A Sermon for Maundy Thursday, April 18, 2019

A Sermon preached by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector

With a last name like Foote, I’ve decided that God has called me to wash feet on Maundy Thursday.  But I also have a deep appreciation for feet. As some of you know, I walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain. The Camino begins in the French Pyrennes and goes 500 miles to Santiago de Compostella, where the bones of St. James, one of Jesus’ disciples, are buried in the Cathedral. 

Walking 10-15 miles a day with a pack on my back, my feet became very important to me.  They negotiated rocky Roman roads, trudged up mountains, slipped and slid through miles of mud and across endless flat wheat fields. They carried my weight plus the weight of my pack, and by the end of the day my feet had taken a beating. Every morning I rubbed Vaseline on them to reduce friction and prevent blisters, and I paid attention to hotspots as they developed.  But whatever I did, I got some blisters anyway. I came to the conclusion that blisters are part of life, and are a message from God that we need to slow down.

From the time we take our first steps as a toddler until we finish walking in old age, feet carry us through life. As I walked the Camino, I found great solidarity with people who lived before the invention of modern transportation.  For most of human history, to travel meant that you walked.

Once or twice a fellow pilgrim along the Camino offered to massage my feet, and I struggled with it. It’s a little different when you go for a pedicure, I think. What’s the etiquette around having a stranger massage your feet? It seemed too intimate of a thing, although a few times I accepted the offer, and it was glorious.

Having our feet washed on Maundy Thursday brings up some of the same concerns.  Many of us are hesitant to have our feet washed because we have to reveal our feet—a part of ourselves that is so important, but also reveals our vulnerabilities. We like to keep our feet under wraps. Feet are metaphors, perhaps, for our souls.  And there could be some connection between the English words soul and the soles, of our feet.

Tonight we celebrate the Last Supper, and the institution of the Eucharist.  But in the Gospel of John, which we read tonight, there is no sharing of the cup at the Last Supper.  Instead we see Jesus washing the feet of the disciples.  It’s confusing.

But I’ve come to believe that Jesus was a master of confusion.  Jesus knew that to learn something new, people must go through a period of confusion and reintegration. Maybe Jesus would be at home as an Interim.  We Interims tend to cause confusion and, with hope, reintegration, and growth.

Jesus confuses me and causes me to reintegrate his presence in my life on a regular basis. Who would have thought that God would enter human time as a baby born to an unwed teenager?  And who would have thought that Jesus, the Son of God, would die as a criminal on the Cross?  Jesus confused his disciples. He ate with tax collectors, treated women as equals, healed lepers and those possessed by demons.  On his last night with the disciples, he confuses them again by taking the role of a lowly servant—and washing their feet. 

Jesus is teaching them about a new kind of authority.  After God has given all things into his hands, he takes the role of someone with the least amount of authority, a lowly servant.  He uses those hands of ultimate power to wash the feet of his friends.  To serve.

It’s no wonder that Peter says, “you will never wash my feet,” he is embarrassed for Jesus. In a society built on honor, lowering yourself like that was shameful. But Jesus insists that this is the very definition of what it means to follow him. This is the exercise of authority like no other, the kind of power that will change the world.  The authority of love.

Our journey through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil takes us along the path the disciples walked so long ago: through confusion and sorrow, and finally to the joy of the unexpected Resurrection.  It’s a journey of transformation through the portal of death to unexpected new life.

Every year we’re invited to walk this path of transformation together, and it begins with an invitation by Jesus to become closer to him and each other through the simple act of foot washing.

Jesus teaches us to be servants to each other, and also to be vulnerable enough to accept the care of others. One thing I learned from my mother’s slow heath decline this past year was her ability to accept help with grace, and thanksgiving.  She was a favorite of the staff in the skilled nursing unit because she always said thank you, and honored the work of those who nursed and served her on a daily basis.

Jesus teaches us how to exercise the authority of love, rather than of oppression.  We need more of this kind of leadership in the world today.

Jesus leaves us with the words, known in Latin as the Maundanum, or Commandment. Maundy Thursday is an English adaption of Maundanum: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

Tonight we begin our walk of transformation to the Cross, and through the Tomb, towards Easter, and the joy of receiving God’s love for us.  Please come forward to have your feet washed in holiness.  Amen.

A Sermon for Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019

A sermon preached at All Saints Church, San Francisco, on Palm Sunday,  April 14, 2019, by The Rev. Christopher L. Webber.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus . . .”

A week ago Friday I went to a demonstration. They held it at the corner of Powell and Market at 5 pm. There were placards being waved and a speaker, three speakers, in fact, holding forth. And a crowd. Not a very big crowd – maybe a few hundred quite a few waving posters of one sort and another. We were there demanding release of the Mueller report. I don’t think we made a difference. I didn’t see anyone with a TV camera and I don’t think it even made the local paper, but it made some of us feel better.

Now, I wouldn’t have done that before I retired because I wouldn’t have wanted the parish I was serving to be divided by a political issue. But I’m not in charge any more and I do have opinions and I sometimes feel free to express them in public. But I’m as concerned as I ever was about political differences dividing the church and I would hope that maybe next Sunday Beth would mention in a sermon that she’d been at a Trump rally and we could celebrate the fact that our unity in Christ was greater than any divisions between Donald Trump and Robert Mueller or any conceivable divisions that might come between us. I think we could do that. I hope we could. If our unity in Christ isn’t deeper than our political divisions, there’s something wrong.

I think there was a time when that wasn’t true. We assumed everyone else either thought as we did or else was wrong. The history of humanity is largely a history of wars being fought between armies dedicated to the simple proposition that we were right and they were wrong. We understand a little better now that not all minds work the same way and that we can sometimes learn from the way other minds work or at least need to be aware of their differences. I think, in fact, that human beings have always been fascinated by other lives, other mind-sets, other ways of thinking. We read books, or go to the movies, or exchange gossip to get insights into other lives. “Did you hear what happened to Joe or Susan?” we ask.“Can you imagine?”, we ask. And if we can imagine, really imagine, not critically, but sympathetically, (the word sympathy means “feeling with”) – if we can do that, if we can feel with others, we can grow, we can get outside ourselves a bit, not be so cooped up inside our own mind-sets, our own limited insights, the narrowness of our own experience and understanding.

We need to pray for our leaders, on both sides – or many sides – that they have some glimmer of understanding of what it must be like to be Donald Trump, in an overwhelming job, under constant pressure, constant second guessing by talking heads, and with a very real possibility that his taxes will be made public and he may lose everything.

I remember meeting a very wise bishop years ago who had been a missionary in Africa and had known the man who became one of the first African dictators when the future dictator, Kwame Nkrumah, was a school boy. The bishop had gone back to visit him years later when Nkrumah was at the height of his power. “The poor man,” the bishop said, “The poor man.He has all that power and doesn’t know how to let go of it.” I wonder whether there’s someone who has that perspective on Donald Trump. “The poor man; he has all that power and can’t trust anyone.”

Sympathy. Feeling with. Understanding. The need for understanding. To get inside the minds of others and see the world as others see it and understand, really understand, why they act as they do. Is it even possible. Do even husbands and wives, children and parents, ever really understand each other; really understand?

But however hard that may be, think about the challenge posed by this morning’s epistle: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Can you even begin to imagine really doing that? And yet, isn’t that just one way of saying what Christianity is all about and what we are doing here today?

The letters of Paul come back to this theme again and again in all kinds of different ways. He talks about being “in Christ,” “Having the mind of Christ,” about Christ being in us, about being Christ’s body, about being joined with Christ. There’s a new jargon phrase I hear all the time in church talk these days: Christian formation. Well, yes: being formed – being re-formed – being not so much who we were as who we might be. “Putting off” – Paul’s language again -“putting off the old man or woman” and “putting on Christ”and beginning to be someone else: Christ in us; a new creation.

What would it be like to look at Donald Trump through the mind of Christ, to think about it from Jesus’ perspective? But more important still, what would it be like to live even a minute or two or three of our lives here, with the mind of Christ? What would it mean to deal with the children, the grandchildren, the parents, the neighbor next door, the clerk in the store, the waiter in the restaurant, to say nothing of our political leadership with the mind of Christ. Could we, for a minute or two imagine, letting that mind be in us?

The sentence just before that in Paul’s letter goes even further; it says:“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”Isn’t that dangerous doctrine? To look to the interests of others: Mexican refugees on the border, for example. They do me no harm, they don’t show up in my neighborhood. But some people obviously do feel threatened. Can I understand their interests? Can I look to their interests also or expect my representative to do so? And how do we deal with it when the President looks to other interests, that radical right, that so-called “evangelical” right. What is it that forms their mind-set, and could I somehow begin at least to try to understand, or share their concerns, or find common ground. What would a world be like where we all looked first of all not for our own good, but for common ground, common ground? or better still for the mind of Christ: Christ in my spouse, my friend, my neighbor: Christ in the stranger on the N-Judah, the waiter in the fast food restaurant, the homeless man or woman huddled against our office buildings against the cold and the rain?

It might not be easy. Having the mind of Christ led Jesus to the cross. Someone described for me some time ago an icon, a painting, showing Jesus at the moment of his arrest with soldiers bearing down on him with spears and clubs all pointing towards him and Jesus paying absolutely no attention but reaching down toward the slave whose ear Peter had just cut off, reaching down to heal, concerned for the other, not for himself. Death staring him in the face, and his mind, his hand, on the other. Have that mind in you, Paul says. Have that mind in you, that concern for the other before yourself.

This church is here for that purpose. Here at the center of this community is a building and a gathering centered on the notion that others come first, and that we can make a difference in this world, can serve God best, can serve our neighbors best, can serve our families best, by letting the mind of Christ be in us.

Paul goes on – we read it just now – to talk about Jesus emptying himself, humbling himself, down from the heights of heaven, down from any human glory, down to the place of a slave, down even to death and the grave. And what did it accomplish? Now, two millennia later, a worldwide church, a changed society, one in which elections are fought – sometimes at least – over how best to improve our schools, how best to provide security for older citizens, how best to use our government to heal and help and serve.

And yes, that’s putting the best possible spin on a situation that we know falls far short of the mind of Christ, but think of how far we’ve come from the day we read about in the gospel when an innocent man could be arrested, tortured, and killed in a matter of hours, with no pretense of a fair trial. And think of how far we still have to go and yet what a privilege we have in being called to be citizens of the new kingdom Christ came to build and to come to his table and be nourished with his life and to let the mind of Christ so transform us that we see the world through his eyes and respond to it with his love.

A Sermon for Lent V, Year C

A Sermon preached by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, on April 7, 2019

A couple of days into the Season of Lent, I met with my friend, Stephen McHale, Rector of Christ Church Alameda to plan my Mom’s memorial service. Afterwards, Stephen said, “Well, Beth, you are certainly living Lent.”

Stephen was right.  The penitential season of Lent approached me on its terms this year rather my approaching it on my own terms. I’m thankful to have been here at All Saints’ and be learning the rich tradition of Anglo-Catholic worship, as we moved through the Lenten season together, and I am thankful that I had last Sunday off to celebrate the life of my mother, Dorothy Lind, with a beautiful liturgy and reception.

Our Wednesday night Lenten program has been a highlight of Lent for me and I hope it’s been positive for those who’ve attended. During the 6:00 Mass we’ve had a group reflection on the Gospel for the following Sunday. Afterwards, we’ve shared a bowl of homemade soup and an hour’s formation program together.  Next Wednesday is our last program, and we will reflect on the Gospel story of Jesus entering Jerusalem. Please join us if you can.

Last Wednesday’s Mass brought us into dialogue with our text for today from the Gospel of John: Mary’s anointing of Jesus. 

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus host a dinner party for their friend, Jesus. All three family members have shown us models of discipleship:  Mary was praised by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke for sitting at his feet and learning; Martha confessed her faith in Jesus as the Messiah when Lazarus was in the tomb; and Lazarus himself was called out of the tomb by Jesus.  The disciples were there, too, including Judas.

In the midst of the party, John says, “Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair.  The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

We get the sense that time stood still for a moment, and the people at the party thought, “wow, what just happened?”

The perfume Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet was probably made from spikenard, a plant grown high in the Himalayas and used in Ayervedic medicine of India.  It was a precious commodity that must have been transported by camel along the ancient silk road. A pound of it was a lot of nard.  It probably cost about a year’s wages. Using nard was over the top.  The gesture was meant to make us sit up and say “whoa.”  What just happened?

Mary’s extravagant gesture is in line with the extravagant miracles we see in the Gospel of John:  The Wedding at Cana, when Jesus turns the water in the towering jars into 180 gallons of wine, the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and the amazing catch of fish that just about swamps Peter’s boat. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is an agent of joy and overflowing abundance.

Mary’s anointing is an extravagant act from the heart and makes no “sense” if we look at it from the perspective of “the head.”  In a world of scarcity and poverty, why would she do such a thing?  Judas, though he’s portrayed by John as a thief, speaks some common sense here.  Why not give that money to the poor?  What’s going on here?

Mary’s anointing is intimate—Mary wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair—this is no arms-length offering.  We almost want to avert our eyes, it is so…beyond words.

Like Mary’s anointing of nard, the incense at 10:00 “fills the house with the fragrance” of prayer. When I open the front door on Sunday morning before the 8:00 service, I encounter that distinctive aroma of incense that has permeated the interior of the church.  I like to think that over a century of prayer has permeated the church as well.

In that very sense of being “beyond words,” Mary’s anointing feels sacramental to me. Sacraments are “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace,” and the outward and visible signs are multi-sensory, including taste, smell, visual beauty, as well as words.  Our use of incense and sprinkling with holy water every Sunday at All Saints’ plays into this aspect of worship being “beyond words.” 

Sacraments speak to us in ways that words cannot, though our Episcopal liturgy is full of beautiful words.  In our Eucharistic Liturgy, we hear the words “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, which always strikes me as a paradox.  Sacrifice seems like something difficult, while praise and thanksgiving are celebratory.

But our relationship with Christ requires sacrifice on our part to respond to the great love that Christ offered to us when he gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice of love.

One of the things that stood out for us on Wednesday night about this passage was the word, “costly.”  The nard was costly, just as love is costly.  Mary’s purchase of nard to anoint Jesus’ feet tries to express the depth of love she feels for Jesus. 

I’m realizing in my own life how costly love really is, by the way grief breaks over me in unexpected times and places, like the Apple Store, and crossing the Bay Bridge, and when I want to call my Mom.  Mary was wise to the costliness of love and tried to express it in the most extravagant way she could imagine. 

Mary poured out the nard onto Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair just as Jesus was about to pour out his life in the ultimate costly sacrifice for the whole world.  We see it foretold in the reading from Isaiah, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

Jesus’ costly offering of himself is “beyond words,” and an intimate act of generosity.  Mary’s anointing presages Jesus’ washing of feet on Maundy Thursday, and shows us what faithful, “costly” servant discipleship looks like. Mary’s anointing shows us how we can respond to Jesus’ love with an outpouring of love in the form of giving of ourselves in service and love of God.

And in a world where women were considered property, we see Jesus defend and honor Mary’s ministry and love.  Let’s remember that Mary was with Jesus to the end, at the foot of the Cross.

Next Sunday we will process into Palm Sunday saying “Hosanna” and we will exit having said, “Crucify him.”  In that clashing of emotions, we can see both the generosity of Mary and the betrayal of Judas.  We see human imperfection.

What else strikes me about today’s reading is that Jesus loved both Mary and Judas unconditionally. Jesus loves us in all our distinctiveness, and all our brokenness, as well.  Jesus loves us in our loving, generous moments, and our snarky, selfish moments, too.

Jesus loves us with an extravagance beyond words, and he continues to pour himself out to us in the Eucharist, making all things new through his love, including All Saints’, you and me. Amen.

A Sermon for Lent IV, Year C

A Sermon preached on March 31, 2019, by Roderick Dugliss, Dean, The School for Deacons

The Lectionary gives us a special gift today. Because Gospel readings are on a three year cycle, and some stories only occur in one of the synoptics, this morning we hear Jesus’ telling us about The Prodigal Son for the first time in three years (and he won’t be back until 2022).

Martin Smith, the author of Seasons for the Spirit that is part of All Saints’ Lenten Series, is also the current commentator on the Sunday lectionary for Sojourners Magazine. Of today’s Gospel he says, “this parable’s resonance is inexhaustible.”
For each us, the story resonates in some very personal way.

I think we are most likely, initially, to identify with the younger son. We’ve all done something stupid, made a really bad decision, at least once in our lives and we deeply hope that we will be as fully forgiven as the young man was. Some of us have experienced that forgiveness. Some of us are still waiting, but still find hope in the story.

I think we are also drawn pin our hope on the younger son because we live in, and are formed by a harshly unforgiving culture. A recent example: I was struck, but not surprised, by the vituperative push back to the Governor’s commuting of the death sentences of the 732 people (overwhelmingly men and men of color) on death row. We are heavily invested in ‘them getting what they deserve.” Making comparative judgements is woven throughout our common life.

I remember hearing Bill Clinton advocating for some program or other by saying this was “to do right by the folk who follow the rules and pay their taxes.” “Yes!” I said to myself. I was taught to follow the rules and then I watch all these folk flout them, and get ahead. He spoke to that part of me that is still there; the me that waits for the light to change while people, staring at their phones, just launch off the curb, because pedestrians are sacrosanct, or somehow the universe will take care of them (and way better than it does of me, implied). Thanks Bill. You gave me the easy justification for my inner pharisee. I can now live in resentment. Resentment. Which is, of course, a synonym for Envy—one of the big seven, sometimes called deadly, sins.

The current incumbent of the White House may be competence challenged on many fronts, but he knows how to play resentment like a Stradivarius. And look how potent it is. The energy that drives any dividing into we/they, us/them is resentment. These days, resentment is being splashed around like gasoline at a campfire. And it can burn us all.

We might say, “no, mine is genuinely righteous anger.” Any exercise in righteous anger needs to tested for and purged of resentment, if it is, in any way, to claim righteousness.

Jesus tells us this story as a response to the pharisees of his day who complained that he consorted with, even ate with, traitors, prostitutes, and others—all who needed to suffer the consequences of their actions, consequences that they deserved. Certainly not to experience the deeply intimate acceptance of table fellowship with Messiah. Resentment.

We began our Lent with the Litany of Penitence, in which we confessed, among other things, “Our anger at our own frustration and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves.” We purported to take on, as some of our Lenten work, weeding out the roots of resentment. If and as we do this, we can hear and embrace something more.

In our parable, it is the diligent, loyal, obedient older brother who surfaces the voice of resentment and the critical questions of the pharisees. His father responds, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” Some folk hear in this a chiding or correcting of the older son. Sort of a fatherly, shape up. But that’s not it at all.

For me, the father utters the most important words in this parable. In them, Jesus wants us to hear and believe the outrageous generosity of God, at all times, in all of our lives.

The father is clearly the stand-in for the Holy One. Who, in the face of our anxiety, our anger, about imagined or real unfairness says, “you/us are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”

God is ever present, with us, ever and always. God is not “out there,” waiting to be summoned if we need something. God envelopes and infuses our whole life. And with that, all that God has created, in the vast expanse of interstellar space, or in this earth, our island home, or just in our ordinariness, all of it is shared with us, and is ours to cherish, care for, or use, abuse, exploit.
In the face of such love, there are no grounds for resentment, unless we generate them.

Paul puts it this way for us today.
“So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away, see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”

As the father entreats his son to abandon resentment and join the celebration of outrageous generosity, we find not just a lesson, but the foundation of our calling as Christian people in God’s world.

Tucked away in the back of the Book of Common Prayer is a surprisingly rich catechism—an outline of the faith as we understand it. The Catechism asks; “What is the mission of the church?“ That is, what is our core, baptismally-based calling as the gathered people of God? The response–to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ; what Paul names as the message of reconciliation. Then, asks the Catechism, who are the ministers of this mission of the church? The response: all of its members—all of us.

As all around, resentment fuels what divides us, that which defines all our work is the call to restore unity, with each other, with God. We are to overcome resentment with reconciliation—not counting advantage, nor keeping score, nor pressing to deliver “what they deserve.”
Paul makes it pretty clear.
And our experience, reflected in how today’s parable resonates with, makes it clear it is not easy.
Given how splintered, angry, resentful is the world around us, we, like the resentful older brother, may have some hard work to do, even as God says, and says again, “you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.”

Interim Rector’s Annual Report, March 17, 2019

A Sermon by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector

It’s a joy to be here with you at All Saints’ as your Interim Rector. 

Though I have only been here about month, I am settling in, and getting to know you all better.  I was not here in 2018, but I’m providing a report on my time so far, and my report today incorporates elements of my first sermon here on February 10, 2019.

I have some history with All Saints’. In 2005/06 I had the good fortune to be a field ed student here, and have The Rev. Kenneth Schmidt as my field ed supervisor. Kenneth was an excellent mentor to me as he was to so many seminarians, and I was very fond of him. 

I also led a parish retreat up at the Bishop’s Ranch in 2014, about my pilgrimage experience on the Camino de Santiago. And the last time I preached here was Holy Week, 2015, right before I went back to the Camino to complete the last 100 miles.

One of the things the walking the Camino taught me was to keep walking, and that walking solved just about everything.  The Camino taught me that one day at a time is sometimes all you need to do, and that by putting one foot in front of the other, you will arrive at your destination. God is with you every step of the way.  And the journey itself is really the point.

I’ve taken some of my Camino experience into my specialization in Interim Ministry, and I know we can bring it into our Interim time together.

I enjoy doing Interim work because it’s a constant learning experience. And I’m on a bit of a learning curve entering into an Anglo-Catholic parish, but I’m feeling more and more at home here, and I want to thank all of you, and especially our Sacristans and altar party for welcoming me into this beautiful place.

All Saints’ Anglo-Catholic style is distinctive.  But every parish has its own culture and approach to worship, and when I enter into any parish as an Interim, I have to learn how things are done in that particular context. It is part of my Interim role to understand church culture and reflect back to the parish what I see with my “fresh eyes.”

My “fresh eyes” will be joined by your active participation in our Interim process. In the coming months, we’ll reflect on who All Saints was in the past, and who All Saints is today. And, most importantly, who All Saints’ wants to become in the future. Because as Rob Voyle, one of my mentors in Interim ministry says, “the church is going to spend the rest of its life in the future.”

Another important aspect of our work together will be studying our neighborhood, and how we fit into it today, and in the future.  I’ve already met with a small group of our immediate neighbors at their request, to discuss how we as the church can be of service to our block of Waller Street.

In the fullness of time, we’ll form a search committee and construct a parish profile, then ultimately open the search for your next Rector.  But that will not be our focus for the next few months.  We will need some time to settle in and get to know each other first, and do some work of discernment.  The Interim time is a time of discovery, and it’s a pilgrimage of discernment we do together. 

Being an Interim also involves being a loving pastor. I’m a good listener. I want to meet you for coffee, for walks in the park, or whatever works for you. Thank you to those who have already met with me!  I’ve enjoyed our time together.

I’ve quickly learned that the All Saints’ leadership team has been working hard for the last year.  I want to thank our Senior Warden, Jean McMaster, and our Jr. Warden, Larry Rosenfeld, for taking on a very large responsibility and challenge.  The All Saints’ staff, Bill Visscher and Agustin Maes, have also put in extra work this past year to keep All Saints going on a day to day basis.  I’d like to thank them as well.

I also want to thank The Rev. Tom Traylor for his faithful service to All Saints.  He has served as an Associate here for sixteen years, and he truly held the parish in love through a difficult period. 

I am grateful for Tom’s friendship and mentor ship as I’ve been learning the liturgical ropes.  I am thankful that he has stayed on several weeks longer than originally planned after my mother’s death on February 28. We will recognize Tom at the Annual Meeting after Mass.

All Saints has not had an Interim period for 30 years, and many of you have not known any other Rector other than The Rev. Kenneth Schmidt, who was a gifted man, a fine priest, and who was much beloved.

There’s a significant shift in any organization when a leader leaves after 30 years. The significant shift here at All Saints’ became more of a loss because of the level of uncertainty you experienced with the illness and absence of your Rector before his retirement.  

Because of the length of the last pastorate, and the way it ended, our time of discernment will include some more focused reflection on what kind of organizational systems have developed in the parish.  We will do some Appreciative Inquiry, which celebrates what is life-giving, and working well, and we will spend some time assessing how we can become as healthy as possible before entering into a search process for a new Rector.

A healthy parish communicates clearly and well. One of the first things I’ve done as Interim is bring our communication systems up to date. 

Our website and our Facebook page have been updated, and will stay current. An updated web presence helps us be present in the world as it is today. Everyone looking for a church does one thing first:  they look at the church’s website.  It is vitally important that we keep it current and accurate.

In the next few weeks you will be receiving an All Saints’ weekly email newsletter that will provide news, photos, schedules, and an ongoing pastoral letter from the Vestry and me on our journey together. The weekly email newsletter is a powerful communication tool used by many other churches in our diocese. 

This is an important change for All Saints’ on several levels.

As we move forward, we need clear communication channels internally among All Saints’ members, and externally beyond the front gates. The email newsletter is also something we can share with newcomers as an introduction to our community.

Change is challenging for all of us.  For Episcopalians, change can be daunting. Episcopalians place value on tradition, order, and stability.  We tend to look to the past and to our history for comfort, meaning, and authority.  This is true for me as well.

Being grounded solidly in tradition is a good thing, but, at the same time, change is a part of life, and, how we meet it is a sign of our health.  The Good News is, we don’t have to do it alone.  We have each other, and we have Jesus with us, who calls us to newness of life.  That is what the Resurrection is about.  The Holy Spirit is blowing us into a new phase of life as a parish, and, as they say at St. Dorothy’s Rest, we need to keep our sails unfurled.  We will be praying about this regularly as we move further into our Interim time together.

As we move forward, we will probably feel some turbulence along the way.  We’ll probably feel some discomfort, sadness and grief, a sense of awkwardness. There will also be epiphanies, joy, and growth. My hope is that, together, we can experience a renewed sense of spaciousness and freedom. Let’s keep breathing. I like to remember that the Holy Spirit is also known as the Comforter, and she is here with us along our journey, as well as propelling us forward. 

I have a few comments about our readings for the Second Sunday in Lent.  In Genesis, we heard the story of the ancient covenant between Abram and God.  God tells him “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great, and God shows Abram the stars and says, “So shall your descendants be. And he believed the Lord.”  Abram is an example of faith for us in uncertain times. 

Our Gospel this morning talks about Jesus’ concern for the people of Jerusalem, and his desire to protect them under his wings like a brooding hen.  I find both of these stories comforting and challenging because they ask us to allow the living God to be active in our lives rather than over-think everything ourselves. 

On my first Sunday here we had the wonderful story of Jesus saying, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  It remains The Good News for us today: 

We are underway.  God is with us.  There is overwhelming grace up ahead. There will be newness of life, and renewal for All Saints’.

Love and Blessings, Beth+

Sermon for Lent 1, Year C, March 10, 2019

By The Rev. Christopher Webber

 “Jesus . . . was led by the Spirit in the wilderness…”

St Luke 4, verse 1.

So let’s think about wilderness.

Some four thousand years ago the Hebrews were a nomadic tribe wandering in the deserts in the middle east. All around them were people who were farmers: Egyptians, Babylonians, Canaanites who raised wheat and barley and melons and other good things to eat and because they depended on the sun and the rain and the rivers, the soil and the seasons, and because these were not always favorable these agricultural people prayed to the powers that they thought determined success or failure, abundance or hunger, and they made statues and images as a focus for their prayers. 

But the Hebrews were nomads.  In all the years they had wandered in the deserts with their sheep and their goats they had no crops to raise, and no need for gods of that sort. For them there was one God, invisible, all-powerful, a god encountered in the volcano at Sinai and the storms that swept across the desert. Not a God to bargain with. But when the Hebrews came into the promised land and tried to learn farming themselves they naturally looked to the Canaanites for advice and they were told, “Well, here’s what you do: you set up a pillar or carve some statues of wood or stone and you make offerings, and you cry out to Baal or Astarte or whichever god you need at the moment for rain or sun or whatever crop it is. Sometimes it works; sometimes not; but that’s how you go to the gods for help.” 

Some of the Hebrews tried it out and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t but, like the Canaanites, they decided it was better to do it than not do it.  Hey, you never know. Some tried it, as I said, but others resisted and said, “No, the God of our ancestors commanded us to make no statues because our God is beyond all possibility of representation.  And our God also cannot be influenced by the size of our offerings or anything like that. We can try to line up with God but no way we can bargain with God to get God to line up with us.” 

Now, that was a conflict that went on for centuries. You can read all about it in the Bible: First and Second Kings especially; an on-going struggle. The Hebrews were divided by it with the prophets and their visions on one side and the practical people on the other.  The prophets said, “It doesn’t matter where you are or what the agenda is; there is one God, no other.  You can serve God, but God can’t be bribed to serve you.” But the practical people said, “Look, the Canaanites have the experience and the smart thing is to hedge your bets, not put all your eggs in one basket, always backup your computer, don’t take chances.” 

But the prophets didn’t give up; always there were prophets who insisted, “God is beyond all this and if this becomes an idol, God can and will destroy it and God can even destroy us, the chosen people, if we turn to our own ways, because God is always beyond, always greater than we can imagine and God asks us to respond in a freedom that lacks the apparent security of walls and borders and images and festivals and buildings and laws.  God is not limited by our constructions.  God is free.  And God calls us to respond in freedom, to give ourselves without limit to the God who loves us without limit.” 

Well, that’s what Lent is about: it’s a reminder that we are by origin a wandering, desert people with a radically unconfined God, a God who is free and calls us to freedom.  Lent summons us to remember who we are and respond to that challenge.  For forty days every year we are challenged to follow Jesus back out into the wilderness of our nomadic ancestors where there is none of the security of plowed land and settlements and walls and well-traveled roads. 

The Prayer Book speaks of Lent as a time for “special acts of discipline and self-denial.”  It asks us to find out whether we can get along without the images and the idols – the things, the possessions, that tie us down and somehow give us a feeling of security.  Can we put them aside and learn to live with God alone? All the old traditional disciplines of Lent – giving up candy and movies and television – the images of Canaan and Babylon – are basically about that: how addicted are you to the local idols?  how dependent are we on material things? What is it that takes the time we might have used for prayer or the energy that might have been used to help someone in need or to work to change a society that seems indifferent to the needs of others?  It’s probably not something as simple as candy or computer games.  It’s things that have become part of the very fabric of our lives and it will hurt to tear them out.  The idols are where they are because we’ve learned to love them and depend on them and believe we need them. So Lent asks us to look again, to focus on this fundamental question: who is your God?  One of the old mystics used to say, “This too is not God.” It’s a good line to remember. Look around at your life: “This too is not God.” I think some of the most divisive arguments in our public life, church and state, are about idols – not God.

Do you remember back a while ago the annual Christmas fuss about Christmas in public places?  Almost every year it seems some mayor or public official tries to find a new way of putting up a creche to see who will complain. And someone always does. But, you know, I used to live in New England and back in Puritan days it was illegal to celebrate Christmas at all because I think the Puritans knew that so much of the celebration was pagan in origin and a distraction from the worship of the God who is beyond all images.  The Puritans knew that but now their descendants, calling themselves Christians, demand that they be allowed their images, their creches and Christmas trees, and the very name of Christmas has become an image, as if by saying “Merry Christmas” out loud and in public  instead of “Happy Holidays” the God who cannot be named is somehow honored. We still want our images, things to hold onto; We’re still afraid of the desert. 

The Anglican Communion is being torn apart these days by those who insist on this reading of the Bible rather than that one, my way of reading the law and the security it gives me rather than your way which makes me nervous.  Every ten years, you know, all the Anglican bishops in the world convene in England, at Lambeth palace, to see what they can learn from each other and recently they’ve had trouble doing that because in some parts of the world same sex marriage is not acceptable.  The missionaries in the 19th century told their new converts that it was bad and they believed it – still do.  Ten years ago quite a few of them didn’t come because the American church had just elected a gay bishop. This year the Archbishop of Canterbury has ruled that bishops with same sex partners can’t bring their partner – or if they do, the partners can’t come to the tea parties.  A hundred years ago it was African bishops who wanted to be able to baptize polygamous partners and other bishops were saying, No, only one at a time. There’s always something.  And not enough of us are prepared to stop and say, “Let’s really listen to each other; let’s admit that my way and your way both are inadequate images, neither one is an absolute and final and complete picture of God and it never can be.  So instead of fighting, let me hear how what you have to say honors God and let me try to explain why I believe my views honor God and one way or another let’s recognize that we both are seeking to honor God and God is not honored by our anger or by a narrow clinging to images.  Let’s confess our limitations and try still to love each other even if we no more understand each other than we truly and fully understand God.”

Lots of churches, you know, use purple vestments in Lent. This church, like the one I served for the twenty-two years before I retired, follows the old English custom in Lent which wasn’t purple but monk’s cloth or unbleached linen. You come into church on Ash Wednesday and the crosses and pictures were draped in simple sack cloth and it felt like spring cleaning.  Here I think the custom is to do that in Holy Week; the visual distractions are covered and there’s a sense of simplicity and cleanness. 

The Russian Orthodox have a custom called pustina, which has to do with going into a bare cell, a room with four walls and no more, to spend a day or two days or more – with nothing to see, nothing to hold on to – “sensory deprivation,” I think might be the modern phrase, removal of distractions. And who needs some such practice more than 21st century Americans whose lives are so full and whose souls are so empty? Lent is a time to clean house, to be rid of idols and images and preconceived notions to go into the “desert” or “wilderness” for forty days. 

Years ago, when I was in Israel, we had a guide who took us down from Jerusalem to Jericho – down through the barren land where Jesus spent those forty days – and along the way he showed us a bright splash of green down the side of a steep cliff and he said it came from a break in a conduit pipe that takes water to an ancient monastery and he said it shows you that this is not truly desert but wilderness.  There is a difference. Desert, true desert, he said, is where nothing can grow. Wilderness is where growth can take place if only it has water. When the spring rains come the wilderness bursts into bloom. When the aqueduct springs a leak, the barren land turns green.

Think about that this Lent.  Yes, go back out into the desert, get rid of the idols, but then ask yourself this: where I am, can anything grow?  Am I in the desert or the wilderness? I looked very carefully at the street outside the church this morning. I thought with all the rain this last week we might see some green pushing up through the sidewalk and know that this may be wilderness but it’s not desert. I didn’t see anything.  Maybe it’s desert. But maybe we just need more rain to soak down in and get life going.

But what about your office or place of work.  What would happen if you poured some water near your desk or work place and watched for a week or so. Is it desert or wilderness? Try it at home.  Pour some water on the television set, maybe just a cup or so every day for a week.  And watch: does anything grow there?  Does any life emerge?  But did it ever really enhance your life?  It might do good things for you anyway if you water it well.  I will guarantee that if you do that – water your television regularly – you will, of course, wind up with a short-circuited TV, but you will also have a better social life, your thinking will clarify, and you will lose weight.

But seriously, this is what Lent is about: Lent is a time to ask where I am, whether I’m in a place of life or not: am I in the desert or the wilderness: which is it? For all the visual richness of our society, a lot of it is desert: dead as it can be and deadening to those who come there. But we are not like the wilderness plants; that have their roots down in a dry place and have to wait for rain to come. No, we can move; we can pick ourselves up and put ourselves in a place where life can emerge and develop – real life, the life of the spirit, life that can transcend even death itself.  And we can carry that life with us and make things bloom where we are. I trust this church is such a place: a place that can flourish and grow with your prayers and your presence and your participation.  I trust your home and place of work can be such a place.  But it depends on what you bring to it from here, from the sacraments ministered here, from the Word of God read and proclaimed and taught right here. I believe that this city, the places you work in the places you live in are not desert but wilderness, needing what you can absorb here and take there and capable of real life.  But it’s not automatic and it won’t happen unless you want it to happen and make time for it to happen. 

God twists very few arms. God wants us to respond in freedom. But God does want us to grow. God does want us to focus on life. God does want us to turn away from all that which is not God to come, to come, to come now while we have time, to come to the One who is.

Sermon for Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector

Ash Wednesday Homily 2019

As the new Interim Rector I did something different this Ash Wednesday at All Saints. I posted a video made by the Episcopal Church on our Facebook page. If you are on Facebook, please take a look, and join our FB community.

The video begins, “two thousand years ago the Son of God issued an invitation to Repent and believe the Good News. This Ash Wednesday, The Episcopal Church invites you to join with millions of Christians around the world, as we respond to Jesus’ invitation.

So here we are, with millions of Christians around the world, marking the beginning of Lent with ashes on our foreheads.  Welcome.  I am glad you are here.

The video says, “Repentance doesn’t mean beating ourselves up, making ourselves miserable, or being overwhelmed by shame.”

That is very important.  In the solemn readings that we just heard, we encounter language like “acknowledge our wretchedness.”

I think that many of us do too much focusing on our wretchedness on a regular basis, and for many difficult reasons, shame can be a constant menace in our lives.

The church does not need to pile on more shame. So many people have left the church because their experience of church, and faith, became entangled with shame, and guilt.

That is not the intention of this liturgy, this church, or of the season of Lent. The 40 Days of Lent are instead a time of spiritual growth.

In our reading from Matthew today, Jesus has some blunt words for people who pray conspicuously to show off how pious they are.  He says, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” 

What does Jesus recommend we do instead?  He seems to say that being in relationship with God should become part of who we are. he says:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This sort of spiritual relationship with God takes a lifetime of turning towards God, and slowly shedding what no longer serves us in our spiritual life, and offering ourselves to God. Over time, this process helps us grow in spiritual depth.   Over time, this returning to God creates spiritual treasure in our hearts.

This sort of relationship with God takes a lifetime of turning towards God, slowly shedding what no longer serves us in our spiritual life, and offering ourselves to God. Over time, this returning to God creates spiritual treasure in our hearts.

Ash Wednesday provides a powerful gateway into the Lenten season when we can shed whatever separates us from God this year.  It will probably be different from what separated you from God last year or the year before. It’s not a one-time event, this growing closer to God.  It’s a process.

The traditional word for this kind of letting go of what no longer serves us is “repentance.” Repentance is a translation of the Greek word, “Metanoia,” which means to turn around, and reorient ourselves towards God.

One of the things that commonly separates us from God is denying our own mortality.   Because when we deny our own mortality, we are putting ourselves at the same level as God, and we are not.  We are mortals.

Our human lives are finite, and precious.  Ash Wednesday has a poignancy for me this year.  My mother passed away last Thursday. She was 87, and had been in very good health most of her life. In her last year she slowly had to face her own mortality, and so did I, as her daughter.

Understanding that reality helped us to be together in the present, and to express our love for each other. I think acknowledging our mortality helps us embrace ourselves as we are, to accept and love ourselves as the person God made us to be.

So Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and a sign of our own mortality with the Imposition of Ashes on our foreheads.

As we accept these ashes let us remember that we are beautifully created and loved by God, and the ashes are a symbol of our creation as well as our death. We are part of God’s creation, we are all made of the very dust of stars of the Big Bang at the beginning of Creation.  These ashes are a symbol of our oneness with the Earth.

When we receive the ashes, we hear the words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” They symbolize our birth and death, the cycle of life.

The interesting thing is, ashes have life-giving properties. The ashes left behind after a forest fire are a natural fertilizer. When new seedlings pop up through the ashes, the nutrients of the ashes nourishes the new growth of the forest.

There’s also a poignancy to this Ash Wednesday at All Saints’ because the parish

has gone through a tough year with the illness, absence, and retirement of your

long-time Rector.  These ashes may represent a time of mourning and the planting

of seeds of renewal as we begin Lent again, as a parish.

In a few minutes, we will also receive the bread of new life in the Eucharist. It will nourish us with grace; it is the food for spiritual growth, through our sacred journey through Lent.

Wherever you are on your journey of faith, Jesus invites you to participate today. Repent of what pulls you towards death. Turn towards Jesus and walk towards newness of life. 

We are dust, and to dust we will return.  These are powerful words. Here are some other powerful words. We hear them at Baptism. We say, “You are marked as Christ’s own forever,” and trace the sign of the cross in holy oil on the forehead of the newly baptized, right where we trace the cross of ashes.

May each one of you remember that “You are marked as Christ’s own forever,” may these ashes be a mark of our mortality, and our new growth in Christ.  May you be blessed by a holy and sacred  Lenten journey.  Amen.