August 16, 2015 – The Rev. James Richardson

Thank you for bringing us home.

Please let me introduce you to Lori, my wife, my partner, my best friend.

We are thrilled to be back in our home territory of Northern California, and we are thrilled to be in this beautiful church.

We are thrilled to be with you.

To be here in Sonoma County is like a dream, and I am still pinching myself to make sure it real.

And I am thrilled to be your priest and pastor.

Today I would like to introduce myself, and tell you a little bit of my story. I hope you will introduce yourself, and share your story in the days ahead.

I’m going to preach a little too today, but not too much. That is part of how you will get to know me and my approach to being your “priest-in-charge.”

By the way, I’m still figuring out exactly what that title means. I hope we will figure this out together.

I want to get to know you and learn all of your names, but it will take time. There are quite a few of you and only one of me.

As we get to know each other, please be patient with me. I will make mistakes.

But I promise I will give you my all. No doubt I will do a few things differently than you are used to, but please be patient with me on this as well.

Let’s be patient with each other.

To tell you a little about me, I am a native Californian; my parents both grew up in Oakland and they met at Cal.

I do need to mention that my mother died last Sunday while we were on the road getting here. She was 90 and very frail; she died peacefully in her sleep, but regretfully, we did not get here in time.

My mother was Episcopalian, and my father Methodist. He did the smart thing and joined my mother’s church.

I grew up going to church pretty much every Sunday. My parents saw to that.

Something else you should know about me: I was born with physical disabilities in both my legs, spine and right hip. I spent the first year of my life at Children’s Hospital in Oakland.

As I was growing up, I had to wear leg braces for the first several years of my life, including to school. You will notice that I still walk with a pronounced limp.

I don’t notice it but you probably will.

I consider this part of my life to be a blessing because it has given me antenna for noticing people who are on the margins.

I am mostly a product of Bay Area public schools. We had a brief interlude on the East Coast when my dad took a job in New York. After finishing high school in the East, I scurried west to UCLA where I graduated in the mid-1970s.

I spent the better part of my adult life working for newspapers as a reporter, and met Lori when we were at The Sacramento Bee. She was an editor and I was a political reporter working in the state Capitol Bureau.

In the late 1980s, we joined Trinity Cathedral in Sacramento. One thing led to another, and in the mid-1990s, I felt called to the priesthood.

I resigned from my job at The Sacramento Bee and went off to our Episcopal seminary in Berkeley, the Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

I graduated in 2000, and I was ordained by Bishop Jerry Lamb of our Diocese of Northern California.

After ordination, I returned to Trinity Cathedral on the clergy staff where I served for six years under Don Brown, the dean of the cathedral.

After Don retired, I left the cathedral.

I served as the interim rector of All Souls Parish in Berkeley for a year before I was called as Rector of St. Paul’s Memorial Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, where we have been the last seven years.

St. Paul’s is a large, vibrant and inclusive parish with a special ministry to the University of Virginia.

At some point, I will tell you how it is that Bishop Beisner asked me to return to Northern California and to be with you in this wonderful parish. I am very grateful to our bishop for making this possible.

My friends, we are about to embark together on a journey of faith. I know that the metaphor “journey” is quite overused, and really, all of us have been on a journey for quite a long time, each in our own way.

Today our journeys join on this path, and we will be on this path together for however long we are meant to walk together.

I know this congregation has been through many twists and turns on this path in the last couple of years. You’ve weathered the storms, and you are stronger for it. You know how to navigate the rocks in the road.

Thank you for your faithfulness to this parish and this Episcopal Church.

In the weeks and months and years ahead, I pray we will pause frequently to give thanks for the many blessings bestowed upon us.

I hope we will deepen our understanding of how God is present with us, and I hope we will find new strength and new courage to be servants to the world around us.

To us is no less the urgent calling to heal this planet. But we are far from alone in this mission.

We are called to be a worshipping community, to pray together, to celebrate together and share in the bread that is ours forever.

This morning, we hear a passage from the Gospel of John that points us toward this mission that we share.

The language, though, is obtuse at best, and at worst, easily misunderstood.

In fact, when the Romans heard passages like this one – “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them”– what do you think they concluded?

That the Christians were cannibals.

Or, consider for a moment the ancient Jewish leaders of the Temple mentioned in the gospel. When they heard passages like this one, they were repulsed, and no wonder.

The Hebrew Scriptures forbid eating human flesh, and, in fact, the title of the devil in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is translated as “flesh eater.”

So I want to stop right in the middle of this big messy, bloody knot of words. Let me point out that anyone who says they take every word of the Bible literally will end up in a tight box with this passage and others like it.

It takes interpretation to untangle these words.

I do not want to sound overly academic, but there is a very good – and short – book that details what I am about to talk about. The book is entitled “The Mystical Way in the Fourth Gospel,” by Bill Countryman.

His thesis is that the Gospel of John is like a labyrinth; the gospel writer takes us on a twisting path that leads from the outer edges of being merely acquainted with Jesus, to the very center of existence and union with the Risen Christ.

The language of John is designed not to encourage cannibalism, but to push us into seeing and feeling with all our senses that Christ Jesus is all around us, and within us.

This language about “eat my flesh, drink my blood” in John is really an invitation to fully experience the spiritual reality of the Risen Christ with our whole being.

We are invited especially to make this experience real in our Holy Eucharist in the sharing in the bread and wine.

This in-dwelling of the Spirit from the bread and wine of our Holy Eucharist is not only nourishment for our souls but for our enjoyment as a community.

But to get the most out of our meal, we need to train our palette. The more intentional we are in our walk of faith – the more we train our spiritual palette – the more we will be aware of the Risen Christ around us and within us.

There is a prayer in Rite I of the prayer book known as the “prayer of humble access” where we utter words that “we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table.”

To be candid with you, I believe that prayer falls short. We are worthy to come to thy table precisely because God made us worthy.

Jesus invites us to the table because he loves us for who we are now and who we are in the act of becoming.

So today, I propose we skip that prayer.

Today in our Holy Eucharist, Jesus offers us something to eat that will last forever because he promises to abide within us forever.

I pray as we gather on this first Sunday we have together, and as we gather every Sunday in the months and years ahead, this holy meal will transform us and strengthen us.

I pray we will find the nourishment for our souls that will strengthen us, and healing for all the wounds that hurt us. And I pray we will find the courage to meet the challenges that are ours to meet.

Thank you again for bringing us home. Thank you again for letting me be your priest.