Sunday, August 12, 2018

12 Pentecost

August 12, 2018

I Kings 19.4-8; Ephesians 4.25-5.2

+ Occasionally in our Sunday scripture readings, we find a story that kind of perfectly matches our own faith journey, or a situation in our own lives. I think that’s why people find such consolation in scripture. Very often, we can find our own lives reflected there.

Well, one of the stories from scripture that truly resonates with many of us is our very short reading this morning from the Hebrew scriptures. In our reading from 1 Kings, we find the prophet Elijah in the wilderness. In that wilderness, after traveling a day’s journey, he asks God to let him die. In fact, we find him praying a very beautifully profound prayer, despite its dark tone.

Elijah prays, “It is enough: now, O Lord, take away my life…”

Actually, it’s pretty theatrical. Very Tallulah Bankhead.

But, if we’re listening closely, that prayer should actually cause us to pause uncomfortable for a moment. It’s actually quite a shocking prayer. But it is brutally honest too.

Anyone who has been in the depths of depression or despair knows this prayer. Anyone who has been touched with the deep, ugly darkness of depression has probably prayed this prayer.

“It is enough. Now, O Lord, take away my life.”

Now, some people would be afraid to pray this prayer. Why? Because they’re afraid God might actually answer their prayer.

Well, in the case of Elijah, God actually does.

Wait, you’re probably saying. No. God didn’t answer Elijah’s prayer.  Elijah lived.
Ah, but, yes, actually, God did answer the prayer.

In the midst of his depression, in the midst of his anguish, in the midst of the wilderness of not only his surroundings, but his own spirit, God really does answer the prayer of Elijah. But…it is not answered in the way Elijah wants.
The prayer is answered with a beautiful “no.” And we all have to understand and accept that sometimes “no” is the answer to whatever we might be praying for.
But before you think this is cruel—before you start saying that God’s “no” is a cruel no, follow this short, short story of Elijah all the way through.

Yes, God answers Elijah with a non-verbal no. But God still provides even after the no.

For Elijah, an angel appears and feeds him in his anguish and in that wilderness. Elijah is not allowed to die. But he is sustained. He is refreshed so that he can continue this journey.

This is a beautiful analogy for us, who are also wandering about in the wilderness. I think most of us have probably come to that time in our lives when we have curled up and prayed for God to take our lives from us, because living sometimes just hurts too much.

We too, more often than not, in our despair and pain, cry out to God.

 We ask God to relieve us of this anguish.

“Take this away from me, God,” we pray. Or, on really bad days, we pray, “Take me away from this pain, God.”

“Let me die.”

When that happens, God’s no is not the final word. The final word is God’s sustenance.  The final word is that fact that, even in our anguish, even in our wilderness, even when we are exhausted and worn out and so depressed we can’t even function, God still provides us with Bread. Maybe not actual bread.  But with the Bread of Life. A Bread that truly sustains, that truly refreshes.  God provides us with what we need.

As much as we may relate to this story of Elijah in the wilderness, we also have this reading from Ephesians this morning  Now, I will say this about our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians: it is one of the most difficult scriptures I have ever had to deal with in my life as a Christian. Every time I have heard it or read it, I feel myself sort of (and this is a very evangelical term)…convicted.

In the mirror of this scripture, I feel inadequate. I see my own guilt staring back at me.  St. Paul lays it on the line.

“Be angry,” he says. “But do not sin.”

OK.  Yes, I can do that.  Trust me, I’ve been angry plenty. So, be angry, but don’t act on your anger.

“Let no evil talk come out of your mouth...”

Shoot! I was doing so well. But, this is hard.

“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit…”

We grieve the Holy Spirit when we let those negative, angry words out of our mouths. When we backbite and complain. When we bash others when others aren’t there. What harm can it do? we wonder. They can’t hear it. But the Holy Spirit hears it. And those negative words do make a difference.  They make a difference with God.  

 “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice” Paul writes, “and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

Ok. Yes. We understand all of that as followers of Jesus.  But, then, as though to drive home his point, he puts before us a challenge like few other challenges.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

“Be imitators of God,” Paul says to us.

Be imitators of the God of love we worship.  

Be imitators of the God of love who loves each of us fully and completely.

Be imitators of the God of love who loves us for who we are, just as we are, even when we lash out with our angry words at others.

Be imitators of the God who hears our prayers and answers us by feeding us with a life-giving bread in the wilderness of our lives.

For me, this has to be the most difficult thing about being a follower of Jesus.  There are days when I want to be angry at those people who have wronged me and hurt me.  There are days when I want to get revenge on them and “show them.”  There are days when it feels almost pleasurable to think about “getting even” with those people and “putting them in their place.”

It’s so easy and it feels so good. And it makes the pain of betrayal less.  That is certainly the easier thing to do—at least for me.

But driving that anger and hatred and frustration from me is so much harder. Being an imitator of God—a God of radical acceptance—is much harder, much more difficult.  To be an imitator of the God of love takes work. Hard, concentrated work. 

But, in the end, it’s better.  Life is just so much better when the darkness of anger is gone from it.  Life seems so much less dangerous when we realize everyone is not our enemy.  Life is so much sweeter when we refuse to see a person as an enemy who sees us as their enemy.  Life is just always so much better when peace and love reign.

Yes, I know. It seems so Pollyannaish.  It seems so na├»ve.  It seems as though we are deceiving ourselves.  But, the fact is, it takes a much stronger person to love.  

It takes a very strong person to act in peace and love and not in anger and fear.  It takes a person of radical strength to be an imitator of a God of radical love.  The strength it takes to maintain peace in a time of strife is more incredible than anything we can even imagine.

I have had more than one former enemy become my friend, or at least my acquaintance, because of the effort to maintain peace rather than to antagonize.  Not always.  But a few times, peace has changed people’s hearts. Peace can do that.  It can change people.  But it has to change us first.

We, as followers of Jesus, as imitators of God, need to rid ourselves of the thorns and brambles of hatred and anger so we can let the flowers of peace blossom in our lives.  But it begins with us.  It begins with us seeing ourselves for who are—loved children of God attempting to imitate that God of love.

So, let us be true followers of Jesus in all aspects of our lives.  Let us strive to imitate our God of peace and love in everything we do.  Let us, in imitating our God, also reach out and feed those who are in their own wilderness.  Let us let peace and love reign in our hearts and in our lives.  Let that peace and love overcome all that anger, the hatred, the frustration that seems to reign in most of the world right now. And when we let peace and love reign, we will find that it permeates through us.  Everything we do is an act of peace, is an act of love to others. And that is what being a follower of Jesus in this world is.  That is the sermon we preach to others. That is the message of God’s love that we proclaim in our very lives.  That is true evangelism.  And that is what each of us is not only called to do by Jesus, but commanded to do by him.

“Live in love as Christ loved us,” Paul says to each of us.

When we do, that love will change the world.



Sunday, August 5, 2018

11 Pentecost

+++ The Blessing of the Civil Marriage of William Alan Weightman 
and James Edward Mackay +++

August 5, 2018

Exodus 16.2-4, 9-15; Psalm 78.23-29; John 6.24-35

+ Over these last several weeks, in our scripture readings at Mass, we have had a common theme.

The Bread of Life.

Food.

God providing food.

But our reading today from Exodus is one of those readings that has always perplexed me. In our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we find the Israelites, in their hunger, complaining and grumbling.  In some translations, we find the word “murmuring.”  Over and over again in the Exodus story they seem to complain and grumble and murmur.

To be fair, complaining and grumbling would be expected from people who are hungry.  We are not always nice people when we are hungry. I am definitely not a nice person when I’m hungry!

But in their hunger, even after they have complained and murmured, God provides for them.  God provides them this mysterious manna—this strange bread from heaven.

It’s the manna itself that has always confused me. In my mind, I still don’t have a very clear image of what it could possible have been.  In fact, nobody’s real clear what this mysterious manna actually was.  It’s often described as flakes, or a dew-like substance.  (It does not sound very appetizing)

But one thing we do know: it was miraculous.

Now, in our Gospel, we find the same story of the Israelites and their hunger, but it has been turned around entirely.  These people come to Jesus in their hunger, but they are given something greater than food to feed them.  As our Liturgy of the Word for today begins with hunger and all the complaining and murmuring and grumbling and craving that goes along with it, it ends with fulfillment.  

We find that the hungers now are the hungers and the cravings of our souls, of our hearts.

Now, this kind of spiritual hunger is just as real and just as all-encompassing as physical hunger.  It, like physical hunger, can gnaw at us. We too crave after spiritual fulfillment.  We mumble and complain and murmur when we are spiritually unfulfilled.  We too feel that gaping emptiness within us when we hunger from a place that no physical food or drink can quench.

In a sense, we too are like the Israelites, wandering about in our own wilderness—our own spiritual wilderness.  Most of us know what is like to be out there—in that spiritual wasteland—grumbling and complaining, hungry, shaking our fists at the skies and at God.  We, like them, cry and complain and lament. We feel sorry for ourselves and for the predicaments we’re in.  And we, like them, say to ourselves and to God, “If only I hadn’t followed God out here—if only I had stayed put or followed the easier route, I wouldn’t be here.”

We’ve all been in that place.  We’ve all been in that desert, to that place we thought God had led us.

I know that in my case, I went so self-assuredly.  I went certain that this was what God wanted for me.  I was sure I had read all the signs.  I had listened to that subtle voice of the Spirit within me.  I had gauged my calling from God through the discernment of others.  And then, suddenly, there I was.  What began as a concentrated stepping forward, had become an aimless wandering.  And, in that moment, I found myself questioning everything—I questioned myself, I questioned the others who discerned my journey, I questioned the Spirit who I was so certain spoke within me.  

And, in that emptiness, in that frustration, I questioned God.  I complained.  And I lamented.

Lamenting is a word that seems kind of outdated for most of us.  We think of lamenting being some overly dramatic complaining.  Which is exactly what it is.  It was what we do when we feel things like desolation.  Like hunger, few of us, again I hope, have felt utter desolation.  But when we do, we know, there is no real reason to despair.

As followers of Jesus, we will find our strength and consolation in the midst of that spiritual wilderness.  We know that manna will come to us in that spiritual desert. God always provides. We must always remind ourselves of that simple fact. No matter how terrible the desert experience may be, God will provide. In whatever terrible situation we may find ourselves in—even ones we have brought upon ourselves, God will rain manna down upon us. God will shower us with grace and goodness.

For us, manna has come many times in our lives. And I am not talking about flaky bread falling from the sky. I am talking about sustenance. Real sustenance.  I am talking about God providing for us and taking care of us just when we need to be taken care of. I am talking about grace—real grace—falling from the sky.

Now, at almost every wedding, I always talk about the love two people who are getting married have for each is an example of grace. Grace, as I definite it, is a gift we receive from God that we never asked for nor fully anticipated. And for most people who get married, that is what love is like. God sends a particular person at just the right time and in just the right place.

That is certainly what happened for James and William. And now, look! Their love is a perfect example of manna—of the grace of God falling into their lives.  And I hope all married people here this morning can say the same thing about their own relationship.

This is how God works in our lives. Yes, we might complain. Yes, we might shake our fists at God, and say, “this is unfair!” We might lament and complain about being hungry in the wilderness of our lives. But God, we find, is not distant. God is right here. Right here, with us.

After eating our fill of manna in our lives, we no longer can accuse God of being distant. Because, God has come to us.  

And the sign that God is with us? God has feed us. Look at all the ways in our lives in which God has truly fed us! Again and again.

In those moments when God has provided for us, when God has drawn close and given us all we needed (and didn’t even know we even needed in in the first place) that is when we know we have truly eaten the Bread of angels.  It is then that we have had the grain of heaven.

In our hunger, God always feeds us.  

In our grumbling and complaining, God quiets us.

After all, when we are eating and drinking, we can’t complain and grumble.  And unlike the food we eat day by day, the food God provides us with will not perish.

God sends us the bread of life.

“I am the bread of life,” we heard Jesus say in our Gospel reading. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

In the echo of that statement, we are silenced.  Our grumbling spiritual stomachs are silenced. Our spiritual loneliness is vanquished.  Our cravings are fulfilled.

In the wake of those powerful words, we find our emptiness fulfilled.  We find the strength to make our way out of the wilderness to the promised land. And, we who eat of this bread, of this manna from heaven, we in turn become the bread of life to others. 

“Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

So, let us be thankful for the manna we have received—in whatever form that manna has come to us in our lives.  Let the One who feeds us take from us our gnawing hunger and our craving thirst, once and for al.  And when God does, we will be given what we have been truly craving all along.



Sunday, July 29, 2018

10 Pentecost

July 29, 2018

2 Kings 4.42-44; John 6.1-21

+ One of the comments I get from new members of St. Stephen’s, especially those from more non-liturgical churches, is: “Why do we do Communion every week?”

There’s usually a bit of exasperation with that question. And it’s a good question to ask.  It’s an important question.

The answer is a fairly simple one. Many congregations in the Episcopal Church—especially those were more Low or Broad Church congregations--used to only do Holy Communion maybe once or twice a month (usually once a month). The rest of the Sundays the service of Morning Prayer was the main Sunday worship service. St. Stephen’s was certainly one of those congregations. So was the Cathedral and St. John’s. In fact, it was only High or Anglo-Catholic congregations that celebrated Holy Communion every Sunday.

Then, in the 1970s, it all changed, with the revision to the Book of Common Prayer. Suddenly, there was a shift in thought regarding what worship is on Sunday.

Now, I’d like you to pick up your Prayer Book and open to page 13. I know many of haven’t really explored this area of the Prayer Book before, so it’s fun to open it up to some areas you might not know about. On Page 13, you will find a heading:
Concerning the Service
of the Church
And the opening line for this section is this,

The Holy Eucharist, the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord's
Day and other major Feasts, and Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, as
set forth in this Book, are the regular services appointed for public
worship in the Church.

So, we find that the Holy Eucharist, beginning with our 1979 revision of the BCP, now shifts the principal act of worship on Sunday to the Holy Eucharist, just as the ancient Church did.  And Morning Prayer, along with Evening Prayer, are upheld as what they should be—daily prayer.

For me, I, of course, think the Holy Eucharist is vitally, immensely important. It is our principal act of worship here at St. Stephen’s. And it is from what we do at this altar that all our ministry emanates.  What we do here, at the Eucharist, is what we then go to do in the world.

Fed, we then go out to feed.  

Or just to it more practically, we gather together on Sunday to share a meal together.  Because there is nothing better than share food with one another.

Now, as you all know, I LOVE to preach about and explore and talk about the Mystery that is the Eucharist. I love pondering the beauty of why what we do with bread and wine here at this altar is so important to us, to vital to us. I love thinking about all the ways God works through this meal we share here.

But, I also really like the symbolism of the Eucharist.

Over these last several months as I’ve explored my own Jewish roots, I have also explored the Jewish roots of what we do here—of how what we do here is a way for us to do what was done at the altar in the Temple in Jesus’ own day. In a sense, this bread we share at this meal is essentially the Lamb that was offered on the altar, and this cup is the blood that was shed from that lamb.  Jesus, as we all know, has become the Lamb that was offered and slain on that altar as a sacrifice. (Certainly that is how Jesus saw his role) 

So, what we do today and on every Sunday is a continuation of what was offered in the Temple in Jesus’ own day.  We tend to forget this important fact in our Christian life.

We forget that this is a meal we share with one another.  We often come to Communion without really thinking about it. We often think of Communion as a quaint little ritual we do, sort of like a Church-version of a tea party.

But when we put the Eucharist in the larger perspective of our history as the people of God, we realize that every time we partake of the bread and wine of the Eucharist, we are joining in at that sacrificial worship that has gone for thousands of years.  This is the sacrifice of wine and wheat we hear about in the book of Joel.

Now, I know some of you immediately find ourselves bristling when you hear the word “sacrifice” here. Sacrifice and the Mass seem a bit too…Catholic..for some.

But it is a sacrifice. What we do here is sacrificial. I haven’t realized that more than since I have been looking at what we do with a more Jewish lens.  And just to make sure you don’t think this is one of Fr. Jamie’s weird, quirky takes on what we do here, I would like to draw your attention once again to the Book of Common Prayer, except now we are going to look in the back. In the Catechism. On page 859

The second question under “The Holy Eucharist” is,


Q.
Why is the Eucharist called a sacrifice?
A.
Because the Eucharist, the Church's sacrifice of praise and
thanksgiving, is the way by which the sacrifice of Christ is
made present, and in which he unites us to his one offering
of himself.


Q.
By what other names is this service known?
A.
The Holy Eucharist is called the Lord's Supper, and
Holy Communion; it is also known as the Divine
Liturgy, the Mass, and the Great Offering.


So, the Eucharist is this incredible things really. It is a meal.  It is a symbol of the sacrifice of Jesus. It is an offering to God. It is a way to remember Jesus and all he has done.

All this just goes to show us this wonderful way in which God works through something very basic in our lives to make something deep and meaningful. Namely, I am talking about food.  Nothing draws us closer to each other than food.

On Friday night, Janie and Adam Breth had me over to their home for an incredible vegan Thai feast of veggie dumplings and a dessert of mangos and rice and coconut milk with Julia and Justin. I can still taste all of it!

Food is an important way to bond with each other. And food a great reminder of how God truly does provide for us.  Our scriptures for today give us some interesting perspectives on food as well.

In today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we find Elisha feeding the people.  We hear this wonderful passage,

“He set it before them, they ate and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.”

It’s a deceptively simple passage from scripture. But there’s a lot of depth to it too if you really ponder it.

In our Gospel reading, we find almost the same event.  Jesus—in a sense the new Elisha—is feeding miraculously the multitude.  And by feeding, by doing a miracle, they recognize him for who he is. For them, he is “the Prophet who has come into their midst.”

For us, these stories resonate in what we do here at the altar.  What we partake of here at this altar is essentially the same event. Here we are fed by God as well.  Here there is a miracle.  Here, we find God’s chosen one, the “Prophet come to us” Jesus—the new Elisha—feeding us.

We come forward and eat.  And there is some left over.

The miracle, however, isn’t that there is some left over.  The miracle for us is the meal itself.  In this meal we share, we are sustained.  We our strengthened.  We are upheld.  We are fed in ways regular food does not feed us.

There is something so beautiful in the way God works through the Eucharist. This beautifully basic act—of eating and drinking—is so vital to us as humans.

But being sustained spiritually in such a way is beyond beautiful or basic.  It is miraculous.  And as with any miracle, we find ourselves oftentimes either humbled or blind to its impact in our lives.

This simple act is not just a simple act.  It is an act of coming forward, of eating and drinking, and then of turning around and going out into the world to feed others.  To feed others on what we now embody within ourselves—this living sacrifice to God.

And how do we do that? We do that by serving others by example.  By being that living Bread to others.

The Eucharist not simply a private devotion.  Yes, it is a wonderfully intimate experience. But it is more than that.  The Eucharist is what we do together.  And the Eucharist is something that doesn’t simply end when we get back to our pews or leave the Church building.  The Eucharist is what we carry with us throughout our day-to-day lives as Christians.  The Eucharist empowers us to be agents of the Incarnation of God’s Son.  We are empowered by this Eucharist to be the Body of Christ to others.

Through the Eucharist, we become God’s anointed ones in this world.  And that is where this whole act of the Eucharist comes together.  It’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.  

When we see it from that perspective, we realize that this really is a miracle in our lives—just as miraculous as what Elisha did and certainly as miraculous as what Jesus did in our Gospel reading for today.

So, let us be aware of this beauty that comes so miraculously to us each time we gather together here at this altar.  The Eucharist is an incredible gift given to us by our God.  Let us embody God’s anointed One, the Christ, whom we encounter here in this Bread and Wine.  

Let us, by being fed so miraculously, be the Body of Christ to others.

Let us feed those who need to be fed.

Let us sustain those who need to be sustained.

And let us be mindful of the fact that this food of which we partake has the capabilities to feed more people and to change more lives than we can even begin to imagine.




Friday, July 27, 2018

The funeral for Darwin Strobel

Darwin Strobel
(April 23, 1939 – July 22, 2018)
Friday, July 27, 2018
Congregational UCC Church
Jamestown

Song of Songs 8.6-7; Psalm 85; 1 John 3.1-3; Mark 12.28-34


It is a true honor for me to officiate at this service for Darwin this morning. I have known Darwin for many years through my friendship with his son, Mark and Mark’s family. And so I am very grateful that I can be here today with all of you to remember Darwin and to help commend him to his God.

His is a life that we should remember and for which we should give thanks to God.

As Julie wrote,

“We will cherish all the memories we have of him, and have learned so much from him. He was an amazing dad, grandpa, and above all husband. He had a love for anything sweet, especially chocolate and his sense of humor, wit and one liners have left us with lots of stories! He will forever hold a very special place in our heart and will be missed immensely.”

And Carol wanted all of us to know that right, at 11:00, Darwin would be teeing off for a game of golf.

Today we do cherish all that Darwin was to each of us.  

I am also grateful this morning that his family chose scriptures that reflect and embody the concept of love. If you noticed, these scriptures that we just heard are about love. And, I can tell you, there is no better way to commemorate Darwin and his life than with these particular scriptures. Because, today, although there is sadness, although there is loss, there is also love. Love, as we all know in our hearts, is the thing that will survive and win out over all the other difficult emotions we have may today.

Yes, we are sad. Yes, we feel Darwin’s loss. Yes, the world is now different without him in it.  And that is difficult.  But love prevails over all those emotions. That is what our Christian faith tells us to do again and again. That is what our faith in God and in God’s Son tells again and again.

Love is the prevailing force in this world. I don’t need to tell any of this to Carol. 51 years of marriage is a strong and amazing testimony to love in all its aspects.

On Saturday night, as I gathered with the family to pray with them before Darwin began his journey, love was a palpable presence in that room. Darwin left this world surrounded by love, surrounded by those cared for him and loved him.

So, these scriptures really are appropriate today.  These scripture readings show what love really can do, how love really does prevails.

In our reading from Song of Songs, we hear what we know. We hear,

love is as strong as death.

But we know that not even death can conquer love. Love prevails over even death.

In our reading from the first Letter of John we are reminded that God loves us so much that we are called now Children of God.  That’s not some quaint notion. That is an amazing realization.

We are children of God!

And finally, we have this Gospel reading. Jesus, being asked what he feels is the most important commandment, tells the scribe that it is the commandment to love God with all we have in us, and love one another. This, according to Jesus, is what brings us closest to the Kingdom of God. If you do these, Jesus tells us, “you are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

It is not professions of faith that bring us close to God’s kingdom. It is not sacrifices. It is not living an overly pious life, or fasting, or acting holy and nice all the time.

It is love. Plain and simple.

Love of God.

Love of one another.

And why do this? Why do we strive to love? We love because we are loved.  We are loved by our God, to whom we are children.  That overarching, all-encompassing love God has for each of us is, in the end, our ultimate reality. God’s love for us prevails over all.

God’s love for Darwin and for us is all that matters in this moment. Right now.  That love covers all the imperfections of this life.

In those moments when we may failed in love, when Darwin may have failed in love, the love of God covers it all. God’s love makes up for all of it. This is our strength today and in the days to come.

See, we are not left with empty today. We are not left without hope today. We aren’t despairing today.

We are sad, yes. Of course. We have tears in our eyes, yes. That’s normal. But our sadness is a temporary sadness. Our sadness is a sadness that is, in the larger scheme, a brief sadness.

But, even in our sadness, we know we are loved. We know Darwin is loved. And knowing that, we know it’s all fine. It’s all right. Darwin has been enfolded in God’s amazing and all-encompassing love. He dwells now in this moment in that love. He is being held close to the God who loves him and holds him close. This is what holds us up and sustains us in this sad moment in our lives.

On Saturday night, when I gathered with the family at Darwin’s bedside to say some prayers, one of the prayers we prayed was this one.  It comes from the Book of Common Prayer for the Anglican Church of New Zealand.  The prayer we prayed Saturday evening was this:

God of the present moment,
God who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart;
be present with your servant, Darwin and to his loved ones.
Make them the equal of whatever lies ahead for them.
For your will is wholeness.
You are God and we trust you.

I love that prayer because it says it all. God, who in that present moment, God, who in Jesus stills storms and soothes hearts that are frantic, was, at that moment, bringing hope and courage to Darwin. God in Jesus was there at his bedside.  In that moment, God in Jesus was there to make Darwin the equal of what lay ahead for him.

And what was that?  Unending, glorious life.

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

For God’s will and intention for us is wholeness.  We see that wholeness today celebrated in our scriptures and in our liturgy.  In that place—that wonderful glorious place, promised to us in scripture and in liturgy—Darwin is now fully and completely himself.  He is whole.

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

Your will, O God, is wholeness.

Wholeness means just that—completeness. Whatever imperfections we might have in this world, whatever in this life prevented us from being who we are truly meant to be, are made whole by God.  And today, we can take great consolation in the fact that that petition has been answered for Darwin.  God has made Darwin whole.  And God will make each of us whole as well. Because God loves Darwin and God loves each of us.  That is our consolation today. That is our strength today. That is what holds up today.

When I heard of Darwin’s death on Sunday morning, I prayed a prayer for him that gives me a lot of consolation.   This is the prayer I pray whenever I hear someone I knew has passed.

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

On Sunday morning, Darwin was received into that paradise.  On Sunday, angels led him to that holy city Jerusalem. On Sunday, the martyrs received him and brought him home. On Sunday, Darwin was received as a beloved child of his God.  

In his text informing me that Darwin, Mark told me that he passed just as the line from the hymn “O for a thousand tongues” was being sung at Gethsemane Cathedral that proclaims,

“He speaks; and, listening to his voice, new life to the dead receive
the mournful broken hearts rejoice, the humble poor believe.”

Today our mournful broken hearts rejoice as well.  They rejoice because we know that one day we too will be received into that holy city Jerusalem.   One day, we too will experience that wonderful paradise.

So this morning and in the days to come, let us all take consolation in that faith that Darwin is complete and whole and loved 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 as well, clothed, like him, with a glory and a joy and a love that will never end.   Amen.




Wednesday, July 25, 2018

15 years

15 years ago today on the Feast of St. James the Greater I was ordained a transitional Deacon. When people ask why I celebrate my diaconal ordination I say, "I didn't stop being a deacon when I was ordained a priest." I am very grateful for these 15 years of ordained ministry.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

9 Pentecost

Psalm 23 painted by Alyse Radenovic with the valley of the shadow of death 
July 22, 2018

Psalm 23

+ So, just think for one moment. Think about all the times you have heard, throughout your life, the 23rd Psalm. Think of all those funerals. Think of all those times when you have heard it and you could recite it by heart.   Or think of all those films you may have watched in which the 23rd Psalm was recited.

I remember well, in the original film of In Cold Blood, how the 23rd Psalm is read in the powerful closing scene as the murderers are hanged.

Or in the film Titanic, how the psalm was recited as the ship went down.

Or, in the great Clint Eastwood Western, Pale Rider (a film full of Christian symbolism), how there was a great dialog version of the 23rd Psalm in which a girl whose dog was killed by marauders recites the psalm, but then responds to the verses with comments like “But I DO want” and “But I AM afraid.”

In fact, that dialog version from Pale Rider is really what the Psalms are all about, in my opinion.

Now as most of you know, I pray the Psalms every day—at least twice a day—when I pray Morning and Evening Prayer the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer. And when you pray the psalms like that, day in and day out, trust me, you often find yourself in a dialog form of prayer with them.  For me, that’s the correct way to pray the psalms.  If the psalms aren’t used as a kind of dialog—if they don’t become our prayers—then they’re being used incorrectly.

But, even for me, for someone who prays the Psalms on a daily basis and has for almost twenty years, I also have taken the 23rd Psalm for granted.

Oftentimes when something becomes so ingrained into our culture, we don’t even give it a second thought. We find ourselves missing its nuances, it beauties, its depths.   Because it is so popular, because we have heard it so much in our lives, we really do take the 23rd Psalm for granted.  We don’t really think about it and what it means.

So, this morning, let’s take a close look at this psalm to which we have paid so little attention. We’re going to do something this morning that we haven’t done in a while, but it’s fun to do on occasion. We are going to take a line-by-line look at Psalm 23. If you want to follow along, you can do so on page 612 in the BCP. Of if you want to the traditional KJV of it, you can find that on page 476 in the BCP.  (And I apologize for the all masculine language for God in the quote here, but I’m trying to use a version close to that which we are all most familiar)

OK. I know you might be inwardly groaning at such a prospect. But bear with me. Sometimes it’s good to have a poet for your priest.  Sometimes.

So, let us take a good, in-depth look at this psalm which we have taken for such granted. And there’s no better to begin, than the beginning.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 

There’s an interesting choice of words here.

Want.

I shall not be in want.

Why?

Essentially, this line is perfect, really. Why would I need to want anything, with God as my shepherd, as the One who leads me and guides me. If we are being shepherded, if we are being watched over and cared for, there is no need to want to for anything.

We are provided for by our God.

We are taken care of.

And want is just not something we have.

   He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
   he restores my soul.

So, here we have sort of this idyllic image.

Green pastures.

Still waters.

The sense here is of calmness.

For all those funerals at which this psalm has been recited, this image no doubt calls to mind images of heaven.

But, for us, right now, this image is important too. God’s presence in our lives essentially stills whatever anxieties we might have. God, who is our shepherd, will only find the choicest places for us, the best places. Just as we don’t want, just as we are taken care of and cared for, so we are led to a place of safety and beauty, because God loves us just that much. And we will be well.

He leads me in right paths
   for his name’s sake. 

Again, God the Shepherd leads. And where does God lead? God leads us on the right path, through the right way. But then we come across this strange wording,
”for his name’s sake.”

Again, notice at this point how often we have taken this psalm for granted. How many times have we recited or prayed these words. But without asking, what does that mean?

“for his name’s sake?”

Well, for us, it shows that God’s reputation is one of goodness and mercy and rightness. For God’s Name’s sake, in this sense, means that it is God’s will, God’s purpose, God is known for doing good things for us, for leading us on those right paths.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
   I fear no evil;
for you are with me;

Those are iconic lines if there ever were any.

Now, this is not bragging mind, you, but I, for one, know what the valley of the shadow of death is. I have been there. I have ventured through it more than once.

I went through it when I was diagnosed with cancer.

I am going through it now in my season of grief.

But the valley of the shadow of death is different for each us.

I remember well my mother saying that giving birth, for her, was like walking through the shadow of death.

The shadow of death for us is the darkest, most horrendous place we can think of in life. And for us, we know that even there we are not alone. God is with us even in that darkness, even that close to death.  And not only with us, vaguely hovering over us.

No.

God is there to support us, to hold us, to guide us forward. Hence,

   your rod and your staff—
   they comfort me. 

God’s strength holds us up and sustains us even then.
But then, we come to this strange verse,

You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies;

Didn’t I just talk about how God only leads us into places of beauty and light?  And now, here we have God preparing a table for us in the presence of our enemies.

At first glance, this seems like something horrible, like a cruel joke. Why would God put us at a table with our enemies?

But, if you notice, there is a bit of defiance in this verse. Go ahead and sit with your enemies, God seems to say to us. You can’t be protected from all harm.

There are dangers out there. There are bad things in this world. There is a valley of the shadow of death! There are people who don’t like us. Yes, we may very well have real enemies.

But don’t fear, God says in this psalm. I am with you. And because I am, you can even sit down at the table with your enemies and you will be fine. Even there, in the presence of our enemies,

Our heads are anointed with oil—we are blessed and consecrated by our God.
And there, at the table in the presence of our enemies, our cup overflows with God’s goodness.

Even there, we will be all right. Because we are following the right path.

And on that path, there is goodness and mercy following us.

Not just today. Not just tomorrow. But all the days of our lives.

This how God rewards those of us who are faithful in our following of God.  
And at the very, we know what awaits us. We know what the ultimate goal is in following God our Shepherd. We know where God will lead us. God will lead us to that place in which we dwell in the house of God, our whole life long.

See, this psalm really is amazing! No wonder this psalm has been so important to so many people over so many years.

This psalm is our psalm.

It is a wonderful microcosm of our faith journey.

And it is a beautiful reminder to us of God’s continued goodness in our lives.
So, when we are at a funeral and we hear the 23rd Psalm or we hear it being recited in a film, let us truly hear it for what it is. Let it speak to us anew. And most importantly, let it be a reminder to us of God’s goodness and mercy, of God’s care for each of us.

God is our shepherd. God leads us and guards us and guides us.

We have nothing to fear.

And, one day, we will dwell in the house of our God forever.