Processional

Meditation on Matthew 21:1-11.

In scattered fragments, lying close at hand,
May I be open to what life requires:
To rearrange the patterns of the past
And make anew what I will need today.

While blessing all these days that come to pass,
May I hold lightly all that I create,
And listen to the deeper question asked
That all my answers cannot satisfy.

Stardust: A Meditation on Grief

One of the many remarkable truths about nature is that death is often a gateway to new forms of life. My favorite illustration of this process is the most powerful incident of death in the known universe: a supernova.

A supernova is how a star dies. Stars are born as hydrogen atoms are drawn to each other in the cold depths of outer space. These atoms huddle together in the dark until their bodies fuse into one. This fusion gives off a burst of energy that can be felt as heat and light. The end product is a new atom called helium. As more and more hydrogen atoms join the group, they start a chain reaction that results in a giant ball of gas that we call a star. Stars burn for billions of years, constantly making new kinds of atoms. You can look out the window on a clear day and see this process happening right before your eyes.

Eventually, these atoms become too big and heavy for this process to continue. When this happens, the inward pressure of gravity overwhelms the outward pressure caused by fusion and the star implodes. Because every action in physics causes an equal and opposite reaction, the star’s implosion results in a dramatic explosion. In that brief moment of tremendous destruction, the light of a single star outshines the entire galaxy.

I imagine that for you, the loved ones of those who have recently died, the pain of grief feels overwhelming in the same way. The felt absence of the one who died seems to outshine every other concern in life. This feeling is very normal and natural. You might wonder: Can my universe ever be the same again? Can any good possibly come from a loss so great? These questions are also very normal and natural.

Here’s how nature answers those questions:

Can the universe ever be the same again? No. A great star has been lost, just as the unique light of your loved one’s presence has faded from this world. We grieve this incalculable loss with you.

Can any good possibly come from a loss so great? Yes! The new atoms forged in the heart of that star get launched into space, where gravity draws them back together over billions of years. They form new bodies like other stars, comets, and planets. On our planet Earth, these atoms came together in just the right way to allow life to form and grow. Today, in the ground beneath your feet, in the air you breathe, and even in the atoms of your own body, you carry the remnants of these deceased stars. Quite literally, you are made of stardust!

The spiritual traditions of the world have observed this process and expressed it in various ways. Some believe in reincarnation while others believe in resurrection. Some believe that our physical life ends while our spirits live on in some mysterious way. What all of these beliefs have in common is the hunch that death is not just an end, but also a gateway to new life, just like a supernova.

I know that your world will never be the same again after the loss of this precious loved one. I invite you, in this time of overwhelming grief, to be patient and caring with yourselves and each other. May the gravitational forces of love draw you closer together and help you pick up the scattered pieces. May the blinding light of loss plant seeds of new life as it fades. And may you remember always the unchanging truth that fires your life with dignity: You are stardust!

Evening Prayer for Sunday of Easter 2

The Invitatory and Psalter

O God, make speed to save us.
O Lord, make haste to help us.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as
it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
Alleluia.

Phos hilaron

O gracious light,
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed! 

Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of Life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.

The Psalm or Psalms Appointed

111    Confitebor tibi

1              Hallelujah!
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, *
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

2              Great are the deeds of the LORD! *
they are studied by all who delight in them.

3              His work is full of majesty and splendor, *
and his righteousness endures for ever.

4              He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *
the LORD is gracious and full of compassion.

5              He gives food to those who fear him; *
he is ever mindful of his covenant.

6              He has shown his people the power of his works *
in giving them the lands of the nations.

7              The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice; *
all his commandments are sure.

8              They stand fast for ever and ever, *
because they are done in truth and equity.

9              He sent redemption to his people;
he commanded his covenant for ever; *
holy and awesome is his Name.

10           The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; *
those who act accordingly have a good understanding;
his praise endures for ever.

112    Beatus vir

1              Hallelujah!
Happy are they who fear the Lord *
and have great delight in his commandments!

2              Their descendants will be mighty in the land; *
the generation of the upright will be blessed.

3              Wealth and riches will be in their house, *
and their righteousness will last for ever.

4              Light shines in the darkness for the upright; *
the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.

5              It is good for them to be generous in lending *
and to manage their affairs with justice.

6              For they will never be shaken; *
the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.

7              They will not be afraid of any evil rumors; *
their heart is right;
they put their trust in the Lord.

8              Their heart is established and will not shrink, *
until they see their desire upon their enemies.

9              They have given freely to the poor, *
and their righteousness stands fast for ever;
they will hold up their head with honor.

10           The wicked will see it and be angry;
they will gnash their teeth and pine away; *
the desires of the wicked will perish.

113    Laudate, pueri

1              Hallelujah!
Give praise, you servants of the LORD; *
praise the Name of the LORD.

2              Let the Name of the LORD be blessed, *
from this time forth for evermore.

3              From the rising of the sun to its going down *
let the Name of the LORD be praised.

4              The LORD is high above all nations, *
and his glory above the heavens.

5              Who is like the LORD our God, who sits enthroned on high, *
but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth?

6              He takes up the weak out of the dust *
and lifts up the poor from the ashes.

7              He sets them with the princes, *
with the princes of his people.

8              He makes the woman of a childless house *
to be a joyful mother of children.

At the end of the Psalms is sung or said

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

The Lessons

One or two lessons, as appointed, are read, the Reader first saying

A Reading (Lesson) from ________________.

After each Lesson the Reader may say

Here ends the Reading.

Magnificat

Luke 1:46-55

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
    for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
    the Almighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him *
    in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm, *
    he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
    and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things, *
    and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
    for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

The promise he made to our fathers, *
    to Abraham and his children for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
    as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

The Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
    creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord.
    He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
      and born of the Virgin Mary.
    He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
      was crucified, died, and was buried.
    He descended to the dead.
    On the third day he rose again.
    He ascended into heaven,
      and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
    He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
    the holy catholic Church,
    the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins,
    the resurrection of the body,
    and the life everlasting. Amen.

The Prayers

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.

Let us pray.

Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your Name,
    your kingdom come,
    your will be done,
        on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
    as we forgive those
        who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial,
    and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
    and the glory are yours,
    now and for ever. Amen.

Suffrages B

That this evening may be holy, good, and peaceful,
We entreat you, O Lord.

That your holy angels may lead us in paths of peace and
goodwill,
We entreat you, O Lord.

That we may be pardoned and forgiven for our sins
and offenses,
We entreat you, O Lord.

That there may be peace to your Church and to the whole
world,
We entreat you, O Lord.

That we may depart this life in your faith and fear,
and not be condemned before the great judgment seat
of Christ,
We entreat you, O Lord.

That we may be bound together by your Holy Spirit in
the communion of [________ and] all your saints,
entrusting one another and all our life to Christ,
We entreat you, O Lord.

A Collect for the Presence of Christ

Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day
is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and
awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in
Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake
of your love. Amen.

A Collect for Mission

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or
weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who
sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless
the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the
joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

From Easter Day through the Day of Pentecost “Alleluia, alleluia” may
be added to the preceding versicle and response.

Listening to One Woman’s Voice

The subject of abortion is once again topping headlines, with the recent passage of restrictive legislation in several states. Much is now being written and said about this, by voices in all sides.

One of my current spiritual heroines, The Rev. Tawnya Denise Anderson (Co-Moderator of the 222nd General Assembly of the PCUSA), wrote on Facebook: “FWIW, I’m super okay with men not talking right now, just for a little while.”

To honor Pastor Denise, I would like to shut up and welcome this guest post on the subject by another one of my spiritual heroines: The Rev. Sarah Schmidt-Lee (Co-Moderator of the Schmidt-Lee household from 2004-present… my partner).

The following words are Sarah’s, slightly edited for continuity and shared with her permission, from a private online conversation we had with an evangelical seminary classmate.

SARAH: I grew up pro-life and I’m still inclined toward treating conception as the beginning of life, mostly because I want to affirm to women who have experienced miscarriages and still births that their loss is real and their motherhood counts. So all the debate over when life begins and how we read passages of the Bible about breath=life or being known in the womb, etc, are not particularly interesting to me.

Where I come down is that no human life trumps the bodily autonomy of another person.

Now, I know that some people turn this around and say a pregnant woman’s life shouldn’t trump the bodily autonomy of a fetus growing in her body, and that because of their vulnerability/voicelessness, the woman should not have the right to cause them harm.

But that fetus does not yet have the ability to exist independently of the woman.

And there is no other situation in which we would force a person to make huge donations of their time, energy, health, future, and risk their own lives to save the life of someone who was unconscious, unable to communicate, and medically dependent upon their organ donation, blood or plasma donation or other donation.

As a Christian pastor, I would counsel a person asked to donate blood marrow or a kidney to a dying family member in the hopes they would make the choice to donate and save another human life, but I would still consider it a choice.

And I would never support legislation that would make such a donation required, or the refusal to donate a crime punishable by incarceration.

In a similar way, I would (and do) work with pregnant women to find ways for them to continue their pregnancy and bring a human being into the world who can live independently from their bodies. But I consider it the woman’s choice whether to offer her body in that way.

Now, my father, for instance, makes the case that a pregnant woman is responsible for the existence of this completely dependent life in a way that the organ donation illustration does not parallel.

Because, presumably, she chose to have sex, knowing that conceiving life was a possible outcome.

But, 1) that’s presuming a lot. It doesn’t take into account rape, lack of sufficient sex education, inadequate education in how to effectively use contraception, or those cases when the contraception fails.

2) There is also a man who is, presumably, equally responsible for the creation of this new life, but who cannot share in the donation of his own body and risk of his own health in the nine months necessary to nurture that life to independent existence. It is absolutely unjust for the woman to be legally required to bear sole responsibility for that shared decision.

I think the only piece I have to add is that criminalizing abortion is not (and has never been) effective at curtailing abortion rates. It does, however have a profound impact on mortality rates among women seeking abortion. And poverty of women and children. I found out a couple years ago that in the decades before Roe v Wade, there was a national network of safe, vetted abortion providers, and the network was led by mainline clergy. It was called the Clergy Consultation Service, and was formed by clergy in urban settings who were tired of finding out that poor women in their outreach ministries and congregations were dying from sepsis and other complications from backalley abortions. They were hearing horror stories of doctors who would charge women huge sums of money and perform illegal abortions, but then rape the women at the same time and the women could not report the assaults because they would get in trouble for seeking an abortion. These clergy ended up working with women in their churches to visit known abortion providers, going undercover to test their safety, sanitation, and ethics. And they would help women travel across the whole country to get to providers they could ensure were safe. You can learn more about this network through this book, among other resources: https://offercompassion.com/author/offercompassion/

I posted a couple days ago about shifts in state laws and federal law about fetal personhood that mean that the overturning of Roe v Wade (or “chipping away” at it, as some politicians suggest) would leave already vulnerable women in our society far worse off than they were prior to Roe v Wade.

And concerned clergy across the country are already beginning to organize in case something like the Clergy Consultation Service becomes necessary again.

Do I believe life begins at conception? Yes. Do I value unborn life as fully human? Yes. But legislation that prioritizes the rights of unborn lives over the bodily autonomy of women only causes harm to women and children, and I believe, our society as a whole.

Post-exilic Prophets and the Church Today – Covenant

In the Church today, the instruction I keep hearing is simply to keep moving forward. Do not despise the day of small things. The day of small things is to visit someone in a hospital, to teach a Bible study, or to celebrate the Holy Eucharist — about which a dear friend used to say, it’s never a bad time tohave Communion with Christ. I’m not suggesting the church be like Candide, pretending that misfortune is beneficial or enjoyable. As Christians we have to walk by faith because there is no other alternative. In doing this, we have to draw on the old patterns of fidelity that will fill out the life of the Church in this new social and cultural context. To paraphrase Meyers and Meyers, if this seems revolutionary, it is because there is no turning back. While we don’t get to see what is around the next bend of the Church’s history, perhaps this is because it is not necessary information for us to do the work that is before us.
— Read on livingchurch.org/covenant/2019/03/14/post-exilic-prophets-and-the-church-today/

This article offers a very helpful biblical analysis of the current situation for mainline Christianity in North America.

Coloring Outside the Lines

As the pages of our calendars turn over to 2019, we come once again to that season of enthusiasm and idealism, when people in this culture customarily make resolutions for the coming year. We resolve to improve our lives in some major or minor way: to quit smoking or lose weight, to seek out a new job or new place to live, to develop our spiritual lives by prayer and study, or to attend church more regularly. All of these are helpful ideas and positive ambitions for making the most of the life God has given us.

There inevitably comes a moment, however, usually by the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday (March 6 this year), when we discover that our resolve has failed us: that gym membership, though paid for in advance, goes unused; the prayer book and Bible continue to gather dust on the bookshelf; we discover, much to our surprise, that the treadmill makes for a wonderful sweater dryer and that we are now on a first-name basis with the drive-thru workers at Dunkin Donuts. We can hear Jesus saying to us what he said to his apostles in Matthew 26:41: “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Additionally, we encounter circumstances beyond our control that interfere with our best-laid plans: an old knee injury flares up, preventing us from running that marathon; the expected promotion or transfer is not forthcoming; a child or spouse floors us with a stunning announcement: “I have cancer,” “I’m pregnant,” or “I’m gay.” In these moments, we feel more keenly the message of Proverbs 16:9: “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps.”

We can take some comfort in knowing that we are not the first drivers on life’s road to encounter detours, speed bumps, and U-turns. No epic novel has ever centered on characters who always make right decisions or events that always go according to plan. Conflicts and mishaps are not distractions from the plot, but the very elements that make these stories worth reading. So it is in the story of life. It was the late, great John Lennon who sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

The good news for us, when we find ourselves in circumstances that are less than ideal, is that the God we believe in is not far away, sitting up on some cloud in heaven, waiting for you to figure it out or get your act together. The God of the Christian faith gets the divine hands dirty by taking on human flesh and dwelling among us in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ is born in a stable, meaning that God is intimately present and actively involved with your life in this world, with all its messes, smells, unexpected plot-twists, and failures.

The gospel for today’s Feast of the Epiphany gives us a tangible image of the infant Jesus “scribbling outside the lines” in the coloring book of our lives. There are many misconceptions of the famous “wise men from the East” we heard about in today’s reading. With all due respect to the Epiphany hymn, “We three kings of orient are,” the only true words in that sentence are “we,” “of,” and “are.” The biblical text does not say that there were three of them, but only that they brought three different kinds of gifts: “gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” The term “orient” refers accurately to the direction of East, but not necessarily to the regions of China or India. The label of “kings” comes not from St. Matthew’s gospel, but from the prophecy in Isaiah 60, our first reading, which says, “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” Isaiah tells us further that “the wealth of the nations shall come to you… They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.” The identifying phrase from Matthew’s gospel, “wise men from the East,” most likely refers to Zoroastrian astrologers from the region of present-day Iran or Iraq.

The presence of Zoroastrian sages in today’s gospel signifies the reality that God’s work in the world is not limited to one particular time, place, or people. “Truth,” according to St. Augustine of Hippo, “belongs to [the] Lord, wherever it is found.” For Christians, the realization that all truth is God’s truth does not invalidate or relativize our faith, but frees us to approach other religions with openness and curiosity, rather than criticism and judgment.

The astrologers’ following of the star is not a tacit endorsement of horoscopes, but yet another example of God leading people to Christ via paths that are unconventional and surprising. The path of the astrologer draws meaning from careful observation of the universe. Speaking in contemporary terms, one could suggest that this passage opens to Christians the study of science and philosophy as avenues through which the divine glory can be more fully understood by the world.

The wise men from the East represent for us all the ways that God colors outside the lines. Their presence in this story shakes us out of our narrow conceit to consider the possibility that unexpected or inconvenient events might be the very ways in which God is presently at work in our lives. Such twists and turns might not be distractions from the plot, but the main arc of the story itself.

There is a wise man within each of us. If our hearts and minds are open, we can join their caravan and follow the star to the horizon where heaven and earth meet. There is also something of King Herod within each of us. If we so choose, we can remain behind with him: barricaded inside a palace of our own making, plotting and scheming to neutralize all challenges to our ego as if they were threats to existence itself.

The way of Herod leads nowhere, as it never requires us to set foot outside our comfort zones. The way of the wise men, on the other hand, leads us to that deepest place within us, where Christ is being born today. The way of the wise men is not easily discerned or followed, for it requires of us that we embrace those parts of ourselves or our lives that feel most strange or foreign. When our internal resolve and external circumstances fail us, the wise men show us how to go “home by another way.” They lead us, by all sorts of twists and turns, to that inner house where we plop down on the floor next to the Christ child, who teaches us how to scribble outside the lines in the coloring book of our life.

The divine Word who “became flesh and lived among us” is not interested in defending our possessions, positions, or plans, but works tirelessly for the recovery of our true essence as God’s beloved children.

Brothers and sisters, my prayer for all of us this morning is not that we would have the strength or know-how to overcome life’s obstacles by force of will, but that God would bless us with enough weakness and foolishness to walk the winding way of wisdom until it leads us to that place within us where Jesus lives.

Book Review of ‘Guerrilla Gospel: Reading the Bible for Liberation in the Power of the Spirit’ by Bob Ekblad

Bob Ekblad. Guerrilla Gospel: Reading the Bible for Liberation in the Power of the Spirit (Burlington, WA: People’s Seminary Press, 2018).

It is a great honor to be asked to read and review an advance copy of Guerrilla Gospel: Reading the Bible for Liberation in the Power of the Spirit by my friend and teacher, Bob Ekblad.

Bob and I first met fourteen years ago, when I was a seminarian at Regent College in Vancouver, BC. It was through his classes that I began to discern my sense of call to ordained ministry. I walked into his class with one career plan and walked out with another. Over the intervening decade and a half, Bob’s ideas have continually influenced the shape, location, and direction of my ministry as a substance abuse counselor, street chaplain, and pastor to a congregation of mentally disabled people.

Click here to read a blog post on how I have made use of Bob’s methods in my own ministry setting.

Bob taught me how to read the Bible with a new set of eyes. I had previously approached the Scriptures as a compendium of morals and doctrines. Bob showed me how to encounter and inhabit the Bible as a treasury of liberating news for people who live outside the bounds of institutional religion.

Guerrilla Gospel is a follow-up to Bob’s earlier book, Reading the Bible with the Damned (WJK: 2005). Both books present the sound theological basis for Bob’s method of biblical interpretation and illustrate the process with copious personal stories. Readers will derive the most benefit by perusing both books, though either one can stand on its own merit.

While Reading the Bible with the Damned focused on the theological framework, Guerrilla Gospel gets down to the nitty-gritty details of preparing and leading Bible studies with marginalized people. With its more practical emphasis, Guerrilla Gospel answers my one remaining question after finishing Reading the Bible with the Damned: “How do I actually do this?”

Clergy will find much in this book that is familiar from seminary courses in biblical exegesis, and will benefit from seeing how Bob applies these study methods in ministry contexts outside the institutional church. Lay leaders will also find in Guerrilla Gospel a thorough, yet accessible, crash-course in biblical interpretation. I would recommend this book for anyone seeking to start a Bible study in a traditional church setting, but especially for those who practice their ministry in marginal places like jails, prisons, drug rehabs, and homeless shelters. Hopefully, those who read Guerrilla Gospel from within the institutional church will be inspired to reach out and find the Spirit present and active in unexpected places. Believe me, you will be glad you did.

One of Bob’s greatest gifts is the way he so skillfully navigates the convergence of disparate streams of Christian thought. There is something in this book for almost everyone. Evangelicals will connect with Bob’s deep love of Scripture, charismatics with his openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit, contemplatives with his explications of centering prayer and monastic spirituality, academics with his erudite scholarship, and social justice activists with his background in liberation theology.

At the same time, Bob’s unique theological location guarantees that Guerrilla Gospel also has something to make everyone uncomfortable. Readers of all theological stripes should come prepared for a challenge to their unconscious biases and assumptions. Wise and discerning readers will remain open to having their horizons expanded.

As a high-church Episcopalian, the one thing I would have liked to read more about in Guerrilla Gospel is the role of the Sacraments in ministry contexts like Bob’s. To be sure, the subject is not entirely absent. Another of his previous books, A New Christian Manifesto: Pledging Allegiance to the Kingdom of God (WJK: 2008), has an amazing chapter on Baptism. Personal stories from his several books, including Guerrilla Gospel, frequently touch on the topics of healing (Unction), confession of sin (Reconciliation), family relationships (Matrimony), personal commitment (Confirmation), and ‘deputizing’ for ministry (Ordination) from a less formal perspective. In a future book, I would be very interested to read more about the ways Bob has witnessed the Holy Spirit liberating ministry through the celebration of the Eucharist, and what its theological implications are for margins and mainstream alike.

Whether the reader is clergy or laity, evangelical or progressive, contemplative or charismatic, leading ministries of education within the church or outreach beyond the church, Bob Ekblad’s Guerrilla Gospel: Reading the Bible for Liberation in the Power of the Spirit has something to inspire, inform, comfort, and challenge anyone who wants to be part of Jesus’ liberating movement on earth.

Also by Bob Ekblad:

Further reading: