Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sermon: May 24 (8 AM)

Can you believe they picked him? Over the other guy? Now, I am not talking about American Idol, how Kris Allen beat Adam Lambert for the "American Idol" title. I am talking about Matthias…You know, one of the twelve…

Can you remember the names of the 12 disciples? Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, James (The Great) and John, then Philip, Nathaniel (also called Bartholomew), Matthew, Thomas, and James, son of Alpheus (The Less), and Simon the Zealot, and Judas, son of James (also called Thaddeus), and Judas Iscariot, who lost his spot.

What about Matthias? Did you remember him? Matthias, he's not one usually remember, maybe if they did it like American Idol.. .The next Disciple of Jesus is.. ..Matthias...

No. Peter gathers the believers together to choose someone to replace Judas Iscariot. Someone who followed Jesus along the way, someone in their midst, and those gathered put forth two names, Matthias & Joseph called Barsabbas. After a brief prayer, lots are cast (an ancient way of trying to determine God's will) and Matthias was chosen to be with the 11 as a witness to the Resurrection.

Quiet Ministry. One tradition holds he went to Ethiopia. But otherwise history is silent on his ministry (as it is with the runner up, Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus)). They went about their ministry as witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, but I believe without fanfare and yet their ministry, their witness was fruitful to those whom they touched.

On Memorial Day, we remember those who gave their life for the freedom and liberty we now enjoy, so many of whom are nameless but their sacrifice still means the same. That is true of Matthias as well, we might not remember him and yet his witness still means the same, that Christ died, Christ was raised and Christ ascended.

What about our witness? We may not be well known except to our family and friends, but we play our part in God's grand scheme of things, we are witnesses today.

I think of an old story about how we witness.

The Buddhist master assembled his young charges. "Times are very hard. As you can imagine, it takes many resources to keep our school open. We are in desperate need of funds right now and I'm afraid we are forced to resort to unsavory measures in order to survive. Today I must send you into the town on the other side of the hill where many people of affluence live. You will need to steal whatever you can - money, valuables, food - if we are to continue."

"But you have taught us that it is wrong to steal," said one student.

"Yes, I have," the master agreed. "And it would be wrong if it were not absolutely necessary. Take only what we need, and no one will suffer. However, you must be very careful so no one recognizes that you are stealing. If you are caught, the reputation of our school will be tarnished forever. Do you understand the task I have given you?"

In stunned silence, the students looked at one another and then at their master. He stared at them. "Do you understand?" he asked again. They nodded.
"Very well," the master said. "Now go and get the things I have put on this list."

The students left the room reluctantly, taking the list of items from their teacher. "Remember!" he called out. "No one can know."

As he turned back to the room, he noticed one student remained. "Why are you still here? You should be with the others."

"But you have given us an impossible task," the boy cried. "How so?" the master asked.

"You told us no one could find out we were stealing. But if I were stealing, then I would be the first witness to my own actions."

"That's it!" the master shouted with joy. "That is the lesson I am trying to teach you in all of this. Now go, run after your brothers and bring them home." [From]

We know in our hearts the Good news of the Resurrection. We are witnesses to the experiences of God in our lives! So how will you witness to your Easter experience? How will you bring Good News to the world? Let me end with the words of Episcopal Bishop Steven Charleston (although I imagine St. Matthias, Apostle & Witness could have said these words too)

“I am a witness. I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in God's gospel of justice, compassion, and reconciliation. I believe in the community of God and I will work faithfully with every person to bring peace and healing to the world. I open my hands. I open my heart. I want the world to see that I am not afraid. I step gratefully into the unconditional love of God. I stand up to be counted not for what I think is right, but for what I believe to be possible. How about you? Will you stand with me? Are you a witness?”

You can find an audio version here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Prayer

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead: We give you thanks for all those your servants who have laid down their lives in the service of our country. Grant to them your mercy and light of your presence, that the good work, which you have begun in them, may be perfected; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, now and forever. Amen

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Lucifer Effect

Reading the horrible story of "child abuse at Catholic institutions in Ireland which found church leaders knew that sexual (and other) abuse was "endemic"" (read here); I was reminded of the work done by Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University, on "understanding how good people turn evil." (read here) I was also reminded of the Residential Faith Schools run in Canada which forced native children to assimilate into the dominant culture and the recent lawsuits aimed at redress for the abuse and deprivation they suffered. (read here)

Such things happen because of "dehumanization."
As Zimbardo writes "at the core of evil is the process of dehumanization by which certain other people or collectives of them, are depicted as less than human, as non comparable in humanity or personal dignity to those who do the labeling. Prejudice employs negative stereotypes in images or verbally abusive terms to demean and degrade the objects of its narrow view of superiority over these allegedly inferior persons. Discrimination involves the actions taken against those others based on the beliefs and emotions generated by prejudiced perspectives.

Dehumanization is one of the central processes in the transformation of ordinary, normal people into indifferent or even wanton perpetrators of evil. Dehumanization is like a “cortical cataract” that clouds one’s thinking and fosters the perception that other people are less than human. It makes some people come to see those others as enemies deserving of torment, torture, and even annihilation."

Too often, dehumanization happens in subtle ways that we don't even know it. Check out these thoughts about Columbine - What do we think we learned from Columbine? (I am reading Cullen's book on Columbine - my thoughts later)

What I keep coming back to are the words from our Baptismal service...

"That we are to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves and that we are called to strive for justice and peace among all and to respect the dignity of every human being." (BCP p. 305)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sermon: May 17

“To cling always to God and to the things of God – this must be our major effort, this must be the road that the heart follows unswervingly.”
These are the words of John Cassian, a monk and theologian of the late 4th and early 5th Century, who lived in the south of France. His words that we are to cling always to God for that is where our heart must follow, reminds me of the words of Jesus: “as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love."

Our hearts are to abide in love that is what Jesus asks of us; Cling to that love. "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."

Jesus wanted to get across to his disciples that to follow him is to follow his command, to love, to love God and to love each other. Jesus does not set up elaborate rules or doctrines. He tells them to love just as he has loved them, leading us to see that being in relationship is the most important aspect of our life with God and one another. And that through our love of God and others we will find joy.

And then he reminds the disciples of their relationship by calling them his friends. "I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you."

This new commandment that Jesus gives entails much since the relationship is no longer teacher to his disciples or master to his slaves, a one-way relationship of obedience. For in the ancient Mediterranean society that Jesus lived, friendship entailed much more, a relationship that expected loyalty and love. Friendship was close to being kin, you expected that person if need be to lose their life for you. And that friendship is something chosen by Jesus with his disciples. They did not seek out the teacher, Jesus chose them as his friends, and expects that their relationships will bear much fruit. "And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."

This idea of friendship with God proved to be so striking that some 300 years later St. Gregory of Nyssa would write:
"This is true perfection: not to avoid a wicked life because we fear punishment, like slaves; not to do good because we expect repayment, as if cashing in on the virtuous life by enforcing some business deal. On the contrary, disregarding all those good things which we do hope for and which God has promised us, we regard falling from God's friendship as the only thing dreadful, and we consider becoming God's friend the only thing truly worthwhile."
We are to cling to that friendship with Jesus, to make our journey along the road where being God’s friend is what the aim of our life (our heart) is to be. I think that the notion of friendship with God elevates and expands our lives. To be a true friend is to care about someone without regard to the cost to oneself, without regard for any possible repayment, and isn't that what Jesus does for us?

What's more, to think of Jesus as a friend means that we can find Jesus in our friendships with one another (to seek and serve Christ in one another). We can see the face of Jesus in the faces of those around us and catch glimpses of the Kingdom of God. As Abbot Aelred of Rievaulx, wrote in his book Spiritual Friendship in the 13th Century,
"Friendship is on the edge of the love and knowledge of God. It is a simple step from true friendship with another person to friendship with God."
Our friendship with others, the love that we share, is that fruit that Jesus expects us to bear just as he did in his own life. It is a love that unites us even in the midst of illness. I recently read this story from an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe:

"Their father was in an advanced state of dementia. His care became more than his family could provide at home, so they were forced to place him in a nursing home. But they remain devoted. Dad was always easy to love, and still is, even when the greater part of him is gone.

One night the family visited and stayed to have dinner with him. It was the usual generic dining hall fare. Dad had little to say. In his younger days he was bone-shakingly funny and the tireless, unapologetic cheerleader for his children; now he mostly repeats simple questions.

When dinner was over and everyone was getting up to leave, Dad suddenly became agitated. No one could understand what was wrong nor could he articulate his distress. Then his wise daughter-in-law had an idea. She handed him a paper napkin and a pen. He scratched away, at peace, and handed the napkin back. The napkin was the check for the meal and he was paying for it. One of his joys was to take his family to dinner.

At that moment, his family saw their dad both as he had been and what he had become. In the fog of Alzheimer's, the essence of his old and protective habit of love survived.” [From "The joy in taking the family to dinner" by Elissa Ely, The Boston Globe, March 1, 2009.]

It is that type of love that Jesus demands of us, his disciples today, a love that is both simple and deep, a love and joy that even dementia cannot destroy.

May we in our lives cling to God and to the things of God – this must be our major effort, this must be the road that the heart follows unswervingly, for it is through that love that we seek God's friendship and to share our friendship with others. For by sharing a love that God has given to us from the beginning and who loves us each and every day, we follow his commandment and we find that true joy.

It is God's gift to us to be called friends, so let us endeavor to bear that fruit in our world today. Amen.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Prayers for those on board the Shuttle

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)

To follow one of the astronauts (on Atlantis) on Twitter, go here:

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Lord's Prayer in 160 characters or less...

From the Ship of Fools...

The competition was for re-writing the Lord's Prayer for the mobile phone, using just 160 characters or less. It was judged for Ship of Fools by the Churches' Broadcasting Conference. The task itself was not easy. The traditional version of the Lord's Prayer is 372 characters long, so whittling it down to 160 characters meant cutting the prayer by more than half but without losing anything important. You can find more details here.

THE WINNER – out of a strong field of over 100 entries, Matthew
Campbell, a history student at York University, came up with the
winning entry, which is...

dad@hvn,ur spshl.we want wot u want&urth2b like hvn.giv us food&4giv r sins lyk we 4giv uvaz.don't test us!save us!bcos we kno ur boss,ur tuf&ur cool 4 eva! ok?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Prayers at the Loss of a Pet

These prayers were said as we buried our cat, Little Jack Bauer, last week.

At the Burial of a Household Pet

O God, you created all that is, and you love all that you have made: we come to you this day in grief and with thanksgiving. We grieve the death of our beloved N., who has been our companion on the way, and we thank you for the gift of his presence among us as an effective sign of the richness of your creation and of the generosity of your love; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Most merciful God, we return to you N. (this n.), a creature of your own making and your gift into our lives. We praise you for his beauty and strength, for his grace and power; we thank you for his faithful companionship in our joys and sorrows; and we bless you for the time during which you entrusted him into our care. Receive now N. (this n.) back into the arms of your everlasting love, 0 Giver of life, through whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ all that is lost to death is restored to life, and in whose Name we pray. Amen.

Prayers written by (The Reverend) Robert E. Stiefel, Ph.D.

You can find his liturgy for the loss of a pet here.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sermon: May 10 (Easter 5) Audio Version

If you want to listen to an audio version of my sermon (wmv), follow this link.

And let me know if it work/doesn't work for you.

This is my first attempt at posting an audio version of my sermon.

Sermon: May 10 (Easter 5)

Bibles. It seems natural to have them in the pew. It’s a church of course. If you go to any bookstore, they have them in abundance. Go to – they have 28,181 results for Bible. You have bibles in different languages with different helps. You name it, I bet there is a bible that has it…

And of course, all these different bibles are there to help us engage that sacred text, to try to understand its meaning for our lives today. Its not unlike a certain traveler on a deserted road in 1st Century Palestine…

An official in the court of the Queen of the Ethiopians who felt drawn to Jerusalem to worship, studying a scroll he picked up, a passage from Isaiah. He doesn’t understand the meaning behind the text, but a young man has come up to his chariot and asks if he needs help. The young man is Philip the Deacon, commissioned to be an evangelist in Acts chapter 6. He is led by the Holy Spirit to his encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch. Philip uses the text of Isaiah, to tell the eunuch about Jesus, he relates the passage to the imagery of the suffering servant found in Isaiah to what Jesus suffered in his last days.

This encounter is all about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit leads the eunuch to Jerusalem to worship and to read the text from Isaiah. He is an official of the Queen so he is able to read the text in the Hebrew or a Greek translation. But, he did not understand it. His faith was new he needed help putting the pieces together. The Spirit moves Phillip to the encounter with the eunuch and to help him understand the passage.

Now the eunuch sees water and wants to be baptized. He is prepared. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship. He travels home, continuing to study scripture. He is ready to say yes. In the earliest days, eunuchs would have been outside the covenanted community. In the book of Deuteronomy, it strictly forbids eunuchs from being a part of the community of faith. The prophets in the OT challenge this understanding. Jesus takes it one step further, and his disciples are called to go and baptize everyone. Jesus does not place limits on who can be baptized. So Philip baptizes the eunuch. The spirit sends them on their way, the eunuch goes home rejoicing and Philip goes on his way to continue proclaiming the Good News.

It does help to study scripture with someone else! But if we were in Church in the year 1524, there would be no bibles in the pews, we wouldn’t have one at home either. But one person was on a quest to change that… He fled England because he feared for his life. He was called a Heretic because he wanted to translate the Holy Scriptures into the common tongue: English. Only the Latin Vulgate was used. Luther had translated the NT into German. He wanted to translate the NT from the Greek into English.

His name was William Tyndale, and he completed the NT in English in 1526. When the work arrived in England, it was seen as subversive by those in power in England. The work was condemned. Undaunted Tyndale continued to translate other portions of the Bible into English. He wrote many other theological works. In 1535, Tyndale was betrayed by a friend, arrested and charged with Heresy. On October 6, 1536, Tyndale was strangled then burnt at the stake. October 6 has become the feast day when we remember William Tyndale.

The life that William Tyndale lived, was not in vain. Much of his work on the NT became the working text and groundwork for the bible translated into English under the reign of King James I, known as the Authorized Version of the bible or what we call the KJV. It is amazing to me the battles fought over translating the Bible. Tyndale's whole premise was that lay people as well as the clergy should have access to Holy Scripture. His battle with the religious authorities was over who controlled Scripture. He believed that lay people could be as wise as their spiritual leaders and that lay people could learn, interpret, and understand the Scriptures if they were before them in the common tongue.

Now, God has given the bible into our hands. Inspired by the Spirit, Tyndale helped translate it into English. It is there for us to encounter it today. We can be like the Ethiopian eunuch, open the Scriptures and see what they say. It can transform us, like it did for him. And like Philip, we can learn together what it means. There in the midst of inquiry and faith is the Spirit abiding in us. In many ways, we are like the eunuch and like Phillip.

We are like the eunuch because we have the honest inquiring mind that wants to learn about our faith, to deepen it. To engage in worship of God with others that does not say we have to check our minds at the door. We might even feel at times like we are outside the beloved community (like eunuch's and gentiles did), but Jesus invites us all in, the Spirit pushes us to be the Body of Christ now. No members of the body are unimportant, no members of the body are worth less than others. Bring in the doubts and questions and let us learn together. And we are also like Phillip because we want to be a faithful messenger of God. To share our story with others, to tell how Jesus is in our life. To say what we hear in Scripture and to help others understand it too.

The Holy Spirit is with us in all of this: in honest inquiry and as faithful messengers. As Jesus tells us in the Gospel that we are the branches and he the vine, and the Spirit of God is helping us on the vine to keep the commandments of God, to love and cherish our God and our neighbors. It is the Spirit that compels us to worship and it is the Spirit that is with us in our questions of faith. Just like the Spirit was with the Ethiopian Eunuch. The Spirit is with us to share our story too, like Phillip the Deacon. The Holy Spirit was with William Tyndale and others who began the process of helping us to reincorporate the Holy Scriptures into our lives. To be able to sit down and read the bible in our own language.

Tyndale's last words were "Lord, open the King of England's eyes." In 1537, less than a year after Tyndale was put to death, Mathew's Bible appeared in England, with the King's authorization. Much of that Bible was Tyndale's translation. Indeed, the eyes of King Henry VIII were open and the move to restore all of the language of the Church to English had begun in England.

May the Lord open our eyes today, to see God's work in Scripture, in our lives and in the world around us. Amen.

Mother's Day Prayer

Loving God, on this day
we thank you for the love of our mothers,
who have nurtured our souls and blessed our lives.
May we see your loving Spirit behind them and guiding them.
We pray for those mothers in our world today where war or famine, violence or illness have hindered their care for children.
We ask you to bless them with your own special love.
We ask this in the name of Jesus, who was loved by his mother Mary.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Franciscan Benediction

As spoken by Bishop Harris at the ECW Luncheon:

May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Defecting to Faith

“Most people are religious because they’re raised to be. They’re indoctrinated by their parents.”

So goes the rationale of my nonreligious friends.

Maybe, but a study entitled “Faith in Flux” issued this week by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life questioned nearly 3,000 people and found that most children raised unaffiliated with a religion later chose to join one. Indoctrination be damned. By contrast, only 14 percent of those raised Catholic and 13 percent of those raised Protestant later became unaffiliated.

(It should be noted that about a quarter of the unaffiliated identified as atheist or agnostic, and the rest said that they had no particular religion.)

So what was the reason for this flight of the unchurched to churches?

Did God appear in a bush? Did the grass look greener on the other side of the cross? Or was it a response to the social pressure of being nonreligious in a very Christian country?

None of those reasons topped the list. Most said that they first joined a religion because their spiritual needs were not being met. And the most-cited reason for settling on their current religion was that they simply enjoyed the services and style of worship.

For these newly converted, the nonreligious shtick didn’t stick. There was still a void, and communities of the faithful helped fill it.

Read the whole Op-Ed article by CHARLES M. BLOW in the NY Times.

Does God Want You to Be Bankrupt?

This week, yet another Washington debate over who deserves a break on their debts drew to a close. On Thursday, the Senate voted against allowing judges to adjust the terms of the mortgages of people filing for personal bankruptcy.

Scratch the surface of the opposition in these sorts of debates, and it tends to ooze moral righteousness. “People who get themselves in over their heads,” the upstanding declare, “need to bear some responsibility for their foolishness.”

Maybe so. But if we can’t pass legislation that gives us new tools to determine who should be eligible for debt forgiveness, we need to look elsewhere for written instruction. Given that large numbers of Americans take many of their moral cues from their spiritual beliefs, I decided to turn to the good books of some of the world’s great religions for guidance on the subject.

Just about every doctrinal expert I spoke with, no matter the background, began by mentioning slavery. In ancient times, when interest accrued and compounded, it was common for the indebted to simply work it off. Often, this took the rest of their lives. Many of the teachings that grew up around debt forgiveness aimed to avoid that sort of outcome.

Read the whole article by RON LIEBER at the NY Times.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Practicing Resurrection

Homeless Soccer Team Roots for New Life

The scruffy players in brick-red jerseys and secondhand shoes hailed from Haiti, Togo, Mexico, Honduras and Harlem. The fresh-faced team in black had neatly trimmed hair, new gear and degrees from Carnegie Mellon, Syracuse, Pace and universities in China and Australia.

Most of the players in black work together at the Royal Bank of Canada, bonded by the financial cloud hanging over their industry. The reds, too, are united by financial circumstance, sharing a temporary address, 1 Wards Island: a homeless shelter.

They faced off the other night at Chelsea Piers, perhaps Manhattan’s premier soccer spot for young professionals, and this spring also the base for the newest team in Street Soccer USA, a 16-city network of homeless players that started in 2005 in Charlotte, N.C., and is under the umbrella of Help USA, a national homeless services provider.

The idea behind homeless soccer is something like this: Take a group of poor people, disconnected from the regular rhythms of life, lacking both physical exercise and much to look forward to. Add soccer.

Read the whole article in the NY Times by JULIE BOSMAN

Monday, May 4, 2009

Sermon: Easter 4 (May 3)

In the Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe, part of that wonderful series of books written by CS Lewis about the land of Narnia, we read about Aslan the Lion, the Christ character in the series. After the Pevensie children learn about Aslan on their first trip to Narnia,

Lucy, the youngest, asks, "Is he safe?" Mr. Beaver replies, "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good."

I love that description of Aslan that He isn’t safe but he is good. What if we thought of Jesus in that way, as the Good Shepherd, he isn’t safe but he is good. Now some of that goes again the grain. Like when we hear and read the 23rd Psalm, a Psalm often recited at funerals, and we feel comforted by the words…

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.

It is a very reassuring image of God as our shepherd. Likewise, Jesus as the Good Shepherd presents us such a lovely, pastoral, calm images of Jesus and his sheep (see our stained glass window). And certainly such loving, caring images are part of our faith and there are times when we really need to hear them in our lives. But there is more to Jesus as the Good Shepherd and his care of the sheep.

As Alice Camille writes, “Jesus says his sheep hear his voice, which means we are all called. Whether we listen is another matter. But the call is issued broadly. We are called into union with God. We are called into relationship with each other. We are called to work for the harvest and to produce the work of our hands… for each of us receives the invitation to holy living. How we live that out will vary greatly, but that doesn't mean God desires any one of us less than another. Which means our lives matter — a lot. What we do with our time and energy and love matters. Our decisions count. We ought to be on a spiritual journey and not be halfhearted about it. God isn't a hobby but our ultimate destiny.” (“Hear My Voice" by Alice Camille, 2001)

Jesus contrasts his call and his role to that of the hired hand, who does it out of money, who does it for self but not out of love for others, who flees when the going gets tough. Responsibility, honor, faith only play a role as it benefits the hired hand. But the Good Shepherd who died on the cross does not expect payment, what he expects is a relationship, a relationship not based on fear or reward but on love, hope, faith.

We don't follow Jesus the Good Shepherd for a reward, we do it to find wholeness in our relationship with God and one another, we do it because we know that in God's eyes we are all children of God. We also know that by serving others, seeking out the best for them, we are serving God. And that is part of the call to follow Jesus. It does not lead us down the safe and easy path.

As we heard in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter and John were arrested for teaching about Jesus and the resurrection and they also helped heal on the Sabbath. In following the Good Shepherd, the apostles helped heal and continued to witness to their faith which put them in confrontation with the leaders who did not believe in Jesus or his works.

The Good Shepherd cares for the sheep and will lay down his life for the sake of the sheep. Likewise his apostles followed his path for the sake of the other sheep. Jesus and his way are not safe but he is good! It is this humility and compassion that we are also called to live if we follow the Good Shepherd. For our love must be not just mere words, but something active and genuine.

As we live in this of the H1N1 Flu pandemic, I think back to 1878 and those who followed the Good Shepherd in the midst of a horrible epidemic of that time.

In August, 1878, Yellow Fever invaded the city of Memphis for the third time in ten years. By the month’s end the disease had become epidemic and a quarantine was ordered. While 30,000 citizens had fled in terror, 20,000 more remained to face the pestilence. As cases multiplied, death tolls averaged 200 daily. When the worst was over ninety percent of the population had contracted the Fever; more than 5,000 people had died. In that time of panic and flight, many brave men and women, both lay and cleric, remained at their posts of duty or came as volunteers to assist despite the terrible risk. Notable among these heroes were Constance, Superior of the work of the Sisters of St. Mary in Memphis, and her Companions. The Sisters had come to Memphis in 1873, to found a Girls School adjacent to St. Mary’s Cathedral. When the 1878 epidemic began, George C. Harris, the Cathedral Dean, and Sister Constance immediately organized relief work among the stricken. Helping were six of Constance’s fellow Sisters; several local priests, three physicians, the Sisters’ two matrons, and several volunteer nurses from New York. The Cathedral buildings were located in the most infected region of Memphis. Here, amid sweltering heat and scenes of indescribable horror, these men and women of God gave relief to the sick, comfort to the dying, and homes to the many orphaned children. Only two of the workers escaped the Fever, and Constance and many others died. They have ever since been known as “The Martyrs of Memphis,” as have those of other Communions who ministered in Christ’s name during that time of desolation. (from Lesser Feasts and Fasts)

We are called to follow the Good Shepherd and his example, not to be the hired hand who has no relationship, no connection with others, but to go even when others or danger would tell us not to, not expecting a reward, but living out of the love that God has shared with each of us with a willingness to share that love with others even in the midst of a pandemic.

The stained glass window is beautiful but we can't let the Good Shepherd remain there. He's not a tame lion [of Aslan] Mr. Tumnus remarks at the end of the book, LWW: to which Lucy replies: No... but he is good.

Jesus will not be tamed but he is good and if we follow the Good Shepherd, we will find life, a life full of hope, love and faith. It may not always be the safest or easiest journey, but on that path we will find life and find it abundantly. Let me end with the prayer that is said September 9 to commemorate Constance and her companions, the martyrs of Memphis. Let us pray.

We give you thanks and praise, O God of compassion, for the heroic witness of Constance and her companions, who, in a time of plague and pestilence, were steadfast in their care for the sick and dying, and loved not their own lives, even unto death: Inspire in us a like love and commitment to those in need, following the example of the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for us, our Savior Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Bad Vicar

Thanks to Bosco at Liturgy for this.