Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent Paradox

Sermon preached Nov. 27, 2011
1st Sunday of Advent

We need to begin this morning with a moment of silence for Mark A – a relative newcomer to our parish, a man at the prime of his life who joined the Alleluia choir with his wife Marty this year; a vigorous athlete who at the age of 55 was struck by a major heart attack this week. While the rest of the country was enjoying its Thanksgiving feasts and football extravaganzas, Marty and their children Hillary and Jeffrey have been keeping vigil at the ICU with many friends and family members. Mark suffered severe brain damage as a result of the heart attack and the prognosis is not good. Yesterday they took him off life support. And so we wait, and we pray.

And so Advent begins: the season of waiting and praying.

People who come to the Episcopal Church from other traditions are sometimes surprised by how we celebrate Advent. They come here, expecting a season of joy, and what they find is a season that is more paradoxical than that. Advent is without a doubt our most paradoxical season: we embrace a season of Christmas cheer, even as our readings focus on judgment and apocalypse, like this one from Mark’s Gospel, in which Jesus warns us of the days when “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” (Mark 13: 24-37)

Those of us who are confused by this strange combination of themes might be comforted to know that it was not always thus. In the Roman Church, the season of Advent was, for over a thousand years, celebrated as an unambiguously joyful time. This makes sense, seeing as the Romans appropriated the celebration of Christmas from the pagan celebrations of the sun God, which featured lots of parties and gift-giving and tree decorating and candle lighting. If you were to walk into St. Peter’s in Rome any time before around 1150 AD, you would have found the priests and bishops wearing their most festive vestments, and choirs singing their most joyful songs.

But while the Christians in Rome were throwing their Advent parties and having a good old pagan time of it, the Christians in what is now mostly France held Advent as a season of penitence and prayer. The clergy wore black, which later changed to purple, there were strict rules for fasting, and parties were hard to find. In fact, Advent for the Franks was almost as severe as Lent, and lasted just as long – 40 days, not just 4 weeks.

And so it was that for over a thousand years, these two traditions existed side-by-side, until in the middle of the 12th Century, when the Roman church adopted some of the Frankish traditions of prayer and fasting and penitence, without giving up entirely on its love for parties.

Whether by historical coincidence, then, or mysterious divine plan, this is how Western Christianity developed this odd combination in Advent of both joy and remorse; feast and fast. In other words, it’s paradoxical – which is fitting, since our faith is all about paradox. After all, everything about Christianity is paradoxical: Jesus is fully human and fully divine; the Kingdom of God is fully here, and yet not yet; the last shall be first; we embrace both reason and faith; we find ourselves by losing ourselves; our weakness is our strength; we learn how to live only when we learn how to die; and we know that we will never find happiness when we make happiness our goal.

Ours is a paradoxical faith – and that is the secret of its wisdom and profound truth. Just as people from Santa Cruz carry bumper stickers that say, “Keep Santa Cruz weird,” just so we would be wise to keep Advent paradoxical. Or maybe "weird" really is the better word...

During the hours I spent in the waiting room this week with Marty and her family, with tears of joy and tears of sorrow flowing simultaneously, I was able to witness this truth once again. All of us who have lost a close loved one know this – that in grief we are overwhelmed by simultaneous waves of sweetness and sorrow. Paradox lies at the heart of all reality – which is just another way of saying that God’s reality is bigger than our nice little categories.

Last night, at our annual Advent party, after we made our Advent wreaths and decorated our Christmas ornaments and ate our cookies and drank our hot cider, we gathered outside in the darkness for what has become, for me, one of the most moving rituals of the year. Using pine boughs, the children laid-out a simple spiral labyrinth in the courtyard; at the center of the labyrinth was placed a lone candle – the Christ candle – and it was lit. We all sat in a big circle around the labyrinth, wrapped in blankets or warm coats against the darkness and the cold, and we entered into a watchful kind of prayer. As a Christmas carol from the Renaissance is played, even the most talkative and restless children grow quiet.

This year, it was Katie R who went first. Taking up her unlit candle, she walked carefully around the labyrinth while we prayed. When she got to the center, she touched her candle to the Christ candle, and then, bearing her light, she silently made her way back. At some point she set her candle down by the side of the little trail.

She was followed by all the other children, some walking solo, some accompanied by a mom or a dad, each of them lighting their candle at the Christ candle, and leaving it along the trail, until after a little while the trail along the labyrinth was lit by these flickering lights.

By the time it was my turn to walk around the labyrinth, the trail was lit by 15 or so flickering candles; and I found myself giving thanks for all of those who have gone before me; those who have lit the way; those who have left this world a brighter place. I found myself in communion with my mother and my brother, who have passed over to the other side; and with Mark, as he lay in mortal weakness; and with all our children, who bring such unadulterated joy into our lives. By the end, sitting under the stars, we beheld a flickering little galaxy of lights in the form of a spiral, that most primeval of forms; and I found myself once again in that place of paradox; simultaneously conscious of death and new life, bathed in grief and in joy.

For our children, this simple little ritual has become the essential thing that we must do every year to prepare for Christmas. When, some years ago, the suggestion was made that we skip the labyrinth, it was the children who insisted it be continued; each year, they are the ones who lead the construction of the labyrinth, and they are the ones who teach the younger kids what to do.

And so the tradition of Advent paradox continues: young and old; life and death; light and dark; grief and joy. We lift our hearts to all of it; all of life in all of its exquisite contradiction, and we give thanks for all of it.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Holy, Holy, Holy

The man from the nursing home was on the phone. “You better come over,” he said; “She’s refusing food. It looks like she’s decided it’s time to die.”
The care-givers had tried everything to get her to eat. They tried coaxing her, bribing her, arguing with her; they brought her favorite foods, her favorite ice cream, her favorite rice pudding – but she just shook her head and kept her mouth closed.

People who work in nursing homes see this all the time. At some point a person just stops eating; they reach a point where they are ready to die and they just settle into their beds and wait. When this particular call came in, I had only been ordained about three years but already I had seen this happen more than a few times.

Which is why it was so surprising when I arrived at the nursing home and the woman looked up at me and immediately pointed to her mouth. She had had a stroke earlier in the year, which deprived her of the ability to speak, but her mind was clear and it was obvious that she was asking for some food. I got kind of excited and I said to the attendant, “I think she’s hungry!”

“Are you hungry?” I asked; “Do you want something to eat?”

She shook her head.

“Oh – you want something to drink?”

Again she shook her head. Then she pointed at me – and again, pointed to her mouth.
I felt pretty stupid that it took me that long to figure it out. “Oh, do you want communion?” She nodded.

The prayer book has a little service called “Communion Under Special Circumstances” for times like these, when a person can’t get to church and so we bring the consecrated bread and wine to the home. It’s a short little service - you can get through the whole thing in about 10 minutes easy, and usually when you are dealing with someone who is very sick, that’s about as long a service as they want.

But this time was different. She was one of the 8 o’clockers – she knew the old service by heart and it had been several months since she had been able to get to church and hear the entire service. I asked her if she would like to do the whole service, soup to nuts, and she nodded eagerly, so I turned to page 323 in the prayer book and we went through the long version together, skipping nothing.

Her eyes were on me during the whole service, her lips moving in unison with mine as we prayed those ancient prayers – the Collect for Purity, the Great Commandments, all the way to the Prayer of Humble Access. It felt like she was savoring every last word as if this were her last meal – which, of course, it was. She crossed herself in all the right places; she bowed her head at every mention of the name Jesus; and when it came time to feed her that little wafer of bread, soaked in a bit of inexpensive port, she closed her eyes and savored it as if she were dining at the Ritz Carlton. For her, this was tastier than the finest steak, the richest chocolate.

She died a few days later.

When I think of the word “holy”, that is what I think about.
The Episcopal Church is by no means a perfect church. We are vague, we are proud, we are as parochial as the next denomination. But one thing that we do well: we know about holiness. We know what it means to honor the holiness of God.
When God says, in the book of Leviticus, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy,” we get it.

The Hebrew word for this is qadosh. It means “set apart, sacred”; it refers to that aspect of God’s being which is completely other, untouchable, pure. God’s holiness is what makes Moses’ face to shine like a lantern after he sees God passing by; his face, they said, was so bright he had to wear a veil to protect those who looked at him. (Exodus 34: 24-34) Like Moses, we absorb some of the holiness of God when we encounter God in our worship. Moses had his mountain top and his burning bush; we have our sanctuary, and our Holy Eucharist.

While other churches have buildings that look like shopping malls, and sanctuaries that look like high-school auditoriums, we gather in buildings that have been set apart for a sacred purpose; we replicate the architecture of the ancient Temple, with its holy of holies; we believe in consecrated elements: we honor the sacred presence of God in the tabernacle; we douse ourselves with holy water when we enter and when we leave; we come to the altar of God with the reverence of the ancient High Priest.

But for all our reverence and all our sacred prayers, we also know that none of it matters if our holiness doesn’t change the way we live our lives. This is the other, central element of the Jewish concept of holiness: holiness is made real when it is translated into right action. When, in the book of Leviticus, God is explaining what this all means, he begins by saying, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” This is the context for the 10 Commandments; and in fact for all 613 commandments in the Torah. Whenever God gives a commandment, he begins by reminding his people of his holiness, and of their holiness. The commandments are proof of God’s holiness; they are God’s way of helping us understand how to be holy; how to honor God’s holiness.

We don’t honor our father and our mother just because God says we should; we don’t love our neighbor as ourselves because it’s good social policy; we don’t refrain from stealing because we want to curry favor with God or avoid God’s punishment. We follow the commandments because that’s what it means to be holy. We are holy people; we worship a holy God; and that means we conduct ourselves in a certain manner. That means we stand for certain principles. That means we have a particular purpose in this world. In this ancient tradition, is impossible to be holy if we are not following the commandments of God.

No wonder, then, that the ancient Jews took the commandments very seriously.
By the time Jesus came along, then, there was enormous debate as to which, of the 613 commandments, were the most important. 613 commandments is a lot of commandments to keep straight. Somebody needed to simplify things: what’s the bottom line? What’s the most important commandment?

Which is why Jesus, in our Gospel this morning, brings us back to the first principle: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is what we do here, in this sanctuary: we bring ourselves to God, leaving nothing behind; we open ourselves to God, completely. Our love for God is expressed in our devotion to his holiness: in the silence of the sanctuary, in the deepest recesses of our hearts.

In our Collect for Purity we say, “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid…” The holiness of God is found there, in our complete openness – the openness that is made possible when we feel completely safe, as when we are in a sanctuary. We open ourselves to the holiness of God – and that gives us eyes to see the holiness of God’s people. When we encounter the holiness of God, everything else falls into place: how we should live, and who we should live for. We learn to love, because we encounter God’s love; we learn to listen, because we experience God’s listening; we learn to forgive, because we experience God’s forgiveness. We learn to give, because we come to see how everything, already, is a gift from God.

This morning, at the 11:15 service, we are going to baptize a young man named Josh. Josh is a war veteran; he has seen things that no one should have to see. He understands more than most of us how unholy life can be; how far from God we can fall. He has seen the chaos and the destruction that is unleashed when all holiness, all love, all respect for dignity, is lost.

And he knows what we must do to recover our humanity. It begins with first principles. It begins here, in this holy place, in the presence of our holy God. We enter God’s sanctuary; we worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; we ask God’s blessing on the element of water; we pour that holy water over his head; we dedicate ourselves, completely and without reservation, to the holiness of God. And the rest follows from there; the purpose of our lives becomes clear.

It’s all spelled out in the words of the Baptismal Covenant: we will continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship; we will persevere in resisting evil; we will proclaim the Good News of god in Christ; we will seek and serve Christ in all persons; we will strive for justice and peace among all people.

We are not the kind of people that go to church so that we can get our little bit of holiness and go home to watch TV. We encounter the holy so that we remember who God is, and in the process we remember who we are: we are holy, because God is holy. And because of that, we bear God’s holiness into the world. Whether we are carrying consecrated elements to the nursing home, or carrying a casserole to Open Table, or carrying an open heart to people who give us heartburn, we are carrying holiness – God’s holiness – to a world that is desperately hungry for it.

I give thanks be to God that we have been given this great vocation, and the means to accomplish it, through the grace of God and his son, Jesus Christ our Lord… AMEN.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The flag in church...

When I was a seminarian in New York back in 1981, I took the train out to a suburb in New Jersey to meet an Episcopal priest who was thinking of taking me on as his intern. It was a fine, sunny day and as I approached the church, which was built in the glory days of the 1950’s, I noticed how impressive the steeple was, and how proud and bright it looked against the blue sky.

It wasn’t until I stepped inside the church that I saw some storm clouds. The church was empty, as far as I could tell – there was no receptionist to greet me, no one around except this older priest – well, he was probably younger than I am now - who was alone in his rather dark and dreary office. Right away I noticed the rings under his eyes and a tendency to sigh rather deeply, and often.

We were only a few minutes into our interview when he launched into a long story about the battle he had been having with his congregation for the past five years: which was over the fact that he had removed the American flag from the sanctuary.

His view was that there was no place for the flag in church. The battles over the Vietnam War were still fresh in his memory, and that experience had taught him that the mission of the church was to always stand ready to speak prophetically against its nation. He talked about St. Paul, about how in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek. He said, “When we enter that sanctuary, we leave our national identity behind. Our only citizenship is in the kingdom of God.”

He spoke with this weary but still passionate conviction about the danger of becoming a cult of the nation, and of slipping into idolatry. He talked about patriotism as the last refuge of the scoundrel – and apparently there had been more than a few scoundrels in his parish, who, he said, were trying to use patriotism in order to suppress the prophetic voice of the church.

I found that I had great sympathy for his argument, but I also remember walking away from that church deciding two things: first, that I did not want to work for him; and second, that if I ever became a priest, I would try to find a more satisfying method of resolving conflicts in the parish. I just didn’t want to end up looking like him.

But the other thing I learned is just how powerful this issue can be for us – because we feel so strongly about our identities as Christians and as Americans – and because things with symbolic value – like flags – carry such power for us.


Sermon preached July 3, 2011

What with the 4th of July upon us, I've been thinking a lot about this idea of freedom. What does freedom mean to you?

I grew up in the 1960’s, when freedom everywhere I looked, people were risking life and limb for freedom.

My father was flying down to Selma and Birmingham to help out Dr. King and the civil rights workers. He himself didn’t face many dangers, personally, but he came home with incredible stories about ordinary people, no different from you or me, willing to be attacked by police dogs, slammed to the ground by fire hoses, and taken in the middle of the night by men in white hoods just so they could enjoy the simple freedoms we took for granted.

A few years later, my brother was fighting to not be drafted into a war that he considered to be a war crime. Meanwhile, some of his friends – white, middle-class kids like him – were in San Francisco, insisting on the freedom to drop acid and make love in the middle of Golden Gate Park.

These days, “freedom” is still a confusing and deeply charged word.
To some of us, freedom means personal freedom: the freedom to be oneself, do whatever you want to do. If we’re a teenager, chafing under our parents’ rules, freedom means getting to decide for yourself what time you’ll go to bed. We dream of the day when we’ll get to go to college and decide for ourselves when to work, and when to play, and when to sleep.

If we’re a libertarian, freedom means something similar, except on a bigger scale: freedom means the right to be left alone, free from government intrusion. Ron Paul, the leading libertarian voice of our time, says heroin and crack cocaine should be legal, because we don’t need the government telling us how to live our lives.
For others, freedom doesn’t mean freedom from government so much as the freedoms protected by our government: freedom to worship, freedom of speech, freedom to vote, freedom from tyrants and dictators; freedom of the weak to be protected from the strong.

If you’re one of the thousands of political prisoners sitting in jail right now throughout the Middle East, that’s a very real dream right now, something worth dying for. Those of you who fought in World War II risked your lives for that kind of freedom. None of us would be in this room, freely worshiping the god of our choosing, if it weren’t for the sacrifices of that generation, and so many generations that have gone before. For you, freedom means sacrifice.

And freedom in that sense of the word is, for many of us, also a religious idea. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” So there’s a spiritual connection there: somehow these freedoms that we claim are not just the natural rights of man, but rather a right endowed by our Creator.

And there’s yet another kind of freedom; a freedom that also has a spiritual dimension. If you’re an alcoholic or struggle with some other addiction, freedom means freedom from our own personal demons. Our reading from St. Paul expresses this kind of longing. We don’t know what it was that Paul was struggling with, but it sure sounds like some kind of addiction:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

For Paul, this is a deeply spiritual issue – it’s a war going on inside him between the desires of the flesh, which he is a slave to, and the law of God, which leads him into freedom in Christ. “Wretched man that I am!” he cries, “Who will free me from this body of death?”

For Paul, as for the practitioners of 12-step programs, that kind of personal freedom only comes when we admit that we are slaves – Paul says “Slave to sin,” while an alcoholic might say we are powerless over our addiction; and our only hope is to turn our lives over to a Higher Power.

So for Paul, as well as for the alcoholic, we are never completely free. It’s more of a trade-off: we give up our slavery to the bottle, and exchange it, if you will, for what Paul calls a slavery to Christ.

And that’s what trips up so many addicts, and so many Christians, of course – because we think freedom should be without any strings attached. We want perfect free-agency; we want to be beholden to no one; we don’t God telling us what to do any more than we want the bottle telling us what to do.

For Paul, that’s a fantasy. The only way out of this slavery to sin is through slavery to Christ. For those with an addictive personality, there is no such thing as perfect freedom – because as soon as you start choosing purely for yourself, you’re back on the bottle.

For those of us who are not addicts, this is a deeply offensive idea – especially in the United States of America. We are raised on the mother’s milk of freedom, and we’ve taken that to mean complete freedom. We are a nation of individualists; my home is my castle; I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps.

But in Matthew’s gospel, we find Jesus also using the image of bondage. “Take my yoke upon you,” he says. And he’s not just talking to addicts; he’s talking to all of us.

And so it is that we come up against the choice: do we give our lives over to Christ, or do we continue to insist that we are our own masters; that we choose our own destinies.

The Episcopal Church is probably the softest of all the Christian denominations when it comes to this issue. We don’t believe in a coercive church; we don’t center our worship around altar calls, which has the explicit purpose of giving your life over to God. We let each person find their own way toward that choice. For many of us who are not addicts, being our own masters has worked out pretty well; we’ve managed to eke out a living; care for our children… Most of us don’t give up control – even to God – unless we’re really up against a wall, desperate, ready to try anything.

But for all of us, that day eventually comes. We catch a disease; we lose our job; we find ourselves in a foxhole during a mortar attack… and then we’re ready to make a deal. “Okay, God, you got me now. Ok, I’ll give my life to you – I’ll do anything you want. Just get me out of this.”

And for some of us, that formula works out. We make a deal; like General Motors, we accept obedience in exchange for a bail-out.

But for a lot of us, we come to learn, too late, that it doesn’t work like that. God is not Santa Claus, or Monty Hall in “Let’s Make a Deal.” God doesn’t invite us into obedience in exchange for never getting cancer, or never going into bankruptcy. Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” He offers us a relationship not unlike that between a student and a teacher. In the classroom, there are certain rules; sleeping, chewing gum, throwing spit balls are generally frowned upon. A disciple is a student, literally; and what a student learns is discipline. The Christian way is a way of discipleship; which means that to be a Christian is to enter into a discipline – a discipline that will give you skills, such as how to pray, and how to love, and how to live with a sense of ultimate purpose.

The church is a school, if you will. A lot of times, school is a total drag; it makes us get up in the morning when we’d rather sleep in; it makes us do homework. When we’re adolescents we can’t wait for the day when we don’t have to go.

But at some point, when we’ve put away childish things, we realize that learning is a joy; and that in exchange for the discipline of learning, we gain new freedoms. Students who submit to their teachers gain the freedom to read and write and calculate; the dance students gain the freedom to pirouette; cello students, the freedom to play a Bach Suite for Unaccompanied Cello; and for spiritual students who submit to Christ, we gain freedoms we never imagined: the freedom to love more than we ever thought possible, even our enemies; the freedom to live without fear of death; the freedom to suffer with sober joy; the freedom to praise God in every situation; the freedom to forgive and be released from bitterness and hatred; the freedom, finally, of eternal life.

So, next time you hear someone say they’re spiritual but not religious, tell them, “Yeah, that’s like saying you believe in learning, but not in schools. Or like you believe in healing, but not in hospitals.”

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,” Jesus says. “for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

We take on this obedience with our whole selves; we give ourselves to God completely; and we discover, in the process, a freedom of infinite delight, which is freedom in Christ.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Jesus vs. Gilgamesh

Sermon preached Sunday June 5, 2011

Some of you may have seen the rather bizarre news story yesterday of the motorcycle police officer who was seriously injured while riding home from the funeral of a motorcycle officer who was killed while riding home from the funeral of another motorcycle officer who died in a tragic accident.

It’s almost as if we can’t escape death.

Last Thursday a friend of mine, not a member of this parish, was with his wife in his backyard, where they were in the process of burying their cat when his wife seemed to slip, and she fell and rolled down this little hill. My friend rushed to her and she was laughing, apparently uninjured, until they realized that she couldn’t get up, and then they realized she was having a stroke. Yesterday I reached him at the ICU where his wife is recovering. He said, with a kind of wonder, “It happened just like that,” and he snapped his finger. “It can happen to any of us, just like that.”

This, of course, is the most ancient of insights – this kind-of funny, quite horrible kind of surprise when we realize how close death can be.

3,000 years ago, writing on stone tablets, a man named Shin-eqi-unninni wrote down what was for him one of the oldest known works of literature, written 1,000 years before his time, known as the Epic of Gilgamesh. Many of you, no doubt, are familiar with the epic, which features the demi-god king of Uruk, Gilgamesh. He was the great hero of the ancient world, kind of the Hercules of his time; he had a sidekick named Enkidu and together they had many heroic adventures until one day Gilgamesh witnessed Enkidu’s death. Then, suddenly, there it was – the great surprise; just like that: the realization of the close proximity of death.

This sends Gilgamesh into a panic around his own mortality: does this mean I’m going to die, too? And so he goes off on an epic journey to the eternal city to find the secret to eternal life; and after many heroic deeds and many set-backs, he finds it! He finds a plant, living at the bottom of the sea, which when eaten bestows eternal life. But instead of eating the plant, he decides to take it home and test it on an old person to see if it works. But on his way home, while he is sleeping, the crafty serpent sneaks into his campsite and eats the plant! Gilgamesh wakes up to the realization that his entire heroic quest for eternal life has led to nothing; which gives birth to one of the most poignant and universal speeches in all of literature:

O woe! What do I do now, where do I go now?
Death has devoured my body,
Death dwells in my body,
Wherever I go, wherever I look, there stands Death!

His words are so similar to the traditional declaration from our prayer book, as we commit our bodies to the earth: “In the midst of life we are in death; of whom may we seek for succor….”

And so it is throughout the history of mankind: the heroic quest for the secret to eternal life, inspired by this magnificent surprise of death.

The phrase “eternal life” runs all through John’s gospel, of course; for the community that formed around John’s gospel, the secret to eternal life was not found in a plant growing in the bottom of the sea but rather in the mysterious knowledge of Jesus Christ, the son of God.

This is the message of this long, rather esoteric and difficult speech that Jesus makes to his disciples in John’s gospel. It’s the night in which he was betrayed; Judas has just been revealed as the agent of Christ’s death, and then Jesus launches into what scholars call his “farewell address” – which goes on for five chapters. Jesus knows that his time is short; and so he tries to pack all of his last words in so that the disciples are not left, as he says, as orphans, but have the necessary teaching to carry on the work of the gospel.

Those of us who have tried to read through this farewell speech would, I think, all agree that just getting through it is something of a heroic journey in itself. Of course, it’s not meant to be easy – this is true for all esoteric knowledge: it’s supposed to be difficult. Here we have the answer to the greatest and most ancient question ever asked: how do I find eternal life? Here is the answer for Gilgamesh; here is the answer for us.

“This is eternal life,” Jesus says, “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

In this context, knowing Jesus, and believing in Jesus, and following Jesus are all one and the same thing. They all lead to a moment of recognition in which the glory of God is revealed. And at the heart of that moment of recognition is this secret knowledge found in verse five: that the glory of God revealed in Jesus is the glory that Jesus had with God before the world existed.

Raymond Brown, the great scholar of John’s gospel, tells us that this is the secret knowledge, knowledge that draws us through the glory of Christ on the cross into relationship with the most primeval of all revelations: which is the name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush: I AM.

When we declare Jesus Christ as God, the 2nd person of the Trinity, that is what we are proclaiming: that through knowledge of Jesus we are drawn to the fire of that burning bush, where the source of all life and the source of all being is revealed.
We don’t need a mythical Gilgamesh to cross the river of death in order to get to the eternal city so that he can receive the secret instruction and dive to the bottom of the ocean to retrieve the magic plant that will make him immortal, only to fail in the end. What we have in Jesus is what we need: Jesus, in his glory, raised up on the cross, humbling himself unto death out of love for us; through this sacred knowledge we find eternal life.

Death, to Jesus, was just as present as it is to us; at the Garden of Gethsemene, when he saw death approach, he was as surprised as the rest of us. But he didn’t run from it; and he didn’t try to defeat it like the mythic warriors of the ancient of days. Instead, he followed where love led; he trusted love over death; and in the process revealed the secret to eternal life.

Last September, I was sitting in a hospital room with my brother Chris. My whole family was there, and for days we were telling stories, remembering the days of our youth with him, the golden boy of the family. And so we were switching back and forth between past tense and present tense: telling stories in the past tense, and asking questions in the present tense: how are you feeling; where does it hurt; what do you want. And the day came when it was time to fly back to California; and I realized that in a very few days, we would no longer be talking about him in the present tense; very soon, we would only be talking about him in the past tense.

That was my little moment of surprise about death.

I was reminded of that the other day, as I was meditating on the Ascension, which we celebrated last Thursday and which is described in our reading from Acts. I realized that when we stand together to affirm the mysteries of our faith in the Nicene Creed, we are talking about Jesus in the past tense: He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary; he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, etc… until we get to the Ascension, when a stunning shift in tense occurs: “he ascended into heaven” (past tense) “and is seated at the right hand of the Father” (present tense) and “he will come again in glory” (future tense).

And then it hit me: when Jesus rose up into the sky, he broke the bounds of the past tense; by defeating death and ascending to the Father, Jesus eternally became present tense. Now and forever more, it’s Jesus IS, not Jesus was; just as the name of God revealed to Moses in the burning bush is I AM – present tense.

And just as my brother, now fully alive in Christ, is, forever more; present tense. I was wrong about that past tense thing; in God we are all brought into glory in the great, ever revealing, ever burning, never consuming presence of God, who lives beyond time in the eternal now.

That is where I will see him again (future tense); in the meantime I believe on Jesus, and give thanks for the love that he reveals, which is the path that I follow as long as I am present to his presence - present tense.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Divided No More

Happy Easter!
This is a happy occasion, and I pray this day of resurrection finds you feeling renewed, restored, brimming with new life, and made whole.

It’s been a long rainy Lent –the season has put us through our paces.

Ash Wednesday seems like a very long time ago now. Some of you might remember Ash Wednesday, when we were here imposing ashes on our foreheads. I gave a sermon in which I encouraged you to get ambitious about your Lenten discipline. I said, try giving up something that’s so important to you that you are likely to fail at giving it up. Because Lent, really, is all about failure.

A few years ago I visited a relative of mine who had been diagnosed with emphysema. She said the doctors were really pressuring her to quit smoking. But she said, the thing is, she just loved smoking so much. Sure, she’d tried quitting many times; but you know, that first cigarette in the morning with her coffee just tasted so good; and once she’s had her first one, well, that was it, she’d be smoking through the day.

I asked her if she had tried the nicotine gum – yep, tried that, didn’t work; the patches? yep, tried ‘em; then I said, Well, have you tried praying about it?
And she looked kind of uncomfortable and said, “Nope, can’t say that I have.” I asked, “Why is that?” and she said, “Well, I guess ‘cuz it might just work!”

Last week someone asked me, Well, how is it that Jesus’ death on the cross redeems my suffering? How does that work, exactly?

I’ve been chewing on that question all week; and to answer it well would take a lot more time than we have this morning. But one thing I can say is, we know how it doesn’t work.

It doesn’t work if you really don’t want it to work.

It turns out that if you want to change, it really helps if you’re actually willing to change.

God can’t do that for you.

And it turns out that God has a hard time answering prayers if you’re not actually praying.

I wonder: is there a prayer that, like my relative, you are afraid to pray – because you’re afraid it might actually work?

For a lot of us, I think, we have such a prayer. Maybe you’re not even sure what that prayer is – you just know it’s there, waiting for you to notice it. Maybe as soon as I asked that question, it sprang to mind for you. Maybe, right at this moment, you are telling yourself that actually this whole topic is not such a good one, let’s change the subject, forget it, move on. Maybe there’s something in you that wants to pretend this whole thing isn’t happening.

Well, may I suggest you take a moment and just pay attention to that?

Maybe that prayer is the scariest thing in the world to you. If that’s true, what I need to tell you is that God is like an artist who works in the medium of joy. If your prayer is of God, there is great joy – surprising joy, unimaginable joy, complete joy – waiting for you on the other side of that prayer. In fact, it’s that joy that is calling to you now, asking you to pay attention.

All of us live with a divided self. None of us lives in complete harmony with God. What makes us Christians is not whether or not we succeed at living out that prayer; what makes us Christians is that on a regular basis we pay attention to how God is stirring within us, calling us to new life; every Sunday, and hopefully every day, we come home to ourselves; we commit ourselves to this difficult practice of repentance.

This Lent I took my own advice – I tried giving up something that I love a little too much - and during the entire season of Lent I felt like that guy in the cartoon, with the little devil on one shoulder, tempting him into folly, and that little angel on the other.

Except the truth is that the little voice of the angel – that’s not some cute little cartoony version of me with a halo around my head. That voice is actually Christ within me; who occupies my entire frame; who forms the complete man; the man I was created to be; the One who is me as I am in God’s eyes. The truth is that if we actually give those two beings a chance to compete, there is no competition – God wins, every time.

Which is, of course, what we’re afraid of. Which is, of course, why we don’t pray.
And so it typically takes some kind of crisis to bring us to the point at which we are ready to pray that prayer. Because until we get to that point, we will resist, we will dissemble, we will avoid God, we will skip church, we will do everything we can to keep God at bay lest the Holy Spirit actually wiggle Her way through the chinks in our armor and give us the means to actually turn to God with our complete selves; the courage to live lives of wholeness, divided no more.

The ancient wisdom of the church is that that courage is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, if we’re too afraid to pray the prayer that we really need to pray, it really helps just to pray for the courage… to pray.

There’s a wonderful Greek word for all of this moment: metanoia. It has to do with this moment that my Greek dictionary calls “turning to God in pious sorrow.” For alcoholics and other addicts, it’s that moment when we have finally reached bottom; when we have given up trying to keep God at bay; when we are ready to admit that we have failed at the task of living our lives on our own terms; that we are helpless over our addiction, and then we turn to God for help.

But you don’t need to be an addict to know about this. In fact, this concept was invented by people who really had almost no idea what addiction even was.
But what they did know about was failure.

People like Peter. He thought he was strong enough and brave enough that nothing would get him to deny Jesus – nothing, except a girl, sitting around a campfire warming her hands, who innocently asks him, “Aren’t you also one of his disciples?”

We hear the cock crow; we see the blood drain from Peter’s face; his eyes go wide; it looks as though he is about to throw up; and he gets up quickly and runs away.
I imagine the others around the fire watching him run away, and the girl asking, “What’s with him?”

What’s with him is that he’s terrified of death. He’s in a panic for fear of pain and imprisonment and torture and death. Well, who wouldn’t be?

And during those three long days, while Jesus lay dead in the tomb, Peter is the most miserable of men. He is a coward; a failure; a completely humiliated disaster of a man. If he hadn’t been so afraid of death he probably would have killed himself along with Judas.

Peter has reached bottom. The absolute bottom.

And then, early on the morning of that third day, he wakes up; he opens his eyes to a quiet, cool morning; the dew on the ground is rising; for a moment, in his sleepy state, he has forgotten all that has happened, all the sadness and failure of his life is held at bay; and then he hears the women’s voices, their shouts of joy, he gets up and sees them running, a mad look on their faces: they have seen the Lord! He is risen! He is risen!

What does this mean? How can it be?

And then it’s all confusion; the women are pouring out their story to anyone who will listen; and now Peter is running, running to the empty tomb, and it seems as if he’s being carried by a spirit not his own, he’s running faster than he ever thought he could run; and now here is the tomb; here is his burial shroud, cast aside; and then: there He is.

Radiant. Whole.

It turns out that everything Peter thought was true - about God, about Jesus, about death, about failure – everything he thought was true turned out to be wrong. There is newness of life. There is forgiveness of sins – complete and total forgiveness even for him, in all his weakness and cowardice. In the light of that risen Christ, radiant, nothing matters but love. Nothing exists but love. Through this love all things come into being. In the sea of this love all of us are swimming. In this love death does not exist!

Peter comes to see, fully, what we can only glimpse on this day: that a life dedicated to love will live forever; and everything he was ever afraid of is nothing – nothing! – in the face of that all-powerful, ever joyful, unstoppable love.

And that's what gives us the courage to stand up and proclaim, Alleluia! Praise God! For He is risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Letters from Paul

At our Lenten Series on Wednesday April 6, Anna Eng led us through a study of Paul's first letter to Corinth, and then had us split up into three small groups with the assignment to write a letter to our church from Paul's perspective. Here's what our groups came up with:

Dear Church of the Incarnation,

I praise you for caring for one another when one is hurting or burdened, being open about decisions made, being open and welcoming, being a safe home, providing a beautiful space, having a strong desire to reach out to the needy in the community, and for being faithful in worship and prayer.

However, it has come to my attention that there is fear amongst some that if you serve the needs of people outside of the church that you might get embroiled in controversy, and a fear that this controversy will destroy the church. There is a fear of leaving the boundaries of the church, fear of the church becoming divided, and people are operating based on fear not faith. Also some fear that reaching out will make this an unsafe place to come to. People are resisting change because they are satisfied with the church as it is, and they expect outsiders to conform to the church's way of being. While being open, your diversity could be better, and pledging could be better.

I hear that some people are cutting back on pledging based on rumors without making an effort to verify whether true. [Editor's note: this, also, may be more rumor than fact.]

I challenge you to give to the church in a way that is not based on partiality or personal taste. Ask yourself, "What is the Spirit trying to do with this Church?" This should be the primary question instead of asking what ideas can we come up with ourselves or what works now. So therefore think about how you can serve the church.
What is the Spirit asking the Church of the Incarnation to do in the community and how can you, as an individual, be part of that?

You need to be honest with yourself whether you are not being authentic to the call of the Spirit, whether you are impeding change.

Set aside your judgment. You need to not be afraid to challenge one another; open up the lines of communication. Be proactive in your communication with one another; if you know people are unhappy, speak to them. And if you are unhappy you must take responsibility and go speak to the people you are unhappy with. Do not be afraid to take that first step to communicate with one another. Step out in faith and away from fear.

Blessings to you and to God be the Glory!

Dear Church of the Incarnation:

I praise you for your wish for diversity, your hospitality, variety of liturgy, concern for the poor (Living Room and Open Table), small groups, and for encouraging differing beliefs and lifestyles.

However, you could be more diverse, especially in terms of the age of your congregation. You have too few younger people. And there seems to be division among the three services: each group is entrenched in their own liturgical style. In addition, you are trying to do too many things with too few resources.

Therefore, I want you to try alternative marketing strategies and innovative liturgy, without losing the essence of what the church stands for. And I encourage you to understand one another and mix it up.

Dear Church of the Incarnation:

This is good: people are feeling welcomed with great vegan foods here. Reaching out to the women at the Living Room and the Open Table is a blessing. St. Andrew's keeps going, thanks to you! The choirs, and Numina, and small groups continue the ministry. Praise God for Father Matt.

However, it's been brought to my attention that people are not greeting with eye contact at the Peace. Others get the Farlander Blues: when they are new, no one talks to them. The number of young people and small children is low here. Where are they? What are we doing to make them feel unwelcome? The 8:00, 9:15, and 11:15 services don't have so many opportunities to meet each other - separate groups.

Therefore you should try to have a 5:00 pm service on Saturday evening or 9:00 pm Sunday - even though this has been tried, I encourage you to alter this and try again. Perhaps, more people would be available to meet up with the new ones in Farlander Hall? More vestry members or volunteers? A greeting at the door is good - but too short.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

2012: The Revolution Has Begun... or not...

Good friends have sent me this video, called "2012: The Revolution Has Begun". You can see it by following this link:

Thanks for the video link, which I watched today. I love you for sending it, and I love you enough to give you my honest response to it.

I appreciate the attention this video brings to global warming, which is no joke, and to the mass extinction currently underway. I also very much appreciate the video’s challenge to us to choose love over fear. That is probably the most important thing we can all be saying right now, and I’m so glad they targeted Fox News and TV in general – I agree with all that. I also adore the love images in this video – the revelation of the heart of God through meditation is beautifully portrayed here. I could feel myself opening up and smiling when those came on. I’ve been to that place. That part felt like going home.

However, I also have some serious issues with this video, which I regard, overall, to be more mythology than fact. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in mythology as an agent of social change, and that’s a big reason why I’m a priest. I just think it’s important to also keep your facts straight. For example, the startling claim about the GOES satellite and the electromagnetic spike on 9/11 – I notice there is no source for this graph given and I strongly doubt this claim. A quick check on the GOES’s own website says nothing about electromagnetism as something they measure. I think it is highly likely this is a fraudulent claim.

I don’t have time to research the claimed earthquake spike, but despite recent earthquakes, I’m skeptical of the veracity of that chart as well.

I also get a little pesky when people completely misrepresent the Bible, as this video does by referring to Mt 6:22 as having to do with meditation. Sorry, but that’s ridiculous – an example of something that happens all the time – the appropriation of a religious text into terms that fit someone else’s paradigm. A responsible use of Scripture honors the intent of the original author, or at least grapples with the difference between what it actually says and what we want it to say.

But the more substantive issue I have with this video is the notion, which has been around for a long time now, that through meditation the world will be transformed into a heavenly realm. The idea that a revolution in consciousness is just around the corner, and depends on our own individual spiritual practice for it to happen, is, in my opinion, a myth. As myth, it is very powerful, and like other myths it may motivate a lot of people toward life-changing behaviors that would be good for them and for the planet. I just don’t believe it’s true, factually speaking. Christians have been predicting the coming of Christ for a long time, too – that idea comes from the same impulse and the same longing as the one expressed in this video - but all efforts to predict when it will happen have been in vain, and the responsible Christian has to accept the possibility that this is more a statement about our own longing than a statement of fact.

Like I said, I honor and respect the power of myth. I proclaim “Christ will come again” as a mythological statement of ultimate trust, but connecting that to any earthly calendar (including the Mayan) is a very well-documented mistake. What happens when we get attached to those predictions is that we lose sight of the real source of that prediction, which is our own inner longing for it to be true, despite all (actual) evidence to the contrary; and then we open ourselves up to manipulation by people who want to exploit our longing.

That longing is a real thing, though, and over the centuries it has sparked all sorts of visions and proclamations, including violent and non-violent uprisings against an oppressor (Jesus was, in my opinion, caught up in, and also struggling against, the dark side of such a movement). People have been manipulated by this longing for a long time.

Which leads me to my last comment, which is that I don’t like the manipulation in this video. Even as it decries TV for its sensational fear-mongering, it uses that very same medium to make us afraid, and then exploits that fear to choose a more satisfying spiritual resolution. This then feeds a meditation workshop industry which employs many people who benefit from videos like this.

Now please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they are intentionally committing fraud or anything like that. I do think there’s some naivete going on here though. And for all the complaints that are made against Christians and organized religion among many of the folks who would love this video, this video is not much different from how priests and pastors have used fear of hellfire to emotionally manipulate their congregations, and then offering, as a satisfying alternative, the saving love of Jesus. Out of sheer relief that they are not going to burn in eternal hellfire, they readily accept the alternative, without employing the healthy skepticism they would otherwise bring to the conversation. And, how convenient that this also builds up their churches and makes the preachers fat and happy! Again, naivete plays a role here: most of them, I’m sure, sincerely believe in hellfire – but nonetheless they exploit that fear so that people will uncritically accept the very attractive alternative they offer.

This video is nowhere near that on the evilness scale – in fact, as mythology I think it’s powerful in a good way, and may well motivate people to seek inner peace and work for the good of the planet. That’s all good. I just think the idea that meditation will spark a global revolution in consciousness and bring about an era of social justice is little more than magical thinking; and I really don’t trust that guy with the hair, talking about electromagnetic fields.

I would love to be wrong on that one, by the way. What an amazing thing, if true!
So it’s not all bad. I choose a different mythology, however – a mythology that has many compatibilities with this one – but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Thanks for listening, ML+

Monday, March 14, 2011

Innocent Killing

We are all praying for the victims of the terrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I’m sure we’re looking for ways to help; if you have a checkbook on you, or can find an envelope in which to put some cash, just write “Japan” on the memo line of your check or on the envelope and we will make sure that it gets to Episcopal Relief and Development, which is rushing assistance to the Diocese of Tohoku, which has been hit hard by the disaster.

When I heard about the tsunami on Friday, I turned the TV on and watched the stunning footage with disbelief, as I’m sure many of you did. The bit of video I still can’t get over was the sight of a fairly large ship, swept onto its side and rolling around, carried by this massive influx of water like a plastic toy in a bathtub, and you could see it headed toward a building. It looked to me like there were people, bobbing up and down, also caught in the same current, between the boat and the building, and I thought about the lives that were hanging in the balance, completely at the mercy of the random action of the water. I could see that if the boat revolved slowly it would hit the building broadside and crush those people; but if the boat turned just a little more quickly it might not hit the building at all and maybe the people would survive. Then the frame shifted and I couldn’t see what happened next.

As I was watching that massive, unrelenting destruction I found a voice within me rising in protest: This isn’t right, it was saying. I found myself begging the wave to have mercy on those caught in its grip – as if the wave could hear me; as if it cared. And then it hit me with renewed force just how brutal this world can be.

It sounds stupid now even to say something so obvious, but what the video captured for me was just how unthinking this killing was: that wave was not conscious of the people in its path; it was dumb, silent, unfeeling; the worst kind of monster – one with no reason, no mercy or pity.

The wave moved along in blissful ignorance of the destruction it brought. The wave, like the rest of the natural world, was in that way innocent, even as it killed.

This state of innocence is the elemental truth found this morning in the ancient story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden (Genesis 2:15-3:7). Sometimes we might find ourselves thinking that this is a story about a non-violent paradise – but it’s really a story about the innocence of a world that has no self-consciousness. It’s a story about the eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – which is the difference between us humans, and that tsunami.

Unlike that wave, we can see the destruction that we cause, and we know it’s a bad thing. We have eaten of that fruit of the knowledge of good and evil; for us, unlike that wave, killing can never be innocent.

When I was a child I saw my adorable standard poodle tear across an open field, chasing down a rabbit, and kill it cleanly with a snap of the neck. Then she came trotting back to me, the bloody rabbit between its teeth, and she was as happy and as proud of herself as a child coming home from school with straight A’s.

I never looked at her quite the same after that.

In the wild – the Garden of Eden, where there is no self-consciousness, no knowledge of good and evil – there is no remorse, no guilt. Until we came along, the world spun about on its axis for millions and millions of years, species evolving and going extinct on the principle of kill or be killed, and all of it as un-self-consciously innocent as that wave that hit Japan.

And then we come along, with our knowledge of good and evil, and with this gift we are categorically separated from the rest of creation. We are cast out of the garden of innocence: the Garden of blissful ignorance, the Garden of simple animal existence, the Garden in which death and life is all the same, and poodles chase down rabbits in perfect bliss.

So then: what do we do with our guilt? How do we release ourselves from it?

Well, we begin by inventing the law; we make distinctions between good and bad; and we try to enforce the law as best we can. But we discover to our dismay that the law does not restore us to the Garden of innocence; that as much as we try to live our lives in obedience to what we believe to be good, we are still animals, but guiltily; we are still killers; and there is no paradise, no place that will restore our innocence. In Paul’s terms, with the law there is always, also, condemnation.

So what do we do?

Well, along comes Jesus, who creates for us, if you will, a third stage in our evolution. If the first stage is the Garden of Eden, and the second stage is this guilt and this sense of alienation from the rest of creation, the third stage is what Jesus brings.

Consider: when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11) he was offered all the elements of evolutionary advantage: abundant food; physical invulnerability; limitless power. If he had been an ordinary alpha-male, just another strong man seeking advantage, he would have seized upon those advantages. He would have become the ultimate Muammar el-Qaddafi.

But instead he saw a new path.

As the world all around him was fulfilling its evolutionary destiny, seeking more strength; more power; more resources; seizing the advantages and opportunities offered to them, Jesus answered a call to a new way of being. Not a return to the old Garden of innocent violence, but a new place – a new creation that he called the Kingdom of God.

Jesus invited us into an evolution toward compassion and peace, rather than ruthless competition. Jesus would rather have fasted for the sake of mercy and compassion than to have eaten like an animal whatever food was offered to him. He would rather have served humanity than dominate it.

If there is a tsunami here, it is a tsunami of love, accessible to us through our relationship to God through Christ and the Holy Spirit. Ironically, it is the very consciousness that separates us from creation, the very same capacity for choice that cast us out of the Garden, that is our pathway to this new creation.

Because unlike the rest of the natural world, we have the capacity to choose love.

When Jesus rejects the advantages that are offered to him by the devil, he is not making choices that any self-respecting animal would make. No, these are the choices that a god would make. The same choices available to us, through Christ who lives in us.

As we are called to follow Jesus, we are called into the perfection of our humanity. We are called into a new paradise: made real through him; a paradise in which the sum total of all our vain striving, the sum total of all our evolutionary struggle, is brought to fulfillment and perfection in love.

Now our purpose is no longer merely to survive. Our purpose is to love. Our purpose is to serve. And to that purpose we dedicate our lives, our hearts, our souls; even, perhaps, our genetic heritage.

Now, more than ever, we are called to choose love over evolutionary advantage.

Because it is our evolutionary advantage that is leading us to extinction. Our ability to dominate and to kill is now so advanced that we threaten the very survival of our own species.

Now, more than ever, we need to follow the example of Jesus in the desert. Calling upon the power of God, made manifest in compassion and reason, we need to learn how to renounce resources, not seize them; we need to learn how to let go of our power, not impose it; so that we might live in greater balance with the earth. We need to develop our capacity for compassion for all species, because they are the key to our own survival.

And so like Jesus in the desert, we stand before God and we say yes to our humanity.
We declare that in Christ, the new creation is fulfilled. The new Adam has arrived. And in defiance of millions of years of self-serving behavior we declare, with Paul, that in Christ we live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us, that we may find our perfection in him, who lives and reigns, now and forever.
… Amen.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Enduring Judgment

Sermon February 27, 2011
8th Sunday after Epiphany

For the last few weeks we’ve been hearing from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, where he tries to help his brothers and sisters in Christ hold together despite a deep and growing rift in their community.

In fact, the schism in his church has become so intense that in today’s reading Paul addresses the topic of being judged by the members of his church:

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.
(1 Cor 4:3-4)

Kinda makes you wonder: what the heck did Paul do to get everyone so mad at him?

When Paul arrived in Corinth, probably around 52 AD, he found one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the Roman Empire; a city placed right in the middle of the global trade routes between Europe and Asia and so a city teeming with commerce.

And because it was in the middle of this global crossroads, Corinth was incredibly diverse. There was an enormous variety of ethnicities: Romans, Greeks, Asians, Jews; and it had a stunning religious diversity too: followers of every sort of cult, from worshipers of Apollo and Aphrodite and all the other Graeco-Roman gods, to devotees of the Egyptian gods like Isis. Poseidon was a very popular god there, thanks to the town’s shipping and fishing industries. Shrines for these different gods lined the streets of the city, populated the harbors and ran along the roads leading to and from town.

Then along comes Paul, who for the first time in human history tries to build a religious community that embraces everyone, Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, rich and poor. We have to remember how unheard of this was, this attempt to have all these different people from all over the world speaking the same language of the Spirit.

As far as we know, this is one of the first efforts at “finding unity in diversity” ever made.

It’s not surprising, then, that divisions and conflicts would have erupted. Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half and by the end of that time he had developed a solid, thriving Christian community. He planted the seeds; and this other guy, Apollos, stayed to water the seeds. And then, because they were still infants in Christ, the people started choosing sides – I’m for Paul; or I’m for Apollos.

Factions developed; whatever minor differences there were between them were exploited and exaggerated; people were made to choose sides and before long the community was in danger of splitting.

That’s why Paul was hearing about all kinds of judgments being made against him – nasty rumors, lies, and innuendo spread by people who just couldn’t resist the temptation of spreading the latest dirt, whether it had any basis in truth or not – not out of malice, of course, but, well, they were just so engaged and passionate and mad!

In the previous chapter, Paul addresses this conflict head on:

For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, "I belong to Paul," and another, "I belong to Apollos," are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Cor 3:3-7)

In other words, Paul is saying to those who were splitting the community, You seem to be under the delusion that you are in charge. But none of us are in charge – it is Christ who lives in us who is in charge.

Now, on one level, this is one of those things that we hear all the time from the pulpit – yeah yeah, Christ is the head of the church, we’ve heard it before – but what Paul is saying is not just that Christ is the head of the church but that Christ is the head of each of us – each of us, individually. The unity or disunity of our church begins and ends with the unity or disunity within our own souls. Paul is not just talking about how a community works – he’s talking about how each of us work – about what’s going on at the level of our minds and hearts and souls.

We can’t begin to understand what Paul is saying about the unity of the church until we first come to understand this unity with the divine that exists within ourselves – that’s the first and most important question.

One of the great scholars of Paul’s letters puts this in modern terms by calling it “the egocentric delusion” – this delusion that we all carry within us that makes us think we are our own masters. This delusion that comes from the very structure of our minds; because we have this gift of self-consciousness; we can hear ourselves think; we watch ourselves making decisions and exercising choices and having preferences for this thing or that person and it all combines to make us feel like we are in charge of ourselves.

But we’re not - when we're living in Christ.

Consider, for example, the simple question, “Who am I?” Ask yourself that. “You are you?” And of course the answer seems obvious: “I’m me! I’m Joe Jones; I live in a little blue house at 4th and Elm; I’m the son of George Jones and Sally Smith; I love the Giants and the Raiders and my favorite color is blue. What? That’s who I am.”

That kind of answer is what Paul is talking about when he says in today’s reading that the Corinthians are being “merely human.” They are accepting who they are on face value. As one writer puts it, “They are living for themselves; seeking their own pleasures, regarding others as a means of satisfying their own desires.”

“You going to watch the Oscars tonight? What you cooking for dinner? I’m thinking of making a stew. I like stew. Can I borrow some potatoes? Yeah, I’m thinking of using Cindy’s recipe – do you like that? Did you see her hair today? I really think she’s dying it.”

And so it goes, on and on, this incessant chattering monkey mind, day in and day out... until we keel over dead.

What Paul is saying is that the people in Corinth hadn’t yet figured out the depth of who they are – that God lives in them. The Spirit of God – moving beneath the surface of their consciousness, flowing into them like an eternal stream – that Spirit – the same Spirit that searches out the very mind of God – that Spirit is alive in us.

And if that Spirit is alive in us, then it is impossible not to submit to it.

As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “No one can serve two masters.”

And that changes everything.

In fact it changes things so radically that the question is no longer, “Who are you,” rather it becomes “What are you?” Which is how Paul puts the question: “What is Apollos?” he asks; “What is Paul?”

What are you, then?

Either you’re a servant of that Spirit of God, living inside you, or you’re dead already and you don’t even know it. Either you are rising to new life in Christ or you’re just marking time until the grave comes.

And if you’re a servant of that Spirit, if Christ is living in you and you’re living for Christ, you are no longer in charge.

And when these Spirit-filled people come together to worship their God, the Spirit speaks through them and moves among them and all of their divisions and all of their petty cultural differences fall away because they have joined the household of God.
Which is why, in today’s reading, Paul says we are “stewards of God’s mysteries.”

The stewards are put in charge of managing the estate – they are not the owner themselves. The work we do on behalf of God does not belong to us.

This church does not belong to us. The pew that you’re sitting on is not “your pew.” The fact that any of us even exist is utterly and entirely an expression of the glory of God.

To those who are judging him, then, Paul says, “We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.”

In human terms, Paul says, this is nothing but foolishness. In fact, by the world’s standards, by the standards of all those who would judge him or Apollos, they have become “a spectacle to the world.” A laughingstock; an object of contempt and ridicule. Yes, Paul says, “We are fools for the sake of Christ.”

It’s this foolishness in Christ – this complete submission to the Spirit of God living within him – that gives Paul, then, the ability to endure the judgments laid against him:

When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly.

This is the same unity with the Spirit of God that inspired Jesus, in last week’s gospel, to say, “You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

It’s important to understand this: Paul’s advice to them was not just “play nice.” He didn’t say, “C’mon everyone, can’t we all just get along?” Instead, he challenged them to look more deeply into who they were, or more accurately, into what they were serving. By pitting Paul against Apollos, they were that they were still infants; still acting like children; and they had a lot of growing up to do.

It wasn’t Paul that changed their lives, it was God, working through Paul; it wasn’t Apollos whose spirit rang through them when he prayed with them, it was God, working through Apollos.

My prayer for us, as we all grow up in Christ, is that we will focus ever more deeply on the source of our joy. It is not me; it is not Melissa or Carol; it is not Harold or Leslie; it is not the organ; it is not this building; it is not this prayer book; it is not this hymnal. Tomorrow, in the blink of an eye, all this can be gone.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

I say this to you in the name of the one who lives and moves and has its being within us, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Geographical Solution

Sermon: January 30, 2011
Epiphany 4, Year A

Text: 1 Corinthians 1: 22-25
Matthew 5: 1-12

A lot of people have been very good about asking me how I’m doing in the wake of P. K.’s suicide. You know that P. was a friend as well as a member of the parish, and I am grateful for your words of support.

The very first thing we need to keep in mind, of course, is how our friend S. is doing, and her son, D., and P.s’s two children, G. and J. We need to be supporting them, sending them our love, praying for them. We can only imagine what they are going through.

Speaking for myself – and I do so only because I suspect I am not alone with these feelings – I have felt the presence of God throughout this time of terrible grace.

P’s memorial service was as healing for me as I hear it was for many of you. And I want you to know that I have taken my own advice – I have been spending more than the usual amount of time in retreat and prayer; I have been talking to friends and opening myself to the consolations of God’s healing love.

But I also want you to know that I am not “fine.” This is hard for me. I know that I will get to the point when I’m not thinking about P. pretty much every 30 seconds, but that seems a long way off for me right now. I have been opening myself to God’s gift of acceptance but I’m not there yet.

I found myself the other day dreaming about an exotic vacation – getting away to someplace else, someplace nice; someplace where it doesn’t hurt so much. Like anyone who is in pain I want the pain to go away. But I realized I could go to the other side of the moon and this pain would follow me there.

As a preacher once said, “There’s no geographical solution for the human condition.” There is no amusement park or shopping center or movie theater that lets you check your old coat of grief at the door and just leave it there. There’s no drug, no TV show, no job that is powerful enough to make us forget our pain for good.

Since the beginning of time we humans have been trying to run away from our pain. If we could just make more money; if we could just get that new house; if we could just move to the south of France….

Well, who can blame us for trying?

So where do we go with our pain?

There’s something to be said for the Buddhist approach – if life is suffering, and suffering is inevitable, then cultivating a capacity for detachment makes sense. Christians could all learn a thing or two from the Buddhists about how this is accomplished – and of course, learning to let go is at the heart of all Christian prayer. So that’s one place to go: detachment.

But then we have St. Paul – mad, whimsical, difficult Paul – who dares suggest another route. A different kind of geographical solution, if you will. He suggests we travel to the lovely vacation spot of Golgotha. The place of the skull. In the depths of our suffering, he says, travel to the cross.

“For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified…”

Foolishness – no?

Some scholars believe the place where Jesus was killed not only served as a place for executions; it was also a place for dumping your trash. It was a place outside the walls of the city; a place of filth and devastation; packs of stray dogs on the loose, birds picking at the corpses.

Why would anyone want to go there?

Paul had one of the finest educations of his time. He had studied the Greeks; he had been a star pupil in his studies as a Pharisee; he had traveled widely, enough to meet plenty of rich, well-educated, well-fed people who were also despondent. He saw that their learning had not solved the uneasiness of their hearts.

When I was a young man, searching for God and the meaning of life, hitch-hiking all over the United States, living in communes and ashrams and homeless shelters, sleeping on beaches and under freeways, I kept thinking there must be some religion out there that had the key. I imagined a place somewhere – somewhere, perhaps, over the rainbow - a community of enlightened souls; a place where Wisdom was cherished and nurtured. I would find a guru who had found the right meditation, the right technique, the right teaching, and I could go there and be with him, and find the Truth that would set me free.

But everywhere I went, I kept running into the human condition. Gurus who slept with their disciples; disciples who were just as petty, and shallow, and anxious for status, just as manipulative and dishonest as anyone outside the ashram.
In other words, I kept running into the human condition.

But the alarming thing was how everyone in the ashram would practice a careful kind of blindness with respect to this condition; they kept nurturing the fantasy that someday they, too, would lift themselves by their karmic bootstraps and slip the bonds of the human condition, like Harry Houdini escaping from a straight jacket.

And so it seemed to me there was a kind of state of denial about the fact that, at least as far as I could see, they were still pretty normal, flawed people. One minute they would be describing their latest ecstatic epiphany, and the next minute they’d be bitterly complaining, or furiously gossiping, or sneaking off to the 7-11 for a Hostess Twinkie.

And then I met some Christians. I was suspicious; I didn’t want to get too close to them; I disagreed with some of them about their interpretation of Scripture and it seemed to me that many of them were in the thrall of a homophobic panic; I saw that they, too, were no better or worse than the disciples in the ashram; there was just as much pettiness and hypocrisy among the Christians as anywhere else; but the only difference was they freely admitted that they were just as full of it as the next person.

Someone once said that the only thing that distinguishes Christians from everyone else is that they know they are sinners.

Nobody is better than anyone else.

The homeless folks who show up here on Sunday morning for food and hot coffee – the thing about that ministry is not that we feed hungry people. Anyone can put food out for hungry people. What makes it Christian is that we all know that not one of us is any better than any of them.

We are all equally full of it.

On one level, that’s not very encouraging. But you know what? As a starting point, it’s not a bad one. When I saw that in my Christian friends, I could see some wisdom there.

The cross, raised high for everyone to see – set in the middle of a dump.

I heard a preacher, admired and celebrated, who spoke openly about his struggles with depression. I had never heard a guru admit to any such failing. That impressed me. He said that a lifetime of prayer and meditation hadn’t achieved what six months with good therapy had. He said that if we didn’t pay attention to the simple basic rules of mental and physical health, we would only be chasing our tails. He talked about paying attention to the body – and not some impressive athlete’s body; not the body we think we should have, or will have as soon as we get around to going back to the gym and losing those 10 or 20 pounds – but our bodies as they are: flab and wrinkles and all. He talked about how facing down our shame about our bodies and honoring the blessing of our bodies was the beginning of wisdom.

That impressed me.

I read the writings of Martin Luther and how he wrote his sermons while sitting in the outhouse.

What kind of religion is this, I wondered?

Well, it seems to be a religion without illusions. It seems to be a religion without pretense; a religion that has come to terms with the human condition. A religion where I could begin to just be… myself. With all my insecurities and failings; all of my anger and all of my shame and all of my selfishness – I could take it to the town dump; I could take it to the cross. And there, at the heart of this religion, there, at the very beginning of it all, I would find all of it –the worst of the human condition – all the crap of the world: lust for power; violence against the innocent; persecution of the poor; public humiliation; judgment and shame in every shape and form; abject failure; including the ultimate failure - death itself – there it all was.

All of my pain. All of my suffering. All of my bruised ideals and crushed hopes. Everything that I had ever been ashamed of. Every bit of myself that was death to me.

Blessed. Forgiven. Made whole.

What happens when the worst thing in the world takes place: Christ has died. And worse, we’re the ones who betrayed him. What happens when even that crime is forgiven, and blessed?

What happens when everything you’ve been ashamed of is suddenly made whole?

What happens when everything you’ve been trying to let go of is suddenly ...gone?

What’s left?

Maybe what’s left is the only thing that ever existed in the first place: love.

And blessing:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.
"Blessed are those who mourn.
"Blessed are the meek.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
"Blessed are the merciful
"Blessed are the pure in heart.”

That’s the starting point: blessing.

Where we go from there – well, that’s the great adventure.

All I know is that we’ll get there together.

Somebody say, AMEN.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Prayer for the Despondent

Holy One, comforter to the broken-hearted: bless all those who struggle with depression or despair. Inspire them to reach out for support; give them strength and courage to endure their pain; console those who love them and feel helpless in their love; guide the minds and hearts of all their counselors, therapists and physicians. See to it that their burdens are laid down, and that their families are brought together, in the Spirit of that Love which lives and moves and has its being within all of us. Amen.

Prayed at Peter Kingston's Memorial Service, 1/23/11
ML+, author

Peter Kingston, RIP

Homily for Peter Kingston's memorial service, January 23, 2011.
The Rev. Matthew Lawrence, Rector
The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, Santa Rosa, CA

Shirlee asked that we read this familiar story of the Good Samaritan because it was, for Peter, something of a defining text. Peter, growing up within the cold stone walls of a British boarding school, heard this story preached with regularity during mandatory chapel services, and took it to heart. He became devoted to a path of service; a true believer in the old-fashioned ideals of chivalry and honor; love for God and love for neighbor.

Peter sincerely felt the obligations of his class - but far more than that, he felt a deep empathy and compassion for everyone who suffered.

Jamie told me this week that the only person Peter didn’t like was a bully; as a good-sized athlete, Peter never had a problem with bullies himself, but he often witnessed bullying behavior in the sometimes brutal atmosphere of the boarding school, and he always rose to the defense of the weaker boys. Once, we are told, he held a bully by the ankles out a window.

The Good Samaritan goes out of his way to help those in need. We only wish he had practiced the same compassion on himself; that he had found a way to defeat the nagging, bullying voice inside his own head.

The word “compassion” literally means “to suffer with.” In acts of compassion we enter into another person’s suffering; sometimes, like the Good Samaritan, compassion can lead us to literally take on the weight of another’s suffering.

As I imagine this story from Luke’s Gospel I see Peter coming across that man lying half dead by the side of the road, and lifting him into his rower’s arms, effortlessly, without a second thought.

It was not the suffering of others that ever weighed him down; it was his own. Peter would be the one who ignores the advice of the flight attendant about the oxygen masks, making sure everyone else had theirs on before securing his own.

The Samaritans were the most despised members of Jesus’ society; they were considered morally impure; idolaters; even subhuman. The Samaritans knew suffering on a profound level. Which was how they learned about compassion.

Like Peter, the Samaritans came to learn one of life’s hardest lessons and deepest consolations – that suffering opens us to love.

It’s a good thing that some good comes from suffering – because look how we’re suffering now. Perhaps Peter’s death will inspire us all to have more compassion for those who suffer, often in silence, with the deep and lonely pain of clinical depression.

It is a sad testimony to the devastating effects of depression that someone as loving and kind as Peter – the last person on the earth to ever want to hurt anyone – would find himself doing something that hurt us this much.

In his final days, Peter spoke - quite lucidly - about feeling incoherent. It struck us as odd because to us he always seemed so reasonable, so well-assembled. But now we know just how incoherent he was. We have caught a glimpse into the unreasoning depth of his despair – that he would do something so senseless and so completely out of character.

Since those first, horrible moments when we heard of his suicide, we’ve all been looking for answers. That night, the first thing we did was search his house, his computer, his phone, looking for a note, a text, an email, anything that could help us understand this senseless thing.

But that’s just it. There is no sense to this. This is literally the act of a man whose illness drove him from his senses.

There is no reason that explains his desperate act – the only reason is not a reason: that he died from a terrible illness.

Survivors of suicide all have this in common – we all feel guilty; we all feel we should have known; we blame ourselves for not having read the signs. And every single person who has ever lost a loved one to suicide feels this way. We're all in this club, now.

But this is what we know. Peter died of an illness. There was not a single challenge in his life that a healthy person could not have survived. A healthy person can survive the closing of a school, the loss of a job. But Peter’s very severe and very private illness weakened him too much to hold on any longer. Like a house whose foundation has crumbled and whose timbers have been eaten away, he blew over in a wind storm.

So if there is one thing that each and every person here needs to take home today it is this: This was not your fault. Don’t give his depression that victory.

Today, in your deep sorrow: maybe you might feel like this death is a withering blow. Maybe you feel like the one left by the side of the road, beaten, robbed of sense, alone. And maybe you are the one that’s been beating yourself up.

If that’s true, let this story of the Good Samaritan speak to you. Even now, at this very moment, your rescuer is approaching. He sees that you are in pain. He comes down from his horse and kneels beside you. Let him left you into his arms. Let him bind up your wounds. Let him take you someplace safe.

This is no time to refuse his help; this is no time to pretend you are fine; this is no time to try to be the good Samaritan to the Good Samaritan himself. Allow yourself be cared for, and looked after, and loved.

If you’re anything like Peter; if you, too, walk this earth with a heart that’s a little too open, and a little too broken; if you, like Peter, are a little bit too eager to care for others while your own wounds go untreated; if the only time you let yourself sit still is when you’ve been beaten-up by life’s many challenges; do us all a favor: sit with this story. Make friends with the Good Shepherd. And let yourself be loved.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Given, to the Glory of God...

It feels like I’ve been away for awhile. I would like to take this opportunity to put to rest any rumors you might have heard that I was taken away by men in white coats after the Christmas Eve service. There is no truth to that rumor. But I did go into hiding after Christmas - to finish my doctoral thesis, which I’m happy to report was accomplished – and then I took a few days of vacation to catch my breath and prepare for the New Year.

As some of you know, I rather needed the break. During the Christmas services, a couple members of our congregation expressed concern for me – one said, “I recognize the signs of depression in you.” I was a little bit surprised by this – because actually, I really haven’t been feeling all that depressed. It’s a little more complicated than that, actually - and also not very complicated at all.

The not-complicated part simply has to do with the stress of finishing my doctoral thesis. It’s not easy doing that while also working full time through Advent and Christmas. So if I seemed a little distant or pre-occupied during that time, that’s a big reason.

But the more complicated part, coincidentally, has to do with some of the themes we’re dealing with this morning, as we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, and dedicate our new stained glass windows to the glory of God and in memory of Don McIntyre and Diane Williams.

I know this is going to sound kind of strange, but in a way I’ve been kind of envying those stained glass windows.

Let me explain.

There was a preacher once who was giving a children’s homily and he asked the kids if they knew what a saint was, and a little girl raised her hand and pointed at a stained-glass window and said, “The saints are the ones that the light shines through.”

Which is just about the best definition of a saint I’ve heard.

People who have had religious or mystical epiphanies often describe their experience in terms of light, a superabundant light that illumines everything, including their own minds and hearts and souls. People who meet them during these times say that they seem to be lit from within.

They say this is what it’s like to experience the glory of God - the Greek word for “glory” that’s found in the Scriptures – “doxa” – means (among other things) the brightness of God, shining like the sun – the angels are said to manifest God’s glory in the magnificent, uncreated light they give off.

Some of us have had a taste of this glory when we’ve dedicated ourselves to God. Just like when we dedicate a stained glass window, we say that the window is “dedicated, to the glory of God, in memory of so-and-so.”

During the season of Advent and Christmas, with all the talk about the light coming into the world and lighting of the candles and the following of the star, and then with the new year and the dedication of Jesus and all the to-do about New Years’ Resolutions, I was feeling like that was what was missing in me; I needed to find a new way of dedicating myself to the glory of God – and I wasn’t sure how that would happen.

In today’s Gospel Jesus dedicates himself to the glory of God by submitting to baptism. Everyone is mystified by this: Why would Jesus need to be baptized? John the Baptist tries to talk him out of it. But Jesus knows what he has to do. Maybe he was feeling a little bit like me, I don’t know.

But he kneels down in the river; he bows his head; he lifts his heart and opens himself up… and in response, the heavens open up; and they are flooded with the uncreated light of God’s glory - and a voice is heard: This is my son, the beloved; with whom I am well pleased.

This is why I was kind-of been envying those windows. I wanted to be like that image of Jesus back there in the “artichoke window” – I wanted to feel God’s light shining through me. I wanted to be “Given, to the Glory of God…”
…but the more I craved that light and that Glory, the more aware I became of the shadow side of all this brilliance.

A few weeks ago we had a lunar eclipse on the same night as the Winter Solstice; a very rare event, apparently; so Rose and I stayed up and watched the shadow of our earth, with all our busyness and striving and consuming, overwhelm that round full moon; until the moon turned into a red ball, like a hot coal, covered in a layer of ash, glowing in the darkness.

It took about an hour for the moon to be completely covered; Rose had to get up early the next morning so she went to bed and I stayed up for another hour or so, staring at that moon, meditating on light and shadow. It was kind of confusing, spiritually, in the midst of all our bright Christmas celebrations, in the middle of my own existential yearning for light and for Glory - to shift my focus a little bit - to pay a little attention to shadow… but it felt that God was encouraging me to let go of all my striving after light for a little bit…

This was not easy for me.

Maybe I’m not the only one who feels the presence of that shadow side a little more keenly than we’d like; and the more it seems to overwhelm us, the more urgently we run the other way.

So I just stopped running. And I found myself in a pretty dark place. And I was there for a while.

And then, one day, it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to talk about it. And so I did – to my best friend; to my men’s group; and then, finally, when she got home after being away for a week, with my wife. For a couple hours I poured it all out for her – my grief, my anger, my sorrow, my doubt – and she just listened, and listened…

That’s when I realized it’s one thing to be wallowing in your own darkness; it’s another thing entirely to take someone’s hand, and step into that territory together. It’s as if the friend brings a light with her; just having someone with you makes a huge difference.

And when we were done, I felt like we had gone into the heart of my darkness together; and it felt like, in the middle of all that muck and shadow, a door opened just a crack; and the light came streaming in.

The words from John's Gospel come to mind: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overwhelm it."

Since then, some amazing things have been happening – too many things to talk about today – but amazing moments when the Spirit broke into my life in fresh ways; when the heavens opened up and a dove, so to speak, descended.

Since that time, I’ve been doing the work of dedicating myself, all over again, to the glory of God. As I think about and plan for the coming year of ministry and service, I feel a fresh energy to dedicate this year to God.

These moments of glory have reminded me, all over again, of some fundamental rules for the spiritual life:

1. We are not meant to do this work alone. Jesus could have baptized himself; but he went instead to John, and to his community. We all need spiritual companions, people who are not afraid of the dark; who can hold our hands and explore the depth of our lives together. The person doesn’t need to be a professional listener – they just need to listen. Sometimes we need to say, “I’ve got to talk to somebody – would you mind just listening for a little while?” or “Thanks, but I’m really not looking for advice right now. I just need to talk. Is that okay?”

2. Some of us, on the other hand, do need a professional listener, and when we do, we should get one. If you ever feel like you could use one, and you don’t know where to start, consider making a call to your friendly neighborhood priest.

3. The more we run away from our shadow, the more quickly it will overwhelm us.

4. Artificial light – man made light – is no substitute for the light of God; all the urgent , all busyness, all our striving, doesn’t begin to penetrate the shroud.

5. There are no shortcuts.

6. Finally, some things about God. God is playful, and joyful, and fun. God is surprising; God doesn’t give up on us. And the more we dedicate ourselves to God, the more light will shine through us.

This is a time of dedication; as we affirm our Baptismal vows, let’s take a moment to rededicate ourselves to Christ; that we might be given, to the Glory of God.

Somebody say... AMEN.