Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Gaudate Sunday! Rejoice!

Rejoice, Rejoice Believers!

Good morning class, it is "Gaudete" Sunday. The word "Gaudeo" in Latin means "Rejoice". No doubt you noticed that we lit the Rose Candle on the Advent Wreath today. That's becuase we blend the white color of joy and expectation with the penetential purple color of preparation. This Rose Candle is the candle of "Gaudete Sunday". We celebrate the cardinal feast of the Third Sunday in Advent because of the nearness of the Holy Child of Bethlehem.

By the way, Rose vestments were permitted to be worn this day in the church year; one of only two Sundays in the Church year when the color Rose is used. The other Sunday is "Laetare" Sunday. The word "Laetare" means as in the introit psalm for that Sunday"O be Joyful O Jerusalem". We celebrate that cardinal feast on the Fourth Sunday in Lent  again because of the nearness of Christ's death and resurrection in Holy Week and Easter.

The scripture calls on us to "Rejoice" this day. The prophet Zephaniah calls out to "Rejoice with all your heart O Daughter of Jerusalem." He goes on to say "The Lord is in your midst." 

In Philippians we read "Rejoice in the Lord always" and "The Lord is near". 

John the Baptist recognized the innate sinful nature of the human condition; he greets those following him with the words; "You brood of vipers!" He seems to have gotten up on the wrong side of bed that day except that he knew that those who had two coats were not predisposed to share with those who had none. He also knew that tax collectors tended to exploit their position in life by taking advantage of their power and taking in more than the just amount owed from the tax payer. Sound familiar? Likewise extorion from soldiers was not unusual, and on it went and when asked what was necessary for them all to repent, John merely said, do the right thing; share what you have with others, collect only what is owed to you, and be done with extortion and be content with your wages. He concluded the passage with the Gospel proclamation, and a joyful one it was, that the one to come after him would baptize us not just with water but with the Holy Spirit and with Fire. Rejoice then in the proclamation of the Gospel. Listen to it and proclaim it in your lives!

These are the words of the Introit Psalm of Gaudete Sunday in ancient times. "Rejoice in the Lord always" and "The Lord is near". 

You meay notice that this joy comes to us at a dark time of year. Its not the shortness of the days that produces this darkness alone, but there are some dreadful events near and far away that reflect a dark dimension of the human spirit. The shootings in San Bernadino and Colorado among them. Good heavens there's even the business of a runaway train on the T. And much more darkness beside of allsorts.

It is in the midst of this very darkness that we light this beautiful Rose candle and pray the Collect of the Day "Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great power come among us, and because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us".

Sorely hindered by so many sins indeed. So much violence, so much hatred. So little love. Or so it seems. Particularly so when we spend too much time glued in to the media and fix our gaze on the chronicle of the sins of humankind, its violence and its hatred.

Gaudete Sunday stands in stark contrast to all this sin. "Stir up Your Power". Yes, "because we are sorely hindered by our sins". "Stir up your power and come among us." This is precisely the promise of Gaudete Sunday. We have the promise of the nearness of God. In just a few short days we will celebrate the Birth of the Holy Child in the Manger. 

If we were to read our history books, we would notice that this is by no means the darkest of times. And if we read our Sacred History we may remember how heroicly our ancestors in faith faced the darkness with amazing transformational courage.

Take Dame Julian of Norwich for instance. Not a household name perhaps but familiar to all who study the history of Christian Spirituality in any depth. Dame Julian was born on November 8, 1342 and died in 1416AD. She was an anchoress. which is to  say, she separated herself from secular society, not as a hermit, but as one set aside in a small cell at the church in Norwich, England. She devoted herself to prayer and Eucharistic life and made herself available to folks who would seek her out for spiritual guidance and counsel, through a small window in her enclosure.

She was sought out by many because the times in which she lived were not just dark times but catatrostophic. The Black Death and the Peasant Revolts were the scourge of contemporary life for her and her beloved people. Contemporary theology was legalistic and judgmental. But Julian saw God as loving and compassionate and seeking the salvation of all. She was accused of believing in universal salvation. She believed that behind the reality of hell there was the greater mystery of God's love. She saw the universe resting in God's hands as it were a hazel nut, beloved of God, and that each soul within was the beloved of God. 

She is believed to be the first woman to have written a book in the English language. "Revelations of Divine Love" is a masterpiece of midaeval mysticism and I commend it to you for reading.

There is an expression she used with quiet confidence to all who came to her, in whatever state of anxiety, fear, depression, guilt or despair. She very quietly assured all who came to her; "All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well". 

Nowadays we might say; "Keep calm and carry on." 

But it is the same message.  Our times may seem like dark times but when compared to the times in which Dame Julian lived and so many others, we certainly can rise to the occasion. 

Particularly so in our spirituality. We are called to Rejoice. More than that we are called to recognize the nearness of Jesus within our hearts and in the hearts of those around us. 

And so; "Stir up your power O God and come among us, and because we are sorely hindered by our sins come speedily with your Grace and Power."

In the Name of the Holy, Blessed and Undivided Trinity. Amen

Fr Paul

Monday, December 14, 2015

Terrorism & Jesus

Listening to Jesus in a Time or Terror!

Good morning folks. It has been one year exactly since I came to serve here in your midst. Thank you so much. You are such a joy to be with. There have been sorrows too, mind you. There have been a few trials and tribulations, but most of all, we live and move and have our being under the most gracious rule of Christ our King. Which brings us to this day; this moment.

Imagine a world brought together under the most gracious rule of Jesus. Imagine a world filled with the Peace that passses all understanding which only King Jesus can bring.

God knows I've never quite fully seen evidence of either the Kingship of Jesus or the Peace that passes understanding in the present time.

In my own lifetime for instance, memory begins with the death of my father, the threat of Communism and McCarthyism, the Korean War, Brinksmanship in a Nuclear Age, The Vietnam War, urban guerilla warfare in Belfast, the struggles against Aparteid in South Africa, and of course the Arab/Israeli conflict in the powderkeg we know of as the Middle East. Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran are houshold words now; and terror strikes on 9/11 here, over the Sainai Peninsula a Soviet jet explodes, scores die in Beirut, and in Paris, hundreds more die, and now Mali! And on and on and on it goes.  

The most gracious rule of Christ the King and the Peace that Passes all understanding? How does that square with the reality we live with day in day out?

Terror strikes and fear is the first to seize the hearts. Just as Mary and the Shepherds were seized with Terror at the enormity of it all so many years ago. They like us, were afraid.
But the first message of the Angels at the Advent of Christ is "Fear not!"
The message is the same at his death and resurrection; "Fear not!"

Take heart and be of good courage. As the French would say "encourage" literally, "take heart". The French word for "heart", you see,  is "couer". 

So how shall we come to terms with the Reign of Christ or understand the Peace that passes all understanding?

It will take more than courage. It will also require intelligence.

It is so easy to retreat into fear, God knows I can. It is so easy to give in to the rage that drives us to reprisal. And again we fall back into that tiresome ethic; "an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth" and the whole world becomes bind and toothless. Sigh!

But what did King Jesus say?
"Blessed are the poor and those who mourn."
         "Blessed are the peacemakers and those who are persecuted for
         righteousness sake." 
         And most maddening of all, he says; "Love your enemies!"

In our public, private, and religious life, it seems to me that very little credence is given to King Jesus and the more we live into the Presence of our history, the Peace that passes understanding seems further and further away from our grasp than ever. Instead we are surrounded by acts of terror and reprisal and I, like you, am tempted to throw up my hands in exasperation as we ask ourselves; "How does a Christian live in a world like this?"

Before I give in to total capitulation, allow me to suggest that we return again to Jesus, as we struggle to come to terms with that question. 

"Love your enemies."

OK King Jesus, show me how to do that!

As I prayed thus this week in this dark and dangerous world, I heard an interesting little factoid on NPR (National Public Radio) that floored me. 

In Afghanistan, the government pays it soldiers about $400 per month to serve in the army and in its security forces. They are paid sporadically, if at all, they are poorly trained and equipped; and often even have to pay for their own ammunition and provide for their own weapons.

On the other hand ISIS or DAESH or whatever these wish to be called, pay their soldiers about $700 a month. They pay like clockwork, train and equip their recruits very well with state of the art Kolesnikovs and ammunition, hand grenades, suicide vests and so on. They train the children from the age of 7 and teach them about Jihad and killing in the name of Allah so that a glorious Caliphate will be established around the world. A Caliphate, by the way is ruled by the successor to Mohamed. They begin by killing all other Muslims.

Compare and contrast such a rule with the Kingship of Christ!

It was an eyepopping education for me to watch a special edition of Frontline on Wednesday evening. Somehow an Afghan reporter was able to get inside the world of ISIS/DAESH culture and learn how its done.

Imagine yourself young and afraid in a war torn world looking for a way to provide for your family. To whom will you turn? $400 on this hand working for the government? $700 on the other hand working for Allah in the glorious Jihad to establish a Caliphate to restore the rule of Mohamed to the earth.

If we are to learn how to love our enemies, we'd first need get to know them better. In the world of "Realpolitik", a German word indicating the realistic art of political diplomacy, we begin with an intelligent approach to the complexities of our international situation. We will need to have some very skillful and intelligent leadership to engineer our way through this dangerous time in our history. In a democracy, that requires a well educated and intelligent public.

In the meantime we live on in this world; a very real world indeed. As our national political life heats up in yet another electoral season, the world is ablaze with a struggle of a very complex sort. May I suggest that we all educate ourselves in the coming months so that we may cast our ballots wisely. Watching Frontline, for instance, which you can do from any PBS (Public Broadcasting System) website may be a beginning. But remember, intelligence requires study and homework.  Our Civilization and our way of life is under attack. By the way, so is the vast majority of Islam. This tiny sliver of the Islamic world is, in no way representative of how most folks around the world serve and worship Allah. As we respond to the very real threat of ISIS/DAESH, we must be careful not to paint too broad a stroke as we respond to this very real threat. We the people must educate ourselves and be smart about it. 

The danger for Holy War and for yet another series of Crusades is real. It was not the point of Jesus to establish a Kingdom on Earth or for us to wage war in his Name. Rather, it is clear to the careful reader of Scripture that the rule of Jesus begins in our hearts. Jesus told Pilate in today's Gospel that his Kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom is of the human heart. It is within each human heart that the Reign of Christ is to be established. It is only here that Peace can take root even if it is a Peace that passes all understanding. The careful reader of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Holy Koran will come to very similar conclusions.

All the Holy Writings require that we greet one another in Peace. 
It is the traditional greeting of Christians; Peace be with you.
It is the traditional greeting of Jews; Shalom.
It is the traditional greeting of Muslims; As-salam alaykum.
It is the ancient greeting of all three Abrahamic religions to the dwellers on earth and in Paradise. "Peace be with you."

We crown the Christian Year now with a celebration of the Reign of Christ in our hearts. As I read the history books and as I read the papers, the greatest challenge of my life is to enthrone Jesus in my heart. And for us here at St John's, we do something as simple as fill out our pledge cards to demonstate that Christ is King in our Hearts and that His Peace remains firmly rooted within us. 

In the Name of the Holy, Blessed and Undivided Trinity. Amen

Fr Paul

Monday, November 02, 2015

Do You Love God? A Stewardship Sermon

Do You Love God?
A Stewardship Sermon

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, in the faraway land of Toronto, I was in High School, and my mother, God rest her soul, arranged for me to have a job in the local dry cleaner. I worked after school and on Saturday mornings. I made the princely sum of $12 per week for my labors and spoke one day to Fr. Fred, my priest, with some pride about the fruit of my labors.

His response surprised me. He said; "Do you love God?"
"Of course, you know I do."
"Then," he said, "you must give God 10% of your income."
"Excuse me!" I was, I admit a bit miffed at him.
"Yes," he insisted, "if you really love God, you must give him 10% of everything you earn. I didn't make up the rules, I'm merely telling you what the scripture says. 
"What of the widow's mite?" I replied, becoming a bit argumentative; not surprisingly. After all, he was becoming a bit intrusive into what I considered my privacy.
"If you read that story carefully," he said with a perfect calm, "you will notice, her gift was not a tithe, it was 100% of everything she had."

It was then that I began the long journey toward tithing. And I'm not quite there yet, Fr. Fred. And it was you told me then. It was and is because I love God.

We come today to All Saints Day and to the launch of our annual Stewardship Drive. 

Let me begin with our sainthood. In my experience of you since I began my time here on November 22 of last year, I have seen your sainthood. 

This is not to say that there is always perfect harmony within or among you, but I can tell you that you all care deeply about this church each in your own way. Sometimes your efforts are complementary to one another. Other times, there may be a rub against a somewhat jagged edge of personality. In seminary, we named the phenomenon "warm fuzzies" for those times when we hit it off just right, and "cold pricklies" for those times when we bristled against one another over one issue or another.

As to your sainthood. Let me share what I shared with the vesty on Thursday night; "You are like a diadem or a fine crystal. As we hold one another up to the Light of God, we will see refracted from it the glory of every color of the rainbow, as we might see in the dazzling complexity of a kaleidoscope." 

This is who you are. When I sing a song of the saints of God, I am singing of you. Again, this is not to say that you are perfect. God knows, I'm nowhere near trying to say that about you or me. But, as an old friend of mine used to say of the mission of the church; "We are not so much here to make good people better as we are to make real people holy". Or as a fine old priest used to put it; "If God is to make a Saint, God has to begin with a sinner. If that's the case, there's no better place to begin than with me." You are all an amazing collection of characters. There are those who will say the same of me.

But one thing I do know is that we all love God.

The Gospel for the day gives us a snapshot of Jesus and his power over sin and death. In one of the most moving moments of scripture, we read the shortest sentence in the entire Bible. When told of his friend's death, we are told simply; "Jesus wept." Then still deeply disturbed at the loss of his friend, Jesus prays in gratitude to God that this moment had come and declares; "Lazarus, come out." And out he comes still bound in the bandages of all his sins. And Jesus commands them; "Loose him and let him go!"

From the Song of Solomon the Wise we read; "The souls of the righteous are indeed in the hand of God and no torment shall ever touch them". As the saints of God, you and I are always in the hand of God. This I consider to be a perfect segway into this time of Stewardship. Stewardship is about far more than money. You can talk to Cindy if you want to talk about our family budget or about our charitable giving. She is far more practical than I am. Typically while I am praying and journaling in one corner of the room, she is checking our online banking activity in the other corner of the room. I submit to you, both activities are two sides of the same coin of our spirituality! I use the word "coin" advisedly!

Stewardship is about faith as well as funding.
Here is an example of what I mean.

Years ago when I was still a young priest and didn't really have much experience taking folks to the threshold of heaven. One day I received a phone call from the hospital in Euclid, Ohio where I was serving at the time. I was invited to come to the side of a dying woman by a physician on staff at that hospital. As it happened he was a doctor from India, and he and his family were members of the Church of Mar Thoma that is to say, The Church of St. Thomas, a church which is in full communion with the Episcopal Church. I didn't know any of this at the time. But no matter, there was a woman at death's door and I was summoned to her side. 

As I arrived at her bedside, I was introduced to the gathered members of her family. The physician explained to me that she and their father spent their whole lives seeing to it that they were well educated so that they could one day come to America and realize their dreams. Many dreams did come true, and then it all came to this moment.  They were all professionals. One, the physician who called me, there were several executives in the business world; one from IBM, there was a professor from Case Western University, there was an attorney and on it went. There we gathered. As I went to the woman's side, she gave me a glance that a priest dreads, or at least I did then. She recognized what was happening and she was seized with terror. I really didn't know what to do, but that faithful family knew what to do. They began by reading those parts of scripture she loved the most, the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount, all her favorite Psalms. Her lips moved with theirs in something akin to synchonicity. Though greatly weakened, her spirit moved in theirs and they shared the love that was in the moment. And then they sang songs to her. Songs she taught them when she dandled them on her knee when they were children. 

As the time went on, one of the children was overcome with spiritual and emotional exhaustion. He left the room and I went with him. He told me that he just couldn't take it any more. And then, my priesthood finally kicked in. I told him take to a break. "Take all the time you need. When you come back, let God be your strength. After all, you are utterly spent. But you and I both know that our strength is not from ourselves, it comes from God and God alone."  He returned with me then and there.

The moment then came for me to offer the prayers at the time of death. They are in the Book of Common Prayer on page 462. There is a beautiful Litany there and then finally these words;

Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world;
In the Name of God the Father Almighty who created you;
In the Name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you;
In the Name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you.
May your rest be this day in peace,
    and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.

The final grace of the moment was that as she drew her last breath, her eldest daughter exclaimed, as she looked up; "Look, there goes momee into heaven!"

There was then a paroxysm of grief, embraces of love, an expression of gratitude to me for being there with them to share the moment and then we went on with life.

So why would I tell you this story for the launch of our steawadship campaign? First, I wanted to share with you what I have learned of how to be there with those in extremis. Secondly, it is also because when I got home last Sunday after a good solid weekend of discharging my pastoral responsibilities, I had just put up my feet to watch the last few moments of the Patriots' game and then, by God the phone rang. A nurse told me that Eileen Kittredge was failing fast. I looked at Cindy and said, "You know we've got to go back again." And so we got into the car and made our way back to JML in Falmouth from Lynn. We didn't get back home again until quite late. It was a long day. But God gave us the strength to do was we needed to do.

Why do I tell you these stories? It is because Cindy's mom took a turn for the worse this week as well, and we had to make our way to Exeter NH and work out the particulars of her admission to hospice. It is because I went by to see Louise Velsor and visit with her. She is failing too, but it looks like it will be a while yet for her.

It is because others of us are struggling with our mortality and the mortality of those we love. It is because we are all that close to heaven all the time. Just a heartbeat, just the faintest breath next to heaven.

Cindy and her mom have used a few hasty words through this portion of her journey to heaven. And forgiveness and reconciliation have become a matter of some urgency. I told Cindy that when it came to hasty words, my mother and I were often a maelstrom of hastiness. And the business of forgiveness and reconciliation continues to be an ongoing exercise spirituality.

Which brings me back to Fr. Fred's question. "Do you love God?"
"You know I do."
It's not just 10% of our income that belongs to God, it's 100% of our whole lives that belong to God.

If I tell you my love is about my faith, Cindy will tell you her love is also about the checkbook. If its not about the money what's it about? If its not about our membership in Christ what's it about?

If its not about bringing one another to the Gate of Heaven, what's it about? If its not about recognizing that the Kingdom of Heaven is always at hand as Jesus said it was, what then is it about?

And then on my last visit with Eileen, after all the prayers, all the psalms and favorite bible readings, and just before the final commendation, I leaned over to her and sang into her ear. By the way, the hearing is the last to go so watch what you say around them; I sang in her ear; "Jesus loves me, this I know; for the bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me."

And so dear Fr. Fred question stands;
"Do you love God?"
"Yes, you know that I love God".

And now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore. Amen.

Fr Paul.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Devout Episcopalian?

A Devout Episcopalian?

Obviously, I have a blog and a website. I don't "Tweet" very much and occasionally folks contact me on Linked In. My middle son uses Instagram; he has an amazing eye for photography. But Facebook; ah, now that's my preferred social medium by a long shot. I have over 1000 "friends" there, many from congregations past and present, those who follow my sermons, social commentary, and poetry and so on. I've developed quite a following, many of whom happen to be Episcopalians.
One of my friends on Facebook refers to himself as a "devout" Episcopalian. I confess, that the first time I saw those two words placed together I was a bit taken aback especially after all we've been throuogh as a denomination. Devout Episcopalian? It almost sounds like a contradiction in terms.
Look what we've been through
  1. Civil Rights struggles. I remember when John Burgess was elected black bishop in the Episcopal Church right here in the Diocese of Massachusetts. Some of my white colleagues were somewhat uncharitable in their comments at the time even here in "liberal" Massachusetts.
  2. Vietnam and war and peace. Every time we go to war, and there have been many, we divide ourselves between those who favor military intervention and those who oppose it.
  3. Litugical renewal. The revision of the Book of Common Prayer took a considerable toll on us. And as we continue around the Anglican world to innovate and create liturgical life to reflect local customs and settings. Such revisions always play to mixed reviews. 
  4. The ordination of women was a controversy for many and still is. Especially in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. We lost some members and even some congregations over that one. The decision to eliminate gender as an automatic disqualifier to ordination has strained relationships in the throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion.
  5. And then of course, the Consecration of Gene Robinson, the ordination of LGBTQ folks, and the question of Marriage Equality continues to raise lots of questions as to who will contine with us or against us. We've lost a few dioceses in the American Church and our place in the Anglican Communion has been called into question. Interestingly enough, the pope welcomed a dozen of our bishops to Rome; some women, some men, some black, some white and even one who happens to be in a life long same sex relationship.
  6. Conflict in two of our major seminaries and some rather scandalous behavior in some in our schools, among some bishops, clergy, and laity all strains our community relationships.

None of us have been left unscathed in all this or so it seems, and yet life somehow goes on. As I've often said, the surest proof that there is a God is that there is anything left of the church after all we've done to it.
In the midst of all this controversy and bruhaha over one issue or another it is refreshing to see that there are people who are willing to call themselves "devout Episcopalians".
If ever there were a time when the church needed "devout Episcopalians" it is now. We need to see beyond the issues that divide us and remember that what we've actually done is to forge a bond of deep affection, like feuding brothers and sisters do over a lifetime. We may fight like cats and dogs within the family, but God help you if you attack the family. That's when we stand together as one.
We stand together on the Gospel. "The Son of Man came into this world to serve not to be served". Exactly! We are here to serve those in need. This is how we are to organize our life as a church, around human need. I mean the poor, the homeless, the outcast, the sick, the dying. I mean everyone. There are no exceptions to God's extensive, comprehensive and inclusive love. When Isaiah said "My house shall be a House of Prayer for all people", he meant "ALL PEOPLE". 
What we are putting to the test in all our controversies, I believe is whether we really mean that. After all, this is the verse Jesus used when driving out the money changers from the Temple precincts "My house shall be a house of prayer for all people," weilding a whip of chords, "but you have made it a den of robbers". 
Over the great west doors of the National Cathedral these words are written in stone. This church is dedicated to the universal notion that God made this whole world and all that is in it. It is in short "A House of Prayer for all people".

I cannot help but think of the magnificent words from the Book of Job before us today. Job and his friends have gone on and on throughout the first 37 chapters of this portion of the Biblical Narrative legitimately and sincerely exploring the  universal mystery of suffering. And then comes God's universal answer;
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements-- surely you know!
Who has put wisdom in the inward parts,
or given understanding to the mind?
Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?

Good questions, don't you think?
To me its all of a piece. All of our controversies over a lifetime. In all our inclusion/exclusion exercises that are part of any comunity's dynamic. Who's in? Who's out? Who's included? Who's excluded? By what race, ethnicity, class, gender or sexual orientation do we classify folks loved by God and those not? Thankfully, in this one tiny corner of the world of faith there are no more pidgeon holes. True the growing denominations are those who will exclude some based on a few verses out of Leviticus or a misreading of some Pauline theology. But not no, not here. Not in this church. 
In the Episcopal Church we believe that as God is one so all God's people are one. What passes for Christianity in many quarters simply does not square with who I know God or people to be. 
I cannot help but think of the wisecrack Tallulah Bankhead made once about the church. She was considered by many to be an agnostic, and certainly much of her personal life was less than exemplary. As she once quipped; "I'm as pure as the driven slush!" Still she loved to go to the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin on Broadway in New York. "Smokey Mary's" it is called becaue of its pageantry, elaborate ritual, and generous use of incense. Some of the theatre you will see there is as good as any as you will see in that part of Manhattan. A reporter spied her coming out of church one day and is reputed to have asked her if she was a "Christian." She fired back as only Tallulah Bankhead could; "Heavens no darling, I'm not a Christian, I'm an Episcopalian."
Eileen Kitteridge and I have been visiting recently as she approaches the throne of heaven. We spoke yesterday of what it means to be a "devout" Episcopalian. She and I both have loved ones who happen to be gay, and neither one of us understands what difference that makes in God's great plan of salvation to tell you the truth. Some of the most loving people we know happen to bee "that way". So what? The only thing that matters to her right now, she says to me with a smile on her face is whether there will be a thrift shop in heaven where she can continue her work pricing items for sale. I assured her that as a mustard seed is all we can see in this life compared to the reality of what is in store for us in the next, the heavenly thrift shop will likewise exceed her wildest expectations. Her face radiated pure joy as she thought of it.
She said to me on one of our visits recently, "Oh I must not forget to tell my son to send my envelopes in to the church. After all, the church expenses go on. We must do what we can do for as long as we can do it." This too is what it means to be a "devout" Episcopalian. 
You see, what matters is the Resurrection of Jesus. What matters is the forgiveness of sins. What matters is whether we will love one another as God loves us, unconditionally and to the end and beyond. These are the things that matter. All of the issues we've fussed about throughout our lives pale in comparison to the Gospel. 
The disciples wanted Jesus to do for them whatever it was they asked him to do. Jesus reminded them that is not for him to grant. It is like many I've known, myself included when staring into the face of life's many mysteries especially our share in  the suffering of Job or the suffering of Jesus. We think that we will be the ones to ask questions of God.
In the 38th Chapter of Job, God settles things in a whole hurruy up. These ringing words set the record straight. 
"Then God answered Job out of the whirlwind; Who is this who darkens counsel without knowledge? Gird up your loins and stand up like a man. I'm the one who asks the questions; and you are the one who will give the answers. (paraphrase)."

Our visits are pleasant ones;; the visits I've had with Eileen and Louise. God blesses you for all your visits. You bring the sacrament of love and joy to those who are in the midst of long and difficult days. Thank God for you all.
As we concluded our visit Friday afternoon, Eileen asked for a prayer and a blessing. Then she lifted her hand and pointed toward me. Remember "devout" Episcopalian. 
The Catechism teaches us now what it has always taught us; "To work, and pray and give for the spread of the Kingdom of Heaven."
The idea of praying for "all sorts and conditions" of human folk is no innovation. It is as old as the Prayer Book itself, in fact the idea, comes down to us in the Prayer Book Heritage from the Great Litany written over 600 years ago in 1535.
In my ministry and my lifetime, let me tell you I've met all sorts and conditions of humankind and sometimes it takes some doing to love them all. But that is the moral mandate we are under. For the One who stands over us continues to stretch out his loving arms on the hard wood of the cross so that all may come within the reach of his saving embrace.
And now may the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore. Amen.
Fr Paul.

Monday, September 21, 2015

God's Cup of Tea

God's Cup of Tea

My grandmother was particular about her tea. She insisted that she drink her tea from a glass. I didn't realize until much later just how unusual this was, because we all drank our tea from a glass, at least, in our home. It had to be pipin' hot, so that when she poured scalding hot water from the kettle, she needed to have a spoon in it to prevent the glass from cracking, which it sometimes did anyway. When Aunt Lucy came over, the two sisters went through an elaborate ritual in preparing their tea and then, they'd talk for hours. Tea time was a time for conversation.
By the time I got to Toronto, where I lived for 11 years, attending elementary, junior, senior high school and then college, I learned that the ritual for drinking tea was even more elaborate than my grandmother observed. Now it involved fine china and a tea pot and loose tea in a tea ball. 
One thing that was common to the ritual was that conversation was the central purpose of a good cup of tea. It was time to speak, but even more important, it was time to listen. It was in the exchange of ideas, convictions and knowledge that I discovered wisdom grew and I came to appreciate the sacred space that conversation provides. I also learned what it meant to "hot the pot".
Across the contininents and across the cultures a cup of tea symbolizes something precious in human relationships. It symbolizes peacemaking.
In 2007, Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin published "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Quest for Peace...One School at a Time". The book was on the New York Times best seller list for three years. The thesis of the book is that "religious extremism can be deterred by collaborative efforts to alleviate poverty and improve access to education." (Wikipedia article.) Mortenson faced daunting challenges in Pakistan and Afghanistan as he worked out the particulars of such a vision, including charges of fraud and hypocracy. As the old saying says "no good deed goes unpunished".

What I would like to explore with you today is the idea of "God's cup of tea". 
We begin today with the first reading about a woman providing for her family. A man can also take his position in providing for the family and how we do that may be in traditional, reversed, or otherwise amended roles to suit the customs of cultural context. In fact, as we now know, two men or two women may also provide for their families or one another lovingly and wisely.
Whatever the specifics it is in the very being of our lives that we are called by the psalmist to "delight in the law of God and meditate on that law day and night". Whether it is in our family lives, in our friendships, at work or at school, it is critical that we take the time to know each other, listen to one another, and learn from one another. This is the beginning of wisdom.
The scripture places a high value on Wisdom. James tells us in today's lesson;; "Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom." Wisdom, I submit to you, is "God's cup of tea." Otherwise, as James continues, "if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts" then all kinds of conflict arises. Even in the Gospel for the day, the disciples were fussing about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. James concludes his thoughts with a sobering reminder that, these conflicts and disputes, unchecked long enough and intensely enough result in murder. 
Really! Isn't that a bit overstated James? Not if you read the papers. Apparently a child's cries went unheard from those who were taken in by addiction. And the child's cries were silenced by violence. She is no longer "Baby Doe" she is, she was, God love her soul, "Bella", the beautiful, she who now lives in the everlasting arms; where now, all her tears are wiped away.

My friends; you and I are required by the law and love of God to practice of the presence of God. It is God's intention that we come together in peace and practice the art of wisdom, a wisdom we gain perhaps over a cup of tea, and within the context of much conversation. As James so equisitely expresses it; "The Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocracy." And that, my friends, is God's cup of tea.
We are a nation where the art of conversation is rare. Our parliamentary process in Congress is such that strident conviction often short circuits communication. The logjam in a deadlocked Congress finds it root in the inability to cultivate something as fundamental to peacemaking as having a conversation. After all, the very word "parliament" means to have a place to talk. Having a place to talk, to listen, to learn, perhaps to have a cup of tea is missing in so many of our modern relationships. It is the missing ingredient at national, local, and even family and personal levels.  
James says; "Resist the devil, and the devil will flee from you. Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you".
This is what our worship is for week by week. It is to celebrate the nearness of God to us. Here is where we come to recognize that the kingdom of heaven is near at hand, within us and among us. 
We worship God not because God needs us to say how good God is. We worship God because deep within us God is encouraging us to be at peace within ourselves and with one another. The purpose of our praise is to listen to God deep within the soul. The scripture and the sacrament are the primary means by which God speaks to our hearts to remind us that God's kingdom is close, very close indeed.
Without such a closeness and such a praise, we will always succomb to conflict and dispute, indeed taken to extreme it results in violence, murder...indeed it results in warfare.
In 1898 Leo Tolstoy published a book called; "The Kingdom of God is within you". It was banned by the Russian Orthodox Church, because Tolstoy suggested that warfare itself was an affrontery to the Christian faith and the established church in Russia not only participated in warfare but in the oppression of the poor. Gandhi and Tolstoy communicated with one another and Martin Luther King followed in the tradition of non violent resistence. The idea of building God's kingdom within us this way has left a permanent mark in modern history in India and in the struggles for civil rights in the United States.

The Kingdom of Heaven is within us. At least that's what Jesus says in Luke 17:21. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. The kingdom of heaven is near. Again and again Jesus points to the presence of God within and among us. 
Perhaps if we lower our voices and listen to one another over a cup of tea, for instance, wisdom will have a place to flower within us. Years ago I learned that to listen to another human being required a four step process. We called it the LAPS strategy.
L for listen
A for allow
P for probe
S for support
Too often if we hear someone say something we disagree with we react first and think later. The LAPS stategy suggests we listen first, allow even if we profoundly disagree, probe a person's heart and soul to find out mre and then support them...find something in what they say to hear and agree to. Then and only then are we in a position to respond, and when we do we'll be in a better position to respond rather than react.
God's cup of tea! 
My grandmother, often said, when someone came through the door with a perplexity, a heartache or even a tone of anger; "Put the kettle on! Let's just sit down and have a cup of tea." 
How I pray for God's cup of tea in our time. As we sip on a pipin' hot cup of tea may we discover the kingdom of heaven living within and among us.

Fr Paul.