Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving at Standing Rock

Thanksgiving at Standing Rock

A sermon preached for Thanksgiving Day at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Rockland, ME. Lections: Deuteronomy 26:1-11Psalm 100Philippians 4:4-9, and John 6:25-35.

You know I’ve heard from many of you that today is your favorite holiday. Today, Thanksgiving Day. And for many parishioners at St. Peter’s, even some who aren’t here because they’re traveling or home this morning tending their birds, this is a favorite holiday, too. And maybe that’s because there’s really only one thing we have to do today.

I know there are retail folk who are opening today but we can ignore that insanity. The agenda for today is really very simple: just to offer thanks. Maybe watch a little football or take a walk, help out with the community meal here or with the dishes back home. But really the agenda is to rest and be thankful. How life-giving is that!

This is the day all Americans are invited to

  • step off the treadmill,
  • put away the cellphone,
  • close the laptop,
  • and take a fresh look at our lives and our beautiful world.
  • So that we can return to that original posture of the Holy One,
    • who at the beginning of creation surveyed it all and said,
    • “Behold, it is good.”

It IS good, but it often requires a kind of returning to this posture of thanksgiving for us to remember that it is indeed good.

Fr. Kenyon, a former rector of this parish, did us all a great favor in 1946, in the wake of World War II with so many losses, of establishing the tradition of this particular service at St. Peter’s. We now follow in the footsteps of people who, time and again, ritually have chosen to return to gratitude, even in times of unimaginable adversity and hardship.

The pilgrims of the Massachusetts Bay Colony suffered enormous losses in 1620 and 1621 with every single family bereaved; half of the colonists were dead after their first winter. And still, remarkably, they chose a day of thanksgiving. They could have chosen a day of mourning with half of them dead, but they chose to focus on the fact that half of them were still alive.

Two and a half centuries later in the midst of Civil War, no one would have faulted President Lincoln if he were to declare a national day of mourning, but in 1863 with no victory in sight and an unruly cabinet, Lincoln instead proclaimed this day to be our national day of Thanksgiving.

Today, the Dakota Sioux are holding a day of Thanksgiving – quite apart from folks serving the protesters a meal, the Sioux themselves have opted for a day of thanksgiving. Why?

Because the pilgrims, Lincoln, the folks from Standing Rock know something that you and I all know, too: that in times of hardship and adversity what can happen is that our usual center of gravity can shift

  • so that our whole lives begin to revolve around what is wrong,
  • around our misfortune, our misery.
  • This sort of shift is completely natural, and we would be foolish to deny the importance of grieving and mourning.
  • But when our center of gravity is hardship and grief, we can literally begin to feel life draining out of us.

And what we need are ways to help us return back to our true center of gravity, which is God. We need to remember that the same God who brought us into this world is preparing for every person more than we could ask or imagine.

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Part of the challenge of that kind of spiritual re-centering is that so often when we think of thanksgiving, we think of gratitude as a feeling, or an emotion. But gratitude, real thanksgiving is not about feelings, it’s about doing.

The New York Times had a good little article a couple of years ago about the effects of living with gratitude. And it got this action point right.

The author, John Tierney, suggested ways of practicing gratitude. Maybe you already do some of these:

  • It suggests that if you’re down in the dumps or are facing some kind of problem, try jotting down five things for which you’re grateful.
    • Just put one sentence for each thing.
    • If you just do this once a week, over, a few months, you’ll see a change.
  • early on in our relationship my spouse and I would try to get over a rough patch by stopping and sharing, “what three things are you grateful for in the other person.” It’s hard to stay mad for long.
  • some people like to “make a gratitude visit”
    • Think of a person for whom you’re grateful.
    • Think about what you might say to the person.
    • And then visit him or her in person, and tell them what you’ve been thinking.
  • In a tight bind with not much time for planning, adopt the triage gratitude posiyion: it could be worse
    • when your aunt shows you pictures on her iPad, be thankful she no longer has access to a slide projector
    • when your uncle expounds on politics, rejoice inwardly that he does not hold elected office
    • turkey is dry? be grateful the 6-hr roasting process killed any toxic bacteria
  • Thanksgiving can be doing something as simple as sending a note, making a call, giving something away
    • btw, when we usually think about giving things away, we think about clothes or tools or books,
    • but maybe what some of us need is to give away is the need to always be right or to have the last word.
  • Or, like the Dakota Sioux, you can “do thanksgiving” by making eucharist together. That’s right, they, like us, are coming together to make eucharist around Christ’s table
    • with friends and family and with perfect strangers we make eucharist
    • to align our hearts with God
    • to rediscover our true center of gravity
  • so that we can say with the Holy One, “Behold, it is good.”
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Christ the King

crownA sermon preached for The Last Sunday after Pentecost (Christ the King) at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Rockland, ME. Lections: Jeremiah 23:1-6Canticle 16Colossians 1:11-20, and Luke 23:33-43.

In a series of adventures that C.S. Lewis wrote for children, there is a country called Narnia. It is a country in which a great struggle is being waged. The prize is the country itself. On one side is the White Witch and on the other is a great lion named Aslan.

Four human children find their way into Narnia and become involved in the struggle. Over the course of their adventures, they and Aslan form a very deep relationship.

  • They find Aslan at times to be friendly, helpful, protective.
  • They learn to relax in his presence.
  • And yet there is something about him that prevents them from ever taking him for granted.
  • Eventually they discover that Aslan can become a towering, majestic presence whom the children know implicitly they must obey and respect.

That discovery is precisely what this celebration of the reign of Christ is about. For the past year, we have read Scriptures that reflect on the life of Jesus:

  • from the tender beauty of his birth
  • through the darkness of his suffering and death
  • to the glory of Easter
  • we witnessed the presence of him risen from the dead
  • and we experienced the fire of Pentecost.
  • Then we spent months, week by week during this long green season, working out in Scriptures what it might mean to live out his quality of life.

And now we are at the end of that sacred time. Next week a new year of sacred time begins. What happens then today? This last Sunday? Suddenly and vividly the letter to the Colossians shows us the majesty of our Lord. He is:

  • the image of the invisible God,
  • the firstborn of all creation;
  • in him all things in heaven and on earth were created,
  • things visible and invisible (written before John’s Gospel and its beautiful prologue which also has words like this and centuries before the Nicene Creed – a nice reminder for all the folks who find our creed difficult – it helps to appreciate the words as the expressions of people who tried to find words to describe the indescribable truth of God in Jesus Christ)
  • in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell
  • and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things

This follows the intimacy and ease in his company we knew as the summer unfolded, as he taught us week by week, parable by parable. Today, though, like the children in Narnia who had begun to see Aslan as tame and friendly and useful and who suddenly came to see him as royal, we are shown Jesus, our friend and intimate, suddenly royal and majestic, even as he dies on a cross.

Disturbing? A little maybe. But that’s only because it reveals what is true. Let’s take a moment and see how that played out with the disciples.

They lived in great intimacy over the three years they were together with him. The culture of the time made that unavoidable:

  • houses were small
  • boats were small
  • when they travelled together, they knew all about one another
    • The disciples knew when Jesus was elated or depressed
    • they saw him pouring out energy and subsequently exhausted
    • they saw him speaking to great crowds and off in solitary prayer
    • they must have noticed the fragile relationship he had with his immediate family, who had some difficulty understanding what was happening

But, despite that almost claustrophobic intimacy, there were incidents when it was shattered and replaced by something totally different, when a great gulf yawned between them and they knew there was an essential, qualitative difference between them:

  • when they were crossing the lake and a storm came up with Jesus still asleep on the cushion in the stern. They cried out, “Wake up! Do you not care that we are perishing?” And Jesus rebuked the wind, “Quiet!” And suddenly the wind died down and the waves calmed. What manner of man is this?
  • or another time on the water, after an entire night of fishing and they had caught nothing. At his request, they let their nets down one more time from the other side, and suddenly were struggling with more fish than they could handle. It was Peter who felt the great gulf between them, and so he cried out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
  • And at least three of them saw that difference when he took them up the long climb up Mount Tabor. Afterwards, they tried to describe what they had heard and seen and felt. But they succeeded only partially because there still were no words for the awe they felt when Jesus, the familiar and loved, suddenly blazed with a glory that blinded the eyes and caught the breath and brought all three of them to their knees.

He was their friend, leader, advisor. But there was something else. There must have been moments when they heard it in his voice,

  • saw it in a gesture,
  • felt it vibrating in the air and in their bones,
  • rippling along their own skin.
  • They must have known many such moments. But what of us?

We cannot know Jesus like the disciples did, but we have the gift sometimes of forming a relationship with someone who, we slowly discover, shares Jesus’ Truth and Way with us. There comes a time –

  • some episode, some event, some ordeal, some challenge –
  • when we are made to realize how deeply this other person believes,
  • and how fine that soul has become.
  • Sometimes, merely to stand with that person is to know that one is standing alongside a human temple where Christ dwells, a human palace in which he reigns.

I met such a person in my chaplain residency right before I came to you. I’ve spoken of her before, but some stories bear repeating. She was sick, of course, and knew she was dying. But she was a woman who modeled for me how dying can be a holy process, a time of deepening one’s faith, for growing in love. I saw her several times over the next 7 months and visited her last in May, near the time of her death:

  • her eyes were deep pools of pain and infinite weariness
  • we spoke simply and honestly
  • she wasn’t frightened, with the suffering she knew deep, deep peace
  • it was quite obvious that she had become an inner country whose total allegiance was to Christ
    • his spirit blazed from her
    • he reigned in her
    • and therefore he reigned FROM her
    • by my mere telling you of her, he continues to reign through her.

You will have already thought of an equivalent relationship in your life, one in which for a moment you saw Christ reign:

  • in unselfishness
  • or courage
  • or quiet faithfulness

Whenever we experience Christ as king, certain things happen.

  • We cease to think of Jesus as merely comforting or personally therapeutic
  • We cease to regard Jesus as a religious symbol to be used as a personal resource at times of our choosing
  • We cease to think of Jesus as tradition or a piece of history
  • We cease to think of Jesus in any way that we can control.

Instead, we experience power and grace and presence. We experience immediacy and energy and demand.

We learn that it is not we who are in control of him, but he of us. We learn, in short, that this loving, secure, ultimate Jesus reigns. Long live the King.

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Monday Prayer for Our Nation

candlesAlmighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will.
Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 820)

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Saints Alive

Crazed GlassA sermon preached on All Saints’ Sunday at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Rockland, ME. Lections: Daniel 7:1-3,15-18Psalm 149Ephesians 1:11-23, and Luke 6:20-31.

My maternal grandmother, after whom I am named, was a collector of glass objects. She had all kinds, but the ones I liked best were a collection of glass balls.

Some were about the size of golf balls, others were bigger, some had objects embedded within them: butterflies or a flower whose delicate petals were forever preserved by the glass and in whose curve their details were magnified.  There were colored glass balls and a great Murano glass ball from Italy with its brilliant, fun and intricate multi-colored pattern. But my favorite was a clear ball of glass, about the size of a small baseball or a field hockey ball, composed of crazed glass – glass that was marked by fine, spider web like cracks all through it.

It LOOKED like it could break apart at any moment, as if – if you were but to touch it once in the wrong way, the whole thing would shatter into a zillion pieces. But it was, in fact, one of the sturdiest of pieces.

My grandmother called this glass sort of crazed glass “saints’ glass”. It was an odd term for her – she was a good Yankee Puritan, who had no room for things called saints. Still, there it was in her collection – Saints’ Glass, and we both loved it. I sometimes wonder now if it didn’t have something to do with its seeming fragility that belied a true inner strength. A quality I recognized in her and one often shared by all saints.

Our collect for today says that the saints bask continually in the presence of God and in so doing know “ineffable joys”. Ineffable joys. What a great word “ineffable”. It means incapable of being expressed in words. You gotta love a language in which there is a word that means incapable of being described with words. The irony is so perfect. But back to the content of my point: Ineffable joy. Unspeakable joy. Knock you silly with joy till you are struck mute and overwhelmed by joy.

  • Who wouldn’t want that?
  • Who wouldn’t want to count themselves in that number, when the saints go marching in?
  • To bask in the ineffable joy of God’s presence
  • To count oneself as among those blessed by God

The marks of blessing traditionally were

  • glory, wealth, valor,
  • skill, accomplishment, wisdom

And, as Luke tells it, that would have been what Jesus’ hearers expected when he began his Sermon on the Plain. You can almost see the crowds in your minds eye, can’t you? Settling in to hear the familiar words, tucking in to their hampers for whatever was the first-century Judean equivalent was of fried chicken, deviled eggs and refrigerator pickles, with one eye on the kids and another on the Teacher himself.

And then the shock of the substance of Jesus’ list. Imagine the crowd, stopped in mid-mouthful, to hear:

  • instead of riches, the blessed are those who are POOR
  • instead of the happy, the blessed are those who weep and know deep, deep loss
  • instead of those who are fat and sleek, the blessed are those who are hungry

The blessed, the holy ones, in short, are those who know they need God and who have set their hope on Christ, as the letter to the Ephesians puts it.

Luke’s beatitudes goes on to include woes. Woe to those who have never known hunger, or weeping, or poverty. That inexperience, the challenge of all wealthy parents, can lead to a hardness of heart,

  • an incapacity for empathy
  • an inability to see another’s need and to respond with compassion

The blessed, says Jesus, are those who act as though they’ve already known poverty and sadness and hunger. They’ve been through those tests, those ordeals of human need.

And, through those experiences of poverty, weeping, and hunger, have come to know God’s grace. Such people, says Luke, have emerged, driven to holiness of life:

  • with their patient regard for one another
  • with their commitment in the face of persecution
  • with their willingness to share in God’s compassion and peace. They know
    • to share the coat and even the shirt if you can with one who comes to you naked,
    • to share your home or the warmth of your fire with one who is homeless
    • to share your food with one who is hungry

Is it possible that Jesus is suggesting that life itself is that ordeal? Could it be that to be a saint is to live and love amidst the ordeals of life? Is it possible that saintliness is born at very those times we would just as soon avoid:

  • times of poverty, confusion or doubt,
  • times of emptiness, despair, pain or fear
  • in short, in times of ordeal?

I think that’s exactly what Jesus is saying.

  • The psalmist sings, “you have tried us as silver is tried”.
  • You have put us through your refiner’s fires to mold and shape us.
  • Or, as I began to think this week, you have put us—we fragile, glass-like creatures – into a great annealing fire until our faces are covered with fine, spider-like cracks. The faces of saints.
  • The faces of those who know our deepest need for God and God’s deepest blessings.

Today, we will baptize two new members into the Body of Christ, welcome two new saints into our midst. We will splash them with the cool waters of baptism, reminding them of the coolness of God’s hand amidst the refining fires of life.

You know, we cannot prevent our children or any of us from ever knowing life’s ordeals and pains. But we can help them know God’s blessings and the resilience that comes from trusting in that abiding sense of God’s presence. And we can

  • bathe them in God’s own living water.
  • We can invite God’s own Holy Spirit to give them each a spirit of wisdom, that they may set their hope on Christ and know the riches of God’s glorious inheritance among the saints
  • we can welcome them into this community of saints, and into the larger, mystical body of Christ.
  • which holds us, cracked and crazed and imperfect as we are, until at length we, too, can come to share in God’s ineffable joys.

 

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Adinkra are visual symbols, originally created by the Ashanti of Ghana and the Gyaman of Côte d’Ivoire in West Africa. They represent concepts or aphorisms, and are extensively used in fabrics, pottery, logos and advertising. This one represents the very hard seed of the wawa, serving as an inspiration to persevere.

Adinkra are visual symbols, originally created by the Ashanti of Ghana and the Gyaman of Côte d’Ivoire in West Africa. They represent concepts or aphorisms, and are extensively used in fabrics, pottery, logos and advertising. This one represents the very hard seed of the wawa, serving as an inspiration to persevere.

A sermon preached for The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Rockland, ME. Lections: Jeremiah 31:27-34Psalm 119:97-1042 Timothy 3:14-4:5, and Luke 18:1-8.

Two stories. Story #1 is about Louise, the prayer lady.

Every single person at All Saints, East Hartford, CT, knew Louise as “the prayer lady”. Old, young, member, non-member, man, woman – everyone had found themselves on the receiving end of one of Louise’s prayers.

Her prayers typically would arrive with the mail in a greeting card or on an elegant piece of stationery bearing a handwritten note that included your prayer. There, in Louise’s slightly crooked cursive, would be two to three very concise sentences of encouragement, of hope, of challenge. And then, from her ample library of prayer books or from her Bible, she would have copied the prayer or the verses meant most especially for you. She always hit the mark.

Louise prayed for births and deaths;

  • for suffering, sickness, and struggles;
  • for brokenness and failures.
  • She prayed for the ache in our lives even we didn’t know how to name.

And Louise prayed for her church. I barely had my foot in the door when Louise came to me, frustrated. “There’s no prayer in this church” she lamented. “Not a single group gathering for prayer. No wonder we’re so contentious. No wonder we’re so stuck. So I think I’m going to start one,” she said. “And would you mind if we started by praying for you?”

When you put it that way, what was I going to say? Louise gathered up a group of about six people. They prayed for each and every aspect of the life of that church. They prayed for children and youth,

  • for confirmands,
  • for fledgling new ministries;
  • for finances, missions, worship, outreach, education;
  • they prayed for every hint of divisiveness in the church, and there was a good bit of divisiveness.
  • They prayed for adults Louise felt simply needed to be held in the heart of Christ.
  • They prayed for the Spirit to come and fill our life together with holy gifts.
  • They prayed for God to make a way when it looked like there was no way.

Louise and her little group gathered in the chapel and prayed and everyone knew it. The church trusted their prayers. Whenever we found ourselves in a tight spot, I would say to the staff—“It’s going to be OK, Louise is praying.” And I meant it.

This woman knew persistence in prayer, and she came to embody for many of us the love that lives in the heart of God.

When I turned fifty and Louise was in her eighties, she sent me prayer. In essence, it read “Oh honey, only fifty? God has plenty of time to turn you inside out and upside down a few more times. Enjoy it.”

Louise used to say that, for her, God was “all the way down”, where our hearts make their home.” For Louise, all the way down, at the bottom of it all, was where her prayers began.

Story #2 is from the crime blotter of Manassas, VA

Mona Shaw was having some problems with her cable company. Company technicians had failed to show up for the scheduled installation of a new service. Then two days later they came but left with the job half done. Two days after that they cut off all service. Determined not to give up, 75-year-old Mona and her husband went to the local call center to complain but was told to wait on a bench outside in the August heat. Finally, after two sweaty hours the customer rep leaned out the door and said the manager had left for the day. “Thanks for coming!” he said.

Do you know the experience—when it seems as if you’re dealing with inscrutable corporate powers that are treating you like a nobody?

Well, Mona Shaw decided she wasn’t going to take it any more. The next morning she gathered up her husband and a ball and peen hammer and said, “C’mon, honey, we’re going to the cable company.” When she walked into the office things got a little out of control.

  • BAM! She smashed the keyboard of the customer’s rep with the hammer,
  • BAM! She hit the monitor,
  • BAM! the telephone was next.

People scattered and screamed, the police showed up, and off she went to the police station. Virginians can be scrappy. But, I think Mona Shaw along with Louise the Prayer Lady are the lineal descendants of the widow we heard about in our gospel this morning.

That widow had her own problems, dealing with a crooked judge who couldn’t care less about insignificant people like her. We don’t know exactly what brought her to the judge, but to be a widow in that day and time was about as vulnerable a position as you could be in. And this pushy, pestering woman wasn’t going down without a fight.

“Grant me justice,” she demands again and again, irritating the judge.

  • She pursues him on the streets of the city;
  • she hounds him until he can’t take it any more.

until finally the judge gives in, and her persistence carries the day.

Jesus told the disciples this story so that they “would pray always and not lose heart.” Life can be hard, and disappointments are real, and we would have to be made of stone not to feel discouraged sometimes. But persistence and perseverance, Jesus seems to be suggesting, is what enables us to find our hearts again,

  • to connect to our heart energy and live from that place inside
  • even when externally, there is little to show for it.

Theologian Walter Wink says persistence in prayer is more like haggling in an outdoor bazaar than the polite lists of concerns we usually offer in our churches. It’s Mona Shaw – without the hammer. But it’s also where Louise found her home with God “all the way down”, a way of being with God in the struggle of our days.

In a few moments we will offer our prayers for today. We’ll say them politely because that is our way, but let’s pray them with all our heart, trusting that the prayers themselves will help us find our hearts.

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