What is it to be rich toward God?

The view from the bow entering Snow’s Passage, Alaska

The view from the bow entering Snow’s Passage, Alaska

A Sermon: Proper 13 Year C August 4 2019

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; Psalm 49:1-11; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

“So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

You’ve probably heard this phrase: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  The source is Plato’s account of the trial of Socrates, who tells us that Socrates uttered these words in the course of the proceedings.

Well, our readings today certainly afford us an opportunity to examine our lives in the light of the Scriptures.

Beginning with Ecclesiastes, we heard the Teacher, a man who has had it all, seen it all, achieved it all, proclaiming that in the face of death his toil and striving are but vanity, striving after wind.  “It is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with.”  You work and toil and then you have to leave it all behind to someone who didn’t have to work for it.

The Psalmist takes up the theme.  Listen up, all of you.  Rich and poor alike, the wise and the unwise alike all die and go to their graves.  There’s no price we can pay to avoid this fate.  Honors may come to you in life, but in the end all perish.

Then in our Gospel lesson Jesus tells us a parable about a man. The man is someone who might in America be an icon for the American dream.  He is hard-working in his planning and execution of his business. His fields yield abundant crops. Now he envisions a time to relax and enjoy it all to himself; eating, drinking, and being merry.

But the judgment of the parable is harsh.  He’s being a fool.  He has not factored into the equation the gifts of Creation which gave him earth to cultivate and seed to place in it.  He has not factored in the satisfaction that could come of sharing his riches with the community, of sharing his knowledge with others, of leaving a legacy for others to build upon.  And he has not factored into the equation the reality that he may not have a tomorrow.  “You fool, this very night your life is required of you.”

Then Jesus’ summary teaching:  “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves, but are not rich toward God.”

What is it to be “rich toward God?”

I stood recently with Sharon on the deck of a cruise ship as we headed north from Juneau approaching the narrows of Snow’s Passage. It was seven in the evening, and the sun lay low in the sky to the west, casting golden light on calm waters in the distance. Ahead of us and to starboard humpback whales blew jets of spray, surfaced and gracefully dove again, showing us their long bodies and finally their flukes as they filled their enormous lungs with air and dove again to feed in the depths.  Dall porpoises raced alongside the ship, their dark dorsal fins cutting through the waves like knives.

Waiting in front of Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay, Alaska

Waiting in front of Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay, Alaska

We would later stand on that same deck with a group of passengers, waiting in a surprising silence - it is generally not common for a group of people to remain silent for long - in front of Margerie Glacier in anticipation of another display of a glacier calving into the sea.

Moments like that are moments of awareness of the richness of God towards us.  Those whales, porpoises, those plankton and krill, those vast fields of ice and snow are all part of the web of life that sustains us all, the web of life that is the gift of God, who is so rich toward us and all humankind.

What is it to be rich toward God?  Could it be that it begins with paying attention?  Could it be that it begins with paying attention to the richness of God toward us?

I don’t have to go to Alaska to pay attention.  I saw God’s richness toward us in a duck in the pond in Stimpson Nature Reserve on Friday.  A little mallard female was all alone in the duckweed, feeding, and Sharon and I had some silence to simply witness the moment, in which the whole gift of life was captured for me.  I saw the forest there, given to us the public through the foresight and generosity of the Stimpson family, who are part of the history of St. Paul’s.

Geneva Pond in the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Geneva Pond in the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

God’s richness toward us is evident in manifold ways to us as we pay attention.  God’s richness in making provision for everything living, in giving us each other. God has given us people from every corner of the globe, and their art, and their music, and their poetry and their wisdom.

The time to enjoy it is now.  It is impermanent, just as the lives of all those creatures I saw are impermanent, and yet in the impermanence there is the urgency to see the beauty of it all.

After our return from Alaska I read Lynn Schooler’s book about his travels in SE Alaska with nature photographer Michio Hoshino, a man whose fascination with nature and humble and trusting way of being in the world changed the author’s life.  One day Michio said “Everything has to die. This is why we love nature so much.  It makes me want to get the most from my life. To really live.[1]

The Teacher of Ecclesiastes, by the way, will eventually come around from his discourse on the vanity of it all to urge the reader to enjoy the life we are given, especially in view of the fragility and impermanence of life.

Surely, being rich toward God involves enjoyment, and enjoyment involves being related to others in an economy of sharing of abundance.

“It is a most significant fact,” wrote Rabbi Abraham Heschel, “that man is not sufficient to himself, that life is not meaningful to him unless it is serving an end beyond itself, unless it is of value to someone else. The self may have the highest rate of exchange, yet men do not live by currency alone, but by the good attainable by expending it. To hoard the self is to grow a colossal sense of the futility of living.”[2]

I’m reminded of a lyric that I love from Tom Waits’ song Take it With Me, in which Waits, well aware of his mortality, dwells meditatively on moments in life - alone and with others - in which he felt grateful, felt alive. In one line he reflects on something as simple as falling asleep with a friend on a friend’s porch.

To me the meaning of the song is captured in this line in which he tells a deep truth about what he expects to take with him when he goes.

All that you've loved is all you own.

All that you’ve loved is all you own.  That’s what we can take with us when we go.

How has God been rich toward us?  Toward you, toward me?  Have we returned love toward God, in all God’s manifestations?  What are you going to take with you when you go?

What does it mean for us today to heed Jesus’ words, to be rich toward God?


[1]Lynn Schooler, The Blue Bear: A True Story of Friendship and Discovery in the Alaskan Wild, (HarperCollins, 2002), 178.

[2]-Abraham Joshua Heschel 1907-1972, Man Is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion.Quoted by Suzanne Guthrie at http://www.edgeofenclosure.org/proper13c.html

A sad day

I woke up this morning and thought immediately of the shootings in El Paso and Dayton. I wanted to cover my head with the sheet and just go back to sleep. I’m sad, I’m grieving, and I’m feeling angry today.

I opened up my e-mail to catch up and immediately found Bishop Rickel’s post from yesterday. He tell us of his sadness, anger, and grief, and urges us to action. I ask you to read his entire post and follow through with me on action steps. He’s asking us to make a list of at least three things that we plan to do about this.

I donated this morning to these two funds set up to assist victims of the El Paso shooting.

I’m writing this piece.

I’m going to be contacting my US Senators. Why?

I’ve seen politicians blame the violence of El Paso and Dayton on violent video games. I hate violent video games. I find no redeeming social value in them. But where is the evidence of the link between video games and the shooters in El Paso or Dayton?

What role does mental illness play in this? I’d need a lot more clarity on this point before I casually laid the blame for these shootings on mental illness. What mental illness? Whose mental illness? By what definition?

In El Paso we have the evidence that the shooter was motivated by racial hatred.

In Dayton we have the evidence that the shooter was motivated by vicious mysogny.

In both cases, we have evidence that these young men obsessed with hatred and with mysogyny were able to obtain weapons designed to kill as many people as possible.

If we want to talk about insanity, then what kind of sane society would tolerate this easy availability of weapons of mass killing?

Why am I contacting my Senators?

Because we have a public health problem on our hands with respect to gun violence, not only in mass shootings, but in incidents of death where people die by two’s or three’s, every week, week in and week out someplace in America.

Because since 1996 our nation has not spent any significant money on any large-scale research into gun violence as a public health issue. There are a number of smaller-scale studies out there like this one from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston which found that “having a mental illness does not necessarily make a person more likely to commit gun violence… a better indicator of gun violence was access to firearms.”

Now there is a bill before the Senate to give the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control $50 million for large-scale research on gun violence. You can read about it here. We need this to discover some more solid answers that could inform our public policy. What is the role of mental illness? What is the role of video games? A sane society, it seems to me, would want to put their best minds to work on finding some answers.

That’s why I’m contacting my US Senators today. I’m going to ask them to support this bill, and not give up until there is a bill.

Have we become numb to the latest news about people dying in a fusillade of bullets? Are we going to let politicians get by without accountability for their part in making sane laws to govern access to weapons designed only for the most efficient killing possible?

I certainly cannot take seriously the politician who suggested that armed shoppers could have prevented the violence at the Walmart in El Paso. I keep hearing about how a good guy with a gun can take out a bad guy with a gun. Were is the evidence of this? Where are the authorities to demonstrate this in a disciplined way? I haven’t heard of any, and I’ve looked.

I saw recently a bumper sticker on a vehicle in our area. “My Family”, read the caption, and the graphic showed lineup of weapons, beginning with the familiar shape of an assault-style weapon and ending in a pistol. It’s an obvious take on this popular stickers you find in rear windows of mini vans and SUV’s in which parents tell you with stick figures that they have their children on board. I was confused by this bumper sticker. I’m still confused. Is this supposed to be a joke? If it is, am I expected to find it funny? I didn’t find it funny. I found it macabre. What is being said about “family values” here?

We as a people have the power to speak up to politicians, to vote politicians into office, to vote them out again. I’ve lived in a town where a school shooting occurred. I’ve been on site with grieving and angry teachers who lost colleagues in that shooting. I’ve seen the youth who lost classmates. It can. happen here.

Let’s not allow numbness to take over. We need to pray, but we need to follow the lead of our bishop and do something.

Please read the bishop’s post. Please do at least three things today to act on your concern. He’s given us some good places to start.

In appreciation of Vacation Bible School

I want you all to know of my appreciation for the work of our staff: Lindsay Knight and Nicole Pridachuk, in leading a tremendously successful Vacation Bible School at St. Paul’s this past week. 169 children were registered. Staff and volunteers from St. James Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church worked with our staff and volunteers to accomplish three hours each morning of high intensity fun, learning, singing, activities, and snacks.

Months of preparation are involved in this effort, with a great amount of detail. It was joyous and fun as it all unfolded.

Pastor Doug Bunnell of First Presbyterian Church and Pastor Seth Thomas of St. James and I all agreed that this cooperation among our churches is ideal, that this is collaboration we want to continue, and we appreciate our staff who made it all possible.

Jonathan

Children at the Border - Immigration Crisis

Dear friends:

Who cannot be moved and disturbed at the news from our southern border of little children living amid squalor and deprivation in detainment?

Our Bishop has written about this matter in the previous post, and I want to add a little of what I know.

In conversation with Paul Moore, the rector of St. Paul’s/Resurrecion Episcopal Church in Mount Vernon, I received first-hand information about the work in which he was engaged recently at the border. He called my attention to a work directed by Deacon Roger Babnew of St. Andrew’s Church in the border town of Nogales, Arizona. The effort is called Cruzando Fronteras. The mission, supported jointly by the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona and the regional synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, is described in the following five points:


•  Prayer and relational action with those involved in global mission along the Arizona/Sonora corridor;

•  Humanitarian advocacy for migrants, refugees, detainees, and all who live in Las Fronteras;

•  Promotion of comprehensive immigration reform;

•  Expanded church relationships with Lutheran & Anglican communities in Mexico, Latin America & globally; 

•  Latino/Hispanic congregational development in the region

Paul is planning to attend the second Episcopal Border Ministries Summit this November in Tuscon. I plan to attend this three-day event as well, in order to learn first-hand about what the situation is and how we as a Church on both sides of the border are responding.

Last December Episcopal Relief and Development published this article about efforts on both sides of the border with Mexico, and includes information about the ministry of Cruzando Fronteras.

Gifts given to the International Disaster Fund of Episcopal Relief and Development help support the humanitarian work with immigrants moving through Mexico.

The Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande and their new bishop Michael Hunn (who visited St. Paul’s in Bellingham with Bishop Curry last year) is also involved in ministry at the border. You can learn more about that here.

I leave you with this thought. Much of our Bible (major portions of the Hebrew Scriptures) were written from exile in Babylon. Our faith ancestors were immigrants and exiles who were displaced by violence and war from their homes. Jeremiah gave voice to their pain when he wrote:

“…A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”

Jesus was himself a refugee, Matthew’s Gospel tells us.

Our political concern for immigration reform should not get in the way of a humanitarian response to immigrants, especially children who are on the run with their parents and guardians and relatives from violence and very real threats to their safety in their home countries.

Bishop Rickel on the Immigrant Crisis at the Southern Border

Bishop Greg Rickel of the Diocese of Olympia

Bishop Greg Rickel of the Diocese of Olympia

June 24, 2019

Dear Ones,

Like many of you, I was horrified by the report detailing the conditions undocumented children are forced to endure after crossing the border and being taken into federal custody. No matter our political differences, I believe we all can agree as Christians that no child should be subjected to these squalid living conditions.

Many of you have asked for ways to provide aid and assistance to the children in federal detention, and while my office seeks to find organizations and groups who are providing direct support, I wanted to direct you to some additional resources that you can use to support and advocate for immigrants and their rights.

First, the Sanctuary page at St. Mark’s Cathedral has a helpful list of local organizations working with immigrants in the area. You can find that page here: https://saintmarks.org/justice/ministries/sanctuary/

My office has also set up a legal defense fund to help support individuals facing deportation. Follow the link below, select Ongoing Initiatives from the options, and enter in the amount you would like to donate under Legal Defense Fund: https://ecww.org/ways-to-give/

I would also like to direct you to the work being done by Cristosal. They work in Central America and attempt to address many of the root causes of our current migration crisis: https://www.cristosal.org/

Finally, The New York Times recently published an opinion piece about the current situation and includes a number of very useful resources in addressing this crisis at the national level: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/24/opinion/border-kids-immigration-help.html

Blessings,
+Greg

https://ecww.org/bishop-rickels-statement-on-updates-to-immigration-crisis/

Phishing Scam Alert: I will never send you an e-mail asking you to spend money

This week, once again, some of you received an e-mail, purporting to be from me, in which someone masquerading as me asks you to spend money as a favor to me.

In this case, someone asked you in my name to buy e-bay gift cards.

If you receive such an e-mail, it isn’t from me. I will never ask you for money in an e-mail.

Our Communications and Operations Manager gives us the following instruction. Please note it! Thank you!

PHISHING SCAM ALERT: We have been alerted that some of you may have received emails from St. Paul’s clergy from a false email address. Please be suspect of ANY request via email that requests funds, cash, wires, gift cards or the like from any source. If you receive a note from anyone, especially a member of St. Paul’s clergy and staff, asking you for money or gift cards, examine the “from” field carefully. Any email from St. Paul’s should end in @stpaulsbellingham.org. It is not St. Paul’s practice to request money via email; funds are generally accepted via cash, credit card or checks in the offering plate, mail or using our website. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact the church office.

 

Today is the 75th Anniversary of D-Day

Americans disembarking landing craft on D-Day, June 6, 1944 (Wikimedia Commons)

Americans disembarking landing craft on D-Day, June 6, 1944 (Wikimedia Commons)

O Judge of the Nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom, and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

-A Thanksgiving for Heroic Service, Book of Common Prayer 1979, 839.

American soldiers recovering the dead after D-Day (Wikimedia Commons)

American soldiers recovering the dead after D-Day (Wikimedia Commons)

The Cemetery a few days after D-Day anniversary in 2012 (Wikimedia Commons)

The Cemetery a few days after D-Day anniversary in 2012 (Wikimedia Commons)

The Holy Spirit calls us to ministry

William de Brailles (c 1250) Walters Art Gallery (Wikimedia Commons)

William de Brailles (c 1250) Walters Art Gallery (Wikimedia Commons)

On Sunday, the Feast of Pentecost, we’ll celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church.  We’ll recognize that the Holy Spirit poured out on the apostles on that day is given to every member of the church.

How do we recognize the gift of the Holy Spirit in us?

The Book of Common Prayer gives us a concise answer:

 

“We recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation.” (BCP 1979, 852)

 

The Holy Spirit’s presence in us also empowers each of us to carry out ministry in Christ’s name.  We receive the gifts of God, we “pay it forward” to others.  That’s ministry.  Receiving from Christ’s love, giving it forward to others.

The Book of Common Prayer gives us a concise answer as to what that looks like in the life of members of the Church:

 

“The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.” (BCP 1979, 855)

 

What does ministry look like in your life?  

 For some of you, this question may be something you’re going to sit with for a bit.  Maybe you're in a time of listening to your life and discerning what it is that God has for you to do right now.   It may be listening and asking God to show you.  Listening happens in quiet.  Sometimes it happens when you talk with others.

 Your ministry may be focusing on what's right in front of you: the things you do every day.  It may be your responsibilities at home, with your children, at your work.  It may not mean adding anything in particular to your activities, but rather claiming your present activities and responsibility in a new way as being God's call to you right now in your life.

 It may be enjoying a time of renewal and exploration of what it is you believe, enjoying some time for reflection, conversation with trusted friends and church members.  It may be a time of simply coming to a deeper realization that you don't have to do anything to make God love you more; that you can simply rest in the knowledge that you're loved.  Maybe you just are being given some time for enjoying that.

 It may be that you're taking notice of a ministry you see happening in the church; a ministry of being an  acolyte or working on the Altar Guild or Flower Guild or singing in the choir or being an usher or volunteering with Family Promise or working on the grounds crew that comes here on Mondays to maintain the gardens around the church.  It may be helping with Godly Play or any number of the multitude of things that people do around here.   Yours may be a ministry of hospitality connected with serving food at receptions for funerals or other church events.  You may have a ministry of helping put on coffee hours. I can help connect you.  So can the other clergy.

 The list above is partial. There are a lot of ministries going on!

 Some ministries of the church, like Eucharistic Minister (those people who dress up in white albs and help serve communion) are approached through the rector or one of the clergy; who will talk with you about what is entailed in preparation to be licensed for that ministry.  For those ministries, a recommendation is needed.

 Being an acolyte (on Sundays, dressing in an alb and helping with the service by carrying a torch in the processions), is a little easier ministry to get into, as it doesn't require anything more than some training and a commitment to show up when scheduled.

 Some ministries, like those with children and youth, have special qualifications that must be met through a background check and screening and special training.  Our Children's Ministry Director and Youth Director are in charge of assembling teams to do that work.

 It may be that you're noting something that you can offer which isn't being done presently.  Let us know if that's the case.  Perhaps there’s a way you can help us do something with you.

 I speak so far of ministries within the church community.  Your ministry focus may be outside the boundaries of the life of the congregation, out there in the community.  It may be a particular way of living into your job or occupation in a renewed way.  It may be a focus on your work, “carrying out Christ’s ministry of reconciliation in the world.”  That may mean doing your work with intentionality, with concern for excellence, with a concern for how it contributes to the general welfare.  It may mean a change in your vocation toward what you really feel called to do.

 In any case, I just wanted to say that baptism is a call to ministry.  That's fundamental.

 And your call to ministry is - as Frederick Buechner put it so well: "Where your deep gladness and the world's hunger meet."

 Blessings on your discernment as to how God is calling you to ministry.  Let us know how we can help.

Thoughts on religion and politics

199px-United_States_Constitution.jpg

What is the relationship between religion and politics?  Is it true that religion and politics don’t mix? We’ve heard the phrase “separation of church and state.”  What does that mean? Does the Gospel apply only to our private lives? Does the Church have nothing to say to our society?

Holy Bible.jpg

At St. Paul’s we represent a spectrum of political commitments relative to party affiliation, positions on issues and candidates, and the sources we rely upon for information.  In some homes the television is tuned to Fox, in others the television is tuned to MSNBC. Nevertheless, I see with few exceptions among us a willingness to give each other room.

I’ve heard among us the opinion that “religion and politics don’t mix.”  If by that is meant that the pulpit is not a place for the preacher to substitute for the preaching of the Gospel an agenda relative to a specific issue or candidate as though it were the only agenda possible among Christians, then I would agree with that statement.

The phrase “religion and politics don’t mix” is problematic for me, however.  The Gospel of Christ is inherently political; that is, it challenges our social arrangements with a vision of justice, wholeness, reconciliation.  The word “Gospel” was first used in Christianity to proclaim that there was an authority above the Emperor; the newly born child of Bethlehem. The response of Herod to this news confirms that the Empire knew very well they faced a political challenge.  The Jesus who proclaimed as his mission good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and the year of Jubilee (Luke 4:18-21) is a Jesus with an agenda to challenge the politics of his age and every subsequent age.  The Sermon on the Mount proclaims a politics of abundance, a politics eschewing violence, a politics of reconciliation and a new world in which righteousness dwells. The arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus were the response of a political system that perceived the politics of Jesus as a threat to the politics of Empire. The Revelation to St. John the Divine is a political tract encouraging the witness of a persecuted Body of Christ to the authority of Christ above the claims of Imperial Rome.  Finally, we begin our liturgies with the affirmation “Blessed be the One, Holy and Living God, and Blessed Be God’s Kingdom, now and forever.” That’s political speech. The Gospel has never been politically neutral. It has never been partisan, but it has never been politically neutral.

William Lamar speaks as a black pastor from the tradition of the black church, which was and continues to be, a place in which the politics of the Gospel of Jesus Christ nourished and strengthened and supported black people for witness and action for racial justice.  The black Church in America in the Civil Rights Movement found great inspiration in the biblical story of the Exodus, and understood that God was hearing their cry, as God had heard the cry of the Hebrew people before them, and was their deliverer. The black church didn’t have the luxury of being “non-political”.  The politics of Jim Crow and segregation enforced by the white majority made their political activism necessary.

In a recent article, Pastor Lamar wrote:

Whenever we deploy words, especially in the service of God, we are acting politically. There is no such thing as nonpolitical language….The church is a praying, singing, preaching, witnessing body. We witness to the in-breaking of God’s reign of love, justice, beauty, and abundance in time and space. We lament brokenness, evil, and violence. We proclaim that these dastardly realities are ending even as we groan and press toward God’s redemption of humanity and all of creation. Our prayers, songs, sermons, and testimonies are acts of political speech.

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas observes:

The only problem with “religion and politics do not mix” is that the phrase is one of the strongest examples we have of political rhetoric. There is no escaping “the political.” To refuse to take a political stance is to take a political stance.

The point I want to make is this.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ represents a political challenge to our political affiliations and commitments, which are inevitably to political parties and policies which are governed by expediency, by concern for the maintenance of power, by overlooking the just claims of the under-represented and the unseen.  God is, as the bumper sticker puts it, neither a Republican or a Democrat. God is the one whose call to Love challenges us all in our commitments. When Christians gather, we need to let ourselves be deeply challenged by the message of the Gospel of Jesus in a way which causes us to question our closely held opinions, to examine our political commitments, to take seriously our baptismal vows to strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

Now, a word about “separation of church and state.”  This phrase, originally coined by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Baptists assuring them that the state would not interfere in their affairs, is to be understood in reference to the Constitution, which provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."  This provision does not mean that the church cannot bear witness to the state about a matter of policy, based on our understanding of the basic commitments to which the Gospel calls Christians.  The church should do that.

When I vote, I cannot just compartmentalize my faith in Jesus Christ off in the realm of privacy. The same is true when I call my Congressperson.  The same is true when I get into the pulpit. I made a vow to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord. His voice is authoritative and affects every decision about everything.  His love for all is apparent, and has political implications. The choices I have are imperfect. I am an imperfect person, in a system designed to accommodate an imperfect world. But the vision Jesus gives me in his teaching, life and death and resurrection means a hunger to see what is right, what makes for justice, for human flourishing. The voice of Jesus gives urgency, a desire to see society bend itself toward justice for all.

NOTE: The quotes from William Lamar and Stanley Hauerwas are from the article “Do Politics Belong in Church?” published in Christian Century Magazine September 24, 2018. https://www.christiancentury.org/article/opinion/do-politics-belong-church





Isaac of Syria on God's Goodness

Isaac of Nineveh. (image in public domain)

Isaac of Nineveh. (image in public domain)

I found these words from Isaac of Syria today. They are a good followup to the Gospel lesson for last Sunday from Luke in which Jesus tells the parable we commonly call The Prodigal Son. Isaac of Nineveh was a seventh-century bishop and monk whose fame is great throughout the Eastern Churches. He was for a short time Bishop of Nineveh in what is now Northern Iraq before retiring to a life of solitude, prayer and writing. His writings from solitude are now known the world over, and especially treasured among our Eastern Orthodox friends. His writings now are inspiring people well beyond the sphere of Eastern Christianity. He has a timeless message of God’s compassion borne out of deep prayer and study of the Scriptures and his love of Jesus Christ.

Do not hate the sinner. Become a proclaimer of God’s grace, seeing that God provides for you even though you are unworthy.

Although your debt to God is very great, there is no evidence of him exacting any payment from you, whereas in return for the small ways in which you do manifest good intention, he rewards you abundantly. Do not speak of God as ‘just’, for his justice is not in evidence in his actions toward you.

How can you call God just when you read the gospel lesson concerning the hiring of the workmen in the vineyard? How can someone call God just when he comes across the story of the prodigal son who frittered away all his belongings in riotous living - yet merely in response to his contrition his father ran and fell on his neck, and gave him authority over all his possessions?

In these passages it is not someone else speaking about God; had that been the case, we might have had doubts about God’s goodness. No, it is God’s own Son who testifies about him in this way.

Where then is this ‘justice’ in God, seeing that, although we were sinners, Christ died for us? If he is so compassionate in this, we have faith that he will not change.

A.M. Allchin, editor, Sebastian Brock, translator: Daily Readings with St. Isaac of Syria. (Templegate, 1990), 57.

Save the date: June 6. Suzanne Guthrie will give an evening talk at St. Paul's

Thérèse of Lisieux

Thérèse of Lisieux

The Rev. Suzanne Guthrie, a retreat leader and writer and curator of the website “At the Edge of the Enclosure” will speak at St. Paul’s on the evening of Thursday, June 6. Her visit is in conjunction with a retreat she’s giving at Stillpoint at Beckside, a local retreat center.

Suzanne’s talk is entitled The Way of Love: The Passion of Thérèse of Lisieux. Her talk will give insight into the life of faith in God when we come against the limits of faith. This has been called “The Dark Night of the Soul.”

Here is a description of the talk:

In her short life Thérèse developed a creative form of spirituality out of the limitations of her own personality and environment - a way of love accessible to anyone. And, she "democratizes" the Dark Night of the Soul for us in her ingenious response to God's apparent abandonment in her last year of life.

In other words, everybody comes up against a crisis of faith at some time in our life. We lack the consolations of faith, the assurances that at one time we might have felt. This can feel very discouraging. We may wonder whether our faith in God is in vain.

When I arrived in Snowmass at the St. Benedict Monastery Guest House for the Centering Prayer retreat, I found in the retreat library a copy of The Story of a Soul, which is an autobiography of Thérèse of Lisieux. I read it during the retreat. Knowing of Suzanne’s upcoming visit, I felt it was meant to be.

In reading about Thérèse through her own words, I encountered a person whose cultural and religious upbringing was quite different than mine. The spiritual insights, however, are profound, and made a bridge to me.

If you’ve ever wondered about your periods of doubt or spiritual dryness, I recommend that you attend this talk by Suzanne. Now that I’ve read Story of A Soul, I can understand why Suzanne is going to draw our attention to what we can learn from Thérèse’s times of feeling bereft of the consolations of faith.

Praying at Snowmass

A view of a portion of the guesthouse and the prayer chapel at St. Benedict’s Monastery, Snowmass, Colorado

A view of a portion of the guesthouse and the prayer chapel at St. Benedict’s Monastery, Snowmass, Colorado

I’m grateful to have had ten days in March for retreat to St. Benedict Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, meeting with twenty others for eight full days devoted to Centering Prayer, silence, and the opportunity to attend daily monastic prayers and mass with the Cistercian monks in their chapel.

We spent three-and-a-half hours a day sitting in meditation in thirty-minute segments interspersed with walking meditation. We ate meals in silence. We shared rooms in the guesthouse and in an array of small hermitages. We took in the grand silence of what retreatants have come to call “The Sacred Valley.”

I’ve been asked for insights from the retreat. The main insight for me is confirmation of the value of rest, of time away from daily demands, of the need we all have to commune with our God, as Jesus did when he went away into the hills for prayer and rest. After a few days coming down from the stress of work and travel, I found myself in a rhythm of early rising and early to bed. I slept well. I did just fine away from the news, from the internet, from a phone and e-mail. I reveled in the amazing beauty of this valley resting at 8000 feet on the western side of the Rocky Mountains, covered with snow, lined with snow-laden ridges and forests, with the brilliant white cone of Mt. Sopris occupying the highest horizon. I enjoyed the crisp crunch of snow in the pre-dawn walk from my hermitage to the prayer chapel, and walking, bundled against the chill, the half-mile or so walk from guesthouse to monastery chapel twice each day. And yes, I enjoyed having my morning coffee prepared for me; my breakfast, lunch, and dinner expertly prepared with vegetarian ingredients by the dedicated staff of Contemplative Outreach of Colorado. Our staff: Jenny, Jill, and John, also led our prayer sessions, were available for individual conversations, and ferried us to and from St. Benedict’s at the beginning and end of our retreat.

The concept behind Centering Prayer is fairly simple. The late Fr. Thomas Keating, a Cistercian monk who lived at St. Benedict’s, was among those who brought the practice to the general public, working with Fr. Basil Pennington and Fr. William Meninger, both fellow Cistercians, and borrowing the title from Cistercian monk Thomas Merton, who described contemplative prayer as “centered entirely on the presence of God.” In their work, they explain that they were drawing on the roots of prayer as practiced by the Desert Fathers of early Christianity and the Lectio Divina practice of Benedictine monasticism, and to such spiritual classics as The Cloud of Unknowing and the works of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross.

Centering Prayer is a practice alongside the practice of mental prayer, in which we turn our thoughts to God and submit our intellect and imagination to God for renewal and for insight, drawing on Scripture and devotional and theological discourse. In Centering Prayer we take up from where mental prayer leads us, and we simply rest our minds and our thoughts and emotions while we continuously give ourselves over to the presence of God continuously available to us. Here is a simple outline of Centering Prayer as taught by Fr. Keating:

  • In Centering Prayer we choose a sacred word as the symbol of our intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.

  • Then we sit comfortably, close our eyes, and briefly and silently introduce that word as a symbol of our consent to God’s presence and action within.

  • Then, when engaged with thoughts (bodily sensations, feelings, images, and reflections), we return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.

  • At the end of the prayer period, we remain in silence for a couple of minutes with eyes closed. I generally close my times of Centering Prayer by reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

my seat in the Prayer Chapel next to the Reserved Sacrament

my seat in the Prayer Chapel next to the Reserved Sacrament

Anyone can practice Centering Prayer. The desire to do so is the invitation from God. One can practice anywhere at any time, but of course it is best to find at least a brief time alone. One can pray for a few minutes. One can pray for twenty minutes, which is a recommended goal, twice a day.

We have a Contemplative Prayer group meeting at St. Paul’s at 5:30 pm on Thursdays in Room B22. They meet for an hour. To get to B22, come down the ramp to the playground and turn left to the door that leads from B22 to the playground. You’re all welcome.

Fr. Thomas Keating’s work in Centering Prayer is carried on by Contemplative Outreach, an organization formed by people who benefited from Centering Prayer and wanted to help him make the practice available to as wide a public as possible. Contemplative Outreach of Colorado sponsors these retreats at Snowmass, which you can find out about by visiting their website.

Here are some words about Centering Prayer by Thomas Keating from his book Invitation to Love:

The way of pure faith is to persevere in contemplative practice without worrying about where we are on the journey, and without comparing ourselves with others or judging others’ gifts as better than ours. We can be spared all this nonsense if we surrender ourselves to the divine action, whatever the psychological content of our prayer may be. In pure faith, the results are often hidden from those who are growing the most….The divine light of faith is totally available in the degree that we consent and surrender ourselves to its presence and action within.

What is the effect of Centering Prayer? I find it helps me center in God, whose love for me is the same love God has for every human being. Centering in God helps us resist the temptation to become attached to our prejudices, obsessive thoughts and fears, and helps us resist the influences that seek to divide people one from another. I hope it means that I’m better able to love.

We retreatants broke our silence on the afternoon of the last full day together, and as we talked and got to know one another we found that the bond formed among us in silence was strong. We thanked one another for making the space for each other in silence. In companionship there is help for this prayer.

Thank you all, especially the clergy and staff who did extra work when I was gone, for giving me this time away. It was a blessing to me

The view from my hermitage window

The view from my hermitage window

Walking home from monastery after Vespers

Walking home from monastery after Vespers


Panorama from Guesthouse area looking south to monastery

Panorama from Guesthouse area looking south to monastery

On the walk from guesthouse to monastery for prayers

On the walk from guesthouse to monastery for prayers

My “hermitage” for the week: St. Aelred, shared with an Episcopalian from Boulder

My “hermitage” for the week: St. Aelred, shared with an Episcopalian from Boulder

Parable of the Father Reconciling Estranged Siblings: A Sermon for 4 Lent

Rembrandt van Rijn,  The Return of the Prodigal Son

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Return of the Prodigal Son

“Then the father said to [his son], 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” 

(Luke 15:31b, NRSV)

What title would you give the Gospel parable we heard today?

The Parable of the Prodigal Son, the story of what happens after a foolish young man extravagantly wastes his inheritance and has no recourse but to return to his father’s household?

The Parable of a Prodigal Father,the story of how a bereaved parent wastefully and extravagantly celebrates the return of said foolish young son?

The Parable of the Envious and Resentful Elder Brother,the story of how the obedient son takes bitter exception to both the wastefulness of the younger brother and the wastefulness of the father?

All of these are possible and worth exploring.

What if we called this the Parable of the Father Reconciling Estranged Siblings?*

 Jesus, in the presence of devout Pharisees, who studied their Scriptures, begins telling a story by saying “A man had two sons”. Imagine that these devout Pharisees could hear in this beginning an echo the stories of Cain and Abel, or Ishmael and Isaac, or Jacob and Esau, or Joseph and his brothers?  These are stories of estranged siblings told in the Hebrew Bible, the Scriptures read in the synagogues where Jesus prayed in the company of devout Pharisees.  They are stories with elements of tragedy, alienation, violence, told by Hebrew sages as part of a larger account of the relationship of Israel to God.

 Think of the setting in which Jesus tells the story. The Pharisees grumble because Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners.  Have we ever grumbled inwardly over the impression that some people aren’t getting the comeuppance we think they deserve?

 In the hearing of these grumblers Jesus teaches in parables the desire of the Holy One to reach lost people, to bring all into the beloved community, the reign of God.  God as a shepherd seeking a lost sheep, God as a woman seeking a lost coin.

 Then he tells this story which begins “A man had two sons.” 

 The younger son wastes his father’s inheritance in a far-off land.  Reduced to nothing, with a growling stomach, he who comes home, not to what we think he may deserve, which might be an appropriate period of penance featuring a bed of straw in the hayloft, a diet of stale bread and water, and the duty to muck out the manure from the barn for the next year or two; but a party fit for royalty.

 The elder son is one with whom I can easily identify.  The obedient son who has stayed home and done what is expected to him is now scandalized. The story is vivid in detail. Coming in from his labors in the field, hearing the sounds of a party in full swing, and finding out from one of his father's slaves the occasion of the party, he is enraged, furious.   He will not join the party.

 Those who know the Bible stories might remember the murderous rage of Cain when he finds out the  favor shown to Abel, Esau when he finds out the scandalous behavior of his brother Isaac, or of Joseph’s brothers toward him.   Those who remember these stories might well imagine a possible scenario for the story that Jesus is telling; a scenario that is not pretty.

 Jesus, after all, leaves the ending of the story open. Will the elder brother ever join the party?  Will the elder brother ever share the joy of his father that a wayward son has returned? If he doesn’t, what will he do with his rage?  What advice would you give the younger son in dealing with his enraged elder brother?

 Jesus leaves the ending of the story open. Open for us to continue to write the story with our lives as those bound together as siblings.

 The Father in this story is indeed prodigal, extravagant with grace and mercy.  His mercy is prior to anything else.  From afar he spies the returning son, and from afar he runs, lavishing love before the son has room to even utter a word of explanation.  It’s downright scandalous to us.

From within the party the Father goes out to plead with the eldest son to come join the party.   “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”

 We are all with the Father.  Whether elder or younger, all that is God’s is ours. As the Father says to the elder son: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”

 Jesus is attempting to reconcile estranged siblings. Pharisees, tax collectors, sinners. One in the eyes of God.

 What about us, who read this text in the context of Eucharist?  There is no shortage with God, no appeal we can make to our worthiness or unworthiness, because in that very appeal we’d all be pleading that we are the worthy ones, and someone else the unworthy, or someone else the worthy, and we the unworthy, and in the process we would conveniently ignore our failures or exaggerate our unworthiness, and we would miss truths about ourselves and the truth about God.  And so Jesus will have none of this futile effort.  To God there is no distinction.  All that God has is ours.  We are but estranged siblings, who God will reconcile.

 There is an echo of this Gospel in many places. The tag attached to the teabag that made the tea I drank as I wrote this, which reads: “When you act with compassion you will never be wrong.”  The saying of the Sufi poet Rumi who wrote “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.”  The witness of Blessed Isaac of Syria, who wrote: “Far be it from us that we should ever think so wicked a thing as that God could become unmerciful.  For God’s attributes do not change as those of mortals do.”  The soulful sermon with which Michelle Alexander ends her powerful and prophetic book on race relations entitled The New Jim Crow, with the theme “All of Us, or None.”

 Jesus is pleading.  Welcome one another in the grace of God.   Jesus is welcoming the human race to stop hating and killing one another.  He is welcoming us to embrace a scandalous grace in which we all stand, in which all is promised to us who believe.

 As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, it is a costly grace for us.  We all have to give up something to receive it.

 In our common life here at St. Paul’s, this is the reason we subscribe to the 10 Rules for Respect posted in our Great Hall and in all our classrooms.  It is the reason for the new sign posted on the outside wall of the church as you enter from the street to the Great Hall.  It is the reason we seek to bring into the public square something different from the toxic rage that corrupts our civic life.  We do this because of the Father who desires to reconcile estranged siblings.

 As we receive the Eucharist today, we need to be aware of Jesus’ appeal to us, and humbly ask that the bread he gives us today will nourish us for life in this scandalous economy of mercy and compassion, and that the wine of his love will flow into our veins.

 In the words of St. Paul from today’s epistle: “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 ministry of reconciliation to us.”

 So be it.

 

*The concept for this sermon I owe to the work of James Alison as presented by Paul Neuchterlein at http://girardianlectionary.net/reflections/year-c/lent4c

A sermon for Ash Wednesday

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1606 – 1669 The Return of the Prodigal Son (1642) - from Wikimedia Commons

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1606 – 1669 The Return of the Prodigal Son (1642) - from Wikimedia Commons

Ash Wednesday

March 6, 2019

St. Paul’s, Bellingham

In this service we will recite together Psalm 51, in which we’ll read these words:

16     Open my lips, O Lord, *

        and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. 

When we pray Morning Prayer we’ll recognize these words as those which open Morning Prayer: “Lord, open our lips, and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.”

Psalm 51 is a powerful expression of confession and repentance that begins with, and is made possible by, God’s mercy: “Have mercy upon me O God, according to your lovingkindness.”

We are all under the mercy today, regarded with lovingkindness.

For the Psalmist, this awareness of mercy and lovingkindness enables an honest self-evaluation and admission of responsibility for evil.  The Psalmist admits fault, not projecting those faults onto others.  And in the process the Psalmist is freed of a burden, and in that new freedom gives praise to God for mercy and grace.  The mercy of God opens our lips.  The mercy of God opens our mouths to offer thanks and praise to God.  The mercy of God is the occasion for joy.

13     Give me the joy of your saving help again *

        and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit. 

I want to address one verse of Psalm 51 in particular.  It’s the verse that reads:

6       Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, *

        a sinner from my mother's womb. 

Some of you may be aware that this verse has put to use to support the idea that the physical act of procreation itself transmits sin.  This is unfortunate, because it denigrates a process which God created, and which is in itself beautiful and wondrous.  God created sex and procreation, and we have no reason to accept those gifts as anything other than good.

What I would say is that this verse of the Psalm does reflect a reality, however, and that is that there are none of us who are born into a situation free from sin.

Our Prayer Book Catechism gives us a concise and useful definition of sin, which is that “sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.”

There are none of us who aren’t born into a situation where that self-seeking isn’t going on, where that distortion is not present in some form or fashion.  We learn those patterns.  They hurt us.  With those patterns we hurt others.

Lent is a time to focus on unlearning those patterns.  I encourage you to think: “who in my life can help me unlearn those patterns?”   “Who in my life will benefit from me unlearning those patterns and finding a new pattern of thinking and behavior?

We come to this day from different places.  Maybe some of you come from a background in which you never felt good enough, never felt worthy enough.  There was no deep assurance of the gift of love and grace that God has to give you. I call that “punishing moralism,” the kind of thing that leads to a weariness of soul.   Jesus warned religious leaders of his time about placing upon people burdens which they were not themselves willing to bear.
To you, in the name of Christ and of Christ’s Church, I proclaim that God’s love for you is free and without condition, that God looks upon you with great affection, and is pleased by your desire to be in relationship, and will accept at any time with grace and mercy the attempts you make toward repentance and amendment of life.

Maybe some of you come from a background in which you came late to a sense of personal responsibility for your behavior; you feel a bit stung, humbled, perhaps embarrassed, shamed.

To you, in the name of Christ and of Christ’s Church,  I proclaim that God’s love for you is free and without condition, that God looks upon you with great affection, and is pleased by your desire to be in relationship, and will accept at any time with grace and mercy the attempts you make toward repentance and amendment of life.

Today’s liturgy will help all of us in our Lent, in that the Litany of Penitence from this service is a useful means for self-examination.  It is a diagnostic tool with which we can evaluate the ways in which we’ve sought our own will rather than God’s will, and found ourselves in a distorted relationship with God and others.

Through this penitential season of Lent, may God’s mercy open our lips, that our mouths may proclaim God’s praise, and may we be given the grace to lead others to the place of grace and mercy as well.
Amen.

Transfiguration

Raphael, The Transfiguration  https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/51/Transfiguration_Raphael.jpg

Raphael, The Transfiguration

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/51/Transfiguration_Raphael.jpg

 

This sermon is indebted to Archbishop Michael Ramsay’s retreat address on Transfiguration reprinted in Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness. (Oxford University Press, 2001), 670.

A Sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany

Sharon and I visited the Vancouver Art Museum on Friday to see 19th Century French paintings on loan from the Brooklyn Museum.  For me, it’s the light in the landscapes that holds me, has me lingering to gaze.  It’s the light. 

 It’s the light on water and sky that brings people to Boulevard Park, the sunsets and sunrises around here that amaze us, that dazzle our eyes and lift our soul.

And it’s the light in today’s readings.  The resplendent light of Moses’ face coming down from the mountain from converse with the Divine.  The splendor of a Jesus transfigured in dazzling light, bathing in an aura of brilliance that also includes Moses and Elijah.

The light of God shines through the biblical tradition and our tradition of prayer and worship.

There are 35 pages in the Book of Common Prayer that the word  “shine” is used.  The word “light” appears on 193 pages.  Jesus Christ is the light of the world.  Epiphany is the season of light, where before each Eucharistic Prayer we acknowledge God’s gift of Christ as “a new light to shine in our hearts.”  We pray to be “illumined by the Word and Sacraments”, to “shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory.”  Today we read that “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”

We read of Jesus transfigured today, and we hear that as we look on the light of Christ we will be transformed ourselves, becoming more our true selves.

There are so many ways to explore this, and today some thoughts from Archbishop Canterbury Michael Ramsey have me thinking how this applies to our lives in our day and time.

Ramsey tells us about reading the historian Arnold Toynbee’s reflections on various human responses to what Toynbee described as a “declining and frustrated civilization.”  And I have to say that when I read these words they had a very contemporary ring.

The first attitude in a declining and frustrated civilization is archaism.  This is the “let’s put the clock back” attitude, seeking to reconstruct a state of affairs that had previously existed, or that we imagine to have existed. This is the “I don’t like the new news, I like the old news better,” to borrow a line from Bob Dylan.  This is the “back in the good old days” attitude.

The second attitude is futurism, the impulse to despair of the current order and try to force our way forward to some totally new state of affairs, so new that it can only be attained by violence.

The third attitude is escapism; we despair of everything and we retreat into a private zone of spirituality that we think is apart from the troubles of the world.

Ramsay notes that Toynbee rejected these three attitudes in favor of what he actually labeled transfiguration,which he defined: “to accept the situation just as it is and to carry it into a larger context which makes sense of it and gives the power to grapple with it.”

Ramsay, finds these words of Toynbee “very suggestive” for Christians in finding the meaning of transfiguration.

The Transfiguration story helps us accept the situation we are in, and carry it into a larger context, and that larger context for us is Jesus Christ crucified and risen.

The story of Jesus transfigured takes place as Jesus is turning toward Jerusalem, which has for him an ominous prospect.  In Jerusalem he will suffer and die.  And the Gospel writers want us to know that this event is to be carried into a larger context in which this will make sense. The light that bathes this story is that of the glory of God, and the glory of God is to be revealed in the suffering Christ.

The glory of God is God amid human suffering and confusion. The events that will take place in Jerusalem are not a defeat for God or the Christ of God.  The crucifixion of Jesus will show us God with us in the depths. Rather than God abandoning us to suffering, God is with us in suffering.

Our participation personally in this transfiguration happens as we allow our suffering, the suffering of others, to be lifted into this larger context.  The transformative presence and power of God is not frustrated by the decline and fall of civilizations.  The light of Christ shone brilliantly, for example, in the community of the French Protestants of Le Chambon sur Lignon in France during the Nazi occupation of France. They were shaped by the Gospel story of Jesus in their worship life. Their French Protestant ancestors had suffered tremendous religious persecution.  Powerfully influenced by their history and their spiritual formation, they resisted the regime in power in France and took in Jewish refugees from Nazi oppression, sheltering them through that terrible time, at great personal risk.

Witness like this reminds all Christians everywhere that we will find God where people suffer, and that we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.  We will not look back to the good old days that never were. We will not retreat from the world, and we will not give ourselves to violent schemes which divide and conquer. Instead, we will go with Christ to the neighbor, who is everyone.

And in the realm of our personal lives God’s transformative power is still present to our situations of failure, disappointment, pain, or when our lives are ebbing away.

Ramsay reminded me to think of my life as a priest, in which I’ve met so many people, who, having suffered, nevertheless display a power to love, a resilience, a gentleness and a capacity for hope.  I hope you’ve met and are meeting those people, who are among us here today.

In the midst of what seems like a declining and frustrated civilization, in the midst of suffering, we Christians are to lift our situation as it is into the light that is shed by Christ into our lives.  We are to behold Christ, to let our gaze linger there. And in so doing we’ll be changed. We’ll grow in likeness to who it is we behold.

Is this happening in us?  I sometimes ask myself that question.  Is it happening in me?

The truth is, it isn’t something we ourselves can see. It certainly doesn’t seem that way a lot of the time, I can tell you.  And any evaluation I’d make of myself would certainly be wrong.

I believe we’re simply invited to trust that the Holy Spirit will help us to trust in God, to trust in the face of God we see in Christ, and to give ourselves in simple faith to this process.  We’re simply to ask God to make it happen, and trust that God will make it happen.

Ruth Burrows gives words* to this way of trusting:

If I let God take hold of me more and more; possess me, as fire possesses the burning log, then I give off light and heat to the whole world even though the influence be completely hidden.

 

·      *Quoted by Suzanne Guthrie at http://www.edgeofenclosure.org/epiphanylastc.html

Pastoral Letter from Bishop Rickel on Suspension of Statute of Limitations for Clergy Sexual Misconduct

Bishop Gregory Rickel

Bishop Gregory Rickel

Dear friends: 

I’m grateful to Bishop Rickel for following pastoral letter that I will read aloud in church services on Sunday, January 12, 2019.

It is extremely important to send a message that sexual misconduct has no place in the life of the church, and that those who’ve suffered abuse deserve every bit of help we can give them to find healing.

If you have a story about misconduct to tell, please note carefully the information in this letter about how to report it.  I’m ready and willing to support you.

I want to emphasize what Bishop Rickel writes here about this resolution and our diocesan policy, which is that the goal of both is “to break down every possible barrier to reporting an allegation of sexual misconduct in this church.”

A translation of this letter into Spanish is linked below.

Yours in Christ,

 Jonathan

To all the good people of the Diocese of Olympia,

This past summer, at our General Convention in Austin, Texas, the Episcopal Church took some historic and much needed steps in addressing past abuses by clergy toward lay persons and toward other clergy in the church.   For far too long there has been too much silence, and often misdirection, when persons in our church were brave enough to bring such allegations forward. I am writing this letter, and asking that it be read in every congregation,on Sunday January 6th and/or January 11th,  in order to make you aware of the implementation of one specific resolution from General Convention, namely, D034, which called for the lifting of the statutes of limitations as spelled out in Title IV.19.4 of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church specifically as it relates to sexual misconduct of clergy. That three year period of suspension begins on January 1, 2019 and will run until December 31, 2021.

While the canon in question, and all the wording of D034, is attached to this letter and available on our diocesan website, the bishop’s blog, and in hard copy for anyone who wishes to have it in that form, the basic result of this suspension is that any allegation against a cleric in this Church for acts of sexual misconduct may be brought forward in this three year window regardless of any prior invoking of a statute of limitations. In short, you do not have to wonder if the allegation comes from too long ago.

In our diocese, the Intake Officer for such allegations is the Rev. Canon Joan Anthony. She can be reached at the Diocesan Office or by simply emailing her at janthony@ecww.org. She can also be contacted directly by phone by calling the diocesan office. If, for any reason you do not feel comfortable reporting this to her, you may also report to the Canon to the Ordinary Marda Steedman Sanborn, your local cleric, any diocesan staff member, and finally the bishop himself. Keeping your confidentiality, especially in the early phases of any allegation and investigation, is our duty.

While I am in complete support of this measure, and voted for it at General Convention, I also want to make clear that since the moment I walked through the doors of DHouse to become the 8th Bishop of Olympia, whenever this particular clause regarding statute of limitations has arisen, my response has always been, “there are no statute of limitations in the Body of Christ.” This has been our policy for the past nearly 12 years and will remain so even beyond this 3-year suspension. Also attached to this letter is the letter on this topic addressed to the church, from the President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings, and our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. I urge you to read that too.

There is yet much more work to do on this topic. Our diocesan convention passed a resolution at our most recent convention which calls for the creation of a Task force on Sexual Harassment in our diocese. At our upcoming clergy conference all of these topics will be a major focus of our time together, including input from clergy on the make up of the Task Force. I invite anyone in the diocese, clergy or lay, to also offer your input on the creation of this committee. You will be hearing much more about all that, and many other topics in the days to come.

I want to summarize that this resolution, as well as our diocesan policy, has as its goal to break down every possible barrier to reporting an allegation of sexual misconduct in this church. As President Jennings and Presiding Bishop Curry said so well in the end of their letter, I will end this one. May this resolution and other steps help “our church move closer to the day when, having repented of our sins and amended our common life, we may be restored in love, grace and trust with each other through our Savior Jesus Christ.”

Please pray for all those affected by misconduct, and pray for our Church. I remain your faithful servant.

The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel
VIII Bishop of Olympia

Spanish translation



Renewal of Ministry: Reflections from Glassboro

Together in the rectory

Together in the rectory

Recently Sharon and I were with Josh and Christy and Sarah Hosler for a Celebration of New Ministry with Church of the Good Shepherd in Federal Way, Washington. We witnessed a congregation that has embraced their new rector and the family and looks to be off to a good start together.

This past weekend, Sharon and I have been with Todd, Becky, Aviva, and Eli Foster in Glassboro, New Jersey for the Renewal of Ministry Celebration with Todd as Rector of St. Thomas Church.

The weekend is full of reminders for me of the connections the Spirit makes in us and for us in the Body of Christ. There is now a connection between St. Paul’s in Bellingham and St. Thomas Church in Glassboro. We saw Todd’s call to the priesthood begin with us and come to fruition, and we all had some part in that process.

I spoke of that connection in my sermon for the occasion, bringing greetings on behalf of all of you to the congregation and to Bishop Stokes, who presided over the occasion.

l-r: The Senior Warden, Bishop William Stokes and Todd leading the Renewal of Baptismal Vows

l-r: The Senior Warden, Bishop William Stokes and Todd leading the Renewal of Baptismal Vows

Todd and Becky are nine months into the relationship with St. Thomas, and the people there clearly glad to have the Fosters among them. Bishop Stokes noted that in his remarks. A woman who has been a member of St. Thomas for 45 years greeted us after the morning Eucharist, smiling and crossing herself as she spoke of her affirmation of the call.

St. Thomas has been a congregation since 1791. They worship in a small gem of a 19th Century sandstone building with gothic style window frames with warm stained glass depictions of biblical scenes and saints. Surrounding the building is a cemetery in a grove of trees, and on the property sits a parish hall constructed in the 1950’s by parishioners, and a rectory. A few blocks away is another cemetery with graves going back to the 18th Century, on a plot of land on which once stood the log cabin that first housed the congregation.

And, to my joy, St. Thomas is an integrated congregation of black and white people. Growing up in rural and small-town Oregon, you just don’t see that. In the midst of renewed manifestations of overt racism in this country, and because of the enduring legacy of Jim Crow, and because of the still highly segregated reality of American Christianity, I was deeply moved to experience St. Thomas at worship together. in God’s eyes there is a wonderful diversity of races and cultures and that God’s love intended that. We are all one in humanity, one in Christ.

The final hymn at the morning Eucharist was Lift Every Voice and Sing, written by James Weldon Johnson for the occasion of a visit to the segregated Edwin M. Stanton School in Jacksonville, Florida by Booker T. Washington on the occasion of the birthday of Abraham Lincoln in 1900. It always brings tears to my eyes, and it did then.

“Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty…”

The final hymn at the afternoon Eucharist celebrating new ministry was Alleluia, Sing to Jesus. We sang: “…his the scepter, his the throne…his the triumph, his the victory alone….”

While we sang I was reminded of Todd’s sermon in the morning dealing with the words of Jesus in Luke predicting the destruction of the Temple and assuring them that even that catastrophe would be but a prelude to the birth of something new.

Next Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King, and following that we again enter Advent. On Christ the King we affirm that all authority in heaven and earth belongs to a humble son of a Jewish maiden from far-off Galilee. It’s an outrageous and bold prophetic affirmation that puts the human politics of division and conquering in the place it belongs, which is in the rubbish bin of history. It’s an affirmation that no matter what, God still reigns, and because of that, we have hope.

James Weldon Johnson’s hymn, which the NAACP adopted as the “Negro National Anthem”, has these words which express the faith and fortitude of a people who have had to overcome the politics of hate and fear and division in our history:

“God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who has brought us thus far on the way. Thou who has by thy might led us into the light, Keep us forever in the path we pray.”

As I sang them, I silently prayed that we all might be on the path together as one people. I pray that Advent will be a time for us to increase our longing for the day in which we see fulfilled the longing of one of our Eucharistic prayers:

“Put all things in subjection to your Christ, and bring us to that heavenly country, where with all your saints, we may enter the everlasting heritage of your sons and daughters; through Jesus Christ our Lord, the firstborn of all creation, the head of the Church, and the author of our salvation.”

The Ministry Fair and what it shows us

Fellowship at Ministry Fair

Fellowship at Ministry Fair

On October 21 this congregation enjoyed a Ministry Fair. After the services on this day worshipers could wander throughout our spacious Great Hall and Sports Hall learning about the many and varied ministries that people of St. Paul’s carry out in this building and from this building.

On your behalf I’ve thanked our two chief organizers, our Senior Warden Rob Vollkommer and Junior Warden Joanne Clark. With the support of vestry members and representation from these varied ministry groups we had a great turnout! People met each other, too, as they toured the displays. That’s what I heard from several of you.

The Ministry Fair highlighted the health of this congregation. Baptism calls us into many and varied ministries, and the ministry appropriate to each of us is shaped by the natural gifts and talents we possess as gifts from God and the interests and perhaps even the passions that motivate us. I use the word “ministry” intentionally. It bears repeating: ministry is not simply the function of people who are deacons and priests and bishops. Ministry is anything we do for God. Ministry is that which we do because we are responding to God.

A light moment

A light moment

I encourage you all to be aware of those interests and perhaps even passions that motivate you, taking time in prayer to ask God how you might give fuller expression to those interests and passions in ways that help your church and your community. Don’t hesitate to bring to our attention an idea or interest where you could help us develop a fuller representation of the goodness of God. We’ll listen with you to God and see where that goes.

I encourage us all as well, during this time in which the Stewardship Ministry people are calling for our financial commitment for 2019, to support St. Paul’s with your financial giving. We all have a need to give to God, and many, if not most of us, have the need to do so with our finances, as well as with our presence and with the giving of our talents and abilities.

I believe St. Paul’s is worthy of your generosity. Our staff is excellent, hardworking, smart, supporting the ministries of our membership. They deserve our support, so that we can adequately pay them and keep them with us. Your financial support is essential.

Consider making your first check to the church, giving of your first-fruits, the practice of many of our givers. If you haven’t done so before, consider giving a percentage of your income to the church.

Prayer Shawl Ministry brings joy

Prayer Shawl Ministry brings joy

The Ministry Fair showed us a healthy church, growing healthier. The Ministry Fair showed us a church in development, in an age when many churches are experiencing decline in energy. God’s been good to St. Paul’s over many generations, and people have responded over many generations with their ministries. This is our moment. What will future generations enjoy because of us?

God is love. The world needs a witness to God’s love, and ministry is what we do to spread love. May God bless all of us, and use St. Paul’s for God’s purposes to bring forgiveness of sins, works of charity and justice, and hope in these trying times.





Money, Eternal Life, the Age to Come

Proper 23 Year B Oct 14, 2018

A sermon on the text of Mark 10:17-31 by Jonathan Weldon

As Jesus was seeing out on a journey, a man ran up to him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

For He Had Great Possessions, George Frederic Watts, 1894

For He Had Great Possessions, George Frederic Watts, 1894

With these words we hear again a text which, more than just about any other of which I can think, has Christian people in the wealthy society of the West - preachers and congregants alike - scrambling to try to manage and contain the radical challenge of Jesus.   In speaking of this text I may well expose myself as one who is no better than anyone else in this regard.

There are a great many fascinating details in this encounter between Jesus and this man, an account of which is told in Matthew and Luke as well.  There’s one detail I want to treat today in the time allotted, and that is the phrase “eternal life.” Hear again the man kneeling before Jesus, asking:

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

What does the phrase “eternal life” mean here?

The answer heard in many Christian contexts for a long time - and certainly in my own upbringing - has been that the gospels are telling us “how to get to heaven.In my life this meaning was reinforced by many repetitions of John 3:16 in the context of sermons and exhortations about becoming saved and being rescued from an eternity in hell:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”

Is this man asking Jesus about how to get to heaven when he dies?

N. T. Wright, Anglican bishop and celebrated New Testament scholar, wants us to know that the phrase translated “eternal life” refers in the gospels and the writings of Paul to “one aspect of an ancient Jewish belief about how time was divided up.”  Time was divided in this view into two ages. There was the present age, and the age to come.  Jews who understood the world in this way looked forward to the age to come, when the justice and peace and healing intended by the Holy One would come about on the earth.  For ancient Jews, God’s project was not to rescue people out of the world, but to bring restoration to the world.1

Eternal life, then, is the quality of life in the age to come, the age in which God restores the world, establishes justice, makes things right, establishes God’s rule.  This is the “age to come” spoken of by Jesus in this very passage, when those who have left all for the sake of Jesus and his good news will “receive a hundredfold now in this age... and in the age to come eternal life.”

Eternal life is synonymous with the life of the kingdom of God, which Jesus announces as present now, and coming into fullness.

The man kneeling before Jesus is asking how he may inherit a share in this eternal life, this life of the age to come, and Jesus, looking at him with love, gives him a challenge which pierces right to the heart of the man’s attachments and loyalties.

It seems to me that Jesus is telling this man, who we later find out has “many possessions”, that the life to come is not granted in the way that we inherit something.  We generally don’t have to “do” anything for an inheritance.  It’s just given to us.

But Jesus, asked by the man what he must “do” to gain the inheritance of the life to come, actually gives the man something to do that will ensure his inheritance.  After having given away all his possessions and relieved the burden of the poor around him, and after joining Jesus on the road in his itinerant band, he’ll have no stake in anything but the life of the age to come.

This proves to be too much for the man to do, and, shocked and grieving, he goes away.

Jesus’ comment deserves to be heard deep down by all of us who, in this Western world in which we are the richest people who have ever lived, and yet live in a world of haves and have-nots; a world in which the accumulation of wealth and the suffering of real people are all too often linked in very discoverable and traceable patterns of relationship.

“How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

His comment strikes right to my heart, and I imagine to yours as well.

How hard it is for those who have wealth in this age to welcome with our hearts and hands and voices the desires of God that are essential to the age to come, and to give ourselves whole-heartedly to the cause. It is hard for us, because money - which is the form of wealth common to most of us - is a power in our lives.  And like all powers of this world, we can either use it for the aims of the age to come, the age of God’s peace, and God’s justice, and God’s healing - or not.  We can leverage our access to money for God’s purposes, or we can be controlled by money such that the acquisition of it, the preservation of it, the accumulation of it, gets control of us.  Money, unless we are very deliberate, becomes an idol.

In short, the power money has over us can keep us from investing ourselves in caring for others. It can keep us from enjoying the world as a gift, of seeing in the world the abundant possibilities for creative action for the common good.  This is a form of oppression to which we easily submit.

This power need not have dominion over us.  William Stringfellow wrote of the sacramental possibilities of money:

“Freedom from the idolatry of money, for a Christian, means that money becomes useful only as a sacrament -- as a sign of the restoration of life wrought in this world by Christ.”

He turns our attention the centrality of the offertory in our liturgy as our way of representing the offering (oblation) of the totality of life to God.

And, observing that, “in American society at least...every relationship in personal and public life is characterized by obtaining or spending or exchange of money,” he goes on to say that about the offertory in the Eucharist: “it is well that Americans use money as the witness to that offering.”2

In other words, our money is not our own, because our lives are not our own, just as Jesus Christ’s life was not his own, but belonged to the world.  In the same way, we belong to the world for which Christ came in love and forgiveness and challenge and blessing.

Another great Christian thinker of our age spoke similarly:

“How to overcome the spiritual “power” of money?  Not by accumulating more money, not by using money for good purposes, not by being just and fair in our dealings.  The law of money is the law of accumulation, of buying and selling. That is why the only way to overcome the spiritual “power” of money is to give our money away, thus desacralizing it and freeing ourselves from its control….To give away money is to win a victory over the spiritual power that oppresses us.”3

There are many more things that can said about this encounter, but there’s not enough time.  I close with what I take to be a comforting sign in the midst of this extremely challenging Gospel story.

We see that Jesus, before he leveled his great challenge to this man, “looked on him and loved him.”

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, you promise us such fullness of life, and you invite us into your abundance, into a world made new by deeds that are just and loving and healing.  Look upon us as we come to this Eucharistic offering today, knowing our lives belong to you, but scared of handing them over in full, as you have handed your life over to us in full.  Love us, please, as you did that man long ago, and grant that we may not turn away from you sad but follow you along your way. Lead us into the age to come, this very day, and may there be blessing for all those around us because of our response to your invitation.   Amen.


1http://girardianlectionary.net/reflections/year-b/proper23b/

2Bill Wylie Kellerman, ed., A Keeper of the Word, Selected Writings of William Stringfellow (Eerdmans, 1994) 248-249.

3Jaques Ellul, quoted in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary Year B, Vol. 4, (Westminster John Knox, 2009) 169.







Forward Day by Day

Do you find yourself desiring something more each day?  Some spiritual grounding and support? Have the idea that you want inspiration from the Scripture and a chance to pray but aren't sure how to get started?

Forward Day By Day

Forward Day By Day

Since 1935, there's been a resource available to Episcopalians.  It's called "Forward Day by Day."  It is a booklet of daily meditations on a specific passage of the Bible, each month written by a different author.

I'm grateful to Fr. Don Smith for calling our attention to Forward Day By Day, and for making sure we have copies available at church.  I join him in commending this resource to you.

Daily Scripture reflection and prayer is basic to spiritual growth for a Christian.  In this practice we  turn our attention to what the Spirit will say to us, reminding us of our grounding in God's daily provision of life and orienting us to our calling to receive and reflect God's love in every circumstance of life.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who visited us recently, is inviting all Episcopalians to "The Way of Love: Practices for a Jesus-Centered Life."  One of those practices is "Learn."  He asks us to reflect on Scripture each day, especially on Jesus' life and teachings.  Forward Day By Day is an excellent way to do this practice.

Forward Day By Day is available in regular print (can fit in a shirt pocket), large print, daily e-mail, e-book (Kindle, Nook, iTunes), a daily podcast, a smartphone app for iOS or Android, and on Facebook and Twitter.  You can access these options at the link provided here.  Some of you will be best served by picking up your copy at church.  We're glad to continue offering that option.

I encourage you to subscribe to your favorite version of Forward Day By Day and use it every day.  I know that two of our youth read it every day and got their parents to follow suit!

I'd love to see more and more members of St. Paul's adopting a daily practice of prayer.  It will change us!

And thanks again, Fr. Don Smith, for your reminders to us about this wonderful resource.