Saturday, April 25, 2009

Time For You, And Time For Me . . .

Proper 18a.08.St. Paul, Sparks
Lyrics of the classic rock group Chicago, asked:
“Does anybody really know what time it is?”
Time is the context of everything that happens.
So how we relate to time, how we experience time itself,
colors our view of life.

Chicago said we are disconnected
from time and that’s why we run
from place to place not knowing where we are going.

In 1994, Hootie and the Blowfish
revisited the subject.
They regarded time as a corrosive, corrupting
agent of death and loss, something to be defied,
so they sang, “I don’t believe in time.”

Angst over time appears in pop culture
from Paul Simon to rapper Flava Flave;
and literary masters from Shakespeare to T. S. Eliot
have shared their struggle.

People are not at ease with time.
That is why they spend so much energy and money killing it.
You can witness the brutal murder of time
at video poker machines,
in front of televisions,
or with a little chemical help at bars.
Nothing wrong with any of that in itself.
The problem is that time is making people nervous,
so they are killing it – even though their lives
are made out of time,
so to kill time is a form of slow suicide.

Back in my Buddhist days, I made a careful study of time.
I watched it pass with as much precision as I could muster,
watched each moment, breath by breath.
I got to know what a moment looks like.

And that is why I find Paul so fascinating.
Paul had a unique perspective on time.
He believed we live in a kind of temporal paradox
called “the already, not yet.”

In today’s lesson, he says to the Romans,
“you know what time it is;
it is the time for you to wake from sleep.”
Paul sensed in the “already/not yet” paradox of each moment
a spiritual urgency that rang like an alarm clock.

If we can get Paul’s sense of time,
it may help us wake up.
So please bear with me
as we go through a little course in Time 101.

The Greek word for ordinary time is chronos.
Ordinary time consists of moments set between past and future.
There are really only present moments.
As Jack Kornfield said,
“Everything that ever happened to me,
happened in present moment.”
The only thing truly real is the actual situation at hand, the now.
The past is an idea in our memory.
The future is an idea in our fantasy.
But the present moment is crisply and precisely real.
We can see it, touch it, taste it. It is and it is here, now.
There is only the relentless now, then now, then now again.

But each moment contains within it memory.
The remembrance of things past is part of the present experience.
Likewise the future we anticipate is part of the present experience.
Each moment is exquisitely real in itself,
but it is always on the brink between past and future.
Each moment is like that point in the river
at the precise top of the cataract,
where the water first plunges downward.

Paul found each moment to be fraught
with the grace already accomplished.
Grace creates each moment, and allows us to live in it.
Each moment is an accomplished miracle.
That is the “already” part.

But the grace is incomplete.
We are on the brink of hope’s fulfillment.
We live in the light of God’s promise
to redeem us, complete us, and perfect us,
to unite us fully and finally to himself in light.
That is the “not yet” part.

So ordinary time, chronos, is flowing along horizontally
in the “already” of remembered grace
and the “not yet” hope for grace to be fulfilled.
It is flowing along horizontally, when God’s time breaks in.
God’s time is a vertical shaft, a lightning bolt from above,
a mountain thrust up by seismic shifts from below.
God’s time is called kairos in the Greek.
It means eternity.

But eterinty isn’t just extending ordinary time indefinitely.
It is a whole different order of reality
from our mundane experience.
It is the depth and wonder of things.
Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich called the intersection
of ordinary time and eternity “the eternal now.”
The Kingdom comes in each and every moment.
God happens in each and every moment.

The 17th Century Jesuit Spiritual Master, Jean-Pierre de Causade
wrote about “the sacrament of the present moment.”
He meant God is in such moments.
Ram Das wrote a modern spiritual classic in the 60’s.
It was called “Be Here Now.”

Maybe God read it because that’s what God does.
God is here now.
The point is for us to wake up and notice.
That’s what Paul invites us to do.

A moment is a point defined as the intersection
of ordinary time and God’s time.
That is one of the often forgotten meanings of our Christian symbol,
the cross, the cruciform nature of time – history and eternity
crossing paths at a 90 degree angle.

It happens now and now and now again.
So Paul keeps shouting “wake up and notice.”
But how? How shall we stop killing time and
start living time by encountering God in each moment.

There is a general answer and there is a specific answer.
The general answer is agape – that amazing form of love
uniquely prescribed, praised, and proclaimed
in the New Testament.
Agape is the unconditional love
that delights in reality just for being real.
Agape is an equal opportunity enjoyer.
It doesn’t discriminate. It just savors.
But you may fairly ask how we got to that point?
Or as another popular song asked,
“What’s love got to do with it?”

The key is in the 1st Epistle of John,
which says “God is agape.”
This remarkable kind of joy and wonder
is the very soul of God.
It is the impetus that keeps God
generating these moments.
When we practice agape too, we join God.
We share the sacrament of the present moment with God.

But that general answer is way too abstract.
Moments are not abstractions.
They are absolutely real.
Abstractions like love can actually separate us
from the concrete situation.

So a general answer to the question “how do we wake up to God
will not serve.
We need the specific answer.
The bad news is: I don’t know what it is.
The good news is that you do.
My part is to give you a clue.

The way to encounter God
is not by thinking about the idea of God.
It is by looking at the reality at hand,
the reality of your own life,
in a spirit of compassionate, joyful, appreciation
-- then do the right thing.

It doesn’t take a rule book of abstractions.
Paul says, “one who has loved another has fulfilled the law.”
He calls that “putting on Jesus.”
That isn’t exactly imitating Jesus except in one respect.
Just look at your reality the way Jesus looked at his reality,
with compassionate joy, then do the right thing.

We are each invited to practice this awakened life
in our individual situations.
And we are called to practice this awakened life
together as the body of Christ in the world.

So have to ask: what time is it at St. Pauls?
You have a new rector.
The polar ice caps are melting.
There is an epidemic of meth addiction.
Half the world has given up on Jesus
and the other half has built a warmongering, bigoted
idol, named it Jesus, and is worshiping him.

In the midst of this mess, grace abounds.
God persists in happening over and over,
in moment after moment.
You know your situation better than I do.
You will know it even better if you look at it
with agape’s eyes.
Then you will know what to do.
“You know what time it is.
It is time to wake up” to God.

Cowboy Up

Proper 20a.08.St. Steven’s
I first read today’s Gospel lesson
about 50 years ago,
and it didn’t make much sense to me then.
I studied it in seminary and I’ve heard
at least a dozen sermons on it.
In fact, I’ve preached a few on it myself.
But I never felt like I got it until this year.

It clicks for me now because I’m looking at it
from a new perspective.
My new perspective comes from a lot of years
laboring in the vineyard of the church
and from the novel I’m reading these days.
Sometimes literature can shed light on Scripture.

So let’s start with the novel.
I am reading Larry MacMurtry’s Lonesome Dove.
The principal character’s in Lonesome Dove are driving a herd of cattle
from the Rio Grande Valley to Montana.
Even if you haven’t read the book or seen the mini-series,
I’m sure you get the picture.
The crew has to work together, hard work,
dangerous work, facing and surmounting hardships.
There isn’t any room for ego-pampering.
There isn’t time for jealousy or competition.
There isn’t any tolerance for whining.
The only thing to do, day in day out,
in good times or in bad,
is to cowboy up and get on with the drive.
The heroism of Augustus, Captain Call, and the other characters,
when they are heroic, is just this: they get the job done.

I have always read this Gospel lesson
from the standpoint of the laborers
and I have accepted unquestioningly
that their purpose in working is just to get paid.

But let’s look at it for a minute from the perspective
of the landowner.
His goal is to produce a crop of grapes.
He may have paid those who worked an hour
the same as those who worked all day
out of some eccentric view of justice.
But more likely he just wasn’t that interested
in his personnel costs.
He didn’t want to buy a time clock,
or hire a human resources department,
a comptroller, and an EEOC compliance officer.
He didn’t bother to keep track of the time sheets.
He was just trying to grow some grapes.
If it doesn’t help you to imagine this guy
as Robert Duval in Lonesome Dove,
then try Henry Fonda in Sometimes a Great Notion.
Sometimes you have to just get the job done.

Now what do the laborer’s care about in today’s parable?
At their best, the real heart and soul cowboys
in Lonesome Dove cared about the cattle drive.
They cared about the cattle
and in their cantankerous Texan way,
they sometimes even cared about each other.

Would it be too much to hope that vinedressers
might care about the vineyard?
Sure they would expect to get paid what was promised,
but assuming that was done,
their minds might be on the vineyard
instead of competition.

They might be more interested in whether
they had properly pruned or tied the vines,
than in how the landowner kept his books.
When they begin whining about someone else
getting too much pay, the landowner replies
in a way that sounds to me a lot like,
“Just cowboy up and get on with the drive.”

Jesus is teaching a religion here,
but it isn’t the one we may think of as Christianity.
He’s talking about the Kingdom
which turns out not to be a reward for our morality
but a way of life committed to doing God’s will.
God’s will is to give us a mission.

We Anglicans spell out that mission
as five fundamental projects.
1. To proclaim the Gospel to the world – that’s evangelism.
2. To Baptize and educate new believers – that’s Christian formation.
3. To respond with mercy to suffering – that’s charity and pastoral care.
4. To challenge unjust social structures – that’s prophetic advocacy.
5. To sustain and renew God’s creation – that’s earth stewardship.

At stake are the lives of children.
A child dies of hunger related causes every five seconds
while more of our foreign aid goes to buy guns
than to buy food.
At stake are the hopes of people falling into despair
in a culture grown cynical and grim.
At stake is the survival of our planet.
Global warming becomes irreversible in 98 months.
Our mission is bigger than a grape crop, bigger than a cattle drive.
There is no room in it for pettiness, jealousy, or ego-agendas.

Yet the typical parish church spends half its energy and attention
making sure everyone who wants their way
gets it often enough.
I have seen church people at each other’s throats
over the kind of floor covering to put in a parish hall,
while the polar ice caps are melting.

Likewise, dioceses dissipate their energies making sure this parish
does not feel slighted by some attention to that parish.
Then there is the competition of denominations,
and jockeying over moral superiority
or whose theology can be more orthodox or erudite.

When I look at Church squabbles, I hear Christ say,
“Cowboy up and get on with the drive.”
Unless and until we do that,
I don’t know why people outside the church
should get mixed up with us.

I used to think the pettiness, jealousy, and bickering
in churches was just human nature.
Maybe it is, but I think there is also something wrong
with our religion that makes these vices worse, not better.
Too many of us have gotten the idea that Christianity
is about doing something, or believing something,
or having some kind of experience
that is our ticket on the Wonderland Express of salvation.

It may be moral living or orthodox thinking
or spiritual giddiness – but the idea is to earn some spiritual wage,
to get the gold star of God’s blessing.
And we would like to be more moral, more orthodox, or more spiritual
than the next guy so we can get more of the blessing
or be more sure that we have our religious nest feathered.

But Jesus says in this parable, “it isn’t about that.”
The kingdom of heaven is not like Oz at the end of the yellow brick road.
It is like this story of the vineyard.
The kingdom is laboring in the vineyard for the sake of the vineyard.
We don’t save the planet to get a Nobel Prize.
We do it because we love the planet.

We don’t share the gospel to show how good we are.
We do it because we love the gospel and the people we share it with.

Suppose we lived -- not just our church lives --
but all of our lives without so much concern
for getting our fair share of credit.
Suppose we lived like Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr.,
Theresa of Avila or any of the saints
so caught up in the mission they lost themselves in it.
Suppose we found our true lives
by losing our egos in God’s Kingdom.
Then we might come into ourselves and live life fully,
enjoying the game for the thrill of the game,
not distracted by keeping score.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Priest Sermon # 2

Ordination.09.St. George’s, Austin
As we ordain Darla today,
we clothe her with the church’s authority
to offer a special kind of ministry;
and we invoke the Holy Spirit upon her
empowering her to do that ministry.
But what is it? What is this ministry she is to do?

There is an expression we still sometimes hear.
It’s a relic from the old days of Canon 9.
We sometimes say this priest is a “mere sacramentalist.”
That language has now been repudiated in Total Ministry circles.
It’s been repudiated because experience taught us
that isn’t really what happens.

There are two ways the Church has tried to make “mere sacramentalists.”
One is in big city Roman Catholic parishes.
A priest shows up early on Sunday morning and says Mass
for a congregation, but he does not know their names.
He doesn’t know their stories or what is happening
in the lives of their parents and children.
He says Mass then leaves without shaking their hands,
and rushes off to the next place to do it again.

That is a mere sacramentalist, but it is an impoverished sacrament.
It lacks something.
It lacks the human connection of the priest with the people.

We have also tried to create mere sacramentalists
in towns where the priest lives among her people,
knows her people, and shares their lives.
There something quite different happens.

Let me tell you the story of one such priest.
Jean-Baptiste Vianney was a young man in 19th Century France.
His career prospects were not promising, because – to be frank –
Jean-Baptiste was not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

His family was at a loss for what to do with him,
but they had a card to play.
The Vianney family and the Bishop were old friends.
So they said to bishop,
“We have this boy who isn’t good at much.
Could you make a priest out of him?”
“Sure, no problem,” the Bishop said. “We are old friends.”

So off they sent Jean-Baptiste to seminary.
After two unsuccessful runs at that,
the professors wrote a letter to the bishop.
“Your grace,” they wrote, “we have tried,
and we have tried, and we have tried
with this young man.

But it is no use.
There is too much empty space between his ears.
We cannot educate him for priesthood.”

And the Bishop said,
“Ok, I am not surprised.
But his family and I go back a long way.
Here’s what we’ll do.
Just teach him how to say one mass.
Just show him how to hold his hands.
I’ll ordain him, but don’t worry.
I’ll send him to some remote village
where he cannot do much harm.”

And that’s what they did.
He was sent to the village of Ars to be a mere sacramentalist.
But it did not go according to plan.

He celebrated his one basic Mass with such deep reverence
- he listened to his people with such genuine concern
- -- he spoke with such simple, humble honesty
- that the villagers experienced him as holy.

Although it was quite a way to the next village, word spread.
People began coming from the countryside to visit him.
Then they began to come from all over France
to tell him their stories and to hear his words.

Now about his words, I have read them.
I have read his sermons.
They are – ok. They are a C+.
But he meant what he said and that’s what counted.

Once a pilgrim travelled from the farthest corner of France
to visit Ars and when he got back home,

What did you get out of it?”
He answered, “I saw God in the face of a man.”

So the Church tried to create a mere sacramentalist
who would not do much harm.
Instead, they got the Cure d’Ars,
Blessed Jean-Baptiste Vianney,
the patron saint of parish priests.

Nevada has had some of that experience.
The folks we ordained under Canon 9 were more gifted than Vianney.
That’s not the similarity.
What is similar is that we ordained them to be mere sacramentalists.
But the people in the pews saw through that non-sense.

The people in the pews recognized the sanctity
of Jean Orr, Judson Calhoun, Estelle Shanks, and the rest.
Any priest who stands at this altar like Elijah at Mt. Carmel,
to call down the fire of the Holy Spirit upon our offering,
will herself be scorched with holiness.

And with that holiness, comes a certain authority.
It will not do to pretend it is not there.
If we pretend it is not there, the flock
will be without a shepherd.
And it is likely that the authority will creep in unconsciously,
indirectly, and do actual harm.

I hope for Darla what I hope for all of our priests
-- that she will accept and wisely use the authority
of her office and her vocation
for the good of God’s people here in Austin.
I hope she will be a servant leader.

A servant leader doesn’t do all the work.
A servant leader doesn’t rule, doesn’t make all the decisions.
A servant leader listens, nurtures, and encourages others
to do God’s mission.
A servant leader helps other people to become servant leaders.

Someone said, “A servant leader is a person of character
who puts people first.”
She does not dominate. She inspires and encourages.
She does not exercise power. She empowers others.

The priesthood carries an inescapable authority.
But it is not the authority to give orders.
It is the authority to give permission to those
who cannot give it to themselves.
It is the authority to call forth worship leaders, eucharistic visitors,
teachers, healers, evangelists, and church gardeners.

The church is the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
We build up the Church by building up the people.
That’s the authority of the priest – the authority to build up.
Paul said it to the Thessalonians,
“Encourage one another and build each other up.”

That is the ministry we entrust to Darla today,
to gather the scattered,
to bring out the best in God’s people here,
to make them stronger, freer lovers of God
and of each other.
In that ministry, God is truly glorified.

Priest Sermon #1

Ordination.Priesthood.09 – Reno
We gather today as the Church to make a priest.
We spend years educating and spiritually guiding
a person before we ordain them.
All that preparation is essential,
but no matter how much theology someone knows,
or how wise they have become
or how adept at any priestly skill,
that will not make them a priest.

The seminary can award degrees, but it cannot ordain.
Only the church can do that.

We are rather like artists.
Some artists work in the medium of stone;
others in the medium of paint;
others in the medium of light, or sand, or sound.
We work in symbol and meaning.

We change the meaning and function of a cup
when we consecrate it to serve as a holy chalice.
We change an ordinary building into the house of God
when we consecrate it as a church.
Today we will change Jane’s meaning
– change what she represents, make her a sacred symbol.

What the priest symbolizes for us
is intimately connected to the sacraments.
But it goes beyond that.
There is no such thing as a “mere sacramentalist.”
The person who celebrates the sacraments
stands near a holy fire and is changed by its heat.
People sense the change.

When I was a parish priest,
more than once I was called by strangers
to be present for a death.

I would stand there mute and helpless,
without a clue as to how I might offer comfort,
until the death had occurred.
And the families expressed heartfelt gratitude to me
for being there – just being there.
As a priest, my presence represented something to them.

Ordination is one of the sacraments
because the priest’s simple presence is sacramental.
The ministry of the priest is to be a priest,
to serve as a symbol as surely as this altar does.

But the symbol is expressed in action.
And this is where it is essential for the priest
to do what priests do,
and to do what the other orders of ministry do
only rarely and when it absolutely cannot be avoided.

For example, the voice of prophetic justice
is primarily the province of the deacon.
From time to time, I hear priests waxing prophetic.
It is usually caused by indigestion
and is rarely to the glory of God.

Let the deacon be the deacon,
let the vestry be the vestry,
let the altar guild be the altar guild.
And if these folks are not doing their ministries
to the satisfaction of the priest,
well, the priest probably isn’t doing her ministry
to their satisfaction either.

Dissatisfaction with each other
does not justify overstepping our bounds
because nothing we actually do is as important
as the symbolic meaning of our order//
-- and overstepping bounds blurs the symbol.
So what does the priest do?
The priest gathers.
The priest gathers the flock
and leads them to good pastures.
She preaches, teaches,
and helps the people recognize each other as family.

The priestly ministry is first and foremost
the nurturing of a web of relationships.
And that leads to a very specific admonition.
Within any church community, Jane,
there will be those who love you
and those who hate you.
Your job is not to make them all love you.
Your job is to help them love each other.

So when you are attacked, and you will be,
you must have the courage and moral fiber
to take it and deal with it.
Never ever seek allies in a congregation
to defend you against persecutors
in a congregation.
A pastor does not divide the flock.
Let God be your defender. He’s better at it anyway.

Don’t worry over much about your approval ratings.
People aren’t responding to you
half as much as they are responding
to what you represent anyway.
If you forget about your approval ratings, you will be free
to practice priesthood as a spiritual discipline.
And if you practice this discipline faithfully,
the most remarkable thing happens.

There is a wonderful sentence in the ordination rite.
It says, “You are to love and serve the people
among whom you work, caring alike
for young and old, strong and weak,
rich and poor.”

If you practice priesthood as a spiritual discipline,
over time you will find yourself enjoying and appreciating
your people more than they enjoy and appreciate each other.
Your ministry will be to look at them with God’s eyes.
And then show them to each other.
The priest among the people
does the same thing the priest does at the altar.

You do not magically create the presence of Christ.
You point to the presence of Christ already there by grace.
Just so, the priest does not create the Body of Christ
out of a collection of ordinary people.

You look at the collection of ordinary people,
see Christ in them and say “Just look at each other.
Just look around and see God.
See God loving and serving.
See God lonely and hurting.
See God forgetting himself and falling into despair.
See God playing and laughing.”

Priests, look at your people with eyes of delight.
And tell people what you see.

Finally, I urge you, Jane, to be a priest in the public square.
By any means necessary,
be explicitly a priest wherever you go,
because that is the unique way you spread the gospel.

I don’t preach on street corners,
but people at the counters of diners
in coffee shops and bars, at the gym where I work out,
these strangers want to know about my faith.
They want to know about church.
If they know I am clergy they ask me,
because our culture permits them to ask me questions
that are otherwise taboo subjects.

Please, look at the people in our post-Christian society.
Look at the people here in Nevada
where our suicide rate is twice the national average
and our deaths for alcoholic liver disease
are 1.7 times the national average.

Remember the gospel lesson for ordination.
“When (Jesus) saw the crowds,
he had compassion for them,
because they were harassed and helpless,
like sheep without a shepherd.

Then he said to his disciples,
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
therefore ask the Lord of the harvest
to send out laborers into his harvest.”

The people outside our walls
are dying of a spiritual famine.
They are harassed and helpless.
The disciples have prayed
and the Lord has sent laborers into the harvest.

There is no time for modesty or reticence.
If Christ did not bring a unique word of hope and healing,
I don’t know what difference
his life, death, and resurrection have made.
But if he did bring a unique word of hope and healing,
that word has been entrusted to us to share
with the broken world.

Being the bearers of God’s good word
does not make us special or privileged.
It makes us obligated.
So be strong, be of good courage,
dare to speak the truth no matter how beautiful
it may be.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The History Of Hallelujah

Great Easter Vigil.2009.St. Paul’s.Sparks
Holy Week is a ritual of death and grief.
It is ritual that faces our darkness.
It is ritual that creates a moonless night in the soul.
That is why we say a certain word tonight
– a word we did not say for the whole season of Lent.
I want to tell you the history of this sacred word.
Just as individuals and nations have histories,
and we cannot understand them
without knowing their history,
words have histories.

The history of this word is older than Judaism.
Long before Abraham, many thousands of years ago,
an ancient people wandered the wilderness of Canaan.
This was so long ago, people had little defense
against wild animals and the forces of nature.
And torches were hard to come by in the desert.
They were afraid of the dark out there.
Darkness left them blind and helpless.

But the moon lightened their darkness.
The moon over the desert is especially beautiful,
and to those ancient people, it was comforting.
It was a sign of hope.
And so they worshiped the moon as a god,
a god of light in the darkness.

But, as we all know, that the moon wanes each month
and eventually even disappears from the sky.
But we are confident it will come back.
Ancient peoples did not understand
why the moon disappeared
and they may not have been confident
it would come back.

Even if they were sure the moon would be back,
each night that it waned was darker and gloomier.
And the night of the dark moon, was the worst.
In our Christian year, Holy Week leads us
to the night of the dark moon.
The moonless night represents those times
when we can’t see any reason for hope,
or feel any comfort or consolation.
It is the night when everything, even our religion,
maybe especially our religion,
seems false and powerless to save us
from whatever is causing our despair.

It could be our own personal losses in this economic crisis.
It could be the death of someone we love.
It could be the failure of a relationship.
Life has all to many ways to lead us
to this dark night in the desert.
So we know something about how our ancient ancestors felt
on the night of the dark moon.
But the next night was the new moon.

On that night, all the people stood beneath the desert sky
and shouted joyful greetings to the new moon.
In the primitive language, that would someday grow into Hebrew,
the word for new was “ha” and the word for moon was “lel.”
So they looked into the sky and shouted together ha-lel, ha-lel.

Hundreds of year went by
and the Jewish people came to believe in one god.
His name was Yahweh or simply Yah.
And they tried to worship him alone.
But so many centuries of worshiping the moon,
and greeting the new moon with a festival of joy
-- those were traditions that just would not die.

Most of the Jewish prophets said to the people,
stop those new moon festivals.
They are pagan.
But the people would not stop.
They knew better than the prophets.
They knew the return of the new moon
was a sign of grace and hope.
Over time, over a very long time,
the people and the prophets came to a compromise.
They found a way to blend their ancient tradition
with this new religion, Judaism.

They would continue celebrate the return
of each new moon,
but they would remember that the one God, Yah,
had made the moon for their light and consolation.

So they would stand in the desert night,
looking into the sacred sky,
and they would shout:
Ha-lel-yah; ha-lel-yah – the new moon from God.

That is where we get our word Hallelujah,
or Alleluia.
It is our word of praise for the new moon grace,
for even a sliver of light that delivers us from darkness,
for even a glimpse of God’s mercy that lifts us from despair.

This sacred word means that it is when we are in our darkest night
that God comes to us with hope and light.
The crucifixion of Christ was our darkest hour.
His resurrection is new hope, new life coming
when we least expect it.

The rhythm of our lives doesn’t always align
with the liturgical seasons.
Ash Wednesday may find us feeling hopeful,
and Easter Sunday may find us in despair.
But the rolling round of the liturgical seasons
reminds us that life does roll round,
and that hope does not die.
It just goes invisible sometimes.
It also reminds us that when hope reappears,
it isn’t as the full moon bathing our world in light.

It is as that thin sliver of light.
It was the thin sliver of light that evoked
the ancient shout of praise.

Hallelujah is not so much the word for when we
unreservedly exuberant as for the times when we
are broken but in our brokenness
there is a faint glimmer of life,
a subtle taste of appreciation for life.

Leornard Cohen expressed he deeper, poignant meaning
of our sacred word in his song Hallelujah.
It’s a strange and intriguing song that was not originally a hit,
but nonetheless prompted covers by multiple artists
like K. D. Lang, John Cale, Jeff Buckley, and Rufus Wainwright.

The song is built around the moral and political fall of King David
and imagines him as the Psalmist singing
Hallelujah even from his fallen state.

Every artist varies the lyrics, but these are the lines that say it best:
“I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel so I tried to touch . . .
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah. . . .
And it’s not a cry you can hear at night.
It’s not someone who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah. . . “

Any fool can shout Praise God
when their team is ahead, their stocks are up, and
their families are winning prizes for excellence.
That’s full moon praise.
But Hallelujah is new moon praise.

Ours is to find the faintest glimmer of glory
and shout our acclamation.
The fact that there is one empty tomb in Jerusalem
is our hope that, in the fullness of time,
all tombs will be emptied
One blind man given his sight on the roadside
is our hope that someday we will all see the truth.
One leper cleansed is our hope
that all disease will be overcome.
One relationship reconciled
is our hope for an end to war.

So this Great Easter Vigil,
we look for whatever sliver of moonlight
Illumines the darkness of our lives
and know that light is a glimpse of glory.
It is none other than the light of the Risen Christ which processed
into our darkness at the beginning of this vigil.

We do not wait for the full moon to give our thanks and praise.
We anticipate.
St. Paul says the Christian posture is on tip toe
with eager longing for what is coming.
We live into our hope.
When a single candle flame enters the darkened chamber
as entered the darkness of this church tonight,
we begin to chant silently in our hearts,
perhaps to mutter beneath our breath,
“Thanks be to God.”

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Never Alone: Communion Of Bleeding Together

Palm Sunday b.09.St. Timothy’s
The story is strong, but the point is far from clear.
Mark’s version of the story is so harsh, so brutal.
And Mark does not tell us what it means.
He does not explain where the grace is.

Most of us hear the story
with a prefabricated interpretation.
We think we know what it means as we listen to it.
The popular prefabricated interpretation says it’s about
an algebra equation of guilt and punishment.
God’s justice demands that x amount of sin
must be punished by x amount of suffering.
We deserve to suffer, but instead Jesus suffers so we don’t have to.

I want to connect people with Jesus in a healthy, loving way.
If that interpretation connects you to Jesus,
then the last thing I want to do is interfere.
But that interpretation makes no sense to a lot of folks,
and it cuts them off from Jesus instead of connecting them.

So if thinking of the cross as crime and punishment
helps your faith, God bless you.
I wouldn’t want to change that.
But if it gets in your way, I want to help.

The idea that God needs someone to suffer
is not a clear teaching of the Bible.
The Bible is crystal clear that Jesus saves us.
But there isn’t a clear explanation for how that works.
There are little hints and glimpses here and there,
and theologians have taken them as jumping off places
to explain salvation in different ways for centuries.

St. Paul gives the jumping off places for 8 different explanations
in just two pages of Romans.
We all agree Jesus saves. But there are several ways of understanding
how that works.
The algebra equation of sin and punishment idea
did not come up in church teaching
until 1,000 years after Jesus.

Since we are reading Mark’s story of the cross this year,
I would like to preach on Mark’s interpretation.
But Mark doesn’t interpret it.
He just tells a dark, grim, brutal story.

So I am grateful that we also have a lesson today
from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
Paul gives us at least the beginning of an explanation.
This is one of the most beautiful
and most profound poems in the whole Bible.
I love this text because it tells me something I can believe
and hold onto.

I want to understand the cross in a way that makes a difference
for the people who are losing their homes and their jobs
during this recession.
I want to understand the cross in a way that makes a difference
to the victims of the shootings at Binghamton, New York,
at Columbine and Virginia Tech.

The senior warden of our church in Colorado Springs
lost her 18 year old daughter two weeks ago.
The girl was filling her gas tank,
when another driver hit the gas pump.
It blew up and the senior warden’s daughter
was incinerated.
I need the cross to say something about that.
I need God to do something about that.

If God is sitting serenely, divinely at ease in Heaven
while we struggle through the world’s cruelty and injustice,
that doesn’t help.
If God is sitting safely removed from all this
with his auditors account book of our sins
so he can exact the right punishments,
that doesn’t help either.

But thank God for Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
He tells us the Jesus was not just one more human victim
in a long line of victims of cruelty and justice.
He tells us Jesus was God.
But this God did not choose to rest easy in the cushy life
of being Lord of the Universe.
He “emptied himself” Paul says.
He gave up that safe nest to share our life.

And he did not choose the life of a king
or a CEO or a revered scholar.
He chose the life of a menial servant, then a prisoner,
finally enduring the most shameful death
the world has to offer
– capital punishment of a condemned traitor.

Jesus did not die proud of his heroic martyrdom.
He had emptied himself of his perfect wisdom,
so that he died without knowing the meaning
of his death.
His dying words according to Mark were,
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
He shared our confusion, our alienation, and our despair.
And this is not something that happened once in history
and now it’s over.
The cross shows us what God the Son does
every moment, because in his infinite compassion,
he feels every pain that we feel
every inch as deeply as we do.
God is so present with the hungry that his stomach cramps
-- so present with the lonely that his throat constricts
and he cannot call out for comfort
-- so present with the grief-stricken that he cannot move.

Jesus joins us simply out of love.
If we have to be afflicted, he will not let us be afflicted alone.
He loves us enough to go with us
right through the gates of hell.

But does that do any good?
Does it help? Does it matter?
I believe with all that is in me, it does.

When God in Christ joins us in our suffering,
it changes the meaning of our suffering.
It redeems our suffering from being meaningless.
The sorrows the world throws at us
are so great only one thing can heal them.
The only adequate consolation for us
is to lose ourselves in the love of God.
We have to meet God to be saved.
We have to meet God up close and personal
to be saved up close and personal.
We have to meet God all the way
to be saved all the way.

We meet God at the cross –his cross, our cross.
It’s the same cross.
We can meet God in other ways too.
We meet God in beauty and in joy.
But it’s like when you are in trouble
and your friends stand by you.
When God in Jesus joins us in our worst times,
when God suffers with us so we won’t suffer alone,
that’s when we know the depth of God’s love.

Our suffering becomes a place to meet God
and know God’s love.
St. Paul said “I want to suffer with Christ.”That’s not masochistic.

If I had my choice, I’d rather not suffer.
But we don’t have a choice.
Suffering goes with the turf of being human,
so if I have to suffer, I don't want to suffer along.
Let me suffer with Christ.
Let my suffering be a moment of connection to God’s love.

Then when we experience love, we can love back,
and that changes everything.
When we love as Christ loves we become like Christ,
and we relate to our suffering differently.
We notice that we aren’t the only ones who feel this way.
We take off the blinders and dare to look at the suffering of others
– at the abject poverty in Haiti and Zimbabwe,
at the shame and remorse in the people right next to us.

Life hurts. We all hurt. We all go to the cross.
But we do not go to the cross without hope
if we go there together with Christ and each other.
When we bleed together, that’s Communion.

Is all of this an adequate answer for the people
who are out of work, the victims of violence
or injustice?
Is it enough to know we are in this together
and God is in it with us?

No. It is not enough.
The cross is not the answer.
When we are in the burning building
and Jesus charges though fire
to join us in the building,
that is the first step toward making a difference.

Salvation happens when he carries us out of the fire.
That’ s the Easter Story
when Jesus crashes through the gates of Hell,
breaks the chains of sin and death,
to set us free from all we suffer.

But that’s the next chapter.
For today, it is only ours to remember
how much we are loved
by one who never leaves us alone.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Rivers: Believing In The Amargosa

Baptism/Confirmation.08 – St. Martin’s, Pahrump
Mark’s Gospel begins as the Christian life begins,
with a story of Baptism.
Jesus went down to the Jordan River,
waded into the water,
and then was driven by the Holy Spirit
out into the desert.
That moment in the River
set the course of his life.

A great river touches our souls.
It says something about life.
Many rivers around the world
are considered sacred,
like the Ganges where Hindus go
to be healed or to die.

I invite you think this morning about another river,
not very close-by
but closer than the Jordan or the Ganges.
I invite you to think of the Missouri River.
It is the longest river in the United States.
A tributary of the Mississippi, together they comprise
the fourth largest river in the world.
With its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains of Montana,
there is a depth and a vastness about the Missouri,
a flowing toward even deeper distant mystery.
You could ride it right out of Montana into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Oregon poet, William Stafford wrote a poem
called Witness about dipping his hand into the Missouri
– in a private ritual act that is a bit like Baptism.
He wrote:
This is the hand I dipped in the Missouri
above Council Bluffs and found the springs.
All through the days of my life
I escort this hand. . .
Like Jesus, driven into the desert, the poet
finds himself far from the mountains
where the river began.
At Fort Rock, in the High Desert of Eastern Oregon,
Stafford remembers his baptismal moment.
He writes:
On top of Four Rock in the sun I spread
these fingers to hold the world in the wind . . . .
Even on the last morning
when we all tremble and lose, I will reach
carefully, eagerly through that rain, at the end –
Toward whatever is there, with this loyal hand.

Baptism is a ritual encounter with the deep mystery of God.
It can be in a font or in a river.
Either way, it is a tiny sign of that Deep River
which is the divine nature,
a river that runs even deeper than any religious tradition.

But a wade in the water does not make us a fish.
And baptism does not initiate us into a life
of perpetual dwelling in a spiritual state of bliss,
an endless awareness of God.
The next life may be something like that,
but this one is not.

The minute Jesus was baptized,
the Spirit drove him into the desert.
It did not dawdle and neither did he.
“The Spirit immediately drove him out into the desert,”
Mark says.
And we know what happened there.
He was hungry and thirsty and tempted by demonic voices.
It was life hard and raw.

We all know about life hard and raw.
It is the tedium of our daily grind.
It is the trials of personal relationships
with all their complexity and ambivalence.
It is health worries, money worries, family worries.
Tempted as Jesus was,
our minds turn from contemplation of God
to securing our livelihood, securing our reputations,
trying to get some control over the world around us
so we can make it go right.
That’s the desert. It’s where we live.

The poet, William Stafford, went to the desert
after his hand was baptized
as we pour water over someone’s head.
“On top of Fort Rock in the sun,” he said, “I spread
these fingers to hold the world in the wind . . . .”

Now what does that gesture mean
-- the reaching out of a wet hand into the wind
and toward the world?
It reminds me of a private ritual, a sort of prayer,
by an old bishop who died back in the 1940’s.
He used to get up each day and after getting dressed,
he would look into the mirror and say,
“No matter what happens this day,
for good or for ill,
no matter what happens, come what may,
I am baptized.”

Baptism is an encounter
with the depths of reality itself.
It is a dipping of our awareness
into the river of eternity.
It is to be claimed by God
and to acknowledge that claim.

And from that time on, we live our life
in this world, but not of this world.
We become ambassadors from a deeper reality.
We are, as Paul said, and as William Stafford says, “witnesses.”
We have seen something deeper,
and we testify to the world that we have seen it,
touched it and been touched by it.

That’s what it means to claim our baptism.
We claim our baptism in the rite of Confirmation.
If we are baptized as children,
we receive grace mediated by the community of faith
who take the vows on our behalf.

In Confirmation, we claim our Baptism.
“(We) spread these fingers to hold the world in the wind . . . .”
We claim our Baptism each time we reaffirm our vows
as part of baptizing a new Christian,
or on the High Holy days, or when the bishop visits.
But most importantly, we claim our Baptism
every day out in the desert where we live.
We claim our baptism by remembering there is a River
and we have touched it.

The world’s great rivers are symbols
of the deep flowing mystery of God,
of the great life-giving crystal river
which Revelation Chapter 22 says
flows eternally from the throne of heaven.
But sometimes God is more like our own Amargosa river.
Mostly it’s underground. It doesn’t meet the eye.

The unbelievers of the world only trust what they can see.
They have a hard time believing the Amargosa River is there.
Of course if they drilled down a ways, they’d find water.
In the situations of life that look like Death Valley,
unbelievers just give up
and spiritually die of their own despair.
But a believer drills a ways down.
We call that drilling “prayer.”
We drill down and we find grace.
We find God’s gentle consolation.

We dip our hand into the river of grace,
and then for the rest of our lives
we hold that hand out to the world.
And when we come to end of our days,
as William Stafford says,
“Even on the last morning
when we all tremble and lose, I will reach
carefully, eagerly through that rain, at the end –
Toward whatever is there, with this loyal hand.”

Even at the end of our lives, especially at the end of our lives,
we will trust in the grace we have touched,
in the grace that has touched us.

Today we will baptize some.
Others will claim their baptism in confirmation.
Others will join our communion without having to swear
any allegiances or accede to any complex doctrines.
Simply claiming again their Christian baptism
is the only key needed to open our door.
And all of us will reaffirm the grace we have accepted,
the grace that has accepted us.

We all reach out a hand today,
we reach it out still dripping with grace,
reach out our hand into the Spirit-wind of God,
reach out our hand to the world
as a witness to God’s love.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Better To Be An Atheist

I am not that impressed when people say they believe in God.
I don’t even know if their belief is a good thing
until I know who this God is that they believe in.
Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, said:
“If you have a false idea of God,
the more religious you are
the worse it is for you
– it were better for you to be an atheist.”

So we need to clarify what mean by “God.”
We must use the word carefully – dare I say reverently.
In Christianity, God means the Holy Trinity.
The Trinity is a way of imagining God
that the Eastern Orthodox
understand, enjoy, and delight in.
But most Western Christians either distort it or ignore it.

I was reading in the student lounge of Harvard Divinity School
when I overheard a conversation at the next table.
Two young women on the verge of graduation
were discussing their futures.
The first wanted to be a Congregationalist minister,
but she didn’t think the ministerial board would approve her.
They would, she feared, expect her to believe in the Trinity
– and she was not going to say that, no way, no how.

The other agreed that it was unjust and oppressive to expect her
to affirm something like the Trinity.
The first shook her head at the waste of her theological education
and the cutting short of her ministry.
The second then mused, “It’s so seductive though, isn’t it?”

“What do you mean ‘seductive’?” the first asked.
“Well,” the second said, “the way Prof. Coakley explains the Trinity,
it’s just so beautiful.
It’s about relationship as the heart of everything instead of power.
It’s really beautiful and so good, so moral.”

The first student nodded and sighed,
“Yes,” she said, “it is, and when you read St. Basil and St. Gregory,
and St. Thomas Aquinas, it just makes so much sense.
It really seems true.”
There was a pause in the conversation.
Then the first student continued.
“It’s hard to sacrifice all I’ve worked for on principle.
But there’s no way I’m going to say I believe in the Trinity.”

“Of course not,” the second student said.
“It would be corrupt and absurd.”

These are bright people in their third year at Harvard Divinity.
They know full well that God is infinitely beyond any doctrine,
that all doctrines are just metaphors reaching out into the dark,
grazing the face of mystery
with our fingertips of language.

So why is this particular language about God such a taboo
that they recoil against it no matter
how beautiful, how good, and even how true it seems?

The reason we resist the Trinity is all there in dear old Sigmund Freud.
He explained how we get a primitive image of God stuck in our heads.
It comes out of early childhood experiences of dependency.
The God image we get in the crib is of God the patriarch,
God the monarch, the supreme boss, the dominator-god.
We all have that God stuck in our heads.

But it is not the Christian God because it is not the Trinity.
If our parents were benign,
we will feel safer with this dominator God.
If our parents were frightening or neglectful,
our attitude may be less positive.
But either way,
the universal condition of children is dependent and subservient.
So we all get the image of God the dominator.

To think of God as Trinity is to reject that primitive image.
The Trinity does not represent God as an individual lording it over creation.
The Divine Nature is too complex, too relational, to loving
to be represented by a big guy in the sky.
So our image of God is an interpersonal relationship.

This is out of our ordinary box. So let me clarify.
The Trinity is not 3 Gods.
The Trinity is not one God with 3 jobs.
The Godness of God, the Divine Nature,
is a relationship among three persons.
Their relationship is what makes them Divine.
The network is the essence of God.

If God is the Trinity,
then God is not a powerful individual dominating creation.
Rather, God is a web of relationship,
and this web does not dominate anything.
It loves creation into being.
It does not decree. It begets and gives birth.

I am not making this up.
It is ancient as the faith itself.
Let me offer two descriptions of the Trinity from the Early Church.
St. Gregory of Nazianzen and St. John of Damascus
called the Trinity a perichoresis.

Peri means “around” as in perimeter or perambulate.
Choresis means “a dance” as in choreograph.
The Trinity means God is
like a Native American or Middle Eastern circle dance.
T. S. Eliot wrote in his poem, Burnt Norton:
At the still point of the turning world . . .
at the still point, there the dance is. . .
Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance,
And there is only the dance.

Hindus describe the divine nature as a cosmic dance;
and here it is in the Trinity.
Reality is, at its heart, a dance -- a community, a striving for relationship.
Feminist theologians say this cosmic circle dance
signifies the ultimate value of relationship among equals.
It is the foundation of everything beautiful in creation.

The second image of the Trinity is from St. Augustine.
He said the Trinity is a symbol of love.
The first person of the Trinity is the Lover.
In order for the Lover to be the Lover, there must be an object of his love.
The second person of the Trinity is therefore the Beloved.
The Lover makes the Beloved “Beloved” through actively loving.
The Beloved makes the Lover “Lover” through being loved.

The spontaneous response to such love is to return it.
The Beloved becomes the Lover;
and the Lover becomes the Beloved.
Between them flows the love,
and that love is the third person of the Trinity.

Now you may ask what difference this makes?
And I answer: everything depends on it.
Our image of God determines what we value, what we do,
and ultimately who we become.
The word “God” contains our most deeply held value.
God represents what we believe to be the highest good,
the truest truth, the most beautiful beauty.
God is the North Star that orients all our values,
and indeed our whole life.

We become like God as we define God.
If we worship the dominator God of primitive theism,
we will worship power
and spend our lives either cringing before it
or trying to become dominators ourselves.
But if we worship the Trinity,
which is the cosmic circle dance of love,
then we will strive to become dancers and lovers.
We will practice friendship as a spiritual discipline.

And how will we go about being the Church?
If God is the ultimate dominator,
then the Church should be a top down hierarchy.
But if God is Trinity,
we are equals in relationship – not competitors.
Neither hierarchy nor anarchy looks like God.

An orderly, disciplined practice of compassion
and mutual submission,
patience,kindness, and even humility --
these things look like God.
Being what Wes Frensdorff called “a ministering community”
a family of servants,
this is how the Church shows God to the world.

I will close with a bit about the Bible.
We have mostly cobbled together our Trinitarian image of God
from a bit of Scripture here and a bit there.
The only clear reference to the Trinity as a unified picture of God
in the whole Bible is today’s Gospel lesson.
It is where Jesus gives us the words of Baptism.
We baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

We are not baptized to make us docile
before oppressive powers either human or divine.
We are not baptized to be dominators of our brothers and sisters,
or to be free range maverick rebels doing it “our way.”
We are baptized into the dance,
baptized into the sacred pattern of mutual delight,
baptized into the joy of serving each other in love.

Spiritual And Political Freedom: Even If . . .

Prop 9a.08.SF.Lovelock
This 4th of July weekend we think about our nation
and what it stands for.
We like to think America stands for freedom.
When most of the world looks at us,
they say we are a place of freedom
and opportunity
– which is another way of saying freedom.

We may think of freedom as a political value.
And it is.
But it is also a Biblical value.
Judaism was born in the Exodus,
in God’s liberation of an enslaved and oppressed people.
The Passover celebrates God as the first Great Emancipator.
Christians take that story to the spiritual level.
We call Holy Communion our Passover,
celebrating Christ’s liberating us
from the power of sin and death.

So I invite you to think this morning
about freedom in Christ.
Jesus said, “The truth shall set you free.”
And he said, “I am the truth.”
Jesus came to set us free.
Paul said, “For freedom, Christ has set us free.”
Elsewhere he said, “If the Lord has set us free,
then we shall be free indeed.”

When a nation declares its independence
or when the law protects our liberty,
we understand that is about freedom.
But what does it mean to say
Jesus has set us free.
How does that work?

I believe it works in a deeper and better way
than any government or political movement
ever could.

I am all for political freedom,
but without spiritual freedom,
it doesn’t do us very much good.
Spiritual freedom is what makes political freedom possible.
Without spiritual freedom,
political freedom is impossible to maintain.

Political freedom just protects our right to do
whatever our passions or inclinations dictate.
The problem with that is:
our passions and our inclinations
don’t always line up with our souls.

In Romans, Paul says,
“I do not understand my own actions.
I do not do the thing I want,
but I do the very thing I hate.”

A young salesmen was peddling books
on the most advanced new agricultural methods.
He gave his best sales pitch to an old farmer,
but the farmer was having none of it.

The exasperated salesmen said,
“Sir this book can show you how to farm
30% better than you are today.”
The farmer replied,
“Son, I ain’t farming half as good as I know how already.”

A lot of us can relate to that.
We know better than we act.
I can’t think how many times,
in both church and family life,
the same people have done the same things,
to push my buttons in the same way
over and over again.

And I have known better than to respond the way I did,
but I just keep making the same mistake
like Charley Brown trusting Lucy
to hold that football for a place kick.

Psychologists call that compulsion.
And compulsion is the opposite of freedom.
Our actions are almost never completely free.
There may be 5 different brands of laundry detergent
for us to choose from.
But that means 5 companies have competed to see
which one can do a better job of manipulating our choice.
We call that the “free market” and it is free – in a sense.

In what we like to think is the freest country in the world,
we lock up in prisons a higher percentage of our people
than any other developed nation.
It takes spiritual freedom to make political freedom work.

And that’s what Jesus offers.
That’s what Jesus shows us how to do.
That’s what the gospel is about.

You see as long as we think freedom
is about getting our own way in this world,
the part of us in the driver’s seat is our ego.
Now the ego isn’t evil.
It’s just easily manipulated.

It can be manipulated by advertisements,
addictions, natural human squirrel -iness,
and the power of sin itself.
All these things latch on the our ego
-- the pitiful part of us that gets batted
back and forth like a ping pong ball
between moments of pride and moments of shame.

As long as we are living by the natural order,
trying to secure our own well-being,
we are not free.
We are at the mercy of all the powers that can affect
our well-being or bluff us into thinking they do.

Freedom does not come when the world lets us go.
It happens when we let go of the world,
when we say “Come what may, I am the Lord’s.”
When we say, rich or poor, sick or well,
in good moods or bad, it’s all ok.

I am not here to feather my own nest.
I belong to Jesus.
My soul belongs to Jesus,
and in him, I will be alright.

Let me tell you a powerful kind of prayer.
You place your hand on your heart,
and let all our fears and anxieties come to mind,
one at a time, and with each one,
you say silently or aloud,
“Even if – then fill in the blank –
I belong to Jesus and it is well with my soul.”
“Even if I lose my job,
I belong to Jesus and it is well with my soul.”
“Even if this sickness I have is a terminal cancer,
I belong to Jesus and it is well with my soul.”
Whatever is on your heart, let it come
and greet it boldly with that prayer.

It won’t guarantee you a calm feeling.
You don’t have to have a calm feeling.
Whether you are calm or afraid,
it’s all the same.
If you belong to Jesus, it is well with your soul.

He shed his blood to buy that soul of yours,
to set it free from the powers
that would dominate you.
“Take my yoke upon you,” he says,
“for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. . . .
Take my yoke upon you . . . .
and you will find rest for your souls.”

I won’t deceive you about the price.
This freedom costs us everything.
But it gives us more than we had ever dreamed possible.
God is good, brothers and sisters.
God is good all the time,
and it is well with our souls.