Tuesday, June 30, 2015

To Completion--A Sermon for Pentecost V

“It is best for you now to complete what a year ago you began not only to do but to desire, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have.”
  II Corinthians 8:10-11

As you would expect, there has been quite a bit of sorting going on in the Rectory these past few weeks.  We will move to our new and much smaller home in Virginia next week, and we’re using the situation to draw a clear line between the things we really need and those we can do without.  We’ve plumbed the depths of the cellar and the dusty corners of the attic, and pulled down all those boxes from the highest shelves of the closet.  And it’s amazing what you find in the process.

I’ve uncovered the relics of so many abandoned past projects.  There was a box of papers from my plan to write a proper scholarly history of my hometown, and cross-country skis and poles to go with those bindings I never bought.  There were bottles, tubes and corks from my summer as a home winemaker; Thackston’s Introduction to Syriac, and the list goes on and on.  I can hold these things in my hands and remember how excited I was to begin the project they represent: that crisp January day skiing around the golf course, picking and pressing all those fragrant mulberries, my hopes for new discoveries in early Christian liturgy.  But of course, over time, things became more difficult.  I gathered dozens of pages of notes for my history, but couldn’t find a unifying argument.  I produced wine from six different fruits, and it was uniformly undrinkable—no matter what color, it tasted exactly like musty Kool-Aid.  To my untrained eye, four of the letters of the Syriac alphabet looked identical, which makes getting through the sentences in the second lesson almost impossible. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

It's Not All About You: CCS Baccalaureate Sermon

“But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?" They said to him, "We are able."  St. Matthew 20:22

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

You know, this really isn’t all about you.  This grand succession of banquets, awards ceremonies, sunshiny photo-ops, and sentimental speeches, all the parties, everything festooned in orange and black—it’s not really all about you.  It is of course, largely about you.  You have worked very hard, and achieved a great deal, and there is much to celebrate as you are commenced, launched out into the big world beyond these quiet hills. 

 But this is about the rest of us as well, your parents and teachers, your friends who have watched you grow up into such intelligent, strong, and capable men and women.  If you haven’t recognized this yet, you will after that tenth awkward photo with your strange aunt Sue, and seventh time your rather formidable social studies teacher gets teary-eyed.  And let’s not even think about your mother’s emotional state next Sunday afternoon. 

Master of the Unruly Sea: Sermon for Pentecost IV

And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm."  St. Mark 4:39

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

The monument stood right at the waterfront, eight columns of black granite, each year followed by name upon name.  A central column was marked with words taken from today’s Psalm: "Dedicated to the memory of those who have gone down to the sea in ships and who have never returned and as a tribute to those who continue to occupy their business in the great waters."  The small city of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, where we vacationed a few summers ago, faces onto the North Atlantic.  With a fine harbor, its wealth has long lay in the region’s cod fisheries, the world’s most abundant for many generations. 

But the sea takes its toll, as those who live on it and by it know better than the rest of us.  Fortunes have been made on the waters, but they have brought awful tragedy as well.  I expect there was a member of every one of Lunenburg’s old families carved on one of those granite columns.  He might have been a seasoned helmsman or maybe a fresh-faced boy who found himself in the wrong place when the ever-unpredictable sea showed its full fury.   Even today, every sailor who goes down to the dock passes by those names—a somber warning of the perils that may lay ahead.  The fisherman must learn to respect the sea, to know his place before it.  It’s no wonder that all the ancient pagans had a god of the sea—and a fierce one at that. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Saying Farewell

The following was my final column in the Christ Church Chronicle, June-August, 2015

“And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”  Acts 20:32.

As I prepare to leave this congregation and community, I have been thinking a great deal about the Bible’s many farewells.  Some, like Jacob’s farewell to his wily uncle Laban were testy moments, with tension just below the surface.  Others, like Moses’ valedictory sermon (the whole Book of Deuteronomy), Jacob’s parting blessings for his sons, and Christ’s glorious ascension were uplifting and consoling times, full of healing and guidance for the future.

Saint Paul’s farewell to the Church at Ephesus, which is recounted at length in Acts chapter 20 is probably my favorite Biblical farewell.   Saint Paul was the first to bring the Gospel of Christ to Ephesus, and he had raised up a congregation of believers there and trained new leaders to oversee the church’s work.  But Saint Paul was a missionary, and in time he was called on by the Spirit to serve in a new place, among unfamiliar people.  The Ephesian elders accompanied him to his boat, St. Luke remembered, with prayers and tears.  And there on the beach, he offered a final sermon.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Holy Madness of Giving

Zita of Lucca was a thirteenth-century house servant. Patient and responsible, she was given to meditation and heard Mass daily. But she was known and loved most of all for her generosity. Whatever Zita had, she gave away to the poor.

One cold morning, compelled by her master to wear his cloak on her journey to church, she met a beggar and wrapped the cloak around him without a moment’s hesitation. Returning home without it, she was roundly scolded. Later that day, a mysterious stranger appeared at the door, the master’s cloak in hand. Another time, called away from the kitchen while baking bread to attend to a sick woman, her fellow servants were amazed to discover a company of angels tending the ovens.

The lives of the saints abound with stories like these. Saint Brigid gave her father’s prized sword to a leper, and, after being exiled to a work in a dairy in response, she slipped dozens of hampers of butter out the side door. Elizabeth of Hungary was chased from her castle for pawning her jewels to build a hospital during a plague, while Robert Bellarmine scandalized Renaissance Rome by ripping the tapestries from his walls to have them cut up for clothing for the poor. The walls, he assured his fellow clerics, wouldn’t catch cold. Even Martin Luther, for all his hostility to works of supererogation, had to insist that his wife Katie keep the key to the family strongbox. Otherwise, he would be sure to give it all away.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Life Around the Table-A Sermon for Corpus Christi

“And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb."  Revelation 19:9

 In the home where I grew up back in Maryland, one of the most important days of the year was the first day of deer season, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  And in our house, it always began with a feast.  My grandmother began it before I can remember, hot breakfast around the kitchen table at 5:30 in the morning: eggs and pancakes, fried potatoes and bacon and sausage.  My mother has continued it, with the rather less enthusiastic assistance of her daughters-in-law.  Fifteen or twenty men usually crowd around the table, extended with all the leaves that can be found, and a card table or two besides. 

The theory is that if you want to stay warm on a bitter November day, you need something good in your belly.  Of course, the theory doesn’t give so much help with the other big challenge of deer hunting, which is staying awake on a bitter November day, and all those cups of coffee tend to create their own problems.

For Meditation: "Inner health made audible"

“I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least  The good critics found something to praise in many imperfect works; the bade ones continually narrowed the list of books we were allowed to read.  The healthy and unaffected man, even if luxuriously brought up and widely experienced in good cookery, could praise a very modest meal; the dyspeptic and the snob found fault with all.  Except where intolerable circumstances interfere, praise almost always seems to be inner health made audible.”  C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 94.