Sunday, November 11, 2018
“All that I am and All that I have”
When Cindy and I exchanged rings at our wedding ceremony 39 years ago, we said what the Book of Common Prayer asked us to say; “I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow and with all that I am and all that I have, I honor you, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” (Book of Common Prayer p. 427)
“All that I am and all that I have”.
We all belong to one another and moreover we belong to God with “all that we are and all that we have.”
We come to the time when we launch our Membership and Pledge campaign. I ask you to pray about these things. We are members of Christ and of one another. We are Christ’s Body; the Church, as my namesake tells us in Scripture (Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12). As you pray about your Membership and your Pledge, I ask you also to pray about how you may reach out to family, friends, neighbors and to perfect strangers. How indeed are we to fill the earth with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea? (Habakkuk 2:14)
How might we reach out and exercise our ministry of Invitation? As “Jesus reached out his loving arms on the hard wood of the cross”, (Book of Common Prayer p. 101), how might we reach out our loving arms to all? The invitation to belong to Jesus is not just to ourselves when we pledge and renew our church membership, but also to others as we seek to extend Christ’s Reign here on earth.
I needn’t tell you how urgent a matter it is to extend the Reign of God. Recent shootings in a house of worship in Pittsburg and in a night club in California remind us how urgent a matter it is to proclaim the love of God and the power of Jesus to heal us of all our soul’s diseases.
Too many have turned away from that love. There is too much hate, anger and vitriol in our public discourse. There is too much untreated mental illness. We send our young off to war and when they come home they are left too often to put the pieces of their broken lives together all by themselves. We cannot wash our hands of any of these social ills.
The time for conversation is upon us. The time for invitation is now: a time to love, to forgive, to reconcile. And it is an urgent matter. The idea of Membership in Christ and generosity to the Church’s work is not a trivial matter but central to our core Mission.
In our families, among our friends, and perfect strangers! All people, by whatever race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, class or language belong to God.
We do not belong to ourselves. We belong to God.
The Poor Widow recognized this simple fact. She had two copper coins worth a penny. She gave it all to God. She belongs to God forever in the same way that we all do.
I was pleased to see that a significant number of Native Americans have been added to the House of Representatives in Tuesday’s election. When their land was taken away from them they were presented with a perplexity. In much of Native American culture, the land does not “belong” to anybody. This is why having an address is so foreign to many tribes. The land belongs “The Great Spirit”, the One we call God. We are but sojourners on the land. Anyone therefore who thinks that it “belongs” to them is laboring under an an exaggeration of self importance.
For example, Chief Seattle was asked to give large tracts of land to the White Man. He responded with his famous oration in 1854. It is one of the few statements recorded for posterity which helps us understand how those native to this land viewed “ownership”. Listen to his words;
“Yonder sky has wept tears of compassion upon my people for centuries untold, and to us appears changeless and eternal…Our dead never forget this beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its verdant valleys, its murmuring rivers, its magnificent mountains…Tribe follows tribe, and nation follows nation, like the waves of the sea. It is the order of nature. Your time of decay may be distant, but it will surely come, for even the White Man…cannot be exempt from the common destiny of humankind. We the Red Man and you the White Man may be brothers after all. We will see. Let your Great Chief be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless…To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their resting place is hallowed ground…Dead, did I say? No! There is no death, only a change of worlds.”
Chief Seattle recognized that everything, including our very lives are on loan to us. Furthermore he recognized that all tribes, nations and peoples are under the same God. It is futile for us to think of God as belonging to the White man or to the Red Man to the exclusion of others. God is as universal to the human condition as is the water with which life itself flows within us.
The Book of Ruth is a Biblical case in point. Ruth is a Moabite woman; a foreigner. But she weds Boaz an Israelite. Their child Obed, became the father of Jesse, Jesse the father of David, and in a long line of ancestors Jesus is born under a Bright beautiful Star in Bethlehem. Jesus is a blend of blood lines, and becomes author of Salvation for ALL PEOPLE.
The universal work of salvation that the Bible proclaims is true for all. We humans are still having difficulty in figuring out how generous God is to no matter who we are or where we are from.
The Poor Widow understood God’s generosity. Jesus pointed out when she put her copper coins worth but a penny into the treasury, she gave God, all that she was and all that she had.
So then whether we give large sums or two copper coins, we recognize that what we have is not ours to give, but a response to God’s generosity to us in the first place.
All we are and all that we have belongs to God.
If you are rich and you can give vast sums, thank you. I suspect that most of you, however are something less than rich. Thank you for your generosity. If you are poor, and you have never pledged before, that’s fine. Begin today with two copper coins. If you don’t have two begin with one. And thank you.
Jesus is watching you place who you are and what you have into God’s treasury. And Jesus alone recognizes how poor we are. Each and every one of us like the poor widow; “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
With all that I am and all that I have let us therefore render unto God the things that are God’s.
Today marks 100 years since the Armistice. A moment of Remembrance now for the soldiers who gave all that they were and all that they had for us.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break the faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, thought poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided, and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.
Sunday, October 28, 2018
No Room for Hate!
No Room for Hate! Today in every house of worship in America this what we need to proclaim!
Friday at the National Cathedral, the Episcopal Church honored Matthew Sheppard. Twenty years ago he was beaten, pistol whipped, and tied to a barbed wire fence on a cold October night in Laramie, Wyoming. He was left to die. Matthew was was gay. That same year a Black man by the name of James Byrd Jr was dragged behind a pick up truck by white supremacists and dismembered during the hateful episode. He too was mercilessly murdered.
Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop of the Episcopal church, preached the sermon to honor Matthew on Friday and he asked us to remember James.
Matthew’s parents did not bury him in Laramie out of concern for the possible desecration of their son’s grave. There is reason to believe that in our time there are those who might do such a thing. They wanted their son to Rest In Peace. In his young life, Matthew found acceptance in the local Episcopal Church, while others rejected him. And so today he rests in the Cathedral crypt.
In 2003 David Bresnahan and I attended the Consecration of Gene Robinson when he became the Bishop of New Hampshire. We were met by folks from Westboro “Baptist” Church and others who displayed signs that said; “God hates gays”. Really! Does God hate? The Scripture says: “God is Love.” Gene Robinson had to wear a bullet proof vest during his consecration. There was heavy security present. Credible death threats had been made against Bishop Robinson.
In his sermon Friday, Bishop Robinson tearfully told Matthew’s family and the thousands gathered in a packed Cathedral;
“Rest in peace, Matthew.
You are safe now.
In the crypt of the National Cathedral, a young man rests in the arms of Jesus.
This week, thirteen bombs were delivered to citizens of these United States of America. Thankfully none of the devices detonated, and more thankfully still the individual alleged to be responsible was apprehended by the authorities.
Yesterday someone killed eleven worshippers and wounded four police officers in a Pittsburg Synagogue. That man was heavily armed and was also apprehended.
And so it goes. The tiresome chronicle of hate crimes continues in our land. There is no room for hate in our political or religious life. From the highest office in the land on down such acts of violence have been condemned as having no place in public life.
Jesus goes one better; There is no room for hate in any human heart.
Harboring hatred, takes a heavy toll in the human soul. Much like the old Buddhist maxim; “Holding on to hate is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
Like the blindness of Bartimaeus, hatred blinds us and leaves us impoverished. At least Bartimaeus was honest about it. He knew he was a blind beggar and still he called out; “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.”
He was told to shush!
He cried out even more loudly.
“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.”
So Jesus called him forward.
He threw “off his cloak, sprang up and came to Jesus. “Rabbi, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.”
You will notice the love of Jesus. While the others wanted the blind beggar to shush himself, Jesus wanted him to speak up. This is true for all the sick, the lame, the lepers, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, outcasts of all sorts. This is true for Matthew Sheppard, James Byrd Jr., and for Jews who worship in a Holy Place. The blindness of those who hate is no match for the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jesus, a Jew to his dying day, had no weapons, nothing whatsoever to defend himself; nor did his disciples. He was at their mercy. We are all at the mercy of what hatred can do. But Jesus points us to another mercy; the mercy of God. For Jesus, this is protection enough.
The Collect of the Day reminds us; “Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, make us love what you command.”
How about that? How about a change of heart? The harboring of hate in the human heart is destroying us.
The ancient Christian greeting from the heart of Jesus is at the heart of every Eucharist: “Peace be with you”.
The ancient Jewish greeting to friend and stranger alike is the same; “Shalom”
And the ancient Muslim greeting is likewise; “Salaam”.
What part of our ancient shared faith, hope and charity are we missing anyway?
The very name “Jerusalem” means; “Foundation of Peace”.
And yet look what hatred makes of it!
I am reminded of the old Native American proverb;
“What if I told you that the left wing and the right wing belong to the same bird.”
Or the Hindu maxim:
"There are hundreds of paths up the mountain, all leading to the same place, so it doesn't matter which path you take. The only person wasting time is the one who runs around the mountain, telling everyone that his or her path is wrong.”
Or simpler still, Jesus; “Love your enemies.”
Too much anger!
Too much fear and paranoia!
To much hatred!
And what does Jesus require?
Love one another.
The hinge of all history turns on our renunciation of hatred and our turning to love.
Dying to sin, we live again.
It is all about our Baptism.
In the ancient church, at the Great Vigil of Easter, at dawn, the candidates for Baptism would face west into the darkness and renounce the forces of evil. They were baptized, clothed in white albs, faced East to the rising of the sun!
“Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?”
There it is; the burning question for this and every age.
Do you renounce Satan and all the forces of evil which seek to destroy the creatures of God?
Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
Matthew you are safe today in the crypt of the National Cathedral.
No harm can come to you now.
You are in the arms of Jesus who loves you and gave his life for you.
James Byrd Jr. You are safe today in the Savior’s arms.
And sisters and brothers of every Synagogue and Temple in America; you too are in God’s hands. As the Hebrew Scripture we all share reminds us; “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, You are with me!” ~Psalm 23:1
This is how our Presiding Bishop puts it; “Come and be part of the Jesus movement!”
Finally there is this. Every Thursday night here at Trinity during our healing Eucharist, our custom is to remember the Saints of the Church, those we read of throughout history who have taught us of the love of Jesus.
Let me suggest this; let us go on record from this place and all across this church of ours;
“Be it Resolved that The Episcopal Church set aside a day in the Christian Year as Matthew Sheppard and James Byrd Jr Day in honor of all victims of hate.
Be it further resolved that we love one another as God loves us.”
In the Name of God; The Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity.
Monday, October 22, 2018
Turning the Tables!
Turning things upside down! That’s the way Jesus seems to go about things, whether its the Tables in the Temple precincts or who gets to be boss versus who gets to be bossed. He says in today’s Gospel that he comes not be be served but to serve. He is the One who washed their feet the night before he died for all. He left an indelible mark upon us. Yet, given our human nature, we seem to forget as soon as we look away.
After all, we have to live, learn, work and play in this world. And in this world there are bosses and those who get bossed around. There are bullies and bullyboys, and those who are bullied. Those are just the facts. The abuse inflicted and suffered in the church, the business world, entertainment and politics is well documented. The #MeToo movement is but the latest manifestation of those who seeks to right the ship. We can only hope for more.
In today’s Gospel, the sons of Zebedee want Jesus to do whatever they ask of him. After all, they were political zealots, the ones who sought the overthrow of the government, and they felt they deserved special seating at the right and left hand of Jesus. I suppose they thought they should wield power from the throne room of God.
They had a case. The occupation force at the time was the distant Roman government, well known for swift reprisals for any uprising or questioning of authority. Jerusalem resented Rome. Jesus own family was driven away from the Bethlehem of his birth, for fear of his life. The slaughter of the Innocents soon ensued. It was a dark time for the folks who sought freedom and self rule. Again and again the brutal oppression of the ruler’s rod is meted out ruthlessly.
The Book of Job deals with the problem of suffering and injustice. Job was a good man. So much so that when God and Satan are pictured as in conversation about the dilemma of the human condition. God says do what you will with my servant Job, but he will never curse me. Satan had a field day with him. He took away his beloved family, his wealth, and finally his health. He visited him with sores so painful that Job could not find a moment’s peace even in his sleep. Job was tormented also by “friends” who tried to explain his condition by postulating that he must have done something to deserve all this…some sin, some offense, some something to deserve the calamity that befell him. Job’s physical torment was now exaggerated by the conversation of those who surrounded him. There was no relief.
Folks, this is the way things are. Things are often upside down. The suffering makes no sense. Lets face it, when we see the good and the righteous suffer, no fault of their own, we cannot help but question God.
Yet when God gives the answer to the questions we raise, there is a turning of the tables and a quaking in the human soul. God asks the questions. We give the answers. In today’s first lesson we read this exquisite Hebrew poetry;
“God answered Job out of the whirlwind:
"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.”
Job remembers his rightful place in obedience to God. And God restores Job to all that he had lost and more besides. Jesus also learned obedience through what he suffered, the Epistle tells us. And he became the source of salvation for all who obey him.
When I served as Interim in Sandwich, on the Cape, a faithful woman of the church, took sick and was admitted to Beth Israel for surgery. When they opened her up, what the surgeon saw convinced him that the best thing to do was to sew her up and break the news to her straight on. I went to visit her at her home and she was remarkably collected given the facts as she faced them.
She told me that she had but a few months to live. She talked about having Cindy and me over to tea. She and I both loved “Typhoo Tea”, a popular English brand which we still drink. We had tea and biscuits as time permitted. Then one day with a twinkle in her eye, she said to me; “All I want to know is that there is a Thrift Shop in heaven where I can price items without interference from those who think they know better.”
I told her I’d get back to her on that.
When I returned the following week, I told her that I had good news and on good authority; “Eileen, there is a Thrift Shop in Heaven, and you can price all he items you want without interference within in the department you are assigned for the day.”
She was thrilled to hear the news, and willing to accept reasonable limitations.
Her joy was much like the Psalmist’s joy today;
“Bless the Lord, O my soul; *
O Lord my God, how excellent is your greatness!”
She was obedient to her fate and kept it in her faith.
We played out the Game of Heaven until those last days.
I remember the end. It was Sunday night. We had just arrived home from Sandwich. I had changed into my jammies to watch the Bruins take on the NY Rangers and the phone rang.
It was the head nurse.
She told me the end was near.
I looked up at Cindy and said; “We’ve got to go back to Sandwich. Eileen’s time has come.”
I suited up and off we went into the cold winter’s night. Thankfully, there was no snow, just a cold and bitter wind to fight driving down the Cranberry Highway.
When we arrived, I gave her communion by touching her lips with the host and then I leaned over as I learned years ago and I sang in her ear;
“Jesus loves me, this I know,
for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong,
they are weak but he is strong.
Yes Jesus loves me,
Yes Jesus loves me
Yes Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so."
The last to go is the hearing, and those are the words I wanted her to hear in those sacred moments.
I whispered to her that all was in readiness in the Thrift Shop.
You can go anytime now.
The nurse standing by teared up and thanked me and Cindy for coming. We drove back to Lynn.
I’m told it wasn’t long afterward that she died during the night. The nurse expressed profound gratitude for the experience we shared.
God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind.
God knows we suffer. God knows those we love suffer.
God made us the way we are.
God made the world the way it is and nature has her way with us.
And so it was with Jesus too when he suffered and died upon the cross, no fault of his own.
It was the brutal bullying of his own time that became the vehicle through with Salvation has come to us all.
As we say time and again in the heart of the Eucharist.
Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again.
That the central fact of Faith!
And the coming his again as you and I become the hands and feet of Jesus.
The Breaking of the Bread, a symbol of our brokenness is also a symbol pointing to God’s healing grace and power.
The Tables have turned upside down.
We are here not to be served but to serve.
The very power of the Gospel.
The very power of Jesus the Christ.
In the Name of God, The Most Holy, Undivided, and Everlasting Trinity. Amen