One Commandment

Jesus began to speak to them in parables. ‘A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watch-tower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him and beat parable9-wicked-tenantshim and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But those tenants said to one another, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. (Mark 12:1-8)

Today’s parable is not fiction. Most often, a parable is. That’s the definition: a story that conveys a spiritual truth. But today’s parable has been enacted over and over again, most recently in Kansas City, where three people were shot to death this week in a Jewish community center and a Jewish retirement home, one day before the start of the Passover.  Ironically, the victims were Christians, but their deaths reecall so many Jewish deaths, in so many places, even, in the events we remember this week, in Jerusalem.

The story Jesus tells is simple enough, but at its heart lies the ultimate form of spiritual sickness. Not the selfishness of the tenants, nor their reluctance to pay the landowner (who stands in for God) what they owe, but a bitter root of rage that leads us to think that our lives are somehow blighted if some other person or group of people is allowed to exist, as if the sun that shines on me will be paler and less golden if it also shines on one other person who lives and breathes on this earth.

The terms God gives us are simple enough: love one another, which means, give one another life, as God has given it to you. Tomorrow, we will come to Maundy Thursday. We will gather and eat; we will share Holy Communion; we will wash one another’s feet; and then we will go, together, to wait in a garden, a garden in which a man beloved of God was cut down and betrayed, one day before the Passover.

That man, Jesus, died so that others would not have to. He paid the price for all of us, so that we might freely live. Those who corrupt that teaching and use his death as an excuse to kill others — Jews, Muslims, blacks, whites, women, men, gay people, Klan members, anyone at all — have fallen so far from the truth that they have utterly lost sight of Christ’s face.

That does not obliterate the work and death and grace of Christ. Rather, God works through our very confusion and sin to bring about God’s purposes. The psalmist writes, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

God does what God wills. But that does not vindicate us or excuse our refusal to walk in God’s ways. What God has asked of us is so very little: love one another.  Is that really so hard to do?


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Faith and the Workplace

I had in mind a Cup on the BCP rubrics about fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but something came up. As I was getting ready to leave for Parish Cleanup day last Saturday, I first looked through the Washington Post. By far the best reason to have read it that day was an essay in the Metro section by the Post’s movie critic, Ann Hornaday. Readership of papers like the Post had declined a lot in the past few years. Of the 10 units on our floor in our condo, only two of us subscribe. So the other eight all missed it; perhaps many of you did too. That is why I’ve chosen to use this Cup to share it with you. Perhaps next week I’ll still remember what I had in mind about the BCP rubrics on fasting.

A few years ago St. Alban’s had some workshops on Faith and Work. I think those who participated in those sessions will especially appreciate Ann’s essay. It’s a perfect statement of how for one Episcopalain Sunday morning carries over into the workweek.

I herewith share Ann’s essay with you by way of this link. Anything else I might say by way of commentary would only diminish it, so I will not add anything except “Thank you, Ann. Well done.” If you are interested in seeing some comments from readers, just google “ann hornaday christian surprise”.

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC 15-April-2014.

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It’s Holy Monday, Jesus: Sign Here

When the nitroglycerin had alleviated the pain, pain that I remember as feeling like someone had plunged a pair of vice grips into my chest and was ripping apart the cartilage connecting my ribs to my sternum, a stunningly gritty looking ER doctor came to me with a clipboard and said, “Jim, we need you to sign this form.  Because 20130703162514_Post It Sign Here-1you don’t have time to read the form I’ll summarize it for you:  It basically says that the procedure we are about to employ might kill you.  But you also need to know that if you do not sign this form you are going to die. I’d suggest that you…”

Yesterday the church celebrated Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  As described in the bible the scene was magnificent and, despite the obvious and symbolic humility of his ride, befitted a King: “Hosanna to the son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  Translate: Save us, son of David!  Jesus came into Jerusalem as the celebrated son of David, the one to save, the Messiah.  After a ministry of overturning expectations, Jesus was still misunderstood.  The expectation and excitement of the crowds, as most understand to be the case, was that Jesus was the one who would finally save the people of the Temple from the iron rod of Roman rule once and for all.

The next day, Holy Monday (Megali Deftera) Jesus defies all the expectations.  After what must have been a prayerful night back in Bethany, a night that I imagine must have been plagued with decisions almost as challenging as the ones he’d later face in Gethsemane, Jesus wakes and in a matter of hours shows that he has not come to overthrow Roman rule, per say, but rather to clean the house.  God’s house.  After the early morning cursing of a fig tree (a symbol for Israel) Jesus goes back to the Temple, enters it and in a fit of rage overturns the tables of the moneychangers declaring that the people had turned God’s house of prayer into a den of robbers.  Whatever expectations were at play on Sunday were stripped away on Monday; in a matter of hours Sunday’s savior had become Monday’s judge…  and Jesus’ behavior had now confounded everybody.

By Monday morning Jesus certainly knew that the procedure he was about to employ might just kill him.  He also must have known that if he didn’t follow through with what he came to do he’d die another kind of death – the death of a hypocritical life lived without meaning or conviction causing, as he put it himself, “the forfeit of one’s soul.”

On Sunday night, albeit with some controversy (what election doesn’t have its detractors?) Jesus could have inherited the royal crown from a long list of Davidic Kings and by the end of the evening, in accordance with Tanakh, his head would have been anointed with holy oil.  As it was by Monday evening (six days before the passover) Jesus is at the home of Lazarus and his feet, not his head, are anointed with pure nard.   The day begins with hypocrisy and ends with purity; the man who could have been a king is about to become our savior, and he realizes that his condition will cost him not less than everything.

Let us Pray:

Assist us mercifully with your help, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and
immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Megali Deftera,


Posted in The Rev. Jim Quigley | Tagged | 1 Comment

Hearts, Hands, Hammers: Proclaiming the Good News

A couple of weeks ago I was visiting the youth group classes on Sunday morning after the 9:15 a.m. service and stopped in to spend some time with the Sr. Youth Group (the group that went on pilgrimage to Wales last year as J2A-ers).  This group has spent the whole year preparing for the upcoming May confirmation service at the cathedral.  They have spent the last four months dissecting the Baptismal Covenant, particularly looking at the questions asked on BCP p. 304-5.


As I  entered the room they were hot in the midst of a conversation about proclaiming the Good News–what IS the Good News; do we believe it; how do we even proclaim the Good News; are we any good at proclaiming what we believe…do people believe us when we talk about our faith?   Could we proclaim the good news with the actions of our lives?  Could we, say, proclaim the good news by swinging a hammer helping to rehab a house for a family in need?


The gospel passage for today, assigned to the Feast of George Augustus Selwyn, Bishop of New Zealand and Lichfield, is Matthew 10:7-16.  Jesus is in the midst of telling his disciples how they should be, act, and what they should do as he sends them out into the world, proclaiming the good news.


ASP Logo

For the past three summers, St. Alban’s has sent out into the world members of our Sr. Youth Group (and this year also our J2A Group) to be missioners and bringers of that good news to our poorest brothers and sisters in Appalachia.  The group has worked with  Appalachia Service Project (ASP) an organization that, for over 40 years now, has helped tens of thousands of families repair their homes.  Groups of volunteers from across the country come every summer and work on construction projects like repairing roofs (two years ago one of our groups built a roof truss system that went over the top of a double wide trailer with a leaking roof), installing insulation, fixing floors, building handicapped access ramps, shoring up foundations, and a host of other construction projects.  All of the construction materials used in these projects are bought locally, virtually all from small independent hardware stores and lumber yards, giving even more to the communities where ASP serves.

ASP 2012

The April Mustard Seed Offering, collected this coming Sunday (Palm Sunday) has been designated to help provide funds for the St. Alban’s ASP Mission Trip.   A portion of the funds will go towards helping fund our large groups transportation to our site in Greene County, Tennessee.  The larger portion will be used to help purchase the much-needed building supplies that will be used to help repair over a dozen families’ homes.  We hope to raise $6,000 to provide warm, safe, and dry homes for those we will serve this summer.


The poverty rates in central Appalachia are almost double that of the rest of the nation and about one in four families lives below the poverty line.  Nearly half of the families in the communities that ASP serves have an annual household income of less than $20,000 per year.  ASP estimates that there are over 62,500 homes that are substandard in central Appalachia.  The need clearly is great.


Last year 16,000 youth and adult volunteers helped repair over 550 homes in central Appalachia, and since its founding in 1969 over 300,000 volunteers have helped to repair over 15,000 families’ homes.  On June 15 our largest group yet (13 youth and 4 adults) will leave St. Alban’s and become missioners for a week.  We will go forth bringing the Good News to our brothers and sisters in Tennessee.    Thank you, in advance, for your generosity which will help us proclaim the Good News with our hearts, our hands and hammers.




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The Art of Church

A friend reminded me a few days ago of the quote, attributed to St. Francis,

Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.

No matter who actually said it, and there’s consensus that Francis didn’t, the idea that God’s truth can be communicated without words is a meaningful idea to any musician or visual artist who is trying to do just that. Not that words aren’t important, but the realm of the non-verbal attracts me just as much, and intentionally incorporating the arts into church – hardly a new concept – is in the air. There have been several articles lately on the topic, and yes, they represent more words to talk about non-verbal communication. I do see the irony, but frankly, St. Francis, or whoever is quoted above, seems just a tad…well…preachy.  We needs words, actions…and art.

Michael Gerson in The Washington Post last Sunday wrote about a couple of current movies he found rather artless, and comes to some conclusions about what does and doesn’t lead to “good religious art”. It doesn’t “shape a fantasy world to conform to pious platitudes,“ he says. He hopes for more “good art by religious people” that “finds hints of grace among the ruins of broken lives.” “Art is truly religious only when it is fully human,“ he continues as he decries the cardboard characters he finds in some current ideas about religious art in popular culture.

And there is an article in a recent issue of The Economist that explores one corner of successful religious art, the famed Compline service at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle. Read the article   “Old Times, New Age” looks at the ancient, chant-based service there, which draws hundreds of mostly young adults because, as one researcher believes, “everything else in their lives is shifting. A liturgy that’s changed only modestly in 2,000 years, and music that goes so far back as to be unconnected to any musical movements in their or their parents’ lifetimes, gives them a sense of being anchored in something lasting.”

Then there’s the recent posting on the Episcopal News Service about the cathedral in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and other churches around the country, that are creating art studios and galleries in their spaces as a way of reaching into their communities, connecting the parishes to the doubters, seekers, and disinterested around them, and finding ways to help people experience God’s word, without words. Visual Arts Forge Connections

These are random pieces of evidence, but the fact that these disparate sources are finding it worth column inches to even discuss the connection between church and artistic expression is a verbal nod, I think, to our need for non-verbal forms of spirituality.


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images-2At some level, I think, we are all seeking to return home — either to the home we remember, or to the one we always longed to have.

When I was a child, my father and his best friend owned a house in Vermont where I spent many of the happiest weeks of my childhood. The house was the center of a community; each year, twelve people would buy memberships, which meant that there was always a crowd of people around, cooking together, eating together, talking together, playing music and laughing and doing the dishes and just sharing their time. For me, the memory of that house is bound up with the memory of those people. It was beautiful.

I recognized that place in a paragraph from Tolkien, who wrote,  “Sam led [Frodo] along several passages and down many steps and out into a high garden above the steep bank of a river. He found his friends sitting in a porch on the side of the house looking east. Shadows had fallen in the valley 800px-XN_Kerascoetbelow, but there was still a light on the faces of the mountains above. The air was warm…and the evening was filled with a faint scent of trees and flowers, as if summer still lingered in [the] gardens.”*

For many people, church is that place: the place where your friends are talking in quiet voices, the place where there is always a chair waiting for you to sit in it, the place where you can always feel you have come home. We need places like that. Our lives — so busy, so filled with work that must be done, tasks that much be accomplished, people who must be cared for — can leave us frayed and empty. We need to come to the well and be filled.

If that were all there were to Christianity, it would be the easiest faith on earth. But from the start of his relationship with the people of Israel, God has constantly called us to leave our homes, to leave the places of our security, and to go out and be a blessing to the world. That is why the church is not only a community, but a community with a mission. We who have the privilege of resting within these friendly walls do not get to remain here forever. It is in the very act of going through the doors and into the world, of meeting strangers and working with difficult people and seeking to do what good we can that we live into the fulness of what our home promises: a home that is large enough to welcome each person, broken or bruised or joyful as they may be.

Next week is Holy Week. It is the last week of Jesus’ life, the week in which we see the cost that was paid to give us the freedom and forgiveness and welcome that we treasure. As  you enter it, think of the people you know who most need what we have. Hold them in your prayers. Cradle images-3them like holy stones within your hands. And when we have finished our rites and wondered as Christ sets his face to the Cross, seek him outside our walls also, in all those who do not seek out their cross, because it is imposed upon them. They, too, are God’s children. They, too, need a home: your prayers, your kindness, your grace. It may be the most valuable gift anyone ever gives them.


*The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter 1.


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The Ellipse

It was a beautiful spring day: warm and clear and bright. I had gone from the Senate Office Building where I worked to the new Executive Office Building near the White House to try to negotiate obtaining something my committee needed from OMB (the Office of Management and Budget). I eventually was successful, but not that day.

I headed back in a dark mood; head down, grumbling to myself. Grrr. I decided to walk over to Constitution Avenue to hop a Metrobus, just to calm down. As I walked through the Ellipse, I saw him – stretched out on the grass on his back, just soaking up some rays – not a care in the world. I knew him. I had known him for years from bringing him breakfast one Sunday morning a month as part of the St. Paul’s, K St, Grate Patrol.

As I walked past him in his blissful relaxation in the sun and I in my dark mood, I thought “One of us has the wrong idea about how to live, and it might be me.”

I think it is no accident that the prayer “For Joy in God’s Creation” is the very first one in the BCP section of Prayers and Thanksgivings. I try to keep it in mind now.

“O heavenly Father, who has filled the world with beauty: Open our eyes to behold your gracious hand in all your works; that, rejoicing in your whole creation, we may learn to serve you with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 8-April-2014.

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