Sunday, October 28, 2018

No Room for Hate!

No Room for Hate!

No Room for Hate! Today in every house of worship in America this what we need to proclaim!

Friday at the National Cathedral, the Episcopal Church honored Matthew Sheppard. Twenty years ago he was beaten, pistol whipped, and tied to a barbed wire fence on a cold October night in Laramie, Wyoming. He was left to die. Matthew was was gay. That same year a Black man by the name of James Byrd Jr was dragged behind a pick up truck by white supremacists and dismembered during the hateful episode. He too was mercilessly murdered. 

Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop of the Episcopal church,  preached the sermon to honor Matthew on Friday and he asked us to remember James. 

Matthew’s parents did not bury him in Laramie out of concern for the possible desecration of their son’s grave. There is reason to believe that in our time there are those who might do such a thing. They wanted their son to Rest In Peace. In his young life, Matthew found acceptance in the local Episcopal Church, while others rejected him. And so today he rests in the Cathedral crypt.

In 2003 David Bresnahan and I attended the Consecration of Gene Robinson when he became the Bishop of New Hampshire. We were met by folks from Westboro “Baptist” Church and others who displayed signs that said; “God hates gays”. Really! Does God hate? The Scripture says: “God is Love.” Gene Robinson had to wear a bullet proof vest during his consecration. There was heavy security present. Credible death threats had been made against Bishop Robinson. 

In his sermon Friday, Bishop Robinson tearfully told Matthew’s family and the thousands gathered in a packed Cathedral;
“Rest in peace, Matthew.
You are safe now.
In the crypt of the National Cathedral, a young man rests in the arms of Jesus. 

This week, thirteen bombs were delivered to citizens of these United States of America. Thankfully none of the devices detonated, and more thankfully still the individual alleged to be responsible was apprehended by the authorities. 
Yesterday someone killed eleven worshippers and wounded four police officers in a Pittsburg Synagogue. That man was heavily armed and was also apprehended.

And so it goes. The tiresome chronicle of hate crimes continues in our land. There is no room for hate in our political or religious life. From the highest office in the land on down such acts of violence have been condemned as having no place in public life. 

Jesus goes one better; There is no room for hate in any human heart.

Harboring hatred, takes a heavy toll in the human soul. Much like the old Buddhist maxim; “Holding on to hate is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

Like the blindness of Bartimaeus, hatred blinds us and leaves us impoverished. At least Bartimaeus was honest about it. He knew he was a blind beggar and still he called out; “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” 
He was told to shush! 
He cried out even more loudly. 
“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.”
So Jesus called him forward.
He threw “off his cloak, sprang up and came to Jesus. “Rabbi, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.”

You will notice the love of Jesus. While the others wanted the blind beggar to shush himself, Jesus wanted him to speak up. This is true for all the sick, the lame, the lepers, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, outcasts of all sorts. This is true for Matthew Sheppard, James Byrd Jr., and for Jews who worship in a Holy Place. The blindness of those who hate is no match for the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Jesus, a Jew to his dying day, had no weapons, nothing whatsoever to defend himself; nor did his disciples. He was at their mercy. We are all at the mercy of what hatred can do. But Jesus points us to another mercy; the mercy of God. For Jesus, this is protection enough. 

The Collect of the Day reminds us; “Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, make us love what you command.”

How about that? How about a change of heart? The harboring of hate in the human heart is destroying us.

The ancient Christian greeting from the heart of Jesus is at the heart of every Eucharist: “Peace be with you”.
The ancient Jewish greeting to friend and stranger alike is the same; “Shalom”
And the ancient Muslim greeting is likewise; “Salaam”. 
What part of our ancient shared faith, hope and charity are we missing anyway?
The very name “Jerusalem” means; “Foundation of Peace”.
And yet look what hatred makes of it!

I am reminded of the old Native American proverb;
“What if I told you that the left wing and the right wing belong to the same bird.”
Or the Hindu maxim:
"There are hundreds of paths up the mountain, all leading to the same place, so it doesn't matter which path you take. The only person wasting time is the one who runs around the mountain, telling everyone that his or her path is wrong.”
Or simpler still, Jesus; “Love your enemies.”

Too much anger!
Too much fear and paranoia!
To much hatred!

And what does Jesus require?
Love God.
Love one another.
The hinge of all history turns on our renunciation of hatred and our turning to love.
Dying to sin, we live again.
It is all about our Baptism.

In the ancient church, at the Great Vigil of Easter, at dawn, the candidates for Baptism would face west into the darkness and renounce the forces of evil. They were baptized, clothed in white albs, faced East to the rising of the sun!
“Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?”

There it is; the burning question for this and every age.
Do you renounce Satan and all the forces of evil which seek to destroy the creatures of God?
Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?


Matthew you are safe today in the crypt of the National Cathedral.
No harm can come to you now. 
You are in the arms of Jesus who loves you and gave his life for you. 
James Byrd Jr. You are safe today in the Savior’s arms. 
And sisters and brothers of every Synagogue and Temple in America; you too are in God’s hands. As the Hebrew Scripture we all share reminds us; “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, You are with me!” ~Psalm 23:1
This is how our Presiding Bishop puts it; “Come and be part of the Jesus movement!”

Finally there is this. Every Thursday night here at Trinity during our healing Eucharist, our custom is to remember the Saints of the Church, those we read of throughout history who have taught us of the love of Jesus.
Let me suggest this; let us go on record from this place and all across this church of ours;
“Be it Resolved that The Episcopal Church set aside a day in the Christian Year as Matthew Sheppard and James Byrd Jr Day in honor of all victims of hate. 
Be it further resolved that we love one another as God loves us.”

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

Fr Paul

Monday, October 22, 2018

Turning the Tables

Turning the Tables!

Turning things upside down! That’s the way Jesus seems to go about things, whether its the Tables in the Temple precincts or who gets to be boss versus who gets to be bossed. He says in today’s Gospel that he comes not be be served but to serve. He is the One who washed their feet the night before he died for all. He left an indelible mark upon us. Yet, given our human nature, we seem to forget as soon as we look away.

After all, we have to live, learn, work and play in this world. And in this world there are bosses and those who get bossed around. There are bullies and bullyboys, and those who are bullied. Those are just the facts. The abuse inflicted and suffered in the church, the business world, entertainment and politics is well documented. The #MeToo movement is but the latest manifestation of those who seeks to right the ship. We can only hope for more.

In today’s Gospel, the sons of Zebedee want Jesus to do whatever they ask of him. After all, they were political zealots, the ones who sought the overthrow of the government, and they felt they deserved special seating at the right and left hand of Jesus. I suppose they thought they should wield power from the throne room of God. 

They had a case. The occupation force at the time was the distant Roman government, well known for swift reprisals for any uprising or questioning of authority. Jerusalem resented Rome. Jesus own family was driven away from the Bethlehem of his birth, for fear of his life. The slaughter of the Innocents soon ensued. It was a dark time for the folks who sought freedom and self rule. Again and again the brutal oppression of the ruler’s rod is meted out ruthlessly. 

The Book of Job deals with the problem of suffering and injustice. Job was a good man. So much so that when God and Satan are pictured as in conversation about the dilemma of the human condition. God says do what you will with my servant Job, but he will never curse me. Satan had a field day with him. He took away his beloved family, his wealth, and finally his health. He visited him with sores so painful that Job could not find a moment’s peace even in his sleep. Job was tormented also by “friends” who tried to explain his condition by postulating that he must have done something to deserve all this…some sin, some offense, some something to deserve the calamity that befell him. Job’s physical torment was now exaggerated by the conversation of those who surrounded him. There was no relief.

Folks, this is the way things are. Things are often upside down. The suffering makes no sense. Lets face it, when we see the good and the righteous suffer, no fault of their own, we cannot help but question God. 

Yet when God gives the answer to the questions we raise, there is a turning of the tables and a quaking in the human soul. God asks the questions. We give the answers. In today’s first lesson we read this exquisite Hebrew poetry;

God answered Job out of the whirlwind:
"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.”

Job remembers his rightful place in obedience to God. And God restores Job to all that he had lost and more besides. Jesus also learned obedience through what he suffered, the Epistle tells us. And he became the source of salvation for all who obey him. 

For example:

When I served as Interim in Sandwich, on the Cape, a faithful woman of the church, took sick and was admitted to Beth Israel for surgery. When they opened her up, what the surgeon saw convinced him that the best thing to do was to sew her up and break the news to her straight on. I went to visit her at her home and she was remarkably collected given the facts as she faced them.

She told me that she had but a few months to live. She talked about having Cindy and me over to tea. She and I both loved “Typhoo Tea”, a popular English brand which we still drink. We had tea and biscuits as time permitted. Then one day with a twinkle in her eye, she said to me; “All I want to know is that there is a Thrift Shop in heaven where I can price items without interference from those who think they know better.”
I told her I’d get back to her on that.
When I returned the following week, I told her that I had good news and on good authority; “Eileen, there is a Thrift Shop in Heaven, and you can price all he items you want without interference within in the department you are assigned for the day.” 

She was thrilled to hear the news, and willing to accept reasonable limitations. 
Her joy was much like the Psalmist’s joy today;
“Bless the Lord, O my soul; *
O Lord my God, how excellent is your greatness!”
She was obedient to her fate and kept it in her faith. 
We played out the Game of Heaven until those last days.
I remember the end. It was Sunday night. We had just arrived home from Sandwich. I had changed into my jammies to watch the Bruins take on the NY Rangers and the phone rang.
It was the head nurse. 
She told me the end was near. 
I looked up at Cindy and said; “We’ve got to go back to Sandwich. Eileen’s time has come.” 
I suited up and off we went into the cold winter’s night. Thankfully, there was no snow, just a cold and bitter wind to fight driving down the Cranberry Highway. 
When we arrived, I gave her communion by touching her lips with the host and then I leaned over as I learned years ago and I sang in her ear; 
“Jesus loves me, this I know, 
for the Bible tells me so. 
Little ones to him belong, 
they are weak but he is strong.
Yes Jesus loves me,
Yes Jesus loves me
Yes Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so."
The last to go is the hearing, and those are the words I wanted her to hear in those sacred moments. 
I whispered to her that all was in readiness in the Thrift Shop. 
You can go anytime now.
The nurse standing by teared up and thanked me and Cindy for coming.  We drove back to Lynn.
I’m told it wasn’t long afterward that she died during the night. The nurse expressed profound gratitude for the experience we shared.

Suffering Servant
God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind.
God knows we suffer. God knows those we love suffer.
God made us the way we are.
God made the world the way it is and nature has her way with us.
And so it was with Jesus too when he suffered and died upon the cross, no fault of his own. 
It was the brutal bullying of his own time that became the vehicle through with Salvation has come to us all.
As we say time and again in the heart of the Eucharist.
Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again.
That the central fact of Faith!
And the coming his again as you and I become the hands and feet of Jesus. 

The Breaking of the Bread, a symbol of our brokenness is also a symbol pointing to God’s healing grace and power. 
The Tables have turned upside down.
We are here not to be served but to serve.
The very power of the Gospel.
The very power of Jesus the Christ.

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

Fr Paul

Monday, October 15, 2018

Eternal Life?

Eternal Life?

It is a reasonable question; “What must I do to inherit eternal life? 
We don’t know what lies behind the question of the man who knelt before Jesus. It might be a Biblical way of saying “What’s it all about, Jesus? What is the meaning of my life? Why am I here? What does God ask of me? And ultimately, what happens to me when I die? What happens to those I love when they die?” 

Interestingly, the idea of eternal life for Jesus hinges on the simple directness of the Ten Commandments. “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.”
The young man is obviously an observant Jew; “I’ve done all these things since I was a youth.”
Jesus “looked at him and loved him”. Notice that! He “looked at him and loved him.” I hope you know that Jesus “looks at you and loves you”.

Then Jesus tells the man what sounds near impossible to the disciples as well as to the young man. 
Eternal Life you say? “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

The man was shocked and went away in sorrow we’re told, because he had great wealth. 
Jesus looked around to his disciples; “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

It is physically impossible to put a camel through the eye of a needle. Hard enough to thread the thing. My grandmother used to say; “Here take your young eyes and thread this for me.” But a camel?

Jesus often used the literary device we call “hyperbole”; namely exaggeration to make a point.
On the other hand, there are those who say that there was a gate into Jerusalem called the “Eye of a Needle”. I like the story whether its true or not. The gate as it was described in “Biblical folklore” was such that you could only fit a camel into it if the cargo on the beast were left behind and it were to crouch down and squeeze through. This would be a laughable sight, and if true would emphasize Jesus’ sense of humor. 

The point of the hyperbole, whether literal or figurative, and the joke that Jesus tickles us with, is to direct us to a teaching.
So too, here. Does Jesus mean literally to sell what you own and give it all away? Or is Jesus pointing us away from greed and toward sharing and generosity? Especially, when we see people in poverty, need and in the midst of catastrophic despair?

Our brothers and sisters in the Florida panhandle are in desperate need. There needs to be an urgent and wise distribution of aid to help folks in the wake of yet another hurricane. It needs to be abundant and swift, but it also needs to be careful. God knows human chicanery inserts itself into the mix, given the presence of mugwumps and scalawags in plentiful supply whenever there is such a disaster. 
Giving away all that we have does not mean a mindless transfer of wealth from one to another, it means an intelligent, wise and timely sharing of our resources that results in a just sharing of wealth among us all, without fostering dependency or falling victim to fraud. Now that is tricky business. 

The disciples were greatly astounded at this teaching and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them, again with love, and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
And that’s the point. For us eternal life is impossible, but not for God. 
More and more, as we put our lives into the hands of God, we discover that everything becomes possible, including eternal life.
Today’s Epistle puts it this way; “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
As we turn our lives over to God, a life changing process begins continues and ends in God. And in the end, it begins again!
For Jesus, eternal life begins in keeping the commandments. Then it morphs into a generosity that inspires economic justice. And then ultimately, eternal life becomes the sacred hope we all live in that as Jesus dies upon the cross, so too he rises again in the power that vanquishes sin and death.  

Eternal Life is about Baptism. It is about the way God brings us out of sin and death and into eternal life! Renouncing the wickedness of this world and establishing the kingdom of God’s Love. It is about finding our way out of judgment and blame and into forgiveness and reconciliation both for ourselves and others.

A young man once came up to me and asked me to baptize his little girl. He was not a church goer. His wife and her parents attended, but curiously he was the one to ask the question of me. The answer was obvious but still I wanted to know more about the young fellow.  I invited him out for a cup of coffee so we could fill out the forms and tend to the formalities.
Come to find out, he was an up and coming attorney in a respectable law firm. As we conversed I noted that I did not see him in church very often. With tiresome predictability he said that believed in God, it was just organized religion he didn’t believe in. 
Folks I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that exact turn of phrase. On this day, when I heard it, something in me finally snapped! 
I took a sip of my coffee, I looked at the young man and said; “Let me ask you a question; Do you believe in democracy?” 
“Yes, of course I do” he replied.
“Well then, if that’s the case you have to have Congress and you also have to have Politicians, good Lord deliver us!” In other words “You have to organize your democracy into a human institution, and I might add, you may be a bit disappointed in what you end up with.”
That seemed to take some of wind out of his sails. I took another sip of coffee. Sensing I had achieved the advantage, I pressed the case.
I said; “Do you believe in Justice?”
“Obviously”. By now he was beginning to see where I was headed.
“In that case you will have to have courts, judges, and a-hem, a-hem, you will have to have whole gaggle of lawyers!” 
In other words you will have to organize Justice into a human institution. 
So then, whether it is Democracy, Justice, or God, there has to be some way of organizing our beliefs into human institutions or we loose all that we’ve worked so hard to establish through the centuries. 
Alas, I still didn’t see him in church very often, even after the baptism. Fair enough, I don’t consult an attorney either unless I absolutely have to!

Eternal Life? It is about immersing ourselves into the lives we live in a way that makes clear what we believe in. To be the best we can be at who we are and what we do! I believe in the ways of God. Loving God and one another. Accepting God’s forgiveness and freely offering it to others. Finding ways to reconciliation between ourselves and God and among those of us who are at odds with one another.
And yes I believe in Democracy and Justice, even if I am dismayed at what’s become of it from time to time. But only by our involvement, only by plunging our hands into the muck and mire of it can any good thing come out of it.
This is what God did when he sent Jesus into the world. Talk about plunging your whole Being into the muck and mire of it…that is who Jesus is for us. And it is out of the sin and sorrow of this sullied old world that Jesus stood upon the Cross stretching out his arms on hardened wood so that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace. (~from the Book of Common Prayer, page 101.)

This is Eternal Life; that we too may reach out our arms of love on the cross; the one we take up every day when we seek to follow Jesus. No one is excluded! All are invited! Everyone is welcome! 
God made us all. God saved us all. God makes us all holy…if only we say “Yes” to him who first said “Yes” to us. And then we shall have firm hold on Eternal Life!

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

Fr Paul