What should I pray for?

July 26th, 2020
the 8th Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 12

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

If you don’t have a Bible handy, click here for these readings.

I love this question that God asks to Solomon. Here’s Solomon, King David’s son, rich and powerful and breeming over with wisdom, and God asks this strange, cryptic-sounding question: “Ask me what I should give you.”

Now, this is what we call a loaded question – or, at least it sounds like one. Ask me what I should give you. As me. what I. should give. to you. Now, I think the base meaning is pretty plain, and different translations make this less torturous of a question. Ask what you want me to give you, says the NIV. The Common English Bible has, “Ask whatever you wish, and I’ll give it to you.” So, if Solomon said, “A puppy and a pair of hiking boots,” God would have given him a puppy and a pair of hiking boots. And if Solomon was smart, he would have asked for the world as his oyster, an army ten thousand swords strong, and a time machine. But Solomon isn’t smart, he’s wise; and so he asks for the ability to lead his people. He asks to be a good king.

But I think our translation this morning, from the NRSV, has it best: “Ask me what I should give you.” And it is one word here that, I think, gets to the heart of the matter: should. Ask me what I should give to you.

Last night, it was my turn to cook, and I looked around the kitchen, put my hands on my hips, and asked myself, “What should I cook for my family.” If I had asked, “What do I want to eat”, the answer would have been pizza. I always want to eat pizza. But “what should I cook” brings up something else. “Should” is more than desire, more than wanting, more than a fun meal. The answer to “what should I cook for my family” asks about their health, their well-being, their future growth and development. And while pizza might make their taste-buds sing, a healthy balanced meal is what I ‘should’ serve them.

What “should” Solomon pray for? What “should” we pray for? I don’t know about you, but nowadays I come to this question a lot. I mean, we’ve got a prayer list for the parish, full of names of one another’s loved ones. And I’ve got my own personal prayer list, full of little notes about who I’m praying for, who asked me for prayers, and when I should get back in touch with that person to ask how things are going. We should always pray for folks on the prayer list, and I hope you do.

But I mean something else. Each day in my email, I get two different emails from the government. One is from the county, one from the state. And at the top of these emails is a list of folks in the county, state, country, and world who are sick with COVID and who have died from COVID. They don’t print how many families are affected by the virus, how many children and grandkids have been left without a parent or grandparent, and so I just multiply the number a little for that. And I think: Good Lord, how do I pray for all this?

Or I look at what’s going on in cities like Portland. I have a few friends up there, some of whom are just trying to live and work in the city. They’re scared. And I have other friends, Christian friends and fellow priests, who are at the demonstrations, and who believe that it’s their Christian duty to do so. And I get calls from friends further afield, asking me what’s going on, what can I do, what can you do, what can we do? And, now, I’m the kinda guy who tries to hold the center, and so I’m sitting between all this and wondering: what should I pray for? God, how should I pray?

Now, this question – God, what should I pray for – it actually is a prayer, too. As long as we’re not throwing up our hands and turning our backs on everything when we pray it, the question “God, what should I pray for” is sometimes a good, honest, wholesome prayer. God hears prayers in the form of a question, and God hears mumbled prayers that show our confusion. But prayers aren’t just us expressing our frustration, pain, and confusion; prayers are conversations with God, places we encounter the life-giving, transfigured, eternal love of God. If we can speak our prayers instead of mumbling them, we should.

The word “should” is about foundations. It is about the heart of our common life with one another and our common life lived to God – which, really, should be the same thing. Solomon sees this, and that’s why his prayer pleases God. Solomon sees that the point of being a king is not to have better things than everyone else, to be rich and famous, to drive a nice chariot and have a beautiful wife and tons of kids who don’t fight. It’s not about having a long life. It’s about service, about working for the good of those under his charge, and about having the skills to help them live a healthy, vibrant, life-filled life.

What should we pray for? If God came to you and asked you, “Ask me what I should give you”, how might you answer? Health for our loved ones? Yes, certainly. Health and safety for our town, county, state, country, world? Yes, definitely.

But go a step further, as Solomon did. His responsibility was to his people; who are you, as a Christian, responsible for? How did Jesus Christ ask us to live? What do we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer? What did we promise in the Baptismal Covenant? We are servants of God, servants of the ultimate Good, of Love itself. What should we pray for?

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.

Leaving Home

the Second Sunday after Lent
8 March 2020

Today’s readings are:

Genesis 12:1-4a
Psalm 121
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17

If you don’t have a Bible handy, click here for these readings.

        Okay, so the journey of Lent has begun, and here we are, now, at the start of the second week. Last week, the first Sunday of Lent, we began with the question, “Where did we come from?” And this is a great place to start, isn’t it? How can we know where we’re going unless we know where we’ve been? While we’re starting our Lenten journey afresh, we’re not starting it with a completely clean slate. We all have histories, be they long or short, good and bad, and just because we got a bit of ash on our foreheads and started off on our journey doesn’t mean that everything in our past has up and disappeared. We’re no longer bound to it, but it is still there.

        Think of it this way. Have you ever had a down and dirty, drag out fight with someone you love? You know, one of those really nasty arguments where one of you, or both of you, said some really hurtful things – or did some really hurtful things? Sometimes these sorts of arguments break the relationship, and there’s no going back, but sometimes, when we have the courage, or when the love is strong enough, we return, and we apologize. That relationship, that was broken, is now healed, but the history is still there. Those hurtful things were still said and still done, and an apology won’t heal things completely. Our work with our beloved, now, is to repair that relationship, to repair the trust and the love that were so sorely wounded.

        This is something that Jesus reminds us of pretty often: that the past, be it good or bad, doesn’t just disappear; it sticks with us. He reminds of this while talking about the Law – I did not come to change the law, he says, but to fulfill it. And he reminds us of this in our Gospel reading this morning; he says: the Son did not come into the world to condemn it, but that that world might be saved. What goes through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in other words, is not destroyed and remade but refounded on something deeper, stronger, more beautiful and more holy than we could ever imagine.

        Yes, we are products of our upbringing; yes, we are people who developed and grew because of the history that came before us; and, yes, we need to know where we came from, but we’re also free of it – and that’s the theme of this second Sunday of Lent. And this is very good news. Those things in your past that have hurt you, that have caused you grief and sorrow, those things that you might regret – you are not bound to them. You can be healed from them. That is some of the work of Jesus Christ in our lives, that we are not merely products of our past, and certainly not products of those painful or regretful things that we’ve done or that have been done to us.

        And this is a great, great joy. Have you ever thought about how much a miracle this is? We humans have the ability to grow beyond sin. We often have to deal with the repercussions of sins in the past, be they our own or those done to us, but we do not have to remain in that sin or oppressed by it. We are free to move on through the power of the Holy Spirit. It takes work, surely, but that path towards life and away from darkness is open to us. That is a miracle.

        And it is also, often, extremely, extremely scary. For the Lord said to Abram, “Go. Go from your country – oh, and your kindred, too – and your father’s house – go from everything you have ever known and all the things that have made your life comfortable and happy. Go. Leave. Don’t turn back. Oh, and by the way, I’m not telling you where you’re going. But don’t worry. I’ll tell you later.”

        I’m paraphrasing our reading from Genesis, adding a bit to it, but I think the sense is there. Leaving what we know – even if what we know is painful – can be a scary, scary thing. Do you remember the first time you were out on your own? Yeah, it’s great at first, but the adrenaline tapers off after a while, and the sense of adventure turns (sometimes quickly) to the real struggle and trials of a journey.

I remember, once, I was traveling with some friends in Thailand. We were off looking for ruins and wandering through old castles and monasteries, where the bricks themselves were works of art. Then, as often happens, there was an argument, and the group split up. And so there I was, alone, in this ancient, ruined capital, alone. Alone.

At first it was pretty cool. I didn’t have to go where my friends wanted to go (I was up for seeing ruins, they wanted to go to bars). I could sit for hours (and I did) wandering through these old temples or gazing artistically at the colorful minarets. And then, you know, the coolness of all that kinda wore off, and I realized that I was alone, I didn’t know where I was, I had no map, I knew no one for literally one hundred miles, I was catching a cold, and I couldn’t speak (much less read) a lick of Thai. I was far from home, with no safety net, and I was alone.

Now, you don’t have to have ever been wandering the old ruins of Thailand to have felt this emotion. God may have said to you, like he said to Abram, “Go, leave everything behind, everything, without knowing where you’re going.” And that place may have been where you could not hear God’s voice, or where that presence you always have had of Love, capital L Love, was not present anymore, and you felt like you were alone. Turning away from all we know, even if what we know is something painful, can be scary. We don’t know what will happen. We have no map to help us along the way. Things don’t make sense anymore, and we don’t know if they ever will again.

This is what is called a Dark Night of the Soul. It’s that time in our walk with God where God asks us to go deeper. It’s when God takes the training wheels, those training wheels that make it so easy to ride that bike, but until they’re off, we won’t really be riding a bike. It’s that time in student teaching where, after team teaching and helping out, our mentor finally says, alright, you teach the class. The whole class. And no, I’m not going to be in the room to help.

Because God isn’t satisfied with a training-wheel faith. Jesus tells us that we need to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our mind, and all our spirit, and often we just give God some of our heart, and a little bit of our mind, and a dash of our spirit. And God says in these times, no, I know you can do more than this, and he steps away, just as many of us let go of our kids’ handle bars and let them petal that bike on their own. That doesn’t mean that we’re not still standing there, praying to high heaven that our kids will really learn how to ride that bike, and ready in a jiffy to rush up and help if that bike crashes – but God wants us to petal that bike.

There are two things to say about this, and then I’m done. First, we should be careful not to confuse real despair with a dark night of the soul. Sometimes God steps back so that we can grow; sometimes we fall into a grief so deep that we think God is turned away from us. This is why we practice Lent in a community, so that if we do experience darkness, we can speak that to wise and discerning guides who can help us see whether we’re in the depths of doubt and despair or whether God is calling us to go deeper. The dark night of the soul is not one that we go through alone, like me off like a dork in Thailand, thinking I can huff it through a country on my own. Dark nights of the soul are experienced alone and discerned in community.

And this reminds us of something else, that when we, as parents and grandparents, take the training wheels off of our children’s and grandkid’s bikes, it’s not so that they can go and leave and disappear. It’s so that they can grow, and continue to grow, into stable, strong, honest adults. And, as adults, we can enter with them into a deeper and more loving relationship. It is the same with God: God doesn’t tell us to go and leave our father’s house, he doesn’t lead us into (and then out of) dark nights of the soul just so that we can be more self-reliant and self-possessed, so that we will need God less and less. No, God leads us through these times, and again, out of them, so that we may mature as Christians and grow into an adult faith. For what God hopes is that we are not mere children but true Daughters and Sons like his own Son Jesus Christ. And for that we walk through the darkness of Lent with the dawn of Easter on the horizon.


Starting at the Beginning

the First Sunday in Lent
March 1st, 2020

Today’s readings are:
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

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

We start off Lent in the garden. It is, I suppose, a good place to start. It is here in the garden, the Bible tells us, that our sins began. It is one of our founding stories. It’s one that, I think, we all learned from story-book Bibles and Sunday school lessons as children. This story is foundational to the Bible (it’s at the beginning), and foundational to how Jesus teaches us and what he teaches us, as well as how St. Paul and the other writers of the New Testament letters discuss our relationship to God through Jesus Christ. This story is at the heart of why we need to be reconciled, why we need penitence and a Holy Lent, and indeed why we need, so desperately need, the love of Jesus Christ.

And for these reasons, I want to call this story an important part of our Christian myth – but I’ve gotta pause here on this word: myth. It’s a sticky word. Often, we use the word “myth” to describe a story that is false: 10 myths about weight loss! a commercial tells us to lure us in. Or, myths can be old stories about heroes and monsters and Greek gods with lightning bolts in their hands and little winged sandals on their feet. But even here, we all in our modern period don’t believe these kinds of myths. They’re fun stories that we believe are false. Myths are, in other words, lies. Lies that can be damaging, or lies that can be fun, but lies nevertheless.

But this is a poor understanding of “myth.” People in the past, be they Romans or Greeks or Celts, surely didn’t think their stories were just little old myths that were just around for a good story. No, they believed them, and in many ways they based their lives, and the lives of their entire communities, on what they heard in their myths. You see, myths are foundational stories, they’re beginning stories. They’re stories that we tell about how things came to be the way they are, to explain where we came from, who we are, and where we are going. And in this they are desperately important to know, to understand, and to think about often. To return to our source. And so, as we turn in Lent to reflect on our relationship with God, we begin this first Sunday of Lent at the beginning.

Now, before I move on to talk about this foundational story of ours, and how we can live into that foundational story to know more about what Jesus gives us, there’s a lie that is usually bandied about that I’ve gotta quell. Some folks, when they read this story, say that it is Eve’s fault that Adam sinned, that if Eve weren’t around, then Adam wouldn’t have eaten the apple. And, often, folks then take this and lay the blame of sin on all women in general. This is absurd. Pointing fingers at one another is a mark of our sinful nature: it’s what Adam and Eve do to one another after, not before, they eat the fruit. And if there is blame, we read in Romans this morning that St. Paul puts it on Adam. So if you ever hear this interpretation, squash it. It’s unbiblical.

But this sort of interpretation directs us to a reality that we are still struggling with: we’re living in a sinful world. We are sinful people. And that’s tough to think about. We don’t want to think about how we’re sinful. We want to look on the bright side of life. We want to think the best of us and of other people. We’re told to forgive those who trespass against us, so shouldn’t we also forgive ourselves?

Sure, but even so, there is something not right about our hearts. At times, we have to do a great deal of work to get ourselves to see the humanity in others. There is something inside of ourselves that, no matter how much we work to correct it, always sneaks back up again. As a young man, I had a short fuse, and I’ve done a lot of work to calm myself down when I feel it flaring up. But goodness gracious, if you cut me off when I’ve got my kids in the car then my anger is right there again, fresh and new. We humans have a penchant for selfishness, for forgetting others and thinking of ourselves alone. The seven deadly sins, those mythical seven deadly sins – pride, lust, gluttony, envy sloth, wrath, greed – they’re basically that sinful part of us saying me me me and forgetting about you you and you, much less God, God, and God.

But, here is another false interpretation that many make: some look at our sin and say that we are horrible through and through, right to the core, that there is no good in us. Yet, while we humans may have a penchant for human sin, we are not utterly debased. There is good in us, because God is in us. We are made in the image of God, and while that image can be overshadowed, or forgotten, or misunderstood because of sin, that image is there down at the foundation of who we are. We are, at our heart of hearts, beloved children of God. To borrow a phrase from a popular sci-fi film, we are luminous beings. Our identity, who we are, is simply those who are beloved, precious, and dear to God. That is who we really are. That is who, after the long Lent of life in this world, we hope to become in Jesus Christ our Lord.

But sin is real. Sin isn’t something that we can just take off when it’s hot like it’s a jacket. Sin isn’t just some tomato sauce that splashes on our shirt that, if you pour detergent on it and get it into the wash, there won’t be a stain. And it is, alas, not just some bad political structure that, if we just make the right laws, we can get away from. No, sin is real and it is lodged deep in our hearts. We don’t have a tool fine enough to get it out. No amount of work, no long hours kneeling, no journey to some far, distant holy place can root it out and make us clean again. Only one thing, we believe, can make us clean, and that is the love of Jesus Christ, open and free for all.

And so, as we begin Lent, we look to who we were and we turn to who we can become, who is the person we are truly meant to be. We look with St. Paul, and at the urging of Jesus Christ himself, at the beginning of sin, when that root of sin was first planted, and we turn to the essence of love that is the transfigured face of that same Jesus Christ. Let us put, then, to rest the sin that is in us, and let us turn now to the life that is being held out to us with eager hands. For Jesus says, Take, eat. This is my Body, given for you!

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.