Second Sunday after the Epiphany by The Rev. Dick Toll

Lessons:

SERMON JANUARY 17, 2021, JOHN: CHAPTER 1, VERSUS 43-51, HONORING MARTIN LUTHER KING JR

Today I want to offer a reflection of my early life with a man I never met.  I found him to be a follower of Jesus Christ.   I was fascinated, inspired, confused and wanted to learn from him.  I was in high school in the town I grew up in, Pecos, Texas.  I was 16 years old.  I heard for the first time about the work of Martin Luther King regarding civil rights.  My family had purchased our first television in 1954 and I could both see and hear civil rights issues being talked about in our country.  Especially around issues of school segregation.  The Supreme Court had a land mark decision in the 1954 case that the justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitional.  The name of the case was “Brown vs The Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas”.

I will admit to being naïve on the subject of race.  It only came to me over time that as a white person in the United States, I was privileged and white supremacy had a long history in our country.  In my own small town of 10,000 people we had signs in restaurants that said “whites only”.  At the Greyhound bus station there were separate restrooms and water fountains for “whites” and “blacks”.  I asked my father about these concerns since as a well-respected attorney in Pecos.  He said it was the law of the land handed down by the Supreme Court.  Separate but equal meant separate schools for black and white people and there was to be no togetherness in social or religious settings.  I can remember thinking at the time…I had no choice to be born white.  A black person had no choice to be born black.  We are all God’s children so why do we have to have discrimination?  A question….I continue to ask and try to answer.

I was president of my junior and senior class in 1956 and 1957.  Our school board accepted the ruling of the Supreme Court and decided to integrate our schools.  I was amazed to discover that Pecos had a high school of 20 students that were black.  My ignorance was such that I did not know that.  The town became heated about the decision of the school board to integrate our school.  My father was asked to run for the school board as a last minute write in candidate because he was segregationist.  I was for integration so we had some very interesting talks.  I learned a lot from him and I believe he learned a lot from me.  We respected our different views and I have always respected my father.  He was elected to the school board but never once punished me or degraded me for my own thoughts.  Twenty students from the black high school joined our high school.

I was the manager of our football team and one of the black students was a talented end for the team who made many touchdowns.  He became a hero.  We would sit together on the bus to go to games and we became friends.  We had a pregame meal at a local restaurant at 4:00 before our games.  The restaurant was closed while our team was eating there.  We entered the restaurant and the owner looked at Bubba, my friend, and said to him, “Bubba, you know you can’t eat in the restaurant.  You go eat in the kitchen.”  I tried to argue but Bubba did not want to argue and headed for the kitchen.  I followed him and ate with him.  I felt as though I had been punched in the gut.  It was not right.  So I grew up a little that night and that year.

Fast forward to 1968 at Grace Memorial in Portland.  I was ordained a priest on January 10, 1968, here at Grace Memorial.  Last Sunday was my 53rd anniversary of ordination.  I worked two days a week for the Diocese of Oregon as City Missioner and four days a week as Curate at Grace Memorial.  Some of us here remember the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr in April 1968.  The rector at the time was Duane Alvord and he and I spent many hours with black leaders trying to find our best responses for our churches and the city.  As we know this conversation continues to this day.

I would stop for gas regularly at a Texaco Station on Broadway just at the entrance to the freeway.  I had been ordained a short time.  On the sidewalk there were several prostitutes walking on what was then Williams Avenue.  As I was inspecting my car while getting gas, I heard a voice from the street, “Dick Toll is that you?”  I turned to the voice and a black woman wearing a blond wig walked toward me.  You can realize my surprise and wondering  what in the world was going on.  She came up to me and again called me by name.  She said, “You don’t remember me, do you?”  I said no I did not remember her and she said, “I was one of the black students who integrated Pecos High School 12 years ago.”  She handed me her card with a name I did not recognize.  We talked briefly and I asked her about her life style and coming to Portland.  I will always remember her answer, “What is a black girl from Pecos, Texas, suppose to do to make a living?”  She left to go back to the street and I left in my car wondering about the new kick in the gut I had received.

I offer this reflection because of the very fact that I look back on so much of our society that has been built on racism.  We as a society have allowed our racism to enter into every aspect of our common life.  Whether it be the way we treat the Native American people and still deny them their rights or the exclusion acts for Asians, Muslims, Japanese and of course our long history with slavery.  We as individuals and as a society have allowed systemic racism to invade our lives.  And we live in denial if we do not allow ourselves to see it and to change what we have become.

I read this publication from the Oregon Historical Society.  It is a special issue about Oregon and white supremacy and resistance.  It spells out in detail the way that systemic racism was built into the foundation of Oregon from it’s very foundation…the way we took land from the native Americans, the way the government would not allow people of color to own property, the laws that were reflective of the society we were building throughout our country.  It took a man of the stature and vision of Martin Luther King Jr to confront our issues within our society that set us on a path of healing.  But the wounds are deep and need our individual attention today.

Over the years I have learned so much from people of other cultures and observed the ways they have been discriminated against.  I worked with Native Americans in the 1960 and help start the Native American Rehabilitation Center that is still in existence here in Portland.  The motivation for it’s beginning was that our Native American brothers and sisters wanted to find a way to heal their additions in their own cultural way and not depend on the white man’s way.  It worked and is working.

I assume you as and individual have felt punched in the gut the way I was as I watched injustices take place.  And I assume you have been willing to step forward to change the situation of injustices in the work place, the neighborhood, the city government, and on, and on.  My hope is the future will allow our responses more and more as individuals and communities.

We as a society have been honored by the lives of people like Martin Luther King Jr. He chose to follow Jesus just as we heard in the Gospel today when Jesus tells Phillip, “follow me”.  One thing I have learned from my black brothers and sisters is the deep longing for the Gospel message to be shared in music and in song.  The song I am going to sing was written by Thomas Dorsey, considered to be the father of gospel music.  He wrote this song in the 1930’s after he lost his wife and son in childbirth.  He closed himself off from the world as he grieved and gave us this beautiful hymn.  It was sung by Mahalia Jackson at Martin Luther King Jr’s funeral in 1968.  The name of the hymn is “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”.

All Saints Sunday by The Rev. Dick Toll

Lessons:

Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

Today is All Saints’ Day on the calendar.  You have just listened to the Beatitudes which represents the teaching of Jesus as he spoke to the hearts of people…people that surrounded him on the Mount of Beatitudes at the edge of the Sea of Galilee.

I have visited this site in the Holy Land many times.  It is always awe inspiring to look out on the Sea of Galilee and hear once again the words of Jesus.  In my visits the most memorable was when I got up early at a hostel that I was staying at across the road from the Mt of Beatitudes.  I arrived as the sun was coming up.  And I was the only person there.  Usually I have experienced hundreds of people with tourist groups.  I found myself in a deep meditation while walking and meditated upon on the words of Jesus that have been a hallmark of the Gospel message for centuries.  Teachings to live by…..Blessed are you!  Teachings that people found meaningful to the point that history defines people who have followed in the foot steps of Jesus to be called “Saints” because of their exemplary lives…people who are good, kind, honest, patient in accepting Jesus into their lives.

You have offered names of those to be honored this day and we will lift them up in prayer.

I believe that today is a day that we remind ourselves where we come from.  In the hustle and bustle of modern day life we often do not explore history in the lives of those who have given of themselves in their own times and generation.  These persons who are known and unknown who are the saints within history.  We need to capture these moments of the past that have provided some very special people who continue to speak to us today.  My thoughts turn to Francis of Assisi who is a favorite saint.

But, we may forget he was a spoiled rich kid who grew up and went off to the crusades in the 13th Century.  He was so distressed by the violence during his time in the crusades his effectiveness was realized when the Muslim Sultan of Egypt allowed his order of Franciscans to become the custodians of the Holy Land in 1217.

Well after his death, his supporters claimed the Holy Sites in the Holy Land and even until today make them available for pilgrims to visit.  Franciscans remain on the front line in trying to keep Christians in the Holy Land.  In the 1940’s, Christians were 18% of the population.  Today, it is less than 1% and it continues to shrink.

I have stayed at their pilgrimage site at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and celebrated communion at a chapel that goes back to the Roman Empire.  The followers of Francis still reflect the prayer of Saint Francis, “Make me a channel of your peace.”  We are recipients of this wonderful human being and his relationship with the person of Jesus in his life.

When we look back into the lives of these individuals who have defined the meaning of Jesus Christ in their day and time, it helps us to find our way through the challenges of our own day.  We do not spend enough time reflecting where we come from out of history and those people who in their own time confronted good and evil .  Their choices are still resounding in our lives.

I have found over the years that moments stand out for me.  What do I mean by that?  And ahh hah moment,  a sermon that I remember, a book that I read that clarifies for me an issue, a conversation that comes back to me.

When I was in seminary, I was struggling with my background of being raised in a culture in Texas that was quite literal and fundamental in its Christianity.  I was caught up with issues of creation, evolution, science, and religion.  Who were the saints I was suppose to listen to?  What did they have to offer me?

One day a professor at the seminary was sharing the thoughts of Saint Augustine of Hppo….a 4th century bishop who was converted to Christianity in his early 30s.  He is well documented in his writings and opened many doors to the people of his time.  The professor pointed out his views of Creation.  What we experience in the discovery and our learning of Creation and it’s mystery of  what God has created and is ours to discover and relate to.  We are given gifts to explore the meaning of Creation which is already there and is up to us to find it’s meaning.  Scientists have always been a part of All Saints throughout history.

I have often been put off by the way science and religion have conflicted over the past few centuries.  Much of the religious argument dismisses science.  It gives a bad name for Christianity.  When I was six years old, my appendix burst.  My six year old life was in danger.  I can still remember the pain of lying on the couch and screaming.  My Father called the doctor who came by the house and sent me to the hospital.  It was 1945 and penicillin was a new drug that saved my life.  I received shots every four hours, night and day.  Science and life.

I had open heart surgery in May with two values replaced.  I put my trust in God, prayer, and my doctors and I thank God for the skill of those who have helped me through this period and the prayers of this parish.  I do not remember a lot of what happened before and after surgery but one memory is very real.  I was being wheeled into the operating room and I was semi-conscious as the surgery door opened.  I thought to myself…I should say a prayer…so I tried to mumble through The Lord’s Prayer.  As the doors opened to surgery, I got to the end of the prayer and instead of saying “Amen”, I said “Ut-Oh”.   I woke up ten hours later in ICU looking at my wife, Elaine.

Again, God has given us Creation to live in, to explore, to choose our path of learning, to be All Saints.

I want to make a point today with our history as the Episcopal Church and All Saints.  I believe it is true that the Book of Common Prayer has been second only to the Bible as the book that is most read by people.  The Book of Common Prayer came into use during the reformation in the mid 1500’s.   It was in English.  Now it is in many languages throughout the world.  Much of the Reformation issue was in offering the use of the Bible and worship in the language of the people.  Individuals were burned at the stake because of this issue of language.  The Bible and Prayer Book were given to us by many Saints throughout history.  Most of them we have no idea who they were.  I have here a Bible and Prayer Book from 1578.  It is in English and is 30 years before the King James Bible.  It is known as the “Breeches Bible” because in Genesis when Adam and Eve saw they were naked they put on their breeches.  How English can you get?

The Prayer Book that is part of this book had only been in usages for about 30 years.  It was written by people, some known and many unknown who were the saints of history.  Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the 1540’s and 50’s was the chief architect of the Book of Common Prayer. The Catholic Queen Mary of England at that time refused to accept his recantations of not accepting the Pope.  I stood on the spot where he was martyred in Oxford, England in 1556.   Some of the prayers in our Prayer Book can be traced to the early 4th, 5th and 6th centuries of the Church.

The All Saints Collect for today is the same Collect in this Prayer Book of 1578.  I wonder who was holding this Prayer Book and Bible as the Spanish Armada invaded England in 1580? 

Let me encourage you to read through the Book of Common Prayer as you live through this pandemic and discover for yourself all the Saints, known and unknown, who gave us this book.

We honor ourselves on All Saints Day.  Remember who we are as individuals.  Each person within creation…you and me…we are unique to creation.  There has never been and never will be anyone like me or you.  We are unique.  Each of us.  Our gifts, our history, our experiences, our relationships, our decisions, our faults, and on and on.  There has never been another person in the world like who we are and never will be because each of us is unique.  I have a mantra I try to pray as I go through life.  It helps to center me and to keep me focused, “God I am yours you have created me for yourself and for your purposes alone have I been created.”

It is within this perspective that we need to realize that we make a difference in the way Creation moves forward.  It may be our special gifts, our relationships, our intellect,…it may be any number of things, but we make a difference.  It may be our vote.  I am often moved by the astronauts in space that have taken pictures of our planet and how small we are amidst the vastness of the universe.  But like a grain of sand on the beach, we are part of a total that God had created.  We are to nurture the saint within us and those who offer their sainthood to us… past and present.

Finally.

One of the modern day people we honor in our own history is Mother Theresa from Calcutta in India.  She is so well known as to her ministry with the poor, the sick, and the dying.  What a unique and wonderful human being she was.  A quote from her is well worth remembering on All Saints Day.

“If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost by The Rev. Dick Toll

July 22, 2018

Lessons:

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

There is not a person here who does not have the memory of being a part of a large crowd.  It may have been a sports event, it may have been a musical event, it may have been to hear the Beatles, Elvis Presley or any of the popular singers of today.  It may have been a political rally, it may have been a peace march, it may have been a candle light parade and on and on.

Reflect for a moment in your own mind and memory about a crowd you were in and bring back the feelings, emotions of that moment.

Pause,

Crowds are influenced by many voices.  Events are often staged in ways that help us to remember.

I personally can remember going to peace rallies and feeling the power of the speakers.  I have felt moved to act and to take something away from the crowd in order to help others as to what it meant to be a part of a peace march or a political rally or a musical event.

Crowds can empower people.  For good and for evil.  When I see pictures of Adolph Hitler rallying the crowds in Nazi Germany, I cringe the way we can be captured by evil. 

I have been aware at times that some people are in a crowd to cause disruption, and to bring about violence.  I can remember being frightened by observing police ready to fire tear gas canisters and wondering what to do. 

Crowds of people come together to influence the future….for themselves and for others.  Without crowds of people, whether it being a demonstration or lines of people waiting to vote in an election…it is important for us to gather and experience others in influencing the future.

Visualize for a moment the 12 disciples of Jesus who have been taking the message of Jesus to villages in the Galilee to tell people about this person who has become their mentor, friend, leader.  They are tired and weary.  Jesus decided to take them to a lonely place to rest up and be revived in spirit. 

They are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee.  The word is out.  Jesus is going to the opposite shore.  And, by this time his reputation has somehow been established and those who have heard him in his teaching want to hear him again.  And those who have not heard him are eager to hear him and hear for themselves.

The Jesus Movement had begun.

The Jesus Movement had arrived.  Excitement and energy were flowing.

Jesus and his disciples could not go to a lonely place because the crowds followed them.  The crowds of people came from far and wide.

The disciples of Jesus had to feel the excitement of being with Him.  He was their friend, their teacher and their rabbi.  He was a reflection of the God that was very real to them, near to them…here he was teaching, healing, not afraid to stand up to critics, not afraid to speak out, not afraid to be a prophet, a true messenger of God.

His words captured people and they felt his presence and found healing in his presence.

What happened in the lesson today in Mark?

I suppose you might say a seed was being planted in the lives of people who were seeking hope for their future.  The reality of their lives was grim.  The Roman occupation and the fear they lived in took away the joy of living.

What did they have to live for?  Their religious leaders were colluding with the Roman authorities.  Who could they put their trust in?

The policies of Herod the King were policies that led to slavery and fear.  The hopeless were becoming more hopeless.

And, then a man by the name of Jesus was among them…one of their own…a man who claimed to know God, announced the Kingdom of God and presented to the people and let them know they were a part of the Kingdom of God in a way they had never heard.  He taught them about love, repentance, forgiveness and let them know they were loved by God, taught them how to listen to the Spirit, and let them know how important they were individually in the eyes of God.

Here was a man among them presenting the God of history breaking into their own lives and presenting to them the Kingdom of God as a present and future reality.  A relationship with the very one who had given them life…hope for the future…healing and the meaning of life…a way forward…a way that was not just an end but a beginning…precious moments of life being lived…love and action…a new reality.

The crowd listened…lives were changed.

Mom, dad, brother, sister, friend.  Let’s go and hear what he has to say…yes, we feel lost.  We have been betrayed by out leaders.  We are seeking.  But others are saying, “We are being found.”  Being found by this stranger, this prophet, teacher, healer, preacher, rabbi. 

Look into his eyes…touch him, hear him.

And the crowds kept coming.

One can only imagine the impact that Jesus had on the crowds but one thing is certain.

He made a difference in the lives of so many that they continued to follow him as long as they lived, well after his crucifixion and resurrection…well after he could have been forgotten.  He could have just become a memory of a special moment with the crowd.

But instead, he became a memory centered around his life, death and resurrection.  We are that same crowd today.  Listening to him, relating to his mysterious, powerful presence.  Hearing him again proclaiming his presence with us in the Eucharistic prayer. 

Yes, we are in that crowd.

Yes, we are being addressed personally to be his followers.

Yes, we are being healed in mind, body, and spirit.

Yes, we are in a large crowd of witnesses that have been touched by the Spirit to follow and become a part of what our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry likes to call “the Jesus Movement”.  Here we are in the crowd.

Yes, to the now.

Yes, to the future.

Yes, to Jesus.

Yes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second Sunday after Pentecost by The Rev. Dick Toll

June 3, 2018

Lessons:

Deuteronomy 5:12-15
Psalm 81:1-10
2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Mark 2:23-3:6

I suppose every now and then it is okay to have a boring sermon about legalisms, law, and all that dry stuff.  So, today is the day.  Seriously, I would like to look at an aspect of how we as a people have chosen or not chosen to live together with some kind of rule, or law, or common understanding of what it means to live in community….whether that community be a family or a town, city, county, state, country or within the global community.

Okay, where do we start?

Probably a good place to start is the Ten Commandments.

Thirty-five hundreds ago, Moses was at Mt. Sinai and we know that he received the Ten Commandments.  He issued them to a community that resented Moses trying to impose rules of behavior and to blame God for it.  Rules regarding the Sabbath, murder, lying about your neighbor and on and on.  How to best live together and come up with some standards, beliefs, and patterns of good relationships. 

As people who have evolved into families and communities over many years, we have found that we must have rules to live by and follow or we are in danger of losing ourselves as well as others.

The problems often with our laws and rules is that they turn out to be wrong.  They diminish when they are meant to give us meaning and purpose.  For instance, the Church has gone through tremendous upheaval over recent years on such issues as:

Women’s ordinations, gay rights, prayer book revisions and many other issues.  I was in this pulpit preaching about using the new prayer book services to replace the 1928 Prayer Book back in the late 1960’s.  I was ordained to the Priesthood here at Grace Memorial using the 1928 Prayer Book.  The rules changed, people had a lot to say about the changes….pro and con…so it was an open discussion as it should be.  It went on for years…and in many ways will continue.

I have the greatest respect for my Father who was a lawyer in Pecos, Texas, where I was raised.  I first learned about law and the legal systems as a child growing up in West Texas listening to my Father speak to concerns that arose in his legal practice.  He died several years after I was ordained and I have always missed him.  I learned what it meant to disagree with my Father over many things while growing up.  But, the one I remember most was his stand on what happened when the Supreme Court ruled on the integration of schools in the early 1950’s.  My Father believed in the law at the time “separate but equal”.  In other words, integration was a violation of what he saw to be the law of the land.  I disagreed and was president of my high school senior class when we integrated in 1957 and at the same time he was elected to the school board as a write-in candidate on the subject opposing integration.  So, I learned early that laws are in need of changing and we are constantly defining our system so it works better over the years as we grow together in our country.

But, again, how about religious law?  Every faith community, every family has it’s own written and unwritten laws or norms it abides by for better or worse.  Look at Ireland this past week.  A sea change for prochoice and women’s rights in a country that has long been in opposition to what it is now defining in a new way.

And that brings us to our Gospel lesson today.

Jesus was at odds with the religious leaders of the day.  They saw him as a threat to their authority and looked for ways to undermine him and his followers.

What happened in our lesson today?  It was the Sabbath and many rules and regulations had grown up around keeping the Sabbath holy since the time of Moses.  Apparently, from Jesus’ point of view had gone too far.  And when his disciples were gathering food to eat on the Sabbath, they were criticized.   When Jesus healed a man in the synagogue on the Sabbath, it was terrible according to the religious leaders.  According to them, Jesus was doing away with the law, the tradition, and the sacred nature of the Sabbath from their point of view.

“And he said to the man with the withered hand, come forward.  And He said to them, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?  But they were silent.  He looked around at them with anger, He was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man “stretch out your hand”.  He stretched it out and his hand was restored.  The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”

All of us know how much we need to have our rules and regulations and to discuss them.  And, to add or subtract from them as we live together.  Obviously, Jesus was trying to make a point that could not be heard by the religious authorities.

I just finished a book, “Midnight in Siberia” by David Greene.  David Greene, the author, is a NPR reporter who was in Russia for many years and finally boarded the Trans-Siberian Railway that goes 9300 miles across Siberia.  He stops at many villages and cities and interviews people.  He wanted to hear from them of their hopes and dreams for their future as well as their understanding of Russia’s past.  He was surprised how many people had a nostalgia for Stalin and the old Soviet regime.  The fact that you were told what to do and the people felt security at the lack of participation in government.  The author was looking for seeds of change and he found it but no real way to bring it about.  The laws were set and the people were following them.  One of the funniest moments in the book was at a train station in the middle of nowhere.  There was a security point that everyone had to process their luggage like we do at the airport.  It had always been there and people had to go though it.  But, no one was on duty.  The bells would go off but there was no one to check on why because no security guard was there.  But, the people dutifully followed the rules and assumed that probably someone was watching them.

We are spoiled in our country because we know we have something to say about the rules we live by.  The larger issue that I am concerned with in our country and throughout the world is the beginning of a loss of the meaning of international law.  After World War II, the United Nations came into being.  International law and the declaration of human rights were established along with the Security Council.  The Security Council has had many good and bad moments.  But, we as a country have had more than our share of dismissing international law over the years with our veto and actions.  We violated international law when we unilaterally invaded Iraq in 2003.  We violated international law with our torturing people after 09/11.  And, we violated international law in regard to the State of Israel, the settlements, and the right of return for refugees, and military occupation.  We violated international law when we declared Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel.  All in opposition to international law and yet we use our veto to keep from allowing international law to function.  And of course, other countries do this also.  I fear for the future if we continue to flaunt international law.  It just encourages others to do the same.  And we grow to be less of a model for other nations rather than the model we have always wanted to be.

We are still living out the learning of how to live in community together as nations within a world that receives information so fast we can’t even process it.  We are presently being tested in our own country on whether we will honor our own rule of law.

It is important that we continue to listen to Jesus and find out how to proceed.  As I read the Gospels, He is for good over evil, the nurturing of the human spirit in relationship with God and one another, that the emphasis of Love is the foundation of all human experience, and if Love is not a part of the equation God is not a part of it.

Jesus looked at the religious authorities and asked them how do you define what is right, to do good or to do nothing.  To add to life or subtract from it. 

Our laws and regulations in family, community, church, government, are all here to help us grow in Love together.  When they are not accomplishing their purpose, we must act as individuals and communities to change them to reflect our need and respect and love for each other.

Amen.

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 30 by the Rev. Richard Toll

Lessons:

1 Kings 3:5-12
Psalm 119:129-136
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33,44-52

Gospel Matthew 31 – 33, 44 – 52

Today Jesus speaks to us about the kingdom of God.

It is like a mustard seed that grows into a large tree.

It is like a yeast that adds to flour and makes a large amount of bread.

It is like a treasure hidden but when it is found, provides for the future.

It is like a merchant in search of fine pearls who finds the ultimate pearl and gives up all to purchase it.

It is like a net catching many fish good and bad recognizing our choices as to how people choose good or evil.

In the Gospels the most important theme for the ministry of Jesus relates to the kingdom of God.  What is the kingdom of God in the past?  What is it in the present?  What is it in the future?

The word “kingdom” usually makes us think of a physical place…a palace, a country, or a king or queen.  That is how we know history.  Kingdoms have come and gone over many centuries.  We have watched the histories of countries and how kings and queens have been chosen.  Kingdoms usually relate to a physical space with borders and armies and all the attachments of power.   

But as followers of Jesus took on the role of being disciples, they went out into the world in the early centuries and they believed that the kingdom Jesus spoke of was very different and people were called to be in a relationship with the creator of the world and the universe and to live in community together.  The kingdom of God was all encompassing.  The kingdom was seen as here and now and included all of what the future would unfold for the purpose of God.  And the early followers of Jesus discovered that worship was a part of that relationship and over the centuries huge churches and cathedrals were built to express that relationship of being within the kingdom of God.

An interesting person in history around the issues of relationships to the kingdom of God was St. Francis.  Francis was a crusader in the 12th century.  He answered the call of the Pope to rescue the holy sites in Jerusalem.  At that point in time he was young and brash.  He went to war for the purposes of God.  He learned from his experiences that the crusades were not good for him or the church and went through a personal crisis.  He came back from the crusades, took all of his clothes off and became naked, gave his horse away, placed all of his personal items on the altar of the church in Assisi and became a solitary person wandering from place to place.  He would preach, teach, and speak about the love of God, the kingdom of God, and the person of Jesus.  Before long, others joined him and the movement began.  It was a movement within and speaking to the kingdom of God.  It later became an order of the Catholic Church that we know today as the Franciscans.

We have often confused our understanding of the kingdom of God with the temporal kingdoms of this world.  As history unfolded the Roman empire became Christian under Constantine, the Moslem world after Mohammed in the 7th century took on a powerful image of what became the Ottoman Empire between the 14th & 20th century.  We watch history unfold in Catholic Spain, Protestant Germany, Protestant England…. all the Catholic and Protestant battles that occurred after the Reformation.  The battle lines of history reflect an understanding of Christianity that is empire based, land based and border based.  Colonialism expressed these same issues as slavery was promoted and western countries colonized South America, America, Africa and other places throughout the world.  This colonial system helped destroy existing cultures and religious systems.  Something was found to be wrong in the way the church was establishing it’s relationship with new cultures and today we are trying to reflect a better way of presenting Christ to the world.  We are recovering an image of the kingdom of God without borders and once again finding relationships with others as the building block of our common humanity.  Human rights have become a rallying cry for those seeking a way forward to the issues of nationalism and war.

I believe that the kingdom of God is not just a Christian understanding.  All religions play their part in furthering the kingdom of God.  Jewish, Moslem, and many other major religions are relating to a God of creation and bring their own stories and relationships with them.  Often secular humanists are more further advances in the understanding of  human rights than many Christian fundamentalists are able to understand.

Somehow we in our ignorance fail to recognize the work of God in others.

I see this happening in the old city of Jerusalem today.  The Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site for Islam.  It is also on the site of the first temple of Solomon in the 10th century BC.  The Dome of the Rock was built in the early 600.  Religious settler’s in the West Bank and in Israel are convinced that they must build a new temple to reestablish Jewish sacrificial worship at the site of the present day Dome of the Rock.  In other words, to build a new temple would involve the destruction of the Dome of the Rock that has been there since the 7th century.  A model of that new temple can be seen in the old city within the Jewish quarter.  The volatility of the situation has been of display for the past two weeks in Jerusalem.  This particular issue is probably as dangerous as any issue in the world.

If it continues to explode, it will cause great issues for Israel, Palestinians and Moslems throughout the world.

Where is the kingdom of God in this?  Violence is not a part of the image of the kingdom of God.  Violence is what our humanity does to one another.  We often chose violence as our answers.  How do we share our lives, our differences, our own uniqueness rather than take part in Holy Wars?  We are far from the image of the kingdom of God.

Can we return to the mustard seed and what comes from it, the pearl of great value, the yeast that yields more bread, the kingdom that is life giving and not death dealing?

If we could only have eyes to see.  If we could only have ears to hear.  If we could only speak as Francis did to share our humanity and share our gifts to allow God’s kingdom to flourish in our present day.

And the future of the kingdom of God?  That becomes the definition of the kingdom.  All of the future belongs to God.  What it will be and how it will flourish depends on our allowing God to work through us to make the kingdom available for those who come after us.  God is the future.  The scary thing about that is that God has trusted us with the gift to choose.  We can choose life or death, good or evil.  So our commitment to the future is that we have the ways and means to destroy ourselves, our planet, our future.  We can also choose God’s purposes as discovered in the New Testament. 

So here we are today.  Our hope has always been the future which is our understanding of God but how do we respond today in order for that future to unfold.  I would submit that God has given us the person of Jesus to help us fully integrate our humanity with the kingdom of God…..now.   So as the future unfolds so does the kingdom of God.

The here and now was with our friend Francis in the 12th century.  The following prayer is attributed to St. Francis even though he may not have written it, it expresses all of who he was.  I would like to ask all of you to turn to page 833 in the prayer book and offer the prayer together.  It is certainly an expression of who Francis was and expresses the past, present and future of the kingdom of God.

“Lord, make us instruments of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  Amen”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Sunday after the Epiphany by The Rev. Richard Toll

Lessons:
Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 2
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

 

 

Today we have the Transfiguration of Jesus.  The event is remembered  on a beautiful mountain top at Mt. Tabor between Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee.  There is a beautiful view of the valley below and a beautiful church with magnificent art.

Who are the people, such as Peter, Andrew in today’s story.  As well as all the people in the Gospels?  They are Jewish followers of Jesus who have been raised with the stories of Moses and the Law.

What we have in the Gospel of Matthew is a very special attempt to address that Jewish audience Jesus spoke to with the interpretation that Jesus is the new Moses.  If you read Matthew as a 1st century Jew, you will hear all the ways that Matthew attempts to tell you that Jesus is the new Moses.  Jesus is the Messiah they have been expecting.  Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel takes on the role of a new Moses.

Matthew opens his Gospel with a reference to the generations that takes us back to Abraham as he speaks of Jesus’ birth.  And the birth of Jesus including Joseph, the dreamer of dreams, who can be compared to Joseph in the Old Testament who is also a dreamer of dreams and Joseph takes Jesus to Egypt so that he like Moses can come out of Egypt.  Moses came out of Egypt and so does Jesus.

Matthew has the wonderful story of Jesus in the wilderness for forty days, tempted as the Israelites were in the desert for 40 years.

Those Jewish readers of Matthew in the 1st century would see the connection.  And then the Sermon on the Mount.  Similar to Moses bringing the 10 Commandments and the law from Mt. Sinai.  Just as Moses gives the law from Sinai.  Jesus gives the new law with the Sermon on the Mount.

                   You have heard it said by men of old

                    But I say to you

                   12 Disciples

                   12 Tribes of Israel

Symbols of the past bearing fruit as to the future generations.  This is my son “listen to him”.

Transfiguration – from the old ways to the new ways.  Jesus was a transforming person in the 1st century – listen to him.  And after his death and resurrection something of a religious revolution occurred that we are sorting it out even today.

Transfiguration – what does it mean?  What did it mean?

For the Jewish culture of the 1st century it was a confusing moment.  Was Jesus authentic as a reflection of the living God or was he a fake?

Paul was to be the instrument of God, who after trying to wipe out the early Christians, found his conversion on the way to Damascus and realized out of that conversion that the message of Jesus was not only for Jews but for all people.  Talk about transforming.  And turning into a new way of thinking and being.  The Church was born in turmoil.

I would like to relate the Transfiguration in a way that is quite different from our traditional western theology.  In fact, I would like to challenge it.

In 1967, I was the Curate here at Grace Memorial.  Duane Alvord was the Rector.  I was also City Missioner for the Diocese of Oregon which meant that I went in all directions at the Bishop’s bidding and whatever was happening ecumenically.  I found a need that was not being addressed by any of the churches.  It was the urban Indian population in Portland and I felt called on to enter into ministry with them because of not only our lack of knowledge of their culture but their lack of knowledge of our culture.

I had been raised in West Texas and New Mexico and became acquainted with how the Roman Catholic Church had come to our region well before the Pilgrims and those who founded Jamestown.  In fact, there is an article this month in Archeology Today that talks about the 1st American Revolution happening in the 1580’s when the Pueblo Indians in Arizona and New Mexico rose up against the Spaniards and forced the military and the church to leave the area for 10 years.  Why?

Because of the oppression, and lack of being able to work with another culture.  Christianity was forced upon them.  There was an arrogance and cruelty built into the system of converting the Indian population to Christianity.  They were literally slaves for purposes of their Spanish masters.

“This is my son.  Listen to him” was turned into a mockery.  What about the Indian people and their own relationship to God, to the sacred land?

The transfiguration did not include the Pueblo Indians in their rich history as a people including their own rich religious heritage.  We are only now beginning to recognize what has been lost in our inability to listen and learn from others and hear their voices as part of listening to the voice of Jesus in another time and culture.

As City Missioner from 1967-1970, based here at Grace Memorial, our National Church helped in the funding of two important American Indian programs.  One was the American Indian Action Center, which at the time was located near Good Samaritan Hospital.  The other was the Native American Rehabilitation Association for Indians suffering from alcohol abuse.  It is still in existence.

When I left Grace Memorial in 1970, I was honored here on a Sunday worship.  I wore an Indian headdress and celebrated communion.  I was given a Sioux name of Spotted Eagle.  The Peace Pipe was offered to the 4 Winds by Chief White Buffalo Man, Grandson of Sitting Bull.  He also gave the sermon.  I have the entire sermon but here is an excerpt.  The title of his sermon was “How it feels to be an Indian in a White man’s world.”  In the old days the Indians taught that we must love each other.  Our belief is that this love was established here on earth by the Great Spirit.  This brought us unity, and unity brought us brotherhood.  We didn’t know what a dollar was.  But we knew there was a God.  And we kept this sacred.  My father said, “This is sacred – keep it such.”  We became Christians.  The Indian religion and the Christian religion fit together.  We wanted to keep some of our old ceremonies.  When we pray we don’t read from a book.  We don’t read prayers.  It comes from our hearts.  But the government outlawed some of our old worship.  Like the Sun Dance.  So we had to do our ceremonies secretly back in the hills where we wouldn’t be caught.  That made us feel bad.  It was like the early Christians who had to worship secretly.  So I used to live two lives.  One, Indian religion and one, as a Christian…..In our church, behind the altar, we have the tepee design.  In our Christian ceremonials we use the pipe.  We see there is no clash.  After all these years it comes together.  Now I live only one way.  I can be free in what I tell and what I do.  And that is the way it is.”  I believe that the voice of Jesus, the presents of God is heard in the words of Chief White Buffalo Man.  The words of many cultures, religions and languages are reflected in his words.  The Church throughout the world reflects that voice. 

So much of our history as a nation has been one of broken treaties and not honoring those who were here when we came here as immigrants.

It was almost comical if it wasn’t so tragic that in the Malheur takeover last year the people who did that had no understanding of the land as to where it came from.  The American Indian was not a part of their thinking and the issues of the Standing Rock Reservation represent another chapter in the long history of taking advantage of Indian treaties.

We have a long history in Christianity of being very much the opposite of what Jesus’ teaching and witness was in the 1st century. 

But guess what, we receive the word of God as it comes to each of us and we have the opportunity to respond “yes” or “no”.

Our transformation is one of unique individuality because each of us is an unique human being.

We are transformed in our own time just as the disciples of the 1st century were transformed for the purposes of God.

     Not as it has been defined in the past

     But as the voice of Jesus is revealed NOW.

     And we ourselves have the opportunity

     To hear and receive the Good News

     “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.”     

Amen.

Third Sunday after the Epiphany by The Rev. Richard Toll

Lessons:

Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 5-13
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

 

 

Jesus was raised in the Galilee region. It is a wonderful, beautiful region with mountains, hills, rivers and of course the Sea of Galilee.

Nazareth is near the Sea of Galilee, about 35 miles away. Our scripture today in Matthew says that Jesus began his ministry after John the Baptist was arrested. I am convinced that Jesus knew and related to the person and the teaching of John. And, that John was a very controversial voice in the contemporary religious conversations. Was John the messiah? What was God doing? Was there any way God could intervene with getting rid of the Roman occupation? People were frightened and had good reason to be frightened. The Roman occupation was cruel. Many of the inhabitants of the Galilee region were being killed.  The religious authorities have given into the Roman occupation.  The authorities had no power, no authority, and no way to speak out.  Their answer was to accept the occupation of the Romans and to say to the people of Jerusalem and to say to the people of Galilee absolutely nothing.  The religious ferment at the time of Jesus was without leadership from the authorities of Jerusalem.  The religious authorities were puppets of the Roman occupation.

“Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested he withdrew to Galilee.  He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea.”

So Jesus appears on the scene.  Scholars think he was around 30 years of age.  At that point in time it would have been equivalent to our 40 or 50 years of age because of life expectancy.

He moved to Capernaum, at the Sea of Galilee, about 35 miles from Nazareth.   Did he go with family?  Did he go with Mary?  What about his brothers and sisters?  What about Joseph?  Jesus was a part of Jewish culture at the time.  He was a part of human history.  He was a part of a political drama within history and he was a part of what we believe to be the reflection the person of God in human history that informed us and continues to inform us of who we are as individuals within time and space…….otherwise known as history…….our story of human existence…..God with us.

Matthew tells us, “Jesus began to proclaim…..repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”    Matthew uses the term kingdom of heaven while the other gospel writers use the term kingdom of God.  Mark uses kingdom of God and Mark is written earlier then Matthew.  So the proclamation of the kingdom of God within the gospels appears to be the central message of Jesus.  So what is the kingdom of God?  Is it beyond this world?  Is it part of this world?  How do we become a part of it?  How do we live out our lives as a part of the kingdom of God?

Repent!…..seriously….does anyone here know what that means?  It is a word we rarely use or relate to.  It is old fashioned and is supposed to be for other people…..not for me.

But, it is a word meant for all of us!!

It means to stop……turn around and begin again…..admit that you as an individual,  you as a part of society, you as a part of any decision, regarding our country, our culture, the way we treat each other, our participation in human rights, our inability to promote justice, our indifference to those we look down on for what ever reason, our indifference to the weak, the poor, the vulnerable, and on and on…….

Repent means.

It is not right.

It is wrong.

It is a mistake.

And it is time to begin again.

Jesus proclaims that message and in effect relates to it as becoming a part of God’s kingdom, God’s relationship with humanity.

What do we do?

How do we change?

Here we are.  Sitting in a church pew 2000 years later.

History has unfolded.

Millions of people have lived and died.

Wars have been fought and are being fought.

The world has gone through discovery, chaos, experimentations, enlightenment, life and death.  Saints have come and gone…. some known, most of them unknown, wonderful tributes to our humanity have lived and died, offering their gifts to us and we are the recipients of those many and varied gifts.  People over many century’s have cared and have loved us into existence.

Evil has been present.  Evil has prevailed and prevails at times with the freedom we have as individuals we have to choose between good and evil.  Evil is so much a part of our story.  History is filled with it.

But Jesus proclaimed.

“Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

The miracle message of the gospel of Jesus remains in the fact that Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee and saw two brothers, Peter and his brother Andrew.

They along with other disciples responded to a message of hope and relationship that continues to open doors to the future.

A future that is right here and right now before our very eyes.  Right here and now.  The kingdom of God is near.  God’s presence is with us.  We belong to the God who has created us for the purpose of love.  Our lives are to be reflections of the One who came to us and comes to us to proclaim the kingdom of love.

(Tell the story of Passing the Peace in the 1970’s in Baker, OR at St Stephen’s)

It is not easy to look into the eyes of another human being or to have another person look deeply into our own eyes.

The miracle of the gospel story in the person of Jesus is relationship.

The kingdom of God is a relationship.

Here and now.  Person to person.  Within the presence of God.  As scripture points out, when two or three are gathered together there am I in the mist of you.

Jesus….Peter….Andrew.

I bet my bottom dollar that they knew each other and shared significant moments together.  As least we know they caught fish together.

When Jesus said, “follow me” they knew and trusted him.  They knew what it meant to move into the lives of others as they learned from Jesus the meaning of life, love, God, relationship, healing and what it meant to repent of that which was harmful to them and to others.

The disciples of Jesus knew what it means to be in the here and now….with you, with me, with each other, in community together…moving into a future…a future that always is God.  And the God of the future is here and now.

The disciples of Jesus trusted Jesus.  They knew that the future they proclaimed was a relationship in the here and now.

As we move into the future as individuals, as a community, as a part of this world within the universe, we hear the proclamation of Jesus, “Repent”.  Think about what you have done and what you are doing.  Stop.  Start over.  The kingdom of God is near at hand.  We belong to God, we belong to each other, we relate to God and each other here and now.

Amen.

Third Sunday of Advent + Advent Lessons & Carols by The Rev. Richard Toll

Lessons:
Isaiah 35:1-10
Canticle 15
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

 

 

The things we will never know.

We will never know what Jesus was like as a child.

We will never know what Jesus was like as a teenager.

We will never know about his early adult life.

We will never know who his friends were growing up or who his teachers were.

We will never know how he learned about scripture or his worship patterns, his prayer life.

We can assume he learned a great amount from his mother and from Joseph.

We can assume he learned how to become a carpenter and how to work with his hands from Joseph, and Jesus was probably a skilled stone mason, since carpenters in the 1st century used to know how to build homes made with stone.

We can assume that he knew everyone in the small village of Nazareth where he was raised. A village of about 300 people in the 1st century.

We can assume he worked in a town a few miles from Nazareth. It was a Roman town built for the Romans in the Galilee and was the seat of the Roman government in charge of the Galilee. Sepphoris is the name of the town. It is not listed in the Bible and is an archeological site today. So Jesus would have learned first hand what it meant to live under Roman military occupation and to experience a foreign power ruling over his family, friends and neighbors. He probably observed the cruelty of crucifixion as some of the Zealots rebelled against the Roman presence at a time Jesus was growing up. In order to impress upon the people not to rebel, the Roman authorities crucified dozens of the rebellious Zealots and placed them on crosses along the road until they died and then left them on the crosses until the vultures picked clean their bones.

The cruelty of the Roman occupation would have been a part of the everyday life of a young Jesus and was part of all of his life story.

The hidden years of Jesus have always been a fascination for me and we are only given a snippet of Jesus in his visit to the temple as a young man.

Joseph must had died at some point as he disappears from the biblical record.

But we just do not know so much that we would like to know.

___________________

But today we are allowed to hear from a fully grown Jesus who has matured and has discovered what it is that he is being called to do.

Jesus appears to have been close to John. We know he was baptized by John in the Jordan River. John was like a magnet. People came to him in the desert to see and hear him. John had the kind of personality that drew people to him and his desert spirituality appealed to his followers. He was not soft spoken and if you saw him on the streets in Portland, Oregon you would probably pass by on the other side of the street. He could rant and rave and was the kind of person the established Jewish community in Jerusalem would have ignored. They would not have sent people into the desert to hear him.

John was caught up with the fervor of people who wanted a messiah to come and take charge of what had become a disaster for the Jewish people. The Romans had the Jewish religious leaders in their back pocket and corruption was rampant. The temple authorities had sold their soul to the Roman occupiers. 

So John was in prison. His days were numbered he want to know if Jesus is authentic.

And we hear the response of Jesus.

“Go and tell John what you hear and see, the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

The 1st century in Jerusalem was like a powder keg getting ready to explode. The religious Zealots were those who were trying to bring about an armed rebellion to get rid of the Romans. They made no bones about it. Violence was the answer to getting rid of the violence of the Roman occupation.

The Zealots wanted nothing to do with Jesus. They viewed him with suspicion. Why? Because he spoke of a kingdom that for them did not exist and would never exist. A kingdom of God and a kingdom of relationship with one’s neighbor, one’s God, one’s own self.  A kingdom that defined the meaning of love. A nonviolent message. A message that could not connect with the Zealots’ violent approach.

The Zealots admired John. His harshness and language was a symbol to them of a messiah that would ride a horse into Jerusalem at the head of a Jewish army and take back the city from the Romans.

So John’s followers were not convinced that Jesus was authentic in his teaching and ministry. “Convince us,” they said. And Jesus replied.

We know from the biblical record that many followers of John never were convinced that Jesus was authentic. Baptism was an especially difficult issue in the early church. Followers of John baptized people as followers of John.

So by the time the passage in Matthew was written in about the year 85 AD, it is obvious that John’s role has been held up to prepare the way for Jesus.

___________________

Jesus steps into the void that is being left by the beheading of John. The cauldron is beginning to boil over. The Zealots are looking for a military leader. Jesus is not that leader. The people are fed up with the religious leaders. The Romans are fed up with people like Jesus and John who attract people to them and give teachings that are far from the Romans’ point of view.

The person of Jesus became a threat to the Romans.

The person of Jesus became a threat to the religious authorities in Jerusalem.

After John’s beheading many of his followers turned to Jesus.

The people were hungry.

Hungry for relationship.

Hungry for spiritual relationship.

Hungry for what Jesus referred to as the kingdom of God.

The were searching for their humanity.

They were searching for a way that would lead them into a relationship with each other and God.

They found that in Jesus.

As any authoritative regime has done and will do, the answer for the Romans was to join with the religious leaders in Jerusalem and stifle the message of Jesus that could be seen as a threat to those in power.

And we know the rest of the story.

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost by The Rev. Richard Toll

Lessons:

Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm 51:1-11
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

 

Part of being a human being is to be lost.  It is part of our DNA.  It is part of our experience in life.  It is a part of us that we do not even know we are lost.

I am not talking about being lost in the woods, or getting lost with your GPS.  That certainly is another part of being lost.

I am talking about being lost as to losing one’s way on the pathway of life.  And, we may not even be aware of it.  Our experiences, our decisions, our loss of focus, our lack of meaning, all may suddenly be defined in a moment of clarity.  We suddenly wake up and realize we have lost our way.  Relationships shattered, jobs in shambles, people hurt, we have lost our way.

I can remember one of the important moments of my teenage years as a moment of being lost and found. 

I was a part of a Boy Scout group that traveled four times to the Big Bend National Park in Texas for a week of camping.  The Big Bend National Park has a wild beauty to it that is overwhelming as one experiences nature in all of its rawness.

One night while 12 of us were camping out our horses broke loose from their tethers, scattered and ran away.  Our wrangler was able to catch them and return them to our camp.  The next morning we learned that a mountain lion had come close to our camp and our horses heard them, smelled them and panicked. 

I can remember it happening as if it was yesterday.  Why?  Because as a teenager I was growing up.  I was  confused with life.  I did not know what I wanted to do with my life.  I did not know I was lost but I know now that I was.  I was shaken by the horses panicking and stampeding.  I walked out into the desert to be by myself under a full moon.  I looked up at the full moon lighting the desert mountains.  I experienced what can only be defined as a spiritual bath.  For a moment in time, I was connected to the Creator, Universe, myself, my presence on earth, and I remember putting a foot print in the sand wondering how my life would eventually reflect into the larger world.  What imprint would I make in life?  At that moment I knew I had a purpose in life.  I just did not know what it was but I was on a path to discover it.  My encounter with the God of Creation under a full moon in the desert of West Texas has given me a knowledge of being found.  Whatever was happening to me in those teenage years of growing up I can barely remember.  What happened on the desert was a sense of adventure of what life means and opening up of the future.

I was growing up.  I was beginning to face life.  I was looking forward.  I was grounded in time and space with a footprint firmly implanted in the desert.

My life at that point had little to do with the Church or the Bible but I do remember starting to read the New Testament and attempting to read about Jesus.  He spoke to me out of the scriptures.  Passages like today’s Gospel were important. 

From the Gospel of Luke:  So he told them this parable:  “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?  When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ’Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

A simple but profound story about the human condition.

A simple but profound story about a God who is always welcoming us especially when we are lost. 

Fast forward to September 11, 2001.  I was the Rector at St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukie, OR.  I finished my 7:00 a.m. communion service and went to breakfast at Libby’s restaurant around the corner from the church in downtown Milwaukie.  The television was on and the news was saying something about a plane crashing into the Twin Towers and the waitress and I talked about the terrible accident.  Then we watched as a second plane hit the tower and you know the rest of the story.

Ed Browning, our Presiding Bishop from 1986 to 1998 for the Episcopal Church in the United States had retired to Hood River, Oregon in 1998.  I had known him and his wife, Patti, and had been with them in Jerusalem in 1998 in his visit to the region prior to his retirement.  In July 2001, he had invited me to his home in Hood River.  He was the founding President of Friends of Sabeel in North American in 1996.  Sabeel is an ecumenical libration theology center in Jerusalem and works with the indigenous Palestine Christians in the Holy Land.   In July, 2001, Ed Browning asked me to take on the voluntary role of Director of Friends of Sabeel in North America.   Six weeks after Ed Browning appointed me as Director of Friends of Sabeel North American, September 11, 2001, I was sitting watching the television of what was happening in New York.  I had an 8:30 appointment with Ed Browning.  I drove my car and picked him in the parking lot here at Grace Memorial.  He and Patti have a condominium a few blocks from here.  We left at 8:30 to go to Seattle, WA.  Why?  To meet for a noon luncheon with Priscilla Collins, the owner and president of KING TV in Seattle at the time who was very instrumental in my own learning about the concerns of Palestine.  She had spent a lot of time with me prior to my first visit to Jerusalem in 1983.  We were scheduled to meet at her apartment for lunch at noon to ask for a major gift to continue the work of Sabeel in the United States.

All the way from Portland to Seattle we listened to the horrible news of the attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the plane crash in Pennsylvania.  Ed Browning had lived in New York in 1986 to 1998 as Presiding Bishop and periodically we would shut off the radio so he could voice his concerns regarding people who worked at the church center or Trinity Parish or friends in New York.

We met with Priscilla Collins at her apartment and had a very meaningful meal all the time listening on and off to the horrific news from New York.

At 3:00 p.m. on September 11, 2001, Ed Browning and I returned to my car and drove back to Portland having received a generous gift to continue our work for Sabeel.  We continued to be heartbroken as we listened to the radio.

Ed Browning died this past July and his service at Trinity Cathedral in Portland two months ago was a glorious celebration including his family and Church leadership.

My memory of 9/11 will always include the full day with one of the most influential Christian leaders of our century.  And for these past years since then I have worked with him as my mentor and friend.

I almost did not make it to be with you today.  And I will tell you why.  Two weeks ago while driving to our cabin on the Long Beach Peninsula in WA with my wife, Elaine, and two of our grandchildren from Seattle we almost had a very serious wreck. 

I was driving towards Astoria on a beautiful day and suddenly realized the car in front of me had stopped.  It is your worst nightmare.  I slammed on the breaks and smoke came from my tires.  In a split second, I saw the pickup behind me put on his breaks and begin to slide sideways.  I could tell I was going to crash into the back of the car stopped ahead of me and fearful the car behind would crash into me.  I made a quick decision within a split second to pass the car ahead of me.  I prayed there was no car or truck coming toward me and quickly passed the stopped car ahead of me.  As I passed the stopped car, I saw a dead deer in the road, the reason for the road crisis.  A crash did not occur and I continued on.  As I pulled around the stopped car, I experienced that moment of realizing how my life might have ended or changed dramatically if a crash had occurred.

I was in shock and also thankful that nothing had happened.

We were not lost in the conventional sense, but we were very much involved in a world that life comes and goes and for a brief moment life and death were being defined for my loved ones and me.

I thought back to my desert experience in the Big Bend as I pulled ahead of the dead deer.  Somehow in the scheme of Gods presence I still have something to offer in a continuing way.  The future is still there to claim.  Life is still to be defined.  The parable in Luke was being acted out.  I was on the shoulders of the one who remains a mystery.  Doors are open into a future that is there for us to look forward to.

Somehow in the mystery of creation we are all lost and being found at all times and in all places.

To acknowledge this is to sing along with the words from Amazing Grace.  “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see”.

Amen

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost by The Rev. Richard Toll

 

Lessons:

Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6-19
Luke 11:1-13

 

 

What do we do about living life to its fullest?

How do we address God?

How do we even know God?

Does God mean anything to you or me?

Why do we even care about the answers to these questions?  If, there are answers.

 

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”

One of the most important parts of life is asking questions and being able to receive answers.  And, the answers we receive are often not the answers we want.

Do you remember when you were a child and growing into the awareness of God?  Do you remember how you prayed?  I do.  I remember thinking that prayer was a magic formula for getting what I wanted.  And, as adults we often may have the same thoughts.  I can remember wondering about God when I prayed that our team would win a football game and we lost.  Darn it!  “Who does God think he is any how ?” was something of my childhood response.  And yet we asked and received.  The answer may not be what we hoped, wanted or needed.

The Lord’s Prayer is a simple prayer and a very profound prayer.  “Lord, teach us to prayer,” the disciples ask of Jesus.  Matthew’s Gospel gives us the fullness of the Lord’s Prayer as we know it in our Prayer Book.  Luke gives us his version at the end of the 1st century.

The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer of relationship.  God is addressed as “Father” which is a very intimate understanding of God.  It places God within our experience and recognizes our dependences.  It places us as a part of God’s creation.  It places us in relationship in such a way that we enter into the mystery of life itself with the one who created life.

In the intimacy we experience with God, the prayer speaks of Heaven and Earth, the Will of God and the Kingdom of God.  This is why the prayer is such a profound prayer.  Thousands of books have been written on all of these topics and thousands more will be written in the future as people like you and me experience God, Creation, Life and Death.  We live into mystery every time we say the Lord’s Prayer.

As individuals, we live in a very fractured world.  As individuals, we feel alone and isolated.  We wonder about who we are and what our role is within creation.  Can we , or do we make a difference?

I believe we are created in order to make a difference.  We often do not know what happens with our actions or prayers.  Because we do not see the results for better or worse.  Sometimes we do know.  Recently I heard from a dear friend whose child died 25 years ago.  The loss was very painful.  The father and family were hurting and he told me about a prayer I offered at the time.  I have no idea what I prayed or how God used me as a vessel.  But, my friend informed me how much it meant to him, his family and friends.  He is still uplifted by the memory.  I thanked him for sharing with me after 25 years.

We learn to pray in many ways.  First of all by reading and writing prayers.  The Lord’s Prayer is one of those prayers.  As life teaches us many lessons, we move beyond words to a deeper level of prayer that is within us, surrounding us and often it is not verbalized.  We often can find ourselves in prayer that is not focused.  I find that at times the best way to focus our moments of discernment within the life of the spirit is to simply say “Thank you_________” and begin to say thanks for where ever the Spirit leads.  It may be thanks for a hard lesson learned or thanks for being delivered from an injury or illness, or a relationship being repaired or an insight into a problem to be solved and thanks for and on and on and on.  To have a way of saying thank you for not giving into temptation.

Our thanks in prayer makes us aware of that beyond ourselves and helps us live beyond ourselves.

It can also remove a sense of isolation and bring us into the understanding of community and the realization that we come together to offer prayers not just as individuals but within community.  Can you imagine a world that does not intentionally as individuals and as community enter into prayer?

Repeat—can you imagine a world that does not intentionally as individuals and as community enter into prayer?  Self centered—without reflection—without forgiveness, relating only to our own wants, competing for more and more at the expense of others?  My guess is the world would have more wars and more of what we do not like in today’s world.

One of the things we learn from prayer is that we realize in our prayers that there is an expectation that we become answers to our own prayers.  Do we pray for healing for another person without visiting them and doing our part in any way we are able.  Do we pray for justice and find ourselves ignoring issues of justice within our own life?  Do we pray for a concern thinking someone else needs to address the concern or God will take care of it while we choose to ignore or dismiss.  It is like praying for the election in November and not voting.  Complaining but not acting.

We can become answers to prayers we offer.  And maybe that is what God is asking of us in order to be within the Kingdom of God.

We are gathered in community today.  Praying, singing, listening, discovering each other and discerning our lives within the presence of God.  Right at this moment there are individuals in countries throughout the world who are saying the Lord’s Prayer, receiving communion, saying prayers, reading the Bible, engaging in worship—all over the world—people together are offering themselves and giving thanks to God.  At the Church of the Pater Noster in Jerusalem the Lord’s Prayer is presented in over 100 languages on the walls of the church.

Funerals are taking place right now—somewhere grieving and loss are occurring.

Weddings are taking place right now—somewhere rejoicing as people join their lives together.

Baptisms are taking place right now—somewhere promises are being offered to honor the life of Jesus and to become a member of a community of Faith.

Births are taking place—somewhere new life—in hospitals, homes, jungles, at sea, anywhere and everywhere—“Give us this day our daily bread”.  May we receive food to nourish us.

And not just in Christian churches—Moslem, Jewish,  Hindo, Buddhist.  People drawing near to the presence of the One who created and is made know.  And of course we know that the impulse of good versus evil always can move us away from the spirit of love because of the gift we have of freedom to choose.  Thus, the Lord’s Prayer, “deliver us from evil”.

This past month our entire family (our son, his wife and two children and our daughter with her husband and two children visited Washington, D.C. for a week.  We went to Mt. Vernon, the Capitol, the White House and overdosed on Smithsonian Museums.   One of our most meaningful museums was the space museum.  A fantastic visit into space was offered as we were able to experience the vastness of space and the overwhelming sense of what is beyond us.  It is amazing what we have been able to discover about our universe in the past 100 years.  It is almost beyond belief.  We have been given the means to discover what God has done in creation and continues to do.  Within this creation, we offer the simplicity and the majesty of the Lord’s Prayer our gift from Jesus to draw closer to the Father, closer to each other and closer to our own selves.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”  And the journey continues.

Amen.