Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Sermon

St Jude’s Church, El Dorado.
25 October 2009

To introduce myself, I am Robert Whalley, and for the last 7 or 8 years I’ve lived in Melbourne where I was a University Chaplain (which has been most of my ministry as a layman for the last 20 years) and part of the ministry team at St. Peter’s Eastern Hill. I will be ordained as a transitional deacon in Wangaratta on December 4th (and you’re all invited!) and I will be working 3 days a week as the Bishop’s Chaplain and two days a week around Milawa, Ed Dorado, Beechworth Parish. I grew up in Northern California - and in the early 1850s my great great grandparents settled in gold country that looks so much like this that I have a real feeling of homecoming and return in moving here; for the first school I attended in Sacramento was named El Dorado!

For some years I’ve taught classes on Media and Spirituality and one of the reasons I take looking at television and movies seriously is that popular movies carry so many of the vivid morals and messages of our time; whether they’re good or bad messages is another question, but they’re important! The other reason I love good television and movies is that they open our eyes to see life differently, even to see scripture anew. So let’s look at the passage we just heard from Mark.

Look at it. They’re on the road together. I imagine it’s hot and dusty, towards the end of the day, the crowd’s caught up in the excitement, the amazing teaching, the healing presence of this man, Jesus of Nazareth; the question of who might he be? What can he mean? And as we’re heading out of Jericho, one of the people who are always there, on the edge of the town, a blind beggar in an old cloak, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, somebodies son sits there. Maybe he’s a kind of feature of the landscape, asking for sustenance and charity, banking that people will keep him fed, usually blending in like background noise, he starts yelling: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Now a lot of us get tense when the less attractive people start making noise (especially in times when illness, deformity, deafness and blindness are often seen as signs of divine punishment), and common etiquette says; look, Jesus is important so, “Many sternly order him to be quiet, but he cries out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” and Jesus stands still. It stops the action.

See that (maybe like the moment in John’s Gospel when the crowd wants to stone the woman taken in adultery, when’s he’s silent, writing in the dust), Jesus stops on the road (and if that doesn’t change the mood I don’t know what will) and says, “Call him here.” Notice that he doesn’t call him directly, but gets the community involved. And suddenly the man who was on the edge is in the middle of things. “And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” Take heart! Encouragement is coming from everywhere, and maybe the people who had never really seen the blind man at the gate are looking at him in a new light, wishing him well. “So throwing off his cloak, he springs up and comes to Jesus. Then Jesus says to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” What do you want? There are a lot of stories in the Gospels where Jesus asks that, as if he needs to hear our need, needs to have room to have compassion on our passion. What do you need? The blind man says, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he sees again, maybe better than ever, but he doesn’t go, he joined the crowd, this Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, following Jesus on the way to Jerusalem. Perhaps giving us a model for ministry and community as well.

A couple of quotes from others sources kept coming into my mind as I read through, prayed through, worked through this text:

First, from one of my favorite movies. The Philadelphia Story (1940, Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart): “you'll never be a first-class human being...until you've learned to have a regard for human frailty.” Jesus joins us in human journey, here in the middle of life and death, to honor the hope of our heart, with a high regard for our frailty, and that’s something we can always practice alongside him, hospitality for those in need; the poor, the meek, oppressed, the lonely; and that really doesn’t leave many of us out.

Second, the priest and writer Thomas Merton writes that we have to know we have a heart before we can give it away. And maybe life was discouraging for this blind beggar before Jesus came along, but Jesus called a community to call him: “take heart, get up, he is calling you!” And maybe that’s when Bartimaeus started to see a new way to be in the world, and so maybe did everyone in that community. So perhaps that means we need to encourage one another, to honor what waits to be called for, born, healed and hoped for, seen clearly. This takes patience, but I am convinced it all can come in God’s time.

Finally, something my mother told me many years ago while I was going through what felt like the most painful adolescence in human history. She said, “Don’t judge anyone else, because you don’t know what their past has been; and don’t judge yourself, because you don’t know what your future will be, where it will take you, how it might work out.” I’d add one more thing; in times when judgment wants to come, let Jesus be there too, take heart, for yourself or others, let them be encouraged, keep yourself encouraged, keep hopeful together during the tough times.

For the sad truth is a lot of us don’t get healed right away, some blindness, disease, pain, remains, so we might limp on the way, we might need friends to guide us, maybe we can’t see the road ahead and there are days when Jerusalem might look to be a dead end. We have to walk that one together, towards a growing faith that helps us see how, by God’s grace, it will turn out. It’s all back there in Jeremiah:

For thus says the Lord: See, I am going to bring them... and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth... the blind and the lame... a great company... with weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them.. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.. and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the Lord.

In the name of Christ.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

On Orders and Sacraments, Mark 10:35-45

To start with some some good news and some good and sad news. This will probably be my last Sunday sermon at St Peter’s for awhile. My new work was going to commence in seven weeks, but I’ve been asked to start early. So tomorrow I will begin my job as the chaplain to the Bishop of Wangaratta, and in 47 days (and about 25 minutes) on the 4th of December, The Rt. Rev. John Parkes will - God Willing - make me a deacon, with ordination to priesthood hopefully to follow in the new year. There should be prayer cards around soon, and please know you are very welcome to both these celebrations.

This has all happened very quickly and slowly too: ordination is an option, a door I’ve looked at often for over 40 years, even knocked on somewhat softly in the past, and in the last three months the door’s opened wide and, with some fear and trembling, and a lot of delight, I’m walking through! The work in Wangaratta will involve education, pastoral ministry, even school chaplaincy; plus living and doing ministry in our sister parish, Christ Church, Beechworth (So come on up, Sunday’s at 10:00!). But the main work’s the Bishop’s Chaplain, and I’ve been looking at what that means. Michael Brierley, an English priest who served as Chaplain to the Bishop of Oxford, describes the job in this way:

“Like parish work, it's a job of great variety: first and foremost is prayer for the bishop...; then office-based administration; assisting the bishop with pastoral work, with research, and on some social occasions; representing him on some bodies; and acting as liturgical chaplain, and also as his driver.”

Then, quoting the Bishop of Salisbury, he adds this: 'Each of us needs to have an idea of what being a deacon and a priest [or Bishop] are about. I see it this way ...'  God in Christ does two things: he shares our life and he changes it. This... is what every Christian is called to do: to share people's lives, and to change them... people are made deacon to emphasise the sharing side, and [consecrated bishop and] ordained priest to point to the transforming side.”

Michael Brierley finds that “a helpful model for thinking about the 'cure' of the bishop's 'soul'. Much of the work is 'diaconal', quietly sharing the bishop's life and supporting him by doing what needs doing. But there is also a 'priestly' (and I would say Episcopal) side to it, saying or doing something that offers the possibility of changing situations (hopefully) for the better.”

And that connects with the Gospel for today. Listen to what Jesus says,

“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

It’s interesting advice. I think he’s calling for a balancing act in an arena where we might often veer dangerously from one side to the other. To balance with both the wish to be great, to be on top, as well as the desire to serve, to slave, to sacrifice ourselves to the right cause. We know more about the excesses of heroism and ambition, but C.S. Lewis writes (I think in The Screwtape Letters) that if we realized how much trouble unselfishness can cause we wouldn’t recommend it so often. He speaks of the subtle tyranny of those people who “lives for others,” adding that you can often tell the “others” by the “hunted look”.

But it isn’t just an either/or situation; there is even room for trouble in the middle. One of the aspects of life in Australia that I love is a deep and humerous suspicion of the top dog, the tall poppy. Though sometimes it seems downright un-American, it is quite healthy. The other side of that is the idea that, “Jack is as good as his master,” the spirit that says, “I am as good as anyone here.” But the danger of this middle way might be what one of the apocalyptic angels in the Revelation to John calls being lukewarm, people who are neither hot nor cold, who are in danger of being spat out for their excessive moderation. So, going back to the Gospel (if you want to lead, then serve; if you want to be greatest, then be the least); maybe the solution is to allow both sides now, embrace the desire to be both the greatest and the first and the slave and the last? It is still quite biblical, for there’s some good scriptural ground found in walking with this wide possibility.

Remember: Jesus says that we are as Gods, we are the light of the world, a city on a hill, the very salt of the earth; and that’s good, we’re good; and that very goodness, that glory, that gift of God in our lives needs to be shared with the world. So taking on the stewardship of giving your own gift means taking a chance to be a person with authority, an overseer, a bishop. It doesn’t have to mean you’ll be a fascist, it means to share the gifts you were born with, that delight and desire have sharpened and honed over the years. This little light of yours and mine, each of our particular epiphanies, should shine, because they are, in God’s good creation, essential. In God’s eyes your delight matters, and must make a difference! As the writer and chaplain, Frederick Buechner put it: "The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." That’s our vocation!

For there’s a lot of hunger out there. People are in need, and Christ’s mandate is that people need to be served, cared for, must be honored, and our lives must be shared. We need to have and to be saints who are willing to be servants, deaconos, whose perfection is yoked to mercy and service, blessing the meek, meeting the poor, celebrating in solidarity the very fragility of humankind.

Listen to this again, you know the words:

“we offer ourselves to you
as a living sacrifice
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Send us out in the power of your Spirit
to live and work to your praise and glory.”

That when I love the church the most, when we move out, all of us together, Bishops’, Priests, Deacons, Laity, all the people and places of God, taking on and being each and every one of the sacramental signs that fill this place, fleshing out that wholeness and holiness in the midst of this good-beyond-belief world. For this amazing church, St Peter’s Eastern Hill, with all the words and music, all the history and hope, all the smells and bells, with all of us gathered here (and those who have gone on) are all a sacrament, a sign, a bright reminder, of the holiness of the whole world. That is why we’re here! We get washed up, confirmed, ordered, married and buried, we bring our sins and illnesses, find forgiveness for ourselves and our neighbors, get touched for healing and hope, we get well fed and we take this meal on the road, so that we can be sacraments ourselves in this world of deep gladness and deep hunger. We come to believe that this place is holy so that we can come to know and live and act with the faithful conviction that the whole world is holy, and in great need too: worth changing, worth sharing, worth serving; worth wonderfully overqualified servants doing very simple things extremely well, dancing God’s discipleship all the days of our lives.

Let me end with this from the American Prayer Book. It comes in the middle of one of the Eucharistic prayers and it’s been on my mind this last week.

We praise you, we bless you,
We give thanks to you,
And we pray to you, Lord our God.

Do you hear the hight and breadth, the freedom, the humility and the hope here? That’s what and where we’re called to be, all of us, overseers and servants, bishops, priests, deacons, laity, people of God’s Good News.

And let me paraphrase those words for my own farewell:

Dear people of St Peter’s
I praise you, I bless you,
I give thanks to you, for the many mercies and ministries you have shared with me in the last 8 years,
And I pray with you to the Lord our God. Amen.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Unashamedly stolen from The Shalem Institute Website

Shalem Society October Gathering: More than Images
by Tony Sayer

Sixty-nine participants joined Shalem staff members at the second annual gathering of Shalem's Society for Contemplative Leadership in October and were revived, inspired and renewed. The two major addresses offered there - Tilden Edwards' "Inspirited Pioneers: Probing the Frontiers of Contemplative Awareness" and Carole Crumley's "The Power of Shared Intent: An Opening for God in the World" - can be read on Shalem's web site.

At the rededication service, each person received a prayer scarf as a sign of mutual belonging and common intent and was asked to offer a first prayer for the Society, which has grown to nearly 200 members. This year we also borrowed large posters of various iconic representations to surround our meeting room and invited participants to bring their own icons, so that we could have a sense of the larger community of contemplative ancestors who inspire us with their witness. We asked Society member Tony Sayer to reflect on the time together and below is his response to the "cloud of witnesses" that surrounded the October gathering.

More than Images

...a desert-like spaciousness... (Gerald May)

A spacious room. A high ceiling. A world.
Candles flickering. Souls kindled.
Around the walls paintings, posters, icons.

But more than images. Presences.

Merton and Bonhoeffer are drinking beer.
Their bottles clink together as they confer.

Saint Francis and the Sultan play chess.
The Sultan always wins - Francis seems not to get the game.
Fiercely he protects his pawns, but gives his bishops up with glee.

Mother Seton, Sojourner Truth, and Hildegard of Bingen
are making a quilt. Hildegard wants to add
more and more green to the pattern.

Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks and Ignatius of Loyola
tread the turns of a labyrinth together.
Inigo's limp slows him down, and
the others keep to his pace.

Elijah and Julian share a barley cake. The raven on his shoulder
and the cat on her lap eye each other with suspicion.

Gandhi and John of the Cross and Martin Luther King are
swapping jailhouse memories. They want Bonhoeffer
to join them, but Merton keeps opening
another cool one.

Rumi and Meister Eckhart have been writing song lyrics.
Teresa of Avila rounds up John Woolman and Black Elk
and Frederick Ozanam and Simone Weil
to start a garage band.

Dorothy Day and Clare of Assisi want to sign up.
They want Howard Thurman to come too.
But he's learning Tibetan chant,
his deep-throated voice
growing ever more

Etty Hillesum looks upward, murmuring contentedly,
"So many stars."

William Blake is teaching an art class, but his students
aren't paying attention. Chuang Tzu and Albert Einstein
have gotten paint all over themselves.

"Angels," says Blake impatiently. "Ranks of angels
surround us."

He waves his hand in the air. He points at us.

For we too are here. Among these
witnesses, servants, pilgrims, martyrs,
in this patchwork communion of saints-we are here.

Holy One, by what fiery grace have we
come to join this company?

We praise you for the gift of guides and companions.
May we be such to each other.

Show us our walking stick and our narrow way.

Turn us to stillness and to hastening.

Turn us to doing the little righteousness
that is ours to do.

Give us strength to love.

Teach our hearts to break and break.