Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday in Advent 4 (December 24)

Revelation 22:12-17, 21
v. 17: The Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let everyone who hears say, "Come." And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

Here we are. As the sun goes down today, we begin our Christmas celebration. How are you entering this time? How have you prepared to hear the news of glory for God and peace on the earth? Who are you today to welcome the baby of Bethlehem to the world again?

If you're like me your preparation has been spotty. I love Advent and I try to use the time to get ready in a way that is different from much of what is going on around me. But this Advent the distractions have been many. I was away the first week of Advent which put me behind on all the things that have to be done at church this time of year. A so far mysteriously painful right foot and right hip has kept me limping most of the season. I have not had any desire to buy gifts this year, which is a must in my family. So I'm sitting here this morning feeling something of a failure.

As is often my experience, though, that may be precisely where God wants me to be, or it is at least the place where God can do something with me. It is probably massively counter-productive that I want Advent to be a time for me to prepare a mansion for the baby to find waiting for him in my heart, and all that he wants and needs is a cowshed. Imagine last Sunday's Collect of the Day re-written:

Purify our conscience, O Lord, by your daily visitation: that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a cowshed prepared for himself...

I like that. I hear good news in that.

The reading from Revelation this morning suggests I really need only two things today to be ready to celebrate: a willingness to "come," that is, I think, show up; and thirst. I think I can do those things. I think you can too. The companionship and the water that will meet these needs are both free.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thursday in Advent 4

Revelation 21:22--22:5
vv. 22:1-2 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

The Bible begins and ends in a garden. The Bible begins and ends in Paradise. The Bible begins and ends on earth. These are obvious truths if you read the first three chapters of Genesis and the last three chapters of Revelation. Yet we miss the point all the time. We insist on speaking of "heaven." Yet the Bible ends speaking of a renewed earth in eternity, not some ethereal heaven. The eternal purpose of God is not to destroy the creation. It is to fulfill it. The tree of life stands at the center of the garden at the beginning and at the end. And it is for healing. The great wound caused by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the original garden is healed. That tree is no longer at the center of the garden, only the tree of life is.

The Incarnation in which we believe, God becoming flesh--truly human and truly divine, the ultimate wedding of heaven and earth in a human being, is a great proclamation of this truth--God loves the creation, and not as something to observe, but to participate in. Revelation 21:3: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals, he will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them."

That's what we heard the angel tell Joseph last Sunday: this child will be "Emmanuel," which means "God with us." Not God cheering us on from the sidelines, but God with us in the game.

Are you ready to celebrate this amazing news?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wednesday in Advent 4

Revelation 21:9-21
vv. 10-11 And in the spirit [the angel] carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal.

Our reading today is a description of the holy city. It is a marvelous sight for the imagination: crystal and gold and twelve precious jewels making up its foundation. It is "foursquare," with three gates on each side. The description is meant in every way to say, "perfection."

"The golden streets of heaven" is not an image that us progressive Christians take much stock in anymore. But it meant something to our ancestors, especially our African-American ancestors in slavery. They sang of the city often:

Oh! What a beautiful city...Twelve gates to the city, Hallelujah!
Three gates ina the East, three gates ina the West, three gates in the north, and three gates ina the South, making it twelve gates-a to the city, a-Hallelujah! (LEVAS II, #10)

For people who have nothing, the vision of golden streets on which they can walk, which have been made for them, means a great deal. Maybe that was an ultimately unhelpful vision of "pie in the sky," but I neither think that was its intention nor its effect. Its effect was hope, hope that could be born out of nothing and hope that could outlast anything.

It also should be a vision for change, earthly change. The city, after all, was seen by John not staying in heaven, but descending to earth. The hymnwriter Walter Russell Bowie wrote these words in 1910:

Give us, O God, the strength to build the city that hath stood too long a dream,
whose laws are love, whose crown is servanthood,
and where the sun that shineth is God's grace for human good.

Already in the mind of God that city riseth fair:
lo, how its splendor challenges the souls that greatly dare--
yea, bids us seize the whole of life and build its glory there. (The Hymnal 1982, #583)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday in Advent 4 (St. Thomas' Day)

John 20:24-29
vv. 27-28: Then Jesus said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"

[From Eugene Peterson's The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus is the Way, 2007, p. 242].

"A week later, the disciples were together again. This time Thomas was with them....And then Jesus was among them again. Thomas was all eyes. Jesus was gracious to him, and offered the 'evidence' of the holes in his hand and the gash in his side. And then the prayer burst from Thomas: 'My Lord and my God!'

"Thomas' prayer keeps us ready for what comes next; it keeps us alert to the Jesus who rules our life as Lord and commands our worship as God when we are least expecting it. Following Jesus is not a skill we acquire so that we can be useful to the kingdom. Following Jesus is not a privilege we are let into so that the kingdom can be useful to us. It is obedience ('my Lord!'). And it is worship ('my God!').

"No matter how much we know, we don't know enough to know what Jesus is going to do next. And no matter how familiar we are with the traditions and customs and privileges that go with being on God's side, we aren't familiar enough to know how Jesus fits into it.

No religious skills that any of us acquire will ever produce resurrection, and no spiritual strategies that we work out will ever produce resurrection. Following Jesus doesn't get us where we want to go. It gets us to where Jesus goes, where we meet him in resurrection surprise: 'My Lord and my God!'"

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday in Advent 4

Revelation 20:1-10
v. 6: Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years.

Our last week of Advent we read from the last three chapters of the Book of Revelation. Chapter 20 foresees the final defeat of Satan and the thousand year reign of Christ and the martyrs. Chapter 21 through the beginning of chapter 22 is the vision of the New Jerusalem. The end of chapter 22 is the epilogue to the book.

The "blessed and holy" above are the martyrs, whom John sees will be raised first in order to join Christ in his thousand year reign, during which time Satan is imprisoned. The original context of the Book of Revelation was probably the persecution of Christians during the reign of the Emperor Domitian (ruled 81-96).

Martyrdom is not something we contemplate often. For us it is something of the distant past. Martyrdom does go on, however, and we should be aware of it. Christians in Iraq are currently in the news suffering from persecution. Christians in Pakistan, many of them Anglicans, are also under great stress. John and my friend Ugandan retired bishop Christopher Senyonjo saw martyrdom up close and personal when his archbishop Janani Luwum was murdered during the reign of Idi Amin in that country. In conversation with him it is clear that facing the possibility of death for one's faith gives it a different quality, a different intensity. Hence the intensity of the Book of Revelation, which seems so strange to us.

Of course, we should live in a world where martyrdom is simply not possible. There should be no martyrs of any religious tradition. But we do not yet live in that world. It seems completely counter-intuitive to this season, but one of its questions is, "Would I die for this baby born in Bethlehem? Would I die for the peace on earth that is his purpose? For the justice that is required for it to be?" I may thank God that I do not have to, but that does not mean that I should not be prepared to answer the question.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saturday in Advent 3

Jude 17-25
vv. 20-21 But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

The Epistle of Jude claims to have been written by one of Jesus' brothers, which would also have made him a brother of James of Jerusalem, the leader of the church their after Jesus' departure. It is not clear at all to whom this short letter is written. The community, however, is clearly experiencing conflict over some rival teaching that has come into it. Paul seems to have run into this teaching as well, which basically held that since grace has saved us, we are free to do whatever we want. Jude vigorously denounces this philosophy.

The two verses quoted above are Jude's simple outline for following the Christian faith. Depend on your faith (and by this he would have meant the faith handed down to you from the apostles). Pray, listening for the Spirit (and not your own voice, which could lead you astray). Rest assured of God's love. Look forward, trusting ever in the mercy of Jesus that will lead you to eternal life. It's not a bad outline at all.

Our outline along these lines is the Baptismal Covenant: Continue in what the apostles taught us and told us to do. Keep turning back to God whenever you stray away. Proclaim that relationship with God in Christ is good news. Look to serve Christ in all people, which is what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. Keep the struggle for justice, peace and the dignity of all people alive.

This is the faith of the babe to be born. This is what it means for the incarnation of God to continue in his people, you and me.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thursday in Advent 3

2 Peter 2:10b-16
It's hard to pick a verse from this passage. The angry diatribe that began yesterday is in full swing today. "Accursed children!" the writer calls those he is railing against.

I share with you today, rather than my own thoughts, some from the Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne, a priest of the Church of England and a physicist, who has written extensively on science and faith. He also has a little book of Advent & Christmas meditations. Here are some words he has to say about judgment:

Judgment is not imposed arbitrarily from without, but we experience it from within because it centers on our reaction to reality, our response to the way that things truly are. Confronted with reality--including the reality of who we are and what we have done--we can either turn towards the light, accepting the painful fact of evil done as the first step through which we may begin to be changed and conformed to the holy reality of God's will; or we can turn away from the light into the darkness of ourselves, as we cling to the delusion that there is nothing really the matter with us.

Understood in this way as an opening up to the truth, judgment is a hopeful word. Reality may be painful, and we may only be able to bear a little of it at a time, but facing it is the only possible route to true fulfillment. There is no future in illusion.

The book of meditations is called Living with Hope: A Scientist looks at Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wednesday in Advent 3

2 Peter 2:1-10a
V. 9 the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.

Judgment. The writer of 2 Peter is angry, and when we get angry we tend to see the world as right or wrong, good or evil, righteous or unrighteous, godly or depraved.

Many years ago now, before my coming to Rochester, I was invited by a Washington colleague to preach at her celebration of a new ministry in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. She was becoming the rector of one of the minority progressive congregations there. I wondered with her whether this was a good idea or not, going into the lion's den, but she assured me all would be well.

I was vesting when the Bishop arrived, a man by the name of Robert Duncan. I introduced myself. He clearly didn't know who I was. he asked me the usual polite things: parish, bishop, seminary. "Welcome," he said. It occurred to me at that point that my friend had not told him who was preaching that night.

So I began mmy sermon lauding this wonderful parish and their terrific new rector who could bring together such disparate figures from the church as the Bishop of Pittsburgh and the President of Integrity. I smiled at the bishop. He did not smile back. the clergy in the first three rows were in various stages of distress. Off I went into the sermon.

After the service the bishop quickly left and I didn't get to speak to him. (I was with him at an event about a year later and he admitted that he probably would have asked me not to preach). But at the reception afterwards I had a lively conversation with several of the clergy of the diocese. If I recall right, three opened with the same line: "You preached the gospel tonight!" It is, I trust, to my eternal credit that I chose not to be sarcastic that night. I said simply, that's what I try to do, by the grace of God. Clearly I was a puzzle to them.

I started that service under their judgment. Of that I have no doubt. But I didn't turn out as they expected (and perhaps they didn't to me either). What a terrible thing judgment is, which is perhaps why Jesus (who I'll listen to for light years before I'll listen to 2 Peter) asks that we refrain from it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rochester Monroe District Minutes

December 9, 2010
Christ Church, Rochester

The December 9, 2010 Rochester Monroe District Meeting was held at Christ Church, Rochester with 31 people present.

The Rev. Ruth Ferguson opened the meeting with prayer at 7:07 p.m.

Padraic Collins-Boher spoke about the numerous outreach ministries at Christ Church along with their affiliation with the Eastman School of Music and as a Jazz Festival venue. He also shared information about the history of the church beginning in the 1800’s.

Warden Bonnie Hallman-Dye chaired the meeting.

The minutes were accepted as read.

Old Business: None

New Business:
1. Patti Blaine, City School Outreach Coordinator and Laura Despard, described two programs at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. School #9. Patti spoke about the literacy support program. Laura presented a challenge to the group to provide meals for students during school vacations. Discussion and a question/ answer period followed. Information regarding the tutoring and vacation book program is available from Patti at

More information about A Challenge to Mission is available from Laura Despard at

2. The Very Rev Lance Robbins initiated a discussion about Prayer Partners. The focus was on the way prayer partners are selected and how much prayer partners communicate with one another. Please forward ideas and suggestions for prayer partner projects or activities to

3. The Very Rev. Cynthia Rasmussen led a small group discussion around the first three chapters of I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church. Small groups were asked to discuss one of three topics and decide what activities would be appropriate for their setting. Topics included: life/death; community/isolation; and fun/drudgery. Suggestions were shared among the group.

Cindy is moving forward with setting up a face book page for members to continue the discussion on line.

Chapters 4-6 will be discussed at the February meeting.

4. Neil Houghton’s resignation as Monroe District Warden was accepted with regret. A new warden will be elected in February. Nominations should be forwarded to The Very Rev. Lance Robbins at

1. Christ Church, Pittsford is offering a service for special needs children and their caregivers on December 19, 2010 at 1 p.m.

2. Carpenter’s Kids are making another two week pilgrimage from August 1- 13. A child can be sponsored for $80.00.

3. A Blue Christmas service will be held at St. Luke’s Brockport at 7 p.m. on December 16, 2010.

4. On January 29, 2011 at 3 p.m. there will be a benefit for Rural Migrant Ministries at Epiphany Gates. There is also a celebration of Rev. Don Hill’s 40th anniversary of his ordination.

5. Two Saints is offering an Advent Quiet Day from 2-4 p.m. and Evensong at 4 p.m.

6. Next Meeting:
February 10, 2011
Christ Church
36 S. Main Street, Pittsford
7 p.m.

Submitted by,
Sharon Del Vecchio Therkildsen
Rochester Monroe District Secretary

Tuesday in Advent 3

2 Peter 1:12-21
V. 19b You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

Attentive to what? "The prophetic message" (in the first half of the verse) which seems to be Peter's testimony of Jesus' tranfiguration on the mountain, where God was heard to say, "This my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased" (retold in verses 17-18).

It's a lovely image. Keep God's Beloved before your eyes, shining in a dark place, until the day comes and that same Beloved rises as the morning star.

But it's a long night, and it seems every time I think I see the morning star on the horizon, it slips away, slips away with another act of injustice, another violent death, another hungry child, or another loss of love--be to death or some other way.

That's gloomy, I know, and I have to be careful not to get stuck there, as we all do. But it can also be a joyful place to be, in the dark where the light shines. As John's Gospel says, "the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it" (John 1:5). Or, as we sing with great joy sometimes, "This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine!"

We all know the darkness. It is unavoidable. The question is, how can we help keep the light shining, keep waiting for the dawn and the morning star?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday in Advent 3

2 Peter 1:1-11
V. 10. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble.

This week we are reading from the Second Letter of Peter (I've put a couple notes about this letter at the bottom of this meditation).

"I am called and chosen by God." It sounds arrogant to say this, but the New Testament is clear that I should have confidence that these things are true. They are not a matter for boasting. They do not make me special, at least in the sense of set apart and different from most people. They just are the truth about me and I can and should live my life as if they were true. You should too.

That's what the writer means by "confirm." We "confirm" our call by the way we live our lives, and the writer has listed some attributes for which we should strive in the verses ahead of this: goodness, knowledge (wisdom), self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection, and love. Practicing these things do not make us chosen (only God can do that), but they do confirm our being chosen.

At its best, the practice of gift giving at Christmas is a sign, a token, of mutual affection and love. Ideally, the gift is given expecting nothing in return. The old saying that it is "the thought that counts" is true. At its worst, gift giving at this time of year can be used (and taken) as a sign of being chosen. The size or the quantity of the gift measures the size or the quantity of love. If I don't get a gift from someone than they obviously don't care about me. We can do terrible tings to ourselves and others by these kinds of thoughts.

Let us give gifts as a sign of our simple affection for another, no strings attached. And let each of us remember, "I am called and chosen by God" no matter what.

About 2 Peter: The Second Letter of Peter clearly comes from the second generation of Christians, so someone has obviously written it as a testament in Peter's name, a practice that was not uncommon in those days. The letter wrestles with Christianity's immersion in Greek culture. Some were arguing for some radical changes in ethical standards and in the way the second coming was understood in order for Christian faith to be more palatable to the surrounding culture. The writer of 2 Peter does give some ground, using some of the language of Greek culture, but is basically warning that the apostolic teaching cannot be changed. Christians will continue to have this debate about faith vs. culture right up through the present time.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Saturday in Advent 2

2 Thessalonians 3:6-18
V. 13: Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

In this case, Paul was talking about his instructions for the Thessalonians in regard to work and idleness. Many of the Thessalonians had apparently come to believe that either the Lord had already come or his coming was in process. So why work? Paul is quite harsh with them: "Anyone unwilling to work should not eat."

It has always been interesting to me that we don't have much of a theology of work. Somehow, for many if not most of us, our vocational life has become about us, not about God. This can even happen to clergy. I can't expound a theology of work here, but I can say that I think it has to do with participating in God's ongoing creation--being a continual co-creator with God. It also has something to do with the relationship of the individual to the community where some important balances have to be maintained. And it also has to do with "not growing weary of doing right."

How is your work a work for God? I suspect that's a daunting question for some of you, but remember "work for God" does not mean "work for the church." It means "work for the creation."

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday in Advent 2

2 Thessalonians 2:13--3:5
v. 3:5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

Sorry I missed yesterday. The day got rolling and never stopped. Today hasn't been much better. Oh, it must be Advent with Christmas looming on the horizon. All the better reason for a quiet afternoon tomorrow at church and then the Messiah at the RPO in the evening.

I suspect that God is pretty much always trying to "direct" our hearts--keep them going in the right direction. I also suspect that for God this is something trying to get my cat to come when I call her. She will do it just often enough for me to live in hope, but, truth to tell, most of the time she will not even acknowledge my presence when I say her name.

Truth is, I don't think God has much more luck directing our hearts. He needs our help. We actually have to decide to pay attention. That is Advent's most basic message to us. Pay attention or you will miss God. Pay attention or you will miss the life that God wants to make with you.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wednesday in Advent 2

2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
Vv. 6-8 For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

Personally, I could live without Second Thessalonians in the Canon of Scripture. I don't think it offers much positive and there is plenty negative, like the verses quoted above. Scholars have long debated whether or not Paul really wrote this letter, in part because the verses above sound like Paul on steroids.

I have trouble with notions of "the vengeance of God." I think it is making God in our image. Vengeance is our thing, not God's. I believe if nothing else the cross proved that. Are there things that make God angry? Of course. I certainly hope so. If God is not angry at the extent of poverty in a city such as ours, for instance, than I do not really want to have anything to do with that God. But God has taught us through the vulnerability of the cross how to turn our anger into passion--the passion of transformative love.

Do I hope there will come a day when my enemies will get what they deserve? Most days, yes. But "the angel of my better nature" tells me that in Christ Jesus what they "deserve" is a chance at being reconciled to God, and therefore to all they have harmed, even at the end (I'll get the same chance, and so will you). I've known a few of them who are likely to say "no thanks." That will be their choice. Do they then get the vengeance and the fire? I think what they get is the death they already have and seem to want to keep having.

Perhaps I can be grateful that there are passages like this that help me to confront my own need for vengeance and vindication, and to remind me that my vindication was won long, long ago outside the walls of Jerusalem, and because of the act of the man Jesus on the cross, I need not seek vengeance ever again.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tuesday in Advent 2

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
Vv. 16-18: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

I find these words at the same time comforting and daunting. They comfort in that they are something to aspire to, and they are "the will of God." They are daunting because I have never been able to get there. Always--without ceasing--in all circumstances. No matter how hard I try it just doesn't happen.

I think Paul would say, "Of course not." Our job is not to do these things, but to embrace that they are already being done in and through us. He will say as much in his letter to the Romans (8:26): Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

Is it good for us to be joyful, grateful and praying always as much as we can? Absolutely. But even better for us to tap into the core of joy and gratitude and prayer that is God's life in us. That fire burns no matter what the circumstances of our lives.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday in Advent 2 (St. Nicholas)

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Vv. 9-11 For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

It is nice to hear in this season of Advent where the message is "Keep awake!" "Be prepared!" Paul's encouragement "whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him." So I can get some sleep as well! I can, perhaps, let my guard down, because, as they say, Jesus always has my back.

So many non-church people I meet are so convinced that judgment and wrath are really the only things the church is about. I try to tell them the opposite, that Christianity is primarily about encouragement and joy. By and large they don't buy it. I'm not enough of a witness to break through years of belief that the opposite is true. And I find that most of these folks have found elsewhere to get the encouragement and joy they need. It is certainly possible to find it elsewhere, although we may legitimately question whether it will have the resilience to deal with the time of trial, including death.

We can only show folk like this that we mean what we say by the way we live our lives, of course, which means not hiding our light (our encouragement and joy) under a bushel basket. So who, during this season when we celebrate the light, needs a little of that light shown on them? Who among us, near us needs some encouragement, some joy? Let us be that for others as Christ is for us.

Collect for St. Nicholas' Day:
Almighty God, in your love you gave your servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness both on land and sea: Grant, we pray, that your Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday in Advent 1

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Vv. 13-14 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.

Arguably, this may be the most important passage in the whole of the Bible about death. Clearly the Thessalonians were troubled by it. They mourned their dead. They were unsure what happened to them. At this point in time the pressing question was probably, “What happens to those who die before the Lord comes again?”

It’s important to note here that Paul does not say, “Do not grieve.” No one could ask that of us, although I have found over the years that many people try to stamp out grief as quickly as possible. “There, there. Don’t cry,” an aunt told 11 year old me when my grandmother died. She meant well, but I needed to cry (even more, I needed someone to talk to me, but that’s another story). We need to teach our children that grief is OK, sadness is OK. We also, of course, need to teach them about hope. There is a qualitative difference between grief with hope and grief without hope. That is what Paul is telling the Thessalonians.

While I’m on this topic let me say a word about closure (which, I know, many of you have heard about before from me). I do not believe in “closure,” in fact, I think it is a terrible thing to try to foist on someone. Obviously, because of our hope, our grief matures over time, and if it doesn’t we need to seek some help (in which there is no shame whatsoever). But one of the glories of Christian faith is that we don’t ever have to let go of relationship with anybody. We call it the communion of saints. Does our relationship change with someone after they have died? Of course. Does it end? Absolutely not. Is it OK to feel occasional sadness or grief even years after their death? Of course it is. I’m 49 years old and still occasionally shed a tear or two for my grandmother, whom I still miss very much. But I know she is still with me “with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” when we gather at the Altar. Therein lies my hope, which ever keeps me from despair.

Friday in Advent 1

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

V. 9 Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been [God-taught] to love one another.

I changed “taught by God” to “God-taught” in order to point out that Paul uses a very odd word here. In fact, most scholars believe3 he invented the word. In Greek the word is theodidaktoi, a compound word combining the Greek words for “God” and “to teach.” What did he mean by this?

It makes me think of a prophecy of Jeremiah, in chapter 34: “No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord.” This comes after God declares that he is about to make a new covenant with Israel, a covenant that writes the law on their hearts. It also makes me think of what Jesus says about the Spirit in John’s Gospel, chapter 16: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” He says this after he declares that there are many things he cannot reveal to them yet.

All of us need to be taught, and not just when we are young. The process of learning from another, whether formally or informally, is essential to our continued growth as human beings, much less as Christians. But Jesus, in a sense, declared us all teachers, since each one of us has an equal share of the Spirit. Not all can give “head” knowledge, but all can teach in the spirit, out of our own relationship with and experience of God.

The Thessalonians have apparently asked a question about loving one another. We have no way of knowing what that question was. The answer, Paul says, is within and among you; you can know it, indeed you already know it, as you exercise the gift of God’s love. He does go on to give some advice, but he has first placed the authority for answering the question in the Thessalonian community.

Thursday in Advent 1

1 Thessalonians 3:1-13

v. 13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

The notion that I might have to be blameless when Jesus comes, or when I stand before God s judgment, scares the hell out of me. I don t think, by my own strength, that it s going to happen. be blameless, that is. And I ve only met a handful of people in my life who I thought stood a chance of actually doing it. In the past this led to notions that one had to die shriven, having made a last confession. To die unshriven meant either eternal torment in hell or a very long time in purgatory getting cleaned up.

Of course, the reality is that we cannot make ourselves blameless. Perfection is not something that human beings can do, and when they try they often end up doing damage to themselves or others. I take as my icon of the final judgment the parable in Luke that we heard a few weeks ago of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man, who believes he is blameless before God is not justified, Jesus says. Lazarus, who knows he is not blameless and probably never will be, is.

If meeting God face to face means being reminded of all the ways I have fallen short I hope only that I remember the one thing I need to do, and it isn t try to explain myself or pretend that I was better than I was. What I need to do is point to Jesus, who will be there. He is my only hope. In relationship with him I am blameless and will be received as a beloved child come home.

Tuesday in Advent 1

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

v. 7b-8 But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

This is not the picture we often have in our minds of St. Paul. Most of us, if asked to describe him, would probably do so in much harsher language than this. We would certainly not use words like gentle, tender, and deeply caring. Yet clearly the side of Paul put forward here was a reality. And how does it change our mind about him if we think that it is this side of him that predominated? Personally, over the years I have become a great lover of St. Paul. I love him most for how he wears his heart on his sleeve, as he does in this passage. Of course, this tendency is more difficult in other passages, where he can, in fact, be quite harsh. We all have our moments. Clearly here he is dealing with a community for whom he has great affection.

I actually think this passage has something to do with evangelism. The model for how we evangelize an individual is not a sort of forensic, Tell them the gospel and let them decide where they stand. It is, rather, the deep caring of which Paul speaks, that offers first and foremost our own selves, that builds a relationship that both sides can say has been very dear to us. Then out of that relationship can come words of good news and an invitation into caring community. And then, if the invitation is taken, the relationship must continue, even deepen.

Among the people who are here in California working on the SCLM project is the Rev. Dr. Ellen Wondra, former priest associate at Two Saints. She sends her greetings and her deep affection. She is still in Evanston, where she moved in 2004 to teach at Seabury-Western. I have been trying to catch her up on Two Saints. It s a reminder of how much has happened in 6 years!

Today, November 30, is the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, brother of St. Peter, patron saint of Scotland. The Collect of the Day also speaks of evangelism:

Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give us, who are called by your holy Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Monday in Advent 1

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Vv. 2-3 We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor or love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

As I read these words on the plane this morning I couldn't help but think of you, about whom I cam easily say these words. I was especially struck by the word "remembering." Memory is a powerful thing, one of God's greatest gifts. Here Paul treats it as a form of prayer, and perhaps it is fundamental to all prayer--and hope.

Remember me today and I'll remember you and together our memories will keep the fire of hope burning.