Monday, November 23, 2015

Sermon: November 22

Almighty ever-living God, it is your will to gather up all things in your beloved one, reigning in the universe in the power that is love, mercifully grant that the whole of creation, freed from slavery to death and fear, may serve and praise you through Jesus Christ who is alive with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (adapted from Rev. Bosco Peters)

"It's good to be the king."

Those words from Mel Brooks in his film (History of the World Part I) is what we often think of Kings. Full of power, able to do whatever they want. It’s good to be the king.

But Jesus gives us such a different perspective – grilled by Pilate – he doesn’t talk about power – he talks about truth. “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” The truth for us in our king is how we listen to Jesus and live out his ways by what we do. How do we do that? Let me tell you a story…

Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy (1903) - (translated & slightly abbreviated)
It once occurred to a certain king, that if he always knew the right time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to listen to, and whom to avoid, and, above all, if he always knew what was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything he might undertake.

And this thought having occurred to him, he had it proclaimed throughout his kingdom that he would give a great reward to anyone who would teach him what was the right time for every action, and who were the most necessary people, and how he might know what was the most important thing to do.

And learned men came to the King from all over the kingdom, but they all answered differently.

Since all the answers differed, the King agreed with none of them, and gave the reward to none. But still wishing to find the right answers to his questions, he decided to consult a hermit, widely renowned for his wisdom.

The hermit lived in a wooded area which he never left, and he received none but common folk. So the King put on simple clothes, and before reaching the hermit’s cell dismounted from his horse, and, leaving his bodyguard behind, went on alone.

When the King approached, the hermit was digging the ground in front of his hut. Seeing the King, he greeted him and went on digging. The hermit was frail and weak, and each time he stuck his spade into the ground and turned a little earth, he breathed heavily.

The King went up to him and said: “I have come to you, wise hermit, to ask you to answer three questions: How can I learn to do the right thing at the right time? Who are the people I most need & to whom should I, therefore, pay more attention than to the rest? And, what affairs are the most important & need my first attention?”

The hermit listened to the King, but answered nothing. He just spat on his hand and recommenced digging. “You are tired,” said the King, “let me take the spade and work awhile for you.”

“Thanks!” said the hermit, and, giving the spade to the King, he sat down on the ground.

When he had dug two beds, the King stopped and repeated his questions. The hermit again gave no answer, but rose, stretched out his hand for the spade, and said: “Now rest awhile – and let me work a bit.”

But the King did not give him the spade, and continued to dig. One hour passed, and another. The sun began to sink behind the trees, and the King at last stuck the spade into the ground, and said: “I came to you, wise man, for an answer to my questions. If you can give me none, tell me so, and I will return home.”

“Here comes someone running,” said the hermit, “let us see who it is.”

The King turned round, and saw a bearded man come running out of the wood. The man held his hands pressed against his stomach, and blood was flowing from under them. When he reached the King, he fell fainting on the ground moaning feebly. The King and the hermit unfastened the man’s clothing. There was a large wound in his stomach. The King washed it as best he could, and bandaged it with his handkerchief and with a towel the hermit had. But the blood would not stop flowing, and the King again and again removed the bandage soaked with warm blood, and washed and re-bandaged the wound.

When at last the blood ceased flowing, the man revived and asked for something to drink. The King brought fresh water and gave it to him. Meanwhile the sun had set, and it had become cool. So the King, with the hermit’s help, carried the wounded man into the hut and laid him on the bed. Lying on the bed the man closed his eyes and was quiet; but the King was so tired with his walk and with the work he had done, that he crouched down on the threshold, and also fell asleep –so soundly that he slept all through the short summer night. When he awoke in the morning, it was long before he could remember where he was, or who was the strange bearded man lying on the bed and gazing intently at him with shining eyes. “Forgive me!” said the bearded man in a weak voice, when he saw that the King was awake and was looking at him.

“I do not know you, and have nothing to forgive you for,” said the King.

“You do not know me, but I know you. I am your enemy who swore revenge because you executed my brother and seized our property. I knew you had gone alone to see the hermit, and I resolved to kill you on your way back. But the day passed and you did not return. So I came out from my ambush to find you, and I came upon your bodyguard, and they recognized me, and wounded me. I escaped from them, but should have bled to death had you not dressed my wound. I wished to kill you, and you have saved my life. Now, if I live, and if you wish it, I will serve you as your most faithful slave, and will bid my sons do the same. Forgive me!”

The King was very glad to have made peace with his enemy so easily, and to have gained him for a friend, and he not only forgave him, but said he would send his servants and his own physician to attend him, and promised to restore his property.

Having taken leave of the wounded man, the King went out into the porch and looked around for the hermit. Before going away he wished once more to beg an answer to the questions he had put. The hermit was outside, on his knees, sowing seeds in the beds that had been dug the day before. The King approached him, and said: “For the last time, I pray you to answer my questions, wise man.” “You have already been answered!” said the hermit still crouching on his thin legs, and looking up at the King, who stood before him. “How? What do you mean?” asked the King.

“Do you not see?” replied the hermit. “If you had not pitied my weakness yesterday, and had not dug these beds for me, but had gone your way, that man would have attacked you, and you would have repented of not having stayed with me. So the most important time was when you were digging the beds; and I was the most important man; and to do me good was your most important business. Afterwards, when that man ran to us, the most important time was when you were attending to him, for if you had not bound up his wounds he would have died without having made peace with you. So he was the most important man, and what you did for him was your most important business.

Remember then: there is only one time that is important – Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. The most necessary person is the one with whom you are with, for no one knows whether he will ever have dealings with anyone else: and the most important affair is, to do good to others, because for that purpose alone we were sent into this life!”
And I would dare say that is how Jesus lived his life: in the now, with those whom he was with and he always did good unto others. What kind of King is this? As that old hymn puts it, “the King of Love My Shepherd is whose goodness faileth never...”

Similarly, as Napoléon Bonaparte once said: “Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I founded empires; but what foundation did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded an empire upon love; and at this hour millions [of men] would die for Him.”

As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry recently said, “"if it isn't about love it isn't about God.”

If we follow Jesus, our Lord & King, then: we focus on the now, with the persons around us, and we do them good; for it is the Kingdom of Love that we belong too! Amen.

Sermon for Chapel on the Green (Nov. 22)

On this day when we think of Jesus as king – he doesn’t talk about power – he talks about truth in the Gospel. “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” The truth for us in our king is how we listen to Jesus and live out his ways by what we do. How do we do that? I think it starts with gratitude.
Tenzing Norgay was the Sherpa guide on Sir Edmund Hillary's historic climb of Mount Everest in May 1953. In his memoirs of that journey, Norgay writes that the team reached the summit at 11:30 on the morning of May 29, 1953. Norgay reports that Hillary reached for his camera and began taking dozens of pictures of different views from the summit, including a memorable photograph of Norgay standing atop the summit of the mountain the Nepalis call Sagarmatha, "goddess of the skies."

Then Norgay records his response - an incident which is never mentioned in any documentary or history of the historic journey. Norgay writes that, upon reaching the summit of Everest, he knelt in the snow and hollowed out a small hole. He reached into his pack, took out a small bar of candy, a blue and white pencil from his daughter Nimi, and a scarf given to Hillary by a fellow climber, and buried them as an offering. As he knelt in the snow, he whispered a prayer in his native tongue: "Thuji chey, chomilugma" – which means "I am grateful." ("The lure of the mountain: Death and divinity in the Himalayas" by Jon Magnuson. The Christian Century, February 19, 1998.)
Thanksgiving invites us to rediscover the many ways in which the love of God is revealed in our lives: in the life God breathes into our souls, in every wondrous work of creation formed by the hand of God, in the love of God dwelling among us in the love of family and friends and even strangers.

For no other reason than love so deep we cannot begin to fathom it, God has breathed his life into each of us. The only fitting response we can make to such inexplicable and unmerited love is to stand humbly before God like Tenzing Norgay and quietly, humbly say, “I am grateful.”

Such a spirit of thankfulness can transform cynicism and despair into optimism and hope and make whatever good we do an experience of grace. But too often we let our worries and fears over what we might lose and our disappointment and hurt over what we don't have overwhelm that spirit of gratitude.

In realizing such wonder, may our disappointments in life and our failure to see God's presence around us be transformed into an awareness of God's love and a spirit of gratitude for the precious gift of life we have received through no doing on our part and then share that gratitude by the love we give to one another. Amen.

Praying #Thanksgiving

Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the
fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those
who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of
your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and
the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(from the Book of Common Prayer, p. 246)

Traditional Table Graces and Thanksgiving Prayers

 Bless, O Lord, this food to our use,
and us to thy service,
and make us ever mindful
of the needs of others.

Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts
which we are about to receive from thy bounty,
through Christ our Lord.

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest,
Let these thy gifts to us be blessed.

Be present at our table, Lord;
be here and everywhere adored.
Bless these thy gifts and grant that we
may feast in fellowship with thee.

Thanksgiving Prayer from “We Thank Thee” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

For this new morning with its light,
Father, we thank thee.
For rest and shelter of the night,
Father, we thank thee
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything thy goodness sends,
Father in heaven, we thank thee.

Thanksgiving Prayer for Harvest Time
Loving God, all that we have
comes from your goodness
and the work of those who love us.
Bless us and the food we share.
Watch over those who care for us.
Open our eyes to the needs of the poor
during this time of harvest and thanksgiving.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
(From Blessings and Prayers through the Year, Elizabeth McMahon Jeep, Liturgy Training Publications 2004)
A Word of Thanks
For health and strength and daily food;
for all the joys that make life worth living;
for the opportunity to help those
who need us so very much,
we give you thanks, O God. In Jesus’ name.
(From Pilgrim Prayers for Mealtime, Alexander Campbell, Pilgrim Press 2013)
Thanksgiving Prayer “That We May be Renewed”
Loving God,
bless our food and drink
our friendship and our laughter
that we may be renewed
in body, mind, and spirit
to work together
for the coming of your kingdom
of justice, love, and peace.
(By Maureen Edwards, printed in Blessed be our Table, Neil Paynter, Wild Goose 2003)
The Hand that Made the Hands
For the hands that tilled,
for the hands that harvested,
for the hands that processed,
for the hands that transported,
for the hands that stocked,
for the hands that sold,
for the hands that bought,
for the hands that prepared,
for the hands that will hold,
for the hand that made the hands,
our hearts are forever grateful.
(By Ewan Aitken, printed in Blessed be our Table, Neil Paynter, Wild Goose 2003)
A Scottish Grace

 Praise to God who giveth meat.
Convenient unto all who eat.
Praise for tea and buttered toast,
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
(From Saying Grace, Sarah McElwain, Chronicle Books 2003)

Thank you to


from the Church of England...

Friday, November 20, 2015

#RefugeesWelcome #LetThemIn

We too often build walls to keep refugees (and others) out.

Heavenly Father,
you are the source of all goodness, generosity and love.
We thank you for opening the hearts of many
to those who are fleeing for their lives.
Help us now to open our arms in welcome,
and reach out our hands in support.
That the desperate may find new hope,
and lives torn apart be restored.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ Your Son, Our Lord,
who fled persecution at His birth
and at His last triumphed over death.
(from Church of England)

 We need to let them in...

Thankfully Connecticut is open and welcoming.

Learn more here:



Prayer for Refugees

Dear Lord, You know what it means to be a refugee. You also lost all and perhaps remembered how you came to be hungry and naked, thirsty and cold, prisoners in a camp or prisoners in our own minds. They even took your cloak and you had nothing left, except some people who came by to quench your thirst, to give you a blanket and to help carry your burden. Lord Jesus, for God's sake, let us be those people who bring comfort, food and water, and an encouraging word. And may we then hear the words softly spoken: "insofar as you did it unto these people who are the least of my brothers, you did it unto me.  Go in peace!" Amen. (By Brother Andrew L. de Carpentier,  Jordan)
O God, our great strength, help us to fix our eyes on you, trusting in your mercy. Help us to look into the world and discover that you are there, our Immanuel. Strengthen us as we hold out open hearts and hands to the stranger, to the homeless, to the lonely, to the broken in mind and spirit. Stir us with your presence, your strength, to the homeless, to the lonely, to the broken in mind and spirit. Stir us with your presence, your strength, and your love. All this we ask in the name of your Son, our Lord, AMEN.

Heavenly Father, thank you for making us members of your family--"children of God" and "heir of heaven." Help us to extend the boundaries of our parish family to those who are without family, home and country. Stir us to make and live out our commitment to welcoming the stranger into our midst. Help us to love those welcomed, to share our lives and to witness to them of your love for all of us in the person of your Son, Jesus Christ, our risen Savior and Lord. In his name we ask this, AMEN.

(The following may be especially suitable for children.)

Dearest Jesus, thank you for making us all brothers and sisters in God's family. Help us to help our brothers and sisters who have no homes. Remind us to pray for them and give our gifts to help them. AMEN.

O God, we ask your living protection of all refugees yearning for freedom and hope in a new land. May we ever remember that the Holy Family, too, were refugees as they fled persecution. Bless, guide and lead us in faith to open doors and to open our hearts through this ministry of hospitality. Give us strength, vision and compassion as we work together to welcome those in need. We ask this in the name of Christ. AMEN.

Prayers for #Mali

God of Hope, we come to you in shock and grief and confusion of heart. Help us to find peace in the knowledge of your loving mercy to all your children, and give us light to guide us out of our darkness
into the assurance of your love, In Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (from the Church of England)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Canon Andrew White & Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The former 'Vicar of Baghdad', Canon Andrew White, is returning to “his people” in the Middle East today as he continues his epic fight for peace and reconciliation in the region.

The former Vicar of Baghdad was forced to leave Iraq a year ago as Daesh – the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIL – marched towards the capital. But he has never abandoned the people.

His Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME) continues to provide support for Christians in Iraq – and also for the last remaining Jews in the country; now numbering just six.

And the number of Christians in the country is also dwindling.

Canon White returns to Iraq occasionally to oversee the work; but the bulk of his time now is spent looking after Iraqi Christian refugees who have made a new, temporary, home in Jordan.

He has spent the past two weeks in the UK promoting his new book, My Journey So Far. His impressive track record in reconciliation work is hinted at through the public endorsements the book has received.

The Chief Rabbi of Norway describes White as “a messenger of divine peace in the world”. The Grand Ayatollah of Khadameer says he is “the spiritual leader of all of us [and] has stood with us our been our supporter and defender for nearly two decades.” And Canon J John says that White’s “Rollercoaster of a journey . . . will infuse faith, hope and love.”

In the past week, Andrew White has given over 80 interviews to television, radio, newspaper and magazine journalists. ACNS caught up with him at Guildford Cathedral after he preached at a service for Remembrance Sunday – the day Britain and other Commonwealth countries pay tribute to members of the armed forces who were killed in war.

For the past 13 years, White had spent Remembrance Sunday in war zones, he told the congregation, so it was a strange experience to mark the occasion in a peaceful Guildford.

Soldiers from Two Troop of the 579 Squadron 101 Engineer Regiment – the Explosive Ordinance Disposal and Search team (bomb squad) – took part in the service by firing a volley of shots to mark the beginning and end of a two-minute silence.

White paid tribute to them, and their comrades. “They are not about war,” he said in his sermon, “they are about fighting for peace. . . I am also involved in that passionate fight to find peace and wholeness and security; to bring healing to a broken world. And that is what our military are also trying to do.”

Speaking of the Iraqi refugees in Jordan, he said “They do not know what will happen to them tomorrow. They do not know what their future holds. What we do is assure them that we will not stop fighting for them to know peace.”

Before the service, the Archdeacon of Guildford, the Ven Stuart Beake, reminded Canon White of their time together at Coventry Cathedral’s international centre for reconciliation. They had been discussing prayer requests and Canon White said: “I need some more Kalashnikovs!”

To laughter from the cathedral congregation, Canon White said: “It shows the place that I come from.”

He is a passionate believer in bringing together people who profoundly disagree with each other. And this aspect of his work dominated many of the media interviews of the past week. He had invited some of the leaders of Daesh to have dinner with him. “It seemed the right thing to do, you meet, you eat,” he said.

But the leaders told him that they would come for dinner but that they would chop his head off afterwards. “So I didn’t push it any further,” he said. “My head might not be perfect, but at least it works!”

That experience, and the total depravity of violence committed by Daesh against Christians and others they oppose has persuaded him that the advance of Daesh can’t be resolved through dialogue.

“They are quite a long term threat and there is no imminent disappearance of them,” he said in an interview in the Cathedral’s refectory, “The only way that they can be overcome on the ground is by military presence on the ground.

“I also know that there is nothing the Iraqis can do themselves. And I have very little faith in anything the Arab world can do as well.”

Canon White said that it was hard for him, as a peacebuilder, to make this argument, but he called on Western governments to increase their military intervention on the ground – something for which he recognized there was no political will for.

“People are so concerned about how things are seen in their own country; and the fact is you could never get support for an on-the-ground presence in America or in the UK.”

Following the Iraq war, many Iraqis resented the ongoing presence of Allied troops in the country, but, Canon White said, “they were also against the fact that the troops all pulled out and left them. That was the one thing that gave them some stability; because even though the troops were not on the ground and obvious; they were in the background and if anything went wrong they would go out into the fore.

“But now there is nobody there. The Iraqis have said there is no way they can do this on their own. They need help.” It is an issue that White raises with governments and politicians “all the time,” he said – the only time he sounded weary during the interview – “all the time. Several times this last week. Not today or yesterday, but most of the time.”

Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East project worker Dr Sarah Ahmed in Erbil, Kurdistan. Photo: FRMME

Despite the serious and desperate nature of his work, Canon White has kept a very cheeky humour.

As he signed copies of his book in the Cathedral bookshop, one lady tells him that she has read all of his other books. “You haven’t read my first book. It was about the use of trichloroethane in caesarean sections,” Canon White, a former anaesthetist, said.

And when another lady tells him “I’m sure you’re a living saint,” he replies: “Look, I’ll be honest with you,” and then pauses before saying: “Yes. Yes, I am!”, adding: “we all are.”

One of the biggest motivators is his love and concern for children and young people. As he signs copies of his book he hands out small olive wood crosses to young people who are there with their parents. “This was made by my friend in Bethlehem,” he tells an eager young girl. “He is a carpenter called Joseph.” And he encourages the girl to take it to her school and show it to all her friends.

“I have always tried to be joyful with whoever and in whatever,” Canon White says. “I always try and make sure that I keep happy, even in the midst of the most terrible times I have always been able to laugh.

“I have always been able to talk with little…” and as we speak, right on cue, we are interrupted by a young girl and her mother who want to say goodbye before they leave, “…little girls like Esther” – They had only met briefly while he signed her mother’s book and as he gave her a cross; but he remembered her name as she came over with a beaming smile on her face. “Don’t forget to take your cross to school,” he said as she gave him a goodbye hug.

“That’s the joy of life,” he said. “You have got to, in the midst of war and terror, you have to look for joy. People often say to me, ‘how do you keep going?’ and I honestly say ‘I keep going for my children.’ When I say ‘my children’ I don’t mean my boys, I mean the children that I am working with, the children who part of our community, and even little children like Esther.”

Iraqi refugee school children. Photo: FRMME

Through his foundation, Canon Andrew White is currently providing support for up to 500 Christian families in Jordan, providing food, medicine, accommodation and education. And on the education side, he is negotiating with the Iraqi Ministry of Education so that education provided to Iraqi refugees outside the country can receive accreditation. This will enable the education to go on people’s official education record so that it can count when they are eventually able to return to Iraq.

When asked what drives him, Canon White says he “hopes it has something to do with God!”

He continues: “I am very passionate, and very radical and very ruthless; and my motto is don’t take care – take risks. And that is what I do.”

Canon White continues to work on interfaith dialogue and peace building between Christians, Jews and Muslims in Israel and Palestine; but the biggest call on his time now is as pastor to the refugee community in Jordan. He spends around two weeks a month in Jordan, one in Israel and Palestine, and another in the UK or USA.

And he isn’t put off by major catastrophes such as the rise of Daesh.

I last interviewed Andrew White exactly three years ago, to the day. Justin Welby was just about to be named as the next Archbishop of Canterbury and I wanted White’s take on it. He was delighted, of course, and was looking forward to inviting the new Archbishop to visit St George’s Cathedral in Baghdad – a move which, just three years on, currently seems impossible.

I put to Canon White that it must be hard to remain motivated when so much of his ministry has crumbled away.

“The fact is, that is the truth,” he said. “So much of what I have worked for has disappeared; but so much has remained. The people are still there doing the work. The numbers have come down from 6,500 in Baghdad. There were only 40 in church last week in Baghdad; but my community in Jordan . . . we are still providing for the needs of the people even in places of war.”

The refugee community “isn’t Episcopal or Anglican,” he says. “My community has given up saying we are Chaldean, Orthodox, Episcopal, Catholic. They are Christian. It is a Christian community.

“That is very important. It is terrible thing to say the only real serious ecumenical relationships I have ever seen are as a result of this terrible persecution. Denominations come tumbling down.”

And while Canon Andrew White has a team on the ground doing the work; and a larger team of international supporters through his Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, he needs the wider church to help: “We need the church to do just two things: to pray for peace and pay for peace.

“We need prayer and we need practical help. We can’t do this work with nothing. We need more than just a cup of tea from a church after the service.

“We need prayer for protection; we need prayer for perseverance, so we can keep going; we need prayer for provision, so we can provide for the needs of the people; and we need prayer for peace: Four Ps for peace: Protection, Perseverance, Provision and Peace.”