Sunday, June 25, 2017

Homily: Feast of St. Alban [June 25, 2017] St. Alban's, Westwood



            I spent the final years of my professional life living and working on Mount Saint Alban in Washington, D.C., so when the opportunity came around to say something about Alban the Christian saint and martyr on his feast day I couldn’t pass it by. Mount Saint Alban in D.C. is the home to Washington National Cathedral and its three sister institutions—National Cathedral School for girls, Beauvoir [elementary] School, and of course St Albans School for boys.  If you do a Google search for St. Alban, it is this latter institution (including the astronomical tuition it now commands) that gets most of the mentions.
            The historical St. Alban was, of course, the first British martyr. But in the way we tend to trivialize all saints (St. Francis loved domestic pets, St. Valentine flowers and chocolate, St. Christopher surfing), St. Alban seems to be revered mostly because he died on a hill.  The slightly elevated place near London where St. Alban was killed is known as Mount Saint Alban, and its Washington descendant got its name when Joseph Nourse—the first Register of the United States Treasury under four presidents and a renowned nepotist and social climber—bought the farm at the corner of Wisconsin and Massachusetts Avenues and christened it “Mount Alban”. The rest, of course, is history. Except that everybody around the cathedral at least seems to have forgotten the life and witness Saint Alban himself.
            You here in Westwood have not, so let’s spend the next few minutes reminding ourselves why we honor Saint Alban and then reflecting on what his witness might mean for us today.
            We don’t know a lot about the historical Alban, but the Venerable Bede says that he died in the third or fourth century during a Roman persecution. According to Bede, Alban converted to Christianity after witnessing the extraordinary piety of a priest whom he eventually sheltered. When the soldiers came to his house seeking the priest, Alban put on the priest’s cloak and offered himself to the soldiers in the priest’s place. After a series of trials, Alban was beheaded. They say his head rolled downhill and a well sprung up where it landed, but that will have to wait for another sermon.
            There are other supposedly miraculous things that happened during Alban’s execution, but when we strip them away here is what we have: a story of hospitality and sacrifice. Alban got in trouble when he offered shelter to a Christian priest who was being hunted. And he stayed in trouble when he continued to profess belief in the Christian God and not in the Roman Emperor. Hospitality and sacrifice. How do these virtues of the third century speak to us in the twenty-first?
            Listen again to these words of Jesus from today’s gospel [Matthew 10: 34-42]:
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

            The story of Alban is important for all of us—cathedral denizens, Westwood parishioners-- because it reminds us of what a Christian person is supposed to be and do. I think in twenty-first century America we have become confused about that. In the American public imagination, Christians are seen as people who tell others how they should live—a kind of super aggregation of Dana Carvey church ladies. Within the church itself, we seem to be a group that wants to argue about what we think Christianity is supposed to mean. Public Christianity has become a hyper-virtuous scolding. In-house Christianity has turned into an endless series of theological litmus tests.
            At its best, however, Christianity has never been about telling other people how to live or what to think. Indeed, at its best Christianity has never been much about “meaning” at all. The gospel is not about thought. It is about action. In a pragmatic tradition like ours (Anglicanism), following Jesus has always been less about theology and more about behavior. We imitate Jesus not by trying to think like him. We imitate Jesus in trying to act like him. It’s the same with those exemplary Christians, the saints. We trivialize saints by downplaying their witness and emphasizing the cute things associated with them. We trivialize Jesus by turning his community into an academy, a debating society, or an association of scolds.
            In the tenth chapter of Matthew, Jesus does not tell his companions what to think or what to tell others to think. Instead, he tells his companions what to do; and there are only two things. He tells them to welcome others as they would welcome him. He tells them that if they want to save their lives they must lose them.  He talks about hospitality. He talks about sacrifice.
            Hospitality and sacrifice: plain and simple yet hard to pull off. No doubt it is easier to argue about the creed, the Trinity, the virgin birth, the resurrection or to lecture others about their reproductive lives than it is to practice hospitality and exemplify sacrifice. But these two practices—and not speculation about them—are what Jesus commands. Give a cup of cold water to these little ones. Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.  Plain, simple, yet hard to do.
            It is easier to name a mountain after a saint than it is to pattern your life by him. Because their examples are so challenging, we will always treat saints as mascots rather than examples. But the fact that you all give one day a year to celebrate Saint Alban says something about the nature of this faith community; it says that you remain committed to patterning yourselves as a parish after the example of his witness. And just as Jesus advises us in the gospel, so did St. Alban live his life in the service of these two virtues. Give a cup of cold water to these little ones: hospitality. Those who lose their life for my sake will find it: sacrifice. These are fitting virtues for an urban faith community, especially today.
            First there is hospitality. Alban sheltered a person who was being unjustly pursued by the state. In third century Roman Britain, Christian clergy were the hunted. In twenty-first century nativist America there are a host of people in jeopardy, but in our place and moment it is undocumented immigrants and the refugees who need our sheltering care. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.” Under Susan’s leadership, you here at St. Alban’s have begun the work of collaborating with others to offer sanctuary to those who are now the targets of our own government. In so doing you are following the example of Alban, your patron saint. The sanctuary movement has both scriptural and saintly warrant. There is nothing else you all can do together as important as this. Offering sanctuary to the undocumented is not only good scriptural and spiritual practice. It is a witness to a confused church and world of what Christianity is actually about.
            And then there is sacrifice. Somewhere along the line we Americans turned Christianity into a philosophy of happiness and success. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with being happy or successful. It’s when we turn happiness and success into Christian virtues that we get into trouble.  Happiness and success are fine, but they are at best accidents, and they are not the point of the Christian life. The point of the Christian life is in losing oneself on behalf of others, and in so doing finding not only oneself but finally getting what it’s all about. We talk about sacrifice as if it’s the bitter pill we must swallow as part of all this Jesus business. In doing so we miss the joy of what the Jesus movement is all about. In spite of what you might see on TV or hear from our national leaders, generosity and compassion are not only virtues—they are pleasures. A lifetime of being kind and other-directed actually turns you into somebody you might want to be. Not the kind of news you’re going to get from an early morning presidential tweet, but there you are.
            Your patron, St. Alban, knew all that. He offered hospitality to one in danger and finally gave his life as a witness to the generous and embracing love he found in donning the priest’s cloak. You and I will probably not be called to martyrdom, but we are called, as was Alban, to lives of hospitality and sacrifice. As followers of Jesus and companions of Alban, our job is neither to make it to the top nor to tell others how to live. As followers of Jesus and companions of Alban, our job is to welcome others and lose ourselves in their service. It’s a simple calling, and a noble one. As we gather now around God’s table, to that calling we once again commit ourselves, and for that calling we continue as always to give thanks. Amen.






Monday, June 12, 2017

Homily: Trinity Sunday [June 11, 2017] St. Edmund's, San Marino



            What a week we’ve had: The Senate Intelligence Committee hearings! The UK election! The NBA Finals! The French Open! The Stanley Cup! What’s a preacher to choose? I know: let’s talk about the Trinity.
As you all probably know by now, Trinity Sunday is the preacher’s graveyard. I cannot begin even to number, much less recall, the horrible sermons I have endured on this day—some of them delivered by me. I used to be a seminary professor and dean, and when I had that job I rarely gave advice. But one thing I regularly used to say to graduating students was that, when they got ordained, they should avoid this Sunday like the plague. Talk about anything on Trinity Sunday—baseball, the weather, even if you have to politics, but please do not try to explain the Trinity in fifteen minutes.
            Of course, being students, they regularly disregarded my advice, figuring that they alone had the homiletical key to unlocking the mystery that has preoccupied theologians and philosophers for 1600 years. So they ascended pulpit steps and gave little lectures that, for all the good they did, could have been talking about Fermat’s last theorem or Schroedinger’s cat. Their auditors smiled politely and then avoided eye contact and greeting them at the door. The new preachers left their churches realizing that, like mountaineers, they had assaulted Everest and had had to turn back.
            So yes, today is Trinity Sunday. It is the First Sunday after Pentecost, the first Sunday in what we call “ordinary time”, and in setting aside this Sunday to give thanks for the doctrine of the Trinity, the church calendar is naming this doctrine as one of the principal gifts of the Spirit given to us at Pentecost. Now I did not tell my students to avoid trying to explain the Trinity out of any doubt about it myself. I have been a priest for 40 years now, and while my intellectual understanding of God as revealed to us in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit---has grown gradually over the years, my lived experience of the Trinity is exponentially deeper than it was when I was in seminary. So the doctrine of the Trinity is one I both publicly affirm and personally believe. But the doctrine of the Trinity is, like all things we receive from the Spirit, a gift. And when you receive a gift you don’t try to explain it. You give thanks for it. And you try to figure out what to do with it.
            Happily, one of the other gifts we have this morning is a gospel passage from the very end of Matthew [Matthew 28: 16-20], chosen I suppose because it’s the one place in the New Testament where Jesus actually mentions the members of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—by name. This passage also goes by the name of “the Great Commission”, because in it Jesus commands his apostles to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Over the centuries of the church’s life, the Great Commission has been read as our warrant for evangelism. When Jesus mentions the Trinity, he does so not an abstract idea but a missional command.
            This is a jam-packed little passage, and there is so much to say about it. So let me just tick off four quick aspects that might help us all live into what it means to know, love, and serve God in what our proper preface today calls “trinity of persons and unity of being”.
            It’s brief, so let’s hear this gospel passage again:
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28: 16-20]
            One thing to notice about today’s gospel is its setting. Jesus’ core followers gather on a mountain, and we hear that “when they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.” Some doubted. The first point about living into the mystery of the Trinity is that some are always going to doubt it. I worked for many years at All Saints Pasadena, and in the days when they used to say the Nicene Creed there, parishioners would opt in and out of reciting it as their personal faith permitted. We would begin, “I believe in God,” and then half the congregation would drop out, unable I guess to go the next step and affirm the divinity of Jesus. Many would chime back in when we mentioned the Spirit, though “holy catholic church” always gave them trouble. The first point: even the disciples doubted, so it’s OK if you do too. Following Jesus is not brainwashing, and the church is not a Maoist re-education camp. Following Jesus is less about what we think and more about what we do. I’m not saying that belief is not important. I am saying that it’s not as important as we usually think it is. And that’s where the other three points come in.
            After they have gathered on the mountain, Jesus’s followers hear him specifically tell them to do three things: make disciples of all nations, baptize them, and teach them. The Holy Trinity in this passage is a trinity less of ideas than it is a trinity of actions. Jesus’s final earthly words to his followers tell us not what to believe but what to do.
            Jesus tells us first to “make disciples of all nations”. This is a hard one for Episcopalians, but there is no way around it. Polite and reticent as we are, you and I have been commissioned to tell others about our faith and invite them into the community which nurtures it. This does not mean that we are supposed to be storm troopers of intolerance. We can respect the faith of others while telling them about our own. In witnessing to our own faith these days we are more likely to encounter those who have no religion rather than those who practice Judaism, Buddhism, or Islam. So the issue here is not cultural imperialism; it is simple hospitality. There are a lot of people in our world whose lives would be better if they knew a church like ours not only existed but also welcomed them. Following Jesus on Trinity Sunday means first that we let other people know that he is important to us we welcome them into his community.
            Jesus’s second imperative: that we baptize. There are two great sacraments in our church, and because Eucharist has become so central in our lives we tend to neglect Baptism. Over the course of the last 60 or so years, Christians around the world have rediscovered the importance of Baptism in the early church and its radical implications for us. In Baptism we get both an identity (a name) and a commission. We are claimed as God’s own and we are authorized to serve each other and the world in God’s name. Easter and Pentecost are about many things, but at their heart they are festivals of freedom, celebrations of the way you and I and all creation have been set free by the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. Part of this new Easter life is the opportunity to tell other people about it. Part of this new Easter life is the opportunity to free ourselves, each other, and the world from the imprisoning chains of oppression in all its forms—social, cultural, relational, and yes, political. Baptism empowers us to be agents of God’s love, justice, healing, and liberation in the world. Jesus commands us not only to live as free people ourselves but also to offer that freedom to others.
            And then, finally, there is this teaching thing. In his Great Commission, Jesus makes us not only liberators but teachers. One of the gifts of being a Christian in America derives from the First Amendment—there is no established religion in the United States, and we all rightly respect everyone’s religious principles (or lack of them). But respect for everyone’s religion does not mean that all religious ideas are created equal. There are a lot of bad religious ideas abroad in America right now—some of them horribly repressive, others laughably wifty and vague. A priest friend of mine says the problem is not that people don’t believe anything; it’s that people believe everything: a little bit of Jesus, a little bit of Buddha, throw in some rabbinical stories and maybe some yoga, and you’ve got the patchwork quilt of 21st century American religion. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about. I served as the vicar in Malibu. Am I a fool to believe that it is possible to be both multicultural and sound? That we can share the love and compassion and justice and forgiveness of Jesus without sounding either like schoolmarms or airheads? Following Jesus implies both gifts and obligations. Teaching with both soundness and respect for others means, in the words of Emerson, that we will say less “thou shalt” and more “I ought.”
            As they gathered one last time on the Galilean mountain with Jesus, his companions met him with a mixture of faith and doubt. The life of faith will always work this way. Some of us will have total faith, some of us will have no faith, most of us will have some mixture of one and the other. The late Bishop Fred Borsch used to say that the creed, like all doctrines of the church, is the faith of the whole church, and sometimes it takes the whole church to believe it. Jesus’s Great Commission doesn’t obligate us to think or believe anything. All it requires of us is that we act in love, compassion, healing, and forgiveness towards ourselves and others. Believing in the Trinity is the whole church’s job. All you and I are required to do is give thanks for this mysterious gift and then do what we can to live out its gracious implications in our lives, for each other, and the world. Amen.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Homily: Frederick Houk Borsch Memorial Service [June 10, 2017] St. Augustine's, Santa Monica


Gary Hall
St. Augustine’s, Santa Monica
June 10, 2017 [Frederick Borsch]

All of us see Fred Borsch from a different perspective. For most of us he was our bishop or seminary or college dean. For some an irreplaceable family member. For others a mentor and friend. For many a New Testament scholar and teacher. For others yet a civic leader and public intellectual. Maybe even a tennis partner.
            To me, Fred was many of those things and something else. In my experience of him, Fred Borsch was primarily a poet and a lover of poetry. I didn’t know this at first about him. My early experiences of Fred were of a rather distant public figure—my bishop. Early on, Fred was a man I admired from a distance and listened to with respect. It was only as I was fortunate enough to get to know him as we worked together—first here, then in New Haven and Philadelphia and finally in Washington-- that I began to realize what an enormous heart and soul he had. And his heart and soul found their best expression in reading, talking about, and writing poetry.
            I found that out one night when, after a long and contentious meeting with a priest accused of sexual misconduct, Fred went to his desk and pulled out an essay he had written on George Herbert’s poem, “Artillery”. Herbert’s poem compares the life of prayer to an ongoing battle between the speaker and God, describing both God and the speaker as “shooters”. It concludes with the speaker’s admission that we and God live with each other in tension and an uneasy peace:
“Then we are shooters both, and thou dost deign
To enter combat with us, and contest
With thine own clay. . .
                            There is no articling with thee:
I am but finite, yet thine infinitely.”

Fred knew that I had been an English teacher, and it appeared he wanted to redeem what was left of a painful and conflictual evening by thinking about prayer and words and how we use them, about how God can take even human aggression and pain and turn them into something beautiful and true. We talked that night for probably an hour about George Herbert’s beautiful and vexing poem, and in that moment I saw a side of this public man that I didn’t know existed. Fred said that Herbert was right: we and God are “shooters both”, each assaulting the other with our various weapons of complaint and love. I saw my bishop in a way I hadn’t seen him before, and being let into this aspect of his life and thought was both a revelation and a privilege.
            I will come back to Fred’s poetic side in a bit, but I don’t want us to forget that he was also a public figure. Fred made his living first as an interpreter and expositor of the New Testament, then as a public articulator of Jesus and his priorities to the wider community. Fred Borsch was a very American type of exemplary English bishop, a kind of bishop we don’t see that much in the U.S.—one who acts both as shepherd to the gathered church and to the wider public within his diocese. Fred wrote books, sermons and op-ed pieces, and he used all these forms to articulate a gospel vision of what a just society might look like.
In the gospel reading we just heard, the Beatitudes, Jesus gives his strongest expression of the gap between God’s priorities and ours. “Blessed are the poor,” he says. There is a connection between Jesus’s words and those of George Herbert. If we are “shooters both”, then the Beatitudes are God’s opening volley in an ongoing contest about our social and personal values. We want to live for ourselves. God wants us to live for the greater good. Our culture equates blessedness and prosperity. God’s values endorse something else: poverty, meekness, righteousness, mercy, purity in heart, peacemaking. God’s values always rile us just a bit, and so the life of prayer, like the life of the church itself, is often full of conflict. To Fred’s mind, it was the job of the church to hold out the gospel vision to a beautiful yet confused world. In Fred’s practice, a bishop spoke both to the church and to the world about how we might, together, bridge the gap between is and ought, between God’s vision and ours.
            Fred spoke to us during his career first as a scholar and teacher, then as a preacher and public figure, finally as a novelist and poet. In retirement, Fred produced a dizzying number of books—essay collections, meditations, poems, a history of religion at Princeton, and even a couple of novels. In his final novel, My Life for Yours, Fred created a character very much like himself, a retired school head and English teacher named Harold Barnes, who dies during a gym workout and then finds himself alive in the body of a much younger (and very different) man. It is a wonderfully inventive and entertaining book, and part of its fascination lies in the way Fred imagined both a different career path (he could have been a great teacher and schoolmaster) and how those of us who have lost him might react and carry on after his departure. The novel shows Harold’s widow and children first grieving, then accepting, then making their way in the world anew. When I first read My Life for Yours a couple of years ago I thought of it as merely the counterfactual imaginings of a vigorous man in his seventies. Now I see it as Fred’s extended meditation on his own death and how those of us who loved him can make our way through grief, in John Milton’s phrase, “To-morrow to fresh woods and pastures new.” To be sure, Fred was a scholar and a thinker and a leader. He was also, to the end, a pastor, seeking to lead both himself and us through life’s deep woods into the open spaces of God’s love.
            Earlier in this service, Fred’s son Matthew read the title poem from Fred’s collection, Parade: 
[Parade
“I want to see, I want to see,”
my little grandson pulls on me.
I lift Jack up that he may point
to firemen smiling from their truck,
hooting when they whoop its horn.
Next horses and a marching band,
and, by God, an elephant thumps ahead
of open cars and pretty girls, I notice,
waving to a squad of cyclists,
black and red and white and blue
in the parade that’s passing through.

It’s then I see I want to see
new poets, next musicians, scouts,
explorers of the quarks and stars,
even global warming, if more caring,
undoing of some old diseases:
all he may see this century,
seeing he cannot shoulder me.]

Like My Life for Yours, the poem “Parade” is a witty yet poignant reflection on life’s finitude. The speaker hoists his grandson on his shoulders to see the literal parade, realizing that a figurative parade of future events is coming, that his grandson will not be able to return the favor, and that little Jack will have to be his eyes and ears for the coming century. The book Parade ends with a similar poem, “As Well”:
             
As Well
Of course we die alone,
marked by loss and brokenhearted,
even doctors say so,
and eternity seems vast,
while there is love, as well, my gratitude,
and where go these unless you—
as I am parted?

This poem, “As Well”, gives voice to the same kind of love of life and longing for connection after death. If all we knew about Fred Borsch was these two poems, we would think of him as a rather witty (if mordant) observer of life and death and their respective ironies. But Fred was not only a poet. He was a pastor and preacher. He probably never became an English teacher for the same reason he never played Major League Baseball: as satisfying as those career choices might have been on one level, they would not have enabled him to express the depth and extent of his faith. Fred not only believed what we proclaim today in this liturgy. He lived it and wanted to make it accessible to the rest of us. And that is why there is yet one more thing to say.
Several years ago, Fred sent me the text of an Easter hymn he had written, and though I don’t believe it has yet been set to music, the text of “Easter Now” should be in whatever incarnation of our Hymnal that comes next. Fred Borsch the poetic ironist knew we die alone and that we will not see the parade ahead of us, but the Fred Borsch the Christian person knew something more. He knew that the love and hope and compassion and goodness we meet in Jesus and in each other will outlast and finally transform all those other things that oppress and frighten us—even (in some mysterious way we cannot entirely grasp) death.
I’m thankful for so many things about Fred Borsch, but today I’m perhaps most thankful that a man like Fred could hold together such a sharply questioning critical intelligence and such a deep and compelling faith in one complex human identity. On more than one occasion I heard Fred say, at a funeral like this one, that the mystery is not, “Why did God take him from us?” but rather, “Why did we get to have him in the first place?”
Easter is God’s answer to both questions, taking the pain and the joy of death and life and somehow making them into a new way for us to be together in the world. Here, finally is how Fred announces Easter in his hymn text, “Easter Now”:

EASTER NOW
Now to broken-hearted yearning,                                  
Now for love such love returning                                   
In upper room, light from a tomb.                                 
The wounds, his voice, again bread broken,
Rabounni, Jesus, from death woken.   [Alleluias]                      

His Spirit’s peace upon us breathing,
Our hoping, hearing hearts for healing
That we might see how it could be,
And now does daystar’s courage dawn,
And now can be our morning song. [Alleluias]

            Thank you, God, for the gift of Easter. Thank you for this community that celebrates and proclaims it. And thank you today most of all for the gift of the life and ministry and witness of Frederick Houk Borsch. Amen.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Homily: The Fifth Sunday of Easter [May 14, 2017] St. Alban's, Westwood

 
            It is probably best to acknowledge at the outset that today is Mother’s Day, a holiday that gets only a slightly greater observance in our household than its June complement, Father’s Day. A parish I served in Michigan was very big on Mother’s Day. Year after year on this Sunday the ushers insisted on handing a rose to every woman who entered the church. Every year I would rather facetiously ask what we were going to do for the men on Father’s Day. I never received an answer, and so one year I took matters into my own hands: I drove over to Costco, bought several cases of those small spray cans of WD-40, and instructed the ushers to present one to each man as cheerfully and lovingly as they had the roses to the women. While the ushers were a bit grumpy about it, the guys actually liked it. I left that parish before I could follow up the next year with rolls of duct tape. So yes, it is Mother’s Day: not a church holiday exactly, but an occasion that invites us to reflect on some characteristics like nurture and care, qualities we ascribe both to parents and to God.
            Today is also the Fifth Sunday of Easter, and you may have noticed that in this season our Sunday readings are organized not around the gospel but around the unfolding story of the earliest Christians as told in the book of Acts. Acts is the book that comes right after the gospels in the New Testament, and it tells how the followers of Jesus found themselves first bereft, then empowered, and then living out in their own lives the ministry of Jesus. The early church discovered, somewhat to their surprise, that after the death and resurrection of Jesus, they were now actually the body of Christ in the world. As we heard over the past few weeks, the early Christians found they had the same powers to heal and forgive that Jesus had. And as we hear in today’s Acts reading--the stoning of Stephen, our first martyr--they encountered the same kind of resistance too.
            It is not incidental that Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was a deacon. As you know, in its early days the church developed three orders of ministry which we still have to this day. Bishops were the successors of the twelve apostles, and they came first. Deacons are the second order, and they were set apart to assist bishops and to do the essential service ministries of the church. Priests—people like Susan and Warner and me—were created last, and our job was essentially to stand in for bishops as the church expanded both in numbers and area too big for one person to cover.
            So Stephen, our first martyr, was a deacon. Why would the crowd rush together against him, and then drag him out of the city and stone him? [Acts 7:55-60] The book of Acts suggests that the crowd was offended by an incendiary speech Stephen gave right before his stoning. That may well be, but there is a second explanation that goes along with the first.
            The Roman Empire was not very kind to people who were sick or poor. As the historian Peter Brown has argued[Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire] the Christian movement represented something altogether new in the Mediterranean world. Though Romans had a long tradition of public philanthropy, they essentially left the sick and the poor to fend for themselves. But following the example of Jesus, Christians organized to pay them great attention—to feed the hungry and tend to the sick. And the people they called upon to do this were the deacons.
            Earlier in Acts [Acts 6:1], we are told that the apostles decided to set apart seven deacons because some of the “widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.”   In the first several centuries of the Christian movement, the deacons became a kind of social service agency. The kinds of relief they offered to the poor and the sick went directly against the laissez-faire values of the Roman Empire. As one of the first deacons, Stephen was charged with carrying out this countercultural social service. I would argue that he was stoned not so much because of his theological views but because he was serving the people the Roman state and the culture wanted at best to ignore.
            So (and perhaps this is just a coincidence), on this Fifth Sunday of Easter, which also happens to be Mother’s Day, our scripture readings ask us to think about how we both experience and exemplify the kind of love and nurture we meet first in Jesus and then in Christians like Stephen. Our Acts reading sets the stage, and our other reading this morning, from John’s gospel, develops the theme.
            Today’s gospel [John 14:1-14] is one we often hear read at funerals:
Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
In this beloved passage, Jesus goes on to tell us that he is “the way, and the truth, and the life.” These are wonderful and comforting words to hear in the midst of grief. The assurance that Jesus has both provided for us and given us a path can be deeply reassuring.
But it is something he says a bit farther on in the gospel passage that speaks to us this morning:
Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.
“The one who believes in me will also do the works I do.” The real miracle of Easter is not confined to the empty tomb. The real miracle of Easter lies in the way the life and ministry and purpose of Jesus continue in the lives and ministries of those who gather in his name. Jesus loved and healed and fed the sick and the poor. These actions were a direct threat to an empire whose values were based on oppression, power, and success. That empire crucified Jesus in an attempt to put an end to his kind of compassionate justice and love. The good news of Easter was not only that Jesus was now alive; the good news of Easter was also that Jesus’s love and justice and compassion would now be carried on by those who would be his body in the world.
“The one who believes in me will also do the works I do.” The same can be said for Stephen, a Christian who died at least in part because he dared distribute food to the widows. A world organized around power will never understand the love of a God who rejects the very idea of force. The love and justice embodied in Jesus and Stephen cannot be stopped even by Rome, much less by Rome’s successors. If Easter is about anything, it is about God’s persistence in coming towards us in love and working through us as stand-ins for Jesus as ministers of healing and grace in our personal, social, and civic relationships.
And that, I believe, is Easter’s connection to Mother’s Day. Sure, there are all kinds of ways in which a holiday like this can be syrupy and false. Our culture will always exalt the sentimental and undervalue the authentic. To be sure, we all have complicated histories with our parents. So I would not presume to hold up any one human parent as an exemplary stand-in for God. But there is a deeper sense in which you and I as Jesus’s followers understand that all real nurturing love—whether raising a child or visiting a person in the hospital or even calling your Congressman—is an expression of the kind of love we see when Jesus healed the sick or Stephen brought food to a widow.
“The one who believes in me will also do the works I do.” Both Easter and Mother’s Day are occasions to give thanks for the love and nurture that have carried us thus far along the way Jesus talks about in today’s gospel. But it wasn’t only the early Christians who believed themselves to be the body of Christ in the world. When we say the creed together, you and I proclaim the same thing every Sunday. The kinds of love and nurture and justice we meet in Jesus and observe in Stephen and recall from our own mothers—those divine attributes are now on offer through us. You and I are now the body of Christ in the world. You and I are the deacons of the 21st century, those called to stand against the selfish individualism of our own imperial culture by seeking and serving the hungry, the poor, the grieving, the sick and being for them who Jesus and our mothers at their best were for us.
“The one who believes in me will also do the works I do.” Thank God for Jesus and for Stephen and for all who love and serve suffering human beings. Thank God for our mothers and other nurturers who have showed us this same kind of love along the way. And thank God for the continuing call and opportunity to be the heart and hands of Jesus in the world he loved and which we all inhabit together. Amen.



Monday, April 3, 2017

Homily: The Fifth Sunday in Lent [April 2, 2017] St. Alban's, Westwood


It is a great pleasure to be with you at St. Alban’s this morning. I have known Susan for probably thirty years, and I’ve tried never to hold it against her that she did so much a better job at St. Aidan’s in Malibu than I did as her predecessor there. She is a great priest and a good friend and colleague and I’m grateful for her invitation to help out here from time to time.
I’m also grateful to St. Alban’s parish for the hospitality it showed me when I was in graduate school across the street in the 1980s. In perhaps one of the greatest acts of ecclesiastical generosity ever known, Norm Ishizaki let me park in your lot for free during the summers when I didn’t have a parking pass. As I later learned when studying church growth with no less than the late Robert Schuller, there is nothing in the church more important than parking. There’s certainly nothing at UCLA more important than parking. So I owe both Susan and you all a debt of thanks.
Today’s scripture readings present two of the most startling visual images in all literature, certainly in all scripture. The prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37: 1-14) describes Israel as a valley of dry bones being reassembled and breathed back into life. John’s gospel (John 11: 1-45) portrays the risen Lazarus as one who “came out [of the tomb], his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.” Each of these images serves to tell us something about the experience of being brought back from death to life. And the death here not just literary death. Israel’s bones and Lazarus are not figuratively dead. They are literally dead. And yet with God and Jesus they live.
I have been a priest for over 40 years now, and I have spent about half of that time in parishes and half of it teaching. Whenever I encounter such startling images of death and renewal as those in today’s scriptures, I always recall another equally compelling moment, this one not in the Bible but in Shakespeare. It’s in the fifth act of Shakespeare’s late play The Winter’s Tale—a play I taught in a seminary class for several years on the theology of Shakespeare’s late plays--and it depicts the statue of a dead woman coming, on stage in front of us, to life.
If you’re not familiar with The Winter’s Tale, let’s just say that it is neither a comedy (though it plays like one) nor a tragedy (though it feels like one) but a romance—a genre somewhere in between the two. It concerns a king named Leontes who becomes so insanely jealous of his wife Hermione that his violent and erratic behavior leads to the death of their son, the loss of their daughter, and the death of Hermione herself. This is a play in which people do unspeakably bad things to each other, and those actions have tragic—or near tragic—consequences.
The great final scene in The Winter’s Tale reads on the page like it would never work yet never fails to move me when I see in on the stage. The artist Paulina brings Leontes to see a statue of his dead wife and, miraculously, the statue gradually comes to life. In the climactic moment, the artist tells Hermione,
Bequeath to death your numbness, for from him
Dear life redeems you.

And over the course of several minutes the dead statue becomes a living woman. But the miracle of this new life, surprisingly, has less to do with resurrection than with what happens next: the formerly dead Hermione and her husband Leontes become reconciled. He repents and she forgives. The end of the play brings not only life; it brings repentance and forgiveness—real forgiveness for real wrongs enacted—and with it the possibility of a new community built now, in W.H. Auden’s words, “on trust instead of threats.”
It is, as I say, one of the most powerful moments I have ever seen on a stage. You wouldn’t think it would work but in fact it does. Like Israel’s bones or Lazarus’s body, Hermione’s resurrection both startles and satisfies. In her new life Hermione brings forgiveness to a man who desperately needs it and then, as it can only in Shakespeare, healing spreads around all over the place.
It doesn't erase the pain or guilt for the wrongs done, but it does make possible moving forward together into a new future.
A family, a community, and a nation are given back to themselves. For Shakespeare, as for us, new life involves more than revivification. New life brings restoration to a set of relationships, to a community, based now on forgiveness and renewal. A set of relationships now based on trust instead of threats.
The experience of reading this play in my seminary class was transformative. As in any intense community, the seminary I served was rife with rivalries and resentments. Our shared engagement with The Winter’s Tale gave us a frame of reference in which we could together think about how we can live together in a real world where real wounds do actual damage to flesh and blood people.
Working in churches and schools can be intensely interpersonal. I was once in an extremely tense faculty conversation where I was trying to help resolve a dispute between two colleagues that had become totally unmanageable.  One of them believed that she had been offended and disrespected by the other, and though the other had apologized several times, the one offended would not let go. In the middle of this back and forth rehearsal of grudges, the second turned to the first and said, “You know, I believe you have made a shrine of your wound.”  It was such a startling remark that it opened the logjam of our conversation and allowed us to move forward to a new way of being with each other.  I have never forgotten it.
“You have made a shrine of your wound.”  I can’t speak for you, but I know that there are many times in my life where I have made not only a shrine of my wounds.  I’ve built a temple for them and regularly worshipped at them and then checked and re-checked to make sure that my grievances were maintained in top working order.  But the invitation to new life—be it breathing life into dry bones or unwrapping the bandages and freeing a corpse—this invitation comes with another one: the possibility of letting go of rivalries and resentments, of taking down the shrines we have made of our wounds.
To say that new life entails the willingness to repent, forgive, and be reconciled is not to diminish the real pain we can feel in our personal, corporate, even national lives. As in Shakespeare and the Bible, so in life: we human beings can do real damage to ourselves and each other. We want so much to be healed of our grievances and our wounds. We want what Israel and Lazarus’s sisters wanted: we want new life, a second chance, a new beginning. These things are all given us in our scriptures this morning. And yet it seems to be true that we can only be open to this life as we are willing and ready both to repent and forgive.
Just as all people can make a shrine of our wounds, so we Christians can make a shrine of Lent. We can become so enamored of the self-denial we’ve chosen that we can forget that we give up or take on these things not in the service of Lent but in the service of Easter. Lent is not about Lent. It is about Easter. It is a season that helps us clear the decks not only of our distractions but also of our grudges and our resentments and so opens us up to take in the power and beauty of the new life on offer at Easter.
As with Israel’s bones and Lazarus, so with you and me: the new life we hope for and crave is available to us now. And as Shakespeare reminds us, our ability to grasp this life is mysteriously tied to our ability to come together in repentance and forgiveness and let our wounds and resentments go.
When Jesus first heard of Lazarus’s illness, he announced that it was for God’s glory, and he prayed that God might be glorified through Lazarus’s return to life. And so with us. As you and I continue to walk together through Lent toward Easter, may we all come to see our struggles as vehicles for God’s glory--so that through our mutual sorrow and forgiveness, we and the world may dismantle the shrines we have built to our wounds and so feel our dry bones live, our bandages unbound, and our relationships one with another blossom into new and risen life. Amen.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Essay: On the Fiftieth Anniversary of Sergeant Pepper (with Huntz Hall on the Cover) March 14, 2017

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On Sunday night, June 11, 1967—the week in which I was to graduate from high school--I was sitting in my bedroom with a group of my friends listening to a satirical program on KPCC FM, an alternative radio station in Pasadena, California. The program—Radio Free OZ—mixed music and comedy in a subversive and groundbreaking way. (Peter Bergman, the host of Radio Free Oz, would go on to found the Firesign Theater, one of America’s first satirical comedy collectives.)

On this Sunday night we were gathered in my bedroom because I was the only one of us with an FM radio. We came together because Bergman’s program had announced that he would read the names of the people on the cover of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. (Even with teenage eyes none of us could quite accurately discern all the faces on the album cover’s collage.) Imagine my surprise when, reading left to right in the top row, Bergman read the name of my father, Huntz Hall, as figure number 12.

We were stunned. I was stunned. Though as a member of the movie gangs the Dead End Kids, the East Side Kids, and the Bowery Boys my father had been famous from the 1930s through the 1950s, his reputation was in a bit of a lull in the 1960s, and my friends and I thought we were the only people under 50 who knew who Huntz Hall was.

In 1935, six teenage actors appeared on Broadway in Sidney Kingsley’s social-realist drama, Dead End. They played a mixture of tough street kids living near the East River in New York, under the shadow of the affluent apartments of Astor Place. The play was a stage hit, and the boys traveled west to Hollywood in 1937 to appear in the film version starring alongside Humphrey Bogart, Joel McCrea, Ann Sheridan. This film was such a success that they were signed to a contract at Warner Brothers studio where they made several movies with Bogart, James Cagney, John Garfield, Ronald Reagan, and others. They became a teenage sensation. A look at movie magazines and newspapers of the 1930s will confirm what my father always said later in life: “We were the Beatles of the 1930s.”

The Dead End Kids lasted at Warner Brothers for a few years, then moved to Universal Studios where they morphed into the East Side Kids. Their movies morphed as well, from A pictures to B (budget) movies, second features played mostly for comedy. After World War II they left for Monogram Pictures and became the Bowery Boys, making an additional 48 films between 1946 and 1958. As the group changed, original members dropped away. By the time of their last iteration, the Bowery Boys featured two of the original actors: Leo Gorcey (the star) and my father, Huntz Hall, as his partner and sidekick. By the time the final Bowery Boys movie appeared in 1958, Huntz Hall was the only original Dead End Kid left.

When the Bowery Boys ended, my father was no longer a star but continued (until his death in 1999) to be a steadily working actor. Though he was no longer mobbed on the street at a “Beatle of the 1930s”, Huntz Hall was known to my generation mostly through the Saturday morning reruns of East Side Kids and Bowery Boys movies on television. He and Leo became the favorites of a generation of ensemble comedians (Second City, Saturday Night Live). And he also became a countercultural hero because of his arrest for possession of marijuana in October of 1948.

In the late 1940s, Los Angeles police started going after high-profile Hollywood people for marijuana possession. (Robert Mitchum’s arrest a month before Huntz Hall’s made front page news.) In the same sweep, police found marijuana stashed in the back yard of my father’s Hollywood apartment. Mitchum was eventually convicted and served two months in jail. Though the two coffee cans full of dope found by the police were his, Huntz Hall was acquitted and went back to work.

In 1967, the year of Sergeant Pepper’s release, Huntz Hall was somewhat remembered as an old-time movie star, but he was famous within pot-smoking circles because of his bust for possession of marijuana. He was in a sense a real cult favorite.

I called my father (he lived in New York then) the day after I heard his name read on the radio and asked him if he knew he was on the record cover. Indeed he did, and he saw his picture there as something of a life lesson.

Five years earlier, Stanley Kramer had tried to cast Huntz and Leo in his all-star comedy movie, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Leo agreed readily. My father asked for too much money. Leo made it into the picture, my father did not. He realized he had overplayed his hand. He decided he would be smarter the next time a great offer came around.

Months before Sergeant Pepper appeared, someone from Brian Epstein’s office called asking for permission to use Huntz Hall’s face on the album cover. The office had also called Leo Gorcey asking for a release. This time it was Gorcey who asked for money. My father had wised up, and asked instead for four autographed copies of the record. Gorcey was turned down (hence the empty space next to my father where his image originally lay.) Huntz Hall got his four autographed albums and his visage remained on the cover.

Over the remaining years of his life, I talked with my father about the Sergeant Pepper cover and the reasons he thought he was on it. On several occasions he told me that though the Bowery Boys were not known in England, the Beatles had seen the movies on American television and loved his and Leo’s comedy. He always felt that his place on the album cover was a tribute to his status as a pioneer of offball screen comedy.

While his reasoning is probably true, I believe there is another explanation for Huntz Hall’s face on the Sergeant Pepper cover, and it lies in the marijuana plants arrayed in front and to the side of the Beatles in the picture. Marijuana became its own subculture during the Beat and Hippie years of the 1950s and 1960s, and my father became more famous within that subculture as a dope smoker than as an actor. (He never liked his druggie reputation and in fact once sued the author Terry Southern for representing him as a drug addict in the novel Candy.) But despite my father’s protestations, I have always thought Huntz Hall’s face on the Sergeant Pepper cover a coded message saluting the early users of hallucinogenic substances. He stands there along with Lenny Bruce, William Burroughs, and Edgar Allan Poe as an exemplar of the creative artists whose creativity was enhanced by using marijuana. Together they form a kind of brotherhood of dope-smoking forbears.

A lot, of course, has changed since that June night in 1967 when I heard the list of names on Radio Free Oz. My father lived another thirty-plus years, and through not only the increased distribution of the Bowery Boys movies but also his influence on the improvisational comedians of those decades he is perhaps better known today than he was then. Because they are saddled with often melodramatic plots the Bowery Boys movies don’t hold up that well as films, but the comedy parts are as funny as ever. Unlike other highly rehearsed comedy duos (Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello) Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall were probably the first two screen comedians to improvise directly in front of the camera, and comedians of my generation learned a lot from watching their movies. So the question, “Why is Huntz Hall on the Sergeant Pepper cover?” does not seem quite so urgent in 2017 as it did in 1967.

If the cultural reputation of the Bowery Boys is more settled now than it was then, so is the social position of marijuana use, at least in the United States. Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized some or all uses of marijuana, and the drug’s in-joke cultishness has modulated into general social acceptance. So those who were once seen as outlaw pioneers of drug use have been domesticated, seen today perhaps not as renegades but simply as those who were somehow ahead of their time.

Five days after that night in my bedroom, my friends and I did graduate high school in June of 1967. I have gone on to have a very different life than my father. After some initial flirtations with show business, I became an Episcopal priest, got a Ph.D. in English, and served for a time as a teacher of English and American literature. Over the forty years of my own career I served as parish priest, high school and college teacher, seminary and cathedral dean. In almost every job I had, there would be a moment when someone in a get-acquainted exercise would ask me to tell them something about myself they probably wouldn’t know. To say that people were shocked to learn that their priest or teacher or dean’s father was on the cover of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band would be an understatement. My father’s face on the cover is as surprising today as it was then, a gift for which I will always be grateful.

The Reverend Canon Gary R. Hall, Ph.D., retired as Dean of Washington National Cathedral in 2015 and lives with his wife Kathy in Los Angeles.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Homily: The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany [January 29, 2017] St. Luke's, Monrovia CA



It is a great pleasure to return to St. Luke’s this morning. Those of you who have been around for a while may remember that in the summer of 1979 I spent a month here as the vacation replacement for your then-rector Ev Simson. A parish family generously loaned us their spacious house in Arcadia and a car to go with it. As a native Angeleo, I found it hard to return to Michigan when August was over that year. It’s good to be back.
And of course it is great to reconnect with Neil Tadken, your rector. I’ve known Neil since our time together at All Saints, Pasadena over 25 years ago. He still looks like he did then. Me, not so much.
Our gospel for this morning is the passage which begins Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount—the 10 sayings commonly called “The Beatitudes” [Matthew 5: 1-12]. Sitting in the chapel of St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue in New York City several years ago, I noticed that there were ten stained glass windows in the chapel, each depicting one of these sayings. As my eye moved along the row of windows, it stopped at the third, arrested in disbelief. Instead of the words, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” I found the phrase rendered, “Blessed are the debonair . . .” I was probably not the first pewsitter who snickered at the way a Park Avenue church had made Jesus sound like someone right out of the Social Register. Where else would the New Testament appear to equate meekness with savoir faire?
Knowing a bit of French, I went home and looked up debonair in my French-English Dictionary. The preferred modern meaning of debonair in French is the one we’d expect, “of a nonchalant elegance”(very much like your rector). But there are older meanings of debonair that the French translators of the Bible must have had in mind. When Jesus says in our English Bible, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” it is rendered in French as, “Happy are the debonair, for they shall inherit the earth.” In this context, debonair means something like, “of good manner”. This doesn’t mean that the “debonair” are fashion forward (again, like your rector). It suggests that they are humble, gracious, and self-effacing. And that, says Jesus, is a pretty good way to go through life.
These opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount are commonly called "The Beatitudes" because of the repeated use of the word we translate as "blessed". That same Greek word can also mean something like "happy". For many of us who seek to follow Jesus, The Beatitudes serve as a warrant for action. When Jesus says that the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, the merciful, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are "blessed" or "happy", many of us hear those words as a to-do list for our ministries. If we want to follow Jesus, we say, we need to be about serving the poor, being peacemakers, and hungering for righteousness.
That understanding is a good one. But let me suggest another that might stand beside it. Jesus's Beatitudes are not only, or even primarily, a set of marching orders for setting the world right. They are an announcement of what Christians have always called “the gospel”. They are a proclamation of the good news. In the Beatitudes Jesus is not so much telling us what we ought to do as he is telling us what God is already doing. These verses are an announcement of what God is up to in the world. This "kingdom of heaven" that Jesus talks about is not some future blessed state up in the clouds someplace. The kingdom of heaven is breaking in on us even now in the ministry of Jesus and in the community that gathers around him. The kingdom of heaven is made up of people quietly, humbly, sometimes even subversively living as Jesus would in the here and now.
In Jesus’s day, as now, human values were massively messed up. First century Jewish Palestine was an occupied territory, and people were taxed and starved beyond the breaking point to support the imperial Roman state. Into that culture of oppression and scarcity, Jesus came and announced that people could have lives that were both free and abundant if they would gather together in community. People followed Jesus not only because he was a great teacher but primarily because he was a healer and liberator who embodied the freedom and generosity of God.
In other words, in stepping into the Jesus community, you stepped into a space or place or zone where life is lived as God intends that it be. Jesus did not come to found an institution called "the church". In fact, the word we render as church—ekklesia—is a Greek term which means "the called". It's a newly coined word for the New Testament because the older words-synagogue, assembly, temple— couldn't quite name the reality of what the Jesus movement was about. The church, the ekklesia, the called, is the body of those called into the Jesus community to make real in their lives and the world what Jesus calls the reign of heaven. The church is the gathering of those who want to live life on God's, not Caesar's, terms.
Living life on God’s terms means, of course, that we will try to live out those Beatitude values in the world. Living life on God's terms means standing with the people Jesus names in these verses—the poor, the peacemakers, the persecuted, the mourners. Living life on God's terms means naming Caesar and all Caesar's successors as impostors, pretending to an authority that belongs only and finally to God. But we will be neither authentic advocates for those up against it nor credible critics of empire if we can't love and accept and forgive and celebrate each other right here first.
As we gather this morning in a divided and confused nation and world, Jesus's Beatitudes call us to rekindle our awareness of what it is we're doing when we get together in church. We are coming together, as did those gathered around Jesus, to step into that zone where life is lived on God's terms. We are coming together, as did those gathered around Jesus, to share in the good news that we can critique and change the world only to the extent that we can love it and each other first.
The French Beatitude I saw in Manhattan is but one of many translations of Jesus’s words. One of the most interesting versions occurs in the New English Bible.  Here is how that Bible renders the first saying:
How blest are those who know their need of God;
the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. [Matthew 5:3 NEB]

There is a lot of wisdom in these words. Perhaps the truest thing you can say about us Christians is that we, whatever you call us--the Jesus community, the church, the communion of saints,—are the people who know our need of God.  Caesar does not know his need of God, nor do those who organize their lives around power, achievement, success, or money.  You might say there are two kinds of people in the world:  those who know they need God, and those who think they don’t. The most pervasive lie our culture promotes is the idea that you are or should be totally independent of others, that you can somehow be both self-sufficient and self-made.
Those of us who seek to follow Jesus know that we all finally need each other.  Those of us who make our way into the Jesus movement are united not by what we think about theological or social issues. We are united in our shared knowledge of our need for God.  We are all mortal, dependent creatures.  True wisdom lies in accepting and celebrating the fact that we are finite and human, and in finding ways, together, to make life better and richer and deeper or maybe even just bearable not only for ourselves but for each other and the world.
“Blessed are the debonair, for they shall inherit the earth.” “How blest are those who know their need of God; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” What is God up to in the world and in your life? If we believe Jesus, God is making a world in which each of us can find true joy and meaning in life by accepting our need for God and each other. True admission of our shared need makes us “debonair” in its deepest sense—it makes us humble and gracious and self-effacing. Given everything that’s going on in our world right now, being humble and gracious and self-effacing is a pretty good way to go through life.
We often make being a Christian or following Jesus harder than it really is. If we look to Jesus as a setter of impossible standards, we will feel defeated before we begin. But if we look to Jesus as one who knows his need of God and finds life’s fulfillment in making common cause with others, we will see him as our brother and companion on a journey of generosity, compassion, and joy. So, for this morning, let’s forget those impossible standards. Let’s begin by admitting our need for God. Let us gather around God’s table and be fed and blessed and assured that God knows and responds to our need. Let us come together to love and support each other. And then let us go out of here together, intent on sharing this love and support with our neighbors. If we can give all that a try, we may none of us become perfect, but we will each and all of us, become truly debonair.  Amen.