Monthly Archives: February 2010

Back up to heaven all alone: Luke 13:31-35

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

Jesus said: “Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.”

This one line of scripture sums up Jesus’ past, present, and future, and resonates with generations. Parts of it are also not true. You and I both know that it is possible for a prophet to be killed outside Jerusalem, and so does Jesus.

In scripture and in our present reality, Jerusalem is a place of celebration, of hope, of ritual, and a place of tension, of violence, and death. Whenever I hear the word “Jerusalem” I think of the hymn, “Jerusalem, my happy home.”

Jerusalem, my happy home, when shall I come to thee?
When shall my sorrows have an end? Thy joys when shall I see?

This is not the way Jesus talks about Jerusalem, however. He’s not going there to find joy, but to face death. Another way to look at this is that he’s been stirring up trouble with his gospel of inclusion and subversion, and now he knows that now it’s time to pay the piper.

I was taught that the most important verse of all of Luke’s gospel is chapter 9, verse 51. It happens right after Jesus and his disciples come down from the mountain-top. There Luke describes Jesus as having set his face to Jerusalem. The Greek verb which we translate as “set his face” is a unique verb which expresses absolute determination. Think about a time when you watched a family member or friend act with total focus and commitment to a particular goal, as if there were a beam of light between that person and their goal. Today’s words from scripture express that same determination: Jesus has set his face to go to Jerusalem and there’s no turning back, regardless of the perceived threats.

In the time when Jesus lived, the temple in Jerusalem was the holy site in Israel, the place where the people of God gathered to offer worship. Because it was several days’ travel from many parts of the country, the trip to Jerusalem was usually a major pilgrimage, made at least once a year by individuals, households, and whole villages. Many of the psalms emerged from pilgrimages to Jerusalem, sung along the way as expressions of the spiritual journey to the temple.

Jesus is on a pilgrimage of his own. His journey to Jerusalem is the journey on which we base our journey with him to the cross.

Have you ever made a pilgrimage? Writer Nora Gallagher talks about the difference between being tourists and being pilgrims, and I would like to invite you all to think of yourselves as pilgrims traveling through Lent, rather than tourists waiting for Easter.

The first documented Christian pilgrimages began in the fourth century, when emperor Constantine traveled to Jerusalem with his mother, Helena, wanting to walk where Jesus walked. Later in the fourth century, a remarkable woman named Egeria traveled to the Holy Land and kept a diary, fragments of which were later published. She documented her eye-witness experiences of the liturgies of Holy Week as they were enacted in Jerusalem almost four hundred years after the events we read about in today’s gospel. Much of the ritual we practice during Holy Week is based on her account.

Throughout the middle ages, other holy sites developed all over Europe for people who could not travel to Jerusalem for many of the reasons we don’t travel to Jersusalem today: it was expensive and at times unsafe.

The labyrinth evolved as a kind of pilgrimage site, a way to be on pilgrimage without going anywhere at all. Similarly, the stations of the cross, which originated in Jerusalem in earliest Christianity and which Egeria wrote about, began in the middle ages to be reproduced in churches all over the world, and are themselves a kind of pilgrimage. We’ve got stations represented in the stone plaques around the church.

Here at St. David’s four weeks from now on Palm Sunday we will enact Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and all the events anticipated in today’s gospel. Then in the days following, we will have an opportunity to walk the Stations of the Cross with Kenneth Leech, who will lead us in mediations as we travel that particular pilgrimage. And then in the final days of Holy Week, Great Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, culminating in the Great Vigil of Easter, we make the same journey that the earliest Christians made to mark the last days of Jesus’ earthly life, his death, and his glorious resurrection.

How do we know if we are pilgrims or tourists along the journey? Well, according to the popular religious writer Diana Butler Bass, one of the things that distinguishes pilgrims from tourists is our practices. In ancient times, the people of Israel sang psalms as they went on pilgrimage. The early Christians fasted and prayed on their pilgrimages. They gave alms to the poor along the way. Spiritual practices are not just about what I keep calling our Lenten journey, but can and should be part of our whole life’s journey. By spiritual practices I mean those habits of prayer and disciplines of heart that help us make our way in the world with the mind of Christ, that self-emptying that allows God to work in us and through us for the building up of the Kingdom. If you want to know more about the mind of Christ, go home this afternoon and read Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

Our Wednesday evening conversation about Christian virtues is a wonderful way to explore and deepen our own practices of heart and mind. Participating in the life of this community through weekly Eucharist, centering prayer, compline, or service are also spiritual practices. Singing in the choir can is spiritual practice. Being fully present for one’s own life, mindful of one’s place in the world, is a spiritual practice.

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul writes: “but our citizenship is in heaven.” He wrote this to the Christian community at Philippi who were proud of their Roman citizenship, to remind them where and to whom they truly belonged. We do well to hear this message ourselves. When Jesus talked about heaven, or about eternal life, as he does throughout the gospels, he was speaking not about a place above the clouds that we don’t get to discover until we die, but about the rule of God that is brought about through God’s love and our response, through our living into the mind of Christ.

There’s a song that singer Joan Osborne made popular in 1996 that seems to be my Lenten refrain this year:

What if God was one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home
Back up to heaven all alone

When I think of Jesus making his way to Jerusalem, I think of him making his way home, making his way to Good Friday and to Easter when God will turn the world upside down. Let us join him as pilgrims to Jerusalem. Let us join him on the way home.

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A Choral Sunday

This Sunday, February 28, you will hear some extra choral music from the St. David of Wales Choir, including O Bone Jesu by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525 – 1594).

O bone Jesu, miserere nobis, quia tu creasti nos, tu redemisti nos sanguine tuo pretiosissimo.

O holy Jesus, we pray for Thy mercy, for thou hast created us, thou hast redeemed us by thy most precious blood.

The St. David of Wales Choir restarted just this past November and has been growing ever since! New singers are always invited and welcome to join us at rehearsal every Thursday evening from 7 – 8:30.  Can’t sing? Yes you can! We practice vocal techniques at every rehearsal to help you find and develop your voice. Don’t read music? Don’t worry! Recorded practice files are available online so you can learn by ear. All are also welcome to warm up their voices before the service every Sunday morning at Hymn Sing from 9:30 – 9:45 in the Parish Hall.

why chocolate is okay in Lent

So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.

With what great boldness will we travel with Jesus? This is the question I ended with last week. There are all sorts of ways we could answer in language of today’s readings. Will we travel with Jesus into the desert, to face our own demons? Will we join Jesus in fighting the temptation to work magic? Will we boldly travel with him the way that resists grandiosity and power? Will we, like Paul, boldly proclaim the generosity of God who makes no distinction between Jew and Greek? Will we relive the archetypal wilderness experience of our spiritual ancestor Abraham, sent to Egypt by a God who called him out of his comfort zone into a strange land and a new life?

These are the questions to ask ourselves during Lent. At the risk of being heretical, I think one of the ways we are tempted by the evil one is to think that God is served by something like giving up chocolate.

There is nothing wrong with self-denial or sacrifice, or with creating a discipline for such self-denial during a particular season, but the danger of giving something up just for Lent is that it trivializes the journey to the cross, and trivializes God’s very real call to each one of us. The temptations Jesus resisted in the wilderness were not temptations to eat the wrong thing or watch too many reruns of “Sex in the City.” The temptations were to turn his back on the reconciling work of unveiling the kingdom of God. The temptations were instead to choose magic, worldly power, and grandiosity. How are we similarly tempted?

* * *

The reading from Deuteronomy reminds us that our relationship with God is give-and-take, not in the sense that God’s love is conditional love, but rather that it is relational and participatory.

The words from Moses’ very long sermon in the Book of Deuteronomy are, in a sense, the Gospel for the people of Israel. This is their good news, their story, which every member of the family of God would’ve been able to recite from memory. This story, which spans just a few verses of the book of Deuteronomy, tells a story which is likely to have actually taken place over hundreds and hundreds of years. A wandering Aramean was my father, he became a great nation, we cried to the Lord, the Lord heard our voice…..So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.

We offer ourselves to God out of our own sacred stories. This happens all the time.

What happened in your life that made you get up and come to church on this beautiful sunny morning? What is your particular experience of God and of salvation? How often do we recite the stories that are the basis for all of our offerings, not just our treasure, but all we do to further God’s work in the world?

In a way, our stories themselves are our offerings. The song, “Amazing Grace,” is a good example. I once was lost, now I’m found, and I lived to tell the tale and to offer this lovely song to God who relieved my fears and gave me new eyes to see.

What are our stories? What is our offering? They may be stories of amazing grace and joy, or they may be stories of suffering and affliction. All of these we offer to God. The story that the people of Israel recite as they make their offerings, is a story of affliction and survival, of struggle and hope. God wants all of it.

What does God want of us? What is the connection between this Old Testament gospel, and the first Sunday in Lent? Our relationship with God calls us to offer all that we have. That includes our sins, our brokenness, our human failings.

What are our sins? We covered just a few in the Great Litany. All those from which we prayed “Good Lord, deliver us.”  From all evil and wickedness, from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy, from all lack of charity, from inordinate and sinful affections, from hardness of heart, from contempt of God’s word, from violence and death….” The list goes on and on, as you well know. And most of us have first-hand acquaintance with at least one or two of these.

What most often gets in the way of your joyful partnership with God?

In Lent, we offer to God our story. We offer our whole selves, including the knowledge that many of the afflictions from which we want to be delivered are probably of our own making. This process of giving our whole selves to God is our great, bold, Lenten journey. We live into the good news that God does in fact deliver us.

When we celebrate the Eucharist, we tell our story, the same way the Israelites did when they made their offering. Our story is their story—In his infinite love, God made us for himself.      Our story continues….Then, in his mercy, God sent Jesus Christ, his only and eternal Son, to share our human nature… On the night before he died for us, he took bread…. Recalling his death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer our gifts of bread, wine, and ourselves.

This is our story. This is the story into which we are invited. As we listen to the story, week after week, and as we move through this holy season, let us rejoice in God’s presence within us and among us, let us tell our stories, and let us offer to God……everything.

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday sermon preached by the Rev. Deacon Katharine Holland

As we enter into this Lenten time, we are called “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination & repentance; by prayer, fasting & self-denial; & by reading & meditating on God’s holy Word.”  [BCP,p.265].  It is a time of 40 days to be lived in imitation of Christ’s fasting in the wilderness.  We are invited into a time of both repentance & renewal, of spiritual preparation, pilgrimage & growth, not only as individuals, but also as a community.  It is a time to weigh our faults & renew our faith, both individually & collectively.  It is a time to practice mindfulness.  It is a time of spiritual “spring cleaning.”

“I recognize that even in the valley of the shadow of my own tangled thoughts there is something holy & unutterable seeking to restore my soul.”  [Frederick Buechner, The Longing for Home, p.146]  Lent gives us the opportunity to open ourselves to that Holy something.

During this time, in our individual & communal practices, in our worship & through our prayers, we will become holier.  We will bind ourselves to each other.  We will find new ways of serving God.  And we will be preparing for the unexpected surprises that come from a life lived in God.

How do we put ourselves into the position of becoming more holy?

What practices do we put into place?

What risks do we take?

There are many ways to “observe a holy Lent,” as the Prayer Book calls us to do.  We can either add or eliminate a practice or a habit.  One tradition is the practice of self-denial, to give up something – something that will help us to experience God’s presence to a greater degree in our daily lives, something that will help us face our own shortcomings & allow them to be transformed.

But what to “give up”?  One year I gave up shopping for myself during Lent.  I learned a lot in those 40 days about self-denial; but I also learned about balance, generosity of spirit, compassion, sharing, & the freedom from being possessed by “things”/not measuring my worth by what I could buy.  My self-focus became other-focused.  “Detachment [is] that movement away from being possessed by particular things in order to make room in ourselves to be possessed by God.”  [Joan Chittister, The 10 Commandments]  Think about something you might want to give up or do without this season.

Another way to observe Lent is to take on a new discipline.  One often adopted during Lent is a commitment to the reading of scripture & the practice of morning or evening prayer at a particular time each day.  The booklet, “Forward Day by Day” found on the table in the Narthex, is helpful in this as it lists the readings for each day & has a brief reflection to help focus your own meditation on the scriptures.

Another possibility – the group meeting here on Wednesday evenings is working on cultivating virtues, taking on a particular virtue for the next 40 days & practicing it in all the positive ways it can manifest itself, while at the same time recognizing & weeding out any negative directions it might take.

We do have a propensity, after all, for substituting a non-virtue for the virtue we’re purportedly practicing (a bit like the Pharisees who mistook rules, regulations & obedience to traditions as a substitute for the  giving of one’s heart to God).  For instance, we might think that the opposite of the virtue of “patience” would be impatience, that as long as we don’t get impatient, frustrated or angry with anyone, we’re rightly practicing “patience.”  But what if “patience” leads to indifference towards a person – we’re not impatient; we simply don’t care enough about that person to react – like ignoring the person begging on the street corner.  God certainly didn’t intend that in practicing patience we should become indifferent or uncaring. Having a discipline, says Bruce Epperly, [“Christian Century,” p.21, 1/26/10] trains us & “trains our senses to be ready for moments of divine inspiration” – it opens us to God & to our neighbor.  One friend of mine decided that her way of getting past the ignoring of our so-called “street people” during Lent would be to look them in the eye, acknowledge their humanity, & even talk to them as she passed; this resulted in a greater awareness on her part of how much we tend to ignore people who are homeless, to isolate & disenfranchise them even further by our actions, for they too are children of God.

So, commit yourself to read a book, or say more prayers, or take on a service project during Lent as an act of obedience/humility/faithfulness.  Save some amount of money from your morning coffee each day & give it to Episcopal Relief & Development, to help the people of Haiti or others in need.  Or fast from one meal a week, & give the amount you would have spent on that meal to a feeding program.  But commit yourself to some act of self-discipline or self-denial.  It helps, I think, to recall that while all our needs are ultimately met by our Creator, God acts through us – we are meant to be God’s hands in the world rather than people who stand by, waiting for God to act.

Christina Rosetti wrote in an untitled meditation:

“Lent . . .
Forty chances to be used or abused.
Forty appeals to be responded to or resisted.

Forty battles to be lost or won.

Forty days to be utilized or wasted.

And then the account to be closed, & the result registered.

Or again, & yet more solemnly.

Lent: a loan of forty days –

but such a loan as is terminable at the pleasure of the Lender.

Lent: a loan of unguaranteed duration –

the beginning, by God’s mercy, ours; the end not assured to us.

Lent: a period set us wherein specially to prepare for eternity;

forty days long at the longest –
can forty days be accounted long when eternity is at stake?”

What will be our relationship with God (& with each other) at the culmination of these 40 days?

How will we be changed, even transformed?

In this Lenten season how will we become more “holy” & more wholly God’s?

I believe in God almighty

New hymns, songs, and service music usher in the season of Lent. This year, we will sing I believe in God almighty for the Nicene Creed, the same setting we used in Advent. The words are by Sylvia G. Dunstanyl and the music is Richard Proulx’s arrangement of a traditional Gaelic melody, Domhnach Trionoide. The following is a description by John L. Hooker:

Sylvia Dunstan has done here what so many of her forebears in hymnody have failed to do: produce a viable metrical version of the Apostles’ Creed. The viability of such a product is not only about being able to express the catholic faith intelligibly in metered verse, but it is also about saying something valuable which the prose version cannot, by the limitations of its form. Successful hymnody has to mean something, and the gift of meaning here is that Dunstan is obliged to say what the [phrases in the Creed actually mean in the wider context of Christian faith. For example, instead of just stating that God the Father is “maker of heaven and earth,” this text also proclaims him “Keep of the sky and sea.” There is all our belief, from Hebrew Scripture through Julian of Norwich down to Therese of Lisieux and our own day, in the steadfast love of God’s unfailing mercy and care. In the introduction of Jesus at the end of the first stanza, Dunstan finds opportunity to say that his conception and birth through Mary and the Spirit was “to bring abundant life.” Of course that is inherent in the Creed, but this hymn allows us to make it explicit.

Another part of the viability is that, like the Creed, if this text is to express the historic catholic faith of the Church, it must be truly ecumenical. That it sprang from the pen of the United Church of Canada minister, that it was first published by the Gregorian Institute of America, and that it is now included in the supplement ot the authorized hymnal of the Episcopal Church gives its own weighty testimony.

Great Boldness

Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness.

In the old-fashioned church calendar this day was Quinquagesima Sunday, 50 days from Easter. This ways of counting time reminds us that our lives of faith ought always to be oriented toward Easter.  In any season, we are Easter people. This Sunday is sort of the “shoulder season” between the Incarnation cycle and the Paschal cycle. We are Easter people and we are Epiphany people. On this Sunday our readings look forward and back.

Looking back, this season began at Epiphany, when the wise men were guided by a star to worship a newborn king. As the Epiphany weeks have unfolded, we’ve seen Jesus manifest God’s glory as miracle-worker, teacher, lover of outcasts, and caller of disciples. Jesus’ baptism marked the beginning of his public ministry, and in the weeks that follow his baptism, we get this series of vignettes of what it means to be Jesus.

The Transfiguration scene is the ultimate manifestation, the mountain-top experience after which all other mountain-top experiences are named. Here we are treated to the revelation of Jesus as he really is, clothed in heavenly raiment, flanked by the all-time greats from his own spiritual heritage, and the disciples’ up-close-and-personal witness of that revelation.

Looking forward, today’s gospel also gives us a glimpse of life once the disciples come down from the mountaintop. Luke tells the story of a man anguished at the suffering of his beloved son, and of the disciples’ powerlessness. The glory of the mountaintop does not erase or preclude the suffering in the world, nor does it fully prepare the disciples to carry on the ministry of Jesus. This is a rather anti-climactic glimpse of post-mountaintop reality. It reminds us that what matters in our journey is what we do when we’re on the ground, traveling the way, rather than the rare face-to-face glimpses of God’s glory.

Kenneth Leech, in our Lenten book We Preach Christ Crucified, writes

“The transfiguration is a message both about Jesus and about us. For in this moment Jesus is known for what he is. Yet all life is a process of discovery of our true identity and our potential for glory.” (p. 32)

I would like to suggest that this process of discovery of our true identity and our potential for glory is what today’s readings are all about. The journey down the mountain after the transfiguration is the process of living into our own potential.

The reading from Paul’s letter to the growing community at Corinth has been described as Paul guiding that community—and us—back down off the mountain. It, too, is a reading that looks forward and back. Paul looks all the way back to Moses. Moses hid the glory of God as it was reflected in his own shining face whenever he encountered the divine, which he did quite frequently. There is a danger when we read passages like this to think that Paul is dis-ing Moses and the entire Hebrew Bible; he’s not. Rather, he points to Moses’ veil as an illustration of the way many of us hide our sense of God’s grace and glory from one another and from ourselves. Moses was transfigured by his encounter with the Holy One, and he kept that to himself. Rather like us hiding our light under a bushel. This veiling in turn becomes a form of spiritual blindness. Paul calls the Corinthians to act with great boldness, see God fully, and to live faithful and active in the hope of resurrection and new life. When we do this, we live into our own transfiguration.

One of the incredible things about participating in 12-step meetings, specifically in Alcoholics Anonymous, is hearing the stories of transfiguration and seeing transfiguration in people as they move through loss, suffering, humiliation, and their own spiritual death and resurrection, often with the “great boldness” that Paul writes about.

However, transfiguration doesn’t only happen in death and resurrection experiences.

Last night, in the first annual Portland Fun-A-Day event (parts of which are still up in our utterly transfigured parish hall), we saw amazing examples of people revealing their own true identity and potential for glory. This happened through art, through lived experience turned into visual expression, through taking creative risks and sharing of themselves. Talk about transfiguration! Talk about the glory of God in human beings fully alive!

Our true identity unfolds when we let go all that stops us from living and giving to the fullest. We live into glory when we give ourselves completely to that which makes us most faithful to God’s likeness, in which we, like Jesus, were created. Such generosity—giving ourselves completely—often involves some kind of death and resurrection. That’s why Jesus talks about his own death as glorifying God.

The cross always casts a shadow under the brightness of the Epiphany star. At the bottom of the mountain, Jesus begins, in earnest, his journey to the cross, as do we. Where do we find ourselves on the journey down the mountaintop? As we prepare for the journey of Lent, how will we glorify God? Where do we see suffering, and how will we respond to it? What are the veils that we wear to hide our true selves from God and from our sisters and brothers? How will we show forth God’s glory? With what great boldness will we travel with Jesus?

The Last Alleluia

On this last Sunday of Epiphany, we sing Alleluia’s in anticipation of the coming of Lent, which is a more reflective time – a time to ponder, to meditate, to look inward and assess our relationship with God.

This year, I will sing the final Alleluia as a chant, after the recessional hymn but before the dismissal and postlude.

This particularly Alleluia is in the form of plainsong and has a slower pace and more somber tone than is usual. Setting an appropriate mood as we transition from this time of comparative joy of Epiphany to the more somber season of Lent, this piece reflects on “fasting from pleasures,’ yet still remembers in the final verse that out of Christ’s suffering come Easter, resurrection, and the eternal “singing of Alleluia joyfully!”

– The Rev. Katharine Holland