Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Wedding: Prayers

Prince William and Catherine Middleton have written their own prayer:

God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage. In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy. Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.

The following prayer may be said at public worship only after the Royal Wedding has taken place (from the Church of England):

Almighty and merciful Father, the strength of all who put their trust in you, we pray that, as you have brought William and Catherine together, you will so enrich them by your grace that they may truly and faithfully keep those vows which they have made to one another in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Alternative Services: Series One (adapted)

The Royal Wedding

An excerpt from the sermon:

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So said St Catherine of Sienna whose festival day it is today. Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.

Many are full of fear for the future of the prospects of our world but the message of the celebrations in this country and far beyond its shores is the right one – this is a joyful day! It is good that people in every continent are able to share in these celebrations because this is, as every wedding day should be, a day of hope.

In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.

William and Catherine, you have chosen to be married in the sight of a generous God who so loved the world that he gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

And in the Spirit of this generous God, husband and wife are to give themselves to each another.

Read it here.

You can read a PDF version of the bulletin for the wedding here.

Here's the homepage for the Royal Wedding.

More miscellany at the Episcopal Cafe here.

An ENS article: "Anglicans play central role at historic royal wedding" can be found here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Poems for Easter Week

Poems to ponder about our risen Savior...

"Unto Me?"

"Unto Me?" I do not know you—
Where may be your House?

"I am Jesus—Late of Judea—
Now—of Paradise"—

Wagons—have you—to convey me?
This is far from Thence—

"Arms of Mine—sufficient Phaeton—
Trust Omnipotence"—

I am spotted—"I am Pardon"—
I am small—"The Least
Is esteemed in Heaven the Chiefest—
Occupy my House"

-- Emily Dickinson

The Blunder is in estimate

The Blunder is in estimate.
Eternity is there
We say, as of a Station --
Meanwhile he is so near

He joins me in my Ramble --
Divides abode with me --
No Friend have I that so persists
As this Eternity.

-- Emily Dickinson

Easter Sermon

Nine year old Joey was asked by his mother what he had learned at Sunday school. "Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. When he got to the Red Sea, he had his engineers build a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely. "Then he used his walkie-talkie to radio headquarters for reinforcements. They sent bombers to blow up the bridge and all the Israelites were saved. Now, Joey, is that really what your teacher taught you?" his mother asked. "Well, no. But if I told it the way the teacher did, you'd never believe it!"
Welcome to Easter! An unbelievable tale! Jesus, back from the dead! For some the story is mere myth, it has no power or interest for them. And like Joey, they’d never believe it as it is told. But we are gathered here because we do, because the story of Jesus gives meaning to our lives and guides us. It is an extraordinary story of faith – Jesus who was dead is alive. Even for the women who knew Jesus, who heard it first, their reaction was both great joy and fear.

When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to see the tomb that first Easter morning, I wonder how they felt going to the tomb. They certainly could not have anticipated that a great earthquake would happen and an an angel of the Lord would sit on the stone and the guards would become like dead men, frozen in fright. But it did. Do not be afraid. The angel says to them. Remember what he said! - He is not here – he has been raised – go and tell the disciples – he will see them. And they do just that.

When they encounter Jesus along the path back to the disciples, Jesus says to them, do not be afraid and go & tell. Easter is here, be free from the fear, go and tell others, I live, Jesus says to them. We don’t need to be afraid either. Some will scoff at the resurrection, some will call it a joke. To the foolish it will seem an idle tale, but to those who believe it is the power of God and it will transform our lives. As Peter Gomes, the author we used during our Lenten Study put it,
“Because Jesus lives we too may live, with as much time as God gives us, free from fear of the past, free from fear of the future. Christ went to the grave; we need not fear the grave. Christ has gone into the future; we need not fear the future. Christ inhabits life; we need not fear life. Because he lives, so, too, we will. Life begins when we discover this truth for ourselves, and act upon it.”
To live our lives of faith, we like the Marys need to spread the good news of the Resurrection. In Victor Hugo's classic novel Les Miserables, Jean Valjean is sent to jail for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. Released from prison with the yellow passport that identifies him as a convicted felon, Valjean is scorned and avoided; Valjean is consumed by bitterness and
"hatred for the law…which becomes hatred for the human race, and hatred for creation."
In his wanderings through France, Valjean meets a bishop named Bienvenu, who welcomes the tired, starving traveler into his home. In the middle of the night, as the kind old bishop sleeps, Valjean makes off with as much of the household silver as he can carry. But as soon as he steps out of the house, the police, who had been watching him, arrest him. The police wake the bishop and throw Valjean and the silver at his feet. Monsignor Bienvenu thanks the police for finding Valjean, and then, to their amazement, hands Valjean two silver candlesticks that Valjean had left behind. The bishop says that he was most concerned that Valjean have the candlesticks, as well. The baffled police leave, assured by the bishop that everything is fine. Valjean is even more baffled. The bishop helps Valjean to his feet. Why? Valjean wonders.
"My brother, you belong no longer to evil but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition and I give it to God."
Valjean then leaves the bishop's house with the silver and sets out to build a new life redeeming others as he has been redeemed by the bishop's extraordinary kindness. (from Connections) The Bishop frees Valjean from fear and helps give him his life back, his purpose. Likewise, it is Jesus in his resurrection that helps transform our lives from fear to life!

For the next 50 days, we will celebrate Easter, the new life that is gained for all who put their trust in Christ. But it is up to us how we will celebrate. May we follow the good examples of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who go and tell others. May we be like the Bishop in Le Mes who through kindness is willing to help bring new life for someone stuck in hate & dark thoughts. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it,
“From the resurrection of Christ a new and purifying wind can blow into the present world. If a few human beings would really believe this and would let themselves be moved by this in their earthly behavior, much would change. To live from resurrection - that indeed is the meaning of Easter."
May we celebrate this meaning of Easter and be willing to live into this Easter, into the resurrection, without fear and let our new lives unfold. Amen.

Easter Sunrise Homily & Benediction

The preacher was standing at the front door, shaking hands as his parishioners came out. He pulled one man aside and said, "You need to join the Army of the Lord, son!" "I'm already in the Army of the Lord, Pastor," he replied. "How come I only see you at Christmas and Easter?" asked the preacher. "Because I'm in His Secret Service!" he replied.
Today, no one is in the secret service for we all called to celebrate and proclaim with our lives that Christ is risen! God has shattered the silence of Good Friday, when evil and darkness seemed to have won. We stood by the cross as witnesses on that day but in that prayerful silence we waited and hoped. Now it is God who shouts out new life to our world! God has renewed the earth and this has happened through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
“God has turned all our sunsets into dawns.” – St. Clement of Alexandria
And in that light, we need to live into the resurrection which means we need to live it in our daily lives; not as some best kept secret we lock away in our vaults for no one to see. But maybe its not a secret but rather we are so in awe and fear of the resurrection, we are not sure what to do.

Maybe what we fear is the change in our lives if we truly celebrated and lived that promised resurrection in our lives. If we truly celebrated the resurrection, would people see us as crazy? What would it look like in our lives? The author Megan McKenna tells a story about a time when she was leading a Bible study. She writes,
"Once in a parish mission when I was studying scripture (Luke 7: 11-17) with a large group, someone called out harshly, 'Have you ever brought someone back from the dead?'

My response was 'Yes. Every time I bring hope into a situation, every time I bring joy that shatters despair, every time I forgive others and give them back dignity and the possibility of a future with me and others in the community, every time I listen to others and affirm them and their life, every time I speak the truth in public, every time I confront injustice — yes — I bring people back from the dead.' " [Not Counting Women and Children: Neglected Stories from the Bible by Megan McKenna]
From the Bronx in New York City, I hear the words of the Rev. Johnny Ray Youngblood on practicing resurrection…
"The reason we're here this morning is not just because a resurrection happened, but because there's one goin' on. Every time I see a brother or sister come to Christ, there's a resurrection goin' on. Every time I see a man put down his bottle, there's a resurrection goin' on. Every time I see someone [a man] go back to school, there's a resurrection goin' on. Every time I see a man hug his son, there's a resurrection goin' on.” [Upon This Rock: The Miracles of a Black Church by Samuel Freedman]
Jesus has brought us new life, new beginnings. It is there for us to live, to experience, to celebrate in our lives. The resurrection is God’s gift of redemption to us. But it is up to us to accept that gift and then to live it in our lives, not as secret disciples. We have to make that new start, we have to love, to forgive, to listen, to change, to hope… As Dietrich Bonheoffer Lutheran Pastor & Martyr put it: It is
“from the resurrection of Christ that a new and purifying wind can blow through our present world… If a few people really believed that and acted on it in their daily lives, a great deal would be changed. To live in the light of the Resurrection – that is what Easter means.” (Letters & Papers from Prison)
May our lives live in that light and help bring that resurrection to all who are still living Good Friday lives. Amen.

Easter Benediction:

And now to God who is able to keep us from falling, and lift us from the dark valley of despair to the bright mountain of hope, from the midnight of desperation to the day break of joy; from the sunset and darkness of Good Friday to the dawn and light of Easter; to God be power and authority, for ever and ever. Amen. (slightly adapted from Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-68)

Prayers for the Royal Wedding

From the Church of England:

We pray for all who are preparing for or celebrating their marriage. In particular we pray for Prince William of Wales and Miss Catherine Middleton. As they embark on married life together, we hold them and their families before God and ask for his grace and blessing.

God of all grace,
friend and companion,
look in favour on William and Catherine
and all who are made one in marriage.
In your love deepen their love
and strengthen their wills
to keep the promises they will make,
that they may continue
in life-long faithfulness to each other;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen. (Common Worship)

Heavenly Father,
tender and compassionate,
create in William and Catherine a love deep and true,
that in this broken world they may be a sign of unity.
May they nurture, support and inspire the children
with whom you may entrust them
to enjoy your blessing and to serve your world;
through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen. (New Zealand (adapted))

Dear Jesus,
we pray for Prince William and Catherine Middleton
as they get ready for their wedding day.
Keep them safe,
make them happy
and help them
to look after each other always.
Amen. (Christopher Woods)

A Prayer for the families of Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton:

Gracious Lord,
bless the families of William and Catherine
that they may grow in love and friendship.
Grant that, as they witness the marriage vows,
they may find their lives enriched and strengthened
and their loyalties confirmed;
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen. (Common Worship)

A prayer for all who are preparing for marriage:

Faithful God,
giver of all good things,
give to all who prepare for marriage
wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their lives together.
May they dwell together in the love and peace of the risen Christ.
May they always
seek one another's welfare,
bear one another's burdens
and share one another's joys;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen. (Common Worship (adapted))

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A thought for Easter

This is where it gets scary. The resurrection only makes sense as God’s “showing his hand” about the meaning of the cross. So I can’t have Easter joy if I don’t find joy in Jesus-on-the-cross. In fact, I can’t even believe in the resurrection, unless I want to believe in a God who would be so crazy as to identify himself with the crucified Jesus. God identifies with Jesus’ choice to risk being crucified, his refusal to make the compromises that could have saved him from it. Paul speaks of the foolishness and weakness of God shown on the cross. The resurrection, far from supporting the notion of a triumphalistic deity of power, mysteriously confirms how deeply hidden and baffling the Creator truly is, as he reveals that he is at one with the man who so willingly exposed himself with an open heart to the fate devised by political power and religious expediency to crush him.

Authentic Easter joy—the genuine pearl of great price—is unfeigned delight in my heart of hearts that a hidden God turns out to be so different from all the stuff, aggressive or sentimental, that gets fabricated about him. Centuries ago, a custom grew up of beginning Easter sermons with a joke, known as the risus paschalis. The subtlety of Easter joy is like getting a joke. It is impossible to explain the resurrection to someone who doesn’t get the foolishness of the cross. You either get it or you don’t. The real God has authenticated himself in an event only the poor in spirit can appreciate. Easter faith comes with a desire to be in on the secret, to get the joke.

From “The Real Thing” in Compass and Stars by Martin L. Smith (Church Publishing, 2007).

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Thought for Holy Saturday

There is one particular day in Western history about which neither historical record nor myth nor Scripture make report. It is a Saturday. And it has become the longest of days. We know of that Good Friday which Christianity holds to have been that of the Cross. But the non-Christian, the atheist, knows of it as well. This is to say that he knows of the injustice, of the interminable, suffering, of the waste, of the brute enigma of ending, which so largely make up not only the historical dimension of the human condition, but the everyday fabric of our personal lives. We know, ineluctably, of the pain, of the failure of love, of the solitude which are our history and private fate. We know also about Sunday. To the Christian, that day signifies an intimation, both assured and precarious, both evident and beyond comprehension, of resurrection, of a justice and a love that have conquered death. If we are non-Christians or non-believers, we know of that Sunday in precisely analogous terms. We conceive of it as the day of liberation from inhumanity and servitude. We look to resolutions, be they therapeutic or political, be they social or messianic. The lineaments of that Sunday carry the name of hope (there is no word less deconstructible).

But ours is a long day’s journey of the Saturday. Between suffering, aloneness, unutterable waste on the one hand and the dream of liberation, of rebirth on the other. In the face of the torture of a child, of the death of love which is Friday, even the greatest art and poetry are almost helpless. In the Utopia of the Sunday, the aesthetic will, presumably, no longer have logic or necessity. The apprehensions and figurations in the play of metaphysical imagining, in the poem and the music, which tell of pain and of hope, of the flesh which is said to taste of ash and of the spirit which is said to have the savour of fire, are always Sabbatarian. They have risen out of an immensity of waiting which is that of man. Without them, how could we be patient?

by George Steiner from Real Presences (Faber & Faber 1989) pp. 231 - 232.

Good Friday Sermon

Save me, O God, for the waters have risen up to my neck. I am sinking in deep mire, and there is no firm ground for my feet. I have come into deep waters, and the torrent washes over me.
These words are from Psalm 69, which we read at Tenebrae on Wednesday night. As we sat and meditated on the passion of Jesus, my first thoughts with that psalm were all those Japanese affected by the earthquake and then tsunami, and the torrent that washed over them… I think of a picture I saw that week from Japan, of a young woman sitting crying and in the background everything is destroyed.

It connects with me with the women who followed Jesus weeping as he was crucified. Such images show us a deep sense of loss with the feeling that everything had been taken away from them. Anglican priest, author and theologian, Kenneth Leech writes,
“Unless we can identify in some way with this loss of hope, we have not begun to understand the Good Friday experience.”
Good Friday is not just an experience of the past, it is with us still and into this dark day we must travel, for that is where our faith and hope call us to go. Again in Leech’s words:
“This entry into the darkness is the very heart of faith and of hope. To be a Christian at all is to enter this dark night: the night in which we do not know the way but in which God becomes luminously present.”
And on this day, when we journey to the cross once again, remembering those today who suffer too, our faith compels us to not get stuck there in the sense of loss and hopelessness. Rather we need to echo these words:
I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.
I believe in love even when I am alone.
I believe in God, even when God is silent.
Those words were written by Jews hiding in a cellar in Cologne, Germany during WW II, and they could be words of any of us who stand as witnesses to the cross, in the midst of silence. Uttering words, spoken by others: Where is God in the midst of destruction? Where is God at the cross? The letter to the Hebrews tells us:
“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.”
Where is God? God is in the silence, in the darkness. And in the midst of that we are called to be faithful, because God will be faithful, as God has promised and we need to help each other to love & do good deeds. Good Friday is act II of a three act event. Maundy Thursday is Act I ending with Judas betrayal and the disciples abandonment. Act II is the trial, suffering, crucifixion and death of Jesus. Act III is well, we’ll get to that…

But for now, in the silence of the cross and the tomb, we remain faithful and hopeful. And I think of these words from the singer/songwriter, Billy Sprague:
In silence so black that I wished for the blues
Every desperate prayer
Seemed like heaven refused.
And some days I found faith meant
Just tying my shoes.
And it was all I could do to press on...
Walk on in the face of the mystery,
Through the night hides the light
Through the darkness till dawn.
Tie your shoes, my dear friend, and press on.
In the darkness of Good Friday, we wait for the dawn. So “Tie your shoes, my dear friends, and press on.” Amen.

Poem for Good Friday

Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward

Let mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this,
The intelligence that moves, devotion is,
And as the other Spheares, by being growne
Subject to forraigne motion, lose their owne,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey:
Pleasure or businesse, so, our Soules admit
For their first mover, and are whirld by it.
Hence is't, that I am carryed towards the West
This day, when my Soules forme bends toward the East.
There I should see a Sunne, by rising set,
And by that setting endlesse day beget;
But that Christ on this Crosse, did rise and fall,
Sinne had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I'almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for mee.
Who sees Gods face, that is selfe life, must dye;
What a death were it then to see God dye?
It made his owne Lieutenant Nature shrinke,
It made his footstoole crack, and the Sunne winke.
Could I behold those hands which span the Poles,
And tune all spheares at once peirc'd with those holes?
Could I behold that endlesse height which is
Zenith to us, and our Antipodes,
Humbled below us? or that blood which is
The seat of all our Soules, if not of his,
Made durt of dust, or that flesh which was worne
By God, for his apparell, rag'd, and torne?
If on these things I durst not looke, durst I
Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,
Who was Gods partner here, and furnish'd thus
Halfe of that Sacrifice, which ransom'd us?
Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,
They'are present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them; and thou look'st towards mee,
O Saviour, as thou hang'st upon the tree;
I turne my backe to thee, but to receive
Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.
O thinke mee worth thine anger, punish mee,
Burne off my rusts, and my deformity,
Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace,
That thou may'st know mee, and I'll turne my face.

-- John Donne

Earth Day Prayers

Care of God's Creation:

Bountiful Creator, you open your hand to satisfy the needs of every living creature: Make us always thankful for your loving providence, and grant that we, remembering the account we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your abundance, for the benefit of the whole creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom all things were made, and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Goodness of God's Creation:

God of creation, we thank you for all that you have made and called good: Grant that we may rightly serve and conserve the earth, and live at peace with all your creatures; through Jesus Christ, the firstborn of all creation, in whom you are reconciling the whole world to yourself. Amen.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Beyond Bunnies: Easter (from NPR)

From an NPR interview with Ann Lamont...

This is the season of holy days: Passover, Pascua, Holy Friday and Easter Sunday. For many Christians, the ritual of this Easter weekend will be punctuated by bursting pink and yellow dresses on little girls, and magnificent hats on their mothers and grandmothers. There will be Easter baskets filled with chocolate eggs and plush bunnies.

As joyous as the day is, Easter and the season of Lent are also a period of great introspection...

"Well, it's the most profound holiday in the Christian tradition," Lamott says. "And I think two things really come to mind. One is something that the great writer Barbara Johnson said, which is that we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world. And I think that every year the world seems more of a Good Friday world. And it's excruciating, whether it's Japan, or Libya, or whether its your own best friends and their children who are sick, which is something that makes no sense when you think about a loving God. But it's a time when we get to remember that all the stuff that we think makes us of such value, all the time we spend burnishing our surfaces, is really not what God sees. God, he or she, loves us absolutely unconditionally, as is. It's a come as you are party."
Read the whole thing here.

Poem for Thursday in Holy Week

A perfect poem for Maundy Thursday...

Future Religion

The future of religion is in the mystery of touch.
The mind is touchless, so is the will, so is the spirit.
First comes the death, then the pure aloneness,
which is permanent then the resurrection into touch.

-- D H Lawrence

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Poem for Wednesday in Holy Week


THROW away Thy rod,
Throw away Thy wrath;
O my God,
Take the gentle path!

For my heart's desire
Unto Thine is bent:
I aspire
To a full consent.

Not a word or look
I affect to own,
But by book,
And Thy Book alone.

Though I fail, I weep;
Though I halt in pace,
Yet I creep
To the throne of grace.

Then let wrath remove;
Love will do the deed;
For with love
Stony hearts will bleed.

Love is swift of foot;
Love 's a man of war,
And can shoot,
And can hit from far.

Who can 'scape his bow?
That which wrought on Thee,
Brought Thee low,
Needs must work on me.

Throw away Thy rod;
Though man frailties hath,
Thou art God:
Throw away Thy wrath!

-- George Herbert

Poem for Tuesday in Holy Week

Prayer for Holy Week

Love me in my willingness to suffer
Love me in the gifts I wish to offer
Teach me how you love and have to die
And I will try

Somehow to forget myself and give
Life and joy so dead things start to live.
Let me show now an untrammelled joy,
Gold without alloy.

You know I have no cross but want to learn,
How to change and to the poor world turn.
I can almost worship stars and moon
And the sun at noon

But when I'm low I only beg you to
Ask me anything, I'll try to do
What you need. I trust your energy.
Share it then with me.

-- Elizabeth Jennings

Monday, April 18, 2011

Poem for Monday in Holy Week


Thou art my God, sole object of my love;
Not for the hope of endless joys above;
Not for the fear of endless pains below,
Which they who love thee not must undergo.
For me, and such as me, thou deign'st to bear
An ignominious cross, the nails, the spear:
A thorny crown transpierced thy sacred brow,
While bloody sweats from every member flow.
For me in tortures thou resign'st thy breath,
Embraced me on the cross, and saved me by thy death.
And can these sufferings fail my heart to move?
What but thyself can now deserve my love?
Such as then was, and is, thy love to me,
Such is, and shall be still, my love to thee--
To thee, Redeemer! mercy's sacred spring!
My God, my Father, Maker, and my King!

-- Alexander Pope

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday Poem

The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

-- G.K. Chesterton

Palm Sunday Sermon

Come, Holy Spirit, come. Take our lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire with your love. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

Hosanna! Crucify Him!

Two different crowds, one joyful, one seething, but both expecting something to happen… With the cry of Hosanna, people line the streets to give Jesus a triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The one coming in the name of the Lord! The messiah is here! Days later, the other group cries out Crucify Him! They want a spectacle. They want to see crucifixion. Criminals getting what they deserve.

Let’s be clear that those crowds were made up of Jews and Gentiles, Romans…this is Jerusalem. Both groups were made up of lots of different people. But the real point of all this is not the crowds but what Jesus does. As William Stringfellow put it,
“The real witness of Palm Sunday is not the parade or what the disciples or the secular authorities saw; it is the encounter between Christ and the power of death.”
The power of death ruled over the land and Jesus confronts it by riding into Jerusalem on humble donkey. Even with the joy of the crowd and disciples as he entered into the great city, it could not stop what was coming, that confrontation with death: the betrayal, abandonment, denial, trial, beatings and crucifixion that we heard in the Passion account from the gospel of Matthew.

But why would Jesus do this? He must have known that by coming to Jerusalem at the Passover, it would have put him in the crosshairs of the controlling elite and the Roman presence. They were ready for trouble! Why do it? I think of a poem that might help us with that
Are you willing to be sponged out, erased, cancelled, made nothing?
Are you willing to be made nothing?
dipped into oblivion?

If not, you will never really change.

The phoenix renews her youth
only when she is burnt, burnt alive, burnt down
to hot and flocculent ash.
Then the small stirring of a new small bub in the nest
with strands of down like floating ash
shows that she is renewing her youth like the eagle,
immortal bird. --D.H. Lawrence
That wonderful poem by DH Lawrence about the Phoenix’s rebirth, says a lot about Palm Sunday and the passion of Jesus and the willingness to live no matter what the cost, even to become nothing… After all Jesus had done in the countryside and villages, preaching the Good News, bringing life out of death, healing people and restoring them to life within the community, all those parables and stories, in the end, Jesus had to bring it all to the heart of Israel, to Jerusalem.

He had to be willing to face all that death could throw at him: denial, betrayal, torture, abandonment, the mocking and the cruel death on a cross, to show the disciples and the world the length God would go to bring us all within the reach of his saving embrace. He couldn’t do it a little bit; he had to go all in to the heart of Jerusalem, into all that was corrupt, violent and so full of hate, to be condemned and killed, to be made nothing, dipped into oblivion (as DH Lawrence put it) so to help transform it all.

Through the passion and crucifixion, it seemed like death had won, in the midst of such darkness stands the cross, where love was crucified by hate. And yet, the greatest miracle, the greatest gift, the greatest mystery is that the darkness does not overcome the light. That hope still exists there. In that mystery, as TS Eliot said, "the darkness shall be the light and stillness the dancing." God transforms the cross. The cross stands as an immortal reminder that death did not win.

We can look at this tragic story of the passion of Jesus, and sigh. We can keep it at arms length and not let it touch our soul. Or we can make that journey to the cross. For the cross does not stand before us to accuse us or to condemn us or anyone. The cross stands before us as our salvation and beckons us to bear witness to what happened then to Jesus and what happens today.

The story has not ended, and in fact we will continue that story in our celebrations of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday & Easter, but for now we must be willing to walk with Jesus. As a wonderful little prayer for children put it:
I will walk with Jesus.
- But you may be betrayed.
I will walk with Jesus.
- But you may be abandoned.
I will walk with Jesus.
- But you may be given a cross too heavy to bear.
I will walk with Jesus.
- But you cannot know where that may lead.
I will walk with Jesus.
-Then may Jesus walk with you through life & through death. (by Lois Rock)
Let us walk with Jesus, so that our lives may cry out Hosanna! and not Crucify Him! Amen.

Making a Palm Cross

To make a palm cross, follow this link:

(Thanks to Episcopal cafe for this!)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April 10 Sermon (5th Lent)

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
These words were written by Mark Twain after some reports surfaced of his death, it was his cousin who was ill and not him, and I think those words are a proper way for us to think about this Lazarus Sunday. In the Gospel, we hear about Lazarus who was raised from the dead by Jesus after being in the tomb for four days. He experienced death, Mary & Martha mourned for him, even Jesus wept. But the Glory of God shown forth through the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

Lazarus could have said it, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

And it reminds me of Jim Parsons, who often joked about how the doctor told his parents that Jim would not live to old age from his childhood illness, and how Jim had outlived that doctor! He was proud of that fact!

It is that Spirit of Life that we hear of in the first reading too. The story of those dry bones of Ezekiel. Can we not hear that voice, of those crying out from Africa and other places, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” And what does the Lord say? “O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.” The story of the rebirth of the Israelites is also a way for us to think about our world today, and what God is doing here to bring life.

“Today almost four million Africans have been given access to life saving medication known as Anti-Retroviral Treatment. The raising of Lazarus in John provides the inspiration for the title of “The Lazarus Effect,” a documentary film about those life-saving anti-retroviral medications.

That is what ARVs are doing. They are bringing people back from their deathbeds. They are bringing people who should or could have been dead, back to life. For as little as $0.40 a days and within 40 days we see amazing results. That is the Lazarus Effect! – it is saving parents, teachers, nurses, doctors on a daily basis.

When he resurrected Lazarus from the dead, Jesus set us a model we have to imitate. He asks us to explore whether there is anything that can be restored, can we help deliver hope, hope for the children, the grandparents, he asks us to restore community. He asks us to be compassionate – to come alongside, to morn and to sympathize, just as he did.” (Princess Kasune Zulu)
Princess Kasune Zulu is hiv poisitve and one of those saved by the ARVs. “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” are words she could have written. The stories from Ezekiel and John testify that God is always brining new life to things torn down and dead. Which tells us what we should be up to in this world…
Britney Gengel was a sophomore at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. In many ways she was a typical teenager - but everyone who ever met her were struck by her sense of humor, passion and deep sense of caring for those less fortunate. A few weeks after Christmas, she volunteered for a service project in Haiti, helping out at food stations and orphanages before the new semester began.

"Brit," as she was known to family and friends, had fallen in love with the children of Haiti. She texted to her mom and dad: "They love us so much and everyone is so happy. They love what they have and they work so hard to get nowhere, yet they are all so appreciative. I want to move here and start an orphanage myself."

That was the last they heard from their daughter. The next day, the catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti, killing 250,000 people and destroying the country. The hotel where Britney and the group from Lynn were staying collapsed. Her family waited helplessly for thirty-three anxious days - including a mistaken report that she had been found alive - before her body was found in the rubble of the Hotel Montana. Britney was 19 years old.

Her family was devastated. But they are determined that part of their daughter's dream will be realized. Brit's parents and two brothers have established a nonprofit foundation to build an orphanage that will house 33 boys and 33 girls - symbolizing the 33 days Britney was missing. The family has made several trips to Haiti to see conditions after the earthquake and to study how orphanages function in the Caribbean nation.

They have raised almost a half-million dollars for the project, and having settled on a building site and design plans, are ready to begin construction. They are committed to building a safe, nurturing facility in which Haitian children in their care can grow, learn and thrive that Brit would have wanted. A friend's camera found in the rubble included photos of Britney's last days.

Her mother is convinced this project is what Brit would have wanted - to play a role in helping the country she loved to flourish. "She was genuinely happy there. She was at peace." "We have an obligation as parents to honor our daughter's last wish," her father says, "and that was to help the children of Haiti. The pain is incredible, and maybe that's what powers us."
Even out of such death and destruction and loss, God is working and Brit’s parents and siblings have joined in to help bring life out of devastation, to enable hope to take root in the most barren of places, to lift others out of the pits and rubble of fear and pain.

Today is Lazarus Sunday, a day we celebrate that life Jesus brought out of death. May we in our lives help bring life where death is so present. One more story…

In her 70th winter, her health deteriorated rapidly. Finally, she had to be hospitalized. The doctor confided to her son that she had only a matter of weeks to live. The son agonized for days on whether he should tell her. Was there any hope he could give her? He decided not to tell her for the time being. Instead, he concentrated on her birthday. He thought he would give her the most expensive and beautiful matching nightgown and robe he could find. At the very least she would feel stylish and dignified in her final days.

After unwrapping his gift, his mother said nothing. Finally, she said, “It’s beautiful, dear, but would you mind returning it to the store? I don’t really need it.” She then picked up a newspaper and pointed to an ad for a beautiful leather purse designed for late spring and summer. “This is what I really want.” Her son was flabbergasted. Why would his ever-frugal mother want something so extravagant — a purse she could not use for months?

Then it dawned on him: His mother was asking how long she had to live. If he thought she’d be around long enough to use the purse, then she really would. When he brought the purse to her in her hospital bed, she held it tightly against her, a big smile on her face. A half a dozen purses later, the son bought his mother a new purse — for her 83rd birthday. [Adapted from a sermon by Don Shelby.]
“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” that mom could have written. Let us help write that line for others in this world and even for ourselves too. Amen.

Paul Simon, God & his latest album

I listened this morning to Morning Edition on NPR and heard a wonderful interview of Paul Simon.

Here's an excerpt:

Singer-songwriter Paul Simon was listening to a box set of old American recordings one day. Among the songs, he found a Christmas sermon bearing the voice of Atlanta's Rev. J.M. Gates, a hugely popular preacher in the 1930s and '40s. That
sermon stayed with Simon, who turned it into a song.

"It really struck me, not only because it was really an unusual way of having a Christmas sermon, because it's very dark, it's like a warning," Simon tells Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep, "but also ... there was a real rhythmic pulse to it ... it sounded so natural. I lived with that for a while, and then I thought, 'I could write a song called "Getting Ready for Christmas Day," and find a way of making verses that
lead up to the sermon and then follow the sermon.' "

That song now leads Simon's new album, So Beautiful or So What. The sermon that inspired him warns of someone "coming for your boy" on Christmas Day.

"Everybody's thinking that Christmas is going to be a joyous occurrence, but what is
also going on is that you may not even make it to Christmas Day," Simon says of the sermon he samples in the song. "Don't plan on this, because there are all kinds of dangers that surround Christmas Day."

"We're living in a certain time, and we're aware of it. And that's part of what we're aware of, along with our own personal aches and pains," Simon says. "The dialogue between what's going on in the world and what's going on internally seems to be a natural thing — well, it's natural to me, anyway, to have these thoughts."

Religious imagery runs throughout So Beautiful or So What. Simon has always peppered his work with religious themes, but he uses it to support the stories in his songs.

Read the whole thing here.

Jesus & Evolution

An interesting article on Jesus and Evolution can be found here.

Here's an excerpt from Karl W. Giberson:
Jesus once famously said, “I am the Truth.”

Christianity at its best embodies this provocative idea and has long been committed to preserving, expanding and sharing truth. Most of the great universities of the world were founded by Christians committed to the truth—in all its forms—and to training new generations to carry it forward.

When science began in the 17th century, Christians eagerly applied the new knowledge to alleviate suffering and improve living conditions.

But when it comes to the truth of evolution, many Christians feel compelled to look the other way. They hold on to a particular interpretation of an ancient story in Genesis that they have fashioned into a modern account of origins - a story that began as an oral tradition for a wandering tribe of Jews thousands of years ago.

This is the view on display in a $27 million dollar Creation Museum in Kentucky. It inspired the Institute for Creation Research, which purports to offer scientific support for creationism.

And it’s hardly a fringe view. A 2010 Gallup poll indicated that 4 in 10 Americans think that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” (

While Genesis contains wonderful insights into the relationship between God and the creation, it simply does not contain scientific ideas about the origin of the universe, the age of the earth or the development of life.

Prayer for Conscience and Courage in Times of Public Struggle

Loving God,
lead us beyond ourselves
to care and protect,
to nourish and shape,
to challenge and energize
both the life and the world
You have given us.

God of light and God of darkness,
God of conscience and God of courage
lead us through this time
of spiritual confusion and public uncertainty.

Lead us beyond fear, apathy and defensiveness
to new hope in You and to hearts full of faith.

Give us the conscience it takes
to comprehend what we’re facing,
to see what we’re looking at
and to say what we see
so that others, hearing us,
may also brave the pressure that comes
with being out of public step.

Give us the courage we need
to confront those things
that compromise our consciences
or threaten our integrity.

Give us, most of all,
the courage to follow those before us
who challenged wrong and changed it,
whatever the cost to themselves.

Finally, Great God,
give us the kind of faith in you
that was the mainstay of those before us
who followed you from
Galilee to Jerusalem doing good,
raising the dead to life
and singing alleluia all the way.

God of Conscience,
God of Courage
give us whatever grace we need
to work for the coming
of the reign of God
now, here and always.

by Joan Chittister, OSB

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Rector is away...

for a couple of days with the family...


April 3 Sermon (4th Lent)


It was the question he kept asking. The doctor could only say the medicine had stopped treating his cancer. They would try other medicines.


As chaplain that summer at the infusion center at Mt Zion Hospital in San Francisco, he turned to me for some ultimate answer to the question. I had no answer. I had prayers and presence, but I could not answer his question.


Its question we all ask when we have such a diagnosis, or something terrible happens to us or someone we love. Why did this happen? It is a question that the writer JRR Tolkien explored in his writings in the Lord of the Rings.
When Frodo, the Hobbit complains: “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”

It is the wise Gandalf who responds to him, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
It is what we do in response, in the time that is given to each of us, that matters most. For the young man whose cancer recurred, he decided to return home to see his parents, with whom he had been estranged for some years. I don’t know what happened to him, I pray that he is cancer free today, but I do know he tried to make the most of the time he had, to repair the relationships he had.

None of us know when our time will be up (not even the guy putting up the billboards who thinks its all over on May 21. Sorry, he’s wrong.) At our Lenten Study on Wednesday we heard a parable about a rich man who prospered and stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years. Take it easy! He thought to himself. Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. But God said to him, ‘Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?’

Our lives aren’t about our stuff the parable reminds us, but more important for us today, is the notion that none of us knows when God will welcome us home. So it matters what we do with the time that is given us, even as we ponder the question of why.

The disciples were thinking about the why question when they encountered a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work…"

Too often, when something happens, we point the finger. It was that person’s sin that caused the calamity to come upon them. You hear it especially after a terrible tragedy when someone will say it is God’s way of punishing them/us for sin. But in the response from Jesus to his disciples, it reminds us that this is not how God works. God did not make the man blind because of sin, but through what has happened, God’s works may be revealed in him. No one is defective, or throw a way, or a mistake. God has made each of us, and through the God given gifts we have, God’s works may be revealed through us. Think of
· Helen Keller
· Beethoven
· Stevie Wonder
· Stephen Hawking
And we could name so many others who have been gifted which opens our eyes to see that God works through us all. There will come a time when we cannot do the works that God asks of us, so while it is day, we need to use our gifts, Jesus says; or else we may fall into the trap of not seeing God at work in others and all around us. We might become like those Pharisees who failed to see God’s actions in the healing of the blind man, and become blind to what God has in store for us and others. It reminds me of a Zen story from Japan…
Once there was a man named Zenkai. Zenkai was the son of a respected teacher in Japan. Zenkai became the secretary to a royal official in the city of Edo. But Zenkai fell in love with the official's wife and their affair was discovered. In the confrontation, Zenkai killed the official and fled with the woman. To survive, Zenkai and the woman became thieves. The woman was so greedy that Zenkai finally left her. Realizing the evil he had done, Zenkai turned to a life of prayer as wandering beggar.

To atone for his sins, Zenkai resolved to devote whatever days he had left to accomplishing some great work. Zenkai knew of a dangerous road over a cliff that had caused devastating injury and death to many travelers. Zenkai resolved to cut a tunnel through the mountain there. For thirty years, Zenkai worked. He would beg for food during the day and dig his tunnel at night.

After three decades, Zenkai's tunnel was a half-mile long. Two years before the work was completed, the son of the official Zenkai had slain found the old man. A skilled swordsman, the son had come to kill Zenkai in revenge. "I will give you my life willingly," said Zenkai. "Only let me finish my work. On the day the tunnel is completed, you may kill me." So the son awaited the day. Several months passed as Zenkai kept digging his tunnel. The son grew tired of doing nothing but wait, so he began to help in the digging.

After he had worked with Zenkai for more than a year, the son came to admire Zenkai's resolve and strong will, as well as his humility. At last, the tunnel was completed and people could use it and travel safely. "My work is done," Zenkai said to the son. "You may kill me." But with tears in his eyes, the son said, "How can I slay my teacher?" [From One Hundred Zen Stories.]
In today's Gospel, Jesus cures a man born blind - but the greater miracle is opening the eyes of those around him to "see" God working in their midst.

In the Zen story, the eyes of Zenkai are opened both to the evil he has done and the possibilities for forgiveness and atonement within him; the son of the slain official is able to see beyond revenge and anger to embrace the lessons he has learned from the old tunnel digger.

The Christ of Lent opens our eyes, enabling us to see beyond labels and stereotypes, self-interest and old scores, to recognize the love of God present to us in everything that God has created which is good. [adapted from Jay Cormier]
And it is what we do in response to God’s gift to us, in the time that is given to each of us, that matters most. So what will you do today? Amen.