Sunday, June 27, 2010

what's new

Remember now the sending of the messengers ahead of Jesus to prepare a place for him in the village of Samaria - as he would send before him people to prepare the place for the last supper. Every time we eat bread and drink wine together we remember that meal and his death - as we are to remember them until he comes again, in glory - when he calls us again to his table - the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9) - when he calls us to the banquet table for the great feast of the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus is sending out preparers - people to make ready the place for him - and that is what we are called to do. We are called to announce his coming - and the coming of a time of celebration.

That time is far off - that time is near. It is the time of the coming to fruition of the message he is proclaiming - the reign of God in our midst. What is that kingdom he wants to stir things up about? It is the place where we are free. It is the place where we have put behind us the things that bind us - where he has got us unbound from our chains.

My chains are gone
I've been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, Amazing grace

(John Newton, Chris Tomlin)

The chains that bind us are the ones that show themselves in the first list Paul gives in the letter to the Galatians. It is the list he calls the works of the flesh (5:19-20):

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

These are things that manifest our lack of freedom. But we are not mean to be enslaved by the flesh, to do the works of the flesh. We are called to freedom, in Christ.

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters...

That freedom is the freedom found in obedience to the call of the gospel, the work of the Spirit. We are called out of the oppression of the empire of sin, what Paul calls the flesh.

We are called to be like workers that make something enduring, wholesome, lasting.

Like branches of a vine that bears fruit, we are to show in ourselves the work of God.

By contrast to the products of selfishness and sin, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

We are called to live by the Spirit and be guided by the Spirit. We are called to serve the God whom Jesus serves, to be at work for his kingdom.

And in that service, where we find our perfect freedom, we are called to love.

The love that God has first shown us, in the work of Christ.

That is the news that it is so urgent for us to proclaim, the news that we are free.

Go spread the news. Go share it. Begin by celebrating it, together, at the holy table.

When we eat the bread and drink from the cup together, we proclaim his death - and his glory - until he comes again. We have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, and we remember - we do not forget - what he has done for us, in the work he accomplishes, the work he began in us and is bringing to completion.

Once things are put in the right order - God first, the kingdom above all - then peace will come into our lives, completion, wholeness, and fulfillment. Peace will come, as we invite Christ to come.

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.

May we live by faith, walk in hope and be renewed in love,
until the world reflects your glory
and you are all in all.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Amen.


Closing prayer from the Book of Common Prayer, Church of Ireland, 2004.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Luke 9:51-62

When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."


Strange - here he is, on his way to Jerusalem, and these people are coming with him, and yet he gives them an assortment of challenging instructions.

To one, who says "I will follow you" he gives a warning - I am homeless, a wanderer. Are you sure you want to do this?

To another, he says "Follow me" but that person, having secured an invitation, finds a prior commitment.

What is prior - a priority - over following Jesus?

Leave it.


Leave it behind - and get going, and tell people the good news - the important news - that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

If that is true, then there is nothing more urgent than to proclaim it.

Nothing should stand in your way of calling people into the kingdom.

Nothing should come before - drop what you are doing (as he said to the fishermen) and come RIGHT NOW and follow me.

Do what I am doing: sounding the alarm, shouting the warning, singing the joyous song:

God's reign is appearing among us - right now, right here.

Don't let anything get in the way of telling people that.

Nothing could be more important.

Not even burying the dead.

There is no time to say good-bye to the folks at home. Come. NOW


No hesitation.

Why would he say such a thing to a person recently bereaved? to a dutiful son?

Because you should not put anything before God.

God is God, God alone.

After that, to be honest, all the rest will fall into its proper place. I believe that.

It is reassuring, it is good news.

Once things are put in the right order - God first, the kingdom above all - then health will come to your life, completion, wholeness, and peace.

Not peace as the world wants it - no illusions there - but the peace of just and right.


Told you he was scary.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

an alabaster jar

Last week was Legacy Sunday at St Albans. We addressed these questions: What is it that we have that we wish to pass on to future generations? What is of most value and meaning to us? What have we received that we must also pass on?

Next week we celebrate the Feast of Saint Alban, our patron saint. He left us a legacy of hospitality, courage, and faith, and of honesty and integrity.

This week, we look at how God’s reign means that everyone is of value and justice and mercy apply to all. The love of God is for everybody.

We celebrate the last day of the program year in the Sunday School and adult education. Sunday School and the adult Education Hour resume in the fall on the first Sunday after Labor Day. We celebrate the students and we celebrate the teachers and the director of our Sunday School program. We celebrate with graduating seniors.

All of this is about what we celebrate every week – the faith that we have received from others that we also pass on to those coming along after us, both those among us now and those we are yet to, or may never, meet, who will come after this time.

A penitent woman, a sinner of Christ’s own redeeming, the woman who anoints his feet: this is the person who recognizes the gift of grace in today’s gospel reading.

Simon, a Pharisee, curious, invites Jesus to dine at his home. Jesus comes and in the fashion of the time reclines at table, a horseshoe shaped low table, in the atrium (or open courtyard) of Simon’s house.

Then a woman comes in; not invited, she is expected to wait patiently in the shadows until the meal is over and then, perhaps, to gather up left over food or ask a favor of one of the invited guests. That is the custom. She breaks it.

She comes right up to Jesus. Apparently she intends to do what the host of the dinner has forgotten to do. She means to anoint his head – she has brought oil for the purpose, in a jar of alabaster no less – and to wash his feet. This is her intent. But she breaks down.

Instead of anointing his head with the oil, and washing his feet with water and drying them with a towel, her tears fall upon his feet and she then wipes his feet with her own hair, and, finally, anoints his feet with the perfumed oil. This is extraordinary, sensuous and remarkable.

What she has done is in sharp contrast to what Simon has done. Her attitude toward Jesus and how she behaves toward him are those of grateful love, of someone showing in action the release from a burden that they feel inside.

A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise, said the Psalmist (51.17). Jesus responds to the woman with compassion and grace.

Simon the Pharisee, perhaps embarrassed that he has failed as host or just amused by this woman’s action, remarks (in his own mind) on the contrast between the man of God, the prophet Jesus is presumed to be, and the sinner, the woman of notorious reputation.

If he were a prophet, Simon says to himself, he would keep far away from her, for he would want to preserve his righteousness untainted by her sin. But Jesus breaks the rules.

He is a prophet and more than a prophet, more than Elijah or the baptizer John. What he does is to speak and to embody – to proclaim and to bring into reality – the good news of the kingdom of heaven.

It is present here in this place, in this time, in his action and his word; it is present in him.

By contrast to the attitude of Simon toward the woman, Jesus speaks and acts with compassion. He offers to her a word of grace. He defends her before the eyes of the worldly watchers at the table. And he tells her that her faith has made her right with God – her sins are forgiven. Go in peace, he says.

“Who is this who even forgives sins?”

Jesus’ fellow guests are asking the right question. Who is this?

It is the one who does not try to preserve his status intact, who does not try to preserve the status quo out of fear of scarcity, but the one who responds out of the abundance of grace to the grateful heart of the repentant sinner, the one who gives away that all might live, the one who said, in the Gospel according to Luke,

"Give away your life; you'll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity." (Luke 6:38, The Message)

Who is this? It is the one who brings life, and brings it abundantly. It is the Lord.

"Give away your life; you'll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity." (Luke 6:38, The Message)

Simon sought to preserve intact a status, a static state he called righteousness. Jesus by contrast called on him to move forward into a dynamic future, a future with hope, in a faith in God's abundant grace.

The woman with the alabaster jar - she did incredible things, inexplicable things, extravagant things. Extravagant, incredible, inexplicable - unless you take into account who Jesus is. Who she knew he was.

Who is this? It is the one who brings life, and brings it abundantly. It is the Lord.

Blessed one, bless us, in the breaking of the bread, in the pouring of the wine, in the water that washes us in baptism. Bless us in the fellowship of faith, bless us with your ongoing presence in the Spirit. Bless us in the Word and in the deeds that show our grateful hearts in praise and love respond to you.

Give us this day the bread we need, the grace we have least to expect, and the power to move forward together in the name of Christ. Amen.


The Third Sunday after Pentecost 2010

1 Kings 21:1-21a, Psalm 5:1-8, Galatians 2:15-21, Luke 7:36-8:3


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Legacy Sunday 2010

What is it that we have to pass on? What is it that really matters? What is it that will last, beyond ourselves, into the future of the promise of God?

In the name of God, source of all being, eternal word, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

On the river last Monday, as Sarah and I were in our canoe sitting by a dock, we saw coming up the river a young woman in a large-brimmed straw hat, standing in the middle of a canoe, with a pole in her hand. It was our cousin Mary and she was poling her canoe upriver. She looked, Sarah said, like a picture that could have been out of the 19th century - had she been wearing a long dress instead of a more modern boating costume. And it was true; Mary was poling up the river just as she had been taught by her grandmother, whose own mother had indeed, pole in hand, in long tweed skirt, a Liberty print blouse with a Peter Pan collar, and a cardigan sweater - and pearls, traveled up that same river, standing in a canoe, propelling herself with a pole. The skill was taught them by an Ojibway river guide (and canoe builder) named Laroque. Great grandmother learned, then grandmother learned; then Grammy taught her daughters and grand daughters. And the knowledge of the river and the skill of the pole were passed along, a living tradition, from generation to generation. Were passed along; are passed along; will be passed along.

A living tradition is something we pass along, something that gives strength, something that gives skill and even power, to those coming along.

The first disciples, the witnesses to the life and death and resurrection and ascension of our Lord, passed along what they had seen and what they had heard, what they had touched with their hands and embraced in their arms, to those who came along after them. And what they received they also passed on. To you.

What we have received we must also pass along. And we must decide what matters, what matters most, and that is what we must make sure to share with the new generations that are coming along.

What is it that matters most to us? What is it that will last?

What we know, what we have received, as church, as the family of God, always sustains us through these several elements: the sacred Word, the story of the love of God for humankind; the water of Baptism, in which we receive a sign of new life in Christ; the wine and the bread, transformed for us and, received in faith, transforming us ourselves into the body of Christ; and then the gift of each other, that Body of which we are all members; and - the Holy Spirit, in which all this lives and moves and has its being.

These are things that we have received, that we live by, that we pass on. These things are all gifts given us to give others, to share with them the grace and peace of God.

For on the night before he was betrayed our Lord took the bread and blessed and broke it and distributed it to his friends, saying, this is my body broken for you: remember me whenever you do this. And at the end of the meal he took wine in a cup and passed it around, having first blessed it and said, this is my blood, shed for you, and for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, remember me.

In the first reading this morning we are confronted with a great man of God, Elijah the prophet, leader of the resistance by the followers of the Lord, as their own king turned from worship of the one true living God to the worship of idols, false gods, known as Ba'al. Elijah confronted the king, named Ahab, and said these words of power:

‘As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.’ (1 Kings 17:1)

That was enough to get the message across to the king. Then Elijah following the Lord's command left the royal presence and travelled east of the Jordan to a stream called Cherith. There for a while he was safe, and survived, on food the Lord provided. The drought and the famine had come upon the land, however, and so eventually the stream dried up. Elijah gathered himself together and began walking, west and north. He left his homeland behind.

Eventually he made his way over toward the coast in the land of Sidon, where he came into a village.

A woman was there, and he approached. May I have some water? And, exhausted, famished, at his last strength, he asked one more gift. Could you give me even a morsel of bread?

She was famished too. She was down to the last of the food. She was at the end of her rope. She was a widow with one child, a son, and they were both about to have their last meal.

And yet, hearing his assurance of the Lord God's promise, this woman, outside of Israel, answered him. Yes. This is the last I have, but here--have this bit of food and water. And so they both began to regain their strength.

The book of Kings tells us they did not run out of food for many days. And then the worst blow fell. Her son, her only son,--had no life in him. What have you done? she cried. Why have you visited the wrath of my sins upon me? Why?

And Elijah, distressed, stretched himself upon the body --and prayed. God, bring this boy back to life.

And the boy lived, and the prophet gave the woman back her son.

On the strength of that encounter, that saving and sustaining grace, Elijah went in the power of the Spirit back to Israel and defeated the priests of the false worship. He did great and powerful things, or more accurately, prayer saw them happen in the will of God.

Jesus referred to this story of the widow and Elijah, when he spoke in the synagogue at Nazareth, his hometown. The widow of Zarephath was the one to whom the Lord sent Elijah, the prophet of God. And it was in her house that the real miracle began. It began with a little thing, that you could hold in your hand. More spectacular things were to follow; but first there was a handful of meal and an alabaster jar of oil, and a little morsel of faith.

From that small beginning came greater things. In the little feast they shared between them, the widow and the prophet laid a foundation of faith that God built upon, rebuilding the faith of the people of Israel. (It was like the feeding of five thousand people with five loaves and two fishes.) Small beginnings, greater ends; simple things, made holy.

Jesus had told this story, and then moved on. He came to Capernaum, and a centurion sent to him, asking him to heal a very sick man, a slave of his. Jesus responded and came toward the house. But the centurion sent a message: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you under my roof, but only say the word and my servant shall be healed. And so it was.

Jesus moved on again, coming into the town of Nain, and a large crowd was with him. They came upon another large crowd, in that town, a funeral procession carrying the only son of a widow to his grave.

Jesus sees what is going on; as he enters the place, a woman, a widow with only one child, a son, is there -- and she is already bereft of him, and of her future, her hope, embodied in that child of hers. Jesus knows -- and we know -- what that means. He stops the procession. Hold it right there!

The funeral march comes to a halt.

Then there came an extraordinary collision; the encounter of the power of life and of resurrection and hope with the power of death and anger and despair.

Jesus says to the woman, do not cry.

And then Jesus comes up to the bier and says: Young man, rise up!

And he does.

And the young man lives, and the Lord restores him to his mother.

A great prophet has arisen, the people say -- and well they might. You can hear the echoes of Elijah's story in this miracle of our Lord.

What is this about? Who is this that has such power over life and death -- and life beyond death? It is the Lord.

It was the Lord; the Lord before his own crucifixion, his own glorification, his own resurrection.

After Easter, His appearing to the disciples, the women at the tomb, the apostles, and many others, is the beginning of something new. He is the first born of the new creation, the first fruits of the resurrection. He tells us that there is something beyond life under the powers of this world, that life lived in God is life that lasts.

The Lord is Lord of life and death, and of life that lies beyond death. The hope of the resurrection, in the risen Christ, is not for the restoration of what was but of the beginning of what will be.

Even in death, we believe, life is changed, not ended. Changed. (Not a tape or a film rewound in the projector and played again, but the mounting of a new reel altogether.)

We are transformed in the newness of life.

Resurrection is not a return to the old life, but the creation of something new - it is moving forward, not back.

What we have to pass on is a living faith in a living God. It is renewal, it is new, it is life itself: it is life in Christ, not the old way of law and sin and death, but the way forward into life in Christ, into the kingdom that begins now, that indeed is all around us.

Bill Lewellis, a friend of mine, once explained that in the Celtic way of looking at things there is such a thing as a 'thin place', a place where the veil between this world and the next, the earthly realm and the heavenly, is thin and easily passed through. It is as if there were a membrane between the everyday and the eternal, and it is permeable somewhere, sometimes.

Then Bill went on to explain that the 'thin place' is really anywhere we are open to the Spirit, and anytime our hearts are open to Christ. That is where the eternal breaks through to the everyday, and transforms it: where our hearts are open and when we are present to the abundance of grace.

The widow in Sidon and the widow in the village of Nain, separated by many years and miles, both were facing scarcity and the end of their own resources, and yet both responded with a morsel of hope and received the gift of abundance.

They did not have much left, and what they had was being taken away from them. And yet the Lord acted, and their lives were changed.

So what was it they had to pass on? It was not their physical comfort or success. It was something that lasts. Something that abides.

What it is might not be abundantly clear right now. It may not be clear until we too share in the resurrection, when our hope is fulfilled in the kingdom of Christ.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

But we have a pretty good idea, of what lasts: the things we have spoken of, the word, the sacraments, the fellowship, are things that bring us closer to God and carry us forward together in God's mission and God's purpose.

All of these things come to us in the gift of the Spirit. And it is the abiding promise and presence of God that shows us what really lasts, what really gives life meaning. Some things will pass away, good things as they are, for when the time for them is over, they will fade away.

We know that; we look for the things that last, that are our greatest gifts to pass on to those coming along in our midst and coming after us.

What are these lasting gifts?

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

May we live by faith,
walk in hope and be renewed in love,
until the world reflects your glory
and you are all in all.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Amen.


1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24)
Psalm 146
Galatians 1:11-24
Luke 7:11-17