Sunday, June 22, 2008

saint alban

Saturday, June 14, 2008

he sent them

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

Bill Pronzini is a mystery writer. He says there are only two stories in the world: some one goes on a journey; and a stranger comes to town. Some one goes on a journey; a stranger comes to town. In fact, there is only one story: just with two points of view.

Strangers came to our village: a pair of them. Fishermen, from Galilee, by the looks of them. Andrew, and the big quiet one, Peter. Rough hands. Rough voices. Rough manners…. They told us straight out – in fact, they blurted it, like bad news: the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. God’s rule is about to begin. Here. On earth.

In this village? I don’t think so, I said. The temple guards come and take their tax. The Romans come and take theirs. And then the tax collectors come again, for theirs.

But they had something to show us. Something to offer us. They healed the sick, they raised the dead – raised the dead! – and all in the name of one Jesus, of Nazareth.

He is the one, they said. The messiah. The one every body has been waiting for, to put things to rights. To put the temple people in their place – and send the Romans back to theirs.

No, no, no. Not yet: already, but not yet.

What’s that supposed to mean?

The kingdom of God is breaking in – like a thief in the night. The Romans cannot even see it; the temple proudies won’t know it until it’s right on top of them.

For now, prepare. Get ready. Tell the word – show the deed. The reign of God: it’s coming. Look sharp – starting acting like it. Start acting like God is in charge of the world. Start acting like the creator is the redeemer, the one who will bring us peace. The one we can rely on. To make us right with God, to make us free of our chains – our chains of misery and of hate and of fear, of suspicion and jealousy. The disease of human weakness, greed, power-hunger, lust, all its many symptoms: he will cure us.

He is curing us. Through these disciples he sent to us he is sending the word – the news. They act as his agents. They bring his message. And they show us the power – the power only the people of God could have.

They want us to join them. To carry the message beyond our village, beyond our borders, beyond our comfort zones – beyond any familiar territory. And they want us to begin by telling our neighbors, people like ourselves, as they have done, telling us.

They were Jews, like us. People who worked with their hands. People who prayed, too, with their hands – hands uplifted to God.

He sent them to us, first, the ‘lost sheep of the tribe of Israel’. For a season, we heard the message. And then they moved on, across the world, finding among us those who would travel with them, work with them, spreading the news and living the word.

Come with us, now: into the new world, the new millennium, the new age. Come into the kingdom of Heaven.

Because there are only two stories in the world – and really, there is only one: it is only a matter of perspective.

There are two kinds of people in the world – aren’t there? Jew and Gentile? Maybe, but maybe not: as Jesus taught us, as he showed us, all are welcome at God’s table.

There was another place, another time, with other strangers showing up – accepting hospitality at the tent of Abraham, the welcome work of the hands of Sarah as she prepared for them quick bread, Johnny cakes made from three measures of meal. She laughed, when she heard their promise: your wife, though she is now old and past the age for childbearing, will indeed bear a son. And in him you will be blessed, and all the peoples of the world will find their blessing as well.

How can this be? It’s past my time. No wonder she laughed.

And then she laughed out of wonder. For they heard her, quietly chortling behind the tent flap – and said, “Is nothing too wonderful for the power of the living God?”

Oh, my. Now she knows whom they’ve got in their tent. God’s messengers. Angels. They might as well be the three persons of the Trinity, in the flesh. And they tell her something impossible, something that only God can do – and they say it with power:

And indeed she laughed again. This time, not out of disbelief or surprise, but JOY. For she had a son, and she named him Isaac, which means “laughter”.

And the sign of God’s promise was there, God’s promise fulfilled, with more to come. The joy of all the nations, the blessing they all would find, came through this little gathering in a tent, where Abraham and Sarah and their household had rested.

They went on from there, into an uncertain future: a future filled with the promise of God and the challenges of the world, and it was only through faith – trusting in God – that they could see that it could ever be made right, ever be made possible.

The strangers who arrived at the tent received the hospitality that was the custom of the desert peoples, the wanderers; the same hospitality that the disciples sought, when they walked the same desert. They too brought news – of the birth, already of a messiah, and soon and already but not quite yet, of the messiah’s heaven-sent rule.

To be right with God arrives for us as an unexpected gift.

Sarah did not expect the good news of a son – and she might well have been worried how she was going to bear such a gift.

The disciples arrived unheralded in the small towns and villages, the countryside and the hinterlands, of a forgotten Promised Land: a place under the thumb of empire, collusion-rent by quislings running temple rackets. And yet they believed; they knew; they’d seen it: the kingdom of heaven was at hand. And they trusted so much what they had seen and heard and held in their arms, that they too could bring the good news, and the healing that heralded God’s kingdom, as they spread the word around the world they knew – and then beyond it to lands unknown.

We follow in their footsteps – the footsteps of the people who trusted God, and carried his promise. The footsteps of Sarah, who brought into life the son God had promised, and of Abraham who with her traveled into unknown lands, following the promise and the guidance of God. The footsteps of the disciples, who brought the word to people eager to hear it – and to be healed, and made right, body and soul.

We follow in the footsteps of the one they followed – the one who bore in himself the kingdom, and shared it, his own body broken for us, his own life given. We follow and find our disbelief turned to joy, our sorrows to laughter, and our prayers to praise. Amen.

AProper6 2008
The Readings for June 15th, the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 6):
Genesis 18:1-15 * Psalm 116: 1, 10-17 * Romans 5:1-8 * Matthew 9:35-10:8

"There are only two kinds of people in the world - people who like oregano on their spaghetti and people who don't."--attributed to Jim Shelby, raising his hand to interrupt a lecture in humanistic psychology....

Sunday, June 8, 2008

have a blessed day

A year ago Sarah and I were in the Aran Islands, in the west of Ireland, and we walked out to the ancient stone forts on the western cliffs. The island lifted, at that point, hundreds of feet above the sea; when you came to the edge of the cliff you were at a sheer drop hundreds of feet into the Atlantic. Above was the endless sky. And to the west, looking out, across miles and miles of ocean, you could see a pathway shining in the sun, reaching almost as far as oblivion – or a new world.

This is what the ancient peoples of the Islands saw to the west – where mortality and immortality met. To embark on the journey to the west was to leave all you knew behind, and go to a new place, one from whence you might never return.

The Lord said to Abram, “Go,” and he went: he left his father’s house, and his kindred, and his country, and set out with Sarai and Lot and the people of their household, leaving the land of Mesopotamia and heading west across the desert to find a new land, Canaan, and to found a new people, the people of the Lord.

It was a tribal migration, of a herding people, yet it was more: Abram stepped out in faith. The people he gathered with him, and took on the journey, and the people who joined them, became a new nation – Israel. Yet it was more: in him, as the Lord God promised, all the families of the earth were and shall be blessed.

Abram’s true descendants are the people of faith, the people who share the promise. They do not just take a share in the promise for themselves, they extend to others the blessing they have received by faith.

Abram’s faith was counted for him as righteousness, as he put his trust in God. As we put our trust in God, and reach out to him in faith, we too receive the gift of righteousness, and the gift of life – from the source of life.

There is a great shift here: from trusting in our own righteousness, or achievements, or performance, or worldly connections – social status, family, tribe, or nation – to trusting in God as the source of life, the source of being, identity, and meaning. Abram stepped out into a new world in faith. He became the ‘father of the faithful’, those who follow his footsteps into the promise of God. We too are now heirs of the promise – and agents of the blessing.

There is a great shift here: a call from God to turn from fear to hope. This is the legacy of faith and this is the mission of the people of God: to go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit, bringing the good news of salvation to all peoples, loving one another and loving our neighbors as ourselves. To become as numerous as the sands of the sea, as numerous of the stars: and for all of us and each of us to find our identity in the one true and living God who makes all things and gives them life, who gives life to the dead – giving the gift of new life into the lives of Sarai and Abram, raising to life Jesus his Son, raising from the tax tables Matthew to be a disciple of Christ, raising a young girl from her death bed to witness to God’s power, and calling forth in us the faith of the resurrection.

Trust in God: put your faith in him, believe and act knowing that God is present with you, guiding you every step of your own journey, from your origins onward.

‘The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse (I’ve got your back); and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

‘So Abram went, as the Lord had told him…’

This the Lord the psalm sings about, this is the nation that is blessed: the people whom God has chosen to be his own, the ones who trust in God and share the promise, the ones made righteous by faith. Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous; it is good for the just to sing praises. For the word of the Lord is right, and all his works are sure, and the loving-kindness of the Lord fills the whole earth.

We put our trust in God, and, as Herb O’Driscoll (who was with us in Ireland) puts it, ‘then, in confidence, we act.’

Faith and praise and promise: these are the life-builders. We are made right with God by God’s own gift of grace; we now live by faith. We leave behind the old world and strike out for the new: counting not for security on our own programmatic efforts but faithfully practicing the commandments of God; not trusting in old habits to define our future but by God’s merciful guidance performing those things that are right; not looking for easy answers but seeking the wisdom that comes with faithfully following the way of the living Lord.

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And Matthew arose and followed him. And with Jesus and in following Jesus he found new life, new identity, new meaning. The source of his life and of his being was the living life gift of Christ.

As Jesus sat at dinner –with tax collectors and sinners— a leader of the community burst in and kneeling, pleaded for his daughter’s life. And Jesus arose and followed him – and brought new life into the household of that man.

As Jesus was going on his way, a woman in pain quietly touched the hem of his garment. And he turned to her, and with compassion said to her, “Take heart: your faith has made you well.” And she was well; she had found health in Christ, and her life was new.

When Jesus got to the home of the community leader, the people laughed at him – for he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” But he took her hand, and the girl arose. New life had come into that house. And the word spread.

The word spread: new life comes from the living Lord. Put your faith in him. Put your trust in God. Let him heal you and make you whole. And let him guide you. Follow Jesus – follow him on the path of life. Follow the blessing way – and have a blessed day.

Lord as you have called us, makes us worthy of your calling. As we reach out to touch the hem of your garment, touch our hearts, and we shall be changed: that we may live to your glory, O Jesus, Christ our Lord. Help us to trust in you, that we may hope beyond hope, and trust beyond trust. Let the people of the world see the faith of your church; let us witness to your almighty power. Though our faith is small it is in a great God. Grant that we, by the gift of your Spirit, may help to lift up your people, to raise the fallen, and restore the sick to health. Lord, heal us and raise us up. Guide us and teach us, and lead us on the way of life, in Christ.


Closing prayer drawn from "Clouds and Glory" by David Adam (SPCK, 1998)

Sunday, June 1, 2008

in the boat

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

This morning our readings present us with a choice: stay at home and have it rain on you, or get in a boat and have it rain on you. (Of course, if you take the book, you have to round up a bunch of farm animals.) It is a Pacific Northwest kind of choice.

The readings also present us with an opportunity: to take God at his word, and, even as we do the best we can to face the challenges of our situation, to trust that the providence of God is what will really see us through.

Even while all the creatures of the earth were being destroyed around him, as Michael Sweeney points out, Noah was faithful. His faith was steadfast.

Jesus uses the image of a house in a storm to talk about faith and works. To hear the word and then act upon it is to live in a strong house built on rock. If you listen but then just go on as if you had not learned anything, it all fades away like sand into a storm wave.

This is how learning really happens: there is a herald, an announcement, that glad tidings are on the way – as John the Baptist proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom. Then there is the message, preached and understood. Jesus spoke in parables; he told us, “I am the bread of life.”

Then there is action based on what you have heard. This seals it: this takes the temporary memory and makes it permanent in your mind.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, and teach them all I have commanded.”

“Love one another, as I have loved you.”

These are not just good advice, or high-sounding words: they are the breath of life. To those who hear and do what Jesus teaches his words are transformative.

They take us out of our ordinary choices – to face the storm at home or risk the perils of the sea – and make them extraordinary, make them part of our preparation for and entering into the kingdom of God.

Last Thursday evening, Eric Hanson conducted the Thalia Symphony orchestra in music by three different composers, all from Bohemia, or Czech: One began with a stable job but lost his tenure and for the rest of his life moved around. The second was an itinerant conductor, a wanderer from place to place. The third was a man separated from his homeland by political conditions: his true homeland was a free Czech republic, but in his time it was a province of the Austrian Empire.

One of them was in exile in another sense: born Jewish in a world where Jews were, under a veneer of civility, second-class citizens. Their true homeland was elsewhere.

So is ours, isn’t it? Our true homeland is to be in the realm where God reigns. But are we truly lost? No, if we listen to the words of what Jesus is saying, and put them into practice, we are beginning to come into that very country. We are beginning to come home. If you trust in God and obey his commandments, you are never truly lost: you are always at home.

There are five great prophets in the teaching of Islam: Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. Blessings and peace be upon them all. …Noah?

Noah was righteous; to be righteous means to be in a trusting and loyal relationship with God. Noah walked with God; to walk with God means to obey and follow God’s will.

For Noah, the rains were coming. And, in obedience to God, Noah built an ark. An ark is a chest, a box, a basket – a container for life & living things – and this is the same word used for the basket, sealed with pitch, that saved Moses from death by exposure. The ark of Noah contained life, and the hope of the world. The Ark of the Covenant – a box or chest or basket – contained the words of life, the words of the promise of God. The words of Jesus contain the source of life. And this life of all that is past is what we recover as we celebrate together as a community of faith in the Lord’s Supper.

As we gather together this morning for Eucharist, let us take a moment to examine our hearts: what needs to go on the boat? What must we leave behind? What will carry us into the future of God’s promise? And what will we do – not to save ourselves – but to live into the righteous life of God’s people, to live by faith? Let us pray:

God, as we journey through this life, we journey home to you. And yet, you are the beginning and the end of our journey, and you see us through, walking with us on the way. Guide us, today, on your paths, for your name’s sake. Amen.


The Access Bible (Oxford University Press, 1999) p. 10-13.