Archive for June 2018

3 Pentecost 6/10/18 Epiphany, Norfolk   Leave a comment

In yesterday’s newspaper there was a beautifully written editorial on the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. I was not familiar with Kate Spade. I’ve learned that she was a very successful fashion designer. But I don’t follow fashion enough to have been familiar with her. I did know who Anthony Bourdain was, although I rarely watched his show. Not being into cooking, I occasionally watched him if he was on location in a place where I had been, or which I found interesting. But, as I think we all know, both of these very well known and successful people took their own lives; Kate Spade at 55, and Anthony Bourdain at 61. These two deaths seemed to really rattle the media  and the public who followed them.

I think most of us have experienced a friend, or relative, or co-worker taking his or her life. And so often, it just doesn’t make sense to us. Sometimes there’s a note, or a medical history, or an addiction problem, or mental problems of which we are aware, but my experience is that in most cases, we didn’t see it coming, and we don’t understand “why.” And it can be a very difficult thing with which to deal.

Well, yesterday’s editorial, speaking of Bourdain said: “And, as with Spade, his death is a tragic reminder that no amount of celebrity, fame, or fortune can protect against the vulnerability and fragility of the human experience.”

Let me say that again: No amount of celebrity, fame, or fortune can protect against the vulnerability and fragility of the human experience.” I went back and read that a couple of times. I’d never thought of “the human experience” as fragile. Vulnerable, yes. I’ve somehow known and accepted that. But “fragile” had not occurred to me. I’ve always thought of us as pretty tough and resilient. But there IS a fragileness to our “human experience.”

Thursday afternoon I got a call that my younger sister was in Sentara Leigh’s emergency room. She had been standing at her kitchen sink making her morning coffee. She turned around, but her foot did not turn with her. She broke her ankle, and it was a bad break. They had set it and were evaluating what to do about some surgery that she apparently needed. But then yesterday, some of her vitals got shaky and they admitted her.

I went by to see her last night, and suddenly she looked so “fragile”, as the editorial says. She was in much better spirits. They had the pain under control. She was glad to be out of the emergency room after 2 days and 2 nights. She was comfortable. She’ll receive wonderful care. And she’ll probably do quite well, with time.

All of us, if we live long enough, experience these “life events.” There is “a fragility of the human experience.” It’s just part of living. And some of us seem to deal with it better than others. But I think the church can be a big help with this. Sometimes, even a little bit of faith, or a little bit of community, or a little bit of caring, or a little sense that we are walking hand I hand with God as our creator / friend is just enough to get us through one of those frail times. We can’t do it all by ourselves. We need something else in our lives to help us get through stuff. And as we’ve seen, fame, fortune, celebrity status just doesn’t do it. But I think the church can.

Quite a few years ago I shared a “church experience” in a homily. I’m going to tell the story again. Many, many years ago I was asked to supply one Sunday at one of our churches. It was very run down, very neglected, and very poorly attended. As I was leaving the church, I noticed a guest book over in a corner. Someone had written: “Surely God lives in this place.” My first thought was: “Oh, poor God.” And then I watched the warden close the door with a bang and lock God in with a monster key. If they could find another supply next week, the door might be opened, and God would breathe again. And it occurred to me, right there, that in our minds we trap God into our buildings, and hold God there for Sunday mornings. And I thought, it doesn’t work that way. God is out in the world with us, and we bring God to church with us on Sunday Mornings, or whenever we come.

I’m the one who has opened the doors of this place and turned on the heat and lights for 25 years now. And when I come into this empty space at 6ish am, like I did this morning, it is very much “a holy space”, but it is also an empty space. I have no sense of the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit being alive in here – until the first person walks in the door. And then the room comes alive. And the more people that come in, the more spirit and life there is. We bring the divine in here with us. The divine is in us, and we bring it and share it.

And that’s why I think the church is such an important tool as we try to live with our vulnerability and our fragility. I’m not saying that it’s a “cure all.” Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain may have been devout churchmen. I don’t know. But I can tell you that I find the church – the worshipping community – to be a source of “grounding” for me – sort of “home base” – that I can always come back to when I need to make sense out of what’s going on around me when my vulnerability and my fragility are getting the best of me.

No amount of celebrity, fame, or fortune can protect against the vulnerability and fragility of the human experience.” But the community of the church, and the faith of the church, CAN help us live out the human experience.

Amen

Posted June 13, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Trinity Sunday/Memorial Day 5/27/18 Epiphany, Norfolk   Leave a comment

This morning we have another double celebration, one secular, and one religious. On the Church Calendar, today is Trinity Sunday. On the Secular Calendar, this is Memorial Day Weekend, tomorrow being Memorial Day. I’m going to say a little something about each of them.

Let’s start with Trinity Sunday. When I came in on Wednesday, Marcie said something to the effect of: “I picked a bulletin cover for Trinity Sunday. I don’t think you’re going to like it, but I really hope you do because I think it’s great.” That translates to: “I picked a bulletin cover, and you’d better damn well like it.” In fact, I did like it. It’s simple – almost childlike – but it communicates the Trinity.

The Trinity is a doctrine. It’s not a person, or an event, or a place. It’s also the only doctrine that we celebrate. It’s never mentioned in the Bible, although the elements of the doctrine are all over the New Testament. Jesus often refers to “God the Father”, or the “Heavenly King”, or the “Creating Father”, represented on our bulletin as a crown.

And Jesus is often referred to as “The Lamb of God”, the “Pascal Lamb” from the Passover, the “sacrificial lamb.” Jesus is seen as “our savior” who intercedes on our behalf with the Father, the creator. Jesus is the redeemer who redeems humankind and saves us from destruction. He is depicted as the cute little lamb on our bulletin, with its curly wool.

Then we have the dove, representing the Holy Spirit, the Holy Wind, the Holy Breath. Last Sunday on Pentecost we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit, interpreted as a dove, sent to us by “The Father” to sustain us, and keep us energized, and help us avoid becoming discouraged. These three elements of the Trinity are referred to as “persons”, the “three persons of the Trinity,”

Well, where in the world did that come from? It came from the Council of Nicaea, which was the 1st Ecumenical Council, convened by Constantine in 325 ad  to try to sort all of this stuff out. And the end result is the Nicaean Creed that we will say right after this homily. I can tell you that there is not a word of that creed that has not been debated since 325.

One of the things that they tried to do was describe how God – “the one God” – functioned, and how those functions related to each other. In other words: “What is God?” and “How does God work?” The council thought that if they could pin this down and describe it, it would stop all the heresies, it would stop wars, it would give a common theology throughout Christendom. So they looked at the “functions of God”, as they understood God, and said: “God does 3 things. God creates. God redeems – or saves. And God sustains – keeps it all going. So they arrived at: God the Father – the creator, God the Son – the redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit (or Holy Wind) – the sustainer that keeps it all going. And thus; the Trinity was born and described in the Nicaean Creed. And in our church calendar the Sunday after Pentecost is always Trinity Sunday, when we “hold up” the Doctrine of the Trinity. Just remember that the Nicaean Creed never talks about three Gods. It talks about one God with three functions, three ways of relating to the creation, three ways of relating to us.

Well, how about Memorial Day? Last year I talked about the fact that I was born in November of 1941, almost on Pearl Harbor Day. I also mentioned that I spent my young childhood “on post” in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where my father was stationed. After his death, when I was 4, we moved into town where I stayed until I was about 10. I spoke last year of what a very somber day it was during my childhood. It was called Decoration Day, and it had started after the Civil War to decorate and honor the graves of the war dead who had given their lives for their country. I mentioned that most church registers of the day show the highest attendance of the year during and after WW II on Decoration Day, which is what Memorial Day was called until 1967, when President Johnson got it renamed. By the way, it was an unofficial federal holiday until 1971.

Well, when I was a kid, we all wore the little red paper poppies, representing the Poppy Fields of Flanders, where so many Americans are buried. And we went to church, then to the cemetery to place flags on the graves of the war dead, including my father. We then went home to somber stillness for the rest of the day. It was not a happy time. It was not a time for picnics. It was not a time for travel. It was a very serious day.

It certainly is something different today, for many people. Today, it’s a 3 day weekend to get away, or go to the beach, or have a cookout, or whatever one can do to celebrate.

Last night I checked Face Book and I found many references to Memorial Day, and pictures of the flag, and pictures of cemeteries posted by old timers somewhere around my age. But there were no posts like that from younger people. Younger people were posting their fun activities for the holiday.

We’re moving away from the awful memories and somberness of 70ish years ago. And I can’t help but reference that this holiday originally honored the dead of the Civil War. Just in very recent years we’ve seen the Civil War heroes “put away” – their statues being taken down or moved to museums and cemeteries. Schools and streets are being renamed. Those names say something different today to many people than they did 150 years ago.

That seems to be a very human anomaly. We out live, or out grow our heroes, our memories, and they have to be removed or put away. I assume that each year there will be fewer and fewer people observing Decoration Day, or Memorial Day, unless something else comes along to rekindle the fire.

 One of the great hymns of the Christian Church says it best. I’m referring to “O God, our help in ages past.” It’s a paraphrase of the first 5 verses of Psalm 90. The 5th verse of the hymn says it all: “Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all our years away; they fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.”

 Amen.

Posted June 6, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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