Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Timely Wedding

The Primates (watch how you pronounce that) have spoken. So have I. Here is today's sermon from St. John's, Sandwich on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

A Wedding in Cana
How Timely

Today's Gospel invites us into conversation around the matter of marriage. How very timely! As you no doubt know the Primates, or "prime bishops" of the Anglican Communion have been meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury in recent days and in their wisdom or lack of it they have decided to sanction the Episcopal Church in The United States because of our stand on same sex marriage and other issues of concern to the more conservative wing of the church such as the ordination of women and their consecration to the Episcopate. A majority of these "prime bishops" or "Primates" call them what you will, have voted to put the brakes on over issues concerning marriage equality, gender and sexual orientation.

My dear friends allow me to use my family as a microcosm in all this controversy. I would rather it be conversation, but controversy apparently it is. Apparently my family is a cause of some controversy. 

But, for us here on this day; some conversation first. 

When Cindy and I met, I was 34 years of age, she 26. It didn't take very long for us to figure out that we were just right for each other, five months after we met we were engaged! That was Palm Sunday in 1979, otherwise known as Passion Sunday. That seemed appropriate both liturgically and personally. When we announced our engagement to Cindy's large Italian Catholic family, we raised a bit of a stir. And the first to raise her worry was Cindy's little sister Susan who was about 8 years old at the time. She could not restrain herself as the tears welled up into her little eyes; "Oh no Cindy, does that mean you'll be Irish now?" Just imagine!

Cindy's dad had concerns about her marrying outside the church and told me so on a long walk we took one day. I told him that the day he started going to church would be the day I took his concern seriously. Her mom wondered about what we believed anyway. I told her "we believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Chruch". I showed her the Nicene Creed we recite every week in the Book of Common Prayer. She was visibly relieved. I thank God for giving me the grace to say what I said in those moments because they satisfied the objections at least for the moment. 

Five more months later we were married at Christ Church in Hyde Park, Bishop John Coburn and The Reverend Chester Porteus of Christ Church, Quincy officiating. Talk about raising a stir! It was a wonderful day. It was the last time my extended family was to gather. It was a moment when heaven itself seemed to break through into the present, a most unforgettable moment indeed.

A little more than a year later, David was born, about two years later Joshua was born, and then three years later Michael came into this world. Seems we took a breather there for a bit. 

All of that was a long time ago and here we are still giving thanks to God for the love we share, the love that brought three young men into the world and the love that continues to pour out from our lives both professionally and personally. 

The stirrings in the church continued. Early on I stood with those who were divorced and wished to be remarried in the church. That finally happened around the time of our marriage. I have stood with those who struggled for civil rights, and gender equality. My special and specific advocacy has focused on the poor, the hungry and the homeless. But I have also advocated long and hard for equality for all whatever race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. The business of sexual orientation has caused the biggest stir of all it seems. It has been a matter of controversy and not only for the church. And now this latest from the Primates of the Anglican Communion.

Our bishops and our Presiding Bishop have issued statements about all this and and you can read what they have said by checking the above links. My dear friend, the Bishop of Montana has also spoken on the matter and I find what he said very helpful

I take a personal interest in all this. You see my uncle was one of those folks who never married, but did have a very good friend by the name of Jimmy. Their relationship lasted for over 50 years. My mom, by contrast, went through three marriages that we know about until she finally got it right. We can thank God for that mercy. But I used to ask my grandmother about my uncle and why he never married. This was back in the days before we really talked very much about the matter of sexual orientation or used the word "gay" in the way it has come to mean in recent years. My grandmother told me that my uncle would probably never marry because he was as the Dowager Countess of Grantham might say, a "confirmed bachelor". I came to understand what that euphemism meant in due course. 

My uncle was known for getting into his cups from time to time and one day he became especially agitated and asked me this question. He was never quite comfortable with the fact that I became a priest. He felt that the church harboured ill will to his "kind". He said to me, and I'll try if I can to catch the flavor of it. He was solid working class and spent his entire career working buildings and grounds for the Mother Church in Boston. 

"Hey kid, you with the turned around collar," he said, dripping with sarcasm, "I want you to tell me what you think about me. And tell me to my face. I don't care what your church thinks about me. I want to know what you think."

"Geez Al," I said with some trepidation. After all, I knew this would mean a lifetime of struggle for me and my church. "You're fine with me."

He said, "If that's the case then stand up for me some day in that church of yours. Stand up for me and Jimmy."

Well Al, here I am standing up for you and Jimmy, but many, many, more as well. In fact right here at St. John's Church, you stand with those who embrace traditional, divorced, remarried and same sex marriages. In fact we in the Episcopal Church are coming to see that we really are a "House of Prayer for ALL People" and that there are no outcasts in this church. 

You may remember in your reading of scripture, that Jesus embraced all sorts and conditions of people, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, rich and poor, the lame, the blind, the mentally ill and so on. And on the day he overturned the tables of the money changers in the Temple he did say "My Church shall be a House of Prayer for ALL People". I would submit to you, that we are seeking to be obedient to Jesus in who we seek to be as a church. 

Our new Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, expressed his disappointment this week over the actions of the Primates meeting. But then he said a wonderful thing; "Perhaps our high calling is to be that part of the Anglican Communion that seeks to witness to the church as a place where we are becoming more and more "A House of Prayer for ALL People". Furthermore, as Paul the Apostle has said. "For there is no longer Jew or Greek, (or any other race or ethnicity, there is no longer slave or free, (or any other class of rich or poor) and there is no longer male or female (or dare we say any other orientation), because we are all one in Christ. Paul by the way, has been called the Apostle to the Gentiles, which is just another word or "outsider". 

I am so proud of our church for standing with my uncle, and Cindy and me as we seek to live out our lives of faithful love, or my mom, who took a while but did get it right at long last.

And now wouldn't you know it two of my sons happen to be gay. Both of them devout Episcopalians. Both love to sing. Michael sings a repertoire of sacred music with a professional a Capella men's singing group called "Chanticleer" the way there's quite a few gay guys in that choir. And they are very grateful that there are voices like mine who will stand with them and with so many who for so long have been made to feel outside the embrace of God's love. For some suicide and self destruction seemed like the only way out. I know about that personally. I've worked very hard to save those who considered that way out of their sense of dilemma. It was I. It was this church. It was your love that talked them out of it.

No! The world is a wedding. And Jesus is right there in the midst of it, performing his very first miracle, a miracle that continues to unfold to this day. When the wine runs out he calls for the water jars set aside for the rites of purification. Then he changes the water into wine so that all God's children whatever race, ethnicity, class, gender or orientation may gather together and be One at last at God's Great Banquet Table. And the water has been changed into the best wine of all because you see, we may now be obedient to Jesus. We may at long last, love one another. There now you Primates! Shall we continue the conversation? 

In the name of The Most Holy, Blessed, and Undided Trinity. Amen

Fr Paul

Thursday, January 07, 2016

What's in a Name?

What's In a Name?

A New Year has begun for us here at St John's and with it I trust there are many hopes for what lies ahead. You are blessed to have called a your new rector. He will bring with him a lovely family, outstanding scholarship, a down to earth pleasant personality, and also experience and connection to the national church, the worldwide Anglican Communion and beyond. Besides his connection to youth movements within the National Church through the ministry of his wife has wonderful potential for the young people of this parish and gives this congregation much to hope for.

The New Year is celebrated on the Church Calendar as the Feast Day of the Holy Name. For the observant Jew the naming of a child was among the most profound of spiritual moments in life. For Jesus this naming occurred on the seventh day of his life on New Year's Day. Thus we call the day The Feast of the Holy Name. The name Jesus or in the Hebrew, Joshua literally means God is our Salvation. The name means "savior". And the word Christ means "The Annointed One". Jesus Christ is thus the savior, the Annointed of God. 

In Philippians we are told that he was given the Name that is above all names, "so that at the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God the Father."

The Prophet Isaiah foretold the Holy Name in these magnificent words as sung by the Angels and as set to the unforgettable chorus of Handel's Messiah; 
"For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his Name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."

In today's Gospel we are told that he will be called a "Nazorean". In both my Pilgrimages to the Holy Land, I was fortunate enough to climb down the flights of archeological history to what is reputed to have been the boyhood home of "Jesus of Nazareth".
The business of the Name is not always easy for some of us. I visited a nursing home of a parishioner in West Virginia one time. Her name was "Ginny" and what a character she was. In her riper years her memory began to slip away and it was the ability to Name people that she began to loose. Upon arrival at the nursing home one day she was sitting next to an elderly gentleman. As she expressed delight when I came into the room to see her, she greeted me with these words;
"Oh hello Fr Paul, I am so glad to see you. I want to introduce you to my new boyfriend."
There was a moment's pause when she looked at him and said;
"What is your name anyway?"
Almost immediately, he replied,
"Geez, I don't know, what's yours?"
She said; "Hold on, I'll think of it in a minute!"
We all laughed heartily. 
Alas such is the human condition.

We are told in today's Gospel of Jesus' flight into Egypt. The Name of Jesus is much more to us and to the world than five letters and two syllables. Jesus, the King of Kings, and Lord or Lords represented a threat to Herod, whether real or imagined. No the Holy Name is much more than five letter and two syllables. Jesus is a Way of Life to us.

As a student of the study of Congregational Development during most of my professional life, I began to notice that Episcopalians and Anglicans call one another names. The name calling can be divisive but the more I studied the dynamic and the more I experienced the encounter with the Christ in one another as a parish priest, I began to notice that underneath the labels we use to describe one another there is a profound unity.

Here for example are some of the labels we use to describe one another.
  1. Social Activist
  2. Traditionalist
  3. Evangelical
  4. Intellectual
  5. Anglo-Catholic
  6. Charismatic
We tend to further subdivide one another into other categories like Liberal, Conservative, Moderate and so on. Truth be told, I came to discover that more than one of these labels applied to me. And in fact, as I grew into the fullness of Christ, I also discovered that behind these labels there is a reality that can bring us closer to Jesus as we grow into him.

Take the Social Activist for instance. Behind the label there is a the search for Justice and Peace and what could be more biblical or Christ centered than that? Jesus began his ministry with the words "I have come to bring Good News to the Poor. At the conclusion of his ministry, he uses these words not just to judge us but the nations of the earth; "Insofar as you have done it to one of the least of these, you have done it to me." Yes, we are much more than Social Activists. We are those who seek Justice for the sake of Peace and we do so in concert with the Living and Risen Christ.

What of the Traditionalist? Is Jesus not there too as he says "Not one jot, not one tittle of the Law will pass until all is fulfilled"? And what is the fulfillment of the Law, but the very words of Jesus as he himself quotes the Holy Writings? "Hear O Israel, you shall the love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.' And "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets". Or very simply; "Love one another!" You cannot get more traditional than that.

The Evangelical? Jesus calls us to repentence. What could be more central to the Gospel than the call of God for a complete makeover of the human soul? A "metanoia" as it is called in Greek; A rebirth from the old way of sin to a whole new life of forgiveness and rebirth. A death to sin and a rebirth to Eternal Life. What could be more to the heart of our Baptism than this conversion moment in the human soul?

The Intellectual? We are known as the Chruch that requires "Thinking" and "Reason". The prophet Isaiah said "Come let us reason together." Did Jesus not spent hour after hour with his followers teaching in Parables and then explaining these parables in the Apoltolic fellowship? In Anglican Theology Scripture, Tradition and Reason are the Hallmark of a mature faith as we hold our lives within the dynamic of this threefold authority. 

The Anglo Catholic? What of the Anglo Catholic? We are a people who love our rituals? Some more so, some less so. Some of the churches I've served relished the sound of the Sanctus bells, and the smells of incense. In West Virginia for instance, my number two son, Joshua, loved to do what we called "360's" as the incense pot swung over his head round and round and round in solemn procession on the high Holy Days. You may notice, I take care as I celebrate the Eucharist to repeat certain rituals Sunday after Sunday. We are a people of ritual. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Birthdays and other celebrations take on great significance to us as a people, and if we don't do something in that certain way, we are much the poorer. We are told that when Jesus fed the 5000 or when he gathered with his disciples for the Last Supper, it was with the same words; he took bread, he gave thanks, and he shared it with his friends. Likewise after supper, he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to his friends. It is in this very ritual that Christ becomes present to us at this altar rail and we go forward from here to make a better world. What could be more Christ like than that? It is in the Anglo Catholic nature of our tradition that we seek to dignify and honor our rituals. 

And finally the Charismatic? Those filled with the Holy Spirit? The third Person of the Holy Trinity? Sometimes this encounter can be disruptive in congregations. But to tell you the truth, Social Activists, Traditionalists, Intellectuals, and Anglo Catholics can also insist that their way of seeing Jesus is better than the way others do. As one who finds himself managing congregations, understanding the nature of the enounter with Christ takes center stage when managing conflict. After all, when understood in the fullness of what the Name of Jesus means as a way of life, these Names we call one another, do not represent comparative modes of Godly expeience, they are rather primary modes of that encounter. 

There's not a one of us whose encounter with God the Father, God the Son or God the Holy Spirit, is better or worse than any other. Each of us is on pilgrimage from the beginnings of our faith until the very end. As Jesus said in yet another Name he uses to describe the reality of who he is for us; "I am the Alpha and the Omega; the beginning and the end". Yes indeed, Jesus the the Author and Finisher of our faith.

The Spirit moment is a powerful moment for the Charismatic. It awakens an experience of that which inspires, guides, and strengthens us in life, and who doesn't need inspiration, guidance, and strength in the lives we lead?

For much of this past week I was running on empty. The demands of Christmas required all that I had to offer and more besides because of the suffering and death that I was required to face in the family along with the usual requirements of being a parish priest. I thought I could sit down on New Year's Day and "crank out" a sermon, if you will. Nothing came. I simply had nothing else to say. My cousin's funeral was the last straw for me. I was spiritualy, emotionally, and physically exhausted.

And then a friend called me on New Year's Day to describe the pain he was suffering in association with passing a kidney stone. Ewww...but something clicked! All of a sudden the Holy Spirit gave me some words, some strength, some inspiration and some guidance and I was off and running again. 

Every day, I take time to pray, to journal, to walk, to take some quiet time just to be with God. And lo and behold, there it is again. The Holy Spirit. 

My dear friends Jesus is so much more than five letters and two syllables. For the Holy Name of Jesus is "shorthand" for the Way, the Truth and the Life. Whether we call ourselves or others Social Activists, Traditionalists, Evangelicals, Intellectuals, Anglo Catholics or Charismatics, or all the above, we are all one people incorporate in the Body of Christ. And we are each and all living the life that brings us to God. 

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

Fr Paul