Monthly Archives: October 2009

Bach Cantata Choir

Portland’s Bach Cantata Choir, featuring our favorite soloist, Irene Weldon, is opening their 5th season this Sunday, November 1st! The concert begins at 2:00 pm (plenty of time to make it after a few cups of coffee at St. David’s) and  is held at the Rose City Park Presbyterian Church (NE 44th and Sandy).

This program is definitely worth seeing not only because Irene is a featured soloist, but because the Bach Cantata Choir is an extremely talented and ambitions ensemble with a unique mission to perform all of Bach’s 200 cantatas over the next thirty years! This concert features Handel’s Chandos Anthem #9 (based on the familiar hymn tune “O, God our help in ages past”) and Bach’s Cantata #47 (featuring the famous “Jesu, joy of man’s desiring” … remember that from a few weeks ago?)

Did I mention that it’s free?

Click poster for more information.

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Servants along the way: Mark 10:46-52

Immediately he regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way.

            On the face of it, it is difficult to see what last week’s gospel story and this week’s story have in common. Last week, we saw members of Jesus’ inner circle squabbling with one another, as they have been for weeks, about positions of power and prestige. This week, Jesus is on the road again, and is recognized by Bartimaeus, a blind beggar. As is so often the case in gospel-land, someone on the outside of society, and outside Jesus’ inner circle, gets right to the heart of the matter. Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!  The crowd orders him to be quiet, but he has the persistence that comes with true faith, the persistence to overcome any obstacle.

            Jesus responds to Bartimaeus: What do you want me to do for you? Sound familiar? This is what Jesus asked James and John in last week’s gospel when they said “Teacher, we want you to do whatever we ask of you.”

This question—What do you want me to do for you?—is the hinge between these stories, the point of contact that teaches us about Jesus. Jesus is indiscriminate: he loves and serves the disciples in his inner circle, and he loves and serves a beggar on the side of the road. This question elicits several different responses to Jesus. In last week’s gospel, the disciples respond to Jesus by engaging in a discussion about being glorified versus being servants, and exploring the lengths to which they are willing to go to be close to Jesus.

In this week’s gospel, the blind man is granted his request—to see again—and told by Jesus: “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

An encounter with Jesus calls for a response. He followed him on the way. In this gospel, this probably means that Bartimaeus joined the band of disciples traveling along the road to Jerusalem. The earliest name for Christianity was “The Way.” The author of the Book of Acts talks a lot about The Way, and throughout that book, describes the church in the first century as increasing in numbers daily. (Wouldn’t it be nice if our churches were increasing in numbers daily?)

What were the followers of Jesus doing in the early church? Jesus wasn’t there to heal the blind and the disabled, and yet healing happened and the ancient Christian communities at Corinth and Samaria and Jerusalem and Ephesus and Galilee grew and grew. People experienced Jesus through those who ministered in his name, and offered their own grateful response. The churches did not grow in faith and in numbers because they had to, because of the price of heating oil or diocesan assessment or staff salaries.

The churches grew in faith and in numbers because they were so excited about their encounter with Jesus, in the form of his disciples who brought them hope and a glimpse of the holy in their sacramental life together.

An encounter with Jesus calls for a response. We follow Jesus because our lives have been somehow touched by him. We may not have thought about what that touch has meant for us, but it is there, whether it consists of our parents bringing us to church and having us baptized as tiny babies, or the feeling that Jesus has been a companion during an illness or a life crisis, or our own encounter with the enormous generosity of Jesus that we re-live week after week in the Eucharist.

The blind man who sprang up, regained his sight, and followed Jesus followed him out of gratitude so strong that he could not just sit still and take it. Following Jesus is his grateful response.

What is our grateful response to what God has done for us? What is our act of thanksgiving? 

Each of you has been called to be part of this community and to journey along the way together, servants along the way. How you make your grateful response is up to you. Bartimaeus followed Jesus. The earliest Christians gave their treasure, their homes, and their lives to the Church.

We live in a time when one necessary response to what Jesus has done for us is to be as open to the future as Bartimeus was, as open to the future as Jesus was. We live in a time when our grateful response must be to take a fresh look at who we are and who we can be. It may be that a grateful response to Jesus in this place is to embrace some of the newer projects I’ve been hearing about, like the beer ministry, the support of your growing Hispanic congregation, and mid-wifing a new, fourth worship service. We live in a time when being faithful in all of our churches means letting go of the way we have been and done church forever, and being open to the Spirit birthing a new way of being and doing church.

Earlier I talked about Bartimeus having the persistence that comes with great faith; the persistence to overcome any obstacle. Sometimes—and certainly at St. David’s this is one of those times—the persistence we need is not persistence in doing what we’ve always done, but persistence in being open. Persistence in curiosity: What wonderful thing will the Spirit birth? And what will be your grateful response?

Schubert This Sunday!

Schubert

This Sunday, October 25th, we welcome guest musician Sarah Welker, an excellent violinist on the Portland classical music scene!


Sarah and I met through the development of a chamber music ensemble at St. David’s and have been chamber music buddies ever since. We are very excited to perform the three movements of Schubert’s first sonata for violin and piano after many weeks of weekly rehearsals. Sarah has also graciously volunteered to add some violin to other parts of the service, too – but don’t let her beautiful playing stop you from singing out!

A little background on the gentleman to my right …


Franz Schubert began his musical study at home, performing chamber music with his family on piano and violin, but his knack for music was so apparent that he quickly began lessons with their parish music director and singing with the famous Imperial Chapel boy choir in Vienna, Austria. In this time he was introduced to the geniuses of music, most notably his idol, Beethoven, and began composing uncontrollably until his death. He was both the first romantic and the first bohemian composer, living in poverty with a few close artist friends and admirers. Unfortunately, his music was frequently performed at their homes during “Schubert Evenings,” but received sour reviews at public premiers. Therefore, this Sonata in D for violin and piano was probably only performed in his living room while he was alive, the plight he shares with modern composers but not with the wildly famous ones living richly in Vienna at the time. Upon his death, composer Robert Schumann finally discovered, performed, and published his large body of work and, today, the genius of Franz Schubert is universal.

Lonely churches

“How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations!…her priests groan; her maidens have all been dragged away, and she herself suffers bitterly.” Lamentations 1:1-5

How lonely sit the churches that were full of people!

This reading from Lamentations about the desolation Judah, “suffering for the multitude of her transgressions” brings to mind all of the desolate, empty churches spread out across our city and all across North America and Western Europe, churches that, when built, were grand and triumphant. What have been their transgressions? What other gods have they run after? To what foe are our children now captive? Can we still hear the voices of the people who “groan as they search for bread”?

How can we move from despair to celebration, celebration of the new thing that is ready to be born in our very midst?

In praise of pews

compline candlesAt St. David’s we have been doing the same liturgy for six weeks: Sung Compline from the setting provided in the service music of the Hymnal 1982. Friday nights, 9:15. But recently, something  feels different. I think it’s the pews.

When I first came to St. David’s, I had lots of conversations with people who hadn’t yet seen the sanctuary, about all the things that could happen there.  Inevitably someone would ask: “Can you take all the pews out?” Taking pews out is in these days. But our sanctuary was designed for pews, and the pews were designed for it. Heavy, stable, just the right length, not too uncomfortable.  

Compline started in September. When we started, we set up the chancel—that’s the churchy word for the area up front where the altar is—as an intimate setting filled with candles  and just enough incandescent light to read by. The rest of the church was dark except for a lot of candles near the entry, lighting up the table holding bulletins and the baptismal font behind it, and then votive candles at the end of each pew, meant to entice participants down the aisle to the chancel, where people sat in a circle on chairs, cushions, kneelers, and the riser at the altar rail.

The thinking behind this arrangement was “let’s try this.”  It seemed like a good way have a small group worship in a large space, and a way to get around those unfashionable pews.

The eye-opening experience, however, was our most recent Compline experience, where we went back to the pews. We left the electric lights off at the altar, but filled that space with candles. We turned on enough light in the pews to read by. It was a small group, spread out in a large space. The service itself was inviting, deeply moving, and connective in a way that had never worked when we sat in a circle in the chancel. Sitting the pews, all facing the same direction, allowed each person a sacred spaciousness in which to pray and experience the ancient call-and-response of this chanted service.

One person lay down and put his head in his girlfriend’s lap. Another person wept. Another sat completely still, eyes closed, and left saying it was the most beautiful liturgy he had ever experienced. Several people, including the Officiant, said they were very familiar with Compline but had never before prayed that service in its sung form.

We have been doing the identical liturgy for six weeks, but something’s working that wasn’t working before. I think it’s the pews.

Imagining a servant community

Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.

We all want to be close to Jesus and to follow Jesus, but do we really know what that means? We come up against this question from time to time in scripture and maybe more often in our own lives. And this is the question Jesus asks in Mark 10:35-45. Do we understand what it means to be a follower? Not just a fan, but a follower. To be a follower of Jesus, we must be able to drink the cup that Jesus is to drink, to be baptized with his baptism, and to be a servant of all.

Secular rulers are about hierarchy and power, Jesus says. “It is not so among you,” says Jesus. It is not so among you. The servanthood to which Jesus calls us was counter-cultural in his time and it is counter-cultural in our time.

Most of us have a much wider and more varied experience of servanthood. Think of how many times a day someone serves you.  Think about how many times a day you serve someone else. I know the answers will vary among you, a lot. You might compare notes after the service. And if you’re living in the same household with the person you compare notes with, and your answers vary a lot, some of you just might need to make some adjustments.

Jesus calls for a total re-ordering of our common life, such that we truly live a common life. We talk a lot about ministry in the church—not just ordained ministry but the ministry of all believers. Ministry comes from the same word as “servanthood.” It comes from the same word as “minus” or “diminish.” It literally means “lesserness.” Ministry means being willing to become less, that something else might grow.

The new way of being in the world that Jesus introduced to James and John is still new. This morning I would like to suggest that being servants to one another and re-ordering our common life expresses itself in how we do church and how we are church. Imagine that Jesus is offering us a new way of being church, a way of being church that is all about giving of our whole selves:

  • Imagine a community supported by the first fruits of all of its members.
  • Imagine a community that exists not first and foremost for the edification and enrichment of its members, but first and foremost for those outside the church.
  • Imagine a community where the first person you want to see and talk to is the person you don’t know.
  • Imagine a community whose buildings and grounds are a sign to all people of God’s creative extravagant abundance.
  • Imagine a community where musicians and artists find a place to work and to give their whole selves
  • Imagine a community where a parish left for dead becomes a sign of God’s abundant love and opportunity and call.
  • Imagine a community where all who come through those doors experience the re-telling, Sunday after Sunday, of Jesus’ gift to us as a feast of redemption and promise

The possibilities are endless. All things are possible, when we are willing to reorder our common life, and aspire to ministry, the lesserness of our own needs and expectations, for the building up of the kingdom. This is the cup that Jesus drinks, the baptism into which he is baptized, and the baptism into which we are baptized. We share of ourselves and we become less, in order to become part of something greater.

Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. Let us all be like James and John, let us all have the audacity to want to follow Jesus so closely that we, too, shall be servant of all and slave of all.

You lack one thing. Go.

jesu20bSex. There, I said it. Most people would rather talk about just about anything in their private lives more than talk about money. But we’re heading into the season when churches ask us to think about our relationship to money. But this week we hear about someone else, one of the better known nameless stars of the gospels, known only as “The Rich Young Man.”

In Mark’s gospel the young man approaches Jesus with some urgency: As Jesus was setting out on a journey a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” What must I do to gain this life lived to the fullest that you keep talking about? How do I live life on God’s terms rather than on my terms? This is one of “life’s persistent questions,” right? We might phrase it differently. We might ask: How do I live a good life? How can I make a difference in the world? What must I do? The young man in today’s gospel has this question burning inside him, and he thinks Jesus has the answer. Instead of answering, Jesus takes issue with the guy’s form of address: Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.

From the very start of Jesus’ relationship with the rich young man, he wants to be clear that he is about pointing beyond himself, and that this is what we are to be about, as well.

We tend to pick and choose from among Jesus’ sayings what to believe, and what to set aside. Think about it. Knock and the door shall be opened. We like that one. Love your neighbor. That’s good, most of the time. Love your enemies. Well, to a point, we might say. Sell all that you own and give the money to the poor. Really? Literally? Jesus is so concrete about this that it’s hard to get around what he’s saying.

Concrete is what the young man asks Jesus for. What must I do? Not, how will I experience God’s grace? Not, help me to feel the love. He asks a concrete question and so Jesus gives a concrete answer. What Jesus offers, through this concrete answer about selling all of one’s possessions, is a pathway to what the young man really wants. Through challenging our young man’s attachment to his possessions, Jesus offers an awareness of grace, a sense of purpose that aligns with God’s will and with his own deep hope in the power of God’s love. Isn’t that what we all want?

Until we look at what binds us, whether it’s the power of money, or the power of anxiety, or the power of the seduction of comfort, we cannot be free to bind ourselves to Jesus.

If we are to take this passage literally, or, if not literally, at least very seriously, we are all headed toward the same sorrow as the young man because we, like him, have many possessions. If we don’t take it seriously, we are in danger of soft-pedaling ourselves away from Jesus and his call to join God’s mission and participate in the full life that comes when we share in God’s mission. So what do we do with this passage?

What if we always put too much focus on the wrong part of this hard saying? Let’s listen to the words just before the part about selling all of our possessions? Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said “You lack one thing; go.” Jesus loves us (this we know; the bible tells us so). You lack one thing; go. What is the one thing you or I lack? If we think we are being good and faithful in our discipleship, where can we still grow? No one wants to be told that they lack one thing. Someone once told a story about an organ teacher who would listen to his student labor over and over on a particularly tricky Bach fugue. The student, finished with his latest and best offering, exhausted and anxious from following all that the teacher had told him to do, would look up for approval and the teacher would say: You’re getting close.

This is sort of what Jesus says to the rich young man and what he says to us. We’re getting close. Where can we give more for the building up of God’s kingdom? Where are we called to open our hearts or our wallets or our calendars in order to help make God’s dream come true? St. Irenaeus said “The Glory of God is a human being fully alive.” What do we need to go and do in order to have this full life the rich young man longs for? What do we need to let go of?

Lately I’ve been trying to work out at the gym. I’m not very good at it but I like to think that I’m getting better. My unofficial trainer is fond of saying, do as many of those repetitions as you can, and then do one more. Do one more hard thing. You keep the commandments, you are a good person, I love you. Now go. Now I realize that most of us don’t need to do something more in order to live life on God’s terms, we need to do something less. God says to us: Go and simplify your life. Go and focus on the kingdom instead of the busy distractions that claim us, many of which distractions are actually in the church. Remember that: Many of the things that distract us from the work of the kingdom are in the church. God is ever calling us outside and beyond what is familiar and comfortable, even if that familiarity masks itself as a holy calling.

I’d like to close a famous story from the tradition of the desert fathers.

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him:
‘Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’
Then Abba Joseph stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven and he asked him, ‘Why not become as one on fire?’

Like much of what we do on Sunday mornings, if the heart of this story is mystery, it is meant to be.

You lack one thing. Go. Become as one on fire.