Sunday, December 30, 2012

First Sunday After Christmas

On this Sunday, I pondered what it might mean to make a place in our lives for the Christ-child. An image that came to mind was one of "child-proofing" --- the way one might do in their own home when they bring a child into the world. What might that look like as we prepare a place for the Child who's birth we honor and commemorate.  Here are those thoughts as delivered to Trinity Church (Jeffers/Ennis, MT).

You can find it at:

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Life in Balance

Never regret anything that has happened in your life; it cannot be changed, undone, or forgotten. So take it as a lesson learned and move on. – Steve Dropkin

I got up this morning and discovered my size has changed. So has my shape. What happened? The holidays? The feasts?

Actually, nothing changed. That’s the problem; I have always been on a See-Food diet which, as you may know, means that when I see food I eat it. That’s what it is there for, isn’t it?

So, here we are, back at the end of an old year with a new one staring us down through blood-shot eyes, daring us to make this the year things will be different; this will be the year we finally stop intending to make changes, and actually start making those changes.

It seems so hard, but is it? The hardest part at first seems to be getting the world to cooperate. As I sit here enjoying my coffee, I’ve got three cherry cordials (courtesy of a loving neighbor) just waiting to make my life a bit sweeter; I’ve got an unopened box of nut-covered chocolates (an expensive variety – from a kind and thoughtful parishioner) sitting quietly on the side, prepared to provide an emergency dose of sucrose if the event my blood sugar drops dangerously low; and I have a 2/3 finished tin of popcorn varieties to handle any salt cravings I may have during the upcoming bowl games.

So you see … it isn’t my fault!

Still, it may not be my fault, but making healthy changes is my responsibility. It has been about six decades since anyone actually put food into my mouth. No one has had to pretend the spoonful of gruel is a planeload of passengers coming in for a landing.

The Bible teaches us that there is more to life than food; that there is more to being a human being than our bodies, and yet our bodies are very much a part of what it means to be human. We know hunger, we know cold, we know thirst, and we know pain.

It would be a mistake to ignore our bodies for the sake of focusing solely on spiritual development or improving our minds. A life in balance must examine every aspect of what it means to be human: to care for our bodies, to nurture our soul (by which I mean the intellect, will, and emotions), and to improve our conscious contact with God (which is what I mean when referring to one’s spiritual development).

So with 2013 knocking at the door, what will I do? Will I continue life on auto-pilot and hope for the best, or will I finally take responsibility for becoming less of a body and more of a person?

The answer should be self-evident. The advantage of turning the page on the calendar is that it puts a clean line separating what was from what is and from what is yet to come. There is something quite satisfying with making a decision and moving forward. It doesn’t mean we regret our past; on the contrary, we embrace it for being part of the fabric of our lives.

Our past is quite helpful. It provides us with the experience to make better decisions. What gives us wisdom and experience? A life of making bad and unwise decisions, but that’s OK, for that which does not kills us makes us stronger (Nietzsche). So, we move forward; we make changes; we become the person God always knew we could become – and isn’t that comforting?

So, with 2013 just around the corner, don’t think about resolutions. Set a reasonable goal or two and develop a plan that will help you get there. Identify one or two stupid things you would like to stop doing, and start doing them less often. Don’t beat yourself up when you slip. Just pick up and start over again.

In that way, you will begin to see your size changing – whether the size of your body, ego, soul, or spirit. It is going to change one way or another. All you need to do is figure out in what direction you want it to go, point your nose in that direction, and move.

At least that’s what I think in this, our valley.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Developing a Place to Start

The start is what stops most people. – Don Shula

Earlier this week I was on my way into the church for a breakfast meeting and heard the hooting of a nearby owl. I looked up and found the bird perched atop the cross. As luck would have it, I had my camera in hand, so after dropping my bags off in the parish hall I stepped outside and looked for a decent vantage point from which to take my shot.

I set the camera as best I could for the early morning darkness and fired off a couple of quick snaps before the bird flew away. I never could get him or her to look at me straight on, but the composition wasn’t bad.

I transferred the pictures onto my computer and noticed that one was definitely out of focus, while the others had focused satisfactorily. Unfortunately, the lighting wasn’t good, and so the pictures are mediocre at best.

That’s the problem with being a snap-shooting photographer. I can take snapshots, and some are passably nice to look at, but I am certainly not a professional. I can point and click, but no one working for National Geographic will ever fear for their job with me on the hunt.

I would like to be a photographer – not at a money-making level – but I would like to be able to see a scene and record it with sufficient aplomb to know I got what I wanted, and not just “cross my fingers and hope for the best”.

So, what stops me from improving my skills?

The “start” is what stops me.

I looked at my camera’s basic operating manual, and while the words appear to be English, I don’t know what they’re telling me. I don’t need a book, you see; I need a guide or a mentor. I need someone with skills and experience who can walk me through the various disciplines of photography and show me, not just how a camera works, but the whys and wherefores of the craft’s light and magic.

The good news is that there are people like that. I have them in church. I have them for neighbors. They are also available in the local school’s adult education program. The resources are all around me. The sole limitation is my getting from “want to” to the “doing”. I need to stop stalling out at the start.

It seems that much of life is like that. Many of us have things we say we want to do; places we want to go; and people we want to meet, but we can’t seem to get past the start. We want to weigh less; it is far easier to simply stay off the scale than to start watching what we eat, or to start exercising more.

We want to retire as millionaires, but we can’t save money as long as there’s a rifle we’ve always wanted, or that sweet pair of boots, shiny new truck, or super computer sitting on the shelf.

Getting past the start – that’s where so many of us get stuck, but as someone once said, “The main cause for failure and unhappiness is trading what you want most for what you want at the moment.”

Maybe we need to find the gumption to delay momentary gratification long enough to let the urge pass, and then to take the steps necessary to accomplish what we really want.

Maybe, instead of putting together a wish list for Christmas, we could put together an action list. It doesn’t have to be a bucket list, but hopefully it will get you beyond the pail (pun intended).

Maybe I will sign up for that photography class after all – then see what develops in this, our valley.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Advent 2

The lessons for Advent 2 focus on Peace. In this sermon, I talk about how our peace is to be found in the God who desires to bring us home, who desires to spend eternity with us (and us with God), and how God able to bring sanity into a world that is chaotic and adversarial to change.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Life is a Trip

Life is a Trip

Sooner or later we must realize there is no station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip. – Robert Hastings

Every now and then the well runs dry.

I’ve never lived on a farm, so I’ve virtually no experience with wells. I have neither dug a well nor had one dug; I’ve never dipped a bucket into a well, nor have I primed or jacked a pump. I have seen them on television and in movies, and I know about them in theory, but in practice, I am (or would be) a novice.

Still, what I know about wells is that if you don’t use them, they will dry up. And if you use them too much, they will dry up. A friend of mine who DID grow up on a farm says they had a well at one time, but when they hooked up to city water they covered it up for safety and also so they would have a water supply for emergencies. It turns out that after a few months, their old well was empty. Apparently, if you take nothing out, nothing will be drawn in.

The past few weeks this well (pointing to self) has run dry. I have put pen to paper and finger to keyboard, but nothing has come out. I have been told this does happen to people from time to time, and there certainly are times when I haven’t got much to say – but that’s never stopped me from filling 18 column inches in the local paper or 15 minutes of air time on Sundays, either! When duty calls, I have always been able to suit up and show up, for better or for worse.

But the past few weeks, the brain has just gone off on some flight of fancy. It is my hope it will return refreshed and renewed, but what if it doesn’t? What then?

Examining my life these past few months, I’ve discovered that I have actually been putting a lot of time into the mindless mundanery of life. I’ve been running on auto-pilot, not because I want to, but simply because that’s where the switch got flipped some time back while I was puttering along. It happens.

So, has anything changed?

I think so. First of all, I have become aware of the spiritual doldrums that have settled over me. No wind, no progress. A ship needs wind currents to make progress. When the wind stops, what can you do? You may sit and wait for it to return. If the wind doesn’t rise as expected or when needed, then one may simply row over to where he or she may find the wind making waves.

What exactly does that mean?

For me, it means changing directions. Rather than sitting passively by, I look for places where the wind is blowing. For me, that place is often found in books – books written by authors I appreciate and admire, and whose spirits and creativity restore me to life. They aren’t always “religious” books. In fact (don’t tell anyone), but they are more often than not, quite secular.

I don’t do pulp fiction, but I sometimes need a good novel – a story that will draw me into another world, time, and place. When I dip into something I know – in this case, words and stories – I find refreshment for my soul.

And that, I think, is the key to pulling out of the doldrums. Dip into something you know and just paddle slowly, quietly, rhythmically, and purposefully. You may find a breeze come up quite quickly and unexpectedly; other times it may take a lot of paddling, but that’s OK. It takes what it takes, and what’s the big hurry anyway?

There’s no problem pouring out one’s soul and spirit onto paper or onto a computer screen as long as one remembers to replenish their supply. Find people, places, and projects that give you life, and pass it on. It will make one “well” of a difference in your journey in and through this, our valley.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Bible Sunday

Fr. Keith compares and contrasts several different visions of how the Bible can be read and understood, and suggests some ideas on how one might read the scriptures both faithfully and effectively.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Bartimaeus Sees the Kingdom!

Do you ever wonder if God hears you when you talk and pray? I wonder if God wonders if we listen to him when HE talks! Fr. Keith tells the story of Bartimaeus, who not only listened to Jesus, but when asked what he wanted, asked Jesus to restore his sight, and when his ability to see was restored, did not go away, but followed Jesus instead.

This video was recorded at St. Paul's, Virginia City.
Many thanks to my good friend (and parishioner) Bill Bennett, who stepped in to serve
as cameraman. He is a parable of the kingdom in action!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Founded on Service

Fr. Keith examines the story of two disciples (James and John) who want the best spots in the world to come. Jesus assures them they will experience everything the kingdom of heaven has to offer, but what is most important is not seating arrangements, but being of service.

Sermon Preached from Mark 10:35-45 (Proper 24) at Trinity (Jeffers).

Video may be found at:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

It has been a while

It has been a while since I last updated my blog, so I thought I would post my sermon from last week. It was delivered by Pam Boone at Trinity and Bill Bennett at St. Paul's. I was at the Diocesan Convention in Helena last weekend, so I couldn't deliver it in person. ;-)

A Gift From the Heart
The Rev. Keith F. Axberg, Rector
Proper 23 ~ October 14, 2012

This is a Sermon based on
Mark 10:17 – 27 (28 – 31)

Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Over the years, I have received many gifts.
You have seen me wear a Canterbury Cross;
It was a gift to me
From the Downriver Clericus
When we left the Diocese of Michigan
To move out to California.

I have a traveling Communion Kit
That I use for home and hospital visits,
That was a gift from Church of the Redeemer in Republic (WA)
            When I left there to serve the church in Michigan some 20 years ago.

I have a college class ring was a Christmas gift from Barb a few years back, which she gave me to replace one that had been lost or stolen some years earlier. Each gift is, obviously, replaceable.

If you do some searching, you can find Canterbury Crosses in gold, silver, stainless steel, and other metals; you can find Communion kits in church supply catalogues; you can find class rings at jewelry stores and college campus sites around the country (and on the internet itself, of course).

And yet each of these gifts I’ve talked about is irreplaceable, because they didn’t come from catalogues or stores, but from the heart of the giver of the gift.
The best gifts are the ones that come from the heart.

Over time, we receive a lot of gifts that really aren’t. When we first moved to Fresno, we received a lot of gifts from people wanting to sell us water softeners.

Hi.  We’re so and so from such and such. We want to welcome you to the neighborhood! We have a gift for you, and would like to spend just a few minutes getting acquainted.”

One guy came by and didn’t even have the gift!

He gave us a certificate, instead, and told us we could come down to the office to pick up the gift, (Some sort of stove top cooker) …
“But call first and make sure they’ve got them,” he said.

Another water softener company called, offering to test our water and bring us a “Welcome to the neighborhood gift”.

I told her we had just installed a water softener, but I would be happy to have the water tested.

“Well, that would be a waste of our time, now, wouldn’t it?” she said.
I said, “Does that mean we don’t get the gift?” And she hung up!

Some gifts really aren’t gifts; they come with strings attached.

“Here’s a gift; I’d like you to do me a favor…”

That’s not a gift; it’s a bribe; it’s an incentive; it’s an inducement.

There’s nothing wrong with buying and selling. There’s nothing wrong with engaging in business. I just don’t want you to call something a gift, if it is really a wedge designed to part you from your money – or me from mine – or to part us from our time, or our energy. Just be honest about it.
In the Gospel today, we’ve got a man who’s wrestling with the truth:
            The truth about God, and the truth about himself.
Like Willy Nelson, Jesus is back on the road again, and a man runs up to him, kneels, and asks him:

Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

The first thing I want you to notice is that he’s running.

In that culture, Rich people don’t run; Rulers don’t run.
They send servants to do their running.
They send servants to do their bidding.
For this young man to run to Jesus tells us something.
He’s ignoring protocol.
He’s ignoring custom.
He is shameless.

There is no way you can run in a long robe without hitching it up and exposing your legs (Which is something, in the culture of the ancient near east, a man would simply not be seen doing).

When Jairus came to Jesus, when his daughter was dying,
Mark tells us “he came to Jesus.”

Even though his daughter was dying, he didn’t run.
He came personally … the issue was THAT was important.
He didn’t send a servant,
            But neither did he run despite the gravity of the situation.

Culture affects us … all of us. We are creatures of our world.
We’re not immune from doing what the world tells us to do, or behaving in a manner the world tells us we ought to behave.

But this young man has heard something or has seen something in Jesus that has him all excited.

Jesus is moving on, and in the story we’ve just heard, it’s as if this young lad has just come to his senses and realized that the time to strike is now!

It’s like when you’re sitting at home and watching TV,
And all of a sudden you see one of those
Once in a lifetime opportunities to buy something,”
And if you call right now, they’ll throw in that wonderful set of Ginsu knives

You scramble through the house trying to find a pencil and paper so you can write down the 800 number and be one of the first thousand callers to call in the next 10 minutes … “While Supplies last!”

Well, maybe it’s not quite like that,
But you get the idea.
You’ve got the opportunity of a lifetime to do something, to go somewhere, or to buy something, and you just can’t wait.

When the i-Phone 5 was coming out,
People lined up for days,
Camping outside the Apple stores to be FIRST
To part with 200, 300, 500 bucks (or whatever it was);
They just couldn’t wait.

And that’s what it was like for this rich young ruler:
            Jesus, better than Ginsu … Got to have it!

But there’s the problem.
He’s got to HAVEit.”

He’s rich.
He’s young.
He’s impetuous.
And he’s got to have it.
And he’s got to have it … NOW!

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he asks.
You know, someone’s got to die for you to inherit something.

Jesus often talks about the kingdom of God as something that is “breaking in …” not as something we inherit.

The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed,
Which starts off ever so small,
And yet it grows into a wonderful, fragrant bush,
            Where birds can build their nests, and people can find some shelter from the heat of the sun. The kingdom of God is like that.

Or: The kingdom of God is like a field,
Ripe for harvest and ready for workers.

Or like a pearl so valuable it is worth selling all you have in order that you may have it for yourself!

He does not talk here about the kingdom of God as something to be grasped, earned, or purchased; but as the Spirit of God reaching out and housing us instead, or putting us to work instead, or grabbing us instead!

It is the Spirit of God working in us – that’s the kingdom of God! Says Jesus.

But Jesus loves the impetuosity of youth.
As a teacher might say,
            Here is a teachable moment.”

First of all, Why do you call me good? Only God is good,” He says.

In other words, Jesus is gently, politely saying,
“You don’t need to flatter me or patronize me.
It doesn’t work, and it isn’t necessary.”

I like that.

God wants us to be honest with him.

We don’t NEED to get on our knees and say, “O God, I’m not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from under thy table.”
God knows we’re not; God knows the state of our hearts and minds. It’s good to be humble, but we don’t need to be obsequious about it.

So Jesus says, First, let’s be honest with one another.

“Second, you know what you’re supposed to do, don’t you?
You know right from wrong, don’t you? 
“You know the commandments?
            Do not murder,
            Do not commit adultery,
            Do not steal,
Do not give false testimony,
Do not defraud,
Honor your father and mother.”
Notice that Jesus changed one commandment.
He doesn’t say, “Do not covet.”
He says, “Do not defraud.”

The point is that coveting probably isn’t this lad’s problem, but fraud is.

It is as if Jesus is saying,
When you get so rich that you don’t see the pain,
            you don’t see the hunger,
            and you don’t see the loneliness of those around you,
It is very easy to begin to think that you are possibly better than you probably are,
            and that you deserve most (if not all) of what you have,
            and to use your power,
                        Not for the good of everyone,
                        But as leverage to gain even more.

This is NOT to say that money is bad, or that being rich is a terrible thing.

In fact, most people do not and would not consider themselves rich. Do you notice how so many politicians play up their humble beginnings? They’ll tell you they were all born in log cabins, if you ask them.
By third world standards, we are rich, but we don’t think of ourselves as being rich, and as much as a million dollars may sound like, it doesn’t take many lottery winners very long to blow through a million bucks.

Part of our nature – part of our human nature – is to think of life in terms of scarcity, and that’s where the rich young man was.

“I’ve got enough for this life. How do I inherit the next life? How do I make SURE I’VE GOT MY PLACE at the head table when Messiah comes? I have done EVERYTHING I was supposed to do. Did I miss anything?”

And then we get that wonderful line:
“Jesus looked at him and loved him.”

It would be very easy to look at this kid and to write him off, but Jesus loved him, and when you love someone, you tell them the truth.

“One thing you lack,” he said.

This man who has everything, lacks one thing (AS DO WE ALL)!

Each of us has something – or a lot of things – that stand between us and eternal life, and the fact is, there’s nothing we can do to buy it,            earn it, or to deserve it.

What did the rich man lack? Was it honesty? Was it charity?

Jesus identified one deficit:
            The young man had no need for God.

The only thing we inherit in life are genes and property (and maybe some behaviors).

Maybe Jesus saw or heard something that told him the rich young man simply wanted to add God to his collection of knick knacks.

“Until you need God,” said Jesus, “You’ll never really be able to go where I am going.”

Salvation is not our doing, but discovering our dependence on God, and divesting our lives of the stuff that owns us …

that is what will free us to follow God, and serve him freely and faithfully
the rest of our lives.

The young man went away heavy hearted, for he was a rich man, and had a lot of stuff, and he couldn’t bring himself to let it go.

Doesn’t that affect us, as well? Don’t we want to inherit eternal life? Don’t we crave a place at God’s table?

If you are here, I hope it is because you want what Jesus had.

Jesus left home so that he could share the vision of the kingdom that God had given him. He did not think about it as losing his home, or business, or family; Instead, he thought of it as gaining the whole world. Letting go of things, he was able to bring the whole world into his loving embrace. He was able to pick up where Adam and Eve had left off – taking care of the Garden that God had given him.

If you want what Jesus had, ask him the same question the young man asked. Ask Jesus: What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Then listen to what Jesus says to you. Let Jesus look into your heart and tell you what needs to change, and then ask yourself: Am I willing to give that up? If you are willing, you will have received a marvelous gift: you will have received an opportunity to take a major step, falling in with Jesus and his band of merry men, women, and children – and finding refreshment in this crazy oasis we call Church. It is God’s gift, so costly, yet so freely given. Enjoy it, and share it, in Jesus’ Name – for it is a gift from the heart. Amen.