even provided that
you went to church regularly, but provided that you continue securely
established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope
promised by the gospel that you heard. That's how we become right with God:
by being securely established in our faith in Christ, steadfast in it, and
refusing to shift from it no matter what.

This faith puts us right with God, reconciles us to God, in Paul's phrase.
For in Him [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and
through Him God was pleased to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on
earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of His cross.
Reconciled to God. Reconciliation always means change, whether it's leaving
behind anger and resentment or simply being willing to do something that isn’t
our favourite thing to do, and in vv 21 and 22, we see exactly what change
God is bringing about.  Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in
your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now He has reconciled you.
When we hear a phrase like evil behaviour, we think of some pretty awful
stuff, murder and robbery and adultery and pornography and stuff like that.
But the Bible's list of evil behaviour includes stuff that everyone of us
has personal experience of, stuff that most of us insist is not sin when we
do it: envy, backbiting, gossip, anger, bitterness, fear, selfishness. Every
one of us has been an enemy to God because of our indulgence of these things
in our hearts, but we became reconciled to Him when we said 'Lord, you’ve
told me this isn't Your will for me, but I don't seem able to change, please
help me!' And God says, look at Jesus: because of Christ's sacrifice on the
cross, God looks past our disobedience to the One who never did anything but
the Father's will.

And that One, the creator of all things, dealt with our sins through His
death on the cross. Christ died for us: it was through death that He is able
to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him--provided
that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without
shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard. This is the
gospel, the gospel of reconciliation. We have been reconciled, and we offer
reconciliation to others. We don't pretend they're not sinners, and we don't
leave the church because there are sinners in it, but we reach out in
reconciliation those still alienated.

When we don't seem to be achieving much in the way of reconciliation with
others, we find our opportunity to be Christ at work in the world: v 24,
what I suffered for you, Paul says, speaking about the fact that there was
all this evil behaviour by those to whom he was bringing the gospel, is I,
Paul, filling up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's
afflictions, for the sake of His body, which is the church. We bear with the
sins of others, bear one another's burdens is how he put it when he was
writing to the Galatians, remember, for the same reason Christ bore our
sins, so that we could be reconciled to one another as well as to God
through Christ's blood, shed on the cross. Most of us do not want to bear
the burdens of others. When we see someone we are sure is a dreadful sinner,
we want to avoid them. If they are in our church, we may even be tempted to
leave the church or kick them out of the church. But Paul says that
following Christ means suffering for the sake of those sinners, bearing
their burdens just as Christ bore ours, in the hope that they will come to
see that their only hope is following Christ rather than their own minds, or
hearts, or traditions.

But all this is dependent on continuing securely established and steadfast
in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you
heard. And Paul suggests that the way to maintain faith is to grow in faith.
If we stay at the same level of faith that we have now, it won't be long
before it won't seem enough for us, and we'll try to supplement it with some
good deed or some new belief or some ritual, and without our even noticing
it will have become something other than faith in Christ. In order to be
securely established in the faith in a way that keeps us right with God, we
have to grow in the knowledge of Christ. That's what Paul means in 1.25 when
he says I have become the Church's servant to make the word of God fully
known. 'Fully known' means 'known through and through', known to the point
that there's nothing left to learn. Known better tomorrow than we know

It’s an interesting concept: a light version and a full version of God's
word, a beginner's version and a fully known version. The light version is
what we know now, no matter how much we know; the fully known version is
what is ahead of us, what we will know as we learn more. Look at v 28, the
last one in our reading: It is He (Christ) Whom we proclaim, warning
everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present
everyone mature in Christ. Mature in Christ. Knowing as much about Christ as
could be learned in the life-span God gave us. Learning something more about
Jesus every day of our lives. That's why Paul proclaims Him... so that [he]
may present everyone mature in Him. Knowing Jesus better and better, loving
Him more and more, following Him further and further, is the way to grow in

What a high calling. To be part of Christ's body, to be united to the one
who made the heavens and the earth, who keeps all things in being by His
word of power, to the image of the invisible God--that has to be worth
aiming at no matter what difficulties arise. No matter how inarticulate we
get when someone asks us to explain it. The sufferings of this present time
are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us. Let us
continue to proclaim Him, to praise Him, listen to Him, learn from Him, and
follow Him, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we
may be presented mature in Christ, securely established and steadfast in the
faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that we have

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Dan Hall's Sermon, July 14, 2013

Sermon for St. Andrews—July 14, 2013

The Discussion with the Self-Righteous Lawyer

I am delighted to be with you this morning while Bruce is away on some well deserved vacation. You seem to be managing well in your itinerant and peripatetic worship here at PTS while your own building is under renovation. As a bivocational priest who does a fair amount of supply work, it is my particular joy to worship with different communities throughout the region and enjoy some of the wonderful variety of people and personalities that make up the body of Christ we call the Church. Thank you for having me.

The gospel text this morning is one of the most familiar parables of the entire bible. It is a story that has seeped into the fabric of our culture and history so much that being a “Samaritan” is simply understood to mean somebody who is merciful and kind beyond the usual call of duty. Indeed, when I was growing up outside of Boston in the 1970s and 80s, there was an advertising company that organized “Good Samaritan” vans that patrolled the beltway during rush hour to help stranded motorists.  If your radiator over heated, or if your drive belt broke, or if you got a flat tire, the CVS Good Samaritan Van was there to help you out of the jam—free of charge—as a way to build good publicity for CVS or any number of other corporate sponsors whose logo was painted on the side of the mobile repair shop.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is a lovely story with a tried and true moral message about how to be a good person who, in the idiom of contemporary bumper stickers, practices random acts of kindness. And I suspect that something along these lines ran through your mind when you heard Jean read this story yet again. You see, we typically take this parable as instruction that we should show mercy to the outcast, the oppressed and the down-trodden. It is difficult and demanding work, but it is the hard work to which we are called, so man up and put your shoulder to the plow as we till the fields for justice.

Such a reading is all well and good, and I’m all for working to bring justice to the poor, the outcast and the oppressed.  But I’d like to suggest that it is NOT what the parable is about. The parable may be about the Good Samaritan, but the scripture passage from Luke is about the lawyer. In fact, I think we would better see the point if we knew this story as the Discussion with the Self-Righteous Lawyer rather than the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Let me explain.

First, notice that Jesus is not talking to the Samaritan. The Samaritan is a fictional character described by Jesus in his discussion with a lawyer. And for the lawyer, Jesus wants to make a very specific point.  Did you catch it?

The lawyer wants to test Jesus, so he asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. As an expert in Jewish law, the lawyer is trying to test Jesus’ sophistication in the highly technical field of Torah study. The lawyer accurately summarizes the commandments into the single teaching that we are to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. And Jesus agrees. But the lawyer is not satisfied because, as the Luke writes, he wanted to “justify himself”.  So in an attempt to justify himself, he asks, “And who, precisely, is my neighbor”.

To understand his question, you need to know that in the context of the Jewish law, the obligation to love the neighbor was narrowly circumscribed around the Jewish people. The obligation to others was binding only for other Jews. And it was certainly not binding for the Romans who occupied the land, or the other gentiles that worked the bustling trade routes through Palestine. It was not even binding for the other Semitic peoples of the region, such as the Samaritans, who claimed to worship the same God as the Jews, but did not recognize the temple in Jerusalem on Mount Zion as the center of worship life.  Instead, the Samaritans had their own temple on near by Mount Gerazim.

For the lawyer in the gospel reading, the obligation to love the neighbor applied only to other Jews. And when the law was so narrowly circumscribed, you can understand how the lawyer might think that he had actually satisfied the terms of the law. You can see how he might think that he had successfully loved God and neighbor as commanded in the Torah, and having done so, he thought himself justified. He was looking for confirmation that he would inherit eternal life (which was a hope of many Jews of the time). His hope was in the law given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, and from the point of view of a faithful Jew, placing trust in God’s law was meet and right so to do.

But of course, the point of Jesus’ parable is that the law is MUCH more demanding than the lawyer presumes. Jesus shows the lawyer what neighborliness means. And in so doing, Jesus pulls the rug out from under the lawyer’s self-righteous confidence in his ability to fulfill the terms of the law.  Jesus’ words to the lawyer are intended not as moral guidance, but as judgment. The parable does not instruct, it convicts. Jesus shows the lawyer how far he has fallen from the expectation of the law. He shows him that, contrary to his self-righteous attitude, he stands convicted by the law—not justified.

And so it is with each and every one of us. Can any of us honestly examine our conscience and find ourselves blameless under the terms of the 10 commandments? And when we moralize the parable of the Good Samaritan to mean that God has even higher expectations of us when it comes to serving the needs of others, that parable turns around on us like lighting. If we think that we are to be like the Good Samaritan, we either burn ourselves out in a doomed attempt to fulfill the law, or we merely delude ourselves like the lawyer into thinking that we have somehow managed to punch our ticket to eternal life by being a good enough Samaritan.

But under this higher and more stringent standard, it is even less likely that we can honestly claim to have met the terms of the law without fault. Like the self-righteous lawyer, and like St. Paul, St. Augustine, Martin Luther, Thomas Cranmer, and every serious Christian throughout history, we each and all stand convicted before the law, utterly unable to fulfill its demands.

That’s the bad news. Any hope we might have that ignores or soft-pedals our terminal diagnosis as sinful creatures is false hope. The good news, however, is the gospel of grace. Through Jesus, God promises to forgive our sin and make us a new creation in baptism. The entire arc of Luke’s Gospel drives toward this mystery and this promise. That is, after all, why they call the gospels, “gospel”.  The word literally means “good news”.

And it is the good news of Jesus that remains the focus of the rest of the New Testament. God’s promise of forgiveness that frees us from the stringent requirements of the law is precisely the focus of all Paul’s preaching. You will remember that Paul was just like the lawyer in Luke’s Gospel. Before his conversion, he persecuted Christians, self-righteously confident in his own ability to fulfill the terms of the law.  As he writes to the church in Philippi: “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ.”

When it comes to forgiveness and eternal life, the only thing that matters, and everything that matters is Jesus. And that is Paul’s point in his letter to the church in Colossae that we begin reading today. In the opening sentences of that letter, Paul reminds us that God “has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

But as you will see over the next 3 Sundays as you continue to read Paul’s letter to the Colossians, the Christians in Colossae were falling into a familiar trap. Surely, they thought, there must be something more required of us.  There must be something more that we must do—something we must do to earn salvation.  And they began to create new obligations about purity and ritual. They created expectations to avoid eating certain foods and touching certain unclean objects. They created expectations to worship in a particular way, observing “festivals, new moons and Sabbaths”. In short, they began to think that Jesus was not enough. They began to think that they needed to add something to Jesus’ promise of salvation because it seemed too easy.  Like us, they wanted the sense of security found in clear rules and expectations.  They wanted a set of behaviors that they could accomplish and in so doing find justification before God. In short, the Christians in Collasae were just like the lawyer in Luke’s gospel.  They wanted to justify themselves before God by fulfilling the terms of a law.  And they wanted it so badly that they started to invent a new set of laws that would be binding on Christians.

The promises of legal justification are so tempting. Give me a clear set of expectations and I can set about the task of fulfilling those expectations with skill and efficiency. Those expectations are so comfortable that we often end up inventing them to make us feel better. Like the Christians in Colossae, we end up looking for something more that we can do. We latch on to something visible in which we can put our trust.  But the point of both Paul’s letter to the Colossians and Luke’s parable of the Good Samaritan is the same: Jesus and Jesus alone frees us from our bondage to sin.  It is Jesus and Jesus alone who frees us from the stringent requirements of the law, literally nailing those requirements to the cross. And it is on Jesus and Jesus alone on whom our hope is founded. Hope in the law’s power to justify is false hope. Hope in Jesus’ promise to forgive is the sure foundation of our faith, and it is hope that you can trust.

Hoping to get to heaven by being a Good Samaritan?  Think again. Hoping that your work on the millennium development goals or inner city soup kitchens will lead to eternal life? Good luck with that. Hoping you can save yourself by eating hormone free, grass fed, free range, locally sourced food? Fat chance. Hoping your prayers will get preferential treatment for setting them in 6 part harmony in the context of tasteful liturgy? Not likely. But trusting that Jesus will show up as promised in bread and wine and water for the forgiveness of sins? You can take that to the bank. All you will ever need is right here. And his name is Jesus.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Seventh after Pentecost

(Proper 9C2) Isaiah 66: 10-14
Baptism of Brycen Charles Harris

Good morning on this summer Sunday.  Something of an extended holiday weekend for some, I know, as sometimes happens when Independence Day falls on a Thursday or a Tuesday.  For me this year personally also something of a watershed weekend—and with thanks to all who were able to join us yesterday afternoon for a fun celebration of my 60th over in the Churchyard and in the Old Rectory at St. Andrew’s.   Someone said that it seemed like we were out in that same Churchyard just the other day celebrating my 50th—and indeed it does seem like time is flying by, and with this summer marking the completion of 19 years and the beginning of my 20th year of ministry with you in this great parish.  Certainly it has been such a great gift in more ways than I can possibly count.  So with thanks. 

And perfect this morning for a baptism.  Brycen Charles Harris.  A  splash of water.  New life.  Summer all around us, and once again before us as a congregation we would have that Steven Covey line, “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  We have so much on our minds these days in the busyness of our lives.  But to come to center with the questions Brycen’s parents and godparents will answer on his behalf this morning, and which we would also have before us.  The questions and, most importantly, the answers that give us framework for Christian life.  Three about repentance.  Turning away from the old.  And three about conversion of life.  Moving in a new direction.  Just to hear them here as emphasis:

Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?  Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?  Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?  Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?  Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?  Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?

To answer, each one of us, renewing the covenant of baptismal life: I do, I do, I do. Whenever I hear this I catch my breath in wonder.  Turning away decisively from the Old Enemy.  Turning to Christ.  Everybody into the pool!

We would remember the hymn we sang together at the end of last Sunday’s service.  The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.  The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.  Brycen’s mom Anna and dad Mike and big brother Bradley are newer members of our St. Andrew’s family.  It has been wonderful to get to know them and I know it is a delight for all of us to celebrate with them and with their family and friends this morning in this way. If you haven’t met them, this is a great day for it, and hope you have a chance to get acquainted over a cup of lemonade after the service.  Right to the heart of what it means to be a Christian fellowship and community.

Laetare Ierusalem.  If the reading from Isaiah sounds familiar, we would remember that this is the text of the canticle for the first words in the traditional Latin Mass Introit for the Fourth Sunday in Lent. The 10th of March this past spring, when there was still snow on the ground and in the middle of a long winter.  Refreshment Sunday.   Laetare Sunday:  Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled . . . . 

The brutal and devastating war and siege of Jerusalem, leaving the Holy City a smoking ruin, surrounded by a valley of bones, the young men of a generation lost in battle, families ruined, homes destroyed, the sacred precincts of the Temple ransacked by the invading army.  A few terrified survivors scattered to the hills or marched off in chains as prisoners, settled finally in years to come in a diaspora of desolate slums and refugee camps across the deserts and villages and towns of Babylonian Iraq and Persia and Egypt.  For seventy years, seventy years of exile, until finally by the hand of God the fall of one empire and the rise of another means that the refugees can return home, to return, with their sorrows and memories and now, for the first time in as long as most of them can remember, with hope for a future.  

Comfort, comfort ye my people.  Returning to the Land of Promise, spreading out before them as their ancestors had first after four hundred years of slavery and after a generation with Moses in the Wilderness caught a glimpse of the Land flowing with Milk and Honey.  A Promised Land for a Chosen People.  Now to build again, on the deep foundation of God’s sacred gift.  I will be your God, and you will be my people, and I will not forsake you, says the Lord.  Not ever.  All the peoples of the world are to be blessed through you.  “As a mother comforts her child so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.  You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice.”  Laetare Jerusalem. Rejoice.

The real meaning, the true meaning of Isaiah’s ancient song of Israel could not be known, of course, until it was revealed to the women who came to the Tomb on Easter morning, and then to the rest of the disciples, and then is revealed to us—then, to us--when Lent gives way to Easter morning, when the Old Israel of God is transformed and revealed and fulfilled in the Body of the Risen Lord.  God from God, Light from Light.  Very God of very God.  Word made flesh.  The Truth of all time and space.  The Body in which, in whom, we now live and move and have our being.  The Body made present for us with comfort and with rejoicing at the Font, and in the whole company of faithful people.  The New Jerusalem of God, Christ himself, present here in us already, and for us, in Word and Sacrament, and soon to come again with a rejoicing we can only begin this morning to imagine.  Rejoice, Jerusalem!  Rejoice indeed!

And to continue in that rejoicing, I would ask Brycen’s mom and dad and brother and his godparents now to come forward with him, and we would turn to our Service Leaflets and the Order for Holy Baptism.

Saturday, July 6, 2013


My sister Anne was sweet to unearth a couple of photos and so assist in the celebration of my 60th birthday, which was Friday, July 5 . . . .