Saturday, August 30, 2008


Good news – and a challenge: As we hear the stories of God at work in his people, and receive encouragement in the life of grace, we hear proclaimed the good news of God in Christ. We hear his call to serve, and his promise to be there with us. The one who makes the promise is faithful to see it through.

The God who made us is the God who redeems us.
The God who calls us is the God who empowers us and sends us forth.

The God of mystery is the God of history.
The God whom the people of old encountered is the God of today.
God delivered them and gave them the pathway to freedom; so he will for us.
We, like they, encounter God on the ground of his own choosing.

Abraham met him in the persons of three strangers who came to the oaks, where he and Sarah gave them their hospitality – and knew God was present when bread was broken. Isaac and Rebecca met him in obedience and sacrifice, and in continuing faithfulness. Jacob met God in strange places: in dreams, his pillow a rock, and by a stream, where he wrestled the stranger until daybreak.

Moses beyond the wilderness comes to the mountain of God. He turns aside to see a bush burn and not perish. And there, on the ground of God’s choosing, he encounters the living presence of God.

Moses finds himself on holy ground. In this strange and surprising place, he finds – his vocation. God calls to him: and he replies, “Here I am.”

I have heard my people cry.
I have come to deliver them.
I have come to lead them home.

I will send you:
Who? Me?
I will be with you:
Who are you? Reveal yourself – give me your name!

I am the God of Being, the God of Mystery: I AM WHO I AM.

I am the God of Becoming, the God of History: I am the God of your father – yes, Moses, the father you cannot even remember – and I am the God of his fathers, of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.

I am the God of the mother who nurtured you – and of her mothers, of Sarah and Rebecca and Leah and Rachel.

I am the God they encountered, the God of the Promise: and I am sending you – to carry forward my promise to a new generation. To my people.

(Will he go?)

Peter thought he had a handle on Jesus, on who he was: he named him – you are the Messiah! But he hardly knew what he had. Messiah, indeed: but God’s Messiah, one whose path is downward mobility, not up to a world throne but down through the humiliation of death on a cross even to the grave – and only then to resurrection and ascension and glory. And he calls Peter to follow.

Jesus calls Peter – and us – to give up living by our own rules, living alone with our desires and follies and dreams, into a fellowship of disciples, followers of the suffering Son of Man (who is also the Son of Glory), who shows us the way of discipleship, and its cost: The way of glory is not apart from suffering.

Peter is going to begin to discover what it means to live in faith: to share in the destiny and calling and work of the Son of Man, and to begin to take his place in the kingdom of the Promise.

What will that Godly kingdom look like? How will people treat each other there? How do we get started?

Paul lays it out for us – we are redeemed sinners, living by the grace of Christ in the Spirit. We are a community of faith united by the mercy of God. We receive encouragement in the life of the Spirit, and gracious instruction:

• Let love be without any pretence. Avoid what is evil; stick to what is good.

• In brotherly love let your feelings of deep affection for one another come to expression and regard others as more important than yourself.

• In the service of the Lord, work not halfheartedly but with conscientiousness and an eager spirit.

• Be joyful in hope, persevere in hardship; keep praying regularly; share with any of God's holy people who are in need; look for opportunities to be hospitable.

• Bless your persecutors; never curse them, bless them.

• Rejoice with others when they rejoice, and be sad with those in sorrow.

• Give the same consideration to all others alike. Pay no regard to social standing, but meet humble people on their own terms. Do not congratulate yourself on your own wisdom.

• Never pay back evil with evil, but bear in mind the ideals that all regard with respect.

• As much as possible, and to the utmost of your ability, be at peace with everyone.

• Never try to get revenge: leave that, my dear friends, to the Retribution. As scripture says: Vengeance is mine -- I will pay them back, the Lord promises.

• And more: If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat; if thirsty, something to drink. By this, you will be heaping red-hot coals on his head.

• Do not be mastered by evil, but master evil with good.

(New Jerusalem Bible)

As Moses encounters him on the mountain, God has heard the cry of his people, and there on that holy ground he responds to his people’s cry, calling and preparing and sending forth his messenger.

As with Moses, God calls us – all of us, each of us – into the godly work of leading the way for his people into freedom. By the light, the same light of the burning bush, of the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire, he reveals himself to us. And he will lead us, on the way of the pilgrim, the way of the disciple, the way of the people of God, into the land of promise, of just & peaceful life.

So then, we have the message of grace, and the task before us, and we have the promise of the living God, who assures us that he will keep faith with us, as we move forward in a hope founded on the life of Christ, to proclaim the good news, and to live into God’s holy reign of righteousness and of peace.


Let us hold fast in the hope we proclaim, for he who has promised is faithful.

(Hebrews 10:23)

Pentecost 16, Proper 17, Year A
Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28



Saturday, August 16, 2008

even the dogs

have a look at the short story, "The Great Piano Player", by Tom Gordon, hospice chaplain of the Marie Curie Centre in Edinburgh, in the June/July 2008 issue of Coracle, the magazine of the Iona Community,

and then have a look at Henry Ossawa Tanner's double portrait, The Banjo Lesson,

and then have a look at the gospel for this Sunday (Matthew 15:21-28)

and then ask,

where is Jesus in the story of the great piano player? is he the mother? the daughter? the old lady? the admiring audience?

and where are you?


where is Jesus in the painting? the child? the old man?

and where are you?

and where is God in the story of the woman who implored Jesus to heal her daughter of a demon?

is he
is he not
standing behind Jesus
with his arms around him

is she not
standing behind Jesus
with her arms around him
teaching him
to play?

and where is Jesus now?

is he not standing behind you
arms around you
his hands guiding your hands
teaching you to play?

and where is the Spirit?

is she not
close by you
closer than your own breath
breathing into you
the joy of music?


Friday, August 1, 2008

From the Rector’s Lawn Chair - Wholly Mysteries

With no new HARRY POTTER books to read, I’d resigned myself to a summer bookshelf stocked with heavy stuff like LEGACY OF ASHES and DESCENT INTO CHAOS. Then a friend, the Rev. Mary Allen, leapt to the rescue – with lists of mysteries featuring Episcopal/Anglican clergy, or by Episcopalian/Anglican writers.

My own revived interest in reading detective fiction came from two stimuli: Laurie R. King, a seminary classmate, had published her first novel, A GRAVE TALENT, and I was curious.

And then my cat – Willie – whom I’d trained to leap into the lap of a man reading a book, and who had needed no training in climbing telephone poles and trees, crossed the street from my house, climbed a neighbor’s tree, and, seeing a man reading a book, jumped into his lap. The door of the room, a second-floor bedroom, was closed. The man was Father Charles Sheedy, C.S.C., aka “Mister Notre Dame”, the retired Dean of Arts and Sciences from the University of Notre Dame du Lac, South Bend, Indiana.

Charlie Sheedy was an inveterate reader. He was living in Berkeley at the study house for the Holy Cross Fathers. One of the younger students living there told me, “Your cat jumped in Charlie’s lap.” So when I saw him the next day, I apologized – and then, I asked him his favorite question: “What were you reading?”


Elmore Leonard. Olivia de Manning. The list grew…

Between Laurie King and Charlie Sheedy I soon found myself with a two-foot high TBR (to be read) pile bedside. On it were mysteries of all sorts. Since then I’ve winnowed it down. Mostly now I read mysteries set in foreign climes or countries, often in translation, by natives of the place or expatriate English or American writers.

On the shelf now are titles by Donna Leon (set in Venice), Fred Vargas (Paris), Andrea Camilleri (Sicily), Magdalen Nabb (Florence), and other novels set in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, or Havana Cuba. Sometime when the weather is hot I’ll add Iceland to my consumption – or perhaps Sweden or Denmark. Spain often pops up, thanks to Arturo Perez Reverte and other novelists of Andalusia. Ian Rankin (Edinburgh) is always near at hand.

Of course this is a bit like armchair tourism. But there is more to it – at least a broader meaning is given to escapist literature. In many of these, good triumphs – eventually. Or the truth comes out. It is not always easy to sort out what the truth is – or where the right lies. But, as Raymond Chandler said in “The Simple Art of Murder”, down these mean streets must go a man who is not himself mean… somebody has to sort it all out.

What are you reading this summer?

Selected titles from Mary’s lists of mysteries:

Episcopal/Anglican Clerical Mysteries

Charles, Kate, A Drink of Deadly Wine

Gallison, Kate, Bury the Bishop

Holland, Isabelle, A Fateful Advent

Meyer, Charles, The Saints of God Murders

Blake, Michelle, The Tentmaker

Spencer-Fleming, Julia, In the Bleak Midwinter

Sumner, Cristina, Thieves Break In

Cranston, Pamela, The Madonna Murders

Rickman, Phil, The Wine of Angels

Lovesey, Peter, The Reaper

Schweizer, Mark, The Alto Wore Tweed

James, P.D., A Death In Holy Orders

Davidson, Diane Mott, The Last Suppers

Delffs, Dudley J., The Martyr's Chapel

Holland, David, The Devil in Bellminster

Malone, Michael, Handling Sin

Bernhardt, William, Criminal Intent

Lister, Michael, Flesh and Blood

Truman, Margaret, Murder at the National Cathedral

(And to these I add one set in my own seminary, among other Bay Area places)

King, Laurie R., To Play the Fool

(and three by the recently retired rector of Grace-St Paul's, Tucson)

McBride, Gordon, Flying to Tombstone (2003)
McBride, Gordon, Ghost of Midsummer Common (2008)
McBride, Gordon, The Vicar of Bisbee (forthcoming)


For the Gospel Grapevine ( August 2008