Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Marriage Equality, Health Care and The Beloved of God

Marriage Equality, Health Care and The Beloved of God

And thanks be to God, that would be YOU! 

As a long time and outspoken advocate of the poor and for marriage equality, I greet the recent decisions of the Supreme Court with joy! Not everyone will. God knows that in the world of “faith” there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth over these decisions. But not from me. 

I have been and will continue to be an activist priest. And it was more than a decade ago that I wrote  “Everything You Need to Know About Sex in Order to Get to Heaven”; an outspoken satire about the church’s skittishness over human sexuality. Naturally I was excoriated by the right wing of my church, but most of the Beloved of God appreciated the work I was trying to do. 

(NB: You can have your own autographed copy by contacting me: paulbresnahan@gmail.com)

Most of the Beloved of God in our tiny corner of the world of faith understood that EVERYONE must come within the saving embrace of Christ. We’ve paid the price; we’ve reaped the benefit; and now I must say, many of us will feel vindicated.

Which brings me to the subject of “The Uneven Sidewalk”

As a  child I was fond of walking with my hands clasped behind my back and my head down. Many wondered why I seemed so sad and what could be done about it. And it is true that there were things in my life that made me sad, but that’s not the reason I carried myself the way I did.

Truth be told, there is a practical reason for the way I walked then and the way I walk now. The sidewalks are uneven. Even when the town of Sandwich finishes this repaving project along Main Street, and please God, they’ll finish it before the 4th, even then, I’ll walk the way I do with my hands clasped behind my back, and my head down. God knows I’m not that steady on my feet or sure footed. A mountain goat I’m not!

But pensive yes, I am a pensive sort. I’ve always loved a long walk through the city streets of my home in Somerville and Cambridge. And then when I was older through the city streets of Toronto and Boston. I have my favorite walks and currently going up to the boardwalk here in Sandwich or walking by the seaside in Lynn; these I find so deeply satisfying. And yes I am a pensive sort. 

There is a deep place in my spirit that turns itself to God when I write, when I pray, and yes, when I walk with my hands clasped behind my back and my head down to keep a careful watch out for uneven sidewalks and streets pock marked with potholes; such is the Pathway to God’s inclusive Love for ALL.

Yes, I am a pensive sort and I like to take whatever time I can to be with God. And it is out of that deep place where my heart turns itself to the Beloved of God; the poor and my family. We grew up poor. My uncle and two of my boys happen to be gay. And I knew many years ago that God loves the poor, and that God loves my uncle and my children. 

So I practice the Presence of God when I pray, when I write and when I walk. I discover that I have acquired the gift of approachability through all this Practice.

The last few days have been difficult for me. Family, friends, colleagues, parishioners, turn to me with some regularity for counsel on the matters of difficulty, of depression, anxiety, and that persistent panicky feeling that I find intrinsic to much of human experience. In the past few days, the intensity and frequency with which folks have turned to me has increased significantly. 

I hear in these voices a lamentation like the one David made for Saul and Jonathan. “O how the mighty have fallen.” It can be the death of a loved one or a mighty warrior like Saul. It can also be that certain nameless fear, that chronic feeling in the pit of your stomach that will not go away. It can be testy relationships between those we care about. On and on and on it goes.

The Psalmist speaks to the matter; “Out of the depths have I called out to you O God” “O God hear my voice!”

That’s the missing piece for so many in our time. When we cry out of our depths, we often act as though we have no one to cry out to. So many live without God. Not everyone has a Jesus to turn to. And many forget that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can cheer the downcast spirit. And for those of us who do have a God, it is often the case that we simply cannot find a way fit all the pieces together as we make our way to the kingdom of God

In this context today, we have David’s Lamentation for Saul and Jonathan, we have the poetic Lament of the 130th Psalm. And Paul’s plea for the generosity of the church in Corinth to make provision for the church in Jerusalem. We’ve been trying to fit the pieces together for a very long time and when we try to do so on our own we often get lost or mired in the muck of our own making. 

Thankfully in the Gospel we have two folks who understand that there is a profound difference in spirituality between the Lamentation of David and the Psalter and the Hope of the Gospel.

Jarius turns to Jesus.
And so does the woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for a dozen years or so.
"My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live," says the former
And the latter; "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well, she reasons to herself.
Jesus, aware that the woman had touched him with her faith, turns to her to say; “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

The matter of Jarius’ little girl posed a more difficult problematic. The poor child had already died. “Why trouble the teacher any further?”
Not so quick. It is not yet time for lamentation. It is time to demonstrate the power of God over sin and death. It is time to show who Jesus is for us. It is time for us to come to see why it is so central to our faith that he is the One to turn to with our problems, all of our problems. 

The Gospel passage continues with these words; 
"Do not fear, only believe." When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement."

Then he told them not to go telling every Tom, Dick and Harry what just happened. It is not yet time for him to go up to Jerusalem to fulfill God’s intention for Jesus and humankind. That will come soon enough. For now, just give the girl a little something to eat. God knows she’s been through a lot today and so have you all.

You see, the question is this; “Who do we have to turn to in all our sorrows, our lamentations, our confusion, our hurt, our perplexity, our sadness and melancholy?”

There is God. The one who is at the center of our souls, the Holy One who is closer to us than the very next breath we take.
There is Jesus. The One who gave his life for his Beloved. That would be you and me.
There is the Holy Spirit. The continuing Presence of God our Creator, Savior, and the Holy Wisdom from on High.

We have a whole community of God to turn to.
The essence of this turning is pure simplicity.
That is why I write and pray and take long walks. 

The human community may turn to the Community of God and I rejoice that The Beloved of God is growing in its inclusivity. 

Yes, I am a pensive sort. 
I love my long walks especially at this time of year when so much serendipity surrounds us.

As I walk along, or write or pray I find myself in what Paul Tillich called; The Eternal Now"; the Now that never ends but is always alive in the heart of God and in our hearts as well. Thus we are joined heart to heat in the "Now" of God.

Words keep coming to me like these; 
“Thou leadest me beside the still waters.
Thou restorest my soul.”
And yes.
“Out of the depths of my soul cries out to Thee”
O God hear my prayer”

Poetry comes to mind. My own poetry. Words of my own like these;

The Beloved of God

A moment with You.
A moment with God.
Time to walk
Time to breathe
The Holy Name
Just the faintest breath of a prayer.

Being alone in the Silence
Being alone in the Presence
Being with You
The God of my Being
Never alone with You.

The uneven sidewalk
The pock marked potholes 
Of the sacred pathway
We tread together.

The salt air
The marshland waters
The birdcall of the morning
The glorious rising of the Sun
The glorious rising of the Lord

And Jarius' desperate prayer for his Beloved
That Jesus would take a thought for him
And his little girl?

“Arise little girl”
The Beloved of God
She and you and me
ALL, The Beloved of God.
The uneven sidewalk 
The pock marked pathway
To God.

And now may the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you always. Amen.

Fr Paul

Friday, June 26, 2015

Sunday June 28, 2015 at St John's, Sandwich

This Coming Sunday~June 28, 2015

The Healing Ministry of St John’s

Dear friends
The healing ministry at St. John’s has played a long and significant role in our history together. This ministry has fallen by the wayside in recent months and it is time for us to restore it to our regular worship schedule.
This coming Sunday, June 28th directly following the 10am service, I would like to call for a meeting of those interested in restoring the healing ministry to our liturgical life. Please meet with me and Deacon Dan in the church at around 11:30.
We will talk particulars then as to how we would like to implement this important ministry to our regular worship life.

Thank you,
Fr Paul

This Sunday’s Readings

The First Lesson: “How the Mighty Have Fallen” ~2 Samuel 1:1,17-27
The First Lesson this Sunday is David’s Lamentation over Saul. This poetic expression of grief takes a positive view of Saul in contrast to the harshly negative material we read in parts of 1 Samuel.

The Psalm: “Out of the depths have I cried out to You O Lord” ~Psalm 130
This is another beautiful lamentation at a time of personal difficulty and calamity. It is one of the Psalms suggested for a funeral. The words come deep from within the sorrowful soul.

The Epistle: “It is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need” ~2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Here is an interesting Stewardship Appeal at the time of the early church where a church in need in Jerusalem and a church with abundance in Corinth stand together in solidarity. The Apostle Paul commends and encourages the generosity of the heart and soul of the church.

The Gospel: “Little girl, get up” ~Mark 5:21-43

In one of the more moving stories in the Gospel, a leader of the Synagogue pleads with Jesus to heal his daughter. By the time Jesus gets to her she is already dead. But, given the power of Christ over sin and death, the girl is brought to life again and all filled 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Do You Not Care?

Jesus, Do You Not Care that we are Perishing?

Let me begin with a greeting; Happy Fathers Day. 
When Jesus spoke of his father, he used the word "abba" which means something like "daddy". 
There is, in the relationship between God and Jesus an intimacy.  Even in the midst of a great windstorm, when the waves were beating against the boat so that the boat was being swamped, such was the trust of Jesus in God that he was there he is asleep astern on a cushion. 

Quite reasonably, the disciples, fearing for their own continuing existence called out; “Jesus, do you not care that we are perishing?” 

This, of course is the question that comes to heaven from the human heart again and again in this country, whether it is from Charleston, Sandy Hook, Columbine or Virginia Tech. Again and again we face the pure agony of the slaughter of the innocents, and in this case as they studied the sacred writings of the Holy Bible. 

Jesus looks directly into every human soul and asks the same question; "Do you not care that your brothers and sisters are perishing?

The spread of hatred and the easy availability of guns in this country is indeed a real and present danger. 

Where is our salvation?
Where shall we look?
To God? Obviously!
To ourselves, Yes, and even more urgently.

The foundational credo for all Christians is to love God and to love one another. There is a challenge to this simple and straight forward mandate.

Do we hear family and friend alike use racial epithets when describing the President of the United States, people of color and other minorities? Do we challenge statements like these? Or do we let them go? After all, how can we find a constructive way of dealing with the growing ubiquity of ignorance?

Where is our salvation?

In classic Christianity there is the teaching of our catechism. Let’s review the Five Mighty Acts of God. All right class; what are they? (The Catechism of the Episcopal Church can be found in the Book of Common Prayer beginning on p. 845)
1. The Creation
2. The Exodus
3. Jesus Christ
4. The Church
5. The Christian Hope

In the face of hatred, racism, and violence where then shall we place ourselves?

1. First, let’s begin with the creative energy of God. Let us become co-creators with God. Let us become partners with God in creation.

For example, when I was in West Virginia and I may have told you this story before. Forgive me if I have but it bears repeating especially in the wake of recent events; but there was a cross burning on the front lawn of a black family in town. Apparently, a black youngster dated a white girl and the Evil Specter of Hatred and Racism was swift to show its ugliness. 

What do we do in the face of such hatred and racism?

I called my friend Mike Poke the pastor of St. Paul’s Missionary Baptist Church. We had a cup of coffee. He hadn’t heard of the cross burning incident just yet, but it wasn’t long before it was a headline event in the Kanawha Valley. I was glad that he heard the news from me.

We began to plan a service at St. Paul’s Church and a march down the main street of town to St Mark’s Church, both historic congregations in town. St. Paul’s was the first black congregation in town and St. Mark’s was the first church built in the valley and served as a way station in the underground railroad during the Civil War. 

We looked at one another over a cup of coffee that day; a black face and a white face but neither of us saw the color of our skin, we saw children of God and the Christ within who makes us one. 

I called the mayor, the Congressional, and Governor’s Office. We got our permit to march. All were present and accounted for. We packed the churches full of the creative and redemptive love of God.

There is no other way than the way of God.

We renounced hatred then.
We renounce it today.
And we turn to God as the source of our Salvation.

Will the hatred go away? Not likely.
Will we do anything in this country about guns? That’s even less likely.

Lets face it we are a violent people. The stats speak for themselves
        Gun deaths in France 35
Britain, less than 100
Germany, 158
Canada, less than 200
India, much more serious there: just over 6,000
And the United States; 30,000.
We are not the worst in the hemisphere however, that distinction belongs to Honduras and El Salvador.

How many more churches, schools, shopping centers, or movie theaters?
How many more?
The answer, in this country, many, many more.

Where then do we turn for Salvation?

Perhaps to the second great act in Salvation History; The Exodus
As Martin Luther King famously said; “The long arc of history bends toward justice”.

This is why Moses was able to bring the people from slavery to freedom in the Promised Land.
This is why Patrick drove out the serpentine evil of the slave trade in Ireland in the 5th century.
Or that the Augustinian Monks worked to free the slaves in Britain in the sixth and seventh century.

Does justice stop the hatred between 
Arab and Jew?
Protestant and Catholic?
Black and White?
Rich and Poor?
And so on. 


The reality of Sin is still so much on the surface of the human heart.
Where then do we turn to Salvation?

This brings us to Act III in the Mighty Acts of God.

Jesus Christ. What God does in Jesus is not external to the human heart but woven deep inside and within us all.
The “metanoia” that is to say; the “complete makeover” God requires is a turning from fear and hatred to forgiveness and love.

Will that do it?

Perhaps Act IV; The Church.

Perhaps through our Baptism and Eucharistic Fellowship we can turn to God as the source of our salvation. Perhaps as billions of people around the world turn to Christ over the millennia as we turn to the Risen One, the All Merciful, the All Loving?

That should do it, should it not?

One would surely Hope so. Ah but not so.

The Fifth and Final Act in Salvation History, the Christian Hope.
You do know that we all fall into the hands of the Living God both in this life and in the Life to come? If you don’t know that, then listen up, it is all true. The whole Gospel is true. And it is high time we as Christians proclaim the message, the essential kernel of the Gospel; That Jesus is Victorious over Sin and Death.

I have walked with many friends to the very end, all the way to the very end. It is never easy to see beyond the end, but as we pray and share in the last Eucharist, Christ is there yet again. 

Even before we get to the end, just in those moments when we notice our vulnerability, there may be a panicky moment or two of anxiety. I got a call one night from a parishioner who told me her mom wanted communion. She was quite sick and she thought her time had come. It was two in the morning, but I did what a priest does. I went to her. She felt much better after that and did not die then. And her daughter apologized. No matter, said I. She needed to hear the Gospel just then and from that moment on she could focus her sites on the fact of heaven within her heart and beyond her comprehension.

In the meantime the Philistines will have their day, but we all know where they will end up.

And what of us…Paul said it well today in the Epistle; “as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left”. 

Yes, as for me and my house we will put on the armor of God. This will bring us to salvation.

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, June 15, 2015

Rediscovering Celtic Christianity and Joy!

Joy and Celtic Christianity

Pictured is Aidan of Lindisfarne d. August 31,651AD. A pioneer in the Celtic Spirit of Christianity. And what was the idea behind Celtic Christianity? Organize community life around the needs of the people. For example, are your loved one dying, bring them here and we'll tend to them. Are they sick? Bring them here we'll nurse them back to health. Are you hungry? Come here we'll feast together (no questions asked as to eligibility). Do you or your children hunger for knowledge? Come here, we are among the best scholars in Europe. Is your spirit downcast? Come here and we'll cheer you with genuine conviviality and with good stories, and more feasting. Above all, does your heart search for something more. We'll tell you of the love of God. And if you can't quite get it, we'll point you toward Jesus who made it abundantly clear how much God does love you and the rest of us. And then the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and the friendship of many of us will bring you to joy. Much of Western Civilization, this nation, and much of the church has forgotten all this. It is time to rediscover who we are called to be for one another. Soul friends!