April 12, 2020 – The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

This has to be the most challenging Easter sermon most clergy will ever preach.  How can we proclaim resurrection, joy and hope in the time of pandemic when we are in lockdown–confused, anxious, despondent, dying?  It seems more appropriate to stay in Holy Saturday, that grey, in-between time when the disciples were exhausted by grief and paralyzed with fear.  Right now we think we have experienced the worst, but we can’t be sure what comes next.  It’s far too risky to proclaim that danger is passed and we can all come out of hiding to sing our Alleluia’s and declare the victory of life over death.

It’s made more difficult by the fact that I cannot see your faces.  I don’t know who is out there on the other side of this camera.  We don’t get to greet one another with the traditional Easter greeting, “Alleluia, Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!”  There will be no passing of the peace “with a handshake or even a hug.”  We will not celebrate the Eucharist as we fast from this sacrament until we can be together as “One body in Christ.”  There will be no baptisms.  All of this fills me with grief and dis-ease.  It seems more appropriate to remain in Holy Saturday, that time of limbo, that day when his body was in the tomb and there was darkness over the face of the earth.

For the first time ever this year, I left out the reading from the Acts of the Apostles and instead included the one from Jeremiah.  That was hard to do.  The reading from Acts 10 is a standard bearer for many people of faith, particularly in the African American church.  I can always hear the thunderous voice of those who proclaim in the midst of racism and hatred, “God is no respecter of persons!”  In other words God shows no partiality.  In Christ all are one, all are included, all are beloved.  That has preached and will preach, but this year there is a different word for God’s people.

Jeremiah, that bitter, weeping, beleaguered prophet speaks hope and promise into this present darkness.  After 30 chapters of woes and warnings to a broken people, he proclaims “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness.  God proclaims, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love.  I will build you and you shall be built.  The planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit.”

Grace in the wilderness.  Planters planting.  I’ve been thinking about this for the past few weeks.  The last thing I did before the governor’s shelter in place order went into effect was to get myself to the nursery.  I purchased that expensive dogwood tree I had been thinking about for over a year.  When I planted it a few days later, my Lutheran husband reminded me of Martin Luther’s saying,

“If I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”  Luther lived through the plague.  He found ways to minister to his people and the neediest during a time of death and despair.  He knew a thing or two about grace in the wilderness.

The other items I purchased at the nursery were seeds and compost.  The compost is actually more like manure, at least it smells an awful lot like it.  You may have another word for it.  The compost was needed because the project I had in mind was to dig up a portion of our backyard that was partially covered by grass and partially covered by fill.  The fill included 37 buried bricks from a demolished fireplace, rocks that had been dumped on the site and the natural rock and sand that our yard is composed of, the remains of a former riverbed.  This may not be the most gracious place to plant but it does have the best sunlight.

During the weeks of our confinement I have been chipping away at that plot, removing as many of the stones as possible, digging up and cleaning off the bricks for a future patio project, pulling up the sod and pulling out the weeds and roots.  It has been Lenten work.  I’ve been angry and frustrated at how difficult it all is.  The deeper I’ve dug, the more I’ve thought about my own rocky, imperfect soil and the work it takes to examine and amend it.  It’s been a discipline.  It’s been lonely.  It’s been hard.

During Holy Week I broke out the compost.  It was pretty pungent after a few weeks in the bag.  I spread it all around and then began the arduous task of double digging, the process of bringing up the soil from the bottom and mixing in the rich, life-giving manure that enables life and growth.  By now the weather had warmed and I was really sweating, getting down on my knees and churning the soil with my hands.  It was like digging a grave, piling up the mounds of dirt, going deep.  It was grief work, tangible mourning amidst the stink of sweat and compost.

At last the bed was ready for planting and the weather favorable.  On Good Friday after the service of the passion of the Christ, the solemn collects and the adoration of the cross, I came home, through off my clericals and put on my muddy clothes for the final act.  I mounded up the soil in rows and hills, opened the seed packets and carefully placed them at the correct depth and patted them safely in.  I finished just as the sun was going down.  In front of me was a bare, brown patch of ground, seemingly lifeless, fragile, easily disturbed by squirrels, crows and the big black lab that lives with us.

The seed had entered its own Holy Saturday, in darkness, longing for light, striving for new life out of death.

I had no idea that there is a long tradition of country people, particularly from the South, planting their seed on Good Friday.  As I learned from the Rev. Dr. Stacy Smith:

“This tradition is a way of demonstrating that in the midst of death—even death on a cross—we continue to have hope.  On a day of darkness and death, we testify that the hope we have in Christ is one that will bear fruit—and vegetables.  And even if those seeds of hope are buried deep in the earth, in the darkness of the soil when a hard frost can still threaten the crop, the good earth of Good Friday reminds us that death does not have the final word.  Planting a garden on this day means that we trust that life is stronger than death, that light is stronger than darkness, and that the spring is stronger than the winter we are leaving behind.”

Today we proclaim the hope and promise of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  We are and have always been an Easter people, no matter the circumstances.  Like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary at the empty tomb, we are those who hear and see with both fear and great joy the resurrected Jesus.   We respond first with worship and disbelief and then with action as we go ahead to proclaim the good news to a grieving and despairing people.

Following the sermon, we will renew our promises to live as those baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  We will have the opportunity to sprinkle ourselves and one another with water.  These are the waters of life that nourish and bring the seeds of faith to life.  These are the vows that enable us to “walk wet” in the world, living out our Christian commitments in every circumstance, no matter the difficulty or risk.

It may feel like Holy Saturday but Easter is already present, the seed of God’s love that lives inside each of us and is brought to life by the presence of Jesus, watered by the life of faith.  Ivar sang his favorite Easter hymn today.  Here is the final verse:

When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain,

Thy touch can call us back to life again.

Fields of our hearts, that dead and bare have been.

Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

Alleluia, Christ is risen.

The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

April 5, 2020 – The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of the word “unprecedented.”  Its literal meaning is “never before known or experienced.”  And it describes what we are going through.  We’ve never known a time quite like this.  We’ve never experienced such widespread fear and suffering.  Global travel has spread this virus further and more quickly than any others that have come before.  Technology has made us aware more of what is happening all over the world and what might be next for our nation, state and community.  It’s all so new and fast that we’ve run out of ways to describe what’s happening.

And yet.  Our world has suffered cataclysm after cataclysm.  Before the time of humans, wild swings in temperature and climate resulted in the death and extinction of multitudes of species.  Humans have endured plagues and outbreaks through the centuries, including in recent memory smallpox, polio and the COVID related epidemics of SARS and MERS.  Even now people around the globe suffer death from starvation, conflict, malaria and a host of diseases that debilitate and destroy.

But this touches us all.  No one is immune.  The virus knows no boundaries of nation, class, economics or race.  My clergy friends in South Sudan have taken up their loudspeakers and are traveling through the jungle and small villages in their dioceses to broadcast information about the virus to people who have no access to TV or radio and don’t know what might be invisibly threatening them.  Bodies are piling up in Europe next to famous landmarks and even in ice rinks.  Health care workers everywhere are tired, scared and overwhelmed.  And right now, outside the doors of St. Luke’s in the Ballard Commons Park and next to the library, 30-45 people are sleeping under tents and tarps on the concrete with inadequate shelter, running water, garbage pick-up, food and medical care.  It’s shocking.  It’s terrifying.  It’s unprecedented.

We enter Holy Week as Church in unprecedented times. We can only gather virtually, unable to share rituals of palms, water, wine and bread in person.  Kept apart physically from nearly everyone except those in our same household and solitary if we live alone.

Today we begin the oft-repeated journey of Holy Week, walking the way of Jesus’s last days from triumph and acclaim to suffering and death.  Most of us have been here before.  It is, precedented, although that’s not a word found in the dictionary.  Over centuries the people of God have located their own sorrow and pain along with the world’s tragedies in the Passion of Christ.  We recognize our own fickleness in the behavior of the crowd who move so quickly, in just a matter of days from chants of “Hosanna” to “Crucify Him!”  We are reminded of our own weakness in the failure of disciples who cannot stay awake to watch with Jesus in his darkest hours.  We cringe at Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s denial and know we might have done the same.  We mourn in anguish with Mary and the women who watch helplessly from the foot of the cross.

And as we look upon the crucified one, we find our own pain and sorrow mirrored and magnified.  We encounter the one who identifies in every way with our human limitations and difficulties.

Are you feeling afraid and anxious?  Jesus entered Jerusalem aware that it would probably lead to his death.  He wrestled in the garden with his desire to avoid the cup of sorrow that lay ahead.  He was filled with foreboding.

Are you feeling powerless and out of control?  Jesus encountered systems of organized power and authority that were confused, at odds with one another, self-serving, self-protective and ultimately death-dealing in their bureaucratic response to a perceived threat.

Are you in grief and disbelief at the suffering you see in the sick and dying, in the challenges faced by those on the front lines, in the shock of those, whose loved ones died so quickly and without anyone familiar by their side?  Jesus experienced unimaginable suffering, abandonment and rejection by nearly everyone.  He died alone, on a cross, with his hands nailed down and no one allowed to approach him or touch him in his final hours.

This Holy Week, we cry out with the psalmist, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble; my eye is consumed with sorrow.”  We will be walking the way of the cross this week and into a future that will be filled with more suffering, sorrow and dying.

This Passion Week we may be crying out with Jesus, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  How could our lives have been upended in such a short time?  How could our government be so unprepared?  How could our economy tank so quickly?  How could we lose so many freedoms and privileges we took for granted just one short month ago?  Who will be our savior?  Who will rescue us?  Where is God?

Scripture points us to hope in some unexpected ways during Holy Week.  The long tradition of God’s way of working in the world is often surprising, unlooked for and contrary to what we might anticipate.  For instance, the Savior of the world enters the holy city of Jerusalem on a donkey, with simple palm fronds and poor people’s clothing as his red carpet.  Unlike military and political leaders who head up a parade on horses with weapons and soldiers, pomp and circumstance, Jesus demonstrates power and authority that is non-violent, humble, rooted in his character and identity, in his teaching and example and in his relationship with God.

We hear that example lauded in the hymn from Philippians.  “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”

Finally as his body hangs on the cross and he breathes his last, a Roman centurion, one of the guard appointed to insure his death was carried out properly, one who shared no common religious background with Jesus or his followers, looks upon his broken, wounded body and exclaims, “Truly this man was God’s Son.”

For those who have eyes to see, God is present in the humble, the ones who serve others, the suffering and lowly.  God has determined to dwell with humanity through the most difficult and dangerous times.

These times may be unprecedented but Jesus has been with us through the very worst that the world can dish out time and time again.  Over the centuries we have turned to him in prayer in our darkest hours.  We have contemplated his suffering and death and found resonance in the suffering and death we experience.  What we are going through is not unprecedented to Jesus.  It is known to God.  It has been experienced by Jesus.

We certainly wish we were not here.  But God will give us strength and courage for the “living of these days.”  We are to have the mind of Christ and to follow the example of Jesus in the midst of this pandemic.  When he died, very few people would have guessed that his life, death and resurrection would bring faith, hope and love into the world in ways that had never before been experienced.  No one would have expected that his followers would offer themselves in love and service to the least, last and lost of every generation in every part of the globe.  No one could have foreseen the apostle, martyrs, saints, priests, prophets and millions of ordinary, humble individuals who would change the world because they followed the crucified one.

We, Church are called to stand firm in the trauma of the present.  We are to remember our call to love and service.  We are to be those who care for others, hold community together, speak out for the marginalized and stand up for those who are being persecuted like our Asian brothers and sisters who are being unfairly blamed for this outbreak.  Church, we are to come through to the other side of this apocalypse holding onto hope, faith and love, ready to rebuild relationships and community in a broken and distrustful society.  We are to lead by humble example, being willing to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others.  We are to be willing to pour out our resources on behalf of those who have very little.

God knows we won’t do this perfectly.  We are like those failed, flawed, feeble disciples who get afraid, try to escape reality, become self-protective and lose sight of Jesus.  We will not always have the mind of Christ because our own minds have been overtaken by fear, mind-numbing escapism and distrust.  But God’s Spirit will never leave us and will bring us back to Jesus and back to our best selves.  We will find ways to witness to the love of Jesus by word and example.  We will find ways to keep serving our neighbor as ourselves.  We will stand up for the respect and dignity of every human being.  We will pray for the sick and suffering.  We will comfort the grieving.

And, if it be our turn, we will walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but not alone, for the Christ of the cross will walk with us to the end, beyond this pandemic, through death into the new world and new life that God has promised.

If you have always been too busy to fully participate in Holy Week, the Triduum, the great three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, this may be your best chance.  From the comfort of your own home, you have the option to join others gathered around their tables for a Maundy Thursday lunch via Zoom. You can experience Good Friday and the adoration of the cross through our now regular Facebook live stream and the Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday evening via St. Mark’s Cathedral’s livestream.  In these services every human emotion and experience is encapsulated and held by God.  You will not be alone, but rather joined by others all over the globe who follow the crucified one in the hope of the resurrection to new life.

 

February 9, 2020 – The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

Over thousands of years, the holy city of Jerusalem has endured cycles of destruction and rebuilding.  The protective city walls have been breached, buildings have been destroyed or abandoned as the populace was taken into captivity or fled for their lives.  Even now violence and destruction continue within her walls and in surrounding neighborhoods.

Isaiah writes to a dispirited people who can’t understand why God doesn’t end the destruction.  They fast and pray, they engage their religious traditions and still God doesn’t deliver them from their enemies.   What more can they do?

Well, Isaiah has a word for them, in fact a lot of words.  He makes it clear that no amount of religious observance, or even religious language, no dramatic fasting or display of religious fervor, dare I say not even a National Prayer Breakfast will make any difference unless their actions reflect the priorities of God.

“Loose the bands of injustice.  Undo the thongs of the yoke.  Let the oppressed go free.  Share bread with the hungry.  Bring the homeless poor inside.  Cover the naked.  Don’t ignore your own people.”

Only when the nation cares for its broken, neglected and ignored members will the light of hope be kindled.  Only when all of God’s people are treated with respect and dignity will the country be healed.  When those are the priorities, and only then, will the gardens flourish and ruins be restored.  Then they will call you the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

Some of you know about the pilgrimage walk, the Camino de Santiago.  In English it is called the Way.  It’s the journey pilgrims have taken for hundreds of years to arrive at the cathedral of St. James (St. Iago).  By the 20th Century, the path had fallen into disuse.  Cities and their neighborhoods had built up over it.  Vegetation had obscured it.  The many hostels and small villages along its 500-mile route had closed up or been abandoned as the flow of pilgrims was reduced to a trickle.  The impulse to take on a 500 mile journey by foot in search of healing, forgiveness and renewal had become unpopular and unnecessary.

In 1984 a Spanish priest named Don Elias wanted to recover and revive the Camino.  He spent all his free time in his little grey Citroen covering the countryside of Northern Spain looking for the ancient route.  He got a deal on some bright yellow spray paint and he began to spray simple arrows or “flecha,” pointing the direction to Santiago.  He talked to people about this traditional French route and the purpose of pilgrimage.  By the time he died in 1989, he had rediscovered and marked the entire journey.  Still there were few who made the pilgrimage.

But the word began to spread.  Each year since, the number of pilgrims has increased until now there are over 250,000 annually who walk at least some portion of the pilgrimage.  All along the way the villages are coming back to life.  Small, remote, rural places are filled with laughter and conversation in every language.  New stone walls are built on top of old foundations.  The breaches are being repaired.  The streets are being restored.

And Pilgrims are rediscovering the holy practice of walking.  All of us who have made our Camino did so followed Don Elias’s arrows.  After just a few days, you are attuned to arrow spotting.  You can find them on the ground, on walls, signs and even trees.  In the midst of busy cities, pilgrims walk with their eyes peeled for arrows, tuning out the crowds and traffic. The flecha glow in the dark.  You don’t need a map or GPS or guide.  You simply follow the flecha.  They literally light up the path.

Jesus tells us that we who follow him are the light of the world.  I don’t know how many of us will have the impact that Don Elias had, but we are each beacons, arrows, pointing to the way, shining in dark and confusing times.  By us, some may find their way home, some may find healing and hope in God.

Jesus also tells us that those who follow him are the salt of the earth.  Salt is good both for preserving food and for enhancing its flavor.  Without salt life becomes tasteless and bland.  It may even begin to rot.

In our nation, some of the saltiest people in its history are those who have taken a stand for Civil Rights.  These are primarily people of color, indigenous people, LGBTQ folk, people who have been oppressed and marginalized.  Their stories and voices have been silenced or hidden.  And yet these stories and contributions are an essential part of the whole.

And so we are recovering and lifting up Civil Rights history in the locations where its most important events took place.  In Selma, Birmingham, Memphis, Atlanta and Washington DC.  In small rural towns where individuals were lynched and entire communities of African Americans destroyed.  This fall, as part of my sabbatical, I will be traveling to many of these locations to be salted; salted with the tears of years of oppression; salted with the courage of those who risked everything for freedom and dignity; salted with the wounds of systemic racism; salted with the flavor of those who are essential to our communal well-being and who have been, at best ignored, and at worst, systemically destroyed.

The Civil Rights movement is not just history.  It carries on to this day all over this nation.  You can hear and feel it in the Poor People’s Campaign, A Call for Moral Revival led by the Rev. William Barber.  God is still calling out to us to be salt and light in our day.  I love that the organization Barber founded is called “Repairers of the Breach.”  Here is a short description of their mission:

Repairers of the Breach seeks to build a moral agenda rooted in a framework that uplifts our deepest moral and constitutional values to redeem the heart and soul of our country. We challenge the position that the preeminent moral issues are prayer in public schools, abortion, and property rights. Instead, we declare that the moral public concerns of our faith traditions are how our society treats the poor, women, LGBTQ people, children, workers, immigrants, communities of color, and the sick. Our deepest moral traditions point to equal protection under the law, the desire for peace within and among nations, the dignity of all people, and the responsibility to care for our common home.

Amen and Amen.

Yesterday when our Property Stewardship Team met to determine the next steps for development at St. Luke’s, we studied and reflected on this passage from Isaiah. We are salt and light in this community.  We share our bread with the hungry in the Edible Hope Kitchen.  We partner with the Bridge Care Center to cover the naked.  We provide shelter space for those with no homes.  We are a watered garden called the SLUG.  And we work to see and be in relationship with all our neighbors, including those who are unsheltered and those who persecute us for our mission.  As our resident prophet reminded us yesterday, when it says we are not to hide from or ignore our own kin, that means our brothers and sisters on the street.  It even means those we consider our enemies or opponents.  It means loving our neighbor as ourselves, all our neighbors, even the ones who are so hard to love.

Here in this place we want to be repairers of the breach, restorers of streets to live in, a place where all God’s people flourish.  Together we are light shining in the darkness, arrows pointing out the way.  We are salt, preserving life, enhancing the rich diversity of the flavors of our community and even getting into the wounds caused by sin to bring awareness and attention to what needs healing and reconciliation.

When God’s people function as salt and light, then our prayers and fasting strengthen and prepare us for our mission.  Then our rituals and rites have meaning.  They give us courage to go forth from this place into a world desperately in need.  Amen.

Feb 2, 2020 – Kristen Daley Mosier

In this season after Epiphany, according to weekly lectionary readings, Jesus has grown up, been baptized, and begun his ministry. Yet, in today’s gospel reading, here we are, back at the Temple with Mary, Joseph, and the Christ child. Not every year do we get to meet or reacquaint ourselves with Simeon and Anna, so this year is quite special in that regard. When I first read the texts for today, I knew immediately that we needed to hear from Simeon the faithful servant, and Anna, the prophet. And so, we join Simeon and Anna as they pull back the blanket, to gaze upon the face of Jesus—what better image to hold during this time before Lent. As Blaine reminded us a couple Sundays ago, it is in this time of winter rain and darkness that God’s light continues to emerge; the Messiah is revealed.

Luke’s gospel describes Simeon as one upon whom the Holy Spirit rested. He was guided by the Holy Spirit to go to the Temple on the day that Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus. Upon seeing the family, he knew that God had fulfilled the promise given, and says “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation…a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

Simeon’s refrain is the third song of praise in the beginning of Luke’s gospel. The third Sunday of Advent we listened to Mary rejoicing in God’s work, her magnificat closing with, “[God] has helped his servant Israel…according to the promise he made to our ancestors..” Later, Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, proclaims “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us…” Where the first two come from the parents of Jesus and John, and focus on God’s redeeming work for Israel, Simeon’s prose acts as a kind of capstone after the boys are born, going further to extend God’s grace to include all others outside the Jewish faith: “my eyes have seen your salvation…a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

Simeon embodies anticipation—faith-filled watching and waiting to see a promise come to complete fulfillment.

Luke then goes on to include the story of Anna, a widow, and a prophet. Unlike Simeon, we learn her family name and lineage, and that she resided at the temple. She is like the sparrow and the swallow from our psalm today, who make their nest beside the altar of God. I suspect that it is due to time spent at the Temple that she is able to recognize God’s salvation in the form of the infant Jesus. And so, upon meeting the family (and Simeon) she begins to praise God and “speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Anna offers to us an image of abiding patience, what’s also known in older language as ‘tarrying.’

What I love about the stories of Simeon and Anna, is how they introduce readers to (what I like to call) Luke’s Order of Perfectly Ordinary people, who have an extraordinary encounter with God in Christ. Characters like them are mirrored in the book of Acts (which is the companion volume) by disciples and Gentiles who respond to the message of Jesus and the kingdom of God, and who receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Simeon and Anna offer illustrations of living a worship-filled life, as ordinary people—they are not priests or official temple servants. Yet, they demonstrate such familiar intimacy with the divine simply by their presence, as they recognize God (incarnate) in the flesh of a vulnerable infant, carried and cared for by a poor, young couple.

In Jesus’ time, worship happened exclusively at the temple. However, within a decade or so of the gospels composition, the Jerusalem temple was destroyed by the Roman army. The oppression of the Jewish community, combined with the quick adoption of Jesus’ message among Gentiles, in addition to the content of this new way of faith, converged in such a way that the very nature of worship was transformed. When God’s dwelling place—the temple—no longer exists, where does one go? At the same time, a new gospel emerged saying God became human to dwell on the earth. The question shifts from where does one go, to whom does one worship? The who of worship becomes God in Christ, and the where begins in the breaking of bread, in community. Yet, there remains a tension between the who and the where, particularly when it comes to how we are to understand creation, the world around us.

As today’s psalm and the opening hymn suggest, there is yet another way to encounter God, to be immersed in worship.

1 Creating God, your fingers trace, the bold designs of farthest space;

let sun and moon and stars and light, and what lies hidden praise your might.

2 Sustaining God, your hands uphold, earth’s mysteries known or yet untold;

let water’s fragile blend with air, enabling life, proclaim your care.

If we take seriously the incarnation, that God is Creator abiding in, with, and under all of creation, then all ground is holy ground, all waters are sanctified. Here in the PNW, we are blessed beyond belief with evergreen forests, clear running rivers, sea teeming with life and mountains that might as well be gateways to the heavens. With this absurdity of riches, there are many who seek the canopy of trees and stars as their temple for worship (the inverse of a desert experience, you could say). There are times when it seems as though we can only experience the divine when we retreat entirely from the noise of urban life. (This is not that sermon.)

The greatest challenge, when it comes to worship, is maintaining a dynamic tension between who (the Triune God of all creation) and where (in communion with one another, in communion with the rest of creation). The ground outside where trash sometimes collects may not seem holy, but it is. The back stairwell to the undercroft is far from pristine, but God dwells here, in this place, because people gather in the name of Jesus, to worship, to care for one another, to feed, nourish, and bring healing by the power of the Spirit. (Sometimes we do need to retreat, but not because God has drifted away.)

Worship is one of those terms that we think we know what it means, but defining it can be rather difficult. We come together to worship each week, meaning it is this time-space of (now) when we sing, pray, pass the peace, and take in Jesus himself in the bread and the wine. So, worship is what we ourselves ‘do.’ At the same time, worship is an an encounter with the (w)holy Other; it is something we enter into, like walking into someone else’s banquet. As both activity and encounter, it is our primary theology—meaning that we are no longer simply talking about God, but rather are communicating (with) Godself through song, prayer, gesture. Worship is our participation in the life of Godself, together and individually. And it doesn’t end when service ends. We are sent out in anticipation, waiting to encounter God in the world around us.

Christian tradition holds a tension of distance and intimacy—transcendence and immanence. That tension extends through worship. Prayers to a seemingly distant God culminate in consuming Jesus in bread and wine. In the various Eucharistic prayers (Greek for thanksgiving) that Canon Britt uses from season to season, week to week, we can hear how the language navigates that dynamic tension of God near and far.

In Simeon and Anna we see a foreshadowing of radical nearness (a new way of God communicating Godself). The Holy Spirit rests on Simeon as he expectantly waits for God’s Messiah; Anna’s abiding near the altar of God brings recognition when she sees the family—Anticipation and Patience are the postures of worship.

In the Vineyard church, where I spent some time, we have some incredible stories of what can happen when you simply pray, ‘Come, Holy Spirit,’ with hands outstretched. Similar stories reside here, too, from the years when Dennis Bennett was Rector, and beyond: healing, inexplicable joy amidst anxiety, specific words of encouragement, and so much more. We need those stories. We need new stories. We need to encounter God in surprising ways, to see fleshy vulnerability as a beautiful part of creation. And we need to give ourselves permission to simply be ordinary.

St. Luke’s has its own order of perfectly ordinary people who encounter God, and the invitation is open to join or simply inquire. Each week, during communion, there are folks who stand by the icon and candles, ready to pray with anyone who would like to do so. Today, when you take the bread and the wine, I want to encourage you to ask the Holy Spirit for a word, a phrase, an image, something that is particular for you. Hold onto that and, if you feel so moved, ask for others to pray with you. No lengthy explanations required, just patience and anticipation.

This Sunday is about worship. Worship refines us. Worship attunes us to God and our fellow creatures; to all of creation. Worship is our vocation, our calling, as followers of the Jesus way and readers of the Hebrew-Christian scriptures. Worship is not sitting on a cloud, strumming a little harp. Nor does it entail offering uncritical allegiance to someone else’s conception of God. Worship is as simple and difficult as presenting ourselves to Creator God (who is Love), just as we would approach an infant

January 26, 2020 – The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

Annual Meeting Address

In case this is your first visit to St. Luke’s or you haven’t paid attention, today is not an ordinary Sunday and this is no ordinary sermon. This is the Sunday of the Annual Meeting as we summarize last year, make decisions for the future and offer gratitude to God and others for this community of faith.

As your Vicar, I have the privilege of summing it all up in today’s message, a sort of “State of the Church” address. This is my fifth year to do so at St. Luke’s and it’s a particularly exciting time as we prepare to present the results of the year-long vision discovery process we launched at the 2019 Annual Meeting.

We hold the Annual Meeting during the season after Epiphany, when the light of Jesus shines forth into the world. The source of this light is God. Light burst forth at creation, overcame the gloom and darkness of an oppressed people in exile during the time of the prophets, enables the psalmist to move from fear to faith and dawns in our hearts by the presence of the Spirit.

Here in 21st Century Seattle, we are bearers of that light. Every day, in a myriad of ways, we have the opportunity to make Christ known, in word and action. As a 130-year-old start-up, we are constantly reaching out to our community. The fresh paint on the Chapel and Bennett Hall, our new logo on all new signs and the beautiful grounds have brightened up our presence in the neighborhood. These are simply the outward signs of the constant renewal and transformation that God’s Spirit is doing inside us all.

We are to shine with faith, hope and love, even in dark times. We shine by loving one another, our neighbors and even those who oppose and threaten us. We shine by modeling Beloved Community, in which each person is treated with dignity and respect. This past year during our Spiritual Pilgrimage we came together each week as pilgrims and companions to see the light and be the light. We will offer a similar experience this spring for all who are seeking a deeper walk with God. Our Bishop’s Committee’s priorities include offering ways we can strengthen lives of faith through education, prayer and action.

Light fills this sacred space. Worship is at the very heart of St. Luke’s. This is where we receive comfort, strength and inspiration to be our best and truest selves. It is where we come back to center week by week in the midst of the chaos, anxiety and stress in our lives. The Spirit of the Holy God comes upon us in prayer and praise, filling us with light and life and love. We are blessed by the many lay and clergy leaders who offer themselves as light bearers in this place; readers and preachers; those who lead prayer and serve at the altar; who care for children and keep us safe; as well as many whose quiet, humble work makes this all possible.

We are blessed with an amazing staff; Niki, Parish Administrator; Sara, Edible Hope Director: Ivar, our musician; Andrew, groundskeeper and our newest staff member, Sekayi who has been a blessing as both caretaker and extra security on site. We are getting to know Nathan, who is training with us to be a deacon and our plan is to welcome a new priest in July, who will be serving her first two years of ordination as a curate at St. Luke’s. She will join a stellar group of retired clergy associates, Mary, Blaine and Pat, who enrich us with their many years of experience. Each of these reflect the light of Christ in their own particular way.

Another theme for this season after Epiphany is “Gather.” God is gathering a people, bringing us from different backgrounds and places, from differing identities and experiences; churched and unchurched, young and old, housed and unhoused, rich and poor, to be part of the Body of Christ, to be brothers and sisters, to be united in the same mind and purpose. St. Luke’s strives to be a place where “All are welcome in this place.”

We have work to do. While our Edible Hope Kitchen reflects a population with a greater percentage of people of color than the community, our Sunday morning worship reflects a lower percentage of people of color. We will continue to work towards Racial Reconciliation, an effort that has barely begun. We hope to launch a new worshipping community that will meet during the week for dinner, prayer, and community building. We are tentatively calling it Edible Hope Church since it will build on the relationships that have already developed between guests, volunteers and neighbors who might not ever come to a regular Sunday morning service. Sara Bates is leading this initiative and even now is in Los Angeles being evaluated as the potential gatherer of this community and recipient of a $30,000 grant to initiate it.

This past year we gathered together a lot! We met for community and connection at pubs and at coffee hour. We rejoiced with those who are rejoicing at five weddings, most recently the union of Mac and Nancy our oldest newlyweds at age 87 each! We gathered at St. Mark’s Cathedral with those who were received and confirmed into the Episcopal Church by our bishop. And we mourned the death of Brother Isaac and others.

St. Luke’s is sacred space, a sanctuary to hold life’s most meaningful transitions. We are a place of grace, welcome and healing. We gather at tables for breakfast every day in the Edible Hope Kitchen. We gather around the altar each week to be fed with the bread of life and to drink the cup of salvation.

Finally, Epiphany is all about “Call,” our call to follow Jesus, God’s call to each one of us, and our communal calling to be God’s people in the world, to be the blessed community of light, hope and peace that is so desperately needed. We answer that call in our loving service to the least, the last and the lost. We live out our Christian witness at home, in our jobs, schools and volunteer commitments. We demonstrate our trust in a God of rich abundance by our generosity and gratitude. (You’ll hear more about how our deficit was made up and our giving has increased later.) We partnered with many others to assist those who are hungry and homeless, to help our local businesses after a fire, and to provide housing for a new female priest in Sudan.

Today we will be calling new leadership for the Bishop’s Committee. We are building on our foundation with official By-laws and Personnel policies as we strengthen our organization in preparation for future development. Under the leadership of a new Advisory Board for Edible Hope, we are doing more fundraising and adding a Kitchen Manager position to keep up with the growing demand. In every way, God is helping us increase our capacity to respond to God’s call and to live out the mission to “feed people in body, mind and spirit with the love of God, in the name of Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

For many years there have been dreams and plans for a renewed St. Luke’s campus in the center of Ballard. Today we will present a vision for development. It is the most important step in a lengthy process to design, finance and construct facilities that will enable our vision for the future. God has called together the people and resources we need to facilitate this process and we are excited for the opportunity to present this to you today and then to the Diocesan Board of Directors in March.

St. Luke’s is a Spirit-filled community. I often say that it has saved my spiritual life. I am grateful to continue to serve as your priest and Vicar. With a strong foundation, excellent staff, clergy and lay ministers, I am excited about the year ahead. When I started in 2015 as a part-time priest-in-charge with no staff and only a few thousand dollars in the bank, I never could have imagined what God had in store for us. When I became the full-time Vicar, we included provision for a clergy sabbatical after 5 years, since this is the standard practice of the diocese and is required. We even got smart and set aside money to cover the cost of providing for my absence in a sabbatical reserve fund.

And although the possibility was often furthest from my mind or expectation, this is the year for my sabbatical. It coincides with my husband’s planned sabbatical this fall, which means we can actually share this! Sabbatical is a gift and opportunity for both the priest and the congregation. It is a time for rest, renewal and a re-boot! It will last three months, from September through November. We are just beginning to make plans for how to make the most of this opportunity. My sabbatical support team will be working with me, the Bishop’s Committee and the congregation to facilitate the time away.

Bryon and I don’t have many plans yet, but there is one trip we must make. We will be exploring the Civil Rights Movement and the current movement for racial justice and reconciliation by traveling to the sites which chronicle and represent some of the most important events in our nation’s history. This will be part of the movement towards Racial Reconciliation at St. Luke’s and my own growing awareness of white privilege and racism. I hope the congregation will be doing similar work in my absence so that we might reunite under a shared commitment to addressing this issue in the church. We cannot become the Beloved Community unless we come to terms with systemic racism.

It’s been a wild and wonderful five years and the way ahead is full of both challenge and opportunity. Thank you for the privilege and honor it is to serve as your Vicar as we gather as God’s people, answer the call of Christ and shine the light of the Spirit.

January 19, 2020 – The Rev. Blaine Hammond

What do you feel during this season just after Christmastide?  The early days after the New Year, with darkness dominating the beginning and end of the day, with the warmth of Christmas presents and family visits fading, with cold that can make summer feel like a distant memory, can be a hard time for people, especially those who have a bad emotional reaction to cold and loneliness.  So how is that for you?  And if you follow that tradition of making New Year’s resolutions, congratulations if you are still keeping them.  Many have given up already.

It’s not hard to be negative when you look out the window and see ice instead of grass, if you see people trying to survive without a lot of choices of where to go.  I find it painful to see tents pitched in below-freezing weather and I wonder how are the people who are sleeping in them.  It’s easy to sink into a cup of tea, or coffee, and a good book, if you have the leisure to do that.

Inside the church, it’s a funny arrangement of church seasons that has the season of Epiphany, which means the revealing, or the showing forth, of the Messiah, in this somewhat bleak environment, and as we get closer to when spring starts to seem like it might really come, the more moody season of Lent springs out at us.

But it makes sense to me that the revealing of the Messiah should come in the darkest part of the year, because that is when we most need the Good News, the awareness that God is not sleeping in.

I never did well in January and February.  When I was in school, we didn’t have any holidays between January 1st and Lincoln’s Birthday, which has now been rolled into Presidents’ Day.  Now we have one in the middle of January, a national holiday honoring a Baptist minister, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who is also on the  Episcopal list of feasts, in the book Holy Women and Holy Men, if you know that book, meaning we count him as a saintly example for us Episcopalians.  He insisted on showing the nation, in many ways against our will, how the Messiah could be revealed through subjugated minority peoples.  Dr. King came from a group of people who were pressured, often violently, to accept their subordinate status.  In the midst of that situation he reminded America of some of the fundamental truths of the Christian faith:  that along with those who seem most blessed, God loves the poor and oppressed, God longs for their freedom, and God works on their behalf, albeit much more slowly than they, or we, might wish.

And he also reminded us that God works in the world primarily through people.  It has been said that Christ has no hands on earth but ours.

I never saw Dr. King personally but I remember him well, from seeing him on TV, from reading about him in newspapers, and because my father was a believer in the Civil Rights Movement.  America remembers that King was a leader who fought for civil rights.  Less well remembered is that he did so from a Christian context and a non-violent context, and also less well remembered is that he also fought for worker’s rights and for an end to war.  The group he led was called, if you remember, the SCLC, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  From the teachings of people like Henry David Thoreau and Mahatma Ghandi he took the teachings of non-violent resistance to injustice, and from Ghandi he took the teachings of soul force, the idea that through a spirituality centered in non-violence, the proponent of righteousness could overcome whatever violence his or her resistance stimulated from the opposition.  From the Gospels he took the notion that you bring about God’s will not by hating your enemy but by loving your enemy.

Many people pushing for civil rights began to lose faith in non-violence and in the Christian background of the movement by the mid-sixties; yet, when Dr. King was assassinated, they responded to what they felt as a personal affront to all of the oppressed.

I remember the day of King’s assassination.  I remember the crowds of young people that gathered around Garfield High School who began throwing stones at cars driven by whites; one of them driven by my father.  I remember watching the news, seeing a film of Senator Robert Kennedy giving the news to a crowd of African Americans gathered to hear him speak as he campaigned for President.  They had not heard about it yet, and you could hear the crowd gasp and groan.

I don’t think many of us want to think about the idea that our faith might lead us into the midst of difficult times and places where our safety might be endangered.  But many of our greatest heroes had their heroism and their willingness to sacrifice for others shown forth in such moments.  Indeed, it was not in the safety of his family home that Jesus’ divinity became evident, but in the hard and dangerous moments on the road and in the crowds in Jerusalem.

When people who are determined to do evil are driven to act against you, you can be pretty sure that you are doing the right thing.

We are not asked to stand on the edges of the crowd and watch as Christianity is practiced by others.  In our Gospel reading today, when Jesus saw Andrew following him, he asked Andrew, “What are you looking for?”  Andrew’s response was a curious one, “Where are you staying?”  He wanted to be in the middle of God’s deliverance and be a part of it.  Jesus, in response, did not give him an address.  He said “Come and see.”

When Jesus asks us to come and see where he is staying, where do we end up?  Where do you go to find where Jesus is staying?  Some of us believe that Christianity is lived out in doing good works for others, whether that work is done in politics or business, or in cloistered prayer.  Some of us believe that Christianity is lived out in an experience of personal salvation, followed by a life of prayer and praise.  I would submit that you have to have both; either by itself is incomplete.

Where do you go to find the Messiah?  Dr. King went to the powerful and confronted them with the desire for justice for those who had been denied.  He reminded them of the love of God.  In fact, he said that he wanted to see Christ redeem the segregationists as well, because segregation did as much damage to the whites who practiced it as it did to the African Americans.  He confronted his persecutors most effectively by insisting on loving them, and watched as, for many, and for much of the nation, hatred was gradually transformed.  It was his effectiveness that put a target on his back, but it is him we remember and celebrate, not his assassin.

I believed in those days of the late 60s that I did not need to be religious to work for a good and just society.  I still think that is true.  But if that is all I do, I am missing motivation and meaning that come through meeting Jesus Christ; and that is what this time on Sunday morning is all about – so we can meet God in Christ and gain strength for what the world and God are asking us to face.  Jesus is here.

Where do we go to find the Messiah?  I remember a different era of Christianity when we just assumed that the church is supposed to be made up of a “Certain Kind” of people.  I remember a Bishop of a denomination I won’t name who said we aren’t supposed to go out into the world among those of whom he disapproved, we stand in the doorway with our arms out waiting for them to come to us, he said.  I remember hearing another person, of a different denomination I won’t name – both of them are mainstream Protestants – saying she used to serve on a Membership Committee, who would go out to meet people who had visited the church to see if they were the kind of people the church would want as members.

Fortunately, both of those denominations have discarded those notions of the church.  So have we Episcopalians, who have some of that same history.

I confess to being a regenerate hippie.  That means that when Jesus became real to me again I searched for a place that emphasized a direct encounter with him.  I searched for a place where people at all levels of society, and all races, were welcome.  I looked for a place where the door was truly open.  And I looked for a place that was trying to change society for the better, starting at the altar, and moving out in that strength into the world at large.  The ideas of economic justice, of racial justice, and of what now we might call gender justice, begin with the insistence of people like Dr. King that God demands that we both love each other and confront the world with that call to love.

That was where, for me, Jesus was staying.  When he asks you to come and see, what do you answer?  As you consider that, think of what he promises.  Think of the witness of the Psalmist:  “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.”  The world listens to hear us singing.

December 15, 2019 – The Rev. Phyllis McCormick

Sit,‌ ‌breathe,‌ ‌let‌ ‌those‌ ‌shoulders‌ ‌drop,‌ ‌be‌ ‌present.‌  ‌With‌ ‌each‌ ‌breath‌ ‌go‌ ‌deeper‌ ‌within‌ ‌yourself‌ ‌for‌ ‌today‌ ‌on‌ ‌this‌ ‌3‌ ‌Sunday‌ ‌in‌ ‌Advent,‌ ‌Joy‌ ‌Sunday,‌ ‌we‌ ‌will‌ ‌enter‌ ‌into‌ ‌a‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌prophecy,‌ ‌vision‌ ‌and‌ ‌dreams.‌ ‌For‌ ‌this,‌ ‌we‌ ‌need‌ ‌to‌ ‌see‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌eyes‌ ‌of‌ ‌our‌ ‌hearts.‌  ‌So‌ ‌deep‌ ‌breath‌ ‌again.‌ ‌ ‌

Today‌ ‌our‌ ‌readings‌ ‌from‌ ‌Isaiah‌ ‌and‌ ‌Mary‌ ‌bring‌ ‌us‌ ‌into‌ ‌a‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌prophetic‌ ‌joy.‌  ‌We‌ ‌have‌ ‌been‌ ‌hearing‌ ‌from‌ ‌Isaiah‌ ‌since‌ ‌the‌ ‌beginning‌ ‌of‌ ‌Advent‌ ‌and‌ ‌each‌ ‌week‌ ‌his‌ ‌words‌ ‌have‌ ‌led‌ ‌us‌ ‌to‌ ‌a‌ ‌vision‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌world‌ ‌that‌ ‌is‌ ‌God’s‌ ‌vision.‌ ‌He‌ ‌tells‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌highway‌ ‌that‌ ‌shall‌ ‌be‌ ‌there,‌ ‌and‌ ‌it‌ ‌shall‌ ‌be‌ ‌called‌ ‌the‌ ‌Holy‌ ‌Way.‌  ‌Where‌ ‌the‌ ‌ransomed‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Lord‌ ‌shall‌ ‌return,‌ ‌and‌ ‌come‌ ‌to‌ ‌Zion‌ ‌with‌ ‌singing;‌ ‌everlasting‌ ‌joy‌ ‌shall‌ ‌be‌ ‌on‌ ‌their‌ ‌heads;‌ ‌they‌ ‌shall‌ ‌obtain‌ ‌joy‌ ‌and‌ ‌gladness,‌ ‌and‌ ‌sorrow‌ ‌and‌ ‌sighing‌ ‌shall‌ ‌flee‌ ‌away.‌  ‌This‌ ‌is‌ ‌God’s‌ ‌vision‌ ‌that‌ ‌we‌ ‌read‌ ‌of‌ ‌in‌ ‌Genesis‌: ‌God‌ ‌saw‌ ‌everything‌ ‌that‌ ‌God‌ ‌had‌ ‌made‌ ‌and‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌very‌ ‌Good.‌ ‌

Today‌ ‌he‌ ‌is‌ ‌joined‌ ‌by‌ ‌Mary‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌sings‌ ‌the‌ ‌Magnificat,‌ ‌the‌ ‌divinely‌ ‌inspired‌ ‌revelation‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌work‌ ‌of‌ ‌God‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌and‌ ‌through‌ ‌her.‌ Diedrich‌ ‌Bonhoeffer‌ ‌calls‌ ‌the‌ ‌Magnificat‌ ‌the‌ ‌oldest‌ ‌Advent‌ ‌Hymn.‌ ‌Contrasting‌ ‌Mary‌ ‌the‌ ‌prophet‌ ‌as‌ ‌the‌ ‌proud,‌ ‌surrendered,‌ ‌passionate‌ ‌woman‌ ‌prophet‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Old‌ ‌Testament;‌ ‌not‌ ‌the‌ ‌gentle,‌ ‌tender‌ ‌dreamy‌ ‌figure‌ ‌we‌ ‌see‌ ‌in‌ ‌paintings‌ ‌and‌ ‌statues.‌  ‌This‌ ‌Mary‌ ‌lives‌ ‌and‌ ‌breathes‌ ‌the‌ ‌dream‌ ‌of‌ ‌God.‌  ‌Her‌ ‌words‌ ‌make‌ ‌her‌ ‌the‌ ‌spokes‌ ‌woman‌ ‌for‌ ‌God’s‌ ‌redemptive‌ ‌justice‌ ‌which‌ ‌will‌ ‌be‌ ‌such‌ ‌a‌ ‌part‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌gospel‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌son,‌ ‌Jesus.‌ ‌She‌ ‌proclaims‌ ‌the‌ ‌great‌ ‌biblical‌ ‌theme‌ ‌of‌ ‌reversal‌ ‌where‌ ‌lowly‌ ‌groups‌ ‌of‌ ‌people‌ ‌are‌ ‌defended‌ ‌by‌ ‌God‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌arrogant‌ ‌end‌ ‌up‌ ‌the‌ ‌losers.‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Through‌ ‌the‌ ‌actions‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Messiah,‌ ‌who‌ ‌she‌ ‌carries‌ ‌within‌ ‌her,  ‌God’s‌ ‌mercy‌ ‌and‌ ‌care‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌hungry,‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌poor,‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌disenfranchised‌ ‌will‌ ‌bear‌ ‌fruit.‌  ‌All‌ ‌will‌ ‌be‌ ‌well‌ ‌and‌ ‌all‌ ‌manner‌ ‌of‌ ‌things‌ ‌will‌ ‌be‌ ‌well‌ ‌because‌ ‌God’s‌ ‌love‌ ‌and‌ ‌care‌  ‌is‌ ‌faithful‌ ‌in‌ ‌all‌ ‌generations.‌ ‌ ‌

In‌ ‌these‌ ‌words‌ ‌which‌ ‌Mary‌ ‌sings‌ ‌and‌ ‌proclaims‌ ‌we‌ ‌are‌ ‌invited‌ ‌again‌ ‌to‌ ‌share‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌dream‌ ‌of‌ ‌God.‌ ‌A‌ ‌dream‌ ‌fortold‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌prophets‌ ‌down‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌ages.‌  ‌That‌ ‌dream‌ ‌which‌ ‌began‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden‌ ‌where‌ ‌everything‌ ‌that‌ ‌was‌ ‌created‌ ‌was‌ ‌very‌ ‌good.‌ ‌ ‌

We‌ ‌see‌ ‌God’s‌ ‌deam‌ ‌unfolding‌ ‌around‌ ‌us‌ ‌when‌ ‌the‌ ‌visions‌ ‌of‌ ‌our‌ ‌heart‌ ‌become‌ ‌the‌ ‌work‌ ‌of‌ ‌our‌ ‌hands.‌  ‌When‌ ‌we‌ ‌proclaim‌ ‌the‌ ‌value‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌God’s‌ ‌children,‌ ‌when‌ ‌we‌ ‌work‌ ‌for‌ ‌justice‌ ‌and‌ ‌peace,‌ ‌for‌ ‌gun‌ ‌control‌ ‌and‌ ‌care‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌hungry‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌poor.‌ ‌We‌ ‌are‌ ‌part‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌dream‌ ‌of‌ ‌God‌ ‌when‌ ‌people‌ ‌who‌ ‌are‌ ‌different‌ ‌from‌ ‌us‌ ‌are‌ ‌embraced‌ ‌and‌ ‌not‌ ‌feared.This‌ ‌is‌ ‌the‌ ‌dream‌ ‌of‌ ‌God‌ ‌we‌ ‌embrace‌ ‌with‌ ‌Isaiah‌ ‌and‌ ‌Mary.‌  ‌This‌ ‌is‌ ‌the‌ ‌dream‌ ‌we‌ ‌celebrate‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌words,‌ ‌Rejoice,‌ ‌Rejoice‌ ‌and‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌hymn,‌ ‌Come‌ ‌thou‌ ‌long‌ ‌expected‌ ‌Jesus,‌ ‌born‌ ‌to‌ ‌set‌ ‌thy‌ ‌people‌ ‌free….‌ ‌ ‌

For‌ ‌some‌ ‌this‌ ‌dream‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌fantasy,‌ ‌a‌ ‌myth,‌ ‌and‌ ‌an‌ ‌impossiblility.‌  ‌For‌ ‌some‌ ‌this‌ ‌is‌ ‌all‌ ‌about‌ ‌a‌ ‌different‌ ‌place,‌ ‌a‌ ‌different‌ ‌reality,‌ ‌a‌ ‌remote‌ ‌place‌ ‌called‌ ‌heaven‌ ‌and‌ ‌not‌ ‌where‌ ‌we‌ ‌live‌ ‌today.‌  ‌But‌ ‌the‌ ‌dream‌ ‌of‌ ‌God,‌ ‌the‌ ‌vision‌ ‌of‌ ‌Isaiah‌ ‌and‌ Mary‌ ‌is‌ ‌real.‌  ‌The‌ ‌dream‌ ‌of‌ ‌God‌ ‌is‌ ‌true.‌  ‌The‌ ‌dream‌ ‌of‌ ‌God‌ ‌is‌ ‌possible.‌  ‌For‌ ‌we‌ ‌have‌ ‌seen‌ ‌it‌ ‌and‌ ‌heard‌ ‌it‌ ‌and‌ ‌touched‌ ‌it.‌  ‌And‌ ‌today‌ ‌we‌ ‌do‌ ‌so‌ ‌again.‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Today‌ ‌we‌ ‌come‌ ‌together‌ ‌here‌ ‌and‌ ‌all‌ ‌are‌ ‌fed‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌food‌ ‌of‌ ‌God‌ ‌and‌ ‌none‌ ‌go‌ ‌away‌ ‌hungry.‌  ‌Here‌ ‌we‌ ‌embrace‌ ‌each‌ ‌other‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌blessing‌ ‌of‌ ‌peace‌ ‌and‌ ‌none‌ ‌go‌ ‌away‌ ‌outcast.‌  ‌Here‌ ‌we‌ ‌are‌ ‌all‌ ‌forgiven‌ ‌and‌ ‌none‌ ‌go‌ ‌away‌ ‌shamed.‌  ‌Here‌ ‌we‌ ‌are‌ ‌truly‌ ‌who‌ ‌we‌ ‌are,‌ ‌the‌ ‌beloved‌ ‌daughters‌ ‌and‌ ‌sons‌ ‌of‌ ‌God‌ ‌not‌ ‌because‌ ‌of‌ ‌our‌ ‌gender‌ ‌or‌ ‌orientation,‌ ‌our‌ ‌wealth‌ ‌or‌ ‌our‌ ‌status‌ ‌but‌ ‌because‌ ‌we‌ ‌are‌ ‌all‌ ‌made‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌image‌ ‌and‌ ‌likeness‌ ‌of‌ ‌God‌ ‌who‌ ‌has‌ ‌declared‌ ‌us‌ ‌very‌ ‌Good.‌ ‌ ‌

So‌ ‌the‌ ‌dream‌ ‌of‌ ‌God‌ ‌is‌ ‌real‌ ‌and‌ ‌we‌ ‌come‌ ‌here‌ ‌Sunday‌ ‌after‌ ‌Sunday‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌reminded‌ ‌of‌ ‌that.‌  ‌We‌ ‌lift‌ ‌our‌ ‌hands‌ ‌in‌ ‌prayer‌ ‌and‌ ‌work‌ ‌because‌ ‌we‌ ‌want‌ ‌to‌ ‌experience‌ ‌God’s‌ ‌Kingdom‌ ‌today.‌  ‌Yes,‌ ‌the‌ ‌dream‌ ‌of‌ ‌Isaiah,‌ ‌Mary‌ ‌and‌ ‌God‌ ‌is‌ ‌real‌ ‌and‌ ‌it‌ ‌is‌ ‌our‌ ‌job‌ ‌to‌ ‌share‌ ‌it‌ ‌,‌ ‌work‌ ‌in‌ ‌it‌ ‌and‌ ‌with‌ ‌it‌ ‌and‌ ‌make‌ ‌it‌ ‌real‌ ‌for‌ ‌others.‌ ‌This‌ ‌is‌ ‌the‌ ‌work‌ ‌of‌ ‌our‌ ‌hands‌ ‌and‌ ‌our‌ ‌hearts.‌ ‌This‌ ‌is‌ ‌the dream‌ ‌of‌ ‌God.‌ ‌

November 3, 2019 – The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

It’s November 3 and we’ve just had Halloween or All Hallow’s Evening, All Saint’s Day on the first and All Souls Day yesterday.  Most churches will combine All Saints and All Souls Day celebrations today with baptism or the renewal of baptismal vows along with a litany of those who have died and are known and remembered in the community.  Dia de Muertos or “Day of the Dead” brings together all these Christian feast days over a three-day holiday in Mexico that has links to an Aztec Festival.

Recently I learned about a movement called “Death over Dinner,” where guests are invited to dine together and have a guided conversation about planning and preparing for their own death, including end of life care, legacy and last wishes.

It’s been surprising to hear all this talk about “death” recently since over the past 10-20 years we’ve unofficially stopped referring to death and instead use the euphemism “passed” or “passed away” to describe this universal aspect of the human experience.  Although, it doesn’t quite work to refer to the “Day of the Passed Away” or “A Day of Remembrance for the Faithful Passed.

Episcopalians are a protestant denomination with catholic heritage and practice.  Practically this means that we don’t pray to the saints but we honor them, especially the ones we particularly like including, St. Francis, St. Clare, the apostles and St. Dunstan, the first Christian King in England.  We like to name our churches after saints and we continue to recognize new saints like Martin Luther King Jr., although they don’t have to have any miracles attributed to them.  There’s even a popular online contest, ‘Lent Madness,’ with brackets for choosing the most popular saint for the year.

We also honor All Souls, those who are not official saints, but ones who have died and are part of the community.  Some have been people of faith, others not so much but we entrust their souls to God and remember them.  We also recognize that they, like us and even all the big name saints are a mixture of both saint and sinner.  Each serve as an example but not a perfect one.

Greater awareness of death and attention to the departed is a powerful impetus to look at how we are living now.  None of us know how many years we have but it’s certain that each of us will die.  Denial of death by euphemism or the worship of eternal youthfulness can rob us of the reflection and changes necessary to make life matter now.  If, for today, for just a few short minutes we step back from our striving, planning, working for the future and contemplate the finiteness of our earthly lives, we will make space for the larger questions of what truly matters.

That great wisdom teacher Jesus offered his perspective on the life of blessedness and it is still blowing us away.  It turns upside down all the common wisdom of what makes for meaning, purpose and happiness.  Luke’s Sermon on the Plain or Beatitudes are short and direct.  Blessed are the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the persecuted.  And then he follows it by the woes.  Woe are the the rich, the full, the laughing and the popular.

He’s talking to a mixed crowd.  There are his disciples and other followers, along with the curious and the desperate.  Nervous religious leaders are there to check him out or trip him up.  There are certainly lots of poor people, but also the rich.  There are those who are grieving and suffering along with the satisfied.  His words are for everyone, including all of us who listen to him these many years later in this mixed crowd.

In classic Jesus fashion, things are not as simple as they seem.  His beatitudes are not a clear judgement, Rich = bad, Poor = good.  Instead Jesus is proclaiming his truth, God’s truth, and it goes against all conventional wisdom.  He describes an upside down kingdom where the poor and lowly are valued, honored and comforted and the rich, powerful and esteemed will no longer be able to trust in their exterior marks of success.  The comfortable and complacent will be afflicted.

The wisdom in this is not that there is one permanent class of the blessed and another of the oppressed, but just as each of us is a mixture of saint and sinner, so in our lifetimes we will both mourn and laugh, be rich and poor, be full and hungry and be admired and persecuted.  Circumstances change.  Our lives are upended.  We get surprised.  Our ship comes in.  The stock market crashes.  The diagnosis is terrible.  A new drug is discovered.  Many of us in a lifetime will oscillate between happiness and despair, comfort and want, acclaim and criticism.  Some of that is in our control, but for the most part we are reacting to circumstances that seem arbitrary.  The part we choose is our response.

Which brings me to my two grandmothers.  In my family we have the narrative of the good and loving grandmother, Mama Tay and the stingy and difficult grandma Lilly.  Both were born poor, one in Ohio and the other in Hamburg Germany.  Both had difficult childhoods, Mama Tay because her father died early and Lilly because she was sent to live in America at age 16.  Neither were able to afford college.  They married, raised children and were ultimately widowed.  Lilly remarried to a wealthy man and she lived the rich life she had always wanted in a beautiful condo overlooking the Willamette River.  Mama Tay lived in a room in an assisted living facility until her death at age 98.

Mama Tay had a tough life, and a blessed one.  She blessed the people around her.  As she was dying I came out to visit and bring her communion along with my Aunt, cousin and mother.  She couldn’t speak but she wrote on a white board.  I love you.  Thank you.  I’m grateful.  The staff and attendants at the Assisted Living Center loved her so much that they volunteered to take on the extra shifts and care she needed at the end so that she didn’t have to be moved to a more highly skilled nursing facility.  She died at peace, well cared for and loved.

Lilly had a tough life and even when she got what she thought she wanted, it wasn’t enough.  She was difficult to care for.  She fired attendants or they quit.   She was demanding and ungrateful.  She threatened to cut people out of her will if they didn’t do her bidding.  My father and Uncle finally had to physically put her in a wheelchair and take her to a nursing home since she refused to leave her condo.  She died that very night of an unexpected heart attack.  She was not at peace.

What makes for a blessed life?  How do we prepare for death so that it might be holy and, if we’re fortunate, peaceful?  Most of us will experience both joy and sorrow in life, success and failure, times of plenty and times of want.  What does it mean to live a good life in the midst of changing circumstances, much of which is not under our control?

The poor blame the rich as selfish, uncaring, corrupt and greedy.  The rich blame the poor, labeling them lazy, addicted, dirty and stupid.  We abuse one another.  We hate those who are different from us.  We curse those who disagree with us.  Grandma Lilly was a good example of this.  Her entire lifetime she remembered and admired the strength and success of Nazi Germany.  In the U.S. she was distrusted and rejected because of her German accent.  She was bitter and jealous.  When she finally got the riches she longed for she hoarded them and used them to try and manipulate her family.  She died angry and alone.

Mama Tay wasn’t perfect, but she chose another path.  She practiced forgiveness.  She gave generously.  She remained curious and connected to others.  Both grandmothers had times of wealth and poverty, suffering and happiness, hunger and security.  What differed in the end was their response.

Jesus knows that we are a mixed crowd.  He also knows our tendency towards blame and shame.  We compare our positions and blame the other and feel ashamed ourselves.  It leads to anger and bitterness.  So he gives us another way to consider, the Way of Love.  “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.

Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Regardless of circumstances, these are practices we can adopt.  When we experience our fellow citizens as enemies, when we undergo the cursing and abuse of neighbors, we can choose to love and pray for them.  We can practice forgiveness that sets us free.  We can receive and give grace.  No matter our financial status, we can give to another.  We can walk in gratitude.  And we can treat others as we would like to be treated.

Jesus himself was both poor and rich in his lifetime, born as a carpenter’s child but dining at the tables of the wealthy and powerful.  He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, but also one who laughed and loved and experienced deep joy.  At the end he loved and prayed for the enemies who killed him.  He poured out his gifts for all who asked of him.  He didn’t hold back.  He is the ultimate example of a blessed and meaningful life.  We who have been baptized into his death have also been given new life, blessed life, graced life.  Amen.