Sunday, May 31, 2015

Our Physical Connection to Jesus

The Strong Name of the Trinity

That’s a good question Nicodemus; “What must we do to inherit eternal life?”

And the answer class? Yes, “You must be born from above”. That is to say, you must be Baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 

Perhaps we can unpack that statement a bit. Let me begin with Patrick’s Breastplate. Being Anglo Irish by birth and blood, I have a predisposition to all things Celtic. In fact, I am looking forward to the annual Gathering of the Anamchara Fellowship which begins tomorrow outside Detroit. It is a community of religious, clergy and laity within the Episcopal Church, dedicated to the worship of God and service to the world. Last year, I was a speaker at their annual gathering and liked it enough to become a Companion with them. I am now their “Anamchara”, a Celtic word that means something akin to “soul friend”. I will have a special relationship to the leadership in particular as well as to the membership in general. The Anamchara Fellowship is the fastest growing monastic community in the Episcopal Church. I believe this is so because it satisfies some deep spiritual longing among God’s people and yet we remain dispersed as we are in our homes and communities as married, single, working, retired, professed nuns and monks, clergy, laity and so forth.

But back now to this idea about being born from above. St Patrick explores the idea in his invocation of God. He does so in far more ways than in the unidimensional "above". When Patrick binds himself to the strong name of the Trinity, he uses the ancient Celtic poetic form of a "lorica" much as it were body armor against the wiles of the Evil One. Here are the words which you can find in our Hymnal #370;

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

For Christians being born from "above", as it were, means that we see the sacred within time and place, in buildings like this one, or in our homes, and yes in our very lives. We see the sacred in God's created order. We see it in Christ, we see it in fellowship with one another. God becomes situated within the deepest places, in the center of our souls. That's where we meet God. In prayer we may use the pronoun "Thou" when we speak to God, or we may use the more contemporary; "You". Either way to inherit eternal life Nicodemus it takes a time and a place to practice the presence of the holy. You must be born from above.

In yesterday's wonderful confirmation service in New Bedford, Bishop Alan Gates reminded us that when he places his hands on the heads of the confirmands, he passes on an unbroken physical and spiritual connection between Jesus and his Apostles directly to each of those receiving confirmation and reception.
Robert, Chase, Katy, and James; just imagine, YOU have each received the spiritual and physical touch of Jesus and the Apostles in your very bodies and souls! 

As with all Christian folk we seek to be born from above, and to bind ourselves unto the Strong Name of the Trinity. We are all required to do this by Jesus as we make our way toward heaven and eternal life. We see Baptism as the primary means by which we come to God through Christ and within the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Mind you any human being can love and forgive with or without Baptism. Any human being can muster courage to reconcile feuding family and friends. Eventually that courage must also be extended to our enemies and those who wish us harm. Hopefully everybody is so dedicated, but we know for a fact that not all understand Baptism as we do; as a total makeover of the soul. Some will use the Sacred Name as a reason to engage in warfare and in acts of terror. Violence is the total antithesis to the teachings of Moses, Mohammed, and Jesus. 

As we understand it specifically as Christians, Jesus spoke most urgently of heaven and eternal life but not so much in terms of a place we go when we die. He saw heaven as more urgently to be practiced here and now for the sake of the human race and for the future of the planet we live on. As today's Gospel puts it; "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." This is why we must be born from above; Baptized. This is the eternal life Jesus seeks.

This brings us to Trinity Sunday.

Ah yes, and right away there is the debate about the Oneness and the Threeness of God. How can God be One when God is also Three? The Three in One and the One in Three? I don’t get into these great theological questions to tell you the truth. They are too difficult for me. 

Like some of the other quasi scientific/theological debates;
Did God create the world in exactly six days? 
And was the day of Creation October 23rd, 4004BC as computed
  by the 17th century Irish scholar and Bishop James Usher?
Did God create Adam and Eve in that first week?
Did Jonah live in the belly of a whale for three days?
Did Moses part the Red Sea?
Did Jesus walk on the water?
Did he feed 5000?

Folks, I know the difference between what is essential to my faith as well as what is perhaps something more metaphorical. At least I’m bright enough to know that much. As for the rest, I just don't trouble myself with such difficult questions. I am too much a lover of Science and Knowledge to blind myself to truth. I am too much a man of faith to dismiss what is essential to life.

Science gives some marvelous imagery to help us see the dynamic qualities of God. After all creation and life are created with the imprint of God. Think, for instance, of the sub atomic structure of the universe with its protons, electrons and a host of other particles whirring about in relationship to one another. Or the magnificence of the Milky Way spinning in space like a gigantic pinwheel, and the DNA molecule with its amazing complex of genetic markers winding around itself together in a double helix; the building bloc for all life on the planet. How glorious!

What makes God so strong to me though is not so much the physics of reality’s component parts. No. Stronger to me by far is the Love of God, that binds us to Jesus and the Holy Spirit and then to one another and ultimately to all flesh and blood.

That’s what makes the Name of God so strong to me.
It is in the experience of God’s love.
The Savior’s decisive power over sin and death.
And the Holy Spirit from on High, God’s Holy Wisdom the “Hagia Sophia”, she who is our Advocate and Guide, the Gift Giver, and the One who equips us for ministry.

This is what brought the Church to Proclaim the Strong Name of the Trinity. It was not a Doctrine; it was an Experience and, by God it continues to be an Experience.

There is so much work to do and so much joy to share so that we might fill the earth with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.

There are friends and enemies to love and reconcile.
There is sin to forgive, my own as well as others’.
There are diseases to be cured, the sick and the dying to visit.
There are the poor and those in prison to tend to.
There is a dangerous world out there at war and in terror and seeking the Peace that passes all understanding. Anybody want to take that one on?
There are lives shipwrecked; tossed up on the shores of addiction, depression, and all sorts of human weakness seeking to be freed from sin and yearning for redemption. 

So much to do as we seek to be born from above in a baptized life, living on purpose for God! As Michael Marshall, one time Bishop of Woolwich, was fond of saying; “Our mission is not so much to make good folks better, it is to make bad folks holy”.

Folks there is much to do. Places to go, people to see, life to be lived. That's why I bind unto myself this day the strong name of the Trinity. And that my friend Nicodemus is what it is to be born from above.

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

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow

"A Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow"

The day of Pentecost has come. Fifty days from Easter and counting. The word Pentecost means fifty days and so we move through time and as we do we encounter God the Father, God the Son and now God the Holy Spirit. The Hagia Sophia as she is known in Eastern Christianity. “She” because the word “Sophia” is obviously in the feminine form. And so it it from the beginning that the church has taught that our encounter with God is a complete experience, one of totality, in which God is more than a static Being but one in dynamic community.

God is One.
God is the One who creates us.
Jesus is the One who saves us
And the Holy Spirit is the One whose breath comes to us like a mighty wind.

There is another word from the Hebrew Scriptures the word “ruach”. It can be rendered “breath” or “wind” and in the account of the Pentecost experience from the book of Acts the breath and winds of God have a significant force behind them, so much so that they are called “a mighty wind”. 

The very sound of the word “ruach” has the quality of imitative harmony because its sound reflects the reality it seeks to describe; hence “ruach” sounds like what “breath” and “wind” are. And yet the meaning of the word involves holiness, sanctification and wisdom. The words “ruach” and “Shophia” are used in the Hebrew Scriptures to describe the Wisdom Literature.

The Pentecost experience challenges some of the stricter teachings of Judaism.  God’s Spirt and Wisdom are not only for the select, the elect or the chosen of God. No, this spirit and this experience is a generous outpouring of God’s mighty breath and wind upon all flesh and in every language, so that God’s mighty work could be understood by all including; “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-- in their own languages.” And so on, and so on, and so on for ever and all around the world, even to the far reaches of Old Cape Cod in a language we can now understand.

The word “ruach” and “Sophia” also contain within them the overtones of prophecy. It took a while for Paul and Peter get the point, but in this moment in Acts, Peter hits the nail on the head. He understands well what the prophet Isaiah says 
`In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.’
I hope you appreciate how stunning this proclamation would be to the people within the hearing of the Apostle at that time.

I’m sure even then folks would ask; “Where then do we draw the line?” But the Pentecost experience is a generous one. Peter and Paul and increasingly all the others came to understand that the Gospel’s largesse was not for the chosen, the elect or the select, but for all.

The Psalmist understood how generous God’s compassion and love were. You cannot spend much time at sea without an appreciation for God’s amazing diversity and creative joy.

In the appointed Psalm for today we hear this exultant refrain;
“Yonder is the great and wide sea
with its living things too many to number, *
creatures both small and great.
There move the ships,
and there is that Leviathan, *
which you have made for the sport of it.
All of them look to you *
to give them their food in due season.”
~Psalm 104:26-28

Yes, you heard right; God made a whale just for the pure joy of it; just for the pure fun of it. Who can say that God does not rejoice in the creation when we become fully alive to what God intends for us?

The Holy Spirit continues to pour out on us and the whole world we live in. In overwhelming numbers the Irish have voted for equal access to marriage for all her citizens. Ireland is the first nation on the planet to vote that way in direct referendum. God’s love is not only generous, it is inclusive and unconditional. Sometimes that love will be proclaimed more persuasively outside the teachings of the prevalent church. The Roman Church was officially against it. But the Pope has recently introduced a Spirit into our discussions and treatment of one another that is entirely different in tone than what has gone before. Thanks be to God! Perhaps someday we will all catch up to the teachings of the early church and her experience of God’s comprehensive and unconditional love. In the meantime, today in Ireland, there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!

It is a new day for St. John’s, I hope you don’t miss it. It is a brand new day. God’s mighty winds are moving among us. God’s breath is breathing within us. In fact, it has been said that God is closer to each of us than the very next breath we take.

But the Pentecost experience is not confined to a personal experience but to one that moves among us like a mighty wind. God is searching every heart for joy. More than joy God is looking forward to what is coming together for us. Paul’s words apply directly to this congregation; “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” 

I do hope you are praying for your church as you pray for your search committee. Pentecost is celebrated in so many places as the birthday of the church. Our finances are lagging behind just now, probably as much as $48,000 or more in reference to what it will take to provide for a full time parish priest. The question for us as we move toward our next stewardship campaign, do you really want a full time parish priest? God knows this church needs one. Given the fact that your current interim priest is serving with you on a part time basis, you can easily afford the budget you have for this year.

But when you have a full time parish priest and pay for housing on the Cape, health coverage, and pension, then you’ll be incurring some significant expenses.

For this great Feast Day of Pentecost all we need to ask of one another is prayer. We’re doing fine just now. But if we want to maintain our position as a full time parish with a full time parish priest, if we want to pay a sexton, and a youth minister, or a christian education director, we’re going to have to consider what the Holy Spirit is stirring us up to do with the mighty winds of her sanctifying wisdom and her prophetic utterances.

For now all we need is your prayer. When a church rests on prayer she rest secure indeed. Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as our Advocate. I find it reassuring that Jesus is our Advocate and that God’s Holy Spirit has been poured out upon us all.

There is a birthing among us of God’s Holy Spirit. Such a birthing provides for God’s Church. We are and have been a family for a good long time. Two thousand years as a matter of fact. This particular portion of God’s family, like all families, has had its good days, and its not so good days, its trials and tribulations as well as those times of triumph and satisfaction.

God knows you folks have been through plenty in these past few years but look back at our history. The Reformation or now what our brother and sister Christians in Egypt and other parts of Africa are enduring. We do not have the luxury of resting in our past, whatever side of the fence you may rest your sentiments. We only have today and tomorrow. There is only this Pentecost and this birthing we have to work with.

Jesus sends us this Advocate for a reason. Your prayers are needed as I said for this church and for your search committee. God is at work among and God is about to do a new thing.

I hope you are aware of it as fully as I see it in you.

And now may the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be among us this day and for evermore. Amen

Fr Paul

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A House of Prayer for All People


This coming Sunday marks the occasion on which the Apostles were given special grace to speak in the tongues of all peoples and in all languages. The event is described in our first lesson for this coming Sunday. In the Gospel, Jesus promises to send his gift of "The Advocate" and the "Spirit of Truth" into every human heart. Such is the outpouring of God's Spirit that it will fill the earth as the "waters cover the sea". ~Habakkuk 2:14

Wearing Red

It is especially appropriate for the members of the congregation to wear red for Pentecost. The color red is the color of the Holy Spirit. Red represents a universal outpouring such that Christ's Church becomes "A House of Prayer for ALL People". No one can be excluded from God's communion, and the Holy Spirit is a sign of our complete unity with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 


And just when we get that straight, I'll remind you that Pentecost is also known as Whitsunday. The Church's tradition is to Baptize on Whitsunday (aka Pentecost), Easter Eve, All Saints, and on the Feast Day of the Baptism of our Lord.  In many parish churches in England it is a special tradition to Baptize youngsters on Pentecost and of course they would all come to church dressed in white. Hence the name: Whitsunday.

Hagia Sophia

And if that isn't enough to wrap your mind around, I might add to the above that the Holy Spirit is seen in much of the Christian world in the feminine. The Holy Wisdom or "Hagia Sophia" of Constantinople, now Istanbul, was for a thousand years the leading church in Eastern Christianity. And in the Hebrew Scriptures, Wisdom is known as the Spirit of God and the word is in the feminine form. Thus the Godhead has a multidimensional dynamic in its totality. Clearly God in not gender specific, but for so many years the imagery we have of God in the Sistine Chapel, or in Lutheran Hymnody is dominated by a gender specific idea; e.g. "A Mighty Fortress is our God".  Some balance is needed to complete the picture of God as being both male/female and beyond all human knowing. 

Peace Pentecost

And finally, let us pray for peace. There is so much warfare, and so much upheaval in our cities. Rival gangs break into turf wars and others are lost in depression and anxiety. Let us pray for peace. Unless God fills the human heart, there can be no peace. May the Peace of God that passes all understanding fill every human heart. 

Let us pray this day and every day for the outpouring of God's Spirit upon All

I look forward to seeing you this coming Sunday in Church for this important and joyous occasion.

Fr Paul

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Ascension Sunday

Dear friends, 
I have prepared a few thoughts by way of assistance in anticipation of this coming Sunday. Ascension Sunday is a significant day in the Church Year and deserves some preparation. 

Ascension Sunday

We come now to one of the great celebrations of the Church Year; Ascensiontide. The icon above is a remarkable piece of early Christian Art which attempts to describe the experience.  It is the time when we recognize that Christ ascended to the right hand of God to be our Advocate and Judge. It is a season of great joy as we recognize the triumph of Christ not just over sin and death but in his glorious ascent into heaven itself. By way of preparation, let me share with you a few sentences from the Sunday readings we will hear;

The Collect of the day;
“Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.”

The First Lesson from the Acts of the Apostles describes the event:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” ~Acts:1

And the Gospel appointed for this Sunday includes these words
“Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” ~Luke 24

First Communion

It is also a day of significance for us at St. John’s. Several young people will be received formally into the Eucharistic Fellowship of the Church.

Release of Butterflies

Please come with us after the service to the playground where we will release butterflies. The Monarch Butterfly is a symbol of the Resurrection to the Early Church. It is suitable that we release these magnificent creatures as a part of our observance of the important feast day both for the Church at large as well as in honor of those making their first communion today. 

See you Sunday in Church,
Fr Paul

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Can Anyone Withhold the Water for Baptism?

Note to the reader; The news that a baby was refused baptism in the Episcopal Church because he happens to have two dads boggles the mind. Here is how I approached the subject in today's sermon.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you”

So begins today’s Gospel. And the love of God continues to flow like the very River of God itself, from God through Jesus to us and from us to one another. It is in the nature of God’s love that it shall flow forever and build in strength and power as its flow builds within every human heart, and as its flow conquers every evil.

It is Mother’s Day; a day to honor all the moms of this congregation and elsewhere, and of course their moms and the moms who came before them; all of them gathered together into one great cloud of witness together with all the fathers and grandfathers too, who loved them and loved us. As the Scripture says; "Honor your father and your mother". 

The gathering; this notion of gathering is central to our understanding of the Eucharist. The word “gathering” is a word I use to begin teaching our First Communion class about the nature of the Eucharist. After all, without the gathering of the people of God, there can be no Eucharist.  It is in the very act of gathering that we learn the central teaching of Jesus; “as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. And so this is my commandment; that you love one another”.

When a church and a family are doing their work well, this very love is the cornerstone out of which we build our lives. It is the very cornerstone upon which God builds our faith.

Today is Rogation Sunday. The word comes from the Latin “rogare”; to ask as in the English “interrogation”. Rogationtide is a time to “ask” God for a fruitful earth so that we can make provision for ourselves and all God’s creatures. Coming with that request is the ethical mandate that we in turn, are responsible for caring about Mother Earth.  She who bears us and nurtures us also requires that we care and nurture her in return. Such is the nature of love’s reciprocity.

The clarity of the Gospel’s mandate for love is unmistakable. For it is out of the Father’s love that Jesus is born, and more particularly, it is because Mary became the handmaid of God that Jesus came to us, in human form.

In Christian circles Mary is honored in the East as the “theotokos” the “Mother of God”. She is honored in Roman Catholicism. She is honored in Anglicanism in the frequent and joyous singing of the Magnificat.

God’s love finds a special focal point in Mary whose song is of God’s universal love for all without regard to any human classification. She sings at the Annunciation “My soul proclaims the greatness of God” or in the Elizabethan rendering “My soul doth magnify the Lord”. 

A mother’s love for her child is intense. God knows you don’t want to get between a mother bear and her cub. You could find yourself in a world of hurt if you do. It is in the nature of things that a mother’s love can be intense, sometimes bordering on ferocious. Many of us are all too familiar with that dimension of a mother’s love.

John puts an interesting twist to the notion of the love between a parent and a child. As he explains in today’s Epistle, those who believe that Jesus is the Christ of God also recognize the love between the parent and the child, and of course Jesus takes the matter to its logical conclusion; there is no greater love than this “to lay down your life for your friends”. That love is not coterminous to a mother and child or even a father and child as Jesus articulates it…but this love goes well beyond familial lines to kind of friendship bears toward us.

“Sing of Mary pure and lowly virgin mother undefiled”. I love the hymn. Mary understands the price she will pay for the love she bears. After all, Jesus will be the one to lay down his life for his friends. 

Knowing what we know of the love of God as revealed to us in the person of Jesus, particularly as we see it articulated in today’s scripture, let me ask you this, to whom may we deny baptism? 

Let’s say I bring a baby to you and ask for a baptism. Lets say I have been been gathering regularly in church with my spouse. On the face of it all seems well. The church seems welcoming. We come to the priest and ask for a baptism. Can you think of any reason to say “No”?

I find it delightfully appropriate that today’s lesson indicates with crystal clarity what the answer will be to such a question. Peter says, "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”

When Jesus tells us to love one another as he loves us, obviously we know he means everybody whatever race, ethnicity, class, or gender. Do we have to specifically add the word “orientation”? I thought that when Philip baptized the Ethiopian Eunuch, we covered that issue. 

But apparently we have to come out and say so. It came as a total surprise to me to find out that when a same sex couple joined the Cathedral Church of St Luke in Orlando Florida, they were told that their baby’s baptism would have to be postponed since there were those in the congregation who objected.

Can you imagine such a thing in this day an age! I thought we had pretty much settled this issue in the Episcopal Church. And furthermore; a baby! I cannot imagine, even in my most cautious days refusing to bring a baby into the gathered community of faith. In fact I cannot imagine denying the love of Christ to anyone. For heaven sake, in recent days, even the pope said that no priest will deny baptism to a child. One would hope we could get that part straight.

God knows that when Jesus stretched out his loving arms on the hard wood of the cross, he did so in order that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace.

And there can be no exceptions to that love; not for God and certainly not for us and most certainly not for God’s Church.

Well, the news that this baby was refused a baptism hit the social media and raised a firestorm of protest. The matter became something of an embarrassment to the bishop of Central Florida, and thankfully the baptism has been scheduled. 

There are those who wonder where we shall draw the line. There is a funny story I heard years ago of a young curate serving in a small Texas town. When the rector went on vacation in July that year so did most of the clergy in town. The young curate was left in charge. One day the funeral director called to ask if he would bury a Baptist. The curate was unsure of himself. After all he was fresh out of seminary and he just didn’t know where to draw the line. He put in a call to the Bishop who was also on vacation at the time, but after some difficulty the call was put through. 

“Bishop can I bury a Baptist?” asked the curate.
I think the Bishop was a bit taken aback by the question, but he couldn’t contain his sense of humor and replied to the question;
“Young man, you may bury all the Baptists you can!”

Where shall we draw the line? For me it is here, (making the sign of the cross of myself) It is within my own heart and soul where I have encountered the love of God living and true. Here it is where I have discovered how much God loves me and loves you too, without exception and unconditionally. It is not where I judge anyone else. After all, as Jesus so succinctly put it, “Judge not, let ye be judged”. Be careful therefore where you draw the line.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”
“This commandment I leave with you; that you shall love one another.”

Such is the love of a mother for her child, such is the love of God for us all, that one thing we can say with resolve and courage; we shall love one another as Christ loves us.

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