Saturday, December 24, 2011

my Christmas prayer

Christmas Eve 2011

Dearly Beloved, we are gathered tonight to share in the greatest of wonders: the birth of Christ on earth. We look not on his awesome majesty, his mighty Divinity, and his impenetrable Holiness: We look on his humanity, his innocence. For he came to us in innocence – as a baby born as babies are, to a mother. But what a mother: a young woman who had given her self, her own body, to be the home of God.

For the Holy One took on flesh and dwelt among us, not flaunting equality with God or shielding himself from the troubles of the world.

He came among us, as a Baby.

And he calls us to come to him, not as a Judge, called to account for our deeds and omissions, but to come to him as Savior, Messiah — come both to comfort and to challenge us, calling us to come home to him.

And when we come home, when we come to his Table, we are to come as ones made free — free from sin or the burden of conscience, guilt, and self-assigned un-forgive-able-ness — as we confess our faults and receive his grace.

As you approach this his Table, for the first time or the thousandth time,

Hear again the invitation:

Lay aside the burden of sin or guilt or fear—

For he did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him; and he said, Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.

Lay aside that burden, leave it at the foot of the altar, and

Take on new birth, new life, in Christ.

May the Christ Child born in Bethlehem be born anew in your heart.

Take Jesus in— take him in and let him dwell within you; changing you, filling you with hope. That his grace and his gift of life be yours: that is my Christmas prayer. AMEN.

one night

If you would be a Christian, be as the Shepherds were;
following their calling faithfully,
until called to a higher purpose
one night
they became apostles, prophets, saints, martyrs,
witnesses to the wonder of the coming of the One true God,
maker of all things,
come to dwell among us, men and women and girl and boy:
for us and for our salvation,
that the life we live now,
we live not by our own lights,
but by him who is Light—
the light of the world,
and through living in Him,
shepherd or saints or both at once,
we might bring that light to our corner of the world
and glory to God in the highest heaven.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Annunciation

"The Annunciation" by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1898)

"But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse and from its roots a bud shall blossom." (Isaiah 11:1, New American Bible)

“When you think you're at the very end, the rotten stump, in decay, something grows. You keep tending to the thing that seems dead or not working, and, with your tending, something new and beautiful sprouts up.”—Father Rick Frechette, in "Children's Champion", Financial Times, House & Home, December 17/December 18 2011, p.2.

"Then a shoot shall grow from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall spring [Heb., bear fruit] from his roots." (Isaiah 11:1, New English Bible)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us... (John 1:14)

Th' angel went awei mid than/Al ut of hire sighte;/Hire womb arise gan/Thurw th'Oligastes mighte./In hir wes Crist bilok anon,/Sooth God, sooth man in fles and bon,/And of hir fles/Ibore wes/At time,/Warthurw us kam good won;/He bout us ut of pine,/And let him for us slon. 

With that, the angel went away, out of her sight; her womb began to swell through the power of the Holy Ghost. In her Christ was straightway enclosed, true God and true man in flesh and bone, and of her flesh was born in due time, whereby good hope came to us: he redeemed us from pain [of hell] and allowed himself to be slain for us.

Angelus ad virgenum, 13th C. Arundel ms. English version. (tr. E. J. Dobson, adapted). In Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott, eds., The Shorter New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford, 1993) 7.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John 1:14)

See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them. (Revelation 21:3)

There is a stump out back,
behind the Sunday School
by the Boy Scout shed.
A tree was cut down last spring,
rotten in the core of it,
so down it came – and now look!
Go look! New growth is springing up
like crazy, like weeds, all over the place.
You never know with life, with God.

There was an old country that had been around too long,
said some. It had the heart
rotted out of it, nothing left to say,
nothing left to give—haul it away!
But somehow a stump gave birth to something new.
And emerging from that old ruin came new growth.
Out of the stump of Jesse sprang
a branch, bearing fruit—

(As the prophet Isaiah says, in chapter 11, verse 1:
Then a shoot shall growth from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall bear fruit from his roots.)

The old tree was Israel and the stump its old ways
of doing things— so when the prophet came,
bearing news of new growth, it was good news.

And when the angel came to Mary
centuries later, and said,
Hello! Favored one of God,
something new is happening.
Can you bear it?
Can you bring forth— give birth to—
the Son of God?

God plans for you to do it,
to be the bearer of God,
of new Grace
shone upon the world.

It’s up to you— will you bear it?
Will you bring forth the good news?

Mary was incredulous.
How can this be? A son?!
I’m only 15 years old—
and not married yet.

Oh, Mary, said the Angel.
With God anything is possible.
Your cousin Elizabeth, like Hannah
who bore Samuel in her old age,
you own cousin Elizabeth is pregnant,
with a son to be borne 3 months from now.

She’s six months along!
And so— will You bear the Child,
the One who will redeem
his people? And she said Yes.

An impossible answer to an
impossible request. Yes.

To all that will be, Yes.

And that is how it began.

With that the angel went away—

With that, the angel went away, out of her sight;
her womb began to swell
through the power of the Holy Ghost.

In her Christ was straightway enclosed,
true God and true man in flesh and bone,
and of her flesh was born in due time,

whereby good hope came to us:
he redeemed us from pain  
and allowed himself to be slain for us.

This one, this child, was the eternal Word,
and in the flesh incarnate, come to dwell among us—
come to ‘pitch his tent’ with us—
to use the literal meaning of the word.

He came among us as of old
he walked alongside the caravans
of the people fleeing Egypt.
He walked among the trees of
the primordial Garden.
But here he is walking with us
as one of us! for the first time
taking on our poverty, setting his
wealth aside, not counting
his godhood a thing
to be grasped—

In this poor peasant girl
the richest of kings
God himself
found a home.

He’d promised he would
make a home for the
Son of David,
and establish his house forever,
his dominion,

But did he say he would
live in it himself?

Somehow now the Son of God
became Son of Man

and that is where our hope lives
as we live in him
and he in us

so that we too in turn are
becoming the home of Jesus.

Learn to welcome him
in the stranger;
to make him room,
and when we find him homeless,


even as we need to make home
for his kin— the poor ones of Haiti
lost homes in the earthquake—

in them we see the face of Jesus
— and the need for shelter.

So too through all the projects
of good work through World Concern
(thanks for all the fish!)
ERD and others,
we seek to serve Christ in all persons

as our Baptismal Vows call us to do—

we seek to see in the homeless
and the forgotten
the One who made his home with us
the One whom Mary made home for,
in her womb,


bearer of God,
she bore him
who welcomes us home
whenever we stray from God
calling us to find our home in him.

May we open our eyes to see him.
May we open our homes to welcome him.
May we open our minds to know him.

May we open our lives to bear him.
May we open our hearts to be his home:
Jesus, Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, December 16, 2011

read up! books on worship

The Bible (we read from the New Revised Standard Version Bible in worship)

The Book of Common Prayer (1549, 1552, 1559, ... 1979...)

Saliers, Don E. Worship Come to Its Senses. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996.

Galli, Mark. Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy. Paraclete Press, 2008.

Gray-Reeves, Mary, and Michael Perham. The Hospitality of God: Emerging Worship for a Missional Church. New York: Seabury Books, 2011.

Morris, Clayton L. Holy Hospitality: Worship and the Baptismal Covenant. New York: Church Publishing, 2005.

Pierson, Mark. The Art of Curating Worship: Reshaping the Role of Worship Leader. Minneapolis: sparkhouse press, 2010.

Baker, Jonny. Curating Worship. London: SPCK, 2010.

The Iona Community. Iona Abbey Worship Book. Glasgow: Wild Goose, 2001.

Gelpi, Donald L. Charism and Sacrament: A Theology of Christian Conversion. New York: Paulist Press, 1976.

Hatchett, Marion J. Commentary on the American Prayer Book. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1995.

Saliers, Don E. Worship and Theology: Foretaste of Glory Divine. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994.

Lathrop, Gordon W. Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

Plantinga, Cornelius, Jr., and Sue A. Rozeboom. Discerning the Spirits: A Guide to Thinking About Christian Worship Today.  Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003.

Van Dyk, Leanne, ed. A More Profound Alleluia: Theology and Worship in Harmony. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005.

Wren, Brian. Praying Twice: The Music and Words of Congregational Song. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000.

Wainwright, Geoffrey. Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine, and Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Start at the top! and work your way down through the list.

The top two books were recommended by the Rev. Janet Campbell, Canon for Liturgy, for our discussions at St. Alban's. Mark Pierson is a friend of Christine Sine and Mustard Seed Associates. The others include books by friends and teachers of my own, including Clayton L. Morris, Donald L. Gelpi, S.J., and Susan Marie Smith, and a gift from the people of St. John's, Lakeport, Calif. -Fr. J.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

good news for everybody

An image – an icon – of the Mother Mary and the Child Jesus – may seem simply art, displayed in a museum, floating in a strange context of white walls, spot lighting, hushed voices … and the occasional photographer’s snap. A lot more is going on, though – even in museums. For icons are images that function as windows to the sacred, entryways into the eternal. And so they depict figures and scenes most likely to help us move out of the time and space we currently occupy and deeper in and further on into the domain of God.

And yet these very windows turn us back – into the world where the eternal Word took on flesh and dwelled among us. And this is good news - the good news – the news that humanity and creation are so beloved by the Holy One that his only Son came to us in human form to bring us into full, right, and loving relationship with God. And Mary, blessed Mother, was there to receive him and give him birth, nurture him, and mourn him – and to greet him anew in resurrected Life.

Mary’s story begins with a visit from the angel – the messenger of God – who brings to this young woman unexpected news. Good news! Says the Angel. And as herald proclaims the arrival of a greater power than any imperial herald could ever announce.

You (who have never known a man) are to conceive and bear a son – and he will be named after Joshua, the deliverer of his people.  This child will be more than mortal witness can bear – for he will carry upon his back the burden of all our faults, our frailties, our betrayals, our false confidences, our little tricks and major crimes, our sins.

He will save us from the powers that be – great or small – that conceive of themselves as the rightful organizers and commanders of this world’s chaos. He will come to us, some day, in great power. But that will be the sequel. The victory is here: in the birth of a baby, the walk of a man among people of village and town, the teaching of a rabbi in Temple and synagogue, the stooped stumble of a condemned prisoner, the last breath given over to a prayer of forgiveness, and then – but that is another story of Mary.

Today, this month, this season of Christmas, from the Eve of pageant and carol, the quiet morning of the breaking-in of the New Day, through the days leading to the Epiphany of the magi and on to the presentation of our Lord in the Temple (Candlemas), we gather to celebrate the arrival of the great good news – God is with us.

Shepherds, marginal people, dwellers on the edge of society, are drawn into town. They are the ones who bring Mary the revelation of her child’s meaning and purpose. It is not an ordinary child: God is with us – incarnate in this infant boy. What tentative, quiet beginning is this, the Messiah arriving among us, swaddled and lain in a manger.

Later other ‘greater’ visitors will arrive – from beyond the borders of empire. They too will herald the mystery – and yet the mystery is right in front of us: a child.

So the good news is embodied and revealed: God is with us. God loves us - so much as to send his own Son. Not to take us out of the world to some fleshless place, some eternity of disembodied intellect. To take us where we are and bring us into his kingdom here and now. The new order of the ages now begins – and it begins with a child.

And this is Glory to God in the highest – and Peace on Earth.

It’s good news for everybody. God does bless us, every one. 

—Fr. John

Christmas 2011

Come join us at St. Alban’s in the celebrations of the season.

Christmas Eve 4:00 p.m., Family Eucharist – Children’s Pageant
Christmas Eve 10:00 p.m., Festive Eucharist – Lessons & Carols
Christmas Day 10:30 a.m., Carols & Communion

Sundays in January 2012 - 8:00 & 10:30 a.m., Holy Eucharist
Sunday, January 1 –The Feast of the Holy Name
Sunday, January 8 – Epiphany Sunday (The Visit of the Magi)
Sunday, January 29 – The Feast of the Presentation (Candlemas)

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and glorified to the ends of the earth. Amen.

St. Alban's Episcopal Church, 21405 - 82nd Place West, Edmonds, WA 98026 
Telephone: (425) 778-0371 Email: Website:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lift your heart and raise your voice - faithful people, come rejoice!

Lift your heart and raise your voice, faithful people, come rejoice:

When I was sweeping out the Gaithersburg Post Office in my first job after high school, I’d hear the letter carriers listening to oldies radio: “Do you remember when this song was a hit – in 1952?” (Well, no! Though it seems to me we’ve sung that song before.)

The church is full of discovery – of fresh expressions of faith, new opportunities for witness and service, and unexpected gifts of prayer and celebration, alongside well-worn ways of worship that reveal new dimensions every time we return to them. Together with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs beloved of old, we find new songs to sing to the Lord.

One of our discoveries in the weeks leading up to Christmas was a new contemporary worship songbook, “Sing Praise: Hymns and Songs for Refreshing Worship” published in London last fall by Hymns Ancient & Modern and the Royal School of Church Music. With that provenance, you’d expect it to have some tradition to it – and it does.

Sing Praise provides songs for all occasions of the church year, from Advent to All Saints - including Candlemas and Ascension as well as other major feasts and events of parish life. What is something of a surprise is that it includes many of the new worship songs we have sung in the past three years, by John L. Bell and Graham Maule from the Iona Community, Kathryn Galloway, Keith and Kristyn Getty, Michael Perry, Brian Wren, the Taizé Community, Bernadette Farrell, Christopher Idle, and Graham Kendrick, as well as others from the worldwide Anglican Communion and our sister churches.

Once and future hits include: “Lift your heart”, “Jesus, come! For we invite you”, “O Christ, the light who came to us on earth”, “Jesus is risen, Alleluia!” and “You are my salvation; I trust in you.”

The Vestry authorized purchase of these new songbooks with undesignated Memorial Funds. First, though, the singers and musicians will be trying them out. And the songs – many of which will resonate as familiar in message and music – will be printed in upcoming worship service bulletins. Then what we would like to do is invite people to make donations (Memorial if you like) to provide copies for everybody to use. We will all be singing from the same songbooks but the words and music will be modern. 

Would you like to come to a potluck and sing-along of Sing Praise songs? Stay tuned!

—Fr. John and the worship and music people

a new year's greeting

Open house on New Year’s Day is an old New-York custom. One New Year’s Day in Brooklyn, our fellow parishioners opened their homes to friends and neighbors. You came, greeted and were greeted, shared holiday cheer, and went on to the rest of your day – and year.

Open house during the holidays – giving and receiving visits and holiday greetings and good wishes for the New Year – is an older and wider custom. On the Sea Islands of the Carolinas, as I recall J. Herman Blake telling the story, people travel from house to house offering greetings and good wishes.

Wiser than simply sitting on the couch, listening to the forced-air heat, watching the football games and parades, and surfeiting on sliced ham, the custom of holiday open-house reminds us of the giving and receiving we do among each other in all the parts of our lives and all the days of the year.

And then we remember: all we have and all we give comes from God. As David prayed, “all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” (1 Chronicles 29:14b)

This New Year begins a little differently than most: the Feast of the Holy Name (January 1) falls on a Sunday and so takes precedence over the usual readings. We remember the giving of the name of Jesus to our Lord. It was a giving to him – and a gift to us – for what it means is: God saves! The meaning of the holy Child’s birth, and his purpose in life, is announced in his very name.

Joshua, the Hebrew form of the name, gives us a hint and an expectation. God delivers! This is the one who will deliver his people. But of course the Savior who arrives is not always the Savior we expect. He has come to deliver his people not merely from human oppressors but from their sins. The good news is that he does – and that we are included among his people.

Jesus leads us, his people, into a new reign of freedom. In his name we move forward into a New Year, rejoicing in God’s grace and goodness, bestowed on us in the darkest nights of the year, and renewed on the brightest of days.

God – through Jesus – does more than save us from – he welcomes us to: he not only gets us out of the traps of our own old ways of doing things, he invites us into a new way of life, a new community, a new family of humankind, where all are welcome at his Table.

So holy hospitality – radical welcome – is in the Church’s DNA. When we extend a welcome to others – when we share the hospitality of the holy table – when we greet the friend and the sojourner among us – and when we seek out and invite others to share in the hospitality of our fellowship – we are following an old custom, not merely of the New Year, but of the New Testament.

Let’s rejoice! And be of good cheer. In this New Year, let’s extend a welcome to all in the name of Jesus.—Fr. J.


For the Gospel Grapevine, parish newsletter of Saint Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Washington (January 2012).


Sunday, December 11, 2011

the hope of ages

Yesterday morning in Yakima it looked like Narnia – when it was always winter but never Christmas, in C. S. Lewis’ children’s story, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Frost hung in all the trees, gathered there overnight from the frosty breath of the sky, as the cold ground fog crystallized into wintry shapes along all the twigs and branches. Among them were some frost-gilt leaves left from last summer, hanging like Christmas ornaments among the snowy branches.

As I walked along under mighty oaks I found a handful of acorns. Squirrel munchies – or a future forest? And on the branches of some of the trees you could see the buds already in place, sheltering within them the start of fresh new leaves awaiting next Spring’s word: Arise! Shine! For your light has come.

Winter looks like the end - and it is the end of the old year – but it is also, underneath, the beginning of new life. The buds of next year’s green growth, already forming, are a promise of something new growing even as the old passes away.

This is what John proclaims – as the harvest came into abundance so he reaped a ‘crop’ of souls as he baptized them in the Jordan, proclaiming repentance for forgiveness of sin.

He was the greatest and the last of the prophets of the Old Covenant, the old way of God and humankind in relation to each other. He was the culmination and fulfillment of a long line. At the Jordan – in camels’ hair – he called to mind all the old prophets of Israel. And yet he did not hold himself highly: he humbly pointed beyond himself and ahead.

You have been asking the wrong question, he said, for the question to ask me is not “Who are you?” Ask rather “Who is coming?”

There is one standing among you whose sandal-string I am not worthy to untie.

Something new and wonderful is coming into being – borne into life by Mary, nurtured by Joseph, anointed by the Holy Spirit – the fulfillment of hope of ages is upon us.

The day of the Lord is coming – the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

What is old is passing away; something new is come.

And so it is with the church year. We are in the top of a season, the end of a cycle. One year is passing away. Our season of Advent looks back, and it looks forward too. Advent began with psalms of abject penitence then awakening hope and gradually moving toward the realization that a new source of joy is just about to spring into being.

And so it is with the life of the church. Every year, every season of the life of a church, includes an ending and a beginning. And in between we often find a muddle! This is how our own lives can be as well. As we progress through phases of life and growth in Christ we confront new issues and leave old ones behind, leaving them to God to integrate into a new season’s paradigm of meaning and purpose.

A church begins and grows, reaches maturity, and takes a characteristic shape of its own, and then, begins – quite often, not inevitably – a gradual decline or slump. There may be reforms or redevelopment efforts that take the church back to a state of new growth.

Unarrested decline can continue and the congregation may find its old form disappearing altogether. At that stage what happens is – the nurturing of new growth, the beginning of hope in a new form. The old way of being, the old way of doing things, no longer lives; but the word of God abides forever. It finds fresh expression. What was once the main growth may begin to function like a nurse log in the rain forest; providing the foundation, the host, and the nutrition for the beginning of new life. Or the old can become a ‘nesting congregation’ – home to some new entity getting ready to strike out on its own. Or what was is transformed in the mysterious work of the Spirit into a new way of being itself.

And so we find ourselves in a state of transition. Gradually what we have known is transformed – and we find ourselves in a renewed and hopeful new phase of life.

For God is steadfast; his loyalty is a rock; his faithfulness is forever. He knows the plans he has for us, plans for our welfare and not for harm, to provide for us a future with hope.

This is his Church. It is the house of God. We live in it; we care for it; we celebrate in it. We welcome others into it – and bring them with us deeper in and further on in the life of faith. From it we go forth to love and serve the Lord. And at the last we pass along what we have received, that others may take up the tasks and receive the joys of his Kingdom.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, 28)


For the Episcopal Church of Saint Alban, Edmonds, Washington.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Jerusalem we must build

Writing about the Old Testament lesson for next Sunday, Herbert O’Driscoll wrote: “What does need to be said again and again is that God is with us whatever the situation. We possess everything that any former age possessed. We possess the word of God, the sacramental food and drink of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit of God, and the presence of the risen Christ. The Jerusalem we must build will not be the same as the Jerusalem we remember, but the point is that we should build it.”— The Word Today, Year B, Vol. 1 (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 2001) 19.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Leave the Cake, Take the Tamales

Candlemas, if you look it up, has lots of traditions and celebrations tied to it. For one, if you got the prize in the Epiphany cake, you get to bring the tamales and chili to the feast on Candlemas (Candelaria). Another custom is to take down the last of the Christmas holiday decorations the night before. And the last of the Christmas revels cease. It's a quarter of the way to summer already. But it all comes back to Jesus. Our Lord, presented in the Temple by Mary and Joseph, is greeted by the prophet Anna and the righteous, devout Simeon. At last! At last! they say. The light that lightens all the world is come among us at last. Now I can rest my soul and go in peace. And so Candlemas, the feast of the blessing of the lights, is the feast of the Presentation, a major feast, a feast of our Lord. It is more than the end. It is the last feast of the great season begun the first Sunday of Advent, with its highest feast the Nativity of our Lord (Christmas). It is more than the end; it is a turning point. It is the beginning of something new, the beginnings of the dawning in our minds and hearts and lives in, yes, ordinary time, of just what that great season means: the light has come and lives among us. It is the light of all. Hallelujah! Now we go forth into the world, sent forward with the light shining before us on our path. Illumine our way, O Lord: may your Word be a lamp to our feet and light on the way. Amen.

We celebrate the feast of the Presentation, Candlemas, this year (with the bishop's permission) on the last Sunday in January.


For St Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Washington.

Fr. J.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Getting Ready for the Baby

This is the season of Advent – a season of joyful preparation and solemn anticipation. We know that the Child will come – but the season begins with portents of the end of time.

We know that at the end of all things, when the constructions of the last empire are down for good and all creation groans for redemption, our savior comes. He comes to judge and he comes to redeem.

He comes, not on our timetable, not when or where we want him to come, nor how. He does not come riding to our rescue in the last reel of the movie. Much as we want him to.

He comes to us, first, not in power and might, but in mystery and quiet.

He comes to us, he is already here.

Here, in our hearts – if we follow the one true God, adoring and worshipping him who created all things.

Here, in our hearts – if we ask him to come.

If we are ready.

On my mother’s kitchen bulletin board is a snapshot of a mother with three children, one standing and looking toward the camera, one squirming out of her lap, and another holding in his hand a cowboy hat on top of a stick. Why?

Because this is to be a photograph of my mother with all her children – and the one with the hat knows a fourth child is coming. So he represents the fourth child with a cowboy hat. He does not know much else about the coming child – he just knows that the child is coming and that the family is getting ready for the baby.

The family with the snapshot (you can see Dad’s shadow from behind the camera) knows they want their new member to be safe, and they want to get the stuff together they will need to welcome the baby. They are getting excited.

Maybe they will paint the baby’s room – not sure whether to paint it pink or blue they might paint it yellow or green. They are going to be getting gifts – things they will need to take care of the baby, things that will be fun or silly, toys for the baby to play with, or objects that it will admire.

They will want to nurture the baby. And they will be thinking about names.

Mary and Joseph had a slightly different situation. They knew some things about the baby that was on the way. In fact, a lot, if they had been reading the Hebrew Scriptures.

They had already received a suggestion of what to name the baby – Emmanuel, “God with us.” They probably counted on a boy. They certainly wondered if the baby would be safe. And if they had any ambitions about painting the baby’s room first they would need to know where that room would be.

They were soon to be amazed with an array of gifts. Gifts were coming that would tell them a lot about their baby – or confirm for them what they already suspected.

Strangers would deliver the gifts they were going to receive: first came shepherds and angels, and then Magi, wise people from the East who had “seen his star.” (Other visitors would come but they would come too late – and miss the baby.)

This baby was bound to cause excitement. All babies do. And each baby is special. This one had some extra excitement to generate.

The wise people came to adore him. They greeted him as King of the Jews.

Nobody else would call him that for a long time. And when anybody did again, it would be – a sign that he was not safe, and confirmation that his name really mattered and that he really was King.

But for now – there is a baby on the way.

A baby – not very royal looking at all. A baby – defenseless, quiet or crying, in need of nurture and safety and warmth, and in need of love.

A baby – in whom the hopes of all humanity are raised.

A baby…

The One who will come in power, the one who will bring with him the consummation of time – the Alpha and the Omega – first comes to us like this.

He comes to us, quiet, mysterious, in longing for us just as we are longing for him.

How shall we get ready for the baby?

+ for broadcast the first Sunday in Advent 2011


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Where have you seen the King?

Where have you seen the King?

Where have you seen the King this week?

How did you recognize him? How did you expect to find him?

Did you see him in royal robes, riding on a chariot of clouds, heralded by angels?

Did you see him down and out, hungry, thirsty, naked or ill-clothed, sick, or in prison?

How did you greet him? Like any other person? Is that good or bad?

Did you greet him when you greeted the stranger, the lonely, the forgotten, the ill-favored?

Did you greet him when you greeted your mother, your brother, your sister, your least-favorite aunt or cousin?

Did you greet him at the bank or the bar? Was he the barista or the cashier?

How did you treat him?

We do not expect this Jesus. We do not expect the Messiah to appear to us like this. We expect something a little more… royal.

And yet we are told, in this vision of the Apocalypse, of the consummation of time, that this is what a king looks like – this is what the King looks like.

He looks like us.

He looks like us because in him God became one of us. The eternal Word took on human flesh and became a man.

He walked among us, he laughed and suffered, he spoke Greek or Aramaic or Hebrew, he listened to the wise old men by the village well. He helped his father in the shop. When he was young he drew water for the kitchen. He went on a journey. His cousin John baptized him – and then he went into the desert wilderness.

And then he gathered some friends together and he went on a longer journey, a harder journey. At first they seemed just to be wandering around Galilee and the country east of the Jordan, causing trouble for local officials and pig keepers, drinking at a wedding feast, telling some stories. And then it changed.

If you want to follow me, you must take up your cross. You must come with me to Jerusalem. To the great festival of Passover. But I myself will be the Lamb. I will be the offering. And sins will be forgiven.

The people will be released – they will be free to love God. Because they will know God has been willing to pay the price, to bring them home to him.

I will be treated like the least of God’s creatures. I will be hungry, and thirsty, and naked, and sick, and in prison. I will be tortured. I will be crucified.

It is the way of Glory.

Mockingly they will hail me, “King of the Jews.” And they will be right.

I will be their King and they will be my people.

I will be their shepherd and they will be the sheep of my hand, my own people.

I will gather them to me. And at the last day, I will bring them home.

Knowing now that you did - that as you treated the least of his children you were treating him the same - are you glad?

Will you be looking at people differently this week?

When Jesus comes, we say, when the Messiah comes, everything will be different.

He will change things. He will make them new.

Or: He will restore Israel. He will make all things well again.

Won't he?

That is what the Messiah is expected to do - that is what he is expected for - to set things right, to make them the way they should be, or were... or we wish they were.

We cannot have back what we used to have. We cannot have Eden before the Fall, Israel before the Exile, Jerusalem before the Temple came down.......

The Messiah - isn't he the One who would rebuild the Temple?

But Jesus did not do any of those things.

He did not come in power on clouds of glory, electrifying might blasting from his fingertips. He did not come and sweep Caesar aside. He did not cleanse the Temple as the Maccabees did; he -

He called for something more. He called for us to prepare our hearts - to make him room. He called for us to pray Messiah down - right into our own lives. He asked us to transform our lives, from the inside out. The domain of God begins -

The reign of God starts - not with a great military victory but with a change in the human heart. "Change your minds", Jesus said - change the way you think and act and move. Change your way of being in the world.

Then we can talk about the consequences.

What we do now - we cannot hide it - is our preparation for the victory of our God. How we act now - we cannot avoid it - is our proclamation of the reign of God.

We could dress up and show off like some of the people Jesus denounced. We could go through the motions. We could look pious, or righteous, or holy. But who cares? Too many could see through us.

What you cannot fake is this: to treat your neighbor as you would yourself - or God.

Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your neighbor, Jesus says, as if it were me.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength, and love God through your neighbor.

That will be the beginning of the kingdom of heaven, right there in your life and mine.

God the Father,
help us to hear the call of Christ the King
and to follow in his service,
whose kingdom has no end;
for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, one glory.


Notes for sermon given on the feast of Christ the King, St Alban's Church, Edmonds WA.

In addition to the Sources & Resources Year B (listed in a separate post) there are two unexpected influences on this sermon:

John Fisher, "Have you seen Jesus my Lord?" song (1970)

God-sighting testimonials - from Bill Talen (


Sunday, November 6, 2011

All Saints Sunday 2011

When I think nowadays of what I am thankful for it turns into a list of saints – living ones included. Saints include people around us who draw us deeper into holiness ourselves, even as they themselves appear as a kind of sign or symbol of God’s presence in the world. Saints – believers – are sanctified people – people set apart for a holy purpose.

Some of them would gladly tell you that they do not deserve the label of “holy person.”

They might say, “Oh, yes! Make me a saint – but not yet.”

Or they might say, “I just don’t deserve this” – meaning they don’t deserve to be put through the training program they figure sainthood would imply. It is too hard, they would say, for human beings to bear.

Nevertheless I find myself making a list of unknowing saints. These are people in whom God is at work for visible or invisible holiness to take place.

As Jesus began to teach on the mountain, he enumerated for his disciples some of the kinds of people whom God makes saints – whom God blesses. They are people like the Psalmist knew – the humble and meek, who are called to rejoice; the afflicted – who will be heard and are vindicated; the hungry or thirsty or poor – who will receive fullness.

The Lord is their Shepherd; they shall lack nothing.

Those who trust in him – those who believe in him with their whole hearts – will not be punished, but saved.

To whom does salvation belong? From whom does it come?

Salvation, the multitude cries, belongs to our God who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb, to the One who judge, the One who redeems.

Those who have suffered hunger or thirst, sunstroke or heatstroke, they will be guided by the good shepherd to a place of wellbeing and comfort.

So saints are those whom God redeems. Sanctity is not a reward for meritorious service. God saves: the saints are justified by faith not by works. There is no boasting save in the Cross of Christ, the paradoxical victory that looks so like defeat – that pulls us beyond the end of the world, beyond death itself, onto new and holy ground. Holy ground – where we already stand, if we only knew…

We are God’s children, now – already – and we have hope in him, the One who will be revealed to all as God’s son and our Lord.

This is the vision of Revelation.

Sometimes seekers of holiness have their own great cloud of witnesses about them – assembled as friends of the heart or companions on the way.

When I would go visit a professor of mine in college, Donald Nicholl, I could see that in his office he had assembled around his desk photographs and portraits of “friends” – as he called them – people whom he wanted around him as witnesses or encouragers. And decades later his widow Dorothy showed me the room where he spent his last days, still surrounded by a cloud of witnesses as he laid on his daybed and composed himself for eternity. Dorothy kept her own cloud of witnesses about her into her final years.

The “saints” on their walls might be different from yours or mine. Some were familiar faces, some were notable people they introduced me to, and some were unknown. All bore witness to the reality of God and of our presence in God, and God’s presence in us.

They became as windows or lights, letting some of the eternal brightness shine into our lives, and our worlds. They do not have to be famous or extraordinary to give us a vision of effulgence – the brilliant radiance of the people of God. In fact it may help some time if they are not, if they are just regular people.

One day in 1959 a monk was waiting for a ride home to the monastery. He had been to the dentist. He was standing on a downtown corner in Louisville, Kentucky.

And this is what he wrote, in his book, "Conjectures of A Guilty Bystander":

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream ...

This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. And I suppose my happiness could have taken form in the words: “Thank God, thank God that I am like other men, that I am only a man among others.”

It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake.

I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed… I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift.

The monk, Thomas Merton, was seeing his fellow human beings “in aspiration” as Donald Nicholl would put it – he was seeing them “in the Spirit” as they were made to be, as they were called to become – as people who could blossom into the fullness of life as God intended them to experience it.

Robert Ellsberg makes this point in his essay on the feast of All Saints, in his book of the same name:

Since the early centuries of the church the liturgical calendar has reserved one day to honor, collectively, all the saints, both those officially recognized and those known only to God. Thus we are reminded that the true company of saints is far more numerous than the list of those who have been formally canonized. There are many anonymous saints who nevertheless form part of the great “cloud of witnesses,” surrounding us with their faith and courage and so participating in the communion between the living and the dead.

This collective feast, All Saints, is also an occasion to acknowledge the varieties of holiness. Though they share a certain family resemblance, the saints are not formed in any particular mold. Some are renowned for contemplation and others for action; some played a public role while others spent their lives in quiet obscurity. Some demonstrated the vitality of ancient traditions while others were pioneers, charting new possibilities in the spiritual life. Some received recognition and honor within their lifetimes, while others were scorned or even persecuted.

The feast of All Saints does not honor a company of “immortals,” far removed from the realm of ordinary human existence. The saints were not “super” human beings but those who realized the vocation for which all human beings were created and to which we are ultimately called. No one is called to be another St. Francis or St. Teresa. But there is a path to holiness that lies within our individual circumstances, that engages our own talents and temperaments, that contends with our own strengths and weaknesses, that responds to the needs of our own neighbors and our particular moment in history. The feast of All Saints strengthens and encourages us to create that path by walking it.

We are called – all of us – into the fullness of the joy of being God’s children, of being set apart for a holy purpose: to become what we are called to be, to become saints. And so,

“There is only one sorrow – not to be a saint.”—Léon Bloy

And in the end there is one joy, to be shared by all: to greet one another, in the Spirit, as the people God has created and called us to be, as his own beloved children, as Saints.

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- -- -- --

Ellsberg, Robert, "All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time," New York: Crossroad, 1997, 475-476.

Merton, Thomas, "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander" (1966).

From the Shorter OED:

fullness: 1. The condition of containing something in abundance. b. In biblical language, all that is contained in the world. [J Wesley: The Earth and all her Fullness owns Jehovah for her sovereign Lord!] c. Abundance, plenty. 2. Completeness, perfection. [G. Priestland: Christianity … hasn’t yet been tried … What right have we to expect its fullness in our time?]

in the fullness of time – at the destined time; eventually.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Are all saints scary?

On the eve of All Saints you might well ask, are all saints scary?

Saints certainly are full of awe – and many of them are full of flaws – but are they scary?

What might make us frightened of saints is not Halloween terrors but something more challenging. They remind us of something beyond fear, even beyond death. They remind us of God’s awesome might and absolute holiness. It is enough, if you think about it, to bring you to your knees. And it is enough to bring you to your feet. In darkest night, in coldest dawning, in brightest day, saints remain witness that love is stronger than death. Hope and faith and love, these three abide; and it is saints who testify to that truth.

Could we be saints?

Do we think of ourselves as saints or sinners? For surely, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) but is that the final answer?

We “are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Roman 3:24). But do we think of ourselves that way? When the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome he did not greet them as sinners. He addressed them as “God’s beloved … who are called to be saints”. And he said, “Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:7) That’s more like it. But wait.

Did you see that? He said, “…who are called to be saints!” What are we getting into?

Who can possibly be a saint?

Nobody – and everyone.

Who are saints?

They are people called by God. The Torah, the Law of Moses, says: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2) Is that even possible?

Paul also calls the church the people "who are sanctified (made holy) in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, ... who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 1:2) Becoming holy is not our doing – it is God who gives the gift of grace.

What is a saint like?

Saints are people full of joy – through darkness and light they live under the mercy of God. “Their delight is in the law of the Lord and they meditate on his law day and night. They are like trees planted by the water that will bring forth their fruit in due season.” (Psalm 1:2-3)

What do they do?

Saints are people who show their faith in their lives. They are messengers of the good news, “approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel,” not to please other people or show off, but to please God who knows our hearts. (1 Thessalonians 1:1)

God calls for his people to be impartial and just in judgment, to speak healing words, and not to trade in rumors or speak ill of others. Saints do not hoard hatred in their hearts; they do not bear grudges or take comfort in revenge. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19: 18)

Saints are people who are given a gift – the gift of the joy of knowing God’s grace – and a task: to share the good news of God with the people around them and to take delight in the sharing. To show, in word and deed, here and now, in the place and at the time God has given us, the love and mercy and grace and peace that we know as God’s beloved.

Saints are people – well, as the song says, “just like you and me.”

Maybe it is a foolish thing to do, to try to be a saint; but to accept as a gift God’s love and mercy – that makes total sense. We are God’s beloved people, who are called to be saints.

Almighty God, you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses: Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their testimony to your power and mercy. Make us your holy people, called according to your purpose. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with us all. Amen.

For the Gospel Grapevine, parish newsletter of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, November 2011.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

the greatest among you

AProper26 2011
Pentecost XX

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Micah 3:5-12

Micah denounces rofessional prophets that tell people who pay them what they want to hear. They shall find themselves to be without vision, without revelation: with no answer from God. Micah himself, on the other hand, is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, the Ruach, the breath of God, and with justice and might: and he is empowered for a purpose – to declare to Israel its sin, its injustice, its inequity. Judges, priests, and prophets are on the take. And so the city shall fall: a ruined house, a desolate ruin, and a wilderness. And so it was – and the people were carried into Exile.

Psalms 42-43

These two psalms together form a three-part lament with refrain, lamenting the past, bewailing persecution in the present, and then – in the midst of the pain – looking toward a future with hope.

“Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me,” the Psalmist pleas. “Bring me to your holy hill” – to that Zion which will be – and to your dwelling and your altar – and I will give thanks to the God of joy and gladness.

The day will come when God will send his savior to his people.

The day will come when they repent and return to the way of truth, the way of righteous behavior, of justice and mercy and peace, the way of the Lord.

Matthew 23:1-12

The prophets in the OT passage, denounced by Micah, were on the take. They did not even say what God was doing; they just told the people – the people who paid them – what they wanted to hear. Jesus is up against something closer to home. The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat – that is, they teach with institutional official authority – and their words are not wrong. Their deeds are. What they say is fine and good and right; what they do is not. They lay burdens on others that they will not bear themselves – they are hypocrites, two-faced. They display their religiosity publicly – making themselves look good in the eyes of the crowd. Sure they wear the phylacteries and the tassels of those seeking holiness; but they just want the look. So their reward is sure; it is on earth. That’s it. They love showing off. But we should not despise them; we should not envy them; we should learn from them. We know better.

We know better also than to seek the titles of teachers of the Law, for we have one teacher – Jesus, we have one father – the one in heaven, and we have one instructor – the Messiah.

Teaching authority – any kind of personal power – comes from God. And Jesus says it – all he has comes from the Father.

The greatest among us, it is he: he who could claim the Name above all Names. And he has come before us as a servant.

Flattery and hierarchical thinking and hypocrisy and ostentatious display, self-exaltation and seeking after titles, will not get us there.

We are already there.

Through the work of Christ God has redeemed us – and God has called us to be his people.

There is no higher title than this: we are children of God, his Beloved ones.

We should therefore be humble. Let us honor each other with all due humility – because we are all equal before God.

Let us be obedient to the word of the Lord. God has called us according to his purpose – to be his servants in the world, bringing his message of salvation to the world. The Reign of God is coming into being, and we are called to belong to it.

This good news is an achievement of parity, is it not? But it is not a leveling – it is not a cutting down to size, not a belittling of others. It is a building up – a bringing up to full stature in the knowledge of the glory of Christ. We can claim true self- esteem; we are God’s children. Does not that make us special?

Yes. It does not make us unique, or better. It is humbling.

We are ones that know the truth – that God made us, all of us, and we need him – not only as creator, but also as redeemer.

We are called to be holy but we can do nothing without the Spirit. With the Spirit, in the Spirit, walking in the way of God, that is a different matter.

It is different from the way we would walk to look good in the eyes of the world. “The greatest among you will be your servant.”

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

What does it look like to be a servant? Paul writing to the church of the Thessalonians gives us an idea of what it means.

First he greets them: Grace to you and peace. That is the context. And then – in today’s lesson – he goes on to talk about what he has done to come among them as servant and as messenger of the Gospel. He worked day and night, as he proclaimed the good news of God. His conduct was pure, upright, and blameless. – Do you see the contrast to the people Jesus denounced, with their place seeking and their love of show? - And like a father, loving his children, he urged and encouraged and offered witness to them. – What a contrast to the prophets-for-pay that Micah denounced! – He gives thanks that they have taken in to their hearts the Word of God, and that it is at work in them.

He urges them to lead a life worthy of God and of his Calling: to live, to walk in the way of the Lord, to take on the identity of God’s beloved children; to begin to know themselves and conduct themselves as people called into God’s kingdom and glory.

There is no higher calling than this.

There is no greater glory - that does not belong to Jesus Christ himself or his heavenly Father. And indeed, our calling is to glorify God and to bring to being in this world his Kingdom.

How do we go about that? How do we go about being his servants, his messenger people, here and now where we are?

We know that God is at work; God is at work in this place and time. The question is: How will we be part of that joyous kingdom building? How do we get with the program? How do we bring good news?

Look about you – at this place, at these people around you; look beyond the doors of this building, into the neighborhood. How can we the people of God be of service to them? Look even farther – how can we bring the Good News of God’s love to the city, the country, and the world?

This is what we are called to be and to do as God’s people. Anything less is falling short of our high and holy calling.

Outreach must be both personal and corporate, both giving and doing. We become corporate leaders of our community as we engage in acts of service for them, to them, and with them. Corporate doing – not just market survey – as well as focused giving in relationship with those we wish to serve, will reach those we wish to invite into partnership or common ministry, into fellowship, and into the celebration of the Kingdom.

And as individuals, working in the world as transforming agents of Christ, in how we live, in doing our ordinary work as work done for the Lord, in our interacting with others, we become witnesses to the truth of God’s love.

Shall we begin here and now, by being transformed in the renewal of our minds, in the refreshment of our souls, in the good news taken in as our daily bread? Let us claim the identity of servants of Jesus Christ for ourselves, to affirm that through our Baptism and renewed in the Eucharist, we are One in the Spirit; we are One in Christ. We are God’s Beloved, and we have Good News to share with the world! Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.



For St Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, WA
October 30, 2011.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

thin places

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.

This place, where you and I are now, can be a thin place – a place of God’s abiding.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Celtic Spirituality reading list

Some possible choices for background reading.

Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (Doubleday, 1995)

A very good read – gives you a good idea of early Christian Irish culture.

Edward C. Sellner, The Wisdom of the Celtic Saints (Bog Walk Press, 2006)

Its introduction (about forty pages) is the best way of getting aboard Celtic Christianity in a very short time.

Esther de Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination (Doubleday, 1997)

This book takes you into the spirituality of the Celtic centuries.

Daniel Taylor, In Search of Sacred Places: Looking for Wisdom on Celtic Holy Islands (Bog Walk Press, 2005)

A humorous and self-deprecating introduction to the way of pilgrimage.

Oliver Davies, ed., Celtic Spirituality (Paulist Press, 1995)

Compendium of the classic sources of early Celtic Christian spirituality.

David Adam, The Rhythm of Life: Celtic Daily Prayer (SPCK, 2007)

Prayer is what it is all about.

Comments by Herbert O’Driscoll, Marcus Losack, and John Leech. 2011 10/26

For St Andrew's, Tacoma, celtic fair 30 october 2011.


Sunday, October 16, 2011


Whose image is this (coin)? And whose image is this (person holding coin)?

And this? And this? And this? (Other people in the gathering)

And whose image is on all the people of Earth?

So we give to God what is God’s – ourselves.

And we respect the image of God in one another, remembering that
in the beginning God made human beings in the image of God (Gen 1.26f),
in his own image, his own likeness,
male and female he created them.

So we see to respond reverently,
with respect for dignity and
with charity for the needs, of others,
for in doing so we offer thanks –
a gift of gratitude –
to the Original in whose image
they are made:
the true living God
who created all of us.

God’s glory is revealed among the nations, all the peoples of the earth,
in Christ who becomes present to us as we the body of Christ
go to work
in the world,
acting in concert with his works of mercy.

God has chosen us and called us to be his saints –
imitators of the Lord and examples to all the believers –
like the people of Thessalonica,
who turned from false images of God,
we turn from our own false idols
to serve the living and true God,
and our hope is in his son Jesus Christ.

This is what it takes to declare God’s glory among the nations
and his wonders among the peoples:
to go out and share your faith,
not resting on past achievements –
or simply maintaining what we have received;
not hoarding it like a pile of old coins –
but building up the kingdom.

The kingdom of heaven,
the reign of God,
the promise of peace,
begins to come into being,
as we ourselves live and work
and act as its people.

As citizens of God’s kingdom,
we are sanctified – set apart for a holy purpose –
as God’s beloved people,
who are called to be saints.

We are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world.

As we take in the Bread of the Table,
the Bread from Heaven,
it transforms us,
and we become Bread for the World.

So we take in the holy Bread and wine,
of the Sacrament of the Table,
not for our nourishment alone,
but as visible images of the living God,
representatives of the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus,
and in the Spirit, witnesses to his Truth,
the truth that in all things God’s mercy
can be active, God’s compassion at work.

We witness to the truth that through all things Christ’s light can shine, and that
in Christ God’s glory is revealed to all.

Be witness, then, by word and deed,
by your gifts of gratitude and works of charity,
by your everyday labor and extraordinary kindnesses,
as witnesses to the truth,
and the grace and mercy and peace of God be with you all,
that you, who are called to be saints,
may be made holy people, made in the image of the living and true God.


Today is World Food Day, and Bread for the World Sunday. This is the second year we have taken up a collection for Bread for the World. You may know about its founder, Art Simon, or a local member of its board, Rick Steves (who mentions it on channel 9).

Art Simon began Bread for the World when he was pastor of a church that served a poor neighborhood in New York City on the lower East Side of Manhattan. His parish had a soup kitchen and a food bank and a clothes closet, and they were doing good work together in those ministries. But then they looked up and thought, what causes this? Are there public policies that affect this problem? Could they be improved? And as citizens they began to speak up on behalf of the poor, the hungry, and those in need – the people that Jesus particularly reached out to in his ministry along the roads of Galilee and in the streets of Jerusalem.

And they found that indeed, they had a voice, and could make it heart. Government responded and began to adopt policies that attack at the root the causes of poverty and hunger. This is an ongoing work. It is not over, not by any means. Just how government can help (or at first, do no harm) is sometimes debated – but some things are clear. Bread for the World does its homework, so that as policy is made, citizens are heard – Christian citizens speaking up with no partisan agenda. This is one way we can be Bread for the World – taking our faith actively into action in word, deed, and gift – to God’s glory.

As we look about us, we see God’s image in each other. As we look across the world, we see God’s image in complete strangers, far away. And yet they are, like us, God’s beloved children.

We are in the midst of a season of gratitude, of giving, of thanksgiving. We reflect upon the abundance of the grace of God, and the providence of his blessing.

May God who gives grace to us,
give us grace to give others;
may God who is merciful to us, and kind,
bring kindness and generosity into our lives,
that we may share the abundant love
of Christ with those around us.

May we, seeking to do your will,
find it in serving you; in seeking
you to serve you; & find you in the
face of others, friend and stranger.

May we, serving you in
others, find ourselves at home; and
find our home in you.



Bread for the World, by Arthur Simon (New York: Paulist Press, 1975)

Grace at the Table: Ending Hunger in God’s World, by David Beckmann & Arthur Simon (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1999)

Rediscovering the Lord’s Prayer, by Art Simon (Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 2005)

The Rising of Bread for the World: An Outcry of Citizens Against Hunger, by Arthur Simon (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2009)

Some years ago on the Lower East Side of Manhattan a congregation got involved in helping its hungrier neighbors. At first they offered direct assistance: food bank, soup kitchen. But after awhile they came to realize that that was not enough. They needed to get to the root of the problem – of why people were going hungry in the first place. And so they began to look into government policies and how they affected the availability of food that people could afford. They found that government had a lot to do with it – and some times policies were not working toward the goal. But they found that they could speak up on behalf of the poor. They could make a difference. They could influence public policy so that it worked to the benefit of hungry people, people who needed good food. And so they began what became Bread for the World.

Bread for the World is an advocacy group, an organized effort by Christian people to influence public policy on behalf of the poor and hungry, in this country and around the globe. By working with the people who make decisions on public policy, and by helping citizens to have their voices heard, they have a solid record of achievement. Over the years they have helped bring forward legislation and funding that help toward the goal of putting hunger behind us.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

To the Table Everyone!

What wonderful images of the kingdom of heaven the Scriptures give us today.

In the book of the prophet Isaiah we receive the gift of the vision of the ultimate banquet. There is a table spread before all peoples, as at the end of time. The people gather. God provides a rich abundance of food and drink.

The food is rich; the wine is clear and well aged.

What is more: the people are free of fear. God has vanquished the ruthless. God destroys death forever. No one need ever again live in fear.

And all are welcome at the table of the Lord.

It is a picture of Paradise; it is a picture of the kingdom of heaven; it is a picture of the world in peace.

War will be no more; not simply because hostilities have ceased; this is not a mere truce.

It is a picture of peace that is more than the absence of evident conflict. It is a positive peace, a peace of justice and reconciliation.

There is no war and no fear and no hunger. God reigns and the people rejoice.

We know this prophecy from many funerals; we may also know it from weddings or baptisms or any kind of celebration of the resurrection. It is a vision of life in God, rightly lived, and brought to fulfillment.

The visions of peace and paradise, of God protecting, providing, and guiding, continue in the responsorial psalm. It is psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord is my king, my provider, my protector, my leader and my guide. The Lord is the host at the banquet table. He provides my needs.

God loves me. God gives me peace. The abundant mercy and grace of God overflow like wine from a cup, like cool water over the brim of a spring. His generosity and his goodness will pursue me forever.

That is the feast we are welcomed to – today. That is the feast we celebrate.

At the Lord’s Table we will celebrate together the feast of Thanks Giving – the Eucharist.

It is the feast that everybody is called to. Not just us; everybody. All the people around us, on the highways of our county and the back streets of our towns, are welcome – they are invited – to come in and join us at the Table.

We open our doors.

But the gospel of Matthew gives us pause. It is not open season on the bar.

It is not all-you-can-eat night at the sushi place.

God is Judge as well as provider. Many are called but few are chosen.

You need to dress appropriately if you are going to attend the feast.

Or better not to come.

You need to be ready.

So – how do we dress for this banquet? How do we prepare for this feast?

Paul gives us the answer, in his letters to young churches, to the saints at Philippi – as we heard today – and in his letter to God’s people at Colossae.

Put on Christ. Put on the mind of Christ.

Put on, then, garments that suit God’s chosen and beloved people:

• compassion,
• kindness,
• humility,
• gentleness,
• patience.

How should we act, as guest at this banquet? How should we act, now, to get into the swing of things?

• Be tolerant with one another and forgiving, if any of you have cause for complaint: you must forgive as the Lord forgave you.

• Finally, to bind everything together and complete the whole, there must be love.

• Let Christ’s peace be arbiter in your decisions, the peace to which you were called as members of a single body – the body of Christ.

• Always be thankful.

• Let the gospel of Christ dwell among you in all its richness; teach and instruct one another with all the wisdom that good news gives to you.

• With psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, sing from the heart in gratitude to God.

• Let every word and action, every thing you do, be in the name of the Lord Jesus, and give thanks through him to God the Father.

Put on Christ.

Allow your selves to be made over into the image of the living God, the loving God.

Love reveals its face – in the face of Christ.

Let us become that face to our people and to our community.

How do we do that?

We begin by – positive things. We begin by focusing our minds on the good news of God, that we might become that good news to the people around us.

We allow our minds to dwell on these things:

• whatever is true,
• whatever is honorable,
• whatever is just,
• whatever is pure,
• whatever is pleasing,
• whatever is commendable,
• any excellence and
• anything worthy of praise,

These are the pastures we rest in – this is where we begin to celebrate life.

We can do this – we can do this – only if we let the Spirit in; only if we put on the mind of Christ.

If we call on the Lord, he will answer.

• Do not worry about anything.

• In everything, by prayer and supplication, and with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.

And when he comes, he comes with life abundant in his hand.

Let your gentleness be known to everyone.

Let the gift of God’s loving-kindness be known to all through your love for one another and for the world Christ gave life.

The Lord is near. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN.