Sunday, June 19, 2011

3 strangers

Three strangers came to the tent. Abraham and Sarah had journeyed far – from northern Iraq, across Syria and down through Canaan and on into Egypt (where they had many adventures) and then back to Canaan.

Here they were: their flocks and herds around them. They pitched their tent under the oak trees. Strangers came – and were welcomed.

Stay with us Lord and rest your feet. Sit in the shade under this tree. Let me bring you something to drink. Quick! Prepare a meal, a fine feast

The guests, receiving hospitality, now offer their hosts a gift: a promise of a future with hope. You will have a son.

Sarah cannot believe it – she laughs to herself behind the flap of the tent – and she is afraid when they catch her out: “O but you did laugh.”

When the promise comes true, how does she feel?

It was a happy meeting. They name the child Isaac (Laughter).

Remembering and celebrating a promise fulfilled, the beginning of a hopeful future – with descendants that would outnumber the stars – all God’s doing – but God can raise up sons to Abraham from these stones.

It was faith that singled Abraham out. In faith he received the promise – and his true legacy is faith.

His true descendants and heirs are those who are heirs through hope – of the promise of God – and that hope is found in Jesus Christ.

It is through him, through Christ, that the basis of faith, of hope, and of love is revealed.

The gospel from Matthew today is the conclusion of his last chapter, a chapter that began with women going to the tomb of Jesus about the break of day.

“He has been raised,” they were told, “from the dead and is going on before you into Galilee; there you will see him.” They got the message and spread the news.

And the disciples did go to Galilee – they made their way to a mountain and Jesus met them there. They greet him, believers and doubters alike, shoulder to shoulder; they greet him as the holy one of God: they worship him. And now in a few quick words the risen Lord Jesus say so much.

“All authority has been given me on heaven and on earth.” He is the only Son of the Father, the one true living God who created all things. There is no other.

And this Jesus, now risen Lord, has a message for his disciples. A big task lies ahead. His earthly mission has ended.

The mission of the church now begins. So – he commissions them, and he empowers them.

He sends them forth to build his church, to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, and to bring its reality into the midst of the earth and all its peoples.

“Make all people my disciples; baptize them everywhere in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; teach them to do all I have commanded you to do.”

As you have learned from me so go and teach. As I have made you disciples, disciple them. From here on the legacy now passes from one to another, from generation to generation. What I have given you – all that you have received, you must now pass on.

You will not be alone. For Emmanuel, God-with-us, says: I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Past, present, and future come together in this moment at the foundation of the Church.

On this mountain Jesus brings forth something beyond what Moses received on Sinai. He brings forth the living presence of God to accompany his messengers throughout the earth.

Worship, go, evangelize – and remember. Remember the promise given to Abraham and Sarah. Remember that their true descendants are the people of faith.

And remember Alban’s testimony to the one true living God who created all things.

Alban was living in a Roman town north of London when he found faith – or it found him. It came to his door in the person of a priest, fugitive in a time of persecution.

He sheltered the priest, welcomed him, gave him hospitality and safety, learned from him about ‘the one true living God who made all things’, and came to believe – so that he stood in the place of the priest and gave his life.

Hospitality, courage, and faith.

For his witness, for his faithfulness, he was executed, and won a crown in glory.

His faith we count as righteousness. It was his steadfast trust and witness that brought home to the people of the town the truth of the faith of the one true God.

What Alban did, living in his place in his time, was create a legacy of lasting witness.

People go there still, to the place where he was martyred, on pilgrimage, to the place so many now have gone before, where Alban simply stood the test of faith.

We may not be called to die by the sword but we may be called to simple witness to the truth of Christ, the promise of God, the faithful future, as heirs of hope that we like sons of Abraham may be raised up, may growth as heirs of hope and forebears of faith.

Courage, compassion, generosity, and hospitality – these gifts of faith are Alban’s legacy.

Fearless in the face of danger, Alban would not give up his faith. He testified to God’s truth.

Courage, compassion, and generosity; hospitality, bold truth telling, and unswerving faith, Alban in simple words led the way, a way so many pilgrims follow.

He followed the way of Christ through the Cross to Resurrection, through acceptance of Jesus’ gift on their behalf – and yes, its necessity – to a new life, a new way of living.

His allegiance was no longer to the gods of Rome, the gods of empire, the gods of greed, wealth, envy, instant gratification, the flash beauty of surface appearance, power, or hate.

Jesus calls all people to himself through all his people

All authority on earth and in heaven has been given to me; go – spread the good news.

Spread it to all nations and all generations – let this be your legacy, the living truth of the living God. He is Lord indeed.

O God, our Father, who gave to your servant Alban the gifts of faith, hospitality, compassion, generosity and courage, and sent people forth across the world to carry the word of your gospel to every creature, grant, we pray, a like spirit to your church, even at this present time. Further in all things the purpose of our community, that hidden things may be revealed to us, and new ways found to touch the hearts of all. May we preserve with each other sincere charity and peace, and, if it be your holy will, grant that this church, a place of your abiding, continue still to be a sanctuary and a light. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Lamentations 6

Everything is in its place,
    yet the room is empty.
Boxes are neatly tagged,
shelves arranged,
things stored away,
    yet all is in chaos.
The calendar is open
    to an empty page.
Up to a point, it is all there:
    birthdays, anniversaries,
    things to do;
and then – blank.
    It comes to a stop.
The refrigerator is stocked with years’ worth of vitamins.
    The bills are paid, and filed.
    The sheets are changed, and the bed is made.
No one is there.

In a far country, across a border, I hear nothing.
    “Does your cellphone work in Canada?”
the last email reads.
    I’ll check. No.
Instead I am in a class the next day,
    on “the pastor as shepherd” no less.
A message from the office: Paul calls me over.
    You need to phone your mother.
I go downstairs to the telephone booth,
    dig out some change,
    get a credit card ready.
It is ready;
    I prepare myself for the worst I can imagine.
It is worse.
    “Bill shot and killed himself.”

The last coherent sentence,
    for some days,
    from my mother.
I am on a plane, a bus, in a car.
She is beside herself and cannot sign the papers,
    release the body to the funeral home. Not yet.
“I need to read the forms again.”
My sister-in-law says,
    “He will not come unless he is invited.”
“Well, I am here and I need you. I am inviting you.”
    They come. Long drive. Next day.
With many explanations and few tears,
    we coax her into signing the page.
A fax to Maryland –
    soon we will follow from California.

My bishop calls – he understands – words of comfort.
    The nearest parish will take care of my brother – and me.
Others don’t get it – “don’t say it” – I plead inside:
    They do. Insensitive to the point of stupidity.
But, then, talk about stupid.
    What was the point?

A set-up it seems – nearest kin being the youngest,
    the oblivious younger brother.
Neighbor tried to call him, didn’t make much sense.
    He hung up on her.
They called – not 911 – my mother, in California,
    a continent away. She had to make the call to 911.

When we finally get to the apartment days later,
    it has been cleaned up, some (crime scene cleaners).
The A/C is off.
    All is still.

All his photos are neat in plastic boxes centered on the kitchen table.
    One snap propped on top:
He is coming out of a movie, nieces and nephews with him.
    Above, the marquee: Kill Bill II.
I bury it among the others,
    until now.

We cannot believe how many people come to the funeral.
The little white chapel at the crossroads, once country,
    cannot hold them all.
Fifty people are left standing in the summer rain.

I have brought my last album of photographs.
    One I think to prop against – oh, those are his ashes.
I do not.
    I keep it back.
It is of Bill, from the back, running on the beach,
    hands outstretched to embrace

And hope?

I hope,
    against hope.

There is sadness even in this gesture, now poignant,
    perhaps a last prayer
                   (of sorts – to an unknown God)
    on his last visit home.

What is this silence, Lord?
    Why this desolation?
The inconsolate weeping of the widow,
    once again bereft,
disturbs the night,
    once again.

John R. Leech
June 18, 2011. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


"Things change. Some of them disappear from our lives. Sometimes we see it coming and sometimes we don't. Sometimes we cause the change ourselves and sometimes it is visited upon us. Some change is temporary and some is permanent ... All the changes we see, those we welcome and those we resist with everything in us, are earthly..."

The Geranium Farm - Barbara Cawthorne Crafton

(from today's eMo)



"To the extent that we are psychologically healthy, our identities will consist largely in our free responses to our memories, not just in the memories themselves. Moreover, are we not also what we hope for in the future? It is true, the past can rob us of the future, just as it can rob us of the present. But here again the psychologically healthy persons' dreams for the future cannot be mere forward projections of her memories, for then she would be cemented in her past, of which her future would be only the boring and oppressive extension. A person with a healthy sense of identity living in freedom and security will let the future draw her out of the past and the prsent and will play with new possibilities and embark on new paths."

--Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006) 25.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Pentecost 2011

The lessons on Pentecost all encourage new openness, openness to the spirit and to ways of being the church, the people of God in the world.

There are many ways of being church. As there are many gifts but one spirit, for individuals, so for congregations, there is one spirit expressed through many collective gifts or charisms - ways of being church, of manifesting the grace of God in the ministry of the church.

Diana Butler Bass, in her book, Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith (Harper San Francisco, September 2006) described her research into the many ways local churches manifest the work of the spirit.

Hospitality, discernment, healing, contemplation, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, reflection, beauty: these are aspects or charisms of ten particular neighborhood churches - Lutheran, Episcopal, and others - that have found in finding and celebrating the gifts God has given them, new ways to be transformed in the renewing of their minds and the refreshing of their faith.

Congregations find ways of being church that are theirs - and yet are gifts to the neighborhoods around them. All the different ways of doing church have a similarity. They are ways of being church in openness to the Spirit and in obedience to the word of God.

Make disciples among all the peoples of the earth, our Lord commanded: baptize them and teach them all Jesus taught the disciples, and remember him - remember him in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers. Be open to God’s leading, leading into new life.

What we find in the lessons of Pentecost, the lessons for today, are invitations, exhortations, and examples, of how to be open to the Spirit.

Open your selves to the spirit’s presence.

Open your self to the experience of God to be had in welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick or the prisoner, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving water to those who thirst.

Open your selves to the continuing work of the Creator, doing a new thing now in the midst of the earth.

Open your hearts to receive God’s love.
Open your hands to give that love on to others.

Open your lips and proclaim God’s praise.

Open the shades and let light stream in.
Open the windows and let the Spirit blow through stale corridors.
Open the doors and go forth to love and serve the Lord.


The breath of God that moved across the face of the waters on the first day of creation is still moving, moving where it will. Through the open doors of our souls and churches a fresh breeze is blowing - it is the Spirit, enlivening us, enlightening us, and filling us with the light of Christ.

In the first lesson we hear today Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp. Moses, tell them to stop! Joshua says. But Moses says: Are you jealous on my account? Would that all God’s people would prophesy.

When a portion of the spirit that had been given to Moses was taken and distributed to seventy, the gift was not diminished. It is not a limited quantity. There is no scarcity of the grace of God; there is no limit to the power of God.

The gift of the Spirit is a gift that grows in the giving; it is a flame that grows as it touches on each of us.

It grows in blessing God’s people.

And the people of God, gathered all in one place on the day of Pentecost, awaited the coming of the Spirit. All began speaking one message, with many voices, in many languages - so it was for those who heard the word of God, the proclamation of God’s mighty deeds.

Each heard the good news in the language of their own heart. That is the real miracle. Each of them heard the word in the way that reached them, that touched their souls.

The people of God were proclaiming God’s sovereignty, the coming of the reign of God, and to all people. For, as Joel said, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

This is the birth of the Church, in the experience of the Spirit, a gift that grows in the giving.

What it tells us is that we live in a world ruled by a generous God, a life-giving, hope-renewing, boundless God. And the gifts of the spirit are all given for one reason: mission.

The gifts of the Spirit are not an end in themselves, and certainly not an excuse for wallowing in self-importance.

(You are significant, for one and the same reason: you are precious in the sight of God, the God who made you, the God who redeems you in the death and life and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the God who loves you. You are significant because you are God’s child and his Beloved ones.)

The gifts of the Spirit are not a privilege for a select few, but a gift that grows in the giving. They are gifts for the whole church, and for the whole world.

Even in the Gospel story, when wind and fire are hushed and quiet, Jesus comes into the room where they are all gathered and says, Peace. Peace be among you. And receive holy Breath.

He sends them into mission - and he gives the Spirit to carry out the mission.

They were gathered, locked together in fear, but they became open to a new possibility - the new possibility that the continuing presence of Christ brings.

Receive holy breath. Open your souls to the holy One, the one who, through wind and flame, and peaceful presence, comes to you, empowers you, and sends you forth, renewed, to spread the good news - to be the good news - and to bring others into the celebration.

In the spirit’s power. Amen.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Joyous transparency, or: God illumines my aunt

One day at work some years ago my friend Lydia leaned over to me and whispered, “Do you know what this means?” She pointed to the motto on our corporate logo. (Our company, Oxford University Press, used the university coat of arms in its logo.)

I looked at it and read it as, DOMINUS ILLUMINA TIO MEA.

Giving it half a thought I said, “God illumines my aunt.” Lydia laughed.

Of course DOMINUS ILLUMINATIO MEA is not a fractured mixture of Latin and Spanish. It is a perfectly good Latin motto: “The Lord is my light.” The motto is drawn from Psalm 27, which begins:

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear?
the Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?

What this psalm reminds us, truly, is that as believers in God, as Christ’s church, we are called to a joyous transparency, with light shining in and light shining forth from us.

Let the light shine in – illuminating us – and let the light shine forth from us – as a beacon proclaiming to the world God’s peaceful sovereignty.

The light of Christ – we open ourselves to it; it lightens our hearts.

The light of Christ – we open the shuttered windows of our souls and let it shine out to bring the good news of salvation to those around us.

The light of Christ – we receive it as a gift at Baptism.

The light of Christ – we celebrate it at Easter and regularly in the Holy Eucharist.

The light of Christ – we carry it with us from birth to death, through the darkest tunnels and on the brightest hillsides.

The light of Christ – which reveals God’s glory and banishes the shadows of sin.

This is the light that came into the world in the person of Jesus. This is the same light that was in the beginning (FIAT LUX) and at the fulfillment of creation.

This is the light of which Jesus spoke when he said:

“I AM the light of the world” (John 8:12) and “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).

And – you do not put a lamp under a basket but put it on a lamp-stand to illuminate the whole house. You build a beacon bonfire not in a pit but on the highest hill around. You want to get the word out! You want that light to shine afar: the good news – Christ is risen! – And he is Lord indeed.

The breath of God that moved across the face of the deep on the first day still is moving, moving where it will. Through the open doors of our lives and churches a fresh breeze is blowing: it is the Spirit, enlivening us, and filling us – filling us with the light of Christ.

The light of Christ illuminates us – you and me, and, yes, my illumined aunt – and we in turn let our light shine before all people, that they too may rejoice in the power of the Spirit, and join in the work of God, Love’s redeeming work, begun in Christ and carried forth by his people.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’ (John 8:12)

‘You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.’ (Matthew 5:14, 16)


For the Gospel Grapevine (July/August 2011), parish newsletter of St Alban’s Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Washington.


Thursday, June 2, 2011


George Packard on Ascension Day: "On a purely functional basis, the Church had to move Jesus and His risen appearance out of the moment so Pentecost could occur. How can the Spirit come down if Jesus is appearing at every garage sale? The Kingdom of God is at hand when we're awakened to the Christ in each other."

Eric Lax, Faith, Interrupted: A Spiritual Journey, (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010) p. 249