Monday, November 28, 2016

For Meditation: "and when my all of strength shall fail"

"What though my shrinking flesh complain
  And murmur to contend so long?
I rise superior to my pain;
  When I am weak, then I am strong;
And when my all of strength shall fail
I shall with the God-man prevail.

Yield to me now--for I am weak
 But confident in self-despair!
Speak to my heart, in blessings speak,
  Be conquered by my instant prayer;
Speak, or thou never hence shall move,
  And tell me if thy name is LOVE.

'Tis Love!  'Tis Love!  Thou diedst for me;
  I hear thy whisper in my heart,
The morning breaks, the shadows flee,
  Pure Universal Love thou art;
To me, to all, thy bowels move--
  Thy nature, and thy name, is LOVE."

Charles Wesley, "Wrestling Jacob"

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Passing Bell's Question

“Now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.”  Romans 13:11

I walked down the street from the hospital with my faith renewed, full of joy, grateful to be a priest.  I had been called in a few hours earlier because Gertrude Worrall, my oldest parishioner, had reached the end.  She was 98, baptized at Christ Church when William Howard Taft was president, a saintly woman, greatly loved by her family.  They had surrounded her in the hospital room, four or five generations of them.  We’d prayed and sang hymns together.  There was laughter and tears, and she was delighted by all of it until she slipped peacefully away.  It may sound very odd if you haven’t seen one, but there are beautiful deaths, and sometimes, as a priest, I’m invited to be part of them.

I was walking a few inches above the sidewalk as I made my way back to the church to put away my stole and the communion kit.  And I decided this would be just the moment to expand the use of the passing bell at Christ Church. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Our Crowns at His Feet

“He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.”  Colossians 1:18

I went to see a friend recently who has come to a certain age, and is in the process of moving from her grand old house into a retirement community.  She’s made the decision with proper deliberation, and she knows it’s the right choice.  A smaller space means freedom for her, the ability to age with more dignity and grace.  But it’s a challenging and sometimes sorrowful task to sort through all these things that fill her old house, and to make those inevitable decisions about what can be taken and what must be left to others.

She wanted me to see the house in all its glory, before the packers descended, stirring up the dust and setting things ajar.  She led me from room to room, and told me the stories behind the furniture and the pictures on the wall.  This piece was her grandmother’s and that one she spotted at a sale in the rain and bought it for a song.  The friend who painted that picture has been gone for years, but this artist went on to become a smashing success.  The things we gather together over a lifetime do clutter our houses and accumulate ever so much dust.  But they are the tangible signs of our memories.  They express our relationships.

My friend seemed most excited about the things in the house she was preparing to send on to others.   A local museum in her grandfather’s home town had agreed to take a few items that couldn’t really fit in anyone’s drawing room.  Her son had said he would like to have a cherished collection.  She was surprised by that.  He’d never shown so much interest when she’d tried to explain all the parts to him before.  But she smiled when she thought about how he had already decided where it would fit in his own home.  She would make him notes about where each piece had come from, why it was significant.  He would never be able to remember all of it, she guessed.  But it reminded him of her, of course.  He knew how much she loved the collection, and that matters.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Ponder:"as the First Man partook of it, so must the last"

"Christian Redemption is God's mercy to all Mankind; but it could not be so, if every fallen Man, as such, had not some Fitness and Capacity to lay hold of it.  It must have no Dependence upon Times and Place, or the Ages and several Conditions of the World, or any outward Circumstance of Life; as the First Man partook of it, so must the last; the learned Linguist, and the Blind, the Deaf and Dumb have but one and the same common Way of finding Life in it.  And he that writes large Commentaries upon the whole Bible, must be saved by something full as different from Book knowledge, as they were, who lived when there was neither Book nor any Alphabet in the world...It must be something as grounded in human Nature, as the Fall itself is, which wants no Art to make it known; but to which the common Nature of Man is the only Guide in one Man, as well as another.  Now this something, which is thus obvious to every Man, and which opens the Way to Christian Redemption in every Soul is, a sense of the Vanity and Misery of this World; and a Prayer of Faith and Hope to God, to be raised to a better State.

William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1728).

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Our Delight and Our Duty

You may have noticed that the Saint Francis pledge cards sent to you a few weeks ago are headed by II Corinthians 9:7, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  It’s perhaps the most famous passage in the New Testament about giving to God, and it’s a very fitting way to encapsulate one set of reasons why we commit part of what God has given us back to His Church, to use in doing His work. 

Saint Paul is identifying giving as a free and loving response to God’s generosity to us.  Giving brings us joy because it allows us a stake in the way the good news about Jesus is advancing and changing people’s lives.  Giving is a delight, a way to express what is most meaningful in our lives.  To fully account for these factors, giving should be without compulsion.  We discern carefully the kind of commitment we have been called to make.  We place our hearts in the brass collection plate.

The passage is a wonderful summary of one set of reasons why we give. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Like Christians, Not Bears

“Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” Hebrews 10:24

If there were websites that allowed students to review boarding schools, I imagine that most of you would have a few complaints to air.  It may be that a few of these slip out from time to time when you are calling, or texting, or face booking a friend back home who hasn’t had the fortune of ending up in this exotic place called Saint James.  When I taught here, I was always very careful not to look over the shoulders of my charges who flocked to the computers after study hall was over, but I had some idea what was being said: can you believe they give two hours of homework in this place?  You can’t imagine what they serve in that dining hall.  I’ve never lived this far from a decent mall in my life!

Last week, I happened upon a letter written by a boarding school student to his father nearly two hundred years ago, and believe me, next to him your life here is a walk in the park.  Young Henry describes rations of black bread, mattresses stuffed with wheat chaff, all the boys washing once a week at a long horse trough, with never enough soap to go around.  The headmaster, Henry said, inspected all the letters, so he had to slip this one to a friend of his father’s at church.  When the lights were out, in the dormitory, it was every man for himself. He begged his father to let him come home for Christmas, if God permitted him to live so long.  He closed the secret missive with these words: “I assure you we are used more like Bears than Christians and believe me, my dear Father, I would rather be obliged to work all my life time than remain here another year.[1]

Monday, November 14, 2016

Ponder: "it is this only that can make us free"

"They who imagine that self-denial intrenches upon our liberty, do not know that it is this only that can make us free indeed; giving us the victory over ourselves; setting us free from the bondage of our corruption; enabling us to bear afflictions, (which will come one time or other;) to forsee them without amazement; enlightening the mind, sanctifying the will, and making us to slight those baubles which others so eagerly contend for.,,It is the greatest mercy, that God does not consult our inclinations, in laying upon us the Cross, which is the only way to happiness.  Jesus Christ crucified would have few imitators, if God did not lay it upon us, by the hands of men, and by His providence."

Thomas Wilson, Sacra Privata.

Ponder: "a continual taking of his meals"

"Now this Communion with God and His Church [in the Eucharist] doth not consist in one transient action, but in the frequent and constant repeating of this action.  No man is reputed to be a member of a family, because he does sometimes occasionally or accidentally sit down at the same table and feast with them.  Nothing but a continual taking his meals, or (to say the least a very frequent eating with them is sufficient to this purpose; and therefore none ought to think himself 'of the household of God,' but he who does on every opportunity eat the 'Bread of God' together with his fellow servants."
John Johnson, "The Unbloody Sacrifice" (1714)

A Taste of What Could Be

“This will give you an opportunity to testify… for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”  St. Luke 21:13-14

The senior warden and I were having lunch a few weeks ago over at the Hunter’s Inn, and I asked the waiter if the reuben was any good.  I am, you see, a one sandwich man, and that sandwich is the reuben.  If it’s Friday, I’ll have the fish and, on occasion, the special.  But if I’m out for lunch, it’s usually a reuben.  If I’m to live here for many years to come, I need to figure out who serves the best reuben in Potomac. 

So, I asked the waiter the important question: “is the reuben any good?”  And he was that rare bird, the waiter of probity.  He answered me, “Well, people like it.  But I’m from New York, and they toast it here instead of grilling it.  It’s just not the same.” 

And I thought to myself, I know just what he means.  Because I, too, have been to New York, even unto Katz’s Delicatessen on the Lower East Side, where they make reubens of Biblical proportion. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Ponder: "No shortcuts to this freedom"

“In the Bible, freedom is an ambiguous word. It was a very great good for the Israelites to be liberated from slavery in Egypt! But the very first thing the children of Israel did with their freedom was worship a golden calf. And so God brought them to Mt. Sinai, where they were given the Law and commanded to teach it to their children’s children. They were given the Temple, to worship God and make atonement for sin. They were given the land and a king in Zion. But the children of Israel worshiped idols all the same, and their kings became lovers of power and money, and the twelve tribes turned on each other. And so in the fullness of time they were given the Lamb of God and the King of Kings, the great deliverer from every enemy and the perfect atonement for sin. In the Church we are given all of this too, by God’s grace. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel! For in Christ’s body we are set free to worship him without fear, all the days of our life (Luke 1:74).

Here is no rigged system, but a God in whose service is perfect freedom, in whose Son is pardon and deliverance from all our sins, and in whose Church is perfect communion, as all join together with one voice in praise and thanksgiving, now and forever. Amen!

There are no shortcuts to this freedom: no way to get there without God and his saving and sanctifying gifts. Insofar as American freedom has told us that we could, it has all been a lie, just another golden calf. Insofar as our church has bought into this lie, we too have bowed the knee to Baal. But God has given us everything we need to follow him now, without any fear. We have the Word to teach to our children’s children. We have the gospel to proclaim, sins to confess and absolve.”

Jordan Hylden, “Free to Worship Him Without Fear.”  Covenant.  11 Nov. 2016

Ponder: "Cynicism is always a practical failure."

“Christians will not quite be able to agree with President Obama’s statement that we are all Americans first. But Christians in our country are at least Americans second, and we should strive to be good ones as the president has urged, by presuming the good faith of our fellow citizens and seeking common ground whenever and wherever these may be had. Prescinding from the process, perhaps to keep our hands clean, is not helpful, and cynicism is always a practical failure, rooted in spiritual despair.

These are, in fact, Christian encouragements that we should know well and be expert in exemplifying, modern political democracy being, after all, a Christian bequest to the secular world in the wake of our own wars of religion and recrimination. The school of Christian unity-in-truth, indeed the gospel itself, includes politics properly practiced in the classical sense, and in the sense presumed by our commitment and call to good order, governance, and shared faith (see Eph. 4).

It would be hard to think of a better theme for the season of Advent, which inculcates preparation for the promised apocalypse of our Lord: the final revelation and unveiling of his return, judgment, and right ordering of all things. As Scripture and our tradition teach, these are always upon us, in this time between the times, and they form our faith and hope for both justice and mercy. Their practical payoff is due “fear” that leads to humility and awe in the face of our fleeting and fragile lives; repentance for our sins, not shifting blame to others (Luke 18:9-14); resolve to remain focused on the most important, ultimate concerns; and the commitment to living faithfully in the interim, that is, with courage, joy, and confidence in the promises of God.”

Christopher Wells, “Come, Lord Jesus; Get Back to Work.”  Covenant. 11 Nov. 2016

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Not by Diplomas Alone

From the Sounds of St. Francis.

The Christian life is sustained by texts and practices, ideas and experiences.  We learn to follow Jesus by reading the Bible, listening to sermons and participating in classes.  But we also grow through common worship, observing the decisions that fellow believers make and reaching out our hands to serve the poor. 

When people answer God’s call to serve as leaders in the church, we prepare them best by a combination of rigorous study and practical experience, giving them opportunities to observe congregations close up and to try their hands at the tasks of pastoral ministry. Priests are not made by diplomas alone.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

For Meditation: "reflect all heaven's propitious rays"

"Thy precious time mispent, redeem,
Each present day thy last esteem;
Improve thy talent, with due care,
For the great day thyself prepare.

In conversation be sincere,
Keep conscience as the noon-tide clear.
Think how all-seeing God thy ways,
And all thy secret thought surveys.

By influence of the light divine,
Let thy own light to others shine,
Reflect all heaven's propitious rays,
In ardent love, and cheerful praise.

I wake, I wake, ye heavenly choir,
May your devotion me inspire,
That I like you my age may spend,
Like you may on my God attend.

May I like you on God delight,
Have all day long my God in sight,
Perform like you my Maker's will,
O may I never more do ill."

Thomas Ken, A Morning Hymn (1685)

Monday, November 7, 2016

Ponder: "som New Way, as easy, but more strange"

"Even Earthly Corn from Heaven comes, tho sence
Discerneth not the secret Influence
From which it Springs; even Rie is rooted there
Altho the Ear and Blade do flourish here.
But we are inconsiderat and Dead
And Blind and Deaf, unsensible as Lead:
And till the Ordinance of Nature change,
And som New Way, as easy, but more strange,
Awakens us, that Heavenly Influence
From whence they come affecteth not the sence."
Thomas Traherne, Manna

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Keeping the Cradle

“With their seed shall continually remain a good inheritance, and their children are within the covenant.”  Ecclesiasticus 44:11

For the last two weeks, our life at the beautifully renovated Saint Francis rectory has been pretty well hemmed in by cardboard boxes, packing tape and picture hangers.  We’re delighted to be here, but not really settled yet.  Moving is a chore of many agonies, as most of you will know well. 

But it has the advantage of forcing us to take stock, to declutter, to start again with a little less baggage than we were carrying before.  We pulled out some clothes that are too small for Peter, our five-year-old.  We figured out which Tupperware pieces really didn’t have lids and which socks were never to be matched again.

But we kept the cradle.  Even though it gets underfoot in the guest bedroom. Even though we don’t necessarily expect a third. Even though I’m mildly nervous I might come home one day to find our poor dog bundled in blankets inside it.

It was a gift from a kind, shy old man, Bud Miner, a member of Saint Paul’s Church in Sharpsburg, Maryland, the country parish where I first served as a rector.  Bud made it out of walnut in the little shed behind his house, polished it until it shone brightly and carved an M on the outside of the footboard.  It was presented to us at the end of the shower given for us by the good ladies of the ECW a few weeks before Philip was born.  Bud died years ago, not long after we sent him a picture of Peter being rocked in it, as his brother had been before. 

The cradle is beautiful on its own, and it’s beautiful as a sign of the love extended to us by the people at Saint Paul’s.  It may not be practical, and I expect the organizing gurus would tell us to snap a picture on the smartphone and move on.  But we keep it as a reminder of the good things of the past and our hopes for the future.  

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Building the Dome, Meeting the Saints

I’m excited that the formal beginning of our ministry together will be joined to our celebration of the feast of All Saints this coming Sunday. As many of you know, All Saints' is one of the principal feasts of the church year, a day adorned with beautiful prayers and hymns.  At its heart, the feast celebrates the transforming power of Christ’s resurrection, revealed in the lives of our brothers and sisters across time and space, “the lights of the world in their generations.” 

It’s notable that a feast so centered on the church’s life began with the consecration of one particular church building, Saint Mary and the Martyrs in Rome, consecrated for Christian worship in 609.  You probably know this particular church much better by its pagan name, the Pantheon.  If you have been to Rome, you may have been inside it to catch a glimpse of its glorious dome, which has served as a model for many more buildings of its kind, including the Jefferson Memorial in our own backyard.

When the Pantheon was completed by the Roman emperor Hadrian in the second century, its dome was twice as big as any that had ever been built before, still the largest masonry dome ever constructed.  It was a monument to the Roman genius for engineering, intended to rival the great pyramids.  The wide expanse echoed the vault of the heavens, appropriate for its dedication to all the gods of Rome.