Monday, April 22, 2019

Mary's Tears

Mary's Tears

“Marie-Madeleine se tenait debout en pleurant devant la tombe.” Mary Magdalene stood weeping outside the tomb.
“Notre Dame se dresse aujourd'hui comme une tombe à Paris.” Notre Dame stands today like a tomb in Paris. 
“Nos cœurs sont rempli de tristesse à cause du feu à Notre Dame.” Our hearts are filled with sadness because of the fire at Notre Dame.

How fitting that if this tragedy had to happen, it happened in Holy Week. Because she will rise again, perhaps not bigger or more beautiful than she once was, but she will be filled with faithfulness more than ever before. Nothing reminds us of what we have more than when we loose it. Loss and death is a stark reminder of what and who we treasure in our hearts and how much.

Christ has died. So have so many loved ones. We remember them, sometimes wishing we could see them one more time. There is something left unsaid, undone. Perhaps one more hug!

As I watched the news from Paris Monday night transfixed by what I saw; I heard someone say; “Incroyable!” as the spire fell into the vault of the cathedral

As we hear the news this morning from Sri Lanka, we stand transfixed; "Unbelievable". The Good Friday fact of human tragedy ultimately gives way to the fact of human love. This is the Resurrection. 

Yes, it is unbelievable not only our loss of Notre Dame, not only of churches belonging to black congregations in Louisiana, but also our very own fire here at Trinity, some years ago. So much was lost. But the buildings rose again.  Moreover so did our faith.

Within days a billion dollars was raised for the rebuilding of Notre Dame de Paris. Thankfully, at the same time, millions have poured in for the rebuilding of the churches in Louisiana. Trinity Church stands today as a sign of our faith in Jesus.

Naturally folks raise questions; If we can raise a billion dollars that quickly, that easily for the rebuilding of a Cathedral, what about the poor for whom Jesus gave his life?
Remember; Blessed are the poor, the mournful, the meek, the righteous, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted?

If we can rebuild a great Cathedral dedicated to the honor of our Lord’s mother, surely we can raise the funds for those for whom Our Lady sang her song;
 “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
     and has lifted up the lowly. 
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
     and the rich he has sent away empty.”

I grew up in the hood and have served congregations in the inner city. I have served in rural churches where so many live in poverty. What breaks my heart is that, in so many places, the forgotten live without the hope of a future; of work, a place to live, or even enough to eat. What about them?

Across the political spectrum, there is general agreement that America needs an enormous investment in infrastructure projects. If we choose, there are good jobs for everyone to rebuild our bridges, roads, and transportation systems.  After World War II we put all those returning soldiers to work building the Interstate Highway System. What an opportunity we have today!

There is death but there is also resurrection. Paul guides us through them both in today’s Epistle; “Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.”

In Adam all die. Yes, divided, enslaved by the sin of hate, recrimination and blame we all die. But in Christ all shall be made alive. Imagine being filled with such love for one another that we put aside our differences and mobilize all our efforts and figure out a way to put all our citizens to work. Imagine filling our young with hope in all inner city neighborhoods like the one we live in, or in rural areas. Unemployment in the coalfields of West Virginia still hovers around 70%. There is too little hope in too many places. 

Life or death? Die to sin? Rise to life? Is there a Resurrection? Part of the answer to that question rests on our willingness to become obedient to God together.

There are those who, in all honesty,  do not believe in the Resurrection. My stepfather used to say; “When you’re dead, your dead.” He said that as an engineer might. He was a practical man; hard, true, honest and full of integrity. On the other hand, he loved my mother. There was nothing practical about that! That was a miracle, given the sharp edges of her personality. I often told him; “HK”, using his initials; “For living with my mother, you’re going to heaven, whether you believe in it or not.”

There are many others who are not so full of true, honest integrity and faithful love for the likes of the vulnerable in our midst. They honestly think that they can get away with whatever chicanery they can dream up. There is a thing called theft, fraud, dishonesty, violence and criminal behavior. There are those who think there is no accountability in this life or in the life to come. If you are rich enough you can probably get away with it in this life. If you are poor, you will likely be incarcerated.

But God will not be mocked! Do you suppose that the secrets of our hearts are not indeed disclosed to God? It must be of considerable comfort to those who have said in their hearts that there is no God. Boy, are they in for a surprise!

My son Michael often looked askance at some of the shabbiness of this world and he’d say to me as we drove by; “Dad, did it ever occur to you that this whole God thing might be a crock!”
“Oh there are times.” I’d tell him in all candor. 

But then I read the Gospel again. Every single day. Every single Sunday with faithful folk like you.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; and the person I meet on these pages comes to life again for for all who look to him for hope. Not for this life alone, but for the life to come as well.

The ancient symbol of the Resurrection is the butterfly. The idea of death and life is woven into the fabric of the created order. In winter all seems to die a cold and rock hard death. In Spring all of nature is born again. A common grub finds itself inside a tomb like cocoon. It emerges to the glory of a butterfly. 

Recalling and restoring this ancient symbol, we present to you these butterflies. Your Sunday School has made them for you. We are all in for a wonderful surprise. The common grub has no way of understanding that it will become a glorious butterfly. How can you and I know what we shall become? And what God has in store for us?

Every time I stand at the grave with the bereaved among my family, friends and parishioners, I proclaim the ancient words; Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, and without hesitation, I proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus. 
Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again.

Now we go to the font and renew our Baptismal Covenant.
I so love it when I sprinkle you with holy water and remind you who you are and whose you are. We cannot help but smile and be filled with joy. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! 
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! 
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia

Please come with me to the font as we renew our Baptismal Covenant. 

Fr Paul

Friday, April 19, 2019

"Let me help you"

A Good Friday Meditation

A little girl bends over to help him with his cross.
It is the most natural thing in all the world to do.
She will follow him and help him all the way to the end.
That’s just the way she is. 
She will watch with him even when he dies. 
She will not leave him.
She will stay with him. 
On the third day, she and her friends will go to the garden to prepare him for burial.
But the stone will be rolled away.
The gardener will greet her.
She will ask; “Where have they taken him?”
It is then she will remember; “It’s you! You are the one I stooped over to help when first you fell.”
Only then will it dawn upon her that he lives! 
They won’t believe her but she knows the truth.
He lives!

You and I will not fully understand this for a very long time. But it’s all true and more besides;

In the meantime, there is this from Celtic Daily Prayer for this Good Friday

Go peaceful
in gentleness
through the violence of these days.
Give freely.
Show tenderness
in all your ways.

Through darkness,
in troubled times
let holiness be your aim.
Seek wisdom.
Let faithfulness
burn like a flame.

God speed you!
God lead you,
and keep you wrapped around His heart!
May you be known by love.

Be righteous.
Speak truthfully
in a world of greed and lies.
Show kindness.
See everyone
through heaven’s eyes.

God hold you,
enfold you,
and keep you wrapped around His heart.
May you be known by love.
~Celtic Daily Prayer, Paul Field
(The image from above is from the Episcopal Cultural Network)

Monday, April 01, 2019

It's Complicated

It’s Complicated

Today’s Gospel takes us to that complicated place where family dynamics occur. It all begins when the younger son took his inheritance to set out on his new life. Aha! Free at last from the constrains of family obligation and tiresome rules. Now he was in charge. Apparently, he sowed a few wild oats and squandered the inheritance. A famine set in and he began to be in want. Ultimately he came to himself and realized that if he returned home and threw himself on the mercy of his father there might be a chance for him to be treated at least as well as one of the servants.

But the father’s abundant love was more than generous. It was extravagant. It was like God’s love for a sinner who returns to God; it was Eucharistic! Bring the best robe, the fatted calf and a celebration fitting for the joys of heaven.

However, the father’s unconditional love was problematic for the older brother, and with some justification. He spoke right up; you’re throwing a party for this ne’er do well son of yours, and you’ve never so much as done anything like it for me and my friends.  

Many of us have been in that position; the position of a sibling who looks resentfully at our own blood brother or sister. There is something deeply out of synch here. If it isn’t resentment, there’s something else that tears at the fabric of the relationship, to the point that the damage done may be irreparable.

How is the father to convince his older son that such generosity of spirit is the way to forgiveness? Some say this parable is about the extravagant love of the father. God knows fathers and mothers often want nothing more than for everybody in the family to get along. When the father realized that the older brother refused to extend that same generosity of spirit, he  came out and began to plead with him; come in and join the festivities.”

But the older brother was angry. He refused.

“The father said, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

Besides, too much anger is not good for us; as the old saying goes; “Anger is the punishment we inflict upon ourselves for someone else’s mistake”.

We are left to wonder; was there reconciliation? Or was the family finally and irrevocably torn apart. Each of us is left to complete the story as we live out our lives in our own family relationships. I’ve seen the story go on in so many ways.

To see the Gospel in its fullness I invite you to see yourself in each of the roles being played out in the parable. A father or a mother who pleads to keep the family together.

Likewise the sinner who comes to his/her senses and asks for forgiveness. The Psalmist says; “Happy are those whose sins are forgiven”. Tragically, there are those who never do come to their senses; making forgiveness problematic.

And there are those, who like the older brother, are faithful and diligent; it is as though they are taken for granted. Whers’s their party? 

The parent, the sinner, or the older brother; which are you? Or have you been all of the above at one time or another? 

It's complicated. When Jesus tells us this parable he confronts us with the predicament we often find ourselves in as we seek to love, forgive and reconcile. 

I’m reading a wonderful book now by Tara Westover called “Educated”. A woman grows up in an abusive family. Her father, mother and brothers leave permanent scars during her formative years. She grew up in a family with undiagnosed and untreated mental illness. She had to battle with all her might to extricate herself from the abuse. For those who work with victims of abuse, we know how difficult that work is. The statistics are not encouraging. It is like tearing part of your soul in half to come to terms with your parents and siblings especially when the abuse is so traumatic, persistent and systemic in formative years. 

And yet, if you can come to terms with your family of origin you can take on the world. Especially with your mother, father and siblings; if you can deal with them, you can free yourself from the slavery of repeating the same sins and offenses with those you become responsible for. Being human, you’ll probably think up new ones!

A Christian psychotherapist once shared this vision of mental health; “Our challenge is to love God first, love your neighbor as yourself beginning with your parents, and at the same time discover how to love yourself like God loves you.” That’s a spiritual challenge that takes a lifetime.

For all too many the challenge is to stand up for yourself without allowing yourself to be dragged back into the old family dynamic of mental illness. Easier said than done! 

In today’s parable the father, the younger son and the older brother faced it. All parents, children and siblings face similar challenges. Forgiveness does not come cheaply. We must work at it. And it is very hard work indeed.

All of which brings us back to the ministry of reconciliation. It is a ministry we are given by virtue of our faith. Jesus spent untold hours in conversation with his disciples. In today’s Epistle, Paul points to this ministry; “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

It's complicated.
How in heaven’s name are we to be reconciled to one another? 
In our families, with friends, at work, and God help us in political and international relationships?

Jesus points us toward unconditional love, and extravagant forgiveness. If there is to be a heaven it will have to begin with us. Jesus said: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”. “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” “The kingdom of heaven is among you.” 

Sin is easy. For there to be the kingdom of heaven we will have to work at being open to the miracles of love, forgiveness and reconciliation.

It's complicated. 

Like the children of Israel as they wandered aimlessly forty years in the wilderness,. Moses had to come up with 613 laws to get them to the Promised Land. They kept thinking up dumb things to do. Moses was just about fed up with that crowd. But God fed them with the bread of angels; Manna from heaven. When they arrived at Gilgal; an interesting place with yet another mini-Stonehenge like stone circle, the manna ceased.

When Jesus breaks bread with us at God’s Altar, he invites us to recognize that something is broken in each of us. Perhaps something in your family of origin has probably left a scar. Live long enough and you will have a plenty more scars to show for it. Jesus came to heal those very scars. Jesus healed the lame, the blind, and the deaf. And the scars in our souls he healed when he taught us the way to love and forgiveness. Or when he reached out to the poor, the heartbroken, the persecuted, and the marginalized. This kind of unconditional love, this extravagant forgiveness that he so freely shared with everyone, this ministry of reconciliation that he entrusted to us was to change the world.

Frequently, he took bread, blessed and broke it, likewise after supper he took the cup and did the same. He became the Bread of Heaven for us. At this altar rail, he feeds us with the healing touch of eternal life.

Jesus did not escape unscathed from this world; he wore scars into the Resurrection Life. Jesus also took that which is complicated and made it simple. 

“Love one another”. 
“Forgive one another”.
“Be reconciled to one another”.

With the Bread of Heaven he feeds us at this Altar Rail and rejoices as we live our our lives with earthly love, forgiveness, and reconciliation both to humankind and to God. For the more we practice the one, the more we live into the other. 

God’s love is extravagant; for each and every one there is the finest robe, bring on the fatted calf; let the Eucharistic festivities begin; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.

Fr Paul