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Posts Tagged ‘Rejoice’

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

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Old Thanksgiving, New Era Advent

November 28, 2013 Leave a comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

99 Sheep and a Wedding Headband

September 15, 2013 Leave a comment

The Gospel in today’s lectionary tells the tale of Jesus once again being scorned for eating with sinners.  It’s here we find Jesus doing what Jesus does; he’s making his way through the towns, sitting down with the common people, talking about his Father.  Luke calls these common people “sinners” here, and customarily includes “tax collectors” among the group.  It’s been said these sinners were pretty much anyone who was uneducated.  They didn’t follow all of the rules because they didn’t know about them.  They were cast in positions below the priests and business people of the towns. The tax collectors are included with the sinners because they made their living off of other people’s income, often being accused of taking more than the going tax rate dictated.  So here we have Jesus, who has been teaching in the synagogue, healing the sick, and gathering quite a following, sitting around with people who, in other people’s eyes, don’t coincide with his standing in the community.  I’ve often thought it possible that the Pharisees and scribes were becoming jealous of his notoriety.  Whatever the case, someone who taught on the Sabbath would surely not lower themselves to hang out and eat with the likes of street people.   As the one who is always completely aware of his surroundings, Jesus hears the grumbling.  And as is his style, he gives them a parable; this one with two parts.

If ever there was an example of the perfect leader, the epitome of excellence in the field of being in charge, this parable has it covered.  Every time I hear about the person who loses one of his one hundred sheep and goes off looking for it, leaving the other 99 in the wilderness, I’m more drawn to what might happen to the 99 left behind than whether or not the one that is lost is found.  Look at it from this perspective.  How many of you have ever felt the uneasiness of leaving a large number of youth unsupervised while you attend to something else?  I’ve encountered that in both coaching and scouting.  I know there are teachers and scout leaders in here who can confirm what that feels like.  Perhaps that is why my mind goes there.  It takes a great deal of trust – and a bit more than a large amount of prayer – to have enough faith to make a decision that involves leaving large groups on their own.  That’s what draws me to this parable.  Not the action of the leader, but the reaction of the group.   The story not only says a lot about the group, it speaks volumes about the leadership.   Not only are they left alone without supervision, they are left alone in the wilderness.  Yet not one runs off.  If there are any class clowns in the bunch, they’ll be showing off for the others.  Some of the loners might stick to the edge of the crowd.  A bully might even try pushing some of the smaller members to the brink.  But they all stick together.  Maybe it’s something about the feeling of family.  Whatever it is, there is cohesiveness within the group and a united front that keeps them together.  Let’s hold on to that thought for a minute as we look at the second part of the parable.

We know that times can be hard and every dime counts.  And a silver coin, no matter what day or age, is something to be concerned about.  But when you start calling in the neighbors, turn on all the lights and move the furniture around to sweep the floor, it says this is not just about hard times.  Something is a bit more valuable than we think.  Scripture doesn’t always explain every detail, just what is necessary for the reader of the times to understand.  If we lived in that age, or had a Jewish heritage, we’d know that a bride’s dowry includes a headband made of ten pieces of silver.  It’s the equivalent of today’s wedding ring.  So yes, it would be a big deal if a piece of the wedding band was missing.  Who wouldn’t want to tear the house apart searching for it?

So after these two pieces of the parable are told, we now have a lost sheep with 99 others left in the wilderness – and a lost coin from a wedding headband that in its own right makes the rest of the coins worthless.  How can we weigh in our situation with either part of this parable?  Well, we can talk about how we are working together for a common goal; our experience and lessons learned from the past, combined with some very good teachers, is being placed in the limelight as we go through the process of searching for our next rector.  We can talk about doing what is necessary to save someone that is lost or has gone astray.  We do this every time we help someone through one of our outreach programs – the results might not be evident to us now but the effects of helping those in need can be deep and long lasting.  And we can talk about how barriers we create such as working classes and education levels don’t matter and we need to eliminate these barriers from our lives.  We do this every time we greet a newcomer that walks through the doors of this church and welcome them back with a personal note and thank you card.

But doing these things doesn’t mean we stop once we’ve achieved a portion of them.  The biggest and best is yet to come.  Will we ever be finished with the process?  Probably not.  There will always be some portion of something that is missing from our lives.  There will always be a need to work together to make something complete.  What we can’t forget is what we are instructed to do each time we succeed in this process.  After the lost sheep was found, the neighbors were called to celebrate the joy!  And when the bride had finally found the lost coin from her headband, everyone rejoiced!  They celebrated and gathered the community together.  So often we miss this.  So often we keep right on going with life and not stop to acknowledge the advances we’ve made when it comes to our spiritual achievements.  We throw parties for children graduating from kindergarten but barely make enough time for coffee and cake after a baptism.  We don’t think twice about what we’ll spend on a sweatshirt or hat when our favorite sports team wins a championship, yet balk at the cost of necklace or ring when we are confirmed or received into the church.  According to St. Luke, nothing is worth celebrating more than one person’s return to the church.  We need to stop, give thanks, and rejoice in these moments.  A few weeks ago I mentioned that we need to start the healing process and come together in community.  I mentioned how we need to reach out to each other in good times and bad.  We have begun our journey forward and we are making strides.  Yesterday we had five of our parishioners attend the required training for Visiting Eucharistic Ministers and when we receive their licenses we’re going to celebrate, give thanks, and rejoice.  Rejoice that these people have heard the call to tend to the ill and homebound of our parish.   And as we continue to grow in other areas that have vacancies such as Sunday School Teachers, we’ll continue to reach out to more, and we will continue to give thanks and rejoice.  Rejoice!

Deacon Pete Gdula

Scripture ref:  RCL Year C, Proper 19

Rejoice! The Light Shines On!

April 3, 2013 2 comments

Easter Vigil Homily Rev. Peter M. Gdula
Rejoice! Rejoice! Heavenly hosts and choirs of angels!
Rejoice! All the round earth!
Rejoice! Mother Church!
Rejoice! And let the trumpets shout – and the people sing praises – for darkness has been vanquished –and the proof is right here in this very church!
It may have been difficult at times to see reason for rejoicing as of late. For we’ve encountered a few challenges of our own. The penitential season of Lent can be draining enough for us. Not only have we travelled with Jesus during these 40 days through various services and programs here at St. Luke’s, mulling over the scriptures with the Prophet’s gloomy visions and the Gospel’s tales of a coming sacrifice; we’ve met in book studies on the seven last words of Christ, and meditated on the Stations of the Cross – wrestling with the meaning of Jesus’s death by putting ourselves in the shoes of those who witnessed the crucifixion.
This time has seen other challenges that might have us wondering why we should rejoice. For not only had our prayer and worship life shifted to one of penance and deepened reflection on making internal shifts of awareness, we as a church and community found ourselves meeting the demands of real life events that further challenge us to rise up from a perceived darkness in every way we can.
We might have been asking…”what more could there be?” Yet while we think we may not have a reason to rejoice, others in the world outside of this corner lot are crying out themselves, in their own darkness, in their own changes that have put them in their own sorrow and pain.
Now we could just ignore everything and try to live in a world of superficial denial. But when we ignore something, we lose the ability to react and we fail. We would fail to meet the needs of those around us who are troubled. We would fail in the baptismal covenant we just renewed to tend to the “least of these” and we would fail to discover any reason to rejoice. The darkness may be there … but it is up to us to show the light: The light that is here ready for us; the light that even death could not keep from shining. In one of the shortest Paschal Mystery homilies ever written, St. John Chrysostom proclaimed: “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? Christ is risen and life is freed.”
Yes, we have reasons to be concerned and reasons to mourn and reasons to be sorrowful, and we must react to these situations. It is especially important during these times, to always help each other to remember the light that wishes to give us hope and to comfort us in our troubles. For just as the light is eternal and dwells on earth as well as in heaven, this light is also here, within us, within our hearts. And it is here where we find the ability to rejoice.
So I ask you to reflect on this glorious night – where Christ restored us to grace and holiness of life: That while it is wrong that we have brothers and sisters hungry and homeless; rejoice because there are people sitting among us right here in this sanctuary along with other people, organizations and churches in the world, tirelessly seeking to provide for the poor, and honoring the holiness of those lives with as much grace as possible.
I ask you to reflect on this night – where innocence is restored: That while we as a community work through the challenges we face; rejoice that we are blessed with leadership that is wise and capable, friends that comfort our souls, and a common love that unites our hearts.
I ask you to reflect on this night – where we reaffirmed our baptismal covenant; That while it seems more people are turning away from belonging to a church in order to seek God through other paths; rejoice for we have been witness to the fact that there ARE families that bring their babies like precious Isabella into our midst to be baptized, asking for our commitment to share in the responsibility of accepting their child into the body of Christ.
And I ask you to reflect on this night – where Christ rose victorious from the grave: That even as we encounter dark times in our lives and the lives of others; rejoice! Rejoice that we HAVE the light that enables us to see clearly in all situations. Rejoice that we HAVE the light that guides our compassion and care to those who need it. And rejoice that this Light – Christ – the Morning Star that knows no setting – is eternally present, eternally burning, and eternally giving His light and life to ALL creation. May the good Lord bless us and keep us in His eternal light as he lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.