Saturday, November 28, 2009

Let The Day Begin

On a road in winter the sky is gray and cold. The ground is hard. Nothing seems to grow. The earth waits, for the quickening of the year, the coming of a new season.

You know when the fig tree sends out fresh young leaves that summer is near.

The signs of the times will be as sure as that when the day is near; the day of judgment, the day of the Lord, the day the kingdom of heaven comes – and the day of the deliverance of God's people.

Listen to what the Lord is saying:

"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves."

People may think the end is coming when they feel some local disturbance. They may think their own troubles are the end of the world.

Then others may say,

“Ye think the rustic cackle of your bourg
the murmur of the world! What is it to me?”


And yet — the day will come. Jesus says,

"People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken" – stirred up.

"Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory."

This is just what the book of Daniel said would happen, on the day the Lord delivers Israel from its oppressors — Babylon, Rome, the empire of this world.

And Jesus says,

"Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

Hold your heads high — what looks like disaster to others is just a sign of the times to you. It means your deliverance, your vindication.

Then he told them a parable:

"Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near."

Summer is a-coming in – you can see it, can't you, in the greening of the trees? – and so too you will see the beginning of the end foretold in these signs, and the promise of your deliverance coming into reality.

"So also," Jesus says, "when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place."

The generation that sees the signs of the time of the end will see it through to completion. The generation that sees the dawn approaching will see the morning light.

That's good news. And Jesus assures us,

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."

Amidst all these tumults and trials, wars and persecutions, sorrows and joys, there is one thing to hold on to, there is only one thing you need: the words that will not pass away; the words of the Lord, the eternal Word.

When everything is shifting, like an earthquake,
and the pavement turns to sand, shifting beneath your feet,
turn to God – he alone is steadfast, his promise sure –
and he will guard you and see you through to the end.

Jesus warns us,

"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap."

Keep yourselves awake — live like people who know the day is approaching, not like creatures of the night.

Don't get mired down in doubletalk and dire warnings — be ready for the coming of the One who is sent to set you free.

When he comes, he calls his own. Be ready for the call.

Make sure you are sober and watchful and ready — don't get lost in the moment, in the distractions the world has to offer.

When he comes, he calls his own. Be ready for the call.

The things that bog you down, the things that bring you sorrow — these are real enough, but they will pass. Be of good courage and hold your head high.

When he comes, he calls to you. Be ready for the call.

Jesus says,

"For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth."

These tidings shall be for all people. Everyone will see the coming of the glory of the Lord. And what seems like bad news, to some, will be glad tidings of peace on earth among all of good will.

The gospel warns us,

"Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

The first hearers of this gospel, the first generation of the church, knew how true its words could be.

In the year 70 the armies of Rome encircled Jerusalem and laid siege; it fell, and the Temple was destroyed. The foundation stones of the building alone were left — just one western, wailing wall.

All these things came to pass within a few years of Jesus' passing — no wonder his people expect the returning of their savior at any moment.

All these things are yet to come —
though they have happened already,
again and again in the history of the human race,
they are yet to come —

and what they mean,
what they portend —

is the necessity of the coming of the kingdom of God among us,
the kingdom that is the will of God
as it is in heaven,
to be so on earth as well,
to emerge among us.

As Christ embodied the Word of God into the world,
the love and compassion and forgiveness and mercy of the Father,

so we are to embody him,
carrying forward his work in the world,
bringing it to completion,

bringing the message of peace,
and reconciliation,

not only with our lips but in our lives,

to a hurting world,
a searching world,

a world that needs
as never before and always

the healing touch of its
Savior, its

Holy God,
Holy and Mighty,
Holy Immortal One,
Have mercy upon us.

Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!
Be among us —
and dwell within us,

that we may be your voice and your hands,
bringing your grace and glory into the world.


*(Tennyson, Idylls of the King, “Enid”, 1859)

Notes for a sermon to be given on
The First Sunday of Advent, 2009
St Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Wash.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Joyful Anticipation

Advent 2009

There comes a time in a family’s life when they realize that indeed a new baby is on the way. The quiet expectation and the peaceful preparation are going to give way to some very visible (and audible) changes in life – and they are welcomed!

The new child represents new hope – the future of the family, and a future for the community in which the child is born. For more than the immediate family is concerned in the birth of a child – it is a matter of moment for the whole community.

So it was for the people who gathered around a simple bed in a humble place, in the city of David, two thousand years ago. They had been waiting – some in anxiety, some in hope – for a new day to dawn in Israel, a new beginning for God’s people.

They wondered how God would come to them – for God had promised to dwell in their midst.

They wondered how God would redeem them – for they surely felt themselves in need of liberation.

They wondered how God would sustain them – and they relied on the promise of the Spirit.

All these expectations built slowly, surely, as the winter deepened toward the dark end of December, and autumn leaves turned to cold gray boughs. Fallen needles spread their carpet below the cedars of Lebanon and the pines of the heights.

They waited – for they knew the promise. God would send the One to redeem us, sanctify us, keep us holy, and help us prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.

It was Christ they waited for: the Messiah— the “anointed one” chosen by God to be God with us, Emmanuel, God among us, the one sent by God to us, to call us.

And God sent his Son to dwell among us, to bless us and redeem us and call us forward into a new future, free from fear, free to worship, a future with hope.

This season we invite you to be with us at St Alban’s as we anticipate with joyful preparation the advent— the arrival— of Christ at Christmas.

We invite you to stay with us through the holidays for the celebrations of Christmas Eve & Day, and into the season of Christmas, all the way through Epiphany celebrations on the first Sunday of the New Year, and beyond.

Come to worship!

We come together on Sunday mornings, for worship at 8:00 & 10:30 (Sunday, December 6th— one service at 9am followed by the annual parish meeting) and every Wednesday evening during the four weeks leading up to Christmas, for evening worship at 6:15 p.m.

Come to worship! Special services for the holidays—

We celebrate the birth of the Christ Child on Christmas Eve – with a family service at 5:30 p.m., including a children’s pageant (Shepherds! Angels! — Your children are welcome to take part), and at 10:30 p.m., a candlelight service.

And we anticipate a visit from the Magi and their friends on Sunday, January 3rd, 2010...

Please join us in welcoming the good news of the coming of the King promised of old, a King not like the world knows, but a One who brings among us the very peace and presence of God.

Yours in joyful anticipation,

Fr. John

The Rev. John R. Leech
Priest and Rector

Sunday worship at 8am & 10:30am
(Childcare available at the 10:30 hour)
Wednesdays in Advent - evening worship 6:15pm

Christmas Eve Family Service
Shepherds! Angels! —
Pageant & Eucharist 5:30pm
Christmas Eve Candlelight Service 10:30pm
Christmas Day Service 10:30am
Jan 3rd— Epiphany Pageant & Eucharist 10:30am
Wise men still seek him…

* * *

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christ the King 2009

Who's in charge here? Who's on trial? Who's condemned, and who is triumphant?

In the courtyard of the governor's palace, Peter is warming himself by the fire. You were with him, someone says, you are one of them - I can tell by your accent, you're a Galilean. Will Peter pass the test?

Inside the palace, Pilate is pacing the pavement - and considers what to do with this strange prisoner. A silent one, yet somehow compelling - could he possibly be a threat to the Roman order? Could he turn it over, cause its demise? Will he pass the test? Will Pilate pass the test?

And then, he asks, incredulous or sarcastic - 'You?! Are you the king of the Jews?'

Are you the One? Are you the one who is supposed to be the big threat to me, the one who calls for ultimate allegiance to something other than Rome?

'I came into this world for judgment', Jesus said, 'so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.' (John 9:39) and his witness to the truth, his revelation of truth to all humanity, effects judgment. His Word brings judgment to the World.

'I am the way, and the truth, and the life.' (John 14:6)

He is the embodiment of truth; what he says and does, his words and deeds, testify to the truth.

When Pilate asks, 'Are you the king of the Jews?'

He is asking the real question, but does he realize it, does he realize the consequences?

Does he realize what he is dealing with? Who is facing him?

Jesus asks him, is this question really yours - or were you fed it (by some other group with a larger agenda)? Do you know what you are asking? Or is it just some sort of gambit in a game? Are you being played?

No. Pilate does not realize what he is asking.

'I came into this world for judgment', Jesus said, 'so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.' (John 9:39)

Then Pilate asks another question: "What have you done?"

Jesus answers the first question, after hearing the second:

My kingship is not from this world; I do not derive my authority from its practices, its powers. My kingship is given me from above, not from this world.

Pilate asks again, 'So you are a king?' Pilate is practicing due diligence, an interrogator giving the silent prisoner another chance, before condemning him. Are you?

Then Jesus replies to the second question: you say that I am a king; those are your words.

And finally he lays his cards on the table, exposing the paradoxical, not-of-this-world nature of his authority: for this I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth.

My testimony brings judgment upon this world. But for everyone who hears my voice - everyone who belongs to me - there is salvation.

For everyone who belongs to the truth belongs to me -- and belongs to the Father who sent me.

The eternal Word has come into the world, the very One through whom it came into being, and yet the world does not recognize Him.

The light has come into the world, and yet everywhere people remain in the darkness, until that light shines upon them, and they turn to it and live. (We are called, to turn to that Light, and live.)

Throughout the encounter of Jesus with Pilate, and Pilate with the truth, the innocence and the kingship of Jesus are revealed:

He is the true judge who tries his adversaries; he is the truth come into the world.

The truth stands before Pilate - and Pilate turns away. He does not listen; and so he ends by serving the world's purposes. He is the means to the end. He who would rule becomes the servant - he is just the hand, the factotum, of a larger purpose.

The world would condemn Jesus, - 'it hates me,' he says, 'because I testify against it that its works are evil' (John 7:7) - but yet its judgment is not final, and its purpose is not ultimately successful. At the moment of his condemnation, he is crowned; in the triumph of the cross Jesus is exalted.

This is paradox - not a king as the world would have him king, but as the one who rules from below - a position of service.

For Christ Jesus,
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.

These are words Paul wrote down in his letter to the Philippians (2:6-11).

Jesus asks questions of Pilate as if he were the judge, the one on the throne. From the moment Jesus opens his mouth, Pilate is the one on trial. Does Pilate belong to the truth? Will he respond to it? Will he listen? (Do we belong to the truth? Will we listen?)

Truth! What is that??

He casts aside the question, and turns away from the Truth. He does not recognize it -

Indeed, he has asked the wrong question - the question really is, who is truth?

"For Christ is the truth, in such a sense that to be the truth, to be its embodiment in the world, is the only true explanation of what truth is," (Søren Kierkegaard) and its only genuine testimony.

The truth as revealed in Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate revelation of the Father in this world, comes to us not as a set of propositions seeking assent, nor as an argument to win us over, but as a person - an invitation to faith, that is, to trust in him.

God through Christ calls us into relationship - a relationship with the ultimate reality, that is revealed through this man, betrayed, accused, beaten, mocked, tried, condemned, and yet triumphant, compassionate, merciful to those who show no mercy, wise to fools, offering freedom even to those who condemn - for here he is before Pilate, supposedly a prisoner in chains and yet he is calling to Pilate to be free - to respond to the truth.

Jesus is the one offering freedom. Who is in charge here, indeed?

Christ is the king of life and love - the one who challenges the destructive powers of this age, offering life and light, love and hope, to all who have faith, all who believe in him.

At last the prophecy of Isaiah, release to the captives, eyesight to the blind, has come true.

The king has come at last - and he has come to set his people free.

The very concept of king, as the world once knew it, may seem obsolete in our world - nobody embodies the sovereignty of our nation or many nations anymore - and so the kingship of Jesus so unlike it we express his compelling authenticity in other terms - and yet God remains, sovereign, one, personal, active. He is active in our lives, calling each of us to him, and calling all of us to follow him.

He is calling us to turn to the Light, the Light of the World; to listen to His voice, the voice of the Good Shepherd; to belong to the Truth; to follow his Way.

The king has come at last - and he has come to set his people free.

When he calls us he is calling us forward to freedom, to live into our ultimate identity. And his call to us, to give of ourselves in his service, is a call to our true home; to receive the gift of Life in his Kingdom; and then, living in that Kingdom, to bear its reality into the World.

* * *

You are the King of Glory, O Christ: you are the everlasting Son of the Father.

We give you our love and offer you our lives.

Come, Lord, and rule in our hearts,
until your kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven.

Come, Christ our King, and reign over us, as you reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever. Amen.

--David Adam, Traces of Glory (SPCK, 1999) 149.

All things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee. (1 Chronicles 29:14b)

Grace to you and peace from God, from him who is, who was, and who is to come. The peace of the Lord be always with you.

--David Adam, Traces of Glory (SPCK, 1999) 148.

To him who sits upon the throne, to the One true and Living God, be praise and glory, for ever and ever, and the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.

--David Adam, Traces of Glory (SPCK, 1999) 149.

Christ the King 2009

Sources and Resources

The Gospel According to John (18:33-38a).

New Revised Standard Version Bible
, 1989.

Michael D. Coogan, ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Third Edition, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001) NT 177-178.

David Adam, Traces of Glory (SPCK, 1999) 149-151.

Leonard Beechy, “Living The Word: Reflections on the lectionary”, The Christian Century, November 17, 2009, Vol. 126, No. 23, 20.

Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (xiii-xxi), The Anchor Bible, Volume 29a (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970) 843-872. “Indeed he is the embodiment of truth.” (854)

Richard A. Burridge, John, The People’s Bible Commentary (Abingdon, OX, UK: The Bible Reading Fellowship, 1998, 2008) 214-215.

Fred B. Craddock et al., Preaching Through the Christian Year, Year B, (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1993) Karoline M. Lewis, “Christ the King”, 474-481.

Scott M. Lewis, The Gospel According to John and the Johannine Letters, New Collegeville Bible Commentary (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2005) 90-92.

David B. Lott, ed., New Proclamation, Year B, 2009, Easter to Christ the King (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008) “Christ the King”, 281-289.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Light Has Come (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1982) 245-246.

Herbert O’Driscoll, The Word Today, Year B, Volume 3, (Toronto, ON: Anglican Book Centre, 2001) 158-162.

Scott Gambrill Sinclair, The Past from God’s Perspective (North Richland Hills, TX: BIBAL Press, 2004) 316-319.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

what her heart most longed for

The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. (Isaiah 40:5)

In the name of God, the merciful Father, the compassionate Son, the Spirit of wisdom. Amen.

The good news of the story of God, the long story of the love of God for humanity, is the story that we tell throughout the Christian year:

• from Advent, the coming of the Messiah, the coming of the Christ Child,

• through Christmas season, celebrating the birth of our Lord,

• on into Epiphany – the season of showings, revelations, epiphanies, that make manifest the presence of God in human history, in our lives;

• into Lent, with its sober wisdom that we must prepare our hearts to receive the full assurance of God’s grace,

• into the compressed season of the Church year that is Holy Week – running from the absurd spectacle of Palm Sunday through the horrendous events of Good Friday and beyond hope into the transcending glory of Easter morning;

• absorbing the good news of Christ’s triumphant vitality through the Easter season, and

• then experiencing Pentecost, the long season of coming into the fullness of God’s kingdom, and

• then, again, as December approaches, to find ourselves waiting once again, in hope, in preparation, in anticipation, for the coming of the King.

This is the second Sunday before Advent – in some quarters, this is the Kingdom season.

It is the time of year in which at last we realize that the kingdom of Heaven is with us, within us, around us, waiting to be recognized, lived into as a present reality – it is not some story of a fantastic future but a present which is more than we recognize. God is with us, the glory and the grace are among us; we are called to embody their reality.

This is no easy task. The kingdom is often invisible, even when it is right before our eyes. You lose your job; you contract a disease; you hear bad news from far away or close by.

Where is God in this, in this world? Where is the hope? It is in the whole story of the people of God.

We have a story that will last forever – the story of the love of God for God’s people, and that’s us.

Begin with the child – the child of Hannah.

Hannah, the barren second wife of Elkanah, was mocked by Peninnah, the fruitful one.

Every year she prayed, every year she was tormented. Hannah would not eat she was so upset. And then she prayed – and God answered.

At first the priest thought she was drunk – he was not used to people praying like that.

I am not drunk; I’m desperate. I am praying to the Lord – give me a son! I will give him to you, as a servant in the Temple.

God answered, and gave Hannah her heart’s longing: so she named the boy child Samuel, “I have asked him of the Lord.”

She left him there for the Lord. He would serve the Lord faithfully, as a prophet.

And then she sang: in the exultation of her heart she sang a triumphant song, like the song of Moses, and the song of the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, who took a tambourine in her hand and led the women out with dancing, as Israel was freed from Pharaoh.

And Miriam sang to them:
‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.’
(Exodus 15:21)

Hannah sang, as Mary mother of Jesus would sing, of the victory of her God – a victory long awaited, long prayed for.

For the people of Israel in bondage in Egypt, the people of Israel in exile in Babylon, and the people of Israel in bondage under Rome, prayed too: for their deliverance, their vindication, in the sight of their adversaries – that God would save them, bring them hope – and bring them freedom from what bound them.

The story of liberation, of God’s people released from bondage, is a story of a people, and it is the story of a person, any person who feels enslaved or exiled, a-wander in the desert, unable to find their way, or their freedom, or their home, and then appeals to God.

God my savior – the people cry. God my deliverer – says the one who is freed. God my vindicator, my sure defense – this is the one who brought Israel out of Egypt and across the desert to the Holy Land; this is the one who called them home from exile in Babylon – and this is the one who calls to you and me to come to him now for our own freedom.

For we too seek vindication, deliverance, freedom – and our hope is in our God.

That is the story of God – the story that is told throughout the Bible, the Scriptures. And that is why the collect today reminds us, that the whole story of the people of God, which is told throughout the pages of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, is a story of hope.

This hope finds its final fulfillment in the One that Mary sang about, her son the Savior:

The Song of Mary – Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel,
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

This is the child of the promise:

This is the One that the people of God were waiting for, through all the ages. It is the Son who God gave, who gave of himself unsparingly, One once offered for the freedom of all.

At last this is the hope of the ages: that God would in the flesh dwell among us. That is what we wait for, too – to know that we are not left alone but that God is with us. Right here, right now, in the midst of our own situation, however glorious, however painful,

Throughout the Scriptures we hear the story of the love of God for the people of God.

God walks with us, beside us, from our beginning to our ending. He is the beginning and the ending of all our days, and in him is our hope. That is the story of the hope of Glory.

That is what the Bible tells us – that is why we pray, today, in the words of the Collect,

Blessed Lord,
who has caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our edification:
Grant us so to
hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that,
by the encouragement the Scriptures give us,
we may embrace and ever hold fast
the blessed hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

St Alban’s Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Wash., Sunday, November 15, 2009.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

the widows’ might

Today we have heard a part of the story of Naomi, returning from exile, of Ruth, the foreigner in a foreign land, and of Boaz, who is there to meet them.

It is a story that moves from famine to harvest, from scarcity to abundance, from widowing to wedding, from poverty and widowhood to providence and safety.

Naomi, the tale tells us, was a woman of Israel who had traveled to the land of Moab in a time of famine. She had been married then, and had two sons, who married local women, there in Moab, Orpah and Ruth.

Those men, all three of them, had died. And so Naomi was left alone in a far country.

Could she provide new husbands for her daughters-in-law? No, she said, I cannot. All I can do is return, alone, to the land I came from long ago, and hope to make out some kind of living there among the people who once knew me. Leave me, and return to your own people, she said. Orpah did so, turning back from the long road to Israel, and saying farewell to Naomi, but Ruth stuck with her.

Where you go I will go, where you live I will live; your God will be my God, your people my people; where you are buried there will I be buried also. And so the two of them set out, crossing the miles and miles from one side of the Jordan to the other and moving up into the hill country of Ephraim, to the little town of Bethlehem.

It was in this country, the home country Naomi had come from, that they hoped to live.

Would Naomi be accepted back? Would anyone remember her? What about her husband’s land, the inheritance she would have to reclaim to make a living from? Could she, with the younger widow working beside her, farm it and live on the produce? In the meantime, how were they to eat?

It is a harvest time. Ruth goes out, to gather the grain left behind by the reapers; she is gleaning, a traditional way the poor kept from starving.

She finds favor in the sight of the farmer. His name is Boaz, and he has heard of her selfless care for her mother-in-law; in fact, he is kin. And he knows the law of the land—the law that laid out a role for the next of kin, the closest male relative to Naomi’s late husband and Ruth’s, to serve as the redeemer, the one to take over the care of the inheritance and of the family’s future.

Imagine the sorrow and loneliness Ruth felt; now turning to joy. She had been a widow from a far country, traveling among strangers and serving her mother-in-law. She had been gleaning in the fields, trying to make a livelihood out of poverty and forbearance, and had been rewarded with the regard of the man in whose fields she had gleaned.

Her mother-in-law, a widow too, saw this and, savvy to the ways of men, saw a way out of poverty. Put on your best clothes, my daughter, and go to the threshing floor tonight, where Boaz will be resting. Quietly go to him in the night. He’ll take it from there.

Ruth comes home that night to Naomi, bearing grain in her cloak— and good news. It must have been clear from her face.

Naomi may have thought things would progress farther than they had, in one way. Boaz had a good heart and saw that Ruth had one too. He continued to look after her, and did offer her protection, not the warmth of a night’s blanket but a lifetime of husband-hood.

Already he—a man of means, and of generous manner—saw in her his equal, calling her a worthy woman, that is, a person of honor and wisdom, like the capable wife, the accomplished life-partner, extolled in Proverbs (31:10-31).

He went to the city gate in the morning, where such business was transacted in that land, and there he made the deal— to a closer kinsman of Naomi, the one who had prior rights, he said, you are the redeemer, if you choose to be, of the inheritance of Naomi: a parcel of land, to farm, and a daughter-in-law, with whom to marry and raise a family. This is what you have to redeem, if you will be the redeemer.

I cannot do it, said the other man; I have an inheritance of my own to protect. And so he sealed the deal with Boaz, clearing the way for the marriage— and a new life for Ruth, and Naomi.

Soon there would be children, and this stranger to Israel, this sojourner in their midst, became one of them. Her faithfulness, her steadfast loyalty to her mother-in-law, her sacramental love and care for her, would be recognized and rewarded. She who had been a foreigner, daughter-in-law to Naomi, the returning exile, would marry the man who had stayed in the land—she became included among the people of God.

There is something more than blood kinship at work here; there is more than fulfilling an obligation of law. There is grace, and welcome, and faith made effective in love.

The story goes on to tell us about the children of Ruth, her son Obed (which means “servant”), her grandson Jesse, and of Jesse’s son—David, who would become king.

This widow, in her steadfast love and loyalty, her selfless care, is not the only widow extolled in today’s stories. She is not the only example of God’s care, of what it is to live in faith.

In the gospels we hear parable after parable to tell us what the kingdom of God is like. It is like a treasure buried in a field, it is like a pearl beyond price, it is like a mustard seed; it is like a father welcoming home his prodigal son.

Today also we have what amounts to a living parable, the poor widow that Jesus watched in the Temple, as she gave without stinting her last two coins, all she had to live on—in effect, her whole life—given over as a free gift to God.

Look, Jesus said to his men: there it is.

This is what the kingdom of God is like. It is like a poor widow, who on reaching the Temple gave without reserve her whole life as a sacrificial offering to God. She, unlike the others who came there that day, had no prominence in the eyes of men: she had no large gift to catch the eye, nothing that would show off well, just a simple gift—of everything.

Where is the good news in this story?

The good news is manifest in God’s unfailing love, open-handed beyond caution or common sense, acted out by this woman at the Temple treasury.

The good news is in God’s open-handed love, beyond precedent in the lives of men or women, which would soon be shown by Jesus himself, as he offered himself as a sacrificial offering, once for all.

The priests who entered the Holy of Holies, Hebrews reminds us, did so every year: not so our Lord, who once in his lifetime offered his whole life to God, for the redeeming of us all.

This is what the world looks like when God is truly in charge: a world in which all comes from God, and everything we have we have from God. All we offer to God—our gifts, our work, our offerings of thanks—comes from God and it is to God that we return.

So Ruth is welcomed home to a place she had never been before; she is welcome, known, recognized, as one of the very own of God—generous, loving heart, faithful—she is home, for the very first time.

So we too are welcome, in the kingdom of God, a world characterized by what the Hebrews called chesed, loyalty or faithfulness arising from commitment, the steadfast love of a loving Lord, the God who first loved us.

The widows in the story of Ruth, the widow in the Temple—they are exemplars to us of faith in living. The widow in the Temple does not give her whole life, her two coins, as a bet—she is not placing a desperate wager on the generosity of the Messiah. This isn’t a holy lottery, hoping that last dollar will turn into thousands. She is, by what she does, showing us a picture of absolute faith in the providence of God, the one who has given her all she has, and of whose own provision she has made radical return. We don’t, most of us, give with that little thought for the morrow.

Giving out of the abundance God has granted us, with thanks, with obedience, with grace, and with the knowledge that all we have is his, is what we do: it is the human thing to do.

What we see in the widow’s mite is more than just a human response—it is a sign, of God’s grace, of God’s abundance, of God’s profligate generosity. For soon, as the story carries us forward, this same son of Man who watched the widow put her two coins in the Treasury, will himself be given—will give himself—as the gift of God for our own souls’ redeeming.

He is the one who did not count equality with God as a thing to be held onto, but will be the one of whom it is said, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believed in him, whoever trusted him so completely as to put their whole life into his care, would not perish but live eternally.

Everlasting life—and the love that is its source—is what stands behind the widows’ story.

Love, loyalty, life itself: time, talent, treasure: all we have, all we give, comes from God—who gave himself for us.

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



The Lessons appointed for use on the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost;
Proper 27, Year B, in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL):

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 and Psalm 127
(or 1 Kings 17:8-16 and Psalm 146)
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

The Abingdon Bible Commentary
(Abingdon Press, 1929)

The HarperCollins Study Bible, Revised Edition (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006). Galatians 5:6, n.

The New Revised Standard Version Bible (National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America, 1989)


Saturday, November 7, 2009


FOOD for MEDITATION, Compiled by Paul Clasper, Dean, St. John’s Cathedral, Hong Kong
(Green Pagoda Press Ltd., Hong Kong, 1986)


I was not born to be free:
I was born to adore and to obey.

—C.S. Lewis.

When prayer stops

Coincidences stop.

—Archbishop William Temple.


Look on the rising sun ;
there God does live
and gives His light
and gives His heat away ;

And flowers and trees and beasts and men
receive comfort in the morning
joy in the noon day.

And we are put on earth
a little space,
and we may learn to bear
the beams of love.

—William Blake, in The Little Black Boy.


The great thing, if one can
is to stop regarding
all the unpleasant things
as interruptions of
one’s “own” or “real” life.

The truth is, of course
that what one calls the interruptions
are precisely one’s real life —
day by day :

What one calls
one’s “real life”
is a phantom of
one’s own imagination.

—C.S. Lewis,
letter to
Arthur Greeves.


He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy ;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.

—William Blake.


It is by
my not denying as false
what I do not yet see to be true,
that I give myself
the chance of
growing in insight.

—Baron F. von Hugel, in Essays & Addresses I


And what did God do?

First of all,
He left us conscience,
the sense of right and wrong.

He sent the human race
what I call good dreams :
I mean those queer stories scattered
all through the heathen religions
about a God who dies, and
comes to life again, and
by His death, has somehow
given new life to men.

He selected one particular people, and
spent several centuries
hammering into their heads
the sort of God He was —
that there was only one of Him, and
that He cared about right conduct.
Those people were the Jews, and
the Old Testament gives an account
of the hammering process.

—C.S. Lewis,
Mere Christianity


You never enjoy the world aright
till the sea itself floweth in your veins,
till you are clothed with
the heavens and crowned with the stars;
and perceive yourself
to be the sole heir of the whole world,
and more than so,
because men are in it
who are every one sole heirs as well as you.

—Thomas Traherne, in Centuries


Appreciate words
are the most powerful force
for good will on earth.

—J. Donald Adams, in The Art of Living


Come, Holy Spirit, Come

as the fire and burn;

as the wind and sweep clean;

as the dew and refresh;

Convict, Convert & Consecrate
until we are wholly thine!


According to
the 8th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans,
there is more hope when one sighs,
than when he exults
as if the Spirit were already his.

—Karl Barth, in The Word of God & the Word of Man


taught us to care.

is the greatest thing.

matters most.

—Baron F. von Hugel.


A friendly grin and a hand extended
are sacramental in nature:
outward and visible signs of inward, spiritual grace.
An impulsive hug says,
‘I love you’,
even though the words may come out,
“You old billygoat”.

—Marjorie Shearer, in Love & Marriage


The first duty of love is
to listen.

—Theologian Paul Tillich.

who has made us the creatures of time,
so that every tomorrow is an unknown country,
and every decision a venture of faith,

Grant us,
frail children of the day,
who are blind to the future,
to move toward it with a sure confidence
in your love,
from which neither life nor death can separate us.

—Reinhold Niebuhr.



Compiled by

St. John’s Cathedral
Hong Kong

Pentecost Day 1986

Printed by the Green Pagoda Press Ltd.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

What are saints?

What are saints? The lessons tell us they are:

• the righteous
• those who trust in him
• the faithful
• his holy ones
• the elect – chosen, called, set apart.

Saints are those people
who respond to the call of God
to do his work in the world
and to be faithful to his service.

They embody
the reign of God:
the establishment of God’s peaceable kingdom.

They begin to experience life eternal—
life lived in the knowledge of the love of God—
not hereafter but here and now.

Life eternal begins in the present,
secure in the knowledge that nothing
can take away from you
the love of God.

Indeed, the love of God is assured
from the beginning to the end of life—
he is the Alpha and the Omega—
because ‘the home of God is among mortals’.

Emmanuel – God with us – present in Christ.

He dwells with us, among us.
He is present with us in love, joy, suffering, hope.

Here he is with Lazarus—
anticipating and moving forward toward his own similar fate—
a tomb, a cave, a stone across the mouth,
‘he cries with a loud voice’ to one bound
with grave clothes and a wrapping around his head—
all too, too familiar.

No wonder he is anguished.

The God who is present with us,
who calls us to follow him:
Christ before us, behind us, around us,
at our beginning and at our ending;

This is God in Christ as he dwelt among us,
as he came to Bethany, into the home town of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus,
his friends, who not too much later would be mourning him—
even anticipating the grief as his death drew near,
(Mary wiping his feet with her hair, anointing him with burial oils).

And this is the One who raised Lazarus, and was himself raised, from the dead.

This hope of the resurrection,
this hope of life in Christ,
draws us out of our own track
into a larger world.

We can take a broader view
of the legacy we have inherited—
of the gifts in faith we have received from those who have come before us;
of the blessings we enjoy, and of the gifts we have to pass on to the future.

For the church we see around us
is an outpost of a great assembly;
through time and across the world
it spreads out behind and before us.

Today – All Saints’ Day – we remember those
who have come before us as God’s faithful people—
and we call to mind those yet to come—
and those around us and far away,
keeping the faith in the glory of God.

What do we do?
What do we do to live in faith?
What is our mission as a people of God?

Our mission is stated,
as Bishop Greg reminded everyone at convention,
right in the Book of Common Prayer,
and that is where we are going to look for our Mission Statement—
the Baptismal Covenant.

We as a parish have a vision to flesh that out — but we state it first, up front, in the affirmations and pledges we make in the vows we now renew…

We as a parish have a vision to flesh that out—but we state it first, up front, in the affirmations and pledges we make in the vows we now renew…

We are buried with Christ by Baptism into his death, and raised with him to newness of life. I call upon you, therefore, to renew the solemn promises and vows of Holy Baptism, by which we once renounced Satan and all his works, and promised to serve God faithfully in his holy Catholic Church....

The Renewal of Baptismal Vows (Book of Common Prayer, 292)


Holy Lord, take us and make us holy,
make us yours and make us obedient,
make us faithful, make us joyful and
make us to be numbered with your saints,
in that glory which is everlasting;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever. Amen.


God give you the peace of the blessed, the peace that the world cannot give, the peace that passes all understanding. The peace of the Lord be always with you…


The Lord give you his grace and make you to be numbered with his saints in that glory which is everlasting; and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

Feast of All Saints
Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9
or Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 24
Revelation 21:1-6a
John 11:32-44


David Adam, Traces of Glory (SPCK, 1999) 139-141.

Barbara Crafton, (October 30, 2009).