Tuesday, February 27, 2007

On the web, you will want to listen and tune in...

On Tuesday...

Talk of the Nation on NPR, February 27, 2007 · In the civil war over homosexuality in organized religion, the Episcopal Church faces division over its acceptance of gay bishops and same-sex couples. It's one of the most divisive issues to major religions since slavery. Guests debate the issues surrounding homosexuality in the church community. You can listen to it here.

On Wednesday...

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori talks with the Episcopal Church via a live telecast from 10 AM EST to 10:45 AM EST. Bishop Jefferts Schori will share her thoughts on the recent Anglican Primates' Meeting. Questions will be taken from a live studio audience, as well as via email and phone. The Presiding Bishop's conversation will be also available for on-demand viewing following the live telecast. You can find it here.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Tanzania & My Own Reflection

To learn more about the Primates Meeting, their communique, and the responses:

A closer look at Anglican debate on gay issues
The Episcopal Church's presiding bishop asks for patience as the church -- and the denomination -- tries to forge a compromise. A great summary.

Find it here (from the LA Times Online, you need to register but its free)

A Divide, and Maybe a Divorce
U.S. churches divided over homosexuality

Find it here (from the NY Times (in Sunday's "Week in Review" section), you need to register but its free)

Our own Diocesan Bishop, Andrew Smith, is quoted in this article at the Hartford Courant here.

The Presiding Bishop's reflection is further down in my blog. She will have a live webcast on Wed, Feb 28 at 10 AM EST, go to the Episcopal Church's website here.

My Own Reflection

Some of you have heard some of what I will write.

I believe the primate's communique is a mistake, because
  1. It sets a deadline we cannot meet (Sept. 30) if we are to properly respond
  2. It ignores the role that laity and clergy play in our national decisions
  3. It tries to paint us into a corner regarding our pastoral support and charity toward our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters
  4. The language is threat and coercion (ultimatum: do this or else)
  5. It doesn't engage us in mission and ministry but in institutional parlor games
  6. It feels like it could have been written by the Vatican, that is, its all about the institution (the Anglican Communion) and has no real connection to Christians living and ministering in our world today. Its all about principalities and powers.
I am inclined to give our new Presiding Bishop room to maneuver on the communique and our response, especially if the primatal vicar is worked out within our polity and not forced from beyond our borders. Her webcast will be revealing.

Sermon for 1st Sunday in Lent

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.”

I talked about the wilderness on Ash Wednesday, the wilderness of Lent that we are now in the midst of…

What I didn’t talk about on Ash Wednesday in regards to the wilderness, is that it is a place of temptation as we so clearly see with Jesus’ encounter with the Devil.

For in the wilderness, when our defenses are low, when we strive to walk through the desolate, deserted, lifeless places, it is the devil who comes to tempt us with seemingly energetic stuff to fill our lives.

As Simone Weil said, “All sins are attempts to fill voids.” That is what the devil does, for the devil’s temptations are to help fill that void, and those temptations do not look evil or wrong at first glance…

As Jesus lived in the wilderness for 40 days, he ate nothing, he was alone, and he was famished…for food and company.

And the devil came…if you are the son of God…

The devil knows who Jesus is, and Jesus knows he is the beloved, but it is a test, with Jesus at his weakest.
Fix your hunger, Jesus. Use your power. Turn these stones into bread.

“One does not live by bread alone.” Says Jesus.

He could have it done that on day one, use the power, but it is about faith and Jesus refuses to give in.

Then the devil led him to place where he could view all the nations of the world.

Worship me, all this is yours to rule. You would be king. Think of the power, prestige, you’d have it all!

“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” Says Jesus.

He is not interested in the power to rule, Jesus would tell us that he did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many…

Then the devil led him to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem…

Look it here, right here, go ahead and jump, it says in the bible, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"

Its all in there. Just do it!

“Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Jesus answered him.

Even with the devil using scripture, Jesus doesn’t fall into the trap, he does not need to show he is the beloved, he knows it.

When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Even Jesus knew the devil would be back to tempt him again…

As we stand at the beginning of our Lenten journey, I am reminded of the words of James Healey:

“Whether we gaze with longing into the garden or with fear and trembling into the wilderness [desert], of this we can be sure - God walked there first....Face the wilderness [desert] we must if we would reach the garden, but Jesus has gone there before us.”

To get to the garden, to get to Gethsemane, to Calvary and to Easter, we travel through the wilderness, a place Jesus has gone before us. For it is there that temptations will spring up, trying to fill the voids in our lives.

And those temptations: what fills the void: gambling, shopping, alcohol, sex, wealth, work, pleasure, there is so much out there when taken to the extreme, can destroy our lives, as sin becomes so pervasive.

And if we think we have our own personal temptations under wraps, there still is the temptation to forget about the lives of others and miss the hurt and pain that is going on in our world (slavery, genocide, poverty, AIDS, war) and solely focus on ourselves, and we fall into the same trap set by the devil.

Its all about me, me, me.

“One does not live by bread alone.” Says Jesus.

The stone Jesus refused to turn into bread for himself, can remind us in the midst of our temptations that God is the rock of our salvation, for we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

The word is given to us in the life and ministry of Jesus, the words shared through scripture, and the words given to us by the Holy Spirit.

“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” Says Jesus.

Lent is the perfect time to scrutinize our time & our consciousness to weed out those false gods to whom we give so much time and allegiance, so we can truly worship God and serve God.

Lent is our time together to plumb the depths of our souls to find that pearl of great price, the real meaning to our lives. Our self-examination and repentance are the ways to free ourselves of the temptations that have already befallen us, and through study, prayer, fasting, and self-denial to avoid the temptations that will come before us in our wilderness journey.

As we live on Earth, our island home, we need to take time in our busy lives to pause, and take stock of who we are, where we are headed, and what provisions we have to travel with. It is through this work that we can see the temptations that lie all about us in the wilderness and not put ourselves into a position where we can't avoid the temptation.

And so often we set off on good intentions in lent without providing ourselves with enough resources to help ourselves as we are tempted in the wilderness. Its easy to fill time with meaningless junk rather than what gives life. For the easy thing to do when tempted is to give in.

Jesus did not promise us the easy way. Jesus did promise that the Spirit would be there to guide and strengthen us on our journey. It is time we asked for that Spirit to help us in our journey of faith, and take on practices to aid us in our work to renew our life.

We can decide to do nothing this Lent, to not work on our lives. That temptation is always before us along with all the other temptations of our lives. And the devil stands waiting for an opportune time. Or we can follow Jesus lead, and open ourselves to God and God’s Spirit to do those things that will bring us into closer relationship with God and with God’s love to minister to the world.

Let us pray:

O God of the desert pilgrims, we who are wearied by monotonous days in the sun, who are battered by the monstrous whirling winds, with temptations all around us, surprise us yet in this wilderness with a monstrance of power, a revelation of love, an oasis of refreshment, a taste of the harvest, a moment of grace. In Jesus name, we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Keeping a Holy Lent

Lent is a season of preparation leading up to Easter. It is the forty days plus the six Sundays before Easter. For centuries, it has been observed as a special time of self examination and penitence. Lent is a time for concentration on fundamental values and priorities, and is not a time for self punishment.

The custom is to mark the season of Lent by giving up some things and taking on others. Both can serve to mark the season as a holy time of preparation and help bring 'new life.' Some examples of things people give up for Lent include sweets, meat for all or some meals, and alcohol. In most cases, giving up something for Lent can be made more meaningful by using the money or time for another purpose. For example, meal times on fast days could be spent in prayer. Another example is that if you give up meat or alcohol during Lent, the extra money can be given to a group, such as Episcopal Relief and Development or through our Lenten Offering to the Children’s Mission in New Haven. Some things added during Lent are daily Bible reading, our Lenten Study with the Lutherans, and times of prayer.

Note that the season of Lent is forty days plus the six Sundays. This is because Sundays are always 'little Easters,' celebrations of Jesus’ resurrection and are always an appropriate day to lessen the restrictions of Lent. So that if you have, for example, given up chocolate for Lent, you could indulge in a weekly candy bar on Sunday.

Whatever you deny yourself or add to your personal discipline, the goal is increasing your own awareness of God in your life. Lent should be a time of deeper reflection, a time to discover and remove the self-made barriers that keep you from experiencing God more fully. Then your joy in celebrating Easter and that 'new life' will be all the more meaningful as you will have spent this last six weeks drawing closer to God.


Using the Book of Common Prayer:

“Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families” beginning on p. 136 in the Book of Common Prayer. These are one page devotions for morning, noon, evening and at the end of the day.

The "Litany of Penitence" from the Ash Wednesday service, BCP p. 267, is especially fitting for this season.

One form that is particularly broad, inclusive and appropriate for this season can be found in the liturgy for Good Friday on pages 277 - 280. Composed to serve as the Prayers of the People for the Good Friday liturgy and entitled "The Solemn Collects", these prayers remind us that when we pray as the People of God, we are in spiritual communion with Christians past, present and future.


Daily Office

Oremus: daily prayer, liturgy, hymns, prayer resources

Stations of the Cross

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray you to set your passion, cross, and death between your judgment and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Give mercy and grace to the living; pardon and rest to the dead, to your holy Church peace and concord; and to us sinners everlasting life and glory; for with the Father and Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 282)

(Thank you to the Rev. Frank Logue for his resources on keeping a holy lent.)

A Season of Fasting: Reflections on the Primates Meeting

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori offered the following reflections following the February 15-19 meeting of Anglican Primates near Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

- - - - - - - - - -

The recent meeting of the Primates in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, was a challenging one. Fourteen new primates joined the group; three longer-serving primates were unable to be present. It was a great joy to meet and begin to know a number of the primates, and to renew friendships with others. While much of our time and energy was focused on the Episcopal Church, several other agenda items were of considerable interest to many of those who gathered.

The Design Group for an Anglican Covenant submitted an initial draft for consideration by the Primates' Meeting, which in turn commended it to the Communion for consideration, debate, and revision before the Lambeth Conference next year. This covenant is a further step in the Windsor process, engaged in the understanding that all human communities need boundaries in order to function. Anglicanism has always valued a rather wide set of boundaries, and boundaries are a central issue in the current debate - where are they, and how wide a space can they contain? The Covenant in its current draft attempts to define what the essentials and non-negotiable elements of Anglicanism might be, and how the Communion might live together in diversity.

The new United Nations observer, Hellen Wangusa, was installed during our meeting, and also led a discussion on the Millennium Development Goals. The Goals are directed primarily toward the governments of this world, both those in the developing world, who will have to design the systems to implement the goals, and the governments of the developed world, which are asked to contribute 0.7% of their annual incomes. She challenged us to recognize that these goals only go part way toward achieving full healing in the world, and that our own vision is of a world entirely reconciled and healed in God.

We also heard about the work being done on Theological Education in the Anglican Communion (TEAC). This body has produced thoughtful and creative, outcome-based guidelines for theological education of our baptized and ordained members.

The highlight of our meeting was the visit to Zanzibar and the remembrance of the end of the slave trade. We worshiped at the Anglican Cathedral in Zanzibar, built over the old slave market. Slavery was outlawed in British Empire in 1807, but it took another 90 years for the trade in Zanzibar to finally come to an end. Anglicans were a profound influence all through that period, and the Sultan of Zanzibar only signed the final treaty when faced with British warships in the harbor. David Livingstone is commemorated here for his tireless efforts to put an end to the ancient and inhuman practice of slavery. The struggle to end slavery has some parallel with our current controversy, and we can note the less than universal agreement about the moral duty of Christians over a lengthy period. The United States also experienced major division over slavery, even though the Episcopal Church did not fully divide. Some see that part of our history as shameful, while others see it as a sign of hope, and that, too, has current parallels.

We traveled home from this meeting at Carnival, the farewell to meat (carne vale) that comes just before Lent begins. That is an image that may be useful as we consider what the Primates' gathering is commending to the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church has been asked to consider the wider body of the Anglican Communion and its needs. Our own Church has in recent years tended to focus on the suffering of one portion of the body, particularly those who feel that justice demands the full recognition and celebration of the gifts of gay and lesbian Christians. That focus has been seen in some other parts of the global Church, as inappropriate, especially as it has been felt to be a dismissal of traditional understandings of sexual morality. Both parties hold positions that can be defended by appeal to our Anglican sources of authority - scripture, tradition, and reason - but each finds it very difficult to understand and embrace the other. What is being asked of both parties is a season of fasting - from authorizing rites for blessing same-sex unions and consecrating bishops in such unions on the one hand, and from transgressing traditional diocesan boundaries on the other.

A parallel to this situation in our tradition might be seen in the controversy over eating meat in early Christian communities, mentioned both in the letter to the Romans and the first letter to the Corinthians. In those early communities, the meat available for purchase in the public market was often part of an animal that had been offered (in whole or in part) in sacrifice in various pagan religious rites. The troubling question in the Christian community was whether or not it was appropriate to eat such meat - was it tainted by its involvement in pagan religion? Did one participate in that religion (and thus commit apostasy) by eating it? Paul encourages the Christians in Rome and Corinth to recall that, while there may be no specific prohibition about eating such meat, the sensitive in the community might refrain if others would be offended. The needs of the weaker members, and the real possibility that their faith may be injured, are an important consideration in making the dietary decision.

The current controversy brings a desire for justice on the one hand into apparent conflict with a desire for fidelity to a strict understanding of the biblical tradition and to the main stream of the ethical tradition. Either party may be understood to be the meat-eaters, and each is reminded that their single-minded desire may be an idol. Either party might constructively also be understood by the other as the weaker member, whose sensibilities need to be considered and respected.

God's justice is always tempered with mercy, and God continues to be at work in this world, urging the faithful into deeper understandings of what it means to be human and our call as Christians to live as followers of Jesus. Each party in this conflict is asked to consider the good faith of the other, to consider that the weakness or sensitivity of the other is of significant import, and therefore to fast, or "refrain from eating meat," for a season. Each is asked to discipline itself for the sake of the greater whole, and the mission that is only possible when the community maintains its integrity.

Justice, (steadfast) love, and mercy always go together in our biblical tradition. None is complete without the others. While those who seek full inclusion for gay and lesbian Christians, and the equal valuing of their gifts for ministry, do so out of an undeniable passion for justice, others seek a fidelity to the tradition that cannot understand or countenance the violation of what that tradition says about sexual ethics. Each is being asked to forbear for a season. The word of hope is that in God all things are possible, and that fasting is not a permanent condition of a Christian people, nor a normative one. God's dream is of all people gathered at a feast, and we enter Lent looking toward that Easter feast and the new life that will, in God's good time, be proclaimed.

Our own Diocesan Bishop, Andrew Smith, is quoted in this article at the Hartford Courant:

Monday, February 19, 2007

On Presidents' Day...

In light of our conversations around modern day slavery and our role in helping them secure freedom...

Read Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address here.

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln noted that he'd never allow himself to forget that "Wilberforce had led the fight against the slave trade in the British Empire."

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Free the Slaves

The Amazing Change

A campaign inspired by William Wilberforce to end modern day slavery. Sign the petition!

Free the Slaves

Free the Slaves is a non-profit organization working to end slavery worldwide. We believe that ending slavery worldwide is an ambitious–and realizable–goal that requires a solid commitment to specific guiding principles as well as multiple, holistic approaches.

William Wilberforce: On the Horrors of the Slave Trade (speech to parliament, 1789)

Sojourner Truth: Ain't I a Woman? (speech to the Women's Convention, Ohio, 1851)

John Newton: Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade (1788)

ADVOCACY: Human Trafficking (from the Women’s Ministries Office at the Episcopal Church Center that supports women in the Episcopal Church and the wider world.)

Last Sunday after the Epiphany Sermon

If today were not the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, we would have heard in the Gospel of Luke, these words from Jesus, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

These are some of the toughest words from Jesus. Love your enemies, do good to them, bless them, pray for them… It is hard to practice what Jesus taught us to do when we resist such teaching.

One Baptist Church in Sydney, Australia, tried to live out those words. It put up a sign outside the church that read in large print: “Jesus loves Osama.”

In fine print below those words, from the Gospel of Matthew, it read, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you". (Matthew 5:44)

A spokesman for the Baptist Church said: "Osama is the head of terrorism. We are saying that Jesus Christ loves everyone in the world, even this man. ... All we are doing is sharing the gospel."

Many in Australia criticized their sign. I understand what they were trying to do, for St. Paul reminds us that without love we are a noisy gong, we are nothing, but I am not so sure that big sign is right for the message…

They got it right that Jesus is talking about love your enemy, pray for them, but we cannot forget that justice is also part of the equation and certainly someone tied to so much violence and terrorism in our world, like Osama, must be brought to justice too.

As Reinhold Niebuhr, an American Theologian of the 20th century put it, "Love without justice is mere sentimentality."

But Jesus does not want us to fight back using their methods, those who do evil, who use hate and abuse to control others. Jesus has a better way.

Jesus said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”

We as Christians are called to go the extra mile, in our love of others, even those who are our enemy. Jesus does not want us to pray for the others demise, but instead tells us we are to do good, and pray for those who abuse us in ways that leads to reconciliation and forgiveness. Jesus does not want to perpetuate the abuse, the injustice, nor does Jesus wants us to seek revenge.

This is not the easy road, but it is the road that Jesus bequeathed to us…

Sadly, we often try to go around the words of Jesus and capitulate to the evil around us.

In this country and in Britain for many years, we lived the lie that said we could love the slave and let the injustice of slavery exist within our country, reaping its economic benefits. Many white Americans felt it was divinely ordered since the bible never condemned slavery.

And yet, there were Christians like William Wilberforce who saw the cruelty, the inhumanity, the lack of care for their neighbors in Africa.

In a speech to parliament, he said, “Let us put an end at once to this inhuman traffic—let us stop this effusion of human blood. What is there in this life that should make any man contradict the dictates of his conscience, the principles of justice, the laws of religion, and of God?”

Wilberforce saw that if we are to love to one another, than we cannot enslave others, force them to work and reap the benefits…

In this country, one who stood up for abolition was an ex-slave Sojourner Truth. In 1851 she addressed a women’s convention in Ohio which was debating abolition or women’s suffrage. In the midst of the squabbling, Sojourner Truth asked in her famous speech: “Arn’t I a Woman?”

It is a question that sill hangs with us today when we remember all the women around our world who are exploited and enslaved, and treated so horribly.

And there is John Newton, he was the captain of a slave ship that transported Africans to the West Indies and America. After a conversion experience and hearing the preaching of others, he gave up his maritime duties and over time became an Anglican priest.

He would come to regret his time aboard those slave ships, he would come to face the evil he participated in, and he would say in his later years that “I am not the man I ought to be, I am not the man I wish to be, and I am not the man I hope to be, but by the grace of God, I am not the man I used to be.”

And it is that grace of God that he found, that inspired his hymns, his preaching, his pastoral duties in his parish.

And from that, in 1779, we have his most famous work, Amazing Grace.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound.
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found.
Was blind but now I see.

And with his eyes open, he joined the campaign for abolition and he shared his thoughts on the African slave trade…

John Newtown wrote, “The nature and effects of that unhappy and disgraceful branch of commerce, which has long been maintained on the Coast of Africa, with the sole, and profited deign of purchasing our fellow-creatures…”

The battle for abolition would take until 1807, when the slave trade was finally abolished. We are celebrating the 200th anniversary this year! But sadly, as David Batstone has written…

“Twenty-seven million slaves exist in our world today. Girls and boys, women and men of all ages are forced to toil in the rug loom sheds of Nepal, sell their bodies in the brothels of Rome, break rocks in the quarries of Pakistan, and fight wars in the jungles of Africa. Go behind the façade in any major town or city in the world today and you are likely to find a thriving commerce in human beings.”

He’s right and it is in our own backyard. A couple of weeks ago, it was reported by several of our local news agencies that a dozen Guatemalan workers filed a federal lawsuit accusing Imperial Nurseries in Granby, CT and its labor recruiter of human trafficking. They said they were taken in a van to Connecticut without their consent, had their passports confiscated so they would not escape, were threatened with arrest or deportation, were paid less than minimum wage and had medical care withheld. (from an NBC30 article)

"These workers came here lawfully to earn a living and support their families," said Nicole Hallett, a Yale Law School student helping the workers. "Instead they were defrauded and trapped into conditions of forced labor."

Exploitation, pure and simple. Its Slavery. And behind it all is the evil, the greed, the dehumanization of people. Human slavery today is worth over $13 billion dollars in profits for those who control it.

It is up to us to put our love into action, to step up and become modern abolitionists. To sign the petition, to ask the questions: Who is making our clothing? Our food? To support organizations that reach out to those working to help bring people out of slavery and restore their lives.

It all comes back to love, our sharing of that love with friend and foe, living that love that as St. Paul talks about because love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

As one counselor in Uganda who is working with children who have been enslaved as child soldiers in their civil war said, “Forgiveness starts with today’s enmity; revenge nurses the enmity until it can reach satisfaction in some future opportunity.”

“If you want love to take root in your life, you can only travel down the road of forgiveness.”

In the end it is up to us, in what we say, what we do, what we buy, what we support, that speaks of our love for our neighbor, our enemy and our commitment to do good in this world, to bring about that forgiveness and reconciliation, to end slavery in our lifetime.

And it is all part of God’s amazing grace, how sweet the sound! May we help others know what that grace is in their lives. Amen.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sermon for the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany

Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength… Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation…

Good morning! Welcome to the wrath of God. It is fire and brimstone Sunday.

Well, not really. But it sure sounds that way coming from Jeremiah and Jesus.

Cursed are those says Jeremiah, whose hearts turn away from the LORD. Jesus said, Woe to you rich, Woe to you who are full now, Woe to you who are laughing now, Woe to you when all speak well of you…

It would seem that most of us here are damned, but Jeremiah did not come to the people of Israel simply to condemn them, nor did Jesus come down to earth to write us off…

Even in the midst of such curses and woes are blessings…

Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

When God speaks, things change.

Through the prophet Jeremiah, and through Jesus, God upsets the cart, the status quo, blessing things we don’t expect to be blessed…

When is the last time you saw an image of someone poor, or hungry or someone weeping, and thought how blessed are they!

Jeremiah was sent to help open the eyes of Israel, Jesus was sent to save us from our sins. With our riches around us, comforting us, with our bellies full,
And laughter abounding, Jesus reminds us that such things do not mean we are blessed, or that we have curried God’s favor.

In Jeremiah and with Jesus, God does something that we rarely do, God looks to our heart, and sees his blessed creation…

I the LORD test the mind and search the heart,
to give to all according to their ways,
according to the fruit of their doings.

Jesus said, “you will know them by their fruits.”
I am not saying we are saved by our works. We are saved by God’s grace. It is a gift we can never reciprocate except for how we live our lives and bear fruit.

So if it is not the faith that has us blessed, what is it?
If blessings are not just for the ones who kneel,
luckily, as the group U2 sings it, what is Jeremiah telling us about God? What is Jesus saying to us about the hurting in our society and their relationship to God and our relation to each?

I think Nigerian Poet Ben Okri’s poem may be helpful…

We are the miracles that God made
To taste the bitter fruit of Time.
We are precious.
And one day our suffering
Will turn into the wonders of the earth.

There are things that burn me now
Which turn golden when I am happy.
Do you see the mystery of our pain?
That we bear poverty
And are able to sing and dream sweet things

And that we never curse the air when it is warm
Or the fruit when it tastes so good
Or the lights that bounce gently on the waters?
We bless things even in our pain.
We bless them in silence.

That is why our music is so sweet.
It makes the air remember.
There are secret miracles at work
That only Time will bring forth.
I too have heard the dead singing.

And they tell me that
This life is good
They tell me to live it gently
With fire, and always with hope.
There is wonder here

And there is surprise
In everything the unseen moves.
The ocean is full of songs.
The sky is not an enemy.
Destiny is our friend.

There is such hope in his poem.
Such freedom. Such expectation for what is to come

It acknowledges the pain of the moment, the suffering, the poverty.
But it refuses to languish there.

There is always that looking forward when one day the suffering will turn into the wonders of the earth.

And I think that is what Jeremiah and Jesus were getting at. The poor, the sick, the hungry, those who weep, they have put their trust in God, they long for a future when they will be filled, will laugh, will taste and see the kingdom of God.

God’s blessing is upon them, for it reminds them and us that God is always at work and there will come a time when things are reversed.

But those who are rich, who have bellies full, have laughter, often put out trust not in God but in what we have in our lives, the stability we think we have, we trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh our strength. We can make it on our own we say.

We have our insurance, our pension, our health, our wealth, what more do we need?

Thus says the Lord:

Blessed are those who trust in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.

When the bad times hit, we need to learn from those who have gone through or are still going their own suffering to know that we don’t curse God for our circumstances, because we live in hope that indeed we will still bear fruit and our faith rests in God.

We are not in this alone. Together as this community of faith we walk our paths, hear the words of the prophet, hear and taste and see Jesus among us now, and know that God isn’t finished with each of us yet, for we must put our faith and hope there with God and bear fruit and be blessed.

For as Ben Okri put it…

We are the miracles that God made
To taste the bitter fruit of Time.
We are precious.
And one day our suffering
Will turn into the wonders of the earth. Amen.

In the news...

From Episcopal News Service:
New York Times carries weekend interviews with our Presiding Bishop and Southern Africa's Archbishop.

The New York Times carried an interview on Sunday with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, while Saturday (February 10) editions include a profile of Southern Africa's Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane. The Presiding Bishop was interviewed by Times religion writer Laurie Goodstein, while the Archbishop's profile was written by Johannesburg-based reporter Sharon LaFraniere.

Check out the articles:
Our new PB is really impressive. Please do check out the article and pray for her and all the primates at their meeting!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Suffragan Bishop Search

The following are candidates for election as the Diocese's next bishop suffragan:

The slate was presented on February 9 by the Nominating Committee. Names, photos, and bios are posted online at www.ctbishopsearch.org.

A process to receive additional nominations by petition opened Feb. 9 and closed Feb. 16. Two candidates have been added through the petitioning process: Essay responses from all candidates to questions posed by the Nominating Committee were held until the petition process closed, and are now posted online.

The special convention to elect a bishop suffragan will be held Saturday, March 10, at Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford.

A prayer for the Diocese:

Eternal God, source of all wisdom, help us to hear clearly the voice of your Spirit calling one forth to serve your Church as bishop suffragan. May this process of discernment draw the people of this Diocese together in your will, that we may be vessels of your love and light in the ministries and communities in Connecticut. In all things, may your Spirit rest upon those who are standing for election and upon us all, through Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit govern, heal and bless. Amen.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Evolution Sunday

"On 11 February 2007 hundreds of congregations from all portions of the country and a host of denominations will come together to discuss the compatibility of religion and science. For far too long, strident voices, in the name of Christianity, have been claiming that people must choose between religion and modern science. More than 10,000 Christian clergy have already signed The Clergy Letter demonstrating that this is a false dichotomy. Now, on the 198th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, many of these leaders will bring this message to their congregations through sermons and/or discussion groups. Together, participating religious leaders will be making the statement that religion and science are not adversaries." (from the Clergy Letter Project)

I signed the "clergy letter" a year or two ago. I will not be tackling this topic at our service but wanted the congregation to be aware of the subject matter. Science and faith are not mutually exclusive.

Here are two good links:

Science & Faith: Perspectives on Christianity and Science

A Catechism of Creation: An Episcopal Understanding

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

In this season: 'Christ in the stranger's guise'

A reflection from the Presiding Bishop

For the People of the Episcopal Church:

As the primates of the Anglican Communion prepare to gather next week in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I ask your prayers for all of us, and for our time together. I especially ask you to remember the mission that is our reason for being as the Anglican Communion –- God's mission to heal this broken world. The primates gather for fellowship, study, and conversation at these meetings, begun less than thirty years ago. The ability to know each other and understand our various contexts is the foundation of shared mission. We cannot easily be partners with strangers.

That meeting ends just as Lent begins, and as we approach this season, I would suggest three particularly appropriate attitudes. Traditionally the season has been one in which candidates prepared for baptism through prayer, fasting, and acts of mercy. This year, we might all constructively pray for greater awareness and understanding of the strangers around us, particularly those strangers whom we are not yet ready or able to call friends. That awareness can only come with our own greater investment in discovering the image of God in those strangers. It will require an attitude of humility, recognizing that we can not possibly know the fullness of God if we are unable to recognize his hand at work in unlikely persons or contexts. We might constructively fast from a desire to make assumptions about the motives of those strangers not yet become friends. And finally, we might constructively focus our passions on those in whom Christ is most evident –- the suffering, those on the margins, the forgotten, ignored, and overlooked of our world. And as we seek to serve that suffering servant made evident in our midst, we might reflect on what Jesus himself called us –- friends (John 15:15).

Celtic Rune of Hospitality

I saw a stranger yesterday;
I put food in the eating place,
drink in the drinking place,
music in the listening place;
and in the sacred name of the Triune God
he blessed myself and my house,
my cattle and my dear ones,
and the lark said in her song:
Oft, Oft, Oft,
goes Christ in the stranger's guise.


The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori is Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church

An interesting article in USA Today on the Presiding Bishop called "Episcopal church's new dawn". (Thank you Joann!)

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Souper Bowl Sunday Sermon (U2charist)

One man come in the name of Love…

And so begins the song "Pride, In the Name of love" by the Irish rock band U2. The first song at our U2charist this morning at 10:15.

My mind always thinks of Jesus when Bono sings that line…one man come in the name of love.

Today in the Gospel, we hear that Jesus gets in a boat because the crowd was so great, pushing him out into the lake of Gennesaret; he gets in a fishing boat, has them just go out a little ways from shore and sits down and teaches the people.

Why? Because he comes in the name of Love. He came to teach, to show a better way of living, he came to help dig up our soul, to help us be lifted out of our blues and to be reconciled with each other and with God.

The crowd is drawn to him, and as he begins his ministry, he needs some help, and he begins to call the disciples…

The boat he is in, is owned by Simon Peter and James & John, the sons of Zebedee, who are partners with Simon in their fishing company.

But on that lake, when they have not been able to catch anything, it is Jesus who tells them to go to the deep water and fish. Reluctantly, they go.

And the catch was amazing, all on board that boat were amazed at the catch of fish…

When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!"

And Jesus sees in them, disciples, the help he needs.

Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

They left their business, their families, the fish, and went with Jesus to catch people.

I can imagine those first disciples thinking, using the words of U2:

It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away
It's a beautiful day
Touch me
Take me to that other place
Teach me
I know I'm not a hopeless case

It was a beautiful day on that lake, and they left everything so it would not go away, Jesus had touched something so deep in them that they had to go.

We are gathered here this morning because of something inside each of us, God has touched us in some way that we are here, compelled in way we may not understand but like the disciples, we are here to be touched, to be taught, to not let this beautiful day get away.

But there is more to our discipleship than following that call inside of us to come and worship on Sunday, it is important to be part of community, to pray and worship but it is not the only piece…

Our discipleship is also beyond these windows, these doors, out in a hurting world.

Just as Jesus and his disciples gathered amongst themselves and then went out to the villages and highways to minister to everyone, so to we gather here and then go forth into our world.

For the other piece of our discipleship is what we do in our world…
I saw a t-shirt the other day that asked “If You Were Arrested For Being A Christian, Would They Have Enough Evidence?”

Which of course, speaks to our discipleship, our living out what we believe. It is our actions that show what we believe.

Bono said in 2003, "This generation will be remembered for three things: the Internet, the war on terror, and how we let an entire continent go up in flames while we stood around with watering cans. Or not." He was seeking support from the West for AIDS relief and debt reduction in Africa.

I also think of Bono’s words at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC last February. He said:

“A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord’s blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it… I have a family, please look after them… I have this crazy idea… And this wise man said: stop.

He said, stop asking God to bless what you’re doing.
Get involved in what God is doing—because it’s already blessed. Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing. And that is what He’s calling us to do.”

He’s right, it is our discipleship, our calling from our baptism, that we are to reach out in love to those in need, just as Jesus and the disciples did and what God is doing in our world now.

That’s why on this day, a day where revel in football, we join other faith communities, schools and community groups around the nation to remember those who go hungry every day, and help fight hunger and poverty in our local communities, by what we collect and give away, both money and canned goods.

If indeed we are going to make poverty history, then we must tackle the issue at home and abroad, that’s why we continue to learn about the Millennium Development Goals, and how we can play our part in achieving them.

Bono said, “These goals—clean water for all; school for every child; medicine for the afflicted, an end to extreme and senseless poverty—these are not just any goals; they are the Millennium Development goals, which the US supports. And they are more than that. They are the Beatitudes for a Globalised World.”

Beatitudes, which mean blessed or happy, and indeed, Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.”

And in our day, it is God who looks to us to come in the name of love and to help fill the hungry, to aid the poor, the sick, those in need, for everyone to get taste of the Kingdom of God in our time.

It is as John Wesley of the 18th Century would have us do, following the call of Christ, he wrote:

“Do all the good you can,
by all the means you can,
in all the ways you can,
in all the places you can,
at all the times you can,
to all the people you can,
as long as ever you can." -- John Wesley

I believe Bono would agree. For by doing all the good we can, we are following the one who came in the name of love, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

A Prayer said before the Super Bowl

A Confessional Prayer -- to be said before watching football games

This prayer was read over Michigan Public Radio twice: on the day before, and immediately preceding their broadcast of the first game of the Wolverine's 1998-99 season. They lost the game, and the next one too...

Most merciful God,
Forgive us for what we are about to do;

For our blood-curdling cries,
Lord, have mercy;
For our lust for violence,
Lord, have mercy;
For our emulation of military conquest,
Lord, have mercy;
For our favor to the strong,
Lord, have mercy;
For our scorn upon the weak,
Lord, have mercy;
For the vengeance which we seek
upon enemies whom we oppose for the most arbitrary of reasons,
Lord, have mercy.

We acknowledge and bewail our mortal sins and weaknesses;
We are troubled by these dark comparisons:
the football stadium and the coliseum;
the fans and the pagan mobs;
the star athletes and the demigods;
the linebackers and the gladiators;
the cheerleaders and the furies;
the commentators and the chorus;
the corporations and the slave owners.

We can only hope that you see, as we do,
that this is only a game;
and that you haven't lost your sense of humor.
Despite appearances to the contrary, our heart remains faithful to you.
Even as we glory in the spectacle of our football enemies
being pounded into the dust, we will strive to remember you.

God, be with those who will taste dirt this day.
Heal those who will be injured;
Console the losers with gratitude for the privilege of having played;
Ennoble the victors with gentle reminders of their mortality;
And show your favor toward all contestants
Who this day will shed their blood and break their bones
for our trivial sakes, AMEN.

Written by
The Rev. Matthew Lawrence
Chaplain, Canterbury House
Director, Institute for Public Theology

Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Groundhog Meets our Lord

February 2

Everyone is awaiting Punxsutawney Phil

Will he see his shadow?

But the date for Christians has a more meaningful purpose...

It is Candlemas or The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in The Temple (Luke 2: 22-38) - for Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, 40 days after his birth, to dedicate him to God, as Jewish law proscribed.

Traditionally Candlemas marked the end of the Christmas season and was associated with the blessing of candles.

"Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve"
"Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and mistletoe
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas Hall"
Robert Herrick (1591–1674)

This from Scotland connects the two...

As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and rain
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop

or maybe this joke...
During Church School, the teacher asks if anyone can explain what Easter is. A little boy waves his hand, so wanting to be called on. The teacher says, "Ok, Johnny, what is Easter?" Johnny begins, "Easter is that time of year when the whole family gathers around a table with a turkey to giver thanks for the blessings of a good harvest." "Ah, Johnny, not quite. That is Thanksgiving, but a good description.

Does anyone know what Easter is?" A Little girl raises her hand. "Easter is that time of the year when the family all gathers around a tree to sing carols and put decorations on the tree and they all give presents." "Well, maybe a bit closer, but not quite. Would anyone else like to venture a guess?"

Another little girl of course knew the answer. "It is the time after Jesus died when the stone at his grave was rolled back, and Jesus started to go up to heaven and looked back down and saw his shadow and went back in for six more weeks."

Happy Candlemas Day!