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.