Archive for June 2018

Father’s Day 6/17/18 Epiphany, Norfolk

Last night I was having dinner with my niece, Virginia.I mentioned that I needed to get home and get to work on a homily. I also mentioned that it was Father’s Day, and that I’ve only preached on Father’s Day once in my career. I’ve read that old homily once or twice, and it’s pretty bad.

Virginia said, “I wish you would preach on Joseph.” “Joseph?”“Yes. Joseph, Jesus’ father. No one ever says anything about him, and he must have been a wonderful man to stand by Mary in her situation. He’s always been my ideal of a father.” Then she told me a story relating to Anne Donovan, the basketball star and coach who died last week. Virginia and her mother, my sister, were very close friends with Anne. They were big boosters of ODU’s women’s’ basketball. I had met Anne a few times, but didn’t know her very well.

But Virginia told me this story: Anne had Marfan Syndrome.It is a genetic condition that is passed down from one generation to another. It contributes to excessive growth, eye problems, heart problems, and a number of other things. Anne’s father had Marfan Syndrome, and died of a heart attack in his mid 30s, leaving a widow and eight children. All of the children had Marfan Syndrome. Anne’s mother remarried. And Virginia says that Anne’s stepfather was a truly wonderful man, devoted to these 8 kids with all of their health problems, and their mother. And Virginia went on to tell a few family stories that wouldn’t be of interest to us, here.

But, Virginia said that whenever she thinks of Joseph, the Carpenter, she thinks of Anne’s stepfather, and visa versa – truly remarkable fathers who step up to the plate, and do what’s necessary to care for and nurture the family for which they are responsible.

Well, that got me cracking the books last night, reading up on Joseph. And I found some interesting things. Scholars generally refer to Joseph as Jesus’ “foster father”, in respect of the idea of a virgin birth. There is a 2nd century “Book of James” and a 4th century “The History of Joseph the Carpenter” that present Joseph as a widower with children at the time he espoused Mary. They describe her as a 12 year old girl. “The History of  Joseph the Carpenter” describes Joseph’s death at the age of 111, which raises some concerns over the validity of its information.

Most of our information comes from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Mark never mentions Joseph, other than to refer to Jesus as, “son of the carpenter.” The Gospel of John twice describes Jesus as the “son of Joseph.” Both Matthew and Luke are careful to detail Joseph’s genealogy, to show him as a descendant of King David. That was a very important item, even though the virgin birth confuses the genetic link to King David. Most scholars deal with this by saying that Joseph was the “Legal Foster Father”, which supplants bloodline. That’s a great topic for a Doctoral dissertation, if any of you are interested.

Well, how about that betrothal? It would have been by written declaration, and a small gift in the presence of 2 witnesses. It would have been a 1 year commitment, during which time Mary would have been referred to as “wife,” and Joseph would have had all of the responsibilities of a husband. According to Matthew, Joseph is described as a “just man”, meaning that he was a devout servant of God and lived his life according to the law.

Joseph was special. God spoke to him through dreams, as when he is told to flee to Egypt. Joseph and God had a “trusting relationship” no matter what happened. It really is fair to think of Joseph as an ideal father figure. So, when Virginia identifies Anne’s step-father with Jesus’ foster father, it makes some sense.

As most of you know, my father died when I was 4. When I was about 9, my mother remarried. But I never got close to my step father. So I really grew up without a strong father figure. But there were a lot of people in my life who were sort of surrogate father figures, who helped point me in the right direction from time to time, and show me what caring was all about.

I was also an English Major, which meant that I ran into all sorts of “father characters” in literature. There were the Shakespearean fathers, most of whom were on the edge of insanity, and sometimes over the edge, usually driven there by wife, or kids, or both. There were the Victorian fathers – brooding, stern, sullen, pre-occupied. And there was the Nelson Family on TV. Ozzie was a strange father, always soft spoken and smiling, but never went to work or did anything to help around the house. He just sat on a sofa smoking his pipe and handing down wisdom.

And there was Norman Rockwell with his wonderful Saturday Evening Post cartoons. He showed us another side of father. His fathers could be whimsical, humorous, or perhaps irreverent. His father would peek around the living room drapes as his wife and kids marched to church, with a huge smirk on his face that he’d gotten out of going, and had the house to himself for an hour. You could see him praying that the sermon would be very, very long. His fathers found delight and pleasure in little family things that would have exploded the stern Victorian fathers.

What is father like today? It sort of depends on who and where you ask. There are a huge number of single moms today. I’m not sure just where all those fathers are. We’re told that well over ½ of all marriages end in divorce. I guess they also end in “remarriage.” We hear about “baby daddies” and “baby mommies.” It all can get very confusing.

 But we also hear of great families, where the family members have worked it out and gained respect, and admiration, and affection for each other, and for mom and dad.

One of the popular news segments today is to show the surprise return of daddy to the unsuspecting kid in school. The joy of a kid looking up and seeing daddy enter the room, is just beautiful. Sometimes it works, and that’s what we celebrate this morning – this Fathers’ Day.

So, if you’re a father, know that we admire you, respect you, wish you the patience of Job, and thank you for being a special person in the life of your family.




Posted June 20, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

3 Pentecost 6/10/18 Epiphany, Norfolk

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.


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

Trinity Sunday/Memorial Day 5/27/18 Epiphany, Norfolk

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.”


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

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