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.

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

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Proper 21, 16th Sunday after Pentecost (9/25/22) by B. Metcalf

Barbara Metcalf

Proper 21, 16th Sunday after Pentecost (9/25/22)

Jeremiah  32: 1-3A, 6-15

Psalm 91: 1-6, 14-16

1 Timothy 6: 16-19

Luke 16: 19-31

 

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I have a question to ponder this morning that I’ll get to a little indirectly. What does it mean to say, as we just sang in our opening hymn, “All my hope on God is founded?”

But first the gospel. This is, of course, a very apt reading to open our stewardship season, which, as Kathryne Ann reminded us in the weekly newsletter, begins today. As many of our recent lessons have done, this lesson points us to reflect on our use of resources, material resources of course, but time and talent as well.

Here Luke draws a vivid picture. It is so vivid that these few verses became a subject for artists over the centuries. The rich man, in his purple and fine linen, feasting sumptuously every last day of the year. And the poor man.  We imagine with no family, no resources, shunned for likely leprous sores.  He waits in vain for kindness from the rich man’s store. In one of these 17th century paintings, the image of suffering is the more painful because even the dogs, licking his sores, are emaciated.[i]

But then, the reversal. The rich man is consigned to torment in Hades. Lazarus, who suffered greatly in life, is taken by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.  The rich man does not even merit a name.

We get the message.

Collects typically open by reminding God of God’s nature as a segue to our petition. God, your nature is to show mercy and pity. So we pray: Grant us those blessings of mercy and pity.  We know well that they are not earned, and that like the rich man we falter, not least in showing the generosity, our mercy and pity, so needed by those around us.

If our collect encourages us to think about the rich man, another of our set prayers points us to Lazarus, whose life was so desperate, so precarious.  This suffrage from Morning Prayer jumped into my mind as I read these verses.  And now we get to the issue of hope:

  1. Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;
  2. Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.

Lazarus had to have hope, hope in human kindness, hope in God.

Our OT reading today is about hope, about hope and trust in the face of obstacles. It is set at a time when Babylon was besieging Jerusalem. Jeremiah himself was in jail. God told Jeremiah that his cousin was going to come to him and ask him to buy a field. The field was probably already under Babylonian control. Jeremiah was not naïve. He was in jail because he had been saying that Babylon would triumph. He knew the future was not good.

Nonetheless, when the cousin came, Jeremiah said he’d buy the land.  And he prepared all the papers that would confirm his ownership, documents that would be meaningless in any foreseeable future. But Jeremiah, we learn in the last verse of the reading, knew from God that Jerusalem one day would be restored.

The unnamed rich man of the Gospel reading thought he was behaving rationally, cost/benefit: giving to the poor man would gain him nothing. Jeremiah by that measure – even if he knew that someday things would change — behaved irrationally, throwing his money away. He acted by a different measure than the rich man did. He acted out of hope, hope, or trust, in generosity, mercy, honor.  He recognized laws that required land be transferred within the community, and he helped someone in need. In the words of the epistle, he sought to be rich not in wealth but “in good works, generous, and ready to share.”

Jeremiah hoped in God. Lazarus, we can imagine, lived in hope. And so my question: What does it mean to enjoin “hope in God.” Try to explain that to an unbeliever. How do you know what to hope for? Who exactly is it you hope in?

There was a lot of talk of hope this past week in the commemoration of the Queen, hope for the future, hope for her values. Our opening hymn may well have been one she chose since, apparently, she was involved in the planning of the various ceremonies. This hymn was sung at the memorial services both in Edinburgh and Westminster Abbey.  The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of the Queen’s “uncomplicated Christian faith.” Why did she like that hymn? I return to the question: What did she or anyone mean by saying  “all my hope in God is founded”?

Maybe she shared the view of Cynt Marshall, the new CEO of the NBA basketball team the Mavericks. In an interview on PBS Newshour last Sunday Marshall spoke of what hope in God means to her, and probably to many other. For her, faith is the need to trust, to never lose hope, to believe, as she put it – and this seems to me the key phrase—that “the Lord has a plan.” As someone who has faced professional challenges and overcome cancer, she explained her conviction, to paraphrase, that she has seen God act in the people he has put into her life when she needed them. She, in turn, has tried to embody that help in helping others. For her, she has seen the Lord’s plan work out tangibly.[ii]

This is a moving statement of faith, an energizing force. Hope is not the same as optimism, especially not the “Panglossian” optimism Voltaire long since satirized that “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”  Job’s hope in God did not depend on the happy ending that he in fact got.

The hope of anyone who says “all my hope in God is founded” is shaped by what that person understands the symbol of God to mean. Cynt Marshall believes in a God who works his plan through humans who serve God’s will. The hymn knows God’s nature to embody goodness, wisdom, light, life, and beauty. These are qualities one ought to trust in. In an incarnational faith, it is qualities like these one cultivates oneself and finds in others. And the hymn invokes the reward in this life of such hope and trust – rewards of love and of joy. It is a glorious hymn.

Our closing hymn’s title, “Lord of All Hopefulness,” makes hope essential to the nature of our Lord who is, the hymn tells us, a Lord of hope, eagerness, kindliness, gentleness, love, what we then hope for, pray for, as the hymn takes us through the stages of a day.

We have hopes for ourselves and our loved ones. These hopes are embedded in hopes for larger collectives. We may have hopes for a specific loved one, but those hopes depend on the larger world: What kind of a world will our grandchildren grow up in? It is easy to despair, but there are signs of energizing hope: hope in Ukraine; hope for the five-month “long march” going on in India these days and the protests that broke out in Iran last week, both against right-wing authoritarian regimes; hope for concern for the plight of refugees in the response to the transcontinental walk of the twelve-foot puppet, Amal, whose Arabic name means “hope.”

Not everyone’s hopes are the same.[iii] Are our hopes the right ones — for ourselves and loved ones, hopes for our respective nation and the world? We need always to seek to know the nature of the Lord in whom our trust is founded.

What are our hopes for St Alban’s? This is assuredly one of the collectives those of us here care about. We set a good foundation for looking forward in our discussion last week when we talked about where we are as a parish after all these long months mostly on zoom. Stewardship season invites us to look ahead – with our hopes founded in God.

Vestry members will be offering their thoughts during these next weeks, and Susan Matteson is ready to start —

[i] https://fineartamerica.com/featured/rich-man-and-poor-lazarus-pg-reproductions.html?product=framed-print&googleShopping=true&completeProductSku=artworkid%5B12349761%5D-productid%5Bprintframed%5D-imagewidth%5B8%5D-imageheight%5B6.5%5D-paperid%5Barchivalmattepaper%5D-frameid%5BCRQ13%5D-mat1id%5BPM918%5D-mat1width%5B2%5D-finishid%5B0.125acrylic%5D&gclid=Cj0KCQjw7KqZBhCBARIsAI-fTKIzd94WIgu73kuKxaob64Z4fzSgESWf8P6dhWlOOLriUw2KkAeLoe8aAumrEALw_wcB.

[ii] https://www.pbs.org/video/weekend-spotlight-1663527113/

[iii] There was a certain amount of discussion this past week about Britain’s national songs, with one poll showing a majority favoring replacing “God Save the King” with “Land of Hope and Glory.” Opponents say the hope celebrated in the song is nationalism at its worst with reference to empire and the resounding chorus of “God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier still.”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lymc9Jj_E3U

Even a map spreading red to the old empire. The author of “God of all hopefulness” was Jan Struther (d.1953) who also wrote the novel, Mrs. Miniver, which celebrated British family love and sacrifice in World War II— the movie version, ends with singing “Land of Hope and Glory.”

9-10-22 Memorial Service of Talbot Richardson – A sermon by The Rev. Jim Stickney

Our  Christian Hope – The Rev. Jim Stickney

 

In our memorial service for Talbot Richardson, we’ve listened to sacred readings

that he would have known well. And we’re singing some of the hymns

that he loved to sing — both in the congregation, and in church choirs.

And at the reception that follows this service, we’ll keep singing,

as well as sharing our memories of this faithful servant of God.

 

We’re at the place in our memorial service when the celebrant is expected

to make some reflection about the death of one who embraced the Christian faith.

As you might suspect, I’ve done this kind of reflection many times.

And after a long succession of such reflections, I find it all comes to one theme:

 

Our  Christian Hope

 

I came across this theme, this “title” for my funeral homily,

from the Book of Common Prayer — a section called “An Outline of the Faith,”

also know as The Catechism. Following the various sections

that summarize the teachings, beliefs and practices of our church, the final chapter,

Our Christian Hope, considers a Christian’s life beyond the death of the body.

 

It’s no surprise that the central teaching is this: we believe that Talbot is now sharing

in the resurrected life of Christ Jesus. But this emphasis on Resurrection

does represent a somewhat subtle shift from an over-emphasis on the Cross

as the central mission of Jesus Christ on earth. Christ redeems us — yes —

but above all Christ gives us a share in his risen life — eternal life — with God.

 

So when we show up to attend a funeral, a Memorial Service, it is also a time

when we contemplate our mortality and consider what will follow our own deaths.

To put it succinctly, where Talbot has gone, we will all surely go.

 

I’ve found that at any gathering such as we have here this afternoon,

we will have a great range of beliefs concerning death and the next life.

These beliefs range all the way, from fervent belief that we’ll meet God after death,

through a spectrum of doubts and hopes that death is not our final chapter,

to a profound skepticism that says, in short, that death is the final end to our story.

 

I want to assure you that I’m not trying to convince anyone to change their mind

right here and now. Resurrection cannot be proved — nor can it be disproved.

After all, the most important realities in our human existence —

why we love someone, why we undertake some astounding challenges in life,

why we endure hardships in pursuit of a dimly perceived goal —

none of these things can be subject to the scientific method. These human realities

cannot be tested by repeated experiments. There’s no “control group.”

 

The most I would venture to say is that it’s possible to have a reasonable hope

that life continues after the death of the body — although in a new form.

In the absence of intellectual proof, we find ourselves in the realm of metaphors —

and in the case of deep human love, of poetry and music and visual art.

 

Both Jesus and St. Paul employ the image of the seed. In John’s Gospel (12: 24)

Jesus gives this image: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat

falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.

But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

 

In a letter to the Christians in Corinth, St. Paul develops this “seed” metaphor.

“When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed….

So it will be at the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable —

it is raised imperishable. It is sown in weakness — it is raised in power.

It is sown a natural body — it is raised a spiritual body.”

 

These metaphors are not proofs. But they do make a reasonable connection

from things that we see and know — to things we cannot see and cannot know for now.

 

So this afternoon, when we join in prayers for our brother Talbot,

we have a reasonable hope that he is now sharing the risen life of Christ Jesus.

And these prayers of ours are also made in anticipation that we too may share

in that fuller and richer life — beyond the death of the physical body —

where we are united with all those who have gone before us

to share in the heavenly feast — prefigured here in the sacrament of the altar.

 

May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.

Sermon for Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022 by The Rev. Jim Stickney

St. Alban’s Church

September 4, 2022

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Pastor Jim Stickney

 

Jeremiah 18: 1 – 11

Psalm 139: 1 – 5, 12 – 17

Philemon 1 – 21

Luke 14: 25 – 33

 

 

God is an artist, and the universe is God’s work of art.

 

This morning our church will celebrate a Baptism, and welcome a new Christian

to join our community. And tomorrow, our country observes Labor Day.

So in my sermon I’ll be reflecting on work. As I do that, we can also consider

how being an authentic Christian involves a great deal of work —

the external work of serving our neighbor, and the inner work of spiritual growth.

 

The Jewish and Christian scriptures view work in two ways: negatively,

we can find that work is a curse, as far back as the mythic story of the Fall [Gn. 3:19],

when the Man (which is what “Adam” means) is told that “by the sweat

of your face you will eat bread” — summing up how alienating some work can be.

 

Yet even earlier, in the story of the mythic Eden [Gn. 2:15], the Man is placed

in a garden called Eden, and given the pleasant task of tending to God’s abundance

before the appearance of thorns and thistles, when the ground was blessed.

In this view, work is positive and fulfilling — abundant with meaning and purpose

 

God is an artist, and the universe is God’s work of art.

 

I think we can admit that we find enjoyment in seeing someone else at work.

It’s not so much that they’re working and you aren’t. It’s more the sense that

it’s an unsung pleasure to see someone else display their working skills.

I’ve told you before about how I started learning stained glass from my father-in-law —

how he would share his expertise with me (developed over many many years).

 

One morning he set me up to work on a large project, and left to do some shopping.

By the time he got back I had managed to cut one piece precisely backwards,

and after carefully scoring a second piece, it shattered rather than breaking clean.

When he came back he told me, “as soon as you think that you know all about it,

then you’ll relearn something basic.” But these mistakes were also teaching me.

With patience, we can reframe our mistakes as chances for deeper learning.

 

 

 

Seeing someone employ tools and skills to do a good job — that’s such a joy,

and it adds urgency to the tragedy of jobless people who are now searching for work.

Human beings need more than wages from a job — we need that sense

that our work makes a difference. Along with money, work provides meaning.

 

In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah was watching someone at work

in much the same way as I watched my father-in-law. Jeremiah watched a potter

working with wet clay that was turning on the potter’s wheel. This artisan

tried to make something useful out of the first lump of clay, but gave it up.

Rather than toss the clay aside, he reworked it into a much better vessel.

 

Then it came to Jeremiah — God works on us like that. God’s original plan can change,

depending on how responsive people are to the different divine messages.

God, the Creator of all that exists, shows greater skill than any human craftsman.

God’s ultimate purpose will come about, even when there’s a change of plans.

As the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas put it:

 

God is an artist, and the universe is God’s work of art.

 

We’re familiar with the phrase, “working like a slave.” Our country’s history

is deeply entangled with the oppressive reality of slavery and the struggle against it.

The New Testament is remarkably passive about the institution of slavery.

It seems the first-century authors could not conceive of an economy of free consumers,

but encouraged everyone to keep the status quo: “Slaves, obey your masters!”

 

The exception is our second reading, one of the shortest Biblical books, “Philemon.”

Philemon is a slave owner, & Onesimus, his slave, had run away, and found Paul.

Paul now writes to Philemon to tell him that Onesimus has been doing God’s work.

Paul is not above using guilt to persuade Philemon to set his slave free.

 

In the Gospel, Jesus gives examples of the kind of work demanded in following him.

An artisan building a tower has to inventory the materials before starting —

anticipating what we might call “supply-chain issues” and cost increases.

Planning in advance takes a lot of work, and we should not be shocked

that working for the reign of God is like planning for battle, or home improvement.

 

A final reflection on work is just this — our entire lives can be a work of art!

God creates from nothing. We act like God when we take the things of this world —

including its inhabitants — and work with them to make something new —

something beautiful for God, a new creation. This Christian work begins at Baptism,

and continues through struggles and triumphs all our lives in faith, hope and love.

 

God is an artist, and the universe is God’s work of art.

 

 

Reflection for Sunday, August 21, 2022 by Christine Staples

Christine Staples 8-21-22 

Luke 13:10-17

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

 

The fourth commandment is to “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” But what does it mean to keep the Sabbath holy? As with many laws, it’s a little vague and subject to interpretation. We humans naturally want to make sure we don’t break the laws, so in the absence of more guidelines or amendments, for millennia different faith leaders have come up with directives based on their own interpretations of the law – and the interpretations mostly seem to be of the “don’t do this or you’ll burn!” variety, and very little of the “be sure to do this – this is really keeping the Sabbath holy!” type.

Here are a few examples: Puritan settlers in New England weren’t supposed to cook or light a stove on the Sabbath. One prominent settler returned home from a three year voyage on the Sabbath; his wife greeted him at the door and they kissed on the threshold where everyone could see it; he got into really big trouble for it. You could not ride – except to go to church – or perform any work. You were expected to go to church all day long, and if you dozed off there, in many churches there was someone posted there to tickle or poke you to wake you up – a feather on one end, a thorn on the other end of the poking stick. In other churches, things were even more punitive: if you fell asleep, or broke the Sabbath in any of these ways, you might be publicly shamed, fined, put in stocks, or whipped.

For centuries, you couldn’t buy alcohol in a store in Massachusetts on Sunday.  (Restaurants and bars were another story!) Of all the people in the world, then-governor Mitt Romney overturned that law in 2003.

Even today, in Orthodox Jewish sects, there are many strict rules around using stoves, driving, or shopping on Shabbat.You aren’t supposed to leave the house carrying a “burden”, so many women with small children are unable to attend services unless their Rabbi comes up with a clever lawyerly work-around, like using phone lines to define the “walls” of the “house” or holy neighborhood.

This story Luke shares about Jesus doing a healing on the Sabbath is so fascinating! The Rabbi calls Jesus out in no uncertain terms for supposedly breaking the Sabbath; he considers healing to be “work”, and once again, I have to greatly admire Jesus’ truly lawyerly response to this. He not only shows us a deep and true example of what keeping the Sabbath holy looks like, he then uses arguments in its defense that the head of the Temple has to respect – healing is NOT work – it’s making it possible for the afflicted woman to rest. And Jesus thus lays out new guidelines for us for what it can look like to really keep the Sabbath holy.

But this still leaves us with a law that’s subject to interpretation: what does it mean to keep the Sabbath holy?

This morning we used the espresso machine, the toaster oven, the microwave, the electric kettle, the lights…. My husband just got back from Singapore yesterday; yes, we hugged! And he updated his online banking this morning. He and our daughter just drove to the marina to go swimming. I might go pick up a few things at Berkeley Bowl this afternoon. I produce concerts at St. Alban’s on Sundays – and I feel that it’s a ministry! None of those things feel wrong to me….

I’d like to invite you, my Friends in Christ, to share: what do you think are important ways to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy?

 

I’ll start with a small one: I find gathering together on Zoom, where we are each celebrating in our kitchens, livingrooms, and studies, truly holy. Having Becky and Rick running the services, Kathryne Ann or Rick or Sandy recording Richard’s music, Susan or Deborah, Roseanne or Faith singing the psalms, the prayers for a broad swath of Creation and for each other; each of us taking turns presiding, reading scripture, and spending time with scriptural reflections – all these truly put me in mind of the early Christians, gathering in their homes.

What are some other ways we can remember the Sabbath and keep it holy?

Some of the suggestions from parishioners:

Spend time in nature.

Meditate.

Rest – doing vs. being.

Spend time with family.

Give thanks for all our blessings.

Eating together is a form of communion.

Reach out to friends who are far away.

Take care of our animals, clean ourselves.

Have quiet time at home.

Communicating: coffee hour at church.

Dressing up for church as a mark of respect.

(NOT dressing up for church – come as you are!)

Listen to sacred music.

 

Reflection for Sunday, August 14, 2022 by Larry DiCostanzo

Reflection for August 14, 2022

Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin, translated from August 15

 

Lawrence N. DiCostanzo

 

Isaiah 61:10-11

Galatians 4:4-7

Psalm 34 or 34:1-9

Luke 1:46-55

Today is the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, but we are celebrating the Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin, which is actually on the church calendar for tomorrow August 15.  August 15 was chosen as the feast day because it is the day on which the Mother of Jesus has been honored for about 1600 or 1700 years.

It is hard to come to terms with Saint Mary the Virgin.  I think the reason is that we do not really think about sainthood anymore.  We’ve lost the knack of figuring out what saints are.  So, we give the mother of Jesus a kind of nondescript name – “Saint Mary the Virgin” – we recite Mary’s hymn, the Magnificat, yet again, and, having done our duty, we move on .

But if we take seriously the line in the Apostles’ Creed about the “communion of saints,” we have to reclaim the idea of sainthood.  We can start on this in two ways.  First, we can consider how Mary is, in fact, the one most exceptionally important human in the history of our salvation.  Second, we have to begin to see ourselves saints.

Mary has a number of names that relate her to us a little better than “Saint Mary the Virgin.”  She is also known as Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Blessed Mother, and, in the Orthodox Church, the “God Bearer”.  Throughout history, she has been an inspiration.  For example, there are the great cathedrals of Chartres and Notre Dame.  And the marvelous Salisbury Cathedral in England is formally known as the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Mary has also has inspired warmth.  I think here of the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, to the intensity of Lourdes, to the impromptu shrine here in the USA at the corner of Platform Bridge Road and the Point Reyes Petaluma Highway in Marin.  The shrine has not one, but two statues of Mary and it’s crowded to bursting with plastic and real flowers.

And Mary is deeply and naturally connected with Jesus.  My mother automatically made the connection without thinking.  When I told her that my daughter was pregnant with her first child, she said, “May her baby be as pure and beautiful as Our Blessed Mother’s.”  The point is that Mary was wrapped in a beautiful marvel:  She gave birth to Jesus and was therefore the instrument of the Incarnation.  God chose her particularly, and he chose regular pregnancy, hard labor, the messiness of birth, and motherhood to come into direct contact with us.

If you think about it, Mary is, in fact, the great woman of the Bible.  She is actually the greatest solely human person of the Bible.  Well, I daresay that she might be the greatest of all people.  Just read over today’s amazing collect: “O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son . . .”   And, so, maybe August 15, should be International Women’s Day.

Mary’s experiences blend with our experiences.  That is, she makes us think about our own sainthood.  Let’s start with the idea of the Call.  In his Gospel, from the narrative of the Annunication, to the Visitation, to the Presentation in the Temple, and beyond, Luke, to my mind, is comparing and contrasting Mary with the great people of the Bible and how they responded to God’s call to each of them.  I am looking at three men of the Bible here.  They are Abraham who is really the father of us all, and Moses and the prophet Elijah who both appeared with Jesus in the Transfiguration.

Each of these men reacted to God’s call in different ways.  Abraham simply believed and then fretted and worried for years about getting a son.   Moses was dragged kicking and screaming to do the job God wanted him to do and then took up an immense administrative task that consumed his life 24/7.  Elijah kept on responding and standing up for God through deep exhaustion and fear and depression.   (Genesis 12:1-5 and 15:1-6; Exodus 3:1 – 4:14; 1Kings 19:3-9)

In her call, Mary seems remarkably wide awake when the angel comes to her.  She listens and then she asks the relevant and very practical question about sex and conception.  When she got the answer – about the Holy Spirit – she was satisfied.  She said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord,” but in our terms she way saying, “OK.  Let’s do it.”

But. like us, Mary and Abraham and Moses and Elijah had to do a lot more than be present when called.  They also had to endure.  After the Visitation and the Magnificat, Mary ended up giving birth in a stable.  And I am guessing that she did not have a proper midwife and that the stable was not exactly like the crèches in our churches at Christmas.  She – and Joseph, too; let’s be fair – shared the labor of parenthood as Jesus grew in wisdom and grace. (Luke 2:40)  At the Presentation in The Temple, Simeon makes sure that Mary realizes that her baby will be a source of sorrow for her, that a sword will pierce her heart.  (Luke 2:33-35)  Unbelievably and ghastly, she is at the Crucifixion of her own son.  Can we imagine?   And Jesus expresses his love and concern for her by making sure that John takes her as his mother.  (John 19:25-27)  She is present with the apostles after Jesus’ death (Acts 1:14) and by inference at Pentecost when she must have received the Holy Spirit for a second time.  (Acts  2:1-3)

So, what about our own sainthood?  How do we and Mary share companionship?

Well, we all have received a call.  It seems to be always occurring.  It is right in front of our eyes and right in our ears at least every Sunday.  It’s in the messages of the Gospels and the appearance of the Kingdom.  We can hear it in the situations we face every day – the grocery clerk, the other people in the line, the person who is hogging the ranger’s time at a national park.  I venture to say that each of us in quiet moments or when we pause for a second have felt it in our hearts, in our very bones.

And, guess what?  Each of us has already answered the call.  That is why we are sitting where we are right now.

Our calls are individualized and special to each of us.  No matter where we fit in the spectrum of the great calls of the Bible, no matter how we’d like to compare ourselves, we each have our own calls because we have our own lives.  And the call of Mary was her call, not ours.  But we definitely share with her the difficulty of living on earth.

In company with Mary, we saints do not have easy lives.  We have to endure pain, sorrow, and fear.  We feel sometimes that God is not present.  We can even have our moments of peevishness, our moments of nastiness. I suggest that the challenge of living is the real context of the Magnificat which we heard again in today’s Gospel reading.  Mary is speaking or singing or prophesying in the first flush of her happiness.  But shortly afterwards, she is told that a sword will pierce her heart.  And later on she goes on to witness her child’s crucifixion.  We saints do not have easy lives.

Yet, I think that the Magnificat remained the foundation of Mary’s life.  She knows that God is with her or at least she feels he was with her at one time.   And she must have said the Magnificat over and over throughout her life, sometimes just to get through things – My soul magnifies the Lord, I am chosen, I am called, I am special.  I am loved.  And so we should hold hard onto her song in our own sainthood.  Because sainthood is when we grab at and hold onto the mystery, the paradox of Love.  Jesus, help us in all our trials and our joys.  Help us find you in our hearts and in our bones.  O Mary, be our companion in faith.  Amen.

 

Reflection on the Readings for 7-17-22 by Sandy Burnett

July 17, 2022 reflection

I know that we often say the basis of a true relationship is love, but for me, it always comes down to trust. I may love someone that I don’t trust, but it’s nearly impossible to have a healthy relationship with that person. We want to have relationships with people who do what they say they will, and who are honest, even if it results in pain. Of course, we also want to trust that people will do their best not to hurt us. And we want to be trustworthy ourselves.

Today’s verses reminded me about this because they talk about promises. In the Old Testament, God has promised that Abraham will have descendants. As Abraham and Sarah get older, this promise seems to be less and less likely to be fulfilled. In the verses we heard today, three men — or angels — visit Abraham’s home. Abraham, recognizing their importance, takes his ragged old body and runs arounds the camp preparing them a wonderful feast. They predict Sarah will have a child from Abraham — and we learn later that the prediction comes true!

In the Psalm, we hear the question of “Who may abide in your tabernacle?” And we learn that you have to be a good and honest person. The psalmist makes it sound easy, but we know that it’s often very difficult to do what is right. Still, there’s a promise here that admission to the tent is attainable.

In the Epistle, Paul tells the Collossians that Jesus Christ has created a new promise, not only for Jews but for everyone who believes, and the evidence is something even more miraculous than Sarah’s old-age maternity — the rising from the dead of a man who was crucified and buried, and then his ascendance into heaven. But the proof also is in Paul’s and the other apostles’ dogged determination and willingness to sacrifice all because of their trust in Christ’s teachings and his instructions to them. Jesus was honest. He told them that following him would lead to anguish and pain, but he also promised that their end would be ever-lasting joy and peace.  I think they understood that He loved them and wanted only the best for them, but that the reaction to their message would be mixed. He told them he would be with them even in their darkest times, provided they kept their faith, something that isn’t always easy.

The Bible is clear that evil exists in the world. Bad things happen to good people, but the New Testament promises that we are never alone with this evil. Even when we do evil ourselves, there is a way to get back under the tent.

In the Gospel, we hear the story of Mary and Martha. Luke says Jesus was welcomed into Martha’s home. She, as head of the household, was responsible for the well-being of her guests, just as Abraham was when he received his miraculous visitors. Imagine how his story would have been if Abraham skipped the banquet and went straight to sitting at their feet asking about salvation!

But I think that’s one of the differences between the Old and New Testaments. Jesus doesn’t berate Martha for her concern, but tactfully lets her know that the old rules, even the rules of hospitality, are different now — not bad, not worthless — but different.  Mary has made better use of  her time by listening to Jesus, while Martha has wasted an opportunity with her worry. There’s a new promise that will change everything so that both Mary and Martha can rely on salvation.

Finally, these thoughts made me wonder about the difference between trust and faith. According to my phone, “faith” is used in the sense of belief or devotion, while the word “trust” is about  confidence and reliance. It’s hard to argue with Siri, but I think she got it wrong this time. As Christians, we have the belief and devotion that inspires our sense of confidence and reliance. I don’t think you can have one without the other. It was faith AND trust that inspired Abraham and Paul and even Mary and Martha. Amen.

Reflection on The Good Samaritan by Margaret Doleman

The Good Samaritan

This is a familiar story, about a man who was robbed and beaten and left to die on the roadside.  Two religious officials pass by, ignoring him.  Then, a Samaritan comes along, treats his wounds, and carries him to an inn, paying the landlord to look after the man.

I think I, and maybe you, too, tend to think we get the point of this story: don’t assume you know who the good guys and the bad guys are.  Everyone is your neighbor. What else needs to be said?

Well, I remember something that happened six years ago.  Summer, 2016, shortly before that election.  It was also the summer of the Pulse nightclub shootings.  In case you’ve forgotten the details of that particular incident, Pulse was a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  A shooter murdered 49 people and wounded 53 others, before he was shot dead by police.

The Benedictine spirituality group, AKA Ben, meets on Thursday evenings.  We do lectio divina, that is, a meditative reading, on the gospel passage for the upcoming Sunday, then we discuss it. One summer evening in 2016, we were discussing the good Samaritan.  We were talking about who would be like a Samaritan in our times. Two weeks ago, we encountered the Samaritans, and Christine explained in her wonderful reflection that they had somewhat different religious beliefs than the people of Judea.  You’ll remember that they refused hospitality to Jesus and his disciples, inspiring James and John to some most un-saintly impulses.  So that evening, we were suggesting that maybe Muslims, or LBGTQ people would be a good analogy.  Of course, being enlightened ourselves, we would never vilify such people.  Then, Peter mentioned that he had read an article about some Trump supporters who had gotten together to raise money for survivors of the Pulse shootings.

I wish I had a video recording of the next moment or two.  Trump supporters?  Trump supporters.  You could almost hear the wheels turning:  aren’t they all gun-toting, homophobic white supremacists?  Maybe not. Because we are at least somewhat enlightened, we resisted the temptation to cry “fake news!” It seems that even we regard some people as Samaritans – people who can’t be expected to do good.

And this is where I get stuck.  I don’t want to be a judgmental person.  Jesus is pretty clear about judging others:  Judge not, lest ye be judged. If I’m hearing it in the King James version, it’s been in my consciousness for a long time.  I know it’s wrong to judge people because of their ethnicity or their gender identity or their religious practices. But if someone has values that conflict significantly with my own, how can I help myself from judging them?  And if a person wants to vote for someone whom I believe would act in accordance with values I don’t support, doesn’t it follow that I can’t support that person’s values?

I don’t really know.  Maybe what Jesus is asking the lawyer, and us, to do is to look at our assumptions.  This week, in the Ben group, I heard another story.  One member of our group was a military wife during the Viet Nam war.  She was also a peace activist, who organized marches (with the full support of her husband). She told us that she heard, over and over again, from the peace marchers, that military people were war mongers, and from the military families she knew, that the peace activists were traitors.  Knowing people on both sides, she knew that the truth was much more complex.

Here in the inner Bay Area, we’re used to all kinds of diversity – except maybe diversity of political opinions.  Not that there isn’t anyone here that we might disagree with, but it’s always easier to stay in your comfort zone. So that’s where we’re likely to “other” people.  They think this. They do that.  They’re not like us.

And what do they think about people like me?  Liberal democrats from California?  That we’re all drug using communists who want to steal all the money from hardworking rich people and give it to people who can’t be bothered to work?

I think that I have to at least allow the possibility that some of my assumptions about “them” might be less than completely accurate. It would be nice if we could learn to talk with people that we don’t necessarily agree with.  In fact, I think it might be the first step in healing the divisions that are tearing us apart. Right now, though, that doesn’t seem to be very easy.

I don’t think we’re ever going to completely get away from judgment.  I’m not even sure we should. Maybe we could start by confining our judgments to what people have actually said and done, rather than what we believe we know about them.  If our leaders or our courts make decisions that I believe are going to harm a lot of people, I’m going to be angry about that.  And if people disagree with my anger, I’ll be unhappy and wish they could see it my way.

I would like to think, though, that if I saw someone in trouble, and I was in a position to help, I would do it, regardless of the bumper stickers on their car, or the slogans on their T shirt.

Image: The Good Samaritan by Dinah Roe Kendall

Sermon by The Rev. Deacon Jon Owens 7-3-22

Pentecost IV 2022

Gay, Straight, Republican, Democrat, pro-life, pro-choice, guns,
no guns, war?

This week we commemorate our country and all it stands
for. There is a lot to be proud of and for many of us there is
probably much to grieve. I say this as a youth who is a Boys
state alumni, the brother of a retired military army officer and
whose family was actively engaged in Civil Air Patrol and who
has served and continues to serve as a public servant.
In the end these are labels, ways we have chosen to identify
ourselves and our principles. Sometimes my principles have
been known as a form of division. I have a little secret for you,
all those labors are fine, but there is only one label that
probably matters. I am a Child of God and that makes me
worthy of love and to proclaim that love to others because they
are too children of God wonderfully made and that together we
must keep telling people the kingdom of God is nearby.
It is actually a quite simple message…. And yet it is so charged.
Of course, other decisions are made. You see we have to make
decisions every day. But how many of our decisions are made
completely out of love? Now I do not want to get fear disguised
as concern and love mixed up sometimes the two can get
confused. You see there is a message we are asked to share
with one another. Some people will receive it openly and

others might be ready to look at you like the zombie apocalypse
has happened and they will not be having any of that. You
know the people who throw their hands in the air, and they
immediately objectify the answer because perhaps they have
their own baggage to deal with. We all know those sort of
people. We simply shake the dust off our sandals and go on our
way to those willing to listen.

It is probably harder than ever to get those messages
across. We have all this technology and yet people have ways
of tuning out that which they do not want to hear. They choose
to not engage. We think we are engaging but all too often we
live in our own echo chambers. Think about it. If you are a
social media person you choose to join the like-minded groups,
we surround us with our friends, but some of when we do not
like what we hear we cancel friends and family and avoid them.
The real issue is people simply have unlearned how to have a
conversation around disagreement more than ever. We do not
have constructive debate or exchanges in dialogue and that to
me is the real tragedy of our country, not even our nation but
the world.

Many of us want to achieve the same results, but we get
stuck on the way to achieve it. For example, if I say who wants
world peace. I do not think there would be anyone here who
would not raise their hand. However, it gets complex… in order
to have world peace, do we have to be total pacifists, can we
believe in just war theory or is it something else?

We can debate theology and have for centuries.
Remember people like Isaac Newton who was considered a
heretic. He said the earth was round and he rejected the notion
of the Trinity. And yet after all this he was buried among Kings
and Queens at Westminster Abbey. Or Charles Darwin, the
person people attribute the theory of evolution and yet some
cannot handle it. Charles Darwin struggled with the notion of
becoming a priest. He was less concerned with the Bible as
history, but questions of morality and was worried about the
concept of evil. He too was buried in Westminster of Abbey.
There are many people who if given the opportunity would
jump at the opportunity to change the world. But it can seem
all so daunting. So many barriers to change. We think about
gridlock in our government when we want policies to shift to
help our society. We wonder is anyone even listening. But there
are those who will listen. Those who want to reinvigorate their
communities and be a part of something greater. But you know
where it starts. It starts with genuine concern. It starts with
nurturing of every individual, and it starts with an expression of
love. When people do not feel their own needs and concerns
are being addressed it is harder for them to act
compassionately toward the other. Barriers are thrown up and
meanwhile those with self-interest swoop in among the
divisiveness.I do not sway from my message that God loves everyone. I
have two questions for you to ponder today.

The first is in two parts
1) How do you cultivate love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-
control? How does this help you in bearing another’s
burden?
Again, we are called to support each other. When people
are not supported, they become apprehensive, hopeless,
feel trapped. But when people are supported, they feel
they can get through anything. We are called to help carry
the cross as people did for Jesus on a long and
burdensome road. I can tell you in my experience here at
St Alban’s this is something the community is actively
involved in. We as a community work hard to ensure that
all our members are connected and cared for. It is a sign
we are never alone.

“As a mother comforts her child, so God will comfort you; you
shall be comforted in Jerusalem. 14 You shall see, and your heart
shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass; and it shall
be known that the hand of the Lord is with his servants, and his
indignation is against his enemies.”
But this leads to the second question. Going beyond our church
community.

2) What does it mean for you to be sent out into the
world in peace to love and serve the Lord?

A world who skeptical, scared, hurting and even self-
absorbed. A world in which we are seeing things unravel before
our feet. War has not become better. Inflation begins putting
pressure on family finances and policies that will cause some to
act in desperation. There is a lot of work out there to do my
friends and it requires you to be vulnerable. It requires to
accept the hospitality of others. Something sometimes we are
too proud to accept, but it is a gift. Being vulnerable is a
strength not a weakness in it we find peace and comfort and
able to express to others the “kingdom of God is near.”
And because this I will say to God, “How awesome are your
deeds! Because of your great power, your enemies cringe
before you.” You are righteousness and source of all goodness,
justice and love. AMEN!