What’s with all the pillows?

(This was caught in the drafts for well over a year… time to set it free… Don)

Have you noticed that there is an outbreak of pillows? I wonder if global warming has affected the ability of pillows to reproduce and thereby increased the pillow population somehow?

In the past 20 years the number of pillows on beds (both hotel and residential) has increased dramatically while the number of heads to be placed on a pillow has remained essentially the same.

In visiting in homes I have also noticed that the number of pillows on sofas and chairs has increased geometrically as well. This is a strange phenomenon considering that the statistics are clear that the Body Mass Index of the US population is increasing while the space not taken up by pillows and thus actually available for sitting area is therefore decreasing.

In addition I am told numerous times by hosts as I am contemplating how and where to sit “Oh just put them on the floor!” IWhich makes me wonder if they wanted them on the floor, why put them on the chair in the first place?

Nancy says I just don’t get it! (Now that is a category of conversation that has an inexhaustible supply of content). “It is style,” she tells me. She knows I usually give up when she plays that card. I don’t know or understand style. I once mentioned in conversation that I was out of style. “You can’t be out of style”  she murmured sweetly in my ear, “when you have never been in style!”

But I am not deterred. I am thinking of starting a “Free the pillows” movement. We could set up pillow sanctuaries where newly homeless pillows could live out their days in dignity and peace without the indignity of being relegated to the floor, heaped in the closet or unceremoniously tossed in attic or basement . We might also recruit style mavens to give foster care to the pillows that used to adorn hotel beds only to be tossed aside when it is time to really sleep. And if motels and hotels did not have to have such an outlandishly high pillow budget we might get nightly rates that are lower than an apartment security deposit.

So let’s hear it: “Free the Pillows! Free the Pillows! We want our space back! Free the Pillows!”

The Pillow Grinch –  aka Don

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Sabbatical Sermon

NOTE:  Nancy and Don hare leaving May 14 on a sabbatical pilgrimage and will return ot St Paul’s on September 3. This is our sermon for May 14th….

Leave Taking  Easter 5 – 2017

Don:  On an airline flight 2 men sat next to one another & struck up a conversation. On discovering his seat mate was a priest the other man said “Well it is all so very simple. All religion can be summed up in “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you!”

The priest then asked what the other’s profession was. “Oh”, he said, “I am an astronomer.” Replied the priest and “That too is very simple it is just “Twinkle twinkle little star.”

Nancy:  The first letter of Peter acknowledges that we may begin our faith journey with a simple understanding, like newborn infants but reminds us we do not have to remain there.

Growing in the faith requires care and nurture, and feeding the spirit within us. Feeding it with spiritual milk as the reading suggested – feeding it by actively participating in a faith community; by engaging scripture and seeing within this spiritual library and specific books and passages the various levels of meaning as people of faith through the ages have struggled to understand how our life lived in God fits or contrasts with the world as we see it and experience it.

D:  The writer goes on to use the image of being “living stones”.  We know stones are inanimate… so how do they “live”? How can we become living stones let along build ourselves into a house?

N: Think of a coral reef. These small creatures focus their efforts on building a home that is strong, that is safe, and while it is not their primary purpose what they do benefits the environment in which they build it. It is work that is intentional and focused and brings about good for those beyond the one doing the work.

D: The stone becomes a cornerstone – chosen and precious. Remember that without power tools, working with stone was hard and laborious.  Stones for particular uses were often specifically chosen so that they would best fit the purpose and could be more easily shaped & formed for that purpose.

N: The writer of the Epistle indicates that we, as living stones, might not be chosen by a secular builder, but in God’s economy we may become the cornerstone in building something new in serving God’s people and creation.

This reading tells us that we are God’s people, chosen, not to simply be observers – but to be active in living into a deeper knowledge of who and whose we are and living out the work of God.

D: As with so many other places in the Gospels today’s passage begins with assurance in the admonition “Do not let your hearts be troubled…” That, like “do not fear” is a consistent theme of the scriptures… It is relevant because we are approaching a new time, a different time – which we have planned for and know about.  Yet it will still give us new people, new experiences and new things to think about. It will give us the ability to stretch and grow. And that can cause us to be troubled or have some latent fear about the unknowns.

N: Philip asks to see God in order to be satisfied. Jesus tells Philip that Philip can see God in Jesus. Unlike those apostles we do not directly and clearly see Jesus in the flesh or risen. Rather we see Jesus in and through other, in the breaking of bread, in the works of Jesus that we witness.

D: Jesus tells these friends and followers to ask God in Jesus’ name and it will be done. We understand that if we allow the spirit to dwell within us what we ask is more likely to be that which is in accordance with God’s dream to re-create the world as God would have it. And that work begins with God’s Spirit re-creating us in ways we cannot know or fathom.

N: Today we begin an experiment of a sort. A short time apart on different journeys, traveling in different ways, having different experiences which we will try to share with one another as we are able.

We know that if we engage this journey and these events and activities…

if we open ourselves to the experiences and the Spirit when we come back together in September we will be changed.

We will in some way be different and be better able to look again at the faith community known as St Paul’s  Jeffersonville in a new light and ask what God would have us do to live into the future where God calls us to journey.

D: A Jewish friend of mine described his son asking their rabbi “Why did God create people?”  The rabbi smiled and enthusiastically said “Because God loves stories!” Scripture is filled with stories, and as we gather here we tell various stories; and as we gather round tables in the parish hall we share stories.  In September may we have many stories to share.

May we recognize more clearly the presence of God on the journey…

May we be grateful that we have had the gift of this special time in which we have tasted that the Lord is good.

May we know gratitude for being formed as a spiritual house and a royal priesthood  – especially when we may see ourselves as odd rejected stones – so that we may we know ourselves to be chosen and precious and ready to share our story with others who need good news.

Don & Nancy

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…with fear and great joy…

Sitting in an airport years ago I was waiting for our delayed flight to board and decided to take walk down the concourse.  As I got to an unoccupied gate area, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of brown above me. Looking up I saw a sparrow land on the inside ledge of the skylight in the ceiling.  Here was a sparrow on the inside of the terminal looking out.

The bird seemed somewhat at home – as if acclimated to life in the terminal. There was no furious beating of wings as if the bird were trying to get beyond the glass. No frantic sense of the bird having recently become captive.   As I watched it flew to the carpet to retrieve some sort of crumb or tidbit someone had dropped.  Another brief flight and it sat again on the window ledge above me looking out at the world beyond the glass. I had a sense of forlornness within me as I watched this scene unfold. There was something deeply disturbing about it.

I realized this wild bird had probably flown in through an open baggage door somewhere and unable to retrace her path had become trapped within the terminal. This trapped bird is not able to return to the world for which she was created. Instead she lives in this foreign, temperature controlled, world without grass, insects, separated by a barrier and able only to catch a glimpse of the natural world. Sitting on the ledge of the skylight I sense her deep desire to be where she was meant to be and her resignation at being where she was.

Why did this affect me so much? Perhaps because we are all trapped by circumstances and barriers in our life that prevents us from fully being part of the world for which we were created. But unlike the sparrow we may not even know we are living in an artificial world rather than in God’s kingdom for which we were created. We seem content to live in our artificial world of consumerism, power and status. We live in the engineered world of work and the mall, and only occasionally see, let alone long for, the world beyond the barrier. We, like the sparrow, no longer try to get to that real world – no longer try to find out way to where we really belong. To do those things that we were created to do.

The women going to the tomb that Easter morning before sunrise… when the first day of the week was beginning to dawn… had experienced the real world of the kingdom of God as Jesus had lived it. But with Jesus dead they thought they were back to life as it was before.  So Mary of Magdala, and the other Mary make their way, as Matthew phrases it. “to see” the tomb. This sounds to me a great deal like the sparrow looking through the window at life as it was supposed to be – but stuck looking out at it. Jesus was dead – the tomb contained the remains of the dream of the kingdom of God.

Matthew tells us that while they were there – there was something like an earthquake – they and the guards at the tomb were filled with fear. And the guards were like dead men – immobilized  – frozen in fear. They all experienced the ground shifting – just as Jesus had shifted the disciples understanding of themselves and the world.

The angel gives them the message not to fear – and then shows them and tells them Jesus is not there. They are to trust their experience.  Then the women are then sent to share the news with others.

What tells me we have a real human experience is that next phrase which says they left with fear and great joy. Great joy that their friend and master had somehow been made alive again. But that same news was also a cause of fear – for they did not understand how it was possible.

Then as they leave they meet Jesus – and after greeting them – he also tells them not to fear.  He gives reassurance that they don’t have to understand it to experience it. And again they are sent to share the news.

We have the Gospel summed up in this vignette. We are given the opportunity to experience what we may not understand, yet are assured that we don’t have to understand it, and are asked to share our experience with others.

But the church wasn’t out of Jerusalem before the emphasis shifted to understanding rather than the experience of the risen Christ.

The problem with the Easter story is that an empty tomb is not proof of resurrection. It is merely a sign – something that points us towards a greater reality. We are unable to fully understand it. Our logic asks how this can happen – how can this be?  The resurrection of Jesus is but one example of resurrection. They are myriads of example of small resurrections places where new life has emerged from what seemed dead and lifeless.. But we need to allow ourselves to see them and experience them rather than analyze them. Understanding won’t get us close to the reality of God’s world but to allow ourselves experience and name it will.

But how and where do we experience these bits of resurrection that we may not recognize or name?  Perhaps an illustration from my own life may provide some clues. I applied for and was hired for the job “I always wanted” Director of Communications for the largest Anglican diocese in North America.  Eighteen months later I was told my contract would not be renewed. Passive church-speak for “you’re fired.”  SoI ended up in a parish in Buffalo working on behalf of the poor and infirm to develop a food pantry, built housing for the handicapped; and worked with the Buffalo New Neediest Christmas Fund.  And in this forced return to parish work I found my way back to myself and to my God given purpose.

It was working at this parish that Nancy and I first met and worked together. And 7 years later we married.

Being fired was not life-giving, but what flowed from that because of the changes that brought to me have been very life giving and brought new life to me on several levels.

Don

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Hungers

I had one of those days this week where between morning appointments and my Japanese class, I didn’t have anything to eat between breakfast and dinner, so when I got home about 4, I was hungry.  I suspect many of you have experienced this kind of hunger – knowing that the body is ready for sustenance.  There is a naturalness to this hunger – we all experience it.

Hunger can be created, too.  Just walk past Schimpffs Confectionery… they have an exhaust fan which wafts the fragrance of their candy making outside… inviting us to desire their delicacies.  Flavors of cinnamon and chocolate and caramel…

Food is not the only object of hunger.  We are also aware of people who are said to be hungry for power, for love, for wealth, notoriety or influence.  In the process of satisfying these kinds of hungers it is possible to wreak havoc on others lives.

The reading from Genesis 2 shows clearly the effect of such a hunger. In this ancient story Adam & Eve are placed in a garden where their needs are supplied. They can eat of any tree, except the one in the center of the garden.  At first their hungers are satisfied both with the garden and their relationship with God with whom they walk in the cool of the evening.

But over time the one forbidden fruit creates in them a new hunger – for that which they can’t have – a hunger spurred on by the serpent. The false hunger of the forbidden works on us today as well. For example – when our boys were little I would occasionally tell them that they could do any activity they wanted but they were not to scratch their nose. Suddenly scratching their nose was the one thing they needed and wanted to do – that prohibition produced a hunger to do it.

But this is not the only hunger Genesis reveals. The serpent sows the seeds of another hunger in saying “when you eat of the fruit your eyes will be opened and you will be like God… knowing good and evil.”  This desire to be like God is a hunger that runs through the history of humankind. It is often misunderstood as a hunger for power, for immortality, for knowing all, controlling all.  God’s power comes not from great might, but from steadfast love.  The serpent lied to Eve, and in the process helped to manufacture a hunger.

What are our created hungers?  They can be seen is the hunger for the latest IPhone, the biggest & best house, the new car, the latest fashion trend…  The other night we saw a 60 Minutes news story about a guy who hungered for the adrenaline rush that comes with danger and thrills.  He reveled in skiing down a mountain and parachuting off a cliff.  His friend had died on one of their adventures.

These and other hungers are deep, and often never satisfied.  We want love, respect, power, wealth, to having a place or in society, to feel connected.  These hungers are not new – they are at the base of the temptations in the Gospel story.  Following Jesus’ baptism he was led into the wilderness – traditionally a place of danger, and struggle, where God can be met.  In the wilderness for forty days (bible speak for “a long time”), Jesus grappled with who he was and the path set before him.

We see in Jesus’ interplay with the devil those human hungers that Jesus had to face. In fact many interpret the story itself not as a historic event but as a summary of those temptations that would be there throughout Jesus’ ministry: temptation for ease, control, and power.

First turn there stones into bread – here the temptation is to use his power & position for himself.  Don’s grandfather once remarked on an acquaintance that “He started off to do good, but instead he did very well!”

The second test is symbolized by suggesting Jesus throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple. This is testing God by using the promise as a shortcut to fame and power.

And finally there was the offer of all the dominions of the world if Jesus would offer worship to the devil… the hitch was that in return for control of the world, he would need to abandon the essence of who and whose he was.

In each of these temptations Jesus quoted a passage from Deuteronomy, the so-called “fifth Gospel.”  One does not live by bread alone, but also by the word of God: hunger for God, Jesus tells the devil.  Do not put the Lord your God to the test: hunger for spiritual maturity.  Worship the Lord you God, and serve only him: hunger for right relationship.

In his time in the wilderness, Jesus was confronted with his hunger, both physical and spiritual.  He chose to keep God at the center of his life, rather than putting himself above God.

Lent, we are told, in the invitation during the Ash Wednesday service, is a time to prepare by a season of self-examination, fasting, and centering ourselves in God.  It is a time of retreat from the world to examine our lives and our choices.  It is a time to look at our hungers, to see if they are misplaced, and to right ourselves, or as the church uses the word, to repent (to turn to face God) so that we are in right relationship with God.

Over centuries the church has developed practices that assist us to examine our hungers and to use these practices to help shift the center of our life from ourselves to have God in the center, which provides us with the ability to withstand the trials, temptations and misplaced hungers of life that are all around us.

We have this period of 6 weeks offered to us yearly as an opportunity to focus on where we are in our spiritual journey and to take specific steps to move towards where we want to be. They are not necessarily dramatic changes or actions. But sequential steps that allow us to be centered more and more in God and less and less in self and ego.

And it is of this journey of centering ourselves in God that the mystic Julia of Norwich wrote: “He said not ‘Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased’; but he said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.”

And the result of that is her most recognizable quote “And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceeding well.”

Nancy

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Faith & Politics

In a recent message to the clergy of the diocese Bishop Cate Waynick  shared her thoughts about  criticism of the church being motivated “by politics” in espousing actions and  to support or oppose governmental policies, issues.  She wrote:

“I want to be clear that I don’t believe there is anything inherently bad about politics.  We have political systems because we live in communities/States/Nation and need to have shared expectations about how our common life will be lived out. Truth be told, I have always been rather fascinated by political processes, and have actually enjoyed participating in these processes both in the secular world and in The Episcopal Church.

It’s when people start describing our motivations as ‘political’ that I want us to be careful.  We use political systems to register our desires and values, and to participate in making what we hope will be positive changes in our common life.
What I hope we do, as followers of Jesus, is allow ourselves to be guided and formed by the imperatives of our faith.  When we advocate for justice and engage in works of mercy it is because we understand that God has commanded that we do so, and we have committed ourselves to do so.

We do not refrain from degrading, insulting, demeaning language in order to be ‘politically correct.’ We refrain because we are followers of Jesus who know we are called to a ministry of reconciliation and to be witnesses to God’s love of all people.

Such categories as ‘political correctness’ or ‘political motivation’ are valid where people who have no other structure or underpinnings are concerned.  Our underpinning is the Gospel, and our structure is the framework of Jesus’ teaching and example, and our Baptismal Covenant.
I have to wonder whether, when the Roman Catholic Church stands firm in their advocacy against provision of birth control or abortion, anyone considers they are being ‘political.’  I suspect that they have been so clear that this is a religious imperative in their own minds that their actions are seen in that light by society in general.

I think it is entirely possible for us to be equally clear that justice for all persons, merciful response to human need, and respect for every person is considered among us to be a religious imperative of the first order.  So when we advocate in a variety of ways, including in our existing political processes, no one can accuse us of being motivated by anything other than religious commitment.

“… there can be honest disagreement among us about particular issues, and we must always guard against speaking in ways which seem to deny that reality.  The only way we can learn what it truly means to love each other as Jesus loves us is to refuse to walk away from each other in the midst of disagreement.

That we are all experiencing a level of uncertainty, angst, anxiety, or fear is undeniable,  but we are not without resources. We have each other. We have the networks we have established with others – both ecumenical and inter-faith, and we have the teachings and the spiritual disciplines which have sustained our forebears for millennia.

At every moment God is with us. At every moment the eternal reality of the Incarnation makes Christ present among us. At every moment our Savior is teaching, healing, challenging, and bestowing the gifts of the Spirit. At every moment Christ is commanding us to love with sacrificial love, sharing the sacred meal of his Body  and Blood, being betrayed, suffering, dying, and undergoing the attempted annihilation of God’s divine gifts to the world – and at every moment is rising to new life and making new life possible for all creation.

In times of high anxiety we must remember what we believe and who we are called to be. And as I said yesterday, when we find ourselves walking with those who have always had to live in fear, we may discover that great spiritual gifts come to us.  The experience of Jesus, Peter, James and John on the mount of Transfiguration did not move seamlessly to the resurrection. They had to travel first to Jerusalem, and all that dangerous journey meant for them.

Keep breathing. Keep praying your prayers. Remember that you, and every other person is beloved. And hold fast to each other.  You are amazing, gifted, and creative leaders and servants of the people of God. Be to each other and to the world around us the love God longs to share……

The Rt. Rev. Catherine Waynick is Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianpolis

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Lighting the shadows

What was the greatest (though some might argue worst) invention that changed human life?

Artificial light – whether oil lamps, candles, incandescent electric lights or LEDs… We can provide a means to see in the midst of the dark.

For thousands of years people had to stop activity for the night when it got dark and they could not see. The work day was determined by the amount of daylight. My garndfather, born in the 19th century on a farm in Western New York spoke of working “fron can’t see to can’t see!”

Over centuries the darkness of night became a metaphor for the unknown, the eerie, the power of mischief and evil… for ignorance and waywardness.

Thus the reading for Epiphany 3 from from Isaiah rejoices that people who formerly had darkness not have seen a great light – it has shined on them and brought joy.

The letter to the Corinthians is one we should be able to relate to given the past election and present political season.  This small struggling Christian community in Corinth was divided into factions, with disagreements, dissension and quarreling. Paul in his letter calls them to a new way of seeing – inviting them away from the shadows of partisanship into the light of Christ – by their baptism through which being baptized into Christ they have been given an agenda and proclamation that even now gives us the power of God to guide our choices and the will to continue and to endure.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, following his Baptism by John – Jesus remained in the south until Herod had John arrested. He then left for the Galilee which was out of Herod’s jurisdiction. Jesus made his home in Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Lake of Kenneserit or the lake of Tiberas). Here as in other places Matthew shows a fulfillment of the Old Testament through Jesus by using the quote from Isaiah to indicate the Jesus is the new light dawning in the darkness.

Jesus movesinto this freer more open environment to gather disciples and begin his mission of preaching and proclamation.  Matthew gives us the summary of Jesus proclamation –– “Repent – for the kingdom of God has come near you.”  Turn back to God, he tells people.  This proclamation indicates one does not find the kingdom of God in Jerusalem, or in heaven, or some distant place – the kingdom of God is near wherever you are. It is around us, it is within our sight, and within our grasp if only we recognize it. The kingdom of God is here for us to live into and create.

Jesus bring light into the murky world of religious thought of the day.  In those days if your life was drudgery, or pain, or illness or poverty – religious thought day said it was because God was not blessing you… in essence it is your fault.  Like the prosperity Gospel we are again hearing about in recent days – saying if you have wealth it is because God is blessing you. The only significant problem is that if one looks at Jesus’ life we do not see prosperity, wealth or any other signs of blessing that particular theological stance says is an indication of blessing.

Living into and creating the kingdom as Jesus presents it is a not a solitary enterprise. We cannot do it alone. We know that because Jesus newly moved to the Galilee begins to look for people to work with him in this effort. Who was Jesus looking for ? Not the ones the populace would have expected. Not the wealthy, not the religious elite? Definitely not those we might describe as self-made or people of influence.

Jesus walks the shore of the lake and invites the laboring professional fishermen. These men went fishing every day for as long as it took to being in a catch that would feed them, their families and if possible with some with which they could sell or barter with others. Recreational fishermen use a hook & line. But that is not an efficient way to fish professionally.  They used a drag net and sometimes a casting net we have reference to in the Matthew’s Gospel.

It seems likely to me that Jesus has seen them before and perhaps had spent time talking with them. This moment in which he asks them to follow makes more sense and does not seem so impetuous and hasty if they knew about him and what his mission was.  He comes along and asks them to follow him telling them they would “fish for people”.

Now what in creation does that mean?  I have heard it explained as they were to hook people, or bring them unwillingly into the kingdom; but that just does not fit! So I believe what is being said is that they have gifts and skills that will be valuable in this new work.

They had patience – to be able to wait for the right moment to throw the net, or haul in the drag net. They would need patience in their dealings with the crowds.

They had perseverance. They went out day after day even when they had no had success the day before; even in bad weather, even when they were tired and sore and discouraged.

They knew that you had to use the right bait. When dealing with different people – different concerns, questions or ideas that matter to them. They would need to be adaptable – to know what they needed to say in order to illustrate to them that the kingdom of God was indeed near.

They had courage. Galilee is a small lake and it is not very deep and is surrounded by tall hills they call mountains. A storm can come up off the hills quickly and the lake becomes rough on a moments notice. To be out on that lake in a small sailboat in the midst of storm required courage and keeping a level head.

So fishing for people, I believe,  meant using the gifts these fishermen already possessed to use in the service to spreading the Good News of God. Jesus shone a new light on who they were, what they could do, and the meaning it could have in their lives and the lives of others.

The question I ask that we ponder this week is “in what way is God calling you – me – each of us to use our gifts in new ways to bring light to the darkness & shadow places around us?”  And how can we help invite others to find that light that illumines our hearts & lives?

“On those who sat I the shadow of death on them light has shined…”

May we be bearers of the light!  

Don

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Water is LIFE

Water is important.

In Genesis the wind of God swept over the primordial waters

In Exodus Moses led the people through the waters of the Red Sea.

The prophet Elijah struck the water of the Jordan and spilt the waters

In psalm 29 we read – “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters… the Lord is upon the mighty waters…”

The recent confrontation at Standing Rock has reminded all us once again, no matter what side of that issue we are on, that water is life.

I suspect that there may be some who do not agree, and yet we know that one can die from lack of water much sooner than from a lack of food.

Many across the globe argue that access to clean, safe water is a human right.  But that is a contentious point in a world where water has become a commodity and vehicle of profit.  Currently in Flint Michigan, some towns in Pennsylvania, and even some cities in Indiana, problems with water supply are creating long term problems leading to disability and unhealthy.

Water is life

In Acts 10  Peter notes the Jesus ministry comes after his baptism . That baptism was a commissioning for his public ministry .

The Gospel according to Matthew shows us Jesus going to the Jordan to be baptized – a submersion in the water of a river that is small compared to the Ohio River (though it is about the same color).

Cousin John was preaching at the Jordan where the road from Jericho to Jerusalem crosses the Jordan. John in his preaching was exhorting  the travelers to Jerusalem to reclaim their heritage, their roots, by crossing the Jordan into the land – this land which had been promised to Abraham and to which Moses had led them.

John used the waters of the Jordan as a graphic reminder that the fore-bearers in faith had crossed that same river in order to receive God’s promise and had promised to be God’s people in the land. God had rescued them from slavery in Egypt and in return they promised to be God’s people. That act of John’s baptism was acknowledgement that they were inheritors of the promise and a symbol that they would repent – which literally means to turn around to the correct way of being God’s people in the world.

No wonder John was surprised that his cousin Jesus would come to partake of this ritual – Jesus was a teacher who was living the life of an observant son of the covenant. Jesus tells him it was to “fulfill all righteousness”  I see that to mean that Jesus doesn’t not ask others to do what he was not willing to do. Jesus used the symbolic power of water from which to emerge to begin his proclamation of the good news of  Emmanuel – God with us and accessible to us.

Water leads us to life…

Why do we love baptisms?

Yes, young children are cute, and because we welcome the newly baptized into a new life and relationship with us and with God.

But recall that most of us do not remember our own baptism – so I suspect it also becomes an act of remembrance of and by the community…

Which is also why from time to time we sprinkle the people of God with the water of baptism during the liturgy.

The same with making the sign of the cross – an act of personal piety – at the reading of the gospel and during prayers makes visible to us the sign of the cross made at our baptism  which is the sign of our also being well beloved children of God.

Water is new life.

Jesus’  actions did not end with baptism they began there.  The waters of baptism with Spirit of God alighting on him was the matrix from which his adult life as a teacher, healer and prophet emerged.

Commemorating the Feast of Jesus Baptism reminds us of our call personally and as a faith community to new life and new ways of living and acting. It reminds us that each of us is uniquely gifted for making our contribution to recreate the world as God created it to be.

This brings us back to Standing Rock. For a significant proportion of those who began the protests were native American Episcopalians from the missions on the Standing Rock Reservation. The Rev John Floberg their missioner has been there for almost 30 years. Our Presiding Bishop came to stand with them as Water protectors.  He went there to stand with them, to be a prophetic voice for the care of creation and the need to care for the earth. Hundreds if not thousands of others from religious communities, knowing the power of water, came to stand with them.

Water is life – both as creatures and creation

Both physically and spiritually

Both now and to the ages of ages

The voice of the Lord is upon the waters… the Lord is upon the mighty waters…”

And the water of baptism is mighty indeed!

Don

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The Work of Christmas

By 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 people

To make music in the heart

__________________________________

PS The work of Christmas continues through the New Year and each and every day of every year.

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For THOSE people?

img_4648_resizeIt was a time of discord, dissention, fracture and violence. Politics were brutal. Governing the land meant deals with the powerful; incompetent appointments of the well connected; and threats against the most vulnerable. Loyalty to an ideology meant more than seeking the common good. And at the center was one man.

Sounds recognizable doesn’t it? Yes, that was the Roman Empire just before and during the time of Jesus. Israel was under Roman control. Land taken from the people had been given to the powerful interests of the day. The Emperor ruled, appointed, directed and set the tone for the Empire.

The masses of people were steadily sinking deeper into poverty and the elites were getting more and more wealth. The populace was restless, discouraged, and sought someone who could save them. They looked for a Messiah – whom they wanted to be a political leader who could overturn the power of Rome.

It was into this context that angels appeared to shepherds out at work in a field. Now shepherds were not bad people… but it was a hard and nomadic job, one that did not allow much time off. It did not pay well and most people did not want to do it. It might be vaguely equivalent to migrant farm workers in our present day. Shepherds were marginalized, exploited, vilified, and yet were necessary to the economy.

So here is the first scandal of the Gospel story. God sends messengers to THOSE people… those shepherds, to announce good news. Not to the leaders of the temple in Jerusalem, or the local chapter of the Pharisees, nor the Levites – the priests. So WHY them? They were not good faithful Jews. They did not follow the dietary laws, and observe the Sabbath, holy days or the fine details of the torah and the Biblical laws. They were not considered totally respectable… Yet the messengers of God come to them!

If we read through the scriptures it becomes obvious to most of us that God has special regard for the marginalized, the poor, the refugee in the land, the widowed, the orphan, the disabled, the despised… Again and again we hear God’s prophets from centuries BC to the present telling God’s people to care for the poor, the orphan, aliens and widow.

These messengers of God appear and tells the shepherds ”I bring glad tidings of a great joy for all the people; to you is born this day…a savior who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

This special delivery message – a message of joy… is stated “to you…a Savior, the messiah was born.” Born for these shepherds… “and for all people…” Obviously God simply does not recognize the boundaries we humans put on our religion and our religious institutions.
God does things God’s way not ours. God does not operate a patronage system, doling out favors to those who have paid their tithes and followed the institutional rules. This joyous news of the angels is for all people – delivered to the shepherds who best symbolized the marginalized who needed good news then and now.

In every age and time there are many who need Good News; as well as those who need to be reminded that it is not our agenda or ideology that will lead us to the world as it was meant to be – for our world and society to be as they were created to be we must subscribe to God’s agenda for us and for all of God’s creation.

The birth of a baby is usually an occasion of joy. A new life is celebrated. The announcement of the birth in Bethlehem is called by the theological term Incarnation – meaning putting on flesh…

This announcement to shepherds allowed them to see this promised Good News embodied in this child. What allowed them to believe it because they could see it. Good News needs to be somehow embodied for most people to believe it is real.

The promise of the angels, the promise of Christmas – the promise of Jesus’ teachings, the cross and resurrection is a promise of Emmanuel – God With Us in whatever we are facing. A recent movie has one character saying “Everything works out well in the end. If it has not worked out well then it is not the end.” That is very much like the promise we have as those who follow Jesus.

The shepherds went to Bethlehem and saw what had been promised – the birth of Jesus. Yet on that night the promise did not come to its fulfillment. By the time of his death, Jesus has gathered a community of people, and started a movement. It consisted of people who pledged to continue to work towards Jesus’ shared vision of God’s intention for humanity and for creation. We gather tonight as part of the Episcopal branch of that Jesus Movement – deeply craving that Jesus vision might become a reality.

We who need good news have heard the proclamation of angels.
Will we, like the shepherds, go in heart and mind to Bethlehem to be reminded and inspired?
Will we renew our commitment to be the people of God and followers of the who we call the Prince of Peace.
Will we choose to embody and personally live out the Good News so we become the sign for others that the message of hope and compassion is real?
Will live in a way that resists the culture of empire and oppression of others?

Will we work and pray for the end of militarism, so that as Isaiah wrote “the boots of the tramping warriors and the garments soaked in blood may finally become fuel for the fire” as we live God’s new creation into being?

And the angel said – Do not be afraid;
For see – I am bringing you good news of a great joy
For all the people
to you is born this day in the city of David, a savior,
who is the messiah, the Lord…

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace, good will
to all God’s creatures and creation.

Don & Nancy

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Sunday of the Fulfillment

Sunday (Nov. 20) is the last Sunday of the church year. Unlike the societal calendar the church year begins with the first Sunday of Advent which in 2016 is Sunday November 27. We end the current church year with the focus on the completing of Jesus’ work among us. We see the work begun in Jesus throughout the New Testament and continued (often in fits and starts) by God’s people across the centuries since. There has been progress made but we are also painfully aware of the great gaps between what Jesus taught and what humanity has been able to accomplish in making it “on earth as it is in heaven…”

In the Anglican world this Sunday is often known as Christ the King – using the metaphor of Jesus as the king indicating that God’s will would be done on earth… Yet Nancy and I much prefer the Lutheran name – Sunday of the Fulfillment – the Sunday on which we look forward to the time when all will be as God created it to be.

The difference is significant. With Christ the King we seem to be handing the work back to Jesus saying “Here YOU do it!” The Sunday of the Fulfillment seems more like the Gospel in that Jesus’ followers are to finish the work that Jesus began.

The world has been rocked by the recent election. Our children as young adults give us a window into the shock and horror many of them feel at the results. The unexpected support for actions, policies and attitudes that seem so very much at odds with the Gospel we proclaim, has left many wondering. And one of the wonderments that has been voiced is “what do we do now?”

On this Sunday of the Fulfillment we are given an answer. If we want the world to be like God created it be, we need to get back to work. Our work is to proclaim and live out the Gospel values we find in Jesus life, ministry and teaching. If we want care for the vulnerable we need to find ways to care for and/or help support the very people scripture tells us are close to God’s heart: The sick, the poor, the marginalized, the widowed and orphans, and the alien in the land

We have been given the message – “Get back to work. It is not over and our work in the world is not done.” As individuals and as a community of faith our work continues. We can see clearly how important our work is if we take seriously what we pray in the prayer Jesus taught – that God’s will be followed by God’s values being lived out as our reality on earth.

This then leads to a question of discernment. Led by Jesus teachings, as we understand them, we might ask, “Of all the things that could be done, what task or piece of a task of care for God’s creatures and God’s creation, are we as individuals – and we as a parish uniquely – able or called to work on? What can we do to make this small corner of creation more as God created it to be? How can each of us – you and I, and our faith communities – be agents of change for God’s stated agenda – “on earth as it is heaven”?

Don

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