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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

Pentecost 5/20/18 Epiphany, Norfolk   Leave a comment

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”

IMG_7380

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

John 3:14-21 & Numbers 21:4-9 3/11/18 Epiphany, Norfolk

Well, we have several things going on this morning. First, it’s the dreaded beginning of Daylight Savings Time. We lost an hour of sleep last night, and now our inner clocks are all out of whack, and our 8:00 service is almost in the dark, and we won’t know when to be hungry, and we have to figure out how to reset out digital clocks, especially the ones in our cars. It’s just a rough day.

Secondly, we get these strange readings, dealing with snakes and all kinds of weird things. Where in the world did they come from?

Our readings this morning are part of the recent revision of our lectionary. As I’ve mentioned, we have a 3 year cycle to our lectionary, which is the schedule of readings we use. They repeat every 3 years. But a few years ago, a revision to it was approved, and it became known as the “Revised Common Lectionary.” If you look at your lesson sheet, in the upper left hand corner of the 1st page just under the purple banner, you’ll see the letters, RCL. That means: Revised Common Lectionary, and the readings are sometimes dramatically different from that to which we have been accustomed.

And today is a great example of that. In our old Lectionary, we would be reading about “The Feeding of the 5,000”, now referred to as: “The Feeding of the Multitude.” It used to appear several times in our Lectionary cycle, and I guess they decided to get rid of one repeat and replace it with our readings this morning. All of our other readings are also different.

So, now our 1st Reading is from the Book of Numbers, and it’s part of the story of Moses leading the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt. It’s a strange story. The Hebrews are tramping along on their 40 year trek in the wilderness. And they are again grumbling against God and Moses because they are short on water and don’t like the food.

This is not the first time they have complained about that. A few chapters back they were fussing about not having water, and Moses struck a rock with his staff, and water gushed out. And if you go back 10 Chapters, they were fussing about food, and God sent them manna. And now they are tired of the manna, and fussing again. And God doesn’t like it, and God sends poisonous snakes to bite them and kill them.

You’ve heard me say before that one of our Presiding Bishop’s themes is that if it’s from God it is love. I would love to hear what he’s preaching this morning. The Hebrews knew God to be pretty temperamental. God could get angry, and God could do hurtful things. We touched on that last Thursday at out Fireside Chat. Well – here is an example. God doesn’t destroy everything, but God can sure “put a bite’ on you.” (Just checking to make sure you’re awake.)

So, Moses sees his people falling over dead from snake bites that God released on them, and he prays to God to stop. And God tells Moses to fashion a snake of bronze, put it on a pole, and tell the people to look at the pole when they get bitten, and they will live.

Serpents are just a very big part of the Hebrew Lore. If you were at Virginia Van Horn’s Lenten Program a couple of years ago, you heard that Michelangelo’s depiction of Creation in the Sistine Chapel has the serpent in the Garden of Eden painted clearly as a woman. And – an element of Hebrew lore says that the serpent was Adam’s first wife. And then you get your snake worshipping cults, and all sorts of serpent stuff in almost every culture and religion. We all know Medusa, the evil Greek Goddess with snakes for hair. If you look directly at Medusa, you die. So one has to look at her in a mirror, or some form of reflection.

But then John, in his Gospel, picks up this theme. And typical of John, he makes a big complicated thing out of it. Today’s reading begins with: “JESUS SAID: (he’s putting it in the mouth of Jesus)’Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up’.” Moses put the bronze serpent on a pole to heal those who looked upon it when they were bitten by the serpents, bitten by evil.

John has Jesus being put on a cross – a modified pole – and those who look on him will be healed. In fact, they will not just live, but they will have eternal life. And here’s where we get the idea of God giving his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him, will not die, but have eternal life. I really think John is talking about “crossing over” into the Greek parallel universe of the Gods, the immortals. It seems really clear to me, but I’ve never found a Biblical scholar who would support me in that. So, you don’t really need to pay any attention to it, I guess. But it still makes sense.

Well, then John goes back and picks up his old theme of the tension between light and darkness. And John spins that theme again, with evil people living in the dark, and good, believing people “COMING TO” the light. The idea is that by nature, we all exist in the dark, but have to consciously “come out” to “the light.”

Well, if you are thoroughly confused and found new concentration in your shopping list, don’t feel badly. This is hard material. I’m sure many a homilist gave up last night and decided to preach on “40 Days of Lent”, or something like that. But, it’s also challenging to work with these more obscure passages and see what’s behind them, what’s going on, what they are talking about.

Julia and I were so excited at the Lenten program 2 weeks ago when YOU got into some really deep theology, and YOU went a half hour over time. Bible and theology can be really exciting, especially if you don’t try to agree on everything, but explore different ideas.

Well, I don’t have a bronze serpent for you. But, so you remember this homily, I offer you this. If it heals you, please don’t tell me.

(If you are reading this by email, I am mounting an articulated wooden snake on a pole in the pulpit).

Amen.

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

Shrove Tuesday/Pancake supper February 13, 2018

Posted March 7, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

2 Kings 2:1-12 2/11/18 Epiphany, Norfolk

There is a certain injustice to life with which we just have to live, sometimes. I stood up her last week and boldly declared that I had escaped preaching on the Transfiguration, having preached for two weeks on demons. Julia was stuck with the Transfiguration, as described in our Gospel passage this morning. What I didn’t take into consideration was that Julia just might get sick. And that’s exactly what she did. Well guess what! I’m still not going to preach on it. You’ll just have to come back in a year, because the Transfiguration is always our theme on the Sunday before Lent. So maybe next year someone we’ll deal with the Transfiguration, but I’ve done my duty with those two weeks of demons.

So, we’re going to talk about our First Reading from 2 Kings – the death of Elijah, and his ascending into heaven in a whirlwind. It beats demons, and it certainly beats the Transfiguration. And it’s also full of that wonderful imagery of “Chariots of Fire”, which some years ago became the title of a really popular movie and the popular theme song of the movie, “Chariots of Fire.”

Let’s start be getting Elijah and Elisha sorted out. It’s really easy. Remember them alphabetically by their names. Elijah comes before Elisha, alphabetically and chronologically

Elijah was a real person, a great prophet from the Northern Kingdom of Israel, in the 9th Century, BC. He gained great notoriety because he waged a battle against Jezebel, and won. She was the high priestess of Baal. Baal was the nickname for the God Hadad, the Canaanite God of fertility. And under Jezebel’s priesthood, the “order of Baal” had become really popular all through the Hebrew kingdom. And of course, this was in direct conflict with the Hebrew idea of one God. All of the prophets and priests of the time had tried to put the worship of Baal out of business. And they failed. Jezebel was just too powerful, and too popular. But Elijah had been able to do it. He fought Jezebel, won, and Baal was discredited and soon out of favor. It was assumed that Elijah’s faith in God was so strong that he was able to fight off and defeat this powerful, foreign, and wicked God, Hadad, with his awful priestess, Jezebel. Elijah was a hero throughout the land.

A huge amount of lore developed around Elijah. They said he performed all sorts of miracles, brought dead people back to life, predicted droughts, transported himself around by levitation, brought fire and armies out of the sky; thus, the “Chariots of Fire.” In addition, he denounced King Ahab for allowing foreign Gods to be worshipped in the land. And finally, he became head of the “prophetic guild”, which was sort of a “union” or “society” of prophets. The guild became known as “Sons of the Prophets”, and became a very powerful organization in the temple and the government, under Elijah’s leadership. And in the end, in our reading this morning, Elijah died and ascended straight to heaven in a whirlwind. So, Elijah was very special.

It’s interesting that when Jesus and John the Baptist began their ministries 800 years later, the first thing people asked both of them was, “Are you Elijah?” The people were looking for the return of Elijah, 800 years after his death. The idea was that the return of Elijah had to precede the coming of the Messiah. And that’s one reason the Jews don’t accept Jesus as the Messiah, even today. Elijah did not return, first.

But then, in our story of the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John recognize Elijah and Moses as the people talking to Jesus. How in the world would they know that? That Transfiguration just doesn’t make sense.

Well, let’s look at Elisha. He, also, was a real person. He was the son of a peasant, but apparently had some money, because he threw a banquet. You didn’t do that if you were poor. Elijah finds Elisha plowing a field, and calls him in the same way that Jesus later calls up his apostles.

God orders Elijah to ordain Elisha as his successor, and he “casts his mantel”, “mantel” meaning a “cloak”. He puts it on Elisha, and Elijah’s power is transferred to Elisha. Now, an interesting little item here – at the transfer, we find out that the “mantel” or cloak was woven out of hair. It was a “hair mantel”, and Elijah’s power was in the hair of the cloak. This is some of the old oriental mysticism that got picked up in Israel and Judah because the trade routes ran through the land. And the traders from all over the known world would gather around campfires with the Hebrews and share their lore. This “power of the hair” is oriental, and it appears again in the story of Sampson, whose great power rested in his hair. When his hair was cut off, Sampson lost his power. Anyway, Elisha promises to follow Elijah, and serves him faithfully until Elijah is taken up in the whirlwind in today’s reading.

It’s interesting that the last miracle that Elijah performed was parting the water of the Jordan River. AND, the first miracle that Elisha performed was parting the water of the Jordan River. That was seen as proof that the power had been successfully transferred. And both of these events are seen as linking back to Moses’ parting of the Reed Sea.

Well, Elisha also became head of the Prophetic Guild, and like Elijah, all sorts of magical and supernatural powers were credited to him. But the thing for which he was most noted was the idea that the Kingdom of Israel existed to fulfill God’s will. That was its only reason for existing, and of course, to know God’s will one had to listen to the prophets, of which he was the head. But if you did that, God would be happy.

Well, in today’s passage, Elijah has been told by God that his life and ministry is finished. He is going to die. His successor is picked, and now he just needs to follow through. He calls Elisha, and they set out on a journey together. Three times Elijah tests Elisha by telling him to stay behind. But Elisha stays faithful and does not leave his master.

The whirlwind is a popular OT theme. God hides in the whirlwind. Any wind blowing meant that God was nearby. And when it was time, the Chariots of Fire came down and separated them, and the whirlwind took Elijah up.

By the way, when Elisha dies about 50 years later, Joash, Elisha’s disciple, also sees the “Chariots of Fire.”

In Jewish lore, there is a huge amount of tradition around Elijah.

He is referred to, even today, as “The Angel of the Covenant”, and a “Chair for Elijah” is always present at a circumcision. At Passover, every door has to be left ajar in case Elijah returns and wants to enter. And last of all, the barking of dogs at night is supposed to mean that Elijah’s spirit is moving around.

I’m always fussing at Max, my Westie, for barking at raccoons all night. I’d better be careful. Maybe it’s not raccoons. It just might be Elijah’s spirit.

Amen.

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

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