Saturday, April 07, 2018

Easter 2B Vigil Mass

Here’s a confession: I like Thomas, who figures prominently in the Gospel lesson we just heard, for the same reason I like Peter, who shows up in so many Gospels as well as in the Book of Acts. Because they both do stupid things, they say things which make no sense, which show their lack of faith, their cowardice, their lack of self-knowledge, their utter unworthiness – and yet  Jesus still keeps them around, and keeps them as disciples, even better, as friends. That gives me great hope for myself, for all of us!

Thomas shows up earlier in John’s Gospel when Lazarus gets sick. When Jesus and his friends are keeping a low profile because they’re afraid Jesus might get murdered by the local religious and political leaders. Jesus does a funny thing there, waits until Lazarus has died, and says, “We will go to him now” — and Thomas, worrying that there will be an assassination attempt on Jesus, still says, “Let us go with him that we may die with him.” That says something about their friendship, Thomas’s commitment to the Lord.

But a strange thing happens then, when they go to Bethany in Galilee: instead of Jesus getting killed, he raises Lazarus to life, and paradoxically then, I believe, something in Thomas dies, because, for him, nothing will ever be the same again.

It’s a big one: what if the dead are really raised? Not only Lazarus but Jesus, not only Jesus but you and me, not only you and me but maybe everybody raised to new life by the grace of a love that will be “all in all.” That can be a hard one to swallow — it isn’t easy to believe that the resurrection might end up that large — and to begin to take refuge in that truth, that where Jesus is now is where we are called to be, and to make that faith the hopeful heart of our lives. It can be a demanding ask.

Because sometimes it’s easier to not expect too much, to not have your hopes that high, to not to see forgiveness and renewal and resurrection in the future for maybe everybody. Sometimes it’s easier to keep it quiet, sometimes it’s easier not to believe much. So when Thomas, who saw Jesus die on the city crossroads, hears that the Lord is alive you can see why he might not want to take up that deep hope again. Because it’s hard to keep hope alive when the mob rules, when justice and compassion and mercy seem far away, when, to quote a poet, “The best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.” Can you see then where it might be easier to let faith die, to hide out from the possibilities of an ever renewing love?

Someone once said we are invited to exchange our living death for Jesus’ dying life, and that’s what happens here. Jesus shows up and invites Thomas, in the midst of his living death, to stretch out with all his unbelief and grab hold of the fact of Jesus’ dying life and the bright almost unbelievable reality of the resurrection: here’s where Jesus calls Thomas to be alive again – alive to faith, alive to hope, alive to the love that will haunt him with holiness and the promise of new beginning from here to Pentecost and beyond. And Thomas responds, “My Lord and my God!” And Jesus calls us too, like Thomas, as disciples, as friends. And I’ll cheerfully admit that gives me hope, but it still can be a stretch.

So that’s why I think it’s important to remember that there are forty days in the season of Lent and forty-nine in the season of Eastertide — maybe because it’s easier to live with the inevitability of suffering and death and, surprisingly, harder to learn to live with a life that is both broken apart by the promise of resurrection and held together with the hope of the Holy Spirit, who is closer to our hearts, as Augustine says,  than we are to ourselves. That’s a brave, even a merciful, new world, that’s a hope for Thomas, and for us to hold on to.

So my prayers tonight is that this Easter season enables us all to take up the resurrected life and the coming promise of Pentecost in our hearts. Like Thomas, may we walk with our faith and fear and doubt and love even deeper on this further journey with Jesus, into the heart of the goodness of this God who is alive and will reign forever. Amen

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Easter 2018

So “Christ is Risen” and I want to talk about the Lord’s Prayer as one way of understanding how we participate in that today. So bear with me on this one. 

The Lord’s Prayer has four parts: first dealing with creation, second with human being (particularly one human), third with the fact of evil and finally, in the end, finding out why the beginning is important. 

So “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” In the Biblical Greek “Our Father in Heaven” is closer to “Dada or Mama of the Universe” and what might that mean? Maybe that the consciousness, the conversation we’re in, is one that begins to be woven before sunrise and darkest night, behind all black holes and supernovas, beyond  any notion of matter, space and time we might conceive: yet is still deeply intimate — close enough to trust, to call in under any circumstances, at any time. You might want to breathe with that one for a while. 

Then there are three imperatives, and the first, “May your name be hallowed” makes me want to take a detour right away. It seems to me that the name (when we use the word “God”) is so overladen with various cultural wars and judgments that it needs a reboot. What if we — like so many of the mystics — named this creating, companioning, conspiring ultimate being “Love, companion, good company close on the way.” And what if “your kingdom come, your will be done” means, “May I incorporate your eternal vision, values, compassion, justice and love into my life here and now. May I be part of the ongoing weaving of earth and  heaven into the present moment as well as with what lasts forever.” Take another breath here, for I think that’s what we’re about here on a good day - You’ll find it in every one of our church services: collects, confessions, lessons, psalms, sermon, intercessions; the memories and hopes from other seasons, learning from history and holding hope high, here is love lasting forever.

That's what God’s reign is about. In John’s Gospel Jesus is asking Abba that we be one: “I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one” This prayer, is here and now,  weaving our daily lives into the world of saints, pilgrims of Sabbath times of all times. We are invited to just say yes, to say Amen like Mary, “Be it unto me according to your word,” like Francis, “Make me an instrument of your peace” — even with a degree of ambiguity like Augustine, “Make me pure, but not yet!” Because receiving a love this honourable means you can be more honest than you are devout. For God (Love) is always willing to be one with us as we are, with all the mix and mess that means, incorporating us into this ministry of mercy. As one Eastern Orthodox theologian put it, “We are the eighth day of creation.” And that starts right here.

So, “Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” The prayer goes from that high point to the deepest necessities of human life together. Just the first six words cover so many things: refreshment and fuel, ecology and economics, connection and company. Bread and wine means flour, grapes and water fermented, mixed and kneaded, warmed and transformed, backs bent, hands stretched out to ensure our share in this harvest.

And when Jesus says, “This is my body, this is my blood,” He is saying I am willing to be known in this Eucharist, and I will be here, but in my love I have taken up with the body and blood of all humankind and all creation, with each of us here today. Jesus says, “This bread and wine are means of my love to you, but I mean to feed you, forgive you, renew you everywhere, in everything, in everyone!” And we have the blessed nerve, the amazing arrogance to respond, “We are the body of Christ”  and move to incorporate God’s rising promise, presence, passion in our lives. 

Here’s where you’ve got to gulp because we’re gathering courage and a amazing amount of bravado and betting the universe hangs together in compassion that tightly, and we’re aiming to give it all we’ve got with the sure and certain  knowledge that we almost always will get it wrong. We deserve to take a breath here — But there are ways to make it easier. When I joined the church fifty years ago at twenty-one, and first came to this celebration, I took the bread and said, “Give me the strength to live this way,” and when I drank the wine, I said, “Give me the spirit to really want to!” I no longer think that God serves two course meals, but I’m glad there is still room in our gathering to pause between taking on the bread and wine to say, “Give me the strength to try hard to do good and (deep breath here) keep giving me a renewing spirit, a forgiving heart for myself and others - or at least as some saint somewhere said, ‘Please make me want to want that.’” In my own experience some days that comes easy, other times you can only want and wait. 

“Lead us not into temptation (Save us from the time of trial) and deliver us from evil.” Here’s the home stretch and it can be more hard going. It’s important to note that nobody wants to go there — even Jesus asked if this particular cup could pass. It didn’t for him, and it doesn’t always for us either. There’s no real satisfactory answer, no reason here, but maybe that makes it more real because the weaving gets particularly thick in that place. And maybe the glory of the church comes when we gather to tell the stories and pray, share the peace, the bread of life, the cup of salvation, and someone is dying, someone’s getting born, someone’s in trial, someone’s found peace, someone’s gone missing and someone wakes to glory. Maybe that’s the way Love weave us through the heart-breaking times of testing and trial, when we share that cup with a friend, with a just and faithful servant, with the love that walks with us all the way home. 

In the oldest copies we have of Matthew’s Gospel the prayer ends there, which makes sense simply because death makes you pause and resurrection is a tough possibility to swallow. But not long after the faithful body begins to breathe into this new beginning and the wisdom of the Christian community, these followers of the way, add this ending like a coda: “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen” 

Maybe because they were convinced (and we’re invited to believe) that Love lives, and they were preparing (and we are always invited to join) in living out that belief, embodying it from now on. So the prayer ends close to where it begins, not far from where we started, but now we’re all changed, renewed in beginning again, recalling where we come from and where we’re going and remembering the one who cares so deeply to join us on the way.  

For Christ is Risen, Alleluia! 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

An old sermon on Thomas Cranmer, Martyr

We are here today to recall the ministry and martyrdom of three men: Nicholas Ridley was a chaplain to Henry the Eighth and eventually the Bishop of Rochester. He was part of the group who drew up the first English Book of Common Prayer. Hugh Latimer was the Bishop of Worcester, a reformer who resigned under Henry the  Eighth and was tried for heresy and sentenced to death under Mary. He was burned with Ridley on the 16th of October 1555 and assured his immortality that day with the line: "Be of good Cheer, Master Ridley,…. For we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God’s grace will never be put out."

Thomas Cranmer, in addition to be being the chief architect of much of the Prayer Book we use today, was the Archbishop both under Henry and Edward his son. The accession of Mary put him in the difficult position of obeying a monarch who reigned, he believed, as ordained by God, and who commanded him to return to a Roman Church. he could no longer serve. The path he traveled took him in the same direction as Ridley and Latimore, but because of his political acumen, it  took a bit longer, and perhaps enabled him to do more lasting work. As one historian writes: "The extreme prudence of Cranmer, his timidity, his want of decision, his pliability, deplorable in certain cases,preserved him under the government….and thus saved, with his own life, the work for which he was required." He was burned on March 21, 1556.

Now this is no longer that world. You might get fired from a job, be on the hot seat from a boss or a committee, you might even have to jump through hoops in the various processes of the church, but it is unlikely you  will have to go through fire. We now live, as T.S. Eliot writes, in "an age of
moderate vice and moderate virtue, when men will not lay down the cross because they will never assume it." And here in Berkeley, at the start of the 21st century, we reside in a calm and tepid climate and a lukewarm, post-Christian world, on the left margin of the prevailing power structure; a place where it is easy to overlook the fact that the church is more than a voluntary organization; that it is necessarily born out of, takes its place in, and is constituted by repeated onslaughts of life and death, flesh and blood, water and fire.

The fiery business of living and dying has come to be an invisible strata of modern American life, something hidden and often a little shameful. Lenny Bruce, the sixties comedian, called death "the last great obscenity in America." And yet it is death that calls to be reckoned with, that is at the heart of our spiritual life. the heart of living and dying. Death. Whether with the family gathered around the bedside, alone in the board and care, or with assembled crowds at a noisy bonfire; as well as the subtler deaths, the death of relationships, convictions, or love, or faith, or hope. Death is also, perhaps, the locus of something else. But my question is, how do you do
death? Where do you catch fire?

A year and  half ago, three months before I came to CDSP, I became a short-term resident of the San Francisco Zen Center, partly because of my love for Thomas Merton, partly because I am so noisy for a contemplative, and partly, because of the death of several close family members and a brush with cancer (a melanoma that was contained), I was going a slow healing from tough wounds. And I thought that two hours of zazen meditation a day would hasten healing, calm me down. Fix me up. Major wrong move. Meditation is a cool way to allow the spirit to warm your heart, but it isn’t easy. All the pain jumped into the silence and the stillness and claimed allegiance, made noise, asked to be heard,. But after a time it got a little better and one day I was sitting there with a measure of peace, alone in the silence facing the wall in the morning silence of the Zendo when it hit me: this might be the way I meet my own death, death would be like this, I was facing the blank wall of my death. But it was also the same as the moment of birth, a vast opening, a breath of fresh air. And I knew that God is in either place, up against every wall and every threshold. at all times, in each death, peeling away the evasions and burning away all that is superfluous, abiding in all that is eternal, so that finally all that is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

So as every martyr’s death is a point of new creation is well as a kind of death in the old order; so every holocaust of the old, is a sort of Pentecost, a fire-work in which the spirit continues to brood over and refines creation;. a flaming birth of new possibility.

Cranmer writes this at the end of his life. "I have learned by experience that God never shines forth more brightly, and pours out the beams of his mercy and consolation, or of strength and firmness of spirit, more clearly impressively upon the minds of his people, than when they are under the most pain and distress."

We come here to taste death and learn life, to be warmed in the light of the saints and the martyrs. To catch fire for the kingdom .So come in further this morning, live and dwell into the deepest contradictions of your life and times, and combust there by the grace of God. And bring it all to the table, so that you may be reborn, again and again and again.

In the name of Christ.

The Feast of Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, Thomas Cranmer.
Bishops and Archbishop, 1555,1556
All Saints’ Chapel
Church Divinity School of the Pacific
October 16, 2000

Robert Whalley, Visiting Chaplain

Friday, January 12, 2018

Early images of "God" for me...

Since I was a kid I’ve often had the sense of being accompanied, regarded, refreshed by some kind of compassion and sweetness. It wasn’t constant, but there was somehow often and consistently this surprising inbreaking, awareness of a welcome and sacred dimension entering the scene, lighting it from within, enhanced but perfectly clear in the middle of what it meant to be human: sometimes it comes with the changing light in the morning, the rhythm of breathing, the fact of our flesh, the sad and amazing, fragile and magnificent world seen face-to-face every moment, every day. These still seem to me plausible reasons to believe in a creation made, met and mingled within a conscious and continuing act of love.

Looking back I can remember digging in my parent’s garden when I was four or five, using a water hose to create a river under a rose bush, building a dam with one gesture of my palm, feeling the warm dirt and cold water as I rebuilt the world. I can remember learning to swim under water a few years later, diving into a pool and moving from the noises of people talking, children playing, music in the background, and finding a realm of cool silence, bright with bubbles and water, refracted sunlight, moving into new dimensions of motion flying down to deeper silence or up into the noise and breath and air again.

I remember the joy of riding a bike, pumping my legs and turning corners and exploring new neighborhoods when I was ten or twelve. I remember playing tennis, shifting weight and leaning to read the court like a songsheet, responding to the rhythm of the opponent, the court, the flight of the ball, the air and light and weather, arms and legs and sweat and joy. I remember dancing and dating and exploring other people’s bodies and my own with all the intricancies and exegencies of flesh and blood. I remember realising this dance was shared with all the world — everybody could do it, had done it, might do it again, soon, and wondering why we all didn’t.

Some of the memories, images and fancies for God are ephemeral, fanciful but still powerful; others held a serious stake in my heart for a time, made life painful for years.

When I was around 5 years old, a young Italian woman who had been one of my baby-sitters was going to get married in a large wedding at the local Catholic Church. My parents thought I was too young to go to the wedding ceremony so my grandmother stayed with me in the car across the street from the red brick church and I remember looking out the window at the building wondering what was happening inside. Maybe it came from something I'd seen somewhere else, maybe a scrap of conversation overheard, but I was sure the couple would be married, ”In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Goat.” After all these years I can still see the goat clearly; clean, white, with a necklace of colored bells and all the assembled company looking at the goat with the respect one gives a to visitor from a very foreign country who carries an important message  not easily understood.

One other image from a few years later stayed in the shadows and only came to light the same  during a meditation excercise while in seminary in my mid-thirties. Do you remember Judge Doom in the movie, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” Tall, dark, menacing, covered with clothing from tall hat to a long overcoat and heavy rubber gloves; the one who knew all the weak points of the law, all the codicils to hidden wills. The one who was out to dissolve the characters of Toon Town.

He cme to mind when I remembered the landlord of a house my family rented when I was 10 years old, who, when my parents had fallen behind on their rent, came to the house and knocked on the front door. I had missed school that day and when my mother had gone to work that day she told me not to answer the door if he came. So I stayed silently inside as he walked around the house to try the back door and looked into various windows. I thought, as the landlord, he had the right to do whatever he wanted, and I was terrified that he would open the door and come into the house and throw me out.

I moved between those two childhood images of the Almighty for a lot of my life. On one hand was God as the silent judge who holds the rules and standards, keeps secret fate up his sleeve, always watching and never to be trusted. On the other hand was the sacred one as bellwether, member of the flock as well as leader of the pack; the holy one as a delightfully omnivorous and polymorphous explorer of the antistructure; getting on top of anything, smart, interested and tenacious; not easily herded.

Looking back I have spent so much time vacillating: not being sure whether to trust the journey or look for the rulebook; to consider the lesson of the sunrise or look for the hidden agenda under the stated expectations. I know that a lot of this is the story of my family background, but it is also a recurrent and unconscience lens through which I see the larger scape of the universe.

Then in 1965 when I was nineteen, I went to a suburban Episcopal church service where people followed a simple ritual of confessing their sins, receiving forgiveness, listening to some lessons, praying for themselves and others and incorporating the human love of God into their lives. All this, with music, took less than 55 minutes and I was surprised to realise that it was part of the same sweetness I found with gardens and water and exploration and getting lost and found and sweat and sweetness and lovemaking. It was another view of life that was bigger than I knew and it left me wondering how many other ways there might be to enact and understand, incorporate and ideate this participatory dance with something which might be in, with, under everything that is, which might be love.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Death, birth and the other stuff (from my current project)

I read recently that half the men who make seventy don’t live to eighty. And while I was just getting reconciled to more chins and wrinkles, rebranding them as a severe beauty, a new humility, they were simply  preparing me for that final desiccation.
So how do we reconcile the chasm between our received history and an intuitional hope fo the future? Is there a way to break through? Is there room for the possibility of an alternate reality, an afterlife, in the plausibility structures we currently carry. Can the models we currently carry allow other modes of being that might be beyond our present time-space continuum: some “there” where we are not yet? Are  there some options for newborn insights towards an unforeseeable future that we can follow with some good faith?

Yet I write this sentence seven hours after I awakened and started the page above, and the world has changed beyond expectation. I ended up going to the gym, diving into the pool for senior water aerobics to early Beatle songs, afterwards showering and snaking on yoghurt and nuts with friends. Later I ate lunch out, picked up laundry, returned home and ended up spending the afternoon sitting and writing as a somewhat different person than I was just a few lines back, a few hours before.

That day may be unique, but it is not uncommon: it is like that every moment of life, every morning I wake up, every day that I live. But how do I enhance this awareness of the curving continuum of past, present and future?

I used to see myself as incorrigibly incomplete, I now believe I am unfinished, a product in process. And that makes a large difference, makes the balance better, because the “incomplete” side of the equation might mean a fear of being found out as lacking, losing the game before it’s over; where moving to “unfinished” can be transformational. Incomplete closes in on judgment where unfinished opens to new perceptions, new  birth and  beginnings: something old might die but a new creation can show up right at the same time. Maybe recent technology can offer fertile avenues and images for larger realities and new connections to emerge.

Anyone over the age of fifty knows the vast difference between typing a page back then and writing a document now. Here I blithely run through this black and white world of keys and symbols, pushing squares and watching words appear, both the operating system — which I experience as a benevolent force — and the craft required to attend it has become gentle and more tender than it used to be.

For thirty or forty years ago writing required carbon paper and mimeograph masters, a paste labelled whiteout and sometimes thin and easily crinkled erasable bond. I remember one existential moment when I decided not to sharpen a particular sentence because of the effort required in correcting the choices already committed to the paper.

But now this old man revises with abandon with no erasable bonds being broken, no paper torn asunder; for technology has made me a new creation, offering a graceful process akin to what one mystic called “continuing renewed immediacy,” and moving from process to product even while keeping an appearance of conceptual virginity on each and every page. I find it an exercise that  comes close to approaching the God-head and a deeper ecstasy — for every time I touch Command/S, all things become new again and we are not far from heaven now.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Happy New Year and Advent comes again!

One Sunday a few years ago on the first Sunday of Advent I baptised three young people and I wondered what to say to them about what they were doing. About the history, the story, the community they were becoming part of, as well as the gifts and promises it offers. I wanted to offer some thing they might understand and remember, as well as speak to the people  who gathered to celebrate the gift this family wishes to share, people who might not know the ways of the church, who might see this as a colourful and archaic ritual. That’s not easy, like the psalmist  says, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” Here’s what I said then:

What we’re doing today is telling a story, about one person, about every person, and about the whole universe. The one person was a man named Jesus: he lived a long way from here about two thousand years ago, and when he grew up he told some stories and taught some lessons and healed some people and shared food and hope and love in a world where there wasn’t much of that around. He seemed to live like there was more than enough, and that the liveliest thing that he, or anybody, could do was to keep sharing food and hope and love, and not worry about it too much. He lived like that was the easiest, truest, most joyful way to live and to love life for each person, for every person, for the whole universe.

And he kept doing it. Even when the people who were worried about many things told him he better be careful, he went on sharing food, hope, love like it couldn’t end. So some other people decided to kill him, partly because when people start giving like that, the world gets bigger, and gifts like food and hope and love can start people  doing new things, going in different ways, and that can be dangerous for people who want the world to be safe and predictable and profitable for them and the same as it ever was.

So they killed him. They tried to wipe him away from life, from everyone’s memory, so that nothing would remain, and it didn’t work. Because of the simple truth, the deepest fact (and this is the centre of what I’m saying), is that we believe that this kind of love lasts. So it wasn’t long before a few people said they had seen him alive, others said that he had somehow gotten past death. some said he was still sharing like before, now even more. And it was as if his very breath was breathing everywhere, was willing to show up, sharing, in everyone, first a few people, then more, then millions, took up the promise to breathe life the way he did in sharing life and food and hope and love.

It’s changed the world for the last few thousand years, not always for the best. Sometimes it’s been like a great big party, sometimes like a really bad committee meeting, but there is still this company of people who are trying, as best they can, to share food, hope and love.  And even though Jesus is not around like he was two thousand years ago, he’s still here, in stories told, gatherings held, food, hope and loved shared — really in every moment and every breath he still shares this love of live, this life of love.

Because he was, he is, a gift to remind us of what we deep down are: born of love, born to hope, born to share food; food for thought, for nourishment, for inspiration, to be part of a body bringing healing and hope to the whole creation.  That’s what we were created to be; and we forget that, get lost in other stories, worry about many things, forget who we are, where we come from, what we’re to do: which is mystery and meaning and justice and joy and shared food and wine and life that is so much bigger than all our understanding and any kind of death that it is almost beyond belief.

But we’re here to get reminded, renewed, in telling the stories, sharing the journey, the hope and healing, the bread and wine, the new and renewing loving life that Jesus said is in the heart of everything, that we experience what life is, what God calls us to love, even now.

So that’s what I told them. It’s true, though not the whole truth, but i hope it’s true enough to welcome them to the party and give them a taste for travelling together on this journey, but, if you've been around the church for awhile, for some days, when God’s Advent comes, it’s often not easy. But it’s good, and in the end, by God’s grace, it’s worth it. 

May your Advent be blessed.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Serving and Seeing Christ the King - Rutherglen 2017

In the early 1980s when I was in seminary my spiritual director told me to write a one page single-spaced summary or review of my faith once a month. This can be a helpful exercise, especially on the Feast of Christ the King with the start of the new church year coming in the season of Advent; to consider how we’d fill out one page with four questions: “What do I believe about God? Who is this Jesus? What is the church about? And how do I take part in this?” If you take some time to think about this between now and Christmas I guarantee that it can change your life, and it can also change the world.

So let’s look through the lens of Scripture, through three thousand years of Judeo-Christian tradition and reflection, using our God-given reason, and breathing God’s spirit as deep as we can, by asking, “What does it mean this morning to say that Jesus is Lord, Ruler, God's Word about life, that Christ is our true King?

Well, if this Jesus is King, then there’s room to rejoice, because what the prophet Ezekiel was looking for, writing about twenty-five hundred years ago, for what we heard in the first lesson, has come to be known: that the creator of heaven and earth, that the one who made it all, has, in Christ, come into the middle of our world as humble presence and human witness and healing gift. And that is exactly what Ezekiel was looking forward to when he spoke God’s word to a people without hope, a band of forced refugees sent to exile far from home, when all their history and heart had been ripped away, and they were trying to sing the Lord’s song in a very foreign land. He still held on to this great hope in God’s actions:

As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep… I will seek out my sheep… from all the places to which they have been scattered… and I will…  says the Lord God… seek the lost…  bring back the strayed…  bind up the injured… strengthen the weak…[and] I will feed them with justice.

That’s good news then and there and here and now for we have some things in common with Ezekiel’s people today, really, quite a lot. The institution of the church is in a kind of exile from where we once were, and many of us who can recall glory days in the last century — with full buildings, consistent growth, large choirs, youth groups, and a sense that we would always endure, survive and thrive, —we can look around at the remnant and wonder what happened, and it can be easy to lose hope and not hear what Ezekiel is saying to all those who are in exile.

But like them we are called to be patient, to not lose heart, but instead to feel encouraged because our hope, if Christ is King of the universe, is that the shepherd who comes from the deep heart of the whole creation, continues to meet the world, the whole world, in the very middle of the journey, rounding any roundabout, crossing any crossroad, meeting and mending, healing and bringing back all sheep lost and found far from home in their  wanderings through the various valleys of the shadow of death, each and every one, by paths of righteousness, goodness and mercy all the way back to where they should be. Even in tough times, if Christ is King, our hope in God’s universe can be that large.

But then the question is how we do we hold on to that hope, live into that that embodied belief? And that takes us to the reading from Ephesians, calling each of us to open, to assent to a graceful and continual transformation of our hearts, to the hope and faith that the spirit of Jesus, God’s Messiah, will come to dwell in a particular and unique way with anyone who can prayerfully allow that Jesus is Lord, that Christ is King. So this epistle’s prayer of faith is that:

…God… may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him… [that] with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you… the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,…the immeasurable greatness of his power for us… in Christ…[and] the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Isn’t it amazing that God goes this far, God comes this close. And by receiving grace and enacting faith, in the hope of the spirit, we can end up breathing something, someone, in the middle, who incorporates and embodies the central point of it all —  which is God’s love, which is the mind of Christ, over-flowing with compassion, empathy, a will to connect and a hope to heal, a heart which witnesses wholeness and happiness in the very centre of everyone and everything.

And Matthew's Gospel today speaks to that central  meeting point; that if Christ is king, then God’s love, God’s life and our ministry, and our participation in it, particularly longs to be found, be manifest, in the lives of those in need. There’s the surprise — that the deepest economy of the kingdom of heaven is that our response to our neighbour in need is the same as our response to this King Christ — For Jesus says:

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’…‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’  [and, going on, if] you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ “

So if Christ is King, is all of this is true, then we have a rule of life to follow, a ruler who is a shepherd, a sovereign willing to serve, with every effort and each breath, willing to share the kingdom with each and everyone of us, if we willingly share what we are and what we have as well. For it turns out that the face of the shepherd, the love of God and the deep breath shared with the friends and followers of Christ are all created, redeemed, woven out of the most majestic and intimate love.

And then maybe our question for today, for ever, is: if we believe in this God, are we willing to follow this Jesus in the faithful witness, the ministry of this serving community, to take this in, carry it along, breathe it in and live it out in the various rhythms of each and every one of our days as ministers of that Gospel, members of this body, this servant king? It’s a big question and, I think, can only be answered your each of us, all of us, every day, every moment, every breath...

This next Sunday it will be 50 years since I was baptised into the body of Christ at the age of 21 in Grace Church, Fairfield, California. I think on that Sunday I carried the same concerns I share here today, “What do I believe about God? Who is this Jesus? What is the church about? And How do I take part in all this?  And it’s good to share this journey and these good questions with you today.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Being Awake and Serving God - More on the Theology of Tennis

Jesus says, "Keep Awake!", but this section of scripture always seems a little threatening to me, like that bumper sticker that says, “Jesus is coming soon, look busy!” It rings a wrong number because, I think, the wakefulness Jesus’s looking for is not anxiety, but the alertness of a ready friend, someone prepared and ready to take the opportunity, like a seasoned dancer or a trained athlete. So I want to tell you about my theology of tennis as a model for good discipleship.

 It’s been almost twenty years since I was on a court, but I played tennis most of my life and, growing up, since I wasn’t raised in a church, the local tennis club served the purpose of a community with a shared purpose. It provided a place for both discipline and joy, a safe haven for me and my family to go to meet the world. I played a lot as a kid and in my early teens, but when I was in my mid-teens I decided I didn’t like practicing that much. And I needed to practice: I tried percentage shots that didn’t pay off, I had a tendency to lose focus and I got too tight when the score was against me. But I decided I didn’t like tennis that much.

But in my late twenties, one summer when I was leaving my job and preparing to return to University, a friend and I spent two or three evenings a week as well as most Saturday mornings working on our game. We even had private lessons back to back so that we could work on our weak areas together. By the end of the summer when I returned to Uni, my game was better, more consistent and disciplined — and I was surprised to realise that my whole life was better as well: better physically, mentally, even spiritually.

So a few years later when I was studying religion I wrote a paper on a theology of tennis called “Serving God,” subtitled “ways to serve, receive and return bright vehicles of meaning.”

And that’s what I remembered when I saw the Gospel for today, where Jesus calls the bridesmaids to be disciplined, alert and ready when he comes; prepared, ready for action, like intimate friends, like good athletes, to serve, receive, return, all the bright opportunities, that come in living in love with the possibility, the promise, the hope of God. That is why we’re here, to prepare ourselves for the great heavenly wedding banquet which just might, by the grace of God, start right here and now.

Like a good tennis lesson, our liturgy is a kind of practice session in stretching out and moving into, exercising, the actions and motions of belief. It’s a kind of dancing lessons! We can forget this, but visitors and newcomers always see how very odd it is. We sit, stand, kneel and bow, some of us cross ourselves this way and that, we pass and give and receive, we move forward and back. Finally we return to the same place, but changed, somehow, by the motions we go through. You can see newcomers looking around, thinking, “What in God’s name are they going to do next?”  But what we are doing is actually a rehearsal routine for the rest of our lives in the rest of the world.

For if you really look, you can see our whole liturgy, from Baptism on, really is a lot like a tennis lesson or a dancing class where we come to move in the world with the God in whom we live and move and have our being. In the end, it is all about the we way we prepare, wait, serve, respond, return: and those are the actions that we learn here.

We come to church on Sunday, bringing all our particular questions and concerns, issues and ideas, histories, hopes and fears, the best and worst of who and what we are, where we come from and where we are going. We take all that when we get here and we mix it up with this liturgy of confession and praise, mercy and glory, in listening and responding to the words in psalm and scripture, the articulation of the community of faith gathered through history into the present day. And this changes everything.

We present our sins, our concerns, our thanksgivings, all our self-offerings: and then join with Jesus in his self-offering as disciples and friends, becoming in this eternal communion. Taking all that we have and all that we are, and giving it all over, giving it all up to  receive his body and blood, to remember that we are members of his body. To paraphrase St Augustine, “This is what we do: this is who we are.”

That’s how faith moves in the heavenly courts, in one simple and elegant motion. We come to reach for Christ; and Christ comes to us and uses our ministry to reach out to the world. We come to get a grip on him; and we stay to learn to hand him to the world and hand the world back to him. All in one motion. For the hands which meet the body and blood of Christ here, are the same hands — same body — that touch the world in daily life in the places where we make business, peace, war and love, touch the lives of friends and strangers, spend our days. In one motion of outpouring love God in Christ reaches into the particulars of all our daily liturgies so that we come to move like Christ, like love, in all these places.

Every one of our ministries happen when we serve, receive, and return God’s love. Every one! It doesn’t matter whether it’s throwing a ball, cooking a meal, writing a paper, fixing a fixture, applying an appliance, telling a tale or doing a deed. We join in ministry, with Christ when we  lovingly to share the world we know well, sharing that clarity and light with  others, so that they know themselves to be part in that relationship, that action, that clarity and light as well. And it can happen everywhere! Some people heal with kindness, others love the stranger, others listen well. Some make justice, visit the sick, give to the poor, live cheerfully, tell the truth. Sometimes we can just barely show up, but we do what we can.

It happens anywhere we act out, serve out, flesh out, live out the reconciling life of Jesus in the ministry of acceptance, love, and forgiveness. For that is the liturgy, these are the places and the actions where we both find and serve the very God who loves and serves us. To paraphrase St Augustine one more time, “This is what we do: this is who we are.”

May the Spirit give us breath this morning to joyfully take up our lives and our ministries as God’s gifts to be received and God’s gifts to be given, and we pray all this in Christ’s name. Amen.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Nuevo Pentecostal Practices

We’re almost to the end of the season of Pentecost, just six weeks to Christ the  King and the beginning, the Advent, of a new church year. And today I want to talk about how we live through the church year in our own lives. In our lessons for today we have three moments that look like the seasons of Advent and Christmas, Epiphany and Lent and Eastertide and all that follows. The first one comes when Moses asks to see the glory of God and God responds saying, “I will show you the place I just passed,” and the second from the Epistle to the Thessalonians where Paul says, “We always give thanks to God and mention you in our prayers,” and the third comes when Jesus is asked if a disciple should follow God or Caesar.

Each of those moments can point to a particular season of grace in responding to the possibilities for growing in a life of love and prayer, ways of exercising your heart by opening up to God in three distinct places.

Later I’ll talk about some reasons why seeing God can be hazardous to your health, why God tells Moses, “No one shall see me and live…” but first I’ll show you the place where looking for the place where God has just passed by, cultivating an Advent — even an adventurous —appetite for the places where God might recently planted a promise, a seed, a new sight, can be very helpful for your spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health.

So here’s an exercise for you: start preparing to see where God might just have been. This might mean taking a breath and saying a prayer before you answer your telephone – give it one more ring to you allow the possibility that the person who’s calling you might – knowing or unknowingly – be carrying a message from God.  Taking a breath to pray at a stop light or stop sign, at any crossroad where you have to make a turn, when you open a door, or say hello to a friend or even see a stranger.
What would happen if, in each or all of these llcircumstances, you allowed the possibility that God had just acted: in that opening, with this person, for a special purpose that you don’t yet understand. Think of yourself as a detective investigating the possibility a world that might recently have changed because God had been there and then gone on. what if you followed that lead?

If you do, expect to be surprised with the residue of holiness, with a slight scent of surprising compassion and caring, with a quick backward glance from something that looks like love as it goes out the other door and around the corner. Watch for that mystery and allow the possibility that the world is alive with a living love that makes everything, meets everyone, and keeps mending the whole mess until it comes round right at the end. I guarantee you that if you give this time you will be amazed; because Advent always turns to Christmas!

The second exercise takes you to the light of Epiphany as well as the shadows, the heartbreak and break-through of Lent and Holy Week, some would say even Eastertide. Join with Paul in giving thanks to God and making prayers for all people – and this can be easy: just say, “Thank you” and “I’m sorry,” let’s say, twenty times each day. Say thank you for a morning stretch, a hot shower, a good cuppa, the voices and faces of friends and family you love, the surprise of bird song, some music on the radio, a smile from a stranger, a flower that just bloomed. Just say thanks for the blessings life bestows from beginning to end right here in the middle. Let your thanks-givings rise up like fireworks on the most beautiful night of the year. Just say thanks.

And say, “I’m sorry” too for all the right reasons. For other people in pain, for your own personal failures and foibles that cause trouble, for the burdens of the heart, mind, and body we all carry that weigh so heavy, pray for those who are doing the best that they can and still suffer, for those who live where there is war and famine, injustice and oppression. Join Paul and Jesus and the church to carry some of the pain in the world in your own heart and let it tear you apart just a little, just enough to let your tears fall for the world God loves, and then give those tears, the torn-apart places in thanksgiving to God as a faithful action for the redemption and renewal of the world.

For carrying both the hope of thanksgiving and an appreciation for human sorrow, human frailty, gives you both the light of Epiphany and leads you into the Lenten journey as well. Taking up this practice of bearing both the good and bad, the joy and sadness links you to the God who stretches out to this contradictory world with compassion in all its crossroad, witnessing in this work just how, as John’s Gospel puts it, “The light shines in darkness.”

There we join Jesus in the long road home, knowing it won’t be easy to carry that hopeful truth, to let love live in our live and the lives of others, but to commit to share that blessing, that way, as long as we can; to let love live.

Surprisingly enough, committing ourselves to these practices can mean letting go of some things: not making up our minds too often or too soon, allowing ourselves to meet  those times of trial in the strident demands of evil actors and actions which question our answer and ask for our allegiance.

For, going to the Gospel, if the question for Jesus is, “Do we pay money to the Emperor?,” maybe our question is close: “Do we offer tribute to the Empire?” First century Israel was occupied territory, under the rule and the sword of Roman rulers who demanded that Caesar be acknowledged as the Lord of the world. The question that was posed to Jesus then was a kind of card game with strong and strident powers and principalities holding the trump card, and variations of that game still stand now. Will power win over the hope of peace? Does money dominate mercy? Will avarice and injustice succeed in killing love? How can Christ’s peaceable kingdom come in this bloody world of war? It isn’t easy to open our heart, reach out our arms in times like that. It never was.

In the end, a modern Buddhist writes, there are two kinds of people; those who aren’t afraid to kill, and those who aren’t afraid to die. In todays Gospel  Jesus comes back with an answer  — give Caesar what is Caesar’s - that lightens the way and lets love live for a while. But the powers won’t let that be for long. So I honestly fear that the only way to know if love will live is to give our lives to love with a hopeful faith, to take the bet that that we live in a love that comes closer and goes farther than our understanding can easily reach. And that points us somewhere beyond Good Friday and Eastertide to the promised road to Pentecost and the spirit of Christ, of God’s word of love, that is, as Augustine says, closer to us than we are to ourselves.

So keep praying, in word and deed, to see where God just was, to see where God might want to be, to where God might call you to follow, to find the hope in the journey to larger life, to the heart of love; here, now and always.

In the name of Christ.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Beyond Ice, from the Wangaratta Chronicle, 20 October 2017

We live in an addictive world: whether sex or sugar, fitness or food, money, nicotine, alcohol, ice or other drugs; it can be very easy to get hooked into habitual pattens of behaviour that start out offering appropriate rewards and end up with diminishing returns. But it is important to remember that these dead end options can open to life-changing opportunities to change, grow and thrive.

Many years ago a friend of mine went to a very wise person to ask where he could find happiness, wholeness, health. She told him to go to where the tension was hiding in his life. As the Chinese language translates the word “crisis” as “dangerous opportunity,” so anyone can find new strength in looking at the issues that surround addictive or habitual behaviour. They can be the raw fuel that opens our lives to new opportunities for mental, emotional, intellectual and spiritual growth.

Both the crisis and the opportunity can happen to anyone, we’d all be surprised by the number of people who’ve found a lingering problem with habitual substances. To quote a clergyman I’ve known for a few decades:

You don’t think you really have a problem, you smoke weed, or you enjoy a drink or drug, or food feeds you, or sex, coffee, relationships, whatever. It isn’t a real big deal, it is a safe little corner for comfort and self-care really and you aren’t hurting anybody, except yourself maybe, much. But there have been a few folks making little remarks, and you notice that schedules and laundry and appointments and expectations get put off, and you really hate that fuzzy feeling some mornings and let’s face it, more and more afternoons, and what used to be a little safety valve has gotten bigger now, and it feels like something that you used to think was important might leak out, like your life, except that your life is now deeply  tied in with this most intimate refreshing little rite, ritual, relationship with a substance, and you wonder sometimes if you use it or it uses you. And you never expected to see yourself on this corner, really at a dead end, wondering where to go from here. 

What happened to him can happen to anyone. And what he found was that that dead end was also an open door to a new beginning!

So if you worry about the way you use substances or relationships, see it as a new opportunity! Explore your options by meeting with other people who can talk honestly and openly about their experience, both failure and success, and can share what its like to deal with old limits and find new freedom; check out options in substance and behaviour management; whether mindful using, harm-minimisation, abstinence. I’ll bet you’ll see lives changed, options opened, miracles happen.

It’s a dangerous opportunity for growth and change and it is a chance too good to miss!

Robert Whalley is a retired Anglican priest from California, where he worked for many years with people recovering from substance abuse. He can often be found around Holy Trinity Cathedral in Wangaratta.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Pentecost 18A: Necessities and Intuitions...

In her book on The Wisdom Jesus the Anglican priest and writer Cynthia Bourgeault quotes a Texas preacher who says, in the end we’re all just supposed to be nice because “Jesus is Nice!”

There’s some truth there, but when we go back to first lesson and the Ten Commandments, the  thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking — or on to the Gospel with the vineyard workers running amuck, cooking the books, stiffing the stranger, abusing the help, fighting the family, and finally even killing the son who comes to right the wrong; we don’t find a lot of nice and easy models.

So this morning I want to center on Paul’s Epistle, and part of this comes from a series of recorded talks I’ve been listening to by the Franciscan Richard Rohr called, “Great themes of Paul: Life as Participation.” Fr Rohr says the Letter to the Philippians  was written by Paul of Tarsus from his confinement in a prison cell some ten years after he helped found the church in Philippi in around 51 AD. According to Rohr, the community at Philippi, one of the first  church communities in what is currently Greek Macedonia, would’ve been not much more than 40 people.

Now the original letter was written in Koine Greek but here’s an informal translation of the Greek by the contemporary American Presbyterian pastor Eugene Peterson — which you might want to compare with the printed version in the order of service:

You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book. The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant… I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ— I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it. I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

Isn’t that an exciting translation? And I believe everyone here shares that kind of hunger to hear the voice of God, even though we know God’s word can break us to pieces, can crush our old lives, can call us to judgment; but Paul shows us it is worth the risk of losing this old life in order to come to  live in the new light of the resurrection. That’s what his epistle is talking about in a very particular and sometimes nerve-wracking way.

Because Paul is one of those people who answers any question or problem with two alternatives, puts everything into two categories: so you have law and commandments on one hand with grace and love on the other; the people of Israel on one hand with the body of Christ on the other; we can be observing the traditions and doing good works on one hand, or holding faithful hope in the new creation on the other hand. It’s like a juggling act! And I think the reason he spreads the vision so wide is to force us to choose what the most important point, the very crucial thing, might be. He focuses us to listen intently to what the voice of God, the word of Christ, carried by the breath of the spirit, might mean right here and now —to encourage us to decide how we can live out, follow that newborn truth into the larger realms of life, death, resurrection, and return; into that real world where Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

For here Paul is encouraging us by saying he is letting his old life go — with all those deep credentials  — in order to walk with Jesus anew into these mysterious depths of the human condition, into death and what might live beyond death, to come to the resurrection enlightening all our old history with a newborn hope. So he farewells his old accounting, accruals, equities, credentials and credibility structures, to allow a life based on history and law and clan and custom to die and to become a new creation as his own naked and immediate response to the love of the God in whom we are called in the light of Jesus Christ. And I believe Paul would say that each of us is also here, to say Yes to the God who is in Christ and calling us here and now.

But that isn’t easy, nor should it be: for being awake and alive today is a life or death situation: a particular time for personal decision and dedication about what matters in the end as well as what we do here and now.

Maybe there are two sides to this:

As C. S. Lewis writes in The Great Divorce, there are two kinds of people, “Those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘Thy will be done;’

As the German pastor Deitrich Bonhoeffer writes in The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls you, he calls you to die;”

But maybe there is just one truth.

As Paul will write in a later letter to the church gathering in Rome, not long before his own martyrdom, “Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

Can you hear and see the juggling, focusing on the centre of the situation, pointing to the call coming in the crisis of the present moment when we meet God’s presence in our lives and the necessity of making a choice here and now?

Where do we go when we are at the end of a rope, in the middle of a sentence, at the beginning of the rest of our lives? Maybe we can just take a breath, just like it was the first time, and give it all over, trusting the one  that Paul calls us to follow, this God in Christ who offers infinite faith, hope, love, patience, every day and here and now and always.
Maybe we can just trust Jesus to be a lot more than nice.

Like Eugene Peterson puts it:

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

May it be so for all of us.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Today’s sermon

It may be being 71 but I’ve been remembering lots of things lately; that I went to dancing classes in the  early spring of 1958 when I was 12 years old at the Crocker Dance Academy on 38th and Jay Street in Sacramento, California during my first semester in the 7th grade and there was a girl named Virginia Otwell attending from my school and there was at least one diagram of something called a box step painted on the floor of the main studio.

My understanding is the box step was invented and even patented, by a man named Arthur Murray, who, with his wife Katherine, founded a worldwide chain of Dance Studios, all with the box step, at least one, painted on the floor; so we may have had an unauthorised version. 

Now the box step consists of six moves,  left foot forward, right foot moving alongside, but not too close, then the left food joining together with right foot, the right foot moving backwards, the  left foot moving alongside, but at a distance, and then both feet finally together again. The diagram helped for awhile, but it also tended to box you in, make you think there was only one way to do this, which is not the whole truth about dancing, but is what you have to get beyond in learning to really move, and that I think tells us something about the tension between following the law as compared with following love.

Now it’s important to note the diagrams, the blueprints, the rules and laws and standards are  not wrong, for they, and the kind of knowledge they stand for, tell us how much, how many, where and when; gives line, outline, location and that’s very important. But other ways of knowing go deeper into questions of who and how and why; get you moving better, swivel your hips, so to speak, get your hands going, push your breath a bit. And that second way of moving into life differs from the legal and  diagrammatic knowledge as recipe and formula differs from bread and wine, as studying a road map from beginning a journey, as looking at a house plan from building and moving into a new home. And I think in the long run we need to leave those first steps behind and dance more freely with the deeper stories — the ones that stop us in our tracks and turn us around, gasping for new air and wide-eyed, looking at who and where we are as if we are seeing everything for the very first time.

That’s where we meet today’s story from Matthew’s gospel. Three acts: a slave owes his king lots of money;  king orders the slave and his belongings be sold for partial payment could be made; the slave pleads for patience, king feels compassion, and forgives the whole shebang. Second act: slave sees another slave who owes him less and demands payment; second slave pleads for mercy but is thrown in prison. Third act; Fellow slaves report this to king, who summons slave saying: "I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I did on you?" And hands him over to be tortured until he pays the entire debt. And Jesus summarises, “God will do the same to every one, If you do not forgive your brother or sister in your heart."

The truth is the gospel is full of nasty stories with tough endings and Jesus tells them to shake up our tendency to diagram, to destabilise our rigid accounting and conceptual structures. Because Jesus wants, I think, to break them open at precisely the right time to give us a new angle and insight on what is right in front of us and how we can start again. So the tough truth is that looking head-on at a bad ending can serve as a way to begin again. Quoting Ecclesiasticus: "Remember the end of your life, and cease from enmity, Remember destruction and death, and be true to the commandments."

So here’s another memory: in the mid eighties there were several TV shows about the effects of a nuclear holocaust: terrible pictures of the light and the wind and the fire that would follow dropping those big bombs. And even if we survived, it would be a silent world where bees, birds and the “dumb” animals had been blinded by that false light. So the spring following would have fewer colours, less song after that infernal grey blossom had fallen.

I was in seminary then and whenever I would hear the campus bells striking the hour I would stop what I was doing and look at the possibility that it all might end. To look around while the bells were ringing, and people, animals, plants and trees were moving and breathing together and think: "It could all be over, vanished, finished." And when the bells stopped ringing and the sounds of everyday came back I would look around and think; "There is a chance, we are not dead yet."

We need to forgive each other because we are not dead yet — and there is a chance in a  mysterious and graceful way, that we are newborn, like children, full of possibilities, full of innocence and promise, full of beginning. We have that choice.

The man in the story Jesus tells makes an error when he doesn't take the chance to renew himself and the world where he lives. Instead, he looks to get it for half-price, accepting the fact of mercy and forgiveness given him but not passing it on to others. And that’s what ends up cutting him in two!

For Jesus says that the measure you put out is the measure you receive. Like the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” like the Beatle’s White Album, “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” We are called to be coworkers in the harvest, spreading forgiveness and blessing based on how much we give and how much we give up. For, I think, in forgiving others we allow them the chance to be born anew: we assent and assist in the birth of God in this daily world; allowing the possibilities of the mystery and forgiveness and renewal of God's life to begin once again: in them, in us.

This is not to say that you need to check your mind at the gate. This does not mean you lose all your choices. You don't have to keep patting the dog who bites you, but you need to know what you can share with each other on the deepest level of it all, where we can all begin again.

And that’s why the truth of forgiveness does not fit on a diagram or a flowchart; because the real actions of life are both bigger and finer than that: we are born to move and to dance in the middle of a moving mystery that will always, by Gods grace, be beyond what we know. 

So in late March of 1958 I attended the Spring Dance at Kit Carson Junior High School and danced with Virginia Otwell. The decorated gymnasium was crowded and hot and the music was loud and there were no diagrams on the floor. I think I stepped on her feet several times and she may have even stepped on mine. But we got through it, making mistakes, making progress, forgiving each other,  dancing a  bit closer and faster, moving on. I don’t know whatever happened to her, haven’t thought of her for over fifty years, but I am glad to be dancing with you today.