Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Third Sunday of Easter. St. Peter's Eastern Hill

To start a sermon with a joke isn’t always wise; to start with a joke you used in a sermon a few months before – when it didn’t go over terribly well then - is courting imminent danger, but maybe, if you listen to the Gospel for today, safety is overvalued as a way of life. So I want to start with a story I told here late last year,

An old woman dies after a very long and very careful life. Two friends are talking about her legacy, the state of the estate. One says. “Did she leave much?” The other says, “Well, actually she left it all.”

Cut to the Gospel: Jesus says this to Peter:

“Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

And the shorter version of that might be, “Peter, you’re going to leave it all”. It is easy to forget that; but as I wrote in a letter announcing an upcoming service at RMIT’s Spiritual Centre:

“Recent events, such as the tsunami in the Solomon Islands and the violence at Virginia Tech, make us aware how tentative life can be, as well as reminding us that many of our friends, associates, people we see and work with every day, deal with feelings of loneliness, depression, isolation and helplessness. These catastrophes can be costly lessons to help us remember how linked up we are with one another in a wide community of humanity… Times like this, when senseless tragedy occurs, call us together for a solemn occasion.”

We know how to do that here: solemn occasions, great celebrations, the serious joy of life and death in the very middle of the world. That’s what we’re about. To paraphrase our new brochure, "Welcome to St. Peter’s" (which is available at the back of the church).

"Worship of God is at the centre of our life together, and we seek to communicate the love of God in Jesus Christ in all that we do… Our Servers Guild and Sacristy Team work behind and around the altar rail as “Eastenders” continuing the tradition of Anglo-Catholic worship. Sidespeople, Greeters and Catering Guild, along with Intercessors and Readers serve as “Westenders” in ministries of assistance, guidance, welcome and hospitality… The St Peter’s Choir makes a joyful noise, and with frequent additions of cello, trumpet and drums can lift hearts, raise spirits and mystify visiting evangelicals with equal ease… [I added that myself]. Concerts, parties, dinners, and gatherings are all a part of regular life here... Hospitality and good fun are important to us. But growth in faith and spiritual formation, worship and service are the key to our community."

Growth in faith and spiritual formation, worship and service… key to our community: what we give away, key to live life as a living sacrifice, sometimes in very small ways, sometimes in the biggest ways. Like St. Peter and some others. Quoting from a recent article in the New York Times:

Prof. Liviu Librescu was imprisonment by the Nazi’s, lived under a totalitarian regime in Rumania, emigrated to the United States and, at the age of 76 was teaching solid mechanics when a student armed with pistols approached his classroom.

The professor never moved from the door. Directing his students to escape through windows, he was fatally shot. One of his students, said, “We had heard the gunfire coming from the classroom behind us, and we… headed for the windows… Professor Librescu never made an attempt to leave.” Instead he shouted for them to hurry. She said she felt sure his actions helped save lives. “He’s a part of my life now and forever,” she said. “I’m changed. I’m not the person I was.”

He is a part of all our lives now, like St. Peter: a man we are proud to call part of our family.

“When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’” You will leave it all behind. You will give it all away. Your life will change and your life can change other lives. All in the name of love.

It could only be a mild inconvenience for most of us most of the time. We may not be called to make that kind of sacrifice, our lives may not take place on that big a scale. We may simply have to welcome the newcomer, make friends with the lonely, greet the visitor, offer hospitality here in answering tentative questions and comments with great courtesy. We already know what to say: Here’s a quick quiz: I will give then answers, you figure out the question.

“Up those stairs to the left for women and through that door and up the stairs to the right for men… you might talk to Warren Collins or one of the clergy about weddings, plus there is information on the web page. Gosh, if you remember Father Maynard you have a long history here. No, actually we’re Anglo-Catholics, Would you like some tea or perhaps Sherry?”

William Blake writes: “we are put on earth a little space, That we may learn to bear the beams of love.” Sometimes the beams are those of a cross, sometimes the beams burn us, other times we are simply called to give some warm hospitality on Sunday or weekday with a smile that welcomes the stranger, welcomes the mystery, welcomes the God of the living and the dead. We do what we can.

In their witness and ministry St. Peter and Liviu Librescu did what they could, they countered evil with good: lives were saved, people were changed, the world was made different and better for their suffering, their ministry, and their shining martyrdom.

We are in that same light, learning to love and live in the sight of God and God’s people; growing in faith that stretches us out so that God can take more place in our lives and our ministry. So that God can speak finer words and deeds and grow more gracefully in the lives of other people as well.

Listen: in truth, we are here to become a new language, Christ being the model for the keynote address as well as the corner-stone. A language built on the history that we bring to God and the history that God brings to us, leading us to become part of the alphabet of glory: the word writ small but still writ fully, leading us to be love letters from God posted in peculiar and particular places.

Because I am convinced that God can and will say something specific and unique in the lives of each of us that can change lives. And this might even depend upon our very failure, perhaps even our death, at some specific point, so that God can succeed in some new way we could never envision. That is where we believe that Christ’s baptism, teaching, healing, crucifixion and death meets ours and changes it into resurrection and eternal priesthood.

So we join here in the Eucharistic banquet because we are the Eucharistic banquet. The feast of grace and love that we recall today is built by God’s grace in the broken flesh and spilled blood of our own incomplete lives and unfinished journeys. All washed clean here in the font of Christ’s love. So, in this company, with Saints and strangers, with all those whom God loves, we do what we can, we give thanks, and we go on.

In the name of Christ.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Easter Sermon of John Chrystostom, Bishop of Constantinople

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Maunday Thursday 2007

The poet Robert Frost once said to take the light things seriously and the serious things lightly. That’s not always good advice, but I would like to follow his model here and touch lightly on three of the elements in the actions and events we remember tonight. I want to talk about feet, food and gardens.

First feet: When you were a kid did you have someone, parent, grandparent, family or friend, take your foot in their hands and say, “This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home…. “Do you remember that? And have you ever held the foot of a child, and wiggled those little toes and said those same words and heard that child laugh? Have you ever considered the beauty of a newborn child’s foot?

Adults are different with feet. A lot of us are shy about feet. It makes sense. They aren’t real pretty and yet they are - I think - amazingly unique to each individual, containing biography in all the lines and curves, remembering all the journeys where we were pinched, stepped on, stretched: it all shows in the feet. They are also an incredible complex of nerves and muscles, delicate and powerful bits of engineering: built to take us on the road, link us to the ground, turn us around; set us on the way home. Feet are at the base of it.

In the world of the body, feet are workers, not intellectuals: they contain no theories, make no theology – unlike heads or even hearts – but they are absolutely essential for making clear the difference between theory and practice, the crucial distinction between merely talking the talk and getting out and walking the walk which is - to make a pun – no mean feat. Still, they are utilitarian, drab, and necessary accessories; and I think it is significant that Jesus should choose to touch and wash our feet. It says something important about how God loves.

Because tonight we remember and re-enact the Lord of all washing the feet of his gathered disciples and friends, to see how God cares for each of us particularly, how God wills and wants to touch us individually, in each of the unique places where we live and move and have our being. Jesus wants to meets us where we meet the road, touching us in the specific parts of our lives and journeys, and enjoying us more deeply than we might ever know. Yes, there is the cleaning up of it, yes, there is the work of hands and a fresh towel: but the chief ingredient here is love: a particular loves that is both so big and so small that it desires to love and touch each toe, arch, instep, heel and sole of each one of us. This simple transaction gives joy to God and it is a picture of love in action for each of us. It tells us something very important about the immediacy and the intention of God. God wills to touch, wash up and love each one of us. Because the love God has for us is much like what we have for a newborn; for no matter how sore, dog-tired and sour we feel, God’s love see us as precious, innocent, connected and created in that same image, and part of that same love!

Now if feet are unique to individuals, food means company, not just company for dinner, having friends in to share substance and spirit, though that is certainly part of it: but company as in a group of people, many, different, working together in separate ways that come together in a common cause. The bread and wine we eat and drink has been touched, gathered, lifted up by workers in the fields, harvesters, processors, moved by ship, truck and train to market with many hands holding, refining the food from the land; bringing it all together. Bread and wine mean grapes and water: yeast and fat and oil and wheat mixed and kneaded, work of human hands, to rest and rise, to be taken away to warm and transform. All this before it comes to the table to be broken and shared: many backs have been bent; many hands have stretched out to give us food at our daily tables. Many have gathered to ensure this harvest.

And Jesus says, “This is my body, this is my blood!” Jesus says I am willing to be known in this Eucharist, and I tell you I will be here, but prepare to meet me in the entire world, because in my love I have taken up with the body and blood of all humankind and all creation. This bread and wine are means of my love to you, but I mean to love you in everywhere, in everything, in everyone! So, we celebrate God meeting us in the particulars of our own flesh and in the wideness of the whole world. As the hymn says, “Oh love how deep, how strong, how wide!”

And finally gardens. What is it about them? They are unpredictable places with seed falling into mysterious ground: summers with rich harvest or years when fire and drought kill growth and the fields seem barren: autumn when the promise of rain gives us new hope, cold hidden winters, and warm springs when life bursts into sudden glory. Gardens are like the whole world. They take time, show history, need much work, can cause calluses, break your heart and back, and yet we love them so.

For time comes to bloom in a garden, it is where we see our history. And Jesus comes to meet us there -- in the midst of a garden where there are many weeds, much neglect, much rot, much to be pruned, much that must meet the fire and die. Jesus comes to turn the ground over so that he might even be hidden in the harvest. He comes to meet us in the history of all things.

Have you ever planted seeds and waited for the harvest? God does. God’s seed is planted deep in all that is around us: all that is reasonable, holy and living. Even now, God is casting it wide to fall into all ground, letting the seed break apart in darkness, letting it be nourished over time, working the field, nourishing the crop, never ceasing to weed and watch, that nothing may be lost in life, not even death shall be lost in the light of love! Jesus will walk into that garden where all hopes bloom and will defeat every falsehood with the power of the deepest truth.

So here we are. Dame Julian says there are three things about the world that are important: God loves it, God redeems it, and God sanctifies it. That’s a big and serious truth and one that is sometimes hard to get the head around. But come and wait and watch, tonight, tomorrow, the next few days - and see!