Sunday, May 31, 2015

"A Wider Perspective"--A Sermon for Trinity Sunday

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the LORD sitting upon a throne,
high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.”  Isaiah 6:1

            Erik Mebust and I had coffee together last weekend, and we talked about all his exciting plans for the next several months.  Erik will be studying literature for a term at Kings’ College in London, and I was able to give him some advice about museums, historical sites and churches.  He also has two or three weeks after his term finishes to do some travelling around the rest of Europe, and a big list of places he’s dying to see.  There’s Paris, of course, and the Rhine Valley in Germany, and wouldn’t it be wonderful to see the Alps, and he has a friend spending a term in Montpelier, down on the Mediterranean Coast.  And I was trying to slow him down a bit.  You don’t want to spend half of your time on trains, after all, and you might well be able to go back again later in life and try some of what you will need to miss this time. 

But of course, by American standards, all these places are really quite close.  This is part of the wonder of Europe to an American.  In a few hours you can travel between places whose languages, histories, foods, music, and architecture are completely different.  New York State really isn’t all that different from Minnesota.  But Spain and Poland are a world apart, and the distance is really about the same. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Holy Ghost, Come Down!": A Sermon for Pentecost

“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.”  Acts 2:17

The story is told of a travelling evangelist who made the circuit of little Southern towns a few generations ago.  A dramatic preacher, he knew just how to bring the crowd to their knees.  His great method was to call out, at the height of his sermon, “Holy Ghost, come down.”  He had conveniently stationed a little boy up in the rafters with a dove in a cage, and at that signal, the boy would open the cage, and the dove would flutter down upon the assembled congregation.  

Well, the preacher had made the customary arrangements one sweltering Sunday evening in June, and when he had his crowd just where he wanted them, he shouted out, “Holy Ghost, come down.”  There was silence.  Again, “Holy Ghost, come down.”  The preacher cleared his throat and glanced nervously toward the ceiling, and—“Holy Ghost, come down.”  Finally, a little voice chimed from the balcony, “The yaller cat done ‘et the Holy Ghost.  Shall I throw the yaller cat down?”

Friday, May 22, 2015

For Meditation: There and then this Lamb shall mary me

From my morning reading, John Donne's sermon preached at St. Clement Danes (May 30, 1621).  The sermon was delivered at a wedding, and in this section Donne considers the marriage between Christ and each member of His Body.  This passage imagines that, as in the Church's marriage liturgy, there might be a moment in the contracting of the spiritual bond in which others might justly object.

"This is a mariage in that great and glorious Congregation, where all my sins shall be laid open to the eye of all the world, where all the blessed Virgins shall see all my uncleannesse, and all the Martyrs see all my tergiversations, and all the Confessors see all my double dealings in Gods cause; where Abraham shall see my faithlessnesse in Gods promises; and Job my impatience in Gods corrections; and Lazarus my hardness of heart in distributing Gods blessings to the poore; and those Virgins, and Martyrs, and Confessors, and Abraham, and Job, and Lazarus, and all that Congregation, shall look upon the Lamb and upon me, and upon one another, as though they would all forbid those banes, and say to one another, Will this Lamb have any thing to doe with this soule? and yet there and then this Lamb shall mary me, and mary me In aeternum, for ever, which is our last circumstance"  (82-83).

Thursday, May 21, 2015

For Meditation: In Every Tentation

From my morning reading, The Sermons of John Donne:

"In every tentation, and every tribulation, there is a a Catechisme, and Instruction; nay, there is a Canticle, a love-song, an Epithalamion, a mariage song of God, to our souls, wrapped up, if wee would open it, and read it, and learn that new tune, that musique of God."

Donne, Sermon Preached at Lincoln's Inn (58).

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"In His Glory"--Sermon for Easter 7

“All mine are thine, and thine are mine, and I am glorified in them.”  St. John 17:10

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

“She was in her glory today.”  That’s what my father would say when he was describing my grandmother at a family reunion, carrying out the groaning platters, a baby cradled in one arm, beaming for all the world to see.  It’s how he described my brother that time the bases were loaded and he sent the ball over the left field wall.  I remember him teasing my mother, returning home from a day shopping with her friends.  There were a few more bags in the back seat than he had been expecting, and that’s what he said—“well, I can see you were in your glory today.”   I think it’s a rather old-fashioned expression these days, but we still know what it means.

To be one’s glory means to feel deep happiness, a sense of fulfillment.  We are in our glory when we are doing that thing we are truly made to do, when our distinctive talents are put to use, and others respond to us with respect and admiration.  We smile when we are in our glory.  A kind of light seems to shine from our faces. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Commentary: With Christ in God by Shirley C. Hughson, OHC

For more than a decade, my spiritual life has been nurtured through association with several of our Episcopal religious orders.  I am a priest associate of the All Saints Sisters and of the Community of Saint Mary, and I have visited both communities regularly to share in the daily prayers, to make retreats, and to receive spiritual guidance.  These are not easy times for Anglican religious orders, and both communities live, in some ways, amid the signs of former grandeur, while also holding fast to our faithful God and pushing on in the simpler vocations He has given them today.   They operate fewer schools, hospitals and mission houses, but remain devoted to enriching the Church’s life through unceasing praise of God and sharing what they have learned about following Christ.

The Community of Saint Mary is blessed with an extensive library, a relic of the days when dozens of women were trained in the novitiate at a time.  On my last visit, after speaking with the mother superior about some spiritual challenges I was facing, she asked me if I had read any Father Hughson.  I had not, something she insisted must be remedied.  I departed with a copy of With Christ in God (among several other treasures from the shelves), and now can understand just why she was so enthusiastic. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

For Meditation: Jesus is Angling for You

From my morning reading--Cyril of Jerusalem, quoted in John Laurence's The Sacrament of the Eucharist.  

"Perhaps you did not know whither you were coming or in what kind of net you are taken.  You have come within the nets of the church.  Be taken alive and flee not.  For Jesus is angling for you, not in order to kill, but by killing to make you alive.  For you must die and rise again."  (20).

Thursday, May 14, 2015

While He Was Blessing Them--A Sermon for Ascension Day

“While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven”St. Luke 24:51
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
            We remember last looks.  The last time we see an old friend in the hospital before his death, smiling faintly, ready to face what comes next.  Our mother’s tears as we waved away that car from the college dormitory parking lot on the first day of freshman orientation.  The triumph of a retiring athlete or musician, scanning the crowd one final time with joy and gratitude.  The last look tells us so much.  It reveals the heart, brings to life what is most important in the relationship we share.  Often it points to what lies ahead.
It is so too in the mystery we celebrate today: our Lord’s glorious ascension.  “While he was blessing them,” Saint Luke tells us, “he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven.”  The last look for Jesus’ disciples, that parting vision that would be fixed forever in their mind was of their Master, his arms lifted confidently, pouring out on them his blessing, the assurance of His love.  It’s just this that the great painting over our Altar depicts: Christ in strength and glory, lifting up His precious hands to bestow once and for all His blessing on all who love Him.

For Meditation: If it Weren't True

A friend sent this to me yesterday, a word about lying and truthtelling written by a man who, by his own admission, came to know a great deal about both.

"I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me.  How?  Because 12 men testified that they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, and then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it.  Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned, and put in prison.  They would not have endured that if it wasn't true.  Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world--and they couldn't keep a lie for three weeks.  You're telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years?  Absolutely impossible."  Chuck Colson.

At Christ Church, we have a rose window with twelve petals.  Each petal represents an apostle and depicts the symbol of his martyrdom.  I'd never before recalled that for what it really is, 12 testimonies to the truth of the resurrection.

For Meditation: For the benefit of all

From my morning reading, Hughson's With Christ in God:

Whether in the Church Militant, in the Church Expectant, or in the Church Triumphant, we all partake of the life of the divine Head, and we all share it with one another.  Each soul participates in the life of every other soul in the Body of Christ, and whatever gifts, graces, or glory one receive, all receive, each in his appointed measure.  "If one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it," because the gifts of life and love, of grace and glory, made to one, flood every soul who abides in the same Mystical Body.  Every increment of glory in which the saints in heaven rejoice is the increase of the God-life to every soul in Christ.  On earth, every prayer and aspiration addressed to God, every good Communion made, every holy action performed, releases the further power and love of God for the benefit of all.  A little child half-way round the world offers a simple act of praise or prayer and each of us, even the saints in heaven, has an integral part in that act, and is stronger in the Lord, and in the power of His might, because of it.  Far away some soul, beset by temptation, tottering on the brink of the abyss of sin, is, by every exercise of the divine life in the humblest member of Christ, strengthened to stand the more stiffly against the assaults of the adversary, and to win a victory for the honour of God and the kingdom (378).

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

For Meditation: Tarrying His Leisure

From my morning reading, Hughson's With Christ in God:

Though we must serve God with a generous spirit, care must be taken lest we mar our service by over-eagerness and impetuosity.  There is always time enough and strength enough to accomplish the divine will, and many a soul has been led into sin by an over-eagerness to do something for God.  The prudent soul does nothing with precipitancy.  The working of the gift of counsel fills us with a spirit of patience, of calm, which indicates that we know the strength of God is our own.  We are willing to tarry the Lord's leisure.  Our faith in Him  will permit of no apprehension of failure.  (326).

For Meditation: The Home and the Way

From a sermon of St. Augustine, quoted in Hughson's With Christ in God:

"He is the home, whither we go, He is the Way whereby we go: go we by Him to Him, and we shall not go astray" (293-294).

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

For Meditation: The Peculiar Properties of Love

Quoted from St. Francis de Sales in my morning reading, Hughson's With Christ in God:

"These gifts (the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit) are not only inseperable from charity, but they may be called its peculiar properties.  The gift of wisdom is nothing more than love which has discovered by experience how sweet the Lord is.  Understanding is a love which attentively considers the truths of faith, to penetrate the depths of their sweetness, and to fathom the abyss of the divinity, descending afterwards from the knowledge of the Creator to that of His creatures.  The gift of knowledge is a love which we apply to the knowledge of ourselves and creatures, as conducive to the knowledge of the Almighty, and tending to impart a correct idea of the homage due to Him, by the consideration of His perfection and our extreme misery.  The gift of counsel is a species of love by which we vigilantly seek the best means of serving God perfectly.  The gift of fortitude is also the strength which love communicates for the execution of whatever has been suggested by the gift of counsel.  Piety is likewise love which alleviates suffering and labour by inspiring a filial affection, and a joy in performing such actions as are pleasing to our heavenly Father.  Finally, the gift of fear is evidently love, since it urges us to avoid all that is displeasing to God" (310-311).

Monday, May 11, 2015

Good Fruit-A Sermon for Rogation Sunday

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.”
St. John 15:8

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

            I know it’s only the second Sunday in May, but I’ve had tomatoes planted in my garden for almost a month.  Whether they will bear fruit in a few month’s time, though, is up for grabs.  The plants were a gift to me from Jeff and Audrey Murray, who grew them in their own little greenhouse through the long months of winter.  They are heirloom tomatoes, four different kinds, and they’re supposed to come out with colorful, tender skins and delicious fruit.  I could almost taste them sliced on a cheeseburger as I prepared the soil for my little plants.
            You plant tomatoes for the fruit, for the joy of the fruit, for that special fresh, homegrown taste that those pink cardboard globes over at the Price Chopper can’t even suggest.  But to get the fruit, you have to follow the rules.  You need to do things the right way.  And so far as I know, I’ve followed all the rules for planting early tomatoes in upstate New York.  The plants were strong and vigorous when Audrey brought them to my office, dark green with thick stems.  She also brought a special organic plant food and plastic protectors, which I filled with water to keep them safe during the frost.  I gave them the sunniest spots in my garden, cleared out the yellow lilies for them and turned over and raked the soil.  I’ve watered the tomatoes regularly, covered them with newspaper on frosty nights, kept out the weeds. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Commentary: God, Where Are You? by Gerard Hughes

My friend Ian gave me this memoir of a renowned British Jesuit when I was ordained, together with a two-volume rubrical guide to celebrating the liturgy.  He told me that both of them would be good for me, in quite different ways.  I expect he’s right.  For nearly a decade now, I’ve pulled the rubrical guide out early in Holy Week to remind myself precisely how to unveil the Cross on Good Friday and how to bless the Paschal Candle. This year, I decided I really ought to give Gerry Hughes a turn as well.

Ian was certainly right about these being two very different sorts of books.  For though Hughes was a faithful Roman Catholic throughout his life and priest for many decades, he wasn’t the sort to fuss much about liturgical niceties, and over his life, seemed to develop an allergy to rules of most kinds.  Though the book has a few moving descriptions of Christian worship, Hughes concentrates on the ways that God is revealed in life outside the sanctuary: in loving relationships, common work for justice and peace, sad and troubling experiences and the beauty of the natural world.

Hughes is best known as a writer of spirituality for ordinary people, tracking the mysterious ways of the “God of surprises” who reveals himself in deeply personal ways.  “I can only know You,” he prays in the book’s moving preface, “through my own experience, my only access to You…No one can teach me who You are, or what You are like, unless you show me Yourself.  My experience is unique to me: it is there and there only that I can catch glimpses of You and know Your attractiveness.”   

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

For Meditation: "It cannot be attuned and untuned at once"

From my morning reading, Hughson's With Christ in God.

"In sin, man casts out grace, deadens his own ear until God's voice sounds fainter and fainter, and comes seldomer, and at last there follows the stillness of death.  It is heard no more.  God leaves the soul, and it is dead.  Every wilful sin is a part of this deadening of the soul.  Ye cannot wilfully refuse to hear in one way or at one time, and hear at another.  Ye cannot stop your ears to part of God's message, hear and not hear at will.  The soul is a beautiful instrument, attuned by the hand of God, and breathed in by His Holy Spirit.  It cannot be attuned and untuned at once.  It cannot yield at once the harmony of heaven and the jarring discords of the world."  Edward Pusey, 208.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Commentary: Gettysburg, A Meditation on War and Values, by Kent Gramm

Back in Easter Week, we marked the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, joining churches around the country in ringing our bells to mark time when peace was announced following the surrender at Appomattox.  I grew up in Western Maryland, a land full of reenactors, relic hunters and amateur battle historians, and I’ve always had an interest in this defining event of American history.  Back in 1861, I resolved that I would read take down Shelby Foote’s massive Civil War trilogy from my shelves, where it had gathered dust for over a decade, and read it through as the cycle of anniversaries passed.  Like many of my reading projects, this one proved a bit too ambitious, and I moved on to other things back in 2012. 

However, when my Lenten reading finished, I decided to take up Kent Gramm’s Gettysburg, a book passed onto me with high commendation by our senior warden, Paul Hager.  Paul is an American historian by training, with a special interest in the Civil War, and he assured me that this is one of the best books of its kind, well worth a read.