Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Fullness of God and Documentation

The Fullness of God and Documentation

Good morning, Al. Ive been thinking about you lately. Many years ago a parishioner called me when I was serving at the Church of the Epiphany, in Euclid, Ohio. He told me that his best friend, Al, had just received news that he was facing a terminal illness and he was struck with terror. Al was not a parishioner and in fact, he was, what we call in the trade; “a pleasant pagan”. My parishioner wondered if I would mind going to the hospital to visit him. I did that.

When I got to the hospital, Al greeted me warmly and said somewhat sheepishly, that he was not a believer but would very much like to be. He wondered how he could become a Christian. I suggested Baptism. I briefly explained the matter to him. After all, there was that Baptism we read about last week of the Ethiopian Eunuch. And this week we read from the Acts of the Apostles; “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” Clearly Al had received the Holy Spirit and was searching to be filled with all the fullness of God. I asked the nurse for a basin of water and we stood together along with Al’s wife as his Godparents, and I baptized him “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” 

Al’s life changed that day. He worshipped the Daily Office with us. We were few in number on weekdays but we usually had a cup of coffee and chatted afterward. One day Al said to us; “All I ask for is to be present for my daughter’s wedding” which was scheduled for about the following Spring. I told Al to see if he could “cut a deal with God”. That sounded Biblical enough for me. He did cut a deal and then, the following Spring, in a moment from heaven that I’ll never forget, he danced with to “daddy’s little girl”. Of course I was the officiant. What a day! Talk about all the fullness of God!

A little later on, Al said; “I wonder if I could make it to my son’s graduation?” The young man was working on his doctorate. Now we were talking a couple of years. I said to Al; “You’re beginning to stretch things, but go ahead; see if you can cut a deal.” He did. And he made it.

Al kept cutting deals but finally, the last deal he could cut with God was this; “Jesus, bring me safely home.” And of course, God did that. Jesus brought Al safely home. 

The key to life is to love God in all things and above all things just like today’s Collect says. That’s what it means to bring joy to your heart and to the heart of others. Walking along by the sea morning by morning I see the waves crashing onshore and today’s psalm comes to mind. 
1 Sing to the Lord a new song, *
for he has done marvelous things.
8 Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, *
9 Let the rivers clap their hands, *
and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord,
I see dogs chasing the waves, children playing in the sand, elderly women wearing their canes walking steadily along, hale young men standing with pretty young girls, I hear foreign and domestic languages, and in it all, I feel filled with all the fullness of God. Jesus said it in the Gospel today; “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

Many of you feel filled with all the fullness of God, don’t you? Just the simplest of things you see along life’s comings and goings, inspire such joy. Yesterday, I happened to come across Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong’s song; “What a Wonderful World.” The nickname “Satchmo” was assigned to him by his friends who said his mouth looked like a “satchel”. His smile as broad and bright as as a rainbow, always fills me yet again with the wonder of it all. “I say to myself; what a wonderful world!” It doesn’t take much, going for a walk on a beautiful sunny springtime day like yesterday was, for instance.

Where do we get all this, you may wonder? I wonder about that too. How was it that I became so filled with the fullness of God? Was it my grandmother? The traumatic loss of my dad as a child? Perhaps the beauty of my childhood church? Perhaps the long lonely nights when I tried to reason it out during those times I could not sleep? I still do that. Perhaps all the above.

Where did you become filled with all the fullness of God? I’m not at all sure. But this I can tell you, you fill me with the fullness of God. It is somewhere in your music, the way you read the sacred text, at the altar rail when shoulder to shoulder, you make close to each other and the sacred spaces allotted to us in life. And then you go out to do the work God has given you to do. You care about the kids in the neighborhood, those struggling with anxiety about where they stand with this country’s skittishness over sexual orientation and transgender rights, immigration, documentation and so many other matters of controversy regarding our status with one another.

Funny thing, I’ve been doing some genealogical work and discovered that my ninth great grandfather was Captain John Gallop. He was the first Boston Harbor Pilot in the mid 1600’s. He lived on what is now known as Gallop’s Island way out there in the harbor. Later generations of Irish and Italian immigrants were quarantined on that island when they first came to these shores. It was the first bit of land they saw when they came here by the tens of thousands in their day. 

On further examination, I discovered that the “documentation” my Puritan ancestors, Irish ancestors, Cindy’s Italian ancestors, was, shall we say, questionable or scant. Captain Gallop came on a land grant. History tells us that native Americans found that documentation of  questionable validity. Native Americans didn’t grant Captain Gallop that island. He took it! As for my Irish ancestors, Cindy’s Italian ancestors, all they had to do to get here was pay passage, and get through quarantine on grandpa’s island. And as for African American immigration and the documentation for that? It took far too long for us to realize that slavery was cruel, unjust, and plain morally wrong! But here we are today, all of us together somehow, filled with all the fullness of God. 

Now what about the "Dreamers", DACA? The folks from Honduras? On what moral ground do we stand when we decide to deport them?

I like to describe myself as just a “simple parish priest”. That’s all I ever wanted to be. But someone I know and care about very much recently said; “A simple parish priest? Naw, I think of you as a feisty parish priest!”

Come to think of it, there’s probably some truth to that. When I see the poor, the homeless, the elderly, the young, the marginalized, and the foreign born…anybody who I think of as vulnerable in the social order, being bullied about by those in power, I find myself eager to “insinuate” myself into situations like that. To be filled with the fullness of God, means more than personal piety. For as Jesus points out in today’s Gospel; “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

I read about the families that are being broken up by ICE, the so-called Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency of The United States of America. I find myself wondering what I can do?  I don’t know right off hand. But, I’ll think of something. 

All through our history we’ve built churches to help organize our efforts to protect the vulnerable in our midst. The key to our future, if indeed God wants us to have a future, is for us to organize our mission and ministry among those in need and where there is any suffering or sorrow, oppression, or injustice.
How did these people build all those churches? How did they build upon the ruins of their history? I asked that question when I visited Holy Island in Britain way back in 1973. The church here at the time, was in decline. All my life, the church has been in decline. How did those Celts do it? Build churches? 

One on one they went out to discover the needs of the people? St Aidan of Lindisfarne (aka Holy Island) is my teacher. After all, if he could convert the Brits, who am I to second guess him. He built the church stone on stone, person on person. He walked everywhere. And wherever he went his first question was; “Are you Baptised?” What is the reason and purpose of your life?  What do you care most about? What do you need? How can I help? What can we do together which neither of us can do alone? Do you really know who Jesus was? Is? 
I picture Aidan sitting at the hearth with friends he made, and a sheep dog sitting between them. They talk into the wee hours of the night sharing their hearts. They discovered together who God is between them. Learning together to love, forgive, reconcile and make sense of the short time we have on the planet. And then they built a place where they could make manifest the love they shared for God and each other. 
They made the church visible. They greeted visitors skillfully. They got to know people, they baptized them in the name of the Holy Trinity, then they sent them out to do the work God gave them to do. 
But where they began was with learning where the people hurt, what they needed. By the way, these Celts were also a cheerful bunch. They had wonderful fun gatherings. They made very good beer. They knew life was short. They knew how difficult and sad life could be. They never let a Sunday go by without a celebration. In fact this is why, to this day, we call what we do; “A Celebration of the Holy Eucharist.” 

Jesus said this of being filled with all the fullness of God in today’s Gospel. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Well, Al, thank you for listening. I have a heart that is full of love for God and for these people, just like you. Captain Gallop...good morning grandpa, thanks for listening. I hope to get out to the Island this summer like I do every summer. This really is a beautiful place. There are still many more we hope will to come to these shores like we did to find a place in the sun. I pray we can find a way to welcome them. This life we live is simply an amazing gift. 

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

Fr Paul