Saturday, April 13, 2019

Homily on the Sunday of the Passion, Palm Sunday, 14 April 2019

Luke 19:28-40
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
St. Luke 22:14 – 23:56

“True Joy”


In my blog on the lectionary, I advised preachers not to step into the pulpit this day – the Passion According to Luke is an elegant sermon in and of itself. It needs no commentary. But there’s my name in the bulletin, so I will give you a brief homily on the Passion, and what I think are aspects that are overlooked in our Psalm Sunday, Passion Sunday preaching.

Once, while having dinner with friends, one of whom was a priestly colleague, she described to me what they were doing in their church for Palm Sunday. It was to be just that – all Palms, no Passion. All triumph, no sorrow or grim glances at the Crucified One. I hesitated for a moment and then just said it, “That’s just wrong!” I retorted. In that moment I think I destroyed a relationship, but I was firm in my conviction that to skip the passion on this day is to miss a great opportunity, a great juxtaposition of event and emotion. 

To be honest, the scenes of the day, the entrance into Jerusalem, and the trial and execution of Jesus, are a mixed lot. One is not all joy, and the other is not all sorrow. For those who think that Palm Sunday is all joy and triumph, there is the forgotten reality that Jesus goes to Jerusalem, not to enter as king, but because Jerusalem is the place that kills the prophets. Jesus the prophet sets his face like flint and goes to Jerusalem. At one point in Luke’s Gospel Jesus reminds us in the Gospel for the Second Sunday in Lent, 

Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.' Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”[1]

Dr. Walter Brueggemann, in a recent speech to attendees at the Sojourners 2018 Summit for Change gives us a clue as to Jesus’ real agendum. He speech was titled, “Jesus Acted Out the Alternative to Empire.” He said, The second task of prophetic imagination that I could identify is that we have to pronounce the truth about the force of the totalism that contradicts the purpose of God.”[2]The palms, the singing, the garments scattered on the roadway deceive us if we are looking for Jesus’ real purpose. The triumph of the morning is dark. It is a confrontation with the powers that be – the state, the church, and the culture. It’s a familiar situation.

And then there is the Passion Narrative with its awful realities – or is there more, something totally different? In his book on Luke’s Passion Narrative, Peter Scaer argues for a different lens through which we might observe the Crucified One[3]. He argues that Luke in his sophistication, uses an ancient Greco-Roman model to talk about the death of Jesus, and compares it to the aspects of the death of Socrates, among others. Luke abandons the “weak Jesus” of Matthew and Mark, and opts for a strong, noble Jesus who boldly goes to his death. Dr. Scaer writes, “Within the New Testament, Luke-Acts stands at the forefront of Christian apologetics. Luke was intent on demonstrating that Christianity did not arise ‘in a corner’, but was a proud, indeed ancient religion, whose founder was an honorable benefactor and savior.”[4]

Why am I arguing for all of this? There are some reasons and some hopes. First, that in honoring this day and these events we need to honor them in their totality, in all of their aspects. Yes, we can rejoice with our palms, but yet understand the intent of the one whom we hope to honor. That it is alright to have sorrow – to weep with Peter, and to keep watch with Mary, but also to see what the Centurion saw – the noble man giving up his life on the cross. Secondly, we need to bind these joys and sorrows to our own lives and our own circumstances – our own joys and sorrows. We need to know the true value of the Incarnation, the fleshiness of God in Jesus. We need to recognize his sharing our own difficulties and our own circumstances. Read the passion and see the human being at the center of the story – not just some divine character floating above it all, but rather God caught in the flesh just like you and I. Finally, we need to hear in the Passion a challenge. God is calling us to something different in the world, and it is summed up in a man giving it all up on a cross. The “giving up” that hopefully accompanied us during Lent was, I hope, more than chocolate, but rather a giving up of our hopelessness, and a taking on a life lived in hope. In Luke, the noble Jesus says from the cross to one who is sharing his humiliation, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” If the crucifixion embarrasses you, take a second look, and find hope, love, and nobility there.


[1]     Luke 13:31-35
[3]     Scaer, P. (2005), The Lukan Passion and the Praiseworthy Death, Sheffield Phoenix Press, Sheffield, UK, 155 pages.
[4]     Ibid. page 3

Monday, March 11, 2019

Homily at Evensong for the First Sunday in Lent, 10 March 2019


Deuteronomy 8:1-10

Be careful to observe this whole commandmentthat I enjoin on you today, that you may live and increase, and may enter in and possess the land which the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors.Remember how for these forty years the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the wilderness,so as to test you by affliction, to know what was in your heart: to keep his commandments, or not.He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna,a food unknown to you and your ancestors, so you might know that it is not by bread alone that people live, but by all that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.The clothing did not fall from you in tatters, nor did your feet swell these forty years.So you must know in your heart that, even as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD, your God, disciplines you.Therefore, keep the commandments of the LORD, your God, by walking in his ways and fearing him. For the LORD, your God, is bringing you into a good country, a land with streams of water, with springs and fountains welling up in the hills and valleys,a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, of olive trees and of honey,a land where you will always have bread and where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones contain iron and in whose hills you can mine copper.But when you have eaten and are satisfied, you must bless the LORD, your God, for the good land he has given you.

Mark 2:18-22

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast.People came to him and objected, “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests fast* while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse.
Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.”



We have two contrasting readings this evening that circle around the notion of fasting. Fasting was in the Old Testament not a way of distancing oneself from the world but rather of repenting, literally turning around to set one’s face toward God and returning to God. In the second reading for this evening we meet Jesus and his disciples being confronted over the whole idea of fasting. It seems that Jesus wasn’t doing it right, at least in the thoughts of the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist who have questioned Jesus about how he and his disciples fast. There was an ancient pattern of fasting (repenting) on the Day of Atonement. The practice of fasting grew in time, so that by the seventh century fasting was being promoted at last four times a year. By the time of the Pharisees, fasting was done twice weekly. It was hoped by fasting, the return of the Messiah would come. The Kingdom of God would be renewed.

Jesus reminds his accusers that one does not fast while the Bridegroom is present. Indeed, in ancient Israel fasting was actually a time for celebration. Jesus thinks that rather than hoping for the coming of the Kingdom, fasting should celebrate the presence of the Kingdom now, the actually of God-with-us. In the midst of renewal, old ways may not be effective. So, are we thwarting the kingdom by encouraging fasting in Lent? 

Perhaps the Deuteronomist can help us set a platform from which we can apprehend Jesus’ vision of fasting and discipline. The writer, looking back at the history and journey of the people of Israel, seeks to remind them of a tremendous gift that was given them. For the LORD, your God, is bringing you into a good country, a land with streams of water, with springs and fountains welling up in the hills and valleys,a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, of olive trees and of honey,a land where you will always have bread and where you will lack nothing,” Like Israel we live in a land of plenty, and like Israel, we are bidden to give thanks to God for the creation of such a gift of abundance. In the face of such a gift we may be called to give up some of the plenty that has first been given us. As the Deuteronomist says, “But when you have eaten and are satisfied, you must bless the LORD, your God, for the good land he has given you.”Perhaps fasting is the passage to almsgiving – a way to share the wealth God has blessed us with. We get the gift of discipline and other get the gifts of the earth. Can you see the Kingdom of God in that?

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, 10 March 2019

Preaching at Saint Mark's Church
The First Sunday in Lent
10 March 2019

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Romans 10:8b-13
St. Luke 4:1-13

“Living With”


I bought it several weeks, even months ago. I had seen it advertised, playing at the Embarcadero Cinema, but never got around to attending or seeing it. So, when it became available for purchase, I added it to my collect. Friday night, after a long day, and home alone, I decided to finally watch it and discovered that it was the perfect entry into Lent. The film is called Andrei Rublev, after the famous 15thCentury icon writer. The film, made in 1969, was directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and was co-written with Andrei Konchalovsky. The version I watched was a beautiful restoration of the film. The photography is quite lovely, reminiscent of Pasolini – indeed, one of the chapters is called “The Passion According to Rublev” and bears some similarities to Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Saint Matthew. There is a fascination with the faces of common people, and the plight of those living in mediaeval Russia. Not every one of the chapters, there are eight of them, deals with the details of Rublev’s life. Some do. The remainder, however, paint the rich context of his life. 

Why Rublev and Lent? What fascinated me about the film, and what fascinates me about Lent is the journey which introduces us to Rublev, and the journey that beckons to us as we begin this Lenten season. A journey is more than a destination – something to be endured until we reach the place that we have set out to achieve. A journey is not only destination, but the context of all the places we visit as we move onto the journey’s end. The film gives us a clue at it’s very beginning with a man attempting flight in a bag of skins filled with hot air. His courageous escape becomes an image for Rublev, the monk who needs to find his way.

Meanwhile, back at the Lectionary, we meet Israel making its way from slavery and suffering in Egypt to a destination of hope and prosperity. Israel’s fate and journey are encapsulated in the verse from the First Reading that is said at each Seder, a reminder of the journey that is celebrated in that meal. “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.” The point of the reading is not just that, for it celebrates the arrival at a fertile land, a land of milk and honey, that will make Israel a prosperous nation. The writer or editor who is putting together the ancient story so that the Israelites who have either entered into exile or who have returned from exile might know how to live. This section deals with the first fruits that are due back to God, who gave them initially to the people. What has this to do with Lent? It is the rule of thanksgiving. On Ash Wednesday, the priest is asked to announce this to the people, 

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self‑examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self‑denial; and by reading and
meditating on God’s holy Word.”

It is our privilege during this season to be the giver of alms – to provide for those who have little. In the film we are reminded of this responsibility in the scenes at the monasteries – who receive the travelers, who provide provisions, and who provide a place for rest and sleep. Now what shall I do in my Lenten discipline as I look at the need that surrounds me in the city?

There are segments in the film that are contrastive, that seek define each other through their differences. One involves a commission to paint the Last Judgment. The other is a raid by Tartar war party – there’s politics involved, and Andrei is involved in the complexities of both. The contrast is between Andrei’s sense of God’s mercy, so profound that he does not want to paint a last judgment. That gentleness of spirit is then challenged by the Tartar raid, instigated by the brother of the Grand Prince, a Russian, that sees the death of fellow artists and common people living in the city of Vladimir. 

If in our practice of Lent, we truly look at what motivates us as individuals, and what seems to be the impetus in our society, we can like Andrei be confused by what moves and tempts us in our life, and what differs in our so-called Christian society. Paul speaks to this in the reading from Romans where he sees that all of us are called by God to a grace that ought to free us from the temptation of discrimination. “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call upon him.” Andrei greets this contrasting graciousness of God which he longs to see, and the cruelty of human beings exercised on one another with a vow of silence. He will not speak. He will not paint. 

I wonder what draws Jesus out into the wilderness following his baptism. Luke tells us that Jesus is “full of the Holy Spirit.” And what we see if forty days and forty nights of silence until he is challenged by Satan. The silence of Jesus, the silence of Andrei, perhaps we too ought to be drawn into a lengthy silence which draws our mind into a contemplation of how we as individuals need to live in the realities of our time. When I think about all that is going on in our world I am drawn to speak, to friends, sometimes to people with whom I disagree, to the anonymous on FaceBook. Perhaps Lent calls us to hold our tongue in check and to engage our souls in reflection on the words that God would have us hear.

I cannot leave these readings and this day behind without speaking on temptation. There is a wonderful scene in the film when Andrei happens upon a large group of pagans celebrating a holiday. This is, I think, his moment with temptation, as he, a monk, encounters a woman, and later men, who wanted him to experience the sexual joy of their holiday. He resists – with silence. But he watches. It is almost as if he wants to know the tempter, his enemy. 

Jesus engages Satan, giving back as he is tempted – using God’s word to thwart what Satan offers him. Just as in our lives, there are many moments of temptation in Rublev’s life. Given a great gift, the biggest temptation is to leave it behind, not to use it, not to see God’s glory in it. Perhaps this is the encounter we might make in our own great Lenten silence and reflection – seeing what we have been given and the proper way to use it and to offer it. 

At the end of the film, which is in black and white, the production turns to color, and trains its cameras on the details of Andrei Rublev’s icons. The most notable are his Holy Trinity with the three angels dining at Abraham’s table, and his Pantocrator in which he sees Jesus the Creator of All as a simple man staring out at the one in devotion at the icon. The camera zooms into the riot of color present in the simplicity of the icon writer’s work. Lent, this film, these readings, all have called me to see the simplicity of God’s glory, and the simple things that he has called me to do – reflection, silence, meditation, and the giving of alms – to become a gracious monk, a nun at prayer in the wilderness of my soul.


Sunday, February 24, 2019

Sermon on the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, 24 February 2019

Genesis 45:3-11, 15
Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42
I Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
St. Luke 6:27-38

“Blessings and Curses”
Saint Mark's Church, Berkeley, California


In the midst of blessings and curses
We went to the theater the other evening - not a movie theater, but a real live theater. Seated in the front row we could hear the rustle of the actors’ clothing and the rasp of their breath. We felt close to real life there. When it ended and we were driving home, Arthur looked over at me and said, “This is going to end up in a sermon isn’t it?” It’s a common remark that he makes, and the answer is not always a “yes.” This time, however, it was, “Yes,” and let me tell you why. 

The play is Late Company, by Jordan Tannahill, a Canadian playwright. The scene is focused on a set dinner table, with the host and hostess preparing to receive their guests. There are six place settings on the table, and we’re led to believe that this is a casual dinner gathering amongst friends. What is revealed in the course of the play is that the hosting family has lost a son to suicide, and yet a place has been set for him – conspicuously empty. Something like the seat set for Elijah at a Seder – a seat full of expectation. The other family, a father and mother and their son enter, and we soon learn that the son bullied the suicide victim, the bullying largely centered on the victim’s homosexuality. The bulk of the play is the (arguing is too strong a word) the forceful coming to grips with each of the characters as they consider their own denials and responsibilities for the tragedy that happened. Apologies are not enough for they cannot erase the blessings and the curses of the situation. They are caught in the middle of the blessings of having children and parents, and the curses of the exigencies of life itself. 

In last Sunday’s Gospel, Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, we meet a Jesus who recites blessings that come upon the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, the hated, and that remind the wealthy, the satisfied, and those who laugh that there may be consequences to such joys. With this speech Jesus places himself squarely in the tradition of the prophets, judges, and kings, who announced blessings and curses that accompanied the covenant held between the God of Israel, and God’s people. Perhaps the notion of curses puts us off – let’s substitute “consequences” instead. When we look at the family in our play, they are in the midst of this matrix of good and bad, and when we look at ourselves and our world, we realize that we are caught in the same mixture of both good and bad. So how do we live in such an admixture of circumstances?

Social reversals
Jesus was a true radical, he liked to get to the radix, the root of things. He teaches us to look at these fundamentals and then he likes to mix it all up. The result is that what we have been taught socially might suddenly seem inadequate. “Love your enemies.” “If someone strikes you – turn the other cheek.” “If someone wants your coat give them your shirt as well.” These social reversals put us into the grip of difficult decisions. We live in a culture of blessings that are thought to be the results of social status, and we are advised to protect that status at any costs. When the man or woman begging on the street becomes a sermon to us on how we are blessed and they are not, we need to be afraid. Such perceived sermons lead us down a path that separates us from what God has gathered us into.

Jonathan Merritt in an article on “troubling trends” in American churches pointed out the following difficulties within a socially acceptable church: isolationism, tribalism, and finally egoism. Jesus gathers a church that includes the enemy, the poor, and the hungry. In Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes he turns Luke’s stark realities of blessings and curses into spiritual values, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”The truth lies somewhere in the middle where we need to see Luke’s stark realities of what it means to live in a real world, and Matthew’s spiritual perspective. Perhaps our denominationalism has become tribal, isolated, and caught up in our own exalted sense of self. All of those jokes about what Episcopalians, or Lutherans, or Presbyterians are really like aid and abet such a sense of corporate self. Jesus wants us to be aware of the community into which he calls us. And by that, I don’t think he means the eucharistic assembly – this group here. The Eucharist will be the meal that enables us in the mission to which Jesus directs us, the calling that is blessed by the Spirit. The community that Jesus calls us to is out there, on the streets.

Preaching to the individual
Here is where I as a preacher am tempted to preach to you as a congregation – to ask the Spirit to give you all, as a community, spiritual goals and mission. This time, however, I think I am called to preach to you as individuals – each one of you caught up in your own blessings and consequences, each with your own enemies and friends, people demanding from you and giving to you. When Joseph gathered with his brothers in Egypt he was confronted with this reality. There in the room with him were the family members who had sold him into slavery and had grieved their father with the lie that Joseph had been killed. However, there in the room was also his flesh and blood, the family given to him by God – the God of relationship. So, what were they? Friend? Enemy? The connection of blood wins out, as Joseph is reconciled to his brothers, his sisters, his family. The question we need to ask of ourselves as individuals is “Who am I over against my enemy? Over against my friend?” 

Here is Jesus’ prosperity Gospel, not like that which is known in our history, or played out on our televisions. Jesus’ Gospel is both simple and direct, and it is given to us as individuals so that we might be not only in relationship with God, but with our neighbor as well. Jesus says, 

Do not judge, and you will not be judged; 
do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. 
Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 
give, and it will be given to you. 
A good measure, pressed down, 
shaken together, 
running over, will be put into your lap; 
for the measure you give 
will be the measure you get back."

So, now, where is the neighbor, where is the enemy that I am called to seek?


Saturday, January 12, 2019

Sermon on The Baptism of Our Lord, 13 January 2019

“From Death to Life”

Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
St. Luke 3:15-17, 21-22


I wonder what this young woman is doing these days. I met her when she was but a baby, when I was invited by Fr. Steven Katsaris, then rector of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Belmont, California. He wanted me to witness an Orthodox baptism, and I was more than happy to receive the invitation. There she was, held by her parents, naked, and I think, a bit chilly. After prayers, blessing of the waters and oil and putting oil into the water, there was the chrismation. Along with the godparents, they and the priest anointed Helene, slathering her body with the holy oil – she glistened. Then Steven took Helene by the arms and lifted her high over the font – shaped like a large pot and filled to the brim with waters. He said, “The servant of God Helene, is baptized in the Name of the Father. Amen,” and she was dunked completely in the water and raised up.  “And of the Son, Amen,” and again she was dunked completely under the waters and raise up again. “And of the Holy Spirit, Amen,” and for the third time she was sent into the waters and raised up again. The action of her descent into the waters saponified the oils, and she came up this final time not only glistening but bubbling with the saponified oil. Her godparents wrapped her in a linen cloth and enveloped her in their arms. An Orthodox baptism is a bit of a dangerous sport – as it should be.

The gentle baptisms with which we baptize our own in the Episcopal Church might want to take on a more dramatic effect – I’m thinking of what Isaiah writes in the first reading for this morning.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.

Baptism is a dangerous calling, and we need to be reminded that when we were baptized, it was into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Aligning oneself with Jesus has its difficult aspects. The three days that follow Christmas are a good reminder of this: Saint Stephen’s Day – the first Martyr on 26 December, Saint John’s Day – an exile for Jesus on 27 December. And finally, Holy Innocents Day victims of King Herod’s wrath on 28 December. The church remembers them as Stephen, martyr in will and in deed, John, martyr in will but not in deed, and the Innocents, martyrs not in will be in deed. For those who kneel at the cradle, and those who decide to follow him by being drowned in the font, there are dangerous and death-like consequences. But we are called out of the waters and out of the fire, and out of death into something new.

There is a clue to new creation we are called to in the words that we just spoke, and the vows that we renewed. There is that continuation in apostolic teaching and fellowship, the braking of bread, and prayers. There is that resistance to evil, and repentance when we have sinned. There is that proclamation of God’s Good News by word and example. There is that seeking and serving Christ in all persons and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Finally, there is that striving for justice and peace, and respecting the dignity of every human being. If you don’t think that is easy stuff – not dangerous stuff, just think on how our society values such things – how it is being forgotten and denigrated in our own time. You have been plunged under the waters only to rise as an example and expression of Christ’s spirit and word.

There is a small debate going on in the Episcopal Church – actually its going on in the Lutheran Church and is probably under wraps in the Roman Catholic Church as well. Ostensibly it is about the hospitality that surrounds that table, and the role that baptism has as an entrance to that table, and to the sustenance that is offered there. I’ll be more direct. Some have confused the hospitality of the altar with mere sustenance, nutrition, and welcome. The question that we need to consider with the Eucharistic Meal is “For what are we being fed?” Baptism as an entry to this table and meal helps us to realize that there is a cost that comes with the meal. We follow committed through our baptismal vows with food for the journey and the mission to our fellow human beings. Perhaps that is why the church is looked at as a weak institution by our time. We no longer ask anything of anyone. “Walk through the water with us,” we need to say and then have food for the journey.

There is another aspect to baptism, and not just a ritual aspect. In the second lesson we learn of Peter and John greeting the newly baptized in Samaria. Luke tells us that these Samaritans (and that is a remarkable thing in and of itself – Samaritans, hated by Israel) these Samaritans were baptized but in the name of Jesus only. The apostles recognize that something is missing – the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and the laying on of hands. The laying on of hands was a sign of the community to which they were aligning themselves, but the Spirit – the Spirit brought gifts: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. If we are to be about the difficult and dangerous task of following Jesus and announcing his Good News then these gifts will be important – wisdom in order to discern wisdom, understanding to know the wisdom, counsel to hear the wisdom, fortitude to share the wisdom, knowledge of where the wisdom leads us, piety to observe the wisdom in our lives and worship, and the wisdom that flows from the fear of the Lord. These are the gifts that I hope flow to all of you as you begin this time of transition and change – a dangerous and challenging time, but definitely a time entered through baptism and blessed by the Spirit.

Luke invites us into the scene of Jesus’ baptism, and he describes all who were gathered there will him. “As the people were filled with expectation.” Perhaps that is the best way for you to enter a time of change and challenge – with expectation. What did the people who gathered with Jesus want? At one level they wanted an Anointed One – a Messiah. John reminds them that this is a dangerous choice – “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. So, I wonder, what do you expect of your baptism? What do you expect of those who gather with you around this font, and at this table? What is it that you expect to share with those who visit you here – how will you share with them the Jesus that asks something of them? What will you expect of your new priest? This is the wisdom that needs to descend upon you. Most of all, I think, is that you need to hear the voice that Jesus and the crowd heard, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Jesus heard this and then went on to temptation and ministry. I hope that you hear it as well, that you are God’s daughters and sons, that God is well-pleased with you, and most of all that you are beloved.” These are the things that we celebrate on this day of the Baptism of Jesus and as we remember our own being drowned and rising up. Deo gratias!


Sunday, November 11, 2018

Remembrance Sunday, 11 November 2018

Preaching at Saint Mark’s Church
The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Remembrance Sunday
11 November 2018 

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 130
Romans 8:31-39
St. John 15:9-17

A Sermon that was preached at a Requiem Mass celebrated at Saint Mark's Episcopal Church in Berkeley, California on 11 November 2018. Several people asked me to publish the sermon, and I do so here.


Subscribing to the New York Review of Books is a dangerous thing to do. Upon seeing a review or advertisement for certain books, I am likely to go on-line and order a copy. Recently I purchased and then avidly read Bill Goldstein’s fascinating book, The World Broke in Two, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, and the Year That Changed Literature.[1]  In it he painstakingly describes the difficulties that these four authors had immediately following the Great War, and how they wrestled with their own sense of self in the face of a new world. Perhaps Virginia Woolf’s character Mrs. Dalloway can put it best for us. 

“Did it matter then, she asked herself, walking towards Bond Street, did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely?”[2]

The threat of death seemed to overwhelm these authors, as well it might for they were not only threatened by eventual death, and an odd collection of maladies and illnesses but by the war itself.  As Mrs. Dalloway evolves over time into the character that questions her own life and well-being, another character, a survivor of the war, Septimus, reaches for his own death accomplished in a suicide. Death and change were all about them, and the world that they thought they knew was gone. This is no surprise to us especially if we watched the Downton Abbey episodes which bring some of this to life.

I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where on 22 May 1957, around 11:50 a.m. a 10-megaton hydrogen bomb was accidentally dropped on the outskirts of Kirtland Air Force Base which lay at the southeastern edge of the city.[3]It could have ruined my whole day! We weren’t to find out about this until some three decades later, and that’s the funny thing about the world we live in. In Matthew 24:6 Jesus reminds us that we shall hear of “wars and rumors of wars.” But it is not just the wars – have we ever truly lived in peace? It is the consequences of our constantly battling one against another. It is the constant realization that we live at death’s edge. We numb that knowledge with forgetfulness. 

Once when driving north of Strasbourg, France to look at the pottery makers in Soufflenheim, and Boetschdorf, we headed east intending to cross the Rhine and enter Germany to see family. Arthur remarked as we left Boetschdorf, “Michael, the churches around here are all new – I wonder why?” As the words left his mouth we looked to our left as we crossed by the bombed-out bunkers of the Maginot Line. “Oh!”, Arthur said. So much is forgotten or willfully left behind. My parents were raised in German speaking households and schooled in their early years in German as well. In the same period that T.S. Eliot was leaving St. Louis and establishing himself in England, my mother and father’s families were quietly leaving German behind, a consequence of the war. Sometimes things are left behind because we do not want to deal with them. In 1958, I walked home from Grace School in a rage. When I got home, I wondered to my mother why I was just finding out about the internment of Japanese people on the west coast. “It was wartime”, she replied – and that was that.

A final story – and my apologies for besieging you with these personal memories, I’m hoping that it will stimulate your own. My daughter spent some time in Frankfurt, brushing up on her German for her Ph.D. in Spanish. We had all just become reacquainted with family in Germany and were fascinated to get to know them better. Anna was invited over to meet and have lunch with Emme Hiller Zeyfang, a cousin. After lunch she suggested that they look at family pictures – and there it was – Uncle so and so in his Luftwaffe uniform, and there was Cousin so and so in his Hitlerjugend outfit. Anna was stunned and didn’t comment. Much later when we discussed this I responded much as Pogo did, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

I hope that you are in a flood of memory, remembrances are proper on this day. Remembrance and Thanksgiving are proper on this day for all those who offered up themselves through what seems the constant warfare in our time. It doesn’t seem to be going away, and thus it is proper to remember, give thanks, and confess – for we have caused others ill, as they have caused us ill. I am mindful of the Confession of Sin in the liturgical materials from Enriching our Worship.[4]

“We have denied your goodness in each other, in ourselves, and in the world you have created. We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf.”

It is not simple having this Remembrance Sunday, for we need to remember ourselves as well. I’m going to close this section with some lines from T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland.

“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, 
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”[5]

“Fear in a handful of dust.” Often that is all that remains, but Isaiah would have us see otherwise, and Jesus would have us look elsewhere. Here is where I need to preach the Gospel to our memories, to our remembrance of those gone, to our guilt and to our despair. Isaiah bids us come up to the mountain, and not just any mountain, but the mountain that is the Lord’s abode. Why should we go there – or better – why should we come here and observe this day? Isaiah answers our question, “That he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths”.[6]Isaiah seems to challenge our despair with the hopefulness of peacemaking and life itself. And Jesus urges us to replace our dis-ease, our distrust, and our despair with love. He also reminds us what that love is built and made of. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.No one has greater love than this,  to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”[7]And there we have it as simply as it can be stated over against the whirlwind of our memory and our loss. 

Perhaps we need to give thanks to God not only for the women and men who have fought for us, and kept us in freedom, but also for the women and men who have told our stories, written our songs and elegies, painted our visions, and sculpted our form. We all contribute to our story, our confession, and our song. It’s best to close with the ending line of the confession:

“Forgive, restore, and strengthen us through our Savior Jesus Christ, that we may abide in your love and serve only your will. Amen.”[8]


[1]     Goldstein, B. (2017) The World Broke in Two; Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, and the Year That Changed Literature, Henry Holt and Co., New York, Kindle Edition.
[2]     Ibid, Location 15616
[3]     Les Alders’ article in the Albuquerque Tribune, 20 January 1994,
[4]     Church Publishing, (1998), Enriching Our Worship 1: Morning and Evening Prayer, The Great Litany, and The Holy Eucharist, Church Publishing, New York, Kindle Edition, Kindle Location 962.
[5]     Eliot. T. (1922), The Waste Land – Classic Illustrated Edition, Heritage Illustrated Publishing, Kindle Edition, Kindle Location: 30-31.
[6]     Isaiah 2:3b.
[7]     John 15:12-13.
[8]     Church Publishing, Op cit., Kindle Location 965.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, 3 July 2016

Berkeley, California

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost,
Proper 9,
3 July 2016

The Rev. Fr. Michael T. Hiller

“Failure and Rejection”

Isaiah 66:10-14
Psalm 66:1-8
Galatians 6: [1-6] 7-16
Saint Luke 10:1-11, 16-20


This morning we are greeted with what seems to be two almost divergent themes, and one wonders whether the framers of the lectionary haven’t treated us to the text from the last of the Isaiahs to ameliorate the possible hurdles in the Gospel. The Isaiah text is beautiful, and directed to a people who have seen so much difficulty. The images are comforting and satisfying. What we are met with here is the abundance of a mother’s love, the plenty of a mother’s providing. This is this Isaiah’s image of Jerusalem, the city of return. These satisfactions greet the exile that comes back, returning from the foreign land and foreign gods. So they are greeted as hungry children.

There are discordant notes in this reverie over Jerusalem as well. “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her – that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast.” In the midst of joy we may yet mourn, or is it that our mourning is moderated by the joy that God promises to us? What an appropriate theme for the people of God at Saint Mark’s. For some of you the last months have seemed like an exile, torn away from the church of your expectations and hopes. In the past weeks, in our parish forum, and in small groups meeting about what it means to communicate with one another, you have begun to talk with one another about your sense of grief, loss, and frustration. The journey has been difficult and taxing. Some of you have given to it beyond your means. In a way we are only beginning to understand and apply Saint Paul’s lesson for us, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

I think, however, that I am rushing ahead to a conclusion that is not taking into account Good News. I think that there is more Scripture with which we need to wrestle and be aware. Last Sunday we met a Jesus who had set his face toward Jerusalem, in spite of what it will mean for him. There is a determination to face all things. There is an urgency that wants to be on the way to Jerusalem. Will this Jerusalem be the mother of the Isaiahs, the Jerusalem that feeds and satisfies, and the Jerusalem that comforts the one who returns to her? No. And in spite of Jesus’ determination and urgency, there are other lessons to be learned by those who wish to follow him and learn from him.

There is a sense of abundance here, much like the picture that Isaiah paints for us in the first lesson, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” It is the present situation of both abundance and need that Jesus wishes to address before he continues on the road. Thus he appoints seventy others to precede him as he continues on his way. In a way they have the same mission, as did the Baptist. They go before Jesus and announce his presence to all who might listen and hear. Unlike the Baptist, who attracted the people to himself and the Jordan, these emissaries are sent out into “every town and place where he himself intended to go.”

It is here where the instruction and the situation become very interesting. It is here that the words become Good News for us at Saint Mark’s. Jesus warns them to strip down for the task, and to be ready for adversity.  They are made aware that they will be welcome in some places, and rejected in others.  The peace they offer will either be accepted or returned.  The reaction of others to them will reflect what the others think of Jesus.

Someone can help us at this point, and that is Father Dwight Zscheile, Episcopal priest and professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. His book, The Agile Church – Spirit-Led Innovation in an Uncertain Age, can teach us to deal with what we might see as failure, or what is actually failure. He writes, “The central challenge facing churches today is rediscovering who they are in a society that has in many ways rejected Christianity.”[1] This is news that Jesus seems to have warned us about and that we have forgotten. The lesson, however, is not the primary one that Fr. Zscheile teaches us. Perhaps a little background can help us to understand his message. He was born in Silicon Valley, where he watched his father work with technology and innovation. He observed how companies had failure after failure before finally finding the solution or the product that would make their way in the world. He began to understand that it was the iterative process of failures and successes that made the innovations of the valley work – and his goal is to get the Church to see the Spirit active in this endeavor.

Now we come back to Saint Mark’s and our experiences with success and failure. Many have expressed their feelings to me, and now to others, about their sense that what the parish has gone through is failure. Perhaps it was. But we need to ask the question, “Failure to what end?” Jesus wants us to expect rejection along with acceptance, failures along with successes. Do the failures need forgiveness, or do they just need a healthy look again at what caused them. I’m afraid that I’m going to quote Yoda, “There is no try, only do.”

Jesus sends out the seventy to experience how the world receives Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of Heaven. That ought to be our aim here as well – first to ourselves so that we understand how God has accepted us, and then to others so that we might share that Good News. It must be done over and over again regardless of the results. It is inherently risky, and it will challenge us. What did we learn over the last few years? What can we learn as we pick ourselves up in forgiveness and joy to try something else – something new?

Isaiah’s mother, giving food to her children, is a wonderful image of the church. What we need to see, however, is that we are all the mother, giving acceptance and forgiveness to one another as the Body of Christ. There may yet be mourning and grief amongst us. If that is shared so that we bear one another up, there will be joy amidst the mourning, and that is Good News.


[1]Zscheile, D. (2014), The Agile Church: Spirit-Led Innovation in an Uncertain Age, Church Publishing, Inc. New York, Kindle Location 240.