Sunday, December 26, 2010

Celebrating the 12 days of Christmas at Home

Devotions to Lead into the New Year by Jenifer Gamber

According to the work of researcher Christian Smith, relationships and devotions are the most important contributors to a sustained faith life for teenagers. Vibrant Faith Ministries identifies four keys to passing faith in the home: caring conversations, rituals and traditions, devotional practices and service. Beginning all of these at one time can be daunting. Begin with one practice. The devotions below are one way to begin. Choose a time and a place you will gather each day. You might choose before or after dinner. If the devotions are too long, begin with the reading and reflections. Add prayers as you feel comfortable.

Invite your teen to try these devotions, or do them together as a family, during the twelve days of Christmas. The devotions lead to the Day of Epiphany when the magi arrive at the manger to adore the baby Jesus and offer him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Note: Simple modifications will make the prayers appropriate to saying them as a family.) If you miss a day, don’t be hard on yourself and return to the practice the following day.

Begin by lighting a candle to represent God’s presence with you.

Sunday, December 26

Read: Matthew 1:18-25

Reflect: When have you seen God among your family and friends this week?


Christ within me,

give me strength to be bold

when I have to make a difficult choice.

Christ before me,

lead me to see the goodness

in all creation.

Christ to win me,

open my heart to feel how much

you love me no matter what.

Christ above me,

help me use my intellect

and abilities to be your hands

and feet in the world.

(Based on “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” old Irish poem)

Monday, December 27 (Feast day of St. Stephen)

Read: Acts 6:1-7

Reflect: You have gifts that God has given you to serve the world around you. What gifts might you have? Sometimes other people can identify your gifts. Get together and name those things that others do that bring joy into the world.


Here I am Lord. I have heard you call me. You have blessed me in many ways. You have given me eyes to see your dream that all people will have enough, ears to hear the cries of your people, hands to serve, and feet to take me where the needs is great. Help me to see the good things that I can do to return your blessing.

Tuesday, December 28 (Feast of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist)

Read: John 21:19b-24

Reflect: Peter doesn’t hold back and asks Jesus questions that all the disciples might want to ask, but are too timid to do so. What questions do you have for God? Pray about them.


God of mystery, sometimes I don’t understand why things happen in the world. Help me to understand. Help me to accept. Help me to let go.

Wednesday, December 29 (Feast of the Holy Innocents)

Read: Matthew 2:13-18

Reflect: Malaria is a preventable disease, yet children in Africa die from malaria each minute. What mothers’ cry do you hear in your community?


God of mercy, tend the children who are sick today. Embrace the sorrow mothers, fathers, and anyone who cares for them. Thank you for your care.

Thursday, December 30 (Feast of Frances Joseph Gaudet)

Read: Matthew 25:34-46

Reflect: Frances Joseph Gaudet, an African American and Native American born in 1861, helped establish a school for children of working mothers. What obstacles do you think she faced in doing her work?


God of wisdom, thank you for teachers and schools. Some youth cannot get to school. Some do not have adults who can help them with their homework or a place to do their homework. Soften the hearts of people around them to remove those obstacles. Give me a heart of thanksgiving for the many ways you have blessed me with ways to learn.

Friday, December 31 (Feast of Samuel Ajayi Crowther)

Read: Matthew 9:35-38

Reflect: Read about Samuel Ajayi Crowther here. How is his work a theophany (a revelation of God and Christ in the world)?


God who has given us eyes to see and ears to hear. Uncover my eyes and unplug my ears to the world around me. Help me see You in every day things. Help me to see your glory.

Saturday, January 1 (Feast of the Holy Name)

Read: Luke 2:15-21

Reflect: Were you named after someone? Who? What does your name mean? (You can Google your name if you do not know.) Does your name reflect who you are?


God, you know me by name. When I pray help me to know your names too beginning today, the first day of the year, and all the days that follow.

Sunday, January 2

Read: John 6:41-47

Reflect: What do you think it means to have eternal life?


Life-giving God. Help me grow each day. Renew a right spirit within me. Take away all evil that keeps me from you.

Monday, January 3 (Feast of William Passavant)

Read: Luke 13:10-22

Reflect: The mustard seeds that Jesus talks about aren’t like the mustard seeds that you can buy in the spice section of the grocery store. They were so small, you could hardly see them. Read about William Passavant here. How was William Passavant like a mustard seed?


God, who makes all things possible, give me the faith of a mustard seed. Help me to reach out to others in school especially those who are lonely and shunned so that my circle of friends can grow and continue to welcome new friends.

Tuesday, January 4 (Feast of Elizabeth Seton)

Read: Luke 14:15-23

Reflect: Elizabeth faced discrimination because she was Catholic. What kinds of discrimination exist in the world today? What are its effects?


One God, we divide ourselves into many parts by culture, language, skin color, popularity, wealth, and by sex. Help us to see how we are all human and everyone deserves respect and dignity.

Wednesday, January 5

Read: John 15:1-16

Reflect: What branches in your life bear fruit? Which are not? Does that branch need tending or do you need to prune it?


God the vine-grower, Thank you for tending me and strengthening my branches so that I can bear fruit. Thank you for the joy that this fruit gives me and other people. Help me to see the ways that I do not bear fruit and guide me to prune it from my day.

Thursday, January 6 (Feast of the Epiphany)

Read: Matthew 2:1-12

Reflect: What person in your life is a star that guides you to the place where new life is born?


God, my guide, thank you for those people in my life who name my gifts. Thank you for those people who help me to tend them. Thank you for those people who help me use them others can see your great light.

Jenifer Gamber, author of “My Faith, My Life” a book for teens and “Your Faith, Your Life” for adults is a popular speaker and retreat leader on spirituality and ministry with teens. She lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Christmas in the year 2010

How social media, web and mobile tell the story of the Nativity:

December 26 Sermon (Christmas 1)

Most of our festivities are over for Christmas.
· We have opened our presents.
· We have had our feast.
· Our relatives have returned to their homes.
· Things quiet down and we begin to think about tonight’s snow and the festivities around New Years...

But the Gospel for today bids us stop and ponder the birth of Jesus anew, but not in what we have just celebrated. We have experienced both Matthew's and Luke's infancy narratives around Jesus and his birth.

But today, John's Gospel makes us consider a more cosmic and mystical side of the birth and life of Jesus. It reminds me of the revelation that the Grinch experiences after he has taken all of the presents and decorations and food from the Whos of Who-ville. They wake-up on Christmas morning and begin to sing their song; the Grinch is puzzled until he realizes that Christmas doesn't come from a store, that maybe Christmas means a little bit more. John's Gospel gets us to see that Christmas means much, much more.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God."
In the beginning, words reminiscent of Genesis, the beginning of the Bible, the beginning of our Story: The Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word, in Greek “Logos,” which also means Wisdom, The Word is both distinct from God and yet synonymous with God. The Word becomes God Incarnate, enfleshed in Jesus, both Human and Divine. Jesus has that connection with God we all long for (because he is close to the Father's heart). The Son of God, the Word, was with God from the beginning of time and helped create all there is. Jesus is the hinge that connects our creation and our redemption.
“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
That light brought rich Wise Men and poor Shepherds to the manger to glorify and praise God. It was the light in the midst of the darkness in the world. It brought grace upon grace. In the darkness, Jesus was not accepted by his own (The Gospel continues). . .but for those who did accept him, he gave power to become Children of God.
"And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth."
The word became flesh and was born for us and another pageant story comes to mind…
It was time for the annual Nativity pageant put on by the children of the church. The manger was located in front of the altar steps. Mary was there in a blue mantel and Joseph in a cotton beard. The wise men were there with a handful of shepherds, and of course, in the midst of them all was the Christ Child, lying on the straw.

The nativity story was read by the pastor with carols sung at the appropriate places, and all went like clockwork until it came time for the arrival of the angels - a "heavenly host" of the children of the congregation dressed in white and scattered throughout the pews with their parents. At the right moment the angels were supposed to come forward and gather around the manger to sing, "Glory to God in the highest" and that is just what they did - except there were so many angels that there was a fair amount of crowding and jockeying for position.

One angel, about nine years old who was smaller than most of the other angels, ended up so far out on the fringes of things that not even by craning her neck and standing on tiptoe could she see what was going on. "Glory to God in the highest" they all sang on cue, and then in the momentary pause that followed, the small girl electrified the entire church by crying out in a voice shrill with irritation and frustration and enormous sadness at having her view blocked, "Let Jesus show!"

The wise pastor decided to end the pageant right there. "Let Jesus show!" the child-angel had cried out, and while the congregation sat in stunned silence, the good father offered a quick final prayer and blessing, and everybody filed out of church with those unforgettable words ringing in their ears. [From Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons by Frederick Buechner.]
Indeed, God let it show on that first Christmas Day when the word became flesh and dwelt among us. But now it is up to us, to let it show, to help bring the meaning and gift of Christmas from here, to wherever we find ourselves. A lovely quote online put it this way:
“Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.” (Janice Maeditere)
Today, let us open our hearts for Christ is born for us, the Word has become flesh and dwelt among us, and that open heart can lead us to do what Christ asks us to do today and always, to love one another. Amen.

Christmas Day Sermon (10 AM)

The Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy wrote a charming tale about a poor shoemaker named Martin.
Life was hard for the Russian shoemaker, who lost his wife and children to sickness many years before. Now an old man, Martin lived in his one-room basement shop making and repairing shoes and boots. Tired and alone, the old shoemaker found peace in his small book of Gospels. He took the lessons of Christ to heart; more and more he saw himself in the stories and heard the Savior speaking directing to him.

Every evening after finishing the day’s work, Martin would light his small lamp and read from his book. One night he fell asleep while reading. He was awakened by a voice: “Martin!” “Who is there?” Martin called out, but saw no one. “Martin! Ah Martin! Look tomorrow on the street. I am coming.”

Martin awoke the next morning and began his day. He kept looking out his shop window, thinking about the voice he heard. As he went to his bench, he saw his old neighbor Stepanich clearing the ice and snow away from the building.

“Come in, warm yourself,” Martin called. The old man happily obliged and the two sat down to enjoy the tea Martin had made. “Are you expecting anyone?” Stepanich asked. Martin laughed, and told him about his crazy dream. The two laughed and enjoyed another glass of tea. Martin returned to his bench by the window.

As he worked, he saw a woman carrying a child. The woman was dressed in shabby summer clothes and had nothing to wrap her baby in. Martin ran outside and invited them in out of the cold. He heated some cabbage soup and found a blanket for the baby. The woman’s husband was a soldier and had been away seven months. She and the child were destitute; she had just pawned her only shawl for a few cents. Martin pulled out an old trunk from under his bed and found some of his wife’s winter clothes and an old coat. As the woman offered her tearful thanks, Martin pressed a twenty-kopek piece into her hand.

Later that afternoon his work was interrupted by shouting outside his window. An old apple woman had a little boy by his hair, screaming at him. The boy had tried to steal one of the woman’s apples but she caught him. She threatened to take him to the police. The boy denied he had tried to take the apple. Martin entreated the old woman, “Let him go. He won’t do it again. Here, take this for the apple.” The boy tried to run off but Martin grabbed him. “Ask for the Granny’s forgiveness and don’t do it again; I saw you taking the apple.” And the boy apologized. Martin and the old woman then shared memories of their own children before wishing each other well. Martin returned to his bench and worked until dark, and forgot about his dream.

That night, Martin heard the voice again. “Martin — ah Martin! Did you not recognize me?” “Who?” uttered Martin. “Me,” replied the voice. “It is I” and Stepanich stepped out of the darkness. “And this is I,” said the voice, and the young mother and her child appeared. “And this is I,” continued the voice, and the old apple woman and the boy stepped forward.

And Martin realized that the Savior had called upon him that day and Martin had received him.
Christ is born as a tiny baby, an old man, a young mother, an old woman, a child, a stranger, a friend. Christ comes to us at all hours, and in all people. May we be open to greet him whenever he appears, and may he be born in our hearts this day. Merry Christmas!

Christmas Eve Sermon (10 PM)

“Crowds of Americans rioting in the streets. Two opposing groups shout loudly, vying to have their messages heard and heeded. The groups meet. Confrontation ensues. Fistfights break out. Church windows are smashed. What are these rioters fighting about? Christmas. One group favors celebrating Christmas, the other opposes all Christmas observances. This isn't an imaginary event, it is history. It happened in Boston on Christmas day in 1706.” (from Paul Flesher)
The anti-Christmas group consisted largely of Congregationalists, Baptists, and Presbyterians, while the pro-Christmas group comprised mostly of Episcopalians. This didn’t happen just once in Boston. This would happen elsewhere…
“On Christmas Eve 1806, two decades after St. Peter’s RC church was built in Lower Manhattan of NYC, the building was surrounded by Protestants incensed at a celebration going on inside — a religious observance then viewed by some in the United States as an exercise in “popish superstition,” more commonly referred to as Christmas. Protesters tried to disrupt the service. In the melee that ensued, dozens were injured, and a policeman was killed.” (from NY Times)
The War on Christmas started long ago, and is still being fought by some today. And yet, it seems to me, we spend too much worrying about it, rather than taking the message of this most Holy Night to heart. Whether others are celebrating as we wish they would, its really upon us, to heed the message and live it in our lives. God challenges our hearts “to prepare him room,” to make a place for the Child of Bethlehem to transform our hearts and homes. This is a story about someone taking it too heart…
It was Christmas Eve at New York’s famed Riverside Church. The Christmas pageant was on and had come to the point where the innkeeper was to say that there was no room at the inn for Joseph and Mary pregnant with Jesus. The part seemed perfect for Tim, an earnest and faithful member of the congregation who had Down Syndrome. Only one line to memorize, and he had practiced it again and again with his parents and with the pageant director. He seemed to have mastered it.

So there was Tim standing at the altar, a bathrobe over his clothes, as Mary and Joseph made their way down the center aisle. They approached him, said their lines, and waited for his reply. “There’s no room at the inn,” Tim boomed out, just as rehearsed.

But then, as Mary and Joseph turned to travel further, Tim suddenly yelled, “Wait!” Mary and Joseph turned back, startled. “You can stay at my house,” Tim called. Thinking quickly, the minister went to the pulpit and said, “Amen!”

The congregation repeated the Amen – and both the pageant and the planned sermon came to an unexpected but perfect completion with the singing of Joy to the World. [From Short Sermons on the Run by Walter J. Burghardt.]
Tim got it. The miracle of Christmas, the holy gift is that in the Child of Bethlehem, God makes his dwelling here and now, in our homes and in our hearts. On this most Holy Night, when our souls are full of hope, let us rejoice for our Lord is born, and it is up to us to say, yes, stay with me Lord. As an old Christmas carol puts it:

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! Amen.

Christmas Eve Sermon (5 PM)

Just a few minutes ago, you helped me with our Nativity (our crèche). There is always a donkey and an ox in the manger. I wonder why? Well, here’s a story about that…
Once upon a time as Joseph and Mary made their way to Beth­lehem an angel called a meeting with all the animals of the earth to choose which of them would attend the birth and be allowed in the cave with the newborn child. The animals were all ex­cited and wanted to be there, of course. First, the lion roared and said, "I am the king of all the animals. It is only right that I am allowed to be there. I will defend the child and tear to pieces anyone who tries to harm him." The angel cringed and said, "Too loud and scary for the baby."

Then the fox came forward. "I will stand guard over the child, and I'll make sure the baby has good food every day In fact, I will steal a chicken every day for the family. The angel looked hard at the fox and said, "We don’t need a thief."

The peacock strutted forward and said, "Let me. I'll spread my feathers, and I'll decorate the cave in a style fit truly for a king. It will rival Solomon's own temple." The angel sighed and said, "Too proud."

One by one the animals came forward with their reasons why they should be the ones allowed inside. Birds swooped about, darting in and out, making a loud noise. The angel said, "Too loud and disruptive for the baby."

The poor angel was getting frustrated and thought, "Why are these animals so much like humans?" The angel looked to see if anyone had been missed and noticed some animals in the field. They were rather old and slow moving, and they had said noth­ing and were not even in the group. The ox and the donkey were summoned to the meeting, and the angel asked what they would do for the child and his mother on that night.

They looked at each other and neither said anything. They both looked down at the ground and at last the ox said, "We learned a long time ago not to do anything out of line; to be humble and patient and long suffering. Anything else we ever did got us less food and more whippings." They hung their heads and swished their tails. Then the donkey said quietly, "Well, we could keep the flies away by swinging our tails and keep the air moving in the cave."

The angel smiled delightedly, "Exactly! You'll both do per­fectly. Come, we must move quickly. Tonight is the night." (story by Willi Hoffsuemmer)
This is the night that we remember and tell the story of Jesus who is born, poor, humble, and lowly, to a world weary and battle-worn. Tonight, shepherds will leave their flocks to find the Good News in the manger, angels will sing And nearby two animals will stand their watch with this new baby, a baby born for all of us.

So tonight when you head off to bed, remember the baby Jesus born humbly in a manger, with those animals nearby helping him and his parents. Let us end with a prayer, a prayer I use from a verse in Away in a Manger. Repeat after me:

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray;
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And fit us for Heaven to live with Thee there. Amen.

May all of us gathered here tonight, with the awe of the shepherds, the voice of the angels and the humility of those animals, remember in our hearts that tonight there is good news of great joy for us all: born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Amen.

December 19 Sermon (Advent 4)

When it comes to the Nativity, we think of Mary & Jesus, the animals in the stable, the angels singing overhead, the shepherds who will come leaving their sheep, the magi bringing gifts and Joseph.

Joseph is always there but he does seem at times to be a side character, not as important as the others. I think of a Nativity Icon, that captures all the different stories of Christmas and there Joseph sits in the corner of the icon, with his head resting in his hands wondering what has happened…

But it is Gospel of Matthew who reminds us of the importance of Joseph, b/c Matthew tells us that Jesus is named by the angel to Joseph in a dream. Dreams play important roles in the lives of so many characters in the bible. For Joseph, when he heard the angel speak to him in that dream, he had a decision to make. Joseph was engaged to be married to Mary. He found out she was pregnant. He knew it wasn’t his. What was he to do?

He could throw her out, and make a huge stink and let everyone know about the child conceived out of wedlock. He could get the people to ostracize her, maybe even stone her to death. But Joseph was a righteous man, and he decided to dismiss her quietly, a generous and merciful act. But in that dream an angel of the Lord appears to him and everything changes. I think the poet and author Rainer Rilke captured that moment:
AND the angel, taking due pains, told the man who clenched his fists: But can't you see in her robe's every fold that she is cool as the Lord's morning mists?

But the other, gazing gloomily, just murmured: What is it has wrought this change in her? Then cried the angel to him: Carpenter, can't you see yet that God is acting here? Because you plane the planks, in your pride would you really make the Lord God answerable who unpretentiously from the same wood makes the leaves burst forth, the young buds swell?

He understood that. And now as he raised his frightened glance toward the angel who was gone already . . . slowly the man drew his heavy cap off. Then in song he praised.
It is a startling dream and it must have shook his soul, but in the end he did praise, he did accept it.
“Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit, and you will name him Jesus and he will save his people from their sins.”
Joseph had set his mind on leaving her. He could have said no to the angel. But Joseph does not, he listens, he takes Mary as his wife. And Jesus is born. And all will change because of this child. The words of Isaiah ring in our ears:
“The young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” and “he will refuse the evil and choose the good.”
One of my favorite nativity sets I have seen has Mary lying down and Joseph standing holding the baby Jesus. Not only did Joseph say yes, but he indeed became Jesus’ father and loved him as his own. When we hear these readings we look back, we can see God's saving work in Isaiah and in the Gospel of Matthew. God has sought out men and women to be in relationship with their God, the creator, and to guide them toward salvation.

In each reading God speaks of salvation through the birth of a child. For our God is the Lord of heaven and earth, of the history of nations and from the greatest in Israel to the least; for Emmanuel, God is with us. Let us follow Joseph's example: The willingness to change our mind when confronted by God’s word and God’s spirit. The courage in the midst of fear to follow God’s way even if one does not know where it may lead. In the words of W. H. Auden:
To choose what is difficult all one’s days As if it were easy, that is faith. Joseph, praise.
May we have the courage and faith of Joseph, to say yes to God, to welcome the birth of Jesus at Christmas with all the anticipation and hope that we have had this season of Advent. For it is a time to rejoice and as Madeline L’engle put it:
GOD did not wait till the world was ready, till . . . nations were at peace. God came when the Heavens were unsteady, and prisoners cried out for release. God did not wait for the perfect time. God came when the need was deep and great… We cannot wait till the world is sane to raise our songs with joyful voice, for to share our grief, to touch our pain, God came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

December 12 Sermon (Advent 3)

“Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he,” said Jesus.
John the Baptist had his ministry. He baptized for the forgiveness of sins in the river Jordan. He had disciples too, and they must have taken part in his ministry, helping with those baptisms. He did his work, because he felt God had led him to do it and he must have known that his opposition to the power elite, King Herod, and to religious leaders too, Pharisees & Sadducees, would bring trouble. And it did. He was thrown into prison to quiet his work, and he knew he would be executed,. And yet, he continues to look to see how God is acting in the world and sends his disciples out. Because maybe, just maybe his cousin Jesus is also following God’s call, could he be the messiah?
"Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."
John was the messenger, who was preparing the way for the one who was to come after him. He knew he was not the messiah. Who is this messiah? Jesus uses the words of Isaiah, the messiah is the one who makes:

· the blind see
· the lame walk
· the lepers cleansed
· the deaf hear
· the dead raised
· the poor brought good news

This is not like those in power: those in soft robes, living in the royal palaces. When the crowds came out to see John, Jesus said, they went to see someone who is a prophet, and more than that, the messenger preparing for the messiah. They didn’t go to see John in fine robes. And yet, people have always been interested in those who have those soft robes and live in royal palaces.

Growing up, I remember watching Robin Leach and his show: Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. And aren’t we fascinated by those who seem to have it all, for we with our “champagne wishes and caviar dreams,” long for such things. Jesus and John stand in such sharp contrast to such thinking.
“Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
There is a strong tone of humility in these words uttered by Jesus. John is great but even the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Such humility is why Jesus is not interested in our judging others, but in our serving others. It is John and Jesus who ask us to do much more than long for being rich & famous but to jump in and do the work that God calls us each to do. Friday, December 10 was Human Rights Day – did you know? – a day that “recognizes the work of human rights defenders worldwide who act to end discrimination.” (according to the UN)

The website introduces us to such defenders in Mozambique, Botswana, Serbia, Russia, Cambodia and the Palestinian Territories. Their work puts them in direct opposition to others who are using discrimination to gain the advantage in those societies.
“While some human rights defenders are internationally renowned, many remain anonymous and undertake their work often at great personal risk to themselves and their families.” (from the UN website)
Such is the work of God, that is risk taking… to bring Good News to those in need.
“It is not a role that requires a professional qualification. What it depends on is regard for our fellow human beings, an understanding that we are all entitled to the full range of human rights and a commitment to seeing that ideal become a reality.” Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
As a Christian, such is our role in this world, to have regard for our fellow human beings, to speak out against any discrimination and to help bring the Good News that we have felt to everyone. On this third Sunday of Advent, we are reminded that we are to bring joy into our lives and that of others. We are the ones now helping to bring the light into the darkness. In our own way to help: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers be healed, the deaf hear, the dead have new life, and the poor have good news brought to them.

What does this look like?

There are members in this community who are part of the Lions Club – one of their ministries is to take prescription glasses we no longer need and find someone who can use them, in a developing country. They are helping make the blind see. It is that humble service that we all can do. In the words of Winston Churchill:
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
Our challenge is to be God’s messengers today, to see the miracles and resurrections taking place in our midst and reveal and celebrate them, to lift them up for all to see. To give so that our lives may be enriched and so others may simply live. Amen.

December 5 Sermon (Advent 2)

“Simplify, simplify, simplify.” – Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden.
Simplify. For Thoreau, this meant living outside Concord, MA and its people by going to the edge of the woods, to live off the land in Walden. He simplified his life so he could “live deliberately” as he put it. The idea of simplifying may seem like a killjoy, taking all the pleasure out of this time of year. But certainly that was not Thoreau’s idea, “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” And that’s what made him change his life.

Certainly when John the Baptist preached on the edge of a river, calling people to repent from sin, he did this so people’s lives could be changed, that they would mark a new direction. Advent is such a change for us, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the times, Advent is all about patience and anticipation.

Ask any pregnant mother what it means to live with patience and anticipation of a joyous birth! Ask any child right now about Christmas, they are practicing patience (as best they can!) as they anticipate their Christmas gifts.

As our society engorges itself on everything Christmas, our season of Advent can be helpful to maintain balance when the season can be too much hustle and bustle, too much buying, too much of well, everything. The season of Advent anticipates the birth of Christ and Christ’s return, and we celebrate such an event through the parties we have, the gifts we give and the merriment of the times! All good things!

And shouldn’t we be the most joyful this time of year as we anticipate our savior’s birth and await his return? If we aren’t, then we need to ask why?

As I sat with this question, why we are so discontented sometimes, I thought of a life we celebrated this week, a beloved member of this community, Jane Cottle who along with her husband Bill have been members of St. Peter’s for 53 years. And not just members, they have been active members in all aspects, their sweat, their tears, their joy, their time, talents & treasurer have helped with our mission and ministry.

But when anyone talked about Jane, it was her infectious smile they remembered, along with her wit, her wonderful one liners, those great interactions with her, it wasn’t the stuff of life they remembered nor was that what she loved. It was her family and friends.

That is what Advent calls us to do. As we await with patience, the coming of God into our midst, we are to remember that what is most important, is to share our love, with family and friends and even strangers. A
chronically ill toddler could not always go along with her brother and sister on their various adventures. But at Christmas time, Mom and Dad assured her that she would get to meet Santa. For weeks the little girl spoke of nothing but her coming visit to Santa; Mom prayed for a Santa who would live up to her daughter’s expectations. Finally, on one of the sick little girl’s better days, Mom decided to take the chance.

In order to avoid lengthy lines, they arrived just as the mall was opening and Santa was settling into his big chair. When the little girl saw him, she squealed, “Santa Claus!” and darted past the assistant elves toward Santa. The slightly startled Santa greeted her with a big smile and swept her into his ample lap. She snuggled in, stroked his beard and uttered in joyful awe, “Santa!” For several minutes, Santa and the little girl talked and laughed like two old friends, oblivious to the small crowd gathering to share in the magic of the moment.

The toddler’s mother stood nearby, her eyes filled with tears of joy. Just then, a man edged over to her and, to her surprise, she noticed that his eyes were as moist as hers. “Is that your little girl?” he asked quietly. The woman nodded. With a catch in his voice and quiet pride, the man said, “Santa is my son.” [Ruth Dalton, Catholic Digest.]
Advent and love go together. Gifts are just tokens of that love. Parties are those celebrations of love, but what matters most is our relationships.
“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” ~ Hans Hofmann
The necessary is what we do for others, in the love we share. For this season of Advent is our time to suck the marrow out of life in wonderful anticipation of what is to come. To hear, John the Baptist calling us to repent, to not gorge ourselves in a Christmas that began weeks ago that is all centered on shopping and stuff.

It is the journey we make to Christmas, all the steps, all the preparations that will make Christmas into the joyful event we want it to be. Full of hope and peace, full of joy and anticipation, where life is ready to repent and to forgive, where life is ready and eager to simply meet Christ again this Christmas. Amen.

Advent Prayers

from the Book of Common Prayer...

(1) Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(2) Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(3) Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver
us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

(4) Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

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.


Instructions on Gratitude By David Steindl-Rast, OSB

Whatever is given is a gift—even the most difficult experiences and traumatic events can be seen as Wake-Up calls, and therefore gifts. And the appropriate response to any gift is gratitude. In the depth of our heart, we can turn fear into courageous trust, agitation and confusion into stillness, isolation into a sense of belonging, alienation into love, and irrational reaction into Common Sense. The creative imagination of gratefulness will suggest to each one of us how to go about this task. Here are five small gestures that can help you show gratitude and stay awake.

1. All gratitude expresses trust. Suspicion will not even recognize a gift as gift: who can prove that it isn't a lure, a bribe, a trap? Gratefulness has the courage to trust and so overcomes fear. The air has been electrified by fearfulness these days, a fearfulness fostered and manipulated by politicians and the media. There lies our greatest danger: fear perpetuates violence. Mobilize the courage of your heart, as the truly awake ones are doing. Say one word today that gives a fearful person courage.

2. Because gratitude expresses courage, it spreads calm. Calm of this kind is quite compatible with deep emotions. Join the truly compassionate ones who are calm and strong. From the stillness of your heart's core reach out. Calmly hold someone's hand today and spread calm.

3. When you are grateful, your heart is open—open towards others, open for surprise. During big wake-up calls in your life, or in our collective lives, we often see remarkable examples of openness: strangers helping strangers often in heroic ways. Others turn away, isolate themselves, dare even less than at other times to look at each other. Violence begins with isolation. Break this pattern. Make contact with people whom you normally ignore—eye-contact at least—with the agent at the toll booth, the parking lot attendant, someone on the elevator. Look a stranger in the eyes today and realize that there are no strangers.

4. You can feel either grateful or alienated, but never both at the same time. Gratefulness drives out alienation; there is not room for both in the same heart. When you are grateful you know that you belong to a network of give-and-take and you say "yes" to that belonging. This "yes" is the essence of love. You need no words to express it; a smile will do to put your "yes" into action. Don't let it matter to you whether or not the other one smiles back. Give someone an unexpected smile today and so contribute your share to peace on earth.

5. What your gratefulness does for yourself is as important as what it does for others. Gratefulness boosts your sense of belonging; your sense of belonging in turn boosts your Common Sense. Your "yes" to belonging attunes you to the common concerns shared by all human beings. We have only one enemy, our common enemy: violence. Common Sense tells us: we can stop violence only by stopping to act violently; war is no way to peace. Listen to the news today and put at least one item to the test of Common Sense.

You can find more on his ideas of Gratitude here.

Christ the King Sermon (Nov. 21 - Proper 29)

How do we follow our king on this Christ the King Sunday? King?

Think of the images…

Jeremiah – Shepherds (scatter flock) & raise up a righteous king

Jesus – King & Humility (Crucifixion)

Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy (1903)
It once occurred to a certain king, that if he always knew the right time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to listen to, and whom to avoid, and, above all, if he always knew what was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything he might undertake. And this thought having occurred to him, he had it proclaimed throughout his kingdom that he would give a great reward to anyone who would teach him what was the right time for every action, and who were the most necessary people, and how he might know what was the most important thing to do.

And learned men came to the King, but they all answered his questions differently.

[In reply to the first question, some said that to know the right time for every action, one must draw up in advance, a table of days, months and years, and must live strictly according to it. Only thus, said they, could everything be done at its proper time. Others declared that it was impossible to decide beforehand the right time for every action; but that, not letting oneself be absorbed in idle pastimes, one should always attend to all that was going on, and then do what was most needful. Others, again, said that however attentive the King might be to what was going on, it was impossible for one man to decide correctly the right time for every action, but that he should have a Council of wise men, who would help him to fix the proper time for everything. But then again others said there were some things which could not wait to be laid before a Council, but about which one had at once to decide whether to undertake them or not. But in order to decide that, one must know beforehand what was going to happen. It is only magicians who know that; and, therefore, in order to know the right time for every action, one must consult magicians. Equally various were the answers to the second question. Some said, the people the King most needed were his councilors; others, the priests; others, the doctors; while some said the warriors were the most necessary. To the third question, as to what was the most important occupation: some replied that the most important thing in the world was science. Others said it was skill in warfare; and others, again, that it was religious worship.]

All the answers being different, the King agreed with none of them, and gave the reward to none. But still wishing to find the right answers to his questions, he decided to consult a hermit, widely renowned for his wisdom. The hermit lived in a wood which he never quitted, and he received none but common folk.

So the King put on simple clothes, and before reaching the hermit’s cell dismounted from his horse, and, leaving his bodyguard behind, went on alone. When the King approached, the hermit was digging the ground in front of his hut. Seeing the King, he greeted him and went on digging. The hermit was frail and weak, and each time he stuck his spade into the ground and turned a little earth, he breathed heavily. The

King went up to him and said: “I have come to you, wise hermit, to ask you to answer three questions: How can I learn to do the right thing at the right time? Who are the people I most need, and to whom should I, therefore, pay more attention than to the rest? And, what affairs are the most important and need my first attention?” The hermit listened to the King, but answered nothing. He just spat on his hand and recommenced digging.

“You are tired,” said the King, “let me take the spade and work awhile for you.” “Thanks!” said the hermit, and, giving the spade to the King, he sat down on the ground. When he had dug two beds, the King stopped and repeated his questions. The hermit again gave no answer, but rose, stretched out his hand for the spade, and said: “Now rest awhile – and let me work a bit.” But the King did not give him the spade, and continued to dig.

One hour passed, and another. The sun began to sink behind the trees, and the King at last stuck the spade into the ground, and said: “I came to you, wise man, for an answer to my questions. If you can give me none, tell me so, and I will return home.” “Here comes some one running,” said the hermit, “let us see who it is.”

The King turned round, and saw a bearded man come running out of the wood. The man held his hands pressed against his stomach, and blood was flowing from under them. When he reached the King, he fell fainting on the ground moaning feebly. The King and the hermit unfastened the man’s clothing. There was a large wound in his stomach. The King washed it as best he could, and bandaged it with his handkerchief and with a towel the hermit had. But the blood would not stop flowing, and the King again and again removed the bandage soaked with warm blood, and washed and rebandaged the wound.

When at last the blood ceased flowing, the man revived and asked for something to drink. The King brought fresh water and gave it to him. Meanwhile the sun had set, and it had become cool. So the King, with the hermit’s help, carried the wounded man into the hut and laid him on the bed. Lying on the bed the man closed his eyes and was quiet; but the King was so tired with his walk and with the work he had done, that he crouched down on the threshold, and also fell asleep –so soundly that he slept all through the short summer night.

When he awoke in the morning, it was long before he could remember where he was, or who was the strange bearded man lying on the bed and gazing intently at him with shining eyes. “Forgive me!” said the bearded man in a weak voice, when he saw that the King was awake and was looking at him. “I do not know you, and have nothing to forgive you for,” said the King. “You do not know me, but I know you. I am that enemy of yours who swore to revenge himself on you, because you executed his brother and seized his property. I knew you had gone alone to see the hermit, and I resolved to kill you on your way back.

But the day passed and you did not return. So I came out from my ambush to find you, and I came upon your bodyguard, and they recognized me, and wounded me. I escaped from them, but should have bled to death had you not dressed my wound. I wished to kill you, and you have saved my life. Now, if I live, and if you wish it, I will serve you as your most faithful slave, and will bid my sons do the same. Forgive me!”

The King was very glad to have made peace with his enemy so easily, and to have gained him for a friend, and he not only forgave him, but said he would send his servants and his own physician to attend him, and promised to restore his property. Having taken leave of the wounded man, the King went out into the porch and looked around for the hermit.

Before going away he wished once more to beg an answer to the questions he had put. The hermit was outside, on his knees, sowing seeds in the beds that had been dug the day before. The King approached him, and said: “For the last time, I pray you to answer my questions, wise man.” “You have already been answered!” said the hermit still crouching on his thin legs, and looking up at the King, who stood before him.

“How answered? What do you mean?” asked the King. “Do you not see?” replied the hermit. “If you had not pitied my weakness yesterday, and had not dug these beds for me, but had gone your way, that man would have attacked you, and you would have repented of not having stayed with me. So the most important time was when you were digging the beds; and I was the most important man; and to do me good was your most important business. Afterwards, when that man ran to us, the most important time was when you were attending to him, for if you had not bound up his wounds he would have died without having made peace with you. So he was the most important man, and what you did for him was your most important business.

Remember then: there is only one time that is important–Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. The most necessary man is he with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with anyone else: and the most important affair is, to do him good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!”
And I would dare say that is how Jesus lived his life: in the now, with those whom he was with and he always did good. What kind of King is this?
Napolean Bonaparte: “Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I founded empires; but what foundation did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded an empire upon love; and at this hour millions [of men] would die for Him.”
Jesus, who is “the King of Love My Shepherd is…”

If we follow our Lord & King, then: we do it now, for the persons we are with, and we do good (for it is the empire of Love that we long to belong too). Amen.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Live Like were Dying Lyrics

Sometimes we fall down, can't get back up
We're hiding behind skin that's too tough
How come we don't say I love you enough?
'Til it's to late, it's not too late

Our hearts are hungry for a food that won't come
And we could make a feast from these crumbs
And we're all staring down the barrel of a gun
So if your life flashed before you, what would you wish you would've done?

Yeah, we gotta start lookin' at the hands of the time we've been given
If this is all we got, then we gotta start thinkin'
If every second counts on a clock that's tickin'
Gotta live like we're dying

We only got 86 400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away
We gotta tell 'em that we love 'em while we got the chance to say
Gotta live like we're dying

And if your plane fell out of the skies
Who would you call with your last goodbye?
Should be so careful who we left out of our lives
And when we long for absolution, there will be no one on the line

Yeah, we gotta start lookin' at the hands of the time we've been given
If this is all we got, then we gotta start thinkin'
If every second counts on a clock that's tickin'
Gotta live like we're dying

We only got 86 400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away
We gotta tell 'em that we love 'em while we got the chance to say
Gotta live like we're dying, oh, like we're dying, oh, like we're dying
Like we're dying, oh, like we're dying

We only got 86 400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away
We gotta tell 'em that we love 'em while we got the chance to say
Gotta live like we're dying

You never know a good thing 'til it's gone
You never see a crash 'til it's head on
Why do we think we're right when we're dead wrong?
You never know a good thing 'til it's gone

Yeah, gotta start lookin' at the hands of the time we've been given
If this is all we got, then we gotta start thinkin'
If every second counts on a clock that's tickin'
Gotta live like we're dying

We only got 86 400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away
We gotta tell 'em that we love 'em while we got the chance to say
Gotta live like we're dying, oh, like we're dying, oh, like we're dying
Like we're dying, oh, like we're dying

We only got 86 400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away
We gotta tell 'em that we love 'em while we got the chance to say
Gotta live like we're dying

Kris Allen: Live Like We're Dying Lyrics
Songwriters: Frampton, Andrew Marcus; Kipner, Stephen Alan; O'Donoghue, Daniel John; Sheehan, Mark Anthony;

November 14 Sermon (proper 28)

The end is near. Repent. This theme of the end times, thoroughly biblical has always struck me as strange. I know for many it has been helpful, some have been obsessed. I have never found predicting the end as useful. As humans we have expected the end around certain dates on the calendar: the year 1000 was one such moment, Y2K (the year 2000) another, others used elaborate (or not so elaborate) mathematical means to compute the date from biblical codes or clues from the bible. Some have looked to plagues, earthquakes, astrological signs all as predictors of the end times.

Of course, all of those predictions failed, there were many great disappointments, many lay folk angry at clergy for giving dates that proved to be untrue. But we still think about the end times, its been in our music… In 1969, there was a hit song called “In the Year 2525” – a one hit wonder that explored our unease with technology and wondered if life would ever end, and in the year 7510 the song said, if God’s a coming, he ought to be here by then…The song writer Prince had a hit song called 1999 an apocalyptic, yet upbeat party song. In 1987, the rock band REM came out with the song, “It’s the End of the World as We know it, and I feel fine.”

Many may remember that this song was played on Fox after the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. [Some did say that the Red Sox victory was a sign that the end times were near, however, such thinking really only holds for the Chicago Cubs if they ever win the world series.] The end times have been explored in countless movies from the recent 2012 (based on the Mayan Calendar) with oceans covering the earth, to asteroids, nuclear war, etc. You have the great poets who wonder too…
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great And would suffice. Robert Frost
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper. TS Eliot
So what should we think about the end times? When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said,
"As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."
Such words from Jesus must have surprised and frightened those who heard it. The temple, destroyed !?! And in fact, the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed in the year 70 by the Romans – many of the items being taken to Rome as the spoils of the sacking. But Jesus words weren’t predictions but reminders that the things they will build, even beautiful, God dedicated buildings, like everything else will one day end.

Where our hope must be placed, is on what God has given to us, our faith, not on an earthly thing. There will be others claiming to be Jesus, offering salvation, do not believe them says Jesus. Don’t be terrified of natural events, these are just the beginning. Some will even be persecuted for following me, says Jesus. And we have seen that in today’s world.

But this doesn’t give us clues about the exact end date, it is as if Jesus expects us to live our lives faithfully no matter what happens.
“It may be that the day of judgment will dawn tomorrow; and in that case, we shall gladly stop working for a better future. But not before.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer
As we number our days on earth, we know that no one will live here on earth forever. The challenge from Jesus is for us to live faithfully right now, building a better future for our world, gaining the endurance for our souls as he put it, and to live even if we don’t know when it will all end for us. In 2009, a song was released by Kris Allen, an American Idol winner, entitled Live like were Dying, with lyrics saying…
Looking at the hands of the time we've been given
If this is all we got and we gotta start thinking
If every second counts on a clock that's ticking
Gotta live like we're dying

We only got 86 400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away
We gotta tell 'em that we love 'em while we got the chance to say
Gotta live like we're dying
Indeed, we gotta live like we are dying, for that would be to live faithfully even in the midst of death. No matter when the end comes, if we love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, if we do what is right, we have it covered and need not fear what is to come, today, tomorrow or the year 7510. Amen.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In Flanders Field

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

A thought on peace...

Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war. ~ Otto von Bismarck

Almighty God our heavenly Father, guide the nations of the world into the way of justice and truth, and establish among them that peace which is the fruit of righteousness, that they may become the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. (BCP)

Veterans Day Prayers

Governor of Nations, our Strength and Shield:
we give you thanks for the devotion and courage
of all those who have offered military service for this country:

For those who have fought for freedom;
for those who laid down their lives for others;
for those who have borne suffering of mind or of body;
for those who have brought their best gifts to times of need.

On our behalf they have entered into danger,
endured separation from those they love,
labored long hours, and borne hardship in war and in peacetime.

Lift up by your mighty Presence those who are now at war;
encourage and heal those in hospitals or mending their wounds at home;
guard those in any need or trouble;
hold safely in your hands all military families;
and bring the returning troops to joyful reunion and tranquil life at home;

Give to us, your people, grateful hearts
and a united will to honor these men and women
and hold them always in our love and our prayers;
until your world is perfected in peace through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

(Compiled by the Rev. Jennifer Phillips)


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 people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept it disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN. (BCP)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Word from the Desert

"Let Christians care for nothing that they cannot take away with them. We ought rather to seek after that which will lead us to Heaven; namely wisdom, chastity, justice, virtue, an ever watchful mind, care for the poor, firm faith in Christ, a mind that can control anger, hospitality. Striving after these things, we shall prepare for ourselves a dwelling in the land of the peaceful, as it says in the Gospel." ~ Athanasius, Life of St. Anthony


"Summit on Happiness," hosted by Emory University's Center for the Study of Law and Religion, gathered spiritual leaders from the Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist traditions.

An article on the summit said:

His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, the star of the show, has said that the very purpose of life is to be happy, so long as "one person or group does not seek happiness or glory at the expense of others." He didn't disappoint at the summit, sticking up for happiness as well as world peace at every opportunity, and laughing or chuckling fairly consistently throughout the event.

The Dalai Lama was joined on the panel by the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and Islamic scholar Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University.

They agreed wholeheartedly that faithfulness and happiness were not mutually exclusive.
You can read the whole article by Mary Loftus, here.

What did they say? Here's one excerpt:
Happiness is not all about us.

"Jesus' ministry, his public work, is most essentially focused on feeding, healing and teaching people -- in that order," said Jefferts Schori. "Using the blessings of this world for the benefit of all."

"Once it was asked of a great Sufi master, 'What do you want?' and he said, 'I want not to want,'" said Nasr. "We must transcend the stifling prison of the ego."
You can find more about the summit here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Civil Exchange

Thinking about civility? Take a look at this...

A glimpse at Sparky Anderson

Since I spoke of Sparky Anderson in my sermon, I thought you should get a better glimpse into who he was.

This is from the NY Times, Dave Anderson:

To everyone in baseball he was Sparky Anderson; hardly anybody called him George. But as a manager, he was not just a spark. He was a bonfire who sometimes burst into a three-alarm blaze.
Read the whole article here.

All Saints Sunday Sermon

Do you remember what you were doing on October 14, 1984? I was 12 years old and watching the Detroit Tigers on TV beat the San Diego Padres in the World Series, winning the series 4 games to 1. It was great to be a kid that night watching the Tigers win.

The manager of the 1984 Tigers was Sparky Anderson, he managed the Cincinnati Reds to two world series championships in the 1970s before coming to the Tigers. As one sports writer put it, “he was among the brightest, most well-liked and decent people ever to fill out a lineup card.” (Tim Kurkjian) He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000, giving all the credit to his players.

Sparky died on November 4 at the age of 76 from complications from dementia. At his request, there would be no funeral nor memorial service. Which is too bad, I understand that he was a humble guy, but a funeral isn’t for the dead, its for the living. Its for us to remember and celebrate life and say our good-byes. And so many of his former players, staff and others want to celebrate his life and will in their own way.

The Christian faith is all about remembering. We read the stories from the Bible to remember, we celebrate the sacraments to remember. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus says. It is a faith that is being passed on to us, to remember and live. That’s why at the end of our Baptismal rite, we are called to “confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share in his eternal priesthood.”

Our faith is connected to the past, in what happened to Jesus in his life through the crucifixion and resurrection, and by how we today through confession and proclamation speak of our faith and remind ourselves that we share in that priesthood of all believers. And there is no better way to think about how we live out our faith than by thinking about our connection to the saints.

Today is All Saints Sunday, a day when we remember the saints, not for their sake, but for ours. So that by God’s grace we may follow the saints in all “virtuous and godly living.” When we think of saints, too often we think of saints as sinless, perfectly pious and moral, who got everything right.
“How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints,” wrote CS Lewis.
The self-absorbed tyrants and proud conquerors are nothing compared to the saints, for they are gloriously different because they hear the voice of God in their lives and it changed them. Life was no longer just about them, Francis gave up the family wealth, the readymade job, glory in war & life of the upper class, and chose instead to heed the voice of God and rebuild God’s church. It lead Dietrich Bonhoeffer to abandon the safety of the US to actively work against Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Regime. Elizabeth, Princess of Hungary, gave away her great wealth to the poor of her land, setting up hospitals and caring for those in need, even as the elite in the court did not like her extravagant almsgiving.

What’s true of the saints, is they found joy by doing what God called them to do. To use the words of the late William Stringfellow,
“In truth, all human beings are called to be saints, but that just means called to be fully human, to be perfect—that is, whole, mature, fulfilled. The saints are simply 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.”
Life is a gift and the saints found by listening to God, they would find fulfillment and happiness in what they did. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Jesus said.

For Sparky Anderson, his life besides his family, was baseball, the players and the team. He loved the game and it showed, and his players loved him for it. Life as gift and joy begins ritually in our rite of baptism, remembering the past, connecting with our life now and hoping for the future. As Verna Dozier put it,
“to be called to be saints means we are called to be members of the household of God. That's what a saint is.”
Today, David Daniel Stinson joins the household of God. And through the witness of parents, Godparents, family and friends, he will be baptized and will grow up and learn about the gift of life, a gift to be lived and enjoyed and given away.

Our challenge on this All Saints Day and always, is to remember the saints and listen to God like they did, for calls each one of us, to do unto others, by giving of ourselves (time, talent & treasure) and find that indeed life is a gift, it is joy, and it is meant to be given away. Amen.

All Hallows Eve Sermon

Happy Halloween! How often do you get to see your priest in rainbow hair?

Today is a day of fun, a day of merriment, when the child inside all of us is allowed to dress up and enjoy life, a day when we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Today reminds me of Fat Tuesday, when people celebrate life in mardi gras or carnival, eating the richest of foods, a day of revelry before the fast of Ash Wednesday begins and the time of Lent with its simplicity and introspection reigns until Easter.

But one big difference is that All Saints Day which we anticipate in our celebrations on Halloween is not a solemn fast like Ash Wednesday – it is a principal feast day – a celebration like Easter. In addition to All Saints Day, we have November 2 which is a lesser feast day called All Souls (or the Commemoration of all the faithful departed) . So in fact, we have three feast days, three celebrations that help us look to the past to connect with our present faith and guide us into our hopeful future. As one priest put it,
“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”)
In other words… Halloween is a day of carnival celebrations when we use fun, humor even ridicule to live into our baptism and defy the power of death over our lives. As one Orthodox priest said,
“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
Halloween can be a moment when we give thanks and enjoy the gifts that God has given to us, even in the midst of the growing darkness around us and our sense of how close death really is. Which then leads into our All Saints Celebrations remembering those saints, as the great hymn puts it…
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
It is the saints who indeed lived their lives by faith, not worried about the power of death because Christ has triumphed, they lived lives as God had called them to be. We remember St. Francis, St. Peter our patron, St. Mary Magdalene, and the list goes on and on. I suspect we each might have our own saint that we treasure for their witness. For me, to coin a phrase from one of my favorite theologians, those saints “lived humanly in the midst of the powers of death.”

And the saints challenge me to do the same. To live by faith. To live as humanly as I can in the midst of darkness and death, knowing the light of Christ still shines. All Saints leads into All Souls, the day to remember the dead of my family, my friends, my parish, who now rest with the saints in heaven with God. Like Memorial Day, it is the Church’s witness to the resurrection and that new life given to all of us in Jesus Christ. But the days do grow short, like our lives and the darkness creeps closer.

Our ancestors near All Hallows Eve often built bonfires to ward off the spirits they believe came around this night. We no longer fear such spirits, if you go outside at night, its never truly pitch black with the glare of our cities, not like the deep darkness our ancestors had with the night. But it isn’t the spirits that lie in the darkness I fear but the life our culture says is the real life. That is the darkness around us today. As one professor put it as he reflected on the saints,
“Unlike the celebrity, and all who desire to be celebrities, the saint is the one who rejects such an identity and continually returns to the fact that they are who God says they are, no more and no less. The saint repeatedly turns from the identity others attempt to impose on him or her and only identifies himself or herself as God's beloved son or daughter. The saint sees the notoriety and prestige that the celebrity has (and the rest of us seek) as an illusion . . . The saint is different from the rest of us, not in being sinless but in the awareness of their sin and the need for repentance. Unlike the rest of us who try to cover or excuse our sin in order to appear sinless, the saint exposes his or her sin in order to become ever more aware of God's forgiveness and love. Likewise, unlike the rest of us who seek celebrity and wealth in order to make us bigger than we would otherwise be, the saint seeks littleness . . . When all else is stripped away, we are no more than God's creation - God's beloved sons and daughters . . . In contrast to the ladder of success our culture tells us we should climb, the saint's journey is downward. Indeed, we enter heaven as we descend into the littleness of the child who is aware of nothing but their father's love. This will be our heavenly state, but the saint, unlike the rest of us, desires to live as close as possible to that state now. [James Danaher, Professor of Philosophy at Nyack College, New York, in "The Saint," New Blackfriars, volume 90/issue 1027, May 2009.]
On this All Hallows Eve as we prepare in merriment to remember the saints and our faithful departed, may God help us to live lives that mirror the saints and help spread God’s light and love throughout the world. Let us pray.

Almighty Father, even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil, for Your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, has conquered evil and death, illuminating even the darkest valley. Therefore, we entreat you: Protect us from the enemy, Defend us from all evil, and give us the grace, to walk in the light of your Son, who lives and reigns, with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.