Monday, January 21, 2019

Jesus, how did you do that?

Jesus, How did you do that!

For those of you who love British humor you might want to watch Rowan Atkinson’s portrayal of an English Vicar reading this Gospel. His take on the story generates all kinds of mirth. I’ll provide you a link on my blog a little later today.  I think you’ll enjoy it. 

The first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee for me, is rich with symbolism.
The marriage feast of the Lamb, the Messianic Feast.
Christ as the Bridegroom; the Church as his bride.
The water jugs set aside for the Jewish rite of purification, there are all kinds of reasons to keep wash your hands, body, dishes, not just for ritual cleanliness, but also for general hygiene. The use of these particular jugs to make wine for the wedding feast, provokes some interesting questions. 

Underneath all of these references, there is the idea of the Passover of Jesus from death to life, the last supper, the Passover, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The joy of drinking fine wine, to taste and see how good God is in our life.

Let’s not get bogged down in whether or not “it happened”. 
Rather let’s direct our attention to what Jesus is dong in our lives when he feeds the multitudes, heals the sick, brings good news to the poor, and reaches out to the outcasts, the lepers, prostitutes, and the tax collectors.
God’s love for us is much like a wedding. Everyone is invited. There is much feasting. Whatever feuding there may have been before is suspended for a while as the bride and groom celebrate their love and their families with them.

There are varieties of gifts but the same spirit
For a wedding, typically everyone brings a gift; the gift of themselves as well as something for the couple.

There are other kinds of gifts to make a wedding possible.
At our wedding rehearsal dinner, Cindy’s family; a large Italian one; each brought their favorite dish to share, in copious amounts, I might add. And there was plenty of beer and wine. The laughter and the joy was plentiful.

On our wedding day, there was a dear friend, our “yenta” Jackie who baked our wedding cake. On the way to the wedding her husband, Martin had to stop short and the wedding cake suffered some smudging. 
Another family friend found a hall for us to use for the reception. 
Another provided the music.
The funeral director provided the limousine 
Bishop Coburn presided and blessed our rings. Chester Porteus, dear, dear Chester, my first boss and curmudgeon extraordinaire, pronounced us husband and wife.
So many gifts, and yet one spirit. almost 40 years ago now.
Thanks be to God.

My uncle and his partner were there. Now, they too can be married in the Episcopal Church, thanks be to God. 

My uncle was not all that pleased when I was ordained. “You with the turned around col-laire,” he was fond of saying dripping with sarcasm. 
The church was not good to the LGBTQ community in those days. In vast swaths of the the faith and secular community it still isn’t
One night Al was beaten to a pulp when he was out partying with his friends in Boston. He called me up and asked me to come over to his apartment and help bandage him up. It was a brutal beating. I did the best I could.
I said “Jeez Al, should I call the cops?”
He said; “Hell no, the last thing I need now is another beating!”
I had no idea how bad it was, but I was learning.

One time, he said to me; “I don’t give a blankety-blank what your expletive deleted Church thinks of me; I want to know what you think of me.”
Jeez Al; “You’re fine with me, you know that.”
“If you mean that, then some day, you stand up for me in that blankety-blank church of yours.”
I did that. 
Thank God the Episcopal Church did that.
And now, miracle of miracles, the water has indeed changed into wine; not only can Cindy and I drink deeply from these wines made pure by Jesus, so can Al and Jimmy; so can all God’s children; without regard to gender, orientation, race, class, ethnicity, language or national origin. 

We all bring many gifts. We are one people and one spirit in Christ Jesus our Lord. The wine Jesus gives us in his unconditional love is the very best wine of all.

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

Fr Paul

Monday, January 14, 2019

"Of Mugwumps and Scalawags"

“Of Mugwumps and Scalawags”

Many of us enjoy doing the family Genealogy. I go in fits and starts, but during the past 10 years or so, I have identified over a thousand relatives who have come before me. If any one of us goes far enough back into the past, we’ll discover some interesting characters. 

On the Irish side of the family there were the horse thieves and other mugwumps and scalawags that make for a good story. We came here during the Great Famine. The village of my ancestral home lost 1/3rd of its population in two years during The Great Hunger. America opened her heart to us in those days as she did to millions more.

On another side of the family, there were the sea captains of Maine that plied their trade in the sea. 

By following one thread we can go to my 9th Great Grandfather John Gallup who was killed in the Great Swamp Fight during King Phillip’s war. It was an early Colonial example of the way we treated native Americans all through our history. We slaughtered women and children in the battle.  It is not an episode I can be proud of. 

On another line of the family I can trace my lineage way back to Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Emperor b.742-d.814. He was my 38th Great Grandfather. Don’t be too impressed please. He was regarded by his contemporaries in Rome as just another barbarian. 

Any one of us with enough patience can trace ourselves back to the famous and infamous alike all through history. It is an interesting pursuit.

The stage of history is not the only place where the battles between nations go on.  Some of our struggles are of a very personal sort.

I remember being a teenager. I was not very sure of myself in all kinds of  ways. Life at home was difficult for me. But I went to church just as my grandmother taught me to do. I’d walk the distance lost in thought. I sometimes wondered what was to become of me. I really wasn’t all that good in school. The guidance counsellor told me I’d never get into college, so I’d better make up my mind to go into the trades. Often, I felt lost and alone. 

Then as I approached the church, I’d look up and see the cross standing tall in front of a modern church. This was during my Toronto years. The architecture of that church had little to draw my admiration unlike the church where I was baptized in Cambridge. But that cross held my attention in its simplicity. 

These words to my heart: “At least here, I know I’m loved”. 

My priest was a modest man and he prepared a bunch of us for confirmation. He was a good scholar and a skillful teacher. 

I remember how he taught us the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, The Parables; but most of all, I remember how he taught us the catechism. 
“What is your name.” 
“My name is N. or N.N.”
We snickered as teenagers do. 
He smiled but then continued.
“Who are you?”
“I am a Child of God, a member of Christ and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven.”
I seem to remember how he drilled us on the catechism, especially this part. It had an effect on me. 
I can distinctly remember now raising my head as the redeemed of God when I walked to church on a Sunday morning, no longer dejected, lost, downcast. No! “I am a Child of God, a Member of Christ and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven.

I heard it throughout the scriptures. Look at today’s readings for instance:  
The Prophet Isaiah says; 
“I have called you by name, you are mine.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you.”

In both the Epistle and the Gospel we learn that you have been Baptized with a fire that burns in your heart for the love of God and for the love of others. 

Moreover, God loves you. When God says to Jesus; "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased,” he says the same to you. 

You don’t believe me? Then why in the world would he have stretched out his arms on the hard wood of the cross for you? Why in the world would he have stretched out his arms on the cross for everyone?

This is what began to change my life. 

One day, the Principal called me to his office. I thought, “Oh no, what have I done?” 
He said to me; I understand you want to become a priest.”
I said; “Yes, sir.”
“You do know you’ll have to go to college and then to seminary to do that.”
I said; “Yes, sir.”
“I see that your marks are not very good right now.”
“Yes, sir.”
Then he said this. “Look young man, I believe in you. I know you can do it. You are intelligent and the church needs people like you.”
I said; “Yes, sir”, hopeful but not quite convinced. 
“If that’s the case then if you promise me that you will buckle down, and do your very best to improve your marks, then I promise you that I will get you into any college in Ontario that you wish to attend. Is that a deal?”
“Yes, sir!”

I was astounded that somebody believed in me. 
We shook hands. I buckled down. I got into college. I got into seminary. It pleases me to say at that I’m the first in the family in over a thousand years to be ordained so far as I can tell, but becoming so hung by a very thin thread.
But here I am in your midst, a parish priest. 
Glory be to God.

I tell you all this because my parish priest taught me that I am a child of God, a member of Christ and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. 
He believed in me. My principal believed in me. 
I began to listen and read the scripture differently. 
God believes in me. 
God believes in each and every one of you.

Today we come to the Feast Day of the Baptism of our Lord in the River Jordan, I ask you to remember that God believes in you. Like Jesus, you are the beloved of God.
Many of us will continue to do the family genaeology as a way of exploring our historic identity.
But today as you and I renew our Baptismal Vows, let’s remember who we are and whose we are in God’s eyes. 

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

Fr Paul