Sunday, September 30, 2012

actionable knowledge

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Running to obtain his promises, that is what we do: to receive the prize, to reach the treasure, to obtain his grace, mercy, pity, and compassion. How do we run to obtain his promises?

What shows us the way to grace, the way to reach the goal, to receive the promise?

Wisdom: the illuminating presence of God, the practice in his presence of graceful life.

James calls us, throughout his letter – and in the concluding passage we read this week – calls us to return to the way that is wisdom. Wisdom is the way to fullness of grace.

How do we go about experiencing the fullness of his grace?

How do we show our faith?

God calls us to a faith that shows in action.

God gives us actionable knowledge of his mercy, knowledge – confidence in his promises – that we can act upon.

God calls us to active faith – faith in practice: active wisdom.

What are we doing already to experience his grace?

Here is one person’s experience of fullness in the past week:

Visiting the sick, celebrating a new ministry,
sharing understanding of baptismal identity –
based in the love of Jesus,
mourning the death of a family friend,
working out, walking on the beach,
meeting one’s spouse for lunch,
meeting co-workers and friends, giving books away,
studying the Bible with a friend,
visiting family,
listening to music, singing, meeting cousins,
meeting about lighting the church,

and— with God’s people—
gathering, proclaiming, giving and receiving,
blessing and receiving blessing,
celebrating, and going forth in love.

Here is one church’s week – this week, this church:

Boy Scouts, Prayer Beads, Altar Guild, Music Group.
Setting up for coffee hour. Making the coffee!
Welcoming new friends. Preparing the altar.

Gathering and
proclaiming and
greeting in peace;
celebrating and
giving and
receiving and
going forth.

Blessing animals.

Sharing meals – sharing hospitality – sharing faith.
Showing faith.

Being the good news.
Being the good news in this place, in this time, to these people.

Give us the grace
to seek your grace

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

Give us grace so to love you, Lord,
         that we seek you with
  • a lover’s eagerness, 
  • an eagle’s swiftness, 
  • a hawk’s daring, 
  • a child’s longing.

Grant us grace to seek you, Lord,
         the final prize of all.

BProper 21, Numbers 11:4-29, Psalm 19:7-14, James 5:13-20, Mark 9:38-50,

Friday, September 28, 2012

Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart

Dear Beloved Child of God:

On my way to work one morning, on a day in New York some years ago, I took a slightly different route, and decided to stop at a street vendor for something to eat. As I approached the pushcart I saw two Middle Eastern looking men beside it, one tending the wagon. The other man was singing, and dancing. He was singing, in Arabic, Thanks be to God! Thanks be to God! as he danced in joyous circles on the sidewalk pavement. Sorry, he said, got carried away. No need to apologize, my friend: Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, rejoice! There is never a wrong time to praise God or thank God. Indeed, give thanks in all things, on all days, with a grateful heart. That is our theme this harvest season: give thanks with a grateful heart.

The stewardship committee has asked me to extend to you their invitation, on behalf of the parish, to give thankfully of what God has given you. What we receive we receive from God; all we have and all we are. We as God’s people have the right and the gift of making an offering of thanks. What we hope to do through our financial contributions to the ministries of the church is to enable it to carry on in its mission – which is the mission of Christ in this place, among these people we discover to be our neighbors.

Who is my neighbor? Near or far, humble or proud, strange or strangely familiar, my neighbor is a person like myself in one, chief, important thing: my neighbor is made in the image of God; my neighbor is one whom Jesus loves. Our mission is to bring that love into the world.

Together as we pursue our common mission let us put on Christ – and receive, and give, with joy and grateful hearts, in thanksgiving.

Faithfully yours,

Father John

The Rev. John Leech
Priest and Rector

Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart

Look back with gratitude,
Look forward with anticipation,
In all things give thanks.
—Christine Sine

October 2012

Sunday, September 23, 2012

a partner for life

The truly capable woman – who can find her? She is far beyond the price of pearls.

(Proverbs 31:10 NJB)

It is about you; it isn’t just about you.

It is about a woman, capable, strong, powerful, productive, full of virtues. She is Ruth, Naomi, Esther, Sarah, Lydia, Mary, and Old Mrs. Lynch, all rolled into one.

But it’s about more than that, and about more of us than just wives. It is in fact advice for all people. This passage completes the book of Proverbs – a book about Wisdom, how and why to have Wisdom with you in your life.

This advice you might say is for a young man starting out in life: “What you need is a good wife… Ah! But who can find a truly capable woman?”

But this advice is not just advice to a young man on seeking a spouse and helpmeet. It is advice to all people of faith on the partner each of us needs to team up with, whatever our station in life – single, married, old, young, male or female.

Wisdom is the partner that you need beside you – and Wisdom is the companion, the guide, that the Church, the people of God, need as they journey together on the path God sets before them.

Like Sarah and Abraham setting out for the land of promise, we, the people of God today, seek God’s leading and desire God’s guiding presence.

This partner is with us, and vindicates us, even when it seems that no human partner is available. The un-chosen maiden, the childless couple, the bereaved grandmother, the lonely child: these are God’s people, God’s chosen, God’s beloved, God’s blessed ones; and their companion is Wisdom.

The spirit of Wisdom is the Spirit of God. God is present with us. Emmanuel. Even now.

Like a dove descending, like a pillar of fire, like a quiet ripple on the water, like thunder.

Like - a truly capable woman.

We can be open to God’s leading, if we realize – God is with us. Wisdom is our partner.

And we are on the journey together. 

Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37
Proper 20

Monday, September 17, 2012

Listening to your Elders

Student: What is the difference between just getting old and being an elder?
Teacher: An elder sees a vocation.

An elder, then, is a person who has perceived a calling – a calling related to their place in life, of not merely the passing of the years but the gaining of experience.

Congregations embrace the future in a variety of ways and through all their people: through the youngest members, all the way through to the oldest. Congregations embrace a multitude of generations – and of vocations. What God calls us to be – and how God calls us – may take different shape at different times in our lives. In later years, that calling may take the shape of an active wisdom – of elderhood.

Since the fall of 2008 I have been engaged in study toward the Doctor of Ministry degree. Currently I am working on my dissertation/project. Part of that project is understanding the nature of elderhood for men within the context of a multigenerational congregation – like Saint Alban’s.

How are they aware of the vocations of elderhood? How they are embraced by and within the context of congregational life?  

But – best to ask for elders’ own perceptions.

And so I have been asking older men active in the congregation a few questions.

·      How has your faith developed as you have gotten older?
·      How has the congregation participated in this growth?
·      What calls you now as a vital way to live out your faith?
·      How does the congregation embrace or celebrate it with you?

Having now listened to a dozen and a half of the older men active in the congregation, in leadership, worship or service. I am aware of how grateful I am for their participation and their presence in the congregation. As I prepare to evaluate what they have said to me, both common themes and unique perspectives, I look forward to honoring their voices.

—Father John

For the Gospel Grapevine, parish newsletter of St. Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Wash., October 2012.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

smashing the pot

There is something they teach in pottery studios. It goes like this: SMASH THE POT!

Even the best has to be given up, sometimes, in order to learn.

Everything you hold onto as yours must be released, so that you may receive it anew as the gift of God.

Following Jesus may mean yielding - giving up - what we want for ourselves - even your own personal Jesus, so that you may become at last his person.

"My Jesus" must give way ...

Peter confessed: "You are the Messiah, the Christ."

But does he know what he is saying? Not at first ... but his words are indeed true, and come to life: they come to fruition.

"To whom shall we go?" he asks, for Jesus has the words that give life. Indeed, Peter comes to realize, he is the life the words proclaim.

Words proclaim; words of blessing and not of curse.

For God desires for us a hopeful future, of blessing and not of curse, and so our words are significant. It is important that they be words of blessing and not of curse.

We have a choice.
We have a voice.

And the tongue is a mighty instrument, a small rudder turning a mighty vessel.

So damaging words, false or true, gossip - or "sharing concerns" - can hurt.

You can choose blessing.

You can begin to develop the habits that train the tongue for good, for blessing.

Sometimes we think it is safe not to speak at all. Sometimes it is. But there are times when the safest course is to speak (even if awkwardly) and to say the right thing when it is needful.

A Protestant pastor survived the Holocaust, but not without cost, and not without realizing that he had forgotten this principle... as he later confessed:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller. accessed September 15, 2012.

We have the blessing of voices - the gift, the burden, the high calling.

And we are called to join in the heavenly chorus, we with our voices, to those in silent song, for as the Psalm tells us, "The heavens tell the glory of God..." Even without words they are speaking.

And the words they are speaking are for blessing and not for curse, not for diminishment, but for enhancement of glory.

Let the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight
O Lord my rock and my redeemer.

O God let the working of your mercy direct our hearts - for without you we are not able to please you; so that with you, the Spirit that is Word and Wisdom, our voices and our lives sing your praise.

Amen. To God be the glory.


BProper19, Proper 19, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 116:1-8, James 3:1-12, Mark 8:27-38, smashing the pot,

Sunday, September 9, 2012

in seven words or less...

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Open our ears and unblock our voices, so that we may hear and we may speak, and we may be doers of your Word. Amen.

A long time ago a man who did not believe in God came to the rabbis and said, I will convert and worship the God that you worship, if you teach me the entire Torah while standing on one foot. One rabbi tried to run him off but Rabbi Hillel responded: “What is hurtful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary.” (Talmud Shabbat 31a, cf. “Number Our Days” by Barbara Myerhoff, New York: E. P. Dutton, 1978)

Sounds a lot like the Golden Rule, doesn’t it? It got me wondering, how would I answer such a question?

In the current issue of The Christian Century, a number of people give their answers to a similar challenge: “to proclaim the gospel in a maximum of seven words and expand on their statement in a few sentences.” 

(“The Gospel in Seven Words,” The Christian Century, September 5, 2012, p. 20)

There were some wonderful answers…

And that got me wondering more! What would you say if you were asked to express the entire good news of Jesus in seven words or less?

Let’s try it! Let’s take a blank sheet of paper and try to come up with something. No grades; no handing in the assignment. Just give it a try. What have we come up with?

Lamin Sanneh said, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world.” (2 Corinthians 5:19)

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (2 Corinthians 5.17-19)

Bill McKibben said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Brian McLaren said, “In Christ, God calls all to reconciliation.”

The prophet Micah said, “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” (6:8)

The prophet Jeremiah said that God delights in “steadfast love, justice, and righteousness” (9:22-23)

Jeff said (this morning): "The kingdom of God is at hand."

And: "This is my body given for you."

And Laurie said (this morning): "Come and see, go and tell."

Jesus gave us the summary of the Law:

"The first commandment is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord your God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these."  (Mark 12:29-31)

Or, in seven words: "God loves; love God; love your neighbor."

A friend of mine began to talk one time about “the rules” – and I responded, “Your rules need to give way to some compassion!” I realized later, that he had convicted me: it was my own rules that needed to give way to some compassion.

For Jesus the rule is compassion.

God’s love shows itself in Jesus; faith in Jesus shows itself in love.

Jesus announced his ministry when he stood up in the synagogue of Nazareth and read from the book of the prophet Isaiah:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ (Luke 4:18-19)

He announced it. And then he went and did something about it.

‘Blessed are you who are poor,
   for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
   for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
   for you will laugh.’ (Luke 6:20-21)

Who are these poor but us?

“He became poor that we might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

Who are these blind, these sick, these poor, and these captives yearning to be free?

Who but people like us?

And to whom is this message of restoration and peace, of wholeness and reconciliation, offered, but to people like us?

Jesus proclaimed the good news – of freedom and the kingdom of peace.

He emptied himself, not taking equality with God for granted, but made himself one of us, took on our flesh and our human situation, that we might share with him and enjoy with him true life. (Cf. Phil 2:5-11) He showed us what a human being can be; he was the Son of Man, the Man of God, the fully human one among us.

And he came to proclaim the coming of God’s kingdom.

He proclaimed this message to Israel, and then, like the Old Testament prophet Elijah, God led him far beyond the borders of Israel. He encountered a woman of a far country, who asked his aid. At first he spurned her and gave a grumpy answer. But she responded to Rabbi Jesus – and the question turned back on him. He recognized that she was not just speaking empty words. She truly put her trust in God and his Messiah. And so with that, he made her daughter well.

Then God led Jesus by a long route – even perhaps through Damascus – around through Sidon and down by the Sea of Galilee to the Gentile regions on the eastern shore. There he encountered people who wanted another miracle. He sighed. And said, “Be opened.”

“He makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” (Mark 7:37)

Who was this importunate woman? Who was this unfortunate man?

None but such as we.

Open our ears and unblock our voices, so that we may hear and we may speak plainly, and we may be doers of your Word.

And show us that you are in the midst of us still, Lord; and still we are called to your service.

At the fulfillment of time we may hear Jesus say to us: “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

A woman named Mary Glover worked in the food line at a soup kitchen in Washington, D.C., every day. And every day, she would begin the day with prayer: “Lord, we know that you’ll be coming through this line today. So, Lord, help us to treat you well.” 

(Jim Wallis, God’s Politics, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2005, p. 212-214)

God’s love shows itself in Jesus; faith in Jesus shows itself in love.

The gospel was not just words for Jesus. It was love embodied in action. When he spoke, he spoke with authority. Faith without works is dead. Faith comes alive when it is revealed in our actions.

How will we respond to the challenge? How will we ‘proclaim the gospel’ in seven words or less? How will we show the Word in no words at all?

Open our ears, unblock our voices, that we may hear and we may speak, and we may do your Word. Amen.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Preparing for Sunday

Preparing for Sunday

This Sunday's epistle teaches us that living faith reveals itself in action.  In the gospel, Jesus shows the way: he welcomes the stranger into the only community that matters – when he listens to the case made by a worried mother and sees the faith she has put in God, and when he unlocks the eyes and unchains the voice of a man who cannot speak.

Can he free us? Can he lead us to health? Can he open our lips to sing his praise? Can he open our hands to work in the world as his body, his people of freedom? You betcha.

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Isaiah 35:4-7a. Psalm 146. James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17. Mark 7:24-37. Bproper18

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Give an eagle a fish ...

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Psalm 15
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Give an eagle a fish – and he’ll be back tomorrow. To teach an eagle to fish – you need a flock of eagles.

Junior – or Buddy – already was an eagle, just a young one. He was immature, and he’d gotten out of the nest too early. So he didn’t know all the things an eagle needs to know before becoming a full-fledged adult bird. He needed help.

At first he was getting it from people – the simple, beginning things. He needed to eat. Throw him a fish – and he’d be back the next day.

But he needed to learn more, beyond that simple receipt of sustenance. He needed to get out there and do the things that eagles do. So how does he learn that?

A biologist from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (at Iron River NFH) explained it to us. In the fall as the days get shorter and colder he’ll see other eagles soaring and circling and gathering over a road-killed deer – and he’ll want to join in the feast. 

They’ll let him know how this works. Later they’ll head south, down the river – and he’ll follow. They’ll gather below dams where the fishing is good – and again he’ll want a share. They’ll let him share – or let him know to catch his own. He’ll catch on… but it will take a flock of eagles – an aerie, a convocation – to teach him, to raise him up to maturity, to the fullness of life of a mature bird. And he’ll soar with them.

In the reading today from the letter of James, we begin a series on the Christian life – how to live after you believe.  What Christian behavior is – among this flock! 
James tells us the source of all we are – and all we have – in Christ Jesus. And that is why – not owing to ourselves – we are able to respond to the message of the kingdom, the gospel. It is in us – as Christ’s messengers – to share that love and joy we know as God’s gift. So we speak slowly of anger, quickly of love.  We cast off, with God’s help, the ghosts of past wrongs. And we become active agents of the word, not passive receivers only.

What we believe, what we trust, what we know, we act upon: knowledge of Christ is actionable knowledge.

“The road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.”—Daj Hammarskjold

What we have is given us by God – our identity, our nature, eagle or human, comes from that source. What we do with it, how we grow into the full stature of our nature as God created us to be, that is what we have to learn, from each other, in the community and fellowship gathered in the spirit of Christ Jesus. 

We learn how to act in accordance with our nature as redeemed people, people called to follow Jesus. As eagles learn from each other so we grow in knowledge, actionable knowledge, learning how to live the life of joy – together. 

And the letter of James, and the Psalm for today, lay out some steps. 

(You see the Law is not there to get you into heaven – or into trouble; it is there to guide your way into the holiness. So the Law becomes a mirror, a mirror of perfection, showing us what it looks like to become perfect – that is, made whole, complete – in Christ. It shows us how we are “in aspiration” – as God made us to be, as Christ is shaping us to become, in the fullness of created and redeemed nature.)

Indeed, Psalm 15 gives us ten steps, ten examples, ten precepts, on how to live – the goal: being able to present our selves as an offering of praise before God (as the Eucharistic prayer says for us). So how do we clean up our act so we can stand upright as God’s own people?

Psalm 15
  1              Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle?*
                  who may abide upon your holy hill? 

  2              [I] Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right,*
                  [II] who speaks the truth from his heart.
  3              [III] There is no guile upon his tongue;
                  [IV] he does no evil to his friend;*
                  [V] he does not heap contempt upon his neighbour.
  4              [VI] In his sight the wicked is rejected,*
                  [VII] but he honours those who fear the Lord.
  5              [VIII] He has sworn to do no wrong*
                  and does not take back his word.
  6              [IX] He does not give his money in hope of gain,*
                  [X] nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. 

  7              Whoever does these things*
                  shall never be overthrown.

This is in a sense, then, a call to conversion – to continuing conversion, a transformation of manner of life, the turning, turning, of our souls ever more God-ward, showing forth in our lives – making it real in the world – what is in our hearts.

Blessed one, bless us, as you call us forth, out of our own preoccupations, into your service, out of our shadows, into your light; help us leave behind the wrong-doing, the slander, the deceit, the gossip, – all that makes mockery of our souls – the impediments to our freedom in Christ. May the gospel show forth in our lives as we embrace it with our minds and hearts and hands and voices. Amen.