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"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Down to the Jubilee

 

A Sermon preached at
St. Paul's, Georgetown, DE
Epiphany III - The Annual Meeting
January 23, 2022

Well, scripture says that Jesus has been preaching "all around the country". When we catch up to him today, Jesus is in Nazareth, in his hometown synagogue. 

 

He has just read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah wherein the year of the Lord’s favor – the Year of the Jubilee – has just been proclaimed. And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

 

Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

 

What an audacious, bold thing to say. Reading that, it’s no wonder that writer C.S. Lewis declares that “Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic or the Lord.”

 

It’s a pretty outrageous thing for him to say. Everyone in that synagogue would know and understand that in proclaiming ‘the year of the Lord’s favor’, Jesus was talking about Jubilee. But, this was not that year. What the heck was he talking about?

 

The Jubilee (Hebrew: יובל yōḇel; Yiddish: yoyvl) is the year at the end of seven cycles of shmita (Sabbatical years) – seven times seven is 49, or, approximately every 50 years. According to biblical regulations, the Jubilee had a special impact on the ownership and management of land in the Land of Israel. (Lev 25:8-55).

Every fiftieth year Israel was to take the whole year off, cancel all debts, return to its original owners all family property that had been sold and generally be kind and generous to everyone. “Proclaim liberty throughout the land” (Lev 25:10) – that was everyone’s job for a whole year. Quite an incentive to live a long life!

 

Now, we can assume that when Jesus said this, it came as a surprise to all those who heard it because it was not, in fact, the end of seven cycles of Sabbatical years. We’ll find out next week what happens to Jesus for making this bold assertion but the thing of it is, Jesus was making a much bolder claim than just what appears on the calendar.

 

The original hearers of this first public proclamation of scripture couldn’t know it at the time, but Jesus was saying that you don’t have to wait 50 years to be set free. Jesus knew what they couldn’t know just yet; that the Scriptural Jubilee is a foreshadowing of the liberation of Christ (Galatians 5:1). They don’t know it yet, but the cross cancels whatever debts we have incurred through our sins.

 

The cross is the vehicle of our liberation, not the calendar.

 

I want to linger on this point for a moment and let that sink in. We no longer have to count seven cycles of Sabbatical years in order to have a Jubilee Year. No one has to wait 50 years before you are completely forgiven and set free from any debts owed to God. Every year is a Jubilee year because Christ as liberated us from sin.

 

Just this past week, I spoke with a man who had just turned 85. He was formerly Roman Catholic and, years after his divorce, he spoke with a priest about the woman he had met and intended to marry.

 

Now, I’m quite certain that he misunderstood what the priest said. Or, maybe it’s just that I can’t imagine a priest in any one of God’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic churches saying this to anyone. What this man heard is that, if he remarried without the permission of the marriage tribunal who would dissolve his first marriage vows, it would be considered a sin of adultery. As a consequence of that, he understood that he couldn’t be buried in a cemetery or even “be allowed” to have a funeral.

 

I suspect that the priest may have said, “buried in a Catholic cemetery” and “have a funeral in a Catholic Church.” The man was so upset, however, that what he heard was no funeral and no burial in a cemetery.

 

So, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “I’ve waited a long time to ask this but, is that true? Because I love my wife of 50 years, am I not allowed to have a funeral? Do my ashes just get scattered in the wind without a place to rest?”

 

After I assured him that the Roman Catholic Church of 50 years ago is very different from the church of today – at least in America – I told him that of course he could have a funeral and a burial.

 

Well, the man sobbed as if he had been freed from an anvil tied round his soul for 50 years. After he and his wife had had a good cry, we began talking about what his funeral would look like and where he wanted his ashes to be interred.

 

And, I tell you, it was like talking to a whole new person. His shoulders were squarer, his chin was higher, his eyes were brighter and he was smiling. He said, “This really is a Jubilee year for me. I feel whole. I feel at home in my own body, which probably won’t last this whole year, but oddly enough, that’s alright with me now.”

 

This is the week of Jubilees. I spoke with someone this week about membership in this church. He had been away for a bit and then came back. And he said to me with a tone in his voice I can’t really describe but it was enough to move me to tears, “I’m home. St. Paul’s is my home. It will always be my home. I’m home.”

 

At the end of this service, we will move directly into the Annual Meeting. I hope, as you listen to the summaries of each leader and later, when you are home and you read over the reports at your leisure, that you get that sense of Jubilee.

 

I hope you begin to sense, if you haven’t already, that there is a place for you in this church. It may be in a particular activity or it may be in knowing that you don’t have to be in a particular activity to belong if you haven’t yet figured out what God is calling you to do.Yet.

 

I hope that you take to heart all of what St. Paul has to say about all the parts of the body working together for the good of the whole. And that all the parts are needed – the eye, the foot, the hand – all have different functions but all are part of the whole and work for the good of the whole.

 

I hope that, whatever you have in your past that has made you feel weighed down and burdened is lifted. That you come to know that there is always a place at this table for you. That no matter who you are or who you think you are; where you’ve been or where you think you’re going; no matter how much or how little faith you have; this is a sanctuary. 

 

You are safe here. This is your spiritual home. Because you are part of the Body of Christ, we have been set free. Every day in Christ is a Jubilee.

 

There’s a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter called Jubilee that sums up what I’m trying to say. I’ll close with her words:

 

And I can tell by the way you're talking
That the past isn't letting you go
There's only so long you can take it all on
And then the wrong's gotta be on its own
And when you're ready to leave it behind you
You'll look back and all that you'll see
Is the wreckage and rust that you left in the dust
On your way to the jubilee

 

And I can tell by the way you're listening
That you're still expecting to hear
Your name being called like a summons to all
Who have failed to account for their doubts and their fears
They can't add up too much without you
And so if it were just up to me
I'd take hold of your hand, saying come hear the band
Play your song at the jubilee

 

I can tell by the way you're searching
For something you can't even name
That you haven't been able to come to the table
Simply glad that you came
And when you feel like this try to imagine
That we're all like frail boats on the sea
Just scanning the night for that great guiding light
Announcing the jubilee

 

And I can tell by the way you're standing
With your eyes filling with tears
That its habit alone keeps you turning for home
Even though your home is right here
Where the people who love you are gathered
Under the wise wishing tree
May we all be considered then straight on delivered
Down to the jubilee


'Cause the people who love you are waiting
And they'll wait just as long as need be
When we look back and say those were halcyon days
We're talking 'bout jubilee

 

Amen.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

"Shed A Little Light"

 

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
Live streamed via Facebook Sirach 26:10
January 16, 2022

(sung)

Oh, let us turn our thoughts today
To Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women living on the Earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood

 

That we are bound together
In our desire to see the world
Become a place in which our children
Can grow free and strong

 

We are bound together by the task
That stands before us
And the road that lies ahead
We are bound, and we are bound

 

Yesterday (1/15/22) was the 93rd  anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr (1929) Tomorrow is a federal holiday in his honor.

 

For many of us, it will just be another day, one which we will glide through without much thought about the man the day is set aside to honor, much less why it is important to remember him and the struggle and the victories he represents as well as the challenges that continue to lie ahead to live fully into the American Dream of “liberty and justice for all.”

 

I was a very young girl during the height of the unrest of the Civil Rights Movement. Like you, I have seen images in history books and historical documentaries on TV of the height of the unrest.

 

Like you, I have watched the grainy black and white news clips of Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. And, I have traveled to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN, at the Lorraine Motel and stood on the balcony where Martin Luther King was shot and killed.

 

The memory that sears in my mind, however, is the one I personally experienced. It’s just a moment. The details are fuzzy as to why we traveled from my childhood home in Fall River, MA to Boston that day. I only remember that we were going to see relatives. That something had happened in the early morning hours – something to cause unrest – something about two words that sounded strange and ominous: desegregation and busing.

 

I remember my father holding my hand tight - so tight it hurt and I complained. I remember the smell of his breath – cigarettes with a hint of Listerine – as he leaned into my face and said, “Do. Not. Let. Go. Of. My. Hand.”

 

I remember looking up. On top of every building there were policemen and soldiers, fully armed, guns fully loaded and pointing outward – left and right – and down at the street where we were walking. Daddy said that they were there to keep the peace. That sounded strange and ominous.

 

And, I remember walking through a single file of men – Black men – every one dressed in a suit and a bow tie – lining both sides of the street. They were unarmed and yet I knew – more clearly than I knew about the men on the roof with guns – that they were also there to keep the peace.

There is a feeling like the clenching of a fist
There is a hunger in the center of the chest
There is a passage through the darkness and the mist
And though the body sleeps
The heart will never rest

 

These words of a song ("Shed a little light") by James Taylor capture for me the essence of what I experienced of The Civil Rights Movement.  It also captures the essence of the movement that continues today to fight against racism and race-hatred, anti-Semitism and tribalism.

 

In this church, we say that absolutely everyone is welcome – no exceptions. And, we mean it. I know you mean it or I wouldn’t be here with you today as your pastor. We come to this church to be nourished and fed so that we can go out into the world to do the work of Jesus. We are here to follow the words Mary said to the servants in this morning’s gospel: “Do whatever he tells you.”

 

No, we are not on the front lines of the struggle in this nation. I don’t know that any of us would call ourselves activists. And, that’s all right. St. Paul tell us,  

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” 

I would like to believe that each one of us in this church today, having be fed and nourished by Word and Sacrament, will go out into the world and do our part to find that “passage through the darkness and the mist” and always stand up for what is right. What is good. What is just. What is noble. What is true.

 

We are here, in this church, to be transformed. We are here to enter into the mystery of community – those who have come before us, those who are here now, and those who will come after we are gone. We are here to make this world a better place while we are here. We come to be fed so that we will have the strength and courage to be transformed so we can change and transform the world.

 

We are here because we know that we – to borrow the prose and poetry of Dr. King which he wrote from his cell in the Birmingham jail –

“are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be... This is the inter-related structure of reality.”

When I came home from Boston that day, I remember asking my grandmother about it. I remember asking why those soldiers were on the roof, and why those Black men were on the street, and why people didn’t want little Black children to go to school with little White children, especially when we sang the song, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world . . .”

 

My grandmother was a simple Portuguese woman who pretty much taught herself how to read and write. She was very proud of the fact that she came to this country with a only few dollars in her pocket and, when she died, she left her nine living children a house and land with no mortgage and one thousand dollars each. She kept her money in the Portuguese Women’s Bank And Trust, rolled up in a handkerchief, stuffed into her corset and close to her heart.

 

I remember that to answer my question, she held up her hand and said, “All the nations of the world are like members of a family. We’re all different, just like every finger on a hand is different. We all work together for the same common good. If you cut off one finger, the hand doesn’t work as well. We need all the fingers – and the thumb – in order for the hand to work.”

 

As I consider the Gospellesson for today – the first miracle of Jesus at the Wedding Feast at Cana – I realized something*. Yes, many of us are like the guests at the wedding banquet, waiting for the wine to be served. Many more of us are more like that holy water, locked up in those stone water jars. We are waiting to be transformed by Jesus from holy water into holy wine that will be poured out and used to the edification of everyone in community.

 

Two months before he was killed, Dr. King preached,

If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness. By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant. 

Want to change the world? Great! Want to end racism? Fabulous! Want to make certain that all lives, in fact, do matter? Wonderful! All you have to do is be willing to be changed and transformed, just as Jesus changed and transformed water into wine and be willing to be poured out to serve others.

 

At the bridge of that MLK song by James Taylor comes this little Epiphany prayer

Can't get no light from a dollar bill
Don't get me no light from a TV screen
Just shed a little light, oh Lord
 
Shed a little light, oh Lord
So that we can see.
Just shed a little light, oh Lord.

Because what we need is more light and less heat. More action and less reaction. More reasoned persuasiveness, less mindless passion. More compassion and peace and, please, Lord, less anger and violence. 

 

In this Season of The Epiphany and every season, shed a little light, oh Lord. And let the church say, ‘Amen’.

 

You know, in the history of the world, I don't think there's ever been one person who has been persuaded to change because they were called an 'idiot' or 'moron' or 'snowflake'.

 

Seriously!

 

How much better – how much brighter, more peaceful – would the world be today if we all followed the words of Mary who said to the servants, "Do whatever He tells you"?

 

Oh, Let us turn our thoughts today
To Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women living on the Earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood.

 

Amen.

*I am grateful to my "Weekly Clergy Lectionary Study and Giggle Group," and especially Jeff Ross, for this insight.

Sunday, January 09, 2022

You can't sell soap if you don't take baths

 


A Sermon preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church
and live streamed on Facebook Sirach 26:10
January 9, 2022 
 

There’s so much to say about baptism. Well, first off, it’s the first of the two primary Sacraments of the Church, the other being Holy Eucharist; the others being sacramental rites. Many of us remember that from our Catechism (found in the BCP on page 845 ), we are taught that a sacrament “is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”

 

In the time we have together this morning, I want to talk less about the outward and visible stuff and more about that which is inward and spiritual.

 

I want to start by telling you about one of my dear friends and spiritual guides and the one person who lived life closer to the teachings of Jesus than any other person I’ve ever known.

 

Her name was Terry Parsons and for about twelve years she was the Missioner for The Episcopal Office of Stewardship and Discipleship in New York.

In that capacity, she got to talk about money but for Terry, the topic of money couldn’t be unlinked from stewardship - tending to the gifts God gives us, and  discipleship – being a follower of the teachings of Jesus – and evangelism – bringing others to also follow Jesus and ministry – serving others in the name of Christ Jesus.

 

She liked to talk about her self as just a simple girl from Berea, KY, a small town near the edge of Kentucky’s Blue Grass Region, but oh, my, how her simple wisdom moved not only mountains of resistance but hearts and minds and souls.

 

I remember one gig she had as keynote speaker for a certain diocesan convention.  During the convention, an issue arose: They could no longer afford to support their own summer camp for youth, but a Delegate had found another camp where their young people could gather for $5,000.

 

At the Mass that night, Terry also took up the cause of that youth camp. She said: “We have all the money we need to support this project. The problem is …. It’s still in your pockets!” The next morning, less than twelve hours later and during the Diocesan Convention, the Bishop had the joy of announcing that $5,000 had been raised.

 

It wasn't a magic trick and it wasn't a miracle. That was Terry. It wasn’t so much that she used that old saw about money being in our pockets. It’s that it came from a place of truth and conviction deep in her soul. You knew this woman was baptized not just with water but also in the Spirit. She lived her baptismal vows. And, because of that, she moved people to believe the impossible was possible.

 

She often quoted Audrey Hepburn who apparently once said, “Nothing is impossible. It’s even in the word ‘impossible’ which is I’m possible. And with God, all things are possible."

 

That’s in the bible, in Matthew 19:26. Jesus had just told the rich young man who wanted to have eternal life to sell all his possessions and give it to the poor, and follow him, but the young man walked away. Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

 

Terry knew her bible. It was from Terry that I learned the source of something we say at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer. As soon as I say it, you’ll know it. In fact, I’ll start it and you finish it. I raise the elements and I say, “All things come of thee, O Lord.. .” And you say, “…and of thine own have we given thee.”

 

Now, if you look at those words in Rite I in the BCP, there’s no biblical citation. Honestly? I never thought much about it. I just figured it was a lovely thing Thomas Cranmer or some priest in the Elizabethan court had written.

 

It was from Terry that I learned the source. The words are from King David, found in the Book ofChronicles, chapter 29, vs 14. It’s part of David’s prayer before the whole assembly which begins with: “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this?” I’ve often threatened to add that first sentence to the Offertory Verse. In fact, I think after today, I will.

 

But, here’s the real gold nugget of wisdom and knowledge and truth which Terry Parsons gave me – and so many others. She said these words in the context of talking about Stewardship as a form of Discipleship. She wasn’t just talking about money. She was talking about what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus, and what it takes to make other disciples.

 

Here’s the pure gold from the simple girl from Kentucky. She said, “You can’t sell soap if you don’t take baths.”

 

I’m going to say that again because it so simple, it makes such pure sense, you might miss it. She said:  “You can’t sell soap if you don’t take baths.”

 

Mind blown, right? 

 

You and I are baptized. Our catechism says we are baptized by water and in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and that we are marked and sealed as Christ’s own forever.

 

So, here’s the question: How will people know that about you? How will people know that you are baptized? I’m not talking about the fact that you wear a cross, or that you carry a bible or a BCP in your car, or that you let people know that you go to church on Sunday.

 

As my kids used to say when they wanted to torment me, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to the garage makes you a car.” If you don’t believe what you profess, if you don’t live what you profess, people will sniff you out as a phony in half a heartbeat.

 

Here’s the thing I think we miss in this story of the Baptism of Jesus – the important piece that animates this story and makes it transformative and healing. 

 

After he and everyone had been baptized by John and Jesus was praying, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and a voice from heaven said, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

 

We who are baptized into Christ’s body are also God’s own. We – you and me – are beloved of God. In and through our baptism in Christ we know three things: 

 

We are loved. 

We are worthy. 

We are not alone. 

 

Jesus is in the baptismal water with us. Jesus will never leave us. Because we are loved, we are worthy, we are not alone.

 

If you let the truth of that sink it, it is transformative. It has the power to heal sin-sick souls.

 

It’s in knowing this truth and living this truth that we become disciples. And, as disciples of Jesus, we bring others to him not by the beautiful words of our prayers or the hymns of our faith – although they certainly don’t hurt; in fact, they often make it easier to talk about Jesus.

 

But we ought not let our beautiful words and music be the only way we live out our baptismal vows. We bring ourselves and others to Jesus by the lives of faith we live; by our generosity of spirit; by our willingness to forgive as we have been forgiven; love as we are loved.

 

Because of our baptism, we are all – every last one of us – ministers. There are no volunteers in the church. Everything you do in the name of Jesus is ministry- inside and outside the church. Please don’t ever let me hear you call yourselves volunteers. You are baptized into the ministry of Jesus Christ and made servant leaders of the church. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

 

This, my friends, is discipleship. This is stewardship. This is evangelism. This is ministry

 

Discipleship, stewardship, evangelism and ministry are part of the inward and spiritual graces of our baptism. No, that's not what it says in the Catechism. Nevertheless, they are gifts of the spirit which Jesus means for us to share with all people.

 

If you want this church to grow in spirit and faith as well as numbers, I urge you to remember the five promises we make as we reaffirm our Baptismal vows. We’ll be repeating them in just a few minutes. I encourage you to take home your bulletin and reflect on that statement of faith and those five promises and open your BCP to theOutline of Faith (Catechism p 845) and read what it says.

 

Then ask yourself the question David asked and join him in his prayer, “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.”

 

All things come from God. Including our baptism wherein we are loved, we are worthy and we are never alone.

 

And remember the wisdom of my dear friend and spiritual guide, Terry Parson, who went home to Jesus 10 years ago and now soars with the angels high in the heavens:

 

“You can’t sell soap if you don’t take baths.”

 

Amen.


Image by Waiting for the Word on Flickr.

 

Saturday, January 08, 2022

In loving memory of Theo

In loving memory of Theo, first of his name, House Heinz 57, a Rescued Knight of the Abandoned Barn. AKA "Sir Barksalot, Duke of the Land of Neurosis, Prince of Shadowland." AKA "Mr. Feesy-Beesy." AKA "Mr. Pokerface". AKA "Whatta Good Boy."
 
Theo came to us after having been rescued from a hoarding situation in Western Massachusetts where he was one of almost 100 other dogs found living in squalid conditions in a barn. The owner of the property thought she was helping them, but she was in her mid-80s and sometimes could not make it out to the barn to feed them. Sometimes, she simply forgot to feed them. Other times, she didn't have enough food to feed them. 
 
"I was only trying to help some of God's creatures," she reportedly wept to the ASPCA officers. No charges were ever filed. 
 
Theo stayed with Melinda, his foster mom, on her farm in Western Massachusetts for 18 months before he was deemed ready for adoption. He had some food issues (mostly inhaling his food before other dogs could eat it) as well as some 'avoidance aggression' issues (barking to keep people away but never to bite or harm anyone) which he had to work out first. 
 
Ms. Conroy found him on the Poodle Rescue Web Site and immediately fell in love. Theo, however, was "mostly poodle" with a mix of Jack Russell Terrier. This meant that his IQ was higher than the humans who adopted him. 
 
Theo could tell time and was quite adept at making sure his sisters and brothers, as well as his humans, knew when it was time to get up, when it was time to eat, when it was time to go for a walk, when it was time for a treat, and when it was time for bed. 
 
Many other humans were skeptical about his human's assertions that he was able to bark words like "out" and "eat". He could also bark in complete sentences and paragraphs, like, "Get up! Everybody! There's someone at the door! Hurry! It might be the FedEx man. I hate the FedEx man!"
 
Theo took great pride that, under his watchful eye, our home was never burglarized, our property never vandalized, and no human was ever injured, raped, murdered, or harmed in any way. 
 
Theo was born sometime in 2006. We think. He went into foster care on May 8th, 2007, which we celebrated as his "born again day". He died on January 5th, 2022, 12th Night, the last day of Christmastide. So, we think he was around 16 years old, which is a pretty good run for any four-legged creature of God. One look into his soulful eyes and you knew he was an ancient soul who knew a lot of stuff which he seemed to share only with his sister and brother four-legged creatures. 
 
He is preceded in death by his sisters, Ms. Coco Chanel, AKA "The Harbormaster", who died in 2012, and Ms. Sadie Gene Waggie Tail, who died September 29, 2021. He is survived by his 17-year-old brother, Lenny Bruce Brisco, now known by his amazed humans as "The Last Dog Standing." 
 
Theo absolutely adored his Uncle Bill, with whom he loved to snuggle and cuddle. He dearly loved his Auntie Anita, barking with wild, joyful abandon whenever she came to the door to take him on his walks.
He also loved Ryan, his groomer at Wizard of Paws but, unfortunately, just never liked the FedEx man who took it as a personal failure to never have been able to make friends with Theo; we know he'll be sad to learn of his passing. 
 
In his last days, Theo could no longer maintain his poker face and his eyes became very expressive. He pretty much told us, after one of his seizures, "It's okay mom. It's time for me to leave." 
 
During the last two weeks of his life, he also did something we never saw him do: He wagged his tail. We think he knew that he was going to see his beloved Sadie Gene again, and that brought him so much happiness, he could hardly contain it. 
 
Cremation services are being provided by Parsell's Pet Crematorium in Lewes, DE. 
 
Please consider honoring Theo's memory by making a donation to your local ASPCA or Humane Society or Rescue Organization so that other four-leggeds may find their "forever home". 
 
Or, consider adopting a rescued pet. They make the BEST family members. You will learn more about unconditional love than you thought you needed to know. 
 
Of your mercy and kindness please keep Theo's humans in your prayers as they grieve this unfathomable loss.

 

Sunday, January 02, 2022

Fernweh

 


 A Sermon preached at
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
and Livestreamed on Facebook liveSirach 26:10
Christmas II - January 2, 2022

I am part of a group of local colleagues that meets weekly to study and reflect on the lessons appointed for Sunday. I call it "The Clergy Lectionary Bible Study and Giggle Society". I attend faithfully because I always learn something new.

 

This week, I learned about “fernweh”. I think I’m pronouncing it correctly. It’s a German word: ‘fern’ meaning far and weh meaning ‘pain, misery or woe’. Fernweh, then is ‘far sickness’ – the opposite of homesickness (which is heimweh). It’s a longing for far-off places, especially those you’ve not yet visited. Of course, the Germans would have a word for such a thing.

 

It’s not exactly wanderlust, which is a strong desire to travel. As I understand it, wanderlust is a restlessness, an unsettled feeling that causes one not to stay too long in any one place.

 

Fernweh, is a longing for places where life would be better – greener, warmer, more beautiful than where one lives right now. It can be a real location or an imaginary place like Middle Earth or Narnia or Camelot, or as a crew member on the SS Enterprise in the series Star Trek.

 

It’s not ‘saudade’, something my grandmother used to talk about a lot. Saudade is a word in Portuguese which does not translate easily into English. The best way to describe it is to throw a bunch of similar words at it like: longing, loneliness, desire, melancholy, and incompleteness. Not one of those words is an exact translation but all of them together begin, at least, to point to the meaning of this deep emotional state.

 

My grandmother used to say she had ‘saudade’ for Portugal but she never wanted to ever return to her homeland. She grieved for her mother and missed her dearly but she did not have saudade for her. Grief is grief but it saudade is saudade. She would be sitting at the kitchen table while my grandfather sat napping on the living room sofa and say she had saudade for her husband.

 

“But, VaVoa,” I’d say, “he’s right there in the next room”.

 

“Yes,” she’d sigh, “but I have saudade for the man I married.”

 

Fernweh, I think, most accurately describes what I’m hearing in today’s scripture. It’s a longing for a place – real or imaginary – where life would be better. It’s a place you know in your heart exists but you’ve never been there before but are willing to travel great distances to get to it.

 

Fernweh helps me understand this passage from Jeremiah, known as ‘the weeping prophet’, as well as the words of the psalmist who sings, “My soul has a desire and a longing for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.”

 

Even Paul seems to want to infuse the people in Ephesus with fernweh as he writes to them that they may be given “a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you. . . .”

 

And, I think fernweh helps me understand why the Magi traveled so long and so far, following a star. The Magi were priests in the early religions of ancient Persia. They were seeking the one who had been prophesized to be the Messiah, the Savior of the world.

 

In following a star, they were following the dream of salvation. Coming from the East, their caravan could have taken up to 50 or 60 days to reach Bethlehem. 

 

Their journey was fueled by the longing and desire which is buried deep the souls of every human being, to return home, home to the place none of us has ever been but the place where we are told human beings were born – Eden. The Garden of Paradise. Where we will be in right relationship with God once again.

 

I think some of us here have the same fernweh which drove the Magi to seek and find the Savior. We have this sense, this feeling, this inkling that there is this amazing vision of what this church, St. Paul’s Church, can be. We have a glimmer of what God is calling us to be and we would travel long distances in our imagination and creativity in order to be there, in that place.

 

Others of us have my grandmother’s saudade, that indescribable longing, that pining, for what once was. There is a sheet hanging outside the pastor’s office that’s titled, “What I Want the Vestry to Know.” Someone has written, “I miss my 8 o’clock friends.” The sadness of that – he longing of that, the pain of the grief of that – breaks my heart every time I read it.

 

I don’t know if we’ll ever return to an 8 o’clock service but I do know for certain that if we do, it will never be the same as it once was. It can’t be. That part of the life here at St. Paul’s is gone; it is over. And yet the memory of it lingers in the hopes and in the hearts of many people.

 

Some of us find ourselves midway between saudade and fernweh – between an indescribable longing for that which we can no longer have and that for which we long and desire. To leave behind what we once had and reach for something new and unknown feels disloyal somehow to what we once loved and cherished. And yet, others of us are deeply committed to the dream of what can be, to what we know is possible – even though we’ve never seen it and despite the obstacles and challenges ahead of us.

 

Here’s the thing about Matthew’s Gospel story of the Magi: The Holy Family welcomed the Magi – men who were from a different land and language, a different religion and a different social status, but had a dream of what was possible and came to pay homage to the bearer of that dream.

 

The Holy Family, perhaps with some hesitation (we don’t know, scripture is silent on a lot of facts about this event), perhaps with a measure of saudade – understanding that the safety once knew no longer shelters them – but perhaps accepting their gifts with the same spirit of fernweh with which they were given. 

 

However, the Magi also welcomed the Holy Family into a dream of the unknown to which they had been called. They came bearing gifts. Gold: The dream of a better world. Frankincense: The dream of unequivocal forgiveness and unconditional love. Myrrh: The dream of preserving the promise of unlimited possibility and boundless hope. The dream of preserving the promise of justice and peace and yes, joy.  Joy, anyway. Joy in spite of the challenges. Joy in the midst of the struggle.

 

You may have heard the news from Sharon, our Sr. Warden, who announced last Sunday that we finally have a signed Letter of Agreement between the diocese, the wardens and vestry and me. As I begin my first year with you as your pastor, I admit to you that I’m not at all certain of where we are going. I have an image, but frankly, it’s fuzzy. I only know that we have been called together to build a bridge from where we are now to where it is God wants us to be.

 

And I know that we need to build ourselves up because the vision is that, just as the Holy Family and the Magi were the vehicles of God’s will, we, ourselves, are that bridge.

 

We are the bridge from here to there. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the vision God has for this place. Small and humble as the Holy Family, and yet great things are possible.

 

I know this in the very core of my being.

 

I can also tell you that I aim to be faithful to the vision of the journey we are about to take together, fuzzy as it is for me and for some of you.

 

Let’s blame it on fernweh. Far-sickness. The longing to journey to a place we’ve never seen.

 

I also know that there are those who will tell us that we are being quite unwise. Oh, some have already told us that what we’re trying to do is not possible. Not exactly in compliance with the canons. Others have told us we can’t. Won’t. Shouldn’t. Indeed, the question could be asked: Who would undertake to build a bridge without knowing exactly, precisely where it was going?

 

Well, I know one answer to that: The Holy Family, for one. Had they known that this journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would lead to Golgotha, I wonder if they would have said ‘yes’ to Gabriel.

 

Having said yes once, Joseph, at least, found him saying yes not to return home to Galilee, but to take a detour to Egypt. And even then, after their sojourn in Egypt (some say it was as long as 12 years), Joseph returned not to Bethlehem, which was his ancestral home and the place where Jesus were born, but to Nazareth, on the outskirts of Galilee, where they would attract little attention. 

 

Another answer is The Magi. They only knew that a dream had been born. They saw it in the stars and sensed it in the core of their being. The Savior of the World had been born. They wanted to pay homage and to catch a glimpse of the possibilities that were now present.

 

Scholars call that An Epiphany – a manifestation, a showing; when something of the nature of The Divine of The Holy is being revealed. Not in concrete terms but in inklings and hunches, glimmers and dreams.

 

And so, here we are. You and I. Forming another Holy Family which is having our own epiphany about where we are and where we think we’re going – accepting even with unexpected detours.

 

We may not know where, exactly, the bridge we are building is going to be, but we do know one thing for certain which we learn from the Magi: If we follow the star, we’ll never be lost.

 

Amen.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

In the beginning was the Word

 

 

Note: This sermon was preached extemporaneously. I had just learned about the death of Desmond Tutu and felt called to preach this sermon instead of the one I had carefully prepared. It is reconstructed mostly as I recall saying it. 

 

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE

on Facebook Live Sirach 26:10. 

Christmas I - December 26, 2021 

You can watch and listen to the service here 

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.

 

Yes, I have a sermon all written out.

 

It’s up there. In the pulpit.

 

That’s not what I want to preach on this morning. I’ve changed my mind. Two things caused that to happen.

 

The first is what inspired the first sermon. It’s the first sentence of The Greatest Story Ever Told by John: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

The second is what caused me to hear it in a new way. I don’t know if you have heard by Archbishop Desmond Tutu died some time last night. He has been battling prostate cancer since 1997.

 

If ever there was anyone who embodied The Word that was with God from the beginning and the Word that was God, it was Desmond Tutu.

 

I had the enormous privilege of meeting Bishop Tutu. Twice. I want to tell you the story of those two meetings.

 

The first was when I met him in D.C. in The National Cathedral at the consecration of Frank Tracey Griswold as the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church.

It was 1986. I had just finished the Dreaded G.O.E.s (General Ordination Exams) and my bishop said, Look, you need a bit of a break. I’m going to send you train tickets to DC so you can be at the consecration of the new PB. Part of being a priest is knowing how to network. Go. See people. Meet people. Network.

 

I thought, Yeah, sure. I’m exhausted! I’m going to go and put my feet up on the train and sleep on the way there and back.

 

The consecration was wonderful and powerful. There were lots of church dignitaries there, including Desmond Tutu. The word was that he and his family had been whisked away from South Africa because there had been so many threats on his life.

 

Afterward, there was a great reception at the Westin Hotel, about 2 miles from the Cathedral. I had on my proper Episcopal pumps. Of course I did. Let me tell you, walking 2 miles in proper Episcopal pumps is more painful than taking GOEs.

 

I was one of the first ones at the hotel ballroom – it was vast – and I scoped out private corner over by the Exit Sign. No networking for me. I just wanted a place where I could put my feet up and people watch.

 

I hadn’t been seated very long when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked up to find a very short, very black man in a purple shirt. “May I join you, please?” 

 

Yes, it was Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Himself. I later realized that his security guards had probably chosen that table precisely because it was near the Exit. I suppose it was a good plan, just in case they needed to make a hasty departure.

 

Introductions were made – he said, “Just call me Desmond.” Oh, sure… dddddDesmond.

And then, someone brought him over a bowl of ice cream – a scoop each of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. “They must know that I love ice cream,” he said, and then invited me to share some with him.

 

“Oh, no thank you,” I said. 

 

“No, please,” he said, “have the chocolate.” 

 

“No thank you,” I repeated.” 

 

“Really,” he said, “have the chocolate.” 

 

After a few minutes of this back and forth I looked at him, smiled and said, “You don’t like chocolate, do you?” 

 

He looked rather sheepish as he said, “No, no I don’t.” 

 

And we laughed and laughed and laughed.

 

He asked me why I was there. I told him the story of my bishop and the GOEs. He said that, at that time, women were not allowed to be ordained, “But, it will happen,” he said, forcefully. “It is a matter of justice.”

 

He wanted to know about the GOEs. I told him all about the seven days of torture. I said my least favorite part was the last set which was 100 fill in the black questions. The first 10 questions were, “Name the 10 Commandments.”

 

I was furious. This was a test for fitness for ordination, not confirmation. Even so I dutifully filled in every blank. The eleventh question pushed me over the edge. It was, “Who was the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo?”

 

Now, I went to Roman Catholic School. Of course I knew the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo. I knew LOTS of saints. And, of course I knew that MONICA was the mother of St. Augustine.

 

Could I remember that there, in that particular moment in time?

 

No. No I could not. So, in my fury, I wrote down, “The mother of St. Augustine of Hippo was . . . .MRS. Augustine of Hippo.”

 

Well, Archbishop Tutu simply fell out laughing. He thoroughly enjoyed the story. When he came up for air he said, “My church in Johannesburg is St. Augustine of Hippo.”

 

Later, when I asked him to sign my service bulletin from the consecration, he signed it +Desmond, of Johannesburg. I had the service bulletin framed and it has hung in every office I’ve ever had in the church.

 

It was about 1999 or 2000 when my daughter, who was working at NYU called me and said, “Mom! NYU is giving an award to Desmond Tutu for his work on the Truth and Justice Commission. I can get you in if you like. Wanna come?”

 

I was on the next train from NJ to NYC.

 

When I walked into the reception room, it was hard not to notice that it was filled with dignitaries. I looked for a small Black man with a purple shirt. There he was – center of the room and to the left, talking with Hillary Clinton.

 

As I made my way toward him, he spotted me, smiled broadly, pointed his finger at me and said excitedly and loudly, “Mrs. Augustine of Hippo!” He threw out his arms and I threw out my arms and he hugged me for a long, long time. I was ecstatic!

 

I said to him, “How are you? I’ve heard that you were diagnosed with prostate cancer. And then I heard you were having radiation treatments. And THEN I heard you were chairing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. WHEW! Are you crazy?”

 

He said, “Yes, of course I am crazy. But, do you know my President? Nelson Mandela? Yes, well, my President asked me to chair the Commission. I said no, but he wouldn’t hear of it. I said, Mr. President, I am the wrong person for the job.”

 

My President, President Mandela, asked “What makes you say that?”

 

I said, “My President, I laugh too easily. I cry too easily. I am weak. I am not the person to lead anything.”

 

And, my President, President Mandela said, “This is why you are perfect to lead the Commission. Because you laugh too easily, you know the absurdity of Truth. Because you cry to easily, you have suffered for the sake of love. And, if you know your weakness, then you know the power of God.”

 

“So, this is what qualifies you for the job: You know the absurdity of Truth, you have suffered for the sake of love and you know the power of God. If you know those three things, anyone can be a servant leader.”

 

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the word was God.

 

And that Word was Jesus. And Jesus is in each one of us. And Jesus makes us servant leaders. If you know the absurdity of truth, if you have suffered for love and if you know the power of God, you, too, are a servant leader of Christ.

 

No, not any one of us can be the kind of servant leader of the caliber of Desmond Tutu. There are only a few of those who come into our lives in our lifetime. But, we can be the best we can be. We can allow the Word to become incarnate in us.

 

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the word was God.

 

And  the Word of God was Jesus. And, because of Jesus, Desmond Tutu became another word for God.

 

Amen.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

It's the little things

 

A sermon preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Georgetown, DE
and broadcast simultaneously on Sirach 26:10
Advent IV - December 19, 2021
 

 

I want to tell you this story of my experience with a 92-year old retired pastor in the Assemblies of God Church who taught me the importance of “little things” that seem insignificant but can be a lifeline and a pathway to salvation.

 

I went to see him on Christmas Eve. His family said he was sleeping more and more and eating less and less. He was fragile and pale and looked increasingly gaunt. He was off almost all his meds, all except the one for pain. He had gone from taking morphine every 4-6 hours to every 3-4 hours during the day. That and a sleeping pill at night held him mostly until morning.

 

We had a time of prayer and, to my surprise, he asked for communion. I was only too happy to oblige. I think I said something about how it was no trouble; that it was a little thing, really. A bit of consecrated host. A sip of water. A time of prayer. Not much. Certainly I could provide that for him, especially on Christmas Eve.

 

After communion, he rested a bit and then, he pulled himself up and said, "And now, I want to tell you about the importance of little things. Little insignificant things. Things that don't seem to have much value but they can repair a relationship and save a life. I want to tell you about the inestimable value of one thin dime."

 

He told me a story about his oldest son, his firstborn, the one named after him, the one he now lives with. He talked about the time that his son's first wife left him. After a year of marriage, right after high school. For no apparent reason. Just packed her bags, waited at the kitchen table with a casserole in the oven, the house clean and the laundry done until he came home from work.

 

Said she didn't want to be married anymore. Said there was no one else, there just wasn't anything left of her. Said she had lost herself in everything everyone expected of her which she couldn't do. Especially not have babies. Lord, no, she said. She didn't want any babies. Not now. Maybe not ever.

 

And, she needed to find herself. Nothing personal on him. Just very personal for her.

And, just like that, she was gone.

 

His son was brokenhearted. His heart just flat out broke, is what. He cried for what his father said must have been two weeks. Straight. Day and night. Night and day. Didn't eat. Didn't drink. Just cried his heart out from his bed or sofa.

 

And then, his father said, his son lost his mind.

 

He picked himself up of the couch and said to his father, "I have to leave. I don't know where I'm going or when I'll be back. I just got to go."

 

So his father said, "What could I do? The boy had to go. He had to put himself back together. He had to heal himself. I couldn't do it. That was more medicine than I had in me. He had to go out into the wilderness, battle his demons and pray for the angels to find him and rescue him."

 

Which, apparently, he did.

 

One particularly fierce battle with those demons happened on the train tracks just outside of Los Angeles, California.

 

His son, his firstborn son, decided that the only way to end his pain was to stand in front of an oncoming train. He figured it would be fast and he'd be dead before he knew what hit him.

It would be, he thought, a mercy.

 

At this point in the story, my patient asked that the head of his bed be raised so he could see me better. After I adjusted his pillows and gave him a sip of water, he cleared his throat and continued.

 

His son said that, as he was waiting for the train, he heard a voice say, clear as a bell, "Look inside your wallet." He thought it might be the voice of God, telling him to get out his wallet so his body could be identified after his death.

 

And then, he heard the voice say, "Remember the one thin dime."

 

That's when he remembered that, at his graduation from high school, his father gave him one thin dime and said:

 

"Put this in your wallet and keep it there. It's not much but it will give you one phone call to make if you are ever in any trouble. It will remind you that, if you ever question who you are, you can always call the one who gave you your life and your name; that you are always mine and I am always yours. It will remind you that you can always call me and, no matter where you are or what you've done, I will come and get you. It may not be worth much, but what it represents is worth everything in the whole world. It represents unconditional love."

 

And, in that moment, his son picked himself up from the tracks and walked the short distance to the train station. He picked up the payphone, put in the dime, and made a collect call to his father.

 

"Daddy," he said, "this is your son. Your prodigal son. I just used the one thin dime you gave me. And so I'm calling you, just like you said to do. Daddy, I want to come home. Can I come home now? I think I'm going to be okay if I can just come home."

 

"And so, he came home," he said, "My son came home to his prodigal father. I called an old pastor friend of mine who lived right outside of LA. He came right to the train station and picked up my boy. He and his wife fed him. Said he ate like he hadn't seen a good plate of food in years. He'd been gone a little over a year, so who knows what he had or hadn't eaten in that time."

 

He sighed, cleared his throat and continued, "He stayed with them about a week and then we got some money for a bus ticket home. He was pretty wore out when he got home - looked very thin and his mother liked to have a heart attack when she saw him - but by the next week he had a job and the next year he met the woman he's now married to and they've been happy together ever since."

 

"One thin dime," he said, shaking his head in continued amazement. "Just one thin dime."

 

Then, he reached into the pocket of his pajama shirt and pulled out a thin dime, breathed on it, polished it a bit on his blanket, and gave it to me.

 

"Here," he said, "put this in your wallet. I know you can't make a phone call with it. Ain't no phone booths in too many places these days, anyhow."

 

"But, I want you to keep it and if you're ever feeling poorly, like your ministry don't matter to none but Jesus and you wonder why you keep at it when you could be making more money doing something else and none of it seems worth it any how or any way . . . that time, you just take out this dime and hold it in your hand. And know that once there was an old, dying man who loved Jesus very much and saw the love of Jesus in your heart, too."

 

"Know that you ministered to this poor old raggedy, full of cancer minister and let him minister to you and you helped him to feel worthwhile and useful and purposeful again."

 

So, of course I got all girly-burbly and when I opened my mouth nothing came out but "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."

 

At least, that's what I thought I was saying.

 

I'm not sure, but I just might have had an ecstatic moment there myself.

 

One thin dime. That's all. Just one thin dime.

 

It's not so much about the dime, you see. It's about the importance of little things. Little, seemingly insignificant things. Things that don't seem to have much value but they can repair a broken heart and save a life. It may not be worth much, but what it represents is worth everything in the whole world. It represents unconditional love.

 

At the time, no one thought much of a visit between a young pregnant girl and her older pregnant cousin. If anyone had seen them, they just probably looked like two women so happy to see one another one of them burst out in song. But, that little song, made up of a series of little words carried by little notes, was enough to shape and form the mind of the son in her womb and made the nascent prophet forming in the womb of her cousin to leap for joy.

 

Many thought that, when the King of Israel would come, it would be with great power and might and glory. But, God sent them a babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

 

Small. Not worth much. But, capable of healing broken hearts, restoring dignity and value and worth, and saving a life, representing unconditional love.

 

What has God sent you that you’ve been storing away that you may need this Advent? What have you overlooked or diminished in your life that you might rediscover this during such a time as this?

 

Perhaps the words of Mary Oliver’s poem “Invitation” will open your heart and inspire your soul to consider those questions. Oliver writes:

 

Oh do you have time

to linger

for just a little while

out of your busy

and very important day

for the goldfinches

that have gathered

in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,

to see who can sing

the highest note,

or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,

or the most tender?

 

Their strong, blunt beaks

drink the air

as they strive

melodiously

not for your sake

and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning

but for sheer delight and gratitude –

believe us, they say,

it is a serious thing

just to be alive

on this fresh morning

in the broken world.

 

I beg of you,

do not walk by

without pausing

to attend to this

rather ridiculous performance.

 

It could mean something.

 

It could mean everything.

 

It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:

You must change your life.

 

Amen.