The Werckmeister Three Baroque trio

The Werckmeister Three
Baroque trio
performs works by Bach, Corelli, and Handel
Sunday, December 13, 2020
4:00 PM – 6:00 PM PST

Kati Kyme on violin, William Steen on cello, and Katherine Heater on harpsichord perform baroque cello sonatas, violin sonatas and harpsichord solos. Bach, Corelli, and Handel are some of the composers they will explore. All three of these extraordinary, internationally acclaimed musicians perform as principals with Philharmonia Baroque, and each plays with many of the best known Baroque ensembles in the world – Musica Pacifica, American Bach Soloists, the New Esterházy Quartet…. together forming this all-star trio, named for a harmonic tuning system employed by Bach, which they will be using for this concert.

Tickets for this afternoon LIVE-STREAMED concert, are available
here.

The live concert will be recorded and ticket-holders may watch the performance on-demand whenever and wherever they desire for the week following the concert.

First Advent

Reflection for November 29, 2020 (First Advent) – Lawrence DiCostanzo

Isaiah 64:1-9, First Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37

Happy Advent!

I’d like to start with a couple of bicycling stories.

If you’ve ever driven up Mount Diablo, you know that the last eighth mile to the small parking lot at the very top is a 16 per cent grade.  Ascending this hill on a bicycle is painful.  The legs are hurting from standing on the pedals.  Breathing is a burning gasp after gasp.  Let us not even think about my heart rate.  But then I burst onto the top in triumph.  I have got the Gold.

This climb is my dream of how I enter into heaven.  I am climbing and panting, and everyone who has ever loved me is at the top and shouting, “Come on, Larry!  Come on!”  Of course, my mother is shouting, “Come on, Lawrence!  Come on!”  The climb and not the arrival is the dream.

This week I took another ride,– from Orinda to Danville and back by way of  Alamo, Walnut Creek, Lafayette, and Moraga.  As you know, these are the deep suburbs.  Actually, I love the suburbs.  The sky was dark blue, and the trees were an incredible range of red and orange.  The suburbs were wrapped in glory, burning with a smokeless fire.  And the air was fresh and cool.

And, as I frequently do, I said out loud to myself and to my ever tolerant riding companions,  “How can I leave all this behind?”  But, as often has happened in the past few years, in the twinkling of an eye, I thought to myself,  “You will never leave this behind.  God knows you well, and the new creation will be like this.  There will be bike riding there.”  Beautiful.

Perhaps you can tell by now that I am a romantic.  And so I came to Advent thinking it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  And I’m singing, “Look at the five-and-ten/glistening once again/with silver lanes and candy canes aglow.”   And, then, Jesus comes up on my blind side and punches me in the face.  He says, “After that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”  That demolishes my Christmas dreams and hits at my cycling romance.

Jesus’ prophecy is about something that we do not think about very much.  Perhaps, we do not like to think about it very much as it seems so distant and fantastical compared to our daily lives.  But it is something that was very much on the mind of the early church.  The prophecy is about the end of time, and maybe we should think about this more.  For one thing, Mark records this prophecy as Jesus’ own words.  For another, he puts this passage in as part of Jesus’ last teaching before his passion and death.  And last, we are involved.

Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year.  It is about the Incarnation, the coming of God to us and of his presence with us in Jesus.  But we actually live in the middle of the year.  Our dwelling place is really in the green season of Pentecost.  Living in this middle ground, we memorialize the Incarnation, we meditate on it and we reenact it.  But we are actually in history looking back on it.  Of course, it is really important as the gateway to the good news.  But, in history, it has already happened.

But Advent includes a deep reminder of something that is still to happen in our future.  This is the end of time, the second coming of Jesus, the new creation.   What Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel is that we had better consider the Omega moment which has not happened yet in history.

Jesus says this very carefully.  He says you don’t know when this moment will come.  He says:  Pay attention, keep it in mind.  The leafing of the fig tree signals that summer is near.  Keep watch over your master’s house while he’s away.  Be a good doorkeeper.  You don’t know exactly when the master is coming back.  And on November 8, in the Gospel from Matthew, we were told to be good bridesmaids with plenty of lamp oil.

But we don’t know exactly what we are waiting for.  As to what will actually happen, Jesus says that the sun and the moon will be darkened, the stars will fall from heaven, the Son of Man will be manifest in power and glory, and the elect will be gathered up.

This seems very scary.  And the fear is enhanced by the many images of the Last Judgment in our complex and marvelous western culture.  But I think I can say that, if Jesus is telling us this will happen, it has to be good.  Because God is love, and we at Saint Alban’s know this because we know love.  1 John 4-8.  And God’s love for his people is so consistent that it appears in the Bible when, for the first time, God actually explains what he is like. “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”  Exodus 34:6 and 7.

Jesus is using metaphorical language, the standard language of the prophets.  What does it mean?  I think that, if the sun is darkened and the stars are falling, God must be taking raw materials and remaking creation.  This is good,  And I say “Awesome.”  Or it’s like in Psalm 29 when there’s a terrific storm and all the people in the temple say “Glory!”

The real issue for us people in the green season is what do we do in the meantime?  I think that Jesus’ advice about keeping your eyes open, keeping watch, is actually the most important thing for us in this passage.  God has got the rest planned without consultation.  Here are three ways to keep watch.

First, live in hope.  Sometimes I think that Paul was wrong and that he should have said, “These three abide, faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is hope.”  Hope gives a kind of steadfastness and expectation and joy.  It is the friend of imagination.  It’s as if hope is a fresh breeze during a hot night.  Or it’s the endurance of a cyclist.  Or it’s the endurance of a cancer patient.  Hope gives us the intimations of a good future.  I think that hope is God’s own love for us that he sends into our hearts.

Second, I think that sometimes we are given the blessing of living in the Omega moment in our hearts and our imaginations.  I don’t really think that all the strong and consistent feelings I have when cycling are false.  When we sing a good hymn together, or when we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” at communion, the Spirit is with us to comfort and give us happiness.  We are singing in the New Jerusalem.

Third, don’t get carried away.  I repeat that, although we celebrate Advent, we actually live in the season of Pentecost. And we have a lot to do.  Maybe we are watching for the last day simply by doing things.  Maybe this is how we keep the door of our master’s house.  In Jesus’ talk about the last days in Matthew chapters 24 and 25, he really makes us reflect on the doing.  He says:  “. . . take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For . . .

I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.

I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.

I was a stranger and you invited me in.

I needed clothes and you clothed me.

I was sick and you looked after me.

I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

AMEN

Matthew 25

The Rev. Dani Gabriel

November 22, 2020

Readings:

https://lectionarypage.net/YearA_RCL/Pentecost/AProp29_RCL.html

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” —Matthew 25

Pretty simple, right?

The first time you visit someone in prison is something you never forget. When I was 19 I was a student teacher poet in the Poetry for the People program at UC Berkeley. We were all set to teach sections at Cal, classes at Berkeley High School, and classes at the Federal Women’s Prison in Dublin. I didn’t think anything of it. Of course, people need poetry in prison. Of course, I’ll go.

One evening a group of us headed to the prison for the final poetry reading from the last semester’s session. We took BART out to Dublin and then hitchhiked through the military base surrounding the prison til we met its razor wired entrance. I’ll never not know what it feels like to have the prison door click and lock shut behind me. Every time I went the doom of that moment rattled me. And that first time it was enough to rattle me the entire evening.

And there they were, these women I would get to know, with their words and their stories. They were powerful. They were survivors. And they taught me more than I taught them. They taught me what dignity is. They held such palpable dignity as they walked into the small room in ugly, dingy uniforms. They spoke of hardships I often related to, and had to ask myself, how is it that I am free to go, and they are locked down here?

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

When Jesus tells us in this passage—and he’s not asking, let’s be clear—-how the righteous will be separated from the unrighteous and what we are expected to do for our siblings, he’s not just telling us to do it for the benefit of those who are hungry or in prison. He’s giving us the opportunity to encounter Him. He’s inviting us to meet him where he lives, which is with the poor, and the outcast, and those in prison. Make no mistake about it. When you commit yourself to acting in service you have just accepted an invitation from Jesus Christ himself to know and be known.

Over the months I visited the prison I got to know people’s stories. Stories of addiction, violence, and political protest. But I also got to know what they found funny, what they saw as beautiful. I learned a little about what it’s like to live in a prison surrounded by razor wire for decades or maybe the rest of your life. And it changed the course of my life, and my commitment to justice, and my commitment to serving my siblings.

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

So reach for that invitation from Jesus in whatever way you can. There are ways to “visit” even without leaving your home. There are ways to connect and to affirm the dignity and divinity present in all of us. You can donate, correspond, and meet online through Episcopal organizations and others. The punishment in this passage is not the point. It’s the call to relationship, and ultimately to wholeness.

THIRD SUNDAY CONCERTS

THIRD SUNDAY CONCERTS

Co-produced with Calliope: East Bay Center for Music & Arts 

Calliope: East Bay Center for Music & Arts’ mission is to build community and advance social justice through the arts. We’re housed at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Albany, California.

 

MUSICA PACIFICA Sunday, November 15th, 2020 at 4 p.m. (POSTPONED UNTIL SPRING)
Musica Pacifica is one of the premier performers of the baroque oeuvre, and we are in for a treat: Judith Linsenberg on recorder, Alexa Haynes-Pilon on cello/viola da gamba, Cynthia Keiko Black on violin, and Katherine Heater on harpsichord, and yes, the instruments aren’t just tuned in the baroque manner, they are also structurally period instruments.

BOB KENMOTSU QUARTET Sunday, October 18th, 2020 at 4 p.m. Our next band will be the fabulous Berkeley-based Bob Kenmotsu Jazz Quartet, featuring Bob Kenmotsu on saxophone, Robb Fisher on bass, Ron Marabuto on drums, and adding in Jeffrey Burr on guitar.  A Guaranteed Fair Wage Concert, courtesy of Jazz in the Neighborhood.
Live Stream; Tickets are on Eventbrite: $25 general admission, $20 seniors and students, $15 youth 10-18.

ILLY BOGART LIVE Sunday, September 20th at 4 p.m. The Illy Bogart Jazz Quartet’s unique musical voice draws from a wide variety of music influences, from classic jazz to modern funk and hip hop. Led by Grammy Award-winner Tony Peebles (Pacific Mambo Orchestra) with Lyle Link (Warren Wolf, Ralph Peterson) on Saxophones; Ian McArdle (Erik Jekabson, Jacam Manricks) on Keyboards; and Isaac Schwartz (Negative Press Project, High Standards) on Drums, this is one heck of a band!
The show, co-produced with St. Alban’s, will be performed LIVE in the St. Alban’s Courtyard. Tickets are on Eventbrite.  As always, the recording of the live show will be up and available for a full week after the show has aired. This means ticket-holders can watch it as many times as they like, replay favorite parts, and even miss the initial show and have it for their own personal “on demand” viewing.

Reflection on Matthew

November 8, 2020

By Katherine Kasameyer

This week’s Gospel is the parable about the bridesmaids and the lamps.  Five are foolish, and five are wise, and they are all waiting for the bridegroom. The wise bring extra oil for the lamps, but the foolish do not. All fall asleep waiting for the bridegroom, and all are wakened with a shout at midnight. The bridegroom has arrived!  They all get up and trim their lamps. The five bridesmaids who are foolish apparently don’t have enough oil, and ask the ones with oil to share. But the wise bridesmaids refuse, and send the five foolish bridesmaids into the night to find the oil dealers.  The Gospel tells us that while the five foolish bridesmaids are gone, the bridegroom came and “those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.”  Later the foolish bridesmaids came and asked for the door to be open, but he said “I do not know you.” And the door remained shut.

I find this week’s Gospel rather frightening.  It seems to say that if I am not ready when some unexpected event comes, I won’t get the good stuff.  I will find myself in the middle of the night looking at a closed door. I will know that a bunch of my former companions are eating and drinking and having a good time in the light and the warmth on the other side of that door, but it will be shut to me.  I will ask to come in but Jesus will say he does not know me.

The prospect of being shut out in the dark was scary in Jesus’ time and it is scary in ours.  Steve Hitchcock reminded me this week that Matthew’s readers would have been living in a very unsettled time, when there was probably a lot of bickering, and waiting.

We are told at the end of the parable avoid disaster by keeping “awake,” or perhaps keeping “ready.”  If we do, we will be prepared for the coming of the bridegroom, which we understand to be Jesus.  What would being awake, or ready, mean?

It might mean being prepared.  We know from our recent experiences with a pandemic and wildfires that being prepared can be exhausting.  I’m not sure whether you get the Chronicle, but I do.  Here’s the supplement that arrives every few weeks: preparing for disaster. It has tips about how to stock up on food and water, how to inventory everything in every drawer in case you lose it all, and how to pack a go bag and a stay bin …. And I know I should do all of it, but I don’t. I think I have time for other things.  So I do a little. I make some preparations but not all of them.

So listening to this parable, I suppose I know what I should do. More prayer. More study. More helping others. More giving to worthy causes. More patience with my family.  More holding my tongue and opening my heart.  More things that are easier said than done. Some of it just seems like too much to take on. I feel spread too thin. But then again, that’s probably how Matthew’s readers felt.

But then the little rational part of me can’t give up wondering about the rest of the parable. What is going on with these “wise” bridesmaids?  They have enough oil, and they refuse to share with the “foolish” bridesmaids. They don’t even let the foolish following the light from their lamps. We are told in Leviticus not to place a stumbling block before the blind.  But the wise bridesmaids send the foolish bridesmaids off to buy oil at midnight. We know that in the ancient world that would have an almost impossible errand.  Why would Jesus tell us that the “wise” behave this way?

The only way I can come up with is that the oil here cannot be transferred from one person to another. But what would that mean? In the course of reading picture books to my son I had occasion to read a lovely picture book about how to make olive oil. It has photos of the farmers whacking the olive trees with sticks and gathering and sorting the olives. Then waiting and then bringing them to a machine, where they all get squished together until the oil comes out. The fruit that goes in gets transformed into oil.

But the fresh oil isn’t like what you buy in the store. It is cloudy and gets clearer in time.  Making oil isn’t necessarily a quick process.

I was looking around this week for writings about the meaning of oil. One of the interpretations I came across is that it is like wisdom.  Wisdom can come from difficult parts in our lives, where we are squeezed.  And certainly the last few months has included a lot of squeezing, a lot of pressure.

My life looks different post-pandemic than it did before it. Much less movement, much more time with my family.  There is wisdom to be gained here, and maybe even faith.  So I hope that I am able to collect the drops that may be coming out of this squeezing, and collect them into fuel to keep me going.

Or maybe I will just keep humming the Taize chant we used to do at communion: ‘wait for the Lord, whose day is near, wait for the Lord, keep watch, take heart.’

 

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

October 18, 2020

Exodus 33:12-23

Psalm 99

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

MATTHEW 22:15-22

Here we are today, just over two weeks away from what may be the most momentous election in our nation’s history, and – of course – the Gospel is about money and politics.

This is also Jubilee Sunday, when we lift up the biblical tradition of the seventh year when fields are left fallow and all debts forgiven.  This year, we are observing Jubilee when the election may literally decide whether the world’s poorest countries and our own poorest citizens are granted a Jubilee of debt forgiveness – or pushed into an even deeper pit of debt.

Today’s short reading from Matthew 22 is the first of four tests or controversies faced by Jesus.  The reading follows last week’s parable of the wedding feast where all are invited.  On previous Sundays, we heard stories and parables about driving out vendors in the temple, good intentions versus good behavior, labor practices, and property rights.  All a prelude to today’s story about money and politics.

What makes today’s trick question so malicious or evil is that the Herodians (the Republicans) and the Pharisees (the liberal Democrats) were so desperate to get rid of Jesus that they collaborated to put Jesus in a no-win situation.

Jesus could say, “Pay the poll tax” – pay the required tax that conferred both the benefits and obligations of the Roman empire.  But, in the process, Jesus would betray those devout people like the Essenes and the Zealots who pledged loyalty to the God of Israel alone.

Or Jesus could refuse to pay the poll tax – and solidify his status as a dangerous radical, a revolutionary who would invite Rome to crush what little life and freedom was left in Judea and Galilee.

But like the parables we’ve experienced in the past weeks, today’s puzzle cracks open a new reality.  Jesus asks his interrogators to provide the coin, demonstrating that he doesn’t carry Roman coins.  Significantly, this coin was a denarius, a day’s wages – which for most people is what they earned and then spent to be able eat that day.

Even more significantly, the Roman coin bore the image of the Emperor and the inscription, “Caesar, son of the divine Augustus.”

Jesus acknowledges Roman authority, and he accepts that this is indeed Caesar’s coin, which the Judeans and Galileans were giving back to Caesar.  But Jesus says that this coin is all Caesar gets.  We are to give to God what is God’s.

And what is it that we give back to God?  The implication is that we give to God what bears God’s image– namely ourselves because we are created in God’s image.  Thus, Jesus challenges his interrogators – and us today – to give ourselves, our entire created being, back to God.

Of course, these words of Jesus are a judgment on the Pharisees and Herodians – and a judgment on us as well.  They – and we – want to be safe and secure in life.  We pay what is necessary to get along.  We make a deal in the hopes that political power will protect us – and maybe even provide some sense of worth and happiness.

But Matthew’s first readers knew that divided loyalties is a deal with the devil.  They would remember the story of Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the wilderness.  Even more telling, they were well aware that political accommodation in Jesus’ time led to corruption and oppression, which resulted in the utter destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans some 30 years after Jesus’ death.

For us today, it is equally deadly to live with divided loyalties, to try to buy our happiness.

Jubilee points out how the even well-intentioned use of time and money can lead to greed and corruption that enslaves others in our own country.  Predatory lending, fines that mount up, and housing costs beyond the means of most people – all cry out for Jubilee.  In developing countries, debts held by banks and other countries deprive the world’s poorest people of health care, basic education, and agricultural development.

In a real sense, the trap that the Pharisees and Herodians set for Jesus feels like a trap that God seems to have set for us.

We’re put in a situation where accommodation and divided loyalties seem the only option.  Even though we are created in God’s image, how can we possibly give ourselves completely to God?  There are so many competing demands for our time, attention, and resources.  And, to top it off, our seemingly innocent lifestyle decisions implicate us in creating a life-crushing debt burden for so many.

The good news – the source of hope and cause for joy – turns again on that word image.

In our first reading today from Exodus 33, we hear that God won’t let Moses see the face of the divine, a vision Moses hoped would confer God’s favor on him.  But God does allow Moses – while also protecting Moses – to catch a glimpse of God’s back, an image if you will of God’s goodwill.

You’ll recall that Matthew’s Gospel sifts through the expectations about the Messiah who was to come and restore Israel to greatness.  Matthew keeps linking Jesus and Moses, the great liberator and prophet.  But, for Matthew, Jesus is always more than just another Moses, and he is greater than King David.  The One who John the Baptist runs before and announces is the true Son of God – not some imposter like Caesar.

Jesus is the image of God who does give himself completely to God.  Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, we see what it means for Jesus to give himself to God– to heal the sick, welcome the outcast, and feed the hungry.  We also see that, as in today’s Gospel, this giving of oneself brings Jesus into conflict with religious and political authorities.

And this conflict ends in Jesus’ execution on the cross.  For Matthew, Jesus’ death is the way Jesus gives himself – as God’s Son – back to God.  All to redeem convicts, sinners, and hypocrites.  Including us.

For Matthew’s first readers and for us today, they knew and trusted that the crucified Jesus was also the Risen Christ.  Risen, but very much present and active among us as they gathered for the Eucharist, as they baptized others, and as they fed the hungry.

In our baptism, we are buried with Christ and raised with him, and our image gets conflated with the image of the Risen Christ.  In our baptism, we are given the wedding garment for this banquet of joy that we experience even as we gather remotely.  And, what makes this banquet so joyous, is that all are invited – including those who are burdened with debts.

This banquet – our worship together even over Zoom – is truly Jubilee, forgiveness rooted in the Sabbath, the seventh day when the God of creation rested.  God’s rest from creation is the source of our freedom from striving, our freedom from greed, our freedom from piling up goods we hope will make us happy.  An outpouring of sheer grace, this rest and freedom are available to all.

And, as we saw just a few decades ago when the nations of the world agreed to debt forgiveness, Jubilee restores society and rebuilds the community that makes all life possible.

Yes, Jubilee – in all its forms, both personal and communal – is our comfort now and our hope for the future.  Amen.

 

Oct. 10, 2020 Sermon

Sermon 10/11/2020

The Rev. Dani Gabriel, Deacon

St. Alban’s, Albany

Readings: http://lectionarypage.net/YearA_RCL/Pentecost/AProp23_RCL.html

Have you ever been invited somewhere you weren’t sure you’d fit in? Have you ever been asked to attend a party for someone you barely knew, or maybe a work function with your boss hosting? Have you worried what to wear, if you had appropriate shoes, which tie was right?

I was invited to an extremely fancy party, pre Covid. It was the first actual black tie affair I’d ever been asked to attend. I was initially horrified, because I didn’t want to wear a gown. Tulle and taffeta are not for me. I went thrift store shopping and bought a tuxedo jacket instead.

The party was every bit as over the top as I had anticipated. I was extremely uncomfortable, walking between the open bar and the trays of hors d’oevers. I kept thinking about how much everything had cost: that ice sculpture must have been a month’s worth of groceries, that dessert was more than a tank of gas. But everyone was welcoming, and I found myself having a good time in spite of myself.

We are all invited to the party. God invites us to meet his Son, invites us from the streets or even whatever jails we occupy, he’s demanding our presence even. It’s an over the top affair.

How nervous you are to meet fancy people or be at a King’s banquet doesn’t matter. You are worthy. Show up. All your mistakes, all your failures, all the things that trouble you in the two a.m. darkness don’t matter. You are worthy. Show up. The identities that push you to the edges of conversations and keep you out of community, they are valued. You are worthy. Show up.

That is a message for this week. As we see division all over our tv screens and many of us are left wondering: is there a place for us in America anymore? This is an alternative vision. A lavish banquet that God is basically begging us to attend. One that has room for the ordinary, and the outcast, and the other.

We need to think about who we invite into our spaces, too. Is our worship welcoming to all? Who do we not invite to come to events or participate in conversations? How can we lengthen the guest list to include everyone who might be interested?

When I was first invited to attend an Episcopal church I said “no.” Emphatically. I definitely did not want anything to do with the Episcopal Church, thank you very much. I didn’t feel particularly welcomed and I didn’t think I’d fit in. It took the person who invited me six months of pestering to get me to go, and then look what happened. Ten years later I’m ordained in the church.

What happened was that when I got to that party I met God. I met God in the liturgy and I met her in the people. That was a lavish party to be sure, full of grace. I never ever wanted to leave. The more we can share the unique things about the Episcopal Church, the more we can share that we really do mean ALL are welcome, the more that we can invite people directly to join us, the bigger and louder and more celebratory this party will get. And that will have a positive impact on the world.

And what about these original guests who refused the invitation? I am often like one of them. Too busy to hear God’s call. I’ve got things I want to do, I’m not interested in God’s agenda even when I’m given a clear invite. I have to practice prayer so I can hear God’s call, so that there will be space for me to respond.

And what about this guest that is cast into the outer darkness for having the wrong clothes? That doesn’t seem to fit with the message.

One suggestion I have read is that this guest has refused to be “clothed in Christ.”[1] He has shown up to the banquet, but wants to retain his earthly clothing and his earthly ways.

How would we be clothed in Christ? What would we wear to this heavenly banquet?

Maybe a scarf woven from our gifts to the poor.

Maybe a hat sewn from our service to the sick.

How about a dress cut from our care for our families?

A shirt tailored with our love for people who are difficult.

Shoes cobbled from patience, and kindness, and mercy.

You don’t need a tux from the thrift store for this party. You don’t need to look this way or that way, you don’t need anything expensive.

If “many are called, but few are chosen” maybe it’s because we got the invitation but not the deeper message.

You just need to show up with your best try, with your efforts at putting on the ways of Jesus, and dance.

[1]Bartlett and Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word Year A, Volume 4, pages 164-169.

Reflection for Pentecost 18, & St. Francis Day 2020

Reflection for Pentecost 18, & St. Francis Day 2020

by Pastor Jim Stickney

I’d like to start this reflection with a word of gratitude for being invited back

to lead this service — a good adaptation of our normal ways of worshipping God.

I last led the worship at St. Alban’s in 2006, but over the years I’ve been following you,

and I rejoice to see so many new names — which means parish growth.

 

And I’m really glad to be asked on this St. Francis Day, because on October 4th, 1997,

23 years ago, Joni and celebrated our marriage at St. Alban’s Church.

We’ll share some pictures of that event with you later, at the virtual coffee hour.

 

St. Francis was a nature mystic, finding God not only in people, but in Brother Sun

& Sister Moon, in cosmic forces, in Sister Mother Earth, and even in Bodily Death.

Francis praised God for all these good things in a poem called “the Canticle to the Sun.”

 

When the Celebrant uses Eucharistic Prayer “C”, we hear the phrase,

“this fragile earth, our island home.” When we are in danger of changing the climate,

a person like Francis reminds us of the care we ought to have for all creatures.

 

We’re especially reminded of our earth’s fragility during this terrible fire season,

when heroic firefighters are risking so much to keep us safe.

The divisions facing our country include serious debates about climate change,

its reality and the economic challenges that confront our decision makers.

 

We may be uplifted by looking up into the heavens, but we do not live there.

We may try our best on earth, but we still encounter setbacks and selfishness.

Jesus expresses this tension in the parable story I just read, about a vineyard.

Last Sunday we heard about the workers in a vineyard. That’s also the scene

for today’s episode, just after the harvest — a vineyard that is a fertile success.

 

St. Francis’ poem praises God for Sister Mother Earth, Brother Sun,

Sister Water, Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms,

and all the weather, through which God gives all creatures sustenance.

All these creatures have now produced a rich harvest for the owner’s vineyard.

 

But some short-sighted persons put immediate profit over good stewardship.

These greedy folks see money where they should see God’s rich abundance.

They are tenants, rebelling against the rightful owners of the rich land.

They rebel, and one by one they reject the authentic messengers, even killing them.

Their avarice expresses itself insanely: “This is the heir — come, let us kill him,

and get his inheritance.”  What has driven these men crazy?  Love of wealth.

 

At the end of this parable Jesus asks his listeners to tell him what happens next.

Jesus’ listeners prescribe the death penalty, with cruel and unusual pain.

(I find it very telling that Jesus himself does not utter a condemnation of death —

and yet he does not contradict the harsh verdict of his followers on that day.)

 

The wicked will be replaced by other tenants who will give a share of the harvest.

In other words, the replacement tenants will be better stewards of abundance —

these new people will realize who really owns the vineyard, and act accordingly.

 

Jesus agrees with his followers’ vision of transformation. In fact,

Jesus proclaims that such a transformation is about to happen after his death.

Those who believe in his resurrection will be the ones to share in his new life.

 

Recall the first part of this sermon, with Francis’ celebration of God the Creator,

almost hidden in the wondrous beauty of created things. This is the experience of God

beyond personality — our wonder at the marvels of an expanding universe.

 

Since this day is also the Feast of St. Francis, I’ll conclude with that cosmic poem

known as the Canticle of the Sun. This poem is the basis of the Rose Window

found in Grace Cathedral. And many years ago some of our parish members shared

their talent of needlework in the cushions for the choir stalls in Grace Cathedral,

which was a Diocesan-wide art project celebrating Francis’ Canticle of the Sun.

 

Most high, omnipotent good Lord, all praise is yours, all glory, honor and blessing.

 

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through Brother Sun,

who brings the day, and you give light through him. And he is beautiful

and radiant in all his splendor.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and all the stars;

in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms,

and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;

she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night;

he is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds and rules us,

and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you;

through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace.

Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace

no living person can escape. Happy those she finds doing your most holy will.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve God with great humility.

 

Amen. Alleluia!

 

Reflection, Proper 21, Year A, 9/27/20

Reflection, Proper 21, Year A, 9/27/20

Barbara Metcalf

Our gospel reading today asks us a big question: What makes for authority? Who merits our deference? Who is worthy to render judgments, offer guidance, make choices that impact us, — tell us what to do — whether as individuals or as part of a larger community?

Like most Americans in this agonizing political year, we’ve each no doubt made that decision at the national level. We may also be finding authoritative voices outside obvious places. Who might they be? A close friend, one of the most socially conscious and progressive people I know, said to me recently that she had been astonished this past summer at how much she had to learn about racism. In the past month, she said, she realized that she had only begun to have some sense of what it meant to be Black in our society. The people speaking with authority were not the experts, but the “ordinary people” who from the depth of personal experience were able to teach us. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whom we’ve all thought so much about these past days, wound up in a formal place of authority. But in her early years she was a voice crying in the wilderness. Who is the early Ginsburg, that marginal person, we are missing today?

In this story, the people, the men, formally in authority, the priests and elders, confront Jesus. “Who gave you this authority?” they ask.

And Jesus replies almost in the style of a fairy-tale riddle: “I’ll ask you a question and if you can answer my question, I’ll answer yours.”

Did John’s authority come from humans or from heaven?

We tend to read Jesus’ words with suitable reverence and in a monotone, but I often wonder what his tone and facial expression were in conversations like this. How did he sound when he asked this question? like this?

As for the question, like the fairy-tale suitor who could not answer the princess’s question, the elders failed the test. Jesus did not respond with a put down. Instead, he invited them to consider what was at stake if they opened their minds. And, as I read it, he offered real sympathy for their dilemma.

He did so by asking a second question, and this time, he lobbed them a softball.

A father had two sons. He asked each to work in the vineyard. Each defied him. The first said he would not go, but then he did. The second said he would go, and then he did not. <Which did the will of the father?

The first, they answered, hands down.

They didn’t need to know anything about the father or the sons or the vineyard. In a society like this one, the father’s authority was paramount. The father was the patriarch, the linchpin of the family as social and economic building block. Sons obeyed fathers. (at least for people like the priests and elders)

I think Jesus was offering the priests and elders sympathy over their dilemma. Doing what was right could be very hard, even when the obligations were obvious, even in regard to something as mundane as doing your part on the family’s farm.  There was no third son who said “Sure, Dad; I’m on it,” and then jumped in.

Making the right choice to accept the authority of someone as marginal as John and Jesus as people were doing — voting with their feet to hear them and other teachers and rebels of the times – that could be hard. The Hebrews’ paradigmatic myth of the hard journey from Egypt, which we encountered in the first lesson as we did last week, made it clear that change was hard and following appointed authority was hard. It’s a week later and the Hebrews are still complaining. But God, ever present, ever ready for conversation, ever generous, as Chantip reminded us last week, shows mercy.

Hard or not, the stakes were high.  Jesus was explicit about what the questioners were missing in the choice they had made.

The tax collectors and the prostitutes are making their way[1] into the kingdom of heaven ahead of you.

And Jesus marveled at the elders’ blindness. You resisted, he tells them, “even after you saw” saw all those prostitutes and tax collectors who gathered to hear John, and now him.

What did they see? Or, maybe, what should they have seen? The prostitutes and tax collectors had said no to the authority of community standards by the choices they had made. But then they found a new community and certainly a new authority.  And in doing that, they had intimations of nothing less than the kingdom of heaven. Intimations in the repentance and reconciliation John called for made them part of the stories our Psalm describes, the stories that they heard “from of old. things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us,” the stories of God’s power and mercy exactly like the Exodus story. They must have seen healing and feeding, they heard Jesus’ message of love, creating the kind of community that we hear Paul call for, long for, week after week in our lessons: “having the same mind, having the same love…[looking] to the interests of others.” They found welcome.

All this the priests and elders had seen – or should have seen? –

And they still did not believe.

I mentioned that I often wonder in these gospel readings about Jesus’ tone, the look on his face. Do we hear this gospel differently if we hear it with the sections of the chapter that come before and after? Our selection today follows the entry to Jerusalem and the palms, the cleansing of the temple, the withering of the fig tree.  The elders were reacting to much more than Jesus’ teaching at that moment. I think we can hear Jesus’ voice as deadly serious,[2] not least because his teachings escalate, culminating in the section following what we heard today with the portentous parable of rejection of right authority with a vengeance. That is the parable, or allegory, of the defaulting tenants who kill the landlord’s son.  We need to hear seriously. Like the prostitutes and tax collectors we need to seek gratefully the richness of God’s hospitable grace. Unlike the priests and elders, we need to find ways to welcome the fragile[3] into community at every level.

Collects often begin by reminding God of who God is. Today we pray in our collect to a God who shows “mercy and pity.”  Recognizing authentic authority and then committing to it is hard –so we need God’s grace and mercy to share in the “heavenly treasure” of the right relationships of the kingdom that Jesus offers. This was the treasure that the tax collectors and prostitutes, and Paul’s beloved saints in Philippi, were “making their way toward.” May we pray to make our way there as well.

[1] The Jerusalem Bible translation

[2] Aha. Jerusalem Bible says he told them “solemnly,” not “truly.”

[3] A word owed, with thanks, to Steve Hitchcock, whom I thank for his incredibly helpful response to a draft of these comments.

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Reflection – Chanthip Phongkhamsavath

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 20, 2020

Good morning. After last week and the beginning of this week spent mostly indoors, I will say it has been a blessing to be able to open up some windows and take a deep breath. A much-needed deep breath it felt…to clear my mind…and to find something different which I hadn’t pieced together before in today’s readings.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard the passage from Exodus or of the laborers and the landowner, however I struggled with it a little more then I feel like I have in the past. Maybe because it hasn’t been so long ago that we woke up to a red and orange sky – a day filled with eerie darkness. A day that seems like it could be a journey in a different type of wilderness, although I was blessed to spend it inside there were many laborers who were not. I cannot seem to get the image of the farmworkers harvesting outdoors set against the orange sky out of my head. And I wonder if they complained to the landowners for having them work that day.

My natural inclination in the readings was to see the complaining.  In Exodus, “Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you  out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaining against the LORD. For what are we, that you complain against us?”

And in Matthew’s Gospel, the laborers grumbled against the landowner.

It seems fair on both accounts given the immediate situation at hand.  However, in both readings there was something else that was present, yet was a little harder to initially grasp, because it was not for me the easiest to relate to right away – and that’s the generosity. When the people complained to Moses, the Lord responded with a bit of a test through providing food. However, it is a generous test, one that gives nourishment first not requiring the Israelites to past their test before being rewarded.

And the Landowner’s response to the grumbling laborers who have worked a full day, “‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’”

I think the very human response of wanting fairness created my resistance to the portion of that reading that is also accurate – as I imagine the laborers and the different hours that were worked I am envious – initially envious of what seems like those who only had to work shorter hours – yet what I began to realize was I am more envious of the generosity.

I know that I am capable of generosity, however I wonder if I am capable of the type of generosity that is in the readings today. After bringing the Israelites out of Egypt, it seems the Lord has to continue to show them through the bread how blessed they continue to be.  And in the reading from Matthew, Jesus through the parable notes the generosity of the landowner – God’s generosity.

And that is where in our current day, it is sometimes hard to believe in that type of generosity. Someone willing to give a day’s wage for anyone they come upon willing to work. It makes it harder considering, just a week ago, the headlines of a Time’s article read, “The Top 1% of Americans Have Taken $50 Trillion From the Bottom 90%—And That’s Made the U.S. Less Secure.” That was just one article, there were numerous others that highlighted how COVID-19 has further exacerbated the wealth gap across the country. It amazes me to think of how wide of a gap that is in the world, the U.S. and even in just the Bay Area alone.

It makes me want to take from the top one percent and redistribute it – it makes me want to complain about how unfair things are. Except what would I do if I were in that top one percent – what would you do?  Would you be willing to be generous with what you have?  Would you be willing to give someone you hired the same amount for working just one hour versus someone who worked all day? Especially if you also had family and others you cared about and wanted to ensure were taken care of?

Except this is a parable and in the Kingdom of Heaven I don’t think its wages that are being given out. It can be very easy for me to be stuck in the literal, in hours worked and comparisons of hours in a day. That is the limitation that I feel like I need to be reminded to push past, to get out of thinking about how I would feel as the complainer – and remember instead what is being offered.  And it is being offered to all who are willing to receive it and there is no limit.

An opportunity for the work that I and we put in to be part of a greater whole, to benefit from God’s generosity. The generosity does not make any of us worst off, it only makes us all better off. Because for each of the laborers, if I imagine what happens next, each one is able to take that wage and go home – to hopefully purchase dinner for themselves and their families. And because of the generosity of the landowner more are nourished, and in a literal sense are not starving. So why would I not want the landowner to continue to seek others willing to put in as much work as they can when they are found, for in the end the more who are willing to work, I would hope the work lessens – maybe just a little.

Work though, even if there are many to help in finishing a task, is still work.  And even though it is Sunday, it is a different type of work that we do together. The work that tries to understand the extent of the struggle in not being perfect, in not being envious of our neighbors, of wanting more than maybe what we have – and recognizing the salvation and grace offered to us.  It is a generous offer, despite our imperfections or because of it and our work to follow Jesus’ teachings, that we are given God’s love.

There is a portion in the second reading from Philippians which I think encapsulates it, “And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well– since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”  I would say it is not suffering but rather the work that we are asked to do, in order to recognize and receive the generosity of God’s love and to practice it with others. The most rewarding things often come when there has been some hard work and struggle put in, so let us do this work together and appreciate the generosity of our Lord and Savior.

Amen.