Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sermon by Steve Hitchcock

May 17, 2020

Gospel: John 14: 15-23 (note additional verses)

I don’t if it’s a great irony or perhaps it’s a paradox, but in this year’s Easter Season, all of us have been stuck in one place, pretty much alone – while the Gospel readings for these eight weeks have taken us all over the place.  And we keep going back and forth in time.

The second week of Easter, we were in the locked room with the disciples a week after Easter.  Then, the third week we were back to Easter day, taking a walk to Emmaus and then rushing back to Jerusalem.  For the fourth week, we went even further back to Galilee, just before Jesus started to Jerusalem, and we found ourselves in a kell or sheep paddock.  Last week, we were gathered in a room for Jesus’ final meal with his disciples before his death, but all the talk seemed to be about heavenly dwelling places.

This week, our Gospel reading continues with the verse right after the last verse of last week’s Gospel.  And the really startling news is not where we find ourselves, not where our dwelling place is.  Rather, it is where God’s dwelling place is.

It turns out that God’s dwelling place is in Jesus, and because Jesus is our dwelling place, God dwells in us. The question of where home is – the question Ethan helped us wrestle with last week – is answered by the promise that God finds a home in us.

All this is possible because of the Spirit, which is the breath of life that Jesus breathed on the disciples in the locked room on Easter day – and that Jesus breathes on us today in our locked rooms.  It is the Spirit of peace that we pass on to each other when are together on Sunday and which do virtually now.

In today’s Gospel, this Spirit is called the Paraclete, what the New Revised Standard Version translates as Advocate.  Note, though, that this is another Advocate, another Paraclete. That’s because the first Paraclete, the first Advocate, was Jesus himself.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus isn’t an advocate because he’s an attorney, defending us before a divine judge. A legal or forensic view isn’t the good news John wants to recommend.

Rather, the Paraclete harks back to Moses and Isaiah when a Consoler or Comforter announces a way out of the wilderness.  John is telling us that we are on the way – on a new Exodus – to that dwelling place announced in the first verses of John: the new tabernacle of God’s presence in the wilderness and darkness of our lives.

Of course, in John’s Gospel, that way takes us to the Cross.  There, the First Paraclete lays down his life for the sheep.  In freely giving up his life for us, Jesus acts out the self-giving love of the Father.  As he is being lifted up on the cross, Jesus returns to the Father.

At this point, we might as well grapple with the thorny matter of all this Father-Son talk in John’s Gospel.  With good reason, we are troubled by these exclusively male terms and patriarchal images.  I know this language keeps some people from experiencing the grace and love at the heart of our Christian faith.

Perhaps we could talk about Mothers and Daughters, but both my wife and my daughter find that metaphor fraught with its own sore points.  And Parent-Child sounds so anonymous, so nonspecific.

The reason for the Father-Son image is expressed in Hebrew 1:3, where it says that Jesus “is the exact imprint of God’s very being.”  John’s first readers didn’t have microscopes and advanced knowledge of biology.  They mistakenly assumed the male sperm was solely responsible for creating offspring.  That’s why we hear in John’s Gospel that when you see Jesus, you see God.  God’s self-giving love is passed on biologically to God’s offspring.

What makes all of this good news for us is that we have been adopted – or, as today’s Gospel states it, we are not orphans.  We are part of God’s family and fully privileged siblings of the number one Child.

Jesus, the first Paraclete isn’t with us in the flesh.  In fact, his disappearance was intentional; Jesus willing accepted death.  But, by leaving the scene, Jesus made it possible for another Paraclete to get to work in our lives.

And the Paraclete has a lot to work with because we are talking about the Spirit of Truth.  Beginning with the first chapter in John, Truth is all the good news that in the beginning the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word became flesh and dwelt – made its home among us – so that that we might be part of God’s new creation.

As we hear listen to those words of truth Sunday after Sunday, the Paraclete reminds, nudges, and – yes– cajoles us into believing that the Father and Son have found their home in us and that our home includes all the other children God has adopted because of Jesus: you, me, Ruth, Larry, and everyone else.

Yes, like small houses in Albany, it’s a crowded home, but it is full of love.  Love that does not wear out or give up.  Love that fills our loneliness, overcomes our fears, and conquers death.  Love divine, all loves excelling.  Amen.

THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church ● Albany, California ● April 26, 2020
Sermon by Steve Hitchcock
GOSPEL: LUKE 24: 13-35
During the eight weeks of Easter, those who designed the lectionary decided to make the “Old Testament Lesson” a reading from the Acts of the Apostles. It’s not true that their decision was based on the fact that Acts is Becky Osborne-Coolidge’s favorite book of the Bible. But I could be wrong.

I think the reason they chose Acts is because it illustrates how the apostles carried out those final instructions of Jesus that end Matthew’s Gospel. On the mountain top, the Risen Christ says two things: (1) I will be with always whenever you are together in my name and (2) go out, baptize, and make disciples of all nations.

This is the Third Sunday of Easter, and our Gospel reading takes us back to Easter day – rather than a week later as was case with Thomas and the disciples in the locked room. Today, we have the happy conjunction of the penultimate story in Luke’s Gospel and an early chapter of Acts. You’ll recall that Luke and Acts were a two-volume narrative, written by the same author.

Thus, many have noted that the road to Emmaus is similar to a story in Acts. In chapter 8, Phillip is on a road and catches up to a chariot with an Ethiopian eunuch who is perplexed as he reads the prophet Isaiah. Phillip opens the Ethiopian’s eyes to see how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, the embodiment of God’s promises.

In our Gospel for today, though, the two disciples are more than perplexed. They are disappointed and full of sorrow. Their hopes for the future are dashed. As is often the case in these situations, they ended up in a heated argument. “Discussing” is a weak translation of a verb that implies at least “vigorous debate.”

These days, we too are engaged in heated debate – sometimes only with our isolated selves. As individuals, we uncertain about what to do next. As a society, we our engaged in mass anxiety about the future. We, too, might wish that could escape Jerusalem and head for Emmaus.

But another story in Luke – an echo of today’s reading – suggests how we might find joy in our present circumstances and hope for the future.

All the way back at the end of chapter 2 in Luke, we have the account of the boy Jesus in the temple. This young whipper snapper is explaining the true meaning of the Scriptures to the elders, the religious scholars of the day.

Now in chapter 24, we are invited to walk along with the two disciples. The journey to Emmaus provides narrative space to review “all the things of Jesus of Nazareth” – from those early days in the Temple onward through Luke’s Gospel. And, what we hear is a review of all of history as Luke’s genealogy starts with Adam.
As Phillip later does with the Ethiopian dignitary, Jesus provides the interpretative key to the Scriptures. The key is Jesus himself as the pivot point in Luke-Acts: everything before is the old era and everything after is the new era.

And what makes that new era possible is Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was God’s plan (that’s what “necessary” means in the Gospels) that Jesus suffer rejection and death at the hands of the religious leaders.

That Jesus was rejected by some – and put to death yet raised to life – made it possible for all people to be saved. In the words of Simeon in the temple, which we know as the Nunc Dimittis: “My eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel.”

This is Luke’s Gospel, so salvation and revelation involve a meal. Without much encouragement, Jesus joins the two disciples as they recline to eat.

To be sure, this meal represents the Eucharist, the breaking of bread in which the Risen Christ is present. But this three-person meal also prompts a review all the other meals in Luke and Acts – meals that bring together people from all walks of lives, rich and poor, sinner and saint, the upstanding and the criminal.

In the account immediately following today’s Gospel, the Risen Christ appears to all the disciples and repeats the same interpretation of the Scriptures he gave to the two disciples. And, once again, it’s not until Jesus eats something that the disciples’ eyes are opened. Significantly, this meal involves both fish and bread.

Thus, the meals at Emmaus and at the end of Luke’s Gospel remind us of that really big meal – when Jesus takes two fish, breaks five loaves, and feeds the 5,000.

The good news for us today is that life is a joyous banquet of abundance. We can’t help but trust that there’s enough for everyone – and that there no work or eligibility requirements for these benefits. We all get new wedding dresses and tuxes.

No wonder, then, from its earliest days as we hear in Acts, the church appointed deacons to see that those in need were fed. We, too, at St. Alban’s continue to feed those in need, despite the extra effort it takes now to distribute the food.

And all over the country, Christians and others are pressing their members of Congress to expand SNAP – and suspend those mean-spirited restrictions. Our representatives in Congress are also working to pass legislation to make sure children receive school meals all summer long.

Last week in John’s account about Thomas, we heard the good news that – even while isolated – reading the written words about Jesus connects us with each other as God’s family. Today, we hear the promise that every meal during these anxious days is a meal we share with others. Even in our isolation, we have lots opportunities to break bread – and to experience and give thanks for God’s gracious abundance. Amen.

Ensemble 1828’s all-Schubert Show!

 

Join us for a real treat: the gifted trio of Ensemble 1828 (Isaac Pastor-Chermak, cello, Alison Lee, piano, and Nicole Oswald, violin) offering an evening of beautiful music by Franz Schubert. This concert benefits on-going renovations to improve performance spaces at St. Alban’s. 

Purchase tickets here.

Also available at the door. ($25 general, $20 seniors/students, 12 & under free w/adult)

THE PROGRAM
Instead of a traditional piano-trio concert, with the same folks onstage the whole time, our program will first feature each musician individually, with a violin sonata, a cello sonata, and two solo-piano impromptus. After intermission, we’ll all get together for Schubert’s epic, symphonic 2nd Piano Trio. It’s a big program, but varied and stimulating for listeners and performers alike. 
 
Ensemble 1828 is:
Nicole Oswald, violin
Isaac Pastor-Chermak, cello
Alison Lee, piano
 
Schubert, Violin Sonata in A major (Alison and Nicole)
Schubert, Impromptus in A-flat and G-flat major (Alison)
Schubert, Arpeggione Sonata (Alison and Isaac)
Schubert, Piano Trio No.2 in E-flat major (Nicole, Isaac, Alison)

Beyond Words and Images

The Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, CA                                3rd Sunday after the Epiphany, January 27, 2019

Readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearC_RCL/Epiphany/CEpi3_RCL.html

Welcome to St. Alban’s annual meeting! This service begins the meeting, which concludes with a blessing and dismissal upstairs, after we’ve all been well-fed, discussed issues of import, and set our intentions for another year of life together.

We are here, because we are Jesus people, people who are interested in what it looks like, in daily life, to explore what it means to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the imprisoned, healing to the impaired, the breaking of the bonds of oppression, and speaking God’s love out loud, for all people.

We are also here, sometimes, depending on the day, to hear and sing beautiful music, to be with people we love, with whom we share this journey, to share sustenance – Eucharist, Sunday potlucks, emotional support

We have a lot of ways of discussing and proclaiming these things we believe. Some of them involve words. Sometimes the proclaiming involves images: more on that in just a bit.

St. Paul writes to the unruly church in Corinth, known to him to be a place of conflict and social posturing, reminding them that every person in that church had an important role to play in the making of the community, in the preaching of the gospel. This remains true for every church, everywhere. We cannot be the church we are without one another. Sure, we can learn to do different tasks, to take over or fill in for someone else, but only we can be ourselves, bringing our very particular perspectives, experiences, skills, sensitivities and stories.

This is how we come to be the place where hundreds of sack lunches have been made over the past few years. How bridge games gather are played out in the parish hall. How music has, since this building was completed, rung throughout our campus. Even, I’m sure, in how the building is shaped.

Each generation in the family of this place brings its own gifts, which build upon, maybe sometimes modify a bit, the gifts of those who came before, but it is all knit together in this one community.

I have been going to church all my life, so I see this: each congregation has its own culture, its own hallmarks, its own outstanding gifts entrusted by the Holy Spirit. It is no wonder that we who worship here love the natural world: look: the story of creation surrounds us every time we gather!

We love music here – and we celebrate in spaces that were intentionally designed to lift up sound, to make it even more beautiful. We love to feed people, and those who came before us created a warm and welcoming hall, and a great kitchen. We care about issues of our time, and we are a gathering place for literally dozens of groups working to heal the world.

How we express our beliefs matters. We are fortunate to live in a time when we can no longer take for granted that people generally know the basics of our faith. How is that a gift? Because it asks that we know and be able to articulate what we believe. To really own our faith, and not take it for granted, not for ourselves, not for others who are curious.

The down side, of course, is that there is a lot of misinformation out there about what it means to be a Christian…what it means to us, here, in this particular faith community, to be people who follow Jesus. Thus, the gift of needing to know and articulate our faith.

Since the very first groups who followed Jesus, there have been both verbal and visual ways to communicate the faith. When it was dangerous to belong to the Jesus tribe, early followers used codes to communicate where to meet, to affirm identity. Sometimes, drawing a downward arc in the dirt; the respondent, if a Christian,

would draw one that completed the image: an upward arc, making a fish. The Greek word for fish is “ichythis” This was made into an acrostic, with each letter standing for a word in the phrase Iesus kristos, theou yois soter “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior”
It both protected the community, and proclaimed belief.

There are many others, some no longer much in use: the pomegranate, for example, as an image of the Church, and of God’s extravagant goodness. Why? Part of the answer is found in St. Paul’s words this morning: So many seeds, each one a part of the whole. Each one juicy, delicious, holding its own particular place. And, SO many seeds, more than all but the most patient person could count, as is God’s abundant love for us.

The peacock was an early symbol of eternal life. There are some fascinating early icons with the bird’s feathers painted or placed in mosaics filled with the images of the saints and martyrs. Why? According to sources,

The peacock was believed by the ancients to have flesh that does not decay after

death, and thus became a symbol of immortality. This symbolism was adopted

into Christianity, and the peacock appears in many early Christian mosaics and

paintings to represent eternal life.1

 

So many different kinds of images have been used to express aspect of our faith through the ages. Some, like these just mentioned, may be unfamiliar; others so close to us
we may take them for granted.

As we begin settling back into this beautifully renovated sanctuary, we have some work to do in determining how to use images in this space, especially since the cross that used to hang over the altar fell and broke before construction began. The cross is the most

singular Christian image of our time. And, depending on your theological location and tradition, it means about as many different things as there are believers.

In some traditions and personal pieties, it represents sacrifice, or atonement for sins; something required by God. Sometimes the way the cross is presented, Christ’s suffering is emphasized—blood, a crown of thorns.

Often in Protestant churches, the cross is empty, emphasizing resurrection.

Some crosses feature Jesus in royal garb, with a crown, not of thorns, but of precious metal and jewels, reminding all of his triumph over death.

Crosses have been employed on battle shields, and there is one in particular identified with the crusades. They have been set afire, by those claiming the title of Christian, and placed on the lawns of people of color as signs of terror and intimidation.

They are used to mark graves, signs of hope in resurrection; and as signs of office, as in the papal cross.

I’ve prepared some visuals for our conversation time upstairs today that I hope will be the beginning of many broad, deep and thoughtful conversations about what images speak most powerfully and universally to our community – the community we are, and the one we aspire to be.

In all of this, may we, who are many and uniquely gifted and beautiful, keep our focus on Christ, whose love goes beyond both words and images.

 

Jazz at St. Alban’s!

After playing together in numerous other musical settings, Los Angeles based Jon Hatamiya (trombone), Logan Kane (bass), and Jacob Richards (drums) first joined forces in October 2018, showcasing their original music at Los Angeles’s Blue Whale in a collaborative quartet setting. They will be joined by composer, bandleader, and multi-instrumentalist Kyle Athayde for the Bay Area debut of the band.

While each member of the group has a wide variety of notable sideman appearances, including performances and recordings with artists such as David Binney, Michael Buble, Myra Melford, Louis Cole, Steve Lehman, Thumpasaurus, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, among others, Hatamiya, Kane and Richards are accomplished leaders and composers in their own right. This performance at the wonderful space at St. Alban’s will highlight the group’s improvisational synergy as common ground for each composer’s individual voice.

Jon Hatamiya – trombone

Logan Kane – bass

Jacob Richards – drums

Kyle Athayde – piano/vibraphone

…and possibly some special guests?

Two sets, all ages!

Purchase tickets here.

Christ: the King of costly grace

 

Readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BProp29_RCL.html#ot1

The end WWI saw the fall of many royal families across Europe, and a rising number of nationalist movements. In 1925, Pope Pius XI, responding to this newly-shaped world published the encyclical Quas Primas,[1] (Latin: in the first) in which he created the feast of Christ the King Sunday, which we mark today. The Pope had a number of things on his mind when he published this letter to the Roman Catholic bishops. What has carried down to us today, as this feast has been adopted in many mainline Protestant churches, is this reminder that, as Christians, our first and primary allegiance must be to Christ. This call precedes any national identity, and necessarily reconfigures our priorities.

If we claim Christ “the King,” we are choosing to follow one who disregarded long-standing tribal identities, who sought healing for those on the farthest margins, and who questioned even the rules of his faith tradition, when they got in the way of healing, feeding, and worshipping.

I wish it was called something that reminds us a bit more of the irony of the title, maybe “the feast of Christ, the Lord of the upside-down kingdom,” lest we get confused about what kind of royalty we’re talking about here.

Pilate, asking Jesus political questions, is looking for political answers that fit his frameworks for power and authority. They are having a kind of parallel conversation: Jesus is not looking for what Pilate understands as a “kingdom” – his revolution is built on pretty much the opposite of everything that shaped the Roman empire. Jesus’ building blocks, his strategic plans, his roadmaps, and his foot soldiers (so to speak) are all rooted in something very different: they are built of the power of love– the power of love: from which flows justice, wrapped in mercy; strength, knit of compassion; and boldness, empowered by understanding that God, and not Caesar, is the ultimate arbiter of our lives.

With this kind of ultimate authority comes a freedom unknown in any earthly realm: no one needs to fear the healing, merciful, unshackling power of God’s love. God does not seek to overthrow our self-centeredness or lack of love with might, but instead to turn us around to grace, with breath-taking experiences of abundance where we least expect it; of overwhelming gratitude when we get those glimpses of what the gift of life really means; and of mercy—in our everyday interactions with others, and when we risk love and sometimes more to stand up for Gospel values.

When Pope Pius wrote his encyclical, one of his concerns was that ALL people should call on Christ as king and Lord. This had, as it turns out, political implications for him as the head of the Papal States. Now, I have no aspirations for any kind of religious office that involves a funny hat, but I can tell you that I’m a lot less concerned with the whole world becoming Christian, and a lot more convinced that it’s past due time for Christians to simply act as though Jesus is the Christ, and thus the model after whom we ought to pattern our lives.

This, too, has political implications: it means that before we are Americans, or Brits, or Nigerians or Germans or Russians or Italians or Mexicans or any human-constructed political entity, we are first citizens of God’s reign. And this places responsibilities of allegiance on our hearts. It ought to shape decisions that mark our lives, every day: how do we treat the earth? how is our food raised? How do we know, treat, and love our neighbors? How do we see those labeled “other”? Especially those from other places, other racial groups, or those with views or practices we find challenging?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who famously went to his death for plotting the assassination of Adolf Hitler, wrote, taught and died for his belief that Christians have a higher allegiance than nationality, and that his fealty to God meant acting to stop tremendous evil. Meanwhile, here in this country, today, people are being housed like little more than cattle, families are being stripped apart for being foreigners and those who have come here from countries deemed something by our president that I won’t dignify with repeating are persecuted largely for the color of their skin.

In Durham, NC, this week, a man who has been living in his church until he can receive a fair immigration hearing went as required to report to immigration officials. Entering the court building, he was tackled by plain-clothes officers, handcuffed, and taken to jail. He was reporting in to fulfill requirements leading to the hearing for his appeal.[2]

We’ve been down this road before: we have imprisoned entire racial and ethnic groups, kidnapped and enslaved the offspring of many nations, with their surviving generations continuing to be abused and killed for the color of their skin, and we build political capital off the backs of the oppressed. Multitudes have lived and continue to live well off the proceeds of these transactions.

But, through the lens of God’s love, all are diminished by the reducing of some as “other,” as “not worthy.” Through the lens of God’s love, the first questions to measure a community, a state, a nation, ought to be, “how does love direct us to love and serve all?” How does mercy tend her children here? Does justice offer a fair hearing for everyone?Or, as Bonhoeffer reminds us, in his book The Cost of Discipleship, following Jesus Christ means opting for costly grace, and saying no to the cheap goods:

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like [a huckster’s] wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?…

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “[you] were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.[3]

Costly grace is Emmanuel – God with us, the Prince of Peace, Christ the King. Our allegiance to this King costs us everything, and gives us back life in the fullest.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quas_primas

[2] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/samuel-oliver-bruno-immigrant-arrested-by-ice-durham-north-carolina-church/

[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, first published in German as Nachfolge in 1937, is widely available in an array of publication formats. 

Christmas at St. Alban’s

Celebrate Christmas at St. Alban’s! Join our joyful community to celebrate the coming of Christ into our hearts, homes and world this Christmas. Whoever you are, and wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are welcome here.

Chtristmas StarChristmas Eve • December 24

Family Eucharist
5:00 p.m. in the Church

Lessons and Carols with
Festive Holy Eucharist
10:00 p.m. in the Church


Christmas Day • December 25

Festive Holy Eucharist
10:00 a.m. in the Church


The First Sunday after Christmas • December 30

Holy Eucharist
10:00 a.m. in the Church

David, Jesse, and fathers at the border

The Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, CA

Proper 6B, Sunday, June 16, 2018 (Father’s Day)

Today’s readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BProp6_RCL.html#ot1 

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34

 

Jesse must have been confused, to say the least, when the baby of the family was chosen by the priest to be the second king of Israel. The longer story in 1 Samuel jumps around in time and is conflicted about David’s age at the time of his selection. But what is clear is that no one expected the kid who was out keeping the sheep head off to lead the nation. David had a huge and complicated role ahead of him, and while there’s no way of knowing, it’s very unlikely that he would have had any idea of the complicated responsibilities he’d have to embrace.

One portion of the story in Samuel shows several of his brothers engaged in Saul’s army, fighting the Philistines – and then David shows up to slay Goliath. They deride him for thinking that one they see as a child can accomplish what the army could not. And, he walked into a situation with a king then-rejected by God for arrogance and disobedience. David’s job, according to another portion of the story, was to play music to sooth Saul’s tangled and angry mind.  Saul makes David his armor-bearer, which indicates that David was not some little waif, but had the build of a warrior. In his own way, clouded with rages and the knowledge that the end of his rule is near, Saul loves David, and David shares a true bond of love and friendship with Saul’s son Jonathan.

We don’t hear a lot more from Jesse, though he comes up in genealogies of Jesus, in Isaiah’s beautiful poetry, and even in Advent stories with the tradition of the Jesse tree. He is the root that makes the tree of David grow and flourish.  I wonder: Did he see much of his famous son in the years that follow? Did he ever get to sit down at the dinner table and dare to give advice to his now all-powerful son? Those parts don’t make it into the story.

I wonder what it was like in those days for Jesse, the father of King David.

___

It’s Father’s Day, a day to celebrate the many and wide-ranging blessings of fatherhood, to pray for fathers everywhere, and to give thanks for the blessings implanted in us from our fathers. For many, it is also a day of confusion, of exploring wounds that are yet unhealed, or mourning what might have been. And, for immigrant fathers seeking a better life for their children at the southern border of the United States, today, like too many of the days previous, will be a day of terror and unimaginable loss.

Their children – babies, toddlers, youngsters, teens – will be torn from their arms in a system of intimidation and abuse intended to keep people fleeing horror in their home countries from wanting to enter our nation of immigrants.

Violence visited upon families by drug cartels in Central American countries is raging and, parents, still believing that even the now officially immigrant-hostile United States will be better than the horror in which they are struggling to survive, are lining up at the border to seek asylum. Others are crossing wherever they can.

It is now the stated policy of our nation to remove children from their parents and house them in prison-like facilities, often states away. Parents are not informed of the whereabouts of their children. This is our national response to people, like us, whose forbearers came here – fleeing wars, economic stress and seeking the opportunity to begin anew. The Los Angeles Times, in a piece fact-checking questions about this policy, confirmed reports that in some instances, parents were told their children were being taken to be bathed, and instead were sent to separate detention facilities.[1] According to The Washington Post, as of this past Thursday, 11,432 children are in the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, up from 9,000 in early May.[2] The Post article features a prominent pediatrician visiting a detention center for immigrant children under the age of 12 on the Texas border. Dr. Colleen Kraft, the doctor making the visit, spoke of the harm to developing children’s brains caused by the traumatic separation from their care givers. The workers at the shelter are not allowed to touch the children. Not allowed to touch children, including toddlers. Imagine: no mom, no dad to hold a screaming toddler who doesn’t understand why her parents have left her. You don’t have to be a parent to feel that pain.

What is happening at our borders is wrong. It is immoral, and it has far-reaching impacts for society – ours and others. Where will these children finally land? Will they ever see their fathers and mothers again? Our country has significantly contributed to many social disasters in Central America already – policies of earlier decades led to the flourishing of gangs like the infamous Mar Salvatrucha 13, or MS13. We have overrun democratically elected governments, supported corrupt dictators, meddled in elections, created trade agreements that hurt both US and Latin American workers, but this separating of daughters and sons from their fathers and mothers is a new and morally unconscionable low.

If people of faith do not speak out now, we are morally responsible for what I fear is just the first step into a field of greater horror. I urge you to educate yourself about what is happening, financed by our tax dollars, and continuing under the watch of those we have elected to office.

Then, I urge you to act. This is not a political issue: it is a moral one.

Jesus teaches in today’s gospel that the kingdom of heaven is like tiny mustard seeds, which, like the young David, appear insignificant, but can grow to house a community or lead a nation. We are those seeds. Will we allow ourselves to touch the ground and bloom? We can be the seeds of love that grow and cover the ground with insistence for justice. For the love of all fathers everywhere, may we find the courage to act on the love we proclaim.

U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K Smith,[3] an African-American woman who grew up nearby here in Fairfield, offers us this poem, “Refuge.”

Refuge    by Tracy K Smith

Until I can understand why you
Fled, why you are willing to bleed,
Why you deserve what I must be
Willing to cede, let me imagine
You are my mother in Montgomery,
Alabama, walking to campus
Rather than riding the bus. I know
What they call you, what they
Try to convince you you lack.
I know your ankles, the sudden
Thunder of your laugh. Until
I want to give you what I myself deserve,
Let me love you by loving her.

Your sister in a camp in Turkey,
Sixteen, deserving of everything:
Let her be my daughter, who has
Curled her neat hands into fists,
Insisting nothing is fair and I
Have never loved her. Naomi,
Lips set in a scowl, young heart
Ransacking its cell. Let me lend
Her passion to your sister, and
Love her for her living rage, her
Need for more, and now, and all.
Let me leap from sleep if her voice
Sounds out, afraid, from down the hall.

I have seen men like your father
Walking up Harrison Street
Now that the days are getting longer.
Let me love them as I love my own
Father, whom I phoned once
From a valley in my life
To say what I feared I’d never
Adequately said, voice choked,
Stalled, hearing the silence spread
Around us like weather. What
Would it cost me to say it now,
To a stranger’s father, walking home
To our separate lives together?[4]

 

 

[1]  Molly Hennesy-Fiske, “Was a breastfeeding infant really taken from an immigrant mother? The answer to this and other questions about families separated at the border” Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2018 http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-immigration-families-border-wall-20180616-htmlstory.html

[2] Kristine Phillips, “‘America is better than this’: What a doctor saw in a Texas shelter for migrant children,” Washington Post, June 16, 2018 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2018/06/16/america-is-better-than-this-what-a-doctor-saw-in-a-texas-shelter-for-migrant-children/?utm_term=.afba09ad5706

[3] For a brief biography of Ms. Smith, see Poets.org bio Tracy K Smith

[4] “Refuge” published in Wade in the Water, by Tracy K Smith (Minneapolis, Graywolf Press, 2018)

Pride Sunday: St. Alban’s style

The Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch

Sunday, June 24, 2018, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, CA

Pride/St. Alban’s/Proper 7

Readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BProp7_RCL.html#ot3

 

In the midst of a world that feels overflowing with fear, distrust and dissembling, there’s a lot of love in the air today. Saul and David’s relationship was not exactly the inspiration for the psalm we sang together. But David and Jonathon were another story.

It’s unclear how much time passed from this initial promise of love until Jonathon’s death in battle, but it was a vow of faithfulness renewed multiple times, and Jonathan risked his life for love of David more than once. As the Pride festival continues in San Francisco and elsewhere this weekend, it is so beautiful to have our readings rooted in such a story of love. Love looks different in each setting, of course, but it always has these things in common: concern for the other, willingness to risk, and a sum greater than its parts.

The first recorded British martyr was a soldier in the Roman army who took in a priest fleeing persecution and, in return for lodgings, received the gift of faith. Many of the details about our Alban’s life remain unknown. For instance, scholars have long said the year of his death was in the early 300s, but more recent studies point to the early 200s. Was he a Roman citizen? Or forcibly enlisted into the Roman army? We don’t know. And, I don’t think it really matters. What remains and is the singular focus of our patron saint’s story is a conversion to self-giving love. Alban not only took in the man, he took in his teaching: learning about Jesus and God’s limitless love. He may have been baptized by the priest—again, we don’t know. And then, when his fellow soldiers came looking, he switched places and gave his life in place of his guest’s. Having heard the teaching to lay down his life for another, he took it seriously and put his love of God and neighbor into action.

We often sing together a hymn that proclaims, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea” And we believe that. There is a high value on love and mercy here–I believe it is part of the very DNA of this congregation. We aren’t flashy about it, we just live our love. It may take us to far-flung places, but mostly it is here, praying, making sandwiches and early morning breakfasts and writing letters and passing the peace and showing up for one another.

It struck me when I first interviewed here: how no one seemed scandalized at my marital status (divorced) or seemed concerned about a single mom being your rector (Maybe I was just so happy that I missed it, but I don’t think so…)

But one thing that has consistently struck me, and I don’t know if those of you who are regulars here have noticed it, or if it’s just such a part of our natural welcome

that it didn’t even bear noting, but excepting a small number of folks who’ve assisted short-term, every single clergy person who has been deacon or assisting priest at the altar here with me has been gay or lesbian.

I was welcomed here by The Rev. Barbara Hill, our beloved deacon, who died in 2015. I learned so much from Barbara about sacrificial love. I know her spirit remains with us.

One beautiful morning just a few months much later, the Rev. Michelle Meech, then a transitional deacon working at the seminary, came to church and, in her self-effacing way, asked if she might “hang out” here for a while, and her ordination to the priesthood took place in our sanctuary.

When I heard that my sometime spiritual advisor the Rev. Duane Sisson was retiring, I went out to Moraga to plead my case that he and Burt land here. I’m grateful they did!

It came time for Deacon Barbara to retire, and, fortunately for us, her wife, the Venerable Kathleen Van Sickle, brought her own beautiful charism as our deacon.

We raised up the Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield to be a priest in the Church, and we are blessed that while she seeks what’s next, she’s often here at our pulpit and altar.And, worth noting: her wife, the Rev. Rachel Cosca-Warfield, is a pastor in the United Church of Christ.

The Rev. Will Scott and I have known each other for many years, and it’s a gift to us that he asked to make St. Alban’s his home base, too.

We’ve just been blessed for the past year by the loving ministry of Anna Rossi, soon, I hope, to become a candidate for ordination. The Rev. Reagan Humber, now serving as pastor of a congregation in Denver, worshipped and ministered here in the year or so leading up to his ordination. And the Rev. Jason Lucas, now a rector in Minnesota, served here while a transitional deacon.

Had the Church not (at long last) affirmed that when we proclaim that all are children of God, and meant ALL, including LGBTQ clergy and laity, imagine all the loving acts that would not have been welcomed, here, in this place: the visits to people at home and in the hospital, the beautiful sermons we would have missed, the works of feeding, the service of acolytes, altar guild members, vestry members and fiscal managers, lectors, ushers, flower-arrangers, Eucharistic ministers – there is literally no corner of ministry in this parish (lay or ordained) that has not been served by people who have otherwise been marginalized by both church and society for their sexual orientation.

In today’s gospel, the disciples are out in the boat. The wind whips up and they are paralyzed with fear. These days don’t feel too different in our society from what I imagine those men in the boat must have felt in their bodies. Jesus reminds them – and us – that love is stronger than fear, and has the power to work miracles. When we open wide the door to love, we follow in the footsteps of the self-giving love of Jonathan and David, of Alban, whose courage and faith imbue this place, and of so many who, whether in blessed memory or daily life make love tangible with courage, prophetic action, and service.

It’s going to take a lot of this love to heal our world. So let’s keep the door open wide, and not neglect the admonition from St. Paul: Now is the acceptable time. Now is the acceptable time for love made flesh in our words and deeds.

May the Holy Spirit, source of love and life, root us always in courageous love, and grow us ever more into a people of loving action.

“Your faith has made you well”

The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, CA
Sunday, July 1, 2018
Maybe I’m optimistic, but I tend to believe that rules are usually created with good intentions. They protect. They make sure people don’t cheat or get cheated. They help us to honor each other’s well-being. Rules give us structure, and structure helps us to feel safe. What would driving be like without rules like “drive on the right side of the road” or “red means stop”? I tend to think that that rules are there for a reason.

 

I thought about what rules mean when I spent time this week with the hemorrhaging woman we heard about in the Gospel. This presumably Jewish woman. This presumably Jewish woman who, according to purity rules of her day, was unclean. While a woman bled during her menstrual cycle—or during an illness that prolonged that cycle—according to the Levitical laws, she was not supposed to touch others or be touched, or those she touched would also be unclean. Other people couldn’t even touch where she sat. Now this sounds harsh and a little misogynistic, and maybe it was, but like I said, I tend to believe rules are there for a reason. So I dug. I wanted to know the context of these laws. And I found a compelling reason. Blood, obviously, transmits diseases. It’s the same reason, maybe, that athletes are required to leave games when they take a hit, get a cut, and are bleeding. They can’t get back in the game until the trainer can wipe up the blood and put a bandage on the wound. For those moments they are unclean, not allowed to be in contact with anyone else.

I tend to believe that rules are created with good intentions. But what happens when the enforcement of the rule becomes more important than the intentions of the rule? What happens when we honor the letter of the rule more than how it is actually serving people?

What happens when a society is more concerned about an unclean woman touching them than they are about the fact that she’s been bleeding for twelve straight years? Or the fact that she’s spent every last cent she has on finding a cure and is now destitute and desperate?

What happens when a society is more concerned about enforcing their border laws than they are about the young children who are separated from their parents because of how those laws are enforced?

What happens when a society is more concerned about whether or not Antwon Rose should have ran from the police than the fact that a 17 year-old is dead from shots in the back?

Our society has created our own versions of unclean people under the cover of “rules are rules.” Their stories not worth hearing, their dignity not worth preserving, their lives not worth protecting because rules are rules.

It’s easy to paint this as an us/them situation. Us the rule-followers against them the rule-breakers. Or us the oppressors and them the victims. Or us the victims and them the oppressors. But the truth is, we’ve all played each of those roles at some point. And we have all have been deemed unclean in the eyes of someone at some point. I can’t even guess at the ways each of you has suffered because you broke a rule—maybe a rule about what it means to be a “proper” woman or a “real” man or a good parent. Maybe a rule about who you’re supposed to love—or not love.

When you live so long by a rule that does not make room for your truth, it eats away at you. Not only had the hemorrhaging woman spent twelve years not knowing what it

meant to be healthy, she spent twelve years not being touched, cast to the margins because her body did not work like other bodies. I can’t imagine how desperate she must have felt. So she wandered into the crowd, heedless of the rules, and she reached out.

What would you do? What do you do? Where do you reach for when you don’t know what else to do? When you’re scared because you’re not sure if the situation will ever change?

Are you one of those people who, like me, reach for the quick but shallow safety of rules? Maybe obnoxiously correct people’s grammar or get irrationally angry when someone is double parked because the rules feel like the only control that’s left.

Do you reach out for whatever might numb you? A drink or hours of television or late nights on Facebook.

Do you distract yourself to exhaustion? Go out every night, see friends, go to events, keep yourself busy. Not to get support, but just to pretend like everything is fine.

These are ways to cope, yes, but I wouldn’t say that they are ways to reach out like the woman reached out. Because reaching out requires trust. Reaching out requires that we recognize that we can’t do it alone, that healing only happens through love, and love only happens in relationship. Reaching out is an act of faith. And faith is a ridiculous risk.

“If I but touch Jesus’ clothes, I will be made well.” What a ridiculous, faith-filled idea.

But here’s the thing about Jesus. He is the literal embodiment of relationship. God with us. The form that love took when God entered into this world to be in relationship with God’s people. And we know that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

It suddenly doesn’t seem like such a stretch that even the smallest act of connection with Jesus would heal. And she was healed. Before anyone knew what happened. Even Jesus. And that smallest act of faith shook him. Even in the middle of that thick crowd, where people were pressing in on him, he felt that tiny reaching out. Before Jesus could even understand what happened, she was healed.

Then he turned around, wondering who touched him. Despite her fear that presumably she made Jesus unclean by touching him, she revealed herself and told him what had happened. Did this Jewish teacher chastise her for breaking the rules? Did he punish her for doing so on purpose despite knowing better?

No. Jesus recognized her need fulfilled. He engaged her, deepened the relationship, called her daughter. And then he went even further: Jesus made this woman the agent of her own healing. “Your faith has made you well,” he said.

You were suffering and desperate. You didn’t know what to do. But you trusted in me, and reached out, and your faith has made you well.