Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sermon: November 16

Some of you know that I was able to sneak away for a quiet retreat at the Society of St. John the Evangelist, an Episcopal monastery in Cambridge, MA this week. It was a birthday gift from my wife; she had 5 kids to taxi around for 2 days!

It was a restful and refreshing retreat. Reminds me that in the hustle and bustle of his ministry, Jesus often went up the mountain by himself to pray and seemingly recharge. It is something we all need to do, one way or another to take time away and rejuvenate ourselves for our journey.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us the Parable of the Talents, a stark reminder that we each have been entrusted with various gifts/talents for the Kingdom of God. We don't all have the same gifts, but God expects us to use whatever we have been given, to not to sit on those gifts, but God wants us to use the gifts, to show our faith, for the good of others.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” 


These words from T.S. Eliot remind me that our call to live out our faith & use our gifts, to take that first step and the next, and the next after that, is a risk, a risk that will lead us to where God calls us to go, further than we can imagine or sometimes even want to go.
Since May, the Ebola virus has devastated many countries in Western Africa. Thousands of people have died of the disease. Among the many courageous people are nurses like Josephine Finda Sellu and grave-digger Kandeh Kamara. Josephine, 42, is the deputy nurse matron at the government-run hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone. Kenema has been Sierra Leone's biggest death trap since the virus struck. Josephine is part of a select club: she is one of three surviving nurses of the original staff who did not become infected. They watched their patients die and their colleagues die, but they carried on.

Josephine thought about quitting - her family pleaded with her to quit. But she says, "There is a need for me to be around. I am a senior [nurse]. All the junior nurses look up to me." If she left, she says, "the whole thing would collapse."

In the campaign against the Ebola virus, the front line is stitched together by people like Josephine: doctors and nurses who give their lives to treat patients who will probably die; janitors who clean up lethal pools of vomit and waste so that beleaguered health centers can stay open; drivers who venture into villages overcome by illness to retrieve patients; body handlers charged with the dangerous task of keeping highly infectious corpses from sickening others.

Many of these health care workers died, some have fled - but many new recruits sign up willingly, often receiving little or no pay, sometimes giving up their homes, communities and even their families.

“If I don’t volunteer, who can do this work?” asked Kandeh, one of about 20 young men doing one of the dirtiest jobs in the campaign: finding and burying corpses across eastern Sierra Leone.

When the outbreak started months ago, Kandeh, 21, went to the health center in Kailahun and offered to help. When officials there said they could not pay him, he accepted anyway.

“There are no other people to do it, so we decided to do it just to help save our country,” he said of himself and the other young men. They call themselves “the burial boys.” Doctors Without Borders trained them to wear protective equipment and to safely clear out bodies potentially infected with Ebola.

Often family members and neighbors will not let health care works return to their homes and villages, terrified that they carry Ebola virus with them. Josephine even had to quell a revolt among her nurses who, at one point, threatened her if another nurse died. That's when her children pleaded with her not to go back to the hospital.

"It has been a nightmare for me," Josephine says. "Since the whole thing started I have cried a lot . . . It came to a time when I was thinking of quitting this job. It was too much for me . . . [But] you have no options. You have to go and save others. You see your colleagues dying, and you still go to work.

Josephine finds some reason for optimism, though. She has seen the flood of Ebola patients diminish. And she and her nurses are no longer alone in the fight. As she put on her protective suit and prepared for work. “By the grace of God, it will end,” she said.

"There are times when I say, 'Oh my God, I should have chosen secretarial,'" but her job as a healer, Josephine says, "is a call from God." [From "Those Who Serve Ebola Victims Soldier On" by Adam Nossiter and Ben C. Solomon, The New York Times, August 23, 2014.]
The parable of the talents focuses on the critical question of not what we possess in terms of talent and ability but our willingness to use our gifts to make the kingdom of God a reality here and now. We may have the skills to be a brilliant surgeon - or we may be able to bring healing to others by our simple but under-appreciated ability to listen to them in their pain; we may have the opportunity to influence the lives of many people - or we may be a good mom or dad to our own children; we may have the skills to manage big organizations that accomplish much good - or we may take a regular turn at the local soup kitchen. We may be a nurse providing care for the victims of a terrible disease or a burial boy helping clear infected bodies from the streets.

The Spirit of God prompts us to use our "talents" for the common good, to bring healing to the broken, to establish the Kingdom of God in our time and place. Such an investment is demanding sacrificial work, as Josephine and Kandeh well know. Whatever we can do, whatever our skills and resources enable us to do, the challenge of the Gospel is to be ready and willing to respond to the opportunities we have to give of ourselves generously for the sake of the Kingdom.

Let us use our gifts, taking steps, taking risks, using our talents so that God’s glory may be made manifest through what we do today. So then at the last, we may hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant of God; enter into the joy of your master.” Amen.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Our Scottish Roots

This is from a blogpost by the Rev. Kelvin Holdsworth, the Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow (Scotland):
Two hundred and twenty five years ago today, something special happened in Aberdeen.

Two hundred and twenty five years ago today, Anglicanism in the USA was set ablaze with the consecration of the Rt Rev Samuel Seabury, their first bishop.

The fact that the consecration took place in Aberdeen is one of those quirks of church history which has shaped, and continues to shape the church of today.

The short version of the story is that the American church needed to have a bishop and elected one of their own and sent him across the Atlantic to be consecrated by the Church of England. The Church of England in its turn was having none of it, frightened off appearing to offer support to revolutionary tendencies in the United States. Frightened of promoting revolution.

Seabury had come a long way to be made a bishop and needed to look elsewhere. He had previously studied medicine in Edinburgh and perhaps we can presume that his thoughts turned back to Scotland because he had previously been north of the border. He made the the trip up to Aberdeen where he was consecrated by Robert Kilgour of Aberdeen (who was the Primus), along with two other Scottish bishops, Arthur Petrie (who had connections with my own congregation here in Glasgow) and John Skinner.

The deal was that they would consecrate Seabury so long as he took back the Scottish Liturgy to the American church and work for it to be adopted on the other side of the Atlantic. When you are in the know about matters liturgical, you can still see the similarities between the liturgies from our two churches.

The particular thing that the Scottish Rite had was the Epiclesis a prayer invoking the holy spirit over the communion elements. The Church of England didn’t have it thought they’ve come close to adopting it since. Here in Scotland, that prayer is part of who we are and was part of our gift to America. Any true Episcopalian on either side of the Atlantic knows that the Scottish Episcopalians didn’t just hold up their hands to consecrate a bishop, but blessed the American church with something else that was holy too. And along the way, of course, we helped to kick what was to become the Anglican Communion into being. One sometimes feels that the C of E has never entirely caught up with the implications of that in the years since.

Today, on this anniversary, I want to celebrate the US Based Episcopal Church. I wish they hadn’t tried to change their name to The Episcopal Church a few years ago, as it is downright confusing, but they’ve done so much good that I try to forget about that as much as I can.

In the various disputes within the Anglican Communion in modern times, we must never forget that the Scottish Episcopal Church was the Church that liked to say, “Yes”.

May it ever be so.

The US church received the Epiclesis from Scotland.

They’ve been using it well ever since.

God Bless America and God Bless the US-based Episcopal Church today.
(from http://thurible.net/2014/11/14/love-american-episcopalians/)

Thank you Provost Holdsworth!  We love Scotland too!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Reflection on (Remembering &) Thanksgiving


(2) As we remember and give thanks to our Veterans on Veterans Day, our Thanksgiving holiday just a few weeks away, beckons us to give thanks to God for the past year of our lives and all the gifts we have received. As that wonderful Thanksgiving hymn tells us:
We thank thee, then, O Father,
for all things bright and good,
the seed-time and the harvest,
our life, our health, our food.
Accept the gifts we offer
for all your love imparts,
with what we know you long for:
our humble, thankful hearts.
All good gifts around us
are sent from heaven above;
then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
for all his love.
Such gratefulness is rooted in our understanding that our lives are meant to be lived as thanksgiving. And yet life is too often in our society treated as a possession that can be taken from us, damaged or lost, and then our lives become filled with fear causing us to cling and protect them from others.

“The antidote to this fear,” as the author Richard Beck puts it, “is gratitude, viewing life--the whole of life--not as a possession to be defended but as a gift to be shared. Think of everything you possess, everything that is yours in life. How can we live with these things in a way that doesn't entangle us? In a way that isn't sinful?” Beck says…

“Receive them as gifts. When we handle the things of the world as gifts they become holy, consecrated and sanctified…Thankfulness sanctifies the world because thankfulness creates the capacity to use things--by letting them go or sharing them--in holy ways.” (http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-world-is-made-holy-through-thanks.html)
This week, you will receive in the mail our annual stewardship pledge drive materials. I invite you to see your pledge as a way of living your life in thanksgiving, an offering, a gift of thanksgiving for all that you have received this year. A gift you offer as disciples of Jesus in this place.

You can turn in the pledge sheet next Sunday. If you haven’t made a pledge for this year, I invite you to begin your pledge for 2015, next Sunday. This year, you can set up your contributions online (monthly, twice a month or one-time) through our partner FaithStreet giving. It is safe and secure and easy to set up.

In whatever way, in whatever amount you decide, remember, that all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above; and by what we share out of gratefulness, our lives will be thanksgiving, for the goodness of the Lord. Amen.

Reflection on Remembering (& Thanksgiving)

(1) Veterans Day is this Tuesday. In the news:

· This past Thursday, 1st Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing was awarded the Medal of Honor, 151 years after his death next to the artillery guns he refused to leave in the Battle of Gettysburg during the CW.

· The 2nd Battle of Fallujah, the deadliest battle of the War in Iraq began 10 years ago Friday.

· This year marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War, World War I. (1914)

· This next year marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of our ground war in Vietnam. (1965)

We need to remember and mark Veterans Day for all those who served during war time and for those who served during peace time. But it goes beyond just remembering, just saying a few thank you’s to those whose served.

Bishop Jay Magness, who is Bishop Suffragan for Federal Ministries of The Episcopal Church, who is responsible for the pastoral care and oversight for our armed forces chaplains, military personnel and families (as well as oversight of federal hospitals, prisons, and correctional facilities chaplains), put it this way a few days ago:
“While remembrance is important, the act of remembering is insufficient. We have among us a significant number of combat veterans, many of whom have invisible though enduring wounds, which must be recognized and healed. It is not enough to thank a veteran for her or his service as though we were wishing them a 'good day.' It is incumbent upon each of us to engage in ongoing care for veterans and to ensure that we provide meaningful assistance in rebuilding their lives and their futures. Providing shelter for the homeless, medical care for the ailing, spiritual care for those who have lost hope, and jobs for those who are unemployed are the responsibilities of a grateful nation to those who have stood the lonely watches, born the heavy burdens and carry the wounds of war for each of us.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bishop-james-magness/while-remembrance-is-impo_b_6106690.html)
So let us pray and remember the prayer calls us to act too:
O gracious God, we pray for those who have served our nation, who laid down their lives to protect and defend our freedom. We pray for all those who have fought & for those who suffered, our wounded warriors, whose spirits and bodies are scarred by war and whose nights are haunted by memories too painful for the light of day. We pray for those who serve us now, especially for those in harm's way: shield them from danger and bring them home, soon. Turn the hearts and minds of our leaders and our enemies to the work of justice and a harvest of peace. May the peace you left us, the peace you gave us, be the peace that sustains us, the peace that saves us. O Lord Jesus, hear our prayer for our Veterans & their families, for those who heard the call in yesteryear and for those who serve today, that we may reach forth our hands in love and gratefully serve their needs even as we pray for a lasting peace throughout the world. Amen. (adapted from the Concord Pastor)

Sermon - November 9

Amos challenges us to look beyond what we do now, for our offerings are not enough if we do not live into God’s justice. In the letter to Thessalonians, we are called upon to encourage one another, that death does not have the final word.

So we are challenged to do justice, to share encouragement. In the Gospel, the parable of the ten bridesmaids that Jesus gives us today, is a story about living into hope & the encouragement to stick with it even when we have to wait.

As Jesus tells it, 10 bridesmaids were given the honor to meet the bridegroom. 5 were wise and prepared (extra oil) 5 were foolish and had only oil in their lamp. The Bridegroom was delayed and all 10 slept. When he finally arrived the foolish ran to get more oil because their lamps grew dim but were not welcomed back when they returned.

It would be as if you had cleared security and gotten in the crowd to see the victorious candidate on Tuesday night, waiting all day with your camera and when the elected candidate arrives you realize your battery is dead and you did not bring a spare, you run out to get a battery but by the time you return, you cannot get back in.

Now Jesus tells us that this parable is how the Kingdom of Heaven will be like, so Keep awake says Jesus, be prepared, for you know neither the day nor the hour when the kingdom will come, for the bridegroom in the story is Jesus. And he is looking at our lives, and seeing how unprepared we are to live, how we don’t have that hope oozing through us, we don’t have that extra oil to be ready for what delays may come.

“Readiness in the Gospel of Matthew is all about living the quality of life described in the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes. Many can do this for a short while; but when the kingdom is delayed, the problems arise. Being a peacemaker for a day is not as demanding as being a peacemaker year after year when the hostility breaks out again and again, and the bridegroom is delayed…” (New Interpreters Bible) I think of the stories Bishop Sengulane shared with us last week about trying to keep peace before the eyes of the warring parties in Mozambique, year after year after year.

In the Jewish tradition having oil was often connected to one’s good deeds. Let me illustrate the parable with this true story:
A Washington, D.C., executive often would go to the noon Eucharist at a downtown church. One bitterly cold, windy day in February, he entered the church and took a seat. He noticed a few pews in front of him a man shaking uncontrollably. The man was undoubtedly homeless and had come into the church to get warm.

The executive began thinking about what he could do. How should he help this person who was in such obvious need? He knew the Gospel response would be to give the man his own coat - and he had an old frayed coat hanging in his closet at home that he would give to the poor man without hesitation. But today, the executive was wearing his very best dress coat, the one he had traded up to. And he was thinking how much easier it would be to deal with the issue if he were only wearing his old coat instead of his new one. But he had a whole afternoon of meetings and appointments and needed a coat.

The executive, a good man, could not decide what to do. He couldn't focus on the liturgy; he was totally obsessed with what he should do. He even considered giving the man money to buy a coat.

Finally, at the end of the service, totally transfixed on the plight of the poor man, the executive knew that he needed to give him his coat. So he went up to the man and he tapped him on the shoulder. He started to offer him his coat, but the man looked at him and thanked him and said, "Well, that's very kind of you, but that other man who was sitting over there gave me his coat."

And the executive wept. He was ashamed at the struggle that he had just gone through. He knew all along what was the right thing to do. And he failed. But he also wept in gratitude that someone was moved enough to follow Christ, to share from the abundance with which he had been given. [Adapted from a homily by the Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope, Washington National Cathedral, November 16, 2011. Used with permission.]
A Washington executive realizes an opportunity lost: to bring the light and love of Christ the Bridegroom into another's life. The parable of the ten bridesmaids illustrates the precariousness and the preciousness of the time we are given to live lives that matter. We have only so many opportunities to become part of Jesus' work of mercy and reconciliation; we only have so much oil in our lamps to illuminate the love of God in our lives and to encourage others.

There is so much we want to do with our lives - but the many demands on our time to make a living derail us from making a life, a life that is centered in the love of family and friends, in an awareness of God's loving presence in our midst, in a yearning to contribute to the greater good of all. Christ warns us not to fall into the trap of the five "foolish" bridesmaids who squander their time before the Bridegroom's arrival, but to embrace the wisdom of the five "wise" bridesmaids, trimming our "lamps" with the "oil" of justice, compassion, generosity and forgiveness in the precious time we have until Christ's coming. To live those good works so all may come to see Christ in our midst. Amen.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ola Paz! - The Words of Bishop Dinis Sengulane


"Dinis Salomão Sengulane (born 5 March 1946) is a Mozambican Anglican priest. He was the Anglican Bishop of Lebombo, Maputo, Mozambique, from 1976 to 2014. He had an important role in the end of the Mozambican Civil War in 1992 and helped with the surrender of 600,000 weapons that were converted into art. He was amongst the longest serving Anglican bishops." (from Wikipedia)

Bishop Sengulane was in Connecticut with his wife Lena to visit with retired Bishop Jim Curry, to be the keynote speaker at his retirement banquet and to visit several churches who have a relationship with Mozambique (including St. Peter's Church!).  Here are some of his words:
We are not only messengers, we are messages of peace. Ola Paz! (Hello peace!) 
We are to be Jesus Christ to others. We are to see Jesus Christ in them. We are to be God's fragrance.

We are called to peace makers. O God help us to pacify the earth. Begin with me.

Tragedy is not the last word. Gods hope. Peace to each other, in our hearts, from God.
"Beloved we are God's children now."

I am God's child now (say this in a mirror)

God smiles on you.

You are called to be a saint.

To point to God. And follow him.

"I have decided to follow Jesus no turning back."
"Proclaim with me the greatness of the LORD; let us exalt his Name together."
God must be smiling.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Cross of Bullets

The Cross of Bullets was designed by Kester, a Mozambican artist known for his Throne of Weapons and Tree of Life, both of which are in the British Museum.
"Bishop Dinis Sengulane's idea which led to the creation of an organization called "Transformacao de Armas em Enxadas" or "Transforming Arms into Tools". Bishop Sengulane was one of the people credited for creating the opportunity for peace following the Mozambique Civil War.  The "Transforming Arms into Tools" organization supplied the decommissioned weapons to the artists and his group for this and many other related pieces of sculpture. " (from wikipedia)
At the request of Bishop Jim Curry, Kester, who is as part of a co-operative called Associação Núcleo de Arte in Maputo, created the cross from the remnant bullets that were decomissioned after the civil war.  It was presented to me as a present.  It reminds me that we need to rid ourselves of these weapons and seek peace in our world.  For upon the cross, Christ has taken all the violence, all the weapons, and bore the pain and suffering.  He will redeem us all and lead us down the path of peace.

Bishop Dinis Sengulane and his wife Helena (and me!)