Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Christmas Blessing

as you journey on the 12 days of Christmas...

May the joy of the angels,
the eagerness of the shepherds,
the perseverance of the magi,
the obedience of Joseph and Mary,
and the peace of the Christ child be yours this Christmas.
And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.

New Year's Prayers

Oh Thou, who art ever the same,
Grant us so to pass through
the coming year with faithful hearts,
that we may be able in all things
to please Thy loving eyes. Amen.
Mozarabic, 700 A.D.

Bless us, O Lord,
and bless the time and seasons yet to come.
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
And fill this new year with your kindness,
that we may be glad and rejoice
all the days of our life. Amen.
Fr Victor Hoagland, C.P.

Eternal Father,
you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation:
Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world,
our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Prayer for the Feast of the Holy Name (January 1)

Christmas Day Sermon - 10 AM

Gracious God, we celebrate life this morning because you are so near, so entwined with our lives, for this Holy Birth affirms it, the Reality of Christmas assures us of this fact. For your presence this morning we sing for joy. O Lord, this morning we celebrate your life, and all our lives, together, forever. Amen.

This morning as we gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus, I am reminded that his birth took place not in the best of times, but probably in the worst.
As Chris Yaw put it, “It is a tale of an impoverished single mom in a conquered hamlet of some backwater corner of a vast empire, putting her newborn into an animal trough where the fledgling birth announcement was entrusted to village idiots whose only other marketable skills were watching sheep.”
Such an improbable and humble tale still captures our imagination 2,000 years later, because God so loved us, that God was born for us in a place that no one expected, in a humble way no one planned. And those events are not lost on us today.
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… (God did not wait by Madeleine L'Engle )
As I though about this, I heard about the death of Kim Jong-il of North Korea, and I was reminded of a story I read about the Korean War. (And it is a Christmas story!)
His name was Brother Marinus, a Benedictine monk, he died at the age of 87 in 2001.

But three days before Christmas in 1950, his name was Captain Leonard LaRue, and he received a call to help refugees in need. Captain LaRue was the skipper of a freighter that had been carrying supplies to American servicemen in Korea on behalf of the Navy. About 200 vessels converged on the port of Hungnam, North Korea to help evacuate troops and refugees fleeing from the war.

''I trained my binoculars and saw a pitiable scene,'' Captain LaRue remembered. ''Refugees thronged the docks. With them was everything they could wheel, carry or drag. Beside them, like frightened chicks, were their children.''

The refugees were crammed into the cargo holds of a freighter that was designed for around 60 people to be on board.

''There were families with 8 and 10 children,'' Captain LaRue remembered. ''There was a man with a violin, a woman with a sewing machine, a young girl with triplets. There were 17 wounded, some stretcher cases, many who were aged, hundreds of babies. Finally, as the sun rode high the next morning, we had 14,000 human beings jammed aboard the ship. It was impossible, and yet they were there.''

The ship headed towards the South Korean port of Pusan, 28 hours away. They would travel through heavily mined waters. Enemy submarines were known to patrol the waters. The refugees had little food or water and there were no blankets or sanitary facilities.

But they got through, and the refugee freighter arrived at Pusan on Christmas Eve, only to be turned away, because of the refugees already there. Captain LaRue was told to head for an island, 50 miles to the southwest.

The ship arrived at the island on Christmas and by the next day, every refugee left the ship. Not one person died! And in fact, the number of Koreans had grown by five, for five babies were born aboard that ship.

His ship was decommissioned in 1952 and soon afterwards, Captain LaRue entered the Benedictine Monastery in NJ. Captain LaRue looked back on the rescue as a turning point in his life. As he put it: ''I often think of that voyage. I think of how such a small vessel was able to hold so many persons and surmount endless perils without harm to a soul. The clear, unmistakable message comes to me that on that Christmastide, in the bleak and bitter waters off the shores of Korea, God's own hand was at the helm of my ship.''

The United States Maritime Administration called his feat ''the greatest rescue by a single ship in the annals of the sea.'' (from the NY Times Obituary of Leonard LaRue, October 20, 2001)
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
(Christina Rossetti)

In the bleak midwinter Jesus was born for us, to set us free and to help us understand what that abundant life truly is. Be it on a ship in war, be in a hospital room or a doctor’s office, in our own homes or even on the street. God comes to us and is with us in the best and worst of times.  Go out today, listen to the angles, follow the star, and celebrate the birth that continues to change the world and our lives forever. Amen.

Christmas Meditation - 10 PM

Lord Jesus Christ, your birth at Bethlehem draws us to kneel in wonder at heaven touching earth: accept our heartfelt praise as we worship you, our Savior and our eternal God. Amen.

Music is such a part of our Christmas celebrations that without it, Christmas would not be the same. Some radio stations have been playing Christmas music since Thanksgiving. It can get a little old at times, but those carols, those anthems sweet, all remind us what tonight is all about, the birth of Jesus, of God coming into our midst!

One of those carols, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, tells us in one of its stanzas:

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
the world has suffered long;
beneath the heavenly hymn have rolled
two thousand years of wrong;
and warring humankind hears not
the tidings which they bring;
O hush the noise and cease your strife
and hear the angels sing!

The carol plants us in reality: We live in a world of sin and strife, warring humankind hears not what the angels sing.

O hush the noise and cease your strife
and hear the angels sing! 

It is a call for us to hush our noise and strife, and listen, pay attention, for maybe God is speaking to us this very night in the music we hear. For music helps us not only get in the mood but it tells a story. The other night at a concert, it was these words that struck me, to hear this story in a new way:

It was cold out on the desert
But they were headed for the light
O little town of Bethlehem
It were a warm and welcome sight
Mother and her unborn child in the bitter winter wind

`Till he saw the man took pity
On the state that she was in
Here`s to the man who ran the inn
Don`t you wish that we could always be
Just a little more like him

He found some room beneath the roof above his home
He just couldn`t let a little child be left out in the cold

Well, it wasn`t much to look at
It was old and tumbled-down
But he said `you`re welcome to it
It`s the last room left in town.`

I don`t know why he did it
I`d have loved her just because
I guess we`ll never know his name
But I bet that Jesus does!

Here`s to the man who ran the inn
Don`t you wish that we could always be
Just a little more like him
He found some room beneath the roof above his home
He just couldn`t let a little child be left out in the cold
Compassion, joy, hope. Christmas is about this and so much more. The innkeeper just couldn`t let a little child be left out in the cold and neither can we; hear what the angels sing tonight and let that baby enter in your home and your soul. Amen.

Christmas Eve Sermon - 5 PM

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

To Love & Share – What God did so long ago at that first Christmas – Who came to be with us in Baby Jesus – Stories! – What we hear in this South American folktale:

A Gift for the Christ Child: A Christmas Folktale by Linda Schlafer

What we give is important, how we learn to love and share speaks to how that Christ child has entered into our hearts. As one of our beloved carols puts it:

How silently, how silently,
the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming,
but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him,
still the dear Christ enters in.

So if as Herod, we fill our lives with things and more things;
If we consider ourselves so important that we must fill every moment of our lives with action;
When will we have the time to make the long slow journey across the burning desert as did the Magi;
Or sit and watch the stars as did the shepherds;
Or to brood over the coming of the Child as did Mary?
For each of us there is a desert to travel, a star to discover, and a being within ourselves to bring to life. (from Edward Ericson)

Follow that star. Celebrate the birth. For our journey begins on this scared night. Amen.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Some Christmas Quotes

“Christmas gift suggestions:
To your enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.” ~ Oren Arnold

“There's more, much more, to Christmas
Than candlelight and cheer;
It's the spirit of sweet friendship
That brightens all year.
It's thoughtfulness and kindness,
It's hope reborn again,
For peace, for understanding,
And for goodwill to all!” ~ Author Unknown

The only blind person at Christmastime is he who has not Christmas in his heart. ~ Helen Keller

Christmas on TV

The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church (GTS) has spent the last week putting the finishing touches on an hour long television program, Christmas in Chelsea Square, that will air over CBS stations nationwide on December 24th at 11:35 pm (EST). The 194-year-old seminary was selected by the network last summer to produce the annual television special. The central portion of the program features a traditional Christmas service of lessons and carols for which the homilist is the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop and Primate, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. 
Also featured are excerpts from a reading of Clement Clarke Moore’s famous poem that begins, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” as well as a brief segment that introduces viewers to the Seminary’s history and present day mission. General is known for the beauty of its Episcopal liturgy and music as well as its idyllic campus located in the Chelsea district of New York City on property donated by Moore and known as Chelsea Square.

Read more here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Hanukkah! (& the Apocrypha)


Our brothers and sisters of the Jewish faith are celebrating Hanukkah.  You can read a nice article at Wikipedia:

As the article tells us, one of the ancient sources for the festival:

The story of Hanukkah is alluded to in the book of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees. The eight day rededication of the temple is described in 1 Maccabees 4:36 et seq, though the name of the festival and the miracle of the lights do not appear here. A story similar in character, and obviously older in date, is the one alluded to in 2 Maccabees 1:18 et seq according to which the relighting of the altar fire by Nehemiah was due to a miracle which occurred on the 25th of Kislev, and which appears to be given as the reason for the selection of the same date for the rededication of the altar by Judah Maccabee.
1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees is found in the Apocrypha and is available in the Common English Bible.  You can look up passages including the Apocrypha here (choose the CEB).

As an Episcopalian, I believe the Apocrypha should always be a part of our bible.  The Biblical Apocrypha is accepted by Roman Catholics and Orthodox as fully part (canonical) of the Bible.  Episcopalians also receive these books but without determining their canonicity.

In the new year, I will write more about why I like the Biblical Apocrypha.

Thinking of St. Thomas

Yesterday the Church remembered St. Thomas the Apostle.  He is best known as Doubting Thomas, because when the other disciples told him they have seen Jesus after the cross, he did not believe them.  He wanted to see it for himself.  Don't we all?

Here is one monk's thought:
Thomas, rather than the scapegoat, is for me the hero among the disciples. For me, Thomas will always stand for the person who gets the news second-hand, the person who wasn’t there when the miracle took place….Which is why I find Thomas such a powerful witness. Thomas dares to express for me, perhaps for many of us, the meandering doubts that can wander through our minds, about whether it really happened.
-Br. David Vryhof
Society of Saint John the Evangelist
You can read his whole sermon here.

Thinking about doubt and faith, here is an excellent piece...

A Christian on Hitchens' Atheism and Lowe's Muslim Problem

An excerpt:
David Caton owes me one. I interviewed the head of the Florida Family Association last week during his bigoted but successful crusade to get companies like Lowe's to pull ads from All-American Muslim, the Learning Channel reality show about a community of Muslim Americans. Before Caton hung up on me -- he gets angry when you question his complaint that the show presents Muslims in too positive a light and not as crazed radicals plotting to impose Islamic shari'a law from Maine to Monterey -- I corrected his pronunciation of imam, a Muslim cleric, from Eye-mam to the proper Ee-mawm. Later that day, I heard him say it properly on CNN.

But that's all he got right. I concern myself with Caton -- who also likes to hire small planes to haul banners over Orlando warning people that homosexuals visit Disney World -- only for two reasons. One is that a major corporation like Lowe's actually caved to the Evangelical's ugly Islamophobia. The other is that he got his 15 minutes of fame at about the same time that Christopher Hitchens died, on Dec. 15. Hitchens was best known as one of the "angry atheists" for his 2007 best seller God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, and narrow-minded fundamentalists like Caton made his work a lot easier. So of course did extremist Muslims, as well as extremist Roman Catholics, Jews, Hindus and all the fanatics who ruin religion the way drunks ruin driving. Which is why Hitchens' attacks on faith, while brilliantly written, could also feel gratuitous.
Read the whole article from!
With all due respect to the memory of Christopher Hitchens, making the here and now better would be difficult without religion. But it's also hard enough without the un-Christian antics of people like David Caton. As Christmas ought to remind us.

And always remember, the opposite of faith is not doubt but fear.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Poems (Herbert)

George Herbert (1593-1633)

Christmas (I)

After all pleasures as I rid one day,
My horse and I, both tired, body and mind,
With full cry of affections, quite astray;
I took up the next inn I could find.

There when I came, whom found I but my dear,
My dearest Lord, expecting till the grief
Of pleasures brought me to Him, ready there
To be all passengers' most sweet relief?

Oh Thou, whose glorious, yet contracted light,
Wrapt in night's mantle, stole into a manger;
Since my dark soul and brutish is Thy right,
To man of all beasts be not Thou a stranger:

Furnish and deck my soul, that Thou mayst have
A better lodging, than a rack, or grave.

Christmas (II)

The shepherds sing; and shall I silent be?
      My God, no hymn for Thee?
My soul's a shepherd too; a flock it feeds
      Of thoughts, and words, and deeds.
The pasture is Thy word: the streams, Thy grace
      Enriching all the place.
Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers
      Outsing the daylight hours.
Then will we chide the sun for letting night
      Take up his place and right:
We sing one common Lord; wherefore he should
      Himself the candle hold.
I will go searching, till I find a sun
      Shall stay, till we have done;
A willing shiner, that shall shine as gladly,
      As frost-nipped suns look sadly.
Then will we sing, and shine all our own day,
      And one another pay:
His beams shall cheer my breast, and both so twine,
Till ev'n His beams sing, and my music shine.

December 18 Sermon (8 AM)

Almighty and everlasting God, you have stooped to raise fallen humanity by the child-bearing of blessed Mary; grant that we who have seen your glory revealed in our human nature, and your love made perfect in our weakness, may daily be renewed in your image, and conformed to the pattern of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (David Silk)

We began Advent on Nov. 27 anticipating the 2nd Coming of Christ. The following weeks, we heard from John the Baptist and other prophets and messengers about the need to prepare the way of the Lord, to be ready for God's reality breaking into our lives and into our world. We end our season of Advent with Mary, to whom the angel Gabriel came & spoke to her... "Greetings favored one. The Lord is with you."

It is Mary's, Yes – “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word", that allows God's reality to break into the world that Christmas long ago. This is not some starry eyed teenager but one who by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit humbled herself to accept the gift of the Christ Child. From this, Mary would give us a song, one we call the Magnificat, a song about the power tables being turned, about the lowly being lifted up, which she herself had experienced.
Mary’s yes to God and God’s choosing her is important. It is as one preacher said: “Two things seem clear when God chooses someone for a really important role. God usually chooses someone weak and insignificant in society - and God chooses that person to die.

As a young girl Mary would not have been taught to read - young boys, yes, but not young girls. Ancient peasant cultures counted females, including wives, among a man's possessions, along with slaves, oxen and donkeys. The selection of Mary's husband would be entirely her parents' affair. She could not refuse their choice. As a female Mary would be allowed to enter the synagogue, but had to remain in the back or in the balcony, behind a grill. If perchance she did learn to read, she was not allowed to read the Torah in the synagogue service. But God chooses the weak and insignificant in the eyes of some, to do God's great work.

Mary was also chosen to die. There are many ways of dying. Mary did her dying in shame and pain, as a refugee in Egypt. God called Mary to the shame of becoming an unwed mother . . . all of this asked of a girl of twelve or thirteen. And her deaths were just beginning. As a widow she would watch her son die the painful death reserved for the scum of society on a cross.

Mary had no role in Jesus' public life. Hers was a hidden life. But Mary, as God's secret, became one of the most influential, celebrated women in history . . . This secret, weak, unlettered Mother of God, who is our mother, is the wisdom of God, the power of God. [Rev. Killian McDowell, O.S.B., in a sermon at St. John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minn., January 1, 2005, reprinted in The Abbey Banner, Spring 2005.]
We who prepare to come to the manger again this week are challenged to have Mary's words and life in our hearts and on our lips; to understand the yes that she gave, that our hearts could be ready to say yes and be God's servants in this world...

So as you sing the carols this week, as you ready your nativity scenes, as you look out on this beautiful land of ours, ready you heart to say yes to Jesus at Christmas, to say yes to the angel, to say yes to God, for we are to bear Christ to this world just as Mary once did. Amen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

God in the NY Times

Some interesting articles from last weekend in the NY Times.

Americans: Undecided About God? By ERIC WEINER
THE holidays are upon us again — it sounds vaguely aggressive, as if the holidays were some sort of mugger, or overly enthusiastic lover — and so it’s time to stick a thermometer deep in our souls and take our spiritual temperature (between trips to the mall, of course).

For some of us, the season affords an opportunity to reconnect with our religious heritage. For others, myself included, it’s a time to shake our heads over the sad state of our national conversation about God, and wish there were another way.

For a nation of talkers and self-confessors, we are terrible when it comes to talking about God. The discourse has been co-opted by the True Believers, on one hand, and Angry Atheists on the other. What about the rest of us?

The rest of us, it turns out, constitute the nation’s fastest-growing religious demographic. We are the Nones, the roughly 12 percent of people who say they have no religious affiliation at all. The percentage is even higher among young people; at least a quarter are Nones.

Apparently, a growing number of Americans are running from organized religion, but by no means running from God. On average 93 percent of those surveyed say they believe in God or a higher power; this holds true for most Nones — just 7 percent of whom describe themselves as atheists, according to a survey by Trinity College.
Read the whole article.  His comment, We believe that G. K. Chesterton got it right when he said: “It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.” makes me think he hasn't been in an Episcopal Church lately.  We take our religion seriously but can joke about it too!

When a Catholic Terrified the Heartland By ROBERT A. SLAYTON
WITH Mitt Romney, a member of the Mormon church, quite possibly heading toward the Republican nomination, Americans may be faced with a presidential aspirant whose faith many find strange and troublesome. It would not be the first time that has happened, and during a previous campaign the response was pretty nasty.
The article reminds us we have been down this road before.  Have we learned from it yet?

And finally, we can't forget Tim Tebow.

Tim Tebow’s Gospel of Optimism By FRANK BRUNI
CAN God take credit for the victories of a thick-set N.F.L. quarterback who scrambles in a weirdly jittery fashion, throws one of the ugliest balls in the game, completes fewer than half of his passes and has somehow won six of his team’s last seven games?

That’s a question that actually hovers over the miraculous success of the Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, and at this blessed juncture it’s a silly one, because the answer is unequivocal: Yes. Tebow is powered by conviction and operating on faith, and so are the teammates he’s leading. And you needn’t be an evangelical Christian (as he is), a seriously religious person or even a football fan to be transfixed and enlightened by his example. I speak as a football fan only when I say the following, which I never expected to: The mile-high messiah has a gospel for us all.
Read the whole article.  I agree with him that we are losing the extraordinary response of the Broncos to his (Tebow's) leadership in this debate about his faith.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

New Bible

#CEBTour  I just recieved my new bible - a thin Common English Bible with the Apocrypha.  Thank you CEB!

The preface is very helpful as it reminds us that 400 years ago the King James version was translated so that it would be in the common english of the time so anyone could read it.  The CEB of 2011 endeavors to do the same today.  It is written at a 7th grade reading level and tries to be very accurate with the translation from the original Hebrew & Greek.

To compare it with other translations, go here.

I will comment more on the CEB when I look at the Apocrypha.

I will also be using it for St. Peter's Bible Challenge of 2012.

More details to come...

For the Baptist (Advent Poem)

THE LAST and greatest Herald of Heaven’s King
Girt with rough skins, hies to the deserts wild,
Among that savage brood the woods forth bring,
Which he more harmless found than man, and mild.
His food was locusts, and what there doth spring,
With honey that from virgin hives distill’d;
Parch’d body, hollow eyes, some uncouth thing
Made him appear, long since from earth exiled.
There burst he forth: All ye whose hopes rely
On God, with me amidst these deserts mourn,
Repent, repent, and from old errors turn!
—Who listen’d to his voice, obey’d his cry?
Only the echoes, which he made relent,
Rung from their flinty caves, Repent! Repent!

St. John Baptist by William Drummond

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Advent 2011 Portal

Some articles that caught my attention...

My Take: An open letter to Kermit the Frog by Rev. Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio
Dear Kermit,

You’re right. It’s not about the building.

In your newest movie, I hear them saying that you guys are irrelevant, washed up.

But I’m an Episcopal priest and for years they told me that I and other Christians were washed up and irrelevant, too.

You see, since beginning my ministry, I, like many other Christians, have been bombarded with facts about church decline. The number of people attending church is decreasing while churchgoers' average age is increasing, and a turbulent economy means that the number of people able to tithe or even to give pocket change to churches is decreasing as well.
Read the whole thing here.

Read George Washington's letter on religious freedom here.

The People Who Hate Tim Tebow By Chuck Klosterman

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The King James Bible & Us


There is a wonderful article in the National Geographic about the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.

The KJV, for short, had an immense contribution to the English language, to art, music and so much more.

An excerpt:
You don't have to be a Christian to hear the power of those words—simple
in vocabulary, cosmic in scale, stately in their rhythms, deeply
emotional in their impact. Most of us might think we have forgotten its
words, but the King James Bible has sewn itself into the fabric of the
language. If a child is ever the apple of her parents' eye or an idea
seems as old as the hills, if we are at death's door or at our wits'
end, if we have gone through a baptism of fire or are about to bite the
dust, if it seems at times that the blind are leading the blind or we
are casting pearls before swine, if you are either buttering someone up
or casting the first stone, the King James Bible, whether we know it or
not, is speaking through us. The haves and have-nots, heads on plates,
thieves in the night, scum of the earth, best until last, sackcloth and
ashes, streets paved in gold, and the skin of one's teeth: All of them
have been transmitted to us by the translators who did their magnificent
work 400 years ago.
You can read the article here.

I grew up with it, have memorized a few lines from it but do not use it in my day to day life.  I find it easier to read more modern translations.

I usually use the NRSV, although from time to time I use other translations as well.

Currently, I am reading more and more from the Common English Bible and enjoying it.

A great place to find a lot of translation is

I will write an article soon on the Apocrypha and why it should be in your bible!

Chapel on the Green Sermon

People thronged to him from Judea and Jerusalem and, as they confessed their sins, were baptized by him in the Jordan River into a changed life.
John the Baptist is the one character you never see in Nativity displays. We don’t have statues of him, reminding us to repent, to change our ways. But without John, Advent makes no sense, our preparation for Christmas could not happen. For John reminds us that a changed life is born from within us.

Consider this story…
Kari Robert's brother Tony needed a new kidney to survive. Kari offered her own kidney, but doctors would not even consider it. Kari weighed 320 pounds. And that made her a poor candidate for surgery of any kind, much less one that involved donating a kidney, which were already compromised by her extra weight.

Kari was devastated. A busy working mom, she could not believe her weight had gotten so out of control. So Kari went to work, eating carefully and healthier, walking one mile, then two, and soon three miles a day.

Three years and 135 pounds later, Kari was tested again and found to be a perfect match to donate a kidney to her brother Tony. The love of a sister for her brother saves one life - and in the long-run, probably saved two. [, September 29, 2011.]
The most precious gifts that we give are the gifts that require something from ourselves. Advent teaches us that true Christmas giving is inspired by the Spirit's call for justice, compassion, love and peace and that same Spirit empowered John the Baptist's proclamation of the coming of God's Messiah into the world. Today, our thoughtfulness of the needs and wishes of another are the real manifestations of the love of God in our midst and where we can find the true joy of Christmas. Amen.

Advent 2 Sermon

Comfort, comfort ye my people,
Speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness,
Mourning ’neath their sorrow’s load;
Speak ye to Jerusalem
Of the peace that waits for them;
Tell her that her sins I cover,
And her warfare now is over.

This poem (hymn) based on our text from Isaiah this morning, is a poem of comfort, a poem of gentleness, a poem of community. Comfort – when you hear that word, what comes to mind?

A certain food (for my wife its mashed potatoes), maybe it’s a drink, an image (Calgon take me away) or something else that brings to your mind comfort?

But for God, its comfort of a different kind:

Comfort not for those who are already comfortable but to those who were suffering, those in pain, those looking for help – to them in the reading from Isaiah, God calls out, Comfort my people. It is God remembering the plight of his people.

To those contented and to those suffering, that message would also be sounded by John the Baptist who appears on the scene preaching God’s word, saying repent, change your life, find comfort in God. As the forerunner to Jesus, John sets the stage for all of us.

In Isaiah and JTB, the scattered sheep are being called to come together, to find their comfort with God, to walk the road to Jordan, to Jerusalem, to Bethlehem, to return home once again with their God. I think of this story from Scotland:
Once upon a time there was a pastor who inherited a church on a large island, but that was about it — there was a church building, but not much else. There were a few old souls who came regularly, but most of the younger ones stayed away. They were too busy with the fields and animals, with the new satellite TV, internet, and their own business.

And when the pastor would inquire after them in town or in the pub they'd excuse themselves with the explanation that they prayed better without all those people around them. They did better with their own quiet along the shore or by their own fireplace or kitchen table after everyone else had gone to bed.

So the pastor started visiting them one by one. He'd sit by the fire, drink tea, chat about the price of grain or sheep, and not mention religion. The fire would be crackling warm while the wind gusted outside, and the pastor would lean over and take a twig out of the fire. He was careful to take one that was glowing hot and burning well, and he would lay it on the edge of the stone fireplace and let it sit. He'd continue with the conversation and say not a word about the twig.

And as they'd talk the twig would cool down; the glow would begin to fade; the twig would smoke and eventually die out. When that happened the pastor would stop in midsentence, look his parishioner in the eye, and put the twig back on the fire, holding it until it caught again. And then he'd take his leave.

The first man got the message. Next day a woman did. Pretty soon the story started getting around, and by the end of the month the church was packed… (from Megan McKenna)

Why was the Church packed? Because they understood, they needed the fire, they needed God. And they needed each other. We too need to dream, repent, turn our faces toward God together. Advent is something we do together to catch the fire of Jesus at Christmas.

The season of Advent, with our readings, with the figure of John the Baptist, reminds us of our higher calling, to live more than what our culture says about this time, a time of buying happiness, and instead to make this journey together through Advent.

A journey that begins by making all the preparations in ourselves and our world and helping make this world ready for our God who is coming into its midst. For we are called to repent of our sin, to make the crooked straight, to bring up the lowly, to bring comfort to God’s people…

· Much like our journey to Chapel on the Green today; bringing comfort to the homeless

· the work of Conect (Congregations Organized for a New CT) and all the 25+ congregations and their people coming together to promote job training, affordable health care & home mortgages – Conect gives voice to the voiceless esp. with the government. – They did it together from very diverse faith groups.

The Advent journey we make together is to live in ways that are in harmony with our God and each other, for the time of our salvation is coming near, and we must be ready & eager to meet Christ again this Christmas. Amen.

St. Nicholas (of Myra)

Today is the feast day of St. Nicholas of Myra, aka St. Nick, aka Santa Claus.

You can learn more about him at this website.

An excerpt:
The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara.
At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of
Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian,
died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words
to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used
his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering.
He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra
while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the
land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and
his concern for sailors and ships.

Widely celebrated in Europe, St. Nicholas' feast day, December 6th, kept
alive the stories of his goodness and generosity. In Germany and
Poland, boys dressed as bishops begged alms for the poor—and sometimes
for themselves! In the Netherlands and Belgium, St. Nicholas arrived on a
steamship from Spain to ride a white horse on his gift-giving rounds.
December 6th is still the main day for gift giving and merrymaking in
much of Europe. For example, in the Netherlands St. Nicholas is
celebrated on the 5th, the eve of the day, by sharing candies (thrown in
the door), chocolate initial letters, small gifts, and riddles. Dutch
children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint's horse,
hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts. Simple
gift-giving in early Advent helps preserve a Christmas Day focus on the Christ Child.
Let your continual mercy, O Lord, kindle in your church the
never-failing gift of charity, that, following the example of
your servant Nicholas of Myra, we may have grace to deal in
generosity and love with children and with all who are poor and
distressed, and to uphold the cause of those who have no
helper; for the sake of him who gave his life for us, your Son
our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever.  Amen.

Almighty God, who in your love gave to your servant Nicholas of
Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness on land and sea:
Grant, we pray, that your Church may never cease to work for
the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of
the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or
grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Story of Why We Need Each Other & the Church

Once upon a time there was a pastor who inherited a church on a large island, but that was about it — there was a church building, but not much else. There were a few old souls who came regularly, but most of the younger ones stayed away. They were too busy with the fields and animals, with the new satellite TV, internet, and their own business.

And when the pastor would inquire after them in town or in the pub they'd excuse themselves with the explanation that they prayed better without all those people around them. They did better with their own quiet along the shore or by their own fireplace or kitchen table after everyone else had gone to bed.

So the pastor started visiting them one by one. He'd sit by the fire, drink tea, chat about the price of grain or sheep, and not mention religion. The fire would be crackling warm while the wind gusted outside, and the pastor would lean over and take a twig out of the fire. He was careful to take one that was glowing hot and burning well, and he would lay it on the edge of the stone fireplace and let it sit. He'd continue with the conversation and say not a word about the twig.

And as they'd talk the twig would cool down; the glow would begin to fade; the twig would smoke and eventually die out. When that happened the pastor would stop in midsentence, look his parishioner in the eye, and put the twig back on the fire, holding it until it caught again. And then he'd take his leave.

The first man got the message. Next day a woman did. Pretty soon the story started getting around, and by the end of the month the church was packed…

Why? Because they understood, they needed the fire (God) and they needed each other.

(a story from Scotland, from Megan McKenna )

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Invite Someone this Christmas

Its that time of year when people feel an urge to come back to Church.  It is a good thing!

Why not invite your friend, neighbor, coworker who may be looking for a Church home or a place to come just for the season., to St. Peter's?

Do it!  Just as Canon Frank Logue puts it:
Christmas will be upon us sooner than I care to imagine.
With it, as with Easter, comes one of our two best opportunities to
invite friends, family and co-workers to join you for worship. Survey
after survey shows that most southerners who do not have a church home
will react favorably to an invitation to church at these times of year.
Even in this post-Christendom age many are culturally conditioned toward
Christmas and Easter worship.

This is a great time of year to make sure that you have flyers about
your Christmas liturgies and any other special events, such as Lessons
and Carols. Encourage everyone in your congregation to give them to
friends, family and co-workers with an invitation to join your church family for Christmas. The one caveat is this: even
if the person reacts favorably, and even says they will come, they might
well not darken the church doors this Feast of the Nativity. Most of us
then decide that the seed has been scattered on soil not yet disposed
toward growth and then never make another invitation. This is where we
can easily fail in scattering seed.

It may well take a Christmas invitation, followed by an Easter
invitation, followed by yet another Christmas invitation before your
friends actually show up for church. Never underestimate the inertia
that must be overcome to make the move from not attending church to
worshipping faithfully. Keep the invitations persistent and low key,
always making sure folks know they are welcome, without ever making
someone feel bad for not showing up. That is how such seeds are
consistently scattered.

Read his whole article here or here.

A handy flyer regarding our Advent & Christmas services is here.

CONECT is founded!

I was there last night at its founding as an observer.  It was a great founding!

Here's a story about it:

Churches, synagogues CONECT to join force to fight social ills by John Burgeson
A significant new multi-faith organization, united to fight such social ills as unfair banking practices, high health insurance costs and abusive treatment of immigrants, got a rousing start Wednesday night as about 1,500 packed an East End church to incorporate CONECT.

The name stands for "Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut." It's a multi-faith amalgam of 25 houses of worship in Fairfield and New Haven counties, encompassing Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims and Unitarians. Organizers said that CONECT might eventually span the state. The event took place at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit on Union Avenue, which was packed to the rafters with supporters.

There were about a dozen VIPs seated behind the pulpit, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who pledged to work with CONECT.

"I'm always happy to meet with your representatives," he said. Other politicians and officials there included state Sen. John McKinney, R-Fairfield; state Insurance Commissioner Tom Leonardi; Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport.

Member houses of worship in Fairfield and New Haven counties pledged nearly $101,000 Wednesday night to get CONECT going, and another $70,000 in grant funds were taken in as well. Some small churches from poor neighborhoods pledged a few hundred dollars, while churches and synagogues from wealthier towns contributed many thousands.

"The idea is for people to get power ---- safe streets, quality health care and so forth," said Peter A Rosazza, auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford, and one of CONECT's founders. "These issue come from the people."

CONECT leaders said that they expect its numbers to swell.

"We have a number of faith organizations here who are observing us tonight who are interested in becoming members as well," said Elizabeth Keenan, coordinator of the Pastoral Council at St. James Parish in Stratford, and another one of the organizers. "We've gotten to the tipping point where we could incorporate tonight. We'll be here for a long time."
You can read the whole article here.

A Decade of Progress on AIDS (Bono - Ny Times)

I’LL tell you the worst part about it, for me.

It was the look in their eyes when the nurses gave them the diagnosis — H.I.V.-positive — then said there was no treatment. I saw no anger in their expression. No protest. If anything, just a sort of acquiescence.

The anger came from the nurses, who knew there really was a treatment — just not for poor people in poor countries. They saw the absurdity in the fact that an accident of geography would deny their patients the two little pills a day that could save their lives.

This was less than a decade ago. And all of us who witnessed these dedicated African workers issuing death sentence after death sentence still feel fury and shame. AIDS set off an almost existential crisis in the West. It forced us to ask ourselves the big, uncomfortable questions, like whether capitalism, which invented the global village and kept it well stocked with stuff, could also create global solutions. Whether we were interested in charity... or justice.

The wanton loss of so many lives in Africa offended the very idea of America: the idea that everyone is created equal and that your destiny is your own to make. By the late 1990s, AIDS campaigners in the United States and around the world teamed up with scientists and doctors to insist that someone — anyone — put the fire out. The odds against this were as extreme as the numbers: in 2002, two million people were dying of AIDS and more than three million were newly infected with H.I.V. Around 50,000 people in the sub-Saharan region had access to treatment.

Yet today, here we are, talking seriously about the “end” of this global epidemic. There are now 6.6 million people on life-saving AIDS medicine. But still too many are being infected. New research proves that early antiretroviral treatment, especially for pregnant women, in combination with male circumcision, will slash the rate of new H.I.V. cases by up to 60 percent. This is the tipping point we have been campaigning for. We’re nearly there.

How did we get here? America led. I mean really led.
You can read the whole op-ed piece here.

Another piece from Time (with Bono) is here.

A Prayer on AIDS Day

A Collect for World AIDS Day

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

You can read the Episcopal, ELCA Presiding Bishops issue World AIDS Day 2011 letter here.