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Rogation Day 5/5/18 Epiphany, Norfolk   Leave a comment

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.


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

Fr. Richard with his “peepsicle”


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).


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.


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

Tucker House Christmas Party 2017

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.”


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

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