Thursday, January 27, 2011

Holocaust Memorial Day

January 27 was chosen as the date for Holocaust Memorial Day because it was on this date in 1945 that the largest Nazi killing camp Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated.

Our prayer on this day:

Almighty God, we remember before you this day those killed during the Holocaust (and all other genocides), for the innocents murdered, for those who wrongly used your name to kill, and for those who did not speak up against such injustice. Guide us in our efforts to root out intolerance and prejudice in our world, that we may not make peace with oppression and may stand as witness to those who died. Help us to work towards the day when no one will fall to such a sword. We ask this through him who was executed as a criminal by an oppressive state, Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

January 23 Sermon (3 Epiphany)

For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.

In the news lately, there are lots of places are throwing off the rod of their oppressors.

In the Sudan, the Southern part of that nation held a referendum on whether or not to secede from the North. The south which has fought two wars with the Northern part of the Sudan, which has endured “decades of slave raids, massacres and neglect from the northern government,” has voted nearly unanimously to secede from the North and form their own country. In the words of MLK, Jr., they have “let freedom ring” in the Sudan.

Elsewhere in Africa, in Tunisia, a popular upheaval has toppled the government and made the president of this Islamic nation flee to Saudi Arabia while the people have continued to protest and want to vote on a new government. All this happened because of the anger over “poverty, unemployment and repression.”

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” And that light is freedom, and the people in Sudan and Tunisia have walked toward that light.. As that song from the Young Rascals put it, “All the world over, so easy to see; people everywhere just wanna be free.”

It is a freedom given to us by God, being worked out again in our world, by people who have suffered, who have sat in darkness and have now seen the light, and want freedom. God is at work in our world.

At a prayer service at Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, MO, the diocese has companion relationship with a diocese of the Episcopal Church in the Sudan. Knowing the people who the referendum affects, has made “the prayers for peace that much more urgent.” As one participant put it, “I have to think that's what Jesus wants from us, to not allow violence to become a personless force. In that sense, the relationship we have with (diocese of) Lui is very effective in transforming our lives in Missouri.”

Its when its personal that it touches our heart and truly matters to us. And isn’t that what God did by sending the Son to become incarnate, just like one of us, to make it personal. As Cardinal Mercier put it:
"In order to unite with one another, we must love one another; in order to love one another, we must know one another; in order to know one another, we must go and meet one another."
It is that interaction with one another that helps us see the needs in one another and helps us to reach out.
When he was ten years old, doctors found a malignant tumor in Steven's right leg. His family took him to one of the leading cancer specialists in the country. Ultimately, Steven's leg had to be amputated above the knee. The surgery was successful, and after a brief stay in the hospital, Steven was allowed to go home. It would be several weeks before Steven could be fitted with a prosthetic - but Steven was eager to get on with his life, so he returned to school.

One of the potential challenges Steven faced was the reactions of his classmates. He was concerned that his appearance would be a big deal for some kids. So after talking with his Mom and Dad, Steven decided the best thing to do was talk things over with the kids at school. Steven got up in front of his class and explained his diagnosis and treatment. He told them he was OK with talking about what had happened and encouraged them to ask any questions. Steven also told his classmates that even though his leg had been amputated, he was still the same kid he had always been.

By the end of the day, Steven said that 95 percent of his classmates treated him as if nothing had happened. He felt that taking the time to speak with the other students, openly and honestly, not only helped his friends understand what cancer was all about but helped him develop the confidence and courage to handle the next steps in his treatment as well as whatever new challenges he would face in his life. [Adapted from How to Hit a Curveball by Scott R. Singer with Mark Levine.]
Steven made it personal and brought light to darkness and his classmates responded. For Steven discovered through his concern for his classmates and his own wish to be treated like everyone else, the wisdom and integrity to bring the light of understanding to his anxious classmates and hope to his own struggle.

We too are called to make it personal, to fish for people, as Jesus called his disciples to do. For God never stops calling us. It’s not as if God called us one day and now moved on to someone else. Every day, through so many different events and circumstances in our lives God dares us to go beyond our comfort zone in showing we are his disciples.

In those events, may we discover within ourselves the light of Christ's compassion so that we can share it with those lost in darkness; may we find, within our means, our own "nets" to bring God's grace and peace to our interactions with others, those who are struggling to find freedom and light in our world today. Amen.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January 16 Sermon (2 Epiphany)

At the memorial service held on Wednesday in Arizona, President Obama invited the nation to see our country through the eyes of Christina Taylor Green. In his words:
I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. All of us -- we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations…we commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.
He put it well. We are all called to make America worthy of our children’s expectations, to forge a country worthy of all those gentle, happy spirits, by what we do. The President’s call to civility and to work towards making our democracy the best it can be, is an invitation for all of us to work for our best and help America thrive.

I think of a plaque inscribed near the Statue of Liberty, written in 1883, describing the immigrants who have passed through Ellis Island to these shores:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
("The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus (1883))
It is a wonderful poem that speaks of the symbol of lady liberty who greeted immigrants coming to New York harbor. Who saw the shores of freedom. Who longed for the democracy we have here. Immigrants who had such hopeful expectation of their new life to come. In the days of Jesus, there was a longing for a new life.
“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
After the baptism of Jesus, there was a hopeful expectation of what was to come. John knew it and so too would his disciples, God incarnate was in their midst. John the Baptist twice proclaims Jesus as the Lamb of God. The second time two of John’s disciples go & follow Jesus. They want to know where Jesus is staying, they want to hear his words, they want to see the Son of God, they have that hope in the messiah, the one they had been waiting for… And Jesus tells them to come and see.

Come and see. It is an invitation to come follow him, to come see what he will say and do. It is a significant beginning for the disciples, a simple invitation and they follow him. And our patron, Peter is named by Jesus in this moment. Come and see and they are changed. In a recent story, it was come and listen and lives were touched:
In a downtown shelter in Boston, the large television set is always on. Shutting it off is like tampering with another country's flag. Lesser acts have led to war. But one humid night, a staff member turned the television off. The shelter's wilting guests - even those who paid no attention to the perpetually flickering images - were stunned. Two women stood at the front of the room, under the dark screen.

Each unsnapped a case, lifted out a stringed instrument and started to tune it. Then they began to play: first, a pair of madrigals, a Mozart duet, some Telemann, a Bulgarian folk tune. The musicians didn't know anything about the lives of their audience. They didn't know who was listening with one ear while hearing voices with the other. They didn't know who was freshly out of prison and who was heading back in, who was momentarily sober and who was never sober. News of the concerts spread and the audiences grew. The musicians - professionals who play in the city's renowned symphony - are not surprised.

One Wednesday a month the television set at the shelter is turned off and the concert begins. Over the months, little windows have opened. The music manages to bridge the unscalable chasms separating people. For a couple of hours - the forgotten, the lost, the desperate, the addicted, and those who struggle to help them - are all the same. [From "The night the television is switched off" by Elissa Ely, The Boston Globe, October 31, 2010.]
Come and see. A democracy longing to be its best even in tragedy, come and see the Statue of Liberty welcoming all to our land and our democracy, come and see lives being touched by Americans reaching out to the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. May our place of worship, St. Peter’s, be a place of such welcome, where people hear about this place and want to come and see, to find God here among these disciples, and find that love and welcome that Jesus sends to all.
Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn't matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.
Rumi’s beautiful poem, is an invitation, and invitation to come, whoever you are. Come sinner and saint. Come wanderer and worshiper. Just come. You are welcome here. Amen.

Prayers of the Week of Christian Unity

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began in 1908 as the Octave of Christian Unity, and focused on prayer for church unity which begins on the Feast of the Confession of Peter on January 18 and concludes with the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul on January 25. (Wikipedia)
Some prayers:

Lord Jesus Christ, who prayed for your disciples that they might be one, even as you are one with the Father; draw us to yourself, that in common love and obedience to you we may be united to one another, in the fellowship of the one Spirit, through all of our Churches in Monroe, that the world may believe that you are Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Amen. (William Temple (1881—1944))

O God who has called men and women in every land to be a holy nation, a royal priesthood, the Church of your dear Son; unite us in mutual love across the barriers of race and culture, and strengthen us here in Monroe in our common task of being Christ and showing Christ to the world he came to save. Amen. (John Kingsnorth (USPG))

O God, be with thy Church everywhere and particularly in the Churches of Monroe. May she walk warily in times of peace and quietness, and boldly in times of trouble. Do thou remove all harshness and bitterness from amongst us, towards those who walk not in all things with us, but who worship our Lord in sincerity and truth. And all this we ask for the sake of thy dear Son. Amen. (Helen Waddell, 1889-1965)

Prayers for the Feast Days (from the BCP):

Confession of Saint Peter January 18

Almighty Father, who inspired Saint Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep your Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, so that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Conversion of Saint Paul January 25

O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world:Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King. Jr. Day

Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr

Remember, today is a day of service, not just a day off.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Religious Freedom Day

Our Nation was founded on a shared commitment to the values of justice, freedom, and equality. On Religious Freedom Day, we commemorate Virginia's 1786 Statute for Religious Freedom, in which Thomas Jefferson wrote that "all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion." The fundamental principle of religious freedom -- guarded by our Founders and enshrined in our Constitution's First Amendment -- continues to protect rich faiths flourishing within our borders.

The writ of the Founding Fathers has upheld the ability of Americans to worship and practice religion as they choose,including the right to believe in no religion at all. However, these liberties are not self-sustaining, and require a stalwart commitment by each generation to preserve and apply them. Throughout our Nation's history, our founding ideal of religious freedom has served as an example to the world. Though our Nation has sometimes fallen short of the weighty task of ensuring freedom of religious expression and practice, we have remained a Nation in which people of different faiths coexist with mutual respect and equality under the law. America's
unshakeable commitment to religious freedom binds us together as a people, and the strength of our values underpins a country that is tolerant, just, and strong...

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 16, 2011, as Religious Freedom Day.
Read the whole thing here. (pdf)

A Thought on Civility

Read this in the NY Times:

Tree of Failure by David Brooks

A couple of excerpts:
President Obama gave a wonderful speech in Tucson on Wednesday night. He didn’t try to explain the rampage that occurred there. Instead, he used the occasion as a national Sabbath — as a chance to step out of the torrent of events and reflect. He did it with an uplifting spirit. He not only expressed the country’s sense of loss but also celebrated the lives of the victims and the possibility for renewal.

Of course, even a great speech won’t usher in a period of civility. Speeches about civility will be taken to heart most by those people whose good character renders them unnecessary. Meanwhile, those who are inclined to intellectual thuggery and partisan one-sidedness will temporarily resolve to do better but then slip back to old habits the next time their pride feels threatened.

Civility is a tree with deep roots, and without the roots, it can’t last. So what are those roots? They are failure, sin, weakness and ignorance.
Read the whole thing. Its worth it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Some words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Teachable Moment (Prayer & Letter)

A prayer for young people & an open letter to parents by Michelle Obama:

God our Father, you see your children growing up in an unsteady and confusing world: Show them that your ways give more life than the ways of the world, and that following you is better than chasing after selfish goals. Help them to take failure, not as a measure of their worth, but as a chance for a new start. Give them strength to hold their faith in you, and to keep alive their joy in your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (from the BCP)

The open letter:

Dear parents,

Like so many Americans all across the country, Barack and I were shocked and heartbroken by the horrific act of violence committed in Arizona this past weekend. Yesterday, we had the chance to attend a memorial service and meet with some of the families of those who lost their lives, and both of us were deeply moved by their strength and resilience in the face of such unspeakable tragedy.

As parents, an event like this hits home especially hard. It makes our hearts ache for those who lost loved ones. It makes us want to hug our own families a little tighter. And it makes us think about what an event like this says about the world we live in – and the world in which our children will grow up.

In the days and weeks ahead, as we struggle with these issues ourselves, many of us will find that our children are struggling with them as well. The questions my daughters have asked are the same ones that many of your children will have – and they don’t lend themselves to easy answers. But they will provide an opportunity for us as parents to teach some valuable lessons – about the character of our country, about the values we hold dear, and about finding hope at a time when it seems far away.

We can teach our children that here in America, we embrace each other, and support each other, in times of crisis. And we can help them do that in their own small way – whether it’s by sending a letter, or saying a prayer, or just keeping the victims and their families in their thoughts.

We can teach them the value of tolerance – the practice of assuming the best, rather than the worst, about those around us. We can teach them to give others the benefit of the doubt, particularly those with whom they disagree.

We can also teach our children about the tremendous sacrifices made by the men and women who serve our country and by their families. We can explain to them that although we might not always agree with those who represent us, anyone who enters public life does so because they love their country and want to serve it.

Christina Green felt that call. She was just nine years old when she lost her life. But she was at that store that day because she was passionate about serving others. She had just been elected to her school’s student council, and she wanted to meet her Congresswoman and learn more about politics and public life.

And that’s something else we can do for our children – we can tell them about Christina and about how much she wanted to give back. We can tell them about John Roll, a judge with a reputation for fairness; about Dorothy Morris, a devoted wife to her husband, her high school sweetheart, to whom she’d been married for 55 years; about Phyllis Schneck, a great-grandmother who sewed aprons for church fundraisers; about Dorwan Stoddard, a retired construction worker who helped neighbors down on their luck; and about Gabe Zimmerman, who did community outreach for Congresswoman Giffords, working tirelessly to help folks who were struggling, and was engaged to be married next year. We can tell them about the brave men and women who risked their lives that day to save others. And we can work together to honor their legacy by following their example – by embracing our fellow citizens; by standing up for what we believe is right; and by doing our part, however we can, to serve our communities and our country.


Michelle Obama

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Is God Violent?

An interesting article: Is God Violent? What does the violence in the Bible tell us about the nature of God? By Brian McLaren

Read it here.

An excerpt:
Let's define violence simply: force with the intent of inflicting injury, damage, or death. I think believers in God have four primary responses to the question of God's violence defined in this way:

1. God is violent, and since we human beings are made in God's image, we're free to use violence as one valid form of political communication (to borrow a famous phrase from Carl von Clausewitz), and in fact we are commanded to use it in some cases.

2. God is violent, but in a holy way that sinful humans are incapable of. That's why violence is generally prohibited for humans except in certain limited cases. In those cases, only those designated as God's chosen/elect/ordained, acting under God’s explicit direction, are justified in using violence.

3. God is not violent, so human violence is always a violation of our creation in God's image -- both for the perpetrator and the victim. If it is ever employed, it is always tragic and regrettable, never justified.

4. God is not violent, so violence in any form is absolutely forbidden, no exceptions.

Which do you think God is?

The Baptism of Jesus: Our Baptism

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. (BCP)

God whose well-beloved child Jesus came up from the waters of baptism radiant with your Holy Spirit and ready to do the work to which you called him; by that same Spirit given to us in our Baptism make us brave also to repent from our sin and receive your forgiveness, to be strong against evil, and to persevere in doing right and loving kindness. Lord…Light of the world, let us shine with your light! (Rev. Jennifer Philips)

January 9 Sermon (1 Epiphany)

What does it mean to be a Christian? What comes to mind? How do you define it? How do you live it? As I sat with those questions, on that quiet, snow filled Friday night, I thought of Christians living in Egypt.

There was a bombing on New Years Day that killed 21 worshippers at a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt, who were getting ready to celebrate their Christmas on January 7. Those Coptic Christians, living as a religious minority in Muslim Egypt, were trying to follow their faith, nearing the end of their 40 day fast & preparing for their annual Christmas celebrations. Their understanding of their faith, their identity called them to live and worship as they did. Sadly, someone used evil against them.
“This devastation is a result of blind extremism that has taken hold of our country,” said Father Maqar Fawzy from the parish in the attack.
But it had an unattended effect,
“Muslims turned up in droves for the Coptic Christmas mass Thursday night, offering their bodies, and lives, as “shields” to Egypt’s threatened Christian community.” (a news report)

“We either live together, or we die together,” was the sloganeering genius of Mohamed El-Sawy, a Muslim arts tycoon.
In a world so fraught with violence (think also of the shooting in AZ and a high school in Omaha this week), with hatred and division, such acts remind us of the kindness we need to give and the real unity we have in our common humanity. Such is also the unity we have in Christ, whose baptism we celebrate this day, and just like Jesus, we were baptized. All of us, whether Copts of Egypt or Episcopalians in Monroe, our baptism brings us into one family. And that baptism is a calling for us to live lives of meaning, to put meaning into the word Christian by our lives today, to be a witness today of our faith.
“To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.” (Cardinal Suhard)
To be a Christian is to live our lives in such a way that our lives would not make sense without Jesus.
One Christmas many years ago, a missionary was traveling through a coastal city in Asia. A group of Jews were stranded there; they had been denied entry to every country in the world and were forced to sleep in a deserted barn on the outskirts of the city. The missionary went to the barns to see what he could do to help. He greeted the Jews, "Merry Christmas!"

The Jews said they meant no disrespect, but they were Jews and did not celebrate Christmas. "I know," the missionary said, "but it's Christmas." "But we don't observe Christmas. We're not followers of Christ. We're Jews." "Oh, I know. But what would you like for Christmas?" The Jews tried again to make him understand, "We don't keep Christmas."

"I know, but what would you like? If somebody gave you something for Christmas, what would you like?" They thought for a moment and said they missed the bread and pastry of their German homeland. "Good!" the missionary said.

After much searching, he managed to find a bakery in the city that made German pastry. The missionary used all the money he had to buy boxes of the pastry and brought them to the surprised and grateful Jews with wishes for a Merry Christmas.

The missionary was later asked by his superiors, Why did you do that? They don't believe in Jesus! But the missionary said, "But I do. I do." [From Craddock Stories by Fred Craddock.]
Today begins the work of Christmas: On the banks of the Jordan, Jesus begins his ministry and in our own baptisms, we took on that same work. Our faithful witness is rooted in gratitude for the love of God we have experienced in our lives and in responding to that love with our own to mirror that love for others.

How will we witness to our faith – to those Coptic Christians, or those mourning loved ones in AZ or NB, of the blood in our streets, or our Russian orphanage we are supporting, or our neighbors just down the block from us? What does it mean to say I am a Christian? When will we say, “I do” when it comes to our faith?

Today we begin to answer those questions, for our faithful lives make no sense without Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Praying for the victims in the AZ shooting

Loving God, welcome into your arms the victims of violence in AZ. Comfort their families and all who grieve for them. Heal those who are recovering from their wounds and help us in our anger, fear and uncertainty. Bless us with the knowledge that we are secure in your love and help us work towards that peaceful day, when no one will mourn for a loved one, gun down by violence. We pray this in your son's name, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (adapted from a prayer I found online)

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen. (BCP)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Assault on Christmas

A great article! Read it here:

One excerpt:

On the 10th day, a colleague fretted that she had not gotten her decorations down by New Year’s Eve; when I told her it was only the 10th day of Christmas, she thought I was making a joke. I contacted Susan Wilds McArver, who teaches church history at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, to ask why our society ignores the last 11 days of Christmas. She reminded me that many of the first settlers came to America to escape the “excess” of my own Church of England, and said that while South Carolina, Virginia and a few other colonies were quite friendly to the Anglican/Roman Catholic/Orthodox tradition, several colonies banned any celebration of Christmas; Connecticut even outlawed making mince-meat pies.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Epiphany

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the Peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Blessing of a Home at Epiphanytide

A part of church history is the custom of blessing homes at the New Year. A family would hold a short service of prayer to ask God’s blessing on their dwellings and on all who live, work with and visit them. In this way, we invite Jesus to be a “guest” in our home, a listener to each conversation, a guide for troubled times, and a blessing in times of thanksgiving.

“Chalking the door” or the door step may be used as a way to celebrate and literally “mark” the occasion. In the Old Testament the Israelites were told to mark their doors with the blood of the lamb on the night of the Passover to ensure that the angel of death would pass them by. Deuteronomy 6: 9 says that we shall “write [the words of God] on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, … and you shall write them on the door posts of your house and on your gates.”

Chalk is made of the substance of the earth and is used by teachers to instruct and by children to play. As the image of the chalk fades, we will remember the sign we have made and transfer it to our hearts and our habits. (from the
The Blessing of the Chalk at the end of the Eucharist

Loving God, bless this chalk which you have created, that it may be helpful to your people; and grant that through the invocation of your most Holy Name all those who with it write the names of your saints, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, may receive health of body and protection of soul for all who dwell in the homes where this chalk is used, we make this prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Blessing of a Home at Epiphanytide

Since the Middle Ages there has been a tradition that on (or near) the feast of the Epiphany we pray for God’s blessing on our homes, marking the entrance with chalk (an incarnational image reminding us of the dust of the earth from which we were made). We mark the main door of our home with the initials of the Magi and the numerals of the new year, connected with crosses:

20 + C + M + B + 11

The initials remind us of the legendary names of the Magi – Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar – and also stand for the Latin motto: Christus mansionem benedicat, “May Christ bless this house.” In the Book of Exodus, the Israelites marked their doors with blood so that the Lord would pass over their homes; but in this ritual, we mark our doors with chalk as a sign that we have invited God’s presence and blessing into our homes. It is traditional to write the inscription on the lintel, above the door, but it can be written anywhere near the entrance.

The following prayer may be said while the entrance is marked:
The three Wise Men: C - Caspar, M - Melchior, B - and Balthasar followed the star of God’s Son who became human,
20 - two thousand,
11 - and eleven years ago.
++ May Christ bless our home
++ and remain with us throughout the new year.

May all who come to our home this year rejoice to find Christ living among us; and may we seek and serve, in everyone we meet, that same Jesus who is your incarnate Word, now and forever. Amen.

Thanks to Bosco Peters & Scott Gunn.

January 2 Sermon (2 Christmas)

“Wise men still seek him.”
I’ve seen this on shirts and on billboards, it reminds us of the feast of the Epiphany, of magi, wise men of the east who come seeking the Christ child. And it calls us to seek him out in our lives. They each brought their gifts: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Each a symbol. Each a connection to the life that Jesus was going to live. A life Jesus calls us to seek. And there is a legend, a story from over a century ago, that tells us about a fourth wise man, whose name was Artaban, who also sought out Jesus.

(excerpts from “The Other Wise Man” by Henry Van Dyke, 1896)
He travelled from Persia to meet the other magi, carrying with him his gift for the new King - three precious jewels - a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl. On his way Artaban met an old Jew by the roadside, who was nearly dying from fever. He decided to stay with the sick man until he was well, he couldn’t leave him to die and so he missed the other three wise men who completed their journey to Bethlehem. The Jew told Artaban that the prophets said that the King would be born in Bethlehem . To make such a journey it was necessary to form a caravan and buy expensive supplies and equipment. So Artaban sold his costly sapphire to raise money and he set out for Bethlehem.

When he arrived in Bethlehem and made enquiries he was told that the other wise men had left 3 days before. A young mother told him that the family he was seeking had fled and that Bethlehem was in fear of King Herod. While Artaban was in the town, the soldiers arrived with orders to kill all the baby boys. The young mother was very frightened for her young son and when the captain of the soldiers ordered the child to be killed, Artaban came to the rescue and gave his ruby to the soldiers to save the boy. Artaban sought for the King for many years, although he only had one of his gifts left - the pearl.

Finally, after 30 years of searching, he came to Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. The city was buzzing with talk about the man named Jesus who claimed to be the son of God and who was to be crucified. Artaban wondered whether he could use his last jewel to save the life of this man, Jesus. But as he hurried through the streets of the city, Artaban came across a young girl who was crying. She told Artaban she was crying because she was going to be sold into slavery to pay her father’s debts. Artaban could not pass by and leave the girl for slavery. He took the pearl and laid it in the hand of the girl and said "Daughter, this is the ransom. It is the last of my treasures which I had hoped to keep for the King." While he spoke, the darkness of the sky thickened and the shuddering tremors of an earthquake ran through the ground. The houses rocked. The soldiers fled in terror. Artaban sank beside a protecting wall. What had he to fear? What had he to hope for? He had given away the last of his tribute to the King. The quest was over and he had failed.

What else mattered? The earthquake quivered beneath him. A heavy tile, shaken from a roof, fell and struck him. He lay breathless and pale. Then there came a still small voice through the twilight It was like distant music. The rescued girl leaned over him and heard him say, "Not so, my Lord; for when saw I thee hungered and fed thee? Or thirsty and gave thee drink? When saw I thee a stranger and took thee in? Or naked and clothed thee? When saw I thee sick or in prison and came unto thee? Thirty-three years have I looked for thee; but I have never seen thy face, nor ministered unto thee, my King."

The sweet voice came again, "Verily I say unto thee, that inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me." A calm radiance of wonder and joy lighted the face of Artaban as one long, last breath exhaled gently from his lips. His journey was ended. His treasure accepted. The Other Wise Man had found the King.
His precious gifts for the King had been sold, or given away, to help others on his long journey and through such generosity, Artaban had worshiped his King and served him by using the gifts he had to help other people. Now its up to us, To use our gifts. To seek Christ who is still all around us. In the great words of Howard Thurman:
"When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with the flocks,
then the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost,
to heal those broken in spirit,
to feed the hungry,
to release the oppressed,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among all peoples,
to make music with the heart”
As we remember Artaban's story in our hearts, may we radiate the Light of Christ, every day, in every way, in all that we do and in all that we say, by sharing our gifts with the world. For it is then the work of Christmas has begun in us. Amen.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Holy Name of Jesus

All Jewish boys were circumcised and named on the 8th day of their life, and so, one week after Christmas, on January 1st, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus:

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

The Holy Gospel: Luke 2:15-21

Prayer for the New Year

Another Year Is Dawning

Another year is dawning,
Dear Master, let it be,
In working, or in waiting,
Another year with Thee.

Another year of mercies,
Of faithfulness and grace;
Another year of gladness
In the shining of Thy face.

Another year of progress,
Another year of praise,
Another year of proving
Thy presence all the days.

Another year of service,
Of witness of Thy love,
Another year of training
For holier work above.

Another year is dawning,
Dear Master, let it be
On earth, or else in heaven
Another year for Thee.

--Francis Ridley Havergal (1874)