Monday, January 21, 2019

Jesus, how did you do that?

Jesus, How did you do that!

For those of you who love British humor you might want to watch Rowan Atkinson’s portrayal of an English Vicar reading this Gospel. His take on the story generates all kinds of mirth. I’ll provide you a link on my blog a little later today.  I think you’ll enjoy it. 

The first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee for me, is rich with symbolism.
The marriage feast of the Lamb, the Messianic Feast.
Christ as the Bridegroom; the Church as his bride.
The water jugs set aside for the Jewish rite of purification, there are all kinds of reasons to keep wash your hands, body, dishes, not just for ritual cleanliness, but also for general hygiene. The use of these particular jugs to make wine for the wedding feast, provokes some interesting questions. 

Underneath all of these references, there is the idea of the Passover of Jesus from death to life, the last supper, the Passover, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The joy of drinking fine wine, to taste and see how good God is in our life.

Let’s not get bogged down in whether or not “it happened”. 
Rather let’s direct our attention to what Jesus is dong in our lives when he feeds the multitudes, heals the sick, brings good news to the poor, and reaches out to the outcasts, the lepers, prostitutes, and the tax collectors.
God’s love for us is much like a wedding. Everyone is invited. There is much feasting. Whatever feuding there may have been before is suspended for a while as the bride and groom celebrate their love and their families with them.

There are varieties of gifts but the same spirit
For a wedding, typically everyone brings a gift; the gift of themselves as well as something for the couple.

There are other kinds of gifts to make a wedding possible.
At our wedding rehearsal dinner, Cindy’s family; a large Italian one; each brought their favorite dish to share, in copious amounts, I might add. And there was plenty of beer and wine. The laughter and the joy was plentiful.

On our wedding day, there was a dear friend, our “yenta” Jackie who baked our wedding cake. On the way to the wedding her husband, Martin had to stop short and the wedding cake suffered some smudging. 
Another family friend found a hall for us to use for the reception. 
Another provided the music.
The funeral director provided the limousine 
Bishop Coburn presided and blessed our rings. Chester Porteus, dear, dear Chester, my first boss and curmudgeon extraordinaire, pronounced us husband and wife.
So many gifts, and yet one spirit. almost 40 years ago now.
Thanks be to God.

My uncle and his partner were there. Now, they too can be married in the Episcopal Church, thanks be to God. 

My uncle was not all that pleased when I was ordained. “You with the turned around col-laire,” he was fond of saying dripping with sarcasm. 
The church was not good to the LGBTQ community in those days. In vast swaths of the the faith and secular community it still isn’t
One night Al was beaten to a pulp when he was out partying with his friends in Boston. He called me up and asked me to come over to his apartment and help bandage him up. It was a brutal beating. I did the best I could.
I said “Jeez Al, should I call the cops?”
He said; “Hell no, the last thing I need now is another beating!”
I had no idea how bad it was, but I was learning.

One time, he said to me; “I don’t give a blankety-blank what your expletive deleted Church thinks of me; I want to know what you think of me.”
Jeez Al; “You’re fine with me, you know that.”
“If you mean that, then some day, you stand up for me in that blankety-blank church of yours.”
I did that. 
Thank God the Episcopal Church did that.
And now, miracle of miracles, the water has indeed changed into wine; not only can Cindy and I drink deeply from these wines made pure by Jesus, so can Al and Jimmy; so can all God’s children; without regard to gender, orientation, race, class, ethnicity, language or national origin. 

We all bring many gifts. We are one people and one spirit in Christ Jesus our Lord. The wine Jesus gives us in his unconditional love is the very best wine of all.

In the Name of God; the Most Holy, Undivided, and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul

Monday, January 14, 2019

"Of Mugwumps and Scalawags"

“Of Mugwumps and Scalawags”

Many of us enjoy doing the family Genealogy. I go in fits and starts, but during the past 10 years or so, I have identified over a thousand relatives who have come before me. If any one of us goes far enough back into the past, we’ll discover some interesting characters. 

On the Irish side of the family there were the horse thieves and other mugwumps and scalawags that make for a good story. We came here during the Great Famine. The village of my ancestral home lost 1/3rd of its population in two years during The Great Hunger. America opened her heart to us in those days as she did to millions more.

On another side of the family, there were the sea captains of Maine that plied their trade in the sea. 

By following one thread we can go to my 9th Great Grandfather John Gallup who was killed in the Great Swamp Fight during King Phillip’s war. It was an early Colonial example of the way we treated native Americans all through our history. We slaughtered women and children in the battle.  It is not an episode I can be proud of. 

On another line of the family I can trace my lineage way back to Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Emperor b.742-d.814. He was my 38th Great Grandfather. Don’t be too impressed please. He was regarded by his contemporaries in Rome as just another barbarian. 

Any one of us with enough patience can trace ourselves back to the famous and infamous alike all through history. It is an interesting pursuit.

The stage of history is not the only place where the battles between nations go on.  Some of our struggles are of a very personal sort.

I remember being a teenager. I was not very sure of myself in all kinds of  ways. Life at home was difficult for me. But I went to church just as my grandmother taught me to do. I’d walk the distance lost in thought. I sometimes wondered what was to become of me. I really wasn’t all that good in school. The guidance counsellor told me I’d never get into college, so I’d better make up my mind to go into the trades. Often, I felt lost and alone. 

Then as I approached the church, I’d look up and see the cross standing tall in front of a modern church. This was during my Toronto years. The architecture of that church had little to draw my admiration unlike the church where I was baptized in Cambridge. But that cross held my attention in its simplicity. 

These words to my heart: “At least here, I know I’m loved”. 

My priest was a modest man and he prepared a bunch of us for confirmation. He was a good scholar and a skillful teacher. 

I remember how he taught us the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, The Parables; but most of all, I remember how he taught us the catechism. 
“What is your name.” 
“My name is N. or N.N.”
We snickered as teenagers do. 
He smiled but then continued.
“Who are you?”
“I am a Child of God, a member of Christ and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven.”
I seem to remember how he drilled us on the catechism, especially this part. It had an effect on me. 
I can distinctly remember now raising my head as the redeemed of God when I walked to church on a Sunday morning, no longer dejected, lost, downcast. No! “I am a Child of God, a Member of Christ and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven.

I heard it throughout the scriptures. Look at today’s readings for instance:  
The Prophet Isaiah says; 
“I have called you by name, you are mine.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you.”

In both the Epistle and the Gospel we learn that you have been Baptized with a fire that burns in your heart for the love of God and for the love of others. 

Moreover, God loves you. When God says to Jesus; "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased,” he says the same to you. 

You don’t believe me? Then why in the world would he have stretched out his arms on the hard wood of the cross for you? Why in the world would he have stretched out his arms on the cross for everyone?

This is what began to change my life. 

One day, the Principal called me to his office. I thought, “Oh no, what have I done?” 
He said to me; I understand you want to become a priest.”
I said; “Yes, sir.”
“You do know you’ll have to go to college and then to seminary to do that.”
I said; “Yes, sir.”
“I see that your marks are not very good right now.”
“Yes, sir.”
Then he said this. “Look young man, I believe in you. I know you can do it. You are intelligent and the church needs people like you.”
I said; “Yes, sir”, hopeful but not quite convinced. 
“If that’s the case then if you promise me that you will buckle down, and do your very best to improve your marks, then I promise you that I will get you into any college in Ontario that you wish to attend. Is that a deal?”
“Yes, sir!”

I was astounded that somebody believed in me. 
We shook hands. I buckled down. I got into college. I got into seminary. It pleases me to say at that I’m the first in the family in over a thousand years to be ordained so far as I can tell, but becoming so hung by a very thin thread.
But here I am in your midst, a parish priest. 
Glory be to God.

I tell you all this because my parish priest taught me that I am a child of God, a member of Christ and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. 
He believed in me. My principal believed in me. 
I began to listen and read the scripture differently. 
God believes in me. 
God believes in each and every one of you.

Today we come to the Feast Day of the Baptism of our Lord in the River Jordan, I ask you to remember that God believes in you. Like Jesus, you are the beloved of God.
Many of us will continue to do the family genaeology as a way of exploring our historic identity.
But today as you and I renew our Baptismal Vows, let’s remember who we are and whose we are in God’s eyes. 

In the Name of God; the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Perfect Christmas

The Perfect Christmas!

In my mind’s eve Christmas is always perfect. 

I picture a large fireplace, stockings hung on the mantle, a Christmas tree with an abundance of presents, and a large happy family filled with laughter and joy on Christmas Eve and when morning dawns. One surprise after another announces how thoughtful and loving we all are of each other.

Many of us seek to create Christmas after the images we have in our minds’ eye of what this holy time means to us. 

But then there comes reality, perhaps what Christmas has become will be just a bit different for many of us. Many of the family we celebrated with in those days are no longer with us. Thankfully, we tend to forget the hurt and the conflict that left us out of communion with one another. Some of us will be alone. There is fear and poverty, and a few too many dislike others for one reason or another. I do wish Christmas could be perfect like it is in my mind’s eye. But, truth be told, Christmas is real.

There was one Christmas that was both perfect and real!

Especially real and absolutely perfect was that first Christmas, we read about it in the tonight’s Gospel. Our homes are warm, but in that holiest of holy places, there were barnyard animals, and God’s greatest Gift to the world was placed on a bed of hay where these same animals eat. That’s what the word “manger’ means after all. In French the word “manger” means “to eat”. In Italian “mange, mange” means “eat, eat!”. 

There was no room for this Child and his family in any local Inn where it might be cozy and warm. There were no hospitals, no midwives to minister to the Mother of God. Still they huddled close for warmth. Bethlehem gets cold at this time of year. It can even snow there. I would not be the bit least surprised if God’s living beings could see their breath on this most holy night. 

Included in the reality of this Holy Family is the fact that Mary and Joseph were “engaged” or “betrothed” as the Old English would have it. Jesus was born to us without the benefit of wedlock. Matthew’s Gospel records Joseph’s concerns about our Lady’s honor. But then the dream that came to him reassured Joseph of God’s decision to make this birth the instrument of God somehow becoming Flesh and Blood among us. (~Matthew 1:1-23)

Whatever the case, they had to make haste and get to the city of Joseph’s “house and lineage” where he could be recorded for the census. Nothing but death is more certain and real than taxes! And so it was that this family of modest means made their way by night to the little town of Bethlehem. 

We are told that the journey was a dangerous one. There was Herod and his murderous threats. The Family travelled by night. A star appeared to guide them on their way. And then, in the fullness of time the Child was born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes to keep him as warm as she could. She held him close to bond her love to his. No matter how deeply we dig down into the Mystery of this birth narrative we cannot help but be filled with the Hope, Love, Joy and Peace of Christmas The vision of that Mother and Child has moved the world then and since to the Gospel of Jesus; his life, death, and resurrection, and his victory over sin and death.

The angels sang when they told the shepherds of the news. They too made haste to see this thing that had come to pass. And so it was that all of heaven and earth would sing. 

In my mind’s eye, this is really where my gaze comes to rest. Not so much in the comfort and warmth of my own home but in the reality and perfection of God’s coming to us in the Word of God made flesh and blood in Jesus. 

I think it right that he would be born in a “manger” where the animals could not help but take a taste of hay. Very likely Mary and Joseph would gladly feed them. After all, the animals were hungry too. And Mary and Joseph being grateful for this humble place to birth a child, would only be too happy to share what little they had with the animals who gave them what warmth they could generate.

Christmas makes us all hungry for good things to eat. My grandmother’s squash pie, I can almost smell it still! The oven bursting with turkey, the turkey bursting with stuffing and all the fixings. The dishes laden with food. The family gathered passing it all around, and me stuffing my plate   and my stomach beyond its capacity to hold it all. The memory is all so holy.

And then the long and luxurious afternoons where the women played cards and gossiped in the kitchen and the men would sleep in the parlor. My brother Bobby and I playing with trucks or troops and when there was a loud noise which there was bound to be, one of the uncles would growl at us to be quiet. We’d snicker and comply for a bit. But then it would happen all over again. It was Christmas!

This was all a long time ago for me. But many more will rehearse the family traditions all over again this year. Others celebrate Christmas in their own peculiar and unique way. But it all began a very long time ago when the greatest gift of all was given on one very silent and holy night far, far away. 

And my soul sings with joy to this old world because of what I remember in profound gratitude for the life God gives me and the family that made me who I am. 

And tonight God’s Table is laden with good things to eat. Perhaps it only looks like a little wafer broken by an old semi-retired priest and a cup of ordinary wine. But we gather too around this table and hold out our hands to receive this Child born anew tonight in our souls. 

This Bread and this Wine is more than all our Christmas Tables put end to end from one generation to another for as long as humankind has feasted in all our holidays rolled up into one. This is God’s very Banquet Table. And all of us, from the first days of our redemption until now and yet to come are welcome and invited! 

This Bread and this Wine we receive tonight was born in a manger a long time ago and far away. He fills us with good things, his very life born for us in flesh and blood like everything that is real about him and us. Jesus fills us with Eternal Life.

My soul sings with joy to this old world because of what I know of this little Child and his mother dear. For Joseph, the carpenter, and the donkey standing near. The cattle lowing and the rooster crowing. 
And the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

The Perfect Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided, and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul

Monday, December 17, 2018

A Crash Landing

A Crash Landing!

Forty six years ago today I was ordained a priest of the Church at St. Luke's, Malden, alas a congregation no longer with us. It was snowing to beat the band that day. My buddy Graham drove in safely from Detroit, but the Bishop got stuck in a snow bank in Newton. Bob Legon ran out of music to play on the pipe organ so he was playing "Moonlight and Roses" by the time Bishop Burgess arrived. He was the first Black Bishop in the Episcopal Church, and I asked Kitty Rippy to sing "Precious Lord". Tony Garratt Reed was there and he and later his family were to become life long friends. And so I greet this Gaudete Sunday with Rejoicing.

No sooner do I say that but we coming crash landing into the ferocious words of John the Baptist with his “in your face” confrontational style; “You brood of vipers!” His way of calling us a bunch of snakes in the grass. Now, that’s a fine how do you do!

Compare and contrast that with the tone we hear in today’s other Scriptures. We hear of Joy as we light the Rose Candle on our Advent Wreath. This is why we call the day Gaudete Sunday…the word “Gaudete” means “Rejoice”.

The prophet Zephaniah writes of Joy;
“Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you”

In the Canticle we sing of Joy;
“Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One.”

Similarly Paul in his letter to the Christian folk in Philippi writes; 
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” 

But then the collect of the day says; “Stir up your power, and with great might come among us, and because we are sorely hindered by our sins, come speedily to deliver us.”

The Joy of Advent, the Rejoicing with which we greet this day, is in stark contrast to the reality of our sin. 

There is much suffering and sorrow still. God knows violence, injustice, and oppression are always and everywhere. So it was when John came to announce the Advent of Jesus. 

And he rightly confronted the powers of darkness within us; he knew we are sorely hindered by our sins; “You brood of vipers”; he called us. Ouch!

John uses harsh language and dire warnings to catch the attention of his listeners. We may need to be shaken up a bit out of our complacency. Then, just a jarringly, what he asks of us is really quite reasonable; all he asks of us is “be generous and honest”
If you have more clothing or food than you need, share.
Tax collectors, be fair.
Soldiers, no threats or extortion, be happy with a fair wage. 

Mind you, we are indeed sorely hindered by our sins, and we often find ourselves spinning our wheels while the world spins on in its own sinful circles. 

How do we indeed allow God’s Grace to speedily come to our aid so that we may become agents of God’s loving justice and compassion?

The first thing John reminds us of is that we cannot leave it up to God to do it all alone. We are God’s ambassadors. If there is to be peace with justice we will have to be the ones to make it so. If there is to be a cessation of violence, it will be up to us. There are still many hearts to be changed before Peace can reign supreme and secure in the human heart.

Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings. That day 26 innocent children lost their lives. Many of us vowed, never again. But since that day there have been 1919 more mass shootings. (By way of reference, here is a listing of the deadliest mass shootings in modern US history. 

Like the kids in Parkland, Florida I don’t want prayer any more. What I want is to protect our children, our young people, ourselves. I want action. Congress has taken none. Many states have begun a patchwork of laws to help curb gun violence. But we alone among western democracies have yet to develop a robust regulatory regimen to stem the tide of gun violence. 

I suppose if I say too much on the subject, I may have my head handed me on a platter, much like John the Baptist did when he raised his voice at the Advent of Jesus.

In the meantime all I would ask for is the application of the Second Amendment themselves which begins with the words; “A well regulated militia…” There, that’s all I’m asking for…”a well regulated militia”. 

Alas, in our public discourse, we are not likely to engage in conversation about all this without tempers flaring. We are not a skilled people when it comes to the art of conversation. We are more adept at confrontation, much like John himself. We tend to engage in name calling. 

What makes me rejoice is the Advent of Jesus. Jesus is the One who will sit down with us first and spend hours listening. His teaching comes later. He listens first to his own inner demons in the wilderness forty days and forty nights. Then he listens to the heartache of the sick, and the poor, the bereaved, the mentally ill, and the outcast. It is with these that his love and healing touch begins. 

Only then does Jesus teach. And his sermons are filled with Blessings and Beatitudes. He proclaims a message of Peace that strikes to the heart of our deepest yearnings.

A yearning for forgiveness, love, and reconciliation. These are the most powerful words in the human heart, but they are also the most difficult to achieve. Forgiveness, love and reconciliation are experiences that only Jesus seems to master. If only we could do as Jesus does. 

All across the world, in our families, our communities, our politics, there are so many divisions, Jesus asks us; “love one another”. Race, class, nationality, gender, orientation and so on, “forgive one another”. When God sees the world there are no borders, no walls. We are all one. You’ve seen the satellite images of this fragile earth, our island home; “Be reconciled to one another”.

John may see us as a brood of vipers. But Jesus sees us as a much more lovable lot than that. He delights in us. There are no outcasts for Jesus. No poor. No sick. No Republicans or Democrats. No distinctions whatsoever.

That’s how Jesus is different. There are simply no exceptions. He is not happy until all our sins are forgiven. That’s the mystery of the cross to me. 

Today marks the 46th Anniversary of my ordination as a Parish Priest. I got to thinking about all this not so long ago. All the congregations I’ve served, all the people I’ve known and loved. All the Baptisms, Marriages, Burial; Hospital Visits, Office Visits and the way folks pour out their hearts and souls to me and to God.

And then I wrote these words:

“St. Peter,
Let me make this plain and simple.
"If there's a heaven and somehow I feel sure there's bound to be",
I'm not going into the place until you're all in there first.
All of you.
You are witnesses, today; I’m saying it right out loud in front of God and everybody.
So please...
Love one another.
Forgive one another.
Be reconciled to one another.
That's our work.
I'm not going into heaven until the work is done.
So, please don’t keep me waiting too, too long.
I love you all too much to leave anyone out.
So get busy with the work that has to be done!
I said it.
In black and white.
Hold me back until everyone else is in...
Got that Peter!”

ll I’m saying to you is what Jesus said to us before me. 
“Love one another.” 

This above all else will Rejoice God’s heart.

In the Name of God; the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul.