Friday, December 25, 2009

A New Year's Prayer and Holy Name

Prayer for New Year By Kay Hoffman

Another year is dawning
With the chance to start anew.
May I be kinder, wiser, Lord,
In all I say and do.

Not so caught up in selfish gain
That I would fail to see
The things in life that mean the most
Cost not a fancy fee.

The warm, kind word that I can give,
The outstretched hand to help,
The prayers I pray for those in need--
More precious these than wealth.

I know not what may lie ahead
Of laughter or of tears;
I only need to know each day
That You are walking near.

I'm thankful for this brand new year
As now I humbly pray,
My hand secure in Yours, dear Lord,
Each step along the way.

Amen.

The Holy Name January 1 (BCP)

Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

A Child's Christmas Prayer

The stars that shine at Christmas
Shine on throughout the year,
Jesus, born so long ago,
Still gathers with us here,
We listen to his stories,
We learn to say his prayer,
We follow in his footsteps,
And we learn to love and share. Amen.

Christmas Day Sermon - 10 AM

from the Hymnal #79
O little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight
Philip Brooks (Episcopal Bishop) wrote this in 1868 after visiting the Holy Land, he gave it to his organist who set it to music for the Sunday School. It has become one of our beloved hymns but his best verses are often not sung. So let us sing the third verse:
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.
No ear may his His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.
It remind us how silently God enters our world, not with fanfare, not with paparazzi, but in a manger, in a small town among peasants living under Roman occupation. And even when we can’t hear it, we have our call to seek him out, for where meek souls receive him still, Christ enters in. Let us sing the fourth verse…
Where children pure and happy pray to the blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the Mother mild;
Where Charity stands watching and Faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.
This understanding that nothing will hold back Christmas, for the dark night will wake, the glory will break and Christmas will come once more even in misery and sin. It reminds me of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow…

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The Carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!’

Christmas will always break forth even in the darkest of times and right will prevail. And when Christ does come into our midst, it is up to us to receive him. Let us sing the last verse:
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray!
Cast out our sin and enter in, Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels, The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel!
Today, we celebrate Christ’s birth in Bethlehem and in our hearts. May we make Jesus’ birth real in our lives by what we say and do this Christmas and always. Let us pray:
God of all hope and joy, open our hearts in welcome that your Son Jesus Christ at his coming may find in us a dwelling prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen (NZ Prayer Book)

Chistmas Eve Sermon - 10 PM

On this most Holy Night, as we have listened to the words of Scripture telling us of salvation, as we have sung the carols and listened to the anthems that make our hearts glad, I am reminded of the words from the Nativity Sermon of St. Isaac the Syrian, who calls us all to rejoice tonight in peace:
This Christmas night bestowed peace on the whole world; So let no one threaten;
This is the night of the Most Gentle One -Let no one be cruel;
This is the night of the Humble One - Let no one be proud.
Now is the day of joy - Let us not revenge;
Now is the day of Good Will - Let us not be mean.
In this Day of Peace - Let us not be conquered by anger.
Today the Bountiful impoverished Himself for our sake; So, rich one, invite the poor to your table.
Today we receive a Gift for which we did not ask; So let us give alms to those who implore and beg us.
This present Day cast open the heavenly doors to our prayers; Let us open our door to those who ask our forgiveness.
Today the Divine Being took upon Himself the seal of our humanity, In order for humanity to be decorated by the Seal of Divinity.
Tonight we open our hearts, to see the Christ child not only in the manger but in our midst, the Prince of Peace… In the words of the poet Maya Angelou:
At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth's tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.

Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.
Peace, My Brother. Peace, My Sister. Peace, My Soul.
Tonight, we celebrate in peace and joy Christ’s birth in Bethlehem and in our hearts. May we make Jesus’ birth real in our lives by what we say and do this Christmas and always. Amen.

Christmas Eve Sermon - 5 PM

Children's Sermon Story: This is the Star by Joyce Dunbar

For the congregation:

On this most Holy Night, as we once again hear the story of our savior’s birth, as we sing those beloved hymns, say our prayers and eat the bread of life and drink from the cup of salvation, we are called forth to follow that star, just like those in that story our children heard this night.

Why do we follow? Maybe W.H. Auden put it best:
To discover how to be truthful now
Is the reason I follow this star.
We anticipate or remember but never are.
To discover how to be living now
Is the reason I follow this star…
…we have only the vaguest idea why we are what we are
To discover how to be human now
Is the reason we follow this star.
W.H. Auden, Star of the Nativity from For The Time Being, A Christmas Oratorio

Indeed, we follow that star to be among those who gathered around that manger and worshipped what God had promised to bring. We follow to understand our humanity and our place in the world. Now its our turn to open our hearts, to see the Christ child not only in the manger but in our midst, to See the star right now, outside of this Church, to see it on the way home tonight, and know it still beckons us each and every day of our lives. The star is a symbol like Christmas reminding us of God’s presence even in dark moments.

[In my notes but not preached at 5 PM:

In the words of Dr. Howard Thurman…
The symbol of Christmas - what is it? It is the rainbow arched over the roof of the sky when the clouds are heavy with foreboding. It is the cry of life in the newborn babe when, forced from its mother's nest, it claims its right to live. It is the brooding Presence of the Eternal Spirit making crooked paths straight, rough places smooth, tired hearts refreshed, dead hopes stirred with the newness of life. It is the promise of tomorrow at the close of every day, the movement of life in defiance of death, and the assurance that love is sturdier than hate, that right is more confident than wrong, that good is more permanent than evil.]
Tonight, we celebrate Christ’s birth in Bethlehem and in our hearts. May we make Jesus’ birth real in our lives by what we say and do this Christmas and always. Amen.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Prayer

God of all hope and joy, open our hearts in welcome that your Son Jesus Christ at his coming may find in us a dwelling prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen (NZ Prayer Book)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sermon: Advent IV (Dec. 20)

An icon of Mary & Jesus hangs in the room of Jared & Aidan, the icon reminds my boys not only of the presence of Christ near them but of their relationship, of mother & child.

To us in the Western Church, she is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus. For many, she is the comforter for our sorrows for she understands because of her own sufferings. She is the Mother of Sorrows. She is called on by many for help in healing. She is Our Lady of Guadeloupe and our Lady of Lourdes. So many look to Mary in hope, and see in her life and in her song, a call to follow; she is also called the Queen of Heaven. Many, many different faces and names to Mary.

In the Orthodox Tradition, from which this icon originates, Mary is called the Theotokos that is God bearer. For as Elizabeth says to Mary: Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord. Elizabeth reminds us that it was Mary who said yes to God, to bear the son of God, for she believed and God acted. And of course, Mary sings her song: My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior…

The story begins for Mary as a teenager and is beautifully captured in his song Let Me Be Like Mary by Eric Law.
Mary was a woman who had her life to live.
She was to marry Joseph, a man with much to give.
Then one day God asked her to be the mother of a Child
who would change and save the world.
It is the angel Gabriel who changes everything for her with a request from God, and it is Mary’s yes that would set her on a very unique journey.
Wise and Gentle Mary, she just said yes to God.
Strong and gentle Mary she bore the child of God.
Brave and gentle Mary owned the joy and pain
Of giving birth to Christ for the world.
Her pregnancy was a scandal. She was unmarried, pregnant, and Joseph was not the father. She took it all on, and for the sake of the world, bore the joy and pain of giving birth to Christ for the world. As Dietrich Bonheoffer put it as he reflected on Mary and her song:
“The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings.… This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. These are the tones of the women prophets of the Old Testament that now come to life in Mary’s mouth.”

But it isn’t enough to hear her song and understand that God is at work in this world in mysterious ways. We can look at our icons, our stained glass windows, and leave Mary there or we might consider what her story means for us today.
We are just like Mary who have our lives to live.
We might have our families, our jobs & homes to keep
But what will you do if God asks you to be a servant
who’ll make Christ known to the world
It’s in those everyday encounters when we say Yes… Can you be like Mary and just say yes to God? Brave and strong like Mary to bear the child of God? Can you share with Mary all the joy and pain of giving birth to Christ for the world? Everyday encounters bearing Christ and his love and reconciliation to the world.

(1) She had not talked to her friend for some time and wondered how she was doing. She had heard that the family was going through a tough time. One morning, she saw that a movie they both said they were looking forward to seeing had opened. So she called her: “Hi. Would you like to take in a movie this afternoon?” After a pause, her friend said, “You know, that would be great. It would give us a chance to talk.”

(2) The chair of the college’s education department asked her to come in. “A downtown church is organizing an after-school program for at-risk kids,” he explained. “They’ve asked if any of our students could serve as tutors. You have a real gift for working with young kids and you’re going to make a great teacher. So I thought of you immediately.” She asked a lot of questions; she wondered how she could work it into her busy class schedule; and she didn’t have anywhere near the confidence in herself that her professor clearly had. But, in the end, she said: “I’d love to help.”

(3) After her beloved father’s death from Alzheimer’s disease, she began making an annual gift to the Alzheimer’s Association. One day she received a call asking if she would help organize a “memory walk” for Alzheimer’s research. As she talked to the volunteer, her eyes fell on the photo of her Dad on her desk. “Yes, I’d love to help.”

We are all like Mary for God calls every one of us in the form of an invitation, a plea, a concern for another’s well-being and like Mary, we think of all the kinds of reasons why this doesn’t make any sense or that it’s beyond us to do — but it is in these everyday encounters that God changes the course of history.

“In the Advents of our lives, God calls us to bring his Christ into our own time and place; may we respond with the faith and trust of Mary, putting aside our own doubts and fears to say I am your servant, O God. Be it done.” (Jay Cormier)

For it is up to each of us to say Yes:
Let me be like Mary and just say yes to God.
Brave and strong like Mary to bear the child of God.
Let me share with Mary all the joy and pain
of giving birth to Christ for the world.
Amen.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Season of Peace

THE TEACHING OF THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION ON PEACE
The Lambeth Conference, a decennial gathering of the bishops of the Anglican Communion, declared in 1930 that "war as a method of settling international disputes is incompatible with the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ." That statement has been reaffirmed at succeeding conferences and added to with renunciations of nuclear weaponry and arms escalation, and in support of Christian conscientious objection. The bishops also have repeatedly condemned specific regional and national conflicts, and urged Christians to work as peacemakers in their local context. (A complete history of resolution of the Lambeth Conference through the years can be found here.) These teachings have been affirmed regularly by the Communion's other consultative bodies – the Primates' Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council – and have found focus in the work of the Anglican Peace and Justice Network, and inter-provincial network devoted to the Church's role as peacemaker.

PEACE IN THE HOLY LAND
Most Episcopalians will sing the hymn, "O Little Town of Bethlehem," at least once this season. As you do, consider the current well-being of people in the land in which Christ was born. Earlier this year, Christians and others who support a peaceful two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians found hope in the words of President Obama, during his first week in office, recommitting U.S. energies to working for peace in the Holy Land. Nearly a year later, that hope seems dimmer as U.S. energies focus elsewhere in the world and new obstacles to peace mount between Israelis and Palestinians. To learn where things stand, and what you can do to advocate for a recommitment of U.S. energies to peace in the Holy Land, visit our friends at Churches for Middle East Peace and become a member.

Of particular sadness during Advent and Christmas is the continued presence of the 30-foot-high concrete wall erected around Bethlehem, the city of the Savior's birth. Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem will celebrate Christmas in 2009, as they have every year this decade, confined behind the Wall. The Episcopal Church's General Convention earlier this year, through Resolution A037, urged all Episcopalians to pray, especially during Advent and Christmastide, for the Wall to come down. The Convention recommended the following prayer:

Almighty God, Creator of the wonderful complex diversity of humanity; you have fashioned us in your image and commanded us to love one another. Reach down your divine hand so that the wall shall come down in Bethlehem, the birthplace of your Son, the Prince of Peace, and may crumbling walls herald the fall of all barriers that divide us. Bind us together so that love gives rise to an abundance of tenderness among all people; and may our hearts, like Mary's, magnify the Lord, and may your love shower down throughout the world so that all divisions are scattered and washed away. We ask this all with expectant hearts through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

PEACE IN THE SUDAN
This holiday season is also an appropriate time for Christians to recommit to advocacy for peace in the Sudan. After decades of civil war between the people of the predominantly African and Christian southern portion of the country, and the government in the predominantly Arab and Muslin north, the parties in 2005 signed a peace agreement designed to bring about long-term, peaceful coexistence. Since that time, however, the northern government has sponsored new widespread ethnic violence in the western region of Darfur and has sponsored further violence against the southern people by the so-called Lord's Resistance Army, a regional terrorist militia originally based in Uganda. Prospects for peace also have been complicated by continuing disputes over borders, census and electoral matters, and fair sharing of revenues between north and south. The year 2010 is schedule to bring the first round of national elections envisioned by the 2005 peace agreement. This will serve as lead-up to a referendum in 2011 in which southerners will vote on whether to secede from the north. The fairness of these votes – and the willingness of northern and southern leaders to resolve other outstanding differences in the coming year -- will go a long way toward determining whether the future holds peace or renewed violence for the long-suffering people of the Sudan. In short, 2010 is a very important year for peace.

The 2005 peace agreement came about, in no small part, as a consequence of American and international leadership. That same sense of commitment and resolve is needed again at the present time to ensure the peace agreement does not collapse. What can you do? To read a report on the current status of the peace process in Sudan, visit our friends at Pax Christi International. To get involved with other Episcopalians working on this vital issue, join the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan.

THE EPISCOPAL PEACE FELLOWSHIP
Advent and Christmas provide occasion for Episcopalians to learn about, and get involved with, the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. Founded on Armistice Day, November 11, 1939, EPF is a national organization connecting all who seek a deliberate response to injustice and violence and want to pray, study and take action for justice and peace in our communities, the church, and the world. EPF offers a wealth of resources on advocacy, action, and prayer for congregations and other faith communities. At the present moment, EPF is working to encourage advocacy from Episcopalians concerned for peace in Afghanistan in light of the recently announced escalation in American military forces there.

NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT
The Episcopal Church, in accordance with the resolution of the 1948 Lambeth Conference referenced above – as well as multiple resolutions of our own General Convention – is committed to the elimination of the threat of nuclear weapons from the world. Some of our most recent work is through a multi-faith coalition committed called Faithful Security, which is committed to raising the voice of America's faith communities toward a world free of nuclear weapons. Faithful Security offers a superb organizing kit for local communities on its website, and helped create an issue of the Yale Divinity School Journal Reflections earlier this year focused on "Faith and the Future of Nuclear Weapons." The issue features contributions from influential theologians like Miroslav Volf, and noted American leaders like former Secretary of State George Shultz.

EPISCOPAL RELIEF AND DEVELOPMENT
Finally, because peace is related immutably to the ability of human beings to love in freedom from want and need, please take a moment this season to consider a contribution to Episcopal Relief & Development. Episcopal Relief & Development is is the international relief and development agency of the Episcopal Church, guided by the Episcopal Church's principles of compassion, dignity and generosity as it works to heal a hurting world. Episcopal Relief & Development works in partnership with the worldwide Church to create opportunities to serve communities in some of the most remote areas of the world, as well as in urban environments where extreme poverty persists.

[From EPPN]

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sermon: Advent III

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
In Scripture & Song, today we rejoice. Rejoice! Today the pink candle is lit because on this day of rejoicing, with three candles lit, we await and prepare for the coming of Christ, we are full of anticipation and joy that the Lord is near.

The prophet Zephaniah give us a song that celebrates God's vindication of Israel; “sing aloud, rejoice & exult” that God is in the midst of her, Israel will no longer be overrun by other nations, God is with her.

This joyful pronouncement is also in Paul's letter to the Philippians, another song of praise. Calling us all to rejoice! in the Lord, for the Lord is near. But Paul does not end on that note. He wants us to take the rejoicing further. He wants us to act on our gentleness, our joy and to think about it and share it with others, “for then the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

These readings are not just relaying feelings of joy, but rather they are commands to rejoice, commands of faith, that indeed God is still active in our world and we need to rejoice. We stand rejoicing because of our faith not our feelings, and in the midst of all this, there is someone who stands in the corner of our lives that demands to be noticed, and he says: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"

The words from the Gospel, from John the Baptist startle us like a splash of cold water on our face...
"Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'we have Abraham as our ancestor,' for I tell you God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
John the Baptist calls on those who are listening to his message to bear good fruit. Not to rely on their ancestry, their power, or themselves. It is as if John is looking right at us this December, celebrating for ourselves and looking around at our world and calling us to bear good fruit.

So what does it mean to bear such good fruit?

We like the crowds that remained with John the Baptist ask the question, "What then should we do?" 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 cleansing ritual, a kind of get out of the fire free card. Nope.
To the crowd he replies: "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise."

To tax collectors: "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you."

To soldiers: "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."
Simple, common-sense, charity toward one's neighbor. If they have a need, share your abundance: your coats, clothing, your food. It is a challenge for us when it is so easy to hoard all the extra we have and miss all the need around us. And I think John’s challenge to us, really goes after what it means to rejoice! For how can we rejoice, how can we celebrate when we don’t reach out with a coat or food when we see someone in need. How is this acting on our faith?

The fruit that John asks us to give, is the fruit not born out of selfishness, but out of generosity and love. I think of how we asked for winter coats and people brought coats and we gave them to the Birmingham Group and women and children this winter, in this cold, will have something to keep them warm. I think of all the Turkeys bought with those gift certificates at Thanksgiving, all those presents we will be giving to kids in need through DCF next week for Christmas.

Last winter, Ellen & I heard about a need at one of the shelters in New Haven, they had run out of pillows, they needed help. It was an easy act, purchase and deliver, but for our kids, to see how people were living and to understand how and why we help those in need, is as that commercial says, was priceless. When we pray for those in need, my kids remember.

Helping out others: I also think of a story I just read…

Officer John Fosket of the Helena Police needed help, they had a new explosive sniffing dog from the Israeli Defense Forces – but he only responded to commands in Hebrew. And try as he could, he just wasn’t pronouncing the words properly and Mikey, the dog, would not always respond to the commands. He asked a Hasidic Rabbi who was at the Capitol to light the menorah candles for Hanukah for help. And as was reported: all is well in the Jewish community there. The Hasidic rabbi is helping the Montana cop speak Hebrew to his dog. It is good news all around. The officer keeps the Capitol safe, and the Hebrew pooch is feeling more at home hearing his native tongue, and the rabbi, a recent arrival from Brooklyn, is working hard in Montana building up his community. [from the NY Times]
Helping each other when we are in need, that sounds like good fruit.

We need to look beyond John’s words "you brood of vipers!" and hear his words that gives us counsel on how to lead a faithful life that indeed bears good fruit. In words not so harsh but filled with the wisdom of God. For he reminds us that we need God in our lives and we need to help others.

John's words today are full of rejoicing! (just like the other readings). For the Lord is near and we are called to live bearing fruit that God would want us to bear. So with many other exhortations, John the Baptist proclaimed the good news to the people. Those words are good news for us too, if we are ready to bear good fruit, fruit that will last. So let us rejoice as Zephania and Paul would have us do, and live what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable before God and our neighbors as John would have us do. Amen.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Human Rights Day 2009

December 10 is known as International Human Rights Day, marking the anniversary of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Conventions.

Non-discrimination is focus of Human Rights Day on December 10 - Embrace Diversity & End Discrimination.

Learn more here.

Here is one news article about today.

A prayer for today:

O HOLY GOD, you love righteousness and hate iniquity: Strengthen, we pray, the hands of all who strive for justice throughout the world, and, seeing that all human beings are your offspring, move us to share the pain of those who are oppressed, and to promote the dignity and freedom of every person; through Jesus Christ the Liberator, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Advent Week II - Spend Less

From Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation...
Its Advent 2, a full seven days into our journey into the darkness–awaiting the coming light, life.

This week on the blog we hope to give you ideas, reflections and articles about how you might spend less on Christmas presents this year, so that we may be freed up to give more PRESENCE.

What are your favorite homemade gifts? What are you doing to spend less this year? Where are you shopping, and what tips and tricks for saving money are you using this year?

How’s this for a few ideas for spending less? (Ideas from this awesome resource Buy Nothing Christmas, bookmark it! Great site!)

1. Make a soothing, herb pillow filled with lavender, rose, etc.
2. Collect quotes that make you think of someone.
3. Stamp and address postcards for family members.
4. For the elderly people in your life, research newspaper and magazine articles from their youth and present in a creative fashion.
5. Make a calendar with pictures of family members and/or scenery.
6. Wrap gifts in newspaper, maps, scarves or interesting clothing.
7. Fill an old trunk or suitcase with fun clothing, hats and gaudy jewelry for your children to play dress-up.
8. Make a puppet from a sock.
9. Give away a valued possession.

What’s on your list?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

[AC] Advent Conspiracy 2009

Advent Conspiracy is an international movement restoring the scandal of Christmas by substituting compassion for consumption.

This Advent:
Worship Fully.
Spend Less.
Give More.
Love All.
Give Presence.

Sermon: Advent II (Dec. 6)

A hike after Thanksgiving...
  • Jared, Aidan, Rowan & I were with Uncle Alden (Ellen’s brother) on his 200 acres of land.
  • on one of the hills was a tree stand used by hunters – now dilapidated – below the stand was a simple cross, with a plaque on it.
  • the plaque was in memory of a son – the previous owner of the land had lost a son and since they loved to hunt together, it was a fitting memorial.
It now stands quietly in the forest, nearly forgotten, and yet it is a symbol of hope, a symbol of remembrance. On that grey afternoon, that memorial reminded me how this celebratory season between Thanksgiving & Christmas is often a time when we all remember our loved ones. Whether its remembering a parent who died, like me who remembers his father, or those who remember a spouse, or a child who his died, this time of year we remember them and our years together and all those holidays.

For many, this time of year is more dark than light and as the darkness grows this time of year, so does those moments of sadness and sorrow, of longing for those loved ones lost. And in that darkness is also mystery for in the midst of such darkness Christ is born, in such darkness lies our hope, in the dark we find light.

For we live in hope, like that cross on the mountain, we hope for the sunshine, we hope for the light, we hope to see those loved ones again. And we do at times struggle to find our way in the darkness, groping around, trying not to stumble.

For the Israelites in exile, those away from Jerusalem and their homeland, I suspect many wondered about their days ahead, they longed for the past when life was good in the land of Israel. Now they lived in strange lands with strange peoples – their days seem dark and they groped for a way forward.
Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.
Baruch writing to the exiled Israelites ends his short book of the bible with a psalm of hope.
For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory…
Baruch’s psalm is a call to hope in the midst of their sorrows, to see that God was leading them forward into a brighter future, even when they could not see it for themselves. When the land of Israel would be theirs again to inhabit. When we are in the midst of such darkness, it is hard to find the light, to be lead by the light…

But that theme of being lead to be a better place is throughout scripture, of being led from slavery to freed, from sin to life, from death to resurrection. There are many passages of such hope. And it is Baruch and the Gospel of Luke that we heard this morning that both look to the Prophet Isaiah for such hope in darkness…
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
That is hope that all shall see the salvation of God, all will see their loved ones again, all will know that this present darkness is not all there is, there is light.

And as we sit in this season of Advent and the darkness washes over us and we sit and wait for Christ’s coming, maybe it isn’t that the light breaks upon us all at once. Maybe gradually, maybe its splintered light, God’s glory breaks through and we catch glimpses of it, and we can feel God with us and know our hope is right.

Let me end with a poem that looks at such hope in the midst of darkness, from A Slender Grace: Poems by Rod Jellema

I have to look in cracks and crevices.
Don’t tell me how God’s mercy is as wide as the ocean, as deep as the sea.
I already believe it;
but that infinite prospect gets farther away the more we mouth it.
I thank you for lamenting his absences— from marriages going mad,
from the deaths of your son and mine, from the inescapable terrors of mankind: Treblinka. Viet Nam. September Eleven.

It’s hard to celebrate his invisible Presence in the sacrament
while seeing his visible absence from the world.

This must be why mystic and poets record
the slender incursions of splintered light,
echoes, fragments, odd words and phrases
like flashes through darkened hallways.
These stabs remind me that the proud and
portly old church is really only
that cut green slip grafted into a tiny nick
that merciful God himself slit into the stem of his chosen Judah.
The thin and tenuous thread we hang by,
so astonishing, is the metaphor I need at the shoreline
of all those immeasurable oceans of love.
In such slender incursions of splintered light, Hold on to those symbols of hope, symbols of remembrance, for as the Prophets are reminding us today… we will see the glory of God. Amen.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Prayer for World AIDS Day

A Collect for World AIDS Day

Loving God, You provide comfort and hope to those who suffer. Be present with all HIV positive persons and their families in this and every land, that they may be strengthened in their search for health, wholeness and abundant living, through Christ our Companion. Amen.

Merciful God,
we remember before you all who are sick this day,
and especially all persons with
aids or hiv infection.
Give them courage to live
with their disease.
Help them to face and
overcome their fears.
Be with them when they
are alone or rejected.
Comfort them when
they are discouraged.
And touch them with your
healing Spirit that they may find and
possess eternal life, now and forever.
Amen

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The National Day of Listening

On the day after Thanksgiving (November 27, 2009), set aside one hour to record a conversation with someone important to you. You can interview anyone you choose: an older relative, a friend, a teacher, or someone from the neighborhood.
You can preserve the interview using recording equipment readily available in most homes, such as cell phones, tape recorders, computers, or even pen and paper. Our free Do-It-Yourself Instruction Guide is easy to use and will prepare you and your interview partner to record a memorable conversation, no matter which recording method you choose.

Make a yearly tradition of listening to and preserving a loved one’s story. The stories you collect will become treasured keepsakes that grow more valuable with each passing generation. (from the website (Learn more about it & join in!))

Thanksgiving Prayer

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

Faith at Home

I just found this resource on the web and it might be a good resource for families as they look for ways to engage the Seasons of our Church Year. It is called Faith at Home: Explore and enjoy your faith with your kids!

Visit: http://www.faith-at-home.com/

Go here to learn more about the Episcopal mom who runs the site.

Monday, November 23, 2009

from Sunday's Announcements

A biblical illusion in the Sports pages!

Browns (1-8) at Lions (1-8)

Josh Cribbs sustained a concussion on the final play of the Monday night game: a meaningless playground-style pitch drill in a 16-0 lost cause. Cribbs, the Browns’ best player, has wanted a contract extension all season, and an injury could affect his bargaining power. Cribbs’s agent stopped just short of suggesting that Eric Mangini wanted Cribbs hurt; Cribbs himself says Brady Quinn called the play. But rumors that the play was code-named Uriah aroused some suspicions. Cribbs is questionable for Sunday.

This is from the NY Times.

Oh and the Lions won...

Award goes to Toni for her correct guess!

Sermon: Last Pentecost (Nov. 22)

As preached at the 8 AM service:
Never before has a date in history been so significant to so many cultures, so many religions, scientists, and governments. A global cataclysm brings an end to the world and tells of the heroic struggle of the survivors.
Or so says a description of the movie “2012” – in theaters now which depicts the end of the earth. It is a favorite topic of Hollywood, think of these End Times themes: Nuclear Annihilation, World War III, Killer Asteroids, Ecological Meltdown, UFOs… The premise of 2012 is the end of the Mayan Calendar. Since their calendar ends, we must be in trouble…

For us as Christians, our liturgical year ends today on Christ the King Sunday and so our mind considers last things. When we think of end times, we think of our book Revelation. It is the last book in our bibles and it includes Four Horseman, 7 seals, trumpets, armies, & destruction... It is not a book that is for the faint hearted but it doesn't exist for its own sake and it really does tie in with the hope of the New Testament, many scenes in Revelation view heaven with its multitudes of people giving praise to God and those passages are often read at funerals. The end times are mentioned differently in the Gospels with each Gospel saying something on the matter. The Gospel story today is Jesus before Pilate and in John’s Gospel, it is Jesus who responds to Pilate...
"My kingdom is not from this world…" Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."
The truth on this last Sunday of our Church Year is that Christ reigns. He is the King of Glory. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to make the kingdom of God a reality in our lives & to celebrate his reign. Faithfulness is to see the face of Christ in every man, woman and child and to then respect their dignity, and to respond to a need with action. We are called to listen to his voice and go forth:
On September 12, Dr. Norman E. Borlaug died at the age 95. Most people have not heard of him unless you are a horticulturist or botanist. But, because of Doctor Borlaug, millions of people on this planet have enough to eat every day.

Norman Borlaug grew up on an Iowa farm during the Depression. He was fascinated by plants and how they grew - and why some plants grew better in some places than others. A gifted student, he went on to graduate school, earning a doctorate in plant pathology. Shortly after World War II, he walked away from a promising career at Dupont to go to work for a nonprofit foundation working in Mexico trying to help farmers improve their crops.

For Mexican soils were depleted; disease ravaged the few crops that farmers managed to grow & the yields were so low farmers could barely feed themselves and their families, much less sell any surplus. So Dr Borlaug and his team went to work in the blazing Mexican sun, experimenting with wheat seeds and blossoms. Within a few years, they had developed a variety of wheat that could grow in the harsh Mexican climate. Dr Borlaug soon developed a second strain of wheat, a smaller "dwarf" plant that could withstand tropical winds and diseases while increasing yields. His idea was later applied to rice, resulting in yields several times that of traditional varieties. At the time of his death, Dr Borlaug was working to bring high-yield farming to African countries.

Today, farmers in the developing world are able to feed their growing populations because of Dr Borlaug's work. It is estimated that half of the world's population is fed from food made from the grains descended from the high-yield varieties developed by Dr Borlaug and his colleagues.

Dr Borlaug lived under primitive conditions, often with little money and no equipment; he fought tradition and class warfare in many of the countries he worked; he was criticized by naysayers and frustrated by bureaucrats. But quietly and tenaciously, Norman Borlaug helped avert the mass famines that were widely predicted in the 1960s, thus altering the course of history. (That should be told by Hollywood!)

For his work, Norman Borlaug was awarded the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. Many credit him as the founder of the Green Revolution - but the self-effacing scientist shied away from such acclaim. Norman Borlaug, Ph.D. - may not be well-known, but his legacy - food for a starving world - will last forever. (portions taken from the NY Times Obituary)
His story like that of Jesus calling us to listen to his truth is about encountering human need in our everyday lives. Not just a particular moment of giving oneself to service, but to see that it really is about the daily encounters in our life and our relationship to those in need. Mother Teresa of Calcutta talked about the end of our lives this way:
"At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by 'I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in.' Hungry not only for bread—but hungry for love; naked not only of clothing—but naked of human dignity and respect; homeless not only for want of a room of bricks, but homeless because of rejection. This is Christ in distressing disguise.”
Our call is to bring God's kingdom to life among us, to know the Kingdom is prepared for the ones who have found the truth & listen. Revelation speaks of him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom. This is grace for salvation is not something we can earn but is gift. A gift we share with the world now in need (Christ in disguise) and at the end of our days. Amen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Evolution of the God Gene

The Evolution of the God Gene By NICHOLAS WADE, NY Times, 11/15/09

IN the Oaxaca Valley of Mexico, the archaeologists Joyce Marcus and Kent Flannery have gained a remarkable insight into the origin of religion.

During 15 years of excavation they have uncovered not some monumental temple but evidence of a critical transition in religious behavior. The record begins with a simple dancing floor, the arena for the communal religious dances held by hunter-gatherers in about 7,000 B.C. It moves to the ancestor-cult shrines that appeared after the beginning of corn-based agriculture around 1,500 B.C., and ends in A.D. 30 with the sophisticated, astronomically oriented temples of an early archaic state.

This and other research is pointing to a new perspective on religion, one that seeks to explain why religious behavior has occurred in societies at every stage of development and in every region of the world. Religion has the hallmarks of an evolved behavior, meaning that it exists because it was favored by natural selection. It is universal because it was wired into our neural circuitry before the ancestral human population dispersed from its African homeland.

For atheists, it is not a particularly welcome thought that religion evolved because it conferred essential benefits on early human societies and their successors. If religion is a lifebelt, it is hard to portray it as useless.

For believers, it may seem threatening to think that the mind has been shaped to believe in gods, since the actual existence of the divine may then seem less likely.

But the evolutionary perspective on religion does not necessarily threaten the central position of either side. That religious behavior was favored by natural selection neither proves nor disproves the existence of gods. For believers, if one accepts that evolution has shaped the human body, why not the mind too? What evolution has done is to endow people with a genetic predisposition to learn the religion of their community, just as they are predisposed to learn its language. With both religion and language, it is culture, not genetics, that then supplies the content of what is learned.

Read the whole article here.

Reading the Bible...


To read the Bible online:
  • The Bible Gateway (several online versions of the bible in many languages)
  • Oremus Bible (This is the NRSV Bible, the version we use on Sundays as well as other versions)
  • The Lectionary Page (lists the Sunday Lessons & Saints Days on a monthly calendar)
  • The Daily Office (from Mission St. Clare Community - using the daily lectionary and office from the Book of Common Prayer)
To listen to the Bible:
  • We have the Message, a version of the Bible created by Eugene Peterson on CD and Cassette in our lending library.
We have both the RSV and NRSV Bibles at Church and you are welcome to borrow one at any time.

Guest Sermon - Rev. Peter Allen

I don't have the Rev. Peter Allen's sermon from November 8 yet but I do have a link to his sermon from August 16 when we had our joint service on the Green.

You can find his sermon here.

A couple of quotes from his wonderful sermon:
A wonderful teacher and writer named William Willimon urges us to allow the Bible to challenge us every time we read it. Following Jesus is a dynamic experience and encounters with his memory and his Spirit should never leave us the same as we always were.

Another way of looking at difficult passages like this one is to remember that the authors of scripture did not always intend give us answers but sometimes wanted to pose questions so we could wrestle with them. There is ample evidence that Jesus did that. The asking of unanswerable questions has always been an effective teaching tool for religious leaders of all traditions.

Sermon: November 15

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
This version of the collect from this morning is from the 1892 Book of Common Prayer and would have been the prayer that Martha DuBail would have heard as a child and recited as a teenager. The prayer itself goes back to the first Book of Common Prayer of 1549 as a reminder of the importance of Scripture in our lives, as it was to the Reformers in the Reformation who wanted the people to be able to read the Bible in their own language.

On Thursday, a day after the burial of Martha DuBail, I sat in a classroom at Masuk High School talking with students in the Great Books class about Scripture. They had studied Ecclesiastes from the Old Testament (if the book doesn’t ring a bell – think of the old hit, Turn, Turn, Turn by the Byrds (written by Pete Seeger)) and the parables of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. They had many questions, about meaning and interpretation and about faith. I suspect many of them had not seriously tackled scripture before, but they had begun to listen to Scripture. As William Stringfellow once put it,
“What the ordinary Christian is called to do is to open the Bible and listen to the Word [of God].”
To listen to what the Bible has to say to us is important, because we are not going to understand, we cannot listen if we don’t pick it up. Our society is solely becoming more and more biblical illiterate… Some people think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife! Unless we approach the Bible, we cannot fully understand our faith. As Stringfellow would tell us, through the Bible, the Word of God is addressed to us, where we are, just as we are, in this world. Be it teenagers in class or anyone in the pew, we must be ready to “hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.”

Sitting here on a Sunday morning, we are surrounded by scripture, in the readings, the hymns, the prayers from the Book of Common Prayer are all linked because they come from scripture. But the challenge for us is to continue this during the week, to pick up our bibles, or to look at Scripture on the internet, and to continue listening to what Scripture has to say. One way we could do this is by taking the bulletin home on Sundays and reading those lessons throughout the week and asking what is this Scripture saying to us.

But we must take care, as Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel…
“Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.”
There is much to lead us astray in today’s society. There are those who deny that Scripture has anything to teach us. That it is error filled and too hard to read and written entirely by humans, we are better off ignoring it. Others claim that if you look for it, you can discover the Bible Code that is hidden away and that will make all the difference to our lives. Still others, say there is only one right way to read the Bible, only one right answer and that any other reading or understanding is not faithful to God. And probably most present of all, is that the Bible is important, we ought to read it, but right now life is too busy and we will get to it another day…

Such attitudes are present in our society and we must take care that these do not influence us. As the letter to the Hebrews reminds us:
“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together but encouraging one another.”
And it is through the Bible that we find that God is faithful and in this community we will find fellow travelers who can be with us as we explore that faith. Even when we read and listen, there will come a time like those students at Masuk, when we do not understand…

And it is then we rely on one another to help us hear and listen. For we go to the Bible to hear and listen and connect with our God. But not just there, for as we find God in those Scripture passages, we also find God in our lives in this world. The Bible helps us find God active not only recorded in the past but it helps us to reflect on how God is with us today in our lives.

Consider Jesus gathering his disciples for a meal together…

Think of your evening; you and your family gather around the table in your kitchen for supper. The entree might be some epicurean delight from the pages of Bon App├ętit -- but more often than not it’s Chinese takeout or pizza from McGowans. As everyone digs in, the table buzzes with talk of tomorrow’s soccer game, a crabby teacher, the current fix-up project, the latest office crises, and a new knock-knock joke. Here at the kitchen table, parent and child give and receive encouragement, consolation, forgiveness and love. Especially love. If there is one safe harbor on earth, one secure, sheltered place where you are always welcome no matter how badly you mess up, the kitchen table is it. Your kitchen -- the place where Christ rules.

Consider that as Jesus spoke to his disciples, he often talked about his life as a life of service…

Think of a storm that devastates a town; a fire reduces a neighborhood to burnt timber and ashes; an act of terrorism cuts a wide and bloody swath through a community. That’s when they go to work: skilled medical professionals, tireless construction workers, patient and gifted counselors, compassionate volunteers. These dedicated souls work around the clock to care for the hurt and injured, rescue those in danger, help the traumatized cope, and begin the hard work of rebuilding. By their very presence, these good people transform the debris and ashes into the kingdom of Jesus.

Consider that as Jesus traveled, everyone came up to him, the poor and the outcast, the sick and the children, he welcomed all…

Think of a tired old downtown building that has seen better days but no better use. The city’s churches have worked together to turn the brick structure into a community center, a safe place where children can come to play basketball, receive tutoring, or just hang out after school. The well-stocked pantry provides for dozens of hungry families every week; a free clinic offers basic on-site medical care and referral services to the poor and uninsured. Its meeting rooms are always busy: the elderly have a place to go for companionship and immigrants are taught how to master the language of their new homeland, AA meets there. In this austere brick building, Jesus reigns.

When we read the Bible, we see God alive in history and if we listen to it, we can also see God alive in the world around us. Let us open the Bible today and listen to God’s word and hear what God is saying to us and our lives. Amen.

Prayers for the Crew STS-129 (Atlantis)

Keeping the space shuttle Atlantis (STS-129) crew in our prayers:

Creator of the universe, your dominion extends through the immensity of space: guide and guard those who seek to fathom its mysteries especially those on board the USS Atlantis. Save us from arrogance lest we forget that our achievements are grounded in you, and, by the grace of your Holy Spirit, protect our travels beyond the reaches of earth, that we may glory ever more in the wonder of your creation: through Jesus Christ, your Word, by whom all things came to be, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (from Lesser Feasts & Fasts)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day Prayers

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Say thank you to a Veteran today!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Chronicle of a Death We Can’t Accept

Chronicle of a Death We Can’t Accept

By THOMAS G. LONG (NY Times, - Nov. 1, 2009)

AT a funeral directors’ convention recently, I wandered around an exhibition floor crowded with the usual accouterments of the trade — coffins, catafalques, cemetery tents, cremation furnaces and the like. Scattered among these traditional goods were also many new baubles and gewgaws of the funeral business — coffins emblazoned with sports logos; cremation urns in the shape of bowling pins, golf bags and motorcycle gas tanks; “virtual cemeteries” with video clips and eerie recorded messages from the dead; pendants, bracelets, lamps and table sculptures into which ashes of the deceased can be swirled and molded.

It is hard to know what to make of this wild blossoming of unconventional mortuary merchandise. Perhaps it is the creative expression of a society grown weary of the extravagant hearse-and-limousine funerals of the past and ready to experiment with less costly and more personal ways to memorialize the dead. Some funeral directors seem to think so and are responding like dazed Blockbuster managers outmaneuvered in a Netflix age, scrambling to stay afloat in the wake of new technology and cultural improvisation.

But there is another, more accurate way to understand current funeral fashions. They illustrate the sad truth that, as a society, Americans are no longer sure what to do with our dead.

Read the whole article here.

Two of my favorite quotes:
“A good funeral,” says Thomas Lynch, a poet and undertaker in Milford, Mich., “is one that gets the dead where they need to go and the living where they need to be.”

People who have learned how to care tenderly for the bodies of the dead are almost surely people who also know how to show mercy to the bodies of the living.



A reading from Ecclesiasticus with the remembrance of the dead

Lector: Let us now sing the praises of famous men and women, our ancestors in their generations. God apportioned to them great glory, and majesty from the beginning. Some were rulers, and made a name for themselves by their valor:

Congregation: Alfred the Great ~ Elizabeth of Hungary ~ George Washington ~ Abraham Lincoln ~ Emma and Kamehameha

Lector: Some led the people by good council, by their knowledge of the people's lore, by their wise words of instruction:

Congregation: Mother Teresa ~ Benedict of Nursia ~ William Wilberforce ~ Oscar Romero ~ Evelyn Underhill

Lector: Some spoke in prophetic oracles:

Congregation: Julian of Norwich ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. ~ Sojourner Truth ~ Mahatma Ghandi

Lector: Some composed musical tunes or put verses in writing:

Congregation: Hildegard of Bingen ~ James Weldon Johnson ~ George Herbert ~ Walt Whitman ~ Charles & John Wesley ~ Madeline L'engle

Lector: All these were honored in their generation, and were the glory of their times. There are some of them who have left a name, so that we all declare their praise. And there are some who have left no memorial, who have perished as though they had not lived.

A brief silence is observed. The people remember their own beloved departed, silently or aloud.

Lector: And there were people of mercy, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten. Their prosperity will remain with us, and with their descendants, and the inheritance of their good lives will trickle down to their children's children. Their followers stand by the covenant with God, as do their children, also, for their sake.

Here are read the names of all who have died in the past year.

Lector: Their posterity will continue forever, and their glory will not be blotted out. Their bodies were buried in peace and their names live to all generations. Peoples will declare their wisdom, and the congregation will proclaim their praise.

Congregation: Amen.

Lector: Here ends the reading.

Sermon: All Saints Day

Around a large campfire late one autumn evening, Jesus comforted his disciples by speaking to them of a heavenly realm that far surpasses the beauty of anything on earth. He spoke of a place that never grows dark or cold, a vast city filled with beautiful mansions, with streets of gold and with unending expanses of green and fertile land, a place of perpetual peace and fulfillment. Jesus spoke of his kingdom late into the night, painting pictures of heaven until the fire began to turn to ash and a chill filled the air. One by one Jesus’ disciples drifted off to sleep with the images of heavenly treasure and luxurious mansions feeding their dreams.

In the end, only Jesus and a poor, unknown, uneducated disciple were left, each one lost in thought and watching as the last cinders of the fire began to die. After some time had passed, this solitary disciple looked over to Jesus and spoke, ‘I was wondering about something,” he said. "Yes my friend," Jesus replied.

"Well, there are so many people who follow you now that I can’t help worrying whether someone like me, an old, uneducated sinner, will be overlooked amidst all the great thinkers, politicians, preachers and radicals that are being attracted to you and your message." Then he turned away and continued, ‘I’ve never been in a mansion, never even seen one. So I don’t care too much if I miss out, but tell me, will there be room enough for me when I die – will there be somewhere for me to stay in this kingdom of which you speak?’

Jesus looked at the man with compassion, ‘Don’t worry’ he whispered, in a tone that could barely be heard over the content noises of the sleeping crowd, ‘tucked away in a tiny corner of heaven, away from all the grand mansions and streets of gold, there is a cramped little stable. It doesn’t look like much inside or out, but on a clear night you can see the stars shine bright amidst the cracks and you can feel the warm breeze caress your skin. In this Kingdom, that is where I live, and you would be welcome to live with me there’. Mansions © Peter Rollins (from IKON wiki)
On this All Saints Day, when we remember and celebrate the saints, when we think of what St. Francis did or a William Wilberforce or Mother Theresa or Martin Luther King, Jr., it is Rollins little tale about mansions that reminds us that we are all connected to those saints and there is a place for all of us there in the Kingdom. It is such humility, like a disciple wondering if there is a place for him that lies at the greatness of the saints.

As we have studied the founding fathers and mothers of our country, I think of what Ben Franklin wrote at age 28 for his epitaph:
The body of B. Franklin, Printer (Like the Cover of an Old Book Its Contents torn Out And Stript of its Lettering and Gilding) Lies Here, Food for Worms. But the Work shall not be Lost; For it will (as he Believ'd) Appear once More In a New and More Elegant Edition Revised and Corrected By the Author.
Would that we all be at our deaths in a New and More Elegant Edition Revised and Corrected By the Author. But sainthood isn’t just about looking to the past and seeing those who have done it right whether it be among our St Francis or our Benjamin Franklins nor is it looking only to heaven to know we are surrounded by their witness. It is how we live our lives now. As that old children’s hymn put it:
“For the saints of God are just folk like me, And I mean to be one too.”
This morning, Kaitlyn Marie Harrington, will be baptized, and take her place among the faithful, the saints, the body of Christ here at St. Peter's. She will be marked as Christ own forever, with the seal of Chrism upon her head. Like the multitude of saints gathered around the throne whose heads are marked with the seal of the living God. It is not a seal that is a magical means to salvation, but as the book of Revelation shows us, it is a process of growth in the faith, for God will make his home among us.

The parents and Godparents will take vows on behalf of Kaitlyn, saying just that, through their actions, their prayers, in all they do they will raise her up in the Christian faith and life. They will plant seeds of faith that by the work of the Spirit will grow with her throughout her life. You all also will take a vow to support Kaitlyn in her life in Christ. And so Christ says to you like the churches in Revelation, to keep the faith, to witness to Kaitlyn by your words and actions what it means to be a Christian here today. And you will help till the soil in which those seeds of faith are planted.

All Saints Day is our time to stop, before the rush of the holidays begins, before the last leaves fall, to reflect and remember lives that have touched us, those seeds of faith in each of us, and how those we remember this day have left their mark on our souls. For we remember those gathered before the throne and the lamb and we celebrate Kaitlyn and welcome her into the household of God. Saints are not "spooky figures, morally superior, pietistic" as William Stringfellow once described saints as
“those men and women who relish the event of life as a gift and who realize that the only way to honor such a gift is to give it away.”
Saints have their faults and foibles like anyone else, yet they lived their lives as fully human as they could, and many of them touched our lives. As we live our lives, following their examples, we are not all called to be martyrs but we are called to be saints, fully human, by giving our lives away by loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbors as ourselves, and to support Kaitlyn and each other in our lives in Christ.

If we follow that path, then we honor the saints who made that journey themselves, who now support us in prayer in the communion of saints. We need not worry about the mansions of heaven or a simple stable – for we will find Jesus there at end of our days with the saints…

For now, let us gather around this altar and this font, knowing we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. We are loved and we are blessed. Remember all the saints, like those we named in our reading from Ecclesiasticus, from the well known to the unknowns and to those in our hearts. Give thanks to God for their lives and let us live our lives as the saints we are called to be in this world. Amen.

All Saints Day (Nov. 1) & All Souls Day (Nov. 2)

“All Saints' Day is the centerpiece of an autumn triduum. In the carnival celebrations of All Hallows' Eve our ancestors used the most powerful weapon in the human arsenal, the power of humor and ridicule, to confront the power of death. The following day, in the commemoration of All Saints, we gave witness to the victory of incarnate goodness embodied in the remarkable deeds and doers triumphing over the misanthropy of darkness and devils. And in the commemoration of All Souls we proclaim the hope of common mortality expressed in our aspirations and expectation of a shared eternity.” – The Rev. Sam Portaro from “Brightest and Best”
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

O God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers: Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of your Son; that on the day of his appearing they may be manifested as your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday, October 30, 2009

God twitters creation

By melindataub | Published: October 29, 2009

God: Gosh its dark in here.
7 days ago

God: There thats better.
7 days ago

God: Hey guys im finally on twitter! Whats up?
7 days ago

God: guys?
7 days ago

God: oh right. i’m the only thing in existence, haha.
7 days ago

God: shut up i wasnt talking 2 you RT @Satan I TOO EXIST
7 days ago

God: BOOORREEDD with endless void gonna make some stuff
7 days ago

God: Hey look what I did today! Separated the darkness from the light. Universe looks like a black and white cookie.
7 days ago

God: I shall call the light day and the darkness Eileen.
7 days ago

God: Darkness doesnt look like an Eileen. Lets go with night
7 days ago

God: Also i created heaven & earth.
7 days ago

Read it all here.
Quite good!

Halloween - a Christian Holiday

Halloween is really All Hallows Eve, or the Eve of All Saints' Day:

“All Saints' Day is the centerpiece of an autumn triduum. In the carnival celebrations of All Hallows' Eve our ancestors used the most powerful weapon in the human arsenal, the power of humor and ridicule, to confront the power of death.” – Rev. Sam Portaro from “Brightest and Best”

"Halloween is the time of year when we see that Christ has so triumphed over Evil, that even little children can mock the Devil with impunity." – Fr. Victor

You, O Lord, have made us from the dust of the earth and to dust our bodies shall return; yet you have also breathed your Spirit upon us and called us to new life in you: Have mercy upon us, now and at the hour of our death; through Jesus Christ, our mediator and advocate. Amen.

A Wonderful article on Halloween and its proper place within Christendom can be found here:

YES! HALLOWEEN IS CHRISTIAN––WONDERFULLY SO!

The author is the the Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston (written before he was consecrated bishop of Virginia and posted on October 26, 2005).

My favorite quotes from his article:
"Of course I am aware that satanists, Wiccans, and other occult groups are indeed active on October 31. It is also true that some pseudo-spiritualists and some plain ole’ nut-cases use Halloween as an excuse to act out. NONE OF THIS CHANGES WHAT HALLOWEEN ACTUALLY IS OR WHAT IT MEANS IN THE CHURCH’S LIFE AND WITNESS...

The bottom line is Halloween’s relationship to All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1), one of the Church’s seven “Principal Feasts.” The celebration of any Principal Feast may begin on the evening before––thus, Christmas Eve, Twelfth Night (before Epiphany), Easter Eve (the Great Vigil), etc. Halloween is simply the eve of All Saints’ Day, which is also a baptismal feast. The great truth behind Halloween’s revels is that which we declare at every baptism: “YOU ARE SEALED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT IN BAPTISM AND ARE MARKED AS CHRIST’S OWN FOREVER.”

The most important thing to remember is this: Halloween is the time when Christians proclaim and celebrate the fact that Satan and the occult have no power over us and cannot disrupt our relationship with our Lord and Redeemer, as long as we live faithfully to Christ. We show this by making fun of such pretenders, lampooning them in their face. This is why our costumes and decorations certainly should be witches, devils, and ghosts. In the victory of Christ, Christians are privileged to do this and we must not be timid about it!

Ours is not a fearful faith, cowering from the prospect of falling unawares into Satan’s grasp. In God’s grace and your faithfulness, you ARE Christ’s own forever. Nothing supersedes that fact. Halloween is therefore one of the boldest Christian witnesses, precisely because of its highly public, graphic, and lampooning nature."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A few final thoughts on the Vatican's announcement...

Too much ink has already been written on it, but I found these articles interesting:

In the New York Times:

A.N.Wilson wrote Rock of Ages, Cleft by the Pope.
Randy Cohen wrote Can We Talk About Religion, Please?
MAUREEN DOWD wrote The Nuns’ Story

In the Boston Globe:

James Carroll wrote Vatican, a tainted olive branch

and on a satirical note:

Christian P. Hansen wrote Canterbury approves "Vatican use" rite

Ray Suarez on Stewardship



Trinity Wall Street's annual stewardship campaign recently got some help from Ray Suarez, senior correspondent for the Newshour with Jim Lehrer. Suarez was the guest preacher at the downtown Manhattan church on Oct. 25, and spoke at the parish's campaign kick-off following the service.

Have a listen!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sermon: October 25 (8 AM)

Watching the kids have such fun at our Harvest Potluck Party on Friday night and thinking about my kids and the fun they have in costumes, I am reminded of the kid-like joy that Halloween brings. Halloween is part of that celebration of life in the midst of darkness, of Christ's victory over death. All part of our All Saints celebration.
"Halloween is the time of year when we see that Christ has so triumphed over Evil, that even little children can mock the Devil with impunity." - Fr. Victor
The story of such hope, such impunity, is one we heard this morning... on the side of the road outside Jericho is Bartimaeus, son of Timeaus. He is a blind beggar. He has heard of Jesus, the miracles he has done. And now as this crowd goes in front of him, he hears that Jesus is among them. "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." Many ordered him to be quiet, to shut up, to stop bothering Jesus. But he would not give up, he had hope... "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Call him here says Jesus. When Bartimeaus hears that Jesus is calling to him, he springs up, throws off his cloak, and comes to Jesus. Just a think of someone sitting near the entrance to Jericho, giving up what he had, his few meager possessions, but he leaves those behind to see Jesus. What do you want me to do for you? asks Jesus. Rabbouni (my teacher) let me see again. He asks.

Go your faith has made you well. Immediately his sight is regained and he follows Jesus to Jerusalem. We can lean from Bartimaeus:

-what it means that Jesus is the messiah and teacher of us all
-to be persistent in one's faith, is valued by Jesus,
-when called by Jesus to follow him, to throw off all that would hold us back

He gets what the rich man was looking for a few weeks back, he gets peace in his heart, for Bartimaeus was willing to give up everything, and he follows Jesus after his healing, it his faith that sets him free, a willingness to ask and to follow where it leads.

The crowd that shouts him down, fails to see the faith in another person, wanting their own time with Jesus not to be bothered by the blind beggar. Sometimes we are blind to our own needs, and sometimes we are the crowd failing to see the needs around us. Yet we must always ask God to help "open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us."

May our eyes be opened to God's work and may we follow in faith where Jesus is leading us. Maybe this Halloween, we should dress up as blind Bartimaeus and remember his impudence and his hope in Jesus and in turn remember the faith that is inside us, for with a little help from Jesus, our eyes will be opened to the works of our God in the world today.

Let me end with a poem by Anne Sexton entitled Welcome Morning to help us open our eyes…
There is joy in all:
in the hair I brush
each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with
each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
each morning,
in the outcry of the kettle that heats my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair that cry "hello there, Anne"
each morning,
in the godhead of the table that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
each morning.

All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
each morning
and I mean, / though often forget, / to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.

So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.

The Joy that isn't shared, I've heard, dies young.
Let us see with the eyes of faith to recognizing the Spirit of God in every human being and for discerning the presence of God in every place and moment of our lives. Amen.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ian Elected -Its official!

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Dr. Ian T. Douglas of Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Mass., was elected October 24 as bishop coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut.

Douglas, 50, Angus Dun Professor of Mission and World Christianity at EDS, was elected on the second ballot out of a field of four nominees. He received 150 votes (121 needed to elect) in the lay order and 169 (140 needed to elect) in the clergy order.

His election marks the first time in the diocese's 224-year history that a priest from outside of the diocese has been elected bishop.

The election took place during the diocese's 225th annual convention at Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Episcopal Church - Who We Are (2.0)

A great video with a sense of humor.

Day I of Convention

225th Annual Diocesan Convention

Bishop has delivered his annual address. Posted here.

Standing committee election: Thom Peters elected as lay member; the Rev. Nancy Cox elected as clergy member.

Resolution #1, clergy salary, passed.
Resolution #2, budget, passed AS AMENDED.
Resolution #3, resolution on Israel and Palestine to go to Executive Council, passed.
Resolution #4, complicity in slavery and repentance, passed,
Resolution #5, renewal of companion partnership with Colombia, passed.
Resolution #6 Renew commitment to tithing, passed, with small amendment to eliminate 5-year reference.

You can find the resolutions and other details here.