Saturday, October 17, 2009


“It’s getting warm,” we said to each other. We were walking through the desert with friends. It was the middle of the morning and the temperature was rising into the 90s.

We had a drink of water. We sought the shade down in the relative cool of the arroyo. We made our way toward the food and shelter we knew were waiting for us – and the car.

It was a pleasant morning, out for a hike with friends and family. It was beautiful. It was dry and sunny. And it was getting warm.

Imagine walking through such a desert alone, or with strangers. Imagine walking across a desert, jobless and homeless, hoping for something not seen, for a place on the far side. No car waits, no friends or family, just a chance of finding a new way to live.

It happens every summer, in the Sonoran desert. People cross it, heading north, looking for a job, for food and water and shelter, and perhaps a new life. Carrying with them – not much but hope.

Imagine crossing such a desert with someone who has just been family for a little while: a relative by marriage. The two of you have dozens of miles of wilderness to cross, and you are alone in the world. You have left the known behind; there is a famine there.

You have an international border to negotiate. You hope that when you arrive in the new place – and it lies across that border – you will find a little food and water and shelter and perhaps a new life.

Their husbands were dead, and they heard the famine might be lifting over there to the west.

Naomi had said her farewells to Moab and to one of her widowed daughters-in-law, Orpah – perhaps the more sensible of the two, who stuck with what she knew.

Ruth came with Naomi. They were widows now, both of them – the older woman and the younger. They set out together to the west. Somewhere there might be a place for them – with the family Naomi had left behind years ago.

Ruth came with Naomi, offering her a love and a loyalty and faithfulness beyond what was required by any law: “Where you go I will go and where you lodge I will lodge and your people will be my people and your God will be my God.”

With that passionate pledge Ruth began a spiritual journey into a new identity, as one of the people called to be the people of God.

They reached the other side – they came to the neighborhood of Bethlehem, in Judea. They came to fields of ripe grain, and a threshing floor; it was harvest time. Naomi’s relatives were there – and an ending of their journey. They found, as the story continues, after the harvest, a future and a hope.

This November the calendar of the church year carries us from the feast of All Saints, —when we gather together in the presence of all the faithful remembering those past and anticipating those to come, and welcoming those present with us in the Eucharist, — through Ingathering Sunday to the feast of Christ the King and the Thanksgiving holiday and on to the first Sunday of Advent.

All Saints Day assures us we are among friends, the family of Christ that extends its embrace through time and space. Ingathering Sunday provides an opportunity to give our thanks for what God has given us. We rejoice together in Christ the King, proclaiming that our God reigns indeed, that he alone is sovereign. And we come to that first day of the season of anticipation, quietly but joyfully singing as we prepare the way of the Lord.

This month forms a part of the journey of the Christian year, from the hope of the coming king (past and future, in the first coming and his return in glory) to the blessings of the Nativity of our Lord and the epiphanies that herald his presence among us; from the thoughtful preparations of Candlemas (Candelaria) and Lenten tide to the raucous anticipations of Palm Sunday, the humble moments of Holy Week, the gift of Maundy Thursday and the crushing truth of Good Friday, and the scenes beyond dreams of Easter Day; through the revelations that follow that morning and build beyond the Ascension into the long green season after Pentecost, around again to the last days of autumn and the return of the king.

This is where we are now – and shows where we are going, from a known past and gifts we are thankful for, with family and friends (if we are so blessed) into a future with hope.

We do not always know where we are going, we are not always sure of our way, and as C. S. Lewis somewhere pointed out, the Christian faith does not give us a map but a compass.* We are not provided with a chart of what awaits us, just a directional aid.

Faith orients us toward the blessing of the presence of God. Hope assures us we are moving forward toward a future God has prepared for us. Love gives us the way to be with each other on the journey. And we know, that now in the present Christ is here among us, and in the unknown country, yet to come, he will be there to welcome us.

Let us share the welcome of Christ with each other – and those whom God brings to us, and whom we seek out in the world around us. The future beckons us, a future with hope.

May the true and living God who created all things bless us; the eternal Word of God take root in our hearts and the holy Spirit of God bear fruit in our lives. —Fr. John


*cf. Herbert O’Driscoll, The Word Today, Year B, Vol. 3 (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 2001) 130.

For the Gospel Grapevine, parish newsletter of St Alban’s Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Wash., November 2009.



Sunday, October 11, 2009

Congratulations! you win the prize...

In the name of God, Merciful Father, Compassionate Son, Spirit of Wisdom. Amen.

Congratulations! After months of searching and careful deliberations the committee has selected you to receive the Servant of God prize… not for anything you’ve done – but for what you’re called to be.

You are called to be – God’s child, what you already are. You are called to be – his partner in service. You are called to be – his disciple, following his way.

You are called to inherit eternal life. You are called to be – a saint.

“The only tragedy is not to be a saint.”— Leon Bloy said it; my teacher Donald Nicholl used to love to quote that.

A saint? How can I be a saint? How can anyone be a saint?

That’s what the rich man wanted to know. That’s what the disciples wanted to know.

Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’ (Mark 10:27)

A saint is not a person who is perfect – who has made it on their own – but a person who has trusted God, whatever their life circumstances.

A saint is one who is consecrated, set apart, for the service and worship of God.

A saint is one who dwells in the tabernacle of the holy, who lives within God's love.

And sometimes that is all we are - and all we have.

Job, that righteous man, stood naked before God: like King Lear buffeted by adversities (though not of his own making, Job’s daughters not being Lear’s) he voices his complaint even to the winds of the storm.

“Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning.” (Job 23:1)

Job feels no presence – just absence – as he tries to get a hearing with God.

“If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left, he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.”

As Herb O’Driscoll pointed out, it’s ironically reverse from a familiar hymn:

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me.

The psalm too, presents us with a man undone, laid bare to the eyes of all – and most of all, to the one who will be our judge.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1)

It is the cry of the Exile, the cry of the homeless, the destitute; it is the cry of the powerless, the cry of the Holocaust. And it is the cry of Jesus on the Cross.

It is the cry of one utterly bereft of resources, completely unable to make it on his own.

How does it feel to be on your own?

“O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer; by night as well, but I find no rest.” (Psalm 22:2)

And yet – we are not alone. God has called us, not to try to make it on our own, not to try even to earn our way into the kingdom of heaven. He has only called us to walk with him.

He has not called us to be perfect: he has called us to follow him on the way.

And he will walk with us, and help us find the way.

Herb O’Driscoll reminds us of C. S. Lewis’s observation that our faith does not provide us with a map for the journey forward; it simply gives us a compass – a directional aid.

So often we expect the future to be simply an extension of the past.

We may picture history, past present future, as like a map spread out before us – or a picture of Earth seen from out in space, turning toward the sun, with some of it already lit, some still in shadow. The line between that moves with the sun is called the ‘shadow line’.

The lit-up part is the past: we can see the roads, the bridges, the mountains and the passes through them. We can see where we have come from. That’s nice – it feels secure. Whatever the road was like, we know what it looks like.

Now – looking to the future is like trying to look past the ‘shadow line’ on a distant planet, or the moon: what is lit up is easy to see – the features can be discerned – but what is in the dark, not yet revealed, because the sun of the present has not touched it yet, is hidden from our view. We do not know what is happening – we do not know the way. We only know we have our guide with us, our faith-compass in our hand, and our road before us. We must step forward – in faith.

Thomas Merton, in his book Thoughts in Solitude, offered this prayer:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

We don’t know. That’s the peril of it – and the glory. What must I do to gain eternal life?

What, in effect, did Jesus say to the man who ran up and knelt before him?

You must let go, my friend, and know that indeed you stand naked before God and answer to him, that you cannot make it on your own. Follow him.

Follow Christ.

Follow the one ‘who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.’ (Hebrews 4:15-16)

It’s a hard road, but a true one. It leads to life.

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’ (Mark 8:34-35, 37, 36)

Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, and the honor and all blessing.
To You alone, Most High, do they belong
and no human is worthy to mention Your name.

Most High, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me true faith, certain hope and perfect charity,
sense and knowledge, Lord, that I may carry out
Your holy and true command. Amen.

(Prayers of St Francis of Assisi)

O Christ, the master carpenter, who at the last, through wood and nails, purchased our whole salvation, wield well your tools in the workshop of your world, so that we who come rough-hewn to your bench may here be fashioned to a truer beauty of your hand. We ask it for your own name’s sake. Amen.

(Prayer for our own reshaping, from the Iona Community)

St Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Wash.,
October 11, 2009.


Sources and inspirations include "The Word Today" by Herbert O'Driscoll (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre) and the Franciscans' website for Francis' prayers.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

for all things come from you

“All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.”
~ 1 Chronicles 29: 14

Dear friends in Christ:

Look around you – we live in a world of abounding wonder. Where did all this come from? Who can we thank for what we have?

What can we offer in thanksgiving for all that we have received from God’s abundance? How can we participate in God’s ongoing work in the world?

These questions come to mind as we begin to contemplate our giving plans for next year.

When we give to our church, we participate in God’s ongoing work in the world. When we give, we are giving thanks – and that expression, that freewill offering of what we have, is made possible by God’s own gift of himself to us through his incarnate Son.

Way back when King David gathered together the people of Israel and led them in making offerings for the building of the Temple – a building to be completed by his son – he first acknowledged the source of all being, of all that he and they had to offer.

“All things come from you, and of your own have we given you…” (1 Chronicles 29:14)

It is with thanksgiving for God’s many gifts and blessings, and with a desire to further God’s kingdom here on earth, that we give to the church in our offerings of what God has first given us.

The house of prayer we build together, and continue to maintain – the physical structure – is a visible, outward sign of what God is doing within us: building us up together into a worthy temple, a people after his own heart, who work together for his purpose, looking to a future with hope in the promise and gift of God.

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:17)

All giving, at any level, is a worthy expression of thanks. By giving we participate in the continuing mission of God in this world, carrying forward the holy work begun by Christ in his church.

Quite simply, your gifts make the church’s mission and ministry possible. With your help, with your part in this work, our church can express our common faith to the neighborhood, the nation, and the world.

Consider prayerfully your gifts and offerings to God through the church. Think through the gifts we receive from God – the faith that sustains us in good times and bad, the love that redeems us in moments of need, the hope that assures us of a future with wholeness and peace; indeed, the whole of our lives and the world and all that is in it, all made by God – and what in particular brings you joy, peace, comfort, sustenance. And then, pray:

Guide me, Lord of grace, to give, as you would have me give, of what you have given me.

Ingathering Sunday will be November 8th. I encourage you to make your pledge by this date, so that your financial gifts may be reflected in the 2010 budget. During worship on that day, we will celebrate the gifts God has given us by offering together both pledges of future giving and thanksgivings for gifts received – so that God can fit them together for the building up of this place dedicated to his worship and glory. Please make prayerful use of the enclosed pledge card – and drop it in the mail or put it in the collection plate.

Above all give thanks to God in all things – God is faithful to the promise he has made, and guaranteed through the gift of his love: to give us all, together, a future with hope.

Yours faithfully in Christ,

(The Rev.) John Leech
Priest and Rector
St Alban's Episcopal Church
Edmonds, Wash.

October 2009


Sunday, October 4, 2009

a little lower than the angels

Most High, glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me true faith,
certain hope and perfect charity,
sense and knowledge, Lord,
that I may carry out
Your holy and true command.

Job was blameless and upright, he feared God and shunned evil, and yet he experienced sudden disaster. He did not despair, he trusted God. He even accepted God as the source of all being, and so of both good and evil. He kept faith; he knew God would – somehow.

The psalm in response today, Psalm 26, gives voice to someone like Job: I have lived with integrity, I have walked faithfully with you, through faith my foot stands on level ground – I stand on solid ground.

The letter to the Hebrews reminds us of another human being, a son of man: blameless, upright, God-fearing and obedient, he too experienced disaster, and yet he did not despair, he trusted God, and he accepted from God both good and evil. Even in the darkest night still his trust was unwavering.

It is this one whom we celebrate today, and every week – in his sacrifice and his redemption of our souls, in his resurrection and ascension – Jesus Christ.

Hebrews gives us a veritable hymn of praise to the Son of God:
• the heir of all things,
• through whom God created all worlds;
• the reflection of God’s glory,
• the exact imprint of God’s very being;
• through his mighty word he sustains all things;
• he sat down at the right hand of the Father, the Majesty on high;
• he is above all angels …
and yet, he became one of us

What kind of God is this? Why does God bother with us?

What is man, that thou art mindful of him *
and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Thou madest him lower than the angels *
to crown him with glory and worship.
Thou makest him to have dominion of the works of thy hands *
and thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet;

(Psalm 8:4-6, Coverdale translation)

And yet the holy one who sits at the right hand of the Father came to us, became himself for a little while lower than the angels, that he might take us with him into glory. He led the way, through death to eternal life. God for whom and through whom all things exist, sent his only begotten one to save us – that is, to bring us with him into the heavenly kingdom, the right relationship with God, that is purchased for us with his own sacrifice.

This is the one whom the Pharisees tested – once, asking if it were lawful to give tribute to Caesar (“render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar”); now, posing the puzzler is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: flout the Torah, or offend the king— for Herod Antipas had married Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. It seems there were two schools of thought – that the only grounds for divorce were adultery, or that pretty much any thing would do, if a man wanted to change wives.

Jesus kicks out both possibilities. He puts the whole thing on a higher plane. The purpose of marriage is not self-gratification or social convenience; it is part of the plan of God for humankind. The man – note, the husband and not the wife – will leave his family of origin and become one with his wife. They are now one flesh. So do not drive apart those God has joined together.

The law is a guide to conduct but it is inadequate in itself, as are we. The spirit must guide us into grace, whether we are married or separate or single.

We may practice grace wherever we are, whatever our situation.

This is carried through in the next section of the gospel, when Jesus rebukes the disciples who are shooing away parents seeking a blessing from him.

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them [so they would receive a blessing]; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.

But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

What is it about these kids that makes them worthy when grownups aren’t—or think they’re not? Is it their innocent, humble, obedient, trusting nature?

Remember, Jesus was a kid himself— so don’t try to kid him on this one.

More likely it was that the kingdom of heaven, the establishment of God’s eternal reign of peace and justice on earth, needed to begin with a child. It needed to begin with the least of the least of humankind, the most vulnerable — for in that society, children were almost invisible, and often bore the brunt of adult behavior they could not control or defend themselves from.

Ched Myers, citing family systems therapists like Alice Miller, observes: “The child is always the primary victim of practices of domination within the family.” If there is something wrong at home, the child pays the price. This cycle of oppression and depression, that many a child knows first-hand, leads to rage, mourning, … or reconciliation, transcendence, if somehow the child learns first-hand of unconditional love, of acceptance, here and now.

There was a child who knew this from the inside, not in a particularly violent way, but in a still typically sad way, with loneliness (on both sides) and misunderstanding. In the town of Assisi in Italy, there lived a cloth merchant with a pious wife – his name was Pietro, hers was Pica. They had a son, whom the church baptized Giovanni, until his father came home and got it changed to Francesco.

That’s Francis, the little Frenchman – because the dad had a plan for him.

Francis became the clotheshorse, the runway model, the shill, for his father’s products, all imports from France. Francis became a walking showroom. And his father set him up, with finery and money, so that he could makes friends for himself, and customers for his father, among the rich young men of the town.

The plan worked— for awhile… Francis became the life of the party, the popular one among the popular. He sang French songs, troubadour songs, of love and romance and high adventure.

He dreamt of going on crusade— the opportunity came, and his father kitted him out. But there was something missing. And after one mishap or another, something in Francis gave way. He began to have a series of visions, of a larger life, a stronger vocation, than the one his father had in mind for him, or he had for himself. There was another Father with another plan.

God called Francis out of this difficult relationship with his father in a rather dramatic way. Francis got the idea to help rebuild a rundown little chapel, San Damiano, and so he loaded up his horse (his father’s horse, really) with cloth from his father’s shop and rode off to the next town, where he sold – for an honest price – both goods and pony. He walked back with the money, which he offered to the priest in the little church. Something fishy. The gift was turned back – and Francis threw the money in a corner. Drama.

Dad hauled him before the bishop, and in the middle of the town square, in front of God and everybody, demanded: Give me back everything you’ve had from me! All right. Francis, realizing that everything he had, down to the clothes on his back, had been supplied by his father, gave it all back – down to the clothes on his back. There he stood, completely naked and out of luck, in the middle of the town square, alone – in front of everybody, and God.

The bishop clothed him quickly in his own chasuble, and Francis later dug out an under-gardener’s cast-off cloak, on which he happily chalked a cross.

Dramatic and a bit weird, Francis embodied in his own way the utter dependence on God alone that really lies underneath all our lives. While it is not necessary for most of us to reject all we have had from Mom and Dad – it is necessary to realize that we are not sufficient in ourselves. The law is inadequate in itself, and so are we. We cannot make it on our own. We need help – we need grace. And by Christ we receive it – by this very one who was humble enough, obedient enough, truly innocent and totally faithful, who accepted on our behalf sufferings beyond the sufferings of Job – this one whose passion exceeded any human patience, took on himself a cross, and gave his life that we might find ours at last in his self-offering love.

Welcome to the family of Christ. Welcome to the kingdom of God.

With Christ our brother and the love of God before us, we can let go of the false hopes of self-sufficiency, acknowledge our dependence on the one beyond all names, and receive with gladness the everlasting gift of life.

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 Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

(Numbers 6:24-26)

St Alban’s Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Wash.,
October 4, 2009, the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B, Proper 22, RCL:

Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Psalm 26
[or Genesis 2:18-24, Psalm 8]
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16