Thursday, August 30, 2007

“...for indeed our God is a consuming fire.”
(Hebrews 12:29)

Year C Proper 16
Isaiah 28: 14-22
Psalm 46
Hebrews 12: 18-19; 22-29
Luke 13:22-30
Trinity Parish
Seattle, WA
August 26, 2007
Jan Robitscher

With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
(The Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot)
In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

One of the most interesting and challenging aspects of living in a seminary community (actually I live in two: Church Divinity School and the School for Deacons) is hearing sermons on a daily basis. Over twenty years I have heard many and preached a few. For most, the theme was some nonjudgmental aspect of the love of God, and in a very few the theme was our love of God. They all meant well, I am sure, but somehow God always came off as being too tame. But on a cold January afternoon I sat in Westminster Abbey at Evensong and heard Canon-in-Residence Collin Semper preach on this very text from the Letter to the Hebrews:

For God is a consuming fire.

No, it was not in any way a “fire and Brimstone” sermon. In fact, Canon Semper’s voice was both quiet and emphatic and his sermon touched me to the core.1 And in case you are wondering--no, you won’t hear a “Fire and Brimstone” sermon from me, either--well, at least not ultimately.

For God is a consuming fire.

Why did you come here? Because you wanted to, or because you felt you had to? Did you come because you love God or because you need to experience the love of God? Did you come because you love the beautiful language of Rite I or the Renaissance music we are doing and hearing today? I do. Did you come because you are searching? Perhaps because you are worried about the present divisions in the Church or in the world (I am) or about the future? Did you come in brokenness and wanting healing? Canon Semper made the surprising statement: that it is “precisely why we have come to church--because our God is a consuming fire.”

Yes, we come searching, broken and--if we come in the right way, wanting to present ourselves as we are and as best we can to God. But then we are startled by the ‘Consuming Fire”! We encounter the presence of God in a prayer, a hymn, a reading or even a sermon and hear our name in it! And that’s only the beginning...

For God is a consuming fire.

From Genesis to Revelation, the Scripture has used Fire as denoting the presence of God. Whether that Presence is benign or not depends upon the circumstances, and upon whether those involved intended a closer relationship to God or were fleeing in fear. Consider these examples:

Moses noticed the bush with flame coming from it and
turned toward it and encountered the living God. “Come no
closer!” said God. “Remove your shoes from your feet, for the
place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Moses hid
his face, for he was afraid to look at God. (Exodus 3: 4-6)

From this benign yet terrifying meeting came the story of the Exodus--the very story we hear at the Great Vigil of Easter huddled around the Paschal Candle, lighting the room with our little candles... Or consider these:

In Leviticus, God accepts burnt-offerings and sacrifices, and what is left is to be “consumed by fire”. (Lev. 19:6)

In Advent we hear that God will come

“like a refiner’s fire... and he will purify the descendants
of Levi...until they present offerings to the Lord in
Righteousness.” (Malachi 3: 2ff)

Just last week we heard the words of an impatient Jesus:

I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I
wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49)

We celebrate Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit appeared over the heads of the Apostles as “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3)

And in the book of Revelation we hear about the seven flaming torches which surround the throne of God... Rev. (Ch. 4) and of how all evil will one day be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 21: 8) and there will be new heavens and a new earth--the heavenly Jerusalem, where “the glory of God is its light, and the lamp is the Lamb--the final redeeming of fire. (Rev. 21:23)

And saints down through the centuries have encountered God the consuming fire in the experience of contemplative prayer. A Renaissance saint, Teresa of Avila, wrote this:

“The fire of divine love is more quickly enkindled
when we blow a little with our intellects. Since
we are close to the fire, a little spark will ignite
and set everything ablaze. Because there is
no impediment from outside, the soul is alone
with its God; it is well prepared for this enkindling.
[I would like you to understand clearly this manner
of prayer, which, as I have said, is called recollection.]
(The Interior Castle, Chapter 28)

Now if we admit that we come to Church as we are to encounter the living God, we must move on to a harder question: Why do we stay? In the face of the issues of human sexuality dividing our church, some have decided to leave and for the rest of us it could seem a tempting escape. But that issue is, for some, a cover for other issues. Some, on the conservative end, are still arguing still over the ordination of women and the Prayer Book. Others, on the liberal end, argue over inclusive language or the necessity of baptism or the irrelevance of the parts of the Bible they don’t like--perhaps including today’s lesson from Hebrews! We may have no choice, given the possibility (though not likely) that the Episcopal Church in the United States might be thrown out of the Anglican Communion. In the end, these issues--all of them--pale before God the consuming fire. But let us not panic! How can we find the courage to to stay?

Consider the reasons why folks leave. Either the Church is:

1) too conservative (THEM)
2) too liberal (US) OR
3) our spiritual life has gone flat (ALL OF US)

Which brings us back again to our reading from Hebrews. This letter was written very early--before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D.--to encourage Jewish Christians not to abandon their new-found faith in Jesus. In addition to arguments from the Hebrew Scriptures they knew, St. Paul (or more probably a student of St. Paul) warns them that they do not come to worship “something that can be touched”, but to nothing less than the “heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering...and to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant. ( Hebrews 12: 23-24) The warning continues: See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking to you...

For God is a consuming fire.

The real question is not the whether the Church is too conservative, too liberal, or just not meeting our needs. It is whether we are ready and willing to recognize the presence of God in recollection, as St. Teresa says, and in community. We are in the Church because it is the Body of Christ, and the Word of God is a consuming fire because if we hear it, it either challenges or frightens us. If we don’t hear it, something is blocking it and we need to allow the Holy Spirit’s fire to burn away those things which are blocking it. We must do this because if we flee from it, then the Word of God will indeed consume us in a more destructive way.

But this is not the end of the story. On the other side of for God is a consuming fire, the author of Hebrews goes on to say this:

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality
to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels
without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison...Let
marriage be held in honor... Keep your lives free from the
love of money and be content with what you have... Remember
your leaders... [And finally]-- Jesus Christ is the same
yesterday, today and forever.

The surprise is that the author of Hebrews says that the fruits of an encounter with God the consuming fire--for those who intend a closer relationship with God--are not fear and death and destruction, but love, hospitality, intercessory prayer, community life (summarized by, but not limited to marriage)--all the things we do when we come together for worship that prepare us for the moment of Communion--when, as St. Augustine says, in receiving the very life of Jesus, we become who we truly are: the Body of Christ. Here, in the consuming of bread and wine-become-Jesus, is the place where we most closely encounter God the consuming fire.

Where is the Good News in all this? If we come to God honestly, not afraid to bring whatever we have: our searching, our longing, our brokenness, our love--then we can have the courage (by God’s grace) to remain in the presence of God the consuming fire and be transformed by it into the Body of Christ. Therefore, says the Letter to the Hebrews:

... since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot
be shaken, let us give thanks,by which we offer to God
an acceptable worship with reverence and awe;

for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
(Hebrews 12:29)

Let us pray:
Come, Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of your faithful people
and kindle in us the fire of your love;
Send forth your breath and we shall be created
and you shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.
“Lord, teach us to pray...”
(Luke 11:1)

Year C Proper 12
Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 85
Col 2:6-15 (17-19)
Luke 11:1-13
St. Andrew’s
Brechin, Scotland
July 29, 2007
Jan Robitscher

Be careful of simple words said often.
“Amen”: We are present. We are open.
We hearken. We understand.
Here we are. We are listening to your word.1
(Barbara Schmich)

First, I would like to thank Ursula for inviting me here to preach. I have just come from singing at Lincoln Cathedral and then at Durham with the choir of St. Mark’s Church, Berkeley, California. Our week (and a bit more) of leading people in sung prayer has been an experience both exhilarating and exhausting. St. Benedict was right--prayer really is the “Work of God”! At home, during term-time, I am an Instructor at the Episcopal School for Deacons, an intensive program for the training of vocational deacons for all of the diocese of northern California and beyond. Ursula suggested that I speak about this, and I think there might be a connection between our readings--especially the Gospel-- and the ministry of deacons, though it may not seem obvious at first.

Our reading from St. Luke’s Gospel speaks to us of prayer. It is notable that Jesus knows how to pray, how to have an intimate conversation, speaking and listening to and with God, his Abba, his Father in the closest sense. But his disciples must ask to learn how to pray, “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.” So if, as St. Paul says, we are buried with [Christ] in baptism and raised with him through faith (the Early Church Fathers would say, “Christians are made (through baptism), not born”) then prayer is more taught than caught. It is something we teach our children. One of my earliest memories is of my Presbyterian mother saying bedtime prayers with me, which always included the Lord’s prayer. And we hone our “prayer lessons” over the days and years of our lives, growing in our relationship with God; listening more and speaking less. Sometimes, however, we encounter dry times, or simply take our prayers for granted, or fail to pray at all. Fortunately for us we have little excuse, for there is not a service in the Prayer Book (whether of the Episcopal Church of Scotland of of the Episcopal Church in the United States or anywhere else in the Anglican Communion) that does not have somewhere within it the Lord’s prayer.

Be careful of simple words said often...

Jesus’ prayer reflects his deepest desires: for reverence for God as Father (or loving parent, if you prefer); for the coming of the Kingdom in which God’s will is perfectly reflected from heaven to earth and back again; for everyone to have what they need to feed body and soul each day; for reconciliation with God and each other; and for our safety in times of trial. To pray as Jesus prays is to make Jesus’ deepest longings and desires our own.2 But this is not just a little theological nicety or a pious thought. Jesus’ prayer makes demands upon us that affect the way we live our lives in the world. Which brings us to the second part of our Gospel lesson--and to the School for Deacons.

Perhaps the disciples’ next question after “Teach us to pray” was “And what does this prayer have to do with us”. So Jesus tells this little parable about a persistent friend and what it means to persevere in prayer. That someone would get up in the middle of the night to give his neighbor some bread for his persistent friend--daily bread--this could be called “applied theology”--what it means to pray in the real world.

Each weekend at the School for Deacons students engage in course work which focuses on all the normal seminary subjects, but with an emphasis on the service of deacons to the poor and marginalized, which is the essence of the diaconate and will comprise a large part of their ministry. They apply this knowledge in Field Education, Hospital Ministry, in many ministries around the diocese and in their home parishes, as well as in their secular jobs which they will continue after graduation and ordination. But there is also a regular schedule of worship, in which every student participates and where the liturgical ministry of deacons is modeled. To form deacons, we engage them in a constant conversation between ministry in the church and in the world. We try to teach them, as Gail Ramshaw says, that:

When [the deacon] who works with the poor also
proclaims the Good News, calls on the people for
prayers of compassion and waits on the table and
the people recognize the connection between the
deacon’s ministry without...and within, liturgy forms
the people of God in a life of Christian service.3

The final part of the Gospel reading speaks of the overwhelming desire of God to shower good things upon us--even more than a parent wanting to do good his or her children. This is how God is. God has no need of our prayers, yet desires that we take up Jesus’ own words, and then to shower upon us everything we ask, encompassed in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Now if you are thinking that there is a large gap between Jesus’ desires and our own, between what we ask of God and what God gives, you are right. We have only to look at a verse in the Psalm for today to see this:

Mercy and truth have met together;*
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
(Ps. 85:10)

I love this verse and only wish it would come to pass. On one of my previous trips to the U.K. I visited Westminster Abbey, a favorite place. Someone pointed out to me (really too far for me to see) that there are four statues: Mercy, Truth, Justice (Righteousness) and Peace: the Four Virtues. At Evensong, I heard a sermon from the then Sub-Dean which pointed out that the statues of Mercy and Truth actually look away from each other. How far from a perfect alignment with God we are! Yet we persevere in prayer, just as Abraham of our Old Testament reading, or the neighbor of Jesus’ story, or as the disciples who wanted to learn to pray. But we must remember that it is God who gives us the desire to pray in the first place, which makes our prayers a reflection of God’s work in us.
Be careful of simple words said often...

In a few minutes we will say the Lord’s Prayer--our final act of preparation before receiving the very life of Jesus in Holy Communion. When we place our “Amen” on that prayer, we take upon ourselves Jesus’ desires and we allow him to take our “Common Prayer” and make it holy. We take all of the pain of our lives and of the world, all of the divisions in our Anglican Communion and we offer them to Jesus for healing and reconciliation. We take all of the service of our lives and offer it to Jesus, asking for strength and grace and safety. We take all the thanksgivings of our lives and offer them to Jesus for praise. And to Jesus’ prayer (and returning to the poetry of Barbara Schmich) we say:

“Amen”: We support. We approve.
We are of one mind. We promise.
May this come to pass. So be it.

Amen. Amen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

“...[H]er sins, though many, are forgiven;
hence, she has shown great love.”
(Luke 7:49)

Year C Proper 6
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15
Psalm 32:1-8
Galatians 2:11-21
Luke 7:36-50
Jan Robitscher
Trinity Parish
Seattle, WA
June 13, 2004

Said General Oglethorpe to Wesley, “I never forgive.”
“Then I hope sir,” said Wesley, “you never sin.”
(George Eliot, Nineteenth Century)[1]

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Whatever possessed the creators of our lectionary to place these readings right at the beginning of the long, green season? We might have expected to find them during Lent for--in a rare confluence, they all have to do with sin and forgiveness, with law and grace, with repentance and love. But green is the color representing growth--growth in our life-in-Christ--so maybe there’s a purpose here.

All of the people in these lessons acted in ways that separated them from the truth. King David is in a heap of trouble. He desires Bathsheba, and, after committing adultery with her, he has her husband Uriah killed off in battle. God is not pleased, but David does not “get it” until Nathan comes to him with a parable (a one-point story) about the ewe-lamb, which finally breaks through to David and prompts his confession. God is merciful and David is forgiven, though his sin does have consequences for the child that is born--but that’s another sermon.

Our Gospel reading presents another illustration of God’s forgiveness and how people respond to it. Jesus visits the home of a rabbi, a Pharisee--one who would have prided himself on his ability to keep the whole Law to the letter, and who would have looked down on those who did not. We don’t know why Simon invited Jesus to dinner. Perhaps he admired him or even wanted to entrap him. Probably, he was just curious, as Jesus had become a celebrity. What Simon has not anticipated was the presence of the “woman from the city, who was a sinner”. How could such a notorious person--a woman, considered to be an outcast and at the bottom of society--get into the Pharisee’s house? How could she come right up to Jesus? Then she did the unthinkable and broke open her vial of perfume, something often worn by women, and began to anoint Jesus’ feet and, weeping, to wipe his feet with her hair. This was an incredibly sensuous gesture and the Pharisee was scandalized, though he did not voice it. He didn’t “get it” any more than King David did. So Jesus, reading his thoughts, and seeing through the woman’s acts to a love much deeper than sensuality, tells another parable, the story of the creditor and the two debtors.

At the end of the story, when both of the debts are forgiven, Jesus asks, “Now which of them will love him more?” And he answered, correctly, “The one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” Jesus then explains that this notorious woman has done for him all of the customary things which the Pharasee-host is supposed to do. Then comes the heart of his message:
“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which were many,
have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.”

This is the part that is so hard for us to understand. We often remember that other verse of Scripture, “Love covereth a multitude of sins.” (I Peter 2:8) And it does. But what we think that means is that we can earn God’s forgiveness with our love, by our own efforts. In this lesson, we think that Jesus said that those who love much are forgiven much. But listen carefully. What Jesus says of the woman is that her response to being forgiven overflows into acts of love. This is what St. Paul is trying so hard to say in our second reading--that we must act consistently with the truth of the Gospel because “we are justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing works of the Law.”

Now what does all of this have to do with us? In an age where many folks are saying that they can’t find God anywhere, it is important to remember that, in order to begin to find God, we must first be willing to admit our personal and corporate sinfulness. This is not easy. Look at the headlines and see how hard we try to justify (and we even lie to do it) all sorts of things. Take the reasons for going to war in Iraq. Most were exaggerated at best and fabricated at worst. And, according to one commentator, talk show host Phil Donahue was the lone voice raising questions about this, and for his efforts, his show got canceled. Or how about the greed of multi-national corporations like Enron. While California burned, the corporate execs laughed--all the way to the bank. Add to these the pollution of our earth; and all the various forms of discrimination which still pervade our society...

But if we think the Church is exempt, we would be quite wrong. One only has to see the split over the issue of homosexuality, for example. On one side are extreme conservatives who are trying to exclude anyone unlike themselves. On the other are extreme liberals who are advocating a hedonistic society in which anything goes and there is no sin. This is not the only issue, and we are not alone. Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters continue to struggle through a sexual abuse scandal of monumental proportions.

On a more personal level--perhaps the hardest to see--we might ask: What do we lie about? What separates us from the truth? What angers or resentments or jealousies keep us from loving God and one another?

Now lest we fall into despair over all of these kinds of corporate and personal sin, we have only to look at our Psalm to find help:
While I held my tongue, my bones withered away,*
because of my groaning all the day long.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you,*
and did not conceal my guilt.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”*
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

Our liturgy provides us with a way to do just this. In a few minutes, after we have professed our faith and prayed for the Church and the world (Heaven knows they need it!) we will say the General Confession. Here is our best opportunity to confess not only our own personal sins, but also the sins we commit corporately: as a parish, as Christ’s Body, the Church, and as a society.

The truth is, as St. Paul has said,
For there is no distinction, since All have sinned
and fall short of the glory of God...
(Romans 3:23)
But he goes on to say:
...they [and we] are now justified by...
grace as a gift, through the redemption
that is in Christ Jesus...

After the General Confession, we exchange the Peace. This is an ancient act of reconciliation and a sign that those who desire it are now ready to participate in the Holy Communion. No one is worthy and, as your rector, Paul likes to say, all are welcome. And Jesus is there, willing to accept us, just as he was willing to accept that notorious woman, who knew that her many sins were forgiven, and whose gratitude overflowed in love.[2]

So maybe the lectionary writers weren’t wrong after all. Maybe, in order to find God, to grow in our life-in-Christ during this long, green season, we must begin by first recognizing our own sinfulness--and that of our parish and our society. Then, thankful for God’s unfailing mercy, we can, like the woman of our Gospel story, be overflowing with acts of love.

[1] From A Reconciliation Sourcebook, LTP, p. 53
[2] Some ideas for this sermon came from the Rev. Nicholas R.D.Dyke’s sermon on the website, Worship that Works.
“...Son of David, have mercy on me!”
(Mark 10:47)

Year B Proper 25 (Special Healing Service)
Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

Jan Robitscher

St. Mark’s Church

Berkeley, CA

October 29, 2006

In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

O lead my blindness by the hand,
Lead me to thy familiar feast,
Not here or now to understand,
Yet even here and now to taste,
How the eternal Word of heaven
On earth in broken bread is given.
(William Ewart Gladstone, 19th century)[1]

What an irritating soul was Bartimaeus! Sitting by the side of the road, calling out at the top of his voice, “Son of God, have mercy on me!” Little wonder they tried to shush him up. Although he seemed to be yelling at the air, he knew that Jesus was close by, and, though he may not have known much about Jesus, where Jesus was, there was God’s help. So he cried out all the louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

I can relate to Bartimaeus at lots of levels. I, too, have received my sight--but that’s another sermon. I also know something of what it is to cry out for mercy. In second grade, we had to copy long outlines and assignments from the blackboard. Even sitting in the front row, this was a daunting task. One day, I got completely overwhelmed and yelled out a 7 yr. old’s equivalent of “Son of David, have mercy on me!” The teacher, using methods we would now call abusive, silenced me and segregated me to the back of the room. Healing of the memory and forgiveness (renouncing revenge) came later when I understood more about this teacher and her problems. I can remember other times. In Junior High the children made a circle around me and began to taunt... Again, healing and forgiveness came later. But these and other such experiences only made me want to spend the rest of my life speaking and writing and working to improve the treatment of all persons--especially persons with disabilities--both within and without the Church, and cry out all the louder, “Son of David, have mercy!” Each time, in some way, I have been told “Oh Jan, sit down. Be quiet.” Still, I persist...

Back to our Gospel reading. What happened next was--really--a miracle. First, Jesus stood still long enough to hear Bartimaeus’ cry. Then, ignoring the crowd trying to hush Bartimaeus, he said “Call him here.” The fickle crowd then changes its attitude toward the blind man, saying, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” Then Bartimaeus does something remarkable: he throws off his cloak--his dearest possession--and runs to Jesus, who asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” And Bartimaeus, no longer shouting to the air for help or harassed by the crowd, asks simply, “My teacher, let me see again.”

Now, Bartimaeus could have asked for anything: fame, fortune, maybe for a less dysfunctional family or a better place in society. But he says, “My teacher, let me see again.” Perhaps he has had sight before. Yet, does he really know what he is asking? Does he really want to see the world that is both beautiful and, at times, brutal? He does not hesitate: “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus, the Son of David had mercy on him, and he was healed.

But it does not end there. For, in Mark’s good style, it says that “Immediately, he followed him on the way.” In early Christianity, “The Way” meant to follow Jesus. So he went on his way, and most likely told anyone who would listen the story of his healing encounter with Jesus.

I could stop right here and tell you (and it’s true) that Jesus cares about each of us and wants to heal us, to give us what we need to be whole and sound. In return, we thank him and follow him on the way. But I believe there is more for us--yes, US. This story is not only about an encounter between Bartimaeus and Jesus. It is about the crowd, too. It is not just a “me and Jesus” story. It is an “US and Jesus” story.

What if we, as a parish, were to live out this story? What if this story is really a story about Healing, Stewardship and Evangelism? How would it look? First, we must admit that we are sometimes like blind Bartimaeus. We can’t see what is going on, but we can admit before God that we need healing and keep crying out until God’s help comes. What if we lifted our parish up to God in this way? Oh, we know some things: that our long and wonderful history includes the collective memory (an actual memory for some who have been here that long) of the tragic death of our former Rector George Tittmann; our present budget problems; all the buildings, programs and personnel we wish we could add to what we have; perhaps a few forgotten “skeletons” in our parish closet? And beyond us, what about the divisions that threaten the Anglican Communion? What if we just lifted it all up to God? What if we took a lesson from our Amish brothers and sisters who have endured such unspeakable violence and made the choice to pray and to forgive? Or we could learn from the courageous and articulate response of Michael J. Fox to the unkind remarks of Rush Limbaugh. Can we lift up our society to God? Or our war-torn, global-warmed-out world? That’s the Healing part.

Sometimes we are like the crowd. One moment we try to hush up those crying out for help, the next we are encouraging them to come. It might be a parishioner, a committee, a clergy or staff person, or maybe a homeless person who come to us for Hot Meals. We are often impatient, unwilling to stand still long enough to hear their cry. Or sometimes no one is patient enough to hear ours. How would it be if, like Jesus, we did stand still long enough to hear our own cry, our collective community cry? What if we then took that cry to Jesus for help and healing?

From Bartimaeus, we have learned that healing is costly. Are we willing, as Bartimaeus was, to let go of our collective cloak--our dearest possession? What if we gave of ourselves--all of us in as many ways as we are able--and ask God’s help to build up this parish? To build up the larger Church? To build up our society and our world? That’s the Stewardship part.

Yet we dare not stop there! For when we receive healing or any kind of help, we must return thanks to God and then, like Bartimaeus, follow Jesus on the way. That’s the Evangelism part. We must tell the story of God’s creation, of Jesus, “God-with-us”, of the Holy Spirit blowing its healing power where it will--gently and lovingly--to anyone who will listen and even to those who don’t seem to hear. We must tell them how God is active in our lives, tell them what it really means to be an inclusive community not just in word but in action, invite them to “come and see”, as I often do to those whom I meet walking across the Cal campus to St. Mark’s each Sunday.

Now let me tell you a positive story: One Sunday over the summer, while visiting my family in Atlanta, I attended the Cathedral of St. Philip, where my brother and sister-in-law and their son are members. At Communion, I approached the Altar, led by my (now retired) guide dog, “Christmas”. An usher showed me the stairs and which way to go to receive Communion, and I did. Then, coming around and through the ambulatory, I encountered another usher who asked earnestly, “May I help you down the stairs?” Everything in me wanted to say, “No, thank you, my dog and I can do this together.” but I resisted the temptation in mid-sentence, put down the harness handle and allowed him to take my arm and help me. He told me, in so many words, that he had always wanted to do this, to help someone with a guide dog, someone who could not see, so that he or she could have a good experience of God, of church, of the Cathedral. For that moment, even though I could see, he was my eyes. For that moment, the healing presence of Jesus was there, in the midst of us. I got safely back to my place and he went away happy, his prayer finally having been answered.

O lead my blindness by the hand,
Lead me to thy familiar feast,
Not here or now to understand,
Yet even here and now to taste,
How the eternal Word of heaven
On earth in broken bread is given.

So come forward for prayer and anointing for healing. Come ready to give over your private hurts and illnesses, but also the hurts and illnesses of the Body of Christ in this parish, in the Church, in our world. Come and ask Jesus our Great High Priest who continually makes intercession for us. Ask for healing or whatever else you want and need. Come to give thanks for healing already given or some other special occasion. Come, loved ones and caregivers and stand with us. [Whether you come forward or remain quietly in prayer, listen to the music the choir has lovingly prepared, for music can be a way that God heals us, too.][2] Then, at the time of Communion, come to this Altar, the Lord’s Table, to the Healing Feast that brings forgiveness and the gift of eternal life. Finally, filled with the very life of Jesus, go into the world, ready to tell the Good News of how healing has come to this place.

[1] A Eucharist Sourcebook, p. 25
[2] Omit at 8 a.m. service.