Patience and Thanksgiving

the Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 21st, 2020
Happy Father’s Day

Today’s readings are:
Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

If you don’t have a Bible handy, you can click here to access these readings.

Back in late March, I saw a meme on Facebook. It was a little picture of a far road, and there were chickens all running across it. The road was thick with them, and they were all rushing out in the same direction. And the little caption was, “what we’ll look like the day quarantine is over.”

And I thought, yup, probably. We’ll all be rushing back to our normal lives with this dire thirst. It will be like a dinner bell rung for a troop of hungry children, or like the start of the Belmont Stakes, where all the doors are suddenly flung open and a dozen or more horses and their riders rush out onto the track. It’ll be pandemonium!

And in some ways, yeah, it has been; but in others, not. We here at St. James, and at many of the churches in Coquille, are taking it slow. We’re being cautious and thoughtful. There are some people here in the church building, and there’s a camera here for people to continue to watch at home. We’re celebrating the Lord our God in Morning Prayer. We’re building things up, slowly. We’re taking baby steps. We’re looking towards the time when we can all join together again and celebrate the Eucharist, but we’re taking our time. And we’re trying, oh we’re trying so hard, to be patient.

As Christians, and especially as Christians who worship God in the liturgy and through the Church Year, we know about patience. I mean, we just got finished with Lent a little bit ago. And we know what it means to wait upon the Lord. Jesus is coming back, sometime, but the man himself told us that we won’t know when. -You’ve got more than enough to do already- Jesus said. -Heal the sick, proclaim the Good News, be good to one another. Don’t worry about when I’m coming back. Be patient. Take it easy. Chill out.-

But asking you all to be patient might be kinda like asking poor Hagar to be patient. Hagar, who was cast out from all she knew, thrown into the wilderness with only a bit of water and bread, all on her own in a world that doesn’t treat women on their own too kindly. We may feel: yeah, patience is fine for Lent, or for Advent, but what about now? Times are rough. I don’t want baby steps. I want that well of water God shows to Hagar. I want our usual life back. I want salvation now.

Now, we’re not exactly Hagar, but we can learn a lot from her. One, we can see that things that we do have. We have ample food and water. Our church community is pretty healthy. Coquille is a pretty safe place when compared to the rest of the world, and even for those online who aren’t living in Coquille, we have doctors, nurses, and medical staff working around the clock to help us. We’re in pretty decent shape, and we have a lot to be thankful for.

There is something else, though, that we can learn from Hagar and her story, and that is that patience is not something we muster on our own. Christian patience, like all true things in life, is sharing in the life of God. Patience isn’t just another way to say ‘grin and bear it’. Patience isn’t setting a firm jaw against adversity. Patience is a lot less about our muscles and a lot more about opening our eyes to the life of God around us. Patience is much less about saying, “I just can’t wait until Jesus comes” and a lot more about asking God, “Show me your life that is all around me.”

St. Paul says it well in his letter to the Romans: we’re not shackled to sin anymore. Sins all around us, and we often fall into it, but sin and death isn’t our lord and master anymore. God is. Jesus is. Jesus died to sin once and for all; he is now alive to God. And we, through faith and our baptism in God’s name, we’re linked up to that life. We’re submerged into it. That life is the air we breathe, the blood coursing through our bodies. It’s the language we Christians speak (or should be speaking), it’s the food we eat, the water we drink. God’s life is now our life.

So I want to end this sermon by being thankful. I’m thankful that we can have in-person worship, that our county is healing from the virus. I’m thankful that, all this time, Lisa has come in to help me with everything, and I’m thankful for Bill who was able to join her. There’s life in all this, the life of God.

I’m thankful that, even though we’re all tired of Zoom and online coffee hours and Facebook streaming, I’m thankful that we have those things. God was in them. God was in the fact that we could still do all this stuff, and do it well, even if it wasn’t perfect. God is in the fact that things that aren’t perfect can still have God’s life in them. I know pretty well that I’m not perfect, and I’m thankful each and every day that God’s around to help me not make a complete fool out of myself.

And speaking of Zoom and online meetings, I’m thankful that I’ve gotten to see so much of my colleagues and our bishop these past few months. Being so far from Portland we didn’t get to see them often. I’ve seen them more than ever before.

I’m also pretty thankful that people all around the country get to see the inside of our church here in Coquille. I think it’s pretty stunningly beautiful (something else to be thankful for), and I’m happy that we get to share it with folks far, far away. There’s life – God’s Life – in the beauty of this building, and there’s life – Holy Life – in being able to share it.

So today’s lesson: it’s pretty simple. Live a life of thankfulness. Search out and find the holy waters in the world, just as God is seeking you out. Be thankful for that water, that Life, and be thankful for every step of the way. Be thankful.

God’s Name

the First Sunday after Christmas
26 December 2019

Today’s readings are:
Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 147
Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7
John 1:1-18

Click here to access these readings.

        Back when I was interviewing for the job as your priest, someone on the BAC (I think it was Pete, maybe John) asked me, “Do you prefer to be called ‘father’ or ‘reverend’?” This is something that people talked about at seminary quite a bit. Everyone had a preference, and everyone had a different reason why. Jesus said not to call anyone ‘father’ but your Father in Heaven, but ‘reverend’ comes from ‘reverence’, and none of us for sure didn’t want anyone to reverence us.

        The women in seminary had an even more difficult choice: few of them wanted to be called ‘mother’, but not all of them liked ‘reverend.’ Some of them decided not to have a title at all and to just go with their first names, while others wanted to root themselves in tradition. One woman I knew, who graduated a year after me, asks people to call her “Father Jane.” Everyone’s different.

        And so when Pete or John asked me this question, with all the BAC around, I had these discussions running around my head. I personally prefer ‘father’ because of it’s traditional, but I knew there were folks out there who would balk at the title. And so I did what I usually did as a teacher when a student asked me a difficult question: I reflected. “What do you want to call me?” I asked. I was eventually pressed into making a choice, but I used the question, as I’ll use it now, as a teaching moment. It’s very nice to know what I want to be called, and very important, I think, but I think it’s also important to know what you want to call me. It tells me what you see a priest as and what you need in a priest.

        What you call someone says a lot about what you need and who you are. I remember, once, a student emailed me to tell me that he was dropping my class. Normally, students would address me as ‘Tim’ or ‘Mr. Hannon’, and if they were asking for a favor, they’d even try ‘Dr. Hannon’, even though I told them I didn’t have a PhD. But this student, thinking, perhaps, that he was dropping the class, so why bother, addressed me as “Tim-o”. And the email that he wrote, and the reasons he gave for dropping my class, continued this rather relaxed, up-front, and disrespectful air. Helene and I, on the other hand, try our best to have Gwendolyn address you all with ‘mister’ or ‘misses’ in front of your names, not only because we want her to show you respect, but because using these titles helps Gwendolyn respect other people (at least we hope


        Now, St. Paul does something very interesting with titles in our letter to the Galatians. But before we get to the Bible, I want to ask you all a question: how do you address God? Now this might change depending on how you’re praying. At least that’s how I work. If I need something, or if I want something (which are pretty different, even though we sometimes forget that they are), I make sure I’m very polite. “Oh, dear God, loving and giving Lord, God who does wonders and loves those who are in trouble, please hear my prayer.” I lay it on thick, for sometimes I forget that God isn’t like us humans who, now and again, need a bit of buttering up. And if it’s thanksgivings, I’m usually a bit shorter. “Thanks God” or “Thank you Jesus.” The more I need, the more long-winded I get, and this says more about me than about God. I wonder if you’re similar.

        But jokes aside, how do you address God? Or, in your heart of hearts, how do you think of God? Who is God to you? Is God someone you feel you have to placate, who you have to persuade, you need to cajole, or maybe even someone you have to bribe? If you only do this for me, God, I’ll make sure to pray every day, or donate more to church, or something similar?  Is God someone you have to address like a lawyer addressing a court, choosing your words carefully and making sure that you ask exactly what you want, lest God misunderstand you or trick you and give you something you really don’t want or that you just can’t handle?

        In the light of day, on a nice morning here in church, maybe not, but when things get dark, many of us feel that God is a lot like a lawyer or a judge or, even, a jailer. We can say that God is a god of love, but in the back of our heads we often wonder if that love is a hard love. When we pray, and those prayers aren’t answered, we can wonder that, maybe, we prayed wrong, or that we’re not good enough for that prayer to be answered, or that because of our sin God is mad at us and won’t listen, even if we pray from the depths of our hearts. And if you have never felt this way, then you are blessed; but know that there are many who we serve who do experience God this way. They feel beaten up by a god who seems to care more about perfection than grace.

        And this is why it is so amazing that the way St. Paul talks about addressing God is to use the word “Abba.”  Now, ‘abba’ means something a bit more familiar than “Father” but also a bit more formal than “Daddy”; something like “Dad”, but more like “my dad” or “my father.” And Paul writes this not only because he wants his readers, and you yourself, to understand something very important about God, but because he wants you to know something very important about you yourself and yourselves. You are children of God. You’re not slaves, not servants, not defendants in a court or anything like that, but children. You are beloved children.

        Now, this doesn’t mean that God will be a doting parent, or that, because you’re children of God, God’ll overlook things like you wreaking his car or something. As C.S. Lewis wrote, God isn’t a tired old grandfather who just likes to sit back and watching kids have fun, or who will buy his grandkids candy behind their parents back. No, God is a father, a parent, and so there are some chores to do, and when we do wrong we need to seek reconciliation.

        When we say that we are children of God, we mean that we share the same relationship with God that the Son has, that Jesus had and has even now. And while that relationship didn’t mean that Jesus would have an easy life, it did mean that there would be a light that is instilled in us that is as deep as Creation. That Life that Jesus had while healing, while preaching, while teaching, while going around all throughout the land and being with the people; and that Life that, even when it was crucified, could raise again; and that Life that was so mighty and so beautiful and so True that it pulled up each and every one of us  towards heaven with it, and not just you and me but the whole of Creation; that Life lives within us now. That Hope, that Life, that eternal Life that Jesus had and has, that is something for us all, not as something given into our hands like a present on Christmas but something born inside of us, a relationship of love that can outlast the stars themselves.

        And now I will ask you the same question I asked Tuesday night because I really want you to think about it: what will you do with this Life? You have been given a gift, and you are now a Child of God Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth. You have a life within you that has defied empires and that has calmed the mightiest storms of doubt and grief. You have the same heart that St. Francis did when he preached to the birds, and you have the same heart that St. Thomas had when he gave his life to study. And you have the same heart that has caused countless generations of Christians to live good, honest, quiet lives of love, of hope, and of grace. You have that life, for Jesus Christ has been born within your heart this Christmas, and at your baptism, and every time you join in the Eucharist, and every single time you turn, again, from sin and hatred to the loving light of God. How will you live, knowing that you are a Son or Daughter of God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?




Alive with the Light of God

Christmas Eve, 11:00
24 December 2019

This evening’s readings are:
Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-20

Click here to access these readings.

            So, this is something of a night owl sermon, but I’m assuming that if you’re here for the 11:00 Mass on Christmas Eve, you’re something of a night owl. If you’re a morning person, then cool, just wait a bit, I’m going to get to some morning stuff soon, but for a moment, I want to preach about how wonderful it is to go to church late at night.

            I’m a new priest, so I haven’t done many late-night Christmas services. As a child, my family went to the evening service at our local church just up the hill from where we lived. This was in New Jersey, and the church was in the New England style: white walls and tall, tall windows. Outside, everything was dark and sleepy, and this only made the light inside shine the brighter. There were greens and red banners and ribbons all over the place, people were sleepy but awake and strangely energized with that joy of Christmas. We’d sing Christmas carols, listen to the sermon, then leave into the frosty air and drive home to sleep and await Christmas morning.

            But there is something even more different about going to church in the dead of the night. Again, if you’re a night owl, this certainly isn’t the dead of the night (that’s like, what, 3:00?), but by this time, we’ve finished with the work of the day, put away the plates and left-overs from dinner, tucked in the kids, and finally settled down in a favorite chair, maybe cracked open a book. But to go out at this late hour, to put on a coat instead of pajamas, and to come to church to sing and to praise God with our fellow Christians – there’s a grace to this, a special grace and joy. On nights like this, I personally can really feel that God has made the whole Creation new in Jesus Christ. Late nights like this are like fresh snow on the ground, or a pristine starry sky, or that first breath of spring on the air, the golden light of dawn or the blue, twilit evening.

            Christmas Eve is about moving from Advent to Christmas, from the time of waiting, of expectation, of promised joy and light, to the fulfillment of that light, the answer to the promise, to the presence of Jesus Christ. And here, especially at this late service, is when we experience this turn, this turn from “how long, O Lord, how long” to “I am here.” And we know this turn, don’t we? We know those times when we have waited, patiently or impatiently, upon the Lord. We know the Lord’s call on us to wait and to expect, for God does not come at our beck and call as if, when we snapped our fingers, God comes running. But we also know the coming and the presence of God, when God swoops into our lives and fills us, fills us to the brim and then more, so that our cup runneth over and we know that God is good and holy and alive.

            And it is at this service, deep into the night, when we experience that turn, when we gather together and see Jesus coming and experience him here. It’s like driving before dawn (I wonder if you’ve experienced this, too). I’ve been going up to Eugene and Salem a lot recently for meetings, and each time I have to leave super early. And it’s usually pitch black, my eyes are droopy, and I’m alone on the roads heading east on 42. And the whole time I’m wondering, when will it be light so I can wake up? When will dawn come? And I look to the sky, through the trees or around the mountainsides, but it is still dark. Dawn never comes when I wanted it. But then – and usually it is when I least expect it – I turn a corner and my eyes suddenly see the smallest bit of blue peaking through the branches, blue almost at the edge of sight. And I know: it is morning, and light begins to bathe the river valley and everything is glistening and new and beautiful.

            We know this turn, I think, this turn from darkness to light, from despair to hope, from sin to life. We know it in our own hearts, for Christ has come to us like the dawn over the mountains, like birdsong on a cool spring morning. Some of us know the exact day and hour, for others, God has been a presence that we have only slowly come to understand and see and know; but whatever the case, we know that new light and we know its freshness.

            And Christmas is that specific day, that most blessed and holy day, right next to Easter itself, when we celebrate not only our own relationship with God in Jesus Christ but the birth of that light into the whole of Creation, made ready for all, for humanity and beyond. For when God came to us here in this world, he did not come just for a few or some folks here and others here, but for everything, in order to make the whole Creation new. Our Salvation is part of something, part of something great and mighty, a work of God that reaches to the end of time and back. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that all might come within the reach of his heavenly grace.

            And we Christians, we Christians who celebrate here the birth of our Savior, and we Christians all around the world, we are part of that good work of God. For we Christians are called on not only to be saved but to be the light of God in the darkness. Our salvation is not ours alone, something that we can keep to and for ourselves. We can’t stick our salvation in a lock-box under our bed or in a safe-deposit box at the bank. Our salvation is not some nice heirloom that we’ve received from our grandmother that we pout on the mantlepiece so that no one (and especially no one with dirty hands) can fiddle with it, and our salvation is not a piece of jewelry that we wear on our fingers.

            Our salvation is a flaming torch, and it is a great fire and a great light that is not to be kept secret but is to light the way in the darkness. Have you ever met anyone for whom this is true? I know I have. By the loving grace of God I have met many people in my life who are alive with the burning light of God. For some of them, it’s their eyes and their faces: I feel hope just in looking at them; for others, it’s their calm presence that speaks love without even parting the lips. I see that flame in our presiding bishop, Michael Curry, as he dances around the church when he preaches; I’ve seen it in the dedication of a teacher I knew in Japan, who I knew (and was helped by) for two whole years before, on my last day before returning home, he mousily told me that he was a Christian.

            But however it shines, that light is a healing light. It is a light of love and of hope and of Life, for it is the light of Jesus Christ, born this day two thousand years ago. It is the light of God Almighty, who created the heavens and the earth and who guides all things to fulfillness and completion. It is the light of Jesus, who is also God, born in a dingy old manger. It is the light of all that is good and all that is beautiful, because it is the light of God, and it will continue to burn until the end of this age and beyond.

Love is Born

Christmas Eve, 8:00
24 December 2019

This evening’s readings are:
Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-20

Click here to access these readings.

There is a book at our house that is read each and every day. We think about it in the wee hours of the morning and, often, its words are our last as we lay our head to sleep. No, it is not the Bible; it is not the Book of Common Prayers or our hymnal. It’s this: What’s that sound, baby Daisy?

Now, if you have children, or you had children, or you spent even a tiny little bit of time around children, you’ll know that they love doing things (and especially reading certain books) again and again and again. And I’m like, great, awesome, let’s read these great children’s books that have really beautiful pictures and deeply engrossing stories – but no, we read What’s that sound, baby Daisy again and again and again. And I’m like, really? This again? My kids love this book so much that once Fiona couldn’t even wait until she reached me on the chair but had to throw it across the room at me. And it might not look like it, but this book hurts!

But that’s kids, right? Kids like doing things over and over again. I’ve heard people say it’s because they love routine and things that are set; the world is so confusing for them; they go to sleep here in their car seat and when they wake up, they’re somewhere else! I’ve heard it’s soothing for them to do things each day the same way.

And I think that’s probably true, but I think it’s also something else, and that’s that kids kinda love differently than we adults do. We’ve all got things we’ve learned to like and to not like. For instance, I deeply dislike pickles, and if you ever want to hear the Great Saga of Pickle Day, let me know, but make sure Helene’s not in the room, because I think she’s done hearing about it (seriously, it’s a real thing). And kids have things they don’t like, too, but for them, their hearts are open in wonder, because everything is new for them. The other day, I was telling Gwendolyn what a “one horse open sleigh” was and she was mystified that there was a time where we didn’t have cars. We’re amazed when a new Star Wars movie comes out, or when we find a new planet out in the galaxy that might have life on it, or that it’s finally time for the stores to carry egg nog again. But kids are amazed and filled with the deepest of wonder when you turn down a different street on the way to town (“wow, I’ve never been here before!”) or you open up a rarely-used cupboard, even if it’s empty, and they’re all like, “Wow, the wall opens!” For kids, everything is new, and so much of it is wonderful and magical and unreal. And that’s because they’re new, and their love is open and free.

        And I say all this not to just say something nice about kids but also to say something very important about God. This evening, Christmas Eve, the good old night before Christmas, we gather together to celebrate the Incarnation, that time when God came to us as a human, as Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. And when we think about Jesus, and Jesus’ presence in the world, often we think of him as an adult; you know, with that nice beard, the robes, standing with people around him teaching or healing or giving hope where even the word itself was forgotten. Or else we think of him with the Cross, either carrying it step by brutal step, or hanging on it, breathing his last. These images of Jesus, they touch us, they touch us deep in the heart, or in the mind, or in the gut. We carry these images with us as we live the Christian life, for they call us to live as Christ lived, as God lived, and that is to heal those who are sick, to give comfort to the lonely and the sorrowful, to feed the hungry, whether their hunger is of the stomach or of the mind or of the heart, and to place our hope not in earthly things but in heavenly things. Jesus, as an adult, taught us how to live.

        But Jesus was not just an adult; Jesus was also a baby. Jesus didn’t beam down from heaven as a fully formed individual. Jesus wasn’t carved out of stone, like Michelangelo carved his statue of David, perfect in every proportion down to the tiny little pinky finger. Jesus was born. Jesus was an infant and a toddler, he was a little kid and a teenager and a young man. Jesus, who we believe was fully God, also was fully human, and day by day grew up, just like we have.

        And as a child, Jesus must have had that same wonder at the world as I just described. Or, to put it better, we have that wonder because God’s love of the world is child-like. Not ‘childish’, mind you, but ‘child-like.’ The difference is important. We all know the childishness of kids, and all of us, I’m sure, still have a few bits of childishness in us as adults, too. Childishness is taking things for granted. It’s living as if everyone’s job is to comfort and care for us. We act this way as children because we do need all that care and attention, and we haven’t lived long enough to gain a healthy respect for the world around us and not take things for granted. But as adults, this childishness makes us proud, or haughty, or careless. In such childness we forget about others around us, and we put ourselves on a pedestal as an idol. And much of the work of the Holy Spirit, it seems, is knocking that idol over and turning our eyes, again and again, to the loving light of God. Childishness is pretty dangerous.

        Being child-like, however, that’s different. I think our presiding bishop Michael Curry. If you’ve ever seen him preach, he’s always jumping around and waving his arms, and I wonder that he hasn’t knocked candles over and set fire to his alb yet. And his face: you can see the love of God written all over his face, as if his heart was a beacon, drawing everyone around him to the presence of God. But I’ve also seen that child-like-ness here at St. James, in the love of this church and all it has meant to you, even if you don’t know how to put it into words; I see it in your love of a hymn, in your readiness, seemingly without a thought, to welcome people in off the streets no matter how tired or wet or smelly or confused they are, and to work tirelessly to help them. And I’ve had the distinct joy to be with you at the altar as you meet Jesus Christ in the holy sacrament, and I’ve knelt with you as we’ve all confessed our sins with a ready heart. This openness to God, this openness to the hurt and the hope of the people around you, and this love of the beauty of the natural world, the liturgy, and the life of one another, this is a child-like openness. And we adults, who so often forget in our own times of grief and resentment, need to be reminded often, but especially on Christmas, that God was child-like as a baby in the manger and, so too, is God child-like in heaven, in his earnest and eternal love for us.

        And that is the Gospel. That’s that “good news”, which is really what the word “Gospel” means: that the foundation of the world, that the one who created everything that is in this world, from the tiniest little single-celled organism up to the planets, stars, and galaxies, all that is founded firmly on one thing: Love. And I don’t mean the love that we celebrate on Valentine’s Day, though that love is (or should be!) founded on that love. I mean this: those moments in your life, and hopefully there are many, those moments when we see that what really matters isn’t the darkness that is all around us, the hatred that people sling at one another like it’s their job, the anxiety and the sorrow, when we see that it’s not those things that are most important, but when we see, even just for a single moment, maybe just in the fleeting glance of a single person, that there is life in the world, and that that Life won’t let us fade away without a fight, that Life itself is not just a vague energy but a Person, and that that Person wants, more than anything in the world, for you and all of us and all this Creation to be whole and healthy and joyful and that, one day, we will be! That’s the love I mean.

        Tomorrow is Christmas Day. We all have different ways of celebrating. Mine involves egg nog, bacon, and my family. Yours might look different. The day after that is the 26th of December. The one after that is the 27th, then on into the new year. And I want to ask you this: we Christians believe that God loved us so deeply that he became a child and lived a human life, even to being nailed up on a cross and killed. Our God did that for us so that he could open up the real meaning of Love and Life to us wayward people. How will you live differently? For we have been given a light, a great torch to bear into the darkness of this world. How will you bear that light to those who do not know hope? How will you bring that light to those locked in the shackles of grief, of hatred, of despair? For on this night, and on each and every day, in each and every moment hereafter, the Christ child may be born inside your heart, so that you too may be a flame to dispel any darkness.

Living death and beyond

the 23rd Day after Pentecost
Proper 28
17 November 2019

Today’s readings are:
Malachi 4:1-2a
Psalm 98
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

Click here to access these readings.

        Goodness, those were some grim readings, weren’t they? There’s a bit of fire and brimstone in our readings this morning, and though they were tempered a bit with the beautiful psalm, there was some grim stuff there. And it’s not just grim stuff like on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday, but some gut frustration and anger and destruction. When I read these readings at the beginning of the week, I thought, man, how are the kids going to hear all this? Maybe I should ask Tina to keep them in Sunday school the whole time so they don’t have to hear any of it.

        But, but, that wouldn’t have been a good idea. It’s important to hear the whole of the Bible. It’s important that we Christians read and hear, in our own study and here in the gathered congregation of the church, the whole Bible, not just the nice, happy, and joyful moments, but those moments where the sins of the human heart and the world are laid bare. Someone once said that the Bible is like a map of the human response to God – the whole human response, the good, the bad, and the ugly. And we need to take it all as God’s word to us in Scripture. It’s kinda, in a way, like marriage: if we want only the good parts, we’re going to have a pretty rocky marriage. But if we are with our spouses through sickness and in health, in joy and sorrow, through those nasty fights and those times when our hearts are lifted together in joy to the very gates of Heaven, then maybe that marriage will last. The Bible is kinda the same.

        And now, in the darkening time of the year, we read some of the tough parts of Scripture. And the lectionary is designed this way. Starting around All Saints, when we remember those of our beloved who have entered into the joys of Heaven, our readings focus more and more on the end. Or, perhaps it is better to say that Scripture, through our lectionary, asks important questions: what do we do with endings? What do we do with death? What do we do with little ends and little deaths, like the end of the year, or the parting of friends, or the ending of a relationship? And what do we do with those big ends, the death of loved ones, our own deaths, and that day when all things will end, and the world turns to look God face-to-face?

        Now, we humans can get pretty caught up in endings, be they small ones or big ones. And some of us Christians can get really caught up in the end times. We can worry about when, or how, or where, and who. We can take the Scriptures and work out the math to figure out when Jesus will return. And this sort of thing has been done with our Scriptures since the beginning of Christianity, but Jesus’ word to us is this: do not worry. Don’t get all caught up in all this calculating, because I am with you. I will guide you and remain with you, whatever may come to pass. I will love you and hold you, Jesus tells us, even when you try so hard to forget I’m there. Rest in me.

        Now, this sort of talk, I think, can easily lead to a “don’t worry, be happy” sort of theology. If we don’t have to worry about bad things, if Jesus will be with us and, hey, how can things go bad with Jesus as my co-pilot? We can just sit back and let the chips fall where they may, because Jesus has our backs. But we Christians don’t really have a “don’t worry, be happy” theology. Our God, our beloved Jesus, was crucified on a cross, a fact we’re reminded of every year during Holy Week, each Sunday at the Eucharist, and every time we ourselves die to our own sin and are lifted by God’s grace into his presence. We can’t get away from a bit of tough thinking, and that’s one of the reasons the lectionary prepares us for such thinking at this time of year.

        There is a difference, though, between a happy-go-lucky, all’s right with the world kind of attitude and the attitude that God calls us to through Scripture and the Holy Spirit. We are called not to throw up our hands in grief, nor to throw up our hands in shallow joy, but to live. We are called to be present with the joy of the world and its suffering. We are called to be present to hatred and grief, calm moments of peace and deep, deep anger, and all the range of human emotions and actions. We are called to be followers of Jesus – Jesus, who did not turn his eye from the despair of his people, but walked straight into it, eyes wide open, because his love was so great and his life so grounded in God the Father, that he could do nothing else.

        Now, our collect this week reminds us to do something very important with Scripture, and I want to add to it that we should do the very same thing with life. Our collect reminds us that holy Scripture was written so that we may learn from it to understand more fully and more deeply the world around us and the very lives we lead. And we pray through the collect that God might grant us to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest all that we encounter. And this is all to say that we should not take the joys in our lives, nor the sorrows or griefs or deaths, however little or however large, for granted. For deaths should not just be endured with gritted teeth but should be lived.

        This might sound strange, that deaths should be lived, but it is true. Whatever the ending we are brought to, be it the gentle fall of the year or the end of our own lives, we are to live them, as Jesus lived his own death. And to live them is to see them, to mark them and know what they are. For our Lord God leads us through many deaths in our lives, through many endings. And we can shut our eyes and ignore them, we can grasp and covet those things that should have been laid to rest, we can forget the passing of those who have gone before us – or we can open our eyes to the love of God.

        For me, it works like this: I think of all those people who I never said good-bye to. Helene and I have moved around a lot in the past ten years, and we’ve met a lot of good friends. And those who, when we parted, I was able to say good-bye, many of us have remained friends, and if nothing else, they’ve remained a deep and abiding part of me. I learn from them, if they’re still around, I seek them out for their council, their advice, and their joy, and I am sought out for the same.

        But there are those, for whatever reason, be it that I didn’t think they were important or because of a hardness of heart, who I did not say good-bye, or at least said it poorly. There is a grief in my heart about them. There’s something unfinished. There is a hole in my heart, or a tearing, or a sore. And rarely, at least for me, is that sore healed by not thinking about it.

        This is, at least, where my mind goes when I think about endings, both good and bad. Your mind might go elsewhere, to hopes you’ve had that you have said good-bye to well or poorly, or even how you’ve been able to work through the troubles that come with aging. But whatever the case, our word from Scripture is not to look away in grief and despair but to see those deaths, however small, however large, as they are, and to walk through them with endurance and with hope.

        And we can do this, we can pass through these deaths because Jesus, who came before us, who passed through the great death on the cross, Jesus is with us in every death, every grief, and every sorrow. By dying on the cross Jesus broke death, destroyed it, and remade it to be something that, through him, leads not to despair and darkness but to new life. For death is not, not ever, the last word. Life, is the last word, and it is an eternal word.

        And we know this from our own lives, don’t we? When we have come to an end, and we have come through it, by the grace of God, with our minds and hearts open, and Jesus within us, there is new life on the other side, isn’t there? We are still in this world, where darkness and sorrow run rampant, and there is often still grief on the other side of death. There is a sense of loss for what has died. But above all there is a newness of life, a rekindling of something deep within us, a rebirth and a resurrection of something essential and free. This is something we see in the natural world, where the fall of leaves in the autumn and the bare branches of winter lead to the renewed life of spring. And we see it in our lives in our healing, be it in mind or body or spirit, as we are led through the small deaths of life by the hand of God, until we come to that last and final death, our own death, when Jesus will carry us on his back, like a shepherd carrying a lost lamb, into the eternal glory of Heaven. And then, there, will all deaths finally die, and we will live the life eternal.