Sunday, November 16, 2014

Home to the Heart of God

On Sunday November 16, I provided supply coverage at St. Peter's Church in Beverly. The Gospel for the Day was the Gospel of the Talents. Here are some thoughts on the parable. Beverly, MA was also a place I knew well. It was my dad's home. My grandparents and great grandparents also come from this Northshore town. 

Home to the Heart of God

It is a lot like coming home to be at St Peter's Church and preside at the altar here and preach from this pulpit. My dad grew up right around the corner here on Butman street. My grandfather Bill Bresnahan worked for years at the Shoe which we now know as The Cummings Center. My great grandparents lived on Bisson Street and I take my middle name from them: Mr & Mrs William Bisson. In our family tree, names like the Gallops and the Tarletons are all a part of our genetic history. And they all came from Beverly.

I am home again here if only for this particular Sunday. I’ve been serving as a “bridge priest” at St Paul’s Church in North Andover during the past 10 months or so and then Cindy and I took some time off to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary. We went out west to see family and some marvelous sites; Mount Rushmore, The Badlands, The Black Hills, and Devil’s Tower. And then we drove for miles and miles to enjoy not only some of the beauty our nation, but of being together all these years. And next Sunday I begin service again as a part time interim priest at a church on Cape Cod. I love being semi retired.

Being at home means something special to me. God has sent me to places like Ohio, West Virginia, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania and we did our best to make these places our home, but it was not until we came back to Eastern Massachusetts that we really felt that we were back home again. We live in Lynn now just off Lynn Shore Drive and most evenings I will walk along the shore and watch, and listen and smell the sweet salt air of the sea. Now that’s home to me. 

It is interesting that St Augustine was fond of saying that “our hearts are restless until they come to rest in You, O God”. As I walk the shore of the sea I find myself coming to rest in God. I’ve watched the sea in all her moods and moody she is much like us.  All the way from her perfect pacific self on a sunny summer’s day to her raging, swirling tempestuous self in the midst of a nor’easter. I’ve seen her on moonlit sparkling nights and and also shrouded in the mystery of fog when she paints herself like an impressionist would in a melancholy mood.

I find myself walking down by the sea perfectly at home with myself and my God. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t stir up the pot from time to time, when I speak up for the poor and the meek, and the outcast, the brokenhearted and those persecuted for righteousness sake because that is exactly what Jesus did.

In fact my heart comes to rest in the Holy Scripture. The Collect of the Day tells us that God has caused all holy writings to be written for our learning, and further asks “that we may read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them”.

My dear friend Bernie Maguire is an Episcopal Priest in Pennsylvania and he has always kept dogs out of his love for animals. He once had a high strung Irish Setter who on the eve of this very Sunday ate Fr. Bernard’s copy of the Book of Common Prayer. Apparently the dog was a literalist in that he did indeed come to inwardly digest his owner’s copy of the Holy Writ. 

I have read the Holy Writings from our traditions and others. I have read the Holy Koran. I have read the Law of Moses. And while there is much to disquiet the soul in these writings there is much also that brings the spirit to rest.

Particularly as I read the Gospels. The very words of Jesus again and again resonate within my soul and speak authoritatively to me even if I do not always fully understand them. I know that they stand true and withstand the test of time.

And then comes today’s Gospel. How could I come to rest with such words as these? It appears here that God is building into our lives a good deal of accountability. The landowner entrusts his slaves a very large amount of money. One talent is worth 80 pounds of silver. If you weigh that up and give the equivalent to us, we’re talking about $300,000 US. That’s a whole lot of money. But note that in the Gospel these folks are called slaves not rich folks. Note that they “trade” with what is given them and much more is earned to give back when the landowner returns. 

We know that the business of the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few is an ethical matter for scripture and for ourselves. In next week’s Gospel we will read that when Jesus comes to judge the nations he will separate the sheep from the goats. He will welcome the sheep at his right hand into the kingdom prepared for them from the beginning of time because when he was hungry we fed him. When thirsty he was given something to drink. When he was sick or in prison we visited him. And he will say; “Insofar as you have done it to one of the least of these, you have done it to me. But as for the goats on his left hand, these are the ones who looked the other way when there was poverty, hunger, thirst, imprisonment and sickness. These will be sent to the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This parable gives us a clue as to the meaning of the parable that is before us today. Both speak of the end times not just in the sense of where we go when we are dead. There is another sense in which the word “end” refers to the “purpose” of our lives.

So then if we are given large sums of money to work with; or lets say when we are given more than 15 years worth of wages, we are given time to live in accordance with God’s will. You have the time and the wherewithal to trade in God’s economy. You can feed the hungry, give something to those who are thirsty, visit and sick and the imprisoned and so on.

In point of fact you can organize your life around the needs of human beings for the satisfaction of our hunger not just to satisfy our physical wants but also to satisfy our deeper yearnings for justice.

When the church is at its healthiest it organizes its life around human need and justice issues.
If we look at the history of the development of Celtic Christianity in Britain for instance we’ll notice that the religious communities of the day were built around human need.
Is somebody here sick or dying? Bring them to us and we’ll tend to them.
Are you hungry? Come here and we’ll feed you.
Are your children in need of a good education? Or do your farmers need help and instruction in the proper cultivation of crops. Come to us we are among the finest scholars in Europe. 
Are you depressed and is your soul downcast within you? Come to us and we’ll cheer you with good company and conviviality. 
And does your soul long for something more? Are you unsure of your purpose in life? Come here and we’ll give you a purpose in life. We’ll Baptize you in the Name of God the Creator, Jesus the Savior, and The Holy Spirit, the gift giver and the Holy Wisdom from on High.

God has given to each and every one of you hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of life, not cash. God wants you and me to multiply God’s work on earth so that the Forgiveness with which he forgave you becomes the Forgiveness with which we forgive one another. God’s work is to be Reconciled to God and then to multiply that Reconciliation among all our life’s enemies until God’s reign on earth is established on earth as it is in heaven. God’s work is to be Loved as God loves us and then for us to love one another until the earth is filled with the Glory of God as the waters cover the sea. 

We have been given a fortune with which to trade in God’s stock and trade. And that is what brings me home again and to peace within the heart of God. That is the only place where I can come to rest, squarely in the heart of God. That is why this Gospel and all of the Gospels and the Person of Jesus is that peace which passes all understanding.

This is precisely what Paul had in mind when he wrote this sacred text for us in today’s Epistle. “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.”

It is good for us to be home together today in the heart of God. As we come to this Altar Rail today, let that peace settle within you…and let us be resolved to be forgiven as we forgive, to be reconciled as we reconcile, to be loved as we seek to love. There is no greater peace than that!

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

Fr Paul.

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