Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Mother Joan LaLiberte was an Episcopal priest.
She didn’t just find a church that did things
more or less her way.
She gave herself whole-heartedly
         to the Episcopal way of doing Church.
So this is appropriately an Episcopal service for her.
It’s what she wanted.

You may notice a few things we do differently.
We have Holy Communion as part of the Burial Office.
Holy Communion is a rich act, with many meanings.
But one of them is that we imagine Heaven as a banquet feast.
The saints are already at that celestial table.
When we celebrate Communion, we join with them.

 Mother Joan celebrated Communion at this altar many times.
Today she is at the heavenly table with her Savior
and Our Savior, the Lord Jesus.
This is our first chance to join her at the table as a saint in light
         as we share with her
         “the food and drink of new and unending life in him.”

The second odd thing is that we take up an offering.
That’s because an offering in part and parcel of Communion.
We give our alms along with bread and wine to God
         as a sign of our lives and labors to be blessed and shared.
Today’s offering will go to Joan’s best-loved charity,
         Hope Floats Animal Foundation.
They care for all sorts of animals at risk
         and as you know, Joan did love animals.

The last different thing you’ll notice is that the sermon
is not a eulogy; it’s a Proclamation of the Gospel.
We used to be so strict about that at our funerals
         it was hard to tell who died.

But what we can do is look for gospel
         not just in the lessons but in the life of our loved one.
It isn’t hard to see gospel in Joan’s life.
I won’t dwell on my personal remembrances,
         but this point is crucial.
When Joan was a new priest, right out of seminary,
         I’d meet her for spiritual direction.
I talked a lot. She mostly listened.
I could tell something special was going on.
But I couldn’t tell what.

 Eventually she explained that while I was talking,
         she was praying.
She would listen and pray at the same time.
New Agers might say she was channeling God to me.
Maybe. What I got was that she was channeling me to God.
It was like she was wearing a wire.
When I could not pray, I could still talk to Joan,
         and my words went straight to heaven.

That is the heart of what a priest is -- a networker,
         a telephone switchboard operator
                  helping us connect to God.
Of course, we know from 1st Peter
         all Christians share in that priesthood.
We can all help each other connect to God
         in ways we could not do alone.

We do that by bearing the Christ light to one another.
We show up for each other.
We care for each other with the kind of compassion
         Jesus made the centerpiece of his ministry.
“Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus said.
Paul said, “It is not ourselves that we proclaim.
         We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord . . .
                  for the same God who said ‘Let light shine’
                  has caused his light to shine in us. . . .”

We bear the light to one another.
And we bear one another to God in prayer.
We speak each other’s names to the Holy One.
That’s what Joan was doing all her adult life
-- bearing God to us and us to God.
Bottom line: that’s what Christians do.

We can learn a lot about God from watching a Christian
         living and speaking like a Christian.
St. Francis said, “Proclaim the gospel at all times.
                  Use words if necessary.”
These days words are often necessary.
Joan used words but she also showed us gospel
         in her actions.

She did not set out to build an institution here.
She wasn’t trying to build impressive statistics
         of successful congregational development.
She wasn’t trying to get the church’s hand
         in anybody’s pocket.
She set out to share Christ’s love with the people
         who needed it most.
She was looking for the hurting people,
         the walking wounded, the people Jesus called friends.
Joan served briefly as priest at St. James Church, Payette, Idaho;
         then for a long time at Good Shepherd Mission
         on the Ft. Hall Shoshone-Bannock Reservation
                  where she was buried yesterday.
In a conflict between church authority and tribal authority,
         Joan sided with the tribe.
As a result she found herself in New York for a decade.

The Church does not always behave well.
We did not always behave well to Joan.
But she had the courage of her convictions to stand up to us
         and she remained faithful to the Church
         even when we proved all too human.
There’s some gospel in that courage and faithfulness.

 In her retirement, Joan wanted to do two things.
She wanted to come back West
         and she wanted to serve God’s people.
Joan called me looking for a place where she could be of help.
I flew her to Nevada and drove her to Tonopah,
         where she immediately fell in love
         with the land and the people.
There’s some gospel in that too.

Christianity isn’t just an abstract idea.
It isn’t just a story that happened long ago and far away.
Christianity is something that happens
         in real places like Tonopah
         between real people like Joan
         and the people here.

So if we would honor Joan in the time to come,
         the way to do that would be
         to bear the Christ light to someone who needs it;
         to pray for them faithfully,
         to stand for what’s right,
         and to keep true to Christ’s all too human Church.

We can rest assured that will make her smile.

Monday, November 24, 2014


Jesus was obsessed with one thing: the Kingdom of God.
We have made a lot of things out of Jesus.
But Jesus cared whole-heartedly and single-mindedly
         about one thing – the Kingdom of God.

He saw his teaching and his works of healing and mercy
         as the crucial first step of God’s reign breaking into the world.
If we are going to believe Jesus, there are two ideas we have
         to get out of our heads right now.
Both area ideas you’ll hear a lot of people say are Christian teaching.
But they aren’t.
The first is that everything is already going
according to God’s plan. It isn’t.
If everything were already clipping along on God’s agenda,
         then God wouldn’t have been so upset about things
                  so much in the Bible.
If everything were already going God’s way,
         we wouldn’t have needed Jesus turning over the apple cart.
If everything were going God’s way,
         we would not be suffering in hope that Christ will come
                  and change everything from night to day.

The second idea is that the Kingdom of God
         doesn’t happen until sometime way out in the future.
True, the Kingdom will not be here fully until the end of history.
But it happens in flashes right now.
Our job is opening the door to the Kingdom now.

So let’s be clear: Jesus was not here to show us
         why the way of the world is already just fine thank you.
He was here to start a revolution to usher in God’s Kingdom.
Only it wasn’t a revolution like we thing of.

It wasn’t one violent power over throwing another violent power.
That just replaces one gang of thugs with another.
Jesus’ revolution that could only be achieved
         by revolutionary methods --
methods like behaving in surprising ways,
         responding to cruelty with forgiveness,
         seeing giving as better than receiving,
         living for others instead of self.

If one person goes genuinely Christian, just one person,
         it makes a little difference in the world.
If two people who don’t know each other go Christian,
         it makes twice as much difference.
But if those two people come together
         -- as we do in Holy Communion --
         the power multiplies many fold.

You get a dozen of them
         and they can go forth into the world
         making disciples of all nations.
The deaf hear, the blind see, the lame walk,
         and peace breaks out between old foes.

Our lesson for the Feast of Christ the King
         is about the Kingdom of God.
This story tells us what God loves
so it will be part and parcel of his kingdom in eternity,
and also what God does not love so it will have no part in eternity.
It dies.

You know the story.
Those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger,
         and visit the imprisoned are the ones living in God’s way
regardless of their theology or church membership
                           or lack thereof.
Those who ignore people in need
         have no part in God’s Kingdom
even if they are right believing church members.
Very simple.

But would these simple acts of mercy make a real difference?
Yes, it’s nice. But does it change the world?

Consider this story from Naomi Shihab Nye,
a Palestinian-American woman at the airport in Albuquerque.
This is her story:

“Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal,

after learning my flight had been delayed four hours,

I heard an announcement:
‘If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands . . . Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.’
Well— one pauses these days.
Gate A-4 was my own gate.
I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress,
just like my grandma wore,
was crumpled to the floor, wailing.
‘Help,’ said the flight agent. ‘Talk to her . . . .
We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.’

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly.
“Shu-dow-a, shu-bid-uck, habibti? Stani schway, min fadlick,
The minute she heard . . . words she knew, . . . . , she stopped crying.
She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day.

I said, ‘No, . . . you’ll get there, just late,
who is picking you up?
 Let’s call him.’

We called her son . . . .  
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane.
She talked to him.
Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.
Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic
and . . . of course they had . . . shared friends.
Then I thought just for the heck of it
why not call some Palestinian poets I know
and let them chat with her?
This all took up two hours.
She was laughing . . . by then.

Telling about her life, patting my knee, answering questions.
She . . . pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies
  little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates
and nuts— from her bag and was offering them to all the women
           at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single traveler declined one.
It was like a sacrament. //

The traveler from Argentina,
the mom from California,
the lovely woman from Laredo
  we were all covered with the same powdered sugar.
And smiling. There is no better cookie.

Then the airline broke out free apple juice
and two little girls from our flight ran around serving it
and they were covered with powdered sugar too.  . . . .
I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
‘This is the world I want to live in.’
The shared world.’
Not a single person in that gate . . .
seemed apprehensive about any other person.
They took the cookies.” End of story.

And that brothers and sisters is the world I want to live in too
-- the Kingdom of God.
Already it happens.
Do you not perceive it?
The Kingdom of God comes very near to us.

Sometimes, with God’s help, we make it happen.