Thursday, September 27, 2012

Prayer for the Selection of the next Archbishop of Canterbury

A Prayer to be used for the Crown Nominations Committee on the 26th and 27th September 2012 as they consider the appointment of the new Archbishop of Canterbury:

Almighty God,
you have given your Holy Spirit to the Church
to lead us into all truth:
bless with the Spirit's grace and presence
the members of the Crown Nominations Committee.
Keep them steadfast in faith and united in love,
that they may seek your will, manifest your glory
and prepare the way of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Birthday of Johnny Appleseed

On this birthday of Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman), we should hear a tale from France that although it was not written with Johnny Appleseed in mind, surely has him in Spirit!

The Man Who Planted Trees by JEAN GIONO (1953)
Translation from french by Peter Doyle

In order for the character of a human being to reveal truly exceptional qualities, we must have the good fortune to observe its action over a long period of years. If this action is devoid of all selfishness, if the idea that directs it is one of unqualified generosity, if it is absolutely certain that it has not sought recompense anywhere, and if moreover it has left visible marks on the world, then we are unquestionably dealing with an unforgettable character.

     About forty years ago I went on a long hike, through hills absolutely unknown to tourists, in that very old region where the Alps penetrate into Provence.
     This region is bounded to the south-east and south by the middle course of the Durance, between Sisteron and Mirabeau; to the north by the upper course of the Drôme, from its source down to Die; to the west by the plains of Comtat Venaissin and the outskirts of Mont Ventoux. It includes all the northern part of the Département of Basses-Alpes, the south of Drôme and a little enclave of Vaucluse.
     At the time I undertook my long walk through this deserted region, it consisted of barren and monotonous lands, at about 1200 to 1300 meters above sea level. Nothing grew there except wild lavender.
     I was crossing this country at its widest part, and after walking for three days, I found myself in the most complete desolation. I was camped next to the skeleton of an abandoned village. I had used the last of my water the day before and I needed to find more. Even though they were in ruins, these houses all huddled together and looking like an old wasps' nest made me think that there must at one time have been a spring or a well there. There was indeed a spring, but it was dry. The five or six roofless houses, ravaged by sun and wind, and the small chapel with its tumble-down belfry, were arrayed like the houses and chapels of living villages, but all life had disappeared.

     It was a beautiful June day with plenty of sun, but on these shelterless lands, high up in the sky, the wind whistled with an unendurable brutality. Its growling in the carcasses of the houses was like that of a wild beast disturbed during its meal.
     I had to move my camp. After five hours of walking, I still hadn't found water, and nothing gave me hope of finding any. Everywhere there was the same dryness, the same stiff, woody plants. I thought I saw in the distance a small black silhouette. On a chance I headed towards it. It was a shepherd. Thirty lambs or so were resting near him on the scorching ground.
     He gave me a drink from his gourd and a little later he led me to his shepherd's cottage, tucked down in an undulation of the plateau. He drew his water - excellent - from a natural hole, very deep, above which he had installed a rudimentary windlass.

     This man spoke little. This is common among those who live alone, but he seemed sure of himself, and confident in this assurance, which seemed remarkable in this land shorn of everything. He lived not in a cabin but in a real house of stone, from the looks of which it was clear that his own labor had restored the ruins he had found on his arrival. His roof was solid and water-tight. The wind struck against the roof tiles with the sound of the sea crashing on the beach.
     His household was in order, his dishes washed, his floor swept, his rifle greased; his soup boiled over the fire; I noticed then that he was also freshly shaven, that all his buttons were solidly sewn, and that his clothes were mended with such care as to make the patches invisible.
     He shared his soup with me, and when afterwards I offered him my tobacco pouch, he told me that he didn't smoke. His dog, as silent as he, was friendly without being fawning.

     It had been agreed immediately that I would pass the night there, the closest village being still more than a day and a half farther on. Furthermore, I understood perfectly well the character of the rare villages of that region. There are four or five of them dispersed far from one another on the flanks of the hills, in groves of white oaks at the very ends of roads passable by carriage. They are inhabited by woodcutters who make charcoal. They are places where the living is poor. The families, pressed together in close quarters by a climate that is exceedingly harsh, in summer as well as in winter, struggle ever more selfishly against each other. Irrational contention grows beyond all bounds, fueled by a continuous struggle to escape from that place. The men carry their charcoal to the cities in their trucks, and then return. The most solid qualities crack under this perpetual Scottish shower. The women stir up bitterness. There is competition over everything, from the sale of charcoal to the benches at church. The virtues fight amongst themselves, the vices fight amongst themselves, and there is a ceaseless general combat between the vices and the virtues. On top of all that, the equally ceaseless wind irritates the nerves. There are epidemics of suicides and numerous cases of insanity, almost always murderous.

     The shepherd, who did not smoke, took out a bag and poured a pile of acorns out onto the table. He began to examine them one after another with a great deal of attention, separating the good ones from the bad. I smoked my pipe. I offered to help him, but he told me it was his own business. Indeed, seeing the care that he devoted to this job, I did not insist. This was our whole conversation. When he had in the good pile a fair number of acorns, he counted them out into packets of ten. In doing this he eliminated some more of the acorns, discarding the smaller ones and those that that showed even the slightest crack, for he examined them very closely. When he had before him one hundred perfect acorns he stopped, and we went to bed.
     The company of this man brought me a feeling of peace. I asked him the next morning if I might stay and rest the whole day with him. He found that perfectly natural. Or more exactly, he gave me the impression that nothing could disturb him. This rest was not absolutely necessary to me, but I was intrigued and I wanted to find out more about this man. He let out his flock and took them to the pasture. Before leaving, he soaked in a bucket of water the little sack containing the acorns that he had so carefully chosen and counted.

     I noted that he carried as a sort of walking stick an iron rod as thick as his thumb and about one and a half meters long. I set off like someone out for a stroll, following a route parallel to his. His sheep pasture lay at the bottom of a small valley. He left his flock in the charge of his dog and climbed up towards the spot where I was standing. I was afraid that he was coming to reproach me for my indiscretion, but not at all : It was his own route and he invited me to come along with him if I had nothing better to do. He continued on another two hundred meters up the hill.
     Having arrived at the place he had been heading for, he begin to pound his iron rod into the ground. This made a hole in which he placed an acorn, whereupon he covered over the hole again. He was planting oak trees. I asked him if the land belonged to him. He answered no. Did he know whose land it was? He did not know. He supposed that it was communal land, or perhaps it belonged to someone who did not care about it. He himself did not care to know who the owners were. In this way he planted his one hundred acorns with great care.

     After the noon meal, he began once more to pick over his acorns. I must have put enough insistence into my questions, because he answered them. For three years now he had been planting trees in this solitary way. He had planted one hundred thousand. Of these one hundred thousand, twenty thousand had come up. He counted on losing another half of them to rodents and to everything else that is unpredictable in the designs of Providence. That left ten thousand oaks that would grow in this place where before there was nothing.
     It was at this moment that I began to wonder about his age. He was clearly more than fifty. Fifty-five, he told me. His name was Elzéard Bouffier. He had owned a farm in the plains, where he lived most of his life. He had lost his only son, and then his wife. He had retired into this solitude, where he took pleasure in living slowly, with his flock of sheep and his dog. He had concluded that this country was dying for lack of trees. He added that, having nothing more important to do, he had resolved to remedy the situation.
     Leading as I did at the time a solitary life, despite my youth, I knew how to treat the souls of solitary people with delicacy. Still, I made a mistake. It was precisely my youth that forced me to imagine the future in my own terms, including a certain search for happiness. I told him that in thirty years these ten thousand trees would be magnificent. He replied very simply that, if God gave him life, in thirty years he would have planted so many other trees that these ten thousand would be like a drop of water in the ocean.
     He had also begun to study the propagation of beeches. and he had near his house a nursery filled with seedlings grown from beechnuts. His little wards, which he had protected from his sheep by a screen fence, were growing beautifully. He was also considering birches for the valley bottoms where, he told me, moisture lay slumbering just a few meters beneath the surface of the soil.
     We parted the next day.

     The next year the war of 14 came, in which I was engaged for five years. An infantryman could hardly think about trees. To tell the truth, the whole business hadn't made a very deep impression on me; I took it to be a hobby, like a stamp collection, and forgot about it.
     With the war behind me, I found myself with a small demobilization bonus and a great desire to breathe a little pure air. Without any preconceived notion beyond that, I struck out again along the trail through that deserted country.
     The land had not changed. Nonetheless, beyond that dead village I perceived in the distance a sort of gray fog that covered the hills like a carpet. Ever since the day before I had been thinking about the shepherd who planted trees. « Ten thousand oaks, I had said to myself, must really take up a lot of space. »
     I had seen too many people die during those five years not to be able to imagine easily the death of Elzéard Bouffier, especially since when a man is twenty he thinks of a man of fifty as an old codger for whom nothing remains but to die. He was not dead. In fact, he was very spry. He had changed his job. He only had four sheep now, but to make up for this he had about a hundred beehives. He had gotten rid of the sheep because they threatened his crop of trees. He told me (as indeed I could see for myself) that the war had not disturbed him at all. He had continued imperturbably with his planting.
     The oaks of 1910 were now ten years old and were taller than me and than him. The spectacle was impressive. I was literally speechless and, as he didn't speak himself, we passed the whole day in silence, walking through his forest. It was in three sections, eleven kilometers long overall and, at its widest point, three kilometers wide. When I considered that this had all sprung from the hands and from the soul of this one man - without technical aids - , it struck me that men could be as effective as God in domains other than destruction.
     He had followed his idea, and the beeches that reached up to my shoulders and extending as far as the eye could see bore witness to it. The oaks were now good and thick, and had passed the age where they were at the mercy of rodents; as for the designs of Providence, to destroy the work that had been created would henceforth require a cyclone. He showed me admirable stands of birches that dated from five years ago, that is to say from 1915, when I had been fighting at Verdun. He had planted them in the valley bottoms where he had suspected, correctly, that there was water close to the surface. They were as tender as young girls, and very determined.
     This creation had the air, moreover, of working by a chain reaction. He had not troubled about it; he went on obstinately with his simple task. But, in going back down to the village, I saw water running in streams that, within living memory, had always been dry. It was the most striking revival that he had shown me. These streams had borne water before, in ancient days. Certain of the sad villages that I spoke of at the beginning of my account had been built on the sites of ancient Gallo-Roman villages, of which there still remained traces; archeologists digging there had found fishhooks in places where in more recent times cisterns were required in order to have a little water.
     The wind had also been at work, dispersing certain seeds. As the water reappeared, so too did willows, osiers, meadows, gardens, flowers, and a certain reason to live.
     But the transformation had taken place so slowly that it had been taken for granted, without provoking surprise. The hunters who climbed the hills in search of hares or wild boars had noticed the spreading of the little trees, but they set it down to the natural spitefulness of the earth. That is why no one had touched the work of this man. If they had suspected him, they would have tried to thwart him. But he never came under suspicion : Who among the villagers or the administrators would ever have suspected that anyone could show such obstinacy in carrying out this magnificent act of generosity?

     Beginning in 1920 I never let more than a year go by without paying a visit to Elzéard Bouffier. I never saw him waver or doubt, though God alone can tell when God's own hand is in a thing! I have said nothing of his disappointments, but you can easily imagine that, for such an accomplishment, it was necessary to conquer adversity; that, to assure the victory of such a passion, it was necessary to fight against despair. One year he had planted ten thousand maples. They all died. The next year,he gave up on maples and went back to beeches, which did even better than the oaks.
     To get a true idea of this exceptional character, one must not forget that he worked in total solitude; so total that, toward the end of his life, he lost the habit of talking. Or maybe he just didn't see the need for it.

     In 1933 he received the visit of an astonished forest ranger. This functionary ordered him to cease building fires outdoors, for fear of endangering this natural forest. It was the first time, this naive man told him, that a forest had been observed to grow up entirely on its own. At the time of this incident, he was thinking of planting beeches at a spot twelve kilometers from his house. To avoid the coming and going - because at the time he was seventy-five years old - he planned to build a cabin of stone out where he was doing his planting. This he did the next year.

     In 1935, a veritable administrative delegation went to examine this « natural forest ». There was an important personage from Waters and Forests, a deputy, and some technicians. Many useless words were spoken. It was decided to do something, but luckily nothing was done, except for one truly useful thing : placing the forest under the protection of the State and forbidding anyone from coming there to make charcoal. For it was impossible not to be taken with the beauty of these young trees in full health. And the forest exercised its seductive powers even on the deputy himself.
     I had a friend among the chief foresters who were with the delegation. I explained the mystery to him. One day the next week, we went off together to look for Elzéard Bouffier, We found him hard at work, twenty kilometers away from the place where the inspection had taken place.
     This chief forester was not my friend for nothing. He understood the value of things. He knew how to remain silent. I offered up some eggs I had brought with me as a gift. We split our snack three ways, and then passed several hours in mute contemplation of the landscape.
     The hillside whence we had come was covered with trees six or seven meters high. I remembered the look of the place in 1913 : a desert... The peaceful and steady labor, the vibrant highland air, his frugality, and above all, the serenity of his soul had given the old man a kind of solemn good health. He was an athlete of God. I asked myself how many hectares he had yet to cover with trees.
     Before leaving, my friend made a simple suggestion concerning certain species of trees to which the terrain seemed to be particularly well suited. He was not insistent. « For the very good reason, » he told me afterwards, « that this fellow knows a lot more about this sort of thing than I do. » After another hour of walking, this thought having travelled along with him, he added : « He knows a lot more about this sort of thing than anybody - and he has found a jolly good way of being happy ! »
     It was thanks to the efforts of this chief forester that the forest was protected, and with it, the happiness of this man. He designated three forest rangers for their protection, and terrorized them to such an extent that they remained indifferent to any jugs of wine that the woodcutters might offer as bribes.

     The forest did not run any grave risks except during the war of 1939. Then automobiles were being run on wood alcohol, and there was never enough wood. They began to cut some of the stands of the oaks of 1910, but the trees stood so far from any useful road that the enterprise turned out to be bad from a financial point of view, and was soon abandoned. The shepherd never knew anything about it. He was thirty kilometers away, peacefully continuing his task, as untroubled by the war of 39 as he had been of the war of 14.

     I saw Elzéard Bouffier for the last time in June of 1945. He was then eighty-seven years old. I had once more set off along my trail through the wilderness, only to find that now, in spite of the shambles in which the war had left the whole country, there was a motor coach running between the valley of the Durance and the mountain. I set down to this relatively rapid means of transportation the fact that I no longer recognized the landmarks I knew from my earlier visits. It also seemed that the route was taking me through entirely new places. I had to ask the name of a village to be sure that I was indeed passing through that same region, once so ruined and desolate. The coach set me down at Vergons. In 1913, this hamlet of ten or twelve houses had had three inhabitants. They were savages, hating each other, and earning their living by trapping : Physically and morally, they resembled prehistoric men . The nettles devoured the abandoned houses that surrounded them. Their lives were without hope, it was only a matter of waiting for death to come : a situation that hardly predisposes one to virtue.
     All that had changed, even to the air itself. In place of the dry, brutal gusts that had greeted me long ago, a gentle breeze whispered to me, bearing sweet odors. A sound like that of running water came from the heights above : It was the sound of the wind in the trees. And most astonishing of all, I heard the sound of real water running into a pool. I saw that they had built a fountain, that it was full of water, and what touched me most, that next to it they had planted a lime-tree that must be at least four years old, already grown thick, an incontestable symbol of resurrection.

     Furthermore, Vergons showed the signs of labors for which hope is a requirement : Hope must therefore have returned. They had cleared out the ruins, knocked down the broken walls, and rebuilt five houses. The hamlet now counted twenty-eight inhabitants, including four young families. The new houses, freshly plastered, were surrounded by gardens that bore, mixed in with each other but still carefully laid out, vegetables and flowers, cabbages and rosebushes, leeks and gueules-de-loup, celery and anemones. It was now a place where anyone would be glad to live.
     From there I continued on foot. The war from which we had just barely emerged had not permitted life to vanish completely, and now Lazarus was out of his tomb. On the lower flanks of the mountain, I saw small fields of barley and rye; in the bottoms of the narrow valleys, meadowlands were just turning green.
     It has taken only the eight years that now separate us from that time for the whole country around there to blossom with splendor and ease. On the site of the ruins I had seen in 1913 there are now well-kept farms, the sign of a happy and comfortable life. The old springs, fed by rain and snow now that are now retained by the forests, have once again begun to flow. The brooks have been channelled. Beside each farm, amid groves of maples, the pools of fountains are bordered by carpets of fresh mint. Little by little, the villages have been rebuilt. Yuppies have come from the plains, where land is expensive, bringing with them youth, movement, and a spirit of adventure. Walking along the roads you will meet men and women in full health, and boys and girls who know how to laugh, and who have regained the taste for the traditional rustic festivals. Counting both the previous inhabitants of the area, now unrecognizable from living in plenty, and the new arrivals, more than ten thousand persons owe their happiness to Elzéard Bouffier.

     When I consider that a single man, relying only on his own simple physical and moral resources, was able to transform a desert into this land of Canaan, I am convinced that despite everything, the human condition is truly admirable. But when I take into account the constancy, the greatness of soul, and the selfless dedication that was needed to bring about this transformation, I am filled with an immense respect for this old, uncultured peasant who knew how to bring about a work worthy of God.

     Elzéard Bouffier died peacefully in 1947 at the hospice in Banon. 

The story itself is so touching that many readers have believed that Elzéard Bouffier was a genuine historical figure and that the narrator of the story was a young Jean Giono himself, and that the tale is part autobiographical. Certainly, Giono lived during this time. While he was alive, Giono enjoyed allowing people to believe that the story was real, and considered it as a tribute to his skill. His daughter, Aline Giono, described it as "a family story for a long time". However, Giono himself explained in a 1957 letter to an official of the city of Digne:  "Sorry to disappoint you, but Elzéard Bouffier is a fictional person. The goal was to make trees likeable, or more specifically, make planting trees likeable." In the letter, he describes how the book was translated in a multitude of languages, distributed freely, and therefore was a success. He adds that, although "it does not bring me a cent", it is one of the texts of which he is most proud. (from Wikipedia)

The Bridge Builder Poem

As recited by Deacon Christopher last Sunday in his sermon:

An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.

"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim, near,
"You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again will pass this way;
You've crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you this bridge at the evening tide?"

The builder lifted his old gray head:
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him."

The Bridge Builder is a poem written by Will Allen Dromgoole.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Gospel in 7 Words

God came down Jesus set us free

There is an interesting article from the Christian Century, The Gospel in 7 Words. 

You can read the article and different authors words here:

Jesus brought hope so we can live

So how would you put the Gospel in 7 words (or less)?

God's grace redeems us from sin

Monday, September 24, 2012

Koinonia Community & Us

Koinonia is a Christian farm community founded in 1942 by Clarence & Florence Jordan and Martin & Mabel England. Home of the Cotton Patch Gospel, birthplace of Habitat for Humanity and other ministries. Still growing pecans and peanuts, welcoming visitors, and living the "demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God." (from their website)

I preached using Clarence Jordan and his life a few weeks ago and was very impressed with his understanding that we need to work on racial reconciliation and to help those in need. You can read more about him here.

Every day the Koinonia bell rings at 10:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m

At 10:30, 3:30 and 8:30 each day you will hear the sound of a bell ringing at Koinonia. You will see each of us stop what we are doing to pray, meditate, reflect. We go into the silence to rest for a moment. We come out renewed. This time reminds us why we are here, helps us to think about the meaning of Koinonia and to reflect on the meaning of being a demonstration plot for the kingdom of God.

Whether here at Koinonia, around the corner, or on the other side of the earth, we ask that you join us in these important moments each day. They not only allow us to focus and seek blessing, but they can be a means of bringing us together. They remind us that we are all God's children and though we may have different responsibilities, it is together that we can bring about the Kingdom of God. (from their website)

On Twitter, I tweet a portion of prayers from the BCP on the Human Family & Social Justice that I think fit nicely with what Clarence Jordan and Koinonia have to teach us today:

(8:30) - Grant O God, that your holy & life-giving Spirit may move every human heart that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice & peace

(3:30) - O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us in Jesus: break down the walls that separate us, unite us in bonds of love

(10:30) - O God you made us in your image & redeemed us in Jesus. Look with compassion on us take away the arrogance & hatred which infect our hearts

Join us on Twitter or wherever you may be for prayer at 10:30 AM & 3:30 & 8:30 PM!
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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sermon: September 16

Gracious Lord, bless us this morning with a gift, a word, an insight. Don't allow us to be bored or to go through the motions! Take us deeper into the substance of your love and glory! In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

Well it seems after last Sunday, I get 1 more year…(The weather last Sunday was spectacular!) Last week, I asked you in the sermon, “What's in a name?” The Book of Proverbs tells us: “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.”

This week in the Gospel, Jesus asked the disciples "Who do people say that I am?" or put it another way, what is the name they are giving me? (Elijah, John the Baptist, one of the prophets) And then he asks them but “who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." No longer is he just Jesus, but Peter names him the Messiah, the one they follow is the promised one of God. But Jesus tells them to stay quiet, not to tell anyone, for following the Messiah is much more difficult than you think…
A British World War II veteran remembers his internment in a Japanese prison camp:

During the war, a group of His Majesty's soldiers were captured by the Japanese at the notorious River Kwai. During their imprisonment, the British captives were, at first, very observant of their religion, praying together, singing hymns, reading daily from the Bible. They were hoping and expecting that God would reward their faithfulness or at least mitigate their captivity. God didn't deliver, however, and the men became both disillusioned and angry. They gave up any outward display of their faith.

But after a while, as they began to tend to the needs of one another - caring for the sick and injured, protecting the weaker ones and, in some cases, dying for one another - they began to discern something of the Spirit of God in their midst. They discovered that religion was not just what one believed but what that belief led one to do for others, especially when it seemed that there was nothing that could be done. Compassion gave them their inner strength - and their inner strength gave them compassion. [Ernest Gordon, longtime dean of the chapel at Princeton University, cited in "Storm Center" by Peter J. Gomes, The Christian Century, May 31, 2003.]
Jesus reminds all of his disciples that faith is not just a matter of creed and ritual, but in "denying ourselves" and taking up his life and his service, by bearing our cross, do we experience the true depth of our faith.

The British prisoners came to understand the faith not as outward displays of what they understood as faith but how they acted out of love toward others.

For Jesus asks Peter at the end of John’s gospel, after all that had happened: Do you Love me? This question coupled with today’s question help us understand what taking up his cross means, for it is more than simply wearing a cross, more than just our prayers, it is how our lives respond to Jesus looking at you and asking Who do you say I am? Do you Love me? For only in embracing these questions and answering for ourselves, living the Messiah’s love, compassion and humility in our lives do we enable the Spirit of God to renew and transform our world through us…

Who do you say I am? Do you Love me? Amen.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sermon notes: Apple Festival (Sept. 9)

These are my sermon notes from my Apple Festival sermon:

What's in a name?

Jean Valjean - protagonist in Victor Hugo "Les Miserables" – (musical) Who am I?
  • Another caught in his name by Javert
  • “If I speak, I am condemned, if I stay silent, I am damned.”
John Proctor - film version of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible"
  • refuses to sign his name to a confession
  • even if he will die because "its my name" (and the name of his sons!)
What's in a name? The Book of Proverbs tells us:

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold.
The rich and the poor have this in common:
the LORD is the maker of them all.
Names are so important, God changes it - Abram & Sarai become Abraham and Sarah, Jacob becomes Israel, Simon Peter becomes just Peter, Saul becomes Paul...

Names help define us… (Jesus comes from the Latin and from Greek is Hebrew name Yeshua would mean “God is saving”)

So in today's Gospel, an unnamed woman approaches Jesus. We know he is in a gentile city, Tyre on the coast of the Mediterranean. We know that the Jews of Jesus time were among the lower classes in that region. The Syrophonecian woman entreats Jesus to heal her daughter. What parent wouldn’t seek healing for their own child? And yet there is a tension in her asking Jesus…

Jesus said, “"Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."

Is this the Jesus we follow? He calls the woman and her daughter “dogs!”

But it is this unnamed woman, this gentile, someone outside of salvation, who dares to entreat Jesus to help her daughter, who offers the retort… “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.”

She takes the name of the outsider, she takes the name dog and owns it in a way that helps Jesus see the faithful stranger. “ Good answer! ” he said. “ Go on home. The demon has already left your daughter. ” (using the CEB translation) Her answer & her faith define her!

What's in a name? Everything but it is up to us to own it and be faithful in the best and worst of times.
“Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of…[for] the way to gain a good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear.” ~ Socrates

A Prayer on this 9/11 anniversary

O Almighty God, who brings good out of evil and turns even the wrath of your children towards your promised peace: Hear our prayers this day as we remember those of many nations and differing faiths whose lives were cut short by the fierce flames of anger and hatred. Hasten the time when the menace of war shall be removed. Cleanse both us and those perceived to be our enemies of all hatred and distrust. Pour out the spirit of peace on all the rulers of our world that we may be brought through strife to the lasting peace of the kingdom of 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. Amen. (found on the Diocese of Southern Ohio's Facebook page)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Song of Songs - Three Readings

From the sermon...

Song of Solomon 2:8-13
King James Version (KJV)

Voice 1

8 The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.

9 My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice.

10 My beloved spake, and said unto me,

Voice 2

Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.

11 For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;

12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;

13 The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.

Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Common English Bible (CEB)

Voice 1

8 Listen! It’s my lover: here he comes now, leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.

9 My lover is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Here he stands now,
outside our wall,
peering through the windows,
peeking through the lattices.

10 My lover spoke and said to me,

Voice 2

“Rise up, my dearest,
my fairest, and go.

11 Here, the winter is past;
the rains have come and gone.

12 Blossoms have appeared in the land;
the season of singing has arrived,
and the sound of the turtledove is heard in our land.

13 The green fruit is on the fig tree,
and the grapevines in bloom are fragrant.
Rise up, my dearest,
my fairest, and go.

Poem 9 (Song of Songs 2:8-13)
Marcia Falk

Voice 1

The sound of my lover
coming from the hills
quickly, like a deer
upon the mountains

Now at my windows,
walking by the walls,
here at the lattices
he calls—

Voice 2

Come with me,
my love,
come away

For the long wet months are past,
the rains have fed the earth
and left it bright with blossoms

Birds wing in the low sky,
dove and songbird singing
in the open air above

Earth nourishing tree and vine,
green fig and tender grape,
green and tender fragrance

Come with me,
my love,
come away

Sermon September 5 - Song of Songs

Jesus said, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come…” It’s what comes from our hearts… That is what Jesus is interested in and what he hopes he hears from our hearts (and our lives) that is love, compassion, thankfulness, joy.

But the greatest of these is love…

Our first reading today was from The Song of Songs (or the Song of Solomon). When was the last time you heard scripture from this book of the Bible? A wedding maybe? It is a book of the bible that is filled with love poetry. It is found in the Bible after the books of Psalms and Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, a short book of 8 chapters, filled with love. Poetry that the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda would have loved to have written…
“To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life.” ― Pablo Neruda
That is true of the poetry of the Song of Songs. Let’s listen again to the words: [First Reading - KJV]

What do you hear? (Beloved, love) The Hebrew makes it clear (which is sometimes obscured in English) that the text is between a man and a woman. In their most basic form they are poems between two lovers: a man and a woman, unnamed and in a few places in the text a chorus of voices joins in.

But as we consider this one poem, we begin to see a mutuality between the lovers. There is no dominance, there is no one sidedness, it is two people who long for the other, with their own voices. Spring has come, winter has ended, what has held them a part is no longer there and they can reunite.

Many have looked at all these poems and have gotten a sense that these poems are also directed at us, that it is God who is pursuing us and we are the other lover (for Christians this spiritual allegory was understood between the bridegroom and his bride, between Christ and his Church)…

Listen again: [Second Reading – CEB]

From Genesis to the Song of Songs, we have love played out in mutual affection, not as an arranged marriage or love, nor focused solely on the procreation of children. Here love is presented in its most natural between two of God’s creatures. Just as Jesus does in the Gospels, love is presented as part of the beauty of God’s creation, intended for God’s creation not for one greater than another, but a mutuality & covenanted relationship between man and woman. Such love is not for sale like we see around us today where everything seems to be a commodity we need to buy. No this is rooted in each of us from creation.

Love is a gift from God intended to bring creation together.

I think of this prayer often said at marriages: Make their life together a sign of Christ's love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.

Love is a sign from God. For love unties, forgives and is full of joy, even in the midst of estrangement, guilt and despair. Love is present because God is. And that is what the Song of Songs gives to us today.

Listen again for what God is saying to us: [Final Reading – Falk]

And that is our song too. Amen.

(The 3 different readings int he sermon are also posted on the blog...)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day Prayer

Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (from the BCP)

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