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


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Why would you get him a book?

Why would you get him a book?

There’s a story that one day Peter Bogdanovich was visiting the director John Ford. “I got Duke a book for his birthday,” said Bogdanovich. There was a long pause as Ford thought about this. “He’s already got a book,” he finally said.

Well, gee, so do I. But – is one book really enough? Not all books are alike; we read different books different ways. How to read a book… depends on the book.

For example, we read War and Peace with … a sturdy bookstand – and patience: it’s as long as eight of the world’s best-loved novels bound in one convenient volume.

We read some light entertainment quickly – and easily set it aside if we look up once before page 50 (the infamous ‘fifty page rule’). Or we consume it like candy until we’re done with it.

A ‘non-fiction’ bestseller we might read dutifully, hoping to be informed as well as engaged. And perhaps we read it with a critical eye, wondering what the author’s argument is and how important it is to learning the subject matter. “It’s not as simple as the clichés say it is,” goes one cliché – and we’re glad to have an argument to propel us through a mound of useful, good-for-you, facts.

When we read a devotional book we may read for inspiration or contemplation. There is something peaceful about the reasonable, charitable tone of some author’s voices – like a quiet oasis in the midst of the bustle of the city.

When we read a more in-depth work of religion we may want to do so, as C. S. Lewis put it, “with a pencil gripped between our teeth,” working our way through the argument. And you might ask, where does this book lead me? Is it compatible with what I know of God from Scripture, prayer, and the teaching of the Church?

When we read the Bible we encounter the foundations of faith through several types of literature all bound together. For example: there is narrative – the stories of David and of Ruth come to mind; there is poetry – the Song of Songs and the prophecies of Isaiah; there are the hymns of God’s people, the Psalms; there are aphorisms – Proverbs; exhortations and arguments – in some of Paul’s writings; and there are the incomparable Gospels.

And of course all of these can be read both critically – to inform our minds – and as prayer, to warm our hearts. A cousin remarked to me there is a great difference between reading Scripture in these ways; to have the message clear in our minds is part of mature Christian life, and to bring the message into the heart – is pure joy.

What I’ll be reading this fall probably will include some of each kind of book – from recreational to theological to devotional - and among them will be a list of ‘required reading’…

This fall I’m embarking on a new adventure in lifelong learning. With the recommendation of the bishop, I've applied to - and been accepted into - the Seattle University program in Pastoral Leadership. This means that for a couple of days a month, from September through May, on my own time, I will be a student again. In that program I expect I will learn much that will inform my work as a pastor and refresh my soul as a believer.

--Fr. John

From the Rector’s Study
For the Gospel Grapevine
October 2008

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Forgiveness Sunday

Forgiveness Sunday
September 14, 2008

Here we are again, with good old Charlie Brown. Lucy is holding the football, and Charlie Brown is eager to practice the kickoff. But he knows – he knows! – that as soon as he gets up to the ball, Lucy will snatch it away, and he’ll miss and land on his back. Again. But she says, Oh, Charlie Brown, have you lost all your faith in humanity? And so – he goes for it. And at the last second, as he kicks, she snatches the ball away, and he lands flat on his back. He is lying there, and she leans over him, to say, “Isn’t it better this way, Charlie Brown? Isn’t it better to trust people?”

(PEANUTS by Charles Schulz, 1961, reprinted today)

Almighty God, whose beloved Son willingly endured the agony and shame of the cross for our redemption: Give us courage to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This is Forgiveness Sunday: the Sunday every year when we remember Jesus’ saying to forgive one’s enemies not just 7 times, but as many as 70 times 7.

It is three days after we remember the events of September 11, 2001, when nearly three thousand people died in a coordinated sequence of terrorist attacks.

If you were to pray for one person each day who died in those attacks, and had started that very day, you would not be finished going through the list for the first time until the middle of next October.

It is, this year, the day before the feast of the Holy Cross – when we remember the death of one, for all, that turned the world around, from death to life.

What would it look like to forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven – or seven hundred times seven? What kind of world would it be? And what would it take to get there?

It would take a miracle.

God would have to go first.

Jesus gives us a clue – in his story of the impossibly wealthy person who demanded of, then forgave, an immense sum from her servant. As if God were to demand from us all that we have from him – all that we owe him – and then were to turn around and tell us that the slate is wiped clean, that our debt is forgiven.

All we have to do, it appears from the parable, is to go and – on our own small scale – do the same for those who are in our debt.

“Pay me that thou owest!” is the slave’s response.

It is the response of a person who acts as if he is still in bondage. He doesn’t know he is free; he still has the mentality of a man in chains.

The free person’s response is different.

Because we are set free, indeed, because we can testify – as Chris Tomlin sings:

My chains are gone
I've been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, Amazing grace

Then we can forgive, then we can on our own humble scale begin to imagine, begin to live into, a world set free by the mercy and the grace of the living God.

What would it look like? Not on a political scale, not even that –

What would it look like if someone was to demand of me my cloak and I gave my coat as well? If, pressed into service by a passing soldier, I carried his gear for him not one mile but two? If someone were to strike me on the cheek and I simply offered the other?

What would it look like to live as if the gospel were a practical guide to life?

What would it look like to set down the weapons of darkness and put on the armor of light – to put on the mercy and grace and forgiveness, and strength in truth, of Christ?

For his way is a way of truth and righteousness and justice and strength.

The peace of God is no false spring, no fake hope. It is real.

Look at how direct Christ is: he brooks no dishonesty or falsehood or false pride – or false modesty.

The woman caught in adultery is brought to him – and he says to her accusers, let the one without sin cast the first stone. That is enough for them to scatter. When they are gone, he turns to her, and says, “Go – and do not sin again.”

It is not forgetting, it is not denying, it is not saying to the one who has trespassed, “Oh, never mind – whatever. What you do is of no significance to me. (You are of no significance to me.)”

No. Christ gives to each the dignity that is their due – he does not lay aside their sin without acknowledgment: forgiveness is not dismissal.

He sees the person – and calls them to account, like the unjust steward in the parable; he calls them to a new way of being – a way of justice and truth, acknowledging their sins, and then – then – moving forward.

Once the chains are removed, then they are free.

Once the chains are removed, we – you and I – are free.

And that is the freedom he calls us to, one made possible only by the Holy Cross of Christ: for in his sacrifice on the behalf of the whole world, once offered, once made, came the forgiveness of the world, the reconciliation to God himself of all his creatures.

Now we are called, to make our own lives part of that discipline of forgiveness, part of that regime of reconciliation, no longer living as dark forms in the clashing night, but in the dawning of the day to become part of the army of light – to bear in his service the armor of day, to bring forth and make manifest the victory, through the holy Cross, of the Reconciler, the Light of the world.

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.


Pentecost XVIII
Exodus 14:19-31
Exodus 15:1b-11,20-21
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35