Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Memorial Service for Gerene Mayer and Greg Mayer

 


The Memorial Service for

Gerene Mayer

October 28, 1928-June 9, 2022

Gregory Mayer

December 10, 1948 – Dec. 3, 2021

July 28, 2022

Emmanuel Episcopal Church

Alexandria, Minnesota

 


+ I am very honored to be here.

 For those who might not know, I have had a very long and wonderful history with this family.

 For over 16 years, I have married and baptized and buried members of the family.

 In fact, just the other day was thinking about the wedding of Kelly and Chris way back in July of 2006.

 That beautiful wedding on that stifling hot day in Plymouth. Was it at  the Millennium Gardens?

 In fact, I am wearing the same alb and stole today that I wore that day.

 And way back on June 28, 2014, I officiated at the memorial service for Wally at my own parish, St. Stephen’s in Fargo.

 I of course have known all of you longer than that.

 And I think I may have known Greg longest of all.

 Back when I was a parishioner at Gethsemane Cathedral in Fargo, Greg was often in what was then called Foyers, a group that would meet at each other’s homes for supper.

 And I remember him well at Alpha which was a Bible study, or just simply at church.

 And I remember knowing Gerene and Wally way back when they were members of Grace Church, Jamestown.

 So, we have known each other in way or the other for over twenty years.

 So I am truly honored to be here, to officiate at this service, and to remember and commend both Gerene and Greg to God.

  Gerene of course was very special to me.

 She was truly ana amazing person.

 She always seemed to carry herself with a sense of dignity and inner strength that amazed me at times.

 I was always impressed by that and by her.

 I genuinely liked her.

 I remember so well how she carried herself after Wally’s death, and how she enjoyed seeing those great-grandchildren baptized.  

 She had a strength and purpose to her that I admired.

 And I’m happy she liked me too.

 I don’t know if Greg liked me, though I think he did.

 But I have to say that every time I saw him, every time he was present, he brought, in his own way, his own sense of humor, even when he might not have been feeling well.

 Both Gerene and Greg were, to the very end, good Episcopalians and  faithful followers of Jesus.

 The church was important to them.

 And like any good Episcopalian, they loved The Book of Common Prayer, the book from which we are doing this service today.

  Now, people often ask me, “so, what is it you Episcopalians believe?”

And I say, “We believe what we pray.”

We’re not big on dogmas.

We not big on telling people what to do.

But we are big on prayer and worship.

Our liturgy—what we find contained in our Book of Common Prayer—encompasses our beliefs very well.

And, I can tell you, that it certainly did for Gerene and Greg, and Wally too.  

No doubt if you asked any of them, “what do you believe?”

They would probably point you to the Book of Common Prayer, or at least encompass the belief found there.  

Well, Greg would probably say more.

Greg had a deep love of scripture, and he knew his Bible well.

And I have no doubt he would point us all in that direction.

But still, through and through, they were all good Episcopalians.

And I think that’s why so many of us feel kind of comfortable in the Episcopal Church.

And that’s also why we’re here today.

In this beautiful church.

Gerene’s parents were married here.

And, in moments like this, it just feels right that we are here, commending these great people to God.

This service we are celebrating together today is packed from its very beginning to its end with some amazing words and images.

It’s a simple service, it’s a down-to-earth service.

But it is a service that has so much meaning and purpose within it.

This Burial service we are celebrating today is chock full of meaning.  

Probably some of the best of it is at the end of our service.

At that time, I will lead us in what is called “The Commendation.”

Now for many of us, who are long-time Episcopalians, we have heard the words of the Commendation hundreds of times.

But it’s important to pay attention to what it says to us.

Because if you do pay attention, you will find the heart in which  Gerene and Greg’s faith was found.

In the Commendation, it will end with those very powerful words:

All of us go down
to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia,
alleluia, alleluia.

Those words show us that despite all that life—and yes, even death—throw at us, we can still hold up our heads with integrity, bolstered by our faith in God.

Even in the face of whatever life may throw at us we will not let those bad things win.

“…yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia,
alleluia, alleluia.”

For both Gerene and Greg, that has some deep meaning today.

I know that these last years were hard for Gerene.

She knew some hardships in her life.

And Greg.

Well, we all know the hardships that Greg endured in his own life.

He was someone who truly suffered at times in his life.

Sometimes I could see it in his eyes.

And I always felt bad for the pain that he carried with him.

Today, we take consolation in the fact that for both of them, all of that is over now.

For them, all that pain that they endured in this life is over.

And in this holy moment they are whole.

They are who they are meant to be.

They are complete.

Today, all the good things that Gerene and Greg were to us—all of that is not lost.

It is not gone.

Death has not swallowed that up.

Rather all of that is alive and dwells now in Light inaccessible.

All of that dwells in a place of peace and joy, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

In a place in which, there never again be any more tears.

Except, maybe, tears of joy.

And for us who are left, we know that that place awaits us as well.

That place of light and joy awaits each of us as well.

And we to will have the opportunity to dwell there.

We will miss Gerene. And we will miss Greg.

The more we love someone, the deeper the pain we feel at their loss.

That is just the cost we must pay for love.

We will all miss them and will feel their loss for a long time to come.

But, on this day in which we bid them this temporary goodbye, let us also be thankful.

Let us be thankful for these people whom God has been gracious to let us know and to love.

Let us be thankful for all they were to us.

 Let us be thankful for all that they taught us and continue to teach us.

And let us be grateful for all they have given us in our own lives.

And let us be truly thankful that Gerene and Wally and Greg are now all together.

And let us look forward to the day when we too will join them in that place of unending life and peace.

Into paradise may the angels lead you, Gerene and Greg.

At your coming may the martyrs receive you, and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem.

Amen.


 

Sunday, July 24, 2022

7 Pentecost

 


July 24, 2022

 

Luke 11.1-13

 

+ Tomorrow, July 25—the feast of St. James the Greater—I will be observing the 19th anniversary of my ordination as a Deacon.

 

When I think about such a thing—19 years—it is very humbling.

 

The other day, I was sharing the fact I would be observing this day with a friend of mine, and she said to me: “So, I’m really curious, as an ordained person, do you really pray when people ask you for prayers, or do you just say you’ll pray and forget?”

 

It was one of the best questions I’ve ever been asked.

 

And it’s an important question.

 

I said this to her:

 

“I used to say I would and then would often forget and feel guilty for forgetting. So, now, what I do is when anyone asks for prayer from me, I immediately pray for them. Even if it’s a short, interior prayer, I will pray for them, ‘please, dear God, I pray for so-and-so’ and whatever issue they have. And when I do, I usually find that when I pray more fully, usually at Evening Prayer, and in a more focused way, that request is still there.”

 

And I can say this, prayer is as essential of a part of my ministry at St. Stephen’s as anything I do.

 

And I know it is for many of you as well.

 

For me, as an ordained person, I can tell you, I took very seriously the vow I first made 19 years ago tomorrow night, when Bishop Andy Fairfield asked me,

 

“Will you be faithful in prayer…?”

 

With that in mind, I can also say that one of the most common questions I have been asked in my 19 years of ordained ministry has been: “how should I pray?” Or “Am I praying correctly?”

 

And I think that is one of the most important questions anyone who is a Christian can ask me.

 

And I love to answer that question.

 

It is essential.

 

Prayer is essential to us as Christians.

 

It is in praying, that we not only seek God, but come to know God.

 

And it is from knowing God that that true prayer comes.

 

And that we get to truly experience God.

 

For those of us seeking God and striving after God, and God, in return, coming to us and revealing God’s self to us, we do find the need to respond in some way.

That response is, of course, prayer.

 

In our Gospel for today, we find Jesus talking about this response.

 

We find him talking about prayer.

 

The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray.  

 

Jesus responds by teaching them the prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer, or the Our Father, which is a beautiful.

 

I love the Lord’s Prayer.

 

So many of us take for granted.

 

But if you ever really study it, you will see it really is the very perfect prayer.

 

And it definitely has its roots in classic Judaism.

 

I will talk about the Lord’s Prayer in detail at another point.

 

Then he goes on to share a parable about a friend asking another friend for a loan.

 

In the midst of this discourse on prayer, Jesus says those words we find quite familiar:

“For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knows, the door will be opened.”

Now, pay attention to some key words there:

 

-Asks

 

-Searches

 

-Knows.

 

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the complaint from people about unanswered prayers.

“I prayed and I prayed and nothing happened,” I will hear.

And I am definitely not going to tell you how many times I have complained about so-called “unanswered” prayer in my own life.

 

But when we talk of such things as unanswered prayers, no doubt we are zeroing in on the first part of what Jesus is saying today:

“For everyone who asks receives.”

And before we move on from this, I just want to make clear—there is no such thing  as unanswered prayer.

 

All prayers are answered, as you’ve heard me say many times.

 

The answer however is just not always what we might want to hear.

 

Our God is not Santa Claus in heaven, granting gifts to good children, nor is our God the god of Sigmund Freud’s Moses and Monotheism—a projection of our own parental expectations (to which many of us act like spoiled children).

 

God grants our prayers, but sometimes the answer is “Yes,” sometimes is “not yet,” and, sadly—and we have to face this fact as mature people in our lives—sometimes the answer is “No.”

 

And I can tell you from my own experience, the greatest moment of spiritual maturity is accepting that “no” from God.

 

But, that is, of course, the petitionary aspect of prayer, and very rarely do most of us move beyond asking God for “things,” as though God is some giant gift-dispenser in the sky.  

 

(I am telling you this morning, in no uncertain terms, that God is not a giant gift-dispenser in the sky. Sorry!)

 

Jesus shows us that prayer also involves seeking and knocking—searching and knowing.

 

Oftentimes in those moments when a prayer is not answered in the way we think it should, we just give up.

 

We shake our fists at God and say, “God does not exists because my prayers weren’t answered.”

 

And that’s all right.

 

I’ve known a lot of people have done that.

 

That’s an honest and valid response to God.

 

I’ve certainly done it in my past.

 

And I understand people who do it.

 

But if we seek out the reasons our prayers are not answered in the way we want them to, we may truly find another answer—an answer we might not want to find, but an answer nonetheless.  

 

And if we keep on knocking, if we keep on pushing ourselves in prayer, we will find more than we can even possibly imagine.

 

The point of all of this, of course, is that when God breaks through to us, sometimes we also have to reach out to God as well.

 

And somewhere in the middle is where we will find the meeting point in which we find the asking, the seeking and knocking presented before us in a unique and amazing way.

 

In that place of meeting, we will find that prayer is truly our response to God “by thought and deed, with or without words.”

And in that place of meeting, we come to “know” God.


Jesus is clear that prayer needs to be regular and consistent and heart-felt.

 

I have found that prayer is essential for all of us as Christians.

 

If we do not have prayer to sustain us and hold us up and carry us forward, then it is so easy to become aimless and lost.

As some of you know, I lead a very disciplined prayer life.

 

I’m not saying that to brag or to pat myself on the back.

 

I lead a disciplined prayer because I can be a lazy person.

 

I pray the Daily Office every day—the services of Morning and Evening Prayer


found in the Book of Common Prayer—because I need to.

 

Actually, I’m supposed to.

 

All ordained clergy in the Anglican tradition are supposed to pray the Daily Office every day.

 

But I also do it because I need to.

 

For myself.

 

See, kind of selfish.

 

But I do need it.

 

The late, great Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who also prayed the Daily Office every day, said that when he didn’t pray the Office, he felt off, like he hadn’t brushed his teeth.

 

That’s what it’s like for me as well.

 

After 25 years of praying the Office day in and day out, on good days and bad days, that’s what it’s like.

 

And I pray it because it is a way for me to pray for everyone at St. Stephen’s by name through the course of the week.  

 

And, in addition to the Offices, I take regular times during the day to just stop and be quiet and simply “be” in the Presence of God, to just consciously open myself to God’s Presence and just “be” there with God.

 

No petitions.

 

No asking for anything.

 

Not fist-shaking or complaints.

 

Just being there.

 

That’s essentially what prayer is.

 

It is us opening ourselves to God, responding to God, seeking God and trying to know God.

 

Roberta Bondi is one of the best contemporary theologians alive today.

 

She is an expert in the so-called Desert Spirituality of the early Christian Church.

 

In her excellent spiritual autobiography, Memories of God, she writes this abut prayer:

 

“I abandoned the notion that prayer is basically verbal, petition and praise, and came to see that prayer is sharing of the whole self and an entire life with God. With a great wrench I set aside the conviction that the process of moving closer to God in prayer should also be a process by which we discard the damaged parts of ourselves of which we are most ashamed. I learned instead that just the opposite is true, that prayer is a process of gathering in and reclaiming the lost and despised and wounded parts of ourselves…”

I love that!

 

“…prayer is a process of gathering in and reclaiming the lost and despised and wounded parts of ourselves.”

 

So, essentially, prayer is not something formal and precise.

 

It does not have to perfect or “formulaic.”

 

We do not do it only when we are pure and holy and in that right spiritual state of mind.

 

We pray honestly and openly and when it is the last thing in the world we feel like doing.

 

We pray when life is falling apart and it seems like God is not listening.

 

And we pray when we are angry at God or bitter at life and all the unfair things that have come upon us.

 

I actually have no problem praying in those situations.

 

You know when I do have a problem praying?

 

When things are going well.

 

When all is well.

 

In those moments, I sometimes forget to open myself to God.

 

I sometimes forget just to say “thank you” for those good things.

 

I forget sometimes just to be grateful for the good things.

 

But even then we need to pray as well.

 

We pray to know God and to seek God.

 

And if we do so, if we stick with it, there will be a breakthrough.

 

I know, because I’ve experienced it.

 

And many of you know it too because you’ve experienced it.

 

There will be a breakthrough.

 

Of course, we can’t control when or how it will happen.

 

All we can do is recognize that it is God breaking through to us, again and again.

 

We see the breaking through fully in Jesus.

 

He shows us how God continues to break through into this world.

 

We see it in our own lives when, after struggling and worrying and despairing over something, suddenly it just “lifts” and we are filled with a strange peace we never thought would ever exists again.

 

In those moments, God does break through.

 

In response to that breaking through, we can each find a way of meeting God, whenever and however God comes to us, in prayer.

 

In that place of meeting, we will receive whatever we need, we will find what we’re searching for, and knocking, we will find a door opened to us.

 

That is how God responds to us.

So, let us go out.

 

Let us go to meet God.

 

Let us seek God.

 

Let us know God.

 

God is breaking through to us, wherever we might be in our lives.

 

Let us go out to meet the God who asks of us first, who seeks us out first, who knocks first so that we may open the door.

 

Let us pray.

 

Holy and loving God, we do ask, we do seek, we do knock; open the door of your Presence to us. Break through to us and meet here, where are, so that may truly know you, and serve in the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

 




 

 

 

 

Sunday, July 17, 2022

6 Pentecost

 


The Baptism of Hadlee Broten 

July 17, 2022

Colossian 1.15-28, Luke 10.38-42

 

+ Yesterday we had, between downpours of rain, the interment for the ashes of Marie and Samuel Phillips, the parents of Amy Phillips.

As we hunkered down in the church before the service, waiting for the rain to clear so we could go out to do the committal in the memorial garden, it was a pleasure for me to show Amy’s brother and sister-in-law our church.

I love showing off our beautiful stained-glass windows, which always impresses everyone.

And this past week, we were gifted with the beautiful pieces of art from Sue Morrissey that grace the wall by the baptismal font, which also impressed our visitors.

We should be grateful for Gin and Sue and Lily and all of our visual artists here at St. Stephen’s.

And we should be proud of our beautiful church.

I know some people might appreciate a bare, white –walled church, which is what St. Stephen’s was a few decades ago.

Back in those days, we didn’t have frontals on our bare, butcher-block altar.

We didn’t have images of Mary and St. Stephen and the ikons that we utilize now.

We didn’t have our beautiful windows or our beautiful Stations of the Cross.

But most of us here at St. Stephen’s, I know, appreciate that fact that we worship with all our senses here.

We worship with our ears—with music and bells.

 

We worship with smell, with the incense we use at our Wednesday evening Mass.

We worship with taste, with the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

We worship with sight, with the beauty of the art on our walls and in our altar and in the hangings here.

Even in the baptism of Hadlee today we will use our sense—with those basic elements of water and fire (in the candles) and oil.  

And in our icons and religious art.

And in this way, we are paying specially homage to the Eastern Orthodox roots within our church.

In Eastern Orthodoxy, icons take special place in the worship service.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, ikons are pictures which are sacred because they portray something sacred.

They are a “window,” in a sense, to the sacred, to the otherwise “unseen.”

They often depict Jesus or Mary or the saints.

But they are seen as something much more than art.

They are seen as something much more than pictures on the wall.

They are also “mirrors.”

And that is important to remember

That term Ikon is important to us this morning because we encounter it in our reading from Pauls’ Letter to the Colossians.

In that letter, in the original Greek,  Paul uses the word “eikon” used to describe the “image” of Christ Jesus.

Our reading this morning opens with those wonderful words,

“Jesus is the image of the invisible God…”

Image in Greek, as I said, is eikon.

But eikon is more than just an “image”.

Ikons also capture the substance of its subject.

It captures the very essence of what it represents.

For Paul, to say that Jesus is the ikon of God, for him, he is saying that Jesus is the window into the unseen God.

In fact, the way ikons are “written” (which is the word used to described how they’re made), God is very clearly represented.

But not in the most obvious way.

God is represented in the gold background of the ikon, which is the one thing you might not notice when you look at an ikon.

That gold background represents the Light of God.

And that light, if you notice permeates through the faces of the subjects in the ikon.

So, when we look at any ikon, it our job to see God in that ikon.

God shining through the subject whose face we gaze upon.

God, who dwells always around us and in us.

For me personally, I do need things like icons in my own spiritual life.

I need help more often than not in my prayer life.

I need images.

I need to use the senses God gave me to worship God.

All of my senses. 

I need them just the way I need incense and vestments and bells and good music and the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

These things feed me spiritually.

In them, I am actually sustained.

My vision is sustained.

My sense of smell is sustained.

My sense of touch is sustained.

My sense of taste is sustained.

My sense of hearing is sustained.

And when it all comes together, I truly feel the holy Presence of God, here in our midst.

I have shared with you many times in the past how I have truly felt the living presence of God while I have stood at this altar, celebrating Holy Communion.

I have been made aware in that holy moment that this truly is God is truly present and dwelling with us.  

The Sacred and Holy Presence of God is sometimes so very present here in our midst.

I can’t tell you how many times I have gazed deeply into an icon and truly felt God’s Presence there with me, present with a familiarity that simply blows me away.

And for those of us who are followers of Jesus, who are called to love others as we love our God, when we gaze deeply into the eyes of those we serve, there too we see this incredible Presence of God in our midst.

In other words, sometimes the ikons of God in our lives are those who live with us, those we serve, those we are called to love.  

This, I think, is what Paul is getting at in his letter.

We truly do meet the invisible God in this physical, visual, sensory world—whether we experience that presence in the Eucharist, in the hearing of God’s Word, in ikons or the art of the church or in incense or in bells or in those we are called to serve.

For years, I used to complain—and it really was a complaint—about the fact that I was “searching for God.”

I used to love to quote the writer Carson McCullers, who once said, “writing, for me, is a search for God.”

But I have now come to the realization—and it was quite a huge realization—that I have actually found God.

I am not searching and questing after God, aimlessly or blindly searching for God in the darkness anymore.

I am not searching for God because I have truly found God.

I found God in very tangible and real ways right here.

I found God in these sensory things around me.

Certainly in our Gospel reading for today, Mary  also sees Jesus as the eikon of God.

Martha is the busybody—the lone wolf.

And Mary is the ikon-gazer.

And I think many of us have been there as well.

It’s seems most of us are sometimes are either Marthas and Marys,

But, the reality is simply that most of us are a little bit of both at times.

Yes, we are busybodies.

We are lone wolves.

But we are also contemplatives, like Mary.

There is a balance between the two.

I understand that there are times we need to be a busybodies and there are times in which we simply must slow down and quietly contemplate God.

When we recognize that Jesus is truly the image of God, we find ourselves at times longingly gazing at Jesus or quietly sitting in his Presence.

But sometimes that recognition of who Jesus is stirs us.

It lights a fire within us and compels us to go out and do the work that needs to be done.

But unlike Martha, we need to do that work without worry or distraction.

When we are in God’ presence—when we recognize that in God we have truly found what we are questing for, what we are searching for, what we are longing for—we find that worry and distraction have fallen away from us.

We don’t want anything to come between us and this marvelous revelation of God we find before us.

In that way, Mary truly has chosen the better part.
But, this all doesn’t end there.

The really important aspect of all of this is that we, too, in turn must become, like Jesus, ikons of God to this world.

In that way, the ikons truly become our mirrors.

When we gaze at an ikon we should see ourselves there, reflected there.

We should see ourselves surrounded by the Light of God.

We should see the light of God permeating us and shining through us.

We should become living, breathing ikons in this world.

Because if we don’t, we are not living into our full potential as followers of Jesus.

So, let us also, like Mary,  choose the better part.

Let us be Marys in this way.

Let us balance our lives in such a way that, yes, we work, but we do so without distraction, without worry, with being the lone wolf, without letting work be our god, getting in the way of that time to serve Jesus and be with Jesus and those Jesus sends our way.

Let us also take time to sit quietly in that Presence of God.

Let us sit quietly in the presence of God, surrounded by the beauty of our senses.

Let us be embodied ikons in our lives.

Let us open ourselves to the Light of God in our lives so that that Light will surrounded us and live within us and shine through us.

And, in that holy moment, we will know: we have chosen the better part, which will never be taken away from us.

 

 

9 Pentecost

  August 7, 2022 Luke 12:32-40   + I hate to even say this.   I really don’t want to say this.   But…it’s already starting ...