Friday, February 7, 2020

Hebrew and Gospel Texts for Sunday 9 February 2020



Isaiah 58.6-7  
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly

Matthew 5:13-20
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Reflection        It was the day I moved to Arizona to begin my first job as an Episcopal priest. Wandering through labyrinthine miles of mall I lamented, “Maybe today God can help me find my way through this confounding maze. How can I possibly be a priest if I cannot even find Sears?” Resisting the urge to exit stage right, I glumly scuffed along until I noticed a strange collection of objects stacked at the front door of a store. Curiosity drew me to the cache of craggy pinkish things.

They  turned out to be rock salt harvested from the Khewra Salt Mine in Pakistan. Some of the salt crystals were made into lamps, other stood on their own. As I picked them up and inspected their rough angularity I wondered, “Why am I so attracted to these crystalline lumps?”  Remembering my mission I interrupted the clerk who was regaling me with the details of this salty find, ”Where in the world is the Sears store?” Smiling he apprized me, “You are on the wrong side of the mall.”

Eventually I found my way to Sears. While waiting for a second clerk to schedule delivery of my washer, dryer and vacuum cleaner I found my mind inspecting the eccentric pillars of pink salt and wondering, “Why am I so attracted to these craggy crystals of sodium chloride? Why can’t I get them out of my mind?” 

With delivery set for my Sears essentials I retraced my steps to the Salt Store and without hesitation paid for the first pink pillar I picked up, walk out of the store and ‘heard’ Jesus’ words in the depths of my being, “You are the salt of the earth.” I sat down and wept.

Right there in the midst of the unhallowed mall the God who promises to ‘strengthen my limp hands and steady my feeble knees” gave me exactly what I needed, assurance of God’s presence. Believers such as my enthusiatic sales person claim this jagged pink pillar cleans the air, soothes allergies, boosts your mood and helps you sleep. But my zealous clerk did not overhear this fanciful pink pillar speaking to my anxious heart,“You are the salt of the earth.”

What does it mean to be salt of the earth? I believe it means we are meant to enhance the flavor of God’s Presence on earth by telling the stories of the ways in which we have been surprised by God. By a salt pillar or an orange offered by a homeless man, in the death of a loved one or the birth of a new one, in an unexpected benefit or an anonymous thank you, in a dream, a poem or book that falls off the shelf into your hands at exactly the right moment, in an “ah-hah” realization or a flash of forgiveness.

Which brings us to Jesus’ second proclamation,“You are the light of the world.” If we are indeed the light of the world, (and who is going to argue with Jesus?) then we are meant to “let our light shine before others.” “What is this light that we are meant to shine before others?”  First let us consider what this light is not. It is not a spot light directing focus onto our performance. This light is not intended to  announce how important, powerful, exceptional, smart, enviable, rich, secure, influential, lovable, competent, impressive or even acceptable we are. 

The light we are meant to “shine before others” is the Light of Christ risen within us, the light that makes God’s Presence known in ordinary, unexceptional, even undesirable circumstances. The light that makes God’s Presence known in our impotence, incompetence and innocence. The light of Christ within us glows like the soft pink light from the heart of a pillar of salt, enhancing the flavor of God’s Presence on earth by telling the stories of the ways in which we have been surprised by God. 

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Saturday, February 1, 2020

Gospel text for The Presentation of Our Lord, Sunday 2 February 2020

Luke 2:22-40        When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord"), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
"Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed-- and a sword will pierce your own soul too."
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Reflection      This past week I attended the Annual Arizona Diocesan Clergy Conference where the topic was Dementia From the Inside Out. The speakers were The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, former dean of an Episcopal Cathedral and active with the the Episcopal Church Pension Fund and her wife Emily who worked in commercial real estate and management. In 2016 at the age of sixty-two Tracey was diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD). The diagnosis comes with the expectation of loss of memory, language, motor skills, ability to care for yourself and ultimately a dramatically shortened life expectancy.  While grappling with how to live with this diagnosis rather than succumb to focusing on what she was losing, Tracey confronted the roomful of clergy with a question she and others living with dementia grapple. “When I cannot remember God, will God remember me?” *

I have no idea what she said next because along with everyone else in the room my heart nearly stopped as I choked back tears. I suspect every priest in this diocese is preaching Tracey’s question today. “When I cannot remember God, will God remember me?”

Tracey’s question invites us to ask, How do we present ourselves to God? Exactly as we are. As unblemished babes brought to the waters of the baptismal font. As fidgity five year olds, stopping, dropping and rolling. As awkward preteens preoccupied by appearance and longing to fit in. As rapidly changing teenagers developing values and obcessed with body image. As young adults reaching our peak in health, strength and performance. As middle age adults re-examining our life as many physical changes signal aging. As older adults experiencing decline in strength, energy, vision, hearing and balance.

How do we present ourselves to God? As people of God who at any age or any stage may be fit and formidable or may be frail and ailing because our wholeness and our holiness does not depend on us alone. Our wholeness and holiness depend on God with us. Furthermore, our wholeness and holiness does not depend upon us being able to recognize and assert it our selves.

Jesus parents name him Joshua, which means "God saves." At the appointed time in his development Jesus’ parents bring him to the temple and present him to God. Neither action depends on Jesus. Additionally, it is the perspicuity of the two prophets Simeon and Anna who affirm Jesus’ holy stature. First Simeon proclaiming, “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Then Anna who proceeds “to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Returning to Tracey’ heart wrenching question, “When I cannot remember God, will God remember me?” my answer is an unequivocal “Yes.”  “Yes, those of us who surround you and know you will hold you up and present you to God even when you have no memory of God.” And yes, there will come a time in every one of our lives when we cannot remember God due to crushing challenges, loss of faith, impaired cognition, a broken heart or a broken body. That is why we need one another. That is why we are church, the living body meant to surround and present us to God and affirm, “When we can no longer remember God, God will remember us.”



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Friday, January 24, 2020

Gospel text for Sunday 26 January 2020


Matthew 4:12-23         When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness 
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death 
light has dawned.”
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Reflection       John is imprisoned but his ministry of repentance is not arrested. Jesus picks up his cousin’s torch and turns it toward the land of darkness. Galilee is the land of which the prophet First Isaiah spoke seven hundred years before Jesus was born saying, “In the former time (God) brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali (when they were invaded by the Assyrians), but in the latter time (God) will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. (God) is bringing light into the darkness.” 

Jesus is part of something greater than himself. Rather than acting for his own self interest and preservation, Jesus is acting to fulfill Isaiah’s words. Jesus is participating in the transformation of human consciousness.  The theological term for this is metanoia and refers to a change in the way we think that leads to a change in the way we live our lives.

Jesus is bringing the God of the Torah, God who invites the Jews to a fundamental change of mind and heart, to admit the Gentiles. Jesus leaves the safety of his home in Nazareth, crosses borders and travels into a hostile foreign land that has been the seat of darkness for hundreds of years. Here darkness refers to the condition of the peoples’ minds. Sitting in the dark people are overshadowed by their preoccupation with death. In contemporary terms this translates; life is all about me; my safety, security, esteem, power and control. 

Jesus appropriates John’s message proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Returning to the Greek word for repent, metanoéō means to think differently, reconsider, to change our mind for the better. And what is the change of mind to which Jesus invites us?  With God life is not deferred to some happily ever after life. With God life is here and is now.

Soon we will see Jesus open the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah, read and then assert, “The scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, in Jesus we encounter Divine Presence on earth. But then and now most people sit in darkness, in the shadow of death because we are preoccupied by our inordinate concerns for our personal security, safety, esteem, power and control. Let me be clear. The message is not that we should forgo all concern for our personal security, safety, esteem, power and control. The message is, life does not depend on us alone. Life depends on God with us. 

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Friday, January 17, 2020

Remembering The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 19 January 2020



John 1:29-42        John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
Reflection        Rather than reflect on the gospel I want to join our entire country recognizing an ordinary Holy man.  In his now famous and final Sunday sermon preached at the National Cathedral on March 31, 1968 I believe The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words are as relevant today as they were fifty two years ago. “Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God.”

As it is with prophets throughout the ages, King’s words pierce the veneer of culture and call all citizens to right action. King confronts us, “On some positions, cowardice asks the question: Is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question: Is it politic? Vanity asks the question: Is it popular? Conscience asks the question: Is it right?” Now hear King’s call to action, “There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.” King was an ordinary Holy man calling on each and every one of us to be ordinary Holy men and Holy women (and forgive King his lack of gender neutral language) living for what is right. 

Prophets are ordinary people who dare to speak when others are silent. Prophets are people like you and me who choose to stand on the ground of our relationship with God even when it is not expedient, politic or popular because prophets are ordinary people who live by our conscience and choose to reveal God’s love every hour of every day, even, and perhaps especially, when it makes us uncomfortable.

Are prophets perfect? No. History has a scathing way of slicing and dicing a prophet’s character. And, that is actually good news because, prophets are ordinary people like you and me, imperfect people who have taken to heart and fashioned their lives as best they are able on the words of that Jewish prophet Jesus whom we hear praying, “Not my will, your will be done.” Somehow prophets know, and have always known, that God is present and active in the world today, something that we affirm at the beginning of our worship every single Sunday.

The presider acclaims, “God is with you.”   The people respond, “And also with you.”

Are these empty words? Do we mean them? It we do that means each one of us stands with God, derives our blessings from God, finds our courage in God, and acts deliberately to be a co-worker with God. 

It takes humility, courage and audacity to claim our identity as ordinary Holy people. Humility to admit that all that we are and all that we have is pure gift. Courage to put our faith in God with us, enabling us to be more than we can imagine. Audacity to not only hope but to act deliberately to call out the evils we witness and extend the blessings we enjoy. 


The world is crying out for us to  be co-workers with God and claim our place with ordinary Holy women and men like Martin Luther King, Jr. Shall we choose to live by our conscience?

Friday, January 10, 2020

Gospel text for Sunday 12 January 2020




Matthew 3:13-17       Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Reflection      The question humanity is faced with is not, “What do you believe?” It is, “How are you living?”The clue to answering this question is hidden in plain hearing, in Jesus’ response to John’s hesitation to baptize him. And Jesus said, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” We are meant to live in fulfillment of all righteousness.

What is righteousness? Let’s begin with what it is not. Righteousness is not an abstract moral code nor a mark of religious piety. Righteousness is not about belief. Righteousness is right living.  It is an attribute of God and as beings created in the image of God, righteousness must also be an attribute of each one of us. Righteousness means living in right relationship with God, all people and creation. As righteous people we are honorable, virtuous and act deliberately for the good of all people. 

Which brings us to Jesus’ other weighty word,  ‘fulfillment.’ To fulfill is to make real and carry out. It  presumes there has been an order or instruction that is to be performed and perfected. When Jesus says, “for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness,” we understand the order or instruction to be performed and perfected is righteousness, living in right relationship with God and with all people. 

We are not intended to fill our lives with empty rituals (as a friend recently noted, champagne, sparklers, exotic vacations and flaming deserts are titillating but they have no lasting value). We are meant to use our lives to embody and express God’s promise of dignity and love for all people. 

Last week I challenged parishioners to go out of their way to extend God’s love to a homeless person. Here is Dave Arneson’s description of how he and his wife Shelly were transformed by doing just that.

“Tuesday is date day for Shelly and me.  I asked her what she wanted to do and her reply was “I want to go and take care packages to the homeless.”  After Sundays For God’s Sake Listen, we both had a better appreciation for what homeless meant to others, and allowed us to start thinking a little differently. 
So we put together some sacks with water, a granola bar, and some fruit and headed downtown to find some individuals to share them with.  As we got closer to the area, my impression was that we were going to just hand them out through the car window as we came upon those that looked like they could use them.  Well, Shelly had a different idea.  She wanted to go greet them and spend some time talking with them.  My insides started churning as this was not what I had envisioned.  
As we neared the park near Speedway and Stone, there were several small groups of folks that appeared to be homeless.  We saw one man by himself on the far side of the park, and Shelly said let’s start with him.  I immediately said, “are you sure.  I don’t think he looks well and might possibly be talking to someone even though he was there by himself.”  I wanted to just go find someone else who might be a little safer.  Shelly said, “you can stay here – I’ll just take this over and you can watch from the car”.  Well, I wasn’t going to let her go alone, and I know after 27 years of marriage that she was going to do it anyway.  I told her to wait while I locked my wallet in the car and we could go together, that I would be right behind her, literally right behind her!  
As we approached, the gentleman he was busy sorting through his array of what can only be described as garbage in a heap around him.  There was some sort of blanket, maybe a tarp, several cardboard flat boxes, papers, etc.  I thought how can anyone live like this.  Shelly approached him and began a conversation.  He was wearing pajama bottoms, a tattered sweatshirt, a flip-flop on one foot and a sock on the other.  He looked as if he had not seen a shower in a very long time.  He had been talking to either himself, or to someone or something around him.  We assumed he was suffering from some type of mental illness.  
We learned that his name was Bernard as Shelly offered him one of the care packages that we had brought.  He took the package, then held up one finger while he searched his area.  After a minute or so, he came back with an orange that he had in his “home” and gave it to me.  Apparently he felt the need to give us something in return.  We talked with him for 10 or 15 minutes trying to find out if he was OK, and what could we bring him.  He said he could use some beef jerky – food and protein that would not go bad so quickly.  Shelly asked how he was going to eat and he said “God will provide”.  We said how do you know He will…..and he said “Well, he sent you”.  We looked at each other and both thought the same thing that his faith was what was keeping him going.  He had not only one bible in his goods, but two!  We thanked him for his time and said we would be praying for him.
As we drove home, we talked about meeting him and his situation.  That’s when it occurred to me that I don’t think God sent us for Bernard, but he sent Bernard for us.
Many of our assumptions about the homeless were just that – assumptions.  Until we took the chance to spend time with them, to listen for God’s sake, did we truly see His presence.” 
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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Matthew 2:1-12        In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Reflection        Walking south on Shattuck on the East Side of the bay in Berkeley, California, heading toward Church Divinity School of the Pacific I lost count of the number of homeless people over or around whom I had to step. It was my first day in seminary. Before I arrived at the chapel for Morning Prayer I had given away my lunch and cash. Following a week of this heart wrenching ritual I went to my faculty advisor, The Rev. Dr. Louis Weil, and asked, “What shall I do?”

After duly acknowledging the gravity of the situation Louis counseled, “Choose one person, make them your person and take care of them.” Now you might think this would be easy, but how, oh how could I possibly choose one person out of the hundreds in need? Every day I walked, scanned the sidewalks, curbs and benches silently asking, “Are you my person?” Every day until the late afternoon I saw a star shining in the eyes of a man sitting on the sidewalk, back against the street sign outside the corner Blockbuster franchise. (For those who may not know, once upon a time people actually walked into brick and mortar shops like Blockbuster to rent videos!) I will call “my person”  Zeke.

I have no idea how I knew that I knew that Zeke was “my person,” but that is what epiphany is about. It is recognizing the divine in the world around us, in the people we encounter. And the natural response is to offer our gifts. Most days for the next three years I made my way to Zeke’s corner, offered a gift of cash or lunch, conversation, or help getting an id card and access to human services. Each time I looked into Zeke’s pacific eyes I recognized divinity therein and realized, I needed Zeke more than he needed me.  You see, Zeke always had the last word, pausing after each utterance to articulate his benediction, “God….bless…. you.”

Epiphany celebrates the journey of the wise bringing gifts to honor the Incarnation, the enfleshed presence of Divinity. Which begs several questions. Are we recognizing the presence of the Christ in the people around us? Are we being deceived by the rich and worldly? Are we seeing the Christ in the least, the lost and the lonely? Are we celebrating the revelation of Christ present by offering our gifts unselfishly?


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