Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Innocence and Suffering

Today the Episcopal Church remembers the “Holy Innocents,” the subject of the “Coventry Carol” so often heard at Christmas time.  We remember the slaughter of “every make child two years and under” by King Herod because of his well documented ego and paranoia.  Afraid that the “newborn King of the Jews” would usurp his throne, he had the children killed to eliminate his competition. 

While in all likelihood, the children suffered little (a swift death is often merciful), the agony of the parents is without parallel.  Even though I do not have children, I have been assured by members of my own family that there is no greater loss to be experienced than the loss of a child, regardless of their age.  In many ways, the death of one’s child upsets the natural order – children are to outlive their parents – or so it is our common wisdom. 
The fact remains that infant mortality has declined greatly in our society.  The great pandemics (influenza, typhus, cholera) seem almost non-existent to most of us.  These diseases claimed many innocent lives only two generations ago, before the advent of modern antibiotics.  Nonetheless, while the death of children may have been more common and even expected, the sense of loss is no less poignant. 
We only need to see the evening news with images of the children of Aleppo and the Syrian refugees, those fleeing Northern Africa across the Mediterranean. So many children. so many innocent seeking only safety and a better life.
The message of this day, however, is that out of such horrible suffering, God can change things.  Even though these parents suffered such tragic and profound loss, God delivered the Christ Child by a dream message to Joseph, who took the Child and his mother to Egypt to escape the tyranny of Herod.  When the Child returns, he will be the salvation of the world and proclaim a kingdom of justice and truth that would outlast any attempt by Herod to assure his own power.
That hope must be ours today – as many children suffer needlessly because of greed, prejudice, and the lust for power in nations throughout the world.  We listen to the promise of Christ and carry the message of his kingdom into our world.  If we remain faithful to its values and its promise, we, too, may see the “mighty cast from their thrones” so that the lowly, the powerless and voiceless innocents of our world might then be “lifted up.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

On the Recent Election - Our Responsibility


If the recently concluded election teaches us anything, it tells us that we are, as a nation and a society, more divided then many of us understood. We find ourselves as fellow citizens among many more people who feel themselves pushed to the margins of our society than we may have realized. The message for me seems to be that there are many more who do not believe that anyone cares about them.

As often happens with political events like elections, it becomes way too easy to line every one up on one team or another and to start taking pot shots at one another – not unlike the dreaded dodge ball games we might have experienced in junior high gym class. It is very easy to become “tribal” as we gather around ourselves people who voted the same way we did, whichever way that was. It is way too easy to retreat into our safety zones, among like-minded folk, and listen only to voices that reinforce our own beliefs and values.

I believe that Christ calls us to do exactly the opposite. It was not the pattern of Jesus life that, when faced with opposing viewpoints, he simply huddled up with his closest disciples and talked about the other side. No. He moved out to them and engaged them. It wasn’t always comfortable, but it was always with a mind toward justice and it was always done from a motive of self-effacing love. It is important to note that one of the most quoted verses of the New Testament (John 3:16) comes to us in the context of an encounter with Nicodemus, a Pharisee – and we all know how Jesus and the Pharisees often felt about one another. As disciples of Jesus Christ we must listen and engage and work to find places where all of us can stand and talk together.

Our Baptismal Covenant commits us to “respect the dignity of every human being.” That means that we must respect the dignity of those who voted for Hillary Clinton. It means that we must respect the dignity of those who voted for Donald Trump. We must respect the dignity of those who voted for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. And we must respect the dignity of those who felt themselves even unable to vote for any reason at all. We must acknowledge that we are first and foremost people of faith. We must presume that “others” are people of good will, and that we all want what is best for our nation and our society even though we may disagree on how best to get there. 

A key to moving forward is to realize that Christ calls is to listen to those who disagree with us to discover why they feel the way that they do. We are not required to agree with one another, but we are called to accord each other respect.

There are people in our parish who may rejoice that their voices were heard yesterday. There are people in our parish who may feel that their most closely held beliefs and values were rejected. There are people in our parish who may fear for what the future will bring for them or for those they love. There are people in our parish who are anxious about what comes next. Our parish community must be a place for all of these people.

From its founding, the Episcopal Church has prayed for the President of the United States in our liturgy. We will continue this noble tradition and will add prayers for Donald, our president-elect.

Most importantly, we need to begin urgently to listen to one another, to pray for one another and to find and build a community where, because of our mutual love and respect, can come together in peace.

In the present circumstance, I recommend the prayer for sound government from the Book of Common Prayer (p. 821)

O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth.

Lord, keep this nation under your care.

To the President and members of the Cabinet, to Governors of States, Mayors of Cities, and to all in administrative authority, grant wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties.

Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

To Senators and Representatives, and those who make our laws in States, Cities and Towns, give courage, wisdom and foresight to provide for the needs of all our people, and to fulfill our obligations in the community of nations.

Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

To the Judges and officers of our Courts give understanding and integrity, that human rights may be safeguarded and justice served.

Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

And finally, teach our people to rely on your strength and to accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for the well-being of our society; that we may serve you faithfully in our generation and honor your holy Name.

For yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.  Amen.

I am grateful to the deep pastoral sensitivity of Bishop William Franklin, now bishop of my home diocese, the Diocese of Western New York, whose own reflections are the basis this reflection and this writing.

In the loving heart of Christ,

David+

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Sermon - On the difficulties of our day.


The short-term meaning as well as the long-haul implications of the horrific events of the last few months both at home at abroad continue to unfold and is shaking our nation.

As you know, I normally do not preach from a written text and I do not often address contemporary events directly in my sermons. I am deeply convinced that my role is to preach “Christ and him crucified” (as St. Paul would say) and leave the practical conclusions to be drawn by you as faithful disciples.  In what I am about to say, I want to stress that I speak for myself alone as a leader within the Church and not for the Episcopal Church as a whole.  I do not believe preachers should take political positions in the pulpit. However, sometimes events cry out for the Church to draw out meaning in a plain and direct way. Today is one of those days.

These disclaimers aside, I would argue strongly that the larger issues surrounding the recent mass shootings and the events unfolding in the cities of our nation, demand that we all force ourselves to think reflectively and not reactively. Regrettably, this is very difficult when social media, the toxic nature of present day politics, and countless ideological, soundproof echo chambers make us wonder what’s fact, what’s true, what’s right.

First and foremost, we must refrain from any rush to judgment about what are the “causes” of any of these tragedies. When we do rush to this kind of judgment, we often do little more than reactively push our own political world view front and center.   There is no single explanation for what has been happening, or, I am afraid, will continue to happen.

For example, we know what happened in Orlando last month was a surprise only to those who have had their heads parked snugly in the sand.  Both ISIS, on one hand, and the FBI, on the other, have been predicting something like this for some time.  If it comes as a surprise at all, it is simply because we have been unwilling to accept those realities that made it possible in the first place.

Second, all the familiar ideological positions about both “what brought these situations about” and “what is to be done” need to be examined, re-examined, and examined yet again, to put them in proper perspective.  In some sense, we are unfortunately all blind men and women literally sensing only a portion of the proverbial elephant, and because we lack clear vision we often miss the big picture. 

I urge us all to consider the wisdom of lyrics of the half-century old song by The Buffalo Springfield entitled “For What It’s Worth”:  everybody’s both right and wrong, and that’s the problem.

For example:

Yes. Making private gun ownership far more prohibitive, including ownership of assault weapons, might mean that only 25 instead of 50 people are killed in an attack like the one in Orlando.   The bottom line is, it won’t stop such assaults, because it is not about guns but about ideology.  If guns are less available, in fact, assailants will use other weapons of choice, even something so common as kitchen knife.

Yes. Restricting immigration of Muslims to the United States, as some have proposed, would lower the number of potential “lone wolf” terrorists, often disgruntled individuals who can’t seem to assimilate in America. By the sheer force of statistics, such a measure would lower the number of those disposed to undertake such attacks.  However, such bans on entry into this country wouldn’t do anything to roll back the appeal of ISIS globally and might even radicalize other peaceful, law-abiding Muslims to the extent that we might then have more of a domestic problem among adherents of Islam, who happen also to be U.S. citizens.

Yes. We can understand the Orlando shooting in the context of pervasive anti-gay bigotry. 
No. It isn’t really a matter of progress, or lack of progress, on giving LGBT people equal rights in this country, because such bigotry is far more extensive in the developing world than it is in this country. Some countries make homosexuality a criminal, if not a capital, offense.  For example, a recent Pew Study indicates only a very small percentage of Muslims worldwide countenance gay rights.  And even in the United States, according to the Washington Post citing the same research, “Muslims are less accepting of homosexuality than most religious groups.” But this religious conviction did not cause the massacre. Hate did.

Yes. We have to deal with ISIS and its accelerating worldwide campaign of terror forcefully in ways that will inevitably challenge our basic assumptions and call us to make hard choices between our most cherished values and our demand for safety and security.  
No. There is no easy, or even straightforward and intelligible, set of simple military, political, or legislative solutions, and for the time being the current moral idealism of the millennial generation may be in danger of going the way of our grandparents during the increasingly dark 1930s.

Yes, we can point to the reality of personal and institutional racism that has been part of our society from the beginning. It is undeniable. Even our founding fathers were comfortable with counting slaves, almost all of whom were black as three fifths of a person.
No. No level of racial bias ever justifies the violent taking of life in the name of law and order when less onerous means of enforcement are easily available, most especially when the alleged offenders were not involved in any sort of violent crime. And there is no reason whatsoever, to target individuals regardless of the color of their skin, ethnic origins, or belief systems who have pledged themselves to protect our society.

Before we can adequately address these daunting and often complex issues, we must call for an end of the endless off-the-cuff name-calling and our vilification of the “other” in our political discourse.  We need to move away from our all-too-comfortable habit of seeing the world through the lens of identity politics.  The apostle Paul reminds us continually, none of us are righteous before God.  The way forward, then, requires not so much a new kind of politics, but a bold new way of thinking on the part of all followers of Christ that many of us honestly will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into even attempting.

In short, it involves a deep, almost paradoxical and God-inspired respect for the “other” no matter how much we suspect or have demonized them. Today's familiar gospel lesson of "The Good Samaritan" makes this clear. We must make real the words of our own baptismal vow to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being, not just the ones we like or the ones that agree with us. In the midst of all the chaos and strife our sometimes timid voices may seem ineffectual in the face of what some consider “real danger.” But, the real danger for us as followers of Christ, may not so much be the physical threat we encounter as the very real danger of losing our soul by simply tossing our hands in the air in a spirit of helplessness.

It will take deep thinking and even more profound spiritual self-discipline. Some of us may recall Vince Lombardi’s philosophy that “the tough getting going when the going gets tough.” But our “toughness” cannot merely be more bluster. Each and all of us, like the prophet Amos, must be willing to cry out “enough” and then gird ourselves with the armor of faith to do whatever small thing is in our power to make even a small difference.

In the end, all those little acts of courage will add up. As the Christian faith spread throughout the world one soul at a time, so will the impact of God’s kingdom in our own world if we but take up its cause – one act, one person at a time. In this way, we will begin to build the kingdom of God.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

St. Alban's Day - the first British martyr


Saint Alban is venerated as the first recorded British Christian martyr. Along with his fellow saints "Amphibalus," Julius, and Aaron, Alban is one of four named martyrs recorded from Roman Britain. He is traditionally believed to have been beheaded in the Roman city of Verulamium (modern St Albans) sometime during the 3rd or 4th century, and his cult has been celebrated there since ancient times.


While little is actually known about the real St Alban (estimated to have died c. 209 – 305 A.D. depending on interpretations), as there is no contemporaneous account of his martyrdom. According to the most elaborate version of the tale found in Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Alban met a Christian priest fleeing from "persecutors," and sheltered him in his house for a number of days. The priest (who later came to be called Amphibalus, meaning "cloak" in Latin) prayed and "kept watch" day and night, and Alban was so impressed with the priest's faith and piety that he found himself emulating the priest, and soon converted to Christianity. Eventually it came to the ears of an unnamed "impious prince" that Alban was sheltering the priest, and this prince gave orders for Roman soldiers to make a strict search of Alban's house. As they came to seize the priest, Alban put on the priest's cloak and clothing, and presented himself to the soldiers in place of his guest.

In a chapel east of the crossing and high altar, there are remains of the fourteenth century marble shrine of St Alban. In June 2002 a scapula (shoulder blade), believed to be a relic of St Alban, was presented to St Albans Cathedral and placed inside the saint’s restored 13th-century shrine. The bone was given by the Church of St Pantaleon in Cologne, Germany. St Pantaleon's, like St Albans Cathedral a former Benedictine abbey church that had a shrine dedicated to St Alban, has possessed remains believed to be those of St Alban since the 10th century. It is entirely possible that further relics were acquired by the church in the 16th century at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in England, when many such relics were smuggled abroad to prevent their destruction.

In the United States, the parish church of St Alban's Episcopal Church, the first Free Church in Washington, DC, was erected on Mount Saint Alban in 1854 using a bequest from a young woman, Phoebe Nourse, who earned the money sewing. St Alban's went on to found five mission churches in Washington, four of which still maintain active congregations of their own. Washington National Cathedral in Washington DC, is located next to the parish church, which preceded the laying of the Cathedral's cornerstone by 53 years. The St Albans School for Boys, which is affiliated with and was established in 1909 soon after construction of the Cathedral began, is also named for the saint.
We wish our sister parish to the east, St. Alban's, Sinking Spring, PA a happy and joyous feast day!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Midsummer


Midsummer, also known as St John's Day, is the period of time centered upon the Summer Solstice, and the Northern European celebrations that have accompanied it. The actual astronomical solstice occurs on or about June 20th each year (the first "day" of summer) while many celebrations take place on a day between June 19 and June 25 and the preceding evening. The exact dates vary between different cultures. Some time ago, the Christian Church designated June 24 as the feast day of the St John the Baptist. The observance of St John's Day begins the evening before, known as St John's Eve.

It is likewise that the Christian Church set the date of Christmas - the day we celebrate the Incarnation of Christ (December 25th). That date is related to the Winter Solstice, which occurs days before. By the 25th of December, we can perceive that the days begins to lengthen. St. John the Baptist’s day occurs a few days after the Summer Solstice when we can notice the days begin to be shorter in similar manner. The choice of the days has to do with the saying attributed to John the Baptist in the gospel of John: “I must decrease that he may increase” (John 3:30). Thus as the days grow shorter we begin to look for the coming of Christ, the Light of the World. Thus, when Christ arrives, the days begin to lengthen again.
Although Midsummer is originally a pagan holiday, in Christianity it is associated with the nativity of John the Baptist, which is observed on the same day, June 24, in the Catholic, Orthodox and some Protestant churches. It is six months before Christmas because Luke 1:26 and Luke 1.36 imply that John the Baptist was born six months earlier than Jesus, even though the Bible does not say at which time of the year this happened.

The Summer Solstice and the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist are celebrated by many Christian denominations. In Sweden, for instance, Midsummer is such an important festivity that there have been serious discussions to make the Midsummer's Eve into the National Day of Sweden. However, many European midsummer-related holidays, traditions, and celebrations are often pre-Christian in origin. They are particularly important in geographic Northern Europe – especially Scandinavian counties where the interplay of light and dark in relation to the seasons of the year is quite dramatic. It is also very strongly observed in Poland, Russia, Belarus, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, parts of the United Kingdom (Cornwall especially), France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain, Ukraine, other parts of Europe, and elsewhere – such as Canada, the United States, Puerto Rico.

In any event, the coming of the Summer Solstice reminds all of us of the continual cycle of the seasons and the passing of time. For those of us in the Northern hemisphere, it is a reminder that we should “make hay while the sun shines” for soon enough, the days will shorten, the cold will return and we will once more depend on our careful stewardship of the summer’s plenty to help us through the darker days of winter. This is still good advice, even though modern conveniences lessen our dependence on seasonal produce - whenever we experience light and joy, we should celebrate and store up so that when "darker" days ensue, we are prepared and ready.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Day 3


Trinity College, University of Toronto – Day 3 of meetings of the Society of Scholar Priests.

For the last two days, the Board of Directors of the Society of Scholar Priests (part of the Scholar-Priest Initiative) has been meeting in the precincts of Trinity College (University of Toronto) and Church of the Redeemer (just up the street) to assess the progress of the society over the last two years and to make some determinations concerning the future of the organization.

One of the things that struck us all is the phenomenal progress that has been made in such a short period of time. What that says to me is that the work for which we have set ourselves answers a need in our respective churches (the Society encompasses The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada) but more importantly is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit in fitting our churches for the challenges awaiting us in this century.

The work of the society is built on three pillars or core values:  being rooted in Scripture and Tradition, post-partisanship, and being ordered to right action.  The first of these may seem self-evident as priests of the Anglican way gather to discuss matters of theology and ministry. The second is a little less so. “Post-partisanship” is simply a way to describe how, once we establish our common ground in Scripture and Tradition, that we can learn to “disagree in love.” In other words, that our theological reflections need not always be fully aligned with one another, or, that we can “agree to disagree.” We hold this is a core principle because theology is, after all, our carefully reasoned reflection on the meaning and application of divine revelation – it is not divine revelation itself. Disagreements have been part of the life of the Christian Church from the beginning. The gospels themselves relate how The Twelve had differing viewpoints and how, once St. Paul came on the scene, those differences deepened and almost split the infant Church. The work of the Spirit, however, helped early Church leaders come to a compromise (a dirty word in our day and age) whose result was the spread of the gospel throughout the known Gentile world. Our aim is to recapture that spirit – not to try to find a false peace, but to have deep, reasoned discussions (yes, even arguments) that end not with rancor but with a sense of mutual respect for our differences.

The third core principle is the theme of this year’s annual conference, which begins in earnest later today. It is “ordered to right action.” All the talking in the world is without value if it does not put us on a road to more deeply understand, and so to live, the way of Jesus. Without this third principle, our work leads to mere speculation and empty theories. Our aim to take our deliberations and reflections and see how they inspire and move our ministry in our respective communities of faith – especially parishes. That’s the focus of our mission: to “welcome theology home.” In other words, all of our careful thought, conversation, reflection, and arguments must ultimately lead us to good decisions for the people of God entrusted to our care.

Being a “scholar-priest” is not so much about academic degrees and intellectual niceties as it is about becoming leaders of spiritual communities that reflect deeply on the mysteries of God and how God is working out God’s mission in the world. In that way, members of this society hope to provide the Church with a more profound sense of God’s abiding invitation to bring the world into God’s kingdom. As our conference begins later this afternoon, hold us all in prayer so that we may all return to you a bit wiser, more humble, and better equipped to walk the way of Christ with you.

In the heart of our loving Savior,

David+

Monday, May 2, 2016

"The Episcopal Church welcomes you" - How is that working for you?

This might come as a bit of a shock to you but I think we have come to the point where we need to quit being a welcoming church. We’ve been a “welcoming church” for quite a while now – how many signs have you seen that say “The Episcopal Church welcomes you”? 

“So,” we could ask, “just how is that working for you?”  If you ask me, all the while we have been saying that, we have been experiencing declines in attendance, participation, and financial support. The median age of our membership church-wide has increased (we’re getting older). And just below the surface, most of our members experience anxiety about the future of the Church they have love. So I say, “Give it up! Forget the welcoming stuff.”

Like so many churches, we’ve sunk an amazing amount of time and energy into becoming a welcoming Church. We change worship styles, we train greeters and ushers, we wear name tags, we make coffee and bake endless goodies. We go to workshops on hospitality, we put our friendliest people in prominent places on Sunday mornings. But I think we are beginning to realize that we have been misplacing our emphasis. So we’re no longer going to do it.

Here’s what we’re going to do instead. We will become an Inviting Church. That’s different. You see, “welcoming” is a passive activity. It says that we are waiting for visitors and guests to drop by. When they do, we will treat them very well and do everything possible to make them comfortable. We’ll sometimes even be willing to change how we look, and, God be good to us, even who we are. We’ll try new formats that have proven to be more welcoming to new people. We’ll do whatever it takes to have them come back the next Sunday, even if they shouldn’t. But what I have come to understand is that welcoming is about us, not about them.
Come and See what God is doing!

“Inviting” is different. That means we leave the comfort of our parish “comfort zone.” The main activity doesn’t happen in our worship space when people drop in, but in the neighborhood when we go out. Welcoming involves hoping whoever happens to find you will join. Inviting involves sharing God’s specific gifts—made real in our parish—in the world. It isn’t so much welcoming them into our place, but going out into their place and meeting them there.

Even that warrants a significant warning. This cannot be just another gimmick to get people into the church building. This isn’t an attempt to bolster declining membership rolls and make a better parochial report to the bishop. No, it goes much deeper than that. It starts with who God has called us to be the Church, the Body of Christ, the presence of the Risen Lord in our world. It involves discovering our gifts and purpose. And it demands that we join God at work in the world. This isn’t about getting the world into God’s Church; it’s about getting the Church into God’s world.

Making such a radical shift won’t be easy, but we must commit to it. We’ll have to do it in stages, easing folks into it step by step. We’ll have to deal with the fear of something new, the challenge of venturing into unknown territory. But we can do it. It will take motivation, leadership, and constant reminders. But most importantly, it will take total commitment to embrace a new focus.

More and more, we are becoming aware that it’s God’s mission that we are to be about. Everything comes from that—including our identity as Church. We exist as Church only because God has a mission. Our purpose, our very identity, is called forth out of God’s loving care and redemptive activity in creation. We are steeped in God’s mission. We are drenched through baptism into this essential character of God. God is at work in the world, and creates, calls, and equips the Church specifically for that work.

Each parish has a purpose within God’s mission. Each parish has particular gifts. Each parish reveals the life-giving kingdom of God in unique ways. No parish can be everything to everyone. But every parish is something to someone. Who can know God through our worship style? Who can experience forgiveness and grace through our parish community? Who needs the gifts we have to offer? Who can offer gifts we need? By answering these questions, we can begin the process of moving from welcoming to inviting.

To begin, we need to discover our motivation for inviting others to join us. We need to take on this inviting in bite-size pieces, and we need to create an environment that supports our efforts at inviting others to encounter the Risen Lord among us. We may not be sure what the final results will be, but we certainly can be excited to find out.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Rogation Sunday - An Ancient but helpful tradition

Here is the text of May's Liturgy & Life from our parish newsletter, The Angelus.

On May 1st, we will celebrate Rogation Sunday. This Sunday was originally so called because of the words in the Prayer Book gospel for the day: "Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give to you". (The Latin is 'Rogare' - to ask.) In the strictly biblical context, the chief thing to ask for is the spirit of God to enable us to be true children of God. By the 17th century, the old Roman festival of 'Terminalia", or "boundaries", had been adapted by the church and served a practical purpose. In days before survey maps, there were not always clear lines of demarcation between the parishes, especially where there were open field systems. During the procession, boys were bumped on prominent marks and boundary stones, or rolled in briars and ditches, or thrown in the pond to ensure they never forgot the boundaries! The Victorians made it more civilized by beating objects rather than people, in the context of a service and procession.

In the Western Church, processions to bless the crops and to include "beating the bounds", developed from the old Roman rites of Robigalia (robigo: Latin for "rust" or "mould"), when prayers would be offered to the gods for crops to be spared from mildew.

These rogation themes of blessing the fields and beating the bounds were commended in the 1630s by the poet George Herbert, that epitome of English country parsons. He said that processions should be encouraged for four reasons:
  1. Blessing of God for the fruits of the field.
  2. Justice in the preservation of bounds.
  3. Charity in loving, walking and neighborly accompanying one another with reconciling of differences at the time if there be any.
  4. Mercy, in relieving the poor by a liberal distribution of our excess.

Today the emphasis has shifted. A blessing on growing crops in fields and gardens, and on young lambs and calves remains. In the agricultural cycle, the main themes are seed sowing and the tending of young plants and animals. While seed sowing is now done all the year round, as is the birth and rearing of the young, it is convenient to fix on one particular festival as the time to remember these before God in a public way. Rogation takes place in the springtime, when there is a renewing of the earth. In our country, it follows Easter, the season of resurrection, usually on the Sixth Sunday in Eastertide. Renewal and resurrection therefore are also underlying themes of this occasion.

We will observe the day at the 10:30 Eucharist by use of The Great Litany at the end of the Eucharist with a procession to the Memorial Garden between the Church and the Parish Hall where we will bless the flora there blooming. If you are a gardener, you are encouraged to bring a package of soil from your garden, seeds, or other elements of your gardening (including tools if you are so inclined) to be blessed for the growing season ahead.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Learning to listen

Truth be known, most of us are not good listeners. Being able to listen, I feel, is a gift. Most of us, while we act like we are listening, are already thinking about what we will say next - or even thinking about something totally unrelated to what I am suppose to be hearing. It is a bad habit that comes from too much stimulation: noisy public places, our busy households, contact television and radio. Hearing without really listening is sort of like learning to speed read without savoring the words I am reading, or like gobbling down fast food without really tasting what I have eaten. I get the gist of what is being said but keep my mind busy with other things. Is this how we encounter the joyful message of Easter???

When I come to the words that Jesus spoke to the disciples in John's gospel about the servant who is not greater than the master, and in the humble station of the one sent on the order of one who is greater, I wonder if Jesus isn't telling the disciples, and me, about the ones to whom we are to listen. I wonder if Jesus is speaking not simply about the way we are to bear the witness that is in us, but also about the sources without which we have no witness.

It is a significant message, these Easter tidings, when one considers with what weight and seriousness we receive the words that come from media personalities and how lightly and glibly we ignore the witness of those we deem less important. It is an especially important message for a church whose leadership has, for centuries, given priority to the words of adult males, dismissing as na├»ve or even ignorant the voices of women, children, the aged, and those whose color - or collar - did not match their own.

Almost from the beginning, the good news of God has been made known to us by those of low station and degree. Shepherds, fishermen, grieving women. Throughout this history, God seeks to teach us that we must discipline ourselves not only for the telling but also in the  listening -- since only after we have truly heard can we tell others the good news we ourselves have received.

It is our place in this Eastertide to listen, to receive the good news of the Resurrection, to open our ears and our hearts, that we, too, may truly hear and so be overwhelmed with the joy of Easter. And only then to speak.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The word of God grew and multiplied . . .

The fact remains that we do not produce anything. We don't manufacture widgets or grow plants. What we do is tell a powerful story of how we have experienced God's work in the world. What grows, as a result, is not the Church, but the Word, the story, itself. It is God that plants, nurtures, and reaps the harvest. We are the means by which God accomplishes God's purposes. In other words, it is not our mission, but God's.

In Acts 12, we are told that "The word of God grew and multiplied." It is important to note that it was not the church that grew and multiplied - but the Word of God. The fact makes me think that sometimes, we in the church get it all a bit backwards.

Image result for barnabas and saul
We often believe, I think, that we continue to operate out of a fundamentally institutional model of church. We think it's a business -- a holy business, granted -- but a business nonetheless. We tend to think of our Gospel proclamation as our "product" and build our efforts around marketing and public relations.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we are presented with the image of a harvest so abundant that it must be shared. The experience of the early Church is not unlike am investor in a bull market -- so many good things are happening in the lives of so many people, that the stories cannot be contained. Ultimately, they must share what they receive.

This is so opposite our own experience of Church in these days. They did not experience anxiety over dwindling resources or get discouraged about hemorrhaging congregations. For the most part, our discussions of late are not about a going-out but a going-away. Not about sharing but about loss.
Re-reading the accounts from Act in Eastertide is a good reminder that the key element in all these stories is generosity: not stories of in-gathering, but of giving away. Success for them was not so much about building up large congregations or "growing" the Church. It was simply about going -- and sharing what they had and what they knew.

Perhaps we need to practice this a bit more in our own experience. Perhaps we need to simply "to go and to share" the abundant grace that comes from all that God has done and continues to do in our lives. Just go and share -- and God will do the rest.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Spy Wednesday


Wednesday in Holy week is known as Spy Wednesday because on this day, the gospel recounts, Judas made a bargain with the high priest to betray Jesus for 30 silver pieces.

We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Didn’t Jesus know that Judas was not worthy of his trust? Perhaps he did. But that is the mark of Jesus’ mind and heart – that although someone may not deserve to be trusted (or loved) he loves them (and so trusts) them nonetheless. This is our saving grace for all of us “fall short of the glory of God.” In a very real way, we might all identify with Judas – someone to whom Jesus exposed himself, became vulnerable, and so was capable of being betrayed. Have we, knowing of Jesus trust and live, ever betrayed him? Maybe we are too swift to condemn.

So in our prayer this day, most of us can identify with the vulnerable, trusting, loving Jesus as well. Part of human living is to become vulnerable to another so that we can receive their love and trust. Our relationships grow deep and profound with those who threat that “offering with respect, kindness and affection.” And yet, on occasion, someone in that privileged position might have become more concerned about themselves and used that sacred position for their own advantage. How hurt did we feel when that occurred? How awful was that experience? Getting in touch with our own experiences of betrayal can set us in mind of what Jesus might have felt on the first “Spy Wednesday.”

But then, the grace. Knowing that Jesus shared that experience “in spades” (it cost him his life after all), we know that his love did not end. Judas’ sin was not so much the betrayal but his unwillingness to accept Jesus’ love and forgiveness. Peter, we shall hear, also betrayed. But Peter never despaired of God’s goodness and God’s willingness to redeem and make whole again. Judas betrayal was not worse. How he dealt with its consequences was.

I pray this day for the grace to forgive those who might have betrayed me. More especially I pray for the grace never to despair of receiving the forgiveness of others for the betrayals I have wrought. May God grant me this grace . . . may I thus be assured that I am truly reconciled, forgiven, redeemed.

n  Read Matt 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:1-6

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Better for one man to die . . .


Jesus underwent a legal trial – but it was all a sham since the outcome had already been determined by the leadership of the people – “better for one man to die . . .”

There are times in life when the processes we rely on to protect fail to do so. This is hard to stomach in a society that is alleged built on a core value like “the rule of law.” But no process is perfect. This is especially so in our personal lives and relationships. No matter how we build up our defenses (social or personal), we will always be subjected to others who are more concerned with self-seeking, face-saving, and power tripping. In the story of Jesus passion, he is subject to these same dynamics – people who should be protecting him from the Romans, who should be seeing in him their own aspirations instead see in him a threat to their own coziness with the powers that be. In the face of all this, Jesus makes little or no defense. Maybe he realizes that no matter how hard he would try, he would not succeed. Instead, he remains silent even before the powers that had the capacity to put him to death. However, I don’t believe that Jesus simply gave up. I see Jesus as adamantly refusing to stop to their level – to play their games. Instead, he acts to remain true to who he is – and the mission for which he was sent.

Wisdom can be seen as making peace with the unchangeable. We have the freedom to face the unavoidable with dignity, to understand how our attitudes can transform even deep suffering. The great psychologist Viktor Frankl maintained that in World War II concentration camps, what remained for the victims was “the last of human freedoms”—the ability to choose one’s attitude in a particular set of circumstances. What Frankl was asking for was not for people to be merely optimistic but to hold onto hope, even when the situation seemed hopeless. Are we responsible for our suffering when we did not do anything to cause it? Simply, no. And yes. We are not responsible for our predicament – whether it is cancer or the loss of our job or the death of someone dear. But we are responsible for what we do with the effects of these things, for what we build from what remains after fate has made a mess of our lives.

n  Read Matthew 26:57-75

Monday, March 21, 2016

Jesus' death, My death - it's real


It is never easy to pray on the passion and death of Jesus. Once we begin to meditate and reflect on Jesus’ death, it brings us perilously close to our own – not that such pray will lead to the end of our physical life – rather that this reflection makes us confront the reality that if the Son of God could not escape death as a human being, why do we think we are any different.

We live in a culture that eschews death. While our culture is not exactly a life-affirming culture, it is one that wants to ignore the realities involved with the end of our earthly life. People seldom die at home anymore – hospitals or nursing homes have become the venue for this rite of passage – and that usually with the mind that if there is a crisis every modern medical apparatus necessary to prolong life is available. Even when we finally die, death has no longer any place in our home. We long ago turned to “funeral parlors” or “funeral homes” for the final preparations necessary to dispose of our mortal remains. One of the reasons for the increasing popularity of cremation as a means of “final disposition” is that it helps us to avoid the realities of dying – that the body begins to decay and turn to dust. Few people spend any time with a corpse. Instead, we pay people to make it as “clean and tidy” as possible. I may digress a bit here and some of my colleagues in the funeral industry may take issue with these observations but on the whole, I think they are accurate.

Jesus’ death was anything but “neat and tidy.” It was painful, awful and extremely messy. He was tortured and executed in the most gruesome way possible. In thinking on this unpleasant end, we cannot escape the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was truly human – regardless of what anyone might think of his divine status. Truly human – and experiencing death in the worst possible way. As we affirm the incarnation (that the Word was “incarnate of the Virgin Mary”), we also affirm that this Jesus knows our deepest fears – including suffering and death. Praying on this reality through this week forces us to realize that we, too, will die, but that in that inescapable reality, we cannot deny that the God to whom we pray knows firsthand the deepest suffering of any human person. It becomes the basis for hope – that no matter how bad it gets, there is always the possibility of redemption and resurrection.  
-- read Philippians 2: 5-11 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Whether I want to admit it or not, I am a sinner

When I undertake to reflect on sin and my sinfulness, I can never forget that I begin this work recognizing that I am a sinner who is loved. The history of God's people testifies to the truth that God seeks to free us from everything that gets in the way of loving ourselves, others, and God. The focus of my reflection, then, cannot simply be naming my sins. This can too easily become a form of self-preoccupation.

Instead, I must focus on who God is and who I am before God. With this orientation, I can discover the source of my liberation: the abundant and amazing mercy of God. Even as I begin to see how sin may have distorted my relationships, I can begin to recognize how generous and faithful God is. Once that begins in my mind and heart, I can become dissatisfied with my meager, self-directed response. Led by God's grace, most of us will naturally want to reorder our values and make real, tangible changes to the way we live. This is not the result of duty or obligation, but of love for that Someone who is greater than ourselves.

This day I pray for this grace: to deepen my awareness of and sorrow for my sins and a heartfelt experience of God’s merciful love for me.

-- read 2 Samuel 11:1-12:25.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Neutrinos

The Scriptures are filled with a history of humanity's sinfulness. Even though we prefer not discuss this notion - sin - we can't escape it. It's all around us. As difficult as it is to discuss the sin we see all around it is even more difficult for me to acknowledge that this reality is not only all around, it is within me as well.

Scientists tell us that there are tiny particles in nature smaller even than the atoms that make up the matter we can perceive. These particles are called neutrinos. They are so small that they are passing though everything than we can perceive - even the most solid matter. They are even passing through me! Wow! How hard is that to wrap my mind around??

Hmmm. That makes me think about spiritual realities. They pass through me, too. Grace and Sin both, like neutrinos are moving through me at all times. The question I have for the scientists is, "If neutrinos are passing through me, are they having an impact on me? Are they changing me in any way? I have not been able to get an answer to that one yet. But then, I don't know many nuclear physicists who could explain that kind of thing to me in language I would understand.

This I do know, however. Grace and sin are all around me - and pass through me - and they do have an impact on me. They can change me. My job is to become aware of each - and to respond to each appropriately.

As long as I think that the sinfulness I see in the world has no impact on me, I am deeply deceived. Only when I recognize the impact that sin has in my life am I able to get control of it. Only when I take responsibility for sin in my life can I respond and repent. Only then can I recognize the impact of that grace which is equally present to me and has a positive influence on me.

What I need to do is to recall Step 4 of the 12 Steps of AA: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. The point here is not to rehearse every sinful moment of my life, which is impossible anyway. Instead, invite God to lead me through my life history and reveal those moments in which I failed to love God, others, or myself. Only in this way can I get a handle on my own sinfulness. Only in this way can I stop generating those little neutrinos of sin that in turn have an impact on others. Only then can I begin to turn my life over to the God of love and allow those neutrinos of grace to have their greatest impact. the grace I seek today is to discover a deepening awareness and sorrow for my sins and a heartfelt experience of God’s merciful love for me.

-- spend some time reflecting on your own sinfulness

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Back to the work

As Lent treks forward, my initial zeal begins to wane --- badly. Just like people resolve all kinds of good and decent things at the beginning of the year (New Years' resolutions - remember them?), we all resolve to "do something" for Lent. The most sincere desires might result in more prayer, deeper meditation and study of Scripture, a more generous heart. More superficial disciplines - giving up candy or sweets or abstaining from meat on Fridays - by now are, for most people, relegated to memory.

Perhaps now is a good time for me to look at myself from the perspective of what Lent is as a season - a time of preparation for us to meditate on the death and resurrection of Christ.

In my prayer today, I sought to imagine Christ, our loving Lord, suspended on the gibbit of the cross. I am standing there looking up at him in his suffering self. How is it that he, who is one with the Creator of the Universe, has come to make himself a human like me? How is it that he has passed from a place of glory and eternal life to a life in time and space that will end just like mine - and that his end is a an end to be envied by no one - tortured, physically wracked with pain and suffering - and all to teach me that there is nothing I can do to separate myself from God's love, except, perhaps, to refuse that love. But how can you refuse such a love when it is communicated is such a way - that someone would do this for love of me.

This compels me to seek answers from my deepest self. Answers to questions like: Where is the pain in my life? What is causing it? At what point was love disrupted and some lesser thing allowed to become the center of my life?  Whom have I hurt, and how did that happen? What patterns in my thoughts tend to lead to behavior that is not loving? What patterns in my behavior tend to make my wounds deeper and my life harder? Where am I not free but somehow trapped or held back or stuck in unhealthy patterns? At what points am I saying no to God’s efforts to love me?

Wow! Big questions. I don't have the answers - not yet - and maybe won't for a long time. I pray for the grace to find a healthy sense of shame and confusion before God as I consider how sin in my life, my community, and my world has worked its pain on me and on others. But this is indeed what Lent is for. I still have plenty of time to get back to the work I started to do.

-- read Romans 5:1-11