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Maundy Thursday

April 18, 2014 Leave a comment

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This evening is special. Maundy Thursday. The lead-in to what we call the Triduum; consisting of Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. The root word of Maundy is the same as ‘mandate’. Mandate Thursday. The day in which Jesus gave us a mandate to love. After all it is John’s Gospel. John’s message is one of love and so we must hold that in mind as we go through all of today’s liturgies. And we have just heard John’s version of the meal that was had prior to the betrayal. In this gospel we get a different side of the story and perhaps combined with the synoptic gospels – a more complete telling of Jesus’s last night. It’s the focal point of our worship and the foundation of what Christianity used as its starting point to gather the body of Christ together. But this is the only day of the year you’re guaranteed to hear John’s version of Jesus’s last night not with the bread and wine, but with the washing of feet.
So keep in mind as we progress through this and every service where we celebrate Holy Eucharist, that if the only Gospel we had was John’s, people would be wearing sandals to church each Sunday in preparation to have their feet washed. Easy off, easy on. Instead of bread and wine we’d have warm water and fragrant soap. Instead of corporals and purificators on an altar we’d have sponges and towels on a dry sink. And perhaps instead of a communion rail we’d have a row of benches along-side a trench that carried the water to a drain. The Jewish custom of celebrating Passover with a meal would not have the slightest role in our services because it would now be a Christian service based on Love and spreading that Love by caring for each other. Instead we carry on with a worship service gleaned from what we Episcopalians cherish most: Food.
Today’s lectionary gives us a good overview of how Passover evolved into a liturgy of the Holy Eucharist. Along with John’s narrative we have the telling of the Passover, where the legacy of sacrificing a lamb saved the first born of the Hebrews. We have Paul’s instructions to the church in Corinth, with an understanding that prior to this instruction, he is scolding them for turning the Holy Eucharist into a feast where only the upper echelon of society gets served, and the rest go hungry or beg for scraps. And sandwiched in between those two readings we find one of the Hallel psalms that’s known to all who speak Hebrew. The word ‘Hallel’ means praise. Add Yah onto it which means Lord, and you have Hallel-Yah, accurately interpreted as: “Praise the Lord!” Easily heard in our time as Halleluiah. Some of this small cluster of psalms are very often used in thanksgiving and worship services to show praise and honor to God. And they were also used during the Seder dinner at Passover.
So this Hallel psalm is particular to today’s readings. It allows us to say with a fair amount of certainty that Jesus recited this psalm on his last night. If you’ll humor me for a moment imagine a group of ten, twenty or so people gathered in a large living area, maybe the size of the chapel. They’re spread out across the floor or leaning against a wall. There may be a table that the food was setting on, and around that table we might find Jesus preparing to bless the food. He begins reciting psalm 116; perhaps from memory or perhaps from a scroll. He starts out, “I love the LORD.” The people in the room turn their attention to Him, already knowing the words that come next. The scrolls were their book of common prayer and they knew them well. He continues to read and further down he says, “What shall I return to the LORD?” I’d like to think that at this point he knows what he is about to face. He knows that it is his life in this world that is about to be returned to the LORD. Maybe at this point his voice begins to quiver in anticipation of the next verse; “I will lift up the cup of salvation.” We can see him glance at the cup of wine in front of him. It is this very cup he will bless and from it an eternal sacrament will be born. We have to wonder then, how he manages to make it through the next few verses. Especially verse 15, “Precious … is the death of his faithful ones,” knowing it is He that is precious because of his imminent death. And, maybe also knowing the fate awaiting those who sit around the room with him.
We can see how he had already started planning to act on the next verse “O LORD, I am your servant” and he begins by preparing to break the bread to be passed out to all who are there. Yet he won’t stop until everyone has been fed, and not only fed, but washed up as well, by performing the humble act of washing the disciple’s feet. For the verse continues; “I am your servant, the child of your serving-maid.” You can’t be much lower than that on the rungs of the ladder of society; the child of your serving-maid. And so it remains as it is written, that he must show this group that their job is not to be served, but to serve others. Do not become like those Paul speaks of in Corinth. They are not to raise the cup and pass it around to an inner group of friends and cohorts. It is not a cup of luxury and perverted honor, but a cup of selflessness and humility that says “You have loosed my bonds.” I am a servant, yes, but a free servant because it is the LORD that I serve by serving others in His name.
Yet there is still more, still something deeper than the psalmist goes. Because you see, as if it weren’t enough to be set up to be murdered, it must also be a sacrifice. A sacrifice in thanksgiving. He offers Himself willingly with Love! Just as he lifts up the bread and wine and asks us to re-member this every time we share communion with our sisters and brothers in Christ, we are asked to receive it with Love and give it in Love to re-member with Him again and again and again. That is what it is all about. Re-membering in the Love that he gave his disciples. Re-membering in the Love that they grew in and passed on to others long after he was gone from their sight. Re-membering in the Love that he continues to give us and the love that we have grown in, and that we pass on to everyone, including those we do not know. At different times Jesus talked in different ways, using different styles of teaching. He used metaphors, analogies, and parables but when he wanted to truly get the point across he did so by being a living example.
We come together to share in having our feet washed once a year. Whether you think that as a good thing or a bad thing, you have the Gospel writers to praise or blame because they are the ones who used the meal a majority of the times. Having your feet washed by someone can be a transformative experience. Many have done it in the past and many more will do it today and in the future. It is purely by personal choice and nobody will be judged in any way. But if you’ve never participated in this. If you’ve never allowed another to humble themselves by kneeling before you to wash your feet, then I ask you to consider it. They say that Holy Communion is in two forms, the two elements of bread and wine, the body and blood; but now is the chance to receive in a third kind: The humility of being served in the name of The LORD by someone who is humbling themselves by serving in the name of The LORD. Amen.

Deacon Pete

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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

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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

Old Thanksgiving, New Era Advent

November 28, 2013 Leave a comment

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As a young child, Thanksgiving meant one of several things to me.  First and foremost it meant gathering around the television to watch the parade and wait anxiously to see Santa riding in the final float with his reindeer, and later we feasted on a huge turkey dinner with pumpkin pie.  My plate was usually full of turkey and just enough of the other things to ensure I’d be getting that pumpkin pie with whipped cream for dessert.  It also meant my Dad and my uncles would be gathering to plan out the strategy for their hunting trips on Monday.  And of course it meant we would soon be taking a ride into the city to see the Christmas lights strung across the roads from street lamp to street lamp, and strolling down the sidewalks to see the magic of mechanical displays in the windows of stores such as Glosser Brothers and Penn Traffic.  Some of the toy elves would hammer and saw while others tied bows on boxes and of course Santa would be patting Rudolph on the head or wave to us as we stretched our little legs as high and tall as we could get without being picked up by Mom or Dad.

Those family gatherings, the preparations and trips were all part of a time and season where hope was attached to each snow flake that fell on the lawn wishing for a white Christmas.  The stillness of the cold nights held a certain peace that kept us youngsters from getting too rambunctious from having to play inside so much.  The TV programs of Frosty, Rudolph, and the short animations of Suzie Snowflake and Hardrock, Coco, and Joe brought joy to our little hearts as they signaled the coming of Santa – and yes, Jesus, too.  But the thing that held us together most through whatever else came along was the love of a family knit closely together by their faith in the Holy child, Jesus.  Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love; the four themes we celebrate in the coming season of Advent may have been impressed upon a child through the events of the season in his or her surroundings, but these words are made manifest in that final celebration of the birth of Christ, the first and final Word: The Word found in today’s scripture readings that hold even more reasons to be thankful.

Scripture says “let’s not stop at the reasons to be thankful.”  The stories show us how to celebrate and in each reading we find a different aspect of what Thanksgiving can mean to us.  On the surface Deuteronomy may seem like it’s giving us another law but what it’s really doing is helping us prioritize our actions.  Many people in this situation – getting a new job or new income – would take what they have made or what they have been paid and make an offering after what is left from all of their needs, wants, and desires.  What we’re told is the opposite; that a true and mature faith requires us to make our gifts to God and God’s people first and what is left is for us to live on.  The wise souls know that putting God first in all of their actions is an act of thanksgiving done not with expectations of getting something in return, but actions done with love.  In the psalm we rejoice – for God’s mercy is endless.  When we walk with God or meet with Him, wherever that may be, we need to be constantly aware that we are on Holy ground and the only action required is to openly show our gratitude.  So we come before his presence with a song.

The epistle for Thanksgiving Day almost shouts aloud by itself!  Rejoice!  Again I say, Rejoice!  There is no coincidence that the exultet which is sung at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, the chant that echoes the phrase “rejoice now all you saints and choirs of angels, and let your trumpets sound salvation” that it is the same joyful noise we make today.  We rejoice in the resurrection that leads us into Easter and Pentecost and now as we close the calendar of the church year we once again repeat the sounding joy with thanksgiving.  Surely there were times that were troubled and times where our thoughts veered off course, but they were for their own time; at this moment in time the focus of our prayers are to be filled with thanksgiving.  Whatever is placed in front of us right now should be held in the light of goodness, purity, and worthy of honorable praise.  We should be thankful for everything and rejoice for all that is good.

And finally our Gospel puts the exclamation point on Happy Thanksgiving, with the knowledge through the Word that we are always fed with bread from heaven.  Why it’s even written into the Great Thanksgiving at the Offertory:  “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.”  We truly have been blessed this past year.  We’ve found strength in ourselves and support for each other.  We’ve made some errors along the way but nothing has damaged us.  For me to say that I’m grateful for all of you would be an understatement.  We’ve helped each other grow and with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the kinship of the Holy Spirit we’ll continue to move forward.  A new era awaits us.  It could not be more fitting for it to greet us as we give thanks and celebrate the things we have, and also as we head into the Advent season of waiting and preparing for the good things to come.  So as we give thanks for the past and present, let us also rejoice with Hope in our future, Peace in our community, Joy in our souls, and Love in our hearts.  Amen.

Deacon Pete

Citations:  RCL Thanksgiving Day, Year C

Two by Two

October 29, 2013 1 comment

Too often when we read the stories of Jesus and the Apostles we imagine them as if they were unworldly.  We look past the fact these people were just as common as we are.  They were all called by Jesus to be a part of his inner circle, to impart the Good News of God’s Truth to them.  Other disciples were sent two by two (almost sounds like he was unloading an ark of people) to pass on His teachings.  Scripture relates how they healed the sick, raised the dead, and preached in the town squares and on the streets after being warned by emperors not to.  And then we hear the horrific stories of how most of them were martyred for their faith.  There seems to be no way we could live up to these expectations.  So we shy away from encounters of our own when we are met with the opportunity to pass on the Good News we’ve heard to others.  For some reason we either declare ourselves not worthy to be the ones in this day and age to proclaim any words at all; or we stay within ourselves because we don’t want to appear pushy like those who knock on our own doors two by two, asking us if we’ve been saved.

I can hear some of you thinking right now, “Our Deacon is about to try and send us out into the town knocking on doors!”  No, I’m not.  But what I will do and what I have told you and am going to tell you again and again is to keep doing the things you do best to spread the Good News through your actions in the community.  We come from every walk of life with every kind of good or bad experiences in the world.  We could say “I don’t have the education (money, prestige, whatever your reason is) to do this.”  God doesn’t call on those already qualified to do His work, He calls the people to Him and then gives them the qualifications to lead.  We feel something in us that just we just can’t let go of and walk into church to find out what that could be.  We are like the Apostles.   Jesus knew they had only the minimum amount of education – if any – one could get in those days.  He knew they didn’t come from a line of royal blood with acres of land and vaults of money that could be used to fund the ministry.  But what He did know was that those he called could be counted on to continue spreading the Good News long after He was gone from this world.  And that is what we have been called to do.  In whatever form or whatever qualification you have or don’t have yet, you have been called to spread the Good News to the homeless, the sick, the incarcerated, the needy, and yes, even those who appear to have everything.  We do this well here at St. Luke’s.  Let’s ensure we continue doing them because it is the work Jesus has called us to do and qualified us for, just like the Apostles.

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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