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Ephesians 4:25-5:2 Epiphany, Norfolk 8/12/18   Leave a comment

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 Epiphany, Norf. 8/12/18

In case you haven’t figured it out –
Julia Ashby and I
really enjoy working together.

We’re both mature enough –
with enough experience under our belts –
that we’re not threatened by each other.

We’re both classically educated –
and comfortable in our own skin.

We also both have
somewhat twisted sense of humors.

We laugh a lot
when we’re working.

Well –
as we were planning our preaching schedule –
Julia checked the reading for the coming weeks.

I was in the Parish Hall –
and I heard her let out a “Ye Ha.”

I went to the office to see what was so exciting –
and she was waving today’s lesson sheet.

You have to preach on this one.

I’ve got to hear what you say about:
“and do not make room for the devil.”

Now that becomes sort of a dare.

I couldn’t turn THAT down.

And then yesterday –
she taunted me
by sending me by email –
a “Baptist Word Study” on Satan –
from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
in Fort Worth, Texas.

God knows where she found that –
but more on that in a minute.

But first –
a word about our reading for this morning –
from the Epistle to the Ephesians.

This whole reading
presents a little litany
of unattractive behavior –
and how we should avoid these pitfalls
that get us into trouble.

They all make wonderful sense.

I should read them every morning when I get up –
and every night when I go to bed.

It’s a wonderful passage.

In fact
when they revised the lectionary
the first 5 verses of this morning’s reading –
were added to the lectionary.

Julia’s reference to the devil
wasn’t included as part of the reading –
until about 10 years ago.

But it is there now –
and I kind of like it.

I have to admit
that I don’t spend a lot of time
thinking about the devil.

That’s not to say
that I don’t take the devil seriously.

I’ve bumped into him too many times –
to dismiss him.

I used to blame lots of stuff
on the devil.

“The Devil made me do it.”

And sometimes I kind of felt that way –
especially when I wasn’t very happy
with my own behavior.

I could NOT have done THAT on my own.

I had to have help – the Devil.

Well, from where does all of this come?

Theologically –
our creation is made up of opposites.

So – if we’re going to have a personification of “good” –
we also need a personification of “not good” –
and that seems to have been laid
at the feet (or hooves) of Satan –
the devil.

Well,
most of us know a romanticized Satan
from Milton’s “Paradise Lost” –
or The Book of Job – from the Bible –
or the play “JB” that is a staging
of the Biblical Book of Job.

Satan is not a very nice guy.

He’s a fallen angel –
that got kicked out of heaven –
which should properly be translated as “the Garden” –
and now wanders the earth –
causing all sorts of mischief.

Well – what is it
that the Baptists say about him?

If I’m reading the article correctly –
Satan is not the archenemy of God –
but the heavenly “prosecuting attorney” –
“The Executioner” –
God’s executioner.

Good grief.

That doesn’t fit my theology very well.

If I had to come up
with my own theology of Satan –
I would fall back on “the tempter.”

I run into “The Tempter” from time to time –
and he can really get me into trouble.

“I know you don’t need a new car –
but just look again at that Jaguar.
“Smell the leather.
“Touch the wood.
“Listen to that engine.
“Picture yourself sitting behind the wheel –
driving up to a Clergy Conference –
with your nose held so high.”

Oh – I know The Tempter.

There is a wonderful little reading
in the service of Compline –
which we sometimes use around here –
like after a Lenten Program.

It actually is a short passage
from the First Epistle of Peter.

Compline is one of the old monastic services –
read by monks before going to bed, –
and this little passage
is a perfect “Going to Bed Reading.”

“Be sober, be watchful.
Your adversary the devil prowls around
like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Resist him, firm in your faith.”

I’ve always liked that.

It’s not necessarily material
for sweet dreams –
but it speaks to our vulnerability –
even in our sleep.

And I like that idea of “the prowling evil.”

Ephesians links the devil to anger.

And it never says not to be angry.

In fact, it says the opposite.

It says:
“Be angry but do not sin;
do not let the sun go down on your anger,
and do not make room for the devil.”

Now that’s an interesting idea.

Go ahead and be angry if you have to.

But don’t go to bed angry –
or you can make room for the devil.

Again – the idea of Satan prowling around at night –
and finding us in our sleep with anger.

Unresolved anger
becomes the portal for Satan to enter.

And then –
later in our passage –
we get another great little passage.

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
with which you are marked with a seal
for the day of redemption.”

At Baptism
we mark the person with a sign of the cross
on the forehead –
and claim that person
as “Christ’s own for ever.”

“You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism
and marked as Christ’s own
for ever. Amen.”

We have snatched the person
from the hands of Satan.

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
with which you are marked with a seal
for the day of redemption.”

Well – Julia –
that’s the best I can do.

It’s been years and years
since I’ve talked about Satan.

As a footnote –
when I went home from dinner last night
to write this homily –
I had no electricity –
from the storm –
and thus,
no computer.

The silly thought ran through my head –
“the devil prowls tonight.”

I decided to take the dogs
and go to the NUOM office
to write my homily –
where I knew I had power.

But the dogs were spooked.

Max kept hearing things –
and whimpering –
and trying to get in my lap.

And then I started hearing things –
and I got spooked.

I printed out my homily –
put the dogs in the car –
and headed home –
to a night of prayer and penance.

There would be no grieving of the Holy Spirit –
last night.

Amen.

Posted August 14, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

John 6:1-21 7/29/18 Epiphany, Norfolk   Leave a comment

When they “redid” our Lectionary some years ago, they tried to establish themes for each Sunday, and then select readings around those themes. Cramner had done this, to a great degree, in his Lectionary of 1559. But in that Lectionary, all of the readings repeated every year. And that carried through until our present 1979 Prayer Book. With the 1979 Prayer Book, they changed to a 3 year cycle, where readings repeated every 3 years. Well, after a few decades of using the 1979 Lectionary, it became pretty clear that the weekly themes needed to be “refocused”, and today’s readings are a good example of that effort.

We seem to have two general themes this morning. One is the theme of feeding, and one is the theme of God providing for God’s chosen people. In our Old Testament Reading from, 2nd Kings, Elisha the Prophet is given an offering of food that he directs be given to the people who are starving. And we get an Old Testament version of the “Feeding of the 5,000”, which is now usually called “The Feeding of the Multitude.”

This is not just a coincidence. All of the Gospel Writers were trying to link Jesus to the prophets, and picking up this well known Old Testament story from 2nd Kings, would have done just that. And, since Elisha had replicated so many of Moses’ acts, it even links to Moses and the Exodus, when God fed the Israelites Manna. There is this constant theme of “feeding” throughout the whole Bible.

And we need to remember that the Holy Land is a really harsh land. It doesn’t produce food easily, and until recently with modern irrigation and Kibbutz farming, the land could not sustain very many people. Hunger, and sometimes famine, were the norm in that land. Hunger and famine are major elements in the history of the Jewish people. And in Jesus’ time, it was even worse because the Roman Army was eating almost all the food that the land could produce. The people really were starving, and all of the Gospel writers try to show Jesus as having compassion for the starving masses.

Well, the theme carried through to our Psalm: “…you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature.”

Our 2nd Reading from Ephesians, focuses a little more on “spiritual feeding”: “I pray that according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit.”

And then, of course, our Gospel passage from John, “The Feeding of the Multitudes.” Now, this is John’s version, and John was writing late – about 120 ad – and probably up around what is now Turkey. The writer of John is taking his material from the earlier Gospels, and reapplying it in his own Gospel, again, trying to write theology – not history. And he ties it to the story of Jesus walking on water – coming across the water to tend to his disciples, who are caught in a storm. John tells it much more simply than the other Gospel writers. We don’t have Peter trying to join him on the water, and although they are terrified, we don’t get them thinking he’s a ghost. But the writer puts it here to show Jesus caring for his friends, getting them from the storm to the shore and safety.

Well, “the feeding theme” carries right on down to us today. Through history, the Christian Church has seen part of its ministry to be a “feeding ministry.” Medieval monasteries grew food and distributed it, and promised travelers a meal. Modern churches have food pantries, or give out food vouchers. There are soup kitchens and feeding programs provided by churches in every city. Many churches feed after their services. There are many traditions around “feeding.”

And in a strange way, it comes down to us in the Eucharist, as well. And that picks up the theme from Ephesians – that we also need to be fed spiritually. That little bit of bread, and that little bit of wine that we get at communion, isn’t going to keep a person alive if he is physically starving, but it can offer tremendous spiritual sustenance. And sometimes we’re well fed physically, but starving spiritually.

I’ve been very blessed in my life in that I’ve never gone to bed hungry because there was no food. But, there have been times when I’ve gone to bed spiritually hungry, and that is a painful experience. And somehow, I’ve found that little piece of bread, and that little dip of wine can satisfy that hunger. It’s a mystery. I can’t explain how it works. But on a couple of occasions in my life, I’ve thought, “If I can just get to communion, it will be all right” – and it has been. Somehow, communion can clear my head, help me focus, help me make sense out of what’s happening, help me get in touch with God. Spiritual hunger has to be fed, just like physical hunger. And the church tries to meet that need.

When Jesus looked up and saw the crowd coming to him, my guess is that he saw a crowd that was spiritually hungry, as well as physically hungry. And with his few loaves and fishes, he was able to feed the spiritually hunger, and, we are told, mysteriously, the physical hunger. That was Eucharist.

There’s not much I miss from the old Prayer Book, but I do miss what were called “The Words of Invitation”: “Come unto me all ye that travail and are heavy laden and I will refresh you.” It is Matthew 11:28, and can still be found in Rite I on page 332. I think of those words, often. Sometimes we are in travail, and sometimes we are heavy laden, and for me in those moments, I’m one of the 5,000 and I need to be fed. And it is Eucharist that feeds me.

I’m always having people tell me that they can worship God just fine somewhere else. I want to say, “That’s good. But the day will come, when you get older and spiritually tired, that you will hunger for the church. You will crave spiritual food. And you will find it at church.”

That’s our mission. That’s our ministry.

Amen.

Posted August 1, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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.

Amen.

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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.

Amen

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.”

 Amen.

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

Pentecost 5/20/18 Epiphany, Norfolk

This morning we celebrate “The Day of Pentecost.” If you are new to our liturgical calendar, Pentecost is 50 days after Easter. It celebrates the events described in our 2nd reading this morning. The writer of Acts, who was also the writer of the Gospel of Luke, tries to describe this mysterious event with its violent wind, and tongues of fire, and people speaking in tongues and becoming empowered to go out into the world and spread the love of Christ.

Before Jesus ascended into heaven on the Feast of the Ascension, 40 days after Easter, he promised his followers that they would not be left alone. He, through the Father, would send them an advocate,
a sustainer, the spirit of truth, a holy wind, a Holy Spirit to support them and send them out. The Day of Pentecost is seen as the fulfillment of that promise. The Day of Pentecost is now celebrated as one of the 3 most important feasts of the church, along with Christmas and Easter.

Episcopalians didn’t celebrate Pentecost until 1979 when the present Prayer Book was published. I was an active priest at that time, and we really didn’t know what to do with it. So, a whole bunch of practices were introduced. Some stuck. Some did not. We tried releasing red helium balloons, but it was discovered that when they lost their helium and lift, they fell back to earth and birds were attracted to the color red and ate the balloons and died. That practice went by the way, quickly.

We tried wearing red, representing the tongues of fire that appeared among the disciples and rested on their heads. “Wear Red” stuck and has been very popular.

Some places celebrated with a birthday cake for the institutional church, observing the empowerment of the disciples, and their going out into the world. Many parishes still do that. There will be a lot of cakes this morning.

And then there is a whole bunch of local customs that have developed from congregation to congregation. We chant the hymn, “Veni Creator Spiritus” as our processional hymn. Not all places do that. It’s just a custom that’s developed here at Epiphany. And other places have their unique ways of celebrating. But in the almost 40 years that we have been celebrating the Day of Pentecost, it has taken on increased importance throughout the church.

I should mention that the Jews have always celebrated their Pentecost 50 days after the Passover. So this is another example of traditions borrowing from each other, and weaving themselves together.

Well, as we celebrate the Day of Pentecost, I hope you had an opportunity to watch the Royal Wedding yesterday, and especially Bishop Curry’s sermon. This is the only time in history that I’ve heard sound bites of a sermon played over and over by the media. The man can preach!

I thought it was a great sermon, but I was especiallyinterested in some of the responses of commentators. One commentator said thatshe was appalled that the bishop made the Queen uncomfortable in her ownchapel. My thought was, “If it made the Queen uncomfortable, then it must haveneeded saying.” The Queen did grimace and “adjust herself” during the sermon, andthe cameras caught her. But I think it was the hard pew that was making her uncomfortable,and not the bishop. She’s 92 years old, and they need to get her a cushion soshe can enjoy her chapel.

The commentators kept saying that Bishop Curry was from Chicago. He was born in Chicago, but grew up in Buffalo, and was Bishop of North Carolina before being elected Presiding Bishop. Right now, as Presiding Bishop, he’s really “at large.”

Some of what he said he said at our Fall Clergy Conference this past November, with a different twist. He has a gift for “staying on script” and adjusting the script to fit the occasion. But he’s very good at it. I really think he won over the English. One commentator said that he had attended many, many weddings, with “dusty old wedding sermons”, and Bishop Curry was very refreshing.

If you weren’t able to watch the wedding, try to catch a replay of the sermon. It lasts eleven minutes, and it’s all over the internet. It’s worth giving eleven minutes.

One of the things that he said that I really liked, and this is a paraphrase, was, “Our job is to take sin and “me” out of the center of the world and put love and Jesus into the center of the world.” I’d heard him say that sort of thing before, and I really like it.

And he talked about what a different world it would be if we could just love and respect each other. You can’t argue with that. It would be a different world. I can’t even imagine. But that’s what the Day of Pentecost is all about, empowering us to do exactly what Bishop Curry was pleading.

Some of you will remember Mary Anne Wilson who was avery active member of Epiphany until she and her husband moved to Tennessee. Shewas on Face Book last night and wrote the following: “A fresh breeze fromheaven is fanning the fires of love. Pentecost is at hand.”

Ooooh I like that. It’s interesting that Bishop Curryalso talked about fire. I guess that part will be his Pentecost sermon thismorning. But he linked the two together; fire and love. That’s what Pentecostis all about.

You know, it all sounds so good. And maybe it did makea few British aristocrats uncomfortable, yesterday. But if just a few of us, likeyou and me, could catch the passion for what he’s talking about, at least inour little corner of this world, things could begin to change. The world is nota very happy place, right now. We’re not a very happy nation, right now. But itdoesn’t have to be that way. Things need to change. And change usually happensslowly.

Maybe we can each feel those flames, and hear thatrushing wind, and adjust our own scripts to work on one or two little efforts thatremove sin, and remove “me” out of the center of the world, and bring love andJesus into the center of the world, and into the center of our lives.

Amen.

Posted May 23, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Rogation Day 5/5/18 Epiphany, Norfolk

One of the neat things about the Christian Church in America is that it is a melting pot of religious traditions from all over the world. The Lutherans trace their traditions back to Martin Luther and the German and Scandinavian lore, including the Vikings and the Visigoths. The Roman Catholics trace their traditions back to what is now Italy, and the early Christians mixing their Christianity with their Pagan gods and traditions. The Greeks and Orthodox Church blend their early Christianity with their ancient gods and traditions. The Presbyterians come to us from the Protestant Reformation, and its turning away from what were considered “Romish excesses.” They were looking for a more austere expression of their faith. The Baptists, Moravians, and Pentecostals, and a whole collection of other denominations in America, trace their roots to what is now being called “the Radical Reformation.” They took the elements of the Reformation and carried them a step further, in whatever direction felt right to their membership.

And then we get our own Anglican Church. It draws its roots from the early Christians who settled in the British Isles and Gaul, which is now western France. Tradition says that Joseph of Arimathea, after taking Jesus body for burial, fled the Holy Land, and with some early Christian followers, fled to Gaul and the British Isles. That is debatable, but popular Anglican lore.

Whatever – early Christians landed in Gaul and the British Isles fairly soon after Christ’s death. They found four significant pagan cults. The largest of these were the Druids. And in an effort to assimilate, the early Christians adopted and adapted many of the Celtic practices and rites into their early Christian traditions. And this became the roots of what we now call “Our Anglican Heritage.”

And one of those old Celtic rites was “Rogation.” Before the spring fields were planted the people with a priest (Pagan or Christian), would process around the boundaries of the towns and fields with banners, and incense, and sometimes a singing choir. And they would beat the land with sticks to chase out the demons that might infest the fields and give them a bad harvest. Then there would then be a big bonfire, at which time the sticks would be burned – hopefully burning the demons, as well, and there would follow a feast. Then the fields would be planted. The early Christians didn’t want to mess with something like this. If there was a bad harvest, they would be blamed. So they adopted it.

Later, the Romans invaded the land. They, too, adopted it and took it back to Rome as the Feast of Robigalia. Rome added the sacrifice of a dog. Thank heavens the Anglicans didn’t do that. I’d have to turn in my keys if we did any such thing.

Well, Rogation has continued as part of our heritage, our tradition, although with decreasing attention. I just hate to see us lose some of this old heritage. I don’t believe in demons and all that stuff, but I like the historical, cultural, and theological connection to our heritage.

The Book of Occasional Services, which is an authorized supplement to the Prayer Book, provides for celebrating Rogation. I stick pretty closely to what they prescribe. But like most things in the church, Rogation has taken on additional meaning. In our Church Calendar, Rogation is linked to the Ascension. The Ascension is when we celebrate Christ’s Ascending to Heaven with no more Resurrection Appearances. The Ascension is always 40 days after Easter. Remember that 40 is the mystical number for “purification.” We get 40 days of Lent, 40 years in the wilderness, etc. So the Ascension happens 40 days after Easter, bracketing the 40 days of Lent before Easter. This Thursday will be Ascension Day.

Now, the Sunday before the Ascension is always Rogation Sunday, the 6th Sunday of Easter. And the three days following Rogation Sunday are Rogation Days. So, if you have a lot of fields to cleanse, you have four days to do it. And of course, Rogation in the spring brackets Thanksgiving in the fall. One prepares the fields for planting. The other celebrates a successful harvest.

Riding back in the car from Clergy Day, Julia mentioned that she has always liked celebrating Rogation. She said that for her, it closes out winter and refocuses us to planting, and new life, and a new season.

I think she’s exactly right. We need those seasonal rhythms and cycles in our lives. They sort of tell us where we are in space and time. And as we become less and less linked to the land, we can forget that there are seasons and times into which we were created and need to fit ourselves. Our lives are becoming more and more of an “a seasonal continuum” that just flows along. We have heat when it’s cold. We have A/C when it’s hot. We can easily get strawberries in the middle of winter. With very little effort, we can live a life very unaffected by what is going on in nature. But as that happens, we lose our “sense of place” in the seasons and cycles of life.

So I appreciate it when the church helps us “reconnect” and find our place in the rhythms of life, especially when it carries us back to another time, another place, another people, where we find our roots. The church is really good at doing that.

And so today we celebrate Rogation Day. We will bless our churchyard, and plant some grass seed, and have a cookout, sort of like our Celtic ancestors did centuries ago, in another place, and another time. That’s just who we are, and from where our roots come.

Amen.

Posted May 8, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Fr. Richard with his “peepsicle”

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Posted April 10, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Easter 4/1/18 Epiphany, Norfolk

Alleluia, the Lord is Risen,

the Lord is Risen, indeed, Alleluia –

and Lent and Holy Week ARE OVER.

It’s been a long Lent, this year. Maybe it had to with our crazy weather, or maybe it came too fast on Epiphany, but Lent seemed endless to me this year. Holy Week always feels much longer than a week. And this year was no different. It’s probably all the planning, and extra services, and extra bulletins, and wondering if anyone is going to come, and, yes – the weather. And like this year, we often have a funeral right in the middle of the whole thing.

But today is Easter. Today we celebrate the Risen Lord. And even if we don’t understand it, we KNOW it’s a day of celebration, and it’s Spring, and flowers are blooming, and weather is warming up, and days are longer. It’s Easter Day. It’s my favorite day of the whole year.

Last night at dinner, sitting at Piccadilly Cafeteria munching on some very dry roast beef that I’m not sure ever saw life, I started putting this homily together in the back of my mind. And I got thinking about all of the secular Easter symbols that are so much a part of our tradition. There’s the Easter Bunny, Easter eggs, baby chicks, lilies, and all the other flowers, and even Peeps – those silly little marshmallow chicks – and now also bunnies, that today come in a variety of colors, and a variety of configurations. I really like Peeps, except the ones that turn my tongue blue. They need to fix that. And for me, a stream of wonderful memories of Easters past flowed through my head as I worked on that hopeless roast beef.

And then I remembered that most of those symbols celebrate “new life.” The eggs, the chicks, the flowers, even the bunny. Some of those symbols celebrate the end of Lent, the end of penance, the end of restraint, the end of self examination, the end of abstinence, although I suspect there wasn’t a huge amount of abstinence in this place. We don’t seem to be very big on that.

But that’s all put away, now. It’s Easter. We sing our Alleluias again. We baptize and marry again. We have flowers in church again. Our music is happy and exciting again. We celebrate new life, new energy, a new understanding that God really loves this world, and that God really loves us, and that God will do awesome things to exercise and demonstrate that love.

I cannot begin to explain the Easter event, the empty tomb, the man in white, the resurrection. I will never understand why God does things the way God does them. God always seems too messy. I mean, come on God, send us a Twitter, or something, and let us know what you’re doing. You always have to create so much confusion. Our little human minds just have a very hard time figuring it all out.

But maybe we over complicate it. Maybe what God did was really very simple. Maybe when they killed Jesus, God just said, “Oh No. You’re not getting away with this. I’m going to do what you can’t do. I’m going to bring him back to life – ‘new life’. I will not let you destroy love. I am going to make sure that good wins, in the end.”

Maybe it’s that simple. God might be sitting around thinking, “Why don’t they get it? Good has to win. I made it to be good, and good it is going to be.”

It’s Easter.

The Lord is Risen.

The Lord is Risen, indeed.

Posted April 3, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Annual Council 2018, Williamsburg, VA

Posted March 14, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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