Archive for the ‘Epiphany Moments’ Category

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

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

Tucker House Christmas Party 2017   Leave a comment

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

John 1:43-51 1/13/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

This morning’s gospel passage  is the fairly well known story of Jesus “calling up” Philip,  who in turn,  “calls up” Nathaniel.  The picture on our bulletin is interesting  in that it shows Jesus in the background,  and Philip telling Nathaniel to “come along”,  while he’s sitting under the fig tree.  It’s a neat story,  and the picture is an interesting graphic presentation.

I have preached on these “calling up” stories  for over 50 years.  And I have given every conceivable explanation for them  that anyone could possible dream up.  Jesus hypnotized the disciples  and they dropped everything and followed him.  Jesus had some sort of magical power that made them follow him.  They already knew him,  and when the time was right,  they joined him.  They were bored  and looking for some excitement,  so they followed this strange person  in hopes that something interesting  would happen in their sleepy lives. I have suggested  almost every explanation  of which one could conceive.  But I’ve been wrong,  and Julia helped me see “the light”,  yesterday.

During the reception  after Clint Turner’s funeral,  I mentioned to Julia  that I had to go home and come up with something  for a homily this morning.  And I groaned  that I never knew what to say about this “calling up” business.  Julia looked at me  and said,  “Well, you just said it in your homily  this morning.”  I didn’t get it, and asked her what she meant.  She answered,  “You just described it  in Clint’s calling you to Epiphany.  Tell them that story.”

Well, that sent my head whirling  out to Jupiter and back.  Of course  I had just described  how a call works,  and it is nothing like what I’ve been describing for 50 years.   

I’ve had it all wrong.

So, I’m going to follow Julia’s advice  and tell the story again. If you were at the funeral,  I’m sorry you have to hear it twice,  but it’s an “Epiphany”,  so listen up.

I had been the Interim Priest here in the mid-1980s  and gotten to know Clint and his wife pretty well.  In 1993,  Clint was serving as Epiphany’s Sr. Warden  during another Interim Period.  The Interim Priest took a vacation  and it was Clint’s job to find a supply priest.  He called me.  I wasn’t busy,  so I came back to fill in for a week or two.  At coffee hour  after my last service,  Clint approached me and he asked,  “Why don’t you come back and be our priest?” I told him that it is tradition that clergy not go back  to congregations they had served,  and that the bishop  would never allow it.  We couldn’t even discuss it.

Well, Clint, in his quiet way,  could be very persuasive.  He asked me to think about it  and get back to him. On the way home,  driving down Cromwell Road,  I got thinking:  The Bishop’s away on sabbatical  and won’t be back for months.  They’re really nice people.  I know them,  and they know me,  so we both know what we would be getting into.  I’ve served every church in the area,  and if I’m going to continue as a priest,  I have to go back somewhere.  And never returning where you have worked is a dumb tradition,  anyway.  It’s time to do away with that.  When I got home  I phoned Clint  and told him I’d love to be considered.

That was 1993,  and 25 years later,  I’m still here –  because of Clint Turner.  Clint “called me up” to minister in this place.  God didn’t pick me up  and put me at Epiphany.  I wasn’t even supposed to be here.  I was “called up” by Clint.  And while my brain was out there  spinning yesterday,  I realized  that we call each other up,  all the time. If God is involved in it,  and I really think God is,  then God is working through us.

We call each other  into marriage and relationships.  We call people  that sometimes we don’t even know into employment  and sharing our work.  We call up new friends.  Simple conversations  lead to friendships  that broaden our lives,  and lead us to new adventures.  We involve each other.  We invite other people into our lives.

That’s what Jesus did  when he called up his disciples.  There wasn’t any hypnotism involved.  There was no mystery  to the whole thing.  Jesus did  exactly what Clint Turner did to me,  and what we do to each other.  Jesus said, “Follow me.”  “Come into my life.”  “Walk with me.”  “I will show you things  of which you never dreamed.”  Jesus did exactly what we do.  He built relationships.  He drew others into his life with him.  He empowered these friends.  He said, “Walk with me”,  and they walked.  Just like we do,  all the time.

It’s all so simple.  We see people  sitting under a fig tree.  We talk to them.  We invite them to walk with us.  We open up our lives to them.  We build relationships.  And our life is expanded,  and their lives are expanded.

Jesus had gone up to Galilee.  He walked along,  kind of checking people out.  He spotted some people he wanted to meet,  went up to them,  struck up a conversation,  and started building a community.  We move to a new town or neighborhood.  We peek through the blinds to check out our neighbors.  We watch people in the grocery story.  We visit the library  to see who’s there.  We go to a civic league meeting,  or a concert,  or a PTA meeting.  We check out Facebook.  We go to church.  And we find people who interest us.

And we begin building  our community of friends.  It’s all very natural.

And that’s not to say that God isn’t involved in it.  Maybe God prodded Clint to say something to me.  Maybe God nudged me  to call Clint back. Maybe God is a lot more active in these things  than we assume.  Maybe when we call someone up,  or respond to someone’s call,  it is a holy moment in our lives  and theirs.

So be careful when you hear or feel that little nudge.  And remember Philip’s admonition  to Nathaniel  when Nathaniel doubted.  Philip said,  “Come and see.”  Sometimes,  we just need to “come and see.”

Amen.

Posted January 16, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Advent IV 12/24/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

If you were not familiar with our Christmas story, today’s Gospel reading would be one of the strangest things you’d ever read. It would never sell, even as fiction. Nobody would believe it.

We get this “angel Gabriel creature”, whatever it is, being sent by God to a little backwoods town in Galilee, to a virgin, – probably better translated “young woman”, –who is committed to marry a man named Joseph. They didn’t have engagements then. Marriages were arranged by families. Well, we learn that the young woman’s name was Mary, and this “angel creature” appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Oh, come on now. That’s not even realistic. A young woman, and this thing in the air saying this to her? And how do we know its name? The whole thing makes no sense.

Well, it says Mary was “much perplexed.” That’s got to be an understatement. Now, the “angel creature” tells her that God likes her, so she is going to have a son. No way! Gabriel then tells her what name she is to give the child, and that he will be called “the Son of the most high”, or “the Son of God”, and that he will inherit the throne of King David, and his kingdom will never end.

None of this makes sense to Mary. She questions the whole thing, especially since she is young and has not had relations with a man. Gabriel gives her this bazaar description of how the “Holy Spirit” is going to inseminate her. The whole thing would be absolutely terrifying to a young country girl, in this little back woods town. It’s sort of terrifying to us, if we think about it. Then Gabriel tells her that her elderly relative, Elizabeth, who had been barren all of her life, was now in her 6th month of pregnancy.

You may remember a homily that I did a few months ago when I talked about the verb “to be” being the “key” that opens communication with God. If you don’t remember, in the Bible, any form of the verb “to be”, used as a response, unlocks communication with “the Holy.” “Where are you Adam?” “Here am I.” “Who shall I send?” “Here am I, send me.” And here in this text, Mary responds, “Here am I, the servant of God.” Mary uses “the key” to open herself directly to God, pledges herself to God, and Gabriel disappears.

As I said at the beginning, this is all too fanciful to be believable. But it is the beginning of the story of the birth of God in human form on this earth. It is the beginning of humankind’s new relationship with God. And that new relationship with God is going to be just as “messy” as our story this morning from the Gospel of Luke. The fact is, that when God moves in this creation, it is always “messy.” We like to think of God as doing sweet, nice, sunshiny, pastel things in our lives: clouds, and sunsets, and flowers, and puppies. But it doesn’t work that way. The wonder and beauty of God is somehow revealed in pain, and confusion, and big messes.

The birth of a child is a beautiful act of God, but it is painful and messy. Death is probably a beautiful act of God, but it is painful and messy.

I like almost all musical forms, except for a few like Acid Rock. I’ll never quite understand it. But one of my favorite forms would be a contemporary piece with a lot of gentle discord, that at the very end finds the resolving chord in just the right key, and pulls it all together. We’re listening to this confusion, and dissonance, and it’s building tension, and it might even be getting a little bit ugly, and then, suddenly it is all resolved with a beautiful chord that pulls the discord together, and all is well. And when we hear that resolving chord, we relax and smile.

I look at God as that “final chord” in the dissonance of our lives. There is the pain. There is the misunderstanding. There is the birth. There is the death. There is the war. There is the illness. There is the Holocaust. There is the Crucifixion. AND THEN, there is God resolving the whole thing.

“Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according the your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.”

The discord has begun. God has acted, and it is messy. We’ve had this irregular pregnancy that could have resulted in Mary’s being stoned to death. We’ve had this census. We’ve had this horrible trip to Bethlehem, in the final days of pregnancy. We’ve had no decent place for them to stay, when they arrived in Bethlehem. They’ve ended up in a dark, dangerous cave stable under the village of Bethlehem, probably one of the worst places on earth. The whole thing has been a big mess, from the beginning.

And that’s where we stop today. If you want to hear the “resolving chord”, you have to come back to church tonight.

“Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

 

Posted December 26, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Advent I 12/3/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

As I think most of you know, Julia and I attended the Fall Clergy Conference this past Tuesday. As I mentioned in Clergy Clatter, our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael Curry was our guest speaker. I’ve met all of our Presiding Bishops since the 1950s. And I’ve attended Clergy Conferences for 50 years, but this one seemed special. I’ve always been impressed with our Presiding Bishops. You might not know that they are elected by our General Convention, which meets every 3 years. They are already bishops who have shown special skills. Bishop Curry was Bishop of North Carolina, prior to his election. He is our first African American President Bishop. They are called “Presiding Bishops” because they “preside” over the House of Bishops. They are elected to a 9 year term. Their job is an awesome one, and by the end of 9 years, I’m sure they are glad to “hang it up.”

Well, Bishop Curry is known for his preaching and teaching, as well as his candor and energy. We got to see it all, and I was very impressed. You may have heard me say that I don’t listen to a lot of sermons. I’m afraid my mind kind of wanders, except for Julia’s homilies. I listen to hers. I’d better. She might test me on one.

Well, Bishop Curry has a number of “catch phrases” that become sort of mantras for him. He’ll say one of these “catch phrases”, and them build on it. I’m sure he says a lot of the same things to every group with whom he meets. So – he’s well practiced. But he’s still very effective. I jotted down several of his mantras, and one that I particularly liked was, “Focus beyond the reality to the dream.” That kind of brought me up in my seat and got my head spinning.

I began to relate it to our present political climate. Bishop Curry didn’t mention that. In fact, he carefully avoided current politics. But he did relate it to Dr. Martin Luther King, who certainly focused on “the dream.” Even if we don’t know much about Martin Luther King, we know “I have a dream.”

And Bishop Curry talked a lot about the Book of Isaiah, from which our Old Testament readings will be taken throughout Advent. We know that Isaiah was written by at least 3 writers, at different times. The first 39 chapters were written prior to the Exile, but predicted the fall of the nation and the exile to Babylon. We refer to that writer as 1st Isaiah. Chapters 40 thru 55 are referred to as 2nd Isaiah, and were probably written while the Hebrews were in exile in Babylon. Chapters 56 – 66 are referred to as 3rd Isaiah, and written after the Exile. Now, a lot of other writers and prophets apparently inserted their ideas into the Book of Isaiah, as well. Many a doctoral dissertation has been written on identifying various writers in Isaiah.

But, as Bishop Curry pointed out, there is one common thread through all of Isaiah, “looking to the dream.” And that’s why it’s read throughout Advent. “Prepare ye the way. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Prepare! Look to the dream. And today’s reading from Isaiah begins: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence.” Looking to the dream.

And our Gospel for this morning, from Mark: “THEN they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds.” “THEN he will send out the angels.” “Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come.”

Looking to the dream.

And that’s what Advent is all about. For the child, it’s looking to the dream of Santa coming on Christmas. To the merchants, it’s looking to the dream of brisk sales and fat register tills. To our neighborhood, it’s looking to the dream of a successful Home Tour next Sunday. To students, it’s looking to the dream of Winter Vacation. But to Christians, it’s looking to the dream of the birth of a baby who will be the human face of an unseen God, and dwell amongst us. It’s looking forward to the dream of the lion and the lamb lying down together. It’s looking forward to the dream of peace on earth, and in our streets, and in our homes.

“Focus beyond the reality to the dream.” Advent identifies “the dream” for us. It’s a different dream for different people, but it makes us look ahead. It holds up “the dream” for us. And the dream is always “beyond the reality.” If we’re bogged down in the reality, we can’t experience the dream. The present, the reality can paralyze us. If I’m discouraged, nothing is going to happen. My life becomes a downward spiral in the reality. If I’m going to accomplish anything, I’ve got to look ahead – look to the dream look to what I want to see happen.

These are not very happy times in the life of our nation. I could list the chain of concerns for you, but you know what they are. But Advent tells us to look beyond that. Focus on the dream. There’s power in dreams, because they show a better way. And we all have dreams. And they can be achieved. That’s the Good News of the Gospel.

“Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”

“Focus beyond the reality, to the dream.”

Amen.

Posted December 5, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

All Saints’ Day 11/5/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

When I was coming along, going through Confirmation Classes, and attending youth events, and stuff like that, the Episcopal Church was referred to as “a Bridge Church.” We don’t hear that any more, but it’s a term that really does fit the Episcopal Church. That’s because we have our roots in almost every Christian tradition out there.

Much of our lineage is traced back to the orthodox, or Eastern Church, which made its way to the Celtic British Isles before the Roman Church even organized. And our lineage even includes that pagan Celtic tradition, in strange little ways. And then, of course, we have Roman roots as the British throne got in thick with the popes, and the British Church became Roman Catholic. Then, we get the Protestant Reformation, and the Anglican Church falls into the arms of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland and the Lutheran Church in the “north countries”, and the other various denominations that grow out of that Reformation. And then, in our own American history, the Anglican Church falls out of favor with the American Revolution, when anything British was “out”. Where did Americans go to church? They went to the new emerging protestant churches, like the Baptists, and the Methodists, and the Presbyterians, and the Moravians, and the Pentecostals. And it was a good while before the Anglican Church, or the Episcopal Church, was able to reestablish itself as a significant institution in America. And when it did, it just had to at least tolerate, if not embrace, some of those other movements.

Well, that is our history, in a nut shell. And that with which we are left is a church that is forever swinging around, like a pendulum.

Several weeks ago, Joe Ritchie, Mary Scheible, and I were searching through our large music collection looking for something new to sing today at our All Saints/All Souls observance. And we have very little All Saints/All Souls music. The reason is that we didn’t used to observe All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day on Sunday, unless the feast fell on a Sunday. So we very rarely needed an All Saints Day anthem. It was usually observed mid-week with a spoken service. But that changed with our present Prayer Book. This Prayer Book significantly swings the pendulum from Protestant to “Catholic”, including both the Roman Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. And with this swing of the pendulum, All Saints’ Day is now observed the Sunday after All Saints’ Day.

All Saints’ Day, which honors those who have died for the faith, and have been canonized, or “sainted” by the church, is always November 1st – the Day after All Hallows Eve, or Halloween. It is now observed on the Sunday after November 1. But All Soul’s Day, which honors other special people in our lives who have gone before us, is observed on November 2, the day after All Saints’ Day. But strangely, the new lectionary did not make it a “movable feast.” It is still observed on November 2nd – only. I just took it upon myself to observe both All Saints’ and All Souls’ today because I think it’s important to us, and I think they are going to fix this with the next lectionary.

Now, when I was in seminary 50 plus years ago, saints, and souls, and spirituality, and things like that, were really “out.” All of that was considered way too “catholic”. The pendulum was on the other side – the Protestant Side. But the pendulum has swung again, and there’s now an ever increasing emphasis on things like this in our Episcopal Church.

And I find it kind of healthy. Every culture, every group, every family has ways of honoring their dead, sometimes in big observances like the Hispanic “Day of the Dead.” Veterans observe the fallen with flags on graves. Families give altar flowers to honor someone special. There are all sorts of ways that it happens, but we don’t just ignore the fact that we have lost someone special in our lives. And it is in our nature that we don’t want that person forgotten. And I think the church needs to provide ways for special people to be remembered.

All of us have had people in our lives who greatly influenced us, helped us become the special individuals that each of us is. It doesn’t happen automatically. We are born into community. We grow up in community. We live in community. And we die in community. That’s the way it is. We need each other. We grow off of each other. We’re not just clusters of star dust floating around in this universe, unrelated to anything else. We are much more dependent on each other than we admit.

I draw my priesthood from you. Oh, I’ve got the piece of paper that says I’m a priest, but it doesn’t mean anything if I don’t have people to pastor. I need you, and you need me, or none of it makes any sense.

And in this present swing of the pendulum, we’re taking ownership of that, again. Those who have gone before us have left their marks on us, from DNA, to education, to social behavior and standards, even to the color of our eyes. We are connected And we remember that this day.

So, today we remember those who have gone before us, and the contributions they made to our lives, our being. We acknowledge that they are not forgotten. They still live in our hearts and souls. We are still connected.
Amen.

Posted November 9, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Blessing of Pets                                                  10/1/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

Well, this morning we honor St. Francis with our annual “Blessing of the Pets” service –
and with a short homily. This is one of those strange Anglican Traditions. Other denominations will never understand it – and that’s o.k. It’s fun to befuddle everyone else.

We’re adding an “informal blessing” at the 8:00 service – for those pets that get “freaked out” by organ music and the hubbub of a larger service. We’ll see if that catches on.
 
By the way, St. Francis Day is actually this Wednesday, but we’re honoring it today. Some churches will be honoring it next Sunday.
 
Now, as we all know, there are “Pet People” and there are “Non Pet People.” And each will never understand the other. “Pet People” just don’t feel complete without some sort of an animal in their lives. “Non Pet People” wonder why anyone would turn over his or her house and life to a cat or dog – or both. Who wants a dog in his bed? Well – I do. I AM a “Pet Person.” Mine are not here today because Frisky is deaf and doesn’t see too well. He wouldn’t get anything out of it. I was going to bring Max, but he got arrested again for getting out and prowling the neighborhood. He wound in Doggie Jail and picked up Kennel Cough. It’s contagious, so he’s confined to quarters.
 
You see, not only are pets wonderful companions, but they’re also wonderful aggravations. I fret and stew much more over my pets than over people. Maybe that’s why they are supposed to be so healthy for us. They give us something on which to focus our concern and worry. They say we live longer, healthier lives if we have pets. And I have to admit that when I get bedded down at night with two dogs on one side of me, and two cats on the other side of me, I’m in perfect bliss. The little purrs, and the little moans of contentment – – now that makes for a good night’s sleep.
 
Actually, I think our pets remind us that we’re not the center of creation. We’re actually the care givers of creation, including the animals. In the Creation Story, God brings the animals before man to be named and given dominion over – or – better translated, “take responsibility for.” When the great flood is coming, God calls on Noah to round up pairs of animals and get them into the ark to preserve a remnant of life. And of course, we get our favorite images of shepherds taking care of the sheep, and the goats, and whatever other animals are around.
 
So, one of our “creature tasks” is to tend to our animals. And we honor that relationship today in this strange little rite, as we extend our blessing to our pets, and thank them for their gifts to us, and for taking special care of us.
 
Bless You Old Frisky, at home in your bed. And Bless You naughty Max, at home with your Kennel Cough. And Bless all of our pets and friends who care for us, as we care for them, this special day.

Amen.
 

Posted October 3, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Matthew 18:15-20    9/10/17    

I don’t think any of us could help having seen one of the articles, or documentaries on Elephants living in community. During the last few years, I’ve learned more about elephants than I ever would wanted to know. And I’m not alone. We all know about Ringling Brothers retiring their elephants because the life style of the circus was considered cruel to some very intelligent and wonderful animals. And then our own zoo gave up its elephants because they needed to be in communities larger than two animals, and we didn’t have the space to accommodate three or more elephants. I loved those elephants. I loved to watch them, and look into their eyes, and marvel at their trunks, and mouths, and ears, and patchy hair. I can remember as a very young child going to the circus and putting peanuts in the trunks of the elephants. That was a greater treat for me than for them, and it’s the only thing I remember from those childhood circuses.

And there’ve been a bunch of Utube videos recently showing elephants “in community.” A recent one showed a whole community of elephants going to the rescue of a young elephant that got stuck in mud. Its mother couldn’t get it out of the mud, and there was a Tiger nearby, hungrily watching. Several of the large male elephants faced off with the tiger to keep it at bay while the rest of the community rushed to the mud hole and helped the mother get her young to safety. It’s a wonderful little video that you can probably find and watch.

Well, I’ve learned a lot about living in community from watching those elephant videos. And their sense of community is all powerful to them. The herd has a “rule of life”, with a pecking order, and standards of behavior, and concern for each other. They show grief when one of their community dies. They help and assist their elderly. They keep their young almost between their legs when moving about.

Now, what’s with all of this “elephant stuff”? Well, our readings this morning reflect on how we humans should go about “living in community.” The readings are very Jewish. Ezekiel – one of the great Old Testament prophets talks about how to deal with wickedness. Sadly, Ezekiel sees the Kingdom of Israel as having slipped into wicked and evil ways. He sees death as the solution for evilness that will not repent. His reading this morning ends: “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live: turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?” That’s pretty strong.

Then we get Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Paul sees the 2nd coming of Christ, and the end of all time, and judgment day as just around the corner – any day. And he’s pleading with his young church in Rome to get their act together, follow the commandments, love their neighbors, put on the armor of light,  and live honorably. Paul is convinced that life as we know it is going to end very soon, and what we’ve done in this life, will determine what happens to us when judgment comes.

Again, this is very Jewish in thought. Paul was a Roman citizen, but also a Jew. He knew Jewish scripture. He thought like a Jew. He spoke like a Jew. And he feared for the community of his small church in Rome.

Then we get Matthew, the earliest of our Gospels and almost certainly written in Jerusalem as a “source text” for the Jewish Christians and as a “conversion tool” for new Christians. It is Jewish in thought and style. And it instructs how members of the Church are to handle being “wronged.” It takes it step by step – what one is to do when one feels “wronged.”

First, the victim is to confront the perpetrator privately. If that doesn’t work, take a couple of witnesses and try again. If that doesn’t work, take it to the whole congregation of the church. PLEASE DON’T DO THAT. It might work fine in a Jewish synagogue, but not here. Well, if the perpetrator doesn’t listen to the church, he/she is to be considered unclean and be cast out of the community.

That’s just not the way we do things in our culture, in our time, in our church. I’m all for sitting down with someone with whom I disagree, and trying to work it out, but I don’t like involving other people in my disputes – we call it “triangleing” today. I also don’t like the idea of “casting someone aside” because I have a disagreement with him or her. Friends aren’t that easy to make in our culture, and our time. I’d rather keep the friendship and perhaps swallow my pride, or position, than loose a friend or make an enemy.

I DO really like Matthew’s closing statement in today’s reading: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

I do think the Spirit of Christ is found in the midst of people as they try to live in community. I know that Christ is found in the sacrament, and at special times and places, but I think even more so Christ – the Love of God – is found in people relating to each other out of love, and concern, and caring. And I really believe that.

When we leave this building this morning, and perhaps even before we get out of here, we are going to run into people who need some caring, need some compassion, need some support, need some “good old lovin’.” And quite often it’s our friends and family. But it’s in those moments where we find the Living Christ, the “Shepherd of Souls.”

Try not to pass up an opportunity to meet the Spirit of Love, the Spirit of Hope. That’s what we’re about in this place. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.     Amen.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Amen.

 

Posted September 13, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Transfiguration                                              8/6/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration. It is celebrated in our Church Calendar, and the Roman calendar, on August 6th. Normally, it falls on a weekday, but this year, it’s Sunday. And that did not get by the head of our Altar Guild, Jim Fisher, who several weeks ago came to me with a chuckle, because I would not be able to escape the Feast of the Transfiguration this year. Oh, Jim knows me too well. We’ve been in this place together long enough that he knows that I stumble all over myself when it comes to the Transfiguration.

It’s the story that I just read to you from the Gospel of Luke. Peter, and John, and James accompany Jesus up “the mountain” – some feel it is Mt. Tabor, some feel it is Mt. Horeb –
to pray. While they are praying, Moses and Elijah join Jesus. Heaven knows how they knew it was Moses and Elijah, but whatever. Jesus’ appearance changes, and his clothes become dazzling white and he talks to Moses and Elijah. Then a cloud envelops them, and a voice – presumably God – says: “This is my Son, my Chosen: Listen to him!” And Moses and Elijah disappear, and everything is back to normal.

Now, I cannot begin to explain that! But that doesn’t mean it’s not important. It appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And that gives it awesome credibility.

The thing that seems to me to be most important is that after this event, Jesus ends his ministry in Galilee, turns south, and heads to Jerusalem where he is tried and crucified. He has had this nice little “wandering ministry” up in Galilee, away from the Romans, and the temple, and all of the upheaval in Jerusalem. He’s been safe. He’s been happy. But after this event, he leaves all of that and heads to his death. Something happened in that event that changed him. It changed his purpose. It changed his ministry. It changed his understanding of his life. It changed his future.

They call the event the “Transfiguration” because we’re told he looked different. But the real importance of it was that it changed (or transformed) everything about his life, including his understanding of his ministry.

Last week Bob Everett and I took the train up to DC to visit a couple of the Smithsonian museums. At the Museum of Natural History we watched the Imax movie “Amazon Adventure 3D.” Their 3D happened to be broken, but we both still enjoyed a great movie.

It is the true story of Henry Bates who was an explorer and naturalist. He lived during the time of Darwin and the early fascination with evolution. Henry Bates was so intrigued with it, that he journeyed to the Amazon jungle and spent 11 years studying and doing research on issues surrounding evolution.

One of the things that fascinated Bates was why an animal or insect would evolve to look or behave like something that it’s not. We were watching on a 6 story screen, and the camera zoomed in to show the head of a poisonous snake dangling from a tree branch. But as the camera panned to the left, it became amazingly clear that the dangling snake head was the tail of a caterpillar. It had evolved to look like a snake for its protection and survival. Bates became fascinated by two seemingly identical butterflies with the exact same markings. But Bates noticed that one stood on 2 legs and one stood on 4 legs. As he
studied them, he discovered that they were each different species. The one that stood on 2 legs tasted terrible. Birds and lizards and frogs knew not to eat that one. But the one of 4 legs was tasty, and it had evolved to look like that nasty one so it wouldn’t be eaten. And the same thing has happened throughout nature. And I think it happens to us, too.

When Todd and I visited Sewanee this past Spring, we attended the Senior Class Banquet. We sat with a delightful woman and her husband. Her name was Molly Payne Hardin. She was a middle aged woman who would be graduating and ordained Deacon within days. I’ve followed her on Facebook. Yesterday she was ordained to the priesthood, and I sent her congratulations. She’ll be a great priest.

But what happened to “transfigure” Molly Payne Hardin from wife, mother, daughter – to priest? There had to be an “evolution.” As Jesus left his ministry in Galilee and turned south to face his destiny, Molly left her family, and probably job, to return to school and become a priest. And she didn’t have generations to do this like the butterfly.

I’ve tried to think back into my own life to understand my “transfiguration” from a young happy school teacher to a young happy priest. What happened? I think it was too long ago, and I think we can’t see it clearly in ourselves.

And like the caterpillar that transfigured itself over a period of generations to look like a snake, for survival, we, too, transfigure or evolve for safety and survival. We do what we have to do to survive.  Countless times people have asked me if I am an introvert or an extrovert. And they often are surprised when I tell them that I am very much an introvert. For survival, and to “function”, I’ve learned to be assertive and function as an extrovert, out of necessity.

So, whatever happened to Jesus on that mountain, happens to us, too. I can’t explain it, but it demonstrates God acting in our lives, and that’s important. Jesus turned and moved to face his destiny. We turn, from time to time, and face our destiny, as well.

The Gospel writer presents Jesus’ transfiguration as a holy, mystical event. And I think ours is, too. When God moves in our lives, or the lives of people we know, don’t throw stones at it. It just might be God speaking on our Mount Tabor.

Amen

Posted August 8, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 7/16/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23                                           7/16/17 Epiphany, Norfolk
                                                                                                                                               
A few of you may know what I’m talking about when I mention “Funeral Home Fans.” “Back in the Day”, before air conditioning, it was tradition in all churches that the local funeral homes provided cardboard hand held fans with kind of popsicle wood handles. They were in the pew book racks, or left in each seat for people to fan themselves in the heat of the summer. The back of the fan was always an advertisement for the funeral home that donated them. The front was always a romanticized picture of a Bible story, with sort of a Nordic depiction of Jesus with blond hair and blue eyes, or one of the popular Bible stories. For some reason, a picture of the sower spreading his seeds from sort of a flower sack slung over his shoulder was a popular funeral home fan picture. It always reminded me of Johnny Appleseed, but it was popular. I can remember studying that picture over and over as a kid – as the deadly sermon droned on and on in sweltering heat.
 
Since most churches had windows that only opened a few inches, they could get miserably hot in the summer. I can remember sticking to the varnish of pews, softened up by the heat. But church did go on, thanks to huge noisy electric fans in the back of the church, two of which we still have upstairs – and “Funeral Home Fans.” We somehow did it, and without a lot of fussing. And in that broiling heat, ladies still wore hats and gloves, and men wore coats and ties, although it was ok to take off the jacket, once we were in our pew. It was just how things were, and it was ok.
 
Our Gospel Reading for this morning is the “Parable of the Sower”, depicted on thousands and thousands of Funeral Home Fans. It’s a good parable because it has a lot of layers of meaning. I don’t care for some of Matthew’s interpretation of the parable. It’s very Jewish with “the evil one snatching away what is sown in the heart”, and all of that sort of imagery. But Matthew was written in Jerusalem for the Jews in Jerusalem, so it all makes sense. It doesn’t always fit our theology, but it is good Jewish theology, and it does give an explanation for why things sometimes go wrong, and how we handle problems.
 
That makes for a good parable. And we need to remember how hard it was to grow any kind of crop in the soil of the Holy Land. There were no “fields of golden grain.” Every seed that was planted was full of hope, and if it grew, it was a victory.
 
When I was doing a lot of interim work, going from parish to parish, I always looked forward to this passage because I could talk about “thorny parishes”, and “rocky parishes”, and “fertile parishes.” And I worked with them all. Epiphany probably got one of those sermons when I was the interim priest here back in the mid 80’s.
 
In digging through my sermon file last night, I did find one from 1993 that I preached here, talking about “thorny people”, and “rocky people”, and “fertile people”, and how to deal with each of them. Heaven only knows what was going on to prompt that. It was not a very nice sermon.
 
I’m really fortunate in that I’ve had an unusually long career, and I’ve worked with a huge number of congregations. And as I think about that, I’m very aware of some of my efforts falling on rocky ground, some amongst thistles, and some on good soil. I’ve had a lot of what I consider to be successes in my career. But I’ve also had a whole bunch of efforts that didn’t go so well. Sometimes opportunities were “plucked from me.” Sometimes they were just not well planned, or thoroughly thought through. But sometimes they really did work out.
 
I started young enough to have the energy and the vision to be a little creative. And I also had the tenacity to drive people crazy until something happened. While trying to get Tucker House built, I can remember a HUD supervisor saying, “You just won’t go away, will you.” “No”, I answered. “Not until I get what I need.” I got it. Of course, I’ve mellowed, I think. But I still push for what I think is important.
 
Well, I think life is just kind of like that. We see it in our relationships. We see it in our families, our jobs, our involvements and our faith. Everything doesn’t always work out well. And what a bore life would be if it did. We need challenges, even with our faith. If it comes too easily, we don’t appreciate it. We do best when we have to push a little, when we have to come back and try it again, and sometimes again. We seem to be built that way.
 
Every effort we make is like one of those seeds. It has the potential of getting plucked away, or not taking root, or being choked out, or flourishing. And sometimes it’s not under our control. We just have to do the best we can, and then see what happens. That seems to be one of the great mysteries of life. If we just knew what was going to work and what was not going to work, life would be a whole lot simpler. But it doesn’t work that way.
 
The sower sows, and the seed falls, and some of it makes it, and some of it doesn’t. We do the best we can and take our chances, and then put our energies into tending that which takes root and grows. That’s living a faithful life.
 
Last night at dinner with some folks, I asked Bob Everett what he wanted to hear in today’s homily. His response was, “I always enjoy the ‘Amen’ at the end.” So – for Bob, Amen.
 
 
 
 

Posted July 18, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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