Easter Sunday Sermon by The Rev. Jim Stickney

Easter Sunday 2022                        St. Alban’s Church

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!        The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

 

I’d like to begin this sermon for Easter morning with a special word of welcome

to those who are visiting with us today. We’re glad you’re here this morning,

and we invite everyone who wishes to join us to receive Communion.

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Some of us gathered on Good Friday in a vigil for divinity seeming to die —

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

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

 

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

Christ died and rose to make fearful people truly alive!

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!        The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

 

I’d like to share an unusual sort of Easter story, dating from the year 1996.

I had taken a two-month sabbatical from my ministry as a Rector,

and I spent several days at an Episcopal monastery above Santa Barbara.

I was not on a silent retreat, and I shared a few lunches with some gay men

who were on a very different form of retreat — they were living a kind of resurrection.

 

All of these dozen or so men had contracted AIDS. They had seen friends

and lovers die all around them. They themselves had been facing their own deaths —

in a sense, they had been preparing for death quite intentionally.

But around 1996, scientists had developed new treatments for those with AIDS —

a class of drugs called “anti-retrovirals.” They were not a cure,

but by working with an array of drugs, doctors could extend their lives.

 

These men were spending a few days at a monastery, getting spiritual guidance

about re-entering the regular ups and downs of daily living after getting ready to die.

I might be off-base, but I think they experienced a kind of Easter story.

 

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

Christ died and rose to make fearful people truly alive!

        Alleluia!  Christ is risen!                        The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

 

In the Gospel reading we heard, a woman named Mary, from Magdala, just can’t sleep.

She is thinking of what she plans to do at dawn — to visit the tomb of Jesus.

Finally she thinks, “I’m not sleeping anyway — I’ll just walk over there by moonlight

and be ready at first light for the anointing of the corpse of my beloved teacher.”

 

She discovers that the stone (the stone of doubt) has been rolled away, the tomb empty.

Then she runs and locates the official apostles, sharing this amazing news.

The men visit, and one of them has the insight that Jesus has been raised from the dead.

Mary waits until they leave, and then peeks in, and sees angels robed in white,

who ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”     Why are any of us weeping?

 

Well, we grieve for the return to European war in Ukraine, war in Somalia

and other countries. We grieve the divided state of our country, and of course COVID.

We try to help with donations and prayers, but it can seem so limited.

 

Are we holding back our tears, our anxieties, our dread of the future?

“Why are you weeping?” Tell God what it is that deeply touches your heart. For a few,

though, it will not be anxiety, but joy — you are weeping to express your bliss.

 

In Luke’s Gospel, the men in dazzling robes ask a different rhetorical question:

“Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Why do we keep returning

to old habits of mind and heart that we know do not bring us joy and peace?

On this Easter, on this day when we celebrate our share in Christ’s new life,

let’s look for new attitudes of mind and heart, and not seek new life in old dead habits.

 

Was it difficult for the disciples who went to the tomb to open their hearts again

to the love they felt for Jesus? Is it difficult for us to break out of the tombs and the traps

of our fond pleasant memories, and look around at the changed circumstances

of our life today, and find Jesus there? Among this world’s swift and varied changes

we know where the true joys, the authentic riches, are to be found: in our souls

and in our communities, which will not fluctuate like the breaking news of each day.

 

Let’s not be pasting last year’s leaves on the tree and trying to call that Spring.

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

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

 

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

Christ died and rose to make fearful people truly alive!

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!        The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Good Friday Sermon by The Rev. Jim Stickney

St. Alban’s Church                                April 15, 2022

Good Friday                                    The Rev. James Stickney

 

At the beginning of this week called “Holy,” just before the procession with palms,

we prayed that we might “enter with joy upon the contemplation

of those might acts whereby [God has] given us life and immortality.”

On this Friday called “Good,” we’re at the very heart of Holy Week.

 

We’ve just finished John’s version of the saddest and most tragic story in the world.

We’re about to re-enact an ancient ritual, the Veneration of the Cross.

In this homily, the most I hope to do is negative — not to get in the way

of your contemplation of God’s might acts that we observe and re-enact.

 

When I was active here as your full-time pastor, we shared most Good Fridays

with our ecumenical brothers and sisters. The Lutherans, Methodists,

Baptists, Roman Catholics, and Presbyterians would share our reflections.

We would rotate around to our various churches, and divide the three hours

into sections of one-half hour each. That way people could come and go,

as their work schedules determined attendance.

 

For several years we adopted the overall theme of “Personalities around the Cross.”

Nobody would choose the personality of Jesus, of course — too profound.

But the disciple Peter was a very common choice, as was his Mother, Mary.

The villains were also popular — such as Judas and Pilate and Herod.

 

One year I came across a book of medieval Christian poetry, and discovered

“The Dream of the Cross.” The unknown author recounts how he dreamed

that the actual Cross of Calvary appeared to him and began to speak of Jesus’ death.

I knew that the Cross of Jesus would the “personality” I would choose

to shed some new and different light upon the meaning of Good Friday.

 

As I recite parts of this poem, I hope you discern its positive tone —

frankly, its heroic portrait of Jesus being eager to embrace his redeeming death

as he confronted the powers of the Roman state and cynical religious leaders.

In this poem, Jesus is not a helpless victim, meek and mild — but our strong Savior.

 

 

 

 

 

Then I saw the King            of all mankind

In brace mood hasting            to mount upon me.

Refuse I dare not                nor bow nor break

Though I felt earth’s confines        shudder in fear.

All foes I might fell            yet I stood fast.

 

Then the young Warrior            God, the All-Wielder

Put off his raiment            steadfast and strong

With lordly mood                in the sight of many

He mounted the Cross            to redeem mankind

When the hero clasped me            I trembled in terror

But I dared not bow me            nor bend to earth

 

I must needs stand fast!            Upraised as the Cross

I held the High King            the Lord of heaven,

I dared not bow!                With black nails driven

Those sinners pierced me            the prints are clear,

The open wounds.            I dared injure none.

They mocked us both            I was wet with blood

From the hero’s side            when he sent forth his spirit.

 

Now I give you this bidding            O man beloved

Reveal this vision                to the children of men

And clearly tell                of the Tree of glory

Whereon God suffered            for one man’s sins

And the evil that Adam            once wrought of old.

 

Death He suffered            but our Savior rose

By virtue of his great might            as a help to men.

He ascended to Heaven.            But hither again

He shall come to the earth            to redeem mankind,

The Lord himself                on the day of doom.

 

And all shall be fearful            and few should know

What to say to Christ            But none at his coming

Shall need to fear                if he bears in his breast

This best of symbols.            And every soul

From the ways of the earth            through the Cross shall come

To heavenly glory                who would dwell with God.

Maundy Thursday Sermon by The Rev. Jim Stickney

St. Alban’s Church            Maundy Thursday 2022

 

A while ago I heard a part of an interview with two Jewish comedians who were summarizing the essence of many Jewish celebrations.

 

So I crafted it in the form of a Japanese haiku!

 

They tried to kill us — // we escaped — our enemies  // are dead now — let’s eat!

 

That’s the stark and yet joyful background of the Passover meal Jesus shared with his friends, his students and fellow-travelers, the night before he died. It didn’t take divine foreknowledge for Jesus to perceive that his death was near. His pattern of confronting religious authorities brought their final solution: eliminate him.

 

They tried to kill us — // we escaped — our enemies  // are dead now — let’s eat!

 

Someone might ask me, “what does the word “Maundy” mean? It’s a word derived from Latin: Manadatum — which means commandment. But this day’s commandment  is not of the official Ten Commandments. It’s the new mandate of Jesus, impossible to legislate, but essential for authentic Christian life.

 

This mandate of Jesus is found in the final verses of today’s Gospel reading:

 

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Such a mandate was counter-cultural in the Roman province of Palestine in the first century. It remains counter-cultural in our divided country today, and in a world that seems intent on reverting to a brutal philosophy that “might makes right.” And yet, the way of loving one’s neighbor remains the high challenge for authentic Christians.

 

They tried to kill us — // we escaped — our enemies  // are dead now — let’s eat!

 

After more than two years, we seem to be emerging for the worst of the Covid epidemic. Of course, we are taking prudent precautions at this church and in other places as well — masking, distancing, ventilation — to name the most obvious.

 

As we take stock of what has changed, it seems like the practice of sharing a common cup for Communion will be “on hold” for the foreseeable future. Our parish has taken a page from Protestant churches in using small glasses set in a tray. I would paraphrase the implicit theology this way: one tray, many glasses.

 

Let’s go a little deeper. During the most rigorous months of the shutdown, we realized

how much we depended on community — this specific community — for mutual spiritual support and basic human fellowship. Zooming in on a screen is better than nothing, but mediated worship can’t give us the fullness of Christian community.

 

They tried to kill us — // we escaped — our enemies  // are dead now — let’s eat!

 

So we’re grateful that we once again can gather to share the spiritual food and drink — the blessed bread and wine that presents to us, by faith, Christ’s body and blood. And yet this particular day — Maundy Thursday — includes the ritual washing of feet. This practice is for now another casualty of the Covid epidemic. But I still intend to use the wording found in the Book of Common Prayer — mindful that we are not physically re-enacting the practice Jesus told us to do.

 

At the Passover meal Jesus shared with his beloved friends (which we call the Last Supper) he could easily foresee his immediate future — he would be handed over to the power of the state. so he gave two signs, two very puzzling signs of how authority would operate among his followers after his departure.

 

The first puzzling sign the one who leads the best is the one who serves the most. Who’s washing the feet? Who’s the servant of the servants? That’s the leader!

 

And the second greater puzzling sign: an ancient ritual meal now becomes Christ’s Body and Blood! What did he mean? He gave no theology, no explanation of these symbols. But precisely because he did not explain himself, his followers puzzled over it. I imagine his conversation went something like this:

 

“Do you remember the night before he died, how he met with us in that upper room,

passing around ordinary bread and wine and calling it his own Body and Blood?” And then, as his bereaved friends re-enacted those most peculiar words and deeds, they found Jesus, present among them again in a spiritual form, as he had been among them physically. The eyes of their minds were opened and they once again perceived the Lord Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

 

They tried to kill us — // we escaped — our enemies  // are dead now — let’s eat!

4-3-22 Reflection by Laurie Schumacher

April 3, 2022  Reflection

 

The readings for this Fifth Sunday of Lent have a theme of “past and future” and of distance over which people move.

In Psalm 126

when the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion …then we were like those who dream…then was our mouth filled with laughter…

‘Restore our fortunes O Lord…those who reaped with tears…will reap with songs of joy…’

In Philippians – Paul looks at his past, all the reasons why he was ‘confident in the flesh’

Now, he regards that past and what he had – as a loss because now he knows the greatest value is in knowing Jesus…

…I have suffered the loss of all things and I regard them as rubbish, in order than I might gain Christ and be found in him…’sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead….

In the Gospel reading from John …the story begins in the home of Lazarus – whose past was literally dead.  He is beginning a new life, setting out a dinner and sitting at the same table with Jesus.  Mary has purchased expensive perfume and is anointing Jesus’ feet.  In response to being chastised for the expense by Judas, Jesus speaks out forcefully – it was bought to be used at an event in the future – his burial.

The book of Isaiah is considered a composite work, the product of several different prophets ministering at different periods in the history of Israel.  Three sections, first, second and third Isaiah, written years apart, the writer for parts two and three building upon what came before.

The namesake of this book lived in Judah about 700 years before Jesus – during the waning years of the kingdom, a contemporary of the prophets of social justice (Amos, Hosea, Micah).  To their cries for reform, he added his own prophetic admonitions: the holiness of God, the coming Messiah, God’s judgment, he exhorts the people to place their trust in God – not fleeting movements or nations.

Our readings on this fifth Sunday in Lent, are in the second book, written somewhere around 538 BCE.  The writer (not Isaiah) is living in Babylon.  The time is toward the end of the Judean exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.

The Judeans have lived for (an estimated) 70 years following the Judean defeat and the destruction of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. Seventy years is almost four generations.  Most of the people who survived the trip have died by this time.  Others have lived their entire lives in this foreign city.  In 2015 a cache of cuneiform tablets (found in Iraq) were made available for the first time for critical examination by western historians and archeologists.  These tables fill in a critical gap in understanding what was going on in the life of Judeans in Babylonia more than 2,500 years ago. The Judeans traded, ran businesses, and even has positions within the administration of the kingdom. They were not slaves – or not all of them.

Kingdoms rise and fall, the Persians conquer Babylon and allow the Jews to return to their homeland. By this time the population in Babylon had swelled considerably and the estimate of those who chose to return is 40,000.  They could not all leave at once – it would take several years for all those who wanted to go back to actually get there. Second Isaiah is about exhorting the people to return to Jerusalem and to participate in the rebuilding of the temple.

If first Isaiah is about judgement, second Isaiah is the promise of deliverance, help and consolation, the returning Judeans are reassured that God will protect them, provide lifesaving water …

I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert), free from fear of wild animals (…wild animal will honor me

God is the controller of their destiny, not a nation, a king or government.

The reading refers back to great deeds – the parting of the Red Sea…

(thus says the Lord who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior, they lie down they cannot rise they are extinguished, quenched like a wick)

and then to go forward as it is written

‘…do not remember the former things or consider the things of old.  I am about to do a new thing; now it springs, do you not perceive it?’

We are reading these words in the 21st century in the season of Lent – thousands of years after it was written, read, absorbed – and obeyed by the writer’s target audience.  We know the entire story – we can read all the books and we know the characters and the outcomes of that time.

But in the year 538 BCE, those people did not.  They did not know their futures.  Something on the order of 40,000 people took on a journey of 900 miles across a desert – a journey of 5-6 months for an individual or a family.  They packed up their lives – what would they take that would be most valuable to them along the way – items to trade with hostile desert tribes for food or directions to find water?  What would be valuable enough to take over all the miles of this perilous journey?  They walked in heat and dust, carrying all their possessions, at risk from hostile Bedouin tribes and trusting they will find water – because not enough water can be carried.  Some chose not to make this journey across the desert.  Perhaps they had no memory of Jerusalem, the stories of their elders, passed down over generations were not enough and instead they struck out in smaller numbers, west and north, and settled in new areas.  Some stayed in Babylon.

There is a tension between the past and the future – how much to hold onto, how much to acknowledge and how and when we let go.  In Lent, we are charged to reflect on who we are, what and where we have been.  We journey from the past…

…Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old…

to the future …

…I am about to do a new think, now it springs forth…

I am trained to study the past.  I think a lot about time, about people moving through time, how the past is used and when is it buried and when it brings light.  We could talk about the thinking of people who returned – or those that chose not to return. Were they looking to the future?  Or could they not let go of the stories they had been told of their homeland and the risks were worth it.  I do not know.  We can finish this story as it suits ourselves.  But I want to talk about something else I see in these lessons, this history and us – today.

We live in time where looking to the past seems to be a persistent and comforting occupation – we still talk of ‘before 9/11’ and ‘pre Covid’.   The utter failure of the public health message, ‘mask up to move on’ is a sad reminder that our new reality is an unwanted future – not progress.

Many of us remember a time when TSA were only letters, when the words ‘climate change’ was a mere warning – recycle some bottles and paper – we did not fully know the meaning of a ‘tipping point’ as a steady drumbeat of destruction.   We did not think about where water comes from as it dripped from garden hoses in driveways.  We laud the fortitude of exiles forced to leave their homeland.  In fact, they are weary of what seem to be easily said platitudes – they want safety – they want their lives back – not forced to persevere into a ‘new thing’.

Now the threats of nuclear war, chemical war, biological war seem too close to our own lives, a Texas size garbage dump is floating toward the west coast and there is even talk of garbage floating above our planet as spiraling out of control. The news brings daily reports of a new variants, its threat to us uncertain – we must keep our masks close at hand. Culture wars, political instability – what other threats can emerge? The world seems very small, there is plenty to worry about and we cannot see where we are going.

So, I wonder – how do God’s people in this time, move forward to a ‘new thing’?

I watched most of the hearings for the candidate for the Supreme Court.  It was on the radio – I was doing other things listening randomly.  Then I turned on the TV as my interest was caught by her voice as she answered questions – the degree of difference between her voice and those of her questioners.  And then, I sat down and watched for the two days.

Judge Jackson is a black woman – with an impressive resume, brilliant, thoughtful, a descendent of slaves, and a powerful reminder of the history of our own country and the people who were brought here against their will.  A story some people in our nation are, sadly, all too glad to abuse the words of Isaiah …’ do not remember the former things…

For me, it was a revelatory two days watching Judge Jackson, alone at a table facing two rows of interrogators.  At times it was confrontational – white men yelled at her, talked over her, interrupted her, twisted her words most egregiously.  A white woman told her she should proud that ‘she had made something of herself.’  It was cringe worthy and hard to witness.

Judge Jackson remained calm, composed – sometimes showing slight vexation, but never raising her voice.  She remained serene and focused, losing her temper would have derailed her purpose in being there.  She found strength, she was hopeful, and she persevered.

Isaiah writes – ‘thus says the Lord

…do not remember the former things or consider the things of old.

I am about to do a new thing; and now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert…

To give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself…

Judge Jackson’s past encompasses all of us. Her story evolves out of slavery and that history belongs to all of us.  She spoke movingly of her family and what she knows she represents.   How could she forget?   How could we not remember?

I doubt this ‘day of judgement’ in front of Congress was the only time she has ever faced the disrespect and incivility that surely was common to generations of her ancestors.  But what I saw was that it did not define her, instead I think she embodied what is written in Isaiah… words of deliverance, hope, consolation, and promise

…now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert…To give drink to my chosen people

Judge Jackson drank of the waters in the desert, felt God’s consolation and hope, and saw the ‘new thing’

As I watched her, I was thinking of the remarkable coincidence that my witness of her day of ‘judgement’ occurred during Lent.

Lent is one of the most enduring seasons in our Christian calendar – we set aside something, we pray and reflect in preparation to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Despite the turbulence of church history, the ebb and flow of human migration, kingdoms rising and empires failing, for centuries Lenten practices remain pretty much unchanged for nearly two thousand years.

We here in 2022 look back over thousands of years – Isaiah’s words come to us as they were written and first heard.   We do not know our outcome anymore than the Judeans of Babylon knew theirs.  It seems dire, we are walking in a desert wondering if we will find lifesaving water so we can carry on. But they did it and so can we.

In our Lenten journey, we give up to move forward – painfully and slowly – we need to find God’s water and drink of it – to work toward fixing the broken things in our lives, replenishing our perseverance.

As it was written in Philippians…

…I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Jesus Christ.

And if we do this

…then, we were like those who dream…then was our mouth filled with laughter and our tongue with shouts of joy

…those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy,

shouldering their sheaves…

 

3-27-22 Reflection by Larry Di Costanzo

Reflection for March 27, 2022

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Lawrence DiCostanzo

Joshua 5:9-12

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Psalm 32

– – –

We are living in dark and sinful times — again.  It is certainly a dark time for Russia.  I’m reminded how, in 2019, Barbara and I had the privilege of visiting Russia.  We went to Saint Petersburg, and we were able to spend a whole morning in the “Hermitage” which is one of the world’s great museums of art.  Our guide was an art historian, and she was excited and proud.  After seeing many beautiful art works housed in a magnificent palace, our guide stopped us at the end of a long gallery.  Her eyes were shining as she said, “Now we will turn this corner and see one of the world’s greatest paintings.”

We held our breath and turned the corner, and there it was —  Rembrandt’s painting of the Return of the Prodigal Son.  We all felt a moment of reverence, so gorgeous is the love and the sorrow of the old father embracing the young man who is kneeling before him.  The young man’s face is hidden against the old man’s body; his shaved head is riddled with ring worm; his clogs are worn out and stinking.

The father and son take up maybe half or more of the painting.  The rest is dark, dark.  In the darkness there are figures, half seen, half painted.  Perhaps they are meant to be the Pharisees and scribes who had criticized Jesus for hanging out with sinners and tax collectors that day.  Perhaps they are the elder son of the parable and some of the father’s hired hands.  Perhaps they are us.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is the closer of a string of three parables about losing and finding.  The first two are not included in today’s Gospel reading.  The first parable is about the shepherd who leaves his flock to find one lost sheep and rejoices to find it and invites his friends to rejoice too.  The second parable is about the housewife who searches for a lost coin, rejoices to find it and also invites her neighbors to rejoice with her.  The third is the parable of the Prodigal Son.

This third parable appears only in Luke’s Gospel.  But it is definitely Jesus talking.  The parable reflects his genius.  It has layers that make it timeless so that it applies the people who were there listening to Jesus and to us who listen to him in the Scriptures.

Jesus had been talking to so-called sinners and tax collectors that day.  As was often the case, there were Pharisees and scribes there too and, as usual in the Gospels, they criticized Jesus to his face for being with these low people.  In response, Jesus tells us the string of three parables about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the Prodigal Son.  Maybe the elder son in the parable of the Prodigal Son is a kind of stand-in for the Pharisees — not necessarily bad people generally speaking, but also unable to understand or accept that the Year of the Lord’s Favor had arrived. (Luke 4:16-21). They don’t realize God’s urgency to gather us all in.

God’s urgency to gather us in is evident in the shepherd parable and the parable of the lost coin.  But the parable of The Prodigal Son is different.  Unlike the shepherd or the housewife, the father does not go looking for the son who fell into trouble in a faraway land.  That son, the one we call The Prodigal, goes looking for the father.

The Prodigal had gone his own way.  In his eventual poverty, he’d even reached the point of envying the animals their feed.  The darkness and the failure of his life led him to come to himself, actually to walk inside his own head.  [The Greek implies physical movement into himself.]  He thinks how his father’s hired hands are probably eating well.  There is longing here, but there also seems to be some self pity.  But the prodigal makes a much bigger move inside his head: he concludes that he is unworthy to be his father’s son.  And this is what he says when his father runs out to meet him.  This, I think, is the moment of the embrace in Rembrandt’s painting.  But the father is so happy, he doesn’t seem to hear.  He moves directly to celebration.

So, Jesus tells us that the darkness, of which Jesus himself must have had a lot of experience, can be a place where light grows.

But, there is another son in this parable — the elder brother.  He is the one I always think about the most.  And I identify with him more than I identify with the prodigal.  I think he may be the more important brother in the story.

The elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son is, in fact, a good guy.  Like many of us church people, he is one of the sheep who did not stray.  He is one of the coins that stayed in the box.

And the beauty of the Parable of the Prodigal Son is that, through the elder brother, Jesus talks about the good sheep and the inert coins.  So how does it work?  The elder brother, the good sheep, is angry.  He begrudges what the father is giving the younger son.  But really what he says to his father shows that he is hurt.  “I’ve been good.  I work all the time.  I never got your permission to kill a measly goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  And you favor this lowlife who spent your money on prostitutes.”  He is falling apart, melting down. In fact, like his brother the Prodigal, he is in darkness.

And in his anger and his grief, he is really saying:  “You don’t love me.”

This elder brother presents to me the depth of the humanity of the Parable and the greatness of its challenge.

For how do we people who go to church, live our lives, go shopping, garden, visit our friends, volunteer, and so forth feel the love of God?  When we are sometimes in our own darkness, we say, “I’m just a humdrum guy.  Show me that you love me.”

I suggest that we, who are the elder sons in the Parable, see the light in a different way than the Prodigal did.  We have to reflect, maybe all the time, on the father’s really important response to the elder son in the parable.  The father does speak to his concerns directly.  He does show him love.  He addresses him intimately.  He uses a really important word that I can’t find really translated well, in my opinion, in any of the English translations of the parable that I read.  That is, the father calls him teknon.  This is a Greek word that means “my child.”  He says, “My child, you are with me always.  And all that is mine is yours.”  How much more do we need?  It’s Jesus who said this!  God puts his flock in green pastures and by still waters.  He restores our souls in the same way as he restores the soul of the prodigal son – through his love.  (Psalm 23)

And then we move on.  How do we do that?  The Parable of the Prodigal Son is really different because we have to finish it ourselves.  Here is an example that I think is like how the parable of the Prodigal Son might continue after the father’s loving words to the elder son.

In my work, I came across felons and evil-doers who had found Jesus while they were in prison.  I always found these so-called jail-house conversions to be moving.  In the darkness, these prodigal sons had been bathed in waterfalls of light.  And the regular old sheep of the flock were often the roadside evangelical churches that took these ex-felons under their wings and whose pastors and members came to testify on their behalves.  These regular people decided to go into the feast.  I hope the elder brother in the parable did too.  As I said, it is up to us to finish this parable in our own lives.

Thank you.

3-13-22 Reflection by Chanthip Phongkhamsavath

Second Sunday in Lent
March 13, 2022

Why do we constantly ask what God will do for us? Why is it so important for Abram to know
what his descendants will have and why is it that heirs are so inherently important – why is it that
a slave would not be as worthy to be an heir.

I wonder about our own Christian history and its role in creating the social structures we live in
today. Within many readings we encounter roles of the masters and slaves. There is a
differentiation that existed, that would change eventually, however it is easy to dwell on that
existence of privilege that existed through the ages. For as long as we have known it seems there
have always been those who are more privileged than others in land, wealth, strength, and other
ways. Where privilege for some becomes so inherent that there isn’t even a willingness to
understand its root in order to begin to address and unravel it.

It makes me think about the focus in recent years on diversity, equity and inclusion in the
workplace and in education overall – the beginnings of understanding privilege and its impacts.
Earlier in the year as a staff we had a professional training day on diversity and race and there
was one particular exercise that stood out for me. Because it was all virtual we had an
opportunity to participate in a jamboard exercise where we were all asked to respond to the
question of our experience with race with one word – and the benefit of being virtual – if a word
was repeated by multiple people it was larger on the screen.

When the exercise ended, I was surprised that one of the largest words on the screen was
privilege. I had to take a step back and think about the demographics of our staff versus the
students that we serve, especially in Richmond and East Oakland. And it made me wonder what
the difference in response would be if we had our students do the same exercise. If we looked at
those responses side by side what could we do then to recognize our inherent places and
experiences in the world. One of our campuses recently attempted to further engage the staff in
an exercise on privilege and there was an overall negative response with certain staff refusing to
even participate – and I was surprised although in thinking about it I shouldn’t have been.

It is uncomfortable to think about the benefits that we have been born into, whatever they may
be, and there is natural resistance if someone attempts to disrupt or even point it out. It seems to
make sense then that Jerusalem keeps killing the prophets and stoning those sent to it. Maybe
they were not ready to hear the news because it meant that there might be changes that on the
onset might not look so positive for them – even if it might mean a better overall future for their
children and other children who were not theirs.

I know I struggle with balancing what benefits myself and my family versus what might better
the greater good. I can see why Abram would keep asking what the benefit would be for him to
follow God, because oftentimes it can be challenging to look at what is ahead of us and think
about the future and what is left after we are gone.

Although that is the piece that we look towards, not being gone, rather, being able to join God in
heaven and salvation. For being true to following the way of everlasting love and grace. When
God is already light and salvation – when our salvation and citizenship is in heaven – why is what
is left in the flesh so important. It is not what is left, as what opportunity we leave to those after
us. The opportunity to know and love God – to be able regardless of position and privilege, to all
strive together for salvation.

We are constantly asking God what can be done for us and it makes me wonder why God keeps
trying. Then I remember that God is light and salvation and love. That God is the strength when
I am weak or when I am afraid. And maybe then it isn’t what will be available for our heirs in
the here and now in the flesh, but to ensure for them the opportunity to hear of God’s love and
grace. That change and salvation is for all the heirs of the earth, if there is willingness to lean
into God’s grace and love and be open to the constant change in one’s life. Amen.

3-20-22 Reflection by Barbara Metcalf

Barbara Metcalf
Lent 3 March 20, 2022
Isaiah 55: 1-9, alternate to Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 63: 1-8
1 Corinthians 10: 1-13
Luke 13 1-9
There was an alternate Old Testament reading appointed for today, which I read
by mistake. Like our psalm, that reading, from Isaiah, gives us images of food and
drink. The beautiful Isaiah passage offers us wine and milk without money, and
invites us to “delight [ourselves] in rich food.” The Psalmist imagines the
desperation for water “in a dry and weary land where there is no water,” water so
needed that that when it is found is nothing less than “a rich feast.” Add to these
the epistle and gospel, and we have food on all sides: rich food, the joy of water
for the thirsty, a rich feast, the miraculous food of manna from heaven, the food
of sacrifice, and hopes for ripe figs from a tree.

All this reminds us of the gospel stories we know so well. Jesus and the
overflowing caskets of wine at Cana produced from water. Jesus and the feeding
of thousands, with leftovers, when there initially appeared to be only scraps.
Jesus and the overflowing nets of fish after a night of failure.

We recognize food for what it is in these stories: a material, recognizable symbol
of nothing less than a sustaining, abundant relationship to the Divine, a
relationship the Psalmist celebrates when he finds that longed-for water: “in the
shadow of your wings I sing for joy.”

The New Testament readings, like Isaiah, remind us — a lesson apt for Lent — that
we must change. Change to be able to sing with the Psalmist. Or what?? (Here’s a
spoiler alert for episodes that follow today’s Old Testament lesson when Moses
has answered God’s call.) Paul uses the exodus to tell a harsh story of God’s
judgment. The Israelites were fed but ungrateful.

They turn from God to idols.
They “eat and drink” and simply rise up “to play.”
And then
God strikes them down in the wilderness.
Serpents destroy them.

They are “destroyed by the destroyer.”
They fail their test.

Do we conclude that the Israelites and other afflicted people simply get what they
deserve?

We know that can’t be the right conclusion. As the book title says, bad things
happen to good people. People make mistakes but that doesn’t make them
“bad.” We know that “normal” people suffer. We only have to look at Ukraine
today – or Afghanistan and Iraq, or the unhoused on our streets, or loved ones
afflicted with illness – to know that is true. A grotesque example of the opposite
vision of God was that people got H.I.V. because they deserved it. And some have
the idea that God deliberately sends suffering to test us. As an amateur homilist,
I’ve got no theology on that one and just say I don’t like that idea either.
Jesus, in Luke’s account, tells us clearly that suffering is not God’s judgment.
Pilate apparently, in an obscure episode, killed some Galileans in the course of
their sacrifice in the temple in Jerusalem. We are not told what his presumably
political motive was. But Jesus is clear that the Galileans were no worse sinners
than others. Similarly, when the temple of Siloam (suh · low · uhm) fell and killed
people during Jesus’ lifetime, those killed were “no worse offenders than all the
others living in Jerusalem” at that time.

So why then does Jesus call the disciples, call us, to repentance with the warning
that otherwise “you will all perish just as they, the Galileans and the people in
Siloam, did.” How can this not be a contradiction?

The key, I think, is not to be misled by the warning that one will literally perish, be
physically dead, as the unlucky Gallieans and Siloam (suh · low · uhm) people
were. Instead sin, without repentance, means distance from God. That distance
brings its own punishment, its death of the spirit. To repent, to live in right
relationship to the Divine, to know and seek God’s love, is to bring life in itself, to
enjoy the wine and milk and water in the desert and the rich feast.
Think of yourself as a fig tree. We may have — we have for sure — failed to
produce the fruits of the spirit. But in this parable, there is mercy. The fig tree in
our story has failed to produce fruit for three years. But the owner of the tree is
persuaded to give it another chance. It is not killed on the spot like that other fig

tree that Jesus causes to wither in Jerusalem. That other fig tree was faking its
abundance, just putting out leaves, like the people in the temple Jesus has just
stormed who claim holiness but in fact exploit.
In this case, the fig tree just needs help.

The gardener says just give me a year, “[I’ll] dig around it and put fertilizer on it.”
The fig tree gets its gardener.
We too need a gardener.
We need Jesus, our gardener, to help us change, to repent as Jesus and Isaiah
alike call us to, to see what we need to do. The gardener in the story will dig
around the tree and feed it.
We turn to Jesus to help us dig up what is buried in us, and to be fed, fertilized,
with his guidance and his presence.
There are other gardeners in our life. Think about who have been, or are, your
gardeners. Some gardeners we only know indirectly like the holy women and men
appointed for the day (or adjacent days) we read about every Thursday during
Morning Prayer.

Or there may be people in our own times who, similarly, we know only by stories
and reputation. One such is Paul Farmer, a founder of the NGO, Partners in
Health, who died recently and unexpectedly, and whom I’ve thought about a lot
this past week.* Paul Farmer did remarkable work rooted in deeply thoughtful
liberation theology. A colleague who knew him posted a profoundly moving
tribute a few days ago invoking his own tradition that made Paul Farmer one of
the 36 righteous people that Jewish thought imagines inhabiting the Divine at any
time. People remembering Paul Farmer said they themselves became better
people by being in his presence.

But beside such gardeners from the past, or from today, known indirectly, we
have, all of us, gardeners in our own everyday lives. They are the people who, by
their own example, help us know ourselves, even without saying anything. They
are the people who model ways of being we can hold before ourselves and aspire
to. Sothink about your own gardeners.

Think about Mary Magdalene in the garden who thinks she sees a gardener but
instead sees Jesus, the great gardener, the cultivator of new life.
*To watch the memorial, go to pih.org and click the link. It was held at Trinity
Church, Boston, the most beautiful church I’ve ever visited. And, to be a bit
parochial, it is a reminder in some of the words that are spoken of the gift that is
the Book of Common Prayer.

Luke 4:1-13 by Rev. Jim Stickney

St. Alban’s Church Deuteronomy 26: 1 – 11
March 6, 2022 Psalm 91
First Sunday in Lent Romans 10: 8b – 13
Pastor Jim Stickney Luke 4: 1 – 13

“Come quickly to help us, who are assaulted by many temptations”
When I was a novice in seminary, we inherited a tradition very rich in names,
including a name for a high hill which was planted with grape vines.
During harvest season, we would trudge up the sides of this hill, time and again,
carrying back buckets of grapes, until we reached the crest, where we rested.
The view from the top was amazing, and we called the hilltop “Tibi dabo,”
from two Latin words meaning “I will give to you.” The reference was
to the Gospel passage we heard this morning, in which the devil tempts Jesus
by saying: “To you will I give their glory and all this authority.”
I’m actually getting a little ahead of myself in this sermon — I should tell you
that I’m preaching on temptation, and how our struggles with temptation
can be helped by the example of Jesus, by looking at the ways He was tempted.
“Come quickly to help us, who are assaulted by many temptations”
The Gospels display a refreshing honesty about Jesus being tempted as we are.
They place these temptations squarely at the start of Jesus’ ministry —
after his Baptism by John, but before any miracles, or parables, or signs of healing.
It’s as if Jesus needed to confirm the astounding experience of his Baptism,
when the heavens were ripped open and God’s spirit descended on him —
so right after the Baptism Jesus spends some time [40 days] in deserted places.
Although Matthew and Luke speak of three temptations right after Jesus’ fasting,
that’s probably a summary statement — Jesus must have been tempted
throughout his ministry to misuse his power and to take the easy way out.
First, If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.
On one level, this temptation is matched to a person who’s ending a long fast.
The devil tempts Jesus to do something rather trivial with divine power.
Notice here that not one Gospel miracle was done to take care of Jesus’ own needs.
Right there, we are challenged not to put our own hungers in first place.
But there’s another, more subtle part of this temptation: the little word “if.”

“If you are the Son of God” — If you are really the child of a loving God —
Prove to me, the diabolic voice sneers, that any of you are perfect followers of Jesus!
What a trap that is, trying to prove (to the enemy of our human nature)
that we are really daughters and sons of God. We need to realize that nothing we do
can ever demonstrate (to any hostile spirit) that we are flawless and perfect.
Whenever you encounter a temptation to doubt that you’re made in God’s image,
don’t look to your own work to justify yourself, but rather to God’s work.
On our own, we’ll be full of “ifs” and “not enoughs.” Let our trust be in God.
“Come quickly to help us, who are assaulted by many temptations”
The second temptation puts us back on this conceptual mountain top
with the tempter ordering Jesus to worship him, to obtain worldly riches and power.
Jesus quotes Scripture (for the second time) to reply to this temptation:
“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” How might this apply to us?
Are there other gods clamoring for our worship and allegiance?
We know about the obvious false gods of money and status and fleeting fame.
But I remember, back in Gulliver’s Travels, about the tiny Lilliputians.
They observed that before Gulliver did anything important, he took out his watch.
He did this so much, they concluded that Gulliver’s watch must be his god.
Now, unlike Adam & Eve, Jesus doesn’t reply directly to the tempter’s words.
Jesus simply quotes Scripture. So Jesus doesn’t engage the tempter to challenge
that demonic, false statement, that “all glory and authority belongs to me (the devil).”
Sadly, many Christians have gone along with the devil on this point, believing
that Satan is the ruler of this world, just because he says so. That’s simply a damn lie!
The devil doesn’t own anything! The entire world belongs to God — and to us,
insofar as we are faithful stewards of the good and abundant blessings of this world.
“Come quickly to help us, who are assaulted by many temptations”
Lastly, we come to the temptation to jump off the pinnacle of the temple —
a desperate and rather pathetic invitation. But it does introduce a new twist,
in that the devil quotes Holy Scripture for evil purposes. Sadly many Christians
follow this demonic example, by turning Bible verses into arrows and barbs
with which they can fight with other Christians about who is more faithful & holy.

You might recall the lines from Psalm 91 which we sang after the first reading,
about the angels protecting you, that you not dash your foot against a stone.
Jesus is not about to “put the Lord your God to the test,” and the devil departs,
we are told, until an opportune time — an ominous note, a foreshadowing
of what Jesus says later on in Luke’s Gospel [22: 53]. When he is arrested, Jesus says:
“This is your hour and the power of darkness.”
We are assaulted by many temptations, but even when we feel we’re at our worst,
we know the Son of God was tempted just as we are: and so we pray:
“Come quickly to help us, who are assaulted by many temptations”

On the mountain top – by Mary Doleman

In this week’s readings, we have two mountaintop experiences. Moses goes up
the mountain to talk with God, and Jesus goes up a mountain with some of his
disciples to have his glory revealed before them.
I’ve been on some mountain tops in my life, and so I understand what it means.
Whether it’s a few hundred or a few thousand feet above the surrounding
landscape, you can see a lot more from up there than you can from below. It’s
like a living map, and you can see how everything relates to everything else –
other peaks, lakes and rivers, and roads and towns. I can use this metaphor to
describe less literal peak experiences. Getting close to retirement and seeing my
years of work from a new perspective. Seeing my children reaching milestones,
like graduation, that seemed impossibly far off while we were driving them places
and trying to make sure they did their homework.
But, of course, these scriptural passages are talking about spiritual mountain tops.
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a spiritual mountain top. Foothills,
maybe. But the kind of experience the mystics describe, of seeing, for just a
moment, how everything fits together, no. That’s never happened to me, and I
don’t know if it ever will. There aren’t any trail signs marked “Enlightenment 5.2
miles.”
So, how do I talk about something I’ve never experienced, and might not ever
experience? I can only talk about what I think the path might be like. I started by
thinking about literal mountain climbing as a metaphor (switchbacks being a
particularly tempting analogy), but that began to seem pretty forced. I realized
that there is a very important difference between spiritual mountain tops and
other kinds of mountain top experiences. I don’t think I can get there by the
orderly, step wise, goal driven process. If I’m going to hike to some peak, whether
it’s Wildcat Peak in Tilden Park or a 9,000-foot mountain in the Sierras, I prepare
by training, I make sure I have the right shoes and other equipment and supplies.
I find the trail, maybe carry a map. And I make a commitment to reach the top,
which helps to keep me going up all those switchbacks and rocky places. Goals are
good – they keep us moving when we might want to give up. They’re helpful in
school, at work, even in parenting.

Spiritual development comes from a different kind of preparation. We can pray
and meditate. We can read the words of spiritual guides, starting, for Christians,
with Jesus, but maybe there are other teachers who speak to us, as well.
All of us here have done those things, and all of us know that Jesus’s lessons all
come down to love. We’ve talked about that a lot. In these reflections, in our
discussions in various small groups. We’ve talked about how hard it is to love
everyone. Larry talked about that just last week, so I’m not going to go there
again right now.
We might have a sort of goal of becoming more loving, and praying or meditating
every day. But we don’t really know where that will lead us, or when. We want
to be able to keep going, even when it doesn’t seem as if we’re going anywhere.
We have to accept that we will fail, again and again, to do what we know is right.
The path has to be its own reward. I feel better when I act more loving, even if it
isn’t always instinctive If I approach prayer not as a religious obligation, but as a
chance to spend some time with God, I find it both more comfortable and more
comforting. Even if we never reach a mountain top where everything is suddenly
clear, I think there will be a lot of rewards along the way. To get back to the trail
metaphor, walk for the sake of walking, and take note of all the things you see as
you go.

The Beatitudes & St. Valentine by Sandy Burnett

Feb. 13 2022 reflection

One of the things I love about being an Episcopalian is that it calls on you at least once a week to
use your discernment. Today’s Gospel is a great example.
Years ago, when I was asked to speak to classrooms about journalism, I was often asked how I
knew what was true, how did I know what I should report and what I shouldn’t. The answer is
that I had to try to cover the different points of view, within reason. I pointed out then that even
in the Bible, there are several versions of the same material that have inconsistencies. I think we
all know that people react to the same things in different ways. Police detectives know that “eye
witnesses” to the same event often report seeing very different things.
I always thought the Gospel reading today was an alternate, less-appealing version of the more
famous Beatitudes found in Mathew. Some authors believe they are not, that they are two
separate sermons: the sermon on the mount and the sermon on the plain. Others believe that both
accounts stem from a common source, a written document composed of sayings of Jesus, and
that Matthew embellished the texts somewhat.
Luke’s account of the sermon on the plain has four Beatitudes. The sermon on the Mount has
eight.
The ones that we don’t hear in the Sermon on the Plain are the blessedness of the meek, the
merciful, the pure of heart, and the peacemakers. Instead, we get the four woes:
Woe to you who are rich, to you who are full, to you who laugh now, and to you when all men
speak well of you.
Earlier, in the passage from Jeremiah, we hear another beatitude: “Blessed are those who trust in
the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.” And in the Psalm, we hear about the happiness of the
righteous and the doom that comes to the wicked.
This is about where I start to regret that I agreed to reflect on these particular readings. Some of
the authors I read said that both sets of beatitudes were especially intended for the apostles, who
had just been called from their normal lives to join Jesus. It must have struck home for them to
be told that the poor are blessed. Answering Christ’s call was going to cost them everything they
had once valued — home, careers, families, reputations and even their lives.
I like Mathew’s version best. Luke’s “woes” are a turn-off. I don’t necessarily want to be rich,
but I like being full and I like laughing and I like to be well thought of. Are these sins? Am I
risking heaven?
As Steve Hitchcock pointed out to me, the concept of the beatitudes and the woes is a common
one in the New Testament — the Great Reversal. The first becomes last and the last becomes
first. All of us are last somewhere in our lives. God is there for us in those times as well as all
others. We may feel alone and abandoned, but we are not.
The same Jesus who feeds everyone so abundantly both physically and spiritually throughout the

Gospels, asks that we do our best to do the same. Jesus’ actions show that he wants everyone to
be fed, to be able to appreciate the bounteous gifts we receive from God. Someone who is poor
but doesn’t have the spirit of giving — even of just a smile — is poor indeed. Someone who is
rich and doesn’t have the spirit of giving, is even poorer. Tomorrow is St. Valentine’s Day, in
memory of another generous. loving person inspired by Jesus. Christ’s example is to give and
give and give. None of us could ever be so generous, but we are called to try.