Sunday, December 24, 2006

Advent IV (C) Sermon

I came to know the Magnificat through this song, it was written by a priest in MI, and was the version we sang at the diocesan camp I worked at.

The Magnificat or the Song of Mary is a powerful song. If we consider that Mary was a young teenager when she made this pronouncement, we get a real glimpse into a faithful and revolutionary song, of a person inspired by the Holy Spirit.

There are times we don’t even recognize how powerful this song is…

John Dear in his book, Mary of Nazareth, Prophet of Peace, tells us that in the mid 1970s the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo or the Mothers of the Disappeared whose children "disappeared" under the Argentina military dictatorship used the Magnificat to call for nonviolent resistance to that military rule. The magnificat was banned in Argentina.

But why? Think of the words from the Magnifcat…

His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

This is talking about at God at work in the world, dispensing God’s justice, lifting up the lowly, the poor, the humble and hungry. Those in power, the proud, the rich, they will be brought down…

No wonder a dictatorship that can only exist by fear does not want such resistance emboldened by God’s words and justice…

Those words can inspire us and lead us to help those in need, and of course, frighten those in power.

Jonathan Myrick Daniels was an Episcopal seminarian in 1965 in Cambridge, MA. In March 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, asked students and others to join him in Selma, Alabama for a march to the state capital in support for his civil rights program.

When news of the request reached the campus, students began to debate and consider going. At Evening Prayer at the chapel, Jon Daniels decided that he ought to go. Later he wrote:

“My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.’ I had come to Evening Prayer as usual that evening, and as usual I was singing the Magnificat with the special love and reverence I have always felt for Mary's glad song. "He hath showed strength with his arm." As the lovely hymn of the God-bearer continued, I found myself peculiarly alert, suddenly straining toward the decisive, luminous, Spirit-filled "moment" that would, in retrospect, remind me of others--particularly one at Easter three years ago. Then it came. "He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things." I knew then that I must go to Selma. The Virgin's song was to grow more and more dear in the weeks ahead.”

Jonathan Myrick Daniels and others would go to Selma and he continued working there for several months helping with the civil rights movement. On August 20, 1965 he was shot and killed by a deputy sheriff in Hayneville, Alabama. His last act was to thrust Ruby Sales, a young African American woman, out of the path of the gunfire that took his life and seriously wounded another civil rights worker.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, "One of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry and career for civil rights was performed by Jonathan Daniels."

And Jonathan Daniels was led to the South by the Magnificat…

And so we end our Advent with Mary, to whom the angel Gabriel came and said, “Greetings favored one. The Lord is with you.” To whom Elizabeth her cousin said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

To which Mary sings, "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God…"

It is Mary’s, Yes to God, that allows God’s reality to break into the world that Christmas long ago. This is not some starry eyed teenager but one who by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit humbled herself to accept the gift of the Christ Child and has given us a song. A song about the power tables being turned, about the lowly being lifted up, which she herself had experienced.

Since those times, the song of Mary, the Magnificat has been a part of the prayer life of the Christian Church. And like the Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina and Jonathan Myrick Daniels, we will find in those words God calling to us and our own song joining with Mary’s…

So let us end our Advent together, by reciting Mary’s song, the Magnificat, a song for us, pull out those Books of Common Prayer and let us turn to page 65…

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Grow in Peace

"Grow in Peace" offers a hopeful perspective amid newscasts that regularly report violence of international and local scope. The song, by Kim Oler and Alison Hubbard, was commissioned for All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, CA (© Helium Music.) Christmas/Winter 2004

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on NPR

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was interviewed on NPR on Sunday. You can listen to it here. It is a very good interview. The interview runs just under 9 minutes. Around 8 minutes in, we have the following exchange:

Bishop Katharine:
"I think my leadership, in this season, is about reminding the Church of its mission, its broader mission. Reconciling people over issues of sexuality is a piece of our work, but the larger piece is about human suffering around the world."

"Do you think there's too much emphasis being put on the debate over homosexuality in the Church?"

Bishop Katharine:
"It's a very easy way to neglect, to ignore, the other suffering in the world. It's important but it's not the centerpiece of what we're about."

"What other reforms do you hope to bring to the Church under your leadership?"

Bishop Katharine: "
I think my basic hope is that we remember that, as the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 40's said, the Church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members, that our focus needs not to be so much on internal politics but on serving the world, on helping to heal a world that's broken."

(Thanks to the Admiral of Morality for the snippet.)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Advent III (C) Sermon

(These are my notes for the sermon I gave at 8 AM.)

"You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"

Opening Sentence? Every week? I said last week, “John the Baptist is to be reckoned with and refuses to let us proceed to Christmas without dealing with him first.” This week, we hear from him, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” And he gazes upon us.

We ask the same question that the crowd asks John the Baptist, What should we do? How do we live faithfully in the midst of our busy lives and this violent world? How do we follow Jesus and bear good fruit?

What does John say? Does he say, give up everything, put on camel’s hair and come live with me in the wilderness, at the river, eating locusts and honey. Yum! No. Does he use baptism as a magic act, a get out of the fire free card. Nope. He replies:

"Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."

He called the crowd, the tax collectors and the soldiers to live an ethical and moral life.

No cheating. No lying. No violence.
If you have more than you need, you share it.
You collect no more than you earn, and be satisfied with what you have.

For such a harsh beginning, it is common sense morality and ethical living that John the Baptist calls us to, and by living this way we bear good fruit…

In our day of financial scandals, the Foley and Haggard scandals, and the scandal that the gap between the wealthy and the poor grows wider and deeper each year, the words of John the Baptist truly need to come into our hearts: "bear fruit worthy of repentance." So how do we live that ethical and moral life?

I think of an economics professor who was traveling through a village in his native country. Famine had devastated the region. He met a woman who struggled to provide for her family by weaving bamboo stools. Her work was excellent, but no bank would ever lend her money to buy materials. The professor gave the woman and several of her struggling neighbors $27 from his own pocket as a "loan." He never thought any more about it — until the borrowers repaid the money in full, and on time.

So the professor began making other loans to groups of villagers. Some used the money — often as little as $20 — to buy another cow or a sewing machine or to expand their rice patties or mustard fields. Most of the borrowers were women.

In 1976, he formalized his loan-making arrangement as the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Grameen operates on the principle of trust rather than financial capacity: that the poor can be as creditworthy as the rich.

Since its founding, Grameen Bank has lent out almost $6 billion to some 6.6 million borrowers who have paid back 98.5 percent of their loans.

This year, the professor who lent $27 to a poor weaver 30 years ago was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Dr. Mohammed Yunas and Grameen Bank.

Doctor Yunas' ultimate goal: that "one day our grandchil­dren will have go to museums to see what poverty was like."

What a great goal! He lived his life, making sure that he helped those in need, he lived what John the Baptist said to us…

Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.

It is to care for our neighbor by living a simple, ethical and moral life. Or another way to put it, using St. Paul’s words…

"Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Amen.

Friday, December 15, 2006

on the Millennium Development Goals

You have heard me preach on them, I've wrote about them, here is an important voice on the MDGs...

Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town, Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, has been one of the leading voices on issues of peace and justice throughout the Anglican Communion and is steadfast in his endorsement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In an interview with the Episcopal News Service, Ndungane offers an overview of the MDGs and speaks about ways in which people can become involved in the fight against global poverty.

Video and audio streams of Ndungane's interview are available here.

The full text can be found here.

"Therefore, it's calling our Church to the fundamentals of who we are as God's servants, as God's stewards, as those who are called to make a difference to the people's lives."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Laying on of Hands & Anointing for Healing

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. (James 5:13-14)

“Sacramental healing is traditionally called “unction,” defined by the Prayer Book as “the rite of anointing the sick with oil, or the laying on of hands, by which God’s grace is given for the healing of spirit, mind, and body” (BCP p. 861). In Ministry with the Sick, healing is offered for any who feel the need for specific healing of spirit, mind, or body. While all Christians stand between the fullness of the baptismal gift of grace and the final consummation of that grace—and thus all are in need of healing—the sacrament is usually offered in response to some particular need or concern.” (Enriching Our Worship, p. 21)

The holy oil used to anoint the sick is pure olive oil, blessed by our bishop during Holy Week. Unlike the chrism used for baptismal anointing, no fragrance is added to oil for the sick because some fragrances can be allergens or aggravate an illness.

On the third Sunday of every month, all are invited to come to the altar rail for the laying on of hands & anointing for healing. God is always at work in us and the Holy Spirit is present to bring God’s healing grace upon us. Whenever we ask for it, healing happens! This does not mean we will be cured of our disease, or that everything will work out all right, although that might happen. It does mean that God is alive in us and healing will take place, at this moment or over time, because God desires that we be whole.

Come before the altar and lay your heart to the Lord and you will find God’s healing presence there.

Gifts for the season

Looking for alternative gifts for Christmas?

Consider "Gifts for Life" from Episcopal Relief & Development. You can give animals, the basics of life, help with HIV/AIDS, emergency relief, gifts kids can give and seasonal gifts to make a difference in our world and in honor of a family member or friend.

Go here.
Another great place to choose a meaningful gift to give a loved one and help children and families around the world receive training and animal gifts that help them become self-reliant is through Heifer International.

Go here.


And lastly there is the Karen Emergency Relief Fund Inc., which exists for the sole purpose of helping a group of people in need -- the Karen people of Burma.

In 1999 and 2006 the United Nations mounted great efforts to stop the killing in Kosovo and East Timor. But nothing was done to end the killing, robbing and raping of the Karen people of Burma -- or to stop the oppression conducted by the illegal military dictatorship of that country.

The Karen Emergency Relief Fund, Inc. works to ease the sorrow and pain of the Karen people who are suffering the horrors of ethnic cleansing.

Find out more and how to give here.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Parents Need to Get A Life, I Mean A Spiritual Life

The Washington Post has begun a web based feature called, "On Faith."

The most recent question is this: "Millions of people are in mixed faith marriages or are unsure about their conception of God. How would you advise them to describe God to their children over the holiday season?"

I like the response by the panelist the Reverend William Tully, rector of St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in New York City. His response can be found here.

Advent II (C) Sermon

Imagine yourself on a beach in the summer...

A nice picnic you have laid out with you, a cool breeze blows off the sound. It is a lovely day.

From over the top of sand dune, you hear the words, “O Captain, My Captain” and before you can take in the rest of the words, a naked man lands in the middle of your nice beach picnic.

And he continues on, “rise up and hear the bells…” and he continues running into the distance, shouting into the wind.

If this had been the mid-19th Century, you may have indeed encountered such a man on a beach, a poet by the name of Walt Whitman, who was known to go to a beach, strip off his clothes and run in the sand while yelling his poetry into the wind.

It is certainly one way to be inspired! I can imagine him shouting…

In the faces of men and women I see God,
and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street,
and every one is sign’d by God’s name.
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe’er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever…

(Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1855), sct. 48.)

Like encountering Walt Whitman on that beach, John the Baptist comes to us, jumping into our lives, and unsettling us. He jumps into our quiet, restive Advent, or our bustling, chaotic Advent, and shakes things up. He is to be reckoned with and refuses to let us proceed to Christmas without dealing with him first.

And he shouts into the wind, words not of his own, words written by the prophet Isaiah, but words that fill his life and ministry…

Prepare the way of the Lord, he shouts!

“Make a road for the Lord in the depressed areas and make it straight. Every low place shall be filled in. Every hill and high place shall be pushed down. And the curves shall be straightened out and the washboard road scraped smooth. Then every human being will share in the good things of God.” (Clarence Jordan, Cotton Patch Bible)

Having grown in a part of the country built on a grid, where roads don’t curve all the time, where it is fairly easy to get from point A to point B because of the way the roads were set up. Here in CT, I hear John’s words and I say yes. May the curves be straightened out, the washboard roads smooth again! Amen, Come Lord Jesus!

But alas John the Baptist is not talking about the roads here, but he is announcing that the kingdom of God is coming, that we need to prepare for it.

For the curves will be straightened, roads made smooth, low places filled in, hills brought down and the road for our God will be straight…

In other words, people who are low will be brought up, the proud and arrogant will be brought down, those who are following the curves, lost on the crooked paths, will be lead to the straight, and all that is rough, will be made smooth…for our God is coming to us.

It is the world dreamed of by poets and proclaimed by the prophets… for every human being will share in the good things of God.

And yet, the words from Isaiah, that speak of John the Baptist, cannot be left as if the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist were only speaking for their own day…

Oh no. Their gaze is upon us. Those words are not just announcing what God is going to do, but is doing right now, right here, in our lives, in our world.

And as faithful Christians, we are called to prepare ourselves and our world for the Lord, to make the roads straight…

Of course, the one road is our heart, our body, our soul, all that we are, we have to make sure we prepare this body for God.

In what ways are our lives out of whack, curved, rough, not what they should be?

Prepare says John. Make the road straight.

It is to lay aside that which is holding us back right now, to free ourselves to live into this Advent in prayer, in hope, in community and transform the depressed low areas and the haughty high places and straighten the winding roads of our lives, with the compassion and love of God.

We also have to work on the roads in our world to help make them straight…I think of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, how much work had to be done, the roads had to be rebuilt…

And yet the real work is still to be done there, to eliminate the curves and rough roads of all those lives affected, to help those in poverty and in need find their road less hard than before, to feel the joy and connection of community again.

For in justice and compassion, we are to help get those roads straight, to help the roads in Monroe and Bridgeport be straight, so that we can work with those in need and share in the good things of God.

And we must not stop there, but to look to other places, other roads and know we need to help out and raise up those valleys in New Orleans and also in Iraq, with the refugees in Dafur and in Haiti too.

For in all of it, is our “work of repentance and our harvest of righteousness,” as one author put it. “We do all that we can to remove the curves and injustices that cause so much suffering and pain. That is our vocation, easily forgotten amid holiday busyness and jolliness. It is serious business, all-important business -- which is why John shouts at us incessantly.” (John Morris, 2000)

And we do it not of our fear and in solemn seriousness, but out of a heart of love and joy wanting to work and live in this hurting world, but also a world in which God is already making things new…

We do not know when someone like Walt Whitman or John the Baptist or someone sent by God will jump into our nice quiet beach picnic and stir things up. But in Advent, we are reminded by John the Baptist, who is shouting at us that before we get to Christmas, we are to be ready, to be prepared and stay alert for the Kingdom of God.

For just around that next curve or coming over the dune, God might be coming to meet you there. Amen.