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Advent I (Luke 21:25-36) 12/2/18 Epiphany, Norfolk   Leave a comment

Well – we have arrived at another Advent Season.

Advent might be my favorite season

of the whole church year.

It isn’t too long –

just 4 weeks –

and it leads up to Christmas –

my other favorite season.

It’s colorful,

with its purple hangings.

And we have all sorts of “seasonal things”

that begin making their appearance –

the Chrisman Tree,

the Advent Wreath,

the crèche,

greens on the altar.

We change our liturgy a little –

to simplify it –

and to point to the fact

that the seasons have changed.

The 1st Sunday of Advent

also begins a new church year.

They cycle of readings,

and music,

and preaching

begins all over again –


All denominations don’t observe Advent.

We are what is known as a “Liturgical Church” –

we follow a “Liturgical Calendar” –

and it’s the Liturgical Churches

that observe Advent

and the other seasons of the year.

Well –

they’ve done some strange things

with our readings this morning –

this 1st Sunday of Advent.

They have used Jeremiah

for our first reading –

Jeremiah – the great “Prophet of Doom.”

Jeremiah always saw the glass half empty.

Everything for Jeremiah

was doom and gloom.

The only reason they put up with him

was that his prophesies always came true.

But this morning –

Jeremiah is positive.

God is going to fulfill his promise

to the House of Judah –

the Southern Kingdom.

And he foretells the birth of Jesus –

a “righteous branch”

that will “spring up” for David –

the great King David –

and the Nation of Judah

will again be great, again.

After 33 chapters of doom and gloom –

Jeremiah finally see hope.

And then we get our Gospel Reading

from the Gospel of Luke.

Now – for the New Year –

wouldn’t you think

the compilers of the Lectionary

would start with the beginning of Luke?


They go almost to the end of Luke –

to just before the Last Supper –

and use this passage of gloom and doom.

They have reversed the mood and tone

of the two writers.

Luke is telling about signs in the sky –

and distress among nations.

He tells of people fainting –

and the powers of heaven being shaken.

And he says:

“when you see these things taking place,

you will know that the Kingdom of God is near.”

And he goes on,


“Heaven and earth will pass away…

Be on guard

so that your hearts are not weighed down…

with the worries of this life,

and that day catch you unexpectedly,

like a trap.”


That is scary stuff.

What happened to my beautiful Advent,

with its special music,

and candles,

and color,

and sense of excitement

around the rebirth of Christ

in our hearts –

and the hope for peace on earth

among nations,

and among tribes,

and among families,

and among friends?

Where did it go?

Well –

it’s not here, yet.

We still have some work to do

getting our hearts and souls ready.

And Advent offers us a beautiful 4 weeks

to get ready

“to stand before the Son of Man.”

All of this Biblical and theological stuff

can get so heavy –

that we almost turn and run from it.

But I’m not sure it has to be that hard.

We believe

that Christ –

the Son of God,

or the Son of Man –

will come again

at the end of time.

That’s called the Eschaton –

“the final days.”

That’s what our readings this morning

are discussing.

The Eschaton is a theological concept

that is based on Biblical theology.

But that’s not where you and I live –

day by day.

I think we’re more concerned

with living decent, loving, God fearing lives –

day by day –

one hour at a time –

that might someday

get us to that Eschaton.

I’m concerned about today.

How do I support and uphold

my friends and the people that need me?

How do I tend to my own spiritual needs?

How do I avoid hurting people –

ignoring people –

bringing pain into peoples’ lives?

How do I make life just a little bit better

for the people around me –

and thus, for myself,

and thus, for the whole world?

That’s what Advent is all about –

for me.

And these next for weeks

are a time the church has set aside

for me to step back –

look at my own life,

look at my own heart,

look at my own relationship to God –

and see where I can make some improvement.

I think we all know

that President George H. W. Bush died Friday.

As the media has done their reporting

on his life and death –

they have played over and over

his statement –

hoping for a “kinder, gentler nation.”

I remember his saying that.

I can also remember thinking

how wonderful that would be –

what a beautiful dream.

Well – it hasn’t come to pass, yet –

that’s for sure.

But it still can.

Maybe not in my life time –

maybe not in yours –

but it can still happen – somehow.

That’s what I think Advent is all about.

It’s about trying –

trying for a kinder, gentler life,

a kinder, gentler family,

a kinder, gentler church,

and a kinder, gentler world.

We lit our first candle on our Advent Wreath

this morning.

The Advent Wreath is sort of a time clock for us.

Each week another candle gets lit –

telling us that we’re running out of time.

And Christmas Eve –

the Christ Candle gets lit –

telling us that the clock has stopped.

Preparation is over –

this Advent Season.

The living Christ is in our hearts again.

“Be alert at all times,

praying that you may have the strength

to escape all these things that will take place,

and to stand before the “Son of Man.”


Posted December 4, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Blessing of Pets 10/7/18 Epiphany, Norfolk


In this month’s parish newsletter,

   I mentioned that this year’s

      Blessing of the Pets –

         would have a sad overtone –

            since we had recently experienced the death

               of several well known pets

                  in our parish family.


I think I got more response

   to that article –

      then any of the many that I’ve written.


And I found that other folks

   had been thinking the same thing.


The death of a pet –

   is taken very seriously in this parish community.


No one had ever dare say something like,

   “It was only a dog”

      or “It was just a cat.”


Be advised –

   that is about as politically incorrect around here –

      as one can get.


And you might really find yourself

   “on the outs”

      if you don’t get excited about a new pet

         in the parish family –

   and take appropriate notice

      of the death of a beloved pet.


It’s just who we are in this place.


As most of you know –

   my pets are very dear to me.


I have a strange habit

   of adopting old –

      and sometimes unhealthy pets –

   from the local pounds and shelters.


I seem to be drawn

   to the animals

      that I think no one else is going to want.


And I know from the day I take them home –

   that my time with them

      is going to be relatively short –

         perhaps a few years –

            if I’m lucky.


And because I know that from the start –

   it allows me to make a special effort

      to give them

         a little extra care,

            and love,

            and attention –

   that I perhaps would not give –

      if I knew that I would have

         18ish years with them.


And I think they know this.


I think they know

   that they’ve been “saved from the gallows” –

      and I think they give me

         that little extra care,

            and love,

            and attention,

               in return.



Right now –

   I have two cats and two dogs.


The cats are cats –

   one a loving lap cat –

      the other a temperamental diva.


One of the dogs

   is a high spirited Westie –

      that I sort of inherited.


He loves to chase any wildlife

   that comes into my yard –

      especially a raccoon

         that might be twice his size.


He’s fearless –

   and spends a significant portion of his life –

      in the bathtub –

         getting black swamp mud washed off him –

            from chasing some animal.


He goes to the office

   a few times a week.


He is just very cute.


The other is Frisky.


I’ve always liked big dogs –

   really, really big dogs.


And after my two very old labs died –

   I started regular visits to the SPCAs

      and the Animal Cares Center –

         commonly referred to as “the pound.”



I was looking for

   another big old dog, or two.


And way down in the very last cage

   of “the pound” –

      was a little old Rat Terrier –

         sort of like a Jack Russell.


He was really old,

   and not very responsive.


I noticed that he had been there

   for 4 months –

      and I figured his days were numbered.


But he wasn’t what I was looking for.


About every 3 days

   I paid “the pound” a visit.


One day it dawned on me –

   that I was going to visit

      the old Rat Terrier first –

   and then going to look for “my new dog.”


Another day it dawned on me –

   that the Rat Terrier –

      “Frisky” had found me.


I took him to “the get to know you room.”


He didn’t bite –

   or growl,

      or exhibit any bad behavior –

         so I took him home.


I did not know

   that he was totally deaf.

I also did not know –

   that he could barely see –

      until we got home –

   and I watched him run into things,

     and fall down steps.


I took him to the vet

   to have him checked out.


He had things wrong with him

   that I’d never heard of –

      resulting in a slew of nice expensive pills –

         every day.


Frisky lives on.


I’ve had him about 3 years.


He can’t get up and down the steps any more –

   so he has to be carried –

      and I have a lot of steps.


He sleeps on my bed –

   so he won’t get into trouble

      during the night.


He wakes me up in the middle of the night

   by licking my face –

      to let me know that he has to go outside.


I put on some clothes –

   carry him down the 17 steps to the 1st floor –

      then outside –

         and down 5 more steps to the ground.


He does his business –

   and we reverse the whole thing –

      and crawl back into the nice warm bed.


About a month ago –

   I had a serious conversation with Frisky –

      a totally deaf dog

         that may not even know what I look like.


I told Frisky –

   that I wasn’t sure

      I could keep carrying him

         up and down the steps –

   and outside –

      in the middle of the night –

   especially with winter coming.


I told him about some options

   that I’d been considering –

      the best of which

         was back to the pound.


Thank God Frisky

   could not hear a word I was saying.


When I got back in bed –

   with him curled up next to me –

      I knew I never could do any of those things.


I had adopted him.


Nobody forced him on me.


He is my responsibility –

   and I will do everything in my power

      to give him the best life possible –

         for as long as I can –

            or as long as he lives.



That’s just the way it is –

   and just the way it’s going to be.


And I wouldn’t want anything else

   for Frisky –

      or for me.


That’s what I think this is all about.


And in its own strange way –

   it’s a truly wonderful blessing –

      human and pet –

   bonded to care for each other –

      with all the love and affection

         that we can muster.



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

Baptism of Chelsea Melchiorre Sep 23, 2018

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

Blessing of the Pets October 7


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

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

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

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.

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.


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

John 6:1-21 7/29/18 Epiphany, Norfolk

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.


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.




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

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