Monday, May 18, 2020

A Year of Rest

A Year of Rest

Note to Reader: The following is the result of a conversation with a friend in New Orleans. Sadly Bourbon Street is not what it used to be and probably won't be for a good long time to come. Likewise, The Boston Marathon is off for this year, maybe for next year too. There is a Biblical perspective to help us understand where we find ourselves us at present. Here follows an attempt to provide that perspective. 



Live from Lynn, it’s “Godspell”.
Hello, this is Fr Paul Bresnahan, priest of the Episcopal Church.
Welcome back to “Godspell”: I like the sound of that word.
We’ve come to a time to spell it out.
Who is God, and how is God involved in our lives?
“Godspell”. It’s a nice old English word for the Gospel or, what I call, the language of God, the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Silence

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

Expressions of faith

Lord, You have always given
bread for the coming day;
and though I am poor,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always given
strength for the coming day;
and though I am weak,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always given
peace for the coming day;
and though of anxious heart,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always kept
me safe in trials;
and now, tried as I am,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always marked
the road for the coming day;
and though it may be hidden,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always lightened
this darkness of mine;
and though the night is here,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always spoken
when time was ripe;
and though you be silent now,
today I believe

A Year of Rest

In the midst of this pandemic we find ourselves in a situation that is as novel to us as the COVID-19 virus is to our bodies. There is a struggle among and within us as to how long we need to be in lockdown and when we can open up the economy 

Perhaps we need to declare a Year of Rest. It would not be the first time that we have done so. The history of our experience with God and Mother Nature goes back thousands of years in our shared Abrahamic Faith traditions. In fact, we were required to take one year off in seven in ancient times. We gave the land and ourselves a Sabbatical. The word “Sabbath” refers to the Seventh Day or the Seventh Year. In fact the Ancients prepared for it. We stored up provisions for ourselves so that when the Jubilee Year came along we were prepared. 


We have made no such provision for ourselves in the modern world. We mindlessly keep up the grind on the treadmill. We are  busy. Seldom do we take time away and time apart to think, pray, meditate, recreate, reimagine, reinvent who we are in the deepest part of ourselves. We are not accustomed to the restorative powers of quiet and of solitude. Many of us struggle with that Peace that Passes Understanding we discover when we are alone. What an opportunity if we use the time we have been given.

The Biblical record gives us some perspective. Let me point out three passages I feel are timely and pertinent.

First we need to give it a rest, a “Sabbath Rest”...a year’s rest...perhaps 18 months rest in our case (or until there is a vaccine.) It has been well over 100 years since we “gave it a rest”. We are long overdue. God’s Creation needs a break a “Jubilee Year” to the Lord. Already we notice that the air is cleaner and the Springtime birdsong is more jubilant. 

A “Jubilee Year” requires remission of debt and freedom for all slaves. At least that’s what scripture says, as a colleague of mine hastened to remind me.

The Book of Leviticus, of all things, says this on the subject; “The LORD then spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, 'When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a sabbath to the LORD. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its crop, but during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD’” .~Chapter 25.

It has been well over a hundred years since we “gave it a rest”. The last time was during the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. Even Calvin Coolidge pretty much shut things down for a while. There were debates about wearing masks. Many of us turned a deaf ear to health agencies and government guidelines and about 675,000 of us died. Worldwide 50,000,000 souls were taken. 

We had no choice. We had to give it a rest.

Now we are being told to do it all over again. It is a profound sacrifice for us. And painful beyond measure. Giving up work, restaurants, pubs, retail shopping and the like is costing us jobs and businesses. Giving up our livelihood. Where will our food come from if we all just stop?

Farmers and ranchers have crops and livestock to tend to. How would we manage a sabbatical for the entire economy? 

Many have to clean up after the rest of us in hospitals, nursing homes, city trash collection. People of color have been disproportionately effected. They pack our meats, they pick our fruit and vegetables and flip our hamburgers, serve up our daily Dunkin’s in the morning. They are our servant class. 

The Age of Robot Farmers | The New Yorker

A judge in Los Angeles country has told the authorities to move the 65,000 homeless away from the freeways. Where are they supposed to go? Not surprisingly Native peoples are also paying the price with their lives.

In the meantime there are those who put the the value of the Almighty Dollar and the Economy ahead of the value of human life. There is precedent to this human tendency also.

Secondly the Scripture reminds us about the danger in worshiping the The Golden Calf? Remember this one?
   ~Exodus 32:1-14
“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”













Ah, how nice it was to have a shiny new golden god you could see to worship. It was like the shiny Bull on Wall Street. It was like having cold hard cash on hand. Look at the gods we’ve made for ourselves. The Almighty Dollar reigns. The Economy is our Supreme Being. 

As for those of 1,400,00 of us who are sick and the 87,436 who have died, I get the sense that some in positions of national leadership put the economy ahead of those of the people we love. I am waiting for a convincing expression of compassion from those who put their trust in the Economy. 

By the way, these are not numbers. These are people. I happen to know three of them at Logan Airport who contracted the virus. One did rather well and showed few symptoms, one was really sick and his recovery has been a long and difficult, one has died. 

I live a the Gateway City; Lynn MA. We have been especially hard hit. Of the 95,000 who live here, 3,000 are sick and 80 have died. Many of my neighbors are people of color and some do not speak English as their first language. Many are fearful of ICE because they await Green Card clearance or are not yet quite “legal”. 

Secondly listen to what the Scripture say of the alien who lives within our borders. Our Abrahamic Faith Traditions have something to say about that too. Again from Leviticus of all places; 
"When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God."
   ~Leviticus 19


We are suffering similarly in other Gateway Cities across the nation. Some people feel judged and vulnerable and do not know where to turn or who to trust. These are hard times for so many.

Perhaps if we put people first ahead of the Golden Calf we worship, we could take a Jubilee Year, a Year of Rest. “Stop the World” we want to get off for a while, a respite from the grind of it all.

Thirdly
Who then shall we worship as a nation? The Golden Calf? The Bull on Wall Street. Or shall we love God and shall we love one another? Who is first? What or who is the God we worship and serve? Perhaps a Year of Rest might give us time to set our priorities straight once more. 

For those of us who love Jesus we are under a moral mandate to follow in the steps in which he walked.

Jesus sets the record straight on who comes first. The Great Commandment: ~Matthew 22:34-40
“A lawyer, asked Jesus a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Many Americans are willful, self-centered, and egotistical bullies. There are those whose racism, misogyny, xenophobia and so on are not far for the surface. There is the potential of violence and they love to brandish their weapons. 

But the vast majority of us are caring, compassionate, generous, and eager to learn. We care very much about one another. Our better angels bring us to our good senses. Jesus was unarmed. Jesus gave his life for the sins of the whole world. Whatever violence or hatred there is, Jesus loved us through it all. 

Jesus speaks to our better angels. Maybe the Ancients knew something we need to learn again. We need time off especially the poorest among us. Sabbaticals need not be only for clergy and professors. I can imagine that with some creativity we could rotate responsibility and manage a sabbatical for all God’s children if we choose obedience rather than oppression.

How would we pay for it? Here’s an idea. “Trickle Down” economics? Nah! The truth is it has been a time of “Triple Up” economics. The concentration of wealth is now in the hands of the 1% of the Super Rich and the Vast Multinational Corporations. Perhaps out of your generosity of spirit you would write the check for our elderly, our poor, our homeless. 

We can be a kinder and gentler people with the alien in our midst. This is the biblical mandate. And we need to put God first, meaning we need to put humankind first. As for the Golden Calf and the Almighty Dollar? 
This is not our God, and we will not fall down and worship them. that we are told to worship, not me? I will not bow down and worship any but God and serve the people of God. 

Prayers for others

Lord’s Prayer



A Blessing
See that ye be at peace among yourselves, 
and love one another.
Follow the example of the wise and good
and God will comfort you and help you,
both in this world
and in the world which is to come.

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,
wherever He may send you.
May He guide you through the wilderness,
protect you through the storm.
May He bring you home rejoicing
at the wonders He has shown you.
May He bring you home rejoicing
once again into our doors.

And may the Blessing of God the Most holy undivided and everlasting Trinity be upon you this day and always. Amen.

God bless us everyone,
Fr Paul

Monday, May 11, 2020

Graham Smith and The Good Shepherd







Good Shepherd Sunday

N.B. The following represents a tribute to all those who have been collected up to our ancestors in recent months and in particular for Fr Graham Smith, a dear friend of almost 50 years who died on April 30, 2020. As it happened, Cindy and I were still in Florida at the time. It was Good Shepherd Sunday. It seemed so fitting to remember one of God's great good shepherds. Here follows the text of that tribute. 

Live from Florida, it’s “Godspell”.
Hello, this is Fr Paul Bresnahan, priest of the Episcopal Church.
Welcome back to “Godspell”: I do like the sound of that word.
We’ve come to a time to spell it out.
Who is God, and how is God involved in our lives?
“Godspell”. That’s a nice old English word for the Gospel or, what I call, the language of God, the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Dear ones,
Worldwide more than 250,000 of us have died. Nationwide over 65,000 of our citizens have been gathered to God. That’s more than were taken from us during the War in Viet Nam. This week my buddy Graham was gathered up to God, non COVID related, but taken nonetheless. He too was a priest of the church and we attended Seminary together almost 50 years ago.



It seems fitting for us to take a moment with Jesus on Good Shepherd Sunday, to express our sorrow and to proclaim the Gospell.

Silence

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

Curiously, in the Burial Office, we read these stirring words of faith. I’m using the Elizabethan Version, the language of Shakespeare.

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 themselves,
and none dieth to themselves.
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.

The Collect for Good Shepherd Sunday
O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The very first wedding I performed after my ordination was that of Graham and Sherry. Their children Ryan and Trina, and our Family; Cindy and me, David, Joshua and Michael. We gathered hour after hour to feast and play and visit. We were all young together then. It was a snapshot into heaven. We loved our little banquets. It seems fitting to read from Isaiah 25:6-9

“On the mountain of God, the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’”

Psalm 23    King James Version
The LORD is my shepherd; *
    I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; *
    he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul; *
    he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his
                                Name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; *
    for thou art with me;
    thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of
                                mine enemies; *
    thou anointest my head with oil;
    my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
                                of my life, *
    and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

I Corinthians 15:51-58
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all die, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the love of God”

Graham’s daddy was a Canadian by birth and and a church organist. Graham was born in Winnipeg and a violinist. The family loved music. I spent 11 years in Toronto, we shared some of that ethos of Canada. As schoolboys we had to memorize many poems. We shared a love of Canada’s own Robert Service

A Poem

If You Had A Friend 
by Robert William Service

If you had a friend strong, simple, true,
Who knew your faults and who understood;
Who believed in the very best of you,
And who cared for you as a father would;
Who would stick by you to the very end,
Who would smile however the world might frown:
I'm sure you would try to please your friend,
You never would think to throw him down.

And supposing your friend was high and great,
And he lived in a palace rich and tall,
And sat like a King in shining state,
And his praise was loud on the lips of all;
Well then, when he turned to you alone,
And he singled you out from all the crowd,
And he called you up to his golden throne,
Oh, wouldn't you just be jolly proud?

If you had a friend like this, I say,
So sweet and tender, so strong and true,
You'd try to please him in every way,
You'd live at your bravest -- now, wouldn't you?
His worth would shine in the words you penned;
You'd shout his praises . . . yet now it's odd!
You tell me you haven't got such a friend;
You haven't? I wonder . . . What of God?


Image may contain: 3 people, including Paul Bresnahan and Philip Read, people sitting, people eating, table, food and indoor




The Gospel: John 10:11-16

Jesus said; “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

A Time for Sadness: A Time for The Gospel

There is a time for Sadness and There is a Time for the Gospel.
We have come to one of those times; a convergence of times where mixed with our grief is gratitude, hope and trust. 

In Desmond Tutu’s wonderful book “God has a Dream”;  he writes; 
“Dear Child of God, I write these words because we all experience sadness, we all come at times to despair, and we all lose hope that the suffering in our lives and in the world will ever end. I want to share with you my faith and my understanding that this suffering can be transformed and redeemed. There is no such thing as a totally hopeless case. God is an expert at dealing with chaos, with brokenness, with all the worst that we can imagine. God created order out of disorder, cosmos out of chaos, and God can do so always, can do so now--in our personal lives and in our lives as nations, globally. ... Indeed, God is transforming the world now--through us--because God loves us.”

Most of you know Archbishop Desmond Tutu led the
Anglican Church of South Africa during some of the darkest days of Apartheid. He struggled along side Nelson Mandela for the cause of Peace and Justice. He was fond of saying “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” Neither will God. 

We are now living through some of the darkest days of our lives.  It seems as if there is no end in sight. And beyond grief there is the fact that for many death must be done alone. And those of us who grieve are deprived of even saying our goodbyes. This is an an exercise in exquisite cruelty to the human soul.

On a day of grieving, first let us begin with acknowledging the truth. This is the way it is for tens of thousands of us, now and tens of thousands of us yet to come.

Someone needs to tell us the truth and recognize the torture many of us are experiencing. Good Lord, we cannot even hold funerals for our loved ones.

There is a profound sadness in all of this.

Somewhere deep in my soul I hear my grandmother telling me, this too shall pass. She made it through the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. She insisted we take off our shoes when we come into the house and immediately wash our hands with soap and water and do a good job of it mind you. All the time she’s proclaiming the Good News “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”. By the way, they wore masks then too. 

Jesus said; “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Our souls cannot help but rejoice that we come to Good Shepherd Sunday today. We are so grateful to God for those of our leaders who have a heart, a mind, a soul, and the strength to guide us through these perilous times. I’ll leave it to you to decide which of our leaders I’m referring to.

Likewise we are grateful for those who put their lives on the line for us in the medical community, first responders, the whole supply chain that feeds us, our pharmacies, and utility workers, those working in transportation, and so many from top to bottom in our economy who put their lives on the line for us everyday.

We’re all especially concerned for those who work in Nursing Homes and Assisted Care facilities. You have been especially hard hit and the risks you take are especially perilous.

For those among our friends and family who do such work, I say please be careful. To say thank you for what you do has an empty sound to it in my ears. It is asking too much to put your own life on the line for another, and most often for perfect strangers. Except those strangers are our families and our friends. 

Jesus said; “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays his life down for the sheep.” This is asking too much. But it is what you are doing every single day. “You are the God’s Good Shepherds.”

Therese of Avila has said of this Jesus we love; “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.”


You are all the Gospel now. That’s why for the rest of us, stay home a little longer. Give it some time. Wash your hands. Wear a face mask when you go out in public.

Another woman of great wisdom spoke to us at another dark time during the Black Death; “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” ~Dame Julian of Norwich, Anchoress, her refrain.

How can we say that in times like these when so many are being taken from us? That question is perhaps overwhelming. 

But then I think about my buddy Graham who was gathered up to Jesus only a few days ago.

He called me about a week ago and he was struggling to catch a breath. He said; “Paul, I’m still alive” .

“Hey Smitty” I said, astonished that he would call in a state of such weakness and distress. But we are such good friends from so many long years ago. 

All I could think to say was that he needed to get better so that we could go root for his beloved Dodgers. I’m a bit put out with the Red Sox since they traded Mookie Betts to them so I’m prepared to root for the Dodgers at least for a while, at least with my buddy Graham. 

But then, all he could manage to say was that he loved me. And all I could manage to say was that I loved him too. And so it is that our friendship began, continued and ended in God. And that’s where the Good News of the Gospel is found. Because now that our love has ended in God, it has only just begun. There’s plenty of time for us yet to root for Mookie Betts and the Dodgers. 

I wish I could describe for you how he beamed when he laughed. But you know folks like that, I’m sure. But of this I am persuaded, Heaven is a Brighter place today with the likes of that countenance beaming proud to see his daddy once more. 

Pick up the violin Graham. Your daddy, wants to play the organ with you. This is the Dream of God. 

Listen up one more time Graham, family friends of Jesus all;
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all die, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

Amen

Prayers for the Church and the World

Lord’s Prayer

A Blessing
See that ye be at peace among yourselves, 
and love one another.
Follow the example of the wise and good
and God will comfort you and help you,
both in this world
and in the world which is to come.

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,
wherever He may send you.
May He guide you through the wilderness,
protect you through the storm.
May He bring you home rejoicing
at the wonders He has shown you.
May He bring you home rejoicing
once again into our doors.

And may the Blessing of God the Most holy undivided and everlasting Trinity be upon you this day and always. Amen.