Archive for May 2016

Memorial Day homily

5/29/16 Epiphany, Norfolk

One of the pitfalls to staying at a place for many years – like I have at Epiphany – is that sometimes we repeat things in our homilies. If we move to a new parish every 4 or 5 years, there’s not as much chance of that happening. But next Sunday I’ll begin my 24th year with you, and even though I write a fresh homily for every Sunday I preach, I’m bound to repeat something. That’s when folks say, “He’s got 3 good sermons and he repeats them over and over.”

Two Sundays ago I talked about “Abba Father” being Aramaic for “Daddy.” Ruth Ann Campbell was with us. She was meeting with me after the service to go over material for her recently deceased husband’s memorial service at which I’m doing the homily. Ruth Ann was our organist here back in the 80s, when I was here the first time. And we also worked together at St. Aidan’s, in the late 70s. Ruth Ann said she enjoyed the homily. Then she added, “I remember that sermon from 42 years ago at St. Aidan’s.” My initial impulse was to get defensive and tell her that I had spent hours the day before, researching and writing that homily. But then I thought, “Well, if I said something like that 42 years ago, and she remembers it, maybe I did a good job.”

Since I have been preaching Memorial Day homilies for almost 50 years, I can almost promise you that I will repeat something this morning. If you remember it, I’ll feel like I did a good job.

As many of you know, I was born in Chicago at the Lying-In Hospital, which is still there, linked to the University of Chicago. The Lying-In Hospital was, and is, a welfare maternity hospital. I know nothing about my birth parents. I’m told that at 2 weeks old my adoptive mother rode the train from Cheyenne, Wyoming, adopted me, and took me to Cheyenne on the train. My adoptive father was a colonel in the Army-Air Force and stationed at Ft. Warren in Cheyenne. My first couple of years, we lived “on post”, on Officers’ Row, facing the parade field. Of course, since I was born in 1941, World War II was in full swing.

At some point, my father was reassigned to the European Front and my mother, and 3 sisters, and I moved “off post” into town. When I was 4, my father returned to Cheyenne. Soon after his return, he fell down the steps to our basement, hit his head on a brick chimney, and died. He survived the European Front, only to die at home. But my childhood, through the 3rd grade, was spent in Cheyenne, during wartime.

I have 3 fairly vivid memories – things that were etched into my mind.

First, was that we lived in fear of polio. Kids didn’t play with each other. We didn’t go to things like movies. Kids we were kept at home. Every morning when we got up, we had to bend our heads in a particular way as a test for polio.

The second thing I vividly remember was that we would somehow hear that a train was coming into town with bodies from the war. Everyone would get dressed in black and go to the train station to find out who had lost relatives. We had to walk to the train station because gas was rationed and we could not get tires for the car. So we walked a number of blocks toward the train station, being joined along the way by other families, until it was a large, somber, silent procession. I remember the emotional outbursts as names were called out from the door of the baggage car, for families to take their coffins.

My 3rd vivid memory was “Decoration Day”, now called “Memorial Day” – then on May 30th. No one went to work that day. We all dressed in our “Sunday best”, all went to church – to a packed house. Then we went to the cemeteries to “pay respects” to friends and family, and to put little flags on the graves of those who had died in military service. Then in groups, families would walk through the graveyard, reading off the markers, and sharing memories of the deceased. Then we went home to silence for the rest of the day.

About 10 years ago, I drove out to Cheyenne to confirm my childhood memories. My father is buried in a military section of the city cemetery. And I was really touched that a little American flag was on his grave. I guess the American Legion puts them there. I was surprised at how large that cemetery was, for a small town.

I tried to get “on post” to visit the graves of a sister and two nieces. Ft. Warren is now a high security base, and they wouldn’t let me on without a letter from a senator. But I could see our old house from the road that runs along the base, and I could see the cemetery. It is huge, stretching out across the prairie. These are the war heroes whose coffins came off those trains, and whose families claimed them.

I tell this story because each year there are fewer and fewer people alive with these memories. Garrison Keillor yesterday commented that it’s only in America that we would turn a somber day of remembrance into a holiday to open the summer cabin and launch the boat. Maybe it’s better that way. I would not want to still be observing the Decoration Days of the 1940s.

I picked a field of red poppies for our bulletin cover this morning. The red poppy theme actually comes from World War I. I recently saw an awesome documentary on the “Fields of Flanders.” Flanders is in Belgium, north of France. It has the largest military cemetery I have ever seen. Across an aisle of beautiful grass are buried thousands of soldiers of opposing armies. The armies face each other, and the graves fan out across the Fields of Flanders. Wild red poppies grow in the Fields of Flanders, and it’s from them that we get our “Remembrance Poppies” that have come down to us as symbols of fallen military.

A Canadian soldier named John McCrae wrote a poem known as “Flanders Fields.” I know you’ve heard it, but I want to close with it this morning, because to me, it speaks to our Memorial Day.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


Posted May 31, 2016 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Pentecost, 15 May 2016

This Morning is the Feast of Pentecost. And since some of our folk come from traditions that don’t follow a liturgical calendar, or don’t have these special feasts, I need to say something about Pentecost.

 Prior to our present Prayer Book that was published in 1979, this Sunday was referred to as Whitsunday, or White Sunday. The liturgical color was white, and it was a special day for baptisms. But in 1979, when the present Prayer Book was published, that all changed. The day was renamed “Pentecost”, referring in Greek to 50 days after Easter. Its liturgical color was changed to red, referencing the tongues of fire. It has become sort of traditional    to wear red on the Feast of Pentecost. And it is considered one of the 3 great Feasts of the Church, along with Christmas and Easter. In some circles, it’s referred to as the Birthday of the Institutional Church, and some places will celebrate today with a birthday cake for the church. It is the last Sunday during which we light the Pascal Candle, except at funerals and baptisms. And it begins the longest season of the church year – “The Sundays of Pentecost.”

 Well, it’s all based on the events described in today’s reading from the Book of Acts. And even though none of us can begin to explain what happened in that event, we can’t just dismiss it as fanciful imagination. Remember, The Book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke were written by the same person. And that person was trying to write history, and as accurately as possible. So, just the fact that it’s included here tells us that something happened that probably didn’t make any more sense to the writer, than it does us, the reader.

 Last week Julia used a wonderful image in her homily of a child trying to learn to ride a two wheel bicycle with training wheels. And she described the period between Ascension and Pentecost as “training wheel time” (that’s my label). But she was so right. Jesus had been telling his disciples that he would be leaving them. He would be rejoining the Father. But an “Advocate” would be sent to them. And in our reading today, from the Gospel of John, he describes the Advocate as “The Spirit of Truth.” I’ve always liked that idea. I don’t really understand it, but I like it.

 And going a little further with Julia’s model, Pentecost tells us that the training wheels are off. We have an Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit – better translated from the Greek as “the Holy Wind” or “the Holy Breath” – that empowers us to balance on our own without training wheels. Now, it’s up to us.

 Well – that’s Pentecost. And it’s an important turn in our liturgical calendar. It carries us through the summer, and into the fall, until once again we come to Advent.

 But there’s something else that I want to look at this morning. From time to time, someone will strike up a discussion of his or her prayer life. And quite often it’s along the lines of, “I don’t know how to pray”, or, “I’m not sure I’m praying right”, or, “I’m not sure my prayers are being heard.” Prayer life is a very personal, and sometimes very difficult thing. And I think it’s particularly hard for us as Episcopalians who grow us using a Prayer Book. We become accustomed to a very formal, stylized type of prayer. There’s a prayer for almost everything in our Prayer Book. And they are beautiful, and they are written with great  wisdom. But sometimes we need something from “inside.” Sometimes we need to have a sense that we are talking to God from the heart, not from a book. And in our reading from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Paul says: “When we cry, ‘Abba Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness.”

 That word “Abba” is an unusual word, and it appears 3 times in the New Testament – always related to prayer. “Abba” is an Aramaic word meaning something similar to our “Daddy” – or even “Da Da.” It’s child talk. It’s not used in adult speech. And in today’s reading, Paul says: “When we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

 What I understand this to mean is that when we pray informally, we should talk to God like a young child talks to Daddy. We don’t have to follow a set format, as our beautiful collects do. We don’t have to be poetic, like our Psalms and hymns. We can just talk to God. Tell God what’s going on in our hearts. Tell God what we’re excited about. Tell God where it hurts. Tell God that we know and feel love.

 Think of what a young child tells its Daddy. “I love you Daddy.” “I’ve got a booboo, Daddy. Please make it well.” “I’m afraid Daddy. Please stay with me.” “I learned something new today, Daddy. Let me show you.” “Thank you Daddy.” I think we’re being instructed to talk to God all the time, in the very simplest of terms, like a child chatters to Daddy. It doesn’t take a Prayer Book. We don’t have to be in church, or getting ready for bed. It can be any time and any place.

 And in my mind, I like to think of the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Wind, or the Holy Breath carrying my simple prayer to the Father for me. That’s the way it goes together in my brain. I think my childlike prayer, and send it forth on “The Holy Wind” to the Father. And I find a strange joy and satisfaction in that feeling of my thoughts and prayers going forth to God.

From Romans: “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Paul sees a clear link between “living in the spirit”, and living as a child. Paul sees “the Spirit”, “the Advocate”, as a sustaining power that walks hand in hand with us as we teeter through this life. And it’s right there with us. We don’t need the training wheels. We can ride on our own, as children of God, hand in hand with the spirit.


Posted May 17, 2016 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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