Monday, November 26, 2012

the big parade

Okay, I admit it – I am not waiting for Christmas Eve. I am already listening to Christmas music, and specifically to “Messiah”, the oratorio by George Frideric Handel. Because after the overture the singing starts with some of the very scriptures we are hearing today.

Over the weekend, Eric Hanson was meditating on the meaning of Handel’s “Messiah”, and, being a music professor, on its style of composition. He recognized something: that Handel, who had the habit of opening his operas and oratorios with an overture in the Italian style, here began his oratorio with a French overture. Why French instead?

Because a French overture is meant to accompany the appearance of royalty, the entrance of a king. At the opera house in Paris, the music would be heralding the entrance, in all his pomp and glory, of the Sun King, Louis XIV.

For the London premiere of Messiah, the story goes, a king would be present: the king of England. But of course that is not all – a greater king than George II would be introduced by this music. Indeed, at one point in the performance the king in the theatre stood up – and the audience stood with him – acknowledging the superordinate majesty of the one being proclaimed: Jesus of Nazareth, son of the most high God.

Our gospel reading today begins with a grand-sounding procession, a parade of powerful names: the emperor of Rome, Tiberius, takes first place, followed by his servant on the spot, the man he sent to take over a rough place and straighten it out: procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate. And other kings are there, two brothers among them, sons of Herod the Great who rebuilt the Temple. The high priests are there too – ones we will meet again.

It is a procession of grandeur. More than oriental splendor - the power of Rome, the piety of Jerusalem – line up in powerful array. But the whole thing is shown up as a Doctor Seuss procession when an incongruous figure is introduced.

John. There he is. No regal model he. Not by the standards of those or any days. He looks about as pompous as the bag lady that used to sleep in front of the White House gates. Yet somehow he makes all that pomp seem foolish. Absurd. Small.

This is the desert rat. John is the man out of the wilderness who calls – shouts – to the whole world – clean it up and clear the way. Get ready – open the path. Be baptized – repent! Be cleansed of your sin – get rid of it! Straighten the way.

All the high places will be thrown down and the lowly exalted. What is out of true will be made straight and level. The road will be clear – for the one is coming who was promised. The savior! God is sending his salvation. So get ready. Prepare.

And how prepare? Prepare your hearts – make room in there. Clear away the obstacles that would block his progress. Banish curves and abolish detours. He is coming – and he is coming straight in. The roundabout runaround routes, the sophisticated excuses, the diversions and distractions, the out-and-out obstacles to his coming: clear them away!

And rejoice! For God will lead us, his people, with joy.

Our sorrow, our affliction that we wear like weedy garments, our mourning, our sadness and poverty of soul – set that all aside.

Put off the garments of bereavement and mourning. You need not sing a sad song one more time. It is time to rejoice – and put on Christ, the glory from God and his mercy and righteousness.

It is as if you have dressed for a funeral and find yourself at a wedding. It is not time to mourn – it is time to celebrate.

We are being redeemed, set free to live now the joyous lives of God’s own people.


If we clear the way.

What do you need to do to make straight the road to your heart?

I invite you to join me in asking the question.

What blocks, distracts, discourages, obstructs, or prevents you, from opening the way?

Have you got something that you are holding back, holding dear, grasping onto and not letting go, that keeps you from living a life of rejoicing, and keeps you from the King?

Are you letting something take you off course, down a side road, something pleasant perhaps, but enticing you away from paying attention to what really matters in your life?

Is there something you just need to get out of the way – you know it’s wrong and it has to go – if you are to be ready to receive Jesus with joy instead of sorrow?

It is time to get ready.

What do you need to do to clear the road?

For he is coming: he is already on the way.

Let every heart prepare Him room, Let earth receive her King. Amen.


CAdvent2, Second Sunday of Advent, Baruch 5:1-9, Canticle 16, Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6, Benedictus Dominus Deus, Luke 1:68-79, The Song of Zechariah, tveucharist, John the Baptist, Eric Hanson, Handel, Messiah, Handel's Messiah, 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

entrusted with a stewardship


May God bless us today as we consider his handiworks, the glory of creation, and the reign of his peace.

Jesus is Lord. Christ is King. Our God reigns. We say it in various ways.

What are we saying? What are we doing? How are we showing – the reign of Christ?

Let’s imagine this church as a big old friendly house, dedicated to holy purpose.

What is it like to arrive here? Can we imagine it – coming here for the first time, perhaps the only time, to hear God’s word, to rest for awhile, to find community – or a little peace.

Walking from the bus stop on the corner, or parking on the grass, gravel, or asphalt of the parking lot, we come in through a low narrow veranda under a big brown roof. In the door we find:

A welcome. We hope. A greeting. A brochure. Perhaps a few people gathered in the doorway, talking together. We get through. Where is the sanctuary? Where do I hang my coat? Where are the restrooms? Where is the nursery? Will there be coffee hour?

This is Christ’s home. It is the house of God. He is welcome here and he is the host.

We see him – in the familiar faces and the strangers. We see him in the sacraments. Perhaps, too, we see him in the candle burning by the altar-side. We see him in the Cross.

Walking in the door of the sanctuary, we are confronted by – a font, a basin on a stand.

It is water – water for baptism, water for renewal of baptism, water for taking a blessing. In the name of Christ, who is our guide, we walk further in.

There are people here, spread about. We look for a place to sit.

About us are other people. Why are they here? Is this their first time too?

Up front there is a table raised on a couple of steps. Over and behind it hangs a symbol of a cross. Behind and to the sides, we see shelves on one hand, and a small cabinet on the other. In front of it and between the table and us there is a railing and a place to kneel.

Music begins. We sing, or search for a hymnal, or a song sheet. Or we stay silent.

Then we are standing. With others we sing a song of praise. 
And we pray. And we hear the word of God. And we confess our sins, receive reconciliation and share the peace of Christ.

Offering of our gifts – money, bread, wine, perhaps a prayer card – we gather for celebration. There is a meal, a symbolic meal, and together with all those who came in the door and past the baptismal font, we share in the community of the saints of God.

In all humility, who are we to do this? Who are we to say we are the people of God? We are sinners! But – we are baptized! We are baptized into the life of Christ, by his grace. And we believe that through his grace we, and all the people of the world, are saved.

The world.

But there is an objection. It comes from Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Judea.

The world that Pilate serves, that he wields power in, is not the world from which Christ comes. He holds his power from a worldly system that does not even recognize God’s reign.

The world – the ‘cosmos’ – the system – the order of all things and all ages: whose is it?

Whose world is this? Whose church is this? Is it yours? Is it his? Or does it belong to someone else?

Our Lord proclaims:

My kingdom is not from the system of this world. I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth. And all those who belonging to the truth hear my voice come unto me.

I am their shepherd. I am their king.

Not you, Pilate. Not Caesar. Not anyone else.

What kind of king is this? One who says he has nothing of his own, but what his father gives him. One who gives all of himself, that we may share in the abundance of his reign.

One who, giving all of himself, asks also of us that we give our all to him, that we, with nothing of our own, as he has nothing of his own, may receive all things through him.

And return them, into his hands, at his feet, in praise.

All that we have is thine, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.

You know who said that first? David. King of Judah. As he dedicated the site of the Temple at the end of his reign. He was king of the Jews – and he knew his Master.

He knew his Maker. He knew his Lord.

Do we know ours?

All that we have, all that we are, possessions, personality, prayer; we receive from God and give to God again. We are entrusted with a stewardship. (1 Corinthians 9:7, ASV)

We belong to God; therefore we should do God’s work.

(Cf. Ralph S. Cushman, I Have a Stewardship, Abingdon, 1939)

Every one is wholly God’s own by title of creation – so all our labors and all our powers and faculties must be wholly employed in the service of God, and even all the days of our life, that this life being ended we may live with him forever.

(Cf. Jeremy Taylor)

As we leave this temple, this place of salvation proclaimed and blessing received, as we venture out into the world – with its own system, pulling on us, to make us one of its own again – do we remember who our Lord is?

Do we show it? Do we live it? Do we make it real?

As we go back to the car, or the bus stop, or the pathway home, how shall we carry that kingdom within us that is the true kingdom after all? How shall we live our lives, in line at the grocery store? At the traffic light (C’mon, buddy! Get moving!)? At the office? At home? The channel changer – when we surf the system, whose system are we serving?

When we come to the end of our day, when we say goodnight and our prayers, whom have we been serving? What gospel have we proclaimed, what good news have we shared?

Think of it. Count your blessings. Think of the moments you have experienced grace. Or given it – and so received it again. And again, given it away, as blessed gift and offering.

In those small ways, in these days, we have seen God at work … in our world, in our lives, in our hearts.

Make our hearts your home, O Lord. Make our lives bear witness to your Truth. Make our souls show that Christ is king: that our God reigns. That Jesus is Lord. In this world – as in heaven – may his kingdom come. Amen.

The Sunday before Advent:  The Kingship of Christ

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord,
the wills of thy faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may of thee be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Eternal Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven
that he might rule over all things as Lord and King:
Keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people;
that plenteously bearing  the fruit of good works
they may by you be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Book of Common Prayer, Church of Ireland, 2004)

Paul Mitchell, pastor of Snoqualmie United Methodist Church, pointed out that the word in the Greek text commonly translated into English as "world" is cosmos - or system.

Monday, November 19, 2012

I can hardly wait for Christmas … but I’ll try.

I can hardly wait for it, for all it means to me: festivities, family, friends, now and remembered, here and far away. I want Christmas morning to arrive. But – it is not here yet; I am still waiting, waiting for more than Christmas presents can provide, more than wassail or caroling.

I am eager in anticipation for something greater than these – deliverance (and not just from holiday sales and canned Santa songs). Deliverance into the new kingdom Jesus comes to begin – the new order of the ages John told us was just around the corner.

I want to hear the story of our savior. The one of whom the prophets sang. The one “Messiah” is all about – wonderful, counselor, almighty God, prince of peace – though I know this is only Part One and we will not get to the end of the story until after Holy Week, after Easter, after Ascension, after Pentecost…

I can hardly wait for the celebrations, the holly, the ivy, (the mistletoe), the wassail, the carols, and the candlelight. I want to walk up the path to church between luminaria and into the hall for song and into the sanctuary for communion and into the stillness of night, stars, hidden or shining, waiting above, signaling…

I would like to see the world released from darkness. I would like to see the dawning of the light. And so I can hardly wait to see the beginning of his promised peace.

Still I eagerly await the coming of the King born at Christmas – because with joyful anticipation I prepare my heart. There is certainly room, if I let him in. And so—

I can hardly wait for Christmas … but I’ll try.

Christmas Season at St. Alban’s

The celebration begins at 5 o’clock on Christmas Eve, just after dark – we couldn’t imagine waiting any longer – with caroling, communion, and, yes, candlelight.

The next service is the next morning, Christmas Day, at 10:30 a.m.

We will have the Eucharist at the usual times (8 & 10:30am) on the First Sunday after Christmas.

The twelve days of Christmas season continue until the Eve of the Feast of the Epiphany – Twelfth Night.

Come join us in celebrating the Nativity of Our Lord – and the birth of the new possibility we find in following the way of Jesus.


For the Gospel Grapevine (December 2012), parish newsletter of St. Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, WA.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


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

Lord, what is man, that Thou hast
       regard for him?
Or the son of man, that Thou takest
       account of him?

       Man is like a breath,
       His days are as a fleeting shadow.

In the morning he flourishes and grows up
       like grass,
In the evening he is cut down and withers.

       So teach us to number our days,
       That we may get us a heart of wisdom.

This prayer, read at funerals, is adapted from Psalms 144 and 90.

(Barbara Myerhoff, Number Our Days, New York: E. P. Dutton, 1978, xiv.)

So teach us to number our days, says the Psalmist, and when we try, we find we cannot, not to the end— no one knows it. So we learn: we can accept the gifts our days offer, and to receive those gifts in both hands, with delicate reverence, and in our hearts, with joyful fullness.

The people we love, the place we know, the times we live in, and the blessings we receive, large and small: treasured moments, new friends, and old movies…

We cannot number our days, not to the end, but we can treasure them—
and release them at last, trusting in the hope of resurrection, knowing that our God loves us and death is not the end. We do not see beyond it but we know we shall be united in the presence of a living God.

Living in hope — as we are living now, between the already and the not-yet of God —
is about expectation;
is about assurance;
is about yearning for the end of the world — not to stop the pain of present existence but to begin the new life now!

Living in hope is about the already-but-not-yet reign of our Savior. It is the hope of eternal life, of the resurrection.

Beyond that, it is the hope of the beginning of the larger drama of which resurrection is a part: the inevitable triumph of God’s justice and righteousness in a transformation of all things. In the consummation of time, God will make all things new. 

(Fred B. Craddock et al., Preaching Through the Lectionary, Year B, Harrisburg PA: Trinity Press International, 471)

And so our hope is found in faith, in confidence in God our resurrection as part of the fate of the people of God: the hungry and thirsty, the sick and the lame, the naked, the captive, the sorrowful; all those to whom Jesus proclaims the acceptable year of the Lord.

We live with that hope, in confidence and trust, knowing the light of Christ shines already – and darkness cannot put it out.

God of all power and might, give us grace to trust you in the darkness as well as the light. In the face of danger and adversity, sorrow and loneliness, be our strength and hope, so that we may live and work to your praise and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever.

(David Adam, Traces of Glory, London: SPCK, 146-147)

Forgiven and accepted by God, in the confidence of new life,

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

(Hebrews 10:23-25)

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; and 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, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

BProper28, Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Daniel 12:1-3, Psalm 16, Hebrews 10:11-25, Mark 13:1-8,

O Lord, what are we that you should care for us?*
       mere mortals that you should think of us?
We are like a puff of wind;*
       our days are like a passing shadow.

You sweep us away like a dream;*
       we fade away suddenly like the grass.
In the morning it is green and flourishes;*
       in the evening it is dried up and withered.

So teach us to number our days*
       that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. 

(The Book of Common Prayer, Psalm 144: 3-4, Psalm 90:5-6, 12)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

All Saints 2012

The Burial office in the Book of Common Prayer includes these words:

In the midst of life we are in death; of whom may we seek for succor, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased? 

Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, 
O holy and most merciful Savior, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death. 

Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty, 
O holy and merciful Savior, thou most worthy Judge eternal. Suffer us not, at our last hour, through any pains of death, to fall from thee.


All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

He that raised up Jesus from the dead will also give life to our mortal bodies, by his Spirit that dwelleth in us. 
Wherefore my heart is glad, and my spirit rejoiceth; 
my flesh also shall rest in hope. 
Thou shalt show me the path of life; in thy presence is the fullness of joy, and at thy right hand there is pleasure for evermore. 

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 484 - 485)

In the name of God, merciful Father, compassionate Son, Spirit of wisdom. Amen.

Jesus said to her,  
Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God? 
 (John 11:40)

Martha and Mary’s brother was restored to life: was yours?
Marriages have been rescued from the rocks: was yours?
Children have been saved from car wrecks: was yours? Was your neighbor’s?
How about those we cannot see, do not know?  Is there glory there?

Yes, but it is the glory of the perseverance of the saints, of the faithfulness of God’s people through the ages, who abide with him in love, even should disaster strike.

Some of us have been through earthquakes, fires, floods, droughts, hurricanes, blizzards; others have been through war time or famine; and private bereavements come to us all, friend or family – or stranger, or neighbor down the road.

We share in the grief of others. Because we believe in God, a God who is with us in Christ, we, as the Body of Christ, share in the grief of others, in our church, our town, and our world.

This past Sunday our sister church St. Hilda – St. Patrick suffered the loss of its pastor Cynthia’s husband. Bob Espeseth was killed in a traffic accident in Portland. Cynthia was in a rowing competition and Bob was on a bridge looking down on the race.  As Cynthia's boat went under the bridge, Bob crossed the road to see her on the other side.  When he did, a car on the bridge struck him, and he died instantly. A pastor is left without a husband, the children’s father is taken from them, and a church – not just one congregation – grieves for the loss.

Hurricane Sandy strikes the Caribbean. Cuba, Haiti, and other island peoples, suffer. Then it travels north to clobber the east coast of the North American mainland. Forty or more people die in New York and elsewhere along the Eastern seaboard.

May be there was something that could be done; may be there is something that can be done before next time – but the hurt remains.

And the faith remains; the faith that gives the courage to clean up, move forward, carry on; to comfort the downhearted, to begin to rebuild.

St. Paul’s churchyard, in downtown Manhattan, witness to so many disasters, epicenter of devotion after September 11th. Centuries old, it witnesses another bereavement – this storm – and remains faithful, mute witness to the saints who have gone before, endured trials in their time – petty trials or savage. Slave or free, subject to the Crown or new citizens of a new Republic, those buried in that ancient yard testify of God’s presence. These are saints among us: the first witnesses, the ongoing witnesses, the witnesses yet to come, all witness to the glory of God: because they know in Christ victory over death.

Death is not the end; it does not have the last word. We even laugh at death: mock it with ghostly costumes on the eve of All Saints – we call it Halloween.

Because Christ is risen, because he is raised, and we are called to him, we are alive in Christ. Death is not the end. But what happens after that is in the hands and heart of God.

What we know, now, we the living, is that we have a mission to carry on, to carry forward, and it is not our own plan, our own agenda. Our true gift to the future is our legacy of hope – hope in the resurrection – and joy in the life lived to God’s glory.

May we as we conduct ourselves with others, those near us, and those we know only through the news, begin in charity and complete humility, as we approach the Table of our Lord, knowing that his throne is not far away, and that we have his assurance, that his mercy always overcomes his wrath.

The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
                  slow to anger and of great kindness.
The Lord is loving to everyone
                  and his compassion is over all his works. (Psalm 145:8-9)

May the judge of the world, judge us in the light of Christ. May we his servants serve him in the world. In the hungry, to give them food; the thirsty, drink; the naked, clothing; the homeless, shelter; those in prison or sick or lonely, in visiting; those in terror of judgment, assurance mercy; in the hope of glory, may we find joy.

The Lord bless 
you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you 
and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up his countenance upon 
you and give you peace. Amen.

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 501)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Celebrating with all the saints

This coming Sunday we gather to celebrate All Saints’ Sunday

Of course the celebrations began last night on All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween)….

Last night as we returned home from some “reverse trick-or-treating” – visiting our neighbors with some gifts of candy and candles – some friends bid us goodnight, with the words celebrating with all the saints who are to come. 

Celebrating the feast of All Saints, we remember those who have come before us; we celebrate with those among us; we give thanks for those far away who are yet in the company of Christ with us: let us also think with joy of those believers whose lives and witnesses are yet in the future, but already in God’s eye our fellow saints. What a gift! We are part of this great company, past and present, anticipating a future with hope.

Tonight, like others, you may choose to remember the saints who have gone before us, in prayer, perhaps lighting a candle to remind you of their presence with the Lord.

The people of St. Hilda – St. Patrick Church are gathering tonight at 6:30 for an All Saints service, grieving the loss of their pastor Cynthia’s husband. Bob Espeseth was killed last Sunday in a traffic accident in Portland. Please keep them in your prayers. Bishop Rickel has announced that the Celebration of the Life of Bob Espeseth will be held Saturday, November 17th, at 11 a.m. at St. Mark's Cathedral.

Should Christians celebrate Halloween? Yes! Bishop Shannon Johnston of Virgina wrote:


The most important thing to remember is this: Halloween is the time when Christians proclaim and celebrate the fact that Satan and the occult have no power over us and cannot disrupt our relationship with our Lord and Redeemer, as long as we live faithfully to Christ. We show this by making fun of such pretenders, lampooning them in their face. This is why our costumes and decorations certainly should be witches, devils, and ghosts. In the victory of Christ, Christians are privileged to do this and we must not be timid about it!

Ours is not a fearful faith, cowering from the prospect of falling unawares into Satan’s grasp. In God’s grace and your faithfulness, you are Christ’s own forever. Nothing supersedes that fact. Halloween is therefore one of the boldest Christian witnesses, precisely because of its highly public, graphic, and lampooning nature. Personally, I suspect that those who cannot embrace this are living a fear-driven and even insecure faith. If so, they have bigger problems than the high jinks of Halloween.