Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Requiem Mass for Jonathan Gilbert

 


The Requiem Mass for

Jonathan Gilbert

March 29, 1978- April 12, 2022

June 25, 2022

+ Well, we gather today not really wanting to be here.

 

We really shouldn’t be here.

 Not for this reason.

 Not coming together to remember and bury the ashes of Jonathan.

 He was too young.

 It feels strange to come together to bury a 44 year old person.

 He still had many years ahead of him.

 He had more living to do this in world.

 And his passing from our midst was a surprise.

 It happened so suddenly.

 And in a twinkling of an eye, he was gone from us.

 But, as much as I don’t want to be here today, I am grateful.

 I am grateful for Jonathan and for all he was.

 I am grateful for his presence in my life.

 I am grateful for his presence among us here in this parish of St. Stephen’s.

 I am grateful for what he meant to you, those of who came today to remember Jonathan.

 And even though we are sad today, we also able to rejoice.

 We rejoice in Jonathan.

 We rejoice in all that was good and kind and gentle in Jonathan.

 Certainly, I rejoice that I was his priest.

 And I can say I was also his friend.

 And as we gather today, as we remember Jonathan, as think of who he was to each of us, please think about who he was and what makes you grateful for having known him.

 And as you do so, remember this.  

 Today is not the end of anything.

 Yes, we are saying goodbye.

 But we are not going to stop remembering him, or thinking of him.

 His presence will certainly stay with us as long after we have left here and go back to our own lives.

 Now, I have no doubt that Jonathan is with us here this afternoon, celebrating his life with us. 

 I am of the firm belief that what separates us who are alive and breathing here on earth from those who are now in the so-called “nearer presence of God” is actually a very thin division.

 So, yes, right now, I think we can feel that that separation between us here and those who have passed on is, in this moment, a very thin one.

 And because of that belief, I take a certain comfort in the fact Jonathan is close to us this afternoon. 

 He is here, in our midst, celebrating his life with us.

 And we should truly celebrate his life.

 I want to say that it was a good life.

 But I don’t think Jonathan would say it was all that good at times.

 It was a hard life.

 Jonathan suffered in this world.

 Truly suffered.

 Suffered in ways none of us will ever know.

 And the world itself did not treat him well at times.

 This world can be a mean, vicious place.

 And it can be particularly mean and vicious to someone like Jonathan.

 He often did not feel like he fit in this world.

 He often felt at odds, or on the fringe of this world.

 Which is why I am glad he came to this church.

 St. Stephen’s was one of the places in which he felt truly welcomed and truly included.

 Here, he was not judged.

 Here, he was not looked down on.

 We loved Jonathan and we genuinely cared for him.

 And here, he felt safe.

 If he hadn’t, I don’t think he would’ve asked to have his mother, Marilyn’s ashes buried here in our memorial garden.

 I am happy too that this is where Jonathan will rest, here in our memorial garden, right next to that mother he loved so dearly.

 All of us were touched by Jonathan in some way.

 And I can tell you that I will never forget that strong and gentle presence.

 And I can say that I am also grateful that Jonathan is freed from the pain he endured in this life.

 I am grateful that he has been freed from the boundaries of his very body.

 As I stood by his bedside as he passed from this world in April, I could there was an exhausted sense of relief when he finally shed that body.

 Where Jonathan is right now—in those loving, caring and able hands of his God—there is no pain or sorrow.

 There is no more being imprisoned by our physical bodies.

 There is no more mean, terrible world.

 There is no more exclusion or meanness.   

 Where Jonathan is now there is only life there. Eternal life.


 Where Jonathan is now, he is complete and whole.

 And he is happy.

 And he will never again shed another tear.

 Because we know that Jonathan and all our loved ones have been received into God’s arms of mercy, into the “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 this temporary—and I do stress that it is temporary—this temporary separation from Jonathan.

 We know that—despite the pain and the frustration, despite the sorrow we all feel—somehow, in the end, God is with us and Jonathan is with God and that makes all the difference.

 For Jonathan, sorrow and pain are no more.

Jonathan, in this holy moment, has gained life eternal.

 And that is what awaits us as well.

 We might not be able to say “Alleluia” with any real enthusiasm today.

 But we can find a glimmer of light in the darkness of this day.

 It is a glorious Light we find here.

 Even if it is just a glimmer, it is a bright and wonderful Light.

 And for that we can rejoice and be grateful.

And we can celebrate.   

May angels welcome you, Jonathan.

May all the saints come forward to greet you.

And may your rest today and always be one of unending joy.

 

A STATEMENT FROM FR. JAMIE REGARDING THE SUPREME COURTS’ DECISION TO REPEAL ROE V. WADE

 June 25, 2022

Dear St. Stephen’s family-

As you all know by now, yesterday the Supreme Court made its landmark decision to reverse Roe v. Wade, which will greatly limit healthcare for women in our country.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry issued a statement (which I include at the end of this message), in which he said, “Today’s decision institutionalizes inequality because women with access to resources will be able to exercise their moral judgment in ways that women without the same resources will not.”

For many here at St. Stephen’s this decision by the Supreme Court is a painful, difficult and personal situation that affects us deeply on both collective and personal levels. Many of us have fought hard for many years for women’s rights and for full and protected healthcare for all. Some of us have suffered personally from the effects of a lack of healthcare for various reasons. This decision by SCOTUS seems to many (including myself) to be several steps backward in on the path of progress.  

In addition to the shock of that decision, the House of Bishops has received information “from federal authorities of credible security threats against clergy and churches…” and that “there is concern that clergy who have advised parishioners about abortion access and their reproductive rights may face threats or violence.

          As most of you know, I have been speaking out vocally on both my own social media accounts and on the St. Stephen’s Facebook page about this issue and so far, I have received overwhelming support. But, as we have experienced in the past when have stood up for LGBTQ+ rights in this Diocese and state, we are aware there are people who do not share our commitment and who are willing to lash out at those with different opinions. Please know that despite such threats, I will continue to speak out as I have. I will also be preaching on this issue tomorrow at Mass.

          I repeat what I have said on social media: I will continue to support full access to healthcare for all people and will do everything in my power as a Christian, as a priest and as a citizen to make sure such access is made available.

          I also mention, though I do not mean to unduly alarm anyone, that Justice Clarence Thomas made a comment yesterday regarding the possibility that SCOTUS may be eyeing future issues such as gay marriage. Considering those comments, I am advising all our married LGBTQ+ parishioners and friends to get wills, as well as power of attorney and healthcare power of attorney documents as soon as possible. If any of you need legal help or suggestions, please contact me.  

And for those not married, please know I am more than willing to officiate at any weddings while we can still legally do so.

Be assured that St. Stephen’s will remain a haven for all people, and we will continue to provide care, safety and protection for anyone who needs it. We renew our commitment to uphold the “worth and dignity” of all people now and always.  

The consequences of SCOTUS’ decision yesterday are long-ranging and will be affecting all of us for some time to come. With that in minds, please pray. Pray for our country during this divisive and contentious time. Please pray for women whose lives are now in jeopardy because of limited or non-existent healthcare. Pray for the leadership of this country during this time that strong leaders may stand up and speak out. And please, do so yourself. Stand up and speak out.

-peace,

Jamie+

Rector, St. Stephen’s

 

O great God,

mighty and awesome.

You show no partiality.

You defend the cause

of the fatherless, motherless, and the widow.

You love the stranger.

 

We believe and we feel overwhelmed—

sometimes it is hard to believe

that you actually care about

injustice and suffering.

When we don’t see your work.

When we sense the apathy

from the church and the world.

When we feel small and forget

that we were designed to be different

and to make things different.

When we feel overwhelmed

by the darkness in the world—
the violence, injustice, poverty, oppression, abuse.

Give us hope not to be overcome.
Give us eyes to see your goodness for our world.
Give us the strength to hold the pain of injustice in
our world and faith that it will end.
Give us courage to be honest with ourselves about
why and how we are doing justice.

 

We believe.  

Empower us to disrupt our broken
thinking by learning truth from diverse leaders.
Enable us to discover the beauty

of justice and inspire action in others.

Embolden us to display your
goodness in the world. Amen.

 

Adapted from a prayer from A Liturgy of Longing by Sandra Maria Van Opstal, found in Sarah Bessey’s A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal; Convergent Publishing, 2021.

 

 

Statement on Supreme Court Dobbs decision by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry 

June 24, 2022

Office of Public Affairs

 

Today the Supreme Court released its decision in the case of Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The court has overturned the constitutional right to abortion that was recognized in the seminal 1973 case Roe v. Wade.  

While I, like many, anticipated this decision, I am deeply grieved by it. I have been ordained more than 40 years, and I have served as a pastor in poor communities; I have witnessed firsthand the negative impact this decision will have.

We as a church have tried carefully to be responsive both to the moral value of women having the right to determine their healthcare choices as well as the moral value of all life. Today’s decision institutionalizes inequality because women with access to resources will be able to exercise their moral judgment in ways that women without the same resources will not.

This is a pivotal day for our nation, and I acknowledge the pain, fear, and hurt that so many feel right now. As a church, we stand with those who will feel the effects of this decision—and in the weeks, months, and years to come.  

The Episcopal Church maintains that access to equitable health care, including reproductive health care and reproductive procedures, is “an integral part of a woman’s struggle to assert her dignity and worth as a human being” (2018-D032). The church holds that “reproductive health procedures should be treated as all other medical procedures, and not singled out or omitted by or because of gender” (2018-D032). The Episcopal Church sustains its “unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of the national or state governments which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions [about the termination of pregnancy] and to act upon them” (2018-D032). As stated in the 1994 Act of Convention, the church also opposes any “executive or judicial action to abridge the right of a woman to reach an informed decision…or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting on her decision” (1994-A054).   

The court’s decision eliminates federal protections for abortion and leaves the regulation of abortion to the states. The impact will be particularly acute for those who are impoverished or lack consistent access to health care services. As Episcopalians, we pray for those who may be harmed by this decision, especially for women and other people who need these reproductive services. We pray for the poor and vulnerable who may not have other options for access. We urge you to make your voice heard in the way you feel called but always to do so peacefully and with respect and love of neighbor.  

Sunday, June 19, 2022

2 Pentecost


 
June 19, 2022


Galatians 3.23-29;Luke 8.26-39


+ This past week I had lunch with our very own Cathy McMullen and her daughter-in-law Alissa.

 

Invariably in any conversation I have with people, the subject of films comes up.

 

And for some reason, the subject of one of my all-time favorite films came up.

 

That film?

 

The Exorcist.

 

Yes, I know.

 

It’s not what you expected.

 

Or maybe it’s exactly what you expected.

 

Either way, I love that movie for several reasons.

 

One, I love the characters of the two priests in the film, Fr. Damien Karras and Fr.


Lankaster Merrin.

 

Both are Jesuits (why, oh why can’t there be an Anglican-equivalent order of Jesuits? If there was I would join in a heart-beat).

 

But both are really prime examples of great pastors—priests who genuinely care, but who are also solidly human.

 

They each have their own issues.

 

They are not saints, but they are not horribly conflicted characters at all.

 

And I especially love the Fr. Merrin character because director William Freidkin has confessed that he actually based the character solidly on one of my heroes, another Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

But the film is more than that in my opinion.

 

It is also a strangely redemptive film.

 

The final scenes in that film actually directly reflects our Gospel reading for today, in which Fr. Karras, directly referencing the Legion of demons going into the pigs and being driven off the cliff, does so as well so he can release the girl Reagan from her possession.

 

Now, I know what you might be thinking.

 

Wait, The Exorcist is Fr. Jamie’s favorite film?

 

I thought he was a Christian Universalist?

 

I thought he didn’t even believe in hell.

 

Well, yes.

 

I preach about this on a very regular basis, but, as you all know, I am a very proud Christian Universalist.

 

In other words, I do not believe in an eternal hell.

 

I remember saying that once in a sermon and had someone audibly gasp.

 

But I am being honest.

 

I do not believe that the God that I believe in and love would send anyone to a metaphysical hell for all eternity.

 

Many people think that being a Christian universalist also means I don’t believe in things like evil.

 

That’s not true.

 

I actually say it emphatically:

 

Evil DOES exist.

 

Now I’m not saying I believe in actual supernatural devils or demons.

 

But, the fact remains, whether we believe in actual demons or nor not, whether we believe in Satan as a goat-like horned figure with a forked tail or not, what we all must believe in is the presence of actual evil in this world.

 

Whether that evil is natural or supernatural, or both, the fact is, there is evil.  

 

Even good rational people know that!

 

Just look at the news, depending on what news source you follow.

 

We of course just had a church shooting at an Episcopal church in Alabama this past week.

 

At a church named St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, nonetheless.

 

Let me tell you, I see plenty of evil in that act, and I see plenty of evil in the way people try to explain it all away, to say that this is not an issue of guns.

 

I think that’s all pretty evil.

 

Evil is real.

 

And we see it many forms in this world.

 

And for me, The Exorcist is a great story to reflect how sometimes evil becomes a force so great in our lives and in the world around us that we sometimes struggle how to deal with it.

 

The fact is this: for us, evil is not an option.

 

Those of us who are followers of Jesus have promised that we must turn away from evil again and again, in whatever way we encounter it.  

 

Whenever we are confronted with evil, we must resist it, we must stand up to it.

 

In our Baptismal service, these questions are asked of the person being baptized (or their sponsors):

“Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?”

And…

“Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?”

And, as our Baptismal Covenant asks us asks us:

“Do you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?”

Evil is something we must stand up against however we encounter it.

 

Whether we encounter it as a spiritual force, or whether we encounter it in other forms, such as racism, sexism, war,  or homophobia, or transphobia  as followers of Jesus, must stand up against evil and say no to it.

 

In a sense, what we are being asked to do is what Jesus did in this morning’s Gospel.  

 

We are being compelled, again and again, to cast out the evil in our midst, to send it away from us.

 

This is not easy thing to do.  

 

It is not easy to look long and hard at the evil that exists in the world, and in our very midst.

 

But it is very easy to believe that evil wins.

 

The story of Jesus is clear: good always defeats evil ultimately.

 

Again and again.

 

It might not seem like it sometimes.

 

Often times, evil wins the battle.

 

But, be assured, evil never wins the war. 

 

Christ, as we heard in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians today, breaks down the boundaries evil in its various forms sets up.

 

In Christ, we hear, there are no distinctions.

 

In Christ, all those things that divide us and allow the seeds of evil to flower are done away with—those issue of sex, and social status and nationality and race are essentially erased in Christ.

 

And we, as followers of Jesus, so prone at times to get nitpicky and self-righteous and hypocritical and divide ourselves into camps of “us” versus “them,” are told in no uncertain terms that those boundaries, in Jesus, cannot exist among us.

 

Those boundaries, those distinctions, only lead to more evil.

 

To less love.

 

But even then, even when evil does seem to win out, even when there are moments of despair and fear at the future, there’s no real need to despair.

 

Even in those moments when evil seems to triumph, we know that those moments of triumph are always, always short-lived.  

 

Good will always defeat evil ultimately.

Look at history.

 

Yes, we find the premise of good versus evil  in every popular movie and book we encounter.

 

This is the essence of conflict that we find in all popular culture.  

 

Good versus evil—and good always wins.

But, for us, as followers of Jesus, this is not fiction.

 

That is not a fairy tale or wishful thinking.

 

It is the basis on which our faith lies.

 

When confronted with those spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God, we must renounce them and move on.

And what are those spiritual forces of wickedness in our lives?

 

What are those forces that divide us and cause conflict among us?

 

What are the legion of demons we find in our midst?

 

Those spiritual forces of wickedness are those forces that destroy that basic tenant of love of God and love of each other.

 

Those spiritual forces of wickedness drive us apart from each other and divide us.

 

They harden our hearts and kill love within us.

 

When that happens in us, when we are racist, or homophobic, or sexist, or transphobic, or just simply filled with hatred for others, when we allow that to happen, we cannot be followers of Jesus anymore.

 

We cannot call ourselves children of a loving God.

 

When that happens our faith in God and our love for each other dies and we are left barren and empty.

 

We become like the demoniac and the legion of demons that possess him in today’s Gospel.

 

Or like the demons that possess poor Regan in The Exorcist.

 

We become tormented by God and all the forces of goodness.

 

We wander about in the tombs and the wastelands of our lives.  

 

And we find ourselves living in fear—fear of the unknown, fear of that dark abyss of hopelessness that lies before us.

But when we turn from evil, we are able to carry out what Jesus commands of the demoniac.  

 

We are able to return from those moments to our homes and to proclaim the goodness that God does for us.

 

That’s what good does.

 

That’s what God’s goodness does to us and for us.

 

That is what turning away from evil—in whatever form we experience evil—does for us.

 

So, let us do just that.

 

Let us proclaim all that God has done for us.  

 

Let us choose good and let us resist evil.

 

Let us love—and love fully and completely, without barriers.

 

Let us love each other.

 

Let us love peace and nonviolence.

 

Let us cast off whatever dark forces there are that kills love within us.

 

And let us sit at the feet of Jesus, “clothed in and in our right mind,” freed of fear and hatred and violence and filled instead with joy and hope and love.

 

Let us pray.

 

Holy God, you are all good; guide us in our following of Jesus,  that we may always turn from evil, drive it from our lives, and live always into the goodness you have called us to strive for; we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

The Requiem Mass for Jonathan Gilbert

  The Requiem Mass for Jonathan Gilbert March 29, 1978- April 12, 2022 June 25, 2022 + Well, we gather today not really wanting to b...