Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Sea of Galilee

Today we made our way to the Sea of Galilee, and ultimately to Nof Ginosar Hotel where we will be spending two nights. Along the way we stopped in Shefa'amr where we visited an active Episcopal congregation and mosque, as well as a synagogue which closed decades ago when the last Jewish family left town.

We ended up at the Mount of the Beatitudes and in Capernaum before arriving at our hotel, places where I've now come for the fourth time. They are extraordinary places, but since I've posted on these places before, I'll simply refer you to a couple of posts from 2010 and 2016, here and here.

I'll simply add that as previously stated, I find the "Lake" to be comforting and even familiar place. The Mount of the Beatitudes reminds me of the "core values" at the heart of Jesus' teachings. There one remembers to consider the flowers and the birds, and it's not hard to do since it is an aesthetically lovely place. There one remembers that those who follow Jesus are called to become more and more a community that blesses peacemakers, and the merciful, and those who mourn and those who are hungry. Always this has been a counter-cultural calling but right now the state of our union seems to suggest it is more important than ever.

But as I review the day, and count my many blessings for this unique interfaith pilgrimage, I am most grateful that today is Tu B'Shavat, a kind of Jewish arbor day. It is a holiday that came to symbolize (especially during the diaspora) the connection between the Jewish people and the land. And so today we each planted a tree through the Jewish National Fund. We offered a prayer before doing so, beseeching God to "give dew for a blessing and cause beneficent rains to fall in their season..." 

In so doing, I was mindful of a prayer and a poem from my own tradition. The first is a prayer sometimes (inaccurately) attributed to Oscar Romero, about taking the long view. That prayer suggests that our work is to plant seeds and not worry too much about controlling the outcome. We technically didn't plant seeds today, but saplings; but close enough! The point still holds. People who plant trees are not looking for immediate gratification. They entrust the future to God and they pray that their children and grandchildren might live to see a better world.

This leads me to one of my very favorite poems, Wendell Berry's Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, which I tried to remember from memory (and recalled a fair amount of it) while I was planting my tree. One of the great stanzas in that poem  goes like this
Ask the questions that have no answers. Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias. Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest. Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mold. Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
It seems to me that taking the time to cultivate interfaith relationships - or any relationship at all - and taking the time to consider the birds and the flowers or to plant a tree or to share a meal with someone or to walk by the lake is all of one piece. Most days I know this, but some days there is more clarity than others.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Galilee Mosaic

I want to avoid making too many judgments by comparing and contrasting this time with my previous visits to Israel. Each visit stands on its own, and I am grateful for them all. But it does help (me, at least) to reflect on what is new and different, even while embracing the lessons learned in each pilgrimage.

Today's itinerary focused on a Galilee Mosaic. It included the following: exploring Mt. Carmel, Bahai Gardens, , Muhraqa, Megiddo, a mikveh (where, at a local kibbutz, one of our fellow pilgrims reaffirmed the conversion she made to Judaism fifty years ago) and dinner in a Druze home.

If you needed to click on all or most of those links to understand what I did today, don't feel too badly. I've been ordained for three decades and most of it was pretty new to me. And oh yes, it's my fourth time in Israel.

While there may be much more to say, here is where a contrast helps. My two most recent pilgrimages were both focused on the life and ministry and ultimately death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, a first-century Jew. In "my Galilee" we were focused on Capernaum, where Jesus delivered his first sermon, and the Sea of Galilee, where he called his disciples. We will see both of those tomorrow. We also spent some time in Nazareth, Jesus' "hometown," in  both of my previous visits. Today we made a brief stop "on the way."

But I got to see a much larger context today and in both directions historically from Jesus - both to times much earlier than Jesus as well as getting a sense of modern Israel. This "Galilee Mosaic" was precisely that. And both experiences matter to me; I'm grateful to be here and have this time not be a repeat.

But they are different. And that makes it more real. If I were to show you the Worcester County I love in a few days, a Worcester Mosaic - it would undoubtedly be different from the places a millennial woman of color might take you. So there is a richness to today that I end the day feeling very grateful for.

One of the reasons I'm here is that I've been teaching in the Worcester Institute for Senior Education (WISE) for many years now; close to two decades in fact. Most recently I taught a course with my co-leader on this trip, Rabbi Aviva, on "Fifty Shades of Genesis." As a preacher and teacher I've always been interested in making the Old Testament texts come to life for the people among whom I've served - people who too often have been taught too little about why the Old Testament matters for Christian faith.

With the Revs. Meredyth Ward, Nancy Stroud,
and Elijah
So being on Mount Carmel today and remembering the story of Elijah as told in First Kings 18 was a good reminder to me of this commitment. Before Elijah ever gets into that cave (that he has run to for fear of his life!) to hear the sound of sheer silence, or the still small voice, he takes on the prophets of Baal. It doesn't end well for those prophets. It's the kind of story that Christians are tempted to resist - the kind of story that confirms the Old Testament seems to be about "a god of wrath."

But in many ways, trash-talking Elijah bragging about how "his god is better than their god" is unfortunately not exactly "ancient" history. We live in polarized times, when the kind of work we are here to do as Christians and Jews (encountering not just each other, but Bahais and Druze and Muslims) is so very difficult.

In one sense. In another, it's not hard at all. It's the same as it ever was. Yet again, at table, the sounds we heard were filled with laughter and joy and wonder as we shared a kosher meal in a Druze home, speaking with one another about parts of faith that we often take for granted. Episcopalians trying to answer the question of what makes us different from other Christians. And Jews talking about the waters of a mikveh ceremony that sound, to Christian ears, an awful lot like the waters of Baptism (except that you aren't limited to just one time with a mikveh.)

As Bono sings, "we're one...we're not the same, but we get to carry each other." Listening and learning - expanding our horizons - being patient and kind with both holy curiosity and holy envy, it was another very good day.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Worcester Interfaith Pilgrimage, Day One

"Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside." (Acts 10:5-6)

Along with my traveling companions, we safely arrived today on a direct flight from Logan Airport in Boston to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. We are a rabbi and a priest with twelve others from the Jewish and Christian traditions. (Actually two of the Christians are also priests, so in truth it's three priests, a rabbi, and...) This is my fourth time in the holy land and the third in the past decade or so after a spring break trip with a college friend in 1983. The last two pilgrimages have been well-documented in this blog, with countless photos and reflections. My previous pilgrimages have focused on Jesus, and key moments of his life, ever aware of his Jewish context. But this pilgrimage will include places I've not seen before as well as the opportunity to return to some places that I expect I'll see with new eyes. It comes at an important moment in my own life journey, although in truth I think they are all important moments. Sometimes we are just more aware.

We are at the very beginning of this interfaith pilgrimage. And each new beginning holds within it the seeds of possibility for transformation. We had a recovery day after a ten-hour overnight flight, but our first stop was promising. We stopped in Joppa - the place where Jonah got on a boat for Tarshish. And also the place where St. Peter was staying in Acts 10, with Simon the tanner.

There is a lot going on in Acts 10. (You can read about it here.) One could argue that it is in fact the place where the early Jesus movement began to diverge from Judaism to become a Gentile religion: Peter's vision and subsequent lunch meeting with Cornelius changes everything. It's a pivotal moment in Acts and in the life of the early Church. Moreover, it's from there that word begins to spread around the Mediterranean to places like Corinth and Ephesus and Philippi and Rome.

We finished our day with a shared meal together, gathered around a table, Christians and Jews. A lot can happen when people share a meal together. Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Fishing Tale

On this Third Sunday after Epiphany, I am once again at All Saints Church in Worcester. The readings for the day, including the reading from Jonah, can be found here.

Jonah was a prophet, but he never really got it. (Sad but true!)

The Word of the Lord came to Jonah, as it has come to God’s people throughout the Bible and down through the ages: to Abraham and Sarah, to Moses and Miriam and to Joshua the son of Nun and Rahab the prostitute; to Samuel and Jeremiah and Deborah and Esther and Mary Magdalene and as we just heard in this gospel reading, Simon Peter and Andrew and the Zebedee boys. Each of them, and each of us, called by name by the living God.  

The Bible doesn’t give us a lot of specifics about how that call became clear to any of them or how you develop ears to hear “the Word of the Lord.” But I’ve noticed two things that seem to be consistent throughout the Biblical narrative and down to present day, even when people come to the Commission on Ministry looking for some guidance in discerning God’s call:

(1)   It is impossible to hear God if you are doing all of the talking, so you need to learn how to be quiet and listen, not just to God but other people;
(2)   God is very likely to push you out of your comfort zone and ask you to take a risk that you feel ill-prepared for.

If the call is persistent and if it makes you feel a little bit queasy, then it’s more likely than not that it is from God. On the other hand, if it makes you feel more important or more special or holier than anyone else – if it’s an attempt to get attention you would not otherwise receive – then it is more likely your own ego needs. Sorting through all of that is what the church calls “discernment.” God has this knack of using inadequate people to do impossible work. Again and again, the history of the Church is the still-unfolding story of God working in and through ordinary people to do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

So, back to this fishing tale: the Word of the Lord came to Jonah: go at once to Nineveh, that great city, to proclaim God’s judgment there. But Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. So he got on a boat and headed in exactly in the opposite direction. But the Lord doesn’t give up that easily. One “take away” of this story, I think, is that if God calls us to a task, it’s easier to face up to it sooner rather than later because you won’t outrun God.

You may recall what comes next:  a storm at sea.  Jonah is thrown overboard because it becomes clear that he is the cause of the storm and he is promptly swallowed by a great fish. And then the text says, literally, that the fish couldn’t stomach Jonah. After three days of a belly ache, the great fish vomits Jonah back up on the shore right where he began. That’s where we picked up the story today:  the Word of the Lord comes to this reluctant prophet a second time. And the Lord says, “Jonah, go to Nineveh, that great city! I’m really not kidding around!”

This time Jonah goes. But his heart still isn’t in it. Even so, Nineveh is slightly more appealing than living in the belly of a great fish. Amazingly, though, the king and the people (and even the cattle) of Nineveh all repent. This is pretty hilarious because usually the words of the prophets fall on deaf ears. Usually Israel tries to kill the prophets or ignore them or lock them up in an insane asylum. But these foreigners—these goyim—repent and change their ways. And then God changes God’s own mind about doing them harm and forgives them.

So Jonah attempts a sort of jujitsu move against God. He tries to disarm God by turning God’s own nature against God. He says:

I knew you were compassionate and gracious and slow to anger and abounding in kindness and renouncing punishment. And that’s exactly why I fled to Tarshish in the first place! I’d rather die than have you extend that kind of love and forgiveness to Ninevites!

The most real thing about the God of the Bible is that God is abounding in steadfast love and mercy. As the Prayerbook puts it, “God desires not the death of sinners, but that they may turn…and live.” (BCP 269) God’s change of mind is not out of fickleness. In fact it is completely in keeping with God’s character to show mercy to all who repent, even if they are Ninevites.

Have I mentioned yet that Nineveh is in Assyria, by the waters of Babylon? It’s what we’d call Iraq today. Some scholars believe that Jonah is a post-exilic book. If it is, then it takes on an even more profound meaning because it’s about asking the reader of Jonah to forgive the very same people who caused the exile.

Regardless of its original context, it’s a story for every generation. If you imagine Jonah being asked to go to Bagdad or Tehran or Gaza, then you get the point. It is a tough parable that challenges Jonah’s world-view. Does God’s love and mercy and forgiveness and healing extend even to those from whom he would prefer to withhold grace? How about you? Would you rather die with Jonah than believe that God can forgive people that you personally find undeserving of God’s mercy and forgiveness?

Jonah is a kind of caricature of an unfaithful insider. Israel, as it turns out, has some experience with this. (So does the Church!) It’s about being God’s chosen people and yet behaving like everyone else. In spite of the promises we made with God in a holy covenant, either by circumcision or at Holy Baptism, we are prone to disregard the dignity of every human being and to tolerate injustice. God says to Israel and to the Church on a fairly regular basis something that parents have been heard to say to their children over many centuries: you ought to know better! If you can recite the psalms and quote from Scripture, but are not a doer of the Word (as the epistle of James puts it) then what on earth are you doing?

We are most definitely God’s beloved. The good news we proclaim here week in and week out is that we belong to God and that by the waters of Baptism we have been claimed and marked and sealed as Christ’s own forever. Nothing can separate us from that love of God in Jesus Christ, not even death! But if we aren’t careful we can become complacent and even arrogant about that. We can start to talk like being an “insider” is the be-all-and-end-all of faith. We can start to act like this is all about privilege and forget that it is really about how we respond in faith. So there is always some danger that we will become like Jonah: unfaithful insiders—people who “never really get it.” (Sad, but true!)

The foil to Jonah in this story are the faithful outsidersthe Ninevites. This, too, is not an isolated Biblical claim. Ruth, you will remember, was a Moabite woman who understood covenantal love and responsibility better than the Jews of her day. “Wherever you go,” she told her Jewish mother-in-law, “I will go. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.” In the New Testament there is also that good Samaritan. I always think it helps if you are of a generation that can hear George Carlin offering a litany of oxymorons like “jumbo shrimp” or “military intelligence” and that we should have him be the lector when we read about the “good Samaritan.” Yet it is that faithful outsider who shows mercy to a stranger, and in so doing he reveals the will and even the face of God. Jesus loves that kind of story. It invites us to see the face of God in the person we most want to demonize.

The goal of this fishing tale before us today is therefore a double whammy that is meant to convert the target audience: faithful insiders. That may sound odd to our ears: we are tempted to think that we are already “converted” and our sole purpose is to make sure others know what we know. That’s how we tend to think about evangelism even if we Episcopalians aren’t very good at it. But this story pushes that presupposition. I think the right response to the story of Jonah is not resentment or denial, but laughter. This is pretty funny stuff because it hits so close to home and also, I think, because if we can laugh at ourselves, then we have a shot at redemption. The problem is that too often religious people are way too serious. The story invites us to lighten up and to focus on our own ongoing formation.

This leads me to the third lead character in the story: God. Most of us find it pretty comforting to be told that God is a God of steadfast love and mercy, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. At least when it comes to how we hope God will treat us! But when that same love and mercy extend to people we don’t like very much, we may begin to wonder if God isn’t getting a little soft on sin. With our enemies, we may sometimes wish God’s judgment would kick in. It turns out, though, that God’s grace is so amazing that it can save not just only wretches like us, but even wretches whom we don’t like very much as well.   

Our Jewish friends read the Book of Jonah at the afternoon service on the day of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In that context it serves for them primarily as an invitation to return to God and entrust themselves to God’s steadfast love and mercy. They are reading the story in a way that calls upon them to repent and return to the Lord.  If we were to read this story on Ash Wednesday we’d probably hear it in a similar way. But we are hearing this story during the season of Epiphany, a time in our life together when several themes emerge. One of those is about the light that continues to shine in the darkness. Another is about how God keeps pushing the boundaries to the goyim, the Gentiles – starting with those three kings from the east.

We are also being invited to reflect on vocation, or calling.  To listen for God’s voice and the voices of our neighbors in order to discern where our deep gladness meets the needs of this hurting world. Calling is not just about each of us as individuals. It’s also about what it means to be part of a community like this one that is seeking to love and serve Christ in this time and place. It’s about our shared calling to be light to the world and salt of the earth. Today’s gospel reading and this opening collect we prayed take us to the heart of this theme:  Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ…

What kind of community is God calling All Saints to become? And what role are you being asked to play? This is not a question I can answer for you. I am just a Christmas and Easter parishioner here, after all. So this sermon is going to stop here. I simply raise the question and commend this wonderful parable to you as you get ready for an important Annual Meeting and all of the work that lies beyond that. I will just add this: we need all hands on deck. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Confession of St. Peter

Almighty Father, who inspired Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep your Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, so that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Tomorrow, January 18, the Church remembers The Confession of St. Peter. The following Thursday, January 25, the Church remembers The Conversion of St. Paul. The week in between these two great (yet very different) saints days has become known as The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Today's midweek Eucharist at All Saints Church, where I was scheduled to preside, has been cancelled due to a winter storm. But here is what I'd planned to say to that small faithful group this morning. 

One of my favorite churches in Jerusalem is a church called St. Peter in Gallicantu. It’s built on the site that is believed to have been the home of the high priest, Caiphus. There you can see some first-century steps that Jesus may have walked down toward Golgatha, and underground crypts where Jesus may have been imprisoned. I always say "may" - we cannot know for sure. But it feels pretty real to me. 

Galli-cantu means “the cock crowed” in Latin. And in case you don’t speak Latin, there is this great big golden rooster on top of the church.

I was even more amazed to stumble into that Church and learn that it is run by the Assumptionists, the very same order that run Assumption College in Worcester where I used to teach the Bible to undergraduates. Outside of the church there is a statue of Peter being accused, by the fire, of “knowing the man.” Remember? “I don’t know the man.” I don’t know what you are talking about. Three times.

I have not gotten the readings wrong for today, I just think we need to remember the rest of the story. Today’s gospel reading is a high point for Peter and today is the Confession of Peter, remembering what this macho fisherman said at Caesarea Philippi: you are the Christ. Jesus calls him “petros”—the rock upon which the Church will be built. Rocky!

But not so long after that: “I don’t know what you are talking about.” And then the cock crows, and this grown man cries. Cock-a-doodle-doo.

Some of you have perhaps been to St. Peter’s in Rome. Now there is a monument to a great saint, the premier disciple, the one who after Pentecost found his voice and his courage again, the great preacher we see in the Acts of the Apostles today. The first Bishop of Rome. St. Peter’s in Rome is a testimony, I think, to Peter’s successes and they were many. That’s the Peter we heard about today in Acts who is filled with the Holy Spirit. He’s got his mojo back! And that’s great. Amazing preacher man.

But St. Peter’s in Gallicantu—the place where the cock crowed—is a testimony to Peter’s failings on that Friday which must have been so humiliating for him. He’s supposed to be the leader. He’s supposed to be the rock. And then the cock crows and he feels like a coward and a fool. Cock-a-doodle-doo.

Now this homily may say more about me than it does about Peter, or even God, but in some sense this is always true. Preachers are always, at some level, offering theological reflections on their own journeys. I have never preached a sermon where I was not speaking first to myself...

But having said that, I do think that the whole story reveals a deeper truth about the gospel.We sometimes think the world, or the diocese, or the parish, or our workplace, or our family, rests on our shoulders. We feel responsible. And we should. We want to be called petros. We want to get it right.

But the truth is that even Rocky got it wrong – big time. And strangely, I find this somewhat comforting. The preaching going on in Acts reveals not a cocky fisherman, but someone who is stronger because he’s made some mistakes. He’s let down a dear friend, as we all do sometimes. But that doesn't end the relationship. Peter's growth is about the new life that the God of second chances offers to us all.

When we confess with Peter that Jesus is the Christ, may we also hear the cock crowing. I say this not to tear Peter down or take anything away from him, but to remember for myself and with all of you that God’s mercy and grace is bestowed freely on us all. And that is what saves us all. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Remembering Dr. King

This is a slightly updated and re-edited post from five years ago. I'm posting it a little bit early because I've seen a number of threads on Facebook about how to remember Dr. King in worship this weekend and I like the suggestion to read all or part of King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail (link below) in place of the epistle reading, as a contemporary word to the Church. I'll be away this weekend but I think it makes good sense and if someone reading this agrees it's not too late to get it into the Sunday bulletin! In any case I hope these ruminations are helpful for those who preach the Word and those who hear it this weekend, and for all who are trying to be doers of the Word. I hope all congregations find ways to remember and honor this faithful Christian leader. 

In the church calendar, we remember the "holy women, holy men" who have gone before us as lights in their generation on the day that they die. And so we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4. This weekend we'll have a long weekend and a chance to commemorate King's life as a nation because he was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia.

I had an Ethics professor in seminary, Edward L. Long, who gave us a hypothetical question to ponder. I can no longer remember for sure if it was an essay on an exam or just a classroom conversation, but it's stayed with me for all these many years since. The question was, if you were MLK and had been asked by Lyndon Johnson to join the Cabinet as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, would you have accepted the position? Why or why not?

Ed wanted us to wrestle with how you best effect change. In the case of a seminary classroom, he was asking future clergy to think about the Church and its relationship to the larger society. Where does the Church stand, and what is gained (and lost) when you become part of "the system?" Conversely, what is gained and lost when the only strategy for change is to stand on the outside and protest?

How to be "salt and light and yeast?" By getting more Christians into government? Or by recovering the prophetic voice and challenging the powers-that-be to "let righteousness flow like an everflowing stream?" Of course the answer is probably "both" or "it depends" which is why it remains, for me, such a great question that I continue to ponder.

King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail remains profoundly relevant not only in getting clearer about the ways that King himself might have answered Ed Long's question, but about how we, too, can wrestle with these issues today.There is a tendency that I see in myself (that clearly those whom King addresses in this letter also had) to confuse "keeping the peace" with being "instruments of God's peace."  To engage in the latter means that we cannot get to peace without justice, and you cannot get to justice (and reconciliation) without some conflict along the way. "Crying peace where there is no peace" is not the way forward.

These words, then, on the occasion of his birth, still seem relevant to me.
One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: "Why didn't you give the new city administration time to act?" The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Three Kings: An Epiphany Sermon

Today's celebration at All Saints in Worcester is a bilingual (English and Spanish) celebration of the Feast of Epiphany, "Three Kings Day." While it is a challenge for me, I have tried to write a homily half my normal preaching length so that it could be translated into Spanish as we went along. I continue to be present into this new year with the people of All Saints during the rector's absence.

Eighty percent of the Torah – four of the first five books of the Bible - takes place in the wilderness.

To say this another way, Genesis is a prologue that introduces us to God’s people, who end up in Egypt by the end of that story because of sibling rivalry. And then, when a new Pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph, Moses is called at the burning bush to lead this people to the Promised Land. It takes them four long books to reach their destination: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are all about wandering around the Sinai Peninsula for forty long years!

Don’t worry, I am aware that the wilderness experience is a Lenten theme and today only marks the beginning of Epiphany! We have six weeks before Lent. But here is what I want to say to you today, All Saints, even before we get to Ash Wednesday: it is not that nothing happens in all that wandering. That's a double negative so let me say it another way: lots happens in the wilderness. Lots is learned over the course of those four decades. God’s people learn to pray for daily bread. They are given a Law to orient their lives by. They are given that tent of meeting, where God is present among them. While no one should pretend the desert isn’t hard, it is ultimately about spiritual formation.

And this is why I am jumping the gun and telling you all of this today. Because this is a formative time for you, All Saints. It’s not fun to be in the wilderness and some days it may feel like (and in fact be like) going in circles. But this season of your life together will be what you make of it. And it will make something new of you. People are coping (and not coping) in various ways, and doing the best they can. There is a mixture of hope and fear, of leadership emerging of and also of pointing fingers, of giving thanks for daily blessings and of asking “are we almost there?” Some are stepping away and others have stepped back in. It’s complicated.

Lent will come soon enough. For today there are these three kings to attend to. These magi from Iran. These goyim. There is one important thing I don’t want us to miss today as we enter these next six weeks of this Epiphany Season: they are on a journey also.  Just as the ancient Israelites journeyed toward the Promised Land through the Sinai Desert, so these three journeyed to an unknown destination in search of one who is king of kings and lord of lords. They followed a star. Although we only see them when they arrive, it was surely (as T. S. Eliot imagined in Journey of the Magi) “…just the worst time of the year for a journey, and such a long journey.”

If you are going to sign on to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, Biblical faith in both testaments seem clear: you have to be willing to go on a journey. You have to be up for an adventure. We may not know where we are going but we do know The Way. His name is Jesus. He is the babe to whom the magi bring their gold and frankincense and myrrh, the one to whom we bring ourselves, our souls and our bodies. He is the teacher, the healer, the prophet, the Crucified One, the Risen One whom we trust to be the way, and the truth, and the life. He is enough to go on.

Are you with me? The magi get there a little later than the shepherds but all are welcome and all come to worship Jesus. Together. That’s worth paying attention to.

A quick preview of the next two Sunday gospels: they are both call narratives, which always seem to find their way into this time of the year. Jesus simply says, “follow me.” He says the same to you and to me – and to all the saints down through the centuries, in English and in Spanish and in the languages of many tribes and nations.

I don’t pretend this is an easy time for you here at All Saints. It is not. But I do want to insist that it is potentially a transformative time for good. You can’t go back – not back to the good old days under “name-your-favorite-rector.” Not back to the week before Father Greg arrived here, nor back to early October 2017 when some were relieved and some were angry and many were confused about Greg’s medical leave. There is only a way forward.

This is a critical moment in the life of this historic congregation and I care enough about you to speak the truth in love, because this world is too dangerous right now for anything but truth and too small for anything but love. So if I’m being too subtle or staying too close to the Biblical text let me move from preaching to meddling: All Saints, seek the light. Follow the star. It will lead you to Christ. Bring your gifts, knowing that no gift is too small. What can you give if you are not rich or talented or wise in this bleak midwinter? Give your heart. Start there. It will be enough.  

There is a journey ahead and I don’t know how long it will take. What I do know is this: Jesus is the Way and that if we put our trust there, then all will be well. I don’t say that as pie-in-the sky. I don’t say it as if I can snap my fingers and make it so by tomorrow. I say it this way: keep your eyes on the prize. I say it because it is the most true thing I know and that even when you have nothing to go by but a star, if it leads you to Immanuel then it will be enough.

2017 was a hard year. I wish I could promise you that 2018 will be easier. But I don’t know yet what the next few months are going to look like. What I do know this: God is faithful. And you are all saints.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Interfaith Pilgrimage

Almost exactly seven years ago I began writing this blog in preparation for a trip to the Holy Land to attend a class at St. George's College entitled "The Palestine of Jesus." I embarked on this blogging endeavor as a way to share reflections and pictures on that trip.

You can read my second post ever here if you are interested.

I've been back once since then on a pilgrimage a couple of  years ago for those who are part of the Fellowship of St. John the Evangelist, which I have been for nearly two decades now.

And in just three weeks I'll be heading back to co-lead a pilgrimage with a rabbi colleague from Worcester; our group will consist of Christians and Jews looking to learn and grow together. I'll see some new things and some old things with new eyes, which I look forward to.

It's a challenging time right now in the Middle East but it seems it is always a challenging time. My first trip to Israel was as a college student in 1984, making this my fourth trip. It is a complicated place, but also very much a holy land for me, which is guess is what keeps drawing me back.

I'll be blogging before I go and when I am there, but in the meantime ask for your prayers - not just for our little group from Worcester, but for peace in Jerusalem, and peace on earth.