Sunday, August 20, 2017
Bread of Dogs, Bead of God?
My dear friends, I bring you greetings from the faithful who gathered yesterday at St Paul's Cathedral, on the Boston Common, the oldest park in these United States of America. Bishop Alan Gates asked my son David about you and me, during a service of prayers for peace. And thank God there was peace in Boston yesterday as more than 40,000 gathered to provide a visible sign that hate has no place in the City of Boston. What a relief that is.
As for the President, he has done for us one thing that no one else has been able to do. He has forced us into that exquisitely uncomfortable place where we must talk about issues such as Racism. I’ve been to dozens of conferences, there have been thousands of sermons on Racism, but this one man has done something that no one else has been able to do. He has put us all on the spot as to where we stand. We are all forced to look into the mirror of our own souls and ask; “Who are we?”
I have spent a lifetime working against racism. I began my ministry in Hyde Park in Boston during the integration crisis in the 70’s. There were Nazis there too trying to egg us on into racial warfare. When Cindy and I moved to Euclid, Ohio, again we faced the integration of the public schools. When we were in West Virginia there was a cross burning. It seems a black kid took a white girl on a date. I immediately spoke with a black pastor in town and hundreds of us marched together from St Mark’s Episcopal Church to St Paul’s Missionary Baptist Church. Even the Governor of West Virginia joined our efforts to renounce this act of hatred and intimidation. We demonstrated our solidarity for racial and human harmony.
By the way my life has been threatened several times along the way. I have found myself at the center of many struggles. There was a time when someone called Cindy to say; “We’re going to kill your husband!” Cindy had the presence of mind to say, in her best Boston accent; “Yeah, take a numbah, I want to kill him too sometimes.”
The events of this past last week have left many of us shell-shocked. Where are we headed as a country? Can you imagine a march where the message of racial superiority, anti-semitism, hatred and violence is not soundly and convincingly renounced by the chief executive officer of the nation?
Even before yesterday’s demonstration on the Common, one Bostonian travelled to Charlottesville and proudly declared in an interview; “Hitler was right!” and “Auschwitz was a five star resort!” Others chanted “Blood and Soil” during a torchlight parade last week. The expression was popularized by the prominent Nazi theorist Richard Walther Darré in 1930. The Nazi Party embraced the expression “Blood and Soil” as one of its chief ideological slogans. I renounce such statements as utterly contrary to everything this country stands for and contrary to the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. I only wish that our chief executive leadership knew this history well enough to renounce it with equally convincing authority.
Driving an automobile into a crowd of demonstrators in Charlottesville or a van into a gathering of tourists in Barcelona are both acts of terrorism. Period. When anyone uses theology or ideology to justify acts of violence, we have no choice but to renounce such acts immediately and hold those responsible to account swiftly.
Enough of that for now. Lets look at what the Scriptures have to say to us today. Interestingly enough the assigned lectionary for the day deals with issues of racism, slavery and oppression. Isn't that interesting!
We begin with the Gospel for the day. At no time in history have we needed the Gospel more urgently than we do now. Jesus led his disciples on a walk to Tyre and Sidon. By the way, that's a walk of about 124 milesfrom Jerusalem. Quite a hike! There must have been some discussion along the way about the conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities in Jerusalem and then I suggest to you that there must have been questions about why they were heading deeper and deeper into Canaan. Was he not sent to the House of Israel? Why then did they find themselves so deep in foreign territory?
Finally a Canaanite woman confronted Jesus with a plea that he heal her daughter who was possessed by a demon. Let’s be clear, this was a Canaanite woman, a woman of a different racial and ethnic class than the Jews. She was, horrors, a Gentile, a foreigner! Jesus, playing into the disciples’ prejudice and racism, ignored her. They told Jesus to send her away. Jesus made it clear he was sent by God to the lost sheep of Israel. She knelt down before him and begged him for help. His answer to her doesn’t sound like Jesus to me two thousand years later. We know now that Jesus’ love was for all people without regard to race, gender, ethnicity, or orientation. But we did not know that then. So, reflecting their prejudice and bigotry Jesus said to her; “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” The woman’s response was astonishing. Instead of slinking away in dejected rejection, she said; “Yes, Lord yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.”
In an instant the Savior’s face was transfigured by the love of God made flesh and blood in him; “O woman great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” Jesus breaks the dividing wall among us then and there. Whatever dividing wall you wish to erect, Jesus breaks it down. Racial divides, gone. All other convenient pigeon holes we wish to use to classify folk. No more.
Thankfully, more and more we as a church are becoming a “House of Prayer for ALL People.” In our own historic context in Montana, our relationship with Native American folks also needs an honest to God reality check. As a matter of fact, I thank God for recent events. For now we all have some soul searching to do.
You know, I have a vision for us as a nation and as a people. The vision is not new to me but as old as the Republic itself. Imagine if you will the American Bald Eagle. It is a noble vision the Native American community revered deeply. Thankfully, I’m bald so it may help envision what I seek to say. The eagle has two wings. A left wing and a right wing like all birds. Ben Franklin, is reputed to have suggested the turkey as our national bird given the factious nature of the body politic. But consider the eagle. On the left wing let us postulate the possibility of Democrats, progressives, and liberals. On the right let me suggest we may find Republicans, traditionalists, and conservatives. For an eagle or any bird to get off the ground, it will need both wings, but for it to soar it will need every single feather working in concert together.
This will mean that as responsible citizens we must reclaim the center. We must renounce the extreme. By that, I mean there must be a place where we can hold conversation with one another when we agree and when we disagree. True enough, we tend to seek out like minded people for much of our lives. But where we really soar is when we can work in concert with those who most differ from us. There is a thing called bi-partisanship and Congress. If we are to deal with matters of urgent concern such as health care, infrastructure, unemployment, poverty, the national budget and so on, we must work together. This will allow the great symbol of our national experience not only to get off the ground and fly, if we begin to act as grown ups and responsible citizens, we can soar!
As for those in the extreme where hatefulness and violence are embraced. We categorically reject that. The politics of “divide and conquer” is much in vogue these days, often has been in history. But such an approach to our common life is not reflective of our better angels. Since a boy the American credo I hold dear has been and continues to be that we are “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
As for slavery, Joseph knew first hand what that was like. In our first lesson today we read where Joseph said; “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into into slavery in Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” God has redeemed history before. God will redeem history again as soon as we listen up to God! In the sweetness of reconciliation Joseph “fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.” That’s when their spirits soared like an eagle.
The spirit of the Psalmist soars today with these words;
“1 Oh, how good and pleasant it is, *
when brethren live together in unity!
2 It is like fine oil upon the head *
that runs down upon the beard,
3 Upon the beard of Aaron, *
and runs down upon the collar of his robe.
4 It is like the dew of Hermon *
that falls upon the hills of Zion.
5 For there the Lord has ordained the blessing: *
life for evermore.”
Eternal Life folks or hatred, violence, and death? That is the choice that always stands before us. Bishop Brookhart writes of what happened in Charlottesville; “This event, which included the death of a young woman, reminds us that disciples of Jesus cannot tolerate or condone white supremacy and racism.”
Allow me to add this from my namesake Paul in today’s Epistle; “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Or as we read in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus; “Bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all…until all of us come to the unity of the faith…to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” Soaring words indeed.
Yes, my spirit soars in Jesus. I pray this is how it shall always be with us. May God bless us, everyone!
In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity.
Sunday, August 06, 2017
The Feast Day of the Transfiguration 2017
St. Peter’s Cathedral, Helena, Montana
“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Boston anymore”
~Dorothy (a minor variation)
Last night Cindy and I were out shopping. We stopped to grab a bite at Shellie's Country Cafe. When we observed cowboy hats, boots and belt buckles, we looked at each other and said; “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Boston anymore”
Good morning folks and thank you for your wonderful welcome to Helena, Montana. Cindy and I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Bishop Brookhart, Sara Medley and the Cathedral Chapter, and to your wonderful Parish Administrator, Donna Gleaves. You have provided us with a very comfortable place to live in and a basket full of goodies to enjoy. Donna has prepared pages of agenda items for the interim dean to pay attention to as we begin this journey together. It sets my head to spinning as I contemplate; “Good Lord, where have I landed now!”
When we left Boston it was hazy, hot and humid. When we arrived in Helena, it was smokey, hot and dry. This folks, is a mighty Transfiguration! How appropriate that we begin our time together on the very day that Jesus was transfigured right before their very eyes, high up upon the holy mountain. We have what we call mountains in the Berkshires in my home state, but the Native Americans named the place Massachusetts: “Place of little hills”. Those hills are nothing like what we have around us here. How beautiful! I can hardly wait for the smoke to clear to see them in all their magnificent majesty. And as I say that, let us remember those who fight these wildfires. Several have lost their lives in the ongoing battle. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their courage and sacrifice, we owe them our prayers as they face the dangers of the work they do day in and day out.
It was hot and dry in the desert places where Jesus and his disciples ministered. They focused their work around the sick, the poor and the outcast. They brought them the Good News of God’s love and their love. With courage and resolve they mightily ministered to their needs.
Then the day came for them to climb the holy mountain. It was cold and windy up there if it was anything like the holy mountains we visited when we took a bus load of high school kids to the Holy Land.
There was an encounter with the Holy, as so often happens when we are with Jesus. As they prayed there, suddenly Jesus was transfigured and his face shone like the sun, his clothing became a dazzling white. They spoke of his departure, interestingly enough, and as they did, Moses and Elijah appeared and the Glory of God radiated through them.
Peter, dear Peter, our very own Peter didn’t know what to say. So he said the only thing he could come up with; “Lets make a couple of lean to’s of the sort you make in a mountain when you’re going to spend the night and lets stay a while. Let us dwell in this moment.” Imagine here is Jesus, the One with power over sin and death. Moses the one who brought us up out of slavery in Egypt and into freedom in the Promised Land and then gave us the Law. And Elijah the Prophet who did not shrink from confronting the Powers and Principalities of his time with the Word of God. Neither did Moses shrink from Pharaoh nor Jesus fall away from facing Pilate or the Temple authorities.
Then as suddenly as they all appeared together, Moses and Elijah were gone and only Jesus remained before their eyes. They heard it plain as day; “This is my Beloved Son, listen to him now!”
You will remember what Jesus said. He spoke on the basis of what he did. After all in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus does say; "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord', will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven." ~Matthew 7:21. You will remember the Sermon on the Mount. You will remember how he cured the sick, and those suffering from every form of mental illness, and how he went out of his way to visit the outcast and the lepers of his day. Not everyone was thrilled with this approach to human need. And Jesus paid dearly for his love for us all but he rose again from the dead and here he is now in our very midst this day in the power of his resurrection.
Our church has undergone quite a transfiguration in recent years. We are seeking to understand anew what Paul meant when he said; “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” ~Galatians 3. The Gospel is not about Jew or Greek alone but about any race or ethnicity. It is not about slave or free alone but all economic classifications. Not even gender identity can factor into consideration about the love of Jesus when you think about it. We are all one in Jesus. We have all put on Christ as a garment.
Our own blessed Peter, the Rock upon which Jesus continues to build God’s Church, when speaking to the Gentiles, namely the “outsiders” the “foreigners” of his time, said in his glorious Easter Sermon; ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” ~Acts 10
Every one of you gathered here this morning shines with the same kind of Glory with which Jesus shines. I can see it in your faces. And I see no exceptions, even after these first 45 years in parish ministry 45, thanks be to God.
Mind you there are characters in our midst. There are varieties of gifts, opinion, conviction, temperament, and every Dickensian peculiarity. After all, we are Episcopalians. But when we gather in this holy place and at this altar rail we bring who we are to God and to one another and somehow we gather rubbing shoulder to shoulder in the very midst of God’s Glory. The collect of the day proclaims that as Jesus is wonderfully transfigured so may we be “delivered from the disquietude of this world” and behold God in Glory. It is this very Glory which you show forth in your lives, it is your joy that will bring people to Jesus. Be radiant! Be joyful!
There is another Sunday in the church year when we observe the Transfiguration. I love the way the Collect for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany puts it; “O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.”
We gather week by week delivered from the disquietude of the world we live in so that we may be transfigured from glory to glory. Bring yourselves and others to the Glory of God and the Joy of Jesus!
I hope you allow yourselves to live in this glory. From the moment I first entered this building, I could sense it; you know what I mean; that breathtaking sense of the holy. When Donna first showed me this place I was especially taken with the stained glass windows. Then come to find out, they were made by Charles J Connick in his studios in Boston. Aha! No wonder I feel so much at home here. As we bask in the beauty of this place may I invite you to allow yourselves to be transfigured from glory to glory especially in the inward places of your very souls.
Connick wrote of the beauty of our encounter with God in these words; “If churches are made radiant and beautiful places of worship, we can have a spiritual regeneration without anyone knowing what is going on. Beauty can preach as very few with bundles of words can preach. I want to make beautiful interiors for both churches and souls. I want folks to hear my windows singing.”
What does God want of us and of this Cathedral as we seek a transfiguration of the human soul? My wife Cindy has a way of bringing me back to earth. Seems there are always bills to pay and stuff to do. You and I know that no matter how glorious the mountaintop moment may be, we always have to come back to reality. The fact of sin and wickedness and death is all around us. How shall we organize ourselves as a Cathedral to confront that sin and wickedness and death? It has been said of Mother Teresa that she was “something beautiful for God”. Her mission was anything but beautiful. She faced into the ugliness of death and loved them to the Gate of Heaven. Jesus came down from the mountain to face his crucifixion, followed then by his resurrection.
You are something beautiful for God especially when you organize your lives around the suffering of the people around you and when you have the courage to become agents of God’s Justice. No Toto, we’re not in Boston anymore. We're right here in Helena. May God grant that we may shine with the radiance of Christ’s Glory. And what is it that God requires of us but “to do Justice, to love Mercy, and to walk humbly with our God”. ~Micah 6:8. Stay tuned folks, next week we celebrate 150 years of mission and ministry in and from this place. God grant that what we do in our time together may guide us toward the next 150 years of worship and service.
In the Name of God, the most holy undivided and everlasting Trinity. Amen.
Monday, May 15, 2017
God Knows Its Real!
I like that turn of phrase; "God knows its real! We use it to describe something so deep, so profound, that the thruth of what we say is self evident not just to those around us, but deep within our own personhood.We use the expression to affirm and to comfort one another in the whole range of human experience.
On this Easter Day we read of Mary's tears! God knows they were real. Jesus had been crucified. God knows that was real. Then they put him in the tomb. And now early on the third day, the women went to the tomb to do the ritual preparations for burial. So far, so good. All far too real, God knows. Then the stone was rolled away. The body taken. "Where have they taken him?" She asked the gardener, the indignity of grave robbers added to the grief. She didn't recognize him right away. Who can recognize Jesus right away? Jesus is right here in our midst and in the lives of those we meet along the way. But we are slow to see what is right in front of us and slow to understand. Reports began to arrive. He has been taken away! Then there was a good deal of panicky running around. This whole passage has the sound of reality to it. Then finally, there was the sudden dawning of the existential moment. Oh my God! The Resurrection; just like he told us it would be! The Easter Proclamation. It was an existential recognition. Jesus Christ is Risen today! Alleluia!.
It is an existential statement out of the depths of our human experience. The compression of the whole range of human emotion in Holy Week plumbs the depths of the universe of human sensibility. God knows there's suffering. The memory of the Boston Marathon bombings is still with us four years on. God knows that's real. And yet, the Richards family will dedicate a new park at the Children's Museum in honor of their son Martin who was killed in that attack. The resilient hope of humankind and the children of faith take the place of loss. Underneath all of our loss and sorrow there are still as ever, the Everlasting Arms.
The recent cruelty of gas attacks on innocent children in Syria. The suffering and death we share. The angst we know about in the plight of those children who die in warfare and who become refugees and then are not wanted because they have no home of their own in their own land or any other for that matter. God help us! God knows this is all too real.
God knows the suffering of Jesus on the Cross is real. But what of his resurrection? What of this day. Can we give as much credence to the existential cry of the first Christians who said; "He is Risen!"? God knows; sometimes yes, sometimes no.
For Mary her tears gave way to her next cry; "Christ is Risen; the Lord is risen indeed!" This is an existential cry we share with her in the hope that our faith and her faith are one. Mind you her faith was born out of the very real doubt that she could believe her own eyes. Neither could the disciples believe it until they saw it with their own eyes. After all, in a male dominant society who could trust the ravings of a hysterical woman? Surely, she is seeing things! This whole business of death and resurrection; tries our senses and defies our common sense.
God knows that's true. And yet at the death of a loved one what do we say; "O they're in a better place now. They're in God's hands now. We Celts sometimes say; they're on the other side. God knows there are many ways for us to say it; we hope against hope.
Down through the ages we have been known as The Easter People, because of the existential way we greet this day, this Season, and life itself. The first words with which we greet one another on this day are those first existential words: "Alleluia Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!" These are the first words in every language with which Christians greet one another the whole wide world around.
Greek – (Khristós Anésti! Alithós Anésti!)
Latin – Christus resurrexit! Resurrexit vere
French – Le Christ est ressuscité! En verité il est ressuscité! or Le Christ est ressuscité! Vraiment il est ressuscité!
◦ Old English – Crist aras! Crist soþlice aras! (Lit: Christ arose! Christ surely arose!)
◦ Middle English. Crist is arisen! Arisen he sothe
Hungarian – Krisztus feltámadt! Valóban feltámadt!
This existentialist cry at the nexus of life and death is somewhere at the heart of our Easter proclamation. God knows that's true. The mystery of being and non being baffles us, like it did Hamlet:
"To be, or not to be, that is the question:
To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there's the rub,
for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
when we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
must give us pause."
In the face of the human doubt and despair we cry the tears of Mary's sorrow, the exclamation of her unbelieving eyes, and then the Gospel cry of Mary's joy.
God knows this is all real!
Since that day we Christians face down every assault of the Absurd with the Power of Christ's Resurrection. Whether it is the death of a loved one or the wholesale dread of war, The Paschal Mystery is not our way to die but our way to live. In the face of human violence, we proclaim the Way of Jesus Resurrection.
You see, eternal life doen't begin with our death, it begins with our Baptism. When we die with Christ, we are raised with him. We die a death like his in order that we may live a life like his.
That life is characterized by a recognition like Peter's. "Aha, now "I truly understand that God shows no partiality". As blessed Paul was to state the new understanding, when you are in Christ the is no longer Jew or Greek (nor any other racial or ethnic identity), there is no longer slave or free (nor is there any other class identity based on wealth or poverty) there is no male or female (Good Lord, neither is there any other identity based on orientation, for heaven sake). This is because we are all one when we are Baptized into the Person of Jesus Christ our Lord, and him Risen from the Dead. And friends here we greet one another this Happy Easter Day all of us Risen with him in a life like his because of this very Baptism we all share.
To be sure there will continue to be dreary and dreadful days ahead, but they needn't overwhelm us. The darker the days are the more work we have to do. I once served as Chaplain of the Police and Fire Departments in Methuen, MA. At a special banquet to honor the heroic work of the men and women in Blue the Chief leaned over to me and said; "You know Father, we better not do too good a job, because then both of us will be out of work!"
"Not to fear my friend," I replied. "There is no end in sight nor is there any known cure for Sin."
In fact, as our professor of Theology used to quip in Seminary; "Sin is the only doctrine in the Christian Faith we can prove". All you have to do is pick up the morning paper or watch the news. And there it is; the sad chronicle of human sin.
All other Doctine you must take on Faith.
This Day of Days; this Queen of Christian Festivals we now proclaim the Victory of Jesus over the wickedness of Sin. Now are we forgiven. Now are we Raised from the Dead.
God knows its real!
Alleluia. Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Good Shepherd Sunday
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, I must remember those who were the Good Shepherds of my life. Having just returned from Toronto, I found myself visiting a flood of memories stretching back more than half a century.
By the way, the reason I ended up in Toronto in 1956 was that my mom remarried after the death of my dad who died in 1953. The man she married, Homer Kershner, "HK" I called him, was hired by the Toronto based Weston Biscuit Company, Canada’s version of Nabisco. He was the chief engineer of the company and it fell to him to purchase and install band ovens and packaging machinery for the many products that Weston’s distributed throughout Canada. He and my mother were among the many "Good Shepherds" of my life.
So there I was in Canada at the age of 11, a child of Blue Collar Somerville, suddenly translated into a somewhat foreign land to me and more jarringly into a solid upper middle class culture. It was not always an easy adjustment.
But there was one thing that I did right. When the parish priest stopped by our home to announce that a new church was being organized in the neighborhood, I immediately began to attend. My family was not the least bit interested in church, faith or religion, but I had then and still do have an incurable case of the love of God and the love of God’s people.
That parish priest, Fr. Fred Hall became a Good Shepherd to me. In fact his whole family took me under their wing. Particularly as I entered my college years and I grew more and more into my young adult years and independence. Out of their generosity and love, they always held a place for me at their Sunday dinner table.
Fr Fred and I loved to talk philosophy and theology. Having recently graduated from seminary, his confirmation classes were very demanding. We had to write examinations in the church’s catechism and demonstrate a mastery of the material that is the very underpinning of the church’s teachings and thinking on a whole range of church doctrine.
Being an independent and critical thinker, I loved to challenge my priest and he loved being challenged. Our confirmation classes were exciting and intellectually stimulating. But what I remember most vividly was the love he bore for us.
During our high school years he required that we attend mid week Lenten services at 7am. After Communion we would go to the parish hall as he prepared a full breakfast for us, and I remember his delighting in the work he did, his smiles, his laughter and most of all, I remember his love.
He was, in short, my Good Shepherd; he was indeed our Good Shepherd. We became Good Shepherds to one another. We formed a youth group that numbered, at its peak about 30 teens. He sent several of us to the Diocesan Conference Center for leadership training. We constituted ourselves as a local parish based chapter of what was then known as the AYPA, the Anglican Young People’s Association. We were a very active chapter. In fact the Diocese used to hold youth events for us as Dioceses still do.
Our own Diocese has a youth council, there are many youth events held at the Barbara Harris Camp and Conference Center and the National Church holds an annual gathering called the EYE; the Episcopal Youth Event.
These experiences away from home, learning how to become more increasingly independent and informed about our church and the world in which we live, continue to be life changing events. As your children and youth grow I encourage you explore these resources as I did in my formative years.
So there I was in Toronto for my 50th College Reunion. I met with old friends there. I met with Fr Fred’s family. He’s gone on now but we remembered those special days and then we caught up with each other. The intervening years have come and gone, and there was much catching up to do.
Here we gather on Good Shepherd Sunday. I once met a man who was in fact a real shepherd in the old country; Greece, in this case. He lived in Roslindale and I was the Rector of Christ Church in Hyde Park at the time. I asked him what it takes to be a “Good Shepherd”. Without hesitation, he said
“First you gotta know the names de sheeps”
“Second you gotta have dogs. You can’t keep de sheeps togedder widdoutchu gut dogs.”
“Third, every now and again you gotta whacken de sheeps upside de head when dey gets outta line.”
There you are folks; the Good Shepherd as seen from a grown man who did the job in the fields of the Old Country.
Makes sense doesn’t it!
Obviously we have to know them all by name. The collect of the day and the Gospel both tell us that “when we hear his voice we know him who calls us each by name”. We trust that voice because we know who he is. And because we trust him we follow in the way he leads.
There were many “barking dogs” in my life keeping us all together. I’m not sure that my parish priest would appreciate it if he knew I was comparing him to a barking dog. But think of it. Who are they who keep us altogether? Certainly there are family, friends, teachers, clergy, folks who have taken the time to have a critical impact on our lives. They’ve spent the time to care. Moreover, they were always there!
And then of course there were those times when we got way out of line. Somebody had to whack us upside the head to wake us us up as we blindly, blithely headed toward one catastrophe or another.
My grade eight teacher was one of those Good Shepherds in my life. Mr. Robinson! He was fond of saying “wakie, wakie!” as we seemed so often to be walking around in a daze blissfully unaware of something we were doing that was way off the mark. In the Advent season no doubt you remember that we are told; “Sleepers Awake!”
To know each other’s names; to care enough to be there for one another and to love each other enough to tell the truth to one another in love is to be a Good Shepherd to one another.
What then does it take for us to build one another up in love and to be Good Shepherds now at Trinity Church in Canton?
I found myself thinking about the early church as we see it in the Acts of the Apostles. Listen once again to the words we heard just a few moments ago from the Book of Acts;
"Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved."
Yes, and day by day, God added to their number those who were being saved. As Good Shepherds that’s exactly what you and I are being called to do. That word “saved” can be mangled by modernism. But it is is a matter of sober reality that the messes we make of our lives, and the messes our loved ones make can be very real and catastrophic in nature. You name it we do it. Drugs, divorce, dysfunction, depression and on and on an on. Violence, racism, bigotry…the list is endless.
But there must be one place in this world we live in where we can seek refuge from the misery of this sin sick weariness which so often strikes the human condition. That’s where the church comes in. That’s where you come in.
You and I are God’s Good Shepherds. We know one another by name. We keep one another together as sheepdogs would. We speak the truth to one another in love, keeping one another watchful and wakeful of God’s awesome wonders all around us. And by being the healing and reconciling presence of the Good Shepherd we are being called to add many to God’s household of love day by day!
There you are folks; God's marching orders for this Good Shepherd Sunday! May God so guide us in the living of these days in such ways as God directs us to live.
In the Name of God the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen
Sunday, April 09, 2017
The Gate of Heaven
Faith is a matter of life and death. When we look at the prospect of death we may not see beyond it. We are children of a secular society and children of science. This is a good thing. We are tethered to the truth and as the scripture says; "The truth shall make you free." But questions that science cannot deal with involve matters of experience that go beyond things we can measure or predict. As we explore the mystery of our total human experience, there are things we simply cannot account for merely by observation. As Shakespeare said; "There are more thing in heaven and earth than you can dream of, Horatio!" A few days ago my brother and I were on the phone catching up and he was telling me of a friend who is nearing the end of his life. He was deeply saddened. His friend was afraid. I reminded Bob; "Don't forget to guide him to the Gate of Heaven!" As a parish priest, I am responsible for walking with folks right up to the Gate of Heaven. I told him of the many times I do this, simply because that is the nature of the work I do.
When I was at St. John's Church in Sandwich, it happened that a dear woman in her 90's was informed by her doctors that there was nothing more that they could do. Now, St John's Church has an amazing Thrift Shop. If you are ever on the Cape stop by and browse around for a bit. There's an impressive collection of brick a brack to explore. Well, Irene's job was to price all these items. The nice thing about the Thrift Shop is that it helps folks buy things they need in an affordable way. And the proceeds all go to support the mission and ministry of St. John's Church. When she discovered that her time was approaching all she wanted to know was that there would be a Thrift Shop in heaven where she could price God's items for sale for God's poor. I assured her, after some prayer, that there indeed was such a place for her. After all, "In God's house there are many mansions!" As it happened one cold winter's night we had just arrived home in Lynn, when I received a phone call from the head nurse in a Falmouth Nursing Home that the end was now near for Irene. Cindy, we have to head back to the Cape; I said. She was such a sweet and gracious woman. When I arrived members of the staff were gathering around to comfort her. I said the Prayers at the time of death. And then I sang to her in her ear. She was far gone, but remember this dear friends; the hearing is the last to go so watch what you say in those last sacred moments. I sang to her; "Jesus loves me this I know".
Ultimately my friends this is what Palm Sunday is all about. Yes it is about the suffering and the death of Jesus. It is about the suffering and death of our loved ones and all others of the human family. But we are called to look beyond that which we can see in the observable world. We are called to guide one another to the Gate of Heaven.
In the church calendar Palm Sunday is also known as “Passion Sunday”. The word “passion” in the liturgical context does not carry its contemporary or modern meaning. The word “passion” comes from the Latin “passio” and refers to the Suffering of Jesus.
This is what we have just witnessed in this Passion Narrative. We are continuing witnesses to the suffering of Jesus. But not just his suffering but all human suffering. Even now, too many of our friends and loved ones suffer. Children have had unspeakable suffering inflicted upon them in warfare as you know all too well. Chemical warfare and then driven from their homes they become refugees, unwanted in their own country or anywhere else for that matter. Human suffering is all too much a part of everyday life. We see more of it than anyone would ever want to see. Our mission in life as a people of faith is to lessen this suffering. It is to organize our life as a church around that suffering and to become the healing presence of Jesus on behalf of all.
This is what brings us to the Highest Holy Days of the Christian year. The suffering and death of Jesus. The suffering and death of many many more. But what makes these sacred and holy days the heart of our faith is that the sin, violence, and death of all these innocent is not the final fact of our existence.
Underneath all this suffering and sorrow is the Victory of Jesus over all sin and death. The reality of warfare, violence, prejudice, hatred, bigotry, bullying in all its forms may seem like the final word in all of life. But God has the final word my friends. And in our Gospel proclamation that word is Jesus. In just a few short days we will gather back here in our church, Christians the world over will gather in their churches and there will be a celebration of joy such as can hardly be described.
Think of it for just a moment. We begin Holy Week today as we read the Passion Narrative. Maundy Thursday we will gather and remember that the night before Jesus died for his friends, he washed our feet to remind us that we are to serve one another as he served us. He gives us a new commandment; love one another. NO EXCEPTIONS!!! He breaks bread blesses wine and in sharing this sacrament he declares that his living body will always be within and among us. Then Good Friday we will rehearse the trial and the execution, the death and burial. Because we are to remember that as his resurrection is real, so is his death and burial. Holy Saturday at the Great Vigil of Easter we kindle the Holy Flame, and from the darkest moments of our despair we will light that one candle that reminds us that the hope of God is never fully extinguished, even in the very darkest moments of our life. Then Easter Sunday we celebrate the Risen Jesus and his power over sin and death. The great question of our faith when we face the reality of Sin and Deaht is not who do we blame or who do we hate. The question is who do we forgive and who do we love. How to we find our way toward Peace, Reconciliation and Justice with Freedom for all.
The memory of Palm Sunday is indelibly imprinted in my memory because it was on this day in 1978 that I proposed to Cindy at the old Cafe Budapest in the Copley Square Hotel. I had Beef Stroganoff, and ordered a fine Hungarian wine; “Egri Bikaver” it was called; and translated; “Bull’s Blood”. There was a violin, a lovely bud vase with a red rose, and then I posed the question! She said yes, believe it or not and here we are all these years later.
How appropriate now that I think about it. My life, your life is about God's love for you. Your love for one another. It is about the Triumph of the Cross of Christ over all that sin and death can do. We are all called to point one another to the Gate of Heaven and not just at the moment of death but at the most joyous moments of our life as well and everything in between. From the day of our engagement to now there has been a great deal of life including three children and a dozen churches. That's a lot of life. I've seen my share of joy and sadness. But the long and short of it is that the whole of my life and yours is an invitation to see the love of God because it it through that love that we come to the Gate of Heaven. This is the Alpha and the Omega of our Life. This is who Jesus is to me. The Alpha and the Omega; the beginning and the ending of my life.
In the Name of God; the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity.