Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

St. Aidan's Episcopal church
July 29, 2018

This old, familiar story had the ring of a dream to it when I read it this time.  I like dreams and what they have to tell us about our lives........

Listen here

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Homily for Ian Roberts’ Memorial Service

Saturday, June 16,  3pm
St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, Alexandria, Virginia

Any number of possibilities present themselves as ways to go about preaching Ian’s service this afternoon. Calling Ian Roberts a multi-faceted human being would be an understatement. Probably the easiest way to proceed would be to simply have as us all look at the picture on the cover of the bulletin. Take a look.

From here we all could wander off into memories of Ian’s welcoming expression, his approach to the world, to the greeting we expect from his smiling face. Ian was husband, friend, parent, counselor…we all have stories.

Or I could talk about all the things Ian shared with those around him. About his desire to invite others into higher purpose, to give, to make the world a better place. A few years ago when he took over the CROP walk to alleviate hunger, he was a force to be reckoned with. I still see him in his yellow CROP Walk tee shirt.

What stands out for me today though, is the most recent experience of being with Ian in his final days and watching a side of him I had known but not experienced to the extent that I did in Scotland a few weeks ago. I had on our recent trip the great joy of experiencing Ian closer to his home setting—geography I had heard him talk about for years. Mary and I had gone to Scotland for the first time two years ago, and in the run-up to that trip it seemed like Ian was in my office every week with a map, or a book, or a new list of parks, mountains, and lochs we had to see. We ended up making a detour at one point to see what Ian swore was a dinosaur’s footprint on a beach on the isle of sky.  
Ian was persuasive. 

With that understanding of his love of the country and it’s marvels, I sat with him on the ferry as we made our way from Oban to Mull. He was totally captured by what he was seeing out the window.  He was fully alive. Then I watched him on the bus as we crossed Mull. I was near the back and he in the front. I watched him pointing and commenting and laughing and delighting in seeing others experience what had always brought him so much joy.  In his last days Ian was as alive and happy as I had ever seen him.

He appreciated the beauty of the world, of his homeland in a way that suggested he was seeing more than just mountains and streams and beaches.  His face and his expressions and his reaction to the beauty around him conveyed a truth offered in the fourth century by Gregory of Nyssa who said the beauty we see fills us and draws us further toward the beauty yet to be seen. 
In Ian’s descriptions of what he loved and was fascinated with one always had the feeling that he was seeing more, and trying to share that something more….that he’d already had a glimpse of what lay beyond and wanted others to catch that vision too.  

As I was thinking this week about Ian and about what I would say today, I ran across these words, written by Walter Pater in his conclusion to a book of poems by William Morris.  Pater says: 

The service of philosophy, of speculative culture towards the human spirit, is to rouse, to startle it to a life of constant and eager observation.  Every moment some new form grows perfect in land or face; some tone on the hills or the sea is choicer than the rest; some mood or passion or insight or intellectual excitement is irresistibly real and attractive to us—for that moment only.  Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself is the end…How should we pass most swiftly from point to point and be present always at the focus where the greatest number of vital forces unite in their purest energy?  To burn always with this hard, gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.  

Ian showed us all what it looks like to live a successful life.  

And here’s the thing.  With Ian, that fascination, that observation wasn’t reserved for just the beautiful, but for, and maybe especially for, hidden beauty—the beauty in the mundane, the mystery and glory in what is easily overlooked.  He looked for that hidden wonder in each of us and in everyone he met and we knew it.  One of the books of photographs he published and shared with friends was titled, “Hidden in Plain Sight” because that is where he looked for the amazing, the worthwhile, the more than worthwhile.  

When Ian fell ill and was taken to the hospital in Oban, Kathy went with him and the rest of us made the short crossing to Iona. Kathy stayed in touch by phone and email, and at some point she mentioned Ian’s propensity for searching among the neglected and unnoticed for what was truly remarkable.  We all recognized what Kathy was talking about and that way of Ian’s became a part of our week.  Though he never made it across that last mile of water to the island, Ian was with us the whole time.  More than once at the end of the day’s hiking and wandering in the beauty of nature someone would report having spent the day looking at the world “the way Ian does,” searching out what might be missed because of its humble setting or seeming insignificance in the presence of so much beauty.  On that tiny island, as prayers were offered for Ian at every service in the abbey and as the story spread, our little band became known as “Ian’s group.”  His presence and influence were palpable for people who had never met him.  We would expect nothing less from Ian Roberts.  Ian himself is still hidden in plain sight on Iona. Even in death, Ian was shaping and guiding and creating community.

My understanding of church and salvation has to do with being made whole in the community that gathers around the Jesus stories.  It is about becoming aware of that “something more” which we all intuit and of which we are all a part.  We learn from each other and are shaped by each other’s stories, by sharing the experience of living, its joys and its challenges.  We learn, grow, and discover in community in ways we never could on our own.  Community is where we become what we might become, and hopefully, in the process, discover that part of the divine life that is ours to reveal through our living and acting to others in the community.  Ian found his calling.

Jesus was always encouraging those around him to go farther, ‘think about what lies behind your tradition’s words, throw a wider net when you imagine community, include those you didn’t think belonged, expand your thinking…….your awareness of others and their lives. Expand your belief in your own worth….develop a fascination for everything around you until this life becomes the kingdom of the divine and you begin to worry less about your own life and begin to long for that “something more” you have always hoped for.  

I believe Ian’s gift, his bit of the divine revelation, had to do with that part of what Jesus tried to communicate.  Ian who was “roused and startled to life” very early on, never stopped inviting others into that grander way of being in the world.  He did that with and for and to every one of us.  That is why we are here today.  We give thanks to God this afternoon for the gift of Ian Roberts.  And, we give thanks to Ian for the God we know a little better because of Ian’s call to look for the best things “hidden in plain sight. “


Sunday, June 10, 2018

A Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

St. Aidan's Episcopal Church, Alexndria

June 10, 2018         

                             Audio Version Here

Who told you you were naked.

I have always liked the story about Adam and Eve and God that we just heard. I particularly love God’s line here, “who told you you were naked?”  That line seems to just sum up the human situation so well. It is a loving response to an affliction we have all known, one that can stick and be hard to shake off.   It is a kind response, it is concerned for the frightened couple who have discovered the power and potency of shame.  “Naked!”  “Who told you you were naked?”

Shame can be toxic.  I’ve known people who spent their whole lives recovering from shame that was instilled in them as children.  For those people, recovering a sense of their worth and goodness can be a major part of their life’s spiritual work. Fortunately, we are learning not to shame children as easily as some of our parents did. We tend to treat our kids better in this enlightened age.  Kids yes, dogs….not so much.  

If you have or have ever had a dog, you probably know something about the power of shame.  They must be born with it, I don’t know where it comes from, but dogs seem to recognize that voice, the “what have you done” voice.  When I think of the dogs that have been a part of my life, I can hear myself, I can hear that voice; “Charlie!”  “Ike!”  “We don’t eat such things when we are on a walk!” “Ralph!”  “Bad dog!”  I don’t think it’s even the words….just the tone.  You could probably read a dog the phone book in the right voice and watch that tail go down between those legs before Rover slinks off to some hidden corner. I wouldn’t think of shaming a child.  Not too explicitly.  But the dog…….I am guilty of using shame on the dog.  I admit it……I’m ashamed……well ok……tail between the legs.  

As I read this story of god coming back into the garden and finding Adam and Eve hiding, it seems obvious that the fall—which I take to be a highly metaphorical piece of poetry—was not a fall from relationship with God, but a fall into shame.  The very first result of doing what they knew better than to do was that the humans became aware of themselves and their assumed unfitness for fellowship.  Isn’t that what shame is.  It is the voice inside us that tells us we are not worthy.  It is that voice that whispers to us that it would be better for us if others didn’t know the truth about us, if others didn’t see us as we really are.  Shame separates us from those around us, and in this story it separates those humans, who are so like god, so aware of god and their place in creation as friends and companions for god, it separates them from the one who created them to share a life of mutuality and plenty and love.  
We were hiding, says Adam, because of this thing we discovered.  We encountered something about ourselves that troubled us and so we assumed we should hide that part of ourselves from you.  

When I think of my least favorite politicians, and when I am feeling really angry at what they have done, I fantasize about telling them what I think of what they are doing, and I will admit that sometimes those fantasies involve shaming….  pretty much the same voice I would use on the dog….Mr. Congressman……….   In those moments I imagine shame as a weapon used to inflict pain.  Shame is too often used to control and shape the lives of those whose ideas or behavior makes us uncomfortable.  

But in my best moments, even those crazy leaders get better from me.  In my best moments I wish they could expand their vision—which is what Jesus tried to get people to do—to in some way take in what is important to the people about whom I am concerned.  

My first instinct, to shame them for being so clueless is exactly the wrong way to bring about any sort of creative engagement.  Since shame, if it is felt, wants to hide and reduce its exposure to and interaction with those around it, shaming each other over our differences can not bring about the desired cooperation.  Everything becomes more difficult when shame enters the picture.  It’s hard to forgive people who are hiding what they have done.  It is hard to be forgiven if we fear the pain of revealing our truth more than we fear living in hiding.  

I am a theologically and socially liberal Episcopalian, which means that I have spent most of my life saying there isn’t any devil.  I can give you all kinds of sound, supported theological reasons for that position, but if I were going to tell a story about a foe of all that is good and all that we hope for in love and community, I couldn’t tell a more chilling story than this one about the snake who leaves this poor, silly, hapless couple mired in shame.  I can’t imagine a more devastating blow to the dream of god than the sowing of shame in this beautiful garden the creator, the dreamer of love imagined.  Imagined for us…..

Paul whose letters are the earliest Christian writings we have, said that Jesus life and ministry responded to that earliest story of shame and alienation.  Theologians and preachers tend to think of Jesus balancing and redeeming Adam’s fall in grand cosmic ways, Adam sinned…..Jesus paid the price…..that sort of thing.  But in today’s gospel we get a more practical version of Jesus responding to the universal problem of shame.  

First, we learn that Jesus grew up in a house where shame was known.  You may have grown up in such a home.  Most of us did.  A home where in one form or another the message was clearly posted.  Let this be your guide through life: “what will the neighbors think?”  We know that Jesus had some of this in his early life because of the story we heard this morning.  Jesus is hanging out in the neighborhood, talking in ways that make the neighbors think he’s crazy, healing people, drawing a crowd, not worrying about what people think, making his mama nervous, right out in front of everyone.  His family goes out to restrain him. It’s like he stepped into the story to show us how to get past the shame that had bound us for so long… long……

He tells those who are concerned about the anxiety of his mother and brothers, that his real family consists of those who get him, just as he is.  

Again and again in the gospel story, Jesus is Jesus with little regard for what others will think or what being himself might cost him in the regard of others.  Shame, over time, when used as a system of control, robs us of our authenticity.  Jesus doesn’t just tell us there’s a better way, he shows us. He gathers corn on the sabbath, he heals on the sabbath,  he talks to women, he helps foreigners, he says what’s on his mind, he speaks in riddles that leave people wondering what he is talking about, he eats and sleeps and travels with tax gatherers and sinners, he rides into town like a king, only on a donkey, and in the end—and this is where the circle to that garden story is completed—he ends up nailed to a cross………naked.    All of this he did to show us that we don’t have to hide, that nothing we could do can break the relationship begun in that story so long ago….  Jesus with his whole life utters what we must assume was God’s next line in that first story.  

“Who told you you were naked?”

“And who cares?”

Monday, February 19, 2018

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent 2018

Sermon preached on the First Sunday in LentSt. Aidan’s February 18, 2018

I turned a corner on Saturday, I crossed a line.  And somehow, I know there is no going back. What I did on Saturday was more painful than I had expected, but I know I would do it again. I can’t tell you about Saturday without without beginning the story in an earlier time that will never return.   

When I was a child my family drove to the Missouri Ozarks a couple times each year to visit my father’s parents. Some summers I would be left on my own with the grandparents, which for me meant time with the grandfather I loved.  Upon arriving at their little house, I would make my way to the closet in the living room and reach into the dark corner until my hand gripped the cool barrel of my rifle.  Every day at their house included time spent plinking cans off a saw horse with that rifle, a tradition that began when I was five.  I remember one summer when I was about ten and I accompanied my grandfather to an auction out in the country.  Someone had died and all the items from life on a little farm were on display on tables in the yard, tools, kitchen ware, furniture, and one item that caught my eye and stood out for me as the only thing worth having on offer that day— a Sport King semi-automatic long barreled 22 pistol, complete with a leather holster.  It was a marvel.  I didn’t say anything to grandpa but he must have felt the same way because it was the only thing he bought that day.  I think it cost him ten bucks.  

I didn’t think much more about that pistol until some 30 years later when my father died and I found the pistol among his belongings.  I have kept it all these years as a token of the love I had for my grandfather and the times we spent together, like that day at the auction.  The gun has been kept in the dresser in my bedroom all this time. I have wondered about that gun and whether it was a good idea to have it around the house here in the city where my own curious grandkids visit, but I have kept it anyway.  Until Saturday that is. 

I was eating breakfast last Wednesday with some clergy friends and the talk came around to guns and their place in our world.  A good friend in his eighties, a former Marine who grew up along the Potomac and who was given a 22 by his father when he was ten, said that he had finally taken all his guns to the local police station and asked them to destroy them.  He said he didn’t want them any more and he didn’t want them out in the world.  Later that day when I heard the news from Parkland, I resolved to do what I knew it was time to do.  It just seemed right.  I drove that pistol to the station, let the officer take it, and drove away sadder than I had anticipated, and changed in ways I am still coming to understand.  

That was Saturday.  Sunday was the first Sunday in Lent and I was preaching.  The gospel for the day was about Jesus being baptized and then tempted in the wilderness.  I had been listening to the news about the 17 kids in Parkland and I was embarrassed, not just for my church, but for Christians everywhere and for Christianity in general.  I was embarrassed because voices were calling for a moment of silence, and prayers in response to the shootings……again.  Silence and prayers.  What about outrage and action?

So I warned my congregation that I was planning to talk about a place that was aching a bit in my heart and about politics.  I preached on Sunday about the sadness of letting go of that old gun and of the need for Christians to get serious about the work of associating the word “Christian” with the demand for sane, sensible gun laws.  I told my people I could not explain why that so-called Christian school in Lynchburg had encouraged its students to carry guns, but that theirs was not just another valid position among many.  It is wrong.  Simply wrong.  I talked about becoming a priest after seeing white collars around the necks of marchers in Selma, Montgomery, and Memphis, but that it was not until later in my life that I had realized that white Christians mostly came late to that fight for another right cause.  My own church had been slow to come around.  This fight, the fight for common sense laws to limit the kinds and numbers of guns was the same kind of fight. History will look back some day and ask of the Church. What was going on?  Where were you?  What were you thinking?

We worry about being political, and we worry about whom we might offend, and we soften our tone and seek conciliatory words with those who see this issue from another angle. And we end up doing nothing. Again.  

Mark’s story for the first Sunday in Lent speaks of Jesus being commissioned for the work of shaking things up and changing the world.  Then it speaks of him being tempted… to what?  At that point in the story the temptation can only have been to turn aside from the work to which he had been called.  Those who are called to disturb the peace and bring in a new way are always tempted to do nothing, to play it safe, to hope the new future won’t be as costly as we know it must be.  

The call of God throughout scripture is…..has always been, to leave the old, familiar, comfortable place (even when the comfortable place really isn’t) and to journey to the new place that God will show us.  That is the call for Abraham, Moses, Israel, Peter, James, John, Mary…  Like so many preachers, I don’t often tell my congregation that being a Christian means working to change the world, and that there will always be a cost in that work.  I am reminded this week by yet another senseless shooting that there is much work to do, and so I call you today to the work of Christians everywhere.  The hard work of changing the world.  

I know that old gun I gave up won’t change anything in terms of how many guns are out there, but it is changing my understanding of what the fight is about.  I loved my grandfather and I loved that gun.  But I would not give that gun to my grandson. The world has changed.  The setting and culture in which I embraced that gun is gone.  It has been replaced by a culture in which guns have become symbols of anger, fear, and pride spinning out of control, a culture in which the very presence of guns everywhere, always at our fingertips, challenges too many of us to think of new and more terrible ways to use them.  It is time to move to a new land, a new way, a new era in the life of humanity.  The gospel has never called its people to anything less than that.  Changing the world is our calling.  

I said all that on Sunday and I was surprised when people came up to me afterward and said, “that sermon had nothing to do with politics.”  They seemed to think it had a lot to do with Christianity.  

We did have a moment of silence and a prayer for the victims of this latest tragic mess,  and then a prayer for creative engagement with the problem, and hearts disturbed and stirred to go out and work to bring about the changes called for in our time.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Epiphany

January 29, 2017
St. Aidan's Episcopal Church

Matthew 5:1-12

I somehow made my way from the sermon on the mount, to the women's march to the diocesan convention.  It was a busy week.  

Monday, November 28, 2016

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent

November 27, 2016

Isaiah 2:1-5

Listen to the sermon here

As we set out into a new Church year in troubled times, I found a fresh appreciation for Isaiah's vision and its ability to guide a people always in danger of wandering from the path.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Sermon for Christ the King Sunday 

Luke 23:33-43

November 20, 2016

I pulled out a favorite old story about a mythical king and then wrote an update.  The first story is from one of our era's finest minds.  The second draws on the readings for the day and ancient tradition.

You can listen to the whole thing here.  Or you can read Yertle the Turtle on your own and then the second story below.  

A long time ago 
in a land far away
lived a wandering clan
who traveled all day
They camped out at night 
under great starry skies
where they sang and told stories
before closing their eyes

Their leaders sometimes 
heard a voice in the air
who pointed the way 
saying go over there
where the pastures are greener
come travel with me 
I’ll keep you safe 
you’ll be happy and free

So they traveled quite happy for quite a long while
up and down mountains for many a mile
as the traveled they saw many marvelous things
they saw countries with cities and castles and kings

and they said to their leaders we need a king too 
just imagine the king things our own king could do
our king could make speeches and build us a town
with walls up to there we just need us a crown
and a head to accept it oh let’s tell the voice 
that what we need’s a king, yes that is our choice.

so they sent their best talker to talk to the voice 
who said are you sure, that’s just not the best choice
you’ve really done fine as a wandering clan
kingdoms are trouble it’s not a good plan

But the people insisted and the voice said “I give”
so the voice found a king and a place they could live
they piled up great stones over here, over there
they built toll booths and towers way up in the air
they formed a great army and went out to war
for the trouble with kings is they often want more
and kings are not always the best they can be
too often they say, hey what’s in it for me
And that’s how it went with kings one, two and three
the city they built rose spectacularly
with turnpikes and temples and all of that stuff
till finally the people said we’ve had enough
we’re tried of working so hard we are through
we’ll start our own kingdom so phooey on you

And that’s pretty much how it went from that day
kings came and went and were carted away 
their buildings were smashed they were no longer free
for other kings too said “what’s in it for me?”

And through all of these troubles the voice still was heard
as a tiny small sound not as loud as a bird
by the old folks who struggled and tried to recall 
when the voice led the clan and they trusted the call

And the voice never left them and here is the thing
the voice said I’ll teach them a thing about kings
I’ll send them a king who can teach them that kinging 
is more than great walls and loud trumpets and singing

and soon there appeared a new king with no crown
a very plain fellow who walked through the towns 
telling stories of fields and farms birds and trees 
saying kingdoms can be just as plain as all these

but the people weren’t happy they’d waited so long 
for a king like the old days who’d right all the wrong
in the end they got others to take him away 
and hang him up high at the end of the day

It is such a hard lesson we’re still trying to learn
but the voice thinks we’re ready that now is our turn
to learn from the sign tacked on top of that tree
real kings never say, hey what’s in it for me.