Sunday, May 26, 2013

Trinity

May 26, 2013


John 16.12-15


+ This past week you would think, at least according to my many priest friends on Facebook, that this Sunday was some kind of apocalypse. No one, it seems, wants to tackle the Trinity.  You know what I have to say to them? Boo hoo!

 
I think it’s a bit funny, myself. I don’t mind trying to tackle this incredible mystery. But, I’m also not too afraid of preaching a bit of minor heresy here. After all, you’re all pretty forgiving of such as a little heresy, right? But, here it is.


There’s no getting around it. The Trinity.  God as Three-in-One—God as Father or Parent or Creator, God as Son or  Redeemer and God as Spirit or Sanctifier.  It is difficult to wrap our minds around this concept and mystery of God.


The questions we priests regularly get is: how can God be three and yet one? How can we, in all honesty, say that we believe in one God when we worship God as three? Aren’t we simply talking about three gods? Well, we would be if we were Mormons. But, we’re not Mormons.

Whole Church councils have debated the issue of the Trinity throughout history.  The Church actually has split at times over its interpretation of what exactly this Trinity is.


Certainly, I struggled with this concept for years.  It was only when I was studying for the priesthood, in a systematic theology class I took, that I came across a book that broke down all the barriers for me.


The book, by a nun of the Dominican Order, Mary Ann Fatula, was called The Triune God of Christian Faith.  Now that title alone would turn most of us off. Certainly when I saw it on the syllabus, I rolled my eyes and thought to myself: Great, this is gonna be fun.  But despite its title, this book was amazing.


Fatula was wonderful in how she took this very difficult concept of the Trinity and made it accessible, at least for me.  Some of the points Fatula makes are downright beautiful and poetic in attempting to understand what the Trinity is: She begins with the belief that our very beings are “etched with the signs of Trinitarian origin.”

 
In a sense, we have proof of the Trinity’s existence in our very bodies and minds.  Our psyche, for example, is Trinitarian, made up of three distinct aspects.  It’s still one psyche, but it makes its self known in three different ways: memory, knowledge and love.  It, in a sense, reflects the relationship the “persons” of the Trinity have with each other.

 
Another way she attempts to understand the Trinity is that of the relationship of the Lover, of the Beloved and of the Love that unites them.  The Lover, our course, is God the Creator, the Parent. The Beloved is Christ. The love that unites them is the Spirit.


She stresses that although they are the same, they are still distinct and different in what they do. The Son (Christ) and the Spirit, she explains, are exactly what the Father (Parent) is, without being who the Parent is.


I’ll repeat that: The Son (Christ) and the Spirit, she explains, are exactly what the Father (Parent) is, without being who the Parent is.


Let’s look at it from another perspective: The Trinity starts with the Incarnation—our belief that Jesus is God made flesh—God made one of us—fully God, fully human.


“Because of Jesus,” Fatula says, “heaven will be joined to earth in our very bodies.”


In other words, because Jesus was both a part of heaven and a part of earth, in Jesus, we find a perfect balance.  Heaven and earth have come together.  The Holy Spirit, released at the death of Jesus on the cross, (this is what we commemorated last Sunday on Pentecost Sunday) is now poured out upon us.  Before his death, Fatula says, the Spirit was confined by the “opaque boundaries of Jesus’ human existence.” His pre-resurrection body could only “’contain’ rather than convey the Spirit.” At his death, the dam broke, in a sense.  The Spirit poured forth into our lives as a lasting presence of God among us.


This Spirit, according to Fatula, is the Father and the Son’s embrace of us, “their kiss, their joy and their delight lavished upon the earth.” By the Spirit, we come to know both God as our loving Parent and God as our redeemer—we are encircled and drawn close to God.


So, what are talking about here is not three gods, as some people seem to think. What we are talking about it one tri-personal God—a God who cannot be limited in any way, but a God who is able to come to us and be revealed to us in a variety of ways.


Now we’re getting a real idea of what the Trinity is.  I do not think I preached any heresy in what I just shared. But if I did, God’ll forgive me.


All of this is, hopefully, very helpful.  It helps us to make sense of this sometimes confusing and difficult belief. But ultimately what we have here are symbols and analogies of what the Trinity is. They are ways of taking something incomprehensible and making them, in some small way, tangible.  We can go on and on about theology and philosophy and all manner of thoughts about God, but ultimately what matters is not how we think about God.


As Sandra Schneiders has said, “God is NOT two men and a bird” (referencing the popular images of God the Father, Jesus and the dove of the Holy Spirit).


What is important is how we believe in God. Or more important than that, how do these views of God help deepen our relationship with God and with each other? How do they bring us closer to God?  Because, let’s face it, that is our primary responsibility: our relationship with God. How can all this talk about God—how can this thinking about God—then deepen our relationship with God?


Our goal is not to understand God: we will never understand God. Our goal is to know God.  Our goal is to love God.  Our goal is to try to experience God as God wishes to be experienced by us.


I can say that I, in my own life, have experienced God in that tri-personal way many times. I have known God as a loving and caring parent, especially when I think about those times when I have felt marginalized by people, when I have felt ostracized and turned away by people.  I have also known God  very profoundly in Jesus—the God who has come to us as one of us—the God who took on the same flesh we wear—who suffered as we suffer and who died as we all will die. And I have known the healing and renewal of the Spirit of God of my life.  As we all have, at various moments in our lives.

 
So, no matter what the theologians argue about, no matter what those supposedly learned teachers proclaim, ultimately, our understanding of the Trinity needs to be based on our own experience to some extent.  The Trinity does not have to be a frustrated aspect of our church and our faith. It should widen and expand our faith life and our understanding and experience of God and, in turn,  of each other.  

 So, today, as we ponder God as Trinity—as we consider how God has worked in our lives in a tri-personal way— and who God is in our life, remember how amazing God is in the ways God is revealed to us.  God can not be limited or quantified or reduced. God can only be experienced and adored and pondered.  And, of course, loved. 

 

 

 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pentecost


May 19, 2013

 Acts 2.1-21


+ Do you ever have a movie that anytime you see it on TV or hear a reference to it you just feel good thinking about it? One of those films for me is the now-classic 1986 film, Stand By Me. Any time I see that film, I just come away feeling good. The movie, which takes place in 1959, is based on a short novel by Stephen King. It is about 4 boys coming of age in Maine. And it really is the story of any of us coming of age in our own life.

 One of the actors in the movie was the late, great River Phoenix. I was a huge fan of River Phoenix. I once read a biography about Phoenix, Lost in Hollywood, and there was a quote in the book that I thought about a lot over the years. In discussing his talent as an actor, Phoenix tried to articulate what happens when one creates art.

 "Everything is kind of tentative,” Phoenix said, “and at a certain point you click in and you just feel the Holy Ghost move you. It’s a great feeling. It’s not like I reason and say ‘Oh, I want to do this.’ It’s just an inherent challenge that grips you and says, ‘Do it.’ Your subconscious says goes with it [and] makes it happen.”

I like that quote—I think it’s a true statement. But I especially love that comment about the Holy Ghost.

“You just feel the Holy Ghost move in you.”

Today, of course, we are commemorating the Holy Spirit moving in us. In us, as the collective Church. And in us, as individuals.  And that moving of the Holy Spirit within us, has changed us and made us a wonderful force of good and love in the world.

I think most of us—I hope most of us—have felt his moving of the Holy Spirit within us as some point.  Still, even if we haven’t, when it comes to the Holy Spirit, we all find ourselves grasping and struggling to define who and what the Spirit is in our lives.   The Spirit can be elusive and strange and sometimes we might have a hard time wrapping our minds around the Spirit.

But it is clear from the words of Jesus before he ascends back into heaven what the role of the Spirit is:   Although Jesus might no longer be with us physically as he was when he walked with the disciples, God's Spirit does remain with us.  Jesus will leave—we will not be able to touch him and feel him and listen to his human voice again.  But God is leaving something amazing in Jesus' place.

In a sense what happens with the Descent of God’ Spirit upon us is the fact that we now have the potential to be prophets, as you’ve heard me say many, many times.

The same Spirit which spoke to Ezekiel, which spoke to Isaiah, which spoke to Jeremiah, which spoke to Moses, also can now speak to us and be revealed to us just as it spoke and was revealed to those prophets from the Hebrew Bible.

That is who the Spirit is in our midst.

The Spirit we celebrate today—and hopefully every day—is truly the Spirit of the God that came to us and continues to come to us—first to those prophets in our Hebrew past, then in the person of Jesus and finally in that rushing wind and in that rain of burning flames.

It is through this Spirit that we come to know God in ways we might never have before. God’s Spirit comes to us wherever we may be in our lives—in any situation or frustration. God’s Spirit is with us, as Jesus promised, always. 

Always.

And it is through this Spirit that God comes to know us as well.   For those of us who want to grasp these experiences—who want to have proof of them—the Spirit doesn’t fit well into the plan.  We can’t grasp the Spirit.  We can’t make the Spirit do what we want it to do.   In that way, the Spirit truly is like the Wind that came rushing upon those first disciples.

So, how do we know the Spirit is working in our lives?  Well, as Jesus said, we know the tree by its fruit.  In our case, we know the Spirit best through the fruits God’s Spirit gives us.   It was on the feast of Pentecost in Jewish culture on which the first fruit were offered to God.  In a sense, what happens on our Pentecost, is God returning those fruits to us. 

On the feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the fruits the Spirit of God gives to us and we can be thankful for them.   The Spirit comes to us and manifests itself to us in the fruits given to us by the Spirit.

We often hear about Pentecostals—those Christians who have been born (or baptized) in the Spirit.   They are the ones who speak in tongues and prophesy and have words of knowledge or  raise their hands in joyful praise—all those things we good Episcopalians find a bit disconcerting.   These Pentecostals—as strange as we might find them—really do have a lot to teach the rest of us Christians about the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

For me, the Spirit of God came to me at various points in my life not in a noisy, raucous way, but rather in a  quiet, though just as intense, way.  The Spirit of God as I have experienced it has never been a “raining down” so to speak, but rather a “welling up form within.” 

The fruits of the Spirit for me have been things such as an overwhelming joy in my life.  I have known the Spirit to draw close when I feel a true humbleness come to me.  When the Spirit is near, I feel clear-headed and, to put it simply, happy.

And more than anything, when the Spirit draws close, I am filled with a true sense of hope.  When the future seems bleak and ugly, the Spirit can come in and make everything worth living again.

On May 31, I will celebrate the 30th anniversary of my calling to the Priesthood.   On that day, I can tell you, when I felt the Holy Spirit move in me,  I knew that presence was holy and good and true and right.  My life certainly didn’t get easier after that point.  But my life changed, and I was led to places by that same Spirit which called me that I would never have thought for myself.   

No doubt everyone here this morning has felt a similar experience of God’s Spirit, although you might not have readily recognized that experience as God’s Spirit.  Maybe it was the joy you felt when a child or grandchild was born.  Maybe it was a sense of calm coming to you in the midst of a difficult time in your life.  Maybe it was a comforting hand on your shoulder when you were sorrowing or a bit of advice you needed for some problem you had been carrying with you for some time.

This is how God’s Spirit comes to us.   The Spirit does not tear open the ceiling and force its way into our lives.  The Spirit rather comes to us just when we need the Spirit to come to us.

So, this week of Pentecost, let us look for the gifts of the Spirit in our lives and in those around us.  Let us open ourselves to God’s Spirit and let it flow through us like a caressing wind.   And let us remember the true message of the Spirit to all of us—whenever it seems like God is distant or nonexistent, that is when God might possibly be closest of all, dwelling within us, being breathed unto as it was those first disciples.   On this feast of Pentecost—this feast of the fruits of God—let us feel the Holy Spirit move within us and let us give thanks to God for all the many fruits of the Spirit in our lives.



Sunday, May 12, 2013

7 Easter

The Sunday after the Ascension


May 12, 2013

+ So, does anyone know what happened last Thursday? But it  was kind of a big day for us as Christians. The problem is, this big day for us happened on Thursday. So, of course, it probably passed most of us by without much notice.  Anyone want to guess what happened on Thursday?  The Feast of the Ascension is happened this past Thursday.

So, why is the Ascension so important to us? I guess, we should first of all ask: what is the Ascension? The Ascension of course is that day in which Jesus was taken up into heaven. Yes, he was resurrected. He spent time, after the resurrection, walking about. And then, he was taken up. That is the Ascension.

Some of us might look at the Ascension as a kind of anticlimactic event.  The Resurrection has already occurred on Easter morning.  That of course is the big event.  The Ascension comes as it does after Jesus has appeared to his disciples and has proved to them that he wasn’t simply a ghost,  but was actually resurrected in his body (remember a couple of weeks ago in our Gospel reading how Thomas put his fingers into Jesus’ wounds).

In comparison to Easter, the Ascension is a quiet event.  The resurrected Jesus simply leads his followers out to Bethany and, then, quietly, he is taken up into heaven.  There are no angelic trumpets. There are no choirs of angels welcoming him into heaven.  There is no thunder or lightning. He simply goes.

So, why is the Ascension important to us?  It’s important because this is where our work begins.  This is when our work as followers of Jesus begins. We, at this point, become the Presence of Jesus now in the world. This is where we are now compelled to go out now and actually do the work Jesus has left for us to do.

But what I like about the feast is more than just going out to do Jesus’ work. I like this feast but it’s so fantastic. I mean, Jesus actually goes up—he goes away from us. He goes off into some other place.  Now for those of us who have some sort of scientific knowledge, those of us who are rational, thinking people, this image is a hard one to wrap our minds around. Jesus is taken up. He was “borne up.”

 It is at this point that I find myself approaching this word—up—from two different perspectives.  As a priest—I see this word as important.  God has raised Jesus up from the dead, and God has brought Jesus back up to heaven.  God is seen here on a higher level.  In bringing Christ up, we recognize God and Jesus as one—on the same level.

 But I also approach this word Up from the perspective of a poet. For a poet, words are everything. Every little word is important and must be carefully chosen and carefully examined. 

 So, as poet and writer, I see this word “up” as important in a whole other way.   Remember what we were taught as kids; heaven is up and hell is down.  So, of course, Jesus went up, right?  For those early believers, who believed in the three-tiered world—heaven above, the earth in the middle and hell below—Jesus must in fact go up.  

 By the Middle Ages the Church truly took this literally to heart. It was a custom in some churches at that time actually cut holes in the roof of the church. As the Gospel was read a figure of the resurrected Christ was raised on a pulley through the opening. Now remember, the Gospel would’ve been read in Latin. Most of the people probably wouldn’t have understood it.  So, here was a visual representation of Jesus going up. As time went on, they got even more sophisticated. They also cut a hole in the floor so that as the figure of Christ went up through the roof the figure of the devil went down through the floor.

But that was then. In their world up meant up and down meant down.

 We certainly know better now, don’t we? Up doesn’t mean the same for us as it did for them. We know that the world isn’t flat but round and so up and down are different for us.

 I once heard a pastor speaking critically about the ascension, if you can believe it. He said, that if Jesus actually went up in the air and flew off toward some actual physical heaven, then now, some 2,000 years later, he would still be out there somewhere, in outer space, still flying along.  The problem with that thinking is that this liberal minister was being just as literal minded as those people in the middle ages who truly believed that Jesus went up.

To some extent, what that minister was talking about was that Jesus didn’t so much as go up—άΰέ --but rather that Jesus went out.  The Greek word Luke would’ve used for this, if that’s what he meant, would have been έκ or “out of”. Jesus then isn’t off in space somewhere flying toward some far-off galaxy called heaven, nor do I think that the Ascension cancels out or defies all the laws of natural science.

What both the fundamentalist Christians and the literal-minded minister missed is the ability to look at what Luke was writing about with a poet’s eye.  For those who witnessed it, it must’ve been an amazing and overwhelming experience.  Already they saw this person they knew and loved and followed brutally murdered. Then, suddenly, there he was, raised from the dead, and was in fact standing before them, wounds and all.  Finally, he was gone. He went up out of their sight.

But let’s look at it from Jesus’ perspective.

Last Wednesday, at our Wednesday night Mass on the eve of the Feast of the Ascension, I shared a poem, “Ascension”, by Denise Levertov, one of my all time favorite poets. In this poem, she looks at the Ascension from his very perspective.  In the poem, she imagines Christ relinquishing the earth and stretching himself toward heaven  (in her words) “through downpress of dust.”   She compares it  to

“a shoot that pushes its way, delicate and tough,
                      through soil to sunlight, as if it’s a kind of work,
                                  and not some weightless body floating like a balloon.”

Jesus then, rooted as he is to the earth, to creation,  moves upward then not through outer space like some astronaut but rather up through creation—through the fertile soil of created time and space—into the light and life of God.  Now it really means something, doesn’t it? Here’s something we can grasp and make sense of and still not sacrifice what we know rationally.

But there’s also one other part of this way of thinking that we sometimes neglect. If we are truly looking at this from the perspective of Jesus, what do you think he was feeling as he moved toward God?

Joy.

Happiness.

When we are happy—when we are joyful—we use the word soar often. Our hearts soar with happiness. When we are full of joy and happiness we imagine ourselves floating upward. We talk about being on Cloud Nine. We talk about our feet barely touching the floor.  In a sense, when we are happy or in love or any of those other wonderful things, we, in a sense, ascend.

Conversely, when we are depressed we plunge. We fall. We go down.  So this word “up” is important. Jesus, in his joy, went up toward God. His followers, in their joy, felt him go up.

St. Augustine said of the Ascension, “let our hearts ascend with [Christ].”

For those followers, their hearts truly did ascend with Christ.  So, it is accurate language. The ascension is important too in dealing with one other reality. Like those first followers, we must face the fact that Jesus is no longer physically with us.  


The story of the ascension is that, somehow we must carry on without Jesus physically in our midst. He took his leave. He left us physically. Now I don’t mean that he doesn’t come to us physically. Certainly Christ is present in the physical elements of the bread and wine that we are about to celebrate at this altar. Certainly Jesus is present with us, as well.  We—Jesus’ followers—are, as I said earlier, the physical Body of Christ in the world.


What I am talking about is that the Jesus those first disciples knew—the one who walked with them and talked with them and fed with them and laughed with them, was not with them anymore.  He had gone up.


But next week, an event will happen that will show us that Jesus remains with us in an even more extraordinary way. On that day—Pentecost Sunday—his Spirit will descend upon us and remain with us always.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For now, we must simply face the fact that it all does fall into place.  Jesus will not leave us barren and afraid. He loves us too much for that. God will never leave us alone. Although no longer with us physically—we cannot put our fingers in his actual wounds—Jesus is still present among us in his Spirit, in the bread and wine, in each other.

So, today, and this week, as we remember and rejoice in the Ascension, let our hearts ascend with Jesus. Let them soar upward in joy at the fact that Jesus is still with us. Let us be filled with joy that his spirit dwells within us and can never be taken from us.  And this joy in us ride up. It rise up in us and sing through us to those around us we are called to  serve. Amen.

 

My Midcentury Modern obsession is now public knowledge!

Published in today;s issue of of the Fargo Forum   

It’s a Mod haus!: Midcentury modern furniture makes comeback with new generation


By: John Lamb, INFORUM

FARGO – “My first reaction when I heard about it, I thought, ‘Oh, thank God.’ ”
The Rev. Jamie Parsley is celebrating the good news, but not just the kind from the good book.
Parsley is one of the devoted converts excited about the late-April opening of Mid-Mod Madhaus, a store devoted to midcentury modern furniture.

The style, marked by clean lines, exposed wood and metal and molded fiberglass, has seen a resurgence in recent years, thanks in part to the success of the stylish TV drama set in the 1960s, “Mad Men.”

After a 30-year run, the look fell out of favor in the late ’60s, but the forms never fell too far from grace among the design-savvy. Coupled with the solid craftsmanship that went into the pieces, the works have proved to be durable and thus handed down or available for resale to a younger generation.

“Most of this is real wood, real construction and priced below Target,” says Andrea Baumgardner, who works in the secondhand store with her husband, owner Brett Bernath. “It’s neat if you have something in your home that means something to you. And you can’t buy that at Ikea.”

The couple’s interest in the genre started in earnest when they found a Broyhill Brasilia dining room set at an estate sale. The line was designed in the early ’60s as a nod to Oscar Niemeyer’s architecture in the Brazilian capital, particularly his use of long curves.

As they developed a taste for the styles, they developed an appetite and bought more and more, to the point now where Bernath has storage units packed with goods he moves into the store as other pieces sell.

The store, at 115 Roberts St., Fargo, holds a range of items, from a beautiful Danish modern walnut desk to different dining room sets, like a Lucite tulip-shaped table and matching formed chairs, in the windows facing Roberts Street.

Pieces are arranged to give the feeling of a mixed and matched living room. Around the corner in the back of the store, the walls are lined with colorful, formed chairs, with shelves of fans perched above. Across the way, another wall is decorated with old clocks above a kitchenette.

“It’s either, ‘Whoa, my grandma had all of this stuff,’ and I want to punch them in the mouth, or ‘This is such a trip back in time,’ and I want to punch them in the mouth,’ ” Bernath says when asked what kinds of reactions he gets.

While he thought the chairs would be hot sellers (“The living room is where you make a statement in your house”), he says old schoolroom maps and metal laboratory cabinets with glass doors generate more interest.

“I could’ve sold five sets of that this week,” Bernath says pointing to such a cabinet. Two business days later, it and many other pieces in the store were gone, replaced with different items from storage.

To help explain the significance of a piece (especially the higher ticket items like the Brasilia hutch for $600), Bernath and Baumgardner post informational placards by works, like a birch Heywood-Wakefield dining set or the iconic Shelby Williams Gazelle chair.

“It was the first time designers tried to bring good design to middle America,” Baumgardner says of the impact of midcentury-modern.

The work still resonates with collectors born well after the works were manufactured.

“The clean simple lines and the quality of the furniture built in the ’50s and ’60s seem timeless,” says Andrew Rosenburg as he purchases a table-top metal fan, a popular item at Mid-Mod.

Already a return customer, Rosenburg pulls out his phone to show Bernath where he put a Heywood-Wakefield dining room set he previously purchased.

Rosenburg isn’t the only returning customer.

Kilee Kadrie Weiler and her husband, Dan, selected a three-piece bedroom set. The next time they came in to make a payment, they picked up a small, slatted table.

“I like that it is functional and simple but not cold. Clean lines but still have a warm, comfortable feeling,” Kadrie Weiler says, explaining her fondness for the style.

“We were looking at Dan’s overstuffed couch and saying, ‘We really don’t want something huge any more. We want something a little more sleek and well-designed,’ ” she says. “For us, it’s simple and keeping things functional but not the sterile feeling that much of the modern furniture has.”

Finding just the right pieces has been a long process for Parsley. The priest in charge at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in north Fargo lives in a 1959 house and has been working to outfit it accordingly.
“It’s been very exciting for me to bring everything back to that time and that style,” he says.

Parsley had always been interested in furniture, but got hooked on Mid-mod after discovering the magazine Atomic Ranch.

“It just kind of snowballed after that for me,” he says of his affinity for the style. “I’m just obsessed with it.”

In particular he’s drawn to the straight lines and exposed wood of Danish modern and has purchased a Heywood-Wakefield coffee table and side table.

Always on the lookout for lamps, chairs and tables, he scoured antique stores to the point where workers recognized him and knew what he was looking for. He also visited estate sales and sheepishly admits to keeping an eye out for curbside treasures during cleanup week.

That changed when he heard Mid-Mod was opening.

“What’s great about this is I can go in there, and I know he’s probably going to have it. And if he doesn’t, he knows where to get it,” he says. “I don’t want to go in there too much because I’m probably going to go into debt, probably. I don’t want to go too crazy.”

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The funeral for Jack Schwer


Jack Schwer

(August 29, 1925 – May 5, 2013)
Hanson Runsvold Funeral Home
May 9, 2013

+ A few days ago, when I first heard that Jack had died, Janet and I were discussing this service. Janet told me that Jack had asked that, for this service, we use the Burial Office from the 1928 version of the Book of Common Prayer. I am always happy to do this service. I love it. I think the language and the beauty of this service says so much. Probably more than any sermon can.
This, of course, was THE Prayer Book for Episcopalians from 1928 to 1979.

 This was the Prayer Book Jack cherished and held dear. And in this Book, he found meaning and he found God.

We, this afternoon, have varied a bit from the strict Prayer Book Burial Service.  Back in “the day,” this service was about as short and basic as a service could get. I once read a biography of the poet Edward Arlington Robinson. When Robinson died in April 1935, his funeral was held at St. George’s Protestant Episcopal Church on East Sixteenth Street in New York City. The service was 15 minutes long. There was no music. And there was no eulogy.  In fact, there was never a eulogy at an Episcopal Burial Service before 1979.  One could attend a funeral service in an Episcopal Church in those days and never hear the deceased person’s name mentioned once in the whole service.

Today, we have strayed a bit from that rule.  We do actually hear Jack’s name in this service. We are praying for him by name today.  And you are getting this homily. But for the most, this is the service that Jack would’ve wanted for himself.

When Janet and I were planning this service on Tuesday morning, I mentioned that we Episcopalians can be somewhat reticent regarding our faith. We know what we believe. But we’re not always comfortable talking about it or articulating it. I mentioned at that time that we Episcopalians have a saying. If you ever want to know what Episcopalians believe, it’s as simple as this: we believe what we pray. In other words, our faith is contained right here in the Book of Common Prayer.
Now, for somebody like Jack, he would have been uncomfortable talking about his faith. But he was faithful. He was a life-long, loyal Episcopalian. And this service that we are praying this afternoon contains everything he, no doubt, would have believed in his life.
In this service we begin with those wonderful words that have begun every Anglican and Episcopal funeral service since at least 1600s.
“ I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord;
he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live;
and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”

Those are not light words. Those are words that speak loud and clear to us. And they make clear to us, who believe, that death is not something to fear.


We believe in a God who is resurrection and who is life. And those of us who believe, though we might die, live, and live forever. Jack believed those words. And today, though is gone from us, he lives today. And we can take comfort in that.

As I said earlier, I am happy that Jack chose this service for himself.  This service is important and meaningful.  In this service, we truly find the veil between this world and the world in which Jack now lives lifted for a moment. We find angels in our midst. And we find ourselves worshipping God along with that “company of heaven”—that company of which Jack is now a part.

You can see now why Episcopalians take their liturgy very seriously. And you can understand now why this Episcopal service was so important to Jack.

For us Christians, this service is a reflection of the hope and longing we have for a life that continues on after our bodies have died.  We might not find specific answers to our questions of what awaits us. What awaits us, according to this liturgy, according to the Book of Common Prayer, is very much a mystery. But it is a certain mystery—it is a place that truly exists beyond our deepest longing and hopes. And it is a place in which we continue to grow.

In this service we will pray that Jack “may go from strength to strength, in the life of perfect service, in [God’s] heavenly kingdom.” It is wonderful to think that where Jack is right and where each of us will be one day, we will continue to grow, that we go from strength to strength, that our journey continues there, in some wonderful and beautiful way.

So, on this day in which we remember and commemorate Jack’s life, we do so with a knowledge that what he very quietly hoped in and longed for, he has gained. And we can also hope, as he did, to be a part of that company of heaven one day.  Jack knew this faith in his own life and we too can cling to it in a time like this.

So this morning and in the days to come, let us all take consolation in that faith—that, with Christ, Jack is now complete and whole at this moment.  Today, he has, in the words of the Prayer Book he cherished so deeply, “run with patience the race that [was] set before [him]” and he has received “the crown of glory with fadeth not away.” And let us be glad that one day we too will rest after running the race that is set before us. And let us rejoice that the crown of glory awaits us in that place of unending joy. 

Amen.

 

 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

6 Easter

May 5, 2013

Revelation 21.10, 22-22

+ A few weeks ago, our own Stephanie Parrott, hearing that our reading from that Sunday, was from Revelation, said, “Ewww, Revelation…”


“What’s wrong?” I asked. “What’s wrong with Revelation?”

“I have been to too many churches,” she said, “in which Revelation is seen as some kind of prophecy of things to come, and is an opportunity to preach some fire and brimstone.”

I responded by saying, “Well, welcome to the Episcopal Church and our very non-fire-and-brimstone understanding of Revelation.”

Still, I think there are a lot of Christians who feel this way about the Book of Revelation. Revelation is a strange book. It can be a frightening book. But I don’t see it as a book of prophecy. I don’t see it saying anything definitely about future governments or some messianic Anti-Christ in our midst or that we are living in the so-called “last days” or what have you.

What I do see it doing is speaking to us through some beautiful and powerful poetry on what is happening in our lives, right now, as Christians, and about how, in the end, Christ is victorious.  I think it is important for us to re-claim Revelation in this way —and, in doing so, re-read it.

In our reading this morning from Revelation, we find some very strange esoteric images—not an uncommon thing when we read Revelation. We find this morning these images of angels, of the holy city of Jerusalem, of a place without moon or sun, but a place of incredible light. It is a glorious vision of what awaits us in that place in which God and the Lamb dwell. It is a place of beauty and glory.  It is a place of unending life. And that is the important thing to take away from our reading today.

In these last few weeks, I feel as though I have been living under a pall of some sort—a death pall. I’ve been dealing with a fair share of death. Of course, yesterday was my cousin’s memorial service. Later, after I got home from the committal service, I received the call that Jack Schwer died yesterday afternoon. And then last night, our own Janie Breth called and asked if I could give her grandmother, Camille, “last rites” at the hospital. Camille passed this morning.

Of course, death is a part of life, and certainly it’s part of my job as a priest. I knew that going into it.  But it still is hard, often.  And for people who have to deal with this mystery of death on a regular basis, there have be ways to find strength and comfort in the midst of death.  

One of the ways I find my way through this pall of death is by turning to the scriptures. William Stringfellow, the great Episcopal theologian, saw that a common theme in all Scripture is the defeat of death.  Or as Stringfellow called it “authority over death.”

I agree with him.  I think he is right about that. Stringfellow saw it most profoundly in the life of Jesus.  There we see this authority over death most profoundly. We see it every time Jesus healed the sick, calmed the storms, cast out demons, ate with sinners, cleansed the temple, raised the death, carried the Cross. And of course, in the Resurrection, which we are still celebrating in this season of Easter.

This view of life over death speaks to us most profoundly during this Easter season. During this  season, what we have found most vital to our understanding of living into this Easter faith is the startling fact that death, truly does not have power over us.

We, as Christians, cannot let the power of death control and direct our lives.  As Christians, as followers of Jesus who crosses that awful boundary between life and death, and comes back, we must truly be defiant to death.  Of course, that ultimate victory over death happens only when we can face death honestly. True victory over death is when we can see death in the light we hear about in today’s reading from Revelation. Only then do we realize that death has no victory over us.

Because of what happened on Easter, because of the Resurrection, because Jesus did die, yes, but he rose from that tomb, and walked victorious upon the chains of death, we know now death does not have the last word in our lives.

 Over these past several years, I can tell you, it would’ve been easy for me to just give into this victory death strives for over life. Mourning does that do us. It weakens us and saps our energies from us. We all get stuck in mourning patterns.  But, for us Christians, we can’t be stuck in such death. We must live. And we must move forward.  We must  stand up against death.

I can tell you that, right now, in my own life, I am tired of death. I am tired of dealing directly with it. I am tired of dealing with its after-effects. I am tired of dealing with its seemingly overpowering presence.

But, standing up to death, even when we’re sick of it, is not easy. Choosing life, with all its uncertainties, can be scary. Even when moving forward into life  and living our lives fully and completely, we realize it can be frightening. We are, after all, heading into the future which is unknown to us.

But that, again, is what I love about Revelation. What Revelation promises to us, through all that poetry and imagery, is that death will lose, hatred will lose, violence will lose, evil will lose, war will lose—and goodness, and holiness and LIFE will be victorious.  That isn’t wishful thinking.  That’s isn’t being naïve.

Rather, this is what it means to be a Christian.  This is what it means to follow Jesus. Yes, following Jesus means following him to the Cross and to that dark tomb.  And to death, yes. But it also means following him into the great unknown on the other side of the Cross and the tomb—into that glorious, light-filled, unending life that swallows up death and darkness and war once and for all.

“And there will be no more night,” John tells us in his Revelation. “they”—we—“will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be [our] light, and [we] will reign for ever and ever.”

Those are words of absolute and glorious victory. But more so, they are words of life—of a life that goes on forever and ever.

As we travel through these last days of Easter, as we head into this week in which we celebrate Jesus’ ascension to that place of life and light, let us do so with true Easter joy. Let us do so rejoicing from the very core of our bodies.

We are alive.  This morning, we are alive. Life is in us. And it is good.  We have much to be thankful for and in which to rejoice.

So, let us be thankful for this life. Let us rejoice in it.  And let us realize that in rejoicing in our lives and in the life within each of us, God has truly prepared for us, as we heard in our collect this morning, “such good things as surpass our understanding.”

Amen.

 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Memorial Service for Jackie Parsley

The memorial service for

Jackie M. Parsley
(April 11, 1971-April 19, 2013)
Saturday, May 4, 2013

 + As we gather this morning, I think most of us can agree: None of us want to be here this morning. After all, how can we even be here, now, in this moment, saying good-bye to Jackie? How can Jackie—Jackie!—be gone?

In these last two weeks, I can’t tell you how many times I have asked myself—and others—that same question: How can Jackie be gone?

As many of you might know, I am Jackie’s cousin. She was a year younger than me. And, certainly in our late teens and early twenties, with her being the celebrity she was at NDSU (she would’ve hated me calling her a “celebrity”),    I would often joke about the fact that anywhere I went at that time, someone would invariably ask, “So, are you related to Jackie Parsley?”

Whenever I would bring that up to Jackie—and I often did—she would smile that smile of hers and shrug her shoulders in that way she did, and act all embarrassed about it.

But the fact is, we all have to admit this: she was special. Those of us who knew her and loved her knew she was special. Special, not perfect.  I can tell you, if she were here this morning—and she is here this morning with us—she would take issue with me if I made her out to be anything close to perfect. She knew she wasn’t perfect.  But she was special. There was truly something special about her.

In these last two weeks, I thought a lot of about what it was. And I have heard from others about that specialness. So many people in these last few weeks have shared their thoughts and their feelings about that specialness—that extra something she had—that made her who she was.  And I think it was some kind of brightness about her.

Anyone who knew her, saw that brightness in her eyes. It was a sparkling there in her eyes. It wasn’t always there. She had her moments. But when it was there, it was so bright.  And thinking of that brightness, that life that was within her, I have to admit: that makes today harder for me, and I’m sure for many of you as well.

How can that brightness, that life, be gone? And so quickly and so suddenly? It just doesn’t make sense.

But the fact is, that brightness, that life, isn’t gone. It is still here with us. It is with us in the love we felt—and still feel—for her. It is with us when we think of her in those good and special moments. It is with us when we miss her and wish we could have a bit of that brightness back with us.

In moments like this, I get asked quite often: why? Why do things like this happen? Why do things like this happen to people like Jackie? And although people seem to expect people like me—people who are priests and clergy—to know, we don’t. I don’t know why this happened.

But I do know this, without a doubt. I do know that despite these bad things, we can’t say that God was somehow absent. God was not absent in any way in Jackie’s life. That light and brightness and life we saw shining in her eyes was God’s light. It was God shining through her. And I believe and know in my heart of hearts that when Jackie passed from this world two weeks ago yesterday, she did so in the loving and caring Presence of her God, and that she awoke from this world in that loving Presence, enfolded and loved.

For us, however, it isn’t easy to believe that at times. At times like this, this world seems cold and dark and unfair and chaotic.

In moments like this, I often refer to the very common image of a carpet. Maybe you’ve heard this image used before. If we take a look at a carpet, we know there are two sides to it. The bottom of the carpet is kind of ugly. It’s all matted and full of glue and stray strands of yarn. It’s not very pleasant. But the topside of the carpet can be beautiful. It all comes together on the topside of the carpet.

Life is like that carpet. We, here, now, in this moment, are looking at life—and at Jackie’s death— from the underside of the carpet. It doesn’t seem to make any sense sometimes. Especially if we don’t know what’s on the other side of the carpet.

For God—and for Jackie, in this moment—they are viewing the carpet from the topside. For them, it is complete. It all, somehow, makes sense. And for us, left on the underside of the carpet, all we can do is guess and conjecture and hope in the completeness we will one day see on the topside of the carpet.

 In our reading from the Book of Revelation this morning, we get his wonderful glimpse of the topside of the carpet. We heard,

“See, the home of God is among mortals. [God] will dwell with them; they will be [God’s] people, and God…will be with them; [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

We are still living in this time in which there is death. We are still living in this time of mourning and crying and pain. We still living in this valley of tears. This morning, we all know what it is like to live in that sad place.

But we know—and Jackie herself knew—that ultimately, these things will pass away. Ultimately, death will truly be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will truly be no more. And God will, one day, wipe every tear from our faces, and we will never cry again, except, maybe with joy.

Jackie is there now in that place. And we too will be there one day.

So, yes, today we are sad. Yes, we are mourning today. Yes, we are struggling with these questions and these tears and this gnawing ache within us. But this is temporary. That joy, that light, that brightness is eternal. And one day—one very glorious day—it will never be taken from us.

I will miss Jackie. I will miss her vibrancy and her joy and her specialness. But I know that one day, I will see her again, as we all will.

So, for now, let us, who here, now, celebrate her life. Let us give thanks for her and for all she gave us in this life. And let us know, as we go from here today, that her brightness goes with each of us. Amen.