Sunday, August 6, 2017

Windows - Shine

St. Andrew's Church, Prineville, OR

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

Somebody once said that saints are people that the light of Christ shines through.  Our tour of the windows this summer has showed us the great many ways the light shines through.  These windows ask us to consider, What does your window look like?  How does the light shine through you?

Luke is our first window this week.  He wrote both the gospel and the Book of Acts.  The two were intended as Volume One and Volume Two of one work. 

If you read them one after the other, you notice, this is more than the story of Jesus.  Luke tells the story of the Holy Spirit, from the Spirit’s first manifestation in Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, to person after person in the Book of Acts.  Each outpouring is greater than the last.  In fact, everything that Jesus did in the Gospel gets repeated and more so in the Book of Acts. 

I saw what you might call a theological reflection on Facebook the other day that carries Luke’s theme one step further.  It said, Fueled by the Spirit, look what Paul accomplished for the reign of God.  Imagine what we could do.  We have the same Spirit – and we have coffee, too!  Maybe there’ll be a coffee cup in my window.  How about yours?

Luke was Paul’s traveling companion in the last years of his ministry.  In the letter to the Colossians, Paul calls Luke the beloved physician.  That’s the inspiration for our window.  He holds a staff entwined with snakes.  Does it look familiar?  In the US, it’s used as a symbol for the medical profession.  Evidently, the person who chose it got his Greek gods mixed up.  This is a caduceus, the symbol for Hermes, the messenger.  

Asclepios, the god of healing has only one snake.  His staff represents medicine internationally.  Anyway, the snake, one or two, represents both medicine and poison, which some of us wish we didn’t understand so well.  Never mind.  Either way, it works for Luke, physician and messenger.

The snake returns in John’s window, for poison this time.  There is a legend that says John was once given a poisoned chalice to drink.  He blessed it first, and the poison crawled out in the form of a snake.  He then drank unharmed.  Me, I like all these legends.  We don’t have to take these saints and ourselves so seriously, even if preserved in stained glass.

John’s gospel is different.  Matthew, Mark and Luke tell a relatively straight forward sequence of events, punctuated by memorable sayings and stories, easy to repeat and pass on, until the evangelists collect them.  But John’s gospel has these full-fledged speeches.  They call them discourses on who the Christ is, and what he means in a cosmic sense.

John talks about the Spirit on the night before Jesus died.  Jesus said, I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.  Luke’s narrative writings give examples of how that worked.  Time and again, the disciples thought they knew what the Bible says.  But then they had some experience of the Spirit that led them into a deeper truth.  So they came to a deeper understanding about what the Bible says.

I think John’s discourses express a different version of the same phenomenon.  John was the Beloved Disciple.  His relationship with Jesus was intimate, personal.  Decades after Jesus’ death, John still writes about him in the present tense, as though Jesus is right beside him, the Spirit of Jesus, while John leans against him still, like at the Last Supper.

Do you have somebody in your life like that?  Your mother, your spouse, who’s been gone for years.  But you still hear him or her speaking to you, not a memory of something once said, but what that person would be saying right now.  That’s what John’s Gospel is, Jesus present to John right when he’s writing, and when we draw that close, right now, leaning on the everlasting arms.  We read John at funerals.  In our deepest grief, that’s when we hear Jesus speaking to us, I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, though they die, yet shall they live.

Really, you couldn’t find anyone more different from John than Peter.  No better argument against cookie cutter Christians than these two, side by side, the beloved disciple and the ya-never-know-what-he’s-gonna-say-next leader of the pack, going with John’s brother James up that mountain to share that vision in today’s gospel.

Peter’s window portrays his struggle, same struggle as many of us, as followers of Jesus, in two symbols, one of his faith and one of his fear.

Peter said, You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  And Jesus answered, You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the powers of hell shall not prevail against it.  I give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.  Peter’s faith is that rock on which the Church is founded.  And his faith is the key that opens the kingdom of heaven.

What could prevail against the Church, built on the rock of faith?  Not doubt – doubt does not destroy faith.  Doubting Thomas is an example of a disciple who used his God-given brain to ask reasonable questions.  The faith of Thomas is strong because it is not gullible.

But the opposite of faith is fear.  And there’s that rooster, the one that crowed after Peter denied Jesus, because Peter – was afraid.  Fear is what brings down the Church, fear to be different, fear to stand up and say, Well, that’s wrong.  Or to say instead, This is what I believe.  Fear is what denies the Christ.

The Church is weaker today, because for so many centuries, we had nothing to fear.  We got flabby.  Peter’s faith muscles were like rock, because he faced his fear.  He was afraid.  But he pulled it together.  He came back, stood up to it. 

And we can, too.

We come to Andrew.  No, Helen, he’s not holding skis.  Not golf clubs, either.  That’s his cross.  He was crucified in Greece on a cross in that shape.  He is the patron of Scotland, and that is why the Scottish flag is a white X on a blue field.

Andrew was the first apostle, the very first.  How did this whole thing ever get going?  Jesus called Andrew, and Andrew brought Peter to Jesus.  That’s what Andrew did.  When they had 4000 people to feed, Andrew brought the boy with the food to Jesus.  When some Gentiles wanted in, Andrew brought them to Jesus.  That is what Andrew did.

There is a group called the Brotherhood of St. Andrew.  Their sole purpose is to bring people to the deepest possible relationship with Jesus.

You see, there are very few sprung-from-nothing Christians.  We all got here because somebody made the introduction.  I’m not talking about the person who hauled you off to Sunday School – though without that person, you might not have met the next one.  I mean the one who made Jesus real to you, the person that the light of Christ shone through, by their words, by their example, by their relationship with you. 

That is the heritage of Andrew.  And if names do anything to form character, then that is the heritage of the people of St. Andrew’s, by your words, by your example, by your relationship, to introduce others into a deeper relationship with Jesus.  The heritage of the people of St. Andrew’s is to be the windows that the light of Christ shines through.

There are other saints in these windows that I have yet to name.  Maybe some of them were Andrew kind of people, that the light of Christ shone through, so that others came to their own relationship with this Jesus, and built this church.  Let’s name them now.

James P. Gillis is here, right under St. James.  Jan, who’s in the Matthew window? ….

I have asked this question throughout the summer.  What does your window look like?  Think about that.  The artist who created our windows picked an item or two to represent each saint, their occupation, their gift, their weakness, their witness, the way the light of Christ shone through them.  What does your window look like?  Let’s talk about that later, while we hold our coffee cups.

And then, we will put our coffee cups down and go out that door, with the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of of God.

Rod of Asclepius, in public domain
Engraving of The Last Supper by Albrecht Dürer, in public domain
Photos of windows from St. Andrew's Church, Prineville, Oregon, by author

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Windows - A Cloud of Witnesses

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

In 1911 a young man, Roland Bainton entered Yale Divinity School.  He would never leave it, first a student, then professor, then church historian of international reputation.  He wrote the definitive biography of Martin Luther, Here I Stand.  He was in his mid 80’s when I arrived.

Every year, first week of classes, we gathered in the dining room, and Roland Bainton told us stories of the portraits that hung all the way round, starting with Jonathon Edwards and rehearsing the history of Yale through its deans, the other portraits, and their part in the spiritual and political history of the nation.

He would end with the Epistle to the Hebrews.  Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

So in the days to come, glad days, weary days, occasionally heavy-laden, we ate our breakfast, lunch and dinner, in communion with a cloud of witnesses who had faced glad days, weary days, heavy-laden, who ran with perseverance the race that was set before them, and now looked down from their place on the wall, to urge us to do the same.

We, too, are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.  Bainton had an hour for his sermon, and I don’t.  So my tour of our witnesses is in three parts, today Philip and James, Mark and Matthew.  August 4th to finish.

Philip was a deacon, chosen by the community, back when they held all things in common, to help with distribution.  The word deacon comes from the Greek word for servant or waiter. 

Our window shows Philip at work, waiting table.  If you go to the Book of Acts, where the community first decided it needed deacons, you discover there is more to being a deacon than serving food.  Deacons also serve justice.  It’s not so easy to distribute.  It seems the non-Jewish widows were getting overlooked.

Deacons are the kind of people who notice the people that the rest of us overlook, in Philip’s day the non-Jewish old ladies.  Today, well, walk down a street with Janet.  If you have a destination and a schedule, you’d better leave extra time for her to stop, because she sees people.  And she doesn’t turn away.  She greets them, talks with them, she addresses what needs she can.  Those needs are not always material; sometimes it is the need to be seen.  She blesses them.  And she blesses the person walking with her, who learns from her how to see people.

Later in the Book of Acts, Philip saw a rich man, an Ethiopian.  Despite his wealth, others turned away, because he was a eunuch, a sexual nonconformist.  But Philip did not turn away.  And the Church of Ethiopia traces its origin to that encounter.

Deacons are icons of ministry.  They show us how it’s done, so we can do it, too.  Sometimes I walk through a street or a supermarket and try to see with Janet’s eyes.  It takes longer to get done what you’re there to do.  But try it yourself sometime.  You will find yourself blessed.

James, patron of pilgrims, he looks over my shoulder.  In the New Testament, he is a fisherman, son of Zebedee, brother of John, one of the first to follow Jesus.  But the story in the window comes from later.

Last month I told the tradition of how the disciples divvied up the known world into mission fields.  James went to Spain.  Unlike Thomas, whose Church of India endures to this day, James [mmm] was not a spectacular success.  After years, he made six disciples.  Maybe preaching wasn’t his call.  He returned to Palestine, and Herod beheaded him.

Then, according to legend, angels placed his body in a boat which floated without rudder, across the Mediterranean Sea, through the strait of Gibraltar, up the coast of Iberia, and landed on the northwest corner.  He was buried in what came to be called Compostela, Field of Stars, because in the 9th century, a shepherd, guided by a star, found the spot.

Eventually, Santiago [Saint James] de Compostela became a pilgrimage site, rivaled only by Rome and Jerusalem.  Francis of Assisi walked the Camino, the Way.  John XXIII did, along with millions through the centuries seeking healing or forgiveness, working off some judicial sentence, expressing thanks, fulfilling vows, or even just the exercise.

A year ago, Helen and I had prepared to walk the Camino, the most popular 500-mile version of it.  We had our staffs, our modern-day water bottles.  Our Camino mentor had sent us the shell that pilgrims carry to identify our claim to pilgrims’ hospitality.  Then, as many of you know, our pilgrimage took a detour through the halls of the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics and Helen’s diagnosis of kidney cancer.

We did not vow to walk the Way if she was healed.  Which she was, by the way – all of her numbers for her one-year check-up are just marvelous.  I don’t know if we will take up our old ambition again, not in the same way.  Now we live even more deeply into the Way of Saint James.  This is how:

See, his plans changed.  What he thought was God’s way for him on that bright Pentecost morning took a detour.  Yet he continued in a new way.  So the artist who fashioned these windows put him in pilgrim’s garb, staff, water bottle, shell.  And he stands there behind my shoulder, reminding me, whatever twists and turns, surprises, disappointments and changes of plan, El Camino continua – the Way continues.

These windows are not the twelve apostles.  Another James is not here, nor Judas.  Instead, the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Mark and Luke were the next generation, disciples.

I’ll do Mark first.  His was the first gospel written.  So he holds a pen and book.  It is a common artistic convention to portray younger men without facial hair.  Mark is thought to be the younger companion to Peter, and Peter is thought to be the source for Mark’s gospel. 

I’m not sure why his clothes look so heavy.  It’s ironic, actually.  Mark is not named in the gospels.  But there is a story that suggests he was there.  It was that last terrible night in the Garden of Gethsemane.  In the chaos of the arrest, Mark records that a soldier grabbed a young man by the robe, thinking to haul him in for questioning.  But the young man wriggled out of it and escaped.

Matthew and Luke use Mark as their model, but they don’t mention the streaker.  Why does Mark?  Scholars surmise it was his own peculiar way of saying, I was there –  I got away.

I’m not sure why he has male pattern baldness.  Maybe it is the artist’s portrait, his own peculiar way of placing himself in the picture?

Matthew’s place in the picture is solid.  His story is a well-attested part of Jesus’ ministry.  Everybody knew it – Jesus ate with tax collectors.  That’s what Matthew was.

Now, we’re not talking about the IRS here.  These taxes did not pay for schools or health care or Social Security.  These were Roman taxes.  They paid for two things.  First, the cost of the occupation.  The people of Palestine had to pay to be oppressed.  Second, the wages of the tax collectors themselves.  Tax collectors decided their own salary, usually substantial, and had the force of the Roman army to back up their collection.  Their countrymen did not thank them for their service.

There are people who have jobs like that, jobs that others don’t appreciate, that require them to go against maybe even their own values. Somebody is going to do it, and they have bills to pay, but… It doesn’t sit right, not with their neighbors and, truth be told, not with themselves, either.  I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate, Paul said. 

Matthew placed himself outside the community, against it.  And Jesus placed himself outside the community by associating with Matthew.  Yet he despised the shame, as the Letter to the Hebrews said.  He did not let reputation stand in the way of his mission.  He created a new community. 

It was not a reputable community.  Over the years, some Christians have chafed at the reputations of Jesus’ disciples, tried to make the neighborhood more respectable.  But here Jesus stands, Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 

Here Matthew stands, as well.  He recorded his shame in his gospel.  He offered it up, his burden, in the form of those money bags.  Then he let Jesus carry it.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Whatever your burden, whatever your struggle, or secret, or shame, you belong here.  The windows themselves include you.  Whatever it is, lay it down.  Let Jesus take it.  Don’t let it interfere, because we have places to go, you and I.

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.


Photo of Roland Bainton from Yale Divinilty School library
Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, Fresco of the Seckau Apocalypse by Herbert Boeckl (1952 – 1960) in the Angel's Chapel at Seckau Abbey, Styria, Austria, Used under Creative Commons license
Detail from the Small Door at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Used under the GNU Free Documentation license
Photo of Roman Imperial Eagle in public domain
Photos of windows by author, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Prineville, Oregon