Sunday, July 11, 2004

an assiduous keeper of the law

Luke 10.25-37

In the name of God the merciful the compassionate the wise:

Word in mouth
Word in ear
Word in heart
We offer here
Through Christ to thee
O Lord our God. Amen.

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the lord your
God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and
with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. ... And who is my neighbor?
Who isn't?

[When I was in Washington DC I was an assiduous keeper of the law. I worked for
a law enforcement agency called the I. R. S. We kept the rules, we made you
keep the rules, we made lots of rules, we made more rules than you could count.
Right across the street from our office was the Smithsonian, "the nation's
attic", which I would visit at lunchtime. It was full of lots of cool stuff,
including a red cardigan sweater with a zipper [knit by Mrs. Rogers for her son
Fred], and, at the time I was there, an exhibit called "Buckaroos in Paradise"
about cowboys in Nevada. It reminded me of the West, of wide open spaces.]

One day in Rockville Maryland, stuck in traffic, between low rolling hills under
a gray gunmetal sky, I thought, I've got to see the stars again. I remembered
pulling off the road out in the desert, and looking across miles and miles of
sage and creosote. With the engine off, there wasn't a sound. Some months later,
headed west toward seminary, we were halfway across Nevada climbing a hill in
the old Pontiac Tempest (Lucille) when the engine sputtered and died. I pulled
over and lifted the hood. I rested my forearms on the hood, and looked out
across miles and miles of sage lit in purple light by the setting sun. With the
engine off, there wasn't a sound. And I realized I'd got exactly what I wanted.

Cars passed by. Some people stopped - one person offered to call triple A from
the next town; a trucker got on the CB to the state troopers. They left. Nothing
happened. Then a cowboy stopped, a real buckaroo from the Paradise Valley. You
run out of gas? I explained how we couldn't be out of gas, I'd just filled up in
Wendover... he got a siphon hose out of his truck bed and stuck an end in the
gas pipe and sucked on it. Yep. Bone dry. He offered an orange plastic 5 gallon
jug he'd been using for a water jug (don't worry, I'll just get another) and
drove us 9 miles back to the last town, Carlin. Then he took us back to the car,
made sure we got it started, and followed us 50 miles into Battle Mountain to
see us all the way to the pump. Was he an angel? I am unaware. Was he my
neighbor? You bet.

The Samaritan was an outcast, to Israel, as Fr Stephen has explained. To the
people hearing Jesus' story he's the last person they'd call neighbor. And yet
he is the one who stopped, he was the one who showed mercy; he was the neighbor
to the man who fell amongst thieves.

Who is my neighbor?
Who isn't?

Afghan refugee selling coffee and donuts out side the American Stock Exchange
(The Taliban are terrible people, he told me. They seemed so far away... there
we were, after all, in the shade of the towers of the world trade center.)

A security guard from Accra working in Borders WTC (bldg 5)

Woman from Darfur in a refugee camp in Chad

Mother and child in a corner of al Aqsa mosque, an American lady bent over them,
cooing to the happy quiet child

A temp worker on his way to Wall Street dressed in black Carhartts.

Who is my neighbor? In Christ everybody is...

The human impulse to find tribe, [s Sarah Congdon terms it,] is the drive for
security, identity, and safety: to be grounded -- even if it's in beer drinkers
or Harley pushers -- yet this impulse to protect ourselves leads us to exclude.

I am this tribe, over against that one: Jew over against Samaritan, &c. &c. &c.

[Taken this way, the law condemns us. The lawyer in the story seems to have
taken this wrong turn. He saw the law, perhaps, as a list of rules to be
followed, or a list of prepositional revelations that if only he subscribed to
would he be saved. But it is a law more terrible, [as Noel King points out,]
than this: it is a law of love.]

Jesus took this on when, God knowing full well what would happen when the grand
inquisitors got hold of a truly righteous man, through him, through his taking
on our flesh in the full knowledge of what it would could cost him: that nobody
would show him mercy; Nobody would be his neighbor.

God made us in his image, then his Son took on our form, showing us the ultimate
sign and symbol of God's mercy and the ultimate source of our identity: child of
God, child of Man, human. This human form is all the tribal symbol you need. God
took the ordinary things of life – daily bread, wine, water, flesh and blood –
and made them holy. As he took on our form, our human nature, he took up the
cross, understanding what he had accepted: he became one of us that we might
become one with him – find our identity, safety, security, only in him.

If you need a sign, look no further than the cross.
If you need a symbol, look at the font, and the table.
If you need identity, security, stability, safety, look at Christ.

Yet through Christ we all become, in him,
His neighbors – and neighbors to each other.

Will you be my
Won't you be my

Sermon for Trinity Episcopal Church, Sonoma, California

July 11, 2004
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10
Deuteronomy 30.9-14, Psalm 25.3-9, Colossians 1.1-14, Luke 10.25-37

Sunday, May 23, 2004

there is no other stream

Come Lord Jesus live in our hearts forever.

God reigns over all
Christ reigns over all
Christ redeems us
Christ reigns in us
We are one in Christ
As Christ is one with God

Come Lord Jesus, live in our hearts – forever.

The psalm proclaims the greatness of God and invites us to join in acclamation. The prophet Zechariah, looking forward to the day of the Lord, said it another way:

“And the Lord shall be king over all the earth; in that day there shall be one Lord with one name.” (Zech 14.9, TNK)

God reigns over all. God alone is the Most High. There is no other name to worship in but the name of God. And we learn that God has given Jesus the name that is above every other name. Christ reigns over all. It is through Christ that God is known to us and in Christ that we become one with God. The apostle Paul, perhaps quoting a very old hymn that he already knew by heart, said:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2.5-11, NRSV)

Imagine now the scenes Acts portrays. Paul and Silas are preaching in the marketplace, with some success, but this girl keeps following them. She cannot help herself; she is possessed with an oracle. And over and over again it divulges their secret: The Most High God, the God acclaimed in the psalm, the God revealed and embodied in Jesus Christ, God the Most High, has sent them with the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. The way to oneness with God is through Christ.

And yet she does this because she is compelled. This annoys Paul and he casts out the demon. And so, ironically, she is freed from this by the very men she fingered, the very God she acclaims. And it gets them in trouble. The men who were exploiting her, just some businessmen trying to make a living, saw her as nothing but a means of livelihood. And so they made trouble for Paul and Silas.

In prison they kept at it. Paul and Silas bound in jail all night long, praying and singing hymns of praise to God. They cannot keep from singing praise to God. And who shall deliver them but Jesus Christ?

Now picture the despair of their jailer, as they are suddenly freed. There is an earthquake – it is like California, there, perhaps even more earthquake-prone – and his whole world comes crashing around him. From power over them, charged with their captivity, he finds himself suddenly trapped himself. If they are gone, he will pay with his life. And he prepares to do just that right there and then. But they stop him.

His life has already been redeemed. These servants – these slaves – of the Most High God know that their own Lord has humbled himself, taking the form of a slave, a captive, that humankind, that they, should be saved, freed. But what must I do to be saved? Believe. The jailer asks the simple question, and gets the answer that frees him forever.

All you have to do to be saved,
to be forgiven, to gain new life,
is to put your faith in Christ.

The door is open,
the bonds are broken,
the prison walls are shattered;

step through the door,
walk into freedom,
and you are free.

The jailer, on the point of despair, of losing everything – his livelihood, his life – finds new life by putting everything in the hands, in the service, of Christ. Now for him Christ, not Caesar, is Lord.

He has seen the proof that God reigns over all,
that the name of Jesus
is above the name of Rome,
that Christ reigns and not only
way up there somewhere but right down here in the prison cell.
He has redeemed and freed not only the captives but the jailer.

This is the deliverer, the same Jesus, who gave some practical advice, the canny words of a peasant, to people in the Middle East living under foreign occupation by Rome. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

The rule seems new and yet is very old. It is part of the foundation of the world. And through Christ who is the one foundation we can be built into the new Jerusalem, the new creation. We are no longer prisoners of the flesh, the old human kingdom, but we are free in Christ.

The Revelation invites us into new life. The invitation is extended in rich imagery, inviting us to take part in the kingdom. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. If you are thirsty, you may drink. This new life is available freely to all, to anyone who dares to approach the Son of the Creator. If you are thirsty, you may drink.

You may remember a children’s book by C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. A girl wanders through an enchanted forest. She hears the sound of running water. Thirsty, she approaches, and comes to the edge of a stream, and – hears a voice: If you are thirsty, you may drink.

It is the voice, to make a long story short, of the Lion of Judah. The Alpha, the Omega, the One who IS.

Is he safe? No, but he is good.

Could she find another stream? There is no other stream.

It is through him, through Christ, that we get to the living water – and we are all welcome. We all drink from the one stream. And through Christ we are made one with God.

Jesus prayed that we might be one
as he and the Father are one,
that he might live in us
as God dwelt in him,
that the world might know, through our love,
that God loves us as God loves Jesus.

That we are one, not through our loving God, but through Christ’s love for us. The essential unity is not over how we love God or know God.

It is not about our spirituality or our ecclesiology, or our own righteousness. It is about God knowing us, God loving us.

There is nothing we can do about it.
Already, before the foundation of the world,
God knows us, God loves us.

This love which cost everything
Which breaks the bonds and
Opens the doors and shakes the foundations
Of our old human prison,
Which sets the captives free,
This love opens wide the gates of paradise.
Living water bursts from the Rock.

Blesses are those who wash their robes
– the faithful witnesses
– who accepted the forgiveness of sins
– who are redeemed by Christ,
so that they will have the right to the tree of life,
and may enter the city by the gates.

The gates are open.
The Spirit says come.
Let everyone who hears say Come.
Let everyone who thirsts, come—
Come to the living water. Drink.
And let Christ come in and fill your heart.
Let his reign begin now, in you.
Come Lord Jesus, live in our hearts, forever.

We are one in Christ as
Christ is one with God
May we be one as God is one
That the world may know the Love of God.

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Collect for mission, page 100, Book of Common Prayer]

St John's Episcopal Church, Lakeport, California
May 23, 2004 9.30am Holy Eucharist
7th Sunday of Easter, Year C
Acts 16.16-34, Revelation 22.12-14, 16-17, 20, Psalm 47, John 17.20-26

Sunday, May 9, 2004

But to get back to our hazelnut...

The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
slow to anger and steadfast in kindness.
The Lord is loving to everyone,
and his compassion is over all his works.

Julian had a vision -- of God holding the world in the palm of her hand
as Julian would hold a hazelnut. There we all are -- saints, sinners,
mothers, daughters, rich, poor, -- all alike held in God's love.
Everyone, everything, we know and be and are, held together by God's love
-- and our love for one another.

This small cosmos of ours -- is all we know. And yet string theory --
I've been reading Scientific American -- implies that there's more. This
universe may be 13.7 billion years old, since the Big Bang, but there may
have been someting before that -- and other universes beyond it. We may
be one of an ultimate multiplicity of universes. Suddenly the picture

But to get back to our hazelnut,

Remember those Blue Diamond farmers on TV standing up to their chests in
a roomful of nuts? Our hazelnut is suddenly one of many, an infinite
roomful, with more pouring in all the time. And yet God still holds us in
the palm of hishand. -- And holds each ofus as of infinite worth. For all
that, he sent his son to live for us -- to kneel by the roadside and
touch a blind man's eye, to laugh at a wedding, cray at a funeral, be one
of us.

And we become one with him -- in his love. Each of us is of infinite
bvalue to God -- and he reminded us, too, love one another.

We are all together -- no man is an island, entire of itself; each is a
piece of the continent, a part of the mainland. If a clod should wash
away, Europe (our little island) is the less, as much as if a peak or a
promontory were -- and we all in our cloddish -- or peakish -- way hold
this continent together. -- We all _matter_ to God -- and we each matter
to the other.

We may not always see it out in the world, but sometimes we do in
microcosm -- a little world. For instance, in a church, or on a baseball
team, or in a jazz band, or at a square dance. When I was in DC I was on
a city rec league softball team. No uniforms. We mostly just showed. One
of us was a player/manager. He'd call us all together -- booked us with
the league, and brought the bag of equipment (bat, balls). And then he
played, I don't know, third base. (I was in right field.) We could play
whether he was there or not -- he could have someone else come with the
bat & ball if he couldn't make it -- but there we all were together, each
with a glove at our positions, or up to bat. Maybe our church is a little
like that.

Or maybe we're like Dave LeFebvre's jazz band -- called together, we show
for the gig with our instruments. When we play we have a basic tune --
and each of us gets a turn to step up and shine. It's the job of a good
jazz musician to make the others look good _ when they're playing. In a
jazz band -- or a bluegrass band -- or here.

And lastly our church may be like a dance. One fall evening in high
school a bunch of us from Gaithersburg piled into my 1967 International
Travelall and drove out to Barnestown. There was a square dance. The
eight of us wandered in the room at the crossroads church.

The other dancers welcomed us in, observed that there were enough of us
to make up our square, and got us started. The caller came over when he
could -- someone alerted him -- but it was the other dancers, mostly, who
showed us the moves. And we danced. We all danced. The dance went on
whether the caller was with us that moment to show us, or not.

And the dance goes on. Each of us is part of us loving one another,
laughing with each other, supporting one another in trial or
circumstance. All held together on this continent of love. This crazy
little hazelnut in the palm of God's hand.

St John's Episcopal Church, Lakeport, California
May 9, 2004 9.30am Holy Eucharist
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C
Acts 13.44-52 or Leviticus 19.1-2,9-18, Revelation 19.1,4-9 or Acts 13.44-52, Psalm 145 or 145.1-9, John 13.31-35

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Easter: the new possibility

Easter: the new possibility

Alleluia. Christ is risen. My message for this morning is: we lose our own, old, identities, sometimes painfully; we cannot manage the acquisition of our new identities, in Christ -- we must receive them as gifts from God.

It is as if there were a gateway between the old life and the new: a lychgate at the entrance to the church through which we must pass. "Come to me, all ye who are weary and heavy-laden," we read on the lintel as we approach. And we haul our old burdens, our sins, our nafs (lower selves), and we lay them down. We shed our old carapaces, shells, (seedpods), at the gate. And as we walk through we say goodbye to the old Adam, the old, false self. All that passion, all that obsession, ends in silence. It is over. It is finished. And as we pass through the portal it is as if there were now a sign over our heads, "The kingdom of heaven begins here. The new life begins now."

Jesus preached this kingdom - and it got him killed. The old regime, the empire, was, he told them to their faces, a passing fantasy, a dream of old men. It was just about to be blown away, with a little puff of God's breath. It is time to shed the old skin, the old self. And to walk into the new life. Let the day begin.

The old self can only take us so far, the life according to the flesh has its limits, the old world ends. On Holy Saturday [1995] the Jesus Seminar voted .82 red: "Jesus' body decayed." That is as far as that kind of thinking can take us. All our philosophy, all our science, all our theology, commerce, common sense and good intentions can only take us as far as Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The stone is in front of the tomb. For the new to begin, for Easter to start, we have to wait on God--and let the Spirit move the stone.

If you went downstairs late last night into the sacristy, I don't know what you would have found. Quiet, silence, dark. Maybe a whiff, a hint of fragrance. But I do know what came up out of there this morning: Easter lilies!

The old life ended, the old world came to an end, on Good Friday. Jesus took on his back all our burdens, all the sins and bad wishes and good intentions, all the old hard cold shells we carried on our backs, weighing us down. He gathered them to himself like a free diver, who wants to plunge straight down to the cold dark depths at the bottom of things. He carried with him all our expectations - an earthly Messiah, a worldly kingdom, a hero - and let them pull him down, so much dead weight, into the depths of Good Friday.

Holy Saturday came. It was quiet. It was silent. It was cold. Nothing moved. The face of the deep was still.

And then, ...

Last week I tore up all the plants that were growing scraggly and bent in the front yard. I pulled them all out by hand and stuffed them in the compost can. Then I hacked at the ground with a hoe until it was loose. And I raked it, and I raked it again. Then I got my hands full of seed, and threw it up in the air. It feel down and scattered on the ground. And disappeared. I raked the earth, and I knew I had buried those hard little pods, those messengers, in the earth. I went away, and I waited. On Friday, nothing. On Saturday, nothing. Then this morning,.... [a little, green glimmer.]

A woman had three identities. A mother, a wife, a minister's wife. Her husband left her. Her old identities, two of them, were stripped away. The old year ended. On the eve of the new year, a new possibility emerged....

It was night. It was dark. It was silent. It was cold. Nothing moved. Then, there was a whisper of breath, a glimmer of green. Wind ruffled the surface of the deep, little waves began to lap, then laugh. The sun arose and the new day began. What had been old and dead and gone emerged transformed. Not the old life, not the resuscitation of a corpse, but a new life. A new creation. Behold, I make all things new. A new order of the ages has begun. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Now we begin to live into that new possibility. All we have to do is step into it. Let the day begin. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Easter Sunday (Luke 24.1-10)
April 11, 2004
St John's, Lakeport CA

Thursday, April 8, 2004

Maundy Thursday: sharing in the joy of service

Maundy Thursday: sharing in the joy of service

A few words about foot washing -- eventually.

When I was in college I lived for awhile with a family in a Christian household (Joe & Deedie's house). We had meals in common. And we all had chores. One evening after dinner I said I'd do the dishes, and Deedie stopped me, and said,
it's Marc's turn to do that; don't steal his joy. "Steal his joy"? To serve is a joy. Each of us has a turn at this particular service, and it's Marc's turn to do this service, and have this joy. Each of us has a turn. Likewise, each of us has a story; to share it is our particular joy. If one of the kids came home with a special story to share, but the other one beat them to it and told the story first, that was like stealing the joy of the person whose special story it was. So each of us has a particular service to enjoy, a particular story to tell, a particular joy to share. And yet all of us also share in one service, one story, one joy - and that one joy and service and story is what we are here to celebrate today. Our story so far: last Sunday we were all waving palms and singing hosanna and proclaiming Jesus the king of the Jews.

Today he reveals just what kind of king, what kind of messiah, he is. Jesus set the example - he washed the disciples' feet. Not counting equality with God a thing to be grasped, not standing on royal privilege or authority or power, he humbled himself, kneeled, groveled - and took the part of a slave. He did this service for them - and told them to do likewise. He gave them a new mandate (the "mandy" in Maundy Thursday): Love one another. And he invited them to share in the service, and the story, and the joy. And now he invites us to share, in the service, and the story, and the joy.

Maundy Thursday
April 8, 2004
St John's, Lakeport CA