Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Gift of Limits

God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty…That no flesh should glory in his presence.”  I Corinthians 1:25, 27

A few days after I accepted the call to serve as your rector, I met up with Kathleen Alexander for some orientation to our new home.  Just before I left, she told me that she had some reading material for me—and I’ll say she did.  She presented me with a stuffed jumbo-sized three-ring binder entitled, “The New Century Project,” circa 1998.  This was followed by a tall ream of printed sheets.  These were the collected comments from your rector search survey and a transcription of all that had been written on newsprint sheets posted around Saint Francis Hall at a big parish meeting held just about a year ago.

I went home and dutifully set to work, and I read it all.  And as you would expect, there was a great deal of continuity.  At the beginning and end of nearly two decades marked by great change, the people of Saint Francis placed their central focus on faithful Anglican worship, beautiful traditional music and inspired preaching.  Then and now, you wanted to learn together, to grow in your relationships with each other, to form the young, and to serve the poor.  Of course, many of the people who were leading the projects and making the comments were the same, a remarkable thing in a part of the world where everything often seems to be in flux.

But there were also great differences. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Behold the Lamb

“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  St. John 1:29

I wonder if you have chosen your seat in church for a particular reason.  A few years ago, one of my parishioners told me that she had thought a good deal about it before settling on her choice. A dear friend, a rather holy woman, had once sat week by week in the pew in front of her.  She didn’t really hear that well, so being nearer the pulpit was useful.  But really, she chose the pew because it had the best angle for viewing both her favorite stained glass window and the Altar Cross. Seeing both those things allowed her to concentrate her mind when she prayed and helped her to feel that God was near.

I could understand just what she meant, because I too had a favorite seat, the rector’s stall at Saint Paul’s Church in Sharpsburg.  Because there I had a perfect view of the Lamb.  There was a tiny window in the wall of the chancel just opposite the rector’s pew, a lamb with a halo, bearing the flag of victory.  Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  No one could see it but me, but I saw it constantly, as I sat and listened to the readings, as I turned to the people to pronounce the Word of Absolution or to approach the pulpit to preach, as I turned to the Altar to pray.

Ponder: "touching Christ in one of the only ways we can come together"

"I cannot share the Eucharist with my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters; together we can’t be nourished side-by-side with the body and blood of our Lord. However, side-by-side we can nourish Christ, in “the least of these.” We cannot together touch the blood of our Lord to our lips, but we can place a warm cup of tea into the hands of those to whom Christ is especially close, the poor. We cannot welcome each other into the paschal mystery through the Eucharist, but we can welcome our crucified Lord as he appears to us in the most vulnerable. Our priests cannot vest together to preside jointly at the Mass, but we can vest our neighbours who have no place to live with warm clothes for the winter.
This is how ecumenism looks on the ground. When struggling Catholics and battered Anglicans or evangelical Methodsts with fiery passion come together to serve the Lord in works of mercy, something very beautiful happens. Our eyes move from our all-too-present divisions to touching Christ in one of the only ways we can together: as he comes to us in the poor."
Cole Hartin, "Feeding God Together: An Ecumenism of Mercy." Covenant 18 Jan. 2017

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Ponder: "Lo,' he said, 'the lamb; there is no longer need of the goat."

Now the the garment of mourning is rent; we have put on the white robe
Which the spirit has woven for us from the lamb’s fleece of our Lamb and our God;
Sin is taken away, and immortality is given us, our restoration is clear.
The Forerunner has proclaimed it.…
O, the message of the Baptist, and the mystery in it!
He calls the shepherd lamb, and not only a lamb, but one to free from mistakes.
He showed the lawless that the goat which they sent into the desert was ineffective.
“Lo,” he said, “the lamb; there is no longer need of the goat;
Put your hands on him,
All of you who confess your sins,
For He has come to take them away, those of the people, and of the whole world.
For lo, the One whom the Father has sent to us is the One who carries away evil,
Who appeared and illumined all things.”
Romanus Melodius, Kontakion for Epiphany.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"A Birth Like Death": A Sermon for Epiphany

“And being warned of God a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.” 
St. Matthew 2:12

Two different couples my wife and I know well have become parents for the first time in the last few weeks.  It’s been exciting to watch this very special time unfold in their lives, as they find themselves changing in ways they could never have understood.  One of the new dads told me the other day that he was supposed to head out of town for a conference next month.  But he just didn’t know if he could handle being away from his son for that long, that long being three days.

Our friends find love and joy drawn out of them in new ways, even as the demands of an infant bring all sorts of complications to the relatively well-ordered lives they had been leading before.  Enterprising, well-educated people aren’t used to having responsibility for creatures who cry and cry, but don’t give the slightest indication about what they really need.

Sleeping schedules, meal times, ways of socializing, eventually the furniture and the layout of the house—everything must be altered to accommodate the baby’s needs. “Having a baby changes everything.”  We told them this before, and they nodded politely, as you do at those transitions in life when everyone seems to feel entitled to pose as an advice columnist.  But now I’ve heard it from their lips as well.  I’ve seen that knowing look in their eyes.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Circumcised for Us

“And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus.”  St. Luke 2:21

I will never forget how I came to know all about circumcision.  I was in the fourth-grade class at Vacation Bible School at Saint John’s Church.  In our little town, the ecumenical Bible School was a big deal, and there were about twenty of us nine-year-olds gathered around tables in a corner of the Fellowship Hall.  Our teacher was Mrs. Truax, a dignified, silver-haired lady who taught Sunday School at Saint John’s for a half-century. 

We had memory verses each day at Bible School, and there was a little prize if you could recite it back the next day.  And that day’s memory verse was from Galatians, “neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.[1]”  Looking back, it was a rather complicated text for a nine-year-old, though maybe not so hard to memorize.  The thing was, I didn’t know what the text was talking about.  I had some vague understanding that circumcision was a religious term, like intercession or consecration.  This was my chance to get the matter cleared up.

So, I raised my hand and asked, “Mrs. Truax, what is circumcision?”  And her face blanched and she began looking around, as if to make sure that none of the other classes had heard.  She then ordered all the girls to leave the room, and then proceeded, in hushed tones, to give us boys who remained behind a pretty straightforward explanation.  It was by far the most dramatic thing that ever happened in my decade or so of children’s religious education.  And you can bet that every boy—and every girl, for that matter—who was there never has forgotten what circumcision is.