Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Arthur Michael Ramsey


April 23, 2008
The Chapel of the Resurrection

John 17. 1-8, 17-18

Twenty years ago today, Arthur Michael Ramsey, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, died. Archbishop Ramsey was one of the truly great Christians of modern times.

He was born Nov. 14, 1904. He was ordained a priest in 1928 and served in many parishes, taught and was lecturer. He was also a prolific writer and author of several books. In 1952, he was appointed Bishop of Durham, in 1956 he became Archbishop of York and on May 31, 1961, he was appointed the 100th Archbishopf Canterbury. He served as Archbsihop from 1961 to 1974, probably the most tumultuous years in the Christian Church in recent history.

But he was the perfect choice for Archbishop during this time. Ramsey was an Anglo-Catholic and a die-hard one at that. Now most of us, no doubt, consider Anglo-Catholics to be pretty conservative and straight-laced. But he was also a very kind, very understand pastoral leader and, as such, he became a very popular, very well-liked leader in the Church. In fact, he was one of the most famous Archbishops of Canterbury in the twentieth century.

During the 1960s, when many people abandoned the Church and proclaimed themselves to be athiests, Ramsey was brave enough to say that he had deep respect for people were were honestly agnostic or atheist, and he believed that atheists were not necessarily lost from heaven. At the same time, he did not like some of the more evangelical kinds of Christianity, that he felt were sensationalist and over-emotional. He was famous for his criticism of Billy Graham, but he was also just as famous for the fact that he later became friends with Garaham and even appeared with him on stage at one of Graham’s crusades in Brazil.

He also believed there was no theological reason why women couldn’t be ordained priests, though, as an Anglo-Catholic, he was uncomfortable with that view. In fact, during his time as Cantaur, women were first ordained priests and, at one point, he received Holy Communion from a woman priest.

He was also one of the first truly ecumenical Cantaurs. He was close friends with Pope Paul VI, which was very radical for his time, as well as with Eastern Orthodox leaders such as the Patriarch of Constaninople, Athenagoras and the Patriarch of Moscow, Alexis. He also supported the union between the Church of England and the Methodist Church, a union that eventually failed.

Politically, Ramsey supported liberalizing laws against homosexuality in the England, another very controversial stance for a conservative Anglo-Catholic. He was outspoken in his opposition to the Vietnam War, apartheid, and was a vocal critic of Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet.

When he died on April 23, 1988, he was cremated and his ashes were buried in the Close of Canterbury Cathedral, next to the grave of his great predecessor as Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple.


Although he isn’t officially a saint in the Church, he truly is a saint to some of us. Certainly he is a saint to me. The reason we honor saints in the Church isn’t because we are putting before us examples of Christian life that we can’t relate to. We don’t honor saints because they are somehow holier than us.

Rather, saints are meant to be guides for us. They are meant to show us the way. They have already traveled the way we are walking. They have trod the path to Heaven.

When we are disheartened, when we are lost, when we have lost joy, and vitality and hope, they show that there were times as well when they have been disheartened, when they too had lost joy and hope. But they persevered and look at what they have gained—
they have gained Glory. They have gained Heaven.

So, let us look to the saints in our life. Let us look to our friends who have gone on before us and whom we will see one day. Let us look to our friend, Michael Ramsey. And we struggle on our journey, as we stumble and trip on our way, let us listen as Michael Ramsey encourages on with words like these,

“Heaven is the goal…” he once wrote, “the goal of every member of the flock, the goal of [everyone] created in God’s image to share eternally in God’s glory.”[1]

Let us listen to him when he says to us, “We ought to think much and often about haven…it is, after all, the proper destiny of [everyone] who is created in God’s own image…He who called you…has also called you to eternal glory in Christ…”[2]

Let us continue on, as we must, as Michael Ramsey himself as already done, to that goal—heaven. And there, with Michael Ramsey, let us one day rejoice in that eternal glory in Christ.



[1] The Christian Priest Today, 1972.
[2] Ibid.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

5 Easter


April 20, 2008
All Saints Episcopal Church
Valley City, ND

Acts 7.55-60; John 14.1-14

The Gospel we heard this morning is a familiar one for most of us. This is one of the Gospel readings recommended by the Book of Common Prayer for funerals. In fact, it is, by far, one of the most popular Gospel readings chosen for funerals. There’s little doubt why it is. It is wonderfully appropriate.

In fact, just this past Wednesday, I preached on this same Gospel reading at a funeral, one of three funerals in which I’ve participated in the last two weeks (and I still have one more planned for May 3).

The reason it is so popular is because it truly does give us a wonderful glimpse into what awaits us following our death. This really is the BIG issue in our lives. We might not give it a lot of conscious thought, but no doubt most of us have pondered at some time in our lives, what awaits us following our death.

The part we no doubt concentrate on in today’s Gospel are Jesus’ words “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” Traditionally, we have heard the word “mansions” used here, and I have never been shy in saying that I have always enjoyed the word “mansions.” I believe that these dwelling places awaiting us are truly the equivalent of mansions for us.

But the part we sometimes overlook in this scripture is Jesus’ even more wonderful words “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This is really just another way of saying what we heard in last week’s Gospel when he said, “I am the Gate through which the sheep enter the pastures.” Over the history of Christianity, many people have used and abused the words of Jesus from today’s Gospel; using it to prove their point that Jesus is saying that only Christians get to go to heaven.

That is not quite what Jesus is saying here, however. What he is, in fact, saying is that, he is the way because he is the incarnate God—because he is God who has come to us and become one with us. In Jesus, because of his incarnation, we now know the way to God because we know God. Through Jesus, we truly get to know and experience God. In Jesus, we see God. He is the very image of God.

That is, of course, a huge statement of faith to make. But to say that God became flesh—that God actually took on flesh like our flesh—and lived like we live, and, just as importantly, died like we all must die—that really is a great and wonderful way, a truth way, to life.


For some people Jesus saying he was the Way, the Truth and the Life was, quite simply, blasphemous. It certain was blasphemous to those people who dragged Stephen out and stoned him to death in our reading this morning from the Acts of the Apostles. But Stephen understood the fact that Jesus was God. He looked up into heaven and was allowed a vision, in which he saw Jesus in the glory of God. And with his last words, he prayed to Jesus,

“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

This is the first recorded prayer to Jesus in the scriptures. And it is the most beautiful and most honest prayer we can pray to him.

So this, morning, in both our Gospel reading and our reading from Acts, we are confronted with visions. In our Gospel, Jesus allows us to see that beautiful house that belongs to his Father, and how in that house, we have a place prepared for us. In Acts, we see, with Stephen, the glory of God and Jesus standing there. It is glorious to be able to look ahead and see what awaits us. It is wonderful to be able to see the joys and beauty of our place with Jesus in heaven.

Still, knowing full well what awaits us, having been given glimpses into that glorious place that lies just beyond our vision, we still find ourselves digging in our heels when we have to face the fact of our own dying.

I teach a class called Suffering and Christian Healing. The other night, we were discussing the issue of dying. I realized as we talked, that there are a lot of books out there about the process of dying—there are books on what we will experience if we receive a terminal diagnosis, there are books on how to manage pain, there are books on facing psychologically and emotionally the process of dying.

But there are few books that teach us actually about dying itself, from a spiritual point of view. I remember once reading a book by the Roman Catholic saint, Alphonsus de Liguori, about how to die what he called a “happy death.” A happy death was not a death free of pain or suffering necessarily. A happy death was dying in the Presence of God. A happy death is a holy death.

St. Alphonsus wrote,

“If, when death comes, we are found in the grace of God, oh with what joy shall we say: ‘I have secured all; I can never again lose God, I shall be happy forever!’”

He even composed a prayer to Jesus to obtain a happy death. He prayed,

“My Lord Jesus Christ, through the bitterness you suffered on the cross, when Your blessed soul was separated from Your sacred body, have pity on my soul, when it shall depart from my body, and shall enter into your glorious eternity.”[1]

This is one of the things I think we can all admire about the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Church actually ponders and prays about dying. In the Roman Church, there are prayers one can pray so one can die a happy and holy death—a death in which one can find consolation and peace with God as one dies. There is even a patron saint for a happy death—St. Joseph, the same saint, strangely enough, that one invokes when one is trying to sell a house.

I recently read a wonderful story about a Benedictine monk at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. Every day, when the monastery bell rang at 11:00, Father Placidus would bow his head and quietly pray. When asked why he did that, he said, “I pray the Ultima.” The Ultima was a beautiful Latin prayer to the Virgin Mary that he prayed every day at 11:00:

Ultima in mortis hora
Filium pro nobis ora
Bonam mortem impetra
Virgo Mater Dominia

At death’s last hour,
To your son pray for us,
A good death ask for us,
O Virgin Mother, Our Lady.


This kind of thinking might seem a bit strange to us non Roman Catholics. We just aren’t used to thinking about such a thing as a “happy death” or a “good death.” The whole idea seems like some kind of oxymoron. “Happy” and “death” just don’t go together in way of our thinking.
But it is a good thing to think about occasionally. Certainly there are few books to teach us non-Roman Catholics about how to die a happy and holy death. As a priest, I can say that I have known many people who, when faced with their deaths, simply don’t know how to die and don’t know how to look at their dying as a way of moving into God’s presence. And even fewer know how to prepare themselves spiritually for dying.


What few Episcopalians and Anglicans know is that there have actually been Anglicans who have set an example for us about holy dying. Jeremy Taylor, the great 17th century Anglican Bishop, wrote a wonderful book called Holy Living. In it, he prayed to God:

“Give me grace to live a holy life, and thy favour, that I may die a godly and happy death.”

Taylor also wrote another great book called The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying. For Taylor, the first way to prepare for a holy death is to always remind ourselves that we are going to die. Taylor wrote, “Always look for death, every day knocking at the gates of the grave.”

This kind of thinking isn’t meant to be morbid or unpleasant. It’s simply meant to remind us that we are mortal. We will die one day. But rather than despairing over that fact, we should use it as an opportunity to draw closer to God. We should use it as an opportunity to live a more holy life. And hopefully, living a more holy life, we can pray at that last moment—that holy moment—with true conviction, that wonderful prayer of St. Stephen, the first martyr:

“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Although it’s probably not the most pleasant thought to have that we are going to die, I think it is important to think about occasionally. The reason we should think about it—and the reason we shouldn’t despair in thinking about it—is because, for a Christian, dying is not a horrible thought.

Dying is not a reason to fear. Because, by dying, we do come to life everlasting—life with end. By dying, we come to meet Jesus and Jesus comes to meet us. And although we, at this moment, can’t imagine it as being a “happy” or “holy” moment, the fact is, it will be. It will be the holiest moment of our life and it will be the happiest moment of our life.

For Stephen, who died abused, in pain, bleeding from those sharp stones that fell upon him, it was a happy and holy moment when he looked up and saw Jesus waiting for him. He was happy because he knew he would soon be received by Jesus and it was holy because, at that moment, his faith was fulfilled.

That place toward which we are headed—that place in God’s house, in that place with Jesus—we will find our true home. We all know the traditional hymn “Jerusalem, my happy home.” It is a beautiful hymn with, yet again, that wonderful word “happy.”

Jerusalem, my happy home,

when shall I come to thee?

When shall my sorrows have an end?

Thy joys when shall I see?


Thy saints are crowned with glory great;

they see God face to face;

they triumph still, they still rejoice

most happy is their case.


Heaven—the new Jerusalem—is truly our happy home, the place toward which we are wandering around, searching. And we will not find our rest until we rest there, and we will not be fully and completely happy until we are surrounded by the happiness there.

So, let us look forward to that new Jerusalem, to that place in which Jesus has prepared a place for us. It awaits us. It there, right at this moment, just beyond our vision. Let us look to it with joy and let us live in joy until we can go there.

Amen.



[1] St. Alphonsus de Liguori, The Incarnation Birth and Infancy of Jesus Christ

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Wednesday of 4 Easter

Chapel of the Resurrection
April 16, 2008

Matthew 5.17-20

In tonight’s Gospel, Jesus talks about how he came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.

“…till heaven and earth pass away,” Jesus says, “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is perfected.”

No doubt, this scripture seems a bit daunting for us. When we think of “The Law,” we think of a set of confining, oppressive rules. We think, no doubt, of the Levitical Law—that set of almost tedious rules we find in the book of Leviticus. We think, no doubt, of all the “thou shalt nots” we find in the Bible.

But is that what Jesus is saying he came to fulfill in this reading? Well, not really. If we listen closely to what he’s saying elsewhere, we know that he expertly summarizes the Law—the Ten Commandments—into two commandments.

“Love God.”

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In a sense, these really are the commandments. They are the true Law. Jesus is clear that upon these two commandments, the Law rests. The other eight commandments simply are ways in which these two commandments are lived out.

If you love God and love your neighbor as yourself, you won’t covet your neighbor’s property, you won’t worship idols, and you won’t steal. You simply won’t let anything come between you and God and you and your neighbor.

Even these two great commandments are incredible in and of themselves. For example, none of us can love God, without loving our neighbor as ourselves. Love of God motivates and compels us to love each other. And we can’t love our neighbor as ourselves without loving God. If we truly believe God is present—God is immanent—then by loving our neighbor as ourselves, we are loving God. And if we don’t love ourselves, we can’t truly love God, who loves us so completely, and we can’t truly love neighbors.

So, truly, if we try to live out these commandments in our lives, if we make the effort to follow this wonderful Law and let our lives reflect this Law, we are being Christians. We are accomplishing the Law in our very lives.

In fact, it is probably one of the boldest statements of Jesus to us about salvation when he says, “whoever does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” In other words, living out these commandments—loving God, loving your neighbor as yourself—are what save us ultimately.

So, live out this great and wonderful Law of God in your life as best you can. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. And know that, in doing so, you are accomplishing the Law and bringing the kingdom of God into our midst.

Amen.

John Meader Requiem Eucharist


John Meader(August 29, 1927 - April 11, 2008)
April 16, 2008
Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral
Fargo

John 14.1-6
As most of you know, John was a life-long Episcopalian. He was active at both St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Detroit Lakes, and at St. Barnabas on the Desert in Scottsdale, Arizona, a church I was privileged to visit just a few weeks. The Episcopal Church was very important to John and it defined and shaped his faith in God.

When John’s daughters and I were talking the other day, they mentioned that John often led Morning Prayer in the churches he attended. He often stepped up on those occasions when priests were, for whatever reasons, unavailable and actually led the service.

The Book of Common Prayer—this book from which we are worshipping this morning—was very important to him, as it is to all Episcopalians. This book helps us to pray, helps us to understand God and God’s dealings in our lives. It is a book that, with the Bible, helps us to grow closer to God in our devotional life.

No doubt, this very service that we are participating in at this moments, was a service of great consolation to John in his life. And John, no doubt, would commend the words of this service to us as a way of consoling ourselves and making sense of the loss and sadness we are feeling this morning.

The fact is, we can take great hope in our liturgy—in the actual words of this service. Certainly, for us Episcopalians, we place huge importance on liturgy. That is why most Episcopal churches discourage eulogies at the actual funeral service.

In some churches these days, there are often, in addition to the sermon, a series of eulogies from family and friends. They are often beautiful sentiments and I, for one, have often enjoyed hearing them. Most Episcopal churches however discourage eulogies, and that is part of the reason why we will have a time for eulogies at the reception following this service. In fact, in the 1928 Prayer Book, the one John was no doubt very familiar with, it was typical that not even a sermon, much less a eulogy, would ever have been preached during an Episcopal funeral.

I recently read a biography of the author John Steinbeck. When Steinbeck died in 1968, his funeral was held at St. James Episcopal Church in New York City. The service itself lasted fifteen minutes. And not once, throughout that service, was Steinbeck’s name mentioned.

No doubt, most of us cringe when we hear that. This is so very much contradictory to our usual experience of funerals.

Luckily, we’ve revised that a bit with our current Prayer Book, which was revised in 1979. We do actually mention the person for whom we are praying by name. We allow a sermon. But we still discourage eulogies, because we hope that the words of the service itself will be consolation enough for family and friends. The words of the service say everything we can ever hope to say about dying and about rising to new life following death.

For most preachers, anything we say in addition to the words of the liturgy simply pale in comparison. In fact, as we celebrate this service together, I invite you to pay special attention to the words we say together.

For example, the words we used at the beginning—words that actually come from the Gospel of John—are incredible, and have been used to begin Anglican funerals since 1549:

I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.Whoever has faith in me shall have life,even though he die.And everyone who has life,and has committed himself to me in faith,shall not die for ever.

We often don’t think too much about those words, but they really do tell us everything we could hope to hear about death. In Jesus, we have Resurrection and Life. With faith in Jesus, even though we will die in our bodies, we shall live. And in living, we will live forever with him.

Pay close attention also to the prayers we say at he commendation at the end of the service when we say together,

“Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.”

“…where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.”

Those are not light words. Those are words that pack a punch and have deep meaning for anyone who mourns.

Also, we Episcopalians do something few other non-Roman Catholic denominations do: we actually pray for the deceased. While most Lutherans, Presbyterians and Methodists make a point of not praying specifically for the person who has passed away, we very unashamedly do. In a few moments, at the end of the Prayers of the People, we will pray,

“Father of all, we pray to you for John, and for all those whom we love and see no longer.”

It’s words and images and sentiments such as these that make our liturgy so important and carry the weight it does. That’s why I always I encourage people to take these service programs with them following the service and read through these words when they’re feeling sad.

Often people tell me that they have taken the Episcopal funeral service home with them and replaced the name in the program with one of their own loved ones and that using these prayers have helped them in their own grief and sorrow. After all, they are full of consolation and hope. They truly do give us a glimpse of what awaits all of us.

This liturgy carries great meaning at other times as well. On Friday, when I gathered with the family at John’s bedside to say some prayers, one of the prayers we prayed was this one. It comes from the Book of Common Prayer for the Anglican Church of New Zealand. The prayer we prayed Friday afternoon was this:

God of the present moment,
God who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart;
bring hope and courage to your servant.
Make him the equal of whatever lies ahead for him.
For your will is wholeness.
You are God and we trust you.

It was a perfect prayer for John on Friday. God, who in that present moment, God, who stills storms and soothes hearts that are frantic, was, at that moment, brining hope and courage to John. In that moment, God made John the equal of what lay ahead for him—life, unending, glorious life.

That prayer could also be used for us as well today. As we head into these days without John, we also ask our God, who is with us in this present moment, to still the storm of our mourning and to soothe whatever frantic hearts we may have in the wake of our loss. We ask God at this time to bring us hope and courage. And we truly do ask God in our liturgy to make us the equal of what lies ahead for us in these days to come.

We, also, in our liturgy, allow for the reading of the scriptures. I am also especially happy that the family chose this particular gospel reading for this service this afternoon. In it, we find Jesus allowing us a glimpse of what awaits us. We are able to see, for a moment, the Father’s house and how in that house there are many rooms awaiting us. In older translations of this scripture, we hear the word “mansions” used. In my Father’s house there are many mansions. I like that idea of mansions. After all, would a God of love provide us, who made it through the perils of this life, with anything less than a mansion? Would God, who loved John so much, provide him with anything less than a mansion? I don’t think so. And I am fully certain that God has provided a mansion for John.

Can you imagine what that place must be like? Can you imagine the joy he must feel right this moment? Can you imagine the laughter he is experiencing.

This is the consolation we can take away from today. In that place—that wonderful glorious place, promised to us in scripture and in liturgy—John is now fully and completely himself. He is whole.

In that Prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book that I prayed with John and his family on Friday, we prayed,

Your will, O God, is wholeness.

Wholeness means just that—completeness. Whatever imperfections we might have in this world, whatever in this life prevented us from being who we are truly meant to be, are made whole by God.

And today, we can take great consolation in the fact that that petition has been answered for John. God has made John whole.

Of course that doesn’t make any of this any easier for those who are left behind. Whenever anyone we love dies, we are going to feel pain. That’s just a part of life. But like the illnesses that lead to death, our feelings of loss are only temporary as well. They too will pass away. This is what gets us through. This is where we find our strength—in our faith that promises us an end to our sorrows, to our loss. This is what scripture allows us to glimpse. This is what liturgy allows us to look forward to. It is a faith that can tell us with a startling reality that every tear we shed—and we all shed our share of tears in this life, as I’m sure John would be quick to tell you—will one day be dried and every heartache will disappear like a bad dream upon awakening.

John knew this faith in his own life and we too can cling to it in a time like this.

At the end of this service, as we take John’s casket out to the hearse, the priests will pray a wonderful verse that we say now to John, but, one day, will be said for all of us as well.

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

On Friday, John was received into that paradise. On Friday, angels led him to that holy city Jerusalem. On Friday, the martyrs received and brought him home.

One day we too will be received there as well. One day, we too will experience that wonderful paradise.

So this morning and in the days to come, let us all take consolation in that faith that John is complete and whole and beautiful at this very moment and for every moment to come form now on. Let us take consolation in that paradise to which he has been received by martyrs and angels. And let us be glad that one day we too will be there as well, sharing with him in that joy that will never end.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

4 Easter


Good Shepherd Sunday
April 13, 2008
St. John the Divine
Moorhead, Minnesota

1 Peter; Psalm 23; John 10.1-10

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday—the Sunday in which we encounter this wonderful reading about Jesus being the Good Shepherd. However, we not only have just one wonderful image in today’s Gospel reading. We actually have two.

The first is a wonderful and beautiful image all in its self. Jesus describes himself in today’s Gospel as the Good Shepherd. This is probably one of the most perfect images Jesus could have used for the people listening to him. They would have understood what a good shepherd was and what a bad shepherd was. The good shepherd was the shepherd who actually cared for his flock. He looked out for them, he watched them. The Good Shepherd guided the flock and led the flock. He guided and led the flock to a place to eat.

This is an important aspect of the role of the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd didn’t feed the flock. Rather the good shepherd led the flock to the choicest green pastures and helped them to feed themselves. In this way, the Good Shepherd is more than just a coddling shepherd. He is not the co-dependent shepherd. The Good Shepherd doesn’t take each sheep individually, pick them up, and hand-feed the sheep. Rather, he guides and leads the sheep to green pastures and allows them feed themselves.

The Good Shepherd also protects the flock against the many dangers out there. He protects the flock from the wolves, from getting too near cliffs, or holes, or falling into places of water.

Let’s face it, there are many dangers out there. There are many opportunities for us to trip ourselves, to get lost, to get hurt. If we follow the Good Shepherd, if we allow ourselves to be led by him to the Gate, we avoid those pitfalls of life. Of course, the journey isn’t an easy one. We can still get hurt along the way. Bad things can still happen to us. There are predators out there, waiting to hurt us. There are storms brewing in our lives, waiting rain down upon us.

But, with our eyes on the Shepherd, we know that the bad things that happen to us will not destroy us, because the Shepherd is there, close by, watching out for us. We know that in those bad times—those times of darkness when predators close in, when storms rage—he will rescue us.

More importantly the Good Shepherd knows his flock. He knows each of the sheep. If one is lost, he knows it is lost and will not rest until it is brought back into the fold. In our collect for today, there is a wonderful reference to the Good Shepherd. In the prayer, we ask God:

“Grant that when we hear his voice, we may know him who calleth us each by name…’

This is the kind of relationship we have with Jesus as the Good Shepherd. We are know him because he knows us. He knows us and calls us each by our name.

In Jesus, we don’t have some vague, distant God. We don’t have a “watchmaker God” like the Deists of the eighteenth century believed in. We don’t believe in a God who simply sets the watch of our creation—who created us—and then just let us go, not caring about us, not knowing us, now paying any more attention to us. We don’t have a God who lets us fend for ourselves. We instead have a God who leads us and guides us, a God who knows us each by name, a God who despairs over the loss of even one of the flock. We have a God who, in leading us and guiding us, then allows us to pass through him into a place wherein we will feast.

The bad shepherd, on the other hand, is a lazy shepherd. He doesn’t care for the flock and, in not caring, he lets the flock do whatever it wants. If sheep go astray, he doesn’t go after them, bringing them back into the fold. If a wolf comes near, he doesn’t come between it and the sheep, but rather runs away, leaving the sheep to fend for themselves. If a sheep here or there are lost, it doesn’t matter. And worst of all, he doesn’t know his sheep. One or two might be lost, but the bad shepherd might not even notice, and certainly wouldn’t care. All these are important images, vital images to explain the relationship God has with us and we with God.

But the other beautiful image in today’s Gospel is that of Jesus as the Gate, through which the sheep enter the pastures. This is an image different than we’ve heard previously.

The image of the Good Shepherd can be taken and applied by anyone. Anyone can be a shepherd. Even we can take the image of the Good Shepard and apply it to ourselves. Certainly, priests and pastors have long clung to that image and applied it to their vocation. And a good priest and pastor really should be like the Good Shepherd. But no priest or pastor—not one of us—can claim to be the Gate for the sheep.

Jesus, today, does just that however. He describes himself as the Gate through which the sheep enter. At first, this seems like a strange image. Most of us can, no doubt, wrap our minds around the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. But Jesus as the Gate? That’s a bit harder to understand.

The fact is, it too is a wonderful image. Jesus makes clear that there is only one Gate through which to enter the green pastures and he is that gate. One cannot enter the pasture except by entering the Gate. So, in a sense, as sheep of the flock, we get Jesus at every turn. He knows us. He leads and guides us. And, through him, he brings us to a place of refreshment and fulfillment.

I often read one or two sources before I ever sit down to write a sermon. One of the sources I am not ashamed to refer to every Sunday is Forward Day By Day, the daily meditations that have inspired Episcopalians for many decades. The writer for this morning’s meditation refers to an image that I had forgotten. The entry for today reads:

“One of the things I have always loved about C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia is the plethora of entrances into that magical land. By the end of the series, however, it is clear: Aslan, the great golden Christlike lion king of Narnia, does not merely open the door to other worlds; he himself is the way.”

For those of you who have not read Lewis’ The Last Battle, it’s truly a wonderful finale to the Narnia series. In its finale, those who believe in the lion Aslan, who truly is a symbol for Christ, pass through a gate into a beautiful place. The actual going through the gate is a terrifying experience, but once they are through, they come out in paradise. In a sense, Aslan stands at the threshold of the new era. He stand there not merely to usher people in. He stands there as the gate through which the characters enter. It’s an image that we should all cherish.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd and he is also the Gate. He is the Shepherd that leads us to the Gate—to himself. And he is the Gate through which we can enter into those lush green pastures that wait all of us.

So, on this day in which we celebrate the Shepherd who leads and guides, allow yourself to be led. On this day that we look to the Shepherd who guides, let us be guided. Allow yourself to be led by that Great Good Shepherd, who brings you to himself, to the very Gate. And there, go through the Gate into that glorious place we have longed for all our existence. And when we are there, in that glorious place, let us rejoice in our God and in each other. Let us know that the joy we will experience there will be a joy that is never taken from us.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Committal of Bob & Rob Bruun

Minnesota Veterans Cemetery
Little Falls, Minnesota
Thursday April 10, 2008

We gather here this morning to bury the remains of Bob Bruun. But we are also burying this morning the ashes of his son, Rob. As some of you know, Bob and Rob made a pact not long ago. Rob wanted his ashes placed in Bob’s coffin and buried with him. It’s a beautiful gesture—the gesture of a father and son who loved each other, who cared enough for each other to want to be together even now. Only a son who idolizes his father would want to make a pact with his father to have his ashes buried with him.

And this morning, those of us who loved and cared for Bob and Rob are able to help make sure that that pact has been fulfilled. As we do so, as we gather here, we do so with sadness. It is a sad time for us who loved these two wonderful men.

We have to say goodbye to them. And doing that isn’t easy. It isn’t easy to part from them, even if it is in this beautiful place.

But what is good for us is our faith that there is more to our living than just this life. Yes, saying goodbye to Bob and Rob is hard, but we know that it’s only a temporary good bye. We know today that just as the goodbye Bob made to Rob in December is now a “hello,” so we know that the goodbye we make to the two of them today will one day be a wonderful and beautiful “hello” as well.

We gather here today knowing that we will see them again. We will reunite with them and be with them always. This is what gives those of who are Christians such hope.

For some people, who have no hope, this would be a time of absolute despair. This would be the end of the story. But for us, for us who have faith in God, who know that God loves us in the same way a parents loves a child, a God who promises us that we will live with God always when we are through with this life, this isn’t the end of the story. Not by any means.

Today, we celebrate the beginning—the beginning of a time in which Bob and Rob will never be parted again. Today we know that Bob and Rob are in that wonderful place preparing a place for us as well—a place of great beauty, a place in which we will never part from them or from each other or from God. A place in which there will simply be no more “good byes.”

So, let us say our temporary goodbyes, knowing full well that as we do so, we will one day soon greet Bob and Rob yet again. Let us use the words of this wonderful committal service that has been prayed, in one of form or the other, for centuries. And let us be able to say, today, at the end of this service, what Bob and Rob are now saying in the glorious Presence of God,

“Alleluia!”

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dietrich Bonhoeffer




April 9, 2008
The Chapel of the Resurrection

Matthew 13.47-52

On this day in 1945, a young Lutheran pastor ascended a gallows at Flossenb├╝rg Concentration camp in Germany and was hanged. This pastor was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a brilliant theologian and brave defender of the faith. The true tragedy of Bonhoeffer death is that Flossenb├╝rg was just days away from being liberated by American military forces. And his death came just twenty-one days before Hitler’s suicide, and thus the end of the war.

Bonhoeffer is truly one of the greats of Christianity in the twentieth century and one of my personal heroes.

The message of Dietrich Bonhoeffer for us today is one of the most important messages we can receive. The question Bonhoeffer asks us is a vital one: what would YOU die for?

When we think about what Bonhoeffer did, it truly was a sacrifice. It would have been easier for him to have done what other pastors were doing in Germany at that time—just go along with the flow, follow the crowd, accept the government as it was and bide his time. It was life-threatening to stand up to the authority of the Nazi government in Germany at that time. But he did. He spoke out against Hitler. He proclaimed loudly his belief that Hitler was the anti-Christ. And he supported the assassination of Hitler. To do so was, of course, to be seen as unpatriotic, to be a traitor. And that is what he died as—as a traitor.

What’s even more amazing about Bonhoeffer is the fact that he had plenty of opportunities to leave Germany for good, and he did. He went to America and loved the U.S. But as things got worse in Germany, he made the decision to go back, knowing full well as he did so that he might die for his beliefs.

So, again, the question of Bonhoeffer to us is: what would you die for?

Of course, most of us would quickly say that we would lay down our lives for our families. But would we lay down our lives for our faith in Christ? Would we be willing to stand up and point our fingers at what we perceive to be the anti-Christ—that person who truly is the opposite of Christ?

The anti-Christ for Bonhoeffer was more than just a supernatural being. For him, the anti-Christ was that which is opposite of Christ. Where Christ came in love, the anti-Christ came in hatred. Where Christ came to save, the anti-Christ came to destroy. Where Christ came to give life, the anti-Christ came to bring death.

Could we—would we—stand up to and accuse the anti-Christ in our midst? I don’t know if I would have the guts or bravery to do so, though I hope so. It’s uncomfortable to even venture there in my thoughts.

But I hope that if the situation arose, I would have the strength to persevere even to the end as Bonhoeffer did. I hope that any of us, called as Christian, called to follow Christ even to the cross, would have the strength to persevere even to that last breath, even to the point in which we would have to go to that place Bonhoeffer did, slowly strangling to death from a noose in a concentration camp just within days of freedom.

To follow Christ to the cross, to give up our lives for Christ, we first of all have to have a strong faith. We have to have a faith that will sustain us even in that last moment of our lives. And we have to have a faith that gives us strength to recognize the anti-Christ among us and the strength to stand up and say “no” to the anti-Christ.

I will close with Bonhoeffer’s own words, words that still speak loud and clear to us as Christians even after sixty years:

“I believe that God can and will bring good out of evil, even out of the greatest evil. For that purpose he needs men who make the best use of everything. I believe that God will give us all the strength we need to help us to resist in all time of of distress. But he never gives it in advance, lest we should rely on ourselves and not on him alone. A faith such as this should allay all our fears for the future. I believe that even our mistakes and shortcoming are turned to good account, and that it is no harder for God to deal with them than with our supposedly good deeds. I believe that God is no timeless fate, but that he awaits for and answers sincere prayers and responsible actions.”

(Letters and Papers from Prison)



Saturday, April 5, 2008

3 Easter

April 6, 2008
Gethsemane Cathedral
Fargo

Luke 24.13-35

We are now walking in the glorious days of Easter. After all that long trekking we did through the grey days of Lent, that long, unpleasant, but inevitable journey to the cross, is now behind us. We—today—this morning—now over two weeks later—are on “the other side of the cross.” It’s a good place to be. The journey to the cross was a journey few of us every want to make again. It was a journey of exhaustion, of humiliation, of frustration, of physical and emotional agony. It was a journey that ended in murder and death.

In many ways, this is how it is for us in life. As we head into the hardships of this life—as we journey, stumbling, blind with the difficulties of this life—we do so imagining that, once we get beyond this hurdle, all will be well.

The fact is, once we get beyond the hurdle of the cross, once we feel that “Easter-like” joy of being beyond a hardship, we don’t live in that joy for very long. Our joys settled down. We fall into complacency. And eventually, we find ourselves slowly, but surely, back on that road through Lent and the cross all over again.

We do it every year in the Church. Every year, we hit the low points—Lent, Holy Week, Good Friday and Holy Saturday—we hit the high points—Easter, Christmas—but for the most part we walk an ordinary journey, a time in between the high and low points.

In the church we call that long, green season—the time after Pentecost. In the Roman Catholic church, that long period of time between Pentecost and Advent is called, appropriately, “ordinary time.”

In today’s Gospel, we find this beautiful story of Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple encountering Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Cleopas and the other disciple are, essentially, already in that ordinary time, although, of course, they have not yet experienced the Pentecost. The long week of Jesus’ betrayal, torture and murder are behind them. The resurrection has happened, although, it’s clear from their words, they don’t quite comprehend what’s happened. Of course, who could? We still, two thousand years later, are grappling with the events of Jesus’ resurrection. But as these two walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, they are kept from recognizing their friend, the person they saw as the Messiah, until finally he breaks the bread with them. Only then—only when he breaks that bread open to share with them—do they recognize him.

It’s a wonderful story and one that has many, many layers of meaning for each of us individually, no doubt. But for us Episcopalians, for us who gather together every Sunday to break bread together, this story takes on special meaning. As we hear this reading, we need to ask ourselves: who is it we relate to the most?

The fact is, we are the disciples in this reading. We are Cleopas and the unnamed disciple, walking on the road—walking, as they are, in that place on the other side of the cross. They are walking away from Jerusalem, where all these events happened—the betrayal, the torture the murder and the eventual resurrection of Jesus form the tomb—back to Emmaus, to their homes.

Like them, we go around in our lives on the other side of the cross, talking about Jesus, going on about Jesus, spouting Jesus to others, but, more often than not, we do so without recognizing Jesus in our midst. More often than not, while we are busy speaking about Jesus, we fail to recognize that the person walking right alongside us, the person sitting with us at the table, is, in fact, Jesus in our midst.

In the Rule of St. Benedict, the rule that Benedictine monastics all around the world, for many , many centuries have followed, there is a wonderful chapter on greeting visitors to the monastery. St. Benedict commands that “All should be received as Christ.” Everyone who comes to the door of a monastery or convent, should be welcomed and received as Christ for, St Benedict says, “he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matt. 25.35).” Benedict goes on to say, “Proper honor must be shown to all…” And to this day, Benedictines all over the world do just that when anyone comes to a monastery or convent. They are known for their hospitability.

What an incredible world this would be if we could do the same. What an amazing church we would have if we could do the same, if we could welcome every stranger—and every regular parishioner as well—as Christ. If we could show proper honor to everyone—no matter who they are—who comes through that door.

The fact is, we ARE called to this. By the very fact that we are baptized we are called to do this. In our Baptismal Covenant—that Covenant we have made with God through our baptism—we are called to serve Christ in each other. In our Book of Common Prayer, in the Baptismal Covenant on page 305, each time there is baptism in this church, we are asked,

“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.”

To which, we respond, “I will, with God’s help.

Now, of course, that’s not easy. In fact, sometimes it’s downright impossible. Without God’s help, we can’t do it. Without God’s help, we first of all can’t even begin to recognize Christ in our midst. And without God’s help, we can’t seek and serve Christ in all person, loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Let’s face, it’s just easier to choose not to. It’s easy not to see Christ in those people who drive us crazy, who irritate us, who say things to us we don’t want to hear. It’s easy for us to see the devil in people, rather than Christ.

But for us who gather together every Sunday at this table—at this altar—we can’t use that excuse of being unable to recognize Jesus in our midst. In our liturgy, we find Jesus in a multitude of ways. Jesus speaks to us in the scripture readings we hear in the Liturgy of the Word. The voice we hear in these sacred words is truly Jesus’ voice, speaking to each of us in our own particular circumstances, and to all of us as whole.

Jesus is present with us—in all of us—as we gather here. We—the assembly of the people—we, all of us together, are the presence of Jesus here as well.

And when we break this bread at the altar, we find whatever spiritual blindness we come here with, lifted at that time. The bread and the wine we share at the Eucharist is more than just bread and wine. We Episcopalians believe something incredible and wonderful happens here when we gather together to participate in the Eucharist. When we break this bread, we see that Jesus is truly present here in a very real and tangible way in this bread and this wine. When we come forward to take the bread, we come forward to eat his flesh. When we take the cup into our hands, we drink his blood. And in eating his flesh and drinking his blood, his flesh and his blood become part of our flesh and blood. We join with Jesus in a wonderfully intimate way in the Eucharist. That is why the Eucharist is so important to us.

So, today, as we gather here to share in the Eucharist, allow Jesus to come to you and become one with you. Hear Jesus’ words in the scriptures we have just shared and in the scriptures you will read this week. Allow Jesus to speak to you with words that are familiar, with a voice that is familiar. Allow him to take away whatever spiritual blindness you might have so that you can truly and completely see him in those people you share your life with, even those you might not even like or care for. Allow him to take away that spiritual blindness that causes so much harm in the world so that you can fully experience him.

And when we break this bread this morning, let your heart sing, as it no doubt did for Cleopas and the other disciple, “Be known to me, Lord Jesus, in the breaking of bread.”
Recognize him here, as you come forward to be nourished in body and spirit by his Body, Blood and Spirit so that you go out into the world, able to recognize Jesus as he walks alongside you on your journey, in the person of that stranger who accompanies.

We are living, in this moment, on the other of the cross. It’s a glorious place to be. This morning, on this side of this cross, this Eucharist is our road to Emmaus. For this time together, we too walk with Jesus and recognize him in the breaking of bread.

So, let us journey together in these glorious days of Easter. And let us see him, recognize him and feed on him as he comes to us, risen and full of the unending life he offers to each of us

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

James Lloyd Breck


April 2, 2008
The Chapel of the Resurrection

Today is the feast day of one of my favorite saints in the Episcopal Church, James Lloyd Breck. Breck has special ties to those of us around here, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

Breck was born June 27, 1818 near Philadelphia. Very early on in his life, he came under the influence of High Church Episcopalians, especially, under the influence of Bishop Jackson Kemper, who was the Missionary Bishop of the West.

Breck, William Adams and John Henry Hobart, two of his classmates at General Seminary in New York, were inspired, shortly after their ordination to the transitional deaconate, to heed Bishop Kemper’s call to come west—in this case, Wisconsin. There, in 1842, they founded a school in what was then called “the wilderness.” That school was Nashotah House, which is still a seminary of the Episcopal Church. In fact, it is my seminary.

In founding Nashotah House, the intent was more than just another missionary endeavor in the wilderness. It was meant to establish a truly monastic community there, based solidly on Anglo-Catholic, Tractarian ideals. According to George E. DeMille, in his now-classic The Catholic Movement in the American Episcopal Church, writes,

“…the three [Breck, Adams and Hobart] founded at Nashotah, in the wilds of Wisconsin, the first monastic institution in the American Church. This was to be at once a missionary center, a seminary, and a monastery.”

A glimpse of the early worship at Nashotah House reflects the Anglo-Catholic ideal:

“The community rose at five, recited the canonical hours, received Holy Communion once a week, supported itself by manual labor, and evangelized the country for miles around. In 1844, Breck attempted to have a daily Eucharist, but this lasted for a year only.”

A note to this section in DeMille’s book gives an amusing air to the intent of the Nashotah House founders:

“It was originally planned that [Adams, Breck and Hobart] should work under the Rev. Richard Cadle, an experienced missionary and an old Hobartian. But Cadle, to whom was given the title of ‘superior’ or ‘prior,’ was more than a little uncomfortable with his eager young associates. He remarks, ‘The imposition of celibacy I candidly confess I do not like, not being in the slightest degree oxfordized.’ Cadle soon left for other fields.”

Although it has experienced years of feasting and fasting in its history, Nashotah House has maintained its Catholic identity, even in those times when such an identity was seen as eccentric, odd or “Papist.” While at Wisconsin, Breck was ordained a priest.

In 1850, Breck moved on to a new wilderness—Minnesota. There, he worked among the Chippewa, in Gull Lake, where he organized St. Columba’s mission. According to Lesser Feasts and Fasts, St. Clumba’s mission “laid the foundation for work among the Indians by their own native priests…” While there, he married in 1855.

But Breck wasn’t done yet. In 1858, he moved on and founded a school in southern Minnesota that is now Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault. After his time in Minnesota, Breck moved on to California. There, in Benicia, he founded two more schools, a boy’s school, St. Augustine’s, in 1868, and, in 1870, a girls school, St. Mary’s of the Pacific. In addition to starting these schools, Breck was also the pastor of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Benicia. It was there that Breck died of exhaustion on March 31, 1876 at the age of 58.

He was, at first, buried under the altar of St. Paul’s. But later he was disinterred and re-buried in the cemetery at Nashotah House, where he still rests to this day under a huge granite cross. On the stone we find the following inscription:
+
JESU MERCY
+
JAMES LLOYD BRECK
PRIEST+PASTOR+DOCTOR
DIED MARCH 30, 1876
AGED 58 YEARS
+
APOSTLE OF THE WILDERNESS


The message of James Lloyd Breck to all of us is this:

As Christians, we are often called to venture into the “wilderness.” The wilderness in our lives is often more than just an actual physical wilderness. Often the wilderness is simply that place that is alien to us—that uncomfortable, strange place we would rather not venture in to.

Let’s face it: it’s safe to stay put. It’s comfortable not to venture beyond our comfort zone. But sometimes, we have to. Sometimes, like James Lloyd Breck, God puts a restlessness inside us that makes us get up and wander into our own personal wilderness.

What Breck shows us is that we need not despair in our going out. If we go forward into the wilderness strong in our faith and convictions, supported and nourished by that faith in God, we know that, no matter how frightening and uncertain the wilds are, we will be all right. Breck went into the wilderness with his Anglo-Catholic beliefs and his love of education, and, in doing so, left behind a legacy of Anglo-Catholicism and quality education in those places he went. And that is what we should do as well in our wilderness. By going into our own wilds, we, in a sense, tame the wilderness and leave behind us something good and productive. That’s why we need to be well-nourished in our faith so we can leave that well-nourished faith behind us wherever we go.

So, let us follow James Lloyd Breck as he leads the way. Let us follow his path into those unfamiliar areas that lie ahead of us. No one—not even God—is promising us a relief from hardships. But God does promise us strength when we need it and nourishment when we are famished.

So, strengthened and nourished, let us go forward. And there, let us serve God with integrity and strength.

Amen.