Sunday, January 30, 2011

4 Epiphany

January 30, 2011
Annual Meeting
1 Corinthians 1.18-31; Matthew 5.1-12

+ Someone in this church this morning was accused recently of the grievous sin of hubris. Now for those of you who might not be able to pinpoint an exact definition of hubris, let me share with you this definition: According to the World English Dictionary, hubris is defined as:

1. pride or arrogance

2. (in Greek tragedy) an excess of ambition, pride, etc, ultimately causing the transgressor's ruin

It comes from the Greek word hybris which means "wanton violence, insolence, outrage," originally "presumption toward the gods."

Now, with that definition in mind, it might not come as any surprise to you that the person who was accused of hubris was, of course, yours truly. A parishioner at another Episcopal congregation in this town accused me of it after I posted some comments recently extolling the growth and the renewal going on here at St. Stephen’s For some reason, those same comments caused me to be singled out in another way. For some reason—in all honesty and seriousness, it is completely beyond me how it even came about—those same comments caused people in that congregation to believe that I was somehow “campaigning” to be the next Dean of the Cathedral. In fact, I heard, it was even brought up at their most recent Chapter meeting.

As flattered as I probably should be that people think I’m so ambitious, self-assured and upwardly mobile—so full of hubris—when I was informed of that accusation, I wasted no time in writing and sending a response to the Chapter members of the Cathedral. My response was this, verbatim:

“I assure everyone that…I do not, under any circumstances, have any intention of even being considered as the next Dean of the Cathedral…”

I then added:

“I would further like to assure every one that I am very content at St. Stephen’s and am very pleased with the ministry they—and I—are doing there…”

And, I am.

Today, of course, is our Annual Meeting. And my sermon on Annual Meeting Sunday is a sort “State of the Union” address. I think it is particularly appropriate that we also hear Paul this morning. No doubt some people accused Paul once or twice of hubris.

This morning, Paul quotes the prophet Jeremiah. Paul’s quote, that we heard today, is, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” The actual quote from Jeremiah is this,

“…let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I take delight, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9.24).

Boasting for us, as good North Dakotans for the most part, is not something we like to do. Boasting for us means being prideful. But, certainly armed with these scriptures, holding them close, we realize we can boast. We can boast, because we are not boasting in ourselves. We are not boasting because we think we did any of these, nor that we are better than anyone else. We boast because God has done these things. We boast because we know that God does act with steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth and we boast because we are simply trying be the conduits through which God can continue to act in such a way. We boast in the fact that the work God has called us to do here at St. Stephen’s is the work of steadfast love, justice and righteousness. We boast because we are able to recognize the blessings of God in our midst.

In addition to all that I added in the annual report—for some reason, my statistics for the last four years didn’t make it into the report—we rejoice. And in those statistics, we see the blessing.

And as we rejoice in these "in house blessings” we rejoice too in ministries we do beyond these walls, as we strive to be conduits of God’s steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the community. We rejoice when we find ourselves added as a welcoming congregation on the FM Pride website. This of course ties in perfectly to our very proud designation as an Integrity partner congregation and in our identity as a welcome and loving place for all Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered people. We are now the only Episcopal congregation in Fargo who is designated as such and who proudly and unashamedly do so. And, from the comments I have heard and from the inquiries I have received, people are responding.

As the wider Anglican Communion rages over the issue of full-inclusion of GLBT people, as young gay people suffer all around the world, the like Ugandan Gay rights activist David Kato Kisule, who was brutally murdered this past week in Uganda, we here at St. Stephen’s are a place of peace and solace in the midst of that raging storm.

And certainly peace and justice also are our rallying cries. As more and more of us become members of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, as our own Peace Pole in the churchyard proclaims to all, we are committed to the peace of Christ, in ourselves and toward each other.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus tells us today in our Gospel reading, “for they will be called children of God.”

And we reach out.

In addition to helping out locally with the Salvation Army and Churches United for the Homeless, we are also helping young African students in the East African Missions or in helping provide medical care to Guatemala. We are at St. Stephen’s are reaching far beyond our seemingly small boundaries here on this quiet street in the north part of Fargo.

And we continue to be a place of spiritual renewal. Twice a week, we gather to celebrate the Eucharist—that unifying action in which we celebrate and share the Body and Blood of Jesus. We also gather regularly, either individually or collectively, during the week for prayer. And others too are drawn to us for the spiritual benefits they receive here. Whether it be Sunday morning Mass, the Wednesday night Mass or the labyrinth or any of the other spiritual opportunities we supply here, people are encountering God here at St. Stephen’s And God is drawing people here for that encounter.

This seemingly little congregation in north Fargo continues to be a force to be reckoned with—in our city, in our Diocese, in our country and in the world.

But like any State of the Union address, I have to say this as well. We do still have much more to do. We have not even begun to exhaust the resources we have here in this congregation. There is still much potential. There are still many opportunities for growth here. We still have much ministry to do.

And God is calling us. God is pushing us. God is moving us to proclaim the Good News of Jesus and to further the Kingdom of God in our very midst.

It is a great time to be here at St. Stephen’s. As you have heard me say many, many times, things are “popping.” And this outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s love and grace in our congregation should be bringing smiles to our faces and joy to our hearts.

But it should also be bringing a jolt of energy to our feet and hands. It is not the time to sit back complacently and revel in these blessings. It is time to share them. It is time to get up and make sure those channels of the Spirit of Jesus into our midst remain open and flowing. It is time to make sure that the flow of the Holy Spirit’s life and love through the conduit of this congregation to others remains unhindered and free. We proclaim things not because we are bragging. We are not rejoicing in the failure of any one else or any other congregation.

I personally am grieved deeply over the problems other congregations are dealing with at this moment and my heart goes out to them. And in my joking about the accusation of hubris, I do not mean to make light of the serious situations elsewhere. I share these things only because I celebrate them. I share these things because it long past due for us at St. Stephen’s to rejoice and celebrate in all that is happening here.

We, on this Annual Meeting Sunday, should be celebrating. We should be boasting, in the proper way of boasting, in all that we are doing for God. And we should be boasting in all that God is doing for us here at St. Stephen’s.

Despite the somewhat arrogant attitude people elsewhere seem to think I have, despite the pompous character others think I carry about within me, I certainly can not claim the credit for the successes, the renewal and the growth here at St. Stephen’s. The successes here at St. Stephen’s are not a result of anything any one single person here is doing. The successes here at St. Stephen’s are a result of we all are doing together.

We are all working hard. We are all stepping up to the plate and making this place a place of holiness, of renewal, of radical hospitality to those who needs radical hospitality. We together are making this a place in which God’s presence and love can dwell and from which it can emanate.

So, my fellow ministers here at St. Stephen’s, let us rejoice. Let us celebrate. And let us together give thanks to God who is present among us this morning. Let us give to thanks God, who has come to us as a Spirit of steadfast love. Let us rejoice in the God who is present with us in Jesus, whose Body and Blood we will share at this altar. And let us celebrate the God who is present in us as a Holy People, blessed and renewed and commissioned to go out to share this blessing and renewal.



Thursday, January 27, 2011

See

by Jamie Parsley

See, how I wake
from sleep. See how I
am torn from the dream—
from the dream in which
you—
in that profile
and everything so blond—
looks off and turns
toward me only when
I turn away.

See how I am torn
in my dream
from the stones
of the wall
on which I have
been projected.
I move there—
a facsimile anyway—
lovely to you
in my dream.

Taste the metal
in my mouth
where the blood came.
See how I wake to this,
to blood,
to the torn-apart world
we live in
outside that dream.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Memorial service for my uncle, James Parsley

James M. Parsley
(August 30, 1929 – January 21, 2011)

Fredrikson Funeral Home
Kindred, North Dakota

January 24, 2011

+I’m just going to say a few words about my uncle Jim.For those of us who knew Jim, we knew him as giant force. There was no getting around Jim. Physically, he was a big guy. And physically, as we all know, he suffered greatly. He was quite candid with me about his frustration over the fact that his physical body betrayed him. And certainly, it seemed to me anyway, that within that failing body, that body that betrayed him and often caused him much suffering, there was a vibrant, alive soul.

I enjoyed my visits with my uncle Jim. I enjoyed driving out to Kindred and sharing Holy Communion with him. I even enjoyed the talks we had about the Bible. He certainly had a strong and very confident opinion and understanding of Scripture. And as he talked about these things—and especially as he talked about God—there was a confidence.

Occasionally I would frown in confusion at something he would. When he would just tell me, “Trust me. Some day you’ll see that I was right…” And as he would say things like that, there light in his eyes. That light was life—bright, vibrant, fiery life. And that’s how most of us are going to remember Jim. As someone who was full of life. And as someone who was full of a very deep and abiding faith. Because although we know he suffered, although he had really bad days, somehow he never lost that faith and he never lost that fire in his eyes.

Even when I went to see him last Thursday at Elim, although he wasn’t awake, although he wasn’t able to communicate at all, even lying there, asleep, he seemed so full of life, even though it was obvious the end was near.

It was difficult for me to see him over these months, following the very sudden death of my father in September. I don’t think either of them would’ve agreed with me about this, but they were similar in some ways and I only fully realized after my father was gone and I would see Jim.. It was difficult to see Jim, because there were moments when, at least physically, he reminded me of my father.

But it was also good to see him during this time as well, when I finally could. One of the prayers I always prayed with him was a prayer from The Anglican Prayer Book of New Zealand. And it was a prayer he liked. The prayer went like 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, Jim.
Make him the equal of whatever lies ahead for him.
For your will is wholeness and strength
You are God and we trust you.

Jim knew that what lay ahead for him was not easy. But God truly did answer this prayer in so many ways. God did make Jim the equal of what lay ahead for him. I know it because I saw it. He faced his death without fear and with deep faith in where he was going.

We talked a lot about God and about his faith in God. And he talked a lot about that place he was going. There was no doubt in his mind about that place.

And tonight, we can rejoice in the fact that he is there. Tonight, he is freed. Tonight, that life-filled, independent spirit has been freed from those physical constraints and is truly and, for all eternity, freed. Tonight, he is happy and complete and content and wholly himself. For us, who are left behind, tonight and these last few days haven’t been so great . But the fact is, we, who are Christian, don’t get to despair over the fact he’s gone.

Certainly Jim didn’t despair. He never lost hope. He didn’t throw up his hands and give up.

That just wasn’t the Parsley thing to do, after all.

He knew and he would be quick to remind us, that this life is just a short moment in the grander scheme of God’s plan for us.

In our Gospel reading for tonight, he heard Jesus say that in his father’s house there are many mansions. I don’t know how Jim would feel about being in a mansion. But I have no doubt that, that is exactly what Jesus provided him with. And we can take consolation that one day, we too will cross over and we too will have a place prepared for us. And Jim will be there. And I can just imagine him telling me as I come into that place, “See, I told you so… Everything I told you was true.” And he probably will be right. Because, by then, when we are all there, it will all—somehow—make sense. It will all be the way it should be.

So, tonight, although we might be tempted to despair, we really cannot. While this might be a difficult for us, for Jim, this has been one great and glorious day without end. He has been relieved of his pain and suffering. The cross he carried he carried in his life has been lifted from him for good. And he has now come home.

Yes, we are sad for this temporary separation. But we are not despairing.

It’s not the Parsley thing to do.

When I heard of Jim’s death on Friday morning, I prayed a prayer for him that gives me a lot of consolation.

“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 morning, Jim was received into that paradise. On Friday, angels led him to that holy city Jerusalem. On Friday, the martyrs received him 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 afternoon and in the days to come, let us all take consolation in that faith that Jim found such sustenance in. Let us take consolation in the fact that Jim is complete and whole at this very moment and for every moment to come from 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, clothed, like him, with a glory and a happiness and a joy that will never end.

Amen.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

3 Epiphany

January 23, 2011

1 Corinthians 1.10-18; Matthew 4.12-23
+ I sent out an email this week to you, the member of St. Stephen’s, asking for the dates of your baptisms. And, man did I get the responses. This is one of those times people really enjoyed responding to me. I got emails from people telling me they dug through boxes and files to try to find their baptismal certificates. And it has been fun to compile a list of these dates of baptism so we can commemorate this important day in our lives here at St. Stephen’s

Of course, we’ve been talking a lot about baptism lately. The sermon I preached the week before last was all about baptism and Sandy Holbrook’s sermon last week also referred to baptism. And almost as an added bonus to all this “baptism talk,” today we get to celebrate the baptism of Gracelyn Miller.

You already know how I really do rejoice every time we baptize here at St. Stephen’s. As the saying goes, “a busy baptismal font means a healthy church.”

But what’s been fun too is all the discussion this baptism talk has generated. In my sermon from a few weeks ago, I preached about how truly important Baptism is.

A few days after that Sandy Holbrook and I had a very interesting discussion. One of the things both Sandy and I enjoy about preaching is receiving feedback. And Sandy always has some informative feedback.

On this particular occasion, it was not so much about the sermon so much as about how she felt it was an inconsistency that I could preach so strongly on the importance of Baptism being the basis of all ministry in the Church and still do what is popularly called, though I think inaccurately called, “private baptisms.” A “private baptism” in this sense is simply a baptism service done outside the regular Sunday morning Eucharist.
I think I may have made a sassy come-back to Sandy along the lines of: “Well, when I appear before the judgment seat and am judged for the grievous sin of ‘private baptisms,’ I, along with the apostle Philip, along with all the people we ‘privately’ baptized, including the Ethiopian eunuch, will take my judgment as needed.”

Not exactly conducive to an intelligent discussion.

But it is a valid point that Sandy made and one that I don’t think we have had chance to discuss fully here at St. Stephen’s. The point of this is: I actually agree with her wholeheartedly. Baptisms should never be “private.”

BUT…the true fact of the matter is, and this is actually my argument: no baptism is “private.” Whether the baptism is in the context of the Eucharist, during the main Sunday service, with all the faithful gathered—which truly is the ideal, and one in which I certainly work to maintain—or if it is, for pastoral or personal reasons, done outside that service, the Church is always gathered.

As you have heard me preach many, many times, the veil that separates us here on earth, from the larger church, is a thin one and that veil is often lifted, especially whenever we gather for the Eucharist or for baptism. And, in a sense, all of us were present at each others baptisms, whether we were actually there or not. Whenever the church has gathered or will gather, we, as the baptized members of this church, are there as well. In those moments when baptisms are held outside the regular Sunday Eucharist, the Church is still always gathered and present.

“Has Christ been divided?” Paul asks this morning his letter to the Corinthians. The answer, of course, is no. Christ cannot be divided. And that same thinking can be applied to Christ’s Church.

Yes, there may be denominational divisions, or political divisions or even physical divisions, but the fact remains that the Church continues to be the Church Undivided in even the midst of all the wrangling and fighting and misunderstanding. Even death does not divide us. When we gather together—even two or three of us—Christ himself and the whole Church, both here on earth and in the nearer Presence of God is present fully and completely. And the great reminder to us of this undivided Body of Christ is baptism.

And the baptism into which each of us were baptized is not dependent upon when it was done or how it was done (outside of the fact that is be done in the name of the Trinity).

Many of us, including myself, were baptized outside regular Sunday Eucharists.

Our baptisms were not suddenly made invalid when the 1979 edition of the Book of Common Prayer came out and strongly encouraged us (though, I stress, in no way commanded us) to restore Baptism to its proper place within the regular Sunday Eucharist.

The point I made in my sermon two Sundays ago was this: our individual baptisms are not the issue. What is the issue, again and again, is that, in these waters, all of us were made equal.

If you ever notice, at our funerals here at St. Stephen’s, the urn of ashes or the coffin is always covered with a pall. The use of the pall is not just one of those quant things we Episcopalians do. It is not simply some fancy cloth we place over our mortal remains to add a touch of class to the service (though it does do that). There is a very practical reason for placing the pall on the urn or coffin. We put the cloth on because, no matter how fancy and expensive or cheap and inexpensive an urn or casket may be, before the altar, at the funeral, no distinction is made, just as, in God, no distinction is made.

We are equally loved children of God. We are essentially on equal ground under that pall. We are all the same. And, in so many ways, that pall represents baptism as well.

Just as the pall is the great equalizer, baptism is the truly great equalizer. Our baptism—that singular event that made us Christians—whether done in a church on Sunday morning during a Eucharist, or on Saturday evening, or on in a river beside a chariot in the Holy Land, are all the starting out points of our lives as Christians and the common factor in those lives. And just as importantly, that holy moment in our lives was the first moment when we were all compelled to preach the Kingdom of God.

To a large extent, what happened at our baptisms was the first major step in our direction of being disciples of Jesus. It was the day in which we essentially were called by Jesus , as Jesus called the disciples in today’s Gospel, to be fishers of people. Baptism is the first of many steps in following Jesus. And when we see that—when we see our following of Jesus beginning at that very moment in our lives in which we were baptized—we realize how following Jesus is truly a life-long experience.

In our collect for today, we prayed

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works…

That is what Baptism does. It compels us to answer the call of Jesus and to proclaim to all people the Good News of the Kingdom of God. And the first volley of that proclamation began at our baptism.

Today is the anniversary of the death in 1893 of the great Episcopal preacher and Bishop, Phillips Brooks. You can actually see his photo on the Episcopal News insert in your bulletins. Now, when I say Phillips Brooks was a “great preacher,” I mean “great preacher”. Phillips Brooks was probably one of the greatest preachers of the nineteenths century—often called the “Prince of the pulpit.” At Wednesday night Mass this past week, we commemorated him and I shared a few facts about him.

One of them was this: “Phillips stood at 6’4”, weighed over 300 pounds and spoke from the pulpit of Trinity Church, Boston, at a mesmerizing 200 words a minute.”

200 words a minute. And you thought I was a fast preacher….

“His sermons were like a freight train rolling downhill or a freighter plowing downriver with an ebbing tide. He was completely captivating and utterly spellbinding.”

I can just imagine what it must’ve been like to hear Phillips Brooks proclaiming his message from the pulpit. But it was Brook’s definition of preaching that I really like. Brooks described preaching as “communication of truth through personality.”

I’m going to repeat that.

Preaching is “communication of truth though personality.”

When we think about it that way, we realize that preaching should not just be relegated to what the priest and licensed lay preachers do on Sunday mornings from this pulpit. Rather, preaching might not even involve words at all, according to Brooks’ definition. Communication of truth through personality could mean almost anything.

So, in today’s Gospel, when we find Jesus and his first followers going through Galilee, “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom,” we realize that call to us to be “fishers of people” is not necessarily a call to preach wordy homilies to people. Possibly proclaiming the good news and being fishers of people might simply involve us communicating the truth of that reality through our individual personalities—through our demeanor, through the choices we make in our lives and the very way we live our lives. Our whole self then becomes a kind of walking sermon, even if we personally don’t say a word. And to a large extent that personality that we received God was formed in the waters of baptism.

This morning, as we baptize Gracelyn, we gather here together and with all the Church that has already been and that will be long after us. We gather to wash her in these waters. We come together to seal her with the Holy Spirit. We gather to mark her as Christ’s own for all eternity. And we set her on the path in which she too will proclaim the good news of Jesus with the personality that God will bless her with in her life. It is an incredible moment in her life, just as it was an incredible moment in our lives as well.

“Follow me and I will make you fishers for people,” Jesus said to those first followers. And he continues to say that Gracelyn and to all of us this morning.

So, let us follow him. Let us follow him from the waters in which we were washed to whatever place he leads us in our lives. And let us follow him with joy and gladness singing in our hearts.



Saturday, January 22, 2011

Obituary for my uncle, James Parsley

James M. Parsley

James M. Parsley, 81, Kindred, N.D., died Friday, January 21, 2011 in Elim Nursing Home, Fargo.

James was born August 30, 1929 in Kindred to John and Minnie (Lykken) Parsley. He was raised near Kindred, Warren and Horace, N.D. He married Anna Bordt on Dec. 7, 1957. He farmed near Kindred for many years and also worked as a truck driver. Anna died Aug. 29, 2008.

He was preceded in death by his parents, his wife, Anna; and five brothers, Tom in 1937, George in 1947, Charles in 1988, Arthur in 2003 and Albert in 2010.

He is survived by his daughters, Deb (Paul) Arneson, Grand Forks, Geraldene (Rob) Bodin, Kindred; Jackie Parsley, Milwaukee, WI; and Jenelle (Bart) Hughes, Tampa, FL; two brothers, Cliff (Karen), Apache Junction, AZ and Joe (June), Fargo; sisters-in-law Ann, Apache Junction, AZ and Joyce, West Fargo; his aunt, Florence Hagensen, Mapleton, ND; and his grandchildren, Marc, Beth, Brady, and Benny.

He had a deep love of God, his family, flowers and was blessed with a true gift to gab.

The memorial service will be Monday at 6:00 pm in Frederickson Funeral Home, Kindred, N.D., with his nephew, Fr. Jamie Parsley, officiating.

(Fredrickson, Kindred)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Prayers for the repose of the soul of James Parsley

Your prayers are requested for the repose of the soul of my uncle, James Parsley, 81, who died Friday morning, January 21, 2011 in Fargo.

Also keep in you prayers, his daughters, Beth, Geraldine, Jackie and Janelle.

I will officiate at the Burial Office on Monday, Janaury 24 at 6:00 pm at Fredrickson Funeral Home, Kindred, ND.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

FARGO, 1957 now in the supermarkets



The book is now available in the supermarkets!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

2 Epiphany


January 16, 2011

John 1.29-42

+ Just when you think you might have me all figured out, I might possibly throw you a curve ball. And my latest curve ball is this. There was a period in my life when I actually considered—seriously considered—getting a tattoo.

Now, this was a long time ago. So don’t think that just because I’m heading off for vacation I’ll come back all tattooed.

It’s probably good that I did not get one because I really wasn’t very good at deciding what to get. For a long time I wanted a Superman S on my bicep (a la Jon Bon Jovi—yes, I know, it’s so dumb but at the time I thought it was kind of cool). Then, I thought, maybe I would get a wonderful green Celtic cross. Another time I considered getting a tattoo of Casper the Friendly Ghost (I always loved Casper). The problem with that was, the tattoo would of course be white and I so pale, that no would even would even see one it healed. So, I shot that one down.

Then, one day, like an epiphany, it came to me! I went to a funeral at a Moravian Church and while I was looking through their beautiful hymnal, there, on the cover I saw what I wanted. I wanted the Lamb of God.

Now, I know you might think this was desperately sacrilegious of me, but I didn’t think so. I thought at the time (and I guess I still do) that such a tattoo was actually paying homage to the Lamb of God. I planned to wear the Lamb proudly and as loud proclamation of my faith in that Lamb. But, no matter what you might think about it, I ended up chickening out and never having it done.

But…my decision to do so did instill in me a deep and abiding appreciation for the image of the Lamb of God.

In today’s Gospel reading we find John the Baptist calling out not once but twice, identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God.

Now, when think lamb, we think, no doubt, of a fluffy, sweet animal. We think of a gentle lamb. We think of a pillowy image of sweetness.

But that is not what John saw when he observed Jesus at the Lamb of God. For John, what he observed when he looked at Jesus and saw the Lamb of God walking past, was truly that sacrifice that was seen in the Temple in Jerusalem. There, the lamb was sacrificed as a sin offering for the people. And before John, prophet that he was, walked what we saw one ay being the sacrifice as well. He saw before him not Jesus the man, but the Lamb, broken and bleeding.

In our images of the lab of God, we don’t have just a fluffy little lamb. In our images of the lamb, if you look at them closely, we see the Lamb pierced. We see blood pouring from the side of the Lamb. We see a sacrificed Lamb.

In our Sunday Mass, we have been singing the Agnes Dei—the Lamb of God—after I have broken the bread. I am so happy that we do. This “fraction anthem” as we call it, carries such meaning. In it we sing

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, Have mercy,

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Then you see me hold up the chalice and that broken bread and you hear me say,

“This is the Lamb of God. This is the One who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are we whoa re called to this supper.”

I cannot tell you how many times I have stood at this altar during that anthem and looked down at the broken bread on that paten and looked into that cup and had a moment of spiritual clarity.

So many times I have looked at the broken bread and the cup and thought, this is Jesus. This is the Lamb of God.

For me, that moment of spiritual clarity is very much like the moment John announces Jesus as the Lamb. For me, it might as well be the Baptist’s voice in my ear, announcing to me that this is the One.

And it should be for all of us.

But more than just some mystical experience is this concept of the Lamb being broken. Why do we break the bread at the Eucharist? Why do I, when I hold up that broken bread with the chalice, and say, “This is the Lamb. This is the One who takes away the sins of the world…”?

Yes, we do it to symbolize the broken body of the Lamb. The Lamb was broken. The Lamb was sacrificed. And it is importance to realize that.

But it symbolizes something even more practical. We break bread, so we can share it. We break this break and then break it and then break it again until it becomes small pieces that we must share with one another.

This Lamb that we know and recognize also is broken so we can share him with others. It is not enough that we simply recognize the Lamb. We must recognize the Lamb, broken for us, so that we can share the Lamb with others.

And that is the purpose of our lives as Christians. Yes, we gather here and are Christians. But we are also gathered here so we can go out and share this Lamb that has been revealed to us. And in sharing the Lamb, others too can share the Lamb.

So, listen to the voice of the Baptist proclaiming in our ears, “Behold the Lamb of God!” Hear that voice when I hold up the Bread and the Chalice. Hear that voice as we come forward to share that bread and drink from that chalice.

But hear that voice too when we leave here. Hear that voice proclaiming the Lamb of God as we share Christ with others, in all that we do as Christians, in the differences we make in this world around, in all the good we do and say in our lives.

When we do heed that voice, we will find ourselves, as we heard in the beautiful collect from this morning, “illuminated by [God’s] Word and Sacraments” and being illuminated, we will “shine with radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped and obeyed to the ends of the earth.”

Sunday, January 9, 2011

1 Epiphany


The Baptism of Our Lord

January 9, 2011

Matthew 3.13-17

+ I will be away this year when the anniversary of the big event in my life as a Christian occurs. I will be on vacation in Florida. Which probably is appropriate. But on February 8, while I’m hopefully sunning it up in Florida, I will have been baptized 41 years. And , for me, it is a big deal. Not the 41 years. But the baptism.

For those of you who have heard me preach over any length of time here at St. Stephen’s, you have heard me preach often on the importance of baptism—how baptism is the singular event in our lives as Christians that defines us and commissions us for the ministry we are called and compelled to do here at Christians.

A few weeks ago our own Sandy Holbrook shared a very though-provoking article about one of her heroes, Bishop Tom Ray, retired Bishop of Northern Michigan. Bishop Ray makes some meaningful comments in this article. The main one is this:

Bishop Ray writes: “Baptism is the transformational event. That’s what changes you.” [as a Christian]

I really love that statement. He is so correct when we talks about Baptism being the transformational event and it does change us. It changes us fully and completely. And it is the root from which all ministry comes, including ordained ministry. And when I say ministry, I of course am not just talking about ordained ministry—those of us who are priests or deacons or bishops.

All ministry—the ministry we all do together—stems from that transformational event. In fact, to be baptized means, essentially, to be called to ministry. It means to proclaim the God we have found in Jesus by the very lives we live and by the joy we carry within us at being a people in relationship with that God. When we look at our spiritual lives and our ministries in the “big picture,” we cannot do so without seeing that big picture circling and being centered on the singular event of our baptism.

When Bishop Ray’s successor as Bishop of Northern Michigan, Bishop Jim Kelsey, was killed in a very tragic car accident in June, 2007, there was a wonderful story about how, at his funeral, his baptismal certificate was planted at the base of the baptismal font in the church. The presence of his baptismal certificate at that service really resonated with me. For those of you who have visited the rectory you have no doubt seen my own baptismal certificate on my wall. It is there with my ordination certificates. It is there to remind me and to help me commemorate that incredible event in my life 41 years ago—this event that changed me and formed me.

And we all should do that in our lives. We all should find our dusty baptismal certificates and write down the dates of baptisms and celebrate that event in our lives. After all, everything we do as Christians should come from the joy and amazing beauty of that simple event.

As you all know, as you have heard me preach from here many, many times, probably to the point you start rolling your eyes, Baptism is not a sweet little christening event for us as Christians. It is not a quaint little service of dedication we do. For us Episcopalians, it the radical event in our lives as Christians. It is the event from which everything we do and believe flows. And when we look at the actual service of Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer, the words of that service drive home to us how important that event is.

For example, 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.”

Those are not sweet and cutesy words. That is not just some nice little sentiment. Those convey that something transformational and amazing has happened in the life of that person. This is essential to our belief of what happens at baptism.

In baptism, we are 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.

On this Sunday on which we commemorate Jesus’ own baptism—on this Sunday in which we remember the fact that Jesus led the way through those waters of baptism and showed us a glimpse of all that happens in this singular event, we should remember and think about what happened at own baptisms. Yes, we might not actually remember the actual event. But the great thing about baptism is that, our own individual baptismal event was, for the most part, just like everyone else’s.

In those waters, we were all made equal. In those waters, the same water washed all of us—no matter who are. In those waters, there are no class distinction, no hatred, or discrimination or homophobia or sexism or war or violence. In those waters, we are all equal to one another and we are all equally loved.

In a few moments, we will stand and renew the vows we made at baptism. When we are done, I will sprinkle you with water (thank God the furnace is working this Sunday unlike last Sunday or you might have been ducking ice cubes). The sprinkling of water, like all our signs and actions that we do in this church, is not some strange practice a few of us High Church-minded people do. That water that comes to us this morning is a stark reminder of those waters we were washed in at Baptism—those waters that made us who we are Christians, those waters in which we all stand on equal ground, with no distinctions between us.

In the next few weeks, we will celebrate two more baptisms here at St. Stephen’s. As usual, we will celebrate those baptisms with great joy. Because they are glorious events. But we do more than celebrate baptism when we baptize people here.

Here at St. Stephen’s, all of our ministry—every time we seek to serve Christ and further the Kingdom of God in our midst—is a continuing of the celebration of baptism. Sometimes we lose sight of that. Sometimes we forget what it is that motivates us and charges us to do that wonderful work.

Here at St. Stephen’s, we have wonderful reminders to us of how important and life-changing this baptismal event was and continues to be in our Christian lives. For example, the baptismal font in the narthex—the place we actually baptize—is always uncovered and always filled with fresh, blessed water. This is not some quaint, Anglo-Catholic tradition that spiky Fr. Jamie introduced here. This is a very valid and real practice, and a vital reminder to all of us how that event of our baptism changed and transformed us. It is good for us to take that water and bless ourselves.

It is good for us to be occasionally sprinkled with water as a reminder of that event in our lives. It is good to feel that cold water on our fingers and on our foreheads and on our faces as a reminder of the waters that washed us initially. And, as you have heard me say many, many times, it is good to remember the date of our baptism and to celebrate that day, just as we would a birthday or a wedding anniversary. This year, I’ll be celebrating mine in Florida.

Today, on this first Sunday in Epiphany, we start out on the right note. We start out celebrating. We start our commemorating the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan. And by doing so, we commemorate our own baptism as well.

In our collect today, we prayed to God to “Grant that all who are baptized into [Jesus’] Name maybe keep the covenant that they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Saviour.” That should be our prayer as well today and always. We pray that we may keep this Baptismal covenant in which we seek to follow Jesus and serve all people equally and fully in his name, no matter who they are. And we pray that we may boldly confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, by all that we do as Christians in seeking out and helping others in love and compassion.

May we always celebrate that wonderful baptismal event in our lives. And may we each strive to live out that baptism in our ministry of love and service of God and of one another. Amen.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2 Christmas


January 2, 2011

Matthew 2.13-15,19-23


+ When I was 15 years old, I converted to Roman Catholicism. I don’t tell a whole lot of people about it. It wasn’t one of the most pleasant periods in my life. But at 15, I was a devout Roman Catholic. I mean devout. As in, scarily devout. My poor Lutheran parents had no idea what to do with this frightenly devout Roman Catholic teenager.

As a very devout Roman Catholic teenager, I found little ways to exert my independence and grate on my poor parents’ nerves all at once. And one of one of those things that I did was purchase a wonderful little plastic statue that at Hurley’s one day. It was a little statue with a magnetized bottom on it, that you could attach the dashboard of your car. Now the statue wasn’t the one you would expect. It wasn’t Jesus holding his Sacred Heart. It wasn’t Our Lady crushing the head of a serpent beneath her feet. It wasn’t even St. Christopher.

Rather, it was three-in-one. And no I’m not talking about the Trinity either. It was the Holy Family. It was Joseph and Mary, with a fairly adolescent Jesus in the middle. The thing about this statue was that my poor parents really couldn’t do much about it. It was actually kind of sweet. And I liked to joke it was sort of like the three of us—my mother, my father and myself. And for years, on photos of the three of us, I would jokingly put JMJ on the back.

But there is a certain appeal to the Holy Family that many of us can relate to. They represent us in some many ways. Here they were, a hard-working family, trying to make the best of the situations that came into their lives and to stick together while doing it.

Certainly, their story is a dramatic—more dramatic than anything that could happen to any of us.

“…an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt…’”

Things like that don’t happen in our lives. But we can almost imagine how strange it must’ve seemed to a simple working-class guy like Joseph. Already he has to deal with his fiancĂ©e becoming pregnant, dreams of divine beings who tell him what to do, a child (which is not his) being born under incredible circumstances. And now, this. This threat of violence.

Obviously, the child’s life is in danger. Obviously, Joseph is fearful. Obviously, the future seems bleak. Imagine how difficult it must have been. Imagine how exotic and strange Egypt must’ve seemed to a man like Joseph who lived his entire lives in Palestine.

Of course, there is some reputable evidence that in Egypt there was a vital and vibrant Jewish community that Joseph must’ve been aware of and no doubt this is where Joseph and his family settled. Still, it must’ve been a difficult and devastating move for this young family. What we also see happening as Joseph Mary and Jesus head out for Egypt is a kind of reverse Exodus. The Jews after all had left Egypt in grand and glorious style, led by Moses through the Red Sea and into the Wilderness. Now, we find Jesus, with his family, quietly, clandestinely returning to Egypt, to the place from which the Jewish Nation fled. All of this we might not see so clearly on our first hearing of this Gospel reading. And that’s what I really enjoy about the Flight into Egypt.

It seems like a random religious story on the surface, but once one starts digging into it and meditating upon it, we discover layer upon layer of rich religious ground. But the story means nothing to us if we don’t make it our own, to some extent. And making it our own has nothing to do with the angels, with the reverse Exodus, with the fear of a death-breathing Herod. It becomes real for us when we realize that whatever they did, wherever they were going, they were doing so blindly. They went into their future together uncertain of what was going to happen.

But somehow, in the midst of this blindness, in the midst of this uncertainty, they were being sustained. They knew, somehow, that it would all work out. That is what we can take away with us from this story. Certainly, as we head into the great unknown of this new year of 2011, we find ourselves feeling somewhat like the Holy Family no doubt did as they made their way into Egypt. We know that we go forward, like them, led by God. God is calling us forward, calling us into our future, calling us to venture into the unknown. But we are also being called to do so with absolute trust in God’s mercy.

In this story, we find examples abounding. Joseph is an example to us of that wholehearted trust in God’s mercy. He heeds the voice of the angel and does what is commanded of him, no matter how frightening and uncertain these moves must have been. He does what God leads him to do and by doing so he saves this child—this child he knows isn’t his, this child who has come to him in such mysterious and amazing circumstances.

Mary too is a wonderful example. She seems, at first glance, to be kind of a peripheral character in the story. No more poetry is coming from her mouth as it did when she sang the Magnificat to God when the angel announced to her that she would be bearing this child Jesus. There are no words at all from her in this story. But what we do find is that she is living out, by her very life, the “yes” she made to that angel when it was announced to her that she would bear this Child that she now holds close to her. Mary is an example to us that, occasionally, when forces beyond our understanding begin to work, all we must do at times is simply and quietly heed God’s command. There are times for poetry and there are times when poetry just isn’t needed. When the Child was formed in her womb, how could she not sing out with beautiful poetry? Now, fleeing a despotic, puppet king who cowardly kills masses of children, she goes into her uncertain future doing the only thing she can do in that moment—she goes holding Jesus close to her.

We too should do the same as we enter into this long winter season after Christmas. As we are seeing from our weather recently, it is not going to be a pleasant balmy winter for us. There will be more bitter cold, more snow, more icy streets and roads before us before the thaw comes to us. And even then, the threat rears before us of our now-annual spring floods. In our own lives, in this time in which everything seems to uncertain and up-in-the-air, we can go forward either in fear or in quiet confidence, like Mary. We can do so, holding Jesus close to us, against our beating, anxious hearts. Like her, we have choices. We can go into that future, kicking and screaming, our heels dug in.
Or we can go quietly and with dignity, holding our greatest hope and joy to us as we are led forward in our own personal Egypts.

The future lies ahead of us. We know that is not an easy future. It is not a future without pain and hardships and much more work to do, more miles to cover. There are long days and equally long nights lying before us. But that same future contains, also, joy and fulfillment and loved ones. That future contains laughter and moments of exquisite beauty. That future contains love, in whatever ways it may come to us. That future that contains the rest of this long, cold winter, also contains the spring thaw and a glorious summer.

So, like Joseph, let us heed the calling to rise up and go wherever God leads. Like Mary, let us be led into that future with quiet dignity. And like them, let us go with Jesus. Let us go, with Jesus held close to us. And as long as he is here with us, there is no need for fear, or despair, or anxiety. With Jesus held to us, the future is more glorious than we can, in this cold, snow-filled moment, even begin to understand or appreciate.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A New Year's Day poem

January 1

by Jamie Parsley

after Octavio Paz

The new year has flung open
all the doors! It is speaking to us in
a special language only we understand.
Only last night—
all night long—
you spoke to me.
You said,
Tomorrow
we—you and I—
will read all the signs we’ve been given.
We will draw out the land
in the snow
and us in it. We will plan out
our future together
on the page
of the day. We will plan it
on a page
white as fresh snow.
Tomorrow, we—
you and I—
will between us
invent reality and the world
in which it exists.

I wake up late.
For a fraction of a second
I feel what our ancestors felt,
standing there on the lip of eternity,
waiting for the sky
to reveal a future
they longed to know.

But for us, it is not so easy.
For us, a new year
has come to us.
It has filled
this room
and, for just a moment,
I feel as though I could almost touch it
and tame it
and make it ours.

But it is
not any different than yesterday
or last year.
The streets are still empty,
covered with blizzard snow.
Thick snow covers each rooftop.
And the silence the snow demands
fills the early morning.

And here, you are
beside me.
Has this day invented you?
Have you allowed this day
to invent you?

I will not let it invent me.
And I’m not certain
you’re actually here at all.
You are actually from some other day.
And yet, here you are,
quiet as snow
asleep on a pillow
luxurious as a cloud.
But not really.
This moment invents
snow-covered houses,
snow-clogged streets
trees weight down by snow
and you, sleeping beside me.

Open your eyes. Let’s get up and
walk together in this fresh snow,
before the plows come
and disturb everything. Let’s walk
through the hours of this day
and all that it invents for us.
Let’s walk together,
looking to all the world
as if we are something else entirely.
Let us wear this day
and this whole new year on our faces
and let it conjugate itself
in our very lives.
Who knows? maybe it is us
who will fling wide
the doors of this new year?
And if we do it, we
will step into this year
unafraid of
whatever it may hold for us.
January 1, 2011