Saturday, May 2, 2015

#BaltimoreOne - Prayerfully Watching


As I watched the events unfold in Baltimore, I thought of friends who live there (and nearby), clergy I know there.  One of them posted something about the events on her blog:


I also thought of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and what UBE (Union of Black Episcopalians - formed in 1968) might say about Baltimore:


Finally, I was reminded of what Bishop Sutton had to say:


and if you need some background on Baltimore and racial tensions:


Prayer for the Royal Baby & Family


Lord of all,
We offer our deep thanksgiving for the gift of new life
And especially for the daughter born to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge,
Sister to Prince George.
Pour your blessing upon the whole family, and be their light and guide in all that they are called to be and do in life.
Enfold them in your love and hope, now and always we pray
Through Jesus Christ our risen Lord.  Amen.
(from the Church of England)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

More thoughts on Marriage Equality


As an Episcopal Priest in the Episcopal Church in CT, I am guided by my bishops.  What we believe and practice regarding marriage as the Episcopal Church in CT can be found here:

https://www.episcopalct.org/Beliefs-and-Practices/What-We-Believe/Marriage/

and I also listen for what my fellow presbyters have to say and the Rev. Tobias Haller is one I have found to be very helpful:

http://blog.tobiashaller.net/search/label/marriage%20equality

A Thought on Baptism (Water)


From Rachel Held Evans: Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding Church is arranged around seven sacraments—baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing the sick, and marriage—and I begin each section with a short reflection on an element associated with each sacrament. Those chapters are entitled “Water,” “Ash,” “Hands,” “Bread,” “Breath,” “Oil,” and “Crowns.” 
Today I am pleased to enclose “Water,” which appears at the beginning of the Baptism section.
Water
. . . by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 
—2 Peter 3:5
In the beginning, the Spirit of God hovered over water. 
The water was dark and deep and everywhere, the ancients say, an endless primordial sea.  
Then God separated the water, pushing some of it below to make oceans, rivers, dew drops, and springs, and vaulting the rest of the torrents above to be locked behind a glassy firmament, complete with doors that opened for the moon and windows to let out the rain. In ancient Near Eastern cosmology, all of life hung suspended between these waters, vulnerable as a fetus in the womb. With one sigh of the Spirit, the waters could come crashing in and around the earth, drowning its inhabitants in a moment. The story of Noah’s flood begins when “the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened” (Genesis 7:11). The God who had separated the waters in the beginning wanted to start over, so God washed the world away. 
For people whose survival depended on the inscrutable moods of the Tigris, Euphrates, and Nile, water represented both life and death. Oceans teemed with monsters, unruly spirits, and giant fish that could swallow a man whole. Rivers brimmed with fickle possibility—of yielding crops, of boosting trade, of drying up. Into this world, God spoke the language of water, turning the rivers of enemies into blood, calling forth springs from desert rocks, playing matchmaker around wells, and promising a future in which justice would roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. And the people spoke back, seeking purity of mind and body through ritualistic bathing after birth, death, sex, menstruation, sacrifices, conflicts, and transgressions. “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean,” the poet-king David wrote, “wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).
It is na├»ve to think all of these ancient visions must be literal to be true. We know, as our ancestors did, both the danger and necessity of water. Water knits us together in our mothers’ wombs, our ghostlike tissue inhaling and exhaling the embryonic fluid that grows our lungs and bones and brains. Water courses through our bodies and makes our planet blue. It is water that lifts cars like leaves when a tsunami rages to shore, water that in a moment can swallow a ship and in eons carve a canyon, water we trawl for like chimps for bugs with billion-dollar equipment scavenging Mars, water we drop on the bald heads of babies to name them children of God, water we torture with and cry with, water that carries the invisible diseases that will kill four thousand children today, water that if warmed just a few degrees more will come crashing in and around the earth and wash us all away. 
But just as water carried Moses to his destiny down the Nile, so water carried another baby from a woman’s body into an expectant world. Wrapped now in flesh, the God who once hovered over the waters was plunged beneath them at the hands of a wild-eyed wilderness preacher. When God emerged, he spoke of living water that forever satisfies and of being born again. He went fishing and washed his friends’ feet. He touched the ceremonially unclean. He spit in the dirt, cast demons into the ocean, and strolled across an angry sea. He got thirsty and he wept. 
After the government washed its hands of him, God hung on a cross where blood and water spewed from his side. Like Jonah, he got swallowed up for three days. 
Then God beat death. God rose from the depths and breathed air once again. When he found his friends on the shoreline, he told them not to be afraid but to go out and baptize the whole world.  
The Spirit that once hovered over the waters had inhabited them. Now every drop is holy. 
 
***
 Visit her blog here: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

All May, Some Should, None Must (Marriage Equality)


I learned that phrasing long ago about Confession (a good reflection on this can be found here) in the Anglican tradition. In light of the conversation going on today in America about Marriage Equality vs. Traditional Marriage, that phrase jumped to mind.

The conversation we are having is about civil marriage and I believe SCOTUS should rule in favor of allowing same-sex mariage in all 50 states (striking down any laws to the contrary).  This would allow that pharse to apply equally to everyone in America when it comes to marriage: All May, Some Should, None Must (equal protection under the law). 

As a priest of the Episcopal Church, I believe marriage is a holy estate that every couple committed to a lifelong partnership needs to partake in (that sacrament). The Episcopal Church has been on going in its discussion about same-sex blessings (you can find the current pdf here) and it will come before General Convention this summer.

A friend of mine, Margaret Lias, who I grew up with at St. James' Episcopal Church in Birmingham, MI wrote a short piece for Facebook reflecting upon her marriage to Meghan.  I share this with her permission:
Meghan and I were married in December of 2006. Prior to that time we had been together for almost five years. Our relationship had obviously been established and we intended to stay together for years to come.

When we moved to Massachusetts from Georgia, friends and family asked us if we would get married simply because we could. We generally gave a resounding, “No.” We didn’t want to give in to pressure. We questioned the heterosexual establishment of marriage. We examined our own hesitations, reservations, and fears. Eventually we decided to get married. We went to City Hall and filled out the appropriate paperwork. The charming (read: husky) woman behind the counter said, “Raise your right hand!” We did so, in rather Hitler-esque fashion. She read us something or other that I have no recollection of, we said, “I do!” and it was over. Like that. After our UCC friend signed our licenses, we were married in the eyes of the Commonwealth and God. And we went on our merry (marry?) way. But we were changed. We suddenly had the support of an entire commonwealth of people and history behind us. People and institutions who said we existed as a unit, a couple, a pair. While we existed as a unit before then, the vows, formality, filing, triplicate, ritual, liturgy, made it different. It made it somehow more real.

What a gift heterosexuals have been keeping to themselves! To have an entire governing body based on hundreds of years of wars and conventions say that we are now a unified front in our love was a powerfully moving experience. Is marriage right for everyone? No. Should people who choose not to be married be judged for this? Hell no! But should marriage be a choice for all? Hell yes! For now I will say, marriage equality is a no-brainer. We shouldn’t even be discussing it. But sadly, because of fear, we are.

Marriage isn’t for everyone. However, the CHOICE to get married or not to get married *is* for everyone.

Freedom to marry. Marriage equality.
To which I say.  Amen.  (Thank you to Maragret for letting me share this.)


David Brooks (years ago) wrote a piece in favor of marriage equality from a conservative point of view: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/22/opinion/the-power-of-marriage.html

April 26 Sermon I

Given at the 8 AM service.



O Good Shepherd, seek me out, and bring me home to your fold again. Deal favorably with me according to your good pleasure, till I may dwell in your house all the days of my life, and praise you for ever and ever with them that are gathered there. Amen. (St. Jerome, c 342 - 420)

It is a most serene & powerful image: The Good Shepherd. It is probably the one description that most Christians can see in Jesus. The lovely stained glass window, reminds us of those words:

From the Gospel of John: “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and they know me.” And from Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures…” 
As Alice Camille writes, "Jesus says his sheep hear his voice, which means we are all called. Whether we listen is another matter. But the call is issued broadly. We are called into union with God. We are called into relationship with each other. We are called to work for the harvest and to produce the work of our hands ... for each of us receives the invitation to holy living. How we live that out will vary greatly, but that doesn't mean God desires anyone of us less than another. Which means our lives matter - a lot. What we do with our time and energy and love matters. Our decisions count. We ought to be on a spiritual journey and not be halfhearted about it. God isn't a hobby but our ultimate destiny." ("Hear My Voice" by Alice Camille, 2001)

Jesus contrasts his call and his role to that of the hired hand, who does it out of money, who does it for self but not out of love for the sheep, who flees when the going gets tough. Responsibility, honor, faith only play a role as it benefits the hired hand.
But the Good Shepherd who died on the cross does not expect payment, what he expects is a relationship, a relationship not based on fear or reward but on love, hope, faith.
We follow Jesus the Good Shepherd to find wholeness in our relationship with God and one another, we do it because we know that in God's eyes we are all children of God.
So what does it mean to live as one of those sheep following the Good Shepherd?  How are we to emulate the Good Shepherd and not the hired hand?  Two stories…

Andre Kudime was lay catechist at the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Megumeto, Mozambique in the early 20th century. It was a time when the Roman Catholic Church did not allow other Christian religions to worship openly in MZ.  Kudime was a young catechist (teacher of the faith) who called the community to worship by striking an iron beam that was hung from a tree branch - a very effective church bell.  The authorities told him to stop ringing the bell and he refused. As punishment they made him carry the iron beam on his back to the main road, some 15 km away and to carry it back to Megumeto. On his return he was told not to ring the bell again. He said that he had paid his penance and he would ring the bell. For his defiance he was forced into military service and sent to the Portuguese colony of Macao, off the coast of China. He said that when he returned he would ring the bell again. He did return to Mozambique after his exile. He served this congregation as catechist, and bell ringer, until his death in 1981. (The iron beam still hangs there to call the faithful today!)

He followed the Good Shepherd and refused to be the hired hand and run away or back down, even when threatened.

Kayla Mueller was a young woman of extraordinary generosity and courage. Her family and friends remember her constant drive to make things better for others. After she graduated from Northern Arizona University, Kayla worked with humanitarian aid groups in Northern India, Israel and Palestine. She returned home to Arizona for one year, in 2011, spending her time at an HIV/AIDS clinic and volunteering at a women's shelter at night.
The refugee crisis in Syria compelled her to travel to the Syrian/Turkish border three years ago to work with the group Support to Life. An Arizona newspaper chronicled her work with children in the camps. Recounting how she was able to reunite a father and his six-year-old son after a bombing, Kayla told the reporter: "For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal, something we just accept. It's important to stop and realize what we have, why we have it, and how privileged we are."
Two months after the article was published, Kayla disappeared. Kayla was in the Islamic State’s custody for 18 months when she was killed in February of 2015.
As her family members have said repeatedly, Kayla did more in her 26 years than many do in a lifetime. She wrote to her father in 2011:
"I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. If this is how you are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you…I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I've known for some time what my life's work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering."
But Kayla did not believe that God wills suffering or that suffering is, of itself, somehow "noble." In a letter to her parents while imprisoned in Syria, she wrote:
"I have been shown in darkness, light, and have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it." [From "Kayla Mueller's encounter with a suffering God" by Jamie Manson, National Catholic Reporter, February 12, 2015.]

Kayla Mueller's compassion and courage, her vision of a world in which all men, women and children belong to one another, and her role to relieve their suffering, like that of Andre Kudime who understood his role as a teacher of the faith and who couldn’t run away from his calling even when threatened, each mirror Jesus's image of the Good Shepherd
To be a disciple of Jesus is not to be the hired hand who seeks to be compensated, who is concerned only with his/her own welfare or reward. Followers of Jesus, the Risen One, realize that every person possesses the sacred dignity of being a child of God and rejoices in knowing that in serving others they serve God.
In embracing the Gospel attitude of humility and compassion for the sake of others, in laying down our own lives for our fellow sheep, we will one day take up our lives again in that Easter promise and join the Good Shepherd within his fold. Amen.

April 26 Sermon II

Given at the Family Service at 10:15 AM.

On Baptism* The word “baptize” means to sprinkle or immerse in water.

This is a Baptismal Font (place of Baptism)
This is the water of creation, the dangerous water of the flood, the water the people went through into freedom, the water Jesus was baptized in, the water you were baptized in...

This is a Paschal (Christ) Candle
There was once someone who said such wonderful things and did amazing things that people just had to ask him who he was. He said ... “I am the Light.”

This is Holy Oil (Chrism)
The Holy Spirit goes where it will. It rides the invisible wind like a dove and comes to us when we need its comfort and strength. It is invisible, like the scent of this oil. It is invisible, but still there.

People are baptized when they are babies, or children, or teenagers, or grownups, or when they are very old. Names are very important in baptism. And the baptized are named before God and the congregation at the beginning of the service.

We ask the person about to be baptized questions, or if it’s a baby too little to answer, we ask the parents or godparents. We say prayers for them. Then we are ready.
  1. The baptized are named and then baptized in the water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
  2. This is the day when the baptized receive their light. We light their candle from the Christ Candle.
  3. The baptized are named again and they are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever with the oil of chrism on their foreheads...
Baptism is a holy action of the church (a sacrament) by which someone is welcomed in a special way into the Christian community and becomes a member of the church, the Body of Christ. With the visible, outward sign of water, and the inward anointing of the Holy Spirit, the church recognizes that the one being baptized has a new life in Jesus.

A new life we all have. For in baptism, we confess that we all are God’s beloved children.

* Words inspired by Godly Play & Seasons of the Spirit
So what does it mean to live as one of those sheep following the Good Shepherd? To live into our baptism? One story…
Andre Kudime was lay catechist at the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Megumeto, Mozambique in the early 20th century. Kudime was a young catechist (teacher of the faith) who called the community to worship by striking an iron beam that was hung from a tree branch - a very effective church bell. The authorities told him to stop ringing the bell and he refused. As punishment they made him carry the iron beam on his back to the main road, some 15 km away and to carry it back to Megumeto. On his return he was told not to ring the bell again. He said that he had paid his penance and he would ring the bell. For his defiance he was forced into military service and sent to the Portuguese colony of Macao, off the coast of China. He said that when he returned he would ring the bell again. He did return to Mozambique after his exile. He served his congregation as catechist, and bell ringer, until his death in 1981. That iron beam hangs there to this day calling everyone to worship & on my visit, it rang to welcome us there.
Andre Kudime who understood his role as a teacher of the faith, who couldn’t run away from his calling even when threatened, mirror Jesus's image of the Good Shepherd

To be a disciple of Jesus is not to be the hired hand who seeks to be compensated, who is concerned only with his/her own welfare or reward. Followers of Jesus, the Risen One, realize that every person possesses the sacred dignity of being a child of God and rejoices in knowing that in serving others they serve God, just as the Good Shepherd did. Amen.