Monthly Archives: July 2010

Choosing the Better Part

Jesus, teach us how to live like people who have chosen the better part. Amen

 So, yesterday afternoon I was really wanting to finish this sermon and was getting all stressed out about how little time I had left, and the house was trashed. So there I was folding laundry in that kind of angry way and thinking about how I should just give up on everything I do because I am such a complete failure. And I was irritated with Adin because he kept interrupting me and I said a little prayer –“Jesus I don’t know what to do. How can you want me to follow you? Surely you don’t want me going around saying your name. Me? I was horrid to Adin this afternoon, and really Jesusl, do you want somebody who gets frustrated with her kid, and is always doing everything at the last minute? and spins out? really?

 So there I am, I’ve just loaded the dishwasher, AGAIN. I am folding all this laundry, AGAIN. and I’m grumbling to myself and finally it was like Oh Jesus. I’m Martha.

Dang it.

Right before I was supposed to get up here in front of all of you, who are probably doing way better than I am right now.

See, I was going to write this really awesome sermon that was going to illuminate the biblical text in a really fresh way, and instead I feel like I am still at the very beginning. I really want to be further along on my spiritual journey but sometimes it’s really hard.

Because sometimes that better part is so far away.

It’s hard because we know there is a better part. We can feel it. We long for that better part with every ounce of our being. We hunger and thirst for the better part.

Both the Old Testament lesson this morning and the Gospel are stories of hospitality.

Mary, Martha, and Abraham all engage the question, “How do we be gracious hosts of God?”

Of the three I think Abraham may get closest. Give all we can, sit down and listen.

I don’t think the goal of this gospel story is to pick the right sister and then you get a gold star. Martha is judgmental and snippy and Mary is shirking her work. We do both things all the time. We neglect to help our sisters in their time of need and we burn with the injustice of doing more than our fair share. We avoid our responsibilities and we harbor grudges. The tricky piece is that Martha is doing pretty much what we think of Jesus as wanting the rest of us to do. Offer hospitality, feed people, all that good stuff.

If we hear the lesson from Genesis this morning there can be no doubt that God loves hospitality, the angel does not say Abraham, Abraham, Abraham, you are worried about many things, and he does even more running around getting ready than Martha. The whole lesson is nothing BUT Abraham in a rush making ready for his guests. and there is no problem whatsoever. Because he starts with seeing the guests and ends with him listening.

But, Martha doesn’t see Jesus. She thinks she is being hospitable, but all she can see is the word in relation to herself. The Bad news here is that this is all of us. Every time we think Jesus is the way for us to do our things with the added bonus of being “spiritual.”

I think we do it honestly enough. We see a need and respond, but that response becomes our posture. We confuse our offering with the world’s need, and that can make us mean.

Guess what? Jesus didn’t come so that we could make people do what we want them to do.

Jesus, you tell that lazy sister of mine to help.

Jesus, take my side.

Jesus, don’t you care?

That’s what this is all about. Mary is willing to hear what Jesus has to say and Martha wants to bring Jesus around to her way of seeing things.

Do we want to shape or be shaped by the gospel?

What we need to do is admit that life is overwhelming and complex and we (by we, here I mean I) are so deeply sucked into the illusion that getting it all done is the goal.

That somehow on a painfully deep level I really think I can be perfect. And guess what, I can’t. I cant even get close enough to start pretending.

 Why did we come to church this morning?

Because if it was out of obligation I suspect that we just might be wasting our time.

 “Martha – you are distracted by many things, like worrying more about what other people are doing than yourself, like judging your sister, like picking fights, like keeping score and having a sense of justice and fairness with you at the center.”

We are more than willing to bicker among ourselves about the details, from what kind of music is acceptable on a Sunday morning to whose turn is it to make the coffee. But where really is Jesus in our discussions of church polity, worship styles and change? Where is Jesus when we talk about church, where is Jesus when we are anxious about Sunday mornings?

Is he still sitting quietly teaching in the corner as we rush around trying to get everything right?

Martha tries to get Jesus to take her side.

Jesus has already taken all of our sides. That’s the whole point of incarnation.

Jesus doesn’t have any problem with doing work and feeding people. He loves it. What Jesus doesn’t seem to like is trying to make him take sides to satisfy our need for self righteous satisfaction.

The better part is not judging, the better part is welcoming your guest not only with your home but with your heart. To make space for those God sends your way. And if they do things differently than you, or they do things wrong, remember with relief this is not your house this is not your party.

This is God’s house and this is God’s party and we are all guests. And every week we are invited back to this table.

Jesus’s good news, his gospel, is that the kingdom of God Is at hand. In so many ways this seems absurd to everyone he meets. The whole Journey of his ministry is full of Jesus sharing the good news that a new reality of radical love has dawned. And the time is now. And that is why we are here, that is why we do this.

That is why we came to church this morning.

Because we believe it. We believe it deeply, because it is true. And on the days when I am at my worst, I believe it most of all. That better part? It’s one thing-

 love

 The good news is that love is stronger than death. God is love, and we are beings created by love, with the purpose to love. I believe that darkness and despair and loneliness and inadequacy are real, but they are not the ultimate reality. And I don’t know anywhere other than church where we say that, sing that, preach and pray that.

What I want for myself is to start really living as if the kingdom of God is at hand. I want to throw myself at the feet of Jesus and spend the rest of my life listening to what he has to say.

Kerlin Richter

July 18, 2010

Be Thou My Vision

I have recently learned that Be Thou My Vision is a favorite of many who gather at St. David’s (or at least those who filled out the hymn survey – thanks and I’m still accepting suggestions!). I discovered that the components of this hymn all have very unusual stories, captured here in an article by Sarah McCabe:

In 433 AD St. Patrick came to the Hill of Slane in County Meath. It was the night before Easter, and concurrently the beginning of the Druidic festival of Bealtine, as well as the beginning of the Spring Equinox. High King Leoghaire (pronounced “Leary”) mac Neill had issued a decree that no fires were to be lit until the lighting of the blaze atop nearby Tara Hill that would usher in the Spring Equinox. The first fire, however, was not that of King Leoghaire. Rather, it was a flame lit by St. Patrick to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Instead of executing him, King Leoghaire was so impressed by St. Patrick’s courage that he allowed him to continue with his missionary work throughout Ireland.

Considered Ireland’s chief poet during his time, Dallan Forgaill, who was killed by pirates in 598, was known as a studious and scholarly man. It was said that he spent so much time reading, writing, and studying that he became blind. Inspired by the events on the Hill of Slane about 100 years earlier, Dallan Forgaill wrote the original words to “Be Thou My Vision” in old Irish, as a poem entitled “Rop tu mo baile.” The poem was not translated into English until 1905 when Mary E. Byrne (1880-1931) wrote a literal translation of the words in English prose. The words were made into verse and published by Eleanor H. Hull (1860-1935) in her 1913 work entitled Poem Book of the Gael.

The tune to “Be Thou My Vision” is called SLANE, an old Irish folk melody, named for the Hill of Slane. Though centuries old, the melody was first published by Patrick W. Joyce (1827-1914) in his 1909 collection, Old Irish Folk Music and Songs, under the title “By the Banks of the Bann.” The melody was first coupled with Hull’s versified words to “Be Thou My Vision” in 1919 by Leopold Dix (1861-1935) in the Irish Church Hymnal.

Bicycle Fellowship: 3rd Sunday Rides and Workshops

Third Sunday Rides

Announcing Third Sunday Bicycle Rides at St David’s, beginning this Sunday, July 18th following coffee hour.

Ride your bike to church (or bring it along if you’re coming from far away) and gather with other cyclists to embark on a moderate community ride, usually ending at a local pub or coffee shop.

This Sunday, we’ll take the Springwater corridor to the Eastside Portland Sunday Parkway (brochure and updated map.) Dress festively, wear your helmet, and join us for a fun ride culminating in festivities at this popular community event filled with food and entertainment.

Bike Coaching and Workshops

Want to ride your bike more? What’s stopping you? Whatever it is, there’s probably a good reason for it. Find out how to overcome the hurdle and start enjoying Portland by bike.

Join local bike coach Brian Lacy, founder of BIKEmpowered, for an info night at St. David’s.

Learn basic safety skills, vent your fears and concerns, and get great advice to help you get on your bike and enjoy it. Depending on interest, we’ll schedule group workshops at St. David’s. If you’re interested, please vote for your preferred info night date, using this poll.

Or contact the office to find out more.

P.S. Brian also coaches urban beekeeping.

Being Neighbors

I  have often fantasized about writing a whole sermon made up of quotes from church signs. You know the type…. “Seven days without prayer makes one weak.” “Forbidden fruit makes many jams.” “Shock your mom: go to church.” Last Sunday, on the 4th of July, I saw one that said: “With Jesus, every day is freedom day.” A sign that makes me think about the inquisitive lawyer in today’s gospel reads: “Exposure to the Son may prevent burning.”

It is this burning, this presumed fire in the next life, that the guy in today’s gospel appears to be worried about. He asks: What must I do to inherit eternal life? What must I do??? Isn’t that what we all want to know? How do we live our lives in such a way that we gain life to the fullest, life with Jesus?

In the Letter to the Colossians we read:

We have not ceased praying that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will and spiritual wisdom and understanding.

Isn’t this what we all pray for, for ourselves, for our loved ones, for our parish? (If it isn’t, it should be.) How wonderful to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, to bear fruit in every good work and to grow in the knowledge of God. This is what we pray for in today’s collect, that we might know and understand what things we ought to do.

I am fairly certain that most of us, at one time or another, and some of us way more than others, question what we should be doing with our lives. We pray for discernment:  What must I do? What should we be doing? How will we measure our success as servants of God? These are questions of calling and purpose. And I like to give the lawyer in today’s gospel the benefit of the doubt and think that he only pretends to be asking Jesus his questions as a test. I think he really does want to know. What must I do to inherit eternal life? How do I get and stay right with God and my neighbor?

The story in today’s gospel can be read in several ways: it answers the question “what ought we to do?” and it also answers the question “how ought we to be?” The good deeds of the Samaritan speak to the “good” part of the “Good Samaritan” story, the story of what we ought to do. We ought to do good deeds of caring and generosity way beyond what is expected of us. This is what the Good Samaritan is all about, right? These good deeds are the reason so many hospitals, counseling centers, veterinary clinics, and relief organizations take the name “Good Samaritan.”

Equally important, perhaps even more important than the “good” part of the story is the Samaritan part of the story. At the time of Jesus, Samaritans were despised by Israelites. They were considered unclean, unfaithful, and all ‘round strange. They did not fit in and they were not invited to try. As is so often the case, Jesus lifts up the least likely person as an example of goodness and mercy.

This story is often misread. Many people assume that the neighbor Jesus points to, in response to the lawyer’s question, “and who is my neighbor?” is the person lying in the ditch, the person in need. Who is our neighbor? The people who are poor and needy, to whom we must respond. It is a “gospel given,” that we feed and clothe the destitute. But in this story of the Samaritan, Jesus takes that basic assumption and breaks it open, digging deeper. Who is the neighbor that we are to love as we love God and ourselves? The one who showed mercy.

If the neighbor is the one who showed mercy, the Samaritan, then the message for us is that the neighbor we are to love is not only the stranger in need, but also the Samaritans in our lives, the person we can’t stand, the last person on earth we would ever ask for help.

Who is the last person you would expect help from? About whom do you feel that you would rather die than be beholden?

Some of you might remember the movie Crash, which won the Academy award for Best Picture in 2004. This movie features multiple intersecting plot lines over a two-day period in Los Angeles, weaving a tragic story of racism and bigotry and deep human need, with moments of redemption throughout. One of the most intense of these moments of redemption occurs at the scene of an accident—a car has flipped over, and trapped underneath is an African American woman. The first responder is a white police officer who the night before had, in uniform, molested and mistreated the woman in despicable ways. He crawls under the car to save her. When she recognizes him she is horrified. She must choose whether or not to accept his help. She doesn’t want to, but he prevails and saves her life. This cop is the Good Samaritan, not because he is doing a good deed—in this story he is just doing his job—but because his enemy must accept help from him, the last person on earth she would want to have help her. According to Jesus, he is her neighbor, whom she is to love as she loves God.

When Jesus says go and do likewise, he is telling us to be a neighbor and to accept love and compassion from unlikely sources. Accept mercy from those who have no reason to give mercy. And—because being neighbors is a two-way street—go and show mercy, not only to the poor, the hungry, and the naked, but also to those who have rejected us and treated us harshly, to those who do not seem to deserve our compassion and care. The mercy of the Good Samaritan is less about good deeds and more about recognition and love.

This is true for communities like ours as much as individuals seeking to follow Jesus. As a parish, we have the opportunity to open our doors and our hearts to those others might not welcome. We also have the opportunity to accept help from unlikely sources. When we give help and get help in unlikely ways, the result is an ever-widening community, an ever-widening circle of God’s love. God’s love is made known in the wild abandon and generosity of the Samaritan, and in the boundary-breaking, wide-eyed acceptance of the person in need. God is all of that.

How do we know God’s will? How do we gain spiritual wisdom and knowledge? What must we do to inherit life in the fullest? The answer to all of these questions is also found in today’s gospel: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. The fire and burning that we read about on the church signs, however you want to imagine the opposite of eternal life, life not lived to the fullest, happens when we close ourselves off from our neighbors, when we cling only to what is familiar, measurable, and concrete, when our God wants us to cling only, and totally, to love.


Saint David of Wales Choir’s Special Gig

So long, St. David’s and hello, St. Matthew’s! Well, not quite.. but the choir and I are very excited to make some noise this Sunday, July 11th, with our neighbors. It has been a real treat coordinating this opportunity with their dedicated volunteers and enthusiastic parishioners for the past few weeks – their gratitude for our presence is already evident.

Without keyboard, organ, or musical guests, you are called to fill the air with your beautiful voices!

I wish I could be both places at once to hear it! Stay tuned for a full update on the growing St. Matthew’s community next week.

Go on your way!

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!

The Lutheran church near my house has a great message on its reader board, which is a perfect way to sum up Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, and my feelings about the Fourth of July: “With Jesus, every day is freedom day!”

The Letter to the Galatians is its own kind of celebration of citizenship in God’s kingdom: Throughout this letter, Paul tries to impress upon the Galatians that there are no entrance requirements for the world of Christian. A few weeks ago we read what is probably the most famous words from this letter: There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. The backstory for this whole letter from Paul is that a faction of early Christians have been trying to tell the Galatian Christians that they cannot be followers of Jesus unless they are first circumcised. According to this group, circumcision was to be a sign of their adherence to the letter of Jewish law.

No! says Paul, as emphatically as he can: that’s not a requirement. Paul is not anti-Judaism or anti-circumcision. Rather, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! Paul is frustrated—when he says “see what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand” it’s sort of like us sending someone an email and putting everything in bold or in all caps or in red. Don’t you get it? God’s decisive victory over evil and death happened at his crucifixion, not at your circumcision!

Paul’s energy and frustration with the Galatians is around their being stuck in the details, and misunderstanding citizenship in the kingdom of God. It’s hard to read this without pausing to ask myself: am I getting stuck in the details? I’m blessed to live with someone who regularly reminds me that most of what we worry about or argue about in church is nowhere to be found in the Good News if we really listen to the words of the Gospel. Do we miss the point the same way that the Galatians do? The death and resurrection of Jesus unveils a power of love and grace that says that Jesus was not of this world, certainly not of any particular nation, and that we are not, either. The cross is our footbridge across the river of distractions from God’s overwhelming love and abundant grace.

God’s overwhelming grace is the bridge between the world of the Galatians and our world, and it is our bridge to the world of today’s gospel.

The world of today’s gospel is one where followers of Jesus are on the move. “Go,” he says. “Go on your way. Go tell everyone that the Kingdom of God has come near.” He doesn’t just say this to his three close friends Peter, James, and John, nor does he just say this to the inner circle of twelve. He appoints seventy. In the literary idiom of the day, “seventy” meant a whole lot. Everyone. All the citizens of the Gospel.

This teaching about being on the move with the Good News of the kingdom, has much to say to me and to you. If we are followers of Jesus, we, too, are citizens with him in the kingdom of God. We are the seventy.

The gospel suggests some practices that will help us with this being-on-the-move. I’m going to call these “apostolic habits.” (An apostle is simply one who has been sent out.) The first apostolic habit is “carry no purse.” Carry nothing which will allow us to accumulate wealth. Accumulating wealth is no more a Christian value than hoarding one’s treasure or hiding one’s light under a bushel. Carry nothing, Jesus says. Rely upon God for everything. Carry no baggage, no presuppositions, no reliance on outside trappings for our kingdom work. We do not even need to rely upon our own goodness or our own skill—we put one foot in front of the other and rely upon the Lord of the Harvest.

Another apostolic habit is stability in the moment. Jesus admonishes us not to move about from house to house, but be content with the food that is set before us. Be fully present: we do not always need to be looking for the perfect accommodations or the perfect circumstances when we are on a journey to do God’s work.

A third apostolic habit is to be so committed to our own journey that we don’t need to be accepted by everyone. If we are not welcomed, we shake off the dust from our feet and move on. Even while still saying to those who do not welcome us that the kingdom of God is nearby. The reception of the message doesn’t change the message.

* * *

Our architecture reflects an era when churches were built, signs were put out, and people came to worship. In neighborhoods like ours in the 1950s and 1960s, when this church and all Episcopal churches were thriving, building the kingdom meant building big buildings to support growing families. Those families understood discipleship to mean safeguarding their immediate family and their church. These are both worthy goals but I believe they are not reflective of the kind of apostolic work Jesus teaches.

It is hard to imagine people at St. David’s in 1958 going out and saying “The Kingdom of God has come near to you.” It was a closed system that followed the letter of the law—our 20th-century version of circumcision was probably confirmation as a qualification for full membership in what was a social club more than anything else. I’m really not picking on St. David’s of former generations, but rather on the whole mid-century culture of mainline churches. But I digress.

We are so far from the apostolic journey of today’s gospel that we need to stretch ourselves to new ways of imagining how we are to be sent out. It is difficult even for me to imagine a bunch of barefoot Episcopalians wandering from house to house or neighborhood to neighborhood, relying on strangers for all of our basic needs while we tell them the Kingdom of God is near.

But I believe we are all always called to the apostolic habits Jesus preaches, and we are all always called to radical ways of proclaiming the gospel of repentance and redemption. The gospel calls us to new language for speaking of God, new ways of inviting, new ways of being fully present as apostles.

As St. Paul says: a new creation is everything! Where will you go, and how will you proclaim God’s new creation?

Living into the “Yes”

“Live by the Spirit . . . & be guided by the Spirit,” says Paul to the Galatians

Galatians 5:16, 25

 And Jesus calls those who hear his word to “Follow me” [Luke 9:59], & people are eager to do so . . . except . . . “Let me first go & bury my father” or “let me first say farewell to those at my home.”  [Luke 9:59, 61]  Now these seem like reasonable, even necessary requests that any of us might give, but the point of this lesson is that we find excuses for putting off the most necessary requirement of discipleship – to follow Christ now.  I know plenty of people who have told me that they’ll spend more time with God eventually – more time praying, more time in Christian education or outreach, or get more involved in church activities “after my children have grown up & moved out,” or “after I retire,” or “when my job requires less time,” or “when I’m not so busy” – & these all seem like valid excuses.   And yet . . . And yet . . .  I’ve seen these same people reach those self-imposed limits & still not be able to find the time to spend getting to know God. There’s always another necessary diversion in the path to God that requires their time, their mind, their heart, their soul.  This is what Jesus was speaking about with the people who approached him – not that they shouldn’t fulfill their necessary responsibilities, but that they made excuses for not fulfilling the most necessary response of all, the primary response – following Jesus.  They’re putting the cart before the horse, not realizing that our hearts & our loyalty must be given to God first, & that all our other commitments flow from that first & primary one.  The fruits of the Spirit, the fruits borne of our relationship with God, that benefit our families, our friends, our work, & the whole Body of Christ, will flow out of this first & greatest commitment.

So the question becomes, “What do we do to follow the Holy Spirit, to develop the fruits of the Spirit, to say ‘Yes’ & live into that ‘Yes’ in our daily lives?

While we were on pilgrimage in Britain, my friend who was traveling with us happened to sit next to a retired clergyman at a noonday Eucharist at St. David’s Cathedral.  They got to talking, & he (for whatever reason) shared with her his belief, after a lifetime in the church, that all the theology, the books, the sermons, the theories & controversies over how to practice our faith were really extraneous. The one thing necessary to faith is far more simple, he said – “in the end, all we have is love.”

It got me to thinking about what is really necessary – what is it that binds us to God & molds us into true believers, true doers of God’s will.

I came up with 3 things that seemed to me to be necessary, but maybe by the time I’m the age of this man, I too will be able to reduce it to just one.

The first on my list is praise or worship – that act which reminds us on a regular basis that God is God & we are God’s creation, not the other way around.  God is the object of our adoration, our comforter in times of trouble, our guide, our  . . . . (& I could go on & on).  The Muslims have 99 names for God.  I once tried to come up with 99 names (or descriptors) of my own, & I did it, but it was not an exhaustive list – there are probably many more, because God is the ultimate being, the ground of our & every other person’s being, & he manifests himself in an infinite number of ways.  But, the first thing necessary is the need to keep our relationship in perspective – to be in right relationship with our Creator.

Second, I think, is prayer – in frequent prayer we nourish our relationship with God.  As we get to know the core of our being better & better, we learn to act in sync with the holy.  It is necessary, if we are to be fed & guided by God’s Spirit, to check in, to stay in touch.  “Our road map lies in relationship,” says Marilyn Chandler McEntyre.  [“Weavings”, Vol. XXV #3, p.43]  The way we interact with each other, the choices we make, the activities we say “Yes” or “No” to – all are affected by our prayer life.  The less often we pray, the more confused we become & the less we will understand about our being, our call, our direction in life; & I’d venture to say, the less content we will be.  Prayer brings a certain peace to all aspects of our lives.  We learn to trust God, to trust the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, & to act out of that place of knowing.  The Spirit fills us with imaginative responses to our questions, our dilemmas, our doubts & confusion.  It gives us the courage to respond to the needs around us.  It gives us hope in the midst of despair.  It gives us direction where logic sees none. 

And, of course, there is love – love of God & of each other.  Of all God’s commandments, “The greatest of these is love,” & all others flow from it.  Because we attempt to care about each other more than ourselves, we consider the needs of others, & that trumps our own desires (if we are being faithful . . . if we’re not, then it’s everybody for themselves, a free-for-all, chaos).  Love transforms us & brings us into the heart of God.  It “creates a place wherein the Holy Spirit makes its dwelling,” as one of our hymns today reminds us.  The only question is: To what extent are we willing to follow Christ into sharing the abundance of God’s love?  . . . how much are we willing to love?  

Let me stress that the goal here is not that we’re doing these things to get into God’s good graces, to get into heaven, to secure our own personal redemption, or to impress other people. To live in this way, Christ’s Way, is counterintuitive to the dominant culture around us; it is not the way most Americans have been taught to live, in & with this world, where we are supposed to put ourselves first, get all that we can, see to our needs first, secure our financial security, etc., etc.  But the daily practice of these types of behavior (praise, prayer & love) “shapes our hearts & souls so that we (in the words of Richard of Chichester) see Jesus more clearly, love Jesus more dearly & follow Jesus more nearly. . .” day after day after day . . . & right into eternity.  [from Lynne M. Baab, Dunedin, N.Z., “Christian Century,” 5/18/10].  To live this way is the “mark of a spiritual life vibrantly lived.” [Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, “Weavings”, op.cit., emphasis my own] 

Remember the one who is with you – always.

Remember the one who is at the ground of your being. 

And go out into the world – living vibrantly in the power of the Spirit.

                                                                                                                        Amen

The Reverend Deacon Katharine Holland

Sunday, June 27, 2010