Monday, November 25, 2013

November 24 Sermon

Given at the 8 AM service...
Last week, Deacon Christopher got us thinking about California Dreamin (leaves brown, skies grey), this week I heard another song, this by Elton John from 40 years ago…
So goodbye yellow brick road
Where the dogs of society howl
You can't plant me in your penthouse
I'm going back to my plough

Back to the howling old owl in the woods
Hunting the horny back toad
Oh I've finally decided my future lies
Beyond the yellow brick road
Our lives too live beyond the yellow brick road, beyond the gold of fortune and fame.

Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz might have needed the yellow brick road to find the wizard to help her get home, but for us, this Yellow Brick Road is a lie, for it doesn’t lead us home. I think of JRR Tolkien’s poem:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost…
Too much is said about wealth and power, all the glitter, everything new, the golden path… too little is said about love and sacrifice. What holds us back, what makes us to want to walk the yellow brick road is fear. Fear of the future. Fear of change. Fear of what might be. That power and wealth can save us. So we cling to the status quo. We cling to our needs. We cling to our lives.

And yet, Jesus promises something very different for us.

"Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

Jesus was mocked. They laughed at him. The leaders, the Romans soldiers even the crowd thought Jesus should save himself. One of the thieves crucified with him, derided him.

Should not the messiah save himself? But instead, Jesus looked with compassion upon another who received the same death penalty he had.

"Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

On this Christ the King Sunday, we remember…
  • He never rode a majestic steed, he entered on a humble colt
  • The crown he wore was made of thorns, not jewels
  • The path he followed lead to his death on a cross
  • Many deserted him and others ridiculed him and his message.
And yet, even when he knew his death was imminent. He acted with love towards another.

Our path as followers of Christ does not lead us down any yellow brick roads; instead our path follows where Jesus went, to the foot of the cross and beyond; to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

For Teilhard de Cahrdin, the Heart of Jesus was the “fire” bursting into the universe to energize it in love. The heart of Jesus was not destroyed that day, for death could not hold it, the cross couldn’t stop it.

The heart of Jesus, the heart of love lives on today to those who believe, for those who let go of the fear and embrace the Spirit of God. It reminds of the words from last night’s move, El Norte, when Enrique remembers the words of his father that his life is not what he can do with his arms, it is about his "heart and soul” and that is true for us too, where we put our faith and trust, matters.
Can we allow ourselves to enter into the heart of this wisdom and truly let go of all the falsehoods and static beliefs we have created and keep holding onto? The false salvation? Sacrifice/Fasting – to let go

Can we enter into this evolving consciousness that keeps calling us into the deeper Reality of Love? Into Prayer – to go deeper into God who transforms us.

Can we trust the promise of Jesus that when we can let go of all that binds us and that today you will be with me in paradise? For truly paradise and salvation belong to Jesus and is offered to us.

The Cross is the door way into paradise but we must awaken to a deeper consciousness – a consciousness open to “doing Christ” and nurturing the Christ within us that has been given to us in our baptism. (Annemarie Reiner)
Nan Merrill in her adaption of a Psalm says this: My spirit soared when a Voice spoke to me; “Come, come to the Heart of Love!” How long I have stood within the house of fear yearning to enter the gates of Love!

Oh let us finally decide that our future lies, beyond the yellow brick road; let us seek out the Heart of Jesus and live it out in our lives too. For then we will leave this house of fear we have built for ourselves, and we will find paradise at the gates of God’s Love. Amen.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Praying for those hit by the Tornadoes

For those communities affected by the Tornadoes in IL, IN and KY:

God our refuge and hope:
Hear our prayers for those whose lives have been overturned by disaster.
Direct relief to the desperate,
comfort the injured and bereaved,
calm the fears of those who do not know where to turn,
cheer and protect the downhearted,
strengthen those who lend help,
and in all things increase compassion and care for the commonweal;
through Jesus who knew our sufferings
and opens for us the gate of new life. Amen. (The Rev. Jennifer Phillips)

For our distress:

O God, when all the world looks gray and dirt shows everywhere and nothing is as it should be, you seem very far away. O God, help me to remember the days when you were near and I knew it. Even when you seem far away, help me never to turn my back on you. Set me on the path to you and help me hold fast until I find your light once more. Amen. (Avery Brooke)

O Lord, when I am bewildered and the world is all noise and confusion around me and I don't know which way to go and am frightened, then be with me. Put your hand on my shoulder and let your strength invade my weakness and your light burn the mist from my mind. Help me to move forward with faith in the way I should go. Amen. (Avery Brooke)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Helping the Philippines

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori offers the following prayer for the people of the Philippines:

O God our help in time of trouble, we pray for the Filipino people who have suffered this grievous natural disaster. We pray that survivors may find water, food, and shelter, and news of their missing loved ones. There is trauma and destruction in many places, and little news from some of the areas hardest hit. Give peace and confidence, O Lord, to those in the midst of the whirlwind. Open hearts and hands around the world to respond sacrificially to the urgent need. Help us to remember that we are connected, one to another, the living to the dead, the comfortable to the suffering, the peaceful to the worried and anxious. Motivate us to change our hearts, for our misuse and pollution of the earth you have given us to share has something to do with this disaster.  Show us your suffering Son in the midst of this Calvary, that we might love one another as he has loved us.  In your holy name we pray.  Amen.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Episcopal Relief & Development will receive and use your donations in partnership with the Episcopal Church in the Philippines.  Information is here

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Veterans Day Prayer

O God of peace,
we pray for those who have served our nation,
who laid down their lives
to protect and defend our freedom...

We pray for those who have fought,
whose spirits and bodies are scarred by war
and whose nights are haunted by memories
too painful for the light of day...

We pray for those who serve us now,
especially for those in harm's way:
shield them from danger
and bring them home,

Turn the hearts and minds
of our leaders and our enemies
to the work of justice and a harvest of peace...

May the peace you left us,
the peace you gave us,
be the peace that sustains,
the peace that saves us.

O Lord Jesus, hear our prayer
for our Veterans & their families,
for those who heard the call and serve today
and for a lasting peace in our country & world!

(slightly adapted from the Concord Pastor)

In Flanders Fields

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.

(by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, 1915)

The Jim Wolf Transformation

You need to watch this video!

November 10 Sermon

“Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."

This was Jesus answer to the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, who tried to trap Jesus in a question. But Jesus was not interested in their question.

For Jesus, those who have died “are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”

Resurrection is real. It’s not about death. It’s about life. For “life is a gift” from our God who created us, breathed his spirit upon us, who wants us to live fully!

There is a scene in Shawshank Redemption between Andy Dufrane & Red as they discuss life behind the walls of the prison and Andy’s dream of going to Mexico. It’s a pipe dream…
“It comes down to a simple choice: Get busy living, or get busy dying.” (Andy)
It is the choice we all have to make. For many who heard the call to serve this country, they made a choice and put their lives on the line for their country and their fellow soldiers…
Sixty years ago, a group of American GIs walked out of a North Korean prison camp, carrying a large wooden crucifix they had made from firewood and bits of wire. The cross was a tribute to a fellow prisoner who had touched their souls and saved their lives - Father Emil Kapaun [Ka-PAWN].

After the Communist invasion of South Korea in 1950, Chaplain Kapaun was among the first American troops that hit the beaches and pushed their way north through hard mountains and bitter cold. When 20,000 Chinese troops swept down on the vastly outnumbered American force at Unsan, Father Kapaun raced across no-man's land, dodging bullets and explosions to drag the wounded to safety.

Father Kapaun and a dozen other Americans were taken prisoner. As they were being led away to a prison camp at Pyoktong, the priest saw another American lying in a ditch, unable to walk, his ankle shattered in a grenade blast. A Chinese soldier was about to execute the American - but Father Kapaun pushed the Chinese soldier aside. As the stunned soldier watched, Father Kapaun picked up the wounded GI and carried him for miles. When other prisoners stumbled, he picked them up, as well. When they wanted to quit - knowing that stragglers would be shot - the priest begged them to keep walking.

During that brutally cold winter, Father Kapaun took care of the sick, gave away his own clothes to freezing prisoners, fashioned pots to boil water to battle dysentery, and prayed with the men in their huts. He was known as "the good thief" for his ability to steal food and trade anything he had for meager supplies. It was his selfless faith and unwavering hope, survivors of the ordeal remember, that saved their lives.

But the chaplain did not survive. Crippled by a blood clot in his leg and weakened by dysentery and pneumonia, Father Kapaun died on May 23, 1951. He was 35 years old. Two years later, the camp was liberated. April 11, 2013 Father Emil Kapaun was awarded the Medal of Honor, our nation's highest military honor. It was the members of his unit who fought for years for this recognition for their chaplain, their "shepherd in combat boots."
Father Emil Kapaun's brought life to the dying, hope to the hopeless, who understood that our God is God not of the dead, but of the living and he fought so they may live. He got busy living.

Sometimes, our veterans need help…

At first glance, Jim Wolf, a U.S. Army veteran, looked the stereotype of the homeless veteran that he was, one who struggled with poverty and alcoholism for years. While these internal struggles can take a long time to cast off and reverse, it took only a few hours in a salon chair to change Wolf’s image and begin to turn around how the Grand Rapids, MI, man even viewed himself.

A local filmmaker wanting to change the way people stereotype the homeless gave Wolf a makeover. He has since begun turning his life around after seeing his own physical potential. Rob Bliss, a 25-year-old was inspired to do good for his community, and inspired by the personal care brand Dove’s evolution video, which showed a woman transformed with hair, makeup and Photoshop into a model looking nothing like the original subject, Bliss wanted to show how a physical transformation for some people doesn’t cover up who they are, but reveals who they could be.

“The homeless are people we ignore every day,” He said. He created a time-lapse video of the physical transformation of a homeless person to show “they have that potential too.”

That’s what brought Bliss to Degage, a local Christian ministry providing services to the homeless in Grand Rapids, and to Jim Wolf, who served in the U.S. Army. A local stylist volunteered and a production team came on board.

Then for hours in September, Wolf sat in a salon chair as stylist Anna Walt, snipped, buzzed, trimmed, cleaned, dyed and blew dry. Wolf was quiet during the time in the chair. Wolf, who had not seen himself throughout the transformation, said “wow” when a full-length mirror was turned toward him and he finally saw his reflection.

“We all have an image of ourselves,” Marge Palmerlee, executive director of Degage said. “When he saw the difference, he just … felt very enlightened and uplifted. I could just tell the difference in Jim.”

Since his makeover, Wolf will soon move into his own apartment and has been attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. While this transformation was for one man and the video encourages people to donate to a specific, local ministry, it contains messages that reach much further.

“An outward transformation is important, but an inward one is more important,” Palmerlee said. She said she hopes it also helps change stereotypes to give people a perspective that “everyone is worthy of being treated with dignity and respect.” “We all know that war wounds are not all external,” Palmerlee said.

The videographer said, “If I can get people to look at any homeless person on the street and realize that potential, that ‘what if,’ and root for their success”(
Our God is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all are alive… so we better get busy living, helping the Jim Wolfs, honoring the fallen, and living this life, the gift we have been given. Amen.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Praying for the Philippines

Prayers for those affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan

Lord, you who calmed the storm at sea, quiet the fears, ease the pain, tend the grief, and light the darkness of your children affected by Haiyan. In stunned silence, be their voice. In rages against the night, be their balm. In bewilderment, be their hope. Lead rescuers to the lost, shelter the waiting. Sustain those who work to make life's necessities spring forth in this desert of gloom. Blanket the weary with your tender touch. Shake us from our comforts to share out sisters and brothers' sorrow and burden and assist and pray them into new life. We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus, who suffered and was raised to new life. Amen.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Prayers for an Election

Many communities have municipal elections on Tuesday.

For an Election (from the BCP)
Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States and of this Town of Monroe in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Saints of God

At the parish I grew up at (St. James, Birmingham, MI), their children's chapel had beautiful stained glass windows of this hymn by Lesbia Scott and first published in 1929 (the windows as I remember them in parenthesis):

I sing a song of the saints of God,
Patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
For the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, (Albert Schweitzer)
and one was a queen, (Queen Elizabeth)
And one was a shepherdess on the green; (Joan of Arc)
They were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.

They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
And his love made them strong;
And they followed the right for Jesus' sake
The whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier,  (George Washington)
and one was a priest, (?)
And one was slain by a fierce wild beast; (Dietrich Bonehoeffer)
And there's not any reason, no, not the least,
Why I shouldn't be one too.

They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus' will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too.

A hymn to remind us that we are called to be saints too!

("Teach by works more than by words. We must all try to be preachers through our deeds." ~ St. Teresa of Avila.)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

All Saints' Sermon

Eternal God, you have always taken men and women of every nation, age and race and made them saints; and like them, transformed, baptized in Jesus' name, take us to share your glory. Amen.

For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed…
And so begins the famous All Saints hymn, remembering those whose labor is done, who have professed their faith with their lives. As one person put it:
“We are part of a wider communion of saints that unites us to those who have borne witness down through the centuries to the truth of Jesus Christ. Our belief in a communion of saints asserts that the boundaries between the present and the eternal, between this world and the next, are an illusion.” (Br. Robert L’Esperance, Society of Saint John the Evangelist)
On this All Saints Sunday we are reminded that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, the communion of saints, those who are with us in Spirit, and are always with us. They are right here with us, right now…
One day a visitor asked the parish priest on a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea, “How many people usually worship here on Sunday?” The priest’s answer was, “Oh, about ten to twelve thousand, I would suppose.” The visitor was somewhat bewildered. “This is a tiny island,” she said, “and the church is small. Where do all these people come from and how can they possibly fit into so small a church building?”

The priest smiled and then said to the visitor, “All the people who ever lived on this island since it received the gospel message are still here. Just think of what we say in the sacred liturgy: ‘Therefore with all the angels and the saints and the whole company of the faithful we praise your glory forever.’

“Don’t you realize,” he added, “that when we sing we are joining with all the holy ones who have ever worshiped in this church?”
St. Peter’s Church is over 200 years old… consider all those who found this their spiritual home these past two centuries, they continue to be with us now. And we too are called to be like them, saints in our own day, living out our baptismal faith. But what does this mean?
“In the New Testament, the word “saints” is used to describe the entire membership of the Christian community, and in the Collect for All Saints’ Day the word “elect” is used in a similar sense. From very early times, however, the word “saint” came to be applied primarily to persons of heroic sanctity, whose deeds were recalled with gratitude by later generations.” (Lesser Feasts & Fasts, 2000)
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.
How different are the saints:

Francis gave up the family wealth, the ready made job, glory in war & life of the upper class, and chose instead to heed the voice of God and rebuild God’s church and care for all creation.

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.

Martin Luther King Jr., preached a prophetic call of racial and economic equality, even as so many fought against what he and so many others were doing to right the wrongs in our country.

What’s true of the saints is that they found joy and hope by doing what God called them to do.
In the words of 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. 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.

Today, Paige & Macy will join the household of God. And through the witness of parents, Godparents, family and friends, and this parish, they will be baptized and will grow up and learn about the gift of life, a gift to be lived and enjoyed and given away.

This joy and hope is grounded in our lives. How we follow Christ, living our lives as witnesses to this faith… and how we live in faith is the Gospel message for today, the Lucan Beatitudes were given to the disciples, where Jesus taught…

Blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and are hated for Jesus sake, for God will correct this. But woe to us that fail to live into this, for we will have received our reward. Instead, we are to love, to do good, to bless and to give. These are the marks of one who lives the Beatitudes and one who is baptized and lives into following Jesus on the way, just as the saints have done.

In a society that lives on wealth and prestige, on aggressiveness and displays of power, the Beatitudes are a very different way of living our lives. They challenge us to see that the saints and the faithful departed were committed to their faith, their community and their God. They lived these Beatitudes in their lives. We account them faithful and numbered in heaven.

Let us commit ourselves to the faith of Christ, and let us in hope, remember the saints, our faithful departed, knowing that one day we will join them. Our challenge on this All Saints Sunday and always, is to remember the saints and listen to God like they did, for God calls each one of us, to do unto others, by giving of ourselves (time, talent & treasure) and find that indeed our life is a gift, it is joy, and it is meant to be given away. Amen.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Who are the heroes?

As I think about the saints and the heroic works of faith they accomplished, I came across this article and it got me to thinking about heroism today (hat tip Episcopal Cafe):

How Professional Athletes Can Transform Into Heroes By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kids need heroes. Heroes provide models of exemplary behavior to emulate. Heroes inspire kids to achieve more than they thought they were capable of, to find strength when they thought they didn’t have any more, to follow a code of moral conduct when it would be easier and maybe more popular not to.  But when it comes to sports figures, Americans seem a little confused about what defines a hero. [...]
In general, professional athletes aren’t any better. Yet, why do we persist in turning athletes into heroes? One reason is that they embody an important aspect of the American Dream. Many professional athletes come from economically depressed backgrounds. Yet, through enormous discipline and dedication, they have made themselves into successes. They now have lots of fame, friends, finances, and fans. Every child’s dream.

While we should applaud them for their achievements, we shouldn’t yet elevate them to the status of heroes. Being a hero depends on what they do next...
I would say that is true of the saints we remember, they had faith, they were just like you and me, but what they did next helped define them for generations...

Read the article.  It is well worth your time.

All Souls Day

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

The Commemoration of the Faithful Departed:

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

- Posted using BlogPress from my mystical iPad!

Friday, November 1, 2013

All Saints' Day

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

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

A Hymn for All Saints'

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the apostles' glorious company,
who bearing forth the cross o'er land and sea,
shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
is fair and fruitful, be thy Name adored.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
and seeing, grasped it, thee we glorify.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
and win, with them the victor's crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
we feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
all are one in thee, for all are thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
the saints triumphant rise in bright array;
the King of glory passes on his way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
and singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!