Just a simple parish priest who believes that we are all one in Christ whatever race, ethnicity, class, gender or orientation. An advocate for the poor, the middle class, that the working people. It is time for us to rise up and fight back against the greed of the rich the super rich and the multi-nationals who seek to rob the people of our place in the sun
Please allow me to thank you for your invitation to spend the remainder of this Advent Season, Christmas, and even into Epiphany to be with you. Together with joy let us set forth the Word of God and Celebrate the Sacrament of Christ’s Presence among us. I am delighted to be with you particularly at this time of year.
Allow me to introduce my wife, Cindy. We met each other not far from here in Hyde Park 38 years ago while I was serving at Christ Church. And we are delighted to be in Dorchester where two of our sons were born at the old St. Margaret’s Hospital over on Cushing Avenue.
Cindy and I have been married 37 years now. We have three grown sons. Our first born, David lives nearby and attends St. Mary’s Church. Our second married recently and lives in Charlotte and our youngest lives in San Francisco. I have been ordained 44 years and have served congregations in this Diocese, in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. I “retired”, after a fashion, 10 years ago this Christmas and in my retirement I have served as interim and “bridge” priest wherever and however the church needed. I like writing particularly on issues of Congregational Development. I thank God for all these wonderful blessings. And I thank God for you. You are a blessing to one another and to the church as today’s Epistle says; “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another.”
In this very special Advent season we prepare for the birth of the Holy Child. There is a note of urgency in our preparation. We hear it in the voice of John the Baptist in today’s Gospel as he enters onto the stage of sacred history with these words;
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare ye the way of the Lord,
Make his pathways straight”
We are to make room in our hearts for the Birth of this Holy Child, as John reminds us again with that same note of urgency;
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.”
This Kingdom is indeed near, it is at hand. In fact it has already arrived. It is within you. Again and and again, Jesus uses these words “near”, “at hand”, “within”, and “among” to describe the location of the Kingdom of God. His winnowing fork is already in his hand.
We needn’t wait until we die to live it. Nor do we await some cataclysmic event to occur, as some claim, when the earth and the heavens shall pass away. No, dear friends. God’s Kingdom is here, within and among us. That is why it is a matter of urgency that we prepare our hearts to receive The Child again this Christmas.
We are to repent. That is to say, we are to become something “new” again for God in the same way that God is always becoming something “new” to us. We are to undergo a “complete makeover”. I imagine that there are some of you who like those TV shows where they are always gutting out and making over somebody’s home. Don’t you wish you had the wherewithal to do all that you might dream of doing in the home in which you dwell? O well, in the meantime we make do with what we have.
The dwelling place of which the Scripture speaks, however, is within the human heart. Here is where we can make the kind of metamorphosis that John and Jesus want, right here, within our hearts. When John uses that word “repent” he uses a Greek word “metanoia” which means “a complete makeover”. Much like a grub undergoes a metamorphosis from its cocoon to become a magnificent butterfly, so too we are invited by John and Jesus to make our hearts new again. In point of fact one of the images the early church used to signify who we are to become is the butterfly. Where we now put a cross, the early church often put a butterfly, a very beautiful one, like a Monarch Butterfly.
Which reminds me, do you have any idea how beautiful you are in God’s eyes? How magnificent? As Shakespeare described humankind
“What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving, how express and admirable in action, how like an angel,
in apprehension, how like a god!”
And Michelangelo, when he looked at a block of marble, he did not see a formless hunk of stone, he saw the potential for an angel. Imagine the exquisite shill of the sculptor working on the rough corners of your soul to make of you something beautiful for God! Jesus is your sculptor!
The Holy Child is soon to be born for us. We have now lit the second candle of the Advent Wreath a candle that represents Love; not just a love of God and of one another, it is the love we are commanded to have in our hearts and souls for ourselves. The second of the two Great Commandments is this: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Notice please that the second commandment is to Love your neighbor "as" you do yourself. It does not say "instead" of yourself” but “as” yourself, that is to say, in like manner.
There are distractions to be sure. There is the incessant “jingle” of “Christmas” bells and piped in music in all the stores and the hectic pace we keep this time of year. There is the din of the news much of which portends ill for many of us and the nations of the earth. This is a danger and a distraction to the proper nourishment of our souls.
It is an urgent matter for us is take quiet time and prayer to be with God as we prepare our hearts to be present to the Holy Spirit.
In today’s first lesson the prophet reminds us that a little child born of the root of Jesse, shall come among us. Furthermore “he shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth”.
Just for the record, the biblical narrative repeats the theme of Justice time and again. Today, for instance the Psalmist says;
“He shall defend the needy among the people;
he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.
He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure.”
Not only is our Advent preparation urgent, it is also clear that God will judge justly for the poor, and will hold the oppressor accountable for any and all oppression. With his fierce and urgent voice John says; “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Be forewarned ye leaders of the world and within our own nation. Repent!
I don’t want to be on the wrong side of God's winnowing fork, do you? Imagine how it would go over if you were the one by whom 20 million people were denied health care! The Gospel, as Jesus says, is indeed sharper than any two edged sword.
Advent waiting is anything but passive. Advent waiting is full of expectation and urgent preparation, much like any expectant mother awaiting the birth of her child. There is much to be done before the moment arrives.
We have much to do as we await the Birth of the Holy Child this year. Our souls await a complete makeover so that you and I can become the hands and feet of Jesus in and for the sake of the world we live in. In order to repent as John and Jesus would have us repent we will need to undergo such a transformation as will make each of us something very beautiful for God indeed. That transformation is not just a personal one it has its social dimension as well. I would be less than candid if I did not say that I am concerned about any nation, especially our own, when it turns its back on the needy and the poor, the outcast, the sick and the lame. You and I may have to prepare ourselves for further action as we move into the next chapter of our nation’s history.
Teresa of Avila the 16th Century Christian Mystic writes;
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
Jesus will come again this year and when he comes all people will be invited to find hope, love, joy, and peace in him, just like Advet words proclaim. God help anyone who prevents the hope, love, joy and peace of God from justly extending to all without regard to race, religion, ethnicity, class, gender or orientation. We seek to be what Jesus lived and died for. We are to become more and more "A house of prayer for all people". Even now the winnowing fork is in his hand!
We seek to be among those on whom God’s favor rests, during this Holy Season of urgent expectation. My prayer for all is the same as the Scripture proclaims on this Second Sunday of Advent.
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
In the Name of God, the most holy, undivided, and everlasting Trinity.
The following "witness" was given at the Diocesan Convention in Great Falls, Montana. Teresa's presentation "electrified" the convention. I share it here with her permission.I hope some of these words may help another soul "on the way"
From Addiction to Freedom
My name is Teresa Scheie and I am proud and grateful member of St. James Episcopal Church in Bozeman. Freedom in Christ Ministries means a great deal to me because it would mean that more people like myself would be reached.
Five years ago I was in the deepest darkest depths of hell addicted to heroin, prescription narcotic medication, and methamphetamine. I wanted so badly to either end my life or end the madness so I chose to pick up the phone and call alcohol and drugs services of Gallatin County. In october 2012, after 12 years of complete and utter madness I admitted myself to Rimrock treatment facility in Billings Montana. Due to some legal issues in July of 2013 I was incarcerated in Gallatin County. during my stay.
One Monday morning I heard the guards announce "morning devotions" , and so without hesitation I went. I was surprised to finally get to meet a woman I had known of for years, The Reverend Roxanne Klingensmith. She had worked with several of my friends and those friends had successfully survived drug and alcohol addiction and went on with her mentorship to redeem their lives and completely turn themselves around. I came to Roxanne that morning in a state of surrender.
I had had that God experience, so I had come to believe, but just didn't know where to go with it. Roxanne played a Rob Bell program that morning called Breathe. It was just what I needed to hear. I was fragile and vulnerable and in one breath Roxanne helped to put the Lord back into my broken soul. She helped me see that the Lord was living in me and that God was sanctifying me. She told me to forgive myself because God had already forgiven me. it was the first time I felt free in many long years. I asked if I could join her survivors group when I was released from jail so after 7 months I was released and she graciously accepted me. The rest is history!
I have been attending Saint James for two years this will be my third year. I was confirmed by our Bishop, the Rt. Reverend Franklin Brookhart on July 24th of this year. I get to do many great things with the church. It is my calling.
I am alive and well completely; body and souly by the grace of God. All the guilt and shame from my past. All the wrong that I did has been forgiven. With the help of the clergy and the many wonderful people at Saint James, they taught me to ask God's forgiveness and know that I am forgiven, to pray for help to make it through each day, not in regret of the past, but thankful for the opportunity to make a change in my life. I realize that I am God's miracle and have the rest of my life to let God work through me to reach others. Thank you and God Bless!
The Sacred Journey brought us together for Jimmy's funeral. I was more than a priest yesterday. I gave my heart to my family. I shared my faith. As we stood at the graveside I took a handful of sandy soil and made the sign of the cross and read the appointed words and paused as the Spirit moved in our hearts and the wind blew through the trees.
I have always loved these stirring words of faith from the Book of Job.
I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord;
he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live;
and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.
I know that my Redeemer liveth,
and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth;
and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God;
whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold,
and not as a stranger.
For none of us liveth to himself,
and no man dieth to himself.
For if we live, we live unto the Lord.
and if we die, we die unto the Lord.
Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord;
even so saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labors.
And then there were the words from Isaiah; a vision of the Messianic Banquet. Our family loves a good Thanksgiving feed. What family doesn't? Imagine God's Banquet Table.
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the LORD has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the LORD for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
Then I shared what I had crafted by way of a Prayer for James.
A Prayer for Jimmie
Gathered here today we bring before You all the things we do not and cannot understand,
And we remember that moment of Grace when in the last moments of Your life, You stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross so that everyone might come within the reach of Your saving embrace,
And even in those last moments of despair and abandonment you were able to say;
“Forgive them Father, they just don’t know what they are doing!”
Now we commend Jimmie to Your never failing love
Knowing that You wipe away the sin and sorrow of his heart and ours.
Knowing that You are wiping away the tears from his eyes and ours,
Knowing that You are doing better things for him and us than we can desire or even pray for.
This is the reason for our faith and our enduring love.
And we press on the best way we know how, doing the work that God has given us to do; to care for and love one another
In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.
I asked for God's blessing on us all.
We gathered then at the Town Hall.
There were lots of people to greet.
And then home again.
Such is the Sacred Journey the Holy Pilgrimage we are on.
It is an exciting day! Your new Priest in Charge, Brian Raiche officially begins his ministry with you today and assumes the responsibilities and privileges that come with the office. Congratulations to you. It is a day worth celebrating. It is a whole new beginning!
As for me, the time has come to conclude my work with you and retire for the sixth time.
Before I take my leave from this church, however, there is one last thing I would like to share with you. It is a lesson I struggle to remind myself of every single day of my life. It is a lesson the disciples had difficulty learning from the outset. We, the the followers of Jesus, often begin with our anxiety over one thing or another, how little we have and lets face it, we complain. Its too hot. Its too cold. There isn’t enough money. Work is getting to us. Somebody is driving us to distraction. And on and on it goes.
On the other hand, Jesus begins with giving thanks and distributing what little there is, until all have their fill and then, when we collect the left overs there are 12 more baskets full, interestingly enough, one for each of the disciples. An ample amount to fill the needs of all. We called it a miracle then. But when we give thanks, miracles do happen. This is how Jesus satisfied the hunger of the 5,000. Days later there were 4,000 and the same anxiety attack strikes. Again they say we don’t have enough. Jesus upbraids them; do you still not get it? Give thanks for what you have, share it, and there will be more than enough for all and more besides.
There is a lesson in all this if we wish to live a Eucharistic life. And learn it we may, and remember it we must day after day if we wish to live the Joy of Jesus. My default position tends toward anxious fear over whether there will be enough. But Jesus always begins by giving thanks, breaking bread, and distributing what there is among all that are gathered. And there is always enough.
This lesson is at the heart of our humanity. At the birth of the savior the angels greet Mary and the Shepherds with the reassuring words “Fear not!”. Jesus says the same thing and repeats it time and again at his resurrection; “Fear not!”. In life as in death it is the same thing! And yet we retreat time and again back into our fears as if that were our default setting.
We are called to be the Easter People! Let me encourage you to remember that our Baptism calls us to give thanks with Jesus. This is our new default setting: to give thanks in all things and for all things. To do Eucharist is to do thanksgiving. This is at the heart of our very worship and spirituality. What is it we say?
“Lift up your hearts
"Let us give thanks to the Lord our God
"It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.”
Alas, will we continue to be anxious and fretful over our household budgets? Of course! Will your vestry fuss over property and money matters. Most assuredly so. We’re likely to forget everything Jesus is trying to tell us.
But try to remember, it is not I who am encouraging you to begin with gratitude. It is Jesus who sets the example. It is the biblical narrative that sets the tone for gratitude throughout.
In today’s first lesson Isaiah reminds us of God’s abundant love;
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;”
Imagine! We have been consecrated to God’s service. There’s a reason for profound gratitude not only as servants of God in our every day lives, but as the folk the Church of the Good Shepherd.
Likewise the Psalmist exults in today’s appointed psalm;
“5 For you are my hope, O Lord God, *
my confidence since I was young.
6 I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother's womb you have been my strength; *
my praise shall be always of you.”
And talk of exultation, listen to these soaring words from the Letter to the Hebrews which we heard read to us just moments ago;
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven”
How can one’s heart be anything other than grateful to know the grace given unto us in our Baptism and in our Eucharistic fellowship?
The Gospel proclamation today tells us of a woman who had been crippled for 18 years. She stood up straight and of course she praised God. How could she not? The leader of the congregation, however fussed about healing on the sabbath day, when Jesus rather directly confronted him with theses words;
“Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?" When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.”
Notice the joy, the praise and the rejoicing in all these encounters with the living God.
This is our invitation. When we are afraid or anxious over one thing or another, especially over the issue over whether there will be enough to go around, remember that Jesus tells us to begin with giving thanks, breaking bread, and sharing of whatever we have. Then, what seems like so little to us becomes an abundance for everyone.
Having said all this, I wonder how Cindy and I will make ends meet in the weeks and the months ahead. The extra income is nice. But having said that I am called to remember what I am telling you; anxiety over what little we have does not lead to sufficiency or abundance. Rather it is gratitude for what we do have and learning how to share that gratitude with others that leads to joy!
From the earliest days of my ministry and our marriage, we have given to God in proportion to what God has given us. The biblical tithe is 10%. That is a lot of money. But what about 5%. That’s still a lot of money, but since the beginning, we know that as we share in proportion to what we have been given, more always comes back to us by some miraculous calculus in God’s economy. As we cast our bread upon the waters we never cease to be amazed, perfectly amazed at how the gracious goodness of the Living God becomes an abundant source that provides not only enough of what we need, but also an abundant source beyond what we could possibly have imagined.
Which brings us up to this day. As you prepare for your pilgrimage together, please know that not all your days will be easy. I am reminded of the time when things were going rather badly for Moses. It was in Numbers, Chapter 11
“Now when the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes…the Israelites also wept again, and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.’ (Never mind the brilliant series of miracles that brought the people out of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the wilderness, and the miracle of manna itself, which appeared each morning providing sufficiency for their hunger.) “Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents…So Moses said to the Lord, ‘Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favour in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child”, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, “Give us meat to eat!” I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favour in your sight.”
Bad case of clergy burnout there! So how did God handle this faith crisis? He spoke into the heart of Moses and said;
‘Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you. I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself. ~Numbers 11
A good example of community organizing there! As you become more and more of a congregation together, remember, this work is not the burden of the priest, the wardens and the vestry alone. This work is everyone’s work.
God has consecrated all of you to this service.
Give thanks therefore in all things and miracles will happen for you right here at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Reading.
In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided, and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.