Monday, June 30, 2008

The Visit

My daughter and Ryan arrived here last Tuesday. For two weeks I told our dogs that "JT and Ryan" are coming. The dogs would run to the window and look out expectantly. So, of course, the day they arrived, the dogs were primed and started barking as soon as the garage door opened. I have never seen two more happy dogs than when they walked in. Mom and Dad were really happy too. After a tour of the house and backyard and pool we headed to an arts community for some touristy activity. We wandered around a mexican pottery shop, a turquoise shop with hand made Indian jewlery and pottery (some of it very old), and walked through an outdoor sculpture garden. After our walk about we to dinner at Cowpalace...for a little taste of the local flavor.

My husband and I stumbled on Cowpalace last Dec. when we were here interviewing. One day we decided to take a drive and see the area so we headed south on the highway. Not too far along we realized that our rental car had no gas, it was given to us at near empty. So we began to search for a gas station. In the desert. Well we followed the signs to one on a small dirt road. The station was part of a general store and included one pump. One pump that was left over from the 1960's. But, it was gas. Next door to this gas station/store was a restuarant that looked, well, dirty and run down and even kinda scary. Turns out it is one of the best restuarants in the area - not fancy just good home cooking. (Oh, and they have a lobster fest one Friday a month...go figure). So, the five of us went there for dinner and had a lovely time. Later that night we came home for an evening swim.

Wed. we got up very early in order to arrive at the Desert Museum by 7:30 am. Arriving at this museum you have to cross over a mountain pass with one of the steepest declines and curving roads I've ever been on - luckily though it is a very short decline. There is another way in that avoids it, but it's not as spectacular....The museum was fabulous. My husband and I are members and love to come and walk around. It was really great so early in the morning because all the animals were up and about, including these javelina. Turns out that a few days later a wild Javelina got into the museum (it's outdoor but fenced in) and bit someone on the foot and hand - YIKES!!!

Wed. afternoon we spent lounging by the pool, swimming and relaxing. We went to dinner at a local Mexican resturant.

More to come: our trip to Mexico and the Grand Canyon....later

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A reflection on Proper 8: Genesis 22:1-14

Few scripture readings are as disturbing as our reading today from Genesis. Through out the ages people have wrestled with this text. In our modern world we struggle to understand a God who would be so cruel. As Christians we read back into this scripture story and hear it as a precursor to Christ, specifically the idea that just as God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, so God sacrificed his son. This idea, that God chose to sacrifice Christ, is known as “Atonement Theology” and it conveys one example of what God was doing in the life death and resurrection of Jesus. Although some are more familiar to us, there are seven or eight “Atonement Theories,” or versions of what we humans think God was doing. They include absurd notions like, “It wasn’t really Christ on the cross, just a body, Christ was someplace else” to things like “God needed this in order to reconcile sinful humanity” or the more contemporary version, “God sent Christ into the world that we might know the fullness of God’s love but we humans killed God’s love, killed Christ…and even still God, through the resurrection, shows us the depth of God’s love.”

Similar to the many versions of Atonement theology people have developed a number of understandings of the Abraham and Isaac story. Rabbis in the Jewish tradition have an ancient process by which they explore the meaning of scripture. They employ a process called “Midrash” to look at the text. The Gospels portray Jesus himself doing this in the parables and other stories he tells.

Doing Midrash is like looking at the text through a lens, each person looking at it would see something different. The person looking at the text focuses on what they consider to be the “rough” spots, the places in the text that seem incongruous, or somehow jump out at them.

Some rough spots in this text, according to the Midrash tradition include: “why a test?” We aren’t told why God was testing Abraham, only that “God tested Abraham.” So the rabbis wonder, what is this about? In midrash, nothing is meaningless, every word might point to something profound. Some suggest that God was testing Abraham because after the birth of Isaac Abraham had a big celebration but forgot to thank God in that celebration. According to this midrash, the Satan, the one who serves on God’s council and caused all kinds of problems for Job, points this out to God and God responds, “Abraham will do anything I ask, even sacrifice his only son.”

Now, of course in midrash, we don’t hear the Satan say this, it’s the rabbis pondering the text and thinking through what might logically have occurred.

Another Midrash has Isaac and his half brother Ishmael arguing about who Abraham loves best. Before long the argument turns to God. Isaac offers to be sacrificed as proof of his love for God, regardless of who Abraham might love best.

And yet another midrash has Abraham and Isaac on the mountain. Isaac is tied up and lying on the wood. Abraham raises his knife, about to stab Isaac when God says, “Abraham.” But Abraham does not hear God and proceeds to kill his son. Later God says, “Abraham did you not hear me when I called to you?” Abraham says, “Why yes I heard a voice but I did not think it was you. You told me to sacrifice my son, why would you then tell me not too? I thought that was the voice of the Tempter trying to distract me from following your desire. How was I to know it was really you calling me?”

This is the midrash I want to focus on today. How do we know it is God calling us? How do we know this especially if God is calling out to us to do something we least expect? That’s a tough one.

Perhaps you remember the words of Paul, that we humans are only able to see in a mirror dimly…so we need time to check out what we discern, check out if it is of God or another. But clearly in the case of this reading, both the original from our text this morning, and in the Midrash, Abraham does not take the time to ponder…he just acts. We hear nothing of him struggling over the request to take his son and sacrifice him. It appears that after God asks this of him, Abraham does not lose sleep, he just goes about preparing for this trip and this sacrifice as if it were any ordinary activity on any ordinary day. And in the real reading, when God tells Abraham to stop, he does. Isaac is not sacrificed because Abraham stops, on a dime, just like that. He doesn’t think about it then. Neither does he think about it in the Midrash - God asks him to stop but he doesn’t even pause to ponder who may be speaking to him. In this reading we are given a version of Abraham as a man who, when it comes to God, doesn’t think, he just does.

But for many of us, this would be impossible. Most of us would struggle, a lot. We would lose sleep and be anxious over one decision or the other. We would wonder if something so difficult could really be of God.

So. How are we to know if what is going on is of God or not? There are a variety of ways. First and foremost we check it out. We talk to other people, lay and clergy, and see what they think. We pray about it. We wait and see if the thought, idea, urge, impulse, continues. We ponder it in the context of the shema, also known as the summary of the law, what it means to love God, love self and love neighbor. We consider the energy we feel behind it. Sometimes the more uncomfortable something makes us the more possible it is that it is God. The “safe feeling easy thing” may not be of God.

But then even that is not necessarily true. Sometimes the very thing God calls us to do does feel just right, easy and simple.

So, in addition to talking to clergy and colleagues, taking it to prayer, waiting awhile, listening carefully to what is going on inside, another thing we can do is bring it a community of people. We can ask their prayers and their thoughts and insight.

And then somehow in the midst of all this praying and listening and discerning, there comes a time when we just know what we are supposed to do.

I guess in the end all we can do is wrestle with the questions: We have Abraham who models one kind of response to God, God calls and he responds. This passage appears to present Abraham as being is so in touch with God that he doesn’t need to do the things we do, he just knows what God wants and does it.

This story reminds us that following God can be arduous and scary and challenging.

As humans we are not usually going to be able to follow God with out pausing to think.
We will most likely be filled with doubt, struggle, and worry, and uncertainty.

We can’t respond like Abraham because we aren’t him. Being faithful to God doesn’t mean we act without thinking. It means we respond. and wrestling with the questions can be a good, faithful response.

(coming soon: pictures of our trip to Mexico and then to the Grand Canyon....this is the last night that daughter and Ryan are so, I'm spending time with them...)

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Summer Reading Friday Five...

Over at Revgals Songbird has posted this:

1) Do you think of summer as a particularly good season for reading? Why or why not? Oh, yes! I switch gears in the summer and move from reading church related books to fiction and poetry. During the year I read a lot of books on leadership, group dynamics, visioning, etc. etc. etc....

But during the summer I have a list of authors I want to read and I scoop up their books and read to my hearts content. I'm not a fast reader and I don't have a lot of time to read, so maybe two books a week.

This year however I am only 4 months into a new call at a bigger busier church. My learning curve is a little steep and the my energy is running to the low side. Thus far I've only read two books. I do have vacation time coming up in August, that might help.

2) Have you ever fallen asleep reading on the beach? No, I don't go to the beach very often these days. For about 7 years I lived near a one of the BIG lakes and walk there, but I had little kids to watch over. Then for another 7 years I lived about an hour away from the Big Lake and never made it in to the beach. Now I live in the big lakes here. I do, however have a swimming pool. And I love to read outside by the pool, especially the NY Times on Sunday afternoon. Here it is simply too hot to fall asleep in the sun.

There are many occasions when I have fallen asleep while reading. Usually during sermon prep....

3) Can you recall a favorite childhood book read in the summertime?I read so much as a child, non-stop. Mostly biographies. I also read all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and all of the Nancy Drew books....I'm sure I read those in the summer.

4) Do you have a favorite genre for light or relaxing reading? Fiction. I'm not fond of violence in any capacity, so none of that...which can eliminate mysteries (Except for Elizabeth George). I tend to get stuck on an author and read all of his or her stuff. One year I read a lot of Susan Howatch...last year I read a lot by two authors....but their names escape me...

5) What is the next book on your reading list? I am currently reading "Three Cups of Tea" (what a good story). Next, "Water for Elephants."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My daughter in town

My daughter and Ryan are here, arriving yesterday afternoon. We took a drive down to the artist community yesterday. This morning we went to a museum/zoo place north of here. Learned a lot about the desert. Tomorrow we're going down to Mexico and the Friday and Saturday we're going to the Grand Canyon. I hope to have pictures to share when all is work until Sunday (sermon already written) - nice to have time off....hope you are enjoying your week too!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Well, we're about to begin again...

In a few weeks Bishops from around the "Anglican Communion" will gather at Lambeth for a conference. The Lambeth Conference convenes once every ten years at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. I don't know if this has happened in the past, but for this Lambeth Conference the Archibishop of Canterbury has chosen NOT to invite a few Bishops. One is Martin Minns who gave up his membership in TEC when he was ordained a Bishop by Peter Akinola. Another is Gene Robinson, TEC Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire.

Some think it most unfortunate that the Archbishop chose to do this, especially excluding Robinson. Others think it will enable a more comfortable, freer expression of faith and sharing without all the attention going in one direction. And of course some won't even recognize Robinson as Bishop...which says nothing about what Minns has done by chosing to be consecrated by the Bishop of Nigeria and then using the US as his mission field for the Diocese of Nigeria....Sigh...

The conference is not a decision making process nor a governing entity, rather the gathering of Bishops is intended for study, fellowship, worship, and sharing. Bishops from the US, Africa, South America, Great Britian, and other areas of the world are coming, some 800 bishops plus spouses will gather for this conference.

There are a number of Bishops who have chosen to gather at an alternative conference called (Global Anglican Future Conference)Gafcon. Minns and Akinola will be there, not Lambeth. (I must say, just to be a bit snarky...was it poetic justice that Akinola was denied entrance to Jordan for the pre-Gafcon planning session, for which he was to be a key participant?). Gafcon is very disturbing, for a number of reasons, including the way it has snubbed the Bishop of Jerusalem, in whose diocese they are meeting (and against his wishes) and the high degree of its exlusivity....

Robinson will be in England, he just can't go to Lambeth.

Lambeth begins the end of July and meets for two weeks.

So. Here we go again...I wonder how it will be...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A reflection on the propers for 6A

Elizabeth O’Connor in her book, Cry Pain, Cry Hope tells this story of her experience as a volunteer in a shelter for homeless women: “It was a very cold night and the women began to arrive early in the evening. The rooms reserved for them were behind the sanctuary of the church and were used for other purposes during the day. Foam rubber mats were laid over the entire area in one room. Many of the women chose a mat as soon as they arrived. Some had very little with them, though most of them had the bags that gave them the name of bag ladies. One carried her possessions in a child’s wagon, and another, more affluent, had hers piled dangerously high in a supermarket cart. The conversation was disconnected, but the atmosphere was warm and peaceful. Each one was given a bowl of stew, bread, and tea….

When morning came the peaceful atmosphere inside the shelter turned hostile. Distraught women – some of them worn and sick – could not comprehend why they were being ‘pushed out’ into the streets. We who had received them so warmly the night before were the very ones hurrying them along, benefactors so soon to become enemies.

In the narrow hall where the women were having breakfast, an old woman with a gentle face kneeled to pray. She was in the way of another woman who taunted her, ‘Get up woman. God don’t hear your prayer.’ The praying woman did not respond and her taunter said again, ‘God don’t hear your prayer woman. God don’t hear your prayer.’

I asked myself, ‘Does God hear her prayer?’ Then I remembered. God is in me and where I am God is. The real question was, ‘Did I hear her prayer?’ What would it mean to hear her prayer?

Our reading today from Genesis, which continues the story of Abraham and Sarah, points us to consider several things. One thing to consider is: What is the nature of God? Another thing this reading asks us to consider is, “Who are we?” And lastly, “How does who we are impact what we do?”

Following on the reading from last week in which we heard God call Abram and Sarai pick up and move we get this reading that shows us some of the transformation that has taken place since they followed God’s call. For one thing their names have changed to Abraham and Sarah which represents the work of God in their lives.

Now in this reading they encounter a trio of strangers who have shown up at their door. Clearly this is something to think about. What would you do if a trio of strangers showed up at your door? I know what I would do and it’s not what Abraham and Sarah did.

This story pushes us to think about a key issue for God, hospitality. Our Bible is filled with stories like this one, stories of people offering hospitality to strangers. Jesus speaks of it: When did you clothe the naked, feed the hungry, offer drink to the thirsty? Who ever does this to anyone, does it to me. And Paul reminds us that by entertaining strangers we just might be welcoming angels.

Offering hospitality is one of the primary commandments God calls us to live. Hospitality is a major component of what it means to love God, love self, love neighbor.

So, what is hospitality? On the one hand hospitality is offering food, drink, shelter to the stranger in need. It’s a difficult thing because we do live in a dangerous world. I know people who have been killed in their own homes because they offered hospitality to a stranger. On the other hand we don’t want fear to rule our lives. How do we need to find balance to live as God calls us?

It helps to remember that hospitality is so much more than offering food or shelter in our homes. Hospitality and its counterpoint hostility are not just what we do. Each is a reflection of what is in our heart. Both hostility and hospitality are learned.

Hostility is grounded in fear. And when we allow fear to rule our lives we limit what we can do. When fear rules our lives we become blind to other people. Fear can be a healthy response to some situations but we need to be careful not to let fear rule our hearts. Take for example the women’s shelter in my opening illustration. It was clearly just fine for this space to be used as a shelter at night when no one would be inconvenienced by the presence of the women. But in the process of clearing out the women to make room for the day work the act of hospitality became an act of hostility. How might this have been different? How might they been able to move the women, share the space, and maintain that sense of hospitality. I am sure there was a way, it only needed to be embraced at the level of the heart and the head. That is part of what I think O’Connor was pondering when she wondered about “hearing the prayer.”

Hospitality grows in our hearts when others care for us and as such it is an attitude that can be cultivated and nurtured with in us. Our scriptures are full of examples of God caring for humans, humans caring for other, and Jesus showing how, just in case we wonder what God means by hospitality.

There is an ancient Chinese story about a farmer who went out to cut wood and could not find his axe. A few minutes later he looked up and saw his neighbor walking down the road carrying an axe. Oh, thought the farmer, my neighbor has stolen my axe. Look how he walks…like a man who is guilty and has much to hide.

Later that night the farmer was rummaging through a pile of wood on his porch when he found his axe. Clearly his neighbor had not taken it. When he saw his neighbor the next day he saw a man who walked tall and confident in a friendly open manner.

The point of this ancient Chinese story is that we humans tend to project on to others characteristics that match where we are in our lives. The attitude of our heart is something we cultivate. We can cultivate fear, anger, hostility. Or we can cultivate love, hospitality, and generosity.

The women at the shelter all had differences of the heart: one was hard and hostile. One was trusting and hopeful. One was struggling to understand how her own heart could be a place of hospitality one minute and a place of hostility the next. The important part is that she asked the question and over time I imagine she might have an answer and a change of heart. I imagine her heart became a place of greater love.

Abraham had received from God all that he ever wanted, land and wealth and stability. God had blessed his life and from that place of generosity and abundance Abraham was able to give back, give to perfect strangers, the same kind of generosity God had shown him.

Sarah had not yet known the depth of God’s generosity and so when God says that she will bear a son Sarah laughs. She can only express what is in her heart and her heart does not know the fullness of God’s love. God, knowing this, does not abandon her, but showers her with love in the form a child, new life.

Each of us has a choice as well. Will we hear God when God calls out to us? Will we actively work to cultivate hearts of hospitality? Will we hear the prayers the broken people in our world? Will we have the ability to open our hearts and share the love of God? And most importantly, will we share generously with all those we meet, friend and stranger alike?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

A Journey

How many of us ever really use the word journey? We say things like, “I’m going on vacation..” or, “I’m going to take a trip…” Or “We’re driving too…” Can you even think of a time when you used the word, “Journey?”

When religions use the word journey they often means something like a quest. And because it’s a quest, it means the journey will have a degree of difficulty to it. A journey will be arduous in some way - with a distant, perhaps unattainable goal. A journey is filled with uncertainty and danger. By comparison a road trip in a comfortable car is hardly a journey.

Ancient people went on journeys. I think of my ancestral grandmother who left England some 150 years ago to travel as a pioneer by boat, train, wagon train, and on foot, to arrive at her destination in Utah. For her, and many others of our ancestors, journeys like these were both physical and spiritual, arduous and dangerous, and completely compelling…it simply had to be done!

A journey means to move from one place to another …however the religious journey can take place with out the person ever moving physically….this kind of journey or quest involves an inward movement, it’s a process of transformation. We understand it as movement or transformational because in the spiritual journey the struggle, which is ultimately grounded in God’s grace, serves to deepen our faith, and we come to know ourselves and God in new ways.

Our Bible is filled with examples of people on a spiritual journey. Abraham is one of the first. He and his wife Sarah are literally called by God and told to move to a new land. So, by all intents and purposes this move appears to be physical. But in the process of this physical move Abraham and Sarah are changed from the inside out. In the Bible this is signified by the change in their names. Notice that the first few times we hear of them they are Abram and Sarai…after the spiritual journey they are renamed Abraham and Sarah. The same thing happens when Jacob is renamed Israel, Simon is renamed Peter, and Saul is renamed Paul….all examples of people who are called on a spiritual journey and changed.

So Abraham and Sarah leave their home and travel to God knows where and settle down. God has promised them certain things if they do as God asks. One thing God promises is a lot of kids, and then, a lot of land. As we read Genesis we come to learn that none of this is easy. Despite God calling Abraham and Sarah, and despite their willingness to follow, nothing is really all that easy. An easy life is not necessarily a sign of God’s blessing. It might be, but usually it’s not. Often God’s call is instead filled with challenges and difficulty, it’s emotional and hard. We learn, as we read Genesis that Abraham and Sarah are not perfect people, but flawed and broken. They have to wait a long time for God’s promise to be fulfilled. They doubt God, laugh at God, and yet continue to try and follow what God wants. Over time Abraham and Sarah become more real to us, they are very much like us, in their brokenness. Not only Abraham and Saran, but so many others in Bible remind us that God does not call perfect people to be God’s servants, but broken people filled with doubt and frustration.

As Christian we mark our faith journeys in several ways. We have our own individual faith journeys. Some of us have Spiritual Directors to guide our lives and help us decipher where God may be in our lives. Some of us journal, writing down what is going on with the hope of understanding how the events of our lives, the movements we experience, are pointing us in a direction toward God. But for most of us our faith journey happens in church on Sunday morning, in the context of a gathered community worshiping. Many of us probably don’t even think that our coming to church on Sunday and worshiping with a community is a faith journey, but it is.

As Christians the spiritual journey is distinctively one of community. We travel with Jesus and also as the Body of Jesus. And the point of our travel with Jesus and as Jesus, is to those in need. And not only do we journey with each other on Sunday morning but we also journey with those who have gone before. The goal of our journey is to arrive in Christ in such a way as to actually know ourselves to be the body of Christ. Spiritually speaking, by virtue of our baptism, we are Christ in the world. And so, along the way, on this quest, the journey, we end up searching for what we already have, God’s blessing on our lives. Abraham and Sarah were called by God, took a long journey, were blessed by God, and changed for ever. So are we.

One way we journey as community in worship is through an intentional participation in the liturgical seasons of the year. By this I mean the seasons that the church has identified and named in order to help connect us to the life of Christ. Our journey, our church year, always begins in late November or early December when we start a new year with the season of Advent.

Advent is the season that falls as the days are at their shortest and the nights their longest. It’s a time of waiting for the birth of Emmanuel, which means Christ with us. The season of Advent is marked by darkness and the color blue, the deep blue of a night sky. It is a season that reminds us that there are times when we wait for God, but that God will come. Advent points us toward Christmas in which we learn that God comes over and over again in new ways and changes us in the process. We will mark Advent with the color blue, with the Advent candle and greens, and with a different Eucharistic prayer, Prayer C, which is one that speaks about waiting, mystery, new life.

Advent is followed by the birth of Christ and the color white. Our Eucharistic prayer will change to Prayer B, which emphasizes the incarnation, the birth of God in Christ, the presence of God in our lives in a new way. We will use this same prayer B through the season of Epiphany but the color will change to green, to mark ordinary time. Our scripture will give us stories of Jesus in the early days of his ministry.

Following Epiphany we enter the season of Lent. This season is marked by the color purple which symbolizes royalty…the king of peace. We follow Jesus through the 40 days of Lent as he journeys to the desert. In Holy Week the color changes to deep red and black as we journey to the cross and enter the depth of our own broken humanity. We will mark Lent using Eucharistic Prayer D, beginning with a Penitential Rite and offering a healing service in the Eucharist.

Easter brings us to the resurrection, to new life again. In the Easter Season we learn about the Holy Spirit and its call to us to become the Body of Jesus. The color is white and we return once more to Eucharistic Prayer A.

Over the next year, and each year there after, we will journey through the seasons as a community. We will embrace God in Christ in our prayers and hymns and scripture. We will remember the life of Christ in the colors used and in the feel of the church.

In the process the things that feel bumpy and awkward will begin to feel familiar. We will grow a memory of what we have done before. We will begin to know and remember that a certain prayer that we are praying points us to the season we are in. Through the prayers we will come to ponder the various ways we are experiencing Christ at this time. We will be able to reflect on how we have grown as a community and as individuals. As Episcopalians it is our worship that makes us distinctive, and it is our praying that shapes us and what we believe.

Our worship will be a journey into faith. In worship I hope we experience the mystery of God, through worship I hope our senses are awakened, with worship I hope we take time pause to ponder what it means to embrace a living God. As the vestry discerns so shall we. Together we will consider just how it is that God is calling us, like God called Abraham, like Jesus called Matthew. How are we being called to heal this broken world? How are we being called to be the hands and heart of Christ?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Going to Texas

This afternoon I am flying to Texas for a conference. The conference begins tomorrow and runs through Saturday and is sponsored by the Church Pension Group of the Episcopal Church. It's a conference on Safeguarding God's People, the adult to adult version, train the trainer. My parish serves a lot of older adults in homes and assisted living facilities. We need to be up to date on the latest issues and responses. We need our volunteers to be trained so that they can be wise and attentive. So I am going along with two other staff members. It will be a long weekend. I'm bringing my I can sit through two days of presentation. The only thing I am hoping for - no role playing. I don't like to do that in this kind of a setting.

Also, while there I am going to my first Revgals meet up with Mary Beth. Whoo hoo! She's coming to the hotel, since I will be carless and the hotel is apparently convenient for her. I am so excited. We're having dinner together Friday night. YAY! Perhaps we'll have pictures?

I have my sermon written for Sunday, which was like pulling teeth to get it to come out of me. (SIGH)....but at least it's done enough. I'll look it over when I return Saturday night.

Well, better get ready for this day, this weekend. Blessings, all!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A New Foundation

A reflection on Matthew 7:21-29, Proper 4A Pentecost 3

Jan Richardson from the The Painted Prayerbook offers this reflection:
“ When a friend of mine was ready to build a house on the land he had purchased in eastern Kentucky, he sent out a request to some friends. Scott invited us to offer an object, a tangible blessing that he would bury in the ground upon which he would build the house. He recalls that “Folks were amazingly thoughtful— some of the items included tea, Legos and puzzle pieces from my childhood sent by my mother, guitar strings, a bit of climbing rope, a bit of granite from my home town (Lithonia meaning roughly “rock place”), a wine chalice from my potter friends, shells from our childhood vacation spot,herbs, bits of plants and dirt from various parts of the country, and chocolate.” After all the gifts arrived, Scott gathered with some friends for a ceremony on his property. Placing the gifts in the ground, they offered a blessing for what would take root in that place. Married now and with young children, Scott and his family flourish in the house built atop the buried blessings.”

Think about it.

Building the foundation of a house on the gifts of others including prayers and blessings. When I read this I thought immediately of this parish. We are a church built on the generosity of others – the people who have gone before us and the gifts they have given this church in leadership and financial support. Their gifts, and your gifts, have built a fine church. Financially stable and secure for the future
with a beautiful worship space and attractive comfortable meeting rooms, offices, and parish hall. Sometimes I wonder if we understand how truly blessed we are to have such a solid foundation.

We have much to be thankful for. Having a solid foundation for our finances and buildings is only one part of the issue that Jesus is speaking of in our Gospel this morning. He’s pointing us to that and something more.

You see, he says, it isn’t enough to shore ourselves up, there is more to be done.
There is more to be done than just hearing the word of God, which is like shoring ourselves up… we also have to do something beyond ourselves.

Some years ago I knew a woman who had discerned from God that she had a special calling – she could hear Jesus speaking to her. I mean Jesus said sentences, even entire paragraphs to her. She began to write down these sayings of Jesus and eventually created books, little reflection books on the words of Jesus. The books were published and sent to people. Some people got them who had never heard of this woman and the gift she had discerned in herself. Some were particularly appalled
at receiving the book because it addressed a concern or issue they faced and offered a solution, from Jesus himself, no less! A few began to find the books very comforting. Some began to ask the woman questions for Jesus. “Please ask Jesus what I should do about thus and such.” And in time the woman would come back with an answer from Jesus. Once in a while it took a long time to get an answer back and the person would put their life on hold, waiting.

My impression of this ministry, this gift, was that it was relatively harmless
with a few exceptions. It conveyed the idea that Jesus would speak to her but not to others. It had a way of infantilizing people because they would not make a move in their lives until they got the words back from Jesus through her. It was sad to experience people who were in awe of her gift and yet failed to recognize that Jesus
does the same for them, for all of us.

Jesus speaks to all of us. Often we don’t hear, or at least we don’t recognize
that what we are hearing in our lives is God speaking to us. And very often we don’t take any action, we do nothing about the very thing God is saying to us.

This is the heart of our Gospel reading this morning – we are to take the word of God into our lives and then DO something. Building this church is like taking the word of God into us. It’s good. But it is also internally focused and therefore Jesus says, not enough.

Ok. So now what? We all can agree that we have built a solid foundation for one level of our structure, our corporate being. The vestry and I are coming to realize
that we need to build the foundation for the next level of our being – we can call it the spiritual level.

This is the work we will be about for some time. This is the work the vestry will be doing on a very intentional level. This is work I have asked you to pray about, especially to hold the vestry in prayer while they discerning.

Some time ago, there was an article in the Los Angeles Times about Howard Maxwell and his four year old daughter, Melinda. As children often do, Melinda developed a fixation on the story of “The Three Little Pigs.” Every time her father came around, Melinda wanted him to read it to her. The father, being both modern and inventive, got a tape recorder, recorded the story, and taught Melinda how to turn it on. He thought that had solved his problem. But it lasted less than a day. Soon Melinda came to her father,holding out “The Three Little Pigs” and asking him to read.
Somewhat impatiently, the father said, “Melinda, you have the tape recorder, and you know how to turn it on!” The little girl looked up at her father with her big eyes
and said, “Yes, daddy, but I can’t sit on its lap!”

The father was so focused on his work that he didn’t really think he had to spend as much time with his daughter as she needed. He failed to see the real significance of reading her that story over and over - it wasn’t the story - it was his attention she wanted.

This illustration speaks to the level of work we need to do – figure out how to move from being focused on ourselves to being focused on others. Yes, we are doing a lot to help people in the world around us. But do you all know what we are doing?

I think if you knew everything you’d be surprised. So, one piece is communication.
We were working on that. But there is more to it. We need to figure out, of all things we are doing, what our real focus is. Instead of just doing, we need to have a sense of purpose to it, a mission. We need a mission that describes who we are
and what we are about now and a vision of who we want to be in the future.

An elderly woman was making her way through the countryside. Each time she came to a crossroads she would toss a stick into the air. Whichever way the stick came down was the direction she went. At one intersection, however, an old man saw her toss her stick into the air not once, not twice, but three times before resuming her journey.The old man was curious. “Why are you throwing your stick like that?” he asked.She squinted and replied, “I’m letting God direct my journey by using this stick.” “Then why did you throw it three times?” asked the curious old man. “Because,” she said, “the first two times He was pointing me in the wrong direction.”

Discerning where God is calling us will require us to work on a different level
so that we can let go of being inward focused and our need to control life
and instead open ourselves up to God.

We will work on building the spiritual foundation in order that we can discern where God is calling us and therefore focus what we are doing and why. Building the spiritual foundation requires the same level of care and concern and dedication
as was given by those who built the foundation for our stable finances and fine Church buildings. That work can be an inspiration for us now.

In essence we are going to discern how we are being called by God to be the face of Christ in the world around us. How are we going to offer reconciliation, healing, and love, to this broken world of ours?

One simple way is: Each time you look in the mirror you are to remind yourselves that YOU, each one of you, is the face of Christ in the world. Each one of us carries within us the love of God given in Christ. As we go about our day talking to people, sharing meals, what ever we do, we are to remember that because of the Incarnation, because of Christ, God has chosen to live in and through us to reconcile the world to God’s desires.

And, what does God desire? Jesus tells us that too: we are to love God, love self, and love neighbor. Today’s reading reminds us that it is not enough to know this,
we need to act on it.

In addition to looking in the mirror and remembering that we are the face of Christ, there will be other things we do. As I have said, over the next year the vestry will be actively discerning our vision, where we think God is calling us. The vestry will be assisted by your prayers for us. We will also be assisted by some small group work we are going to do, fun visioning work, so look for an opportunity to participate in a small group.

The point is we are going to do this work together through prayer, through worship, and through intentional reflection. Why do we do this? Because we are living dynamic creative beings which means we live in a world that changes all around us all the time. As a result we need to take time to reflect on how we are changing just by being alive and here. We want to do all that we can to make sure that we are not limiting God’s ability to live in us, not controlling God through the direction we want to go in, but rather that we are opening ourselves to the word of God and then being willing to take action upon that word.

To do this we will ask ourselves two questions:
How is God asking us to be the face of Christ now at this point in time?
how are we to go about reconciling the world, or at least this part of the world in SE Arizona, to God’s love?

The answers I suspect will lead us to a new place of being blessed and to being a blessing for others as well.

Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women ...