Monday, June 30, 2008

On vacation...

My blog is taking a vacation, as am I...

See you in a few weeks.

Thanks for stopping by.

Sermon: June 30

One of the highlights of my trip to Israel in 1999 was to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. It sits upon the Temple Mount and is a sacred site for Muslims, Christians and Jews. For Muslims, it is the site said to be where Mohammed ascended to heaven. For Jews & Christians, the rock is the site where Abraham brought his son Isaac to be sacrificed. It was awesome to experience the site, to see the rock and see a site connected with a specific story in the bible even if it is mere tradition that tells us that.

But that story called the binding of Isaac or Akedah in Hebrew, the near sacrifice of Isaac, is important for us as we understand what it means to live a life by trust and faith. As we have walked with Abraham and Sarah the last few Sundays, we have gotten a sense of his faith, his compassion, his longing for a son, and his relationship with Sarah and God.

Today it is put to a test. The story tells us that God is testing Abraham, nothing tells Abraham that it is a test. God said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." It begins like so many of their conversations…

God said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you."

It would seem like an outrageous request. God wants you to take your son, your only son, the one that God has blessed you with, the one promised to you, and offer him as brunt offering. But some of the words here are familiar… Just like the first time that Abraham hears God’s words (back in chapter 12); God sends him and his family into an unknown land, but Abraham goes because he believes in God and what God promises him and his family. Fearful, fraught with so many things left undone, leaving everything they know behind them, they venture forth. Here Abraham again goes forth trusting in God, taking Isaac, who is old enough to understand…

Isaac said to his father Abraham, "Father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." He said, "The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.

Isaac is aware of the offering, and he asks Dad where the lamb is. And Abraham tells him that God will provide it. There is trust between them. They walk on together, prepare the wood and fire and then Isaac is bound. The text tells us that Abraham intended to kill Isaac. And then the angel steps in and tells Abraham to not do it.

The angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me."

It surely is a test but there is a lot of trust in this story…
1. Abraham trusts that God will provide a lamb for the offering (and not his son)
2. Isaac trusts that Abraham will not kill him and that God will provide
3. God trusts that Abraham will follow God’s directions as he had done before, that his fear of God (this reverence and awe) will lead him.

And in our story today, Abraham responds three times, “here I am.” Ready for God’s word, ready for Isaac, ready again for God’ intervention, Abraham responds in trust and faith: Here I am. I have often seen this near sacrifice of Isaac, with him as a young boy, but the text does not give us his age, and some scholars using dates further on in the chapter suggest that Isaac may have been much older, teenager even an adult. And if this is so, then Isaac allowed himself to be bound, trusting his dad.

And there is something about journey in this narrative about Abraham and trust, and living with that faith. As one author put it, “What is suggested in [God’s] ‘go forth’ [to Abraham] is that two journeys are about to take place, an external journey and an internal journey. All external journeys, as every tourist knows, are infinitely richer if the traveler also fully recognizes the internal journey that is happening simultaneously.” (Jo Milgrom) And that journey of trust and faith is something we all have to learn.

One of my kid’s favorite shows (and mine too) is Disney’s Finding Nemo, about a clown fish named Marlin who has to undergo a long journey to save his son Nemo who was taken by a scuba diver for his tank at his office. But Marlin’s journey is much more than just saving his son, it is a journey that is as much about trust and faith. Something he has so little of at the beginning of the story and slowly through the journey with a little blue fish named Doree, he learns to trust in others and have faith and by the end trusts his son Nemo as they help fish free themselves from a fishermen’s net.

Abraham shows us that trust and faith in God can help us on our journeys…

Sadly, sometimes, we forget that trust and faith.

As I was looking at images for Abraham and Isaac, I found a contemporary sculpture by George Segal who made Isaac a young man in his work from 1978. "There is a strong connection in my mind between the image of Abraham and Isaac and the killings at Kent State" Segal explains. "It's an attempt to introduce difficult moral and ethical questions as to how older people should behave toward their children." Segal sees the May 4 incident as a "genuine tragedy in that both sides were well meaning, each convinced of its own point of view and unable to see the other's." (from

So Abraham called that place "The LORD will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided."

On our journeys, may we remember Abraham and Isaac, the trust and faith they had in each other and in God. May we trust in God, find faith in the promises made to us by God through his son Jesus and learn to trust in one another. The Journey we make both external and internal, like so many have in ages past, is to learn to trust that God will provide as we have heard in the biblical story, and as we have seen with our lives. Amen.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Traces of the Trade

[Episcopal News Service] Public Broadcasting System's (PBS) Point of View (POV) documentary show begins its 21st season on June 24 with the national broadcast premiere of "Traces of the Trade."

"Traces," one of three documentaries bought by POV at the Sundance Film Festival in January, tells the story of the DeWolf family, the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history and also a prominent part of the Episcopal Church in Rhode Island. James DeWolf Perry was the 18th Presiding Bishop.

POV is set to air at 10 p.m. EDT. Local times (via ZIP code or state) may be searched here.

The film's release comes during the year that marks the bicentennial anniversary of the United States' abolition of the slave trade.

In the film, Katrina Browne, a DeWolf descendant and the documentary's producer and director, narrates while cameras follow her and nine other family members as they retrace the route of the "Triangle Trade" in slaves, rum, sugar and other goods between Rhode Island, Ghana, and Cuba. Browne and the others address issues of atonement and reconciliation during their journey.

"In 'Traces of the Trade,' we wanted to ask this question: What is our responsibility?" said Browne. "I'm less concerned with understanding the extreme inhumanity of my ancestors than with understanding the mundane, ordinary complicity of the majority of New Englanders who participated in a slave-based economy. That had more parallels to me and my family today: well-intentioned white folks who are still part of systems that do harm. It's important to roll up our sleeves to deal with what we all inherited from our country's history."

Several screenings of the rough cut of "Traces of the Trade" at the Episcopal Church's 75th General Convention in June 2006 were influential in creating the atmosphere in which the convention passed a number of resolutions about the church and racism. These included A123, in which the Episcopal Church apologized for "its complicity in and the injury done by the institution of slavery and its aftermath" and called on dioceses to document and study that complicity and its implications.

The film ends with footage from the 75th General Convention about the anti-racism resolutions and Browne's testimony to the committees that considered the resolutions. Browne has said she is excited about the POV purchase of "Traces" in part because "the work of the Episcopal Church is now going to be taken to the nation."

More information about POV's premiere of "Traces" is available here.

God and the problem of Suffering

An interesting book review and article on God and the problem of suffering.

I disagree with lots of what was said, and want to argue with it, but that will wait...

Read the article yourself:

Holiday in Hellmouth
God may be dead, but the question of why he permits suffering lives on.
by James Wood

Nietzsche said that if a human being put his ear to the heart chamber of the world and heard the roar of existence, the “innumerable shouts of pleasure and woe,” he would surely break into pieces. But a newspaper, pumping its inky current of despair, might serve as well...

Read it all here.

Failing Christianity

Failing Christianity by Barbara Brown Taylor (in the Christian Century Magazine)

I teach a variety of courses at Piedmont College, but "Introduction to World Religions" is my favorite. I have taught it more than 20 times now, to more than 500 students. One of them tells me how different the news from Iraq sounds now that she knows the difference between Shi'as and Sunnis. Another brings me pictures of a new Hindu temple going up in his old neighborhood, which he is able to interpret for his alarmed parents. Students who complete the class say they feel more at home in the world. They are less easily frightened by religious difference. They are more informed neighbors, better equipped to wage peace instead of war.

The only place the course backfires is in the unit on Christianity. Students who have spent every Sunday of their lives in church may be able to name the books of the Bible in order, but they rarely have any idea how those books were assembled. They know they belong to Victory Baptist Church, but they do not know that this makes them Protestants, or that the Christian tree has two other major branches more ancient than their own. Very few have heard of the Nicene Creed. Most are surprised to learn that baptism is supposed to be a one-time thing.

Read it all here. (limited time)

A voice from Scotland...

So what's happening in the Anglican Communion?

I found this address by the Rt Rev Brian Smith, Bishop of Edinburgh, on APPROACHING LAMBETH very informative.

This address was given to members of the Diocese of Edinburgh on 17 June 2008. Drawing upon earlier addresses and Bible studies given in the diocese, it argues that the church should allow the category of ‘the tragic’ to shape its perspective on the world, and should place more emphasis on what is highlighted as ‘ethical transcendence’ in its understanding of God. Doing this creates the possibility of articulating a circumscribed and limited pluralism, totally different from simple relativism. The paper concludes by suggesting that much in current approaches to Anglican difficulties rests upon a too limited approach to the doctrine of the Trinity. The heart of the paper is a plea that Anglicanism recaptures elements in the traditions which lie at the heart of its life, brings them to the fore and addresses our current disputes in their light.

Read it all. You can download it directly as a pdf or Word file.

Join in the Lambeth Bible Study

The faithful around the Communion have a unique opportunity for Bible Study with their Bishops during the Lambeth Conference as the series 'Signs on the Way' makes its debut on the Lambeth Conference website. This special series - focusing on St John's Gospel - complements the Bible studies in which the bishops and their spouses will take part during the Lambeth Conference 2008.

We hope that people throughout the Anglican Communion will use this series as a way of being present in spirit at the Lambeth Conference,supporting their bishops before, during and after this important gathering.

The studies are structured so that they can be used either by groups or by individuals. They can form the basis of personal devotions, a church study group or perhaps a diocesan meeting.

We have made the study guides as accessible as possible, using a series of questions in each case as the basis of the study.

Read more about it here.

Download a copy of the Bible Study (pdf) here.

Sermon: June 22

Now that school is over, its time to take a pop quiz! I know its not fair, but pop quizzes never are…

So let’s set the tone for your biblical questions.

[Music: Wide World of Sports Intro]

Question 1: What was the name of Abraham’s 1st born Son? And who was the mother? {Ishmael & Hagar}

Question 2: Who bore the son called “He will Laugh”? What was so surprising about his birth? {Sarah, She was quite old when she conceived and bore him, beyond child bearing age.}

Question 3: Who did Abraham marry after Sarah died? And were there any sons born? {Keturah and they had 6 sons.}

So the sons of Abraham by wife:
1. Hagar - Ishmael
2. Sarah - Isaac
3. Keturah - Zimran (& 5 others)

Final Question: whom did Abraham love best?

OK, that question isn’t fair, but the question certainly arises as we look at the passage from Genesis: Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, "Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac." The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son.

We must back up a bit to understand what is going on. Abraham married Sarah but they were unable to have a child, so Sarah gave Hagar who was her servant to Abraham and was made his wife so Hagar could bear children for him. And she bore a son, Ishmael who was Abraham’s first born son. Sarah became jealous of this and you can begin to see the rivalry…

Now when Abraham first heard that Sarah would indeed become pregnant, at which he fell down laughing at the idea since they were both old, his first response after this was to say: “O that Ishmael might live in your sight.” (Gen 17: 18)

And God hears Abraham’s compassion for his son, and tells Abraham, Ishmael will also be blessed and will also become great. But Sarah does not want such a rivalry amongst the sons in her household and wants Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. Such a move could be fatal and Abraham is worried, but God tells Abraham not to worry, Ishmael is blessed and will be OK.

And the story of the chosen one Isaac, in fact the Bible does not continue until we know the fate of Ishmael. When all looks lost for Hagar and Ishmael, it is then an angel comes on the scene to remind us all that indeed Ishmael will be blessed and they find water in the wilderness and they are refreshed.

[Oil Painting of the angel’s visit from Univ. of Mich. Museum of Art]

For me the stories of Isaac and Ishmael, are both about compassion, for God has compassion on Abraham and Sarah and delivers the promised child, but God also hears the cries of Ishmael in the wilderness even as God heard Abraham's cries for Ishmael at the promise, and Hagar and Ishmael are not forgotten and God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

Such compassion is part of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, all of whom look back to Abraham as their ancestral father.

For Islam, “All human creatures are God’s children, and those dearest to God are those who treat his children kindly.”

For Judaism, “The world stands upon three things: upon the Law, upon worship, and upon showing kindness.”

For Christianity, I think of Jesus telling the Parable of the Good Shepherd and asking which was a neighbor to the man who fell among thieves, and they answered him, the one who showed mercy (or compassion), and Jesus said, go and do likewise.

In many ways, Abraham loved them all. He could not forget Ishmael his first son with Hagar even as he celebrated the birth of Isaac with Sarah. And at his death, we are told that Isaac and Ishmael together buried their father Abraham. It is such kindness and compassion that we are called to exercise in our lives.

As Henry James put it, “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”

Let me end with a story …

Long, long ago there lived a saint so good that astonished angels came down from heaven to see how a mortal could be so good. He simply went about his daily life, diffusing virtue as a star diffuses Light, and the flowers perfume, without even being aware of it.

Two words summed up his day: He Gave And He Forgave. Yet these words never fell from his lips; they were expressed in his ready smile, in his kindness, his forbearance and charity.

The angels said to God, “Oh, Lord, grant him the gift of miracles.” God replied, “I consent; ask what he desires.” So they said to the Saint, “Should you like the touch of your hand to heal the sick?” “No”, answered the Saint, “I would rather God should do that.”

“Should you like to become a model of patience, attracting all by the luster of your virtue, and thus glorify God?” “No, “ replied the Saint, “If others should be attracted to me, they would be estranged from God. The Lord has other means of glorifying himself.” But the angels insisted. “You must ask for a miracle or one will be thrust upon you.” “Very well,” said the Saint. “That I may do a great deal of good without even knowing it.”

The angels were greatly perplexed. They took counsel together, and resolved upon the following plan: Every time the Saint’s shadow should fall behind, or at either side, so that he could not see it, it would have the power to cure diseases, soothe pain, and comfort sorrow.

And so it came to pass, for the Saint simply went about his daily life diffusing virtue as a star diffuses Light and the flowers perfume, without even being aware of what was happening.

And the people respected his humility and kindness, followed him silently, never speaking to him about his miracle. Little by little they came even to forget his name and called him only “The Holy Shadow”. (from

Let us in what we do, cast a Holy Shadow, and share our compassion and kindness like Abraham. For “Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us, so let us be quick to love, and make haste to be kind.” Amen.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Faith and Doubt

You can find an interesting set of articles on faith and doubt in the New Yorker.

Look here.

I liked the articles by Tobias Wolff & George Saunders.

Deuteronomy 15: Economics of Generosity

Micah Challenge Prayer Friday 20 June 2008

The Poverty and Justice Bible is the first ever to highlight more than 2,000 passages that speak of God’s attitude to poverty and injustice. Challenging the notion that the Bible is a dusty, outdated rulebook, it shows that, on the biggest issues of our day, God got there first.

John Douglas, Executive Assistant of Micah Challenge UK, explores striking verses that impact on society.

Deuteronomy 15.1–18 At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts...

God’s justice is not just about what is right and fair but is also about overwhelming generosity. I had never understood this before. And thanks to a sermon I once heard based on this passage, The Economics of Generosity, it became so alive to me in a whole new way.

Verses 1 to 3 deal with the release of debt while verses 12 to 18 are concerned with the release of slaves. Both of these are laws based on two ancient economic laws in Exodus reissued in Deuteronomy with added instruction for generosity and compassion. These laws are designed to protect the impoverished and marginalized on the lower rungs of society.

What strikes me first of all is the fact that God has gone to the lengths and detail of setting out an economic system that is fair and just with the goal of the economic balance he wants to see in society. God has not only considered the plight of the poor but also the responsibility of having plenty, giving clear instruction on how to honor him.

In Deuteronomy 15.1–18 God presents both his ideal, ‘No one in Israel should ever be poor’ (4) and the fallen human reality that, ‘There will always be some Israelites who are poor and needy.’ (11) But that does not leave us without excuse because generosity functions as a bridge between this ideal and our reality while God’s laws function as a break from the relentless economic forces at work within society. God tells us that we are not meant to be ‘mean and selfish’ with our money; we are called to ‘be kind’ and ‘be happy to give to the poor what they need’. Slaves, when they were released, were not to be sent off with mere well wishes but an incredibly generous redundancy package of ‘sheep and goats and a good supply of grain and wine.’ God instills generosity in these laws so that his people will reflect to the world the generosity they have been shown by him.

At one point in the sermon, the preacher stated, ‘If there was a far great commitment, let alone from the G8 and all those other forces, if there was even commitment among the world Church to commit itself to some kind of fairness and justice and generosity, what a difference that would make and what a prophetic sign that would be.’

So as God’s desire for justice and his concern for the poor are plain for us to see, will we commit to fairness, justice and generosity as his people? Can we be the generation that will make that difference and be a prophetic sign to the world?

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On Being Spiritual and Religious

“I’m spiritual, but not religious,” is a refrain we hear often these days. As with most popular expressions, its meaning is vague, but it’s quite clear that the expression makes a distinction between being spiritual and being religious with the implication that they are alternatives. A brief reflection on what the distinction seems to mean should give us some insight into a prevalent attitude floating in the air.

I take the expression “spiritual but not religious” to indicate an interest in supernatural reality of some sort lived out with consciousness-raising practices such as meditation, but separate from any particular religious institution. There might be respect for some teachings in some religions, but these teachings are brought together in a personal eclectic mix. This approach to being “spiritual” isn’t new. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau did much to sell Americans and people world-wide on a spirituality of “self-reliance.”

It is telling that I can’t recall ever hearing anybody turn the expression around by claiming to be religious, but not spiritual. This suggests that “religious” people don’t see anything wrong with being “spiritual,” and are not likely to see the two as alternatives. Apparently, “spiritual” people see religion as an obstacle to “spirituality,” but religious people don’t see spirituality as an obstacle to religion.

The Latin root word for religion, religare, means “to bind.” Religious practices live up to this meaning by making connections that bind people with each other and with God. Practices of spirituality are also capable of making these connections, but if spirituality is separated from religion, then whatever good they do for an individual’s well-being, any connections they make with other human beings or God are tenuous at best. Basically, a person who is “spiritual but not religious” follows the spiritual quest alone. The extreme of this would be to live by Plotinus’ famous phrase: “The alone to the Alone.”

Read the rest of this article by Abbott Andrew in St. Gregory's Abbey's Summer Letter, here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Episcopal Church & Missionaries

Quick: How many missionaries does the Episcopal Church have serving full-time overseas?

If you don’t know the answer to that question, don’t worry: Most Episcopalians aren’t even aware that the Episcopal Church has full-time overseas missionaries. Not because they aren’t paying attention, but because, sad to say, we don’t tell the story well enough (and by “we,” I mean the entire Church, top to bottom).

The fact is, the Episcopal Church has 70 missionaries serving full-time around the world in more than 30 countries. Each missionary is sent forth by the Episcopal Church of the United States, and thus represents not just his or her sending diocese, but the entire church.

Read the rest of the article by missionary and priest, the Rev. Lauren Stanley here.

Day of Prayer for the Lambeth Conference

From our Presiding Bishop...

To the people of The Episcopal Church:

As we move toward a great gathering of bishops from across the Anglican Communion, I call this whole Church to a Day of Prayer on 22 June (Sunday). The Lambeth Conference represents one important way of building connections and relationships between churches in vastly different contexts, and reminding us of the varied nature of the Body of Christ.

I would bid your prayers for openness of spirit, vulnerability of heart, and eagerness of mind, that we might all learn to see the Spirit at work in the other. I bid your prayers for a peaceful spirit, a lessening of tension, and a real willingness to work together for the good of God’s whole creation. As many of you know, the Anglican Communion is one of the largest networks of human connection in the world. Churches are to be found beyond the ends of paved or dirt roads, ministering to and with people in isolated and difficult situations. That far-flung network is the result, in part, of seeds planted by a colonial missionary history. The fruit that has resulted is diverse and local, and indeed, unpalatable to some in other parts of the world.

Our task at the Lambeth Conference is to engage that diverse harvest, discover its blessings and challenges, and commit ourselves to the future of this network. We must begin to examine the fruit of our colonial history, in a transparent way and with great humility, if we are ever going to heal the wounds of the past, which continue into the present. With God’s help, that is possible. I ask your prayers. I can think of no better starting place than the prayer for the Church (BCP p 515):

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

I remain
Your servant in Christ,
+Katharine Jefferts Schori

Prince Caspian: The Movie

My review: 4 out of 5 stars - I liked it, it made some changes from the book but I thought it stuck with the main themes very well.

Here is another positive review (not yet on the web - I will add it soon).

Here is a more negative review.

Other thoughts on Prince Caspian...


In a dreary train station in England on their way back to boarding school, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy suddenly feel themselves being tugged into another world. They arrive on an unknown island, where they find the ancient ruins of a palace. But something feels familiar about this place. Eventually the children recognize that they are at Cair Paravel, where they themselves ruled as Queens and Kings of Narnia. They discover that they have been called back to Narnia because the forces of Old Narnia are in trouble. Just one year has passed in our world, but a thousand years have passed in Narnia. The rightful king, Prince Caspian, is fighting a war against his uncle, King Miraz, who wants to destroy the country of Aslan—the Talking Beasts and trees, the Dwarfs and Fauns—and all memory of Old Narnia. In desperation, Caspian has blown a magical horn—the very horn Susan once received from Aslan—to summon the Lion and the children to help them in their struggle.


Some of the themes in Prince Caspian are: God calling people to the place where they are needed, the faith of Lucy (youngest), everyone having different gifts that are all needed, the need for courage in the face of evil, the recurrence of the power of evil and the ultimate victory of God (good).


“Everything you know is about to change.” – Aslan (Movie)

"Welcome, Prince," said Aslan. "Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?" "I — I don't think I do, Sir," said Caspian. "I'm only a kid." "Good," said Aslan. "If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been a proof that you were not." (Book & Movie)

"Spiritual style rather than doctrinal proposition is important be­cause Lewis, according to his own account, wrote in a spirit of play, casting "all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations," in order to show what it feels like to be a believer—to smuggle religious emo­tions "in their real potency" past the "watchful dragons" of bore­dom and embarrassment. He was not writing allegory, which shows us what is true, but fairy story, which shows us what is desir­able.

When critics reduce Lewis's fairy stories to allegory, they di­minish the specific literary pleasure for which the stories were designed and obscure the masterly portrayal of religious feelings at different stages in life. These stages become clear as we examine the books in order.

For children born into an Anglican-style religious home, the first awareness of Christianity comes through its two great festivals, Christmas and Easter. The young child does not know why these holidays are so important; he simply accepts the joyous celebra­tion, feeling it more as a physical than a mental or spiritual event. This is exactly what we find in Wardrobe, the first Chronicle. The ar­rival of Father Christmas in Narnia is a lovely surprise for the chil­dren, a physical experience of receiving presents and having a good dinner. Mr. Beaver understands the evangelium of Asian on the move, of an end to the always-winter-but-never-Christmas stagna­tion, but the children are less aware of it.

The Narnian analog of Easter also focuses on physical sensations: the delicious languor of the spring thaw; the cold, horror, and weeping of the girls' vigil; the joyous resurrection-morning romp and lion-back ride. These, rather than a cognitive grasp of the theology of incarnation and sacrificial redemption, are the focus of Wardrobe. It is Christianity on the very simplest level."
(from “The Compleat Anglican: Spirit Style in the Chronicles of Narnia” by Doris T Myers, 1984)

ERD's Response to the floods...

Episcopal Relief & Development is providing emergency assistance to communities devastated by ongoing flooding in Iowa. So far the flood waters are responsible for the deaths of five people, the displacement of 38,000 others and have inflicted up to $1 billion in damage to Iowa’s agricultural sector.

The damage to infrastructure is severe. Across eastern Iowa, the flooding rivers have washed out railroad lines, halted barge traffic on the Mississippi River and closed major roadways. Twenty-four counties have been declared disaster areas to date. The crisis is far from over. More rain is expected in the region and officials fear that flood waters will breech 27 levees along the Mississippi River in Iowa and Missouri later this week.

Working with its partner the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa, Episcopal Relief & Development is providing emergency assistance to people who have been displaced from their homes. Families will be given temporary shelter and provided with food, clothing, first aid and other basic necessities. “The Diocese of Iowa’s extraordinary people have been bringing support to those impacted by recent tornadoes, immigration raids and now these terrible floods,” says Abagail Nelson, Senior Vice President for Programs at Episcopal Relief & Development. “We will continue to support them as they bring critical aid to the people impacted in their communities.”

To help people affected by flooding in Iowa, please make a donation to Episcopal Relief & Development’s “Disaster Response Fund - Midwest” online at , or call 1.800.334.7626, ext. 5129. Gifts can be mailed to: Episcopal Relief & Development “Disaster Response Fund – Midwest” P.O. Box 7058, Merrifield, VA 22116-7058.

Episcopal Relief & Development is the international relief and development agency of the Episcopal Church of the United States. As an independent 501(c) (3) organization, Episcopal Relief & Development takes its mandate from Jesus’ words found in Matthew 25. Its programs work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Together with the worldwide Church and ecumenical partners, Episcopal Relief & Development strengthens communities today to meet tomorrow’s challenges. We rebuild after disasters and empower people by offering lasting solutions that fight poverty, hunger and disease, including HIV/AIDS and malaria.

Sermon: June 15

I had the pleasure this week of spending some time at a continuing education class at Yale Divinity School. All Episcopal priests are required to take some cont. ed. classes every year which is a good thing in my opinion. My class was called The Bible in Art & Artifact and we examined the biblical text and then using the rich resources of Yale to see that text in art and artifacts from the Yale University Art Gallery to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. It was a great week. When we think about the bible, the stories, the history; so much of it has been put to music or drawn by artists, art has left a lasting impression on us in many ways.

For me, the visit of the Angels to Abraham and Sarah always brings me back to this icon…

This icon of the Holy Trinity was created by Andrew Rublev, a Russian iconographer in 1425. The three persons seated are the three strangers that come to visit Abraham and Sarah in the book of Genesis. Abraham and Sarah offer their hospitality to the three (offering food, drink, rest) and they in turn announce the unexpected birth of Isaac.

Rublev uses this encounter to paint the scene of three angelic figures, representing the three persons of the Trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are seated together and look at one another. The Son points to the sacrificed lamb on the table. The Father has a blessing gesture in the scene and the Holy Spirit points to the opening in front of the table or altar. One can see the connection between the Father’s Blessing, the Son’s sacrifice, and the opening of salvation of the world by the Son through the work of the Spirit.

They are indeed all connected. It is a House of Love, as Henri Nouwen put it, that he experienced in his meditation on that icon of the Holy Trinity. Nouwen said, “the spiritual life keeps us aware that our true house is not the house of fear, in which the powers of hatred and violence rule, but the house of love, where God resides.”

The story of course, invites us to go deeper, for in the midst of the hospitality to these strangers/angels, that out of this House of Love comes the promise that Sarah will conceive and bear a child. One of them said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?"

There is a wonderful medieval illuminated manuscript on this passage, as Abraham gives the hospitality to the angels and hears about the gift of a child in the background is Sarah who is laughing at the tent door. Abraham who in the previous chapter of Genesis hears that the Lord would bless Sarah and she would conceive and bear a child, fell on his face laughing at such an idea. It is a natural reaction. It seems impossible. A child now after all these years. But God is at work and offers a blessing.

The LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, and say, `Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?”

At midnight on Friday night, I stood with others before the stage at the Relay for Life, many people were still there, young & old, survivors, caregivers and friends, and we stood there at the “Fight Back Ceremony.” The ceremony “symbolizes the emotional commitment we each make to the fight against cancer. The action we take represents what we are willing to do for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for our community to fight cancer year-round and to commit to saving lives.”

As we stood there I thought of Abraham & Sarah’s laughter and how just a few years ago we might have laughed too at the idea of fighting against cancer. Its too big, too hard to fight, too depressing, can we win? And God would have replied, “Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?”

We do fight back, for we continue to find affective therapies to combat many cancers, we have learned over the years of what we can do and we have learned to fight. Childhood cancers have declined 48% in 30 years, most other cancers have also declined due to earlier detection and improved treatment options.

But sadly, we know that not everyone wins that fight, I know someone who recently lost his fight at the age of 23 after battling cancer since childhood. I also know that God is in the midst of this fight with us, inviting us to that House of Love, to know that God promises more for each of us.

The LORD dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. And Sarah said, "God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me." (from Genesis 21)

They named him Issac, for Issac means in Hebrew, "He will Laugh." The laughter of incredulity has turned to the laughter of joy at such a birth! The last picture I have is all those who walked the Relay to celebrate and remember and fight back. An image of hope and indeed of laughter too.

May our laughter be that type of joy as we celebrate with those who have survived cancer or are battling it now, for those who have just given birth in our parish family, for those whom God has blessed. For we know that God fulfills God’s promises and we know it’s a journey we all walk to understand and celebrate those promises.

As one author put it, “We laugh Sarah’s laugh, not because we have faith, but because we find it impossible to have it. That is the disturbing truth being held up before us in this week’s story: that faith is not a reasonable act and that the promise of God is not just a conventional piece of wisdom that is easily accommodated to everything else. Abraham and Sarah laughed because they had reached a dead end in their lives and because they had adjusted to it. They had accepted their hopelessness [of not having a child] just the way, if we are honest, we too accommodate ourselves to all those barren places in our lives where the call to believe in “a new thing that God will do” seems, quite frankly, nonsensical. And yet ... there is another kind of laughter to which the promise made in this story also points. A very different kind of laughter. The laughter, not of Sarah or Abraham, but of that One who keeps his own counsel and works his own will—whether or not we have the faith to see it. Sometimes we have to wait to share in that kind of laughter, just as Abraham and Sarah had to wait, too.” (Barry J. Robinson)

May we indeed share in that kind of laughter, that kind of Joy, celebrated in that House of love. May we hear & know of God’s work in our lives and our world, and put our faith and trust in what God is doing. Amen.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

All the News Fit to Print (from NY Times)

Sometimes the NY Times has articles that get us thinking...

A $10 Mosquito Net Is Making Charity Cool

Donating $10 to buy a mosquito net to save an African child from malaria has become a hip way to show you care, especially for teenagers. The movement is like a modern version of the March of Dimes, created in 1938 to defeat polio, or like collecting pennies for Unicef on Halloween.

Unusual allies, like the Methodist and Lutheran Churches [and Episcopal Church!], the National Basketball Association and the United Nations Foundation, are stoking the passion for nets that prevent malaria. The annual “American Idol Gives Back” fund-raising television special has donated about $6 million a year for two years. The music channel VH1 made a fund-raising video featuring a pesky man in a mosquito suit.

It is an appeal that clearly resonates with young people.

Read more about it here.

Learn about the Nets for life Program (through Episcopal Relief & Development) here.

Gay Unions Shed Light on Gender in Marriage

For insights into healthy marriages, social scientists are looking in an unexpected place.

A growing body of evidence shows that same-sex couples have a great deal to teach everyone else about marriage and relationships. Most studies show surprisingly few differences between committed gay couples and committed straight couples, but the differences that do emerge have shed light on the kinds of conflicts that can endanger heterosexual relationships.

Read the rest here.

Out of a Church Kitchen and Into the Courts

NEBRASKA BEEF has been accused of making people at a church social very sick; one elderly woman died. Meatballs served at a smorgasbord of the Salem Lutheran Church in Longville, Minn., were tainted with deadly E. coli bacteria, and Nebraska Beef was named as the culprit in lawsuits filed by the dead woman’s husband and by Ellie Wheeler, one of 17 other people who became ill.

Ellie Wheeler, one of those at a church social who became ill, is suing Nebraska Beef. The company is suing her church. Carolyn Hawkinson died after eating meatballs at Salem Lutheran Church in Longville, Minn. All of this is straightforward enough, and you might expect that it would lead to an out-of-court settlement, with the meat company vowing to clean up its act.

But Nebraska Beef, based in Omaha, is pursuing a very different tactic. For starters, the company has denied that it is responsible for providing bad meat, and it has provided a culprit of its own. It blames the Salem Lutheran Church — contending in its own lawsuit that the volunteer church ladies who prepared the food were negligent.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sermon: June 8

She said to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well." Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well."

That’s Faithfulness in the midst of illness/suffering.

A leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before Jesus, saying, "My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live."

That’s Faithfulness in the midst of grief/mourning.

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him.

That’s Faithfulness as an outsider/traitor

Today’s Gospel reading is all about Faithfulness which is also present in our OT & NT readings as well.

For Abram’s response in Genesis to God’s call to go as the Lord told him, he went with Sara his wife and his nephew Lot and took all their possessions. For this act, the Lord blesses them! And that is faithfulness. In Romans, Paul remembers Abraham for his faith. Not because he did some valiant work: but Abram believed God, did what God called him & his family to do and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

As we recognize the children, acolytes, HS seniors graduating, this morning, we are reminded of the faithfulness of children, of their curiosity and love and discovery, of whom Jesus said for us to enter the kingdom of heaven we are to become like children.

This week, some of us are going to see the movie Prince Caspian based on one of the books of the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis. One year has passed in our world since the first adventure ended (The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe), but in Narnia, almost 1,300 years have passed when the Pevensie children return to Narnia. Aslan the Lion is in many ways the Christ character of the story, but the children who learned to trust and love him in the first story have nearly forgotten him in the second book except for the youngest Lucy.

She is the one who sees him when the others say they haven’t. It is her faithfulness that finally leads them on the right road to help Prince Caspian. She has that magical faith of a child and yet there is more to it than that, for she is older and despite everyone who fails to see Aslan, she does and continues to believe. That’s faithfulness too.

But Aslan doesn’t stop his work until all see him again, he continues on, waiting for those to come around, just as Jesus confronted by others about his ministry said, I have come to call not the righteous but sinners. Understanding that he was calling those who had faith and those who as of yet did not. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Jesus said.

If we understand that our selves, our souls, our bodies, are in need of health, in need of the power of God, then we can be open to hear the words from the physician of our souls, Jesus Christ, for he has the words that will make our lives what they can be. "Go and learn what this means," says Jesus, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.”

Jesus does not want to make insiders and outsiders for the Kingdom of God. He wants everybody in! But he challenges those who think they are righteous, who have it all going for them, who are not the poor, the powerless, the outcasts of society, to truly consider whether or not they are doing what God wants. Are they hearing the call? Where is mercy in their lives?

Like the older children in Narnia, they come again to faith through Lucy’s help as they learn they were not hearing Aslan's call…

We must remember that as we gather here at St. Peter’s, we are not the righteous gift of God for the world. But we are sinners who have heard the call of Jesus Christ to come follow, and are attempting to live out of love and mercy as Jesus would have us do.

May we hear the call of Jesus, in our lives, a call to radical discipleship, a call to embrace the outcasts of our society to bring them the love of God. To bring healing, forgiveness and hope. To bring mercy.

May our lives be open to what Jesus can bring (just as Abram heard God’s call to go and he and his family followed that call. Matthew heard the call of Christ, gave up his work as a tax collector and followed Jesus. The leader of the synagogue and the woman with the hemorrhage, heard of Jesus and believed in him. Lucy continued to have faith even as her older brothers and sister did not.) And in faithfulness, be ready to follow where Christ calls us to go. Amen.

The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

After hearing about Jim McKay's death, I thought of how ABC's Wide World of Sports introduced to me as a child, sports through out the world and of course, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Jim McKay was a big part of it. May Jim and all the departed through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Eucharist and Exclusion

There are news reports from time to time about celebrations of the Eucharist (or the mass) when people are specifically excluded from taking communion...

Mother of autistic boy in Minnesota pleads not guilty to violating church restraining order

Priest Snubs Lawyer over Obama Endorsement
or For an 'Obamacon,' Communion Denied

Wyo. church denies lesbian couple Communion

Girl with digestive disease denied Communion

Church denies Communion to autistic boy

Giuliani breaks rules by having Communion at papal mass

Sadly, sharing in the Eucharist and breaking bread together in Jesus' name has become too ruled by law and not by the Spirit.

As we live into the spirit of Anglicanism here at St. Peter's, I think of words written about Elizabeth I who in so many ways helped shape our understanding of the faith that we have inherited as Episcopalians (Anglicans).

It is according to Sir Francis Bacon that Elizabeth believed that what people do is what matters, our saying common prayers together and not our assumptions about other's opinions or beliefs. Bacon sets out this view of Elizabeth: "Her Majesty, not liking to make windows into men's hearts and secret thoughts..."

In her own words about taking communion:

'Twas God the Word that spake it,
He took the bread and break it;
And what the word did make it;
That I believe and take it.

May we with humble hearts take communion together in the name of Jesus, with nothing to separate us from that sacred meal.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Sermon: June 1

A man is looking at his new home, built on low lands, admiring them from above as he notices a Thunderstorm just west of him, when he suddenly looks down at his house, water starts streaming by it, in a matter of seconds, the water becomes a flood, his house is swept away, as he stares down on what has happened, a voice from heaven says, “life comes at you fast…”

Ok, so maybe God wouldn’t use the Nationwide ad, but it isn’t just Nationwide that is on your side, God is too and as we heard from Jesus in the Gospel today, his last words from the Sermon on the Mount, that God’s grace is with us and our discipleship will help us with what life throws at us.

Jesus said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.” So what does it mean to follow Jesus?

Jesus wants us to understand that it means more than hearing his words. A whole crowd, including his disciples, had been listening to his words on the side of that small mountain. He doesn’t want what he says to them, to be heard one day, and forgotten the next. Nor is it just saying Lord, Lord. And it isn’t just doing spectacular things. We have seen too many charlatans who look like the real deal but who are not following God’s will.

Jesus wants all of us who hear his words, who read them at night, hear them proclaimed in Church, study them, listen to them on the radio, he wants us to put those words into actions, into following God’s will. To believe in Jesus is to follow God’s will as Jesus has given it to us, and to put his words into action into the whole of our lives, not just a part.

As one person put it, “If Christ does not reign over the mundane events in our lives, He does not reign at all.” (Paul Tripp) Discipleship is about the whole of our lives following God’s will. And there are those who hear the words of Jesus but who don’t act on them.

Jesus tell us that they are like “a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell-- and great was its fall!” Jesus who wants us to have an abundant life, filled with joy, love and peace reminds us that to really have those things, we must follow and act. For those who don’t, life will always fail them when the tough times hit.

And notice that Jesus says that “the rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on” both the wise man and the foolish man’s houses. It is only the foolish that had it fall. Jesus reminds us that all of us in our lives, suffer the rains, the floods, the bad, troublesome even tragic times. But if we live as Jesus has called us to do, than we will have the ability to withstand what comes our way, that God will give us the strength we need to overcome the “rains” so that our house will not fall, that the Spirit will be inside of us and around us to guide us, to live through the suffering, the tragedy, because we know there is more to life!

And his words certainly means there are no easy roads in following Jesus, but we already knew that in our lives, that there are no easy roads period. Discipleship is costly but truly following Jesus means we will have the strength to face what comes before us each day.

One simple way we can remember this, is by the prayers we say I think of this prayer for use by one who is sick (anyone can use it), from our Book of Common Prayer

This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus.

Simple and yet built on the Rock, on the faith that Jesus offers to us for the Spirit of God that is with us, is there to support us all the day long to do God’s will. I also think of this prayer by Malcolm Boyd, written over 40 years ago, that asks for Jesus to be with us on our busy day.

“It's morning, Jesus. I've got to move fast — get into the bathroom, wash up, grab a bite to eat, and run some more. Where am I running? You know these things I can't understand. It's not that I need to have you tell me. What counts most is just that somebody knows, and it's you. That helps a lot. So I'll follow along, okay? But lead, Lord. Now I've got to run. Are you running with me, Jesus?”

The kingdom of heaven is for those who do the will of God says Jesus. No matter what life throws at us, no matter where we are running, right here and right now, we can anchor our lives on the words of Jesus and put them in practice, so that every day we can put ourselves on solid rock. For it is that foundation of faith and practice that will help us see Jesus today and forever.

As Robert Benson reminds us in A Good Life (Paraclete, 2004):

“If Christ is in us, and if Christ is present in the others that we meet, acknowledged or not, then there are no moments in which Christ is not present... One does not have to go far to find Jesus. What one has to do is adopt a posture that allows one to see him. My father used to say that when we get to heaven and see Jesus, our first thought is not going to be that we have never seen him before. Instead, we will grin and say, ‘It’s you, it’s you. I have seen you everywhere.’” Amen.

A Lambeth Prayer Vigil

Province I of the Episcopal Church (of which the Diocese of Connecticut is a member) announces a prayer vigil for our bishops while they gather at Lambeth, July 16-August 3.

“Petitions for a Lambeth Prayer Vigil," written by the Rt. Rev. Barbara Harris, is for use by congregations and individuals. Two specific times are suggested: 7 a.m. (noon in England) and noon (5 p.m. in England).

You can find more information on the vigil including the prayer, here.

I will be participating while on vacation and when I return.