Thursday, October 19, 2006

Canterbury Evening Prayer Reflection 3

Reflection on John 4:22-26

Today’s reading is a small part of the much longer account of the interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well. The story in it’s entirety happens to be the longest dialogue recorded in the Gospels. In this story, Jesus and the Samaritan woman are discussing the Jewish and Samaritan faiths, which, while similar in many ways because they have the same roots, differ in some of the particulars. One of the key differences is that the Samaritans accepted only the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, as Scripture. From the Jewish perspective they had an incomplete picture of God” (O’Day, 568).

At the heart of today’s passage is the concept that true worship of God entails worshiping in Spirit and truth. Conceptually, this creates a conflict between the Samaritan woman and Jesus, a Jew. While not specifically discussed in the passage, they have differing interpretations of what worshiping in Spirit and truth means. The one thing they can agree on, however, is that a Messiah will come to bring salvation to the world and will reveal the truth. While the Samaritan woman believes that this will happen at some point in the future, Jesus knows differently. He informs the woman that the Messiah has already come, and that he, Jesus, is the Messiah. Looking at the entire story of salvation as portrayed in the Gospels, we see a paradox, however. “Salvation does originate from God’s own people, the Jews, but some Jews do not receive that offer of salvation in Jesus. For example, the offer of salvation made by Jesus (a Jew) has been rejected by the Jew Nicodemus but will be accepted by the Samaritans” (O’Day, 568).

To me, this paradox all boils down to the central concept of worship in Spirit and truth, on how various faith traditions interpret Spirit and truth. Biblical scholar and homiletics professor Gail O’Day notes that “Worship of God in spirit and truth does not point to an internal, spiritualized worship but to a form of worship that reflects and is shaped by the character of God” (O’Day, 568). As Christians, we are constantly attempting to discern what is Spirit and truth, what it means for us, and what it reveals to us about God and about our life as God’s children. In this respect, we are not so different from the Samaritan woman who seeks to understand Spirit and truth, and in a chance encounter, meets it face to face.


O’Day, Gail R. “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflection.” In Vol. IX of The New Interpreter’s Bible. Edited by Leander E. Keck, et al. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Memorial Service for Charlie Hart

Memorial Service – Charles McKey Hart

(June 9, 1919 – October 8, 2006)
Lamentations 3:22-26,31-33; Psalm 46; 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:5; Psalm 23; John 14:1-6
Tuesday, October 17, 2006 – St. Alban’s, Westwood

As we gather to say our farewells and to honor the life of Charlie Hart, I think it is particularly appropriate that we have this Gospel reading from John. This passage that we just read is the beginning of Jesus' farewell discourse to his disciples. In this discourse, Jesus sums up the purpose for his completed ministry on earth and tells his disciples about what is to come – about his death and resurrection. More importantly, for them, and for those of us gathered here today, he tells about what it means for humanity that he will be resurrected and ascend to Heaven.

When Jesus talks about going to his Father’s house, he is not just talking about location, but also about relationship (O’Day, 740). “The imagery of the dwelling places points to the inclusion of others in the relationship with God and Jesus. Jesus uses the domestic imagery to say ‘My return to God will make it possible for you to join me in the relationship that the Father and I share’” (O’Day, 741). For him to go, through death and resurrection, to his Father's house, with dwelling places for all, was to prepare a place of permanent fellowship. This Gospel passage is, therefore, not about separation, but about deeper fellowship.

Jesus promises to take his own to himself. This is a “promise of the arrival of the hoped-for age, which is marked by reunion and reconciliation with God, by inhabiting one’s ‘place’ in God’s home” (O’Day, 741). Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection provide us with the certainty that we are God’s beloved children and that God wants nothing more than for us to be reconciled to Him in this life, and to spend eternity with him when our lives on this earth are completed. His life, death, and resurrection provide the means by which this can and will happen for each and every one of us.

As evidenced throughout scripture, our Judeo-Christian faith is all about relationship – our relationship to our God and our relationships to one another. Ours is a story of a God who created us in his image. Ours is a story of a God who continually seeks to be in relationship with us. Ours is a story of men and women who seek to be in relationship with one another. Because of our story, we know that it is through relationship that we ultimately seek to know and be known by the One who created us. We accomplish this through community – through our communities of faith, and through the communities that are our families and friends. This importance of community was exemplified by the life of Charlie Hart.

While small of stature, Charlie was a giant among men when it comes to creating and being part of community. Charlie has been characterized as having twinkling eyes and a big, cheerful smile. These physical attributes complimented a similarly winning personality – a non-stop and contagious sense of humor, a strong sense of integrity, a genuine interest in those he encountered, the ability to inspire and cheer on others, a passion for a number of varied activities, and compassion for his fellow human beings.

First and foremost, Charlie was a “people person.” Because of his winning personality, everyone loved Charlie and loved to be with him. And he obviously loved being around other people. Alice, his wife, once commented that there was “never an invitation he said ‘no’ to.” Even later in life, he would not allow a little thing like being confined to a wheelchair to keep him from accepting an invitation. On one occasion, he attended a party while in his wheelchair. Rather than be relegated to the sidelines, he insisted on sitting in the middle of the room so that he could be with all the other partiers and be in the midst of all the action.

When Cynthia and Mary Ann selected the Gospel reading for this service, I immediately had an image of Charlie entering heaven and instantly going from room to room, introducing himself and getting to know the neighbors. And I’m sure that if there were not a party for him to be invited to, he would get busy and organize one himself.

But his greatest joy was his family. He deeply loved his family, particularly his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, with each of whom he had a special and unique relationship. He was always there for each of them, no matter what the need. And as a result, they were always there for him, even to the end. He obviously taught his family the meaning of love, which they gratefully and joyously returned to him. But as much as he loved his family, by far his greatest love was Alice, his beloved wife. At one point near his death, he commented that he just wanted to hold her hand. After five years apart, he finally got his wish.

If unconditional love and devotion to community are the hallmarks of the Kingdom of God, Charlie will fit right in in Heaven. And I think it’s safe to say that he certainly provided a foretaste of that Kingdom while he was here. Charlie lived the Gospel and proclaimed it to all he met through his actions.

Remember, today’s Gospel is not about separation, but about deeper fellowship. When Jesus opens his discourse by saying “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he is exhorting his disciples “to stand firm in the face of his departure, when the events [of his death] may look to them as if evil and death are having their way. It is a rallying cry for strength” (O’Day, 740). These words and their intended meaning ring true for us here today, just as they did for the disciples. In this time of grief, and in the days ahead when the loss of Charlie’s life and his absence will be most painfully felt by you, his family and friends, remember this rallying cry. Yes, Charlie is no longer here physically, but that does not mean he is gone. He is still with you. He lives on in your hearts – in the memories of your time together and the joy you feel when you think about them, in the lessons that he taught you, in how he touched your lives to help form the persons you are today.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


O’Day, Gail R. “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflection.” In Vol. IX of The New Interpreter’s Bible. Edited by Leander E. Keck, et al. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Rich Young Ruler and Listening for the Heartbeat of God

Proper 23 – Year B
Amos 5:6-7,10-15; Psalm 90:1-8,12; Hebrews 3:1-6; Mark 10:17-27(28-31)
Sunday, October 15, 2006 –
St. Alban’s, Westwood

Now you have to admit, as we start our annual stewardship campaign, today’s Gospel lesson is pretty scary. How would you like to have Jesus as the chair of your stewardship committee? Imagine that stewardship talk.

“Do I have to pledge to be a member of the parish?”

“Of course you do.”

“Well, how much should I pledge?”

“You know the guidelines.”

“So I should do proportional giving?”

“Sorry, not enough.”

“Okay, so I have to tithe to be a member?”

“Nope. Still not good enough.”

“Well then, what do I have to pledge to be a member?”

“Everything. You have to give all your money to the church. Oh, and you have to sell all your possessions and give that money to the church, too. If you do that, then we’ll talk about your membership status.”

If we’re brutally honest with ourselves, the vast majority of us would go running for the door. The pews would be empty, or at least, pretty nearly so. Come Monday morning, the rector would have received so many calls she would have no choice but to call a special vestry meeting to figure out what to do about the situation.

The reality is that in contemporary American society, people cannot readily survive without money and possessions. Our society and its institutions just aren’t set-up or equipped to deal with that way of life. Even our ecclesiastical institutions, our parishes, diocese, the Episcopal Church, or the entirety of Christianity, are not equipped to deal with that way of life – with a constituency comprised entirely of people without financial means or material possessions, of a constituency totally reliant upon society or the Church for their support. This is most vividly evidenced by the lack of success of our nation’s welfare system, and of the lack of sufficient resources available to care for the needy in our midst – the hungry, the homeless, and those without access to basic human services.

Yes, the demands that Jesus places on his disciples and the demand he places on the rich young ruler to give up everything to follow him may be the Gospel ideal. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if our society, if our religious institutions, were able to provided for all the needs of all the people? Personally, I would love to not have to worry about having enough money to pay the bills, or provide maintenance and upkeep on my possessions. Sure, there are small pockets within the Church where this is possible. There are monastic communities where the men or women living in them have given up all their possessions and all their money to serve God. And in return, they are provided with what they need for a reasonably comfortable life. But such communities are the exception, not the rule – they are the exception to our societal norms, because they follow the rule of the Gospel.

But the fact remains, we have this difficult, if not troublesome, passage from Mark’s Gospel. “Jesus’ sayings on the difficulty in entering the reign of God is repeated twice for emphasis. We cannot ‘read around’ it; it is not a minor point in the passage, but at its heart” (Hanson, 21). So, let’s take a look at what this means, and then we can start to figure out what to do about it – we can start to figure out our response so that we may remain true and faithful to the Gospel and living as Jesus commands us.

First, let me say that if we are astonished by the demands made by Jesus, and the seriousness with which he seems to make them, we are not alone. According to Mark, Jesus’ “exclamation that it is difficult for those who have riches to enter the Kingdom of God” also astonishes the disciples, “presumably because they, like many of their contemporaries, saw wealth as an indication of God’s pleasure” (Hooker, 242). The understanding of the day was that God granted wealth and power to some people and that these people would use those gifts for the service and betterment of society. Even today, this perspective continues to be prevalent among many who have wealth and power. So, for Jesus to make statements condemning wealth and demanding that people give up all they have was a radical indictment against prevailing social constructs. His statements and demands floored everyone, including his closest followers and companions.

In explaining the meaning of Jesus’ demands, Biblical Studies scholar K. C. Hanson frames the argument in terms of the economic institutions of the day – the patronage conferred by the wealthy and powerful upon those of lower social and economic status. Hanson writes, “Put in terms of patronage, the wealthy tend to see themselves as self-sufficient. Jesus’ call to discipleship entails a commitment and loyalty to God, his patronage (the kingdom), his broker (Jesus), and the community of his other clients (Jesus’ followers). The wealthy have their own clients, estate obligations, and complex business arrangements. The time, energy, and commitment that Jesus is calling for is precluded by the life-style of the wealthy” (Hanson, 22). While the terms may be slightly different, the concept continues to apply today. And while many of us would not consider ourselves wealthy or powerful by contemporary standards, the principles nonetheless apply to us. Compared to the rest of the world, we are the wealthy and the powerful. The bottom line for contemporary society, according to Hanson, is that “one thing is clear from the Gospels: Jesus did not try to cover up the consequences of discipleship. Following him means calling our commitments and loyalties into question, both in terms of our values and of the institutions to which we align ourselves. He does not call us to be more ‘pious,’ but more loyal” (Hanson, 23). Jesus’ demands are not related to “asceticism, but to commitment and loyalty over against self-sufficiency” (Hanson, 21).

New Testament scholar Pheme Perkins shifts the perspective ever so slightly, noting that “the story of the rich man who turns down the invitation to discipleship illustrates the fact that desire for wealth can stifle the seed sown by the Word” (Perkins, 648). The complexity of dealing with wealth and possessions occupies our time and energy and keeps us from focusing on what the Gospel commands of us. Perkins goes on to relate the situation to contemporary Christians, regardless of social or economic status. She asserts that “Resisting the pressures of a consumer culture, which generates perpetual needs for more and new possessions, is difficult for many Christians today. Our excess consumption may deprive others of resources they need just to survive. It is a hidden form of structural greed that wastes the world’s resources and creates suffering for others we may never meet” (Perkins, 649). But despite this indictment against all of us in twenty-first century American culture, Perkins offers a glimmer of hope. She points out that today’s Gospel lesson “provides an important example of how the apparent impossibility of renouncing all things to follow Jesus can be both possible and even rewarding. The key lies in Christianity as a new community, the ‘family’ gathered around Jesus” (Perkins, 651).

How do we avert the dire consequences implied in Jesus’ discussion on wealth and obtain the rewards that he alludes to at the end of the Gospel passage? If we answer that, we are well on our way to addressing the issue of stewardship. After all, stewardship is about more than just money. It’s about our entire relationship with and use of everything God has given us: money, material possessions, time, our gifts and talents, and our entire selves – body, mind, and spirit.

This past week, I attended the Fall Clergy Conference in Solvang. While actually a misnomer, the event was not so much intended to be a conference as a retreat. The primary purpose of the event is to bring clergy together from all over the Diocese for fellowship, to reconnect with one another, and to provide a time of rest and relaxation. In addition, there is some content built into the event. The focus of this clergy conference was on spiritual self-care, on exploring ways of connecting with God, on the theme of listening for the heartbeat of God.

Monday morning, the first full day of the conference, was absolutely wonderful. After morning prayer, we had a brief program to help set the tone for the day. Melissa McCarthy, a priest in the Diocese, a former dancer, and a dear friend, led us in an experience involving breathing exercises and body movement. Done in a very safe and non-threatening way, the experience was designed to help us to be present to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives at that moment and to help us listen for the heartbeat of God.

After the breathing and movement exercise, I decided that I would take a long walk into the countryside. I set off with no preconceived agenda about what I would do or what I would think about. I just wanted to walk and allow myself to be open to the promptings of the Spirit. At first, I had no particularly profound thoughts. I was just enjoying the peace and quiet of the countryside and being in the beauty of God’s creation. After awhile, I discovered that my thoughts turned to the exercise that guided me to hear the heartbeat of God in the midst of an otherwise crazy period. Guided by the Spirit, my mind started making connections to the sense of being in community and the importance of community to us as a people of faith; and to the importance of listening for and actually hearing the heartbeat of God, both as individuals and as a community. I began to realize, through the promptings of the Holy Spirit, the connection between that morning’s activities and the message that Jesus proclaims in today’s Gospel lesson.

When Jesus tells the rich young ruler that he must sell all that he owns, give the money to the poor, and to follow him, he is telling the young man that he must listen for the heartbeat of God. Jesus recognizes that all the hub-bub of every day life, all the frenetic activity that life demands of us, our concern over money and the material things in life, only serve to get in the way of hearing what God is saying to us – they distract us from hearing the heartbeat of God. Only by clearing our minds and our lives of all those concerns will we be free to sit and listen for and to the heartbeat of God. And when we are able to do that, we will be able to hear and understand what is of greatest concern to God. We will begin to realize what it is that we must do to live in harmony with God’s desires.

If we listen to the heartbeat of God, we will hear God calling us to engage in the work of creating equality for all God’s beloved children. We will begin to recognize how out of whack our society is in the work of inclusivity and social justice. We will begin to recognize that “the price society pays for a few to be wealthy” results in many who are poor. We will begin to recognize how seriously God, as revealed in Scripture “take[s] the challenge to do economic and social justice” (Gottwald, 13). By attending to the heartbeat of God, we will see that we are all God’s children, rich and poor, powerful and weak.

The message of today’s Gospel lesson is specifically intended for us, the wealthy and powerful of the world. It is a call to action. It is a call to stewardship. In this lesson, we are the rich young ruler who is called by God to be stewards of all creation, to care for all of creation. The most precious resource in all of creation is humanity, which is made in God’s image. For God, that means leveling the playing field so that all may be equal, not only in God’s eyes, but in the eyes of one another. We can only come to that realization through stripping ourselves of all that distracts us and listening to the heartbeat of God, which cries out for justice. The Church, as the physical Body of Christ in a broken world, is the instrument by which justice for the poor and the oppressed can be achieved. By giving of ourselves to the Church, through our financial resources, as well as our time and our talents and gifts, we strengthen the Church to do the work that God, through Jesus, has called us into – to care for our fellow human beings, God’s children.

Does that mean giving up everything we have? I don’t think so. In our contemporary society that is not feasible. But today’s Gospel does call us to take a long hard look at how we use our resources. It means loosening our attachment to the material, reducing our obsession with our own agendas and self-concerns, and diverting our attention to those things that are of concern to God – to listening to the heartbeat of God and acting in concert with what we hear by using our resources – all our resources – to not merely give lip service to proclaiming the Kingdom of God, but to work toward really making it happen.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Hanson, K.C. Proclamation 4: Aids for Interpreting the Lessons of the Church Year: Series B Pentecost 3. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991.

Hooker, Morna D. The Gospel According to Mark. In Black’s New Testament Commentaries series. London: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991.

Lagerquist-Gottwald, Laura and Norman K. Gottwald. Proclamation 6: Interpreting the Lessons of the Church Year: Series B Pentecost 3. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996.

Perkins, Pheme. “The Gospel of Mark: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflection.” In Vol. VIII of The New Interpreter’s Bible. Edited by Leander E. Keck, et al. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Canterbury Evening Prayer Reflection 2

Reflection on Luke 7:36-50

As I pondered today’s reading from the Gospel According to Luke, I was struck by the image of the woman who came to Jesus, knelt at his feet, wept, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry his feet with her hair. And then, she kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. This reminded me of the tradition at Maundy Thursday services of washing people’s feet. For me, it is always an incredibly humbling experience to have someone else tenderly wash my feet and then to dry them with a soft towel. I also find it very humbling to actually wash the feet of another person. While I find this simple act to be humbling, I also find joy in washing another’s feet. There is great joy in being able to be of service to another – to wash and soothe the tired feet of a fellow traveler on life’s journey

Now in Jesus’ day, it was the custom to provide water to one’s guest so he could wash his feet after a journey in sandals along dusty roads. This was a sign of hospitality and of providing refreshment to weary travelers. Generally, water was merely provided. The guest would have to wash his own feet, which was fine, as the feet were considered to be an intimate part of the body. If the host was wealthy and had slaves, one of the slaves might be directed to wash the feet of the guest.

Admittedly, the actions of the woman, who is characterized as being a sinner, are a little over the top, even given the customs of the day. She was not a slave in the household, so had no official standing for washing anyone’s feet. In fact, she was an uninvited guest in the home of the Pharisee. No one seemed to know who she was, other than the fact that she was a harlot. She did not use water to wash Jesus’ feet. She used her own tears. She did not use a towel to dry Jesus’ feet. She used her own hair. And then, as if that weren’t enough, she actually kissed Jesus’ feet and anointed them with ointment, with expensive, perfumed oil. The woman completely violated social convention. Touching someone’s feet was considered an intimate, act, carrying sexual overtones. Similarly, a woman letting down her hair also carried sexual overtones. Everyone in the room, with the exception of Jesus, was scandalized by the acts of this brazen woman.

So why did this unnamed woman do such scandalous things? We aren’t told how or why, but somehow, she knew who Jesus was. She knew that he was the key to her salvation, that he was her savior. Her actions demonstrated her love and gratitude. In a moment of abandon, she expressed that love and gratitude in a completely unconventional and unorthodox way – in a way that defied all social convention. She abandoned every shred of dignity she might have had and unashamedly professed that love and gratitude not with mere words, but in her very actions. And in so doing, Jesus saw that she truly loved him and that she was truly grateful for what he would do for her – for the forgiveness that he would grant her. She probably didn’t know it at the time, but deep in her heart of hearts, she has such profound faith in Jesus that could only be expressed in action.

In the eyes of the Pharisee, the woman’s actions were not only scandalous, but they also represented a challenge to his honor. The woman had honored Jesus in a way that he did not. Even more so, the woman honored and loved Jesus in a way that he could never bring himself to do – through intimate actions that would have not only violated social constructs but which would have destroyed his standing as a person of wealth and prestige, his standing as a Temple authority. The Pharisee was so wrapped up in what was proper and what was “demanded” by his position in life that he was not able to recognize his need forgiveness. As a result, he gained nothing. The woman, on the other hand, had nothing to lose. She recognized her need and received forgiveness joyfully and in abundance. Her selfless, loving response is accepted as faith, which results in not only her forgiveness, but also in peace.

Two thousand years later, we still have the same dilemma as illustrated in the Gospel lesson. Like the Pharisee, we invite Jesus in. But how far are we willing to go to gain the forgiveness and the peace that he offers – that are ours for the asking? Do we play things safe and live by societal expectations, or do we go against those expectations and give in to the passion deep within us and act in love and gratitude made possible by faith to embrace Jesus in a most intimate way?

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