Saturday, February 27, 2016

Lent 3C, The Tincture of Time

Tincture of Time


Scripture appointed for Lent 3C can be found here


I’ve been working on the Easter Vigil this week. A funny thing in the midst of Lent, to be constantly a season ahead and working on resurrection glory from the midst of the wilderness journey.  But, as I’ve considered the arc of the vigil—where narrative upon narrative is meant to help us see ourselves within the story of God’s salvation.  I’ve found myself deeply considering those places of God’s presence in the wilderness. The burning bush, the cloud by day, the red sea’s parting—and the joy of the Lenten season is that God’s salvation happens in wilderness times and places. Where would we be without the desert? Where would we be without the betrayal and the denial on the way to Golgotha? So, wilderness is our story and salvation is our story.  The past is our story and the future is our story—Moses, our ancestors, and the hope for future fruit.

And, I use the plural purposely.  Our story. Our future. For, while we each have a path of faith, we also have a fellowship. And, it is into the midst of this fellowship at St. Clement’s that the scripture is proclaimed.  And, so I speak of St. Clement’s…

It is no secret, that parishes close. That there are churches, that because of dwindling attendance and decreased financial commitments, find themselves in a place where the community can no longer afford to exist in the fashion to which they’ve been accustomed. There are places, where the remaining congregant’s final hope for their community is that the church building and its clergy will be around long enough to bury the last of its members.

As a member of the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, I get to hear about these congregations. One of the tasks given to the standing committee is that of giving approval for the dissolution of communities and the sale of church properties.  And, as many of us are well aware, more churches, not less will close in the years to come. 

As the standing committee met this past week, we spoke of this reality. And, into the midst of this conversation, St. Clement’s was held up as a sign of hope for churches facing closure.

“St. Clement’s almost closed thirty years ago, and yet, there they are!” 

That “time where we almost closed”, is part of our story here at St. Clement’s. That time when there was only enough money left to pay a priest for three more years. That time when there were no children. That time when there were more people in the choir than in the congregation. That time when the budget was short by 35,000 dollars (mind you, 35,000 dollars not adjusted for inflation!). 

For those of us who are newer to this place, this description of a dying church seems almost fantastical—surely we’ve exaggerated!  But, no, that was the truth of the then.  But what was also a truth of the then was the commitment made by this community to transformation.

Some must have thought they were throwing good money after bad…some must surely have given up and figured it best to cut their losses.  Some must have thought it senseless to fertilize a dead tree. 

But, fertilize they did, and over the course of the next 30+ years, this place has continued as a place of life and death of hope and laughter and tears.  From the center of our gathering we’ve baptized and proclaimed—we’ve welcomed new life and shouted good news. We’ve tried new things and celebrated our traditions. And, just this past week, we celebrated the call that God has made to those who’ve chosen to follow God in the midst of this fellowship. With a baptism, 8 confirmations, 7 receptions and 3 reaffirmations—we’ve been gifted the opportunity to see some of the good fruit that can flourish when the tree has been tended

This is a place where children fuss and folk are married; where life is celebrated while tears are shed. In this place, and at this altar, we continue to share the bread and the cup with those who ministered here in those days of decline. These are folks who nourished what could be in the face of the anxiety of what was. And, oh the fruit that was born!   

I find myself wondering if Senior Warden Dick Arnold, who served in the midst of this decline ever imagined that here we’d be 35 years later.  And, you can be sure that I’ll be asking him, since Dick and his wife Paula are still active members at St. Clement’s! 

Give it time. A year, two, three even.

Give it time because what is, is not all that will be.

Today’s Gospel parable is about hope. But it is also about the work of investing in transformation. Our own and that of the world about us.

This community has invested. That is clear. The time and energy, the gifts and skills—given abundantly have prepared the soil to grow good things. And, today we continue to prepare the soil for good things!  As many of you know, today marks the beginning of what is our seventh year of investment in the soil of Haiti.  How remarkable that a place that has at times wondered how it can afford to be a church continues to afford to BE the church!  The generosity of this community into the once barren and now fertile soil in Haiti over the past seven years is a testimony to what can be.  The tree bears fruit, if you give it time, and nourish it along the way.

It can be hard to do, when we don’t know if we’ll ever see the harvest. But, that is our hope. It is the hope of a burning bush in a desert, the wind across the sea and a fig, ready to be plucked. 

What grace that this place that at one time seemed so barren, has born such good fruit for the world.  This grace, our hope, and trust that time will bring to completion all of God’s purposes.

Roman Catholic Bishop Ken Untener, in a prayer dedicated to Archbishop Oscar Romero wrote

“It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church's mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.”

So, good people of St. Clement’s let us proclaim a future that is not our own. Let us prepare the soil so that others might thrive.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

In the Breaking is the Healing, A Sermon for Ash Wednesday

Readings appointed for Ash Wednesday can be found here 


Last night, at our Shrove Tuesday celebration, a small boy in our congregation asked my why we burn the palms. My reply?

Because they were once alive and they now are dead and become earth again. They remind us that alive things, including people, become dead things and return to the earth. And that in living and in dying we are loved by God.   

In retrospect (and when not standing outside with a crowd of tweens standing too close for my comfort to the burning palms) I would have said more.  But how much can a wee one take in on a cold night when the smoke is pouring from a galvanized tin?  So, now I go on, and consider the palms which were burned into ash, and the smoke that stung our eyes, and the cheering parade that led to death on a hill, and the first breath become the last. 

And, our own confrontation of what is our end, and what is inevitable. But, bound up in that inevitability, the equally inevitable truth of of mercy and love and grace.  

We ask for mercy knowing that there is mercy. We ask for pardon, knowing there is forgiveness. We tilt our heads, knowing there is hope. We raise our palms, knowing we’ll be fed.

Broken, made whole. Burnt, made complete. Crushed, made new.

Without breaking, there is no healing. Without death, there is no life. And, what will come is hope and what will come is mercy. And, so the smoke stings and the questions are raised as bits of ash are caught by the wind. And, small children ask questions that become sermons because there is more to the question than can be contained in a word hastily cobbled together on a cold night.

And, so considering the beauty of the broken I find myself musing on the poem The Bread I Break, by 20th century Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

This bread I break was once the oat,
This wine upon a foreign tree
Plunged in its fruit;
Man in the day or wine at night
Laid the crops low, broke the grape's joy.

Once in this time wine the summer blood
Knocked in the flesh that decked the vine,
Once in this bread
The oat was merry in the wind;
Man broke the sun, pulled the wind down.

This flesh you break, this blood you let
Make desolation in the vein,
Were oat and grape
Born of the sensual root and sap;
My wine you drink, my bread you snap.

Once oats waving in the breeze, once grapes hung thick upon the vine. Once a baby, now a man. Once celebrated then denigrated. Raised up and torn down.

Without the living, there is no the dying. Without the dying, there is no new life. Without the new life, there is no healing. And, God has mercy upon us.

The grapes are plucked and thus they die. But in their death they become the wine. The wheat is broken and the chaff is burnt. But in the breaking there is bread. And this bread, it is broken for us, and this wine it is poured for us—and out of breaking there is healing and we raise our hands and tilt our heads for the receiving. 

And so we are and so we become. And, God has mercy upon us.

The gathering prayer we use on this first day of the Lenten Season, addresses God in hope and truth, “God, you hate nothing you havemade and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthilylamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness,may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remissionand forgiveness”

And, if poetry is not too your liking, the collect invites logic, in proof form. You can take it as a mathematical proof if you like,

God, hates nothing God has made!
God, made us.
Therefore, God does not hate us. 

Psalm 51 offers us more along the lines of this proof—and it is made clear that, when offered our broken hearts, God’s response is one of compassion and acceptance. In the face of our brokenness, God forgives our past failings and our desire to for a new heart is enough. 

And so, the season of Lent is a season of invitation back to the table--of reconciliation and restoration of the wholeness of community.  The broken relationships, the broken promises, the worries and anxieties--Lent becomes a time in which we work towards the vision of wholeness--when we are invited to become a new creation in Christ. 

This is not an invitation to destruction, but an invitation to restoration. 

So those lively palms, waved high on Palm Sunday, become brittle and bunched and broken into a pail. Fire is lit and the flames leap high.  What remains is dust and ash and bits. And, we are restored.

Sorted and sifted, they become more than palm and more than ash. A remembrance and a promise and a hope. And, we are made whole.

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. And, we are made new.

Without the living, there is no the dying. Without the dying, there is no new life. Without the new life, there is no healing. And, God has mercy upon us.

God has mercy upon us.

God has mercy upon us.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Through a Mirror Dimly, Transfiguration

The readings for Transfiguration can be found here


Sometimes it feels as if our lives are lived in pursuit of mountain top moments.

In fact, that’s the only way I can make sense of things like bungie jumping, surfing 50 foot swells, climbing Mount Everest or Sky diving. 

People who participate in these sorts of activities describe them as “life changing”, as transformative. They may describe themselves as feeling more complete, more authentically and wholly themselves in the moments following these peak experiences.

And, when described as a “peak experience” we can call to mind the work of psychologist Abraham Maslow who used the term peak experience to describe the “tremendous intensification of any of the experiences in which there is loss of self or transcendence of [self]” (Maslow, 1970, Motivation and Personality,  p. 165)

For example, “Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.”

An intense experience of encounter, an encounter with the divine that leaves Moses literally transformed. An encounter, not just for Moses, but for the entire community as the ongoing work of Moses leads the community to a deeper understanding of God’s salvation and the ongoing covenant between God and God’s people.  

So, while Moses may not have been a bungie jumping enthusiast--he was a man transformed through relationship with God and an encounter on a mountain. And, in his transformation, the community that (only a few short chapters ago) had turned from God to the worship of idols, re-engages with the God of all creation.  

As I consider this, I consider what it takes for not only for an individual but for an entire community to be transformed. What would it mean for all of us, here at St. Clement’s, to be transformed?

I would argue, that our Christian calling is to transformation. To the process of becoming more wholly and perfectly ourselves with the help and power of God. Our liturgy, the work we do here in our worship, is centered on the potential and desire for our own transformation.  Confession, forgiveness and reconciliation are central to our liturgical action each and every week.  

During our Lenten observances, our liturgy will point even more explicitly towards this process of repentance and reconciliation.  During the season of Lent we will observe the penitential order offered in the Book of Common Prayer.  This order begins the liturgy with a call to repentance--but the call to repentance is framed within the context that our repentance, our desire for forgiveness, is met by God’s grace and mercy.

The priest begins, “Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins.” And the people respond, “God’s mercy endures forever.”  

Our brokenness is met by God’s grace. The brokenness that led to the Israelites worship of the golden calf is ultimately met with forgiveness and a deepening of relationship. The brokenness of Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian community, is met by God’s mercy. And, throughout the Gospel we see moment’s in which Peter’s failure ultimately becomes his triumph.  

Transfiguration, transformation, reconciliation, a people made whole and holy in relationship with God.  

This culmination of the season after the Epiphany, sets the stage for our Lenten journey.  
As the prayer book liturgy for Ash Wednesday notes, 

“This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.”

Our observance of what’s called “the transfiguration” is an invitation into the process of forgiveness and reconciliation that marks the season of Lent. 

It is also a gift, an offering, as our experience of transfiguration gives us sustenance for our Lenten journey.

Transfiguration offers hope for the journey--we can’t stay on the mountaintop, but the experience of the mountaintop gives us what we need in order to sustain the day to day in between what can be called peak experiences.

C.S. Lewis, in the Chronicles of Narnia has Aslan describes this experience on the mountaintop thusly, 

“Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart...”

Today is an offering of signs, and we are encouraged to take note of the shining face of the divine so that we might remember that light and recognize the divine in the ordinary and the day to day.

The glimpse we have offers us hope for the future. 

I realize as I write these words that perhaps I’ve been too impersonal. With my references to Maslow, Lewis and the skydiving which I can assure you will never be one of my hobbies.  So, I want to close with an offering of one of my own peak experiences.  

It begins with grief. My dad died, of a massive heart attack, in November of my senior year of high school. I grieved, I still do. There is much from that year that I’ve forgotten--my experiences fogged by the grief and loss that superimposed themselves over everything my senior year.  Near the close of that school year, my class participated in a retreat and (still clouded by sorrow) I remember distinctly how deeply burdened I was by my awareness of all that my dad would not experience and all that had been lost. However, during a hike up the side of a valley, I remember looking around and seeing clearly for what seemed to be the first time in a very, very long time.  

As I looked up the green slope, down into the valley below, and out into the deep blue of the ocean, I was struck by a moment of sharp clarity. This beauty, this transcendent creation, was enough. And, if my dad had had even one such experience, that would be enough. The transcendent happiness of that moment burst through the clouds of sorrow and reminded me of the beauty and hope that was there, despite the suffering, despite the loss, despite of the what might have beens.  

In that moment I experienced a beautiful truth of God’s grace in the midst of it all. All I knew was transfigured in a moment of glory and of happiness. And, while that moment was all too fleeting, I hold it still and to know that this exists, this wholeness and holiness--this is enough. 

the Reverend Lori Brandt Hale writes that, “The transfiguration of Jesus offers a glimpse of what is possible, not only for Jesus, but for all humanity.” (FotW 454). So, today we are offered a glimpse of what is possible. 

And, thus, it is our calling to be transformed into the possible. To be made more wholly and completely ourselves--and in that transformation, to radiate the light of Christ into a world desperate for that light.  

So, shine on people of God. 


I wanted to include the following from Barth, it didn't fit.  But, since this is my blog, you're getting it anyway...

Theologian Karl Barth describes God as “the one who makes us radiant.” Barth goes on to say that “We ourselves cannot put on bright faces. But neither can we prevent them from shining.”