Sunday, October 08, 2017



My dad died when I was eight years old at Christmas and I often needed an adopted father, whether consciously or unconsciously, I’m not sure, but it just seemed to work out that way.

There was, for instance “Suitcase Sam”. He was a Jewish fellow who was part of the Conservative Jewish movement in Boston. He earned the nickname “Suitcase Sam” because he carried a rather large “American Tourister” with him in which he carried day old bread to feed the pigeons down by Symphony Hall in Boston on the way to work. He loved the birds. They loved him back. Every day, it was the same thing, thousands of pigeons spotted Sam and flew to him as if we were watching a bad reprise from an Alfred Hitchcock movie. He and I drove for the old Checker Taxi Company. He was known as “Checkah 226”, I was Checkah 99”. I drove nights in order to help pay my way through seminary. He did too, because he was an elder American who had bills to pay. We adopted one another. By the way, I also drove cab in New York City to help keep ahead of the bills. In those days, working summers or nights like that could help pay tuition, room and board. Nowadays costs for higher education are such that much of that out of reach for so many. 

Sam and I were people of faith. Sometimes it was hard to get a minion for Morning Prayer at the Synagogue and Sam would call on me. Over the cab radio there was the crackling sound; “99, Sam needs you at the Synagogue!” It takes 10 to make a minion or quorum. I loved it. I’d listen closely to the Rabbi in a tiny downtown sacred space as he spoke of each sacred word from the Hebrew Bible and we’d discuss our love for the sacred text as the others stayed in the back visiting, sometimes playing cards but certainly not hanging on every word from the rabbi’s mouth as Sam and I did. Sam wore his prayer shawl and yarmulke and began to pray. As he recited the Psalter his body swayed to the rhythm of the verses. It is called davening; much like we move liturgically; standing, sitting, kneeling, moving from pew to altar rail and back again. We pray with our bodies.  Likewise with Sam; we are all perfectly at one with God in our worship, as we are when we recite today’s Psalm 
7 The law of the Lord is perfect
and revives the soul; *
8 The statutes of the Lord are just
and rejoice the heart; *
the commandment of the Lord is clear
and gives light to the eyes.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold, *
sweeter far than honey,
than honey in the comb.

He loved the Law. It revived his soul. He loved God. He also respected my faith and admonished me to do the same for others. Never attack someone else just because their belief system is different from your own. And so it was with Sam and me and those of us who drove taxis in Boston; Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists and Agnostics alike; we all practiced a kind of tolerance that went beyond that to a profound affection and love for one another. That is what we are all taught in our common faith and humanist traditions. After all, Sam reminded me, wasn’t it the Jewish fellow we call Jesus who taught us all to “Love one another!” 

Such a spirit. Such a soul as this! Sam loved the law of God. As we are taught to do in our Synagogues, Churches, and Mosques. We are taught the world over to treat one another as we wish to be treated and to do so out of the abundance of God’s joy and of love. This is because “God is Love”. 

The Law begins with the “Shema, Yisrael!”; Hear O Israel the Lord your God is one and you shall Love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all you mind and with all your should and with all your strength. This is Israel’s great commandment. And the first four of the Ten Commandment’s we recite today are anticipated fulfilled by the Shema. Likewise the remaining 6. They are fulfilled by Jesus are they not. when he quoted Leviticus 19:19, “You shall love your neighbor as you do yourself.” 

In stark contrast to this the Dream of God we come together today in the wake of violence, disaster, political divisiveness, and racial hatred.
Anger has been ramped up in the midst of it all. The Dream of God in so many place of the human soul has become a nightmare from which we seem not to waken. 

Now we dread what may come of things between us and the folks in North Korea. The stewardship of that relationship frankly seems to be in hands that fail the most fundamental test of diplomacy, stability, and nuance which is critical to such a potentially dangerous and mercurial relationship. So many souls hang in the balance. 

And here you and I find ourselves with the challenge of presenting ourselves to the world as Christians.

Even that’s problematic since much of what passes for “Christian” in our contemporary world frankly makes me cringe. 

We Episcopalians seem to be swimming in the opposite direction in many ways. The more inclusive we become the fewer folks seem attracted to the proclamation of faith as we have come to understand it.

I am frankly turned off by much of what passes for Christianity around us. I like to think critically about my faith. I like to read, study and discuss it. For me faith is not about judging folks, it is about reaching out to those who have often found themselves on the margins. The Gospel is about the healing of the blind, the lame, the foreign soldier’s daughter, the leper. It seems to me that Jesus would seek out those the social order rejected. And yet he was also comfortable around the rich and the powerful. The Gospel has always and will always transcend human categorization. The Gospel has always and will always be about the love of Jesus for everyone on this planet. Period. 

I am reminded of the wisecrack Tallulah is reputed to have made when someone asked her if she were a Christian. She spoke openly about being an agnostic, but she loved the worship of the Church especially at Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin on Broadway, “Smokey Marry’s” as it is still affectionately known. The vestments, the incense, the bells, the critical thoughtful sermons, the drama of the Eucharist thrilled her and made sense deeply somewhere in her soul. So her friends asked her often, are you a Christian. “Heavens no daaaaling, I’m not a Christian, I’m an Episcopalian!” 

Look at this sequence of events in the life of Jesus. First he overturns the tables in the Temple precincts. He confronts the money changers and proclaims that “My house shall be a house of prayer for all people!” Quoting Isaiah 56:7 he made it clear that foreigners and eunuchs were part of what it meant to be included in this “House of Prayer”. 

Again and again Jesus was there for the blind, the lame, the tax collector, the prostitute, the common fisherfolk of his time. Yet he was likewise at one with the rich as well as the poor. Whether it was a tax collector or a leper, to Jesus there was no distinction.

Where Jesus ran into problems was with the biblical literalists of his day. In today’s Gospel it was the chief priests and the Pharisees. Other times it was the scribes and the lawyers, the Sadducees or the Sanhedrin. 

And yet it was Jesus who became more and more the voice of the voiceless. So must we. There are those caught in the midst of natural disasters, and acts of violence and hatred. We must be fearless about speaking up for those who are victims. This is how Jesus organized his life.

There are also those not so far away who are forgotten and unserved by any organized efforts. 

Now is when I hear the voice of Jesus say; 
“Peter, do you love me?. 
“Yes, Lord you know that I love you.”
“Feed my sheep.”
A second time; Jesus asks Peter, the head of the church, the rock the builders rejected
“Peter do you Love me?
“Yes, Lord you know that I love you.”
“Feed my sheep.”
A third time Jesus asked Peter “Do you love me?”
Peter was hurt, because he asked the same question now three times, as if by way of emphasis or exaggeration. When seeking to make a point. Jesus often used hyperbole as a vehicle of communication.
“Feed my Lambs, Peter”
We may well be the stones the builders rejected.
Especially as we seek out the marginalized, the outcast, the maimed, and those who need to be fed not only with food from our tables, but with the food of the Angles.

You are the living stones upon which Christ is building this church.
Be of Good Courage, the builders may have rejected this ston and you.
But not so Jesus.
You are the Beloved of God, called to Proclaim the Love of God to ALL!

In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity.

Fr Paul

Monday, October 02, 2017

God at Work!

God at Work!

We cannot ignore the fact that a catastrophic humanitarian crisis is unfolding as we speak in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. These folks have suffered a direct hit from Hurricane Maria. The islands have been utterly devastated. The most basic needs for water, food, medicine are in short supply particularly in the matter of distribution. Power will not be restored perhaps for as long as six months by some estimates. Despite assurances to the contrary, many of us are deeply concerned that help is not quickly getting where it is needs to be. 

I have a gnawing feeling that we are watching yet another Katrina in the making. I am ready to be convinced that I’m wrong. But this all strikes close to home. My son David was front and center dealing with the homeless in New Orleans during those dreadful months that unfolded into years at Katrina time. What I am watching now has an all too familiar ring to it. I remember General Honore and his 40,000 troops descending on New Orleans and finally bringing some urgently needed help, perhaps late, but appreciated nonetheless. What we see happening in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands before our very eyes, pales in comparison to that response. 

In today's first reading we are told that the people quarreled with Moses in the wilderness because there was no water for them to drink. As the situation worsens in the Caribbean, quarrels are erupting between various levels of government. 

By the way, as a matter of editorial aside, I feel morally required to point out that none of this has to do with Puerto Rico’s massive debt. If I hear another word about that I think I may burst yet another blood vessel somewhere in my already compromised circulatory system. Anywhere in the world where there is such a catastrophe such as this, first save lives, then we ask how we’re going to pay for it. Much later! Billions and billions have been voted up for Texas and Florida in the wake of those storms. What about the folks on the Islands? And while I’m venting my spleen here, what about our heroic hot shots and firefighters in the West? Our fire season has been devastating and costly to us too. What about us? We in the west deserve more than a footnote in the nation’s attention span.

Please forgive me indulging in some of my own venting, but if I don’t do some of that I think I think I run the risk of repressing some of my deeply held humanitarian convictions let alone simple Christian concern for my fellow human beings. I have many Puerto Rican contacts from New York City, Boston and Lynn. I can report to you that those cities and their Public Schools are all preparing for yet another wave of humanity to descend on the Northeast as soon as commercial flights permit. I am relieved to see that State and Local governments have already begun to mobilize resources. No talk of cost or debt; our brothers and sisters are in trouble and they need us. First responder emergency teams, and folks in tactical communication squads, military and medical fields have already been dispatched to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.. Now to coordinate all this help from the Federal Level is an essential piece. Maybe that’s already in place. But I have concerns about how urgently we are focused on this unfolding crisis at the highest levels. 

If water will gush out from the rock, if manna will fall from heaven, if meat is to nourish body and soul as it did in the wilderness for the children if Israel, if medicines are to minister to diabetics and others on the Islands, then delivery and distribution systems will need to be provided from the angelic hosts of generous human hearts and bodies from all quarters. This is God at work in all of us!

Today’s Epistle is spot on in our present predicament. Isn’t it interesting how often that what seems an arbitrary lectionary prepared so many years ago, is in fact so timely. Today we read; “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

Today’s Collect proclaims that God shows “his power chiefly in showing mercy and pity.” Folks, as we work out our salvation, we must do nothing less since it is God who is at work in us. 

Jesus showed us his power by emptying himself. Defenseless as he was, he got himself into a whole peck of trouble with the Temple Authorites by that business of overturning the tables of the money-changers and hawkers in pigeons and trinkets in the Temple precincts. Today's Gospel is a follow up on that confrontation. The chief priests and elders of the people wanted to know by what authority he was doing these things. As was so often the case, Jesus answered the question by asking another? He says; “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”The question put the authorities in a quandary; they calculated their response among themselves; “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.”

So what did Jesus do but to ratchet up the confrontation by telling them the parable of The Unwilling Servant who changed his mind and did the bidding of his Master, while the Willing Servant decided to slough off his responsibilities. So, then comes the obvious follow up question, which of the two did the will of Master? Yes, obviously, the first. Jesus was not politically correct at that point, nor was he very diplomatic but instead took it right to those who exercised absolute authority and power over his life. And so he said; “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”

Of course you know the rest of the story. They showed him no mercy or pity. They certainly did not bend their knees at the Name of Jesus. They were missing the key ingredient of what comprises the Kingdom of Heaven. Not just mercy and pity, not just love and compassion, but embracing the other, the different, the weaker, the poorer as you would those much better off than you. 

And so it was that Paul breaks out into this wonderful Hymn, one I love so much to hear sung from our own Hymnal:
“Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”

God is at work in you, every one of you. Every time you forgive someone, When you reconcile those at odds or feuding with one another, whenever you love somebody who has made themselves difficult to love, yourself included. When you rise to such an occasion as this Heaven breaks into life and shines like the morning sun.

Not long ago I was in the hospital and I was mixing it up with one of the nurses. That’s just the way I am. She said something about my cheerful spirits. I said to her I’m sure there are many who must be grateful for her work and the work of those in medicine. I was a bit taken aback by what she said then. She told me that there were lots of angry people these days. The lack of gratitude, and the anger makes a nurse’s shift very long and difficult. How can you be anything but grateful for such a ministry? Cheerfully I shared my gratitude for her work and my love for God. The nurse was delighted if also a bit surprised to hear that I am an Episcopal priest. She was, I think, intrigued. I explained a bit about who we are, we can marry, of course. Our clergy can be male, female, gay, straight and so forth. So too our membership. We are all one in Christ, said I. We had quite a conversation about faith. She was a lapsed Roman Catholic and found what I was saying sensible and refreshing.

I can tell you this, whether you are responding to a hurricane or a heat attack, every single human being on this planet at one time or another is ready to ask or ready to hear about how God is at work in you, in them, or in the world we live in. I have been brought to my knees at the Name of Jesus more than once. If you haven’t you will. All of us will sooner or later. I pray that we may make God’s Incarnate Love apparent to all while we have this precious gift of life, time and opportunity. People are ready, more ready than you can ever know to hear a kind word. The time is always now to share some measure of the Good News of God.

In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul.