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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 15, 2023

What are you looking for? Where does your heart dwell?

 

St. Mark's Episcopal Church
Millsboro, DE
Epiphany II - January 15, 2023 

 

There is something in all of us that loves a story. The first magical words I heard were, “Once upon a time . . .”. I hear those words and even now, I’m four or five years old, sitting cross-legged on a braided rug in the library, listening intently.

 

I don’t know about you, but one of the reasons I love coming to church – even when I don’t have to – is because I’m going to hear another story. It may be something from the Hebrew scripture – something that happened centuries before even Jesus was born – or it may be yet another story about Jesus and his kindness and his love and his teaching.

 

Normally, St. John is a pretty good storyteller. He reports seven different miracles that Jesus performed. I think the miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana is my favorite, but you have to admit that the story of Jesus walking on water is pretty spectacular.

John tells stories differently than Luke or Mark or Matthew. John is less concerned with or in awe of the actual miracle itself; rather, John is more in awe of the deep spiritual meaning implicit in the story.

 

The miracles are signs not of the coming of God's Realm but of the presence of the Logos, the Word or the power of God, which brings about a transformation in people's lives.

 

That’s really what John is keen about – the transformation in people’s lives because of the miracle that is Jesus. That’s why John uses poetry and metaphor more than the other evangelists. He knows that mere words can’t contain the Logos, the Word, the Power of God.

It’s about experiencing the presence of the miracle that is Jesus which transforms lives.

 

That’s the way I understand this morning’s gospel from John which, truth be told, is not his best effort at storytelling. He’s really all over the place, isn’t he? And who was the guy who brought his watch so that we know that it’s 4’o’clock? Seriously.

John strings together two stories, a day apart not because the details of the story are important but because the story is the vehicle to make his point. And, his point is this: Jesus is the Lamb of God. Jesus is the one who takes away the sin of the world.

 

What caught my eye in this story of John’s is what Jesus says to two of John’s disciples. After John says, again, “Look, here is the Lamb of God,” two of his disciples heard him and they turned to follow Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”

 

What are you looking for? It’s a great question, actually. It’s one I think we who follow Jesus should ask ourselves from time to time. What are you looking for?

 

That’s the question that’s been following me around all week. I don’t have to be in church every week. And, I have the option of watching several church services on YouTube. I’ve been attending the 5 PM Saturday service at St. Peter’s, Lewes, which I love. It’s like the 8 AM service with no music, straight up church, except I get to sleep late on Sunday morning if I want to. But the truth is, I find myself in my jammies, with a cup of coffee, “church-surfing”.

 

Typically, I find myself watching the service from the Washington National Cathedral in DC, the service from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC, and maybe a couple other churches where I know some of my clergy friends will be preaching or some of my musical friends will be playing or singing.

 

It’s a wonderful buffet – a feast for the eyes and the ears and the soul. By Sunday afternoon, I’m had my full of the Gospel and I’m satisfied that my soul burbs. But lately, I’ve been calling my own habits into question. Why isn’t one service enough?


What am I looking for?

 

So, I’m bringing that question with me into this church this morning, and I’m going to ask you the same question. I’m not looking to embarrass you. I’m not going to ask you to stand up and say why it is you come to church. Although, you know, I do think that, every once in a while, Episcopalians might learn something from our non-denominational sisters and brothers who offer their testimony in church. Witnessing and testifying about one’s spiritual journey is inspirational and transformational.

 

That said, you can all relax and take a deep breath. I’m not going to ask you What are you looking for. But I do want you to consider the question. And, I have a story that I think just might be instructive as well as helpful to you as you do.

 

It’s a story that was told to me by a Buddhist monk I met while I was doing some work in Thailand. I was helping a friend who had set up an orphanage for young children who had lost both parents to the AIDS pandemic. About 50 steps from my apartment was a Buddhist Temple – or a ‘Wat’ as it is called. Every day I would pass by the Wat and stop in to pray in my own way, surrounded and uplifted as I was by the beautiful chanting of the Monks.

 

The Abbot of the Wat took an interest in me and we began to have wonderful conversations after their prayer services. He had enormous curiosity about Christianity which matched my curiosity in Buddhism. I think I learned more from him than he from me and I will be eternally grateful for all he taught me.

 

As my time in Thailand was coming to an end, The Abbot said to me, “I have a little gift for you. I will tell you this story which I think Christians need to hear. I will make of this story a gift to you.” It is the gift of that story that I share with you now. 

 

So, ready?

 

“Once upon a time . . . . “ there was a village in Thailand that had been settled by the banks of a very large river. The river provided the villagers water for drinking and cooking, bathing and cleaning. It also had a very strong current, so if you went out too far, the current could swoop you up and carry you away only to drown and never to be seen again.

 

One day, a young man who had been bathing waded out too far and was swooped up by the strong current. He began yelling for help. Person after person went into the water, trying to get as close to him as they could without getting caught up in the current themselves, and they yelled to him, “Give me your hand!” The man just flailed about, screaming for help.

 

Just as everyone feared for the worst, one of the old women in the village came into the water, getting as near as she could to the man caught in the current; she stretched out her hand and said to the man, “Take my hand!” And, miraculously, the man reached out his hand, and took the hand of the older woman, who pulled him from the current.

 

Everyone was wild with happiness, cheering and yelling at the miracle they had just witnessed. One of the villagers went to the woman who was sitting on the water’s edge and said to her, “You are a hero. You saved that man’s life. How did you do it?”

 

The old woman said, “It is not hard, when you think about it. Everyone was yelling, ‘Give me your hand’. A drowning man does not think he is able to give anything, not even to help himself.”

“I simply said to the man, ‘Take my hand.’”

“When you are drowning, when you are desperate for help, you need others. A drowning person can’t hear ‘give me your hand’. When a person is in over their head, they can hear, ‘take my hand’. The difference, she said, can save a life.”

 

The Abbott looked at me with a twinkle in his eye, smiled and said, “I think this Jesus, your savior, knew a little something about drowning and being in over his head.”

 

When John’s disciples started following Jesus, he turned and asked him, “What are you looking for?” They answered, “Rabbi/Teacher where are you staying?” Which is to ask, Where do you dwell? Where is your heart?”

 

And, Jesus didn’t say, “I live in Nazareth.” He didn’t say, “I’m sort of in between homes right now.” Or, “Well, I’m not from here, I’m staying with friends.”

 

No, Jesus said, “Come and see.” Which is to say, Take my hand. Follow me.

 

Not, do this. Not, don’t do that. Not, give me this or that.

Not, give me your name. Not follow these rules and pay this price and you’ll be saved.

 

No. Jesus said, “Come and see.” Take my hand. Experience it for yourself.

I’m going to take a risk here and say that I think that’s why many of us come to church. I think that’s what we’re looking for. Some who will take us by the hand – especially when we feel we’re going under.

 

Baba Ram Dass, and American spiritual teacher and guru of modern yoga once said, “We’re all here to walk each other home.” You know, I think that’s just about right.

 

I think many of us are looking for the stories of the lives of our faith so that we can find ourselves in those stories. I think we are looking for the “once upon a time” to be “once upon a time in my life.”

 

I think we are looking to find our way out of the strong currents in our lives that sometimes sweep us up and away in anxiety or depression or confusion and we feel in over our heads, pulled along by forces out of our control. 



I think we strengthen our faith and belief when we actually repeat the actual words of John the Baptist – becoming like him – when we say (or sing), “Here is/Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

 

And Jesus doesn’t say, “Give me your hand.”  He says, “Take my hand. Come and see.”

 

And so, just as we are without one plea, O Lamb of God, we come.  We come.  

 

And, Jesus tells us stories – we call them parables and they don’t start with “once upon a time’ but they could – about people just like us. 

 

Women who can’t conceive and Husbands who can’t imagine.


Daughters who are near death and sons who squander their inheritance.


Women who have lost coins and Shepherds who leave 99 sheep in search of the one that is lost.


People who are wealthy in things but poor in spirit and people or have faith as small as a mustard seed but who can move mountains.

 

And, we listen to the stories Jesus tells us and we take his hand when he tells us to come and see for ourselves.

 

And when we do, we are changed and transformed and our lives will never again be the same.

 

What are you looking for?

 

Amen.


Sunday, January 01, 2023

Who were those shepherds, anyhow?

A Sermon for
THE FEAST OF THE HOLY NAME OF JESUS
January 1, 2023

Today is the day the church celebrates The Holy Name of Jesus. For a long time, the church celebrated this day as The Circumcision of Jesus, because that’s the time, eight days after his birth, that  Mary and Joseph, being good, observant Jews, would have called a Mohel to circumcise their newborn male in accordance with the covenant God made with Abraham.

 

Today, our Roman Catholic friends are celebrating The Solemnity of Mary. It’s a celebration of her motherhood and the role she played in the salvation of humankind as a Theotokos, a God-bearer, the Mother of God.

 

The designation of the feast in honor of Jesus' Holy Name is new to the 1979 BCP. Celebration of the Holy Name reflects the significance of the Holy Name of Jesus, and the emphasis of the Gospel of Luke on the naming of Jesus rather than his circumcision.

And, that’s the end of the lecture portion of this sermon. So, here’s what I want to know. You know those shepherds? The ones in Luke’s Gospel to whom the angels appeared? They were the first ones to hear the Glad Tidings – the Good News – of the birth of Jesus – and to tell others. So, what were their names?

 

I mean, naming is obviously very important. We had to give Mary another name, one that sounds all ancient and fancy like “Theotokos”. We even know that one of the angels is named Gabriel. So, it seems important to name the first heralds of the Savior’s birth. Doesn’t it?

 

Let’s say that there were three of them. Three’s a good, biblical number. So, I’m thinking one has to be named David after the great Shepherd King. But, the other two? I’m sure they had the Palestinian equivalent of the names of regular guys like Caleb, Ali and Ahmad.

Names like . . . oh, I don’t know . . . .Ed.

You know, I always liked Ed Norton. Remember him, the guy from the Honeymooners who worked the sewers in New York? He was a real underground philosopher.

He once said to his buddy, Ralph Kramden, “
A sewer worker is like a brain surgeon. We're both specialists. Like we say in the sewer, time and tide wait for no man.”

 

Yeah, one of them is definitely Ed. So, Dave and Ed and one other shepherd. What shall we name him? What about Norman? Do you remember the great TV program, Cheers? Remember Norm? Norm had previously served in the Coast Guard but then lost his job defending Diane in their accounting firm and, after struggling for years as an independent accountant becomes a housepainter.

 
 

And, every time he came into Cheers, everyone said, “Noooorm!” Diane would always say, “Norman.”

Sometimes, someone would say, “Hey, Norm, whaddya know?”

And Norm would say, “Not enough.”

Or, “How’s life, Norm?”

And Norm would say, “Not for the squeamish.”

 

Names are very important. When you think of the shepherds being Dave, Ed and Norm, they sound more like guys we’d know and the whole story becomes more believable.

My point – and I do have one – is that this is the Octave of the Incarnation – the time when we celebrate God in the flesh – and nothing grounds things in human reality better than human names.

 

In fact, I learned something very important about the incarnation from a real shepherd named Fred. Alfred. But his mates called him Fred or Freddy. I was doing some study in England and, while there, I had to learn how to drive on the wrong side of the road, you know, as the English do. Not only that, but I had to learn how to deal with the occasional herd of sheep whose shepherd let block the road while they crossed from one pasture to another.

 

There was nothing to be done but to sit and wait it out. Eventually, I learned to strike up a conversation with the shepherd – mostly because I was curious to learn about sheep and shepherds, since that’s one of the metaphors used for Jesus and the people of God – that’s you and me – who are part of His flock.

Here’s the thing I learned best about sheep from my Shepherd friend, Fred: the problem with sheep is not that they are dumb. They are decidedly not. Sheep have a very keen sense of smell. They can actually smell the new green grass and they can smell where the water is and they know how to find it. They really don’t need a shepherd to find it for them.

That’s not the problem. The problem with sheep is not that they are dumb. The problem with sheep is that they get very excited when they smell the new green grass and the water.

The problem with sheep is that they can get so excited about getting to the new green grass and the water that they don’t watch where they are going. They can trip over each other and hurt each other – especially the new little lambs. They will run into big trees or stumble over rocks. They have even been known to head over a cliff because they smelled the water beneath.

As I considered what my shepherd friend, Fred, was saying, the whole Good Shepherd Sunday thing began to make more sense. We’re not dumb sheep, but sometimes, we do get excited about life.

Well, at least I do. I have been known to go running off with half-baked plans that were doomed to fail until, in prayer, Jesus sort of tapped me on the shoulder with his shepherd’s crook and said, “Hang on. Wait just a minute. Have you considered this?”

I was feeling a bit better about the whole Sheep-Shepherd thing, but a question continued to nag at me. As luck would have it, I got a chance to ask the question of Fred before I left.

My question to Fred was this: “Why is it that the sheep follow your voice and not mine? They know my voice after all these weeks, I can see that, but they follow your voice. Why?”

“Ah,” said Fred, “that’s the other thing about sheep. Not only are they not dumb, but they have a great sense of smell.”  

 

“Well, yes, you’ve already told me that,” I said, wondering whatever any of that had to do with the price of wool.

Fred smiled and said, “You see, I smell like them. When I help with the birthing of new lambs, or when I sheer the sheep, there is a sort of lanolin that is given off. After a while, that lanolin gets under your skin. You can’t smell it, but the sheep can. They know my smell and they know that I am one of them. And so, they follow.”

And then, I got it. Like a dumb sheep finally smelling the new, green grass, I got excited and said, right out loud, “It’s the Incarnation, stupid!”

Fred, thinking that I was talking to him and questioning his intellect, got a bit startled and then distressed. I quickly explained to him that, suddenly, this passage of scripture made sense.

God came to earth and put on human flesh. God got ‘under our skin’ the same way that the lanolin from the sheep gets under the shepherd’s skin. God in Christ Jesus smells like us, so when God speaks to us in the name of Jesus, we hear and recognize God’s voice. And, we follow.

Well, I got so excited about this new insight that I tripped over a rock and fell flat on my backside. I suddenly remembered what the shepherd had said about the problem with sheep not being dumb but getting excited, and I started to laugh. So did Fred.

Some of the wee lambs and momma sheep came over to check me out and make sure I was okay.  “Careful now,” Fred called out. “Besides the smell of lanolin, the other way sheep know you is if they pee on you.”

 I wasn’t that dumb. I got up very quickly.

 

Friends, today we are celebrating the Holy Name of Jesus. "Jesus" is from the Hebrew Joshua, or Yehoshuah, "Yahweh is salvation" or "Yahweh will save." We also know him by Emmanuel, “God with us.” He is the Great Shepherd. The King of Kings. The Lord of Lords.

He has a name and he also has a shape and flesh. Which means he thinks like us and feels like us and, yes, smells like us. He knows who we are so that we will better know who God is. And so, we follow Jesus when He calls, because we know the sound of His voice and we know His name.

 

Scripture tells us that His name is above all names. Higher than Elizabeth or Alice or Diane. Higher than David or Ed or Norman.  It is the name that was given him by the angel Gabriel before he was conceived in Mary’s womb.

 

Even so, Jesus loves us so much that he walks with us, as close to us as our next breath. The birth of this Christ child is about God coming to us in our everyday lives and saying to us, "Don't be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news."

  • It's about God meeting us in our pain and loneliness as well as our failures and success.
  • It's about God meeting us in our frustration and anger as well as our happiness and joy.
  • It's about God wanting to be a part of our lives every day, in the field or woods or in the office, even when we get excited and ahead of ourselves and trip over our own feet.

 

Because we are promised that our names are written in the palm of God’s hand.

So yes, we know God’s name, but God also knows ours.

And to God, we are also holy. Amen.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Buche de Noel


Buche de Noel is my favorite of all time dessert for Christmas Day - or any time during Christmastide. 

First, it's chocolate. Chocolate Swiss Roll (Sponge Cake). Whipped chocolate Ganache frosting. And, chocolate "bark" to make it look like a log.

It is filled with whipped cream so, between the sponge cake, the whipped cream filling and the whipped Ganache frosting, it's also pretty light.

But, I did mention the chocolate, right? 

Still, with all that cream, it might be wise to serve it with a side of Lipitor. 

I'm printing my recipe here because I've been telling folks that the recipe is from The Pioneer Woman. Turns out, the frosting is hers but she doesn't whip it - she drips it over the cake like a "Little Debbie". Which you can totally do, but I think this looks much better. 

The sponge cake is actually her recipe for a Chocolate Swiss Roll, which I prefer. The instructions sound a little intimidating but if you just take a deep breath and act as if you've done this 100 times, you'll be amazed at how well it turns out. 

The bark is from yet another source, which also gives a recipe for Marzipan mushrooms, but that's a bit much, even for me. 

So, here's how I make the Buche de Noel. Except for the recipe for the roll, everything else in this recipe is enough for two logs because it feeds the crowd I usually have at dinner.  The roll only takes 5-6 minutes to bake, so you can turn around and make another as the first one is cooling.

Alas, there are fewer people round my table these days, but I still make two logs. I figure, if you're going to do this much work to make one, you might as well make two - one for Christmas and one for Christmastide when folks come by to visit or drop off a plate of cookies. It's wonderful to be able to offer a slice of this cake with a lovely cup of tea or coffee.

I hope it brings you as much delight as it does for me and my family.

INGREDIENTS 

FOR THE CHOCOLATE SPONGE CAKE - makes one roll.

Butter for greasing
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for sprinkling
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted (salted or unsalted)

FOR THE CREAM FILLING - enough for two logs

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

FOR THE CHOCOLATE GANACHE - enough for two logs

12  ounces (weight) chocolate (chips or chopped),I use semi-sweet but the tradition is to use bittersweet. Your call
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

FOR THE BARK - enough for two logs

6-8 ounces chocolate chips or chopped
4 Marischino cherries
Italian parsley or rosemary or basil stalks.
Optional:  Confectioner sugar to sprinkle on top.
 
INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat oven to 425. Place a piece of parchment paper or a silicone mat on a 17x12 sheet pan, and rub butter on it to grease.
 
Combine the cocoa powder, flour and salt and pass this mixture through a flour sifter or fine mesh strainer into a medium bowl.

Bring an inch of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Combine the eggs and sugar in a heatproof glass bowl, then place over the simmering water (make sure the water doesn't touch the bowl). 

Using a hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together over medium speed for about 2 minutes, until the eggs are thick, pale yellow and warm to the touch. If you have a thermometer, you want the eggs to be about 120F. If you don't have a thermometer, just touch the mixture with your finger every once in a while until it feels like hot tap water. *Note: Do not be intimidated by this. It sounds a whole lot worse than it really is. Deep breaths.

Remove the egg bowl from the heat and continue beating at medium high speed for another 3 minutes, until it's thick and airy and has reached the "ribbon stage". That means that when you drag and drizzle a spoonful of the liquid, it shouldn't settle back into the liquid for a good 5-10 seconds. 
 
Mix in the melted butter. 

Add the dry ingredients to the mixture, and gently fold it into the eggs with a spatula, working quickly. Spread the batter onto the buttered parchment or silicone mat, leaving an inch from the edges. Bake the cake for 5-6 minutes, until springy to the touch. 

Place a piece of parchment paper on a flat surface and sprinkle lightly with cocoa powder. Flip the cake onto the parchment, then remove the parchment or silicone mat that the cake baked on. Gently roll the cake up into a log in the parchment paper while it's still warm. This is like muscle memory for the cake and it will roll easier again later. 

TO MAKE THE FILLING
 
Combine the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla extract in a large bowl and whip with a hand mixer to stiff peaks, about 5 minutes on medium speed.

Unroll the cooled cake, then spread the cream all over, leave a 1-inch boarder around all edges. Roll the cake up gently (leaving the parchment paper behind), leaving generous room for the whipped cream, then place on a wire rack. If necessary, you may use a bit of the cream to "seal" the seam of the roll. Trim off the ends of the log so that the ends are clean. (This is a lovely treat for all your hard work.)

TO MAKE THE CHOCOLATE GANACHE
 
Pour the chocolate chips or chopped chocolate into a heat proof glass bowl. You may use the microwave or heat the heavy cream on the stove to just before boiling. Watch it carefully - DO NOT LET IT BOIL. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and continue to stir until the chocolate is completely melted and thoroughly incorporated with the cream. Stir in the vanilla extract. Cover with plastic or aluminum foil and put into the refrigerator for a few hours until it is very thick. 
 
Once the mixture is ready, beat it with a hand mixer until it whips up light and fluffy. Note: I always make two logs at a time, so this frosts two logs. You can always use it to frost cookies or brownies or cake. Or, you can cut this recipe in half.

TO FROST THE LOG
 
Place the log(s) on a serving plate/platter. Evenly spread a thick layer of the frosting on the top, sides and ends of the log. Don't skimp.

TO MAKE THE BARK
 
Melt 8 ounces chocolate bits or chopped chocolate in a double boiler. Spread on a baking pan lined with parchment paper to 1/8 inch thick. Put into freezer or refrigerator until it is set. Roll paper to break into pieces. Place on the frosted logs so that it looks like bark. 

GARNISH
 
Roll marichino cherries in sugar an allow to dry a bit so that the sugar looks like "ice". Garnish log with them (I use two at each end) with sprigs of Italian parsley or rosemary or basil. Keep in fridge, covered with plastic wrap, until ready to serve. 
 
OPTIONAL: Just before you serve, you may garnish with a dusting of confectioner sugar to make it look like a dusting of fresh snow.
 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Creation Care: Fire

 

Note: The following was presented via webinar at the Advent Series "Creation in Crisis: Meditations on Earth, Water, Air, and Fire" at the Washington National Cathedral, Tuesday evening, 12/29/22. 

 

I am both delighted and daunted by our conversation this evening, so I want to begin with a disclaimer. I have absolutely no credentials which give me the right to speak to you tonight on either Creation Care or Fire. While I have a deep affection for St. Francis, I am not an environmentalist or scholarly theologian. My theological perspective does not come from the Academy; neither am I a fire fighter or a park ranger.

 

I know that fire burns and fire can destroy. One of the first things I learned as a toddler about cause and effect was for one of my parents to point to the stove and say, “Hot!” The frown on their faces while simultaneously pulling away their finger or hand from the stove led me to understand that “HOT” was not a good thing.

 

When I was old enough to hold more complex thoughts in my brain, I later learned is that ‘hot’ or ‘fire’ is not a good thing if used improperly. The stove was, in fact, “hot” because it was doing something good – cooking food, washing the dishes, making water a more comfortable temperature for bathing, boiling water to kill bacteria, warming the house.

 

When I was even older, I understood this idea of the holding of completely different facts as truth was called “paradox”.  Fire can hurt and fire can help. It’s but one of the many paradoxes which the earth holds deep in the mystery of its center. More on this later.

 

So, what I am – or like to think I am – is a good citizen of the universe, a comrade in the movement to take care of and tend to “this fragile earth, our island home”.

 

I speak to you in your home, listening in, hoping that you, too, came to this webinar because you also strive to be a good citizen  and comrade, and you, too, sense the urgency of this moment in our lives to do better and be a better child of God and tend to our creation. Advent seems a particularly good time to think about being pregnant with possibilities for a new creation.

 

So it is from that perspective that I come to you tonight, this first week in the Season of Advent, to talk about Creation Care and the element of fire. I’d like to start by first defining what I mean when I say, “Creation Care”. And then, I’ll turn my attention to the element of fire.

 

First, I believe strongly that care of God’s creation is a Gospel issue, in that I believe repentance and reconciliation are central to the message of the Gospel and the mission of the church. If you recall, our catechism (sometimes called “An Outline of Faith” BCP p. 855 ) tells us that the mission of the church is to “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ”.

 

Repentance and reconciliation are central to restoration. We cannot ‘restore’ something – return it to its former owner, place or condition – without repenting and then reconciling the damage that was done that caused it to need restoration in the first place, even though we know that the actual thing that was taken or damaged or destroyed may not ever be able to be completely replaced.

 

So, then, repentance, reconciliation and restoration are essential ground work to fully receiving the gift of the resurrection of Jesus from the cross and empty tomb. And, the gift of that spirit of resurrection is grace – grace to see that out of death comes life; grace to know that the tomb that appeared empty is actually filled with hope and possibility; grace to know in the deepest places of our knowing that the passion of Jesus fires our imagination and creativity.

 

And, I must add, these two – imagination and creativity – are what I find most lacking among Christians in general and the institutional church in particular. In my view, it's part of the reason we are in this crisis. It's time to start thinking out of the box. More on this later.

 

The gift of the grace of the resurrection leads us to the transformation of our lives. We become newly born again in the spirit of reconciliation and restoration. Our lives are transformed as we strive to live in greater unity and harmony with ourselves, To love our neighbor as ourselves as the Great Commandment decrees, to love one another as Christ loves us, as Jesus asks in the New Commandment, with God and with each other in Christ Jesus, just as it says in the mission statement of the church in the Outline of Faith.

 

On these cornerstones, then – repentance, reconciliation, restoration, resurrection and transformation – rests my understanding of the work of Creation Care.

 

I hope you have some comments or concerns or questions or wonderments about what I’ve laid out as my understanding of the work of Creation Care. I understand that I’ll be able to take your questions and we can have a bit of a conversation – such as it is in this technological format – about this increasingly important issue in our common lives.

I want, now, to turn our attention to the element of fire.

 

In his fascinating and compelling book, Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari, reports that << some human species may have made occasional use of fire as early as 800,000 years ago. By about 300,000 years ago Homo erectus, Neanderthals and the forefathers of Homo sapiens were using fire on a daily basis. Humans now had a dependable source of light and warmth, and a deadly weapon against prowling lions.

 

Not long afterwards, humans may even have started deliberately to torch their neighborhoods. A carefully managed fire could turn impassable barren thickets into prime grasslands teaming with game. In addition, once the fire died down, Stone Age entrepreneurs could walk through the smoking remains and harvest charcoaled animals, nuts and tubers.

 

But the best thing fire did was cook. Foods that humans cannot digest in their natural forms – such as wheat, rice and potatoes – became stables of our diet thanks to cooking. Fire not only changed food’s chemistry it changed its biology as well.

Cooking killed germs and parasites that infested food. Humans also had a far easier time chewing and digesting old favorites such as fruits, nuts, insects and carrion if they were cooked. Whereas chimpanzees spend five hours a day chewing raw food, a single hour suffices for people eating cooked food.

 

The advent of cooking enabled humans to eat more kinds of food, to devote less time to eating, and to make do with smaller teeth and shorter intestines. Some scholars believe there is a direct link between the advent of cooking, the shortening of the human intestinal track, and the growth of the human brain.

Since long intestines and large brains are both massive energy consumers, it’s hard to have both. By shortening the intestines and decreasing their energy consumption, cooking inadvertently opened the way to the jumbo brains of Neanderthals and Sapiens.

 

Fire also opened the first significant gulf between man and the other animals. The power of almost all animals depends on their bodies: the strength of their muscles, the size of their teeth, the breadth of their wings. Though they may harness winds and currents, they are unable to control these natural forces, and are always constrained by their physical design.

Eagles, for example identify thermal columns rising from the ground, spread their giant wings and allow the hot air to lift them upwards. Yet eagles cannot control the location of the columns, and their maximum carrying capacity is strictly proportional to their wingspan.

 

When humans domesticated fire, they gained control of an obedient and potentially limitless force. Unlike eagles, humans could choose when and where to ignite a flame, and they were able to exploit fire for any number of tasks.

Most importantly, the power of fire was not limited by the form, structure or strength of the human body. A single woman or a small child with a flint or fire stick could burn down an entire forest in a matter of hours. The domestication of fire was a sign of things to come.
>>

 

That sign of things to come has arrived.

 

As I was writing this, I checked the web page “Fire, Weather & Avalanche” which tracks natural catastrophes. Right now – as I am speaking to you – the United States is on fire:

In the state of Washington: 16 fires, 26,505 acres

In Kentucky: 8 fires, 480 acres

In Montana: 46 fires, 21,322 acres

In Texas: 16 fires, 622 acres (a total of 382 fires this year, destroying 54,463 acres, to date)

In Missouri: 11 fires, 136 acres

In Oklahoma: 10 fires, 29 acres

In California: 85 fires, 5 acres (an 8-fold increase in the areas burned by wildfire since 1972)

There are several other, smaller fires in Oregon, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona but these are the major ones right now. It’s important to know that several of these fires have been burning for months.

Drastic climatic and ecological conditions, including climate change and long-term drought, led to the anticipation of a potentially above-average wildfire season on the heels of two previous such seasons in 2020 and 2021.

 

Our country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, is on fire!

 

What can we do? What are we supposed to do? I mean, I consider the images of the destruction brought on by climate change and pray about them as I dutifully rinse out the jar of mayonnaise or pull apart a cardboard box before placing them in the recycling bin.

I take my cloth bags to the grocery store instead of plastic or paper bags and even have mesh bags for my fruits and vegetables instead of using the thin plastic ones at the market.

I’m careful about using my AC in the summer and heat in the winter. I try to live simply so others can simply live. And yet, despite my best efforts, things seem to be getting worse.

 

Is there anything else that can be done? What am I supposed to be doing?

Here’s a hint: Theologian J├╝rgen Moltmann notes,

“It was modern industrial society which for the first time viewed the earth simply as matter, and no longer as holy. It is time for us to respect the holiness of God’s earth once more”.

With my particular perspective of Creation Care – repentance, reconciliation, restoration, resurrection and transformation – what might happen, what might change, how might we be transformed if we reconcile ourselves to the restoration of the holiness of God’s earth once more?

 

I want to turn now to the particular perspective of the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, who is the Missioner for Creation Care in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts & Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ, as well as the Creation Care Advisor for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.


Margaret points to a puzzle that consists of nine dots on a page, lined up in rows of three.

The goal is to connect the dots by making four straight lines without once lifting your pencil from the page or retracing the same line.

The only way to connect all nine dots with just four straight lines is to go outside the borders of the box


Solving this puzzle is an example of “thinking outside the box,” of moving beyond a given paradigm in order to perceive or
accomplish something that otherwise couldn’t be perceived or accomplished.

 


Margaret writes: "That’s what religious and spiritual traditions are meant to do: to help confused, isolated, and fearful human beings to think, feel, and understand outside the box of our little ego-selves so that we can experience our connections to each other and to a sacred Reality greater than “I,” “me,” and “mine.” 

Imagine, Margaret asks, that we live in a world in which everything feels fragmented, divided, and falling apart, a world in which a beloved landscape can go up in flames, a flash flood can drown people in a subway, a mass shooting can take place in your local grocery store, and starving birds can fall dead from the sky.

Imagine a world in which people feel helpless, frightened, and alone, more tethered to their cell phones and social media than to each other, more ready to arm themselves and stock food in their basement than to reach out to help a neighbor, and perfectly willing to douse their lawns with herbicides and to eat cheap beef from a factory farm because the fate of other creatures is of no concern.  Imagine isolated dots, trapped in an increasingly hot, harsh, and violent world that could well tumble into social and ecological collapse.

 

I repeat: The only way to solve the puzzle is to go outside the box. Can the church help people find a way to do that?

 

I would like to ask you to just take a moment here to pause and consider these two images. As you look at the image of nine unconnected dots, I invite you to consider the problem of fire, the paradox of fire with its potential to help and change and transform as well as the potential to do great damage, to hurt and to hinder. 


 

I invite you to consider the unintended consequences of thinking we might “domesticate” fire and, instead, find a force of nature that is wild and, if not respected or well-tended to, can devastate.

And now, I invite you to consider the solution – going outside the box. Notice, please, that in order to connect the dots in four straight lines without raising one’s pen off the paper, the solution is to not just once, not twice, but to three times to move outside the box.

Also notice, please, that the solution, as a whole, forms the shape of a bow and arrow.




Margaret asks: “Imagine now that we find four lines of thought or four arrows of prayerful intention that disclose an underlying wholeness and unity. What if those isolated dots – what if all of us – discovered that we were held together in a sacred reality, that we were embraced by a love that created all things, connects all things, and sustains all things?”  

 

“On the surface, in the realm of our senses, we might notice only differences, what divides us from each other, but in the deep center of reality we would sense common ground that holds everything together, drawing us into community with each other and drawing us into communion with the sacred Mystery that some of us call “God.”  Now we would be living outside the box.  And from this place we could begin to heal ourselves and an ailing world.”

 

I want to be bold and suggest to you that the way of Creation Care is the way of the Gospel. I want to be bold enough to suggest to you that the model of Creation Care – repentance, reconciliation, restoration, resurrection and transformation is nothing other than the Way of Jesus, a path of Christian life which Jesus has set out for us.

 

I want to point to you that Jesus was always pushing the envelope, blurring the boundaries, going outside the box in order to begin to help us turn on the light, wake up from our stupor of sleep and heal ourselves and this old, dark, broken world.

 

It is here, I think, that the mystics can help us, as they often do when it comes to learning to live outside the box. I want to close with a story from one of the great mystics of our time.

This is called The Seed of the Jack Pine, from “Meditations of the Heart”  by Howard Thurman

In response to a letter of inquiry addressed to a Canadian forester concerning the jack pine which abounds in British Columbia, the following statement was received:

“Essentially, you are correct when you say that jack pine cones require artificial heat to release the seed from the cone. The cones often remain closed for years, the seeds retaining their viability. In the interior of the province, the cones which have dropped to the ground will open at least partly with the help of the sun’s reflected heat. However, the establishment of the majority of our jack pine stands has undoubtedly been established following forest fires. Seldom do the cones release their seed while on the tree.”

The seed of the jack pine will not be given up by the cone unless the cone itself is subjected to sustained and concentrated heat. The forest fire sweeps all before it and there remain but the charred reminders of a former growth and a former beauty.

It is then in the midst of the ashes that the secret of the cone is exposed. The tender seed finds the stirring of life deep within itself – and what is deepest in the seed reaches out to what is deepest in life – the result? A tender shoot, gentle roots, until, at last, there stands straight against the sky the majestic glory of the jack pine.

It is not too far afield to suggest that there are things deep within the human spirit that are firmly imbedded, dormant, latent and inactive. These things are always positive, even though they may be destructive rather than creative.

But there they remain until our lives are swept by the forest fire: It may be some mindless tragedy, some violent disclosure of human depravity or some moment of agony in which the whole country or nation may be involved. The experience releases something that has been locked up within all through the years.

If it be something that calls to the deepest things in life, we may, like the jack pine, grow tall and straight against the sky.

 

It is my fervent prayer that the fiery crisis in which we presently find ourselves which melts the snow in Alaska and scorches the plains in California, polluting the air we breathe and the water we drink, threatening every element of fire, air, earth and water that are holy gifts from God – that this very “climate crisis” provides the release of something that has been locked up within us, as individuals and as a people, through the years.

 

It is my deepest hope that that which has been locked up within ourselves is nothing less that love – the love that Jesus exhorted us to have for one another. The love that was incarnate in Him.

The sacrificial love that was born in a humble cave in Bethlehem, died on the cross on a hill called Calvary and was reborn in the empty tomb in Palestine. The love that lives in us all when we discover the Christ in me and seek and serve the Christ in all creatures and creation.

 

I hold fast to the promise of which French Jesuit priest, scientist, paleontologist, theologian, philosopher and teacher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once wrote, 

“The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”

Thank you for your patient listening. I now invite your questions and comments, your curiosities and wonderments.

 

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Prepare ye the way!


 
Make way! Make way! Make way!

This day is already unfolding very rapidly and looks to be jam-packed with eventful and meaning-making possibilities.

The husband of a dear friend died this morning at 4:30 AM, with his devoted spouse by his side. This day will proceed predictably in a slo-mo haze of grief, with voices that sound as if they are being spoken through a filter of thick mashed potatoes. While this date will remain etched on the memory of the soul, mercifully and over time, the specific memories of this day will dim through the haze of time, and the exact details will become difficult to recall.

The daughter of another dear friend has gone into labor and a new being - a first grandchild - is about to make a debut into a world of unimaginable pain and exquisite beauty, both are enough to make a soul weep at the possibilities. This may be precisely why we come into the world wailing at the top of our voices. The unknown potentials of life deserve nothing less.

The sister of yet another dear friend lies on her bed, waiting for her battle with cancer to end while her spouse and siblings whirl and twirl in their well-scripted dialogue and precisely acted dysfunctional roles - their director, long dead but offstage and silent - trying to make sense of that which is illogical and unreasonable and, in the main, cruel and yet stunningly normal and inexplicably beautiful.  

And yet the seconds and minutes tick away with abandon and terrifying freedom, out of anyone's control and yet perfectly ordered, transforming themselves, without permission, into a day in the life, which will soon become a week, a month, and eventually another year.

In the midst of it all, I offer my humble prayer to let it be for the grieving as it is for the joyous; let it be for those who sit and wait as for those whose time has come and passed; let it be for those who regret as for those who anticipate.

Let it be.

It is the only honest prayer I know.

Except to say: Make way! Make way! Make way for another day!

Sunday, November 20, 2022

When We All Get to Heaven

 

"When we All Get to Heaven"
A Sermon preached for the Feast of Christ the King
St. Peter's, Lewes, DE at 5 PM 11/19/22
St. Martha's, Bethany Beach, DE at 9 AM 11/20/22
(the Rev Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

 

Please pray with me (sung)
"When we all get to heaven,
what a day of rejoicing there will be.
When we all see Jesus,
we’ll sing and shout the victory.”

In the name of God, Amen.

 

Today, besides being Sunday and the day after Diocesan Convention and the day of Annual Meeting, is the Feast of Christ the King. On the liturgical calendar, this marks the end of the liturgical year. Next week, the first Sunday of Advent, begins the new church year.

 

Once again, we will follow the life of Christ set out for us in the seasons of the year: Advent (pregnant with anticipation), Christmas (the joyous celebration of the birth of Jesus), Epiphany (celebrating Christ the Light of the World), Lent (His adult life, suffering, and crucifixion), Easter (his resurrection), Pentecost (the gift of the spirit of his resurrection and birth of the church), All Saints (evidence of Life eternal), concluding with Christ the King.

 

Did you notice that our celebration is called the Feast of Christ the King? It’s not Jesus the King, but Christ the King. I have two stories for you that happened just this week that I think will help you understand why Christ – and not Jesus – is the Sovereign of our lives of faith.  

 

Some of you know that I’m a Hospice Chaplain. Besides activism, Hospice is my real passion. I feel like I’m finally old enough, and after 36 years of ordained ministry, have enough experience to know some stuff that, more often than not and to my surprise, actually does some good.

Mostly, I've learned that it's often best to just shut my mouth and open my ears. It's been a hard lesson to learn, but I'm getting there.

 

This past Thursday I got a chance to work with one of our Hospice docs who works in our inpatient unit in Milford. His specialty is symptom management and he’s especially good at it – especially pain management as well as respiratory ailments. It’s a real gift which he shares lavishly with our patients. 

 

When he calls the team together around a particular case, he always begins by saying this (my best impersonation of Dr. D: “Okay, so we’ve got one shot to make this right.” And, someone will always mutter, “But, no pressure, right doc?” And we all giggle softly.

 

He’s right of course. In this life, in that situation, the pressure is on. Odds are good that this patient will die before we will. So, the clock is ticking on how quickly and well we can make this patient pain-free and at peace before s/he takes their leave. We want to make sure that the patient knows that he is loved and cherished, and that they face death with dignity and respect.

As a pastor and a theologian, here’s what I see: The Jesus in the doctor is face to face with the Jesus in the patient and the time is now – today, right now, this now, now now – for a little modern miracle to manage the pain or the breathing or the restlessness or whatever the symptom so this person will be able to leave this world in peace.

 

In that situation, Jesus is Sovereign. It is the teaching of Jesus which leads us to walking the way of sacrificial love. It is the teaching of Jesus which guides that Hospice doctor and the Hospice team to lay down everything we’ve ever learned or experienced in service of that patient, so that their life will come to its end knowing that their life was so valued that it was worth every effort to make certain that they received the best care possible.

 

It’s a beautiful, spiritual thing, which may give you a bit of an inkling as to why I’m so passionate about Hospice Chaplaincy.

 

So, here is the story of why Christ is not the surname of Jesus but Christ is the sovereign of our lives.

My spouse has been in contact with one of her cousins – it’s one of the positive aspects of Social Media – which has been especially comforting since her mother, my spouse’s aunt, recently died.

 

Her cousin – I’ll call her Jane – just sent a note which told a fascinating story that left us all slack-jawed. As Jane was cleaning out her mother’s home, she found a cookie tin which her mother had conspicuously left on her perfectly made bed. She thought it probably contained all of her bills and other financial information. Clearly, this cookie tin was meant to be found.

 

Turns out, it was not filled with bills. Rather, it was filled with love letters from the man who was obviously the love of her life. And, that man was not her husband; it was not Jane’s father.

 

As Jane read the love letters – which her mother obviously meant for her to find and read – she began to piece together the stories she recalled her mother told her about a former boyfriend, “her first love,” as she called him, whom she didn’t marry because he was from a foreign country and she didn’t want to leave her mother and move so far away from her family.

 

So, she married – “settled” as Jane called it – for another man and “settled down” and made her life and her family here. Jane said that as she looked over the pictures of her mother and “her first love” she compared them with the pictures of her mother and her father and there was no matching the different smiles on her face.

“My mother beamed when she was with her first love,” she said. “I never saw her smile like that. She was obviously so happy with him – that man she called her first love – but I realize now was the love of her life.”

 

Jane’s grief was filled with regret. “I wish I had asked my mother more about him. About them. I wish I could let her know how much I loved her for what she did and how much I wish she didn’t have to make that sacrifice. Today, that wouldn’t be an issue. But then, it was the only choice she felt she had to make.”

 

Then she said something quite remarkable. She wrote, “My hope now is that these two will find each other in heaven and finally celebrate in heaven the love they couldn’t have on earth.”

 

And that, my friends, is the power of Christ the King.

The word Christ comes from the Greek word Christos meaning ‘the anointed one’. The Hebrew word meaning the same thing is Mashiach, or as we know it—Messiah. We know without a scintilla of a doubt that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the one anointed by God because of the miracle and gift of His resurrection.

 

So, when Jesus says to the criminal hanging next to him on the cross, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise,” he was saying that because he knew that in three days there would be absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was The Christ.

 

And, because Jesus is The Christ – because of his resurrection – we, too, will be with Him and with each other in Paradise. Jesus could promise life eternal because he is the Christ.

 

When Jesus is Christ the King in our lives, we, too know that we don’t have just “one shot to get this right”. We know that we have the gift of today – this day, this one precious moment in our lives – but because the Christ is Sovereign in our lives, we also have the gift of the resurrection.

We, too, will be able to leave behind all of our regrets, all of our memories written down on yellowing paper and left in a tin with old, fading pictures. We know that we will not count the cost of the sacrifices we make for love in this life because we will have life eternal with all the saints who dwell in Light Eternal.

 

So as we end this year in the church with all of the seasons of the life of Jesus, we end it celebrating that Christ, the anointed one, the Messiah, the resurrected Jesus, and we can sing with confidence that old, old hymn:

“When we all get to heaven,
what a day of rejoicing there will be.

When we all see Jesus,
we’ll sing and shout the victory.” 


Amen.