Dec 242013

Glory to + God in the highest heaven, and peace to you and to all the earth!  Amen

The birth of God’s son, the long-promised heir to the throne of David, the one who shall be called wonderful, counselor, mighty God, everlasting parent, prince of peace.  This is the one whose name is Yeshuva  — the one who saves – Jesu (latin), Jesús (Spanish), Jesus.  Many people around the world – and indeed many of us here –have known these Gospel words, this story of the savior’s birth, since long before we can remember.

It’s interesting to observe how we, and the children we know, experience, this story. In our children’s remembrance of this event, we focus on how the earthly and the heavenly touch each other, how the mundane messiness of life and the glorious holiness of eternity are woven together in a single scene at night in a barn. After this child, his mother, and her man, the first witnesses to this birth are domestic animals. We remember the scene as peaceful and full of awe … the cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.

And then the shepherds show up. These folks raise animals for wool and food. They’ve seen plenty of deaths and plenty of births. Maybe they’re even a bit hardened in their attitudes toward death and birth– it took an angel to explain the significance of this event to them. It took a multitude of the heavenly host to convince them that this one birth, from among many, is worth their attention. So they go and look, and then they pass on what they saw and heard.

When we listen, I daresay we hear, in Luke’s in telling of this scene, an undercurrent of shame, isolation and loneliness for dad and mom and baby, only relieved by the intervention of the angel and the heavenly host to get the shepherds to that barn to adore the newborn child. The angel plays a big role in the way we hear the story. There’s something about enacting the story that makes children want to be the agent of mercy: one of the favorite parts in our children’s pageant is that angel.

I understand that in Latin America the emphasis is a little different from ours. Their telling features more Bethlehem townspeople. Their children, I’m told, enact a scene where Maria and José go from house to house, knocking on doors to beg for shelter. They’re turned away again and again, until finally some householder takes minimal pity on them and sends them around back to the stable. I’ve heard that the kids’ favorite part in their pageants, after Maria and José, is also the bearer of mercy, the one who offers the family stable. It’s a slightly different focus – depicting the struggle of that family as one of rejection rather than loneliness – but the yearning for mercy is the same.

So, various peoples of the world who know this story experience the worldly details as evidence that this new little traveling family were strangers: outsiders. To us they seem to be what we might call a nuclear family: mom, dad, one child. The way we hear this story these two, then three people kept to themselves. They were rejected by the townspeople, and they kept their joys and their struggles private, sharing them with none but some farm animals. It took some major heavenly intervention to get anyone on earth to pay attention to them.

I wonder, though. Do we look at this little holy family and see ourselves instead of them? Is it our fears we see in them? Do we fear rejection by our townspeople? Do we keep our family struggles and joys quiet? Do we rely on our domestic animals to adore us? Are we missing something?

A wonderful scholar called Richard Swanson suggests that we are, indeed, missing something. This is Chapter 2 of Luke’s Gospel. Chapter 1 is a long chapter, and it’s almost entirely taken up with establishing the strength of Mary and Joseph’s extended family, and divine favor for them. We hear of the angel visiting Mary. We hear of Elizabeth, Mary’s older kinswoman, and her pregnancy. The two women spend three months together during their pregnancies caring for one another and marveling over their children-to-be. This big family built their life together in Hebrew reverence, following the Torah of the Lord.

Later on in Luke’s gospel we hear more about this family. Jesus stayed behind in the temple as a young teen after Passover. His parents and their family party went down from Jerusalem through this town of Bethlehem (for that’s how the road goes) back to Galilee. They didn’t miss him, and they didn’t worry about him, for they trusted that he was surrounded by extended family. This Bethlehem was a safe place. Everybody knew them there. It was home.

Back to the birth account: it’s only after Luke establishes this family’s deep reservoirs of faithful strength that the Romans come tramping in. It’s only after we’ve heard of the Lord’s favor for Mary and her infant nephew John (who will become John the Baptist) that Luke sounds the trumpets of the imperial overlords.

There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed … And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, called Bethlehem.

The imperial army wanted to keep people on edge. They wanted to push people around and keep them distracted by hard-to-follow orders. This has always been a tactic by which conquerors strive to keep conquered people demoralized and quiet. And so this man Joseph and his greatly pregnant fiancée had to take a long trip at a really bad time to his ancestral home. The Romans were hoping that family ties would be strained and weakened by all this forced travel.

But, it didn’t work. Exactly the opposite happened, according to Richard Swanson’s reading of the story. The Roman’s travel orders – the ones they thought were oppressive – filled the whole city of David with that family. Everybody in Bethlehem was family – the innkeepers, the crowds jamming the inns and the streets, the shepherds, everybody. The place was bursting at the seams with family. There was no guest room available in the inn for these two, but that didn’t mean they turned on the “no vacancy” sign and told these people to get lost. Family found a place for family to stay, even if it was in the barn.

Even the shepherds are family. The angel doesn’t tell them, “a child was born to this stranger woman Mary,” or even “a child was born to Joseph of the house of David son of Jesse.” The angel says “to YOU a child is born.” “To you, to your family.”  This baby Jesus is born in the bosom of his strong and faithful family, a family who maintained their faith and strength in the face of the Roman Empire’s attempts to disrupt them. This little one, this long-awaited one, appeared on earth surrounded and supported by cousins and aunts and uncles.

So, friends, on this night when we relive the birth of the long-awaited Messiah, let us re-imagine the circumstances. Let us put aside the idea that the holy family was lonely, ashamed, and rejected. We do of course all have our own lonelinesses, shames, and rejections: we’re human. But let’s not see only those parts of our lives reflected in the story of this holy family.

Instead, let us understand that we, too, are among the great family crowds jamming Bethlehem. Let us recognize one another as the family we are: God’s family. And let us rejoice at the birth of this holy little child, who binds us all together in love for each other and for our God, creator, + word, and spirit.   Amen.

Dec 232013

We don’t know much about Joseph, father of Jesus.  Matthew is the  only of the four Gospels that offers us anything more than passing comments about him. So on this 4th Sunday of Advent every 3 years when this Gospel passage comes up in our lectionary it is good to dwell on him a bit.   What we are told about Joseph in this Gospel lesson this morning is that he was a righteous man.  This adjective righteous in the Hebrew language indicates someone who was careful to live by to what they professed in faith – one who prayed, studied the word of God contained in the Torah, and acted accordingly.  Another thing we are told about Joseph is that he was of the lineage of the House of King David – the great king of Israel.  In our Gospel passage for today, when speaking to him in the dream the Lord refers to him as “Joseph, son of David”, and in Luke’s Gospel we are told that he and Mary traveled to Bethlehem for the census because he was “of the house and lineage of David”.  From other mentions of Joseph we know that he was a carpenter. Those are really the only descriptive things said about him in the Gospels, and nowhere does he speak to us directly – we gave no quotes from Joseph.  The rest of what we know about him we know based on the actions he takes. And so we might think of Joseph as an example of faithful action based in a trusting relationship with the Most High.  Another way to say it- he is the patron saint of actions speaking louder than words.

A few pieces of information about the context Joseph and Mary were living in could be helpful as we seek to take on board what Joseph’s story might have to say to us on this 4th Sunday of Advent here all these centuries later in our own context.  First of all, we should note that engagement and marriage worked a bit differently in that cultural context than they do in our own.  Biblical commentator Arland Hultgren explains that while engagement in our culture can be broken off informally without legal action, it was more complicated than that for couples in Mary and Joseph’s time and place.  Hultgren writes:

”According to the custom of the day, there were two stages for a couple to go through in what can be called a marital process. First came the betrothal (the Hebrew word is kiddushin), a marriage contract, typically arranged by the parents, that could be broken only by divorce – which is what Joseph was considering when our translation says he was considering ‘dismissing’ Mary quietly.

That first stage of marriage was followed by a second step (the Hebrew word is nissu’in) considerably later (sometimes a year later), often including a marriage feast, after which the groom took his wife to his home. The drama of our text from Matthew today takes place between the two events in the lives of this young couple. The first step had taken place; the second is in jeopardy.”(from for the week of December 16-22, 2013)


So, it is helpful to understand that Joseph, in considering divorcing Mary after the first stage of marriage is doing what is culturally appropriate as he is under the impression that she has an attachment to another man who should rightly take her as his wife, and act as father of her child. No doubt this would have been a significant loss to Joseph who would have to give up the dream of a life with Mary.  In our psalm for today the Psalmist laments that God has given the people bowls of tears to drink.  I imagine that Joseph might have experienced that sort of feeling in this moment. That is when God steps in and through a dream shows Joseph that he must not be afraid of any public disgrace that might come to Mary or to him due to her pregnancy, and that he should hold tight to his dream of a future with Mary because that was very much in line with God’s dream for the world.

I feel compelled to hit the pause button on all of this for a moment to say that it is likely that the author of Matthew, constructing this story well after the fact, is weaving it from strands of stories about Jesus’ parents that were passed by word of mouth through many people before reaching him.  So one might rightly ask, is there any truth to this story?  To which I respond – there is fact and there is truth, and I hold there is truth in this story whether or not there is much factuality.  As Marcus Borg points out in his book The Heart of Christianity, the story of George Washington and the cherry tree (which I am sure most of us heard as school children) has been shown to be fictional, but we still love to tell it, because it tells the truth about who George Washington was, whether it happened or not.  The same I guess could be said for this story of Joseph – we can never prove that it is or is not factual, but we love to tell and retell it, as our ancestors in faith have done, because it tells the truth about what it is to take a risk of forsaking our fears in order to dare to dream God’s dream.

For that is what at its heart this story tells us Joseph did.  He dared go against the cultural code of his time and take the second step of marriage with a woman others would think had been unfaithful to him, but whom God said was bearing a holy child.  Joseph’s connection with God was strong enough that he could dare to believe and co-dream God’s dream in the face of social pressure to do otherwise.  And what blessing flowed from his actions! Born into the world was one whom the Prophets had foretold the One who comes to live the truth of God with us – Immanuel.

And so, brothers and sisters in the lineage of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and David; what dream is God speaking to you through in your life?  Late Advent is the time for this question.  Is God speaking in the dreams of your sleep at night? Or do you have dreams for your life you once held dearly but the realities of life have trampled under-foot? Is God trying to resurrect any of those trampled dreams in a new form?  Are you being called to boldly claim and name a dream despite what the world might say? For me currently it is the dream of a world made safer for all children through saner approaches to the availability of firearms!  What is it for you? These late days of Advent are the days to listen, to wait patiently and to discern what God might be up to.  These are the days to dare to co-dream with God, that the hope born to us at Christmas might become the fuel to help us follow Joseph in letting our actions speak louder than our words.

In the name of the carpenter’s Son, Amen+

Dec 222013

LOHKU on Christmas 2013 ~ Tom Green
Christmas LOHKU is a series of LOHKU (similar to Haiku although stricter in structure: three lines of 5 – 7 – 5 syllables and less restrained about subject: it can be about anything, not just nature). No connection here among the 12 LOHKU. Each piece stands alone.
We three Kings from far
Come to pay respect to the
Infant Messiah

We three kings afar
Came to visit the real King
Who died for our sins

The Wise men went to
See the Son of Mary and
Joseph, His parents

Joseph and Mary
Surrounded by animals
Met kings on camels

Kings on camels came
To see an infant who came
To set earth afire

A star led the kings
On camels to visit God’s
Son to save the world

The baby Jesus
Was the reason why kings on
Camels came to God

Barnyard animals
Surround Jesus, Mary and
Good old Saint Joseph

Donkeys and camels
Were the blessed animals
Near Infant Jesus

From far away came
Kings on camels following
The Star of Jesus

Why did those Wise Men
Travel a long way to see
A new born baby?

Mary and Joseph’s
Son of God greeted distant
Kings on their camels

131222 Christmas LOHKU~rtg

 LOHKU on Christmas 2013 ~ Tom Green  Posted by on Sun, 22-Dec-13 News Comments Off on LOHKU on Christmas 2013 ~ Tom Green
Dec 212013

A Prayer for Growing Older
Lord, you know I am growing older and will some day be old. Keep me from thinking that I must express myself on every subject and straighten out everyone’s affairs. Keep me from the recital of endless detail and give me wings to get to the point. Seal my lips on my aches and pains, for the love of rehearsing them becomes sweeter as the years go by. And when I grow weary of hearing of the aches and pains of others, my I endure their recitation patiently. Make me thoughtful but not moody, helpful but not bossy, concerned but not nosey. Give me eyes to see beauty in unexpected places and talents in unexpected people, and give me the grace to tell them so. I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility when others’ memories differ from mine. Teach me that occasionally I may be mistaken. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to dispense it all, but you know, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end. ~ Anonymous (adapted)
131224Y A Prayer for Growing Older~ rtg

 A Prayer for Growing Older ~ Tom Green  Posted by on Sat, 21-Dec-13 News Comments Off on A Prayer for Growing Older ~ Tom Green
Dec 162013

Last week as I proclaimed the Gospel in worship I trembled as I gave voice to John the Baptist’s description of what the coming one would be like – he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and Fire – he will gather the wheat and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire! I felt the singe with those last words. I’m a bit too attached to some of the chaff of my life to be unflinching in the face of that description! John really caught my attention.

So this week, the one to come bursts onto the scene, but he doesn’t quite square with the picture John painted for us. He is not doing a lot burning with unquenchable fire – rather he is reaching out healing finger tips and teaching anyone who will listen with parables. John, who by this point in Matthew’s Gospel is in prison hears about Jesus and his ways and is perplexed. So he sends some of his disciples to Jesus and asks him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” This is not the messiah John or anyone else was expecting. The picture John and the prophets before him had painted of the messiah, the one to come, was much larger and edgier than this simple rabbi. Jesus is a living breathing non sequitur to their expectations.

The same is true of the prophecy that we encounter in our passage from the book of the Prophet Isaiah this morning. Now the thing you need to know about this prophetic book is that it contains words of prophecy set down by at least three different writers working in three separate time periods of Israel’s history. The scholars refer to those 3 distinct sections of the prophesy as First Isaiah, Second Isaiah and Third Isaiah. The 34th and 36th chapters of the book, which sit on either side of our reading this morning, the scholars clearly classify as First Isaiah - written as a warning to God’s people about the wrath to come if they don’t shape up! These First Isaiah chapters are filled with images of ecological destruction: “The streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch, and her soil into sulfur; her land shall become burning pitch…Thorns shall grow over its strongholds, nettles and thistles in its fortresses.” Not good - not good at all. But then plunk - right into the middle of it drops our lesson for today - chapter 35 - which is not about destruction, but rather about restoration - this is a prophetic non sequitur.

Writing for the website “Working Preacher” this week, Professor Barbara Lundblad of Union Theological Seminary in NYC, writes: “Some say this hopeful promise belongs to Second Isaiah. Others argue that it comes even later — sixth century BCE or later still — surely after the exile [Third Isaiah?]. This poem comes too early. Who moved it? Some things even our best scholarship cannot explain. The Spirit hovered over the text and over the scribes: “Put it here,” breathed the Spirit, “before anyone is ready. Interrupt the narrative of despair.” So, here it is: a word that couldn’t wait until it might make more sense.

Like this prophecy the pink candle on the Advent wreath is a visual non sequitur – coming out of the blue, or the purple and proclaiming joy in the midst of the calls to penitent reflection. And then along comes Mary, singing the Magnificat – her song of radical upheaval and reversals. Where on earth did a pregnant teenager get that level of grace and wisdom? Mary is a living breathing non sequitur, just like the one she is carrying in her womb – the one to come who is growing inside her. The message of this pile up of non sequiturs? It seems to me they are warning us to get ready to be surprised. They are showing us that expecting the unexpected might be the only way to perceive the surprising graces that God has in store for each and every one of us. If you have your head down you won’t see it. If you let the weight of worry over the dire circumstances of the world grab your entire vision, you will miss it.

Keep your peripheral vision clear so you can see the incoming from far left field! God is about to do something different, surprising, unheard of. You don’t want to miss it! The new thing we celebrate at Christmas is the rebirth of hope embodied in a baby who is born time and again among us but in new ways each day, each Christmas. And the wonderful thing about him is that having lived and died and arisen again, he takes on the form and the flesh and blood of anyone who is willing to let him in. If you show up and reach out and take him into yourself, he will find a way to reach the world through you. His love is an unquenchable flame that will burn and grow inside you transforming the chaff of your life into the radiance of his light. He will surprise you time and again by making use of gifts and strengths you may never have known you possess. He might bypass the talents you feel confident about and instead seize upon ones you have pushed down or left uncultivated within yourself. As Mary puts it in her song – he will cast down the mighty from their thrones and lift up the lowly. As Isaiah shouts it, God will “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees, and Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear!’”

And that’s not all, he will then magnify you for his good purposes. He will move you in unexpected ways to feed the hunger of those around you to replicate your interior transformation by using you to help birth the divine realm into this world – just like he did through his mother, Mary. As we gather around his table and reach out for the blessed food he shares with us, our hands should be trembling with the anticipation of what he might work through us, not just as individuals, but as his mystical body, woven together by threads of his amazing grace – Because in gathering together we don’t just receive individual transformation, we expect corporate transformation as we claim place in his blessed community.

I’ll end with a story that gives form to what I am trying to get at here. Again, it comes from Barbara Lundblad of Union Seminary who on the site

“Working Preacher” offered this story this week:

For many years Chuck Campbell taught preaching at Columbia Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. He required students in one of his classes to lead worship and preach at the Open Door Shelter for homeless people in downtown Atlanta. One day he was leading worship in front of the shelter, amid the noise of rush-hour traffic. After the call to worship and a song, Chuck’s plans were interrupted. “I noticed one homeless man waving to me and pointing to himself. I was surprised when I saw him for the man can neither hear nor speak and is normally very reserved.

But there he was, eager to do something. He stepped into the middle of the circle, bowed his head in silence, and began to sign a hymn for us with his hands. It was beautiful, like a dance… In that moment our notions of ‘abled’ and ‘disabled’ were turned upside down. The rest of us had been shouting to be heard, but the noise of the rush hour around us was no problem for our friend…Our worship became a token of the resurrection in the midst of the powers of death, a glimpse of God’s beloved community.” Even Isaiah couldn’t have imagined the glory of that moment in downtown Atlanta as the hands of the speechless were singing for joy!

( The whole story can be found in Charles L. Campbell, The Word before the Powers: An Ethic of Preaching,

Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002, p. 123-124)

In the name of the One who is coming bearing the unquenchable fire of perfect love.


 Sermon for Sunday December 15, 2013 – Advent Three: “Expecting The Unexpected”  Posted by on Mon, 16-Dec-13 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday December 15, 2013 – Advent Three: “Expecting The Unexpected”
Dec 092013

 Sermon for Sunday December 8, 2013 – The Second Sunday of Advent  Posted by on Mon, 9-Dec-13 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday December 8, 2013 – The Second Sunday of Advent
Dec 012013

Grace to you, and peace, from God, creator, word, and spirit, who is, and who was, and who is to come.  Amen

There’s an old joke from the time of the 1990 Gulf War.  US General Norman Schwarzkopf was taking a walk in the desert out behind his tent, in the dark, at this time of year, when his boot went “clank” against something. He curiously picked it up and wiped off some dirt. A genie appeared and said, “Master, your wish is my command!” The general said, “c’mere. Look at this map. Here are the Kurds, Israelis, Syrians, Palestinians, Samaritans, Persians, the marsh arabs, the desert arabs, all these folks. My wish is for them to live together in peace and harmony.”

The genie said, “Master, these tribes have been fighting with one another since before the time of King Solomon. Alas, what you ask is beyond my power. I beg you, wish for something else!”

The general said, “OK, then, I wish, for once, that the Chicago Cubs would win the World Series.”

The genie said, “Master, let’s take another look at that map.”

This little joke about a powerful man wanting peace can help us grasp the context of our first reading. Let’s talk about the time in which that royal prophet Isaiah served. The great kingdom of David and Solomon had already been divided into north and south, Israel and Judah, for almost two hundred years. As you hear these prophetic words, listen for “Israel” and “Judah.”  To us those place names sound sacred and benign, but they’re actually signs of division.

The two kingdoms were at war at this time. Isaiah made his prophecy to Judah’s rulers at a time when (historians teach us) Syria and Israel ganged up to attack Jerusalem. It wouldn’t be long – perhaps another twenty years – until the northern kingdom of Israel would be wiped off the map.

The words of our reading appear in Isaiah’s scroll right after his epic prophetic screed against Israel, the Northern kingdom:

“Ah, sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, offspring who do evil, children who deal corruptly, who have forsaken the Lord, who have despised the holy one of Israel, who are utterly estranged” — Isaiah 1:4

Isaiah goes on that way for all 31 verses, many of which are as harsh as bad hip-hop and not in our lectionary.

We do hear the words of today’s Isaiah reading, right after that condemnation. Here he’s talking about the southern kingdom, Jerusalem. We respond to that reading with the beautiful Psalm of Ascent … where the assembly of that same northern Israel goes up with southern Judah to Mount Zion – to a reconciled Jerusalem! That’s good – tov in Hebrew – which means sweet. It’s a sweet dream.

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!  Isaiah 2:1-5 NRSV

So what? What does all this have to do with us today? That’s a fair question. 2750 years later, we’ve romanticized Isaiah’s prophetic words, I daresay to make them easier to hear. We’ve learned to experience them in the joyful context of the song of Simeon, who laid eyes on young Jesus in the Jerusalem temple and prayed that he saw “a light for revelation to the nations, and glory to your people Israel.” Language matters in the affairs of the world, and the victor of the moment gets to choose the language. The victor has the privilege of taking the name of the defeated tribe.

It’s easy for Yankee and Red Sox fans – we who are accustomed to victory – to have sweet dreams of the Cubs winning the World Series. I hesitate to compare a sport to war, because it’s wrong to trivialize war. Still, in the same way, it’s easy for Jerusalem people to have sweet dreams of the tribes of Israel reverently coming back to the temple at Mount Zion. It’s easy for euro-Americans to talk about our dreams of the end of prejudice against native Americans and Afro-Americans. It’s always the privilege of the victors of the moment to have sweet dreams. It’s good to dream of the end of racism, and of converting weapons into tools for producing food. Let us never stop dreaming those dreams. But, if we’re honest, we admit those dreams are sweeter for the ones who won the war than they are for the ones who lost.  If we’re honest, we recognize in ourselves the streak of triumph in Isaiah and in psalm 122.

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is built as a city that is at unity with itself;
To which the tribes go up,the tribes of the Lord,
the assembly of Israel,to praise the Name of the Lord.
For there are the thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls and quietness within your towers.
For my brethren and companions’ sake, I pray for your prosperity.
Because of the house of the Lord our God,  I will seek to do you good.”  –Psalm 122

We recognize this triumpalism in ourselves. For just one example, we look at people in the developing world from our perspective as a 300-year-old congregation. We look at the places some of us have visited in Haiti and El Salvador. We ask ourselves questions like this: don’t they know better than to drink dirty water?  Don’t they know better than to use wood fires in their schools? Their children will get sick. Epidemics will spread. People will die. We know exactly what they should do. From our perspective, we wonder why they don’t just do it. We’re like the smug people of Jerusalem saying “we’ll be glad when the downtrodden tribes come rejoicing here to Mount Zion.”

The question is, can we get past our triumphalism? Do our bible readings point us beyond it?

Let’s read carefully. The introduction to chapter 2 says “The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” That’s intriguing, isn’t it? We hear words – we mostly experience them as spoken language – but Isaiah saw this one. He beheld this word of the Lord. He saw a future of broad hope breaking in on the present struggles of his people. I wonder, was his vision so extravagant that spoken words weren’t enough? Did he have to see it? Was his experience like the one in our national song? “Oh beautiful for patriot dreams that see beyond the years, where alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears?” Maybe so. Maybe the Lord called to him from the future. Maybe the Lord entrusted to him a vision past his triumphs and his tears. Maybe his prophetic work was to call to all God’s people from a future beyond their victories and defeats, beyond their triumphs and tears. The same goes for us. Some of us have triumphs, and we all have tears. Can we see a future beyond them?

Today’s Gospel words of Jesus, too, carry us beyond our triumphs and tears.

Jesus said to the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”  Matthew 24: 36-44


We know what he says is true, some of us are taken and some are left.  There are triumphs and defeats. That happens to Jesus: one day he enters Jerusalem triumphant, and a few days later he dies crucified. But he, and Isaiah, show us a future of broad hope – resurrection hope – beyond Palm Sunday and Golgotha, beyond triumph and humiliation.

Can we see past our defeats and victories today? I wonder. We tell ourselves that people in the developing world should take our sage advice. As we give advice, let us go and take a look around the churchyard out there. It’s crowded with the little graves of children taken by malnutrition, mothers who died giving birth, and the victims of storms, epidemics and wars. today, mothers mostly survive giving birth and children mostly survive beyond infancy, and that is sweet. To see, though, only our triumphs is to ignore that the lesson of that graveyard.  It tells the story of our triumphs a different way, a far more messy and humbling way, a way where all our joys are mixed with tears. We, as a congregation, are still here, but some of us have been taken away. Christ is present with those taken, the ones in those little graves, just as he is with us who are still here. We aren’t just the glorious Jerusalem, we are also the defeated Israel.

It’s true of the people we know in El Salvador and Haiti too. Life is messy and full of humiliation, but also full of the joy and the hope of Christ’s presence. They aren’t just Israel, they are Jerusalem too.

We’re entering this Advent season of broad hope. It’s my prayer that each of us will see Isaiah’s vision of the future in which triumph and humility are reunited, and the world is brought to wholeness. It’s my prayer that we each can embrace such an extravagant vision of life beyond death and life beyond life. It’s my hope that each of us can be a little Isaiah, and proclaim that same vision to the rulers and people of the divided kingdom in which we live, because the Lord yearns for it to be united. That’s the hope we follow this advent season, and always.  Amen

 The future is calling — Sermon for the first Sunday of advent 2013  Posted by on Sun, 1-Dec-13 Sermons Comments Off on The future is calling — Sermon for the first Sunday of advent 2013
Nov 262013

This morning I am annotating my words with projected images.  Those who encounter the world best through their vision will probably find this enjoyable.  If you are not in that category, and find the images more of a distraction, (or you are listening on the web) feel free to close your eyes and just listen.  This is really more of a reflection interspersed with prayer than a proper sermon. I hope something in it will speak to each of you.  And thank you to Ollie for his technical help!

(Slide 1 – Christ the King) Here we are at the end of the church year on what has been traditionally celebrated a Christ the King Sunday.  I have to be honest and say that this is an image of Christ that I struggle with. I struggle with it because the word king brings up for me lots of associations that are not even close to my sense of who Christ is.  When I hear king, I think, ruler; I think warrior; I think of one to whom others are subject; I think of one who lives in a grand castle, well insulated from the everyday struggles of lives of his subjects.  But when I think of Christ, I think of one who knows me well – even better than I know myself; I think of an all knowing and all seeing one who is not far away and insolated, but rather down in the stuff of life with all of us.  When I think of Christ I think of one who took off all the trappings of ultimate power for the love of you and me.  So if this is Christ the King Sunday, I guess my only choice is to focus on how Christ radically redefines my images of kingship.  And when I listen to the readings for today I am heartened because they do reveal a radically different image of kingship than the world usually offers us.

In our first lesson from the prophet Jeremiah speaks God’s words on the problem of failed leadership of those ruling Israel at that time.  Through the prophet God describes the leaders as “shepherds who shepherd my people”.  God warns here that these shepherds have not protected the flock of God and instead have scattered the flock (slide 2 – quilt block of scattered sheep) and driven them off.  The solution?  God will step in, and gather the flock back together.  God will then raise up a branch from the house of David – the great King of Israel who ruled with compassion and righteousness, rather than the harshness and self-absorption of the current shepherds.  If we look into the story of David we find that before he was anointed as king, he was a shepherd.  Caring for a flock was his first vocation.  And it seems that is what God is looking for in a new leader for his people – someone who will keep watch over the whole flock, who will be vigilant in keeping track of all the sheep, and will keep the whole flock moving forward together.  And so we have our first alternative image for kingship – the king as good shepherd. (slide 3 – shepherd leading sheep)

Let us pray; Christ our shepherd king we pray to you today to tend us and draw us together. (slide 4 – shepherd counting sheep) Take stock of us and if there are any who are straying, or missing from the fold of your love, draw us back in; if there are any feeling alienated, reconcile us;

(slide 5 – sheep in rising tide) if there are any lost or suffering or in danger, reach us; (slide 6 – shepherd feeding) Feed us with your love and may your healing power move among us.  All for the sake of your love, Amen.

The writer of Luke picks up the thread of God’s word in Jeremiah in the 3rd chapter of that Gospel by listing Jesus’ lineage through the line of David back to Adam. Here is Jesus, the branch of David, (slide 7 – branch) the writer is saying – here is the remedy to the sin of Adam passed down through the generations.  And here in our Gospel lesson of the day, taken from the final chapters of Luke, we find that righteous branch of David, (slide 8 – Jesus with crown of thorns) wearing a crown of thorns, (slide 9 – Jesus on cross) hanging near death on the cross.  And it is in this moment that Jesus reveals the heart of his kingship.  As he is being crucified and experiences the searing pain of that torturous process he prays for those who pierce him.  He prays, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing”.  Then it is only in Luke’s Gospel that we are given the conversation that ensues between the two others who are being crucified and Jesus.  One of these two men joins with the crowd in taunting Jesus, but the other (slide 10) admits his wrongs and asks Jesus to remember him when he comes to his kingdom.  Jesus responds, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

On writer blogging on this passage recently wrote,

“I think Luke wishes to demonstrate the continuity between Jesus ministry and his dying. Even on the cross, Jesus reaches out to embrace the socially marginalized. Who is more socially marginal, more excluded, than a criminal being executed? Jesus, who stood in solidarity with outcasts and sinners, feeding them, healing them, welcoming, shepherding and loving them as children of God through his life, continues to do so until the moment of his death… For those who accept this love, paradise can be found today, as Jesus tells the repentant criminal, no need to wait three days or a lifetime, or for the end of time. The kingdom of God is here and now, even in the midst of suffering.” (only name given on the web was Fr. John)

And so we are given another radical image of kingship in Christ – Christ our king of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Let us pray; Christ, king of forgiveness and reconciling love, (slide 11 – silhouette figure on bench) find us in the midst of our sufferings and the manifold sufferings of our world.  Stay with us and in your good time and ways lead us to the understanding that your love for us (slide 12 – embrace) is stronger than our sin; Where we are wrong, right us;

(slide 13-Jesus and Peter) Where we are sinking, lift us; (slide 14 – person bound) Where we are bound, unbind us; (slide 15 – free woman) Where we are injured, heal us; (slide 16 – dawn over crosses) When our eyes are cast down, lift us to see the dawn of your realm breaking in upon us.  Amen.

I find the final radical image of kingship in our reading from the letter to the Colossians, where we are given the great hymn of praise to Christ as (slide 17 – A&O Christ) the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end who fills all, and is all in all.  This is the cosmic view of Christ as our king.  (slide 18 – Christ raising Adam & Eve) The one who cannot be held by death and who puts an end to death forever; (slide 19 – vigil flame being passed) The eternal light in the darkness from before time. The one who was and is and is to come; (slide 20- Jesus with world in hands) The one who holds all things together.  (slide 21 – hands with globe)The one who holds the whole world in his hands.

Let us pray; Oh Christ our king, help us to long for nothing more than your loving care and forgiveness; help us trust nothing more than your abiding presence wherever we are and whatever is happening; and when images for your kingship fail us, help us to remember that you never will – that you will always hold us securely so we need not fear anything in heaven nor on earth, in this realm nor in the realm to come.  (slide 22 – hands with globe and prayer)

In faith we pray. Amen

 Sermon for Sunday, November 24 – The Last Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Tue, 26-Nov-13 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, November 24 – The Last Sunday after Pentecost
Nov 232013

Part II (Chaps 6-10) ~ Part III (Chaps 11-15)

These five words below in caps are chapter headings from the book above. This Post is a continuance of

EPISCOPAL RECEPTION 10/05/13 (by) Tom Green. It is also a completion of JWAE (the book above). The numbers in (parentheses) are page #s.

THANK, SHAPE, WORD, MAP, ROOTS (Part II ~ Chaps 6-10).

THANK (65) “We gather at Communion table not to escape the world’s problems but to escape the world’s answers.” Bishop Arthur Vogel. And the Rev. Chris Yaw chimes in with: “Episcopalians gather to worship God not to please ourselves.” (68)

SHAPE (77) “Episcopalians live our way into a new way of thinking rather than the opposite.” (Koinina Community, 77)

What does it mean that the United States has 5% of the world’s population but consumes 30% of the world’s resources? Somehow that doesn’t surprise me, yet it floors me.

WORD (87) The Bible must be taken seriously but not literally Yaw relates; most agree, yet forget in the heat of discussion. It is also a library for community reading and owned by more, by far, than any other tome. And Yaw also states that: “the Bible is God speaking to us.” (89) In Episcopal Churches four selections are made each Sunday from the Old Testament, a Psalm, the New Testament and a Gospel.

MAP (97) refers to the Book of Common Prayer which guides us in the journey of Christian life. It seems to be the Bible “rearranged for worship.” (98) Note: all unattributed citations belong to the author of JWAE, the Rev. Chris Yaw. The Latin saying “Lex orandi, lex credendi,” translates to “praying shapes believing.” (99)

ROOTS (107) A rough estimate indicates humanity as being at least 1,000,000 years old (108) that humans with brains the size of ours the age of 500,000 years and Christ at 2,000 years ago. This seems a long time ago but, with this backdrop chronology, it provides us with a different perspective. In what way, I’m not sure, but there must be a sermon in there somewhere.

And, speaking of sermons, I checked out one made about Cana. All I know, for sure, about this beloved event, is that Our Lady, the Mother of Jesus, said to the servants after her Son balked at doing anything then: Do as He tells you.” She had absolute Faith in her Son. However. the homily I read had a number of paragraphs about Mary’s experience and feelings vv. Jesus, and her life with Him. At first I felt this sermon had to be written and delivered by a woman. When I sounded out my muse about this I was told not to generalize. But, I was right it was written and delivered by a woman. And my muse is a woman too. What lesson can I draw from that I wondered. Maybe when I jump from an airplane I should pull the ripcord. Anyway that sermon was delivered last January. And I am glad that I found a copy of it since I did not hear its stirring words being delivered. So far I haven’t had to use a parachute.

PART III (Chaps 11-15)

ROPES (119) “The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become. Charles Dubois (119)

“History is important because the lives and stories of those who came before us continue to teach and inspire us and people like our parents know the ‘ropes’.” (120) They’ve been there, done that.

PROPHET (129) Here are a few things that we could prepare for when that time comes: “Pick a destination and be open to surprises along the way. Reconcile…with the estranged…it’s called forgiveness.” (131)

Saint Francis of Assisi mentioned love and forgiveness twice in his prayer, everything else only once. That indicates to me the importance of forgiveness And recently somewhere I read that love is found in forgiveness. Prophets are known to “speak truth to power, justice to oppression.” (132)

CONNECT (141) A Kenyan Eucharistic Liturgy says: “I am because we are. We are because He is.” Reminds me of another I like: “I AM love me as I am.” Just in case I add: “But, still I must try to improve.” Get up after every fall.

Chris Yaw tells of visiting the Holy Trinity Church in Dubai where he was handed a bulletin and a book. And he felt right at home although many miles away. (143) That is Connection.

REFUGE (149) Red is the color of many Episcopal Church front doors because that stands for a place of refuge. Red is also the color of Christ’s blood, the sacrifice of martyrs and the power of the Holy Spirit. (150) Besides being a place for those fleeing violence, the Episcopal Church shelters many converts (70% of American members is mentioned. Chris Yaw ends this chapter with this sentence: “I wouldn’t be surprised if the gates to heaven are painted red.” (158)

TREASURE (!59) This chapter heading comes from a friend of the author of JWAE who said: “I think the Episcopal Church is Christianity’s buried treasure.” (160) A recent poll by the Center for American Progress reported: “…that the government should take greater steps to help the poor and disadvantaged in America.” “And that,” said Yaw “was a big reason why this book was written when the Church is in step with 89% of the American people.” (160)

And the Rev. Chris Yaw hopes that I (as a reader of his) begin to understand the Episcopal journey. In my own journey I believe I have grown a bit in my trek from being a nomad to becoming a pilgrim. I Do feel Welcome. My cup brimeth with Joy. And…excuse me… a listener has just called wanting to know who (whom? ~ where is my muse when I need her”)….wanting to know the name of that “Cana” preacher? Oh yes, I have it right here somewhere in my notes…Why it’s someone who live in Essex County, who penned And delivered an inspiring sermon about the Mother of Jesus ~ the rector of Saint Paul’s Church in Newburyport ~ the Reverend Martha + Hubbard.

 JESUS WAS AN EPISCOPALIAN 11/22/13 Tom Green  Posted by on Sat, 23-Nov-13 Contributing Comments Off on JESUS WAS AN EPISCOPALIAN 11/22/13 Tom Green
Nov 172013

Grace to you, and peace, from the One who is, and who was, and who is to come. Amen

Let’s start with a word about our reading from the second letter to the people at Thessalonika.

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.  —  2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

At its center the passage says “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” Now, there’s a temptation to judgement! Reading this passage out of context we might be tempted to judge hungry people harshly, or worse yet, roll our eyes and dismiss this passage of scripture, and judge other people for taking this passage literally.  For, indeed, it’s never you and never me that’s unwilling to work or willing to judge. Not us. No. It’s always somebody else. That way of thinking is the way to smug self-righteousness. Let’s not go there.

In fact, our lectionary lifts this passage out of its context: critical context. Some folks in that Thessalonian congregation were convinced that the great and glorious Day of the Lord, the day of the New Jerusalem, the arrival of Jesus in glory to judge the living and the dead, was coming sooner rather than later. They were convinced, therefore, that the way they cared for each other and themselves did not matter very much, so they were being lazy and disruptive. Today’s passage takes those Thessalonians to task for that attitude.

Let’s not read an invitation to self-righteousness into this passage. Instead, let us read it, in its context, as a personal challenge. Suppose you knew for sure Jesus were coming in glory very soon. I wonder, what would you do in the meantime? In truth, that’s the question raised by all today’s readings.  How would we live if we knew Jesus’s realm of glory were at hand?

I suspect some of us would work on the church fair. What a wonderful fair it was! Thank you everybody! We donated stuff. We made phone calls. We lugged stuff around, sorted it, and cleaned it up. We artfully arranged all the stuff and adorned our building with it. Our work was all for the strangers who would see it and hopefully have a use for it and buy it.

Then we welcomed crowds of those strangers, smiled at them, talked to them, and did our best to give them a little bit of delight.

We’ve heard the words many times: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul and all your strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  The fair is a big opportunity for us together to throw our hearts, souls and strength into a shared project.

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and, `The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” — Luke 21:5-19

In the light of our Gospel reading about the end of the great temple, it’s an interesting project: in four days of hard work (far longer of course for many departments) we build a store that rivals Macys, if not in glitz in selection. Then we opened it up and welcomed the public for a few hours. Then in an afternoon we tore it down. By now the only remaining trace of it is what we can feel in our smile-muscles and box-lifting bones. We do this year after year.  Build, smile, enjoy, tear down.

When Carolyn and my kids were little we used to go to the beach a lot. We loved to go at low tide and scramble around looking for little pieces of driftwood. Old planks or broken shingles were perfect for our purpose, which was to build an elaborate sand castle, or sometimes even a big sand city. The shingle, if we could find one, was wonderful for smoothing out the sand walls of the castle. Once the walls were perfectly smooth we decorated them with shells and shiny pebbles, and we planted little groves of seaweed trees. Three kids and a dad can build a lot with a broken shingle. We have photos of some of these great sand-castles, adorned with beautiful stones, looking like fabulous mountain redoubts in the wilderness, like the great temple on Mount Zion in the Judean desert.

Then, of course, the tide came in. It always came in. We were drawn to watch. We witnessed that first wave that undermined the wall, the second one that made it collapse, and the third one that washed over it and left only a dim memory of its former glory. In a way our sand castles were like the fair. Build, smile, enjoy, tear down.

Why did we like building these castles so much? Who knows? There was certainly some fun and joy in making something beautiful. There was also a sense of awe and joy in seeing it erased by nature’s power.  Fun and joy turns to awe and joy. From those almost-endless summer days, our family carries a sense of the power of nature and our contingent place in it. Speaking for myself, I remember that sense of awe and joy in my bones and muscles. It’s the same way I remember yesterday’s fair.

That’s all good. But try telling that story to the people of Tacloban in the Philippine Islands, who were hit by an enormous cyclone this past week. For that matter, try telling it to our neighbors by the ocean in Newbury whose houses were destroyed in last winter’s storms.

The teller of that story would sound callous and silly. Tacloban was the sand castle. Its people were the beautiful adornment of stones. Its farmland was the little grove of trees. Their suffering is as overwhelming as the wave that washes away the sand castle, but unlike the wave it doesn’t just recede.  Maybe those folks have a sense of awe at the power of nature, but I daresay they’re experiencing more fear than they are joy. I wonder if some of those people are hoping that Jesus will come, soon, in glory. Who could blame them?

But still, here’s Jesus saying, “do not be terrified, these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.… there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues.”

Well. We know all about these earthquakes, and famines, and plagues. Even so, you mean to say it’s not over yet, Jesus? How can that be? We have to ask ourselves, and we have to ask you, Lord Jesus: are these words supposed to give us comfort? And if so, how?  Where is your promise of comfort and peace in these words?

It’s the age-old question. We’ve been asking this question for ever. How long, O Lord? When is your promised last day, the day of the Lord, the day when suffering will cease and justice will prevail?

And your answer to us, Lord, is not quite yet: “the end will not follow immediately.” You tell us there’s still trouble ahead. And, surely you know that’s discouraging to us. You taught us all to pray “save us from the time of trial” not because you know we’ll avoid that time, but because you know we’ll face trials that we can’t endure on our own. Our sisters and brothers in Tacloban are facing these trials now. They can’t endure them without your help.

But at the same time, your faith in those people, and in us, is deep and wide. Your faith in us gives us the courage and wisdom to withstand our trials.

Your faith in us gives us your dignity, the dignity by which you forgave your tormentors in the hour of your death. The light of your dignity overcame Herod’s, and Pilate’s, and that Roman centurion’s darkness. The light of your dignity in the face of suffering overcomes the darkness of today’s world of rising water and severe storms. Your faith in us gives us the power to care for one another and care for the world. It gives us hope beyond our own hope.

We know our own works – our homes, our cities, our great temples, and even our church fair – quickly fade away. We know our works are no match for the forces of nature and time.  And still we can embrace your unending faith in us. By your faith in us give us the faith in one another that opens us all to life in the new heaven and the new earth which you create every day. Amen.

 Sermon: November 17, 2013: Jesus’s faith in us gives us hope beyond our hope  Posted by on Sun, 17-Nov-13 Sermons Comments Off on Sermon: November 17, 2013: Jesus’s faith in us gives us hope beyond our hope