August 27, 2005

Bonaventure House

Recently Fr. Ted began work with Bonaventure House, part of the Alexian Brothers AIDS Ministry:

Spiritual Care Program Takes Flight

Rev. Ted Durst, an Episcopal priest seasoned in the areas of HIV/AIDS and recovery, has become Bonaventure's new Spiritual Care Coordinator. Durst has an extensive background in the areas of pastoral care, worship, and spiritual formation. In addition, he has developed programming and ministry outreach for an array of organizations across the country including AIDS Pastoral Care Network, The Night Ministry, Shelter Care Ministries, Mission Road Development Center , and Cathedral Shelter. Residents of Bonaventure House and The Harbor will be invited to a spiritual retreat, led by Durst and coordinated by Donna Faur (former staff), August 18-21.

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August 16, 2005

Branches Of The Vine

John 15:1-8

Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."

The image of vines and branches and vine growers
strikes a very familiar chord for me.
In the late 1980's I planted a test vineyard in the Hill Country of Texas. This test site encompassed 21/2 acres and included 750 grape vines.
I researched what types of grapes
would perform best in the soil and weather conditions
of that arid part of the state
and decided to order both merlot and cabernet sauvignon vines.
In early spring with help from family and friends,
I planted all 750 vines, built trellises, and strung out irrigation lines. The first year the vines were allowed to grow wild
so that the roots could become well established.
In the spring of the second year,
the pruning process began
by identifying the strongest shoot and training it up the trellis.
All the other shoots were then cut off.
When each of these vertical shoots
reached a certain height on the trellis that summer,
the top of the shoot was cut off
so that horizontal shoots would then put out.
These new shoots where then trained horizontally along the trellis.
By the end of the second summer the vines had strong center trunks
with healthy horizontal shoots tied along the trellis.
In the spring of the third year, when the vines were dormant,
the growth from the horizontal shoots was cut back, leaving 2 to 3 buds
each of which would bud out and produce grapes that summer.

Leaving too many buds would overwhelm the vine,
and poor grapes would be produced.
Leaving too few buds would result in a small and unprofitable crop. The vines were trimmed to produce an optimum amount of fruit
that the vines could support.
With proper pruning, adequate water and the intense Texas summer heat optimally sweet grapes were produced.
There was nothing more amazing
than picking and tasting perfectly ripened wine grapes
as I walked through the vineyard.

Having been a vine grower,
the image of God as the vine grower is very powerful for me.
The vine grower, year after year, tends the vines --
as they grow from small plants to seasoned vines many years later.
Each year the vines are lovingly pruned and cared for.
Birds, weeds, storms, drought, raccoons, molds and fungi
threaten the vines year after year,
and the vine grower does everything possible to care for the vines
so that they will be protected
and produce abundant, succulent fruit.
At the same time, the image of Jesus as the vine
reminds me of the strength of the central trunk of the grape vine
coming up the trellis from the ground.
This trunk becomes woody and stronger each year,
looking something like a small, twisted tree trunk.
The life of the vine is totally dependent on the trunk
for its ongoing life.

So we as Christian people are branches of the vine, as it were,
growing out from the vine who is Jesus the Christ
and cared for by God who is the vine grower.
In reality we cannot exist apart from the vine or the vine grower.
Can you imagine God's delight
as God walks through the vineyard and tastes the succulent fruit?

John's call to us this morning,
using the image of the branches growing from the vine,
is a call to be a community rooted in and growing in love
whose actions unambiguously express love, care and concern
for one another, our larger community and the larger world.
To be a branch of the vine
is to be called to do the work of Christ
so that the world might know and experience
God’s loving and life-giving presence
in and through each of us.
This is the succulent fruit for which God longs.
Just as grape vines may live for more than a 100 years
and require care and tending over all of their lives,
we, too, have many years
over which to grow into the fullness of what it means
to live our lives intimately entwined with Jesus
and to bear the fruit of love
as individuals
and as the faith communities of Holy Innocents and St. Columba

Only by living lives of self-giving love
can the message of God's triumph in the resurrection find credibility. Otherwise words about God's universal and unconditional love
will appear to be a wishful thinking or fantasy or, worse yet, a farce.
We all know that our actions always speak louder than our words.
What visible fruit do our lives produce?
Does the vine grower see clusters of succulent grapes on our branches?
What concrete, unambiguous, acts of love, care, and concern
distinguish us as fruitful branches of the vine
and lend credibility to the good news of God in Christ?
Our congregation, our surrounding community, our world
are in great need and are depending on us --
waiting, watching, hoping for us to be fruitful.

Originally preached by Fr. Ted on the 6th Sunday of Easter.

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August 08, 2005

Guest Sermon: The Abundance of God's Love

Last Sunday we welcomed The Rev. Irene C. Jones as our "supply" priest for the day, as Father Ted and Mark were on vacation. As Irene's sermon touched on many of the issues we've been wrestling with recently at our two yoked churches, I asked her if we could publish it on the website. Here it is:

I am a second child and I have in common with a lot of second children an innate confidence in my ability to accomplish what I desire. A defining moment for me happened at age two. …..

Defining events are those moments that tell us something about who we are and how we will likely respond in the future to the people in our lives and the challenges we will face. What are your defining stories? I expect we all have them. This country has defining stories. The signing of the declaration of independence insured our freedom and defined Americans as a people who believe that every person should be given a chance at the dream of abundant life. When we placed the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor it signified our willingness to welcome from abroad the poor and oppressed. The civil rights movement identifies us once again in our belief that we are all created equal irregardless of things like skin color and the way we express our faith. The aftermath of the tragedies of 9/11 and the Asian tsunami tell a story of great courage, fortitude and personal sacrifice, of people who were willing to give whatever it took to help those victimized by disaster. Our stories, each one telling of defining moments in our past.

This morning we heard two of the most significant stories that define our faith: who we are as people of God and who is God in whom we put our faith and trust.

The story from the old testament of God’s freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt is the most significant story in the history of God’s people. It is interesting that the defining story of God’s people is not the one about creation – how God created us to be in God’s likeness and image; nor is it the story of how God promised Abraham everlasting covenant and gave him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky; nor is it the story of how God made a pact with Noah that the world would never be destroyed again. Important stories yes, but it is the story of how God, in God’s great compassion and love led the children of Israel into freedom from slavery in Egypt and fed and cared for them in the wilderness that is told over and over again to define who we are and who God is to us. First we hear this story in Exodus, when God calls out to Moses from the burning bush. The story goes (and stop me if you have heard it before) that Moses led the people out of slavery, through the red sea and into the desert where they spent 40 years chilling out and forgetting the bad habits they picked up from Egyptians. Every time that life got too difficult for them in the wilderness, they would complain to God and God would answer them. God sent forth water from a rock, rained down manna to eat and even sent birds when manna became too boring. This story is so very essential to the overall story of God’s people, that our early ancestors are instructed in Deuteronomy to tell it over and over again, so that children yet unborn may never forget the saving deeds of God. The story is told in Nehemiah, as we heard this morning, and recounted by prophets and sung in numerous psalms, among which the one we just sang. Every year to this day, at Passover, the story is told anew in households around the world. More than any other story in the Old Testament, this story defines our relationship with God. It is a story of the abundance of God: how the children of Israel were given clothing that did not wear out, food that never failed; and it is a story of God’s abundant willingness to forgive us over and over again, when we doubted, shunned and looked elsewhere for redemption and peace. This story has something that the earlier stories lacked: this is the story of relationship tested over time and proven to be true.

Moving forward to the first century, we have the story of the feeding of the five thousand. So significant is this story to our Christian story that all four Gospel writers include a version of the miraculous feeding of thousands. This story was for the early Christians and the newly forming church a defining story. The feeding of the five thousand identifies a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ in deeply important and meaningful ways; and since it is cast in the same mold as the earlier story, it would have easily resonated with the 1st century Jewish Christians who were this time hearing a story of God in the person of Jesus Christ doing exactly what God had done for their ancestors in the desert. And, importantly, the story is placed in the Gospel of Matthew immediately after Jesus’ long teaching about the Kingdom of God, which we have been hearing in the Gospel for the last few weeks. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed which starts out as the tiniest of seeds and becomes a huge bush; the kingdom is like a pearl of such great value that it is worth more than all you have; the kingdom of heaven is a net overflowing with fish. The feeding of the 5000 serves, therefore as the culmination of the Kingdom stories for it is in and of itself a kingdom moment – a moment when the kingdom is not merely proclaimed, but enacted – a moment when it becomes clear, beyond a reasonable shadow of a doubt that the kingdom of heaven has, in fact, broken in to the realm of man. And it shows us, in no uncertain terms, that the kingdom of God is abundant, abundant beyond our capability to imagine.

In the Gospel, we heard the disciples say, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food.” The disciples called the place where they had gathered ‘deserted,’ and yet there may have been as many as fifteen thousand people there, if you include the women and children – hardly what anyone could possibly call deserted. The disciples were looking at a world in terms of scarcity and saw only their own inability to care for the vast numbers of people gathered. They saw their resources as limited, failing to count as a resource the multitude of capable people there gathered and in what capacity they might be called upon to help provide for others. Jesus, on the other hand, knew about the abundance of God and was not overwhelmed by the seemingly insurmountable task at hand. Think about it, the disciples were not without provisions – provisions that they had carefully brought to this deserted place for themselves. Even if we were to dismiss the miracle of expanding those meager provisions into an abundant amount that would feed thousands, we have to allow ourselves to imagine that most of the people present would have been just as careful to provide for themselves as were the disciples; so calling upon the abundant nature of generosity, suddenly five loaves and two fish does turn into enough food to feed five thousand, a miracle by any standard. The story is really about the abundance of God’s love and care of those who put their faith and trust in the power of the kingdom of God. The story calls us to look at life from a perspective of abundance instead of scarcity, of enough instead of destitution. This is a defining event in the Christian story, for it tells the story of human ability and resourcefulness to take what we have and find in it God’s abundance. The disciples had no concept of their own true abilities, those inner resources which became the fuel enabling God’s miracle to be realized.

We live in a culture that promotes scarcity as a way of life. Think about it: we are told in countless ways that we never have enough. There is always a newer computer, the latest fashion, the larger house, the faster car. We can never get there, because there is always something more that we cannot have. We max out our credit to afford what we have because we do not have enough money at any given time to cover what we need. Our society thrives on promoting scarcity. And we, by and large, buy into it. And this prevents us from doing things that require risk, that require faith that what we need, though we cannot see it now, will be provided. Let me suggest that if the 15th century explorers had seen life through the scarcity model of today, they might never have had the courage to venture forth into the unknown. All of the great advances in human civilization were taken by people who were able to see abundance instead of scarcity.

But lest I leave you all feeling overwhelmed by the realization that we cannot all be great explorers and risk takers, there is just one more thing that I find especially striking in the gospel. Matthew tells us that when Jesus came ashore and saw the crowds, ‘he had compassion on them and cured their sick.’ Before the miracle, Jesus had compassion. Before the miracle, Jesus performed many little unmentioned miracles in all the sick people he made well. Before the miracle there was miracle. Perhaps that is where we best find ourselves in the story: in our ability to have compassion for one another who are in need and in realizing the abundance of little miracles that happen on a daily basis. Perhaps our story is being written still and we will find ourselves taking part in a miracle. Perhaps our defining story is yet to come, maybe it will be the day when all of us can look into the face of a gay brother or sister and know that we are the same; or when all of our homeless have enough to eat and a place to call home; or when we have really solved the problem of poverty and need on a global scale. Maybe our story intersects the two we heard today simply in our willingness to express abundance of goodness and love for one another when we greet each other in peace; and in our realization that the kingdom of God is in our midst when we gather at the same table to share bread and remember God’s abundant and everlasting love for us.

Many of us at Holy Innocents were out of town last week on vacation, but this sermon highlighted an idea that we continue to struggle with: the abundance model versus the scarcity model. If we are to go out in the world in peace to love and serve the Lord, we have to believe more in the abundance of God's love for us, rather than in the scarcity of our resources.

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May 02, 2005

In The Vineyard


Father Ted's sermon yesterday enlarged on the Gospel reading:
John 15:1-8

Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."

Father Ted told us how years ago in Texas he planted a vineyard and described the years of committment that took in terms of allowing for growth, forming, and pruning in order to balance the needs of the plant with the maximum amount of yield. Watch this space, as the full text of the sermon has been requested.

Although Fr. Ted's favorite grape to sample (and wine) is chardonnay, these are probably cabernet. The photo was taken on a trip last September to the Napa Valley. And yes, there's nothing sweeter than a perfectly ripe grape plucked off the vine and eaten on the spot. Some winegrowers encourage visitors to do this by providing "tasting" vines; stopping at random in the wine country and tasting grapes without checking in at the winery first is not recommended.

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March 13, 2005

Holy Week And Easter - The Triduum


Lent concludes at the beginning of the Maundy Thursday Liturgy. The Maundy Thursday Liturgy, the Good Friday Liturgy, and the Easter Vigil/Easter Day Liturgies all together are actually one liturgical observance called the Triduum (Three-day celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ). Our celebration of the Resurrection finds its most full expression when we together walk with our Lord through the events of Holy Week.

Maundy Thursday: washing the feet of his disciples. Jesus instituting the Holy Eucharist at his Last Supper. Watching with Jesus in the garden.

Good Friday: Standing with Jesus before Pilate. Walking the way of the cross with Jesus. Standing with Jesus at the Cross. Watching as his body is taken down, wrapped in a shroud, and carried to the tomb.

Holy Saturday: Waiting

Easter Vigil and Easter Day: The Lord is Risen! The Lord is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Please make every effort to join our yoked congregations in each of the services of Holy Week and Easter, so that we might together celebrate the fullness of the Resurrection.


Fr. Ted

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