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April 23, 2017, 2nd Sunday of Easter YR A

Year A, Easter 2
April 23, 2017
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was


“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!  The Lord is Risen indeed.  Alleluia!

          Happy Easter everyone!  We are one week into the Fifty Days of Easter.  At Forty Days is the Ascension of our Lord, the commemoration of His rising on the clouds in glory to the right hand of God, and on the 50th day is the Feast of the Pentecost, (pente– five, fifty), our memory of the Holy Spirit entering the world in a very particular way and imbuing the church with her love and light. We have fifty days to bask in the light of the resurrection, to imagine and remember the presence of Jesus in that space between His death and His return to the heart of God.

We are getting started on a really high note.  This was the best Holy Week into Easter that I have ever experienced.  The worship team here at Resurrection really outdid themselves.  The physical space, the table was set perfectly.  (Well, besides the Paschal candle, but we figured that out, mostly gracefully).  The readings were clear.  The altar was attended to with the requisite solemnity.  The music… the music was just stunning, it carried us all the way through.  And most importantly, you all were here.  Your energy carried us through: somber when somber is what it needed to be; joyous when joy was what was called for.  And all of those children… Have you ever seen such a thing?  17 little ones in the nursery!  That must have violated some code.  Another thirty in here and up in the choristers.  It’s the church happening right before our eyes.   Thank you one and all for what you brought and laid before the foot of God last week.  A religious cycle like the one we just passed through, the opportunity to participate in, to practice, to have an actual religious experience, because that was possible to have had last week, a lot of us did have one… that’s the kind of thing that can make a believer out of someone.

Our gospel today is about the apostle St. Thomas the Twin, or more popularly, Doubting Thomas.  Now Thomas, he gets a bad wrap.  He was not alone in having his doubts, he was just the one who expressed it individually.  Mary Magadalene didn’t know what was going on as she wept, peering into the empty tomb.  She didn’t recognize Jesus when He appeared.  The whole group of the apostles, they had abandoned Jesus when He was arrested in the Garden, and even after Mary had told them that she had seen Jesus, they huddled in fear behind locked doors.  Even a week after they had seen Him, they hid behind locked doors.  But there is Thomas.  He was away when Jesus first appeared and he did not believe them.  “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Believing… That can really seem the heart of the Christian project, to be a believer.  “A Bible Believing Church.”  You see signs like that in front of some churches.  I could agree to that, that believing is the heart, or at least the starting point for being Christian, but to a large extent, that would really depend on what you mean by “believe.”

I get more complaints, questions, I hear more doubts about the word “believe” than any other part of the Christian thing.  What does it mean when we say “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”?  I hear more discomfort with the Creeds, and having to say “I believe” than I do about the word sin, or salvation, or the whole process of saying “God of all mercy, we confess that we have sinned against you…”  No, believing, that is harder for a lot of us, it relies on faith, on things that can’t be “proven” as can be in a lot of other aspects of our experience.  Belief, religious belief is a matter of faith, of acceptance of the empirically unprovable.  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  Jesus doesn’t call you blessed if the path you are on is an easy one!

Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, writes beautifully and convincingly about this matter of believing, in particular in how we contemplate our faith in the Nicene and Apostles Creeds.  We’ve talked about this before. “We believe in one God… We believe in one Lord… We believe in the Holy Spirit…”  How does the Archbishop frame that?  He talks of it in terms of trust, of faith, as in having the full faith and confidence, the full trust and confidence in God.  I trust in God.  I have faith that God is these things.  Or as our Buddhist brothers and sisters say of the Buddha, the Dhammha and the Sangha, I take refuge in God.  In the ever loving arms of God I will find my rest.  That’s faith.  That’s believing.

What did Thomas believe (or not believe)?  When the disciples told him that Jesus had appeared, what did Thomas hold out for until proven?  That Jesus was risen?  I suppose.  That the prophesy was true, that it was happening as Jesus had said it would?  That is possible.  That his friends weren’t the knuckleheads they sometimes appeared to be?  Entirely likely.  But the heart of what Thomas confessed (that is the technical term for expressing belief), what Thomas believed was that Jesus was indeed “My Lord and my God!”  It is the most definitive confession in the whole of the New Testament, Thomas’ confession that Jesus Christ was God.

Belief, in its every day usage, is a product of the mind.  It is assent to a truth, a factual kind of truth.  Or it is assent to an opinion.  “I believe that x  is right or y  is wrong.”  It is based on the same category of experience as empirical knowledge.  It is cognitive. Faith, however, has very little to do with thinking or brain power.  Faith is about feeling, knowing in beyond words kinds of ways.  Faith is the product of the spirit.

The author Rea Nolan Martin writes, “The mind interferes in the process of faith more than it contributes to it. To have faith in the worst of times will no doubt require us to silence, or at least quiet, the mind. Faith is what happens when our beliefs run aground. The spirit can be buoyed by our beliefs, but can also be brought down by them when they prove inadequate, as they most certainly will at some point in the journey. Even the beliefs humans have held most closely have come and gone over the course of a lifetime or a millennium. Think of Galileo.”

I struggle on the frontier between belief and faith.  These are pre-modern stories being read by post-modern people. Trying to make ourselves “believe” things that we can’t honestly believe is dissonant for many of us.  Maybe more dissonant than it should be; our opinions are precious to many of us in the educated classes, precious unto idolatrous sometimes, but we do know the world in different ways than our ancestors did and that makes belief and faith hard to parse out sometimes.

For me, the piece of the puzzle that allowed me to finally and fully embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ was discovering Marcus Borg’s post-critical naiveté, a concept best summed up in the statement, “I don’t know if it happened this way, but I know this story is true.”  And I’ll tell you, as I let faith take the lead, as I became most concerned with the nature of God, my experience of God and my relationship with God, as I let my spirit be my guide more than my frontal cortex, as my prayer took the lead over my education, I have found that not only has my faith increased in depth and quality, but my beliefs have as well.  I have found that the parts of the story that I had trouble believing, cognitively assenting to, like walking on the water, like feeding the 5000, like touching the holes on Jesus’ risen body, don’t trouble me so much.  More and more, in fact, I feel like the father of the boy with a spirit in St Mark’s gospel.  Remember him?  The disciples could not cast out the spirit, but Jesus does.  Then the father responds, “I believe, help my unbelief.”   My faith is strong.  My beliefs are catching up.  You don’t need to believe the whole story in order to have faith in it.  How I wish someone had told me that a very long time ago.

Well, it is getting to be that time.  By two o’clock today, my family and I will be on our way.  This sabbatical will last three and a half months.  With the generous support of the Eli Lily Foundation’s Clergy Renewal Program, we head out for a few of weeks vacation in Eastern Oregon, hence the boots.  We’ll relax in hot springs and on horse back, before coming back to the ranch in Jasper where I’ll spend half my time with the family on home-school and farm projects and half my time in a campsite up in the hills, on retreat, praying a lot and working on a writing project, a novel or thereabouts.  Hopefully it will be better than the last one.  I am incredibly grateful to all of you for the chance to have this time away.  Thank you.  I promise I will make good use of the time and will come back renewed and refreshed as we continue to make the road by walking it.

It think it will be good for you all, too.  I’m a bit much, sometimes.  You all could use a break, a breather.  Mo. Anne is going to do great.  She knows what she is doing and she trusts you: trust her.  Sandi and Patty and the whole vestry and staff… they know what they are doing, too.  It will be good for our leadership to stretch to take on responsibilities that usually lay on me.  Please, over these next months, if you are asked to help, to chip in, to volunteer, please do.  Your fellow congregants are taking on a lot and they will need you help.  Thank you for giving it.

I will be gone in body, but not in spirit.  You all will be constantly in my prayers.  Please hold me and my family in yours.  God bless you. AMEN.


April 16, 2017, Easter Day YR A 10:30 AM

Year A, Easter
April 16, 2017
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was


Alleluia, Christ is Risen!  The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Happy Easter everyone!

What a glorious day.  It is beautiful here this morning.  Helen and the Altar guild team, thank you!  And the music!  The choir, Peg, Lucy, thank you!  Tim with the Solemn Collects and Exsultet, awesome.  Today, the past three days, thank you to the Eucharistic Ministers, the Lectors, Debbie, Betsy and Windy on our hospitality team, to all of you who so faithfully have shown up for the turning of the prayer wheel:  Thank you!  It has been wonderful spending this time together here in this house of God.  And for you whom today is the first time you’ve been here for a while, or ever.  Welcome!  Whether God in Christ has pulled you here to this table or your mother has, you and all are welcome here.  Thanks for showing up.

Showing up.  That does not sound like a very profound Easter message, it seems kind of like a low bar.  You can’t buy “Thanks for Showing Up” cards.  Do they still do perfect attendance awards at school?  Showing up is not a glamorous charism, but that is one of the things that the resurrection story in St. Matthew’s gospel is about:  Showing up.

“After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.”  What they did was very simple. They didn’t bring spices to prepare the body, they didn’t bring a big wreath of flowers to lay before the tomb.  They didn’t go to protest Jesus’ martyrdom or wail and make lamentation.  No, they went to see.  They showed up.

They had listened to Jesus.  He told everyone that He would be crucified, would die and on the third day would rise again.  He was very clear about that.  The chief priests listened; that is why they set a guard on the tomb to make sure no one secreted away the body and claimed resurrection.  (At least they were listening). The disciples?  The male disciples?  Remember Jesus quoting Zechariah, “I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.” That is precisely what happened.  They were long gone.  Judas suffering his fate, Peter suffering for his triple denial of his friend and rabbi, and the rest just gone, scattered.  But those women, Mary and Mary, they had listened, and they showed up.

That is the whole of the Passion narrative, isn’t it.  It begins and ends with the women showing up, doing what they needed to be doing and the men, well, not so much.  The Passion starts with the woman anointing Jesus’ feet with the expensive perfume under the critical glares and comments of the apostles.  On Golgotha, who was there when they crucified our Lord?  “Many women were … there… They had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him.” And to the end, at the tomb, Mary and Mary were there, exactly where they were supposed to be.

Showing up.  Jesus in His incarnation, in His earthly ministry, in His Passion and Resurrection, He offers us very few easy lessons, simple, but monumentally difficult.  “Turn the other cheek.” “Forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven times.”  “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  (Less abstract and even more challenging to modern ears than “take up your cross and follow me”).  These are heroically difficult lessons, real sainthood material.  That does not absolve us from that expectation, Jesus tells us that with extreme clarity that we are supposed to do all these things, but that is reaching pretty high up in that holiness tree.  For most of us, it is a lot more basic, the practice of Christianity.  The practice of Resurrection begins with the lesson those women are teaching us across the centuries.  It all starts with just showing up.

Showing up, you bring the most precious gift you have to offer:  yourself.  You are offering yourself at the foot of the cross, at the altar of God.  It doesn’t matter if you are highly skilled, if you are remarkably proficient.  It is your presence that matters.  It is the earnestness, the intention of the offer that matters.  Who was the Blessed Virgin Mary?  A peasant girl from a backwater province of the Roman Empire.  She became the mother of our Lord because she showed up.  Who was Mary Magdalene?  An outcast from society, uniformly shunned by “respectable” people.  She and her friends tended to, cared for Jesus throughout His ministry, to the bitter end.  And how?  Just like Mary, by bringing the one thing she had most desperately valued by God:  herself.  You have that to offer.  Not your wealth.  Not your skills.  Not your sparkly personality or your inner generosity… you don’t need to start with those things in place, you need to start with yourself in place, which is what happens when you show up for Jesus.  You are the offering that He desires.  You are the one He needs the most.

There is nothing passive in showing up.  Now you don’t go to take charge (though that could be the result), rather you go and are.  You assume a posture of receptivity.  Again, not passively waiting, but actively watching, actively listening.  Maybe consolation is offered like what Mary and Mary received from the angel, “Do not be afraid…”  Maybe there is an invitation like they received, “Come, see…”  Maybe you’ll get instructions, “Go and tell…”  Showing up is being present.  It is being open.  It is being receptive to the Word and Work of God in the world and finding and taking your share in it.  It is the starting point of all that we do or hope to do as followers of Jesus Christ.  And it is what we need to do no matter what.  No matter if it is in the garden during the agonizing wait, at the foot of the cross on Golgotha, at the empty tomb with its fear and great joy, on the road meeting the Risen Lord for the first time, or on any given Tuesday in your life, showing up for the trials and tribulations we all face (or should to face) in our families, in our community, in this tattered nation, in this broken world…  The invitation stands and it is in the reach of everyone.  Maybe being here today, here in this church on Easter morning is a first step for you.  Maybe it is a thousandth step.  But you showed up.  You are on the Way.

The essence of Christianity is revealed in the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Lots of stories are told, great meaning is made through the Passion and Resurrection.  Our sins are forgiven, atoned for by the sacrifice of God’s only Son.  We are reconciled with God the creator of heaven and earth.  All the way to “…rising from the grave, (He) destroyed death, and made the whole creation new.” In these and the many other lessons of the cross, the empty tomb, Christ risen and walking amongst us that have been learned over the centuries, they each pierce us in different ways and in different ways at various times in our lives.  Sometimes we need to be forgiven.  Sometimes we need to be forgiving.  Sometimes we need to be rejoined with God.  Sometimes death is all around us and we need the power and the glory of the Risen Lord so that we do not despair, that we rise another day to do the work that God has given us to do.  Sometimes we just need to be reminded to be not afraid, but to take hold of His feet and worship Him.

Where ever you are on your journey to the loving arms of Jesus Christ, whether you believe a little or believe a lot; whether you have been at it for years or haven’t been in years; whether you have tried and failed or not tried at all, this is God’s house, this is God’s table: all are welcome here.  The first step in that journey is simply showing up.  Come… see.

May God’s blessings be upon you here this morning.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!  The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!  Happy Easter!  AMEN.


April 16, 2017, Easter Day, YR A 8 AM

April 16, 2017, 8 AM
Easter Day Year A
The Rev. Anne Abdy


Today, this Easter resurrection, upsets the apple cart. What should be logical is no longer. An earthquake, the ground shakes and the tomb is opened as the stone rolls away. The angel assures the women that all is well and invites them to see the empty tomb saying, “He is not here, for he has been raised as he said. Come and see where place where he lay.” The body is not there and the linen shroud lies limply discarded off to the side. This should not be.


When I was living in the south, at Easter time I attended many dramatic productions of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ offered by Baptist churches in the area. The Passion or passio (the word “sufferings” in Latin) of Jesus are thought to be recorded in Latin translations of the Bible that appeared in the second century.[1] However, these dramatic productions always started with the Nativity and in a short two hours the audience would live the life of Jesus through to the sufferings on the cross and to the resurrection. These plays always made Easter very real for me. But there was something that always bothered me. Why did they always start with the nativity yet it was an Easter production? Should it not have started with the resurrection?


I think Mary, Mary Magdalene, and the women at the tomb, plus the early Christians got it right. If we are to be Easter people then the conversation needs to begin with the resurrection. We need to talk about today. In fact, some theologians say Mary Magdalene delivered the first sermon as an evangelist with her words “I have seen the Lord” which we hear from the story as it is written in the Gospel of John as she tells the disciples of her visit at the tomb. We need to talk of Jesus’ resurrection.


When we think about the story of the empty tomb, Easter can easily become an advance course in religious studies. In one moment of time, there is eschatology, the study of last things as human beings long for something else beyond their earthly lives. In other words, there is hope in the everlasting. But the resurrection also relates to atonement theology,  missology, and has connotations for pneumatology or the study of the Holy Spirit to name a few disciplines of study.[2] The resurrection is not for beginners. It is complicated.


What helps me understand the resurrection, is not the academics and head knowledge although that information is important, but it is this simple interaction that Mary has with the disciples. Matthew tells us that the women left the tomb and “ran to tell the disciples.” (v. 8) I like to think of the scene unfolding as written in the icon titled Mary Magdalene telling the Disciples. This icon depicts Mary revealing this news to the eleven disciples. Remember Judas is not around. The eleven stand upright grouped together in two rows. Mary is clothed in a red dress with a red head covering. She stands in front of them separated by a classic tall thin Roman pillar. Her left hand rests on this single column as if to brace herself. It is as if this structure gives her the strength to announce the impossible and the viewer is drawn to her right hand raised with her pointing finger gesturing emphasizing a point. Breathlessly, and with bewilderment, she announces, “Jesus is risen! He is risen! Just like he said he would!” Incredulously the disciples peer back at her. Her finger, the focal point of the scene, emphasizes the importance of her statement as she recounts the encounter at the tomb. I envision her saying, “No, truly, He is alive. Honest!” as she refutes their doubt as all know the Son of God died a ghastly death two days earlier. Then just as the angel invited her into the tomb, she extends the same invitation for the disciples to come and see for themselves. She provides the seed of hope from which their faith and our faith will deepen as we move from doubt to belief. We believe that the impossible is possible.


I remember in February 2012 I boarded a plane to fly to Sewanee to attend their Come and See Weekend for prospective students. It was while I was there, that I realized that what felt impossible months earlier could indeed be possible. I became convicted that I would do anything it took to make my attendance at this seminary happen. That sense of urgency, the sense of rightness, the knowing that the impossible was possible gave me hope.


That Easter morning so long ago, Mary gave us hope too. She proclaimed the good news of the empty tomb and the disciples go out and they proclaim the news to the world starting with the brothers in Galilee. With her simple words “He is risen. He is alive!” she helps us claim the promise of Easter as she helps us move through the helplessness felt on Good Friday, the despair of Holy Saturday, from the doubt experienced at the tomb to hope and a larger faith.


The Easter hope and deeper faith given in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ turns the lives of all disciples of Christ, upside down. We are not the same. We are changed. We are a witness to the fact that God lives and gives us life. Had Jesus not been risen from the dead, this “living faith” would be a very different kind of living. With the living Christ in us, we are fill with a bigger faith and we all become part of the Jesus movement.  Our faith is a “He is risen” faith because of the resurrection.


Our faith lives and breaths as we grow that relationship with God. It becomes a living conversation.


The resurrection of our Lord is the ultimate breakthrough of God into our world. For “without the resurrection, there would have been no Christianity, no Christendom, no hymns, no seminaries, no churches, and no nativity scenes.”[3] Easter is the fulfillment of a long relationship with God. Today, God reaches into our world and destroys evil. Death is not the last word. Love overcomes death.


The Easter resurrection is the story of a living God who sent his Son to be the ultimate sacrifice and to die upon the cross so we would know God’s love. As Walter Brueggemann, a noted Old Testament scholar wrote: “Easter is the primal enactment of Yahweh’s responding steadfast love.”[4]


Love is the last word and it all started with the words, “He is risen!” Alleluia! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!


Happy Easter everyone.




[1]           Sam Schechner, “Why Is It Called The Passion? How Jesus’ suffering got its name.,” Slate, Feb. 24 2004, 1, accessed April 10, 2017,

[2]           Glenn B Siniscalchi, “Christ’s Resurrection and Theological Relevance,” Homelitical and Pastoral Review, April 7, 2012, 1, accessed April 10, 2017,


[3]          William J Carl III, “Without The Resurrection, There Is No Christianity,” in “The Theme Of This Issue Is Easter,” The Living Pulpit 7, no. 1 (January-March 1998): 6.luia

[4]          Walter Brueggemann, “Easter: Answer To Prayer,” in “The Theme Of This Issue Is Easter,” The Living Pulpit 7, no. 1 (January-March 1998): 37.

April 15, 2017, The Great Vigil of Easter, YR A

Year A, The Great Vigil of Easter
April 15, 2017
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was


“Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels…”

Halleluiah! Christ is risen!   The Lord is Risen indeed.  Halleluiah!  Happy Easter everyone!

Did you feel it?  The pressure of Lent mounting these past weeks? We passed through the gates of the Triduum at our Maundy Thursday Agape Feast, gathering all bright and shiny and happy, great energy, and it came down a little as the Mass proceeded.  Then we went upstairs and it came down even more.  It got quieter.  In the intimacy of the foot washing, both given and received, it got even quieter and started moving inward.  Then as the altar guild stripped the altar to the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  it became very still and moved inward even more and we were left with the silence and the dim candle light from the Altar of Repose.

Did you feel it?   Good Friday…  Did you feel that?  Grief.  Someone told me that they felt despair leaving that service, despair for humanity, the things we do and the things we leave undone.  I had real, unsolicited, unworked up tears as the choir sang the psalm.  Tears for the brokenness of me, of all of us, of the whole world.

I wrote in the Tune Up last week that I have been very, very busy this Lent.  Getting ready for sabbatical, tying off a lot of loose ends, I’ve been distracted, and it hasn’t gotten in like it has in the past.  The mystical, the real religious emotional Lenten immersion experience eluded me this year.  No tears welled up during any of the seven or eight Stations of the Cross we prayed.  That is fine.  Not every religious experience gets us to the mountain top.  Most aren’t.  But the movement of the liturgy, the movement of the Three Days… that is turning me around.  Last night, the cross here on the chancel, the candles we lit as we venerated the cross last night.  We venerated the cross!  That is some old school ancient religious practice we did last night.  I wasn’t feeling it, but as the psalm was chanted, then when lights came down and all of you streamed forward to venerate the cross of Christ, “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.” It all welled up.  The emptiness of Good Friday, the tragedy of Christ’s torturous death, the grief of the world I could feel in my breaking heart right there and right then.  Did you feel it?

And now, here we are, the Great Vigil of Easter.  What do you feel? Right here and right now, what do you feel?

There are so many ways to tell the story of Jesus Christ’s passion and precious death, His resurrection and rising in glory. Ed gave a most stunning sermon on Friday.  It was theology, Christology to be precise, and it was fabulous.  Deep, precise thought is an important way to tell this story; one that perhaps a philosopher might offer.

I trend towards moral theology in my telling of it.  What do we learn from the old stories about the world right now, and how are we to be?  What are we to do?  Like Karl Barth teaches, preach with the Gospels in one hand the newspaper in the other.  Not the only way, but an important way.

The Godly Play folks teach our children the stories themselves.  Not a lot of commentary, but the narrative, they offer that in a particular way that works its way into young hearts and minds.  And there are many other ways.  Bach’s Mass in b Minor tells it well.  So do  Rubens’ “Elevation of the Cross” and Rembrandt’s “Descent from the Cross” or one of the various Passion Plays, or even Godspell.  All ways to tell the story.  To teach us about our salvation.

Another way that we tell that story, that we come to understand what it is that Jesus did, and why and why it matters to us and how are we to be and what are we to do is found in what we are doing right now.  Not listening to a sermon, but following the riverine path of the liturgy.  From the pensive, dim winter of Advent, like a plane we break through the clouds into the brilliant sun of Christmas and the Epiphany.  But then we descend back into the clouds for Lent, right down through the crust of the earth to Holy Saturday before this night happens. “How holy is this night, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away.  It restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to those who mourn.  It casts out pride and hatred, and brings peace and concord.”

The movement of the liturgy, the feelings, the emotions, the physical experience of dark and light, of kneeling in silence and music that stirs our souls deeply, of sleep being disrupted, of just being here in church so much with so many other people sharing such an intimate and set aside experience…  do you feel it?  Because those feelings, the experienced feelings in and through the liturgy are very real and true experiences of the Risen Lord.  When we go all the way through Holy Week from Palm Sunday to this very moment, we have the chance to experience in a very real way the story, the reality of our salvation in Jesus Christ.  Halleluiah! Christ is risen!   The Lord is Risen indeed.  Halleluiah!

What do you feel?  How has this week taught you?  What has it revealed to you?  How has it changed you?

This week, the turning of the liturgical wheel taught me a bit about what happened when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see Jesus’ tomb.  There was the earthquake, and the angel descended and the guards were so scared that they shook and “became like dead men.”  What did the angle say to the women?  “Do not be afraid…”  then told them to go quickly and tell the disciples that Jesus was going ahead of them to Galilee.  They went and, “Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’… Do not be afraid…”

“Do not be afraid,” those words are for us, they are for you right now, in this instant, in the movement to Easter, those words are words of salvation.  “Do not be afraid.”

Now there is a translation note here that is interesting and important.  The way it is written in Greek, “Do not be afraid” is in the present continual tense, meaning it is an ongoing activity, it is not just about that event.  In the Message Bible, it is translated, “You are holding on to me for dear life!  Don’t be frightened like that.” Another way might be “You don’t need to keep on being scared like you have been.  I’m right here.”  Now that is different than just “Do not be afraid,” and more helpful, because there is in fact a lot to be afraid of in the world.

There is a lot of pain and suffering in the world.  You have felt it. Maybe you are feeling it right now, or know someone in the depths of suffering and despair.  Real fear.  Fear of suffering and grief and loss.  Of people doing very bad things.  Scary things exist.  Just aging, those little aches and pains grow, the sharpness of our senses decline, both become the new normal.  Maturing, you learn your real limitations, your blindspots and parts of you that you are not so fond of.  Growing up you learn that some options are not on the table for you, that life takes a lot of effort, that everyone one you know, have known, will know, yourself included will die, maybe even large swaths of our planet.  There is plenty to be afraid of.

And it is spring.  It was beautiful today, wasn’t it?  Fifties and sunny and green beyond imagine.   And some people are happy.  And have children, and friends, and make beautiful things and love sometimes and it can be, it is sometimes, oftentimes, pretty good.  The arc of the moral universe is long, and it bends towards justice… you know that quote.  Our universe also bends towards beauty and goodness and elegance and love, always in the end towards that center of gravity, love.   It is not the whole story, death and corruption also happen, but that is not the whole story either.

The liturgy teaches this lesson most perfectly tonight in the Great Vigil of Easter.  The Exsultet, the great prayer of the church begins:  “Rejoice now…  Rejoice and sing now… Rejoice and be glad now… pray with me to God the Almighty for the grace to sing the worthy praise of this great light…”  There is ecstasy in those words.  But these ecstatic words, the most joyous words we have as a Christian people are sung in a solemn tone, only after sundown, by candlelight in an otherwise dark and quite place.  And it is sung only in the wake of Good Friday.  Do you feel it?  That is the liturgy calling to you, pulling you into the experience of the resurrection of Christ our Savior.

We hold on to all of this for dear life.  Each other.  Our hopes.  Our dreams.  Our ideas.  For dear life.  It can feel so perilous for those of us who have so much to lose, or those right on the edge.  Jesus Christ in His Passion and glorious resurrection is telling us to not be afraid like that.  Do not despair.  No, you won’t get over her death.  He won’t be the same after that accident.  You can’t undo what you did.  But as we plead each Saturday night in the office of Compline, “Grant that as we sing your glory at the close of this day, our joy may abound in the morning as we celebrate the Pascal Mystery.”    The sun will rise tomorrow.  Summer will come.  Babies will be made and born.  Relationships will deepen.  You and others will be cared for.  And the overwhelming power of life, the force that through the green fuse drives the flower will nevertheless persist and prevail.  And like the liturgy teaches us, that is a song we need to sing, because it is true, and we sing it at night, in the darkness, because the darkness is true, too.  Jesus Christs victory over death doesn’t mean we won’t die, but it means that even in death, when it all comes down to it, as St. Julian teaches, “All will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.”  Not always painless.  Not always pleasant, but in the fullness of time, well.  That is the promise of Jesus Christ.

And I don’t know about you, but if I could know that truth, remember that truth in the harder seasons of my life, to stop being afraid of it all coming down and all being a meaningless heap…  for me, that is liberation from so many fears that I have.  It surely is a coherent take on what salvation could really mean.

God bless you all for being here this night.  Your part in the great turning of the prayer wheel opens the heart of God in Christ with the Holy Spirit for all of us, and the whole world.  Halleluiah! Christ is risen!   The Lord is Risen indeed.  Halleluiah!  Happy Easter.  AMEN.


April 15, 2017, Holy Saturday YR A

Holy Saturday Year A, April 15, 2017
Noon, The Rev. Anne Abdy

Today, Jesus is laid in the tomb. It is a solemn day. A deeply sobering moment in time as we commit the body of our Lord to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The starkness of a cleared table reminds us that the circle of life is complete—birth, life, and now death.


The time of the resurrection will come but now it is the time for tears. For the sobering reality of death as it penetrates our minds. The darkness of death will have meaning but for now the human mind cannot fathom it for before us lies the Lord, Son of God, the Christ, our Friend, Jesus—lifeless.


Death numbs our emotions. A vibrant life one day; a life lost the next.  This radical preacher and rabbi—gone. Jesus is dead. The life force that moved across the oceans and across all creation, the Spirit that was breathed into Jesus is gone. The Son has breathed his last breath. We now live in a forced separation.


We stand before the tomb, in silence the spices spread and kneaded into the lifeless body. No one speaks. The ritual now complete, the embalming done. The sacred spices adorned. The Christ wrapped in a white linen is placed in the tomb by Joseph and Nicodemus, the source of the spices. We are the men and women of his Walk. We are the men and women of the Jesus movement. We are his trusted friends at the tomb. We stand in silence, respecting death before us.


We commend Jesus to Almighty God, and we commit his body to this earthly tomb. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.


Hymn 173

O Sorrow deep!
Who would not weep with heartfelt pain and sighing!
God the Father's only Son in the tomb is lying.

The Paschal Lamb, like Isaac's ram,
in blood was offered for us,
pouring out his life that he might to life restore us.

Blessed shall they be eternally
who ponder in their weeping
that the glorious Prince of Life should in death be sleeping.

O Jesus blest, my help and rest,
with tears I pray thee, hear me:
Now, and even unto death, dearest Lord, be near me.

April 14, 2017, Good Friday YR A

The Suffering and Death of Jesus.  04/14/17
Good Friday, YR A
Ed Lawry


“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”

Of course the topic for a Good Friday sermon must be the suffering and death of Jesus.  But for me the topic is a difficult one to fathom.  Perhaps for you as well.  Partly this is because of my cultural history.

As a child in the United States not born into serious poverty, I was always thrilled by the celebration of Christmas—all the decorations, the presents, the special music.  The whole world seemed to be in on this celebration.  In contrast, for Easter there were no special decorations, no special music and only one present, though that was a particularly delicious one for a child—the Easter Basket.  By the time I was in the early grades of Catholic school, I understood a seemingly immense difference between the weeks leading up to Christmas and the weeks leading up to Easter.  Though both feasts were preceded by liturgically “purple periods” (times of restraint and solemnity), the attitude of the wider culture had reinforced the excitement of the anticipation of Christmas even within the Church.  Though the wider culture took little notice of the run up to Easter (with the one day exception of Mardi Gras) the Catholic School I attended certainly made much of it.  There were lots of discussions of what we were “giving up” for Lent and various prayers and devotions that singled out this period of time.  For Christian children, advent and Christmas is wonderful, Easter is a drag, not so much because of the Resurrection but because of the suffering and death that gives rise to the long weeks of Lent and the relatively little excitement in the general culture.

At the same time, the Church always has insisted, that Easter is its primary feast.  Why?  Because this is the celebration of the forgiveness of sins, the ultimate reason that the Son of God came into the world.  Though a great deal of Christian theology made sense to me even as a child, the notion of why Jesus’ suffering and death was the only way that our sins would be forgiven always baffled me.  Because the image of the family so frequently clarifies theological matters couldn’t I apply it here?  If my child (like Adam and Eve) does something terribly disobedient to me as a parent, how should this “sin” be forgiven?  Certainly if the child comes with deep regret and asks for forgiveness, as a loving parent, I would joyfully grant it (like the father in the Prodigal Son parable.)  But what if the child never comes to be sorry and asks forgiveness, which seems more common among humans?  Well, I guess a parent could do one of three things: 1) the parent could just disinherit the child, and not have anything to do with the child again—a sort of “sinners in the hands of an angry God” sensibility 2) the parent could try to alert the child that he/she does have something to be sorry for by showing how much hurt or damage the betrayal has caused, or 3) just finally forgive the child anyway out of love and generosity even if the child never really understands that forgiveness or believes it unnecessary.  It would seem the most reasonable thing to do would be to go and try to talk it out with my child. More to the point, if I am a parent and I just take it upon myself to simply suffer, this would not be understood as expiation for my child’s disobedience.

But if Christ’s suffering and death is not to be understood as atonement for our sins, how else might we understand this final episode of Christ’s life that fascinated the chroniclers of his life and has absorbed so much attention of the Christian world since?  My lifelong socialization into the two biggest Christian feasts and my theological puzzlement about the necessity of Christ’s suffering and death as “making up for” human sin has inclined me more and more to think of Christmas and Easter not as two distinct events in salvation history, but as features of one single event “the life of Christ.”

What is the “life of Christ?”—our Faith tells us that it is a revelation of who God is and a model for how humans can participate in Divinity.  Following the Gospel stories, we are fond of highlighting Jesus’ miracles as evidence of his Divinity.  But what Jesus taught was a WAY.  The Old Testament God did lots of miracles and so by emphasizing miracles the Evangelists helped us to see Jesus as identified with Divinity.  But he was something new.  He was the way, the truth and the life.  And the way he taught was not the performance of miracles since as human beings we were not going to learn that.  What he taught us was how to be the best human beings we can be and that means insofar as we are able, we can share in the life of God, which may well be the greatest miracle of all.  He taught us that the best human beings we can be are ones directed first and foremost by forgiveness, sacrifice and love of one another, for it turns out that these are essential features of God, not just nice modulations of God’s power and majesty.  And these are principles that to some degree we can actually follow in our lives.

But it is inadequate to think of Christ’s teaching as offering “principles” that guide life.  The principles inform a life which is richer than mere guides.  If Christ forgave, he did it because he was “moved” by the hapless condition of sinners.  If Christ sacrificed it was not out of calculation about what would provide the most good out of some situation, but because he genuinely desired the good of the other beyond his own comfort.  If Christ loved others it was not a way of fulfilling an obligation, but a delight in their being who and what they are.  In short, what Christ taught was to be a “Mensch:” to feel deeply with and for the human beings with whom he was associated, and by imagination all of us.  He was, as the scripture tells us, a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”  But he was also a man of many other happier emotions—the sort who delighted in children, who loved Lazarus and Martha and Mary, who was attentive to what others said to him and what they meant by it (“I have no husband” said the woman at the well), who was sensitive to other’s hardship, (as in the case of feeding the multitudes who came to hear him preach),  who had confidence in others and encouraged them (as when he appointed Peter as the “rock” of his Church).  The God who has come to be with us as celebrated by the Christmas feast is the human who like us, feels our fears, pains, sufferings.  But as fully human, Christ must also feel our joys, our appreciation of beauty and our delights in love and friendship, even if God’s humanity may be more obvious in his sufferings—his pain and his death. The small number of stories we have in the Gospels have been selected for dramatic clarity, yet we have only a small number from among the possibilities.  Not only are there all those missing years between the Presentation in the Temple and what we call Christ’s “public life,” but surely there must be interesting things to know about the words and behavior of Jesus with his mates as they made camp in their travels, or over breakfast on cool mornings.  One wonders if there was a bit of kidding among the disciples highlighting their peculiar personalities.  It would be strange if a pack of guys who hung out together a lot didn’t have some “inside jokes.”  Indeed, I wonder if the story about Peter walking on the water and then sinking didn’t start out as a kind of SNL comedy sketch?

Christ’s way is bigger than “principles” that ought to guide our lives.  At the end of his marvelous book, Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton reflects on the way of Christianity by remarking: “Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation.  The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall.  His pathos was natural, almost casual.  The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears.  He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city….Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger.  He never restrained his anger.  He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell.” In short, he was a man, and nothing human was alien to him.

It seems we are not satisfied that God, with a warm loaf of bread and a bottle of wine, stopped by the house to share a meal with us; the human race needed some dramatic event to cap off the visit.  And indeed, the passion and death of Good Friday is, and should be, a powerful reminder to us of how viscerally human Christ was.  He accepted his physical pain and his spiritual suffering; for that is also something we humans must endure, no matter how much our modern technology wishes to abolish pain and suffering.  He didn’t will it, like a playwright- God who wants to make a dramatic climax to the story, but accepted it, as a plain man who was authentic, not acting out a part.

He was with us to the end.  And we are invited to be with him to the end as well.  This means not just acting properly toward our fellow human beings, but having our hearts enter into the heart of Christ.  Of course our lives are naturally seen as a journey, but it is not the point to get to the end of life, but rather to be Christlike all along the way.  Perhaps it is easiest to loosen the control we have over our emotions in the confrontation with the physical pain and suffering of Christ.  And maybe that is why the Church requires so much of our attention upon it.  But our sympathy, even our empathy, still withholds something.  If we see a man by the side of the road who has perhaps been set upon by robbers, maybe having lain there for a day, bloody, unable to get up, perhaps who has urinated and defecated in place because unable to move very much.  We must not only decide to take him to the place where he can receive care, but perhaps first, give him a hug.  Today is a good day to imagine giving the scourged and sweating body of Christ a hug.


Ed Lawry


April 2, 2017, 5th Sunday in Lent YR A

April 2, 2017, 5th Sunday in Lent YR A

The Rev. Anne Abdy


When I was the interim manager for the psychiatric department at Bay Area Hospital in Coos Bay, I told my staff that there would be some decisions that would be easy to be make and would be made quickly, like moving the fridge from the activity room to the kitchen/snack area. Makes sense right. And then there would be those decisions that I would want to have time to consider, gather information, way the importance, and ponder on before I took action. That is just how I operate.


At the same time, I know a lot of people who are not as deliberate and intentional in their decision-making process as I am. There was an 8 year old boy that I worked with who had attention deficit disorder. One day he took his pet goldfish out of the water to play with it. Yip, you guessed it. It died but then he tried to resuscitated it by giving it mouth to mouth. Or my grandparents neighbors in Cape Town whose oldest son was trimming pine tree branches on their property for his punishment. He sat facing the tree trunk as he was trimming one branch. It fell under his weight and he fell with it breaking his leg. Sometimes, we just make foolish decisions.


We will come back to the notion of foolishness here in a minute but let me set the stage as to how foolishness relates to the gospel.


This story of Lazarus has many themes and probably the most popular version preached is the miracle of Lazarus’ return to life. But I wonder what are the disciples and Jesus thinking. I ask because the disciples are aghast that Jesus is going to, not thinking about, but going to return to Judea. To understand their astonishment, you need to know a little geography of the area.


Jerusalem is in the region of Judea, and Bethany, specifically the tomb of Lazarus is about 1.5 miles from Jerusalem. Jesus visited Bethany often to visit his friends who lived there, primarily Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Bethany is Jesus’ second home. Bethany clearly is a hop, skip, and a jump from downtown Jerusalem.


Jesus in the chapter before (chapter 10) was walking in the Temple and had upset some of the Jews with what he was saying. They wanted to throw stones at him for blasphemy. Instead, he retreats to Jordan—friendly territory.


So here is where we return to the notion of foolishness. The disciples can’t believe their ears as they hear Jesus say, “Let’s go to Judea.” You see, Bethany is in dangerous territory. To them, this is not only a foolish decision, it’s a really, really foolish decision. It is like driving a car at high speed on a winding road or playing dare on railroad tracks. Or in my case, scuba diving with a dive buddy I was forewarned about. In that dive, not only did he disappear below the surface within minutes leaving me alone in an unfamiliar dive spot, but my air tank dislodged, and without help from my dive buddy, I was in a potentially life threatening situation. In hindsight, I should have known better. It was a foolish, foolish decision. It could have led to something more tragic.


That’s what is going on in this gospel reading today.  The disciples see this move not only as foolish but one that might bring certain death. I can almost hear them talking amongst themselves, saying, “The Jews will find out where he is. They have been watching him. They know who his friends are. They know where Martha and Mary’s home is. This is foolishness. We need to convince him not to do it.”


Jesus knows his earthly ministry is coming to an end. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us that “Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem”[1] after walking through Galilee teaching and preaching. He knows Passover is on the horizon. If we take a closer look, there are a number of decision-points that take place that give insight into the thinking processes of Jesus’ and the disciples.


First, the only certain thing in life is death. Our earthly time is a cycle of birth, life, death, and resurrection. Jesus is well aware of the risks he is taking, but he takes them because he knows this is his last hurrah. He knows that there is precious time left to be that missioner for God here on earth.


Second, the disciples are stuck in a cycle of perceptual distortions. They doubt. We all doubt. I think that is a human quality. The disciples are not living with big faith. We know this because they have not recognized Jesus despite being Jesus’ closest friends and companions. But they are also stuck in analysis. Their thinking is governing their emotions and actions. They see violence ahead with Jesus being stoned. Jesus, on the other hand, sees possibility and opportunity.


Third, Jesus knows that his friends are grieving. In fact, the Scripture reads, “He wept.” Some commentaries suggest that maybe Jesus wept because of his regret for not getting to Bethany fast enough. While that might be a possibility, personally I just don’t know a Jesus who engages in self-criticism or beratement. So I disagree. The fact that that Jesus wept is a demonstration of the human condition. I choose to take this statement as an demonstration of Jesus’ humanity which he displays to the throngs around him. I believe he weeps for his dear friend who has just passed. He is genuinely sad.


Fourth, Jesus understands the restorative factors of the resurrection of Lazarus. He understands that raising Lazarus from the dead will be the beginning of the end for him and will set into motion the events of Holy Week. He understands that Lazarus’ resurrection is a foretelling of his own death and resurrection but this resurrection is set very much in the present. For Lazarus’ friends, this is his last day. He is already placed in the tomb. Jesus knows bringing Lazarus back to life allows for the Son of God to be glorified through this act, but all the glory is given to God.


Lazarus’ resurrection is so familiar to us not only because of the lectionary cycle, but because we can relate to the story. We all know of family and friends who have died. And yet, this story is so well known to us that we do not see the deeper messages. We are blinded by the familiar. This story reveals our own human condition.


  • Jesus is God’s missioner, yet how often do we tell others what we believe.
  • Jesus see possibilities and opportunities, yet we make decisions that are not open to the possibilities and opportunities.
  • Jesus cries, yet we choose to not to reveal our authentic self.
  • Jesus’s restores life and glory is given to God, yet we get stuck in the here and now because we do not move out of the way.


The story of raising Lazarus from the dead requires that we take off our dark glasses if we are to experience the power of God in our lives.

[1]     Matthew 19:1; Mark 9:30-32; and Luke 9: 51-56.

March 26, 2017, 4th Sunday in Lent YR A

Year A, Lent 4
March 26, 2017
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was


“For once you were in darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.”

The long Gospel passage we just heard is about sin.  It starts talking about sin and it ends talking about sin.

Being blind, physically blind, has nothing to do with sin.  Not that man’s, nor his parents.  In those days, blindness in particular was associated with the sins of the parents, but all maladies, all tragedies needed explanations; leaving it to fate, or “things happen,” is too open ended, too inexplicable… someone had to be blamed. So, like when Job was afflicted in the ways he was, the assumption was that there must be fault.  Job must have done something to have lost God’s favor or to bring God’s wrath upon him. That’s a terrible theology of “easy” answers which doggedly persists.  “God blesses you with your wealth or health!”  (Meaning of course that God curses you in your poverty or illness).  When you give God credit for good things happening, we would then need to give God credit for bad things happening, and that just doesn’t hold the water of common sense or the grace of God that we experience in so many ways.  The rain falls on us saints as well as on us sinners.

We know that the man’s blindness is not the result of sin not only through our own experience of God’s grace, but also why?  Because Jesus says that it is not.  He answered the disciples’ question about sin:  “Neither this man nor his parents sinned…”  That should clear that terrible misunderstanding up.  Now He does complete that sentence with a complicated clause, saying “…he was born blind so that God’s works may be revealed in him.”  I’m not sure what to make of that.  That would be like saying that your Mom’s cancer or dementia happened so God could teach you something, or climate change is divine pedagogy.  That’s the same slippery theological slope that leads to claiming that New Orleans was destroyed by Katrina because of gay folks, or ascribing 9-11 to retribution for lesbians and witches, claims made by prominent preachers.  But this passage, and certainly this sermon, are not about Divine Providence; they are about sin.

It is a tricky story.  Well, no, it is actually very simple, how everyone reacts is the tricky part.  There is a man who is blind from birth and Jesus heals him. That is phenomenal!  That is a miracle!  The spitting and making mud, that is curious, books have been written about that, but that is not what is important, what is important is that this man was blind and now he sees.  If you were there, that should have been the take home of this story.  A miracle!  Thanks be to God.

The story, though, the story that St. John the Evangelist would have us know is not about Jesus healing this man’s physical blindness, it is about everyone’s reaction to this miracle.

Jesus smears the mud in his eyes and tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam.  He returns and can see.  Halle—–something-or-other!  That should be the reaction to a miracle, right?  His blindness forced him into poverty, into begging on the streets and then he was healed.  God is great!  Rejoice!  He was blind and now he can see! But that’s not his neighbor’s reaction, is it?  No.  Everyone is wary.  “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” they ask. And while some said “It is he,” others said that it wasn’t, just someone who looks like him.  And he is there repeatedly saying, “I am the man.”  They don’t (or won’t) recognize him.  This man who was conspicuously blind from birth in a small community, on the streets, begging, is not recognized by many of his neighbors.  That is curious.

This whole event is so upsetting and disruptive to the community that they take him to the Pharisees, the men minding the letter of the law, for judgement.  Did they praise this as a miracle?  No.  They weren’t much interested in the miracle at all, they were, though, very interested in the impropriety of the one who did the miracle.  They cried “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.”  Not all of the Pharisees were of that opinion, but they were divided and they argued.

So not only did they focus on Jesus the so-called miracle worker, but some even denied that anything had ever happened at all.  They did not believe that he had been blind in the first place!  They even dragged his poor parents in front of them.  “Is this your son, who you say was born blind?”  And his parents were so scared of the consequences of implying that Jesus had done something contrary to the vision of the world held by the authorities, they said that yes, he was their son, and yes, he had been born blind, but how he was healed???  “Ask him, he’s old enough!”

So they did, they questioned him a second time.  They went back and forth, until finally, in exasperation the Pharisees just go back to the beginning, falling back on old ideas even in the face of new evidence procliming “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” and they drove him out.

It all ends with the man confessing his belief in Jesus and worshippng Him, and Jesus making one of his the last will be first, the first will be last statements, “I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”  Now being a good radical instigator, Jesus was not preaching this just to the choir, but within earshot of the Pharisees.  “Are you saying that we are blind?” they ask.  And Jesus brings it back to where we began this story, with sin, but placing it where it really belongs.  He tells the Pharisees, the religious authorities, “If you were blind, you would not have sin.  But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

Sin.  ‘Tis the season to talk about sin, Lent.  And sin abounds in this story.

One sin this story may be about is how we don’t see the downtrodden in our midst.  Even though the blind man had been among them for years (“ask him, he is of age”), they did not recognize him.

We do, most of us, recognize a few of the folks out on street corners, or in specific corners of the library or at 2nd Sunday Breakfast.  We might even know a few people by name.  But how many people to we see?  How many people in great suffering or misery do we let in enough to know?  One-on-one, most of us are very uncomfortable with suffering.  Our own, obviously, and to a fault.  How much suffering we endure avoiding suffering!  How much anxiety, how many resources do we consume to avoid any discomfort?  It is astounding, really.  TV is full of commercials for unwholesome food and followed by the remedy to make sure you don’t feel bad after eating it.  We shrink from our own suffering as much we do the suffering of others.

We don’t recognize the suffering of others for a lot of reasons.  It is traumatic.  We all have terrible memories of seeing an accident, or witnessing another’s wounds or pain.  It is secondary trauma.  It leaves marks so we want to avoid it.  Of course.  But we also want to avoid recognition of suffering because it reflects directly on us.  At least seven folks died on our streets in Eugene since November.  That is on all of us.  We did not do enough.  Our community failed those people.  We are part of that community.  Like the that people that threw the blind man to the streets, they couldn’t welcome him right back into the community for the exact same emotional reasons we feel we can’t welcome the homeless right back into ours.  Emotionally it behooves you not to recognize someone whom you have harmed so egregiously, whom you have cast into the outer darkness.

We’ve all done things that make it hard to face the one we’ve wronged.  That sin, staring you in the face like this man did to his neighbors, is too often too much to bear.  Or it seems that way.  He was banished to a life of poverty and begging for his blindness.  After he was healed what are they going to say, “Welcome, friend!  Where’ve you been?”  “Starving on the corner in front of your house, thank you very much.”

I remember hearing the comedian Eddie Murphy telling a story.  He was walking across a parking lot somewhere and a car load of young white men shouted a racial slur at him.  Then they recognized him, and said, “Wait, you’re Eddie Murphy, we love you!”  If those young white men had paused for a second, they might have seen what a hypocritical, shameful thing they had done.  That shame might have been constructive.  Shame is a communal response to a trespass; guilt is personal, internal, shame comes from outside.  And shame, being shunned until reconciliation is made, it regulates, it can be helpful sometimes.  But when a whole dominant community feels shame, it is much easier, or at least it is much more likely, to behave like the people in this story.  Doubt that the miracle happened.  Deny that it was him to begin with.  Threaten anyone who might say otherwise.  Racial boundaries.  Gender boundaries. Class boundaries.  All boundaries between oppressor and oppressed are so hard to transcend because the dominant culture can’t hold the hypocrisy, we must make it go away. That’s why affirmative action is so controversial.  Why the word reparations ends any polite conversation about race.  Why wage inequity between men and women is so rarely spoken of.  Why we can’t admit that our nation ever makes a mistake, or does anything wrong, or is hypociritcal.  We’re outraged that the Russians may have influenced our election, yet how many elections around the world have we blatantly influenced?  How many democratically elected governments have we overthrown?  And as far as pandering to international forces, Bernie suffered for not pleading his case before the Israel lobby at AIPAC?  We can’t handle the truth!  We can, but we don’t think that we can handle the truth.

When our world view is challenged, we don’t usually react well.  (And we’ve been reacting poorly for a very long time).  That’s why Socrates was given hemlock to drink.  That’s why Galileo was tried (and convicted) of heresy.  That’s why Gandhi and King and Romero were murdered.  That’s why Jesus was crucified.  He said and then demonstrated, that the world was not what most thought it was. God was for everyone.  The kosmokrator, the Ruler of the Universe, Caesar, was in fact less powerful than the pantokrator, the Ruler of Everything, God.

The Pharisees were much more comfortable holding on to the laws they had been taught, that gave them meaning (and authority!), and defined right and wrong in very specific ways.  Anything that challenged that was threatening, first and foremost to the maintenance of their own power and position.  If men were to really accept that women were full on equals, we’d have a lot of privileges to give up.  Like owning the fact that last year, the average male Episcopal priest made $11,000 more than the average female Episcopal priest.  (According to the paper, the U of O has some explaining to do, too).  Accepting that things don’t fit into your world view is very hard to do, especially when you are the one who benefits from that world view.  The sin of the status quo is amongst our most egregious.  That is why we use the confession that we do, asking forgiveness for not only whatever evil we have done, but for the evil things “done on our behalf.”  We might be against the wars in the Middle East, but we are glad that gas is only $2.50 a gallon.

But if the sin of clinging to the status quo is bad, the sin that Jesus ends this story with is downright mortal.  He rebukes the Pharisees, saying, “But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”  They are claiming to “see”, to know the truth of the matter when they decidedly did not.  This is a sin of arrogance.  It is a sin of certainty.  It is a sin of being blind to the possibility that we might be wrong, that there might be an entirely different way to look at things.  For those of us on whom the meritocracy has shone it light, this is a common and uncommonly deadly sin.

Being sure that we are right, that we know the only truth, that we know the whole story is foolish.  Even more foolish is being like the Pharisees, assuming that the way you understand the world is the only valid way to understand the world.   They understood the world through the Law.  That is a fine starting point, but it didn’t allow for consideration of right and wrong, only allowed and prohibited.  Liberalism is a world view.  It is a world view that highly prioritizes the individual and individual autonomy.  It is a fine world view, one to which I largely ascribe, but it is but one way.  A radical Thai dissident that I worked with years ago wrote eloquently about the UN Declaration on Human Rights.  He wrote on how it was very difficult to integrate because it was so based on the individual as the starting point, a liberal/Western world view, as opposed to the collective as a starting point, which is held by much more of the world.  Or Simone Weil’s contention that a society should not base its existence on the rights of the individual in society, but on the obligation of the individual to that society.  Not a declaration of rights but a declaration of duties.  Better?  Maybe, maybe not.  Different.  Now that is for certain.  And the world right now, the chaos in Washington, the bald-faced lies batted around as valid opinions, the unfoundable accusations flying back and forth, all of it hurled with certainty, we need to be cautious in our assumptions.  If we learn anything from the story of Jesus healing the blind man, it is that we must be very, very careful before we claim certainty about anything.  AMEN.

March 19, 2017, 3rd Sunday in Lent YR A

Year A, Lent 3
March 19, 2017
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was


“From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of Israel journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded.”

The problem in our Gospel today, the conflict that makes it a good and enduring story, is Jesus including someone that His community excluded.  That is always controversial.  Jews and Samaritans did not mix.  At Jacob’s Well, Jesus made crystal clear that He came not just for Israel, but for everyone, even this lone Samaritan woman.  The lesson is that no one is excluded from Jesus’ offer of Living Water.

Who is included?  Who is excluded?  Ripped from the front page of today’s paper.  Who do we include as Americans?  Who gets included in our health insurance system?  Who gets the benefit of the doubt from law enforcement?  Whose dogs are welcome or not in our downtown?  Inclusion.  Exclusion.  In these things, right and wrong are not always completely apparent.

I am going to tell you another story about inclusion and exclusion.  It is about gender and how we talk about God, and of Common Prayer.  Mostly, though, I think this is a story about paradox.  About virtues in conflict with each other.  About blindness to the waters in which we swim. Clarity is what we seek, but heavens, clarity is elusive and yet we still must live and we still must seek the Commonwealth of God and the heart of Jesus Christ.  It just ain’t easy being alive.

A month ago I attended a gathering of the radical discipleship movement put on by the Bartimeaus Cooperative Ministries.  There gathered a collection of Christians who share a belief that, among other things, following Jesus Christ is inseparable from the struggle for peace, justice and truth.  All sorts of Christians are in the movement, “High church, low church and no church” is a tag line sometimes used.   This was my third conference and I have next year’s on the calendar.  I love the community there and the people and I learn deeply from Ched Meyers, the animator and convener of the organization.  I am part of the community.

A few of us ministerial types were asked to help out pastoraly and liturgically, including leading daily morning prayers. I am always excited to introduce the ancient practice of Anglican prayer, that’s what I do.  I knew that this was not how this group was used to praying, so I tried to set it up, saying something like, “We had innovative and creative worship yesterday: that is a deep well.  Another deep well is praying like our ancestors have prayed for 1500 years, back to the time of St. Benedict.”  And then I offered straight from the book, Rite II Morning Prayer, canticles and all.

It went OK.  A little flat.  I did notice that many were saying the word “God” in place of the “He’s” and “Him’s” (there are a lot of those in Morning Prayer), but I do the same when it is not my voice alone in worship, so I didn’t think much of it.  It wasn’t great worship, but for folks who don’t know the form, it was OK.

When I finished, Ched got up to send us off to our first workshop sessions, and he spoke to the worship a bit. He expressed some discomfort, but I put it in the “form of prayer column,” which I expected and didn’t think much of it otherwise.  I should have.

At the first workshop, a woman pulled me aside and expressed that she had felt excluded in the prayer due to the masculine language for God.  (There is an awful lot of it in Morning Prayer, Rite 2).  I told her that I was sorry that she felt that way, and that she is not alone in that feeling, and that I also don’t like the language but that that was how we, Anglicans/Episcopalians prayed. She was more upset than I would have expected, but we talked a bit and it seemed that all was well and I didn’t think much more of it.  I should have.

So the end of the day comes, supper time, and the staff and chaplains were called together to discuss a pressing pastoral issue.  The issue: Morning Prayer.  It seemed that many folks were not at all happy with language of the prayer, the traditional, masculine gendering of God.  Some were very, very upset by it, to the point of maybe leaving the conference upset.  It was a very big deal.

My initial thought was, “I, I, I… I had no idea.”  You know that dropping feeling, blood descending when you suddenly learn that you messed up.  I should have been paying attention to the stuff earlier in the day.  The language was so not on my radar as an issue, it just is how we pray.

Well, we sat in a large circle, maybe 15 of us, religious leaders in a movement that I need, one of my most important teachers among them, learning that a lot of people were very upset with me for bringing this foreign, unwanted thing into our midst.  Upset because this beloved to me form of prayer was taken as archaic and offensive in its patriarchal nature, and I had to assume upset with our whole way, the Episcopal/Anglican way of approaching God.  I don’t know that I have ever felt more conspicuous in my life.  Anger, judgement were expressed, compassion, too, but just a lot of energy swirling around me and the 23 minutes of prayer we shared that morning.

From the leaders circle, it was agreed that both Ched and I would apologize to the group before the evening session.  The symbol of two white men apologizing for a trespass would be powerful, it was thought.  My apology was for the hurt that I caused and the reminder I gave of the feeling of alienation from God that some experienced in childhood or in the midst of other forms of Christianity.  I apologized for not being mindful of the congregation I was offering prayer for, which I was not.  And Ched apologized because he was in charge and whatever is done or fails to get done was his responsibility.  It was a very humbling experience, first causing such upset and being called on it and then apologizing all within a group that I treasure so much.  It was humiliating in a theological sense, a very appropriate feeling leading up to Lent.

Tensions decreased.  Folks seemed less upset.  I got a lot of feed-back about the apology from those where were offended. (And from a few folks who hadn’t been offended or were offended by the offense taken and appreciated that I offered such a “gift” from our tradition).  I felt held as well as held accountable by the community.

Inside, what struck me the most was how unmindful I had been about the whole thing.  Over the years a couple of parishioners have expressed to me dismay with our language for God, but not many, like two, one of them being Windy and that is a long and continuing conversation.  We had an after church parish meeting about this in my first year here. Also, I haven’t been involved in much interfaith or even ecumenical worship, where these issues often arise.  It just hasn’t been a big deal here.  STOP!

That’s part of the problem, my problem.  Being a straight white male in a culture where the default setting is nearly always straight-white-male-centric (it nearly always benefits people like me, or at least it is extremely controversial if it impedes the continued privilege of people like me).  It is easier for me to not notice things like this than for, say, a woman.  It is called hegemony and some few of us benefit from it while the rest suffer for it. AND I pray Morning Prayer that way almost every morning.  This language, this form of prayer, it is the water in which I, we swim.  A friend reminded me a joke recently.  An old fish is swimming by a school of young fish and says, “The water’s lovely today, isn’t it?”  And the young fish reply, “Water?”  I apologized for my unmindfulness.

I did not apologize for praying that way.  Okay.  Here is where we come back to paradox.  To competing virtues.  To moral dilemma.  I didn’t/won’t/ought not apologize for Common Prayer; that is how we pray, and is how we have prayed as Anglicans for 500 years, following on the preceding 1500 years of catholic worship.  It is not for me to apologize for generations of our ancestors.  I apologized not because we pray that way, but because that was decidedly not how we prayed there, in that context. I sinned in that community, but not against God and Church.

Central to all of this is the notion of “God the Father.”  I think if I titled sermons, this one would be “Continuing to Move Beyond God the Father with an Apology for Common Prayer.”  That’s the classical use of the word apology, in defense or in justification of.  I notice it, in the Mass, when the plea is “Father, we now celebrate this memorial of our redemption…” It sticks out for me.  Lord is the word I pray with, it is the word that comes to me when I pray, but the aristocratic, royal, patriarchal implications, when I think about it, I cringe, and that is the word I pray with and have for as long as I have prayed.  I don’t like that my girls use “He” for God because God is not a He.  (Not a She either, but that’s not something to argue against).  In the immortal words of our own Rev. Nancy Gallagher, “If you say God is He, does that mean that you think God has a penis?”  No.  That is ridiculous.  But beyond being ridiculous, it is harmful.  It privileges men, who already enjoy systemic privileged.  It aligns God with a specific portion of humanity while too often alienating, excluding another.  It makes it hard and, for some, impossible to be Christian.  Anything that does that is not okay.  All are welcome at God’s table and it is our responsibility to make clear that path.

At exactly the same time, Common Prayer is in fact a gift from our ancestors and many, most, even, are brought closer to God in Christ with the Holy Spirit and each other through its practice.

A great virtue of Common Prayer is that it is not about me.  It is not about you, either.  It is not about any of our individual feelings, preferences, politics – we prioritize the Common, as in community over the individual.  And the community is not just here, or in the Diocese of Oregon, no, it is all 1.something million Episcopalians from Micronesia to Western Europe that make up The Episcopal Church that decide how we pray together.  It is not for me to muck around with the Mass, certainly not on Sunday mornings.  I took a vow before a Bishop to that effect and I take that seriously.  Common Prayer is what makes us, us because we prioritize Common Prayer over common belief: orthopraxis over orthodoxy.  The form of prayer, the language, the cadence, the ups and downs, crossing and bowing together in certain ways that are agreed upon is who we are, and not for the sake of it, that would be idolatrous, but for the practice that it enables or is.  That tension between I and we in Common Prayer is pedagogical.  Intentional, prayerful submission to a specific form is a powerful practice.  Doing things that have been done this way for thousands of years is a powerful practice.  It is practicing bowing down before God and that is a good thing to do.  It lifts up the lowly, being in the presence of the Most High and the mighty are lowered humbly before the same Almighty.  Common Prayer is a powerful practice, and is subversive to our hyper-individualistic culture, particularly for those of us on the liberal side of the tracks.  I’ve got my opinions about it, but we trumps I.

Commonality and tradition, though, must not be static or it becomes irrelevant in its ossification.  Our language will change, but it will take time.  (Though of course it is always easier for those in power to say “Be patient!”).  Our last Prayer Book lasted 51 years, ’28 – ’79.  The conversations about the conversation about a Prayer Book revision have begun.  We’ll have it done in another 12 – 15 years, right on schedule.  There is deep and prayerful power in processes that take this long.  The Roman cathedral in LA was controversial, but it was designed to stand for 500 years.  That’s powerful.  There is something to church time, but again, it is easier to say from my social location as an ordained, straight white male.  Who is being excluded because of our process?  Who is being hurt?  How many little girls think God is more like the boys in Sunday School than them?

We need to spend more time considering our language for things Holy.  We’re behind.  My experience in California confirmed that.  At the same time, one of the things that drew me to the Anglican way from another way was that we didn’t worry about the language much, we didn’t argue about words, which left us time to move forward with other things.  Easy for me to say, I know, but then a friend told me a story from a Unitarian parish where two youth were caught during a lock-in having sex behind the pulpit.  They called a meeting of the parents to discuss it and the pastor started, saying “this weekend, we had an incident in our sanctuary…” when someone leapt up, “It is not a sanctuary, it is the Hall of Meeting!”  Is that helpful?

We have the most consistently masculine, patriarchal language of any mainline church.  Be it a liberal parish or a conservative one, we all use the same spiritual vocabulary and it is decidedly masculine.  That is true.  It is also true that we, as a Church, have officially considered LGBTQ people full children of God since 1976 by resolution of General Convention. In 1994 we began to openly and fully ordain gay and lesbian people.  In 1997 we apologized for the harm done to sexual minorities by the church, in ’09 allowed for gay and lesbian bishops, and in 2015 authorized same sex marriage and removed all prohibitions to the ordination of transgender people. Some of the folks at the conference most critical of our prayer form worship in and serve churches that do not even ordain gay people, while our little parish here hosted the ordination of a trans-man just three weeks before, and joining more than a dozen other transgender priests and deacons!  The Most Rev. Katherine Jefforts-Shori was the first woman to head a major denomination in this nation and our current Presiding Bishop, The Most Rev. Michael Curry, is the first African-American to lead a predominantly white denomination.  And we all say every Sunday “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.”  Maybe it is not fair, but part of me wants to ask, “What is more important, the words that we use or the work that we do?”  Part of me thinks that spending too much time arguing about language gets in the way of the doing the work of Jesus Christ and our history these past four decades makes a case for that.  Obviously it is both… maybe that is the point.  There is no one way.  Any way will hurt some and heal others, exclude some and include others.

Like so many things, there is no one answer here, like there aren’t for so many issues facing us and our nation. Maybe that is an important task before us in these troubled times, not becoming comfortable with ambiguity or resigned to it, but learning that those are the waters in which we swim, or at least noticing that we are in that water to begin with.  Thanks be to God that the Living Water of Jesus Christ is offered to everyone.  AMEN

March 12, 2017, 2nd Sunday in Lent YR A

March 12, 2017
2nd Sunday in Lent YR A
The Rev. Anne Abdy


Well, we are twelve days into Lent. How is it going? When I preached last I encouraged you to really listen for what God is inviting you to do. If you don’t have an idea, it will come. You will know your invitation when it is presented. Keep listening.


The five Sundays in Lent and Palm Sunday (the 6th Sunday in Lent) all have different themes depending on how you interpret the Scriptures. If you review the Gospel readings leading up to Palm Sunday—there is one common variable. In every reading, there is an encounter with Jesus. First, the devil last week, where like Jesus, we are tempted, that is just what humans do. It is human nature. It is in our DNA. So if your Lenten practice has not been going according to plan, that is okay. The key is to engage the process of self-reflection and with the hope that faith brings—we are changed. We are able to change course because it is both faith and hope that moves us away from the Tempter.


Today Nicodemus takes the center stage.  He only shows up three times, and then only in the Gospel of John. His corrective course of action begins with today’s encounter. In the second encounter he reminds his colleagues that the Jewish law requires that a person be heard before being judged (John 7:50-51), and ends with the third encounter where Nicodemus assists Joseph of Arimathea in preparing the body for burial by bringing the embalming spices to the grave (John 19:39-42).


A modern example of what corrective action might look like is the advice I give my patients. I use the metaphor of a cruise ship and help them understand that they are the captains of their own cruise ships and to empower them to engage the power of change. But in order to keep the ships afloat and in the deeper water of the ocean, they have to make good decisions. Poor judgment and poor decision-making gets them—the “Captains” in trouble with the possibility of running aground. The corrective action is to steer the ships away from the island reefs.


What possibly could cause Nicodemus’ ship to run aground? We know he is a very powerful man. We know he is well respected.  Remember, Nicodemus has spent his whole life studying the Torah. He has engaged in debate. He has proven himself. His friends have judged him to be of right character that they elected him a leader and teacher. Nicodemus’ belief system and personal values have been formed by what he has witnessed and what he has experienced. His values about strict adherence to the Jewish law is filtered through this belief system. He is the ultimate conformist non-rule breaking leader. He has compartmentalized his belief system.


Yet deep down Nicodemus knows something. He knows there is something different about this man named Jesus. Something about what he has heard about Jesus has peaked his interest. I believe that God has touched Nicodemus’ heart, however, Nicodemus’ just does not know it yet.


So he calls Jesus up on the phone, and rather than arranging a meeting in public at the town gate, he sneaks out into the middle of the night to meet with Jesus. It is like me sneaking around in boarding school hallways after lights out to have late night visits with friends. There is something about sneaking about at night. Maybe it is the thrill of not getting caught, or maybe as in Nicodemus’ case, he was seeking something more but he just cannot bring himself to do it in daylight. Can you imagine the gossip in that rumor mill if he did?

We realize that Nicodemus doesn’t get it when he asks Jesus to explain: “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Logically, it is a reasonable request. Biologically—it truly does not make sense. It just cannot happen. He is judging Jesus because the facts just do not add up. Even as he sets up this radical Messiah, this wayward, eating meals with sinners and beggar loving rabbi, his judgments have gotten in the way of him experiencing exactly what Jesus wants him and all of us to do.


Jesus answers Nicodemus’ question about being “born again” and “born by water and the Spirit” with a bit of a gentle chuckle saying, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” He then goes onto explain what he meant. The Message Bible translates this passage nicely into contemporary modern language.


“Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit.”


When I had was in college, I had conversion experience. My Baptist friends asked me “Are you are born again?” For Baptists “born again” is a pivotal experience. It is a course correction. An acceptance of God’s plan for salvation through Jesus Christ. For me, being “born again” was not so much a pivotal turning point but rather a gentle course correction. My experience gave me an opportunity to understand more clearly my evolving relationship with God. And, I would dare to say that we all have conversion experiences which draw us towards God. That is what we’re talking about here with our friend Nicodemus.


He has done some self-reflection much like we are doing through Lent. He realizes there is more to life than to bow to the prevailing cultural winds of the day. We have done this too. The church for decades lost the ability to call people to do radical good and to help them do it! My field education parish did not have an outreach project till 2014. They were the “frozen chosen.” The Church failed us. But I know the culture is changing because I see it here at Resurrection with our ministries. Nicodemus knows something is different and he wants to change course. He throws out all the judgments, values, and beliefs to move in the direction of the Light (capital “L”), even if it is undercover in the darkness of the night.


‘To be born again with water and Spirit’ (v.5) allows Nicodemus to fully engage this life. Literally, water is life-giving. We cannot survive with out it. Our bodies are 65% water. Then there is the Spirit, the Spirit of God, the life force from above that nourishes and feed us when we open our eyes to God’s powerful presence within us. Jesus asks us to not compartmentalize our beliefs. Instead he wants us to  live with “big faith.”  A professor in seminary cautioned my colleagues and I to “not straight-jacket the Holy Spirit.” We need now, more than at any time in history, to throw caution to the wind. To have “big” faith.


Jesus is calling us—the Church—to put aside self-consciousness because writing a check in the darkness of night to support a charity is no longer cutting it. As Christians, we must roll up our sleeves, get out into the community and be among all of God’s people.


Richard Rohr has a daily blog and this past week he about Christians attempting to engage with the lost, poor, homeless, downtrodden, and abandoned: “Hand-taking, embracing, and breathing-with, [I would add: sitting-with] aren’t often immediately attractive to us. Vulnerability, letting go, total disclosure, and surrender don’t come easily. Our culture is built on a movement toward empire and aggrandizement of the group.”[1] The tension of looking at a person holding a sign on a street corner then turning away. Or are you that person who walks passed a beggar on the street?  Or are you that person who momentarily stares at a person who gestures with frailing arms and who talks to a ghost? These encounters create “interior conflict that Scripture describes as the conflict between the world and the Spirit.”[2] Christianity was built on one-on-one relationship encounters, not by empire  or oneupmanship.


In these uncertain times, we can and must do more. Are you willing to put aside your judgment and invite God to make course corrections in your attitudes, beliefs, feelings, heart, and soul? Do you want to live life with “big” faith?” Do you want to be born again?


“Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (v.5)


[1]                 Richard Rohr, “Trinity Week 2 the Body of Christ,” Richard Rohr’s Meditation (blog), Center for Action and Contemplation, March 9, 2017, accessed March 11, 2017,

[2]     Ditto.