Thursday, July 30, 2015

It is well with my soul

Uptown Gallery reading

I will be reading tonight at the Uptown Gallery in Fargo (74 Broadway) at the North Dakota Humanities Council Social/Friendraiser.  Mark Vinz will also be reading. 5:00 to 7:30 pm (the reading begins about 5:30). Join us for what will no doubt prove to be a fun night of poetry, art,  food and drink.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

9 Pentecost

July 26, 2015

2 Kings 4.42-44; John 6.1-21

+ Now, as most of you know, it’s very rare—very, very rare—that I ever preach on sin. I don’t do it very often—and when I do, I usually do it during Lent. Because I have to.

But today, I’m going to preach a little bit on a sin. I know I shouldn’t. It’s a baptism Sunday, after all. But, don’t worry; it’s not going to be one of THOSE sermons about sin.

I’m going to preach about a little known sin—a sin we don’t think about often.  I’m going to preach about gluttony. Gluttony is a good sin to examine occasionally. It’s a nice safe, sin, compared to some of the other sins.  After all we, in our society, don’t think about gluttony as a sin.

Why would we? We, after all, love to eat. We HAVE to eat, after all.  There’s no getting around that fact.

But gluttony is more than just about eating.  It is about eating to excess.  It is about eating—or drinking—to the point in which we are no longer fulfilled.  Gluttony is eating without thinking about eating.  It is about eating to fill the psychological and spiritual voids we feel within us rather than for sustenance.

Sometimes we eat not because we’re hungry. We eat because we feel empty spiritually, psychologically, emotionally. And food does a pretty good job of filling that emptiness—at least for a short period of time.  Most of us eat not when we’re hungry, but simply out of habit. Yes, we find that when have missed our habitual time to eat, our stomachs start to grumble and we find ourselves thinking inordinately about food, but that isn’t hunger necessarily.

In fact, few, if any, of us know what real hunger is.  Few of us have actually ever starved.  And that’s a good thing.  I am happy about that fact.

The point I’m making, however, is that most of us simply eat because we are scheduled to eat at certain times. It’s sort of wired into us. But we very rarely eat just because we’re hungry.  And we often eat more than we really need to.

Eating feels good. Eating makes us feel sustained and comforted.  And in those moments in our lives when we might need to feel sustained and comforted, food is a great replacement.  I’ve learned, that most of us probably could survive very well and very healthily from less food than we actually consume.

The spiritual perspective I’ve gained from this different way of thinking about food has been even more enlightening. To be honest, I had never given much thought to the fact that eating is a spiritual act.  For me, the best way to look at spiritual eating is in the light of that one event that holds us together here at St. Stephen’s, that sustains us and that, in many ways, defines us.  I am, of course, speaking of the Holy Eucharist—Holy Communion.

You have heard me say it many times before and you will hear me say it many times again, no doubt, but I am very firm believer in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, in the bread and wine.   I truly believe that Jesus is present in a very real and potent way in this Bread we eat and in this Wine we drink.  Like any good Anglican, I am uncomfortable pinpointing exactly how this happens; I simply say that I believe it and that my belief sustains me.

With this view of the Eucharist in mind, it does cast a new light on our view of spiritual eating. Just as I said that we often eat food each day without thinking much about why we are eating, so too I think we often come to this table without much thought of what we are partaking of here at this altar.  I have found, in my own spiritual life, that preparing for this meal we share is very helpful.  It helps to remind me of the beauty and importance of this event we share.

One of the ways I find very helpful in preparing is that I fast before Holy Communion.  Fasting is a good thing to do on occasion, yes, even outside of Lent.  And there is a long tradition in the Church of fasting before receiving Communion.   Sometimes, especially before the Wednesday night Eucharist we celebrate at St. Stephen’s, we can’t fast all day before our 6:00 Mass, but in those instances, it’s usually not too hard to fast at least one hour beforehand.  Even that one hour of fasting—of making sure that I don’t eat anything and don’t drink anything but water, really does help put us in mind of the importance of the Eucharist we share and the food we eat in general.

For me, on Sundays, my fast begins the night before.  I simply don’t eat anything after midnight the night before.  For some of us, this wouldn’t be a wise thing to do, especially if you have health issues. You can’t fast if you have diabetes or some other issue.  But still I think even keeping to a simplified fast of eating just a bit less in the morning before coming to the Eucharist is helpful for most.

If nothing else, these fasts are great, intentional ways of making us more spiritually mindful of what we doing here at the altar ad fo the food we eat in our lives.   And it also gives us a very real way of being aware of those millions of people in the world who, at this moment, truly are starving, who are not able to eat, and for whom, fasting would be an extraordinary luxury.

Our scriptures give us some interesting perspectives on eating as well.  In today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we find Elisha feeding the people.  We hear this wonderful passage, “He set it before them, they ate and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.” It’s a deceptively simple passage from scripture.

In our Gospel reading, we find almost the same event.  Jesus—in a sense the new Elisha—is feeding miraculously the multitude.  For us, these stories resonate in what we do here at the altar.  

What we partake of here at this altar is essentially the same event.  Here Jesus feeds us as well.  Here there is a miracle.  Here, we find Jesus—the new Elisha—in our midst, feeding us.  And we eat.  And there is some left over.

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

This beautifully basic act—of eating and drinking—is so vital to us as humans and as Christians.  But being sustained spiritually in such a way is beyond beautiful or basic.  It is miraculous.  And as with any miracle, we find ourselves oftentimes either humbled or blind to its impact in our lives.

This simple act is not just a simple act.  It is an act of coming forward, of eating and drinking, and then of turning around and going out into the world to feed others.  To feed others on what we have learned by this Food that sustains us.  Of serving others by example.  Of being that living Bread of Jesus to others.

The Eucharist not simply a private devotion between us and Jesus.  Yes, it is a wonderfully intimate experience.  But it is more than that.  The Eucharist is what we do together.  And the Eucharist is something that doesn’t simply end when we get back to our pews or leave the Church building.  

The Eucharist is what we carry with us throughout our day-to-day lives as Christians.  The Eucharist is being empowered to be agents of the incarnation.  We are empowered by this Eucharist to be the Body of Christ to others.  And that is where this whole act of the Eucharist comes together.  It’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.

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

So, let us be aware of this beauty that comes so miraculously to us each time we gather together here at this altar.  Let us embody the Christ we encounter here in this Bread and Wine.  Let us, by being fed so miraculously, be the Body of Christ to others.  Let us feed those who need to be fed.  Let us sustain those who need to be sustained.  And let us be mindful of the fact that this food of which we partake has the capabilities to feed more people and to change more lives than we can even begin to imagine.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

8 Pentecost

July 19, 2015

Jeremiah 23.1-6; Psalm 23; Mark 6.30-34, 53-56

+ We’re going to see how closely you paid attention to the scripture readings this morning. Don’t you just love it when your priest starts out the sermon like this? OK, so without looking at your bulletin: if there was a theme to our scripture reading what would it be? And there is, most definitely, a theme.

Shepherding is the theme.

Today we are getting our share of Shepherd imagery in the Liturgy of the Word.  In the reading from the Hebrew Bible, we get Jeremiah giving a warning to the shepherds who destroy and scatter, and on the other, a promise of shepherds who will truly shepherd, without fear or dismay.

In our psalm, we have the old standard, Psalm 23, that has consoled us and upheld us through countless funerals and other difficult times in our lives.

Finally, we have our Gospel reading, in which Jesus has compassion on the people who were like sheep without a shepherd.

Certainly shepherds are one of the most prevalent occupations throughout scripture.  And because we hear about them so often, I think we often take the occupation for granted.  We don’t always fully take into account the meaning shepherds had for the writers of these books or even for ourselves. Shepherds have been there from almost the beginning.

The first shepherd is, of course, Adam and Eve’s son, Abel.  And throughout scripture, the shepherd has been held up as an example—both good and bad.  Certainly the reason shepherds were used as examples as they were was because it was a profession most people of that time and in that place would have understood.  People would have understood the importance of the shepherd in sustaining the flock, in caring for the flock and leading and helping the flock.  And when it came time for a King among the Hebrew people, the ideal was always as a kind of shepherd. In fact, the first truly God-anointed King was not the arrogant and jealous Saul, but the humble shepherd David.  And always a good king was always referred to as a shepherd of the people.  Even God was referred to the Shepherd of Israel.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus again uses the image of a shepherd because he knows that his hearers will understand this important image.  He refers to himself as the Good Shepherd and he commends his followers to be good shepherds to those they serve.  So, shepherding is not something taken lightly in scripture.

But, shepherds in our day don’t mean what they did in those days.  Most of us have probably never even met a shepherd and, to be honest, I am not even certain there are shepherds anymore in this industrialized age of electric tagging of animals and night-vision monitoring.  So, how does the image of the shepherd have meaning for us—citified people that we are? For us, we find that  Jesus shares his presence with us here in our liturgy—in how we worship—as a shepherd would share with his flock.

The great Anglican theologian Reginald Fuller said “Christ still performs the function of shepherding in the liturgy.”

I love that. And I think that’s very true.

In the first part of the liturgy—in the liturgy of the word in which we hear the scriptures—Jesus teaches the flock through his word, “which Mark emphasizes as an essential function of the shepherd.”

In the second half of the liturgy—the Eucharist, the celebration of partaking of the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Bread and Wine—Jesus “prepares a banquet for the flock” (which reminds us what we find in our Psalm). To take this image one step further, the Shepherd not only feeds the flock bread and wine. In our case, with Jesus, he actually feeds us with himself.  He feeds us his own Body and his own Blood, knowing that anything else will not sustains us, will not keep us going for long.  The Good Shepherd cares just that much for us—that he feeds us with his very self—with his Body and with his Blood.

So, essentially Jesus is the host at this dazzling, amazing banquet that we celebrate here on Sundays.  And ultimately what happens in our Eucharistic liturgy is that we find Jesus the Shepherd feeding us and sustaining us so that we can go from here fed and sustain to feed and sustain others.  Here, in what we are partaking of, we are experiencing the Shepherd in a beautiful and wonderful way.  We are receiving all that the Shepherd promises, so that w can go out be shepherds ourselves to those who need us.  He sets the example for us.

What we do here on Sundays is not some insular, private, secret little ceremony done just for our own personal sake.  Yes, we are sustained personally here.  But it’s not all about just us.  What happens here in this banquet is an event that has the potential to bring about that very Kingdom of God in our midst.  It opens the world up so that the Kingdom can break through.

Fed, we feed.

Sustained, we sustain.

Served, we can then serve.

Dazzled by this incredible event in our lives, we then, bearing within us a bit of that dazzling presence, can dazzle others.

I am often very fond of telling people that the Eucharist is the one things that sustains me more than any other in my life.  People who do not particulate in this incredible event don’t understand. But for those of us who do partake, who do come every Sunday (and on Wednesdays, here at St. Stephen’s), know exactly what that means. When we are weak, when we are beaten down, when we are pursued by the wolves of our lives, we find sustenance here at the altar, in this dazzling Presence of Jesus.  When are wearied by the strain and exhaustion of our everyday worlds, we have the opportunity to come to the dazzling, over-the-top celebration of all our senses in the     liturgy that sustains each of us and delights our senses.  

And when we return to those worlds, we still have work to do. We too will have to leave the joy we find our worship and face all that we have to face in the world.  We have to go out face our jobs, our broken relationships, our ungrateful families, the prejudice and homophobia and sexism and racism and fundamentalism and violence of that seemingly at-times unpleasant world.

But we do so with this experience we have here within us.  We face the unshepherded world shepherded.

“I will raise up shepherds,” The Lord says in our reading from Jeremiah today. “and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.” That hope is what we carry with us as we go forward from here. We are the shepherds that are raised us. And we, and those we serve, shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any of us be missing because of our Great Shepherd. Amen.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

7 Pentecost

July 12, 2015

Amos 7.7-15; Ephesians 1.3-14; Mark 6.14-29

+ When I was a kid, there was a term that we could use against one another that really got us at our core. I don’t know why this word did that to us. It’s a pretty innocent term.  But it did.

The word was—“chicken.”

If we wavered, if we lost heart, that word, “chicken” was hurled at us with force.

“Stop being so chicken!”

“Ah, Parsley chickened out!”

Even now, after all these years, I have to admit: the word still holds some weight. It can provoke me.

And this past week, I found myself chickening out a bit. The sermon I preached last week was one of those sermons I found kind of pressed the edges a bit. And actually, I was pretty subdued in what I said about the Episcopal Church approving marriage equality for all people, and the Diocese of North Dakota continuing to not allow it. I also preached about prophecy.

Still, I chickened out a little bit by holding off for a day or two in posting my sermon on my blog because I thought of all the ramifications that might come with such a  sermon.

So, after getting my wrists slapped a few times, I have to say: I have been cautious.

But then, I realized something: you know what?  Why chicken out? What the Episcopal Church has done is good. It has put its money where its mouth is. IT has not chickened out.  And I’m not going to either.

It is not the time to chicken out. For any of us to chicken out.  As I have preached again and again from this pulpit over the years, the Church is changing. It is changing.

Years ago many of us who were saying it. And for those of who were then, guess what? Prophecy.  And that prophecy is being fulfilled.

But as I mentioned last week and I will repeat this week, prophecy is not always a fun and enjoyable thing. Prophecy is not for chickens.

Look at our Gospel reading for today. Poor John the Baptist.  He paid the price for his prophecies. But he certainly did not chicken out. And many of us fear the ramifications of those who do not like the fact that the prophecies of change are coming true.

But for those who standing in the way of this overwhelming change, there’s no denying the fact. The change is happening.  And it needs to happen. It’s like an avalanche coming down the mountain.

Because this change shows that to be a follower of Jesus in this world means that we have to be looking ahead.  We have to be looking into the future.  A future in which all people in this church are treated equally and fairly.  We have to be visionaries.  And we have to be prophets.

We have to exploring new ways to be those followers of Jesus in this day and age. Being a follower of Jesus means being people of change.  Being a follower of Jesus means we are constantly looking for new ways to live out that radical following after Jesus. Being a follower of Jesus means that we are constantly looking for new ways to be radical in our acceptance of all people.

Because that is exactly what Jesus did.

What we see happening in our Church right now is a kind of fulfillment of what Paul talks about in his Epistle this morning to the Ephesians:

“With all wisdom and insight,” Paul writes, “[God] has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

Isn’t it amazing how that scripture speaks to us? And it’s true.  God has made known to us the mystery of this incredible will of God, to gather up all things in Christ, things here on this earth and things in heaven.

Later in on our reading today, Paul talks  about our inheritance as followers of Jesus and as Children of God.  This Gospel of our salvation is, for Paul, “the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people…” We, all of us—no matter who we are—are inheritors. And because we are, all of us, no matter who are, are Children of the same God.  As a children of that God, we are co-inheritors.

Now, again, that’s not new to us here at St. Stephen’s. We have been proclaiming this here at St. Stephen’s all along.  And it is good to know that the larger Church is proclaiming this and is working toward the goal of being that kind of a Church—being a fulfillment of that scripture.

Of course, not everyone agrees in the same way about what being inheritors of the Kingdom is.  But, that’s the way it is going to be sometime with prophets in our midst.  Sometimes the prophecies are heeded and proclaimed and sometimes they, sadly, are resisted.

Our job as followers of Jesus is not vilify those who think differently than we do.  Those who may oppose us and scold us and punish us for what we are doing are not our enemies. They are, after all, our fellow co-inheritors.  They’re just more jealous of their inheritance than some of the rest of us.

For me, I am have no problem sharing my inheritance with everyone.  And I think many of us this morning feel that way.  Our job is continue to do what we have always done—to joyfully love and accept everyone in love, even those with whom we differ.  Our job as followers of Jesus and inheritor’s of God’s Kingdom is to continue to welcome every person who comes to us as a loved and fully accepted Child of that same God.  Our job is to be radical in our love and acceptance of others, no matter who they are.  And our job as followers of Jesus is to see every person who comes to us as Jesus sees that person.

And Jesus sees those people—and all of us—as loved.  Loved fully and completely by God.

This is not easy to do.  It is not easy being a prophet—of proclaiming God’s Good News to others.  Sometimes we might even find ourselves tempted to resist this weighty calling of ours.

Certainly, in our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures today, we find Amos resisting his call to be a prophet. He kind of chickens out.

Amos says, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people…”

I love that scripture. Because it is speaking to each and every one of us.  Here we are, in our jobs, in our day-to-day lives. We’re essentially “following the flock.”

And God is calling each of us to prophesy to God’s people.  To prophesy this radical love and acceptance.  To prophesy the fact that we when we love each other and accept each other, the Kingdom of God that each of us as children of God are inheritors of, will break through into our midst.

You have heard me say this again and again: I believe that an effective leader must first be an effective follower.  And as Christians, who are followers of Jesus, we also must, in turn, be leaders to each other and to others.  Each of us must be leaders and prophets to those we are called to serve.

We of course have a choice.  We can be despotic leaders who use and abuse and mistreat the power we have and the people we are called to serve.

Or we can be humble leaders as Jesus himself was a humble leader—a leader who realizes that to be an effective leader one must serve.

In those moments it’s helpful to have coping skills to get us through the journey—and to do so without disrespecting or hurting those we encounter on the journey.

So, let us cling to this prophetic ideal of leadership.  Let us be the prophet, the listener, the spiritual friend, the inheritor, the seeker, the includer, the loved child of God.  Let us be the visionary to see that change is truly happening.

Change is happening.  It’s happening right now. Right here. It is so close. Change is in the air.  Change for the better.  Change for a revitalized Church built on love and respect for God and for each other.  It is not the time to chicken out. It is not the time to bow to pressure.  It is not a time to compromise, or to rest on our laurels.  It is time to keep on working, to keep on standing up for who we are, to keep on being prophets, to keep on furthering the Kingdom of God in our midst.

Because, look! It’s so close. It’s right there, just within our grasp.  Despite all the work we still have to do, it’s almost too incredible to even imagine.

I almost can’t wait for it anymore…


Sunday, July 5, 2015

6 Pentecost

July 5, 2015

Ezekiel 2.1-5; 2 Corinthians 12.2-10; Mark 6. 1-13

+ It’s been an interesting couple of weeks, to say the very least. Last week I had a sermon all prepared, of course, following the Supreme Court’s decision a week ago Friday on Marriage Equality. Since then, the Episcopal Church has approved liturgy that essentially approves the same thing.

It was a great day for all Episcopalians, not just GLBT Episcopalians. Certainly, for all of us who work for the full-inclusion of all people in our church, this was very good.

However, for some of us, that joy was a bit muted. Those of us Episcopalians here in North Dakota knew that such reforms would probably not be accepted here. And that is just the way it is, sadly.

But as muted as our joy may be, we can still rejoice.  We can rejoice in the fact that, what was once a minority opinion has become a majority opinion.

When Bishop Michael was here about a month ago, in his sermon on sin, he gave a great analogy on how, with sin, the war is won but a few battles may still continue. He then shared the example of those Japanese soldiers on isolated islands who never heard the news of the end of the war and so continued on fighting. When he shared that analogy, I, of course, thought of that episode of Gilligan’s Island in which the great character actor Vito Scotti played a Japanese solider who did not know the war had ended some twenty years later.

Well, it’s the same with this situation. The war that waged regarding marriage quality in the Episcopal Church is over.  There will still be a few hold-outs, but they are few and far-between. And that is the way it is.

Now for many of us, we never thought even this day would come. I remember when I first started my path to the priesthood, way back sixteen years ago. Back then, what has happened in the Episcopal Church seemed like a pipe dream. The majority of priests and bishops I knew at that time were not supportive of anything like what the Episcopal Church just approved, nor were they too supportive or too patient with people who might support that view.

In fact, back then, it was dangerous at times to speak too loudly on this issue. It could (and was) be brought up as a reason for a person not be ordained.

I, for one, felt very much like mine was a minority opinion back then.  I most
definitely felt outnumbered. I even had close friends of mine who were appalled when they heard I was going into the priesthood of the Episcopal Church. Why, they wondered would you wanted to be part of an oppressive organization? (A lot of my friends were a bit anarchistic by the way)

But, I believed then that things would change. And, look, they have. And you know what: they will in North Dakota too one day. There’s no doubt on that.

Call it prophecy. Call it what you will, but as sure as I’m standing here, that day is coming.  And if we have to be patience a bit longer, if we have to wait it out a bit longer, we will. Because compared to what we’ve gone through already, this is nothing.

Ok, maybe I shouldn’t through that whol prophecy thing around too much.  I don’t know about you, but the whole concept of prophets puts me a bit on edge.  Prophets almost seem to be like some kind of psychic or fortune teller.  They see things and know things we “normal” people don’t see or know.  They are people with vision.  They have knowledge the rest of us don’t.

Now, to be fair, prophets aren’t psychics or fortune tellers.  Psychics or fortune tellers tend to be people who believe they have some kind of special power that they were often born with. According to the basis of prophecy we find in our reading today from Ezekiel, prophets aren’t born.  Prophets are picked by God and instilled with God’s Spirit.  The Spirit enters them and sets them on their feet. And when they are instilled with God’s Spirit, they don’t just tell us our fortunes. They don’t just do some kind of psychic mumbo jumbo to tell us what our futures are going to be or what kind of wealth we’re going to have or who our true love is.  

What they tell us isn’t just about us as individuals.  Rather, the prophet tells us things about all of us we might not want to hear.  They stir us up, they provoke us, they jar us. Maybe that’s why I find the idea of prophets so uncomfortable.  And that’s what we dislike the most about them.  We don’t like people who make us uncomfortable.  We don’t like people who stir us up, who provoke us, who jar us out of our complacency.  

Prophets come into our lives like lightning bolts and when they strike, they explode like electric sparks.  They shatter our complacency to pieces.  They shove us.  They push us hard outside the safe box in which we live and they leave us bewildered.

Prophets, as much as they are like us, are also unlike us as well.  The Spirit has transformed these normal people into something else.  And this is what we need from our prophets.  

After all, we are certain about our ideas of God.  We, in our complacency, think we know God—we know what God thinks and wants of us.  Prophets, touched as they are by the Spirit of God in that unique way, frighten us because what they convey to us about God is sometimes something very different than we thought we knew about God.  The prophet is not afraid to say to us: “You are wrong. You are wrong in what you think about God and about what you think God is saying to you.”

Nothing makes us angrier than someone telling us we’re wrong—especially about God. And that is the reason we sometimes refuse to recognize the prophet. We reject them because they know how to reach deep down within us, to that one sensitive place inside us and they know how to press just the right button that will cause us to react.  

And the worse prophet we can imagine is not the one who comes to us from some other place.  The worse prophet is not the one who comes to us as a stranger.  The worse prophet we can imagine is the one who comes to us from our own neighborhood—from the midst of us.  The worse prophet is the one whom we’ve known.  

We knew them before the Spirit of God’s prophecy descended upon them.  And now, they have been transformed with this knowledge of God.  They are different.  These people we know, that we saw in their inexperience, are now speaking as a conduit of God’s Voice.  When someone we know begins to say and do things they say God tells them to do, we find ourselves becoming very defensive very quickly.

Certainly, we can understand why people in Jesus’ hometown had such difficulty in accepting him. The fact is, we too sometimes have difficulty in accepting Jesus as who he says he is. We, rational people that we are, try to explain away who he was and what he did.  And we sometimes try to explain away who he is and what he continues to do in our lives.  And probably the hardest aspect of Jesus’ message to us is the simple fact that he, in a very real sense, calls us and empowers us to be prophets as well.

As Christians, we are called to be a bit different than others.  We are transformed in some ways by the Spirit’s presence in our lives.  In a sense, Jesus empowers us with his Spirit to be conduits of that Spirit to others.  If we felt uncomfortable about others being prophets, we’re even more uncomfortable about being prophets ourselves.  Being a prophet, just like hearing the prophet, means we must shed our complacency. If our neighbor as the prophet frightens us and irritates us, we ourselves being the prophet is even more frightening and irritating. Empowered by this spirit of prophecy, oftentimes what we say or do seems crazy to others.  

The Spirit of prophecy we received from Christ seems a bit unusual to those people around us.

Loving those who hate us or despise us?

Being peaceful—in spirit and action—in the face of overwhelming violence or anger?

To side with the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized when it is much easier and more personally pleasing to be with the wealthy and powerful?

To welcome all people as equals, who deserve the same rights we have, even if might not really—deep down—think of them as equals?

To actually see the Kingdom of God breaking through in instances when others only see failure and defeat?

That is what it means to be a prophet. Being a porpeht has nothing to do with our own sense of comfort. It has nothing to do with our sense of what is “right.” Being a prophet means seeing and sensing and proclaiming that Kingdom of God—and God’s sense of what is right.  

For us, as Christians, that is what we are to do—we are to strive to see and proclaim the Kingdom.  We are to help bring that Kingdom forth and when it is here, we are to proclaim us in word and in deed.  Because when that Spirit comes upon us, we become a community of prophets, proclaiming together the Kingdom of God.

We who have been granted the grace of the Holy Spirit, as we prayed in today’s collect, find ourselves compelled to be devoted to God with our whole heart and “united to one another with pure affection.” Being a prophet in our days is more than just preaching doom and gloom to people.  It’s more than saying to people: “repent, for the kingdom of God is near!”

Being a prophet in our day is being able to recognize injustice and oppression in our midst and to speak out about them. Being a prophet means we’re going to press people’s buttons.  And when we do, let me tell you by first-hand experience, people are going to react. We need to be prepared to do that, if we are to be prophets in this day an age.

But we can’t be afraid to do so.  We need to continue to speak out.  We need to continue to be the prophets who have visions of how incredible it will be when that Kingdom of God breaks through into our midst and transforms us. We need to keep striving to welcome all people, to strive for the equality and equal rights of all people in this church.

So, let us proclaim the Kingdom of God in our midst with the fervor of prophets.  Let us proclaim that Kingdom without fear—without the fear of rejection from those who know us.  Let us truly be content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities “for the sake of Christ,” knowing full well in that paradoxical way that is the way of Christ that whenever we are weak, we are strong.


Friday, July 3, 2015

The Memorial Service for Jared Fahey

Memorial Service for
Jared Matthew Fahey
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church
July 3, 2015

None of us want to be here this afternoon. This is not how it is supposed to be. We should not here, mourning the loss of a thirty-seven year old man—a son, a brother, a grandson, a nephew, an uncle, a friend.  

What most of us are asking, no doubt, this morning is “why?” This “Why” is probably the deepest and most honest prayer we can pray.  And the answer to this prayer is not clear to us.

There is no easy answer to the question. I wish I could give an easy answer.

All I know is this: What Jared—and those who knew him and loved him—had to endure and live with was an illness. A life-threatening, destructive illness, just as lethal, just as vile as cancer.  That illness was depression.  And for someone like Jared, who was so ultra-sensitive, who was so brilliant, who was so unique, this world and everything about it could seem at times like a cruel and terrible place. 

When one is so ultra-sensitive, one has to find ways to protects oneself. Often the best way is so isolate. To become a loner. To turn away from family and friends and God, because dealing with all those things becomes too much.

Still, we realize there is no answer to the question.  One would think that, by now, we would have answer. Why would things like this happen?  But we don’t.

What we can do, however, is cling to whatever faith we have. And in these moments, this faith can keep us afloat.

Jared was vocal often in these last years of his disbelief.  He did not consider himself a Christian. He was a self-declared atheist. I am one of those rare Christians who actually has a deep and abiding respect for atheists. I have lots of them in my life. And I love them dearly. I understand how easy it is to be one. I mean, let’s face it: it is easy to look into the void and see nothing.  It’s actually sometimes very hard to believe, to be a Christian, to do all the things Christians are told to do.

But because I know so many atheists, I also don’t worry about them or the loss of their souls.  I know that for many Christians, his declaration of atheism is tantamount to saying that Jared turned his back on Christ. But for us, for us Episcopalians, we can take hope in the overriding fact that: Just because any of us may turn our backs on Christ, Christ never turns his back on us. Christ is with us even when we don’t want Christ with us.

I looked back at the records of St. Stephen’s and found that Jared was baptized right here at St. Stephen’s, in the very font we passed as we came in today. He was baptized here on Feb. 5, 1978. I can tell you this:  On that, in this church, in that font, something incredible happened. It might not have seemed like much to anyone looking on. It might have seemed like a quaint little ritual, with some water and some nice words.

But what happened there, in those waters, in this church, on that day was important.  When Jared was baptized, he was marked with the sign of the Cross.  We say when we mark the newly baptized with the sign of the Cross, that the newly baptized is sealed by the Holy Spirit and “marked at Christ’s own forever.”

At his baptism, Jared was truly marked as Christ’s own forever.  It was something that could never be taken away from him.  That relationship that was formed at his baptism has been there throughout his entire life, whether he was fully aware of it or not, whether he wanted it or not.  

Christ never turned away from Jared. Not once, never, in all of those years. And if you asked me where God was last Monday, I can tell you. Christ was right there with him, right besides Jared, even despite that darkness that was encroaching upon him, even despite the depression, which had reached its inevitable breaking point.  Christ was there with him that day. And I have no doubt that Christ welcomed him and that the first words Christ said to Jared were words of love and consolation and welcome.

In a few moments, we will all pray the same words together.  As we commend Jared to Christ’s loving and merciful arms, we will pray,

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

It is easy for us to say those words without really thinking about them. But those are not light words. Those are words that take on deeper meaning for us now than maybe at any other time. Where Jared is now—in those caring and able hands of Christ—there is no sorrow or pain. There is no sighing.  But there is life eternal.

There is no more darkness in Jared’s life. There is no more depression.  There are no more tears in his eyes.

For us, who are left behind, it isn’t as easy. We will shed many more tears for Jared in the days and weeks and years ahead.  But we can take consolation in all of this.  Because we know that Jared and all our loved ones have been received into Christ’s arms of mercy, into Christ’s “blessed rest of everlasting peace.”

This is what we cling to on a day like today. This is where we find our strength.  This what gets us through.

No, we might not have the answer we want to our question of Why. But we do know that—despite the pain and the frustration, despite the sorrow we all feel—somehow, in the end, Christ is with us and Christ is with Jared and that makes all the difference.

For Jared, sorrow and pain are no more.  Rather, Jared has life eternal. And that is what awaits all of us as well.

We might not be able to say “Alleluia” with any enthusiasm today.  But we can find a glimmer of light in the darkness of this day. And in that light is Christ, and in that light Christ is holding Jared firmly to himself.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Memorial Service for John Hagensen

The Memorial Service for
John Hagensen
(June 19, 1957-June 27, 2015)
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church Fargo, ND
Thursday  July 2, 2015

+ It is a real honor for me to be doing this service this afternoon. As most of you, John was my cousin. Actually, I think we were second cousins, but that doesn’t matter.  I actually didn’t know him all that well until a couple of years. Around the time his mother, my great-aunt Florence died, we had several deep talks. 

I really enjoyed talking with him at that time. We had some great, very in-depth discussions. I don’t think I need to tell anyone here this afternoon that John was….intense.  And those conversations were certainly intense.

One of the things he talked about was the deep faith he had, despite all the things that had happened in his life.  And he talked about his belief that God was, in the end, always good to him.

About a week and a half ago, I went up to see John at Sanford. He wasn’t able to talk because of the tube, and I didn’t want to stay too long because I knew he tired easily. But when I asked him if he wanted me to pray with him, he very enthusiastically nodded. And when I asked him if he would like to be anointed with holy oil, again he nodded.  As I prayed with him and his daughter Britany that day, I was felt that sense of faith in God. And it was a good thing.

So, I am very honored to be here.  I am very honored to be able to help all of us say goodbye to John.  But, I’ll be honest. Even despite the fact that he had been ill for some time, even despite the fact he knew he probably wouldn’t make it through this last bout, it’s still hard to take it all in.

I think many of us feel that way today.  How is it that John is no longer around, somewhere? We are definitely feeling a gap in our lives now that he is no longer with us.  I know these last years were particularly difficult for him, health-wise.  I think the more limited he became physically, the more frustrated he became. For many of us who have suffered from debilitating illnesses, we know what that frustration is like. Those physical limitations, let me tell you, are very hard.  And we now how, as much as we depend upon these mortal bodies, they can also become kind of prisons for us at times.  For those of us who have felt that our bodies have turned against us, we feel a certain sense of betrayal. I think John would’ve understood that sense of betrayal of his body. He would’ve understood that that body of his betrayed him. He would understand how that body of his became a kind for cross for him to bear.

And John knew a few crosses in his life. He bore his share of crosses.  

For that reason, if you notice, there is a crucifix by his urn. 30 years ago in April, my great-aunt Florence gave me that crucifix when I was confirmed (she was my sponsor). When she died in 2012, that same crucifix was on top of her casket. And today, that same crucifix is here with John’s urn.

It’s a good symbol for us today.  Yes, he understood what that cross stood for. He understood what bearing a cross meant.  He bore some crosses in his life.

But today, we get to take some consolation too. Today, for John, that is all behind him. That betrayal of his body. The frustration. That limiting of his life.  The crosses in his life.

We can rejoice today, even in the midst of our sadness,  in the fact that John is there, on the other side of that “veil” that separates those of us who are still here with those who have gone before us. We rejoice today in the fact that that that mortal body of his is no longer an issue for him. He has been freed from it. There are no physical limits for him in this moment.  It is always important to be reminded sometimes that we are more than these physical bodies.

I like to share one of my favorite quotes from the great French Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard one famously made the statement that we are not physical beings have spiritual experiences.  We are in fact spiritual beings have a physical experience.  We are spirits, here and now, having this physical experience. I love that. And I think John would’ve liked that and would’ve understood it perfectly.

I like that quote because it shows us that we are, in very our essence, spirit. Certain John was spirit in his essence. Even when he couldn’t talk on that last Sunday I saw him, there was much spirit in his eyes.

Yes, these physical experiences can great and wonderful sometimes, but sometimes, they can be hard and painful. And that just because these mortal bodies fail us and eventually lie in dust, we—in our essence, in our very truest selves—live on.  These physical experiences are only temporary. But our spirit goes on.  I’ve thought a lot about that in these days since John left us.

In our scripture reading from the book of Revelation today,  we get a glimpse of what awaits us on the other side of that veil, when we are freed from these bodies.  We hear the Apostle John saying,

“God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more...”
I love that image! I love to take consolation in the fact that there will be a day, for all of us, when death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more. I  look forward to that time when those things will pass away and we will not have to deal with them anymore.  I look forward to a time when there will be nothing to separate us from each other, when all the cares and worries and petty issues in our lives here and now, in this world, will be washed away and gone for good. I look forward to that day when our relationships will be restored and our illnesses healed and everything negative in our lives has been washed away once and for all.

Today, this afternoon, John is in that place—in that place where death no longer exists. He is in that place where he is fully and completely alive—where is himself.  He is a place where all the bad things of his life have been washed away, and he is now purely and fully and completely himself—pure spirit.  

Now, for us, who are left behind, for us who cared for John and who will miss him, this all can be painful. But, our consolation is that the place in which John now dwells—that place of light and joy and unending life—that place awaits us as well. Yes, now we have tears in our eyes. Yes, now feel real sadness. Yes, now, in our lives, we know true pain.

But our consolation today is in the fact that in that other place, that place of light, that place in which our spirits will dwell, there will never again be pain. There will never again be tears. There will never again be sadness.

That is our consolation today. That is how we move from here into the rest of our lives. That is how we go forward. We go forward knowing full well that we are truly spirits having a temporary physical experience.  This is what gets us through this awful time in which John is not with us anymore.   This is where we find our strength—in our faith that promises us an end to our sorrows, to our loss. It is a faith that can tell us with a startling reality that every tear we shed—and we all shed our share of tears in this life, John knew that very well in his life—every tear will one day be dried and every heartache will disappear. It will.

And on that great and glorious day, we will awake into that place of joy and gladness and light and life. And none of that will ever be taken from us again.  So this morning and in the days to come, let us all take consolation in that faith that John is complete and whole in this moment.

I will miss John. We all will miss him.  But, even in the midst of this mourning, even in the midst of these tears, I know. I know that where he is, we too will one day be. And what is incomplete now, will be complete once again.

So, even with these tears, even with this pain, let us be glad. Let us be glad that one day we too will be sharing with John in that joy, that light, in that place where all pain and sadness and death will never again exist.   

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


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...