Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Seeing western Christianity from a distance

Wondering about the need for a post-imperial ecclesiology - and liturgy...

Reflecting this week on a book I picked off the shelf by 'chance' as I left for vacation, I have been thinking particularly about the vernacular, the establishment of Christianity, and the need now for a post-establishment - post-colonial - post-imperial ecclesiology - and liturgy.

"Seeing western Christianity from a distance, Bede was feeling more and more that it ‘needs a larger vision of life, which includes more consciously the whole evolution of nature and history to its fulfillment in Christ to be adequate to the needs of the modern world’ [16]. In his personal letters he revealed his criticisms of western Christianity in a way that, at the time, loyalty and tact restrained him from admitting publicly. He wanted radical change in the Church, admitting that he was ‘feeling very much the total inadequacy of Christianity to-day’, finding modern Roman Catholicism an extremely decadent religion, a kind of fossilization of what had once been a great tradition’ [17] and the control of the Roman Curia ‘rigid and disgusting – the spirit of the Inquisition was always – and still is – there.’ [18] Unusually in those days he even suggested that the Roman Church might have to moderate some of its views on the papacy, writing to a fellow monk that they must be prepared for great changes in the Church:

"‘The vernacular will eventually transform everything. It is the end of the whole Roman system set up at the Council of Trent. As you know, no doubt, a revolution is already taking place in theology & the Roman theology is on the way out. The next session of the Council will probably see a further phase in the revolution. If the Collegiality of the Bishops is established, the whole conception of the place of the Pope in the church will have to be revised. The teaching and governing authority of the church is not the Pope, but the bishops with the Pope at their head. This puts it in a different light altogether & brings us much nearer to the Eastern Church (& all ancient tradition.)’

"He was, however, to draw some hope from the conclusions reached by the Second Vatican Council towards the end of the 1960s, feeling that it might lead to a thorough reconsideration of the place of the Pope in the Church, which he felt should be much more modest, and that it had opened the way to a renewal of the Church which could bring the main Christian churches into united. In particular he delighted in the Council’s admission that God might be found in non-Christian religions and in its decision, for the most part, to replace the Latin Mass with liturgies in the vernacular. Optimistic as ever, he believed the Council had opened the way to a complete renewal of the Church and released it from ‘a bondage which had to go’. For him the decisive point in the evolution of the Church was in the age of Constantine; it was then that the Church became a worldly power, adopting all the trappings of the Roman Empire, evolving a Greek theology and a Roman law. He longed for a new Church, appropriate to the second half of the twentieth century, for now, he argued: ‘We are entering a new age, social, political, economic, a new phase of history, and the old forms are no longer adequate. We have to go back to the roots of our religion – as the Vatican Council has tried to do – to the Gospel, the early Church, even the Old Testament, and in Hinduism and Primitive religion.’" [19]

Du Boulay, Shirley. Beyond the Darkness: A Biography of Bede Griffiths. New York: Doubleday, 1998. 138-139.

[16] Letter to Martyn Skinner, 18 February 1965. [17] Letter to Martyn Skinner, 23 June 1966. [18] Letter to Martyn Skinner, 25 December 1967. [19] Letter to Martyn Skinner, 12 July 1964.

"The vernacular..." hmm... The vernacular alone may not transform the Church though one hopes good liturgy will foster conversion and congregational transformation. The vernacular was introduced to the Church of England in the first prayer book (1549) and it did have, along with putting the Bible into a language of the people, an empowering effect. But the invitation to collegiality must include more than words; there must be a living tradition behind them.

Right now there is an insistence among some Anglican neotraditionalists on the use of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as the standard for worship throughout the Anglican Communion... which was originally conceived by the American and Canadian churches as a network for conversation about mission ... odd choice since the Scottish Episcopal Church had its own rite by 1637 and its independence from the Church of England by 1689 ... leading to its ability to consecrate Samuel Seabury bishop for the new united States of America and its nascent Episcopal church in 1784...

Anyway this insistence by some in the Anglican tradition on the 1662 BCP of England as its shibboleth (in not one word but many pages) shows how anachronistic and retrograde the new conception of Anglican Communion as pseudo-Roman imperium (with Curia to follow?) is.

The 1662 book was promulgated after the restoration of the Stuart monarchy. So its use became then a kind of loyalty test. (Of course it also became a great gift of resources for prayer and is so used to this day.)

What we need to do - okay, what I need to do - now is question whether our liturgy has its shape from this moment (1662) of the reassertion of imperial, royal, and episcopal authority at the moment of the Restoration... or whether that book's roots in a larger purpose - going back to the early centuries of the Church and farther into Hebrew (and other ancient and archaic) religion....... gives it so much of its character as not to bother to look further.

In his blog Fiat Lux my friend Jim Richardson says what really tore it among Anglicans was that moment in Christ Church, Philadelphia, when the rector took up his BCP (1662) and went through it striking out the king's name and writing in its place 'the United States of America'.... on 4 July 1776...


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Teach Us To Pray

Together we pray:

Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and for ever.

–from A New Zealand Prayer Book

The Lord's Prayer is the prayer of a community, Fred Craddock writes: the prayer of a community (us, we) not of a private individual (I, me, mine), and the primary desire of the community is for the coming of the kingdom of God, the reign of God.

Shalom (the peaceable kingdom of God: home of peace, righteousness, satisfaction, completion, wholeness, health; kingdom of justice and mercy)

alecheim (be with you)

Shalom alecheim, peace be with you, suddenly saying it sounds like a radical act.

May the kingdom of God be with us, you and me.

The temptations: three in the desert - bread, authority/power, prestige/glory - and the last (save yourself - and us!)

are (as Edward Schweitzer pointed out) mirrored/reverse-order matched by the petitions of the Our Father:

give us each day our daily bread

your kingdom come

hallowed (revered) be your name

... [forgive us our sins] ...

Do not bring us to the time of trial - this, poignantly, before he faces his own death.

We will never lack God's sustaining presence as we seek his will and follow his way - as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Guidance, strength, and perseverance are given to us in the Holy Spirit.

Father, we pray - ABBA - provider, protector, an intimate address

Holy be your name - may it be revered by all people

May your saving reign begin now -

Provide us with life-sustaining bread, as you gave manna to the wanderers in the wilderness.

Reconcile us - may we be reconciled in right relationship to God and to each other.

Strengthen us - to persevere in the face of temptation, of doubt, of the impulse to turn away from following you.

Guide us - into your holy kingdom, your place of peace.

For yours is the life-giving kingdom and in the power of love is your glory. Amen.

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.


God be in my head, and in my understanding.
God be in mine eyes, and in my looking.
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking.
God be in my heart, and in my thinking.
God be at mine end, and at my departing. Amen.


To God the Father who loved us,
and made us accepted in the Beloved.
To God the Son who loved us,
and loosed us from our sins by his own blood,
To God the Holy Spirit
who sheds the love of God abroad in our hearts,
To the one true God be all love and all glory
for time and for eternity. Amen.


(Prayers from the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland, 2004)


Sunday, July 18, 2010

hospitality and...

One of the people I met this past two weeks, at advanced pastoral studies course in worship at the San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, was Pachomius (c. 290-346), an Egyptian of pagan parenthood, possibly a veteran soldier, who became the founder of cenobitic monasticism.

There was once a man named Pachomius, a good and brave man, who had always looked out after the people he loved, his parents, his friends, his unit in the wars, his country.

But he found himself in prison - and there he knew he would rot. For in those pagan days of the Roman Empire, in prison you were not visited, if hungry you were not fed; you were on your own. And you would rot, and you would starve, and you would die.

Pachomius knew what was going to happen.

But then a strange group of people arrived in the prison. They were singing, songs of praise, to 'Christus' - apparently their god.

And they went around, visiting the sick, binding up the wounds of the injured, feeding the hungry, bringing clothing to the exposed - and not to their friends only, but to everybody, new or old, friend or stranger. Everybody was welcome.

And they stayed and they came back and they kept on doing this.

Pachomius knew this was strange behavior.

He wanted to find out more about this 'Christus' and the people who followed him.

And he did.

He became a Christian - and learned what it meant to do more than be good, be more than a friend to your friends, loyal to your family and the people of your own kind.

He learned about Jesus.

Perhaps he heard the words that we know:

"When were you sick or in prison and we visited you? When were you naked and we clothed you? When were you hungry and we fed you?"

"Whenever you did any of these things for these my brethren you did them for me."


Pachomius, like Alban, was a man of courage, integrity, generosity - and hospitality.

He was a good man. In the eyes of the world he could do no more to acquire merit.

Like Alban, our patron saint, he learned to be more than a good man; he learned faith.

And in faith he grew - beyond the good he grasped the one thing, the one thing that is above all others:

to follow Jesus.

How could he do this? It is something of a mystery - and the mystery is this:

Christ in you, the hope of Glory.


Abraham and Sarah had faith, and it was counted to them for righteousness.

Martha was a good woman; her sister 'chose the better part' - it was good to show hospitality, a very good thing; what was the 'one thing' that mattered ultimately?

To sit at the feet of Jesus, to follow him.

What happened to Martha? What did she do, this good woman?

Do we know? What do you think?

At the feet of Jesus,
at the foot of the Cross,
the women who had followed him from Galilee were there.

At the empty tomb,
early in the morning on the first day of the week,
the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee were there.

There was Mary of Magdala, and Salome, and the other Mary, and....


Friday, July 16, 2010

The Third Vow

Christian Worship: Words and Music that Matter
Doctor of Ministry Resource Seminar, SFTS
Final Paper: Putting the Oomph into “We Will”
July 16, 2010

During the sacrament of Holy Baptism,*
the Celebrant addresses the congregation, saying:

Will you who witness these vows do all in your
power to support these persons in their life in Christ?
People We will.
At marriages, the Celebrant addresses the congregation, saying:
Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your
power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?
People We will.

At ordinations, an exchange like this takes place:
Is it your will that N. be ordained a priest?
The People respond in these or other words:
It is.
Will you uphold him in this ministry?
The People respond in these or other words:
We will.

“We will!” the people say. They say it with all the good will in the world, but what will it
mean? In coming days after the liturgy what difference will it have made to say this?
“We will” comes as the ‘third vow’ in the rites of baptism (and confirmation,
reaffirmation, and reception), marriage, and ordination. It comes after the candidates, or
the woman and the man who are marrying each other, or the ordinand, has said, “I will.”

It is the undertaking of the congregation – to uphold/support these people in their pledge.
What it will mean after the service – may be somewhat outside our sphere of influence,
unless we have begun to give it meaning before the service. Instruction/preparation and
ritual forms may help the principals and the congregation to develop their understanding
of the significance of the ceremony before the rite itself – laying the groundwork for the
expression in action of its meaning after the flowers have faded and the dishes are done.

How can this be accomplished? Let’s take the example of the service of Marriage.
In my tradition (Anglican stream of north American Christianity) and within that, in my
denomination, The Episcopal Church, the service called “The Celebration and Blessing
of a Marriage” is laid out for us in the Book of Common Prayer (most recent version,
1979, p. 422ff.). Following it we find man and woman making solemn and public
covenant together in the presence of God – and at least two witnesses.

Quite often this is a ceremony held not on a Sunday and not in the presence of the
congregation, and not in Lent, though I have (Bishop consenting) celebrated a wedding
during the principal service of the Eucharist on a Sunday during Lent (a feast day in the
middle of the great fast).

One hopes that the local congregation, the home church of at least one of the two
principals, will be the gathering place, or that that congregation will be strongly
represented should the service be at another place or at another time.

Regardless of location or day of the week, the celebrant, in the section of the service
called “The Declaration of Consent”, having obtained declaration of consent from woman
and man, then continues by addressing the congregation: “Will allow of you witnessing
these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?”

There is no indication in the Book of Common Prayer that this, third, vow, is to be taken
any less seriously, or carried out with less of a will, than the vows that precede it in the

This may come as a surprise. How valid is a promise that is surprised upon you? How
binding? Therefore the question is: how to make the people ready for their part in the
marriage – and not just the service but also the embodiment of the sacrament in daily

What I think we can do, liturgically, is to expand upon the old and occasionally revived
practice of ‘posting the bans’ – that is, announcing in service on three Sundays preceding
the ceremony the intention of the two to wed. This could be enhanced, made lavish, by
incorporating suggestions gleaned from two conversations I have had, one recently with
the Rev. Dr. Susan Marie Smith and one five years ago (during my own pre-marital
instruction) by the Rev. John R. Smith (St. Michael and All Angels, Tucson).

Amma Susan suggested that we could take a page from the catechumenal preparations
and have candidates (bride and groom to be) and sponsors from the congregation come
forward each Sunday during a season of preparation (three weeks? six? ten?) to stand and
be recognized, to offer their intention up to God and to receive the prayers of the
congregation. This offers immediate and ongoing prayer support – and it shows in ritual,
symbol, form, the intention of the congregation to put some ‘oomph’ into that ‘we will’.

Fr Smith pointed out the connection between the vows of marriage and the vows of
monks: they both are entering into community, in the case of the newly wed, a
community of two, and the rites begin in a formal, sacramental way, a ‘life together’.

By speaking about the cost of that relationship, that ‘forsaking all others’, that dedication
to common purpose and trust, to care and comfort, ‘in good times and bad’ (as the flatfooted
Roman liturgy has it), and to remain faithful to the covenant for a lifetime, the
priest, people, and candidates recognize the solemn, joyful character of the ceremony –
and the commitment it represents.

By doing this in public as part of the principal service on Sunday mornings, the
community comes to see the ceremonial beginning of a marriage as part of their common
life, and their own role as supporters and upholders as part of their common mission.

What I would do, and will try to do, with willing principals, is to enact this pattern in
preparation for a forthcoming wedding. When I meet with the prospective bride and
groom to instruct them in the sacramental nature of marriage and of the ceremony, I will
invite them to undertake a sort of ‘catechumenate’, a season of instruction and
preparation, in which they will learn more about each other and how to get along together
(this is where my requirement of premarital counseling by a licensed therapist comes in)
and what this wedding will mean to them. I do not know if I can find premarital
counselors who specialize in whole congregations as clients – I will try to highlight in
ritual, in liturgy, and in sermons, as well as in organizational consultations with leaders in
the congregation, what the role of the people can be. It often is important that material
and spiritual and moral (emotional) support be at hand for people getting married. Let’s
get it to them – and let’s let the congregation know how they can get in on the work.

What comes to mind is a recent wedding which met the criteria I have set out for couples,
formally in a brochure and in personal meetings, of premarital counseling and other
preparations for the couple, but which did not include strong preparation for the
congregation to act in support.

The young couple could use material support – wisely not carelessly given, along with
moral/emotional support, and occasional pastoral visits, as well as conscientious ongoing
‘sponsorship’ by reasonably insightful responsible adult members of the congregation as

Now after the fact we have the realities of a new young struggling marriage to deal with.

Next time let’s do better – and learn again, from this taking a resolve to be more
conscious of our role of support.

Theologically this means that to the extent a church is an ‘extended family’ (as some
congregations characterize themselves) it is a family that must take the responsibility for
looking after its ‘children’ when it has publicly affirmed its intention to do so. There is
promise keeping to be done; more importantly, there are people to be served.

The same young couples are likely sooner or later to request the baptism of children. At
this time we should take another opportunity to take seriously the ‘third vow’ of support
by the people of God for the people principally affected by the Pastoral Office. At
baptisms we are used to parents, godparents, sponsors, witnesses and/or presenters to take
a role. There is a teaching role already – this is not a private, family ceremony, but a
service of the church and therefore public. It is not simply giving something special away
– it requires responsible incorporation of new members into the community of faith.

Grace is what we want to impart – not cheaply nor wantonly entered into but advisedly
and soberly, with a reasonable intention to guide us. The minister, the priest, must have,
indeed, a ‘founded hope’ (in the felicitous Roman phrase) that the child shall be raised in
the faith. This hope may be founded on the vows not only individual but congregational.

"Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their
[new] life in Christ?"

Ordinations ordinarily involve quite extensive preparation. In the Episcopal Church these
take place under the bishop’s eye – he supervises the shaping of the liturgy, and he
presides at the ceremony. At a recent Lutheran ordination I attended, the bishop’s role
was more peripheral – mostly the ordinand presided for himself, and had organized the
evening from welcome to coffee. Ordinands, I can attest, have moments of inattention
and leave out canonically essential – oh, say, the Lord’s Prayer - or pastorally important
elements – such as, honoring and praying for the family of the ordination candidate.

Bishops can also oversee a quite extensive season of preparation for candidates and all
assembled. In a way, “that’s what they do.” What it does is show us an example of how
seriously and joyfully a congregation can affirm its happy undertaking of support.

Vows by monastics, I believe, follow this pattern too. Chapter meets and votes in a new
member; there is extensive preparation, then a service of mutual commitment. The point
to be learned here is the creation of a bond of fellowship and community by ceremony
and serious preparation, both in prayer and in instruction. What I recall – this from the
conversion memoir of Thomas Merton, A Seven-Storey Mountain (New York: Harper &
Row, 1948) – is that there were seasons of prayer and levels of approach to the day itself.
We do not commonly have engaged couples prostrate on the pavement before the altar.
We do not often require stages and levels of commitment leading up to the big day.

We can get by without these. Can we ‘get by’ – can the newly wed get by – without some
serious, ritual and ceremonial, pastoral and educational, preparation for the sacramental
rite of marriage? Can baptism ‘take hold’ (in viable fashion) if we just ‘get it done’?
So as with baptismal candidates, a season of preparation: come forward, we call them out
of the congregation, come forward, your sponsors come along too; and we will pray for
you, and we will work with you, and walk with you, in the newness of life you now seek.

A. Season of Preparation. A period of weeks in which candidates study the meaning of
the life they enter into, that is symbolized by the rite. Sponsors from the congregation
escort them forward each Sunday during the principal service, to receive prayer and the
laying on of hands by the priest and the people assembled.

B. The sacramental rite: “We will!”

C. The congregation, represented by the sponsors continues to monitor the progress in
faith and newness of life, offering material and moral support and guidance as needed.

What this plan is intended to do is to bring home the rite to the people of the congregation
– its significance for them as the people of God in whose context and presence these
sacramental rites take on living form, incarnating the grace of God in the middle of them,
and bringing home to the congregation as well their role in the ongoing support of the
newly baptized, newly married, newly ordained, newly en-vowed, as they continue to
pursue and enact the vocations these vows represent.

My hope is that this will in turn help the congregation to take responsibility for its growth
and development as a welcoming, Christ-centered community, and to take pride in faith
and fellowship, moving forward into a hopeful future, a future where the members of the
church embody and enact the reign of a just and loving God in their relationships with
each other and in their service to the community and the world, individually and together.

An overall question of mine is: how can worship create a context in which conversion
can occur, meaning can emerge?

How can worship communicate or engender awareness of symbol in renewal of baptismal
vows on All Saints Sunday, Baptism of Our Lord, Easter Vigil, or Pentecost? Better how
can the symbol of baptism become efficacious as a sacrament not only for the newly
baptized but also for the whole people of God?

How can worship do this for marriages?

And how can, in either case, the vows of support from the congregation be made real to
them as a real commitment to be carried out in coming days?

Common experience of the sacrament in liturgy, then reflection – perhaps in the sermon,
the prayers of the people, in discussion afterwards … and beforehand in preparation.
In all of these services, pastoral offices and Episcopal services both, there are vows and
there is some statement of affirmation and support – even a ‘third vow’ – from the
congregation. How then can these ‘third vows’ be made sufficiently explicit (and lavish)
to engender a sense of meaning and responsibility in those who take them?

If conversion can be defined, as Donald L. Gelpi, S.J. defines it (cf. Charism and
Sacrament; Experiencing God: A Theology of Human Emergence; Committed Worship
as taking responsibility for an area of one’s own growth and development, be it
affective/emotional, cognitive/intellectual, ethical/moral, political, or religious in nature,
then how can these sacramental occasions become occasions of felicity for the
transformation of consciousness not only of the ‘candidates’ but of the whole people
there assembled?

This is the hidden opportunity of the ‘third vow’. There are plenty of charming examples
of a presider chiding the people, ‘say it again, this time with feeling’, but beyond emotion
and stage theatrics, what change can be effected by taking this vow?

And what help and support and affirmation might the candidates – the newly wed, newly
baptized or confirmed or received, or newly ordained – expect to receive after the service
is over? And what kind of sponsorship might be set up – and what expectations – before
the day of the ceremonial passageway?

To take a suggestion from Dr. Susan Marie Smith along with one given me by Fr. John R.
Smith (St. Michael and All Angels Parish, Tucson, Arizona) some five years ago, it helps
to think of these as parallel occasions – that like the taking of vows into a monastic
community, the taking of vows by those being married is an entering into community,
and certainly baptism is expected to be that, and more. “We receive you into the
household of faith” – in a transcendental way; and in some traditional ways of thinking a
sense of an ontological or teleological transformation is not absent. (Does the coming of
the Holy Spirit invoked at ordination cause an ontological transformation in the subject?)

So then a season of preparation, like Lent or Advent (in miniature), could become a
season of focused activity, with candidates preparing for the rite itself, and the
congregation affirming them, sponsoring them, praying for them – and supporting them
throughout the process. The idea of sponsors for those to be married, parallel to sponsors
or witnesses to baptism, allows for some willing individuals to represent and model for
the congregation the affirmation that all make together and the support that all undertake
before God in solemn assembly to carry out.

In Pastoral Offices or Episcopal Services, the liturgy includes an exchange between the
celebrant and the people assembled. As the candidates for baptism, confirmation,
reception, or reaffirmation of baptismal vows, or for ordination, give their vows, so does
the congregation, in affirmation and support of those people and, in services of Baptism,
to renew their own baptismal covenant through the words of the Apostles’ Creed and the
baptismal promises that follow it and flesh out its meaning in contemporary language.

Why not then bring home to the people of God that they are the people of God, that they
have work to do, in praise and prayer and service, which is affirmed and renewed in these
sacramental liturgies? Why not take the opportunity to put some ‘oomph’ (energy;
vitality; enthusiasm) into ‘we will’ – and vim into the vows, and power into the prayers?

* (New York: Oxford University Press, The Book of Common Prayer, 1979)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

family reunion

Summer time people often travel - to back home. They may go to new and exciting places. Quite often, though, they go where they are known: where they know the people, and know the place, and know where they fit - or used to fit - in that landscape and that group of people. It's you, they say, and so it is - if you want it to be. May be you don't - could be painful. May be you do: it could be, after all, a place and a people where you fit, and fit well. That well-come may be just what you need.

If it's been a hard year, if you lost your job, if illness means you cannot do that work anymore, if you cannot be to someone what you once were, it comforts to know that you are known. For yourself, hopefully.

For yourself, in God's eyes, for ultimately who you are. Ultimately who you are at the end of things is the person God meant you to be, the person God saw all along, knew you could be - if you want to be, if you let it be, if you let God be the one who makes it be: the one who made you redeems you, fills you over-top with gifts that spill over into the lives of those around you. Because you are not the only one coming home, you are not the only one who needs that welcome.

In fact you are one of the family - the welcoming family, that God calls into being, that God calls together from place to place, from time to time, in little groups of two or three, or family gatherings.

Maybe it's just a favorite uncle and you, meeting for a drink and a little something to eat - or a great gathering of cousins, aunts, and uncles. Long forgotten and daily familiar - and brand new, first time here, just gathered into the family, the family gathering at this time, at this place.

Make them welcome - (especially) if they are strangers - strangers to you. For many have been entertained by angels unawares.

Under the oaks of Mamre, an Old Testament trinity of Abraham and Sarah and their long-suffering silent servant provide hospitality to three strange visitors.

It's a test of sorts - or a celebration. Depending on how you look at it.

It's a feast, in Abraham's eyes. Go prepare a calf, they tell the servant. Make cakes of meal and oil. Serve them. Water for their feet? A bit of rest, a seat in the shade - the shade of the trees, the oaks of Mamre.

The meeting place, already ancient then, no doubt, of humans crossing paths in the middle of a strange new land.

It's a land of promise to Abraham - and a promise comes.

It's a promise of comic hope, to Sarah - and she shouts in surprise with laughter, greeting the news - the strangers bring: how do they know? Is it just a blessing - a guest's wish? Or more? - They say: your wife is going to have a baby. We shall see.

Martha, Mary, sisters of Lazarus. They greet a greater One than these Three.

And they welcome him - according to custom, as it would be, having Abraham's example before them - and overcoming custom, as one of the sisters takes a man's place - or a disciple's place - at the foot of the Master, Teacher, Rabbi.

Tell her to come help me...

Martha, Martha, my dear. Don't you worry. Don't fret yourself or her. All will be well.

All manner of thing shall be well - and she has chosen the better part: better because the Lord is with her, with her now, and all these things shall be looked after -

Come sit with us, Martha, for a moment - let the dishes soak. Let my feet remain unwashed (yes even the Master's feet) - for a moment.

Let's refresh each other in a greater hospitality: the hope, the love, the great gifts of God.

And then, let's get on with the feet washing, the bread making, the dishes, - and the plowing, the sowing, the harvest - and the baking, again.

But for now - together - Martha and Mary and Lazarus and all - together - be at peace.

The Lord is here.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Good people ...

Good people, this celebration has ended. Therefore, I bid you: Go forth into the world in peace. Be of good cheer. Hold fast to that which is good. Love and serve the Lord with gladness and singleness of heart, rejoicing in the power of the spirit. And may the blessings of God the Father, who created us; God the Son, who died for us; and God the Holy Spirit, who enlivens and makes us whole, be upon all of us this day and forever. Amen.

Father Jesse Vaughan, pastoral blessing and dismissal

2006 04 10


to pledge allegiance

CProper9 2010 07 04

Psalm 66: 1-8
1 Be joyful in God, all you lands;*
sing the glory of his name;
sing the glory of his praise.
2 Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!*
because of your great strength
your enemies cringe before you.
3 ‘All the earth bows down before you,*
sings to you, sings out your name.’
4 Come now and see the works of God,*
how wonderful he is in his doing towards all people.
5 He turned the sea into dry land,
so that they went through the water on foot,*
and there we rejoiced in him.
6 In his might he rules for ever;
his eyes keep watch over the nations;*
let no rebel rise up against him.
7 Bless our God, you peoples;*
make the voice of his praise to be heard;
8 Who holds our souls in life,*
and will not allow our feet to slip.

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

On the summer lake in the early morning dew I would row out toward the flagpole. The sun was rising over the peaks of the sierra and the Boy Scout camp was just waking up. Often as I approached the flagpole, standing in six feet of water about a hundred yards from shore, the sound of a trumpet wafted across the lake: “Summertime” by George Gershwin. Once I reached the flagpole I would un-cleat the line and clip on the flag, then raise it slowly, hand over hand, until it reached the pulley at the top. Gently snugged, but not jammed, it would stay there all day until taps, when it would come down again.

It was like something out of Reader’s Digest.

It was my early morning routine for five or six weeks when I was a counselor at camp.

It was a good thing to do.

Remembering the flag, taking care of the flag, unfolding the flag in the morning and folding it in the evening, putting it away for the night.

Remembering what it stood for.


America, and all that it meant to me. To us. Liberty.

There it was.

And it was a good thing.

Let me tell you about a better thing, something that makes everything better – better than it would be on its own.

Remember the one who wanted to follow Jesus, but first, he said, let me go and bury my father. Let the dead bury their own dead, said Jesus; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.

It is a good and sacred thing, a duty, to bury the dead. That is the point. Jesus was not belittling the effort, he was putting it in right perspective.

What he said he said because it is a good and sacred thing, a great thing, to honor one’s parents. And yet –

There is a greater duty that puts everything into perspective.

That is the duty to God. That is the ultimate allegiance.

Before beyond behind and above every other duty, every other allegiance, is the call of God.

It is not disloyal to put God first, even before so sacred a duty as to honor your parents.

It puts it all into perspective and gives it real meaning, full-color meaning, where before it was just black-and-white.

That is how urgent it is, and how important it is, to proclaim the kingdom of God.

Jesus sent out 70 disciples ahead of him, going in advance to prepare the way, because of the urgency of the message. There was nothing more important.

They were to travel fast and travel light. Get that extra stuff out of your pack.

They were to count on the Middle Eastern tradition of hospitality – that someone would offer them a place to stay and food to eat – and they were not to abuse it. Stay there, he said, and don’t shop around for a better billet.

Go and offer a greeting: Shalom. Peace. The peace of God rest on this place.

Tell them, “The kingdom of heaven has come near to you.” It is right at hand, close by.

Warn them. The time is short. GO.

Break bread with them, spread the news. And then, let go. Let it go.

Do your work as if everything depended on you, and then leave the rest to God.

If they welcome you, well and good. If they do not, move on.

In either case, let them know it: the Kingdom of God is at hand.

That is what matters more than anything, more than success or failure.

Give them the message, tell them the news. The good news:

The good news is this: God is come into the world in the person of Jesus Christ, to save humankind from its sins and to lead humankind into the kingdom of heaven. We are called to his supper. Rejoice! Rejoice and be glad. For the Lord is calling you.

Jesus sent 70 that day – as many as the elders Moses drafted to help him with the people of Israel, as many as the Gentile nations in Genesis. A goodly number – but there are more messengers than that. There are some of them here today – you and I – 73, 74, 75…

We are called to go out and spread the news. Rejoice not in your success in telling it, but in spreading it – rejoice that your names are in the book of life, rejoice in the coming of the holy one into your lives and the lives of the people you greet in his name. Shalom!

Jesus is coming – he is coming to set us free, to live in our hearts, and to lead us into right relationships with our neighbors, ourselves, our God.

Tell the good news, live the good news.

…and all will be well, all will be well, all will be well indeed.

When we baptize a new member into the body of Christ, the family of God, the Church, we are welcoming them into the kingdom of Christ, and we are joining them in covenant.

The covenant, the solemn compact, is to follow Christ – before all else, and all else will make sense if he is Lord over all. Let everybody know: the reign of God has come close to them – and to you.

We will take that message into our lives, be transformed by it, and carry it to the world.

Jesus, Savior, Messiah:
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.