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.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easter 2014

Twenty years ago when I was a University Chaplain in California, I was having coffee with a student who asked some questions about religion. He said. “Why would I bother with (1) something I don’t see, that is packaged (2) in a language I don’t understand,  and (3)  concerns something over which I have little or no control? It just doesn’t seem logical!”  I said, “OK,I’ll try to answer that, but first let me ask a question: How’s your love life?” He said, “Why?” and I said, “Because religion is more like love than logic.”
So I want to talk, in light of our lessons, about three ways where this religious tradition might be true, where love might make, and meet and mend the world in every instant of our, of everyone’s life, and how a religion of resurrection, in Easter-time, might give light to this love in a world that's so full of logic. 
There are at least two ways to make the world make sense, and the tension here might be between “history” and “mystery”. On one side there is our 300+ year old enlightenment view of history, fact and figure which — in the last 60 or so years, with all the frayed edges and growing doubts in our post enlightenment, post modern world — seems to be breaking down a bit. For as our perception of the world grows larger and closer, there seem to be even more histories, what one man called a surplus of meanings, in ways can make the old strident, certain understandings break apart a bit. 
So here’s a way to break them apart further; sometime today look at life like you’ve never seen it before. If you do it right, you will be amazed! T. S. Eliot writes that, “History is a series of timeless moments,” moments full of their very own meaning, and in the end the meaning just might be a mystery where, “Your life is hidden with Christ in God.” 
The difference between History and Mystery is the difference between prose and poetry, and it’s important to recall that the words of this scripture and the witness of this tradition are not training manuals or engineering drawings; but poetry, music, choreography; action and words charged with meaning beyond themselves, pointing to something that is both too big and too close to be clearly looked upon, easily understood. 
The truth is that we really need both histories and mysteries; both reason and revelation about the truth and the travel involved in meeting life, love and death. But we need to take the chance that there’s a a reason, as well as some kind of dance within it all 
And the Scripture says the meeting comes when we see that the historical Jesus is the mysterious human face of God. And, if this is true, than the question is how do we live with this truth? And that goes beyond prose and poetry, moving us to living with the tension between fear and love. 
You may describe this differently, but in my own experience, fear builds walls, wants to be objective, not subjected; fear wants to be contained, even disconnected; fear (like the student in the cafe) wants its own way, what it can see, understand, control.
But love lives larger than that. By definition, love is outpouring, overflowing, openhearted; wanting to be incorporated: for Love wants to meet the beloved right where it happens, right in the middle of “the whole catastrophe” of life. 
And if Jesus is a picture of openhearted love living in everyday human history, then we move to the very heart of the tension between love and fear: it can’t get much better or worse than that! Because when you look into  light you see shadows, it shows up stuff that wants to be hidden, and if you come this way, walking the way of Jesus, you’ll see those two ways come together, in the time and place where light and shadow, chaos and new creation, revolution and resolution, move both towards crucifixion of the old time, and towards the wonder of a new life
Maybe this is just the very deep truth, the very rhythm of the cosmos: a universe of creative, crucified, resurrected, recalling love where we see the new self ”being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator,” and life moves, dances, beyond crucifixion and resurrection, “from God, in God, of God,” making and meeting and mending the world in the same momentum, pattern, breath. 
So if the Spirit meets us in the task of mending the universe, then the tension that might come here is between distraction and compassion.
There are so many ways to be distracted, and sometimes it can seem that the world is built that way! One book I like names three phrases that fit here: “What if,” “As if,” and “If only.” These distractions can take you to anywhere but here: as Eliot writes, “Distracted from distraction by distraction”. But to live in the love where the world might be remade, met and mended in a new way, means three new and radical responses to those noisy distractions. Instead of asking, “What if?”, asking “What is here?” Instead of living “As if;” just living, loving, looking exactly “As you are;” and instead of wallowing in “If Only;” taking care in a way that can only happen “here and now.” A pattern moving to embrace a present that takes you to a future built by grace and found in compassion, where love “is going ahead of you”
Three related words might fit here, closer to poetry than to direct pointing: (1), Enjoin, to urge yourself, others, the universe, in actions of love and justice; (2), Conjoin, to combine; and my dictionary gives the happy example, “an approach which conjoins theory and method.” (to walk the talk or, if you like, to dance the dogma), and then, simply (3), Joy, defined as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” As the Gospel puts it: they went “quickly, with fear and great joy.” 

So that’s one way to walk, even dance, into a life spent making, meeting, mending love; a threefold way of entering into the way God might live, die and love alongside of us in this large, mysterious, wonderful world; where resurrection might just happen anywhere, and where we can say, “Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!”

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Epiphany 6A The perils and promises of a great potential.

I wonder how many of you remember the Peanuts comic strip with Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Pigpen and Snoopy? In one of my favourite’s, Charlie Brown, a very good boy with a wonderfully guilty conscience, is looking deeply worried, and the caption reads: “There is nothing heavier than a great potential!”

There’s been a great potential these last few weeks with Chapter 5 of the Gospel of Matthew. It is the main teaching document in this book, Starting with the  beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor,” it goes on to talk about aspirations, and ethics and grace and sin and principals and practice and prayer. It is such an astonishing document. And I thought that it would be wonderful to do a three, four, even five part sermon on all this, bringing it together, a worthy task which is totally beyond me. 

Because I forgot something that often happens; when I looked at the Gospel again, it had gotten bigger! And what I thought I understood, the tentative answer, series of answers, simply led on to larger questions, a surplus of meanings, crises of opportunities, dangerous blessings. That’s the living truth of the Gospel of Jesus, God meeting us in the midst of human being, can comes so close, get so big, ask so much, can lead us to look at our life in the world in so many new ways, where we feel like we are lost, and finally, like Jacob, say, “Lord you were here (found me here) and I did not know it”. So, like Jacob, we rock together some sort of memorable meaning, wrestle it for a blessing, try to make some sense of it, and limp on in a world that seems both bigger and finer than what we had found before. 

For “There’s nothing heavier than a big potential”.

Let me tell you a story. In 1977, when I was 31, while on a long retreat with the Anglican Benedictine monastic Order of the Holy Cross in Santa Barbara, California, I had an experience of God believing in me. It changed the equation a bit and my life a lot. I had spent a lot of energy believing in God: said the right prayers, read the right books, went to church most Sundays, worked in the youth group, read lessons, filled out the forms, saw the movie, got the t-shirt. I thought I had bought the whole package. But I found I the time on that mountain monastery above Santa Barbara that it was more about God believing in me, enabling God to live in me, embodying, emboldening me to find my lostness in God, be found in God, to be the body of Christ, to be the good news of God in the world. and that Good News wasn’t real easy to take. 

For “There’s nothing heavier than a big potential”. 

Today’s Gospel packs some heavy punches. Don’t be angry, don’t look with lust, don’t swear by anything outside or inside of yourself, And  “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away… And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.” and what’s that about?

There is a group called the Jesus Seminar, and one interesting thing they put out is this. If the Gospels have some lines by Jesus that are mysterious, demanding, not easily understood, even offensive, than it is highly likely that Jesus said exactly that. So what is Jesus saying here, where do we stand with this, how can we respond in our lives. 

Let me take another detour here. 

Four and a half years after the time in Santa Barbara I ended up studying at a seminary in Berkeley, California, and decided I needed to have a new spiritual director. A Jesuit who was a brilliant teacher agreed to meet me for an hour monthly to sit  with the questions and confusions and comforts and callings that  were a part of my life with God,  and he asked me if I had a particular question to start. “Where does God stop?”

He said that God didn’t stop: and that made me want to stop for a good while. 

For “There’s nothing heavier than a big potential.” 

And I had been thinking that I’d work on my life with God, all my spirituality, and that would affect the rest of my life in a good way. That this work would flow onto other aspects of my life with friends, money, power, sex; the other realities of my whole life. But if “God didn’t stop”; where did that leave “me”?

The 12th century mystic Meister Eckart wrote that we should be so poor, as in blessed are the poor, that we should have no room reserved for God, giving God the whole thing. And it seemed to me that this might be inconvenient.  Back in my lost youth I was planning to have a good place for God, maybe build a chapel next to the the guest house, “Come by sometime, any weekend, I’ve just the place for you”. And God is saying “Here I come! Here, now, always!” Wait.

Maybe the good news is that God wants to come to live with us in the very middle of our lives, with all the mess of money, sex, power, anger, found there; God is willing to live there? 

So there’s indeed nothing heavier than a big potential. 

One more detour: 

One thing that always amazes me in the Bible is the summary of the law where Jesus says: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. But there’s a problem there: for if we “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all our soul and with all our mind,” what is left over in order to “love our neighbour as yourself? Didn’t we give it all away on part one, where do we get the love to do part two? Do you see the problem here?

It doesn’t make sense unless it’s all one love, unless we are to let the love we give to God (that God gives to us) be the same love we offer to everyone; even the love in which we encounter and honour ourselves, as gifts to God, as gifts from God. If this is true: then there is just one love, one light, one life.


In a lovely book, Pilgrims Inn” by Elizabeth Goudge, which I read for the first time when I was about 16, a woman walking in the woods  has a realisation of the connectedness of life and the compassion Grace can awaken:
“Quite suddenly you felt like your life was not an isolated thing, but one that existed in all other lives, as all other lives existed within yours. There wasn’t anything anywhere to which you could say, “We don’t need each other”

We need each other for we are all one body, the body of Christ.  

And in that larger truth we see Jesus’ ferocious words on plucking out the offensive eye, cutting off the over-reaching hand, finds a different context, makes a different sense. For if we think we are separate, if we try to be our own body, our own little centre of the universe, if we are bound by our own flesh, than we need to do some rigourous remodelling, cut stuff off, add things on, get back to renovating the chapel and the guest house. 

But if we are called to be the body of Christ. to offer ourselves as a reasonable living and holy sacrifice, heart, soul, mind; than we can’t cut ourselves up, we can’t cut ourselves off, we are all already one body, gifted in love as the body of Christ. And everything can look difference from here. 

In the end, there is nothing lovelier than a great potential! 

St Augustine wrote: “Behold what you are; become what you receive.” We are here to receive a gift. God is in love with us,believes in us, and wants to live with us, in us, through us, in the middle of our lives. And this is the Good news in Christ. 


Amen. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Epiphany 5A "And what is the point?"

I realised recently, with bit of a shock, that it’s been almost 25 years  since I graduated from my seminary, The Church Divinity school of Pacific in Berkeley California, in 1989.  That last semester I was training as a chaplain in a psychiatric ward in a nearby state hospital but managed to find time to take part in the annual CDSP follies. I wrote the Senior Song (actually adding lyrics to Bob Hope’s theme song, “Thanks for the memories”) and I wrote and performed my own comedy monologue where I said, that while working on the psych ward, I suddenly heard the voice of God calling me to a special ministry. 
“Oh Lord,” I said, “I am not worthy.” and God said, “Yes, but that’s not the point.” But what exactly is the point? 
The reading translation of Isaiah might point us there:
“The fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”
That’s not really easy to deal with, that kind of call. And it might be easier and very tempting to say, “Lord, I am not worthy”. But it really isn’t the point.
We have all fallen short of the glory of God: what else is new? We have done those things which we ought not to have done and we have not done those things which we ought to have done and there is not a lot of health in us. But, really, could we not turn aside, turn around, move into some new place with a new word, maybe a very small word, of holiness and healing and hope in our daily life and ministry?
So maybe the deeper truth is, “Lord I am not worthy, and I like it that way, Lord, I may be called to do great things, large or small; but I’d rather not, so thanks but I am really not worthy, and the whole idea is — let’s face it — inconvenient.”

In my 1989 comedy routine I said that God had specially called me to return to the seminary and tell the people to construct a stained glass window, something like a flatscreen TV, to stand behind the altar. It would be a picture of Jesus, but looking different according to the seasons of the year: first a bump in Mary's belly, then a baby and a youth from Christmas through Epiphany. Following that, we’d see Him faced with temptations, trials, betrayals; turning towards Jerusalem as Lent moves to Good Friday, and maybe the window would go dark after that day: finally breaking into a sunrise that changes everything. Then all those Sunday's post-Easter windows with the risen Jesus getting us ready for the coming of the Spirit, ready to learn the language of grace, to be a new language of gift and grace in the season of Pentecost. That might be the point too.

For St Paul says by God’s grace in Christ we bear a secret wisdom, the mind of Christ; and the Gospels tell us we are at heart, by grace, a gift, a light, a city on a hill, the salt of the earth. So, with that hope, how can we not loose our grip on what we cannot do? How can we not open our hands and our hearts to take up the task of being a window into God as well as being God's window to the world?
Here are three easy actions to open up: to simply stop, look, listen: that might lead to three not-too-small graces: sanctity, sunrise, and silence.

The world we live in runs so fast, and to simply stop, to make an empty place, to let a new answer come to you that could be  larger than any question you can quickly put together, is to recall the deep grace of the world God creates, redeems and sanctifies in every moment of time.

So stop, then look. Look for more than you might immediately see, look for that hope which is in, with and under everything that is; look to see the sunrise of Christ in the middle of the world God loves. Look for the hidden lights of repentance, reconciliation, renewal in the dim places, look to see Jesus’ light-filled life shine over the darkest death denial the world can muster: and look, watch closely for resurrection right there!  

Stop and look and then listen. Listen deep for the song, the music, the inner alleluia of all that is worthy to be praised. Look for God's word of love in a world which is noisy with so many slogans, so much propaganda, anger, fear, diversion, division and death. Listen for that holy love song calling to live in you, in all of us, in the heart of all God’s creation. Listen for that love singing everywhere God makes and mends and meets us in every moment of time. 

At the end of the '89 comedy routine I said that God told me that one day we would each see our own face on the man on the cross in our brand-new stained-glass seminary chapel. And I said, “God, that's too much!” I said, “I know you are, Thou art, if you like, God and all, and I'm just a chaplain, but I really think you need help!” And God said, “Yes I do!” 

It got a good laugh then and people recognised there was good humour and a bit of a bite, a point to it. There still is, it’s still true, God still does. 

In one  of CS Lewis's Narnia books, a young horse meets this Aslan, the Christ figure who is the “Son of Emperor Oversea”. At first she thinks about running away because he seems so large. But then she looks on the lion with love and runs to him saying, “Oh sir, I’d rather be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.”

St Augustine wrote: “Behold what you are; become what you receive.” We are all sinners,  generally unready and often unwilling raw materials for sainthood. Yet we’re called here to stretch out with all the contradictions between our limited will and God’s unlimited grace. At least to start; stop, look and listen, at least, here and now, to begin to share the mind, to be the body, to take up the ministry of christ, 

Jesus says, “I am willing to be eaten by you. I am willing to nurture you in that place between what you know yourself to be, with all that you have done and left undone, and who you, by grace, are called to do. I am willing to be with you there, that you may be one with me.”

And what will we say to that? 

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Feast of the Presentation, Final Draft...

"Perfect through sufferings" isn't really a great line to start a sermon with, especially in weather as hot as this, but the writer of the letter to the Hebrews seems to think it's an important point; that Jesus Christ is the Word of God, the moving picture of how God loves us and where God meets us, and why we might want to follow God, for the love of it, into a very large life that is larger than death. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews thinks it is a very important point that Jesus meets us and makes us perfect in the very midst of our sufferings.
This isn't a really easy one liner but it can be very good news. That God is born for us, with us, in us, in the very centre of our daily lives: in the surprising beginnings, the daunting endings, the messed up middles, in hot dry summers and gray wet winters and all our innumerable springing forth and autumnal diminution, where we all fall down. In all these places, God, in the life and death and life of Jesus Christ meets us in the middle of our sufferings, of our mystery, to call us home, to live life large.

A few weeks ago I talked about how, many years ago, one of the best preachers I’ve ever heard said that in Epiphany we are called to carry this baby Jesus, this newborn hope coming into the middle of our lives, and we’re called to hold him close to outrĂ© hearts and take him into the very middle of the world we live in. and that isn’t easy. 

And I wonder if Mary, carrying the baby Jesus into the middle of the Temple at Jerusalem, might have wanted to have held her child close, turned ‘round and run all the way home. Maybe she had, as mothers do, a sense of what was waiting for Jesus, that the this majestic temple could finally turn into a den of duplicity, demands, even death, for her young son. 

No wonder Mary might want to turn tail and head home, holding this newborn baby — who seemed like a window to a more holy hope and a larger life than she had ever seen before. So you can see why such a young woman might not want to enter that great building with its hints of suffering and sin alongside the promises of salvation. 

When we are young, and are first holding on to new love, new life, it might not feel like good news to hear that perfection comes on the other side of suffering. That's not the way a young person sees the world. But it is a hope that an old man, an old woman, can hold on to, can witness.

The young woman Mary, and Joseph, the husband of her heart, carrying their newborn joy, enter the ancient Temple and meet Simeon and Anna. What a picture! Can you see the old man and woman in the evening of their life, see them seeing the young girl and her husband just beginning, and hear Anna and Simeon give the ancient prophetic blessing of a sunrise that will change the world forever.

Simeon speaks first; "Now I may depart in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all people. To be a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory to your people Israel." Then blessing them and turning to Mary, Simeon says, "This child is destined for the falling and rising of many… And a sword will pierce your own soul too." And then the prophet Anna, daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher, praises God and “speaks about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem”.

So they go home, "the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”

The Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield, says there is one more commandment written somewhere that states, "must be present to win." I have three more things to say: Jesus, Mary and Joseph present themselves at the Temple, are present in this moment of threatening gift, and see it as a present from God. 

And they stay in the middle of it all; in all the tension, the sanctity and the suffering, both the hope and pain promised in the words of Anna and Simeon, because that is the costly gift of the present moment. That is the only place where, at that time, they can say yes to God, and hear God say yes to them. And that is God's present to them and their present to God; presented in the middle of our lives. 

So too, at this Feast of the Presentation, at this beginning of a hot February, we come together once more to try to get our heads, our lives, our loves around the way God loves us and where God meets us and why we might want to follow Christ, maybe even to be made "perfect through sufferings". We come together “with all we have been, with all that we are” to offer our hopes, our hurts, our hearts, to the God who is willing to meet us in all these places, to make them his own, as he makes us his own. 

Tonight we are also midway between Christmas and Ash Wednesday, between new light and approaching shadow (and the hint of resurrection – maybe – a farther bit off). and we are called to take the newborn hope we carry like Mary and Joseph,  as well as the ancient wisdom witnessed by elders like  Anna and Simeon, into the deep heart of the present moment, into the middle of life and death, and loss and gain, ending and beginning. And Christ is here too; presenting us with a moment of choice and grace, being present in us as we turn to see what love will ask us to do. What this costly present, love, will ask us to be, will call us to live. 


Amen.