Monthly Archives: December 2010

Good News on a cold morning: Who are YOU going to tell?

For see…I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day a Savior.

The gas station nearest our house is the one we always go to. The turnover is probably about the same as any other gas station, but for some reason the people who work there are always friendly. This morning I went to fill up before coming to church and the attendants, who both looked like they’d been there all night, told me an amazing story.

For safety’s sake, they always work in pairs during the graveyard shift. It’s always pretty deserted after midnight, but they never close. I imagine they’re always tired and bored during that shift, but the little office where they sit between customers is not warm enough for them to doze off. So they talk about sports and eat peanuts and text their friends and swap stories.

Last night, around 1 a.m., this guy suddenly appeared in the doorway. They’re a little freaked out; customers hardly ever get out of their cars in the middle of the night. This guy doesn’t look like a typical customer and guess what? He doesn’t even have a car. They described him to me as cleaner than most, with no really scary tattoos or open sores. The only piercings were his eyes, which were clear and looking straight at them. He was definitely not from around here. He starts to speak, and he’s talking as if he’s giving a speech to a huge arena, not making small talk with a couple of pump boys.

They recited his speech to me as if they were making it themselves:

“I bring amazing and wonderful news for everyone—a child has been born who is going to not only teach us all about the kingdom of God, but also give us the kingdom! Born this very night, he’s going to grow up and save the world from all its darkness, from the heaviness and sadness and hopelessness all around us. He’s going to make you guys free! The way you’ll recognize the child—the way you’ll know I’m telling you the truth—is that he’ll be right where I’m about to tell you he is. Go to the Family Winter Warming Center at 125th and Halsey. It’s very crowded tonight because it’s so cold out and so many more families are homeless this year. Boy, are their lives going to change! There’s one family that couldn’t get into the main sleeping area. You’ll find them in the hallway between the kitchen and the common area, opposite the restrooms. They’ve got a brand new baby, wrapped up in rags. He’s the good news! And he’s got good news to share! Go see him! Don’t you want to be among the first to see him??”

Then he disappeared.

This guy, this guy they called “that weird prophet angel dude,” was so bizarre, and so enthusiastic, that each of my gas station guys privately decides he couldn’t be making this up. They don’t know what he’s talking about, or why he is telling them, but they both believe him.

They were pretty funny as they recounted to me the conversation they had with each other last night.

Should we go? One of them asked the other. Well, we can’t Says the first guy. (I don’t know either of their names.) We can’t leave the station. We could. We could lock it up safe and be back in an hour. Hm.

Should we go? We should go. Do you think we should go? I’ll go if you go. What if we lose our jobs? We won’t. We’ll be back. Besides, the boss always says we should close if it’s a matter of safety. Maybe it is. Get it? Safety…Savior? And what if that dude was right and this Savior is going to make us free. Maybe that means it’s okay if we lose our jobs. Maybe that’s what it means. How will we know if we don’t go?

So they make their way to the Family Warming Station at 125th and Halsey. They don’t even try to get a bus, but walk the three miles, heads down into the wind. The walk goes quickly as they share stories about all the weird people they’ve encountered in the gas station. By the time they get there, they know what it feels like to be in need of a warming station.

The weird prophet angel dude was right about one thing: it was crowded in there. Crowded and too warm. Smelly. They recognized a few families they’ve seen in the gas station, driving through with cars they were obviously living in. One of them saw someone he’d been to high school with. The other saw someone who used to wait tables at the all-night diner near his house. He didn’t know she had a toddler. There in the hallway, right where the weird prophet angel dude said they’d be, was the family with the newborn, sort of jammed up against the wall so as not to block the path to the kitchen.

He looks just like any other baby. And yet there he is, the savior they’ve been hearing about, not just from the angel dude but from generations of preachers and prophets. They know it’s true. They don’t know how they know and they don’t know what it means, but they know it’s true.

They went and found the people they recognized from the gas station, the families living in crowded cars, and told them. They found the ex-waitress and her little boy, and told her. They found the guy one of them went to high school with, and told him. That baby over there? He’s going to change the world. He’s giving us a new world. Go tell your friends. And tell them to tell their friends. After they told all the people they had recognized when they first got there, they told everybody else there. Most of the people were so tired of the same old news, they’re excited for these guys’ excitement, and they’re excited for some good news. Any good news.

My guys knew it was time to get back to the gas station. The walk was easier on the way back, maybe because the wind was at their backs, or maybe because they’re so excited. When they get back and unlock the pumps and the little office, all they want to do is give all the gas away for free. (Now that would’ve been a fun surprise this Christmas morning!) But they don’t. They’re not sure the boss would understand. Instead, they share their good news with everyone who comes in. Most of the customers think they’re nuts, but a few are so ready for some good news that it makes their night, or makes their morning.  Those customers drive away with a tank full of gas and a heart full with good news of great joy. And some of them tell their friends, and they tell their friends to tell their friends.

Who are you going to tell?

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God with us

Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.”

Where’s Mary? Isn’t this Fourth Sunday of Advent “Mary’s Sunday”? Last year at this time we heard the story of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth. Mary sings the Magnificat, which has come down to us through generations as an amazing proclamation of what it means for God to become human in Jesus and turn the world upside down. Next year at this time we’ll see the Angel Gabriel visit Mary and give her the good news of Jesus. We’ll hear her response: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.”

On this fourth Sunday of Advent, Mary doesn’t say anything at all. Instead we have Matthew’s matter-of-fact account of events preceding the birth of Jesus. This portion of Matthew’s gospel follows that part we never read in church: the genealogy. (I often wonder how many people sit down to read the New Testament from start to finish and get stuck in the first chapter of Matthew, somewhere between Asaph and Zerubbabel.)

Matthew’s very matter-of-fact first sentence of this morning’s gospel sets us up for a factual debate that has been going on for decades: Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. So, let’s get it over with. Let’s name the factual argument about the birth of Jesus now so we don’t have to have it on Christmas Eve. The story of the birth of the Messiah—actually, the story of Mary’s pregnancy—is full of stumbling blocks for rational Christians, let alone atheists and agnostics.

Sometime in the last century, or maybe in the century before that, the virgin birth became a matter of doctrine, and a litmus test for belief. It became something for families to argue about over the Christmas goose: could one still be a Christian if one didn’t believe that Mary was a virgin when she was pregnant with Jesus?

I remember a friend of mine years ago complaining that she went to two different Christmas services at two different churches and listened to sermons from two intelligent and well-educated clergy people, wishing even one of them would admit that the story we tell year after year after year at Christmas could never have actually happened.

When we have these discussions—about whether or not something happened, or how something happened—we miss the point. We miss the point that Mary was a typical marriageable woman of her time, young, poor, uneducated, with very few life choices set before her. The remarkableness of Jesus’ birth has nothing to do with Mary’s sexual history and everything to do with a God who chooses someone as ordinary as they come to be God’s vessel. Some think that Mary must have been very special—even divine—in order to be chosen by God. What I believe gives us hope is that she was chosen in spite of being quite unremarkable, perhaps even because she was so ordinary.

Mary was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. The temptation, when we hear this matter-of-fact gospel from Matthew, is to question how Mary came to be with child, when what is most important is the evangelist’s proclamation of who this child will be to us.

Who is this baby about to be born, this God-with-us? The Gospel tell us that he is to be named Jesus, which means Savior. Remember the words of the quintessential Advent hymn: O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel. Israel was indeed held captive to greed, political oppression, and horrifyingly uneven distribution of resources. To ransom captive Israel meant to set the people free from all of this. If we look around us, we see that the whole world is in fact still captive to much of what Jesus found when he came into the world. Our experience of lonely exile may be different from the exile we sing about in O come, O come Emmanuel, but it is no less real. The promise of the coming of the Savior is needed now no less than 2000 years ago.

So as we move through these last days of Advent, before we spend one more brain cell on the virgin birth, let us think about what it means to have a savior come into the world. From what do we need to be ransomed? What lonely, empty spaces in our hearts are broken, gaping open so that they are ready to be filled with rejoicing? Or, to put it another way, what do we want for Christmas? Housing? Food? Friendship? Healing? Freedom? Peace? Rest? Reconciliation?

On Christmas Eve we’ll hear one more time from the prophet Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” What great light do we long to see?

O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

Repent!

SERMON FOR ADVENT 2, YEAR A

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-8
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Repent!

I remember when I was first ordained & attended a vestry retreat at Tau Cross Farm, down by Stayton.  It was a cold January weekend, & sometime during the afternoon, when we had a break from our work, a group of us that included the Junior & Senior Wardens, the Treasurer, the Youth Group minister & me, decided to take a drive in the country.  Just as we got to the top of a hill in the SUV, the rain turned to freezing rain, & the road was immediately covered in black ice.  The driver, the Senior Warden, carefully turned his vehicle around & began to slowly (at a snail’s pace) head back to the Farm, choosing the least sloping roads that he could.  As we neared the bottom, we came around a bend where a lone house sat among the fields, & written in huge letters across the garage door were the words, “Repent!  The end is near!”  It took us back, because, indeed, the end had seemed precariously near during that drive.  It’s a story we still remember whenever we get together, & one that we can laugh about, now.

Repent!

It’s not a word we like.  It’s not PC (politically correct), even in church.  It’s like the words “Sin” or “Guilt” – words that the church used to use in a heavy-handed way that have gone out of fashion.  But I’d like us to think about that word “Repent” today, & see if we can’t breathe new meaning into it, to take it out of the closet, so to speak, & dust it off, & bring it into the light of Christian understanding once again.

Webster’s dictionary defines the word “Repent” as “to feel sorry for (a sin, error, etc.)” or “to feel such regret over (an action, intention, etc.) as to change one’s mind.”  Now that doesn’t sound nearly as threatening to my ears as the images the word usually conjures up (more like hell fire & damnation).  Not even close.

Repent.

What God wants of us, I believe, is to examine our lives, to look at the actions, the desires, the accumulation of things, & even the relationships that “consume & fascinate & confine & control” us  [Forward Day by Day 11/30/02], whatever draws our attention away from God, & then to feel sorrow for that break in our relationship, to want to mend it, to make it right, to want to change, to turn around & get back into right relationship with God.  It’s not about the fear of punishment; it’s not about guilt; it’s not about hedging our bets & getting into heaven.  It’s about living a life that’s meaningful & finding God’s unfailing presence with us in this darkness of our own making.  God doesn’t hold grudges, after all, God is all about forgiveness, complete & utter, cleansing forgiveness.  If anything, our tragedy is “that we tend to ignore, resist & reject the messages [& the messengers] that God sends us.”  [“Christian Century”, 11/16/10, p.20]

Repent.

What John the Baptist was trying to do with his not so gentle talk was to tell his audience (& us) to “Wake up!”, “Pay attention! Claim [our] genuineness by saying Yes to God with the totality of [our] being.”  [HKO, “Synthesis” 12/9/07] & then allow ourselves to be changed.  This may be our greatest challenge in a world that encourages us to feel good & to do only those things that are self-serving, because, in repenting, we are being asked to turn away from ourselves & face our brokenness, feel sorry for it, acknowledge those we’ve hurt, & then to make an intentional choice to turn again to the God who loved us into being & loves us still.  It is an act of faith.  It’s not meant to be an easy choice.  But it’s meant to be healing choice, a choice that brings us face to face with our own shortcomings, our own woundedness & our own wounding of others. The outcome of repentance is the gift of real relationship, with God & with each other.

Why did you give us                          Dress the wounds

such tender skin                                we have borne

and ask us                                         and given

to carry fire?                                       from our own burning.

We are consumed                            Make us wise

by our own smoldering,                    to the fire in our bones,

hardly knowing                                   that it may be

the power we carry                            for warmth and light in

to scald.                                              all our darkness.

Jan L. Richardson

Night Visions: Searching the Shadows

of Advent & Christmas, p.13

Repent.

Amen

The Reverend Deacon Katharine Holland
St. David of Wales – December 5, 2010

Following the Way of Jesus

Want to go farther? Want to go deeper? Consider participating in “Following the Way” at St. David’s this winter and spring on Wednesday evenings.

What is Following the Way?

Following the Way is a process of Christian formation through prayer, scripture, tradition, and community.

The objective of Following the Way is to provide and hold sacred a space where participants can

  • build friendships
  • grow or gain a spiritual vocabulary
  • expand capacity to put words to their inner life
  • learn and share (within the bounds of their choosing) their own faith story
  • know themselves as disciples and followers of the way of Jesus

Who should participate in Following the Way?

Following the Way provides the richest and most appropriate means of preparation for adult baptism, confirmation, renewal of baptismal vows, or formal reception into the Episcopal Church from another tradition. All sorts of people will enjoy Following the Way. The process is particularly appropriate for you if you are

  • an adult who has not been baptized
  • new to the church
  • returning to the church after a long absence
  • longing to go deeper in your own spiritual practice and their understanding of Christian tradition
  • trying to figure out your ministry in the world

Some important dates:

In addition to regular Wednesday evening attendance, participants will get the most out of Following the Way if they commit to the following:

  • Two retreat days: Saturday, January 29, and Saturday, June 4
  • Participation in Ash Wednesday (March 9) and all the liturgies of Holy Week (April 17 through April 23)
  • A celebration dinner with spouses, partners, guest presenters, and Bishop Hanley on June 11
  • The Great Feast of Pentecost on June 12—wear red, invite all your friends!

A typical Wednesday evening

6:00             Peace Mass in the Chapel
6:30             Soup and fellowship in the Grace Room
7:00            Program including time for listening, teaching, learning, faith sharing,
scripture, and prayer.
8:15            Closing song, dessert, and more fellowship

Want to know more? Send an email to office (at) saintdavidpdx (dot) org.


Plan B: Further Thoughts on Worship Lab

The title of this post is inspired by the popular book by Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. There she articulates, over and over, that all of life, all of our faith experience, is grist for the mill of our relationship with God and with the world. Seems like for those of us in churches that are intentional about ritual worship, the same could be said about liturgy.

The Worship Lab experiment, which began in September, 2010, has been a richly revealing experience. The small group who participated regularly in the planning and in the fall series of occasional services at 11:00 on Sunday learned things about worship that we might not have considered before.

The “lab” metaphor was a great one for our worship because it served as a container–a “petrie dish” even–for trying things that many people would not have tried during a “regular” Sunday morning service, but which may be coming soon to a Sunday morning near you. Because of the flexibility, resiliency, and strength of our parish as a whole, we were able to stretch ourselves in new ways: new musicians playing new music, ancient stories told in new ways, creative space and time within worship, and prayers prayed with a different sense of time and place and participation.

Here are just a few of the learnings  from this experiment:

1) Food’s better cooked on a stove than in a petrie dish. The best way to create new worship is to begin with a nucleus of people who are longing for, clamoring for a different kind of worship experience. That group was not with us from the beginning and has not materialized.

2) Meanwhile, the 9:00 service continues to grow. First-time visitors to St. David’s who came to the 11:00 service did not return–some of them gave us feedback that they sensed we were trying to do too much, too soon, dreaming up worship for people who weren’t part of the dreaming. But each week newcomers join us for traditional worship in the Sanctuary. Many of them return, saying “this is the church I’ve been looking for.”

3) What the world needs now…Where I sense a deep longing, in our Sunday morning worshipping community (and our Wednesday evening Peace Mass community) and in the wider community is a longing to do more mission in the Isaiah 61/Luke 4 sense of the word:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
….to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;

This mission has less to do with providing worship than with gathering people together to be community and to dream of ways to love the world as much as God does.

So what’s next?

We have much good news to share through our principle Sunday service, through mission to the poor and the captives all around us, and through the work of hospitality that happens every day in our wonderful rough-and-tumble building.

So does this mean we can change the “regular” service time back to 10:00?

Stay tuned…..

Preparation: Friend or Foe?

For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.

Gentle Reader….I truly did think I published this last Tuesday…So sorry!

Happy New Year!

It is almost always dark and raining on the First Sunday of Advent. Usually the First Sunday of Advent feels like the darkest, rainiest day of the church year. This darkness matches some of the themes of today’s gospel:

About that day and hour, no one knows. Just like the days of Noah, when the flood came and swept everyone away. Two will be in the field, one will be taken away, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken, one will be left.

Is this how we celebrate the New Year?

Today’s reading from the Letter to the Romans offers a nice counterpoint to the Gospel: You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.

Whether we adopt a spirit of joyful expectation that is expressed in this snippet from Romans, or feelings of dread, there is one aspect of Advent that we often ignore: as we prepare for the birth of Jesus, the first coming of Christ, scripture calls us to also prepare for the second coming of Christ.

There are many ways to understand the Second Coming. A friend of mine talks about being at a spiritual renewal event, getting ready an altar call. The question leading up to the altar call was this: If the second coming came right now, do you know where you’d spend the night? All of you who want to spend the night with Jesus, stand up! I bet this way of thinking about the Second Coming rings true for some of you.

The spirit of Advent is a spirit of preparation. What kind of a preparer are you?  Even in the secular world, ‘tis the season for preparation, is it not?

In any given December, for most Christians in the western world, there are three types of preparation going on: there’s preparation for Christmas as the secular world celebrates it: buying gifts, writing cards, and so on. Then there’s preparation to celebrate the birth of Christ. We do that through our ritual—we light candles on the wreath to count the weeks. We wear purple in expectation of the king about to be born among us. The choir and the Sunday school are already hard at work preparing to help us celebrate the Christmas season.

Then there’s preparing for the second coming.

Last week Nathan and I went to see the latest Harry Potter movie. It’s a dark movie, and really a perfect movie for Advent, especially this year when we get all these dark and scary readings from Matthew. There’s lots of people disappearing, one being taken and one being left. One never knows the day or the hour when something unpredictable and frightening will happen.

Early on, Hermoine and Ron and Harry must disappear in the twinkling of an eye. They reappear miles away on Shaftsbury Avenue in London, completely overdressed for this new location, and underdressed for the weather. Hermoine, however, has a magic handbag. It looks like a little evening bag but holds, well, everything anyone might want: spare clothes for all kinds of weather, navigation tools, reference books, a large tent and several cots, and all kinds of magical accessories. She tells the boys that she’s had it packed for weeks. She has thought it all through: every detail. The magic bag helps, but it is her spirit of preparation that I admire most.

We all have moments of being caught unprepared and wishing we were more prepared. There was a New Yorker cartoon some years ago of a guy standing at the gates of heaven before the throne of God wearing a t-shirt that said “S____ happens.” The caption was “can I go back and change my shirt?”

If I had known that it was my last chance to have a lucid conversation with my father, I would’ve let him know how much I loved him. We’ve all lived with that kind of unpreparedness, or we will.

How do we move through life—especially during a dark time of year—with a spirit of preparation that is not a spirit of doom and gloom? How do we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ and at the same time take seriously the invitation offered to us this season, to think about end times?

If you’ve heard me preach a lot, you’ve heard me talk about the transformation of the world in Jesus Christ. This is how I understand the Second Coming. No one knows the day or the hour, but I believe it is when we all start living as though we understand and believe what God was up to in Jesus:

God turned the world upside down by coming to us as a human baby born in the lowliest of circumstances. Jesus turned the world upside down by teaching that it is the poor and humble who inherit the earth. How dow we prepare for that?

It is difficult for me to improve on the message of the Advent Conspiracy. The Advent Conspiracy is, among other things, a well-developed media campaign to get us to live during this season of preparation as though we are preparing for the transformation of the world in Jesus Christ. I’ll post this year’s Advent Conspiracy video on our website. In the meantime, their message is the same year after year: Worship fully, spend less, give more, love all.

My challenge to all of you during this time of preparation is to transform this season of excess into a season of abundance. Abundant generosity, abundant time. Abundant love.

Earlier, I mentioned an altar call. Our altar call is at this table. Our altar call is the gifts of God for the people of God. What kind of a feast will you prepare for Jesus when he comes?