Archive for February, 2017

“A Telos People,” (Sermon, February 19th, 2017)

“Jesus said, ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Matthew 5: 38-48


On my recent journey to the Holy Land, I did not travel alone. Someone else from this Diocese went with me: a very treasured friend of mine, the Reverend Lucy Price.

Lucy is an exceptional human being. I don’t really know anyone who doesn’t get on with her. She is warm and kind. She is incredibly creative – an accomplished visual artist whose preferred medium is spray paint and stencil. She helped Alex Wilson and me with an Lenten project one year at St. Paul’s in the West End, for which she created a series of exquisite figures at prayer using white paper and shades of black and grey, which we taped to the walls and furniture of the church.

Lucy has a wicked sense of humour. While on the trip, one morning, she suddenly turned to me and said, “Did the Executive Archdeacon ask you to write a report about me on this trip?” Alarmed, I said, “No.” “Oh,” she said. “Because he asked me to write one about you.” As I was just about to launch into a full scale panic attack, she suddenly went, “Haaa! You should have seen your face!” Born and raised in Newcastle, she sometimes lapses into a completely deadpan delivery before grinning to show me I’ve been had yet again.

She has always been there for me. We went to ACPO together to be assessed as candidates for the priesthood, barely three weeks after my father had died. When she heard me crying in my room that first night, she knocked on my door, and when I opened it she said nothing – just hugged me.

The one annoying thing about Lucy is what a devout and deeply committed Christian she is. Sometimes I’ve shared with her my misgivings or straight-up rage at someone who ticked me off.

Her 100% sincere response, every single time, is, “Tsk, Clare. You should pray for them.”

Who does that? Who prays for those who persecute them? Who loves their enemies?

We’re supposed to, but it seems impossible sometimes, I know.

There is so much to forgive. There is so much vitriol to tune out, so much garbage to clean up, so much blood and tears to wipe off of faces. How could any one person do it all? How could we possibly be perfect, as our Father is perfect?

David J. Lose, preacher and president of Lutheran Theological Seminary, cautions that there are two temptations in hearing today’s passage. One is to not take it seriously; to lament our inability to escape personal and corporate sin and bypass our own responsibility for trying to be better. The other is to take it too seriously, and believe that if we just struggle hard enough, we can bring about the salvation of the world by ourselves. This is a rehash of an ancient heresy called Pelagianism, the idea that we can overcome sin all on our own, without the aid of divine grace, that human beings have an innate ability to do so. Pelagius had good intentions – he wanted people not to wallow in the idea that their actions didn’t matter – but the logical extent of that conviction is that if we can’t conform to how we believe we should be, we’re just not trying hard enough. I think all of us know how dangerous that belief can be.

The possible antidote to these temptations, Lose proposes, is an exploration of the Greek word, telos, which in our passage is translated “perfect.” In English, this word implies conforming to an ideal type, an absence of all flaws or shortcomings. But there is an additional meaning which we don’t often take into account, a meaning which is also present in telos: the idea of completion, of reaching the intended outcome. Lose writes by way of description, “The telos of an arrow shot by an archer is to reach its target. The telos of a peach tree is to yield peaches.” He continues, “Read this way, Jesus’ words are less command than promise.”

This doesn’t let us off the hook…but neither does it subject us to a life of constant self-flagellation. We are not and never have been a people chained to chisels chipping endlessly away at our fallibility. We are a telos people, a people seeking light, seeking wholeness, seeking resurrection. We are called to be, in a sense, perichoretic, mimicking the eternal dance of the communal Triune God. We are called to change and to be changed. One cannot exist without the other. We are called to open doors and to let the doors of our souls be opened. We are called to let Lucy’s advice sink in, and to give her advice to each other.

And what better moment could there be in God’s time, God’s world, than this moment in our time, our world?

We know what it means to feel fractured. We know what it means to feel adrift. We know what it means to be pushed toward trust and healing. We know what it means to lean on each other, to lean on God. We know what it means to need open arms and wounded hands, and to offer those same things to each other and the world.

Right now, we hang in the space between the joyful season of incarnation and the introspective, penitential season of Lent, where we commit ourselves to re-examining our faults, our desires, and our true needs. We are preparing for the good work of Vestry next Sunday. We are praying for the hard work of our Canonical Committee, our Diocese, and our whole community in discerning a new rector for this parish church. We are praying for the world, which is full of posturing, paranoia, and pain. We are preparing for a brand new journey toward the Cross with Jesus, and a brand new celebration at the empty tomb with Mary Magdalene.

Everything is as it should be, even when the work is hard and tedious and unglamorous. When we can’t help but grumble, as wilderness-walkers always do, it is still as it should be. But we are called, as Lucy calls us, as Jesus calls us, to pray for the work, to pray for each other, to pray even for those who would sabotage the work of the Kingdom, to have faith that God’s will is being performed in this place, in this world.

We say we believe it, but do we?

Sometimes the words feel like ashes in our mouths…and yet even the disciples had their bad moments, and look what they accomplished. If you have never believed, if you have always had trouble believing in the eventual unfolding of cosmic grace, take comfort in the ultimate foolishness of our story: that one carpenter and his twelve friends changed the entire course of history with love, words, and wonder.

This is the true power of our God: That everyone from the devout to the atheists can find and do find hope in that story, as complicated as it gets when entangled with Empire.

In sure and steadfast hope in our call to be a telos people, seeking light, seeking wholeness, seeking resurrection, let us end with these words from civil rights veteran and Mennonite peacemaker Vincent Harding.

“All of us are being called
those comfortable places
where it’s easy
to be Christian.

That’s the key
for the 21st century.
To answer the voice
within us…
which says
‘do something for somebody.’ …

We can learn
to play on locked pianos
and to dream of worlds
that do not yet exist.”

So may it be for us, telos people of a telos God.


“Salt and Light,” (Sermon, February 5th, 2017)

13 ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:13-20


I think today it might be important to just take a moment to rest in the peace that we share together in this place, to even do something a little un-Anglican, and take the hand of the person closest to you. Look at them. See them as one whom you love and who loves you. With your gaze, wish them peace, and when you are ready to let go of that hand, leave peace with them.

There are houses of prayer in this world where peace is elusive, where fear exists alongside faith, where those who come together to rest in God’s presence run the risk of sharing their sacred space with hate and bullets. There are people of God in this world who are afraid to leave their homes, who are afraid for their children, who are afraid that they are all alone. There is a whole world outside the doors of this beautiful place that is afraid and angry and lonely and hurting, a whole world that you and I, St. Philip’s in Dunbar, are being empowered to save, by the grace of God, in the Body of Christ, with the power of the Holy Spirit. The love you all embody will be what saves God’s precious world. We must believe this.

Last week, in this place, we heard the words of our Lord speaking blessing to the downtrodden and oppressed, the fearful and humble, the peacemakers and the persecuted. Today, we receive a call to be salt and light – simple things without which life could not exist on this planet, which do their work without the use of words or sound, simple things which simply are, for God’s sake.

Most of you know that I am recently returned to you after two weeks in the Holy Land. I met quite a few people on my travels who were salt and light, and they were the kind of salt in the eye, blinding light that a body could despair of ever matching. And yet, like the salt of the ocean and the light of the sun, they nurture life seemingly without effort, by the grace of God.

Bishara and me

Bishara and me

The one I want to tell you about today is a Palestinian Anglican named Bishara Khoury. Bishara is the St. George’s College logistics officer and was our guide on the trip. He kept us on task and he kept us safe. He reminded us every day to make sure we had our passports and our “blue paper,” our travel visas, our personal sound systems, and our water. He told us what to do if soldiers came onto our bus at a checkpoint. He kept us going by calling, “Y’allah, St. George’s!” (Let’s go!) He told us to be careful of the pickpockets on the Mount of Olives. He told us we would never regret trying kanafeh, an unparalleled dessert of fried noodles, goat cheese, and honey – and he was right. He told us to “Open your hearts to the biggest size of it,” when we were being instructed on how to handle the Israeli security officials at the airport.

Most of all, he told us to always keep all the people of Jerusalem in our prayers, and he meant all of them.

Everyone loved Bishara. Everywhere he went, people greeted him, hugged him, shook his hand and smiled. He knew them all, called them “Habibi,” which is sort of like “dear” or “buddy.” He made jokes with Palestinian street vendors in Hebron and was crushed into a bear hug by an Israeli settler in Efrat. Whenever I said, “Sabaah al-kheyr; good morning, Bishara, how are you?” he always responded, “I am wonderful! Praise be to God!” In Advent I spoke about how Christian hope should be audacious. Bishara showed me what that looked like. He wished only joy to the people around him, and had complete faith that the prayers of God’s people would be answered and peace would come, and that it was worth any pain or struggle.

He was able to say that knowing full well the risks Christians run in the place of his birth. There are the simple denials, like entrance into Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, and then there are the greater risks, like the violence regularly visited upon Christians and Muslims by Jewish extremists in places like Nablus and Hebron, or like the Hezbollah rockets which occasionally hit the city of Haifa. All of these were places that we visited, and not only did Bishara help keep all of us safe, his connections took us into places most people never get a chance to see. He was not afraid of owning his identity. Bishara rested in the knowledge of God’s ultimate love. And he was not alone. This was a steadfast faith nourished well in the Anglican churches we visited. Father Hatem, the priest at St. Luke’s in Haifa, reminded us and his Arabic-speaking congregation repeatedly that Jesus came down from the mountain after teaching; that he didn’t remain up above everyone else but came down among the sick and unclean to do the work of healing.

The focus of that sermon was not prescription but assurance. God sees us. God comes to us. God wants to be near us. God is not put off by our sickness or our fear or our doubt. We know this because Jesus tells us in the Beatitudes that the ones who are blessed are the ones the world ignores or cuts down. Those too are not mere prescriptions but assurances.

Bishara believed that. He lived as though he believed it. He literally staked his life on it.

I consider myself to be a fairly faithful person…but my soul’s got nothing on Bishara.

Here on the secular West Coast, it’s not particularly risky to be a Christian. A Christian who wants to take risks here has to make them. It’s one thing to risk awkward dinner conversations. It’s another to risk death. I would argue that the church’s worst enemy in the West is societal apathy about our existence. Societal apathy isn’t what I’d call pleasant, but neither is it particularly painful either. And yet, for many faithful Western Christians, it’s the biggest boogeyman of all time.

Obviously I’m not suggesting we work to create a world where we are in the same boat as Christians in the Middle East. But I do think it’s imperative that we take time to consider the great gift of safety we have here, and use that to make some risks on behalf of the one who risked and lost his life for us…and in return gave us everything.

What does this look like? Maybe it looks like standing up for someone who’s being bullied. Maybe it’s giving something up that, on further contemplation, doesn’t contribute to life – ours or someone else’s. Maybe it’s smiling and talking to a homeless person on the street instead of walking by. Maybe it’s doing something special for someone you don’t really like that much.

It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering. It just has to be sincere.

Bishara didn’t walk on water. But he had a heart big enough to love the whole world, and he left it wide open for anyone to respond how they saw fit. The stories he told detailed a life in which much had been lost, but this did not take away his saltiness; or put a bushel basket over his light. Instead it deepened his commitment to a cruciform life, a life lived for others in steadfast prayer and compassion, which I can categorically prove.

As I posted pictures from my trip on Facebook, I added one of the two of us, taken by the river Jordan after we renewed our baptismal vows. In the photo’s caption I wrote how special Bishara was to me and to all of us on that trip. I made sure I tagged him in the photo, so it would show up on his own Facebook page. That was a week ago, and there are already eight comments beneath the page, most of them from people I don’t know, affirming how special Bishara is and has been to them. So far he has responded personally to each one.

Friends, God has equipped us, Jesus calls us, and the Holy Spirit dwells in us. We won’t all be Bisharas. But if for one minute we can aim to embody the love of Jesus – the boundary-breaking, life-affirming, arms-wide-open love of the Anointed Son of God – then, friends, maybe we really will see the Kingdom of God breaking into the world.