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. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Nobody gets out alive: Pentecost 2

Jesus says one thing three times in the tenth chapter of Matthew, the Gospel for this morning. As the NRSV puts it: “Have no fear” then, “Do not fear,” and finally, “Don’t be afraid.”

And that’s nice to hear but sometimes it’s not easy advice to take because life can be bewildering and frightening and –- let's face it -– it looks none of us are going to get out of here alive. But  last Friday morning I preached three sermons that might come together as a three dimensional roadmap for facing life and death and all the rest with a larger sense of living life and a smaller component of fear.

First, this Friday at 9:00am I celebrated the Eucharist for the students and staff of Cathedral College. Since it was also celebrating the feast of the Holy Trinity, for which the Cathedral is named, I told I gave them a three-sided sermon and shared three things: 

First, look for God in the big stuff: Mountains, Sea, Sky. For God creates the whole cosmos; and in a world resolutely louder year by year it is important to see the larger scheme of the incongruous and amazing facts of creation. Then, look for God in the small stuff: Feet, food, breath to start; see God’s Spirit animate all the ways  we live and breathe and have our being. Then look for God in flesh: in friends, family, foes, the stranger. For if we see what it means to be a human being in Jesus, and then we can explore the expanse of God’s love lost and found in every human being.

There was some method in my madness: young people need focus and direction, both visions and boundaries. Plus they need the wisdom of the body: the deep miraculous wisdom of their own corpus plus that of history, community, wisdom: the body corporate, the body of evidence, the body of belief that enables with healthy feedback and grounded hope and practical help enabling them and us to get on with the hope and the fear and the business of living with all the possibilities. And that’s one part, in my understanding, of what it means to be the church.

From there I went to a 10:30 service of hymns and communion from the reserved sacrament in the Dementia Ward at St Johns Village where I talked about the three dimensions of the Lord’s Prayer there; reaching up to our Father in Heaven, calling for God’s blessing in our lives and asking for right compassion and connection with our neighbour. A fair number of people joined in the three gestures. Then we shared the bread, body of Christ, and peace at the last. 

I find being a chaplain on D Ward to be a salutary exercise. It meets me in a place where I need to reminded, healing some old fears that you might share. For me getting older means meeting limits, stretching where we wear out; worrying when the possibilities get fewer, when options narrow, when the memory misses words and numbers. I think we all wonder about D-Wing in the end.

But what I see with the people there reminds me of a quote from Jane Fonda where she said she became a Christian  because she  found herself “humming with a reverence.” that was leading her to God. I hear that there, a sense of people on a horizon of life praying with, as Paul puts it, “The spirit interceding with sighs too  deep for words…  groaning for the new creation.” It is deeply moving and surprisingly beautiful.

On the third Friday of the month the 11:15 Nursing Home holds a Memorial Service and Eucharist, with space for a bit of a biography for the person who has died recently (who she was, where she lived, what she liked), then lighting a candle, special prayers, different hymns and the Holy Eucharist from the reserved sacrament. The twenty or so people there, with an average age in the late eighties sang well, prayed and listened quietly 

And I talked about the acclamation in the middle of the Eucharist: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again,” where (quoting, Austin Farrer I think) we are invited to “exchange our living death with Christ’s dying life.” Christ opens the dead-end of life with an endless love that lives forever; he invites us to open to resurrection time, and assures us to abide in that hope until he returns to share eternal life; that’s the faith we follow, the hope Jesus plants in our life, the love that calls us to open new beginning. 

And that’s last Friday morning. Let me make an end. Do not fear, because God has created a cosmos in which you can never get lost.  Do not fear, because the Spirit will meet you in every moment of life and death, of ending and beginning. Do not fear, because Jesus is wildly in love with you, reaching out his arms of love, willing to share his loving life with you here and now and always, 


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

Friday, June 20, 2014

Talking about the Trinity, Cathedral College, Holy Trinity Cathedral, Wangaratta

20 years ago this month, I was living in San Francisco, working as a chaplain when I decided to take a summer vacation at a hermitage, a special monastery on the California coast. The head of the place, Father Robert, was a man I had known 10 years before when I was studying at seminary. He was a good man, very smart and very friendly, always room for listening to others, there was a special joy in being around him and I thought it just might be because he was very holy. He was now in charge of the monastery so I hoped I would see him there.

So I left my apartment in the middle of San Francisco very early one morning and I caught a bus which took me to a train in which I traveled for an hour and a half and then transferred to another train for another trip for several more hours and then I got on a bus that took me to a town, Monterey, on the California coast, where one of the brother–monks met me in a ute and drove me several hours down the California coast to an area called Big Sur; lonely, a place where tall tree covered green mountains meet the ocean with just one or two winding roads to connect you with the outside world.

The days there had a kind of rhythm between silence and speech and music. The community gathering several times a day to read lessons from Scripture, sing psalms, and pray for the world and those in need; then time for study, for manual labor, for meetings and quiet conversations; but there was also to listen to a kind of rhythm around the place itself. A short walk away there were benches on a bluff where you could see how high we were on the mountain and how far above the blue Pacific ocean: all that land and sky and sea made the world is pretty big. Sometimes we sit on this great earth like interesting little creatures playing in the dirt, and it is a good thing to know how big this world, this cosmos, can be and how fragile and fine is our part in it.

That is something like what we find in much of the writings of Scripture. An attempt to get our heads and hearts around what it means to be part of a creation that is so large: to be the special part of the world that can look out and see its majesty and beauty and sometimes terror, can see and hear and smell and touch it, can take pictures and make paintings and tell stories, can make poetry and prayers, can learn to care for it. 

To know that creation is so large, so majestic, and to know we have a part in it, is, among other things, what that word "God" points to: darkness and light, anger and forgiveness, doubt and faith, loss and love. The histories, the prophets, the Psalms, the Wisdom writings in what we call the Old Testament all point there too, and that's why it is a good idea to sometimes find a mountaintop where you can sit and look over the expanse of life and know you are an important, though small, part of something that large

With 20 or 30 people in the chapel, it was like a large quiet family, listening to readings, chanting psalms that were several thousand years old, softly discussing what living life with God might mean. There was time and space to watch the sun cross the sky and set in the West and to let the moon rise in its own good time. There were times to watch the clouds crossing and shadows moving against the green forest, There was time to eat in silence — tasting each ingredient in every bit of food, which can be, when given the time and place, a very surprising pleasure and privilege. There was time to walk slowly down a path and feel in your every motion and step the miracle of the human body in which we live and move. There was time to tend to the subtle and sometimes quite indescribably delicious feeling of simply breathing: the receiving and relinquishing, the giving and taking of the most basic stuff of life – each and every breath you take.

And this is like some of the experiences the early members of the church, our ancestors in the family of this cathedral, called the Holy Spirit. The sense that the God of the whole creation was as close in every step they took, in every moment of time.and every bit of food received and given and shared, in each and every single breath, and it was al good.

The day before I left one of the monks came to tell me that Father Robert would be leaving the monastery to driving not far from where I was returning: would I want to travel with him? So the next day we drove up the coast and through the valley and into the cities again and all that time he asked me how my way had gone in the last 10 years. When he let me off on the street not far from my home I thought, “What an interesting and good life I had led!” I had done some good things, along with some fairly dumb deeds, but there were good times, times coming to bloom, with love and light and silence and good speech and care and community keeping me growing up in God’s world. And then I realised it wasn't about me.

There are a number of people around in whom love seems to live in particularly lively ways, opening room for refreshment, healing and joy, who seem to open doors and windows for forgiveness and finding new ways to be alive in community. In my time with Father Robert I could see how my life connected with both the big and the small, the blue sky and the breath of air, walking on the earth, being a good neighbour, so the light of his light I saw my life in a new way. And in that he was like Jesus.

So you see taking this journey for me was like what the Trinity is about: seeing again how big the world is, how majestic and beautiful, as well as how small it can be with every breath, as well as the surprise that we can meet love and new life in the face of human beings. Jesus is that kind of human being and we are here to learn to know him, know his love, and finally try to live like him.

So these are the three dimensions of the holy Trinity: the breadth of creation, the intimacy of inspiration, the hope in the heart of being human. And grace means keeping the door open for God's glory and grace and gladness to meet you in each of these places and on every step of the way. Enjoy the journey! 


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

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Trinity Sunday 2014

This morning I want to talk about the Holy Trinity from two different angles: first from a historical perspective and then with a personal story.

The idea of the Trinity is not, except in the selection from Matthew's Gospel, something that occurs often in the Gospels or the whole of the New Testament, but the concept gives a name to a particular three dimensional experience that happened  early in the life of the first disciples.

The gathered friends of Jesus were mostly from a Jewish background: they knew the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; they knew the God that Moses encountered in the desert who defined himself as, "I am what I am." Their Scripture begins with a God who was before all things, who created all things, from the stars and planets to the oceans and the seashores, to the cells of our bodies and our very souls. They believed in a God who was from before the beginning, the ruler of the universe, in whom all things found their end.

And to their surprise, in the life of Jesus they saw what seemed to be the fullness of God in human form. Maybe it was like the times when you see a photo of someone where you have to say, "That is such an excellent likeness!" "That picture captures the essence of you!” Jesus captured, looked like, walked like, loved like, what they knew God to be. In Jesus they saw God's righteousness, God's compassion, God's intimate love entering into the middle of human being; fleshing out their understanding of how God worked by walking along the road with them; in all the potential and pain, in all the complex love and limits that come from being human. 

For Jesus just might be a moving picture of God-with-us that goes through the full journey of being flesh and blood, so that we can say there is no place where we might be separate from God in all the business of living and dying, which is where another surprise came in. 

The friends of Jesus didn't see his death coming while they were on the way, and I don't know that Jesus did either, but for very different reasons. The disciples were expecting a worldly triumph, a happy ending before the end of the program, an expected victory: and they didn't want to see it could go another way, to an unexpected and unforeseen victory that was to be almost beyond belief. But, I believe, as Jesus walked through the human journey alongside everybody, he only saw God: God's righteousness, God's compassion, God’s intimate love; in every moment of life, in every person he met. So he was able to walk to his own death in faith that God would meet him in every instant on the way. In the end, I think that the resurrection would have been less of a surprise for Jesus then it is for us.

But what happened next was even a bigger surprise! For then the disciples felt closer to Jesus than ever, felt as though his righteousness and compassion and intimate love were closer than ever; in their midst as close as breath; renewing them and reminding them that we are created and redeemed and sanctified, made and met and mended by God -- making light and love and mercy -- breathing living love in the centre of it all.

Really that's less strange than it sounds, for every one of us – I would bet – remembers moments, irrespective of quantity,  where we have felt something like the quality of that holy love breathing in the midst of our lives, by the gift of the Spirit, just like Jesus, with the grace of God. It just seems to be part of the package. So when the church committees were putting together their lists of necessary doctrines, what seemed good and necessary things to believe, to lean into, the holy Trinity made the final cut. And that's some of the historical background as I understand it.

Now from a more personal viewpoint.  For the last few months I've been carrying around a prayer I first heard in 1986. It's a line from an Irish poet named Thomas Ashe, written in the first part of the 20th century, and he wrote:

"Christ look upon us in this city and keep our pity fresh and our eyes heavenward, lest we grow hard."

And I’m finding that is another way to live into the Trinity; aiming to keep our pity fresh and eyes heavenward, learning to lean into, live in sight of, Gods vision, breathing deep in the spirit, with the ultimate aim of living and giving our lives away in love like Jesus. It's a very beautiful prayer.

But I know enough about myself, my various neuroses, my need for comfort, my lack of discipline, my somewhat dreary and faded list of sins; to know that I won't get far on this road on my own. Yet I still carry the poem, still look at the hope of it, still want to begin again, and that’s one other thing that keeps me in the church. 

There are people we encounter in church who are enabled to live like the Lord most days, to follow the way Jesus lived his days, breathed his life, gave himself over through the love of God to make the world anew. They seem to look on the world with delight and compassion and pity, with what seems like God's own love. And in this they're just like Jesus, keeping God's own light in their sight at every opportunity, keeping their eyes heavenward, letting  their heart be renewed, their compassion and pity freshened in all the opportunities of life that God shares with us.

So lately I’ve begin to wonder again what it would be like to be living alongside him on that journey. And I believe, for the disciples and the others, that it must be a little like being part of a great dance, with rich rhythms of darkness and light and death and life and loss and love: you can almost hear that moving tempo between the times with the crowds and the moments of loneliness in the desert; the praying to the Father in heaven and the heartfelt work so that God’s will be done and God’s kingdom comes here on earth; living everyday with compassion, patience, pity ever freshened and  a continually renewed hope that would never end.

"Christ look upon us… And keep our pity fresh and our eyes heavenward, lest we grow hard." 

The truth is, I think, that each of us is called to walk this way, and the truth is that we are very fragile people; so the question might be: how can we get there from here, and do we want to try? Do we want try to walk this walk, to talk this talk, to live this life; try to live like Jesus; with the hope  of the kingdom of heaven raining down on us, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit freshening our breath in every instant? It can be a very big ask; but God has mercy, the Lord loves us, the Spirit gives breath and hope: and we can, with fear and trembling and every newborn bit of belief that comes our way, take upon ourselves the task of asking the Holy Trinity to help us join in living this love and walking this way in the very middle of God’s graceful human journey.


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