Monthly Archives: November 2009

Our kingdom is not of this world

On November 22 Kerlin Richter preached the gospel at St. David of Wales.

God, we thank you for your kingdom of mercy and disarming love. May we gaze into the eyes of your son and pledge, “the truth does not belong to me but I belong to the truth” may we listen always for the voice that came to testify to the truth, and may we have the courage to not only hear but to respond.

Today is Christ the King Sunday, where we celebrate the kingship of Jesus. And while Jesus used kingdom metaphors quite often when he was trying to explain in terms we might understand what it was about the nature of God, and God’s vision for the way the humanity could live together, I am not convinced that he was particularly fond of king language for himself.

In contrast to Peters turn playing “Jesus’ true identity” where he gets it just right with Messiah, Jesus is a bit under whelmed with Pilates “King of the Jews” entry.

this is the name he gets crucified under, and there is little doubt why. A king without obvious power and glory is apparently easy to mock. We praise, and love, and fear and despise power and those with it.

This is a new feast, relatively its only been celebrated since 1925. When pope Pious XI seeing the shape of increasingly fascist Europe and the rise of Mussolini, come up with the idea. It seems a bold statement, especially in his increasingly oppressive political climate to say “brothers and sisters, lets remember that this world is not our true home, Let us remember to whom we owe our allegiance, and what kind of king it is that we are following.”  

It is also the last Sunday of the liturgical year and the new year’s eve of the church.

We are here at the pivotal moment in the liturgical year when we shift from the green and growing days of ordinary time in to the purple twilight and deep blues of advent, We are ready to move the markers in our prayer books back to the beginning of the readings, and wait for the birth of the child that will turn the whole world inside out.

It is not a bad time to reassess what we have been up to since Pentecost. Do we think that any of our neighbors and friends would have noticed that the holy spirit came and has perched on our heads like tongues of flame since May?

Do the folks around us think- “wow- there is somebody on fire for justice, peace and reconciling love?” and if not, why not?

Do the people who encounter us in our daily lives say to themselves, you’re not from around here are you?

How is it that you can tell where someone is from, perhaps it is the way they talk or the peculiar way they do things. 

Wouldn’t it be great to have a passport proclaiming ourselves citizens of the truth. Here we are in this world hopefully a little confused hopefully a little disoriented. Because this world that we live in is nothing like our home country, the kingdom of our hearts. We hear the one whose voice echoes to us and sings to our deepest heart about our homeland we can hear it if we remember what kind of kingdom we come from and what kind of kingdom we will be going home to someday.

In the gospel reading today Pilate is trying to figure out where Jesus is coming from. He obviously has the expectation of Jesus grasping at earthly power, and when Jesus questions his question Pilate answers I am not like you He says “I am not a Jew” Your Nation and the chief priests handed you over. and Jesus says Oh No! This is not my nation. this is not my county those are not my leaders. My kingdom is not of this world.

Pilate asks “so, what are you, the KING??

and Jesus says “no, I am the voice of truth.  I will testify to the reality that is love and that you in you your visions of power cannot see and I am here to proclaim The Truth, and you sweet Pilate are going to kill me for it.”

Maybe this is our Advent invitation–to be a follower of Jesus. is to be from a kingdom not from this world to be obedient citizen of the truth. We don’t like to belong to anything outside of ourselves, so much of our religious language is acquisitional.

I believe

I have done it,

 I have owned it.

but rather by asking by what and by whom are we owned? Where is our allegiance, who is our authority, where is our citizenship, and who is our king?

In the Baptismal covenant we have laid out the terms of our kingdom. It is, if you will, our pledge of allegiance, our charter.  In it we pledge in to

  • renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
  • renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
  • renounce all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God?
  • turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as our Savior?
  • put our whole trust in his grace and love?
  • promise to follow and obey him as our Lord?
  • continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
  • to persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.
  • to  proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
  • to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves?
  • to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

When I was in Catecumenate last year I found it interesting that of all these mad impossible vows it was obedience that caused the most anxiety. I think there a number of people for whom the very idea of obedience is a threat. to some to obey is to follow blindly the authoritarian commands without thought.

It is of course very wise to mistrust this kind of abusive power, This is I think exactly what our dear friend Pious was trying to say back in 1925. But lets not let our fear of the twisting of obedience make us close ourselves off from any voice that is not our own. The roots of the Greek word we have as obedience are to be under and to hear. “Sit down and listen” if you will.

Obedience to Jesus is a following kind of obedience a, listening humble intent awareness. We cannot be obedient to Christ and not pay attention to what he says, not only through scripture but whispered in the stillness of our hearts.

Two days ago, down in Eugene the Diocese of Oregon elected its tenth bishop, Michael Hanley. In our tradition we have a special relationship I think to obedience. Being Episcopal means having Bishops, and in ordination priests and deacons vow obedience to those bishops, but they are not kings and they are elected in the midst of an invitation to the holy spirit by people who have promised to listen to his voice.

We need to listen carefully to the voices of those around us, not only the bishops, but also the children, and the poor and the hungry. We must listen carefully for the voice of Christ. He told Pilate that everyone who belongs to the truth will.

This is not our true home, we are all in exile here, and we can sing in strange lands because we are fully poised and ready for the sound of the voice of the one who testifies to the truth which is our true home. So lets enter into Advent and get very quiet and listen for the voice of our King.


The beginning of the birth pangs

That’s great it starts with an earthquake,
birds and snakes, an aeroplane, Lenny Bruce is not afraid
…it’s the end of the world as we know it

Today’s gospel, is often called “Mark’s little apocalypse.” It’s short and pithy, and, like R.E.M.’s song, gets right to the point of all apocalyptic writing:  a picture of the end of the world as we know it.

The apocalypse is about just that: the end of the world as we know it. Each of us probably has our own way of imagining end of our world. The imagery Jesus uses reflects the reality of his time and place: temples tumbling down, natural disasters, major wars, politicians who can’t be trusted…sound familiar? The writers of this kind of biblical literature we call “apocalyptic” are writing about transformation, about what happens when our current reality doesn’t match God’s plan.

Today’s reading from the beginning of the book of Samuel is also a pointer to the transformation of the world. Hannah is a biblical type we’ve met before: a faithful, barren woman longing for a child, while the people of Israel long for leadership and hope. An angel of the Lord visits her and promises her a son. In return, she vows that if she is given a son, she will dedicate him to God’s service. In due time, she gives birth to Samuel, who grows up before too long to become a prophetic, moral leader who ushers in a new era for the people of Israel and a new way of being with their God.

Even more important than Samuel is Hannah’s response to the work of God in her.

My heart exults in the Lord;
my strength is exalted in my God.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble gird on strength.
The Lord raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes…

Does this have a familiar ring to it?

Hannah’s own experience of God’s grace and favor translates, for her, into a sense that God is reversing the fortunes of the whole world, creating a new reality. When Mary of Nazareth hears from her Angel of the Lord that she is to be the mother of a savior, she uses similar language, in the Song of Mary, which we’ll sing during Advent.

(The other day I was driving south on thirty-ninth and something caught my eye and I realized that there were huge Christmas trees in the window at Fred Meyer, huge, glittering trees, I think suspended from the ceiling so that we could all see them from the street. That’s what made me think it’s not too soon for me to start talking about Advent.)

What the Angel promises Mary makes her think of a God who lifts up the lowly, who scatters the proud in their conceit, who sends the rich away, and who topples the mighty from their thrones. The Song of Hannah is the prototype for the Song of Mary; her words give voice not only to her own longing but to the longing of the whole world for a new order, a kingdom in which the hungry are fed and the lowly are raised up, and the humble proclaim the greatness of God.

This longing for a transformed world, for a new order, hadn’t gone away by the time Luke wrote about Mary’s experience, and it hasn’t gone away today.

X               X              X

Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another. Is this a threat or a promise? The threat is that what we cling to as solid and concrete and as having always been there, will disappear one day. This is true about our buildings, certainly, and it may also be true about our ideas, our own notions of how the world should be and how the church should be.

The promise is that God is turning the world upside down in order to make the kingdom real. When the disciples ask Jesus: “What will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” “These things” are all that he has taught about the coming of the kingdom of God, the kingdom where people become like little children, where the broken are made whole, where all people give out of their abundance, where the last is first and the first is last. These are the things that are about to take place, after the passing away of what we think is our reality.

And so, as we prepare to share in the feast that represents God’s reality of abundance and hope, let us pray that we may be God’s agents in the transformation of the world as we know it.

This is but the beginning of the birth.

Ricercar and Toccata


A small renaissance organ for the home in 1598

Renaissance composers developed unique musical forms including the ricercar and toccata, featured this morning in the prelude and postlude by Giovani Gabrieli, our composer of the month. Musicians were very loose about naming their compositional techniques in the 16th century and, therefore, there are many variations. In general, however, a ricercar is an exploration of one theme or motif often performed as a prelude before the larger piece containing the same melody or in the same key. Therefore, it is the hippie grandfather of the fugue and motet, which solidified this style of melodic imitation. A toccata is a virtuosic instrumental showpiece for those with light, fast fingers, pushing the speed barriers of renaissance keyboards, which were very different than what we have today. What they lack in melody is made up for in chromaticism and rhythm dancing dancing between both hands against simple chords. The ricercar and toccata form were rarely performed past the time of J.S. Bach in the baroque period but their influence on melodic imitation and virtuosity is still heard in all music today.

Composer of the Month: Giovanni Gabrieli

Giovanni Gabrieli

The first Western music was writtten and performed between 1400 and 1650 in a fantastic artistic period called the Renaissance. Really, there was music before this time, but unfortunately it was rarely written and, therefore, very little has survived for study or performance. This month my preludes and postludes will feature the organ pieces of Giovanni Gabrieli, an Italian Renaissance composer. His music reflects the idioms of the day – increased interest in rhythm, the begining of tonality or major and minor sounds, and unique sared and secular compositional forms, such as the Toccata featured today. Music was for the first time notated and published with the invention of the printing press, families of instruments develop, and music making is an everyday part of human existence.

What instrument is Giovanni holding in the above painting?

Driven by joy

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

The “someone” in the first mini-parable is in contrast to the rich young man we heard about a few weeks ago from Mark, the guy with so many possessions that he went away sorrowful. To that young man Jesus said: “you lack one thing.” The one thing is perhaps the joy that is the motivation for today’s unnamed “someone” to sell everything in order to buy the field. He doesn’t just want the treasure, he wants the whole field.

This reading makes me ask: where do we see the kingdom around us? Where do we see glimmers of the kingdom, like a jewel glinting up through grass in the sun, filling us with so much joy that we’re willing to sell all that we have? What gives us that kind of joy? And how do we recognize the one pearl of great value? I’m longing to hear real-life stories of people selling all they have—literally or figuratively—in order to unveil the kingdom. These two guys–the one who buys the field and the merchant after the pearl–are driven by joy. What drives us?

Being Pioneering Saints

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

            Each year on All Saints Sunday I honor a particular Saint from our Lesser Feasts & Fasts, generally someone most people don’t think much about. This year’s saint of the James Lloyd Breck. Breck has something to teach each of us about ministry in the Kingdom of God, and he has something to teach us about the ministry that I believe we need to be doing in most of our churches.

JLBreck            James Lloyd Breck was born in 1818, and as a young man was inspired to a missionary life. In 1844, he and three classmates from the General Theological Seminary traveled to the western frontier to found a religious community at Nashotah, Wisconsin, which later became Nashotah House seminary. He then did missionary work in Minnesota and was instrumental in planting the Episcopal Church there. In 1865 he went to California, intent on founding a new theological school. Instead, he planted five parishes, and contributed significantly to the development of the Episcopal Church in California.

            The remarkable thing about James Lloyd Breck was that he failed at most of what he set out to do. He set out to start a religious community in Wisconsin, and it never turned out the way he planned. In Minnesota he organized St. Columba’s Mission for the Chippewa, which laid the foundation for the Indians to do their own ministry, but did not survive as the mission he’d envisioned. He founded several theological schools in California, none of which survived.

            But Breck’s story does not read like a story of failure, it reads like a success story, a story of someone who tried a whole lot of different ways to carry the Good News of Jesus out into uncharted territory. Some of his efforts were wildly successful and many were not.

            This is what I believe we are all called to do: to try things, to carry the Good News wherever we can, and know that in some places it will take root, and in other places it won’t. The gospel for Breck’s feast day is the same as the gospel for St. David’s day: The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground…and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.  

Breck was called “The Apostle of the Wilderness.” I believe that in each one of us is called to be an apostle of the wilderness. Wilderness for us may not mean a geographic frontier, but it might mean going boldly with our faith where no one has gone before, scattering the seeds of the kingdom in as many ways as we can, knowing that some will grow to fruition and some will not. Our work is to continue to plant. A missionary is someone who has been sent.

The collect we pray on James Lloyd Breck’s day begins: Teach your church, O Lord, to value and support pioneering and courageous missionaries. Teach your church to value and support missionaries. This is an unusual prayer to pray, and I think it’s because missionaries have from time to time had a bad reputation in our church. It’s time to start thinking of ourselves as pioneering missionaries.

Every Sunday our deacon sends us forth: go in peace to love and serve the Lord. This is one of those things we hear so much that I’m not sure we ever think about what it means. Well, it means that we have been sent forth, commissioned. Some missionaries are sent forth from their churches to faraway places; you and I are sent forth to our neighbors and our co-workers and our enemies and everyone we encounter in our day-to-day lives, to be signs of God’s inviting and reconciling work in the world.

Perhaps if we think of all of our ministry as mission and ourselves as missionaries—people who are sent—we might become courageous pioneers like James Lloyd Breck.

In the meantime, Breck has something to teach us as the collective body in our church. Not everything we do will succeed. Not all of our dreams will come true. We will fail. This is what pioneering ministry is all about. A friend of mine likes to say: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” What he means is that there are times when it’s more important to do things—to scatter seeds—than to sit back and wait for the right time, the perfect program, enough funding, the right number of volunteers… We are called to do new things—we know the old things don’t work—but we haven’t ever tried the new things, so we don’t know whether they’ll work or not. What I hope we do know is that God is present in all of our mission work.

Recently I heard someone say that All Saints is the feast that is all about death: the death of those we love and see no longer, the death of the martyrs and of all the saints, the death of Lazarus in today’s gospel, the death of the way we used to do church. We cannot deny death as a part of life. We need to mourn the old ways of being church in order to live into the new life that God has planned for us, to reap the fruit of the seeds that we scatter.

Life, death, and new life are threads that weave all through the readings for this Feast of All Saints, and through the idea of the Communion of Saints that we celebrate today. This is why All Saints is also a baptismal feast. In baptism, we enter this life in Christ, and become part of the missionary team engaged in making the Kingdom of God real.

When asked if we will go forth as missionaries to scatter seeds, what will be our reply? I will, with God’s help. When asked if we will continue to be courageous pioneers right here in this place, what will be our response? I will, with God’s help.