Sunday, December 2, 2018

I Advent


December 2, 2018

Luke 21.25-36
+ This morning is a special morning. You can tell.  No, it’s not just Pledge In-Gathering Sunday (which is very important, mind you)

But, yes, it is the First Sunday in Advent.

We are lighting the Advent wreath.

We have the Sarum Blue

And we are praying the Great Litany.

The Great Litany is one of the treasures of Anglicanism and the Book of Common Prayer. In some churches the Great Litany is recited while in procession. Well, we don’t have the room here at St. Stephen’s to do it in procession. We could try. But I don’t think it would work very well.

But we do it on this First Sunday of Advent. We will do it again in Lent. And, of course, the Supplication of the Great Litany is also prayed, according to the Book of Common Prayer, “in times of war, or of national anxiety, or of disaster.”

The Great Litany is special for many reasons.  It is the oldest piece of original-English liturgy we have, published 1544. Thomas Cranmer, the great Archbishop of Canterbury and the person almost single-handedly responsible for the Book of Common Prayer, used several sources in his writing of this version of the Great Litany. He used the Sarum Liturgies for Rogation, Processions and Death, the Litany written by Martin Luther, and the litany from the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

So, in a very real way, it represents our Anglican blend of Catholic, Eastern  and Protestant theologies—our Via Media, our Middle Way.  It’s appropriate that we pray this liturgy which essentially includes EVERYONE in the prayers on this First Sunday of Advent.  

After all, we are now in this anticipatory season of Advent. Anticipation is a very good word to sum up what Advent is.  We are anticipating.  We are anxiously expecting something.

And in that way, I think Advent represents our own spiritual lives in some ways. We are, after all, a people anticipating something.  Sometimes we might not know exactly what it is we are anticipating.  We maybe can’t name it, or identify it, but we know—deep inside us—that something—something BIG—is about to happen.  We know that something big is about to happen, involving God in some way.  And we know that when it happens, we will be changed.  Life will never be the same again.

Our world as we know it—our very lives—will be turned around by this “God event.”  It will be cataclysmic.

What I find so interesting about the apocalyptic literature we hear this morning in our scripture readings is that we find anticipation and expectation for this final apocalypse. And that anticipation and expectation is a good and glorious thing, I think.  That is what this season of Advent is all about.  It is about anticipation and expectation being a wonderful thing in and of itself.  

Because by watching and praying in holy expectation, we grow in holiness.  We recognize that despite the doom and gloom some people preach when it comes to prophecies, doom and gloom doesn’t hold sway over us as Christians.

Still, despite this view, we are a people living, at times, in the dark doom and gloom of life.

In Advent, we recognize that darkness we all collectively live in without Christ.  But we realize that darkness doesn’t hold sway.  

Darkness is easily done away with what? With light!

And so, in Advent, we are anticipating something more—we are all looking forward into the gloom. And what do we see there? We see the first flickers of light.  And even with those first, faint glimmers of light, darkness already starts losing its strength.

We see the first glow of what awaits us—there, just ahead of us.  That light that is about to burst into our lives is, of course, Christ’s Light. The Light that came to us—that is coming to us—is the sign that the Kingdom of God is drawing near, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel, is near.

It is near.

Yes, we are, at times, stuck in the doom and gloom of this life. But, we can take comfort today in one thing: as frightening as our life may be, as terrible as life may seem some times and as uncertain as our future may be, what Advent shows us more than anything is this: we already know the end of the story. We might not know what awaits us tomorrow or next week.  We might not know what setbacks or rewards will come to us in the weeks to come, but in the long run, we know how our story as followers of Jesus ends.

Jesus has told us that we might not know when it will happen, but the end will be a good ending for those of us who hope and expect it.  God has promised that, in the end, there will be joy and happiness and peace. In this time of anticipation—in this time in which we are waiting and watching—we can take hope.

To watch means more than just to look around us.  It means to be attentive.  It means, we must pay attention. It means waiting, with held breath, for the Kingdom of God to break upon us.

So, yes, Advent is a time of waiting and it is this waiting—this expectant anticipation—that is so very important in our spiritual lives.  Advent is a time of hope and longing. It is a time for us to wake up from our slumbering complacency.  It is a time to wake up and to watch.

The kingdom of God is near. And we should rejoice in that fact.

In preparation for Advent, I have been re-reading some of those poets and writers that inspired me many years ago—way back when I was a teenager. One of the poets/theologians that I have been re-reading intensely lately is the great German Protestant theologian and poet, Dorothee Soelle.  I’ve mentioned Soelle many times before.  If you do not known Soelle, read her. She is incredible and important.

When I was in high school, I first read her book, Of War and Love, which blew me away.

But a poem of hers that I have loved deeply and that I have been re-worked as a poet myself is her poem, “Credo.” I was going to just quote a part of the poem here, but it’s just so wonderful, I actually have share it in full.  This is the poem as I have adapted it.

The poem is

Credo

after Dorothee Sölle

I believe in a God
who created what we walk upon
now in this holy moment

is something to be molded
and formed
and tried.

I believe in One
who rules not by tense laws
written in stone

with no real consequences
nor with distinctions between those
who have and those who have not,

geniuses or idiots,
those who dominate
and those who are dominated

I believe in a God
who demands a creation
that protests and, if need be,

questions God.
I believe in us,
who must work to change

the failures of creation
by any means.
I believe in Jesus

who, as “someone who could do nothing”
as we all are
worked to change

injustice against God
and humanity.
He allowed me to see

how limited we are,
how ignorant we can be,
how uncreative we have consistently been,

how everything we attempted
falls short
when we do not do it

as he did it.
We need to do it
as he did it.

A day does not go by
in which I do not fear
a reality in which

he died for nothing.
Nothing sickens me more
than the thought

that he lies at this moment
dead and buried
in ornate churches

and cathedrals,
laid out covered in gold
and jewels,

encased in glass,
to be gazed at and worshipped
but not touched or embodied.

I fear more than anything
that we have failed him
and his revolution

because we feared instead
those self-absorbed authorities
who dominate

and oppress us.
I believe in a Christ
who is not dead

and buried
and left in the ground
but rather who lives

and is resurrected in us,
and in the flame of freedom
that burns away

prejudice,
presumption,
crippling fear

and destroying hatred.
I believe in the ongoing revolution
he set into motion

and the reign of peace and justice
that will follow.
I believe in a Spirit

who came to us where we were,
and with all those
with whom we share

this Lenten place of tears
and hunger
and violence

and darkness—
this city of God—
this earth.

I believe in peace
which can only be created
with the hands of justice.

I believe in a life
of meaning
and of true purpose

(adapted by Jamie Parsley)



Yes, we do live in “this place of tears/and hunger/and violence/and darkness—/this city of God—/this earth.”

It was on this day in 1980 that four American women—three nuns, Sister Ita Ford, Sister Maura Clark and Sister Dorothy Kazel, and a layperson, Jean Donovan—were brutally murdered in El Salvador.  It was a story that shocked all of us and challenged many of us, myself included.  They reminded us that following Jesus means following him not only through the good times, through the happy stories of his birth, but through the violence and darkness of his life as well, through the story of the jealous despot who wanted to kill Jesus, through the slaughter of the Innocents, through the darkness of Gethsemane and the Cross.

This IS a place of tears/and hunger/and violence/and darkness—/this city of God—/this earth.”

But, like those women who died on this day in 1980, we too are hoping, in this Advent season, for “God’s future world/of love and peace.”

It is near.

The Kingdom of God—with its incredible revolution—is so close to breaking through to us that we can almost feel it ready to shatter into our lives.

So, in this anticipation, let us be prepared.  

Let us watch.

Christ—the Messiah, God’s Anointed One—has come to us and is leading us forward.  Christ—the dazzling Light—is burning away the fog of our tears and hunger and violence and is showing us a way through the darkness that sometimes seems to encroach upon us.  We need to look anxiously for that light and, when it comes, we need to be prepared to share it with others, because is telling us that the God’s future world is breaking through to us.  

This is the true message of Advent.

As hectic as this season is going to get, as you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the sensory overload we’ll all be experiencing through this season, remember, Watch.

Take time, be silent and just watch.

For this anticipation—this expectant and patient watching of ours—is merely a pathway on which the Christ Child can come among us as one of us.



Wednesday, November 28, 2018

My Stewardship Letter


November 28, 2018
Dear members and friends of St. Stephen’s,

St. Stephen’s is a unique place. Of course, I don’t need to tell you that. You already knew how unique we are. That is why you’re here. That’s why you are a member of this congregation that is not quite like any other congregation.

When parishioners move away they often tell me: why can’t I find a place like St. Stephen’s in our new city? The reason is: we are not your typical Episcopal congregation. In fact, we’re not even your typical Christian congregation.

That uniqueness is what makes us who we are. And we should rejoice in that uniqueness. We should celebrate it fully!

For some, this uniqueness scares people off. Not for us—the ones who stay. We are quite proudly an anomaly in the Episcopal Church and the Church as a whole. We are a liberal, fairly High Church, liturgical, fully welcoming, fully inclusive, though fairly orthodox congregation that actually grows and attracts new members.

When you think about it, everything about that statement put us against the odds. After all, we are in a far off corner of the city, far from the main traveled roads. To find us, one actually has to search us out. And yet, they do find us! And they stay!

In this past year of 2018 we have continued our growth spurt—with 18 new members included among us! I love that one of the most common complaints I get from parishioners is this: “I haven’t been in church for a couple of weeks, and then when I finally get back here, there are all these new faces!”

These are all things for which we are grateful to God. These are clear sign that God’s Holy Spirit is now only present in us, but also at work in us and the ministries we do here. 
But for us to be who we are, to be this unique place in which all people are welcome and included, we need your pledges of financial help,  and physical presence. 

I cannot stress how it important it is to pledge. As you know, we budget from what the congregation pledges. Your pledge determines how we are to budget for the upcoming year. For us to continue to do the work we do in this community and in the world, we need pledges.

But Stewardship is more than just about money. It is also about presence. One of the ways in which we can most easily and visibly contribute to Stewardship at St. Stephen’s is by our very presence on a regular basis at the Sunday morning celebration of the Holy Eucharist or on Wednesday evenings.

Attendance is not only about what each of us needs, it also what the larger congregation needs. We essentially need each other. We need the presence and proximity of each other.

My intent in sharing this is not to make anyone feel guilty. As you have heard me say many times, I do not take attendance at the door. I also understand that many people cannot attend due to illness or many other circumstances in their lives. My intent is simply to remind us that when we pledge to St. Stephen’s we pledge of our money, we pledge of our talent, we pledge of the gifts we have received and are willing to share with others, we pledge of our expertise in certain areas of our lives, and we pledge of our very presence.

So, please do give. Please pledge. Give of your time and your presence. Give from the abundance that God has granted to you. And share of yourself in what ministries God has called you to here at St. Stephen’s

I invite all of you to take time to reflect and to pray about your own stewardship. What talents can we offer to make St. Stephen’s a church that can reach out in love, compassion and radical acceptance to others? What material resources can we give to help maintain the ministries we do here?

As we continue our journey together, we look forward in hope and joy at the many incredible potentials that await us at St. Stephen’s.

Finally, please know of my gratitude in serving all of you as your priest. I feel blessed more and more each day for being here. Know that I pray for each of you by name in the course of a week in my daily prayers. I ask your continued prayers for me as well.

- peace,

Fr. Jamie A. Parsley
Priest-in-Charge



Monday, November 26, 2018

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Last Pentecost/Christ the King

November 28, 2018

Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14; Revelation 1.4b-8; John 18.33-37


+ For any of you who have known me for any period of time, you know that, invariably, you will discover that I am very political person. I have very strong political views. Which is something directly opposite of what I was taught as a priest.

I was taught that, despite whatever a priest’s personal political views may be, those views should not come into the pulpit. And, for the most part, I have followed that rule.

I do believe, to a certain extent, that a priest should not be up here sharing their personal political beliefs. Because not everyone in the pews is of the same political view.

Yes, even here at St. Stephen’s, not everyone agrees politically. We have people who cover the full spectrum of politics. And I love that. I love that people who think Donald Trump is the greatest president ever can worship with people who think Donald Trump is not.

I also believe a priest should not share their politics from the pulpit because many people here came from churches and denominations that had clergy who got up and not only shared their political views, but even went so far as to tell people how they should vote. And that, to me, is an absolutely terrible thing.

And just so no one would ever think that I would do that—and I would NEVER do that—I purposely try to avoid politics as much as possible.

The exception for me is when a politician crosses the line and starts advocating for things that oppose the Church or basic human rights or human equality.  And I have spoken out on those issues.  And will continue to do so any time it happens.

But today, on this particular Sunday, we deal, somewhat indirectly, with another kind of politics. Today, we recognize that no matter how terrible or how great a leader may be, there is one leader for us, as Christians, who is the ultimate Leader.

The King of Kings.

On one level, today, of course, is Christ the King Sunday.  It is an important Sunday in the Church. Today marks the End of one Church Year—Year B.  Next Sunday will be the First Sunday of Advent and Church Year C begins.  So, it’s kind of like New Year’s, almost a month early.

You can just kind of feel it. Something is just…happening, at least from our scripture readings.   Advent, that time of preparation for Christmas, is about to happen.  

The Season of Advent is, of course, the season of anticipation—of longing.  And dare I say, maybe a fair share of healthy impatience.

Maybe that’s why I like it so much. I am an impatient person—as anyone who has worked with me for any period of time knows.  Certainly, we, as followers of Jesus, might get a bit impatient about that for which we are longing.  Our journey as followers of Jesus, is filled with anticipation and longing.  

We know, as we make this journey through life, that there is an end to our journey.  We know there is a goal.  But we might not always be aware of what that goal is or even why we’re journeying toward it.

But today, Christ the King Sunday, we get just a little glimpse of that goal. We get to get an idea of what it is we are anticipating.  We get a glimpse of the THE END of the story.  

We are invited, on this Sunday, to see this King—this ultimate Ruler—coming to us on clouds, and on wheels of burning fire.  I, for one, love the drama and the splendor of such an image.

In our readings today—especially our readings from the Prophet Daniel and Revelation, we too, with Daniel and the Apostle John, get a glimpse of what it is we are hoping for, what we are striving for.  We see a glimpse of the One we, as Christians, recognize as Christ—that Alpha and Omega—that Beginning and End—that Anointed One who is seated at the right hand of God and who is coming to us on the clouds.

But the Christ we see in our own collective vision this morning is not the humble carpenter, the amazing miracle worker, or the innocent newborn baby we are anticipating in a month’s time.  The Christ we encounter today is the traditional Cosmic Christ—this Christ who is limitless, who is all-powerful, who transcends time and place.  This Christ is there at God’s side, the One God has sent to us as ruler, who has come to us as God’s spoken Word.  The Christ we encounter this morning is coming to us on clouds, yes, but he also comes to us while standing on the throne of the Cross—an about-to-be condemned criminal—engaging in a conversation with Pontius Pilate about who he is.  The Christ we encounter today is crowned, yes—but he is crowned with thorns.

This message of Christ the King, Christ the Ruler is never more meaningful for us right now, in our own country, with a nation divided over its leaders.

And there IS division, sadly enough. I am hearing it from both sides of the issue.  We are seeing our families divided over politics. We are seeing friends who are avoiding and separating themselves from each other.  There has been much fear-mongering in the air.

And, as we know, fear-mongering is not an option for us as Christians. FEAR is not an option for as a Christians.

This King we celebrate today—this King crowned as he is with a crown of thorns—he is the Ruler of all of us, no matter who the rulers on earth may be. And because he is our ruler, in him whatever divisions—especially political divisions—there are between are eliminated.   After all, he too lived in a world of terror and fear, in a world of division, where fear and terror were daily realities in his life.

This is the Christ we encounter as well today.  The Christ we encounter today is Christ our King, Christ our Priest, Christ our ultimate Ideal. But he is also so much more than that.

He is also the one that some would also judge as Christ the Rebel, Christ the Misfit, Christ the Refugee, Christ the Failure.  And what the Rebel, the Misfit, the Refugee, the Failure shows us powerfully is that God even works through such manifestations. God works through rebellion, through being ostracized, through failure even.  And this is a very real part of our message on Christ the King Sunday.

In the midst of the brokenness of Christ, God is ultimately truly victorious. And because of what God does in Christ we too, even despite our own brokenness, despite our own  rebelliousness, despite our own failures, we too will ultimately triumph in Christ.

The King we encounter on this Sunday, the King that awaits us at the end of our days, is not a despotic king.  The King that we encounter today is not a King who rules with an iron fist and makes life under his reign oppressive.  This King is not some stern Judge, waiting to condemn us to hell for what we’ve done or not done or for who we are.

But at the same time the King we honor today is not a figurehead or a soft and ineffective ruler.  Rather, the King we encounter today is truly the One we are following, the One who leads us and guides us and guards us.  This King does not allow us to have fear as an option in our lives.  This King eliminates our divisions.  The King we encounter today is the refugee, the misfit, the rebel, the outcast, the marginalized one, who has triumphed and who commands us to welcome and love all those who are marginalized and living with terror and fear in their own lives.

And his Kingdom, that we anticipate, is our ultimate home.  We are all—all of us, every single one of us, no matter who we are—, at this moment, we are citizens of that Kingdom of God, over which God has put the anointed One, the Christ.  That Kingdom is the place wherein each of us belongs, ultimately.

You have heard me say it in many, many sermons that our job as Christians, as followers of Jesus, is to make that Kingdom a reality.  You hear me often talking about the Kingdom breaking through into our midst.  That’s not just poetic talk from the pulpit.  It is something I believe in deeply.

The Kingdom—that place toward which we are all headed—is not only some far-off Land in some far-away sky we will eventually get to when we die.  It is a reality—right here, right now.  That Kingdom is the place which breaks into this world whenever we live out that command of Jesus to love God and to love one another.

When we act in love toward one another, the Kingdom of God is present among us. Again, this is not some difficult theological concept to grasp.  It is simply something we do as followers of Jesus.  When we love, God’s true home is made here, with us, in the midst of our love.  A kingdom of harmony and peace and love becomes a reality when we sow seeds of harmony and peace and love.  And, in that moment when the Kingdom breaks through to us, here and now, we get to see what awaits us in our personal and collective End.

As we prepare for this END—and we should always be preparing for the END—we should rejoice in this King, who is the ruler of our true home.  And we should rejoice in the fact that, in the end, all of us will be received by that King into that Kingdom he promises to us, that we catch glimpses of, here in this place, when we act and serve each other out of love for one another. The Kingdom is here, with us, right now.  It is here, in the love we share and in the ministries we do.

So, on this Christ the King Sunday, let us ponder the End, but let us remember that the End is not a terrible thing.  The End is, in fact, that very Kingdom that we have seen in our midst already.  For us the End is that Kingdom—a Kingdom wherein there is a King who rules out of love and concern for us.

“I am the Alpha—the beginning—and the Omega—the End,” Jesus is saying to us.

But in our End, we truly do find our beginning.

“To [God] be glory and dominion forever and ever.” Amen.