Tuesday, December 29, 2009

After Christmas

Well, now that the press of the holiday/Holy Day is past, I have a piece of my mind to share and please know that this is my opinion, not a rant.

I have heard the cries of those who are in great anguish about the secularization of the month of December running up to Christmas. Many are angry that shop clerks are not permitted to say "Merry Christmas" because some customers might be displeased at the religious reminder. Many found it difficult to find greeting cards that included the word "Christmas" in them - instead, they found "Season's Greetings," "Happy Holidays" and the like. Children's school pageants had no Christmas carols in them, although through the ignorance of school officials regarding the holiday of Hannukah, the dreidel song, and song about these little candles was sometimes included.

I heard frequently, this year, for the first time, "If people don't want to celebrate Christmas, then they should voluntarily work that day and not take it off." Or, "If people don't want Christ in Christmas, then it shouldn't be a national holiday anymore."

My questions are these: What keeps a Christian from saying, "Merry Christmas" to the shop clerk? What keeps a Christian from writing in the words, "Merry Christmas" on a greeting card, or getting the ones that don't have any text and writing in your own sentiment? 

I have listened without comment to the distress of all. If I had said anything, I would have said this: I have no problem with the secularization of the season. It makes no difference to my faith, or to my celebration of the holy seasons of Advent and Christmastide. I have no desire to compel religion on anyone. If I were to say "Keep Christ in Christmas," it would be to my fellow observant Christians who get so wound up at this time of year. The rest of the world is welcome to celebrate the winter solstice, the ice holiday, the winter season. And if shop clerks can't say "Merry Christmas" to me, that's fine, too. 

Christianity no longer rules the world. We're better off for that. We've become lazy. We've taken our religion for granted. We take the presence of the church for granted. We assume it will always be there for our births, weddings and funerals. If it is not, it is because we ourselves have assumed wrongly its eternal place of primacy in society - and we all know what "assume" does.

We have failed to know the good news. We have failed to take our baptisms seriously, making Christ known to all people. We don't tell our faith stories. I'm not even sure we know why we are Christians and not something else.

If I worship God in Jesus Christ, there is no need for the rest of the world - shop clerks, greeting card manufacturers, or anyone else - to validate for me the celebration of the birth in Bethlehem.  The choices of the rest of the world have nothing to do with the joy of Christmas in my heart. If others choose not to keep Christmas, still I will keep it in my heart and in my life all the year long. 

Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year, filled with the love, joy, and peace of God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, December 11, 2009

On parole for charity - Muscular Dystrophy Lock up

Dear friends, I spent time in detention at the Tuscan Oven yesterday on behalf of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. I have been released on good behavior but I still hope to raise another $500 to help people like the twin two year old boys I met yesterday, who have a form of MD that makes it impossible for them to hold up their heads.

Hold up your own head, dear friends. Visit my web page on the Muscular Dystrophy web site to contribute directly to the MDA. Use this link to get there. The site will be open for 29 more days.  

The website says I've raised $370.00. That doesn't count the two checks and one pledge that bring my total to $545. Help me get to $1,000. 

Or if you prefer, mail me your check, made out to Muscular Dystrophy Association, and I'll forward it. My address is Lois Keen, 12 Berkeley Street, Norwalk, CT 06850.

Or mail your check directly to MDA at Muscular Dystrophy Association, Hawthorne District Office - 3241, Seven Skyline Drive, 2nd Floor, Hawthorne, NY 10532.

Thank you to everyone who has already donated or pledged. And thank you all for your thoughts and prayers on behalf of those with muscular dystrophy. Peace be with you all.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

With Firefox or Safari highlight text in order to read

WE HAVE A DOG! Her name is Xena, Warrior Princess. We adopted her from a no-kill animal shelter in Connecticut yesterday, Saturday November 28. She's a lab mix, about 45 pounds, a year old. She was a stray, rescued by the Connecticut shelter from someplace in South Carolina. She is so sweet.

She just had her first bath - that was an adventure! but she did great. Now she's getting a walk outside.

I'm not going to gush. I just wanted you all to know, it's been past time to honor the lives of Black Bart and Miss Kate of blessed memory, by giving a home and family to another dog. And I half believe they sent Xena.

So, rejoice. And please welcome, Miss Xena, Warrior Princess of all Connecticut!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Octave of All Saints 2009

Dear Friend(s) of Grace Church:

Some say we are dying, but, look!, we are alive.

This paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 6: 8 sums up where we are at Grace Church in our 119th year. I can point to signs that our congregation is dying, but there is far more evidence that we are very much alive!

We have a core of parishioners who pray, worship, and work with great dedication to the glory of God and for the benefit of Grace Church.

Our priest is skilled at preaching, teaching, and pastoral care. We love her, and she loves us.

Our worship in enhanced by excellent music: choir, organ, and hand bells.

We hold services for the public each month: a healing service in the church and an outdoor service to which people without homes are especially invited.

Our kitchen has received high marks from the Norwalk Health Department.

Our buildings, including two houses on Berkeley Street (one of which now houses our priest), are in good repair; our church is handicapped-accessible.

We have a labyrinth for prayer and meditation.

We continue to support the FAWE girls’ school in Sierra Leone—and three of us have visited it.

We collect food and Christmas gifts and distribute them to those in need. We collect supplies for the children at Malta House; one of us tutors a young mother at Malta House.

We serve our community by opening our building to a variety of local organizations.

We are exploring the possible merger of our parish with the congregation of Iglesia Betania, and we have worshiped and socialized together.

Our new ministries were the subject of a full-page article with pictures in GOOD NEWS, the newspaper of the Diocese of Connecticut.

We all should be excited by and proud of the ministry and mission, which, with God’s help, our congregation is involved in. To accomplish all that we are doing we need the time, talent, and treasure of all of us. As a congregation we are blessed by God. As individuals and families we are blessed by God. A pledge card for 2010 is enclosed. In consideration of all that God has done for us and for you, please make your generous financial commitment to God by filling out and returning the card by November 22nd. Note that nine members of the Vestry have already made their pledges, totaling $$29,380, an average of $3164. A fine example for us all.

Your brother in Christ.

John Sutton, Senior Warden and Pledge Chairman

Sunday, November 8, 2009

ya can't always be perky

It's 11:17 p.m. Tomorrow night is Vestry and I need a good night's sleep. I'm already not going to have that because I'm still awake. I can't get comfortable enough to sleep. The muscle and joint aches are keeping me awake. Tylenol doesn't help. I'm tired. But tired isn't enough.

It's funny, that. Because sometimes congregations get tired of trying to stay alive as the church they always were. So tired they can't catch a vision. So tired they convince themselves they're too old to do the work of redevelopment. So tired they lose their imagination. Keeping the doors open becomes one long night of not being able to get comfortable. Nothing they do is able to help. What is the answer?

For me, the answer might just be to stop taking Femara, the post-chemo drug I'm on. I imagine, however, my doc will want to try stronger analgesics so I can continue taking the drug that's supposed to greatly reduce the recurrence of my cancer. 

For the church, the answer might be more direct, daring prayer. Let us pray: Lord Jesus, rouse yourself! Stir up your church! Shake us, turn us upside down, route us from our buildings and our idols and make of us a people so imbued with the knowledge of your unconditional love for all people that we are on fire to tell everyone we see who and what you are, who continues to live and serve, and calls us to serve the people who don't know you, now and forever.

I don't know if my body can stand masking the symptoms of chemo drug assault on my body. I don't know if the people of the churches can stand being shaken up so hard that their world is turned inside out. I do know I can't sleep. And I do know the world can't sleep because it needs the churches to be true to their Lord and Saviour, who came not to be served, not to be taken care of, not to be comforted, but to serve, and to care for, and to comfort and strengthen all those who do not yet know that God is nothing but Love, pure, unconditional, unadulterated Love.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thought for the Day

"I have seen blacker fears turned to hope; hope on until there is none."

(From the old movie, "Fire Over England", a line spoken by Elizabeth I)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A brilliant day

Today was, you know, a brilliant day. The sun was brilliant; the colors of the changing leaves were brilliant; the people worshipping this morning at Grace Church were brilliant. The choir and bell choir were especially brilliant today.

And what a beautiful, sunny, warmish but not too much Sunday afternoon for our second "street service", Worship for All People. At 2:00 eight people, including one child, gathered under the trademark EZup tent which marks the spot on the parking lot for our come-as-you-are worship. We had a bag of Ecclesia-Ministry crosses, cut lengths of cord, strung the crosses and laid them on the altar (actually a metal kitchen cart doing double duty!) and began worship. We sang, said our opening prayers of preparation, and heard the gospel story for today, from Mark: the story of Jesus and the blind beggar Bartimaeus.

We were discussing what we heard in the story when we were joined by a ninth worshipper. We said prayers for those we wanted to hold before God, said the prayers over the bread and grape juice, received the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and then handed out the crosses. Since we had not strung extra crosses, I took my cross off, the one I received at a similar street service in New Haven, and gave it to the latecomer, who I recognized from the neighborhood. The people received their crosses with the words, "Receive this cross as a sign that Jesus is always with you".

After worship, we shared coffee and sack lunches, then gathered up the remaining lunches and bottles of water, with donations of white socks, and hit the street. We did not encounter anyone in the four blocks we walked today except a woman with two children looking for directions to the Aquarium, but James met us at the end with his tri-wheeler motorcycle and packed all that we were carrying in the boot of his bike and headed into South Norwalk, a bit too far to walk I'm afraid, to distribute our offerings of food, water and fellowship.

Four sandwich bags were held back for the church fridge, in case of people in need this week.

Next month, November, our service on the 29th, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, will include a thanksgiving meal. Those of us who will be in town and intend to be at that service are each making a little more than we need for our own Thanksgiving dinner, to bring on Sunday afternoon to share. This time we will sit down - outside! (maybe we need another EZup tent!) - and eat, making room for anyone who comes "late" and have our service around the table.

A note about "late" and street time: We begin at 2:00 because we're used to doing things by the clock. For people who live on the street, experiencing homelessness, time is when it seems to be. So 2:00, for instance, is when it seems to be about 2:00. Anyone who enters this ministry will learn a flexibility and a generosity of spirit enough, I believe, to carry us through the times we will be frustrated or even disgusted. Generosity toward time is a good place to begin.

Makes me think what I though a few months after beginning at Grace Church: Some congregations, including Grace, could benefit their souls by recreating the "entrance rite", the beginning of the service, to stretch to include those who live time in a different way from the rest of us. I wonder what that expansive "entrance rite" would look like.

A final note: When I went to clear the things from the altar, I found a cross, strung with its cord, a replacement for the one I had given away. This is church; this is Worship for All People.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Busted for Charity!

The Reverend Lois Keen has been nominated for arrest!

On Thursday, December 10 at a little before 11:00 a.m., the Muscular Dystrophy Association Posse will drive up to Grace Episcopal Church at the corner of Union Park and Mott Avenue in Norwalk and will arrest the priest, the Reverend Lois Keen for the high crime of "being charitable and having a sense of humor".

Rev. Lois will be held in jail at the Tuscan Oven on Main Avenue, next to the Motor Vehicle Department, until she can raise the bail of $2400.00 to be donated to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Her mug shot will be taken at the Tuscan Oven and she will be fed the gourmet version of bread and water while being held in a VIP cell.

The MDA has been kind enough to advise Rev. Lois about her impending incarceration so that she can begin NOW raising pledges toward the $2400.00 bail. Meanwhile, her parole officer will contact her to coach her in setting up her own pledge website, and to give her the opportunity of nominating other likely, charitable, good humored suspects for imprisonment. She will then be transferred to the witness protection program, which RevLois is certain is where the person who nominated her for this rap resides!

This is not the first time Rev. Lois Keen has been arrested for the sake of charity. While service at Christ Episcopal Church in Milford, Delaware, Rev. Lois was nominated for arrest on behalf of the St. Jude Hospitals and held at a local auto dealership until her bail was pledged to that worthy children's charity. Rev. Lois admits that while the people at the auto dealership in Delaware were kind and she had a lot of fun, she can't believe her luck in being incarcerated in a VIP cell at the Tuscan Oven. She is coming up in the world of her heinous crimes of charity and good humour.

Now is the time to stand up and be counted as a reader of this blog! RevLois and the Muscular Dystrophy Association need your help. Make your early pledge in the comment section and may God have mercy on your souls!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Formula 1 Standing

Well, with still one more Formula 1 Grand Prix to be run, in Abu Dhabi, we already have the new world champion. Jenson Button, from Great Britain, clinched the championship this afternoon in Brazil, placing fifth for the day, but number 1 for the season. There is no way anyone can get enough points to pass him so he is the new champion.

Congratulations, Jenson! A worthy successor to Lewis Hamilton, who also became world champion, last year, in the Brazil Grand Prix, finishing fifth in the race and first for the year. (By the way, Hamilton finished today in third place. Not too shabby.)

I see a pattern - Brazil as champion-maker!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Thought for the Day - Extended

Sermon October 11, 2009
The Reverend Lois Keen
Grace Episcopal Church
Norwalk Connecticut

Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Psalm 22:1-15
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

“There’s always plenty of work for love to do.”
(From Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Novel series)

“You’re always standing with the demonized, so that the demonization stops. You’re always with the people on the outer fringes of the circle of compassion, so the circle of compassion can expand. You’re always at the margins, so the margins once and for all disappear. And you’re always with the disposable, so the people stop being disposed of.” Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ

I know you’re dying to have me relieve you of the anxiety you might have felt when I read the words of Jesus just now to the rich man: “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Scholars much more learned than I have done just that, saying that Jesus meant for that particular rich man to sell everything, but that Jesus does not necessarily mean for you and me to do so. I’m not so sure they are right. After all, the early Christians did just that. Everything they had, everything they earned, went into a common fund, which then supported the orphans and widows and the poor, and then, also, the Christian community. So the early Christians took Jesus’s words seriously and literally.

But today I want to go back to Bp. Laura Ahrens’ sermon last week on forgiveness. Bp. Ahrens told us about the congregation at St. Paul’s, the church at Ground Zero in New York which was so instrumental in ministering to all comers during the aftermath of September 11th. She told us that this church is now working to build a garden of forgiveness, a project that is finding some resistance, but that they are going ahead with it and with building gardens of forgiveness all over the world.

The people of St. Paul’s have an understanding of forgiveness that includes letting go of revenge and not confusing revenge with justice. It is justice that I want to talk about today.

Earlier, in the second chapter of the Gospel of Mark, some people break through the roof of a house to bring Jesus a paralyzed man. Mark writes, When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he said to the paralytic – “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them.
(Mark 2:1-12)

Now, the scribes’ argument is about justice. In their culture, paralysis and other illnesses and disabilities are God’s judgment against the person, either for his own sins or those of his parents or his forefathers. If there were no sin, there would be no paralysis. Therefore, the paralysis is just. God’s justice has determined the punishment for the man’s sins and the judgment of justice is paralysis.

So who is Jesus to countermand God’s judgment? Only God can forgive sin. It is for men to accept God’s judgment as just. After all, if God had forgiven this man’s sin, then the man would be walking around.

Jesus knows what they are thinking and questioning among themselves, so hey presto, he tells the man to walk and the man gets up and walks away.

Now, going back to today’s gospel, it seems to me that when Jesus tells the rich man to sell everything and give it away to the poor, the rich man goes away sad because from his point of view, Jesus is being unjust. The man has kept the law all his life; he is justified; he is righteous before God; he has earned, by his righteousness, all that he has been given by God. But if he becomes poor, the man will be seen by his peers as a sinner. That’s not fair. That’s not just, since the man is decidedly not a sinner, having kept all the commandments from his youth.

And Jesus can’t do anything for the man, because the man is stuck in the injustice of his culture, a culture that equates wealth and health and good fortune as the definitive signs of a righteous person.

The rich man is not the only one trapped by this cultural injustice, however. The disciples are perplexed because they, too, believe that riches are proof of salvation. If a rich man, clearly righteous, will have trouble getting into the kingdom of God, what about them? What hope do they have?

Jesus says, “For mortals, it is impossible, but for God, all things are possible.”

Now lest you think this has nothing to do with you and me, because we are not like the people of Jesus’s day, please think again. For we in this the wealthiest country in the world have been formed by the Calvinists who colonized this land. We, like them, do still consider poverty a manifestation of God’s judgment, or at least of personal moral failure. Our idea of justice, when it comes to the poor, is to reward those who “pick themselves up by their own bootstraps”, which is, of course, a physical impossibility without falling on one’s face, but still, it is one of our favorite expressions.

Fortunately for all people, including us, God’s justice is nothing at all like ours.

God’s justice looks like this: Humankind killed the only Son of God. In our idea of justice, God should have wiped out all humankind from the face of the earth, or at least the Romans and Jews. Instead, God raised Jesus from the dead, and through the risen Jesus God poured his love out on all people.

In God’s justice there are peace gardens everywhere.

In God’s justice, our failure to sell all we have and give it to the poor is met with forgiveness and an invitation to the banquet of the Lamb.

In God’s justice we engage more expansively in the work there is for love to do.

In God’s justice, people who experience poverty and homelessness are holy just as they are.

In God’s justice, we forgive all sins perpetrated upon us, just as God has forgiven us.

Impossible? Not with God. For God all things are possible.

It’s kinda funny. I prepared this sermon at the beginning of the week. Yesterday I was sent a reminder that today, October 11th, is National Coming Out Day, the day before the eleventh anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepherd. Matthew Shepherd was killed for the high crime of being gay, of being hardwired to be affectioned toward persons of the same sex as he was. National Coming Out Day is a day to celebrate those men and women who are naturally affectioned to their own sex and who have come out to friends, family and community as gay or lesbian. It is also a day to support those who have not yet come out but want to. And it is a day to support those who remain afraid to come out because this culture of ours is still hostile to homosexuality.

It is my hope that God’s expansive justice will come to bear upon those of us who have the unearned, unwarranted privilege that comes with being affectioned toward persons of the opposite sex from us. It is my hope that God’s expansive justice will move us to advocate for and uphold gay and lesbian persons, who in the final analysis are no different from anyone else – they live, they die, they work, the play, and they fall in love.

Unlike most of us, however, they are subject to verbal, emotional and physical attacks, and they die, for no reason other than that they are gay or lesbian, and since the ever growing movement of legalizing marriage for people of the same sex, those attacks and even murders are on the rise, fueled in part by the place of religion and scripture being brought to bear against them, and that is unjust.

The scribes who condemned Jesus’s ability and right to forgive sins did so on the basis of scripture and tradition. Everyone knew what sin looked like – it looked like paralyzed limbs and leprous skin, poverty and disease, widowhood and orphanhood. And only God could reverse that by making limbs whole, skin clean, and reversing poverty, disease, and the state of the widow and orphan. For the scribes, that is justice.

But God’s justice is not like the scribes’ justice or even our justice. And for that we should give thanks. Because the judgment we pass on others often comes around to fall on us as well, and but for the grace and mercy of God, we would not be able to stand against that judgment.

It is impossible for human beings; but for God, all things are possible.

Because there is plenty of work for love to do, this is what God’s justice looks like: With God, we can pass through the eye of the needle. We can forgive the sins of others against us. We can widen the circle of compassion; we can stand with those who are being demonized even now, this moment; we can give up our privileged position in the center and move instead to the margins so marginalization can at last disappear; we can make common cause with, and stand up for, and embrace those who are deemed to be disposable, so people stop being disposed of.

Impossible? For God, with God, all things are possible, in the Name of Jesus Christ, through the expansive power of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thoughts for the Day

"There is plenty of work for love to do."

"Until you hear the whole story, until you dig deeper, and listen, she thought, you know only a tiny part of the goodness of the human heart."

(The wisdom of Precious Roamtswe, in Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Stewardship Sermon that never once used the "Stewardship" word

This is the sermon I preached at 10:00 a.m. this morning at Grace Episcopal Church in Norwalk, Connecticut. It turned out to be my annual stewardship sermon, but the word itself never appeared. In the end I decided intentionally to leave it like that, because I'm pretty sure when people hear the words "stewardship sermon", they close their ears and take a nap. Here it is.

Sermon Pentecost 17
September 27, 2009
Grace Episcopal Church
Norwalk Connecticut
The Reverend Lois Keen

Esther 7:1-6,9-10; 9:20-22
Psalm 124
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

Dorothy Day, who co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement, spent her life living among the poor and serving them. One day a wealthy woman wanted to see what was going on so she visited the Catholic Worker offices. She was so moved by what she saw going on that she took a large diamond ring off her finger and gave it to Day.

Later in the afternoon Day was working with a poor, single mother who lived in the tenements. This woman had nothing but ugliness in her life and all around her, and Day wondered what she could do to bring some beauty into the woman’s life. Then Day remembered the diamond ring.

She took it out of her pocket and gave it to the woman. End of story. (Based on a story told in, I think, an issue of Christian Century but am not sure – source misplaced.)

Now that wasn’t a very smart thing to do. After all, Day could have sold that ring and invested the proceeds to use for her continued work among the poor. And that’s probably what the wealthy woman had expected her to do with the gift. Certainly the giver never imagined Day would just give it away like that, for the sake of bringing some beauty into someone’s life.

But Day worked on the basis of God’s economy. She invested the ring, but not like we would invest money. She invested a little piece of the kingdom of heaven in that poor woman’s life, with no strings attached.

That, of course, is the only way to give for Jesus’s sake – with no strings attached.

The disciples, on the other hand, today are in danger of investing in hell.

That word we read in today’s gospel, hell, is actually gehenna, which is a real place. It’s the Jerusalem garbage dump of Jesus’s day, located in the Kidron Valley between the temple mount and the Mount of Olives. It was perpetually burning, hence the line in the gospel, “…the fire is never quenched.”

However, before the Jews conquered that place, the inhabitants that preceded them sacrificed their children to their god Moloch, throwing them in Moloch’s fiery furnace which was always burning.

So you see, Gehenna, or hell, is made by human hands, not divine ones. (This concept comes from Paul J. Nuechterlein, copied and published in the September 27, 2009 issue of Synthesis.) Hell is on this side of life. We make our own hell.

The disciples are busy building a hell of jealousy. There was, after all, that one incident when they were unable to cast out a demon. Now here’s this upstart, this nobody, this stranger succeeding where they failed, through the power of Jesus’s name, and he doesn’t even follow Jesus! How dare he! And for that matter, how dare Jesus put up with it!

But Jesus has invested his life in everyone who ever was, is now and will be, not just in his followers. His followers are there to be taught how to continue to do what Jesus is doing, invest their lives in everyone else. So what is a non-follower values Jesus’s name so much that he uses it for good – mazel tov! Good for him. Let him keep doing it. It will be good for him as well as those he heals.

God’s economy is nothing like ours. God’s economy is wasteful. God’s economy is prodigal. It counts the cost, yes, and then it spends everything anyway, no matter the cost.

In Jesus, the cost was a life, Jesus’s life. It was spent on all humankind, although humankind had done nothing to deserve that cost. The gift was given anyway.

In God’s economy everything is gift. We have been given the gift of our lives. We have been given the gift of our daily food and shelter and clothes. All of these are gifts from God. Our whole life is a gift.

Why should the disciples care, then, if someone else is doing better than they are, as if there was only just so much blessing from God to go around and that non-follower exorcist over there was stealing it from them the disciples?

A long time ago, before I even went to seminary, I was parish secretary for a church in Elkton, Maryland. One of the parishioners, Barbara, as it happens her name was, used to come in and ask me questions about the faith while I was working.

It happened that often when Barbara was there I would have to call the priest to come over from the rectory to help someone who had come to the office for help. Barbara knew the priest called these people bums, and that he begrudged them what he called handouts. He held onto his funds jealousy for the use of what he called people who deserved it.

Barbara thought that made sense, but she also knew that I didn’t agree with the priest, that I hoped that if I were ever in his position I’d just give the money away no questions asked.

The day came that Barbara herself needed financial help. As she was about to go and ask the priest, she turned to me and said, and I’ve never forgotten this, “If you were the priest, I guess all that money would be gone by now and there’d be nothing left for me.” What could I say.

Now that I am in that position, I have to say that as a priest, I have never been able to spend down all the money given to me for the help of the poor. I gave money away hand over fist in Milford, Delaware, and as much as I gave away, there would always be another funeral honorarium or other donation to the priest, which is always put in the priest’s discretionary account. But I’ve never forgotten what Barbara said to me, nonetheless.

Here at Grace I don’t have any direct contact with the use of the People In Need grant we receive from the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund, although I do have oversight of about $500 in a checking account, for the relief of people who come in off the street.

Sometimes, though, I think about keeping some cash locked up just for giving away indiscriminately.

I have a friend in the city, New York, who keeps a few $1 bills in one pocket, to give to anyone on the street who asks for it. He gives it out until that pocket is empty, then that’s it for the day. This is his personal money he’s using. He has no discretionary account. I have to tell you that I haven’t evolved as far as Chris has, I’m ashamed to say.

But the disciples are penny-pinching with Jesus’s love. They’re trying to hoard it all to themselves, and that makes me think twice about myself and what my friend does with just a few dollar bills a day.

In Jesus’s day, if a person was poor or disabled or sick or widowed or orphaned with no support, it was seen as a sign that they were sinful and being punished by God. They deserved their poverty. The wealthy and healthy, on the other hand, believed they were righteous because obviously they were being blessed by God, unlike those bums and beggars and lepers and homeless widows.

We are not much different today. We give to the relief of the poor, but we also want to be sure they are the deserving poor. We give with reservations.

But Jesus said to the righteous, “Careful. Better that you tend to your own house – where your eye wanders or your foot treads or your hand grasps, before you look down on those less fortunate.”

And he says to the unrighteous and the sick and poor, and the ones working the system, “Blessed are you. You will see God.”

What a curious economy. Quite upside down, isn’t it? It doesn’t make sense at all. About as much sense as giving a valuable diamond ring to a poor tenement woman for no other reason than love of Jesus.

God’s power in Jesus Christ is exercised not in the things that make sense, but in mercy and pity. The disciples in today’s reading still have to learn that lesson, and they’ll learn it the hard way, as we all do.

But we have the benefit of hindsight. We have the words of today’s collect to guide us. In Christ Jesus, all of us, all people, no matter what, are equally deserving of God’s love. The grace of God comes from the least expected places – from a man who does not follow Jesus but who serves the poor, or from a person on welfare who is working the system and gives us the opportunity to serve Jesus with no strings attached, just for love of him.

God’s promises know no limit, no boundaries. The treasures of heaven are there for all to claim, if we would open our eyes and see, and it is for those of us who have more to then be generous enough to let those treasures go, without anxiety, without counting the cost, with no strings attached.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Maybe-Not-So-Bog Standard Sermon: Racism and Slavery Awareness Sunday

September 20 has been declared Slavery and Racism Awareness Sunday in the Diocese of Connecticut, The Episcopal Church. Here's the sermon I preached this morning. Not your usual baptism service sermon.

Sermon Pentecost 16
September 20, 2009
The Reverend Lois Keen
Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37, 10:44-45

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Later, in the next chapter of Mark, he says it again, but stronger: “…whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all...”

Nowhere, however, does Jesus say we are to own slaves.

Yet even long after the abolition of slavery in this country, scripture was the foundation of many arguments in favor of slavery, arguments which then justified the institutionalization of racism in this country.

Slavery and racism were not, however, and are not exclusively the burden of the southern states of this country. New England, including Connecticut, was an integral part of the slave connection, the circle of molasses to rum to slaves, as well as being a slave owning state. The Episcopal Church was complicit in the trade. Episcopal clergy owned slaves. Episcopal churches had slave galleries. Those not directly involved in slavery were beneficiaries of the slave trade and all it made possible.

For this reason, the Episcopal Church, in General Convention, has passed numerous resolutions about racism, among them
a resolution to address institutional racism,
continuing resolutions to require anti-racism training of all lay and ordained leadership of the Episcopal Church,
the development of appropriate anti-racism programs, and the maintenance of registers on anti-racism training and activities,
and a study of economic benefits derived from slavery, which includes the acknowledgement by General Convention of, and apology for, slavery and its aftermath,
and action toward reconciliation.

For that reason, Bishop Andrew Smith, our diocesan bishop, has asked that this day, September 20, be set aside as a day of awareness of our complicity in and benefit from slavery. He also asks we announce that November 7, 2009 will be a Day of Repentance, to be held at Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford. The church’s participation in the transatlantic slave trade will be explored in the morning and a Service of Repentance will be held in the afternoon.

All parishes were asked to research their congregations’ history of complicity in slavery and/or its benefits, or its struggle for racial equality and recognition.

Grace Church was founded after the abolition of slavery so the parish itself was not complicit in slavery or the slave trade. However, we have not been free from the struggle for racial equality. I was surprised to learn that in Grace Church’s past there was a minister, a priest, who refused to give communion to people of African descent. The name of the priest is lost, but his policy is remembered.

Grace Church today is blessed to have a racially mixed congregation. We are blessed to see ourselves as welcoming of anyone who enters these doors. We are also, I fear, blissfully ignorant of the continuing legacy of the slave years on ourselves, our churches and our nation.

By law, including canon law, the laws of The Episcopal Church, forbid the blatant practice of racism. However, our internalized racism, the racism with which we United States Americans were brought up, still resides in us. If there was any doubt about it, the rhetoric surrounding the campaign for the presidency last year, and the continuance of that rhetoric surrounding the elected president puts the lie to our doubt.

My first experience of racism came when I was 14. We moved to Sussex County Delaware, where I went to high school from 1959-1963 in a segregated school system. The people there are still proud that theirs were the last schools to be desegregated. One of its towns was the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan and the Klan is still active there.

Newlin’s brother-in-law, in researching the Keen, the Kwick and the Hagstrom families’ genealogy, found a slave connection in the Keen family history. One of Newlin’s ancestors owned a plantation where Aberdeen Proving Ground now is in Maryland.

Alan found the man’s will. In the disposition of the man’s property were his slaves, most of whom were willed to his heir as a lot, but some of whom were named and bequeathed to individuals in the family.

For New England history, however, you can turn to a recent film by Katrina Browne. “Traces of the Trade” is a documentary about Rhode Island’s largest slave-owning family, the DeWolfs, with direct ties to the Episcopal Church and clergy families formerly or currently living in Connecticut, including one of my recent predecessors here.

You can rent or borrow the movie “Amistad” which deals directly with one of the Connecticut connections with slaving.

Or you can go with Eugenia Chinsman someday on a trip to Sierra Leone, founded for the benefit of Canadian and U.S. escaped and freed slaves, and visit Bunce Island, one of the primary stops for deportation of African men and women to be sold as slaves in the Caribbean as well as this country.

New England slavery existed for over 200 years. But even those who did not own slaves benefited from slavery. Southern cotton picked by slaves went to Northern textile mills. Banks and insurance companies played their part. Ordinary citizens bought shares in slave ships in order to make a profit from their human cargo.

The DeWolf descendants, the subjects of the film “Traces of the Trade,” are setting an example for The Episcopal Church and this country as they are confronted by questions, which I quote from the Traces of the Trade website:

“What, concretely, is the legacy of slavery – for diverse whites, for diverse blacks, for diverse others? Who owes who what for the sins of the fathers of this country? What history do we inherit as individuals and as citizens? How does Northern complicity change the equation?” And, I might add, how does it change our assumptions about ourselves? And, finally, “What would repair – spiritual and material – really look like and what would it take?”

We are about to baptize a baby. In this child’s name the parents and sponsors will make certain promises and take certain vows. The vows they take we will also take, as we have every time we have baptized a child here since the current Prayer Book was written 30 years ago.

Among the vows are these:

“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

“Will you persevere in resisting evil and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?”

It will be up to this child’s family to see that this child grows up in the truth of these vows. Meanwhile, what can you do?

First, you can commit to going to the Cathedral in Hartford on November 7th to be educated in our historic complicity in slavery and take part in the Service of Repentance.

But there are other things you can do. These suggestions come from the Social Justice Ministries website of The Episcopal Church:
You can attend diocesan anti-racism workshops. Phone the Diocese of Connecticut and find out when the next one is.
You can commit yourself to being a multiculturally competent person resisting racism – that is, you can recognize in yourself your attitudes to people not like yourself, and resist the temptation to be ruled by those attitudes.
You can challenge prejudice, intolerance and racism in the church and in this community wherever it exists, and that means not laughing at racist jokes, not making racist jokes, nor making stereotypes about people not like yourself.
You can recognize the connection between racism and other forms of oppression.
You can read articles, books and publications on racism and related oppressions to sustain you on your journey.

And here at Grace Church, we are going to have education in the history of slavery and in the sin of racism. You may be tempted to avoid this education. After all, there are no slaves in the U.S. today so what does it matter?
But it does matter. We are not quite so blatant in our racism, but it is worse now because it is very subtle. It also matters because people of slave descent in this country still bear the wounds of what the ruling class in this country did to their forebears.

And as Christians, we confess that what injures even one of the members of the Body of Christ injures us all.

Each baptism we witness here is a promise of hope – hope for a better world, made in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. Each time we share in the baptismal vows we are about to witness, we have another opportunity to ask ourselves, “How shall I take this vow seriously?” Each time, we have the opportunity, and the hope, that this will be the day we each and every one take steps to become servants of all, for the sake of Christ Jesus, in whose name we now gather around this baptismal font.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Is Property Value a Christian Value?

This week I read that the local homeless shelter has been denied the possibility of using a larger building they own to increase the number of shelter beds and have enough space, in addition, to provide much-needed programming, like life skills, for instance. One of the reasons, in addition to the fear of crime, is the threat to landowner property values.

Now you are going to get really mad at me, and I just might make a few enemies this time.

For a nation which purports to be a Christian nation, I see very little Christianity at work. Yes people go to church, people go to Bible studies, people help in soup kitchens and shelters and, go to the Gulf Coast to help rebuild, and do other good works. We pray. We make donations to charitable organizations.

But when it comes to putting our property values, our income, our safety on the line, not in my back yard.

Dear friends, property values are not a Christian value.

A Christian nation would put everything they had on the line to serve the poor, including, and most especially, the so-called undeserving poor. We would become servants of drug users, pimps and prostitutes. We would open our neighborhoods to those who choose to give their whole lives to being servants of those who just plain are not able to get it together to be like us, to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, to hold down a job, to stop drinking.

And while I'm at it, a Christian nation would say to others, "We don't own this country, this land. Y'all come. And forget about having to learn English. Because one of the cornerstones of Christianity is hospitality, we will learn your languages, in order to be more hospitable."

In a Christian nation there would be no Hispanic jokes, no racist jokes, no "blonde bimbo" jokes.

Tomorrow, in accord with the request of the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut for the churches in the diocese to preach sermons that raise awareness of Connecticut's part in slavery and the slave trade, and on racism, I will be preaching a sermon based on Jesus's words, "If you would be first in the kingdom, you must become last and servant of all...If you would be great, you must become a servant, a slave of all."

It's a perfectly all right, bog standard sermon I'll be preaching. But to really say what I believe the gospel, the good news, of Jesus Christ is about, it would have to include what I have written above.

But I won't do that. I don't think the people of this country can take this truth, that as much as we Christians are good people, who worship God and give for the relief of the poor, this nation is selfish and greedy. Until we become the servants of those we think are less than we are, of those we think are invading our land, of those we know are working the system, there will be no health in us.

And that includes me.

Next week we will begin a worship ministry in the open air, for the benefit of those who live on the streets, those whose mental illness might make them unlikely to want to come inside a building where they don't know anyone, and those who might need the opportunity to come and go as they please without being afraid they will be seen as impolite, to say the least.

It is called Worship for All People, and as far as I am concerned, this is a new "church" we are starting, for if my dream comes true, there will times for Bible study, times for fellowship, times even for these the least and lost to do for others in their turn. I'm putting out feelers to various people and places to partner in providing programs and other services. And as God is my witness, these buildings over which I have been given oversight so long as I am Priest in Charge are going to become good news.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Okay, how about this...

How about...

On one Sunday per month, say, the first Sunday, instead of our regular worship in the church at 10:00 we have a brunch in the Memorial Room, with a Gospel reading, a simple shared meal (either we take turns as the cook or we all do the cooking together), sometime during the meal a bell rings, a simple Eucharistic prayer is said, we share the bread and wine with one another, we finish the meal, and there's a blessing and we depart.

What about that?

What about this:

Bring Your Own Brain Bible Study, Tuesday evenings? Or is there a better time FOR THE WHOLE COMMUNITY OF NORWALK, not before or after Sunday worship, but a Bible study that is for all comers.

And instead of weekly or whatever Adult Education/Formation, we have special education/formation events, and the priest (that's me) does not schedule or arrange them all. Anyone who has someone they want to come and do an education thingy can do so.

So, how about that?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On returning from vacation

It's been weeks since my last post, on the shame sometimes associated with one's dental health. I left shortly after on vacation. Beloved and I camped on the Housatonic River for a week, and then, after two days at home unpacking from camping, doing laundry, and then repacking for a cottage-ette ( ! ), we left for Watkins Glen, NY, at the southern tip of Lake Seneca.

More precisely, we stayed in a tiny cottage-ette (that's what the owners call it) in Hector Falls. Beloved stays there when he is at the Glen on photo shoots. When I first saw it, after driving five hours, I was dismayed. What had he let me in for? But when we stepped inside this tiny, caboose-size former tool shed, it was delightful, charming. What a surprise!

The grounds were also charming - untidy grounds scattered with untended gardens gone wild, just the way I like things. I've gotten myself in trouble with more than one church when living in church owned housing, because I prefer untidy gardens. I have never been more rested on returning from a vacation than I am this time. I'm still able not to let people's anxieties and expectations hook me.

I know it won't last forever, but I'll take what I can get.

On the personal care front, however, this is the doctors-and-dentists month. Two deep, under the gum cleanings, two weeks apart, followed today by work on a cavity. A cavity! I haven't had one of those for over 40 years! Really! This one was between two teeth, so each of them had a part of it. I was in the chair for an hour. All I wanted to do afterwards was sleep.

The dentist, of course, is very good. And my mouth was very numbed up, thank God! But can you imagine having to drill down between the teeth, then drill out the cavity on the hidden surface of each tooth, then doing the restoration work, one tooth at a time.

Tomorrow I see my GP, who likes to see me every three months, God knows why. I also have annual tests lined up for this month - a DEXA scan for bone density, necessary because the post chemo pill I take leaches calcium from the bones, and another MRI, because a clean mammogram alone is not sufficient for post-breast cancer follow up when one has "dense tissue". The MRI itself isn't so bad; it's the placement of the IV for the contrast stuff, because I have fugitive veins and it takes up to half an hour to get the IV in, which is very hard on me.

So, good thing my vacation was so successful. Lots of practice photographing cars. Lots of time for drawing, and for reading a murder mystery per day. And the memory of the cottage-ette and Lake Seneca across the street to feed me, at least through this month of September.

Peace to all.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pointless Shame

When I was a little girl, I was ashamed that my Aunt Thelma could bite into an ice cream cone with her front teeth and I couldn't because the cold of the ice cream hurt too much. My aunt would egg me on and mock me when I couldn't bite the ice cream, but I kept trying so as not to be shamed. To this day I am able to bite into an ice cream cone without the cold hurting me.

When I was grown up, telling that story in a family gathering, my mother told me that Aunt Thelma had had all her top teeth pulled when she was in her twenties. She had false teeth. That was why she could bite into an ice cream cone without feeling the cold.

Only today have I understood the implications of that story of my aunt's pulled teeth, an understanding beyond how I had experienced my aunt as a pretty horrible tease all my life. The real point came to me when I reminded myself that I had my mother's mouth, a mouth given to incurable gum disease. This morning I realized the truth: I'm lucky to have as many of my own teeth as I have. My aunt wasn't so lucky.

I'm one of the "lucky" people who has had all four of her wisdom teeth and none of them impacted. Yesterday I had two upper right back molars extracted - the wisdom tooth and the molar next to it. They were healthy teeth. They had to come out because they were loose and "not doing you any good". They were loose because I have bone loss caused by gum disease. They were a loss because I had already, over the years, had the three matching lower right molars extracted over time and those two upper molars had nothing with which to occlude, which compounded the effect of the gum disease.

I have gum disease in spite of thirty years of meticulous home care of my teeth and gums. I inherited my mother's and aunt's "tenacious calculus" (not to be confused with tenacious integral calculus!). I have extremely fine, grainy, extra sticky calculus, a bacteria which accumulates as plague under the gum line and attacks the bone in which the teeth are afixed.

But in addition to inheriting a type of calculus, I didn't have regular dental care until I was thirty years old. And this, again, goes back to my family life.

We never had a lot of money. I wore hand-me-downs, which is hard when you're the only girl and the oldest in the family. It means my hand-me-downs came in a big cardboard box from people I didn't know. Dental and health care were for emergencies. I went to the dentist only when I had a cavity, which means I didn't go often. When I was a teenager, I had my first extraction, a molar on the lower left. The dentist was evil. He scared me. The day he extracted my tooth, he turned to me after I had opened my eyes and held the tooth in front of me and said, "Someone's going to make a lot of money off your mouth one of these days!" I never went back.

Finally, plaque build-up that, combined with smoking, made my lower teeth look rotted, inspired a friend to have the courage to take me to her dentist. There I began thirty years of faithful attendance of oral care alternating between the dentist and the periodontist. I hated it, but I did it, and my home care was and still is faithful and meticulous, even when I go camping! (And people were surprised to see my lower teeth were fine!)

But then, both the periodontist and the dentist retired in the same month. It was more than I could bear to try out the perio's replacement and find a new dentist. So for six years I didn't go to a dentist or a perio. Moving from church to church was only an excuse for why I had not found new oral care professionals. The truth was I was afraid of trying. I was afraid of getting another monster.

So, yesterday I faced the pointless shame of having two otherwise healthy teeth extracted. Make no mistake: I feel shame for having had to have these teeth extracted. And there's no point to the shame. It's an inherited shame. Like my mouth, like the attitude toward dentistry, my shame has roots in my past: only poor, uneducated people have teeth extracted. It's a sign of being beneath the good people.

I am a priest in the Episcopal Church. I have had a total of six extractions over the years. My lower teeth are shifting leaving a couple of gaps. I feel ashamed of my smile.

But I smile anyway. I'm known, in part, for my smile. No one has ever said to me, "You low class person, go away from us!" The shame I feel is pointless. I write, therefore, in part to exorcise that shame demon, but more to encourage others.

Shame is pointless. It just sits there, eating at you. Remorse for deeds done or left undone is an action for right and good. Shame and embarrassment are debilitating. I intend to keep smiling and not worry whether or not people can now see that there is a big gap in the back of my smile. I'll smile as a sign and symbol for anyone else who feels this pointless shame, and as an example for those who may be lucky enough to have a perfect smile, for mine is as perfect as anyone else's because it's mine.

Monday, July 20, 2009

This and That

It's Monday 20 July 2009 and there's so much to report.

First, I started online Spanish lessons through the Tell Me More program through my local library. If I take the class at the library, I can use Rosetta Stone. Both are free to cardholders of the library, of which I am one. Muy bien!

On Friday, I went to the Transfer Station (the dump) to get one of those blue plastic tubs to put my recycling in. An English speaking person waited on me, but a Latino got the tub for me, so when I took it from him I said, "Gracias" and he replied in Spanish, "De nada"! I can't tell you how much that tiny exchange thrilled me. He didn't condescend to answer in English; he answered en Espanol, as if I deserved it. I am encouraged to learn more than ever from that little moment.

Second, I have discovered the web site of St. John's Center for Spiritual Formation the importance of which is in one of the dreams of the Mission Congregation of Grace Episcopal Church to become a center for Christian spiritual formation! St. John's is an interfaith meditation center. It's not a big stretch to go interfaith with the MG's dream. I love the daily sittings - 2o minutes of silent sitting, 5 minutes of walking meditation, another 20 minutes of sitting, from 7;30-8:15 a.m. Monday through Friday and 9-9:45 a.m. Saturdays and major holidays. That's something we can start right away!

Interested? Let me know.

Third, by sometime in September, if the weather and the use of the church parking lot cooperate, there will be a prayer labyrinth painted on the parking lot of Grace Episcopal Church in Norwalk. Another dream come true, and another step toward that spiritual formation center dream. The path will be wide enough for wheelchairs and walkers, which will mean a pretty big labyrinth, hence the parking lot, and also lots less expensive than other ways of laying out a labyrinth. I am so grateful to the people at Grace who are going to make this dream come true.

Fourth, there will be a "Street Mass" on the last Sunday of every month, from September through December (with a Thanksgiving Sunday picnic after the November service, and I hope we come up with a wonderful way to make Christmas possible for people who live on the street at the December service). That gives us time to get police, neighbors, bag lunch volunteers, other churches, and things we haven't thought of yet in place, so we can go weekly in the new year. We'll hold the services in the parking lot, on the labyrinth, so it's on our property, and in the path of lots of foot traffic every day of the week including Sunday.

I want to thank the dreamers at Grace, and elsewhere, who are making these things possible. There are other things in the works, but you will have to wait awhile on those.

Thank you to all of you, also, who have kept Grace Church in your prayers, and who have been praying faithfully the prayer, "What is God calling us to do in this place?". What, indeed. All these ideas came about since we started praying that prayer. If you put yourself in the way of the Holy Spirit's path, with the intent to serve the world through Her, She answers, and not in some half-measured way, but abundantly, in a pouring over, rushing rivers way. Thanks be to God.

So, if you come to Grace, and see from 25 (in the summer) to 50 people in the pews, and that tempts you to give Grace a miss, don't. There are lots of things coming to birth at Grace and I want you to be part of them.

And if Sunday worship is not your thing, try the Mission Congregation, on the second Saturday of each month, resuming on September 12 at 1:00 p.m. after a brief summer break. You will be treated to 2 hours of Bible study, free discussion, dreaming, planning for the dreams, and sharing of the Bread and Wine of Holy Communion.

I hope to see you at worship soon. May the God of Peace bless and keep you always.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Chaplain to Children

I'm off today, Sunday July 5, to camp to become chaplain to children age 7 to 12 years. This is going back to my roots in ministry. My first call was to the Cathedral Church of St. John in Wilmington, Delaware, where, as minister of children's spiritual formation, spiritual resource for the children's choir school and program director of the Debnam House community center for elementary school age children, I was, overall, chaplain to the children of the cathedral and Brandywine Village.

I loved it. I have tried to carry this love into primary pastor ministry. It was why I was called to most of the places I have served.

It's an odd thing: work with children almost always is deputed to assisting clergy who may or may not have any gift or calling to it, or, if lucky, to lay people who do have a calling. I have noticed that is beneath the call to rector or primary pastor/clergy. The adults expect the top man or woman to tend to them, while finding other people to work with their children. Oddly, at the same time, every profile I read for rector/primary clergyperson includes some primary reference to building up the Sunday School numbers and developing a youth program.

Well, this week, for one week, I don't have to worry about any of this "who is called to what" business. I'm off to Camp Washington until Friday, and I can hardly wait.

I'll be out of touch. But I know all of you are perfectly capable of taking care of yourselves and one another. It's the children who need a priest and for six days I get to fulfill that call.

Peace to you all.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The week that was

Wow. The move from one house to another, about three miles apart, took the entire week.

And it 's not done yet! You should see the previous house - thank God Newlin is going to take care of that bit, with a little help from the kid next door who's home from college. I can deal with an orderly progression of packing up things in a room. I can't deal with there still being bits and bobs left behind - the mirror that goes on top of my dresser, all the clothes in the closets, a box of sewing threads ( ! ), a bag of knitting. Let someone else throw it all in a big box and move it out.

Of course, the actual physical move - loading up the car on Wednesday, having the movers move the furniture on Thursday - had to take place in those two days because Beloved Partner was on a photo shoot from the weekend until Wednesday, and then left at 3 in the morning Friday to go on another. He's coming home early, though, tonight. So that's good.

And of course, there was the exhaustion of a brilliant, enthusiastic, and depleting meeting on Wednesday night that ran late, the wedding rehearsal on Thursday night (I swear, I ran them through it in 20 minutes, and then they changed it all at the end and that was fine.), then the wedding on Friday afternoon, followed by the reception (I really shouldn't to go those, I know), the healing service this morning (thank God - there was a woman drop in who really needed it), and tomorrow a major parish meeting with the bishop.

so, a nice, relaxing, low key week.

Next week all I have on my calendar is three physical therapy appointments and one oncologist follow up.

Now, why am I writing to you about all this boring, personal life stuff? Because who else is going to listen! That's why.

I'm on orders not to do any work today. But of course I just have to shift some more of these books into bookcases...

aren't you glad I took a break to write?! Cheers, all.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


I am now on Twitter, Facebook and Anglimergent. All this is very exhausting, because anything to do with the computer has a steep learning curve for me. However, I have already connected with a bunch of folks from my past, not only my present, which is cool.

Now we are moving house tomorrow and Thursday, plus I have a wedding rehearsal and wedding Thursday and Friday, and a big meeting coming up with the bishop on Sunday evening - four hours with dinner. So I'll be taking a break from the computer until Monday-ish.

Peach to you all; God's Peace be with you.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Okay, so I just signed on to twitter. Now what? To search for friends who may be on twitter, they use my address book. Nobody in my address book is on twitter, but a bunch of stars and news services are. I checked two news services and one charity. Couldn't care less about the stars.

I tried a few things, and I've figured out, I think, that unless you are in my address book, or unless you give me your tweet username, I can't find you.

I posted two tweets ( ? ). I guess I'll wait and see if anyone sends me anything.

My username is (I think) http://twitter.com/rambleingrose
Please note the " e " between the l and i is necessary to the address!
But, then, all you have to do is click on, don't you? Oh I am so lame!

The Boon of the New Communications Technology

I'm considering Facebook or Twitter. The boon of communications technology to oppressed people who have cell phones has become apparent this week. Iran would have suppressed all the reports of the controversy surrounding the elections but they couldn't. The reports came out of that country via computer and cell phone technology - photos, videos, blogs, Facebook, Twitter... The ability of these forms of communication to reach many people at one time, and at the same time connect them with one another, astounds me. I want to be part of it.

I also value a life wherein I am not switched on 24/7/365. I have a cell phone. I do not turn it on except to make calls out. I do not give out the number because I don't receive calls on that phone. I take pastoral interviews in a parlor in the church instead of my office, much of the time, because the ringing phone is a distraction. I don't answer it. I let it ring. So why even be in the same room with it when someone comes to me to talk?

I don't post often on this blog. I don't often have anything I deem worth saying. Alternatively, even when I do have something I'd like to write about, I'm loathe to take the time away from the things that keep me face to face with people.

I may have to, or be able to, switch my brain to an understanding that virtual community may work just as well as face to face, or at least works well in this current world where community is global. After all, I frequent a blog which has become community and even church for me and its denizens. Is it so great a leap to Facebook or Twitter ( and Twitter has been recommended to me over Facebook)?

But my lack of use of this blog, my desire not to be switched on all the time, not to be checking my cell phone in the middle of meetings and one on one conversations to see if it's a caller worth interrupting what I'm doing, failing to check this blog's dashboard more than twice a day to see if anyone left a message to be moderated - all these tell me that I may be just as irrelevant with a Twitter account, or whatever you call it, as I am without one.

I still have a basic cell phone, with no computer access on it. I don't have a blackberry. And my watch has Minnie Mouse on the face, with her big, white-gloved hands pointing to the hour and minute.

I don't know. If I could be assured that people who try to communicate with me on Twitter would be just fine if they didn't hear back from me for hours, I'd feel better about getting a new phone, or something that would make me a little more available.

After all, I can always turn it off.

N.B. I am taking this blog off moderated comments again. Let's see how we do.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

It's a spiritual problem, not a business problem

All the money managers, all the marketing experts, all the advertising and good business practices are worthless without first, before anything else, the people immersing themselves deeply in spiritual practices: prayer, Bible study, waiting on God, self sacrifice, generosity, extravegent hospitality, treating "the Jesus story like it really happened, and is really happening still".

Unless every woman, man and child is committed to learning and practicing these practices, all the best money/business manager clergy and even all the most pastoral and gifted clergy, all the marketing, the advertising, the increased rental of the building won't amount to anything.

Christians are baptized to be living stones. We are baptized to live as though the Jesus story - the birth, life, death and resurrection - is real, here, now. The catch is that without death, there is no resurrection. And resurrection looks nothing like the previous life. Jesus was not recognized by anyone until he did or said something that he had done before his death. Then their eyes were opened and they saw the scars from his wounds and they knew it was him.

If you will die to the expectation that everything will remain the same if only management or business practices were better, you will have a chance at resurrection, as a new thing, in a new form, the old, ancient practices becoming new to you - prayer, study of scripture, wrestling with God and the Word of God with one another, extravagent hospitality and generosity, and regularly and faithfully continuing in the apostles' fellowship, the breaking of bread, the worship and the prayers.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Thought for the Day

Yesterday, my physio therapist and I were talking about women in ministry, and she said,

"If Mary could be trusted with Jesus, why can't a woman be trusted with a Book?"


Sunday, May 31, 2009

If Grace Episcopal Church in Norwalk closed, would anyone notice?

Not to be confused with Grace Baptist Church, on West Avenue in South Norwalk, or Grace Family Church on Wall Street, we’re talking about Grace Episcopal Church at 1 Union Park.

In 1890, 31 members of Saint Paul’s-on-the-Green Episcopal Church, Norwalk, “walked down the hill” and founded Grace Episcopal Church. Originally located at Belden Avenue and Cross Street, the Great Flood of 1955 caused the church to relocate to its current address at the corner of Mott Avenue and Union Park in 1964.

Grace Church was a thriving parish, with a congregation large enough to boast over 200 children in its Sunday School. However, Episcopalians are awful at replacing themselves, and as people moved out of state or died, the congregation dwindled. Today, average Sunday attendance at Grace, for all ages, is 50 souls. The average age of membership is over 60.

Grace Church is now having to decide what its future will be, and one of the options for that future is to close the doors of Grace forever.

The question is, will anyone in Norwalk notice if Grace Episcopal Church closes?

Of course, the members of the three groups of Alcoholics Anonymous who meet at Grace on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, will notice if Grace closes. The Thursday night Manic Depressives Support Group will notice. The Literacy Volunteers and their students, who study English almost every day of the week at Grace, will notice. The Senior Services Umbrella Group will have to find a different place for their quarterly meetings. Two churches rent space for worship, prayer and study at Grace – L’Eglise Baptiste des Haitiennes, who have been at Grace for over fourteen years, and the Remnant of God Church will have to relocate. The Fairfield Symphony, who only just found Grace as a replacement for their previous home, will be looking again for a place to make music together if Grace Episcopal Church closes.

It’s hard to believe that closing might be in the offing, with so many good things happening at Grace.

Grace Episcopal Church was the first organization to catch the vision of helping to build a school for girls in Waterloo, Sierra Leone. Grace Church connected with FAWE, a pan-African organization of women dedicated to education and, through donations that involved the community outside of the congregation of Grace itself, raised the money to build a two room classroom block, the first such block.

Other organizations visited the school and, seeing the plaque on the side of the building, commemorating Grace Church Norwalk’s sponsorship, asked if they could piggy-back on Grace’s work. As a result, an organization in New Haven, Connecticut has been working to provide a library, and another in the Netherlands has contributed to a second block of classrooms and a computer lab.

Three of Grace Episcopal Church’s members visited the school and met the girls and their teachers and families. The real need, now, is scholarships so the girls can continue their education. I can guarantee that, without Grace’s leadership in raising those scholarships, the entire village of Waterloo, Sierra Leone will notice if Grace Episcopal Church closes.

Meanwhile, the work of the Gospel continues at Grace. A service of prayers for healing and laying on of hands is offered at 10:00 a.m. on the fourth Saturday of the month. On the fourth Sunday of the month, at 8:00 a.m., people gather to perform some service to the community outside of the congregation of Grace Church. On the second Saturday of the month, The Mission Congregation of Grace Church meets at 1:00 p.m. for three hours of study, reflection and worship. On the second Sunday of each month, at 11:30 a.m. following the 10:00 service, Practicing Prayer offers support for people’s prayer lives.

This year we had three special events for children: The Real Hallowe’en! offered crafts and activities and lunch, followed by the story of The Real Hallowe’en, where Hallowe’en came from and what it means in the life of Christians. The Real Christmas! was a big party, with games, crafts and lunch, followed by the story of The Jesse Tree, Jesus’s family tree.

The Real Good Friday!: A Walk to Easter saw sixteen children gathered with adults at Grace for the noon service. With a time of meditative music and silences for adults, and activities and an egg hunt for children, the Walk to Easter concluded with all ages joining to experience the last week of Jesus’s life, and a taste of the resurrection.

Meanwhile, children’s Sunday education and adult Wednesday night studies continue. Sunday worship and Holy Days are observed, the Gospel is preached, the sick and shut-ins are visited, and the work of the church goes on.

If it weren’t for the dwindling savings and the shrinking congregation to support the work of the Gospel at Grace Episcopal Church, you wouldn’t be able to tell the church faces closure.

Almost in defiance of this threat of closing, Grace is now looking at a liturgical ministry with people who live on the streets of Norwalk. Sunday worship outside, followed by a meal, armed with spiritual support and information on resources, and maybe even a place for people without traditional homes to have a mailbox, or a place to store their belongings during the daytime – this is what may be in the near future for Grace Episcopal Church.

Grace Episcopal Church is not closing anytime soon. If indeed Grace does close, it will leave a hole in the city of Norwalk, and it will do so not with a whimper but with a bang, preaching, learning and living the gospel for all to see, here at the corner of Union Park and Mott Avenue, one way or another, every day of the week.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

This Blog is in Mourning

California's Proposition 8, funded enormously by people from outside of California, has been upheld. There will be no more marriages for same sex couples in California.

However, the marriages that took place before Prop. 8 passed will be upheld.

Thank God for small mercies.

Meanwhile, this blog will remain in mourning until or unless there is a sign that the forces of darkness are not triumphing completely.

[This is my personal blog, and my personal statement, having nothing to do with the church I serve, nor the opinions of the congregation of that church, regardless of the fact that this blog is attached to said church's website.]

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I'm back!

Comments will continue to be monitored for the time being. I don't know when I will have time to write a proper blog article.

The above is a snark at the person who linked my blog in a comment he/she made on another blog site, commenting that maybe Grace Church wouldn't be closing if I weren't wasting my time blogging. This from a blogging community that spends much time in sifting through hits everyday to find things of interest to post. I, of course, being bone idle, just write a little something, once in awhile, to keep my congregation up to date on things that I'm thinking, things that are not necessarily worth newsletter space. They like it. I feel bad when weeks go by when I don't write something, because my congregation like to read what I write.

This blog will rarely, if ever, post articles having to do with the news of the Anglican Communion. There are plenty of blogs out there for those purposes if you want that kind of thing. I do spend a little time each day checking out four of them, because they do all the heavy lifting and they present a well-written, balanced approach (balanced being a totally subjective word here!) I commend to you Thinking Anglicans, Preludium (Mark Harris), and Episcopal Cafe, for straight up news and commentary, as well as thoughtful pieces which might not have anything to do with the "troubles" in the Anglican Communion. I will leave it to you to find your way to these sites.

It's good to be back. Hope you all had an excellent week in my absence. See you in church!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

While I'm away

I've found that one of the opponents of us on the religious left has for reasons known only to him and God found an article in the Norwalk Hour newspaper about Grace Church and has commented adversely on the newspaper's website and also on a worldwide blog. So while I am gone, I have disabled comments, meaning only members of this blog can comment, and the comments will be hidden until I return.

I make no apology for this. I have a responsibility to keep this a safe environment. See you next week.

Friday, May 1, 2009


Before I went to seminary, I was taught that the Latin word credo means I believe. In settings of the Mass, the creed begins Credo in unum Deum - I believe in one God.

Monday I'll leave for a week in Louisiana at a conference, a retreat for clergy, sponsored by The Church Pension Fund. It's time to reflect on my health - physical, spiritual, financial, vocational. The conference is called CREDO. It is called CREDO after the more proper translation of credo which is I give my heart to.

Now that would certainly change the mechanical recitation every Sunday of the Nicene Creed: I give my heart to One God, Father almighty... I give my heart to Jesus Christ his Son, our Lord... I give my heart to the Holy Spirit... I give my heart to one holy, catholic and apostolic Church...

This Sunday is Good Shepherd Sunday. I suggest you go to Mad Priest's blog, OCICW... and read his sermon for this coming Sunday. I hope that link works - it's a long url and it's a brilliant sermon. At the same time, I also suggest you change the reading of Psalm 23 for the same reason I'd like to change the reading of the Creed - to snap us out the mechanical, soothing recitation of the familiar.

The 23rd Psalm is the psalm appointed for this coming Sunday. It begins, "The Lord is my Shepherd..." I suggest you read, instead,

"Love is my Shepherd; I shall not be in want. Love makes me lie down in green pastures; Love leads me beside still waters. Love revives my soul and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for Love is with me. Love's shepherd's crook comforts me. Love spreads a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; Love has anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over. Surely Love's goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of Love for ever." (I got this idea from the latest issue of Trinity News out of Trinity Wall Street.)

Then read, "We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us..."

That line is the first line of the epistle appointed for the day, 1 John 3:16-24 (careful, this is not the Gospel of John, this is the first letter of John. The three letters of John come just before the epistle of Jude, which is then followed by the Revelation.)

"...I shall dwell in the house of Love for ever." (Psalm 23:6b)
"We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us..." (1John 3:1)

Think about what you have read. How does it change you? How does it change your world view?

Then go and read Mad Priest's sermon again.

I'll be back in the office on Wednesday, May 13. I doubt I'll be blogging. There is not a lot of time allowed for access to the center's computer and I don't carry a computer with me. I'm an analogue girl in a digital world - I believe strongly in being disconnected from time to time.

So, I count on everyone being kind to one another in the comment section. Think unconditional love, not "tough" love, and all shall be well.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Day of the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Easter Day has dawned clear and crisp. The sun is rising. I'm second-guessing my sermon. Nothing new there.

It is my custom to follow that of many eastern Orthodox churches and read out St. John Chrysostom's Easter homily, with brief commentary afterward.

It has nothing to do with the world in which we live. It has nothing to do with the everday lives of the people. It is, for most of those who attend this morning, the only time I have with them all year to tell them that Jesus' resurrection is for them.

What I won't tell them is this, which came to me yesterday morning:

The eastern tradition is that in death Christ harrowed hell - that is, Christ descended to hell, broke down its gates, smashed all the chains and released all hell's captives, beginning with Adam and Eve, the two who brought sin into the world in the first place.

Yesterday, I thought to write only this: After Adam and Eve, the next soul lifted out of hell was hell's newest prize - Judas, who had only just committed suicide after his betrayal of Jesus.

Christ is risen, everyone. He is risen and he has raised you with him. Christ is risen. Alleluia!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Faith, Belief, Practice

Please click on this link and read Mark Harris's essay on Preludium. Then return here for my comment.

Today we enter again that season of great mystery, Holy Week. The triumphant procession that begins today's worship ends with the passion of our Lord. For the rest of the week we remember that last week of Jesus's life here on earth, particularly the last supper before his arrest, his trial, and his execution.

In the end, that execution is not the end. The tomb is empty. There will be appearances of the Lord Jesus, that great mystery of resurrection of the body.

Meanwhile, we Christians will continue judging one another's faith, one another's beliefs, and even one another's practice. Are you a Christian or not? we ask. You made a speech and never once mentioned the Lord Jesus Christ, therefore you must not be a Christian. You don't believe that God required that Jesus die a bloody and terrible death in order to save us from ourselves and therefore you must not be a Christian. You have alternate ways of understanding the great mystery of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and you publish them abroad. You are not only a Christian but an apostate priest or bishop or presiding bishop. This group or another has the only correct understanding, faith, belief, practice and no one who strays from that way can possibly be holy, Christian, saved unless they repent and return to the correct way.

When I hear Christians speaking or writing or teaching in this way, I say, my God, Jesus wasted his life. He died in vain. He died to free us from fear. Instead, we visit fear on others in the name of Jesus, and call it salvation. For, if salvation is in any way conditional on us getting something, anything right, then there is no difference between the world before and the world after Jesus' death and resurrection.

I have written this before. I have endured comments couched in oh so condescending terms to tell me I have misunderstood, I have got it wrong, and here, we will set you straight. And still, I hear the call to freedom - freedom from being afraid of getting it wrong and, having not repented of my wrongful understanding, counter to the teachings of the church, of being damned for all time.

I do not understand what it is in us humans that so desires the death of another. I do not understand what it is in others that says, "This is what the scriptures say, this is what the church teaches, this is the faith once delivered for all time and it does not ever change and our faith, belief, understanding and practice must not ever, ever change without repenting of it and returning to right belief or we are damned." I do not understand that. Is God really like that?

For the thousandth time, I write of my conversion. I was lost in this life. My life was despair. One night I cried out, "No one loves me" and cutting through my thoughts the words, "Jesus loves you". And I replied, yes, but Jesus can't hold me when I'm alone.

My ungracious rejection of that love continued, while at the same time I tested It to see if It was real, if It meant it. Over the time of a year, I was less despairing, less self-destructive, less and less isolated from those around me. At some point I realized that even though much of my anti-social behavior had not changed, that love was still there. I understood from It that It would still love me, that I would still be acceptable, just as I was, even if I never made any changes in my life or repented or anything else at all. I would still be part of that Love that had calmly assured me of its presence that night long ago.

Over time, I had to come to terms of the implications of what I was experiencing and thinking. What about the perpetrator in my life? Well, said Love, he, too, is safe in me. And yes, that was the implication - if I was safe in Christ, so was that person.

This journey has taken me to places which some of my fellow faithful Christians would say are unChristian. They may be right. I no longer believe, for instance, that baptism confers salvation in the way I was taught - that salvation is available only to the baptized. Instead, I believe that baptism makes the baptized part of God's work in Christ to convey salvation to the world, by binding the baptized to being the unconditional love of God in Christ in the world, by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is definitely not the same as baptism confers salvation only on the baptized.

Regardless of how one reads the scriptures, and I take scripture very seriously, the journey to God is a mystery. God's way with us is a mystery. God in Christ is a mystery. The incarnation, the life, passion, death and resurrection are a mystery. If we are not free to explore that mystery freely, to get it wrong, to teach wrongly, to believe and practice wrongly and decide the next day to change our mind, or not, then I fear Jesus died in vain.

But for me, his death was not in vain. I discovered that God's love has no strings, no conditions, but just is. My work, as a baptized person as well as an ordained priest, is to make real, to the best of my frail ability, that love in the world. I fail at it miserably. It is that for which I repent, not my thoughts, or my beliefs or my faith or even my teaching, but for my failure to love as God has loved me. And still, I am loved. And so are you, loved equally to me, saved, hidden in the heart of God and in Christ's wounded side. This is the faith once delivered to the saints, that God in Christ is love.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Lent 5

Lent 5
March 29, 2009
Grace Episcopal Church, Norwalk, Connecticut
The Reverend Lois Keen

Scriptures: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-13; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

Rob Bell is the 38-year-old evangelical pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan. When he starts to preach during Sunday worship, he prepares the congregation by announcing that he will be teaching – notice, please, teaching, not preaching – for 80 minutes. (The Christian Century, March 24, 2009) So, what do you think? Will that fly here – give me 80 minutes every Sunday so I can really teach Bible instead of trying to jam a little bit of inspiration into 10 to 15 minutes? Will you go for it?

[LOL of course]

Of course if I could have that time, I’d be able to tell you what that strange little piece in the epistle means, about being a priest after the order of Melchizedek. And I’d be able to unpack the part in the gospel – the rather harsh part – about hating your life so you won’t lose eternal life.

And together we’d be able to sort out for each and every one of you how you might live into the imperatives of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ – about loving your neighbor, about loving God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength, about selling everything and giving to the poor, and about taking up your cross – little things like that.

Instead, I have time this morning to teach you just one thing. The underlying assumption of what I want to teach you today is this: Jesus died so you can be free. He died so you would not have to be afraid of God anymore. He died so you would not have to be afraid to “get it wrong” anymore. God knows the disciples got it wrong most of the time, and so did the early church of the Epistles, and we call them saints!

Here’s what I want you to learn this morning – Please do not reduce the Bible to a self-help manual for life, a rule book to end all rule books. With well over 600 commandments in the Old Testament alone, who can stand up to this? Turning the Bible into a rule book assumes that you are not already safe in the arms of Jesus, in his heart and his wounded side. And you are. Safe, that is.

The Bible does contain plenty about how to live your life. A lot of it is contradictory. It will leave you frustrated. It will leave you feeling guilty, ashamed, like the young lawyer who went away from Jesus because it was too hard for him to get his mind around selling everything he had in order to follow Jesus.

Instead, approach the Bible like this: as a treasury of faithful peoples’ experiences with God, that provides an entrĂ©e into your own journey toward God. The Bible is there to incite you to seek out God for yourself, to find and be found by God, to discover that God has always been there, indeed is always with you, and then for you to “write” at least metaphorically your own chapters of your own experiences with God to add to the scriptures.

The Bible begs you to taste it, to chew it, to mull it over, to argue with it, to engage with it as though it were a living thing, not a dead book stuck in one time and place.

How are you to do this? Well, you can certainly do it alone, at home or at work or in the park or on the train. At the same time, not either/or but both/and, you can join a Bible study, not for the purpose of having some clergyperson tell you what the scriptures mean, but as one place to bounce off your own insights against other people’s insights, including the clergyperson’s. Bible study group is a place to be in community with others. It is a place to encounter God, who is the epitome of community – Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, Inspiration; Source of all Being, Incarnate Word, Guide. One Holy and Undivided Trinity, one and yet community of persons.

If you would rather, I can restructure Sunday morning worship to allow for 80 minutes of teaching and Bible study in the middle of worship. That way you only have to come here once a week, bringing your Bibles with you, that would be very important, and ready to work together in study. The Orthodox Jews in Egypt do just that – the floor of their synagogue is filled with double desks instead of pews, so the worshippers can be in pairs, studying and arguing and discovering scripture together. What better way to use our Sunday time together?

If that does not appeal to you, than I strongly urge – indeed, I expect you to take advantage of the opportunities to study scripture that are already available – The Mission Congregation monthly Saturday afternoon gathering, the Wednesday Night study group which engages scripture through various themes, the monthly 8 a.m. Sunday “Service” Service which puts scripture into action, taking our lead from the youth group who engage scripture in this way.

Or, you can sign up for the Bible Study time and day of your choice.

Outside in the hallway along the wall of this nave, this worship space, there is a chart with the days of the week and time slots on it. You can choose the day of the week and the time slot that works for you, and enter your name and the frequency with which you would like to meet – weekly, every other week, monthly. The only day not available is Friday, and the only time slot not available is Sunday morning before 10:00 a.m. Otherwise, there should be some time there that works for you.

I am very serious about this. You cannot move forward as a congregation unless you come together for the purpose of taking the scriptures seriously and engaging God, face to face, through encountering each other in study.

It’s totally bogus to have your preacher tell you how to relate scripture to your life. She or he can give you some insights, some glimmers, but those must be only a part of the input. Your own life as you live it in the context in which you live it has to be the other part, and only you can provide that, as you wrestle with the scriptures yourself in group. And ten minutes on Sunday morning isn’t enough.

I’m asking you to make an ironclad commitment to do Bible study here, in this building, regularly. I in turn will commit to being with you for Bible study at every one of those times for which people have signed up, even if there is only one person, although if it is at 7 a.m. I will most likely be in my exercise clothes! We can take the Sunday lessons as our texts, to begin with.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this invitation comes from the prophet Jeremiah, in the reading from this morning, in which God promises to take the laws away and instead write his law of love in all hearts. The invitation to study scripture together is an invitation to open your hearts to that law of love, and learn from God what the implications for your life may be with that law written in your hearts rather than as words on paper.

As your priest, I am telling you, this is the single most important thing to which you will commit in the coming year. It is a commitment to our Lord; it is a commitment to the scriptures themselves; it is a commitment to yourself and your life as a Christian, and it is a commitment to the life of this congregation, whatever form that life may take in the coming year.

Now, about that “priest after the order of Melchizedek” bit in the epistle.

If you have your Bible with you, please turn to Genesis, chapter 14, verse 17-20, which reads, After Abraham’s return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet Abraham at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). 18 And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. 19 Melchizedek blessed Abraham and said, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!" And Abram gave Melchizedek one tenth of everything.

Now, here is how Melchizedek is understood. He came out of nowhere and he went nowhere. His biography is not in the Bible, and so he has no beginning and no ending. His blessing of Abram is the action of a priest. Abram confirms that priesthood by giving Melchizedek a tithe, one tenth of all he has, as an offering. Melchizedek, therefore, a priest who has no beginning and no ending, is, for the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, a prototype of Jesus, a priest after the order of Melchizedek, who has no beginning and no ending but was and is and ever shall be. Jesus earned this priesthood by offering prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who could have saved him from death, but he also went reverently and obediently to his death, and having been thereby made perfect, is now the source of salvation for all, “having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” I’m sure that is perfectly clear!

Martin Luther wrote, “If you could understand a single grain of wheat you would die of wonder.” So, too, with the scriptures. I invite you to come and understand together just what these ancient writings might have to say to you in your life, today, in this time, in this place.