Friday, April 29, 2011

Rest in peace, wild violets

Honestly, what is this thing with manicured lawns? Just as the violets carpet the whole lawn at Grace, out come the lawn mowers and cut them all down. So the grass was long - why does it matter?

Seriously. Please let me know why manicured lawn trumps violets and the Star of Bethlehem wildflowers. Just another area in which I'm out of touch with the rest of my culture. (sigh)

At least I got to enjoy them for a few days, for which I give thanks to their creator and mine. Also, thanks for the nuthatch in the pine next to the garage early this morning - what a treat. And a mostly sunny day.

And, I got pansies and some herbs from Stew Leonard's, potted them out, put up moveable fencing around the main garden plot (sorry Xena - no more running through!) and am all set with containers and cages for the tomato plants I'll pot out after I start them from seed.

Altogether, a good day.

And, the wonderful thing about violets - the mower man doesn't come again until next Friday, and violets are very resilient. There will be more blooms between now and then. A triumph over our cultural philistinism!


...I got up at 4 a.m. to watch the wedding coverage. Actually, the early rise was not about the early commentary but so I could get my cuppa (tea) and say Morning Prayer before I glued myself to the tellie at 5.

The music was beautiful. The congregation were stony. Why? Is it impolite to sit there grinning foolishly from ear to ear? And I guess I'm the only one left in the world who sings hymns lustily whether or not I like them. It's about God, after all. But surely, Jerusalem will get the people going, no? No. Too bad.

But the bride was beautiful and the dress was perfect. And Wills' (yes, the apostrophe is in the right place - the nickname is Wills, and the possessive apostrophe therefore goes after, with the second, possessive "s" left off) - Wills' uniform was divine.

I've since done some straightening up of the garden and now I'm waiting, like everyone else, for the balcony appearance.

Silly, I know, and I don't care. I love pageantry. Have a lovely weekend, everyone! And God bless Kate and William.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

You won't believe this!

I just watched a squirrel - a gray squirrel - carry what turned out to be an entire slice of pizza across the church yard, try twice to clime an ornamental cherry only to fall to the ground both times, and then carry it across to the chain link fence of the rectory yard up which it easily scampered, pizza crust end still in mouth, and onto the lower branch of a tall pine tree next to the garage. It is now sitting on the branch, nibbling on the pizza, all the while maneuvering and repositioning it so the slice doesn't fall to the ground.

An entire slice of pizza - I can hardly believe it!

Ah, nature - observations in the back yard

Mining bees - no, I don't mean "mining" as a verb but as an adjective.

Last week I began seeing these little holes all over the backyard. Now, the rectory back yard is dreadful - very little grass, lots of dirt (read mud!) - so the holes were clearly visible. I thought, "I wonder what has hatched?" But I kept seeing them, even after rain, and more, and more. I also observed an influx of what looked like bumblebees (although take that in the generic - they look like bumble bees, or even carpenter bees, but they're not). Yesterday I looked up "ground bees" and found "Mining Bees".

Yes indeed, the entire back yard of the rectory is infested with mining bee colonies. The post assures me the males are incapable of stinging, and that the females seldom sting. It also includes a plea not to try to eradicate them. In the face of the decimation of native honey bees any bees are good bees, necessary for the pollination not only of flowers but of many vegetable crops.

At any rate, it says, it will take more than one year of insecticides to get rid of the underground colonies.

Tell that to Xena, Labrador Mix Warrior Princess of all Norwalk, who is on a mission to dig these critters up, was found yesterday trying to get one bee off her left front kicker, and is trying to eat those she brings down. (sigh)

Meanwhile, the lavendar sets I planted out last spring, which looked like nothing so much as dead for good, are beginning to show green leaves among the dead ones. The birds are screaming outside earlier and earlier in the morning - today the blasted robins were at it at 4:00! So Miss Xena decided it was time to get me up, just in case the birds hadn't already done an excellent job of chasing sleep off already!

Still, the post on the bees says they will be around only for 2 to 4 weeks. There will be lavendar in the garden again. And as an avid birder, I thank God for them, even as I curse the hour of their early morning racket.

Spring - ya gotta love it!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Day of Resurrection

Alleluia! Christ is risen! And not one dead remains in the tombs. Alleluia!

Sermon for Easter Day.
Jeremiah 31:1-6
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-18
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
April 24, 2011

¡Aleluya, Cristo ha resucitado! Esa es la expresión que brota de los labios del sacerdote cuando parte el pan. El momento culminante de la vida y doctrina cristiana se realiza en la resurrección. "Si Cristo no resucitó de entre los muertos, entonces vana es vuestra fe", son palabras que San Pablo escribió a los de Corinto en su primera carta.

"El primer día de la semana", nos narra el evangelio, María Magdalena fue al sepulcro al amanecer, cuando aún estaba oscuro, y vio la losa quitada del sepulcro. Es María Magdalena la primera en recibir la noticia de la resurrección.

La resurrección del Señor nos enfrenta a el papel que las mujeres representan en el plan salvífico de Dios. El poder tener el mismo privilegio que los hombres en ser portadoras del mensaje divino. El Evangelio de San Juan nos habla sólo de María Magdalena, pero Mateo dice que un grupo de ellas fue al sepulcro de madrugada y fueron partícipes de la noticia.

La valentía demostrada por las mujeres es innegable dentro del ministerio de Jesús. Recordemos que estuvieron al pie de la cruz, mientras la mayoría de los discípulos se escondieron aterrorizados. Ellas fueron las que comunicaron la noticia de la resurrección a los apóstoles. Ellas en la Iglesia primitiva abrazaron el diaconado.

La Resurrección de Jesús vino a reafirmar y fortalecer la fe de los discípulos en su maestro, comenzando por Pedro y Juan, todos los discípulos cambiaron radicalmente de actitud y dieron la vida por quien había muerto por ellos.

La resurrección de Cristo nos presenta también esa hermosa relación entre la vida y la muerte. Prisioneros del pecado, nos tocaban la muerte y la separación de la presencia del Señor. Jesús, el cordero de Dios, toma nuestro lugar, las sombras de la muerte le cubren y las entrañas de la tierra le reciben, pero al tercer día las entrañas de la tierra no pueden sostener por más tiempo al Hijo de Dios y éste resucita de entre los muertos para darnos la victoria sobre la muerte. El apóstol san Pablo en la primera carta a los de Corinto nos "ahora ¿dónde está muerte tu victoria?" Pues la muerte fue absorbida por Cristo Jesús en la cruz del calvario. (With thanks to The Episcopal Church Spanish sermon website)

A poet of this parish writes in his Easter Sonnet,

In resurrection I believe, not just

because of what my loving Lord did once

in rising from the tomb. I trust

as one who his mortality confronts

without a qualm. For God has raised me

many times before: from grief to joy,

from loneliness to love, anxiety

to peace of mind when worry would destroy

my confidence, from fear to courage, sin

to bless’d forgiveness and despair to hope;

last, best of all, from doubt to faith within,

which arms me with all earthly trials to cope.

I have been raised so many times before,

I know I’ll rise to life on heaven’s shore!

(John Sutton)

The poet practices dying and resurrection every day. Because he practices resurrection, he knows he will rise to life at the end, yes and that he will continue to rise even now, on this side of life.

Yesterday something strange happened. There was a great silence on the earth. The earth was silent because the King of heaven and earth was dead.

Jesus went to the place of the dead, to search for his lost sheep. He approached them, bearing his Cross, the weapon that won him the victory. He took Adam and Eve and, yes, even Judas, and all the dead, and he raised them up with him as he said,

Awake, sleepers, and rise from the dead, and I will give you light. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. You were driven out of Paradise, and I have come to lead you to heaven. I did not create you to be held prisoner for ever.

“Rise up! let us leave this place – for I have died with you, and you shall rise with me. The Kingdom of Heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.” (from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday).

Christ intends that none should be held forever in the cluthches of sin and death. And so, every year, on the Feast of the Resurrection, the Orthodox churches read St. John Chrysostom’s Easter Homily from the 4th century:

Whoever is devout and a lover of God, come, enjoy this beautiful and radiant Feast of Feasts!

Whoever is a good and faithful servant, rejoice, and enter into the joy of your Lord.

Whoever is weary of fasting, receive now your recompense.

All who have labored from the first hour, let them today receive their just reward. Those who have come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them keep the feast. Those who have arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss. Those who have delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation. Those who have arrived even at the eleventh hour, let them not fear on account of their delay.

For the Lord is gracious, and receives the last even as the first; he gives rest to the one who comes at the eleventh hour, just as to the one who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; to the one he is just, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work, and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our LORD, and whether first or last receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another dance for joy! O you zealous and you negligent, celebrate the Day! You that have fasted, and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden, feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the Feast of Faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.

Let none lament their poverty, for the Universal Kingdom has been revealed.

Let none mourn their transgressions, for Pardon has dawned from the Tomb!

Let no one fear Death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free!

He that was taken by Death has annihilated it! He descended into Hell, and took Hell captive! Hell was angered when it tasted his flesh…Hell was angered, for it was destroyed! It was angered, for it was reduced to nothing! It was angered, for it was emptied! It was angered, for it was despoiled! It was angered, for it is now captive!

It laid hold of a mortal body, and found that it had seized God himself! It laid hold of earth, but confronted heaven! It seized what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!

O Death, where is they sting? O Hell, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and Hell is overthrown! Christ is risen and the demons are fallen! Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life reigns! Christ is risen and not one dead remains in the tombs!” ¡Cristo ha resucitado, y reina la vida! ¡Cristo ha resucitado, y los muertos viven!

This day, the Feast of the Resurrection, we remember that on the cross a general, universal amnesty was declared throughout all creation. Today we remember that in the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, God has cancelled all accoounts for all time. All our records are wiped clean. Sin is abolished. Hell is empty. Hell has been shut down. Hell has gone out of business forever.

We are here today to celebrate that amnesty, to celebrate the Good News of God in Christ Jesus: God’s Love has triumphed over our sins and our death; Cristo ha triunfado sobre nuestros pecados y nuestra muerte; and when we meet our Maker we will be welcomed with open arms. Dios nos da la bienvenida con los brazos abiertos.

Christ being raised from the dead has become the first-fruits of them that slept. To him be glory and dominion through all the ages of ages! Alleluia!

Christ is risen! ¡Aleluya!

Cristo ha resucitado!

Alleluia! ¡Aleluya! Alleluia! Amen!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Vigil 2011

From Padre Jose Diaz's Easter sermon tonight:

Death does not have the last word. Jesus has the last word, and that word is LOVE!

Sermon for Good Friday 2011

Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Psalm 22
Hebrews 10:16-25
John 18:1-19:42
A Sermon on the Seven Last Words of Christ

Wisdom 1:16-2:1,2:12-22 (probably written last part 1st century before Christ)
16 But the ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death;

considering him a friend, they pined away
and made a covenant with him,
because they are fit to belong to his company.

2For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves,
‘Short and sorrowful is our life,
and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end,
and no one has been known to return from Hades.
12 ‘Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law,
and accuses us of sins against our training.
13 He professes to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a child of the Lord.
14 He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;
15 the very sight of him is a burden to us,
because his manner of life is unlike that of others,
and his ways are strange.
16 We are considered by him as something base,
and he avoids our ways as unclean;
he calls the last end of the righteous happy,
and boasts that God is his father.
17 Let us see if his words are true,
and let us test what will happen at the end of his life;
18 for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him,
and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.
19 Let us test him with insult and torture,
so that we may find out how gentle he is,
and make trial of his forbearance.
20 Let us condemn him to a shameful death,
for, according to what he says, he will be protected.’
21 Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray,
for their wickedness blinded them,
22 and they did not know the secret purposes of God,
nor hoped for the wages of holiness,
nor discerned the prize for blameless souls;

Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.(Lk 23:34)

I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise. (Lk 23:43)

Woman, here is your son. Friend, here is your mother. (Jn 19:26)

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? (Mk 15:34)

I am thirsty. (Jn 19:28)

It is finished. (Jn 19:30)

Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit. (Lk 23:46)

He had no beauty, no majesty to draw our eyes, no grace to make us delight in him.

He was pierced for our transgressions, and by his scourging we are healed.

On himself he bore our sufferings; our torments he endured.

He was pierced for our transgressions, and by his scourging we are healed. (St. Helena Breviary)

Forgive them: He who is innocent forgives the guilty.

I Assure you: He who committed no crime assures a criminal of his place in paradise.

Behold your mother: He who had no place to lay his head gives his mother a son to take care of her, and gives the disciple a mother to care for him.

Abandonment: He in whom God dwelt is permanently united with humankind in our sufferings.

I Thirst: He blessed those who are thirsty for righteousness. Now he, too, thirsts.

It is finished: Death. The end. “And as in Adam, all die, even so, in Christ shall all be made alive.”

Trust: All that is left is faith, hope and trust – in God.

All my friends have forsaken me; those who laid wait have prevailed against me.

They have smitten me with blows; they gave me vinegar to drink.

One whom I love has betrayed me; they have cast me out among the wicked.

The have smitten me with blows; they gave me vinegar to drink. (St. Helena Breviary)

For those among you who have been falsely accused, can you forgive as Jesus forgave?

For those of you who suffer guilt for wrongs you have done, can you accept that paradise is yours today?

Where is your true home? St. Augustine said that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. Will you let God give you rest?

Have you ever felt abandoned? Can you find comfort in Christ’s sense of abandonment?

For what do you thirst? Do not make do with vinegar on a sponge, but reach into the spring of living water flowing from Christ’s wounded side.

For those who may wonder if your life has been worthwhile, Jesus’s people, the Jews, have an ancient proverb: “It’s not for you to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (comment from post below)

When you feel unable to forgive yourself or another, when you feel lost or abandoned, thirsty for something, seeking fulfillment, will you, can you, trust in God, commending yourself and all your life to Christ, trusting the Holy Spirit to give you God’s peace, God’s shalom, God’s wholeness?

Into your hands, O God, I commend my spirit,

For you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth.

Keep me as the apple of your eye;

Hide me under the shadow of your wings.

Lord, have mercy,

Christ have mercy,

Lord, have mercy.

(Compline, The Book of Common Prayer)

Christ rests in the tomb. It is the Sabbath of Our Lord.

But as God will not abandon on the Sabbath a person whose life is at risk, neither can Christ abandon us.

He has gone into Hell, into death. He goes to seek the lost sheep. His cross is the weapon with which he strikes down the gates of Hell and death, and becomes the bridge over which the lost cross into life. The first are Adam and Eve. And after them, surely the most lost sheep of all, Judas. A thief has been granted Paradise.

The cross, once a shameful instrument of death, has instead led the whole human race into life. A tree stood in Eden, a mix of evil and good. Now a tree stands on Calvary, a tree meant for good.

“It is the source of light, not darkness.

It offers you a home in Eden.

It does not cast you out.

It is the tree which Christ mounted as a king [mounts] his chariot,

and so destroyed the devil, the lord of death,

and rescued the human race from slavery to the tyrant.

"It is the tree on which the Lord…

healed the wounds of our sins,

healed our nature that had been wounded by the evil serpent.

"Of old we were poisoned by a tree;

now we have found immortality through a tree.

Of old we were led astray by a tree;

now we have repelled the treacherous snake by means of a tree.

Indeed what an unheard-of exchange!

We are given life instead of death.” Theodore the Studied (759-826)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

Really lovely services today. I am so grateful. Although my feet are killing me and there's still tomorrow night's Vigil and Sunday's festive Eucharist (Mass) with two baptisms. I'm preaching in both English and Spanish on Sunday. We're supposed to have rain showers. I'll try not to think about that.

For now, we enter into the Sabbath of Our Lord. He rests, or at least his body rests. I go with the ancient Orthodox churches. Jesus has descended into Hell. Hell means Death. There the dead sleep. He goes to seek the lost sheep - Adam, Eve, even Judas, and all those who have died before and those who have yet to die. His weapon against Death is his Cross. The bridge he carries is his Cross, over which he leads all souls out of the Hell of Death into light and life.

For now, we here on earth rest, with his body, in a full 24 hours of sabbath until the great festal shout of the Vigil of Easter.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Do you ever wonder if, on your deathbed, you'll worry that you didn't do anything important with your life?

On an episode of "House", Talb says just that - on his deathbed he'll worry he didn't do anything important.

What counts as important? What counts as a waste of life? If this worry drives our lives, drives our life decisions, is that more important than the life of the person who by all appearances does nothing worthwhile but who loves life and enjoys him/herself and other people?

I've heard and seen tons of anecdotal reports from people whose lives were changed by the love of a child with downs syndrome. Isn't being able to love unconditionally important enough to justify a life?

My response to Talb's worry was, as I flashed back over my life at warp speed, that my life has mattered because I'm doing the important work of trying to bring together as one two congregations that are superficially totally different - hispanic and non-hispanic. I say superficially different because the things we see in one another as differences don't really matter in the big scheme of things. All that matters is that we are humans.

But I also realized that the only thing that gives my life meaning is that I live. I screw up, I fail, I succeed, I love, I hate, I try, I vegetate, I get it right, I get it wrong, I forget to show up for 6 a.m. mass. I'm human. I was born. I've struggled through this life for over 65 years. It's not all been good. Lots of it hasn't been good. And it's my life.

I'm alive. That will have to do. Now and on my deathbed. I stood up to life and lived.

I confess...

...I addictively play "free cell", a card game on my computer. I play it when I'm blocked and trying to do something mindless while my brain comes up with ideas. I play it when I'm bored. I play it automatically when I finish some work on the computer.

So for Holy Week, starting two days ago, Palm Sunday, I gave up "free cell".

Boy, already I recognize the addictiveness. As soon as I finish checking emails or blogs or some work on the computer I automatically go to "games", or I start to. So far I have been able to catch myself, and it's in the catching myself that I am humbled by the compulsion to play that mindless game.

A year ago, on Easter Day, April 4, at 7 in the morning I badly damaged my right shoulder, particularly the rotator cuff. It's been slowing and surely healing, but a month ago I woke up one morning and found I had re-injured the same shoulder - probably carrying three heavy loads that I though I was safe doing. The effect of the injury is different from the original but it's almost as debilitating, mostly in that there is sudden pain when I move unexpectedly.

Giving up "free cell" for the nonce is, in part, an experiment to see if giving up that repetetive movement will help me heal. In the original injury, all computer work exacerbated the injury. Even as I type this, I can feel it in my shoulder, where the muscle runs into the neck. Would it be such a bad thing to have to give this up all together for a month?

No email. No bulletins. No letters. No blogs. No games.

How would my life be different? How would my work be different? How would the live of those I serve be different?


Last night I was just so tired I fell asleep between 8:30 and 9:00. This morning I got up, with spring allergy grogginess at 5:38. At 6:05 the front doorbell rang. It was a parishioner. She said,
"There's only three of us but we have to get to work!" Only three! That's a miracle on a weekday at 6:00 a.m.!

6:00 a.m. Holy Wednesday Eucharist - I had forgotten!

I hurried over to the church, grabbed a purple stole from the drawer in the sacristy, put it on over my sweatshirt and jeans and went into the church. The four of us celebrated Eucharist and it was, for me, a wonder.

After the Gospel, I gave a very brief homily on Jesus descending to the dead to find the lost sheep, and the first lost sheep he was after to raise with him, after Adam and Eve, was Judas. When I finished I wondered out loud what hearing these words this morning might work on their day ahead.

Then, as they took turns with the petitions of the prayers of the people, I heard those petitions echoing forward into their workday. And in my prayer at the end I prayed for them, aloud, and what these prayers and this Holy Communion might work on them during the day.

And after the communion, as I said the dismissal, it was different for me than on a Sunday. On Sunday I'm sending the people out into a Sunday world, which I hope is also the week to come. Compared to that dismissal, this morning's dismissal made Sunday's seem a formula. Compared to that dismissal, this morning, at 6:35, it was out into that actual weekday work day world into which they were being sent. And I wonder if today will be different for them than other days. Or if it was all a dream.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Anglican Covenant and Holy Week

It is Holy Week. Passion Sunday is over. Holy Monday I'm spending in silence, preparing for sermons and worship for the rest of the week.

I had intended to write more about the meeting at Yale with our deputation to General Convention 2012, but in the shadow of Holy Week, I think I shall let that go.

Mark Harris has a great post.
And the Maori have rejected the covenant, having had experience of covenants in the past and their misuse. Thinking Anglicans has the post on this at "New Zealand Maori diocese rejects Covenant".
If you want to read more about the proposed Covenant, read them.

For the rest of the week, may you have a truly holy Holy Week, that your joy at the Resurrection may be great.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Anglican Covenant - Why? Revisited

I went to the meeting last night at Berkeley (that's Berkeley Seminary, or Divinity School) at Yale. It was a decent turnout. The deputies to General Convention 2012 had asked the seminary to set up a program to help them explore the proposed covenant in public. The deputation, along with all deputations in TEC, has to submit a response to the proposed covenant to Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies by Easter Day of this year.

I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't what I got - an academic presentation by three seminarians, the dean and a professor on different ways to approach the proposed covenant, followed by questions from those gathered. It did begin and end exactly on time, which is a blessing.

The seminarians were from among those who had the proposed covenant assigned as their term essay. Only one of the presenters, a woman seminarian, linked the proposed covenant to her life and the life of people she knows in Africa. The rest were interesting, and mercifully short, thoughtful, but with no personal consequences.

Except for the young woman seminarian, the remaining two seminarians, the dean and the professor all seem to agree there is no harm in signing on to the covenant but to fail to do so is to cut off conversation which might cast us out into outer darkness (not their words).

The young woman, however, warned that all this covenant will do is to continue exactly that which it purports to change. It is a continuation of colonialism.

It's early on Tuesday morning after a late night and having to drive both ways to New Haven, so, more later, maybe.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Anglican Covenant - Why?

Tomorrow night I get to go to New Haven for a diocesan-wide discussion on the proposed Anglican Covenant. The diocesan eNews had this blurb:

Your diocesan General Convention 2012 deputation has organized a forum with presentations and discussion on the proposed Anglican [Communion] Covenant. ... The 2012 General Convention is likely to include a resolution regarding the proposed covenant. Bishops and deputies have been asked to provide comments on it, and BIshop Douglas has asked CT's deputation to help the rest of the diocese learn about it.

I am opposed to this covenant. I also take responsibility for putting myself in places where I can be challenged on my point of view.

Mark Harris at "Preludium" has a post on the Chicago Consultation's analysis of the Covenant. I commend their work to you.

Sermon April 10, 2011

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, 2011

Lent is a time for stripping down. A time to unbind and be set free. A time to be stripped down to bare, dry bone, thirsting for the breath of God.

The stripping down begins with the temptations. Jesus has been in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. He is hungry. He thinks of the world’s hunger. He is tempted by a devil to turn stones into bread to feed the world. But he knows the world’s real thirst: the word of God.

He is tempted to test God, to throw himself from the top of the temple to see if the angels will save him. But Jesus knows that even if someone comes back from the dead they won’t be believed to be the Son of God. All he will be is dead.

He is tempted to become emperor of the universe so he can bring God’s reign instantly. But he knows this will not work; the world needs to learn to worship God, first, before the coming of the kingdom can be a blessing to them.

So, after this testing and stripping away, Jesus is ready – free to be God’s word in the world, to bring God’s message of peace, reconciliation and mercy where it is not wanted but is desperately needed. Free to live as God’s beloved child and to die for the sake of God’s love.

For the most part, he will not be appreciated for who he was and what he did, until the worldly powers, represented by the Emperor Constantine, declare him legitimate and make his faith the law of the land, as though the temptations were run in reverse. Satan’s words come back to haunt us: “I will give you all the power of the world if you will fall down and worship me.”

Meanwhile, in John’s gospel, our unbinding, our stripping down to dry bone begins.

Nichodemus comes in the dark to ask questions. He is hungry for something but he doesn’t know what. Jesus has said things that make him think, things that churn in his mind. And so he comes, but at night, in case he should be seen to be a fool.

Nichodemus sees and hears the Light but he is still blind. He does not get it. But Jesus doesn’t give up on him. He knows it is always worthwhile to sow seed. You never know when it will sprout. At the beginning of Lent, we are like Nichodemus: seeds are sown but what will come of them?

Then Jesus spends time with a Samaritan woman. She is at the village well at the time of day respectable women are at home. So we know she is a Samaritan, she is a woman, and she is a disreputable woman at that. But she thirsts, and so she is at the well. Then we learn she has had five husbands and is not even married to her current man. Her thirst may be for more than water.

Jesus speaks with her and her spirit is set free from the chains of social convention, of prejudice and ignorance. A man, not her relative, has spoken to her in public and conversed with her on deep things of the soul, like an equal, like one who can be taught. Shackles fall from her and she runs and spreads the word of Jesus.

Maybe by now, we are beginning to realize that for which we thirst, and maybe we are getting an idea what it will take to satisfy that thirst.

Next, Jesus sees a man born blind. His disciples, like us, are concerned with externals and convention: the law says that disease and disability are caused by sin. Therefore there must be sin present in the man or his family for him to be born blind. But before their very eyes Jesus shows the old way of seeing things to be true blindness.

In receiving his sight, the man goes through a transformation, as people question if it’s really him, and he starts to speak the truth of his life and comes, finally, to recognize that it is not the vision of his eyes he has received, but the unbinding of his spirit from inner blindness. He recognizes Jesus for who he is and he worships him.

Finally, today, we reach the tomb of Lazarus. The end of hope. The grave. There is no life here. Is this where our Lent is to end? In tears?

Here at the grave of Lazarus, Jesus, who would not be tempted by Satan to throw himself from the temple to see if the angels will uphold him, now hears God’s own voice clearly and speaks God’s words, “Lazarus! Come Forth!”

From where is Lazarus being called, and to what? The Jewish tradition was that the soul is still with the body for three days. But it is now day four. Lazarus is truly dead. The corpse is decaying. It smells. Any body that comes forth will be full of rot.

And yet, Lazarus comes forth, from the dark, bound, blind, and helpless.

“Unbind him,” Jesus commands. “Unbind him and set him free.” The people remove the funeral shroud and the body wrappings. Under it all, Lazarus stands, alive.

But is he still Lazarus? The same Lazarus?

Those bones on the valley floor, over which Ezekiel spoke God’s words of resurrection, were once human beings. As God reclothes them in sinew and flesh and blood, and as God breathes the breath of new life into them, they will look the same as they did before they died, just as Lazarus looks the same as he did four days ago. But will they be the same?

How could they be? How could Lazarus be, the same? They have been brought back from the fullness of life with God, to this place of blindness, thirst, hunger, fear, prejudice, war, pestilence and death. They will die again one day. Are they angry?

Or do they now live without fear, the fear that binds us in our fears and anxieties, our selfishness and greed, our prejudices, our blindness and the shackles of a tame religion?

After the desert, Jesus lived without fear. He embraced the outcast and the sinners without fear; he faced his detractors without fear; he taught us to love our enemies without fear; and in the end he went to his death without fear, the kind of fear that paralyzes the man or woman into doing what is expected or polite or acceptable, the fear of what people will think or do if we think and say and do what Jesus did.

Lent is an invitation to unbinding. An invitation to be stripped down to bare, dry bone. An invitation to ask, “What can my spiritually dry bones teach me? What can they tell me about myself? What can they tell me about God’s intentions toward me?”

The desert of temptation, the valley of dry bones, the dark night of the soul, the searing thirst of desire, the blindness of not knowing where we are going, the fear of death and annihilation, none of these places are unknown to Jesus, or to God. There is no place God cannot redeem and transform.

It is true that if we allow ourselves to be stripped and unbound, we do not know what we will be like once we are transformed by the voice of Jesus and the life-giving breath of God. Yet Lent holds before us this truth: Those who would be unbound, will be reborn free.

The people of this world are dry bones. Our nations are dry bones. Our churches are dry bones. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” And yet, God can and will open our graves and bring us out into a place of refreshment, and will live in us and make us free. All that is left is for us – our nation, this church, ourselves – to allow ourselves to be unbound and set free, without knowing what that future will look like or what it will bring.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sermon Lent 4: The Man Born Blind

Sermon, April 3, 2011

Lent 4

Ephesians 5: 8-14; John 9:1-41; Psalm 23

Day by day, dear Lord of thee three things I pray:

To see thee more clearly,

Love thee more dearly,

Follow thee more nearly,

Day by day.

“Sleeper, awake!

Rise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14)

A man is born blind. Jesus slaps a paste of mud on his eyes and sends him to a pool, named Sent. At Jesus’s command, the man baptizes himself in the Pool of Siloam and he is reborn. He sees!

Dear Lord, I pray to see thee more clearly.

Both neighbors and temple elite, the Pharisees, question the man about Jesus. He answers truthfully and politely, but the questioning continues, repeating over and over, “How was it done? Who is he who did this?” With all this questioning, the eyes of the man’s heart are opened to the truth – love belongs to the one who does God’s will. He answers “He opened my eyes. He must be from God.”

Dear Lord, I pray to love thee more dearly.

The man is thrown out of the synagogue. Jesus hears of this and finds the man. He asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The new disciple asks, “Who is he? Tell me so I may believe in him.” Jesus says, “It is I”. And the man’s soul is filled with light. He sees truly, and he says, “Lord, I believe” and worships Jesus.

Dear Lord, I pray to follow thee more nearly.

To the contrary, the disciples, the followers of Jesus, want to know who sinned, the man before he was even born, or his parents, that he was born blind. It’s like asking a homeless man, “How did you become homeless?” or a cancer victim, “What did you do wrong to get cancer?” or an abused spouse, “Why do you stay?” Jesus says, “It doesn’t matter. God’s glory can be seen in anyone.”

Whose faith gave the man his sight? No one’s. Jesus’s faith is sufficient for everything.

Where have you looked for Jesus this Lent?

Have you seen him?

If not, where might you look for him?

What have you done to show Jesus you love him this week?

What might you do to show him you love him more?

Is there something Jesus might have to do for you to love him more?

How have you followed Jesus this Lent?

Where has it led you?

How might you follow Jesus better, more nearly, doing and being what Jesus was and did and is now?

If Jesus is the one who was sent, by God, and we, the man born blind, are the body of Christ in the world today, sent to see and love and do as Jesus did, where are you being sent?

Where is this church being sent?

I pray that in the remaining weeks of Lent, through Holy Week, we will enter into practices of prayer and study and engagement more deeply with other people, that we all will be led to see Jesus more clearly in all that is around us, that we all will love him more dearly in all the people we meet and hear about, and that we all may follow him more nearly, even though following Jesus always leads to the cross. For it is only by going through the cross that we can hope to reach the Easter of resurrection.

“Sleeper, awake!

Rise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14)

Thought for the Day

An anecdotal quote from Maya Angelou, by one who heard her speak some years ago:
"I try to be a Christian. I say try because I forget to be grateful. I know no one owes me anything. I know my life is a gift. I know my family is a gift."
Mary Earle, from Signposts Daily Devotions.

Monday, April 4, 2011

UConn Women

Well, not being up on basketball, I missed it: The UConn women's team made it to the final four but Notre Dame prevailed last night and UConn will not go to the finals. Notre Dame will take on Texas A&M tomorrow night.

Since I still think of Notre Dame as all men, GO NOTRE DAME WOMEN!

And UConn Women, well done. See, I just get sick of only #1 counts. I think the UConn Women are winners, too. But I'm never going to sell that in our pathologically competitive society. So, UConn Women, again I say, well done!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The clan

I'm doing genealogy stuff. And I'm finding it's addictive. I've been through Nana's birthday book (my maternal grandmother) and I'm quite proud of myself. I've identified my grandmother's parents, both of them, and my maternal grandfather's mother (Norwegian). And in the family "archives" - totally disorganized in one trunk and a big, cardboard box - my father's mother's name. His great-grandfather's second wife's name I have, and I may have the first wife's name but it's not in the family history where she goes by the name "Mrs. ....." , however, someone in Germany is doing the same research and I think I can trust the name he came up with. I just need to contact him and ask how and from where he came by the name.

I've loved mysteries all my life. I was reading Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys in elementary school, and graduated quickly to Agatha Christie. Currently I'm reading one of the Wallander mysteries by Henning Mankell - The Man Who Smiled". Doing genealogy work is just another mystery, only no one has written the book. I'm doing the research myself. Luckily, I also love doing research!

The mystery I'm trying to solve is who were Johann/Jochim/Joachim Heinrich's children, by which wives, who was Henry John's (Heinrich Johann) mother, my father's grandfather? Who were his father's siblings, if any, children of Heinrich Johann? And I wonder how I can find the name of the adult woman my father's family adopted, who eventually left and went to live in Utah.

And then there are my maternal grandmother's siblings. I found one because of a newspaper clipping. I always thought Ilda was from the Norwegian side! In her birthday book there are a ton of Goodriches, but no idea who's who - sister? brother? cousin? And then there are my maternal grandfather's family - all from Norway. I remember Tante Anna. I always thought she was grandpa's sister. But her surname and the maiden name of her daughter are the same as my grandfather's, so, sister-in-law? And while I have his mother's name (and a photo!), I can't find his father's. The family lore is that he was Lars, and the last generation in Norway to go by the father's first name with "sen" (son of) added to the end. But I don't know for sure. I guess I'm going to have to upgrade my account to do international searches.

It's addictive. I had to make myself stop today. But it was hard. It's still hard. There's something way cool about knowing where you came from. I wonder where that photo is of my maternal grandmother's kin, all in their Union army uniforms, lined up along the barn wall, ready to go to war. I think their names are on the back of that photo. Do I go into those trunks again and try to find it tonight?!