Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sermon: Wangaratta Jazz Festival Jass Mass, Feast of All Saints', Holy Trinity Cathedral

Maybe everyone here this morning has been asked this question: So how do you like Jazz?

The question was asked of me by the son of some friends of my parents in 1961, when I was just 15 years old, living near Fairfield, California, an hour northeast of San Francisco and not far from the Santa Rosa you’d see in George Lucas’s  “American Graffiti”

And did I like jazz?

Well, I knew my mother liked Ella Fitzgerald, Helen Forrest, Turk Murphy, Paul Whiteman: I knew my Dad liked Benny Goodman, the Dorsey’s, Red Nichols, George Shearing and Lionel Hampton,

But did I like jazz? I liked Spike Jones and his City Slickers and still do, liked Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Bobby Darin, Movie musicals, and sometimes Vince Guaraldi: Hell, as a tall scared teenager, I pretty much liked anything that liked me back. I liked the Kingston Trio! And I didn’t know if I liked jazz.

But this California kid who was a year older and therefore knew more about everything in the world put an LP on the turntable and handed over the red and black cover to a record called Round Midnight by Miles Davis and we listened to the cover track, and I liked it a lot and it touches me still 50 years later.

Listening to the soft sexy sullen sound of Davis’ trumpet, muted yet moving you on, weaving with an elegant, economic sound; recasting Monk’s original melody, by minimally curving the sound in a way that remembers the music that isn’t played, teasing out the intentions, the intervals, the pauses, pointing to the silence,

Then Coltrane comes in with his saxophone and warms it up, ebullient, effervescent, bubbling up with real enthusiasm, and pointing, in all his breathing joy, to what truly holds it together, those connecting links we can’t quite hear. And in the end the wit of Miles Davis and the warmth of John Coltrane dance around all the notes of the song and leave you with something that feels like loss and gain and joy and jazz and love. And I liked it a lot!

For maybe that’s one of the first moments, the places where I became a little bit of a theologian, a bit of a believer and a priest and a fan of jazz all at the same time; because I heard something of the joy in the middle and the silence under it all, of what hangs it together, holds it tight enough that you can play loose with it: the foundational sound, the salutary note, that song and that silence that has to do with wholeness, with holiness  with each of us and all of us, and not only here and now, but  always.

So when T.S. Eliot writes: “you are the music while the music lasts,” I think he’s on to something.

Because putting voice and instrument to music and melody is what we’re about, because the way we sing our song is our basic task, liturgy, vocation; It’s both where and why we meet the world, and how our ministry works it out.. Because what I got that afternoon with Davis and Coltrane, with Monk in the background, was an entrance into a deep sharing, discovery, discernment, delight in all the great and lively sounds of life: and I remember it still and it still leads me on to practice, to stretch out, to play with more expectation, more risk, more joy, more life!

For you are the music while the music lasts.

Because everybody makes ministry and music, as they make love and life. As they make sense and sound, sharing their take on the business of being alive: all the tones and turns and tunes, times and places, all the criticism, caring and crying and crowding, prayer and power and praise that happen in all the living and dying moments that come along and are over too soon.

For you are the music while the music lasts.

So we listen and replay and sing out! From nursery rhymes to funeral dirges, from bar room ballads to football club songs: From Hollywood to Tamworth, from Stephen Sondheim to Slim Dusty, from cacophonies to carols, as the world goes wrong and ‘round, as facts and finances and friends rise and fail, even as life runs short in the in the face of death, we still sing.

For God makes this gift of music and we take up our vision and voice and instrument, rhythm and rhyme and melody and make sound and song and  joyful noises in the world, because it keeps us breathing deep and together and sounding good and because nobody shuts their mouth when they’re making love!

Because you are the music while the music lasts.

That’s what this building, this tradition, this place we’re in today, really stands for: a two thousand year old melody played out in stone and brick, stained glass and wood and tapestry and flesh and blood and word and voice: a sustained tune on what the world might mean and how we can sing along, play along, improvise in our own way to all those old songs that tell us where we come from and where we’re going and why all the traveling.

This Cathedral is named for the Holy Trinity, which points to this trio of trusting in the happening and heart and hope of God, meaning love; that God, meaning love, makes, meets and mends the universe in every moment of time and every place and space; that God, meaning love, is the beginning, end and centre of our shared reality, that God, meaning love, is the light and the life and the lead that we follow when it comes time to take our turn and breathe our breath and sing our song.

For you are the music while the music lasts.

And that just might be what Jesus is about, right there in the middle; someone who teaches and walks and lives and breathes and dies and breaks through all false notes and all wrong rhythms with the promise that love wins in the end, will outlive the deadening demands and expectations of any little world that deifies money or violence or lust or power over one another. Jesus takes another route through that world and says a self-giving, neighbor-loving life, connecting with the whole of life in love is the right way home, back where we started from, and he lives out what he says in every way

You’ve heard the Beatitudes this morning and they’re pretty words, but Jesus walks that talk; his life sings that song: poor, meek and mourning; hungry, thirsty, merciful, a peacemaker who is persecuted, reviled, left out, pinned down to die on that inevitable intersection between what we say we want and how we are prepared to live and give in a world double-crossed with shadows and shortcuts.

And He dies on a cross in Jerusalem and Rome, London, and Wall Street, Melbourne and Merimbula. And in the end it doesn’t matter if he’s Jew or Greek, Male, Female, young old, straight, gay, winner, loser or also ran. He is the forgotten and remembered face of the love and the beloved and the lover, the meter and the music and meaning of it all.

And if we listen to his dying life meeting our living death we can still hear the song that says love lives and is reaching out and singing out and making out new ways to make it true and new and through together in every moment, and we’re here to learn to take up that song with whatever talents we carry with our voices and our vision and our hands and our hearts; and with whatever gifts we live out and give away on purpose and in love.

For you are the music while the music lasts.

In a little while we’ll break bread and share wine, his body and blood, his life and death and life, his magnificent defeat and victorious uprising as we take on the possibility of living that out ourselves, as our daily tune, in our living ministry, how we stand up and sing out and let that love live in our lives. That’s why we’re here in this soft spring morning:. To listen to the music, to sing the songs, to take on death and life and love and to let that melody and meaning and music be heard and handled, make sense and song in our own voices, our own way, our own world, even and especially now, in all the days of our lives from here on.

For you are the music while the music lasts.


Saturday, October 01, 2011

A funeral sermon from last week.

Earlier this week I sat with ----- and ----- looking at pictures they had of various times in ---- ----- life. you’ll see some of them later in the hall: pictures, as a  girl and a women, young, aging, older; as a girl,  a bride, a mother, with family and friends, here and ‘round Victoria, around the world, enjoyment, exploration, tasting life. There was one picture that really touched me, I think taken in Queensland. She is reaching out, standing on a narrow platform above a large pool, reaching out with a fish in her hand, as a large dolphin rises to take the fish from her. She looked both scared and delighted, willing to risk a little, to explore, to stretch out to meet something new. And it takes a certain kind of faith and style to do that kind of stretch - plus some nerve and more than a little faith and trust: that you won’t fall in, get knocked off balanced, and even if you do, you will live through it.

And that reminded me of two moments in my own life, one a bit of a shock, the second, a wonderful breakthrough. The first was when I was a teenager and my own mother arranged a family gathering to see world on the shores of San Francisco Bay we went to see the performing fish, dolphins and whales, and my mother was happy to see that there were seats available in the first second and third rows facing the water. She led us down there quickly, and I wondered why, in a busy arena so full of people, those rows were conspicuously empty.

The show was good: with seals and porpoises, magnificent  mammals, rushing around in circles, jumping out of the water to fly through hoops of fire, leaping to catch  balls and batons and delighted to catch the fish thrown out to them as rewards for their actions. Then a whale came  out, circled the pool three times, moved to the center, leapt up higher than you could believe, and came back with a thundering sound and a great wave came up and soaked us and the first three rows of seats with salt water and it was wonderful!

Because it reminded me of something I had forgotten until that day and have always remembered since.  When my mother and father and older brother and I took a summer vacation Sacramento to Carmel, California. I was about eight or nine years old, loves the water, loved diving off a little diving board, maybe 3 feet above the water, at the tennis club where we swim every summer, and I was excited to see that we were going to swim a larger pool on the edge of the ocean with a great big  dying board. Just like I had seen on television, just like I had always wanted to try.

Except when I started climbing the ladder and realizing that I was going higher and higher than I had ever gone before and the board was narrow and the water seemed far below and the wind was coming on the ocean and I would’ve turned around if I had been able to accept there were other kids on the ladder and my big brother was watching too. So I didn’t turn around that good morning but I took a deep breath and went forward with a big jump and bounced higher than I ever had and went farther and hit the water with a bang and it tasted of salt and I went deep and touched the bottom and rose up and took a breath and life was bigger than it ever had been before.  You couldn’t get me off the diving board for the rest of our stay in Carmel.

If the church makes sense, it does by providing food, for the mind, for the body, for the soul, for that risky journey, that tall climb, the reaching out, the jumping off, into new dimensions, into new ways of living, into something you can’t believe, can only dive into, by a blind leap of faith.

 “in my father’s house there are many  rooms... I am the way the truth and the life... love never fails... For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

---- ----- was part of this church, she was sprinkled in the water in baptism, she was renewed in prayer and worship and community, and every week Fr. ----- took her the meal that faithful people share, and she would reach out for the Eucharist, bread of heaven, cup of salvation, food for solace, food for community. A meal made for faithful traveling. And now she’s made the jump, and now she knows, even as she is known, and for this, the journey and the arriving, we give thanks.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

APBA Lections 14th Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 16:2-15

2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” 4Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” 8And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but” against the Lord. 9Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’“ 10And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12“I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’“
13In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

Philippians 2:21-30

21All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22But Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23I hope therefore to send him as soon as I see how things go with me; 24and I trust in the Lord that I will also come soon. 25Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus—my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need; 26for he has been longing for all of you, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27He was indeed so ill that he nearly died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another. 28I am the more eager to send him, therefore, in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honor such people, 30because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me.

Matthew 21:23-32

23When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

28“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ten Years Ago: Notes From An American Abroad in Melbourne, Australia A Few Days After September 11, 2001

Yesterday we took the tram out to the American consulate on St. Kilda Road here in Melbourne. Several other people got off the tram at the same time and walked in the same direction. You could see the building from the intersection, a modern low rise building, modest architecture, unremarkable except that people were walking around the small pattern of box hedges that marked the front entrance and which bloomed with bouquets of cut flowers in paper wrappings, with plants and sprays of roses, with candles and cards and letters printed and written on red, white and blue papers and addressed to the American people from the people of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. “Our hearts are with you,” “You are in our prayers,” “We send our love.” I watched a young teenage girl leave her mothers side to put a bouquet of daisies on the ground at the foot of the massed flowers and I went over to speak to her: “Excuse me,” I said, , “but as an American who feels very far from home right now,” and the tears started again, “I just wanted to say thank you very much.” I felt a touch on my arm and turned to see her mothers wet eyes as she smiled at me and said, “That’s OK.

That clock radio clicked on at 5:00AM that first morning and there was heard a segment of the first press conference held by the Mayor of New York. It made no sense at first; then facts filtered in, contexts drew lines, and there was a wavering instant when you hoped that it was some kind of fictional radio drama, “Orson Welles and the War of the Worlds,” but this was all true.

Two jets crashed into the twin towers of the 110 story World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. First one and then a second plane crashed into the towers, flames and fuel spilling into and through and down the building, trajectories and shards of wreckage and bodies falling down into the streets of New York like fireworks, and then the buildings themselves pancake down to the ground and thousands are killed. At the same time another plane flies into the Pentagon - 800 estimated killed - and a fourth plane crashes in a Pennsylvania wood, perhaps in an aborted attempt to crash into the White House. More deaths, and more waiting to see what is next.

After the 7:15AM Mass, which turns into a requiem, we spend the rest of the morning in dumb witness in front of the television. Most of the local broadcasting is curtailed as CNN, CBS, ABC, beam in directly from the east coast of the US with more news and pictures, the same pictures from different angles, over and over again, as the death toll rises, as suspicion points to a fundamentalist in Afghanistan. The day goes on and the flags over the Parliament building next door go to half mast, a report comes that people are putting flowers at the doors of the American consulate which has closed for the day, a service is scheduled at the Anglican Cathedral. I worry that I will cry too hard in public and be unable to stop.

Where does this begin and where will it end? Where does God meet all this? In the sad and angry tears of people left behind? In the graceful acts of courage, reconciliation, redemption: the firemen walking into the collapsing building, the doctor with a face dusted like a shroud continuing to care for the wounded and dying? In the dying victims: the two month old child carried by his father on the plane, the same father who decided to stop the hijackers, who in turn believed that this was Gods will for them? In the chaplain killed in giving the last rites to another victim. In the widespread pain of people waiting for word of a partner, a child, a parent, a friend, waiting and perhaps praying across this little fragile linked up world where we all are nerved together in the shocking light of this new holocaust. What does God mean here?

Perhaps the answer to all this is only in the attention, the listening, the very surrender necessary in prayer. Maybe there some peace is found; not certitude, not any kind of answer except that maybe God is big enough to reconcile all this somehow. There may be such love over all. But that does not ease.

In the afternoon my friend John and I drive to a meeting in Gembrook, a new retreat center an hour away from Melbourne. The people there have just gotten the news on the radio and want to talk about it, but I can’t hear more and go out for a walk on the grounds. John joins me after awhile and soon Tom, another trustee of the place, comes down the hill from the main house, crying hard himself, and the three of us end up sitting on a fallen log at the edge of the vegetable garden, empty now at the end of a dry Australian winter, and the beginning of an uncertain spring, and after some more talk and tears we end in silent prayer again.

And I remember what happened in December 1986, when an American plane flew into a mountaintop in Greenland the week before Christmas and several hundred people were killed. I was the acolyte at the midweek Eucharist at a local parish, nobody else was attending, I asked the celebrant if this Mass could be dedicated for those killed earlier in the day. And as the service went on I knew - could almost see - that they, the dead, were there; the very same ones who had been ripped out of the sky were somehow with us, that (and this is very hard to write) there was a tear in the world and the people who died could see us through the torn fabric of the cosmos, and could take comfort, solace, nourishment in our prayer, pain, remembering of connection with them, even though that very awareness came at the time when the connection was lost. And I knew with deep certitude that they were being fed with our tears, and that what we were doing and feeling mattered and made sense on a greater level than I had understood before.

Thursday we went to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The building was crowded and we sang Amazing Grace, and there were readings of Paul at his best from Romans and the Twenty third Psalm and the Beatitudes from Matthew and then the Consul General spoke briefly about how touched he was by all the flowers and tributes placed in front of the American consulate by the people of Melbourne. And at the end a soloist sang, American the Beautiful: “Thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears.” And so many of us cried for what had been lost and what we held dear and for what we didn’t know. And then we took the tram out to the consulate and I saw the little girl and the flowers.

After that John and I walked to the Botanical Gardens a few blocks further on St. Kilda Road. We stopped at the Shrine of Remembrance on the way, a memorial for the dead of WW1 and WW2, a tall stone building with plaques and books open to the names of people who died in Europe and the Pacific, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Far East: all the places of heroism and holocaust, places where the best and the worst of human nature was seen. From the balcony on the upper floor you can see the skyline of Melbourne and the water of Port Philip Bay, and at the foot of the monument, the eternal flame for the Royal Australian Air Force, and a small statue of a man leading a donkey loaded with a wounded soldier. The mans name was Simpson and he and the donkey tended to the wounded and dying in the midst of the battle of Gallipoli in WW1, taking water to the troupes and bringing back the wounded from the front lines for several weeks until they too were killed.

And I know that we do not need more wounded soldiers, we do not need another donkey carrying the victims of war and hatred and violence. We do not need to seek vindication of any kind. We have been there, we have done that, it does not work.

We walked into the Botanical Garden around three in the afternoon on this early spring day. Trees and flowers are starting to bloom, the weather was fine and across the pond from the tea house there was a wedding with a bride in white, men in dark suits, women in big flowered hats. Outside of the tea house we spoke to a man with three shy, grinning greyhounds named Bill, Ernest, and Wilma. In the line to be served a family in front of us - a grandmother, father and two sons around 10 and 12 - were making jokes about how much tea and how many cookies they could eat. We took our food and went to sit on the terrace outside overlooking the pond and it was a very peaceful place.

Listen: there is no reason to hate, there is no profit in anger, there is no glory in inflicting death or in dying for that matter. There is too much to love, too much to lose, too many who are worth far too much. And all we can do is keep the world open, keep our hearts open for the wideness of Gods mercy, for the depth of our connection to one another, to the constant surprise rising up of the fragility and the strength of love which does endure and will succeed. And this is heartbreaking work, but it must be done, so that we can remember again and again, how much there is to lose, how much to gain.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Pentecost 11A

 Today’s lessons give us three radical ways of seeing and living in the world; visions and living convictions and practices that make all things new. Moses turns around to see the burning bush and finds himself moving to enemy territory to save his people, to let the slaves of Egypt find freedom in a new and faithful pilgrimage.  Paul loses his allegiance to the old laws and is enlightened by a new understanding of God’s charity in the middle of the world, God’s word of love where he had never expected to find it: and Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, and take up our cross and follow him into a future that lives beyond death, that can only be found in faith.

So it needs to said right away, that when you step on this pilgrims’ path, it’s not always an easy road. Things go wrong. Moses gets the people past the deep water, well on the way to freedom and they start to complain that they preferred the certainties of Egypt to the risks of the road. Paul calls us to the great liberty of being a new creation in God and then starts backtracking to old rules and expectations: and the day before he takes up his cross, Jesus asks that he might be relieved of it. It seems the road forward doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally go backward. That was true then and it still happens now, with them and with all of us.

Linking to this, Walter Brueggemann, in a book called “The Prophetic Imagination” talks about two ways of living with God that he sees in the Old Testament as well as in the history of the church. The first is the “prophetic” stance we see the in faithful walk of Moses and the prophets; calling and looking for mercy and justice, for faith and love, for a faithful and living relationship with God fired by, awe, love and compassion.  Bruegemann contrasts this with the “royal” consciousness” that’s seen in the world of King Solomon; where the world is “safe” and God and the power structure are one, where everything under control, where the ongoing conversation between God and humankind we see with Moses and the prophets is replaced by a monotone of the more officially approved reality: God was in the temple, near the king, under wraps, and the people are living under a myth that keeps away the larger living questions about death and limits and responsibility and what it might mean to be human.

I might have told the story before about a young student who came to see me when I was a chaplain at RMIT University. Suffering from severe depression, she was a single mother, a first-generation Asian Australian and she didn’t know what to do with her life. At one point she turned to me with tears in her eyes and said, “I look on the web and go to the mall and I don’t see anything that looks like me; what is wrong with me?”

 I couldn’t tell her at the time, but what was wrong with her was that her vision was  drugged, her sight was skewed, she saw only what she was supposed to see, and in that world she would never be enough. Like the world of Solomon and the mall of his Jerusalem, that is the story of so much of what we hear and see on the web and at the mall: the world for so many of our friends, so many of the people we love.

And it is understandable. It’s a mall with great promises and shiny prizes,  where all things are vaguely possible, subtly encouraging us to be self-centered, controlling, living from crisis to crisis, fighting depression and stress while we strive for some great perfection that is always found just round the corner.  it is a world where everything seems possible sometime soon, an addictive world that drugs its life so that it will not feel the threat of death.

Some 25 years ago, Alan Jones, the Dean of Grace Cathedral, said we are invited to exchange a living death for the dying life of Jesus Christ. It made me stop and think then and it does the same now. Because Christ calls us to look at ourselves and the world in a whole new way, his life and ministry and the family he calls us to join are closer to the call of Moses than the courts of Solomon. Look at the Beatitudes! Look at the radical inclusivity and the wide open welcome of the Gospels that are echoed in Paul writing to the church at Rome.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

The story, the reality, of the life death and resurrection of Jesus shines a bright light, a deep truth, a burning love on our own lives, makes us turn around and leave the taken for granted world and all its worldly ways, call us to walk barefoot like a child to see this new life blooming in a place where we never would have looked. Jesus takes us to learn to look at death so that we can really see and love life, so that we can really live! It is a story, a pilgrimage, that is not easy to understand because it’s hard to focus on it. It’s like the action is bigger than the stage, it’s like Jesus the actor takes us out of the theatre where we view the world,  calling us to unwind the web, open up the mall, take off our shoes and let ourselves be made anew on this new road  which we can only walk by faith.

And look where it goes. Jesus renews Jerusalem by dying in Jerusalem. Jesus lives out a life of love by letting it go, give himself away as an offering to the God who is who is bigger than life. Just like Moses begins a journey that will take him beyond himself and bring a captive people home, just like Paul sees a love that is larger than law; so Jesus pours himself out into the lives of people he loves, so that we may be baptized, incorporated, into his death and life; so that we can rise with him into new life. But this cannot be easily understood.

Someone said, years ago,”The real question is how uncomfortable are you willing to let yourself be for the kingdom of heaven, the new creation, for God’s kingdom to come?” It is not easy to hear this, to live with this, but it is a very real question for all of us who are concerned about the future of the church, of living out God’s life and love in a world that is so tied up with the web and the mall.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

 To follow Jesus to Jerusalem is to walk into the unknown, to go into the old city in a new way, go beyond the old understanding of death into a new understanding of life. This is not easy to live with. I think Jesus keeps it a secret in Mark’s Gospel, because it is easier to talk it then to walk it, to try to think it out than to live it out. A professor of mine once said that, “Students came to seminary to learn to be godly and ended up being somewhat lordly instead”. That’s the risk, the problem for all of us. It is so easy to make our religion a way to spend time -- like the mall or the web -- rather than a pilgrimage, a place to pour ourselves out to the world God loves in the way of Jesus. To die in Jerusalem so that we might rise in larger life.

The young woman at RMIT did not just need a new credit card to buy new shoes to wear to the old mall; she needed to take off her shoes and see a new world, with a bigger vision of God than she ever knew, with a better understanding of herself than she ever hoped.She didn’t need to buy something, she needed to know there was a gift offered, that she should be ready to receive, and that is the same gift that we need to to be ready to receive, and that is why we’re here.

This Eucharist is a homecoming feast but it is also food for pilgrimage. It serves, to misquote St. Paul elsewhere, “To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”  It is a recipe for renewal and rebirth as well as a comfort in times of sickness and sorrow. And finally the Eucharist serves us so that we can go farther than we thought, be more than we knew, and give more than we ever knew we possessed.  It is where the poet Wendell Berry tells us, we must do something that does not compute: we must “Practice resurrection.”  And that is good news!

In the name of Christ.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pentecost 4A Sermon

I don’t know why it is, but in the last couple of months, possibly after turning 65 in April, I’ve been remembering the way I was when I was a young man. I had lots of opinions then about lots of things, and I made lost of lists: my top five or ten books, records, movies, places I wanted to visit, things I wanted to do, successes I planned to make. I made lists with people too. One summer I was living in a dormitory at my University and I remember sitting with three or four male friends ranking and rating other friends, people we knew, according to various criteria I would prefer not to share, because they say so much about how narrow and shallow and egotistic and insecure I was as a young man.

There were other lists that I kept on my own: I remember opening my wallet and pulling out my driver’s license, credit card, student body card, library card, gymnasium pass, Social Security card. I don’t remember what else was in there, but I spread them all out on my desk and looked at them as though they contained secret of my identity, a summary of who I was, tickets for a prize I thought I needed to collect.

So see this kid quick to make judgments, issue summary statements, offer evaluations, sum up. But know under all these judgements this there were
as a tremendous insecurity such fears that I wouldn’t fit in, couldn’t make the grade. I wanted so badly to be someone, but I was scared I would be nobody.

Fast-forward some years later when I was at seminary and a professor gave a sermon in our chapel about the parable from the Gospel of St. Matthew that we just heard.  He pointed out that, if we were God’s ground, we could not help ourselves. We could not, if we were shallow, deepen ourselves. We could not, if we were stony ground, clear ourselves. We could not, if we were caught with distractions, clarify ourselves. We had, as one confession used to say, no health in ourselves to save ourselves.

And by that time I knew enough about myself to know I was a pretty mixed bag, a field which varied from dry to deep, with diversions and distractions, not much discipline and not enough dedication: I wasn’t the best bet for a plentiful harvest, and if you were making a list of likely places for good growth to take place I wouldn’t have made the top 10 on anyone’s list.

But then I thought of those people gathered around Jesus when he told the story of the sower and the seed which fell on various kinds of ground for the first time. There may have been some who live too close to the highway, got too distracted too easily; others might have been hobbled by bad habits or lack of discipline, lacked the tenacity or vision to lead new beginnings rooted in their ground.  Still others would have gotten caught on various thorny issues, lost focus, lost hope, given up too soon with all the distractions that modern life is full of, there were probably some people there who made too many lists. Yet the disciples of Jesus, gathered around the Lord that day at the crossroad heard that story and they still followed him into God knows where: and then and now that gives me such a surprise of joy.

Because those first disciples are such a rag tag bunch, concerned about the wrong things, showing reckless courage when they should just be patient, being fearful when they ought to be faithful, speaking out too soon on the wrong topics when they could have learned to listen to a new way. None of them are not great ground to seed a faith that will change the world

Yet this is to be the foundation of our family of faith. They are, as Paul puts it, God’s field, and what a mixed up ground it is! Yet that gives me tremendous hope and joy and courage; because if they can make it, then so can I. And so can every one of us!

For God plants his seed in our lives; in all the circumstances where we live and move and have our being, at school or at home or at tea, in every community: For these raw towns, ranches of isolation, dysfunctional families, desperate friends, are places where, to quote Auden, “we must learn to love one another or die,” and where we must let ourselves be loved as well. That’s where the answer comes, because the seed is the love of God, and that can make miracles happen everywhere.

St. Paul says, to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  Only a young person or a very silly disciple would think that they could make a list of how the world worked and what in the main mattered. That’s so deadly, but so many of us do try to make a success of it, to get the winning ticket, the right prizes, to be anything but what we are. And God comes to love us as we are, to cast his seed amongst our barren busy fields that we may give good growth, and God does not work alone.
So we come here to be together with God, to look for life and peace and growth.

For the spirit breathes us together like love, inspires us to work for the common good, makes us see new beginnings and learn new options beyond our old and desperate ways. That’s what it means to be church! Go back to those earlier disciples and see how they’re changed: Christ forges them together to the community who can learn from God and one another, who can serve God and one another. It is the same with us.

Through good grace and God’s love, we come to see that we are not alone, in our many misunderstanding, and our little lost lists, in the juvenile judgments and those strange finalities which we follow to make us safe from others who might scare us, those sad compulsions to keep us separate from the people who could save us, who can redeem us from such isolation, connect us to community. But we are past that here. We are here to be the church, God’s great harvest, God’s good friends.

For what blooms from those many seeds, cast with such love by our Creator God, given out to people in every field of life, to the lame and the lost, the lonely and the loud, those guilty of depravity or distraction or deception, is nothing less than love, and that can open the soil, can change the world, can give us hope. The seed of God’s love can land in the center of each of our lives and gives us both growth and grace as we grow together, travel together, turn to the Son together, move to the light together. For in coming to be Christ’s Church we have found a common font of purpose that will let our very ground be renewed by God’s grace.

So in looking back to that shallow little boy all those years ago, I feel a little bit of embarrassment and a surprising lot of joy. I thank God for friends and favors I found along the way: companions and comrades who helped me clear my fields, weed my distractions, deepened my compassion and grow my understanding to help me find my way home.

It was those people, God’s friends and messengers, both then and now, both inside and outside the church, who help me to come to know the body of Christ, of which by grace, we are members. Those angels of good news open my eyes, my mind, my heart, the ground of my being, to God’s grace. And all of them together with God help me clear land, fertilize fields, deepen capacity and understanding, make me show up for the gift of a good harvest.

It is the same for all of us.  For God still casts his seed wide all over the world, every day in every way, in all our soiled history and hope, to make strong green growth where Christ’s compassion and love blooms brightly: for that is what it means to be the church, to be his body, the church, a loving community renewed by faith where common ground lifts Christ’s life, rising into new beginning, to a world where the harvest will be gathered with wonderful grace and great joy. And this is our hope, for we are the body of Christ.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Trinity Sunday, Holy Trinity Church, Benalla

Better preachers than I have gone down in flames on Trinity Sunday: not from Pentecostal fire but trying to describe and draw out the models and theories that are around this Christian dogma and doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Ever since the leaders of the Christian churches gathered in Constantinople early in the fourth century to hammer out the definition of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, there have been so many inadequate teaching sermons. I hope this is not one more.

But in the end we are not here to understand the Trinity but to experience it: to evidence in our lives what we say we believe with our tongues, to let the daily motions and ministries of our days be manifestations and messages of the God in whom we live and move and have our being. So that the Holy Trinity might finally be less of a doctrine and more of a dance.

But how do you move to the motion of the Trinity, how do you get there here?

I want to share something called Spiritual Directions; which started out as three questions, moved into a design and  curriculum for quiet days and retreats as well as parish-based program, and now one diocesan model for Group Spiritual Formation, something you might want to consider using in this parish. Here are the three questions:

Who sits at the table in the middle of your life?
Where are you taking a faithful journey?
How do you find fresh air on the way?

First, who sits at your table? Picture a round table in the middle of your head; 12 people, more or less, sit there and try to run your life. They are probably not always the same people, and maybe you don’t even know who they all are. Speaking of my own table, my mother and father are often there, good friends, heroes and teachers and characters from books and stories I’ve heard: the Bible is there as well as the BCP, T.S Eliot and Thomas Merton have seats, as well as occasionally advertising slogans and songs I know. Sometimes people show up who don’t like me very much. Some I know well, others surprise me.  Everyone thinks it is a board of directors meetings and they are the ones in charge, so it gets noisy at times

I started inviting people to this table when I was a little boy: other people’s ideas of good or bad or right or wrong, popularity or principles, what was worth working for, who I could trust. And this population can be a very mixed bag. But where do they come from?  I think they are our God given participation in creating, building and naming a world. It starts in the first chapter of Genesis and it continues to the present day: the creativity of God moves, from a disordered world to have balanced creation, from Chaos to Cosmos, from an anomalous mess to a world that matters.  And this ordering impulse continues within the way we order our worlds. I think we all do it!

For our table-building is part of our creative life with God, our attempt to make the world makes sense, to hold together; but generally it isn’t a lively enough, it falls flat because, as Moses says, we are a headstrong people, and because it is only a child’s exercise. So we come to know that we need the help we can only get by going beyond the table.

So, where are you taking a faithful journey?

I think the most essential motion of being human can be seen when we’re walking along and the path comes to a corner, the road takes a curve, when we can’t see the way ahead, and we have to go on by faith. This happens all the time: a child starting the first day of school, beginning a new job, falling in love, getting married, getting divorced, dealing with illness, the death of a loved one, facing our own death -- any failure or success or surprise; life turns corners and in that time we must travel blindly with whatever faith we can find.

This morning’s Gospel comes from John, where Jesus always speaks with ultimate authority. But in Matthew, Mark and Luke, we can see another, sometimes subtler picture of this human being, full of the glory of God, being as surprised as we are by chaos and community and gift and grace and life and death and all the rest: There God in Christ is wholly on the human way, where open-ended quandaries and questions take us in new directions, make us new people in a new world.

And here is God’s good news, as Lord and Savior and friend meeting us on the journey, walking towards that unfinished frontier, to bring us home at the last.

In our human lives, there’s always tension between the Table and the Journey. The table argues from history and for tradition, what other people said, what has worked before: but the experience of the journey calls us to give up our lives as a committee meeting and take it up as pilgrimage, as kenosis, as a self-giving offering to God. Just like Jesus; dying to the demands of old laws so that we may rise up in new love. Do you hear the tension between the two? The table is worried it might be incomplete, the journey learns to rejoice that by God’s grace it is unfinished. These two motions seem worlds apart and there seems to be no way they can dance together, perhaps no way they can help but suffocate each other.

How do you find fresh air on the way?

The only chance to bring these two together is the place where we meet the spirit, in the middle of our daily lives, where, Augustine says, God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, in a breath of fresh air. For God’s fresh air is the same spirit-breathing the words, “Let there be light!” at the start; the same breath calling “Repent” by the Prophets all those times when Israel starts worshiping money or power, or religion for that matter; The same breath-spirit in the angel speaking to Mary and the same breath in Mary’s, “Let it be to me according to your word.” The same breath in Jesus saying “Blessed are the poor”, the same breath saying, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”

Throughout the Hebrew scripture. Israel usually doesn’t know what to do with God’s breath and God’s word in the middle of daily life, and neither do we. Like them lie Jesus, we have to let God’s breath breathe us day by day, here and now, with all our living and our dying, with all glory and gall that Jesus found on the way, so that we all share in his resurrection. The fact is that we can’t get there from here on our own: the good news is that we don’t have to.

This does not save us from uncertainty - there are no shortcuts here - but it assures us that God breathes us, inspires us, now and always, and that there is no place where we can be separate from the love of God, from the creativity of the father, the compassion of Christ, the indwelling of the spirit, whether we know it or not.

So these three things: just as God creates a world, we build a kind of table and usually get it wrong. Then Jesus joins us in our journey, calling us to take the pilgrim path where nothing is certain except that everything can be a gift from God; joining us right though the middle of life to learn the crucial difference between being incomplete and unfinished.

And  finally, the spirit, inspiring and indwelling in our bodies, sends us to speak and serve good news, to feed every table with the bread of life and the cup of salvation; to make the whole world a community called to take the pilgrim way where the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the holy Spirit, the most Holy Trinity is with us all, now and always. Amen.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pentecost 2011

Let me confess first that I spent too many years in school some years ago,, And though I loved it, in spite of a lot of time as a student, I often found it very difficult to speak up in class. Usually, when I was asked to answer a question or, more infrequently, when I raised my hand to ask one, my voice would break and I would either go over the top and talk too much or go down in flames by saying too little. Anyway it was not easy. But it was the worst when trying to learn a foreign language. I avoided it for a long time, but in my early thirties, after years of moving between working full-time in our family printing business and attending several tertiary institutions part-time, I was finally finishing my bachelors degree at the University of California. Except that I needed to pass one year of a foreign language and I couldn’t do that.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried: I’d enrolled more than once, tried Spanish, French, even Latin, and I’d attend for a while but I just couldn’t speak: so I’d drop the class or, if I waited too long, I would simply fail.

To make it worse, I had been accepted for a Masters degree in religion. So I remember, early in the summer of 1980, talking to the Seminary Dean, asking for a postponement into the program so I could have more time to finish my bachelors degree, then coming home and walking into the back yard and looking up at the sky and saying, “I am doing the best I can, and it’s not good enough, so I am giving it all to you.”

And the air and the light and time and my life seemed to change just for a second, in some very subtle, indescribable ways, and though I still didn’t know what the end would be, I felt better for it, ready for some unknown door to open. And six weeks later, I remember sitting in the back of a another Spanish classroom with some anxiety, but with a growing excitement that that I might learn to speak a new language after all.

And I did. I finally graduated that year, with encouraging friends, good teachers, a wonderful counselor, and a growing sense that God’s grace would keep me going, that God’s love, God’s breath, could keep my mind and my mouth open, give me good words, that God would keep me from going down in flames.

So today I think of those gathered followers of Jesus, that day in Jerusalem when the spirit came upon them like flames and they spoke to strangers, in languages they didn’t know they knew, of the mighty acts of God. What must that have been like for them? Were they scared? Did they wonder, “How do you speak God’s Word in a different language?” And how do you speak to people you don’t know?

Actually we do it all the time, and language is always situational. I don’t talk to a 10-year-old in the same way I’d talk with a 60 year-old or use the same vocabulary with a new acquaintance that I will with an old friend. Geography makes a difference too: my accent and idiom change depending on whether I’m talking to someone from California or Australia. Over there my father’s sister is my ant, here she has become my aunt. I move from “good for you!” to “good on you!”, from “no problem” to “no worries.” For words and language depend on where we are and who we’re with; because they are grounded on something deeper than words.

But there still must have been a moment of tension and grace for these early Christians at Pentecost: committed to walk the way of Jesus, realizing they were called to tell the world of their experience of God’s power, God’s mercy, God’s light, which they knew in the life of this Jesus and in their own lives. To take up the call to to speak this Gospel with the grace of God’s breath and in the particularities of their own voice, and in a new tongue. That must have given them pause, made then wonder where they were going and what they would say. That hasn’t changed much.

Listen: there are two sides to every message: first, what you need to say from within your own heart, and second, how it is heard by the person you’re speaking with. I bet we’ve all listened to speeches and lectures and  sermons where we’ve wanted to go up and ask the speaker, “Who in Gods name are you speaking to?  Because it wasn’t anybody here!” I think we’ve all had times like that (though, hopefully not too recently!).

So I finally learned to speak enough Spanish to graduate from University, and then seminary and, except for learning a little Biblical Greek, I haven’t taken a foreign language class since. But I still had to deal with the task of translation when I took a job as a Resident Minister working with students at the University of San Francisco.

For I had learned about Scripture and theology and ethics and pastoral care and all that stuff in an academic setting; and now I had to speak naturally about these concerns to young people who were just away from home, living in a dormitory in a new city, learning so many new ways and things that they didn’t need a long-winded lecture from me or anyone else.

So I prayed, I talked to friends and people who knew more, and I realized I had to learn to speak to these students in words and terms, phrases and images, that they would understand. We’re back to the Bible: “How do we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”.

And I learned to speak to them by listening to them. By listening to their concerns and questions, to what they feared and what gave them joy, made them laugh or cry.  Then I might speak something of my understanding of how God created, redeemed, played and stayed in the world, using terms and phrases and images and hopes that came on our ongoing conversations. It took time to do this, but we came to love each other in the process. Through the grace of God and Facebook, I am still in touch with many of them. They are now in their mid-thirties, sometimes married with children, making money and mistakes and living wonderful lives. The conversations continue and I give thanks for that.

One other thing happened some 15 years ago. A student-friend told me he had been diagnosed with a “language phobia” and the University said that he did not have to take a foreign language in order to graduate. So there was finally a name for it. If only I had known, I might have gotten through those language classes a bit easier. But looking back I saw that what had seemed a liability was merely the wrappings of a difficult gift of love; a gift I needed to receive, a gift I needed to learn to give.

We are now living in a time when we need to learn to speak the Lord’s word, sing the Lord’s song, in new languages. Because the world is changing, and those of us who’ve been around for awhile are all living in a foreign world: and this renewed evangelism, both in the church and in the world, might be frightening, might cause us to break into a sweat, or catch our breath, and want to hide, and it might grow us up more than we want, but it needn’t be that painful.

For St Francis said that we should “preach the Gospel at all times: if necessary, using words”. That’s part of the life in Christ we are called to today; just like those disciples and apostles starting conversations on the edge of the Roman empire. And that conversation continues here and now; with the friend, the neighbor, the stranger, our young; preaching at all times, with words if necessary, but often in silent and eloquent actions, by holding them in our hearts and listening to them in the light of love; and only then in reaching out to meet them using words and phrases, metaphors and meanings, found in our common lives and love. That’s what friends do. That’s even what God does in Christ, meeting us where we are with love. And that’s our gift and our glory, our call and commission and our part in the ongoing conversation in the spirit which we celebrate today in this feast of Pentecost.

In the name of Christ.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Sunday 2011

I want to take a little circle tour here, First with a poem from the great monk and priest Symeon, the New Theologian, written about a thousand years ago and translated by Stephen Mitchell. Symeon writes:

We awaken in Christ’s body

as Christ awakens our bodies

and my poor hand is Christ, He enters

my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully

my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him

(for God is indivisibly 

whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once

He appears like a flash of lightening.

Do my words seem blasphemous? - Then 

Open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one

who is opening to you so deeply.

For if we genuinely love Him

We wake up inside Christ’s body. 

where our body, all over,

every most hidden part of it, 

is realized in joy as Him, 

and he makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything

that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably

damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,

and radiant in his light

we awaken as the Beloved 

in every last part of our body. 

But how does this Jesus, this dying-rising miracle man, become a way of life renewed, a pledge of love and life meeting and transcending death? How can we make sense of this crucified and resurrected one who pledges to meet us in the middle of the day and at the end of the road? And, as importantly, if this is true, how do we respond in our own living and dying, as friends and followers of this Jesus? How do we live our lives, order our priorities, spend our days?

I think we can best see Jesus with a kind of double vision; like two strands of DNA interweaving to create new life: First, there is the majesty of the savior walking through history, the son of the distant king, coming among us and reminding us who and whose we are. This is the big picture, the royal pilgrimage, Jesus as a great holy hero, a miracle man reminding us of the immeasurable distance between humankind and God, as Scripture says elsewhere, “My ways are not your ways.” As we listen to the Gospel story we come to  see the immensity of God, how big the reality of God is, how far it all extends, how long it might go on.

But Jesus also shows us how close God is willing to come: close enough to meet  foreigners and fallen women, noisy tax-gatherers and inquisitive temple personnel, self-proclaimed saints and sentenced sinners too. To each of them and every one of us, Jesus offers the ultimate intimacy of God, an invitation to speak love, make love, let love live in us: meeting with us in the very middle of our lives. That’s the close-up: we are face to face with the great humanity of Christ, when God comes, as St Augustine puts it, closer to us than we are to ourselves.

And that’s the surprising place where the Gospels take us, into the mystery, into the moment where Jesus prays that we may be one with him as he is one with the Father. “I in them and they in me…  so that they may be one as we are one.” That is the connection, the communion we are called into, the relationship that is offered to all of us, comes to all of our lives lived in the insight of God’s love! 

All of our lives: that is the tough part of the Good News; not just in the peak moments, the happy travels, the good years, the precious harvest. But in the times when life is spare and sad, when hopes fail, when death seems to stalk us, in those times as well. When the crowd comes unfriendly and the end is in sight: Then he is one with us as well, intimate with each of us: meeting our failures and our endings: when the snakes bite, the sadness stays, the story pours out towards failure and a sad ending, he meets our death. He dies with us for that very reason.

For if anyone shouldn’t die, it would be him. So if he dies, meeting death as we all will, and if we are, as he says, one with him, then all our deaths meet his death and his life too. For in the loving life of Jesus, God love sews the thread of a majestic love and a deep connection right through the middle of everything. That amazing intimacy, where God hugs the world with the outstretched arms of Christ on the cross, threads through life and death, success and failure, ending and beginning, weaving past, present and future into one eternal now where love is all in all.

This is not easy to understand, and can be seen as a sacred mystery, as all loves are, as so much of life is. Listen: as a person who really can’t understand how his computer works, I don’t worry too much about the mechanics of it: how all the parts fit together or how it might be diagramed. As long as it works, I can’t live without it. And as I go along the Christian way, I worry less about doctrines and trust more in the love and the light, the heart of the journey, and the hope of coming home at the end.

But we’re not there yet, we’re still on the road. But the Good News is that God is on the way as well, has taken this route, walks besides, will see us home. All we need to do is live towards the light, do what we can, give over when we can’t, to allow God to live in us, love us, so that we can begin again, day after day, now after now, to learn over and over to live in that love, face that face of forgiveness, mercy, renewal, humility, hope. And to keep letting God love us  - - even when everything falls flat and all we can do is cry, “Why have you forsaken me now?” For God can be there, has been there, will be there, too. 

Again, Symeon the new Theologian

We awaken in Christ’s body

as Christ awakens our bodies

and my poor hand is Christ, He enters

my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully

my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him

(for God is indivisibly 

whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once

He appears like a flash of lightening.

Do my words seem blasphemous? - Then 

Open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one

who is opening to you so deeply.

For if we genuinely love Him

We wake up inside Christ’s body. 

where our body, all over,

every most hidden part of it, 

is realized in joy as Him, 

and he makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything

that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably

damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,

and radiant in his light

we awaken as the Beloved 

in every last part of our body.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Dying like Jesus, a Good Friday sermon from awhile ago

You don't expect to end up in a deathwatch. Nobody does. It doesn't matter what your name is or where your from, whether Geelong or Melbourne, Berkeley or San Francisco, Jerusalem or Galilee. It doesn’t matter whether its here and now or there and then, you are just one more unnamed disciple. It doesn't matter much.

What does matter is that somehow you met this Jesus one day and things turned around. He seemed to offer a way into the mystery of life, a way through the accumulated smog of evasion and denial and obfuscation: all the tired and tried and less than true ways where we fail to meet life or each other: where we waste time. He seemed to come just in time, to speak a word, to be a way to get past all the dead ends in the world into something that was new -- both more holy, and more fully involved with flesh and blood and community and relationship. More life. New life.

But maybe you were wrong (and maybe he was too) because here you are at the end of the week, where what you thought would be the new beginning and the final goal of your life will soon be turned into a tomb with a stone put across the way.

And you saw it all: the betrayal by friends, the sham trial, the worst aspects of religious and civil society, the hierarchy at its lowest. Though none of that is really new, and you can see it on your television every day. But what was different here, what showed up with such contrast, is that this death-dealing happened to the liveliest person you had ever known.

The man shone with hope! A hope that enabled you to see your own life, path, ministry and meaning with a clarity and depth you never had managed before: an enlightening love that connected you with yourself and others too; extending out like a beam of light widening out to exclude nothing and nobody! Because this Jesus made it all seem new. It was like you saw the world through his bright eyes, and all were connected, cleaned up and clarified, everyone and everything somehow born again. And now all that has gone dark and dead.

The liveliest human being is dead. After the speedy execution, the friends peeling off to their confused solitude, the rich man offer a resting place for the one who had seemed to be such a beginning. You're standing there because there seems to be nowhere else to go from here. But where can you go from here?

What do you do when hope dies? Where do you go when the ideals and ideas, the stuff, the breath, the face, that gave you joy, started your heart jumping, led you to live; when all that falls away, and you see the dead-on possibility that personal, social, corporate, religious, political, bureaucracy, mediocrity, evil might just win after all?

You turn away from the cross and look back to the City, Geelong, Berkeley, Jerusalem, here and now, then and there, wherever. And it might not be too late to go back there, to follow the herd, merge with the majority, carefully avoiding any confrontations that might lead to more blood flow, because next time it might be yours. So the safer way from here is to avoid excessive hope, stay away from too much love, keep to the shadows, live life low.

But maybe it is too late for that now. Even if Jesus is dead, even if it is or was just a glorious daydream; the idea of expecting less than a miracle of life, even in the face of the death of hope, looks like a kind of living death. And that just can't happen now. Maybe you have seen too much light, remember too much of the sun, even in this benighted land, to put on spiritual dark glasses and play it safe.

You look at the waiting city, and just for an instant it is as if you are seeing it the way he saw it, as if the light were still there, coming from somewhere behind you, but stretching out like the start of some indefinable kind of sunrise. Even if it is in opposition to everything you have ever known, there might be another way.

Maybe you will just have to die to that old way of life and try to live like Jesus too. Even if it doesn't last long, even if you end up here again, in your own time. It is not the worse way to go. It is learning to live and die in the sight and light of love. And maybe, just for a little while, his dying life can live in you, and you can remember him in your limited days.

You will go now, into your own city, carrying the seed of something you cannot understand, something that has to do with love and life and death and what will last. You will return to the city that does not know how much it has to lose or gain. But you will remember what you have heard and seen. And something more.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Evensong Sermon, 26 March 2011

When the Dean asked me to give a homily tonight and to relate the readings to the labyrinth, I must admit I wondered, but when I read the Gospel for tonight, I really decided it was a questionable enterprise. So let’s start with three questions:

Where do you come from?
Where do you stand right now?
Where are you going from here?

We’ve had some pointed questions today, in the Gospel this morning with Jesus and the woman at the well, and they continue here in this evenings lesson with the accusations that are gathered around the high priests house.

Three questions or accusations to Jesus: variations on the same question and not unrelated to our first series of questions.

1 - Did you say, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.
2 - Is what they are saying true?
3 (And under oath) Are you the chosen one of God?

Jesus’s response is one that is both mysterious and profound.

“You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven”

And outside of the high priests house, in the courtyard, three questions or accusations to Peter -- or variations on one question with three similar answers.

Q You were with the Galilean  A I don’t know what you’re talking about
Q You were with the Nazarene. A I don’t know the man
QYou are one of them A I swear I never knew the man

Where do you come from?
Where do you stand right now?
Where are you going from here?

If you haven’t walked a labyrinth you won’t know, but there are times when you’re on the way, the path of it, and you look around, and you are a little lost, and you’re not sure where you are relative to where you started or where you want to go. And the person who was in front of you for such a long while, now seems to be far away, and you fear that you’ve crossed some line and are on the way out when you were supposed to be on the way in, but maybe that’s for the best because you’re frustrated and - “For god’s sake, it’s from France of California or something and let’s just go get dinner or something!”

But the genius of the labyrinth is that it meets you where you are, and if you continue on your way you will find yourself where you should be. You might get surprised, or frustrated, or even agitated on the way, It may take more or less time than you expected, but you’ll make it home at the last. That sometimes is not easy to take.

Almost twenty years ago I lost a job that seemed to me a very important one. It was hard to take and I started working with a priest/spiritual director/therapist. I was fighting against a growing depression and one day he looked at me and said, “I know this is not easy for you, but you are exactly where you should be.”

I could have hit him, but he was right. I was in a place where I needed to answer some questions about meaning and motives and ministry, and it would take some serious and painful introspection.

Two one liners fit here, First, shortly before his death. Dag Hammarskj√∂ld wrote this in his spiritual journal, posthumously published as “Markings;” “The road chose you and you must be thankful.” Next, from a bumper sticker some years ago: “If you are not worried, perhaps you do not fully understand the situation.”

Jesus is asked where he comes from, what he stands for, and what the end of all this will be. And he must know what is coming if..., if what started in love, a ministry of love, of presence, of mercy will last, will continue That there might be pain, then it might hurt, then it will could take  him to hell and back and beyond any human understanding of what life and death and love and connection, to God and to one another,could mean. But he’s not going to leave the way, he’s staying on that mysterious labyrinth, he’s following the path. And that is as it should be.

Peter looks, on the other hand, like he’s losing the thread, He denies who he’s with, how he’s connected, and what he loves. Peter curses the greatest blessing he will ever know. And he runs away from it all, for a little while anyway.

Where do you come from?
Where do you stand right now?
Where are you going from here, and where will you end up?

When you’re on the labyrinth there are times when you lose the idea of yourself as being on somebody else’s journey, when you feel utterly alone, and you just have to go ahead, step by step, now by now. Even if you fear you’ve lost your way, even if you aren’t even sure you want to continue, and you are no longer the person you were when you started, you just keep on the way.

Jesus stays true to the love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” to the end and beyond, Peter stalls, cuts and runs, returns later and gets back on the path to the end. And in the end he goes where he’s supposed to go, and he meets Jesus again and again and again on the way.

But not right now. Can you see them so far apart, so that it is hard to think that Peter, even Peter, is where he is supposed to be: so far from Jesus, so far from where he started, so far from home. But he gets there at the last; and maybe be he needs to take all the time it takes. Maybe he was exactly where he was supposed to be in order to learn what he needed to know. Perhaps what looked like a detour was the crucial step on his final pilgrimage home.

An American baseball player, Satchel Page, once said, “wherever you go, there you are!” and this evening, if you find yourself wondering where you come from, where you find firm ground right now, and where you’ll going from here; then you are in the right place. Hold fast to the path, the way, the long route home, and if you lose the way every once in awhile,it is all right. Know this: you are forgiven, maybe even blessed, if you keep trying, come back, one more time again to walk the long way home with the God who comes to be known as the way and the truth and the life.  Amen.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

On The Advantages Of Being Less Sure And Seeing Clearly - rewritten from a few years ago

I was pretty sure of things twenty five years ago. I was taking an intern year away from the Episcopal seminary where I had been studying and was in the middle of an intern year as a youth minister in a small town in Northern California, I had been hitting the gym faithfully, religiously even, and was in the best shape of my life, I was on a proper professional track at the church where I was serving, and I was engaged to be married to a wonderful woman whom I loved and who loved me. So everything was in place, as I was sure it should be, with the exception of the transmission of my car Рwhich was not working at all - and so I found myself on a long and circuitous bus and subway trip to get from Eureka, the town where I was working, to San Francisco, then across the Bay to Berkeley, the city where my seminary and fiancée were waiting. I was so happy, so proud, so sure. I have learned more since then, and in most ways I think I am both happier and more real, but I have never been that sure of myself.

So I took this long bus ride down the Redwood Highway and I read a book on ministry and wrote in my journal and thought about my life, and when I got into San Francisco I went into the nearest BART station, the local interurban subway/railway, to catch the train to Berkeley. And this black guy, African American came up alongside of me on the platform and I could see that he wasn’t walking too steady and his clothes looked a little rough and he might have smelled, though from work or dirty clothes or booze I don’t remember. And he said, “Where do I get the train to Oakland?” and he was right next to me.

So I looked towards the track to our right and said, “I think you’ll find it over there.” And he raised his voice a bit and said, “I don’t want to know what you think, I want to know what you know.” And I thought, “Well, I am going to get mugged or worse, here it comes. And I said, “It’s right over there.” And he said, “Look at me!” And I took a breath and looked up at him – and I saw a man who was probably a bit older than I, and tired, probably harder working than I had ever been, who had a few scars and some real serious dignity that he had likely had to fight for over the years.  And I felt sorry, both for him and, surprisingly, for me, and I wasn’t afraid anymore. And I looked at him and said, “the train for Oakland will be on this platform. And he looked at me for a minute and then said, “Thank you,” and walked away.

And I felt like I saw something about me that I hadn’t seen before. Something about how narrow I was, how snobbish, self-serving, insulated by my own concerns from a world that was big and unpredictable and unsafe and full – maybe – of messengers of God that I might have overlooked in my narrowness of vision. I saw that day that I didn’t see much, about myself and about Gods’ world at all. It’s been twenty five years since, and I can still see his face. I never knew his name, never will. But I have a hunch who he might have been and why he spoke to me.

The part of the Gospel that spoke to me in that encounter, that lit it up further and turned it into a kind of icon, was the story in John where Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well. And the question that sparked for me then, and continues to speak to me today is this: What is in your vision? Who do you see? And who sees you? And how is that for you?  There is so much in that biblical encounter scene that I want to cut it down from a very complicated scene in a major motion picture to a couple of photos, a few quick snaps to focus on some things so that we can see what might be happening from a different angle.

Now at first glance nobody sees anybody in the story. Jesus asks the woman at the well for some water and she’s amazed that he doesn’t seem to see she is Samaritan – someone that a good Jew would avoid, keep away from, not share water, utensils, let alone conversation, And she tells him this, then they start talking for real. The pictures become close-ups.

Now Jesus says something very direct. “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

And maybe the Samaritan woman sees that there is someone, something out of the ordinary here; worth the chance of a direct encounter and she looks at him, and says,  “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water…are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well? She asks him questions concerned with practicality, history, culture and custom

Then Jesus comes back with one of those memorable one-liners that make the Gospel of John such a majestic document. ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’

And if they weren’t looking at each other face to face before, they are now. And she says, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’ Save me from need, from the daily walk to the well, give me some rest. Can you see them talking now?

 A quick and very direct dialogue follows: like one, two three.
“Go, call your husband, and come back.”
“I have no husband.”
“Right… you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”

Let’s pause for two quick questions here: what do you do when you see the Messiah? And what do you do when the Messiah sees you? What do you do when the one who is the ultimate word of God’s love and knowledge and compassion and concern is face to face with you and telling you the story of your life?

The man on the subway platform in San Francisco forced me to look at him, and in that moment I saw parts of myself that I had never seen before. But I also realized that when we were looking at each other, when he forced me to meet him face to face, that he forgave me. It took me a little longer to come to terms with the depth of my racism and classism and the shallowness of my egoism: all that took awhile and in some way it is still working its way out. But that was my problem, not his. He had already forgiven me.  It was both all over and all new at that moment.

Can you imagine what it would feel like for that woman? All the mistakes made, the wrong roads taken, the commandments broken and defenses and denials made up to protect the little girl who got lost on the wrong way a long time before: most of us know something about that path. Then to have Jesus look on you and know you, and love you and forgive you: all over and all new at that moment. What if we looked at all our own history with the deep love and forgiveness of God that we see in the life and teaching, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the human face of God face to face with us, walking and talking along side us, in the middle of life with us, in love with us? What if we could see our way clear to forgive and love ourselves that much? What if we could forgive and love each other too?

That’s why we are come together as church, in our particular subway stations of the sprit, to look for God in those we overlook, to be forgiven and renewed by those we’ve never seen clearly before, including ourselves. As William Blake writes, we are here “to learn to bear the beams of love,” and to forgive and to see one another, ourselves, our God: in the light of grace and forgiveness and love of Jesus Christ. Sometimes it is not easy, but it can be wonderful. So we stop here on in the middle of the journey of our lives, to come to the table and take the nourishment, bread and wine, living water, the flesh and blood and love of God into our lives. So that we can see it all – the world, the friend, the stranger, more clearly when we meet them all face to face, and so that we can continue the ministry of Christ, to be messengers of repentance, refreshment, forgiveness and renewal, enlightenment. To see the world in God’s light and God’s love and God’s life. All in the name of Christ.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lent2A - Harvest Festival

What does it mean to be born again?

A Pharisee, a leader, Nicodemus, comes to Jesus by night: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God,” and Jesus answers him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

So is he saying that Nicodemus, having seen these things, has been born from above: that’s he’s been reborn and doesn’t know it. Maybe, but Nicodemus’s not sure, he asks, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? And Jesus answers, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”

He says a lot more, with phrases that have given heart and cause confusion to a lot of people in the last two thousand years, and our selection from John’s Gospel ends with this phrase: “God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn, but in order that the world might be saved [made finally whole, find its right end, get home at last] through him.”

And what does that mean? How can we see the kingdom, how can we born again, how do we make it home at the last? Now you can find people who say it is a simple matter, “sign on the dotted line, simply have faith, and all will be well,” but that’s not my experience after living with this text for over 40 years, ever since I started looking for the kingdom, this new birth, this new reality of life, as a young man. No an easy answer, but maybe something better. For looking deeply into these texts might point you to a reality that is more than words: more vibrant, something that pushes back; like human flesh, like God meeting human flesh, and I want to share some ways we can explore the reality of this relationship

Many in the Anglican tradition make room with a model for learning and discernment that uses the image of a four-legged stool - with one leg each in scripture, tradition, reason and experience. It’s a way we keep our faith spacious, balanced, intimate and honest. But in no way is it easy.

First, we are people of the Scripture, and our daily lives need to be seen and understood in the history, poetry, genealogy, prophesy, revelation we see in the Hebrew Scripture, which we call the Old Testament, as well as in the Christian Gospels, Acts, Epistles and Revelation that we know as the New Testament. And don’t look for too much stained glass all the time: more politics, power plays, shortcuts, love, hate, sex, poetry, violence, history, hope, faith, bad weather and good news. This is both a family history and the foundational story of who we are a humans, the people who have tried - sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, sometimes turning aside and getting it wrong, and starting again and again - to follow God.

We are also a people who have gathered, prayed, considered, and reflected in the light of those books for the last two thousand years. So there is an immense body of work, more writings, poetics, prophesy and politics, that need be considered: the work of the community gathered prayerfully throughout history, with bad mistakes and new beginnings, a deep and profound tradition that resounds and responds to the mighty acts of God over time, to the present day. So, Scripture and Tradition.

Then, we are a people who believe as well that the Spirit of God never ceases working in the whole world. In that light we use our reason to evaluate all good thoughts and actions, from all peoples and places and cultures, through education, the social and natural sciences, all technology, art and media, as ground for inspiration, redemption, recreation. We believe that the creation is good and we are not afraid to use our God-given reason.

And, finally, in light of the incarnation of God in Christ; we honor our very own lives, our corporate and personal experience. Here we take the chance that every one of us here, and everywhere, is a word of God, a gift of God: a place where God’s creativity, redeeming love, intimate conspiracy can come to new birth and speak in a new way.   So Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience: these are the four components in this Anglican way as we come to consider what Jesus might mean for us.

That’s how we make sense of our part, both personal and corporate. But there is more. Jesus says, “Follow me,” follow me away from your old history into a new mystery, into a new and faithful pilgrimage to the future, through the old certainties and into the unfinished rhythm of a dying-rising life; right through the middle of life, death, resurrection and return.

How can we live with life this large, life asking this much? How do we follow the way of Jesus into these depths? Through water and the spirit, through faith and grace, being born again and again in the spirit; day by day, moment by moment, giving away and finding our lives within the heart of the Christian story, with the stories, the tradition, the reason and the community, through the way of the Christian year. Four more ways.

Listen: each one of us here has had a moment, and maybe more than one, where God opens our eyes to glory, care, compassion; to the fragile beauty of what it means to be on this tenuous human journey together. And that is perhaps a start of what it might mean to be born again, when, in a sense, our individual participation in the Christmas story comes alive: when Jesus – God’s word and work of love and acceptance and hope, God’s word for the long journey - is born in our lives. It is a kind of Christmas that grows up and moves out, enlightens us and lightens up the world we live in,;an Epiphany where people see the difference, note the newness and the change in us, taking us to a new way of being in the world, being born into a new world. If you’ve lived at all, you know you’ve lived like this.

But for most of us, it doesn’t last that long. The road gets narrow and turns, the fires or floods come, the foundations shake, and we lose the way. For life has tough times, tragic moments, dead ends. And here’s where the man on the cross is a silent and eloquent picture for each of us, a picture of each of us: caught where hope falls silent,, where all we know of faith falls dead, where we lose our lives. For every one there comes a time when you say, “I don’t know how in God’s name I am going to get through this.” and on Good Friday we see that God knows the way through.

That’s where the mystery comes: where we find the reality of the life and love of God rises up above all false hopes, and God’s life even has room for death. By grace we wake up to  an Easter where new life opens in a new world, where hope is bigger than we know; where we can move to an new participation and understanding of  - not only how big God is - but how intimate, how close God can come: a place where the whole creation seems to speak a new language, a Pentecost, where the deep intimacy of the Holy Spirit enlivens our lives and reforms our relations and our understandings. It may not always last, it usually doesn’t. But you will remember.

Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost! Life, Death, Resurrection, Return! The stories we tell every Sunday carry all the contradictions that come in living life on life’s terms, trying to be whole and human and holy; and Sunday after Sunday we stand in the middle of our lives, in the middle of this place, and say, Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again! Life, death, resurrection, return! It’s the journey of a lifetime.

God has come to offer wholeness, salvation, companionship; and not by any kind of shortcut. “You must be born again!” Right through the middle of the world. It is usually not easy, it can hurt like hell, it made Jesus cry, there’s no room for a stained glass lens to filter out all the nasty bits, but it is worth it. For it is a way that can take you through with a kind of growing understanding and hope, through the tough times, the drought and floods, and into the last gathering, the final harvest, by the long way home.

Almost 20 years ago, when I was the chaplain at San Francisco State University, a really narrow, terribly unpleasant Christian pastor looked at me and asked, “Have you been born again?” And I said, "On a good day, at least four times!" The way God we follow is both that big and that intimate. Moving every instant: into a continuing and deeper participation in God’s creativity, God’s pilgrimage in flesh and history, God’s loving and continuing intercourse in the intimacy of the spirit. It is a wide way, a deep way, a wonderful way, a way that will grow you up and bring you back where you started for God’s sake. So we come here to learn what it means to be alive, dying and rising in a world where Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. We come here, by the grace of God, to learn who we are.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Epiphany 9A

In todays lessons we look at the tension between law and love, in our hebrew heritage, our churches tradition, there is always the ongoing conversation on how seriously we are to take all the commandments, the customs, the way we always do things, in our community,  and that way God calls us to live in a world that is always renewed, reformed, recalled in love. How do we balance between commandments and compassion. How do we balance between law and love?

A story: the worst dinner party I ever attended happened around 25 years ago. I was invited by a couple I knew through church to a posh private club for dinner. It was all quite grand: we drove up to the main door where their Cadillac was whisked away by the parking attendant, we were led through marble halls and seated in the main dining room with great ceremony, the menus were huge and handed over with suitable flourishes, there was lots of very french-sounding food: but the conversation was forced, and at one point after a long pause, the wife said, “Aren’t we having fun?” And we weren’t! It was what kids used to call play-acting, The conversation and the company neither reached the ground nor came to life. And we lost touch not long after that.

Now in terms of the law, all the proper actions were there, the liturgy was well laid out but the celebration didn’t go anywhere, it was just dead, there was no life, no love, no enlightening spirit connecting it all together.

Now this is not to disparage good food, good entertainment, a dinner with friends at anytime is a joy forever, but where’s the center of our gathering, what’s the focus of meeting friends, meeting the world, meeting God in daily life, what’s the most important part? In a world moved increasingly by the proper image, the right sound bite, the good appearance, Jesus says just looking good, just doing the right thing, is not enough.

Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’ “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock

So it’s not something - anything, you do - it has to be deeper than doing, it has to do with who you are.

Deuteronomy says it is “Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13and to keep the commandments”

Jesus follows that and says, you are to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. On this hang all the laws and commandments.  So that’s where we build our house, our hope, our daily lives; but it needs to be buttressed up with other daily habitual moral attitudes and actions, and needs to be enlivened by a hopeful heart and a living faith that is founded and grounded in Christ, the rock of our lives.

So how do we get there from here? How do we get to a place where we can better build the house of faith, the grace of action, the discipline of daily duty and discipleship as we follow and serve Christ in our daily lives? Can we do this in a way that enlivens us, in our ongoing rituals and relationships? How do we keep our hearts and pity fresh, so that our prayers, our pieties, our dinner parties and our Eucharists don’t turn into empty rituals and joyless feasts? How do we help to keep our lives as followers of Jesus moving with forgiveness, renewal and love?  Where do we find fresh air, fresh beginnings, in our ongoing pilgrimage within God’s world of law and love?

Let me give three examples;

First, the 14th century devotional book called the Cloud of Unknowing recommends a good but somewhat complex way to pray, I see it as a kind of swimming stroke: we push down on all that keeps us from God, all our past foibles and failures and put them behind us in a “cloud of forgetting”, then we strive forward towards a God who is so much more than we  can ever know in  an a “cloud of unknowing,” That can be a very powerful way of approaching God, and we can make progress in this way, but there are some days when it is just too complex, and then the author says you can always just say “Help!”

“Help” can be one of the best prayers: the man who comes to Jesus with a sick son says, “I believe, help my unbelief... I have faith, help me where faith falls short.” There’s faith and power there in all that undressed honesty. You can just say help, then be prepared to listen, be prepared to be surprised and renewed.

Another story. A woman recently told me that while her husband was dying of a fast-growing cancer they had a quiet moment together. She said, “Do you forgive me?” and he said, “Yes,” then he said, “do you forgive me?” and she said “Yes.” and she said the room was so full of God that she will never forget it, and it changed everything.

Forgiveness opens space, gives room for God to grow in us anew; even a half-held motion in that direction, a prayer that is a “I am not quite there yet but I am willing to try to let go of an old grudge, an old pain or scar:” even that beginning, moving towards a larger forgiveness, opens room for new hope, new healing, new awareness of God’s grace in our daily lives and ministries: get us down to the rock of right action, good faith, good living ground in Christ’s love.

We don’t need to give complex dinner parties, we aren’t called to always know what is right, we know that we’ll make mistakes, cause trouble, take wrong turns, get caught in complex situations; and there are so many customs and commandments, expectation and demands in the world around us that if is only following commandments we’re going to muck up sometimes, and it is not surprising that we sometimes lose hope. But we don’t need to lose our relationship with God.

I was priested just over a year ago, after over 25 years of a ministry spent mainly in university chaplaincy and teaching in parishes and schools, and it’s been wonderful and complex year. But sometimes there are questions of etiquette, proper conduct, custom: should I be called Father or Rob, should I wear a black shirt with collar, a white shirt with crosses, should I swear less, pray more, follow new rules, give up old ways, lose weight, gain gravity? Sometimes it feels quite complex.

Now I tend to wake up before dawn. Where I am now living the living room looks east over lawn and a stand of Eucalyptus, and a few weeks ago, after a rainy night with some thunder and lightning, I was sitting in the dark with a cup of good coffee in my hand, wondering and praying as the light of day slowly came up in the sky front of met. And I considered where I’ve been and where I might be going and how I am doing, and finally I just said, “God, do you love me?” and it was as if God said “Yes,” and I took a breath and a sip of good hot coffee with a bit more light behind the trees to the east and it was as if God said, “Do you love me?” and I said, “Yes.” and nothing really heavy happened, except for two kookaburras began laughing as the light got stronger and the rain started again, and that was enough for me to begin again.

T.S. Eliot writes: “These are only hints and guesses/Hints followed by guesses; and the rest/Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.” But very simple actions can help us in so many ways to keep our daily focus open enough for listening for responding, repentance, renewal; so that our souls can be refreshed by the love of God, the breath of the Spirit, the life of Christ in our daily ministries, and that must be our hope.