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November 22, 2015, 10:00 AM

Fear isn't Christian - The Last Sunday of Pentecost: The Sunday of Christ the King

Christ the King Sunday

Last Pentecost

Year B

Christ the King, Quincy

 

    Great things Thou hast done, O Lord, my God. I would name them and proclaim them, but they are more than I can tell. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen. 

 

    Now that I have been ordained for a couple of years, I have found that I am amassing a small but credible library of sermons to glance through to see if there were any previously under-developed or unexplored facet of the readings which might improve my preaching. And as this is the Patronal feast of our parish—The Last Sunday after Pentecost, the Advent of Christ the King Sunday (although really, it’s confusing to me to have your “patronal feast day” honor the Son—perhaps this is our Filial Feast day…)

    And so I was looking over my previous sermons on Christ the King Sunday, and I realized that I can be found to preach about the cultural impairments that prevent we, as Americans, from truly understanding the consequences of not just an Total Monarchy, but the Absolute Monarchy of Christ. We have to borrow experiences from Game of Thrones or the latest PBS mini-series depicting the Tudor dynasty to even begin to comprehend what an absolute monarchy would mean in our lives. After all, if we are proclaiming Christ’s Kingdom…we are also proclaiming our desire to live under the rule of a King, the perfect King in Christ. 

    But for whatever reason, I couldn’t write a sermon about that for this morning. I have been simply too distracted by the acts of terror around the world in the past week, and so thoroughly disappointed in our culture’s response to these atrocities to hone in on a message about Christ the King Sunday. For some reason I found myself going back and forth through the Church calendar looking for a way to find explain my own reaction to the terrorist events in Lebeanon, Paris, and Mali over the past week. Today is actually the last Sunday in our liturgical year. Next Sunday, we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent—which is also the First Sunday of our new Liturgical year. And so, in my mind, I have found myself wandering between the message and themes of Pentecost, of Easter, and of the upcoming Christmas season. And all I have been able to think about is the link between fear and faith. 

    And to be honest, my wondering around the Church calendar reminded me a lot of when I tried out for the High School Volleyball team. When I was a freshman, my high school started a Men’s Volleyball team, and for some reason, I thought I had as good a shot as any to make this new team. As no one had really played much volleyball, the coaches opened tryouts by explaining that they wanted players who were good at listening and taking instructions. They told the forty of us that during practice, three whistles meant that we were to stop whatever drill we were practicing and begin to run clock-wise around the gym. Another whistle blow meant that were were to sit down facing the coaches, and two whistle blows meant that we should turn around and run counter-clockwise. 

    And so, the tryouts began. There were jumping drills, lessons on how to pass and bump, and after about 40 minutes or so, we heard three whistle blows, and we all promptly started jogging clockwise around the gym. After a lap, the coaches blew two quick whistles, and everyone immediately took a seat. 

    Everyone but me. 

    I turned, and started running counter-clockwise. And at first, I was absolutely convinced that I was right, and as I jogged around for the first half-lap, I motioned to my friends to get up and join me…two whistles meant we needed to change directions. 

    No one joined me. 

    Can you imagine the sound of one pair of tennis shoes squeaking across a gym floor with forty some pairs of eyes staring at you??? I could feel the coaches’ eyes on me. And so, I was left hanging—I ran five laps around the gym before someone yelled out “Warren! Sit down you idiot! We can’t get going until you sit down like you should!” To that, the coach mercifully responded, “Warren is the only one who remembered the directions…the rest of you need to get up and run with him!”

    And so, I’m not sure if it was pride, relief, or some combination of both to read the title of our newly installed Presiding Bishop’s response to the terrorist tragedies around the globe: “Be Not Afraid.” 

    Be Not Afraid. That, in essence, is the whole point of Christ’s message to humanity, and it must certainly be cornerstone of His Kingdom: Be not afraid. 

    In a few short weeks, we with gather back in this sanctuary on a cold and dark night to hear a message of hope from Luke’s gospel. 

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

    Fear not! 

    Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savor, a King, Christ the King. 

    The more I read the gospels, the more I am convinced that the entirety and purpose of Jesus’ earthly mission was to assuage the collective fears of humanity. When we are anxious about our physical needs, Jesus appeared to feed the hungry and to heal the sick. When we are fearful about our spiritual lives, Jesus taught us 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

    Lastly, in our most vulnerable, existential fears about life and death itself, Jesus reminds us that we are more than merely crude matter—that we are luminous beings. That God will bring our souls safely home.

    Thus entirety of Jesus’ ministry was meant to release us from our fears, and the message of Easter Morning is that we can trust Jesus’ message. 

    Holy Week is there to judge between our fear and our faith. Good Friday is all about fear. Crucifixion was a horrifically painful instrument of death. It was such a gruesome way to die, that Jewish leaders believed that anyone who died in such a manner was accursed, literally cursed by God, to die in such a way. But Easter Morning confirms that faith is greater than fear. 

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, `He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you." So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

    From his birth in Bethlehem to his resurrection on Easter Sunday, the entire message of Christ’s life is this: Be Not Afraid!

    What Easter Morning proves is that Jesus’s teaching about God’s love for humanity is the truth. As Paul told the church in Rome: 

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    There is nothing as potently destructive to human relationships than fear. Fear leads to anger, which transforms into hate. Hate, ultimately leads to suffering. Suffering, in turn, becomes the fear of future suffering, and the cycle begins anew. But the Good News of Christ is that we are liberated from that destructive cycle of fear. The Good News of the Christian message is that trust, that faith, that love are all more powerful and ultimately more real than fear. Marianne William described this liberation from fear and how faith can transform us perfectly when she wrote:

 “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, Our presence automatically liberates others.”

    If we are to bear the mantle of serving this world as Christ’s followers, then the litmus test of our discipleship must be as to whether our service liberates others from fear or retreats into doubt and despair. 

    I was, I am, incredibly disappointed by our culture’s response to the recent acts of terror in Beruit, Paris, and Mali. Where other countries and cultures around the world responded to this crisis with resolve and commitment, the United States was alone in its fearful reaction to these attacks. We are no longer the “Home of the Brave,” as we saw the so-called leaders of this country retreat into the predictable pattern of fear and blame. But if there is any lesson to be learned from the life of Christ—it is that fear-mongering is simply Un-Christian.

    Being a faithful Christian is not about wrapping yourself in the divine protection of the Almighty. There is absolutely no guarantee—none whatsoever—that having faith will somehow serve as a kind shield generator in your life…protecting you from the horrors witnessed around the world this past week. What faith gives us is, is the confidence to see that God’s hand is at work, even in—especially in!—the darkest corners of our lives. It is, as Julian of Norwich promised, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” What that means is that, for the faithful, if it is not good, then it is not the end. 

    And today, we end where we began: with the collect assigned for this morning:

    Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin and ruled by fear, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule.

    There, in God’s Kingdom, with Christ as our King, we shall live freed from fear and united in faith under his most gracious rule. 

Amen.




November 1, 2015, 12:00 AM

All Saints' Day 2015

All Saints Day 2015

Christ the King, Quincy

 

    Great things, Thou hast done, O Lord, my God. I would name them and proclaim them, but they are more than I can tell. In the name of the Father, the son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen. 

 

    I am my father’s son. Being responsible for carrying on the family name comes with a lot of responsibilities. When you are working on a home-improvement project, part of being a Warren male means that it will take three times longer than you thought, at double the price you estimated, and you may not walk away from the project with all your fingernails or sense of dignity in tact. As my father’s son, I have inherited a strong sense of how things should be done. Tradition plays a crucial role in deciding what should be done when. For instance, the Sunday Night after Thanksgiving, we should be watching Christmas Vacation on TV, just as one should watch Major League on the first day Pitchers and Catchers report to Spring Training. 

    This sense of propriety does more than simply direct when movies should be watched. It obviously leaks into my professional life, as well. For instance, this morning, we are not using the usual readings assigned for All Saints Day. As you Vicar, I have taken you all “rouge.” We are using the old collection of readings based on the Book of Common Prayer, because on All Saints Day, you should be reading from Ecclesiasticus. I remember studying abroad in London and going to chapel in Westminster Abby on All Saints Day, expecting full well to hear the readings and the hymns that we hear this morning, because, after all, this is how All Saints Day should be. 

    All Saints Day is the day in which the Church remembers all those who have died in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Ecclesiasticus reminds us this morning, today is the day for us to “sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations. Some of them have left behind a great name, so that others declare their praise, but of others, there is no memory. But these also were godly men, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten. Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name lives on generation after generation.”

    As such, it has been the custom for now two-generations of Warren priests, to use this day to share the story of an otherwise anonymous saint in our own life. To, however briefly, introduce you to the hybrid and imaginary congregation of saints whose life and actions have illumined God’s path in my own life. People whose names you might hear once, but then never again: Mark Dostal, Cookie Cooke, Carol Gledhill, Kinnear Smith, Erica Murray, Dick Patera, Mary Anne Fick and Earl Sneary. 

    This template for preaching and teaching on All Saints has been all I have ever known. It is how I should be preaching this morning. Of course, something happened a few months ago which made me reconsider how I approach preaching on All Saints. Like All Saints Day, another day that comes with its own set of shoulds is Good Friday. For years, I believed that, as Christians, we should not be peeking into Easter Sunday for a sense of relief. But this year, something changed my perspective, and instead of putting blinders on to make sure we don’t see Easter Sunday too early, I wondered how seeing the triumph of Easter Morning might actually help, rather than detract, from our vision of understanding the importance and the significance of Good Friday. As it turns out, when you know that Easter is coming, Good Friday takes on a whole new dimension of meaning. 

    And then it struck me...what if I changed the temporal focus of All Saints Day? What if, instead of "singing the praises of famous men in their generations," we recognized the truth of our closing hymn this morning: That the saints of God "lived not only in ages past, There are hundreds of thousands still. The world is bright with the joyous saints Who love to do Jesus' will. You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea; For the saints of God are just folk like me, And I mean to be one too.”

    And I mean to be one, too. It’s such a wonderful lyric. Too often, I’m afraid, priests will use All Saints’ Day to encourage parishioners to adopt the behaviors of those famous pillars of the Church—to once more sing the praises of famous men and women. We should all hope to be as generous as St. Nicholas; as humble as St. Bonaventure; as free from material wealth as St. Francis. And when you start to catalogue these various virtues with the various saints which represent them, you can easily turn to the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount for inspiration. 

    But the problem is that the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t describe how we should act—The Sermon on the Mount describes how we will act. For the Beatitudes are not a list of Christian Virtues…the Beatitudes are a proclamation of God’s coming Kingdom. And, today, All Saints Day, is really a celebration of the Church, itself. Those who built this church over the centuries, those who fill its pews this morning, and those who will be brought into the faith through the Holy Spirit. All Saints Day is as much about those who have built this Church as it is what we will do gathered together AS THE CHURCH

    We are, by virtue of our Baptism, both members of the mystical body of Christ in the Church, but we are also, and just as importantly, God’s Saints. We are all, you and I, saints. And Saints have a very specific job: they have to make the world a better place. And not just better in a generic sense of picking up litter and playing nice—our job is to literally bring about the reign of God. And what we will accomplish is the sanctification and blessing of this world. 

    NT Wright describes it wonderfully when he describes the very notion of blessing. “Blessing is not primarily about what God promises to do to someone. It is primarily about what God is going to do through someone. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven – in other words, when God sets up his sovereign rule on earth as in heaven, it’s the poor in spirit through whom he will do it. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth: in other words, when God wants to sort out the world, to put it to right once and for all, he doesn’t send in the tanks, as people often think he should. He sends in the meek; and by the time the high and mighty realize what’s happening, the meek, because they are thinking about people other than themselves, have built hospitals, founded leper colonies, looked after the orphans and widows, and, not least, founded schools, colleges and universities, to supply the world with wise leaders. Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for justice; because they, unlike the time-serving lawyers who bully witnesses for their own professional kudos, will be a sign of hope in a crooked world.”

    “Ever since Nietzsche it has been customary to sneer at the apparently wimpish vision of human life in the Beatitudes: the meek, the mourners, the merciful, and so on – when surely everyone knows that the people who make the world go round are the arrogant, the go-getters, the people with sharp swords or at least sharp elbows, the pushy, the proud.”

    But the beatitudes aren’t good advice, it’s good news. The Good News is that, like St. Paul wrote the Corinthian Church, “We proclaim Christ crucified—Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” We, as a church, as the gathered mystical body of Christ, are in this world to pronounce God’s blessing, and to partner with God in the re-ordering of this world into the Kingdom of God. 

    That, simultaneously, is the work of the church, and the mark of the saints. Think of all those canonized saints throughout the centuries…what was it that made them so godly? Wasn’t it simply that they comforted those who mourned, who hungered and thirsted and strove for righteousness, who showed mercy, who worked for justice and peace, and who were persecuted for proclaiming the Gospel. 

    What is it that we want our church to look like? What are the marks of a church engaged in its mission to be and to represent Christ in this world??? Isn’t it the same list? Isn’t it possible that we are already continuing the work of the saints who have gone before us? Aren’t we, through the Grace of God, serving as God’s saints right here and now. 

    For years, I have found great comfort, even solace, in the saints of the past. There are the pillars of the faith, who have inspired countless Christians over the centuries, and there are also those Saints in my own life, just as I’m sure that have been saints in each of your lives, that have kindled or strengthened our faith through their presence. But the focus of All Saints day should not only be looking back. For the saints of God are just as rooted in our present, just as they will continue to shine for others from generation to generation. 

    One of the great gifts of All Saints Day is that, no matter how painfully off-message the preacher gets, the music appointed for today is sufficient instruction on the meaning and importance of All Saints Day. 

    “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, Who Thee by faith before the world confessed, Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed. But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;

The saints triumphant rise in bright array; The King of glory passes on His way. From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost: Alleluia. Alleluia!”

    The saints of God "lived not only in ages past, There are hundreds of thousands still. The world is bright with the joyous saints Who love to do Jesus' will. You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea; For the saints of God are just folk like me, And I mean to be one too.”

    And we will be saints, too. 

 

Amen. 

 

 




October 26, 2015, 10:19 AM

Proper 25 Year B - Bartimaus in the dark

Proper 25

Year B

Christ the King, Quincy

    Great things, Thou hast done, O Lord, my God. I would name them and proclaim them, but they are more than I can tell. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen. 

 

    When I was about to be ordained, Charles Cornell, who was the supply priest at Christ the King before I was ordained, told me, warned me…really, of the “Five Stages of Preaching.”In the first stage, a priest’s sermons will begin with “In seminary my professors taught me…” In the second stage, priests begin to utilize a new introduction to their sermons: “This past week, my spouse said/did…” You can probably guess what Stage Three entails… “this week, my children…” Stage Four engages grandchildren as the impetus for a sermon, until finally you reach the Fifth and final stage of your preaching career: “Back in seminary, my professors taught me.”

    I mention that, because, of course, I am currently in the Third Stage of my preaching career, and whether they mean to or not, Abby and John are providing me with fodder for sermons week after week. 

    What sparked a new revelation was Abby’s homework this week. Every Thursday, Abby brings home her Friday Folder, filled with announcements and the past week’s classwork. And so, as a dutiful partner, I looked over her math homework, the glittery art project, and the worksheets  on Proper Nouns. I paused when I looked over the assignment—it was simple enough, Abby was asked to underline all the proper nouns in a story. Pretty basic 2nd Grade stuff. But then I realized something. If there is anything lacking from the Gospels, it is Proper Nouns. 

    What do I mean by that? Well, simple. Take away Jesus, John the Baptist, Peter, and Pilate, and how many Proper Names are we left with in the Gospels? Occasionally, like last week, we hear from James and John. But really, after the disciples are listed, we only hear from Peter as the Disciples’ representative. Think about the stories in the gospels…how do we name them? The Centurion. The Boy born blind. The ten lepers. The Syrophencian Demoniac. We come close to a name when Mark pairs his story of the Woman who heymmoragged for 13 years with Jarius’ Daughter, but the girl remains safely anonymous. And so, it really is remarkable when we come to this morning’s Gospel reading that we come across a proper name: Bartimaus, son of Timeaus. 

    In the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Bartimaus is the only named recipient of a miracle. John, whose gospel lists Jesus’ final sign as his resurrecting Lazarus, but even if you include Lazaraus, it is pretty incredible to have someone named in a miracle story. 

    So, to repeat Shakespeare’s famous question, what is in a name, anyways?

 

    In a word, everything. 

    Bartimaus is the first of several clues which Biblical Scholars point to in understanding the historicity of this miracle. My point this morning is not to answer the question of whether the miracles recounted in the Gospels are literally true, but that of all the miracles the Gospel’s recount, it is the story of blind Bartimaeus which probably has the pre-eminent claim to historical veracity. 

    The evidence, if not the proof, is in the details. 

    First, it is clear that the original story was told in Aramaic, the language of Jesus and of the earliest church. Mark, writing in Greek, some forty years after the events actually happened, has to go back and explain to his audience that Bartimaeus means son of Timaeus, while to some one who spoke Aramaic, like Jesus and his disciples, no such explanation would have been necessary. And though you cannot see it in the English translation, when Bartimaeus finally approaches Jesus, the word we read as “Master” was originally the Aramaic word “Rabbouni” which does indeed mean master or teacher. So the originally story dates back to  the earliest period of the Church when most Christians spoke Aramaic, not Greek. 

    Even the physical details of the story argue for its veracity. If you were a Jewish pilgrim headed up to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover at the Temple, the last gathering point, the neck of the funnel, if you will, was Jericho. Here from all parts of Israel, pilgrims gathered before ascending the steep Roman road which lead the last twenty miles up the hill to Jerusalem. So, here, at Jericho would be a perfect spot for a blind man who could support himself only by begging, to situate himself. Here were great crowds of religious people headed toward Jerusalem in a joyous and festive spirit primed to respond generously to the appeals of blind Bartimaeus. It would be sort of like the Salvation Army bell ringer who, at Christmas, gets the prime spot just outside of Scheels in Reno. 

    And if you look even more closely, another compelling detail appears. Listen again to how the reading begins: “And they (that is the Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho; and as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside.” With all these pilgrims milling around in Jericho, any place which Bartimaeus chose in the city would have meant that he would miss some potential givers. But by situating himself just outside the city as the road started its climb to Jerusalem, Bartimaeus was assured that every single pilgrim on their way to Jerusalem would pass by right in front of him. So again the story rings true. The details are all precisely right. Unless you dismiss all the miracle stories as a priori impossible, this story of Bartimaeus is certainly the most compelling credible of them all. 

    And this miracle story tells the truth in another way as well, for the blind Bartimaeus was a man of great vision, and it is the contrast between who is truly blind and who can see the truth, that this story is really about. 

    Immediately preceding the story of Bartimaeus comes last weeks Gospel’s where James and John are trying to convince Jesus that they should be allowed to sit at Jesus’ right hand when he comes in glory. On one level, it is a story about the necessity of humility, but on an even more important level, James and John, representing the whole of the disciples are demonstrating once again that they are totally blind, that they have no clue as to what Jesus’s Messiahship will really mean. 

    Immediately after the story of Bartimaeus comes the story of Palm Sunday which inaugurates the events of Holy Week. And throughout the events and tragedy of that week, the disciples still fail to see and grasp what Jesus is really all about. They swear their undying fealty to Jesus and then disappear when he needs them most. As Jesus dies on the cross they are in hiding, seemingly defeated and undone. For it is not until Easter some ten days after their encounter with Bartimaeus that they will finally be able to see and comprehend who Jesus really was and is. 

    Amongst all this blindness on the part of the disciples, only one person has the vision to see and the wisdom to proclaim Jesus true identity: the blind man Bartimaeus, who cries out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus, the Messiah, have mercy on me. It is the blind man who sees that to which the disciples remain blinded, Jesus true Messianic identity. 

    For Mark, the contrast is almost palpable: those who have eyes and ought to be able to see, cannot; only the blind Bartimaeus sees with the clear eyes of faith, the faith which then makes him whole. And now, we too can see why this story is so very important to Mark, and why he sets it here right at the most crucial moment in Jesus' pilgrimage up to Jerusalem. What Mark wants us to know is that on our own pilgrimage, on our individual walk with Jesus, we too, like the disciples and like Bartimaeus will find times when all is bright and clear and radiant, and times when we seem to only stumble over unseen obstacles in the dark. We. too, will have those wonderful moments when we see Jesus clearly face to face, and those moments when we grope, seemingly alone, in the shadows. In our live too, we will know, as each of us has known, periods of light and periods of deep darkness. That is what it means to follow Jesus. 

    But when those periods of darkness do descend, there is still more we can learn from Bartimaeus. We have all heard that when people loose their ability to see, their other senses often become more acute to compensate for the loss. I think that in some ways there is an analogy here to our own spiritual journeys. We are all, by nature active, purposeful people. When there is a problem, when there is some obstacle to overcome, we plan, we struggle, we find someway to move forward. Even in the darkest moments of our own lives, there is something, we want to believe, that we can still do the make things better. 

    There is nothing the matter with this, it is a part of who we are, and in many cases it is even heroic to see how people manage to keep going, keep moving in the face of those dark, silent, frightening moments which come into the lives of all of us. Maybe we turn to more fervent prayer, maybe we find a book to read, maybe we start or form a support group, maybe we start some new project, whatever the means, we try so very hard to just keep going, to make something happen, to make things better. 

    This is really well and good, these are the methods which have worked for us before when things became dark and threatening. And we rely on these tested methods to lighten our darkness, as we who can see rely upon our sight to show us the world around us. But there are times, when, like a person loosing their sight, even these methods fail us and we are left seemingly alone in the dark.
    Then are times, when there is literally, nothing left to do. 

    Sometimes these moments come suddenly in response to absolute tragedy for which we can find no reason, when all the world seems cold and hostile, and God, if he still exists seems far beyond our sight. Sometimes they come slowly, almost incrementally. We just get tired and worn out as one set back leads to another, and we loose any sense of hope for the future. Whatever the cause, the moment comes to each of us when there is really nothing we can see to do. Then what? Sometimes, it seems to me, there is nothing to do but to huddle and wait. Wait like Bartimaeus huddled by the roadside, waiting for Jesus to pass by. And perhaps when I least expect it, when I have grown so tired that I think the darkness will last forever, sometimes I hear a faint voice whisper that Jesus is about to pass by. And all I can do is to cry out in silence, "Jesus, Son of David, who ever you are, where ever you are, have mercy on me." And a voice with in me rebukes me saying, "If he hasn't heard you before, why should he stop now?' But still and plead, "Help me." And this time, even if just for a moment, he does stop and ask what I need, and like Bartimaeus, is say, "Master, let me see again." 

    And what happens is truly a miracle. Not that ever thing changes all at once, not that I suddenly see again, but rather that I catch a fleeting glimpse that Jesus does care and that he wants me to care too. And that caring, his care for me, and my care for others is the light which will never go out. 

    The light that dawns is never perfect. That shadows persist, and faint outlines are all that I can often see. But, I guess I have come to see and believe that the dark is never completely black. As we grow accustomed to the dark, as our other senses become more spiritually acute, we can make out the last trace of last evening's sunset, or tomorrow coming dawn. And, I hope I have learned that I can, and often must wait there, and not be too frightened by the shadowy darkness. 

    We must learn to experience the dark if we are to see a new day. We need to learn again, that fear and doubt, and disappointment are not the real enemy of faith, they are rather a means, sometimes by which we strip away that which passes for faith to find the kernel of true faith the lies with in. In the dark silence, and perhaps only there we can discern what is real and what really matters. As with Bartimaeus, sometimes it is only in the darkness that we can see that our Savior is near. 

    




October 18, 2015, 12:00 AM

Proper 24 Year B- Becoming Star-throwers

 

Proper 24

Year B

Christ the King, Quincy

 

    Great things, Thou hast done, O Lord, my God. I would name them and proclaim them, but they are more than I can tell. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

 

    

    Last week, Pat and I drove to Santa Rosa to attend the College for Congregational Development. Pat, as you may or may not know, has a Ph.D. in Anthropology. Spend 11 hours in a car with an anthropologist, and you’re going to learn a few things about Anthropology. I for one, have only read one Anthropologist in my life—but after spending some concentrated time with one, I decided to return to the work of Loren Eisely…and much to my surprise, the story fits with everything that has been going on here at Christ the King this past month!

    The great naturalist Loren Eiseley was spending his vacation at an English seaside town. Suffering, as he did most of his life, from terrible insomnia, he would spend the early hours of the morning walking alone along the quiet, predawn beach. Each day at about sunrise, he found that many of the people in the town would come down to the beach to comb the sand for any starfish which had washed ashore during the night. Those they found, they would quickly collect and sell in the market that day. 

    But one morning, Eiseley got up particularly early, and discovered a solitary individual walking down the beach. Like his fellow townsfolk, this man, too, was gathering starfish, but each time he found one that was still alive, he would pick it up and throw it as far as he could out, beyond the surf-line, where it would be safe and be given a new life in the nurturing arms of the open sea.  And each day, everyday, Eisely found this man embarked upon his unending task of mercy each morning, seven days a week regardless of the weather. To this anonymous man on his solitary mission, Eiseley gave the name of "the star thrower."

    To me, this little story illustrates two completely contrasting ways in which to view life. That is not to say that one is right and the other is wrong, but, rather, that life, to a large extent, is what you make of it. 

    To the stalwart, practical gatherers of star fish, life is a struggle. Each morning at dawn they go forth to wrest their living from the bounty thrown up by the surf. They collect what star fish they can and sell them to provide for themselves and their families. There is nothing "wrong" with this, all of us work hard in our different ways to provide for our needs. It is the serious business of life. 

    And again, these are not bad people, they are not rapacious or greedy. They simply collect as many  star fish the tides have washed ashore and sell them for whatever price the market will bring. There is nothing morally, or ecologically wrong with that. 

    In fact, they remind me a great deal of each of us. We, each, go about our daily business in a serious and responsible way. We do not steal or cheat, we just do our jobs as best we can, and try, thereby, to provide security and comfort for ourselves and our families. And for most of us, most of the time, work is serious business. We plan, we struggle, and often as not we succeed. Succeed in terms of the task we have set before us, and succeed in terms of making our lives comfortable, and in supplying our various wants and needs. And when our best efforts are crowned with success, that victory becomes that platform from which we launch ourselves toward higher and more exacting goals. 

    That is life, those are the rules, that is how we succeed. And we have, each of us, learned to play be those rules. We would not be living where and as well as we do if we had not learned how to play this very serious game, and to play it well. 

    If that seems a little general, let me offer a very personal example.  Two weeks ago, we blessed and rededicated St. Giles’ Hall. The service and reception capped two weeks of frenetic energy, as we banded together as a parish to meet our deadline. We welcomed representatives from the wider diocese, enjoyed a shorter than usual sermon from the Vicar, and enjoyed the fruits of our success with a lunch in our new program space. From beginning to end, it was an wonderful weekend.

    But by Monday morning it was back to the job at hand. Will families actually show up to Lego Sunday School? Will our class on “Who wrote the Bible” be well attended? Am I really leaving town for the third week in a row on behalf of the church?

    Now that is how responsible people ought to behave. Having met one challenge we move on to the next. But, at least for me, the transition from one task to the next was just too quick. The latent "star thrower" in me, really just wanted to jump up and say, "Wait, not so fast. Before we move on to the next challenge, we have some serious celebrating to do." I really wished that I had had the nerve to say: “It doesn’t matter if St. Giles’ Hall brings in new parishioners or not, let's just take ten minutes to celebrate, to congratulate one another, to give thanks for to God for this wonderful moment in the history of our lives together." 

    Like a good responsible adult, I turned my serious attention to the new challenges which now lie ahead. And an opportunity to celebrate, a chance to just enjoy what God has given us, passed by. Never to be reclaimed.

    Like the people who gather starfish each morning, I had done the responsible and serious thing. I had done what needed to be done to keep things moving. But, where was the joy, where was the celebration? The star  fish gatherer had made his appointed rounds, but the star thrower was not to be seen.

    And I was thinking about this in the context of Jesus' last statement in this morning's Gospel: "For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve." How are we to serve one another? Obviously there are all sorts of different ways in which we can be of true service to our neighbors and to our world. But there is on way which it seems to me that we often overlook, and overlook to the peril of our soul's health. 

    That which we often overlook is our call to be, if you will, star throwers. By that I simply mean people who make a the conscious effort, who make the time, to recognize "to identify and lift up those wonderful moments, those marvelous acts, those delightful people and those beautiful stories which add life and joy to our world."

    A few examples of what I mean. Every once in a great while when I'm playing golf I will hit one shot which is just dead, solid, perfect. It climbs and soars and hones in on just the spot at which I aimed. Now this doesn't happen often, but when it does it is wonderful to just drop the club and stand there an admire what I have wrought. And it is those rare moments that make the game enjoyable and keep bringing me back. Even in something as insignificant as a golf game we need to learn to celebrate and enjoy the good things we do.

    On a bit more important level. All of us as parents have had our children come home with a good grade on a report card, it doesn't really matter if it is an A or a B or a hard earned C. But they are proud of what they have done. Now I'm sure all of us respond by saying how wonderful their accomplishment is, but unless we are very careful, having offered our congratulations we slip into another statement like "that's great, now just keep it up", or "a B+ is wonderful, maybe you can get an A next time." We need to learn, we need to discipline ourselves to celebrate what is, and not reduce it to a platform for some other accomplishment yet to be achieved. 

    The same dynamic is often at work on our jobs. In the midst of a myriad of deadlines and all the pressure which work involves, it takes a sustained conscious effort to celebrate and remember to sincerely thank the people we work with for doing a fine job. Now I am not suggesting this as some new management tool and subtly improve employee morale or raise precious productivity, but as a genuine Christian form of service to hold up and celebrate the fact that people do good and wonderful things and they ought to be recognized. And I am speaking to myself as much as to all of you. I know I do not always take the time to tell people what a great job they continue to do, and how much I value and count on their help and support. We need to make that kind of celebration a real part of our lives. As Jesus told us, we can serve our neighbors by celebrating all that they have done.

    And finally as a Church we need to spend more time celebrating and giving thanks for all that we have received and all that we have done together. Each Sunday during the prayers of the people we pray for the "special needs and concerns of this congregation". And from the prayer list or from our own hearts we pray for all those who need God's help. And this is how it should be, our list of intercessions should include all those who are in our hearts and minds.

    But then we are called to "thank you, Lord, for all the blessings of this life" and very little is said. Now probably many of us are silently thanking God for all the miracles that bring joy to our lives. But wouldn't it be wonderful, if every once in a while our thanksgivings out numbered our petitions. 

    We need to learn to celebrate, to give thanks to God for all the blessings we enjoy. For in our celebration we are remind that God is the one source of all that  we enjoy and learn to see his gracious hand in all that we see around us. And the more we learn to celebrate, the more we will see that deserves celebration. It is, at last a way of looking at the world, as a gift from God, a gift to enjoy and to celebrate.

    To return to the original story. We have all learned through our lives to be efficient, productive, serious gatherers of star fish. We know how to plan, to accomplish and to reap the benefits of our serious efforts. But we need to learn to be, we need to practice becoming star throwers, who can see not just tasks to be performed but miracles to be celebrate and joy to be shared. And as we learn to hold up and celebrate what God has done, and what he has allowed us to do with him, we become not those who served, but those who serve others. Those who bring joy, and light, and life to the predawn darkness of God's coming Kingdom.




October 4, 2015, 12:00 AM

Rededication of St. Giles' Hall

Rededication of St. Giles’ Hall

 Feast of St. Francis. 2015 

Christ the King, Quincy 

 

Great things, Thou hast done, O Lord, my God. I would name them and proclaim them, but they are more than I can tell. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen. 

 

    I will admit that I am somewhat nervous about preaching this morning. It’s not that Mary is here—she’s too generous a supporter of mine to really level me with a withering critique of my preaching failures. To be honest, it could be that Kay is here. At Camp Noel Porter this summer I was spreading my Zwinglian form of Anglicanism, and I’m not sure how many strikes I get before she notifies the Bishop. Three strikes? Ok, phew! That means I have one more public slip up before I land in the Bishop’s office explaining myself. 

    No, I think the real reason I am nervous is because I’m not preaching on the lectionary this morning. The lectionary is kind of an escape hatch for a preacher’s ego. When you fail to really make your point while preaching on the lectionary, you can always blame the readings. “If they gave me a bit more context in Paul’s letter to the Romans,” or, “I could have preached a better sermon if the lectionary writers hadn’t picked such obscure texts.” But when you write the entire service, including selecting all the readings...you are really operating without a net. If you can’t make your point after cherry-picking the Bible—the onus is really on you and your ability as a preacher when you fail to make your point. 

    So, you see, I’m working with some pretty high stakes this morning. If I can’t write a coherent sermon to accompany a service I myself wrote, then that’s quite an indictment on my ability as a priest. I’m already a little nervous because after reviewing the service, Mike emailed me with the observation that those are some odd readings for a rededication service. 

So let’s start there. What is our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures about this morning, and what could it possibly have to do with our rededication of St. Giles’ Hall? As the first few lines suggest, we are in the 18th year of King Josiah’s rule in Judah. Josiah was king roughly 400 years after the death of King Solomon and the division of the two kingdoms. After Solomon’s death, the kingdom over which David and Solomon reigned was divided into two nation-states: Israel to the North, and Judah to the south. A lot can happen in 400 years. Judah, along with Israel to the north, are increasingly threatened by foreign nations, and Solomon’s once grand Temple in Jerusalem was in need of repairs. And so, we are told that the king sent Shaphan son of Azaliah, son of Meshullam, the secretary, to organize repairs to the Temple. And during those renovations of the temple, something strange and unexpected happens. 

    As they are knocking down walls and busily making repairs to the temple, they come across the Book of the Law. Historians believe that as they were preparing the Temple, the builders came across an old copy of Deuteronomy. And when the book of Deuteronomy is read aloud to the King, he immediately tears his clothes in mourning. Each verse of the Law stands as an indictment against Israel and Judah, and they highlight how far they have strayed from the Covenant the Lord God swore to their ancestors. To any citizen of Judah, the discovery of the Book of the Law was not only a religious awakening, it was also a political revelation. Israel and Judah have collectively strayed from the Covenant, from the Law of the Lord God, and clearly, their religious infidelity was why Israel and Judah are being     threatened on the world stage politically. 

    Now, what in the world does that have to do with Christ the King and our newly renovated St. Giles’ Hall? 

    Well, there actually are three analogies between our scripture this morning and our experience renovating St. Giles’ Hall over the past three years. A year ago, Joe and I were smashing through a cinderblock wall to expand the entry to the restrooms. Now, you’d have to hold the Sacramento Bee in very high esteem to equate it with Scripture, but stuffed inside the cinderblock walls were several editions of the Sacramento Bee from the late 1940’s and early 50’s. So, the first thing I guess scripture is preparing us to find some unexpected writings when you renovate structural walls. 

    The second analogy is the effect the renovation’s have on our leaders. For both Josiah and yours truly, the renovations have brought about a period of intense self-reflection and self doubt. “Are we in over our heads? Did I bite off more than I can chew? What happens if we renovate St. Giles’ and nothing happens?” 

If there is a clear and demonstrable message from this morning’s readings, it is this: it is unwise to engage in a renovation project. It only leads to unpleasantness and a general state of unease. 

 

 

    But I mentioned there is a third analogy between Christ the King in Quincy and the rule of King Josiah of Judah nearly 2600 years ago. For you see, the story in II Kings doesn’t end with the words of the prophetess, just as Christ the King’s story didn’t and won’t end with my case of nerves. 

    Josiah orders the renovation of Solomon’s temple, and in their efforts, they discover the Book of the Law. Josiah then begins a years long reform of the Kingdom of Judah. The discovery of the Book of Deuteronomy was the spark that set off a wave of reformations within Judah and Judaism. The renovations of the temple did more than just to rebuild Solomon’s Temple, the renovations and subsequent discovery of Deuteronomy helped to rebuild the faith of those living in Josiah’s kingdom. 

 

    And the same is true of Christ the King. 

    I am not sure how, or when, or even why...but sometime in the course of the past 33 months, we stopped rebuilding St. Giles and we started building our faith. This project has not only transformed our parish campus, but I believe it has equally transformed the spiritual lives of our parishioners, as well. 

    Think about how we understand our faith. For Centuries, we Anglicans have held to the Biblical principle that a tree can be discerned by its fruits. Show me a Christian, and by the level of their commitment and actions, we can gauge the liveliness of their faith. Every single parishioner, even visitors to our family, have contributed to the Stewardship of St. Giles’ Hall. Whether it has been through Time, Talent, or Treasure, every single one of us has either directly contributed to the work, or supported those who have. That is a phenomenal claim to make in this day and age. All of us, collectively as a parish, have understood that God has called us to this new chapter in our parish’s ministry, and have marshaled the resources to see it done. We heard God calling us. We acknowledged its difficulty and we still followed where we think God is calling us to. 

    In our parish newsletter, I likened the spiritual transformation that has happened in our church to fulfilling our Diocesan Mission of Making Disciples, Raising Up Saints, and Transforming Communities for Christ. There I mentioned that time and time again, I have heard several parishioners describe their efforts as the product of being “called” to this work. There isn’t a lot of glory in shoveling gravel or pressure-testing sewage pipes, but I have yet to see a frown on any of our volunteer’s faces (apart from Joe Way evaluating my handiwork). Renovating a building can be grueling work, but so many of you have shared a holy pride in the task we are accomplishing. That, essentially, is the essence of discipleship: the recognition that we are called to work on behalf of the kingdom, and fruits of that labor will not reflect our own glory, but God’s. 

    In watching Christ the King coalesce around St. Giles’ Hall, I have marveled at how I have seen the Saints in action. Saints are not just the pious luminaries of centuries past. The saints surround us, and the witness of their faith deepens our own. What has been so inspiring about this project has been the way in which it has galvanized our parish. Parishioners have been so encouraged by the good work of others, that they have taken on new and complimentary tasks in and around the church. St. Giles’ wasn’t even complete, and we had parishioners eager to improve the quality of the music that accompanies our worship. We painted St. Giles’, and then parishioners turned around and started painting our main building! We’ve taken a renewed pride in our parish, and the work you have undertaken to beautify and improve our campus is truly a blessing. We are each encouraging one another—that is why we worship in community!!! Christianity is not a solitary pursuit—our faith is engendered by lives of others, and it is our faith which shall encourage others to follow in the Gospel of Christ. 

    Obviously, our work in and around St. Giles’ was born out of a desire to grow our parish family. Our hope has always been that St. Giles’ Hall will become a resource for our community, and serve as an introduction and invitation to join our parish. There is a deep yearning in our community for what our parish can offer, and I pray that St. Giles’ can help provide for those needs. 

    But Jesus never commissioned a building to serve as one of his disciples. Jesus needs people to become his followers and invite others into a life of faith and servanthood. And that is precisely where St. Giles’ has been such a surprise. It has turned us all into evangelists. How often have we shared with someone outside of the church, how proud and excited we are for the next chapter in the life of Christ the King? That is evangelism. We are witnessing the life-giving effect of faith, and we are welcoming others to draw upon the nourishment which only the Holy Spirit can provide. 

    Somewhere around 640 BC, Josiah began a renovation of Solomon’s temple. That work changed the shape and nature of their faith community. Fast-forward some 2600 years to a small congregation in the Sierra Nevada’s, and we see the same thing happening. Our rededication of St. Giles’ Hall isn’t just a story of renewal, it is a deepening of our very faith. Many of us, myself included, knew that our Renovation would transform our parish campus, but I think few of us were prepared for how this renovation would transform our community internally. This project has transformed our parish campus, but it has also transformed our hearts, as well. Amen. Alleluia.


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