Monday, September 24, 2007

the far side of the world

Ordinarily for tonight's healing & eucharist service, we would look for a saint's day to remember, or just use the readings from the back of the book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts (Church Publishing, 2006) in the two-year cycle for daily eucharist. However, recently I found that two on the calendar - Nathan Soderblom and Albert Schweitzer - were also Nobel Peace Prize recipients. So I went to the Nobel Prize website and searched on "September 24" ... which turns out to be the anniversary of the forming of the National League for Democracy, in Burma - the political party of Aung San Suu Kyi.

A Buddhist, she sees her quest as basically spiritual. “To live the full life,” she wrote, “one must have the courage to bear the responsibility of the needs of others… one must want to bear the responsibility.” And, she added, the quest for democracy in Burma is the struggle of a people to live whole, meaningful lives as free and equal members of the world community. It is part of the unceasing human endeavor to prove that the human spirit can transcend the flaws of its nature.

Aung San Suu Kyi received the Nobel Peace Prize for 1991, yet even today lives under house arrest in the capital city of her country.

Very much in the news today are the protests of the current military regime of Myanmar - the country better known as Burma - which began Saturday with hundreds of monks gathering outside the home of Aung San Suu Kyi to pay their respects. How these events will end, in the short term, we do not know. We have hope of the eventual outcome, a restoration of peace and justice, for Burma and the world.

It was on September 24th in 1988 that the National League for Democracy was formed in Burma, with Aun San Suu Kyi as general-secretary, and a policy of non-violence and civil disobedience. There was hope in that year of many nascent democracies that Burma, too, would shake itself free of the grip of its ruling military junta.

The struggle continues today: earlier today nuns and monks of the Buddhist tradition, predominant in central Burma, took to the streets of Rangoon and Mandalay in mass protest.

We do not know what turn these events will take. If the regime acts with restraint… I’d breath a sigh of relief. If in coming days some glimmer of recognition of the need for change were to emerge inside the junta’s palace… it would be an early sign of hope.

The readings for the evening of September 24th were not selected for their appositeness to current events; it turns out, however, that they fit very well.

Ezra 1:1-6 (End of the Babylonian Captivity)

Psalm 126 ("When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion...Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.")

Luke 8:16-18

'No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.’

From the history of ancient Israel, we know that powerful kings and military rulers do not give up power easily. But we also see in that history a continuing witness of hope, of fidelity to the promises of God.

That hope has begun to be fulfilled in Christ Jesus. In Jesus, the kingdom of heaven was proclaimed – and the day of the Lord began to dawn, the day of peace, righteousness and justice. We are called to live as children of that day – to align ourselves with the coming reign of God, knowing that, try as the rulers of this world might try to hide it, the light is dawning.

How are we to live? As children of the light, letting our light shine before all people – in our personal dealings, in our relations with one another, in our actions as a people of God, to follow the Lord of Light, Jesus Christ: to be the light of the world.

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sources for 2007 September 24th:

The Nobel Foundation - The Nobel Peace Prize 1991 - Aung San Suu Kyi

BBC News - Profile: Aung San Suu Kyi

The Telegraph - Burma protest swells as 100,000 join march

Jim Carrey - Call to Action on Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi

The Age - Tens of thousands add their voice to Burma protests

The Guardian - Burmese junta threatens protest crackdown,,2176125,00.html

Church of Ireland

Sunday, September 23, 2007

it concentrates his mind

Pentecost 17, Proper 20, Year C
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 or Amos 8:4-7 * Ps 79:1-9 or 113 * I Timothy 2:1-7 * Luke 16:1-13

Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully. – Dr. Johnson

Today’s gospel lesson can be divided into a parable, the Parable of the Dishonest Manager (v. 1-8a), five moral lessons (vv. 8b, 9, 10, 11, and12) and an after-thought (v. 13).

First, we have the story of the shrewd manager who, called onto the carpet, turns ill-gotten gain to good account.

Then we have five points:

1. The children of this age – the worldly – are shrewder in dealing with their own generation than are the ‘godly’ – the children of light.

“Be wise as serpents” – you don’t have to be a snake, but “gentle as doves” does not mean foolish dependence.

2. Use worldly wealth to prepare a place for yourself where it really matters – in the eternal dwelling-places of the kingdom of God.

3. Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much, and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.

Remember the story of Abraham Lincoln walking for miles to return a debt of maybe $5? You can trust a man like that – goes the moral – with the welfare of the nation.

4. If then you have not been faithful with worldly wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches – the riches of heaven?

5. If you have not been faithful with what belongs to another – the wealth that belongs to this world, who will give you what is your own – your inheritance in the kingdom of God?

Each of these five proverbs offers a moral to the story, a lesson to be learned about God and material prosperity.

Then, in the final verse, we must choose between two masters: you cannot serve God and wealth.

Who do you identify with in this story?
Who would you rather identify with?

It was not unusual in Roman Palestine to see large tenanted farms with absentee owners, run for a profit, or to see poor farmers, crushed by debt, turned out of their homes, living by the roadside or ditch, in a shanty or shelter-less. Or to see them hanging on to the outskirts of a city, hoping to find work, or food, or shelter, or pity, there.

The Talmud records the sight of a once-proud lady of quality, broken to sudden poverty, following the horses of Roman soldiers hoping to pick grains out of their dung to get something to eat.

What if you were a manager for an absentee landlord, and the owner got wind of your mishandling of his holdings? What would you do if you knew you were about to be fired? And it was time to turn in your accounts? Knowing you were at the end of your management career, and knowing that back at corporate headquarters they would shed no tears over your fate, what would you do?

When you are about to be fired, you begin to wonder who your real friends are.

The shrewd steward – or manager – realizing that the people around him, his landlord’s debtors, whom he has been squeezing for payment, are the very people who can help him out: who can save him from living on the streets. Does he suddenly begin to see them – and himself – with new eyes?

“Here is the note that you signed – give yourself a big discount.” Now, whether that new note says 50 or 80, and whether it is the owner’s profit or the manager’s commission that is cut, it is too late to try to collect the older, larger debt. The evidence has been destroyed: shredded, erased from the tape, or deleted.

The steward’s action is a relief to the debtors, and they won’t volunteer to pay more. Very likely some of them were being pushed to the edge – as all over the world, from Roman times to modern times, small holders, tenants, sharecroppers, living on the edge of starvation, are easily pushed into debt, debt they cannot repay, and lose their land and their livelihood.

Out of gratitude – this debt relief may mean, to a small farmer, the difference between a lean winter and a starving one – just maybe they’ll take this manager in. He has decided, now that he can no longer identify with the bosses, to make up to the masses, the ordinary working people.

He has undergone a worldly sort of conversion, hasn’t he?

What welcome he got we don’t know. We don’t know if the master forgave him, either. We do know that the master praised him, for in his worldly way, the soon-to-be-ex steward was wise. Resourceful. He had used what he had, his position and the wealth at his momentary disposal, to make himself as welcome as possible in the dwellings of his neighbors.

Should we not be shrewd too? The gospel exhorts us to serve God, not gain – but here it shows us how even ill-gotten gain can be turned to good account.

The steward, whose mind had been wonderfully concentrated by the news he was about to lose his job, shows remarkable resourcefulness in making the best of a desperate situation. Confronting the simple and immediate need to have a roof over his head once his master turned him out into the street, he responded with real ingenuity.

The challenge for us is, when we turn our attention to the true master, God, and prepare for the lasting dwelling-places, in his kingdom, to be as resourceful as the shrewd manager.

Sources & Inspirations

The Lessons Appointed for Use on the Sunday closest to September 21 (Proper 20 - Year C - RCL): Jeremiah 8:18-9:1, Psalm 79:1-9, Amos 8:4-7, Psalm 113, 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Luke 16:1-13

The Lectionary Page

Mary H. Schertz, “Living by the Word: Shrewd steward”, The Christian Century, September 4, 2007, Vol. 124, No. 18, p. 19.

Jennifer Copeland, “Living by the Word: Shrewed investment”, The Christian Century, September 7, 2004,

Barbara Crafton, “Your Money or Your Love”, September 21, 2007, The Geranium Farm

Herbert O'Driscoll, The Word Today: Reflections on the Readings of the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Volume 3 (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 2001), p. 112, 115-116.

The Project Gutenberg EBook of Life Of Johnson, Vol. 3, by Boswell, Edited by Birkbeck Hill

Gildas Hamel, Poverty and Charity in Roman Palestine, First Three Centuries C.E. (University of California Press, 1990)

Oremus Bible Browser

The Famine Museum at Strokestown Park

Sharon H. Ringe, Luke. Westminster Bible Companion (Westminster John Knox Press, 2005)

Labels: The Parable of the Dishonest Manager, The Parable of the Unjust Steward, The Parable of the Shrewd Steward, The Parable of the Shrewd Manager

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Amos 8:4-7, Psalm 113, 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Luke 16:1-13

Notes for a sermon to be given at St. John's, Lakeport, California,
September 23, 2007.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it

John Coleridge Patteson
Bishop of Melanesia, and his Companions, Martyrs, 1871
September 20, 2007

Eight time zones east of here is the birthplace of John Coleridge Patteson; he was born in London on the 1st of April, 1827. Four time zones west of here is Nakapu, an island in the Santa Cruz group north of Vanuatu, where John Coleridge Patteson and his companions were killed on 20 September 1871.

And yet far away as these places are, and as far away as the 19th century is from us, we are bound to them by ties not only of affection but also of our common humanity.

Melanesia has an Anglican church now; Patteson went there to found it. Instead he went to his death – by mistake.

He worked to stamp out the flourishing slave trade in the Solomon Islands. The people of Nakapu mistook his party for slave raiders, returning after a recent raid, and took their revenge on his body – one stroke of the hatchet for each native who had been killed in the earlier raid.

The reaction of the government in England was to work even harder to stamp out slavery, and the slave trade, in the south Pacific territories under their flag.

The church redoubled its missionary efforts; Bishop Selwyn, who had sent Patteson to Melanesia from New Zealand, worked to reconcile the people of Melanesia “to the memory of one who came to help and not to hurt.”

The Most Revd Sir Ellison Leslie Pogo KBE, primate of The Church of the Province of Melanesia, is Patteson’s successor: we are all his heirs.

Stuff happens. The joke goes on: Why does this stuff keep happening to us? Or, less popularly: Why do we keep on doing this stuff?

As Tony Campolo recently pointed out, God created humanity to act in freedom, and thus to be capable of going against his will. Out of love, God gave us the freedom to choose to love God in return. Out of love.

Christine Sine of St. Alban’s, Edmonds, Washington, recently wrote: “All of us, no matter how strong our faith, will at some point in our life journey suffer pain and death.” Through Christ, God is able to use the suffering we endure to further God’s purpose in our lives and in the world. God’s grace works through human weakness.

Out of love, he gave us freedom. Out of freedom, we may choose, in the words of the apostle, to “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way [to] fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2) Out of love.

And somehow, out of death, comes life: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)

To really live involves, eventually and inevitably, dying. But death is not the end of the story.

The life that is saved is not the life of this body as it is – but ongoing life in God, that begins when we choose to live in Christ.

Out of love. Out of freedom. Out of death. Into life.


What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)



Lesser Feasts and Fasts (Church Publishing, 2006)

1 Peter 4:12-19, Psalm 121, Psalm 116:1-8, Mark 8:34-38, Genesis 22:1-14, Romans 8:31-39, Galatians 6:2

Context, September 2007, Part A, page 3-4 & Part B, page 6.

Tony Campolo, “God as Suffering Servant”, Tikkun, May/June 2007

Christine Sine, “The Challenge of Suffering”, Prism, March-April 2007

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Whose service is perfect freedom: (Costing not less than everything)

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

When it came time to sign the marriage license for two of my college friends, the minister gave as his title, “Slave of Jesus Christ”. In his letter to the Christians at Rome, Paul introduced himself as “doulon christou iesu” – a servant of Jesus Christ, not distinguishing between bondservant and freedman.

In his letter to Philemon, a brother in Christ and a slave owner, Paul makes distinct the difference between enslavement in the world’s system and free service offered to the Lord. He greets Philemon as a “dear friend and co-worker”, telling him he remembers him in his prayers always thankful because of Philemon’s love for all the saints – all the saints – and his faith toward the Lord Jesus. This love Philemon shows is a source of encouragement and joy. “The hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother,” Paul writes.

Therefore, Paul continues, I appeal to you – rather than making a command. “Refresh my heart in Christ”, he asks. Back to you I am sending Onesimus, whom you held as a slave. He has become a Christian, and hence my brother – and yours. Meanwhile I myself am held as a prisoner, for the love of Christ. Do something extraordinary, Philemon: receive him back but do not punish him; embrace him as a brother, and further than that, do not hold him accountable for anything you might hold against him. Charge it to my account.

It was not unusual, scholars like Richard Horsley tell us, in those days for one person to own another. Even for Christians, to be a slave or a slave owner was a simple matter of economics. But not to Paul: he is challenging Philemon to break free from the economic system the world has enthralled him in, and to do something that will strike its own blow against the empire.

Set him free. Furthermore, flying in the face of the practice of the time — slaves could buy their freedom for a price but would always owe their former master a share of their income — do not charge him for his freedom, or require him to pay you royalties on his future earnings. And you shall be made free yourself.

Slaves are compelled; to serve in Christ is an act of freedom. Paul asks, implicitly, for Philemon to free Onesimus, and so to free himself.

Paul does happen to mention a little debt, and a small requirement for obedience. Not to himself, not really, not to anyone on earth: but to God in Christ Jesus. You owe him everything, Onesimus: even your life.

And here we are back at the cross, with Jesus, who reminds the crowds who were following him – up to this point anyway – that to follow him means giving up all you have. Family, possessions, even life itself, all are to be counted as loss, compared to the one thing left to them, the service of Christ.

Philemon is not being asked to give up a little. Paul reminds him he owes everything in obedience. It is being asked of him now. To give up – “I know my rights!” – he might protest – to give up what he has in the world’s terms in order to take his place in the kingdom of God. Like the rich young ruler who went away sorrowing, Philemon might have thought of what he had to lose – but perhaps, since after all he did save the letter, he thought of what he had to gain.

All this may sound symbolic, to modern ears… until we think of the cost of discipleship we might be asked to pay.

Imagine a world in which one person might presume to own another, a world in which people are bought and sold like possessions. Imagine, indeed, millions trafficked this way across the globe today. And then imagine someone taking some small step to redeem, or set free, someone who is being held hostage to wage slavery or debt, or through physical or other coercion.

That is a world we live in, even now. Organizations of Christians across the world – World Concern among them – are working to help people out of this system, and to challenge the system that enslaves. We might or might not be called to take direct action on this front, but we all will be called at some point to estimate the cost, of carrying the cross, of discipleship.

"Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.… So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

Our God, whose service is perfect freedom (costing not less than everything) – how are we to serve? Whom would we consider a saint?

If a man were give up a good job in a prestigious institution, leave his fiancée behind, and join a conspiracy to assassinate the duly elected leader of his country, would we consider him a good Christian? If, then, caught, convicted, and imprisoned, he wrote that girl, telling her we now live in a world without God, would we praise his faith? We might acknowledge his contribution to Death of God theology, but would we call him a saint?

And yet there he is, on the calendar in Lesser Feasts and Fasts, for April 9th: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pastor & Theologian, 1945. Bonhoeffer left Union Theological Seminary to return to Germany at the beginning of the Second World War, and who subsequently was involved in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler that failed on 20 July 1944, is widely held as an exemplar of faith in the 20th Century.

If a nun were to talk her way out of her vow of stability, and go live on the streets of a big city, would we consider her a model of obedience? If then, and from then on, she felt – and wrote in her letters – that she too felt the absence of God, would we consider her a model of faith? If she carried on like that for fifty years, would we call her a saint?

And yet Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who confessed that she had experienced the dark night of the soul over a period of fifty years of serving the “poorest of the poor”, is widely acclaimed as a model, an extreme model, of faith.

To give up family, friends, possessions, life itself – even to experience existence bereft of a sense of God’s presence – indeed our Lord cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – and yet somehow from this total loss, to experience the life of Resurrection, this is the cost, and the glory, of discipleship.


Readings for Year C, Proper 18 [RCL]: Philemon 1-21. Psalm 139:1-5, 13-18. Luke 14:25-33.

T. S. Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’ (1942); Four Quartets (1943) []

Richard A. Horsley and Neil Asher Silberman, The Message and the Kingdom: How Jesus and Paul Ignited a Revolution and Transformed the Ancient World (Grosset/Putnam, 1997), p. 182-183.

Lesser Feasts and Fasts (Church Publishing, 2006) []

My Life with the Saints by James Martin, S.J. (Loyola Press Chicago, 2006)

September 9, 2007, Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

He comes to us as One unknown...

September 7, 2007

Our reading from Colossians this morning is more hymn than theological statement. From its tremendous phrases we learn the glory of the cosmic Christ, the Lord who is Lord of all, the first and the last. And yet this is the same Jesus our first comrades in the faith knew as a fellow human, walking the dusty paths of Galilee, bringing the message of the coming Kingdom of God to the people of Israel. The Christ of faith and the Jesus of history – the same person – and so compelling, for humankind ever since. For example,…

From the website of the Nobel Foundation we learn that: "Albert Schweitzer (January 14, 1875-September 4, 1965) was born in Alsace... At the University of Strasbourg he obtained a doctorate in philosophy in 1899, and received his licentiate in theology in 1900. He began preaching at St. Nicholas Church in Strasbourg in 1899; he served in various high ranking administrative posts from 1901 to 1912 at the University of Strasbourg. In 1906 he published The Quest of the Historical Jesus, a book on which much of his fame as a theological scholar rests. Schweitzer wrote a biography of Bach in 1905... Having decided to go to Africa as a medical missionary rather than as a pastor, Schweitzer in 1905 began the study of medicine at the University of Strasbourg... In 1913, having obtained his M.D. degree, he founded his hospital at Lambaréné in French Equatorial Africa, [where except for the period from 1917 to 1924 he spent most of the rest of his life].... At Lambaréné, Schweitzer was doctor and surgeon in the hospital, pastor of a congregation, administrator of a village, superintendent of buildings and grounds, writer of scholarly books, commentator on contemporary history, musician, host to countless visitors. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1952. With the $33,000 prize money, he started the leprosarium at Lambaréné....Albert Schweitzer died on September 4, 1965, and was buried at Lambaréné." []

Schweitzer’s work on the historical Jesus summed up the scholarship of the preceding two centuries, well enough indeed that it was not until California’s James Robinson (senior) initiated the new quest in the 1960s that much new ground was broken. Indeed the Westar Institute, sponsor of the Jesus Seminar, having finished its own work on the historical Jesus and looking for new worlds to conquer, followed in Schweitzer’s footsteps by turning to a study of Paul. Of course other people have followed Schweitzer’s footsteps in other ways, notably by serving to relieve poverty, suffering and disease. Even in the 1980 comedy “The Gods Must Be Crazy” a volunteer teacher en route to the bush is asked, “So, are you going to do an Albert Schweitzer in Botswana?”

Carlos Noreña, chair of the philosophy board of studies at UC Santa Cruz, once remarked on what could happen if you took philosophy too seriously. Albert Schweitzer seems to have taken his own scholarship quite seriously. While he continued to write – The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle came out in 1930 – once he had made the move to the mission field his main work, his exegesis in action, if you will, was his service to the poor. This follows quite logically from his conclusion to The Quest of the Historical Jesus:

"He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: 'Follow thou me!' and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfil for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is."

Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906), W. Montgomery, trans. (A. & C. Black, 1910). Chapter 20, conclusion (

Colossians 1:15-20
Psalm 100
Luke 5:33-39

Friday 7 September 2007, Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento