Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I Owe it All to My Dad

(The following sermon was delivered on Christmas Eve in 2006 at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Saint Albans, West Virinia. I was my last Christmas Eve service there as Rector. I now enter semi-retirement, collect my full pension and take a smaller congregation back home in Massachusetts. The following was an articulation of my gratitude to the people of St. Mark's and to God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of us all.)

I Owe it All to My Dad

I owe it all to my Dad. In Aramaic, the word Abba means “dad”. Jesus speaks of his abba. And when Jesus taught us to pray, he taught us to say; “Our Abba, who art in heaven.” When Christmas comes I cannot help but think of my Abba as well as “Our Abba”. My abba gave his life for me too in a way at Christmas years ago when I was a child. Neither he nor I knew at the time that his loss would be the gain of my soul.

But in the fullness of time I came to know of God’s goodness and the generosity of God.
I came to know of Abba’s extravagant salvation plan.

Our Abba who art in heaven; I owe it all to my dad, “Our abba”.

Think of it, Jesus is referring quite literally to the family when he thinks of God. He talks not of a theological construct, but of someone as familiar as dad. The one who loves, teaches, corrects, scolds and plays with you. The one who give you security, and somehow makes you feel better when things look so bleak, who knows just the right things to say, whose soothing voice, whose twinkling eye, and whose no nonsense honesty is the very core of growing up in this unsteady world. Abba.

And so it is when I say “Our Abba” I cannot help but stop short and call to mind of all those special people.

When I think of my dad, I think too of my mom, that feisty and difficult woman. Oh how we fought, but she did the best that she knew how.

I think too of my maternal grandmother who introduced me to the story of scripture. I loved those stories then. I love them now. Like the one of the call of Samuel and of course the one we tell this holy night of the sleeping child and the young girl Mary who was his mother, and Joseph her betrothed. And the animals were there, I always thought that was a nice touch by God for the story. I love the animals. And then the Angels sang and the shepherds hurried to see this thing that had come to pass, and eventually Kings and those with wisdom from near and far away came to do him homage.

Our Abba who art in heaven; I owe it all to you, my abba.

My uncle and his partner Jimmy who took me to see the Red Sox. All the moms and dads along the way, the teachers, the priests, the families of my friends who took me in; I owe so much to all these people. When I say that prayer, I find myself stopping short and thinking of so many people.

My professors in College and in Seminary, my Bishops, and my parishioners all my companions along the way; those I baptized, those whose marriages I have blessed, the sick that I visited, those I’ve buried, and all their families. I think of the bible study classes, and the children who were the source of so much hope and joy. And there were those struggles in the community where we sought the healing touch of Jesus.

When I think of my abba, I think of all of these people who Jesus told us to love. I cannot help but remember his command that we love one another and then I think again not just of my abba, I think of Our Abba who art in heaven. I say Our Father and then I stop and remember and the prayer is hardly begun.

The Glory of God is here tonight. It shines as brightly as the first star of Christmas that shone the night that the savior was born. Those who are wise enough to follow the light of that star will find their way to heaven…heaven: a place in the human heart and in the heart of God where the light of God shines.

Jesus loved his abba as I love mine. He was obedient to his abba, we’re told, even unto death on a cross. And there on the cross he called out again, Abba, Father…dad…daddy…and then he died.

He owed everything to his dad. And we all owe everything to Our Abba. For in our goodness as well as in our darkness, the love of God shines through every corner of our lives. I owe everything to him and so do you. We all owe everything to Our Abba who art in Heaven. The little one that is born tonight is born so that we might have life and have it in all of its wonderful abundance.

Just as a for instance, the wonderful years of my ministry, the blessing of my life with Cindy, my children David, Joshua, and Michael, the dogs and cats too…don’t forget the animals…God didn’t not tonight on this holy night…most certainly not. For all the creatures of God owe their lives to him.

You see we have the good sense to know that all that we have and all that we have is from God. And so now my Abba says come on home. And to you your Abba says I too will bless you in the fullness of time with another priest who will love you, tend you, care for you and celebrate the sacraments with you. And thus the church of God in her faithful witness to Jesus processes on toward heaven.

Our Abba who art in heaven; it is an ageless prayer that the savior taught us in order that we might see the inexorable march of life’s many blessings. And so now he calls me home to the salt sea. But I shall never forget the mountains of West Virginia, the country roads, the accents the beaming faces of a genuine and remarkable people. You let me into your lives and together we have done some pretty remarkable things together. And we owe it all to Our Abba.

And so Merry Christmas to you. Goodbye is not a bad word. It means in the old English, literally, God be with you. And so God is. Born in a manger, a sweet little baby born “Emmanuel” or God with us. And so if I say Good bye…all I’m saying is God be with you.

God be with you all this Christmas. And thus let the Glory of God shine on this holy night. AMEN.

Joy to the World

Joy to the World

When Mary greeted Elizabeth, the child in her womb leaped for joy.

And so when I heard the story of the birth of that baby I too greeted the news with joy.

Ever since the first Christmas that I can remember, the happiness of our home was filled with people, decoration, generosity of spirit and great joy.

The birth of any baby and the sight of a mother carrying her little one all wrapped in blankets or swaddling bands, is a sight that brings joy to the human heart.

Nowadays we show one another pictures of the mother and her baby.

In ancient times, the church too, showed the holy mother with her sacred child in beautiful iconography.

And out of joy and hope the faithful have lit candles and said prayers for millennia.

The devotion of the ages rings out like church bells across the land.

And so the news with which the Church greets the world then as it does to day is the same forever; “Joy to the World”!

Mary sang of the joy she had in her heart.

It was she who was to become the chosen instrument of God to bring Peace and Justice into this world.

Through her child, the proud, the powerful the rich and those who exploit the poor would be put on notice.

In her Child, the poor would be filled with good things while the rich would be sent away empty.

At the very least, it was the hope of the church throughout the ages that the disparity between those who have and those who don’t would be somehow closed. It is a perversity of the Gospel when the hope of Mary and the mandate of Jesus is ignored.

We cannot read the Gospel without at least noticing that this is what the book says!

“Joy to the World!”

The message is one of Justice. It is a justice that brings Peace.

It is one of joyous music with Angels bending near to earth…to bring the message of God; “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to ALL”.

The message is one so replete with joy that Mary sings it and the church joins her in her song throughout the ages. Her song is a song of Justice and compassion and is set within an indelible image of tenderness-a mother holding her child.

Mind you it is the same mother who holds her child too some years later.

Michelangelo’s image of the Mother holding her child in the “Pieta” is an unforgettable image of a mother’s exquisite agony at the loss of her baby.

A child that was executed by the state for blasphemy and other trumped up and unjust charges lay dead in the tomb for three days.

Joy to the world!

The greatest surprise of faith that is!

There is room in God’s heart for the love of everyone now!

The risen Christ is alive in us now.

Our sins are forgiven us. Therefore we can repent and live anew!

The silent child asleep in a manger is alive forever and Mary’s song rings out across the world with renewed joy.

Whatever the newspapers, CNN or Fox News says, the Good News of Jesus is the last Word.

Jesus is the Word made flesh to dwell among us forever.

There are armies and insurgents, multinational corporations, and schemers and dreamers of allsorts and all may have their day, but then God has the last Word and the Word became Flesh and the Word dwelt among us, and we beheld the Glory of God…the Glory as of the only begotten of God.

The Word made flesh is now and forever the Word of God.

And the Word of God says; “Joy to the World”!

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Advent is a grand and glious season. Here's a few ways to enjoy thinking of the nearness of heaven; a frequent theme of the season from John the Baptist and Jesus.

Advent examples


Robert Lewis Stevenson, grew up in Scotland around the turn of the century and his family’s house was on a hillside outside of town. Each evening, he would sit in the kitchen and look down on the town, watching the lamp lighter ignite each of the town’s street lamps. He remembered one evening saying to his mother, "Look, there is a man down there who is punching holes in the darkness."

And so this Advent we proclaim the nearness of the Kingdom of God. The Book of Common Prayer calls on God to "give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and to put on the armor of light”. Thus may we too have grace to “punch holes in the darkness”.


A woman in my congregation recently returned from a retreat at Gethsemane, the monastery in Kentucky where Thomas Merton journeyed so diligently in his pilgrimage toward God. When she returned I asked her how her time there was. She beamed and said it was “Heavenly”.

So it is with those of the spirit. We journey on with all the saints here on earth and those who have gone before. Hardly do we realize with such busy and anxious lives how close heaven lies. The kingdom of heaven is indeed “at hand”. Only when we stop and listen to the heart of God beating in ours do we realize that Heaven is close. Indeed it is “at hand” as both the Baptist and as Jesus said.


Tolstoy, in latching on to Luke 17:21 proclaims that the Kindom is Heaven is “within” us. That is why it is so very close at hand and why it is so near. He goes on to say that the connection between God and humanity is within the grasp of love.

“God is the infinite ALL. Man is only a finite manifestation of Him.
Or better yet:
God is that infinite All of which man knows himself to be a finite part.
God alone exists truly. Man manifests Him in time, space and matter. The more God's manifestation in man (life) unites with the manifestations (lives) of other beings, the more man exists. This union with the lives of other beings is accomplished through love.
God is not love, but the more there is of love, the more man manifests God, and the more he truly exists”