Sunday, June 28, 2009

world of wonders

She would not wait; she would not hold back.

Jesus was on his way, to heal someone else – an urgent message, a plea from a desperate father – Come: save my daughter – she’s dying!

And yet the woman pressed forward, touched his cloak, the hem of his garment.

The bleeding she had suffered under for a dozen years had made her ritually unclean;

at this point she should not be touching anybody—

But there she is, defiling him, making him unclean, just as she was—

If only, if only—

She thought only of this: that his touch would heal her, however unworthy, however unwell, however unclean she was.

And so it was – he felt the power go out of him – the power to heal.

Her faith had opened a channel, a way, for his healing power to move to her and do its work.

‘Who touched me?’ he exclaimed.

C’mon, Rabbi, everybody touched you.

But it was something more, not a jostle in the crowd, a deliberate reaching out, in faith, that she might be well, whole, saved… in secret—

But the secret was out: and in fear and trembling she confessed. It was I.

For twelve years she had suffered – as many years as the number of the tribes of Israel, as many years as the number of the Apostles –

She was unclean, maybe unwelcome—even cast out; but now she was restored: to health, to wholeness— completed in the love of Christ.

But what had saved her?

He said: your faith has made you well.

It wasn’t magic. It wasn’t power. It was trust, trust in God— so that God could work, in her, a miracle: a renewal of life.

So Jesus paused: and moved on, to the home of Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, where his daughter lay—

Don’t bother him now. It’s too late; she’s gone.


They left him, with the girl, her father and mother, and his friends: the only witnesses, to what was about to occur.

This girl— all of twelve— again, that number, as if she were Israel, sickened unto death— lay there, apparently dead, as dead as dry bones in a riverbed—

And he said, she’s sleeping

And they laughed.

And he said, 'Little girl, WAKE UP!'

And she did.

As Israel would, as we will, —as people of God, his people— WAKE UP

We wake up— to new life, given us in Christ, as we follow him, trusting him on the way, trusting him to BE the way, and the truth, and the life.

God’s life-giving power, as Tom Wright points out, comes to us when we open the channel of faith. Through that opening God’s kingdom bursts in, to our world, bringing life, abundant and eternal, working through the everyday things of life, redeeming them, turning them to a new depth of purpose.

Bread and wine, body and blood; water and oil, baptism and unction; everyday things turned to a new depth of purpose work in us a world of wonders: God’s world –

God’s world at last is here, among us, working already, if we are open to it.

If we watch for it, waiting with hope and expectation, we will see that new day dawning; as we wait for the Lord, more than they that watch for the morning; as we call to the Lord, out of the deep places of the soul; more than prisoners in a dungeon led into the light, we will be free.

There is more to come. Being the people of his redemption we are set free not for ourselves alone but set free to be in the world the sign of hope, to open the channel for redemption: to allow faith to enter into other lives.

As Rita Bennett will tell you, we are now ‘the hem of his garment’. We are the visible presence of God’s graceful power in the world, the agents of love’s redeeming work. As faith begins to flower, we testify to the work of love in our own lives; as we carry on, bearing forth his gospel, we bring the good news of Christ to the world.

What we do, what you and I do, individually, collectively – a bunch of us going in together on some common project, or communally – as a work of we the people of God as a whole congregation; as we do God’s work in the world, and come together as his people, we witness to his power at work among us, making us the people who show his faithfulness, his truthfulness, his lack of guile or subterfuge, his kindness, his steadfast love— keeping faith with us.

May he revive us, restore us, to fullness of life. May we witness to the power of his redeeming love. May we follow him, in the way of justice and peace. Amen.

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (The Third Sunday after Trinity)
Proper 8: Year B, RCL

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43


Sunday, June 21, 2009

when someone is baptised, it is very serious

We’d had the crowds with us all day. He preached to them, sitting in the boat, as they grouped along the lakeshore.

Let us go across to the other side, he said. So we took him along with us in the boat – he was already sitting in the stern, after all, making himself comfortable. He slept. The waves came up – as if stirred by some god or goddess of the Romans.

It got bad. We woke him up!

We are all going to die! Don’t you even care?

He woke up all right. Then, he rebuked the wind and said to the sea,

Peace! Be still.

Why are you afraid? Don’t you trust me yet? How about a little faith?

We asked ourselves a question, then: Who is this whom even the wind and sea obey?

Who indeed?

O Lord God of hosts, who is like you? :
your power and your faithfulness are all about you.
You rule the raging of the sea :
when its waves surge, you still them. (Psalm 89:8-9)

Who stilled the raging of the seas, the roaring of the waves :
and the tumult of the peoples. (Psalm 65:6)

Then they cried to the Lord in their distress :
and he took them out of their trouble.
He calmed the storm to a silence :
and the waves of the sea were stilled.
Then they were glad because they were quiet :
and he brought them to the haven they longed for. (Psalm 107:28-30)

He spoke; and, while he spoke, he smooth'd the sea,
Dispell'd the darkness, and restor'd the day.
Cymothoe, Triton, and the sea-green train
Of beauteous nymphs, the daughters of the main,
Clear from the rocks the vessels with their hands:
The god himself with ready trident stands,
And opes the deep, and spreads the moving sands;
Then heaves them off the shoals. Where'er he guides
His finny coursers and in triumph rides,
The waves unruffle and the sea subsides. (Aeneid, Book One, John Dryden trans.)

They were afraid. Trembling – fearful – anticipating death, there on the sea. They forgot about Jesus. They forgot he was even going with them, until he said something. Then he slept, and they forgot him completely – until the storm came.

Until the storm came, they were ready to go it alone. They did not need Jesus. They were doing fine. Until the storm came.

Then, they knew that they were on a terrible journey – one they would not be on, if it was not for him! He’s the one who said, let’s go to the other side.

What a Jonah! What will he do, if he has to travel in the belly of a whale? If he is swallowed by death, will he ever see the light of day again?

And what about us?

There is he, calming the storm – where there was doubt, he sowed faith; where there was trouble, he brought peace; where there was danger, and he saw them safely to other shore.

It is not that Jesus does not care – or that he sends us off on our own. He is with us; we sometimes forget he is along for the whole journey. We leave port, headed to an unknown shore – in life, in death, every step of our souls’ journey – and he is always by our side.

It is not that we do not go through the waters – of life, of death.

We are immersed in the waters of baptism, symbolizing our death to self. The old life is gone.

We are raised from the waters of baptism, symbolizing our rebirth into eternal life. The new life has begun.

Let us have a little faith – and put our trust in the man who stilled the waters, the one who calmed the sea.

As we affirm our own faith alongside the newly baptized, we have done it again – we have once again reminded ourselves, and one another, that when somebody is baptized, it is very serious: it is like dying. And life.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

calming the seas

Aeneid, Book I, John Dryden trans. - Neptune calms the seas:

He spoke; and, while he spoke, he smooth'd the sea,
Dispell'd the darkness, and restor'd the day.
Cymothoe, Triton, and the sea-green train
Of beauteous nymphs, the daughters of the main,
Clear from the rocks the vessels with their hands:
The god himself with ready trident stands,
And opes the deep, and spreads the moving sands;
Then heaves them off the shoals. Where'er he guides
His finny coursers and in triumph rides,
The waves unruffle and the sea subsides.
As, when in tumults rise th' ignoble crowd,
Mad are their motions, and their tongues are loud;
And stones and brands in rattling volleys fly,
And all the rustic arms that fury can supply:
If then some grave and pious man appear,
They hush their noise, and lend a list'ning ear;
He soothes with sober words their angry mood,
And quenches their innate desire of blood:
So, when the Father of the Flood appears,
And o'er the seas his sov'reign trident rears,
Their fury falls: he skims the liquid plains,
High on his chariot, and, with loosen'd reins,
Majestic moves along, and awful peace maintains.

Put your hand in the hand...

But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples.
And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side.
And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.
And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.
And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?
And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?
And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

Mark 4:34-41

Sunday, June 14, 2009

sow broadcast at any time

If You Want Your Dream To Be...

If you want your dream to be
Build it slow and surely.
Small beginnings, greater ends
Heartfelt work grows purely.

If you want to live life free
Take your time go slowly.
Do few things but do them well
Simple joys are holy.

Day by day,
Stone by stone,
Build your secret slowly.
Day by day,
You'll grow too,
You'll know heaven's glory.

If you want your dream to be
Build it slow and surely.
Small beginnings, greater ends,
Heartfelt work grows purely.
If you want to live life free
Take your time go slowly.


The seed catalog came today – a bit late, I grant you, for spring planting, but late summer and early fall are not far away, and then I will be planting – mustard seed!

The kind of mustard seed I will be planting is an “excellent cover crop often used in orchards and vineyards.” It “suppresses weeds, nematodes and soil diseases, cycles nutrients, and increases tilth.” It is also “a high protein forage. Sow broadcast at any time during the growing season. It can be harvested at any stage, but preferably just after flowering. Plant mid-August for winter cover.”

(Bountiful Gardens 2009 Catalog, p. 32.)

I will prepare the ground, raking and watering, perhaps, and then – I will sow the seed. Just fling it! Just plant it. Rake it in – and let it grow. I could get up day and night, worry about it, fuss with it – but it will grow of its own accord, automatically, without help.

Something will come up – and bear fruit after its kind.

When Jesus was teaching crowds gathered. They came to him by the lakeshore. He had the disciples embark with him in a boat, so that he could speak to the people on shore. He told them about the kingdom of God, the coming reign of God, but he spoke to them in parables. He told them stories – simple stories, but with a kick to them.

And they listened. And they heard something. Something we may not notice: echoes, echoes of the Old Testament glories of the prophets.

When Jesus spoke of a little seed that grew into a great big plant – he reminded them of something they’d heard before.

Nebuchadnezzar had a dream, of a tree that grew and spread, and carried in its branches the birds of the air, and provided food for all.

Upon my bed this is what I saw;
there was a tree at the centre of the earth,
and its height was great.
The tree grew great and strong,
its top reached to heaven,
and it was visible to the ends of the whole earth.
Its foliage was beautiful,
its fruit abundant,
and it provided food for all.
The animals of the field found shade under it,
the birds of the air nested in its branches,
and from it all living beings were fed.

Daniel told him it was an image of a king.

The tree that you saw, which grew great and strong, so that its top reached to heaven and was visible to the end of the whole earth, whose foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant, and which provided food for all, under which animals of the field lived, and in whose branches the birds of the air had nests— it is you, O king! You have grown great and strong. Your greatness has increased and reaches to heaven, and your sovereignty to the ends of the earth.

Daniel told him it was the image of a king… but we know (and Daniel knew) what king is truly great, what Lord is really sovereign, and what kingdom really endures.

(Daniel 4:10-12, 20-22)

Ezekiel had a vision, and spoke:

Thus says the Lord God:
I myself will take a sprig
from the lofty top of a cedar;
I will set it out.
I will break off a tender one
from the topmost of its young twigs;
I myself will plant it
on a high and lofty mountain.
On the mountain height of Israel
I will plant it,
in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit,
and become a noble cedar.
Under it every kind of bird will live;
in the shade of its branches will nest
winged creatures of every kind.

(Ezekiel 17:22-23)

So when Jesus spoke of a seed, and of a great plant that grew from it, putting forth branches so that the birds of the air could nest in its shade, his listeners knew, right away, that he was speaking of the kingdom of heaven. He was speaking subversion, of course – subversion of the Roman state, of the powers that be, of the rulers of this world – because he was speaking of the coming of the true king, the Messiah of Israel.

He was, however, speaking of the Messiah of Israel coming in a humble way, almost like – a king riding on a donkey or the foal of a donkey, instead of a great war-horse. He spoke of small beginnings, greater ends. Simple things. A secret, built slowly.

Like a little seed, the disciples were a little group. On the edge of empire, seldom seen. What grew from them – was great. It was the beginning of the new order of the ages, the kingdom they proclaimed: for they in their simple way, in their little band of brothers and sisters, carried the kernel, the nucleus, the seed-corn, of a great harvest to come.

When we in our turn do simple things – throw something out there, plant a seed, watch it grow – we take part in this kingdom’s coming. It comes in secret, quietly at first, not with great fanfare, but with joyous flowering – like the mustard seed in spring, just a first hint of what is to come.

Among us are people who spread the word, the good news, of Jesus – in their deeds and in their words. We all do it in our actions done for the Lord, and some times we do it in plain sight.

Each of us has had people in our lives who have ‘planted a seed’ – a word in season, an action of kindness, a lifelong dedicated struggle to bring something good into being.

Small or great, these efforts have been like mustard seeds for us – something started, that may grow into a great thing, a shelter for life to flourish in, and a simple symbol of God’s glory.

Today we honor a group of those people, the teachers in our Sunday school. The seeds they plant will we pray mature over time – and in the lives of the children of our parish, provide a place for the peaceable kingdom to emerge and to flourish.

As we rejoice in the gospel, we pray for all who spread the Good News, for evangelists and preachers, for Sunday school teachers, for all the laity in their sharing of the faith.

We pray for all who produce Bibles, and those who help us to understand your holy word.

Lord, may your church grow in holiness, in outreach, and in number.

Lord God, Almighty, rule in our hearts: direct our decisions, guide our actions, let your kingdom grow in us, that we may live and work to your praise and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord,

Who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

* * * * *

God give you grace to grow in holiness, to extend your vision, to increase your faith, to draw nearer to him; and the blessing of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, rest upon you today and remain with you always. Amen.

Donovan, song in "Brother Sun, Sister Moon", film directed by Franco Zeffirelli (Paramount, 1972)
Bountiful Gardens 2009 Catalog (
David Adam, Traces of Glory: Prayers for the Church Year, Year B (SPCK, 1999)
Fred B. Craddock et al., Preaching Through the Christian Year, Year B (Trinity Press International, 1993)
David B. Lott, ed., New Proclamation: Year B, 2009 Easter to Christ the King (Fortress, 2008)
Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man (Orbis, 1995)
Herbert O'Driscoll, The Word Today, Year B, Volume 3 (Anglican Book Centre, 2001)
Marie Noonan Sabin, The Gospel According to Mark. New Collegeville Bible Commentary (Liturgical Press, 2006)
Scott Sinclair, A Study Guide to Mark's Gospel (BIBAL, 1996)
Tom Wright, Mark for Everyone (SPCK, 2001)

Ezekiel 17:22-24
Daniel 4:10-12, 20-22

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
Psalm 20
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
Mark 4:26-34

see also,,


Monday, June 1, 2009

The Emerging Spirit

A question I have been asking in recent weeks is this: Where do we sense the Spirit emerging in our congregation?

One of the joys of the past few days has been hearing what people have to say about how they see the Spirit emerging, at work in our midst. At breakfast downtown one morning someone pointed out that more people are now sticking around after services to have conversation with each other (she notices, because she and another breakfaster make the coffee 95% of the time). Across the table someone remarked how friendly the congregation was – when you visit somebody always says hello to you and asks your name. I’d add hospitable and devoted (Saint Alban’s people look after each other) as well.

One afternoon someone called to report on her visit ‘back home’– and how now she much prefers this small congregation, which she finds much less formal or stuffy that the big church she attended before. “You’d never see somebody bringing that sweet little dog into church back there.” So now “this is home”. Hooray!

One thing I am enjoying about this congregation is seeing people take responsibility both for themselves, for their place and time in the world, and for being God’s people chosen for here and now to both proclaim the Word and carry it out in their lives.

I sense the spirit emerging in the congregation in new growth in lay leadership, in members taking initiative, in independent, positive responses to challenges by organizing new ventures, taking on ongoing ones, working for transformation, or letting go of what needs to be let go of. I see it in the adult education class that studies our parish vision statement in light of the Scriptures and then discusses how to implement it, moving from vision to mission. I see it in older members deeply involved, passing on their skills; and I see it in new members, learning new ways of being church – God’s people in this place at this time.

Beneath all these immediate things – what is happening – is the long-term emergence of the spirit in our midst. That is what is really going on, deep down.

One sunny afternoon in the Berkeley Rose Garden an elderly man from Pakistan asked me what I thought the great religious traditions of the world had in common. “We are all seeking the same thing – and the same thing is seeking all of us.”

As Donald Nicholl said in Holiness (Seabury Press, 1981; 2nd ed., Paulist Press, 1987), “…the Holy One was longing for each of us to be holy before ever we began to do so, and that he continues to do so even when we ourselves get tired of our longing. The way in which we respond to that personal call is our total responsibility.” (61) He remarks that we should not judge the progress of others, for “…sometimes beginners are near to their end. And another thing is for sure: anyone who regards himself as already holy still has a long way to go.” (44) To sum it all up, he assures us that “…at the very centre of the universe is a loving Heart whose longing are the source of our own hearts’ longing. Hence our own longings can never be in vain, because they correspond with reality, with that Heart upon which our universe is centered.” (39)

As Augustine prayed, “Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” (Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Ii)

The movement of the Spirit is entirely compatible with our lives, as they are really meant to develop, for the God who sustains & sanctifies is the God who redeems & justifies is the God who made us & called us into being. This inspires confidence in me that Christ will have the victory – over small and sordid sins as over big and spectacular ones – and that these small beginnings, like bud-break on twig or vine, are indeed signs of the Spirit emerging in the midst of us, God’s people, here and now.


[The adult education class, led by Eric Hanson, meets in the conference room in the education annex on Sunday mornings between services, from 9:15 to 10:00 am.]

For St. Alban's Grapevine * June 2009
Parish Newsletter of Saint Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, WA USA