Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I am on Vacation!

We are on Vacation near Rutland, Vermont.

See you in August.

My Summer Reading...

So what have I read this summer (and recommend):

Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
by Ishmael Beah

Sinners Welcome: Poems
by Mary Karr

What's next...

Tools for Peace: The Spiritual Craft of St. Benedict and René Girard by Andrew Marr

Impostors of God: Inquiries Into Favorite Idols By William Stringfellow

Divine Destruction: Wise Use, Dominion Theology And The Making of American Environmental Policy
by Stephenie Hendricks

And later...

The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth by Thomas Jefferson

A Wing and a Prayer: A Message of Faith and Hope
by Katharine Jefferts Schori

Sermon: July 15 (Proper 10)

As I was watching espn, I admit the remote often goes to channel 33… I listened to the charity work of the MLB with the Boys & Girls Club (the NFL supports the United Way), which a few years ago would not have been talked about or promoted…

From time to time you will hear about athletes too…
-Dikembe Mutombo who is orginially from Congo, part of the great forwards out of Georgetown in the 80’s like Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning…he has just helped built a hospital back home in the capital of Congo…

But the story that caught my attention that I think beautifully dovetails with Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is that of a young phenom in women’s tennis of the late 1970’s and early 80’s. She turned pro at the age of 14 in 1979. She would beat the best from Billie Jean King to Chris Evert to Martina Navratilova. She was ranked second in the world by the age of 16 and by the age of 19 it was all over being forced from the game because of injury. Her name is Andrea Yeager.

But her quick rise to fame and the sudden end to it all does not even begin to tell her story. For Andrea Yeager, it was never about winning… Even as she rose to #2 in the rankings, she would visit hospitals nearby to reach out to the young who were there suffering with disease. She never wanted to be #1 and lose her ability to reach out… When her tennis career ended, she began a new one, helping kids with cancer. What is amazing is that she gave everything she had (all the money she earned from the tour, from endorsements, her pension & investments) to start Silver Lining Ranch in Colorado in 1990. In 2006, she continued her mission with kids with cancer but is now known as Sister Andrea as she is now a Dominican Nun in the Episcopal Church. As Billie Jean King said: "She has done so many good things for so many others since leaving tennis, and her journey continues today."

Sister Andrea speaks of following God’s call. I hear in what she has done what we heard in the Gospel today…

Jesus said, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" The lawyer said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." Indeed that is what Sister Andrea Jaeger has done with her life. But that same go and do likewise is also addressed to us.

I think of Stephen Mitchell’s wonderful reflective piece on the Good Samaritan as they meet in heaven.

"The priest, the Levite, the Samaritan, and the man who fell among thieves meet in heaven to talk over old times. Since heaven has no past or future, they find themselves in the inn on the road to Jericho. "I felt awful about not helping you," the priest says. "My heart wasn't open enough. But I'm working on it." "The last time I had stopped to help a wounded man by the roadside," the Levite says, "he beat me and ran off with my wal­let. I was afraid." "It was my good fortune to be in the right place at the right time," the Samaritan says. "I didn't stop to think; the oil and wine poured themselves, the wound bound itself. My only prob­lem came later, dealing with all the praise."

The man who fell among thieves takes another sip of wine. "Charity begins at home," he says. "If I had been kinder to my­self, I wouldn't have been in that mess to begin with. But I am very grateful to all three of you. It takes great humility to step aside, for a parable's sake. And without the parable, I would never have been saved."
(Parables & Portraits by Stephen Mitchell)

We are like the priest and levite, challenged to go beyond our fear, all that holds us back from helping others. Even Jesus in the parable offers a critique of using the Law as proscribed by God to hold one back from doing good to one in need… We need to be like the Samaritan, the heretic, the person no one ever would have thought of as the one to help out the man who had fallen and yet did! It is easy to pass on by (excuse)…The neighbor is someone who acts on love, without always thinking through it, without always knowing why… That is the story of Andrea Yeager and it is our story too…

How shall I inherit eternal life? asks the lawyer, and I think of some words of 35 years ago that speak to the answer that Jesus gives…

(Lawyer: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." Jesus: "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.")

“Jesus' answer to the lawyer means simply, 'You don't need any great speculation over the meaning of life; you just need to do the ordinary, everyday things; you need only be there when your fellow man (or woman) is in difficulty, then you are already in accord with that meaning. Then you are not merely seeking that meaning; you are in the process of fulfilling it. For you will meet God in the imprisoned, the hungry, and the naked; when you are close to all of those, then you also dwell close to God, and you are in contact with the basic meaning and goal of your life.”(Helmut Thielicke, How to Believe Again, Fortress, 1972).

The Good News of Jesus Christ is with the neighbor who showed mercy, who gave love to one in need. We are to be that neighbor, to go and do likewise. Amen.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

St. Benedict's Feast Day (July 11)

St. Benedict, who lived in the sixth century, was a man who sought and loved God and made the service of God his one aim. His Rule, famed for its discretion, shows its author to have been endowed with common sense and a serious but affectionate disposition.

Half a century after St. Benedict's death, St. Augustine of Canterbury, a monk sent by St. Gregory the Great, was establishing monasteries in England to evangelize the pagan Anglo-Saxons. Throughout Europe a great company of men a women who followed St. Benedict's Rule helped to rescue western civilization from barbarian chaos and to lay its Christian foundation.

Our holy father mapped out a straight course to God, as pertinent in these days of turmoil as when he composed it in a war-torn century. The secret of his abiding spirit is the love of God and of men for God's sake, requiring a disciplined life lived by the spacious doctrine "That in all things God may be glorified." Followers of St. Benedict are known not so much by what they attempt to do, but by what, God helping them, they try to be.

(from the website of St. Gregory's Abbey, an Episcopal Benedictine monastery in Three Rivers, MI)

You can find a great article by Brother Martin of St. Gregory's Abbey on What Kind Of God Do We Really Want?

Almighty and everlasting God, your precepts are the wisdom of a loving Father: Give us grace, following the teaching and example of your servant Benedict, to walk with loving and willing hearts in the school of the Lord's service; let your ears be open to our prayers; and prosper with your blessing the work of our hands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

You can learn more about St. Benedict and daily living here.

Water for Life

What is Goal Seven of the Millennium Development Goals?

Goal Seven seeks to move the world toward environmental sustainability, as the environment provides the resources that sustain human development.

Goal Seven sets targets for cutting in half, by 2015, the number of people who lack a
ccess to clean water and basic sanitation; achieving significant improvement, by 2020, in the lives of 100 million people who live in slums; and integrating the principles of sustainable development into country policies in order to reverse the loss of environmental resources.

Did you know that in our world today:

1.2 billion people lack access to a clean source of water?
2.5 billion people lack access to basic sanitation services?
In most developing countries, forests – which contribute to the livelihoods of many of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty – are shrinking?

How can you help?

Learn more about access to clean water and sanitation in the developing world by visiting Water Advocates at www.wateradvocates.org. Learn what you, your community, and congregation can do to work for policies to promote environmental sustainability in the developing world.

Episcopal Relief and Development (Clean Water Program) is building better water systems and teaching hygiene practices in countries such as Nicaragua, Tanzania, and the Philippines. ERD is working to provide clean drinking water to children and their families in rural communities plagued with poor sanitation, unhealthy hygiene, and polluted water sources. The training covers sanitation, nutrition, reproductive health, and care for children under five. The training helps improve the overall health of each community so people can live longer lives. www.er-d.org

Water for Sudan
, Inc. is a Rochester, NY, USA-based charitable organization by Salva Dut currently operating in Sudan, Africa. Our mission is to drill fresh-water wells for the people in the southern areas of Sudan, providing the foundation for stable, healthy communities. www.waterforsudan.org

We envision the day when everyone in the world can take a safe drink of water. WaterPartners International is committed to providing clean drinking water to communities in developing countries. Working in partnership with donors and local communities, we have helped thousands of people develop accessible, sustainable, community-level water supplies. www.water.org

Give thanks for the gift of water and share with those who do not as of yet have this gift. Help bring life to the world!

From my sermon you can also visit:

Jeffrey Sachs and the article on Ruhiira at Vanity Fair.

H2O Africa is the clean water initiative that is part of the Running the Sahara expedition and film project. H2O Africa will create widespread public awareness of the water crisis in Africa and gather support for clean water programs in critical areas, particularly in the communities without clean water along the Running the Sahara route.

On World Water Day, March 22, 2007, hundreds of restaurants in New York City invited customers to donate just $1 for the tap water they usually enjoy for free. All the money raised through the Tap Project helps UNICEF save lives by providing safe drinking water to children around the world.

Sermon: July 8 (Proper 9)

“The problem with this is, the water won't go away,'' said State emergency management chief Jack Colley of Texas last Thursday (as reported in the NY Times) and they got more rain since then… Such flooding has caused so much damage that President Bush has issued federal disaster declarations for numerous counties in Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma. At the same time, draught, the lack of water caused firework displays to be cancelled from Georgia to California.

But water or the lack of water is more than just a force of nature to be reckoned with, water is also the source of our lives. Water constitutes around 2/3 of our body. Water is integral to our health & well being. Drink 8 glasses (8 oz cups) of water a day… Water is vital to life here on earth and it plays an important role in creation.

As we heard in our reading from Isaiah, “For thus says the LORD: I will extend prosperity to Jerusalem like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream…” The success of Jerusalem is connected to a river, the wealth of nations to an overflowing stream. Such lavish images of abundant water, of life, remind us of the richness of water, it represents health and vitality. And it is refreshing too; its what we think of on a hot summer day, cooling off by taking a dip at Great Hollow Lake or maybe Lake Zoar, taking a boat ride on Long Island Sound, enjoying a cool glass of water. But there are other images too…

Ruhiira, is an isolated village in the highlands of southwestern Uganda, a place with no electricity, nor running water, where at the bottom of the hill nearby is the village's main water supply: a stagnant, filthy water hole with bugs floating on the surface…

We heard the story of Salva Dut, one of the lost boys of Sudan, who as refugee enter this country in 1996 with the help of an Episcopal church in Rochester, NY. After hearing his father was ill in 2002, he returned to the Sudan and saw his father for the first time in sixteen years. Salva discovered that his father was suffering from worms from unclean water. The doctor told his father not to drink unclean water if he wanted to live. There was no clean water in his village so he moved about a hundred miles away to where he could find clean water. Salva, too, became infected with water-borne parasites during his trip to Sudan.

Such places and stories remind us that we have a precious gift. Clean water. Be it from the tap (from our own wells or from city water) or from the local grocery where we picked up some bottled water, clean fresh water is readily available and abundant…

It reminds me of some verses from Psalm 36 (7-9): How priceless is your love, O God! your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings. They feast upon the abundance of your house; you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the well of life. For with God is the well of life.

And we have that gift…clean fresh water, from the water of life… But it is not an earthly treasure we are to hoard as our own. It is a gift that God wants to freely give to us and for us to pass it on…

Just like Jesus who was baptized with water, so are we baptized in the water of life and the Holy Spirit comes upon us to guide us, and lead us where Jesus calls us to go… Jesus sends out 70 disciples to do his ministry in the countryside. He tells them, “Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.'” We are those 70 today and much more and in our world today we can make a difference and proclaim that indeed the kingdom of God has come near!

On February 20, three runners crossed the Sahara desert. It took 111 days and through 6 countries: from Senegal (Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya) and Egypt. They had traveled over 4,300 miles and fought through injury and extreme fatigue to reach their goal of brining attention and support to the water crisis in Africa through H2O Africa. H20 Africa is a Clean Water initiative with their call to action: “You can make a difference in Africa. Clean water can transform a life, and transform a community.”

And we know that lives can be transformed…

[Pictures from the Sudan, 1989, UNICEF, with thanks to Dr. Lopez]

Fresh Clean water…

Ruhiira – a millennium village, Improving water and sanitation through rainwater harvesting and other water supply technologies (such as de-mineralization and water filtration with charcoal and sand)

Salva Dut started water for Sudan and has put in 7 new wells, bring fresh clean water to thousands of Sudanese…

In NYC, on March 22, NY Tap Water was sold for a $1 a glass, not because the 300 restaurants were trying to make easy money… Thousands of dollars were donated to UNICEF to provide clean drinking water to millions of children in places where they do not have it; it is part of their tap project. As one participant said, “Most of the time I drink this tap water,” says Muhammad Nawaz. “I never get sick with New York City water.” Mr. Nawaz is from Pakistan, where contaminated water is a serious concern…

Why do we do it? Reach out through the MDGs? To give water for life? You bet! Because deep down, we know our faith, our life, our hope, all of it tells us that our lives are connected to God and to each other. As Jesus said in the Gospel of Mark, “For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.” And as disciples of Jesus, we live our lives as Jesus lived his life in the world, for we remember that in baptism we are called forth and anointed by God to do good, to do Jesus’ work, in this world today.

Today we bear the name of Christ to the Sudan or Uganda, Colombia or the Philippines, Bridgeport or Monroe, we are called forth to help others see the light of God in the midst of darkness, to taste and see that the Lord is good. For as we taste this clean water this morning, we rejoice in God’s creation and we know that God is at work in this world, and we join God’s effort to help bring life where there is sickness and death, to help proclaim that the Kingdom of God has come near by helping bring clean water to the world! Amen.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Silly Bishop in England

You can read the whole thing here:

Floods are judgment on society, say bishops (Church of England)

The Rt Rev Graham Dow, Bishop of Carlisle, argued that the floods are not just a result of a lack of respect for the planet, but also a judgment on society's moral decadence.

Having heard the same nonsense after 9/11, the Tsunami in SE Asia and Katrina, I saw this posted on the web and thought it might be a good rebuttal...

After the 1906 Earthquake that greatly damaged San Francisco from the quake and resulting fire, one of the surviving buildings contained a whiskey distillery. This led to a popular bit of post-Firequake doggerel:

"Some say that God did spank the town,
For being over-frisky.
Then why’d he burn the churches down,
And spare us Hotaling’s Whiskey?"

Prayer for Canada & the USA

July 1 - Canada Day

Almighty God,whose wisdom and whose love are over all,accept the prayers we offer for our nation. Give integrity to its citizens and wisdom to those in authority, that harmony and justice may be secured in obedience to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

July 4 - Independence Day

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sermon on July 1 (Proper 8)

Here’s another translation from the Gospel of Luke for today: "They came to a Samaritan village to make arrangements for his hospitality. But when the Samaritans learned that Jesus’ destination was Jerusalem, they refused hospitality. When the disciples James and John learned of it, they said, "Master, do you want us to call a bolt of lightning down out of the sky and incinerate them like Elijah did?" (The Message Bible)

It is not the best method of ministry to visit someone and ask God to incinerate them… Though, the reaction of James and John is not so different than how we would react. The Samaritans don’t want to receive Jesus, fine. Let God smite them just “as Elijah did”…some of the earliest manuscripts with this passage from the Gospel of Luke add the words as Elijah did, in reference to action by Elijah from the OT Book of Kings… But that’s not all after Jesus rebukes them for suggesting this, a few old manuscripts add, And Jesus said, "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man has not come to destroy the lives of human beings, but to save them.” Jesus doesn’t want us to call down fire on our so called enemies, he has not come to destroy but to save.

Jesus has come to call us into discipleship, to come follow him. But as we heard from the Gospel of Luke, the three would be disciples are confronted with discipleship on the road to Jerusalem…and Jesus wants them to know there is a cost to discipleship. A first disciple volunteers eagerly, “I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus tells him, he has no place to rest, to lay his head. His ministry is not easy… To a second man, Jesus says follow me. Bu the man asks to first go and bury his father, as was the proper and lawful things for him to do. But Jesus tells him to let the dead bury the dead, you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God. The third would be disciple tells Jesus he will follow Jesus, after he says good bye to his family. To this last one Jesus says, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

It seems that Jesus is putting obstacles in the way of these would be disciples. But just like the disciples who wanted to consume the Samaritans with fire, these 3 do not understanding what the mission of Jesus is, these disciples fail to understand the demands and priority that Jesus expects of his disciples. They have not expected a cost. They saw life & hope with Jesus but forgot the road is not always easy, and that demands would be made of us.

The first volunteered to go where Jesus will go, but was he willing to go to the Cross? The second was asked by Jesus to come and follow, but he wanted to bury the dead first. Was he willing to let go of death and proclaim the kingdom of God and life? The third was willing to go after he had said good-bye, not unlike Elisha from our first reading who did follow the prophet Elijah but not until he went back and took care of his family. But Jesus says the one that looks back will make a crooked path, can he let go of everything and follow Jesus?

We who call ourselves Christians, Episcopalians, can fall into the traps that we have heard this morning. Who hasn’t wanted to call God’s fire down on someone? Like maybe that person who cut you off on the freeway or barged in ahead of you in line at the grocery… Or haven’t we all said, like that third would be disciples, I will follow Jesus after I do this, I will pray to God and give my gifts when I am finished with that…we have much in common with that last disciple.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Christian who understood the cost of discipleship when he died for his faith during the Nazi regime, wrote in his book The Cost of Discipleship about the third would be disciple: “The disciple places himself at the Masters disposal, but at the same time retains the right to dictate his own terms. But then discipleship is no longer discipleship, but a program of our own to be arranged to suit ourselves, and to be judged in accordance with the standards of a rational ethic.”

It is not God who puts obstacles in our way, we do it ourselves. We want discipleship on our own terms but what Jesus asks of us is discipleship that has its costs…

I read a story about a seventh-grader who was on her junior high girls’ track team. "A meet scheduled for one Saturday had to be postponed to the following Saturday — when the girl’s church had planned a community service project that she had signed up for. She went to her track coach and told him about the conflict. He told her, “Your teammates are counting on you and you can’t let them down. I expect you to be here for the meet.” She went home in tears. The next day she talked to him again; he responded, “You are either here for the meet or you turn in your uniform.”

After a sleepless, tearful night, she made her decision. The next day she went to the coach’s office, handed him her uniform and walked away. Her parents and the parents of her teammates were surprised and even shocked: their own teenage daughter was actually choosing God and church over her track team, even though that was the way they raised her. The girl said simply, “This is about God.”" [From “Expect a call” by Kyle Childress, The Christian Century, January 9, 2007.]

This seventh grader counted the cost, responded to the responsibility of her discipleship and decided to follow God. Wow! In our society, it is so easy to put God and Church in the backseat, because it is others who demand everything, come to practice or your off the team, come to work or your fired, but church is not that way…far too many see Church as an optional piece of our lives that we can get to when we have the chance. But the truth is, it is God who demands our whole selves and that young girl got it right!

As one author put it, “There can be no “but first . . . “, no “in a minute”, no “on second thought. We cannot be disciples by being mere spectators of God’s presence; possessing a baptismal certificate alone does not mark us as disciples of the Risen One.” (Jay Cormier)

Discipleship, demands our best, demands all of who we are and demands we not look back. It is not for us to decide. We are called to follow our Lord and let it all go. To take that first step, to trust and believe… Or as they great old hymn “When I survey the wondrous cross” puts it in its last verse (474),

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all. Amen.