Sunday 2-12-23 Reflection by Christine Staples

Matthew 5:21-37

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

– – –

Good morning friends. Well, okay. Wow. There’s a whole lot to unpack here, isn’t there? This section of Matthew, plus the preceding and following passages, are all about Jesus expanding on the ancient laws and commandments of the Jewish prophets. And they aren’t easy.


Let’s start with an overview: last week, we read in verse 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”


In today’s passages, and in those which follow, Jesus directs us, point by point, on how he will build on the ancient teachings.


I think we can all agree that “thou shall not kill” is – or should be – a pretty straightforward commandment. But Jesus doesn’t do what teachers call “scaffolding” when expanding on the commandments; he doesn’t say “Okay, now that you’ve mastered ‘do not kill’, let’s add on ‘don’t beat anyone up’, and when you’ve mastered that, we’ll add on more advanced stuff.” Nope. He goes hard, right away.  It’s not enough simply not to murder someone; if you lose your temper and holler or call someone a name, apologize – immediately.


He talks about lying, adultery, and divorce.


In the verses immediately following, he expands on the Hammurabic code of measure for measure: instead of an eye for an eye, if someone slaps you, turn the other cheek. If someone sues you for your shirt, don’t fight it – give them your shirt AND your coat.


However: we can’t dig into all of this in 15 minutes, and frankly, I’m not equipped to cover most of these topics! So we’re going to stick with just one on which to dive in deep: today we’ll focus on anger and apologies.


Why is it so darned hard to apologize?


Anger can feel pretty good, can’t it? Exciting. The rush of adrenaline. Maybe a little catharsis, some righteous indignation, perhaps the feeling that we’re better than someone else. Sometimes, right after we’ve lost our temper and snapped at someone, and the adrenaline surge has passed, we feel ashamed and apologize. But many times we stomp off, and keep stoking its flames; we keep going back over it, revisiting it, firing ourselves back up, reliving it and thinking about all the other things we wish we’d said. Sometimes when we lose our temper with someone, we don’t back down – we keep going, escalating the situation. Sometimes the other person apologizes to us for the role they had in the situation, and instead of saying “I accept your apology. I also apologize”, we unload on them some more. I wonder why we do that.


I love this quote I found about anger from psychotherapist Angela Buttimer: “When we hold onto grudges and resentment, it’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick.”


Why is it so hard to apologize? Sometimes we kid ourselves into thinking it wasn’t so bad, and the other person wasn’t really harmed. Maybe they didn’t really notice! Sometimes we tell ourselves that we were justified, so it’s okay. You know, “but they started it!” or “they wronged me”. But the bottom line is that it’s really ego-based; we don’t want to admit we were wrong. We think it would be humiliating to apologize, to admit that we were wrong in any way. And worse, a lot of times we act like jerks to someone when we are in a position of power and can get away with it – someone who can’t talk back. We are unkind to store clerks, waitpersons, customer service reps, our children, our pets. The person who reports to us at work. And do we apologize afterwards? Sadly, no, we do not.


But Jesus is quite unequivocal about it: apologize. He doesn’t say you don’t need to apologize if they really were a jerk to you, or if they started it, or you were just having a bad day, or they weren’t really hurt, or they understand.


He says, in no uncertain terms: apologize RIGHT NOW. Don’t bother coming to the altar and acting like you’re right with God, apologize and then come back.


Now, clearly, this is a very challenging, hard directive. But it’s important to note that it’s not impossible. Jesus doesn’t demand that we never lose our patience or get angry – now that would be REALLY hard!. Rather, the directive is just to apologize.


And we know that our Creator, through Jesus, will be there to help us do it. Thank you, beloved Creator, for giving us the strength to do the work of loving one another, as we love ourselves, no matter how hard it is. Amen.


SERMON by the Rev. Jim Stickney for Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023

Among the mature we do speak wisdom
though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age.
This phrase from Saint Paul’s First Letter to the inhabitants of Corinth
really grabbed my attention this week. It took me back in time to a seminary class
concerning the marvelous Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament —
several lesser known books of the Bible — often written in Greek, not Hebrew.
These books deal with questions like: why good people suffer for doing good;
or how we should conduct ourselves when surrounded by the evil of this world.
The focus of Wisdom Literature is on this present world, since these authors
lacked the perspective of Resurrection — of life transformed after the death of the body.
During a summer break I took a pilgrimage to a hermitage in Big Sur —
a rather remote place, with days spent in silence like the hermit monks who live there.
They did permit speaking for spiritual guidance, and I asked for some.
When I spoke to the monk assigned to me, I asked about wisdom, and I was surprised
by his seemingly hostile reaction to my questions about the search for wisdom.
It took us a while to find common ground, and he needed my assurance
that my questions were not just to attempt some spiritual short-cut
to “enlightenment,” or a quick fix to avoid the challenges  of the spiritual quest.
Among the mature we do speak wisdom
though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age.
That hermit monk resembled St. Paul in making sure we’re dealing with true wisdom.
The “wisdom of this age” that Paul rejects is not just taking a spiritual shortcut.
It’s “go along to get along,” of not making waves, of not standing up for what’s right.
The “rulers of this age” for Paul were even larger than imperial dictators,
or those bullies who manage to get a little bit of power and then make people suffer.
Paul had a cosmology that populated the heavens with hostile forces,
fallen spirits who were at war with God’s wisdom, and now with God’s Son.
I’m reminded of one of the promises made by the Candidates for Baptism:
Do you renounce the evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
So far I’ve referred to what Paul rejects, and as I’ve done so, I’m quite sure
that you’ve been thinking about some of this world’s evils, perpetrated by people
whose view of life permits them to gang up on innocent people and harm them –
especially those who abuse their powers of policing instead of truly protecting.
So much for what we should renounce, at Baptism, and every day of our lives.
What do we embrace? Again, I turn to the promises made by the candidate at Baptism:
As I recite them, why not reply yourselves with a heartfelt “I do!”
Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
Among the mature we do speak wisdom
though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age.
Now St. Paul proceeds in an attempt to describe the true Wisdom found in God:
“What no eye has seen or heard, not the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him.”
Next he sets out a simple human analogy to help us take a step closer to God.
“What human being knows what IS truly human
except the human spirit that is within?”
In other words, No one else can tell you what it is to BE you
except your own self, your soul? Then, just take the next step —
“So also, no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.”
But — “we have received the Spirit that is from God (and why?)
so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.”
It amounts to this: that we actually do live a spiritual life, powered by God’s gifts.
And these gifts that we’ve seen (from the mind of God) are manifold —
and listed, or even catalogued, in other places in Paul’s writings.
I’ll end this sermon with one such list, from his Letter to the Galatians (5: 22-23)
“The fruit of the spirit is lovejoypeacepatience
Against these things there is no law.”
Among the mature we do speak wisdom
though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age.

Reflection by Sandy Burnett for Sunday. Jan. 15, 2023

Sandy Burnett

Reflection for Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023

I always say my parents were regular church goers. They never missed a Christmas Eve or Easter morning. Otherwise, not so much. That’s my way of explaining why my initial contact with the word “epiphany” came in English 101 at Santa Barbara City College. Our professor, an Irishman, had us reading James Joyce’s collection of stories called Dubliners. The characters in the book are always having epiphanies — great and small revelations in their everyday lives. But these revelations never seemed to make the characters any happier, or any different.  So it was new to me when I started going to church and learned that an epiphany could not only be a welcome revelation, but a life-changing one.

In the Bible, an epiphany often seems to come with a set of instructions. The Magi certainly received very specific instructions both before and after visiting the Christ child. Our reading today from John tells us what God instructed John the Baptist to do when he met Jesus and recognized him as the Messiah. And brothers Simon and Andrew drop everything to run to Jesus. It all seems so clear.

Yet I have to admit that I’m not sure I would want to be the recipient of such an epiphany. Like my mother, I don’t particularly care for surprises, even pleasant ones. Our family knew better than to give Mom any kind of surprise party. If there was going to be a party, she wanted to be prepared for it. When something out of the ordinary happens, and I’m not prepared, my immediate reaction is to shut down my feelings and go into my head.

This happened recently. I was walking down Solano Avenue when I saw a young woman screaming abuse at someone I assumed was a shop keeper huddling behind a locked door. The young woman was clearly out of control, but I decided to walk around her on the sidewalk. Then, the young woman escalated and started smashing windows with the binder or clipboard in her arms. I tried — unsuccessfully — to take a picture of her as she started screaming at me and then ran off down the street. Afterward, I asked the shopkeeper if she was OK. She said she was and that she’d already called the police and needed to call her landlord next.

Then I resumed my afternoon.

A week or so later, I had my epiphany. I realized how frightened I had been by the young woman and by the sound of the breaking glass. I also wondered if I could have responded better. Was there some way I could have intervened to calm down the obviously disturbed young woman? Would that have been foolish? Should I have tried to call the police sooner? Should I have crossed to the other side of the street?  Had I failed in my ongoing goal of doing the right thing? I still don’t know.

As I researched what today’s readings mean, I learned that the passage from Isaiah is sometimes called the second Servant Song and that there is confusion about whether the servant is the people of Israel or the prophet Isaiah.  Early Christians saw in this passage a foretelling of Jesus Christ.  The passage also contains what some call the Great Commission of the Old Testament: “I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” It explains how God equipped the servant for this task, but it also says that the servant will feel failure: “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain for nothing.”

We’ll certainly see the tension between God’s promise to equip us for our Christian mission, and our feelings of not being able to meet the challenge, over and over in the Bible and in our lives. Paul is constantly trying to buck up his converts.  How we envy him his confidence. But I suspect that he often felt like he was failing, when he reprimanded people in the church for not acting as well as they were called to do.

Today, Jan. 15, is Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. We’ll celebrate his life as a National Holiday tomorrow. Like Paul, he was given not only the confidence to fight for right, but the gifts of personality and oratory to be effective. Yet he too had his disappointments, both in his followers and certainly in himself. He was frightened by the violence he witnessed, and that led to his death. That violence often seems to be all around us, not just in war zones, but in our ordinary lives. We know that, but we tend to put it out of our minds — because we don’t want to live in fear — until we are confronted by a mad woman breaking windows on Solano Avenue.  No matter how many self-defense courses we take, or classes on how to deal with violence, as human beings, we are vulnerable. Our safety comes only in God’s promises to us.  What kept Martin Luther King firm in his faith – and inspires us today – is the invitation we read in the Gospel from John 2.  We can trust God’s care for us because we, like the first disciples, follow Jesus and remain with him. Amen.


Christmas Day Sermon by The Rev. Jon Owens

Dec. 25th, 2022

The Rev. Jon Owens, St. Alban’s Church

The manager of a Minnesota liquor store was surprised to come back from lunch yesterday to find his counter help walking around in her socks.

That is because security camera footage revealed she had just given her favorite shoes—a pair of purple retro Jordans, to a homeless man she saw strapping boxes to his feet.

Brooklyn Center Liquor employee Ta Leia Thomas, known locally as “Ace” said the split-second act of kindness “was an easy decision.” This was from the Good News network.

In another story, In the latest CRISPR success story, a 13-year-old girl whose leukemia had not responded to other treatments now has no detectable cancer cells.

She received a dose of immune cells that were genetically edited to attack leukemia, a method that has been used with other cancers.

A form of cancer in the bone marrow tissue, leukemia is caused by mutated immune cells and is normally treated by killing all bone marrow cells in the patient’s body before receiving a transplant from a donor. If this falls, the Nobel Prize-winning CAR-T cell therapy can be used instead.

Christmas is not so much liberation yet, but it is the start of hope. It is where we come to focus on joy. Good news. Good news for the lost and forgotten. It is so easy in a world to get caught up in the negative. Ina world where new is filled with over captured billionaires with egos the size of Texas and wants the focus on to be them and their companies rather than a balance of life and family. No reason we have finally seen a rebellion of younger generations who do not want to beholden to careless corporate types that forget about the very people who make them successful.

Before Jesus was born there was a decree by who? Ah the government. Looking for the census. The government sometimes excludes people. Arguments about how you make sure people like the homeless are accounted for, the undocumented folks. And yet in the Roman Empire anyone who was perceived with status IE the taxpayers were accounted and registered, middle-class people like a carpenter. Without that being on the register it would be hard. Big government was at work.

And then the night Jesus was born, and a host of Angels appeared before who? Shepherds. Shepherds were the least of these. They were not registered by the empire because they were considered too poor. They were of no consequence. And yet they were the first to appear for the angels who said fear not, unto you birth this day in the City of David, is born a savior.

God could have chosen anyone, he could have appeared before kings, but he chose the shepherds, he chose the lost and forgotten. To God he wanted to his people to know he loved them, he remembers them, and they are his.

Who do you know this Christmas who needs to hear the good news! Who may be forgotten? Who needs to know they are loved? It is so easy to talk about those people as a category. “Those people,” but what does its men to help someone feel and know they are a human being fully loved and cared for?

Today is the time when we want to think of a silent night, where all is calm, all is bright, but I do not think it was as tranquil as we imagine. It was quite an exciting time, a joyous time, a celebratory time, where hearts and souls were filled with good things. Something that was not merely to be kept to themselves, but to be shared. There was nothing that said please keep this a secret in scripture.

The shepherds themselves had a job and that was to share what they had seen. It was me less of a silent night and more of a Go Tell it on the mountain. The rush to experience something so wonderful, something so in awe and yet something that was probably hard for others to believe because they would want to see it for themselves. And the people doing the story telling were not the big shots with power who controlled the narrative.

God has come to in the form of a Baby to announce Good News to the poor, the good news that they matter; he has sent me to proclaim freedom for the imprisoned people who are in need of forgiveness and renewed sight for the blind who often lose their way in life, to release those who have been crushed and give them hope and encouragement, to proclaim it to the glory of God.  Not imply to do just do good, but to do it in the name of God, who becomes the source of wisdom and inspiration which surpasses our understanding.

My friends I ask you to Go tell it to the world, the good news we experience today.


Christmas Eve Sermon by the Rev. Jim Stickney

“‘Twas much, that man was made like God before —
But, that God should be made like man, much more!
Our time of preparation for Christmas is now finished — Christmas is here.
And we are in church, singing the carols, in an ancient tradition that’s also personal.
Are less prepared than you’d like to be?  Does your life’s unfinished business
nag at you this day?  Or worse, do you feel unworthy, or unready to celebrate?
Then, my brothers and sisters, rejoice!  No one was ready for the first Nativity,
except for Mary and Joseph — and even they weren’t as prepared as they wanted.
Preparing for Christmas has been a mix of joy and stress, mirth and madness.
Even if you have a Home and Gardens living room, some things were left undone.
“‘Twas much, that man was made like God before —
But, that God should be made like man, much more!
This little rhyme I’m using as a refrain is quite old — almost four centuries old.
It’s from the end of a poem written by John Donne, when he was the Dean
of the most famous church in London, St. Paul’s Cathedral.
John Donne wrote in what might be called the poetry of ideas. He and his friends
like the clash and harmony of different ideas. In this poem about Christ’s birth,
he’s trying to share his sense of wonder at how God has reversed what is expected.
“‘Twas much, that man was made like God before —
that’s a reference to the very first chapter of the Bible, the Book of Genesis,
when the sacred author shows God creating the universe in stages —
and the sixth stage is the creation of human beings, made in the image of God.
But, that God should be made like man, much more!
shows the wonder of the Christmas event, God taking on human flesh and blood.
Among all the other preparations you have made this year to celebrate Christmas,
your plans included coming to this particular church at this specific time.
Most of you probably have a pretty solid idea of what Christmas means to you,
and those ideas include coming to a decorated church that sings classic carols,
a church where you hope the sermon uplifts you and gives you encouragement,
You who know how to give good gifts to delight the hearts of those whom you love —
— in the hollow spaces of your heart, what is the gift only God can give to you?
What if God were to surprise you with a sense of divine love stronger than ever?
You who enjoy surprising others — are you open to God’s surprise for you?
If we learn nothing else from looking at the tradition of Scripture for Christmas,
at least we can see that the story is full of surprises — starting with Mary,
and her utter astonishment at God’s invitation to great glory, anguish and triumph.
And Joseph, that trusting good-hearted man, would raise another’s child.
We could go on and include the shepherds and the travelers from oriental lands
who found a future Messiah-King lying helpless in a peasant’s feeding trough.
Not one of these people was prepared for the way Christmas actually turned out —
but because they were good-hearted, the surprises were better than their plans.
“‘Twas much, that man was made like God before —
But, that God should be made like man, much more!
I want to end this Christmas sermon with a literally Orthodox reflection
from a Bishop of Constantinople, Gregory of Nanzianzus (who died in the 4th century).
St. Gregory, like John Donne, celebrates the surprising contrasts of Christmas:
Marvelous union and paradoxical exchange!  He who ISbecomes!
The uncreated lets himself BE created.
God whom nothing can contain is contained in the womb of a thinking soul
who stands midway between divinity and the heavy and brittle flesh.
God who is the giver of riches becomes a beggar.
God who is fullness empties himself.
God empties himself at the moment of his glory to enable me to share his fullness.
God begs for my flesh to enrich me with his divinity.
God begs for my flesh to enrich me with his divinity.
“‘Twas much, that man was made like God before —
But, that God should be made like man, much more!

Holy Sonnet XV

Wilt thou love God as he thee? then digest,
My soul, this wholesome meditation,
How God the Spirit, by angels waited on
In heaven, doth make His temple in thy breast.
The Father having begot a Son most blest,
And still begetting—for he ne’er begun—
Hath deign’d to choose thee by adoption,
Co-heir to His glory, and Sabbath’s endless rest.
And as a robb’d man, which by search doth find
His stolen stuff sold, must lose or buy it again,
The Son of glory came down, and was slain,
Us whom He had made, and Satan stole, to unbind.
‘Twas much, that man was made like God before.

Fourth Sunday of Advent By Steve Hitchcock

Fourth Sunday of Advent

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church ● Albany, California ● December 18, 2022

By Steve Hitchcock

Isaiah 7:10-16

Psalm 80:1-7

Romans 1:1-7

MATTHEW 1:19-25


In these four Sundays of Advent, we have been preparing for Christmas.  But this year, Advent is also the season when we prepare to read and follow Matthew’s Gospel in the months ahead.


Today, on this last Sunday of Advent, our Gospel reading was from the first chapter on Matthew.  These eight verses introduce us to themes that will be repeated as we make our way through the 28 chapters of this Gospel.


In the Sundays to come, it will be easy to get lost or maybe even discouraged.  As our sainted sister Patricia Elmore exclaimed to me one Sunday, “What’s going on in Matthew?”


Today’s Gospel reading includes three themes that will us help us hear –and act on – the good news that isn’t always obvious in Matthew.


Fifty to 60 years after Jesus’ death, the writer of the Gospel was trying to help his own community make sense of the life and ministry of what John Meier famously termed “a marginal Jew” who executed by the Romans.


Matthew’s Gospel made the case that the story of Jesus’ life and ministry was their story, too.  Now, centuries later, we’re still reading this Gospel because that story is ours as well.


And it is a story that enables us to live with joy and hope even as our world seem to be falling apart.


Matthew’s community was going through a very difficult time of transition.  The Jerusalem temple – the focus and center of Israel’s worship and identity – had been destroyed.  Many had fled Judea and Jerusalem to Syria, some to Antioch where the Gospel may have been written.  They must have had a sense of great loss, grieving for all they left behind.  To help fill this void, Jewish synagogues arose and flourished in places like Antioch.


In many of these synagogues, Jews who confessed Jesus as the Messiah were being forced out.  Equally unsettling, those Jews who believed Jesus to be the Messiah were being joined by Gentiles who had never read or observed the Torah.


Our own St. Alban’s has been going through a difficult transition, and we have lost so much – including family members and friends who have passed away.  Many of us as individuals are grappling with changes: new jobs for some, retirement for others, and for some of us the distressing accommodations of old age.  We’re all navigating new patterns and new skills to live through this unending pandemic.


As we struggle with our loss and disruption, the message for Matthew’s first readers and for us today is that we are still connected to our history and tradition as God’s chosen people.


To help his reader see this connection, Matthew makes Joseph the focus of this account of Jesus’ birth.  Joseph’s forebears included the great king David.  In Jesus’s time, the expectation was that a new king David, the anointed one or Messiah, would liberate them from Roman oppression.  The Joseph in today’s reading was also   connected to the Coat-of-Many-Colors Joseph, the son of Jacob or Israel who was taken to Egypt and eventually helped save the people of Israel from famine.


Today’s reading shows how Jesus was connected to Joseph and thus to David.  In culture of first century Palestine, Joseph and Mary already married.  Engagement and marriage were all rolled into one.  After the engagement was announced, Mary, probably 12 to 14 years old and likely a distant cousin of Joseph, would remain for a year in her father’s house and then move in with Joseph, probably at his father’s house.


Despite Mary’s unexpected pregnancy – thanks to the intervention of a dream and a visiting Angel – Joseph does take Mary as his wife.  Following the angel’s directions, Joseph names the child Jesus – or, in Hebrew, Joshua, the great judge who led the Israelites into the promised land.  Joshua was seen as the new Moses, and throughout Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus will be cast as the new Moses, the liberator of his people.


In the weeks and months ahead, we too will have opportunities to see how our lives today are connected to God’s people throughout history.  The promise is that immersing ourselves in that history will give us a foundation and a foothold as we navigate the transitions we face both as a congregation and as individuals.


Joseph is also the pivot point for the second theme we will see throughout Matthew’s Gospel.  We hear that Joseph was a “righteous man.” In post-Temple Judaism, adhering to the Torah became the mark of faith, and righteousness was a key concern. Throughout Matthew, we will hear Jesus call for righteous living, for fulfilling all of the Torah or God’s law.


But then our reading goes on to tell us what it really means to be “righteous.”  Joseph was unwilling to expose Mary to shame.  He was willing to do the decent thing and divorce her, so that she could eventually remarry.  Joseph, following the Spirit, goes even further and takes Mary as his wife and accepts her into his household.  Even more so, by naming Jesus, Joseph declares that Mary’s child was his son.


The point of all this is that Matthew wants his readers – and us – to know that being righteous is being compassionate, that mercy is the way to manage all relationships.  And this mercy and compassion are to be directed at those, like Mary, who are at the bottom of the social and economic ladder.


Midway through Matthew, in chapter 15, the story of Jesus and Canaanite woman is a pivotal expression of this compassion.  In that story, Jesus – like Joseph – changes his mind and agrees that, even though she is not of the house of Israel, healing and restoration to community can be hers.


For Matthew’s readers, this emphasis on compassion had two implications.  First, they were being encouraged to forgive and welcome those in their community who had fallen away and wanted to return.  Second, the leaders in the community were being urged to pay special attention to those who were new to their gatherings – those who will be called the “little ones” or “the least of these” throughout the Gospel.


For us today, that spirit of compassion and mercy can be the guiding principle for all we do as a congregation – including our service in the community.  We rejoice that those who haven’t been able to be part of our Zoom worship are now with us on Sunday.  And we look forward to welcoming those who will visit St. Alban’s in the weeks ahead.


The third notable passage in our reading – one that sets a theme for Matthew’s Gospel – is “they shall name him Emmanuel, which means God with us.”


For Matthew’s community, this phrase reminded them of what they heard and experienced when they gathered for the Eucharist – when the Risen Christ was present among them.  This was the promise made in Jesus’ final words to the disciple in the last verse of Mathew: “I will be with you always.”


For them and us, Jesus is “God on the ground.”  In our birthing and in our dying, in our loving and fighting, in the pews and on the job, God is in the midst of us.  All that is possible because the God who is with us – this Immanuel – is the one suffers death on the cross and empties the tomb.


This theme of God with us is reinforced by passage quoted from Isaiah, which was our First Lesson today.  In the months ahead we will hear many other passages from Isaiah quoted by Matthew.  For the message of Isaiah was that the time of conniving kings like Ahaz and elaborate Temple worship is over.  Political power and cultic practice aren’t enough any longer.


In Isaiah, the One who is to come – the one for whom the way is prepared – is God, or as Isaiah has it: “The Lord [Yahweh] himself will give you a sign.”


And this God who is with us in death and resurrection remains – despite all the loss, change, and transition we experience –our sure foundation.  In Chapter 1, verse 1 of Matthew’s Gospel, the word for “beginning” is the same word as “Genesis.”  That same word was used again today in verse 18 as the word for “birth.”  Matthew is giving us the good news that the birth of Jesus is nothing less than the creation of the world, the promise that life will be preserved and renewed.


And won’t that be something to celebrate next week!

Sermon by The Rev. Jim Stickney, Dec. 4, 2022

Isaiah 11: 1-10
Psalm 72
Romans 15: 4-13
Matthew 3: 1-12
Prepare the way of the Lord.   [Matthew 3: 3]
By this time all of us have given a great deal of thought to preparing —
where we’re going to be on Christmas, or what we’re going to give.
The central message of John the Baptizer, the Forerunner of the ministry of Christ Jesus, was simply this: Prepare yourself. Get ready! Changes are coming soon.
When I was a boy, I spent some years in the Boy Scouts — and they had a motto,
which was drilled into us as often as humanly possible: Be prepared!
I think that was good advice for a group of high-energy boys moving through
our teenage years — not to get lost in the moment, but to be thinking ahead.
Back then I thought that Scouts were especially responsible for being prepared.
When I entered a building, I looked for the fire exit signs, or made plans
on what to do in case of an earthquake, or making sure to have road flares in the car.
But after a while I realized how simply “being prepared” was solid advice
for anyone who was serious about getting worthwhile goals accomplished.
By itself, there’s nothing especially spiritual to the advice “Be Prepared.”
Our insurance agent has several policies for our household — is that spiritual?
It’s true that the Prayer Book admonishes the pastor to advise people,
“while they are in health,” to make provisions for their heirs and parish family.
Making a will is prudent, but not every will is a spiritual preparation.
Prepare the way of the Lord. 
Our religious tradition does recall the words of John, the Forerunner of Jesus,
as very spiritual — his challenge for a specific certain kind of preparation.
John’s words carry a negative tone, since he’s confronted by people who think
that they’ve got it made (spiritually speaking). They are already righteous —
they’re already officially chosen by God. Abraham is their ancestor: end of story.
In order to break through such self-absorption, John uses some very harsh words —
brood of vipers!    the wrath to come!    the ax is lying at the root of the tree!
Should we take those words to heart? Only if we are “officially righteous” people.
But when admit significant doubts about the state of our spiritual self —
if we are (even painfully) aware of our spiritual shortcomings, then we should take
the consolation offered in the verses of our first reading, from Isaiah,
whereby the Peaceable Kingdom is established by a God who “judges the poor 
with righteousness, and will decide with equity for the meek of the earth.”
Prepare the way of the Lord. 
Many years ago Joni and I attended a prayer day based on icons at a local church.
We spent silent time gazing at many sacred images from the Orthodox tradition.
During the last part of the day, the leader shared with us the work of preparation
for making an icon, which includes some prayer and even fasting ahead of time.
The iconographer prepares the wooden surface in a painstaking process, and goes on
to prepare the paints one by one, grinding pigment and mixing it with a medium
made from eggs. The icon is to stay in the church for 40 days before its dedication.
I thought of house painting — the really difficult part is not slapping on some paint,
but the tedium of preparation — cleaning, sanding taping, and arranging the tools.
But if the preparation for painting an icon is itself a genuine spiritual work,
then why can’t preparation for house painting also be done in a spiritual way?
So much of our lives involves preparing for one thing or another.
Perhaps we could shift our way of thinking about such preparation and make it a prayer!
I recall a short phrase from a workshop I attended years ago:
Attend to the process. Detach from the outcome. Attend to the process. Detach from the outcome.
So to Prepare the way of the Lord  can include all the work we’re doing
to make sure we are ready to celebrate Christ’s birth. When we feel frantic,
that we are running out of shopping days and shopping funds, just ask:
“Right now, is this thing I’m worried about really preparing the way of the Lord?
Or am I preparing my own perfect holiday picture?”
Prepare the way of the Lord. 

Reflection for November 20, 2022 Feast of Christ the King (Last Sunday of Pentecost)

Reflection for November 20, 2022

Feast of Christ the King (Last Sunday of Pentecost)


Lawrence DiCostanzo


Jeremiah 23:1-6

Canticle 16 or Psalm 46

Colossians 1:11-20

Luke 23:33-43


Before I talk about the Feast of Christ the King, I think I should mark a very special day at Saint Alban’s Church.  Today is our last Sunday worship on Zoom.  From now on we will move to in-person worship.  We have been on Zoom for more than two years since, I believe, the spring of 2020.  We — this congregation, this people of the church in Albany, California — created this worship and worship space on our own, out of ourselves.  In my opinion, it has been an action of the Body of Christ here in Albany – hands and feet, lips and ears working together.  I would like to say that my own reaction has been one of gratitude, but really it has been amazement.

There are many people who have stepped up to read the lessons, to give reflections, to lead and direct the prayers, to sing the psalms and more.  And there have been many who in the urgency to worship have extended their familiarity with technology beyond what they would have dreamed before the pandemic.

While we are all the Body of Christ, I think there are two people who deserve praise for their leadership in creating the steady platform on which we worship.   They are Becky Osborne Coolidge and Steve Hitchcock.  Becky mastered Zoom – she would, I think, disagree with the word “mastered” – and hosted the Zoom platform every week  so that we could all be online.  She opened the doors of our digital church every Sunday.  Steve guided the formation of the liturgy for each week and made sure – way ahead of time – that there was a lineup of people to offer reflections and otherwise to serve.  If Becky opened the digital doors, Steve lit the digital candles.

I want to say “bravo” and “thank you” to them.  I wish we had big silver engraved trophies for them, but we don’t and, what’s more, we can’t afford them!  But we can offer a prayer for them and for all those who took part.  I have modified Thanksgiving number 3 on page 838 of the Book of Common Prayer.  Let us pray.

Almighty God, you sent your son Jesus Christ to reconcile the world to yourself: We praise and bless you for those whom you have sent in the power of the Spirit to assist your church in Albany, California.  We thank you that here a community of love has been gathered together with the assistance of their prayers and labors, and that all your servants here in your church were thereby enabled to call upon your Name; for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever.  Amen.

And now on to the Feast of Christ the King.

Perhaps you know that I really like to ride bikes a lot.  There is nothing quite like it – the sense of flying, the beauty of the outdoors, the effort, the pleasure of riding alone and the pleasure of riding with companions.  Very recently, I had a different kind of ride.  The wife of an acquaintance and his good friend had both died in September.  I didn’t really know this man, but I had seen him bike riding and had chatted with him up at Inspiration Point in Tilden Park.  So, when I learned of his loss, I asked him if he’d like to go on a ride up from Marin Circle to Inspiration Point and back.  What happened is that we talked a lot.  I learned about his wife, his grief, his stress that sometimes made him unable to breathe freely, his inability to focus on a book, his difficulty getting out to do anything.  Of course, as you can imagine, I talked a lot, too.  But it is his gratitude for the contact with another person that was immense.  There was a mixture of the goodness of the ride and the company and of the grief and sense of complete sorrow.  There’s no question that love was present.  But love did not bring back his wife or erase his grief.

Out of the experience of the mixture of good and not very good, I think about today’s Feast of Christ the King.  This feast is a challenge.  What exactly is Jesus the King of?

I think that, in his Gospel, Saint Luke ponders these questions too.  I’m sure you remember the beautiful passage in chapter 4, where Jesus proclaims the Kingdom.  In his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, he is handed the scroll of Isaiah to read from.  And he reads, and I paraphrase: The Spirit has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim to the captives their release, to declare to the blind the return of their sight, to declare to the oppressed their freedom, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”   Jesus then sits down, everyone is looking at him and he says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  (Luke 4:16-29)

What happens next?  Jesus is eventually mobbed and his fellow worshippers try to throw him off a cliff.  Hey, what about the proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favor?  What about the Kingdom of God?  (Luke 4:16-29)

This Kingdom is a mixture.  It’s paradoxical: It’s here and it’s not here.  It’s not what we want it to be.  Surely we can understand the Apostles when they looked forward to Jesus becoming a King and sitting on a throne and ruling supreme over Israel’s enemies whoever they might be.

So, how do we deal with this paradoxical Kingdom?  How do we live in this world of mixture?

We are fortunate in that Christianity is a very down-to-earth way of life.  And the New Testament is extremely down-to-earth too.  We do not deny that we suffer grief and sorrow.  We do not deny that we have to take up our cross.  We do not deny that we have to endure.

But we also affirm.  Saint Paul says that we are “citizens of heaven.”  (Philippians 3:20)  And we have the voters’ guide, as it were, to this citizenship because Saint Paul has to be one of the great list-makers in history and he gives us a list of the virtues that make up good citizenship.  He says in the Letter to the Colossians (3:12-16):

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.  And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.

And what is this word of Christ?  It is to love your neighbor and to love your enemy.  I have a sense that this statement is the whole key to Jesus’ presence on earth – that it is the key to his crown of thorns – because it shows what love is and what can happen these days when you do love.  It forces us to an  awareness of the mixture that is the present-day Kingdom.  It gives us trust in the principle that the universe is made of love, and that, if we love one another, the whole world can come pretty close to the Kingdom that we wish it were now.

But if I were a King, I would also at some point want to claim your personal loyalty and not only to tell you to love.  I would have to be personally courageous and to put myself in danger for you.  And Jesus does do this.  But I think I would also have to give you a goal, a vision, a passion.  This is the function of the beautiful virtue of Hope.  Saint Paul does say that Love is the greatest of “the three” – the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love.  (1 Corinthians, 13:13)  But Hope is God’s love in our hearts; it is God speaking to us and pulling us to him; it is Jesus making us love him whether today in Albany or way back when like Zacchaeus climbing the sycamore tree (Luke 19:1-6).  It is Jesus making us want to imitate him, making us want to be part of the Big Picture, In this way, not just our minds are convinced, but our hearts melt.  I said that Christianity is down-to-earth, and this emotional component of Hope is very down-to-earth.  Hope and Love so perfectly fit who we are.

We know how to love each other.  Let’s also practice Hope.  Let’s love our King, too.  Let’s pray a little bit every day.  And, remember, as Father Rocky says, there is no such thing as bad prayer.  Connect with God’s own love and love him back.  Then, call somebody up.  Go out for coffee.  Take someone on a bike ride.

Thank you.

Readings Reflection for Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022

The 25th Sunday After Pentecost

October 23rd, 2022

Chanthip Phongkhamsavath

Good morning.  It has been a few weeks since I’ve seen you all either virtually or in person. It seems like a long time. I was happy to read in this week’s bulletin that we are going to go back to full time church in person starting in Advent.  Always one of my favorite times of anticipation and hope.

Oddly one of the things that stuck out to me this week as I was thinking about my reflection and not surprisingly was working on it yesterday afternoon was the fact that we are currently in the 25th Sunday After Pentecost.  And I had to think a minute about Pentecost and Ordinary time and since it felt like it’s been awhile actually decided to look them both up in the online version of An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church.  And in the end it was the definition of “Ordinary Time” that really tied together my musings about the readings this week as well as the things that happened around me.

From part of the definition about Ordinary Time –  “Ordinary time can be understood in terms of the living out of Christian faith and the meaning of Christ’s resurrection in ordinary life.”

A lot happens in ordinary life.

From the first reading there’s abundant rain and there were swarming locusts.  There is even mention of the sun turning to darkness and the moon to blood – which reminded of that one day two years ago when the sky was filled with ash and the day was red – when the sun really did seem to be dark.

In the Psalm there is happiness in the rejoicing in the living God as well as a trip through the desolate valley to find it a place of springs.

From the second reading there is righteousness and yet at first no defense with no one coming to his support.  And lastly in the Gospel there is the tax collector, standing far off, who would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

There is happiness, rejoicing, dark times and humbleness – all in ordinary life – or just life in general.  This week though I wondered about the hard time, those times when the locusts were about and the initial journey into the desolate valley. The times when ordinary life is challenging and there is so much injustice in the world it seems.  I went and watched last week’s morning prayer because I was struck by what was in this week’s bulletin and Margaret’s statement that “We have absolutely nothing to lose by praying for the kind of world we want.”  I wonder though about the times when ordinary life can seem so dark and so hard how to get back to even being in a place where prayer is a relief rather than a pain.

This stemmed from wondering about my childhood friend who lost her only child to cancer this week.  Whether the prayers of strength and love are able to make their way to her.  Whether the words meant to comfort her in knowing that her child is now with the Lord are more burdensome than not.

It’s what probably drew my attention to the hard times in the reading because in ordinary life there is the hard time.  And it is just that.  We will never have answers in our living days why there is injustice, why there are those moments that might push us away from God.  Yet that is a part of the Christian Life.  Knowing that there is God and making our way through everyday life as a Christian.

In happy times it may be easier, only I think in part because of the hard times.  This made me think about the Pixar movie from a few years ago – Inside Out with the five core emotions Joy, Fear, Sadness, Anger and Disgust trying to control the reactions of the young girl  – and not to go into too much detail and apologies if I spoil the movie for anyone – however the core part of the movie in my opinion was one could not be happy without also knowing sadness – and the other emotions too.

It is a part of life, sadness and hard times, although for some it is more abundant than others.  And although I generally try to highlight and live in the happy times, I think more and more we also have to recognize the hard times too – together.  That in everyday ordinary life there are sometimes things that make us hurt, make us sad, angry, and happy too.   That it is ok to be in all of those spaces, to be able to live in them.

As much as one young life came to an end this week, I also had the joy last night of celebrating a new life at a full moon ceremony.  All of this is a part of our ordinary days, living out our lives as Christians – hopefully in being humble as the tax collector – that despite knowing we are sinners – we are doing our best or the best we can in the moment at hand.  And hopefully with a community around us we can all support each other through the desolate valleys into the eternal springs.


10-9-22 Morning Prayer Reflection by Sandy Burnett

10-9-22 Morning Prayer Reflection by Sandy Burnett


I recently bought a used car from my friend Barbara. She told me that in preparation, she removed all of her bumper stickers from it, except the one that says “Gratitude for all there is, and all there isn’t.”

One of the things I’m grateful for is that leprosy is no longer the scourge that it was. It still exists in parts of the world where people can’t access treatment, but it can be cured with a two-year course of antibiotics. It is a bacteria that spreads through droplets in the air. The first effective cure for leprosy, which we now call Hansen’s disease, wasn’t introduced until the 1940s.

In the Bible, the word for leprosy covers a variety of skin ailments including psoriasis and eczema. These are  often chronic conditions and a person could live a very long time after showing the signs, separated from their communities in what one author called a “living death.”

By the Middle Ages, when St. Francis admitted he feared lepers, leprosy had come to mean Hansen’s disease.

In Judaism,lepers could only return to society if a priest certified that they were “clean.” That’s why Jesus sent the 10 lepers to the priests. I have to admit, I always thought Jesus just wanted the priests to know he was working miracles, but it was actually the only way for the cured lepers to be readmitted to society.

Then, only one of the lepers — a Samaritan of all people — returns to thank Jesus. And Jesus responds, “Your faith has made you well.”

I don’t think this means that the other lepers remained sick. The Gospel said they all were cured on their way to the priests.So it’s not such a stretch to believe that what Jesus is saying to the Samaritan is that his faith has not only cured his leprosy, but also has saved him in the bigger sense of the word. He is saved as a believer in Jesus, as a man of Christian faith.

This is my somewhat lame segue to Paul’s letter to Timothy. I know the purpose of the letter was to encourage Timothy to be a minister of Christ. It has the characteristics of most good pep talks. Early on, Paul tells Timothy of his own suffering in prison, where he is not only in physical pain, but also humiliated to be publicly described as an evil person. Paul, though, says these sufferings are borne gladly out of his love for Jesus and for spreading the Christian message. He tells Timothy that he’s been promised the greatest rewards for this service, and that Timothy can share in these rewards.

Then Paul says:


If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

if we endure, we will also reign with him;

if we deny him, he will also deny us;


I get that. It makes sense.

But then comes “if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.”

What in the world does that mean? As usual, there are contradicting views. One author I read said that it doesn’t mean that God will provide salvation to the faithless. This author said it means that God is faithful to himself and his own values, “for he cannot deny himself,” so those who lose faith, or who never had it, have lost out on salvation.

But other authors, and I tend to side with them, contend that God is faithful to all of us who have ever been believers, even if we don’t always act like it. God has made his promise of salvation to believers, and he cannot deny that promise. That doesn’t mean we get a free get-out-of-jail card if we believe in God but willfully go against Christ’s teachings. We will be punished by our own feelings of distance from God, of guilt and shame.

Finally, Paul exhorts Timothy to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.”

I find it comforting that Paul says we need only do our best to present ourselves to God. Of course, that’s a big “only.” I think Paul is reassuring Timothy that he has only to do what he is called to do as a minister and missionary, that God knows his strengths and weaknesses, and will not set him up for failure. I believe God wants all of us to make the most of our potential, whatever that may be. The important thing is to believe in a God of power and compassion. All of us can believe that, and, like the tenth leper, our faith will make us well. Amen