Monthly Archives: March 2010

Want to read Ken Leech’s Holy Week sermons on-line?

Alas, Ken preaches and speaks from minimal notes. If you don’t want to miss what he has to say, you can hear him at these times and places:

Palm Sunday
At 11:30 am, Kenneth Leech will lead a discussion of his book We Preach Christ Crucified at St. David of Wales. Coffee and refreshments will be served.

At 5:00 pm, Ken will officiate and offer a homily during Passion Vespers at Trinity Cathedral.

Monday in Holy Week, 7 pm
Ken Leech will give a lecture titled “Hanging out in Jerusalem: Getting to the cross in an Easter Bunny World” at St. David of Wales. All are welcome. A free-will offering will help to offset Ken’s travel expenses.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week, 12 noon

At St. David of Wales Ken Leech will lead participants through the Stations of the Cross, using the unique, iconic stations of Beverley Barr.

Holy Wednesday at 6:30 pm

An evening at Centro Santa Cruz, where guests will be treated to the hospitality of the Centro’s Youth Group, enjoy a bowl of pozole, and reflect with Ken Leech on contextual theology and urban mission.  What are we called to do and be to engage faithfully with cultural, linguistic and socio-educational difference?

Good Friday, noon to 3 pm

The Seven Last Words, at St. David of Wales. Preachers from the metro area will join Ken Leech in offering messages on Jesus’ seven final utterances from the cross, interspersed with music from the Portland Musical Emergency Response Team. Come for a few minutes or for the whole three hours.

Ken will also be the preacher at St. David’s Easter Vigil beginning at 8 pm on April 3.

Rivers in the Desert: Isaiah Meets Judas

For I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert

This verse from Isaiah reminds us that “the wilderness” is a common metaphor for Lent. Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness, fasting and resisting temptation, and our journey is intended in spots to be similarly barren, devoid of flowers, the a-word that we won’t say until midway through the Easter vigil, devoid of foods or habits that we think are particularly self-indulgent, and more.  The wilderness or desert metaphor is also a good one for us as we seek to make our way in uncharted territory toward this year’s celebration of Holy Week and Easter. The territory may not seem uncharted: there are things we do year after year. And yet each year is new, each year we make our way to and through Holy Week and Easter events in a new and different way because of what each of us brings to our encounter with the cross and with the risen Christ.

Today’s reading from Isaiah moves us along through these last weeks of Lent and gets us ready for Easter. Isaiah contrasts the earlier miraculous work of God—parting the Red sea, making a path in the mighty waters, with the promise of rivers in the desert. Remember not the former things, says the prophet. Pay attention to the fact that God can do all things, and is doing new things all the time. God can bring dry land out of the midst of water, as in the Exodus, and God can make water flow in dry land. Isaiah writes to a people in exile to reassure them that God’s promises are always there, that God always calls them to a fuller and more faithful life.

It is for us who travel through times of spiritual exile that Isaiah’s image of rivers in the desert turns a barren place into a fruitful place, turns our own wilderness into a place of abundance and surprise.

Isaiah speaks to anyone who has ever spent time in a spiritual desert. Most of us have had times in our lives—I hope I’m not the only one—where we are spiritually dry, where our prayer life feels empty. In these weeks leading up to Easter, we may feel that we are supposed to be in touch, every moment, with Jesus’ impending suffering, our own longing for redemption, and our faith in resurrection and renewal. Instead, we are too busy or preoccupied or apathetic or self-reliant, and so we beat ourselves up, distancing ourselves even further from the experience of the holy that is all around us. Does this sound like anyone you know?

But, as every single wilderness story from scripture tells us, when we are in the wilderness, we are not alone. The Israelites who wandered for forty years in the desert had the Angel of the Lord with them. When Elijah went into the wilderness in search of God he heard a still, small voice. When the Ethiopian Eunuch traveled through the desert he met Philip and was baptized. If you read about the desert fathers in the early centuries of Christianity, they usually went out to the desert to be alone and always ended up bumping into one another. If we could make it on our own during desert times, we wouldn’t need to be a church. Church is our way-station in the wilderness where we meet and share our desert journey with others.

Imagine whom we might meet in the wilderness if we were traveling through Bethany on our way to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Imagine that our way-station in the desert is the home of Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus.

We would meet Lazarus, the un-dead, recently dead, and soon to be dead again. You probably know Lazarus already; in the old lectionary we’d hear his story on this fifth Sunday in Lent. Jesus raises him from the dead both as an act of love and a demonstration of God’s saving power, and the authorities immediately decided to kill him all over again. Imagine being Lazarus during this in-between time. Wilderness territory indeed.

We would meet Mary, who says not a word in today’s gospel but her actions speak much louder than words. Mary is steeped already in death and loss; her desert journey has her leading the way for the rest of her household and for the rest of us, toward the cross. She will spend the next week living in the moment, silent, watching, weeping, and waiting. She is awash with grief, and in the midst of that offers grief Jesus this extravagant anointing with the thick, dense, earthy perfume that truly did cost a fortune. The whole house would’ve smelled like death, and I am guessing it is this, more than the cost of the perfume, that made Judas so uncomfortable.

And we would meet Judas in the wilderness. Judas is the most lost of anyone in the gospel. He is a tragic figure because he doesn’t yet grasp the enormity of Jesus’ love, and doesn’t include himself in those disciples whom Jesus loves, although he is one. He is a tragic figure because he doesn’t grasp the significance of Jesus’ death and the insignificance of his own part in that death. Setting aside for a moment his plans to betray Jesus, his business-as-usual attitude—why would you spend so much money on nard when we’ve got bills to pay and poor people to help?—keeps him from fully entering into Jesus’ transforming love. Does this remind you of anyone you know?

We are all familiar with the urge to blame someone when something goes wrong. This is true even at the level of moving through the passion story that we enter next week. We want to blame Judas, to label him as the traitor. I want to suggest that Judas is one of those poor that Jesus says we will always have with us, one of those poor about whom Jesus says later: Feed my sheep. We never read that Jesus stops loving Judas, any more than Jesus stops loving us when we find ourselves wandering in the desert of greed or frustration or self-aggrandizement.

Just as Jesus and Mary and Judas are all preparing to travel to Jerusalem for the Passover each in their own way, so we are preparing to travel to Jerusalem, each in our own way. In Jesus’ time, thousands upon thousands of pilgrims traveled each year to Jerusalem, mostly on foot, streaming into the city from all directions. Next week we’ll reenact this entry into Jerusalem.

The entry into Jerusalem is, for us, the entry into Holy Week. When we enter into Christ’s suffering, Christ’s passion, we are called to com-passion, to suffer with. I invite you, in this last Sunday before Holy Week, to travel the journey with compassion for Judas and for the Judases in your own life, the ones who are lost in the wilderness. Perhaps when we meet them there, we can point the way to rivers in the desert.

William Billings

William Billings is a fascinating person for countless reasons:

  • 1746 – Born with vision in only one eye, an ugly voice, and one lame leg
  • A self taught musician and America’s first professional composer
  • Taught a singing class, which became the Stoughton Musical Society, America’s oldest, and organized the first church choir in America
  • 1770 – published a collection of songs and hymns called The New England Psalm-Singer, the first published music completely written by an American
  • Wrote most of the lyrical texts for his music
  • The frontispiece of The New Englad Psalm-Singer was engraved by his good friend, Paul Revere
  • Primitive copyright laws in America could not prevent rampant plagiarism of his very popular music and he died in poverty at age 53
  • The Sacred Harp tradition has revived his music in the twentieth century
Listen to the way his melody reflects the Lenten text in the offertory anthem this Sunday, When Jesus Weptthe notes weep in downward spirals at strange intervals, dissonances fill the canon with mystery. Pretty hip for a piece written hundreds of years ago.

When Jesus wept, the falling tear

in mercy flowed beyond all bound;

when Jesus groaned, a trembling fear

seized all the guilty world around.

Kyrie

The Rev. Kevin Hackett’s Herzliebster Jesu Kyrie, written for the Community of Celebration, is an example of a Kyrie eleison with specific seasonal and penitential overtones. It comes from a complete eucharistic setting based on hymn tunes mainly associated with Lent; the Sanctus, for example, uses St. Theodulph; the Agnus Dei, Bangor; the Memorial Acclamation, McKee, etc. This Kyrie is a brilliant use of the first, second, and final phrases of the tune Herzliebster Jesu (Ah, Holy Jesus), which is inextricably bound to the Passion text “Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended?” Because of that, its use should be restricted to Lent and Holy Week (as we have been at St. David’s this year).

– John L. Hooker, Wonder Love and Praise, 1997

Homecoming: Bracing ourselves for love

A sermon by Kerlin Richter.

Jesus, you are the older brother who rejoices with your father at each of our returns, let us feast with you as we welcome every lost son home.

On the second Friday of the month, I join a few other women from St. Michaels and go out to 82nd to Sts Peter and Paul. There, every Friday night the doors are open to women who for whatever reason find themselves on the street.  We serve dinner and offer basic supplies, toilet paper and laundry soap. It’s not much, honestly in the face of pain and brokenness to say here you go my sister- a bowl of soup and a bar of soap. But it is a safe place. warm and dry and reliable. It is a refuge from the streets even if only for an hour or two, where there will be no men, no fear, no abuse. So this past Friday I was there and usually we are pretty much done by 9, and the three of us were sitting for a few more minutes before we started to clean up. It was a kind of slow night, there had maybe been 10 women. Some withdrawn and quiet, some high and manic. One woman who had to eat her soup slowly and carefully because of her split lip and swollen jaw.

As sometimes happens just when you think a night is over one more woman came in. She was wearing a thin shirt and was shivering and damp. After going out to the needle exchange van, she came and sat down to have a bowl of soup.  And she began to tell us her story. Jennifer is 42 years old and first started working on the streets when she was 13. She figured she could start making some money off what her family had been taking for free. For years a pimp controlled her every move and got her well hooked on crack. In escaping from him she found heroin and impossibly things got worse.  over the years things would get better and then worse. She told us how she has gotten clean many times before and how she wants to again. She wants to go home. She has two grown children, and a granddaughter.  She was clean once for seven years. Finished school and became a drug and alcohol counselor, then relapsed. Most recently, she spent 9 months with her daughter and granddaughter. She had gone to her daughter’s door and knocked. Her daughter took her in and forgave her again. in less than a year she was back on the street.

Jennifer looked hard at us and asked “How many times do I ask my children to forgive me? How does a mother do this to her children? How can I ever go home again?”

In the reading from Joshua, the Israelites have finally made it home. It took them forty years and whole generation had grown up in the desert. The part we heard today comes right after they have all been circumcised. They are back into a right relationship with God. They are home. And God says “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.”

And after they celebrate Passover, they eat the fruit of the promised land.  The exodus was over they no longer had manna to eat; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan from then on. They had made it home but they still have this huge conquest ahead of them. they are about to start circling Jericho, but just for now they feast and relish in their homecoming and forgiven state.

the psalmist tells us:

“Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, *

and whose sin is put away!”

I said,” I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.” *

Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

Why do we fear repentance? according to everything we have heard today it is good news. We will be happy, and welcomed and fed.

Which brings us to what is probably the best repentance story ever.

Now Jesus doesn’t name the parables but we do and one we have come to know this one as the prodigal son. It’s a parable that rings so true in all of its family dynamics and emotional weight.  the lost son reunited with his father, the jealousy of the older brother who never did anything wrong and now seems to regret it. The love of the father- its all there.

We have been welcomed home and we will leave again. there is probably never a week that goes by that anyone can say with absolute certainty “Father, I have never disobeyed your command” but this brother also gets searched out by the father , he goes after the self righteous and indignant as well as the humble and broken.

During Lent we get to explore and live into this holy homesickness. We are called to long for a place where we will be known and fed. That longing is the beginning of repentance. We get to practice looking for places in our lives where we settling for pig food.  We are called to dream of home and start heading towards it.

I would love for Jennifer’s story to end like the younger son’s. She comes home there is a celebration anyone not thrilled to see her gets a word from dad, and the party is lavish. But she has already done that and it didn’t last.  She relapsed and ended up back on the streets.

This side of heaven we are all wounded and messy and sometimes homesick for a lifetime. In real life getting home is often the beginning of a longer harder story.

Faith is ongoing lifetime of repenting and continued reconciliation and yet we proclaim one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  this is one of the mysteries of faith : We are ultimately and profoundly reconciled with God, and yet still seeking ever greater union.

To use Paul’s race metaphor we got on the track team and now its time to really start running.

We have been given a stake in the kingdom and now we need to practice living like its true. Coming home is not the end, finally making it to Canaan is not the end. Good Friday is not the end. Easter is not the end. Even Pentecost is not the end.

There is no end on this side of the river.

After finishing her soup on Friday, Jennifer went and washed her hair in the bathroom sink got high again and headed out into the cold and rainy night on 82nd.

What does my faith do in these places? How do we proclaim a gospel of hope in a world that specializes in despair?

Practice.

Going to church and loving each other is kingdom practice. none of what Jesus asks of us comes easily none of it comes naturally and if we want to have any hope of responding spontaneously like Jesus its going to take a lot of practice.

The Eucharist is our welcome home feast.  We do it over and over again because its such crazy good news we just might never recover.

“Tell me again” we say “the story of how you welcome me home.” we aren’t going to have the tidiness of parable lives, we are going to be like the prodigal son in relapse but we are liturgical people. and we can live this story over and over because we know how it ends. We know that there is feasting and rejoicing, hugs and reunion. and we know that after repentance there is forgiveness.

Every week we get to turn around again and set our faces for our Father’s house and brace ourselves for love.

[Inquiring minds who want to know more about the Friday night ministry with, for, and by women on 82nd Avenue should go to http://www.rahabs-sisters.org. ]

Honoring Irv Ewen: October 12, 1932-March 4, 2010

In the weeks before Irv’s death, a poem came to Marlo, which he asked me to read today:

It’s called “Sshh – Listen”

Sshh, listen, the walls are paper thin.
There are voices beyond from another dimension
Of the lofty and the grand.
No more crying; heaven is close at hand,
When one steps over the line,
to another place where there is no time.
A year is a moment and a moment is a year.
Do what you must; eternity is for sure.
The choice is yours, the gift is His.

With the intuition of one who has shared love and companionship with Irv for fourteen years, Marlo has in a few words perfectly captured that borderland place between this world and the next, the place where Irv hovered for the last week or so of his life. During those last days, Irv was able to visit with friends. He was able to hear their love and their goodbyes. At the same time, we could see him moving into that perfect rest which his body so needed and which his soul craved.  In that moment, in Marlo’s words “over the line to another place where there is no time,” Irv has left us to reflect on the many gifts he gave us.

In the short time that I had the privilege of being Irv’s priest, I learned that he was a man full of love, quiet, gentle, understated love. I’d like to spend a few minutes talking about some of Irv’s loves.

Irv was a lover of Marlo. Marlo talks about how when they first met, he was a little shy and Irv just kept showing up and offering him big bear hugs and more. Marlo gradually came around, especially after they discovered their shared love of theatre pipe organs.

Irv was a lover of music. He was a particularly devoted fan and supporter of the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus. While he never sang, there was a chord in his spirit that connected with music with an evangelical zeal. Something in his engineer’s heart understood what goes into making music on the grand scale that he especially loved. Those of you who hang around this church know that I’m fond of quoting St. Irenaeus, who said that the glory of God is a human being fully alive; I think Irv understood that many people glorify God without even planning to, through that sense of being fully alive that comes from creating and hearing wonderful music.

Irv was not one to compartmentalize his loves, and so the third love I think of when I think of Irv, is his love of making connections with a dizzying number of organizations—in addition to the chorus, there was the Portland Opera, Delta Sigma Phi, the Geological Society of the Oregon Country, the National Railway Historical Society, and the Columbia River Organ Club. To name only a few. In each of these connections, Irv expressed his love through humble, behind-the-scenes service.

Finally, Irv was a lover of the Episcopal Church, particularly as it is manifested at St. David of Wales. He loved the people, he loved the music (especially the organ), he loved the building, but most of all he loved the worship. He was one of those people the Episcopal Church is made for, because I believe that one of the ways Irv experienced God close up was through ritual and ceremony, through the pomp and circumstance that we’re known for. He partook of the sacrament whenever he could, including in the very last weeks of his life when he was still able to receive communion at home.

Irv was what we used to call a true churchman. As with musical production, he understood all the aspects of what goes into making church happen, and he took every opportunity to participate, usually behind the scenes. He broke a gender barrier by joining the altar guild. Those of you who are familiar with the Church know that altar guild is the ultimate behind-the-scenes ministry. Jennie Brown from our altar guild tells a wonderful story about running into Irv after the sacristy had mysteriously cleaned itself up while she was out to brunch on a Sunday afternoon. She said “The good fairies must’ve been here” and they both had a good laugh. From that point forward, Irv took great pleasure in referring to himself as “the good fairy.”

We gather today to offer our prayers and our thanks, not only for the 77 years of Irv’s life here among us, but for his new life in Christ, the life that was always Irv’s anticipation and his hope. Jesus speaks about the new life in Christ, which Irv has already found.

Do not let your hearts be troubled, Jesus says. We all could do with these comforting words during a time of loss when each one of us is thinking, in one way or another, about our own death as well as Irv’s. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. There is room for all of us in the mystery that awaits each one of us. And yet in this gospel reading Thomas, dear, doubting Thomas, has to ask the practical question: Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way? Like Irv joining the altar guild, Thomas is breaking a traditional male mold here, because he actually asks directions. But doesn’t Thomas speak for all of us, voicing our very human longing for a road map? Don’t we all want directions for life, especially at a time like this?

As we continue with this service, with prayers and a holy meal, I would like to suggest that a piece of our road map, our instructions for continuing life’s journey without Irv, is to honor the fullness of Irv’s life in how we live our lives. Irv was a devoted partner to Marlo. We can honor Irv by being just as devoted to our life partners and to our friends. We can honor Irv by accompanying Marlo in his grief. Irv loved music; how can we live fully alive to music as Irv did? Irv’s life was characterized by staying out of the limelight and making wonderful things happen; how can Irv stay alive in us through our own works of humble service? Irv adopted a whole faith community as his family; how can we be that kind of community for others?

And finally, how will Irv live on in you?

St. David and the Fig Tree: Luke 13:1-9

Sir, let it alone for one more year.

Welcome to all of you on this transferred feast of St. David, especially our friends from the Welsh Society and Bryn Seion Welsh Church. This is sort of a “hybrid service,” as we celebrate our patronal feast and continue to journey with Jesus through Lent, to the cross.

According to one of the books I have on saints, St. David is, among other things, the patron of poets. Some of you know that my rather whimsical contribution to our Fun-a-Day art exhibition last month was a collection of extremely amateur haiku written for each saint celebrated in the month of January. So I thought it only fitting to compose a haiku or two for our patron saint David of Wales.

First, here’s a haiku about his professional bio:

Reluctant bishop,
he longed for study and pray’r:
ruled Wales instead.

Here’s one about his death, which, according to legend, was foretold by an angel right down to the day and hour:

Did not die un-warned;
Jesus made a date with him,
took him home to feast.

There are many legends about St. David, and we know very little about which were true and which weren’t. My favorite lore about St. David concerns the challenges he set forth for anyone who wanted to get in to the monastery. Apparently an aspiring monk would be expected to wait at the monastery gates for weeks while those inside hurled insults at him. Here’s another haiku:

You want to enter?
Well, take that, and that, and more!
Still want to join us?

I would like to suggest that there is something about this practice, that has something to say to us today. Sometimes I wonder if we go too far in trying to make the dreaded “organized religion” as accessible as possible. This might be summed up by a cartoon in the current issue of the New Yorker. The caption reads: “Perhaps more people would give heed unto the word of the Lord if the Lord had a funny blog.”

Being a Christian is not easy. When we practice a hospitality that makes discipleship look easy, we are in danger of misleading those who seek a real connection with a real God. When we soft-pedal who we are, we are in danger of forgetting that it’s actually hard to be a Christian. Jesus never said: Come, follow me, I promise we’ll make it easy for you. He never said: Take three things that are really important to you, and come along when you’re ready. He never said “pick up your iphone and follow me.”

What might be the modern-day insults hurled at spiritual seekers coming to a church like ours? Oh, maybe that fact that they have to listen to that mean old Old Testament, or sing hymns that don’t just roll off the tongue the very first time they’re sung. Or what we call “pew aerobics”—never knowing when to stand, sit, or kneel. And yet David’s monasteries grew and grew. There was something that called to those who came that outweighed their longing to be comfortable above all else.

Jesus asks something of us, and we, as a church, ask something of those who are seeking to follow Jesus in the way that we follow Jesus.

Actually, like David, we are asking you to do some fairly outrageous things. David wanted to do nothing but study and pray; he was raised up as a bishop against his will and asked to give his whole life to building up the church in Wales, that the church might better proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom. We invite you to build this church on Harrison Hill, that we—all of us—might better proclaim the Good News of God’s kingdom. David asked those who were thinking about being monks to give it some serious thought. We ask you to think about what it means to follow Jesus. David asked his monks to live on bread and water. We ask you to live on bread and wine. Our worship—which is a huge part of what it means to be Anglican—is a departure from what many are used to who come through our doors, and yet it is how we celebrate who we are and what God has done for us in Jesus.

Even if we are eversomuch more welcoming than the monks in David’s monasteries—I hope we are!—the gospel asks some difficult things of us. Today’s gospel—phew! I am going to get to the gospel for the third Sunday in Lent—is a perfect example. In modern translation, the gospel comes to us in two paragraphs. The first paragraph uses words like “repent” and “perish.” The second paragraph contains the lovely parable about the fig tree. Some people think it’s a harsh story but I love it story because I always imagine the gardener being able to have the same conversation with the landowner year after year: Let it alone for one more year; I’ll give it some more care and see what happens. (I could preach a whole sermon on that parable, and next time it comes around, I will.)

Early on in his ministry, Jesus proclaims: The Kingdom of God has come near to you; repent and hear the Good News. When we talk about “the gospel,” this is its essence. The kingdom of God has come near to you; repent and hear the Good News. It’s a both/and gospel. The kingdom is very near us, the Good News is that all of God’s promises of renewal and repentance and inclusion and love are coming true. And the Good News is that we need to repent in order to experience all of God’s promises coming true.

Repent is one of those words we don’t want to use in church because it might scare someone off. But basically, the business of believers is to follow in Jesus’ footsteps by issuing a call to repentance, and then sharing the good news of forgiveness and grace.

Our patron Saint David knew this. His life’s work, I believe, was seeking and finding that balance between the call to repentance and the promise of grace, between kindness and firmness. There are many horticultural images associated with St. David and with Wales—oak trees, daffodils, ewe trees, scattering seeds, and more. Today I think we would to well to take hold of the fig tree as an emblem of God’s grace and favor.

A final haiku:

Called the water-man
Dave set a meager table;
Now we will feast here.