Sunday, January 20, 2013

2 Epiphany

Annual Meeting Sunday
January 20, 2013

John 2.1-11

+ Since we are having our Annual Meeting today, I think I can admit this. And I’m sure it is not much of a surprise to anyone this morning. Weddings are not one my favorite things. Give me a baptism or a funeral any day over a wedding.  I have even preached at weddings how much I don’t always enjoy them.

I should be clear here. It’s not that I hate what weddings represent. I certainly believe that marriage is one of the seven sacraments. I just wish that most people saw marriage as a sacrament.

What I dislike are the fluff and fakeness of weddings. And we’ve all seen that fluff and fakeness. I hate the attempts to make every wedding like some royal princess wedding. And I dislike all that goes along with those princess weddings. The fifteen-or more attendants. The bridezillas, or the momzillas—or yes, even the groomzillas and the dad zillas. Yes, they do exist.

Still, I actually do enjoy weddings that are truly joyful events in which two people express their love and their commitment for each other.  And I am very happy that the Episcopal Church is now finally moving in the direction of finally fully accepting Blessings of Unions between same-sex couples. Many of you might have heard that the National Cathedral in Washington just recently OKd “gay weddings.”

So, it’s not fair to say I hate doing weddings. And let me tell you, in the ten years I’ve been ordained, I have done A LOT of weddings.

So, when whenever I encounter the story from our Gospel reading today, I do have to wonder: I wonder if that wedding was one of those awful weddings, with a bridezilla or a groomzilla?  There is a great legend that supposedly the bride and groom at the wedding in Cana were none other than Mary Magdalene and John the Beloved Apostle. And the story further goes that John was so impressed with Jesus’ turning the water into wine, that he essentially left Mary Magdalene “at the altar” to follow Jesus. She, in turn, was so humiliated by this that she became the woman of ill-repute that she is popularly known as.

Whoever the bride and groom were, certainly it must’ve been a raucous wedding.  The good wine has run out and the wedding feast is about to crash quickly. Yup, I’ve been at those weddings too.

But Jesus of course saves the day. No matter if it was a bad wedding or a good wedding, no matter if some bridezilla or groomzilla were hounding him, no matter if the groom is about to leave the bride to follow him, he turns water into wine. And when he does, there is a renewed sense of joy and exultation.  That I think is the gist of this experience from our gospel reading.  It is not just some magic trick Jesus performs to wow people.  It is not some action he performs at the whim of his mother.  He performs this miracle and in doing so instills joy in those gathered there.

But more than that, by doing this he does what we always does when he performs a miracle.  He performs miracles not just for the benefit of those at the wedding.  It is for our benefit of us as well.  Because by performing this miracle, he is giving us a glimpse of what awaits us all.  If we look closely at the story and at some of the details contained in it, we will find clues of the deeper meaning behind his actions.

First of all, let’s look at those jars of water.  This is probably the one area we don’t give a lot of thought to. But those jars are important. They are not just regular jars of water. They are jars of water for the purification rites that accompany eating in the Jewish tradition.  That water is essentially sacred. It is used to purify people and things. A good Jew at that time would wash their hands in this water so they could eat their food.

So, what we find is that Jesus turns these waters of purity into wine. And not just any wine. But abundant wines that bring about a joy among those gathered. 

In a sense, what Jesus has done is he has taken the party up a notch.  What was already probably a good party is now an incredible party.  It’s a beautiful image and one that I think we can all relate to.

And I think it speaks loudly to us on this Annual Meeting Sunday. We, at St. Stephen’s are planning this coming year. We are looking ahead.  We are planning a year in which there are so many great and wonderful opportunities and possibilities for us as a congregation. God has blessed us—and blessed us abundantly, here.

Look around at all the wonderful ministry we are experiencing. Look around at all the improvements and the good and positives changes that are happening here. When God blesses, it is not just a little blessing here and there. It is abundant blessings. It is like the purification water turned into abundant wine.

The best part of this view of the wedding at Cana is that Jesus is saying to us that, yes, there is joy here in the midst of us, but a greater joy awaits us.

Greater joys await us in our future together here at St. Stephen’s  And an even greater joy waits when the Kingdom of God breaks through into our midst.  When these things happen, it is very much like a wedding feast.  When they happen,  the waters of purification are turned into the best-tasting wine because we will no longer have to worry about issues like purity.

To some extent, the wedding at Cana is a foretaste of what we do every Sunday (and Wednesday) here at this altar.  It is a foretaste of the Holy Eucharist—this sharing with each other of Christ’ Body and Blood.  

One of my favorite Christian writers is Scot McKnight. He wrote a wonderful book called The Jesus Creed.  In that book, he writes about the miracle at the wedding in Cana most perfectly in this phrase:

“When the water turns to wine and the eye of faith peers into the purification vessels, it does not see sacred water but sacred wine. The eye of faith sees not an image of itself but the image of Jesus floating on the surface of the wine. Jesus is seen in the wine for who he is really: the one who not only provides but is himself the joy of the kingdom.”

I love that!  Because it is true. When we see these wonderful things happening in our midst, we can look closely at it and see Jesus in our midst. We can see Jesus in the ministry we do together here at St. Stephen’s. We see Jesus here when are gathered together to hear the Word. We see Jesus when we respond to that Word in what we do when we leave here. And we see Jesus each time we gather together at this altar for the Eucharist.  Here too, at this altar, we see Jesus in this wine and when we do we find that he is truly our joy.

 There are blessings in our midst. They are surrounding us on this day in which we gather to plan another year. As we plan another year of looking for and finding Christ in our midst. Another year of following him in all that we do. And as we do, there is a sense of joy at this—a joy very much like the joy one feels at a wedding feast—that is, a wedding in which true love is celebrated and blessed.

 So, let us look and find Jesus in this water turned to wine. Let us continue to find Jesus in all the wonderful blessings we have been granted here in our congregation and in our own lives. And when we do, we too will be amazed at all the wonderful and amazing ways God has blessed us and supplied us to continue to do what we do best—to love, and to love fully and completely.

 Isn’t that what a wedding feast is all about after all?

 Amen.

 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The RequiemEucharist for Patrica Hansen

Patricia Hansen

(February 21, 1931-January 11, 2013)

Gethsemane Cathedral
Fargo, North Dakota

January 16, 2013

+ Last Saturday, after hearing of Pat’s death, I posted a prayer request, asking for prayers for the repose of her soul. I mentioned in that posting, very briefly, that I was saddened by her passing and then mentioned that Pat, for me anyway, was the embodiment of integrity and class. We might call that an understatement.

I got to know Pat very well over the 15 years or so we knew each other. And knowing her as well as I did, I realize now that I need to be very careful in saying such things. I need to be careful using words like “integrity” and “class.” Pat would take issue with me. I can almost hear her voice right now. She—lover of words that she was—would take issue with me over the fact that if I was going to use words like “integrity” and “class,” I had better expand on them. And I had better back up why I am using those particular words.

Integrity, for me, is the key word. Integrity. Integrity means more than just being brave and strong. Integrity means living one’s life with a certain honesty and character.

Pat, as some of us this afternoon know, did not always have an easy life. There were hard times in her past. There were difficulties. She knew pain. She knew hardship. The least of which was the various physical set-backs she suffered through in the last dozen or so years of her life.

But, for Pat, integrity meant living with grace and class even in the face of those hardships. Living with grace and class in the face of hardship is integrity. Integrity means holding one’s head up, even despite what life throws at one. And for those of who knew Pat, we saw that integrity. It was there in every aspect of her life. It was there in the way she held her head. It was there in her eyes. It was there in that perfect articulation of words. It was there in her gracefulness. And it was there even in her illnesses and her pains.

For me, what I saw in her integrity and her grace and her class, was almost—dare I say—almost a wonderful defiance. Her integrity was a defiance of those sometimes awful things that life sometimes throws at us. And I loved her for that spark of defiance.

I of course knew Pat in a priest and parishioner relationship when I served here at Gethsemane Cathedral, but our relationship was also more than that Patricia and I shared three passions. We loved poetry. We loved good films (especially classic films) And we loved the Episcopal Church.

More often than often not, I would get a very direct question from her regarding the first two of these passion. She would often ask me, “What is your favorite book?” or poet, or poem. And “what is your favorite film?”

For some people, those are easy questions to answer For some people, they can answer those questions like nothing. For me they are not. I can’t name my favorite book or poem or poet, because it changes all the time. I can’t name my favorite film, because it’s an ever-changing cycle for me. And I think she loved the fact that my favorites were ever-changing.

Actually, it was through poetry that we knew each other first. Even before I met her, she knew of my work as poet. She had read at least one of my early books of poems and knew my name the first time she met me.

The last time I saw Pat also involved poetry. Last summer, I was at Bethany Homes here in Fargo, giving a talk on my book, Fargo, 1957, which chronicled the horrific June 20, 1957 tornado that struck Fargo. That evening Pat came to the discussion and told stories about that tornado and Fargo in the 1950s that were so poignant and so much interesting than any of mine.

Our love of films developed a little later. And it was, always, the one thing we always had to discuss. “Have you seen any good films recently?” we would invariably ask each other.

I remember one time asking her about what films she enjoyed as a child. Very stupidly on my part, I said, “I be you loved Shirley Temple.” That was not the right thing to say to Patricia Hansen.

"Shirley Temple!” she exclaimed. “No! I couldn’t stand Shirley Temple!”

I once jokingly threatened to buy her that Shirley Temple collection of films that we often see advertised, to which I received a very clear, “No thank you!”

But it was of course our love of the Episcopal Church that really caused our friendship to bond. Patricia loved the Episcopal Church. She loved this particular church, Gethsemane Cathedral. Probably her lasting presence here is the St. Gabriel window, which she donated. If you take a look at it you will see that there are two very personal symbols located in that window: There is a rose, for Patricia’s mother, Blanche Kennedy. And there is a West Point shield for the love of her life, Major Bob Hansen. I doubt any of us will ever be able to look at that window again without thinking of Pat.

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

And I say, “We believe what we pray.”

Our liturgy—what we find contained in our Book of Common Prayer—encompassed our beliefs very well. And, I can tell you, that it certainly did for Patricia Hansen. But, the point we both liked to make to each other was that, some of the finest poetry in the English language is located right there in your pews—contained in the Book of Common Prayer. We have a wonderful advantage as Episcopalians of praying poetry every time we gather together to worship. And Pat loved that.

Today of course is no exception. This service we are celebrating together today is packed from its very beginning to its end with some of the very finest poetry. But probably the best poetry we’ll find is at the end of this Burial service. At the end, Bishop Smith will lead us in what is called “The Commendation.”

The Commendation meant the world to Pat. She loved it. She loved its poetry and she loved its spirituality.

Now for many of us, we have heard the words of the Commendation hundreds of times. But that, as Pat would tell us, is no excuse to not pay attention. Pay attention to these words, she would no doubt tell us today. Listen closely to them. Because if you do, you will find THE poem that summarized Patricia Hansen’s faith and life and integrity in many ways.

In the Commendation, we will say,

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

You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind;
and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we
return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying,
"You are dust, and to dust you shall return." All of us go down
to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia,
alleluia, alleluia.

That poem is pure Patricia Hansen. That is a poem in which, even in the face of all that life—and yes, even death—throws at us, we can hold up our heads with integrity, bolstered by our faith in Christ. Even in the face of whatever life may throw at me, we can almost hear her say, I will not let those bad things win.

“…yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia,
alleluia, alleluia.”

Even you, death, will not win out over me. Even in the face of these awful things, I will hold up my head and I will face you with strength and grace and class. And, because I have faith in my God, you will not defeat me.

Today, all that Patricia Hansen was to us—that woman of strength and passion and love and integrity—all of that is not lost. It is not gone. Death has not swallowed that up. Rather all of that is alive and dwells now in Light inaccessible. All of that dwells in a place of peace and joy, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

And for us who are left, we know that it awaits us as well. That light awaits us. And we to will have the opportunity to dwell there.

See, Pat is still teaching us. She is teaching us by her very life and faith, how to face these hardships life throws at us. She is teaching us to face it all with our heads held high, bolster by our integrity. She is teaching us that, in the midst of all of this, we must do so with class and dignity and strength.

I will miss Pat. I will miss our discussions. I will miss her wonderful critiques of my work. I know the next really good classic film I see, my first temptation will be to let her know about it and to see what she has to say about.

But I am thankful to God that I got to know her and to be a priest to her and to be her friend. And I am even more thankful for all that she taught me and showed me of how to live a life of integrity. Those people come along only rarely. And when they do, we are not the same people we were before we knew them.

So, let us today be thankful. Let us be thankful for this woman whom God has been gracious to let us know and to love. Let us be thankful for her example to us. Let us be thankful for all that has taught and continues to teach us. And let us be grateful for all she has given us in our own lives.

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

Amen.





Sunday, January 13, 2013

1 Epiphany

Baptism of Our Lord
January 13, 2013

Luke 3.15-17, 21-22


+ This past week I received a get-well card in the mail. It came all the way from Orlando, Florida. Well, actually, it wasn’t really a get-well card. When I opened it, inside was pasted a very mean-spirited, angry bit of hate mail.

Yes, I said hate mail.

As I posted about this this last week on Facebook, I got lots of responses. One person was wondering why Mickey Mouse would have sent me hate mail. Sadly, it wasn’t Mickey who sent this. It was someone much more pathetic and scared, who had to hide behind anonymity rather than be brave enough to face up to their hatred and accusations.

The writer lashed out at me for essentially being a liberal priest who hangs out with “masculine” women and “effeminate, mean-spirited” men who are less masculine than the women. I’m not really certain who those people are in my life…

But worst of all, this person accused me of spouting 1960s “peace and love” platitudes. I think the thing that bothered me the most was that last part. I mean, really. Me, a hippie? Oh, Lord, help us! Yes, I love the early 1960s, but definitely not the latter part.

It was a strange moment, getting this hate mail. Obviously this person was trying to be personal, but they knew nothing about me personally. Well, at least out side of the fact that I was accused of being “neurotic and self-centered.” OK. This person might be right about that. Sorry.

But…I do have to admit. There’s almost something weirdly encouraging in receiving this note. I mean, here we are getting hate-mail from Orlando, Florida. Even people in the Orlando, Florida, know about this little, radical congregation in north Fargo, North Dakota. People are noticing us.

Sadly, it’s some unstable people who feel the need to lash out their vileness without being brave enough to stand behind what they say. The fearful and fear-filled people who are out there. Fearful and fear-filled over the radical love we practice here at St. Stephen’s.

Even there, in Orlando, they know we are place in which Christ’s radical love reigns. They know that St. Stephen’s and me, as your priest, unashamedly say, “Yes, we do practice love here. Yes, we do, without a single doubt or fear, say proudly that all people—gay or straight, bisexual or transgender, man or woman or child or whatever or whomever—is now only welcomed here, but is a part of who we are.”

This is what our ministry is. We, as followers of Jesus, put our money where our mouth is. We love. We love radically. We love all people coming through that door. And we love bravely. And we love unashamedly.

And yes, we even love that mean-spirited who went to all that work to put together a get-well card for your Father Jamie. Yes, we love that person as well. We love, because, following Jesus, we know he loved first. And if there would have been hate mail in his day, he certainly would’ve have received it. And many of the same accusations made in my little get-well card this past week, would no doubt have been lobbed right at him.

So, yes, dare I say, this hate mail is truly a badge of honor to some extent. What we are doing here is scaring some people who feel to need to try to scare in some way. It is threatening some people. And if we are doing that, then we are doing something right.

In our Gospel reading for today, we find the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry of radical love. We find Jesus being baptized. He is setting the standard here. He is leading the way for us. At his baptism, his ministry truly began. And in our baptisms, our ministries also began.

At baptism, our following of Jesus began. The breakthrough has happened. From that point on, this is essentially what was spoken to each of us at our own baptisms:

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

And if that is the case, if each of us are God’s Beloved, as Jesus is God’s Beloved, then how can’t we, as followers of Jesus and believers in that same God, see all as Beloved as well?

When we were baptized, the ball began rolling. At our baptisms, we were baptized into this radical love. From that moment, whether we knew it or not, we were loved. And loved fully. And loved completely. And here we are, all these years after that momentous event, faced again with the fact that, yes, this is what it means to follow Jesus.

Yes, following Jesus means sometimes getting hate mail because we are doing the right thing. Following Jesus means that there will be people out there who will hate us for what we do and what we are. There will be people out there who will hate us because we love. And love too freely. And love too fully.

What Baptism shows us, more than anything else, is that we are loved by God as God’s Beloved. But it also shows us that that is not the end-all. Baptism shows us that we also must love as God loves us.

In this way, Baptism is truly the great equalizer. In those waters, we are all bathed—no matter who we are and what we are. We all emerge from those waters on the same ground—as equals. And, as equals, we are not expected to just sit around, hugging ourselves and basking in the glow of the confidence that we are God’s Beloved. As equals, made equal in the waters of baptism, we are then compelled to go out into the world and love each others as equals. We are called to go out into the world and make a difference in it.

Our baptism doesn’t set us apart as special people. It forces us out into the world to be a part of the world and, by doing so, to transform the world with love.

Oh no! It just hit me. You know, the writer of that hate mail might be right about one thing. It does kind of sound like 1960s peace and love, doesn’t it? Oh well. So be it.

Because, if we don’t love—and love fully and completely and radically—we are being hypocrites. We are being false. We are being untrue to our baptisms and our following of Jesus. If we do not love and love radically, we are the failures that mean-spirited person accused us of being.

But the fact is, we do love. We do accept all. We do see, in our service of others, that God has stamped each us as God’s Beloved.

So, let us continue to do what we have been doing. Bravely. Without blinking. Without wincing at the harsh words others make speak at us and about us.

Let us, with squared shoulders and set faces, shoulder the crosses we have been given at our baptisms. And let us set our eyes on the One we are following. And as we go forward, in love, our faces still wet with the waters of new life, let us listen to those words that are echoing in our ears:

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








Sunday, January 6, 2013

Epiphany

January 6, 2013

Matthew 2.1-12


+So, she would kill me if she knew I was mentioning her again in a sermon. But, my dear mother made an interesting observation the other day. She received a Christmas card this past week from one of her former neighbors—a Roman Catholic.

“I don’t understand people sending off Christmas cards after Christmas,” my mother says. “Did she just forget or what?”

I said, “Mother, it is still Christmas.”

She looked at me like I had just swore in front of her. But, her come-back was priceless.

“Well, maybe for Catholics, it’s still Christmas, but….”

I interrupted her.

“Mother,” I said. “You are now an Episcopalian,”—this, of course, was her first Christmas as an Episcopalian—“and for you it too is still Christmas, at least until Epiphany.”

Well, she mumbled and huffed once. And that was the end of that conversation. A coup, shall we say, for your Father Jamie. Over his mother.

*Sigh.*

So, yes, today is Epiphany. Christmas NOW is officially over. But only, just now. I actually love Epiphany, because I realize, I don’t think I could’ve done it. I couldn’t have followed that star. I certainly wouldn’t have followed a star with some vague (and it really was a VAGUE) notion of a king being born. It probably wouldn’t mean much to any of us in this day and age, prophecy or not. It would take great faith and great bravery to load up everything, including valuables like gold and spices into that time of highjacking and robbery and just head off into the unknown. But these men did just that. These “wise” men did something that most of us now days would think was actually na├»ve and dangerous. And just plain stupid.

Originally, of course, the word used for these men was “astrologers,” which does add an interesting dimension to what’s occurring here. Astrologers certainly would make sense. Astrologers certainly would have been aware of this star that appeared and they would have been able to see in that star a unique sign—a powerful enough of a sign that they packed up and went searching for it. And it certainly seems like it was a great distance. They probably came from Persia, which is now modern-day Iran. And they would’ve come in a caravan of others.

These Magi are mysterious characters, for sure. We popularly see them as the three wise men, but if you notice in our Gospel reading for today, it doesn’t say anything about there being three of them. There might have been four or five of them for all we know.

So, what is the Epiphany really? Well, the word itself—Epiphany—means “manifestation” or “appearing.” In this context, it means the manifestation of Christ among us. God, in Christ, has appeared to us. And in the story that we hear today, it is the appearing of God not only to the Jews, but to the non-Jews, as well, to the Gentiles, which we find represented in the Magi—those mysterious men from the East.

Epiphany is the manifestation of God in our midst. Epiphany is a moment of realization. It is an awakening.

In this feast we realize that God is truly among us—all of us, no matter our race, no matter our sex or our sexual orientation, or whatever. God is present with all of us. Because God loves us. Epiphany is the realization that God is among us in the person of this child, Jesus.

Over the last month or so, we, as the Church, have gone through a variety of emotions. Advent was a time of expectation. We were waiting expectantly for this God to come to us. Christmas was the time of awe. God appeared and was among us and there was something good and wonderful about this fact.

Epiphany, however, gets the rap for being sort of anti-climactic. It is the time in which we settle down into the reality of what has come upon us. We realize what has happened and we accept it. We are awakening to this fact. The reality has set in. A bit of the awe is still there. A bit of wonder still lingers. And it’s all good.

In today’s Gospel, the wise men are overcome with joy when they see the star stop over Bethlehem. But, for the most part, despite the joy they felt, we are now moving ahead. There are no more angels singing on high for us. The miraculous star has begun to fade for us by this point. The wise men have presented their gifts and are now returning home to Persia. It is a time in which we feel contentment. We feel comfortable in what has happened.

But, in a few, fairly short weeks, this is all going to change again. We will soon face the harsh reality of Ash Wednesday and Lent. Now, I know it’s hard even to think about such things as we labor through the cold and snow. But it is there—just around the corner. The time of Christmas feasting will be over. The joys and beauty of Christmas will be replaced by ashes and sackcloth and, ultimately, by the Cross.

That is why, on this Sunday, you will hear me, in a few moments, proclaim the Date of Easter, as well as the dates of ash Wednesday and the other major feasts of the year. We are moving ahead. And, as in life, joys are replaced with sorrows. There is a balance to our lives as followers of Jesus.

But that’s all in the future. In this moment, we have this warm reality. God has appeared to us, as one of us. When we look upon the face of the child Jesus, we see ourselves. But we see more. We see God as well. In this Child the divine and the mortal have come together.

And for this moment—before the denial of our bodies in Lent, before the betrayal and torture of Holy Week, before the bloody and violent murder of Good Friday, we have in our midst, this Child. We have God appearing to us in the most innocent and most beautiful form of humanity possible. It is the Child Jesus we delight in now. It is the Christ Child we find ourselves worshipping at this time. And in the Christ Child we find ourselves amazed at the many ways God chooses to be manifested in our midst. For now, we are able to look at this Child and see God in our midst. With Lent coming upon us soon, we will find God manifested in other ways—in fasting, in penitence, in turning our eyes toward the Cross.

For now, we are the Magi. We are the ones who, seeking the Christ, have found him. We are the ones who, despite everything our rational minds have told us, have decided to follow that star of faith we have seen. We, like them, have stepped out into the unknown and have searched for what we have longed for. We are the ones who have traveled the long journeys of our lives to come to this moment—to this time and to this place—and, here, we find Jesus in our midst. We have followed stars and other strange, vague signs, hoping to find some deeper meaning to our lives. We have trekked through the wastelands of our life, searching for some THING.

But our Epiphany is the realization that we have found that some THING. e have found this Child. esus has appeared to us where we are—here in our own midst.

And this is what we can take away with us today—on this feast of the Epiphany. This is the consolation we can take with us as we head through these short, cold, snow-filled days toward Lent. No matter where we are—no matter who we are—Christ is here with us. Loving us. Accepting us. Inviting us to follow. Christ is with us in all that we do and every place we look.

So, let us look. And let us find him. Let us find him in our midst—here in our very lives. He is here with us. And whenever we recognize him in our midst—in those around us we love, in those who come to us seeking our help, in those we serve—that moment of recogintion of Jesus is our unending feast day of Epiphany.