Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Feast of Christ the King 2014

As of the end of October I became newly retired and it’s a very interesting place to be; sort of like adolescence but with less energy and no pimples: but still with all these new beginnings, open spaces and times, possibilities for action and reflection, discipline and dedication, ending and beginning!

It feels a lot like coming to an intersection on a long road and realising there are options ahead, maybe a roundabout with numerous exits beckoning or you can even circle back and end up where you started so many years ago. 

So I have been reviewing previous roundabouts, crossroads that came before: coming to the diocese five years ago, moving to Australia eight years before that, even the time when I started studying theology in Berkeley in the early 1980s: times when everything was suddenly new, amazing, questionable and wonderful all at the same time. 

And so I am wondering what to do, where to go from here; which is a deeply theological/spiritual question. So this summer I am starting to write down a short overview of what I believe.

I’ve done that before. In the early 80s my spiritual director told me to write a one page single-spaced summary review of my faith once a month. This can be a great thing to do when you are living, studying and working in a seminary, but it’s a salutary exercise for anyone anytime, even at the onset of retirement, even on the Feast of Christ the King with the start of the new church year coming, because it can tell you what deserves to be in the centre, where you need to go, what turns to avoid, as well as when to head for home. 

So maybe it’s a good thing today for all of us to consider; “What do I believe about God, and good and evil, life and death, love and forgiveness, justice and joy? What do they matter to me here and now?” If you take some time to think about this between now and Christmas Eve I guarantee that it will change your life.

And that’s our task today, looking through the lens of Scripture, through three thousand years of Judeo-Christian tradition and reflection, with recourse to reason, and breathing as deep as we can in the wisdom of the spirit. What does it mean 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 we can rejoice, because what the prophet Ezekiel was looking for, writing about twenty-five hundred years ago 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 the world as presence and 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 wrote of this great hope in God:

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.

Now we have some things in common with Ezekiel’s people today. The institution of the church is in a kind of exile from where we once were, and many who 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, — can look around at the remnant here now and wonder what went wrong, and it can be easy to lose hope and not hear what Ezekiel is saying to all those who are in exile. We are called to be patient, to not lose heart, to feel encouraged because our hope, if Christ is King, is that the shepherd who comes from the deep heart of the whole creation continues to meet the 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, by paths of righteousness, goodness and mercy all the way back to where they should be. For our hope, if Christ is King, can be that large.

Then the question comes of how we get there from here, how we hold on to that belief, which takes us to good St Paul, who in this reading from Colossians, calls us all to a graceful transformation of the heart, in faith that the spirit of Jesus, God’s Messiah, comes to dwell with anyone who can prayerfully allow that Jesus is Lord, and Paul’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.

So, by grace and with faith, you end up breathing something, someone in the middle, who incorporates and embodies the central point of it all which, if this is true, is compassion, love, empathy, a will to connect and a hope to heal, a heart which witnesses wholeness and happiness in the very centre of everything and anyone.

And Matthew's Gospel today speaks to that central  point; that if Christ is king, then his love, his life lives in everyone, and that love longs to be found especially in the lives of those in need; so the deepest economy of the kingdom of heaven is that our response to our neighbour in need is the same as our response to the God of Glory.  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.’ “

Just as the Beatles said so may years ago; “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” if Christ is King, is this is true, then we have 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 too will join to share what we are and what we have as well. Then 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 woven out of the dearest threads of love. And the only question is: do we believe this, are we willing, in any real way, to take this in, carry it along, breathe this out in the various rhythms of each and all of our days?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Last Sermon at St John's Village Nursing Home Service, three hours until retirement!

Two quotes: from Psalm 139, “and at the end, I am still in your presence.” and from John’s Gospel where Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” What might these words mean for us today?

With the words, “I am,” every good Jew as well as everyone who’s read or listened to the Scripture goes back to Moses leaving the road and taking off his shoes to see and listen to this burning bush, which tells him to announce that “I am” sent me, that he is sent forth to live and give his life in light of that light, that voice calling out, “I am,” which is being and becoming and never burned out and alway beginning and always here and now. 

So when Jesus’ friends hear, so when they (and we) see Jesus, their hope and ours is that we are seeing that word made flesh, that hope in the heart of human being from the beginning: God for us, with us, in us: the way, the truth, the life. 

The earliest Christians, before the term “Christian” was used, were called Followers of the Way.  So what is that way that we can follow today. I think it is to take on the yoke of discipline, desire and hope that Jesus models in his life, that God will meet us on the way here, right here and now, that God’s love looks to be found in every place we see, every moment of time, even and especially here and now; that that is the truth. 

The “truth” is a funny thing, one thinks of the vow to tell, “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” But, in fact, the truth is often, if not always, bigger than we know, more than we can say, can really get our mind around; not like a vow and more like a lighted city seen off in the distance, glimpsing occasionally and partially with great hope; a wide reality where love lives that is larger than we can realise. 

So even if we cannot tell that full truth we sometimes see it both up ahead and here and now, we can still will to walk in that direction. Because this is the way of life we share with Jesus: to look to all things, all places, people, predicaments, with the question, “What is this to love?”  

And that leads us to a larger life; in all its fullness, with hope and disappointment, gain and loss, joy and sorrow, life and death and something more too, all wrapped up in walking the way, leaning into the truth, living the life we are given while looking for Grace in the present moment, the present trial, the present truth. 

An ongoing Way where God’s truth, God’s love, God’s life, meets ours in being and becoming, in healing and hopes,  in triumphs and trials, in life and death and that unforeseeable rising into new life that Jesus meets and lives through and aims to share with us in the gift of God’s spirit in our lives; God’s breath breathing us through every moment, here and now and always, calling us to follow Christ as the way and the truth and the life that grows us into greater life with God. 


“O Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You mark out my journeys and my resting place and are acquainted with all my ways.
In the name of Christ, Amen.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pentecost 20C - The last sermon at St Paul's, Glenrowan

The problem with “last sermons” is they can get very top-heavy, and the trouble with last sermons before retirement is that they can topple over. But I want to say both farewell and fare forward in light of our final time together as your interim and in response to today’s Gospel too; so that might take some time.

When I was in seminary in Berkeley in the 1980s I wrote a paper outlining something called “The Merton Centre,” which would offer courses, gatherings, resources for people who didn’t find their needs or desires met by existing religious structures. The four sides of the structure were: formation, education, celebration and transformation. This template led me in the work I did in chaplaincy and education in California in the 1990s and then found a new form as “The Merton Centre at St Peter’s Eastern Hill” in Melbourne from 2002 to 2009. It changed a bit when I moved to Wangaratta, but certainly influenced various diocesan offerings, chiefly under the name of “St Columb’s Fair,” in the last five years. Now that I am retiring I think that it might be time to let The Merton Centre come forth again, because in my experience it outlines good ways to learn, to lean into, to live out the great summary of the Gospel we hear today from Matthew:

“’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

So, based on my old model, here are four ways to get there from here:

Formation means that the first fact, the place where we start, is that God loves us; exactly as we are, here and now, always and everywhere. God makes us, meets us and mends us, all the time, all out of love. And that love lives before we were born, after we die, in every instance of our lives.  But even if it seems simple, it isn’t easy. William Blake writes, “We are put on earth a little space, That we may learn to bear the beams of love.” and so that we might learn to look at everyone in that light, even sometimes looking in the mirror, and this can be problematic:

As Thomas Merton writes:

 For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self. 
    Trees and animals have no problem. God makes them what they are without consulting them, and they are perfectly satisfied. 
    With us it is different. God leaves us free to be whatever we like [and]…   Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny….

And this means looking at where we are not, who we are not, why we are not: for  while God creates time and space and innumerable paths to freedom and perfection, we tend to take the most expeditious shortcuts, and there has to be a commitment to take the long way home, in order to find by Grace, as Zen puts it, “the face we had before we were born”.

Some books that speak to this for me are by Rowan Williams, Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation and Gerald May’s, The Awakened Heart; along with A Path with Heart by the Buddhist Jack Kornfield as well as mystical poetry by people like Rumi, TS Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins

Now Education: I often say that, “No one would go to the gym one hour a week and expect to get stronger, but I still do!” But we also can come to church that way, and we need to allow more take time to stretch, discern, learn, listen to where we are and where God calls us to be. For here we have the most expansive history and tradition of aesthetics, ethics, poetry, politics, wisdom, cosmology, compassion, beauty the world has ever known, and we don’t take time explore it, to get lost and found in it, glory in it.

We need to allow time and space to listen and come to know the tradition. Some options I’d recommend today are using the Daily Office, either in your prayer book on online (I use the C of E app on my iPad), to schedule a weekly hour or two with the Sunday Gospel on textweek.com. and look at current authors like Diarmaid MacCulloch, Diana Butler Bass, Karen Armstrong, Brian McLaren, and again, Rowan Williams.

Celebration means Liturgy and that is the work of the people together, of the polis, the ecclesia, those on the way together; and I always go back to a quote by Tennessee Williams: “In a world where so many are alone, it would be an unforgivable sin to be lonely by yourself“ In many ways the church is where we learn to be deeply ourselves while most deeply together. It is the place where, as Philip Larkin writes, “… all our compulsions are robed as destinies” and that is our call as community! For the church offers sacramental moments: “Patterns of countless ways God uses material things to reach out to creation,” and then we can see it is all part of the mix: birth, puberty, sex and relationship; both vocation and vacation, with room for sin, illness and death. In eating, bathing, cooking, cleaning, making love, poetry, justice, community, silence. Looking for God everywhere can enlarge the universe and Celebration and liturgy are where we practice to be a new people, a new being, the new creation that St Paul talks about.

I haven’t read much on liturgy lately but always loved Charles Price and Louis Wiel’s book, Liturgy for Living.“The Wisdom of Confucius” and “Confucius, the Secular as Sacred” by Herbert Fingarette also fit here.Also the work of Thomas Moore, author of The Life of a Soul, who puts it this way, “My life work is an attempt to ground the pure, visionary spirit in the imperfect, intoxicating sensuousness of worldly life.” His books are worth looking at too.

And, finally, Transformation: There’s a great line in Annie Hall where Woody Allen turns to Diane Keaton and says, “A relationship, I think, is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies.  I think what we’ve got on our hands is a dead shark.” Our relationship with God in community has to move forward, because it is, in the end, the act of changing the world. But listen to what Mother Teresa said fits here: “Don't look for big things, just do small things with great love.” Continuing formation, education, celebration all lead to transformation, where we learn to live the life, to walk the talk of the Good News of God with us, Jesus Christ.

As Merton writes:

And the deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless. It is beyond words, and it is beyond speech,and it is beyond concept.  Not that we discover a new unity. We discover an older unity. My dear [sisters and] brothers, we are already one. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are."—


We are the body of Christ,
His Spirit is with us.

Amen.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Landowners and the Kingdom of Heaven

What is the kingdom of heaven like?

A couple of years ago I was driving out to Tamanick for the eight o'clock mass at St George’s and I realised that the light had a kind of special quality: with shades I hadn't seen before, mysterious shadows and a bit of an edge to my vision which was both mysterious and disturbing. I wondered if I might be having a mystical experience. But I made an appointment to see my optometrist who said that it was time to get my cataracts removed.

Fast-forward a few weeks for surgery for the right eye and a month after that for the left and I began to see the world in a new way. I have heard women say they noticed the dust everywhere around their house; I’m not that good, but I saw the edges of things more clearly: the corner window, the shape of the cats ear, the distinct outline of one noisy cockie’s wingspan rising in flight into a blue sky: everything looked pretty wonderful and newly refreshed

So sometimes we need to have our vision checked to make sure we’re seeing things as well and as accurately as possible; sometimes there can be a filter or a flaw that keeps us from perceiving what is either in front of us or some ways away: and often  checking out our lenses, the way we view things, helps us see old things in new ways, and  overlooked possibilities might emerge and get suddenly clear and maybe even wonderful.

So what is the kingdom of heaven like?

I want to talk about the Gospel lesson for this morning; but I think that insights about the landowner and how he pays his workers can be seen more clearly when we take some time to focus on the background of the story, what Matthew refers to as “the kingdom of heaven,” and I think it’s important for us to question our vision here, check out how clearly we’re seeing  the big picture of larger life that stands in the very center of this story.

Because in the last 500 or so years, we (meaning people coming from a European culture) have changed the way we’ve look at life, and the way we tend to see things now have up changed both how and what we see. Two quotes fit here:  one well-known enlightenment thinker said, “Man is the measure” and another wrote, “I think, therefore I am.” Together those two ways of seeing, thinking, measuring, change everything, maybe for good and bad; they can be an accurate lens, but they might also be a bit of a cataract: maybe opening up our sight, maybe closing down our larger vision too.

Because for most of our time on the planet,  humankind shared their hopeful stories of their journeys using poetry rather than prose, using mystery rather than history, using a heartfelt hope rather than heads filled with facts. But for the last 500 or so years we’ve tried so hard to think it out, get it straight in our minds, get its measure and know its numbers and that’s made a change.

Now I am not saying that modern scientific thinking is bad! All this scientific knowledge, technical data, dictionary facts and figures, has given us a lot of  information and no small amount of wisdom; It is just that it is not the whole story!

Because the older story shared on the journey, round the campfire, at the altar; this poetry and music and myth and metaphor can call us to go beyond ourselves, enter into mystery, follow a truth that finds a faithful way home by a way that passes understanding.

So we have to understand anew the background of the Kingdom of God, and then we can come to see the old  parable, the story in the foreground, and what it has to tell us, in a brand new way.

So what is the kingdom of heaven like?

What if we look at the landowner and the way he chooses to pay his workers like we never seen it before! How strange a place where people who came in at the last hour of the day are paid as much as those who were on-site in the morning! It doesn’t make sense in terms of the modern ideas of human  resources and relations, it wouldn’t be in touch with union or government policies and protocols, and I think any Board of Directors would look askance on this in terms of budgetary planning. But if you hold that Christ-shaped hope of heaven in the centre of your heart, this story can be an insight to a whole new way of life.

So what is the kingdom of heaven like?

Listen to a better preacher than I, St John Chrystostom’s Easter sermon from around 400AD. For this is really all about Easter!

Are there any who are devout lovers of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival! Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord! Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages!



If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss. 
And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate; but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay. 

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows. He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor. The deed He honors and the intention He commends. 

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

 First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day! You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

 Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. 

Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!


Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. 
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

And, by God, the kingdom of heaven is just like that! 

In the name of Christ. Amen

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My Theology of Chaplaincy: or "What I am saying tomorrow at a meeting at St John's Village."

Some twenty years ago I was a resident Minister at a University in the middle of San Francisco and at the beginning of every academic year I would meet with new students and give a little speech. “You need to know I have no power in this place,” I’d say, “I don’t  hand out a syllabus or course description, I don’t write evaluations or recommendations, I don't end up our time together by giving you a grade, but I aim to be a safe place in a dangerous journey.”

There would be a silence after that, and some of the students would look at me and never speak again. Others would go on to say hello, be polite, and maybe let a relationship grow over time.  But a few, some, of those present would start to explore with me the places where an open-ended open-hearted conversation held in confidence and great respect might lead.

So I had students coming to talk to me about sex before marriage, about cheating before final exams, about the deaths of grandmothers at odd times. I had students coming to me to talk about why they were studying to be accountants when they wanted to play music or serve coffee for a few years following graduation. I had students coming to me because they were so damn happy they had to tell someone, or they were so scared and lonely and they didn’t want to be alone with that. And I tried to honour everybody because it all mattered.

These people were beginning the first act of their lives: they were sometimes tentative, often courageous, occasionally prone to make great splattering mistakes; but it was an unspeakable privilege and joy to be invited to share the road with them for a time. I feel much the same about being the interim chaplain in an aged care village with adjacent terrace housing.

We’re in the third act here, but the questions are as important and the emotions can run as high as in the first. They still have to do with what wants to happen, with where the meaning is, with what matters in the end. It still has to do with testing limits as well as letting new possibilities emerge.  And it is still a great responsibility and an awesome privilege to accompany people on the way.

I am a man formed in a particular understanding of history and spirituality and psychology and poetry and politics and piety called Anglican Christianity; but I’ve learned much from a Sufi poet named Rumi, lived some years ago in a Buddhist temple for four months and loved it, and probably have picked up more practical wisdom from good Hollywood comedies and brassy Broadway musicals than I ever expected. So please know that I don’t have an axe to grind or a matched set of beliefs to sell; feel free to ignore me if you like or use me as you wish; and if you cared to share a part of your journey with me, I aim to be a safe place. 

Monday, August 04, 2014

Eulogy for DB

One of the big Greek words in the New Testament,  is “Kenosis”: Paul uses it to speak of how Jesus empties his life out of love, becoming a servant to God's people. As I understand it, the original word had pre-Christian roots and "Kenosis" happened when you emptied a vial of oil over an altar dedicated to the Emperor and proclaimed that, "Caesar is Lord."

But the early community following Jesus in what he taught and who he was, the people who found their lives renewed by his life, took that word, kenosis, differently, not giving their lives over to those popular powers and principalities that promised such mighty paybacks, (and had such great publicity and great plans for the future), but instead poured out their lives in love to any or all in need or trouble so that the good news of Jesus, that God is love, might be "all in all."

From what I hear about D... B... from her family as well as from residents and staff here at St. John's;  was she was one of those; a moving picture, a kind of icon, of that outpouring love; with a disciplined willingness to work for the good of the other, and to enjoy that interaction, that conversation, with the other. From what I hear she was one of these people who see the crucial connection that, in loving one another we allow love to grow us greater in love, and that’s a gift, a grace, that no worldly God, that no Caesar can conceptualise, that finally aims to make us fit inhabitants of heaven by the gifts we give on earth.

Rogers and Hammerstein have some great lines, and towards the end of Sound of Music, when Maria sings, “Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay, love isn’t love ’til you give it away.” In his eulogy  Graham has given you a sense of how D... spent her days, and two days ago in the main office here I heard people talking about how D..., when she first arrived here, offered to help with the typing and the office work.

For some people the greatest gift they receive is the gift of spending their lives on earth sowing seed that others might thrive, making life easier and better for those around them, often preparing others for a harvest they themselves will never see, and some of the wisest and kindest people I know say there’s no better ways to spend your live than that, and I believe they’re right.

I have a favorite joke that never fails to evoke a great silence: never getting many laughs, yet I love it so. Here it is: after the funeral of a well beloved community member two men are standing outside and one turns to the other and says quietly, "Did he leave much behind?" And the other replies quickly, "He left it all."

The plain truth is that nobody gets out of here alive,and Christians believe that even God gives it all away in Christ, so the good news is that we are called, asThomas Merton puts it, “ to forget ourselves on purpose… Join in the general dance" and pour ourselves out in the love of God to the very end, and then some.

Nobody knows what heaven might be like, though the hope of it keeps coming back through human history, but my sense is that somewhere, beyond all our preconceptions, in that great admissions office in the sky, someone has just suggested she might help with the typing and the tidying up, and I have no doubt at all that the offer has been accepted.

Well done, D..., may we follow your lead, may we enjoy the journey in letting love live. And may you continue to be a blessing to us and to God, and may God bless you now and always.
Amen.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Dancing out and into the Gospel, a slightly recycled sermon

Back in the 1960s, when I was a lot younger, I remember Steve Martin, the comedian, saying that he was going to write a book one day just using verbs, because so many things just kept happening! That one-liner came back to me when I was reading the Gospel for today.

There so many actions, verbs, in there, the transactions of the kingdom of heaven; “finding, hiding, selling, buying, searching, throwing, catching, sitting, gathering, separating, weeping, gnashing, celebrating, bringing out a treasure that  is both old and new.
So with all this verbiage, you can see why Richard Holloway, the former Primate of the Scottish Episcopal church wrote that it might be helpful to distinguish between Orthodoxy – right formulas of belief – and Orthopraxy – right ways of living, living out our belief. Because belief – as in “I believe” – turns out to be a  verb as well. 
And I’ve always thought that it would be a good idea to have a sermon time where someone stood and, instead of talking, did something like Tai-Chi, so that we could see what a dedicated body can do. Not just talking the talk, but walking the walk, dancing the sermon so we could see it moving right in front of us: belief in action.
Then I realised that our liturgy is just that, a kind of moving picture; a choreography of belief. Visitors and newcomers notice it more than those of us who are regulars in the weekly routine: for they see how very odd it is. We sit, stand, sometimes kneel and bow, some of us cross ourselves this way and that, we pass and give and receive, move forward and back, finally returning to the same place, but changed, somehow, by the motions we go through. You can sometimes see newcomers looking around, thinking, “What in God’s name are they going to do next?”  But what we are acting out in this place is an exercise in orthopraxy; a kind of spiritual workout routine, that sets the style and pace for the rest of our lives in the rest of the world.
You see, a good corporate liturgy, with people really worshipping together, is a kind of icon in motion, a vehicle of altered consciousness, a shared work of art to help us see  all the detail, all the light that’s already there. Like a great photo that gives you a depth of seeing that you might have overlooked before, like one of those rare portrait that shows someone looking like they might get to be if they live life right, make the right choices, get good gifts. That’s what we’re about while we are in this place: to sharpen up our vision, our expectancy, and our action! We come here to get the world inside and the world outside in that kind of clear focus.
Because if you really look, you can learn to see our whole liturgy is nothing less than an an amazing dancing class. Here we learn how we are 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 verbs, the actions that we learn here, that we live out everywhere. 
So when we come to church on Sunday, we bring nothing less than our selves, our whole selves, souls and bodies, to this Eucharistic celebration. That means we each bring all our 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. And when we get here we mix it up, move it out into this liturgy of confession and praise, mercy and glory, in listening and responding to the words in psalm and scripture, the words and music of the community of faith gathered throughout the world, throughout world history into this place on this day. 
It’s a two step motion. We present our sins, our concerns, our thanks-givings, all our self-offerings: and then we join with Jesus in his self-offering as his disciples and his friends in celebrating this eternal communion. We take all that we have and all that we are, and we give it all over, give it all up and receive it back as a gift to give to others, in the same way and at the same time as we take his body and blood, in order to remember that we are members of his body. To paraphrase St Augustine, “This is what we do: this is who we are.”
So thats where you see faith moving on, the point of the whole dance routine. We come to reach for Christ; and Christ comes to us and uses each of our individual and corporate, community, ministries to reach out to the world. We first come here to get a grip on him; and we stay to learn to hand him to the world and hand the world back to him. That’s where the dance is! 
For the hands which grasp the body and blood of Christ here, are the same hands — same bodies — that touch the world in daily life in the places where we make business, peace, war and love, where we touch the lives of friends and strangers, where we spend our days. The grace of this shared liturgy, this Eucharist, is that it is a vehicle enabling the love of God in Christ to reach into the particulars of all our daily liturgies so that we can come to move like Christ in all these places. 
For each one of us, as ministers of the Church, members of Christ’s body, is called to proceed –- and I’ll say dance — into the world which God loves, day after day, year after year, time after time: to take on all the tasks of stewardship in this wonderful world: to be present to family, friends and strangers, in tasks, hobbies, jobs and joys, present in the times of frustrations and puzzlements, present in agreements that must be honoured, in situations that must be met. All of these are places where we are called to act out, serve out, flesh out, live out the reconciling life of Jesus  - in serving love of every kind - in the ministry of acceptance, love, and forgiveness, in bringing out a treasure that is both old and new. 
May God give us the Spirit, the grace today and everyday, to take up and live out our lives and our ministries as gifts to be received and gifts to be given, and all in Christ’s name. Amen.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Pentecost 6A, Scripture answering our questions and questioning our answers..

I want to start with a question this week: What is the Gospel inside the Gospel for you? What are the particular verse of Scripture, the words of Jesus or the Hebrew scripture, the left or right side of the book, the  good news, that speak to you in your life, your journey right now? And be assured that they can change for us, for the core of the good news, that central proclamation, where we understand the goodness of the gospel, of God with us, can differ depending on the seasons of our journey, where we're coming from, where we're going, who we're with and how long we’ve been traveling.

When I started out my walk as a baptised member of the Church, almost a half-century ago, the line that spoke to, opened up, my heart was, "God is love." In a particularly trying time after that the words that gave me hope were, "You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free.” While another time the phrase that carried me was, "Be still and know that I am God.” And one time, paradoxical as it might seem, I received a deep comfort, a place for healing and going on, in breathing the words, "My God my God, why have you forsaken me?"

So our journey to know God following the way of Jesus in the light of the Spirit can go through many seasons, and different facets of the Gospel can enlighten us in different times. This is because it's not a one word, one phrase, one size fits all and all times kind of app. Our Bible functions like a great library, a Biblios, where certain stories can come to kind, can encourage us in different times, giving us refreshment and strength according to our  varying and unique circumstances, and that’s nothing new.

The early historian Tatian, writing in the first part of the second century, said that the Gospel of Mark came to be written when John Mark, as an old man, remembered and gathered and wrote down the stories he remembered Saint Peter sharing with the disciples in their community, "as they had need” to hear them. So the gift of a particular Good Word speaking to us according to our unique circumstance has deep roots in our tradition.

There have been some tough stories this week with the plane crash in the Ukraine and the tragic casualties in the Holy Land. And I know several people and families who are going through tough times too. And the temptation in moments like this can be to ask God for a clear and lasting response to what appears to be a clearly evil occasion: to ask if good will speedily prevail, if the righteous will receive their reward soon, if we will see those who inflict pain find their just punishment. 

But perhaps the deeper question is this: in light of the large library of the scripture, biblios, is this: can we, should we,  make a quick and clear judgement about good or bad, right or wrong, us versus them, or should we, like the landowner in the parable we heard in today's Gospel, do what we can while we  wait until that final harvest gathering? 

For  Scripture shows us that Jesus shares other good words that might make problematic our tendency towards quick judgements:  lines like "love one another," “don’t resist evil,” "do not judge,” and “bless those who persecute you,” all can make us catch our breath. And Jesus does even more than speak out or write down these words, he lives his teaching out to the end; peacefully walking into injustice and intolerance, reaching out his arms in love in the midst of violence, allowing himself to be the victim of great pain, even to death. So it looks like living like Jesus,  sharing in that lasting love, that lack of judgment, can cause us pain some days. 

And then the question is this, where can we find some peace in  this trying journey, where can we hold on to Christ’s promise of ultimate Good News when he seems determined to take us on such a wild ride without quick and easy assurances?

Jesus did give the disciples a clearer explanation after he shared the parable of the weeds and the tares, and that helped them in some ways, though I think they still need to go on learning; but I tend to go back to a bumper sticker I saw in the 1970s which said, “Be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.”

For it has been the same with the community gathered together for the last 3000 years. From the story of the death of Abel to the deep tragedy of Job, to  the death of the Christ on the cross in the centre of our vision, in all these times, the church, Gods' body, stands for the costly truth of love, through the witness of martyrs to the troubles of the present day, and each of us as baptised members of God’s body still witness  tragedy and pain in our families and our neighbour-hoods as well as our newspapers and television screens. 

So there has been no conclusive answer to the question of why there is evil  all ‘round our lives,  other than the ongoing unfinished answer that God is love, that faith will find a way, that hope will bring us home, and maybe the others too. So,without a clear answer coming soon, can we let ourselves wait, to go on the way with enough humility to lean on God in this unfinished pilgrimage? 

 I have friends whose main statement of belief consists of these eight words, “There is a God and it’s not me!”  So maybe an unfinished hope can open a light at the end of the tunnel and show us the way to the bare belief that God is both before and beyond us, not just with us, but still not finished, but still working, still speaking, still letting love lean into our lives, and the lives of others. And this can allow us to hang on with the hope that reconciliation will come round further on and peace will finally prevail for each and all of us. It might not make it much easier here and now, but as a member of my family often used to say, “Nobody ever said it was always going to be easy.” For even here and now love offers us a strong and Godly hope to hold on for the time being: the faith that God’s word of love which was from the beginning, is willing to meet us here and now in the middle of everything, and, in the end will bring us to a home where Jesus will be all in all.


Amen

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Pentecost 5, Seeds of Love and Lectio Divina

I want to talk about how we might read, respond to, pray with the scriptures; as in today’s lessons on in the Daily Office, because I think that, in the business of getting older, we can encounter the Bible, differently as we change, mature, go on living.

I remember hearing the parable of the sower and the seeds when I was in my twenties and it made me want to start rearranging my life: getting rid of the thorny places, clearing out the rocks, moving the path so as to find the good ground and ensure a rich harvest. I was going to try to do it all!

When I heard the parable in my thirties it was a bit different. Although I knew more about where the rocky places and the rich grounds, my strong points and weak points, were; I no longer believed that I had to make such drastic changes. As one California writer put it; “maturity happens when you begin to accept yourself, whether you want to or not!”  And even though there were certain places where I wasn't too good, there were other places where I wasn't too bad. Ask me to write a poem and I might do a great job. Ask me to total up a list of figures and prepare for a major fiscal disaster. But like St. Paul, “I am what I am by the grace of God,” and I can offer it all to God to do with as God wills. I can simply be the whole ground watching and waiting for the seed coming to bloom where God wills and giving thanks that this is so.

So now that I'm almost to my seventies I live with a different set of expectations, a different time schedule. The truth is this is as good as it gets from here on out, and there is a kind of grace in that, that this moment might be a special kind of present, something that has never been before and may never come again; precious in its uniqueness and distinction. And this gift of the present moment, the present that comes with every moment, can open a different way of reading the Bible.

It is called Lectio Divina, it comes from the ancient traditions of the church, was out of favour for the last few hundred years (when we were all so scientific) and is getting popular again. It has four parts. First, you read the lesson and second you meditate, let it linger in your mind and in your memory and in your heart. Third, after you have a sense of what part of the reading speaks to you as a particular gift from God, you share your prayer with God, and then finally in the Fourth part you rest with God in silent contemplation and renewal.

So that when I read the parable of the sower and the seeds this week I stopped when Jesus said, “A sower went out to sow.” And I remembered all the green growing times in my life: a hot summer morning in my parents backyard in Sacramento California when I could almost hear the grass grow; a late spring morning when I was a teenager and my father borrowed a rotary hoe to make a vegetable garden which provided him with a place for healing after a lengthy illness; one autumn in my twenties when I planted stock and snapdragons, forgot them over the winter and was surprised when they rose up in the spring blooming bright and smelling strong as the sun came back following a cold and rainy winter. 

And as my meditation blooms I recall the writings of Thomas Merton who wrote this in his book, “New Seeds of Contemplation.”

"Every moment and every event of every person's life on earth plants something in their soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of humankind…. in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity and love”

And in that freedom, that graceful spontaneous moment, I begin to pray that God use my good ground, whatever ground God wishes, so that, as Merton writes: 

“these seeds would take root in my liberty, and… His will would grow from my freedom, [so that] I would become the love that he is and my harvest would be his glory and my own glory.”

But that can also be difficult because I often meet that part of me which knows it takes some time to plant a seed, for graceful growth, for flower and bloom, and wants an easier, faster way.

My living room windows look east to an empty lawn the Cathedral shares with the College and sometimes I wake before dawn and light three candles, drink my coffee and read my iPad Bible while sitting in the dark and waiting for the sun to rise. It can be wonderful, ’though there are many times when I want to rush it, turn on the lights, get the day going! But when I sit quietly with God, as when you sit quietly with a friend, then sometimes the sun comes up before I know it and the empty field turns green with what seems like newborn grass giving God glory, and  It is the same with us: as Merton writes: 

The seeds that are planted in my liberty at every moment, by God's will, are the seeds of my own identity, my own reality, my own happiness, my own sanctity…. And I would grow together with thousands and millions of other freedoms into the gold of one huge field praising God, loaded with increase, loaded with wheat.”

It’s not always like that. In fact, it’s not usually like that. But often enough when I sit in silence, read scripture simply, meditate, pray, and recall who and whose I am;  God seems to give the growth, those seeds ripen, and I find myself refreshed, renewed, maybe even redeemed in a new way that does me good, and I commend it to you.


Amen. 

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Homily at a Requiem Eucharist at Holy Trinity, Whitfield

B….. R…. would be so happy you are here this afternoon. She loved this church, loved people gathering here for the Eucharist: especially at Easter when the place gets nearly full. She would be ecstatic today. In fact, I can safely say that she is! 

This church, any church, is a place set aside for touching those moments of hunger and hope, birth and marriage, transition and termination. Over the centuries we’ve gathered in places like this to remember, with mysterious, solemn and dedicated observances for all the events of life and death, with both duty and delight; to share the songs and the stories of “where we come from and where we’re going, and why all the travelling.”

And I must admit that lately we don’t do it awfully well. The church still speaks s though there’s nothing else happening on a Sunday morning. And we need to learn a new vocabulary that connects eternal concerns with the language of the present day. This is not news. Religions, like other communities of compassion and commitment, go in and out of style. And we’ll learn to rise again, speak simply and clearly about the places where love, forgiveness, renewal, and actions live, with fresher stories and newer songs to enable communities to envision, dedicate themselves to new and larger life. But I can say that was what B… found here, at Holy Trinity Church, Whitfield. 

It was about 4 years ago when I drove up here from Wangaratta and met her for the first time. She welcomed me out front, showed me where the needed things were, and left me to get ready for the service as she went to kneel in prayer, and I learned something about her then that I will never forget.

It’s not generally known, but sometimes you can almost smell prayer. I remember a small chapel in Rome, one Pentecost morning in Melbourne, an afternoon in Davis, California, after a choir festival, and preparing for the Mass at almost 11:00 on that first morning in Whitfield with B..… 

I don’t know what B…. had been like or what she had gone through in her times as a girl, a young lady, married woman, mother, neighbour, teacher, elder; but she knew what it was to take part in the Eucharist.

So today we’re celebrating Holy Communion, the Eucharist, a Mass of Thanksgiving for her life and her journey. And in this we take part in the actions of Jesus when he let his life go as a way to live out love. It is not a moment unique to Him: we all have times when we decide to walk on in charity when we know there’s hateful trouble up ahead: when bones might be broken, blood spilled. But sometimes loving  life calls for costly sacrifice that can be deadly serious, calls for serious symbolic action, and B…. knew that.

Jesus did four things: he took bread, blessed it, broke it, shared it; asking his friends, up to and including us, to share in this food and count themselves members of this outpouring, ongoing body of love, in participating in this very simple action of give and take and give. As St Augustine said some 1600 years ago: “Behold what you are. Become what you receive.”

And B…. did that. She took up her life, with whatever joy and delight, toil and trouble she was dealing with; Sunday by Sunday, month by month, year by year, and she let it to be blessed, allowed it to be opened to love’s breath, let it be broken open to see how faithful prayerful action might be given over, shared with family, friend, the community, the stranger.  She beheld who she was,  and she became what she received.  And that’s why we gather today to celebrate. 

Because she has gone on. And in what we call death she now knows larger life, with horizons that pass our understanding. But we are here, and we can rejoice that she now sees what we can only taste.


In the name of Christ. Amen

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Homily for a Memorial Service

A few weeks ago I had lunch with an old friend who said, “I don't know what I believe anymore, I don’t think I have much faith.” I chewed my pasta for awhile and I said, “I've read a lot about faith, talked too much about it, and I guess I can make my way though scripture and the creeds, and the church because I have this deeper sense that in and under and beyond all that I reckon and see there is this heartfelt hunch that the whole world, the whole deep cosmos, is woven with love. 

And I don't know fully where that comes from. I get a lot from my community; the scripture, tradition, people and places, hymns and hopes that , after all these years, sing in me; but there's more. For even in the times of deep tragedy when I cry against the unfairness; with so many lives in this world cut short by tsunamis or tyrants, or others peoples shortcuts and all the mysteries of car crashes or a fast-growing  cancer. Even with all that I still stand in awe with this recurrent hunch that the cosmos comes out of an unspeakably tender compassion. 

So maybe you're not ready for faith at this point, don't want a wrapped-up package that connects to ethics and aesthetics and Eros and all the other aspects of life that can come up for appraisal and renewal; maybe you’re not ready to make some paragraph of programmed belief that faith might form; but know that love still opens the heart and leaves room for hope. And that might  be enough for a good long while.

C.... talked to me the other day about when she and G.... and their kids were younger and didn't have a lot of money, didn't have a big house or take faraway vacations, but, along with the tough times,  they had great wonderful occasions, great joy! I think her exact words were, “We had so damn much fun!” And those moments, that memory of the weaving, can take anyone a good long way.  

In a sense this building is built from those times and insights, out of that wonder. The people shining in the windows, Whether saviour, saints or unnamed strangers, shared the road like a family, sitting near the fire and joining in whenever someone picks up a guitar and sings an old song about “where we came from, where we're going, and why all the traveling.” And I am convinced that with enough held moments like that, a systematic faith can be a help but may not matter much: if you have the memory of the small and great moments that fire hope and keep you on the way, then you're halfway  home, for you know that love like that does not end.


The family is glad that you are here. May you always be blessed by love. Amen.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Taking on a tough Gospel with Cross References: Matthew 10:37-42

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 
This portion of the Gospel for today is what is called a “hard saying.” There are three others sayings like this elsewhere in Matthew but we’ll leave them aside for now. It’s a temptation to think that, “Jesus would never say anything like that!”, but a lot of  Biblical scholars think that, simply because they are such brutal sayings, they are undoubtedly from the lips of Jesus. Who else would want to add that line in? It’s not real attractive, like, “Fear not… you are of more value than many sparrows” You can imagine some early friend of Jesus adding that line on to a late night prayer-time with their needy child. But, “Take up your cross!” doesn’t do it as well!
So, easy as 1, 2, 3; Jesus tells us to love God more than we love our parents and to love God more than we love our children, and to take up our walk with Jesus no matter what cross road we find ourselves on. For “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me and those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Since it’s such a hard saying. I’d like to do a little detour and head to another, somewhat easier scene from scripture that still might move us to understand where Jesus is calling us to walk; and that’s the Transfiguration account as it is found in Chapter 17 of Matthew. It’s also in Mark and Luke as well as the second letter of Peter. 
You already know the story: Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain by themselves. There He’s transfigured before them: His face shines, His clothes become white, and before you know it He’s talking with Moses and Elijah. A great scene! And good old — not yet Saint  — Peter (and you know Peter in most of the Gospels: “Open mouth, insert foot”)… Peter says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah,” and suddenly a cloud envelopes them, and a voice says, “This is My Son… Listen to Him!” and they see Jesus only. 
Moses, Elijah and Jesus, who tells them to follow Him, to take up their cross: 1, 2, and 3 one more time. And maybe this is what it all means…
If Abraham is the grandfather, then Moses is the parent of Israel: he carries the law, he holds the history, he sets the standards; much like any parent. And when Jesus comes he tells the Israelites (and us too) that holding on too tight to their traditions, taking some parental injunctions too seriously, can keep them (and us ) from seeing what God is doing in the present moment. 
A few months ago I heard someone I respect greatly say of a man that we’ve both known for a few years: “He’ll be OK when he gets outside his father’s shadow!” That’s a hard saying too, but I bet we all know people who are caught in such parental expectations that can hobble or kill a call to follow God, to live life, in the present moment. There comes a point when you know that you have to love God more than parents if you want to follow God. 
And then there's Elijah, head of the Prophets; standing for those who speak for right relationship, for justice, reform, expectation, for the hope of Israel. And maybe he stands for what we want, what we try to offer our children, those we mentor, those we raise up or care for. The prophets give their all for the children of Israel; but then so do righteous parents, tyrannical bosses, believing terrorists too; I’ve heard parents say, “ I was willing to give them every-thing,” and maybe one response to that is, “What they want is simply room, perhaps to get it wrong, but then to make it right, in their own way, in their own time!” 
Even Jesus would have held the people of Jerusalem, to gather them together, “as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings," and they were not willing, and maybe he knew that was right too. Even to give your children, to give your greatest hope up to God, is to allow and open the grace for growth beyond these limited visions. 
Still, it is so understandable, on the one hand, that Peter wants to build a structure to keep history and hope enshrined safely at the top of the mountain; but Jesus knows there is another road to follow, another mountain that must be met before father or mother, son or daughter, maybe before anyone, can really make it home; 
So a voice says, “This is my Son, listen to him” and Jesus says, “Take up your cross.” For “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me and those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it,” and we’re back to the beginning: a hard saying waiting to be answered. How do we look upon this, live with it, get through it? It might not be as easy as 1, 2, 3, but I believe it is always within our reach by God’s grace, and it has to do with focusing on the facets of the cross.
For there are three crosses in the history and the heart of the church and together they point to the three dimensional reality where God meets us here and now and always. First, we see the crucifix where “Christ has died,” and that encourages us in the life-giving faith that God joins us, along with all the other friends of Jesus, in the very centre of human being; that can give us the faith that we will never be alone on this unfinished road. Then the second cross we can look for with great hope is the empty one that dawns on Easter, with the mystery that, “Christ is Risen from the dead,” and the hope-filled promise that comes with God sharing this new and larger life with us. And finally there is the Christus Rex, where this self-giving, all-loving Jesus reigns as the victorious King of all creation, the culmination of all things, when “Christ will come again:” where faith finds us, hope follows, love wins and Jesus makes all things forever new. Maybe, after all that, it is just 1, 2, and 3.

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