Quartet San Francisco with Jeremy Cohen, May 16

Upcoming Concert: Livestream
May 16th, 4-5:30pm PDT
Quartet San Francisco with Jeremy Cohen

“When the music says swing, we swing. When the music says groove, we groove.”
Grammy nominees for four CD releases (2013, 2009, 2007, and 2006) and International Tango competition winners (New York, 2004), Quartet San Francisco expresses itself in its agility and standout virtuosic playing.

Quartet San Francisco was founded in 2001 by celebrated Bay Area violinist and composer-arranger Jeremy Cohen. Along with violinist Joseph Christianson, violist Chad Kaltinger, and cellist Andrés Vera, these crossover specialists excel in multiple styles — from jazz to tango, pop to funk, blues to bluegrass, gypsy swing to big band and beyond.

Tickets $15-$25 available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/quartet-san-francisco-live-stream-tickets-144518216877

Fifth Sunday after Easter

Reflection for May 2, 2021

Fifth Sunday after Easter

Lawrence DiCostanzo

Acts 8:26-40

1 John 4:7-21

John 4:7-21

Psalm 22:24-30

My grandchildren love the Tales from the Arabian Nights.  And I do too.  If one can fall in love with a fictional character, I am entranced by Scheherazade who tells every one of the Tales.    As you know, she invented and spun out her stories and stories inside of stories to delay, night after night, the possibility that she’d be killed in the morning.  Yet, she was always so calm and self possessed — for one thousand and one nights!  And what stories!  Bright-colored wonders – caves filled with jewels, the dry valleys of serpents and diamonds, genies in lamps and jars, flying horses, magic carpets, brave men and brave and clever women.  My grandchildren are spellbound.

Today’s passage from Acts has some of the same trappings.  A wild place.  An exotic Ethiopian man, rich and important, probably with great clothes. His carriage with a smooth enough ride to allow him to read. There have to be great horses.  A stranger joins him, and changes his life.  The stranger is whisked away.  It is almost as if God would like the message of the Kingdom to entertain and entrance us.

But there is a big difference between the Tales from the Arabian Nights and today’s passage from Acts.  In her own story, Scheherazade won through to a good life.  She reached her Sabbath.  The Ethiopian man has not.  And neither have we because, like the Ethiopian man, we are living in a “time between” – the time between the Resurrection and the time before we feel the impact of the full Kingdom.  For me, the challenge of the story from Acts is how to live in this in-between time with its mixture of joy, sorrow, hope and death.

Let’s look at the characters in the story.

The first is Philip.  This Philip is not the Apostle Philip.  Rather, he is a man whom the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem designated to “serve at table”.   In this way, the Apostles could share the workload and spend their energies in prayer and preaching.  One of Philip’s colleagues was Stephen, the first martyr.  (Acts 6:1-6)

After Stephen was stoned to death, Philip ran away to Samaria because a persecution started.  That is where Philip seems to have discovered his golden tongue.  Because of him, many, many people in Samaria accepted baptism and, as Acts says, were filled with joy.  Philip’s converts even included a famous magician named Simon.  (Acts 8:1-24)

An angel told Philip to leave Samaria and go to a wilderness road where he meets the Ethiopian.  In their encounter, Philip spreads joy to this receptive man.  Spreading joy seems to be Philip’s gift.

While the Ethiopian goes on his way rejoicing, Philip is magically whisked away to a town called Azotus, which used to be Ashdod, one of the big towns of the old-time Philistine enemies of Israel.  From there he goes all the way up the coast to Caesarea, the headquarters of Roman government.  I think he may be the evangelist whom St. Paul visited in Caesarea.  (Acts 21:8).  So, it’s evident that Philip continued to spread joy.

The second character is the Ethiopian.  He holds a high position as royal treasurer in his home country.  He’s on leave to go up to Jerusalem, and he meets Philip on his way home.  He is an open-hearted and courteous man.  Although he is a real person, he is also a stand-in for people who are outsiders.  He is not a Hebrew.  He is a gentile.  He is a searcher, but he is a stranger from a land far away.  In a way, because he is a eunuch, he has no gender.  As a eunuch, he belongs to a class whom the Law of Moses values as less  (Leviticus 21:20; Deuteronomy 23:1). He is an outsider.  Luke values outsiders, witness the Good Samaritan, the Samartian leper who was the only one of ten who turned back to thank Jesus for his healing, witness Zacchaeus the rich tax collector, the short guy who climbed a tree so he could see Jesus.

Although he doesn’t appear in person, there is a third character.  He is the Prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah saw a great deal of sorrow and suffering.  He saw the “ten lost tribes” disappear when Assyria conquered the north of Israel.  He was present when the Assyrians attacked Jerusalem in the southern part of Israel.  Isaiah himself may have been executed.

Isaiah wrote a song of intense hope combined with intense sorrow.  It is called The Song of the Suffering Servant.  The Ethiopian was reading from this song when he and Philip met.  Philip, with the sense that prophecies were being fulfilled, explained the passage as referring to Jesus.  The delighted Ethiopian descends to some pond or puddle to be baptized immediately and goes on his way rejoicing.  (Maybe, he founds the church in Ethiopia that Barbara Metcalf talked about in a reflection she gave us a while ago.)

What do I learn from this story and these characters?

First, the example of Philip tells me to recognize the universalism and diversity of the Kingdom.  Philip has an affinity for outsiders – Samaritans, Ethiopians, eunuchs, pagans who might have lived in Ashdod, and certainly Romans in Caesarea.  No one is excluded from the Gospel message – Ethiopian, rich, poor, of color, white, Episcopalian, or evangelical.  Part of being an evangelist like Philip is simply being aware that nobody’s heart can be ignored because every heart can flower.

The Ethiopian tells me how the Gospel liberates and rejoices us.  This is a man with many cares on a long journey.  He is reading an intensely tragic portion of scripture.  Yet, he goes on his way rejoicing.  How could he do that after reading the sad passage from Isaiah?  It’s simple.  As Philip tells him, this sad Scripture has been fulfilled.  And he accepts this.  We are exactly in the same place.

But Isaiah reminds me of the question “what next?”  I mean, Creation is not fully in the Kingdom, and we have not reached our final Sabbath.  The rejoicing Ethiopian will still have to go home and read the equivalent of all the emails that have piled up in his absence.  And there is worse.  Sorrow and tears and fear are obviously not banished from our world.  The passage from Isaiah is still living prophecy, a poetry that speaks over and over of the same thing.  For example, I read in the papers that an immigrant alliance held a memorial in honor of the martyred Archbishop Romero.  And another part of the Song of the Suffering Servant was recited.  “He was pierced for our transgressions.  He was crushed for our iniquities.  The punishment that brought us peace was on him.”

Ultimately, the story of the Ethiopian speaks to me about the virtue of Hope.  Hope and rejoicing do go together.  But so do Hope and suffering.  We live in a climate of Hope.  We’re not like Scheherazade who reached her Sabbath.  We still live in the earlier part of the Tales of the Arabian nights.  Hope is what gives us the strength and refreshment to read the papers and not despair.  It makes us pray “Thy Kingdom come.”  It makes us grab for the essence of the Kingdom to come.  We bring out our neighbor’s garbage cans.  We assist the homeless.  We instruct ourselves about justice.  We turn the world upside-down and make the effort to love our neighbor and our enemy.  And that’s it.  It’s just what the Ethiopian had to do.

April 25 Reflection-St. Mark, or Why We Are All Evangelists

Robin D’Oyen

April 25, 2021

 Reflection – St. Mark, or Why We Are All Evangelists

I am a historian. Unashamedly so. I am curious by nature and I always like to approach things by investigating their origin. This is always my starting point to Biblical studies; examining the historical perspective first. Who is the speaker? Who is the audience? What is the context of the interaction, and what does it say to how we should encounter God?

Today is celebrated as the Feast day of St. Mark the Evangelist, traditionally celebrated as the author of the Gospel that bears his name, the Gospel that scholars widely agree today is the oldest of all four Gospels although it appears as the second one in the New Testament. It’s fitting that we are able to celebrate our service today, on this Fourth Sunday in the Season of Easter as we continue to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord; for this is, after all, Mark’s year. This is Year B in our Liturgical Calendar, which means that we will delve deeper into this particular Gospel over the course of this year, sharing in the Evangelist’s witnessing of the life of Jesus.

Who was Mark? Like many of the early figures in the history of the Church there is not much hard, literary evidence that can tell us definitively who he was. Depending upon the sources or tradition you rely on, he could be one or even three separate persons, which makes him somewhat shadowy of a figure. Tradition states that he was a companion at some point of Peter; that at some point he began to write down the account of Jesus’ life that would become the basis of the Gospel that today bears his name; that he was sent with Barnabas to act as a missionary in Cyprus and other areas; that he founded the Church in Alexandria in Egypt and was later martyred there. As fascinating as all this may be, however, we need today to consider one important aspect of his life that gave him the title that is most commonly associated with his name: Evangelism. For Mark is, after all, known as Mark the Evangelist.

An Evangelist. Who, or what exactly, is an evangelist? Over the years as I delved deeper into the Bible and I studied and learned more about my faith there were certain terms and words that I initially struggled with. This was one of them, until I realized that I was conflating the words ‘EVANGELISM’ and ‘EVANGELIST’ with its cousin ‘EVANGELICAL’ … a totally different word that, without going off track and into too much detail is, for me personally, a word or term that has been tainted, sullied, and demeaned. However, let’s circle back:- so who is an ‘evangelist?’ An evangelist is, first and foremost, a WITNESS to the life of Jesus. They are meant to preach the word of the Gospel, thereby sharing the message and teachings of Jesus, and evangelism, the noun, is therefore the act of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God. (As an aside, from its original Greek and Latin word, we also get the word ‘Angel’, or Messenger of Good News.)

This act of evangelism or witnessing is intertwined with our everyday duties as Christians under the Great Commission as given us by our Lord: to preach the Good News to all about the Kingdom, and to call upon others to become disciples. Indeed, the Great Commission requires us ALL to be evangelists to our faith. Seen in this light virtually all stories and readings from the Bible are about evangelism. Our first reading, of Peter’s confrontation with the Sanhedrin, is a powerful example of witnessing. Here we have the foremost disciple and leader of the apostles after Jesus’ ascension proclaiming before the authority of the council the power and nature of Jesus. Peter’s witness is even more powerful bearing in mind that he himself was a firsthand witness to all the things he stated. The reading from the First Letter of John goes in a slightly different direction but here John implores us to implement physical action and not mere thought, and by doing so we live in the Father and thereby become part of the Kingdom just as He likewise dwells in us. This is also a powerful act of witnessing, of evangelism. Finally, the reading from John’s Gospel closes the circle by giving us an insight into Jesus as the Good Shepherd and his love for us all as His sheep. By the mention of the sheep that do not belong to the flock that He must also bring into the flock, the writer of the Gospel indirectly introduces us to the Great Commission and challenges us to do what the Master requires us to do. (Second aside:- the writers of the four Gospels are also commonly known as the Four Evangelists.)

But what does evangelism, or witnessing look like to us today, right now, in 2021, where we sit? My personal experience in my early years of my walk in Faith used to be mixed with a bit of Imposter’s Syndrome. I have never, ever invited anyone to come to Church, or gone out to recruit people to Church, or been part of a Bible study for the purpose of converting anybody. In my early days of a Christian, being exposed to other denominations and churches who rely heavily on such methods, I thought that this was the one of the yardsticks upon which a Christian was measured. As I matured in my walk in Faith, however, two things began to shape and inform my view: one of the Rules of St. Francis, and Paul’s teachings in Ephesians. “Preach the Gospel everyday, and if necessary, use words” is wrongly attributed to Francis, but part of the Rule DOES state that “let all the Brothers preach by their deeds.” Your actions, in other words, can speak as loudly, if not more loudly, than words. Paul’s writing in the Letter to the Ephesians stated that “the gifts He gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.” In other words, we all have very unique gifts that equip us to witness in our own unique ways.

What is an evangelist? They take many forms, as myriad and unique as grains of sand on a shore. An evangelist can witness or share in many different ways.

EASTER 3

Third Sunday of Easter

April 18, 2021

Chanthip Phongkhamsavath

Good morning.  It was a nice reminder this week when I saw an email from Becky mentioning that it still Easter.  So often the anticipation during Lent and the joy of being able to say Alleluia again on Easter Sunday makes the rest of the Easter season a little less exciting.  It’s almost a similar feeling during Christmas time when in the lead up to Christmas Day, radio stations often play Christmas songs after Thanksgiving then they stop after Christmas Day.  However, in Church it’s just the beginning of the celebration and we don’t start singing Christmas hymns till Christmas Eve, then for several weeks after.  That’s really the time when we know the good news has arrived and the celebration of hope begins and continues.

That hope is renewed during this Easter season, after Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead.  During this time Jesus does what I think of as the tour of faith.  Affirming for those, that what he preached has truly come to be and giving them the power through knowledge and faith confirmed, to share the message.

I was thinking about that message and what it came down to in terms of Jesus’ role.  In the Gospel he reminds the disciples around him as they doubted that, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

He knew and told the disciples of what was to come and they did not believe him until it was completed.

Have you ever been in a place where your friend told you of a plan and you listened but didn’t necessarily believe it would come true? Have you ever made a plan and weren’t even sure yourself if you would be able to go through with it?

I wonder what Jesus thought as God said something along the lines of – you are my beloved and part of myself, I also love these people, but they need a little help to be redeemed so I am going to send you as my messenger to suffer alongside them, to be prosecuted and put to death.  Then I will raise you from the dead so you can go back to them and show them through this ultimate sacrifice that their sins have been forgiven.  In writing this out I am even a little skeptical of whether Jesus just looked at God in amazement or disbelief.

This happens I’m sure in our daily lives as well.  This past December, I started working for Leadership Public Schools a network of three urban charter high schools and for months, really over a year now, they have been operating in a distance learning environment.  There had not been much thought that we would reopen our schools for any type of in person instruction this school year.  Even a month ago when the Governor and Legislature approved funds to incentivize in person instruction this school year, I was skeptical that it would actually encourage or even be enough for us to move forward.

Except after careful thought about our high school students, especially those struggling with online access and other issues, we looked at what it would take to reopen.  And we looked at the funds the Governor made available to provide incentives to bring staff back and so a plan was developed to do exactly what a month ago we were so skeptical about doing – bringing students back to campus.  We made a plan and we are in the middle of implementing it and I am still in disbelief some days that it is going to really happen.  However, with each day we are getting closer to this coming Tuesday when some of our students will be back on campus.  We are doing just as the Governor and Legislature had planned – to provide enough of an incentive to encourage schools to reopen for in person instruction.  There were many political motives that went into the Governor’s plan, yet all that aside, it is working, it pushed enough schools to seriously consider and move forward.  Although we may not know the outcome and in truth there will be many more months and years of work to address the needs of our students it was a plan that worked.

Even though we were not in total ignorance of the plan, it took the actual passage of the legislation to seriously consider it.  It’s almost similar to the first reading when Peter addressed the Israelites and acknowledged, “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”

Even before Jesus’ arrival the prophets had already known a Messiah was coming and that he would suffer.  And without fully knowing it, they did exactly would God foretold, they prosecuted Jesus and made him suffer.  And through that act, what was written came to be, and in Jesus’ death and resurrection our sins were redeemed.  It was God’s plan all along and despite telling it, and being a part of it, there was still doubt.  And so, Jesus after raising from the dead has to remind the disciples again that this was always the plan.

Even when we sometimes doubt the outcome of a plan, we can still continue to hope and plan for it to be completed.  And even when we sometimes don’t fully comprehend what has been laid before us, it is something wonderous to think that despite our human nature to sin, God was still willing to craft a way for us to be redeemed.

In this Easter season as we are reminded of the sacrifice and resurrection, let us also continue to remember it is through that resurrection and our faith in that plan that our sins are forgiven.  What great love it must be to create an avenue that would forgive God’s people of their sins.  To find a way to redeem those who may not have even thought about or possibly wanted to be redeemed.  For those who saw Jesus come to life again still doubted, what great love it is to give those who believe and who did not actually see the plan come to completion, the same redemption.  For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son.

That was God’s plan all along.  That Jesus would die and rise, so that we can all rise again.  Despite our sins God loves us so much he created a plan so that we could be forgiven.  Even when we may doubt ourselves or the world around us, as long as we believe and have faith, what was foretold had been done.  It was always God’s plan, he told us so and made it so.

Amen.

Dan Flanagan with Trio Solano, with Special Guest Tammie Dyer

Coming Up Next at Calliope @ St. Alban’s

Sunday, April 25th at 4:00 p.m.
LIVE-Stream from St. Alban’s
*
Dan Flanagan with Trio Solano, with Special Guest Tammie Dyer

*Part of our Third Sunday Concert Series, founded and curated by Jane Lenoir – now in its fourth year!
Join us as legendary Berkeley-based violinist, composer, and art collector Dan Flanagan combines musical forces with Trio Solano (Victoria Ehrlich, cello; Paul Ehrlich, viola) and violinist Tammie Dyer in a program of Dan’s own original compositions, each paired with the painting that inspired the music. Both the musicians and the visual art will be onstage for this exclusive live-stream from St. Alban’s Parish Hall. The program concludes with Beethoven‘s String Trio in C minor, Op.9 No.3.

This group features the full array of local professionals who perform in multiple orchestras and ensembles; they started a new ensemble with a focus on original material.  Violinist Dan Flanagan is concertmaster of multiple local orchestras, and is a member of the Berkeley Symphony. Cellist Victoria Ehrlich is with San Francisco Opera;  violist Paul Ehrlich performs with San Francisco Ballet, and guest violinist Tammie Dyer is with Sacramento Philharmonic. Tickets on Eventbrite, and you can sample some great stuff here.

EASTER 2

EASTER 2

April 11, 2021

Sandy Burnett

I’ve always felt that Jesus chose his disciples as much for their weaknesses as their strengths, or perhaps because their weaknesses became strengths. St. Thomas, Doubting Thomas, is a prime example. I mean, at one time or another, we’ve all said “I’ll believe THAT when I see it.”

But, have we said it after 10 of our closest friends told us something?

I can’t imagine that Thomas thought the others were joking, given the precariousness of their situation. Perhaps he thought they’d been taken in by some impostor. Or perhaps he just couldn’t believe something so wonderful as Jesus’ resurrection could happen. He just couldn’t let himself go enough to believe in something that he so desperately desired.

Haven’t we all felt that we aren’t talented enough, smart enough, virtuous enough, or just plain worthy, to have our deepest desire granted? As Christians, we know that we’re completely unworthy of God’s love, yet we crave this gift of love, and we receive it, every moment of every day. But we often don’t believe it, especially when we are in the midst of tragedy, wondering how God could allow horrors to happen.

Like Thomas, we hear Christ’s gentle rebuke, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

At the time, I think only the men, and perhaps women, in that room believed in his resurrection because they saw the resurrected Jesus in person. Their great lifelong task would be to tell the rest of the world about it and to convince those who hadn’t seen, to believe.

How do we learn to believe? How do we know what we know? If there’s one thing our modern age has taught us, it is that what we see — or think we see — isn’t always the truth. Even back in the Dark Ages when I was being trained as a journalist, we knew that “eye witnesses” aren’t very reliable. Six people could offer six different versions of the same event, and none of them would necessarily be lying. An education in journalism trains you to be skeptic, to question almost everything. We are taught to  ask constantly “how do you know that?” We also are taught to be reporters, not arbiters of truth. We report that the mayor SAID the police department is incompetent, not that the police department IS incompetent. For that, we offer evidence or what we believe is proof: the crime statistics are unbelievable, the department is under federal investigation, etc.

Today, Doubting Thomas might have said, “Unless I see a DNA test that proves this living man is Jesus, I will not believe.”

This is where faith comes in. One simple definition of faith is confidence or trust in a person, thing or concept. In the context of religion, faith is belief in a god or in the doctrines or teachings of religion. Skeptics see faith simply as belief without evidence.

James W. Fowler, whose “Stages of Faith” is cited by Wikipedia, defines faith as an activity of trusting, committing and relating to the world based on a set of assumptions of how one is related to others and the world.

Fowler suggests that there are six stages of faith that a believer may experience, although he or she also can get stuck at any one of the levels. They are:

  1. a stage of confusion and high impressionability through stories and rituals. This roughly coincides with the pre-school period.
  2. a stage where provided information is accepted in order to conform with social norms, roughly the school-going period of development.
  3. a stage where acquired faith is concreted in a belief system where people, usually adolescents, come to associate with authority in individuals or groups that represent their beliefs.
  4. In early adulthood, the person critically analyzes their faith. Disillusion or strengthening of faith happens at this stage.
  5. Next, they realize the limits of logic and, facing the realities of life, accept that life is a mystery and often return to the sacred stories and symbols of a faith system. Fowler calls this a “negotiated settling in life,” which usually occurs in middle age.
  6. Finally comes the stage of universalizing faith, an enlightenment where the person comes out of all the existing systems of faith and loves life with universal principles of compassion and love and in service to others for upliftment, without worries and doubt. Fowler says you usually are aged 45 and up when this happens.

I related to some of Fowler’s stages. I was a Sunday School dropout at 11 and wasn’t confirmed until I was 35. But, the stages don’t address HOW a person goes from one stage to the next, other than by aging or maturing. I think this is where one of my favorite words comes in, a word used in Baptism when we pray that God will give the candidate “an inquiring and discerning heart.” This is something I find at the root of my belief system. Jesus knew that very few people would see him in person and that his disciples would have the job of convincing people of his truth. He didn’t give the apostles magical powers to make everyone who heard them suddenly believe. He gave them the tools they needed to help others discern the truth.

In the reading from 1 John, John says’ We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.” This word of life, this is what Jesus imparts to the Apostles and all of their followers have imparted to us. Jesus knew he had little time left on earth, but he told his followers that the Word — the Good News — will be what allows Christians to discern the truth. “We are writing these things to you so that our joy may be complete.” John says. The Word is the essence of this completeness. It is the Word that we have received through the Bible, and through our Christian family over the past 2000 years. that gives us our ability to discern.

But what of St. Thomas? A practicing Jew, he went on to found the tradition of Christianity in Southern India which marries many of the customs of Judaism, such as the Saturday Sabbath, with a belief in Christ. Thomas was reported to have been martyred by jealous Hindu priests in 72 AD. Today, there are about 6 million Saint Thomas Christians.

And of course, there are billions of all kinds of Christians throughout the world today. Do we believe because we’ve seen Jesus in person? No, but I think we’ve those who believe encounter Jesus in their hearts through His word. We discern the Living Christ not just by what we’ve been told, but by what we feel, by what makes sense to us, by what we discern. It’s not always easy to believe and sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Our faith may be inconstant. But when we believe, the Word tells us that even in our vast unworthiness, we are loved.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday 2021

April 4, 2021

St. Alban’s Church

Pastor Jim Stickney

 

Christ did not die and rise from the dead only to make bad people into good people.   Christ died and rose to make dying people truly alive!

 

Today we celebrate the heart of Christian faith, that death is not the end of the story.

Today we rejoice that we share in the new life of Christ Jesus beyond death.

Today we proclaim our freedom from any fear of being imprisoned in this world

of such swift economic changes — we know where true joys are to be found.

 

Last Sunday we waved joyful palms to celebrate the easy way of being believers —

following Jesus in fair weather, when there’s a crowd cheering all of us on.

Then we shifted and became a mob crying for this one man to die for the people.

On Good Friday, in our own quiet way, we kept vigil for divinity seeming to die,

trying to be faithful, when bring a believer is the hardest thing to do.

And today we celebrate new life, risen life in which we all can share.

 

Christ did not die and rise from the dead only to make bad people into good people.

Christ died and rose to make dying people truly alive!

 

It’s a joy to be asked to return to St. Alban’s, where I spent most of my active ministry.

I must have preached close to 20 Easter sermons, and I must have used

a personal Easter story back then. I’m going to repeat it for you now — and for those

who were not members back then, it will be something new for you.

 

When I was about ten, I caught a bad cold just before Easter.  Mom and Dad debated,                             then decided I was old enough that they could just  leave me home alone

while they and the younger children went to church that Easter morning without me.

As an incentive, they gave me my Easter basket early before they left.

 

I remember feeling, not sick and abandoned, but happy that they trusted me.

I had a fine time alone on Easter, eating some candy, and finding a license plate

in my basket with “Jim” on it which I taped to my bicycle before they returned.

 

Most of all, I remember feeling that God was with me in my heart,

even though I wasn’t in church.  Not going to church that day helped me find God.

God took what could have been sadness for me, and transformed it.

 

That story takes on new meaning during this time of pandemic, when our leaders,

both in church and in society, are pleading with us to keep social distance.

And compared to last year, our churches have proved to be resilient and innovative —

just consider the new skills we’ve developed in order to sustain community.

We’ve accomplished a kind of resurrection right in the middle of a crisis.

 

Christ did not die and rise from the dead only to make bad people into good people.

Christ died and rose to make dying people truly alive!

 

I’d like to speak to our skeptical side for a moment, to the doubts within us.

Does the Bible try to trick us with clever rhetoric and exaggerated Easter claims?

It’s quite the opposite! The record of the Gospel writers is brutally honest.

No one claimed to see the moment of Resurrection. They weren’t even expecting it.

What they were expecting was to prepare a corpse for burial. That’s it!

 

Imagine a creepy scene in a horror movie. The music gets quiet for that tense moment

when someone turns a corner, opens a door, sees some dead body, and screams.

This morning’s Gospel story of Easter gives us the exact opposite of a horror movie.

The trauma, the horror and tragedy, was three days past, at the crucifixion.

 

Instead, a few women with ointments and perfumes are prepared to find that dead body.

What they weren’t ready for was the appearance of radiant angelic beings

posing a lovely rhetorical question to them: Why do you seek the living among the dead?

In his Easter message, Bishop Marc referred to this little group as a “pod.”

I rather like the idea of a small bubble of disciples now infected by faith in Jesus!

 

Yes, death will come for each of us, but death is no longer the final chapter of life.

And not only does that mean a new start in the life to come, but it also

breaks the cycle of despair and hopelessness in which so too people live lives

of quiet desperation — hungry for a fresh start, but unsure how to make it.

By our sharing in Christ’s risen life, we can always make a new start — right now!

 

Christ did not die and rise from the dead only to make bad people into good people.

Christ died and rose to make dying people truly alive!

 

It was difficult for the women who went to the tomb to open their hearts again

to the love they felt for Jesus. It’s difficult for us to break out of the tombs and traps

of our fond past memories, look around at the changed circumstances

of our life today, and find Jesus there. And yet, we’ve managed to stay faithful!

 

And in tough times, we know that we are invited to celebrate the true riches,

and hold fast to the realities that will not fluctuate like infection rates from Covid 19.

 

Some may try to paste last years leaves on the tree and then call that Spring.

Instead, look at your life this day! This moment Christ Jesus wants to live in you!

The new life just won’t be the same as the old — God intends to do a new thing.

 

Christ did not die and rise from the dead only to make bad people into good people.

Christ died and rose to make dying people truly alive!

LENT 5

LENT 5

Mary Doleman

3/21/21 Gospel John 12:20-33

This account follows the brief story (in this gospel) of Jesus entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. A crowd who had been with Jesus when he raised Lazarus from the dead, and those who had heard of the miracle, came to meet Jesus. There were Greeks in the crowd, as well as Jews. So, the message of salvation and new life is to be spread beyond the Jewish community. Now they have all come out to meet Jesus, and have asked Phillip to take them to him.

When Phillip and Andrew tell Jesus about the crowd, Jesus replies that now is the time for him to be glorified. Earlier in this chapter of the gospel, Jesus has had his feet anointed with nard by Mary, as a foretelling of his end. Then Jesus speaks of a grain of wheat that must die in order to give new life – a further clarification of what is to come.
For me this is a very powerful parable. My parents had a farm in the Sacramento Valley, and one of the crops that they grew was winter wheat. It seemed like forever between the planting of the single seeds, the emergence of the first green shoots, and finally the arrival of the “head” or stalk of wheat. (I can still remember my mother coming into the house after looking at the field and joyfully saying “it’s heading out”!). What was one, was resurrected as many and gives new life.
I can imagine the crowd listening to Jesus, nodding, as this cycle was so familiar to them, and brought forth the key ingredient for their daily life-giving sustenance. They understood that there had to be the death of the one grain to bring forth the new crop. And this foretells Jesus own death and resurrection – he dies so that we may have new life in Christ. And we can then spread the good news to many, having been given sustenance by the “bread of life” – Jesus.

We are made stronger together, as are the grains in the stalk of wheat. Together we can do so much more than we can do on our own. And we are bound together in our love of Christ. This is what enables us to go out into the world with confidence to live a life of service to others – a “resurrection life”.

Jesus then confounds the crowd with the exhortation that we must “hate our life in this world to keep it for eternal life”. What a tough concept! What does it really mean? And how can we do this? I think that the point is that we must set aside our personal agendas, our self-centeredness, and turn outward. It is in this turning to others that we find our true lives and participate in the work of God in the world. At the crucifixion Jesus tells Mary his mother to “behold your son”, and tells John “behold your mother”. This points us to an outward, inclusive view of the world, rather than a self-centered exclusive world view. And I believe it is a call to action – to actively participate in the life of the world, and to work for healing of ourselves, our community and our planet. This is hard work, but in this work, we will meet Jesus in unexpected people and places, and our lives will be richer for it.

Now, Jesus states that his hour has come, and calls on God to glorify the father’s name. He also does not ask to be saved from his final hour, as this is the path to “draw all men to himself”. The voice from heaven that says that God will glorify his name is perceived by the crowd as thunder or the voice of an angel. Jesus says that the voice is for the sake of the crowd, not for himself. He states that by his death he will draw all men to himself. That is his ultimate gift to us – to share in the eternal life. And in order to share in his gift, we must share with one another. We need to always keep this in mind, and be aware of the great gift we have been given. And to help this gift to grow, we need to share it with others. In that way, we will be as the seed that is planted and brings forth abundant life.

Amen

LENT 4

Reflection for March 14, 2021, Fourth Sunday of Lent

Lawrence DiCostanzo

 

Numbers 21:4-9

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

Ephesians 2:1-10c

John 3:14-21

I think that today should be called Snake Sunday.  We have snakes in the reading from the Book of Numbers.  And, in the Gospel reading, we have Jesus referring to the same story about snakes.

I am not sure what the compilers of the lectionary had in mind.  But when I started looking at these passages, turning them upside-down and sideways, I found that I was thinking about how I fit in and how conversion is wordless, how it’s a surprise, how it’s a daily experience.

So, here’s a story about a wordless conversion.  When I was an undergraduate walking across a beautiful campus, someone came up to me and offered to pay me two dollars if I participated in a psychology experiment.  Two dollars was big money in 1964.

So, I showed up at the right place and time. I think it was in the basement of the Episcopal chapel. There were a number of questions about what ideas and so forth I associated with — snakes.  There were also questions like: Would I let a snake curl around my neck, would I pick one up, and so forth.

Well, not to be a sissy, I said I’d pick one up if I had to.  And after a little while, I was told that I would be meeting a real snake and I’d be asked to do what I said I would do.  So, in a windowless room, I was introduced to a caged brown snake who was constantly trying to slip out through the cage’s grid.  The guy said, “Pick him up.”  I said, “Is it poisonous?”  Ridiculous question.  So, I grabbed the snake around the middle.  The guy said, “Not so tight. Support him near its head so he doesn’t get hurt.”  He was trying to get away.  He did not want to be there.  He was probably sore all over his body.   All of a sudden, I felt pity and love.  I went through a transformation.  I cannot explain this in words.

So, now, I am a bike-riding snake saver.  I got off my bike once to pick up a bright green grass snake so that he wouldn’t be squashed by a car.  I felt the delicate soft velvet of his skin and the road heat on his body.  Another time, while biking on Bear Valley Road near Briones Park, I saw a California king snake stretching full length in the sun on the road’s yellow dividing lines.  Surely, he was happy.  He was surely California’s most handsome snake.  I shooed all five feet of him off the road to get him out of a perilous situation.

So now let’s look at conversion or salvation in today’s readings.  In short, let’s look for changes of heart.  Let’s look for what it means to see the bronze serpent.

I’m going to start with a little self-diagnosis.  In the Book of Numbers, the Israelites were attacked by poisonous snakes because they had sinned by speaking against God.  By this time, the Israelites had been in the desert for already almost 40 years.  They had been locked into the wilderness.  They were sick of their hardship. They were sick of their lives.  There seemed nothing to look forward to.  A whole generation was to die before the sons of Israel would be allowed to enter the Promised Land.  Really, they were in despair.  The poisonous snakes were a consequence of their despair, almost a personification of it.  At God’s instruction, Moses puts the bronze serpent on a kind of standard pole.  The Bible doesn’t say this bronze serpent chased the snakes away.  What it did is heal and redeem the people who’d been bitten.

I am not about to say what stupid and nasty people the ancient Israelites must have been.  The reason is that I think I live inside this part of the Book of Numbers.  Like the Israelites, I fall into a kind of despair once in a while.  Sometimes, I get a feeling that expresses itself in the question “What’s the point?”  I get tired.  The bills will have to be sorted and paid till I die. The house will always have to be cleaned.  I will never figure out what the Cross means.  I will always be a sometimes anxious father. I have to keep enduring the everlasting hardship of the humdrum.  Sometimes, like the Israelites, I want to be somewhere else.

Jesus picks up on the story bronze serpent in today’s Gospel.  By using the story of the bronze serpent, he tells us that he knows that we have problems like the Israelites or, simply put, experiences that dampen and suppress hope.  That sometimes we are all stranded in our own desert.

So, let’s look at the whole of John Chapter 3 which is the chapter in which Jesus talks about the bronze serpent.  In this chapter, Jesus is actually talking to an individual who has come to visit him at night, perhaps because he wants to keep the visit secret.  The individual is a man named Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a leader.

Nicodemus cannot make heads or tails out of anything Jesus says.  Like the Israelites in the Book of Numbers, like me sometimes, too, Nicodemus is locked up in a desert.  His desert is his unimaginative ways of thinking, the rituals and traditions he observes.  For example:  In this nighttime conversation, Jesus makes the famous remark that, unless you are born again, you can’t see the Kingdom of God.  John 3:3-4.  To which Nicodemus says: “Come on!  How can a man climb back inside his mother’s womb?”

Nicodemus is tossed this way and that by the power of Jesus’ urgency to communicate.     Now, Jesus has a high IQ.  I know this because he uses the power of stories and metaphors to get his point across about things that cannot be explained in words.  Just look the parables.  And we sit with these stories, often from childhood on, and we try to live in them for the rest of our lives.  I think this is why we read the Bible over and over and never get tired.

But Nicodemus is a student of the Law.  It is likely that things are black and white for him.  When Jesus says that he is the bronze serpent who brings eternal life and then hammers it in by saying God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, Nicodemus’ head is spinning.  John 3:16.

Nicodemus is my brother.  He may be buried in the Law.  But I’m buried in trying to endure, and the Israelites are dealing with their own poisonous snakes.  Plus, I can’t really put into words what Jesus means.  But I do know that, in the same way I live with Bible stories, Nicodemus lives with and in this nighttime conversation.  Nicodemus is converted without the words and without the thinking.  How do I know this?  Because, later on, Nicodemus is the guy who stands up for Jesus in John 7 when the Temple authorities want to arrest him.  And also, along with Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus is the guy who gave Jesus’ body the honors of burial in John 19.  Nicodemus may not have been able to define what was going on, but he acted as if he did.  He was living the story.  All I can say is that he saw the bronze serpent.

I feel I should follow in Nicodemus’ footsteps.  He is one of God’s great models of conversion.  Remember: he didn’t even have the advantage of the fact of the Resurrection.  What he did was to love in a very broad way without relying on promises that he could understand.

If Nicodemus’ story teaches me anything, it is about how to avoid the poisonous snakes of the Book of Numbers, and how right and solid is the old, old, rote prescription that permeates our faith like a like a broken record: “Love God and love your neighbor.”  This is Nicodemus.  I cannot explain why he took on the messy job of taking down Jesus’ corpse from the cross.  All I can say is that he grabbed the grace of directly loving Jesus through service to his body.  I can’t explain why I honor the dignity of snakes.  All I can say is that, no matter the desert, this is how the world should be.

Vitamin Em

CALLIOPE: EAST BAY MUSIC AND ARTS

MARCH CONCERT:
Vitamin Em
Sunday, March 21, 2021
4:00 PM – 5:30 PM PDT

Calliope’s next concert will be Vitamin Em, an eclectic powerhouse of five musicians who play funk, rock and roll, jazz, and rhythm and blues – on classical instruments, with all the skills which come from classical training and years as professional orchestral musicians. Their fifth instrumentalist will be playing the accordion, because what isn’t more fun with some accordion thrown in? With Emily Onderdonk on viola (San Francisco Ballet), Matthew Szemela on violin (Berkeley Symphony), Michael Graham on cello (Oakland Symphony), Evan Price on violin (Turtle Island Quartet) and Dan Cantrell on accordion. (Dan played with Cookie Segelstein in our Violins of Hope concert last year.)

Tickets are $15-$25 on Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/vitamin-em-music-infused-with-fun-tickets-141888888485 We are guaranteeing a fair wage to the performers, with a little help from Jazz in the Neighborhood – and donors like you – and 15% of every ticket purchase goes back to St. Alban’s!

The concert will be broadcast via YouTube Premiere, which feels just like a live concert, with all the features of a live broadcast you’ve come to expect from Calliope — high-quality audio and video, synchronous viewing, live chat with the artists and other music lovers — but allows us to capture Vitamin Em’s performance a few days in advance when they had an opening in their calendar, then “air” it for all of you with a watch party on concert day.

THIS CONCERT WILL ALSO BE AVAILABLE “ON-DEMAND” for the week following the premiere. After the initial broadcast, you may watch it as often as you like, whenever you like.
Stay tuned for information on our April and May shows!