Archive for September 2018

James 3:1-12 9/16/18 Epiphany, Norfolk

homecomingI don’t know about you –   but the only thing on my mind this morning  is giving thanks that this we were spared from that storm this past week. If it had drifted just a few miles further north –we would be in the same mess as our neighbors in the Carolinas.

At the same time I feel so badly for our neighbors whose lives have been turned upside down by that storm. I’ve visited Newbern and Wilmington many times. They are both beautiful cities – with very nice people. It’s going to be a long struggle for them to get back on their feet. And of course – it’s not yet over for them as they continue to deal with massive flooding – in the dark.

This could so easily have been our fate. So – I have mixed feelings this morning: joy and relief that we were spared, and deep sympathy for our neighbors who are suffering so badly.

Well – this morning I want to again look at our 2nd Reading from the Epistle of James. This is the 3rd week in a row that I’ve talked about The Epistle of James – but is has become one of my favorite smaller writings. I never paid much attention to it until recently,  but it has really grown on me.

Just to refresh your memory – we’re not sure who wrote it – but we do know  that the writer was Jewish – and that he was taking old Jewish morals and codes of behavior, and trying to interpret them from a Christian perspective. We also know that he was writing for Greeks – not for Jews. The Greeks were fascinated by this new Christianity. It was totally different from anything in their religions, and they were intrigued by it

Now – I need to remind you  that the Greeks saw life and the world –  in terms of opposites in balance. Everything has its opposite: light / dark  cold / hot  wet / dry  active / at rest  tense / relaxed.

And for the Greek – the trick to living a good life was to keep the opposites in balance.

If one overpowered the other –  you were is “dis – ease”, or disease. And this idea becomes a theme all through the Epistle of James. We get phrases like:  “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” See the opposites? It’s the same opposites that I feel about the storm: Joy that it missed us –   but pain that it hurt our neighbors. That is very Greek.

Now – in today reading – the writer of James  gets into “the healthy use of our tongues.”And he likens our tongues  to the rudder of a boat. The big boat is steered –  by a small runner on the back. Likewise – our whole being is governed by our relatively small tongue.

He says: “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze  by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire…. It stains the whole body… For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed  and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue – a restless evil,   full of deadly poison.” And then he goes on to describe it as a tool for blessing and cursing – the classical Greek opposites.

Well – the writer of James doesn’t think very much of the tongue – does he? He describes this big organism of a human being – being controlled and directed by this little “rudder” of a tongue placed in the middle of the body. And everything has to answer for the directions that the tongue sets. James has an issue with that.

I know – in my own life –  if something is going to get me in trouble –  it’s going to be my mouth. I know that. I’ve always known that. So James speaks right to my heart.

Now – all of this business of “the tongue” – and “speaking blessings and curses” – – –  this builds on one of the great O.T. themes – that pops up all over in both the Old and New Testaments. The early Hebrews knew that it was breath that allowed one to speak. If you couldn’t breath out –  you couldn’t speak words. And the Hebrews saw “breath” –  as a very holy, sacred thing. When God breathed into Adam,  and gave him life, God put breath in him.

So humankind’s breath –  is an extension of the “breath of God” – the Holy Wind,  the Holy Breath,  the Holy Spirit. The Hebrews also knew – that when a human uses that “Holy Breath” to form a word – and send it out – it is Holy –  and it can never be taken back. It is sent out –  to either give life / or take life, heal / or hurt, build / or destroy. And once it leaves our lips –  it is gone –   to do its work –  and can never be reeled back in.

All through the Bible – God, or a person, or an angel, or something SPEAKS – and it happens. And this is what the writer of James is building on in his Epistle. “The tongue is a fire. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likes of God.” Great ancient Hebrew thinking –  presented in a Greek context. Oh – the Greeks would have loved this. It’s just brilliant.

Well – does it speak to us today? I think it really does. First – I really like the Greek idea of opposites. Like many of you, I live kind of a hectic life – with multiple offices, and multiple jobs, and way too many gadgets, and too many interests. And I have to balance all that stuff – or my life spirals into a mess – and suddenly I’m feeling pulled apart and confused. I’m very conscious of striving to keep balances in my life – so I stay mentally and spiritually healthy.

And then there’s the matter of “the tongue.” I try really hard – I really do – to send forth good words – but I can sure mess it up. It is SO EASY to say the wrong thing – and really hurt someone. If I don’t bridle my tongue – – –  an image that James uses – – – I can get into serious trouble – and then, I’m in “dis-ease.”

So – this passage from James gives us two things to work on in our day to day lives. One – the Greek idea of keeping all of those opposites in balance – to avoid “dis-ease.” The other is that old Hebrew idea of being aware that we use Holy Breath to form words – and that our words are “holy expressions.” We should be very careful how we send those words out – because they can do wonderful things – or they can do very destructive things.

I like the Epistle of James. And I commend it to you. Just remember that it has to be read with the context of two cultures. But it offers us some pretty powerful insights into living a full and faithful life.


Posted September 19, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

A fond farewell

On Sunday, September 9th we sadly said good-by to some faithful 8:00 AM regulars: Eva-Maria Hoffmann & Brian & Susanna Wilson. They are going on to new adventures; Eva-Maria to Vermont and the Wilsons to Richmond. We wish them well in their new and exciting life changes!

Posted September 11, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Labor Day 9/2/18 Epiphany, Norfolk

inspirational quotes anger James 1 19 " be quick to listen slow to speak and slow toWell –
this weekend we celebrate Labor Day –
another one of those American holidays
that baffles non-Americans.

Everyone else in the world
wonders who in their right mind
would celebrate “labor” –
one of the classical curses
put upon mankind by God –
as Adam was thrown out of the Garden of Eden.

We’re supposed to work at figuring out
how to avoid labor –
not celebrate it.

But for us –
it’s one of those “water shed holidays” –
where our lives change direction –
and we reorder our routines.

Someone once described it
as the “real New Years” –
when we actually begin a new year
with all sorts of resolutions –
and promises of things to be done better.

It was the time of year –
for my mother to give her annual
“Apply Yourself” lecture.

“You’re starting a new school year –
and you have to apply yourself –
or you will never get into college –
and no one will want to hire you –
and you’ll end up collecting garbage.”
“Flippin’ burgers” had not yet been invented –
so my mother had to resort to
garbage collection
as a fate that would befall me –
if I didn’t “apply myself.”

The truth was –
I was doing a great job of “applying myself” –
just not in the ways
she had in mind.

Different things were important to me –
like who I was dating –
where I could hide in school to smoke –
how I could get away with skipping school –
how I could finagle
getting my sister’s car –
and just generally –
what kind of trouble I could get into.

I had no fear of collecting garbage –
so I just “grunted and groaned”
through those lectures.

Same lectures –
same response – grunt, groan.

It was Labor Day –
and I dreaded it.

First – school started again –
which meant the end of lazy summers –
and laying around.

Teenagers “lay around” a lot –

But this was before air conditioning –
and “laying around” was an art form.

There were no meetings –
in hot, stuffy buildings.

There was limited running around –
and traveling –
in cars and buses without air conditioning.

Summer was hot –
and your best goal
was to find a cool spot –
read a book,
or play cards,
or go to the beach,
or visit a pool,
or something like that.

Serious activity –
anything that required moving –
was held early in the morning –
or early in the evening.

But during the day –
you moved slowly,
dressed lightly,
and sat around.

Well –
Labor Day ended all of that.

It was back to business.

We were told over and over
that complaining about the heat
only made it hotter.

Labor Day was also
when the house was put back together.

You see – in late May –
as temperatures began to rise –
draperies were taken down –
and shipped off to dry cleaners –
who would fold, pleat, and package them
to be rehung in the Fall.

They were replaced by white cotton curtains.

Slip covers on the furniture
were removed
and also sent to dry cleaners –
replaced by white cotton slipcovers –
that could be washed from time to time.

Rugs – no matter how big –
were rolled up
and replaced by grass rugs
that had wintered in the attic.

Scott’s Rug Cleaners –
still in business on Princess Anne Rd. –
came and picked up the rugs –
cleaned them,
moth proofed them,
and stored them until fall –
when they would deliver them back –
all wrapped up
and smelling of moth balls.

Storm windows were unscrewed –
taken down –
and stored away –
replaced by screens.

Window awnings were lowered,
and repaired, if needed.

Winter clothes were packed away –
or moved to the back of closets –
or put in bags with moth balls –
and summer clothes were “brought forward.”

And all of this was reversed
on Labor Day.

It’s just what you did.

There was a rhythm to it.

It was part of the “life cycle” in the south –
before air conditioning.

Well – that’s from a time gone by.

Few of us could imagine
living through a summer
without air conditioning –

Few of us would find time and energy today –
to reset our households like that.

Our rhythms and living patterns have changed –
and I don’t know of anyone
who would want to go back to that.

I really think that air conditioning
changed our lives and culture –
even more than computers.
Daily life in the summer –
is very different from what it was –
“back in the day.”

I guess the “apply yourself” lecture
is still delivered in most households.

There’s still an excitement over school opening –
and choirs starting rehearsals –
and vestries meeting –
and Sunday School starting.

Merchants have planned
their series of sales and events
to follow “back to school.”

I guess next will be Halloween,
then Thanksgiving,
then Christmas, etc.

It’s probably all planned –
and just needs to be put in place.

It’s the rhythm of our lives.

It’s our cycles.

It tells us who we are
in our time and our space.

Yesterday –
I watched John McCain’s funeral
at the National Cathedral.

One line in Barack Obama’s eulogy
really brought me upright.

Quoting Hemmingway, he said,
“Today is only one day
in all the days that will ever be.
But what will happen
in all the other days that ever come
can depend on what you do today.”

I think I read everything Hemingway wrote.

He was very important
to my formation.

I do not remember that line.

But I think it sort of replaces
my mother’s “Apply yourself” lecture.

It speaks more clearly
to who I am today.

“Today is only one day
in all the days that will ever be.
But what will happen
in all the other days that ever come
can depend on what you do today.”

Our time is very different
than when I was a teenager –
rolling and unrolling rugs
in May and September.

For me –
“the time” is more a matter of counting days –
and making days count.

I guess that’s what happens
when we get older.

Our focus changes and grows.

I did apply myself – dear mother.

Now – this Labor Day –
I work to make my days count.

It’s different –
but it’s the same –
this Labor Day.


Posted September 5, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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