Sunday, December 28, 2008

in the city of the shepherd-king

One 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 coffee from Old Bisbee Roasters in Arizona.

There was a note, from my friend Colleen. When she bought the coffee for me, as a Christmas gift, she’d told the roaster that I was a minister. So he’d said to make sure to tell me that he ‘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.

There in the City of David the Shepherd-king of old, not in a wayfarer’s inn but in a stable, there the King of all shepherds in a manger lay, offering himself as manna, bread of heaven, bread in the wilderness, bread of life – offering himself in obedience and offering that obedience as savior of all; and offering that obedience, to all, as the way that salvation led.

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, a young man of 9th century Northumbria in northern England. He used to sing the psalms to the sheep at night.

And then one night, at the age of eighteen, 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 same Lord calls each of us – from field or from home – to come witness the coming of the Christ Child, to adore him, to receive him into our hearts, to share in his life – the obedience, the innocence, the hope – and to bring to the world hope and peace, joy and love, justice and mercy.

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
Christina Rossetti

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.


Friday, December 26, 2008

After Christmas...

After Christmas…

After Christmas… we put the presents away, recycle the wrappings, and store the boxes in the attic or garage.

After Christmas… the child Jesus grows up.

After Christmas… we try to get our minds around the mystery. Who is this child?

After Christmas… we wonder what will change. What will we do differently? What will we see differently?

After Christmas…

Good King Wenceslas looked out, On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, Deep and crisp and even;

Brightly shone the moon that night, Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, Gath'ring winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me; If thou know’st, telling—
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”

“Sire, he lives a good league hence, Underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence, By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

"Bring me flesh, and bring me wine! Bring me pine logs hither!
Thou and I will see him dine, When we bear him thither."

The saint in the carol sees a way to serve Christ through the poor – and acts on it. He and his page go out into the snow to invite the man to dine.

After Christmas… will we see differently? Will we act differently? Will we walk out into the cold in the footsteps of Wenceslas to seek out the poor? Will we speak out on the causes of poverty? Will we be working to transform the world into the image of Christ’s kingdom – a kingdom of peace and not of poverty, of abundance and not of scarcity; a kingdom turned not inward in self-preservation but outward in charity?

Page and monarch forth they went, Forth they went together,
Through the rude wind's wild lament, And the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now, And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how, I can go no longer.”

"Mark my footsteps, good my page, Tread thou in them boldly;
Thou shalt find the winter's rage, Freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master’s steps he trod, Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod Which the saint had printed.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure, Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor Shall yourselves find blessing.

--J. M. Neale (1818-1866), The New Oxford Book of Carols, Hugh Keyte & Andrew Parrott, eds., (Oxford, 1992) #97.

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.


The English word GOSPEL (Anglo-Saxon, godspell, ‘God-story’) is used to translate the Greek euangelion, ‘good tidings’.* As Christ’s hands and voice in the world we strive to proclaim the good tidings of Jesus in our words and embody his gospel in our deeds.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18)


*Alan Richardson, A Theological Word Book of the Bible (Macmillan, 1950) p. 100.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

In those days...

In those days, Rome was strong, and young in its strength. It had a ruler so powerful he was called a living God, king of kings, and prince of peace. He was called the Emperor Augustus, and he was Emperor of all the world we knew.

His Legions, each five thousand strong, tramped the straight roads of empire, leveling high places and raising the low before them, arrow-straight through the heart of the nations, ruling them all and binding them all, in the darkness of imperial power. He closed his fist in his might, his boots trod across the world.

And he made peace: the peace of Rome, the quiet of empire, the velvet night of unchallengeable authority.

There was no questioning who was in charge… of this world that we knew.

Who were we?

We were just ordinary workingmen trying to make a living – shepherds, staying out in the fields all night, tending the sheep, guarding the flock, keeping watch.

We had seen a lot of strange things, at night, out in the fields. We had our share of bear stories, wolf stories; we'd fought lions.

But we had never seen anything like this. Right in the middle of an ordinary night, right in the middle of an ordinary job, something broke through from a realm beyond our sight.

A choir of heavenly messengers filled our eyes. Unto you, they sang - unto you!

Salvation comes, the king is born, and God has fulfilled his promise. Go and see: go into the town and look for a baby, an ordinary baby, all wrapped up and ready for bed, but sleeping in a manger – that's him.

That BABY is God incarnate: a baby lying in a manger, gently breathing, his folks standing by. This is the sign of God that everyone has been waiting for. This is the Messiah, the King of Kings, the Son of David, Christ Almighty – don't you want to tell somebody about it?

We're no angels. We're just shepherds, working the night shift on a far hillside. The mother herself saw no angels tonight, only us -- bringing the message, confirming what she knew in her heart, that today, in the City of David, is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

He had come, the Savior, the Messiah we were looking for – but not as we were looking. He came to us as a helpless infant, a baby: the hope of the world wrapped in swaddling cloths.

And this child, born to marginal people in a marginal town in a marginal province on the distant edge of the greatest empire the world had ever seen, quietly moved to the center of life. Humble and obedient, Joseph and Mary became more exalted than Herod had ever been; and their son, their Son, was in his infancy more powerful – though invisible in his majesty – than any Caesar would ever become.

Somehow, through this child, peace and righteousness and justice began to work their way in the world, the world that – after all – God, not Herod, had made. And into God’s world he sent his own Son, who became for us the Bread of Life.

We were ordinary workingmen, leading a workingman’s life. Into the very fields where the sheep lay came the extraordinary messengers, bearing glad tidings.

“On earth peace, good will toward men!”

Our lives were changed. Even after, later that night, as we trudged back up the frosty hill-paths to our flocks, we knew that the dawn that was breaking that morning was a new day indeed, for us, for our people, and for the whole world.

How then on an ordinary day are you to recognize the Christ Child? How is he born in your life – in your town?

You go about your business in your ordinary way – and yet: something extraordinary is happening even now, in your heart, in your life, in your will.

Christ is being born. God has sent his Redeemer to you, to establish the way of peace, to bring righteousness and peace to the world he has made, to the person he has made, to you.

Unto you is born this day a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

What child is this who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping, whom angels greet with anthems sweet while shepherds watch are keeping? This, this, is Christ the King; whom shepherds guard and angels sing: haste, haste, to bring him laud, the Babe, the Son of Mary!


Fred B. Craddock et al., Preaching through the Christian Year (Trinity Press International)

Herbert O'Driscoll, The Word Today (Anglican Book Centre)

Hugh Keyte & Andrew Parrott, eds., The Shorter New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford, 1993) No. 53.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

a woman clothed with the sun

A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. (Revelation 12:1)

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

One fall Friday evening fourteen years ago, after a banquet, a group of Jesus Scholars stayed up late talking together in a hospitality suite in the convention hotel – and began to play a parlor game together. They asked each other, if you were going to make a movie about Jesus, whom would you cast as Jesus? As Mary of Magdala?

I had all sorts of ideas – but just as someone turned to me and asked, whom would you cast? The door opened and in walked a Hollywood director who was indeed planning a movie about Jesus. I got a little tongue-tied and lost my chance at fame.

Since then, I’ve turned the question over in my mind and I’ve even thought up a plot device to frame the story – one I thought that director might like. Things like that. It’s a fun game to play.

But here’s a part for you to cast, one we didn’t really discuss that night so thoroughly. Maybe it was too tough a problem for a late-night bull session.

Who would you cast as the Mother of God?

Who would you cast as the Bearer of the bearer of our sins? The one to give birth to the One in whom are born our hopes for new life?

What qualities would she have? Where would you find such a person? How would you break the news to her? What kind of family would she have?

What we know about Mary is that she was a girl living in a poor village. She was the promised bride of a man named Joseph, a workman who worked with his hands. And there was certainly work to do.

The poor village lay in an obscure corner of a mighty empire – not so obscure but that its power could be felt. The Romans had indeed been by – flexing their power, the Imperial troops had laid waste to a nearby town, a center of rebellion. They didn’t like those things, no, and they blotted them out. They’d leave no stone unturned until they’d rooted out the last nugget of resistance.

We know this of Mary: she said Yes. May it be so with me as you have promised. As you have promised my people from long ago – send us a Savior. Send him to me; I will bear the mystery.

I will raise him, and teach him. And he will raise up his people and teach them the way – the way of the Lord, the way of justice, and righteousness, and mercy, and peace.

Courage, faithfulness, and hope. Innocence and obedience.

A girl who had never known a man was declared to be the perfect mother. No wonder she ran to consult her cousin Elizabeth, who at least had some idea of what was going on. Indeed, as the once-barren bearer of the greatest of the prophets, the mother-to-be of John, the voice calling in the desert, one who had spent long years waiting for her womb to bear its fruit, for new life to begin and grow and come to time, she would be the best to know.* To know what it meant to bear the greater mystery, the coming of the Christ – as a Child.

O little lady, you are not least among the women of Israel, for from you shall come the greatest of Kings – greater than David his ancestor. The hopes and fears of all the years will meet in him.

What were you expecting, O people of God? A baby? Or a warrior, a prince, a king, a deliverer? One to lead you to triumph? One to set you free from those who made you captive, to heal you from all infirmity, to comfort you from all sorrow, to set you up once again as the peak of all the nations, the highest mountain in the whole range of hills, the one all would turn to – to regard as the greatest of nations?

And yet, you get a baby, an infant meek and mild, vulnerable, tiny, just a beginning, a birth, a new life, a small package promising greater things – so fragile: but not to worry.

She is up to the task. Let it be to me according to your Word.

And now you and I are called to bear this fragile message into the world. In each of us to bring it forth, give it a new place to begin to grow, to nurture it, to give it a new start, and let it grow, and carry it into the world.

In innocence of our experience,
In obedience of our misgivings,
In the strength of our fragile hopes,
To take him in our turn, the burden and the message,
To conceive the new life in us,
To know the Christ in us, the Hope of Glory,
To take that little light of ours, and give it to the world, and let it shine,
And to be willing to say to God:
Here we are, the servants of the Lord,
Let it be with us, according to your Word.


*[Meredith Long shared this insight with colleagues at World Concern while leading prayers one Thursday this past month.]

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Present

John is a voice calling in the desert wasteland, make ready the highway: the people of God are returning from darkness, into the light of a new day, led by the one who himself is the way and the light and the home-safe harbor they seek.

John, holy human - in the line of the prophets the last and greatest - was sent by God to bear witness to the Word, and to point to the Light.

In our gospel reading today, we see clearly that he is a witness - Greek: a martyr - who testifies to the Word made flesh and come among us. He calls us to testify to the promise of God made real in human form.

"I saw the Light" - as Hank Williams sang - no more darkness, no more night. No more sorrow, no more strife - because, praise the Lord, the Lord is come, to set his people free.

John is a sign, pointing - this is the Way, the Truth, the Life - follow him and believe.

Jesus had a surprise for the people in the synagogue at Capernaum. As he read the words of Isaiah they were fulfilled. The savior, the Messiah, the king - was present - is present, among us here and now.

Salvation is a quality of life here and now: the kingdom of God is all ready here in the hope we have in the Advent of Christ the King. It is Jesus who is coming. All hopes and fears are met in him - and the long vigil of waiting and watching for his arrival is almost over.

Salvation is a quality of life here and now: good news, healing, liberty, release, comfort; this is the jubilee year of restoration and abundance. God's deliverance is real here and now.

The world as it should be, what we have come to call God's kingdom, the reign of God, is already among us.

Our mission to the oppressed, the heart-broken, captives and prisoners, those in mourning, those faint of heart, is to be a sign of God's blessing. We witness to his presence among us with our lives: living as a people of Good News, of freedom proclaimed and lived, of justice and mercy made real. We are the people who sing of God's grace poured forth in overflowing measure, of comfort and joy.

Rejoice - rejoice with real joy, bought indeed with tears of sorrow for what is lost, hard-won Advent joy, not the quick prosperity flash of consumer culture. Sow in sorrow, but reap in joy. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing: always give thanks: the one who calls you is faithful. The one who calls you is faithful.

Christ in you, the hope of glory; faith in the love of God shown in Jesus' word and deed.

He makes all things new.

Let us pray that he gives us grace to see the present through his eyes.

May we rejoice in the Lord always, confident in our hope in Christ.

May we pray without ceasing, steadfast in our faith in Christ.

May we give thanks in all things, celebrating the love shown in Christ.

May we answer the call of God to be his faithful people, knowing that the One who calls us is faithful.

It is time for rejoicing - for ashes to be traded for garlands, for mourning to give way to gladness, for faint spirits to turn to songs of praise.

His people are oaks of righteousness.
However small the acorn, the seedling, the sapling tree, it is tenacious, durable & hearty.

When my father and I and a neighbor pulled down an old blue spruce that was keeling over, we thought we had a bare patch there where it grew; but no, there was a sapling growing, an oak, before you knew it. You could still see the acorn, but it was already tenacious, durable, and hearty. That is how faith grows. It surprises us; it holds fast.

The apostle Paul makes clear to us what we can do, knowing we have a loving God, who loves justice and peace and mercy: rejoice, pray, and give thanks.

It's like this:

A fisherman went down to the Sea of Galilee carrying his net. When he got to the beach, he cast it in. As he drew it back to shore, he found he'd caught a lot of little fish - no use to him - and one good big one. He kept the one good big fish and let the small fry go.

(Gospel of Thomas, 8, para.)

That is what the kingdom of heaven is like; that's what Paul's instructions mean, when he says, do not quench the Spirit or despise the words of Prophets, but still, test everything, and then keep what is good and let go what is evil.

Keep an eye on what the Lord is doing, and may the God of peace sanctify us, keep us sound and blameless.

Think of it: John says, no, I am not the Messiah; no, I am not the Prophet; I am a voice, crying out to you, prepare the way of the Lord - for among you stands, already, the Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

And so, today, we let the celebration peek in - we get a foretaste of the great feast to come -
knowing full well that it is already but not yet the time of the coming of the Lord: and we celebrate his imminent arrival, and his ongoing presence among us.

This can be a bit disturbing, as our friend Ebenezer finds out. He has been warned, by Marley's Ghost, to anticipate the visits of three Spirits: the Ghost of Christmas Past has already come, and horrified Scrooge with his visions...

"Spirit! Remove me from this place."

"I told you these were shadows of the things that have been," said the Ghost. "That they are what they are, do not blame me!"

"Remove me!" Scrooge exclaimed. "I cannot bear it! Leave me! Take me back. Haunt me no longer!"

As he struggled with the Spirit he was conscious of being exhausted, and overcome by an irresistible drowsiness; and, further, of being in his own bedroom. He had barely time to reel to bed before he sank into a heavy sleep.


Scrooge awoke in his bedroom. There was no doubt about that. But it and his own adjoining sitting room, into which he shuffled in his slippers, attracted by a great light there, had undergone a surprising transformation.

The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove. The leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that petrifaction of a hearth had never known in Scrooge's time, or Marley's, or for many and many a winter season gone.

Heaped upon the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and great bowls of punch. In easy state upon this couch there sat a Giant glorious to see; who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn, and who raised it high to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.

"Come in, -- come in! And know me better, man! I am the Ghost of Christmas Present. Look upon me! You have never seen the like of me before!"


"Have never walked forth with the younger members of my family; meaning (for I am very young) my elder brothers born in these late years?" pursued the Phantom.

"I don't think I have, I am afraid I have not. Have you had many brothers, Spirit?"

"More than eighteen hundred."

"A tremendous family to provide for! Spirit, conduct me where you will. I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which is working now. To-night, if you have ought to teach me, let me profit by it."

"Touch my robe!"

Scrooge did as he was told, and held it fast.


The Cractchit Home

In came little Bob, the father, with at least three feet of comforter, exclusive of the fringe, hanging down before him; and his threadbare clothes darned up and brushed, to look seasonable; and Tiny Tim upon his shoulder. Alas for Tiny Tim, he bore a little crutch, and had his limbs supported by an iron frame!

..."And how did little Tim behave?" asked Mrs. Cratchit.

"As good as gold," said Bob, "and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember, upon Christmas day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see."


At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted, and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovelful of chestnuts on the fire.

Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, and at Bob Cratchit's elbow stood the family display of glass, -- two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.

These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and crackled noisily. Then Bob proposed: --

"A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!"

Which all the family re-echoed.

"God bless us every one!" said Tiny Tim, the last of all.



Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.


May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

The blessing of God be upon you today and forever. AMEN.

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, text for public reading

December 14th, 2008:
The Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28


Sunday, December 7, 2008

the long highway

The Seattle Times reports that members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation have put up a sign at the state capitol building in Olympia that reads, in part, "There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."


Just imagine if another group were to put up a sign with this message:

Put no trust in rulers, or in any mortal, for they have no power to save. When they breathe their last breath, they return to the dust, and on that day their plans come to nothing.

Would the state police launch an investigation?
What radical group would dare say such a thing?

It’s from Psalm 146: vv. 2-3 (Please turn, in your prayer book, to page 803.)

It goes on...

Happy are those who have the God of Jacob for their help, •
whose hope is in the Lord their God;
Who made heaven and earth,
the sea and all that is in them; •
who keeps his promise for ever;
Who gives justice to those that suffer wrong •
and bread to those who hunger.
The Lord looses those that are bound; •
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; •
the Lord loves the righteous;
The Lord watches over the stranger in the land;
he upholds the orphan and widow; •
but the way of the wicked he turns upside down.
The Lord shall reign for ever, •
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.


What wondrous love is this? The love that led Israel through the wilderness, that fed manna in the desert, that made straight the highway of our God, that led them home.

The foundation of our hope, that the day will come when steadfastness and faithfulness, righteousness and justice and peace will come together, is Jesus – in whom indeed God’s steadfast love and faithfulness are manifest, in whom righteousness and peace have already met. Good news: God is here among us; welcome the coming of his presence.

“Good news” before Mark got ahold of the term meant the tidings of victory and triumph; the birth of an emperor, a famous victory; it meant Caesar’s peace, the peace of Rome; the peace of empire, of rulers; of the kings of mortal men.

Mark turned it around, and gave the words a new breath of life: “good news” became the glad tidings of the coming of the Savior, of Christ the Lord. It is the good news of God’s power, mercy, and grace; of the peace of Jesus Christ.

John came calling, calling the people into the wilderness, the place where God is close, the place where Israel had always been called, from Exodus to Exile, to be drawn away from its familiar haunts and day-to-day rituals into the desert, the place of intimacy with God.

Just so the Word of God draws us out of familiar paths and ways of living to places where we may encounter strange adventures and find our way home to a place of new beginnings. Through Christ God comes into our lives, making the world new.

This is good news, a voice of comfort, tender hearted in the best of ways: He feeds his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in his arms; he gently leads the mother sheep.

In the times of John, as in the times of old, so it is now. Much has been lost; there is much to build. Rest assured: God is with us wherever we are.

We have his Word, the sacrament of the food and drink of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the presence of the risen Christ: we have the same gifts that all the people of God have had for ages and ages.

Even when it seemed impossible to go on, God has been with us, like the pillar of cloud in the desert sky, like a quiet voice in the wind, encouraging us, and giving us the bread we need and the grace that fills our hearts.

Deep is the hunger, in each of us, for a life worthy of its maker; deep is the hunger that calls us into the wilderness, to be baptized and prepared for the coming of the kingdom; to hear the Word of God, to take in Jesus and make him the centre of our lives.

Wake up! John cries: Jesus is coming. Rouse yourself from your pastoral torpor.

‘What time would you like your wake-up call?’ the hotel clerk asks. John is not so nice! Nobody asks you—it just comes!

…like grits…

ANTICIPATION & PREPARATION – the themes of Advent

Advent, once thought of as a time of penitence, has become for us a time of watchful waiting.

What of our friend? For him, our old friend Ebenezer Scrooge, in the story so far as we have read it, it is easily both….

(Stave 2: the Ghost of Christmas Past)

A looking back that is not nostalgic, far from it, but a baptism of fire, a burning away of impurities, looking back to Moses and Elijah and the great ones of the past; looking back on our own prides and follies, and on the good times we’ve had in the blessing of God: yearning now for God’s presence; yearning for fulfillment of our lives in God’s promise.

The cry in the wilderness is a cry to the people of God to come out of their houses, out of their common places, to be renewed and refreshed and reborn in the river of Jordan, to enter again into the mystery of the story of the love God has for God’s people:
they are called to take their place alongside Moses and Aaron and Miriam, Joshua and Rachel, and alongside Isaiah and the people as they return from exile in Babylon,
to pass again through the waters of the river where Abraham led his flocks and Jacob wrestled all night,
the mysterious boundary that will lead them, once they turn around, back into the Promised Land;

For their every day common places turn out to be the kingdom of God.

Once they have gone into the wilderness to see— whom? Not a prince in his palace, surely? But a prophet as of old, dressed like Elijah or Moses or a wayfaring stranger.

John has called them and they answer. They come in crowds, one by one, many at a time, to take, each of them upon their own heads – and all of them together as God’s people, the sign of baptism, of repentance: they are turning away from their own sins and folly, they are taking on again the kingdom seal, and they ask him: what’s next?

He tells them: turn around! Repent! Turn around! And see: the Promised Land is stretched before you.

Go forward – not into reverse, not into nostalgia for a lost cause, but into the future of God’s covenant, that he will not abandon you, he will put faith into you, and he will be there with you, present with you, to guide you as you live into your vocation.

You are called to be the salt of the earth, the leaven in the loaf, the light that shines in the dark. You are called—take God’s promise and make it your own.

That should be interesting, when Pharaoh hears about it. That should be interesting, when Pilate hears about it. That should be interesting, when they hear about it in the Capitol.

In the dark of night when the days grow short and cold, there is yet something growing, something stirring, something moving forward: it is the coming of the kingdom of God.

The people of God are making their way, once again, into the story of the love of God, into the redemption song. And what’s next?

What is the crying at Jordan?
Who hears, O God, the prophecy?
Dark is the season, dark our hearts
and shut to mystery.

Who then shall stir in this darkness,
prepare for joy in the winter night?
Mortal in darkness we lie down,
blind-hearted seeing no light.

Lord, give us grace to awake us,
to see the branch that begins to bloom;
in great humility
is hid all heaven in a little room.

Now comes the day of salvation,
in joy and terror the Word is born!
God gives himself into our lives;
O let salvation dawn!

--Carol Christopher Drake (St. Mark’s, Berkeley) #69 in The Hymnal 1982.

Praise the Lord, O my soul:
while I live will I praise the Lord; •
as long as I have any being,
I will sing praises to my God.


Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8


Saturday, December 6, 2008

read this sign

The Seattle Times reports that members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation have put up a sign at the state capitol building in Olympia that reads, in part, "There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."


Just imagine if another group were to put up a sign with this message:

Put no trust in rulers, or in any mortal, for they have no power to save. When they breathe their last breath, they return to the dust, and on that day their plans come to nothing.

What radical group would say such a thing?

Psalm 146:2-3

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.

Psalm 146:5-7



The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. … For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2, 6)

Dear Beloved in Christ:

The days are getting shorter and darker and colder, and yet there is something growing every day, coming closer every day, becoming brighter and warmer every day: the coming of the Christ Child.

God’s self-giving love is shown to the whole world in his beloved Son, and the joy and peace that he brings us from God the Father, so that we, believing in him, may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

God comes down to us at Christmas; we anticipate this joyful event every day of Advent, and spend the season of waiting and watching in preparation for his coming into our lives and hearts.

As the days grow closer, as we reach the fulfillment of expectation in the joys of Christmas, we remember those we love, those near us and those far away, those who came before and those who are yet to come, and we think of the other people that God loves, that he knows and we have not known, and we bring them all before the Lord’s Table.

We offer our prayers and thanksgivings for the blessings we have received, and our intercessions for those who have gone without. We remember them, and know that even if we forget, God has them close to his heart. We know this, because Love came down at Christmas.

God has come to us, in the person of a person like ourselves, a little one, an infant, helpless and wailing, like any other; defenseless, humble, a servant. And yet in this very moment he showed his glory— glory not as the world knows it, but glory in the strength of the Spirit of God, a glory that is so strong it can give away its power, so bright it can carry through the dark, and so big that it can make itself as tiny as a whisper— a still, small voice, through which God can speak.

From the smallest of voices to the loudest hosannas, we gather each year at this time, to thank God for the gift of hope, of joy, of peace, and of love, that we know in Christ: unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…

Merry Christmas everybody, and God bless us, every one!

The Rev. John Leech, Priest and Rector

You are always welcome at St. Alban’s!

Worship with us this Christmas season:

St. Alban's Christmas Worship Schedule

Sunday December 21 –
8:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist (traditional)
10:30 a.m. Holy Eucharist (contemporary)

Wednesday December 24 – Christmas Eve
5:30 p.m. Family Eucharist with Children's Pageant
(All children are invited to take part!)
10:30 p.m. Festive Eucharist

Thursday December 25 – Christmas Day
10:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist

Sunday December 28 –
8:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist (traditional)
10:30 a.m. Lessons & Carols, with Eucharist

Sunday January 4 – The Epiphany (observed)
8:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist (traditional)
10:30 a.m. Holy Eucharist (contemporary)

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
21405 82nd Place West (near Five Corners)
Edmonds, Washington 98026
(425) 775-0371

Holy Eucharist every Sunday at 8:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
Healing Eucharist every Wednesday at 9:00 a.m.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

on the eve of thanksgiving

Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness,
and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)

The people God led through the desert,
the people who in darkness were shown a great light,
the people whom the Lord redeemed and called forth from bondage,
not once but again and again:
we are those people.

The people who call others forth out of bondage,
out of darkness into light,
out of poverty into abundance,
out of grief into joy,
out of despair into hope,
out of death into life:
we are those people.

The people God showered with manna,
bread in the wilderness,
bread for the journey,
the people God gave an abundant land,
an abundant life,
and a spirit of thankfulness:
we are those people.

Fisher- men and women by the lakeshore,
gathering in and mending our nets;
Seated by the tax-tables;
Thirsting by a well;
Stumbling blindly along a road;
or carrying a cross:
we are those people too.

God’s abundance is not the surfeit of this world’s pleasures,
not the largest or loudest or tallest or richest,
but the wealthiest in other ways:
in the redeeming hand when all is lost,
the recovered sight when all is blind,
the touch of kindness when all is cold.

We are the people of
We are the people who experience God as creator, savior, sustainer;
who experience God as JOY.

All this summer and into the fall we’ve heard the story of Moses,
from the bulrushes to a glance across the mountains,
a glimpse of the promised land.
And this unlikely child would lead them,
the people of God,
from bondage to freedom,
from sufferance of Pharaoh to open hand of God—
and he would teach them the ways of God,
as surely as he taught them the ways of the desert.

Seek God’s reign first— put things in their right order of priority—
and live in accordance with the covenant God has made with you.

Do not forget— we did not earn this blessing, this abundance—
he gave it to you, as a loving parent cares for her child.

Remember, and be glad, and thank God.

Throughout the stories of Jesus, he is leading the people on the way—
picking up like Joshua where Moses left off—
guiding the people to the land of promise.

Who better than the Child of Promise to do this for us?
Who better than God’s Son to lead us to his Father’s house?
Who better than God’s revelation to show the way to us?
Who better than the bringer of life, to be our fount of blessing?

Blessed one, bless us,
in the breaking of the Bread,
remind us who you are—
Bread of Life,
and remind us who we are—
those who do not live by manna alone,
not even in the wilderness of wandering souls,
but by the WORD that proceeds from God’s mouth.

We are the people
who seek God the Father.

We are the people
who know God in Christ.

We are the people
who live in God the Spirit.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

—W. H. Auden, From the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio, (October 1941-July 1942).


A Litany of Thanksgiving

Let us give thanks to God for all the gifts so freely bestowed upon us.
For the beauty and wonder of creation, in earth and sky and sea.
For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Christ,
For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends,
For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity,
For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,
For the communion of saints, in all times and places,
Above all, for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord;
To him be praise and glory, with you, O Father, and
the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

—Drawn from the Book of Common Prayer, 1979.

Thanksgiving Eve 2008


Saturday, November 15, 2008

We are his blessing

An Astonishing Secret

Jesus let us in on an astonishing secret: God has chosen to change the world through the lowly, ordinary and insignificant. This should give us all hope.
Changing the world through the ... insignificant has always been God's strategy. God chose a ragtag group of Semite slaves to be the insurgents of a new order. God sent a vast army to flight with three hundred men carrying lamps and blowing horns. God chose a shepherd boy with a slingshot to lead his chosen people. And who would have dreamed that God would choose a baby in a cow stall to turn the world right side up?

--Tom Sine, The New Conspirators (2008), p. 22.

There was a priest, named Henri Nouwen, who spoke of "downward mobility" - the way of the cross. He had some words to say about gifts, which Tara Ward has turned into a song. Here are those words:


we may be little, insignificant in the eyes of this world
but when we realize that God has sent us to the world as blessed
our lives will multiply and grow and fill the needs of others
our gift is not what we can do but who we are
our gift is not what we can do but who we are

who can we be for each other? who can we be, Lord, for the world?
who can we be for each other? who can we be?

how different would our life be if we believed every single gesture
every act of faith or love or joy or peace or word of forgiveness
will multiply as long as people will receive it...
our gift is not what we can do but who we are

who can we be for each other? who can we be, Lord, for the world?
who can we be for each other? who can we be?

We are given. We are given. We are given.
We are given. We are given. We are given.

our gift is not what we can do but who we are

our gift is not what we can do but who we are

(Words: Henri J. M. Nouwen. Music: Tara Ward, Church of the Beloved, 2008.)

Jesus told a story about a man who went on a journey. While he was away he trusted his servants with his property, each according to his ability. From each he received according to their need.

There was a servant with five talents, and keep in mind that a talent is the equivalent of an ordinary person's wages for many years, who'd made five talents more. His need was to be faithful with what he had been given, and to bear good fruit from it. Likewise the one with two talents - only two: but he made two more. And he bore good fruit, and was faithful.

Then there was the third servant, whose need seemed to be: safety. Avoiding risk. Avoiding failure. Perhaps even avoiding the risk of success - of an outcome beyond his control. He did take the talent he had been given but he did not take the responsibility that came with it. He buried it. He hid it in the ground. He turned inward, and nothing could grow. When his master returned, he had nothing - nothing to show for it, nothing - for all he'd been entrusted with.

And so even the responsibility he had been given, the one talent with which he'd been entrusted, was taken away from him and assigned to the fruitful and obedient servant who had made ten. The faithful and obedient servants, by contrast, had turned outward - trusting as they had been trusted - and bore much fruit.

Do you remember the tree Jesus told about, the one that had born no fruit for many years? His servant, the gardener, said, give me one more year, one year to prune the tree and dig around it and give it nourishment; then we'll see.

I knew a tree like that. It had not been cared for, or pruned, for many years. A friend who knew trees told me how to prune it, to eliminate cross branching, thin it out, and guide the tree, helping it along in the way it wanted to grow. And with permission from the landlord, I began to prune, and thin, and water. And the next spring: apples.

It is as if we have been asked to a dance. We can stay on the bench - oh, I have a headache; oh, I cannot be sure that I wouldn't look ridiculous, oh, I'm no good at that - or we can accept the hand that is stretched to ours, clasp it, rise from our place by the wall, and join in the dance. However freely, however clumsily, we begin - and our place in the dance, the great dance of the world, which otherwise would have been empty, is filled - and filled with joy.

There is a story in the gospels about a servant whose master demanded his accounting for ten thousand talents - that is an outrageous sum. That is the value equivalent to tens of thousands of years of labor under the sun. This story is about a smaller amount - about five talents, and two, and one. Still, it's plenty.

I have always been afraid of being the one with one talent. I thought I had to have five. But look at the guy in the middle: he only has two. But he grows with them, to two more.

We may feel we only have so many talents - so many gifts to work with, only so much treasure and worth and value and promise. But we have what our master has given us.

Look around and you will see many gifts, borne under many names, behind many faces.

At St Alban's we have several gifts, more than I will count, but here are some of them:

We are very good, we Episcopalians, at celebrating.

We are welcoming, hospitable.

We are willing to love people who are different from us.

We hang in there with each other. We work together for each other. We practice faithfulness. We keep at it. We persevere. We keep the faith.

We have, dare I say it, courage and hope. And what abides beyond all else, love.

We may seem small in the world's measures, as small as mustard seed.

From us, from our lives, from our faithful obedience in keeping to God's promise, we can realize something wonderful and very, very big: We are God's people. And we are blessed.

We are blessed when we are poor, not because we are poor: we are blessed because we will be God's heirs.

We are blessed when we are hungry, not because we are hungry, but because God will feed us.

We are blessed who are mourning, because God will comfort us.

We are blessed when we are meek, because we will inherit the earth.

If we desire justice so strongly it is like a hunger, we are blessed, because that hunger will be satisfied.

When we show mercy, we are among the blessed: God will show mercy to us.

The pure in heart among us are blessed, because they will see God.

Those who make peace are blessed; they will be called children of God.

Even if you are persecuted or slandered when you stand up for justice, you are blessed: yours is the land where justice comes from, where you belong, where your true value is known -the kingdom of heaven.

We are blessed - we are blessed with all we need, supplied by the hand of God like a shepherd feeding his sheep.

We are blessed - but not for ourselves. We are blessed, that we might bless: and those who need our blessing are the ones we are here for.

God put us here in this place in this time for a purpose: to celebrate and convey the gracious love of God, to welcome our neighbors into God's holy place and into the kingdom where our God reigns, where all are the beloved of God, and all share in his blessings, where love abides and faith perseveres and hope yields its increase in abundant harvests.

We are here to be the people of God - and our gift, the gift of each other in the presence of a loving God, is what we have to share with the world. We are blessed, and we are called, to be the people whom God has created us to be. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that who ever puts their life in his hands will receive life in abundance, for eternity.

We are his children. We are blessed; we are his blessing for the world. Here. And now.

Whether we have one talent or two or five - or ten thousand - the challenge is the same:

Our gift is not what we can do but who we are.

St Alban's, Edmonds.
November 16, 2008.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

"I'm just tryin' to be a good Christian."--Johnny Cash

God of holiness,
your glory is proclaimed in every age:
as we rejoice in the faith of your saints,
inspire us to follow their example
with boldness and joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

We will sing a song of the saints of God. We remember them, we anticipate them, and we join with them in the praise of God. And with God’s help, we will join with them in obedience to his will and blessedness in his abundant love.

Through the Revelation of St John we receive a picture of a multitude gathered before the throne of God, worshipping him and living under the wings of his mercy. These are the ones who came through the great persecutions of the early church as if they were being made more perfect in a refiner’s fire. Through their ordeal there was always a presence with them, an Other – they were not alone. These are the martyrs of the church – and they are among the saints.

There are others too: saints are believers, made holy through their faith in God who alone is holy of himself; and the saints are people you see every day.

To prepare you for a song, and for singing it along with the little saints who will sing it with us, let’s remember that everything from great to small is in God’s hands. However tiny and improbable a moment of time may seem, a moment of a turning point, a kindness, a perseverance in faith, it is out of the simple moments of life that a faith and a soul-habit of godly love are forged.

This is the weekend when we remember all saints, every saint, and all souls, all the faithful departed. And we may be thrown back on remembering our own mortality – and our inability to see it all through on our own.

There is a promise for us – if we are weak, he is strong; if we have been cursed, we will be blessed in him; if we are poor, or lacking in any need or faculty, we will be made whole and well and happy. And if we mourn, we will receive the comfort of the Lord. He weeps with those who weep, and laughs with those who laugh. He will always be by your side.

There are as many kinds of saints as there are of people. Through the ages the church has recognized many kinds of people as living exemplary Christian lives.

In the early years of the church, there were the martyrs; soon there were the monks of the desert and the faraway isles, denying themselves and taking up their crosses and following Christ in their own day; there were the organizers of monasteries and convents, like Benedict of Nursia and Hildegard of Bingen and Teresa of Avila.

There were the apostles and first converts who carried the witness across the continents, in Persia, India, the Sudan and Ethiopia. There were the preachers of the gospel to new peoples: Francis of Assisi, Dominic; the missionaries to Africa and Asia and the Americas, Francis Xavier, Father Kino.

There are the modern martyrs, like Janani Luwum and Jonathan Daniels, who stood with the oppressed at the cost of their own lives.

There are you and me, brothers and sisters.

For we carry the gospel and the witness and the mission of the saints with us. And we are all part of Christ’s body, his hands and his voice and his love in the world. Each of us has a gift, and we rejoice in our diversity and our unity.

In his letter to the Romans (12:4-8) the apostle Paul explains:
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

It is through the diversity of gifts that we balance each other, giving to the whole body our own unique and vital contributions. For each of us, for each of the saints, there is a question to be asked: What gives you joy? What is it that in the doing of it, the giving of it, you experience the fullness of grace?

(I do not mean giddy happiness or a temporary feeling of satisfaction at a good deed done, but a deeper calm in your life at the knowledge you are God’s child and that you are on the right road. It is not a feeling that comes and goes: remember that Mother Theresa of Calcutta, in her private meditations, acknowledged the burden of her work and the desert of sadness she endured.)

When I was a kid I had heroes: I’ll tell you about two of them.

There was Willie Mays – when our Cub Scout Pack went to a Giants’ game, I expected him to hit a home run… and he did, on his third at-bat.

And there was Johnny Cash, whom I think my brothers and I mostly enjoyed imitating – at the beginning of his television show he’d introduce himself, turning to the camera and saying, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” in his deep voice, then playing a chord on his guitar. Picture little boys lined up in front of the TV following his every move. Voices a little higher pitched. Later on he became a more real hero to me, as I learned about his life and his faith. One phrase really stuck with me for years after I read it, and it is relevant today, this week, because it was his response to a request for a political statement:

“I’m just tryin’ to be a good Christian.” (Penthouse interview, 1975)

In a way that is what any saint is trying to do – to be a good Christian, a faithful soul, sanctified not by his, or her, own efforts or deeds or lifestyle, but by trust in God. And to live by that faith – and follow God’s calling.

We move, as we become the people who trust God, from being outsiders, seekers, lost in the world and the world’s devices, to becoming members of the body of Christ, and living stones in the building that is the living Church.

In the letter to the Ephesians (2:19-22) Paul explained:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.
And it is in the people of God, as they follow God, in obedience to Christ, that the Spirit is working, and working through us to bring the joy of salvation, of God’s good news, to the world. Each of us has a gift to receive and to give: each of us, following joy where it leads, has a joy to give to the world, the joy (uniquely filtered through the prism of our souls) of the love of God in Christ.

God of holiness, your glory is proclaimed in every age:
as we rejoice in the faith of your saints,
inspire us to follow their example with boldness and joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Lord, thou hast examined me and knowest me.

Lord, thou hast examined me and knowest me.

Thou knowest all, whether I sit down or rise up;
thou hast discerned my thoughts from afar.

Thou hast traced my journey and my resting places,
and art familiar with all my paths.

For there is not a word on my tongue
but thou, Lord, knowest them all.

Thou hast kept close guard before me and behind
and hast spread thy hand over me.

Such knowledge is beyond my understanding,
so high that I cannot reach it.

Where can I escape from thy spirit?
Where can I flee from thy presence?

If I climb up to heaven, thou art there;
if I make the grave my bed, again I find thee.

If I take my flight to the frontiers of the morning
or dwell at the limit of the western sea,
even there thy hand will meet me
and thy right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, 'Surely darkness will steal over me,
night will close around me',
darkness is no darkness for thee
and night is luminous as day;
to thee both dark and light are one.

(Psalm 139: 1-11, NEB)

In the name of God Almighty, Father of all mercies; obedient Son, full of compassion; and Spirit - holy: moving through us throughout our lives. Amen.

This psalm seems to have been made with Charles Mills in mind. When you listen to the stories of his long life, you realize that God has been with him in all sorts of places - from the wings of the morning - in the airplane; in the depths and in the distances on the waters of the Isles; in faraway North Africa and the Italian front; or close at hand, at the dinner table with a child across from him, who is learning from a gentle teacher.

And you hear about his hands: gentle, at work; physician, healer: bringing new life into the world. And you hear, too, from Margaret, his companion in adventure and partner for so many years of life.

We are here to celebrate his life - to thank God for it, even as he takes his place among the souls gathered at the heavenly Table seeing now our Lord face to face.

We will miss him - and we will see him again.

In the hope of the resurrection, Death is not the last word: in the presence of the Lord we are united as one people across time and space. Our God, for whom darkness and light are both alike, is not daunted by the passing of time. In this moment, we mourn Charles - and yet we know he is in Christ eternally alive to the eternal presence of the divine and holy One who will gather us all to himself in the fullness of time.

May we, as we remember Charles and bring forward all the stories and all the love we can bring to the moment of the passing of this beloved man- husband, father, grandfather; physician and friend- may we hold him in our hearts as we hold Jesus our Savior strong to our conviction in the hope of Rest and the promise of the Life to come. Amen.

Celebration of the Life of Charles Mills, November 1, 2008.



ANAMNESIS: An act of remembering that brings the past into the present; that brings the present and events of the past into conjunction, aligning them in unity.

NOSTALGIA: An act of the memory serves as an escape from present realities and anticipations of the future into a past colored with yearning.

Geoffrey Cuming taught our seminary class in liturgics just two new words: anamnesis and epiclesis. This month, I thought I’d tell you about the first.

As we use it in understanding liturgy, anamnesis is the recollection of past events, chiefly in the obedient response to the Lord’s command, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

When he instituted the Eucharist, Jesus led his friends in the symbolic acts that accompany the Passover meal. He reminded them of their heritage. He led them through the events of the Exodus, from the prophecies and the plagues, to the rescue from captivity and the parting of the waters, through the wanderings in the desert and the provision of bread from above.

Most of all, he reminded them of that last supper the people had eaten the night before they were free. And then, he took the bread in his own hands, and said the blessing, as the people of Israel had blessed it for a thousand years: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”

And he broke it, and gave it to his friends. And he took the cup of wine, recalling those ancient days, and with it in his hands he made an offering of prayer and thanksgiving: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.”

All this he did – in accordance with the Law – but he added something that showed Grace in that moment: he said, “Whenever you do this, do it in remembrance of me.” Do it, then, to bring back this moment.

Make it present in your hearts. Remember when Jesus offered himself as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Remember him as the one who leads us forth from the captivity of our own self-centeredness, the lower nature with its egotistical, passion-driven desires, into the freedom of reliance on the providence of God and trust in God’s eternal abundance.

I’m not sure it’s necessary to give much space here to defining nostalgia – that mixture of glad and sad longings that accompany recalling something long ago and far away – and we all know its effects.

If we try to recover a past experience for refuge from the present, or in worried retreat from the challenges of the future, if we try to recreate a feeling or mood to indulge in, we know it is at best a temporary patch on the fabric of time. It will tear away. We do not want to go with it when it goes.

We want to move forward, bravely and boldly, holding on to the promises of God, in the light of the world that dawns in Christ, because however dark the night, as children of the day we know that joy comes in the morning.

Joy opens the heart. –Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.


From the Rector’s Study – ANAMNESIS – for the November 2008 Gospel Grapevine

Saturday, October 25, 2008

love is all you need

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be alway acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength, and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14-15)

It has been a long, long green season. Early on, we heard the story of Moses found in the bulrushes by Pharaoh's daughter - and how he was nursed by his birth mother, adopted by the princess, ran with the princes, then ran away a fugitive from justice (he'd killed a man, an Egyptian who was mistreating a Hebrew slave) into the camp of Jethro, whose daughter he married and whose sheep he herded.

So there he was in the middle of the desert, herding sheep. He learned all the ways of the desert - and all the waterholes. Whatever for? What could God possibly have in mind?

Moses found himself in the midst of an outrageous training program -- and he must have wondered: "If this is the training program, God, what is the job?"

You couldn't blame him for asking. God however kept his peace, and revealed his purpose slowly. You, he said to Moses through the burning bush, are to lead your people out of slavery to freedom. You are to guide them through the desert (remember where all those watering holes are?) and lead them to the land of promise. As you travel you are to teach them the way - not just the ways of the desert but the way of God.

I will give you my word - I will give you my promise - and I will give you my Law.

Moses was alone on the mountain, Nebo or Pisgah, at the end of his life. He had climbed to a high place, and he could see all around. He could see as in a vision the Promised Land laid out before him.

It was like the view the Joad family had, in "The Grapes of Wrath", as they came over Tehachapi Pass and caught sight of the Great Central Valley of California, like a garden without walls. It was like that view for me - coming over that same pass, seeing the first green grass I'd seen for many months and two thousand miles.

For the people of Israel, it meant coming home at last to a place they had never known.

Moses had led them to this point; now God let him see the land with his own eyes.

God leads him up a mountain and shows him the view. Behind him, in the past, are the concerns for the freedom of his people, their physical safety - under threat from the overwhelming force of their declared enemies, from their hunger and thirst, from their foolish idol worship.

Moses looks out across the land. He stands there, a leader facing the future - knowing it is out there - yet dragging along the baggage of the past.

The future is so close now that he can almost taste it - and yet three problems remain: gossip, nostalgia, and, in another way, succession.

For all the time he has led them there has been murmuring - gossip - perhaps out of fear of the unknown, perhaps idle speculation, perhaps discontent with their dependency on God.

There has been a hearkening back to a past viewed in hindsight through rose-colored glasses.

And there is the challenge of bringing forth a new generation of leadership for the future.

Yes, Moses had had his hands full.

As he looks over the fair prospect of the Promised Land, he knows that his work is done-but that the work of the people goes on.

He has been their lawgiver, teacher, advocate, and guide. He has been their shepherd in the wilderness. He has seen to their needs. He has brought down to them the law - after speaking with God face to face, without a mediator. He has promised them a future with hope. And he has delivered on that promise. Now it is time for a new leader to step up.

Cheerfully obedient to the last, Moses accepts a peaceful end as a gift from the Lord, at this last place in the desert. He has reached the ideal age - 120 - and his strength is unimpaired. He goes silently to his end, alone with God on the mountain; there is no shrine to visit. His legacy is the Torah, the word of God, and the freedom of his people.

The Torah, the Law of Moses, can be summed up in two great commandments.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

All 613 commandments in the Torah come to their completion in these two deceptively simple statements. If you love and show the love of God in the world, you have gone beyond the letter to the spirit of the laws.

Augustine, a bishop in North Africa when Rome was falling, had a bit of advice about the two great commandments.

He summed up all of our duty to God and each other in one phrase:

Love - and do as you please.

Love - and do as you please.

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

Love - and do as you please.

Wait a minute. Sounds like a Catch-22 doesn't it?

If you love, what will it please you to do? What is the loving thing?

And where did all this love stuff come from, by the way?

Well, it came from the top, and it came from the start.

In the beginning there was LOVE.

Love was with God and love was God - nothing came into being that did not come into being without LOVE.

For LOVE is the essence of the Torah - the Law given to Moses, the Word of God given to the prophets - and it is embodied in the words and acts and life and being of Jesus.

Jesus is love incarnate - and this love is the love of God. This love is the light of all humankind. It shines in the darkness of the world. And hate has never overcome it.

Love - and do as you please.

How do you love? Micah the prophet put it in three phrases: do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God. (Micah 6:8)

The Torah put it in two: Love God - and show that love in love for your neighbor. But where did this love stuff come from? From God: who loved us first.

Jesus is "the embodiment of the love the law requires" (Herb O'Driscoll).

Jesus is the Torah come alive, the living expression of God's will for his people.

And that Law is love.

Not from compulsion but out of love, the love that came first from God, are we to fulfill all the law and the prophets. And we do so in the name of Jesus, the epitome of love.

In the beginning there was love...

True holiness, obedience to God, is a response in love to the call to holiness, to right living, that is expressed in the two great commandments, the summary of the Law:

Love God with all your being; show that love in love for others.

Cheerful obedience to God's commandments - bearing the fruit of faith, hope and charity in the lives of believers - is a manifestation of the love of the God who loves you first and best: love God, love your neighbor.

In his obedient response to the will of God, Jesus fulfills the two great commandments - the greatest commandment, the Love of God before all else, and the second, to love thy neighbor.

In his brief encounter with the Pharisees, who asked which is the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus shows Messiah is more that Son of David, true king of Israel: he is David's master, David's lord, the son of God. And he has come, to set his people free.

The commandments Jesus cites in answer to the lawyer's question of which is #1, are parts not of action only or bare compliance, but are part of prayer - and of a life of holiness, a life lived in the knowledge of the love of God. They are part of the fabric of being, from day one and every day of our lives. And they speak to a renewal of the heart.

What are we called to this week, as God's people, in our prayers and in our daily actions?

Sounds like a tough challenge. But the answer is really very simple:

Love - and do as you please.

May the Love of God, which surpasses all understanding,
keep your hearts and minds, your souls and your selves,
at work or at rest, gathered or scattered,
obedient, joyous, and alive
with the good news of Jesus Christ - and of the God who always loved you first and best. Amen.

"I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy."-Rabindranath Tagore


Sunday, October 12, 2008

How is your heart set?

In the name of God, merciful Father, compassionate Son, spirit of Wisdom. Amen.

This is a story about persistence – persistence in prayer, and the persistence of mercy.

Before the prayer even began, the mercy was there – at work, doing more than I could ask for or even imagine.

Once in a while in Mr. McCormick’s 10th grade Spanish class, students would pass around little slips of paper and ask each other, “Are you going to club?” Club? What were they talking about? I asked – they meant Young Life!

There was a meeting every week at someone’s house. Lots of people went, and so I was curious. The slips of paper were little hand-drawn maps – how to get to ‘club’ this week. I didn’t drive – but one month my neighbor and childhood friend Adrienne hosted the meetings.

And so one blustery fall evening I walked down the block, and rang the doorbell of her house. It opened onto a warm roomful of bustling people – and before I knew it I was greeted, asked what my name was and greeted again, and welcomed in to the warmth of that room. It was full and an older guy named Lee made room for me at the back. There was singing and another guy, a college student named Steve, gave a ‘talk’ built on a song – “You’ve Got a Friend”. That was my first experience. I came back.

Somehow all that noise and laughter helped me to take in the message of hospitality that lay behind it all – that in the home of Jesus there was room made for me, that I could find my place in him, and eventually I could invite him to come into my life, and we would together journey to the true home of all people, the dwelling place of the peace of God.

And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


Long ago in a land far, far away called San Francisco, there was a newspaper columnist named Art Hoppe. His column was light-hearted and spoofed many of the foibles of the day. However… frequently two characters appeared, standing on clouds, regarding Earth from the prospect of Heaven. There stood the Heavenly Landlord, and by his side stood the faithful messenger Gabriel. “Look! Look at what they are doing now!” the heavenly landlord would exclaim in exasperation. For it looked like this time they had really torn it – and Gabriel would eagerly inquire, brandishing his trumpet, “Shall I sound the heavenly Eviction Notice, Lord?” And the landlord would look down once again on his favorite planet and say, “No, no, — ” His mercy always overcame his wrath.

In the story of the Golden Calf, the people of Israel have vexed their God just about beyond belief – he has rescued them from slavery in Egypt, parted the Sea that they might escape to dry ground, led them through the desert faithfully, when they were hungry he fed them, when they were thirsty he gave them drink – and now, they have a few moments to themselves while Moses is facing God on the mountain.

So what do they do? They melt down their gold earrings and make themselves an idol of gold.

And so they exchanged their Glory for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.

To the gold they bow, saying, this is what preserved us. This is what brought us through the hard times, through the desert of want and the forest of need, through all our wandering, this is what got us fed and led us to safety.

Oh boy. Is he angry now!

Moses intervenes: do you want the whispering campaign to be proved true? that you brought them out into the wilderness just to see them suffer and die? Remember your promise, Lord; remember your mercy.

And God changes his mind.

God renews the intention of his heart – his resolve, his intent.

In heart and mind he recovers his purpose.

And he stays his hand.

It is written above his throne: his mercy always overcomes his anger.

Moses interceded for the people: does this mean that magic words make God change his mind?

Or does it mean that the will of God is fulfilled, that the true nature of God is revealed, that his purpose is completed in the compliance and the supplication of a willing heart? Moses asked for what he needed – for the mercy of God to prevail.

Indeed, God gives to us in abundance what we need before we ask – we have all we are and have and will be, owing to God. It is almost an act of courtesy, but a necessary act of completion, of coming into harmony with divine purpose, that we ask for what we need: our daily bread, our sins forgiven, our temptations deflected, our deliverance made real.

Israel in the desert, the people of God wandering through the world of want and need and dependency on divine favor – he has only to remove his hand and it all goes away – have rebelled once again like Adam in the garden at their place in the world. But it is only the truth of the human condition. We are dependent on God for all that is.

And yet – the truth is, his gift of love precedes our need; God is there before us, before we conceive of it, providing with abundance. And not for ourselves only: as Paul has said to us (through the letter to the people of Philippi) our abundance is to overflow in generosity to others. That is its purpose: not to give us something to hold onto, but something to share.

And so Paul says, rejoice. Always in the Lord rejoice – be glad of God’s faithfulness and his provision. By prayer and with thanksgiving let God know what you need.

And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

His mercy endures forever.


The letter of Paul to the Christians at Philippi has a lesson for us. Put in sharp contrast the way of the world’s doing. Here is a nugget of wisdom I learned this summer from a Lutheran pastor and theologian named Paul Lee:

Badmouthing is negative prayer.

Badmouthing is negative prayer.

Badmouthing – I think you know what I mean – is like Badwater – the low ground in Death Valley: a place and a way of being full of bitterness and stagnation and defeat.

It is not the life-giving water, the sweet water; the gift of abundance of God.

It is scarcity thinking, at its worst—there isn’t enough for me, there certainly isn’t enough for me to share with the likes of you.

What is the sweet water? What is positive prayer?

Paul the apostle:

o whatever is true
o whatever is honorable
o whatever is just
o whatever is pure
o whatever is pleasing
o whatever is commendable
o what is excellent
o what is praiseworthy

Let your mind rest on these things
Let these things refresh your mind
Let your heart find its dwelling-place in the gracious things of God

In the renewing of your mind let God’s grace flow like waters in the wilderness
bringing new life

Do not be conformed to this world’s ways any longer, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Paul’s message to us here – do not worry, make your dwelling-place in the peace of God – is more than an admonition to avoid bad feelings.

He assures us that the God of peace will be with us, as we set our hearts on the good things of God: true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy things.

Not things as the world acquires them are the things of God: they are lasting, they are blessings, and the more you share them, the more abundant is your own life.

Set your heart on the things of God and receive his blessings.

How is your heart set?


Monday, October 6, 2008


October 2008

Dear friend in Christ and fellow worshipper:

On my telephone is a place to slip in a piece of paper: usually you put your telephone number there. Instead, I have a message from a fortune cookie:


That, in a nutshell - or a cookie - is our stewardship message this year. Put more elegantly, by the apostle Paul, it goes like this:

Each of you should give as you have decided for yourself; there should be no reluctance, no sense of compulsion; God loves a cheerful giver. And it is in God's power to provide you with all good gifts in abundance, so that, with every need always met to the full, you may have something to spare for every good cause; as scripture says: 'He lavishes his gifts on the needy; his benevolence lasts for ever.' (2 Corinthians 9:7-9)

We are blessed. We are blessed with each other, with the presence of the Lord, with all God's gifts. At Saint Alban's Church, we know that God works together with us in unexpected and generous ways. The Holy Spirit has brought us together as a community, like a household under one roof, to be the people of God in this place at this time.

We are called. We are called to share the blessings we have received, to pass them on to the generations to come, and in thankfulness to praise God for all we receive.

We are chosen. We are selected to receive from others the gift of the knowledge of grace, to receive the gifts of difference and similarity, to join together in common purpose - to praise God, to show forth the Good News of Christ in our words and in our lives.

And we are encouraged. We are given new hearts, living each new day in the knowledge of the grace and glory of God.

Let us share with one another, with the community around us, and with the world beyond, the gifts we have received from God. Some of those gifts are tangible, and measurable - but the most profound gifts are beyond price: the grace that comes to us from the hand of friend or stranger, the peace that is communicated to us in the Word of God, the hope that is ours through the Work of Christ. These gifts are intangible, even inexpressible.

As you contemplate your giving to the church of Saint Alban for the next year, be encouraged to give with a cheerful heart - seeking God's guidance as you make your pledge, confident in your mind that what you have to give is honorable, and assured that with gratefulness and generosity you can give what you know in your own heart is right to give.

Our economic times are uncertain; they always are. Know that the Rock on which our Faith is built is steady, and safe: in the love of God you will always have a home.

Together let us resolve to give thankfully, rejoicing in the richness of the grace that God has given us. Let us with gladness present the offerings and oblations of our life and labor to the Lord. Thanks be to God for his gift, which is beyond all praise!
(2 Corinthians 9:15)

Have a blessed day.

Yours faithfully in Christ,

The Rev. John Leech

St. Alban's Episcopal Church
21405 82nd Place West, Edmonds, WA 98026

Scripture quotations taken from the Revised English Bible.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

rebuild my church

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

When knighthood was in flower, when Richard the Lionhearted was triumphing at the Battle of Acre, and all young manhood yearned to be on Crusade, among them was a young man in central Italy, in the proud town of Assisi. His father was a wealthy merchant, a dealer in French fabrics, and his son was his best sales representative.

In fact he’d nicknamed the boy ‘the little Frenchman’ shortly after his birth. And that is how he is known to history, not as Giovanni Bernardone, but as Frankie – Francis of Assisi.

As a young man Francis longed to be a hero of romance and a singer of romances: a troubadour as well as a crusader.

He was popular with the other young men – he had the best clothes, and he fixed them up at a reasonable rate. The young nobles of the town formed his entourage. As I said, he was a good salesman – and his father’s clothes shop prospered as Francis’ friends followed his style.

So when Francis wanted to accompany the knights marching through Italy to embark on crusade, his father paid for his suit of armor. And Francis started out – but something turned him back, not long after he generously gave his armor to a poor knight who had none.

Later he was a prisoner of war in the town across the valley, for some months, as his townspeople waged war on theirs. He was in a low dungeon. It was not to be his last.

For one day, in a exuberant gesture, Francis – having visited a poor church – loaded a horse with cloth from his father’s storehouse, rode to the next town, sold both horse and cargo, and returned with the cash to offer to the priest.

The priest thought something funny was going on, and refused the gift – so Francis cast the money, no more use to him, into the corner near the altar.

His father came looking for him. He hid out in the church basement for some weeks, a virtual prisoner. Then his father had him dragged out and hauled in front of the bishop, in the town square. There in front of God and everybody his father demanded he return ‘everything you have had from me.’

Francis complied – he removed all his clothes, and placed them at his father’s feet. The bishop threw his cloak around the young man.

Francis later scrounged up a castoff garment from the under-gardener, and sketched a cross on it with a piece of chalk. He wore it proudly. He was beginning to understand there was another way to take up the cross than to be a crusading knight in armor.

He began to take up his cross and follow Christ. He took his place in the true crusade, the struggle within human souls to cast off sinfulness and embrace the life of grace.

It was soon after that Francis found himself praying at a small decrepit church – long deferred maintenance had turned it into a virtual ruin. But it still had an altar, and above the altar an icon of the crucified Christ. He stared at the icon and the open eyes of Christ looked back. He heard the call:

Rebuild my church, which as you see is falling down.

Rebuild my church.

He began with his own bare hands, there and then. He began quite literally to rebuild that little church. Day by day, stone by stone, they built it slow and surely.

And slowly and surely the church began to be recover, and to be reborn into new life – and soon companions came to share in the work. They rebuilt that little church. And soon, they had rebuilt two more.

It was just the beginning. For the days of the crusaders had left the church in a sorry state – and Francis and his companions, in their own simple way, began to follow the gospel as their rule of life.

And their lives, and the life of the church, began to be reborn, remade through the work of human hands and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Some years ago a pastor named Robert Munger wrote out a message, entitled, “My Heart, Christ’s Home”. (

In it he compared the chambers of the heart, the mansions of the soul, to the rooms of a house. He described how a person might invite Jesus into their heart, only to discover gradually that there is more and more work there for Christ to do, to turn their heart into a true home for the indwelling of the Spirit of God.

As we open the door to Jesus to come into each area of our life, he is able to rebuild each of us as the temple of God we are called to be.

There are many rooms in a Christian’s soul – the room of intellect, the room of emotion, the room of personal morality, the room of social responsibility, the room where we pray, the room where we give of ourselves to others, the room where the stranger is welcome. In each of them Christ has work to do, to transform our lives.

Another pastor, John Landgraff, talked about the work of personal transformation, and how we can begin, in a small way or more ambitiously, doing over one room – or the whole house. As Christ begins to go to work in us, making his home in our hearts, the whole house begins to take on new life and new purpose.

This is reflected in the promises we have made, or had made for us, at baptism:

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

I will, with God’s help.

In each of these vows you can see evidence of a building project going on, in the life of the Christian.

There is another building project going on – beyond the work of God in the individual there is the work of the Spirit in the Church, rebuilding it anew in every generation.

In his generation Francis heard the call: Rebuild my church. We are each called to take part in our generation in the work of the building and rebuilding of the Church.

We are to work alongside the master builder – and like those who have gone before us, Francis of Assisi and all the others through the ages – we have work to do.

Rebuild my church.

The call goes out to every new generation of believers. We are his people and our hands do his work in the world.

Rebuild my church.

There are many rooms in the household of God, the house of prayer for all people. They are not all visible to us – but we can see some of them. There is room for education of the young, there is room for music and worship, and there is room for fellowship and celebration.

Let’s take one room in particular for an example.

In some old churches this is a physical space – there is in east Oakland in the church of St James a room with a large table in the center surrounded by a dozen chairs, and tall lockers – wardrobes – for the vestments of clergy and others.

Yes, it is – it is the Vestry. And that is where the Vestry of St James Church meets. They are the stewards responsible for the physical and financial wellbeing of the church, for hiring and supporting the rector and other ministers and employees, and for supporting the ministry of the whole people of God in that place. Beyond that, they take leadership in looking after the needs of the congregation as a whole – and its service to the wider community.

That room is one where Christ must be present, where the Spirit needs to be at work, and where the work of transformation of our very human selves into the people of God has to take place. You may be called into the joy of becoming a co-worker of Jesus in this room, the vestry – just as you may be called into another field.

Later in this morning’s service you will have the chance to hear from a current member of vestry an invitation to consider this particular work of service – and to hear how that can be a work of joy, helping to answer the call of God to every generation: rebuild my Church.

However you are called to serve, whatever place you are to take in the work of the people, you are called, as one of the people of God, to be transformed - to become one of the living stones built into the temple of his Glory.

At the altar today you will have a chance to renew your own intention to follow the call of Christ, in your own vocation as a person of God, called here and now as a part of this church, to accept the transforming presence of God in your life, and to invite Christ anew into your life to do the continuing work of rebuilding your heart as the dwelling-place of the Spirit of God.

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Saturday, September 20, 2008


Bread from Above
Bread for the Journey
Bread for the World

In the name of God, merciful Father, compassionate Son, Spirit of wisdom.

The people of God wander in the wilderness. They long nostalgically for the ‘fleshpots of Egypt’ – for the familiar, however uncomfortable, however impossible to recover.

God has drawn them out of bondage – led by Moses, whose very name means “he who draws out” or “he who has been drawn out” (both true of Moses).

By a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, God has led them into the wilderness. They follow – but they grumble.

For they are on an adventure.

And as Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, says,

“Adventures are a logical and reliable result – and have been since at least the time of Odysseus – of the fatal act of leaving one’s home, or trying to return to it again. All adventure happens in that damned and magical space, wherever it may be found or chanced upon, which least resembles one’s home. As soon as you have crossed your doorstep … you have entered into adventure, a place of sorrow, marvels, and regret.

“For better or worse it (the story of the Jews) has been one long adventure – a five-thousand-year Odyssey – from the moment of the true First Commandment, when God told Abraham lech lecha: Thou shalt leave home. Thou shalt get lost. Thou shalt find slander, oppression, opportunity, escape, and destruction. Thou shalt, by definition, find adventure.”

Michael Chabon, Gentleman of the Road (Ballantine, 2007) 201-202, 203.

Now the people of God are embarked upon a great adventure. They are seeking – home, but a new home, which is their true home, their only home; they are seeking the land of promise where God dwells with them.

God has pitched his tent among them - but God has promised: this is only a way station. You are on a pilgrimage, a journey, to the place where you really belong: the place that I prepare for you.

So. They are walking here. They are walking in the desert. And they are getting hungry.

The people of God cry out – and God hears them.

So, God provides. Quail in the evening, manna in the morning. Day after day after day. Forty years of it. They are sick of it within a week. (Just wait till they run out of water.)

What have they got? They have

Bread from Above – Bread from Heaven.

The Holy One has provided them with what they need.

Notice: he provides them just what they need. As it turns out, no matter how anyone gathers, each person finds they have just enough for the day – or to tide them over during the Sabbath. There is nothing left over, nothing you can hoard: it turns bad by morning.

What do they have?

They have the bread that the Lord has given them. They might want to sing:

All I have needed thy hand has provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

They are able to go on, as the God who has called them forth from the familiar fleshpots on the way of the great adventure, as God leads them forward to the place of his purpose.

The bread from above is bread for the journey.


In the story of the laborers in the vineyard, the bread from heaven appears again – as the daily bread, the bread we need.

Imagine hanging around the Shell station all day, waiting for a job. Nobody has hired you and it is getting on toward 5 o’clock. How will you explain to your family you have nothing for them? There is nothing to eat. Nobody picked you and now you have nothing.

Then a man in a truck says, get in -- you’re hired.

And at the end of the day, he pays you a full day’s wages.

After all that waiting, all that wondering, worrying, it is like – bread from heaven.

You might be a little surprised to hear what the other guys say after you leave: “Hey! That’s not fair. We worked all day. Through the heat. And all you give us is –

“A day’s wages. As agreed.”

Each of them, however much they’d gathered or hoped to gather, has their daily bread.

They have it from God.

Whether this seems like abundant providence or stinginess – they have the staff of life.

God provides it: not from merit, but from – something else.

Because the complaining laborers are thinking about what is right, what is due, for each. But the landowner is concerned with what is right for all: the welfare of the whole community, the whole people of God.

And that is a pretty big group.

Last year Sarah and I went to a class taught by Art Simon, founder of the Christian citizens’ group Bread for the World. The course had been billed as how to preach on behalf of the poor to the rich – but he quickly threw out the title. We are all in this together. Rich and poor, we are all one people. God’s people.

So the bread from above is bread for the world.

We are given this bread, and it is bread from heaven.

It is for us to bless it, break it, share it among ourselves, and pass it on.

How will you receive the bread from heaven this week? How will you take in the body of Christ, the bread of Heaven, to be renewed and energized? How will you take the bread from above, blessed and broken, and extend your hand to offer it to another?

There are very practical ways: in the past weeks, we’ve taken up offerings for local food banks – and we’ve learned how to help with hurricane relief.

There are other opportunities for mission and service ahead – from working in local direct assistance programs to supporting mission work far away.

There is the citizenship side of the poverty issue. We, without regard to party, can become advocates for the work of relief and development.

There is our own good work, done in the course of getting a living, done for the glory of God.

We can continue to develop our mission and our outreach as a community – finding the ways each of us and all of us together are called to serve – and to discover what our own place is, in the sacred story of the people of God.

Show us your way, Lord, as you showed the men and women and children in the desert of Sinai, the way to worship you and to serve you, and to become your people in the midst of the world. Provide us with the bread we need; and give us the grace to become part of your gift: bread from above, the bread of heaven – bread for the world.


Proper 20, Year A - Pentecost XIX
Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16