Monday, September 24, 2007

Labyrinth shadows

My husband offered a program about the labyrinth today at the Valle Crucis Conference Center and took this beautiful photograph. The canvas Chartres-style labyrinth was set out in the Apple Barn and the large window at the end of the barn cast this shadow on the labyrinth. How lovely it must have been to walk this sacred path today.
I was walking a different path today--traveled to meet two good friends from Seminary and share coffee and conversation. A day of many blessings.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sermon Year C Pentecost 17 Proper 20

10 mph

My husband Tom and I watched a movie this week,
one we rented from Netflix,
and the title of this film is 10 mph (ten miles per hour).

It’s a documentary,
the true story of two young upwardly mobile software engineers
who realize that life
in their little well paying corporate cubicles
doesn’t mean much to them any more.

They decide to resign their jobs, cash in their savings,
and make a cross country trip across America.
That is not such an unusual story—
because cross country trips across America
have been going on since the days of Lewis and Clark,
and before and beyond.

What is unusual
is that they decide to make this journey on a Segway.
Segways are those motorized scooters that you ride standing up.
They are economical, environmentally sound
and funny looking.
They are actually becoming quite popular with police departments
as they can go anywhere—
at 10 mph.

These two restless young men,
Josh Caldwell and Hunter Weeks,
travel from Seattle to Boston in 100 days.

And my favorite part of the film is the wonderful, generous and good people
they meet on their journey.

Now there is one police officer in Illinois
who is rather a stinker,
a Barney Fife gone very, very bad.
This police officer is about to arrest these cross country travelers,
because he says it is illegal to go 10 mph on any highway in Illinois.
Just as they about to be arrested and their journey ended,
another police officer arrives who sees beyond the letter of the law,
and wishes the young men well on their continued Segway journey.

I don’t think the uptight policeman was dishonest;
not like the manager we hear about in Luke’s gospel this morning.
But I do wonder if he didn’t begin to see himself a little differently
when this movie came out.

Sometimes we don’t see what we are doing,
how we are behaving,
until someone tells us the blunt truth,
gives us a painful snapshot of how the world sees us,
captures us in our dysfunction, our dishonesty, our denial--
and won’t let us wiggle away.

The dishonest manager in Luke’s gospel
is stopped in his tracks—
because he is caught --
and told by his Master,
you cannot be my manager.
The manager knows that losing this job is bad news.
But rather than wring his hands, whine and moan
or set out to seek revenge against the Master--
this manager jumps into action.

He quickly begins to renegotiate some debts.
How much do you owe ? 100 jugs of olive oil?
Make than 50.
And how about you—what do you owe? 100 bushels of wheat?
Oh, just make that 80 and let’s call it even.

The manager knows he’s been dishonest.
He just didn’t know others knew.
The manager also knows he is going to need friends
after he loses his job.
So he sets out to make friends in the only way he knows how--
by adjusting his profit margin.

To most of us this gospel reading is puzzling
because someone dishonest receives praise.
In our eyes, the manager, even when he tries to make amends,
still seems self-serving —
he only does it
because he doesn’t want to wind up a ditch digger or a beggar.

Yet in this parable the Master comes in and commends the dishonest manager,
Good going! You’ve acted shrewdly.
And we wonder, why would the Master congratulate
someone who is dishonest and manipulative?

Maybe there is something
about reconciliation,
about repentance,
about change,
about generosity--
even when it does not spring from the innermost part of our souls,
even when it is not our own original idea to head down that better path,
even when it is not an enormous mountain top conversion.

Maybe doing even something small--
something small which is good and generous and kind--
maybe even that small change
helps us begin a transformation
that only God can see as possible.

Maybe our own feeble actions
have a mysterious way of connecting with God’s grace
and opening a door we had pulled shut long ago.

Maybe beginning to say we forgive someone who has hurt us--
even when we aren’t sure we totally feel it--
maybe that small drop of forgiveness
is the way we tap into the deep well
of God’s forgiveness and mercy.

Perhaps if we give,
we really will become generous.
Perhaps if we laugh,
we really will become joyful.
Perhaps if we give thanks,
we really will become grateful.

Sometimes doing even something small
is the beginning of total transformation.

Maybe the Master,
maybe God, sees that we all stand
on the brink of transformation.

Sometimes it takes a shock
to make us spring into action.
Sometimes bad news—or just the threat of bad news--
losing a job, waiting to hear from the doctor about a medical report,
finding ourselves in the midst of an ugly family conflict--
can make us take steps for healing
that should have happened long ago.

It is hard to begin.
All we can do is start where we are.
That’s exactly what the dishonest manager did.
He knew how to negotiate and to strike a bargain--
only this time he struck bargains
that benefited more than just him.
It was the only place he could start.

So often we want to speed towards perfection,
when really all we can do is start out at 10 mph.
Sometimes we don’t even have a Segway to stand on—
just our own two feet—and our heart and our mind and our prayers—
and a big helping of God’s grace.

If we can be faithful in a little,
we can grow to be faithful in much.

The good news is
God cheers us on
with every step we take,
with every mile we go.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Saturday ponderings

It's Saturday morning and there is a thin veil of fog over the mountains outside my window. And it's Saturday...a great day for ice cream (actually, any day is a great day for ice cream!) I came across this photo that I took in the beautiful little city of St. David's in Wales. I think we ate ice cream every day in Wales (or at least made a serious effort to do so). The ice cream there is really the best I have ever had. Favorite flavor? Celtic Crunch of course!

I have errands to do today--can I really pray without ceasing picking out a range hood for our stove or finding a replacement battery for the little timer I use in meditation? We shall see.

Have had a lovely peaceful morning. Sermon is finished for this evening's 5 p.m. service (and tomorrow's 11 am service). I am hoping to connect with a college friend who will be in town today. Enjoyed (as always) reading Chet Raymo's blog this morning. Yesterday he wrote about poet Mary Oliver and today he wrote about the magnificent library in ancient Alexandria. No wonder I like his blog. You can check it out too--see the Chet Raymo Science Musings link on this page.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Glasgow Cathedral window

Enough with words for today. I just wanted to post something beautiful. This window is in Glasgow Cathedral. I spent 2 days in Glasgow after my residency on Iona last fall. I found Glasgow fascinating and hope to return. It seems like folks often skip Glasgow when they travel to Scotland. That's a mistake. There's also a wonderful little museum, St. Mungo's Museum of Religious Art, right next to the Cathedral that's a gem.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sermon Year C Pentecost 16 Proper 19

A note of pondering about this sermon post:
I think it's interesting how sometimes I write a sermon and I think it really works and then I preach it and it just doesn't seem to work. That's the way I felt with this past Sunday's sermon. Not sure how the congregation felt. I almost decided not to post it, but then I thought, well, why not? Maybe it reads better than it preaches.
But if it doesn't do much for you (or even if it does) then go to my friend Ben's blog (see link on this page to SEERSUCKER AND A COLLAR)--I read Ben's last night and thought, "That's it!" Ben's sermon is terrific. And the cool thing is how every preacher who preached this text on Sunday probably came up with a slightly different take on the gospel. That is the REALLY cool thing about the Bible!)


There are three words that stand out in our gospel reading today.
Grumbling. Lost. Rejoice.

Now the first word—GRUMBLING-- is one we all know.
No doubt it is an activity we participate in
a bit too frequently.

The dictionary gives us this definition:
To make low, unintelligible sounds in the throat; growl.
To mutter or mumble in discontent;
To complain in a surly or peevish manner

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus.
And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling….

Imagine that.
because they didn’t want certain people hanging around.
It wasn’t so much their love for Jesus—
love wasn’t number one on the list for Pharisees and scribes—
just as love usually isn’t number one on the list
for us modern day grumblers.

The truth is they saw these tax-collectors and sinners
as despicable, unworthy, disposable human beings.
These grumblers are mad at Jesus
because he welcomes everyone to the table.
Jesus is guilty of radical, reckless hospitality.
Grumble, grumble, grumble.

The first definition of this word is interesting:
Destroyed, or ruined physically or morally.
It’s why so many people love the hymn Amazing Grace:
I once was lost…was blind…
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come…

We have been there.
Many of us have been there more than once.
We understand what it is to be lost,
to feel destroyed or ruined--
physically, morally, financially,
emotionally, spiritually.

Then follow these definitions of the word LOST:
Not to be found; no longer held or possessed; parted with.
Bewildered or ill at ease.

Jesus understands how we all long
to be held,
to be found,
to be seen by others as God sees us,
as beloved and beautiful.

Jesus responds even to the grumblers without criticism or judgment.
Jesus doesn’t apologize for or get defensive about the company he keeps.

Jesus responds with a story, a parable.
He hopes the grumblers might still have ears to hear.

He tells the story of one sheep who has wandered off.
One out of 100.
He tells of a shepherd who goes to seek that one lost sheep.
The shepherd doesn’t give up
until that one lost sheep is found.

Jesus tells of the woman who has ten silver coins.
She loses one.
One out of 10.
He tells how the woman searches and searches for that one coin.

She doesn’t give up
until that lost coin has been found.

To be glad, happy, or delighted.
To be full of joy.

The shepherd finds the lost sheep and rejoices.
The woman finds the lost coin and rejoices.

Friends and neighbors are called together
when that which was lost is found.
Called together with an invitation:

This is our invitation each time we gather to worship.
Jesus calls us to REJOICE.
To rejoice in the goodness and the love
And the never-giving-up-on-us grace of God.

We as the church walk a dangerous line:
We can easily become a Body of Grumblers,
instead of the Body of Christ.
We can easily forget that we, too, are lost in many ways.
we can grumble and judge and criticize others
just like the Pharisees and scribes—
until we even believe we are doing it all in God’s name.

Jesus tells these parables to us.
Jesus says to us.
Guess what?
You are not the shepherd.
You are the lost sheep.

We are the ones who wander away.
There are a million forms of wandering away.
There are a million ways we can get lost.
There are a million ways we can lose
a part of ourselves…if not our whole self.
And grumbling often paves the path
that leads us away from the heart of God.

But still there is good news.
Still there is amazing grace.

Jesus says,
Never fear.
God will come looking for you.
God will keep after us
because God never gives up on us.
There is always hope in the mind of God.

No matter how destroyed or lost we feel,
God visions our possibility for wholeness.

No matter how the grumblers may try to push us away.
No matter how we try to push ourselves away
with our own grumbling.

God just opens those great arms of love wider and wider,
until we find ourselves embraced, lifted up,
and carried back home.

We stumble, we fumble, we grumble.
We lose our way.

God seeks us out no matter what.
For God is a reckless and radical shepherd.
God doesn’t work by ratios or percentages or profit margins.
The one is as important as the ninety-nine.

Not one person in God’s world
is insignificant or unimportant.
Every lost sheep is worth the search.

God loves each of us that much
and more.
Much, much more.


+ + +

Luke 15:1-10
All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
So he told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
"Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sermon for Year C Pentecost 15 Proper 18


Our son Jody was a freshman at Warren Wilson College
when I got the phone call.
He was taking a religion class,
studying Jesus and the gospels.

Now don’t jump to conclusions
that he was striving to follow in my footsteps.
At that point in our son’s life
he was far more interested in disproving religion,
showing me the myriad ways I had been brainwashed.

“I just read something in Luke’s gospel
that I don’t think you are going to like.”
“Really? What is that?”

“Well, Mom, you are always saying we need to look to Jesus
as an example of how to live our lives, right?”
“True,” I respond (though I know he is setting me up).

“Well, Mom, right here in Luke, Chapter 14,
Jesus says I need to hate my mother.
In fact, Jesus says if I don’t hate father and mother,
wife and children, brother and sister,
I can’t be his disciple.
So, what do you think about that, Mom!!???”

There are some very difficult passages in the Bible
and this is one of them.
First of all,
with any difficult passage
we need to look at the big picture first.
We need to try to understand the meaning
beyond a single sentence or phrase.
What is Jesus telling this crowd of people who are traveling with him?

Jesus is saying, it is in no way easy to be my disciple.
You don’t get to just come along for the ride.
You can’t be a Jesus groupie
and just tag along without making your own commitment,
without making some changes
in how you live your life.
It’s not just about Sunday, folks.

There is a cost.

What are the requirements to be a disciple?

If we read Luke’s gospel,
the first requirement is to “hate” our parents and families.
We have to understand though
that the way we use the word “hate” today
and the way it was used in the middle east in the first century
are different.

We pack an emotional wallop into the word “hate.”
In Jesus’ time that word meant “to do without.”

Jesus is saying that if we want to be his disciple
we have to be willing to do without
mother, father, wife, children, brother, sister…
We must trust that much in God.
Disciples are called to put God as the first priority.
We know that
But we also know that is very, very, very difficult.

Jesus uses this example of doing without our families
To wake us up to how difficult discipleship really is.

However, we also cannot read this passage in Luke’s gospel
as permission to neglect or ignore our families.
We don’t get to put ourselves
as the number one priority either.
Discipleship calls us to love God
with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind.
To love God first but to love others as well.

Jesus follows this shocking statement about hating our families
with two parables
that help clarify what he is saying to the crowd, and to us.

The first parable tells us
that no one starts to build a tower
without planning on what it will cost.
After all, he says,
what kind of crazy person would start building something
he can’t finish?

This was the second OUCH for me in today’s gospel!
Being that my husband Tom and I are in the midst
of remodeling a small house
and most nights,
one or the other of us is lying awake,
worrying about how we will afford to finish this project.
We didn’t plan very well on what our “tower” would cost!
(Don’t you hate it when Jesus gets personal!!??!)

There is a tinge of irony in Jesus’ voice here.
He is well aware how often we begin projects, commitments, life changes…
without really thinking them through,
without the commitment to follow to the end.

Jesus is saying,
You have to look at the big picture of what discipleship costs.
And, indeed, there is a cost.

The second parable is even larger in scope.
Jesus tells us that no good king would lead his troops into battle
If he thought they would be outnumbered, slaughtered.
The leader must turn to other means to achieve peace--
To diplomacy, to working out a solution in a different way.
No good king.
Jesus is telling us that God has no desire for us to fail in our discipleship—
But God’s ways may not be the way we imagine.

Jesus is saying,
be wise.
Realize the cost of following me.
Don’t start on this path without recognizing it may lead places
you never imagined or dreamed.

And then our gospel passage closes this morning
with the “ouch-iest” passage of all:
None of you can become my disciple
If you do not give up all your possessions.

Jesus did not ask us to tithe here—
To give up just 10% of our possessions—
Jesus asks us to give up ALL our possessions.

Our possessions are all the worldly things that give us security—
and once again—we have heard it multiple times in Luke’s gospel—
Jesus says, let go!
Don’t let what you own
own you.
Don’t be possessed
by your possessions.
Let go.

So this is a very difficult gospel reading this morning.
My son was right.
We all need to really think
about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

I want to tell you about someone
who did think long and hard
about the cost of discipleship.
His name is John Wesley.

John Wesley lived in the 1700’s.
And some of you may know him
as the founder of the Methodist Church.
Now I must tell you
that Wesley was an Episcopalian—an Anglican—
until the day he died.
He did start a religious movement,
which eventually—after Wesley’s death—
grew into a new denomination.

Wesley was born into an educated and fairly affluent family,
a family of privilege.
That was his norm—
just as it is the norm for many of us.

Through his study of the gospel,
Wesley began to realize he needed to make some choices.
He carefully examined how he was living his life.
One day when he entered his house,
Arms full of some paintings he had bought to decorate his walls,
He suddenly saw that his own housekeeper had not even enough money
For a winter coat.
Wesley was shocked at his own blindness.
He began to take living the gospel seriously.
He knew he needed to let go, to relinquish possessions,
to strive for justice and peace,
to respect the dignity of every human being.
To begin to fully live into his baptismal covenant.

In 1731, John Wesley records that his salary for the year was thirty pounds.
So John Wesley carefully calculates
That he needs 28 of those 30 pounds to just survive,
To pay his bills for food and shelter and basic clothing.
So Wesley manages to live on 28 pounds that year
And he gives away the remaining two pounds.
We don’t know if he gave those 2 pounds to the church
Or to the poor
Or if he bought food for the hungry and gave that away.
All we know is that John Wesley gave two pounds for God’s work.

Four years into his ministry,
Wesley is earning 120 pounds.
Life is getting better.
More people are asking Wesley to come and preach
And paying him to do so.

Wesley had calculated he needed 28 pounds for his living expenses.
So he lived on those 28 pounds
and gave away 92 pounds.

Eventually, John Wesley became one of the best known,
most sought after preachers in history.
One source I read said,
by the end of his ministry, if we calculate inflation,
Wesley made the modern day equivalent
of $ 1.4 million dollars in one year—
and he lived on the modern day equivalent of $ 30,000.

John Wesley gave away over one million dollars that year.
I wonder what I would do,
what I would give away, what I would keep,
if I made $ 1.4 million dollars?

Wesley never changed the amount—that 28 pounds—he needed to live on.
He kept that same standard of living
and gave away all the rest.

The cost of discipleship.

Wesley understood—and he gave willingly and joyfully—
Because he realized to follow Jesus
It can never be about one person or even about one person’s family.
To follow Jesus is to care about a community—
That community can be a church, a city or the world—
To care and to use our blessings, our abundance,
to bless others,
as much as we possibly can.

Wesley fought for social justice—
for prison reform, for the abolition of slavery.
He was often at odds with church policy
but he gave anyway.
Wesley saw being baptized as the call to do good of every possible sort,
to inspire love at whatever the personal cost.

Wesley challenged himself—and others—
to really struggle with what it means to participate in God’s kingdom.
Not the kingdom that is to come,
but the kingdom that is here, that is right now.

Because in truth,
that is the only kingdom we can knowingly hope to affect.

Following Jesus is costly—
Both for our bank accounts
And for how we choose to live our lives.

We are in that large crowd that is traveling with Jesus—
And today, in Luke’s gospel,
Jesus has turned and looked us in the eye and asked:

“Are you really willing to pay the price?”

Friday, September 14, 2007

Father Matthew Presents

If you haven't discovered Father Matthew on YOUTUBE it's worth taking a look.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

another font

I've had internet woes this week so haven't been able to post to this blog--or do anything on line. I am amazed at how crazed that makes me. Well, I'm back. Decided to share another baptismal font. This is from St. Mary's in Tenby, Wales. Quite ornate. There is a chain that goes through the top that lifts the house top off the font. The architecture of the font "house" is rather like much of the architecture in Tenby. I need to do a little reading to find out more about this. For now, just enjoy this beautifully carved font. A special touch is that the baptismal font sits right next to a little children's play and reading area in the back of the church. Didn't get to attend services here but hope to do that in the future. Tenby is the port where you set off for Caldey Island. More about that later. Peace to y'all.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Sermon for Year C Pentecost 14 Proper 17


This is a story
that was shared with those of us
who attended a session titled Strengthening the Small Church at the recent Mission and Ministry Conference.

It is a true story,
about a man named John
who found himself at a transition point in his life.

He had never worshipped in a church before.
He was a successful international businessman
and had just returned to the United States
to care for his very ill elderly mother.

He found himself interested in Christianity
so he decides to visit an Episcopal Church.
Here is his story:

I looked in the phone book and found two Episcopal churches listed.
I went by the first one but there was no sign and I thought it was abandoned.
I wondered, “Can a church go out of business?
I didn’t think they could.”
I then went on to a larger church a little further on.
I sat in the parking lot for a long time with my knees shaking,
Watching as people got out of their cars,
And wanting to go in a little late
To just sneak in to the back.

However, when I finally mustered the nerve
and entered the courtyard where I had seen people enter,
I was faced with two closed doors.

Not knowing which to choose,
I opened one and entered.
Unfortunately I had selected incorrectly
and entered the front of the church.
Trapped with everyone staring,
I quickly found my way to the front row.

I was unable to follow anything anyone was doing,
And no one brought me a program
that they all seemed to be using.
I was kind of freaked out--everyone stands, then they sit.
They say prayers and words.
They cross themselves, they change books.
I didn’t know what on earth they were doing
or what was going to happen next.
Increasingly intimidated,
as I sat in the front row,
the preacher suddenly decided to preach
from the center aisle,
right next to where I was sitting.

He mostly talked about something called a diocese
(I wondered what a diocese is?).
As he was preaching
he then said something
that made everyone start mumbling some phrase again,
and the preacher, still in the center aisle,
totally freaked me out and grabbed my hand.

I thought I was being singled out,
but then realized that everyone was getting up
and moving all around the church hugging and shaking hands with each other (the peace).

Next, something happened at the table up front,
and then everyone got up to leave.
But they all headed for the front door where I’d entered.

As I followed them up I realized that they weren’t leaving;
Instead they all kneeled and someone brought around some bread.
Then we all went back to our seats.

Finally after it was all over, someone came up to me with a card
and asked me to write my contact information and answer a question
on the card.
The question asked what my interest at St. Swithens was.
As I really didn’t know what to put,
I remembered that I’d often heard Christians
talk about baptism,
so I wrote baptism.
All the people disappeared into another building.
I watched and then left in my car.

That is John’s story.

Some of us are old enough to remember an old Andy Griffith recording,
titled “What it was was football.”
John’s story could be titled,
“What it was was the Episcopal Church.”

How important it is for us to remember
what it is like to do something for the first time,
how it feels to want to be part of something, to be included.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,
for by doing that
some have entertained angels without knowing it.

welcoming the stranger--
is one of the key values of the Christian faith.
Of many faith traditions, really.

Hospitality requires that we make ourselves
both available
and, in some ways, vulnerable.
This is not necessarily comfortable for many of us.

Hospitality is about having a big heart--
a heart big enough to believe there is always room for one more,
regardless of whom that one more might be.

Hospitality is not about having room--
Hospitality is about making room.
About giving up some of our space, our resources,
our ownership
and offering it to someone with love--
with no strings attached.

Jesus was an incredible model of hospitality.
Jesus welcomed everyone,
children and women,
tax collectors and sinners.
In today’s gospel reading Jesus bids us
to welcome to our table
the poor, the lame, the blind.
All were welcome.
Jesus’ radical hospitality shocked and offended many in his society.
But he did it anyway.

God’s hospitality--and we do act as God’s hands and heart in the world--
God’s hospitality is to welcome everyone with joy--
especially those who seldom find welcome and joy
present in their lives.

There is tremendous joy in being included.
There is tremendous pain in being excluded.
in feeling we are not welcome,
in feeling we are invisible.

God wants us to know otherwise.
God wants us to know that each one of us is loved.
God calls us to share that message--
not just by words but by our actions,
by our hospitality to others.

What does hospitality here at St. John’s look like?
Certainly hospitality is welcoming people to worship with us.
Hospitality is calling a new rector--a stranger--
and welcoming her to come and be among you.
Hospitality is allowing others to use our parish hall for meetings.
Hospitality is building habitat houses for complete strangers.
Hospitality is collecting canned goods for Manna Food Bank.
Hospitality is serving--on altar guild, as an usher,
as an acolyte, in the choir,
cleaning the church, sprucing up the grounds.

Welcoming people to St. John’s--
for worship or Fall Festival,
for a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous or ECW,
Coming together with other Episcopalians to build a Habitat house.
Taking time to listen to someone who is hurting.
Being patient with someone who is driving us crazy.

Hospitality is anything we do
to open our hearts more widely to God’s love
and to share that love with those around us.

A number of years ago,
when our daughter was still in high school
I made plans to attend a child advocacy conference
in Washington, DC.
I thought it might be interesting for our daughter to come with me.
Her school let her do a special project related to the conference
so she could have an excused absence and off we went.

We could not afford the conference hotel,
so we stayed at a hotel quite a distance away.
But the walk each morning was a wonderful time for us to talk
and to people-watch on the busy streets of the city.
Every evening, after the conference,
as we walked back to the hotel where we were staying,
we passed the same man in the same spot,
sitting on the sidewalk, asking for money.
He was scruffy looking--dirty, really--probably homeless.
My protective mother instinct surfaced quickly
and I instructed my daughter to just keep walking,
to quickly pass by,
to not look at the man or speak to him.

For a few days we did just that.
Then one day, after we passed the man,
my daughter began to cry.
And she said,
“I cannot stand to treat that man like he is invisible.
Can’t we at least say hello?

There are times when our children are our most profound teachers.

The next day we did just that--we stopped and spoke to the man.
We didn’t give him money.
We just stopped and said hello
and told him we hoped he had a good evening.

We spoke to him each day.
He began to wave at us when he saw us approaching on the sidewalk.

One evening we stopped and bought him a sandwich and a drink.
I’m sure he appreciated that (we all like to eat!)
but what he seemed to enjoy most
was just the few minutes of conversation we had each evening.

When I think back on that experience
I hear those words that Paul speaks to the Hebrews…
Let mutual love continue.

For it wasn’t just my daughter and I offering hospitality.
The man sitting on the sidewalk offered us hospitality in return.

Because we are all broken and poor in different ways.
Life is not always kind or gentle.

The good news is that God never leaves us or forsakes us.
However, the truth is
it sometimes feels that way.

That is where hospitality comes in--and where we come in.
To reach out to one another, with respect, with mutual love,
and to remind each other that we are all God’s beloved children.

There are always those who seem to offer little to us, to the world,
other than their need.
But each and every person brings something that is irreplaceable--
a unique way to see the face of Jesus in this world.

Throughout time,
painters and sculptors and film makers
and even greeting card makers,
have given us visual images of what Jesus looks like.

The truth is
we don’t know.
Cameras had not yet been invented
and there is no written physical description of Jesus anywhere.

Hospitality calls us to see the face of Jesus
in everyone we meet.
And to act accordingly with love.

Let mutual love continue.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,
for by doing that
some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Last year on Iona...

Last September I was on the Island of Iona. One of the first days there, just as the day was moving towards sunset, there was a rain shower and then this amazing rainbow. I rushed up the stairs (I was staying at Bishops' House) grabbed my camera and raced down the stairs and out into the side yard that looks over the sound. Snap. One Iona rainbow captured to share with others. I'm planning a return trip to Iona in 2009. Want to come along?

This baptismal font is the one in the Iona Abbey. I think a blog titled REMEMBER YOUR BAPTISM needs at least one photo of a baptismal font (there will probably be more as I seem to photograph baptismal fonts wherever I go). This large font which stands at the entrance of the Abbey is beautifully carved. The legs (I hope this will show up on the blog) are quite green--no, it's not algae or mold--it's the beautiful green marble that was, until not so long ago, quarried on the island. Many of the stones you pick up on the beaches around Iona also have a very characteristic green tint or streaks of green through them.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Celtic cross

I love this photo of the Celtic cross in the meditation garden at the Valle Crucis Conference Center. We placed the cross there in memory of my father. My mother would always come and sit on the bench there in the garden when she visited. A peaceful place.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Sermon for Year C Pentecost 13 Proper 14

Okay, I know I am going backwards with these posts but some friends ask that I post some of my sermons for the past month so I am rather out of order but you can read it in the order your choose. Blessings--Jeanne+

Do Not Be Afraid

Listen to a few of the headlines from this week:
Rain cripples New York City Transit…
Small earthquake hits Los Angeles area…
Utah miners still trapped…
Pakistan may declare state of emergency…

So much bad news,
so many headlines that worry us, frighten us.

Yet we hear God say in our reading from the book of Genesis: Do not be afraid.
We hear Jesus say in Luke’s gospel: Do not be afraid.

Our immediate reaction may be to retort—
Do not be afraid!! Have you been reading the papers lately, God??!!!
Jesus, you better start watching Fox News!

Or we might say—
Do not be afraid?? Have you looked at the state of my life lately?

Fear is an overwhelming and sometimes paralyzing emotion.
A very human emotion
that overtakes us all at different moments in our lives.

But God holds firm to that statement—Do not be afraid.

We hear it over and over and over throughout scripture.
Do not be afraid. Fear not. I am with you. I am your shield

From the very beginning,
in the very first book in the Bible—Genesis--
God calls the world into being
and God calls the church—the people of God—into being,
And from the very beginning, God says, Do not be afraid.

So what are the fears that haunt Abram?
He fears he will have no children.
Heirs meant everything in that time.

But God says, Abram, look toward heaven and count the stars.
That’s how many descendants you will have.

After God reveals a glimpse of the future to Abram,
the next line in this 15th chapter of Genesis
is the critical one:
And he—Abram-- believed the LORD.

He believed.
He trusted God even when God’s promise seemed impossible.

What are the fears that terrorize the disciples of Jesus?
They feel that everything is spinning wildly out of control.
They are trying to hold on,
to get a grip,
to keep things from changing
amidst a whirlwind of uncertainty.

Jesus calmly says, Do not be afraid, little flock.
Let go of your possessions.
Give away your wealth.
Stop holding on to things that do not matter.

Let go.

Those are words that make us very, very afraid.

If we are honest,
we know that sexuality is not the most controversial issue in the church.
Money is the most controversial issue.

And it is controversial
because we are very very afraid of not having it.
We know how the world works.
And the world constantly gives us the message: money matters.

But we need to pay close attention
to the things that make us fearful.

Do not be afraid.
We need to listen to those words
because these stories in our scripture readings
are the stories of our own faith journeys.

In small ways and sometimes in large ways,
God often gives us a glimpse of the future,
a brief revelation of what really matters.

God promises us new life…
We resist,
out of our fear.
God responds and offers us reassurance.
We are faced with making a choice.

We can believe as Abram did
or we can keep on resisting.

I have certainly done my share of resisting,
Of tightly closing my eyes to the abundance God offers.
As singer song writer Kathy Mattea would term it—
Standing knee deep in a river and dying of thirst.
Maybe some you have stood in that same river.

Because it is hard to believe that things can change,
difficult to let go of the way things are--
in our own lives, or in the life of our community,
terrifying to take a leap of pure faith.

Can you imagine,
how Abram—an elderly man—felt when God said
You WILL have children.
You will have descendants as the numerous as the stars in heaven.

The purpose of this story is to show us what faith,
what belief in God
really looks like.

It is to believe in what our human minds label as impossible.

I have been doing some reading recently about what makes a church thrive.
Churches are a diverse bunch.
Yet there seems to be one singular underlying thread:

Churches that are healthy and thriving and growing,
not only see their glass as half full,
they see it as overflowing.

Abundance not scarcity.
Unlimited possibility,
not dead end streets.

Last Sunday afternoon
at our Celebration of New Ministry--
which you hosted so magnificently--
this church was packed,
our pews were full.
When we sang,
we rocked God’s house!

And I could not help thinking ,
that God was showing St. John’s what is possible.
It was a brief and beautiful glimpse into our future.

As Christians, we are called to live as people of hope.
We are called to live as people of possibility.

When we get stuck in the past,
we live in fear.
When we become fearful of the future,
we slam the door
on God’s goodness and abundance.

God continually offers us a new song.
It is up to us to make the choice to sing without fear,
to sing with great joy.

Do not be afraid.
Do not.

Let your loving-kindness, O Lord, be upon us,
As we have put our trust in you.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Sermon for Year C Pentecost 13 Proper 16

Strive to enter through the narrow gate

This is my suitcase.
One of my many suitcases that is.
When my husband Tom and I traveled to Ireland a few years ago.
I took this suitcase--
and two smaller ones.
After all,
we were going to be gone for three weeks!
I wanted to be prepared.

There was only one thing I had not taken into consideration.
There is one thing that is often lacking in Ireland: elevators!

That’s right.
I got to tote and lift (and my husband Tom got to tote and lift)
all my heavy luggage,
up stairs and up more stairs and up more stairs,
from hotel to hotel.
from bed and breakfast to bed and breakfast.
If the Maytag repairman suffers from underemployment here in the States,
I tell you,
the Otis elevator man is absolutely unemployed in Ireland.

Then I made my first trip to Wales.
I traveled much lighter.
Two suitcases.
Much smaller,
but still two.
Still heavy.
And I was by myself.
No helpful husband to tote and lift.
Wales has even fewer elevators than Ireland--I am convinced.
Two won’t do I thought by the end of that trip.

I now make even those long international trips
with one small rolling suitcase.
Okay, I do tuck in an extra bag that will fold out into a second suitcase
for the journey home.
Because even when I don’t buy much,
it seems everything expands when you pack to come home.

How difficult it is to travel light!

There is another kind of suitcase we all own.
It is quite large and bulky.
The size and weight of that suitcase
makes it very hard for us to enter the narrow door
that Jesus speaks of in Luke’s gospel this morning.

It is the suitcase
where we keep all our grudges, our prejudices,
our fears, our bitterness, our jealousies,
our judgement of others.
We keep that suitcase out of sight
to most of the world most of the time.
But we don’t leave home without it.

We lug that heavy suitcase around with us
every day.

Through the years it often gets heavier and heavier.
We find that we can always stuff one more little complaint
into the side zippered pocket.

It is easy to read the gospel this morning
and believe that Jesus has done a complete turnabout.
Rather than being inclusive and welcoming,
Jesus is suddenly preaching about keeping folks out.

Jesus is suddenly saying
you might come knocking,
but don’t count on the door being opened.
you know there are a limited number of seats in God’s kingdom
and you might not make the cut.

Jesus preaching exlusion?
Not true.

Jesus is preaching to us about how we keep our own selves
outside the door.
How we are usually our own worst enemy.

The door into God’s kingdom is narrow.
Purposefully narrow
to force us to leave behind that heavy emotional suitcase,
all that weighty garbage--
we have been lugging around with us
for so many years.

The narrow door is not about excluding people.
The narrow door is about challenging us
to stop competing for power and prestige.
to lay down our relentless judgment of others
and to travel lightly for a change.
To travel with a clean heart.
One that allows even the widest of us,
to slip right through that narrow door.

I know someone who carried a very large and heavy suitcase
all of his life.
Much of his suitcase was filled with burdens that he did not create.
They came from a childhood that was horrendous.
But he had never been able to take those memories,
those weighty hurts, out of his suitcase and leave them behind.

He tried to padlock the suitcase
but it didn’t make it any lighter.

I was with him when he found the narrow door.
He did it quite unintentionally really.
But I was a witness to when it happened.
That someone was my father.

He was in his mid-eighties
when he collapsed one winter day with an excruciating headache
and was taken to the hospital.
A large tumor in his brain showed up in the scans
and he was quickly scheduled for surgery.

My mother, brother and sister and I stayed at the hospital
during that surgery.
When the neurosurgeon appeared to speak with us,
I could tell by his face that the news was not good.
The tumor was malignant.
They had removed as much as they possibly could
but most of it was inoperable.

I remember excusing myself to the bathroom down the hall.
I can still remember how ice cold the tile wall felt
as I pressed my face against it and wept.

But we came back together and stood in the hall as my father was
wheeled by.
He was smiling this incredibly big smile.

He did not know his prognosis;
he actually did not really understand the diagnosis.
He spotted my sister and looked up at her
as the gurney stopped in the hospital hallway.

“Your hair!” he exclaimed.
My sister tensed, “What about it?”

You see my father and my sister had a rocky relationship.
When one of them tried to get along with the other,
the other rebuked. And so it had been for decades.

My sister’s hair is dyed blonde.
My father had always hated it.

“What about my hair?” my sister retorted.
“It’s so beautiful,” said my father absolutely sincerely.

The entire family was speechless.

“Thank you, “ my sister finally said.
And there was kindness in her voice.
“Thank you, Daddy.”

That was only the beginning.
My father never had a harsh word for anyone after that.
It was a mystery.
I wondered if the tumor itself
had cut off that judgmental, critical part of the brain.
Or had something happened in the surgery?
We did not know.
All we knew that was in his last seven weeks of life
my father showed everyone immense unconditional love.

My father told friends and family, nurses and doctors,
how beautiful they were,
how wonderful they were,
how much he loved them.

And his love transformed people.
Almost on the spot.
It was truly the most mind-boggling thing I have ever seen.

My father left behind his heavy suitcase of opinions and hurts,
of judgments and fears,
of suspicions and shame,
and all he had left was love.

Love to give away to others.

It is not accomplishments or achievements or being the first,
that gets us through the narrow door.

The key to the door is love.

Love for God.
Love for one another.

Love doesn’t take up much room
but it opens up a space in relationships
that is beyond our wildest dreams.

+ + +

Luke 13:22-30
Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few be saved?" He said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, `Lord, open to us,' then in reply he will say to you, `I do not know where you come from.' Then you will begin to say, `We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' But he will say, `I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!' There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."

Monday, September 3, 2007

Giving in

I am finally giving in and starting a blog. It just seems like a handy way to reflect on the journey and to share with others. It also offers a place to post sermons since our parish website isn't quite ready yet and since I don't have a clue about creating my own website. So here on!