Sunday, April 27, 2008

Uncle Stand-In

‘In him we live and move and have our being’

1 John 2:1-14

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments.

Whoever says, ‘I have come to know him’, but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, ‘I abide in him’, ought to walk just as he walked.


In the name of God, source of all being, eternal word and holy spirit - AMEN.

In the book of Acts we travel a long journey with the apostle Paul, from Saul the self-righteous persecutor to Paul the missionary. He begins his journey appealing to the Law – even against the Spirit and the Son of God. But last and least appeared to him the resurrected Jesus – and he became his messenger to the nations.

From Ephesus and Thessalonica and Tarsus and Damascus, where he had been able to speak in the synagogues – for a while – he goes to Athens; the capital of sophisticated discourse, of philosophers. He cannot appeal to the Law, the law they do not know: he can only appeal to the law they know in their hearts; as their own poets said, ‘for we too are his offspring.”

Paul proclaims to the Athenians that the god unknown that they have built an altar to is the god who needs no altar, who is not confined by time or space, certainly not by shape or form in stone or wood or metal, and indeed not by anything in all their philosophy – he is supreme, creator, One: he is the source of all being. And he is not simply the ‘mover unmoved’ – the original push (or bang) that got the universe started; he is the God who sustains life and gives breath to all his creatures.

He made all nations of the earth from one ancestor, Paul proclaims, and so planned the times and places of the lives of all people so that they would seek him – and, perhaps, ‘grope for him and find him – though indeed he is not far from us.’

Paul contends with the philosophers, the intellectuals, the coffee house crowd, honoring them and showing them that what they have sought is coming to pass: the one that they all have been seeking is seeking all of them. Indeed, he has sent a man to be their advocate, their vindicator, their righteous judge, and assured us of this by raising him from the dead.

Jesus comes to them, even the pagan world, not to condemn them but to bring them to life, full life, abundant life – that which they have worshipped in the dark – in ignorance – now they will be enabled to worship in the light of a new day.

What is dawning is an enlightenment born of God – and of the Spirit. Therefore what they hear in Paul’s proclamation is a completion of the groundwork God laid in the very foundation stones of creation. Earth and sky and sea testify to him – and now in fulfillment of his plan God sends one, his own, to call all to repent, and begin turning, turning home, to the home they never knew – to the one in whom we live and move and have our being, the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

“Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for me.” – this is the psalmist’s summons – and the psalm carries us on to the next step. Beyond argument there is devotion – and prayer – and the petitions of the psalmist have not gone unheard.

“I called out to him with my mouth, and his praise was on my tongue. If I had found evil in my heart, the Lord would not have heard me; but in truth God has heard me; he has attended the voice of my prayer.”

Far from rejecting the plea of the unknown God fearer, the Lord hears the cry of the seeking soul, and all, Jew and Gentile, far and near, sophisticated and plain vanilla, can echo the psalmist’s thank offering and praise:

“Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer, nor withheld his love from me.”

In the second lesson, from the first letter of Peter, the days of reassurance are far away – and the days of persecution ‘for the sake of my name’ are close at hand. Do not fear, do not be intimidated – nothing the world can throw at you can separate you from God.

In your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord – let your conduct reflect his glory, and your speech confess the hope that is in you – the hope of Glory. With a clear conscience – made clear through the resurrection of Christ Jesus – you can hope.

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh in deed, but he was made alive in the spirit. His life and death and resurrection and ascension give us freedom from fear forever – we no longer need be intimidated by the world’s judgments. We are already vindicated before the highest court – and in the name of Christ we are welcomed into God’s favor. And so Peter, like Paul, reminds us to be worthy of our calling and of the name of the one in whom we receive life.

In the Gospel of John we continue to hear the words of comfort and assurance, and of exhortation, that are part of the long discourse at the end of the Passover meal – remember, Judas has left, to go ‘do what he has to do’, and now the rest of the disciples are coming to terms with what it will mean when Jesus goes. How are you to go on living when the one who is the very principle of life has gone?

This is the dilemma and the bereavement that the disciples face, on the eve of the crucifixion: how are they to live in the absence of their master, their teacher?

Many teachers would leave their students feeling abandoned, orphans – this is the image used of the followers of men like Socrates. But such is not our fate – as followers of Jesus we are heirs to the promise made to the disciples on that first Holy Week, that Jesus will ask the Father – he will be our advocate to the Father, and make petition to him on our behalf – and what he asks for we receive: another advocate, to be with us forever; the spirit of truth.

Jesus makes of the spirit’s coming an ‘open secret’ – the spirit is only revealed to those in whom he makes his home. In Christ and through Christ, in the Spirit and through the Spirit, in the Father and through the Father – in all these ways, the three persons of the Trinity, we abide in God – and God abides in us. This is the promise Jesus is making on the eve of his own departure – that, in the spirit, he will be present. He will not abandon his disciples – and he does not. The world no longer sees him, but he lives – he lives in the Father, and we in him, and he in us. This is the promise of the spirit, of the abiding of God with us and us in him.

How heady this all is! And yet, the practical steps are laid out before us: to know him, is, well, to love him – and this is the love not of emotion but of obedience: if you love me you will follow my teachings; the one who keeps my word – and carries it out in the world – this is the one who loves me, and knows I am here.

Jesus’ promise is to send a ‘paraclete’ – originally a legal term, a “paraclete” was an advocate, a counselor, or a stand-in: someone who would speak on your behalf before the court. And a paraclete can be a teacher, and a comforter.

For example: when Sarah was ready for her ‘coming-out’ party all the girls were to gather every weekend to receive dancing lessons, together with their fathers, so that on the day of the big dance they could be presented, and escorted, and dance together, fathers and daughters.

Sarah’s father had died three years before, and so her Uncle was to escort her. But he lived in Texas. And so he could not attend the weekly dancing lessons.

But an old friend of Sarah’s father stepped in – he offered to go with Sarah to all the lessons, - he said, “I’d be glad to be your Uncle stand-in” and so she, the only girl without a father present, was not alone. Frank learned all the dances and taught them conscientiously to her uncle, who performed them perfectly on the day of the dance. It was a great success. And so I was especially glad, when I met Sarah’s family, to meet “Uncle Stand-in” – representative, comforter, and teacher.

We are not alone. Come, Holy Spirit, advocate and guide, be with us, to teach, to comfort, to lead: and bring us into the presence of the living God, in Christ. Amen.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

this is real

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, "For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio" (1944)

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

This is real: We lost him. Jesus died.

This is real: God has him. He always has.

This is real: God has you, too. He has given you to Jesus, and Jesus will never lose you.

After Judas left the table, at the Last Supper, Jesus turned to his disciples, and, in the Gospel of John, gave what is called his Farewell Discourse and his Priestly Prayer. This takes up the 14th through the 17th chapters of the Gospel of John.

Today we look at an early part of that discourse, at the dinner-party that Jesus knew meant good-bye. Jesus is reassuring them - after just giving them the fright of their lives, by telling them that the Son of Man must be betrayed, and handed over to death, and crucified. The hope of the resurrection has yet to be grasped.

He assures them of three things:

They will always abide with him, and he with them: he is going to prepare the abiding-place for them, and he will return to guide them there.

There is a way to God for them, and they will have access to the Father, through him.

While he is gone, and they may be tempted to scatter, they will nevertheless be empowered to do even more than he has done.

And what is it that he has done? Remember what he just told them: the Son of Man must be betrayed, and handed over to death. He is going ahead to open the way.

He is the way: he is the door. He is the path to life beyond death, to life in the kingdom of heaven.

Even should they suffer as he has suffered, he will be with them. And beyond the threshold of death, he will vanquish death - it will no longer be the end.

Death no longer has the last word.

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and giving life to those in the tomb. (Burial I, BCP, p. 483; Burial II, BCP, p. 500)

Christ has made a road straight through the gates of hell and on into the pastures of abundant life, eternal life, in the kingdom that has no end. This is not some other world: this is our own world, transformed by the work of Christ. And now we can live in that world transformed, as we are transformed into his image. So too we can work in this world in his Name, as we become one in spirit and mind and heart with him. This is what it means to pray in Jesus' name: not some magical formula to "make it so" but being clothed in Christ's righteousness. As we become his people we become able to do what he has done, to follow him where he has gone before, even into the valley of the shadow of death, because indeed he is with us: to guide us, to abide with us, to walk with us every step of the way.

He is the way: through him we come to God.

He is the truth: through him we know God.

He is the life: through him we abide in God.

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Following Jesus, we come to the Father. Believing in Jesus, we come to know God. Through Christ we receive eternal life.

We have finally found a way to live in the presence of the Lord. It is through Christ: and because he has opened up this new way, God's way, we can move forward with confidence into the future, into the rest of our lives. And we can live in obedience to what once would have seemed impossible commands.

He has given a new commandment: "Love one another as I have loved you."

We know that the love of Christ is sacrificial. It is without limit; it is full of joy.

The way of love begins with the first and greatest commandment:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40)

And it is borne out in the Great Commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

None of these things is possible without God. In Christ all things are possible.

He has promised: that he will abide with us. He will guide us. He will lead us.

And how will he be present? And how will he guide us, lead us, abide with us?

How will he work in us and through us even greater works than he has done?

Even as Jesus ascends to the Father, the Father sends the Holy Spirit in his name, to empower, to enlighten, to guide, and to refresh his people.

"He will teach you everything and bring all things to your remembrance.... I'm leaving you well and whole. That's my parting gift to you. Peace. I don't leave you the way you're used to being left-feeling abandoned, bereft.... Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14: 26-29)

You are God's people, and in God's care. And it is through the witness and work of the people of God through the ages, and through you, that God is glorified.

Through the miracle of the church, through the joy of faith, through the presence of Christ among us in the breaking of the bread, in the prayers, in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, God is glorified - and we receive eternal life.

This is the mystery of all the ages - and it is open to us to know and to share in, freely, as God's gift to humanity through his son Jesus Christ. Eternal life comes from the same source that is the origin of all life - from God in Christ.

This is amazing news, and blessed assurance. We belong to God, we are his; and he is the source of all life and all being, from the beginning to the end.

There is an unbroken chain of witness, of glory, from God the Father to his Son, to his disciples, to us - we are the people of God on the face of the earth today.

We are his witnesses; and to him we give glory. This we do and can do because we live in the presence and the power of God in the Spirit - and we celebrate our new life, together, every time we come together around the Lord's Table.

As we remember Christ's sacrifice, his offering of himself - his whole life, his witness to God the Father, his willingness to give his life to the glory of God, his resurrection to the new life and his ascension to be with God the Father - we remember and make present in our own lives the power and glory of God.

This simple act, of sharing bread and wine and the good gifts of the earth, makes present to us in our world and in our lives the practical presence of God.

It shows that God's gifts of creation are good, and that what he has made lasts. He has made the world, and he has made us to rejoice and be glad in it.

Let us celebrate together the life we have in Christ, received in his Name and to his glory. Let us live together in that new life, in Christ, rejoicing in the presence of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sources and Resources for Holy Week and Easter Season

Sources and Resources for Holy Week and Easter Season

The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha (Oxford, 1992)

David Adam, Clouds and Glory: Prayers for the Church Year: Year A (London: SPCK, 2000)

Robert Atwan & Laurance Wieder, eds., Chapters into Verse: Poetry in English Inspired by the Bible, Volume II: Gospels to Revelation (Oxford, 1993)

Robert Atwan, George Dardess, & Peggy Rosenthal, eds., Divine Inspiration: The Life of Jesus in World Poetry (Oxford, 1998)

W. H. Auden, "He is the Way, Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness", The Hymnal 1982, #463, #464. For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio by W. H. Auden (1944)

Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week (HarperCollins, 2006)

William Brosend, "Living by the Word: Reflections on the Lectionary", The Christian Century, April 8, 2008, p. 20-21.

Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to John (Doubleday, 1970)

Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: Year A (Trinity Press International, 1992)

Barbara Crafton, The Almost Daily eMo, Geranium Farm (

John Dominic Crossan, God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now (HarperCollins, 2007)

Donald Davie, ed., The New Oxford Book of Christian Verse (Oxford, 1981)

Arthur J. Dewey, The Word in Time, rev. ed. (Liturgical Publications, 1980)

Philip Freeman, St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography (Simon & Schuster, 2004)

Dennis Hamm, New Collegeville Bible Commentary: The Acts of the Apostles (Liturgical Press, 2005)

Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love (Fortress, 1981)

Scott M. Lewis, S.J., New Collegeville Bible Commentary: The Gospel According to John and the Johannine Letters (Liturgical Press, 2005)

David B. Lott, ed., Mary Hinkle Shore, Herman C. Waetjen, Richard Eslinger, Melinda A. Quivik, New Proclamation: Year A, 2007-2008: Advent through Holy Week (Fortress Press, 2007)

David B. Lott, ed., O. Wesley Allen Jr., Holly Hearon, Hank J. Langknecht, Beverly A. Zink-Sawyer, New Proclamation: Year A, 2008: Easter to Christ the King (Fortress Press, 2008)

Kathy Monson Lutes, Kathy's Good Word (

Lesslie Newbigin, The Light Has Come: An Exposition of the Fourth Gospel (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1982)

Herbert O’Driscoll, Four Days in Spring: Christ Suffering, Dying, and Rising in Our Lives (Path Books, 2007)

Herbert O'Driscoll, The Word Today: Reflections on the Readings of the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Vols. 1, 2, 3 (Anglican Book Centre, 1998, 1999, 1999)

John Pritchard, Living Easter Through the Year (SPCK, 2005)

Barbara E. Reid, O.P., New Collegeville Bible Commentary: The Gospel According to Matthew (Liturgical Press, 2005)

Ann Weems, Kneeling in Jerusalem (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992)

Nicholas Thomas (Tom) Wright, Matthew for Everyone (SPCK, 2002, 2004)

Neil Young, "When God Made Me", Prairie Wind (Reprise Records, 2004)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

plaid sheep

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

When she was a freshman in college Margaret had a poster in her dorm room, of a herd of sheep. They weren’t ordinary white or black sheep: they were colored like Benetton fabrics, in wild bright solid colors, and polka dots, and stripes, and plaid. They were a little like us, all different, some of our patterns dyed in the wool. And they were like us, too, in that underneath those colors they were all the same – and all, if their wool were washed, would be as white as spring lambs.

Last week (Tartan Day) some of us at the 10:30 celebration wore tartans – symbols of clan or family or country or state, of some affiliation: a sign of a source of identity. Not everybody got the word, and not everybody has a tartan.

Of course you could just wear plaid.

But coming up is a celebration we all have a part in, and have an identity in: at the Table of the Lord, we break one bread, as we are one body, and we bring to that table all that we are and have.

We offer the gifts of our life and labor to the Lord, each of us from our own particularity, our own special gifts and identities – tartans included – as we come together around the one table to celebrate in the presence of the one who is Lord.

And even before that, earlier in the service, we will affirm our common faith in the words of the creed, just as we do on baptismal Sundays – including Pentecost, All Saints, and the Baptism of our Lord – and the Easter Vigil. For as different as we are, we are one in the Lord, and we share one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.

At baptism we don a simpler garment than our everyday patterns and plaids – we wear a simple white garment, the alb – which symbolizes our common heritage in Christ, our washing white as snow in the waters of baptism. The alb symbolizes baptism – and resurrection. This garment, blending all the colors of the rainbow, shows our true nature:

All of us are baptized into the Lord Jesus Christ. For each and all of us that is our first identity. We belong to God.

Christ is our Savior, our guide, and our shepherd: he leads us, calling us by name, by the waters of baptism. He is the one who knows us best of all. To understand this true identity let us revisit the waters of baptism.

Let me take you on a journey down to a river. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and imagine yourself at the banks of the river Jordan. Jesus has been baptized, and so have you.

You have been baptized with him, and in him; into his life, his death, his resurrection and ascension. And so when you hear these words – that you are about to hear – you know the Lord means Jesus, and, because Jesus is your Savior, he means you as well.

Hear then, these words, as you are baptized into Christ and live in his Name:

You are my beloved; in you I am well pleased.

Listen to these words: breathe in and out, repeating them like a quiet prayer.

You are my beloved; in you I am well pleased.

Remember them, and remember that you are one of Christ’s own, and he is with you.

You are my beloved; in you I am well pleased.

We are at the river, at the shore. The current is flowing by: gently and softly in places, still and sweet; in others, it is frothy and turbulent, and strong. And yet beside you stands the Shepherd, braced in the living water, ready to guard you, ready to guide you. The waters of baptism are living waters, flowing with life, refreshing you, and carrying you along. Where will they take you next?

Wherever you go, wherever the current of the living water carries you, Christ Jesus is always beside you seeing you through.

Even if you should walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the Good Shepherd is with you, his rod to defend you, his staff to guide you – and he will lead you beside quiet waters and tranquil shorelines, to the pastures of abundant life.

Imagine yourself walking down into the river, immersing your self. When you are baptized the waters close over you like a symbol of death – but as you are lifted out of the water, as you are raised, you begin to breathe in the new life, you begin to see in the new day.

You begin to live in the light of the life of the lord, in the Lord’s Day, in his world.

What will this look like to us here in Edmonds? What will it look like to you?

As you begin the new Day, the Day the Lord has made, today – as we make Eucharist together and then go forth in the name of the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit, where will the Spirit lead you, the Shepherd guide you? So much is unknown, and yet he is with us.

We know how to begin: it’s laid out for us in the second chapter of Acts: “Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to (1) the apostles’ teaching and (2) fellowship, to (3) the breaking of bread and (4) the prayers.” They praised God with glad and generous hearts. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

May it be so with us. Amen.

Please join me in saying the 23rd Psalm in the King James Version (BCP, pg. 474).

The LORD is my shepherd; *
I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; *
he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul; *
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his Name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; *
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; *
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.


The guided meditation is based on one led by the presiding bishop at diocesan clergy day this past Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

of Frampton and Fortunatus

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. (Psalm 100:1-2, KJV)

During Lent, as my friend Jerry Paré pointed out, we hear conversion stories meant to teach the power associated with the symbols of water, light, and new life, that we encounter as we enter into baptism and the new life in Christ. From the story of the wedding-feast at Cana, Samaritan woman at the well, the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus, we learn of the power of God and the gift of life that comes from God alone.

During Pentecost, we learn more about the new life in Christ, and the power and the gifts we are given by the Spirit of the Living God. Among these gifts are the diversity of our voices and our ability to blend them in praise of our Lord.

When I was starting college, it was customary for student housing offices to offer questionnaires to prospective students, to match up dormitory roommates on the basis of affinity or similarity of tastes and habits. I proposed that we could simplify the process: ask each student to list his or her ten favorite albums or songs.

Of course this could have lead to an entire hall listening to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, or Stairway to Heaven or Thrasher or Heart Like a Wheel. Or Beethoven’s Ninth, over and over. Not so different from the more arbitrary process that led to the establishment of Firebaugh Hall, a cluster of residents from a small Central Valley town near Dos Palos.

And not so edifying, either, as the opportunity to hear new music, meet new friends, and begin to enjoy the actual diversity of our community.

At this writing our organist and music director, JoAn Andenes, is contemplating a survey of church members, asking each of us to list our favorite hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs: my only difficulty is that some of my favorites are going to be different in a few weeks, as we all learn new music together, from each other. I am looking forward to it, and to having my ears and my mind open to hearing a new and joyful noise made unto the Lord.

O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the whole earth. (Psalm 96:1)


for the April 2008 Gospel Grapevine, parish newsletter of St Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Washington USA