Saturday, January 25, 2014

Gone Fishing!

Gone Fishing!

Simon Peter and Andrew, his brother, cast their nets into the sea one day as they did every day, but this day was different. James and John the sons of Zebedee, were in their boats mending their nets as they often did just as a matter of routine, but this day was different. On this day Jesus said “Follow me”. They put down their nets, they left their boat and their father immediately. The why’s and how’s of this immediacy are lost to us now but there was something about their encounter with Jesus that leant an immediacy to Jesus’ call to follow.

It is a matter of urgency that we listen and respond to that call just as the disciples did. It is on the masthead of all of our Diocesan printed matter; “Answering God’s urgent call”. This is no casual call. This is a matter of life and death; not just our own but of the life and death of the whole world.

It was for the sake of the world that Jesus came to us. We know the words by heart, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16). This is a matter of life and death.

How appropriate that it is in this biblical context that we come to this congregation’s Annual Meeting. For it is on this day that you and I are called to answer God’s urgent invitation; “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men, women and children.”

Gone fishing! What more fun is there for anybody than to go fishing. Not that I’m into fishing but I can see why there are those who love the sport. It is relaxing. It is beautiful. We are surrounded by God’s beauty, invigorated by the bracing refreshment of the winds, and lulled to peace by the call of the gulls. Just now at this particular time of year, those images might be a bitt too invigorating and much too chilling, and no doubt startled at how those gulls set themselves in those fish freezing waves, as it it were just another day. 

But Jesus tells us that real life is like taking time off to go fishing. In our baptism the refreshment of the waters of life bathe us in a whole new way of living. Who wouldn’t want to follow such a one as this immediately. His whole life is dedicated to forgiveness, love and reconciliation. What a way to live! Who wouldn’t want to live this way? It is as if we were invited to wait patiently until someone comes to us, attracted by the peace and joy that is obvious in our lives. People are drawn to the Christ within us. They ask us about God. We then share and learn together of this new and abundant life.

When we compare that with the greed, the violence, and the addictive self absorption with which much of the world lives, who wouldn’t want to live in the way that leads to eternal life?

There is a movie called the “Wolf of Wall Street”. It is directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Leonardo DiCaprio. I heard a discussion about the movie on NPR’s “On Point” with Ed Ashbrook, the show’s broadcaster; one of the more intelligent conversationalists I know. I love listening to all the issues that come up about politics, economics, technology and culture. The issues Ed Ashbrook explores are always matters of immediacy, urgency and controversy. But the conversations are always enlightening as those participating make serious efforts in exploring many facets of the great issues facing us.

This movie; “The Wolf of Wall Street” explores the story of one especially intense trader whose appetite for greed, sex, and cocaine are a matter of legend. The misuse of funds leads to many clients losing their millions, as the traders pocket their ill gotten gain. The whole culture of Wall Street and banking excess led to the collapse in 2008, not just of the American economy, but much of the economy of the world.

When it comes to sin, this movie takes the idea to a whole new level. Many commentators complain that the moral ambiguity presented in the movie suggests that this example of art is itself a glorification of evil in many forms. Even animal rights groups are up in arms about the movie because of the harmful way in which a chimpanzee was forced to “act”. 

So then what of this idea of discipleship? What of God’s urgent call? What of this immediacy? How shall we challenge the world’s greed? It’s violence? It’s dangerous flirtation with drugs, sex, and all its other addictive behaviors?

Sin is so seductive. I was young once, and I’m still not too old to look. But I know a dead end road when I see one. I know where addiction to greed and all the other sins leads. It leads to death. 

It is interesting that Jesus begins with a routine, everyday, hum drum life profession like fishing. Jesus greets them with something far more interesting, let’s go fishing for folk. 

He calls out to a tax collector. “You know, Matthew, everybody hates you. You are the essence of greed and corruption. Is that the way you want to lead your life?” 

The woman at the well; “Yes, dear one I know you have had seven husbands and the one you have now is not your husband. Is this the way you want to live your life? Hated and despised by all except during those transient and meaningless interludes?”

For all sorts and conditions in life Jesus issues an urgent call. “Is this really the way you want to live?” If you do it will take its toll not just on you and those you love, it will ultimately be the undoing of whole world. The way you are living leads ultimately to the dread of a very dead end indeed.

In contrast Jesus calls us urgently toward his baptism and toward our own. Let’s try a whole new way of life; one based on bringing ourselves and others to the knowledge and love of God and of the God’s people. Lets do so with all our hearts, our minds, strength and our souls. Let really make this fishing expedition one of the great achievements of humankind.

Let’s call this the Church. Let us put on earth a gathering of people who live for the sake of the world, just as Jesus did. Let us organize our lives around the needs of the people; our needs as well as the needs of others. You will notice that in today’s Gospel Jesus teaches and heals. So too shall we teach and become a healing presence for our gathered people and the communities in which we find ourselves placed.

Let’s build these churches. Let s become more visible, more inviting, more skilled in greeting and incorporating people into God’s communion. We are not so much interested in making people members of our church, as we are interested in making people members of Christ and members of one another in the body of Christ.

And let’s go fishing every day of our lives. There is nothing boring about being alive; not when we are fully alive! Not when we realize that our fundamental urgent call is to respond to God’s invitation to share with one another the story of what it means to encounter the living Christ in our lives.

Jesus is always here; loving us, forgiving us and reconciling us. This is a life long effort that requires our very best efforts; namely to be Jesus to one another; always loving, forgiving, and reconciling one another.

It is he who begins his sermons; “Blessed are you...”

In every report for this annual meeting, we document the work of God by the people of God on behalf of the servant ministry of this church. There are many programs and organizations dedicated to the work of the church. We teach and heal those in needs of learning and healing. We tend to the household of God; its program, property, and finances.

“Blessed are you...” because you are not far from the kingdom of God, and this is so because you have dedicated yourselves to the love and the care of God’s house and God’s people. The stirring words of today’s psalm speak well of our hearts desire as we love and care for this place and these people; 

One thing have I asked of the LORD;
one thing I seek; *
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days
of my life;
To behold the fair beauty of the LORD *
and to seek him in his temple.
~Psalm 27:5,6

So, let’s go fishing.

Fr Paul.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Image of God

The Image of God

Christ is my constant companion. 
So are the people of God
And the people without God

That's why I love God.
Something within calls me to 

It is a never ending cycle.

It is not so much that I believe in God
It is that God believes in me.

There are many to love
The poor
The outcast
The sick
The lame
Gay folks
Endless love

This is my image of God
In the people God wants me to

Why do I love God?
Why do I love God's people?

It is the greatest joy of life to love God
And to love God's people

How do I know there is a God?
Deep in my heart, I know

God is not "up there"
God is "in here"

In the truth that comes through

In the journey deep within
I discover my heart of hearts

I discover God's heart within me
Asking me to look at you with

It is all that is true,
All that is noble
All that is pure
All that is holy

This is the Image of God

Fr Paul

Sunday, January 12, 2014

God and a Dog

God and the Animals

Paul and Valerie lost Libby, their 11 year old dog this morning. They are very sad. They have no children and those of you who know and love your animals and pets know how devastating it is to loose one of God's creatures. I remembered how I felt when my dog Major died when I was a boy so it became important for me to remember stories that would help our hearts.

There is, of course, the wonderful story of creation where God created "the swarms of living creatures; the birds that fly above and all those that move upon the earth and all the the fish in the sea" ~Genesis 1

I remembered the time God saved Noah and the animals, and what a very important place the animals play in God's salvation plan. ~Genesis, Chapters 6-8

And then I remembered the time of the Savior's birth, the animals gathered at the Manger to help keep the baby and the Holy Family warm.

Here then is a prayer for Libby.

We thank you Jesus for all those we love in our families and among our friends. We especially thank you for the animals that gladden our hearts; our cats and dogs and for our friend Libby who has given us so much happiness.
Give her a home with the Angels we pray. As you loved the animals at the creation, as you saved them in the ark, as they kept you warm in the manger, so now enfold all those we love with the love that never ends in the power of Jesus Christ we pray.
I wrote this prayer for our kitty Cleo just last year. She was a wonderful hunter. She proudly laid her trophies at the doorstep of rectories where we lived in Methuen, Massachusetts and Saint Albans, West Virginia. There was one unforgettable day when she brought a chipmunk home to play with inside. The ensuing commotion was impressive! And then when we lived in Salem and in Lynn Massachusetts, she retired from her labors and then in Douglassville, Pennsylvania, she was gathered to her ancestors. 
For me it is yet another timely achievement that my church (The Episcopal Church) has developed rites and liturgies for the care of the Animals. Contrary to the rather dismissive and uncharitable way in which Jay Akasie characterized the work of the Episcopal Church in his scathing attack on us in the Wall Street Journal, I love the animals. I love Cleo. I love Libby. And I believe that the One who created them, saved them, and enjoyed their warmth at His birth, loves them too.
Fr. Paul

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Jesus and Justice

Jesus and Justice

From today’s first lesson and from the first of the Servant Songs of the Prophet Isaiah, we read these words;
“Here is my servant whom I uphold”
“He will bring forth justice upon the earth.”

We are a long way from Justice. Has Jesus failed? Or more to the point, have we failed Jesus? 

Let me begin with this question; where is the justice for our young people? It breaks my heart to see inner city youth live hopeless lives; lives in which crime and drugs take hold, where violence takes too many beautiful, vibrant, youthful lives. Whether in nearby Lawrence or Boston, or where it really gets bad in Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit or in the nation’s capital; it is far too common to see our young people live lives diminished by despair. I worked for 11 years in West Virginia and know of so many rural young who are also without jobs, where crime and drugs again get into the driver’s seat and take out too many.

Parenthetically, I might add that in West Virginia today over 300,000 people are without water because of a chemical spill. Just Monday, Governor Tomblin said he is not going to allow the EPA to interfere with the coal or the chemical industry. There was a time when Government existed to protect the public safety. Now too often it joins in on the injustices.

There are too few meaningful jobs for the American people, young and otherwise. Manufacturing jobs that were born in the north, first went south and then went overseas. And with them went decent and livable wages. 

For those of us in more comfortable neighborhoods, we too need to have our wits about us to insure that our vocational job prospects remain bright. Meaningful work is no longer “a gimme”. It takes lots of expensive education, hard work, and resourcefulness to make our way in today’s world.

Where is the justice for our elderly, our children, and for the vast majority of the American people for whom income disparity is increasingly widening?

When I was growing up, admittedly a long time ago, one income typically provided for a family: a roof over our heads, food on the table, a car or two in the garage, health insurance, pension, and a paid vacation. That was all standard fare for the vast majority of the American middle class.

All that has now changed. The American Dream no longer exists for so many of our people and it is becoming more and more difficult to keep a decent standard of living for many of our fellow citizens.

Where is the justice? What too for the rest of the world? The disparity between the “haves” and the “have nots” continues to grow and with it the unrest, the development of terrorism, and regional warfare.

It was into this very world that Jesus was born to bring peace on earth and good will to all. At Epiphany those wise enough to recognize who he was brought their gifts to him. They came far from the East and it was thus that God’s Good News would reach to the ends of the earth. 

Today we celebrate his baptism. He was not baptized because he needed to repent but so that he could bring the Good News of the Gospel to all. We are told in today’s Gospel reading that this pleased God. And God asked us to listen to him and go do likewise. 

From the outset he proclaimed a message of Justice. Right there in his home town synagogue, he read from the Prophet Isaiah, the first of the most beautiful and poetic of the Servant Songs; “I have come to bring good news to the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the blind, the lame, the weak to proclaim the year of God’s favor.” (para Luke 4:18)

Jesus developed his Gospel message in the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek, the peacemakers, those who thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers as well as those who are persecuted for righteous sake.” (para Matthew 5)

Christmas, Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus are great days in the church year. The birth of the baby, his manifestation to the outside world and now his baptism; where is all this leading us toward?

Why did Jesus need to be baptized? John the Baptist said; “I need to be Baptized by you and do you come to me?” As usual Jesus likes to turn things upside down. When he came up out of the water we’re told that the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended upon them.

Jesus was born and baptized for a reason. And you and I were born for a reason; to bring Good News to the poor and so on. In my younger days, I took a bus load of young people to the Holy Land on two separate occasions. I’ve taken young people to the National Cathedral in Washington DC or to St John The Divine in NYC. Just last summer I took a bunch of kids to France for a Pilgrimage. I was baptized for a purpose, and so were we all. We’re here to bring Good News to the poor, the young, the elderly and to all who are vulnerable in the machinations of a difficult and challenging world.

We have been Baptized to open wide our hearts to those growing up in an uncertain world. Jesus himself said it of his baptism, I have come to bring you life in all of its abundance. (John 10:10).

The church has been there for many poor and vulnerable with her soup kitchens, food pantries, homeless shelters, recovery groups, pre schools and so on.  But the church must not make peace with oppression of any sort.

In our baptismal covenant we are called to respect the dignity of every human being. We are therefore called to look out for and speak up about those in need among our young, our elderly, and all those who are vulnerable in the social order.

Where then is the justice? It is in our hands becoming the hands of Jesus. 
As Theresa of Avila, the 16th Century mystic, reformer, and Carmelite nun put it; 

Christ Has No Body

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with 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 but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
~Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)
           Born in Spain, Teresa entered a Carmelite convent when she was eighteen, and later earned a reputation as a mystic, reformer, and writer who experienced divine visions. She founded a convent, and wrote the book The Way of Perfection for her nuns. Other important books by her include her Autobiography and The Interior Castle.

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

Fr Paul

Saturday, January 04, 2014

God's Dwelling Place

God’s Dwelling Place

Christmas is a way of life, not just a date on the calendar, or a season of twelve days duration. Christmas marks that moment in sacred history where God makes Love flesh and blood in human form. He was born to Mary and his name was “Jesus”, which means literally, “Savior”. He grew and waxed strong in the ways of God. 
The Incarnation or the making flesh of God in this Holy Child is a threat to the Powers and Principalities. In today’s Gospel we’re told that an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said “Take the child and his mother and flee into Egypt and do not return until I tell you.” This was to avoid the slaughter of the Innocents which is told to us in the intervening verses not included in today’s Gospel reading. Yes, Herod ordered the wholesale slaughter of all male children under two years of age, when he realized that the Wise Men had tricked him and did not tell him where this “King” was born. How often the Powers and Principalities visit human cruelty upon the Innocents. 

This was also to fulfill yet another prophecy from the Book of the Prophet Hosea in the first verse of the eleventh chapter; “When Israel was I child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” This word “Israel” literally is a reference to the patriarch Jacob and those who followed him, called together to serve God throughout sacred history. The word Israel literally means “the one who struggles with God or who prevails in the struggle with God”. 
So we come to Twelfth Night, the conclusion of the season of Christmas and prepare for Epiphany or that season where we make manifest the Love of God to the whole world. This is why the Kings from the East come to worship him and bring their gifts to the Christ Child, so that the whole world might see him.
How many gifts are given at Christmas. Lots and lots of gifts. Yet, we, the church are not so much focused on the kinds of gifts a commercialized and consumer driven economy buys into. 
The kinds of gifts we focus on are of course the gift of the Child who was not only born for us, but also died for us and then rose again in a glorious resurrection for the sake of all sinners in all the world.
The gifts we are given are forgiveness, reconciliation, love and eternal life. These great words are a challenge to us to live in a way that makes manifest the wondrous gifts of God. Forgiveness work, reconciliation work and love work are life long gifts that require all our hearts and minds and souls and strength in order to “enflesh” the Word of God. Together these gifts lead us unto eternal life both now and in the world to come.

We are in fact Baptized into these gifts. In Pauline theology it is said that we die to the old way of living, for as in Adam all is death, so too we are born anew to the living power of Jesus the Christ until all sin and all death is conquered.
Thus the church is born, that wonderful and sacred mystery in which all of us are included and invited to participate. And that’s the Christmas we are invited into this year and every year, and in every day of our lives.
We are invited every single week to these holy places. It is a joy to be here. For as the Psalmist says; 
“How dear to me is your dwelling, My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God. For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, *and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.”
~Psalm 84

This is where I am reminded how to live. This is where Jesus fills us as Paul says with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Here I learn to order my life biblically, as for instance the Prophet Jeremiah reminds us to live in today’s first reading;
"Save, O LORD, your people,
the remnant of Israel."
See, I am going to gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame, those with child and
those in labor, together;
a great company, they shall return here.
With weeping they shall come,
Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
~Jeremiah 31
You see how wonderful this biblical life is when lived faithfully. 

So then whether it is the gift of the life of Jesus, the gift of the holy writings, or the gift of the church itself, we have been lavished with the great generosity of God and God’s people through the generations. We are called to be a sign of hope to those in need and to make no distinction based on race, ethnicity, class, gender or even orientation. For we are all one in Jesus Christ our Lord as Blessed Paul the Apostle often says.

That brings us to this new day, this new calendar year, and this beautiful church in this particular time and place. As your bridge priest I must tell you that this generosity encourages us to be generous likewise and to make provision for the church in our day and in the days and years to come.

Therefore I ask you to pray about your generosity and to speak to your loved ones about your love for this place, where we learn so much and where God’s life is made flesh and blood not only in Jesus but in the lives of the people who love Jesus in and from this place.

Yes, I ask you to pray about this. Throughout our lives, Cindy and I have looked at each other and had that conversation. What would it take for us to give 10% of our income to the church. It would take a lot. So we ask ourselves, what can we give practically speaking in our efforts to work our way toward the biblical standard of giving. Can we give 5%, 6%, 7%? and so on as we move our way toward obedience to make provision for God’s Church?

This is God’s work and God’s work is worth doing well. This is Christmas. These are the gifts of God for the people of God. And we return to God of the generosity God has given to us. We give of our time, our talent, we give of our wealth or our poverty...and we give generously and cheerfully.

This is a good church. You are a good people. You are quite the viable congregation and, by rights, you should unquestionably be a full time ministry with a full time priest.

That is why at this point, I would like to ask you to pray about these things and to ponder them in your hearts, because this is Christmas. Christmas is a good way to live. This is the way to live into the eternal life Jesus was born to live, so that we too may live that way. 

There you are my friends; a few thoughts to ponder and to pray about as we greet this new year together.

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

Fr Paul