Friday, December 28, 2007

And the Darkness Shall Not Overcome It…

Church of Our Saviour, December 30, 2007
Reflection on John 1:1-18

I had an extraordinarily rich Christmas. The two services here on Christmas Eve were both feasts for the eyes, ears and spirit, and I was invited with my whole family to a wonderful and warm Christmas Eve feast here in Mill Valley. On Christmas day my family had our usual Christmas dinner with all of my in-laws and a few dear friends. I was gifted with many things, material and otherwise, and I felt deeply blessed.

The day after Christmas I was preparing to preside at the Wednesday morning Eucharist, and as I hurried toward the sacristy, I saw the manger we had used in the Christmas pageant, sitting on the porch off the sanctuary with the blanket for the Christ child thrown into the empty manger.

It was such a striking sight that I stopped and stared. What did that empty manger say? Christmas was over, the waiting weeks of Advent, the glory and warmth and transformational power of the incarnation had seemingly come and gone, and there was the empty manger, like the empty tomb at the other end of the story. I attempted to shake the feeling off, but I couldn’t help but feel the world going back to business as usual. And business as usual is the killing of prophets, as we saw in our reading of that day.

At home, still surrounded by the Christmas tree, the lights and decorations and the presents still littering the house, I was checking my e-mail when I saw to my horror the news flash- Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated. On the third day of Christmas, on the 27th day of the holy month of Ramadan, another prophet was killed. Ramadan is the holy month for Muslims because it is believed that it was during this month that the Koran was revealed to Mohammed. In a different kind of incarnation, the word was made flesh.

Later the same day, I was going over the script of “As You Like It”, the play that my daughter is working on. I saw hatred recorded for comic effect in a script written four hundred years ago. As Rosalind, disguised as a man, is given an angry letter from the spurned shepherdess she describes it by saying, “ Why, ’tis a boisterous and a cruel style, a style for challengers; why, she defies me,
Like Turk to Christian.” The Crusades were not such a distant memory, and the hatred of Christians for Muslims was so ingrained that it was good fodder for comedy.

And now in this holy season, violence has broken out, again, and it is somehow more shocking than the deaths of thousands from the conflicts all over the world- more shocking because it is a woman whose face we all know, the first female prime minister of a Muslim country, the champion of the democracy that we hold dear. Like Judas, the assailant caused her death and then killed himself.

This is business as usual in our world and this is why we need the word made flesh so desperately. This is why we need to experience the new creation in ourselves and our world every day. This is when we need to hold close and live the promise of newness and life that is given us in this exquisite prologue to the Gospel of John: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

This prologue streaks past the other gospels that begin with the beauty of the nativity, or the announcements of John the Baptist. The opening of the Gospel of John goes right for the enormity, the cosmic, the infinite nature of the coming of Christ. He came, not on Christmas night, but in the very beginning, with God.

We have been given this reading in our lectionary text at Christmas time, rather than the narrative about angels, a manger and the Magi to show that the people who wrote this narrative had been utterly transformed by grace upon grace. This is the testimony of those whose lives have been profoundly changed by “The Word.”

Thomas Merton, the Catholic monk and brilliant writer, had an epiphany in a Louisville shopping district at fourth and Walnut in 1958. He suddenly saw that he loved and was one with all the shoppers there- that he was theirs and they were his, and his long dream of separateness and isolation was over. In trying to describe the experience he wrote:

There is no way to tell people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. It was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts… where neither sin or desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see each other as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed… I suppose the big problem we would have then would be that we would all fall down and worship each other.

Merton goes on to say that this change- the transformation that inspires non-violence- has to come from the realization of an inner spiritual source. This is a concept he received from Ghandi, another slain prophet- a Hindu prophet. Merton writes:

At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind, or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God within us. It is, so to speak, his name written in us…. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it, we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely…. I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of Heaven is everywhere.

What sense can we make of the glorious words in our Gospel today if we do not in a deep sense begin to manifest that beginning, that light- if we do not, as Merton says “shine like the sun” deep from within that place where there is no sin, no cruelty? The opportunities are infinite- the gate of Heaven is in the face of every stranger, every being that seems to be our opposite- every needy soul who frightens us into isolation.

Jesus has given us the power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God- Jesus has become incarnate in us, and he has given us grace upon grace, and the courage to manifest his Light.

The baby is still in the manger. The empty manger is an illusion, as is our separateness and our isolation from each other. And we can still glimpse the glory of the incarnation if our hearts can open to that unbearably pure, utterly grace-filled light, so close to the heart of God, that that is already in our deepest selves, and always has been, from the very beginning.

Amen.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Wolf May Lie down with the Lamb, But the Lamb Won't Get a Very Good Night's Sleep...

Sermon Dec. 9, 2007, The Rev Este Gardner Cantor
Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley

All of the readings today talk of waiting, hoping, watching- they are in a way, strange Advent readings, but I can see why they were picked.

In heart-breakingly beautiful prose, Isaiah speaks of the coming of the Messiah. He speaks of one who will come not judging with his eyes and hears- those faulty human organs, but with righteousness, with God’s eyes and ears. And he shall come from the stump of Jessie- King David’s father. And when he comes, what a transformation there will be. The text reads that the wolf (not the lion, by the way) will lie down with the lamb. The leopard and the lion and the adder will not hurt or destroy in all this holy Kingdom. For, just as Jeremiah predicted that the law of God would be written on our hearts, the earth, and presumably all its creatures, will be filled with the knowledge of God.

This is not the Kingdom of Earth that is being described. In the Kingdom of Earth, as Woody Allen has noted, the wolf may lie down with the lamb, but the lamb will not get a very good night’s sleep. No, what is being described is a paradise of peace, a realm of trust and love between all beings.

John the Baptist also predicts the coming of the Messiah, and he warns that there is not much time to repent. He shouts out, like any street profit “Repent! The End is near! The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” The Pharisees and Sadducees who have the nerve to join him at the River Jordan soon find out that their status means nothing to John, as it will mean nothing to God. The dark side of the Day of Judgment is described- unless you bear fruits of repentance- of transformation, you may be thrown in with the chaff. In this text the Greek word Metanoia is badly translated as repentance. Repentance is from the Latin for “turn around.” A better translation of metanoia might be true transformation.

So what is our part in this? Is there a way that we can speed or facilitate the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven? And must it be a future vision, or can it be in our time? The timing of the Kingdom of Heaven varies from Gospel to Gospel, but it is sometimes clearly stated to be now at hand, especially in the Gospel of John.

I recently heard a beautiful story of the manifestation of the Kingdom of Heaven. The story was told by the Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield, who was born Jewish, and the protagonist of the story was a Muslim, the Palestinian poet, Naomi Shihab Nye.

The poet was taking a flight from Phoenix to Huston and she suddenly heard a flight attendant frantically calling out, “Does anyone speak Arabic?” Well, as the poet said, these days one hesitates, but her better nature prevailed, and she came forward. Greatly relieved, the flight attendant ushered her over to a woman in her sixties. She was dressed in full traditional Moslem dress and had collapsed into a heap on the floor, loudly crying. “I announced that the flight had been delayed four hours and this happened!” The flight attendant said. The poet knelt down beside the woman and began to ask her why she was crying in a language she could understand. It turned out that the woman had misunderstood the flight attendant and thought that the flight had been cancelled all together. She had to be in Huston for a medical procedure and was terrified that she would not make it in time. After learning the times and particulars the poet assured her that she could make it and asked who was picking her up. The women gave her her son’s number, the poet called him and they had a nice chat. It turned out that the Muslim woman had three other sons, and the poet called them all up too (they had four hours to kill after all.) Then she began calling some other Palestinian poets she knew, and introducing them to the woman, just for fun.

The woman, now very much more calm, had brought many things in her carry-on luggage (among them a potted plant- a classic folk medicinal remedy) and a huge supply of incredibly good little home-made powdered sugar cookies. She began passing them out to all the passengers waiting for the flight, primarily Texans. All exclaimed that these were the best cookies they had ever eaten and not one person refused the cookies from the woman in full perdah, who spoke not one word of Englis, and there was not one shred of mistrust in evidence. “This is the kind of world I want to live in,” said the poet, “Where we all share in one sacrament, where we are all covered with the same powdered sugar, where the grandmotherly goodness of a generous woman can be savored even as she wears her scarf and long dress, communicating through the universal language of powdered sugar cookies.”

These cookies were fruits worthy of repentance- of metanoia. They were offered by a woman some would associate with terrorists to people who some would associate with bigotry. But the lion lay down with the lamb. In my imagining of the story, after a few hours went by, they started to take naps, and the rich Republican Houston Oil executive lay down with the Muslim woman in full perdah, and no one was hurt or destroyed in all that Holy waiting area.

Perhaps this is the kind of metanoia spoken of by John the Baptist- the dissolving of age old prejudice in favor of full communion.

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight, and share thy sugar cookies without restraint.”

The indiscriminant acceptance of these fruits of metanoia, this instant communion, and the age old prejudices laid down herald for me the coming of the Kingdom as clearly as any lion eating straw, any child-friendly adder, or any angel’s declaration.

Stories like these show us the possibilities of grace, even of paradise in the here and now. And here, in our second Sunday in Advent, we remember that the kingdom is indeed at hand, and that a little child shall lead us.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

Nov. 25. 2007
Church of Our Saviour
The Rev. Este Gardner Cantor

Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, and on this Sunday we frequently hear hymns about Christ the mighty king. But the king we see up on the cross in our gospel story of today, has only one power left to him- the power of forgiveness.

All through the Old Testament a Messiah, a Savior, a King was prophesized. A shoot was to spring from the branch of Jessie, a new warrior king was to rise from the house of David. The people were waiting for a king, but as we say in our children’s curriculum, Godly Play, the king who came was not the king they expected.

In the Gospel of Luke Jesus is called the Messiah by the angel at his birth, he is called the Christ child by the old man Simeon at the babies’ temple dedication. Even the demons knew that he was the Messiah, and then Peter confesses, you are the Messiah of God.

The taunts flung at Jesus by the soldiers while Jesus is on the cross tell us the same thing- he is the Messiah, or the Christ, meaning simply the anointed one- which is what a king was.

But he ignores the taunts from the soldiers and goes about using his mighty power of forgiveness. Jesus forgives all those who brought about his crucifixion, saying “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Then he forgives the penitent thief, promising him that “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus, like any king, is able to pardon, to grant a stay of execution in a spiritual sense. He is able to transport the wretched to paradise.

This is indeed good news for those of us who are wretched in our unforgiveness or wretched in our state of being unforgiven. And more comforting still, the thief has only to ask that Jesus remember him.

I led a women’s retreat on forgiveness a few years ago, and at this retreat almost every single woman had a forgiveness issue with her brother, and I was no exception.

In perusing the bible I saw with startling specificity just what we were to do with these unforgiven brothers right there in the Gospel of Luke:

“If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him.” (17:3)

Many of us, including myself, were still in the miserable rebuking stage, although some hadn’t even gotten that far. And not one of us had ventured far enough to get to the forgiveness stage.

As a child, my brother had a lot of energy and was frequently frustrated by life. I later found out that this was because he was something of a creative genius trapped inside the body of an awkward young boy. Anyway, I was the one who got the brunt of his frustrations and he hit me often and pretty hard. My oldest brother, who was very kind, could not control him, nor could my parents. He continued to pummel me until the day my boyfriend (I was 15 by then) told him that if he ever hit me again he would be very sorry. I found out that my brother had no interest in challenging someone closer to his own size and to my glee, the punishment ended.

Very slowly, after that, I began to build an actual relationship with him. Then he left home and then I left home and we both got involved with the glory of living lives away from our family of origin (the source of much of his and my frustration.) He persevered in the difficult calling of being a documentary filmmaker (as I did not, although I pursued it for a while) and he won numerous Emmies and was nominated for an Academy Award. His shows were on network TV (although I couldn’t be bothered to watch them, since I did not own a television) and I saw posters in major cities announcing his next film. He was now out of the country filming more than he was in the country.

The irony was, that although I felt I was nearly ready to forgive him for beating me up for ten years of my childhood, I found it almost impossible to forgive him for his spectaular successes, and worse yet, not returning my e-mails, and for never, ever initiating contact with me.

So on one of my annual trips to the East Coast where most of my family lives, I did not visit or call my brother. I spent 2 days with my father in Baltimore, I went up to New York and saw the sights with my husband. But even though my brother lives 5 minutes from my father and I knew he was in town, I did not call him. I asked my father not to mention my visit to my brother that I was in town, but this was like telling Pavarotti not to sing.

My brother did e-mail me when I got back home, and was very hurt that I had not contacted him during my visit, even though he had not initiated contact with me for years.

At that women’s retreat I had a revelation that I immediately shared with all the neglected sisters there. If my brother were handicapped- if he was confined to a wheel chair, I would never refuse to walk down a flight of stairs in order to be able to greet him. In his inability to initiate contact with me there was a more subtle kind of handicap involved, and I finally realized that I was not willing to let him sit down there at the bottom of the stairs. But on my trip to the East Coast that that was exactly what I had done, and I saw that adding injury to his handicap was hurting us both.

So I went to my spiritual director and said that I was going to have to try to forgive my brother, but I didn’t know how. He first told me to start praying for him- deeply and without judgment. This was very hard at first. I had to initially say, “OK, God, I am praying for my [expletive deleted] brother.” It got easier with time.

When I was finally able to pray for my brother without using questionable language, I asked my spiritual director what the next step was. “Show him hospitality,” he said. “Speak to him without judgment. Complement him. Tell him you love him.”

This was even harder. But my first realization was that without even knowing it, every communication I had with my brother, even those neglected e-mails, had a subtext of resentment, carried no complements or graciousness, and I certainly did not tell him I loved him.

So I threw caution to the wind and I wrote him a loving e-mail, apologizing for the fact that I had seen almost none of his films, and said I would be very grateful if he could send me some. I told him how proud I was of him for all his successes. And I signed it “Love, Este.” I hit the send button and expected never to hear from him again.

A reply came back with dizzying speed, and he told me he was having a package prepared with all his films on DVD so I could see them. He told me fun stories about actors he was working with and costume and prop problems he was having in Europe. He never mentioned my failure to contact him when I was five minutes from his house. And I began to realize that in the act of forgiveness both forgiver and forgiven get to climb down from the cross.

I read in a recent poll the three things that people most want to hear in their lives:

Number one, as you might imagine, is, “I love you”
Number two is, “I forgive you.”
And number three is, “Supper is ready.”

These are the three things that Jesus promises. And if people thought that this is what they would find inside of these church walls, they would pour in like the hungry guests of the feeding of the five thousand.

Because whenever we are loved, when we are forgiven, when we are fed, physically and spiritually, we get a taste of the paradise promised to the thief.

Lately I am seeing the words of Jesus in a surprising place- the poetry of Jelaladin Rumi, the thirteenth century Sufi mystic. His poem on forgiveness bring us the essence of what Jesus was saying to the thief, what he says to us all:

Come, come, whoever you are.
Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn't matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.

Amen

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Diocese of California Gets an Award from the East Bay Chapter of the United Nations!

Last night was a night to remember. I attended the award presentation and dinner for the UN Awards because I had been at the right place at the right time and was asked to accept the award on behalf of the Bishop of California, Marc Handley Andrus, along with the Rev. Ted Thompson. Ted came to the dinner with his lovely wife (really) Mary and my lovely husband Matt Cantor came with me. We all took the stage and accepted the award together. The evening included a clown-like dancing water goddess, covered in flowing spangly blue robes and wearing an enormous wave-like hat. The theme of the evening was "Water for Life" and she made sure we remembered that. At the second half, she came out covered with plastic water bottles and intoned over and over again, "Is this what you want? Is this what you want? Turn off the spigot of your tap and turn on the spigot of your heart!" The food was great, and we were among very honorable company as recipients of this award- we came right after Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates. I did the acceptance speech and here it is:

Acceptance Comments for the East Bay Chapter of the United Nations Citizen Award
Given to the Diocese of California

I am truly honored to accept this award on behalf of the Episcopal Diocese of California, Bishop Marc Handley Andrus and all the remarkable churches, youth groups and individuals who have done such wondrous work for the Millennium Development Goals. And thank you to the Water Goddess for making this such a Berkeley moment for me. There have been so many astonishing things happening in the diocese to support the MDGs that I am sorry I have time to lift up only a few, but here goes…

Bishop Marc, very early in his tenure as our Bishop created a diocesan committee on the MDGs. This has been beautifully chaired by the very versatile Rev. Shari Young. The impact of the work of this committee has radiated out like ripples of water not only through the Diocese of California, but all over the world. Churches have shifted their programming to reflect their commitment to the MDGs, they have gone solar, their outreach programs have blossomed and many churches have sent out missions to alleviate hunger and fight disease all over the world. Our own East Bay St. John’s church in Montclair under the leadership of the Rev. Scott Denman is a good example of this, having completed a youth mission trip to Puerto Rico this past year and continuing important mission work in Uganda and Tanzania.

Bishop Marc also created a committee to identify three dioceses to be in partnership with ours. This would be a partnership that would have mutual fulfillment of the MDGs as a major priority. One was to be in Latin America, one in Asia and one in Africa. I am proud to say that our own East Bay Rev. Ted Thompson was the one who ably chaired that committee and they recently identified the first of those three partner dioceses - the Diocese of Curitiba in Southern Brazil. It turns out that Curitiba is one of the greenest cities in the world, so we will learn as much from them as they will from us. I would also like to raise up the Church Divinity School of the Pacific for their innovative greening of the campus program, led by Jan O'Brien with the sage help of Dr. Marion Grau. And Kevin Jones of Holy Innocents, San Francisco, has created a database that is a veritable wikipedia of accountability of the progress made by our diocese with the MDGs. Our work has been mapped out so that we can see the consequences of the impact of every church in this diocese throughout the world.

There has been truly wonderful representation by the youth in the diocese. The youth group of the Rev. Ted Thompson’s own Christ Church in Alameda, led by Laura Toepfer, drafted a resolution for the California Diocese to urge all clergy and all churches to change AT LEAST one incandescent bulb for a compact florescent. This resolution passed almost unanimously just last Saturday, and I went home and replaced one of my light bulbs that very afternoon! Two East Bay youth groups have sent teams to New Orleans to repair the awful damage there and help the people who continue to suffer. St. Alban's Church in Albany sent 22 people, led by the indomitable Bobbi Ryan and Interim Rector, the Rev. Linda Campbell, and actually ran a camp for the children from the lower 9th ward. All Souls Parish in Berkeley sent a group of 18 hardy souls to clear debris and weeds from a huge field, pass out supplies to the needy and insulate the new houses that are being built. Many other youth groups have done many other marvelous things, in and out of the East Bay, from creating works of art to illustrate each MDG, ( the Youth Arts Academy) to making ceramic light switch plates, telling us to turn off our lights! These were sold, and the proceeds used for a solar panel fund for the youth group’s church- Our Saviour, Mill Valley.

But I have to say that the leadership for all this good work has been from Bishop Marc Handley Andrus. Since this is Berkeley, I would like to take a moment to try to impart to you the cosmic nature of Bishop Marc’s leadership. Perhaps the best way to do this is to describe the presentation that Bishop Marc has made whenever possible- at events, conferences and during a sermon. I refer to “The Cosmic Walk.” This is a tour through natural history, starting at the very beginning- the phenomenon of the Big Bang- or, as the Bishop calls it, "the great primordial flaring forth." A long rope is spiraled out on the ground, with the inside coil representing the beginning, delineating such landmarks as 12.5 billion years ago when stars and galaxies are born, 4 billion years ago when the oceans are formed, 2 billion years ago when oxygen-loving cells emerge, 600 million years ago when ecosystems emerge, right down to the emergence of human beings, and eventually, culminating with the creation of the MDGs. The Bishop saunters along the spiral, noting each landmark and honoring it by lighting a candle at each spot. The moment that stays with me the most is 540 million years ago when eyes emerge- the instant when the first amphibian raised its protruding eyes out of the water and, for the first time, that thing which was made from the earth was able to see. For the first time, earth sees itself.

I was taught to see the earth in an entirely new way when I took a course on the MDGs from Bishop Marc’s remarkable wife, Dr. Sheila Andrus. There were many transformative things I learned from that course, but here are two that have really stayed with me:

First, the brilliant feminist and ecological hero, Dr. Marion Grau came to talk, and she made an interesting confession. She said that she discovered that the work she had been doing was, in large part, fueled by anger that other people were not doing enough, or by guilt, that she was not doing enough. She came to realize that guilt and anger are not renewable energy sources, and like an incandescent light bulb, she was burning out. So to renew herself, she went to a great joyous Earth-day like festival in her native Germany, and she had a revelation: That she no longer needed to fuel her work with anger or with guilt, but with joy. Joy that she, in this short life, could do SOMETHING to reach these goals we are all talking about, and joy that there were so many people all over the world to do that something with!

After her talk, Bishop Marc showed up and immediately added another Millennium Development Goal- I guess when you are Bishop you get to do that. He added MDG #9: Peace and Reconciliation. And I hope that all of us will work for peace as well as the realization of all these goals. I hope we do something every single day, preferably out of joy, that will add in some small way to the realization of these outrageously optimistic, challenging and deeply possible goals. Thank you.
-The Rev. Este Gardner Cantor

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Giving Peace a Chance



























On Saturday Oct 27 a long-planned coalition peace march took place in San Francisco. There
were parallel marches all over the country, and although two other significant ones took place in LA and New York, the San Francisco march was by far the largest, at 10,000 marchers. For the San Francisco march, a coalition of 180 groups, including faith groups, students, labor, women’s groups and many more came together under one banner only: Stop the war in Iraq.

Bishop Marc decided that the Diocese of California should participate in the San Francisco march, and that we would gather at the Cathedral and march the short distance to the Civic Center where the masses were gathered. There was an unusual emphasis on including the faith community by the organizers of the march, and a large and moving interfaith service was held at Grace Cathedral Oct 25, to further that effort.

The Episcopalians met at Grace Cathedral at 10:00 and marched down to the Civic Center on a truly beautiful day for a march, singing all the way. We met an enormous crowd at the rally, which included a huge interfaith group- Buddhists, Quakers, Baptists, and many other denominations.

Our own Bishop Mark was one of about ten who addressed the crowd, and he spoke movingly about the importance of being witnesses to the deaths and injustice in Iraq, as the women by the cross and the beloved disciple had witnessed Jesus’ death. He spoke of the unreliability of the media, and the importance of telling our stories and of giving others a forum for telling theirs. He posed a question to the crowd: How many people know the number of Iraqis killed in the Gulf War? I saw no hands raised. He proposed we use whatever platforms we had to give voice to those not often heard, to learn information so often suppressed, and he mentioned the church as one likely forum.

After he spoke a burley man approached him and said repeatedly, “Are you the head of the church?” After the bishop clarified who he was, the man said wonderingly, “I’ve seen people who go to church here at these marches, but I have never seen the head of a church here!” The man shook the bishop’s hand. The other speakers were lively and loud and inspiring. Standouts were the always-irrepressible Code Pink, who led us in song, and a wonderful Philipino rapper named Kiwi who had everyone dancing.

We all marched together to Market Street where everyone laid down on the street for a short, legal, very affecting three-minute die-in- a demonstration of the loss of life we
hear so little about. Then we marched on to Dolores Park, remaining with the large faith contingent, and singing peace songs led by a spirited Quaker with a megaphone, a great spirit and a (self-described) awful voice. The spirits were high throughout the march. As usual the streets were lined with police and the helicopters flew overhead, reminding us again of the realities of war. Ten thousand people witnessed for peace that day, and the witnesses will keep on marching until the war is at an end. Join us.

Rev. Este Gardner Cantor

Come to the Visioning Day for Big Theological Fun!

The Visioning Day, at Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, is also billed as a time of conversation with our Bishop. this is a service and set of workshops designed to include the whole of the Diocese of California in visioning a way forward for the diocese. The workshops between the two liturgies include writing, music, art and theological reflection time and are open to all. Please try to make it- Not only adults, but children and youth as well! The order of service and of the day follows:

Holy Eucharist:Building the Beloved Community
Marin Deanery Visioning Day Oct 6, 2007

Prelude Ashe Ashe, Nigerian Traditional Guitar and Drum
The Gathering Rites:
Acclamation:
Presider: Alleluia, Christ has risen.
People: Christ has risen indeed. Alleluia

A Reading from Martin Luther King Jr. from Facing the Challenge of a New Age

Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation. …the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of [women and] men.”

The Word of God

A Collect for Community
Presider: May God be with you.
People: And also with you.
Presider: Let us pray.
It is through you, gracious God,
That your children find agape love,
the love of God that operates in human hearts.
the love of God that makes no distinction between friend and enemy
the love of God that never shrinks from justice
the overflowing, redeeming, groundless and creative love
which challenges, liberates and sustains us.
Oh God, give us this love always, that we may be at one with you
And walk the earth as brothers and sisters. Amen

The First Lesson 1 Chronicles 2-4, 7-13
David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, "Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. Then report back to me so that I may know how many there are."

But Joab replied, "May the Lord multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord's subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?"
The king's word, however, overruled Joab; so Joab left and went throughout Israel and then came back to Jerusalem. But God was displeased with this command, so He punished Israel.

Then David said to God, "I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing." The Lord said to Gad, David's seer, "Go and tell David, 'This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.' "

So Gad went to David and said to him, "This is what the Lord says: 'Take your choice: three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the Lord -days of plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord ravaging every part of Israel.' Now then, decide how I should answer the one who sent me."

David said to Gad, "I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men

Reader: Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people.
People: Thanks be to God


Psalm of the Beloved Community
Written by the Visioning Day Psalm Workshop May 5. 2007

All read together:

Give thanks to God who created the Beloved Community.

Y'all give to God love, thanks and praise.

Rappers and redwoods, designers and derelicts, tweakers and truckers;

Y'all give to God love, thanks and praise.

Commuters and kayakers, poppies and preachers, faults and fishers;

Y'all give to God love, thanks and praise.

Stoners and stockbrokers, cyclists and sandpipers, students and slammers;

Y'all give to God love, thanks and praise.

Sea lions and seals, cats and dogs, otters and owls;

Y'all give to God love, thanks and praise.

Drummers and dragons, Ohloni and Miwok, lovers and lunatics;

Y'all give to God love, thanks and praise.

Writers and runners, poets and pumpkins, Maoists and marshlands;

Y'all give to God love, thanks and praise.

May the Beloved Community be the net that gathers our hopes
dreams and prayers;

Y'all give to God love, thanks and praise.

May the Beloved Community be us.

Bless the Lord My Soul Taize

Bless the Lord my soul and bless God’s Holy name
Bless the Lord My Soul, who leads me into life

The Second Lesson The Revelation to John 7:9-12
After this I looked and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb!”
And all the angels stood around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing,
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and
thanksgiving and honor and power and might
be to our God forever and ever!”
Amen.

Reader: Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people
People: Thanks be to God

Sequence Hymn Come All You People Alexander Gondo

Come all you people, come and praise your Maker!
Come all you people, come and praise your Maker!
Come all you people, come and praise your Maker,
come now and worship the Lord.

Uyaimose, tinamate Mwari!
Uyaimose, tinamate, Mwari!
Uyaimose, tinamate, Mwari,
Uyaimose zvino.

The Holy Gospel Luke 2:1-7

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that all the world should be counted (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Gospeller: The Gospel of Christ.
People: Praise to you, O Christ.

Gospel Acclamation Creek Alleluiah

The Sermon The Right Reverend Marc H. Andrus

Confession New Zealand Prayer Book

Presider: Eternal Spirit, Living God,
We have wounded your Love
People: Oh God heal us.
Presider: We stumble in the darkness
People: Light of the world, transfigure us.
Presider: We forget that we are your home.
People: Spirit of God, dwell in us.

All:
Compassionate God,
we confess our weaknesses and our need
for your strengthening touch,
we confess that we do not always care for ourselves
or our world as we should.
we turn to you, source of life,
and ask in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ,
for the gifts of true healing and newness of life,
through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Amen

Presider:

May the God of love visit you in times of trial and weakness
and fill you with living water and newness of life, through Jesus Christ,
in the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

The Peace
Presider: May the peace, the justice and the love of God be always with you.
People: And also with you

Blessing of the Beloved Community

All remain standing to receive a blessing for the work of the Beloved Community:

Presider: On the third time that the risen Christ appeared to the disciples after he was
raised from the dead, he said to Simon Peter,

People: Feed my sheep

Presider: Then he said to him, Simon, son of John, do you love me? Peter said to him,
Yes Lord, you know that I love you. Jesus said to him,

People: Tend my lambs.

Presider: He said to him a third time, Simon, son of John, Do you love me? And Peter said
to him, Lord you know everything; you know that I love you. Jesus said to him,

People: Feed my sheep

Presider: How do you respond to this call?

People: We hear God’s call and we come to follow Christ; to feed the hungry, clothe the
naked, to visit the sick and to care for the suffering in this world.

Presider: May the blessing of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer be with you and lift
you up and give you strength and courage for this holy work now and always.
Amen

Announcements

Drum Solo by Michael Cobino
__________________________________________________________________________________

You are invited to join the workshops until the closing Eucharist.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Closing Eucharist


Opening hymn: Gather Us In Marty Haugen

Congregation remains standing for gathering liturgy.

AFTER HYMN HAS ENDED, BISHOP FACES THE CONGREGATION:

(DURING THE BELOW GATHERING LITURGY, THE PEOPLE PROCESS IN WITH THE NET OF PRAYERS.

Presider:

Gather us in Wild Goose Worship Group
the lost and the lonely,
the broken and breaking,
the tired and the aching
who long for nourishment
found at your feast.
People: GATHER US IN.

Presider: The done and the doubting
the wishing and wondering
the puzzled and pondering
who long for the company
found at your feast.
People: GATHER US IN.
Presider: The proud and the pretentious
the sure and the superior,
the never inferior,
who long for the leveling
found at your feast.
People: GATHER US IN.
Presider: The bright and the bustling,
the stirrers, the shakers,
the kind laughter-makers
who long for the deeper joys
found at your feast.
People: GATHER US IN.
Presider: From mansion or campsite
to meet, to eat,
to be offered a seat,
to be joined to the vine
to become like the least
to be found at the feast
People: GATHER US IN!

Presider: God is love and those who dwell in love dwell in God, and God dwells in them.

BISHOP INVITES CHILDREN TO GATHER ROUND ALTAR TO HELP BLESS THE BREAD
(DEACON Sets table)
Offertory Hymn Ubi Caritas Taize
Ubi caritas et amor, Ubi caritas Deus ibi est

BISHOP IS NOW BEHIND ALTAR
The Great Thanksgiving Wild Goose Worship Group
Presider May God be with you
People And also with you
Presider Lift up your hearts
People We lift them up to God
Presider Let us give thanks to God
People It is right to give God thanks and praise.

Presider:: …Therefore we gladly join our voices to the song of the Church
On earth or in heaven:
Sanctus- Plain Chant

Prayers of the People NEW PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE FROM WORKSHOP ARE READ

Presider: And now let us pray together:

Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver New Zealand Prayer Book
Source of all that is and all that shall be
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the people of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your reign of peace and freedom
Sustain our hope in haven and on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that speaks of death and not of life, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
Now and forever. Amen.

BREAKING OF THE BREAD
Fraction Anthem:
Acapella Fraction Anthem

The Communion

Presider: All who seek God are welcome at the table.

CHALLICE AND PATTENS GO TO THEIR PLACES

Music at Communion:

Peace Before Us

Post Communion Prayer Wild Goose Worship Group

All: Eternal Spirit, Living God, in whom we live and move and have our being,
all that we are, have been, and shall be is known to you,
to the very secrets of our hearts, and all that rises to trouble us.
Take us out to live as changed people
because we have shared the Living Bread and cannot remain the same.
Living flame, burn into us.
Cleansing wind, blow through us.
Fountain of water, well up within us,
that we may love and praise in deed and truth.
Amen
The Blessing
Live without fear; your Creator has made you Holy,
has always protected you, and loves you like a mother.
Go in peace to follow the good road, and
may the blessing of God, Creator, Liberator and Kindler of the Spirit
Be with you evermore,

Amen.

Post-Communion Hymn Syahamba

BISHOP AND ALTAR PARTY PROCESS OUT AND WAIT FOR THE DISMISSAL
Dismissal

Deacon: Let us go forth in the name of Christ, rejoicing in the power of the Beloved Community.
Alleluia, alleluia!
People: Thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia!
Post Lude Guitar and Drum
_______________________________________________________________________________

The first lesson is a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. from his December 3, 1956 Sermon: Facing the Challenge of a New Age. This was presented at the first annual address of the Institute on Non-violence and Social Change less than a month after the Supreme Court ruled the segregation of buses in Montgomery Alabama to be unconstitutional.

Participating Today:
Presiding: Bishop Marc Handley Andrus
Rev. Richard Helmer

Music:
Pete Feltman, guitar and vocals
Michael Cobina, drum


Small Group Facillitators:
Bruce Cozzi
Al Ferrano
Cathy Ferrano
Kathleen Von Fischer

Workshops:
Theological Reflection: Bruce Cozzi
Writing: The Rev. Carol Luther
Art: The Rev. Este Gardner Cantor

Monday, October 1, 2007

Rich Man Poor Man

Luke 16:19-31
Rev. Este Gardner Cantor
Preached Sept. 30, 2007
Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley

I had the pleasure of going to the Diocesan clergy conference with 200 other clergy folk from the Diocese of California this past week. There were many notable sages and prophets who gave us their words of wisdom. Our own Presiding Bishop, Kathryn Jefferts Schorri (the first openly female presiding bishop we have ever had!) was brilliant and moving and wise. Our own Bishop Marc Handley Andrus as ever, gave us a far-reaching cosmic view of creation and our responsibility to it.

But of all these prophetic luminaries, the one whose words stayed with me most was the fireball community activist, Marie Harris, a Baptist from Hunter’s Point in San Francisco.

Bishop Marc had e-mailed us several reams of reading material to slog through before the conference, and I managed about half of it. Fortunately, the half I read included the story of Marie Harris and the environmental victory of the community activists in Hunter’s Point/Bay View, the poorest and blackest section of the beautiful city of San Francisco. One reading introduced us to the complexities of "Environmental Justice" – the idea that health burdens and poor air quality and proximity to environmental hazards are disproportionately distributed by race and income. Although governmental agencies have begun to change policies to alleviate this injustice, it didn’t happen from a spontaneous burst of goodwill on the part of those in charge. It was the hard and faithful work of community organizers like Marie Harris combined with mounting evidence of their claims that caused the change.

The first thing Marie Harris pointed out was that the City of San Francisco is 49 miles square, and Bay View/Hunter’s Point is 2.5 miles square. In that 2.5 miles are all four of the power plants that reside in San Francisco. We, like the rich man whose table Lazarus the begger is huddling beneath, tend to be comfortable in our lifestyle, without realizing that the flames of hell are visited upon the residents of Hunters Point, Richmond and West Oakland, to name just our local regions of Hades.

The flames of hell are occurring right in their lifetime in the form of an industrial practice called “flaring.” When refineries want to burn off gas build-ups they let loose from the tops of their great smoke stacks vast plumes of flame, spewing forth pollution and illustrating in dramatically visual terms the reality of the environment these poor and minority people live in. And there are no refineries in affluent neighborhoods.

The flames of Hell come in the form of drastically elevated rates of cancer, asthma, and many other ailments. As Marie Harris put it, “You name it, we’ve got it.” The flames of Hell come in the form of infant mortality rates that no affluent neighborhood would ever tolerate. And the flames of Hell come in the form of a deafening silence on the part of the more prosperous city residents, who always seem to find the priorities of the poor their very last priority.

But like Lazarus, Marie Harris got her time in paradise, although she nearly died trying to get there. On May 15, 2006, Marie, along with many minority community members who had fought the system for 25 years, celebrated a glorious victory. PG&E had finally agreed to shut down one of California’s oldest and dirtiest power plants right there is Hunter’s Point. Another faithful organizer, Tessie Ester, was there celebrating with Marie. Like Lazarus looking at the faces of the angels carrying him to heaven she said, “When I look over at the those stacks and I see nothing coming out, I just can’t help but cry.”

Marie Harris is a modern version of Amos or Isaiah. She told us in no uncertain terms that now that we were aware of what was happening in Bay View Hinter’s point that she was now holding us morally responsible to do something about it- to help her, to join with her. She even made a connection between the high cancer rates in Bay View Hunter’s point, and the high cancer rates in Marin County. Marie said that it was in Hunter’s point that “Little Boy” the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was assembled. And that they stored the nuclear waste in steel drums and dropped them in the San Francisco Bay. The drums, she said, began after many years to drift up on the shores of Marin. So, as she said, we each share our own piece of Hell.

We can’t contain these flames of Hell in one area, even if we may want to.
It may seem, as our Gospel reads today that “A great chasm has been fixed” between the rich and the poor, between Hunter’s Point and Marin County. But no such chasm exists.

Bishop Marc, on the first night of the conference, laid out for us a fascinating presentation he has done many times before called “The Cosmic Walk.” A long rope was spiraled out on the ground, and candles were placed to delineate the great landmarks of creation- starting with the great flaring forth- the big bang, and ending with the advent of human history. Toward the end of this great spiral, we had the emergence of amphibians. As Bishop Marc said, the eye emerged from the sea and for the first time, the earth saw itself.

Today, we, as the earth are seeing ourselves again. What do we see?

We are all born the same- we bring nothing into this world, and we take nothing away, as Paul reminds us in our second reading. And I was struck, when I looked at Marie, with how rich she is. Rich in good works, certainly, but also rich in community, rich in passion, and because of her great charisma and passion, even rich in the blessings and success of her faithful efforts.

If we cannot listen to our modern day prophets, we may never hear the word from heaven that we need to hear. Father Abraham, in our reading of today tells the rich man that his brothers did not listen to Moses, who said, “Do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor” (Deut 15:7)

They did not listen to the prophet Isaiah, who said:

Is this not the fast I choose:
To loose the bonds of injustice
To undo the thongs of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free
To break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor to your house
When you see the naked to cover them
And not hide yourself from your own kin? (Isa 58: 6-7)

It is this last direction that seems to be the redemption of the rich man. In the end he begins to think of someone other than himself- his five brothers, also presumably rich men, oblivious to the needs of the poor, as he was. He realizes that they will meet the same fate that he has, if they are not warned. Abraham’s last words are that if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced if someone is raised from the dead.

But we, as Christians, presumably HAVE been convinced by someone who was raised from the dead. And Jesus echoes the words of Moses and Isaiah in so many passages.

There is no great chasm. Both the rich man and Lazarus suffer from diseases. Lazarus may have running sores, but the rich man has Affluenza. We all live in the same world, we all die.
But we can live in heaven or in hell while we do yet live.

At the end of Luke’s gospel we hear of two whose hearts were “strangely warmed” when they heard the stranger interpreting the scriptures for them. Then they recognized him in the breaking of the bread. If the rich man HAD followed the words of the prophets, if he had taken care of Lazarus and shared a meal with him, perhaps he would have seen the face of God who had long been a stranger to him.

Across the imaginary chasm are the strangers who are so like us. If we reach out to them, if we break bread with them, our lives will be changed, our hearts will be “strangely warmed,”
we may even be cured of our inner plague. We may even be able to bask guilt-free in the promises of our psalm:

You shall not be afraid of any terror by night
Nor of the arrow that flies by day
Of the plaque that stalks in the darkness
Nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day
Because God is bound to you in love.

Amen

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Heavy Laden

A Reflection on
Luke 12:32-40
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

We have heard some beautiful and some hair-raising things in our readings of this morning.

But there is an emerging theme that can only be good news for us slowly evolving Christians. The theme is perfect freedom. Jesus has been called our Passover- our Moses who leads us from slavery to freedom and our paschal lamb, causing death to pass over us that we might have abundant life. Jesus frees us from the death-like grip of our great burdens, not only of possessions and sins, but of our fears, our worries. And worry is simply a lack of faith.

"Do not be afraid, little flock." Jesus tells us in today's reading. But he goes into a lot more detail about those fears of ours in the passages just before. He goes into detail about the nature of perfect freedom: "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear." He points out that if God has clothed the lilies of the field in raiment more glorious than king Solomon, how much more will he clothe us- we of little faith.

We may not see those lily-like raiments, that field of ever-growing crops, that over-flowing table. But faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. With such affection, such fondness, Jesus calls us his little flock and tells us not to be afraid- not to worry, to have faith.

In our Old Testament reading, Isaiah thunders out the disgruntled word of the Lord. It seems an amazingly harsh and detailed liturgical critique on the part of God- God hates sacrifices, including burnt offerings of rams, blood of bulls or lambs or goats. The trampling of God's courts (God is talking about religious processions) and all offerings. And incense is to God an abomination, a viewpoint shared by some modern parishioners as well. The sacred and required festivals of the new moon and apparently all other appointed festivals are also hated by God. Most heart-breakingly of all, God even rejects the prayers of the people- the "stretching out of their hands." Because, as he says, your hands are full of blood.

Jesus later said to the law-obsessed Pharisees, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Isaiah is saying that if we don't wash our selves clean of our violent natures, cease to do evil, learn to do good, and seek justice, the most elaborately beautiful liturgy in the world is nothing but empty pomp. Apparently God wants us to be stripped down, essential, without pomp and circumstance, without pride and grandiosity. Another very similar liturgical critic was Amos who said, in the words of God, "Take away from me the music of your songs, I will not listen to the melody of your harps, but let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

In keeping with Jesus' conception of God as a loving father, he echoes these same thoughts in a kinder, gentler way. We are to be free of our justice-defying obsessions, but most of all, from our worries, our fears. But that freedom can never be ours unless we fulfill our obligation to the powerless, to justice. Jesus gently urges us away from those things that will not truly bring us salvation in this life or the next.

But too often, we seem to prefer to live in our comfortable slavery of property, dissention, violence, of being first, of being other than who we really are, which is all God wants of us. The rich young man who sought the Kingdom of Heaven was looked at lovingly by Jesus. Jesus wanted to free this young man, but was unable, for the time being. And so the young man walked away sad, and we are all walking away sad.

I was riding BART the other day and I saw another young man. I'm sure this was not a rich young man, but he was apparently not free of the all too common obsession with money and violence. He was wearing a black store-bought jacket with metallic gold logos all over the place. It's bad enough when the garment makes you a walking advertisement for the brand name, but this was much worse. I was so stunned when I read the logos that I discreetly jotted them down. They read: "Criminal Minded," "Most Wanted," "Get Rich or Die Trying," "Money, Power, Respect," "Blood Money," Road to Riches," Gotta be Thug," and most poignantly, "I was given this world, I didn't make it." This is the gospel taught to young people in our world right now. These are the violent and greedy impulses that are fostered. This is the level of anxiety that is maintained. The wearer of this jacket was not free. The culture we live in seems determined to bind us evermore tightly into our modern form of slavery. It encourages debt, greed, self-obsession, indeed, self-loathing if we don't fit the advertised norm. It encourages violence and narcissism, not justice and freedom. Can we be beacons in the world for our young people to show them that there is something more valuable than money, some way out of the necessity of blood sacrifices? Can we ourselves be willing to let go of our desperate, enslaved clinging to life as we must have it, at all costs?

Jesus wants us to travel light. "Come to me all you who travail and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." He wants us to be able to pass through, as he puts it a little later in Luke, that narrow door. But where are we without our possessions, without our fears and worries, without our regrets and obsessions, without our great and bulky lack of faith? It seems that we are hovering over a void that most of us will not want to enter- a gap we are loath to fall into.

Annie Dillard, in her glorious hymn to the natural world, "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek," says this:

Ezekiel condemns false prophets as those who have not 'gone up into the gaps.' The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit's one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time, like a once-blind man unbound."

In fact, whether we are willing to let go or not, what we are actually hovering over is nothing but the welcoming hands of God. Part and parcel of letting go is giving substance to our faith in God, providing ourselves with purses that will not grow old, even though we, in our great vulnerability, surely will.

In the beginning of Luke's gospel, the angel Gabriel asks the impossible of a young woman. But she proves herself able and willing to enter through that narrow door. "Here I am." She says. "The handmaiden of the Lord." And then the soul of this young woman does indeed expand to 'magnify the Lord."

Jesus wants to set us on fire, want to grow us up to the grand dimensions of the transformed mustard seed. He is the arsonist of transformation, and it is transformation, not security that he brings us. He is not only the fisher of women and men, but also the carpenter of that narrow door that he kindly invites us to enter. He calls to us whether or not we answer. "Stay awake- stay with me," he calls, urging us to keep our lamps lit, to keep our eyes open. He calls to us again and again, "Do not be afraid, little flock." It is your Father's good pleasure to free you- to give you the kingdom.

Amen

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Our Fathers- Not in Heaven

Genesis 18:22-33
Luke 11:1-13

In our wonderful reading from Genesis today, Abraham pleads for the fate of Sodom, that undeserving city, like a mischievous little child begging his father for some great favor. In six easy steps, he gets God to agree to have mercy even if there are only 10 good men in the whole city of Sodom. Abraham mirrors our own pleadings for God to answer our prayers, even as we sometimes feel there may be only ten percent at the most that is truly good in us. And yet still we ask, and we receive. God plays the part of the ever-forgiving father, forgiving of Abraham’s insolence in his constant bargaining and forgiving even of the corrupt city of Sodom. Abraham asks, asks and asks again, and he receives.

In Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus, rather than giving the disciples the magic words they seem to seek, teaches them about the nature of the one they are praying to, the nature of a perfect father.

In this prayer the hierarchy of a father is not the point. God is not introduced as “Our Father in heaven,” but simply as “Father.” We are so used to hearing God called “Our Father” that its meaning has been lost. But it was a very unusual way to address God at the time that Jesus did it. “Lord, King, glorious, Almighty, all-powerful,” these are the terms that would have been more familiar. And in fact, the doxology at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, which was added later, fulfills some of what Luke left out- “Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory”- but that was not there in the gospels. So the compassion, the limitless giving and forgiving of a father seems to be the point of the prayer, not God’s great power. God is like a father who would never refuse you what you need- the one you can ultimately rely on with never a doubt. The one who will protect you from trial, and the one who will always forgive you, no matter what.

This makes me reflect on what Jesus’ relationship with his earthly father might have been. At first thought, it might seem that Jesus had such a wonderful concept of God the Father because he had an extraordinary relationship with his own father, Joseph. Perhaps he was never disappointed, never deserted, perhaps his mistakes were always forgiven, perhaps he was always protected. Of course we will never know for sure, but what we do know is that Joseph was a human father, and human fathers are by definition, imperfect. And it may have been that Joseph’s beginnings with Jesus were not the of smoothest sort, as Jesus was, in a sense, a step child. We also know that Jesus never mentioned his father at all in the gospels, although Jesus’ rare references to earthly fathers are interesting.

Early in Jesus’ ministry, a young man approaches Jesus, wanting to follow him and be his disciple. He begs Jesus, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus says, “Follow me and let the dead bury the dead.” (Mt 8:21). And when criticizing the hierarchy of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus says, “Call no one your father on earth, for you have one father- the one in heaven.” He also tells his disciples, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wives and children, brothers and sisters and even life itself cannot be my disciple.”

Although Jesus does not mention his earthly father, Joseph was well known to the people Jesus preached to. They objected to Jesus getting above his raisin’s saying, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?" (Jn 6:42)

And in the gospel of John, in another scuffle with the Pharisees, Jesus confronts them with strong language saying, “You are from your father the devil and you choose to do your father’s desires. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature for he is a liar and the father of lies.” From these few examples, it seems possible at least that Jesus’ experience of earthly fathers was not entirely rosy.

The disciples ask Jesus for a special set prayer, one that would identify their faith from others- and they probably wanted one grander than the one Jesus delivered. Jesus gives them a prayer that stands in stark contrast to the one his father Joseph undoubtedly taught him as a boy- the ancient Hebrew Shema, drawn from Deuteronomy and Numbers. It was required that this prayer be chanted morning and night by all pious Jews and was specifically required to be taught to all children.

The simple, spare text of the Lord’s Prayer we read today seems almost comically brief, by contrast. It must have sounded something like this to Jesus’ disciples: “You want me to tell you how to pray? OK- pray like this: Dad, may your reign begin. Give us bread, forgive us, keep us from being tempted to do stupid things.” That’s it. There is not even an Amen.

In great contrast, the Shema, the prayer Jesus had recited since boyhood, goes on for paragraphs, and emphasizes keeping the Lord’s commandments, with very specific threats as to what will happen if you don’t. A very strict disciplinarian father God is depicted.

The blessings of the Lord; grain, wine and oil, and rain on your fields, are highly conditional on following the commandments. If the commandments are not kept, “The anger of the Lord will blaze against you and he will close up the heavens and you shall not have rain… and you shall perish from the good land the Lord has given you.”

This God is not the same loving father that Jesus describes- one who will forgive his child again and again. One who will always provide as a father will provide food to his child.

Psalm 85, a beautiful work probably penned by King David, seems to provide a bridge between the severity of God the father in the Shema and the compassion of the Father in the Lord’s Prayer.

The psalmist, cajoling God like Abraham did, recalls a time when God did forgive his people:

You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin.
You withdrew all your wrath;

Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation.

Paul’s letter to the Colossians refers to Christ in the most mystical and holy of terms:

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.

And then Paul shows us how this impacts on us as lowly, needy humans.
He says that since we have died and risen with Christ “we have come to fullness in him.”

Coming to fullness in him is knowing, having perfect faith that when you ask it shall be given to you; that if you seek, you shall find, and that if you knock the door will be opened to you. This is to know God as Jesus does, as a perfect father. We ask like a child, we seek like one who is lost, we knock, like one without shelter, but with all these desperate needs, we know we will be taken care of.

When we do manage to admit our vulnerability and get down on our knees and pray, what door is opened to us? It might not be the door we expect. But Jesus has a genius for opening things. When he opens that door, he opens our eyes to God, he opens our hearts, and he opens our minds, perhaps even to such an extent that when that open door reveals something that is God’s will and not our own we may grow to accept it.

We are all imperfect, needy, vulnerable, often lost, and we all need a father. But we all share the same fate of having human fathers, fathers who inevitably fail us in one way or another, fathers who may not have been ultimately forgiving. But Jesus opens our eyes to the possibility of having a father who will never forsake us- and who will always forgive us. And he opens our hearts to the possibility of forgiving our own erring fathers, as we would want them to forgive us.

Jesus seems to love us all the more for our great neediness and he even points out our small virtues- our tendency to care for and lovingly feed our children. As Jesus says, if even we can do that, how much more will our Father in heaven do. And if on occasion, we cannot even do that, if we can’t even be the father or the mother that we know we should be, we know there is still God’s infinite fatherly forgiveness and the chance to try again.

Amen.

An Ocean of Suffering by the Side of the Road

No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind: and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee

I begin today with this quote from our own divine Anglican divine, John Donne because after this past remarkable week, I am hearing it in a new way. I had heard that Sheila Andrus, wife of our own Bishop Marc, was teaching a class at my old seminary CDSP. So I took the plunge and found myself in seminary again, if only for the week. Throughout the course we studied, in exhaustive detail, the Millennium Development Goals that our diocese, as of the last convention, pledged to support. We saw films, heard countless statistics and stories and were graced with the presence of Bishop Marc and my favorite
seminary teacher the Eco-feminist scholar genius, Marion Grau. The great gift from Marion was the idea that you cold work toward these goals not out of guilt that you hadn’t done enough, and not out of anger that other people had not, but out of joyousness that you could do something. And she said to just start from wherever you are- if you are doing nothing, do something. If you are doing something, perhaps you could do a little more.
And the great gift from Bishop Marc was adding a ninth MDG- peace and reconciliation. So here are the Millennium Development Goals- with the newly added #9:

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
2. Achieve universal primary education for children.
3. Promote gender equality and empower women.
4. Reduce child mortality.
5. Improve maternal health.
6. Combat AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
7. Ensure environmental sustainability.
8. Create a global partnership for development.
9. Promote peace and reconciliation among all people.

The first thing we had to learn, as they put it, was how the world is today. In all the many stories we heard through the week there were startlingly depressing revelations, as well as some very hopeful ones. And although many countries were in dire straights, by far it was Africa that came through as a veritable ocean of suffering. The statistics are horrifying. There are 13 million AIDS orphans in Africa – as many as there are children under 5 years old in the United States.

The story that stayed with me the most was the story of Olivia, a twelve-year-old living in Africa who, after her father and her siblings died of AIDS, was the only one left to care for her mother. After her mother died in her arms, she had no one at all. By some streak of luck, she was discovered by an American governmental agency that had arrived to help. She was immediately recognized for her articulate and heart-rending ability to tell her story- thus her appearance in the film. She was asked to come to Washington to tell her story there, which she did, with great dignity, clarity and heart. She made a very strong impression and her appearance was instrumental in the increase in AIDS funding. Then she returned to Africa. She had been tested and it was discovered that she, too was HIV positive, and she began to sicken. The government worker who first found her was shown on film describing her own desperate efforts to get and pay for the medication that Olivia needed. The cost was $500 a month. The worker finally realized that the only way she could get the medication for Olivia was if she paid for it herself, which she was willing to do. But for Olivia it was too late. She had contracted meningitis and died soon after returning from Washington. She was a bright, beautiful and articulate girl, and she had given so much of herself to help so many people.

But there was also the story of Beatrice, another African Village girl, also bright and beautiful who was luckier. She too came from a desperately poor African family, living in a hut made out of salvaged materials. But Heifer International made their way to that village and they gave that girl a baby goat. Given our own parish’s involvement in buying a small flock of goats last year for Heifer International, this story was particularly heartening for me. The filmmakers stayed with this child for ten years, and so we first see footage of her as she lay sleeping with a silky little baby goat in her arms. Beatrice was an extraordinarily bright child and had long wanted to go to school, but there was no money in the family. Slowly, the family accumulated enough profit from the goat’s milk that they were able to send Beatrice to a local school. She began school at ten with absolutely no ability to read or write. But she dug in furiously and caught up with the other students, sometimes working all night to make up for lost time. She soon won a scholarship to a secondary school, and from there she earned a scholarship to an American college. We see her on the film beaming with pride, even as she describes the unbelievably cold winters in Connecticut. After graduation there was only one thing Beatrice wanted to do. She wanted to go back to Africa. We see an African ceremony in which a family that was previously gifted with a goat gives one of the off- spring to a new family. Beatrice, in celebratory African garb is asked by the interviewer what she wants to do with her life. “I want to start a school,” she said, “to make sure that children can get an education as I did. And I want to start an orphanage too.”

Finally, we heard the victorious story of Dr. Paul Farmer who has been working for two decades taking care of desperately sick AIDS patients in Haiti. Dr. Farmer constantly turned a deaf ear to arguments that giving expensive medications to the very poor was a waste of money, that they would be unable to understand how to take them properly, that for one reason or another, it was not cost-effective. He proved those arguments wrong, and real progress was made through his tireless efforts. As he puts it: “A decade of prevention plus treatment plus addressing social issues equals success, weather we measure success by AIDS mortality, numbers of new infections prevented, or numbers of patients who receive their first real dose of primary health care.” We saw images of Joseph Jeune, a 26 year old who was weak and skeletal, and looked like so many others on their way to death. But because Joseph was able to receive anti-viral therapy, we see him in the next image robust and smiling, holding his healthy infant son. He is now an activist for AIDS relief and in the last image we see him speaking before a health and human rights conference. Wonderful progress was made but there are still far, far too many tragic stories, far too few people to help. Dr. Farmer, like so many courageous workers we learned about this past week embraced a sector of humanity that was far from his own tribe, far from where he had grown up, far from people he might consider his neighbors.

In our gospel reading for today Jesus tries to give us a different sense of what a tribe, what a neighbor might be.

“Who is my neighbor?” This was the second question posed to Jesus by the curious lawyer in our Gospel story. It is a very good question, and one that requires Jesus to tell the famous story. The priest and the Levite leave the poor man bleeding by the side of the road. It may have been less pure heartlessness than a faithful keeping to the purity codes- as an observant Jew; one could not legally touch anyone who was bleeding. But it was a Samaritan, one of the tribes that the Hebrews despised most, who came to the aid of this fallen Jew. Jesus tells the story of one who took the risk of reaching out to help, to bind the wounds of someone of another tribe.

This is how we, as Christians, have been told to recognize our neighbor: The one who is outcast, the one who is rejected, the one who is suffering and being ignored again and again.

Africa lies bleeding by the side of the road, and countries and peoples and nations are passing her by. She is not of our tribe, but she is surely our neighbor.

The last thing Jesus says makes it plain that he has hope for the lawyer whose first question was what is the recipe for eternal life. Eternal life is that quality of life that shows mercy to those in need. Jesus is talking about mercy, and mercy pays no attention to class or tribe or race or religion or region. At last, Jesus refers to the selfless act of the Good Samaritan and he says, “Go and do likewise,” We can all take heart at this last phrase. Perhaps we too might transcend our tribal nature, our allergy to compassion, our primitive self-protection. Our neighbor lies bleeding, and we can help her. Another question arises- one that we might ask ourselves- Will we pass her by?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

When Would Jesus March? Sat. Oct 27!!!

Join the October 27 Coalition to be part of a Mass March - Saturday Oct 27th- March to STOP THE IRAQI WAR NOW!

I have been very lucky to attend two rensformative events these past few months- a conference on reconcilliation in LA in May and a week long course on the Millenium Development Goals. (See my post "An Ocean of Suffering by the Side of the Road)

Both of these experiences have strengthened my impression of what it is to be Christ's hands and heart in the world. And it is much more that showing up for church and even much more than paying your pledge. I think we need to show up for compassion and to show up for peace.

There can be no more succinct anti-war slogan than: Love your enemies." For those who beleive that Politcs and religion should not mix, I quote Father Thomas Merton, a Roman Catholic monastic and mystic:

"For Ghandi, strange as it may seem to us, political action had to be, by its very existance, holy and non-violent." Let us follow his lead.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Commuting to the Promised Land

I work in Mill Valley and I live in Berkeley. So I have a similar live/work trajectory as many of those who work in the houses of Mill Valley (as gardeners, maids and nannies) and live in Richmond, or even San Rafael. I had been commuting by car for almost a year when the call of An Inconvenient Truth got to me and I began to explore ways to get to my job by public transportation. The solution seemed easy- there was a Richmond stop on the BART system that was just a hop skip and a jump from the Richmond Bridge and Marin. But when I tried to navigate this, I found the following: In the first place, I noticed, as I got on my Richmond-bound train from the Berkeley station, that NO ONE was going toward Richmond at 8:00 in the morning. Hordes were going to San Francisco. Clearly I did not have a typical morning commute.

Then, when I arrived at the end of the Richmond line, I found that the bus to San Rafael only came every half hour. I waited for the bus with my fellow immigrants, and when it finally came, I paid $3.60 (steep for a bus ride) and got on. It was now an hour since I had left home. We traveled for 45 minutes across the Richmond Bridge in comfortable seats. I was one of three Caucasians on the crowded bus. As I sat on the bus I began to type this entry and got so absorbed that my purse fell out into the aisle without my noticing it. Three good Samaritans quickly picked it up and asked if it was mine. Once we were over the San Rafael Bridge, we drove along a sort of limbo-like freeway by the freeway, so that we could stop at every stop- A BART line, if one existed, would have been much faster. We wound around industrial areas and huge piles of gravel, industrial park wastelands. There were Hispanic immigrants, hundreds of them, sitting on the street, leaning on lampposts and trees, and even lying in the sun all along the main road, hoping to be picked up as day laborers. We arrived in San Rafael, at 9:25- 40 minutes from the time I boarded in Richmond. Mercifully, the number 19 bus, which goes (indirectly) to Mill Valley, was standing at the station. After a five-minute wait I boarded with a flood of immigrants. The bus was filled with the lively sounds of Spanish conversation- punctuated by English: “No way!” or “You gotta be kidding!” Reminding me of the superiority of the speakers- bi-lingual, unlike me.

The man getting on the bus immediately in from of me carried a bucket and squeegees for cleaning windows. Most of the rest of the passengers were small Hispanic women. Domestic workers, dressed for non-clerical work with sensible shoes and lunchboxes. A young woman got on the bus and sat next to me. She said she worked in a clothing store in Mill Valley and only took the bus because her car was in the shop. This bus, she said, only comes once every hour and it stops running at 8:00 PM. No Mill Valley nightlife for those residents of San Rafael who need to ride public transportation. Even the route to Mill Valley from San Rafael, which takes 10 minutes by car, was incredibly labyrinthine. Instead of turning toward Mill Valley as we passed it, the bus snakes around many stops before finally arriving at the Mill Valley station- 30 minutes later. All told my commute was 2 and a quarter hours from Berkeley to Mill Valley, and an hour and 45 minutes of that had been from Richmond to Mill Valley. You have the same situation trying to come to Mill Valley from San Francisco- BART and a two bus commute.

I know from talking to one of the parishioners at my church that if you have the opposite commute, you have a much easier time of it. If you live in Mill Valley and work in San Francisco, you can get a bus directly from the Bookstore Depot right in Mill Valley to your destination in the Financial District. But there is no direct bus for the worker wishing to get from San Francisco to Mill Valley in the morning. They have to go through Marin City and wait God knows how long for the next bus to Mill Valley. And the unlucky worker who lives in the East Bay must take BART, then a bus, then another bus and spend $10.00 a day.

As I staggered off the bus at my Mill Valley destination, I realized that I hadn’t had breakfast in my rush to get out the door and get to BART on time. So, a little guiltily, I went into the Depot CafĂ© Bookstore and waited in line for some breakfast. Behind the counter I saw several Hispanic workers- they had probably caught the bus from San Rafael that came an hour before mine.

A blond woman right before me in line was holding a huge muffin and explaining that she would have to return it because her three year old would not accept a “broken muffin.” The muffin had merely been separated from its sister muffin in the baking tin and thus had a slightly rough edge. The woman behind the counter smiled patiently and carefully picked from among the remaining muffins with a pair of tongs to see if there was one that appeared unbroken. “Not that one- that one over there looks better,” said the customer. The muffin wrangler smiled indulgently and finally managed to the get the appropriate muffin out of the case without (God forbid) actually breaking any of the surviving muffins. I saw her sonn after on her break- eating the previously handled “broken” muffin.

When it came my turn I ordered my breakfast and then said, “I came on the San Rafael bus- I can’t believe they come only once an hour!” The woman looked at me with the same patient expression on her face and got my breakfast- a poppy seed bagel- un-broken.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

“Burn That Dress!” and Other Harrowing Tales of Holy Communion

My father was an atheist when I was first confirmed and so I assumed he would not be able to take communion with the family, as he had been neither baptized or confirmed, as far as he knew. But we had an extraordinarily liberal parish (this was the 60’s) and he was welcomed forward to the table with the rest of us. This meant a lot to me as a kid. In my adult second coming as a church goer, my Jewish husband was, of course, banned from taking communion being, as he was, the same religion as Jesus. With a little energetic lobbying from myself, however, my former parish priest was convinced to open the communion table, and my husband began to take communion, and had a very powerful experience, leading to his baptism.

On the other end of the scale my present priest went to Japan and was “carded at the rail.” In a VERY conservative Japanese Anglican church, they wanted to make good and sure that he was, indeed, a baptized Christian. Asked him right there. Read all about it in his blog, http://caughtbythelight.blogspot.com/2007/06carded-at-rail.html There is also a very balanced essay on the question of Communion before baptism at zwischensein.blogspot.com/2007/06/cwob-communion-without-baptizm.html
But today I heard a story of Holy Communion that takes even beats that. A woman was taking the communion wine and spilled some on her dress. As she shook the hand of the priest, preparing to leave, he said, with deadly seriousness, “You know, you must burn that dress when you get home. You can’t send the blood of Christ to the dry cleaners.” This style of piety probably accounted for the low church attendance and the lack of church growth in that particular parish.

In deciding who gets to take communion, finding the line between “anybody off the street who wants a slug of wine” and only the baptized and confirmed is a ticklish one. But there is no doubt about whom Jesus welcomed to his table. Everyone. The more despised and rejected the better. Who was more despised than prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors? He welcomed them all and he absolutely scandalized the righteous Jews of his day by doing it. The sacramentalization of our Lord’s Supper should not, in my opinion get in the way of this mission. “Feed my sheep,” Jesus begged Peter at the very end of the Gospel of John. “If you love me, feed my sheep.” He didn’t say, “feed my Baptized Christian sheep," because, for one thing, Christians did not exist yet, but much more importantly because, as he said, he was sent for the “lost sheep”- and the lost sheep of Israel at that- those who needed him most.

"And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this they said to his disciples [were they afraid to ask Jesus directly?] ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when Jesus heard this he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means. ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’"

This is a quote from Hosea, (6.6) who, like his contemporary, Amos, blasted the religious practices of the Northern Kingdom which emphasized purity at the expense of justice. The whole quote goes, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice. The knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Jesus continues. “For I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.” (Mt 9:11-13)

Was Jesus echoing Hosea, cautioning the Pharisees not to put piety before compassion? Probably. It is incumbent on us, anyhow to “Go and learn what this means.” I don’t think it means exclusion from the table.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Elegy for Ellie

Church of Our Saviour, June 13, 2007

I knew Ellie Leach for less than a year, but she made quite an impression on me, as she did on everyone. It was my pleasure to see her not only every Sunday at church, but she also came to almost every single bible study and Eucharist on Wednesday mornings here at Our Saviour. She really seemed to love the bible study after the service, and even with her greatly limiting disability, she would sometimes explode with enthusiasm when some particularly apt theological point was made. “BINGO!” She would cry, punching the air with her fist. I haven’t been a priest for very long but this is the first time I had heard “bingo!” used for “Amen!” But we all understood what she meant. And her daughter told me that on the way home after bible study she could hardly hold her excitement and would sometimes say “fassssinating!”

But language for Ellie was a unique and unpredictable thing. Because of the strokes she suffered when only in her fifties (in other words, in the bloom of youth) she had to be especially inventive and expressive to get her meaning across. She had a favorite all-purpose word, “peedo” which according to her family could mean almost anything depending on the inflection. It could mean, “Boy are you in trouble” or “Oh wonderful!”

I always loved to look at Ellie. She was always beautiful and beautifully groomed. I loved to tell her so for two reasons: First, it was true, and secondly I loved to see that beautiful smiled grow even wider when she heard the complement. But I always saw a certain mischievousness in that smile that I didn’t understand until just lately. Her daughter recently told me that early in Ellie’s time of speechlessness, neighbors or friends would sometimes over-estimate her disability and tell her things they assumed she could never repeat. But she developed a brilliant revenue of charade and pantomime gestures that enabled her to tell elaborate and apparently sometimes rather juicy stories when she wanted to. People soon realized that it was her power of speech, not her power of communication that was impaired.

Ellie not only was beautiful, but she adored beautiful things. She loved flowers and was quite a skilled arranger of flowers up until quite recently. Porter told me that her table was always set not only flowers but a runner and always with candles. She loved to place candles everywhere, especially on windowsills and once Porter counted 100 candles that she had arranged in a vacation house. Clearly she seemed to feel it was better to light at least one (if not 100) candles than to curse the darkness.

Another of Ellie’s passions and probably her major one, was childhood education. After years of working as a kindergarten teacher, Ellie started a preschool at St. Matthew church in the Pacific Palisades, starting with 25 students that is now a thriving concern and has a building named after Ellie. The last service Ellie attended at Church of Our Saviour was a Community Sunday, when all the children join us. She loved to see the children come up to the altar and take part in the service. I remember giving her communion that day, because I always remember giving her communion. She was an unforgettable presence.

The marriage of Ellie and Porter was truly one that was made in heaven. They were married for 67 years. The groom is 92 now, and the bride turned 89 last Nov. 7 or 8; the date of her birth is uncertain because, as her mother told her, the doctor was drunk. But we give thanks that that doctor did successfully delivered into this world on Nov 7 or 8th 1918, and that she married her soul mate on April 13, 1940, a date we are certain of. As Porter said to me, “We just fit.”

When I visited Ellie in the hospital with her family gathered all around her, that dearness still radiated from her. She was completely still except for her breath, but that sweetness came through anyhow. I was reminded, in that stillness, of a chrysalis just waiting for the spirit to burst forth like a butterfly. About an hour after I left that spirit did burst forth and her daughters and grandchildren and even a great-granddaughter were there with her. What a life she lived. She will remain in the hearts of all who knew and loved her at this church and in the hearts of so many others who loved her. God bless you Ellie, and may flights of angels sing you to your rest.

Amen.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Mother's Day; Mother, the hour has come...

Mother's Day Sermon,
The Rev. Este Gardner Cantor

Mother, the hour has come; glorify your daughter so that the daughter may glorify you. Amen.

This is a plausible prayer for Mother's Day. Perhaps one that a daughter might pray to a mother in heaven at the hour that the daughter first gives birth. I think I prayed a prayer something like that like that when my daughter was born. I prayed for courage after 31 hours of labor that culminated in the glorious birth of my first daughter.

If you are a mother, there's nothing I can tell you about being a mother that you don't already know. If you are not a mother, then maybe you will do what I am going to do today. Maybe you will reminisce about your own mother. Maybe you will recall her in all her short-comings and all her glory.

When I think about how the Holy Spirit worked through my mother to bring me into the Episcopal church, I picture it like this. In the beginning, the Spirit of God moved over the face of the deep and chlorinated waters of the Indian Springs country club in rural Maryland. She then glided over the shallow end and kept moving until she rested on the sun-tanned face of Babs Warren, who immediately removed her sunglasses and sat bolt upright. She turned to the sunbathing figure of my mother lying next to her and proclaimed, "Joan! I've been meaning to tell you about this neat little church I've started going to! St. Michael and All Angels Church over in Adelphi!"

The next Sunday my mother took me there. She didn't say I had to go. She never said I had to go. She would just put on some great-looking little suit and say, "I'm going to church. Wanta go?" I did want to go. I always wanted to go. I had never set foot in a church until I was 8 years old so it was strange, fascinating and exotic to me. Since I was a girl I could not, of course, be an acolyte like my brother, but I did everything I could do. I joined the choir, I went to Sunday school, I performed in the variety shows. I went to the pot lucks. After a while my mother got confirmed and I asked her if I could do that. She told me that I had to be baptized first, and I was all for that. And so I was baptized on Easter Even in April of 1962, and a week later I was confirmed by Bishop William Creighton.

My mother had purchased a beautiful white lacy dress for the confirmation. This purchase caused a screaming fight between my mother and father, so the dress must have been really expensive. My father boycotted the confirmation event, probably because of the dress. But I had the satisfaction of watching my priest, Don Seaton, storm into our apartment without knocking on the afternoon of my confirmation. He shouted at my father, who had been reclining on an easy chair, "Where the hell were you this morning, Dave Gardner?" I was thrilled. My mother had extraordinarily high boundaries when it came to church work. She never joined the choir. I never saw her enter the church kitchen. She was never on the altar guild. Never even taught Sunday school. And for years she never joined a committee. I later realized that as the daughter of a preacher she felt she had done her time as far as church work was concerned all through her childhood and youth. But she was in those pews every Sunday, and finally, there came a time when she did join a committee.

My mother not only introduced me to the Episcopal church, she also introduced me to social justice. In the sixties the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity was very active in the civil rights movement, and St. Michael and All Angels became involved too. This was the committee that my mother finally joined. Groups from the church would go out and participate in civil rights demonstrations which Mother, however, felt were too dangerous for me to go to. But I remember joining my mother and a group from St. Michael's to picket a housing development in rural Maryland called the "Belle Aire Estates." They cluelessly advertised the fact that they would admit no black families to their housing developments. At twelve years old I walked proudly behind my mother in the picket line, carrying a placard and miming her obliviousness to the rude comments that were hurled in our direction.

In August 1963 the March on Washington was being organized and I begged to go. But in many quarters it was feared that the march would be a bloodbath, as so many marches had been in the South, and so my mother forbade me to go. Not many people in our church had the courage to go to that march, but my mother was one of them. She got to hear the "I Have a Dream" speech by Martin Luther King Jr., and all I got was this lousy bulletin from the march. It was clear from the remarks on the bulletin that the organizers expected the march might be violent as well. It read in part, "We call upon all marchers, black and white to resist all provocations to disorder and violence." The march, of course was a peaceful and history-making event.

My mother was also before her time in her support of the support gay rights, although she wouldn't have called it that. When I was five years old, she worked as an Arthur Murray's Dance Studio instructor. I loved this cool new job my mother had, and I loved watching her dance in her gauzy formal gowns. I noticed right away that most of her co-workers were good-looking young men who dressed extremely well. And they all seemed to pair off socially. When I asked her about this she told me that the reason they liked each other so much and were not married was because they were gay. And that's also why they are so much fun, she added, I agreed completely.

The advent of the sixties seemed to suit my mother really well. In one of St. Michael's infamous floor shows, she organized a group of women to do a modern dance as beatniks. Dressed in black tights, long black turtlenecks and berets, they did a slow and Jules Feiffer-like modern Dance while they intoned the nursery rhyme, "Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot, nine days old" My mother looked great in tights, and she was aware of this.

My mother, through St. Michael's church, also introduced me to pastoral care. We would frequently drive out with the church group to orphanages or half-way houses for youth to play with the children there. I clearly remember my mother sitting on the sidewalk with a few of the girls from the half way house, playing jacks and laughing.

After I left home my parents separated and my mother moved out of the suburbs and into a breathtakingly dangerous neighborhood. She immediately made friends with her neighbors and allowed the children of the neighborhood to have the run of her small apartment, often feeding them or giving them small gifts. She was not tempted to move out of the neighborhood even when her apartment was, predictably enough, burglarized. Finally, one of her neighbors was murdered and her family insisted that she move into a safer area. So she moved directly across the street from Christ's church in a slightly safer part of town, as if to say that this was all the protection she needed.

Like many great women and men in history, my mother's courage and virtues did not always extend to her duties as a mother. But she had no patience for my complaints. She seems to lack the guilt gene that I inherited so strikingly. In answer to my protests about her neglect or her dishonesty, she would exclaim with great incredulity, "Oh, give me a break!" When pushed she might finally say, "Mea Culpa! Mea Culpa! All right?"

By the time I was 24, which was the year she died, I had decided that her manifold sins and wickedness were beyond my powers of forgiveness. We were barely on speaking terms. I was in art school at the time, painting large silver cubes or something. When she ventured that she couldn't see that there would be any money in that, I took it as proof of her great, sabotaging lack of faith in me. Then, miraculously, a week before she died, she heard me being interviewed on the radio for a show I was in. The next time I saw her, which was the last time I ever saw her, she embraced me and told me how proud she was of me – that she was glad I was doing what I really wanted to do, and was sure I would succeed. This exchange was so utterly uncharacteristic of her, that I don't think I uttered a word in response. Luckily I did return her embrace.

My mother brought me back to the Episcopal church again, twenty-some years later, when my long suppressed mourning for her reached a fever pitch, and going to church was the only thing I could think of doing. Over the years, especially as I have been on the rocky path to holy orders, I have thought about her a lot. Sometimes, when I am sitting in the front row of a service that has particularly low attendance (Christmas day, for instance, or Thanksgiving ) I realize that contrary to appearances, I am not sitting all alone on that pew. I can sometimes feel her presence very palpably at those times, sitting right next to me in one of those great little suits.

I have been preaching about my mother from my very first sermon, and as you can see, it's still all about her. I feel sure that she will be with me as I celebrate with my family, and without her. But you can be my witnesses today, on this Mother's Day, that at least in part, what I have done I have done to glorify my mother in heaven, so that she just might shed some of her glory on me.

Amen.