Sunday, January 14, 2018

2 Epiphany

January 14, 2018

1 Samuel 3.1-20; John 1.43-51

+ In May of this year, it will be thirty-five years since I received my “calling” to be a priest. Now, don’t work the math too much. I was a young—very, very young (I was thirteen). And, as many of you have heard, I had a very distinct calling in, of all places, a cemetery. Most of you have heard this story.

But, as I think back to my calling to the priesthood that day so very long ago, I realize that I don’t think I understood then what my “Yes” to God would mean. I don’t know if I knew that saying “Yes” to God would also involve heart-ache and set-backs and difficulties and doubts. I seriously doubt I knew those things thirty-five years ago. But saying “Yes” to God in such a way was huge step. In fact, it changed my entire life. Nothing was ever the same again in my life.

But, as I look back on it from this perspective, I can say this: If I could go back to 1983 and hear that calling anew, even knowing what I know now, even after all the heart-aches, I can say with all honesty that I would say “Yes” again. Without hesitation. OK. Maybe with a slight hesitation. But I would say yes.

Since I received my calling form God at such an age, I always related to the young Samuel we encounter in our reading from the Hebrew scriptures this morning.  I could relate to his calling. I understood it in a unique sense.  And my simple, very non-eloquant “Yes” was essentially the same as Samuel’s  

“Here I am. Do with me what you must.”

And for Samuel, his life changed too with that “Here I am.”

That’s not the only calling we hear about in our scripture readings for today.  In today’s Gospel, we also find another calling. We find Philip saying to Nathaniel,

“Come and see.”

And we find Jesus telling Nathaniel,

“You will see greater things than these.”

For most of us, who are not mystics, we have still seen our share of miracles in our lives—at least if we kept our minds and hearts and eyes open.  No doubt, there have been many miracles in your lives. No doubt, there have been saints—true, living saints—that you have met—and still continue to meet—and walked beside.

 And although you probably have not seen heaven literally opened or angels literally “ascending and descending,” you’ve probably, once or twice, seen the veil between this world and heaven lifted.  I hope you have, anyway.  And you probably have seen angels ascending and descending in the guise of fellow travelers along the way.

Like Nathaniel, who would have a series of low points in his own life (legend says he would die a particularly horrible martyr’s death of being flayed alive, forced to walk, skinless in the desert, before being beheaded), through it all, he kept looking.  And in looking, he saw.  

This is what it means to be a disciple—a follower of Jesus. Despite the setbacks, the illnesses, despite the people who are out to trip you up, there are also the rewards—the high points that are better than any other high points. Being a Christian—a real, genuine Christian, and not a phony, hypocritical one—is probably our greatest vocation.  Being a Christian means being a follower of Jesus and a loved child of God.  Being a follower of Jesus means being a disciple of Jesus.

Disciple and discipline both come from the same root word. And being a follower of Jesus, being a disciple of Christ, means we must be disciplined, we must be well-trained and well-versed. We must be well-informed on who it is we are following and what teachings we are embodying in our lives.  

And being a follower, a disciple, is a difficult thing at times.  No one, when we became Christians, promised us sparkling, light-filled moments and rose gardens every step of the way.  If anyone did, sue them!

Actually, when we became Christians, we became Christians—all of us—in the shadow of the Cross.  We need to remember that when we were baptized, we were marked with the Cross.  That was not a quaint, sweet little sentiment.  It meant we were baptized into following Jesus wherever he led us in his life and ours—the good times and the bad.

Yes, even to the dark, dank ugly place of the cross.  And as a result, we have faced our lives as followers of Jesus Christ squarely and honestly.

This is no cult we belong to, that promises us that if we do this and that we will be freed from pain and suffering.  We’re not being brain-washed to believe what we believe.  As followers of Jesus, we know that, Yes, bad things are going to happen to us.   There will be illness, there will be setbacks, there will be broken relationships and conflicts with others, there will be despotic, racist leaders in the world, there will be loss and there will be death.

When we follow Jesus we need to remember that he will not be leading us toward comfortable places. He’s not leading us to the country club. He’s not leading us to glitz and glamor. He’s not leading us to fame and fortune in our lives.  

He will be leading us through places that might not be safe. We need to remember that one leading us came from Nazareth.

Can anything good from Nazareth?

The President no doubt would have a derogatory word to say about Nazareth, and he certainly wouldn’t want anyone from there immigrating to this country. But Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus of that place from which nothing good comes, is leading us. And we must believe that he will show us greater things than we can even imagine.

That following of Jesus is a hard thing.  We know that there will be many, many people out there who want to trip us up and who want us to fail.  We know that there are people out there who do not want the best for us. We know that there will be people who are jealous of us and envious of us, and who despise us simply because of who we are.  There’s no way of getting around such things in our lives.

But following Jesus means being able, in those dark moments, to look and to see, like Nathaniel.  When surrounded by darkness, we can see light.  Following Jesus means remember, again and again that, like Jesus, we are loved and beloved children of a loving, living God.

When stuck in the mire and muck of this life, we can still look up and see those angels descending and ascending. As I look back over these past 35 years, I realize they have been the most productive and fruitful years of my life.  More than anything, as I look back over these last years, I find God weaving in and out of my life.

As I look back, I find God, speaking to me, much as God spoke to Samuel. God, whether I was listening or not, was calling me again and again by name.  God is calling each of us also by our name.  God is calling to us again and again.

And what is our answer?  Our answer is a simple one.  It simply involves, getting up, looking and seeing, and saying to God,

“Here I am.”

Here I am.

And when we do that, we will find that, like Samuel, God is with us.

God is with us.

God loves us.

God knows us.

And—in that glorious moment—we will know: this God who does know us, who does love us, will never allow one of our words to fall useless to the ground.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Sunday, January 7, 2018

1 Epiphany

Baptism of Our Lord

January 7, 2018

Genesis 1.1-5; Mark 1.4-1

+ As often happens, on occasion, I like to share books with you that I’ve read with you. I recently read a book that  didn’t initially really want to read, but did so at the suggestion of a friend of mine. I was discussing with this friend how my relationship with God has been changing a bit recently. It’s not a big change. Actually, it’s fairly subtle. But I’ve found myself exploring a bit more a more parental relationship with God. (You can take from that psychologically what you will)

The problem, I discovered, was that there is not a whole lot out there about such a relationship. There are lots of books, as we all know, about our relationship with Jesus, about making Jesus the center of our lives, etc.  Which is all very good.

But there’s not a lot about our relationship with God as Parent, as Father. This friend suggested a book I had never heard of before: The Forgotten Father, by an Anglican priest, Thomas Smail.  Smail was a leader in the Charismatic movement in the Church of England and, as such, I was a bit wary of reading the book (I’m a liberal Anglo-Catholic after all). But the book actually blew me away. In fact, it challenged me and disrupted my spiritual life and kind of threw me into kind of spiritual chaos. The book really made me have to question and reexamine much of what I thought I believed and how I prayed.  And it made me confront the fact that I really had not ever given much thought to God as Parent or, more traditionally, God as Father. (I’m trying to use inclusive language here, so please bear with me)

I don’t think many of us have. Certainly, considering the lack of books and lack of real systematic theology I was able to find on the issue, that definitely seems to be the case.

Smail’s book is certainly interesting and one that, as I said, challenged and shook me and disrupted my spiritual life in a way I really didn’t want or need at this point in my life.  I won’t get into all of that today because, to be honest, I haven’t fully processed all of it myself at this point. But, I do have to say that, as I pondered our scripture readings for today this past week, much of what I have been dealing spiritually was brought forward, especially in our Gospel reading for today.

Now, yesterday, of course, was the Feast of the Epiphany. We actually observed it last Wednesday, and today we continue the celebration with the Proclamation of the Date of Easter at this service, with the blessing chalk and the homes of the parish and with the Three Kings Cake we’ll be eating at coffee hour today.  Epiphany is a beautiful feast, though I think it’s a bit anti-climactic, following Christmas.  This word, Epiphany, comes from the Greek word epiphaneia, which means, “manifestation” or “showing forth”.

Epiphany is all about manifestation or “showing forth.” Or to use words that I have used recently: These are very clear signs of God’s reaching out to us.

In our Gospel reading for today, we actually find a very clear example of God’s reaching out to us.  We hear it in the Voice of God proclaiming to Jesus,

“You are…my Beloved; with you I am well pleased,”

We find God reaching out to us in this baptism of God’s Son. And we find God reaching out in God’s Spirit descending as a dove upon Jesus.

It is an incredible event—in the lives of those first followers and in our lives as Christians as well.   Here the standard is set.  In this moment, it has all come together.  In this moment, it is all very clear how this process is happening.  Here the breakthrough has happened to some extent.

For us it’s important because we too are still experiencing the benefits of that event.  And this is where Smail’s book and this spiritual awakening regarding God as Parent plays in.

Yes, we experience in our Gospel the Baptism of Jesus today. But, there’s more than that going on. We are actually celebrating what happened at our own Baptism today.  What was spoken by God about Jesus is spoken about us as well in our baptisms:

“You are my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Yes, I know: I preach a lot about baptism.  And I don’t just mean that I preach a lot about how much I like doing baptisms.  I preach often about how important each of our baptisms are to us because they are important.  And certainly we all hear a lot about how important Baptism is for us as Christians. But, I realized the other day that I don’t think we really think very often about what baptism is exactly.

Yes, we know there’s water. We know that God is involved in some way. But what really happens in Baptism? Well, whenever we ask these kind of hard questions, it’s always good to take a look at the trusty Catechism, found in the back of our Book of Common Prayer.   There, on page 858, we find this:

What is Holy Baptism?
Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us
as his children and makes us members of Christ's Body,
the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.

So, in Baptism we are essentially adopted by God as one of God’s children. We are made members of the Church (we become Christian). And, as children of our God, we become inheritors of God’s Kingdom. I really love that definition.

So, in Baptism, God becomes our Parent, or to use to the wonderful word we heard in our reading last week from the book of Galatians, We are able to cry out to God Abba.  Abba is simply an affectionate Aramaic word meaning essentially “Daddy.”

Now, I really love that word, “Abba.” And it ties in so well with a sort of renewed sense of this whole God-as-Parent understanding of our spirituality.  I like this word Abba.  And not just because I liked the 1970s Swedish band of the same name. I like the affectionate aspect of the word. I like that it invites into a relational exchange with God.  The fact that we actually have such a relationship with God that we can call God affectionally, “Abba.”

All of this reminds us that  in a very real sense, what happened at Jesus’ baptism happened at our baptisms as well.  We became loved children of our Abba

But, as if that wasn’t enough, another amazing thing happens at Baptism. After the Baptism, when the priest traces a cross on the newly baptized person’s forehead, she or he says,

“You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”

This is essential to our belief of what happens at baptism.  And you’ve heard me peach about this over and over again because, in my estimation,  it is so essential. In baptism, we are all marked as Christ’s own.

For ever.

It is a bond that can never be broken. We can try to break it as we please. We can struggle under that bond.

We can squirm and resist it.

We can try to escape it.

But the simple fact is this: we can’t.  For ever is for ever.

No matter how much we may turn our backs on Christ, Christ never turns his back on us.

No matter how much we try to turn away from Christ, to deny Christ, to pick Christ apart and make Christ something other than who he is, Christ never turns his back on us.

Christ never denies us.

What Baptism shows us, more than anything else, is that we always belong to Christ.  It is shows us that Christ will never deny us or turn away from us.  It shows us that, no matter what we might do, we will always be Christ’s.


For ever.

When we realize that, we also realize that Baptism is THE defining moment in our lives as Christians. Whether we remember the event or not, it was the moment when our lives changed.  It was the moment we became new. It was, truly, our second birth.

I am so happy that we do something as simple as commemorate our baptisms
here at St. Stephen’s.  And that we remember the anniversaries of our baptisms here in the Eucharist each Sunday.  Why shouldn’t we celebrate this anniversary of when we became fully loved and fully accepted children of our Abba and inheritors of God’s Kingdom? Why shouldn’t we celebrate the day in which we were inexorably bound to Christ?
What Baptism shows us, more than anything else, is that we always belong and are bound to a truly loving God.  It is shows us that God will never deny us or turn away or be separate from us.  Each of us is accepted and loved and equal to each other as children of a loving, living God.

In this way, Baptism becomes, in so many ways, the truly the great equalizer.  In those waters, we are all bathed—no matter who we are and what we are.  We all emerge from those waters on the same ground—as equals.  And as equals, made equal in the waters of baptism, we are then compelled to go out into the world and treat each other as equals.

In Baptism, we are all equal and all precious and deeply loved by our God.  We are all loved children of our God. Christ will never be separated from us.   We are ablaze with the fire of the Spirit.  In this way, we really have been baptized by fire the Holy Spirit.

And that is also the case with our baptism.  In the same waters all of us, rich or poor, physically perfect or imperfect, were washed. All of us came out of those waters reminded that we are all loved and cherished by our God.

For this reason, Baptism is not some quaint dedication ceremony.  It is the event that still provokes us and compels us to go out into the world and make a difference in it.  Our baptism doesn’t set us apart as a special people above everyone else.  It forces us to see those who share this world with us as children of God, as beloved children of God.  It forces us to realize that just we are bound to Christ, so we are bound to each other as well.  It forces us out into the world to be a part of the world and, by doing so, to transform the world.

So, in those waters of baptism, something incredible happened for us.  We went into those waters one person, and emerged from those waters as something else completely.  It was an incredible moment in our lives, just as it was in the life of Jesus, who led the way and showed us that Baptism is an incredible outpouring of God’s love and light into our lives.

So, with this knowledge of how important it is, let us each take the time to meditate and think about our own baptisms and the implications this incredible event had and still has in our lives.  When we enter this church, and when we leave it, pay attention to the baptismal font in the narthex and the blessed water in it.  Let us touch that water, let us bless ourselves with it, and when we do, let us remember we do so as a reminder of that wonderful event in our lives which we became loved children of a loving God. Let us remember when we touch that water that we are in a special, unbreakable relationship with Christ.  And let that water be a reminder to us that we are called to go now from this church and from this Eucharist we have shared in, to love. To love, full and completely.  

And as we go from here, let us listen for those words—those beautiful, lulling words—that are spoken to each of us, with love and acceptance:

“You are my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Requiem Mass for Earldamae "Mame" Jones

Earldamae "Mame" Jones
(September 2, 1922 - December 31, 2017)

Gethsemane Cathedral
Fargo, North Dakota

January 5, 2018

Isaiah 25.6-9; Revelation 7.9-17; John 6.35-40

+ It is a true honor to be a part of this service in which we give thanks to God for the wonderful life of Mame Jones. But, I do have to admit this afternoon, that it does not escape me that we  gathered together one year ago this month to also say good-bye to someone we loved dearly. Last year in January we said good-bye to our beloved Gretchen.  I remember very clearly how deeply Gretchen’s passing affected Mame. As well as all of us course.

And today, sadly, we say goodbye as well  to Mame. When Kathy contacted me on Sunday to tell me Mame had passed, she shared with me that, as sad as it was to say good-bye to Mame, it was  very different than when we said good-bye to Gretchen. With Gretchen, there was still so much ahead. There was—and is—still so much that was not accomplished.

But with Mame, what we find today is a real thanksgiving. We are thankful today for a long and truly wonderful life. We are thankful for all that was accomplished, all that was so good, all that she gave and continued to give.
Today, we are sad. But we are also so grateful.

I personally knew Mame for many years—longer than I knew Kathy or Bruce and Gretchen or any of the Carlsons. I shared this story last night at the Prayer Service at Korsmo Funeral Home. I remember Mame clearly when I first started working here at Gethsemane Cathedral almost twenty years ago, when she very faithful attended what was then the 8:00 Mass on Sunday morning (it’s not now an 8:30 Mass). She would always be there, no matter what kind of weather. And she would always attend that Mass with her dear friend Clint Stacy.

Now, of course, at the time, I have to admit: I thought they were a couple.  Certainly, they made a very nice looking couple. Later, Iwas so disappointed to find out that they were not a couple. And that Clint was so happily married to his wife Erna.

But, as I got to know her over the years, I have to say: I was amazed by her. She was a truly amazing person, as we all knew. One of the things that always amazed me was, of course, her Sunday dinners. Those dinners were legendary!
I think most of are still shocked and awed by the fact that she could pull off what she did. And still—still!—come to church for that 8:00 service. Of course, in typical Mame-style, she took no credit for such a feat.

“God cooked those meals for me,” she would say.

And as self-effacing as she was, she was a vibrant woman, full of grace and strength and dignity. She was a nurturer.  She embodied in so many ways what it means to be a true Christian. She cared—legitimately cared—for others. Of course, she cared—literally nursed—many of her family through their last years, including her husband Bob, her father, her mother, her sister, her younger brother.

And she legitimated cared for all those hundreds and hundreds of students at Riverside School over the years. As we have heard said again and again, Mame Jones WAS Riverside School!  The stories I heard from former students were incredible! I wish I had known her when I was that age!

And, as if that wasn’t enough, she had one more wonderful and incredible attribute: she was a good listener—and a good keeper of secrets. And she kept a few secrets herself. For many, many years, few of us ever knew how old Mame really was. And Mame was just fine with that!

But, above all, she was an incredible daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grand-mother and friend. And her faith was incredible too!
The Church was essential to her, whether it was worship or teaching Sunday School or confirmation at St. John the Divine in Moorhead, where her husband Bob was long-timed and deeply beloved organist.  And one of the great ministries—a ministry that I appreciate so much and so did Mame—was Altar Guild. It takes a truly dedicated person who loves God and service of others in such a ministry. It’s very much an unsung ministry. But it is a ministry of beauty and grace that perfectly suited such a devoted person as Mame Jones.

She had strength. She had determination and, as I said, she had grace. And although we are sad today, although it is hard to believe that after 95 years we now live in a world in which Mame Jones is not present, we do leave here this afternoon with something tangible. We are reminded that those attributes of strength and dignity and grace are not gone, by any sense of the word.

They are still here. They are with her daughters. They are with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They were definitely with Gretchen. And they are with all of us who knew Mame and loved her. And I am very, very grateful for that today.

Mame was also a private person in many ways. We know she had faith. But… she was not always the person to make a fuss about her faith.  She was an Episcopalian after all. Most Episcopalians don’t feel the need to go on too strongly about their faith. But I can assure you, her faith was strong.

She never wavered, throughout all of those trials in her life. And yes, she had trials. She knew pain in her life. She cried her share of tears in her life.  But she was never one to complain. And, I can tell you, she never once lost her faith.  She was always, to the very end, a good Episcopalian and a faithful follower of Jesus.

More specifically, Mame loved The Book of Common Prayer. Now, people often ask me, “so, what is it you Episcopalians believe?”

And I say, “We believe what we pray.”

We’re not big on dogmas. But we are big on prayer and worship.  Our liturgy—the services of worship we find contained in our Book of Common Prayer—encompasses our beliefs very well.  And, I can tell you, that it certainly did for Mame.

If you asked her, “Mame, what do you believe?”

I am sure she would be quick to point to the scriptures and to the Book of Common Prayer.

Our service this morning, here in this Cathedral, in so many ways reflects what Mame believed in her own life. Certainly, in the hymns that we sing today.
And certainly we hear her faith in the words of the scripture readings we have just heard her friend Mark Harvey read. If you notice, those scriptures have many references to food and eating.

In our reading from Isaiah this morning, we hear:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
   a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
   of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. 

In our reading from Revelation, we hear that those who are before the Throne of the Lamb,

will hunger no more, and thirst no more;

And, finally, in our Gospel, Jesus himself tells us,

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 

All of that is encompassed beautifully in this liturgy, in the words of this service.

I am always grateful when we celebrate Holy Communion in our funeral liturgies. In so many ways, like Mame’s Sunday dinner, it is a way for us to come together, to BE together, to celebrate together.

Now, I’m no mystic. But, for me, the Eucharist is a holy time. It is a time in which I truly believe the very thin veil between this world and the next is, for one very sacred moment, lifted. And those who are there, in the nearer Presence of God and those of who are here, are together in some wonderful mysterious way.

A few years my brother died very suddenly. I hadn’t seen him for several years. And shortly after hearing the shocking news, I was at the altar at St. Stephen’s here in Fargo (where I serve as priest) on Sunday morning, celebrating the Eucharist. And all of sudden, for one moment, I realized that in that Holy Communion, my brother was there. He was there celebrating Communion right with me and with everyone else who was gathered there. And, in that moment, he was young and he was healthy. And it was an incredible moment.

It is something that Mame would’ve understood and appreciated. Mame who knew how important meals are—how important food and drink were for us.
Mame, who allowed God to make her Sunday dinner for her.

This meal we share today is also a meal prepared for us by God. And in it, the veil is lifted. And those who are there, and we are we are here—we are one together.

Mame is here with us in this afternoon meal. And she is healthy and beautiful and happy.

Yes,  we are sad today that Mame is gone from us. But she is still with us in so many ways. She is with us in all those lessons she taught us. She us with us in the grace and strength she taught her loved ones. And she is here with us as we gather together to eat and drink and celebrate her life.

I will miss Mame. We will all miss her and will feel her loss for a long time to come. But, on this day in which we bid her this temporary goodbye, let us also be very, very thankful.

Let us be thankful for this person whom God has been gracious to let us know and to love. Let us be thankful for her example to us. Let us be thankful for all that she has taught and continues to teach us. And let us be grateful for all she has given us in our own lives. Let us, like Mame, be examples of dignity and strength and grace.

Into paradise may the angels lead you, Mame.
At your coming may the martyrs receive you, and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

I bought my tickets to Florida today

Monday, January 1, 2018