A comprehended god is no god.

A comprehended god is no god.

A wise saying by saintly John Chrysostom

Thursday, December 6, 2012

My Iconography Class Project 2012

This project was conceived as an aid to meditation and reflection for a parish retreat during the season of Lent. The "icon" is revealed during the description of the image and a short reflection may follow. This may be a conversation or may be privately journaled.

Understanding Iconography: The “Veronica”
              The Gospels are full of stories of people wanting to see Jesus. Everyone from shepherds watching their flocks to wise men from the East, prophets, such as Simeon and Anna, Zacchaeus, the tree climbing tax collector, the sick, the lame, the hemorrhaging woman, crowds on mountain tops, people in the plains, multitudes in the dessert, wanted to see this Jesus from Nazareth. Even after his death we are told he appeared to crowds until he was taken up into heaven. Early “followers of the way” gathered around those who had known Jesus, house churches met to remember Jesus in special meals, and new disciples corresponded with old disciples for instruction in the faith. Gospels were written to preserve important moments of Jesus life and teaching. Christians began visiting important locations associated with Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and anamnestic liturgies were created to help Christians enter into the Paschal mystery. As reverence for these holy places grew there was an equal interest and veneration of objects made sacred through contact with Jesus.

The most important object or relic was that of the True Cross (or fragments of it) discovered by St. Helena during her pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 326. Relics of Jesus life and passion also drew attention and included his umbilical cord, supposed crib, the holy chalice, nails from the cross, the crown of thorns, the spear that pierced his side, among others. Whether or not these sacred objects and legends are “true” or not does not diminish their hold  on our imagination and the powerful truths they represent.

Another source of veneration were the Acheiropoieta. These images, usually of Jesus or the Virgin Mary, were considered of miraculous origin and not made by human hands. Examples include the Mandylion (towel), revered in the Eastern Church, and in the West, the Veil of Veronica and the Shroud of Turin. Another example of acheiropoieton would be Juan Diego’s tilma cloak with the image of the Virgin Mary. These images continue to be regarded as powerful relics as well as icons.

One of the ways to see Jesus is found in the Veil of Veronica or Sudarium (Latin for “sweat-cloth”). Veronica in Greek means "true icon" or "true image." Her story recounts an encounter with Jesus carrying his cross. She wipes the sweat off his face with her veil and the image of Jesus’ face is miraculously imprinted on the cloth. The event is memorialized by one of the Stations of the Cross. According to legend, Veronica later traveled to Rome to present the cloth to the Roman Emperor Tiberius. The veil is reported to have miraculous properties, being able to quench thirst, restore sight, and even raise the dead.
 ----- Reveal "The Veronica" -----

The veil was eventually translated to St. Peter's and publically displayed during the first Jubilee in 1300. The Veronica became one of the "Mirabilia Urbis" ("wonders of the City") for the pilgrims who visited Rome. For the next two hundred years the Veronica, retained at Old St Peter's, was considered one of the most precious of all Christian relics. A Spanish visitor in 1436, Pedro Tafur, wrote:

On the right hand is a pillar as high as a small tower, and in it is the holy Veronica. When it is to be exhibited an opening is made in the roof of the church and a wooden chest or cradle is let down, in which are two clerics, and when they have descended, the chest or cradle is drawn up, and they, with the greatest reverence, take out the Veronica and show it to the people, who make concourse there upon the appointed day. It happens often that the worshippers are in danger of their lives, so many are they and so great is the press.

 Some believe the image was destroyed during the Sack of Rome in 1527. Artistic reproductions of the image, though popular, were prohibited by Pope Paul V in 1616, and, in 1629, Pope Urban VIII not only prohibited reproductions of the Veronica, but also ordered the destruction of all existing copies. This has led to speculation that the Veronica was “misplaced” or stolen from the Basilica.

The Veronica housed in St Peter’s Basilica is still displayed each year on the 5th Sunday of Lent, Passion Sunday. After the 5:00 pm Vespers the Veronica is carried in procession, accompanied by the Roman litany, and displayed on the balcony above the statue of St. Veronica holding the veil. No image is discernible from that distance but "a square piece of light coloured material, somewhat faded through age, which bear two faint rust-brown stains” in a gilded frame.

The Veronica appears as a religious Rorschach test and reveals more of the observer than what is displayed. It is like looking in a mirror, dimly, and squinting your eyes this way and that, in order to see the face of God. We learn from the first chapter of Genesis that humankind is created in the image of God. In Baptism we are joined to the body of Christ and, in some mystical way, we are imprinted with the image of Jesus. Christian ministry, according to the Catechism, “is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness” to a broken world of God’s love.

 The crowds that gather under the image trying to get a glimpse of Jesus echo the effort of now over two millennia. They ask, “Show us Jesus.” Perhaps, as we strive to see Jesus, we will see our own reflection in the glass, and, with incarnational wonder and grace, see in our own face, however dimly, and in the faces of those around us, the image of God! For Saint Teresa of Avila once said, "Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion for the world is to look out; yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now." I believe we can respond to those asking to see Jesus by looking in their faces and respond to their inherent divinity. This sacred Triduum I encourage you to keep in mind Jesus’ exhortation, found in the 25th Chapter of Matthew:

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

Jesus goes on to say, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”  In the words of an old song, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they will know we are Christians by our love.”


Questions for reflection:

1.      What do you see? How are Icons widows? What are the reflections/mirrors that are helpful in our own lives?

2.      Are you disappointed in what you see?

a.      How are we like/unlike questioning Thomas who said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger I the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe”?

b.      How are we like/unlike Paul who, though his eyes were open, he could see nothing? Paul writes later, “I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called and apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

3.      How do we as a community see and experience Jesus?



Monday, October 15, 2012

Sermon for 14 October 2012 | Church of the Messiah, Santa Ana, CA

Readings: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15  Psalm 90:12-17  Hebrews 4:12-16  Mark 10:17-31
               The Gospel of Mark is in a hurry. A young man is in a hurry to find out how to inherit eternal life. This young person asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” When you are young you want everything right away. You want answers. Yet, for us, this passage calls on us to pause and answer some important questions.  

The meeting between Christ and the young person begins very promising. The fact that this person runs up to Christ shows humility; he wasn’t carried on a litter, he didn’t sent for Christ, he didn’t ask for a private conference at night, like Nicodemus. The young man ran. Running shows a longing to be in conversation with Christ. He came to Jesus and knelt down – showing respect for Jesus’ reputation as a great teacher. He wanted to learn from him. He was serious and sincere Pharisee who believed in eternal life. He was a devout observer of the Torah. Though he regularly attended religious services and knew when to sit, stand, kneel, and give the right responses, Jesus called him to something deeper.    

 Jesus, asks the young person to answer his question. Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” These verses have caused some considerable trouble. Over the centuries scholars have tried to answer Jesus’ question. One scholar claims that Jesus was using a rhetorical device in asking “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” The emphasis is on goodness. Jesus is not questioning his own goodness. He is agreeing that He is good, bringing attention to the fact that goodness comes from God. Jesus is God’s representative. Therefore, Jesus is good because he comes from God - He is light from light, true God from true God.

Another scholar claims that, since Jesus was fully human and fully divine, perhaps he was still wrestling with the idea of his divinity. Jesus slowly developed an understanding of who he was over time. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, explains that though Jesus was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited and instead humbled – emptying himself by incarnation – taking the form of a servant.

There is a third way to look at this passage. Both of the first two scholars read the passage emphasizing the word “good”, “Why do you call me good?” What would happen if we emphasized the word “you”, “Why do you call me good?”

Just a few chapters earlier, Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  The answers were all over the place until Peter, repeating what he heard other people say, was asked by Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” It didn’t matter what others thought about Jesus. Jesus asked Peter to make up his own mind. Now put both questions together: "Who do you say that I am?" and "Why do you call me good?" Jesus invites the young person into a deeper relationship.

Now let’s take a closer look at the young person’s question about eternal life. The young person did not ask, “How do I inherit eternal life?” but “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This should be making your inner Protestant jump up and down. We know that there is nothing we can do, in and of ourselves, to merit eternal life. We are saved by faith.

Jesus knew that the young person was just beginning to understand what it means to love God and love God’s people. The young person tells Jesus that he have tried to be nice to everyone. Jesus does not comment on the truthfulness of this claim, but instead points out a flaw in the young person’s reasoning. Being nice isn’t the point. Loving God and loving your neighbor involves right relationship. Right relationship with our neighbors, especially with the poor, requires a right relationship with money.

Jesus asks the young person to examine his relationship with money. Our relationship with money is telling. Giving money doesn’t save us or make us merit heaven, but living sacrificially helps us learn to value rightly. Our money claims that we trust in God. Each coin and bill clearly states “In God we trust”, but many of us are caught up in what money can buy - our wants and our desires for material comfort.  Jesus includes the command not to defraud our neighbor. We are commanded not to seek to own welfare in any way that lessens the welfare of another. Justice requires us not to advance or enrich ourselves by doing wrong or injury to any other. Valuing money above relationships is idolatry. Living into the kingdom of God is hard for people. 

Jesus tells us it is hard for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom. Jesus goes on to say that “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone to enter the kingdom of God.” This is an incredible statement. Most of us have heard it before, but do we know what it means.

There is a medieval legend that the “eye of the needle” refers to a gate in Jerusalem where a camel could not pass unless it stooped and first had all its baggage first removed. After dark, when the main gates were shut, travelers and merchants had to use this smaller gate. The camel could only enter with its pack taken off and crawling on its knees!

This became a great metaphor for sermons on stewardship – pointing out the need of coming to God on our knees without all our baggage. Unfortunately there is no evidence to support this story.

There are other explanations to the problem of getting through the “eye of a needle” but I think that we are working too hard. What if we are not meant to reason away the apparent difficulty of getting a camel through the eye of a needle? Remember when Jesus spoke about trying to take a speck out of someone’s eye when you have a whole tree growing out of your own? Jesus is making an exaggerated statement to point out that it is impossible to “do” something to get into heaven.

Many people believed, and still believe, that wealth and prosperity was a sign of God's blessing - being poor means that you are lazy and somehow undeserving. Imagine how surprised they were at the idea that being rich did not mean that you were more righteous any more than being poor or sick or even unemployed means that you necessarily did something wrong.

Some Christians have used this story to point out that wealth itself is evil and therefore the wealthy are bad and the poor are good. This is a false dichotomy. The truth is that salvation is made impossible through our own efforts. There is nothing we can do to deserve it.  

The good news is that what seems impossible for us is possible with God. God only needs us to open up a crack for the Spirit to enter.  Even the tiny opening in the eye of a needle is big enough for God. God, who created heaven and earth, all living things, including camels, wants us to deepen our relationships.  

Jesus asked the young person to take ownership of their faith and trust in God. Mark wrote this Gospel in order to draw us into the most important conversation ever held.

Jesus is asking us “Why do you call me good?” and by doing so invites us into a deep conversation about our relationships. Jesus wants us to value people over possessions and examine our relationship with money. Bowing your knee to Jesus the great Teacher is only a good beginning. You are also invited to bow your pocket book to the needs around you. Bring your relationships, all your relationships, before the throne of grace and into the light of the Gospel. Entrust them to God; for with God all things are possible.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My Senior Sermon

Celebrating Wilfred Thomason Grenfell

All Saints Chapel | Church Divinity School of the Pacific

 Have you ever heard someone accused of being “so spiritual that they are no earthly good?” This accusation reflects a legitimate critique of religion and religious people. What does it mean to be “spiritual” according to Paul? The reading from 1 Corinthians begins “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.” The Greek word translated as “spiritual gifts” is “pneumatika” which also means “spiritual ones.” A spiritual person, according to Paul, is both “gifted” and “gift.”  

Verse 6 suggests that the Spirit will activate “giftedness” in every Christian. Everyone is gifted in baptism for ministry. Not just Bishops, Priests and Deacons, but everyone receives something from the Spirit. Paul says “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” – everyone – “and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” We are prompted by the Spirit to respond with God’s love to the distressed and broken-hearted.

 Being “spiritual” then is a mature response to the Spirit of God - trusting the caller will equip the called. The prompting of the Spirit, the “calling”, often occurs when we pause, are willing to moved, willing to respond. Let me give you an example.  

The London School of Medicine was not in the best area of town. Wilfred Grenfell was in his second year of Med School. Returning from an out-patient visit one night, he turned a corner and found himself in an evangelistic tent meeting. When, in his words, “a tedious prayer-bore began with a long oration” he started to leave.

Suddenly the leader, whom he learned later was D.L. Moody, called out to the audience, "Let us sing a hymn while our brother finishes his prayer." Moody’s practicality interested Wilfred, he paused and he decided to stay. When he eventually left, he had determined either to make religion a real effort - to do as he thought Christ would do in his place - or abandon it. The Spirit gently prodded and he responded. He began looking for a way to serve others.

Wilfred volunteered to teach Sunday school, but he found the few boys that showed up uninterested in denominational teaching programs. He wanted to give up. He also found a friend with some musical ability and a portable organ and held services in underground basements used as lodging-houses. It brought him into touch with real poverty. They learned to preach as they learned to minister - by actually doing it.

I wonder if we have it wrong when we look for people, already groomed and perfect for ministry, when clearly God doesn’t call the gifted, but gifts the called. The text of 1 Corinthians makes it plain that gifts are allocated by the Spirit, and are not based on our worthiness or skill.

Someone once said, “Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” Wilfred kept responding to the needs around him. He nearly went broke as he listened to bad luck stories and accepted I.O.U.’s. He quickly learned to wear used clothing and leave his watch and wallet at home.

 His growing experience helped him figure out a better way to reach his Sunday-School boys. In this poor section of the city there were no programs for the youth. They cleared the church dining-room every Saturday evening and gave boxing lessons. Wilfred enthusiastically shared his love of sports.  The boys began bringing friends whom his exegesis on scripture would never have lured into the church. The program grew. When the church closed down the program they started their own.

Wilfred graduated and began to practice medicine. One of his former teachers was part of an organization interested in the religious and social welfare of deep-sea fishermen. They chartered a small fishing boat, sent her out among the fishermen to hold religious services, simple, unconventional, and administer first aid. The battered boat owned by the Mission to Deep-Sea Fishermen had the words "Heal the sick" carved on the starboard bow, "Preach the Word" on the port, and around the brass rim of the wheel ran the words, "Jesus said, Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." Once he met the fishermen he knew what he had to do.  

 In the Gospel of Mark we read that when evening came, the disciples were in the boat trying to cross to the other side. They were straining at the oars against an adverse wind. There are many kinds of adverse winds: poverty, sickness, loneliness, and paralyzing fear.

When Jesus saw that the disciples were struggling, he came towards them, walking on the sea. Here is where the story gets interesting. Mark says Jesus intended to pass them by. Why would Jesus do this? Jesus, the lover of souls, who gave his life to bring life, was going to pass them by. I think Mark is trying to point something out. We see people in need all around us. The needs can be overwhelming. What can I do? What can you do? Mark suggests that though we might be tempted to pass them by we, like Jesus, should allow our hearts to be moved.

Jesus paused. He did not walk on by, but immediately spoke to them and said, “take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then, and this is the best part of all, he got into the boat with them. His mere presence made the raging wind cease.  

 Wilfred was sent by the Mission to Newfoundland and Labrador to see what could be done among the poor fishermen. He was shocked by the poverty. He could have passed them by, but moved by their need, he decided to devote the rest of his life to these people. He didn’t minister to them but with them. He lived with the people. He helped established hospitals, open nursing stations, schools, and orphanages.

He believed that if we look into our everyday life we cannot fail to see that God not only allows but seeks our cooperation in establishing God’s reign. Grenfell is a model for modern ministry.  He was entrepreneurial and practical. When funding for the mission dried up he started raising the funds himself. He went on speaking tours through both Canada and the United States, wrote books, and organized the International Grenfell Association. He showed innovation, flexibility, and perseverance. 

        Like Jesus, Wilfred Thomason Grenfell came to the aid of suffering humanity. He did not walk on by. Allowing the needs of others to move him to companionship and compassion, he participated in Theophany and carried the presence of our loving God.

We are all gifted. We are all called.  We too can respond to those near us. Let our heart and hands be moved. Amen.

Friday, September 28, 2012


The texts for this sermon were taken from Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, Psalm 51, and Matthew 6:9-15

On the 14th of May 1940, the Germans bombed the city of Rotterdam to support their troops fighting in the city. Due to faulty communications, the Germans brought to rubble much of the city center. Because of the bombing of Rotterdam, the British authorized an attack on German targets east of the Rhine. The Royal Air Force aimed for civilian industrial targets which aided the German war effort. Due to the inadequate British bomb-sights the strikes rained terror on German villages and towns.

During that summer and autumn, the German Air Force began to attack British military and economic targets. This “Battle for Britain” took a terrible turn when several off-course German bombers accidentally bombed residential areas of London. The next night, the British bombed Berlin for the first time. Due to their poor aiming ability, these attacks were seen as indiscriminate bombings by the Germans. The German Air Force had been prohibited from bombing civilian areas but now all bets were off.

On the evening of November 14th, about 6:30, in the city of Coventry, the sirens began to scream. The Germans bombed in straight lines from east to west, and then they started from south to north. The city center and Coventry Cathedral were hit numerous times and fires blazed out of control. 554 people died that night. Someone observed, “It was a terrible scene. The shops were burning, all the windows had gone, lamp-posts were leaning down, cars were burned out, it was chaos.” Shock was followed by anger. Many wanted revenge, but not everyone.

The next morning, Richard Howard walked through the ruined Cathedral.  He had led worship here. He looked into the nave and felt he would weep. Though the altar was a pile of rubble, the wall behind it still stood. He bent over, picked up a piece of wood and wrote these words on the smoke-blackened wall - 'Father Forgive'.

He found the charred remains of two roof beams that had fallen to the floor in the shape of a cross. He carefully raised them above the altar of rubble for the Sunday service. Reconciliation is not easy. Reconciliation can be painful. Reconciliation is rooted in “change”. Reconciliation is relational.

The theology of reconciliation can be compared to that charred Coventry cross. It runs both vertically and horizontally. The vertical beam represents our reconciliation with God and the horizontal represents reconciliation between individuals and community.+ 

In the Gospel reading we hear Jesus’ teaching on prayer. Jesus points out that forgiveness and, thus, reconciliation begins as God’s action towards us. We pray that God will forgive, in Greek ἀφίημι,  {af-ee'-ay-mee} … that is, we pray God will send away, somehow disregard, not even discuss our debts, and we promise to do the same – with the same generosity.

The Dictionary of Christian Ethics says that “The Latin and Greek words for reconciliation have the root-meaning “change” and refer to a change of attitude from hostility to amity, of God toward humanity, of humanity toward God, and of individuals toward each other.” Central to Jesus’ teaching about divine forgiveness is that our reconciliation with God has something to do with those who have offended us or whom we have offended. When we have been harmed or when we have hurt another, it may seem impossible for us or others to get over it. The process cannot be rushed. It cannot be forced.

A good place to learn about forgiveness and reconciliation is found in Psalm 51. The introductory text attributes this psalm to David just after Nathan the prophet uncovered his adultery with Bathsheba. I’m not sure if he is sorrier for the wrong he’s done or for getting caught, even so, David is sorry and the process of reconciliation can begin.

Begin with God. Ask for help. Admit your fault and take responsibility for your part.  Our God is a God of steadfast love and mercy - willing to blot out our transgressions and wash us whiter than snow. Being willing to accept responsibility can be difficult. Roots of bitterness can run deep. We sometimes need help to pluck them out. Listen to David’s payer, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”

Here are three thoughts on Psalm 51. One, willingness is an important element of Reconciliation. David is willing to make things right. Second, David prays for the help of the Spirit of God.  This is the same Spirit that we invoke at “the peace” during every Eucharistic gathering, remembering  that after the resurrection, Jesus greeted his friends, those that rejected and abandoned him, and said, “Peace be with you,” then breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Third, Psalm 51 is only a good start. It lacks one thing. David knows he must make things right with God. He knows that “a broken and contrite heart, God, will not despise.” David has the vertical aspect of reconciliation between the human and Divine, but where is the horizontal aspect?

Reconciliation also requires a restoration between individuals and community. David has not made things right with Bathsheba. Worse yet, he had her husband killed. David has not even mentioned the dead man’s family. Though God is always willing to forgive - others may need time. Sometimes it is even inappropriate to directly ask someone who has been gravely wronged for forgiveness. 

Reconciliation requires willingness. It requires concerted prayer for the other, for the community, in the power of the Spirit. Humbly, do what you can and trust in God, planting seeds of reconciliation. Remember that the impossible is God’s playground.



Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sermon for Sunday, June 17 2012 “Father’s Day”

!Hazte presente! !Hazte presente, oh Jesús, nuestro gran Sumo Sacerdote, así como te hiciste presente con tus discípulos, y muéstrate a nosotros en la fracción de la lectura y del Pan; tu que vives y reinas con el Padre y el Espíritu Santo, ahora y por siempre. Amen.

Before I begin I want to thank Dr. Smith for asking me to preach today and Reverenda, and all of you, for giving us such a warm welcome. Our small group of seminarians from the United States, Tina Heidmann, Betty Jerez, Jordan Haynie, Mikael Salovaara and I have been in Colón for only a week. You have made us feel at home.

We’ve been struck by the immense beauty of Panamá. Canticle 5, el Cantico de la Creación, has been on my mind since the first day I woke up in Panamá. It could have been written here in Colon: 

Bendigan al Señor, lluvias todas y roció,

          vientos todos, fuego y calor.

          Inviernos y veranos, bedigan al Señor,

                   alábenle y exáltenle sobre todo para siempre.

Bendiga la tierra al Señor,

          alábele y exáltele sobre todo para siempre.

          Montes y Colinas y cuanto germina en la tierra,

                                         bendigan al Señor,

          alábenle y exáltenle sobre todo para siempre.

 Bendigan al Señor, manantiales y fuentes, mares y ríos,

                   cetáceos y cuanto se mueve en las aguas.

Aves del cielo, bendigan al Señor,

          alábenle y exáltenle sobre todo para siempre.

          Bendigan al Señor, bestias silvestres,

                y todos los rebaños y ganados.

          Hombres y mujeres de todos lugares, bendigan al Señor,

          alábenle y exáltenle sobre todo para siempre.

You can feel the weather in Panama. The warmth of the day in Colón is broken by cool rains and are accompanied by loud drumming thunder. Your blessed mountains and hills, seas, mighty rivers, and diversity of birds, fish and fowl, wild creatures great and small, from the Panamanian sloth we saw on one of our first nights crawling slowly across the parking lot at the Diocesan Center in Panama City, to the fast moving ñeco that refuses to let me take a photo, to the tiny ants that build towering homes and the tiny geko that visits each night thankfully eating any bugs that comes too close my bed, all cause joy and wonder at the brilliance of God’s good creation.

Above all, I thank God for the example of your hospitality, your kindness and patience (especialmente con mi español), and for the good work you do as the Body of Christ in this place.

We share a rich heritage in faith in God the Father of us all. We share hope and the promise of salvation. We share a common destination – the Kingdom of God.

In chapter four of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus gives us four important teachings:

1.    The parable of the Sower

2.    The parable of the Lamp Under a Bushel

3.    The Growing Seed, and

4.    The Mustard Seed

Three of the four parables contain images of sown seed and growth. Today’s Gospel reading opens with the parable of the Growing Seed. This parable in only found in Mark’s Gospel and has something important to tell us. Jesus said that “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.”

A story about small seeds may not sound like an exciting way for Jesus to begin a sermon but Jesus sees beyond outward appearances. The reading for today from 1 Samuel reminds us that, “The Lord does not see as mortals see; we tend to look at outward appearances, but the Lord looks in the heart.”

In the heart of a seed there is potential for life and growth. Seeds are also more powerful than we think. They can grow almost anywhere, especially in Panamá. When it sprouts its roots are strong enough to crack rocks. Plants make animal and human life possible. The growth itself may not be noticed on a day to day basis, but over time a miracle takes place. Suddenly, where we had not noticed growth there is now a bush or a tree.
We do not know how it happens. We play our small part and God does the rest. It is not necessarily about us at all, but about the “work of the seed” and the God who sustains it.
The kingdom of God is a lot like the sown seed… it comes with slow, steady, sometimes imperceptible growth. We are invited to participate as witnesses of God’s life-giving presence. It is God who nurtures and sustains the growth. In the kingdom of God we are both God’s seeds and sowers. I think that is part of what we celebrate on Father’s Day.

We celebrate our heavenly Father that causes us to grow. We also celebrate our earthly fathers who do their best to nurture and sustain that growth. Mr. Branch reminded me that some of us lost our father at an early age, or some people never knew their father, but we may have people in our lives that stood in the gap for us. There are people who have made strong impressions on our lives and help to mold us.

I’m excited by the fact that God encourages all of us to sow seed and grow the kingdom of God. We all have something to contribute. We all have something to do. We all have some gift to share for the building up of God’s kingdom.

I have a question for you. What seeds are you sowing? How do you sow them?

I’ve been blessed with many mentors in my life. Dr. Richardson and Father Stuart are two men who have taught me to give my best even when I’m afraid of failure. I learned from what they said and what they did. They in turn have taught me how to plant.

The Apostle Paul points out in 1 Corinthians that all of us want to please God; we will all appear before Christ and answer for our actions and inaction. Unfortunately I am not always sowing good seed. I make mistakes and am sometimes slow to apologize.

We can either sow seeds for the flesh or for the spirit. The work of the flesh is obvious and includes impurity, jealousy, anger,  envy, drunkenness, and things like these. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

When I notice that I’m jealous, angry, or envious I can do something about it. I can go to God in prayer. I can ask for pardon, take up my cross again. This is part of what it means to repent – to change direction and move towards God. I can ask for the Holy Spirit to inspire me to plant seeds, to mentor someone, to offer what I have in love.

Is this impossible? Is God asking us to do something without supplying what we need to do it? Never! God is always faithful. God is always with us. God is preparing an unimaginable harvest. We have the honor of lending our hands and our feet.
Are you willing to renew your efforts? Church, I said, “Are you willing?”

Gloria a Dios, cuyo poder, actuando en nosotros, puede realizer todas las cosas infinitamente mejor de lo que podemos pedir o pensar: Gloria a él en la Iglesia de generación en generación, y en Christo Jesús por los siglos de los siglos. Amen.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I say the darndest things to my friends

We may not always reach as high as our ultimate potential, but we can learn to reach higher than our fears!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Washington bishop welcomes Obama’s change of heart

I recently came accross this blogpost in the ENS by Bishop Budde of Washington. It is a simple statement and, yet, profound, because it presents a healthy counter to voices that say the people of God should oppose equal rights and recognition of same-sex couples. - Steve

Washington bishop welcomes Obama’s change of heart

"The Avowal" from Denise Levertove's Oblique Prayers

 As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.

My good friend Irene pointed the way to this poem. I love the image of freefalling into the Creator's deep embrace. I believe I have experienced that. It is wonderful and affirming. Have you?

Rogation Sunday, 13 May 2012

She was sick for three days. On the fourth night her friends called the priest. She had lost feeling from the waist down and felt she was dying. Her priest came in the room, came to her side and asked how she was doing. She could no longer speak. Knowing she was near death, as was the custom in those days, he took out a small cross, lifted it up before her eyes, and said, “I have brought you the image of your Maker and Savior. Look upon it and be comforted.”

As she tried to focus her eyes on the crucifix the room grew dark. Though she knew the room was crowded with friends, but all she could see was the Jesus upon the cross. Jesus’ passion for her, his love for her from the cross filled her imagination.

Julian had lived in Norwich all her life. That’s all she knew. Now, believing she had died, she was ready to travel to heaven. That night her pain subsided and Dame Julian of Norwich had a series of intense mystical visions or as she called them, “showings”. She wrote them down. The rest of her life she spent pondering their meaning - sharing insights with anyone who would listen. Almost twenty years later she wrote out an extended account of her visions – calling them Revelations of Divine Love (ca. 1393). This, this gift, the fruit of her life, was to become the first book written in the English language by a woman.

Over the last couple weeks the church’s calendar has been crowded with a number of powerful women saints, Catherine of Siena, Monica, the mother of Augustine, and Dame Julian of Norwich. These women of faith have something important to tell us, something important in common. They all desired earnestly to follow Jesus. They asked God to help them become disciples and devoted themselves to prayer, worship, and service to those in need.

 Today is Rogation Sunday. Rogation comes from the Latin “rogatio” which means “to ask”. It’s found near the end of the Gospel reading for today where Jesus says to his followers, “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.” Whatever you ask, “rogare”, in my name.

There are three things I’d like us to keep in mind about following Jesus.

1) Jesus chose us.

Jesus said, “You did not choose me but I chose you.” Earlier in the Gospel of John Jesus begins calling disciples. In the first chapter it says, “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”” (Jn. 1:43)

In the original Greek it says “on the next day Jesus θέλω willed and purposed to go to Galilee. It also contains shades of “Jesus desired, took delight and pleasure in the thought of going to Galilee. He εὑρίσκω searched for Philip and said, “ἀκολουθέω μοι,” which means “Follow me”; it also contains the idea “I’ll go ahead of you and look out for you, join me, become my disciple.” In other words, Jesus had a plan before leaving for Galilee, he was taking delight in choosing his followers, he knew where Philip was, went to him, and said, “I’ve been looking for you. Follow me, stay close.”

He also chose Nathanael and the others even before they knew him. Psalm 139 says that God searches for us and knows us, we are known and loved even before we are born. Jesus delights in making disciples out of very ordinary people.

After Jesus rose from the dead, he said to Peter, “If you love me, follow me and tend to those in need.” (Jn. 21:19) Don’t worry about what others do or don’t do, “Follow me, stay close.” Jesus delights in choosing us to become his disciples.

2) Jesus appoints us to bear lasting fruit.

“And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”

What does he mean by saying, “I have appointed you,” but that you, me, all of us, are called by Jesus to do something. The Gospel reading today comes from a longer discourse where Jesus describes himself as the “true vine” and calls us to “abide” in his love, to follow his example, abide in loving action, to be “fruitful.”

“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4-5)

In Twelve Step Recovery programs they say “you cannot give what you do not have.” How can I offer the love of Christ if I am not regularly abiding in the source of love?

For years I’ve thought about what it means to be a disciple: to follow God’s call on my life. I was, as Kierkegaard called it, merely an ‘admirer of Jesus’. Jesus calls us to something deeper; he calls to friendship, to develop an intimate relationship, one of deep trust. Jesus says, I do not call you servants any longer, but I have called you friends, if you obey my commands. (Jn. 15:15)

The command to “go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” signifies a fruitful relationship with the one who is the source of all good desires and all good actions.  

And 3) If we ask, God will make us disciples.

“I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.”

In the original Greek “to ask” is αἰτέω,v

1) to ask, beg, crave, desire

 Julian of Norwich asked God, begged God, to help her understand the Passion of Jesus, the depth of God’s love and compassion. God gave her the words, the Divine Revelations; she said she merely conveyed to others what God impressed upon her as she abided in God’s love.

Monica prayed without ceasing for her husband and son. She wanted, deeply desired them to know Christ’s love. Her perseverance in love and prayer helped open the door to their faith. Her son Augustine eventually became an important leader of the early church in Hippo. Her fruit had a lasting effect.

Catherine of Sienna devoted herself to prayer and meditation even though her family tried to discourage. She took her call seriously. She became a nurse and cared for those rejected by society. She also visited prisoners condemned to death and worked for the unity of the church. Her life and writings have had a lasting effect on the church.

For a long time I’ve been feeling the need to deepen my relationship with Jesus, no longer just an admirer, I want to be his friend: to follow his call on my life. I had thought about it and thought about it. I had dabbled in a few committees at church, helped out at our church’s the homeless breakfast on occasion, and wondered what God might have me do.

Then I did something I was never really ready to do before, I asked God about it. I asked God for guidance and grace to follow him where ever he wants me to go. I listened to the deep stirrings of my heart and asked God to help me discern his will for me.

It’s a daily struggle to take up our cross and follow Jesus. This is impossible to maintain on our own will power. Besides, once in a while, we let something get in the way. We forget to abide in the source of our strength and power.

What keeps us from discipleship? What do you let get in the way? Jesus has already chosen us. Remember what Jesus said to the disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus will make us into disciples if we abide, if we but ask God for help. What is impossible with us is possible with God.

Yet, discipleship may still seem daunting. Someone will say, “The disciples were great men and women of faith. I can’t be a disciple; I’m not like them.” Jesus chose ordinary men and women, some fishermen, some with little education. John, the disciple that wrote the book of Revelation, was poorly educated, he was a poor writer and would have failed spelling and grammar, but his book is included in the New Testament canon.

Knowing that many of them would deny him, turn their backs on him, fail miserably, Jesus still entrusted them with the Gospel, knowing that they would eventually turn out alright.

If they continued to pray, to worship the living God, to seek and serve the outcasts and poor, if they continued to practice abiding in LOVE, they would turn out just fine. You see God trusts us. God believes in us. God would not call us to discipleship without provide the means to do it. If we ask God for help we will not be denied. If we crave and desire to follow Jesus closely and ask for grace, we will be given the strength we need. Jesus feeds us, like a mother, with milk of the word, and when we’re ready to digest it, the bread of life and cup of salvation, strength for our journey.

As we leave this meditation on what it means to follow Christ, it is important to remember that 1) Jesus chose us and delights in us 2) We are appointed to bear lasting fruit. Abiding in Jesus the “true vine” will keep us supple, sappy, and fruitful. And 3) If we ask, God will make us disciples. It is not up to us, all we need is the willingness to ask for help and abiding faith in God who will not let us down.

And God said to Julian, “I can make all things well; I will make all things well; I shall make all things well; and thou canst see for thyself that all manner of things shall be well.”

Additional Background on Rogation Sunday

Rogation comes from the Latin “rogatio” which means “to ask”. It’s found near the end of the Gospel reading for today. Jesus says to his followers, “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.

In the original Greek it is αἰτέω,v \{ahee-teh'-o}

1) to ask, beg, call for, crave, desire

In the 5th century Christians began to set aside certain days to fast and pray for the welfare of their communities. Some prayed for a fruitful harvest, others, living close to a volcano, prayed for protection from eruptions and other calamities. Days of Rogation were popular among Anglicans until they were suppressed during the early English reformations. Elizabeth I reintroduced the practice.

The priest of the parish with the churchwardens and the local officials headed a crowd of boys who, armed with green branches, usually birch or willow, beat the parish boundary markers with them. Local parish communities would beat the bounds or boundaries of their community and ask God for blessings on their fields and livestock, and the general welfare of all inhabitants.

Maps were rare in those days so one of the benefits of making a formal visit around the parish boundaries helped hand down the knowledge for future generations – being within the bounds meant that you were liable to contribute to the repair and upkeep of the church, you had a right to be buried within the churchyard, and to voice your opinion in the local courts.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Maundy Thursday 2012

              Tonight, in John’s Gospel, we find the two strands of our Christian DNA. Two important concepts mark us as Disciples of Christ. They show us what it means to be “in” Christ and where to look for heaven.  

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

He loved them to the end. Love is mentioned only six times in the first 12 chapters of John’s Gospel, but love is mentioned 31 times in the next five chapters, beginning right here in verse one. Jesus loved them to the end. Here we begin to see the full extent of Jesus’ love. Extravagant acts of love that can at times bewilder us. Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. Peter was shocked:

“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

That’s a good question and I don’t blame Peter for asking it. It is shocking. Think about it. The Angels must have been stunned. The glorious Son of God, through whom all things were made, grabbed a basin of water and washed the feet of his followers.

            “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

 I love Peter, he may be a slow learner (like me), but he helps highlight the conundrum. What does it mean to have Jesus wash our feet?  This is more than just a lesson in leadership.  Jesus links service to participating in God’s love. We are commanded in verse 34 to love others with this same kind of outrageous, extravagant love.

This is called Maunday Thursday. Maundy comes from the Latin word “mandatum”, meaning "commandment," Maundy refers to Jesus’ command at the Last supper to love with abandon and humility. Jesus’ command has multiple layers of meaning. This menial task, foot washing, shows the extent God will go to care for us, assure us that we are loved. This is no easy love. It knows no limits, no boundaries. It is intimate and incarnate. It finds us where ever we are and reaches out to us, bathes us, reassures us that we are worthy of God’s love, not for anything we have done, but because we were made to be loved. That’s what God does… God is found in the action of love.

Jesus’ command calls all of us who have experienced this love to reach out in turn to others. Jesus calls out to us in a broken and hurting world:

“Are you going to wash my feet?”

Love is best understood in action. The Bible has been called the “Book of Love”, but most people have trouble understanding it. We live in an age of cynicism. The word “love” is easy to say. This is represented in a song by Peter Gabriel. The song begins with suspicion and doubt:

The book of love is long and boring

 No one can lift [the damn thing] it

 It's full of charts and facts and figures and instructions for dancing

 But I

 I love it when you read to me

 And you

 You can read me anything

The cynic is not moved by written words, but persuaded by someone willing to read them out loud, live them out loud, who lessens their loneliness with conversation, who turns pages for them at the Fifth Avenue Healthcare Center and sings to them of God’s love, who helps make the holidays bearable by providing children with gift, who plays dominoes with prisoners, and helps them ponder the Gospel message.

The book of love has music in it

 In fact that's where music comes from

 Some of it is just transcendental

 Some of it is just really dumb

 But I

 I love it when you sing to me

 And you

 You can sing me anything

Polls tell us that many call themselves “spiritual, but not religious” and are not interested in Christian dogma. Only the action of our service inspired by God’s love can cut through walls thick with disbelief, cynicism and pain.

In the Gospel reading the active love of God overflows the pages, into our lives, and through us, into the world. Let’s look at verses 34 and 35:

            I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.

The mark of discipleship then is service. It is one of two commands Jesus gives us tonight. The second command is alluded to in John’s Gospel. Before we discuss the second command, there’s something I want to point out. Peter asks Jesus another good question in verse 36:

“Lord, where are you going?”

The answer is found in the second part of verse 3. Jesus had come from God and was going to God.  We believe that he came from heaven “for us and for our salvation” and that he returned to heaven.

Traditionally, heaven has been understood to be somewhere up in the clouds… floating somewhere above us. Here’s another way to look at it. Heaven is located in God. To be in God’s presence is to experience heaven. When we see God in all God’s glory, when we are filled with God, when every cell is penetrated with God’s loving presence, then we will be “in” heaven. We will know eternal joy. According to one theologian, “The hope of heaven and eternal life is meant for all the living, so that in the future world the creation that groans under transience will also be delivered, because there will be no more death.” Salvation extends in ever-widening circles to the entire cosmos so that all will be filled with the fullness of God.
Jesus said:

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.  

Look again at what Jesus promises:

I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

Heaven, however, is not just a future promise. Jesus proclaimed the in-breaking God and God’s kingdom. We can begin to know Jesus now and experience some of heaven. In fact, we are commanded to do this. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we are reminded that our relationship with God is fed and strengthened through Communion. Tonight at this table we are invited to a heavenly banquet. In these holy mysteries God is present in Jesus Christ and gives us a pledge of eternal life. The bread that is blessed and broken is the bread of heaven. The wine is the cup of our salvation. And we pray, “Be present, be present, O Jesus, our great High Priest, as you were present with your disciples, and be known to us in the breaking of the bread.”

Two commands are made: on of service and one of communion with God and the family of Christ. Both of them lead us deeper into the mystery of God’s presence. In the action of loving someone in need God is mightily present. At this table we taste and see that the Lord is good and near to us. In God’s presence we find our heavenly hope and hope for the entire cosmos.  Heaven is a love song composed of God.

I love it when you read to me

And you

You can read me anything

The book of love has music in it

In fact that's where music comes from.