Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Seeds and Weeds

August 1, 2014 Leave a comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGood morning to you all and welcome to St. Luke’s. Today I bring you greetings from the newly appointed Arch Deacon for Deacons of the diocese, the Venerable Jane Miron, whose home church is St. Thomas in Lancaster. We are here on back to back Sundays talking about seeds and weeds. Similar stories, yet different intentions. Last week we briefly touched on the Gospel focusing on God being the sower. It wasn’t so much where the scattered seeds grew as much as we knew that the word must be spread in every corner of the world. Today we’re given a parable with a question as to who the cast of characters are. In this one, the sower is the Son of Man. Keeping that in mind, let’s not get the two parables mixed up. And let’s not allow the difference in who the sower is to keep us from getting to the heart of the meaning behind them. As long as we know we have two different parables, with two different meanings, we’ll be okay.

Rather than compare them side by side, we can first establish that we know how in last week’s Gospel a main point is “where” the seeds are sown. The seeds represent the spreading of the word of God. God’s word is sown everywhere, giving all the chance – no matter how slim – to grow and mature. Today’s Gospel differs because rather than the seeds representing God’s word, the seeds represent His disciples. We can broaden that representation and say that the seeds represent the entire church, all of us being members, all of us being the carriers who take that Word into the world and do some sowing of our own. But in the midst of us who call ourselves disciples and as the text says “children of the kingdom”, there’s another seed going about trying to cause trouble. The “children of the evil one” also walks among us with their own agenda.

This is a point many people shy away from these days and I’m going to lay it all out here once and done and then move on. I’m talking about the existence of evil in the world. Maybe it’s because the concept of evil and satan has been hijacked by certain believers who use it most harmfully as a means of igniting fear and guilt in people to coerce them into going to church: “Watch out, or the devil will get you! He’s hiding behind that corner, waiting for you to slip up and then he’ll grab you and haul you away!” Even more unfortunate that that sort of evangelizing also tries to get you to see God as the chief punisher of the world, who, instead of having his loving and caring eye on the sparrow, has his eye on you with a big pen marking down your every mistake. I’m not one who thinks the latter way is how Jesus came to have so many disciples and followers. I’ve always been taught and teach that the Gospel – the Good News – is about bringing others into the kingdom of God by our words, ways, and actions. Yet I won’t sit back and deny what is written time and time again in the New Testament that, yes, satan has taken on a different role since he was written about in the book of Job. But the fact that he is presented in our Gospels and Epistles shouldn’t be ignored by us or anyone who won’t acknowledge he exists outside of our scriptures then or now. To me, it is only our job to understand that according to the gospels evil does exist in the world; but understanding something exists and allowing that understanding to take control of your life are two different things. The key to how we operate around the situation is in how we treat this matter of good and evil. Not that we look at every person to our left or right and wonder who belongs to whom, but that we focus every aspect of our lives on the words and actions of the Son of Man. That is the difference between those of us who live in the kingdom of God, those who live in fear of the kingdom of God, and those who live in the kingdom of everything else on earth.

Speaking of the kingdom, so often we hear the words “the kingdom of heaven is…” or “the kingdom of God is like…” and then we are presented with a view of the common things in life that most everyone can relate to. Jesus spoke in parables for a reason. The reason was to allow people to see that what he and the prophets of old were talking about, was not to be found in some big theological seminary where scholars met to debate the substance of being. The words and experiences Jesus used were those used and met by everyone in day to day conversations. You didn’t – and still don’t – need a Masters of Divinity to be able to participate in and be a part of the realization of the kingdom of God on earth: As it IS in heaven. And yet we continue to miss what is right in front of us as the real kingdom.

I’ll get back to that in a minute but first let me say this; nowhere in my wildest dreams did I ever think my final sermon to you would include so much about evil. Maybe as Flip Wilson would say “the devil made me do it!” But it does give me the opportunity to give you my take on this, and further underscore my views and beliefs about the kingdom of God. So if we are, as the text says, “children of the kingdom” then surely we can see the things that have been intended for us to see. Why would we be heirs to such a thing and not be aware of what it is we are receiving? It’s like what I talked about in my sermon on the Ascension of Jesus when I talked about celebrating the day of Pentecost; how we are celebrating the fact that the day actually occurred, some two thousand years ago! The Holy Spirit IS with us and so is the kingdom of God! Right here right now! We can stop waiting. It’s like we’re standing on the platform of a subway station. The train marked “Kingdom of God” keeps moving around and around on its route, and we keep standing on the platform saying “yep, there it is! Yep, there it goes.” We need to take that big step, get on board, and let it take us wherever it goes. There’s no other way to understand the kingdom unless we’re all in and all on board.

A final word as we come back to talk about the wheat and the weeds. One of the weeds farmers the world over have to deal with is called Bearded Darnel. It’s a weed that looks exactly like wheat until it starts to bear seed. When it ripens, the seed of the plant is poisonous and deadly. Jesus proves again his mastery of the parable by using weeds and wheat. As I said, he uses things that are commonly known to his audiences. It may take some thinking and research for those of us who aren’t farmers or gardeners to relate entirely to the story. But when we add the part about the weed being toxic, it makes more sense. In the normal process of growing; whether it be our faith or our bodies, there are disciples of all kinds roaming about, all looking the same, all acting the same. Some may seem a bit different here and there and some of the things that come out of the mouths of a few may have a tendency to go against the grain (so to speak). We know in our hearts that the direction they are trying to lead us is wrong, and the first thing we want to do is cut them off in their tracks. Imprison them. Kill them off. But God says “No.” That is not our job to do. We may be children of the kingdom of God but Jesus lets us know we aren’t the ones who have the responsibility or the authority to make the call that deals them their fate. It reminds me of a cartoon I see frequently every time a war breaks out and people are asking “how can we tell who the enemy is? And someone yells out “kill them all and let God sort them out.” That doesn’t quite fit the bill of what the Gospels tell us to do, does it?

As difficult and opposing it is to some of us, the way of the Gospel is not to eradicate everything that goes against the norm or appears to be different. Wary and alert? Yes. Annihilating everything that moves in the wrong direction? No. Because in doing the wrong thing we inevitably don’t allow God’s work to be finished. We’re told to wait … allow the disciples, the seeds and weeds to bear fruit … and then it will be shown who belongs to the kingdom of God and who doesn’t. Besides, there’s always that chance of turning someone in the direction of God’s kingdom. God’s ways always take care of things in the end. As we’ve seen over and over in the Old Testament it may take generations for that to happen, but, we will see Truth prevail in the final hour.

We have our job cut out for us. We must maintain our identity in this world where so much looks alike, where the wrong things can easily be mistaken for good, and where so much is at stake in keeping the Gospel of Jesus alive in today’s world. We’ve taken our Baptismal Vows and renew them time and time again where we promise: To realize that we ARE children of the kingdom of God and we ARE to spread the Gospel, the Good News, to everyone, even if it’s merely through our actions. So let’s open our eyes and being the children of the kingdom that we are, see that kingdom surrounding us with all its goodness here on earth as it IS in heaven. Amen

Categories: Uncategorized

How Shall We Welcome?

August 1, 2014 Leave a comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m sure there are a few of us around here who do this one thing when we’re travelling about the state or country, as you enter into every city, town, and hamlet you come across. You look for that rectangular white and blue sign with the Episcopal shield that says, “The Episcopal Church welcomes you.” Then when you find it you slow down to see if you can read the fine print that informs us of the name of the church and its location. Once that is all done, we confidently send them a prayerful pat on the back for having done their job in letting travelers know they are welcome in their church.   And for the time being, at least, we can all rest assured that yet another Episcopal church is doing it right. Unless you have the experience Sheri and I had one Sunday morning while we were on vacation. As we entered the town, there was the sign, perhaps a bit more rusted than most. We found the church and began to look for the red doors by which to enter when we saw a woman walking in the same direction as us. The door was found and upon entering there was a certain feeling that was missing. It was as if the ten or so people who were already seated had melted into the pews, unaware of the two strangers who had just walked in.

Now neither of us were expecting a fan fare, but even in the rarest of occasions in this area where people are sparsely scattered throughout the sanctuary, if a stranger walks in they are greeted by someone. And once a seat is found, I notice the hospitality kick in as those around them turn and welcome them with a friendly smile, a hello, and maybe even a handshake. But nobody – I hope – will be made to feel like they are part of the furniture and not noticed: Not on their arrival, and certainly not on their departure! So the service went on. At the dismissal we headed for the back of the church and actually had to catch someone’s attention to ask if there was a coffee hour. They directed us to the kitchen where a tray of cookies and a coffee pot had been set out and if it weren’t for my questions about the building and the history of it, they would have been out the door prior to that.

Did I mention that there were maybe ten or a dozen people there? I began to think I understood why. Every conversation I tried to start with one of them all seemed to gravitate towards their love of the building and how they were so blessed to have it all paid for and a dowry to continue its upkeep. The church had become their idol. As long as they could come and sit by themselves once a week in the confines of this beautiful church, listen to its enormous pipe organ and gaze into the stained glass windows; that was “church” for them. It was as if today’s Gospel message was lost under the many layers of paint and stain that covered the walls and woodwork. I often think back on that day and wonder what would have happened if that were my first experience with the Episcopal Church. Would I have gone back to see if that was just an off Sunday? Would I have looked for another denomination or even another Episcopal Church in a nearby community? My guess is that I’d have probably not have acted as Sheri and I did when we first walked into St. Luke’s. We were in search of a place to call home and found it here. It wasn’t the first red door we walked through in the area but it was the one just right for us. We were welcomed at the others, but as one visitor recently told me “you could feel that the Holy Spirit was alive and moving through even the walls of this place.”

True, being at the door and welcoming others into your home is one form of hospitality. But there is another form of hospitality that we as Christians are called to bring to life. We find it in today’s Gospel that concludes Jesus’s discourse on how a Christian should treat others in the world; and if we look in between what we hear from Matthew and what we may actually do in our communities, we just might find ourselves sighing over the size of the gap between them.

Three verses are all we’re given today. But in just three verses we hear the word “welcome” five times. The only other text I know of where we hear one word repeated that many times in so few lines is Dr. Seuss’s “Hop on Pop”! And yes, I did say this was the conclusion of the discourse. If you recall last week, Fr. Chris was saddled with the challenge of preaching in the front lines where so many local, national and world events pry us from our channels of faith and try to lead us into the divisions that Jesus said would result from us following his teachings. Since last week’s verses of this Gospel are the build up to today’s ending, allow me to condense what was discussed last week. We heard that contrary to what we often think, Jesus declares that he didn’t come to bring peace. He came to divide. And as we listened further we were presented with a current event that seemed to be doing the very thing Jesus said he’d do: divide people amongst themselves.

This is a very tough reach for many of us, to set our social, cultural, philosophical and yes, even political ideals and beliefs aside in order to see what the real need is in these situations. It can be difficult for sure, to see through what we hear on the news and what the talking heads on TV are telling us as how others say we should react. But when the smoke clears and the last pundit is still standing, will the basic needs of the situation have been met? The situation is harder yet when children are the issue. Through no fault of their own other than maybe being born where they were, they are caught up in a mess that they don’t want or deserve. How are we as Christians supposed to act and react in response to a situation that truly does scream for a bit more effort than giving a cold drink to the least of these? I don’t know what God’s will is for this or anything else, even though many times during the day I pray for that will to be done, but I do know that if we’re genuine in our compassion for doing what Jesus asks us to do for the least of these, we’re given the promise of a grace that will help us endure whatever the cost of that compassion. If ever there is a time to pour out love without condition – it is when the cost of withholding that love is to lose a child.

We face the possibility of a similar, although less dramatic case here at St. Luke’s involving children. For some time we’ve been putting off acknowledging that we could face the danger of having our children under the supervision of untrained and unqualified leaders. This is not to say that the leaders themselves are under scrutiny, but the fact that they may not be aware of certain procedures and policies within the Episcopal Church and our diocese does exist. This framed certificate hangs back in the admin room that says we are a “Safe” church, meaning that at the time it was given, every person here who was involved with the care of children had the proper training and certificates. Very shortly, that will no longer be the case. And that poses a danger to our children. We could very well have swept it under the rug and said “we’ll take care of it sooner or later, let’s just concentrate on programs.” But thanks to the genuine compassion and love for children that our leadership has, we are taking care of matters up front. If you didn’t get the email or call from Father Chris with the specifics of what is happening with our children and youth ministries, please see us after dismissal. Trust that this decision may not be popular to some, but when we strip away the layers and get down to the real matter, what matters most is not that we are popular, but that our children, your children, are being given the safest, loving environment they need and deserve and are shown they are loved.

Love is given to us freely, but when we give love away freely we must not always expect to have love returned to us. Sometimes when love is given freely without condition the result is crucifixion. Let’s not kid ourselves into hiding in the false security of thinking that every time we do something with honest compassion we’ll bask in the glow of sunshine as a return. But let us also remember that after crucifixion there is and will be a resurrection. And the life after resurrection is what we live for. Yes, loss is not something we expect to find after being filled with compassion to be welcoming to everyone without exception. Nor can you imagine how giving freely of your love might one day become sorrow. And it becomes even harder when you must leave the place that welcomed you so dearly from the beginning.

Thursday night I informed the vestry and Father Chris that after meeting with Bishop Gepert earlier in the week, the decision was made for me to end my time here at St. Luke’s. Sheri and my last day with you will be July 27th.   All we ask is that you welcome every person that comes through that door with the same conviction that Hazel Brown showed us when we walked through it 8 years ago. You just may find that among all the angels you unknowingly welcome, a future deacon of yours may just be the next stranger that walks through those red doors. You’ve loved us without condition. We hope we gave the same love back to you.

Categories: Uncategorized

Ascending into the heavens… for the glory of God.

August 1, 2014 Leave a comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEarlier in the week I was writing my article for the Sentinel on this same subject, the Ascension, and it was difficult to keep it to a few paragraphs. I wanted to go on and on but had to cut it short. How much can one person comprehend from today’s lessons? We have Jesus promising an advocate, the Holy Spirit, to fall upon each of them and be their guide for the future. We have Jesus rising up into the sky as he departs from his friends.   Then we have Peter admonishing a group of disciples; probably for being afraid of the tortures they’ve begun to bear in the name of Christ, telling them to take it all for the glory of God who now holds them in the power of His hands. And finally we have Jesus asking God to glorify him so he may glorify God.

            But let us not forget we also have our present lives. If I may steal a little quote from someone, probably from more than one person, we are an “Ascension Church”. We have been resurrected through changes that were beyond our own doing, and now we’ve been drawn into the “in-between” stages of our wonderful community of St. Luke’s. Having to deal with being “in-between” can make us restless and anxious to move on. We may want to hurry things and be on our way. But we must remind ourselves that that type of thinking might have been why we got ourselves where we are in the first place. There are some things in life that can be taken for granted and won’t hurt us like what flavor of ice cream should I buy for dessert. But this isn’t one of those things. Jesus’s call to us and the instructions he gives us on the day of his ascension finally take hold on the disciples and they begin to understand. And I know we are praying that we all understand as well.

What happened right after the resurrection is a different story. At that point in time the disciples still didn’t understand what it was they were to do. It wouldn’t be for another 40 days – that recurring bible number – that the eleven, along with their friends and families would grasp it all. Right after Jesus resurrected from the dead, visited every one of his disciples, and even after appearing in the room with the locked doors where he convinced Thomas of who he was, even after all of the reports of Jesus’s visits, what does Peter do? He goes fishing. Not a bad idea to do myself either, I think, being a life-long angler. “See any walking dead people today Deacon? Sure did! I think I’ll go fishing and clear my head awhile.” But not only does he go! Most of the other 11 join in and go with him! I imagine today it would be like taking three or four pontoon boats out on Raystown Lake and tying them together. Everyone walking gingerly about. Trying to make another cast and see what they catch. And then off in the distance on the shore we see another figure that looks like … Jesus! Again! This time he’s over on the shore with a charcoal grill and a cooler of your favorite drink yelling, “Come on over and join me for breakfast!”

Imagine now their lives go on seeing him again and again for days, weeks. The fishing gets better and better. Eventually the disciples are paying more attention to Jesus then they have before but something is different. They seem to be grasping things a little differently now. Sure, they ask over and over to have Jesus show them this father he keeps talking about. Perhaps this is a real lesson on patience; for all of them. But all of a sudden, one day, things change drastically. There they are, once again all together on a hillside. Someone says, “Lord, has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus announces that the date or the hour is not known, however when he gets to his Father he will send them the Holy Spirit who will guide them in the days to follow. And then we encounter that magnificent scene that has been replicated and recreated time and time again on stained glass and greater than life size paintings. Many artists have worked on it and some still do. Jesus floating in mid-air amongst the clouds with an angel on each side and the crowd standing around dazed and amazed at what they see!

This is the point that has contemporary biblical historians and theologians like Crossan, Berg, and Spong, finding it inconceivable and beyond reason that anyone could just disappear into the sky. So they deny that the Ascension ever happened and simply forget about it. And then I have to ask them, how much of what has gone on previously in the written life of Jesus does sound reasonable? Yet they have now have another obstacle to deal with. How then do you go about with the rest of Luke’s account in the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul, both written within about the same time period; all of them collaborating on the same theme. By the way, I don’t see any of the other evangelists finding a way to write Jesus out of the story line. They must have just given up. Except for John. He finishes his gospel saying that if everything were written that Jesus did there would be more volumes than we’d ever know. Sneaky!

What can we learn from this Ascension and the next ten days then? And what, besides the celebration of Pentecost next week (wear red), does this teach us? For starters, it teaches us that Jesus didn’t just disappear. You can believe the written account of him being raised up. You can imagine within the context of metaphysics that he was taken into the cosmos as the mystics see it. Or you may imagine him transcending this ordinary earth into a real heaven and becoming one with God as we’re told in the creeds and our catechisms. Then let us look again at how the disciples reacted to his leaving them here as opposed to his first leaving them at the crucifixion. At that time they were scared and all but for one that we know of, ran off to hide. Here – as their teacher goes to wherever, we find them confident and trusting in their Lord, making their way – not afraid and fearful for their lives – but with a countenance not seen before – making their way back to the upper room to be together and to pray.

If we are – and I am sure we are – an Ascension Church, we should really understand the idea of coming together and praying. That’s not just one concept; coming together and praying are two parts to the equation. First: We come together. —- I’m very happy that during this time of waiting we have Father Chris and Jeanne with us. Some seemed to think we were going to have someone around to fill the gaps while we called our next rector. I kept telling everyone; “no, we’re getting a trained interim who will help us discover who we were, who we are, and where we are going.” THAT is being played out in sessions like we’ll have — (after our service this morning) (had prior to this service). Fr. Chris is guiding us through a process we need to go through. He and Jeanne have richly blessed us with their presence and work here. He’s already helped us discover a great deal about the reality of where we are when it comes to our financial status. There is a great deal more to go through and so we must come together! We are an Ascension Church. We must come together.

Second: we pray. I’ve heard many thoughts on how and why we pray. I won’t go into the many ways and means of prayer right now, other than to say that when two or three or five or fifty are gathered together in Jesus’s name we KNOW that God is in the midst of us, and we KNOW that the Holy Spirit will give us answers to guide us just as Jesus promised. — The opportunities to pray in this parish are endless. We do pray!

And Third: we listen for the Holy Spirit to guide us through our lives in everything we do; everything we think; and everything we ask. You see the day of Pentecost came to us two thousand years ago… the Holy Spirit is with us! We can stop waiting for that part to hit us. But as a church, as a parish, as a community, and as individuals which is what each of the original disciples were … we are an Ascension Church. And as St. Luke tells us, it was well worth every second of the coming together and all of their prayers, because when the day of Pentecost came to them, it was a time of great celebration!! We can do this. We can grow out of this time of waiting and we will see us prosper in the future … but … there is a but … you’ve heard me say it over and over: We must come together through the process, giving prayers of thanksgiving for what we have been given… and prayers for guidance as to where to go from here. We have all the tools we need to make it through our Ascension time of waiting. Let’s use them wisely, with love, and give the glory to God! Amen.

Palm Sunday

April 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Jesus Christ is Lord!  Can you say it with me?  Jesus Christ is Lord!  These four words formed the first Christian Creed.  In the first few centuries of Christianity there was no need to create lengthy statements of faith such as the ones we have today.  We have the Creeds of the Apostles, Nicaea and St. Athanasius and we have more loosely subjective statement-like creeds from Councils such as those of Chalcedon. The Apostle’s Creed is used in the prayer book in short liturgies and services such as Morning Prayer.  We are all more than familiar with the Nicene Creed we will recite immediately after waking up from this homily.  And maybe a few of the brave souls who venture deep into the back pages of the prayer book will know the extremely long creed of St. Athanasius.  People fought fiercely in trying to convince others what was to be included in the Creeds.  The words used were deliberate in one thing; trying to define the Trinity and the natures of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

In the nursery years of this new born religion called Christianity, as I said when I began, the creed was as simple as you could get – four words – Jesus Christ is Lord.  It was in hymns, it was in letters written between Christians, it was a central theme of Paul’s epistles like the one we read today, and how much better off might we be with avoiding splits and factions between our sisters and brothers in Christ in other denominations if we used nothing more than those four words?  Some of the best mission statements of organizations in the world aren’t ten sentence paragraphs that make you pull out the dictionary after every five words.  They are simple and direct.  I overheard a conversation one day last week that I’ve forgotten where or who said it, but they were commenting on a very successful business that recited their mission statement every day.  It was short and sweet and something like “The people come first.”  The people come first; no wonder they are successful.  Forget about focusing on profits, or on shareholders, or on who sits in the corner office, they focus on the people and how they treat and handle them and the rest falls into place.  This is exactly what the first Christians did.  They knew that by focusing on Christ as Lord, all things will fall into place.

Now don’t get me wrong on one thing.  I’m not saying that no work is involved in either case.  Simply making the statement “Jesus Christ is Lord” over and over won’t guarantee you a seat next to St. Peter in heaven.  That’s reserved for me.  By claiming that Jesus Christ is Lord, we then understand that it’s our duty and responsibility to put his teachings and directions into action.  We must be what He has asked us to become; faithful followers of the Word.  With this congregation we shouldn’t have to ask “what is there to do?”  There are plenty of opportunities to feed the hungry, clothe the homeless, cure the sick and visit those in prison.  What Paul is telling us here in this short, beautiful hymn, is that there is no need to come up with complex theologies for a world that hurts as much as it does.  All we have to do is turn on our TVs – or these days look at our cell phones – to see how much that’s true.  But when you know that what matters is our reaction to them, and we move to help bring about comfort, caring and hope for them, then we are living into what we were made to be.

In a commentary of this epistle by the renowned theologian William Barclay, he states the same thing about this creedal statement by saying, “… Christianity consists less in the mind’s understanding than it does in the heart’s love.”  When you consider this and Paul’s continuing accounts of how love is the greatest gift, and our love is for God and our love for others comes through Christ, we should have to go no further in developing another creed that says all we need to know.  And when we say “Jesus Christ is Lord” we place ourselves among the very souls who surrounded Jesus on the road to Jerusalem shouting “Hosanna to the son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” We wave our palm branches in the air and lay them and our coats on the road to keep the dust and dirt from raising up and dirtying the one riding on the donkey.  At least for now we’re claiming he is our king.  He will ride into the Holy City and be the one who prophets spoke of.  We at least have a chance to look back and see what was to happen next.  His teachings and directions weren’t followed except by a handful of the faithful.

I’ll leave the rest of this week’s readings for the sermons on their respective days.  The reading of the passion on Palm Sunday was added because in short:  not many people were attending the entire Holy Week Services, especially on Good Friday so it wasn’t being heard.  What is Easter without Maundy Thursday and Good Friday?  If we’re going to celebrate something we should understand the reasons.  And so the reading of the passion was added to today’s service.  For those who immerse themselves into the transformative power of lent, today is a day to feast and a day to look with hope and high expectations on the future.  Our king is nearing His journey’s end and we will all be saved, just not in the way we would expect.  So now as we near the time where we proclaim the Nicene Creed let us remind ourselves that this started out with the simplest of statements.  Four words were all that were needed in the time when Paul was trying to fix parts of churches that were broken.  Jesus Christ is Lord.  Yet those four words said today are still as strong as any four paragraph letter of understanding.  In a short while we’ll be reciting a part of the Eucharistic Prayer with the response, “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest” As you can see these words were used by both the prophets of the Old Testament and the Gospel writers of the New Testament.  As we say these words, I ask you to take your palms and hold them lovingly.  Let them be your testament and creed to what this day, Palm Sunday, is all about.  The confirmation that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Amen.    

Peace and Blessings

Deacon Pete

Salt of the Earth, Light of the World

February 9, 2014 Leave a comment


When I arrived home from a meeting Wednesday afternoon I understood why my phone call to my wife went straight into voice mail.  A large portion of a hundred year old oak tree was laying in my driveway on top of the power and cable lines it had taken down with it.  What was truly amazing was that we somehow still had power.  No phone, internet or television – but power to keep the furnace running and the lights on.  We can look at times such as these in different ways.  One way would be to lose ourselves in fear and uncertainty.  While this was an eye opening experience to recognize how much we relied on the convenience of technology and electronic gadgets, it was also an opportunity to watch how community works either against us or for us.  This was also a turning point in selecting the topic for this sermon.   For as much as I wanted to talk about the passage from Paul’s letter this morning, these and several other events were happening that were pointing me to Matthew’s Gospel.  It seemed like every time I’d start to focus on what Paul was writing to the Corinthians there was a little nudge that kept bringing me back to the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  Because from the moment I saw the damage up to and including this moment as I stand here with you, there were displays of people being the salt of the earth and letting their light shine – but there were also a few displays of darkness I’ll leave out.  From the young men who cleared away the tree to the electricians and power line workers who spent hours outside in the freezing cold, each one went out of their way to make us as comfortable as possible, letting their own lights shine whether they knew it or not. 

In one sense, we might all agree that an obvious reference to the beginning of Jesus’s teaching is one of being a good friend or citizen.  Yet it’s deeper than that.  It’s when we work from our hearts, standing up and helping others who are not as fortunate as us; that our works act as salt, helping to spice up the world with the flavors of faith, hope, and love.  These are the acts that also light up the dark corners and alleys of the world in places that seldom see light.  When you spend most of your time suppressed and oppressed by events you can’t control, the darkness is a place you know well.  And on the other side of things, if everything is going well for you and you seldom notice something going wrong, it can be difficult to recognize or acknowledge when a stranger or even acquaintance needs assistance.  That can become a problem as well, but on a different level.  My question became; how can we live as this light, share it, and take it to those who are constant witness to the darkness?      

Whether we know it or not, when we ask a question either in absolute seriousness or with time worn cynicism, God has ways of pointing a finger in the direction you should be going.  I needed something more than the obvious and something more was trying to break through.  As I was doing some reading for the other sermon I was planning on, one of those Holy fingers pointed to a quote by the poet Annie Dillard who said, “If you want to see the stars, you have to go into the dark of night.”  “If you want to see the stars” … another thread of thought began to develop in answer to my question.  How often do we even think about looking at the stars anymore?  In these times of around-the-clock work and play with properties lit up like it was Christmas 365 days a year, we have to travel out in the country a good ways if we want to search for the planets and constellations. The night sky is often not very visible with all of the city lights infringing on our night vision.  But yet if want to see the lights of the heavens we have to spend time going out in the darkness of night.  If we truly want to be a light shining in the darkness of the world for all to see we need to take that light to the people who live in the darkness of night and let them be witness to it.  But wait.  There’s more.  

When Matthew quotes Jesus saying “let your light shine before others so they may see your good works” he doesn’t stop right there like we would like Him to.  He continues to say “and give glory to your Father in heaven!”  Not for our glory, but for the glory of God.  If we do good deeds for our own ego and our own intentions of looking better than others, we fail to be the true stars in the darkness.  These sort of acts sound nice, but like the artificial light that obscures the real light in the night skies, it becomes washed out and doesn’t truly illuminate anything.  It hides the very thing we are trying to see.

The real darkness of the night; whether an ordeal more unbearable than most people will ever know, a continuous streak of bad times day after day, or the unimaginable feeling of being separated from God as described in St. John of the Cross’s “Dark Night of the Soul”, the real darkness of the night requires us to stand in it and with those who live there, and bring our light to them.  When we are the stars in the darkness we must allow ourselves to be part of what others experience.  And when we do this not for our own notoriety but for the glory of God, we will be those humble stars that light up the night and stand out in their uniqueness.  The acts will glorify God in every sense of the word. 

            There are many true lights here among us, sitting along-side of us day in and day out, week after week, who truly epitomize Matthew’s gospel of being the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  What is even more special is that they will never mention it to anyone.  Most of what they do goes unnoticed in the eyes of the general public and that’s the way they want it.  Their acts are not for themselves but for the glory of God.  For this we are eternally grateful.  I mentioned St. John of the Cross and the “Dark Night of the Soul” – if you’ve not read it yet, I encourage you to find the time someday to do so.  Not only because it’s a spiritual literary classic but because it may help you understand some of the darkness you may or may not have already encountered in your lives and be a guide of how to turn from being in the dark to being one of the lights.  A contemporary and friend of his, St. Teresa of Avila says something similar.  She says; “Christ has no body now but yours.  No hands, no feet on earth but yours.  Yours are the eyes through which He looks with compassion on this world.  Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”  I honestly thank you, for being the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and the body of Christ to so many in so many ways.  And thank you for doing it for the glory of God.  Amen.    

Citations:  RCL Year A, 5th Sunday after Epiphany                 Deacon Pete           

Have Yourself A Cosmic Christmas

December 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Merry Christmas everyone!  Tonight I bring you greetings from a host of sisters and brothers in Christ who could not be here but wish to extend their best wishes, prayers and love as well.  We are truly blessed by them and on this wonderful night we can respond in kind through our own thoughts and prayers.

You know, so much happens in the space of a year that when we pause to collect our thoughts and look back at where we were 12 months ago – (and I’m not just talking about our church but our personal lives as well) how we arrived at where we currently are on this Christmas might have been hard to imagine back then.  It might have been nice to have a prophet convey a message to us about it as did Isaiah.  But then I think about that and I’m not sure how that would work out.  Think of how we would react if a modern day prophet had foretold us of the events that would soon shake and shape our world into the condition it’s in now.  What an amazing story we would have listened to as the future was presented to us.  Depending on our individual views, some might have called the prophet odd, some might have ignored him, some might have suggested a good therapist, and as an afterthought some might have even waited to tell the rest of us “They told you so.”  Yet here we are, a year later celebrating the birth of our LORD at the Christmas Vigil – announcing with the psalmist “The LORD is King; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of the isles be glad.” We have spent the previous four weeks during Advent preparing for this day singing together “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel”   We are here, seated on this glorious night listening to how the angels met the shepherds and rejoiced singing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”  And we continue to read Luke’s narration telling us, how after hearing the story of the shepherds, Mary; “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

As I read over and over the words “Rejoice” I was reminded of another time not long ago where we shouted a different tone of “Rejoice”!  That was nine months ago as we walked through Holy Week together with mixed emotions.  After singing the Exultet at the lighting of the Easter Candle I repeatedly made known in my brief homily at the Easter Vigil how it was essential that we were to rejoice in the goodness that was already ours, regardless of what the world looked like to us.  We were caught in a time when we were forced to look at ourselves and realize that if we were to celebrate a birth at the end of a year, a resurrection was needed in our own community.  It’s a paradox as old as time that in order for something to die; something must be born, yet for something to be born, something has to die.  It’s about returning to life over and over.

And returning to life is what you did!  As we gather together on this Christmas Eve, it is quite evident that there is more than one birth to be celebrated tonight.  We come to celebrate the birth of Jesus and honor Him with hymns of praise and prayers of thanksgiving while coming together in Holy Communion as a parish – a bit more confident than we were nine months ago.  It’s a celebration of a rebirth into a new era in the history of our church.  A rebirth where, back in the spring, we collectively gathered our questions, our fears, our hopes and our hearts; and realized that if we want to move forward we must evolve.  And evolve we did!  But there’s one thing about evolving – and we must not become complacent with this – it’s an action that never ends.  For Christ never stops evolving and neither must we.

The Christ of evolution is different than the Christ that most of us think of.  It is not the baby Jesus and not the man Jesus but the Christ that Jesus became and the Christ that lives in each of us.  It is the source of our being, which we need to cultivate, grow and actually live.  During the season of Advent we looked for times of solitude, resting in peace and silence to help nurture us from within.  We looked for quiet times to prepare for the coming of Christ, but if we look for that coming of Christ under our tree or on the mantel in the crèche we put out for Christmas, we’ll miss the point of this every time.  To quote Canon Babcock during one of his off-the-cuff homilies at our Wednesday Holy Eucharist; “We aren’t using Advent for the preparation of the coming of Jesus, that’s history, it’s already happened.  We’re using Advent for the preparation of the rebirth of Christ within ourselves.”  So that is why we work so hard for this day.  It’s the promise of the second coming and the promise we make to God in our baptismal covenant to make Christ alive in every action in our daily lives.   If we look at tonight as just another birth celebration – even with all the energy and love we put into it – we lose the purpose of the event the rest of the year and next year we’re still in the same place, just one year older.  Far too often we get in ruts or become comfortable where we are and so we sit back and think that we’re rolling right along when in fact what we’re really doing is falling behind.   We become static and Christ appears static to us.  Everything passes us by and the rest of the universe goes on evolving without us.

I find it interesting that the Jewish Tanak begins the first chapter of Genesis “In the beginning when God began to create…”  Creation is not a one-time event and to stay evolving means we are also responsible for creating the world we live in.  The entire universe; all the stars, planets, galaxies and nebulas and all the other things we stand in awe of while looking at the night sky are moving and expanding, even stars are born and they create planets and then eventually die off.  All this from having been shot out in the explosion of the big bang we call God’s beginning of creation by making order out of chaos and creating something from nothing.  Just as we are moving through our galaxy, Christ is moving within and around us and we must move in life with Christ, ever changing, ever adapting, working peacefully with every person on earth; always looking for new ways to better ourselves and our community.   Our relationship with Christ is our relationship with the world.  The Franciscan Nun Ilia Delio puts it this way; “Because we humans are in evolution we must see Christ in evolution as well- Christ’s humanity is our humanity, Christ’s life is our life … To live in Christ is to live in community; to bear Christ in one’s life is to become a source of healing love for the sake of community.”

In order for us to continue to evolve in the same fashion as the last nine months that gave us this rebirth, we must never stop moving forward.  We must keep moving with the same Christ that St. Paul talks about when he calls it the Christ in which we “live and move and have OUR being.”  There is nothing static about our lives in Christ.  To paraphrase the reading from Titus; the grace of Christ is not something we have gained through any special act or deed, but a gift from God we receive and are given at every moment of every day. Father John and Father Tom and I can tell you that we hear and see good things happening here among us.  We are entering this new era here and it is not merely a coincidence that we’ve arrived at this place on Christmas Day, in the same amount of time it takes to give birth.  It took a great deal of honest reflection and committed people to achieve what we’ve done but keep in mind the work is never done.  God doesn’t stop creating, Christ doesn’t stop moving, the Holy Spirit doesn’t stop guiding; it’s up to us to look at this newborn Christ within us and ask where we are to go next.  Whether the answer is from within our own self or from the entire family of sisters and brothers in Christ, when the actions are finished for this leg of our journey there will be another path to take from there.  Today the world sings praises and celebrates the birth of Jesus.  Let us pray with thanksgiving that as we join them in song and praise, we again REJOICE … because Christ is also alive and reborn within us … and with Mary we can reflect on all the joyful things that have been said and done in our lives, and treasure them in our own hearts as well, never forgetting to love and live in Christ not just on this Christmas Day, but every day of every year.  Merry Christmas and God bless us everyone!  Amen.

Deacon Pete

Citations:  RCL year A; Christmas Day II

A Healthy Spirit

December 17, 2013 Leave a comment


We often hear of someone who is a good spirit. On occasion we’ve heard people described as mean spirited. We hear of people seeing spirits walking around. We have spiritual growth committees, we describe ourselves as being on spiritual journeys, and some of us even have spiritual directors. The “spirit” can be holy, tired, lively, poor or untamed. With all of these and numerous other ways we tie the spirit into our daily lives and conversations, it makes me stop and wonder where our concept of what spirit is comes from.
When I personally think of the spirit my mind imagines the spirit as it was portrayed in the baptism of Jesus and at Pentecost; “in the image of a dove.” Yet I believe that being a part of God’s creation means I carry within me a portion of that Holy Spirit of God. We all do. And that Spirit can be displayed to others or it can be repressed by us depending on how we choose to work with it. Yet there is more. Consider how we pray. When I pray or am thinking about my actions and attitudes what I pray for is a healthy spirit. A healthy spirit means that we are taking care of our souls while genuinely caring for the souls of others. It means we have taken the time for daily scheduled prayer or meditation or hopefully both. It means the things we read, watch, and listen to are grounded in our faith’s teachings and inspire us to do good. And it means that when we do find ourselves facing fear (fear being the root of anger, hate, and prejudices) we can turn to Christ and ask for God to send the Holy Spirit to guide us with love. When we follow through with that course of action we can more easily have faith that the outcome will be what God wills, and we are better able to accept it. Yes, there are many ways to talk about the spirit. During these seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, may we all work towards having a healthy spirit.
Peace to all,
Deacon Pete