Monday, October 7, 2019

Sermon for Saint Francis Day, Trinity+St. Peter's Church, San Francisco.

Preaching at Trinity+St. Peter’s 
Saint Francis of Assisi, Friar transferred
6 October 2019

Jeremiah 22:13-16
Psalm 148:7-14
Galatians 6:14-18
St. Matthew 11:25-30


There is a sentimentality, somewhat akin to the same sentimentalities that have enfeebled the feasts of Christmas and Easter, that has had a similar effect on the celebration of Saint Francis. I have at least one plaque at the door of my house with the requisite animals and flowers, the saint enrobed in a spotless and perfect habit. I’ve seen the birdbaths and statues that all celebrate the minor holiness of this man. I was reminded of the true message and example of Francis earlier this week when I and other priests, members of the Society of Catholic Priests, gathered at the international border of Mexico/United States in Nogales. Earlier at St. Andrew’s Church in Nogales we heard of that church’s ministry with children from Mexico, who are allowed to cross the border to receive medical and psychiatric care from volunteers from the north. It is in their midst that I could see Francis and Clare and all of their companions as they labored to feed and care for the poor.

Francis was destined for something different. The son of a wealthy cloth merchant, his early life was replete with fine clothing, the sport of war, and the ways of a rich young man. In a vision at the Chapel at San Damiano, just outside of Assisi, he saw and heard the crucified Christ who called upon him to “go and repair my house which, as you can see is falling into ruins.” After many instances of renouncing his wealth and giving to the poor at the expense of his wealthy family, Francis became a hermit, later asking others to join in his mendicant life, actually taking on the life that he was hoping to help and to mend.

In a presentation this week at the conference I was attending, The Very Reverend Andrew McGowan spoke to us about the connection of Eucharist and the poor. He further commented on the Francis story about the restoration of the chapel at San Damiano. “Perhaps,” he commented, “it is not the building that needs restoration and renewal, but the institution itself.” That is a sobering but enlivening thought – one that we ought to know well, here at Trinity+Saint Peter’s. Yes, there is a lot that needs to be done with this building – but there is more. How do we restore the soul of a congregation? How do we make it new and vital again? Fr. McGowan quoted from the great Orthodox bishop and saint John Chrysostom to invite us into an essential renewal. “if you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door,” Chrysostom said, “you will not find him in the chalice.” Fr. McGowan went on to add that we must accompany the gifts we bring to the eucharist, bread and wine and gifts for the upkeep of the parish, with gifts brought for aid to the poor. What might that look like here?

In the first reading for this morning, Jeremiah lifts-up an ancient prophetic understanding of what it means to be one of God’s people, one who knows God. “Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the Lord.” Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos, Isaiah, and others spoke to the needs and difficulties of their own time, but they speak to the challenges of our own time as well. If there is one thing that challenges this city, it is the matter of the poor and homeless. It flies in the face of our wealth and of our Christianity as well. It is a challenge for us.

At the wall in Nogales I witnessed what we really want to do with the poor and those different from us. We want to separate ourselves from them with Corten steel, mesh and razor wire. The goal is complete separation, lack of communication and contact. That seems to be the heart of our national agenda, but it should not be the heart of the church’s or our own agenda. What we are called to is what Jesus calls us to. He says to us, Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Shouldn’t that be what we say to others, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heave burdens, and I will give you rest.” Repeat it in your mind and become comfortable with the words and with the intent.

Once in Berkeley, I walked with a former priest of this parish on Shattuck Avenue. In walking down the several blocks, we encountered several men and women begging on the street. To each one of them he gave attention, looking at them, greeting them. To each of them he gave $1 (he had a stash of bills in spite of his own financial difficulties). This went on for a couple of blocks, when he turned to me, handed me a handful of bills and said, “The next ones are yours.” In many ways he was instructing me to be a priest – a Christian. 

If this makes us uncomfortable, we need to remind ourselves of Mary’s voice in the Magnificat,

He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

It is all part of Luke’s agenda, lifting up the needs of the widow and the orphan, the poor and the homeless, the (as he called them) “little ones” in his society. It was Francis agenda as well. It should give us pause as we live our lives in relative comfort to not only pray for the comfort and care of others, but providing for them as well.

In a bit we will bless animals. This can serve as a good example of the Franciscan way; of the duties we are called to in Christ. These animals, these pets are dependent upon us. They give us companionship and comfort, but we, knowing their presence with us, we give them food, companionship, and shelter. If we can do it for these, then what can we do for our fellow human beings. 

Chrysostom, again, “Not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth, but theirs.” We are in this world that God has given us dependent upon one another. May Christ assist us in the task.


Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Unfaithful Steward meets Billy Budd, Pentecost XV, Proper 20, 22 September 2019

Preaching at Saint Mark's Church
The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20
22 September 2019


Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113
I Timothy 2:1-7
St. Luke 16:1-13


The comparisons of Billy Budd

Tuesday evening, I sent to see Benjamin Brittan’s excellent opera, Billy Budd. Its initial import to me was seeing for the first time in my life the sexual ambiguity and confusion of John Claggart, the Master-at-arms who suppresses his own (with what I saw as) latent homosexuality in violence and repression aimed at other young men on the ship. Specifically, he frames the “handsome and good” Billy Budd. 

On further reflection and needing to wrest a sermon out of Jesus’ difficult parable about the “Unjust Steward” I began to see the opera as a good comparison with the complexities of the parable. Both are filled with men we admire and at the same time despise. In both there are interior conversations aimed at solving the moral questions that are posed for, in the parable, the steward, the rich owner, and the listener. In the opera it is Captain Veer of the HMS Indomitable who struggles between what he understands to be justice, and that which society and the law demand of him. We sit in the middle of this dilemma and wonder how to come to a proper resolution. Jesus intersperses two soto voce interjections in the parable that can, perhaps, help us to find a righteous compass in it. 

For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. (Luke 16:8b)

We are, all of us, “children of this world”. One only needs to go to the movies every now and then to discover oneself rooting for the “bad guy”. In the recent film “The Favourite” I wanted Abigale, the maid to Lady Marlborough, and later to Queen Anne, I wanted her to win – to prevail over what I saw as the evil behavior of Sarah Marlborough. She does prevail, but when her equally perverse attitude is revealed I didn’t feel betrayed, I felt sorrow at its revelation. Both women, Sarah and Abigail were children of this world, scheming to be successful and influential. We, however, are here to become the children of light. How do we operate in this world of scheming and shrewd people? When is it in business or in life that we are suddenly confronted by a moral choice that invites us to come into the Kingdom of Light? What stays our step in these instances are what motivated the characters of the opera, the film, and the parable. It is what others will think of us that gives us pause.

It is that consideration that informs the unfaithful steward as to what he must do, and it is that attitude that commends itself to the rich owner. The steward buys a reputation with the debtors of the master. He will be remembered as the one who reduced a debt, who alleviated the dire circumstances of those who owed great sums to the rich owner. Indeed, the owner as well, will be an heir to the reputation of the steward, for he will be seen as gracious and giving. But is this really the Kingdom of Heaven?

Amos paints the situation in darker tones when he charges the people of his time with unkind intentions toward others. Seemingly faithful to God, they wonder when the new moon will be over so that they might sell grain, or the Sabbath be over so that they can sell. Remember the Blue Laws which restricted what you could buy and sell on Sundays? Ostensibly this was a tip of the hat to the God we worship on Sunday, but what was its real motive? That is the heart of the matter and that is what God sees. The wisdom of the marketplace may not be a reasonable place for the children of light. 

No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

It is wealth that gets Billy Budd into trouble. The Master-at-arms connects the beautiful and righteous Billy with a cache of French gold, gold supposedly used to buy the affections of other seamen, and allegiance to the enemy, the French. It is this association that gives the Commander pause. Knowing his own attraction to wealth and status, he surmises that others would be tempted as well – as well as Billy. 

Who are the masters in your life? Is it your job, your family, your social status, your friendships, your financial security? Jesus wants us to choose only one. He wants clarity on our part as to whom we will be faithful. For the children of light, the choice is between faithfulness and dishonesty – and the choice must be faithfulness. This is the choice for Captain Vere – faithfulness to the law or faithfulness to what Christ would ask of him. The same holds true for the steward, faithfulness to his master, or to himself. Vere chooses the law, which forces him to order the execution of the good, beautiful, righteous Billy Budd. It forces the steward to bilk his master. The world looks un the two and approves.

Supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings.

Paul is advising his young friend and compatriot Timothy. How does one live in the world, and yet attempt to be a citizen of the Kingdom of Light? How does one make proper choices in this world? Our time seems so approving of those who follow the behavior of the unjust steward. These attitudes and behaviors are the acceptable methods for maintaining a life in our world. Paul proposes something that intervenes, not only with ourselves, but the others in our world who strive for success and social status. His advice to Timothy is simple – it is a commendation for prayer. 

“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.”

It cannot be like the prayer in James, was an ineffective response to someone in need:

“Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well.” 

The words of prayer need to be accompanied by action, by feeding and caregiving. The prayers and supplications we make for ourselves, our leaders, our neighbors – these likewise need to be accompanied by the actions of the Children of Light. On Friday of this week the Children of this World taught us what we ought to be as Children of Light. All over th world they walked and taught us about Climate Change and what it means to be faithful stewards of the earth – the gift of our Creator. Some in the world would have the economy and greed be the master, but these young people are arguing otherwise. So then, who shall be our master? Who shall be our neighbor? What shall our choices be?


Monday, September 9, 2019

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18, 8 September 2019

Preaching at All Saint’s Church, San Francisco
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18
8 September 2019

“First Things”

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 1
Philemon 1-21
St. Luke 14:25-33


The Household

My sister Bonnie has delved deeply into understanding our family’s genealogy. She has gotten it back into the sixteenth century. Inspired by her efforts I finally submitted swabs of my saliva to a genetics firm to see what it might tell me about my origins. The most astounding parts were the results of looking at my father and mother’s DNA. Mom’s DNA originated in somewhere in the Saudi Arabian desert millennia ago, and my father’s in the Levant in modern day Syria. That these elements should have finally shown up in Kansas and Colorado, and in my case Los Angeles, California is astounding. What lies behind such a quest? It is, I think, an attempt to understand who and what we are, and our relationship to the ages. It is, in a way, establishing a household, or as the Romans would say, a “domus” a household that included many relationships. It is this idea that is the thematic glue in our readings for today.

In the Gospel for today Jesus says something quite startling – something that needs exploration and explanation. 

"Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

What can he be saying to us here? That is the question for the morning, and we can begin finding an answer by looking at the readings. 

The Household of Faith – the Covenant

In the first reading from Deuteronomy we have one of several instances in which either Moses or Joshua gather Israel together to rehearse the covenant that they have made with God. These two prophets gather the people together to reconstitute the Household of Faith. In the ancient near east, treaties between countries, between households, or between individuals were always accompanied by “blessings and curses.” You’ll see the same thing in the contractual language that accompanies your purchase of a dryer from Sears. If you make the payments, the blessings of ownership will be conferred upon you. If you don’t make the payments, the curses of repossession will be conferred upon you. In this reading, the same thing is offered. “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” It is this relationship with God that is desired. It is being in the household, the domusof God, the chosen of God. That relationship will be described later by Jesus as the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven; more about that later.

Who is in the Household?

Paul, in the second reading, wrestles with a difficult situation. His friend’s slave, Onesimus, has left the household of Philemon and has joined up with Paul. In the Roman empire, Paul as a citizen would be constrained to return the property of Philemon, Onesimus the slave. Paul is caught between a rock and a hard place. Social custom and law would require the return of the man. That Paul acknowledges. His religious convictions, however, remind him that in Deuteronomy the following is expected of him as a Jew, “You shall not hand over to their master any slaves who have taken refuge with you from their master.” What shall constrain Paul, the customs of the household in Rome, or the requirements of the household of faith in Israel?

It’s amazing to me that this dilemma has not struck our consciousness with greater force; that we don’t realize how we yet enslave others, if not our own selves. Paul leaves the choice up to his friend. Can we leave that choice up to those who enslave in our time? I think not. Though there were often slaves in the ancient households of Paul and Jesus’ time, there cannot be the same allowance in our time. Paul saw the only slavery possible is that deep connection to service in Christ. Again, it is about relationship. He recognizes his friendship with Philemon that allows him the critical voice that the situation deserves. There is, however, another relationship that affects Paul, I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.”Paul’s relationship with Onesimus is more than one of utility or practicality. It is a relationship born in the love of Christ. So, it must be with us as we look at those who pick our crops, sew our clothing, cook our food, build our homes. They are, all of them, in the household of faith.

The Household – the Family

A couple of Sunday’s ago, in the Gospel, Jesus advises us of the necessity to be perceptive, to be aware, and to see our times for what they are. Such demands are meant to help us see what Jesus’ really wants us to perceive. That is the Kingdom of God. Both he and John the Baptist alerted their audiences to its coming, pled with them to be aware of its presence, and of its importance. When we were either taken to the Font, or walked there on our own, we were brought into the Kingdom. Now, even after all the years that have gone by since the water splashed us into the Household of Faith, even now we must learn again the cost of following Jesus. 

Jesus’ words about the family startle us. Jesus doesn’t ask us to repent of these relationships – he says we must “hate” them. The relationship that we must love is the one that is known in the Kingdom of God. What we are asked to do here is to detach ourselves from those relationships that society demands of us, and to see them really rooted in the Kingdom, in the Household of Faith. 

When we look at the truly rich, the 1%, we look at a people who truly do look at the times and seasons for the benefit of their household. The poor plan for tomorrow. The middle-class plan for a generation or two.The truly rich, however, plan and focus on many generations in the future, so that they might continue to have the good fortune that those living in this time have enjoyed. That focus does not describe the Household of Faith that Jesus desires. First, there is the vision of God, and the love of God. Then there is the love of and concern for our neighbor – just as we love ourselves – just as we must love ourselves. The cost of such an endeavor is that we turn our gaze from that which we desire, to that which is necessary for our salvation and for our inclusion in the Family, the Household of Faith, the Kingdom of God. There are consequences for such a relationship – we need to be clear about that. The consequences, however, make for a better present not only for ourselves, but for all who are bound to God in Christ. 

The best way to see it is in this story which Luke records in his eighth chapter. Jesus is teaching, and then there is an interruption. 

“Then his mother and his brothers* came to him but were unable to join him because of the crowd. He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside and they wish to see you.He said to them in reply, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

Matthew puts it even more succinctly, 

Now then, my friends, my family, what shall we do now? What are truly our first things?


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16, 25 August 2019

Preaching at All Saint’s Church, San Francisco
The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16
25 August 2019

“True Worship”

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 71 and 103
Hebrews 12:18-29
St. Luke 13:10-17


First Reading:

As I looked at the readings for this Sunday, and thought of All Saints’ Church in its current situation, looking into the future, asking the Spirit to lead it into mission in this part of the city, and looking for that individual who will serve as mentor and guide, I was drawn to address the whole idea of “true worship.” The idea is addressed in some manner in each of the readings for today. I couldn’t remember whether or not you use Track One or Track Two from the lectionary, so I will use the resources of both readings in forming my remarks this morning. 

In Track One, the reading is the Call of Jeremiah in the first chapter of his book. We become aware of his work as a priest in the tradition of Anathoth, and then of his call to be prophet – a messenger to his present time of the Word of the Lord. Jeremiah objects to the call. He says he is too young, not given to good speech, too fearful. God thinks otherwise, however, allowing that God has known Jeremiah from the womb. He touches Jeremiah’s mouth and says, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.”

The Track Two first reading is from Third Isaiah, in which he contrasts the behaviors and actions of the wicked and the righteous. God puts up a series of “If, then” statements to challenge the righteous. “If you remove the yoke from among you. If you offer your food to the hungry, then your light shall rise in the darkness. This is the typical message of the prophets – the honoring and caring for the widow and the orphan, the lifting up of the oppressed. Even though this is addressed to those returning from exile, in difficult circumstances themselves, the prophet none-the-less enjoins them in this work of charity. True worship is, after all, formed of the love we have for God with all our heart, soul and mind, and the love we have for our neighbor that equals the love we have for ourselves. 

So from these two readings we understand our obligations on this holy day – to speak God’s word no matter how difficult that word might be, and to serve both God and neighbor. Third Isaiah contributes a second set of “If, then” statements that deal specifically with the Sabbath Day and worship. “If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight,…if you honor it; then you shall take delight in the Lord. Delight in the Lord! What an expectation for us as we come to do our worship and make our prayers. Delight in the Lord, and concern for our neighbor, so Jeremiah and Third Isaiah would have us think and act.

Second Reading

The author of Hebrews has a different set of comparisons. Here we scenes of the holy mountain Sinai, and of the holy wilderness in which Israel wandered for forty years. In this reading, the author addresses us as pilgrims. “You have come not to something that can be touched,” and then lists ineffable things that speak of mystery – blazing fire, darkness, gloom, a tempest, the sound of a trumpet, and a voice of power and awe. This places us at Sinai and awaiting the giving of the Law, the announcement of God’s intentions for us. Is that where we worship, or is that where we wait to worship? 

Later in the passage, the author sees pilgrims coming to another destination. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. Don’t you find it fascinating that when people are asked about the places that inspire worship, they usually refer to something in nature – a lake, an ocean, a mountain, a forest. This, however, is different. We are bound to come to the city. In our day and age, the city is often thought of as a place of sin and the absence of God, and yet that is the symbol of God’s presence. Perhaps, going back to the prophetic message about God and neighbor, we realize that the city is the place in which we see most clearly the need of our neighbor, that our true worship can begin here as we aid and care for our neighbor. That is why we worship in assembly – that we gather on a frequent basis around the table and the water and become a community – a city of righteousness.

The Holy Gospel

This image is seen with a great deal of clarity in the Gospel for this morning. Here we meet a woman who has been burdened with illness for eighteen years. She meets Jesus on a significant day, a time in which his actions over against her redefine what it means to worship on the Sabbath Day. I can remember a time, when I lived in Massachusetts, where stores either would not open on Sunday, or would cover up all manner of goods that could not be sold on the Sabbath Day. Or I remember the elevator in the King’s Hotel in Jerusalem which went up and down all day long – stopping at each floor, so that one did not have to push a button to indicate which floor was your destination. 

Jesus cuts through all this to enable us to see human need. It is here that we need to recall the deep connection between worship and human need. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, just as you love your neighbor as you love yourself.” It is all bound together in a package that defines and refines our sense of worship. Here, as in the other readings, there is also a contrast. Luke contrasts the disbelief and offense taken by the synagogue leaders with the rejoicing of the people who witnessed the same actions. “And the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. They worshipped – and their worship was not only praise but thanksgiving as well.

Worship is freedom. The woman was freed from her satanic burden or pain and disease. Likewise, we are freed from whatever it is the binds us to unhappiness and distress. That is why confession is so important. It is liberation, and perhaps its words of forgiveness pass us by too quickly. Here is what ought to make us sit up and rejoice if we have in the silence that preceded our confession deeply thought about what separates us from both God and neighbor. It is this pronouncement that out to bring both joy and freedom. “Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life.” With these words the rest of the Mass becomes a prayer of thanksgiving – a Eucharist.

Where are you going as a parish? Where are you going as a People of God? Where will you want your new Rector to take you? How will you be pilgrims? What will you true worship be like as you wait for new leadership, and then when you are given it? I hope these words will help you in your prayers as you await that time.


The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 15, 18 August 2019

Preaching at Saint Mark's Berkeley
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 15


Jeremiah 23:23-29
Psalm 82
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
St. Luke 12:49-56


What a struggle it was this weekend. I jumped at the opportunity when Fr. Blake offered the possibility of preaching to you this Sunday. Whenever there is a baptism I become stirred up. Baptisms are a time for both remembrance and anticipation – a time for rejoicing and a time for thought. When I decided to accept the offer to preach to you, I immediately went and looked at the Lectionary for this morning anticipating a point in at least one of the readings that would accompany us through the Baptismal Rite and into the life of all who would surround Laurence in his life with Jessica, Bryan, and the whole people of God. And when I looked there there didn’t seem to be anything. Jeremiah decries his fellow prophets who don’t speak the truth. The psalm decries the unjust actions of those who lead. The reading from Hebrews decries how those who have brought the word have been badly treated, and finally in the Gospel Jesus describes how difficult it is for us to decide to abide in the Kingdom. Happy Baptismal Day, Laurence. Yet, the Word is the Word, and here are my gleanings. Let me address several groups.

To Bryan, Jessica, and the Sponsors - God is ubiquitous and yet we must find God.

Jeremiah is upset with his fellow practitioners. They seek God, and seek to communicate God’s word and yet they have failed. His words to them are: “Let the (prophet) who has my word speak my word faithfully.” You are the prophets for this young man. In his search for God, and in your own continuing search for God, your search will become meat for him, the milk of promise, and the fruit of salvation. That is why we will give him a candle at the end of the Rite. It will serve as a reminder to him, and it will serve as a reminder to you as well. Light it on his baptismal birthday so that both he and you can remember this day and these actions. But remember that you, his sponsors and his parents are that light as well. 

There is a wonderful passage in the Track One psalm for this morning. It speaks about God and God’s actions, but it hopes, I think, to speak of us as well, of you as well. “Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock (or in your case, leading Laurence like a flock) shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim. Yes, indeed, that is my word to you, Jessica, Bryan, the sponsor, indeed to all of us – shine forth! For it is we who will be witnesses to those who come to the Font.

To all of you here this morning - God is known to us in the great cloud of witnesses.

On Fridays, when I come here to celebrate the Holy Eucharist with you, Todd so kindly puts out my chalice, but on occasion I use the pewter chalice that has always appeared in the chapel. When I look down at the paten, I see her name, Dorothea Lange. I think that is what it is. I look at her name, and although I didn’t know her, I try to remember her as a saint. I recommend a tour to you. Walk around our building and notice all the names that appear on our chancel steps, windows, walls, and sacred vessels. The author to the Hebrews reminds us, “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” 

Those names represent to us all the women and men who were our prophets, our guides to the faith, pointing out to us the ubiquity of God, and how to find God. At baptisms, we need to give thanks for these voices and hands that accompanied us from the font and brought us out into life. I’m lucky. I have the vessel I was baptized in. I was a breach baby, and there was the real possibility that I wasn’t going to survive and so my father used a glass bowl as the font of my baptism. It’s an ordinary glass bowl – Arthur once saw it and asked if we could serve a fruit salad in it. I blanched. I had used it for my daughter’s baptism – it seemed set aside for holy purposes.

What are the things, the places, the people and the voices that connect you with your baptism? How will you be there to connect Laurence to his. We are all witnesses on this day but will continue to be witnesses every day. The ordinariness of our life will be a witness to him of our faith – of what we believe and trust in. It will make us stand out.

To the Church and to the Nation - God is a deciding point in life, requiring discernment.

Jesus doesn’t mince words in what he has to say in today’s Gospel. 

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:

father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

These are difficult words on this joyful and gentle day. They do, however, get at the heart of the matter. We tend to think of baptismal days in a sentimental manner – gentle things: water, burning candles, healing oil. But they are dangerous as well. Water can drown, fire can burn, oil can sear. Baptism is a dangerous thing. It separates you from your fellows. It says something about your journey in life, your search for God, your concern for your fellow humanity. Jesus knew this about the kingdom that he was announcing. Some would refuse to see and perceive it and to accept entrance into it. Families would be divided over calling him Lord and Savior.

What we have answered for Laurence will set him apart as well, and all us, set apart in our own baptisms, must be ready for this difficult task. In the psalm for this morning, God renders judgment on his fellow gods.

"How long will you judge unjustly, *
and show favor to the wicked?
 Save the weak and the orphan; *
defend the humble and needy;
Rescue the weak and the poor; *
deliver them from the power of the wicked.

There are consequences in making this decision that baptism asks. There are responsibilities that roll over us as we are submerged in the waters. Old behaviors of forgetfulness and indifference to both God and other need to be washed away and we need to separate ourselves from them. When we answer the questions in the Baptismal Liturgy, we need to answer them mindful that we are witnesses not only of Laurence’s baptism, but that we are witnesses of the Gospel to both nation, world, and, would you believe it, to the church as well, as it forgets its way.

Will you proclaim by word and example the GoodNews of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, lovingyour neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among allpeople, and respect the dignity of every humanbeing?

Important questions, and even more important answers on our part. So, let’s do the deed, baptize this child, and then let us go out into the world serving as witnesses of God’s goodness.


Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11, 21 July 2019


II Kings 5:2-24
Psalm 15
Colossians 1:15-28
St. Luke 10:38-42


Disciples as Dependents

Two Sundays ago, in the Gospel reading we heard of Jesus sending out seventy disciples (a perfect number) to make people aware that the Kingdom of God was near to them. What is interesting in this sending out is that Jesus sends them out in a diminished state, dependent upon the hospitality of others. They were to accept what was set before them, taking the bare minimum in support of there bodily needs. In this, Jesus prepares his disciples with the discipline born in the wilderness, in the wanderings of Israel, and in the return of the exiles. The examples of this dependency help us to understand what it means to follow – to go into a new land or place, a situation to which God has called us. Clearly the focus is on where we have been sent, and the message that we bring to that place. So, it is no surprise that the disciple, no matter how high or low, are focused on the message.

What about those who provide for dependent messengers? And so, it is that three strangers appear in Abraham’s camp. That they were angels (messengers) is not important right away. Abraham takes the initiative and offers them hospitality – water for refreshment and bathing, a place to rest, and a bit of bread. Later there would be the luxuries of a meal – veal and milk curds. The bulk of the reading in the lectionary acquaints us with the details of Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality to the stranger. So, our focus is here first. 

In the Gospel we hear of Martha, who greets Jesus by the roadside in the village where she lived with her sister. Martha understands the rule of hospitality and invites Jesus, and presumably the other disciples, into her home. She quickly works to make that hospitality real, as she observes the ancient requirements of the road and wilderness. And she serves as an example to the disciples, preparing them for their duties as dependent disciples.

In the psalm for today, the author poses both a question and an answer that may guide us in our attention to the texts for this Sunday. The psalmist asks, “LORD, who will sojourn in Your tent, who will dwell on Your holy mountain?” In other words, who will be the dependent stranger seeking God’s hospitality? And then, just as quickly he or she provides the answer, “The one who walks blameless and does justice and speaks the truth in their heart.” The psalmist attempts to get at the heart of righteousness, as does Jesus as he guides his disciples amongst the people that they are sent to proclaim the kingdom to. 

Righteousness, it appears, was a common objective in the ancient world, and it was closely aligned not so much with the knowledge one had of the heavens and the gods as how one was responsible to fellow human beings. This week while perusing a new collection of Ancient Egyptian Literature[1], I chanced upon a monumental inscription from the tomb of Nefer-Seshem-Re, called Sheshi. In it he describes a righteous life.

“I judged between two so as to content them,
I rescued the weak from one stronger than he
As much as was in my power
I gave bread to the hungry, clothes,
I brought the boatless to land,
I buried him who had no son,
I made a boat for him who lacked one,
I respected my father, I pleased my mother,
I raised their children,”[2]

It is a grander view of hospitality than just food, drink, and rest. It is an attentiveness to the neighbor, much like we read about in the story of the Good Samaritan, last Sunday. Discipleship, it seems, is an attentiveness to all that encompasses our neighbor. The dependent disciples see the needs and dependencies of a fellow human being.

Disciples as Attentive

In the Divine Liturgy celebrated in the Orthodox Churches, the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, at the Gospel, there is a dialogue between priest, people, and deacon and people. It goes like this:

Priest:         Wisdom. Arise. Let us hear the Holy Gospel. Peace be with all.
People:        And with your spirit.
Deacon:      The reading is from the Holy Gospel according to (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John).
Priest:         Let us be attentive.
People:        Glory to You, O Lord, glory to You.[3]

The word that captures the moment for me is the priest’s injunction, “Let us be attentive. And with this we come to the second part of the Gospel for today.

The reverie about Martha’s hospitality, indeed Abraham’s and Sarah’s as well cannot last long. Jesus’ gently chides Martha about getting lost in her hospitality and focuses on Mary’s attentiveness to the message that Jesus is bringing. We have the same situation in the first reading. The strangers, after their sumptuous meal, bring the attention of their hosts to a promise that they bring (and here we discover them as angels, or as the Orthodox see it, the Godhead itself). They call Abraham and Sarah’s attention to the message, the promise that they bring, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a sun.” This is a big surprise to the woman who thought herself barren and to the man who though he would have no heir. The message is of hope – the Kingdom of God is near.

What would I like for you to take home with you today? It is simply that following Jesus, being a disciple of his is a delicate balance of these two aspects: hospitality and attentiveness to the message all done in the ancient virtues of righteousness. The righteousness God provides to us, for God sees us righteous beings, objects of God’s love. The other two aspects are our responsibility. We see both these elements in our liturgy – examples of what life must be like for those who follow Jesus. Hospitality in the Eucharist, and attentiveness to the message, the Gospel. As you continue to walk into the future, I hope that these elements will inform the steps you plan to take. If these elements were a reality, a virtue in our country and in our society our times might be different. 

It won’t be easy. Sarah laughed at the promise, and I am certain that Martha and countless other women who have been marginalized by the church were offended and diminished. Our giving to the stranger, our attentiveness to the stranger, our good news for the stranger, this is what Jesus has asked us to give.


[1]     Lichtheim. M. ed. (2019), Ancient Egyptian Literature, University of California Press, Berkeley
[2]     Ibid, page 49f.