Sunday, April 24, 2011
Funeral sermon preached at St. Christopher's, the Burial Office of Les Maley, April 25, 2011.
How do you know that the thing you are doing is really worth doing? This question snags most souls at some point or another along our earthly pilgrim walks. Others, though, don’t seem nearly as perplexed, which can frustrate the rest of us. Their answers to questions of self-importance and action are gentle, fluid, and obvious. Lived out in their lives. These ones exude a selflessness centered on something they seem to see clearly, as if on a far off horizon, even if it’s not so clear to the rest of us. They are often marked by a willingness to serve and a gladness and readiness to give without bringing undue attention to the giving. Such a one is clear about his purpose and transparent in his humility.
By all accounts, and on every count, Leslie Earl Maley –Les – was such a one.
Let me say up front that I didn’t know Les. But it’s hard to hear much about the formative years of this parish without his name and Kay’s popping up. And if you’re lucky enough to hear the stories from someone who knew Les or Kay, the warmth of the smile and the regard in the voice is at least as telling as the story.
Talk about Les, as it’s come to me through his friends in this church, often goes something like this: “You know, Fr Jonathan, Les built most of the set for that Vacation Bible School camp, the one called 29 AD. Over 70 people from all over Portland here learning of God. But don’t bother looking for him in the pictures. He’s not the kind to show up in the pictures. That just wasn’t like him.” Or “That coffee kitchen over there – I’m pretty sure Les did that, too, but if he did, you know he just did it – whatever it was that needed to be done. Didn’t talk much about it.” Or “Les wasn’t one to waste many words, but when he spoke, we listened.”
Words you hear folks using to describe Les include: selfless, diligent, not one to make a fuss, loyal, devoted.
So the reading from Wisdom is not out of place with respect to Les: “...the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God.”
Of course, if Les had pursued selflessness for its own sake, or loyalty as an isolated virtue, we’d celebrate a life well-lived today, shrug our shoulders and be done. But that would be to make too little of Les’s selflessness and devotion, a disposition not unlike that of John the Baptist who said, “He must increase, I must decrease.” That is, a disposition that sought to point to and live in the mercies of Jesus.
And because Les sought to point to and live in the mercies of Jesus, we do more today than simply remember a life. We celebrate Les’ entrance into the eternal life made possible by the God to which he pointed.
As we celebrated yesterday, the God to which he pointed is the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Even as we announced plans for this service yesterday, at our Sunday worship, it was in the midst of loud, glad, brash Alleluias! The Easter Feast. And truly today Les is met, married, united to the Good News of Easter. That because Jesus is raised from the dead, we too will be raised. And Christ’s own life reminding us that the life of a humble servant is not too low for resurrection joy.
What a reminder: that we need not fear death or loving one another as servants. Les embodied this reminder, this truth, because he loved the crucified and risen Jesus.
Thank God and praise Him.
Saturday, April 23, 2011
a maundy thursday homily. st. christopher's. april 21, 2011.
It's a solemn day, but I'm a little distracted. So many sandals. I can't look at you out there without thinking of a verse from Isaiah 52: "How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the good news that the God of Israel reigns." In case I haven't told you lately, can I just say you have beautiful feet? Feet made to carry the Good News of God.
Today the Church observes the day called Maundy Thursday, or commandment Thursday, after we untangle the Latin. Commandment Thursday, the first of the three great days of Holy Week. The three days that signal the heart of what everything else has led up to until now: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Easter, all Good News.
The three-fold, three-day mystery of Jesus Christ for us.
Tonight we enter the mystery.
Commandment Thursday. Jesus, at the table with his closest friends, sharing the meal he has longed deeply to share. Taking, breaking, bread, drinking wine, symbols of redemption – the provision of God and the night on which God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt – but this time, in Jesus’s hands, something other. Something more. “This is my body. This is my blood. For you and for many. For the forgiveness of sins.
“Do this in remembrance of me.”
“Do this.” That’s where Commandment Thursday comes in. We pay attention on this night to what Jesus commands his friends to do around this table. “Do this,” he says. Jesus at this table giving his disciples the commandments that are to shape their lives from this moment on. These are the pillars on which his friends are to understand their life together and its meaning after he leaves them. This is Jesus entrusting to the would-be Church the most cherished moments of his story.
And what exactly is it that Jesus commands them to do?
The bread and the cup. Holy Communion. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s gospels, this command stands alone.
But in John’s gospel, the one we just read, Jesus interrupts this meal, the Last Supper, with another commandment: taking off his robe, bending down, he washes their feet and commands them that “you also are to wash one another’s feet.” Another commandment. Then he adds, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” And finally, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
"Do this." Thus Commandment Thursday. "Do this." The day the Church remembers the night on which we receive the commandments of Christ. The things we are to do in the days after his death.
I don’t know if you feel it, but there’s an uneasy tension at this point in the evening. Even as we hear the things we’re commanded to do, and probably breathe a sigh of relief that the list seems fairly manageable (that is, it’s a short list – eat this bread, love one another), even so we can’t escape the feeling that the simplicity of this night nonetheless holds a dark secret.
Or maybe that we in ourselves hold a dark, mocking secret.
And the secret is that we receive the things God commands us to do on the same night we’ll betray him.
Like the disciples, we say, “Surely not I, Lord?” But by the end of this night, all are deserters, unable to keep even the simplest command, “Stay awake, don’t fall asleep.”
On a night when we know the truth of who we are like this, who am I to say what I will or will not do with God’s commands?
The day of commandments is also the day of betrayal; rejection; my total failure.
Commandments can’t be the whole of the story. At least not if our hope is in how well we will keep them.
No, there’s something else at work here. Though we may not see it all the way until acts 2 and 3 of the three-act mystery, it’s already present here, in act 1, here, Maundy Thursday, as he lifts up the bread, as he washes the feet, even of the one who will send him to the cross; it’s simply present in him, the beating heart of the mystery, and forgiveness is the heart of the mystery.
So forgiveness is also the beating heart of the Church.
Pope Benedict XVI says that this is why Jesus made Peter the head of the Church: not so that one man might wield power over many– no, he argues that that would be to forget the particular role of Peter on this night; Peter, not as leader, but Peter as deserter, Peter, all-talk and no-walk and bitter tears at the ending, what he thought was the ending; "no, I don’t know that man." No, Pope Benedict says that Peter was not made the head of the Church so that the Church might be ruled by the might of one man, but so that the Church – and especially her leaders – would never forget her need of forgiveness. Peter, the emblem of Christ’s tender forgiveness. We are never not in need of forgiveness.
This is my blood, for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.
If the cup is forgiveness, and we are commanded to drink it, you are, in a sense, commanded to let go of your inability to keep the commandments. Or at least entrust your inabilities to the tender compassion of the God who washes feet. Be reconciled to God. Taste the forgiveness of God.
For how else are we made able to wordlessly, silently, stoop down and wash each other’s feet, if not as those forgiven by God?
This day begins as commandment and bends toward forgiveness so that it can finally be about him, who is our forgiveness, and the love he has for his own. And he does love you, his own.
So, finally, tonight, it becomes impossible for me to pick up your foot and wash it as a token of my humility or my sincerity or my best good intentions, but only because I see how much He loves you.
Let us pray.
Merciful Lord, you revealed your glory by humbly serving the one who would betray you. Shower us with your mercy, Lord, and grow us up to be merciful.1
Friday, April 22, 2011
Sermon preached at St. Christopher's by-the-Sea, April 22, 2011
What do you pray for? For what do you pray? In quiet; in darkness; on days like today. The still of your heart. Time to reflect between you and your Maker. And he’s listening. When all of the names of the sick, your loved ones and family, your friends, have come into mind and gone out again, when your immediate worries and prayers for protection depart from this earth, lifted up, and there’s still some time left, for what do you pray?
I was walking the stations of the cross one Friday a few weeks ago. Some of you were there. Here. We walked together the fourteen stations of this day, Good Friday. A kind of practice for this day. A steeling of the soul. From the station at which Jesus was condemned to die to his falling on the road, to the man who carried Christ’s cross beside him, to the women he met on the way, to the stripping of his garments from his body, to the death and the cry, the vinegar and the blood. Jesus in the arms of his mother. The silence of the tomb.
Fourteen all together. Fourteen stations.
Each with a certain order. A kind of painful monotony. We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, we said. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
Each station, that’s how we started. Then you read the story, quoting Scripture. Invited us to pray.
Fourteen times, fourteen Scriptures. Fourteen prayers you offered.
That’s what I noticed on that particular Friday. The prayers.
What do you pray for, what does one ask for, in the shadow of the cross and this day?
It’s not all rhetorical. I made a list that night, when I got home, of each of the things we asked God for at the end of each station. Call it a collection of cruciform - or cross-shaped - prayers. Allow me to share them, briefly: the petitions of the prayers from those fourteen stations:
That we may find the way of the cross to be the way of life and peace; that we would learn to walk in this way. That God would grant us courage to take up our cross and follow. That the Lord would grant us strength and protection to support us in dangers, especially our temptations. That we may share in this passion and so also share in resurrection joys. That God would bless those who give themselves to the service of others, that they may minister with wisdom, patience, and courage to the suffering, friendless, and needy. That we may be strengthened to bear our cross, and changed into his likeness. That we may walk in the way of his suffering, also share in his resurrection. That we may be taught to mourn our sins, and to leave them, so that the results of our iniquities would not be visited upon our children and their children. That we may so glory in the cross of Christ that we would gladly suffer shame and loss for Jesus’s sake. We prayed for grace to accept the suffering of the present time. We asked that the Spirit would clothe us in love, so that our hands would so share God’s love that others would know Jesus. That we may die daily to sin, and walk in resurrection joy. That we would follow in faith where Christ has led the way.
Let me be the first to confess that, left to my own devices, these are not the things I would pray for. For starters, they’re a little redundant. More than that, left to myself, the days I would pray to suffer shame and loss are few and far between. Most of the things that we prayed for that day are things I wouldn’t have come up with on my own. As a child, when I prayed, I might have asked for a bicycle. Or more seriously, more grown up, prayed for a less stressful day, less trying life circumstance, healing for my mother, reconciliation with my brother; even on my best days something along the lines of a materially and peacefully prosperous world for the all of us.
But with the God of all Creation before me; with the ear of the Almighty listening to me; in the still of my soul, and the darkness of this day, with this day as my chance to open my honest desires, the requests of my heart before His face, this is what I ask for. This is that for which what I pray. That I would be changed; taught to lament; made to suffer; and serve; even sacrifice. Die daily to sin. Made to walk the way of the cross, and walking it, find it to be the way of life and peace.
As opportunities to get what I want go, the prayers I offer this day are a waste. Don’t make sense. Ask for healthy children, healthy heartbeats, healthy 401ks. And long life. But the way of the cross?
And yet, because it is here, beneath this cross, that I find him, for what else can I pray? This man on this day is my center. And my whole life revolves - or is learning to revolve - around these moments and these days and the one who hangs before me here. Here I learn, here I see, the face of the living God. For what else can I pray?
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
And God’s People said, “Amen.”
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
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