Monday, January 28, 2013

Spirit and Practice

For the Gospel Grapevine, Lent 2013:

Spirit and Practice
by the Rev. John Leech

Let me be clear: I’m talking about the Holy Spirit and Christian Practice – how do we make real in our lives the truth of our faith? How do we live out the call of conversion?

This Lenten season, between Pancake Tuesday and Easter morning, we are invited, as always, to step back and reflect on our life with God, with each other, and with our selves. Lent is a time, often, of sacrifice: that is, of offering something of our own choosing as a testament and dedication, an instrument, to symbolize our devotion to a holy and spiritual way of being.

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? So we begin simply, with small practices – omitting something tasty from our diet, trying on a new habit or behavior. It’s almost like a New Year’s resolution – at first.

But this will not satisfy. We’ve got to know there’s more to it.

Lent is a time to lay groundwork, to make preparations, to learn what it is, in a renewing way, to be a Christian. We know – we know, don’t we? – that Easter is coming.

Something new, something unbelievable, is just over the horizon, just beyond our seeing, our field of vision. We live in hope, but we live in the meantime, the not-yet, of expectation.

To make this a season of renewal and not just waiting we take on spiritual practices. These are ways spirit can express itself in activity. Singing, praise, prayer, worship, silence, almsgiving, charitable volunteering – the list of actions we can take personally and together is always growing.

The point is, we are growing too! Growing together in Christ, toward Christ, through and within Christ: that is what Lent is all about. As you decide what to take on or cast off for Lent, give it some prayer: that our Lent together will be one of solemn worship building into joyful celebration.

The greater mystery is ahead: it isn’t the darkness of Lent – it’s the dawning of the new life. What lies beyond Good Friday? What does Easter mean for us? Can we live as resurrection people throughout the year?

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word.

[See elsewhere in this issue for an announcement of Lenten Evening Prayer .]

2013 Lenten Worship Series: Spiritual Practices in Our Lives

Once again we'll be partnering with Edmonds Lutheran Church and Bethel Lutheran Church for our Lenten worship services, but this year's version will have a twist: services will rotate across all three sites.  The overall theme for the season is "Spiritual Practices in Our Lives," and each Wednesday's service will focus on a specific theme both in its message and in its worship style.

February 20 7pm at Edmonds Lutheran Church: Listening & Prayer
February 27 7pm at Bethel Lutheran Church: Study & Scripture
March 6 7pm at St. Alban's: Song & Silence
March 13 7pm at Edmonds Lutheran Church: Hospitality & Fellowship
March 20 7pm at Bethel Lutheran Church: Journey & Pilgrimage

Additionally—and regardless of which site is hosting the service—you are always invited to participate in Annie's Kitchen, the weekly community meal at Edmonds Lutheran Church at 5pm before worship.

Bethel Lutheran Church, 17418 8th Avenue NE, Shoreline
Edmonds Lutheran Church, 23525 84th Avenue West, Edmonds
Carpooling from St Alban's at 6.30pm.

Click on these links for more insights:


Mona Carter, for editing and producing the Gospel Grapevine, our parish newsletter, since July 2009. John Kistner, for serving as parish Treasurer this past year, and to Morrie Tugby and Penny Curtis, for working with him on the finance committee. To ongoing, outgoing, and continuing vestry members, for their leadership, and our delegates and alternate delegates to diocesan convention, for representing St Alban’s to the wider church. To Lee Forsberg and Jim Nichols for taking the lead on keeping up the church buildings and grounds – and to many hands, including Evie Arneson, Chuck Hagen, Al Walker, and Ron Sodetani, for joining in the work.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Ever been to a wedding? One where the gifts piled up? Years ago Jackie and Glenn got married; and there was a table in the reception hall just piled with wedding gifts. I wonder if that was what it was like for Jesus and the disciples, as they came into the celebration of the wedding at Cana.

They’d traveled a long road up from the Jordan valley, where John was baptizing, and John had baptized them – all of them, including Jesus. Then John pointed out Jesus to some of his disciples, who were standing around, and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” So naturally some of them went over to talk to him. And they stayed with him.

And then he said, “Follow me.” And off they went. When they got back home to Galilee, where some of them, including Jesus, were from, they found themselves invited to a wedding as guests.

What do you bring? Do you have a year if you forgot?

There they were – and the wine ran out.

In a desert town far from here there was a woman who was a legendary hostess. She had, as David Steele puts it, “the gift of throwing parties that combine food, decorations, music, and laughter to create an atmosphere of welcome, well-being, and love.” She had three daughters, and they learned this grace from her.

What is happening at the wedding party is that Jesus and his disciples are learning that grace too: from his mother. For there they were: at the beginning of his public ministry, she points out an immediate need – an opportunity, an invitation.

Jesus doesn’t say, “I don’t know how,” or “that’s not my job.” He does say, “Is that our concern? I’m not ready yet.”

He is not ready to be revealed for who he really is – not fully, not yet. But fullness is what is needed here. Abundance has an opening here. And his mother points it out to him.

She trusts him: “Do whatever he tells you,” she says.

Jesus begins to show he knows what it means to throw a party. Indeed, he shows what it means to bring new life, new laughter, new hope, new joy, when it seems like the party is over. “They have no wine.”

Over? The party is just beginning!

He takes what is there: six empty ritual jars, sitting there unused and ineffectual. “Fill them.”

What is drawn out of those once-empty stone jars is abundance, fullness, richness – a cup of blessing is brought to the chief steward. He knows what he tastes – it’s the good wine, at last.

All Israel has been waiting for this wine – for centuries.

This is where the party really starts to take off.

Each of us may find ourselves at a party with no wine, just some empty old stone jars left over from a ritual of the past that no longer works.

But into our lives if we welcome him comes the life of the party – the new life that fulfills life, beyond our hopes and dreams.

And each of us is called to bring something to the party (something we are given in the first place) – some steps in the dance, some gifts for the table, some action or word or service, that is our unique offering to the whole. Together we form, with what each of us is given to bring, a community of joy, love, life, and laughter.

All from the same source, those gifts come: and we find ourselves giving and appreciating gifts – and seeing them in each other – differently as we grow through life.

This is the community of Christ. This is the place where the fun really begins. Here life, love, and laughter take their place; here sorrows, doubts, shame, and darkness are banished at last.

“I am not yet ready,” Jesus says. He knew at that wedding-feast that the hour had not yet come, the hour when he would be glorified. For the hour of his glory would be the hour of the cross. There he would be fully revealed – for who he is. The splendor of his radiance, the glory of God, would shine through him. At that darkest of hours, God’s grace would be poured out for all.

Like the cup of salvation in the Psalms, the cup of wine at the Lord’s Supper, the cup of blessing that the Lord our Shepherd fills to overflowing. This wedding feast is the first celebration of the kingdom coming into our world.  A meal with Jesus at the head of the table is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet Isaiah prophesied, where everyone drinks their fill of aged wines strained clear.

(Isaiah 25:6–9)
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
   a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
   of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.

And he will destroy on this mountain
   the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
   the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
   and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
   for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
   Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
   This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
   let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

The hour? Not yet: the best is yet to come.

In the meantime we raise a cup, a common cup of blessing, knowing his life, poured out for us, is the source of our life and our joy.

all along the lakeshore

He came toward us, walking along the edge of the water, and we knew he was the one John foretold. He said, “Follow me,” and we made our way to Galilee. First he took us to a party – a wedding celebration in a village near his hometown. His mother was there; we too were invited guests. And that party is where it all started.

He showed us who he was,
            who God is,
not by pointing,
but by a sign,
            a deed, an act,
that made a light to shine
            in our hearts.
It began to dawn on us:
He is the light of the world.

And in his light, we see light.

It began so simply, then:
with a party where the wine ran out.
His mother spoke softly to him,
and before we knew it, new wine
flowed. Wine beyond reasonable
            doubt? –
measure, a sure sign of kingdom of God
      a miracle!

Where we had felt scarcity,
            he discovered abundance.
Where we had thought
            we were at the end of hope
He found new life.

Where there had been darkness
            he brought light.

If we felt dead, now
            there was life.

And so we follow him –
            we follow him still.

Grace is what you have when you run out –
            of money, of time,
            of your own resources.
Grace does not wait for you to ask;
            grace just comes.
Are you ready for it?

How could you be?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

You are God’s beloved child

You are my Son, the Beloved;*

    with you I am well pleased.

Who are you? I am a beloved child of God – and so are you!

You are God’s beloved child.

Jesus after being baptized came out of the water and
heard the words
You are my Son, the Beloved: with you I am well pleased.

I wonder what the others heard but
I know what Jesus said to them.
He turned and said the words he dedicated his life to proving:
You are God’s beloved child.

We know he said this without benefit of videotaping or recording equipment –
Because of them he went on to live his life and in every action he took:

Proclaiming God’s kingdom 
of reconciliation, forgiveness, justice and peace;
Healing the sick, raising the dead,
Standing up for the truth at the cost of his own life – 
He said to the world, that
your life is precious in the sight of God. 
You are no accident –
And he has chosen you, holds you in his heart

God has yes, broken you,
Like Bread at the Eucharist,
As Bread for the World, 
Parted out and shared
That all may find life in the abundance of your giving,
like Jesus in his gifts of his self-offering abundance and
overflowing life and love.

God has taken, blessed …
Blessed you, given you hope, 
filled you with good things, 
not least the joy of life.

We look around us and see poverty or blessing, scarcity or abundance.

But God keeps filling our cup of blessing,
Offering us the warmth of his love,
The sustenance of his grace,
The comfort of his kindness,
The joy of his mercy, and
The fellowship of his Son, taken, blessed, broken, …

We are given as well, to the world,
We are distributed as instruments of his peace,
As manifestations of his peace,
As harbingers of his kingdom.

We come to the font and to the table,
Knowing we are imperfect, oh so imperfect beings.

We are taken – chosen,
shared out – given,
for the life of the world depends on us,
Not in a bad way, not in a status way to make us special,
any more special than anyone else.

We are special as all are special and God has always loved you best.


When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15b-17)

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. (1 John 3:1)

You are born into God’s family (in baptism),
Heirs of heaven’s life and joy: wake up and celebrate!


The Feast of the Baptism of our Lord - Year C 
Isaiah 43:1-7;  Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22.

Robert Fuller, Homilies from the Heart, Year C (Tucson).

Henri J. M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World (New York: Crossroad, 1983).

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Epiphany 2013

When I lived in New York my friend and co-religionist Bill Talen was developing a one-man show, Reverend Billy. A cracked-pot street preacher, Reverend Billy would occasionally gather a congregation (audience) together and in the middle of his sermon ask us if we could testify to any god-sightings we’d been blessed with in the past week. It was wise to make one up – if you dared to volunteer: he’d turn and discount your story with explosive sarcasm.

The wise men from the East in our gospel reading today have had a god-sighting:
one they could have predicted, but didn’t;
one so extraordinary that they had to verify it – which involved considerable travel;
one that called for celebration – which involved significant gifts;
one that to us seems so absurd – astrologers from Babylon predicting the birth of the Messiah! – that we might tend to respond with sarcasm, but not Herod’s cold plotting.

Nevertheless they followed that star, and … that god-sighting changed things.

“They returned home by another road”

only to find that they had changed. They could no longer be satisfied with the old ways. Indeed that is why they left in the first place. They saw the portents of inevitable change, and went forward to embrace it.

It was good news they heard. The praise they proclaimed was sincere. Those gifts they offered were honest, generous, and fitting.

“Where is the one born king of the Jews? For we saw his star at its rising…”

We perceived in our wisdom that something new and great was coming into being, that this ordinary-looking child, breathing softly there sleeping in his mother’s arms, that this child’s birth changes the world – and changes us; we too will never be the same, and that is joyous and disorienting news.

For we are – or were – kings in the Orient, wise men from the East. We had our places. 

But we saw the signs. And now we know – we have seen that which makes all our philosophy, all our observations and calculations, seem so much packing material.

Like the straw strewn under the manger, it has its purpose – not so exalted now.

And we began to absorb our losses – to feel our grief for what is gone. No longer will we look to the stars to give life meaning.

We must look on earth. For heaven has come down to meet us.

And meeting us has changed us – changed everything.

Redemption begins with a child. Revelation begins with a baby. It ends in a scene of triumphant glory. But first, in between, in between…

In our minds’ eye we will be walking in the dust beside a young man: far away we will be his companions, as he goes about spreading the news that fell from the sky.

Now earthbound and easy to the touch, the great good news has come to earth, to human form. This boy, this man, this Son of God, has brought the message down to earth.

And he asks us to do earthbound things, things that are ready to the touch.

Love God? Love your neighbor.
Love your neighbor? Love yourself.

Be kind. Be patient, slow to take offense. Be a good neighbor. Give honest weight.

Ordinary things – so hard to do.

And build on them – in them – build the kingdom right there out of earthbound ordinary things.

Find the praise, find the proclamation, find the pardon.

Find the procession of offerings.

Follow it to the altar: as Isaiah the prophet envisioned, a gathering of all nations, to pay homage to one God.

We were just the first to arrive. You come too.

It is a great procession of all people. All are welcome. Where do you find your place?

Are you trying to go back – to retrace your former journey to a time and place when you were comfortable and everything made sense - or are you going forward, entering into joy?

It’s a different road, a hard road. 

So here’s what we do – we the wise of the East:

Hear the good news. Sing his praise. Seek him out. Worship him. And go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of God.

"Journey of the Magi", T. S. Eliot