Monday, December 25, 2006

Before the paling of the stars

Notes for a Christmas homily....

This Christmas I got something unexpected in the mail – a shoebox, for women’s pumps, black, size 7-1/2 B. Inside the box were three half-pound packages of Old Bisbee Roasters’ coffee.

There was a note. My friend Colleen made sure to tell me that the roaster ‘wants to have a personal relationship’—with me.

There was also a Christmas card. The outside had a cartoon of a little boy, presumably in a Christmas pageant, with a blanket on his head. It was captioned “What Christmas is really about.” Linus, Charlie Brown’s little brother, was reciting from the 2nd chapter of the Gospel of Luke:

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them… And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste…

The shepherds are not passive viewers; they take an active part in the story. And this is their action moment, when they speak, “Let us go down to Bethlehem…” and move toward the promised Child.

What did they go into the City of David to see?

Was the Child a nascent hero, like Hercules? Children’s books say that when Hercules was a baby he was already a super-hero. He strangled snakes in his cradle. And who knows what he got up to when he began to walk – but:

The Christ Child was not Superbaby—he was a real baby. He was vulnerable and soft. His surroundings, warm and fragrant from the animals, were none of his choosing. He was dependent on those around him. Joseph and Mary looked after him. But as we know from the story of the shepherds, he was already drawing toward him those who sought the peace of God. He was the promised Child, the shepherd-king of Isaiah 40:

Comfort, oh comfort My people, Says your God.

Like a shepherd He pastures His flock: He gathers the lambs in His arms
And carries them in His bosom; Gently He drives the mother sheep.
(Isaiah 40:1,11 JPS)

Long ago and far, far away another shepherd abiding in the fields was keeping watch over the flocks by night: Cuthbert, an eighteen-year-old man of 9th century Northumbria. He used to sing the psalms to the sheep at night. And then one night he had a vision, or perhaps a dream, and the next morning he went down the hills to Melrose, where he became a monk. The story goes that that was the very night when Aidan, founder of Lindisfarne Priory on Holy Island, had died.

After some years as a monk, Cuthbert was sent to take Aidan’s place. And so he traveled on Cuthbert’s Way, over the hills again, to the Holy Island. There he found behind the priory a beach and across a small inlet of the North Sea a very small rocky islet. At night when the tide was low he would wade out to it, gaze back across the water to the priory where the monks were sleeping, and as they slept he would sing the psalms. “Like a shepherd he pastures his flock…”

The call to Melrose and the call to the priory were moments of decision for Cuthbert. He took action, and got involved in the story. He became a shepherd of men. In doing so, he recalled to mind the Lord that he served – that we serve: Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

The shepherds of Bethlehem went into town to see if Jesus really was the Messiah they’d been waiting for. And they found him:

The Shepherd King,
Who calls each of us by name,
Who watches over his flock,
And sings to them of Paradise.

A Christmas Carol

Before the paling of the stars
Before the winter morn
Before the earliest cockcrow
Jesus Christ was born:
Born in a stable
Cradled in a manger,
In the world His Hands had made
Born a Stranger.

Priest and King lay fast asleep
In Jerusalem,
Young and Old lay fast asleep
In crowded Bethlehem:
Saint and Angel, Ox and Ass
Kept a watch together
Before the Christmas daybreak
In the winter weather.

Jesus on His Mother’s breast
In the stable cold,
Spotless Lamb of God was He,
Shepherd of the Fold:
Let us kneel with Mary Maid
With Joseph bent and hoary
With Saint and Angel, Ox and Ass
To hail the King of Glory.

Christina Rossetti: The Complete Poems (2001) 564-565.

Christmas Eve 2006 10pm Holy Trinity, Willows
Christmas Day 2006 10am Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento

Luke 1:39-49 (50-56)
Luke 2:1-20 The Nativity of Our Lord
John 1:1-14 (15-18)

Christmas 2006

Thursday, December 21, 2006

one good big fish

Doubting Thomas

The human one is like a wise fisherman who cast his net into the sea and drew it up from the sea full of little fish. Among them the wise fisherman discovered a fine large fish. He threw all the little fish back into the sea, and easily chose the large fish. Anyone here with two good ears had better listen!

—The Gospel of Thomas, 8:1-4, Scholars Version translation, in Robert W. Funk et al., eds., The Five Gospels (Polebridge Press/Macmillan, 1993), p. 477

A fisherman drew in the dragnet he had cast only a short time before. As luck would have it, it was filled with all kinds . The small fish made for the bottom of the net and escaped through its porous mesh. The large fish were trapped and lay stretched out in the boat. —Aesop, The Five Gospels, p. 478.


The skeptics at the Jesus Seminar doubt that Jesus really said that – maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. It sounds more like Aesop than Jesus. Probably someone added it later – to the apocryphal gospel of Thomas.

About all that they are sure Jesus said, that is recorded in the gospel of Thomas, is this:

The disciples said to Jesus, “Tell us what Heaven’s imperial rule is like.” He said to them, It’s like a mustard seed. the smallest of all seeds, but when it falls on prepared soil, it produces a large plant and becomes a shelter for birds of the sky.

—The Gospel of Thomas, 20:1-4.


Jesus said, “Congratulations to the poor, for to you belongs Heaven’s domain.”

—The Gospel of Thomas, 54:1

And, last:

They showed Jesus a gold coin and said to him, “The Roman emperor’s people demand taxes from us.” He said to them, “Give the emperor what belongs to the emperor, give God what belongs to God, and give me what is mine.”

—The Gospel of Thomas, 100:1-4

What we know about Thomas – and what we think we know – are two different things.

We think he doubted – but we know he made the astonishing faith statement, affirming the divinity of Christ, the first apostle to so openly declare it, “My Lord and My God!”

We think of him as a skeptic, a dour, sober disciple; we know he was willing to go up to Jerusalem with Jesus, if only to be crucified with him. Is this a statement of doubt – or of faith? Even if Jesus is marching to his death, Thomas will walk alongside his Master.

We think of Thomas as the first of a long line of people who needed tangible proof, a scientific demonstration, in order to believe in the resurrection. We know he was so sure the resurrection would be a physical reality that he demanded to see with his own eyes, and to put his hand into the wound in Jesus’ side. If it were Jesus in the resurrected body, it would be the same person he knew in the flesh.

We think of Thomas as a doubter, in short. We know he was a person of faith.

We think of him as an apostle, one of the twelve. We know he traveled to bring the faith. Faraway lands claim him. The Mar Thoma Christians of southern India can point you to his grave.

What we have from Thomas, finally, is not a dead-letter Jesus but a living Christ. And we know that Christ is calling us, too, to be people of faith, to think, to know, and to live the Gospel.

The journey can be perilous. How do you think the imperial powers would react to “render unto Caesar”? What does it mean to be blessed, to be one to whom the kingdom of God belongs?

It doesn’t take much to start. Faith is, after all, like a mustard seed.

A Franciscan Benediction:

May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of all people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain to joy.

May God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.

December 21, 2006.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

waiting for the delivery truck

C Advent 3 Gaudate Sunday 2006

Yesterday I observed a familiar holiday ritual: waiting for the delivery truck.

Today I want to read you a story about a group of people who were the recipients of a delivery they did not expect, from a person they never thought they'd see.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Chapter Ten:
"always winter and never Christmas"
"Aslan is on the move!"
"Merry Christmas! Long live the true King!"

They were expecting not a delivery but deliverance, and they were on their way to meet their deliverer, when unexpectedly they met his fore-runner.

Like John the Baptist, he called the people to repent, to change direction, that is, and he called them to rejoice.

They are preparing for their meeting with the true King, and their preparation involves receiving gifts - not toys but tools - that they will need for their part in ushering in (or restoring) the real Kingdom.

Like these beavers and boys and girls in Narnia, we must prepare to meet the one true King.

Let every heart prepare him room!

We are given gifts - tools - to wield or wear as we prepare. We are given strange gifts - that seem curious or merely pleasant, until the time is ripe to use them.

John the Baptist preached a gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He gave practical, radical advice to each group that came to him. They wanted to get on the right side of God. Anticipating the wrath to come, they asked, "What shall we do?"

Produce fruits that give evidence of repentance, he said to them. He told them each to do something that showed indelibly that they were IN the Kingdom, that they were living as citizens of the real kingdom, and leaving the claims of Rome - of the earthly powers - as merely conditional, temporal, a means to an un-earthly end.

And John the Baptist warned the Baptized. He gave them the familiar washing, cleansing ritual, a sign that they were turning from their sins, reorienting their lives toward God.

But - after him is coming one who would change everything, just as fire transforms what it burns. The whole created order would be made new.

The fruits of the earth will be gathered - to be stored in heavenly barns.

He - he who is coming - will separate the wheat from the chaff.

We are asked to do no less in our own lives: to winnow out, with fan or fork, what we bring forth as the product of our turning, turning home - to God...

To leave aside, leave behind, everything that does not matter, not really: and, cleanse our hearts, make ready our homes,

-- Maybe even put out some cookies and a glass of milk -

For the unexpected visitor
We somehow still expect to arrive, in our hearts, this Christmas Eve.


Sunday 17 December 2006
St. Paul's Church, Benicia, California.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Saint Nicholas and the sailor suit

Not much is known about the historical Saint Nicholas, except that he brought me
a sailor suit when I was four. This gift, albeit made through the proxy of my
great-aunt Carol, bore two of the marks of the saint's generosity. It showed his
love of children, and his patronage of sailors. The gifts of the saint himself,
however, bore two more marks: they aided a person in getting clear of a place of
personal distress or difficulty, and they guided the receiver toward holiness.

I am thinking particularly of the legends surrounding his rescue of sailors in
danger of shipwreck, where he came to them during a storm at sea, and of the
stories of his gifts that enabled poor children, and young women, to gain their
freedom instead of becoming victims of human trafficking. In the case of the
young women, at least, there was the further effort to rescue them for a life of
holiness - as opposed to the debauchery to which they were otherwise to be

What we really know about Nicholas, bishop of Myra (in Asia Minor) in the fourth
century, is very little. His service in holy orders began under the persecution
of the church, and he survived into the period of toleration. So he is a bridge
between the church of the martyrs and the church of the Caesars.

Nicholas is known, most of all, for his generosity and charity - and for his
concern for the welfare of the poor, the oppressed and forgotten. And in his
day, the most forgotten were the children - all but ignored, the odds against
them surviving childhood, even infancy.

Jesus said, "Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will
never enter it." It is as if Jesus were telling us that we must be as dependent
on others, on the grace of God surely, as a helpless infant must be.

Confronted with this helplessness of childhood, the pagan world turned an
indifferent, stoic face. The church, led by saints like Nicholas, saw in each
child the face of God. Mortality - which worldly society could not abide - the
church took in as its own. To be able to accept, even embrace, suffering and
death, as its Lord and Savior had, was a gift that the Church, for all its own
human weakness, began to give to the world.

Of course we recognize we are not adequate to care for, or embrace, or
comprehend, the suffering of others on our own. We know we must rely on God's

God, whom prophets and mystics hailed as Mother.

"Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of
her womb? Even these may forget, yet I - God assures us - will not forget you."
(Isaiah 49:15)

Indeed, as the lady Julian of Norwich said, "This fair lovely word 'mother' is
so sweet and so kind in itself that it cannot truly be said of anyone or to
anyone except of him and to him who is the true mother of life and of all
things." (Showings, 60)

And so, as we proceed into the season when we prepare to welcome the Christ
Child into the world, let us also pray to God, as the Rosh Hashanah liturgy
prompts us, "If you regard us as your children, have mercy on us as a father to
his child."

And may we welcome each child in this, God's world, with the generosity and
compassion of Saint Nicholas, as we would welcome its infant King.

Mark 10 13-16
Saint Nicholas 2006 Trinity Cathedral Sacramento

Sunday, November 26, 2006

"Are you a king?"

Notes for a sermon on the Feast of Christ the King 2006 (John 18 33-37)

Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a
king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the
truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." (18:37b)

The end of the story is the beginning of the story.

The Gospel of John is full of irony. Even as they mock Jesus, the soldiers truly
crown him. At the moment of his defeat, came his victory. He is the real king of
the only real kingdom, the reign of God, of justice and peace.

Pilate asked, "Are you a king?"
Jesus answered, "I came to bear witness to the truth."
Pilate responded, "What is truth?"

The truth is that you see before you, the king of the only real kingdom, the
first man of that kingdom.

Accepting freely death on the cross, the death of a common criminal - or one
more troublesome enemy of Rome - Jesus bore witness to the truth of God's
kingdom - whose foundation is goodness and justice and truth. This is the
kingdom of Shalom, God's peace.

Jesus Christ is:
1. the faithful witness,
2. the first-born of the dead, and
3. the ruler of the kings of earth.

(Revelation 1.5a)

The end of the story is the beginning of the story -

As we come to the end of the Christian year, and anticipate Advent, we celebrate
the feast-day of Christ the King. We see him as the one seated at the right hand
of the Father, to whom will be given - is given - all glory and dominion and
power, in a scene beyond dreams.

But how did he get there? How did it begin?

It begins with a child: helpless, poor, and defenseless. God sent his Son to the
world as a Baby. And in this Innocent already was the King. So tender, meek, and
mild, yet such a threat to the powers that be, that Herod the Great tried to
stop God's kingdom from breaking in on him, that he had the male children under
two years old killed - the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.

A Baby - God came to us first not on clouds of glory, but simply, humbly, and
humanly; in something so ordinary and yet extraordinary as a Child in a manger.

He comes to us, every Sunday, in ordinary things - bread and wine, oil and

On Thanksgiving we gave thanks for the bread and wine,
Remembering at the same time,
That other bread and other wine,
That at other times,
Becomes other than bread and
Other than wine,
And yet still remains - to all appearances -
Bread and wine.

And so he sustains us through
Ordinary things in
Ordinary times,
That our lives may become
Through the common everyday witness
Of our lives
to the Truth.

The end of the story is just the beginning of the story.

In Jesus' free acceptance of death lay his victory,
And the seed sown then
Became his vindication,
as the first-born of the Resurrection.

Because he accepted the ultimate consequence of life spent bearing witness to the Truth,
He ushered in the Kingdom of God that he thereby proclaimed:

The only real kingdom, the reign of God, in justice, mercy and peace,
That he took part in from the beginning of life
- that Baby again -
And when he passed over into the larger life of God,
He took a step that he was prepared to take,
- in fear and trembling, perhaps sick to death -
in the knowledge that what awaited him
he had already experienced
in his own person:

the Kingdom of God.

Sunday, November 26, 2006 St Timothy's, Gridley, Calif. JRL+

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Widow's Mite

"Did I say that out loud or just think it?"-Bumper sticker.

I made a lot of people laugh this morning. At diocesan convention I suggested that clergy new to the diocese be asked to stand and be recognized. They went one better and also asked the newly ordained to introduce themselves. I found myself at the microphone - in front of the assembled bishops, clergy, and laity of the diocese - announcing that "Jerry ordained me bishop in August" - and after the laughter died down, revising that to "Bishop Jerry ordained me in August" - priest.

I tell you this story to illustrate how easy it is to - even unconsciously - seek after position or fame or glory.

But the story in our gospel today is different. Jesus admonishes his followers not to seek glory or fame, and certainly not to follow the example of the scribes - big shots who give themselves airs and graces and show off their ostentatious generosity and piety in front of others (all the meanwhile acting the melodrama villain, foreclosing the mortgage on the poor widow).

Instead, he says, be like the poor widow - whom he watches put all of her savings into the temple offering she makes. She makes her offering to the Lord - not to keep up appearances but really to throw her life away, to depend wholly on God and his mercy. And Jesus praises her! He says this is the way to live.

Extravagant poverty in the face of extravagant wealth - I don't think he is telling his disciples to throw away every thing they have and depend on the kindness of strangers. I think he is telling them to put their - our - whole lives into the hands of God and trust to God's providence to take care of us.

Our job is to be obedient, to worship God and him alone. He is the source of all we need, all we ask for. All that we need, we receive without grasping... from the grace of God.

Where is Jesus in the story? He is the poor widow, giving his life away for the love of God. All we are asked to do is to follow him. To depend on God. And to acknowledge that it is from God that we receive everything we need.

The psalmist puts it another way: "Unless the Lord builds the house, their labor is in vain who build it." Faith in God is the foundation of our life. Amen.

JRL Pioneer House, Sacramento: Evening Prayer Sunday 12 November 2006

Sunday, November 5, 2006


Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9 or Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 24
Revelation 21:1-6a
Gospel hymn #560: Matthew 5:1-12 (The Beatitudes)
John 11:32-44

All Saints' Day November 1, 2006
All Saints' Sunday November 5, 2006
Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento

In the name of God, source of all being, eternal Word, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

The only tragedy, in the end, is the tragedy of not becoming a saint.

Originally All Saints was a remembrance of, and a communion with, Christians martyred under the pagan kings. Over the years its meaning has expanded, and we remember all saints. What is a saint?

• A witness to the resurrected Christ.
• An example of a godly life.
• A believer.
• An intercessor, an absent friend whom we can ask to pray for us.
• Someone who reminds us that there is another dimension to reality.

A mother of teenagers recently remarked that her son lives much of his life in Flatland. That is, he spends an inordinate amount of time on the computer, the iPod, the PDA, emailing and IM'ing his friends. Most of the conversations consist of, "I'm so bored...." He is living an existence that seems to be lacking a dimension. And so, without grace, are we.

Into the plane of Flatland, the revelation of God in Christ arrives precipitously from above, revealing the existence of a vertical dimension. This forms a crossroads, a thin place, in which the reality of heaven breaks into our one-dimensional, spirit-impoverished Flatland.

Thin places are places where heaven and earth come close together. You might think of a place like Iona, or Lindisfarne, soaked in centuries of prayer. Or you might think of a saint's shrine.

Saints are people who recall us to the divine. They are, in a sense, thin people.

You may have your own gallery of saints - witnesses, martyrs, exemplars of godly living, intercessors, friends who have gone before.

One of my teachers had pictures of his favorite saints pinned up on the wall across from his desk, or his bed.

We meet them in a thin place that is closer than you might think: we meet them in the Eucharist. When we participate in communion, we take part in the communion of saints.

In the communion of saints, we are connected through Christ to all who have gone before, all who witness to his resurrection, all who have remembered him in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers, all who have testified to the reality of God revealed in Christ.

These are the mysteries of our faith: we proclaim them openly, on billboards and radio, in bedside Bibles placed by The Gideons, in our thoughts and words and deeds. And we affirm together our common faith, in the words of the Nicene Creed ...

Flatland: a romance of many dimensions by Edwin Abbott Abbott

See: and


Thursday, September 28, 2006

a thin place at the altar

Notes for a sermon on The Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels
September 28, 2006 5:45 p.m., Trinity Cathedral Sacramento
Genesis 28:10-17, Psalm 103 or 103:19-22, Revelation 12:7-12, John 1:47-51

GENESIS: Jacob’s ladder represents a thin place – a boundary point between the material world and the world of the spirit. Indeed, Jacob declares the place of his dreamtime a sacred site: “none other than the house of God, and the gate of heaven”.

Angels – God’s messengers – ascend and descend upon the ladder, bridging heaven and earth. Angels who are aligned with God’s purposes are his messengers.

But like other created things, angels can be good and fallen and redeemed. Angels may also be described as principalities and powers – the spirits of institutions and of peoples. They are “the powers that be” (as Walter Wink calls them) – made by God, called by God to a purpose. The spirit of a nation is made for good, but it may turn away; many first century Christians and Jews experienced the empire of Rome as demonic.

REVELATION: Michael overthrows the adversary – the angels that are obedient to God’s call confront the angels that have misaligned themselves apart from God’s purpose. They are defeated; there is no strength in them. Eventually God will put all powers in subjection under his Christ, will rightly align them in harmony with Christ.

GOSPEL: As Jesus tells Nathanael, the guile-less true son of Israel (Jacob), the Son of Man himself forms the bridge – the thin place, the boundary point -- where the sacred and the ordinary coincide. Christ accomplishes this through the victory of the Cross: through his obedience, and through his sacrifice. And we encounter him; we will know him, in the breaking of the bread.

“The small round piece of Eucharistic bread is the point from which the whole creation emerges….‘The fires at the center of the earth, the sun above, all the divine essences and ecstasies come to this silence at last – a circle of bread, and a cup of wine on an altar.’

When we look at the bread of the Eucharist we are looking at the point of ‘everything that is made’ – God embracing everything that God has made.”

On this still, small, point is the turning of the world: created, redeemed, and made holy by God.

As we prepare to remember our Lord in the breaking of the bread, may the better angels of our nature, summon us to gather as God’s people, called together for his purpose. AMEN.

Walter Wink, The Powers That Be (Doubleday, 1998)
Donald Nicholl, The Testing of Hearts (Darton, Longman & Todd, 1998)
Timothy J. Joyce, Celtic Christianity (Orbis, 1998)
Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address

Sunday, September 24, 2006

downward mobility

Jesus and his disciples went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." (Mark 9:30-37)

On this journey Jesus tries to hide from public view and avoid publicity. He is trying to teach his disciples something difficult, something mysterious.

For the second of three times, as they travel together, he teaches the disciples that he – the Son of Man, the Messiah, the holy one of Israel – must be betrayed, and suffer, must be killed, and rise again.

The disciples don’t get it. Instead, they argue among themselves who is the greatest.

Jesus teaches the need for humble service.
Whoever would be first must be last,
Whoever would be greatest must be least.

Whoever would find himself must lose himself, deny himself, become lost.

Jesus teaches by paradox – there is no worldly purpose to what he is saying.

Whoever receives one such child, receives me,
Whoever receives me, receives not me but the one who sent me.

Can those who are last have a deeper relationship with Jesus, who made himself last by accepting the Cross?

Indeed, Jesus himself – the Messiah, the holy one of God – has cast aside worldly greatness. In an upwardly mobile world, he seeks


For he did not clutch to himself equality with God but humbled himself and became human, became one of us, taking the form even of a servant. And he has promised us that where we have visited the sick, fed the hungry, visited the prisoner – the last, the least, the lost – there we have found him.

Receive as Christ “the last, the least, the lost” (Dean Baker’s phrase).

In the brokenness of humanity we meet him. In the brokenness of others, however unlovely, there we find him. And we find him – and he finds us – in our own most unlovely, broken places. There he is, in the midst of us: his body, broken for us, his blood, shed for us, his life, given for us.

Welcoming the discarded child within yourself is also welcoming Christ.
The child you receive may be the Christ Child.
The Christ child receives you.

Where were you? We ask God: in the midst, hungry, naked, oppressed, poor, in mourning, in Eucharist, in celebration, in the hope of the resurrection.

In assurance of eternal life given at Baptism, let us proclaim our faith and say,

We believe in God...

Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to you Richard Yale’s father, our brother Ted, who was reborn by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. Grant that his death may recall to us your victory over death, and be an occasion for us to renew our trust in your Father’s love. Give us, we pray, the faith to follow where you have led the way; and where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to the ages of ages. Amen.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace, as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13) And may the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Have you ever felt pruned?

In the name of God, source of all being, eternal word and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches. We connect to life in God through Christ.

When I went to visit my mother yesterday, I drove across the Napa Valley to Sonoma and up the Valley of the Moon. I saw a lot of vines. I saw chardonnay, cabernet, and viognier. I saw head-trimmed vines and trellised vines. And all the vines I saw were healthy, and green, and growing. Every living branch of them has been pruned, and is being pruned, again and again this growing season. And every branch was abiding in the vine, living in the vine, from which they drew their nourishment, their strength and their sweetness.

Later in the summer the vineyard workers will come through again and remove immature bunches of grapes, thinning down and focusing the energy of the branches, so that the fruit they bear in due season will be as strong and sweet as it can be.

Like the branches you and I have been pruned. As Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper, we have been pruned, cleansed – it’s the same root word in Greek – by the word he has spoken to us. The vinedresser has tended the branches of the vine. Now is our time to grow. We are preparing to bear fruit. And while we are growing and preparing, and soaking in the water and sun and each day’s nourishment, we stay connected to the vine. That’s Jesus. We connect to the life of God, to eternal life, through Christ.

We stay connected to the vine, and receive nourishment, power and love and strength from God, by a variety of means. We read the Bible. We pray. We take part in the sacraments: we are baptized, confirmed, married, ordained, anointed, reconciled; we take our places at the Lord’s Table. And we serve.

Canon Carey pointed out to me that our service booklet now ends with a new sentence. NOW THAT THE WORSHIP IS OVER, OUR CHRISTIAN SERVICE TO THE WORLD BEGINS.

Over the gateway of Poly High in Long Beach is a similar motto: Enter to learn, go forth to serve. That is very like what we are encouraged to do on Sunday morning. We learn. We study the Word of God. The Word refreshes us, and we go forth in the Spirit to love and serve the Lord. And we serve the Lord in one another, and in the stranger.

One of my teachers at college used to do something astonishing. He didn’t tell me about it but I found out about it. He took Christ at his word. When Jesus said, “you visited me in prison,” that struck home for Donald. To seek and serve Christ in this world, he used to get in his car after Mass and drive down to Soledad Prison to visit with the inmates. And so he taught me, unknowingly, that if we want to find out what Jesus looked like, if we want to see him today, we should look for him in the faces of those we serve.

Scriptures, prayer, sacraments, fellowship, service. These are ways we connect to the divine life – through Christ. Another way is pilgrimage.

A few weeks ago I began to look for connections in my own life. I began to look for reference points, to visit holy places, and to seek out people with whom I need to touch base as I begin to interview for priesthood and for my first employment as a priest.

In a way it became a pilgrimage. I wanted to review where I was in my life and remind myself of who I am and how I got to this place. It raised the question, how do I stay connected?

Amy Dierlam raised the question in its first form. During a meeting of the 20s/30s group at the 10 o’clock hour, she started the discussion by asking of each us, where do you feel most at home? I began to smile. I was remembering the afternoon I spent in a hammock on the back porch of a house in Tucson last January. [Friends from Tucson asked me the same question not long ago – and, while I grew up among the redwood, the live oak, and the madrone, there are times when I close my eyes that I see saguaros.] So when I went back to Arizona just week before last, of course I was feeling at home. But that’s not all.

From Arizona I went on retreat to New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur. I have been going there since college, whenever there is a significant turning point in my life. And so I went to the monastery. I sat in the chapel, contemplating the altar and the crucifix suspended above it. And I felt at home. But that’s not all.

From the monastery I visited old friends, including another college professor – who has been praying for me for 32 years – and received their encouragement. Then I came back to Sacramento. And I definitely felt at home again.

And I felt at home when I visited my mother yesterday. (It’s not too late to call or write!) But that’s not all.

I came here. And here is the connection, not only the connection to home for me, but to home for all of us. The connection to God that happened for me touching base with people and places across the Southwest and California can also happen right here. At the Lord’s Table we are united with Christ and in Christ with one another. Here at the Lord’s Table we all connect with life from God through Christ. All the branches connect with the one true vine – Jesus is here among us. And we are all welcome at the Lord’s Table. Amen.

Fifth Sunday of Easter Year B RCL
Acts 8:26-40 Psalm 22:24-30 1 John 4:7-21 John 15:1-8

Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento & Pioneer House, Sacramento May 14, 2006

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Mary Magdalene stood weeping outside the tomb. . .

Mary Magdalene stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

The festival is over. Families are packing up and starting off for home – the long trek to Galilee Jesus made with his parents year after year. Now he is gone. Only a few remain behind – those who knew him, and hoped for the Messiah. Now on the first day of the week, Mary has gone to the tomb. He is not there. She tells Peter and the other disciple, who run to the tomb to see for themselves. There is no one there. They go home. Mary stays behind – what more can she do?

She happens – or is stirred to – look in. Where he had laid, where his head and his feet should have been, now instead there are two figures in white. Why are you crying? She thinks the body has been taken away – she wants to give it proper respect, one last gift she can give her teacher. But there in the dawn is a man – the gardener? He asks, Why are you crying? I am looking for my Lord…

Teacher! She embraces his feet…
Do not be holding me now –

It is almost time for rejoicing.
It is almost time he is glorified.

But first, Mary, I do have a job for you. Tell the rest of my students – tell the rest of my family – I am going up to my Father and yours, my God and yours.

Through Christ, God is our father. Through Christ, we are now brothers and sisters one to another. We are now in Christ one family.

I am sometimes asked, why can’t we all just get along? Why did the Catholics and Episcopalians hate each other in Ireland? Aren’t they both Christians? Well, yes…

An innocent question, but it is the vision:

Like sheep called by their shepherd, all of us will one day jostle into the same pen, the same Shepherd watching over all of us, knowing us each by name.

Like Ruth, your God will be my God; your people will be my people.

Maybe it’s time we starting acting like it.
Certainly it’s time we start celebrating it.


Tuesday in Easter Week 2006
Acts 2:36-41
Psalm 33:18-22 or 118:19-24
John 20:11-18

Trinity Cathedral Sacramento

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Binding of Isaac

In the name of God, source of all being, eternal Word and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Some Muslim friends once invited me to join them in celebrations of the feast of Eid al-Adha, the commemoration of God’s providing the Ram to Abraham as a substitute for his son. I remember watching the sheikh take hold of the lamb, who was indeed as innocent and passive as a lamb led to the slaughter, explaining that he was not slaughtering but sacrificing the animal, then quickly, deftly and quietly cutting its throat. The lamb just as quietly and quickly passed away. He repeated this act with a few more lambs, which various members of the group had dedicated, and then let the rest go.

I remember how happy I was to watch the survivors gambol back up into their pasture. And I remember as I watched their brothers being slain, thinking two thoughts: How glad I was that we do not have to do this, and, Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Listening to the reading from Genesis, we may wonder: what was Abraham thinking? Where did he get the idea that he should sacrifice his son? That God would want that? What kind of a god would ask this? What kind of a father would think to do it?

The surrounding cultures, as I understand it, worshipped gods who did indeed require human sacrifice – just as much as the god of the Aztecs did. The cult of Moloch demanded the burnt offering of the firstborn son. Somehow Abraham got into his head the idea that this may be required even of him – that the God who has led him to the promised land, has given him his son, has promised him uncounted progeny – that somehow this is the same god.

All the way up the mountain, Abraham kept faith with God. Believing in the promise he somehow continued to expect the impossible. He laid the firewood on Isaac’s back – like requiring a man to carry his own cross – saying, “God himself will provide the lamb.”

Not knowing what would happen, in the fear of God he bound his son, and took up the knife. The angel stayed Abraham’s hand, and showed him the ram in the thicket. I think there is more going on here than the substitution of a sheep for a man.

God did not require the death of Isaac. He required his life – that is, that Isaac and all the future and the hope that he represents, belongs to God, not Abraham. This life is not a life to be grasped onto but to be freely accepted as a gift from the willing hand of God.

Abraham responds to God’s call in faith, in obedience, yielding all claim to ownership to what is most precious to him – the promise, the future and the hope embodied in Isaac – and he dedicates that beloved Child to God, to God’s purpose, not his own – and it is through the efficacy of this obedience, this act of faith, that Abraham becomes the father of nations – not through heredity but through faith in the love of God. And it is this faith that gives him descendants innumerable. “I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore.” (Genesis 22.17)

Abraham chose obedience. Through his radical obedience, Abraham became the father of our faith, the exemplar of total trust in God.

What he was required to yield up, that which was most precious to him, what had to be relinquished to God when God required it, was Isaac’s life – not his death, but his life. The future and the hope that Isaac represented were not for Abraham to own and to master, but for him to trust in God to provide, just as he provided the ram in the thicket on the mount that came to be called, “God provides”.

When he set his face toward Jerusalem, Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be rejected, and be killed, and after three days rise again. Jesus chose obedience – he lay his own life down, that very life that was to become the first fruits of the resurrection. Life is not to be grasped to oneself, but to be freely offered in obedience to God. Jesus did not give just his death to God; he gave his life – a life of integrity, of witness, of proclamation. He took up his cross rather than live a life of self-protection.

Jesus kept faith with God, proclaiming in word and deed the reign of God’s love, of justice, peace, and forgiveness. He embodied the fullness and image of God’s compassion and love for humankind. Just as Abraham traveled to a distant land ready to sacrifice his beloved son, so Jesus, knowing full well that it might cost his life, traveled up to Jerusalem to give witness to the reign of God.

[He took up his cross rather than living a life of self-protection. We participate in the life of Christ, in the proclamation of the kingdom. We receive the life he continues to give to us. By his life we live. His life makes it possible for us to live faithfully, in radical obedience to God, with a future and a hope. To live in faith is costly; God asks a lot of us. Life is full of frightening and painful and hard things. We have this consolation, that Jesus went through this already and goes through this with us –we are not alone, and death is not the end of the story. No place we are ever asked to go – no height nor depth, no hardship or distress, no persecution or famine, no epidemic, no war - can take us away from the love of God. He has been there already. He is there with us. And he will bring us through to the other side. No other thing is required. God’s mercy is full and complete. He takes us from the broken places to wholeness, from the darkness into light; we were lost and are found.]

Grace is costly, but the price has been paid in full by God himself.

On the cross he made, by his one offering of himself, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, once for all.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

A sermon for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Sacramento
March 12, 2006
Second Sunday in Lent (Year B) BCP Lectionary Readings:
Genesis 22:1-14, Psalm 16:5-11, Romans 8:31-39, Mark 8:31-38

[Section in brackets was presented at 8am but not 10am service.]

Sources and inspirations:

William Blake, “Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau”

John Bowker, ed., “The Sacrifice of Isaac”, The Complete Bible Handbook (Dorling Kindersley, 1998), p. 39.

Barbara Crafton, “The Lesson We Have to Preach On”, The Almost Daily eMo from, March 9, 2006 (

The Jerusalem Bible, Reader’s Edition (Doubleday, 1968)

The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford University Press, 2004)

Søren Kierkegaard, “Eulogy on Abraham”, Fear and Trembling (1843), Edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton University Press, 1983) p. 15-23. (See selection from another translation at

Sarah C. Leech

Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions” (

Hugh Talat Halman, “Id al-Adha”, World Book Encyclopedia (2004)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Come, thou long expected Jesus

Hear again the good news in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ:

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

In the name of God, of mercy, compassion, and justice, of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

If you know the story of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”, you have heard of a kingdom called Narnia, that suffered under a false monarch and longed for its true one. Under the White Witch, it was “always winter and never Christmas”.

When the true king returned, he restored the land to life. He breathed the breath of life on the frozen, and they were miraculously warmed.

He broke the bonds of winter, and spring began.

This is how, in the land of Narnia, the arrival of the true kingdom revealed itself.

Now when Jesus began his ministry he proclaimed the good news, and he enacted it.

He arrived without trumpets or fireworks. He began with a prophetic act of liberating compassion. He freed a man with an unclean spirit. “Be silent, and come out of him.”

From the beginning, through his words and deeds, Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of heaven. He taught and acted with the authority of a prophet, like Moses. He showed, through what he said and what he did, what the kingdom of heaven is like.

As Jesus showed us, our God is a God who is with us. He brings us mercy and compassion; he is our advocate for justice and our source of freedom.

God is present in the liberating words and deeds of prophetic compassion.

By his acts, beginning with freeing the man with the unclean spirit, Jesus enacted the liberation of his people from the powers of this world. He showed that the forces that bound us, from psychological forces to the oppression of the emperor, were swept away.

And he showed us that the true kingdom, -- the only true kingdom, the reign of God, -- is of a God of mercy, compassion, and justice.

The kingdom of heaven breaks in on us like spring through winter, like day through night.

The question for each of us is:

How will you announce the arrival of the kingdom? How will you show through word and deed that the kingdom of heaven is at hand?

We begin by living it – by living in the kingdom of heaven first, giving our first allegiance, not to any principality or power of this world, but to the liberating, compassionate, merciful and just reign of God.

Now, what is required of thee, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?


Sermon on Mark 1:21-28 for Sunday, January 29, 2006 JRL