Sunday, July 31, 2005

T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot
Originally uploaded by Chaplinesque.

Words that keep coming back to me...

From Four Quartets

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always–
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

T.S. Eliot, 'Little Gidding', V, from 'Four Quartets'
Excerpted from: 'Love's Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness'. Compiled by G. Rowell, K. Stevenson and R. Williams, pp. 621-5

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Agora at La Trobe University

The Agora
Originally uploaded by Chaplinesque.

Where I will be today, though it doesn't look like this on a winter day.

The Prayers of the People

At the last moment I was asked to write the intercessions for the services yesterday. I had forgotten how good it is to do that. Here they are.

Intercessions 24th July, 2005

We come to pray as the church. We pray for Rowan of Canterbury, Peter our Archbishop, Philip our own bishop, and for all the clergy and people of God in this and every place. We pray for each and every one of us, as members of the baptised community, who are being trained for the kingdom of heaven, that we may be eager to do your will and walk in your ways; bringing out of our treasures both that which is old and that which is new, to the greater joy of your people and to the glory of your name.

Lord, in your mercy,

Hear our prayers.

We pray for the world. For those in positions of governance and authority: that there may be peace among the peoples and nations, among all powers and principalities, so that every people might learn to seek the great value of God’s shalom, that peace that passes understanding, and that each of us might work, as we can, for a world that has both justice and charity for all.

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer

We pray for the victims. For those who touched by wars and acts of violence, by fear, famine and natural disaster; for the people of Iraq, Israel and Palestine, the horn of Africa, Southeast Asia, and for the residents and commuters of London. That violence and terror, corruption and injustice might cease, and peaceful understanding grow; that we might see how much we have in common, how much we have to lose, and how much to gain in sharing peace and plenty.

Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for this community, for the city of Melbourne and for the ministries of this city church in serving those who are far off and those who are near. We pray for those who live and work nearby, for patients in hospitals, students in schools and Universities of good learning, for those who make daily use of our breakfast program and the Lazarus Centre. We remember those who are informed and nourished by the evening seminars of the Institute for Spiritual Studies, those who sit and watch in the Icon School and those who take wisdom and solace in the ministry of our book-room. We also pray for those who gather in our building weekly and those who come to pray in our chapels and in our daily services, that in all we are and all we do as a people and a parish we will glorify your name.

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for our own congregation and for all who are all in need: for those seeking a deeper understanding of God, those who suffering any grief or trouble, and those who are ministering to them. We pray for the poor, the sick the needy, and for all who have asked for our prayers

[read from list] ….

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for those who have died recently, [read from list] We pray for those who will die today, and we remember all who will rise with Christ, remembering in particular those whose anniversaries occur at this time.

[read from list]

Rest eternal grant to them O lord,
And let light perpetual shine upon them.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Name This Photo!

Name This Photo!
Originally uploaded by Chaplinesque.

Taken in Sacramento in the Fifties when I was less than 10.

Grandparent Church?

Sitting in the Union at RMIT and thinking about last Sunday when I preached at a church near La Trobe. It was a good friendly community, and the average age was over 50. A bunch of friendly people, open to meeting new folks, seemed willing to share what they had with others, many were eager I bet: but there were not many young people around. And I think that says something sad about relationship between generations, and perhaps about our shared cultural life as well.

When I first came to Australia, four and a half years ago, I was surprised by how easily young people, traditional secondary and tertiary students, related to older people. They were much quicker to engage in conversation, ask good questions, share their experience and be willing to listen to others, even older folk. I think there can be a real segregation by age in the US, and it didn’t seem as rigorous here. But the experience on Sunday made me wonder.

Perhaps it is just that Christianity is no longer seen as a vital and valid spiritual path or wisdom tradition. There has certainly been enough detritus thrown around by the church over the years to give any seeker reason to pause. But there are also some deep roots, soft wisdom, sanity and sanctity, as well as communities of seekers gathered to share and enrich the journey; so that it would be sad, and a bit severe to write the whole amalgam away because of some of the seedier and noisier disciples of the way.

I came across a line of Shakespeare years ago that fits the church well. “Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds”, and I always think of the church: sometimes it is capable of great mercy, justice, prophesy; other times it is merely a well oiled cog in the wheel of dehumanisation. But the community I saw last week was healthy, good-hearted, open for conversation, looked to be sharing their lives, and that needs to be said and to be honoured in a world where so many are lonely and needful of company on the road.

In a world with so many travellers, people on the move, we need places for a new kind of family to take place; and many churches can offer that. I think the people I was with last Sunday would love to share the journey with folks of difference ages, difference style, to take the chance to grow together.

Ann Lamott writes somewhere about “Uncle Jesus,” and, although I am not sure what exactly she means, I like the sound of it; because that image moves some new and needed room into the possibility of God meeting flesh in daily life. Remembering those friendly elders, maybe we need to start talking about “Grandparent Church.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Two old friends

Two old friends
Originally uploaded by Chaplinesque.

Two years ago on my last trip to San Francisco. Now I am in Melbourne and Michael's moving to Tennessee! Have a good trip, Mike!

12 years ago

Originally uploaded by Chaplinesque.

when I was a Resident Minister at University of San Franciso

From a recent (edited) letter to a friend...

How do we live in the present? I try to plan the week ahead, then
have to sit and honor old memories, somatic residual of family ties,
cultural artifice, reified values that are somewhere in my middle
spine. Why does the past make so much noise, demand so much time? I
know that it colors so much of the present, keeping me from choosing
the present as fully as I might. All the old voices that demand
conversation, and keep me from simply living day to day.

I try to balance it out with forays into the future. Right now I have
several fantasies about late November on campus, when the academic
year is over. I want a celebration of the new ministry at La Trobe.
Get the Bishop out, good group of people for dinner, all loving and
magnifying my name. Me looking thinner and fitter than now, my new
book possibly displayed on a small table in the corner. What a pity
Australia has given up honorary titles!

But the future icons fade out when I have to tend the past shadows;
wasted time and lost potential, the road I didn't take could have led
to the sunlight. Maybe I should have stayed with... and 9 months to 60!

Sunday morning here. I sit in the sanctuary looking slightly
seraphic, afterwards we will likely go out to lunch. I should go to
the gym during the day, but it's not likely to happen. I head for
La Trobe for a short shift tomorrow. It's semester break now so
not much is happening but I am supposed to get a new computer
installed sometime this week.

There is actually enough good stuff in my life, enough that I should
be at least moderately happy, but I still get these sad times, when I
go back to the garden and tend the dead vines of yesterdays dreams.
Why not just do enough, good work, appreciated times, practicing
kindness, loving the neighbor, using the talents given every day? And
I often do that, more than I used to, but the old memories call to be
taken out and aired.

But what if i lived the next week as if it hadn't happened already
and as if i had a certain amount of freedom in determining the shape
of that time and place: what if it were all new?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Sunday Sermon - 17 June 2005, St. George's, East Ivanhoe

Way 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 only using verbs, because so many things just kept happening! That one-liner came back to me when I was reading the lessons for today.

There so many actions and verbs in today’s lessons. From the Hebrew scripture we have a vision of, “Angels ascending and descending” to start us off right. And the Psalm is filled with the our responses to God’s actions: “When I sit and when I stand, sleeping and waking, you encompass me before and behind, lay your hand upon me, lead me and hold me, search me out and know me.” We hear verbs in Paul’s letter to the Romans as well: we are “suffering and glorifying, revealing, waiting with longing to be set free, groaning with labour pains, hoping and waiting with patience, crying Abba.” Then in the reading from the Gospel of Matthew: we hear of the actions of heaven; “sowing seed, growing gathering, harvesting, weeping, shining like the sun, listening.” All these verbs: all these actions.

It doesn’t stop there; we say them, take them on, ourselves in the baptismal service, in the vows we make for ourselves or on behalf of others; we agree,

“to strive to live as a disciple of Christ, loving God with your whole heart, and your neighbor as yourself.”

“to know Christ’s forgiving love and continue in the fellowship of the church…[and to proclaim] by word and example, the good news of God in Christ…

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 ouf to be a verb as well.

So I used to think 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 it, but seeing it move out right in front of us: somehow to see belief in action.

Then I realized that our liturgy is just that kind of moving picture; a kind of choreography of belief. Visitors and newcomers notice that more than those of us who are regulars in the weekly routine: for they see how very odd it is. We sit, stand, kneel and bow. Some of us cross ourselves this way and that, we pass and give and receive, move forward and back. Finally returning to the same place, but changed, somehow, by the motions we go through. You can see newcomers looking around, thinking, “What in God’s name are they going to do next?” But what we are acting out in this place ia an exercise in orthopraxy; a kind of spiritual workout routine, 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 that’s made to show 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, or one of those rare snapshots that shows someone looking like they might 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 outside in that kind of focus.

The rite of Baptism is the first swipe at cleaning up the lens so that we can truly see when we look at the world and at ourselves. Baptism is death to the superficial lie that we are alone, disconnected, not needful of others, can do it ourselves. Baptism burns through and murders the false myths of individuality and autonomy. What we do at the font cleans up our illusions about who we are and what the world is: then it washes us into this new creation of contingency and community and charism, that world of God’s ongoing gift of life together with everyone.

We get drowned and cleaned up at the font, deadened and raised to begin again so that we can take up the work of the baptized, to take this true water of life and spread it around, to wash the world and make it shine. And that’s just the start. Because if you really look, you can learn to see our whole liturgy, from Baptism on, is nothing less than a dancing class. Here we learn the radical choreography, where we come to move in the world with the God in whom we live and move and have our being. In the end, it is all about the verbs, the actions that we learn here.

We come to church on Sunday, bringing nothing less than our selves, our whole selves, souls and bodies, to the Eucharist. Bringing all our particular questions and concerns, issues and ideas, histories, hopes and fears, the best and worst of who and what we are, where we come from and where we are going. Taking all that when we get here and mixing it up with this liturgy of confession and praise, mercy and glory, in listening and responding to the words in psalm and scripture, the articulation of the community of faith gathered through history into the present day. Presenting our sins, our concerns, our thanksgivings, all our self-offerings: and then joining with Jesus in his self-offering as disciples and friends, taking part in this eternal communion. Taking all that we have and all that we are, and giving it all over, giving it all up as we take his body and blood, and remember that we are members of his body. This is what we do: this is who we are.
So what you see here is really faith moving on, the point of the whole dance routine. See, we come to reach for Christ; and Christ comes to us and uses our ministry to reach out to the world. We come to get a grip on him; and we stay to learn to hand him to the world and hand the world back to him. For the hands which grasp the body and blood of Christ here, are the same hands -same body- that touch the world in daily life in the places where we make business, peace, war and love, touch the lives of friends and strangers, spend our days. The love of God in Christ reaches into the particulars of all our daily liturgies so that we come to move like Christ in all these places.

Each and every one of our ministries happen when we create, redeem, and relate like God, wherever we are: where we give our gifts. It doesn’t matter whether it be how to throw a ball, cook a pie, write a paper, fix a fixture, apply an appliance, tell a tale or do a deed. Ministry happens when you lovingly act to share the part of the world that you know well, where the actions and attitudes are clear to you, where you act to give that clarity and light to others, so that they can take part in that relationship, that action as well. Some people heal with kindness, others love the stranger, listen well. Some make justice, visit the sick, give to the poor, live cheerfully, tell the truth. Sometimes we just show up, but we do what we can.

And it is very important to note that the best gift we give may not be most important we have: that gift may not be the one we take the most pride in. As a teenager I was painfully shy and fearful; the world looked untrustworthy, most people looked dangerous, and most actions seemed doomed to failure. It took some time for me to come to learn that people were, for the most part, good and kind; that there was freedom to learn and grow; that there would be places on the pathway where I could find the beginning of trust and friendships and communities that could lead me to a faith that more was possible. It took awhile. But all this extended adolescence came together later to let me sit with people who are going through the pain of early adulthood and the transitions of real life and helped me to say, with some authority, “I know, I’ve been there, God is there too.” This early liability in my life turned into a gift of God for others in working as a university chaplaincy: it was a gift I didn’t expect and I give thanks for it. We all have them, surprising gifts, to receive and give as gifts for the gathering harvest.

For each one of us, as members of Christ’s body, is called to proceed – dance, if you like - into the world which God loves, day after day, year after year, time after time: to take on 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 honored, in situations that must be met. All of these are places where we 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. For those are the places and the actions where we shall both find and serve the very God who loves and serves us.

May God give us grace today to take up our lives and our ministries as gifts to be received and gifts to be given, and all in Christ’s name. Amen.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Swanston Street Frontage

Swanston Street Frontage
Originally uploaded by Chaplinesque.

Sitting at a Table in spite of myself...

I am writing this while sitting at a table in the middle of the second semester event to welcome new international students at the RMIT Union. I am trying to look welcoming, not predatory, open for interaction but not as if I am trying to sell something. But if I am not selling something, then why in God’s name am I here?

Maybe I am here to offer the possibility of a kind community for people who are dealing with questions of purpose, intention and meaning. That seems to come with the territory. Looking at the Islamic students to my right as well as the Indonesian Christian Group over there and the Buddhist’s around the corner, at a lot of the other faith groups around here: I am aware they are groups defined by a common search and a common destination. Hopefully, they will help people come together because of a deep commitment to “the most important thing,” which can be a vision of personal wholeness, social justice and mercy, a conviction that the right will prevail, a common liturgy – in the sense of people’s work – or a common task. Buddhist use the term Sangha – I think – where Christians talk about the church as being the body of believers.

Let me tell you a story. For four months in the spring and summer of 1999 I was a resident at the San Francisco Zen Temple. It was a wonderful, and at times, very demanding, experience. Once a month – I think it was that often – we would make sandwiches (with bread baked on the premises, good fresh vegetables from Green Gulch, the farm across the bridge in Marin county, carefully and mindfully prepared), wrap them up and pack them into the Zen Center truck. Then we would drive over to the Civic Center and deliver them to folks from the large homeless population that hung around the plaza next to the BART station.

I hate to write this because it says bad things about me that might be true. But sometimes it struck me that people of the plaza weren’t appreciating the care we took on the sandwiches, prepared in silence, in that clean Buddhist kitchen, with the patience, the silence, the dedication. And they didn’t – I thought – see that, the pains taken, the careful work. That bothered me for several reasons, mostly because I was making it into something that was judged for results by me and, I assumed, by others, “so how did that turn out, what were the fruits of the action in the end?”

Then I realized that I didn’t have to do it for them, or for anyone else. Altruism didn’t have to enter into it at all. I could simply do it for the goodness of the action, take it up mindfully, work with it carefully, enjoy it for all the wrong or right reasons; then simply give it up, fully. That is not unlike the motion of the Eucharist or, for that matter, the Way Jesus lived his life: and maybe not just Jesus but any holy man or woman. T. S. Eliot must be quoting someone when he writes, “Take no thought of the harvest, think only of proper sowing.” That’s the point of it, to be delivered from the hunger for results.

But the fact is that I want to do a good job here, want to be loved, lovable, want my ministry to matter, want to end up with results. And as soon as I follow that path, then I make myself a hostage for results, and put other people in that place as well. Everybody becomes a means for my ends. So how do I get delivered from the appetite for results? Write notes to myself, process all these aspects of my ephemeral reality until they become somehow clearer, and mutate to right action in spite of my mixed motives? Maybe all of the above. Anyway those are unfinished thoughts for the day. I’m out of here today.

PS – I stayed for 3 hours, ended up talking to a couple of people, handed pamphlets to a few others. I am hoping that some folks will see me today and feel easier about approaching me when I am at “The Chaplain Is In” table another time. Mixed motives and all.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Inside the RMIT Union, my table is to the left, but I am not there now.

Inside the RMIT Union
Originally uploaded by Chaplinesque.

About the London Bombings

Friday, July 8, 2005. 10:16AM. Sitting at the RMIT Union with my “The Chaplain Is In” sign in front of me. The place is deserted, so I don’t feel real foolish, but some. And actually not too deserted. Probably 8 people in the place.

I am here because of the bombings in London. As a chaplain at this University, I am trying to be a place where conversation take place, so I am sitting in a place where dialog can happen. And I am in pain for the bombings, so there is that part of it. But I admit that I am showing my own bias here, because I had English grandparents, am an Anglophile, and was in London – a city I love - two months ago; so it does look like a real tragedy to me and I do feel the pain of it. But the point could be made that children will die of hunger, people will be murdered, atrocities will happen all over the world every day. As tragedies go, this is not a unique thing. No big deal, right?

And that conundrum is part of my ministry, part of my showing up when and where I do both as a chaplain and as some sort of Christian: trying to be a place where serious questions might be considered. For the bigger question is, why does it happen at all: the bombings, the pain of innocence, the outbreak of evil? There is a ten dollar term for it, THEODICY: meaning, if God is good, then why do people suffer? Why is there pain? Why do bad things happen to…? And you know the rest. They are questions which should be asked. You can’t get too far into the possibility of a good or benevolent creator and not wonder about the quality of workmanship in the creation, it would be dishonest, unthinkable for some of us, not to raise the question, just why did someone innocent suffer for someone else’s actions?

Here’s what I wrote in a sermon awhile back:

I remember walking though a park in San Francisco a few years ago and seeing a sign on a fence built to keep people from walking across a newly seeded hillside. It said "Short Cuts Cause Erosion!" I take that as a four-word definition of sin, the original accident. Sin: a history of people taking shortcuts across other peoples lives, across geography, history, politics, sexuality, ethics, economics and religion too.

Perhaps the bombings in London need to be seen in the light of a hundred years of foreign policy, economic strategy, wars and business plans. The principalities and powers of Western Europe and the US have not always been just or kind in dealing with the Middle East, the world of Islam, and recent events actions in the world are an outgrowth of those earlier actions. It ends up that our shortcut with others have come home to undercut our own homelands; the way we treat the stranger stays around, endures and comes to be the way our friends have been treated. The shortcuts have cut across our own world. Because there is only one world, and we fail to live with that truth.

There is only one world. It may be both bigger and smaller than we can know at present; but mystics over the centuries and ecologists lately have said the same thing: we are all linked up together. Rumi, John Donne, John Muir, Jesus, Buddhist Roshi’s, Whitman, Blake, Sufi’s, Hindu’s, Whoever. Shamans from every side and estatics in all the world keep pointing to the unity of creation, the relatedness of all phenomena; that we are one world, one family, one creation.

For my own part, most days I do believe and live my life in the light that there is one motion in all this, which, in the end, will be seen as love. But at the present the world is a work in process and the simple fact of karma, freedom and shortcuts –call it what you will - means that other peoples bullets will be bouncing off the walls and innocent folks are going to get hurt.

In the 1980s my spiritual director said that the big question is this: How uncomfortable are you willing to be for the new creation? I admit that I am more likely to hurt for injustice, violence and destruction when it impacts people who look like me and streets where I have recently walked. And maybe that makes me more a part of the problem than any part of a solution. And (without sounding too much like a masochist) maybe the only solution is to enlarge my capacity to suffer with those who suffer, every one, and to remember that all unjustice, the wrong use of power and principality, all our corporate shortcuts contribute to the problem, and that I have a part in this. Even if I do not have an answer.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

On St. Peter as a model for right ministry

It is wonderful to celebrate the Sunday within the octave of our patron saint with all the smells and bells, lights and delights, that we can muster, which is quite a lot! And certainly St. Peter is worthy of all the praise and pomp we can put together: as a teacher, healer, martyr, witness to the love and the grace of god in so many ways, he is a giant and a rock in the tradition in which we stand.

But he wasn’t always. If you really look at the man as he appears throughout in Matthew’s gospel, he’s does not appear to be – to put it nicely - the kind of character that you’d take to the final interview if you were on a committee that was looking for a Saint.

Here’s what I said at the start of the “Children’s Church” sermon at 9:30.

“He was a good guy, really, but he was funny; sometimes his mouth opened before his mind really thought of what he was going to say or do… Sometimes he got into trouble by trying too hard. He talked too much. He would say he was going to do something and then not do it. He and Jesus had a couple of big arguments when Simon got a little too sure of himself. But Jesus still liked him a lot and kept him as a good friend. Even though they still got into arguments sometimes.”

I think that is an informal but fair summary of how Simon Peter is seen in Matthew’s Gospel. The first time Peter even speaks in Matthew is when he’s in a boat and sees Jesus walking on the water. He asks if he can meet him on the water, then he sinks. It’s not a good first impression.

Can you see the official Saints committee? “Tends to overstep himself, may be unstable, not good at following through. Could end up all wet in the clutch.”

But In the very centre of the Gospel we get the story we just heard, where Jesus says, Who do you say I am? And Simon Peter answers, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!" He gets to the centre of it, the most important thing right away. But, in the very next scene when Jesus starts to talk about what’s going to happen, the first hint of the crucifixion, Peter disagrees, and starts an argument!

Back to the committee: “Subject does not always think consistently with espoused feelings, ideas and convictions, perhaps shares a bit too readily with those in positions of authority. May not do well in structured environment“

And even towards the end, when Jesus says all the gathered disciple will fall away, Peter protests a bit too much. "Even if I have to die with you," Peter told Him, "I will never deny you!" But by the end of that same chapter in Matthew, when the story is getting a lot darker and we’re in the courtyard of the high Priest, one of the house staff looks at the guy that’s back away from the crowd by the fire, and says, You’re a friend of Jesus, right?” And Peter’s ends up saying, "I do not know the man!"

The final committee report: “Lacking tenacity, ability to stay with choices, tends to go for the easiest answer, even at the cost of friendship and supposed personal convictions, manifesting a doubtful maturity and questionable ethics. At this point the committee would not….”

So even though he gets better coverage in John’s Gospel – where his martyrdom is mentioned - and in both Luke and Acts where his ministry is seen as a direct continuation of Jesus’ own – even then, with all these contradictions, he still seems the kind of person that committee would likely write off as a possible Saint. So why are we gathered here in a building dedicated in his name, in honour of who he was and what he did? What can his life and witnesses, as mentioned in Matthew’s gospel, tell us today?

Three things, I think. First, to be fully human; second, to be ready to struggle with the life of faith and with doubt too; and third; to be willing to change and grow beyond what you think you know about yourself and about God.

First, on being human: We need to remember - to quote the psalm - we are but flesh. We’re so tough on ourselves, on each other that we aren’t enough; maybe that fact is that we are afraid that we are incomplete when the truth is that we are only unfinished, mere flesh and blood. There is a real courage, even faith, in being a human being in process. But we judge so much. All, each, every religious tradition out there says, don’t judge, but we do.

So many of us have a test-taker mentality: afraid that we might be seen and judged for being incomplete, might flunk the course for not having our answers right. But if this Simon Peter can finally end up as an example of a rock of faith and a saint then we might need another model and another word. Perhaps “unfinished” is the right word for a work in process. There is a different context and texture there: not incomplete, but unfinished. It is softer, kinder, more open. Not according to a prearranged plan or filling out an existing exam, but living out your life in a response to a varying rhythm over time, less like marching and more like dancing. As the hymn says, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy!” I once saw a bumper sticker which said, “Be kind, God isn’t finished with me yet!” And St. Peter can tell us the wisdom about that one from some the viewpoint of some very personal experiences. So, be kind about being human.

Second, Peter shows us a way to be ready to struggle with faith and doubt like Peter was. The Jewish writer, Abraham Heschel, in a work called, Israel: An Echo of Eternity, writes: "Well-adjusted people think that faith is an answer to all human problems. In truth, however, faith is a challenge to all human persons. To have faith is to be in labor." And Peter does labor on. He gets it wrong, he keeps going, he comes up with the wrong response, he tries again, he turns out all right. You can tell the committee that Peter is not afraid to learn from his mistakes, maybe not even afraid to make them. And to get over that fear, fear of getting it wrong, is a pretty good thing to get right. We can all learn more about that.

For the truth is that strength often comes from struggle, we learn how to live a life of faith by struggling with what it means to doubt, then come to believe and live out within the particularities of our own life. And Peter finally struggle though, comes to believe something bigger than he knew. And that’s the third point right there.

Peter ends up basing his life on something that is bigger than his own life, that’s what makes him a Saint, but he starts small, over time, with struggle, by humility, and then his faith become bigger than his life, because in the end it isn’t merely his own faith. Faith comes from God, we forget that often, think of it as some sort of massive self-improvement process. But that’s not what we learn here. It comes as a gift that we get to take when we approach with open hearts and empty hands.

Thomas Merton writes this in a book called Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:

At the centre of our being is a point of nothingness which is entirely untouched by sin and by illusion; a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives. Which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty in the pure glory of god is us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence… [And I would add, as our friendship with God through Christ].

Here’s what I said at the end of the “Children’s Church” sermon:

And Jesus said, “Simon, I am going to call you the Rock –that’s what Peter means, - because right down in the middle of who you are – deeper than how much you talk, and the times you’re scared, and all the times when you wonder what you’ll do and how you’ll get through it. There is a place deep in you that is so solid and caring and loving and good; and even if you get a little flaky on the surface, that strong place in the middle of you will always be there. And that’s why you are my friend and why I will always be your friend.” And Simon said, “I am not flaky ever” and they had another fight right after that!

But they still stayed friends. And Simon-Peter grew up over time, and he realized that, even though sometimes he was silly, and worried a lot, and talked too much, and wasn’t perfect at all most days, that there was something deep inside him that was very good, strong and just as it should be. And that had to do with his friendship with Jesus. And he grew up some more and after awhile everybody called him Simon Peter and he always remembered that he was a friend of Jesus and that Jesus said he was made of good stuff, solid like a Rock, right down the middle.”

May it be so for us as well. Amen.