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.

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.