Monday, January 13, 2020

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord, Epiphany I, 12 January 2020

Preaching at Saint Mark’s Church
The Baptism of Our Lord
The First Sunday after the Epiphany
12 January 2020

                                                       “The Baptismal Servant”

Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Acts 10:34-43
St. Matthew 3:13-17


In May of 1945 I was born at Southern California Lutheran Hospital just east of downtown Los Angeles. I was a breach baby, and a bit blue because of that. Apparently, my father, who was quite worried whether either I or my mother would make it, went home and came back to the hospital with a small cut glass bowl. With it, he baptized me in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. We still have the bowl. Arthur often threatens to use at as a receptacle for a nice fruit salad, and then demurs. But that thought is really the point of this sermon – the practical aspect of Baptism and the theology that surrounds it. 

In the film, 1917, the main character, reluctant at first soon is baptized into the task that he must accomplishes and in midst of several adventures soon discovers his self, his power and determination. In this progress he both wins and is defeated, gains and loses, is accepted and dismissed. And in all of this he begins to know himself.

Usually I like to work through the lessons, beginning with the first from the Hebrew Scriptures, sometimes moving onto the Psalm, then looking at the second reading, and ending with the Holy Gospel. This morning I’d like to begin with the Gospel, because it so fully sets the tone of what I’d like to give to you this morning. In Matthew’s account of the Baptism of Jesus, we become witnesses to something that I think the crowds that surrounded him were unaware. They would have seen the Baptist greeting his cousin, would have heard the running water as he immersed Jesus in the Jordan flood, and perhaps a gasp of breath as Jesus was raised up out of the waters. Of what they would not have been aware was the intense internal and personal experience that Jesus had – the heavens opening up, the appearance of the dove/Spirit, and the Voice that proclaims Jesus as beloved Son, in whom God is well pleased. Jesus is given a vision of himself and his mission. Jesus is baptized into a life and a servanthood. Like the prophets who preceded him he is given the Spirit, and understands the Voice that greeted us in the psalm for today. They will become tools as he begins his own journey that ends in Jerusalem.

Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, in his book Being Christian, Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer, concludes his chapter on Baptism with a series of questions for reflection. The first is right on for our purposes this morning. He asks, “In what ways did Jesus immerse himself in the depths of God and humanity, and in what ways might you follow his example?”[1] To that I would add the Greek adage as well, “Know thyself.” God, neighbor, and self – the three aspects of knowledge that come with Baptism. As it came to Jesus, may it come to each of us as well.

When God decided to begin creation, God spoke. God gave God’s breath, God’ word, God’s logos. In the psalm we meet the God enthroned on the waters, having victory over the chaos of before time. God speaks and creates, and goes on creating. The psalm describes an on-going nature to creation – the voice of God on the waters, the voice of God in the forest, the voice of God like a fire, the voice of the people crying “Glory!” Voice (words) and water met us at our baptism. Our name, our new identity in the Trinity, our new sign (the cross), and our new healing and cleansing (oil and water). What the psalm calls upon us to realize is that like Creation, Baptism is an on-going process, a constant coming of age, a continuing gift of the Spirit – Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel (Right Judgment), Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and the Fear of the Lord. The Spirit in our Baptism leads us forward, always meeting us in the water, and in the future of our being servants.

The second of the Isaiahs introduces us to the Servant in the first reading for today. One wonders who this servant might be. With Christian lenses on we see Jesus, but in its time, it might have been Cyrus II, the Medo-Persian king who freed the Jews kept in exile, allowing them to return to the land of their fathers and mothers. Another option is that the servant is really an idealic rule, something like David, who would lead and guide Israel. What is left is that the servant might be Israel itself, the people who have suffered God’s judgment and have learned God’s righteousness and justice – who have discovered themselves in their exile. We have a small hopeful clue in God’s message to the people, when God describes not only the gift of creation, but the gift given to the people, “who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it. The breath (ru’ah) is the Spirit. Like the prophets, the Spirit alights upon them. As with Jesus, the Spirit comes.

Finally, in the second lesson, we meet a Peter who is finding out what he will need to know as his ministry in the risen Christ continues. In the text before our reading this morning, we meet Peter on a roof-top, resting. He has a vision of a net being let down with all kinds of animals in it. They are unclean, lobsters, pigs, shellfish - you name it. The Voice comes to Peter and says, “Take and eat.” Peter objects, all the rules he had known from his childhood rising up and cautioning him from doing what the Voice had invited. The Voice recreates Peter with an observation, “What I have made clean you shall not make unclean.” Was Peter like Jesus at his baptism, hearing and seeing new things, challenging things? What follows is Peter’s meeting up with Cornelius, Roman, but a believer. Peter preaches a sermon at Cornelius’ baptism, a sermon that is something like a creed, describing Jesus, who he was, and what he did. Finally he comes to the belief that he now confesses to all who witnessed the baptism. “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins, through his name.”

In her book on Baptism[2], Robin Jensen describes Baptism as essentially two acts, cleansing, and the giving of the Spirit. We have in our practice emphasized the former while forgetting the latter. If there is anything that I should like for you to take home with you today it is this understanding of the continuing nature of Baptism, and its gift to the self. Jesus once reiterated the law, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” The assumption here is that we love ourselves and that we can then love our neighbor as well. Baptism, the continuous Baptism that I am talking about, teaches us to know and love ourselves, and to recognize in ourselves the gift of the Spirit. 

This understanding for me comes from deep within my childhood and years of parochial school where we memorized Luther’s Small Catechism. There in an article on the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, he asks the question. “What then is the significance of such a baptism with water?” And then the answer – “It signifies that daily the old person in us with all our sins and evil desires is to be drowned through sorrow for sin and repentance, and that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

And, as every Lutheran kid learned to respond. “This is most certainly true.”


[1]     Williams, R. (2014), Being Christian, Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, page 18.
[2]     Jensen, R. (2012), Baptismal Imagery in Early Christianity, Ritual, Visual, and Theological Dimensions, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, 239 Pages.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sermon for Advent IV, 22 December 2019

The Fourth Sunday of Advent
22 August 2019
All Saints’ Episcopal Church
San Francisco, California

“A bridge of names“

Isaiah 7:10-16
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
Romans 1:1-7
St. Matthew 1:18-25


The Importance of a Name

It happens from time to time, I’ll be in the grocery store, or somewhere out in public when I hear, “Michael!” I immediately turn around to see who is calling me, but then it’s not me, it’s some other Michael. But in my heart, I am the total Michael, the only Michael, the “who is like God” Michael (that’s what my name means). Names are important not only as a means of differentiation and identity, but also an indication of value and intent in life. It’s the first step in knowing and valuing ourselves, and allowing others to do the same. In an article in the importance of names, a blogger who goes by the name “Shakespeare’s Sister, writes on her experience with names as a teacher in the Denver area public schools. She reports that when she mispronounces a student’s name, as often happens since most of her students are students of color, the student will respond when asked for the correct pronunciation, “Whatever is fine.” She differs and spends the article on deciding why it is important to stand up for one’s name. She concludes her article with, 

I want them to know that people respect them, their culture, and their individuality. To know that their teachers are not colorblind, but that we SEE them—for their cultures, for their abilities, for their strengths and weaknesses, for their contributions to humanity. Most importantly, I want my students to know that I respect them for the whole person they are, including their beautiful names that are sometimes difficult to pronounce.”

It’s still Advent, although the world out there seems dismissive of that. It’s still a time of waiting for Jesus to come again, and for preparing our lives for his appearance among us. In the readings today, we have several names that can help us in this waiting for Jesus (not the baby Jesus, by the way, that happened a long time ago) but the Jesus who came and will come and usher us into the kingdom. Let’s start with Isaiah.

God’s Intent

Isaiah loved names. He used them to not only differentiate his sons, but to also send a message through them. The first born was names Shear-Jashub, meaning “a remnant shall return.” This name represented an important aspect of first Isaiah’s theology, namely that in spite of the faithlessness of Israel in their relationship with God, there would always be a remnant that would be faithful. The second son was named Maher-shalal-hash-baz, with the meaning “swift to the booty, speed to the pray”, a reminder that a time of destruction and exile were coming. It was a message to Israel to return to the Lord, and to be faithful to Israel’s God.

There is another name that appears in Isaiah, and in our first reading for this morning. Like the other names this one also signals a sign from God. “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” We know that name, God-with-us. But before we continue considering that name with our Christian sensibilities, let’s think a bit about what it meant to the people in Isaiah’s time. In his commentary on Isaiah, Brevard Childs notes the significance of sign, in prophetic material. 

“A sign is a special event, either ordinary or miraculous, that serves as a pledge by which to confirm the prophetic word.”[1]

In spite of all the difficulties that surrounded them, and in spite of the prophet’s word that these difficulties were a sign of God’s judgment, the birth of a son to a young woman, an ordinary thing, was a sign of God’s continuing presence among and in the midst of God’s people. For Israel that had an immediate meaning related to their circumstances with the Assyrians. For us it is a sign of Jesus’ presence with us, in the midst of our difficulties. The psalm for today puts it differently, “Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of our countenance, and we shall be saved.”


In the second lesson, we hear another name. Paul recalls that Jesus was “descended from David.” David’s name was probably really a title – “commander” or “leader” but it signified so much more than that. David was king, selected and anointed by God, whose house was blessed by God as he ruled over God’s people. The name and the role of David is linked to Jesus. He is the one who will be our prophet, speaking God’s present word to us now, priest, offering himself as victim on the cross, and king, ruling over his kingdom, the new Israel. 

This lineage of David to Jesus is often depicted for us in the Jesse Tree in whose branches extending from Jesse’s loins are caught all sorts of men and women who participate in the lineage of Jesus. We catch a glimpse of that in both Matthew and Luke as they list the genealogy of Jesus as they understood it. Jesus is the culmination of the Davidic line, and God blesses both it and us through this tree of prophets, priests, and kings.


That’s why in Luke’s Gospel Joseph brings the pregnant Mary to Bethlehem because Joseph was “of the house and lineage of David.” Bethlehem was the birthplace of David. Joseph, however, is in the midst of his own difficulties and troubles. He was betrothed to Mary – that is he was in the first stage of marriage to Mary, although they were not yet living together. Her pregnancy was the difficulty, and Joseph considers and then rejects divorce. Like his forebearer, Joseph of Egypt, the dreamer, this latter-day Joseph lies down to sleep and dreams. The annunciation in Matthew is to Joseph, not Mary, and the angel explains the situation to him. Thus Joseph does not put her away.

The important part of this annunciation is that the provision for a name, usually the prerogative of the father, is given by the angel. “You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Yes, that’s the meaning of Jesus – Savior – the one-who-saves. So in these names we can begin to understand God’s intent – Immanuel God-with-us, the role that this young child shall play – David, leader and commander, and finally what the results of this divine intervention into human history will mean – Jesus, the one who saves us. The one we continually await in the Advent of our lives. Now perhaps here is the glue that brings this all together. I hope it will help you celebrate the Jesus who came, and who is to come. As Paul greeted the Romans, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


[1]     Childs, B. (2000), Isaiah – A Commentary, Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, Kindle edition, location 1959.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Sermon for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 27, 10 November 2019

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 27
10 November 2019

All Saints’ Episcopal Church, San Francisco

“On Observing and Living “

Job 19:23-27a
Psalm 17:1-9
II Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Saint Luke 20:27-38


Last week we went to see Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film Pain and Glory. It is the close of his trilogy that includes The Law of Desire in which a young man and woman comes to grips with their sexuality and gender, Bad Education in which a young man and his brother come to grips with the abuse that others, most especially the church, have visited upon them, and finally, in Pain and Glory, where an older man revisits past loves, and observes the pain and glory in his life. I mention these films because they served as a call to me to observe what is happening about me, what is unusual in my life, and how life changes things as we grow older. 

In the Gospel for today, Jesus wrestles with the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (the Pharisees did) and use an argument about that to challenge Jesus’ authority as a prophet. And before we go any further, we need to be clear about what prophetic work is. It is not done at a table with a crystal ball, looking into the future. Prophecy, at least in the sense shown to us in the Hebrew Scriptures, is more about hearing God’s word for the now – observing God’s will in the present. Jesus wants the Sadducees to be clear about what the theology of the resurrection is really all about, and to do so he compares what goes on in our time and what goes on in the Kingdom of God. There is a difference. Given the example of marriage, Jesus says that that is an institution for this time, but not the next. The primary relationship is that which we as individuals have with God. It makes me think that the notion of meeting up with friends and neighbors, husbands, wives, and children in the afterlife is beside the point. We are called to know God in the now.

Once again, forgetting whether or not you are using Track One, or Track Two of the Lectionary I will use both of the readings from the Hebrew Scriptures. Haggai in his reading wants the people of Judah to see the real state of things – a destroyed Temple and city, and then encourages them to have a vision of renewal. What glory they had seen in the past, what pain they had seen in the past all would be surpassed by the gracious presence of God in a renewed Temple. Was that a building, or was it more than that? Did the prophet long for the presence of God in their midst. 

The other reading is from Job, one that we are quite familiar with. If you have sung the hymn “I Know that My Redeemer Lives” at Easter, then you will have sung the essence of this reading. The challenge is for us, however, to hear it without our Christian filters, to hear it as the ancients heard it. Let me read it to you again and listen as if you were one of Job’s friends arguing about whether he was righteous or not.

Job said,

"O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another."

What we don’t hear, because of the Easter hymn, is the real setting of Job’s comments. He makes them in a courtroom, a courtroom in which his life, his righteousness, his worthiness is being judged. Remember, he has lost his children, his lands, his wealth, and has been plagued with disease. His friends think, “Job, you must have done something wrong.” Job, however, sees and observes something different. He sees himself as saved by God, that God is standing by his side – redeeming him. What resurrection should mean to us is not only some future event, but a present enjoyment of our relationship to God – God’s presence with us now. In a way the Antonio Banderas character in Pain and Glory is in a similar situation. The pains of old age have taken away from him the spiritual and creative gifts given to him by God. He has to look at them again, even in the midst of a deteriorating body, to see the graciousness of what we have been given in our talents and then to give them back to those around us. We then become God’s presence for others.

In the second reading from Second Thessalonians, Paul warns the Thessalonians about what to avoid as we think about the End of All Things. Such observations for us are not about our getting older but are about the actual challenges facing us in our time: Climate Change, emerging racial elitism, and xenophobia. The Thessalonians were worried about such things, and Paul needs to remind them that they have been chosen by God. Yes, there will be an End Time, but we must wait for it. The real question is what shall we do while we wait for the Parousia – the End Time? Listen to what he has to say:

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

“In every good work and word,” such is what our world must be like as we wait. We anticipate Advent just a few weeks away. However, we live in an Advent – a hoping for God’s presence among us. And here’s the point. Job, Haggai, the Thessalonians and Paul, all of them were called to observe and know God’s presence in their midst already – as a present reality. All of them are about the business that would see their teachings and traditions as present in their hearts. Job makes it very clear by asking that this knowledge of God be written with an iron pen and with lead. Jeremiah will have a similar notion of these truths being written on our hearts, engraved on our hearts. 

As we observe the world about us, we are challenged by distortions of our Christian faith. We are being taught to distrust others, to dismiss the foreigner and the stranger, to forget the hungry and the homeless. And yet, this is not of the teachings and traditions that have come down to us.

Yes, there must be resurrection, but not only of our bodies after death, but of our lives while yet living, while we await what Haggai saw as “the latter splendor, greater than the former." There must be a resurrection of grace, forgiveness, truth, and love. Now, how shall we do that?


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.