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.