Sunday, January 22, 2017

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

 Matthew 4: 12-23

Almighty God, who didst give such grace to thine apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of thy Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give unto us, who are called by thy Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Good morning.  The reading from St. Matthew today is certainly familiar to us.  It is the reading appointed in the lectionary every year for the observance of the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle.  I hear those words, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men, and I almost instinctively look over to the transept and expect to see our good friends of the Syria Highlanders.  If we listen carefully, perhaps we can hear the echo of bagpipes in the far distance!  The calling of the Andrew and Peter and James and John out there by the Sea of Galilee is always a wonderful launching place into the themes of our annual parish patronal festival, as we are invited to follow Andrew as a mentor and inspiration in willing, heartfelt response to the invitation to new and full and eternal life in relationship to Christ Jesus, as his disciples.  That the symbolic action of this moment would be a kind of point of reference for each of us.  I always find the hymn so powerful, “They cast their nets in Galilee.” Based on a poem by the early twentieth century Roman Catholic poet from Mississippi, William Alexander Percy, who was the uncle of the famous mid-century novelist Walker Percy.    One of my favorite writers.

In any event, this morning: to hear his voice, the voice of Jesus--to put down our nets, however that image might expand into our lives, to follow him, to dedicate ourselves to this new and different kind of fishing enterprise, making space in our lives for him to work in and through us to build up his church and accomplish his purposes.  Whatever it may cost us along the way. 

The four gospels give us different perspectives on and share some distinctive memories, each of them,  of the first days of what we sometimes call the active or “earthly” ministry of Jesus:  that stretch of the story that begins more or less around the time that John the Baptist was arrested and then executed and then continues of course through the memories of Palm Sunday and Holy Week and Good Friday.  This period of time in the story that begins with Jesus connecting in some way with this small group of men, his inner circle, who were like him mostly men from the Galilee, from the hinterlands, and who were formerly followers of John the Baptist.  They seem to have scattered perhaps in fear and certainly in great disappointment when John was eliminated from the scene in that horrible story about King Herod Antipas and his wife Herodias and her daughter Salome. But soon after that Jesus seeks them out and connects with them in a new way.  Here in Matthew 4 Andrew and Peter and James and John have returned to their old lives, lying low in the countryside, hoping to stay under whatever radar Herod’s authorities might be turning in their direction.  But once Jesus meets them and invites them to join him, there is immediately a sense of a fresh start and new beginning.   A sudden boldness, an enthusiasm.  They thought the story was over, but in reality it was just getting started.  Matthew’s quotation from Isaiah 9 in this context seems to capture the moment.  “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned.” 

Last week we had the reading from John that remembered these tumultuous early days slightly differently.  As the authors of the gospels collected the stories from those who had actually been there, there might have been some varying memories.  When was it that we really become Jesus followers?  Was it when we first met him, back at the time of his baptism, before John was arrested, or was it after John was arrested, when he came out to Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee and recruited us for his new mission?    In all that, though, there was certainly consistent agreement about this sense of a revival of spirit, of a new start, a new direction.  Last week as we read in John’s gospel they remembered Jesus inviting them to “Come and see.”  Come and see. And this week in Matthew, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

One thing the memory recorded by Matthew and then lifted up in our sermon hymn captures for us is I think not just the energy moving forward, which we get also in John’s story, but also again that somewhat tender reminder of what we might call, to echo Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous book title, “the cost of discipleship.”  Something about the pile of nets left behind in the boat by Peter and Andrew.  The old way of life.  The old securities.  For us that would be like, I don’t know: our wallets and checkbooks, our car keys.  Our laptops.  Our toolbox.  Jobs, hobbies, commitments, relationships.  The things that are in some way for us the instruments we use to support and navigate our lives.   Leaving it all behind, to go with him.  The peace of Christ, it is no peace, but strife sown in the sod.

In our story from Matthew 4 I find myself pausing and just taking in the expression on the face of old Zebedee, the father of James and John, as he is left behind to finish the work of cleaning the nets by himself.  This doesn’t mean that over the next days and months and years the disciples would never see family and friends again, of course.  And we know that they did keep fishing, at least occasionally.  Perhaps when the group’s cash flow situation was running low.  We know they even stayed right there in Capernaum for quite a while, perhaps mostly at Simon Peter’s house.  And their missionary efforts were at least for a good while really centered in the same neighborhood.  But there was a real break with the past in this moment nonetheless, a real sense of separation.  It’s not a sabbatical, a summer internship.  It seems to happen pretty suddenly, but there is clarity from the beginning that this is for the long haul.  You’re all in, or you’re not, but nothing half-way.

So Third Sunday after the Epiphany, and continuing to sort through the implication of the story we heard Christmas Eve.  The Shepherds came into town to see what the angels had announced with such fanfare, the newborn baby in the manger.  And then they returned to their flocks.  The Magi from the East have knelt before the Holy Child and offered gifts and worship.  And then they returned to their homeland.  We never hear of any of them again.  They disappear into the mists of history.  Yet I think we know somehow deep down that if their experience was anything like the experience of Peter and Andrew and James and John, if their experience was anything like our experience, everything must have been different for them from then on, until the end of their lives.  Those minutes or perhaps a few hours in the presence of the Child who was and is the Savior of the World must have been a regular, a daily, a constant element of thought and feeling and memory, wonder and prayer, awe and worship.  Not something that you ever would forget.  A moment that would put everything from then on, relationships, work, everything, in a new light.  I am absolutely sure that for each one of them, as years and decades passed, in the countryside of Judea, in the ancient cities of Persia, for all of them, shepherds and magi, as they lay on their deathbeds, there  must have been even in their last moments of thought this one image and certainty: that they had seen him, knelt in his presence, somehow over all the years since continued with him until the very end.

Time for us, in these weeks between Epiphany and Lent, to think through all this and to pray through all this again, as he comes to us now in Word and Sacrament, as we study and pray and worship.  As we kneel in his presence.  To look to our mentors and guides.  Shepherds and magi and Andrew and Peter and James and John.   Finding ourselves somehow in the picture when he says: come, follow me.





Sunday, January 15, 2017

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

John 1: 29-42

So these four or five Sundays every year in the interval between the great 12 Days of Christmas and the beginning of the pre-Lenten season on Septuagesima give us a bit of space liturgically and devotionally in the calendar of the church year and in our own personal lives of reflection and prayer, to pause, step back, and to continue to digest the meaning of the word first spoken to the shepherds by the heavenly angels: “Unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.”

We remember that there are two steps in the story.  First the angels sang that good news to the shepherds, and then, hearing the news, the shepherds replied, Let us go now even unto Bethlehem, to see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known to us.  The Angels announce; the Shepherds respond. They get up and go!  A pattern that will be repeated again and again through the gospel, in the life of the early church, and in every generation. 

There is a saying about the character and nature of Christian life:  Jesus meets us where we are, but he doesn’t leave us there.  Jesus accepts us as we are, but he never leaves us as he found us.  The key word in the first sermons recorded from both John the Baptism and Jesus, “metanoiete.” 
The literal Greek means “have another thought, change your way of thinking” but the word is used consistently in Greek to translate the Hebrew shuv, which means change your direction.  It’s not simply about some kind of mental action.  It’s the word you use when you call out when you see them turning the wrong way down a one-way street.  Turn around!

In the beautiful candlelight, midnight of Christmas Eve every year the story flows like a gentle river to cover the rough places of our hearts and to sooth our troubled minds and to refresh our spirits.  But as the calendar pages continue to turn, that sacred stream seems to begin to run dry.  “Real life” reasserts itself, with all its hard edges.   The birth of a savior certainly sounds like it ought to be good news 24/7/365--really good news.  But the sun comes up on the 26th of December or maybe the 6th of January, and so often really it’s all just a fading sentimental memory.  We find ourselves in our day to day lives just exactly where we were and doing pretty much the same thing, headed in the same direction we were headed before Christmas happened.

So the Bethlehem shepherds in Luke chapter two, and this morning, the disciples of John the Baptist.  They come to us early in this New Year as examples, mentors, guides. 

Like the shepherds when the angels spoke to them, the disciples hear John’s word about Jesus, Behold, the Lamb of God, and at once they get moving--they set out to see what he’s talking about.  And I love this first interchange, as it certainly reinforces the point.  The question the disciples ask Jesus: Rabbi, where are you staying? And instead of answering that question, Jesus extends an invitation.  Maybe more of a challenge.  Come, and see.  He knew that what they were asking wasn’t really what they were asking.  The point isn’t for Jesus to tell them his postal address.  “We want to know if you just might be the real deal, the one we’re looking for.  Israel’s hope and consolation, joy of all the world . . . ; dear desire of every nation; joy of every longing heart.  Is that you, Jesus?  Not just the question of disciples and shepherds, but deep down in all our hearts year by year by year as we sing the Advent hymn.  Are you the “long-expected Jesus?”  The Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world?  Are you the one I’ve been waiting for?  The one who is going to make a difference in my life.  And Jesus answers,   Come and see.  Come and see.  Because that’s the only way we’ll ever know.

And again, this interval between Epiphany and Septuagesima, a time to consider just what to do with this invitation.  The sleepy shepherds didn’t just roll over and go back to sleep when the angels departed. 

The disciples didn’t hear the word of John the Baptist and say, “Oh, that’s interesting,” and then continue on with whatever they were doing before. 

A moment for us: to rush to the manger, to come and see where Jesus is staying, what he is about, what he might be for us, in our lives.  We’re all here this morning as a part of that response.  However we got here, whatever the presenting occasion or stated motive.  Simply to begin to puzzle through that question, is it really possible that what happened at Christmas can have anything to do with me?  Can it make a difference?

There is a saying sometimes attributed to Albert Einstein, of all people, though with a question mark.  Somebody said, anyway: “A definition of insanity is to do the same thing but to expect a different result.”  January is a season of New Year’s Resolutions, and if we want to take this opportunity at turn of another year and in the space of this Epiphany to think about a resolution to take the question about Christmas seriously this year in our lives, we maybe can begin by doing some different things.  Metanoite, repent, change direction! 

And here on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, just three simple thoughts.  Not a complete list of possibilities by any stretch of the imagination, and perhaps you’ll be prompted in a different direction.  But just by way of suggestion.

One would be to hear the words of Jesus,  “Come and see,” as an invitation to a New Year’s resolution to engage in a fresh way and a deeper way with the Bible.  I think I mentioned before the image I saw once in a German stained glass window of the Bible resting on a bed of straw in the Bethlehem manger.  Maybe that’s an image to keep in mind if we imagine ourselves as following the shepherds.  “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”  Whether we’re already regular and daily Bible readers, or whether the most Bible we get most of the time comes in the snippets of the lectionary on Sunday mornings.  Maybe “come and see” could be an invitation to a renewed or extended or expanded practice of prayerful reading, daily or at set times through the week.  Alone is fine, though I always find the opportunity to share the process of reading and reflection with others.  Reading, studying, praying together, discussing, seeking to hear what God has to say to us.  My small group Bible Study meets at 7:30 in the morning at the Oakland Panera, and it’s not the only one going on in that Panera at that hour on Tuesdays, which is kind of neat to see.

Or perhaps the Sunday morning 10 a.m. Bible Study over in the Old Rectory Parlor would be a helpful support.  In this New Year they’re just beginning to read and discuss the New Testament Letter of James, so this would be a great time to start.  Or maybe you’d be interested in joining my new Facebook Group for Rector’s Bible Study—an invitation to spend a little time reading and praying about and discussing the readings for the next Sunday.  We’re just getting that started this week, and it’s kind of experimental to use that format.  If you’re interested, let me know.  Anyway, there are lots of resources out there, lots of opportunities, groups, classes, study guides--but the important thing I guess would be just to get started. 

A second way we might begin to “come and see” would be to resolve for each of us a deeper commitment to private prayer.   We have this wonderfully rich contemplative prayer group of course that meets on Wednesday evening for Centering Prayer, and I know they also would be delighted to have more folks join them.  But perhaps this kind of a resolution would simply be about finding a few quiet moments two or three times a day, maybe just five minutes at a time, to step back, close our eyes if that’s helpful.  Perhaps to say the Lord’s Prayer slowly and inwardly, and to lift before God’s presence the concerns of our hearts.

 Perhaps simply to say the words of the Manger hymn:  “Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay close by me forever, and love me, I pray.”  If you have a prayer book at home, perhaps to find the offices of Morning and Evening Prayer and to pray one or two of the Collects slowly, meditating on a word or phrase that seems to catch your attention.  Perhaps to take home each week our Sunday morning service leaflet and to turn to the pages with our parish prayer requests, to take five minutes or so every morning or a few times a week to say a prayer and then to read through that long list of names.  We don’t always know why they’re on the list, but we know that they or someone who loves them have asked us as a congregation to lift them up in God’s attention and care.

And a third way we might respond to this invitation to “come and see” in this New Year would be to renew and refresh our commitment to the worship of the church.  I know I’m speaking to the choir here!  Those who come to church on a winter, Steeler Playoff Game Sunday!  But even if we are already coming to church every Sunday, or most Sundays, whatever the weather, whatever the alternatives on offer around us—this renewing and refreshing may be more about what’s going in on us when we enter these doors on Hampton Street.  Not simply to say, “I’m going to church this morning” as a matter of routine.  But to expect to meet him, to expect to change, to expect to be sent out in a new direction.  Enter his gates with thanksgiving.  Come into his courts with praise.  To make that a prayer, to have that intention, when we sit down in our pew Sunday mornings a few minutes before 11.

Christmas is over now, for another year, but the New Year’s Resolution of the Shepherds is still here for us: Let us go now even unto Bethlehem, to see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known to us.  It has been two thousand years since the disciples first met Jesus out there by the Jordan River, but his invitation to them are still here for us:  Come and see.



Sunday, January 8, 2017

First Sunday after the Epiphany


Isaiah 42: 1-9
Baptism of August Isaiah Newman

Good morning.   The Sunday after the January 6th Feast of the Epiphany and the day of the traditional observance of the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, as we’ve heard in the hymns and the gospel reading.  The event at the Jordan River in all four gospels launches the public ministry of Jesus along the road that leads eventually to Good Friday and the cross.  In the Eastern Orthodox Churches the day is known as the Theophany, as the divine nature of Jesus is revealed by the Word of the Father and in the descent of the Holy Spirit.

And here this morning we celebrate the baptism of August Isaiah Newman.  The launching of his public life and ministry as a follower of Jesus, a disciple.  “Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.”  Thank you Tom and Meredith for coming all the way from your home in Buffalo to share this great day with all of us.  A great way to enter a new year as a congregation and extended congregational family, with this reaffirmation of our shared baptismal identity and life in Christ.

August Isaiah’s namesake, the Prophet Isaiah, was living and prophesying in Jerusalem in the 8th and 7th Centuries before Christ.  The job of the prophet is to call attention to God’s Word in a fresh and compelling way when the people around him seem to have forgotten it. And Isaiah’s ministry took place in a complicated time.  The Northern Kingdom of Israel had been conquered by the Assyrian Empire of what today would be Eastern Iraq.  Its ancient cities and sacred shrines destroyed, its civilian population decimated and displaced in a disorganized refugee diaspora throughout the Near East.  Its cultural identity and history and faith traditions wiped clean, its orchards and farmlands distributed as the bounty of war to the soldiers of the victorious foreign army.  Yet just a few miles down south across the border in Jerusalem, the capital of the southern Kingdom of Judah, there is this sense of deep, deep denial.  “What happened to our cousins up North,  that could never happen to us!”  The country is protected for the moment  by a fragile network of alliances and vassal state relationships.  The Kings are big on ceremony and show,  pomp and circumstance--while in reality they are weak pawns in a game between the great powers, Egypt and Persia and Babylon and Syria.  The aristocracy is humming along like the courtiers of Louis the XVIth.  Eat, drink, and be merry!  The influences of foreign powers, foreign cultures, foreign religions are percolating through the nation.  Whatever the latest fad.   In all this what it was that made the sons and daughters of Abraham special, unique, a Chosen People, a sacrament for the world, a People of the Covenant, was slipping away.  The word of the Lord was set aside—the discipline of a holy and consecrated people ignored, forgotten. 

Isaiah could see disaster ahead.  You didn’t need a Masters Degree from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.  It was pretty straightforward to anyone who knew God’s word.  The wages of sin.  But then also, what Isaiah could also see, as the truth written deeply into God’s character and word, was that God’s faithfulness to Israel was greater than any failure of faithfulness in Israel.  That no valley was so deep, no mountain so high, no grave so final, that God could not and would not prove himself true to his promise.

Our reading from the 42nd chapter is sometimes called the First Servant Song of Isaiah, a part of Isaiah’s prophetic vision of what it would look like beyond the catastrophe, when that perfect faithfulness of God would be made known. To look at those words again (there on page 7):  He will bring forth justice,  righteously but not violently, not by shouting louder than everybody else, not by steamrolling over the weak, not by snapping and crushing every bruised reed and extinguishing every weak spark and flame, but faithfully, carefully, with gentleness, with love.  A sign of new and renewed creation, the First Creator bringing forth a new heaven and a new earth, giving breath and life and spirit to a healed and restored human family.  Bringing light and sight to a dark world, freeing every prisoner, sweeping away all those false gods that command our worship and loyalty.  “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare.”

 Isaiah’s vision is not an easy one.  Because real death must always come before there can be real resurrection from the dead.  But he sees how an Israel rescued out of  and through the calamity that would soon befall it would be refreshed in God’s word, would trust God’s promises, would obey his commands, and so would become in reality what God had first described to Abraham so long ago, a sign of blessing and grace and right relationship with God, to all people, to every tribe and race and nation.  Every nation on earth will be blessed through you.  And from the very earliest days of Christian memory and witness this has been heard as God’s word to us of the fulfillment in Christ of his everlasting and perfect Covenant.  We hear the echo this morning.  The Song of Isaiah 42 begins, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.”  And as we heard this morning as Jesus and John stood side by side in the River Jordan, the word from above, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  Epiphany and Theophany.  The delight of the Father, now with us and for us in a new way.

We pause in this season of Sundays after Epiphany to go deeper into the meaning and purpose of Christmas: what does it all really mean, that God became Man?  This story, Mary and Joseph and Child in the Manger, Angels, Shepherds, Wise men from the East—what does it mean that this child was born for us?    Words of the Prophet first spoken eight hundred years before the night the angels sang to the shepherds begin to open that up for us.    What difference does Christmas really make, once the trees come down?  I hope we would each one of us ask ourselves that question a few times in the coming weeks.  Thinking back to Christmas—and not, I mean, to the outward expressions and festivities, but to the heart of the story itself.  To the fact of Jesus.  Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.  Of the Father’s love begotten.  Israel’s hope and consolation.  To this promise that as we would follow him and become a part of his life and attend to and become obedient to his word, we ourselves may be lifted up in him as he brings about a new creation, a new heaven, a new earth.   

The Christmas holiday comes to an end.  Back to work.  Back to school.  The newspaper headlines proclaim wars and rumors of war, terror and disaster, conflict and strife.  The trees are put out for the landfill, the decorations get boxed up and moved back to the attic for another year.  But the one who was born for us at Christmas remains with us, the Father’s delight,  inviting us to remain with him, to find our own true lives in him.  From the Catechism: “Holy baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.  The inward and spiritual grace in Baptism is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit.”  And the word of the Lord spoken by the Prophet Isaiah this morning to August Isaiah, to the people of Jerusalem and to the people of St. Andrew’s Highland Park—his promise to:  “I am the Lord.  I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations . . . .”   

Welcome to the family, August Isaiah.  Blessings and joy and Happy New Year!  Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.




Saturday, January 7, 2017

January 7, 2017 Burial Office Otto Harry Gruner III




January 7, 2017
Otto Harry Gruner III (July 27, 1927 – December 9, 2016)

Jesus speaks to his disciples in the 14th chapter of St. John:  “Whither I go, ye know, and the way ye know.”  He says this in the night of the Last Supper, with the whole story of Good Friday and the Cross about to play out.  The story that begins in the winter of Christmas, in a silent night in Bethlehem, ends in the victory of the Cross and the Empty Tomb of a bright Easter morning--Jesus unconquered.  The power of death overturned.  And we do want to hear that report today.  That news: the power of death overturned.  The Ascension into heaven.  The promise of his return.  The good news of sins forgiven, of the mercy and forgiveness and tender Fatherly love of God ready to take up residence in every home and every heart.  Christian life and Christian hope.  In the Old Testament words of Job, in the midst of his many sufferings, “I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.  And though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.”

It is very much an honor and a privilege to share in this service for Harry Gruner.  Son, brother, husband, father, grandfather.  A fullness of life: 89 years!  Naval officer, sportsman, businessman and entrepreneur, community leader, and friend.  To remember his life in all its richness—and I so much appreciate the tributes that have been shared with us this morning.  I have known Harry only in the past few years of his life—his last years, colored so much by age and then by his journey through Parkinson’s disease.  I enjoyed reading in the obituary you all prepared about his exceptionally active life, full of energy and enthusiasm in so many ways.  Fisherman, hunter, golfer, athlete.  And I loved the sentence, “most memorably, Harry was funny, blessed with a gentle, wry sense of humor.”  That’s an aspect of Harry I would say that I was able to experience and enjoy, even in these later years—and something he continued to communicate through his eyes and expressions even when other forms of communication began to deteriorate.  A great man.  The first time I met him, you’ll remember, Nancy, was at a dinner party a number of years ago at your home up in Fox Chapel, along with our mutual good friends and prayer partners Tom and Liz Phillips.  (And I would share that in e-mail and other communications over these weeks I have heard from Tom several times, and from Brad Wilson down in South Carolina, and from my friend and colleague Alex Shuttleworth, who is the current rector of Christ Anglican in Fox Chapel, three really fine pastors and friends, and all have communicated their love and continued prayers.)  I think the second time I saw Harry was not long after that dinner, on a Christmas morning when he was being cared for over at St. Margaret’s, and the three of us, you’ll remember, Nancy, had the chance to share Christmas Communion and a prayer.  Other times of hospitality and visits after you guys had moved over to Longwood.  And then such an amazing gift, on Tuesday December 6, just a month ago, just a few days before he died.  You had a lunch date with my wife Susy and I got invited along as a third wheel.  Very kind of you both to include me!  And after lunch I drove you back up the hill to your place and Harry was sitting up in the living room in a chair looking over a number of family snapshots.  Kids and grandkids.  We chatted for a bit, and then I was able to share with him an anointing with holy oil and prayers of blessing and healing and strength and peace.  Didn’t realize it, of course, but this was a prayer and an outward sign of preparation for the new journey he would begin just a few days later on Friday.  Passing from this life into greater life.     

So blessings this morning.  As we offer together the ancient prayers of the church for Harry, not just as we say the words but as we gather the faith and life and witness of the whole Christian family and offer the deepest knowledge and desire of our hearts to almighty God.  As we hear the words of scripture, the psalms, the lessons, the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Born at Christmas.  The light of world.  “Whither I go, ye know, and the way ye know.”   Or, as St. Paul says in our reading from Romans 8: “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor thing to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Jesus and St. Paul are both talking about something more than what we might call our religious opinions and theories, our theological positions or understandings of various issues and concerns of the day.  Our churchmanship or our denominations.  What they are talking about is a deeper kind of knowing than that.  The kind of knowing that we talk about when we say that a child knows his mother.  It’s about relationship.  About the word we use in the Church with real meaning and sincerity: about faith.  Something that can be expressed in words, but really is much deeper than words can express.  About being in relationship with God securely.  “You know where I am going, and how to get there,” Jesus says, “because you and I are going to the same place, returning to the same home, to that mansion that the Father who loves us has prepared for us.  And I am the way to that home, the Truth, the Life.  No man cometh unto the Father but by me.”  It would be my hope and prayer, family and friends, that as we share in these prayers for Harry we would each one of us hear and feel and know as well an invitation to enter, and to enter more deeply, into that relationship, with the one who has loved us and has longed for that relationship with us from the beginning of the world.   We can pause for a moment: take the opportunity of that invitation.

The Funeral Sentences from the ancient prayers of the Church, “In the midst of life we are in death.”  Thinking how very fragile we are in this short life.  How precious every day is.  Every day is a gift, a real gift—and of course a gift that comes with no guarantee.  Even when we say, “see you tomorrow,” we don’t really know.  We may have the fullness of nine decades, as Harry did.  Or not.  But always one day at a time.  And so as we come together today to hear, to remember, to comfort one another, to give thanks for Harry’s life, we might also be reminded of a certain urgency in our own lives as well.

 “I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord.  He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.  And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”

Blessings all, in this new year.  I would ask that we would stand now and to turn in the Blue Hymnal in the pews to Hymn #562, and we will sing together stanzas 1, 4, and 5 of the great old hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers.”


January 1, 2017 Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus

The Rev. Daniel J. Isadore, Assistant to the Rector



Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Morning

Christmas Morning  Luke 2: 1-20
Good morning and grace and peace to you.  

The sun comes up and the shepherds have made their visit and then returned to their flocks.  The village and home that seemed so calm and serene just a few hours before, with soft echoes of “silent night, holy night,” now waking up and beginning all the bustle of another work day.   People out in the street, workers heading out into the fields.  Washing, cleaning, cooking, feeding the animals.  Another day.   I imagine Joseph’s Bethlehem family must be fussing about the new born baby now, the women gathering around to tend to him and to assist his mother as she recovers from her delivery.  And there’s a lot of food to prepare—the first Christmas Dinner!  In those days I guess they probably didn’t hand out cigars, but I’m sure Joseph and some of the men will be laughing together, clapping on the shoulders.  Congratulations!  A son!

For me, this is where my favorite Bible verse comes in Luke’s telling of the story of the birth of Jesus. After the long night.  The exhausting last leg of the journey from Mary’s hometown in Nazareth to Joseph’s home in Bethlehem, the late arrival, settling in not in the place where guests would usually be received, but in the place where the animals are brought in for the night.  Then labor and delivery.   I hope Joseph was able to be at least a little helpful .  Boil some water, collect some clean sheets.   Perhaps a doula from the neighborhood was able to be found at that hour to help, or maybe some of the women in the extended family.  Luke doesn’t tell us.   In any event, the child is born.  Swaddled in a blanket.  Set in the straw of the manger.  And then the shepherds, and their story about the choirs of angels.  What an amazing, exhausting, overwhelming night!

And then Mary.  As morning comes, the new day dawns.  Trying to get a little rest after all that.  You ladies who have given birth even in less challenging environments can testify to what this first morning would be like for her.  We must imagine all in her thoughts then,  her memories.  The encounter with Gabriel back at her home in Nazareth, his angelic presence, the divine message of her election, the sudden movement of her heart in faith and love as she gave the word.  Fiat.  Let it be.  And then her visit to her cousin Elizabeth in the hill country.  The stirring of Elizabeth’s child, leaping in her womb!  Elizabeth’s words, full of the Holy Spirit.   “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

So, Luke 2:19: But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.

It is a lot to think about, a lot to ponder.  For Mary, and for us.  To remember the story again and again.  To let it roll around in our minds and our hearts also.

As I say to the kids every year after our Children’s Pageant, this is the most familiar story in the world.  We know it by heart.  And yet every year, at every telling of the story, when we really listen, when we open our eyes and ears and minds and hearts, it becomes fresh and new and meaningful for us in ways that we have never imagined before.   Christ is born.  Emmanuel.  God with us.  Mercy and forgiveness and a new life.  Starting now.  We can spend a lifetime reflecting on that, and only scratch the surface.  It changes everything!  365 days a year can’t contain what Christmas has to say to us. 


Again, blessings and peace and joy this morning, in the day ahead.  In the week of Christmas, in the New Year.   As the hymn says, “ponder anew, what the Almighty can do, who with his love doth befriend thee.”  Merry Christmas. 



Christmas Eve Midnight

Hebrews 1: 1-12

Good evening, friends  . . .  and it is my prayer that this is a good evening for you.  That it is, and will be, a good Christmas.  That the grace, mercy, peace, forgiveness, generous love of the Holy Child of Bethlehem is felt in your heart and in every corner of your life as his free gift. 

To bring comfort in times of pain and distress and loss, to encourage our best efforts at whatever station we find ourselves, to allow a space of contentment and courage and hope to open in us and to be communicated in the world by word and deed.  As the prayer goes, “that we may show forth thy praise:  not only with our lips, but in our lives.”  

Christ in our midst; Christ born, Christ continuing to be present with us.  Word of the Father, now in Flesh appearing.    And as we recall and celebrate the story of our Savior’s birth and the mystery of Incarnation we would see in it all a sign of hope for us both for this life and for the world to come, and life everlasting.  

It’s a tough world out there.  Devastating wars.  Syria.  Iraq.  Yemen.  Afghanistan.   Berlin.  From Aleppo to Ankara.  Political discontent at home and abroad.  Nations divided.   Tensions in concerns of race and class and culture.  Wars and rumors of war.  Hatred.  Fear.  Turbulance and terror and anxiety and a lack of trust.  With all that, you can’t’ help but wonder what this is all about tonight.  A disconnect.  Candles and evergreens.  Shepherds and a manger and a new born baby.  Why would this make any difference?

As I turned to the readings from Scripture appointed for us to read together this night I found myself drawn to this complicated word from the Letter to the Hebrews—and thank you, George, for reading it for us so well.  Not an easy reading.

For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee?  And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? 

And again, when he bringeth in the first-begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. 
But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever . . . .

Our Sunday morning Bible Study group has been reading the Letter to the Hebrews this fall, and they will remember that there’s  a lot about angels in the first few chapters.  So appropriate for us on Christmas Eve, as the Shepherds look into the sky to see the whole shimmering angelic choir.   The wonderful ornament for every Christmas tree.  In the first century people were fascinated and drawn to the idea of angels as beings that would communicate spiritual experience and power.  In Luke’s Gospel  the story of the Birth of the Savior begins when the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary.   And also for us.  In recent years we’ve heard a new kind of vocabulary, as people talk about being “spiritual but not religious,” and maybe there’s an angelic connection there.  To be drawn, in spite of many doubts and a culture of secular skepticism, to the transcendental, the mysterious, the mystical.  There was a time not many years back when there were more books about angels on the shelf in the religion section of the Barnes and Noble than about any other single topic, and we would remember films and television shows.  There was an interesting note in a Gallup Poll a decade or so ago, where more Americans answered yes to the question, “do you believe in angels?” than answered yes to the question, “do you believe in God?”

The Apostle as we have heard his words tonight—he believes in angels, and he knows that there are or at least can be for us spiritual moments and experiences of transcendental grace and power, miracles and blessings, glimpses of the eternal.  But again and again he also is eager to remind us that what we observe this night-- this quiet night in tiny Bethlehem of Judea, the blessed mother, the holy child--this is about much more than angels.  For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my son?   More than angels, more than spiritual feelings.  More than ritual and symbol and ceremony  and mystical visions.  Don’t be distracted by the soft magic of candlelight, we would hear in that message.  Sweet as it all is to us in so many ways.  This is all just prelude:  types  and prefigurings, foreshadowing and preparation.  What was hidden in God from the first hour of creation, now is revealed for us not in mysterious shadow, but  in brilliant light. High Definition.   A child is born, a son is given.   The Dayspring from on high has dawned upon usThou art my Son, he says.  Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.

To say that the point of this Christmas story is not about a temporary reprieve, to lift our mood for a few hours during dark hours and days and seasons with a dose of pleasant unreality, but to open our hearts and minds and eyes and ears and lives now and from now on to what is the new and true reality of his life and his authority.  A sustaining reality.  And we are invited tonight to make a choice, to choose to partake of that reality.  To take a breath, to make that choice.

The dark night giving way to the bright morning.  Lord of our lives, Lord of all creation, the one who lifts us to a new life and citizenship, in his eternal kingdom.  Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.   It’s all about Jesus.  Put all the other characters in the Nativity Scene aside.  It’s who he is, and who he is to us, that matters this evening.  Not simply the sweet baby in the stained glass window or on the cover of the Hallmark card, but God-Man victorious at the Cross, the living eternal Son of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.

That’s what this is all about tonight.  How we come into the presence of our King.  How we give ourselves to the authority of his Word.  Turning our lives to his holiness and righteousness.  Opening our minds and hearts and consenting to his action to prepare us for the new life that he has in mind for us.  Which is what our worship at the manger is all about.   Making and renewing the essential commitment of our lives.  Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord, to thee.  Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise.

If we leave the manger this evening the same people we were when we arrived, then Christmas hasn’t happened, no matter what the calendar says.  But if we look into the face of the Child and see the One who from this night forward is our King, our Savior and Lord, then it will be Christmas not just this one Night, but from now on: ever more and ever more.

Let all the angels of God worship him.  As Paul says in Philippians 2: that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


Again, blessings this Christmas Eve, friends, in this season ahead, and always.  Mercy, grace, forgiveness, peace, and joy—the word for us from heaven above.   Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.