Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Big Heart


"Too many things are occurring for even a big heart to hold."
From an essay by W. B. Yeats

Big heart,
wide as a watermelon,
but wise as birth,
there is so much abundance
in the people I have:
Max, Lois, Joe, Louise,
Joan, Marie, Dawn,
Arlene, Father Dunne,
and all in their short lives
give to me repeatedly,
in the way the sea
places its many fingers on the shore,
again and again
and they know me,
they help me unravel,
they listen with ears made of conch shells,
they speak back with the wine of the best region.
They are my staff.
They comfort me.

They hear how
the artery of my soul has been severed
and soul is spurting out upon them,
bleeding on them,
messing up their clothes,
dirtying their shoes.
And God is filling me,
though there are times of doubt
as hollow as the Grand Canyon,
still God is filling me.
He is giving me the thoughts of dogs,
the spider in its intricate web,
the sun
in all its amazement,
and a slain ram
that is the glory,
the mystery of great cost,
and my heart,
which is very big,
I promise it is very large,
a monster of sorts,
takes it all in--
all in comes the fury of love.

~ Anne Sexton

- Posted using BlogPress from my mystical iPad!

Praying in the New Year

Prayer for New Year By Kay Hoffman

Another year is dawning
With the chance to start anew.
May I be kinder, wiser, Lord,
In all I say and do.

Not so caught up in selfish gain
That I would fail to see
The things in life that mean the most
Cost not a fancy fee.

The warm, kind word that I can give,
The outstretched hand to help,
The prayers I pray for those in need--
More precious these than wealth.

I know not what may lie ahead
Of laughter or of tears;
I only need to know each day
That You are walking near.

I'm thankful for this brand new year
As now I humbly pray,
My hand secure in Yours, dear Lord,
Each step along the way.


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)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Day Sermon

It is said that the children of the great composer Johan Sebastian Bach found that the easiest way to awaken their father was to play or sing a few lines of music and leave off the last note. The composer would get up immediately, go to the piano and strike the final chord. One Christmas, a father decided to try the same approach on his slugabed household. Up before everyone else, Dad went to the piano in the living room downstairs and played "Silent Night" - purposely leaving off the last note. Then he walked to the bottom of the staircase and listened. The quiet from the children's bedrooms soon gave way to a rumble of activity. The eight-year-old son could be heard trying to find the last note on his harmonica. The teenage daughter was trying to conquer "morning voice" to sing the last note. Finally his wife hustled downstairs. After banging out the last note of the carol on the piano, she eyed her husband, "Donald, did you do that on purpose?" [From Escape the Coming Night by David Jeremiah.]
The last note left off…I love that story. And it fits with our Christmas celebrations, for the last note, God purposely leaves off for us to sing…

Let me tell you a story – The Singing Shepherd by Angela Elwell Hunt
We all are called to give the last note of Christmas, whether we sing it or play it – to make it our own, for no matter who we are, Christmas is for you and for me. For today there is good news of great joy for us all: born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, our Lord. Amen.

Christmas Eve Sermon

Just a few minutes ago, you helped me set up our Nativity (our crèche). We have the angels, the shepherds, Mary & Joseph of course and baby Jesus. There are the animals too and sometimes they have a story to tell us…

The Naughty Donkey by Agatha Christie

This is the night that we remember how our world was transformed by the birth of the baby Jesus. Tonight, shepherds will leave their flocks to find the Good News in the manger, angels will sing. And a donkey would stop being naughty and look to be good, keeping the holy family safe.

So tonight when you head off to bed, remember the baby Jesus born humbly in a manger for all of us tonight. Let us end with a prayer, a prayer from a verse in Away in a Manger. Repeat after me:
Be near me, Lord Jesus,
I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever,
and love me, I pray;
Bless all the dear children
in Thy tender care,
And fit us for Heaven
to live with Thee there. Amen.
Agatha Christie the crime novelist said in her autobiography, that in her mystery books, she wanted to include ideas of right and wrong and religious faith, but her publishers didn’t want that, so she wrote a book of short stories from which The Naughty Donkey is drawn from, that explores her faith. (A Star over Bethlehem)

It brings right and wrong and places it right before us & asks us to consider what we would do. On that Christmas night long ago, just as tonight, whether we are a poor shepherd, a naughty donkey, or a rich king on the way to the manger, it is this baby who will transform our lives.
  • What is the baby Jesus saying to you tonight?
  • What if the baby reached out his hand and touched you tonight…
May all of us gathered here, with the awe of the shepherds, the voice of the angels and the humility of those animals, remember in our hearts that tonight there is good news of great joy for us all: born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A thought for Christmas

In this month of December as we ponder the birth of Jesus anew, I am reminded of the revelation that the Grinch (from How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss) experiences after he has taken all of the presents and decorations and food from the Whos of Who-ville. They wake-up on Christmas morning and begin to sing their song...
“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
And the Grinch's heart grew three sizes that day...

Christmas is not about buying. It’s not about presents. A lovely quote online put it this way: “Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.” (Janice Maeditere)
“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” (Gospel of John)
That light brought rich Wise Men and poor Shepherds to the manger to glorify and praise God. It was the light in the midst of the darkness in the world. It brought grace upon grace. Indeed, God let it show on that first Christmas Day when the word became flesh and dwelt among us that what is important is our relationships.

Today, let us open our hearts for Christ is born for us, the Word has become flesh and dwelt among us, and that open heart can lead us to do what Christ asks us to do today and always, to love one another.

4th Sunday of Advent Sermon

O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Let us not forget poor Joseph! The prayer I just read is for his feast day on March 19.

At the next service, we will have our Christmas pageant & when it comes to the Christmas Pageant, we think of Mary & Jesus, the animals in the stable, the angels singing overhead, the shepherds who will come leaving their sheep, the magi bringing gifts and then there is Joseph. Joseph is always there but he does seem at times to be a side character, not as important as the others. I think of a Nativity Icon, that captures all the different stories of Christmas and there Joseph sits in the corner of the icon, with his head resting in his hands wondering what has happened…

But it is Gospel of Matthew who reminds us of the importance of Joseph, b/c Matthew tells us that Jesus is named by the angel to Joseph in a dream.

Dreams play important roles in the lives of so many characters in the bible. For Joseph, when he heard the angel speak to him in that dream, he had a decision to make. Joseph was engaged to be married to Mary. He found out she was pregnant. He knew it wasn’t his. What was he to do?

He could throw her out, and make a huge stink and let everyone know about the child conceived out of wedlock. He could get the people to ostracize her, maybe even stone her to death. But Joseph was a righteous man, and he decided to dismiss her quietly, a generous and merciful act. But in that dream an angel of the Lord appears to him and everything changes

It is a startling dream and it must have shook his soul, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit, and you will name him Jesus and he will save his people from their sins.”

Joseph had set his mind on leaving her. He could have said no to the angel. But Joseph does not, he listens, he takes Mary as his wife. And Jesus is born. And all will change because of this child. The words of Isaiah ring in our ears: “The young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” and “he will refuse the evil and choose the good.”

Joseph sets an example for us: The willingness to change one’s mind when confronted by God’s word and God’s spirit. The courage in the midst of fear to follow God’s way even if one does not know where it may lead. In the words of W. H. Auden:
To choose what is difficult all one’s days
As if it were easy, that is faith.
Joseph, praise.
That type of transformation is also true in Dickens’ famous Christmas Carol.
One Christmas a church staged Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The role of Ebenezer Scrooge was played by a parishioner who was a gentleman of un-Scrooge-like generosity. But he managed his part with gusto, growling his way through the opening scenes, ringing out every "Bah! Humbug!" with miserly ill will. He shivered with fright and dreadful self-recognition as he encountered each of the three Christmas ghosts.

At the end of the play, the transformed and jubilant Scrooge throws open his bedroom window and bellows festively to the startled city street below, "Merry Christmas, everyone! Merry Christmas!" Scrooge then spies a street urchin passing by: "Hey you, boy, you there!" the joyful Scrooge shouts, "Come up here, boy, I've got something wonderful for you to do!" and sends the boy off to purchase the giant turkey in the poulterer's window as a surprise for the Cratchits.

That's when something unexpected happened one evening.

Now, in this staging, the audience did not see the urchin. No actor appeared on stage as the boy - the audience imagined the boy Scrooge was calling to. But at this particular performance, when the transformed Scrooge beckoned from the window to the unseen boy, a real six-year-old boy sitting in the audience with his family, rose from his seat and walked onto the stage ready to do "something wonderful.”

The boy in the audience thought Scrooge was calling him.

The actor playing Scrooge was caught off guard. There was now an unscripted child standing center stage. What to do? The audience held its breath. Then the person of faith beneath the veneer of Scrooge came to the fore. Bounding down from his window perch, Scrooge strode across the stage and cheerily embraced the waiting boy.

"Yes, indeed," he exclaimed, his voice full of blessing. "You are the one, the very one I had in mind." Then he gently led the boy back to his seat in the audience, returned to the stage and resumed the play. When the curtain calls were held, it was, of course, this boy, the one who had felt himself personally summoned from his seat, who received, along with old Ebenezer, the audience's loudest and warmest applause. [Thomas Long.]
In the Christmas story of Matthew - a husband feeling betrayed by his fiancée's unexpected pregnancy - we see the Spirit of God at work, transforming heartache and misery into birth and blessing. That same Spirit calls us to be about the work of bringing Emmanuel to birth in our own houses and stables, to our own Bethlehems and Nazareths, to our own counting houses and London towns. Christmas calls from us "something wonderful": the grace of God that enables us to experience the same transformation as the selfish old Scrooge undergoes in the Dickens' story and Joseph underwent in the Gospel of Matthew’s story.

May this Advent season be the beginning of our faithful response to God's call to bring the wonder, hope and peace of his Son's birth into every season and place. And May we have the courage and faith and willingness to be transformed like Joseph, to say yes to God, to welcome the birth of Jesus at Christmas with all the anticipation and hope that we have had this season of Advent. Amen.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Standing at the Edge of the Rain (A Sandy Hook reflection)

This post was written by a parishioner whose son survived the tragedy in Sandy Hook (he was in the classroom across the hall):

As we approach the anniversary of 12/14, many of my friends outside Sandy Hook and Newtown have asked ‘How are you doing? What can we do?’ There truth of the matter is, there is no simple answer. But in an effort to help you understand where we are as a community, I’ve posted the following essay to try to capture the spirit of this week and the mindset of my community. I’m posting it now, because it is not just about 12/14 – but also the days before and the days after and their stark contrast to one another that has us all stirring.  I hope you find it worth a couple minutes to read…
Standing at the Edge of the Rain
By: Aimee M Tabor

When I was 21, I moved to Australia. It was my year of adventure and road trips were the norm. Once on the way to a camping trip, I begged my friend to pull over so I could take a picture of a rainbow. It was magnificent – a full arc stretching as far as you could see in either direction with every color perfectly confined to its specific row. I set up my camera (ahh the days of real film and manual settings), but after the picture, I stood for a while and admired the reason for such as an amazing spectacle. There was a storm coming in off the south coast, it was a magnificent clash of a solid black wall of clouds and stunning blue skies. I stood in the road for a while (we were in the middle of no where) and just watched. Then the rain started to roll in, very much in slow motion. It was the oddest feeling ever. I knew in theory, there had to be a line somewhere just beyond a weather system’s reach. But I’d never been exactly on that line before. And there I stood, my arms stretched out in opposing directions. One hand getting pelted by dime-sized drops falling with such force, they actually stung. The other, completely dry, almost chapped from the heat. I found myself literally standing…at the edge of the rain.

I’ve recited that phrase countless times over the many years since as I always thought it’d make a great title for a book – so poignant, yet I had no idea what it’d be about. Until now. So as the world takes their pause to ask, “Where are we a year later?” We are...at the edge of the rain. Sometimes suffocating in that small gap between hope and heartache - gratitude and grief – resilience and reluctance. Sometimes we’re keenly aware that the rain is as vital to life as the sun. It quenches our thirst for perspective and renews our appreciation for life and all it can offer. Other times, we are content to quietly retreat to our respective shelters and just wait out the storm.

I know so many of my neighbors are struggling with the anniversary, but as I’ve explained to my son, the anniversary is ‘for them’ – the media and the rest of the world, because it marks a reason and excuse to pay attention and to remember. We need no such reminders. Every day is an anniversary. Every day we hold our angels in our hearts and everyday we look at our surviving children with a heightened level of gratitude. We know what amazing people we lost. And what amazing things we've done in their honor and in their name. And equally important, we know what amazing people we have around us – still protecting us, still caring for us and our children, still offering to help lend a shoulder, an ear or a hand - - to each other or to a stranger. By any of those measures, this Saturday is no different than last…and will be no different than the next.

But unlike the raw and untamable weather, we make choices. We decide what to do and how to handle each moment. Here, we deliberately termed it “12/14” to try to avoid the tragedy and the town being synonymous as in “When Newtown happened…” but in a way, it may be making the actual date that much harder – its like a cumulative pool of anxiety tossed into a square-inch spot on the calendar and with each passing week, we’ve had to dread facing it again. But our angel families have clearly unanimously expressed their wishes – do something, anything kind and thoughtful in honor of their loved ones so that they may live on through those gestures. Those Acts of Kindness – no matter how large or small – can say thank you, give back and make life better and more palatable for them, for us, for each other. We also owe it to them, to ourselves and most importantly to our surviving children as we teach them not to squander the simplest opportunities we have to cherish life – whether it’s to decorate the tree or light the menorah, go sledding, build a snowman, dunk marshmallows in hot cocoa or linger in bed for a morning snuggle or an evening book read.

So in the spirit of the season, and all that comes with it - wish each other safety, health and happiness - - and the wisdom to appreciate such blessings. And remember the most beautiful and impressive displays of humanity can be found at the edge of the worst storms. You just have seize those moments and choose to look for them -- within yourselves and in others.

Thank you for your thoughts and well-wishes from near and far. What can you do? Simple: “Be nice to each other. It’s all the really matters.” – Dawn Hochsprung (our beloved - - and very missed, Sandy Hook Principal)

Prayers on 12/14

Today we stop, we remember, we pray:

O gracious and loving God, on this anniversary of the tragedy in Sandy Hook, we remember all the victims who lost their lives to hate. We remember the brave and courageous who rushed to the scene to help and those who have given comfort in the months afterward. We remember those who grieve loved ones lost, for the survivors and for all the anxiety and fear we had in those days. We also remember how we came together to support one another in a time of need. Have mercy, Lord, give us strength and peace to practice kindness in the midst of hate; make us courageous in compassion and in justice for all. Help us to know your steadfast love & hope, your presence that is as near as breath; rekindle in our hearts the hope of life that conquers death. This we ask in your son’s name, Jesus our Lord. Amen

Almighty God, giver of light and life, in whose hands are both the living and the dead: We offer to you our continued sorrow in the face of the cruel deaths of children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School and a mother in her bedroom. As you were present in the midst of the gunfire and chaos, so we trust you are present now with those who have died. May they rest in peace and live in your perpetual love. In your boundless compassion, console all who mourn, especially parents and family members, & all those who still suffer from this tragedy. Give to us who carry on such a lively sense of your righteous will that we will not rest until our country is safe for all your children. All this we pray in sighs too deep for words and in the name of the lover and protector of our souls, Jesus Christ. Amen.  (adapted from a prayer by the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Berry on Life and Death

Excerpts from Sabbaths 2005, by Wendell Berry 
I know that I have life
only insofar as I have love.

I have no love
except it come from Thee.

Help me, please, to carry
this candle against the wind.

They gather like an ancestry
in the centuries behind us:
the killed by violence, the dead
in war, the “acceptable losses” —
killed by custom in self-defense,
by way of correction, as revenge,
for love of God, for the glory
of the world, for peace; killed
for pride, lust, envy, anger,
covetousness, gluttony, sloth,
and fun. The strewn carcasses
cease to feed even the flies,
the stench passes from them,
the earth folds in the bones
like salt in a batter.

And we have learned
nothing. “Love your enemies,
bless them that curse you,
do good to them that hate you” —
it goes on regardless, reasonably:
the always uncompleted
symmetry of just reprisal,
the angry word, the boast
of superior righteousness,
hate in Christ’s name,
scorn for the dead, lies
for the honor of the nation,
centuries bloodied and dismembered
for ideas, for ideals,
for the love of God!

We were standing by the road,
seven of us and a small boy.
We had just rescued a yellow swallowtail
disabled on the pavement when a car
approached too fast. I turned to make sure
of the boy, and my old border collie
Nell, too slow coming across,
was hit, broken all to pieces, and died
at once, while the car sped on.
And I cried, not thinking what
I meant, “God damn!” And I did wish
all automobiles in Hell,
where perhaps they already are.

Nell’s small grave, opening
at the garden’s edge to receive her
out of this world’s sight forever,
reopens many graves. Digging,
the old man grieves for his old dog
with all the grief he knows,
which seems again to be approaching
enough, though he knows there is more.

How simple to be dead! — the only
simplification there is, in fact, Thoreau
to the contrary notwithstanding.
Nell lay in her grave utterly still
under the falling earth, the world
all astir above, a million leaves
alive in the wind, and what do we know?

I tremble with gratitude
for my children and their children
who take pleasure in one another.

At our dinners together, the dead
enter and pass among us
in living love and in memory.

And so the young are taught.

If we have become a people incapable
of thought, then the brute-thought
of mere power and mere greed
will think for us.

If we have become incapable
of denying ourselves anything,
then all that we have
will be taken from us.

If we have no compassion,
we will suffer alone, we will suffer
alone the destruction of ourselves.

These are merely the laws of this world
as known to Shakespeare:

When we cease from human thought,
a low and effective cunning
stirs in the most inhuman minds.

Eternity is not infinity.
It is not a long time.
It does not begin at the end of time.
It does not run parallel to time.
In its entirety it always was.
In its entirety it will always be.
It is entirely present always.

Hardly escaping the limitless machines
that balk his thoughts and torment his dreams,
the old man goes to his own
small place of peace, a patch of trees
he has lived from many years,
its gifts of a few fence posts and boards,
firewood for winter, some stillness
in which to know and wait. Used
and yet whole this dear place is, whole
by its own nature and by his need.
While he lives it will be whole,
and after him, God willing, another
will follow in that membership
that craves the wholeness of the world
despite all human loss and blame.

In the lengthening shadow he has climbed
again to the ridgetop and across
to the westward slope to see the ripe
light of autumn in the turning trees,
the twilight he must go by now
that only grace could give. Thus far
he keeps the old sectarian piety:
By grace we live. But he can go
no further. Having known the grace
that for so long has kept this world,
haggard as it is, as we have made it,
we cannot rest, we must be stirring
to keep that gift dwelling among us,
eternally alive in time. This
is the great work, no other, none harder,
none nearer rest or more beautiful.

A hawk in flight
The clearing sky
A young man’s thought
An old man’s cry

Born by our birth
Here on the earth
Our flesh to wear
Our death to bear
Beautiful poems to ponder as we approach a most unwanted anniversary...

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Remembering Sandy Hook

The Governor of CT, Dan Malloy has asked us:

Join To Honor Those Lost At Sandy Hook

And although I agree with most of what he wrote, I again disagree that we ring our bell 26 times.

There were 27 victims and 28 who died.  There are 27 families who still grieve this event for the family members who were lost and a whole host of children, staff and first responders who are still reeling from the event.

Jesus called on us to pray for our enemies, those who persecute us.  I dare say he wants us to pray for the criminals, those who have wronged us.

So on December 14 @ 9:30 AM - St. Peter's will toll its bell 28 times.

Pray for the victims and their families.  Pray for the perpetrator and his family.  Pray for those still affected by that terrible tragedy.

Then go and act in kindness and peace

We will have a time of prayer and service at 10 am at Monroe Congregational Church - an ecumenical service.    From 11 to 1 we will have places for you to join us in acts of service.

Go here for more details.

Opening Prayer

These are the words I used for my opening prayer:

Goodness is stronger than evil;
Love is stronger than hate;
Light is stronger than darkness;
Life is stronger than death;
Victory is ours through Him who loves us.
Help us to remember these words, O Lord, in hope. Amen.
(A Prayer by Desmond Tutu)

2nd Sunday of Advent Sermon

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
These words from Isaiah proclaim that the reign of God is coming, a new King will come to power, a new creation, a time of peace and tranquility even among foes, a time when God will again bring justice and peace to the land, through the line of King David.

For Christians, this reading leads us to Jesus, born of the house of David, who came to bring peace and justice in the spirit of wisdom and understanding, who stands as a signal to all peoples.

For the people of South Africa, the one who brought wisdom and understanding into a time of great chaos and violence was Nelson Mandela. In his words:
“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”
For Nelson Mandela, his fight was the right for the Black South Africans to have voice and vote, to end the racial segregation of Apartheid, to allow everyone to have their freedom. He advocated militant resistance to the government and apartheid. For his part in advocating violent resistance, he was imprisoned for 27 years.

Last January in our film and food night, we watched the movie The Color of Freedom – a movie from South Africa that is based on the true story of the white guard who was assigned to Nelson Mandela at Robbin Island prison and would continue to be his guard for all 27 years; he was first assigned because he could understand the tribal language form which Nelson Mandela came.

What was amazing to see, was how a white South African who came to hate the black majority and Nelson Mandela, would over time, begin to see him in a more positive light, would begun to understand the resistance to apartheid and racial segregation, begin to remember the days when racial discrimination was not the law of the land.

The movie captured in a beautiful way, how two people, Nelson Mandela and James Gregory would one day move from enemies who were suspicious of one another to friends who cared for one another.

It is this dynamic of change that for me is the most inspirational. Did Nelson Mandela believe that the only way to combat apartheid was through armed resistance? Yes. He believed the only way for things to change was to make the country ungovernable. (which did eventually happen)

But those years in prison, changed him. He had to wait. He had to be patient. He had to live into a hope that things would change. Like Paul’s exhortation that “what was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” Mandela lived into that hope. In his words:
“There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death."
That hope was rewarded when he became free in February 1990; he stepped out into a new South Africa. But it was not yet the country he wanted it to be. Officially apartheid was over, but there was so much left to be done. In 1994, he was elected president of South Africa. And what happened next, when he now had the power, displays how indeed he had changed. In the words of his friend, Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
“The truth is that the 27 years Madiba spent in the belly of the apartheid beast deepened his compassion and capacity to empathize with others. .. Instead of calling for his pound of flesh, he proclaimed the message of forgiveness and reconciliation, inspiring others by his example to extraordinary acts of nobility of spirit.

He embodied what he proclaimed — he walked the talk. He invited his former jailer to attend his presidential inauguration as a VIP guest, and he invited the man who led the state’s case against him at the Rivonia Trial, calling for the imposition of the death penalty, to lunch at the presidency. He visited the widow of the high priest of apartheid, Betsy Verwoerd, in the white Afrikaner-only enclave of Orania.” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/wp/2013/12/05/the-moral-courage-of-nelson-mandela/)
What also stands out in my mind is another film about another significant event, the film Invictus takes place in post-apartheid South Africa in 1995.
Everyone was expecting a bloodbath: the black majority demanded justice for the decades of poverty, brutality and oppression they have endured & the white minority is terrified. But Mandela, as portrayed by Morgan Freeman in the film, knows that score-settling would be disastrous for South Africa's new and fragile democracy. It is the Springbok Rugby Club that becomes Mandela's unlikely vehicle for reconciliation. To South African blacks, the all-white Springboks and their green and gold colors were as despised a symbol of white rule as the apartheid flag. The new black government wants to abolish the Springboks, but President Mandela overturns their decision. With the end of Apartheid and South Africa now scheduled to host the World Rugby Cup tournament for the first time in years, he sees the underachieving team as the vehicle for South Africa's return as a respected member of the world community. Mandela enlists the help of the Springboks' captain to transform the team from a hated symbol of arrogant white rule into an inspiring rallying point for the new South Africa. When confronted by his staff and cabinet about the plan, Mandela says, "Reconciliation starts here. Forgiveness starts here."
In the words of Archbishop Tutu, “It was a gesture that did more for nation building and reconciliation than any number of preacher’s sermons or politician’s speeches.” (ibid)

In this time of our waiting, of hope for the future, we have an example of one who was changed from violence to peace, from aggression to reconciliation, who abounded in hope. Again in Madbia’s words:
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
So may we share the love of Christ in our world, in our words and actions, and help teach love, hope and faith by who we are, living into the Spirit of Christ. May Madiba, Nelson Mandela rest in peace & rise in glory and may we continue the work of reconciliation and forgiveness as we live in hope just as he did. Amen.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Remembering Nelson Mandela

From the Diocese of CT - A Statement on Madiba

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

We commend the following statement to you, from our Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, on the death of Nelson Mandela. To this we add our deep gratitude for his perseverance and transformational leadership.

The people of The Episcopal Church join the world in mourning the death of Nelson Mandela, prophet and witness to justice. His leadership spanned decades, before and during imprisonment on Robben Island, and continuing into the establishment of a nation that aspires to serve the freedom and dignity of all human beings. He helped the world to see a shining vision of the incarnate Reign of God. We pray that it was not simply a brief glimpse, but that his labor may be joined to that of others, grounding and growing a world of peace with justice for all. May God welcome this shepherd home in peace.

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

In Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas
The Rt. Rev. Laura J. Ahrens
The Rt. Rev. James E. Curry

Let me add a prayer from our Book of Common Prayer:

O God, the King of saints, we praise and glorify your holy Name for all your servants who have finished their course in your faith and fear: for the blessed Virgin Mary; for the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs; and for all your other righteous servants, known to us and unknown; this night we remember Nelson Mandela and we pray that, encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

How to be a Poet

I think this is good advice for us preachers too!

How To Be a Poet 
(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.   
Sit down. Be quiet.   
You must depend upon   
affection, reading, knowledge,   
skill—more of each   
than you have—inspiration,   
work, growing older, patience,   
for patience joins time   
to eternity. Any readers   
who like your poems,   
doubt their judgment.   


Breathe with unconditional breath   
the unconditioned air.   
Shun electric wire.   
Communicate slowly. Live   
a three-dimensioned life;   
stay away from screens.   
Stay away from anything   
that obscures the place it is in.   
There are no unsacred places;   
there are only sacred places   
and desecrated places.   


Accept what comes from silence.   
Make the best you can of it.   
Of the little words that come   
out of the silence, like prayers   
prayed back to the one who prays,   
make a poem that does not disturb   
the silence from which it came.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Can we put the war on Christmas to bed?

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

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

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

The congregation repeated the Amen – and both the pageant and the planned sermon came to an unexpected but perfect completion with the singing of Joy to the World. [From Short Sermons on the Run by Walter J. Burghardt.]
Tim got it. The miracle of Christmas, the holy gift is that in the Child of Bethlehem, God makes his dwelling here and now, in our homes and in our hearts. On this most Holy Night, when our souls are full of hope, let us rejoice for our Lord is born, and it is up to us to say, yes, stay with me Lord. As an old Christmas carol puts it:
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray!
Cast out our sin and enter in, Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels, The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel!
So how should we truly live out Christmas? Let us hear and live the words from “The Work of Christmas,” a poem by civil rights leader and theologian Dr. 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 their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.