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Simon Peter’s Mother-in-law (or: Jesus’s First Deacon?)

February 14, 2015 Leave a comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The last few weeks we’ve hit upon one of the themes woven into Epiphany – that being how we hear the call, each in our own way – and are expected to respond to this call. Last week we even ventured into how we call upon Jesus and how he responds in kind to our requests. The same words keep coming up over and over; call and response. But not just a response of “okay, I hear you, Lord”; but a response that moves us in a manner that we change our behavior and start in a new direction, begin a new way of seeing and hearing. And most often it’s a response that calls us to serve. And that is where today’s gospel begins.

For Mark, two things stood out in Jesus’s ministry. He heals the sick and feeds the hungry. In Matthew he preaches and teaches a lot. But here it’s what Jesus does that is supposed to get our attention. In a few lines of verse there is a call, a response, and we head in another direction. A condensed version would be; Simon calls to Jesus to tell him about his mother-in-law and he responds without question. The word get out to the entire town and when those people are healed Jesus restores himself through prayer and they head out in a new direction to spread this ministry of healing to all who ask. Tucked in there is another response that some may have been taking the wrong way. And that is the response to serve after receiving a gift. Some have interpreted the act of serving that Simon’s mother-in-law jumps into as a menial task of serving lazy men. After all, she has been in bed with a fever, and in those times a fever was no small ailment. Many died because remedies were not well known and recovery times were often long and dangerous. So when we read of how she immediately jumped up and started serving we can be misled into the thoughts of a patristic and misogynistic society where male domination meant everything, even to the point of disregarding someone’s health.

Allow me to present another rendition. Jesus was just beginning his ministry. He had left the synagogue where his authority was revealed through his new teaching and the healing of a man possessed by demons. He arrives at the home of Simon Peter and without question, without words, without ceremony or ritual, touches a woman and she is healed. At once – or ‘immediately’ as Mark so often says – she gets up and serves him. … How often do we respond immediately to the healing moments in our lives? The ones that come out of the blue without any notice; without being requested? When all we might do is mention to someone that a friend is sick and we find out that person is on the prayer chain and begins calling people to pray together. Or we sit anxiously awaiting the news of a loved one who is hospitalized, only to have a stranger sit next to you who begins humming an old forgotten hymn that at once comforts and soothes you. What is our reaction to those moments? Do we sit quietly, absorbing it all for ourselves? Or do we accept the gift of peace and love and mark it in our hearts to do the same for another when given the opportunity?

I truly believe that in this case, the un-named woman realizes the gift of Jesus’s healing power and acts in the only way she knows of to give thanks; she takes on the role of being the first servant to him. She has a servant’s heart and she is now serving the one who came to serve, the Messiah. It will be a long time until these lazy men understand the concept of what Jesus is preaching. For many of them it won’t be until after he’s gone from this world that they fully understand what servant-hood means and what their response to a new calling will be. But for a moment, long before Peter and John and James and the rest of the apostles select seven of the disciples to serve the needy while they continue spreading the gospel; long before these seven were selected to be the first deacons in the new church; Simon’s mother-in-law demonstrates what true diaconal ministry is by leaving her old ways behind and serving Christ, Himself. She is the first of his servants and therefore arguably the first deacon to serve in his ministry.

Now if you’re saying, all well and good, but Jesus isn’t here, we already serve him in his church, I have to say, yes that’s true… but… If you’ll humor me a bit here, let me take you to another situation in another time and place. The year is around 1200 ce. We’re in Italy were a monk named Francis is walking around the countryside. He hears the clanging of cans approaching, the cans tied to the legs of lepers who wear them to warn others that they are in the area. But for some reason Francis doesn’t run. He doesn’t hide. He immediately feels overcome with compassion and runs over to great the leper, hugging him, and kissing his sores.  When Francis looks up, instead of the leper, he sees it is Christ himself who has been welcomed and loved! And this humble saint realizes that to serve others is to serve Christ. From that moment on he saw each and every person he met as a means of serving his master while serving all of his brothers and sisters on earth; yes, even seeing earth as it is in heaven.

There is no difference between us and that first woman who served Jesus. We have been blessed with having the history, the stories, the theology, and the mystical experiences handed down to us from those who were the first to be called, the first to respond, and the first to make that change that called them from within; that knowing that can’t be turned away from. They may be the first who saw and the first who believed, but as I said, it doesn’t mean that just because the physical being of Jesus is no longer with us, that we don’t still have that call. The call is there – one way or another – for each of us who have discovered Christ in our lives. Will we, or should I say, “how” will we choose to respond and serve him in today’s world? Perhaps Christ will show up in the most unexpected person or place when we let go of ourselves and open up our compassion and become the servants we were called to be.

Citations: RCL; Year B, 5th Sunday after Epiphany (Mark 1:29-39)

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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.

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

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