Tuesday, December 25, 2007

St. Stephen

December 26, 2007
The Chapel of the Resurrection
Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;

We all know this hymn very well—with those beautiful lyrics by the great Anglican hymn-writer and priest, John Mason Neale.

Well, today is the feast of Stephen—the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Christain church.

St. Stephen is one of those saints that we find ourselves looking toward again and again as an example of proclaiming Jesus to the world.

In addition to being the proto-martyr of the Church, he was also a deacon and is still highly esteemed by deacons.

Being the first martyr, St. Stephen was, of course, as we hear in the book of Acts, stoned to death for his belief that Jesus is God.

In his persecution he experienced a theophany—a vision of God, and of Jesus seated at God’s right hand.

As he lay dying, he prayed the first prayer ever recorded to Jesus, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

The word martyr actually means “witness” and truly St. Stephen is a witness to us.

Even in the face of opposition, even in the face of death, St. Stephen professed his faith in Jesus—in that which he knew was true.

He is an example to all us in that we are all called to be witnesses one way or the other.

Some of us are called to witness for Christ as St. Stephen did—with our lives.

Those witnesses are called to proclaim their faith in Christ by dying for their faith.

Even now in the world, Christians are being persecuted for their faith and all too often, countless numbers of Christians still die for Christ in those hostile environments.

And, while dying for the faith might seem to be, ultimately, a failure, we have to remember that the Church has flourished with the blood of the martyrs.

The famous motto—“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”—is a very true statement.

What would our Church be without those Christians who were—and still are—brrave enough to stand up against injustice and oppression and die for Jesus rather than give up their faith in Christ and take on another faith?

So, yes some are called to be martyrs.

Not all of us are called to be witnesses as martyrs.

But all of us, as Christians, are called to witness to Jesus by our words and actions.

Being a Christian, as we discover in the story of Stephen and all martyrs, is more than just going to church on Sundays or on Christmas and Easter.

It is more than doing dramatic things, like Stephen, for the Church.

Being a Christian means living out our faith every day of our lives, every moment of our lives.

It means living out our Baptismal Covenant.

In the Baptismal Covenant, we first of all profess out faith in God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We then take that belief and carry with us in our witness to the world.

We promise to “continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.”

We promise to resist “evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.”

We promise to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.”

We promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor” as ourselves.

We promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving [our] neighbor[s] as [ourselves].”

And finally, we promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

So, on this Feast of Stephen, as the snow lays “round about, deep and crisp and even,” as we think about the witness of St. Stephen and all martyrs, let us remember that we too are witnesses, every time we strive, with God’s help, to live out the Baptismal Covenant in our lives and in the world.

So, let St. Stephen be your guide. Let the Baptismal Covenant be your Rule of Life.

And as God worked through St. Stephen to bring renewed life into the Church, let God work through you as well to bring continued life to the Church.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

December 24, 2007
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church
Fargo, North Dakota

In the name of God, Father, + Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Well, here it is. Christmas Eve. Although it might have felt like Christmas since sometime in September (at least in the malls and stores), Christmas didn’t officially start until tonight.

As many of you know, I am an Oblate—or an associate –at Blue Cloud Abbey in Marvin, South Dakota—a Benedictine Roman Catholic monastery. At Blue Cloud, the Christmas tree and the Christmas decorations don’t go up until tonight—until Christmas Eve, when Christmas officially starts.

And now—this evening— Christmas is here. In this dark, cold night, we celebrate Light. We celebrate the Light that has come to us in our collective and personal darkness. We celebrate the Light that has come to us in our despair and our fear, in our sadness and in our frustration. And as it does, no doubt most of us are feeling two emotions—the two emotions Christmas is all about—hope and joy.

Hope—in our belief that what has come to us—Christ—God made flesh—is here among us

And Joy—at the realization of that reality.

As we come forward tonight to meet with joy and hope this mystery that we remember and commemorate and make ours this evening, we too should find ourselves feeling these emotions at our very core. This hope and joy we are experiencing this evening comes up from our very centers. We will never fully understand how or why Jesus—God made flesh—has come to us as this little child in a dark stable in the Middle East, but it has happened and, because it happened, we are a different people. Our lives are different because of what happened that evening. This baby has taken away, by his very life and eventual death, everything we feared and dreaded.

When we look at it from that perspective, suddenly we find our emotions heightened. We find that our joy is a joy like few other joys we’ve had. We find that our hope is more tangible—more real—that anything we have ever hoped in before.

And that is what we are facing this evening. Our true hope and true joy is not in brightly colored lights and a pile of presents until a decorated tree. Our true hope and joy is not found in the malls or the stores. Our true hope and joy does not come to us with things that will, a week from now, be a fading memory.

Our hope and joy is in that Baby who, as he comes to us, causes us to leap up with joy at his very presence. Our hope and joy is in that almighty and incredible God who would come to us, not on some celestial cloud with a sword in his hand and armies of angels flying about him. Our hope and joy is in a God who comes to us in this innocent child, born to a humble teenager in a dusty third world land. Our hope and joy is in a God who comes with a face like our face and flesh like our flesh—a God who is born, like we are born—of a human mother—and who dies like we all must die. Our hope and joy is in a God who comes and accepts us and loves us for who we are and what we are—a God who understands what it means to live this sometimes frightening uncertain life we live.

But who, by that very birth, makes all births unique and holy and who, by that death, takes away the fear of death for all of us. This is the real reason why we are joyful and hopeful on this beautiful night. This is why we are feeling within us a strange sense of longing. This is why we are rushing toward our Savior who has come to visit us in what we once thought was our barrenness.

Let the hope you feel tonight as Jesus our Savior draws close to us stay with you now and always. Let the joy you feel tonight as Jesus our Friend comes to us in love be the motivating force in how you live your lives throughout this coming year.

Jesus is here. He is in our midst tonight. He is so near, our very bodies and souls are rejoicing. So, greet him tonight with all that you have within you and welcome him into the shelter of your hearts.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Advent-Christmas letter

Advent-Christmas, 2007

Happy holidays! I hope all is well with you and those you love.
Well, another busy year to put to rest.

I am still serving as Assistant to the Bishop for Communications for the Diocese of North Dakota, as an Assisting Priest at Gethsemane Cathedral and as chaplain to All Saints Episcopal Church in Valley City, N.D. I also helped out for a good part of the year at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in north Fargo, while their priest (and my good friend) Liz Powers recovered from West Nile Virus.

My seventh book of poems, Just Once, was published on February 21, which was also the fifth anniversary of my diagnosis with cancer. It’s a beautiful book that has done very well (for a book of poems). I have received many glowing reviews and comments about it.
My poems continue to be published regularly in the literary journals, including The Solitary Plover, Albatross, Arabesques, Sea Stories, Right Hand Pointing and The Litany Series. I also had a poem published this Fall in the Wilderness House Literary Review Anthology.

I was also a “poet in the schools” yet again in the spring at Cheney Middle School in West Fargo and also did a “Poetry Out Loud” session at the school in Kensal, North Dakota in November.
Be sure to check out my new website: http://www.jamieparsley.com/ which I launched this year. I also have a blog http://www.jamieparsley.blogspot.com/ where I post poems, sermons, etc.
One of the low points of the year was a disturbing experience with a stalker. A bi-polar cross dresser (yes, you read that right—I couldn’t make it up even if I tried) did over $3,000 worth of damage to my car on three occasions in May and once in August after several frightening incidents of harassment. He also stole the Cathedral Coordinator’s purse and did damage to the Cathedral van. He was eventually banned from the Cathedral and has stayed away from me since, but to say it was a sobering experience is an understatement.
The Cathedral elected a new Dean in September—the Very Rev. Dr. Steven Sellers. I am very pleased with the choice and have greatly enjoyed getting to know and work alongside Dean Sellers and his wife, Dixie.
I traveled quite a bit this year—including another wonderful trip to New York City in April and an equally wonderful trip to Los Angeles earlier this month as part of my duties as a member of the Board of Governors for Episcopal Life.
I start my fifth year at the University of Mary next month, where I teach a full load of courses. In addition to classes in theology, ethics and philosophy, I also taught a course this year in Crime Literature, which was fun. The University is sending me to Phoenix in January to teach a course.
My parents are doing very well. My mother just celebrated a year and half of no smoking in May. My father continues to work right through his “retirement.” They both are dealing with the aches and pains of aging, but otherwise, they’re healthy as ever.
My brother, Jeff, had a stroke in October following a heart attack and is slowly recovering at home.
I presided at five weddings this year (with two more already scheduled in 2008), mostly of students and former students. I also had three baptisms. And of course a steady run of funerals. One of the funerals I presided over was for my Uncle, Marvin Olson, who died Nov. 21.
So, as you can see, my life is never boring. There’s always something happening and I am enjoying all of it.
I wish you only the very best this season and many, many blessings in 2008.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

The Chapel of the Resurrection      
Gethsemane Cathedral

Wednesday Dec. 12, 2007

Luke 1.39-47
Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It isn’t an official day in the Episcopal Church, but in the Roman Catholic Church, it is and in some Mexican communities, this is a very huge feast day.

I love the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which I will share with you. Between Dec. 9 and Dec. 12, 1531, a Mexican native by the name of Juan Diego, reportedly saw a “brown-skinned” Virgin Mary on Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City. During these visitations, the Virgin talked to him in his native language and, during the conversations, told him that he should build a church on the site. When Juan Diego went to the Bishop about this, the Bishop told him he would only build a church there if there was a miraculous sign of some sort.

So, according to an online source:

"….the Virgin told Juan Diego to gather flowers from the hill, even though it was winter, when normally nothing bloomed. He found Spanish roses, gathered them on his tilma (or cloak), and presented these to the bishop. According to tradition, when the roses fell from it the icon of the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared imprinted on the cloth."

Sure enough, this was enough of a miracle for the Bishop and a beautiful church was built on the site that is still a great center of pilgrimage and devotion.

And the tilma with the image of the Our Lady is still on it. It’s impressive image and one that I find quite beautiful.

Here’s a few interesting tidbits regarding the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, also from that same internet source;

"Some consider it miraculous that the tilma maintains its structural integrity afternearly 500 years, since replicas made with the same type of materials lasted only about 15 years before disintegrating.In addition to withstanding the elements, the tilma resisted a 1791 ammonia spill that made a considerable hole, which was reportedly repaired in two weeks with no external help. In 1921, an anarchist placed an offering of flowers next to the image. A bomb hidden within the flowers exploded and destroyed the shrine. However, the image suffered no damage.
Photographers and ophthalmologists have reported images reflected in the eyes of the Virgin.In 1929 and 1951 photographers found a figure reflected in the Virgin's eyes; upon inspection they said that the reflection was tripled in what is called the Purkinje effect. This effect is commonly found in human eyes. The ophthalmologist Dr. Jose Aste Tonsmann later enlarged the image of the Virgin's eyes by 2500x magnification and said he saw not only the aforementioned single figure, but rather images of all the witnesses present when the tilma was shown to the Bishop in 1531. Tonsmann also reported seeing a small family—mother, father, and a group of children—in the center of the Virgin's eyes.

"In response to the eye miracles, Joe Nickell and John F. Fischer wrote in Skeptical Inquirer that images seen in the Virgin's eyes could be the result of the human tendency to form familiar shapes from random patterns, much like a psychologist's inkblots—a phenomenon known as religious pareidolia.

"Richard Kuhn, who received the 1938 Nobel Chemistry prize, is said to have analyzed a sample of the fabric in 1936 and said the tint on the fabric was not from a known mineral, vegetable, or animal source.

"In 1979 Philip Serna Callahan studied the icon with infrared light and stated that portions of the face, hands, robe, and mantle had been painted in one step, with no sketches or corrections and no paintbrush strokes."

But not everyone was so encouraging. You have to remember that the time this happened in 1531 was also the time of the Inquisition and people could be executed for believing anything that was contrary to what the Church proclaimed. Some people accused those who professed faith in Our Lady of Guadalupe as idolaters. The Dominican Order spearheaded the Inquisition and the Dominicans were especially upset with the image. One of the Dominicans, Martin de Leon, said that devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe was nothing more than worship of the Aztec goddess Tonantzin.

Still, despite all of this, the image has become a very important one in Hispanic culture and even in the Episcopal Church. One of the of the largest churches in the Episcopal Church is Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Episcopal Church in San Jose, California.

I was in Los Angeles about a week ago and I was staying at the Cathedral Center there. In the Cathedral, there is a side Lady Altar, with a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

What is so wonderful, I think, about this story, is that it is the first apparition of Our Lady in the Americas. And when she appeared to Juan Diego, she did not appear as a white European, but rather as a dark-skinned Indian, just like Juan Diego himself.

And this is the message I think Our Lady of Guadalupe has for all of us. While some might say that devotion of the Virgin of Guadalupe is merely paganism in disguise, I think it is a sign for all of us how wonderfully God works in our lives. God speaks to us and breaks through to us in any way possible. God even breaks through to us in the form of a humble, dark-skinned Virgin who speaks to a humble dark-skinned Indian. And by breaking through, by speaking in such a humble way, instills deep and truly heart-felt devotion in lives of people.

This is what Advent is all about. It about God breaking through to us in the only way we are truly going to “get it.” God breaks through to us by appearing as one of us—with flesh like our flesh and faces like our faces.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is a perfect example of God breaking through and meeting people where they are. And we, who lament and wail over the fact that it seems as though God has abandoned us or doesn’t speak to us anymore or complain about God not listening to us, really are not looking very closely around us. God still does speak to us—in our own language, through people who look like us and act like us—whoever we might be and from whatever culture we might come from. And God does it in seemingly humble and beautiful and sometimes subtle ways. And in the case of the Virgin of Guadalupe, God does it is in a combination of subtle and not so subtle ways.

So, in this season of Advent, remember the beautiful story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. And like Juan Diego, look for the vision in your own life. Look for God breaking through in your life and realize that God’s breaking through might not be what you think it is.

Monday, December 10, 2007

2 Advent

December 9, 2007
All Saints Episcopal Church
Valley City, North Dakota

Romans 15.4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

In the Name of God, Father+ Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Well, here we are on the Second Sunday of Advent. I love Advent. Partly I love Advent because we get to hear some of the best scriptures the Bible has to offer.

Today is no exception. One of my favorites is our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. In it we find Paul commending scriptures to us. Traditionally, in the Anglican Church, this Sunday is often called “Bible Sunday” because of this reading.

It reminds us that we turn to scripture for hope. In these days when scripture is used as a weapon, as a way of condemning others and hurting others, in this Sunday following the news that the Diocese of San Joaquin has decided to split from the Episcopal Church on essentially scriptural grounds, it is refreshing, on this Second Sunday of Advent, to read this scripture that is essentially about hope. Because it is hope that this Season of Advent is all about—a hope we find in scripture, a hope we live with in our daily lives as Christians, a hope that fortifies us and a hope that we can cling to when everything else goes wrong.

In this morning’s Gospel, we are also faced with the formidable figure of John the Baptist. The impression we get from Matthew is of someone we probably wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. He comes across to us through the ages as a kind of crazy man. He is dirty. He is not very well mannered. He is shouting strange words and prophecies. He is frightening. Certainly it would be difficult for any of us to take the words of a man like this seriously. Especially when he’s saying things like, “prepare, for the Kingdom of heaven draws near” “the axe is being laid to the root of the trees” and “the chaff will be burned in an unquenchable fire. “ Somehow, in the way John the Baptist proclaims it, this is not so much hopeful as frightening.

It is a message that startles us and jolts us at our very core. But this is the true message of Advent. Like John the Baptist and those who eagerly awaited the Messiah, this time of waiting—this time of hope—was almost painful. When we look at it from that perspective, we see that maybe John isn’t being quite as difficult and windy as we initially thought. Rather his message is one of almost excruciating expectation and hope.

If you notice in the Prayer Book, the Latin heading for Psalm 40 is Exptans Expectavi. Used within the context of that particular psalm, it can be translated as “I waited and waited for you, O God.” That phrase really suits, in many ways, everything we experience in this season. Like John, we are waiting and waiting for our God to come to us, to appear to us as one of us.

Recently I’ve been reading a very fascinating book. The book is called The Forgotten Desert Mothers. It is a book about those early Christians who tended to take the words we heard this morning from the Baptist as literally as they could. These desert mothers (and fathers) have a lot to teach us. Like us, they lived in an age of uncertainty. Many had suffered dearly during the persecutions against Christians. Others had previously been pagans who lived lives of excess. It was a time when nothing in the world seemed too stable. Governments gave way to stronger governments. Differing religions battled each other for what each perceived to be “the truth.” And so too did many Christians.

It sounds familiar doesn’t it? In the face of all of this uncertainty, these men and women heard the call of the Baptist. “Prepare, for the kingdom of heaven draws near.” In response they did something we might find unusual. We, as modern Christians, are taught that we must not only live out our faith, but also, in some way, must proclaim our faith to those around us. We take seriously the command to go out into the world and proclaim what we believe. Certainly that is what we will do this morning when we recite the creed. It is what we do when we go out to feed the hungry or to tend the sick. We do it when we reach out to others in the name of Christ.

These early Christians, however, did the exact opposite. They retreated from society and went off to the desert, in this case usually the deserts of Egypt and Palestine. Oftentimes, coming from wealthy homes and positions of authority, they sold it all, gave the money to the poor and went off to live alone. And we’re not talking about a few individuals here. We’re talking about people leaving in droves. The deserts were literally populated with men and women who tried to leave it all behind. More often than not, they formed loosely-organized communities, usually around a church, in which they lived and prayed alone for most of the time, only coming together to pray the Psalms or celebrate Eucharist. Their lives in the desert weren’t, as you can imagine, comfortable lives by any means. Some walled themselves up in abandoned tombs. Others lived in caves. One went so far as to crawl atop a tall pillar and live there for years on end, exposed to the elements.

Even then they couldn’t completely escape what they left behind. Many of the stories tell of these poor souls being tormented by demons and temptations. It’s not hard to imagine that, yes, alone in a dark tomb or cave, one would be forced to face all the darkest recesses of one’s soul. Part of the process of separating one’s self from the world involves finally wrestling with all those issues one carries into the desert.

Few of us in this day and age would view this kind of existence as the ideal Christian life. In fact, most of would probably look on it as a sort of insanity. But at the time, in that place, people began to see this as the ideal. People, I imagine, were tired of the day-to-day grind of working, slaving, fending for themselves in a sometimes unfriendly society. They felt distant from God and they were not able to find God in the society in which they lived. The idea of going off and being alone with God was very appealing.

Of course, even this seemingly simple and pure way of living was soon tarnished by another form excess. Some of the people who went off to live in the desert were simply mentally unsound to begin with. Others went insane after years of living alone in a tomb or a cave. They abused their bodies, sometimes to the point of death, by whipping themselves, by chaining themselves to walls, by not taking care of themselves physically, or simply starving themselves to a point close to death. Some even went so far as castrating themselves for the kingdom of heaven.

But despite these abuses, the message of the desert mothers and fathers to us is still a valid one. The whole reason they went off like they did was to shed everything that separated them from their hoping and waiting for God. They sought to make their very lives a living Advent. They were waiting expectantly and anxiously for Christ. And by mortifying themselves, by chastising their bodies and fasting, they would be prepared for his coming again.

Although I hope no one here is called to a life quite that extreme, I think their message speaks to us clearly in these days before Christmas. We should find ways to prepare for the Incarnate God’s coming to us. We should shed some of those things that separate ourselves from God. We should find our own deserts in our lives—those places in which we can go off alone and be with God. A place in which we can wait for God longingly. It is a place in which we can fully express our hope.

And that is what we are doing in this time of Advent. We are hoping. We are looking longingly for God to come to us. Those of us who dwell here in the darkness—those of us who dwell in our tombs, in our caves, in the darkest recesses of our own souls—find ourselves clinging to that blessed hope, looking longingly for the light to burn away that darkness.

That Light is, of course, Christ. That Light comes into our darkness in the form of a simple, beautiful child. And that Light can be frightening, because it reveals things to us we might not want revealed. It reveals to us aspects of ourselves we might not want revealed and it reveals things about our world that we don’t want to see. But by enlightening us and making us see fully and completely, we know that we are freed. We are freed from those things that keep us in the dark and we are freed to go forward into the Light and dwell there.

So, yes, John’s message in the wilderness is a frightening one at times. It is frightening because the Light he is telling us is coming to us can be frightening, especially when we’re used to the darkness. But it is also a message of hope and longing. It is a message meant to wake us from our slumbering complacency. His is a voice calling us to sit up and take notice.

The kingdom of heaven is near. In fact it’s nearer than we can probably ever hope or imagine. So, be prepared. Watch. Wait. Hope. For this anticipation—this expectant longing of ours—this wonderful and beautiful hope—is merely a pathway on which the Christ Child can come to us here in our darkness and appear before us as one of us.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

St. Clement of Alexandria

Weds. Dec. 5, 2007
The Chapel of the Resurrection
Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral
Fargo, North Dakota

John 6.57-63

In the Name of God, Father, + Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the feast of St. Clement of Alexandria. He comes to us right in the middle of a series of days celebrating several so-called Fathers of the Church. Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of John of Damascus. Tomorrow we celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas and on the Friday we celebrate the Feast of St. Ambrose of Milan. All of this leads us to an unofficial feast of our Church and a Holy Day of Obligation in the Roman Catholic Church—the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady on Saturday (which also happen to be my birthday). In the midst of this celebration of Church Fathers and in this time in which we ponder such things as Incarnation—Our God made flesh—I thought I would talk a bit about who these men were and why they are important to us.

I have been reading a lot of Patristics lately—Patristics being the study of the writing of these Church Fathers. It has been a great experience for me. I love these Fathers of the Church and I can’t get enough of their works. I have been amazed by their brilliance, their clarity, the depth of their thinking. And I have been especially amazed at how their words still speak with such power even now. Even after a thousand or so years, these Fathers are still fresh. They still speak to us and the Church, just as they spoke to the Christians of their time and, for a large part, what they said still speaks loud and clear to us.

One of my favorite of the Father is St. Gregory of Nyssa. Just when one thinks that the Fathers can’t be radical in this time of seemingly radical theology, one is amazed to find Gregory, who died in about 394, writing things like this:

“The soul of the dead man will be brought before judgment, it will hear the sentence on its past life, it will receive punishment and reward according to its desert, either to be cleansed by fire according to the word of the gospels, or to be blessed and comforted in the dew of grace.” (Patrologia Graeca, XLVI, 167)

At first, we might think this is pretty standard. But if you were listening closely, what Gregory—good, Orthodox (or “right –thinking”)—Gregory is talking about is what is now called Universal Salvation. He is saying that, yes, there is a time of damnation and fire for those who are damned, but, he says, it is not eternal. What the time of fire does is cleanse the soul and makes it ready for eternal life with Christ. In other words, even those whoa re damned are not damned for all eternity. Eventually, they will be brought into a full relationship with Christ and will be redeemed. To state it simply, no one is lost forever. In the end, all will be saved.

But this isn’t the most radical thing Gregory has to say on the topic. He says that because there is no eternal damnation, not even our greatest enemy, Satan, will be damned forever. Another Church Father, Origen, had already, before Gregory, stated that he believed eventually even Satan would be redeemed. For Origen, however, this idea of Universal Salvation—even for Satan—is seen in the ”light of an abstract idea,” according to Robert Payne in his book, The Fathers of the Eastern Church. For Gregory, this salvation of all of us, including “the Prince of Darkness” is “accomplished in the joyfulness of God.”

I love that. Our salvation—the salvation of all of us—is accomplished in the “joyfulness of God.” For Gregory, he saw a day in which “even the Prince of Darkness would once more be restored to his seat beside the throne of God.” Talk about radical thinking. To even bring up this concept that the damned—and even the Devil—could be saved in certain company today is seen as radically liberal, radically left of center, radically crazy, But for the Church Fathers, this was simply a way of saying that unless the damned are ultimately redeemed, unless Satan himself is redeemed, the full mission of Christ’s salvation of the created order has not been accomplished and, in a sense, shows that God has failed somewhere along the way.

You can start to see why I love the Church Fathers so much. These Fathers lived in a time not all that long removed from the time of Jesus, As Robert Payne said in his book, they lived in a time when “[t]he face of Jesus has left a shining on the air; they see His face; and in His pathways they walked in fear and trembling, for they could almost see His shadow at the turning of the road.”

They are important to us now because, as I said, the Church is in a similar place as it was in their day. We too are being rent apart by schisms. We too find Christians fighting against other Christians over matters of dogma and policy, over scripture and tradition. And it may be time for us to turn to these Fathers, who saw the Church through the tumultuous times in their day to lead us yet again through the tumultuous times of our Church now.

Or maybe, we should be praying for new Fathers and Mothers in our midst. We should be praying for another Clement or Nicholas, another John of Damascus or Ambrose of Milan, another Gregory of Nyssa. We should be praying for those people who will lead us with strength of faith and gentleness of compassion. We should be praying for people who are radical in their thinking and yet orthodox in their foundation. We should be praying for men and women who can inspire us and lead us, who can say to us, as St. Polycarp did in the early Church:

“Let your baptism serve as a shield, your faith as a helmet, your love as spear, your endurance as full armor.” (Ad Polyc. VI)

We need people in the church like Clement who can say to us—and convince us—that “All this life is a holy festival.” Because it is. All life is a holy festival. And we should be rejoicing. So, like those early Fathers and Mothers of our Church, rejoice in this holy festival of life

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Memorial Service for Marvin Olson

Marvin Olson
(April 27, 1933-Nov. 21, 2007)
West Funeral Home
West Fargo, ND
Nov. 24, 2007

Isaiah 40.3-5; Psalm 121

None of us, of course, want to be here today. We don’t want to be here, saying good bye to this man who, to those of us who knew him, was more than just any man. He was a father, he was a brother, for me he was an uncle—a wonderful uncle—for others he was a good friend, a companion, a buddy.

And yet, we all know, this is just the way it must be sometimes. This is the gamble we take in life. If we are going to live, if we are going to allow ourselves to love, we must also know that to live, to love, we must also experience loss. We must face the fact that, when we love, we also will some day lose those whom we love.

Marvin understood that in his life. Marvin lived his life to the fullest. He enjoyed his life. And he loved many people and knew much loss in his life. But through it all, he kept on. He kept on moving. He kept on his way.

In our Old Testament reading for today, we get an image that Marvin no doubt would have appreciated.

“…make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

And later in that same reading, we hear,

“The uneven ground shall become level and the rough places a plain.”

It is an image of movement, of the open road. It is an image of smooth roads. It is an ideal place—a place where someone who loved cars and motorcycles—who loved simply driving—would truly appreciate. If Marvin was able to tell us his idea of what heaven would be like, it would be place like this reading.

Probably even more appropriate is the psalm we just heard Marv’s grandson, David, read—Psalm 121. We shared this Psalm together on Tuesday night as we were saying our goodbyes to Marvin at the hospital. Psalm 121 is Marvin’s Psalm if there ever was one. It’s one of those “muscular” psalms. By that I mean, it’s a psalm of strength—a psalm of fortitude.
In it, we find the psalmist wandering in the wilderness. The journey—the pilgrimage—is full of hardships. There is the possibility of disaster on the road: he might hurt his foot and not be able to go on. During the day, the hot sun will sap his energy. At night, the moon, cold and distant, has the potential to do equal harm to him. At the time this Psalm was written, there was a belief that the moon caused sickness (it’s from this idea that we get the word “lunacy”). But in spite of all these dangers along the way, he looks to the cool green hills rising above him, knowing that despite being in this wasteland, despite the heat and the illnesses, despite being exhausted and weary from the journey, there is hope, there is a reward awaiting him at the end of the journey. He only needs strength to get there and he knows that that strength comes from only one place: from the God in whom he not only trusts, but longs for. For God will preserve him from all evil, and will keep him safe. The Lord will watch over his going out—his journey into the wilderness—and his coming in—his arriving at his destination—from this time forth forevermore.

See, it really is Marv’s Psalm.

In both scriptures, we find images of movement. And the main image we get from Marvin’s life is an image of movement. It is an image of a highway that is often uneven and rough. Let’s face it, the road of Marvin’s life wasn’t easy. But uneven and rough, he was always on the move—in one way or the other.

My mother—Marvin’s sister—was talking the other day that she has very few memories of Marvin when she was young. It wasn’t that she blocked them out. It was simply because Marvin wasn’t always there. From her first memories of him, he seemed to always be out working—even as a young boy. He started out working for places like Western Union, as a delivery boy. It’s not hard for us to picture him, riding around on that bike of his, delivering telegrams. He was on the move as a teenager, working on cars and other modes of transportation. Out of high school, he was on the move again—this time to places more exotic than North Dakota, like Japan; and to places not by any means exotic, such as Korea. In the aftermath of Korea—an event in his life he kept for the most part to himself, an event I think that haunted him and changed him and transformed him—he came back and was on the move again. There was a restlessness to his movement.

The road throughout his life was often rough and uneven. And he himself was reflected that road. He wasn’t perfect, not did he ever claim to be perfect. He had his faults, just as we all do. But Marvin was a man who, despite whatever failings he had, despite, how rough and uneven the road of his life got at times, he was always capable of love.

On Tuesday night, as I gathered with the children for their final goodbye with Marv, I was struck by something very wonderful and incredible. In those last moments of his life here, Marv was surrounded by love. He was surrounded by a love that continued to move him and a love that went with him as he moved on.

It’s a difficult time right now for those of us who loved Marv. Although he wasn’t saint—he would be the first to admit that he wasn’t a saint—he would have laughed that wonderful laugh of his if he ever heard anyone call him a saint no doubt—he was a genuinely good man.

I was shocked, the last time I was able to speak with him, how much he reminded me of his father, my grandfather, Ted Olson. My grandfather wasn’t a saint either. My grandfather had also traveled a long, rough and often uneven road in his life. But in the end he too emerged as a genuinely good man. Marvin and his father had a lot in common in their lives. That day in the hospital room, it was almost like Déjà vu, sitting there with Marv. Because it felt for me like I was also sitting there with my grandfather at times. The last time I saw my grandfather, I was six years old. And yet, sitting there with my uncle that afternoon, it was almost like everything had come together in some strange way. It struck me that there was a kind of continuity. There was a connection between all of us with those who have gone on before us.

To use a biblical image, there is truly a cloud of witnesses about us. And I do believe that. I believe that what separates those of us—here and alive in this world—from that next world—that world in which the cloud of witnesses lives—is a thin one. Marvin is now a part of that cloud of witnesses. He has gained a place for himself in that place we cannot fully fathom or appreciate today.

For those of us who love Marvin, this is not a happy day for us. Yes, we take consolation in the fact that it is a good day for him—he is out of his suffering, he has shed that body that caused him such pain. He is freed. It is not happy for us because, for a little while at least, we will not see him. But, with faith, we take consolation in the fact that we know this is only temporary.

For Marvin, the rough and uneven road of his life has now become level. He is traveling that straight highway. The destination is in sight. And it is a marvelous and beautiful place. It is the place he has been headed for all of his life. He no longer knows weariness or pain or frustration. All of that has passed away like some bad dream. He is there in those cool, green hills, in that place of rest and beauty—a place we are headed toward as well in our lives.

So, yes, we can be sad today, but we can also know that sadness is not the same thing as despair. Despair is a sadness without hope. We can be sad, and yet we know that we are able to hope in the fact that what awaited Marvin—and what he has gained now for himself—awaits us also.

In a few moments, I will say the words of Commendation for Marvin from the Book of Common Prayer. I will say the words, “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

That is where our hopes lies. Our faith tells us that, in the end, death does not win. Sickness does not win. The grave does not win. God is more powerful than all of that. God is a God life. God is a God of the living. God is a God of life that does not end. And because of our faith, we almost audaciously are able to say, “alleluia” in the face of death. We are able to say that “alleluia” in defiance of death and all that it stands for.

So let us look, with Marvin, at the journey ahead. Let us, in this sad moment, look forward down the road to those cool, green hills ahead of us. And, knowing that Marvin and all our loved ones—that whole cloud of witnesses—are there waiting for us with our God—we can go on. We can move forward without despairing. And we can follow a road that now at times might seems rough and uneven but that will even out and be straight as we journey toward our living God.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Prayers for the soul of my Uncle Marvin Olson

I ask your prayers for the soul of my uncle, Marvin Olson, who died this morning, Nov. 21, at the Veteran’s Hospital in Fargo.

I will preside at the Burial Office at West Funeral Home in West Fargo at 11:00 AM Sat. Nov. 24. His ashes will be buried afterward in the family plot in Sunset Memorial Gardens in Fargo.

I also request your prayers for his children, Renaye, Mitchell, Shayne and Robin and their families.

Also please pray for my mother, Joyce and her sister, Shirley.

Father of all, we pray to you for Marvin, and for all those whom we love but see no longer. Grant to them eternal rest. Let light perpetual shine upon them. May his soul, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Thanksgiving Eve

November 21, 2007
Chapel of the Resurrection
Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral

John 6.26-35

In the Name of God, Father+ Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tomorrow is, of course, Thanksgiving. It is a time in which we can and should think about all the blessings of our lives and express our thanks for them—to God and to one another.

One of my favorite topics on this holiday is the topic of grace. In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus talking about the manna that God sent to the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness. As we prepare for Thanksgiving—as we think about the blessings of our lives and all the goodness God has given to us, what I find so amazing is how the truly wonderful things in our lives—the things we cherish the most—are the things we haven’t asked for. This is what grace is all about. Grace is that which God gives us even when we haven’t asked for it nor even fully deserve it.

I usually talk about grace at weddings, because, for the most part, marriage is an example of grace in our midst. People come into our lives we don’t ask for, we don’t even know how to ask for, but who are still given to us. And the joy and contentment they bring is the greatest gift any of us can ever expect.

Children are another example of grace. No one fully realizes the blessings a child will give to one’s life until they come into our midst.

There are countless other graces we have in our lives that we are no doubt thankful for. Especially in the cases of marriage and children, these graces change our lives. We are never again who were before they came into our lives.

And that, I think, is the sign of true Grace. True grace transforms us and makes us different—and hopefully better—than who were before.

Probably the greatest grace in our lives—and the one we might not fully appreciate—is the one Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel. The greatest Grace in our lives, is none other than Jesus himself. For the Israelites, wandering in the wilderness, hungry and anxious, God provided them manna from heaven—bread that literally fell upon them from the sky for them to eat. For us, our Manna is more substantial. Our Manna is the Bread which comes to us to feed us in such a way that we will never feel hungry again. It is the Bread that will not feed this body, which will die on us and be disposed of, but the Bread which will feed our souls, which will feed that part of us which will live forever. The Bread Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel is Jesus himself. And it is Jesus whom we should be most thankful for.

Jesus’ presence in our life, the fact that in him we see God—God who came to us like manna from heaven, in flesh like our flesh, and who, by dying, destroyed that which we feared the most—death—that is something we didn’t ask for. We are probably unable to even know how to ask for such a gift. And yet, unasked for, Jesus came to us and fed us with his own Body. Unasked for, God provided us with life in a way we still don’t fully appreciate or understand.

Jesus came to us, like manna falling upon us as we wandered about in our personal wilderness, and fed us in a way we didn’t even realized we could be fed. This is the ultimate grace in our midst. This is the ultimate gift for us.

So, tomorrow, as you gather with your loved ones, as you take that time to inventory the blessings and all the good things in your life, don’t forget to be thankful for that ultimate Grace in your life—Jesus who is everything we need and long for and strive for.

Jesus—our Manna from heaven.

Jesus—our living Bread of life.

And thank God for the Grace above Graces, for the Grace that that is him.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

24 Pentecost

November 11, 2007
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church
Fargo, North Dakota

Luke 20.27-38

We have to give the Sadducees credit. They were smooth and smart. They knew how to present a sly argument without being blatant. And they did believe that by bringing up the resurrection, they would show Jesus to be the fool and the charlatan.

For the Sadducees, the resurrection was a fairy tale. It was something gullible people hoped in. It was absurd and ridiculous.

And there are some Christians today who feel the same way about the resurrection. The fact is the Resurrection—and our belief in it—is very important. In some circles, belief in the Resurrection is a litmus test for one’s orthodoxy.

I know of a former parishioner who later joined the Eastern Orthodox Church over his belief in the Resurrection. He refused to receive Communion from priests and pastors he knew did not believe in the Resurrection. In fact, one of the first questions he would ask a new priest when he would meet them is: So what do you believe regarding the Resurrection? I luckily passed that test, but not without a good deal of spiritual searching and struggling.

The fact is, we still have Sadducees in our midst. I was reared, theologically, on thinkers who did not hold the Resurrection up very highly. The theologians who captured my imagination in my twenties were people like John Shelby Spong, the former Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey. One of the first books of his I read was called Resurrection: Myth or Reality? I don’t think I’m giving the end away by saying that Bishop Spong’s answer to that question was: Myth. Bishop Spong believed that there was no resurrection—rather that whatever resurrection one believed in was purely metaphorical. Yes, Jesus died on the cross. Yes, he lives on among those of who believe in him. But there was no bodily resurrection. In fact, in this book, Spong asserts his belief that Jesus’ body was probably taken down from the cross and given to the dogs to feed on. The tomb is empty, Spong said. Yes, but not because of any supernatural events. The tomb is empty and Jesus is not here because he was never there in the first place.

It was interesting to read these works of Bishop Spong and I still find them interesting. But I don’t necessarily believe them. I know that Jesus is resurrected. I know it because I have encounter him and continue to encounter him as resurrected over and over again in my life. I have encountered him in the people I have served alongside in the Church and in the world. I have encountered him at hospital bedsides, at funerals, at burials. I continue to encounter him whenever we gather together to hear him speak to us in His Word and to share his Body and his Blood here at the altar. And with each of those encounters, I know full well that because he is resurrected, I too will be resurrected with him. And that wherever the resurrected Lord is in the future, I will be there too.

This is what we believe as Christians. And if anyone says it is not important to believe in the resurrection, I say that it is. Whenever I hear people say that those basic beliefs many of us take for granted are not important—or are simply fairy tales we hold on to so we can continue on in a kind of trace-like hope, I find myself digging in my heels a bit.

The other night I was having supper with a Pastor friend from the United Church of Christ. The U.C.C. has often been referred to as Unitarian Considering Christ, because of the views of some of their pastors regarding such issues as the Trinity and the resurrection. He was telling me about a candidate for ordination he was interviewing who informed him that she did not believe in the Trinity—in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He had to inform her that despite whatever popular positions people had about the U.C.C., belief in the Triune God was essential.

I am of a similar opinion regarding churches like the ELCA and the Episcopal Church. As much as I like Bishop Spong and as much as I enjoy reading his works, I have a problem with someone who professes to be an Episcopal Christian saying that he does not believe in those essential tenets of that church. It is essential that we actually believe what we profess and what we pray.

Every Sunday we gather, we profess our faith in the words of the Creed. The Creed—whether the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed—is essential for understanding who are as Christians and what we believe. What we profess in those creeds is our belief in the Triune God. We believe in God, the Father, almighty. We believe in Jesus Christ, his only son our Lord. We believe in the Holy Spirit. And we profess our belief in the resurrection—and not only in Jesus’ resurrection, but in the resurrection of the body—our body—as well.

Now, does that mean, that I believe in a literal interpretation of that profession? Do I truly believe that one day, all the graves will be opened and the physical bodies we have buried will rise up to meet with our spirits in heaven, or do I believe that the seas will give up their dead? I think the imagery of that sort that we find in scripture is beautiful and helps us to wrap our minds around the resurrection. But I also believe that our understanding of such things allows for a certain freedom of movement.

I often use the image of jazz to explain what it is we believe. In jazz, there is a certain musical structure one has to abide by. There’s a frame work, shall we say. Within that framework, a jazz musician has the freedom to do many things. But they still have to stay within that basic framework.

I feel the same way about our faith as Christians. The Creeds give us that very basic framework. There are certain things we simply need to believe to be Christians. We need to believe in God as Trinity. Because we believe in the Trinity, we need to believe in the Incarnation—in the belief that Jesus is God in the flesh—true God and true Man. And because he is God in the flesh, we need to believe that Jesus, after he died on the Cross, was resurrected. And we need to believe that, because he died and was resurrected, we too, when we die, will be resurrected as well. There’s the framework.

When we start becoming too specific, we start losing something of the beauty of our faith. We lose the purity and the poetry of our faith. When we start trying to examine too closely how the resurrection will happen and when it will happen and how a pile of bones or cremated remains or a body destroyed in the sea can be resurrected into another body, we find ourselves derailed.

What we do know, however is that what the resurrection promises is a new body. We will be given new bodies unlike our present bodies. And these new bodies will reflect our new resurrected lives. The whole basis of what Jesus is getting at in today’s Gospel, in this discourse on marriage, is that the resurrection is not, as the great theologian Reginald Fuller, said, “a prolongation of our present life, but a new mode of existence.”

We will still be us, but we will be living on a different level—with a different understanding of what it means to be alive. Issues like marriage, will no longer be an issue. Now some of us might despair at that fact. We want to know that when we awake into the resurrected life, we will have our families there, our spouses and our loved ones. I have no doubt that our loved ones will be there, but it will be different. We will have a truly fulfilled and complete relationship with all of our loved ones, and also with those who we may not have loved. What this leads us to is, at the same time, a glimpse of the freedom that we will gain at the resurrection.

Just as some things such as marriage will no longer be an issue, all those other issue we are dealing with now in our lives and in the church will also no longer be with us. The issues that divide us as a church, as a community—issues of sexuality or differing religious views or race or culture, will all be done away with at the resurrection.

And these bodies too will be done away with as well. These bodies that will fail us and betray us—these bodies that will die on us and be buried and molder in the ground or be burned will no longer be a part of who we are anymore. We will be given, at the resurrection, in some way we cannot fully comprehend or fathom in this moment, new bodies, that will not fail us, that will not betray us, that will not die. We will, at the resurrection, be made whole and complete and perfect, in Christ, who is perfect.

The reason we know this is because the God we serve—the God we have gathered together to worship this morning, is not a God of the dying bodies we have with us now. The God we serve and worship is a God of the living. When Jesus identifies God as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, he is saying that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive and that their God is the God of the living—the God of us who, because of Christ, will not die.

So, Resurrection is important to us. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Resurrection is so important to us, despite what the Sadducees in our midst tell us. Resurrection is essential to our faith, because in it we have not only met and faced death , but because Jesus met and faced it first, because Jesus, by his resurrection, destroyed death and rose above it, we know that we will too. Death no longer has control over it. It longer has any power in our lives. The power and strength of death has been defeated in the resurrection. In the resurrection, we have the almost audacious ability to say, at the grave, that power-packed word of life: Alleluia.

So, ignore the Sadducees in our midst—those glitzy, smooth voices of supposed reason that lull us into believing that the resurrection is a fantasy. Resist any voices that wrestle that hope away from us. Because it is our faith in the resurrection that will truly sustain us in those moments of doubt and despair, in those moments when death and darkness seem to have won out, when our hope has waned. For our God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. Our God is a God of life. And only in life can we fully and truly serve God.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Requiem Eucharist for Helen Johnson

Helen Johnson
(March 31, 1923-Oct. 16, 2007)
Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral
Fargo, North Dakota
Sun. Oct. 21, 2007

Luke 2. 29-32, John 14.1-6

In the Name of God, Father+ Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

To begin this afternoon, I am going to share with you a bit of scripture that we did not read today. This scripture is from the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel and it can also be found in the Evening Prayer service in the Book of Common Prayer. We also call this scripture—this prayer—“the Song of Simeon” or the Nunc Dimittis.

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, *
according to thy word;
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, *
which thou hast prepared before the face of all people,
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, *
and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

Now, this scripture was very important to Helen. It was so important to her, in fact, that she had the first line of this scripture inscribed on her gravestone.

“Lord, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace”

At this moment, it is there, on her stone in the cemetery outside Dawson, Minnesota, where we will bury Helen’s ashes tomorrow morning.

Now for those of us who knew Helen Johnson, that word Servant carries deep meaning. The idea of servant is important for understanding who Helen was. For those of who knew and loved Helen (I am happy to include myself as one of those people), we might not imagine her at first glance as a servant.

This was, after all, a strong-willed and very independent woman. One knew where one stood with Helen. If she liked you, she loved. If she didn’t like you—God help you. I am very fortunate to have been one of the people Helen liked. And I got to know her very well in these last several years. And I know she liked me and loved me. And I liked her and loved her in return. And because I knew her and liked her and loved her, I can tell you that the word servant does in fact fit Helen. In fact, it is probably the best word we find to describe who she was and what she did.

Of course, we could use a word like saint. But I know that Helen would hate that word to describe her. I can just hear her poo-pooing me and saying, “I am no saint! Don’t you dare call me a saint!” But servant. That was a word she was proud to bear. Servant of God. She was a true servant of God. She served God and she served her Church—the Episcopal Church,

We live in a time when we hear a lot about leadership. We see book after book published about being an effective leader. I just got back from Wisconsin yesterday and even there, I had a workshop in effective church leadership. It seems everyone these days is called to be a leader. Of course, if everyone’s leading, no one’s following. Helen would have seen right through to that quandary.

Because Helen understood fully that to be an effective leader, one has to be an effective follower first. One has to be an effective servant. And to be a servant, one must learn to do the work that needs to be done.

Helen worked hard at this church. For years, she coordinated the luncheons after the funerals. Since I invariably either presided or assisted at many, many of the funerals that have been done here over the last eight years or so, I can tell you, from first hand experience, that Helen was a true servant even when she was leading and coordinating. I can’t tell you how many times she came up to me, waving her finger at me, and prefacing something she was going to say with “Jamie, I have a bone to pick with you…” But what she ended up saying was not nagging or complaining. It was always an effective suggestion on how things should be done.

In her spiritual life, as well, we found a woman who truly was a Servant of the Lord. On Tuesday, our dear Helen departed from us in peace. And her life was summed in the words of the Nunc Dimittis—the Song of Simeon—in more ways than we might ever fully understand. I can tell you that Helen could express with all honesty those words “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, [O Lord]. She saw things and understood things as most us of could not. She had definite thoughts about her faith in God.

God was there—waiting for her in that other world that was separated from this one by a very thin veil. And with God, in that place, was her beloved Doug.

Earlier this year, in our Bible Study, Helen asked me,” What do you think it will be like there? What do you think it will be like in heaven?”

I said, “Helen, I don’t know. But I have faith that it will be beautiful and amazing and more incredible than we can even imagine.”

She then asked, “Will Doug be there?”

And I said, “Yes. He will. He will be waiting there for you when you awaken in that place.”

And tears came to her eyes and she smiled and she nodded and she said, “Yes, I know he will be there. He will be there waiting for me when I wake up in that place.”

One of the first memories of I have of Helen was visiting her in her condo in Moorhead back in the fall of 1999. I gave her a book of my prayers—prayers that I wrote—prayers that she would tell me for years afterward that she cherished and loved. On her coffee table that day, there was another book. That book was The Next Place by Warren Hanson. She told me that day how important this book was to her and how it helped her in her mourning of Doug and in her hope for what was awaiting us in the Next Place. Over the last few years, when we talked about heaven and what was awaiting us, we would often come back to this book. And every time we did, she would smile and nod and say, “Yes. The Next Place. It’s a children’s book, but it’s also a beautiful book And it’s a book I think we might need on a day like today. So, I’m going to share it with you. And I highly recommend it to you—go out a purchase a copy of it, because it is lovely.

The Next Place

On Tuesday morning, Helen awoke in that Next Place and the first people waiting for her there were the Lord she loved and longed for and served and, of course, Doug.

In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus talking about his Father’s dwelling place and the Mansions that exist there. It’s not hard to imagine that the place Jesus talks about is very similar to the Next Place of Warren Hanson’s poem. It is, beyond doubt, a place so incredible we can’t even begin to wrap our minds around its reality or its beauty. Like Helen, all he can do is hope in it and know that it is there, just on the other side of that very thin veil. What an appropriate place for Helen Johnson.

For her, today is a glorious day. She is in that next Place—in that place of beauty. She is fully and completely herself. She is truly perfect. For us, it is a sad day because we will miss Helen. For a while, we will not be able to see her.

But for now we can lives in the example of Helen Johnson. We can go on, as servants of the Lord and of each other. But we can look forward, as she did, for that day when we, as the Lord’s servants, will also depart in peace. And when we wake up in that Next Place, the first thing we will see will be the Lord we have loved and longed for and served. And Helen will be there as well to greet us along with all our loved ones. And it will be more beautiful and lovely and gorgeous than we, in this moment, can fully understand.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Vida Dutton Scudder

Oct. 10, 2007
The Chapel of the Resurrection
Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral

John 6.37-51

Today we are celebrating a new saint in the Episcopal Church. Vida Dutton Scudder was recently added, on a trail basis, to The Lesser Feasts and Fasts. And she is certainly a saint I hope stays on our calendar.

Scudder is a saint who was a near-contemporary to us and yet, she is one of those ageless Christians who can speak to us wherever we are in our history as a Church.

A few facts about her life: Born in India on December 15, 1861 to parents who were Congregationalist missionaries. Her father died when she was young and, with her mother, she was confirmed as an Episcopalian in the 1870s by the great Bishop of Massachusetts, Phillips Brooks. She studied Literature at Smith College and Oxford and then came back to Massachusetts, to teach as Wellesley College for almost half a century. In her life time she wrote 61 books. She received an honorary Doctor of Divinity from my alma mater, Nashotah House in 1942. She died on October 9, 1954 in her Wellesley home. Her remains were cremated and buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

And that probably would have been her life. She probably would have been a fairly obscure college professor at an exclusive Seven Sister School and we would not be commemorating her today. But the fact is that Vida Dutton Scudder was more than that. She did not fit easily into the mold of just another college professor.

In fact, two aspects of her life made all the difference. She became a Socialist. And she became an Anglo-Catholic Actually I should flip those two around. She was an Anglo-Catholic first and a Socialist second.

What I liked About Vida Scudder is the fact that she lived and was reared in a very academic world. And yet, she did not let academia choke her faith out of existence. As any of us who have worked in academia knows—it can be strangely insular and secular world. It is easy not have any religious conviction in that environment. It’s easy to become completely and utterly secular. Certainly, it would have been very easy for someone with the intellect of Vida Dutton Scudder to have practiced no faith at all.

She was an intellectual—a brilliant woman—and yet, she was also an Anglo-Catholic. To be an Anglo-Catholic takes a concentrated effort. It takes a concentrated effort to search your soul and to emerge from that’s searching with the realization that you are an Anglo-Catholic.

From her Anglo-Catholicism came her socialism. There is a long tradition of Anglo-Catholic Socialists—those who felt that being Anglo-Catholic meant more than just going to “Mass” with all its smells and bells and making sure their priest wore a chasuble and that there were candles on the altar. Anglo Catholic Socialism took the beauty of liturgical worship and the Catholic faith they held in their hearts and went out into the world to share it.

In Scudder’s day, there were many Anglo-Catholic priests who were going into the slums of East London, to bring to those people he riches and beauties of Anglo-Catholic liturgical worship, while also bringing them personal and spiritual help. One of my favorite people from that period was the priest Stewart Headlam—truly one of the great Anglo-Catholic slum priests. Vida Dutton Scudder belongs to that group of great Anglo-Catholic socialists.

For Scudder, her Anglo-Catholic Socialism meant standing up for women’s rights when women were not allowed. It meant speaking out against war when doing so was unpopular. It meant siding with striking textile workers. It meant helping Italian immigrants settle into American culture. It meant living out a deep and fulfilling spiritual and liturgical life, while knowing full well that if one was truly going to heed the call of Christ in one’s life, one had to take that faith out into the world to share with others.

And that’s the message we can take away from Vida Dutton Scudder. Now many of us might not be called to be Anglo Catholic Socialists. But hopefully all us feel the calling of Christ in our lives. That calling should involve more than just sitting around thinking about it or doing it just by going to church on Sundays. The calling of Christ can never be a call to complacency. The calling of Christ is a calling to action. When Christ calls we—like Vida Dutton Scudder—must sit up and take notice and then do something about it. We must go out and proclaim it. And she gives a very good example of how to do that.

We don’t have to go out to street corners and start telling people that they must accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. We don’t have to go knocking on doors and shouting “Amen! Alleluia!” in church. Let’s face it: that doesn’t further the Kingdom of God any more than a clanging cymbal does.

But we can do it by furthering the Kingdom of God in our midst—in whatever ways we can. We can do it by speaking out against those things we see as unjust or unfair. We can do it by acting on our sense of justice for others and for ourselves. We can do it in whatever way we can—in whatever way Christ is nudging us and leading us to do it.

So, remember Vida Dutton Scudder and look to her as a very practical example of how to live out Christ’s calling in the world.

I will close with Scudder’s own words. She wrote these in about 1937 during the depths of the Depression. But if we listen closely, they are words to us in the Episcopal Church now as well—

“The Christian Revolution! In a world where the old order was dying and a new order cradled in hate strove for the mastery, here was the only hope. Could that revolution be nourished within the Christian Church? So I trusted, so I prayed . . . but let no one think that purpose easy to fulfill. Sadness waits upon it. Comrades within whose eyes glows the vision of a brave new world fall away from the Church one by one, driven to despair of her, not by open persecution but by the deadness of the ecclesiastical atmosphere. I see them go. I mourn. Others, more moderate, wiser it may be - - who am I to judge? - - succumb as the years pass, and insensibly conform to a conventional ecclesiastical pattern. I give thanks for their devoted service within the decorous religious system which the world now despises, now applauds, but never fears. And yet again, I mourn. Worst of all is the burrowing doubt within. And all the time eager unchurched voices call to me. I close my ears...
“[The Church’s] work is not to dictate but to enlighten and inspire; she is too all-embracing to endorse this method or that. Probably the future will judge that today as in the past, the truest life in Christendom is in minority groups, driven by Christian impulse to work for a new day.”
(On Journey, c1937)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Fargo Forum Article

I was quoted in the Oct. 7th issue of the Fargo Forum regarding the search for the new Poet Luareate of Minnesota.

Minn. to fill top job for poet

By Sherri Richards
Valley R&R - 10/07/2007

The Land of 10,000 Lakes is finally naming the first poet laureate of the state. Who the writer will be is still matter of fate.

OK, it’s actually a rather thorough nominating process that will involve much finer poetry than that. But creating the official honorary position of Minnesota’s poet laureate has been long awaited.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of a 2005 bill to establish a state poet laureate was roundly panned in the literary world -- particularly for his reasoning. At the time, the governor said creating the position could lead to calls for other laureate positions. “We could also see requests for a state mime, interpretive dancer or potter,” he wrote.

The proposal was revisited in 2007, and this time received an approving swipe of the pen.
Nominations are being sought through the end of October. A nominating committee will present three “commended poets” to Pawlenty in December. The governor will then name the poet laureate in a public ceremony.

We asked local poets and people in-the-know about who they would like to see as Minnesota’s preeminent poet.

Thom Tammaro, English professor, Minnesota State University Moorhead: Jim Moore, Patricia Hampl and Robert Bly, all of the Twin Cities, and Bill Holm of Minneota.
“These are people who have a long and dedicated history of being active in the poetry scene in Minnesota. I think they would certainly represent the position well,” Tammaro says.
“Each would probably have an interesting project that would help raise the profile of poetry and writing in general in the state.”

The Rev. Jamie Parsley, associate poet laureate of North Dakota and Episcopal priest: Robert Bly, Bill Holm and Mark Vinz of Moorhead.
“I think a poet laureate of any sort, if they’re of a particular state, really needs to represent that state in some way, shape or form, and also needs to further an appreciation for arts in that state,” Parsley says. “All three of those have done that in a way. ᅡナ You look at them and you think, ‘That’s Minnesota.’ ”

Anne Fredine, Moorhead Public Library director: Robert Bly, Mark Vinz and Thom Tammaro of Moorhead.
From the library’s perspective, Fredine said she thinks about whose works are often checked out or used in some way.
“Those three come to mind right away,” Fredine says. “I know that their books are well-used in the library.”

Greg Danz, owner, Zandbroz Variety: Mark Vinz, Bill Holm, Barton Sutter of Duluth, Minn., and Robert Bly.
Danz can also think of several good young poets in the state, such as Juliet Patterson of Minneapolis, but realizes the poet laureate likely needs to be someone with a longstanding reputation, such as the four he mentioned.
“I think part of being a poet laureate is being able to go out and promote ᅡナ just the ability to be engaging in public and a promoter of the literary arts.”

Mark Vinz, Moorhead, associate poet laureate of North Dakota: Robert Bly.
“The only poet laureate I could see for Minnesota would be Robert Bly. He has the stature; he’s certainly the senior poet in the state. I would be in favor of him. I’m not generally in favor of competitions between poets, but if there has to be one, I would say Robert Bly.”

Larry Woiwode, Mott, N.D., poet laureate of North Dakota since 1995: Louise Erdrich and Heid Erdrich, both of the Twin Cities (“Louise has said Heid is the better poet, but I don’t know. I really like Louise’s poetry, but Heid has a good wit.”), and Mark Vinz.

Woiwode is more than happy to welcome a neighboring poet laureate. After Pawlenty’s 2005 veto, Woiwode hosted a congress of standing poet laureates from across the U.S. He said it was unfortunate that one couldn’t simply cross the Red River to attend.

At that event, he read this passage that sums up the need for a state poet laureate:
“Most poets are rooted in the natural world, spokespersons for the inarticulate in nature, as well as the wordless desires of the common person -- or poets should be searching for words for those sides of the world. And most poets are committed politically, in one way or another, able to present their views in a memorable matrix of words; they can, in this function of their office, serve as a governing conscience of a gone-soft state.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter
Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525

Sunday, October 7, 2007

19 Pentecost

Oct. 7, 2007
All Saints Episcopal Church
Valley City, ND

Luke 17.5-10

“Increase our faith!” the apostles ask Jesus in today’s Gospel. And two thousand years later, we—Jesus disciples now—are still asking him to do that for us as well.

It’s an honest prayer. We want our faith increased. We want to believe more fully than we do. We want to believe in a way that will eliminate doubt. And we are afraid that with little faith and a lot of doubt, doubt will win out.

We are crying out to Jesus—like those first apostles—for more than we have. But Jesus—in that way that Jesus does—turns it all back on us. He tells us that we shouldn’t be worrying about increasing our faith. We should be concerned about the mustard seed of faith that we have right now.

Think of that for a moment. Think of what a mustard seed is. It’s one of the smallest things we can see. It’s a minuscule thing. It’s the side of a period at the end of a sentence or a dot on a lower-case i. It is that small.

Jesus tells us that with that little bit of faith—that small amount of real faith—we can tell a mulberry tree, “be uprooted and planted in the sea.” In other words, those of us who are afraid that a whole lot of doubt can overwhelm that little bit of faith have nothing to worry about. Because even a little bit of faith—even a mustard seed of faith—is more powerful than an ocean of doubt.

A little seed of faith is the most powerful thing in the world, because that tiny amount of faith will drive us and push us and motivate us to do incredible things. And doing those things, spurred on and nourished by that little bit of faith, does make a difference in the world.
But we do occasionally have to ask ourselves, “Why are we doing these things?” Because that is the real heart of today’s Gospel reading: Why are we doing what we do? Why do we do what we do as Christians? Are we coming to church on Sunday, or being kind to people, or praying, or attempting to live out our Gospel life of attempting to bring the Kingdom of God into our midst simply because we are looking for a reward? Are we doing the things we do as Christians simply because we believe there is someone somewhere marking down everything we do and hoping that, when the time comes, our good deeds will outweigh our bad and we can go to heaven? Or are we doing we are doing—attempting in whatever small ways we can—to bring the Kingdom of God into our lives and the lives of those around us—simply because Jesus tells us this is what we must do?

Because what we should be saying, when we live as Christians—when we love God and love each other as ourselves—“we’ve done only what we have ought to done.” And that is the message we take away from our Gospel reading.

We should, in some sense, live our Christianity without any sense of reward. We should do the good things in our lives blindly, mindlessly. Now, when I say mindlessly, I don’t mean stupidly, nor am I saying we should make ourselves dumb. I am using the word mindless here in the same sense that Buddhists would use that word. In Buddhism and in most forms of meditation, one of the instructions is to “clear one’s mind.” That’s what we should do as Christians. We should clear our minds of everything expect doing what we ought to do. We should do what we ought to do for the sole intention of doing good and not for the intention of receiving something in return for what we do.

Because the fact is, our place in the next world—our place in the heaven, with God—isn’t going to be guaranteed by the things we do. If it did, that might not be such a bad thing, really. I mean, certainly, we could almost expect that we would have a place. All we would have to do is go feed some needy people at the Salvation Army or at a soup kitchen. We could just go and give some money to the homeless. We could go and visit the sick, or act nice and friendly all the time and smile at people. We could go to church every Sunday and pray and fast and study the Bible. And all of those things are good things—things we SHOULD be doing.

But we sometimes have to reevaluate why we are doing those things. We have to face the fact sometimes that we do those things to help bring the Kingdom of God about in our midst, but we don’t do those things just because we think we are going to get a personal reward for them.
But then the big question does arise: what do we need to get to heaven? And the answer is not what we expect. It’s easy for us to think: the big things are what get us to heaven. The things other people can see—or the things God—way up there—can see. But the things that win us our salvation are the small things.

The thing that wins us our salvation is faith. And all it takes is faith the size of a mustard seed.
A few weeks ago, in one my classes at the University of Mary, we were discussing what it means to be a Christian. As I’ve preached here many times, I truly believe that what it means to be a Christian is to love God, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is what the Gospel is based on. Jesus is clear again and again: this is what salvation is based on. And certainly—when we look at these two factors—loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves—seem at one moment, gigantic and yet, at the same, miniscule.

As we were discussing this in class, the subject of the faith of one of the students—one of my favorite students—came up. This student, who has taken every course I teach, who has passed every one these courses with flying colors, has also been very honest about his faith: he is an atheist. He simply does not nor cannot believe in God. For him, there is not even a mustard seed of faith in God. For him, when he looks outward, at the world around him, he sees no God. And when he looks deep within him, he cannot imagine there being any God. And yet, this kid is one of most compassionate, nicest people you’ve ever met.

Now, of course, as I’ve just said, being nice isn’t going to get us into heaven. But, he does do one thing that can get us into heaven: He loves his neighbor as himself. He has worked hard to put himself through school and to work in the ambulance business. His reasons for working as an Emergency Technician are simple: he does it because he wants to help people, because he legitimately cares for people. He doesn’t do this for any personal reward—he certainly never brags about the work he does—and we are certain he does not do this job because he thinks he’s going to get a reward in heaven.

As we discussed the Great Commandments of loving God and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self, he piped up one night and said, “I get that last part—the neighbor part. That’s no problem for me. But it’s the first part I can get.”

I countered with this: “If you’re doing the second part—if you’re loving your neighbor as yourself—then you’re doing the first part too.”

“Excuse me?” he said. “What do you mean by that?”

I said, “You can’t do one without the other. You can’t love your neighbor as your self without loving God. And you can’t love God without loving your neighbor as yourself. If you are loving your neighbor as yourself, if you serving them out of love and nothing else, with no thought of reward, then you are love God as well. Because we truly do believe that in serving others, we are serving God.” And I can’t help but believe that God sees this as well.

This student’ faith might not be in what he considers a supernatural being, but it is in doing small things for others without any thought of reward. His faith in loving his neighbor as himself really is faith as well in the God, who dwells with us and in us. By loving his neighbor as himself—be acting out of that love—he is making a major difference in the world and, in his own way, is furthering the Kingdom of God in our midst.

And that is what we are truly called to do as Christians. That is what it means to be a Christian. That is what loving and loving our neighbor as ourselves does. It furthers the Kingdom of God in our midst.

Now, I understand that it’s very rare that a priest will ever get up and say, “look as this atheist as an example of how to help you increase your faith.” But I think God does work in that way sometimes. I have no doubt that God can increase our faith my any means necessary. I have no doubt that God can work even in the mustard-sized faith found deep within someone who claims to be an atheist. And if God can do that in the life and example of an atheist, imagine what God can do in your life—in you, who are a Christian.

So, cultivate that mustard-sized faith inside you. Don’t fret over how small it is. Don’t worry about weighing on the scale against the doubt in your life. Don’t despair over how small it is. Realize instead that even that mustard seed of faith within you can do incredible things in your life and those around you. And in doing those small things, without thought of a personal reward for yourself, you are bringing the Kingdom of God into our midst.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Feast of Edward Bouverie Pusey

Sept. 19, 2007
The Chapel of the Resurrection
Gethsemane Cathedral

In the Name of God, Father, + Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Yesterday was the Feast of Blessed Edward Bouverie Pusey. Although it was his good friend, John Keble, who started the so-called Oxford Movement in 1833 with a sermon he preached at Oxford University, Pusey became the leader of the movement that brought what we now call Anglo Catholicism to the Anglican Church.

For most of us, the issues of High Churchmanship and Low Churchmanship are hopefully no longer issues. But what Pusey and Keble and John Henry Newman proposed in their day—rife with anti-Roman Catholic sentiment—was considered radical.

And when Edward Pusey preached about his view of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, that’s when got himself into some deep trouble. In May of 1841, he preached a sermon at Oxford with the seemingly innocent title of The Holy Eucharist, a Comfort to the Penitent. This sermon—filled with his views that Jesus was truly and clearly present in the bread and wine—so incensed people that he was suspended from preaching for two years.

Of course, it backfired in those same authorities. The sermon was later published and it ended up selling 18,000 copies.

The fact is that what Pusey preached about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not radical, nor is it un-Anglican. But it is sometimes a good thing to ask ourselves: What do Anglicans believe concerning the Eucharist?

As we all know, Anglicans tend to have an ambivalent view toward many things and the Eucharist is no exception. As a result, Anglicans tend to hold a wide variety of differing views. Some prefer the more “low Church” definitions, in which Christ is truly present but not in any extraordinary way. The view here is similar to the Lutheran view of consubstantiation—in which the belief is that Christ is present with the bread and the wine. It is still bread, it is still wine, and Christ is present.

The Roman Catholic view is that of transubstantiation. It no longer bread or wine—it only appears to be so. For Roman Catholics, the Bread and the Wine have been transformed into the actual Body and Blood of Christ.

For us Anglicans—we don’t necessarily define the Eucharist in either way. We simply know that Christ is present in the Bread and the Wine, although we are wary of saying how or in what way.

I am currently reading the second volume of Book of V of Richard Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. In this book, Hooker gives voice to what most Anglicans believe when it comes to verbal or intellectual wranglings regarding Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. He writes,

“I wish that men would more give themselves to meditate in silence what we have by the sacrament and less to dispute of the manner how?”

I personally tend to echo those immortal words of one of my personal heroes, James Dekoven. Dekoven himself was somewhat of a radical when it came to battling the powers-that-be in the Church when it came to issues of the Eucharist. Dekoven said,

“You may take away from us if you will every external ceremony; you may take away altars, and superaltars, lights and incense and vestments, and we will submit to you. But… to adore Christ's Person in His Sacrament - that is the inalienable privilege of every Christian and Catholic heart. How we do it, the way we do it, the ceremonies with which we do it, are utterly, utterly indifferent. The thing itself is what we plead for.”

I have clung to those words and found deep consolation in them over the year. For me, the matter is very much like Edward Pusey believed.

I know beyond a doubt that Christ is present in the bread and wine at the Eucharist. And like Pusey, I believe the Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament in the ambry here or in the tabernacle, in a monstrance held up with a host in it. And I especially believe that Christ is present in the bread and the wine when we gather here at this altar to celebrate the Mass.

My faith in the fact that Christ is present in the Eucharist has sustained me many times over the years. I have found profound and deep comfort in being able to retire at several times during the day here, to this chapel, to this ambry here, where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. I enjoy the opportunity to enter into Christ’s very real and very potent Presence here. I enjoy those occasions, in which I can take the Body and Blood of Christ to parishioners and others who ask for it and are comforted and upheld by it. I take comfort in knowing that Christ’s physical presence is just that close that I can turn to Him in those moments and find Him near. And in those holy moments in which I spend adoring, contemplating or simply being in His presence, issues of transubstantiation, consubstantiation or any other doctrines simply vaporize. In those moments, it is only my knowledge and belief that I am in the presence of holiness, that I am in the presence of the One whom I serve, whom I love and whom I believe in profoundly is enough for me.

For me, to define that Presence, to attempt to articulate and quantify it is the equivalent of trying to pin a wave upon the shore. When I ponder it too deeply, I become distracted. When I think of it for more than a few moments, I find myself led astray from my devotions. When I attempt to explain my experience with the Eucharist Lord by the standards of those doctrines, I find myself turning away from Him and the gift of His Presence that He gives.

All I know in those moments, is that it is Christ is present. When I look upon that small round host, or that loaf of consecrated bread, I see Christ’s body. When I hold it aloft at the Mass and break it, I know that the answer to my prayer—“Lord, make yourself known to me in the breaking of the bread”—has truly and wonderfully been answered, because He does. He does make himself known in the breaking of the bread. Because He is there.

When I look into that chalice and I see that deep dark rich wine, I see Christ’s Precious Blood and I know that it is Him. And when I eat of that Body and drink of that Blood, I know that for that moment in my life, I am, in fact, truly “flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones,” as the great Bishop, John Jewel, once proclaimed.

Christ is present here. Christ comes to all of us in the bread and the wine that we consecrate here on this altar. So, take comfort in that belief. Come to the feast of this Mass, knowing that, in doing so, you come to partake in Christ’s presence, that you come partaking of His flesh and blood and that by doing so, you become his flesh and blood as well.

Christ is here. He is here for you. All we have to do is look and see and believe and taste.


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Feast of Blessed Paul Jones

The Feast of Blessed Paul JonesSept. 4, 2007
The Chapel of the Resurrection
Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral
Fargo, N.D.

John 8.31-32.
Today, we commemorate the feast of Paul Jones on the sixty-sixth anniversary of his death. Paul Jones was elected Bishop of Utah in 1914, just as World War I was breaking out. He did much as Bishop of Utah. He established preaching stations, he made others aware of what was then known as a missionary district.

But what he is best known for now, is not what he did as Bishop of Utah, but what he protested and spoke out against—namely war. In a speech in 1917, Bishop Jones did something few other people were doing at that time: he called war “unchristian.”

He went on to say, “Christians are not justified in treating the Sermon on the Mount as a scrap of paper."

Most of us no doubt shrug our shoulders when we hear that Bishop Jones protested the war. After all, we live in this post-Vietnam War era in which protesting war is just a part of out culture, whether we agree with it or not. But in 1918, protesting America’s involvement in war was considered unpatriotic and calling war unchristian was considered unbecoming of an Episcopal bishop. If fact, it was so scandalous, that Bishop Jones that, because of his statement, he was asked by the House of Bishops to resign, which he did, in the spring of 1918.

On resigning, he wrote, “I believe that the methods of modern international war are quite incompatible with the Christian principles of reconciliation and brotherhood, and that it is the duty of a Bishop of the Church, from his study of the word of God, to express himself on questions of righteousness, no matter what opinion may stand in the way."

Bishop Jones, whether you agree with his position on war or not, is still a great example for all of us Christians. He stood up for his convictions and lived by them no matter what anyone else thought. He truly lived out the words of Jesus from our Gospel reading this evening—

“If you hold to my teaching, you are my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
He lived out to those words and that conviction to be a disciple of Christ, even to the point of stepping down from a position to which he felt called.

Occasionally, in our lives, we must live out the words of Jesus from tonight’s Gospel much as Bishop Jones did. We, as Christians, are called to know the truth and in knowing the truth, we know that the truth is truly freeing.

For Paul Jones, he knew the truth. For him, he could not reconcile the fact that one can still fight in a war and be a Christian. He did not feel that one can truly love God and love one’s neighbor as one’s self and still condone war. For Bishop Jones, this was the ultimate truth. And although he had to give up everything, he lived his life in truth to himself.

Paul Jones is ultimately an example to all of us for two reasons. On one hand, he represents in a powerful way that Christians who are pacifists should be respected for their views. It is easy to see war as unchristian. There is nothing beautiful about war. And for those people who have been through war, they know how horrible unchristian it can be. The fact is, whenever war breaks out in the world, we as Christians need to examine ourselves and our convictions deeply before we either condone or condemn the actions of that war. We need to return to the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ blessing of the peacemakers, and we need to return to the commandments of loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. I’m not saying we should all be pacifists. I think there is such thing as a justified war. But I do believe any decisions we as Christians make about war need to be made with prayerfulness, deliberation and keeping intact our faith in Christ who calls to love not hate, to peace not violence, to life not death.

Paul Jones is an example for a second reason: He lived out his Christian convictions deeply and thoroughly, against great odds. And just because society at that time condemned him for his views, in the long run, he has prevailed. When we look at the Bishops who were seated in the House of Bishops in 1918, we probably don’t remember many of them now. We certainly don’t commemorate them as saints. But here we have Paul Jones. 66 years after his death, we are commemorating him and discussing him still. In this time of war, many Christians look to him as one of the many pacifists who paved the way for them to be able to speak out against war. And for all of us, Paul Jones helps instill in us the courage to stand up for our convictions, no matter how unpopular they may seem by society as a whole.

And even there, we find a lesson for all of us: God can take a perceived defeat, like being forced to resign as Bishop, and can use that defeat as an ultimate triumph. That is a wonderful lesson for us as well. Even our failures can be turned to God’s ultimate glory in the end.

So, let us remember Bishop Paul Jones and let us do him honor by standing up for the Truth. Like Bishop Jones, hold to the teachings of Christ as you see them and as you live them out in your life. And know that the Truth of those convictions in Christ will, without doubt, set you free.

3 Pentecost

  June 26, 2022   1 Kings 19.15-16,19-21; Galatians 5.1,13-25; .Luke 9:51-62   + I don’t want to toot my own horn, but for any of y...