Come in! Come in!

"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

Friday, November 29, 2019

There's Got To Be A Morning After

Every morning after breakfast our pups find their way into the Cha-Cha Room (The Sun Room). Ms Sadie Gene Waggy-Tail finds a spot on the floor in the shade. Mr. Lenny Brisco is often right in the path of the sun. 
But, Sir Theo the Loud perches himself on the top cushion of the sofa and looks out past the water onto the road and watches the cars go by. It's as if he's in a meditative state, closing his eyes and then opening them to a squint, only to close them again.

I wonder if he sometimes struggles as I do with "Monkey Brain" - the tendency in meditation for the mind to jump from one thought to another rather than focus on one until everything else fades away and we become one with the universe.

Or, perhaps, he's considering his future as he watches the cars go by on the road ahead, contemplating future travels, the things he'll see, the creatures he'll meet.

Or, perhaps he's looking out across the water and marveling at the beauty of the universe, especially on a gorgeous sunshiny day like today when everything seems right with the world in this present moment and it is just good to be alive.

Or, he might be considering a Very Big Idea, like "What really happens after we die?" Or, "Was Jesus really fully human and fully divine?" Or, "If God is merciful, why do bad things happen to good people?"

Humans often project their own stuff onto their critters so it's probably just that he is "in the zone" for dogs, being well-fed and warm and content. That pretty much sums up where I am this day after Thanksgiving, with special emphasis on the part about being well-fed.

I confess that while there is contentment in my body, there is an emptiness in my heart, a hole just about the size of Louie Crew Clay, that I know, with time, will heal. But, not today, this second day which has the impossible task of being somehow lovely and joyful without his presence in it.

Every now and again a memory floats in from somewhere in the cosmos and settles into that emptiness. Just a few minutes ago, I was remembering that a meal with Louie and Ernest was never simply a meal. 
It was an event. 
There would be place cards with your name on it and the menu, complete with various different wines in between courses. At the end of the meal, you would be asked to sign the guest book where Louie had posted a card with the menu.

Louie would joke that when you were being fed by two Queans, you should expect to be treated like royalty. I would counter that I felt like a rose between two pansies and they never failed to laugh uproariously at my old, worn-out joke. In fact, it became as much a part of the ritual as the place cards.

I am also finding small patches of peace - that I had called him just a week before he had his stroke and he seemed delighted that I called even though I can't even remember why I called or what we talked about. I only remember that he was delighted which warmed my heart because for the past almost two years he had weaned himself off social media and emails and often didn't pick up the phone or return calls.

It also delights me that on Monday, I brought him a few slices of Down East Maine Pumpkin Bread. Ernest fed it to him after he had finished whatever he had wanted of his hospital-food dried out chicken leg mixed in with some lukewarm mashed potatoes for a little moisture. I can feel my heart swell with warmth as I remember each "Mmmmm" after each bite.

It is of such patches of peace and drifts of memories that the heart will heal. As I grieve, I think there is great wisdom in following the example of Sir Theo the Loud. 
 It is important, throughout the day, to sit quietly and look out the window and let whatever it is this earthly frame is feeling or thinking or considering, feel and think and consider.

And, as I do, perhaps more patches of memories will come to me and the hole in my heart will begin to fill and heal and my grief will be more tolerable. I'm discovering that gratitude is a pretty powerful medicine for the invariable losses in life.

Have a blessed Friday everyone. Don't spend too much money at the mall. And, remember that wonderful wisdom which we celebrated on Thanksgiving: “Gratitude doesn’t change the scenery, it merely washes clean the glass you look through so you can clearly see the colors.”

Maybe that's what Sir Theo is doing. I think I'll join him.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Glory! Amen! Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Day - November 28, 2019
Old Christ Church, Laurel, DE

“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life . .”

How blessed are we on Thanksgiving Day to be in this church which was built in 1771 and consecrated in 1772?   

The first Thanksgiving we are told was actually an autumn harvest celebration when the newly arrived Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians gathered at Plymouth, Massachusetts. That was in November of 1621. 

The version of the Book of Common Prayer we’re using today was written in 1789, just 18 years after this church was built and consecrated.

If you’ve done the math, that first autumn festival we now call Thanksgiving was 358 years ago. 

And, the Book of Common Prayer we’re using today is 230 years old. 

And, not to put too fine a point on it, but remember that we’re praying in a church that is 248 years old.

That’s all pretty astounding, don’t you think?

So, I don’t know about you, but it’s a bit of a jolt to hear Jesus talk about things that perish. We could easily be convinced sitting here in the midst of history, that some earthly things last – well, maybe not forever but clearly for a long, long time. Longer than any one of us sitting here will live to see, despite the miracles of modern science which keep us living long and well and well beyond the expiration date of our original warranty.

We’ve gotten pretty good about parts replacements – knees, shoulders, hips. Some of us have even had major work like valves and plumbing and electricity. But, death eventually comes to call all of us to be back home with the One who created us, even though buildings like this remain.

Although, if you look around, you’ll see unmistakable signs of wear and tear to this wonderful old church. 

Indeed, the leadership of this church will soon be launching a capital campaign to raise funds to make some well-needed repairs.

With that in mind, the words of Jesus make a little bit more sense, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life . . .”.

I suppose it is human nature to underestimate or not even realize the value of something until you have lost it – or are in danger of losing it.

Nothing brings home the sense of our own mortality better than the death of someone we know and love. After a loss, we tend to hold our loved ones a bit closer, visit or call a bit more often, linger a bit over conversations, be a bit more generous in spirit.

You may also find that you become a bit more grateful. For little things. For seemingly insignificant things. You may stop to feel the sun on your face and then notice how beautiful it is in November when the wind blows the steel-grey clouds across a pale blue sky and you hear the crackling sound of the dry leaves twirling in frenetic eddies on the ground.

It is months like October, November and December that make us appreciate the warmth and beauty of the months of June, July and August. Eventually though, we come to appreciate each of the four seasons as entities unto themselves and we are grateful for the blessings provided in each.

But it is in the month of November that our gratitude for all that God has provided reaches its peak. I’m sure that was especially so for our forebears in Plymouth, MA 358 years ago as they found themselves immigrants, facing their first winter in a strange land.

Nothing lasts forever. Not our bodies. Not buildings. And, if we keep ignoring our environment and polluting the earth, neither will this planet. So, we are faced with a choice: We can ignore it and travel blithely through this earthly plane until our time comes to an end, or we can learn to pay attention to and appreciate and care for the incalculable beauty and wonder that surround us.

Those of us who choose to pay attention will quickly find our way into the middle of the middle of a deep abiding sense of gratitude. We will find that we are compelled to give thanks not just on one day but every day. In The Episcopal Church, we celebrate Eucharist every Sunday. Eucharist is derived from the Greek word for Thanksgiving in which we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God who is the source and ground of being and creator of all. Our focus is not on food that perishes, but our focus is on Jesus, “the food that endures for eternal life . . .”

There is something author Annie Dillard wrote about gratitude in “The Waters of Separation,” the last chapter of her book, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” that finds its way back to me this time of year.
"I think that the dying pray at the last not "please," but "thank you," as a guest thanks his host at the door. Falling from airplanes the people are crying thank you, thank, you, all down the air; and the cold carriages draw up for them on the rocks. Divinity is not playful. The universe was not made in jest but in solemn incomprehensible earnest. By a power that is unfathomably secret, and holy and fleet. There is nothing to be done about it, but ignore it, or see... And like Billy Bray I go my way, and my left foot says "Glory," and my right foot says "Amen" : in and out of Shadow Creek, upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise."
Glory! Amen! Glory! Amen!
If I could give you one lasting image of the essence of this day when we gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing, it would be these words of Annie Dillard and this image of walking not just through this day but through all of life, our left foot saying Glory and right foot saying Amen. 

For Jesus teaches us,  
“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life . .. . . Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."
As we move through this life, in the midst of our dance of joy and praise and thanksgiving, perhaps we might remember this Old Rabbi’s prayer (from  Rebecca Dwight Bruff, in her book, Loving the World with God.)

Days pass and years vanish, we walk sightless among miracles.
God, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing.
Let there be moments when your presence, like lightning, 

illumines the darkness in which we walk.
Help us to see wherever we gaze that the bush burns unconsumed.
And we, clay touched by God, will reach out in holiness and exclaim in wonder,
“How filled with awe is this place and we did not know it!”


Sunday, November 24, 2019

In the Kingdom of Jesus

Last Sunday in Pentecost, Feast of Christ the King
Christ Episcopal Church, Milford, DE
Today’s date on the liturgical calendar is packed with layers of deep meaning.

This is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, there being three cycles in a Eucharistic calendar: Years A, B, and C. and two in the calendar of the Daily Office, appropriately Years 1 and 2 (What we lack in creativity we excell in pragmatism.)

With today's lessons we are completing Year C and will move on, next Sunday, to Year A. Next Sunday, of course, is the First Sunday in Advent – the season which author Wendell Berry described as, “… it gets darker, and darker and darker and then, Jesus is born!”

It was a year ago on this day that your rector of a little over a year resigned. I came to you a year ago on the First Sunday in Advent. You may not be able to see this for yourselves, but I assure you that, as a community of faith, you are not the same congregation I first met this time last year.

I hardly knew you but even then, if I had said to you, “In one year, having had a meaningful liturgical cycle of worship together, and having had only a very few losses of membership which was overcome by the number of new members, this congregation will actively begin the search process for an interim rector, and now gather for one service at 9 AM every Sunday,” well, you might have smiled wryly and sadly shook your head.

You all were pretty defeated. If there had there been a liturgical equivalent to an anti-depressant pill, I would have laced it in your communion wine or sprinkled it on your communion bread. I confess there were moments when I just closed my eyes, took a deep breath and commended you all to Jesus.

And, I just kept feeding you the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation.

And look! Here you are, still standing and growing and moving forward in faith! You’ve made an important milestone. Brava! Bravo! Well done, Christ Church, Milford!

Today is also the Last Sunday after Pentecost, also known as The Feast of Christ the King. So, it may seem very strange to hear this particular gospel of The Crucifixion. 

I remember being in Confirmation Class and listening to this gospel at church and thinking, “Well, hanging from a cross is a heck of a way to celebrate Jesus being the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.”

And then, I grew up.

It takes a certain amount of maturity to understand the life is different in the Kingdom of Jesus. There’s a prayer in the BCP which we say at the Great Vigil of Easter and at every ordination. Part of the words of that prayer are these:  
“ . . . let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Things are different in the Kingdom of Jesus. Which is why this day, this last day of Year C in the Eucharist, and last day of Year 1 in the Office, this Last Day of Pentecost, this Feast Day of Christ the King, is also the day the Episcopal Church has selected to be Addiction Recovery Sunday.

Let me help you connect what may be for you small dots of understanding about the significance of the convergence of these events with deep meaning.

If you have come to The Episcopal Church from another faith tradition, or even if you’ve been an Episcopalian all your life, you have no doubt heard the jokes – some of which are not so funny. 

Some refer to us as “Whiskeypalians”. 

Some ask, “You know how you can tell the difference between an Episcopalian and a Baptist? Episcopalians say hello to each other in the liquor store.” 

Some laugh and say, “Wherever three or four Episcopalians gather, there’s always a fifth.”

Hardee-har-har. Funny-not-so-funny.

Well, it wasn’t so funny when, in December of 2014, a newly ordained bishop suffragan in the Diocese of Maryland, a woman name Heather Cook, was in a serious car accident that killed a man, a bicyclist who was a husband and father of two. 

The then-bishop left the scene and drove home. She made a few phone calls and then returned to the accident. Her Breathalyzer test was .27. The legal limit in the State of Maryland at that time was .08.

Turns out, in 2010, she had been involved in a DUI which many people knew about but no one ever mentioned. You know, because the other thing they say about Episcopalians, besides being terribly polite and proper, is that we’re God’s Frozen Chosen.

Having this day on the calendar – The Feast of Christ the King and Addiction Recovery Sunday – provides an important opportunity not only to talk about addiction, but also to talk about recovery in terms of what we know about the Kingdom of Jesus.

Why? Well, let me share a few facts from the Recovery Ministries of The Episcopal Church.
Addiction can affect persons of any age, gender, economic status, race or religion. 

Indeed, alcoholism affects approximately one out of every10 adults sitting in the pew. Think about that for a few seconds. 

The greatest cause of death among young people is traffic accidents, half of which are alcohol-related. 

Alcohol plays a part in at least one out of every three failed marriages. 

Alcoholism kills about 100,000 people every year. 

Addiction is a disease, not a moral failing.
My very dear friend and colleague, Lane Dennison, who now plays his saxophone with the angles in the coolest Jazz band in Heaven taught me a great deal about alcoholism and addiction. Indeed, it was Lane who helped me find healing and forgiveness for my father’s alcoholism.

Lane once wrote, “Perhaps we have already learned or will soon learn, Satan to the contrary, that addiction’s tentacles extend far beyond the chemicals such as nicotine, alcohol, and those other paralyzing narcotics. Addiction is our enemy at all levels of life, whether it be addiction to power or to greed or to war or to orthodoxy or to tradition or to whatever. It affects all our relationships. It is habitual, and it is a behavior, and it lurks.”

Addiction lurks. It’s important to remember that. Addiction lurks. It is our enemy at all levels of life and it lurks not just for the alcoholic but for those whose addiction is lurking behind the quest for success or perfection or orthodoxy or tradition, or hiding in and among the Seven Last Words of a Dying Church, 
“Because we’ve always done it that way.”
Let me end this sermon by telling you about the 12 Step Program I sponsored in my office as Chaplain at U Lowell. It was an open meeting, so I was graciously allowed to attend, even though I was technically not in recovery from substance addiction.

Within 4 weeks, my office was filled with faculty, staff and students who had no other weekday meeting to attend, except the one they affectionately called “The Noonie Loonies” at City Hall. 

One day, a young student, new to recovery, got up to share his story – witnessing is an important part of Recovery. At the end of his story, he finished with words that are familiar to many in AA:

“Well, I guess it’s true that you don’t always get what you want but you always get what you need.”

There was polite applause, a few slaps on the back from his friends, and then he sat down.

As the applause diminished, a voice came from deep in the crowded room.

“Bull!” he said. (Well, that’s not exactly what he said, but he was in a chair and not in a pulpit.)

We all turned to see an older man, his face lined with a map of the last 100 miles of rough road he had traveled to get to this place in his Recovery. The room hushed to listen to what we knew would be truth and wisdom gained from the crucifying pain of Recovery.

“You don’t always get want you want,” he said, “You don’t always get what you need. You get what you get and you make the best of what you’ve been given. And,” he said, “be grateful.”

Those could have been the words Jesus spoke to the man next to him on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his Kingdom. Jesus said to him,
"Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."  (Luke 23:33-43)
If that sounds confusing, let me put it this way. The metrics in the Kingdom of Jesus are not what they are in this world.  

 In the Kingdom of Jesus, royalty is not measured by the amount of land you have conquered but the number of personal demons with which you have wrestled and subdued.

In the Kingdom of Jesus, personal wealth is measured not in gold crowns or silver coins but by healed wounds. 

In the Kingdom of Jesus, status is not measured by the silk gown or ermine coat you wear, or the satin slippers on your feet, but by the love that you hold in your heart.

Try to remember that when you gather this Thursday with family and friends to give thanks for all the gifts we have been given. My friend Lane used to say that the strongest medicine he knew for whatever addiction lurked at the edges of your soul was gratitude.

As the sage wisdom of the 12 Step Program teaches, “Gratitude turns what you have into enough.” And, “Gratitude doesn’t change the scenery, it merely washes clean the glass you look through so you can clearly see the colors.”

And, for those of you who are addicted to perfection, or think your life is deficient because it doesn’t line up with all the perfect lives you see in the movies or on television or what you think is the perfect life of the person sitting next to you, here’s another bit of wisdom I picked up in 12 Step Programs about how to be grateful for the life you have:  
“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful, it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale through the ordinary. That’s just living, heart-breaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And, it’s breathtakingly beautiful.” (LR Knost.)
“When you have a truly grateful heart,” he would say, “the love you will find there is worth more than much fine gold. And, with gratitude and love shining in your heart, you will have no trouble finding the path that leads to the Kingdom of Jesus. ”

It may sound out of place, but perhaps on Thanksgiving, you’ll remember the words to the prayer we say at the Great Vigil of Easter, as we move from the foot of the cross and stand before the empty tomb and behold the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, which have become one and the same and known in the resurrected Jesus. 

May our hearts be filled with gratitude and love as we say the prayer the angels must say whenever we have struggled and subdued a demon, whenever we have loosed on earth what is loosed in heaven, whenever we see in the face of ourselves and each other the face of the invisible God.

For, in that moment we are changed and transformed and we catch a glimpse of Paradise in the Kingdom of Jesus, as all the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven rejoice to say, “ . . . let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection (including Christ Episcopal Church) by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

By your endurance

Pentecost XXIII - Proper 28 C- November 17, 2019
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Harrington, DE
So, amidst all this doom and gloom, where do we even begin today? 

Jesus and his disciples are talking about the Temple. The disciples are amazed by its beauty and the gifts dedicated to God.  And, right out of the blue, Jesus begins talking about how nothing really lasts – not even this beautiful Temple dedicated as a gift to God – and then he tells them how nation will rise up against nation and there will be wars and they will probably be arrested and persecuted and imprisoned and maybe even put to death, but well, not to worry because, hey, “by your endurance you will gain your souls”.  (Luke21:5-1)

As my kids would say, “Holy Macaroni!” What does that even mean, “by your endurance you will gain your souls”?

It probably helps to know that this exchange between Jesus and his disciples takes place in chapter 21 of Luke’s Gospel. There are 24 chapters. That means we’re getting closer to the end. So, it doesn’t exactly come “out of the blue.” Jesus not only knows what’s going to happen next, he knows how the story ends.   

So, where I want to begin is at the end. I want to begin by asking you if you’ve ever experienced a moment in time when you thought to yourself, “Well, this is the beginning of the end”? I’m wondering if some of you have been in one of the wars. Korea? Viet Nam? Sarajevo? Iraq? Iran? Afghanistan? Syria? 

Everyone I’ve ever spoken to – of any age, of any country – who has been in a war zone has had an experience wherein they believe that the end of the world was only moments away and they were about to witness it – and go down with it. 

People who have been in a traumatic situation – a fire, an earthquake, a flood, a tornado – express feeling the same way.  

It’s absolutely terrifying. 

Now, that is in now way to be compared to the reaction of some parents to the attitudes and behaviors of their children – mostly teen but sometimes into their 20s – who are so distressed by their clothes, the way the dress, their music (is that really music?) and how they dance (is that even a dance?), their hairstyles and hair color (not any color known to nature), and their general attitudes that, OMG, they feel the end of the world MUST be right around the corner. 

I know my parents felt that way when Elvis appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. My father took one look at him wiggling his hips and he got right up and turned off the TV saying, “When I fought for the freedom of this country in WWII, I didn’t fight for THIS!”

He did the same thing when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. I said I’d never do that to my kids! No, not me! 

So, it’s probably no surprise that I had to work hard to really control myself when my kids started listening to Grunge Music and Punk Rock and groups with names like Arrowsmith and Guns ‘n Roses and Cheap Trick and KISS and . . . well, you catch my drift. (PS: I like their music today. I'm not sure what I found so scary then.)

It’s going to mean ‘The End of the World as We Now Know It’. And, though we put on a brave face – or, worse, a grumpy face – secretly, we’re terrified with the change each generation brings. 

Don’t you wish, sometimes, that there was a Crisis Hot Line or a Webpage named, “What Actually Happened. What it means.  What is True. What is not true. And, what to do.” Just a place you can call on your smartphone or click your computer mouse a few times and you’re instantly in a place where there are easy answers to tough questions and a list of rules to follow that would make everything all better?

I clearly remember the first time I wished for such a resource. It was right after I watched the Twin Towers fall on 9/11. At that time, I was working for the bishop in the diocesan offices in Newark, NJ.

I was driving into work on that beautiful, crystal-clear-not-a-cloud-in-the-sky morning, and at the end of the road, I could see the familiar landmark of the Twin Towers. Suddenly, I saw a plane circle ‘round one of the towers and I watched as that plane crashed right into the tower. 

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Some of the drivers of some of the cars in front of me felt the same way. We all pulled over and stopped our cars. Slowly, we all got out of our cars and looked again at the hideous scene: the South Tower up in flames, dark, thick smoke billowing out of the deep hole in the side of the building. 

One man yelled, “We’re under attack! We’re under attack!” And panic ensued. I drove to the office only because I was scared out of my wits and didn’t want to be alone. I found everyone up on the roof of the building where we had a clear view of the Twin Towers. 

I arrived just after the second building had been hit and as one of the buildings collapsed. We were at some distance, but we could see people who looked from afar like thinly-drawn stick figures jumping out of the windows. 

And, I thought to myself, “It’s the end of the world.” 

I had that thought several times more during that day and the next few days that followed. That’s when my whole world was reduced to black and white, no shades of gray. There were bad guys and good guys and I was in desperate search of easy answers and easier solutions. 

The easiest thing to do was to become tribal and the easiest thing about being tribal means drawing lines in the sand. If someone is not for you, they are against you. If someone hits you, you hit them back. If someone doesn’t look like you or sound like you or eat like you, or pray like you, they are immediately suspicious. 

There were lots of people trying to find more recruits for the newly forming local chapter of the Vengeance Squad. 

And, we know how well that worked out, don’t we? We're still working that out through the immigration crisis in this country.

Well, somehow, we made it through that time and some of us learned some lessons. Which was a good thing because although this nation hasn’t been attacked again by a foreign power, we have been under attack from within. 

The second time I thought the world was going to end was the massacre at Sandy Hook. When 20 little children and 6 of their teachers were slaughtered, I was convinced that we, as a nation, had lost our minds and that ‘The End of the World as We Now Know It’ had actually happened. 

That was December, 2012. By June of 2016 there had been over 900 shootings, including 50 who died in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. That was the deadliest shooting in modern US History until October of 2017 when 59 people were killed at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

There have been more, of course, including another school shooting just this past week and yesterday, there was a shooting on a high school football field in NJ.

Have we learned anything from any of these tragedies? Well, some of us have sifted through the rubble and have discovered shards of truth, which we have gathered up. They are like bits of broken glass that shine when even the smallest amount of light is cast on them.

We learned that there are no easy answers, no matter how much we want there to be. We know that this world is a very dangerous place – always has been, probably always will be. We know that we are an extremely vulnerable species, that Cain is still killing Abel – and for some of the same reasons – and that, good men like Abraham really do believe that God wants them to sacrifice their sons. 

We know that nations will continue to rise up against nations and there will always be wars and rumors of wars somewhere on this planet. And we know that there will always be floods and fires, tornadoes and earthquakes, and all sort and manner of calamities in nature. 

We know that "Why" is not a useful question and "Figure it out" is not a good answer. And, we know that the poor, the innocent, babies and the very old, always bear the brunt.

That said, we also know that, in the midst of all of the turmoil that is part of being human, there is always the gift of grace. As one wise person said, “grace is always last at-bat.” And, the calm always follows the storm and light always follows the darkness. 

These are not clichés. These are truths we know. 

Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, once related something his mother told him.  She said that whenever something bad happens, to look for the helpers. 
Grace always shows up in the helpers. And, from them, we learned something about grace. 

We learned that if we pause and breathe and stick together, the world doesn’t seem so bad a place. We learned to look at each other in the eye. We learned that it not only doesn’t hurt to say, “Hello!”  and “Good morning!” and “How are you?” we learned that pushing through your terror and being polite and friendly and kind makes you a better person. 

We learned that someone living on the street probably needs a coat and could use a blanket or two and maybe a scarf and some gloves and when we give from our abundance – as God does – it changes how we see the world. We learned to go to the market and engage with old or unusual people who seem lonely. This becomes a sacramental act of transformation. 

My grandmother taught me that, in the face of human tragedy, if we do some seemingly insignificant thing, like go around the neighborhood and pick up litter, even though there will be more tomorrow, that bag of picked up litter becomes an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. And, God is pleased.

Later, I learned from my seminary professors the wisdom my grandmother already knew: When we take action, insight will follow. I learned that we are basically powerless, but we are not helpless.

And, the hardest lesson of all is this: It takes time. I hate that! I hate that, I hate that, I hate that. I do not want to admit it, because patience is my short suit, but I have no alternative because it is Truth: It will take time.

Which is what I think Jesus means when he says, “By your endurance, you will gain your souls.”

As one of my seminary professors used to say, “Everybody’s gotta do somethin’ while waiting for the Parousia”. That often gets translated and put on refrigerator magnets as, “Jesus is coming. Everybody look busy.”

Here’s what I say: No one is going to live forever. We have gotten very good at replacing parts – knees, hips, kidneys, livers, and even the engine, the heart – but the truth is that every single last one of us comes into this world with a warranty that has an expiration date written in invisible ink. 

So, until then, why not be kind? Show up. When presented with a choice, do the right thing. Choose to be generous. If that’s hard to do, maybe ask God for help. 

Go through your cupboards and share a couple cans of soup or stew or, when you’re at the market, buy up some of the cans or boxes of cereal that are on sale and bring them to a local food pantry. 

Got an extra coat? Send it to the cleaners and bring it to the Thrift Shop or local charity. 

Cook a meal for a local homeless shelter. 

Make a pan of brownies or a put together a fruit basket and bring it to your local firehouse.

Return a phone call or an email or a text message. 

Bring back a library book before it’s due. 


Make eye contact with strangers. 

Say 'good morning' like you mean it.

If she’s alive, call your mother. I know. Call her anyway. 

It won’t protect you from evil. It won’t change the world. It won't extend your warranty and give you more time on this earth. It won’t change laws that need to be changed. But, it will change you. In the midst of everything that is terrifying, you will find the strength to endure. 

And, as Jesus says, “By your endurance, you will gain your souls.”


Sunday, November 10, 2019

All ecstasies and intimacies then will be with God.

Pentecost XXII - Proper 27 C - Track II
November 10, 2019
St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Seaford, DE

This morning’s gospel passage from Luke is one of those times when you can almost see Jesus doing a facepalm. If you listen closely enough, you can almost hear him pray an exasperated prayer to God under his breath, “Seriously? I have to explain this to them?”

This is the 20th chapter of Luke’s gospel. There are 24 chapters in Luke’s gospel. Now, in the 4th chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus healed Simon’s mother of fever and before the sunset on that same day, healed many who were sick. In the 5th chapter, he filled the empty nets of the fishermen with so much fish the nets were almost breaking; he also healed a leaper, and cured a paralyzed man who had to be lowered to him through the tiling in the roof.

And, that’s just in the first five chapters. The miracles go on and on –feeding five thousand with 2 loaves and five fishes, healing children with seizures and a woman with an 18-year infirmity, etc., etc. All this, and yet there’s absolutely no sign of the Sadducees asking Jesus any questions about any of those miracles. 

The first time they come to him, here in the 20th of 24 chapters, the Sadducees don’t ask him about anything he’s done, not any of the miracles of healing or, in fact, anything he’s said. Instead, they bring to him a hypothetical situation thinly disguised as a way to get him to say something about a theological concern of theirs about resurrection – in which, the Sadducees, unlike the Pharisees, do not believe.

So, this hypothetical situation is almost comic in its exaggeration. A woman – who was considered property in ancient Israel, simply a vehicle through which a man could produce an heir – has lost her husband to death. Torah says that the man’s brother must then care for her – with, of course, all the rights and privileges and “other benefits procured unto us by the same” which was afforded to a man in marriage (wink, wink).

The ancient understanding of the purpose of marriage is to reproduce, to sire an heir – which is the primary reason why sex was prohibited outside the bonds of marriage. 

It was really all about protecting one’s property – the woman and any children she bore. The law of Moses was designed to protect the “investment” of a man’s “property” – especially since the ancient culture was not kind to widows or any other unmarried woman.

In this scenario, however, the Sadducees carried the point to the intersection of the sublime and the ridiculous. There were seven. Seven brothers, all of whom married the same woman. All seven brothers died without producing an heir. And finally, after seven husbands, the woman finally died having never produced a child.

The story reminds me of the “tests” we kids used to create for the priests and nuns of my youth. I grew up Roman Catholic and as kids, we took endless delight in asking questions that mirrored our sense of what was – to us – absurd ideas which we were carefully taught. My favorite one was this:

So, Sister, we know that God is all-powerful, right.

Yes, my child, Sister would say, not looking up from her desk (“custody of the eyes”) or continuing to clean the chalkboard (remember those?).

So, if God is all-powerful, God can do anything, right, sister?
Yes, my child, Sister would say.

So, if God is all-powerful and God can do anything, can God create a rock that he can not lift?

Ha! We thought we were so clever!

We practically squirmed in our seats, waiting to hear Sister stammer and sputter as she was stumped for an answer.

We forgot that Sister had been studying Jesus.

She would stop what she was doing, look kindly upon our mischievous souls and say, “Now, that is a wonderful question. Very thoughtful. Good for you. That shows you are using the old noggin’. So, what do YOU think, children? Can God create a rock that he can not lift?”

And, just like that, Sister had stolen the glee of our trickery and turned it into a class in religion. Right there, in the middle of recess or lunch break. And, the worst of it was that Sister never stopped smiling kindly. She always seemed to be secretly amused – like she knew the trick and had gotten ahead of us. I think I hated that smile most of all.

It seems to me that the Sadducees did the same thing with Jesus. What I find amusing – and, I’m sure it didn’t pass the attention of Jesus – is the subtext of what the Sadducees were asking. They place their concern about the resurrection squarely in the midst of what some religious leaders throughout the centuries have always concerned themselves.

In the exaggerated hypothetical situation of one wife for seven brothers, what the Sadducees seem most concerned about is not justice, not peace, not mercy or walking humbly with God. No, they are concerned with who has the right to claim this woman as his property. And, that, quite frankly, means, who is first in line to have sex with her in the afterlife.

You see, it’s not just The Episcopal Church that has consumed many years and many General Convention resolutions about the sex life of others. There really isn’t anything new under the sun.

Which is why I see Jesus doing a facepalm. Or, maybe that’s my projection. More likely, he was probably smiling kindly just as Sister did when we asked her about the omnipotence of God.

What Jesus essentially says to the Sadducees, to use Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message, is 
“Marriage is a major preoccupation here, but not there. Those who are included in the resurrection of the dead will no longer be concerned with marriage nor, of course, with death. They will have better things to think about, if you can believe it. All ecstasies and intimacies then will be with God.”
All ecstasies and intimacies then will be with God. What a brilliant way to answer their question. It’s almost as if Jesus has stolen the glee of any unintended trickery and turned it into a class in religion. Right then and right there. I suspect Jesus never stopped smiling kindly. Perhaps he even looked to be secretly amused – like he knew the trick and had gotten ahead of them.

I don’t think there’s any question you can’t bring to Jesus. You may not get the answer you want – you may not hear the answer because you want another answer – but you will always get an answer. Sometimes, the answer is ‘no’.  Sometimes, the answer is ‘wait’. 

And, sometimes, sitting with the question – prayerfully and expectantly and hopefully – will bring you an answer you never expected or anticipated, something to challenge the comfort of the status quo, something that calls you to an action you couldn’t have asked for or imagined.

You’ve probably heard the story of the woman, a harried mother of four very active children, who said, “I used to pray all the time to God for patience. ‘Give me patience, Lord,’ I would pray. And then,” she said, “God sent me four children, and I’ve been learning about patience ever since.”

Sometimes, I wonder when we pray for peace, if what we get is war so that we will really understand and appreciate peace.

This weekend as we remember and honor our Veterans, I hope when we pray for peace we really mean it. Which means that we are willing to work to achieve it.

God knows, right now there are enough wars around the globe to make us cherish peace. There is enough gun violence in this country to have reduced some of our cities to something akin to war zones. The rise of Nationalism with its attendant racism, anti-Semitism and intolerance of immigrants has resulted in acts of violence and cruelty to men, women and children. Threats of civil war have been heard if election results are not what some want.

I think it takes observances like this Veteran’s Day weekend when we remember those who have fought and died or who have fought and lived through the unimaginable horrors of war, to make us grateful for the men and women who cherish peace. 

We honor them best by working to ensure that peace will prevail and that we will, as that song goes, “study war no more.”

Jesus tells us that God is the God of the living and the dead, for all are alive in the sight of God.

Jesuit theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience."

There is great comfort in that mystery.

I urge us to live through that mystery that is our faith in a God who loves us so much that we are giving the gift of free will. And, when our choices are not the best for us or others and we repent, we are given the gift of grace to seek forgiveness.

Free will and grace. These are two gifts whose generosity can’t be measured.

Turns out, God can create a rock that He – or She – can’t lift. Unless, of course, God wanted to lift up that rock and then God would, indeed, lift up that rock.

Because, well, God is God.

If God can do that, God can also allow us the freedom to fall short of the mark and still provide us with the means, through grace, to lift ourselves up and try again.

I find great hope and take comfort in that mystery. Because that means that nothing I can do will ever separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Not even me.

And, because I believe in “the forgiveness of sins, the the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting,” I also believe that All ecstasies and intimacies then will be with God.

In the words of St. Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians, 
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Creator, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.”    

Sunday, November 03, 2019

A soulin' in Hallowtide

All Saints' Sunday - November 3, 2019
Christ Episcopal Church, Milford, DE

Meat nor drink nor money have I none
Yet shall we be merry
Hey, ho, nobody home. (Hey, ho, nobody home.)

+In the name of the Great Mystery of God, who was and is and is to be. Amen.

Can there be anything more spectacular than the light in autumn? Well, except, perhaps, the light in spring? I have a particular affinity for the autumn light, the way it dances on the leaves as they change color before they die and fall off their branches; the soft, tender way it embraces the trees that have gone bare; the soft caresses it gives to a face surprised by the sudden chill in the air.

There’s a bit of magic in the air this time at the end of the harvest and beginning of winter. The ancients thought this time between the solstice and the equinox was a time when the veil between this world and the next was thinned and those who had died that year were now able to cross into the spirit world and otherworldly beings and fairy folk were able to cross into ours.  

Celtic spirituality celebrated this time as the pagan festival of Samhain, the Feast of the Dead, and lit bonfires on fairy hills to help light the way to heaven for souls who were caught or stuck between worlds.

Pagans in Galicia in the northern part of Spain, influenced by the Celts, celebrate the Dia de la Muerte, the Day of the Dead. Those Spaniards who traveled to the “new world” brought those festivities with them. We see variations of them in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Haiti.

Americans native to this land have always worshipped the ancestors as have those in Africa and the African diaspora, which varies from nation to nation and tribe to tribe.

When the Christian movement began in those countries, much of pagan thought was easily co-opted by the Christian understanding of resurrection, heaven and hell, and their rituals were adapted and modified to accommodate this new belief.

In the Middle Ages in England, the Celtic festival of Samhain, the feast of the Dead, became a time for “a soulin’”. The time of October 29th  – November 2nd was known as “Hallowtide” – a holy time in the universe.

It was believed that some fairies caused mischief, but most likely that became a cover for the pranks and tricks which all children of every time and culture like to play, especially as the doldrums of a long winter stretched out before them.

The evening of November 2nd was the time when the poor and children would go a soulin’.

They would go from house to house, begging for money or food. “Soul cakes” were handed out, along with a penny or a ha’penny. Soul cakes are little cakes that look more like muffins and are richly filled with berries and nuts.

Other versions of soul cakes are a cross between what the British call a biscuit (but we call a cookie) and a scone; they are sweet and carry a cross made of currents (or, raisins). I’ve made both kinds for your pleasure at coffee hour.

The soul cake given to the poor and children had a currency all its own. It was believed that when you did an act of kindness for a poor soul, it would help move the soul of a loved one to pass on from Purgatory to Heaven – or, from being stuck here on earth to move on to be home with Jesus. Every cake eaten represented a soul freed from Purgatory.

Whatever soul cakes were leftover were either left on a plate beside the door for hungry, haunted souls and fairies as appeasement against mischief. Or they were tossed into the bonfire as sacrifices for the dead.

As the poor and the children would wander from house to house, they would sing:
Soul, a soul, a soul cake
Please good missus a soul cake
An apple, a pear, a plum, a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul
Three for Him who made us all.
Yes, our modern practice of Trick or Treat no doubt comes from this old ritual, but more importantly, it is into this “Hallowtide” – this holy time which is midway between the solstice and the equinox, the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter – that the church hallows the saints who have gone on before us.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the Gospel selected for this day is the Beatitudes from St. Luke, with the blessings and the woes, reminding us of the difference between here and there, between now and then, between heaven and earth.

There is great hope for the poor in these promises of Jesus.  

“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.” 

“Blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh.” 

And, there is a warning for those who think that the material things and the successes they have had in this life is all there is.

It is Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message that speaks most powerfully. He writes:
But it's trouble ahead if you think you have it made.
What you have is all you'll ever get.
And it's trouble ahead if you're satisfied with yourself.
Your self will not satisfy you for long.
Jesus not only reminds us of our own mortality but also our human fragility. He calls attention to the dangers of self-satisfaction and greed, and the importance of living this life, this one life that we all have here on earth – to the betterment of our lives and others.

Jesus acknowledges that our human failings and flaws not only hurt ourselves, but others are also hurt. Other people go hungry. Other people are poor. Other people do not have shelter, much less a home. And, Jesus tells us that there is justice in the world.

As Martin Luther King, Jr., so famously said, “The moral arc of history is long, but it always bends toward justice.” King didn’t just make that up. He got that from reading the Beatitudes.

Here’s the thing I appreciate about this Hallowtide, this time from October 29th-November 2nd .

For me, the whole theology of resurrection can be summed up in one line from the Eucharistic prayer we use at funerals – in both Rite I and Rite II. It is this: “for we know that life is changed, not ended.”

Changed. Not ended.

Let that sink in for just a moment.

It means that we believe in a life after this life. We don’t know what that life after this life will look like. We only believe that it exists. It doesn’t mean that one life has more value than the other. It means, to me, that all life is sacred.

To remember our loved ones who have died is not a morbid exercise. It is not an exercise in cheap sentimentality. Rather, it is a ritual that celebrates life – all life – in this world and the next. It is a ritual that honors the everlasting soul of every human being.

This is why the rubric for funerals in an Episcopal church, the casket is closed and covered with a pall. If the body has been cremated, we cover the urn with a pall. We do that because we do not place the emphasis on the body but on the soul. We celebrate the resurrection.

We honor the spirit of the person who has died, knowing that the body may be gone, but the spirit has united with the One who created us and gave us life and is bathed in Light Eternal.

Today, after the Prayers of the People, we will read the Necrology – the list of those who have died. I am going to ask you to participate in something people in Hispanic cultures practice on this Holy Day of All Saints. As the names are read, if you knew and loved that person or even if you didn’t know that person but you recognize the name, I’m going to ask you to say, “Present”.  

In doing so, we will be affirming life. We will be affirming our faith. We will be affirming what we say we believe about “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and life everlasting. Amen.”

As a child, my grandmother would always observe this Hallowtide by taking the family to the cemetery where we would have a picnic lunch. We would spread our blankets near the graves of our relatives and she would tell us stories of their lives. She would also tell us stories of relatives we had never met – her father and mother and brothers who were buried back in Portugal. She would say to us, “You need to know about them so you can better know who you are.”

I suspect part of what’s wrong with our culture is that we live disconnected lives. We all live so far away from each other. Which can be overcome, of course, by visits and technology.

But I fear we don’t tell our stories to each other any more. It’s important to know the family stories – and all the characters and their stories. We need to know about them so that we can better know ourselves.

Eugene Peterson translates the last part of Luke’s gospel in this way:
There's trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests - look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors!
Your task is to be true, not popular."
As we move away from the end of the harvest and enter the beginning of winter, the days will become shorter and the nights will become longer. Soon and very soon, it will be Advent and we will begin to light candles to light the lengthening shadows as, once again, we await the coming of the one who is The Light of the World.

Until then, enjoy the autumn light. Let its gentle clarity guide you through the rustle of dead leaves, the dry, bare tree branches, and the barren cornfields. Say a prayer of thanksgiving for those who have come before you and for all that they have made possible for you today. Count your blessings – name them one by one. Share what you have with those who don’t.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 

And, take some time to enjoy the autumn light. There is an undeniable bit of magic in the air. Take a hint from what is happening all around you and try to slow down and enjoy and be grateful for this life you’ve been given.

If you are still, if you are quiet, if you listen, the sound you will hear as the wind blows the leaves to the ground and the barren branches clack against each other is life calling after life in the veil between heaven and earth which is especially thin this time of year.

Perhaps you too will find yourself doing your own version of “a soulin’” – looking for lost souls to help, to share what you’ve got with those who don’t, to commit a random act of kindness and bring a little light into a world that will soon grow dark and cold.

Transforming souls – your own and those of others – through kindness and generosity is the best magic of all.

My shoes are very thin.
I have a little pocket
To put a penny in.

If you haven’t got a penny
A ha’penny will do.
If you haven’t got a ha’penny
Then God bless you.

Soul, a soul, a soul cake.
Please good missus a soul cake.
An apple, a pear, a plum a cherry
Any good thing to make us all merry.

One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for him who made us all.