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

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.

No comments: