Thursday, December 11, 2008

Comfort. Hope. Peace.

Advent 2B

This week, I was visiting our senior warden, Louise, and her daughter Olivia who is going with other high school students to our President-elect’s inauguration! – we were sitting in the living room talking about what dress Olivia might wear to the inauguration events - and Louise suddenly said – it’s hard being Episcopalian these days! And brought out the New York Times. There we are, headlined on the front page – above the fold! “Episcopal split as conservatives form new group. And in smaller letters “Threat to Frail Union”.

The San Francisco Chronicle headline was a bit more tame: “Conservatives form rival group to Episcopal Church:” “Theological conservatives upset by liberal views of U.S. Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans have formed a rival North American province

"The Lord is displacing the Episcopal Church," Duncan said in a news conference in Wheaton, Ill., where the proposed constitution for the new province was drafted.
Our dear Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, responded in her unflappable calm and comforting voice that "there is room within The Episcopal Church for people with different views and we regret that some have felt the need to depart from the diversity of our common life in Christ." Isn’t she great!

But despite it’s headlining status, this news of trouble in the Episcopal church is not really the main news of the week. On the same front page, above the fold, were articles on the rapid warming of the planet, the trouble that the automakers are in, and this headline – “When a Job Disappears, So Does the Health Care.” “As jobless numbers reach levels not seen in 25 years, another crisis is unfolding for millions of people who lost their health insurance along with their jobs, joining the ranks of the uninsured.” Starla, 27, 8 months pregnant with her second child, rushes to the hospital to have early labor induced and then is delivered by Caesarean section. She did this before her plant closed, leaving her with no health insurance. These are the stories of our neighbors – and I know actually, of some of you. Cuts - leaving you without insurance, and with little explanation of where to go next.

And then, of course, there are the non-headlines, the everyday aches and bruises of life – surgeries that don’t fix the pain, chemo that destroys the appetite, spouses that leave, children that grow up, stress that gets in the way of sleep, debt that piles up.

Second Isaiah was called by God to speak words of comfort – to be a voice of comfort in a time when the Israelites were in exile – their homes destroyed, their way of life gone, and them carried off to a foreign place. “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people.” Handel’s Messiah begins with this magnificent chapter of Isaiah. Calvin and Luther, those old time theologians, insisted that this chapter pre-figured and even contained – the whole of the gospel of the good news of Jesus Christ. You might think of the God of the Old Testament as a God who wreaks vengeance and destruction on people, and the God of the New Testament as Loving – but that’s not so. Here, God comes to his people, in the words of his prophet, with the tenderness of a mother whose child is in pain, with the tenderness of a shepherd, whose lambs have been scattered and who are in need of direction and protection.

“Speak tenderly … cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received double for all her sins.” I have been in Ecuador and in the Holy Land this year – and in both of those places I have been with people who are at the bottom of the heap, the children of indigenous people in Ecuador, and the children of Bedouins in the Holy Land – I have seen hunger, and the distressing way that hunger stunts growth and dims the light in a child’s face. My friend Khalil Zhakaria, a Gaza resident, asks for prayers for his mother, who has cancer, and who is utterly reliant on the prayers of other Christians, because Gaza has been sealed off from any form of outside medical or food aid for weeks now. Of course, we are all paying the penalty of the sins of greed and lust for quick profit and power and revenge – but there are those who pay double and triple for those sins – they are the ones whom Christ called the “meek” – the ones who will enter the kingdom first. These children of hunger and war are the lambs whom God carries closest to his bosom.

So, Isaiah is called and anointed to preach comfort and hope – in a comfortless and hopeless time. But Isaiah asks – as you and I might very well ask – “what shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy, their fidelity – is like the flower of the field. It fades so quickly.”

Have you, especially you long time believers – ever felt like – what’s the point? In all these years – have we really made any dent in the world’s bent towards self-destruction? Has the sweet and compelling voice of Jesus, spoken through the church, stopped any wars, thwarted any famines, reconciled any families, healed any emotional distress? The short answer actually is yes – it usually doesn’t make headlines, but I KNOW healing happens, because people appear almost every week in my office telling me about healing of one kind or another – and I myself have experienced God’s healing. So – even though our constancy and fidelity to God can’t be counted on – God’s faithfulness can be. So God tells Isaiah: “Lace up your sneakers, climb the highest mountain, and shout it out – Here is your God. He comes with might and power. He feeds his flock, he gathers his lambs, he gently leads the people home.”

The truth is, our hope is NOT in our own faithfulness and reliability – our hope is not in any President-Elect, no matter who it is – our hope is not in labor unions and bail outs – our hope is in God - whose word is powerful. Whose word is constant. Whose word is reliable.

But where is God? The people that Peter wrote to were wondering – and I don’t know about you – but I wonder that too. Where is God? Just this week – someone exploring the Christian faith asked me – why doesn’t God intervene in times of trouble? Why does God allow such pain and suffering? Peter’s response is one of the many responses that the church gives to this delay in God’s putting things to right –God does not want any to be lost and therefore God is patient. God’s time is not our time – but even so - before the “end of time and the healing of all creation” – God does come into our world and our lives, with signs and wonders, with power and with tenderness.

Sometimes, God comes in big ways with miracles of healing. My Gazan friend, Khalil, is convinced that his mother, through the power of prayer, is being healed of her cancer – and I do not doubt his word.

Sometimes, God comes in big ways with miracles of peace. One of the people I met in Nazareth, was the Catholic Christian Mairead Maguire, the Nobel Peace winner from Northern Ireland. When her friend’s daughter was killed in the fighting between the IRA and Britain, Mrs. Maguire went from house wife to activist and was instrumental in bringing peace to Ireland.

Sometimes God comes in big ways with miracles of liberation. In Jerusalem, I met Bernard Lafayette, who worked closely with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the American civil rights movement, not just forty years ago – and now we have an African American President – elect.

And sometimes, God comes in small ways, in ways virtually unnoticed and unremarkable – as in a baby born of a peasant woman in a barn in Bethlehem, almost 2000 years ago. But that baby was the beginning of the good news of God’s miracles of healing and peace and liberation for all people, not just a few, not just the chosen, not just the elite and well born – but for all.

The beginning – but not the end.

The Gospel of Markleaves off with the women running from the tomb, so astounded that they do not say anything! It is an odd ending – until you go back to the start of this gospel – The Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God – and realize that this Good News is still unfolding … we are a part of it. We are now the ones to continue the unfolding and the telling of that Gospel – We are the Isaiah’s - the ones baptized and called to lace up our sneakers, climb the mountains, contribute our pledges, and lift our voices with strength to cry out the good news of Comfort. The good news of Hope. The good news of Peace. The good news of Jesus.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Proper 23A
Who do you trust?

I like going to baseball games. I like being in the stands next to dads with their kids and grandmothers making raunchy jokes and girlfriends trying to look interested in the game when it’s clear that they would much prefer a romantic dinner. I like cheering and I like when the teams run out onto the field at the beginning of the game, and everyone stands up and the guys take off their hats, and we all say the pledge of allegiance. There was a period when I refused to stand up and I wanted nothing to do with that pledge – because I was so mad at the distance between the promise of the country and the reality of the country. But I long ago got over that. I figured out that the pledge is there to remind us of the promise – to be a yardstick – to remind us, whether we’re in a classroom or at a baseball game – of what we stand for. What the premise of the American enterprise is – Our yardstick, as Americans, is “liberty and justice for all.” and it’s really really important to be reminded of it. It’s the creed of the United States of America, and I, for one, would not want to see that creed disappear or be forgotten. So – I stand up at baseball games, put my hand over my heart – and pledge my allegiance to this ideal of liberty and justice for each and every person. And then I sit down next to the kid with the cracker jacks and the guy with the six pack beer belly and I say “Thanks be to God.”

I carry another creed even closer to my heart – a creed that my parents chose for me, and one that I have since affirmed over and over – a creed I will spend my entire lifetime living into. That of course is the Apostle’s Creed – the creed of our baptism as Christians. Now I was not baptized into the Episcopal church. I was baptized as a Methodist – and my parents were freethinkers. I don’t think they ever identified with any one particular church. I’m the renegade of the family. Choosing a hierarchically structured church, with allegiance to a bishop. A Maverick! (Sorry.) But whether you’re a Methodist or a Roman Catholic or a Baptist or an Episcopalian - the baptismal creed transcends all these differences.

As you align yourself with the God of Jesus Christ – this is your creed. You can find it on page 304 of the Book of Common Prayer. The earliest written version of the Apostle’s Creed is probably from about 215. In it’s earliest form it was given just like you find it in the prayer book - in this question and answer format for baptismal candidates. These candidates, by the way, had spent three years in spiritual formation, learning the Jesus way. So that, by the time, they said yes to these questions, they were thoroughly acquainted with what it might mean for them personally, to not just believe this stuff with their heads – but to place their trust in this God – to give their hearts in trust to this Creator God, and to pledge themselves to walk, as much as they could, in the way of Jesus and to be in fellowship with other people who were trying to walk that way too.
And that’s where I want to take us this morning. Into this question of trust.
When I’m at the baseball game, and I say those beautiful words, with liberty and justice for all – and then I go home and file my IRA return, I am saying, with my check, I trust that this country will keep working to come closer to that yardstick – to those words. Though I have to admit my trust is a bit shaky – I trust the people sitting beside me on the cold benches up in the stands above the A’s dugout to keep working at those words we say together – liberty and justice for all. It’s not the only reason I send in my check. I know if I don’t, the IRA will come pounding at my door sooner or later. So it’s partly fear – but it’s also hope and trust and the willingness to continue to be a part of this whole American enterprise. So I grumble – a lot – and then I put the stamp on the envelope and send it off.
You know, another thing I do, trustingly, is use credit cards. Credit… a word we’re hearing a whole lot about these days. It’s actually related to the word creed – interesting, huh! They are both based in this word – trust – credere – belief. When I use my credit card, I trust that I’m going to have the ability to pay later for what I’m purchasing now. And the credit card company has a different kind of trust – they trust I will extend myself just a bit further than my ability to pay every month – and that’s how they make their money – by charging me interest. Now, I’m one of those people who assiduously pays off my credit card every month – but I know many people who are not able to do that, for one reason or another. Maybe they bought too many things. Maybe they got sick and couldn’t work. Maybe there was a family emergency or several family emergencies. Or maybe they were sold something they couldn’t ever really pay for. Whatever happened, credit – trust – a huge amount of it, amounts beyond our imagining, were extended based on faulty premises, and it’s what has the world crashing down around our ears right now. And as always, it is the poorest of the poor that will eventually pay with real hunger and cold for this credit crunch – for this creed that’s gone bad.
What’s the result? Fear. Panic. Anxiety. The American Psychological Association released the findings of a survey they conducted of 7,000 American households. The study noted that eighty percent of Americans were stressed about the economy and their personal finances. Half were worried about their ability to provide for their family’s basic needs. 56% were concerned about their own job stability. 60% of respondents reported feeling angry and irritable, and 52% reported laying awake at night worried about this. The report concluded that, “The declining state of the nation’s economy is taking a physical and emotional toll on people nationwide.”
And I can’t pretend to you that I am not worried as well. This church, all churches, stay afloat through giving. Through weekly offerings in the plate and through the extension of pledges – promises to share a proportion of the resources God gives you for God’s work in the church. The brunch on November 2nd is designed for conversation about how God is blessing you at St. Alban’s and how you hope to share more in those blessings. We heard last week from Elizabeth about how she comes closer to God through Jesus and how St. Alban’s helps her to do that. Today, we are going to hear from Blondelle about the power of resurrection in her life. These weekly witnesses are offered to help stir your own responses to the same questions – how do you experience resurrection, how do you come closer to God, and what role does St. Alban’s play in that.
What does that have to do with creeds – with where you put your trust? Do you say the pledge of allegiance – put your trust in the goodness of this country’s highest ideals? Do you pay taxes and trust that your money will be used for the benefit of schools and roads and public health systems? Do you participate in the common marketplace of credit and loans and payments made over time? Yes. You do.
But the truth is, the credit crisis, this worldwide economic meltdown, points to the inadequacy of any ultimate credo whose object is anything but God. God is our refuge and strength. And God’s sustaining power is not tied to the Dow.
When he wrote his letter to Timothy, Paul didn’t know anything about the Dow Jones, but he could have easily been speaking to any American today: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God” (I Timothy 6:17).
The word of hope, the reminder of where safety lies – is found throughout the Bible. There are the words of the prophets spoken to the Israelites living in exile after losing everything. To the exiles God spoke profound words of promise: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10) During times of great adversity, the psalmist wrote, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” (Psalm 46:1-2)
So, fundamentally, every Sunday, when we stand and say together the historic words of our faith – found in the Nicene Creed, the Creed said by our parents and great grandparents and great great grandparents, stretching all the way back to 325 AD and accepted by Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, Roman Catholic, Lutheran Church, the Anglican Communion, and almost all branches of Protestantism. – we are doing more than just reciting a bunch of dead words from a bygone era – we are making a claim about where we put our trust, beyond family, beyond country and flag, beyond the marketplace and bank accounts – we place our trust in this God who is maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible, this God of Jesus Christ, to whom and in whom, all things, in heaven and earth, properly and rightly, belong.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Anxiety Reduction Plan by St. Paul

In skimming through my archived sermons, one title leaped out at me: "God’s Anxiety Reduction Plan." Well – after a week of white knuckle Class V White Water Rapids with the stock market – I looked that one up! It was a reflection I had started awhile ago, based in work by William Loader, a Lutheran pastor, on this particular passage from Philippians. While I had prepared it for Advent, because of the phrase, “The Lord is near.” It seemed so appropriate to our times, that I opened it, and reflected some more on this most beautiful passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

“Rejoice in the Lord. Always. Again, I will say: Rejoice.” Paul is not being Pollyanna. He knows what it is to be in dire straits – to be in real need. He knows hunger and he knows plenty. He knows what it is to have very little – and to not know what is coming next –whether it is going to be storm wrecks or smooth sailing. The cause for rejoicing? The Lord is near. Remember what Jesus said? My peace I give you. I am with you always. Till death parts you from this earth, and I take you into your heavenly home. My peace I give to you.

The Lord is near, as close as your heartbeat. Relax. Rejoice.

And then Paul tells you his secret – he offers a specific set of instructions – which is good, because if you’re anything like me – you have an issue with worry.

But Paul just says: “Don’t. Don’t do it. Don’t Worry.” About anything! Let’s try it. I’ll say a worry – and you respond with Paul’s injunction: “Do not worry about anything.” And then, we’ll pass it around. Any one call out a worry – and we’ll all respond for you.

“I’m worried about the elections.”

“I’m anxious about the economy.”

“I’m worried about aging”

“I’m worried about whether or not I’m going to have a job.”

Ok- do we get the idea? There is NOTHING we are to worry about. But, if you’re anything like me – telling me not to do something, will almost guarantee I’m going to do it!

But Paul goes on with more instructions – about HOW to actually not worry… “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

In everything. Paul is emphatic in this passage – using words we were taught in our composition classes to NEVER use! Words, like Always, Everything, Never! But Paul doesn’t shy away. Always rejoice. In EVERYTHING, with prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be known to God. In everything that comes your way – turn first to God who can do something about your circumstance. In absolutely everything, first use: Prayer – conscious contact with God.

Second use: Supplication – turn specific difficulties over to God, and

Third, use Thanksgiving – rest in assurance that God is taking care of the situation. And is able to bring about divine intent for your life.

Does that mean everything just becomes hunky dory and works out exactly how you want it to? No, of course not. Paul followed this anxiety reduction plan daily – and he still knew hunger and jail and betrayal and eventually the death sentence, just like Jesus did, and just like countless Christians do still today. In November, I am going to be traveling to the West Bank and meeting dozens of faithful Palestinian Christians – people who cannot travel ten miles away to get medical care in Jerusalem, but must bear the cost of traveling to Jordan just to get medical care. Earlier this year I was in Quito, working with Christian children who do not have enough food to eat. So – no – emphatically no – God’s anxiety reduction plan does not meat that everything just becomes magically ok. But I do know that these children were among the most loving and happy of children. I have heard the same about the Palestinian Christians. And Paul tells us himself, in this passage, that he has found that working this plan produces contentment and the assurance that he can do all things because it is God himself that is near and is strengthening him.

He, along with many who follow him, have come to the know the promise that is connected to this plan – namely when a worry or anxiety comes, instead of worrying we pray with an attitude of gratitude for God's intervention in our situation and then:

"...the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Specifically this translates to: Peace: The result of knowing that God has promised to be in charge of the situation, whatever it is.

You have a guard standing outside your heart and mind – the Peace of God – stands guard, watching over you, protecting you from worry and anxiety, so that your mind and soul can roam freely among those things which are beautiful, and just, pure, and pleasing.

Practice God’s anxiety reduction plan daily – hourly if need be –

Rejoice. Because regardless of whether you emotionally feel it or not - the Lord is as near as your heartbeat.

Pray – get in touch with God.

Petition – let God know your needs. Your anxieties. Your problems.

Give thanks – rest in assurance that God cares for you.

And peace, guaranteed, will be yours.

Philippians 4:1-13

4Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. 2I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

10I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Looking Good? Or being good?

Proper 21A

Matthew 21:23-32

Like all good Vestry meetings, St. Alban’s begins with bible study – using the gospel for the following Sunday. At the last church I served, this morning’s text was the text that was reflected upon at the Vestry meeting. I remember that there was a long, lively discussion on this story of the two sons. Some of us admitted that it is sometimes difficult to sustain our faith in hard times. With all the troubles in the world, where is God’s love and care? Some of us thought that there was a weird break in the middle of the text – first a story about two sons and their father, then a jump to tax collectors and prostitutes. Some of us found some practical advice on parenting – give your kids space and they might actually go and clean up their room.

But no one sat back confused wondering what Jesus was talking about.

It’s a pretty good straightforward story. One that it isn’t hard to identify with. I’m guessing we’ve all been in the role of the father, requesting action and getting lip in return or getting a great response but no action. And I’m sure we’ve all been in the place of both sons – saying no – and then ending up doing the right thing. Or more painful to admit – not backing up our polite responses with real action.

I’m guilty of this. And I’ve got a lot of reasons. If you ask me to do something, I want to make you happy – and the easiest way to do that is to say yes. Also, I want to be a good person – and it looks like the easiest way to do that is to say yes.

But the question really is – do I want most to be a good person – or do I want most to look like a good person? The truth is our culture values looking good, looking young, looking successful, looking happy – more than it values the actual thing itself. But growing into our actual self is what life is about – not what our mother wanted for us, or what our school wanted for us, or what we just thought was supposed to be – but what God intends for us.

There is a great story I’m sure you’ve heard before but it bears frequent repetition:

“When you die, Zushya,” the rabbis taught, “You will not be asked why you were not Moses. You will be asked why you were not Zushya.” The rabbis knew that being yourself is the best gift you have to give to the world. To be other than yourself is to have failed creation.

And that, my friends, is most challenging. Because it means being able to say no – when no is the thing most true to yourself. Or yes, when yes is the thing most true to your self. “Being entirely honest with oneself,” Freud wrote, “is a good exercise.” Because once we admit to ourselves why we are really doing what we are doing, we can choose, if not to leave it, at least to do it for different reasons.

Jesus told the church leaders that they were like whitewashed cemeteries – looking beautiful on the outside, but inside full of moldy dead bones.

In plain old church language – it’s called hypocrisy. A clergy friend said that a parishioner told her that he did not go to church any more, because there were nothing but hypocrites in there. She said she told him there was always room for one more; he didn’t like that. She admitted that she was stepping on his toes a little bit. But really she was just trying to let this man know that it’s only when we can’t admit that we have a bit of lie inside that we are in real trouble. When we don’t know that we cast a shadow that we are in danger. Because the truth is that in all of us there is something to be overcome. As Billy Graham put it “There is a bit of Watergate in all of us.”

But there is hope. The little white lies and the big fat black ones are not the end of the story. The phrase that drew my attention most in this gospel passage was: “changed his mind.” It occurs three times. The first son “changed his mind” and went and did what the father had asked of him. The tax collectors and prostitutes changed their minds and believed. But the church authorities to whom Jesus is speaking, even after they saw, did not “change their minds.”

I was interested in the Greek word that was translated as “changed his mind.” Normally, the Greek word used for changing one’s mind, or repenting is metanoia – meta meaning change and noia meaning mind. But this Gospel text used meta melo mai. Meta – change. Change is definitely involved. But melo is not about mind – it is about caring. So the more literal translation would be “changing what one cares about – or changing what one is most concerned about.” The first son changed what he most concerned with – he changed from being most concerned with himself to caring about helping his father. The tax collectors and prostitutes changed what they most concerned with – they changed from being concerned that they were outcasts to caring more that they were loved and accepted by God. But the church authorities didn’t change what they were concerned with – which was most likely keeping hold of their power and authority.

So, what are we most concerned with? With what other people think? The hard truth is we do not become ourselves by being what other people want us to be. When we are driven by the expectations of others, it is, as Anais Nin put it “To live on the reflections of ourselves in the eyes of others.” It is, in other words, not to fully live.

Or are we most concerned about growing up into the person God created us to be? And it is a growing up. At every major stage in life there is a moment when we outgrow what we were. Then, as Joan Chittester writes, I discover that, “I am not at all the sort of person you and I took me for.” At that moment, we come to new understandings about life, we make new decisions, we become new again, we grow.

Of course, growing in honesty is never an excuse for being less cultured, less gentle, less holy than we should be. It is not an excuse for brutality or meanness. Growing in honesty means growing more fully into the image of God that is stamped into each one of us. And while that is at times a bumpy road, it is never an excuse for behaving badly towards one another.

Because growing up into our most whole selves means, ultimately, growing into the way of the cross. Into the way of Jesus. Into the way that Paul so eloquently sings about in his letter to the Philippians – the way of humility, the way of service, the way of love. Growing up into our most whole selves means changing what we most care about – changing us from caring most about looking good to caring most about being good.

Resource: The Monastic Way, September 2005, Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania

Monday, September 22, 2008

Dawn Patrol

Pentecost 20A

September 21, 2008

The Rev. Linda Campbell

"Dawn Patrol"

Have you heard of the Dawn Patrol? Well – if you have ever been part of the Dawn Patrol – would you stand up? These people are heroes!! I don’t know what time they actually show up – but it’s really early – it’s still dark! And these guys – because I think it’s mostly a guy thing – came before the sun came up – and when I left at 5 PM yesterday, most of them were still here, cleaning up.

But then, there were all the people here Friday night. I was away – but I’ve heard it was really hopping!

And Leslie and Carol spent Friday roasting tomatoes out of Talbot’s garden, peeling the skins, and chopping them up, along with all these other ingredients, to make the best salsa.

And Karen, of course, overseeing the entire production! So, who can say when the work really began – it’s been going on for over 30 years, annually – this St. Alban’s Bazaar – this community building barn raising fundraiser.

But back to yesterday. I know Chuck was here before dark, and still here at 5 PM. And I know Jeff showed up around 3 – true to his word to the clean up crew – that he would be here to help clean up. And he, along with others who came towards the end of the day – brought the magnificently new energy. Having cared for his children and his classroom earlier in his day – now here he was, with the energy of the newly arrived – to move furniture, pack knick knacks, make decisions, and do the awesome work of clearing the hall.

Wow! Thought I. All of this – on the day before we hear the parable of God’s idea of fair wages! Jeff gets paid first – a good wage. And Chuck looks at Jeff getting paid and thinks, oh boy. I was here before it was even light. I’m going to get paid really well! And then, when Chuck gets to the pay window – he gets the same as Jeff.

Well ok – I don’t think they would get really upset – because, after all, we love each other- and Chuck knows that Jeff has other obligations – and that, in the end, it all balances out.

But anyone know who Mark McDonald is? Mark McDonald was the 1st employee of Microsoft. And he cashed all his stock options in when the company hit 400 employees, because he said, it was just getting too big. He cashed out rich. How do you think Mark McDonald would feel, if the 52,112th employee, the one hired just a month ago, got paid what Mark was paid when he cashed out? I think Mark would be steaming mad. I think that 52,112th employee would go home hugely happy. I think the company would go broke.

God’s ways are NOT our ways. Companies can’t run on this vineyard owner’s model – well – come to think of it- Jesus may be a better economist than the one’s crashing the markets right now - but I don’t think Jesus is really talking about this kind of economics.

One of the classes I led during the 1st Lent I was here – was a class called Talking about God and Money. Not many of you came. I don’t think you really knew how to put God and Money together in the same sentence! But some people from outside the church were really interested – and they came. And this parable was one of the one’s we read. After I read the parable – one of the women, from outside the church, said – well that’s really awful. That is totally unfair. Where did you get that story! I said that it was one of the stories that Jesus told – and she had a very hard time believing me. I don’t think she ever really did – what kind of Bible did Episcopalians use??!!

Will Willimon tells a very similar story. When he was Chaplain of Duke, he led a service in which Matthew 20: 1 – 16 was the lectionary text. When the service was done – a college student came up to him and said that she really enjoyed all his uses of stories, but the one he told about the wages was a really bad one. She didn’t like that one at all. Will asked her about her church affiliation. She said that this was the first time she’d been. Her boyfriend was in charge of the ushers, and one of them couldn’t show up, so she’d filled in to help him out. Will said – well, it is a really outrageous story – and I think you’re the only one who really got it!

I grew up with it – so I’m kind of ok with it. God does stuff like that. But you know where it really starts to rub with me? It really starts to rub in the whole arena of forgiveness. I know God forgives – that’s his specialty – forgiveness and mercy. But I want for some people – and I could name a few- to hurt - a lot - first – then when they’ve paid off a bit of their penalties – well, then maybe. But the idea of getting off, scotch free, is just really a pretty bitter pill for me to swallow sometimes. And I don’t believe in cheap grace- God doesn’t just let people off – I mean you have to receive and accept his forgiveness. But that doesn’t seem like enough. I want for there to be punishment and some revenge. How much? I don’t know. But when you show up at the last minute, at God’s mercy seat, after hurting a lot of people, I don’t think you should get the same goodies as the people who showed up early on, and spent a lifetime practicing forgiveness and goodness.

But you know what? I’m not in charge! The Universe doesn’t operate according to my principles!

The story we didn’t read this morning is the story of Jonah. You might remember Jonah because he tried to run a way from God and spent time in the whale’s belly, before he finally decided to go God’s way. Well – do you know WHY he tried to run away from God? God said he needed someone to go and try to get through to the Ninevites. Now the Ninevites were not nice people. They were war like, they skinned people alive and nailed them up to their walls to die and in some years after the Jonah story, they would conquer Jonah’s people and treat them really badly. And the Ninevite City, to which God was sending Jonah, was very large, very metropolitan, and very mean. Not a place any sane person would go, preaching repentance. But the other reason Jonah didn’t want to go was because he knew God. He knew God’s mercy. He knew that if those Ninevites showed an ounce of repentance and sorrow – that God would actually have mercy on them – would forgive them. THAT’s the Real Reason Jonah ran from God. And after they do indeed respond to Jonah’s preaching, and repent, and vow to change their ways – God does indeed forgive them. Jonah is just outraged. He goes outside the city walls and sits in the sun, waiting to die. I KNEW you would forgive them – he shouts out to God. God causes a tree to grow up to shade him. Then the tree withers and dies. And then Jonah gets it. God’s in charge. It’s God’s world. And God is a God, not only of justice, but of extravagant mercy. The kind that is not only wide – but thoroughly wild. God’s mercy isn’t just a polite drip drop from the garden hose – it’s like water from a fire hose open to full. Full force.

And we need that kind of mercy! There are fires raging in the world – fires of injustice, fires of war, fires of poverty, fires of depression and anxiety, fires of fear. And God’s love and mercy IS our salvation. Whether you have been called to man the fire hose for a long time, or whether you’ve just showed up – believe me, God can use your help – and so can we – and so can all of creation. Welcome to you old timers! Welcome to you new comers.

God is about boundless love for the world – lavished indiscriminately, upon you, upon me, upon others. And it’s up to you whether we view your own work in God’s vineyard, or God’s firehouse, or God’s household – whatever metaphor you want to use – whether you view your work as a gift from God or as mere endurance of the scorching heat. I invite you to understand your work – whether it’s with the Dawn Patrol, or the Clean up Crew, whether it’s in the classroom, or in the kitchen, whether it’s taking chemotherapy, or running triathalons – whatever work God has given you, I invite you to understand it as a gift, a fulfillment of your created purpose, and not merely as endurance of the scorching heat of day. The work itself is the gift. And trust that the God who called you – will also amply and fully reward you.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Way Forward

Pentecost 19A

A Way Forward

The Rev. Linda Campbell

The scriptures say that the pillar of cloud came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. Putting these two armies together in the same sentence almost makes you think that they were comparable. But the army of Israel consisted of rag tag slaves, men, women and children, oppressed by years and years of massively hard work, intended to cow them into utter submission – while the army of Egypt consisted of battle hardened soldiers, equipped with the finest and latest weaponry the Empire could afford – and as it was a very rich Empire, it could afford the finest and most modern that were available.

While we may read this as a metaphor for spiritual battle – spiritual freedom from fears or addictions – for the slaves – this was no metaphor. There was real water in front of them and a real army behind them and no way of escape – no way through. Can you imagine the terror? The mother’s with their babies and toddlers, the men who had nothing to fight with, the weeping of this people who were now certain of their death.

This morning’s reading continues the central organizing story of Judaism – the exodus from slavery into freedom, THE STORY of protection and power wrought on their behalf by God.

The account began when Pharaoh ordered the slave boy babies killed because he was afraid of the growing strength of his slaves. But one baby’s mother hid her baby and set him afloat on the water, hoping for a miracle. A miracle did happen – and the boy lived and grew up in Pharaoh’s courts. As a man, he awakened to the plight of his people, became enraged and killed an overlord and then escaped into the desert – trying to put all the misery of slavery and ill fortune behind him. But God would not let him go – he called him back from the desert to lead his people. Then the multiple disasters of pollution and death befell the Kingdom and there was much mourning throughout the Empire – but these disasters opened the way for Moses and his people to escape. God inspired and God protected they hurriedly packed what they could carry and lit out, in the dark of night.

But they did not get very far before they hit a stone wall – which is where they are in this morning’s reading - the sea in front of them and the pursuing army of their captors behind them. The raucous joy of their escape must have died in their hearts when they saw the impossibility of their situation.

There is nothing about our lives or our nation’s life that comes close to approximating this position – or is there? I visited this week with Michael Barlow, who is the Diocesan staff person in charge of congregational development – and he said that he had just had a conversation with Bishop Marc in which the Bishop said that we had about 100 months left in which to address global warming before the planet reached a tipping point in which nothing we do will stop the disastrous effects. 100 months. And the headlines that grab the news have to do with lipstick and moose hunting. Does this make you feel crazy? Does it make you feel doomed? Honestly, sitting in the beautiful offices at 1055 Taylor Street in San Francisco, with a fellow Christian, and hearing him say this - I wanted to reach over and say, well, Michael, that can’t really be the case. Surely the Bishop didn’t actually mean 100 months to doomsday. And of course, at one level, he didn’t. Doom doesn’t usually arrive all at once –

unless you are in Haiti living in cardboard and a wall of water washes over your island – or you are in a marketplace with your friends in India or Baghdad or Kandahar and a bomb goes off and you are left standing, but you cannot find your friend anywhere. Or you are one of the 90,0000 Iraqi non-combatants killed in the last six years, or one of the 4,000 American soldiers ripped apart by a roadside bomb or mortar fire. Doom can arrive suddenly and swiftly.

As it is about to for these Israelites.

But then, “The angel of God moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night.” Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea – and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land…The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground…”

A way opened. A way where there was no way. A path where there was no path. A road to freedom where there had been no road, no way, no path, no escape. God acted, intervened, on behalf of an impoverished, powerless people. God acted before they were a people, before they had been formed in faith. God acted on their behalf before they were even capable of praising him. Their response of faith and praise would come later. First, they were only able to put one foot in front of the other, carrying their children along with them as they took their first steps forward, driven as much by fear and the impossibility of going back, as by anything else.

That God acted on their behalf before they could properly respond has been the good news carried forward for millennium by the Judeo faith. It is a gospel that cannot afford to ever, ever be lost. It is the Gospel that Christ carried forward in his own body as it was nailed to the cross. “Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.”

I have no idea what to do about the 100 months left to stop the rapid warming of the planet. I have no idea what to do about moose hunting headlines rather than substantial debate on issues. I have no idea what to do about terrorist bombings or massive civilian casualties. What I do know is what I am fed on week by week – the Word of God carried in the people of God, the scriptures and the sacraments. I am fed by the Gospel that God acts on behalf of the poor and powerless. And that I am called to do so as well. That God, through Christ, forgives us poor sinners who can’t tell our right hand from our left. And that I am called to do so as well. I am fed by the Gospel of praise and thanksgiving that the people of Israel sang on the far side of the sea. And I am called to do so as well.

We belong to a beloved community that follows whatever pathway God opens up into what looks like an impossible future. We belong to a beloved community that forgives because that’s what Jesus did. We belong to a beloved community that sings in faith and praise trusting in God’s overarching goodness and salvation.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Living the Rule

The Rev. Linda Campbell
Matthew 10: 40 - 42

Proper 8A

The last couple of weeks, you have been treated to some great preaching. A couple weeks ago, Nancy Olson told us stories about what the hospitality and companionship of this parish and of other Christians meant to her as she raised her mildly autistic son and followed a call into ordained service. Bishop Marc told us stories of welcome and hospitality experienced by his father, when he was a young man in Saudi Arabia.

I have long thought that hospitality is the core Christian virtue, and have preached this in every parish I have served – every youth group I have led, every Sunday School class I have taught. I am firmly convinced of the accuracy of the Benedictine rule: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me”… Once a guest has been announced, the superior and the community are to meet the guest with all the courtesy of love. First of all, they are to pray together and thus be united in peace…. Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received; our very awe of the rich guarantees them special respect.” Follow the Benedictine rule and you will find that it helps you slow down and pay attention. It will help you see God - in the young and the old. In the rich and the poor. In the people you know - and the people you don't know.

I've been in a funk recently and so I know it's time to renew my commitment to deliberately practice hospitality - to go out of my way, every day, to open my mind and my heart and my life to others. I invite you to reflect with me on what welcoming life looks like.

First of all, it means having an open mind. To get an open mind, it helps a lot to read Scripture and walk awhile with Jesus. Joan Chittester reminded me recently that "Jesus was an assault on every closed mind in Israel. To those who thought that illness was a punishment for sin, Jesus called for openness. To those who considered tax collectors incapable of salvation, Jesus called for openness. To those who believed that the Messiah had to be a military figure, Jesus was a call to openness." It is impossible to immerse yourself in deep and reflective reading of the Scriptures, and not be called to the hospitality of the mind that makes room for women in bright pink and shaved heads, or the love that blossoms and grows between people, regardless of gender, or the real need for the basic political will to safeguard our planet. When we make room in our minds for the ideas of the gospel - the barriers of fear and prejudice come tumbling down.

I was a bit chagrined last week when Bishop Marc reported that he had had an extra five minutes on his way here – and so when he saw the Code Pink house on Solano Ave., had pulled in to say hello. I pass by that house almost every day on my way to the church – and had yet to stop in. Even more to the point, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to stop in! With those faded pink banners hanging out front, and the large truck with signs all over it and the unkempt front yard, AND those women who do wacky street theater on behalf of peace – it was just a bit over the top for my basically conservative nature.

So, what I couldn’t do for myself – was done for me. The word from Bishop Marc to Code Pink was that they have allies right down the way – in us – and so, given this friendly push - I have crossed the threshold of their home and am ready to open my mind and meet these wonderfully wild women who give themselves so wholeheartedly to the cause of peace in the world.

Beyond an open mind, being welcoming means having an open heart. How does your heart open? It helps to practice being warm and gentle with others and yourself – when you answer the phone, when you are at the breakfast table, when you are walking the dog. It means treating others with respect. This past week, Bishop Marc gave us the story of his father, who worked in the Saudi Arabian oil fields when he was a young man – and made friends with the Bedouin workers - unlike the other oil men who ignored or made fun them. Bishop Marc’s father learned bits of the Bedouin language and treated them with respect. In return, they took him far out into the desert, into their homes that far removed from the modern world – a world in which hospitality was the central virtue. Heart connections were made and life time friendships resulted. Stories of those friendships were passed on to Marc and his brothers and sisters, as well as to the children born into the Bedouin camps – and those stories became stories that have since been on passed on in many places – including now, at St. Alban’s.

As many of you do, I have the habit of buying food for those who ask. I have walked into Gordo’s many times, to buy burritos for Quint and others who are often on the sidewalk out front. I don’t know about you – but I don’t regularly sit down and give them the food of friendship. Why? Because buying burritos and saying hello feels good and it’s easier. Sitting down and eating with them and having long rambling conversations means letting them into my life and that means change – and the truth is, when you let people into your lives – you cannot know in advance what kind of change that will bring.

The truth is that a heart that welcomes the prophet and the teacher and the little ones – is “a place where the truth of the oneness of all things shatters all barriers, a point where all the differences of the world meet and melt, where Jew and Gentile, slave and free, woman and man all come together as equals.” And that, my friends, is the beginning of revolution. When we let new people and new ideas into our hearts, we begin to shape a new world. The good thing is that it is a new world that is filled with a lot of potential friends rather than probable enemies!

But welcoming others doesn’t just mean thinking new things or feeling new feelings about people we were harsh with – or more likely, simply didn’t think about – it means opening our lives. And that can be overwhelming can’t it? The world – through the internet, the 24/7 news, magazine – is ever in front of us. We KNOW that the poor are poor, that the lonely are lonely, that wars are waged and that young people are dying, that honeybees and salmon and hundreds of other ubiquitous species are disappearing. We know – but we often don’t know why. But truly welcoming the little ones – the ones for whom food is becoming scarce and are extremely expensive, means finding out why – finding out the connections between how we live – as well as the larger question of government and corporate policies – and caring. Real hospitality to the prophets and teachers of our time – people who are telling us loud and clear that the planet is in trouble – and that the “little ones”, the poor ones – are the ones who are bearing the initial brunt – real hospitality means that we consider how to take these concerns into our lives.

Being truly welcoming means bending some efforts to change things, to make a haven for the helpless, to be a voice for the voiceless – it means stretching our ideas of home and family and church to others. What I don’t want for my family and friends and fellow church goers – I do not want for others. What I want for my children, I want for the children of Ecuador and Iran and Nigeria. So – when Ruth has out her table for Amnesty International, I will participate. When I get an email from Episcopal Public Policy Network that my senator needs a letter about the farm bill that affects American small farmers as well as millions of hungry people around the world, I will write that letter. I will pledge money to the church and to some ecology group that is working on climate change and global poverty. I will pay attention to recycling and take the extra time to figure out which can to put trash into. I will take public transportation as often as possible. I will, in other words, do something.

Nodding to your neighbor and shaking hands with newcomers when you pass the peace – that is all good and important but it’s not the kind of hospitality and welcome that Jesus called his disciples to practice. The kind of welcoming that he talked about, is not just about being nice. When you stop to give a cup of cool water to the little ones of the world – you have stopped long enough to notice a need and do something about it. That means being willing to be interrupted and inconvenienced – and it is THE way to come out of yourself – out of any funk you might be in - out of your limited world and into the much larger world of God’s hospitality. Indeed, into God’s welcome to you!

Resource: Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today, Joan Chittester, OSB

Monday, June 09, 2008

Movin' On

The Rev. Linda Campbell Proper 5A : Genesis 12: 1 – 9; Romans 4: 13 – 25; Matthew 9: 9 -13; 18- 26 “Movin’ On”

One voice: Father Abraham has many sons.

Many Voices: Black ones and white one,s yellow, brown, and red ones.

All: We all claim Father Abraham!

One voice: Mother Sarah has many daughters.

Many Voices: Poor ones and rich ones; young ones, retired ones.

All: We all claim mother Sarah!

One voice: I have a story, you have a story, and God has a story.
Look for yourself in the story of Father Abraham.

Many Voices: And Mother Sarah.

All: And all people of faith!

(from 21st Century Africana Worship Resource, United Methodist, by Safiyah Fosua)

My eldest son moved this weekend – from Oakland to San Rafael. He’s taken a new job – and instead of commuting, he chose to move. As any one who has moved homes knows – it is semi-ordered chaos. The last few months have been spent searching Craig’s List for the new home, and then packing. My son’s new home is small – tiny, actually. And his old home was large and spacious. Anyone else down sized their living situation? I have! And it isn’t easy! It takes a lot of work to downsize. You go through books and dishes and clothing – many times over, figuring out just what you need and want – and, the biggest chore of all is figuring out what to do with the rest of it!

When Abraham came home from the fields one day with the news that they were moving, I have no idea what Sarah did with all her belongings. Unlike the move from Oakland to San Rafael, brought about by a great job, Abraham and Sarah’s move was completely counter-intuitive. They were wealthy citizens of the established, prosperous urban cultural center of Ur. Plus, they were elderly.

What ever possessed them then to pack up and move?

One word - God. God – who rather routinely messes with the way thing are, the way things have always been, the way things have always been done.

These two elderly people way, way, back in the day, became the archetype of faith. They gave up the way things were because God called them. That God called them to journey into something new and strange and unknown must have been difficult – but there also must have been something so irresistible about God’s call – that Abraham and Sarah found themselves willing to move beyond three very human, very powerful and very deep-seated fears—

fear of the unknown; fear of others who are different, and fear of impotency or powerlessness in the face of the impossible.*

Who knows why God spoke to Abraham? But God did – and Abraham responded. And as he followed God without knowing where he would end up or what his life would be like - he became the very archetype of faithful living.

First, God called Abraham to leave his home and, with it, everything that was familiar: "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you" (12:1). So, Abraham gathered up his immediate family and left – setting out for a place he’d never been to, on a route he didn’t know. He and Sarah left all that was familiar – their comforts, their extended family and friends, all the regularity and rhythms of their lives. Abraham and his wife exchanged their clarity about their place and their purpose for a future of genuine and profound not knowing. They journeyed from what they had to what they did not have. They journeyed from the known to the unknown, and from everything that was familiar to everything that was strange. The apostle Paul was so struck by this obedience to God’s call that he wrote about Abraham in his letter to the Hebrews: "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home (in the Promised Land) like a stranger in a foreign country" (Hebrews 11:8–9). “In his journey into the unknown, Abraham embraced ignorance, relinquished control, and chose to live with confidence in God's promise to bless him in a new and strange place.”* (Journeys with Jesus, Dan Clendenin)

But to do so, Abraham had to leave behind a small minded, parochial vision. God told this wealthy, but obscure, Semitic nomad, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God narrowed his promise down to this one person – in order to open out again into all the families of the earth. And that meant that Abraham had an even longer journey to make than the physical one. Because in addition to parting with their home and their possessions, Abraham and Sarah had to part with their prejudices and assumptions. And that is not easy.

Prejudices and assumptions are most often hidden from us – we don’t even know they are there, until we are put into some situation in which they come blazing out, or someone tells us about them. I recently completed an anti-racism training with the Diocese. It is required for all clergy. None of us likes to think of ourselves as racist- but the truth is, we are. We cannot help it. Racism is not just about prejudice – it is about imbalance of power. And the truth is, it is often hidden from the people who don’t actively experience the consequences of it.

Is racism the only “ism” scar that runs deep throughout us? By no means. But it is a window through which we can clearly see the truth that “our common tendency is to fear the other, to suspect and marginalize the strange, to dismiss all that is different from who and what we know.” And almost all of the time – we don’t even know we are doing it.

We find subtle ways to dismiss what does not please us, and to get rid of what offends us, whether that is ideas or people. Eugene Peterson, in his book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places says that it is common to “construct religious clubs instead of entering resurrection communities..” (Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 2005) The truth is we dismiss difference under a variety of guises – “we want to stay small” “we like doing things this way” “we are traditional” “there’s no need for anything to change.”

If this is uncomfortable – it is meant to be. Since I arrived at St. Alban’s, I have heard these very phrases and sentiments more times than I can recount. At the same time that great pride is taken in being tolerant and welcoming, there is an underlying message that could be called parochial. Is this particular community unusual in that regard? Absolutely not. It is a very human tendency that all groups have to want to stick with what has given comfort, to some, in the past.

Thankfully, God keeps knocking at the door of the religious clubs we construct –calling us out, out, to enter God’s resurrection community… - a community that includes people and music and cultures and worship and outreach and neighbors who look and act different.

Resurrection, by it’s nature, is messy and rarely follows the rules. The dead, after all, are supposed to stay dead. But then, God raised Jesus from the dead. People in their 70’s are supposed to stay at home and they’re not supposed to become first time parents! But Abraham and Sarah left the comforts of home for the rigors of crossing into the Negev. And while they laughed good and hard when God said they were going to have a baby- they did, exchange their impotence and powerlessness to faith that God could, quite literally, make something out of nothing. And sure enough, after a few false starts, they indeed have a baby – Isaac – the son of God’s promise.

What amazing ancestors we have! What a pattern they’ve give us for a full life! When and if God taps you on the shoulder – do you hold your life lightly enough to leave behind the comforts of the known, to become a sojourner who is open to real difference – and to believe in the impossible?

Like Abraham and Sarah, St. Paul also lived lightly. He could do this because as he wrote to the Romans, he followed a God who "gives life to the dead and calls things things into existence that are not in existence” (Romans 4:17, 21).

Where is your story in this story? Where is St. Alban’s story in this story? I don’t know – but I do know that when God calls you out from comfort and the known into the unknown and the different – you don’t go alone. The God who calls you, and who blesses you, can be counted on, not only to do what he has said, but to have the power to do all that he has promised.

Praise be to God.

Resource: * “The Journey Without, The Journey Within: Ignorance, Inclusion and Impotence”, The Journey with Jesus: Notes to Myself, Daniel B. Clendenin, Journey with Jesus Foundation, 2008

Thursday, June 05, 2008

All God's Critters Got a Place in the Choir

All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir!

The Rev. Linda Campbell

Proper 4A

Genesis 6 – 8; Psalm 46; Matthew 7: 21 – 29

A couple weeks ago, I went with Penny James to take her ailing dog to the vet. The decision was made to put the dog down – and so Penny and her son stroked their beloved companion and said good bye. I was there to be the priest – so I didn’t cry – but when I got home, I immediately called my own son – to remember with him when we put our cat down. I know that all of you who have loved animals can understand the depth of emotion that our animal friends evoke in us.

Many of you have seen the video that Miriam Peterson produced about animals. The genesis of that film was the question that we began the 5 PM service with – For what do you hunger? I invited people to write a letter that would just be between them and God. Miriam shared with me that writing this letter to God put her in touch with her hunger for the wellbeing of all animals – especially of the polar bears who are threatened with the loss of their habitat and food because of the rise in the earth’s temperature.

This hunger – for the wellbeing of animals as well as people – puts Miriam very close to God’s heart. We often forget that the creatures of the earth are included in the covenant of God’s everlasting care. But if we actually understood things that way – wouldn’t we work hard to repair the damage we have done?

God goes to a great deal of trouble to carefully instruct Noah to take every kind of animal with him:

“and of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive. Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.”

At the end of the story, God makes a covenant with Noah and with every living creature that is with you. If God goes to all this trouble to save every creature, and make a covenant with All life – then it’s time to sit up and take notice!

The truth is that when we care about creation. When we care about global warming. When we care about recycling. When we care about energy use and energy policy. When we care about pollution. When we care about animal neglect and cruelty and factory farms – these aren’t just hobbies to make us feel warm and good about ourselves. And the truth is, they are not simply about our own survival. When we care about these things – and commit to do something about it - we keep our side of a covenant made between God and our particular Judeo Christian branch of the human family a long time ago. It was and it is a covenant that includes "every" one of us, "all" of God's precious children – including us, even when our own sinfulness and wastefulness and ignorance threatens the survival of others.

So who are we? And what are we doing here? We are stewards. We are here to tend the garden of creation. That is the job description that God gives humanity at the beginning of the Bible. The 1st Chapter of Genesis calls human beings into stewardship. This is what it means, fundamentally, to be a human being. Tend the resources. Tend the plants. Tend the animals. Tend the air. Tend the water. Tend the land. And above all else, tend each other.

So that’s the 1st Chapter of Genesis.

But then there was sin in the Garden of Eden. Then Cain killed his brother Abel – the first murder but not the last. “And from there on humankind just went on breaking and destroying what God had made until by this – the 6th chapter of Genesis, that we read today - God ran out of pity. It is a rather fast catastrophe” isn’t it – to go from “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good” to the 6th verse of the 6th chapter: “the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” And so, the Flood almost wipes everything out.

It’s a frightening story isn’t it! Noah and the Ark is a favorite theme for decorating nurseries with –and yet, if you think about it, this is a whoppingly scary story of the near destruction of all creation by an angry God! I don’t want to get stuck on the “angry God” aspect of this story. Yes, there is a problem with a God who would destroy so many people and animals. But “The truth is that the Flood characterizes a destiny that the human community has unleashed upon itself.” (Towner) not that God did from the outside.

Because the larger truth of the story is not about God’s anger – but about God’s mercy. God is determined that, despite the violence and destructiveness of these human creatures, everything won’t be lost. Hope and mercy will have their way. And so, God gives very careful and detailed instructions for the Ark. Through a remnant of humanity, God provides for the salvation of all kinds of flesh and plants.

God and God’s salvation are the point of this story. God who feels compassion every single time our actions seem to call for complete and utter despair about God’s broken and ignorant and destructive creation – especially the human part of the creation. Mercy. Hope. Compassion. These remain. And when Noah and his family and all the animals step out of the ark onto barely dry land, God welcomes them. God makes a covenant with this fragile company of beings to accompany them into the future in a world that will never be perfect. The ongoing story of creation right through to the cross of Christ is that God has opened his very own heart to being affected and moved by what we do and do not do.

Barbara Brown Taylor, one of my favorite preachers, says this about God’s covenant. God’s covenant, she says, “includes all the species disappearing daily off the face of the earth. They are all of them our covenant partners – heirs of God’s promise just like we are – and those of us who understand our kinship with them tremble to think what we have done, killing off those to whom God has promised life….We too are allies of creation…wounded by the brokenness we see around us, the brokenness in which we ourselves participate. We are both the breakers and the healers…

It is still raining, you see. In our own time, the ark does not look so much like a barn floating on a choppy sea. It looks more like a blue-green ball bobbing on the dark ocean of space…If we go on perishing, it may have less to do with divine fiat than with our own amnesia. We have forgotten who we are and what we are supposed to be doing. (But God remembers the covenant he has made with us) – and desires that every living creature who rides this ark with us may share the unmitigated joy of walking down the rickety ramp to plant a foot, a paw, a hoof on dry land” (Gospel Medicine). (Parentheses mine)

Resources and quotes from:

Barbara Brown Taylor, Gospel Medicine

Samuel: online commentary by UCC:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

God Present - the feast of Pentecost

The Feast of Pentecost, 2008

The Rev. Linda Campbell

Last Sunday, we celebrated the end of Easter tide with the Feast of the Ascension. The focus of the gospel was on Jesus’ departure. This was the great hand-off of ministry from our Lord to us. Now, the hands and feet and heart of Christ – are our hands and feet and heart. Take a minute to look at your hands. Feel your feet – solid on the floor. Listen to your heart beat. Now your breath. There is a presence here – larger than you and me. Breathing you. Filling your heart. Blessing your hands. Christ has no other hands than yours. No other feet than yours. No other heart than yours.

Tag. You’re it.

But wait – wait a minute. You and I are very ordinary. Even those of us with Ph.D.’s, or lots of experience in the world, are not up to the challenges of the ministry of Christ.

Jesus knew that. When he handed off the ministry of healing the world to his disciples – the first thing he told them to do was to wait and to pray. To gather in small groups. Pray. Wait for the Spirit which will teach you, remind you, encourage you, and guide you.

"I will not leave you orphaned." Remember? Today – in this Feast of Pentecost our awareness shifts to God present with us in Holy Spirit.

The early church marked that gift as inspiration. As fire. As language – diverse, multi-cultural, untamed. The early church experienced Holy Spirit as the breath of ever-new life. They experience a burning desire for ongoing relationship with a living present God.

That gift of Holy Spirit keeps us – you and me - lively. It keeps us moving. That gift of Holy Spirit bears us into new territory and challenges that we would not ordinarily be on the look out for, or even want in our lives!

Yesterday, Deacon Barbara, Archdeacon Kathleen, Peter Doleman, Patricia Elmore and I were your representatives to the specially called Convention for the Diocese. The Beloved Community visioning process has resulted in an agenda for this Diocese which is truly exciting – and a lot of which is happening here at St. Alban’s in very tiny, beginning stages. Church vitality through fresh expressions of the gospel and outreach, small groups, and collaboration between congregations are keys to much of what emerging in this Diocese – and it is what is emerging here – in a number of ways.

Small groups are at the heart of how we are beginning to live together, work together and discern where God is moving among us. Small groups are not one more program of this church. They are the direction we are moving in – so that whenever we meet together – for whatever reason, we have the intention and consciousness that God is very present, guiding, leading, and connecting us with each other. The normal niceties – how are you? I’m fine. How are you? These are exchanged for more substantial and nourishing connection – when the question – how are you, is asked in the context of scripture and prayer and laughter and active listening – something else happens – and it’s contagious and restful. And the amazing thing is that real business decisions get made in shorter amount of time, and with greater accuracy. If you don’t sit on a committee where much of the small groups are happening at this time – you are seriously missing out! This is not committee work in the same way that you remember committee work. One of the members of the small group that focuses on Christian education said, at the meeting, how thankful he was for this space of respite, renewal and connection.

Other fresh expressions are arising as well. The knitting circle. The 5 PM service – which is a growing emerging community of renewal following the way of Jesus. The Godly Play sign hanging over the courtyard proclaims a new kind of language! Godly Play spoken here …. I wonder – and I’m sure you wonder – whatever could that mean? A You tube library of videos on church life, mission and outreach is being produced – and is beginning to get subscribers outside of this immediate congregation. A video / pod cast series on Greek New Testament word study is in the works. A two day training on active listening in being a pastoral presence for others has brought new energy into pastoral care for each other. Taking soup to someone who is ill, sitting on a park bench with someone who is recovering, sharing a cup of tea and conversation, singing Evensong, arranging flowers so that worship can be enriched – all of these foundational aspects of church life that is energized by Holy Spirit continue to deepen and grow.

Jesus breathed on them – “Receive the Holy Spirit. As the Father sent me – so I send you.” The world, into which we are sent, with the warm breath of Jesus imparting Holy Spirit to us, is continually changing. This is not something to be afraid of – or to recoil from. God is in the world. Out in the world. While Patricia and Peter and Barbara and Kathleen and I were at the Convention, Bobbi and some of the youth were finding God in the world, by taking BART into San Francisco, and interacting with homeless, and others. At the Episcopal Charities Canon Kip Senior Center, homeless seniors were available to talk with the teens about their lives and how they make it day to day with God’s help and the help of the Christian community. On BART, and at Dolores Park, they had the opportunity to see how the Spirit moves in the world, often undercover of the kindness of strangers.

And that’s the truth. We are not alone – nor can we be Christ’s hands and feet and heart alone. As our Presiding Bishop Shori recently said, “We cannot engage the fullness of God's mission alone, nor know the fullness of God's reality alone. Together as members of the Body of Christ, we can begin to try. And the Spirit, burning fire, inspiring breath, and speaking in many tongues, is present in that Body, empowering and emboldening and strengthening our work. Thanks be to God who continually makes us new.”*

One final note. Yesterday, at the Convention, we had the chance to be introduced to the new Assistant Bishop and Multi-cultural officer for our Diocese: Stephen Charleston, a member of the Choctaw nation and the Dean of Episcopal Divinity School. He and his wife, Suzanne, who is a poet, will make their home in San Francisco, and help to move us into the new era of mission and ministry. He introduced himself by saying, “I am a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. Are you?”

In the name of this Jesus of Nazareth, may the strong wind of the Holy Spirit lift us up and carry us forward. Amen.

*Pentecost Letter 2008, Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori