Monday, December 31, 2012

Wake Up and Die Right!

Wake Up and Die Right!

My mother was a spitfire of a woman. She didn’t mince words. One of her favorite expressions was; “Wake up and die right!”. It was a salty and verbal way of whacking me upside my dense head. For my ancestors in Maine it was a way of reminding us that sailing along the rocky coast was a dangerous everyday necessity, and you better be awake or you will die all right. And when that glimmer of recognition, insight, and understanding came to me; she’d then say with a sardonic Downeast note; “Light dawns on Marblehead!”

Still she did her best and loved me in her own way. I will be forever grateful to her, for so many things, but primarily for giving me character and backbone. 

There was that one time in particular in Gloucester along that rocky coastline I love so much. I was out playing on an outcropping of rock. I was daring myself to go out further and further. Now, if you know anything about the seaweed and algae that grows along the surface of the rocks, you will know from the first moment you set foot on it, that it is as slippery as grease.

My mother called to me to go no further out. I was of a mindset to push the envelope on this particular day, so I hesitated, and then continued in disobedience further out toward the sea. She called again, this time adding a warning of dire consequences if I failed to heed her instructions. I glanced back but again forged on ahead pretending not to hear. Once more she called out, and then muttered a few choice words, enough to make me stop dead in my tracks. Still, I was at a good distance from her, and there was nothing she could do. So I pressed on. Unbeknownst to me, she was now making her way out toward me, when I my feet met a slippery patch of algae. In an instant I found myself on my back with the wind knocked out of my lungs. And in another instant she was there to rescue me, to hold me, to ask if I were ok. I recovered enough wind to say I was OK. I think I cried a little. She half carried me back to safer solid ground. What she did then, what she said then made the moment indelibly etched in my mind.

I think of this moment often when I think of the Incarnation. We know right from wrong. We know the rules. But we cannot help but push the envelope from time to time. We venture away from God thinking we know better. God calls us to return through his appointed messengers, through prophets and sages in every time. Again and again he calls us to return. Again and again we remove ourselves from God. In the fullness of time, the Word becomes Flesh and comes to us on the rocks, and is always there in a moment of distress especially when we find ourselves flat on our backs with the wind knocked out of our lungs. God embraces us, forgives us, and loves us. We may shed a tear or two, and God wipes those tears away. What God does then and says then indelibly marks us for life with a learning we’ll never forget.

This is Christmas. This is the Incarnation. This is the Word made Flesh. God is not a philosophical construct.  We have four clear snapshots of God’s appearance. Those snapshots are called Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Through them we see Jesus, the eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.

This is Christmas. Love came down at Christmas. God runs out onto the rocks to save us from whatever disobedience we come up with. Then God turns around within us and asks us to go and do likewise.

Now that you’ve got your own act together, ha, at least to the extent that you’ve managed to accept any measure of salvation, go on and extend your arms to those others you love who are going out too far into their own rocky ways.

We pray with the Collect of the Day that the Light of God’s Incarnate Word may so shine forth in our lives, that we may have the courage and the imagination to embrace someone we care about in our lives with the loving embrace of God; with God’s love, God’s forgiveness and God’s reconciling power.

We live in a dark and dangerous world. When Isaiah spoke to the nation in today’s lesson, he was speaking to a people in exile and in the throes of oppression. Pick your darkness. Pick your danger. We live in a violent nation. We live in an economy where the haves have more and more and the rest of us have less and less. We are reaching a rather dim awareness of the use of fossil fuels and their role in global climate change.

The very ideas of Social Responsibility, Justice, Peace and the goodness of God are set aside for more selfish motivations. Much of the world of faith has forgotten that it was for the sake of sinners that Jesus lived and died. Those of us who believe in the unconditional love of God for all, the universal forgiveness of Christ’s gift on the Cross for everyone, and the presence of the Holy Spirit within every human heart are actually quite few in number.

Yet when prophet Isaiah spoke to the nation so beset with danger and darkness, he said; 
“Rejoice in the LORD,
          my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation.”
It is as though, living this way where God is God, Jesus is the Christ and the Holy Spirit is the Captain of my soul, I then radiate the light of The Triune Power of God with transforming Grace; Grace not just for me but for all those around me.

I want to waken to life.  This is what the Gospel teaches all who will listen. Wakefulness and preparation for the coming of God is based on our repentance; a willingness to turn to Jesus and keep our eyes fixed on him as we navigate our way through the craggy coastline of life. He is the true compass point. He teaches us right from wrong, that knowledge of the truth will set us free, and that as we live like Christ, we live with the kind of character that is built on the truth that lies within. 

This is why Episcopalians are not afraid of science. Science helps us mark the channels along the coast. Scientists are prophets who can tell us where the dangers are. Geologists can tell us of the dangers and the limits of carbon activity. Astronomers can tell us about the beginnings of the universe. Archeologists can tell us of the epochs of earth’s history. Naturalists can tell us of Evolution and the Origins of The Species. Many scientists have been priests. Darwin, himself, was a child of an Anglican Priest.

Scientific truth is no threat to faith. It is part and parcel of the chart and compass we need to find our way through the very real dangers we face in life.

Jesus was not afraid of the truth. It was he that said the truth will set us free. (John 8: 32) Jesus rejoiced in the truth. Living like Jesus is like living in the Light of God. To do so is to live a life of such joyous radiance that we cannot help but beam with the brightness of God. 

My mom still took me out on the rocks to play. I loved the beaches, the waves, the surf, the adventures of life. And I learned its rules. I learned that water, like fire, can be a dangerous and villainous foe, as well as a wonderful friend and companion. And now I know how to be there for others who have fallen, how to embrace them, comfort and guide them to the living Christ who will then wipe away all their tears. I also know how to respect the truth.

I’m sure you’ll know the apocryphal story of the arrogant Naval captain who saw a light in the fog and radioed this communication;
“Divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid collision.”
The reply; “You divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid collision”.
Captain: “This is a captain of a US Naval vessel; I repeat you divert your course.
Reply; “No, you divert your course”
Captain: “ Sir, I am the captain of one of the largest warships in the US Navy. Again, I say divert your course.”
Reply: “This is a lighthouse keeper, your call.”

“Wake up and die right”. What a curious expression. God knows where it comes from. But for now this I know; life comes and goes all too quickly; so while we have it, let us waken to God’s joy and shine with God’s brightness and be sober and watchful for the rocks.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Speak up to the NRA

The Holy Innocents

In the Christian Calendar it is Holy Innocents Day. It is a day that recognizes the time when a paranoid Herod ordered the execution of children under the age of two years old in the vicinity of Bethlehem. That was a long time ago. More recently, more and more guns have been getting into the hands of more and more deranged persons. Increasingly the American public asks what can be done. The NRA recommends more guns. Many of us question the wisdom of that position.

Holy Innocents Day seems like a fitting occasion to support a campaign to respond to the intransigence of the gun lobby. The voices of the little ones at Sandy Hook cry out for a voice to speak up on their behalf. We must be their voice now. 

It's not just Sandy Hook, but Columbine, and the Firemen ambushed on Christmas Eve and the thousands upon thousands of other who are taken from us every year. Assault rifles are especially a threat to those of us who gather peaceably in our schools, our churches, shopping centers, and movie theaters.

The ban on assault rifles has expired. There is no mandate for background checks for firearms purchases at gun shows, mail order or by private parties. 

Anybody can get a gun. It is said that this is because of the sacred place of the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights.

True enough. 

But the Declaration of Independence speaks more convincingly of those "Inalienable Rights" for all American citizens; that among them are the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". 

Those who defend the second amendment, gloss over the much more basic right to life.

In comparing the two, I will declare this; the right of those children in Sandy Hook to life trumps the right of the rest of us to bear arms, without some kind of regulation.

The way out of our dilemma is in the Second Amendment itself. The operative phrase in the Amendment is this; "A well regulated militia".

The full text of the Second Amendment is this; 

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

The more basic right is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence itself; 

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Most nations regulate weapons possession, and in western civilizations these regulations manage to keep violent deaths down into the hundreds. Here in the United States the rate is much higher and the death toll much dearer. Imagine, more than 10,000 per year! Is there nothing we can do?

Given the intransigence and uncompromising nature of the folks at the NRA and many who are members of the gun lobby, we must get up the gumption, and work up the courage to speak up to them in sufficient numbers, and with a sustained and well organized, well funded effort to counter the veto power they seem to carry, much like the weapons they bear.

It will be a very difficult battle.
We have no such weapons, except social media.
But as we have seen in the Arab Spring and in the recent elections, social media can play a decisive role in the development of social policy.

Some efforts have begun. The Brady Campaign and Mayors Against Illegal Guns among them. Pick one. Join one. More efforts like this will need to combine to match the vast power and enormous financing of the NRA and the gun manufacturers. 

But this time we must not roll over and play dead. We must not be tepid in our advocacy. The voices of those children in Newtown scream out for us to protect them. These precious Holy Innocents shall not have died in vain. Good, peaceable, decent citizens, must speak up.

I do not recommend a ban on weapons. Given the Second Amendment, none of us can. Rather I would approach the problem much like we approach the challenge all other security matters present to us. We must have birth certificates to establish our place in any organized society. International accord requires us to carry passports to travel from country to country. In order to drive a car or fly in a plane, there must be a license to drive and a picture ID, and the cars we drive must be registered. Pilots and planes must also undergo strict regulation.

It is from the presence of the automobile that we can take our inspiration to defend the public against illegal gun possession. In the 1970's there were as many as 70,000 deaths a year on the nation's highways. Be began to "buckle down" on driving behaviors and regulations. We required people to wear seat belts. There was resistance, but eventually there was compliance. We instituted crash tests, installed air bags and cracked down on drunk driving. The net result of these and other efforts have resulted in reducing highway fatalities to around 30,000 per year. Will we ever eliminate the death toll on the highways? Not likely. But we can and have saved thousands upon thousands of lives. Can we make the streets safer? Obviously we can. 

Similarly with firearms. 

I do not argue to eliminate the right of my fellow citizens to own weapons. We have the right to defend ourselves and hunt and enjoy the sport of shooting. Few of my fellow citizens would argue that we should disarm the population. That is not the issue. The issue is the operative phrase in the Second Amendment. 


Such regulation should include
  •  a license for all gun owners. Felons, and those deemed a danger to themselves, their families and others shall be denied a license until a court of law shall rule that the danger is passed and proper safeguards have been instituted. 
  • registration of all weapons with a ballistics ID for each firearm
  • a national database for the above information in order to provide law enforcement with the tools that would assist in the prompt apprehension of offenders.
  • strict enforcement of gun laws already present
  • buy back and amnesty programs to get illegal guns off the streets

Some firearms are too dangerous for public possession. Assault rifles should be banned outright or given only to those with a license to possess them. This license should be of a much higher level and an ordinary one. Much like a CDL is given only to certain drivers who operate large trucks, those who have heavier weapons much persuade the courts and law enforcement that they should have such weapons.

Obviously the debate on gun control will rage on. These are just a few thoughts from a parish priest who has seen too much to let another day go by without speaking up.

Too many of my fellow citizens have paid too high a price. I can be silent no longer. Neither can you. 

It is my hope and prayer that sufficient numbers of American Citizens will speak up to their elected representatives to move ahead expeditiously and intelligently to effective gun control

This time we have no choice. 
We must speak up.
We must go head to head with the NRA.

Let your voice be heard.

Call your elected representatives now.

Peace, someday, Peace,

Fr. Paul

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Why, God?

The dreaded question, for a priest. 
For anyone.
At Christmas.

Maureen Dowd cites the wisdom of another priest, called to the side of a friend, at a time of death. Published on Christmas Day in The New York Times, it is an honest statement of human and priestly integrity. You can read it here

The question has special poignancy for me since my dad died at Christmas when I was a child, since Newtown, since the ambush on Christmas Eve. So I too ask this ancient question; 


Why indeed?
Why my dad's death at Christmas,
When I was a boy 8 years old. 
Good Friday when I was a boy.
Why do you call this day "Good"?
To the child in a cattle shed,
Poor and homeless
The unwed mother
The man on the cross.
The empty tomb
The panic
The running away
The abandonment
But for the women
Who went to the tomb
With spices
He is not here
That's the answer?
He is not here?
The Resurrection???
A surprise answer if ever there is one!
I'm afraid my faith must rest on that for a while.
Until my own time
Not the fear,
But the Cheer of the Child
The dreadful courage of the cross
The defeat of death
The final answer?
Until the surprise?

Fr Paul

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Courage of Christmas

The Church is Beautiful

How beautiful the church is on Christmas Eve. You’ve outdone yourselves. I remember at Easter thinking how much I’d love to see this place at Christmas, but of course we all gave a dismissive chuckle to that notion. Who knew! 
But here we are gathered in this sacred and holy place once again to hear the message of the angels. “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to ALL”. What a wonderful and timely message. Timely and timeless at the very same time!
On my first journey to the United Kingdom, I found myself at a Bed and Breakfast in the Lake District in a town called Kendal. The local parish church was a lovely Norman structure over 1000 years old. My traveling companion and I were treated to an evening beverage and we discovered that the proprietor of the B&B was a member of the vestry. He and I got into it. He was interested in the American church’s liberal views on the ordination of women, a matter that perplexed our English cousins. Then, out of the blue, he asked me this question; 
“Father, you’ll never guess what time of year our church comes alive with decoration and music. It is a time that really touches every heart in the town. You’ve never seen anything so beautiful.”
“Christmas!”, I said imagining what the old stone church would look like decorated in greens, poinsettias, a creche, and lit by candlelight. 
“How in the world did you know?” said he.
“Every Anglican church the world over is precious this night. In fact, so are Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic Churches.”

It is the night of the Incarnation of God. Emmanuel. God with us. And the whole Christian world, bows to this holy night with awe, reverence, and a profound and affectionate love.

Many there are who travel the world around in search of the holy. In one of the better movies I’ve seen this year, “The Way” with Martin Sheen, there is the story of a man, who, after the untimely death of his son, goes to Spain to walk the “Camino de Santiago”. It is a fine movie. After much soul searching this rather secular businessman and golfer discovers that there really is something holy within him. His heart learns of the healing touch that comes from a close encounter with his traveling companions and with the living God whom he discovers in their midst.
More recently, Cindy and I saw “The Life of Pi”; another pilgrimage of a sort in which a young Indian boy and a ferocious tiger share a life boat after a shipwreck and the boy discovers God in ever deepening discoveries of the life within himself and his encounter with the tiger. 
I’ve been to the Holy Land twice and walked in the footsteps of Jesus, Moses, and so many others written about in holy scripture. I took a bus load of high school students. What we learned together! What goodness I’ve experienced in these pilgrimages.
There is something about all these journeys filled with their own spiritual intentionality that has the potential to bring us into a close encounter with the Living God, or that sense that within us something very holy resides.
Your journeys to Kanuga, the Cathedral, to the annual “Shackathon” or to “Crop Walk” are all of a piece. They are instances where we might discover God walking with us. 
But whether your quest for God takes you far away to distant lands and different cultures, or whether that journey takes you deep within your own heart, what we always come to discover is that God has been with us all the way. This is especially true when we come to do battle with doubt, despair, danger and evil. We didn’t have to travel far away to find it. It has been here all the while. 
That fact becomes clear to us on Christmas Eve, I think, in a way no other time of year can do, no other festival quite celebrates. Christmas brings with it a a joy and a wonder that brings both a smile and a tear to the same countenance.  The radiant light that comes from a child in a manger evokes profound responses when we think of the journeys we’ve been taking throughout our lives. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight”, Phillips Brooks, that great Boston preacher wrote one night when he was on pilgrimage in Bethlehem. All my joys and all my sorrows are reflected in the face of the Baby.

This year, of course, we are reminded of the Holy Innocents. Herod in a pique of paranoia ordered the killing of the male children under the age of two in Bethlehem when the Wise Men refused to tell him where to find this Baby King. More children, in recent weeks have been taken from us at the hands of yet another deranged mind. Every day in America inner city neighborhoods we must undergo similar heartaches. 
And the Holy Child requires me to remember that right now. It will take courage to speak up for the children who now have no voice. Our own children are vulnerable in a dangerous world. I do hope and pray that you and I will speak up for them. There will be plenty of time for that in the New Year.
For now, the Baby also wants my heart to sing with the music of Christmas. Not only is our church beautiful, it is also filled with such lovely music. The music brings to my soul a tearful smile when I greet Christmas, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is why I love Christmas so. 
What more precious gift can there be but to see the sleeping Jesus in his cradle? Or the smiles and laughter of our own children, or the beaming faces of their proud parents, grandparents and friends? How refreshingly joyful it is to see our annual Christmas pageant. How precious are these children!
In the luminous night a star shines down from heaven, and our hearts and the whole world over are filled with this amazing music. Shepherds quake to see this sight. Kings and Wise Men go to the manger and discover there by the cradle, where the cattle are lowing, even as the world stands dark and cold; this Child radiates a profoundly bright warmth. 
The Love of God made flesh and blood in that Holy Child comes down to dwell among and within us at Christmas. Jesus is God-with-us; our “Emmanuel”. Not only is God with us in the flesh and blood of Jesus, but in the flesh and blood of all those who love the Child. Those of you with the courage and the imagination to enfold him in your hearts may also begin to radiate his warmth. 

This is the challenge of Christmas. Do you have the courage to create like God creates? Can you join Jesus in saving a fallen world? Can you discover the inner Way to make holy everything your life touches?
Christmas is a season of hope. We end one difficult year and soon we begin another. Living into Christmas and living into a New Year will take courage, creativity, and eagerness to bless and defend our children. 
We are here tonight in this very beautiful, sacred and holy place, as millions are doing around the world hour by hour. I extend to you my prayers for all the blessings of Christmas. How wonderful that we can share this moment together. In the immortal words of one who knew what is means to discover God in the here and now; “God bless us every one”.
Merry Christmas!
Fr Paul

Saturday, December 22, 2012

He Sent the Rich Away Empty

Evensong and Eucharist

Seventy years ago we were a very small and poor country church. Our priest was a fellow by the name of Thomas Smythe and he had responsibility for three congregations; at Birdsboro, Morgantown and here in Douglassville. Once a month he came here for Communion for the morning service. On the other Sundays we had Evensong at 7:30pm. 

Ruth Weidner played the organ and remembers singing “The Magnificat” time and time again. On Tuesdays we hold our weekly Bible Study at the Villa. We read the scriptures appointed for the upcoming Sunday. Everyone is welcome to attend and, I must say, we do enjoy lively conversation. This week, Ruth found herself reading the Magnificat, or what we call now the “Song of Mary” and she saw something that she had never noticed before. She listened very closely to what the words said;
“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones
He has lifted up the lowly
He has filled the hungry with good things
And sent the rich away empty.” ~St Luke 1:52,53
Esther Shelley, Ruth Weidner and I shared a good chuckle when Louise Temple said; “It sounds like politics”. The Biblical narrative often speaks up for the poor. No doubt you’ll remember that Jesus announced his ministry in the Synagogue with the words from the prophet Isaiah; “I have come to bring good news to the poor”. (Luke 4:18) That sounds clear to me. We see both Mary and Jesus in the homes, the streets and villages of ancient Galilee where they made these ancient pronouncements. Around them huddle the poor and the sick and the outcast. He brought them good news, a healing touch, and a place to call home in the heart of God.

We read from the prophet Micah who says; Bethlehem of Ephratha, you are just one of the smaller clans of Judah, and of little account and yet from such an obscure place there would come a mighty savior. (Micah 5) He spoke autobiographically, in part; since he too, compared to the other prophets like Isaiah, was of little account. It was, let me remind you, a time of terrible distress. The people would live in captivity yet again, this time taken away into the jaws of oppression by a foreign power. It seems that the history of God’s people is one that often finds itself in periods of distress. Still the prophet says that there will be a woman in labor and she shall bring forth a child and he will be great. He will be mighty. The people will live again in security. his reign will extend to the ends of the earth and he shall be the one who will bring peace. 

This is the great biblical hope which we all treasure in our hearts.

It is worth listening to the prophet and to Mary and it is worth embracing their words. For the fact is, that as jarringly out of place as the gospel may seem to be when confronted with present historic reality, it is nonetheless true. And as urgent as it was to read the prophet’s words then at a time of calamity, so too now in the midst of this world’s darkness these words and these hopes need once again to shine into our hearts.

I will not capitulate or give in to the darkness. Neither will you! God knows it is getting dark, and I’m not referring to the turning of the winter solstice. I am referring to the darkest corners of the human personality. I am referring to our interior illnesses. Disorders of the spirit fill us in some cases to despondency and in extremes to violence. That’s the darkness to which I refer. We’ve seen all too many examples of violence in recent days. Many of us hang on it as if the power of darkness can draw us in and keep us there. Yet I refuse to give in to it. I don’t care how dark it gets.

Clearly Mary was scared out of her wits when the Archangel Gabriel came to her to tell her about her child. “How shall this be, since I am without a husband?” Even with the reassurances of her God-sent visitor, Joseph considered having her quietly sent away until the scandal was over, as Matthew’s Gospel tell us. (Matthew 1:19)

In today’s Gospel we are told that she went to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth, and when she did the child within Elizabeth leapt for joy. All the while the scripture says, “Mary pondered these things in her heart.”

The darkness and the joy are very close together. It just depends on which way you turn to look. It is a matter of orientation, if I may use the word in its root sense. In the ancient church, when a candidate was brought to the font for Baptism, she or he first would face to the west where the darkened sky lurked not just “out there” but “in here”.

The catechumen declared; “I renounce you”, as if there were a reality to the dimension of evil; as if the evil one actually had a living force within. The candidate, however young or old, renounced the darkness three times.

Then he or she would turn to the east, to the brilliant light of the rising sun, and then accept Jesus as the way and the truth and the life. For to these Christians, Jesus was the Light of the world, just as he said he was. (John 8:12) Yes, this is the way to live. In the light of forgiveness and eternal life, in the light of Christ’s reconciling love. 

I know it is dark all around us and deep within as well. We don’t have to look far to see sin. The media are filled with the only doctrine we can proove. Sin. I can prove that doctrine of the church for you easily. Watch the news and read the papers. All the other Church doctrine must be taken on faith. However, the more I’m drawn into that darkness the more I give in to its power, the more likely I will become its child.

In my mind’s eye I see Mary and Joseph and the donkey making their way to Bethlehem. It is dark. They were filled with Advent expectation. He is coming, but what will that mean? Only time will tell. The darkness into which they travelled was however, brightened we’re told, by a star. You and I watch them as they travel along, and how we want to reassure them that he will be the Wonderful Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. It will be OK. 

But for now they must merely travel on trusting that the star they follow will indeed lead the way toward God. They had no way of knowing that. But we do. As dark as the world seemed to that frightened and vulnerable family, you and I know with the benefit of hindsight how mightily God would act on their behalf. 

Now you and I must walk in that same dark world and we too will follow the star that shines over our cities, towns and lives that seem of little account. I will not capitulate to the darkness. Neither will you. I will follow the star. And the star of my life is Jesus.

In my baptism, I renounce that way of life that leads to darkness and insist on turning to that light which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Jesus said; ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’ ~John 8:12
There you are, the Light of the world makes it all so clear. Walk in the Light of Jesus! 

I want to walk as a child of the light;
I want to follow Jesus.
God set the stars to give light to the world;
The star of my life is Jesus.
In him there is no darkness at all;
The night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God;
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.
Walking in the light when so much of the world walks in darkness is risky business. But when we build communities of faith and build them strong, and when we join hands with others to strengthen the common bonds of humanity through which that light may shine, we can vanquish the darkness, or at least banish it to its isolated corners where it belongs.

This is why we study our scriptures. Every week. This is why we read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them. It is to keep our eyes fixed on the Light of Christ, so that no matter what darkness we must confront, we know that God is with us. 

We have come a long way from Evensong to Eucharist. Now, every Sunday, we may come to the Holy Table and receive the Savior’s Light and Life. Thus may the light of Jesus shine in and through us this day and forevermore. 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Holy Innocents in Connecticut

Keep Today as a Holy Day

Holy Innocents! Is is a very holy day in the Church Calendar and comes only three days after Christmas. This year Holy Innocents came early to folks in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. The day marks the time when Herod called for the death of the children. Herod suffered from paranoia. He feared that Jesus would become King of the Jews. So he ordered the murder of all the male children in Judea under the age of two.

Mental illness struck again just yesterday in Sandy Hook in an elementary school, and left 20 children, 7 adults and the killer all dead. 

"How can anyone take away our angels?" A Lament is raised to heaven. We join with those who refuse to be consoled.

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 
‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
   wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
   she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’
~Jeremiah 31:15

There is plenty of time to debate the next steps to bring this madness under some kind of control

But for now, we weep. Weeping and loud lamentation to God and to our countrymen. 

And we keep this day as a Holy Day for our children.

There is no consolation for those whose tears drench their homes.
Holy Innocents!

There is only this. God knows what it is like to loose a Child. 
He was born in a Manger in Bethlehem. 
He brought us hope, healing, forgiveness and eternal life.
But of course he died.
Again the Powers and Principalities of this present evil did their work.
The Holy Innocent was put up on the cross for all of us to see. 

He changed our lives and so shall these sweet ones.
Is there any comfort for us?
There is only this. God knows what it is like to loose a Child.

Mary takes him in her arms.
Drop, drop slow tears.

We shall weep, wail and lament.
But we shall not despair.
These Holy Innocents shall not have died in vain.

We will be back soon.
And when we return, we shall require an answer!
There is eternal life and we shall continue our work.

In the meantime let there be a blessing of protection on the Children we love. 
And may God take the angels into his arms and wipe the tears from their faces.
And may God take us too in his arms and be with us in our sorrow.

And let us all keep Holy Day for these Holy Innocents.

Fr. Paul

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sandy Hook, Children & Christmas

Away in a Manger

Tonight the church was filled with pre-school children and their families. They told the story of a baby born in a stable many years ago. They were thankfully oblivious to the day's events. Their moms and dads also seemed to be preoccupied with being justifiably proud and thrilled to see their children take the parts of Mary, the Angel Gabriel, and the many other angels, Joseph, the sheep, the shepherds and the three Kings. 

I was quite aware of events in Sandy Hook, and I could not help but think of the vulnerability of these children and all children. We're all vulnerable, no doubt. But these children, as they told the Christmas Story seemed so vulnerable to me.

I wanted to bless them and ask a prayer for protection on them tonight. But I had to let that be. They told the story and sang some carols. And the church was filled with Christmas joy and excitement as the  parents and grandparents of these children burst with pride.

My heart burst with prayer; a prayer of blessing for each child. And a prayer of protection for each child. 

It was not the right time for me to impose comfort on these children and their families.

Afterward, one mom came up to me and asked if I were "Fr Paul". 
"Yes", I said.
"My son came home and told me he met God at pre-school". She was bursting with laughter. 
How could I spoil a moment like this with my heartbreak?
I knew who she meant. He is an especially delightful child. I have corrected him each time he called me God.
"Now," she said; "he thinks you're Father Abraham." The children love the song I teach to help them shake their sillies out. 

But I am not God and I am certainly not Fr. Abraham. I wish I kew how to protect the children of Sandy Hook, CT and Douglassville, PA as we sometimes imagine God can protect us.

Alas even God cannot do that. Only we can protect our children. Perhaps we can have some conversation about that in the months to come and then take some robust action to protect them and the rest of us from these senseless acts of violence.

In the meantime, as I sat through the Christmas Story as told by these precious children, all I could do was ask a prayer of blessing and protection for these children and their families. Won't you join me!

Every week, at the end of story time, I ask each child to come forward for a blessing. They bound up toward me and smile broadly and often giggle.  I make the sign of the cross of their foreheads and say; "God bless you!"
Next time, I will say; "May God bless and protect you!"

As our hearts break tonight, as we remember the vulnerability of the Christ child in the manger, and the vulnerability of all children and their families, let the tears flow freely. 

And for tonight let the prayers arise to heaven. "God bless and protect the children".

Fr. Paul

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Prayer is Being with God


Prayer is being with God. 
Silent, centered, and still.
Prayer is being with persons in a way that leads to love, compassion and forgiveness.
It is the courage to be reconciled.
Prayer is feeding the 5000 and the countless poor.
And housing the least of these.
The visitation of those who are sick or in prison.
Prayer is Justice among nations and between brothers and sisters.
It is Shalom in Jerusalem, Salaam in the West Bank and Peace in Gaza.
Prayer is dangerous.
It may cost you your life.
Jesus is why this is so. He brings Love.
Moses is why this is so. He brings us freedom from slavery and a Law to live by.
Muhammed is why this is so peace be upon him.
He brings us to Allah, the All Merciful
Prayer is being with God.
Silent, centered, and perfectly still.
~Fr. Paul Bresnahan

Monday, December 10, 2012

Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

The Declaration of Independence

Nothing is more foundational to the Constitution of these United States of America that these truths which we hold as self evident.

For all of our citizens to enjoy the right to life, we shall all have heath care and a good paying job. 
For all of our citizens to be free from enslavement to poverty, we shall all have health care and a good paying job.
For al or our citizens to pursue happiness we shall all have health care and a good paying job.

Notice when we say "ALL" we mean "ALL".
Without regard to orientation, gender, race, class, or creed, or no creed at all.
"ALL" means "ALL"!

Every citizen who wants to work should have a good paying job with full benefits.
  • A living wage
  • Health Care
  • 35-40 hour work week
  • 2-4 weeks vacation
And when industry will not provide for these benefits, the public will.

To make provision for these rights, there shall be fair taxation. 


We are making progress on these goals. We now have health care. We now need jobs.
You rich and your multinational corporations, bring back our jobs to these shores.
You rich, now hear this, you will pay taxes like the rest of us pay.

We the People are sovereign and we will not serve you as slaves to consumerism at Walmart and McDonald's. 

Pony up and pay us like Citizens of these United States of America.

Bring our jobs back home!

Saturday, December 08, 2012

God Writes Straight with Crooked Lines

God Writes Straight With Crooked Lines
“Deus escrive certo por lingas tortas”

A few years ago I needed a folk saying to use to describe a theological method by which we come to understand how we humans love one another and God. I was coming to the conclusion of a book I wrote on human sexuality and theology. How in the world do we describe the messes we humans make and how God meets us in the midst of those messes and guides us then into salvation? One of my favorite theologians is Marcus Borg and in one of his books; “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” he remarked that there is an old Portuguese saying; “God writes straight with crooked lines”. 

Given what I know of human nature, the remark made good sense. Somehow we all know what’s right and what’s wrong, yet time and again we make choices that are harmful to ourselves and others. We seek our own will instead of the will of God. But God refuses to abandon us to our own willfulness, but time and again God seeks us out, through prophets, sages and wise men and women of every age. Again and again we turn away, and again and again God seeks us out. 

In the fullness of time God sent Jesus, the perfect nature of God and humankind met in one Person. Announced by John, born in a manger, driven into the wilderness, and baptized in the River Jordan, he then recruited those who would follow, taught and healed us, fed us by the thousand on the hillsides in Galilee, sought out the outcast the rich the poor and the common fisherfolk of his time. He then went up to Jerusalem, cleansed the Temple and sealed his fate as the One who would die on the cross for the sins of the whole world.

Reflecting on the reality of this nature, the old Portuguese saying again comes back to me. Yes, “God writes straight with crooked lines.”

I sought out the saying in an East Cambridge neighborhood near Boston where so many Portuguese folk live, but nobody seemed to know what I was talking about. Then one day I found myself with friends in the Portuguese Cultural Center in Peabody and I thought to ask the waitress if she knew this old folk saying. Of course she did! And she then taught me the words; “Deus escrive certo por lignas tortas; God writes straight with crooked lines”.

Ah, that’s it! Here we are, humans all. In our youth we often wander far in a land that is waste. How many times have I listened to the tearful stories of those who made marriages a shipwreck of impressive dimension? How many times have I heard those stories of myriads upon myriads of creative means by which we concoct schemes which muddle us up in a morass of misery? How many times have I stood by the hungry and the homeless? On and on it goes.

Yet neither God nor I, nor any of you will abandon those we love to their own devices. Not at all, it is out of the love God bears for us all, that we impose ourselves, sometimes by invitation, often through intervention, to salvage what we can of our own lives as well as the lives of others.

The scripture tells us that it was John’s ministry to announce the coming of the savior. John’s father, Zechariah, sang his song of joy in the canticle we recited this morning; “You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.”

Which comes first then; repentance or forgiveness? Now hear this, it was Christ who fist stood on the cross reaching out his arms of love on that hard wood to name it: “You are forgiven. I love you. Now go and repent and live a new life full of the joy of Jesus.”

It is a good idea, but still we’ll figure out a way to mess that up with amazing abandon and creativity. The prophet Malachi reminds us in today’s first lesson; “he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness”.

When forgiveness and repentance finally kick in we become joyfully filled with the creative and redemptive power of God. That’s when we get the point and we become the agents by which we extend God’s loving arms around our friends and loved ones and we all learn to become followers of God. This is what it means to be involved in the redemptive work of God.

I think of the music we sing at this time of year. What does it means when a young man sings in Chanticleer, when a choir sings for a beloved priest or then for evensong? What does it mean when one of our own leads a chorus in this church and and fills the place with sounds of such loveliness. And through it all, folk from all walks of life crowd in to hear of the message of the angels and the archangels.

"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

Yes that’s the idea. And if you are a sailor going down east from Boston, it is pure simplicity. Simply set your sails, and let the prevailing westerlies take you on a straight shot to Maine and the Maritimes. Ah, shipmates, but when it is time to sail back to Boston, you’ll have to sail into the winds. That’s why we Yankees know you go up to Boston. You have to tack into the winds.

For example, if a vessel is sailing on a starboard tack with the wind blowing from the right side and tacks, it will end up on a port tack with the wind blowing from the left side. This maneuver is used when the desired direction is directly into the wind. Thus you’re sailing upwind.

You see, as in sailing so in life, “God writes straight with crooked lines. Deus escrive certo por lignas tortas.” The Portuguese are great sailors. 

And it is the imagery of sailing that the church uses to call its clergy “Rectors”. The one who sets things straight. We set the course straight into a particular degree but obviously must amend the course due to the directions of the winds and the influence of the currents, and allowing for the raging of waves in the midst of a storm.

Just like life! It is impossible to sail a perfect and true due west, east, north, or south. Mid course corrections are the stuff out of which we navigate our way throughout the exigencies of life, because God writes straight with crooked lines.

The day of the lord is upon us right now, as the day’s Epistle puts it. What we do with our lives now determines where we will be miles and years from now. The day of the lord is fast approaching. In every breathing moment of life the decisions we make matter.  The day of the Lord is upon us.

So what comes first repentance or forgiveness? It’s a false dichotomy really. The two clap their hands together, for the one is the flip side of the other.

Repent because you are forgiven. You are forgiven because you repent. May your life shine with the Glory of God’s love!

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.