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Posts Tagged ‘Baptismal Covenant’

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 Community of Healing

August 25, 2013 Leave a comment

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There is a much bigger picture to today’s Gospel than the obvious question and answer to “why did you work on the Sabbath?”  We’ve read this piece of scripture and others like it numerous times and here we find it facing us once again.  So while we know how the story ends, let’s go back to the beginning.  Sometimes if we place ourselves as characters in the reading we can gather some other information.

Imagine a world where while you were traveling on foot, the only things you ever saw were on the ground right below you.  The sky is forever out of your view.  Perhaps you may catch a glimpse of the sun or the moon on the horizon from time to time, but in the mountain country that would be rare, as would be seeing the constellations and the night sky lit up with a billion stars.  You can hear the sounds of animals and you feel the wind, cold, and heat upon you. There is no scenic vista to look out over.  The dirt, grasses, and entire landscape is limited to whatever is directly in front of your eyes that are aimed just slightly ahead of your feet.  You have no idea how high it is to the tops of the trees, nor have you understood and experienced the awe of watching an eagle soar in the blue skies of the heavens.  The only home you know is under your feet.  But you know it well.  Perhaps like someone who cannot see at all, your other senses are finely tuned to help identify your surroundings.

Such is the life that is led by the unnamed woman in today’s Gospel.  For eighteen years most of the world she was familiar with was the one I just described.  Bent over, looking down, and probably relying on a staff of some sort that would provide enough stability to keep her from falling over.  Luke doesn’t tell us much about how she came to be this way, other than a generalized explanation of “a spirit”.  Some bible translations use the word “Satan” instead of “spirit.”  Doing so takes my memory back to the book of Job where Satan was the accuser and accomplice with God.  It seems the lack of further comment in the passage makes the reason less important.   Regardless of whether he means some sort of demon, or simply an illness that caused it, the focus shifts to the act of healing.

This is a rare moment in the Gospels where Jesus is not asked to heal.   The woman is present, and in the midst of the crowd in the Synagogue on the Sabbath to pray.  Nobody points her out as needing a cure.  Nobody carries her in on a stretcher or lowers her through the thatch roof to Jesus as we’ve read in other chapters of the Gospels.  She doesn’t fight 3through the crowd to touch his garment or climb up a fig tree hoping for a simple glimpse of him.  She is simply there like all the others, doing what she needs to be doing.  Her affliction is noticeable to everyone but she has done her best to avoid making a scene of herself.  After all, she is in a house of worship.  But through her entering and exiting week after week, it becomes evident that she is one of those ignored by society.  Those who pass her by on the streets ignore her bent body because most likely she won’t be seeing the faces that step from side to side and around her.  This is an ugly reaction, pretending not to notice someone in trouble.  The woman is probably numb to it after eighteen years; her emotions are callused from a silent ostracizing by the community.  Some of us have been in her shoes, but I’m guessing at least a few of us have been the observer of a situation like this at least once in our lives.

How many homeless people have we passed by on the sidewalks of our large cities, or even our local cities and towns and ignored their presence?  We pass by them, but with our heads turned aside so we don’t encounter that uneasy moment of eye to eye contact.  I would hope we at least offer up a silent prayer for them.  Better yet, to offer a warm smile and hello.  Jesus was fully aware of his surroundings in every way, particularly with those he referred to as “the least of these.”  Can you imagine him standing in the synagogue, preaching or reading to the crowd, stop in mid verse and say, “Woman, yes, you, come over here with me.” And then when she finally makes her way over to him he says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”  What does it take to move you into action such as he does?  Could we break away from our agendas and schedules long enough to at least acknowledge that there is someone hurting along our paths almost everywhere we go?  Can we be confident enough in our prayers to know how much they would help the situation?  Will we make a gesture that tells them they are somebody, a part of humanity, not just a body in the way of our stroll down the sidewalk? Jesus takes that chance and he does so completely aware that he is standing in the middle of a Sabbath service in a synagogue.  There’s a saying I think comes from the Franciscan order (correct me if I’m wrong) that says; “You must never break a rule unless you know the reason the rule was made in the first place.  Once you understand the ‘why’ you can break as many as you need.”  Jesus understands the why.  He understands that we need a day of the week for rest and re-creation.  He also knows that there is more right than wrong in breaking this law.  The church leaders, callus in their own schooling and self-righteousness, call it a sin; Jesus tells the leader that not taking action and not healing was the real sin.   In Mark’s Gospel we hear him say “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” What seems to be a radical disregard for authority and legalism is in truth, an act of common sense and necessity.

There is one more part to this healing process that cannot go unnoticed.  Before she is completely healed and can stand upright he lays his hands on her.  There are other healings such as the Centurion’s servant who was healed without even seeing Jesus.  He even raised Lazarus from the dead without walking into the tomb.  It’s important to make note of this because the healing takes place not in private and not by request, but in a public arena without prior intent.  They are in a crowd and the unnamed woman has been singled out.  He tells her she is healed, but she does not respond until he lays his hands on her.  The touch that Jesus uses not only anoints and heals, but symbolically welcomes her as a member of this community.  It is the touch of inclusion.  It says “You are not a loner, but one like the rest of us, come and join us, you are fully capable of enjoying all that is offered here.”

Some of us have reason to look for healing in this community.  There are people who feel they’ve been wronged and there are those who feel others have been wronged.  Some steps have been made toward this healing, but as a community we’ve acknowledged there is more that we need to do in order to bring us up to a healthier parish than we’ve been in recent times.  I can assure you, your leaders are taking appropriate action to move forward in a direction that addresses all of our issues.  But as we see in today’s Gospel, we can talk amongst ourselves and with each other forever; but all of the words in the world may not be enough to complete the process.  We’ll need to put that symbolic act of a healing touch into action.  Let us begin this next phase of transition today.  As we share God’s Peace with each other from now on and forward, I ask you to share your healing touch with those around you.  Can we do this?  As we respond in our baptismal convenient, we will “with God’s help.”  Amen.

Scripture Reference:  RCL, Year C, Proper 16, Luke 13:10-17

The Great Fifty Days of Easter

April 7, 2013 6 comments

Throughout the history of the church the Great Fifty Days of Easter has been a time for the newly baptized to find their place in the church as they begin their ministries and start putting their spiritual gifts to use. This can be a time of great reward or a time of great struggle. After the anticipation of being named as Christ’s own forever has been actualized, one might be so overwhelmed with desire and ambition that they fail to notice a call or nudge in the direction they are being led. When one hears stories of how the Holy Spirit descends as a dove or in tongues of flames, followed by people speaking in foreign languages, we might just be disappointed when there is no big lightning bolt to clear the path for us. This is where those of us who have witnessed and promised to do what we can to help the new members mature do it “with God’s help.” Our task is to make sure they don’t fade into the crowd and get lost.
But it’s not just the newly baptized we’ve promised to stand behind and support. We renew the commitment time and time again, not just for the newcomers, but for every member of the Body of Christ. Whether they are Christened as a child, confirmed as a teen, or were baptized as an adult; we need to show them we care and make sure they have the tools to grow. Let’s ask them if we are meeting their spiritual needs and welcome their input. Give them responsibility in the community. Show them they are needed and that they have much to contribute. No, we won’t solve everyone’s problems or heal everyone’s ills. What we can do is take a pulse of the spiritual health of our people and keep checking it to ensure our body is strong and able to carry out our mission. We are fresh from the joy of the resurrection and now in the perfect time to review our status. Should we revive old programs or start new ones? What has the Holy Spirit been telling us? Are we being nudged in a particular direction? Before we move on in the usual fashion let’s step back, take a breath, know that the rest of the Body of Christ is with us, and above all pray that we may see clearly where we are to go. We can do this “with God’s help.”
Deacon Pete