Monday, November 19, 2018

The Holy Bible and Membership Sunday

Scripture & Membership Sunday

The Church dedicates this Sunday to the Holy Bible.
Trinity Church dedicates this Sunday to Membership and Pledging.

Today’s Collect of the Day invites us to remember the Holy Scriptures; that they are “written for our learning”. Furthermore it enjoins us “so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life”.

Of course that reminds me of a story. When we were first ordained my friend Bernard had an Irish Setter. The dog’s name was Patrick. He was high strung; he seemed impossible to train beyond the basics. He had an insatiable appetite for furniture and when Bernie went about his appointed rounds, he often found the house a shambles when he returned. And so it was that on the eve of Scripture Sunday, which we observe today, Patrick got a hold of Fr Bernard’s new, leather bound edition of  Book of Common Prayer and Hymnal. He ate it. Bernard called me in a fit of exasperation and said that the dog must have known it was Scripture Sunday, because he took to heart and stomach the words “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest”. Patrick was inwardly digesting the Word of God. Alas, the meal did not seem to improve his temperament.   

“Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest God’s Word.” Daily to read the Scripture. Here’s a maxim I seek to follow; for every page of the newspaper, for every hour watching the news; read a page, spend an hour dwelling in the Word of God. If you are tired of all the bad news, balance your life with the Good News of God. “Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the Holy Scripture!

Follow the Daily Office Lectionary if you wish. Use Forward Day by Day. Spend time with God. Get into it. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Biblical Narrative. Remember the Five Might Acts of God as we rehearse them time and again, remembering God’s decisive action in Salvation History;
The Creation
The Exodus
The Church
The Christian Hope
God’s Story and Your Story, inextricably intertwined as you come into Being and especially as you come into your Baptism.

Just look at today’s Scripture. Hannah’s depression, year after year. Unable to produce a male child and then to add insult to injury she had to endure the taunts of Peninnah who enjoyed producing children with ease. Hannah wept bitterly.

In due course she found herself at the Shiloh, a holy place. The episode is recorded with these words; 
“Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord; “O Lord of hosts, if only you will…remember me, and give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you…until the day of his death…Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently…therefore Eli thought she was drunk.”
Hannah remonstrated; 
“No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” 
Thankfully, Eli understood and honored her words and answered her, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.”

You and I have been there with Hannah. Out of great vexation of spirit we too have prayed at the Altar of God. Grant us guidance, grant us strength, grant us our petition, our intercession. Grant us our prayer. 

And God always answers our prayers. Sometimes with an abundant “Yes” and at other times with a decisive “No”. 

Jesus had to face the reality of God’s “No” when he prayed; “May this cup may pass from me”. Jesus had to face into the bleak darkness of despair at the prospect of his own death on the cross; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”.

How was he to know in his final moments that his suffering was but the vehicle not just for his salvation but for the Salvation of the Whole World?

In today’s Biblical moment, we see Hannah’s despair lead to Hannah’s hope. Her child Samuel is born.  The name literally means “the one I dedicate to God” or “the one who has a close affinity with God”. Hebrew being a symbolic and metaphorical language, the Name Samuel means both and more besides. 

Speaking of holy places and shrines, in today’s Gospel passage we hear that the Disciples are impressed with the great Temple as they enter Jerusalem.
But Jesus is not impressed. Rather he is deeply aware of history. In fact he was an astute observer of the political context in which he lived. He knew that the Romans would destroy the Temple in 70AD. He knew his history and he understood politics. Don’t be misled, he tells us. All kinds of false prophets will arise generation after generation. The simple fact of the matter is that “nation will rise against nation” one age will succeed another with predictable and tiresome succession. Don’t be fooled. 

We live in a time of vexation and distress. Too much water in the East. Not enough in the West. Today our hearts go out to the folks in Paradise, California. Scores dead. More than a thousand missing. Our son Michael lives in Sacramento and like tens of thousands others, he wears a mask when he goes outside, so foul is the air, so dense is the smoke. 

The end of this age as it seems to me, is more likely to be brought upon us by human activity, than it is by some punitive act of God. God is not responsible for climate change, wildfires, rising sea levels. Rather God seeks to save us from ourselves. As John’s Gospel reminds us; “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” ~John 3:17

Hannah prayed at Shiloh. Her hope is satisfied with the birth of Samuel.The Disciples come to the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus body is destroyed but the hope of the world rises again in Glory.

Today’s Epistle says this is what gives us “confidence to enter the sanctuary by…the new and living way that Jesus opened for us… and since we have a great priest over the household of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean…and our bodies washed with pure water.”

It has been my joy and care to serve many congregations in the Episcopal Church, as a member, a seminarian, and a priest.Cindy and I pledge of course. But my membership means more to me than a pledge. It means that I, like Sarah can pour out my soul to God, I can follow Jesus like his disciples did and learn from him. It is not just the buildings in which we worship, but as one of God’s living stones. We are joined heart to heart with one another and with God’s heart in the high Priesthood of Jesus. 

This is what gives us our confidence to approach the Throne of Grace day by day, Sunday by Sunday. So then, take up the holy Scriptures written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life. Amen.

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

Fr Paul

P.S A Journey to Jesus

A list of congregations that have formed me as a member, seminarian, and priest. 
  1. St James’s, Porter Square 1945-1955, Baptism
  2. St Richard of Chichester, The Westway 1956-1967, Confirmation
  3. St John’s Chapel, ETS 1967-1972, Graduation
  4. St John’s Charlestown 1967-8
  5. St Mary’s Manhattanville, NYC 1968-9
  6. MGH Burns Unit 1969-1971
  7. St Luke’s Malden 1972-1975, Ordination
  8. Christ Church Quincy 1972-1975
  9. Christ Church, Hyde Park 1975-1983
  10. Epiphany Euclid OH 1983-1990
  11. Holy Cross/Faith Memorial, Pawleys Island SC 1991-1992
  12. St Andrew’s Methuen 1991-1994
  13. St Mark’s St Albans WV 1994-2006
  14. St Peter’s Salem MA 2006-2011
  15. St Gabriel’s Douglassville PA 2011-2013
  16. St Paul’s North Andover 2014-2015
  17. St John’s Sandwich MA 2015-2016
  18. Good Shepherd Reading, MA 2016
  19. St Mark’s, Dorchester MA 2016
  20. Trinity Canton 2017
  21. St. Peter's Cathedral 2017
  22. Trinity Haverhill 2018-

Sunday, November 11, 2018

"All that I am and all that I have"

“All that I am and All that I have” 

When Cindy and I exchanged rings at our wedding ceremony 39 years ago, we said what the Book of Common Prayer asked us to say; “I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow and with all that I am and all that I have, I honor you, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” (Book of Common Prayer p. 427)

“All that I am and all that I have”. 

We all belong to one another and moreover we belong to God with “all that we are and all that we have.” 

We come to the time when we launch our Membership and Pledge campaign. I ask you to pray about these things. We are members of Christ and of one another. We are Christ’s Body; the Church, as my namesake tells us in Scripture (Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12). As you pray about your Membership and your Pledge, I ask you also to pray about how you may reach out to family, friends, neighbors and to perfect strangers. How indeed are we to fill the earth with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea? (Habakkuk 2:14)

How might we reach out and exercise our ministry of Invitation? As “Jesus reached out his loving arms on the hard wood of the cross”, (Book of Common Prayer p. 101),  how might we reach out our loving arms to all? The invitation to belong to Jesus is not just to ourselves when we pledge and renew our church membership, but also to others as we seek to extend Christ’s Reign here on earth.

I needn’t tell you how urgent a matter it is to extend the Reign of God. Recent shootings in a house of worship in Pittsburg and in a night club in California remind us how urgent a matter it is to proclaim the love of God and the power of Jesus to heal us of all our soul’s diseases. 

Too many have turned away from that love. There is too much hate, anger and vitriol in our public discourse. There is too much untreated mental illness. We send our young off to war and when they come home they are left too often to put the pieces of their broken lives together all by themselves. We cannot wash our hands of any of these social ills.

The time for conversation is upon us. The time for invitation is now: a time to love, to forgive, to reconcile. And it is an urgent matter. The idea of Membership in Christ and generosity to the Church’s work is not a trivial matter but central to our core Mission. 

In our families, among our friends, and perfect strangers! All people, by whatever race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, class or language belong to God. 

We do not belong to ourselves. We belong to God. 

The Poor Widow recognized this simple fact. She had two copper coins worth a penny. She gave it all to God. She belongs to God forever in the same way that we all do.

I was pleased to see that a significant number of Native Americans have been added to the House of Representatives in Tuesday’s election. When their land was taken away from them they were presented with a perplexity. In much of Native American culture, the land does not “belong” to anybody. This is why having an address is so foreign to many tribes. The land belongs “The Great Spirit”, the One we call God. We are but sojourners on the land. Anyone therefore who thinks that it “belongs” to them is laboring under an an exaggeration of self importance.

For example, Chief Seattle was asked to give large tracts of land to the White Man. He responded with his famous oration in 1854. It is one of the few statements recorded for posterity which helps us understand how those native to this land viewed “ownership”. Listen to his words;
“Yonder sky has wept tears of compassion upon my people for centuries untold, and to us appears changeless and eternal…Our dead never forget this beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its verdant valleys, its murmuring rivers, its magnificent mountains…Tribe follows tribe, and nation follows nation, like the waves of the sea. It is the order of nature. Your time of decay may be distant, but it will surely come, for even the White Man…cannot be exempt from the common destiny of humankind. We the Red Man and you the White Man may be brothers after all. We will see. Let your Great Chief be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless…To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their resting place is hallowed ground…Dead, did I say? No! There is no death, only a change of worlds.”

Chief Seattle recognized that everything, including our very lives are on loan to us. Furthermore he recognized that all tribes, nations and peoples are under the same God. It is futile for us to think of God as belonging to the White man or to the Red Man to the exclusion of others. God is as universal to the human condition as is the water with which life itself flows within us. 

The Book of Ruth is a Biblical case in point. Ruth is a Moabite woman; a foreigner. But she weds Boaz an Israelite. Their child Obed, became the father of Jesse, Jesse the father of David, and in a long line of ancestors Jesus is born under a Bright beautiful Star in Bethlehem. Jesus is a blend of blood lines, and becomes author of Salvation for ALL PEOPLE. 

The universal work of salvation that the Bible proclaims is true for all. We humans are still having difficulty in figuring out how generous God is to no matter who we are or where we are from.

The Poor Widow understood God’s generosity. Jesus pointed out when she put her copper coins worth but a penny into the treasury, she gave God, all that she was and all that she had.

So then whether we give large sums or two copper coins, we recognize that what we have is not ours to give, but a response to God’s generosity to us in the first place. 

All we are and all that we have belongs to God. 
If you are rich and you can give vast sums, thank you. I suspect that most of you, however are something less than rich. Thank you for your generosity. If you are poor, and you have never pledged before, that’s fine. Begin today with two copper coins. If you don’t have two begin with one. And thank you.

Jesus is watching you place who you are and what you have into God’s treasury. And Jesus alone recognizes how poor we are. Each and every one of us like the poor widow; “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

With all that I am and all that I have let us therefore render unto God the things that are God’s. 

Today marks 100 years since the Armistice. A moment of Remembrance now for the soldiers who gave all that they were and all that they had for us. 

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break the faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, thought poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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

Fr Paul