Saturday, January 18, 2014

Knowing God in Ordinary Time

Rector's Rambling- February 2014

As January turns into February, the year truly turns for me. Waterfowl, upland birds, and small furry things are safe again for another year with the passing of hunting season (If they were ever threatened by me anyway!) Grandson George and spaniel Oscar will both turn one. It is time to buy a new fishing license.  It is time to plant tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.  I will receive my first check as a retiree of the Ohio Army National Guard. And we start seeing more green days on the Church Kalendar (sic).

I've always liked the green seasons of the church. In some places they are called “ordinary time.” That ordinariness is what I like about them. While holidays and special celebrations are nice occasionally, I've always been one of those folks who would generally rather stay at home with a predictable schedule and do what I do. I think it must have been experiences in the Army which convinced me early on that most surprises past the age of 11 or 12 are only occasions for extra work and headache. And so I have remained a pretty boring person who is content to do the job at hand, with some semblance of order and as much predictability as providence allows.

Over the years, experience has taught me that I am most likely to experience God in the mundane and routine things of life, rather than on the mountaintop. I have had one or two mountaintop experiences in the last 60 years, but they were unplanned and unexpected. God came in his way and on his schedule to demand my attention and to grant his grace. There were times when I sought to force his hand, or to orchestrate a wonderful and spiritual time with my Lord, but they almost always failed because I was so focused on myself and my desires instead of on him who made me and reconciled me to himself. I would almost go so far as to say that the times when I have worked the hardest to summon God's presence, be it through wonderful liturgy, or special disciplines, or planned occasions of any sort, my feeble efforts were just attempts to cover for the reality that my selfishness had rendered me incapable of sensing God's presence in my life.

No, it is in the little things that God leads me to sense his presence. It is in the ordinary times. It is in the small everyday chores and responsibilities of life that he most often enables me to know viscerally that he is with me. I suppose this if fitting. It is another proof that indeed the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, thus sanctifying and declaring good forever his creation. Might we all sense the presence of God in the little things around us in these closing days of winter. Bishop Berkeley of of Cloyne in the Church of Ireland argued mightily in his day that God was more than some cosmic watchmaker who designed the world, wound it us, and left it to run. He was fond of saying that if God stopped thinking about us for an instant, we would cease to exist. I find it most comforting that when I am cleaning stalls, or walking in the woods, or doing dishes, or writing sermons, or visiting friends, he is there, actively thinking of me, and smiling on those mundane activities which generally characterize my life. It is good to be thought of, and to be loved; and it is good to walk with the Lord. I pray that all of you, my friends and my brothers and sisters in Christ, might know this goodness every hour of every day of your lives. Through Christ our Saviour, AMEN!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Sermon 2013

To be preached at St. John's Lancaster tonight, God willing.

Isaiah 9:6-7

"...unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this." (Isaiah 9:6-7)

On this blessed day, we gather in this sacred place to proclaim the truth of this prophesy of Isaiah.  A child was born in Bethlehem of Judah.  He was given to all of us by our loving heavenly Father that we might be forgiven of our sins, be restored to fellowship with God, be transformed into the kind of people the Bible teaches us to be, and at the end of our physical lives- live forever.

The prophesy continues.  The authority and the absolute right to rule still belong to him.  The divine right of kingship is his by God's eternal decree, and his character, his aptitude, and his basic skill set demonstrate to us the truth of his vocation.  The wonder of his divinity, combined with the humanity of his incarnation, what the church fathers at the Council of Chalcedon called "truly God and truly man," demonstrates God's love for you and me, and enables us to experience and know both his character and his expectations for our attitudes and behavior.  "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)

The wisdom of his words and his example, that "Holy Wisdom," qualify him as our greatest teacher, advisor, and guide.  He is in fact God incarnate, the second person of the holy and blessed Trinity, one with the everlasting Father, who shows us the way to peace. 

And today, in our hearts, that kingdom of peace flourishes and grows in direct proportion to our willingness to welcome and submit to his sovereign reign.  The decree of God insures us that this kingdom of peace will continue to grow in our hearts and in our relationships, whatever roadblocks Satan and his minions might establish.  There will be wars and rumors of wars.  Manipulation and coercion remain among us.  Heretics, well intentioned and otherwise, will redefine the clear teachings of Scripture and reject the wisdom and example of the historic faith received.  Human need will go unmet, and "the poor will be with us, always."  But for that man or woman who comes this night and welcomes Jesus into his or her heart, who realizes what it means to have his or her sins forgiven, and who embraces the new life that God the Father offers us through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, the light floods into the darkness and peace ensues.  That peace grows and his kingdom takes hold of our lives, and no cancer, or divorce, or uncertainty, or habit, or attitude, or situation can extinguish the light or take it away.  Discouragement, or even despair, might come for a time, but God's grace is sufficient in the end for us to find peace and purpose in the most difficult of times.

And as people so transformed by God's grace come together to receive grace in the manner he has decreed, namely in Word and Sacrament, there is the Church, instituted of God not to pass resolutions and advance human agendas, but to build up and unify the people of God; to support and enable that peacefulness and sense of mission which will proclaim the way of Jesus Christ to all peoples.

And at the end of the day, or perhaps I should say "of the age," King Jesus will come again to claim his patrimony and to finally and fully establish his kingdom.  "Every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." (Philippians 2:10-11)  He will wipe away every tear from every eye,  and will do for us a new thing, (Revelation 21:4&5) and our peace, together with the peace of the world, will be forever and ever.

But how can this be?  There is so much pain and suffering and dysfunction, and sin and hatred and perversion in the world.  Well, I have it on good authority that "the zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this."  What I cannot do, what I have failed to do, he can manage because he is God.  I have seen it in the little things of my life, and I believe that they are granted to encourage me to expect that he is working and will continue to work in the great things of life.  The moments of peace, the experiences of light in the darkness, the evidences of changed lives and guilt assuaged- these are "the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)

Do you believe this night that the child we come to worship can bring you such peace?  Do you believe that "the zeal of the Lord of hosts" can bring order, and peace, and hope, and strength, and purpose to your situation?  Then stand and confess with me your acceptance of that faith we have received.  Bring your needs and current realities to God in prayer.  Ask him to forgive your sins.  Purpose to make restitution to those you have wronged.  And accept the grace, the transforming power, that God offers you through his church by humbly partaking of the body and blood of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion.  Make this Christmas the start of a new life, and experience afresh the endless opportunities that God has in store for you.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Civility and Protocol: The Marks of Civilization and Humanity

Thanksgiving at Briarwood

Some years ago, Rebecca and I decided to get rid of our everyday tableware and start using the good dishes every day.  We don't always dine as these two photos might imply, but we do try to sit down and make dining and family an event whenever we can. 
Breakfast the Next Day

In a world given over to convenience and efficiency, it is easy to lose sight of the finer things of life, things like friendship, laughter, and dignity.  They ennoble us, and call us to remember that there is more to life, and to relationships, than getting things done and accomplishing tasks in the order they appear.  Graciousness and beauty are too often forgotten in the way we treat ourselves and those closest to us.  The upshot is that our society becomes degraded and our culture becomes more harsh and barbaric.  It often breaks my heart to see and read of how we humans treat each other.  If the news reports and my perceptions of my own anecdotal experiences are even close to being accurate, there is a very thin line between civilization and barbarism, and we humans cross that line with disturbing frequency. 

But there is a response that provides at least a partial remedy.  Get out the good china.  Dress for dinner.  Linger over your dessert and coffee.  And enjoy the people who grace your table.  It will not end war or curtail drug abuse, but it will uplift you, and bring you closer to the people you love.

The Cost of Unconfessed Sin

Rector's Rambling: January, 2014

It was dark last night when I arrived home from the church.  There was enough light to give the snow whitened landscape an eerie look.  As I proceeded to clear the walks and attend to my evening chores, I could hear the plaintive yip of the coyotes down at the base of the hill.  Such evenings produce an almost Poe-like morbidity in my outlook.  Over the years, I've learned not to waste such a moment, and so I settled in to watch Paul Almond's 1961 Macbeth, with Sean Connery as the ill-fated lead, and Zoe Caldwell as his evil, and yet all too familiar wife. 

Sean Connery and Zoe Caldwell in Paul Almond's 1961 Macbeth

Macbeth always makes me think about the consequences of human decisions to sin by taking things into our own hands, instead of waiting to see the wondrous things that God has in store for us.  I suppose as partial definitions of sin go, that is as good as any, "to have it our way, without reference to the plan that God might have for our lives."  The stark and grainy nature of Almond's black and white production forces the viewer to concentrate on the power of Shakespeare's language, and allows one to avoid the distractions of special effects, costume, or set.  Perhaps that is the best way to approach sin and all of its attendant consequences.  Directness and honesty keep us on task, and call us to realize that perhaps the greatest New Year's resolution of all is to see to the salvation of our own souls by allowing God's grace and mercy to break the power of sin in our lives. 

And that brings me to the point of this ramble.  Is there hidden and un-confessed sin in your life that threatens to devour you?  It will, you know.  While bold strokes to win great temporal prizes might seem like a good idea in the short term, they ultimately fill us with a sense of guilt that is as consuming as that of lady Macbeth, or with a realization of distrust like the Thane's as we come to assume that everyone else is as duplicitous and self-serving as we have been.  It is no way to live, and it sets us on a road to eternal destruction.

But the good news of Christmas is that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us..." and therefore we can know God's forgiveness and cleansing and peace.  We can rise above the bad choices of our past and feel clean as the wind driven snow.  Indeed, at the point of our forgiveness, a loving Father, through the work of the Son, sends us the witness of the Holy Ghost that we might find healing and peace as we receive that forgiveness that only God is able to give.

If you struggle with the consequences of past decisions, I would invite you to receive God's healing forgiveness at the beginning of this new year.  Sometimes it helps to verbalize your sin in the presence of another person.  I am available to hear sacramental confessions at a time convenient to you.  If I am a little close to home for that in your mind, other priests in the area would be available.  I can provide their numbers, or they are available on the Diocesan website.  If you absolutely do not feel comfortable confessing to a priest, remember that Jesus is our great high priest, and he is the only mediator between us and the Father.  Talk to him directly in prayer.  Tell him what you have done to the best of your remembrance, and ask him to forgive you and to give you strength not to do such things again.  He will hear your prayer.  He will forgive your sins.  And he will lift the burden of your guilt and put you on the road to healing in this life and heaven in the world to come.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, One God.  AMEN.