Sunday, May 17, 2009


Easter 6, Year B

Acts 11: 19 – 30, 1 John 4: 7 – 21, John 15: 9 – 17

Friends of Jesus

When I went to college in the mid-70's, the Vietnam War was still raging. As a freshman, I went to my first anti-war demonstration in the streets of San Diego. A friend said he thought I would enjoy worshiping with the Quakers, who are known as "peace lovers". So, having no car, and it being a time when such things were still done, I hitchhiked down the hill from UC San Diego to the La Jolla Quaker meetinghouse in downtown La Jolla.

It was a simple white wooden building with green trim. Inside there was no altar, no pews, no pictures, no candles, no vestments, no stained glass …. None of the beauty to which we Episcopalians are accustomed. Instead, there were simple wooden chairs, in rows that faced each other. Light streamed in through the clear windows. There was nothing to distract one’s attention. I sat down and waited. And spent the next hour waiting. I’d never been a part of anything like this before. About fifty people simply sitting together in silence. Every now and then, someone would stand to speak a few sentences – I don’t remember now what anyone said. But I felt God in the spaciousness, resting graciously among us. I was moved to tears.

There was a library in their fellowship hall, and I checked out books and read all that I could on this particular way of being Christian. What I found out was that Quakers started in the early 1700’s as a protest against some of the offenses they perceived in the in the Church of England. I didn’t know anything at the time about the Church of England, but I became absorbed in the stories of early Quaker martyrs – who were flogged and had their property taken from them, as well as a few who were tarred and feathered and killed in the American colonies. The cause of most of the problems stemmed from their stand against being forced to tithe to the established church – as well as their radical stance towards equality between people of all social ranks, in a day and age where hierarchy was strictly enforced.

But at the heart of early Quakerism was their worship life – which consisted of expectantly waiting upon God’s Holy Spirit. Of course, they measured their inward promptings of the Spirit against the standards of Scripture and the wisdom of the community. They trusted that God would tell them what to do and then would enable them to do it. Since I was naturally drawn to contemplation and like most young people, wanted to connect what I believed with what I did, I came often to worship with them.

After meeting for worship, this group went to stand in vigil at the docks. They stood in silent prayer for the well being of the world and for the end of the Vietnam War. They continued to do this every week until the end of the war. Their consistency and their faithfulness to listening and then doing what they felt God calling them to do won me over. I became a Quaker, and stayed so for many years. Today, some of my closest friends are still Quakers.

One of the things I found so enchanting, and continue to love about this group is their formal name: The Religious Society of Friends. "Quaker" was actually a nickname that was intended to be derisive - the early Quakers were known for their trembling when they stood to speak in their worship services, being "under the influence" of the Holy Spirit. Being good peacemakers they took this taunting with good humor and became known by this nickname. But their formal name - the Religious Society of Friends - was drawn directly from this morning’s gospel passage. “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”

I have called you friends. Isn’t that the most lovely name you could be given? To have as your identity - Jesus’ friend.

Obviously, I am no longer a Quaker. As my friendship with Jesus matured, I longed to worship sacramentally – that is, not only in silence, but in art and language and music, with water and oil and fire and bread and wine. I wanted worship that engaged me not only as a soul but as a body. I love that the bread that will hold the real presence of Christ is grown from the earth, watered by the rain, harvested by human hands, and offered up in thanksgiving to the God who created us and who continually offers himself to us for our healing and our nurture.

I found that because sacramental worship involves the created world, it leads progressively towards friendship with the natural world and with the poor. As well as being the Sixth Sunday of Easter, it is also Rogation Sunday. Rogation is from the Latin word for asking – and what is traditionally asked for at this time of the year is protection of crops – the production of food. On this Sunday, some churches process around the neighborhood, asking for protection of all people, plants and animals within the boundaries. In a mission church I served, a bagpiper led the way as we prayed at each of the four directions for God’s blessing and protection. Today, on this Rogation Sunday, we are especially remembering not only newly planted gardens and crops, but our calling to be caretakers of the whole of the creation – and especially – in partnership with the Greater Richmond Interfaith Housing Project – we are asking for care and protection for those who are in need of shelter and affordable housing.

So friendship with Jesus leads us to ask on behalf of others. But our friendship with Jesus includes more than asking.

Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” With Jesus, friendship is a verb. It is about what we do. It’s about how we live in the world. It’s about the decisions we make. It’s about the seeds of compassion growing up and bearing real fruit in our lives and in the lives of others. This was what I began learning among the Religious Society of Friends, and what I continue to learn as we Episcopalians connect our sacramental worship with the hungers and thirsts of those outside our doors.

So – our friendship with Jesus is about asking on behalf of others – for all of creation and especially those who are vulnerable. It is about doing – connecting our words with our actions.

But first – First – it is about receiving.

Several years ago, a colleague of mine was the Director of the Catholic Charities Family Support Center, in Santa Rosa. This is the shelter for homeless families and children. There was a young woman with three young children who came in. Mary was homeless and looking to make a change in her life. She had grown up in a family of drug addicts and abuse. She spoke sincerely about how much she wanted help in getting out of that culture and making a different life for herself and her children. She talked like this, until her welfare check arrived. And then she was gone. No word from her. The staff was disappointed but moved on. Three months later, she came back, full of apologies and wanting very much to make amends and get real help in turning her life around. She sounded sincerely contrite and the staff took her back into the shelter and began again to invest time and energy and resources in supporting her. Until the welfare check arrived again. And she was gone. About six months later, my colleague was in a staff meeting, and he could sense that there was tension in the air. Finally, towards the end of the meeting, someone said … “mmm, there’s one more thing. Mary’s back.” “What!” My colleague nearly shouted. “Who let her back in? It isn’t fair to our other clients. It’s not even fair to her. We can’t just let people flagrantly take advantage of us.” There were four other staff members at the meeting, and they all said – “No, we’ve talked to her. We think she’s really ready this time. We think she can finally receive what we have to offer.” They couldn’t point to any evidence of this, but to a one, they held firm. “Mary’s ready,” they said. What could he do? Four against one. Mary stayed. And sure enough, she was ready. She stayed and worked, and slowly but surely turned her life around. My colleague humbly thanked his staff for loving her beyond the point of patience and reason.

Being a friend to Jesus means loving others. We know that, don’t we! We hear it Sunday after Sunday. But first, it means being like Mary. It means falling down and getting back up again. Falling down and getting back up again. Until you are finally able to really and truly let God in – Finally able let God- really - deeply - to the core of your being - love you.

The truth is, accepting love maybe even harder than loving. But it comes first.

To be a friend of Jesus, one has to first accept his friendship. His love. Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.” This is what my friends the Quakers do in their silent worship – they seek to abide in love. To Rest in love. This is what we Episcopalians do as we break bread together and eat with Christ and one another. We love by first receiving love.

If you have not already, I urge you today to receive Christ as your dearest and sweetest friend.


Sunday, May 03, 2009

A New Call

Church of the Good Shepherd is oaks, rabbits, children, old fashioned swings, creekbed, pre-school, refugees from New York and San Francisco, locals from Salinas and the Monterey Peninsula, a community of people knowing Christ and making Christ known.... I'm their new Priest in Charge .... and I couldn't be happier. Here's a picture of the tire swing, swings, and creek. Come and visit!

Quite a Week

Easter 4B
Acts 4:5 - 12, Psalm 23, 1 John 3: 16 - 24, John 10: 11 - 18
Following the good Shepherd

This has been quite an eventful week – at least for me. Last Sunday, at 6 AM I was on a plane to Washington DC with three other clergy of this Diocese to attend a nation wide Mobilization to End Poverty. There were over 1000 Christians in the nation’s capital from Evangelicals and Pentecostals to Baptists, Lutherans, Episcopalians and Catholics.

I kept pinching myself to believe it was true – all these people who follow Jesus had come together to follow Jesus – to plead the case for the poorest of the poor – the little ones of God who have no voice, no lobbyists, no presence of their own in the halls of Congress. What we found were representatives of the highest offices of the land – from the President to Senators to Representatives who were receptive to what we had to say – and who were certainly impressed to see and hear from such a large representation of the body of Christ – speaking as one voice of our intention to create a movement to half the poverty rate in ten years, to fully fund foreign assistance, and to reform health care.

It is the considered opinion of Christian public policy makers that these three items are not only doable but that they are an imperative of our faith – to halve the poverty rate in 10 years, to fully fund the foreign assistance that provides things like AIDS medicines, malaria nets, clean water to the poorest of the world’s poor, and to reform the health care system that in it’s present form is at the root of so many bankruptcies and so much poverty.

Every time I am in Washington DC, I come away with a renewed sense of the utter and unique privilege we have as Americans who live in a democracy in which regular people like you and me can walk into Congress and have a voice. Granted, it’s a small voice when you don’t have a lot of money backing you up - but joined with a lot of voices, you can be heard – and speaking out loud makes a difference.

I am not the kind of Christian that wraps the Bible and the Flag together as though they were one – they are not. Following Jesus, the Good Shepherd, means that we do not follow other voices – the voices of empire and money – that we choose his voice first and foremost beyond the din of a thousand other siren voices calling out to us - but in a democracy –it does mean that we follow Jesus into the voting booth,(I came home and filled out my mail in ballot for the May 19th election!) It means that we follow Jesus into letter writing, into speaking out for children and elderly and widows and orphans and the little ones – the ones that Jesus very specifically invited into his arms. In our country, we can speak in the name of our Good Shepherd usually without going to jail - a privilege that many in the world don't have – and it seems to me to be a Christian duty to do so.

Thank you for allowing me to accept the invitation of this Diocese to go to Washington DC and speak up in Jesus’ name, with thousands of other Christians.

Back at home – it has been an eventful week. The parish profile went public last week, and applications for permanent rector are now being received. They will be received through May 26th. Then the Search Committee will prayerfully read and review all the applications, sorting and discerning. They will conduct phone interviews and narrow down to applicants that they will visit with and interview in person. After that, they will present between two to four names to the Vestry for their consideration. The Vestry will conduct their own interviews – and finally issue a call – an invitation to come to St. Alban’s as the Rector.

How can you trust this time consuming process? You can trust this process because at every step of the way, the entire community will be praying and trusting that the Good Shepherd is leading the flock. That the Good Shepherd has nothing but good planned and provided for his people. That the Good Shepherd is indeed Good and a Shepherd – and will not abandon nor neglect nor forget his people, but lead you all skillfully and attentively through desert and into green pastures and still waters. So that's your first job. Pray!

AND your second job is to remember that there is a connection between the guidance of the Good Shepherd and following his voice. And his voice will almost inevitably lead you into concern for his other sheep – his most fragile and vulnerable lambs. As you follow his voice and reach out in care and concern for others, that is when you are the most secure and the most protected and the most guided.

You have been reaching out in care and concern for many years through the partnership with GRIP, the Greater Richmond Interfaith Project. For many, many years, you have made sandwiches, boiled eggs, brought bananas, and love and care to the homeless and the hungry. The newly formed Outreach Committee has committed itself to helping you all deepen and extend this connection. On it’s part, GRIP is working to extend it’s relationship with churches and with the community. They are looking at not only feeding and housing people – but beginning to address some of the root causes as to why people are hungry and homeless. One of those reasons is because of the high cost of housing and the interest rates of loans that have forced many into foreclosure. GRIP is asking churches to devote Sunday, May 17th to praying for and educating ourselves about housing – shelter. We are joining with other churches – from Evangelical to Pentecostal to Lutheran, Episcopalian and Catholic – in this May 17th effort to educate ourselves and to advocate for policies that help keep people housed. This is one way that we follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd – not only in word but in deed.

By making these kinds of efforts to follow Jesus – not just as a fan of Jesus – but as a follower of Jesus – you can lean further and further into his arms and trust this process of calling a new permanent rector. The Good Shepherd will guide you and will protect you.

I too have been in the search process – and by now most of you should have received either an email or a phone call with my own news. If you haven’t I apologize that this may be the first time you are hearing the news that I have been called to lead a church named Church of the Good Shepherd! Good Shepherd is located about half way between Salinas and Monterey. It’s in a rural location of horse farms and winery estates – oak trees and jack rabbits and it is very beautiful. One of the many ministries of the church is a preschool that serves over 100 children. I will most likely be living in Monterey or Pacific Grove and will, of course, love to have visitors! So, consider yourselves invited and wanted. One other important detail – this is all happening very quickly – and so my last Sunday will be Pentecost on May 31st.

Transitions are both exciting and hard. There is a whole mix of feelings and emotions – regrets and anticipations. I find myself all smiles one minute and tears the next. The whole range of feelings happen at times of transition - I have all of those feelings – and I imagine you might as well. And that's ok - it's ok to feel contradictory feelings all at the same time!

But the key to our Christian walk, wherever it takes us, I truly and humbly believe, is contained in our scripture readings this morning. “I am….” Jesus said. “I am your Shepherd.” Utterly trustworthy. Utterly enchanting. Utterly protective. Utterly responsible. “Follow me – and I will lead you in green pastures, beside still waters, through the valleys, and seat you at table where goodness and mercy shall overflow all the days of your lives.”