Sermons

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.”

9-11-22 Reflection by Steve Hitchcock

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 11, 2022 ● St. Alban’s Episcopal Church ● Albany, California
Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm 51:1-11
1 Timothy 1:12-17
LUKE 15:1-10

I imagine we were all disappointed last Sunday when Father Jim, in his
sermon, talked about stained glass rather than about the penultimate line of the
Gospel appointed for last Sunday, Luke 14: 33: “So therefore none of you can become
my disciples if you do not give up all your possessions.
Okay, probably not. Even though some of us keep telling ourselves, “Today,
I’m going to get started on decluttering.”
But that verse from last Sunday’s Gospel sets the context for today’s Gospel:
chapter 15 of Luke for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost. The audience for
today’s reading is, on the one hand tax collectors and sinners and, on the other hand,
the Pharisees and scribes. In the next chapter, Jesus criticizes the Pharisees because
they love money. They’re not giving up their possessions to follow Jesus.
In fact, Luke’s Gospel is filthy with rich people and those focused on money and
possessions. In 12, we have the “build lots of barns” guy. In chapter 16, we’ll hear
about the dishonest manager who steals from his master. Of course, there follows the
story of the rich man and Lazarus.

Back to our Gospel reading in chapter 15, we hear three parables
about rich individuals: a sheep owner, a woman with coins, and –
following the two parables we hear today – a wealthy landowner
with two sons.

The first parable is about a sheep owner. He is not a shepherd, one lowest
occupations in ancient Palestine. And he owns a hundred sheep. The woman has ten
silver coins; she’s clearly not a peasant.

What is notable is that these wealthy people are careless. Each of them has lost
something of value. Thus, in one sense, they are sinners. The sheep isn’t a sinner; he
was doing what sheep do, which is wander. And a coin certainly isn’t intrinsically
bad.

Today, we are invited to confess that we too have lost something, that
we’ve let our own worries and cares distract us. We’ve let some
important people and events in our lives fade into the background.
We may not consider ourselves wealthy, but we have immense social capital.
We are well educated, and we work hard to have some level of financial security.
Perhaps you exercise so you don’t lose the ability to get around and function. Many
of us make lists and do other things to stay organized and remember as much as
possible.

Yet, all our efforts – financial, physical, and mental – come up short. No
matter how hard we try, things don’t work out. Even in the best of circumstances, we
lose our friends, we lose our health, and we lose our connection to God. The New
Testament calls this sin: sin is not what we do or don’t do, but rather who we are,
despite our best efforts.

The introduction to our reading pulls us back from dwelling on our lost-ness,
our carelessness, and our foolishness. The good news for us today is, “This fellow
welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Throughout Luke’s Gospel, that is exactly what Jesus does:
welcomes sinners. He doesn’t berate them or criticize them. He
doesn’t even ask them to shape up and turn from their ways.
What Jesus does do is eat with sinners, including us today. And this is not
some mid-morning snack, but almost always a feast or banquet. A big celebration
just like the ones in today’s Gospel reading.

Significantly, during and after those celebrations, those who are welcomed by
Jesus do some extraordinary things. Levi – or Matthew, the tax collector – follows
Jesus. Zacchaeus, another tax collector, decides to give away half of all his
belongings, and Jesus announces that “Today, salvation has come to this house.”
For Luke, repentance is what follows being welcomed by Jesus.
It’s what happens after we have tasted the feast of God’s mercy
and forgiveness.

So, as we return to today’s two parables, we see that the rejoicing is not because
sheep have stopped wandering or because a coin suddenly shows itself. The rejoicing
– the celebration – is because the person who lost something has found it.
Today, the promise is that if you follow Jesus – join him in eating and
celebrating with others and listening to his words – then you will be able to turn away
from your own troubles and concerns. In fact, you will repent – you will turn around
and then you will notice all the other sheep that have been gathered together, all the
others who have been invited to this banquet.
A recent New York Times story reported that seemingly small acts of kindness
had a surprisingly large impact. Offering someone a compliment or a cupcake, for
example. Consistently, those who made those acts of kindness under-estimated how
much a difference their gesture would make.

Even more surprising, the act of kindness gave both the giver and the recipient
a change in perspective. Some of the concerns and problems they were facing
suddenly seemed less daunting.

That’s the kindness we are being offered in today’s Gospel and in our praying
and singing together. We may not always be able to feast on bread and wine.

And,these days, that bread is a brittle wafer. But whenever we gather, Jesus is in the
midst of us, and we can taste that life-saving bread and wine.
And so this little moment in time we share today becomes a feast
of joy in our lives. We are welcomed into a new reality with new
possibilities.

Our experience today is so transformative – so eternal, if you will – because it
is the welcome that Jesus on the cross speaks to the thief. Jesus doesn’t condemn the
thief for his life. He doesn’t say, “Well, guy, you’re getting what you deserve.” No,
Jesus says, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Those are the green pastures
where sheep can graze.

In a real sense, Jesus is the one who finds us, goes after us, searches for us,
and meets us on the road. In fact, Jesus goes to the Cross to find us. Jesus goes with
us into our death – first of all in our baptism as we are buried with Christ and raised
with Christ, then every day as we re-live our baptism, and finally in our own ultimate
death. We follow Jesus, but Jesus also follows us.

Yes, we have lost so much in so many ways. But today, we are invited to
celebrate that we have been found. We have been welcomed. Let us feast together on
the Scriptures, find each other in prayer, and sing songs of rejoicing. Amen.

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.

 

Sermon 08-07-2022 Rev. J. Stickney

August 7, 2022
St. Alban’s Church
Pastor Jim Stickney
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 15: 1 – 6
Psalm 33: 12 – 22
Hebrews 11: 1 – 3; 8 – 16
Luke 12: 32 – 40

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

I’d like to start this sermon with a story about a thief who came in the night.
This story comes from a period in the early church when monks lived in rustic caves.
One night a monk came back from a Tenebrae service to find a thief rushing out
with his arms filled with food. As the robber stumbled in the darkness, the monk noticed
the thief had dropped some loaves of bread. So the monk picked them up
and rushed out after the thief, crying, “My brother, make room for these as well!”

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Our reading from Hebrews tells us that it is by faith we come to understand that this world
is created by the word of God, so that things we see come from what is unseen.
What we see came from what we do not see. When we look around at the world’s beauty,
we can trace its origins back to what we do not see, an even more beautiful Word —
God’s Logos, existing from before time and forever. But we only know this by faith.

I don’t think faith is simple. Living a life based on faith in the unseen — it can be tough.
A colleague of mine once preached a sermon in which he let the people know
that he never had any had doubts about faith in his entire life (he was in his mid-30’s).
I’ve never forgotten it — nor the reaction of some parishioners who became upset.

Here’s a brief summary: “Well, I have plenty of doubts! I look around at this world’s suffering
and I think, that makes no sense if God is all-loving.” “Maybe there is no God —
maybe life is just a random arrangement of elements from some primordial soup.”
“This is grim — now my preacher is telling me he never has any doubts at all —
maybe I don’t belong here in church — maybe I’m really a hypocrite and should just leave.”

Well — I ‘m not taking that approach. In fact, I respect the power of doubting.
Faith is good, but it’s doubt that gets you an education! Think about parents teasing children
by presenting nonsense explanations, just so their kids can say “you’re being silly.”
Faith and doubt are like partners in authentic search for the truth — each needs the other.

If you believe everything you hear, you’re naive. (So don’t believe everything you think.)
If you doubt everything you hear, you’re a cynic, not trusting any wisdom tradition.
The opposite of faith is not doubt — the opposite of faith is knowing for sure — certitude!
Especially as authentic Anglicans, we respect ambiguity. Faith in dancing with doubt!
After a memorial service several years ago, one of the family told me
that when she was a teenager, living in rural Clayton, she’d ride her horse to church!
She’d sit toward the back and keep an eye on it, tied to a fence outside the window.
She didn’t have to believe in her horse — she could just look at it outside the window.
You don’t need to believe in the vehicle that brought you to church this morning —
it’s a certainty that it brought you here. You have a reasonable faith that vehicle
will take you back after church. Certitude is about the past, but faith is for the future.

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Does our Gospel passage today help us find the kind of faith we need to follow God?
What kind of an example does Jesus give us? Well, at first, it seems our faith
is supposed to resemble the faith of servants in a lord and master who is absent —
he’s at a elaborate wedding feast, and we’re supposed to wait up for him
so that when he finally gets home, we can open the door to him, ready and alert.
If we’re faithful, he’ll reverse roles and wait on us — no matter how late it is.

But then we have one of those twists we’ve learned to expect from Jesus’s teaching.
God’s arrival is now compared to a thief in the night. The householder doesn’t know
just when the thief might strike. If we follow this image out, then a break-in is inevitable.
No householder can stay up all the time. God is going to break through the barriers.

So I’m going to take this parable in a rather different direction today. We can admit
that all of us have some protection around our vulnerable selves. We realize this
when our phone rings and it’s someone on the other end who wants to sell us something.
It’s quite an effort to be civil and polite. We all have barriers about our money.
Even for something we choose to support, like the church we love, we have barriers —
if there were no barriers about money, we wouldn’t need an annual pledge campaign.

So how are we to keep our faith, if God sometimes act like a thief in the night? Just this —
God only steals from us the things we really don’t need — God leaves us the
essentials.

God asks us to have faith, despite all the temporary setbacks in our best-laid plans.
God takes away the scaffolding, to reveal that our souls can stand upright on our own.

I’d like to end this sermon with another story about a thief in the night.
This story comes from the Japanese tradition of Zen Buddhism. There’s a full moon out,
and a Zen monk leaves his hut to walk outside and contemplate the night sky.
When he gets back to his hut, he finds that everything in it has been stolen. So he sits down,
thinks about the thief, and says, “I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.”

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Sunday Homily by Chanthip Phongkhamsavath 7-31-22

The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

July 31, 2022

 

Good morning.

 

I looked at the readings earlier this week and the reflection was at the back of my mind for most of the week.  Getting caught in the midst of a laundry list of work and home tasks that seemed to take up the majority of my brain space.  I took a little time Friday to read the lessons again realizing that Sunday was quickly creeping up on me.  And then I went about my day and got caught up in the news and the billion dollar mega million jackpot drawing that was approaching that evening.  I had told a number of people the evening before that if they were going to buy a ticket to just buy one cause statistically it was all the same and it didn’t matter the number of tickets that were bought – the one lesson from my Statistics class years ago that really stuck with me – well it gets more complicated if you keep the same numbers over the course of different drawings – but I digress…

 

Anyways, as I

was driving to dinner I took a detour and decided to try my luck and buy just one ticket.  As I continued on my way I began to think about what I would do if I won – pay off the mortgage on my condo on my sister’s house…go on vacation…set up a foundation…there were a lot of different things. And at dinner my cousin and I – cause she had also bought a few mega million lotto tickets talked about what we would do if we won. If you’ve kept tabs on the news, needless to say neither one of us won – there is an individual or maybe group of people in Illinois who may be rejoicing in their luck and the wealth coming to them.

 

And since you’ve just heard the readings, maybe you can also sense where my reflection ended up taking me on Saturday.  Despite having sat on the readings and thinking about the message of not seeking wealth and that material things were not true treasures – I still fell into the lure of wealth and admit that yes it was greed as well that existed there.  I had my seemingly good intentions of setting up ways to give some of the winnings away, however gaining wealth and treasures for myself was still at the forefront.  It is an easy trap to fall into, one that advertising and consumerism plays into so much.

 

It felt a bit like I was living out the reading in real time this week – maybe not literally – however almost in spirit – “The more I called them, the more they went from me”

 

Despite having God’s words and teachings in the background and in theory being more focused on them than usual – since I knew I had to reflect on them – I still managed to not hear them.  A healthy reminder that although the words and lessons from the Bible may be outdated in the literal translation, they are still accurate in the spirit of what still drives us humans to this day. We have the benefit of coming together to reflect though, to be able whether daily, weekly, monthly or when our need is greatest to call to God and have faith that we will be delivered from our distress.

 

Although we may not literally be delivered from our immediate distress at least we have the opportunities to constantly reflect on how our daily lives live out the Lord’s teachings.  And how we have the daily opportunities then, to try and listen a little harder each day even if we falter, because we will.  At least we know that in the larger scheme of things we can begin to recognize in our own behaviors the lessons we continue to try and learn.

 

So although I will not say that I will never buy another lotto ticket, I can say that I will continue to try and listen to the Lord’s call and strive for a life that seeks to put at its center the values of what’s above – in God’s love and mercy – and not on the earthly material things that will not follow.  Amen.

Sunday Homily by Steve Hitchcock 7-24-22

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church ● Albany, California ● July 24, 2022

Genesis 18:20-31

Psalm 138:5-9

Colossians 2:6-15

LUKE 1:1-13

 

Forgive me if I repeat what some of you may have heard before.  About ten years ago, I found myself walking from our long-time home on the corner of Dartmouth and Stannage to St. Alban’s.  My father had died a few weeks earlier in August, and I couldn’t face another fall at University Lutheran Chapel.  I didn’t have the emotional fortitude for all the excitement and creativity of campus ministry.  I just wanted to sing some hymns and recite the creed.

 

So, I came to St. Alban’s for the hymns, but I’ve stayed because of the prayers.  

 

In my early Sundays here, I was startled when during the Prayers of the People, the people actually offered intercessions – lots of them about lots of family members, friends, and events.  Each intercession was followed by “Amen.”

 

And then, after I thought the service was over, there took place one of the wackiest activities I’ve ever seen in a church.  People actually came forward and asked for personal blessings for themselves and their loved ones.  Then, we enthusiastically prayed the prayers from the Prayer Book.

 

It’s also unbelievable to me that a half dozen of us – and there’s room for more! – have faithfully met for 20 to 30 minutes every Thursday morning for the last five years.  We follow the Morning Prayer service in the Book of Common Prayer, and we pray the collect for the saint or person who is commemorated that day or week.  

 

The disciples in today’s Gospel reading were a lot like us St. Albanites.  As good Jewish men, they knew many prayers and had plenty of practice praying.  Apparently, some of them had been taught to pray by John the Baptist.  Over the years, they would have heard prayers in their homes, synagogues, and the Temple.  Those would be prayers to God the father, and they would certainly hollow or revere the divine name: YHWH, the four letters that stood for the unspoken name of God who told Abraham, “I am who I am.”  And, of course, they had the Psalms, a collection of 150 prayers.

 

Yet in today’s Gospel, the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

 

Today, we are invited to listen in on this conversation between Jesus and his disciples.  The promise is that we, too, might learn how our prayers can transform our lives today.

 

In response to the disciples’ request, Jesus offers a few sentences we have come to know as the Lord’s Prayer.  In Matthew’s Gospel, this prayer has a few extra words and concludes with an additional petition to “rescue us from the evil one.”  The Didache, a very early Christian handbook, has a version of the prayer even closer to the one we pray today, and it includes the doxology.

 

Unique to Luke, though, is that this prayer is followed by the parable of the friend who knocks persistently on the door of his friend to ask for bread to feed another friend who has come in the middle of the night.

 

To make sense of all this, we should stop and ask why, at this point in Luke’s Gospel, the disciples are asking that question.  

 

Luke’s account of Jesus’ life was written at the end of the first century, at least 50 years after Jesus’ death.  You’ll recall it is the first part of a two-part narrative, with the Acts of the Apostles being the second part.

 

When we read much of Acts in our Easter season, I was struck that there’s a whole lot of baptizing going on.  The Ethiopian eunuch and the jailer and his family are just two of many examples.  Then, as I was reading today’s verses, it occurred to me that Luke’s Gospel was written to help early Christians – who, like those in Acts, were being baptized into the faith – to live into their baptism.

 

In our second reading for today, from Colossians, we hear what’s at stake in our baptism: “when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God…God made you alive together with him.”

 

Luke’s Gospel suggests that disciples – including us today – live out our baptism when we follow Jesus on his journey.  More so than in the other Gospels, Jesus is on the road traveling all over the place.  He stops along the way to heal and preach, often telling parables.  As we’ve noted in the past, he does a lot of eating.  Often, he’s associating with women, tax collectors, and others who were on the margins of society.

 

The other notable activity in Luke’s Gospel is Jesus at prayer.  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus prays at his baptism.  Often, he goes off to pray by himself.  In chapter 6, he spends the entire night in prayer.  And, of course, he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion.

 

It’s striking, too, that Luke’s Gospel ends with the disciples in the Temple praying after Jesus’ resurrection.

 

Today’s Gospel reading takes on even greater significance because, just a few verses ago, at the end of chapter nine, Jesus’ journey takes an important turn.  It says that “Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem.”  And, just to make sure the disciples understand what’s up, Jesus predicts that he will be rejected and put to death.

 

No wonder, then, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray.

 

So, what is that we learn about prayer that is powerful enough to overcome rejection and death?

First, today’s reading encourages us to pray repeatedly: “When you pray – whenever you pray” this is the prayer that is the framework and model for all our prayers.  

 

Second, this prayer is about our very existence: the bread that sustains us, the food – and everything else – that nourishes us.  You’ll recall that, just before Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem, he fed the multitudes with the five loaves and two fishes.  As down-to-earth as this petition is, it would have also been as reminder to Luke’s readers that their prayers are part of the messianic banquet, the Eucharist they celebrated each Sunday.

 

Third, we are encouraged to pray together.  The “you” here is plural.  Our prayers are always communal, and the most effective prayers are those offered for us by others.  And that’s why we have the parable of the persistent friend.

 

In this little puzzle of a parable, there are so many friends; everyone is a friend of everyone else.  That’s the point of friendship, isn’t it?  You can’t say no.

 

To be sure, we often fail as friends.  At times, even our friends’ persistence fails to persuade us.  We can’t escape the judgment implicit in today’s reading: as parents – and as friends – we are evil.  And for some of us our prayers – our knocking persistently on God’s door – takes place in the dark night of our souls.  In the confusion of our daily lives or sometimes in our despair, we are tempted to give up, just as we are tempted not to respond when our friends appeal to us.

 

But Luke’s parable suggests that – despite these temptations, despite those dark nights, despite our fear that God is not listening – we are praying as part of an amazing friendship circle.

 

Finally, what makes this prayer circle so powerful is that we are praying with Jesus.  Our prayers get special hearing because they are the prayers of Jesus on our behalf.  

 

Once again, our reading from Colossians may say this best: “As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

 

Throughout his Gospel, Luke invites us to go back in time and follow Jesus during his life all those years ago.  At the same time, though, Luke proclaims the good news that the Jesus who is doing all this healing, teaching, and feeding is the Risen Christ present among us right now.  As was the case for the disciples on the road to Emmaus, this Risen Christ is here among us as we pray over the bread that sustains our bodies and our spirit.

 

Let us continue to pray with this Risen Christ and with each other.  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.