Wednesday, November 26, 2008

on the eve of thanksgiving

Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness,
and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)

The people God led through the desert,
the people who in darkness were shown a great light,
the people whom the Lord redeemed and called forth from bondage,
not once but again and again:
we are those people.

The people who call others forth out of bondage,
out of darkness into light,
out of poverty into abundance,
out of grief into joy,
out of despair into hope,
out of death into life:
we are those people.

The people God showered with manna,
bread in the wilderness,
bread for the journey,
the people God gave an abundant land,
an abundant life,
and a spirit of thankfulness:
we are those people.

Fisher- men and women by the lakeshore,
gathering in and mending our nets;
Seated by the tax-tables;
Thirsting by a well;
Stumbling blindly along a road;
or carrying a cross:
we are those people too.

God’s abundance is not the surfeit of this world’s pleasures,
not the largest or loudest or tallest or richest,
but the wealthiest in other ways:
in the redeeming hand when all is lost,
the recovered sight when all is blind,
the touch of kindness when all is cold.

We are the people of
We are the people who experience God as creator, savior, sustainer;
who experience God as JOY.

All this summer and into the fall we’ve heard the story of Moses,
from the bulrushes to a glance across the mountains,
a glimpse of the promised land.
And this unlikely child would lead them,
the people of God,
from bondage to freedom,
from sufferance of Pharaoh to open hand of God—
and he would teach them the ways of God,
as surely as he taught them the ways of the desert.

Seek God’s reign first— put things in their right order of priority—
and live in accordance with the covenant God has made with you.

Do not forget— we did not earn this blessing, this abundance—
he gave it to you, as a loving parent cares for her child.

Remember, and be glad, and thank God.

Throughout the stories of Jesus, he is leading the people on the way—
picking up like Joshua where Moses left off—
guiding the people to the land of promise.

Who better than the Child of Promise to do this for us?
Who better than God’s Son to lead us to his Father’s house?
Who better than God’s revelation to show the way to us?
Who better than the bringer of life, to be our fount of blessing?

Blessed one, bless us,
in the breaking of the Bread,
remind us who you are—
Bread of Life,
and remind us who we are—
those who do not live by manna alone,
not even in the wilderness of wandering souls,
but by the WORD that proceeds from God’s mouth.

We are the people
who seek God the Father.

We are the people
who know God in Christ.

We are the people
who live in God the Spirit.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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, From the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio, (October 1941-July 1942).


A Litany of Thanksgiving

Let us give thanks to God for all the gifts so freely bestowed upon us.
For the beauty and wonder of creation, in earth and sky and sea.
For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Christ,
For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends,
For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity,
For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,
For the communion of saints, in all times and places,
Above all, for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord;
To him be praise and glory, with you, O Father, and
the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

—Drawn from the Book of Common Prayer, 1979.

Thanksgiving Eve 2008


Saturday, November 15, 2008

We are his blessing

An Astonishing Secret

Jesus let us in on an astonishing secret: God has chosen to change the world through the lowly, ordinary and insignificant. This should give us all hope.
Changing the world through the ... insignificant has always been God's strategy. God chose a ragtag group of Semite slaves to be the insurgents of a new order. God sent a vast army to flight with three hundred men carrying lamps and blowing horns. God chose a shepherd boy with a slingshot to lead his chosen people. And who would have dreamed that God would choose a baby in a cow stall to turn the world right side up?

--Tom Sine, The New Conspirators (2008), p. 22.

There was a priest, named Henri Nouwen, who spoke of "downward mobility" - the way of the cross. He had some words to say about gifts, which Tara Ward has turned into a song. Here are those words:


we may be little, insignificant in the eyes of this world
but when we realize that God has sent us to the world as blessed
our lives will multiply and grow and fill the needs of others
our gift is not what we can do but who we are
our gift is not what we can do but who we are

who can we be for each other? who can we be, Lord, for the world?
who can we be for each other? who can we be?

how different would our life be if we believed every single gesture
every act of faith or love or joy or peace or word of forgiveness
will multiply as long as people will receive it...
our gift is not what we can do but who we are

who can we be for each other? who can we be, Lord, for the world?
who can we be for each other? who can we be?

We are given. We are given. We are given.
We are given. We are given. We are given.

our gift is not what we can do but who we are

our gift is not what we can do but who we are

(Words: Henri J. M. Nouwen. Music: Tara Ward, Church of the Beloved, 2008.)

Jesus told a story about a man who went on a journey. While he was away he trusted his servants with his property, each according to his ability. From each he received according to their need.

There was a servant with five talents, and keep in mind that a talent is the equivalent of an ordinary person's wages for many years, who'd made five talents more. His need was to be faithful with what he had been given, and to bear good fruit from it. Likewise the one with two talents - only two: but he made two more. And he bore good fruit, and was faithful.

Then there was the third servant, whose need seemed to be: safety. Avoiding risk. Avoiding failure. Perhaps even avoiding the risk of success - of an outcome beyond his control. He did take the talent he had been given but he did not take the responsibility that came with it. He buried it. He hid it in the ground. He turned inward, and nothing could grow. When his master returned, he had nothing - nothing to show for it, nothing - for all he'd been entrusted with.

And so even the responsibility he had been given, the one talent with which he'd been entrusted, was taken away from him and assigned to the fruitful and obedient servant who had made ten. The faithful and obedient servants, by contrast, had turned outward - trusting as they had been trusted - and bore much fruit.

Do you remember the tree Jesus told about, the one that had born no fruit for many years? His servant, the gardener, said, give me one more year, one year to prune the tree and dig around it and give it nourishment; then we'll see.

I knew a tree like that. It had not been cared for, or pruned, for many years. A friend who knew trees told me how to prune it, to eliminate cross branching, thin it out, and guide the tree, helping it along in the way it wanted to grow. And with permission from the landlord, I began to prune, and thin, and water. And the next spring: apples.

It is as if we have been asked to a dance. We can stay on the bench - oh, I have a headache; oh, I cannot be sure that I wouldn't look ridiculous, oh, I'm no good at that - or we can accept the hand that is stretched to ours, clasp it, rise from our place by the wall, and join in the dance. However freely, however clumsily, we begin - and our place in the dance, the great dance of the world, which otherwise would have been empty, is filled - and filled with joy.

There is a story in the gospels about a servant whose master demanded his accounting for ten thousand talents - that is an outrageous sum. That is the value equivalent to tens of thousands of years of labor under the sun. This story is about a smaller amount - about five talents, and two, and one. Still, it's plenty.

I have always been afraid of being the one with one talent. I thought I had to have five. But look at the guy in the middle: he only has two. But he grows with them, to two more.

We may feel we only have so many talents - so many gifts to work with, only so much treasure and worth and value and promise. But we have what our master has given us.

Look around and you will see many gifts, borne under many names, behind many faces.

At St Alban's we have several gifts, more than I will count, but here are some of them:

We are very good, we Episcopalians, at celebrating.

We are welcoming, hospitable.

We are willing to love people who are different from us.

We hang in there with each other. We work together for each other. We practice faithfulness. We keep at it. We persevere. We keep the faith.

We have, dare I say it, courage and hope. And what abides beyond all else, love.

We may seem small in the world's measures, as small as mustard seed.

From us, from our lives, from our faithful obedience in keeping to God's promise, we can realize something wonderful and very, very big: We are God's people. And we are blessed.

We are blessed when we are poor, not because we are poor: we are blessed because we will be God's heirs.

We are blessed when we are hungry, not because we are hungry, but because God will feed us.

We are blessed who are mourning, because God will comfort us.

We are blessed when we are meek, because we will inherit the earth.

If we desire justice so strongly it is like a hunger, we are blessed, because that hunger will be satisfied.

When we show mercy, we are among the blessed: God will show mercy to us.

The pure in heart among us are blessed, because they will see God.

Those who make peace are blessed; they will be called children of God.

Even if you are persecuted or slandered when you stand up for justice, you are blessed: yours is the land where justice comes from, where you belong, where your true value is known -the kingdom of heaven.

We are blessed - we are blessed with all we need, supplied by the hand of God like a shepherd feeding his sheep.

We are blessed - but not for ourselves. We are blessed, that we might bless: and those who need our blessing are the ones we are here for.

God put us here in this place in this time for a purpose: to celebrate and convey the gracious love of God, to welcome our neighbors into God's holy place and into the kingdom where our God reigns, where all are the beloved of God, and all share in his blessings, where love abides and faith perseveres and hope yields its increase in abundant harvests.

We are here to be the people of God - and our gift, the gift of each other in the presence of a loving God, is what we have to share with the world. We are blessed, and we are called, to be the people whom God has created us to be. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that who ever puts their life in his hands will receive life in abundance, for eternity.

We are his children. We are blessed; we are his blessing for the world. Here. And now.

Whether we have one talent or two or five - or ten thousand - the challenge is the same:

Our gift is not what we can do but who we are.

St Alban's, Edmonds.
November 16, 2008.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

"I'm just tryin' to be a good Christian."--Johnny Cash

God of holiness,
your glory is proclaimed in every age:
as we rejoice in the faith of your saints,
inspire us to follow their example
with boldness and joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

We will sing a song of the saints of God. We remember them, we anticipate them, and we join with them in the praise of God. And with God’s help, we will join with them in obedience to his will and blessedness in his abundant love.

Through the Revelation of St John we receive a picture of a multitude gathered before the throne of God, worshipping him and living under the wings of his mercy. These are the ones who came through the great persecutions of the early church as if they were being made more perfect in a refiner’s fire. Through their ordeal there was always a presence with them, an Other – they were not alone. These are the martyrs of the church – and they are among the saints.

There are others too: saints are believers, made holy through their faith in God who alone is holy of himself; and the saints are people you see every day.

To prepare you for a song, and for singing it along with the little saints who will sing it with us, let’s remember that everything from great to small is in God’s hands. However tiny and improbable a moment of time may seem, a moment of a turning point, a kindness, a perseverance in faith, it is out of the simple moments of life that a faith and a soul-habit of godly love are forged.

This is the weekend when we remember all saints, every saint, and all souls, all the faithful departed. And we may be thrown back on remembering our own mortality – and our inability to see it all through on our own.

There is a promise for us – if we are weak, he is strong; if we have been cursed, we will be blessed in him; if we are poor, or lacking in any need or faculty, we will be made whole and well and happy. And if we mourn, we will receive the comfort of the Lord. He weeps with those who weep, and laughs with those who laugh. He will always be by your side.

There are as many kinds of saints as there are of people. Through the ages the church has recognized many kinds of people as living exemplary Christian lives.

In the early years of the church, there were the martyrs; soon there were the monks of the desert and the faraway isles, denying themselves and taking up their crosses and following Christ in their own day; there were the organizers of monasteries and convents, like Benedict of Nursia and Hildegard of Bingen and Teresa of Avila.

There were the apostles and first converts who carried the witness across the continents, in Persia, India, the Sudan and Ethiopia. There were the preachers of the gospel to new peoples: Francis of Assisi, Dominic; the missionaries to Africa and Asia and the Americas, Francis Xavier, Father Kino.

There are the modern martyrs, like Janani Luwum and Jonathan Daniels, who stood with the oppressed at the cost of their own lives.

There are you and me, brothers and sisters.

For we carry the gospel and the witness and the mission of the saints with us. And we are all part of Christ’s body, his hands and his voice and his love in the world. Each of us has a gift, and we rejoice in our diversity and our unity.

In his letter to the Romans (12:4-8) the apostle Paul explains:
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

It is through the diversity of gifts that we balance each other, giving to the whole body our own unique and vital contributions. For each of us, for each of the saints, there is a question to be asked: What gives you joy? What is it that in the doing of it, the giving of it, you experience the fullness of grace?

(I do not mean giddy happiness or a temporary feeling of satisfaction at a good deed done, but a deeper calm in your life at the knowledge you are God’s child and that you are on the right road. It is not a feeling that comes and goes: remember that Mother Theresa of Calcutta, in her private meditations, acknowledged the burden of her work and the desert of sadness she endured.)

When I was a kid I had heroes: I’ll tell you about two of them.

There was Willie Mays – when our Cub Scout Pack went to a Giants’ game, I expected him to hit a home run… and he did, on his third at-bat.

And there was Johnny Cash, whom I think my brothers and I mostly enjoyed imitating – at the beginning of his television show he’d introduce himself, turning to the camera and saying, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” in his deep voice, then playing a chord on his guitar. Picture little boys lined up in front of the TV following his every move. Voices a little higher pitched. Later on he became a more real hero to me, as I learned about his life and his faith. One phrase really stuck with me for years after I read it, and it is relevant today, this week, because it was his response to a request for a political statement:

“I’m just tryin’ to be a good Christian.” (Penthouse interview, 1975)

In a way that is what any saint is trying to do – to be a good Christian, a faithful soul, sanctified not by his, or her, own efforts or deeds or lifestyle, but by trust in God. And to live by that faith – and follow God’s calling.

We move, as we become the people who trust God, from being outsiders, seekers, lost in the world and the world’s devices, to becoming members of the body of Christ, and living stones in the building that is the living Church.

In the letter to the Ephesians (2:19-22) Paul explained:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.
And it is in the people of God, as they follow God, in obedience to Christ, that the Spirit is working, and working through us to bring the joy of salvation, of God’s good news, to the world. Each of us has a gift to receive and to give: each of us, following joy where it leads, has a joy to give to the world, the joy (uniquely filtered through the prism of our souls) of the love of God in Christ.

God of holiness, your glory is proclaimed in every age:
as we rejoice in the faith of your saints,
inspire us to follow their example with boldness and joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Lord, thou hast examined me and knowest me.

Lord, thou hast examined me and knowest me.

Thou knowest all, whether I sit down or rise up;
thou hast discerned my thoughts from afar.

Thou hast traced my journey and my resting places,
and art familiar with all my paths.

For there is not a word on my tongue
but thou, Lord, knowest them all.

Thou hast kept close guard before me and behind
and hast spread thy hand over me.

Such knowledge is beyond my understanding,
so high that I cannot reach it.

Where can I escape from thy spirit?
Where can I flee from thy presence?

If I climb up to heaven, thou art there;
if I make the grave my bed, again I find thee.

If I take my flight to the frontiers of the morning
or dwell at the limit of the western sea,
even there thy hand will meet me
and thy right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, 'Surely darkness will steal over me,
night will close around me',
darkness is no darkness for thee
and night is luminous as day;
to thee both dark and light are one.

(Psalm 139: 1-11, NEB)

In the name of God Almighty, Father of all mercies; obedient Son, full of compassion; and Spirit - holy: moving through us throughout our lives. Amen.

This psalm seems to have been made with Charles Mills in mind. When you listen to the stories of his long life, you realize that God has been with him in all sorts of places - from the wings of the morning - in the airplane; in the depths and in the distances on the waters of the Isles; in faraway North Africa and the Italian front; or close at hand, at the dinner table with a child across from him, who is learning from a gentle teacher.

And you hear about his hands: gentle, at work; physician, healer: bringing new life into the world. And you hear, too, from Margaret, his companion in adventure and partner for so many years of life.

We are here to celebrate his life - to thank God for it, even as he takes his place among the souls gathered at the heavenly Table seeing now our Lord face to face.

We will miss him - and we will see him again.

In the hope of the resurrection, Death is not the last word: in the presence of the Lord we are united as one people across time and space. Our God, for whom darkness and light are both alike, is not daunted by the passing of time. In this moment, we mourn Charles - and yet we know he is in Christ eternally alive to the eternal presence of the divine and holy One who will gather us all to himself in the fullness of time.

May we, as we remember Charles and bring forward all the stories and all the love we can bring to the moment of the passing of this beloved man- husband, father, grandfather; physician and friend- may we hold him in our hearts as we hold Jesus our Savior strong to our conviction in the hope of Rest and the promise of the Life to come. Amen.

Celebration of the Life of Charles Mills, November 1, 2008.



ANAMNESIS: An act of remembering that brings the past into the present; that brings the present and events of the past into conjunction, aligning them in unity.

NOSTALGIA: An act of the memory serves as an escape from present realities and anticipations of the future into a past colored with yearning.

Geoffrey Cuming taught our seminary class in liturgics just two new words: anamnesis and epiclesis. This month, I thought I’d tell you about the first.

As we use it in understanding liturgy, anamnesis is the recollection of past events, chiefly in the obedient response to the Lord’s command, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

When he instituted the Eucharist, Jesus led his friends in the symbolic acts that accompany the Passover meal. He reminded them of their heritage. He led them through the events of the Exodus, from the prophecies and the plagues, to the rescue from captivity and the parting of the waters, through the wanderings in the desert and the provision of bread from above.

Most of all, he reminded them of that last supper the people had eaten the night before they were free. And then, he took the bread in his own hands, and said the blessing, as the people of Israel had blessed it for a thousand years: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”

And he broke it, and gave it to his friends. And he took the cup of wine, recalling those ancient days, and with it in his hands he made an offering of prayer and thanksgiving: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.”

All this he did – in accordance with the Law – but he added something that showed Grace in that moment: he said, “Whenever you do this, do it in remembrance of me.” Do it, then, to bring back this moment.

Make it present in your hearts. Remember when Jesus offered himself as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Remember him as the one who leads us forth from the captivity of our own self-centeredness, the lower nature with its egotistical, passion-driven desires, into the freedom of reliance on the providence of God and trust in God’s eternal abundance.

I’m not sure it’s necessary to give much space here to defining nostalgia – that mixture of glad and sad longings that accompany recalling something long ago and far away – and we all know its effects.

If we try to recover a past experience for refuge from the present, or in worried retreat from the challenges of the future, if we try to recreate a feeling or mood to indulge in, we know it is at best a temporary patch on the fabric of time. It will tear away. We do not want to go with it when it goes.

We want to move forward, bravely and boldly, holding on to the promises of God, in the light of the world that dawns in Christ, because however dark the night, as children of the day we know that joy comes in the morning.

Joy opens the heart. –Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.


From the Rector’s Study – ANAMNESIS – for the November 2008 Gospel Grapevine