Sunday, January 31, 2010

unpopular prophets

CEpiphany4 2010 01 31

“There is a popular misconception that prophets are people who predict the future. A prophet is someone who speaks on behalf of their religious tradition, speaks on behalf of God, speaks on behalf of justice and mercy, and speaks on behalf of those who have no one to speak for them, folks like the widow, the orphan and the sojourner.” – Joseph S. Pagano, Preaching on B Pentecost VI (July 5, 2009), quoted in press release, Virginia Theological Seminary, January 22, 2010.

Jeremiah was only a boy when God called him – but he was sure of God’s call – and God reminded him: I knew you before you were born – and I will be with you always. God’s power is shown in his mercy and his care for his children.

Like Jesus, who in the Temple was found talking Torah with the Scribes at the precocious age of 12 – a Boy Scout’s age – Jeremiah was carried off (under protest in Jeremiah’s case) to Egypt for safety from an imperial threat. In Jeremiah’s case that threat was the empire encroaching on Israel from East and North.

Like Jeremiah, Jesus brought a word of prophecy to Israel – and was unpopular for it.

Jeremiah and Jesus both spoke truths to people that they did not want to hear.

Nobody has a monopoly on the love of God or the relationship with God.

We have that relationship, but certainly not because we deserve it.

Head west from downtown Palo Alto on University Avenue – when you arrive on the Stanford campus you see ahead of you at the end of the road a great big old church: Stanford Memorial Church. Up its grand entrance and into the building you proceed – into a large open circular space with balconies and a large stage, and a sound engineer.

When the bride and groom come to you hand in hand, you face them and begin Paul’s discourse on love – “If I spoke with the tongues of mortals and of angels…” After the service, everybody shakes your hand. Good sermon.

Great sermon, Paul – but how did the Corinthians like it? The first people to hear your words were not at a wedding. They were gathered as a church to listen to a letter read aloud – a letter from their founding pastor.

All too fond as they were of certain distinctive spiritual gifts – ones that made them feel special, that showed off their piety – they were so proud of what they had got hold of that they forgot why they had been given those gifts in the first place: for the common good.

Gifts are given us for the purpose of building up the body of Christ; they are given us for love. They are given us to empower us to love, as God loves.

What use is a gift without love? Eloquent speech, tongues, knowledge, prophecy – without the one vital element of love they are worse than useless – they are a new form of idolatry. They furnish a false identity – an identity not as God’s beloved children but as somehow finding security in yourself – in living by your own rules, by your own powers.

People who had turned from paganism – those first Corinthians, first to hear this letter – now sought a new identity – would they look for it in a source of power for themselves, or would they set it all at the feet of the living God – would they worship only him?

For people who follow the rules hoping that obedience will save them – or people with no rules at all (Corinthians again) – both fall away from trust in God.

The Corinthians were people who didn’t have much use for any rules at all. Freedom – in Christ, so they said – was what they were after. But it is so easy to fall into a false sense of identity. It was easy; it is easy – then and now – to attempt to gain status (in one’s own eyes) from the gift not the giver.

Paul brings them back – your true identity, your true self, is found only in the heart of God – God is love, and where love is there you will find God – so lay all this at his feet.

The desire for status, or a sure thing, for success or power however fleeting – for something other than God to rule your life or allow you to rule your own – these are false gods for false people.

We hear the call: Become the true people of God – the people who love on another as God has first loved us.

And what does that love look like? First and last, it looks like Jesus of Nazareth – a plain carpenter’s son, a peasant from a small village in Galilee – whose life is the best picture we know of love incarnate. And he is patient; he is kind…

And these characteristics, the same we find in First Corinthians Thirteen, are the work of the Spirit – the fruit of the Spirit – borne in us; borne in us when we too embody love and show to the world the presence of God.

Let us love another and the world – in spirit and in truth.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

today in your hearing

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

When he spoke at the dedication of the new national cemetery on the battleground that was Gettysburg, Stephen Douglas spoke for two hours. He was quite dynamic – but he did not have to follow the Gettysburg Address. Abraham Lincoln spoke second.

Well, I knew that next week I would be following Herbert O’Driscoll. But what I had not figured out was that this week I would be following … Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, the Incarnate Word: the Logos through whom all things came into being.

And here is what he had to say, and what he did. He came home to Nazareth. His fame had begun to spread – because of what he had done at Capernaum. For now, though, he was home – it should be all right. And so as he was used to doing he stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth to read – and somebody handed him Isaiah. Okay. Read it, in Hebrew, and then interpret it into a language the people understand – in this case, Aramaic.

He reads the proclamation of the year of Jubilee, the year when God sets everything right. Everything that had been turned upside down, every inequity, every injustice – all those things would be made right. Everybody is looking at him. They expect an interpretation – along the lines of a translation or a paraphrase: this is what it means. Sort of like the story in the first reading, when Ezra brought the Torah into the assembly. Somebody gives voice to the word of God; somebody interprets it so the people can grasp its meaning.

What does he do? He sits down. Like a teacher. Like a rabbi. He sits down and he tells them what it means, all right. It means this:

It is all true. It is all coming true – right here, right now, as we speak. The good news is being brought to the poor, release is being proclaimed to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind; the year of the Lords’ favor – Jubilee year – is being proclaimed. You heard it was happening all around and now it is happening to you, here – in these very words I speak to you now.

So he begins to teach. And that is a tough act to follow. Following Jesus is always tough.

For he was just like us – disclaimer: except without sin – he was just like us. He could have stepped aside, gone another way. He could have taken any of several opportunities to bail out – but he never did. So to follow him – that is a very big, very tough calling.

And he calls all of us, each of us, to do it.

What we have to do the job with are the gifts he gives us – including the spiritual gifts that help build up the body of Christ, and the members of the body all working together - and what we see are the fruits of that common work, love, joy, peace, patience, forbearance, mercy: all the things that come into being because we follow Jesus.

We all have different gifts, different roles – like different parts of the body, where each member has its function and purpose and its own peculiar beauty. We give differently.

Through each of us the Spirit shows in the world – and all of us are together showing the world what it means to be the body of Christ. Now, now that he is gone from us – ascended into heaven – we are the body of Christ visible to and active in the world.

Where is God in this? God is in hearts and hands and minds. God is in the suffering and in the caring. God is in the generous great deeds and small acts. God is in the beginnings and the ends we create, we make, and we manifest in the world.

What kind of gifts? One may be as simple as generosity or as difficult as peace making.

Once in high school when I was pretty new to the gospels I read in them that if I were taking a gift to offer at the altar but had a dispute with my brother I should set the gift down, go to my brother and settle that dispute, then bring my gift. So I did.

‘Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.’ (Matthew 5:23-24)

There was some quarrel, some problem – and we usually had ended up shouting, in earlier days – but this time I went to him and asked, what’s wrong? And I listened. And there was peace.

The fruit of the spirit that evening was peace. And it continued to grow. I remember that my mother told me she had been worried about me, that I had gone off the deep end, but that now she could see that something good was happening – there in the family.

So my memory of the last few months of high school was that in the end of the evening it was peaceful – the sound I heard as I went to sleep was classical music, as my brother practiced his guitar.

Simple – not easy, but simple: go and talk to him. Be reconciled. Then – come.

The fruits of the Spirit are many and we see them in the small ways – and the great.

There was an earthquake in 1989 – centered near Loma Prieta, in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was the end of a busy day, 5:04 P.M. In downtown San Francisco the buildings shook. File cabinets cascaded. Piles of copy paper tottered. The whole place shook – for hundreds of miles up and down the coast. When it stopped, after 17 seconds, there was quiet.

Around our office, a publishing company, various things were happening. In the customer service area, the vice president got manager to a safe place under a sturdy table. She was still shaking. In the marketing department one high-heeled shoe was tipped over in the middle of the hallway. In my memory it was still rocking; its owner had dropped it in a hurry. Back in the reception area, people gathered around the elevator doors.

The phone rang. “I’d like to order a book.”

“I’m sorry, but we have just had a major earthquake. We regret that we cannot you’re your order directly. Perhaps your local bookseller or a regional supplier could help you.”

“It’s just one book!”

Down five flights of stairs – or up two, to check on other folks: they were all right. Soon people were offering co-workers rides home. In those few minutes, I saw different gifts at work – generosity, caring, even humor (that deadpan phone conversation). At home the cats were big-eyed, the lights burning – no power outages. In the morning the channel 2 news crew looked like they’d been up all night. They had. They looked grim. You could sit and watch – and start looking grim yourself, feeling like a victim – or do what my neighbors did: go and volunteer down at the Red Cross. Now, I’m not sure what a theologian and an economist could do down there – probably not run the numbers or expound the poetics of biblical narrative – but they had other gifts to give, and they gave.

What I learned from that was that giving – actively helping – in some small way, makes you part of the solution, part of the power for change. You might “only” be able to do some one seemingly small thing – but in that moment you may give something great.

The kingdom of God is built step-by-step and stone by stone. The steps are the steps of mercy, of grace, of forgiveness, gentleness, mercy, kindness, patience, and peace – the steps are the gifts given and the fruits of the Spirit. The stones are the living stones of the people of God, as they are built up into the living house of God.

As we contemplate what we can do to help the people of Haiti, far away and yet near to our hearts, we know that right now is not the time to get on a plane and go help out – not unless you are trained and experienced in disaster relief work and your agency send you. It is time to give – if you can, what you can – and to pray. It is time also as always to look after the other suffering or needy people in the world, near or far.

And it is time to give the little gifts of kindness and peace, of listening and of care, that go into the building of the house of God. It will always be time for that.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Almighty God, who hast promised to hear the petitions of those who ask in thy Son's Name: We beseech thee mercifully to incline thine ear to us who have now made our prayers and supplications unto thee; and grant that those things which we have faithfully asked according to thy will, may effectually be obtained, to the relief of our necessity, and to the setting forth of thy glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lord, hear the prayers of your people; and what we have asked faithfully, grant that we may obtain effectually, to the relief of our necessity, and to the shining forth of your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O God, our heavenly Father, whose glory fills the whole creation, and whose presence we find wherever we go: Preserve those who travel, in particular relief workers and refugees, Nedi Rivera and Bob Moore as they journey east into retirement, and Herbert and Paula O’Driscoll, as they sail south to us; surround them with your loving care; protect them from every danger; and bring them in safety to their journey's end; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Saint Alban's Church, Edmonds, Wash.,

Sunday, January 17, 2010

many gifts, one spirit

In the name of God, merciful Father, compassionate Son, spirit of Wisdom. Amen.

There are many different gifts, but it is always the same Spirit; there are many different ways of serving, but it is always the same Lord. There are many different forms of activity, but in everybody it is the same God who is at work in them all. The particular manifestation of the Spirit granted to each one is to be used for the general good.... But at work in all these is one and the same Spirit, distributing them at will to each individual. (1 Corinthians 12: 4-7, 11)

Different gifts are all the work of the same Spirit, working in each person as God wills.

Different gifts are all manifestations, showings, of the same Lord.

Every gift, every time the Spirit shows itself in a life, and a work, is for the good of all.

In every gift, every showing, every life, the light of Christ shines — and shines through.

The light does not stop with us but through us shines into the world, showing it the glory of God.

How does Jesus show up in your life? How does the Spirit shine through you?

The Spirit showed up in the life of Jesus in many different ways and lives.

At his birth shepherds came to witness the message of the angels – and to see its truth borne out. “You will find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

At the visit of the Magi the Spirit shined through a star – and through the testimony of wise people from the east, seeking the one born King of the Jews. They paid him homage at Bethlehem.

At his presentation in the Temple Jesus was recognized by Simeon and by Anna. Simeon sang his praise to the Lord – ‘I have seen with my own eyes the deliverance you have made ready in full view of all nations.’ Anna ‘talked about the child to all who were looking for the liberation of Jerusalem.’ (Luke 2:25-38)

At the baptism of our Lord the Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove. And there came a voice from heaven: ‘You are my beloved Son; in you I delight.’ (Luke 3:22)

Later Jesus would stand up in the synagogue at Nazareth, read from the scroll of Isaiah of the year of the Lord’s favor being proclaimed – and proclaim, ‘Today in your hearing this text has come true.’ (4:21)

Up on the mountain, where he took Peter and John and James to pray, they heard two men speak of his departure, of the destiny he was to fulfill in Jerusalem; and they beheld his glory.

And yet his hour had not yet come, not even then: it came on the cross; and it was on the Cross that he was glorified, and glorified God.

All these were manifestations of God at work in the world. But why was his glory shown at a wedding?

Why at Cana in Galilee, as a guest at a wedding? Why was it there that he performed the first of the signs that revealed his glory – and led his disciples to believe in him?

The baptism in the waters of Jordan was a preparation; the wedding-feast is a celebration.

Different partners bring different steps to the dance; marriage is a conjoining of two families, two households – each bringing its own special character, its own manifestation of the creative and generative spirit of God. A wedding brings the promise of blessing, of fruitfulness and delight. And we all delight in the glorious appearance of the bride.

Each partner in a marriage complements the other. A new life is forged between them.

A marriage is the beginning of a journey, a setting-out on a new life together.

Different guests bring different gifts; we are surprised as Jesus was when a guest is asked to turn host. ‘They have no wine left.’ And Jesus at first declines, as his mother nudges him. ‘My hour has not yet come.’ The hour of his glory, the hour of his revealing, that is yet to come, is the hour of the cross.

But then he says, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And water that was poured into stone jars for purification – as the waters of baptism purify – was turned into wine. This was the sign:

Jesus is the Messiah, the one who brings transformation to our world. This is his glory: the glory as of the Father in his only Son. The new day is coming – and it is dawning now.

In the book of the prophet Isaiah, the promise is made: O Jerusalem, city of God, your day of mourning will end; kings shall see your glory.

No more will you be called Forsaken, no more will your land be called Desolate – these terms will no longer apply. For the Lord will take delight in you and to him your land will be linked in wedlock. God will be the one who rebuilds you – and as a bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so will your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:1-5)

As a bridegroom over a bride, God rejoices over the one he restores. God rejoices over the restored intimacy with his beloved people – and calls them his Delight.

God rejoices over the desolate city he rebuilds.

As many gifts show one Spirit for the common good, so many ways of giving and gifts of service show God’s glory as we work together to build up the city of God in the midst of the human predicament.

Each person’s gift is built together into the house of God’s glory.

People who struggle through the rubble of a major earthquake, to restore their lives, the lives of loved ones, and the lives of total strangers,

People who reach out to those with whom they share common humanity;

Relief and development workers already in country, recovering or mourning lost colleagues, family and friends, yet still on the job,

Aid workers seeking to find a way into the disaster area to help;

People who give to the relief of the victims;

People that volunteer, answering phones and receiving donations,

And people, who knowing gifts in kind won’t work right now for that need, give instead to a local food project or homeless shelter,

All these people with their various ways of giving, their variety of gifts, manifest the same Spirit of God, rebuilding, restoring.

And the same Lord is walking with us, working with us, through each long day and night, toward the restoration and the hope of a future of peace, and a renewal of the wholeness of life – a future some will only see where sorrow and pain are no more. Peace is coming.

Guided by compassion and common sense, wisdom and charity, we pull together, to bring into being in this very tangible way a foretaste of the heavenly banquet – the feast that is endless, the celebration of the peace and the reign of God.

Come to us, Lord Jesus, come to us in the work you have given us to do. Come to us in the breaking of bread and in the prayers. Come to us as you comfort the fallen, come to us as you clothe the naked, come to us as you visit those who are sick or in prison. Come to us even as you are there, in those people – those people with whom you walk and whom you serve.

Come to us even as you send us forth into your world, to do what you have called us to do. Empower us with your gifts for your glory, that each of us may show in our lives your glory, at work for the common good. Send us out rejoicing in the power of your Spirit.

Amen. Alleluia.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Legh Kennerley Priest (July 23, 1912 - December 18, 2009)

Christ our good shepherd be with us today as we celebrate the life of Legh Priest. Help us cherish the memories and hear our thanks for your walk with here. For you walk with each of us all our days - from before we are born until after we die.

Some of our lives have many chapters, some few: but whether the volume is thick or thin, you are there on every page.

When the family were younger they lived near here on a few acres, and there were, indeed, sheep.

Are we like sheep? We do stray, we do depend on our shepherd for leading us to the gifts of life.

Jesus our shepherd walks out with us, into the green pastures, stays with us, and sees us safely home. This is the good news in a nutshell: that Jesus came to humankind, comes to us, to lead us through life - and by his sacrificial offering of himself, laying down his life for us, and by his calling of us to be his people, he cares for us, nurtures us, sustains us, redeems us.

When we stumble or fall into the shadow, when we make wrong turnings or choices, he brings us back - he sets us on the right path; when we are threatened - when the safe place he made for us is in danger - he comes to protect us.

Whether the folly is inside ourselves or out, he is there - his rod and his staff, they comfort, they correct, they protect, and they guide.

We celebrate the good long life of Legh Priest today: in the presence of God and one another let us remember her with joy, with gladness, and with hope - as Christ welcomes home one of his own.

Good Shepherd, be our guide, be our comfort.

Good Lord Jesus, in your name is all our praise.



Thanksgiving and Celebration for the life of Legh Kennerley Priest (July 23, 1912 - December 18, 2009)
St Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Wash., January 16, 2010 - 2:00 PM


Hymn 405 - All things bright and beautiful
Hymn 397 - Now thank we all our God
Hymn 383 - Fairest Lord Jesus
Hymn 470 - There's a wideness in God's mercy


Friday, January 15, 2010

a place of your abiding

Right in the midst of a busy business meeting I looked at the boss and pondered, “Where do you find the silence?”

I was wondering if during all the business of the day, all that it presented, in anticipation, excitement, worry, there were times in that day of activity for reflection.

In the midst of a busy year, we find ourselves dropped into a time of silence.

What kind of silence?

It is easy enough to find the silence of absence – the all-too terrible silence after the departure of a loved one, the empty silence of the waiting room, the hole in time waiting to be filled, the vacancy where once there was activity.

The silence of presence – healing silence, fallow fields for wholeness to root and sprout – this kind of silence is precious.

And often it is hard to find.

We find it in days and hours and places and people where we did not expect to find it.

Or often enough it is the result of careful planning.

The silence of presence comes to us when we make room for it. We capture a moment of time – a moment of the day, perhaps, when we are listening and ready – and then we enter into a quiet space.

There may be interstitial moments, small in-between gaps between activity – prayers suit these crevices, arrows shot heaven-ward with brief petition, thanks, or praise – and like longer prayer-times we let go of what we send. (See Herbert O’Driscoll’s book Prayer Among Friends for more on this.) God will hold it; make it holy.

There may be moments to make holy, ordinary (ordinary-seeming) moments in your day, the beginning of activities perhaps. You may already practice these prayers – a co-worker of mine used to cross himself and say a prayer before he got out of the car to start his day.

The prayer of invocation – calling a blessing as you make a start on some task or practice — is an old tradition. In 1900 Alexander Carmichael published a two-volume collection, Carmina Gadelica, of Celtic prayers passed down by Hebridean islanders. These were the people of Harris and Skye and other Scottish islands, their prayers poems they said or sang as they began such commonplace activities as lighting a fire or milking a cow – and by this making the action holy. You can find samples of these prayers in books by teachers like Esther de Waal and Thomas O’Loughlin.

There may be quiet time set aside in your day, fifteen minutes or an hour – when you read the Bible and pray, or take aside some holy book and get lost in it.

Once when I went on retreat the monk I spoke with thought it was just fine I’d begun by reading a novel – it got me out of my every day mind set as novels may do – but then it was time to make room for the real retreat to begin.

The real retreat is within a quiet space, of time and place, and so is the real Lent.

We hope you can find some quiet time and space this season. In an hour or a day, by yourself or in good company.

During Lent, here at St. Alban’s, we offer evening worship on Wednesdays at 6 o’clock, followed by a simple soup supper (potluck) at 6:30 – at 7pm there will be meetings for some; and we plan to offer a class at that hour for others who wish to delve deeper into their Christian faith. Sunday worship will revolve around themes of preparation – the tremendous events of Holy Week (Passiontide) are not far away, from the false dawn of Palm Sunday to the final morning of celebration the following week.

Here’s a prayer for you and me, for the beginning of Lent, from the prayer book of the Iona Community (2010):

God of all life,
I lay my life before you. I give my life to you
from whom nothing in me is hidden.
You are before me, God; you are behind.
You are around me, God; you are within.

I bring the faith that is in me and the doubt;
I bring the joy that is in me and the sorrow;
I bring the hope that is in me and the despair;
I bring the hurts that I carry and the hurts that I have caused:

To join these faiths and doubts,
Joys and sorrows, hopes and despairs,
Hurts carried and hurts caused;

To the faiths and doubts, joys, sorrows,
Hopes, despairs and hurts of my sisters and brothers.

Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your liberation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
For you have shown me the paths that lead to life
and your presence will fill me with joy.



For the Gospel Grapevine, parish newsletter of St Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Wash., February 2010.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Baptism of Jesus 2010

In this season of Epiphany we look for the miracle – the sign that attests to the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ. That “attesting miracle” – sign – in this week’s story may be the voice from heaven, but do not lose sight of the earlier epiphany – the manifestation of God’s glory in the ordinary human action of Jesus.

Once I was talking with Dorothy Nicholl, who was active in Cheshire Homes for the disabled and with the “Co-workers of Mother Theresa” in her parish in Santa Cruz. We were talking about the handicapped accessibility of the city buses – how much that cost.

It would be a lot cheaper, I observed, to send out specially equipped vans to give them rides. “But then they wouldn’t be just like anybody else!” she protested. And I riposted – “But they aren’t just like anybody else!” Sure enough the special equipment was for them.

By the way you can find yourself one of “them” on short notice – just have surgery or an illness.

Of course I missed her point. People who need provision for handicapped access are, granted, materially different, but they are not morally different. They are of equal, equally infinite, value.

Just like “the rest of us” a person using provisions for physical disabilities is a person of infinite value to God – a person beloved of God, with whom God is well pleased.

Jesus lined up, just like anybody else, and was baptized, just like anybody else. He did not take special favors (“I’m his cousin, you know”) or cuts in line.

Just like anybody else he went up there and got his soul prepared, for the coming of the reign of God.

That is what baptism is about – a turning point, a turning homeward to God. It involves a ritual cleansing, a sacred bath, a washing clean, and a fresh start.

Then it involves coming up out of that water, taking those first steps, making a new beginning, and accepting the gift of grace that is God’s to give.

Jesus did all this, Jesus the Human One, the Son of Man, because it was the right thing to do, the human thing to do – because he was like us, just like anybody else…

He was willing to be obedient and submit to God’s ultimate authority, receive God’s ultimate grace, and accept God’s ultimate love – and then to go forward, act it out, and live that grace and love in his every move.

Every step he took from that day forward was a step closer to the kingdom of heaven.

Of course he was just like us – only without sin. That one baptism was enough – more than enough – for him... For us we need some ritual, some rite of cleansing, of forgiveness, and acceptance, of new allegiance to God’s grace and glory, more than once. Every day perhaps brings more challenges, some of which we are not adequate to meet on our own power – so we have our ways of renewing our baptismal vows.

In high school I went with my friends to a lot of fundamentalist church gatherings – revivals, coffee houses, Billy Graham movies – and there was always an opportunity to make that one initial commitment to Jesus Christ, that first step, that decision made to follow Jesus.

But what if you had already done it – but needed to further express your faith and your need of grace? What could you do?

You could only walk the sawdust trail so many times (once) before it felt silly.

So you need a way to renew your commitment. We offer two today – and more.

You can always, at any moment, “repent and return to the Lord” – that is, like the Prodigal Son, come to yourself, realize that what you are doing is no way to be living, and return to the loving arms of your heavenly Father. You can and should do that any time you feel the need –

(If the feeling comes on you while you are in traffic abide by all relevant laws – but go ahead and talk to God, let that burden down, and get a fresh start – get renewed – in Christ.)

This morning we have a couple of ways together to renew and remember.

There will be in place of the creed, the reaffirmation of baptismal vows – renewing our commitment to Jesus Christ and re-enlisting our selves (as it were) in his cause.

And, as the service continues, after the general confession we can approach the table together – the table where everybody is welcome – and in the Eucharist re-commit ourselves to God and receive anew God’s gift of grace for us.

For before we were born God knew us, knew he had made us well and for his purpose – and as his Son came out of the waters, he knows us as his own.

Through Christ and with Christ and in Christ we can know these words of welcome – you are my child, with you I am well pleased – apply to us too.

We can receive the gift of becoming God’s children with whom, in the fullness of his grace, God is well pleased.

It is not by our doing – it is through Christ, this one in whose name we are baptized; this one who, just like anybody else, received the baptism of John - and the one who comes to us now, under the form of bread and wine, water and oil; under the form of ordinary human endeavor; bringing us the gift of his presence with us.

And by this ordinary means – by water and the word, by bread and wine, working together – he brings us the gift of newness of life.

God says to us, as David Adam put it in a prayer, God says to us this:

Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you:
I have called you by your name; you are mine.

Lord, you have called us; may we rejoice in your love and saving power, and proclaim your presence and glory in the world.

Protect us from evil; lead us into ways of peace: that we may serve you & rejoice in you.

We thank you, heavenly Father, that you call us to know your grace and put our deepest confidence in you. Increase our knowledge of your grace and confirm this faith in us forever. Pour out your Holy Spirit on all of us as we renew our vows, that being people born anew in Christ, and made heirs of everlasting salvation, through our Lord Jesus Christ, we may continue to serve you and receive the gifts of your promise.

Bring us at last into your kingdom and your gracious presence, without fault or fear, but rejoicing in newness of life.

Through Jesus Christ, compassion incarnate, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, everlasting Father of mercy, and with the Spirit of holiness and truth. Amen.

* * *

Put on Christ and walk in the light. Follow the example of our Savior. Be made like him.

As he died and rose again for us, so being baptized, be dead to sin and alive to righteousness, daily proceeding in all virtue and godliness of living.

And the peace of the Lord be always with you.


Lord our God, who anointed your Son with the Spirit at the river Jordan, and so hallowed the waters of new birth to bring us forth to salvation: keep us strong in the life of grace, direct the ways of your people, and open the door of your kingdom to all who stand upon the threshold of faith.

(Collect for Epiphanytide, in Celebrating Common Prayer, from Common Worship)


Saint Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, WA


Sources and Resources

The Book of Common Prayer
(1662, UK)

David Adam

Barbara Crafton

Dorothy Nicholl

Herbert O'Driscoll

Jeff Tobin


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany 2010

On the eve of the New Year at sunset I looked up toward the mountains and saw a bright light far up the hill. At first I wondered if it were bright Christmas lights on a nearby building. Then it grew and grew and grew, and I realized it was the full moon coming up on the eve of the new year, just as the sun set on the last day of the old decade. Which is now behind us.

It was a wonderful moment, beautiful and calm, and somewhat otherworldly. This bright big ball in the sky so round and clear was another world.

It was like a sign - a sign of something new about to begin.

Somewhere far away and long ago, some of the wise of the earth, perhaps astronomers, certainly sky-watchers, caught sight of a new light in the heavens. They saw at its rising a star. Its significance to them was more than ordinary.

They felt the world had order and purpose - that was reflected in the sky. And so they attributed to this star the role of herald, announcing the birth of one born to be king of Israel.

And so they set out from home, having prepared to meet a king. They brought along royal gifts - of gold, frankincense, and myrrh - and traveled to the city at the center of the Jewish world, Jerusalem.

There they were greeted by the great Herod, builder of the Second Temple, Hasmonean king, ruler and, truth be told, tyrant of Israel and client of Rome.

"Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?" they asked, "For we have observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."

Oh, ah. How interesting. How wonderful. How nice of you to come. Glad you dropped by.

The Messiah? Born? Real? Now? What a threat! What would Herod do? What could Herod do? This could unmake all his achievements - for he was king in Israel, by Caesar's hand. The legitimacy of his rule was quite worldly indeed. The restless people of the Hebrews could easily be upset. If they knew the one prophesied had actually been born - the redeemer, the liberator, the hero who would lead them to freedom - then his rule could be doomed.

So he found out from his wisest advisors - where was the Messiah, the anointed one, the Christ - to be born? And they told him, Bethlehem.

On the quiet he got together with the wise men, the travelers from far away, and told them, Bethlehem: go there, find the child, and then let me know so that I too can go and pay him ... homage.

Something about this conversation must have bothered the visitors, who were after all wise men, for a restless night intervened and they went another way home.

They had come a long way already, and who knows what obstacles they had encountered. The twentieth-century poet T. S. Eliot has us imagine the journey of the magi (the wise people) as one over hill and dale through the cold of winter, encountering all the people and situations of the caravansary and the inn, the roadside wreck and the (at last) arrival. They found the child - and knelt and worshipped him. And their lives were changed.

Their lives – and ours - were changed, far beyond the change feared by Herod the Great.

The wise people found they could not go back home, not the way they had come. They could not go back that way because they were changed people. The old 'gods' - the old ways of worship, of living, the old ways of making sense of the world - no longer fit.

Something had died - some old way of being - because behold! Something new had come into the world and everything changed.

It had to.

The one they had found was light to the nations as well as glory to God's people Israel. News, not only for those faithful servants who had sought God's favor over the years and centuries, but for all people, from all places and nations and walks of life, now came of a redeemer, a sanctifier, a liberator.

So they went home, when they went, by another road - and as other men.

Journey of the Magi

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

—T.S. Eliot

We set out long ago and are changed by the journey. Encountering watering holes, an oasis; a caravansary, an inn; encountering strangers, finding companions on the way. Resisting the temptation to stop at the oasis - to ration the water, and to take note - there are only so many dates to go around. But eventually the water fouls and the dates rot. So on we go - and are changed, despite ourselves. We wish only to develop, to grow - but we will change, move on, and seek, seek Christ the Lord. And finding him, be satisfied - with what we have found - and yet not be satisfied in ourselves any longer.

For this Birth also means a Death - a death of the old ways of being. This first coming of the Christ presages a second. And so we experience a death, to our old selves - and feel in ourselves a second birth, into life in Christ, the resurrection life - the life that we know, that we knew, would come after death, begins now.

We are born anew because he is born - because he dies, we die to our sins - and we are born into eternity.

Three kings, wise men, journey west, into the sunset, bearing gifts, seeking Christ, following a star, finding - that Birth, that Death. The old ways no longer satisfy.

And so while the full moon rising on New Years Eve, and the sunset that came before it, show us the beginning of something new - a year, and the death of something old - the old year - there is a real rising and a real new thing happening every day all around us and once for all in Christ.

It is the birth of the life of the spirit - in us; in our world; and it happens, it begins anew, when Christ is born in our hearts.

Like the wise people who followed the star they saw on its rising, seeking the child born to be king, seeking salvation and good news for all peoples, we have a journey before us. It is the journey into Christ.

We are followers of Christ, his life our leading star as we follow on his way, as the wise people sought the one born king, he guides us on our way, calls us forward into new relationship with God, others, and our selves. His is the sign we follow - the sign that points to and beyond himself, to new life.

How do we take this journey? What should we do?

We begin to make our way down the road by taking responsibility for our own growth and development, as individual persons and as a community of believers. In the areas of emotional, intellectual, ethical, moral, communal, and spiritual activity, we begin to let Christ take over as the Lord, the king, in our own lives.

As a community we build respect, courtesy, truth-telling in love, honest seeking of the truth. How we deal with each other and how we reach out to the world begin to reflect the light of Christ. Our dealings with others, our ministries and mission outreach, begin to show the lordship of Christ in our lives as a Christian people.

The call to conversion, to follow Christ, the morning-star of the new creation, comes to full reality as we take our place in the larger community, the church and the world around us, and as we become responsible citizens and moral agents in the life of our town and nation.

How we follow that star - and how we reflect its light however dimly and obscurely, with whatever flickers of inattention or neglect, - how we follow Christ, begins to make manifest to those around us the reality of the good news: a king has been born, a light given to the nations and hope to the world.

We are carried forward in our death to the old and the birth into the new larger life, which comes to its completion in the one who began at Bethlehem.

Our identity as a people of God, of this particular congregation, is part of this new birth. What will we look like as we continue to become God's people?

We cannot return to the past, to be what we once were or wish we were, but we can become what we are called to be, to become God's people here on earth at this time in this place, with these gifts we have, and the gifts to come – the surprising gifts borne by unexpected visitors, like the magi of old – who bear their gifts to bring to kneel and pay homage to the one born at Bethlehem and born anew in each of us as we pray: come Lord Jesus.

Come and be our guiding star. Come be the light of the world made manifest in us. Make your home in our lives. And may we live at home in you.

Edmonds, Wash., January 3, 2010.

T. S. Eliot, "Journey of the Magi" (1927), Collected Poems 1909-1962 (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1963) 99-100.


Friday, January 1, 2010

What they sought, what they found, and what they gave

On a cold clear night illumined by the moon the stars are few - a week or two later they are all over the place, our primordial guides to navigation.

During the daytime Old Israel wandering in the desert followed a pillar of cloud, by night a pillar of fire; in a later age the wise people of the East following a star sought what its portent promised: the birth of a new King in Israel.

They crossed the wild desert, following the clear stars shining; they journeyed on by plain and mountain...

They knew, though they were from far away - perhaps from the ancient universities of north India, the mountain observatories of Persia, or the plains of Mesopotamia, that there was something coming into being in the world - in the land of Palestine - that was altogether new - and yet of a promise very old.

These learned people, traveling far, followed - a star; a star - and much more: they followed the hope of the future.

And they found it in Judea, not in a king's palace, not even in the Temple, but in a manger, where a baby lay; they found it in that child, in the arms of his mother, watched over by the patient and faithful Joseph.

Shepherds beat them to it. Rude rustics, ‘mechanics’ as they would be in Shakespeare's play, got there first. Shepherds who had been abiding in the fields, keeping watch by night over their flocks, like that last unlikely son of Jesse, the boy David who would become king - and distant ancestor of this other little boy, this son of Mary - greeted the future, wrapped in swaddling clothes.

The wise perhaps knew better what this would mean; but all, wise and rustic alike, knelt before this tiny fellow, and opened the greatest gift they had to give, each one of them: their hearts.

Open your hearts, O faithful people, Open your hearts, and join in song.

Christ our Savior is born - and the glory of the Lord shone round about them.

Christ our Savior is born - and the praise of the Lord was on their lips.

Christ our Redeemer has come to us - and the message of his kingdom is abroad.

Christ our Lord is come - and we join in proclaiming his glory.

Christ Alpha and Omega is come into the world - and gives us a future with hope.

Open your hearts, O faithful people, and join in the song of celebration.


When I was growing up we hung stockings by the mantelpiece on Christmas Eve and lit the old candles (melted red crayons poured into waxed milk cartons). We waited until Christmas morning (each year a little earlier, a little more wise to the wrappings and assemblies of the night past) for bathrobes and pajamas and Christmas tree - all lit up - and presents discovered beneath its boughs. “Merry Christmas!” we greeted each other.

Our cousins by contrast followed the Latin American custom - if we were visiting them there was a second celebration for us - the custom of exchanging gifts on Three Kings Day, the feast of the Wise who followed the star from the east - Epiphany, Little Christmas.

As it was for the baby Jesus and the holy family, so for my cousins it was the day the Christ was revealed as king, his glory first made manifest, that became the day of gifts.

The gifts given on Christmas (Eve or Day) or Epiphany (at the end of the Christmas season) are just the least of it really - they are outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual gift, the gift of our lives, our devotions, our hearts. We are not kings but what we have to give is what means most - and what, God bless us, everyone can give...

What shall I give him? Give him my heart.


Gospel Grapevine,
St Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Wash., 2010 January