Sunday, July 26, 2009

That the people get fed.

In the name of the living and true God, the creator of all things, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Back when I was in the seminary the ‘new’ prayer book had just been adopted two years before by General Convention. So a lot of us still had the ‘proposed’ book, 1976 edition.

One day a friend and I were discussing why we do these things – why we go to the trouble of creating liturgy and making Eucharist. We agreed we do it for one reason: that the people get fed.

Michael Wyatt, my friend, took out his prayer book and his pen and wrote on the title page, under the word “Proposed”, ‘that the people get fed.’ That is why we do it.

That is why Jesus does it. That is why he – even after taking the disciples away with him for a rest – he goes to the crowd, teaches them many things, and then, taking the resources at hand, shares five barley loaves and two fish – that the people get fed.

That is why he goes to Jerusalem. That is why he shares the Passover meal with his disciples. That is why he gives himself up to the authorities, accepting that it could well mean his end. That is why he reminded the disciples, do this in remembrance of me. Do it – that the people get fed. That, feasting on the will and grace and love of God embodied in me, in my flesh and blood, they may take in the source of life, the everlasting life. He does all that, so that we may have eternal life.

Michael Wyatt wrote to his sister Kathryn some years ago, when she was facing death, some words of comfort and of healing:

God feeds us with forgiveness and hope, with strength and patience, many times a day.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Remember what the Lord said to David, in last week’s lesson: “I was with you wherever you went.”

Well, we do have to say a little something more about David. You may remember this, too, from last week’s lessons: The Lord sought David out and found him, the Lord chose him and raised him up to be king. David was sought, chosen, and consecrated to God’s purpose. The Lord guided him as a shepherd guides his sheep. The Lord protected him and fed him as a shepherd feeds and cares for his sheep. And then, well – you know the story. Just heard it. David exploits his power over Uriah and sends him to his death – a cover-up of his earlier crimes of adultery that leads him into further betrayal. Stay tuned till next week – Nathan will have a story to tell David that will change his life.

Meanwhile look at the sharp contrast with Jesus. “Jesus is often referred to as the son of David and of David’s line,” Herbert O’Driscoll, the Canadian dean of preachers, writes, “yet there is no moment of greater contrast between David and our Lord than we have here…”

The people were drawn to Jesus, and his heart went out to them, and he taught them, and they found healing in his presence. Like a shepherd leading his sheep, he led the people again and again to safety, by safe waters, where they could be refreshed, get fed, and rest.

David had at this moment of succumbing to temptation acted wholly for himself. To feed his own lust he offered a meal to Uriah as a means of betraying him. He put a friend in danger. He indulged in the selfish pursuit of his own personal ends and purposes. He left his calling unanswered.

Jesus, loving, acted for others, offering a meal as grace – a sign of grace and of his power that is power to save and power to heal, not to destroy or exploit. He protects his friends from danger. He conveyed God to us in his own person that we might be made holy.

Incidentally, in looking after his friends he may have come on a little strong on one occasion. There they are in the boat, worrying about the waves and the wind, and he drops by to see how they’re doing. Hi guys. Breezing up tonight, eh?

YIKES! They are in a boat but he – he is walking on the water.

Who is this? Who is Jesus? Isn’t he the carpenter, the son of Joseph and Mary? Don’t we know his brothers and his sisters?

And he is. And he is the Lord. And he is mighty – might to save!

The power of God shown in Christ comes to us in many forms. Here in this gospel today we see him at his pastoral best – and we see him at the beginning of the revelation of his true nature. He calls the disciples to him on a mountain and teaches them, and seeing a large crowd coming, he brings forward a chance for them to see the abundance of grace.

Philip, where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?

Philip takes the bait. “We couldn’t pay for bread to feed this many people with the earnings of half a year’s work, not enough to give each of them even a morsel.”

Andrew, more hopeful, but still not quite getting it, points out the boy with the fish and barley bread. It doesn’t seem like much. But.

It is enough. Because Jesus shows us that his grace is sufficient. “Make the people sit down,” he says. And they sit, in groups like households on Passover night, and Jesus takes the food and after he gives thanks, he gives it to them – and they are all satisfied.

This is a miracle. It is enough to convince people that he is the prophet they want. They come after him to make him their king, the king they want, the king they expect, and the king they think they need.

But he is not that kind of king. And so he withdraws. Alone. And they see him no longer.

When evening comes the disciples push out into the dark waters and start home across the sea. He is not with them. He hasn’t returned from the mountain. The waves rise – and there he is!

Yikes, indeed. But he says, don’t be afraid – it’s me.

They move to take him on board. And then they are home.


Michael is home now, Michael Wyatt, whose words I quoted earlier. He died three weeks ago, and we celebrated his life last Friday night at the parish he had served in Seattle. He is home with God as we all someday may be home with God. And yet God was with him throughout his life, as God can be and is with us every day of our lives.

God is with us wherever we go, as he was with David— even when David was at his worst God loved him, and was present with him, ready to welcome him when David turned again to him, turning home.

This is the bread of life: God’s grace and forgiveness, his love and care and sustenance.

God feeds us with forgiveness and hope, with strength and patience, many times a day.

This is the bread of Life: JESUS.

Early in the week Kirstin Leyen remarked that my sermon could be summed up in three words: JESUS. BREAD. AMEN. She’s right. Let me show you why…

Watch this: do you know sign language? Here are two signs used by Trappist monks, when they wish to communicate without speaking out loud – or across the fields as they farm:



These two signs are as closely linked as the presence of God in the Eucharist. Because God feeds us in the Eucharist with the life that lasts – the living bread is the bread that continues to give life, to sustain us; the living God is the true source of all being. In his name and in his care we find life, and we share it, together with one another and out into the world he died and lived to save.

So, Kirstin was right:



Herbert O'Driscoll, The Word Today, Year B, Volume 3 (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 2001)


Sunday, July 19, 2009

It's not the building that matters...

"It’s not the building that matters. It’s the community within the building that expresses God’s love. …What matters is how you go on together and how you listen together for God’s words and guidance. What matters is how you receive Christ’s compassion and live in God’s love. What matters is how you reach out with compassion to share that love with those who need it most. When you do, whether you meet in a palace of cedar or a tent where the wind blows through, you will be the ones who build God’s House. Amen."

This is from a sermon posted on the web.

See the whole thing at:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dancing before the Lord

David dances before the Lord. The whole people of God dance with all their might.

He is leaping and dancing before the Lord,
as he brings the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem,
to the tent he had pitched for it there.

He gives thanks, blesses the people, and distributes food among all of them.

The ark, the symbol of the presence of God,
has a new dwelling-place, on the holy hill,
in the midst of the people.

There is a king in Israel, and he rejoices at the presence of the glory of God.

Centuries later, another king appears, a son of David, the Messiah. Christ.

As we pick up the story this week, in the good news according to Mark,

Jesus has gone out among the villages teaching and preaching that the kingdom of God is at hand.

And then we have this disturbing interlude, told as something that had already happened.

News of this new teacher, Jesus, came to Herod Antipas, the Rome-appointed ruler of Galilee. And he feared that it was his old nemesis, John the Baptist, come back to life.

John had denounced Herod for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife. And Herod had imprisoned John, but kept him alive, and listened to him, and found it amusing. Then, a change came – an opening for those who wanted to see the prophet silenced, permanently.

On Herod’s birthday all the movers and shakers of Galilee were gathered in his palace, and the daughter of Herodias danced before them. With the horrific result we have heard. Herod, wanting to reward her for her charming performance, said “ask me for anything.”

He thought to offer her half his kingdom, as much as that, making her (as Ryan Marsh has pointed out) her mother’s equal, and yet she and her mother working together tied him in a knot. The mother coached and the girl made the request: bring me John’s head on a platter.

Herod was dismayed, but the show must go on. He had given his word, right? No matter that he was a client of Rome, which always insisted on at least the pretence of a trial.

He went ahead, and John was beheaded. Herod sacrificed the life of the prophet to keep his grasp on his position, to keep up the façade of power in front of these watching guests, the power brokers of Galilee.

John’s disciples heard the news of his death, and they came, took his body away, and placed it in a tomb.

(This whole episode foreshadows the fate of the Messiah, an event that has yet to come.)

The forerunner, John the Baptist, had run his course. John was the last and greatest of the old prophets – for he was the one to go before, to prepare the way of the coming King, the Messiah. Now he is gone.

The old way is over. Someone greater than any prophet has come into the world.

(As Herbert O’Driscoll has pointed out, this is a sea-change.)

The new has come: the son of David, the promised child, the Messiah.

Jesus, Messiah.

And now the Lord dwells among his people, not in a tent, not in a temple, but as a human being, as one of them.

Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2:5c-11)

This is the one who has come to the world. And he will take bread, this son of David, and after giving thanks break it and distribute it to the people. They will eat and be filled.

And he himself will be the bread, bread from heaven, bread for the world.

And he calls us to be his body in the world, so that we too become bread for the world.

So rejoice in the Lord, live in hope, and act to bring God’s good news to the world.

As Marty Haugen sings, in his new song, "Bread for the World" –

Rejoice, give thanks for abundant grace, food on our tables and peace within this place. How rich, how wide is our God's embrace! And thru' this great sustaining love

We are bread for the world, bread for the world, bread for a hungry world. May we be bread for the world, bread for the world, bread for a hungry world.

Hope burns anew, thru' the world's despair, when eyes are opened and hearts are moved to care, when we can listen and learn to share, then we might fin'lly turn and see

We are bread for the world, bread for the world, bread for a hungry world. May we be bread for the world, bread for the world, bread for a hungry world.

Act strong in faith, for God's Reign is near; stand up with courage, speak out and do not fear! Now is the time that the world must hear the tasks that God has called us to;

We are bread for the world, bread for the world, bread for a hungry world. May we be bread for the world, bread for the world, bread for a hungry world.

Almighty God,
send down upon your Church
the riches of your Spirit,
and kindle in all who bear the good news
your countless gifts of grace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Ryan Marsh, Church of the Beloved ( conversation.

Herbert O’Driscoll, The Word Today: Reflections on the Readings of the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, Volume 3 (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 2001) 54.

(“Bread for the World” - lyrics and music: Marty Haugen. From July 11, 2009.)

(Adapted from a collect for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity, Common Worship, Church of England.

Readings for Year B, Proper 10, Revised Common Lectionary:
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19, Psalm 24, Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:14-29.

8 o’clock in the morning
July 12, 2009


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

from the rector's schoolbag

This past school year, as you may recall, I was enrolled in the Pastoral Leadership Program offered at the Seattle University’s school for theology and ministry. Since I am working part-time as rector at St. Alban’s (70% time – which means seven half-day ‘modules’: Sunday mornings, plus three weekday mornings and afternoons, or afternoons and evenings, for services, visits, meetings, office time, calls, preparation, etc.) this year it was possible for me to take part in the program on my own personal time. My mother made a gift to cover most of the cost of the program, the continuing education funding was fully used this year, and I made up the rest from my own salary.

Among my goals for the program was to explore how the Spirit of God is experienced as active in congregational ministry. How are we to live, knowing God is present and active in our lives and has a purpose for us as his people?

As your priest, one of my joys has been asking that question about our own parish life together, and noticing how God is present and active in our midst as a congregation.

Here are some things I have seen:

1. We have experienced God’s presence in pastoral visits, in worship, in working through conflicts, in celebrations, weddings, baptisms, and memorial services.
2. The Holy Spirit has been stirring a number of us to ask how we can live more faithfully into the calling God has for our congregation as his people here, now.
3. We are growing in our awareness and appreciation of the many ministries active in our midst, and how God is at work through our fellow parishioners.
4. We have seen vestry leaders work together to enhance the clarity and openness of such governance functions as by-laws, finances, and stewardship.
5. We have seen leaders in the congregation stir new energies in ongoing ministries, including newcomers and outreach, and initiate such new beginnings as the ministry of young families and young adults.

All these are encouraging signs of God at work in our midst.

The program at Seattle University was ecumenical. There were two other Episcopal priests, ordained clergy of other denominations, and workers in various lay ministries. We were from diverse backgrounds, including African-American, Native American, English, and even Californian-American participants.

Reflecting with fellow ministers – lay and ordained – of diverse backgrounds has provided me with a broader perspective on some points of dynamic tension in our own congregational work together at St. Alban’s.

We spent a considerable amount of time on congregational dynamics – learning how people work together in a group, from small (vestry) to larger (congregation).

This has helped me to see ways we can move forward, that I might not have discovered on my own, toward the goal of a healthful and loving community.

What the pastoral leadership program gave me, among other things, was a sense of call in action – how my own professional and vocational roles play out in a congregational setting. This insight has helped me think about how each member of this congregation has vocational and professional roles that enrich our common life. We come together in worship to be refreshed and encouraged, hear the Word, express our common faith, and share in the Eucharist; we go forth into the world renewed, bearing the Good News.

a. The church can become a safe place for everyone to come for this refreshment and encouragement, a place where we all celebrate our diverse gifts and callings.
b. The church can create a place where we discern together how our various gifts are meant to mix into a blessing for the world around us.
c. The church can emerge as a place where the world and its needs are met with prayerful concern and generous, compassionate response.
d. The church can make space for each of us to express our ministry both in our life together and outreach to the world.

We took time to learn how to include prayer and quiet time in our days, and to seek renewal in Sabbath-keeping and other spiritual practices. These practices help me to listen more deeply to the Spirit, and to ground all of my ministry – preaching, teaching, organizing, individual pastoral care, and celebrating – in God’s grace and presence, so that I can serve faithfully and well as your parish priest.

Through programs like Pastoral Leadership, and the continuing education offered by the diocese through clergy training days and the monthly Fresh Start program for new clergy, I do more than fulfill the canonical requirements for continuing education – I put new tools in my toolbox. More than that, I gain new insights into how we work together, pray together, and worship together, as God’s people called to worship and service at this time in this place. –Fr. John

St Albans Grapevine July 2009 JRL