Thursday, December 31, 2015

What can I give him?

Taken from St. Gregory's Abbey Letter - Christmas (see here.)

One of the things that can make Christmas a lot of extra work is the presents.
We have to figure out who is on our list to receive gifts this year, what they really
want, what is suitable for our relationship with each person, and then, what we
can actually manage to give. After a while this becomes such a project, it’s easy to
forget the connection between the fancy wrapped boxes or the Internet orders,
and Baby Jesus. 
So we probably should sit down in front of the manger scene, and remind
ourselves of that connection. Look at the figures of the Wise Men, each bringing
his present for the Christ child. Then say to your Lord, “This is to celebrate your
birth as one of us, your coming to save us. Whether it’s fun, or tedious, or
daunting, it’s to celebrate you.” Say it to him, but hear it as a reminder to yourself.
And remember that along with presents to our kith and kin, we ought to offer
our gifts to the child himself. In the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel,
Jesus tells us that what we give to those in need, we give to him. So those
sometimes annoying letters we receive from various charities at this time of year
are really opportunities to give our present to the Baby Jesus the way the Magi did. 
One reason we hear from so many needy folks is that there are so many folks in
need. There are national and international organizations trying to aid the needy,
and local ones as well. There are probably services near you for feeding the hungry,
sheltering abused women and children, or otherwise aiding neighbors in need,
folks in your own town or county. These organizations are there to use our gifts
for the needy, just as Mary and Joseph used the wise men’s gifts to serve their son.
Maybe you’re tapped out for the season, and don’t have money or volunteer time
to spare. That can happen. But still it’s good to make a token gift now, in
anticipation of a more generous one when you’re able later on. If you’ve already
given your Christmas contributions, say to the Bambino, “I hope you like the
present I sent you.” If you haven’t gotten to it yet, say, “Keep your eyes open, I’ve
got something coming for you.” 
Before you get up and walk away from the crèche, take a few minutes to recall
the first time you gave a Christmas present all on your own, without adult
assistance. Maybe it was something you bought with your own money, maybe
something you made. I remember mine: they were ballpoint pens from a coinoperated
dispenser in my elementary school. I bought them for my parents. It was
an exciting, grown-up thing to do, a very special moment for me. That was a little
boy’s excitement, but even in our adulthood, giving can be fun, an adventure. It’s
a blessing for us to remember that, and it’s important to pass that lesson to the
next generation. 
St. Paul reminds the Corinthians that “the Lord loves a cheerful giver.” Too
often that sounds like a warning not to be surly, resentful givers. Instead we can
hear it as an invitation to experience giving as a delight, as part of what makes a
holiday a holiday, and what makes us Christians Christian, us humans human. 
— Fr. William

Happy 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.


The Holy Name January 1 (from the BCP)

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.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Sermon: 1st Sunday after Christmas

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light rises up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in your light we may see light, and in your straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
When did it happen?
"It was a long time ago."
Where did it happen?
"It was far away."
No, tell. Where did it happen?
"In my heart."
What is your heart doing now?
"Remembering. Remembering!"
(poem by Mary Oliver from "Felicity")
Indeed, our hearts continue our Christmas remembering today. On Christmas, we heard the nativity story according to Luke, with shepherds and angels and a manger. Next Sunday, we will hear the ending of the nativity according to Matthew, of magi traveling home, with Herod forcing the Holy Family to flee to Egypt.

But today, we remember and hear from the Gospel of John.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God."
In the beginning, words reminiscent of Genesis, the beginning of the Bible, the beginning of our Story: The Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word, in Greek “Logos,” which also means Wisdom; The Word is both distinct from God and yet synonymous with God.

The Word becomes God Incarnate, enfleshed in Jesus, both Human and Divine. Jesus has that connection with God we all long for (because he is close to the Father's heart). The Son of God, the Word, was with God from the beginning of time and helped create all there is, including us.

Jesus is the hinge that connects our creation and our redemption. “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

That light brought rich magi and poor shepherds, both gentile & Jew, to glorify and praise God. It was the light in the midst of the darkness in the world. It brought grace upon grace. and the darkness did not overcome him. In the darkness, Jesus was not accepted by many (The Gospel continues). . .but for those who did accept him, he gave power to become Children of God.
"And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth."
God let it show on that first Christmas Day when the word became flesh and dwelt among us. But now it is given to us, to let it show, to help bring the meaning and gift of Christmas from here, to wherever we find ourselves.

It reminds me of something Rabbi Laurence Kushner once wrote:
A rabbi prayed to the great prophet Elijah.
"Where," the rabbi asked, "shall I find the Messiah?"
"At the gate of the city," the prophet replied.
"But how shall I recognize him?"
"He sits among the lepers."
"Among the lepers!" the rabbi cried. "What is he doing there?"
"He changes their bandages," Elijah replied. "He changes their bandages, one by one."
That is the true mystery of Christmas: that God became one of us, lived among us and came to birth through our moments of joy, grief, despair, anger and fear. Here, in the Christ Child, the love of God takes on a human face, the Word of God becomes "enfleshed" in the child Jesus, enabling us to transform our hearts in that love.

Our God knows that our lives are filled with disappointment, pain and despair; he has lived through the storms and crises we all live through; he has given us hope in our world by promising us life in his world. The challenge of Christmas is to continue to make that love incarnate in our own lives, in the lives of those we love, and all those we encounter.

A lovely quote online put it this way: “Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.” (Janice Maeditere)

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

Friday, December 25, 2015

From the Vigil for Christmas Eve

(Music) - O Holy Night
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.
Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from the Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weaknesses no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

(Poem) - Mary by Malcolm Guite

You bore for me the One who came to bless
And bear for all and make the broken whole.
You heard His call and in your open ‘yes’
You spoke aloud for every living soul.
Oh gracious Lady, child of your own child,
Whose mother-love still calls the child in me,
Call me again, for I am lost, and  wild
Waves suround me now. On this dark sea
Shine as a star and call me to the shore.
Open the door that all my sins would close
And hold me in your garden. Let me share
The prayer that folds the petals of the Rose.
Enfold me too in Love’s last mystery
And bring me to the One you bore for me.

Christmas Eve Sermon - 8 PM

A story connected to Advent and Christmas from the Cherokee Nation,
"Why Are Some Trees Always Green?"
Once upon a time when it was still very early upon the earth, the Great Spirit decided to visit the creatures of the earth, still new from creation. Everyone was told to stay awake and to watch and wait for seven nights. And those who stayed awake were promised gifts, gifts of power. They were all excited and de­termined to stay awake to get this power. They all began with chatter and wonder, questioning and suggestions on how to do it. Many thought it would be easy and boasted that they'd be able to do it.

Practically everybody made it through the first night, except for a few who slipped away and didn't dare show their faces. The second night they were beginning to think it would be easy until it grew very dark and there were no stars because of the thickness of the fog. It was getting harder, eyes were drooping and heads nodding, and jerking up again and again. By the third night no one was saying much of anything, but walking around, jumping up and down, leaning up against trees and rocks, splashing water on their faces, singing aloud, anything to stay awake.

By the fourth night most were asleep, out cold, not even trying any more, exhausted. And the seventh night came and only a few were still awake. And the Great Spirit came, found them sleeping, looked at those still watching and waiting, and smiled. Among the animals only the owl and the panther had stayed awake, and so they were given the power to see in the dark, and from then on, they'd be night creatures, hunting in the dark, preying on those who had fallen asleep and had to rest at night.

Among the plants and trees there were a few more that had made it through all the nights: the pine, the evergreen, the spruce, the hemlock, the cedar, the laurel, and the holly had been watchful. These were the faithful ones, and they were given the power to stay green through all the seasons of the year. And their leaves would have great medicine for the healing of the nations. They would keep their leaves and needles while all the other plants and trees, bushes and grasses would lose them and have to fall asleep through the long snows until spring woke them up again. And so it is until this day.
The idea of staying awake for God is coming, fits with our practice of Advent & Christmas. For tonight, our watching and waiting is rewarded, for the song of God is born for us this night.

Christmas On The Edge by Malcolm Guite
Christmas sets the centre on the edge;
The edge of town, the outhouse of the inn,
The fringe of empire, far from privilege
And power, on the edge and outer spin
Of turning worlds, a margin of small stars
That edge a galaxy itself light years
From some unguessed at cosmic origin.
Christmas sets the centre at the edge.

And from this day our world is re-aligned
A tiny seed unfolding in the womb
Becomes the source from which we all unfold
And flower into being. We are healed,
The end begins, the tomb becomes a womb,
For now in him all things are re-aligned.

Christmas Eve Sermon - 5 PM

Children's Story:

Come and See by Monica Mayper

Adult Homily:

Come & See, Come & Dance - We all together dance.
For tonight – our savior is born – we dance, we sing, we celebrate, because Love came down to us.

Christmastide by Christina Georgina Rossetti, c. 1886

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men [& women],
Love for plea and gift and sign.

The House of Christmas - GK Chesterton (1912)

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honor and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sermon: December 20

Sermon given at the 8 AM service...

O God of Elizabeth and Mary, you visited your servants with news of the world’s redemption in the coming of the Savior. Make our hearts leap with joy and fill our mouths with songs of praise, so that we may announce glad tidings of peace and welcome the Christ in our midst. Amen

An icon of Mary & Jesus hangs in the room of Jared & Aidan, the icon reminds my boys not only of the presence of Christ near them but of their relationship, of this holy mother & child. In the Orthodox Tradition, from which this icon originates, Mary is called the Theotokos that is God bearer. For as Elizabeth says to Mary: Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.

To us in the Western Church, she is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus. And in the Gospel, Elizabeth reminds us that it was Mary who said yes to God, to bear the son of God, for she believed and God acted. And of course, Mary sings her song: My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior…
As Dietrich Bonheoffer reflected on Mary’s song: “The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings.… This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. These are the tones of the women prophets of the Old Testament that now come to life in Mary’s mouth.”
The story begins for Mary as a teenager and is beautifully captured in his song Let Me Be Like Mary by Eric Law.
Mary was a woman who had her life to live.
She was to marry Joseph, a man with much to give.
Then one day God asked her to be the mother of a Child
who would change and save the world.
It is the angel Gabriel who changes everything for her with a request from God, and it is Mary’s yes that would set her on a very unique journey.
Wise and Gentle Mary, she just said yes to God.
Strong and gentle Mary she bore the child of God.
Brave and gentle Mary owned the joy and pain
Of giving birth to Christ for the world.
Her pregnancy was a scandal. She was unmarried, pregnant, and Joseph was not the father. She took it all on, and for the sake of the world, bore the joy and pain of giving birth to Christ for the world. But it isn’t enough to hear her song and understand that God is at work in this world in mysterious ways. We can look at our icons, our beautiful stained glass windows, and leave Mary there or we might consider what her story means for us today.
We are just like Mary who have our lives to live.
We might have our families, our jobs & homes to keep
But what will you do if God asks you to be a servant
who’ll make Christ known to the world
It’s in those everyday encounters when we say Yes… Everyday encounters bearing Christ and his love and reconciliation to this hurting world.
At the Denver airport, a 46-year-old woman is sitting at the gate waiting for her flight. She glances up to find a young man in front of her. Although there are several open seats around, he tilts his head at the seat next to her, then toward her suitcase blocking the chair. Why this one? she wonders. Mildly annoyed, she moves her bag.

He sits and drops his duffel bag at his feet. He is wearing a U.S. Army camouflage uniform. "Where you headed?" he asks. "Home," she replies.

He tells her that he has just come home from Afghanistan and is heading to Florida to surprise his mom. It's been five years since he's seen her. What was he most looking forward to, the woman asked. A shower, he said. He grinned when she asked if his mother would cook his favorite meal.

He says it was almost harder to leave the war than to stay, leaving others behind, knowing he had to go back. But this might be his last chance to see his mother.

The woman notices how he keeps scanning the room warily as he talks. How when he looks at her, his eyes keep no distance. He wants something from her, but at first she doesn't know what. He says it's hard to stop scanning for danger. Yesterday he was in the desert. Fellow soldiers, men under his command, had been blown into pieces around him. Today he is in an airport trying to fathom anger over flight delays, the rush for coffee. He doesn't know how to be here in this place.

The woman understands. One week before, her friend's teenage son had died suddenly and, being a mother herself, felt so disoriented and distant from the everyday world around her. She tells the soldier about it. He breaths deeply, shows a small smile. They had made a sliver of connection. The woman writes: "He'd seen the raw and unbearable. He knew what was real and mattered. He knew it was not the time of the flight, or a latte. But he did not know how to tell us. This was what he needed from me, I realized. What we all need. He did not want the seat beside mine. He wanted to sit with me. He needed to feel safe and understood for a brief while between here and there." [From "Sitting with a soldier: An airport encounter leads to an understanding about what we all need" by Stacy Clark, The Boston Sunday Globe Magazine, September 7, 2014.]
A soldier finds an understanding "mom" to talk to in a busy airport; a teenage mother-to-be goes to be with her elderly cousin, also pregnant, and finds consolation and support. In both meetings, we see grace: love that enables one cousin to put aside her own plight to help the other cousin, compassion that enables a mom to provide a safe, understanding place for another mom's son.

In Mary and Elizabeth's visit and in our own similar encounters, the Spirit of God is present in the healing, comfort and support we can extend to one another in such moments. For it is up to each of us in our own day to say Yes, to give birth to Christ for the world:
Let me be like Mary and just say yes to God.
Brave and strong like Mary to bear the child of God.
Let me share with Mary all the joy and pain
of giving birth to Christ for the world. Amen.

Monday, December 14, 2015

#EndGunViolence #SandyHook

O God, giver of Life and Love, you created all people as one family and called us to live together in harmony and peace. Surround us with your love as we face the challenges and tragedies of gun violence. Bind up the wounds of all who suffer from gun violence, those maimed and disfigured, those left alone and grieving, and those who struggle to get through one more day. Bless them with your presence and help them find hope. Help us, your church, find our voice. Empower us to change this broken world and the needless deaths caused by gun violence. Give us power to rise above our fear that nothing can be done and grant us the conviction to advocate for change. All this we pray in the name of the One who offered his life so that we might live, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

(adapted from a litany written by the Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane, Episcopal Bishop of Maine)

Remembering #SandyHook

Sandy Hook 12/14/12

2 injured, 28 killed.

20 children
6 staff*
a mother, a son.

1. Charlotte Bacon (2/22/06)
2. Daniel Barden (9/25/05)
3. Rachel Davino (7/17/83)*
4. Olivia Engel (7/18/06)
5. Josephine Gay (12/11/05)
6. Ana M. Marquez-Greene (4/4/06)
7. Dylan Hockley (3/8/06)
8. Dawn Hocksprung (6/28/65)*
9. Madeleine F. Hsu (7/10/06)
10. Catherine V. Hubbard (6/8/06)
11. Chase Kowalski (10/31/05)
12. Jesse Lewis (6/30/06)
13. James Mattioli (3/22/06)
14. Grace McDonnell (11/04/05)
15. AnneMarie Murphy (07/25/60)*
16. Emilie Parker (5/12/06)
17. Jack Pinto (5/6/06)
18. Noah Pozner (11/20/06)
19. Caroline Previdi (9/7/06)
20. Jessica Rekos (5/10/06)
21. Avielle Richman (10/17/06)
22. Lauren Russeau (6/1982)*
23. Mary Sherlach (2/11/56)*
24. Victoria Soto (11/4/85)*
25. Benjamin Wheeler (9/12/06)
26. Allison N. Wyatt (7/3/06)
27. Nancy Lanza (52)
28. Adam Lanza (20)

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

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sermon: December 13

O God our Creator, you gave to Zechariah and Elizabeth in their old age a son called John. He
grew up strong in spirit, prepared the people for the coming of the Lord, and baptized them in the Jordan to wash away their sins. Help us, who have been baptized into Christ, to be ready to welcome him into our hearts, and to grow strong in faith by the power of the Spirit. We ask this through Jesus Christ, the light who is coming into the world. Amen. (from CofE)
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

John the Baptist’s words are always so startling in Advent. Not quite the mood the Department Stores are looking for right now, happy & upbeat.

When I think of welcoming someone, I don’t think of someone who is calling me a viper and warning me about the wrath to come. But our prayer I just said, calls us to do just that, welcome not only Jesus Christ into our hearts, but John the Baptist too, the messenger.

“Bear fruits worthy of repentance.”

What John expected of those in front of him was that they would change their ways, to seek out God, to live lives worthy of their creation. Fruits of life that repent of the narrow and violent way that so often seems to be the norm in his day and ours.

What if John had said, “Be afraid. Be very afraid. Build a wall. Protect yourself. Lock up the stranger. Don’t allow anyone in. Chase away anyone who looks suspicious. Something is very, very wrong here. Be afraid, I tell you, be very, very afraid.”

And you know what? Those people would have built that wall, chased away those strangers, they would have turned against one another because John the Baptist would have deepened the fear that we all have of death. And when your world is uncertain, as theirs was then and ours is today, the easiest thing to trigger is fear. Because deep down no one wants to die. And the most primal feeling is the desire to live and we will do anything to protect ourselves & family. And fear taps into our primal fear of death and our need to defend and preserve our life. So people would have rallied around John the Baptist had that been his rallying cry and they would have been more and more afraid. And they would have turned against their neighbor.

But that is not what John the Baptist did.

“What then shall we do?” asked the people. And John said, if you have two coats, share with someone who has none. If you have extra food, share with someone who is hungry. If someone owes you money, just take back what you need. Don’t cheat anyone. Don’t extort. Above all else, don’t run away, bear fruit. In other words. Love your neighbor. Share what you have. Do not be afraid.

But his message was not one of fight or flight. It was not a message of fear. What shall we do? Good works. Help one another. The antidote to fear. The antidote to sin. Repent. And help your neighbor.

National polls tell us that anxiety right now is as high as it was immediately after 9/11. So what should we do?
A long time ago, in one of those times when there were palaces, not with politicians and dictators, but real emperors. Emperors who were there because they were smart, they were wise, they were strong and it just happened that the emperor was away on some sort of business.

And in his absence, a monster came in. It was a demon. Ugly, frightening, terrifying. And because this monster was so frightening, all of the soldiers, guards and people who were supposed to stop visitors coming in at the wrong time - they froze in terror, allowing this monster to walk right into the center of the palace, and sit on the Emperor's throne.

And when that monster sat down on the Emperor's chair, that was going too far. So the guards came to their senses, said "Get out of here! You don't belong! Who do you think you are?! That is our Emperor's chair, you can't sit in there." And, at those few unkind words, and unkind deeds, that monster grew an inch bigger. More frightening, more smelly, and more offensive. And that really upset all the people in the palace. They got out their swords, they clenched their fists,

"If you don't move your butt, we'll carve it out with our swords, get out of here! Quick!" But every unkind word, unkind deed, even unkind thought, the monster grew an inch bigger every time, more ugly, more stinky, and the language got worse. And this had been going on a long time, when eventually the Emperor came back. And he came back into his palace, into his throne hall, and he saw this incredibly big, frightening monster there. It was so big, it took up most of the throne room…It was terrifying….. But, that Emperor, the reason he was the Emperor, was because of his great wisdom.

He saw that terrifying, huge, stinky monster, and understood what to do. He said the wonderful word "welcome". Welcome monster. Thank you for coming. And at that, the monster grew an inch smaller. Less ugly and his language got better. And the people around realized their mistakes. Instead of saying "get out", and getting angry, they started being kind to the monster. Welcome, you want something to eat? How about a pizza? Monster size. About three or four of them, got on the monster's feet to give him a foot massage. You've had a foot massage? Oh it's so rare getting a foot massage if you're a monster. That monster - "ooh, just over there a bit, ooh that's just right, there." They asked do you want a cup of tea or a cup of coffee…

They were so kind to that monster. And every kind act, word or thought, the monster grew an inch smaller, less ugly, less smelly, less offensive. And soon that monster was back to the size when he first came in. They didn't stop there. They carried on with their kindness so much, that soon that monster was so small, that one more act of kindness, and the monster vanished completely away. And that's how the monster was removed from the Emperor's palace.” (a story of the Buddha retold by Ajahn Brahm)
If anxiety is higher than ever in our nation and world today. The antidote for this fear and anxiety has to be EVEN stronger. And the antidote is not MORE fear and anxiety. Anger fear and anxiety just creates more anger fear and anxiety. It feeds the demon and makes him stronger.

But you and I have chosen a different way. We have chosen the way of Christ, to welcome him and his message into our hearts and actions.

Trust your faith. Trust John the Baptist. And most of all trust the Prince of Peace. Not the Prince of Fear. Don’t ever listen to that guy. He’s feeding the anxiety filled, violent, anger eating demon. And making it grow. And grow. And grow.

And what then shall we do? Do you have an extra coat? Give it to someone who needs it. Do you have extra food? There are many among us who need it. Do you have a kind word for others? By all means say it!

Love your neighbor. Share what you have. Do not be afraid.

That, my brothers and sisters, is the Good News of God in Christ.

Keep reminding yourselves, your neighbors, and everyone you come into contact with. And the anxiety, violent, anger eating demon will slowly but surely disappear. Amen.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Prayers for our Presiding Bishop and Primate

Prayers for healing are asked for Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop and Primate Michael Curry.

The Presiding Bishop’s Office has announced that Presiding Bishop Curry was taken to a hospital this afternoon after a visitation to Bruton Parish Church in Colonial Williamsburg, VA.   The Presiding Bishop subsequently was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma, and was transferred to a medical center in Richmond, VA for treatment.   A full recovery is expected. Presiding Bishop Curry is currently resting. 

O God, the strength of the weak and the comfort of sufferers: Mercifully accept our prayers, and grant to your servant Michael the help of your power, that his sickness may be turned into health, and our sorrow into joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. Book of Common Prayer (page 458)

Putting our #Prayers into #Action

One of the ways we can put our prayers into action, is to use a global prayer and consider where that prayer can be acted upon in our local context...

We may not be able to physically help the people in San Barendino, but you can certainly give money, etc. But where are people hurting in Bridgeport? in New Haven? in Monroe?

Consider this local story... Historic home fire ‘a dreadful loss’ to community

They are looking for help here:

Sermon: December 6 (Advent II)

Assist us mercifully, O Lord, in all that we do, and dispose the way of your servants towards the attainment of everlasting salvation; that, among all the changes and chances of this mortal life, we may be defended by your gracious and ready help; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
“Your "thoughts" should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your "prayers" should be for forgiveness if you do nothing - again.” – Sen. Chris Murphy – Twitter – 12/2/15
In the aftermath of the horrendous shooting in San Barendino, there has been some heated discussion about the place of prayer in our society. The quote I just read is from our junior senator here in CT; there are some who have applauded his stance, others who were offended.

In much of what I have seen, there are some who were furious that some politicians wrote that “their thoughts and prayers” were with the victims and their families. They were outraged that there was no plan for action. They felt the prayers were empty, just like Chris Murphy.

Others felt this was an attack on all prayer or at least on Christian prayer. That it was insensitive to the millions who do pray. But this is not the first time I have heard issues about such public prayer.

President Obama after the shooting at a community college in Oregon two months ago said, “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It's not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America.” ( - which of course the carnage has – over 1,000 mass shootings since Sandy Hook, with shooters killing at least 1,327 people and wounding 3,784 more…

The Dalai Lama echoed those words after the terror attacks in Paris, when he said “humans have created this problem, and now we are asking God to solve it… It is illogical. God would say, solve it yourself because you created it in the first place. We need a systematic approach to foster humanistic values, of oneness and harmony. If we start doing it now, there is hope that this century will be different from the previous one. It is in everybody’s interest. So let us work for peace within our families and society, and not expect help from God, Buddha or the governments.” (

And as so often happens, sides were chosen, defenses set up and battle lines drawn – all on prayer. But I want to ask some basic questions: what is prayer? What does God ask of us as individuals and as part of the Body of Christ?
In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul said, “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you… and this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless...”
Prayer is something St. Paul often talks about. In 1 Thessalonians, “rejoice always, pray without ceasing.” In Romans, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.”

So what is prayer? I love this definition from a contemporary writer:
“Prayer is communication from the heart to that which surpasses (our) understanding… from one's heart to God. Prayer means that, in some unique way, we believe we're invited into a relationship with someone who hears us when we speak in silence.” (from Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott)
That someone is the one who created each of us, the God in whom we live and move and have our being. So what does Jesus say? In the Gospel of Matthew we hear:
“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in worship and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven…”
The Lord’s Prayer is the example Jesus gives for our lives. There is an expectation that prayer is part of who we are as faithful beings and that God already knows our needs and our prayers are bringing us into union with our creator.

Muslims pray, Jews pray, Buddhists pray and so do we. As the great reformer, Martin Luther put it, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”

So if prayer is part of our lives, something we do all the time, with words, without words, in silence, in music, in so many different ways, what does this prayer do to us?
Martin Smith, former superior of SSJE puts prayer this way, “we are not calling God’s attention to people’s needs; the Holy Spirit is calling ours to a place where God already is. Our response in prayer [intercession] is to unite our love for those persons with God’s, to offer our concern to be taken up into God’s, for God to use in bringing about the good in them we both desire.”
Our prayer unties us with those with whom we are praying and for whom God is already present.

But is it enough to say we are just praying? Does prayer imply doing?

That is the dilemma. We may not always be in a position to do something, but prayer isn’t just passive, prayer is action.
“When you pray, move your feet.” An African Proverb reminds us.
We may not be able to assist the hurting in San Bernardino, but we can here in Connecticut. Who are the victims in our area? How can you and I pray and support them? Put our prayerful words into action?

The Gospel of Luke tells us that “the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” & John the Baptist didn’t only pray, but he baptized many as a sign of the reign of God come near.

How will your life be a sign of prayer in our dark and violent age? May our lives reflect the divine glory by what we say and do, so God can guide us to give “light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death & move our feet in the way of peace.” Amen.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Thinking about #Refugees #Violence and #Prayers

I have found several articles helpful as I have tried to consider refugees, violence and our prayers (and even the idea of forgiveness (and guilt)).

The Dark Spell the Devil Casts: Refugees and Our Slavery to the Fear of Death
As I point out in The Slavery of Death and in Unclean, love involves opening yourself up to risk. And risk involves fear and uncertainty.

There are no guarantees with love. That doesn't mean you act recklessly or foolishly. But it does mean that doing the loving thing, the compassionate thing, the humane thing involves facing down legitimate fears and a willingness to live with very real risks.

The fog of fear, legitimate and real concerns over safety and security, is the dark spell the Devil casts to bewitch the Children of Light, the diabolical alchemy that transforms gentle and kind people into the Children of Darkness
Advent: Working together for peace in our community
The recent shooting at a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs is frightening reminder of the unprecedented level of gun violence now assaulting our country. Each year more than 30,000 of us are victims of gun violence, often at the hands of a friend or family member, or at our own hands. In Maine, there were 158 firearm deaths in 2013, the last year for which there are published statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. That’s nearly double the number in 2003 (82). The conversation about gun violence has been lost in the debate over technicalities concerning gun control. What we seem to have forgotten is that we – all of us – have a right to live safely in our own homes; to go about our business, to go shopping or have a meal out without being shot. As a nation, and a people, we are failing to keep ourselves safe.
Resources on Challenging Violence here.

Are Prayers Enough?
Many, including me, are saying “enough.” And many are saying “pray” – as in my prayers are for ….. (fill in the blank). Are the two connected? In this season of Advent, we await the coming of Emmanuel – God with us. But for many, Advent is the season to shop, filling our carts with more stuff – when we have enough while others in our cities and world don’t have enough. What does it mean to prepare a room in our heart for the love that is to come? It is hard when our news feed (no matter how or where we get it) is filled with vitriol, death, blood, fear, and the loss of innocence. Lives lost. Hope snuffed out. For some a promise and future that no longer will be.

In the aftermath of another massacre in the United States for yet unknown reasons – do we really need a reason? – I am numb. And tired. Yes, another mass killing had cameras poised on SWAT armored vehicles, waiting for the action. Some say we have a right to carry a weapon; after all, one of the first acts of Hitler was to take away the people’s weapons. Really? But what should our first act be? To pray? Yes, we pray for victims, for an end to violence, and yes – for the perpetrators. And we must act – individually and corporately. God hears our prayers, but uses us to provide the change that is needed.
After Mass Shootings, People Turn To Prayer — And Prayer Shaming
There is almost not enough time to mourn before the next crime. And within minutes, familiar voices chime in on social media and news channels to say the latest shooting simply proves that they're right — both those who say greater gun control is needed, and those who say gun regulations don't work.

I think a lot of people who pray don't think of it as a replacement for deeds, or an occasion to utter a gift list of desires. They pray to open their minds and hearts. They pray when words won't come, and emotions overwhelm. They pray to mark a loss, and to try to make a moment of peace in a landscape of turmoil. They don't see prayer as a substitute for action, but the beginning. The merit of prayer is what people do after we say Amen.
 San Bernardino suspect's sister breaks her silence
Farhan said he felt an obligation to address the victims on the night of the shooting.
"I wanted to go there and talk to the victims, people who were hurt... So I love this country, I love the people," Farhan said. "And I felt responsible to go and tell this to the people."
"Do you think your brother deserves to be forgiven?" Begnaud asked Saira.
"That's a hard question," she said. "I don't even know if I would forgive him. Just because of what he did."
Farhan said, right now, he could not forgive Farook. "With what he did, no. What he did to his own family, to his daughter, to our family, to the innocent people there -- no. I wouldn't forgive him," Farhan said.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

World AIDS Day

National Episcopal AIDS Coalition
NEAC works collaboratively for effective HIV/AIDS ministry on and by all levels of the Episcopal Church. This ministry is rooted in our faith and hope in the risen Christ as expressed in the Covenant established at our Baptism.

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.

Holy Awe

A follow up to my sermon on Sunday.
From the words of mystic & saint Julian of Norwich:
Love and [reverent] dread are brothers, and they are rooted in us by the goodness of our maker, and they shall never be taken from us without end...

That dread that makes us hastily flee from all that is not good and fall into our lord’s breast, as the child in the mother’s bosom, with all our intention and with all our mind—knowing our feebleness and our great need, knowing his everlasting goodness and his blissful love, only seeking into him for salvation, clinging to him with seker [secure] trust—that dread that induces this werking in us, it is natural and gracious and good and true. And all that is contrarious to this, either it is wrong, or it is mixed with wrong. (excerpts from Chapter 24 of Julian's Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013, 2014))
Instead of reverent dread, I prefer the term "Holy Awe," which also works and carries for me a more positive connotation.