Winter is here and it looks like a snow globe outsidehttp://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/themes/crocal/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg150150adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
Winter is here and so ends the Season of Christmas and begins the Season of Epiphany. 2017-01-05 Broadcast
Richard Maresca’s funeral and Lifetree Cafe, this weekhttp://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/themes/crocal/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg150150adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
So you think we are having a white Christmas?http://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/themes/crocal/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg150150adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
E Broadcast November 10, 2016http://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/themes/crocal/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg150150adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
Christ Church Is a Member of the United Nations Global Compacthttp://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/themes/crocal/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg150150adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
In 2015 Christ Church became a member of the United Nations Global Compact. We embrace, support, and commit to enact within our sphere of influence the core values in the areas of human rights, labour standards, the environment, and anti-corruption. The Ten Principles within the core values are listed below. For more information, please contact the rector or follow the link above.
Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and
Principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
Principle 4: the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour;
Principle 5: the effective abolition of child labour; and
Principle 6: the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;
Principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and
Principle 9: encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.
Principle 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.
Being One Body Is Hardhttp://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/themes/crocal/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg150150adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
The body was broken. Everything seemed to be falling apart. Former friends were fighting with one another. Factionalism was rampant as varies parties fought with each other over control and refused to compromise. What some considered to be immoral, others praised as righteous and just. Much of the dissention was fueled by religious disagreements about which group was being true to the tradition. Arguments abounded over sources of authority, what was factual and or merely personal opinion. Some wealthy folk apparently tried to use their money to influence others and sway the outcome, while some utilized their eloquence to do the same.
To what am I referring? What broken body do I have in mind?
The Middle East?
The European Union?
The U.S. Congress?
The United States?
The Democratic Party?
The Republican Party?
The Anglican Communion?
A case could be made for each of these. Illustrations are many. But those aren’t the bodies that I have in mind. The body I’m thinking about is the Church in Corinth in the middle of the first century. Saint Paul had lived and worked in Corinth for nearly a year and a half to found and build up the church. Then he went back across the Aegean Sea (to what is modern-day Turkey) to do the same in the city of Ephesus.
At the time, Corinth was a thriving Greek Mediterranean port city—one of the great crossroads of commerce, ideas, and cultures where Greeks, Romans, and Eastern peoples came together.
Sometime after Paul left Corinth, he got word that things weren’t going so well back in Corinth—and that became the occasion for writing several letters that have come down to us in the form of two Epistles: First and Second Corinthians.
The most famous and well-known chapter in these letters is First Corinthians 13, which concludes with the memorable words: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” This chapter is most often read at weddings—I’d venture to guess about 90% of the weddings in which I’ve participated. But what many people don’t know or have forgotten is that this “love poem,” along with the rest of the Corinthian correspondence, was penned in the middle of a big ole, nasty, church fight.
Paul was trying to deal with the divisions and disorders in the Corinthian community church. He even named some of the factions: there were those who claimed that they belonged to Paul, or Cephas, or Apollos, or even Jesus.
Just prior to chapter 13 (which, by the way, will be our epistle reading for next week), just before the love poem is this portion of chapter 12 that’s our lectionary text for today. Paul teaching about the nature of the church uses the metaphor of the body.
We’ve already had it read to us, so I’m just going to repeat a few highlights:
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13. . . . we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
21The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’
God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.
As beautiful as it sounds and as ideal as it is, this is difficult. A trying teaching. In practical application, being one body is hard. It’s tough to stay connected, to be in relationship with difficult and disagreeable people.
This is an especially hard saying for Americans. There’s that pioneer spirit; everyone for him or herself; rugged individualism and all that it entails. All this talk of being one body flies in the face of what many hold as primary values.
If get my feelings hurt, then I want to get back at somebody, to make them suffer because I’ve suffered. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
It’s hard to be loving and kind and gracious while trying to uphold policies and principles to which you are deeply committed.
It’s easier to break off and go our own way, to distance ourselves, to say, in effect, “We’re not the same body anymore. I’m done with you.”
I think of Dave Brat, the Tea Party lawmaker from Virginia, who recently said, “Democrats shouldn’t cite the Bible, because conservatives own the entire (Christian) tradition.”
How do I love a guy like that?
How do I love an African Anglican Bishop who advocates criminalizing homosexuals and putting them to death?
How do I love my relatives who live in an armed compound?
In a sermon this week, our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry reminded the congregation of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Ten Commandments for participants in the 1963 Birmingham protests. Remember, this was the year of the killing of four Sunday School girls in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, It was the year of Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor who directed the use of fire hoses and police attack dogs against protestors that included children.
Each participant in the Birmingham protests was required to abide by Dr. King’s “Ten Commandments.”
Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
Remember always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation—not victory.
Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration.
The movement, of course, is the Jesus Movement. And that’s why the first commandment, before you march, is “Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.”
Sometimes our faith demands things of us that are just hard. Sell what you have and give to the poor. Forgive, how many times ? . . . 70 times 7. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Take up your cross and follow me.
Paul’s solution: We must remember that this isn’t about us—it’s about God. “ . . . no dissension within the body—may the members have the same care for one another . . . because it’s about Christ’s body, not mine, not your’s, but Christ’s.
But it’s still hard. That’s why we need to meditate on Jesus and why we need each other.
From the Rectorhttp://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/themes/crocal/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg150150adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
From the Rector . . .
You may be hearing some more news about the Anglican Communion. The Primates of the 38 Provinces of the Anglican Communion are gathered for a weeklong meeting at Canterbury Cathedral in England with the head of the Communion who is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. The “Primates” are the head bishops of the Provinces. Our new Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, is representing us who are members of The Episcopal Church.
Here is a brief summary of the news from that meeting.
(Episcopal News Service) A majority of Anglican primates Jan. 14 asked that the Episcopal Church, for a period of three years, “no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”
Expressing their unanimous desire to walk together, the primates said that their call comes in response to the decision by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention last June to change canonical language that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman and authorize two new marriage rites with language allowing them to be used by same-sex or opposite-sex couples. (end)
Although it comes as “news” and may live for a day or so in the news cycle if something more newsworthy doesn’t take its place, this really is old “news”. The Primates of the global south tend to be evangelicals and biblical literalists. They haven’t been in serious communion with us for more than a decade for our women bishops and now for ordination and marriage of homosexuals. It is sad but not news.
Second, the proclamations from the Primates do not in any way impact our mission and ministry. Last Friday we were privileged to host a conversation sponsored by the Dayton Peace Museum on Welcome Dayton, which is the effort to welcome and resettle refugees. Mayor Nan Whaley was the keynoter. This Friday Christ Church is the site for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Breakfast. CityHeart is welcoming and assisting poor and homeless people every weekday. Hungry people are being fed through the Episcopal Food Pantry and hot meals served in the homeless shelters, people are counseled and visited and prayed with, God is glorified in worship and hungry souls are fed with the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation.
That was true yesterday and will be true tomorrow despite Primatial declarations.
Isn’t it great to sing the Christmas carols? They bring joy and peace and a sense that, if but for a moment, all is right with the world. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been known to throw a carol or two into a summer service here at Christ Church. Christmas in July. When it’s been too long since the previous Christmas and too many months until the next, and we need some joy and peace, a Silent Night, an O Little Town of Bethlehem, or a Joy to the World is just what the doctor ordered. Balm for the soul.
Christmas caroling with people young and old, in homes and nursing homes, as we did once again this past Sunday night, lightens the mood of one and all.
I love the words of the carols, but these especially from O Holy Night speak to my spirit.
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
As I recently wrote in a Christmas letter, “The lyrics capture the wonder of divinity infusing human life and shinning out into the world—even in the darkest of times. They also touch upon some of our greatest desires for love, peace, freedom, and joy.
However, before I become too sappy—wrapped in sentimentality—in the background is the knowledge that the world is seriously askew – something’s fundamentally wrong. As a friend has written:
“This is the confusion I carry with me into these pivotal days when Advent turns to Christmas, the music gets better, churches go all out, families gather, and the delight of children becomes the sign of God’s love. Is Christmas just a one-day break in our captivity to fear and hatred? Or are we truly welcoming the one who said, “Don’t be afraid,” and “Love your neighbor”?”
Sadly, there are many for whom there’s little love and peace, who experience oppression and sorrow on a daily basis. While we gather here to sing the carols and perhaps catch a glimpse of a brighter world, we need to make another move as well. That is, to allow the Spirit of the child of Bethlehem to enter into our hearts and souls and minds so that we can bring his love and peace to those who know it not.
Confounding the expectations of many, when God determined to come into the world, he did not enter with legions and military might. He came as an infant—a vulnerable infant—much like those small children whose bodies wash up on Mediterranean beaches—victims of forces that care not a wit for them—forces of geo-politics, and the might of armies, militias and terrorists. The babies are but a sampling of the misery of hundreds of thousands of refugees in camps and stretched along migration routes.
Here at home powerful voices are calling for banning all Moslem brothers and sisters from entering the country, carpet-bombing people, and “let’s kill all their family members just because we can.”
Jesus is no stranger to the same powerful forces: no place to lay his head (displaced from his home by a decree from the Roman Caesar) and a refugee in Egypt (fleeing King Herod who was willing to kill all the infants of Bethlehem in an effort to end the life of just one holy child of God)—never understanding that all infants are holy. Jesus birth was announced not in the halls of the powerful and wealthy, but to poor shepherds who tended the flocks of the powerful and wealthy.
My wife, Ann, and I have been frequently asked by our children, “What do you want for Christmas?” Our common response is “World peace.” Frustrated, knowing they can’t fulfill that wish, they ask, “What else?” Lowering our sites a little we say, “How about peace in the house?” The latest response to that is “What do you want for Christmas that can come wrapped in a box?”
But therein, I think, lies the key to Christmas. I like stuff that comes in boxes, and I like to give things wrapped in boxes. But the true gifts, the gifts that bring light into the world, are not the things that we demand or even receive. I want a whole lot of things like world peace, peace at home, more civility and caring for all of God’s creatures, and for the earth. I want hatred to disappear and fear to flee. I want less greed.
I want those things, but I doubt that I’ll receive them.
But do you know what? I can give them as gifts to others.
I can be more peaceful and refuse to foster divisions and hatred. I can be more patient and try to bring light to those who live in and with darkness. I can be kind and civil. I can do my part to care for God’s earth and to live as best I can without fear of my brothers and sisters—regardless of their religion or lack thereof. I can be more generous with my time and talent and treasure.
Sister Joan Chittister, one of America’s leading spiritual voices, has written:
…That is the kind of peace—disarmed, foreign to hate, and receiving of the other—that was born in the manger we remember at Christmas time. That is the kind of Christmas peace we must ourselves seek to be. Then ‘Merry Christmas’ will really mean something.
I wish for you this Christmas and throughout the New Year much love, deep peace, great freedom, abundant joy – and a carol in your heart that sounds each and every day for all around to hear. It’s an act of resistance, a carol of hope, and a work of love. Sing it loudly!
What Then Should We Do?http://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/themes/crocal/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg150150adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
The preacher shouted! The preacher roared! The preacher threatened! The preacher called them names!
You’re nothing but a bunch of poison snakes. Why even these rocks are better than you. You’re like rotted trees bearing spoiled fruit. Go to hell and burn.
That’s what the preacher said, isn’t it? That’s what I heard John the Baptist say to the crowds coming down the hill from Jerusalem. They came to hear the wild and crazy man rant down by the riverside. And rant he did.
At one point when he paused to catch his breath, someone shouted back: “So what do you want? What should we do?” (No one says what they were thinking he’d say, but I can imagine them thinking that he’d tell them to go to the temple, pay tithes, make sacrifices, go on retreat, enter a monastery—you get my drift: do something really religious.) But no, the preacher told them to do some things that aren’t often thought to be religious.
If you have an extra coat, share it with someone who doesn’t have one.
If you’ve got food, share it, too.
If you collect taxes, don’t take any more than prescribed in order to pad your own pockets.
Soldiers, don’t extort money by making false threats and accusations and then blackmail the accused. Just live off your pay.
Then the preacher connects this behavior with baptism. It’s really interesting how baptism is coupled with love, compassion, and honesty.
Baptism is what we call a sacrament. A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. On the outside we see water placed on a person’s forehead with a sign of the cross. But inwardly is a dedication of the heart to God, to God’s Kingdom, God’s values. Another way to say that is that baptism is a pledge of allegiance to the Kingdom of God. For those baptized as infants, there’s a promise by the adults who to raise the child as honest and compassionate lovers of all God’s people.
For many folk the baptism ceremony is an end in itself—a one time event—a ceremonial requirement to be fulfilled in order to be a member of the church. And that may be true of the outward and visible sign with the water and the cross on the forehead. But the inward and spiritual grace part of baptism is a lifelong journey—walking with God, living with God, even wrestling and arguing with God.
People who know and watch me function as priest are clear about the fact that I’m not what we call a high churchman. I wouldn’t know what to do with an incense pot if one were thrust into my hands. I’m pretty sure that I don’t tie this rope belt around my waist in the proper churchly manner. There are all sorts of hand motions and bows that my high church, priest friends perform with which I’m not familiar.
So it came as a surprise to me and to some of you earlier this year when I started putting out the baptismal font with water near the door of the church. At first, some folk weren’t sure what it was. Several times I’ve found cash and envelopes floating in the water—left by folk who thought it was some new form of offering plate. Perhaps a way of cleansing the money—the term “money laundering” takes on a whole new meaning.
There’s nothing magical about the water. It’s simply tap water that I’ve said a short prayer over, asking God’s blessing on it that it might serve as a reminder to all of us of our allegiance and identity. As you walk past the water in the font, if you’re comfortable in doing so, simply dip your finger into it and then touch your forehead with the wet finger—an outward and visible sign—a reminder that I am/we are baptized.
It’s hard to be Christian, a person of faith. There are some places in the world where Christians are physically threatened—even killed. But here in this land the greatest threat to Christians and potential Christians is confusion. For in the name of Jesus some preachers with loud microphones say that we should hate our enemies, despise non-Christians, pack more heat, be fearful of the stranger. Others tell us that Christianity has to do with being anti-science, against birth-control, and free to discriminate against anyone for whom we don’t wish to bake a wedding cake. Still others tell us that Jesus’ greatest desire is that we all be prosperous.
And so it was about that time that I put out the water in the font. Because in the midst of all the clamor and competing claims about what it means to be Christian, it comes down to a bottom line—one made pretty clear by the ranting preacher—love, compassion, honesty. To say that “I am baptized” is to behave in the way laid out by John the Baptizer and his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth.
Love and compassion that lead to a more equitable distribution of food and clothing and the things we all need to be well–and an honesty that not only refuses to defraud, but to be forthright in a way that transcends willful ignorance, prejudice, and ideology. The goal of the Christian life is to let go of self and to benefit the common good.
Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation, was vilified and pursued by those who would take his life. He was often confused by the varying claims and arguments swirling about. Against his doubts and discouragement, Luther would remind himself, “I am baptized!” People in the castle where he was translating the Bible from Latin into German, would hear him shouting in the middle of the night, “I am baptized.” “I belong to Jesus and to his agenda: love, compassion, honesty.”
There water in the aisle isn’t there because I’m becoming a high churchman. It’s there because I’m Christian. And I want all of us to be reminded—week in and week out—that we are baptized. This is our primary identity. More important than class, race, nationality, political persuasion, gender, sexual identity, the kind of car you drive, or your favorite social media—you are baptized and you will strive with all your might to be loving, compassionate, and honest.
That’s what the preacher said when he responded to the one who shouted: “What shall we then do?”
Then the preacher went back to ranting about winnowing forks, separating wheat from chaff, unquenchable fires and burning in hell. I suppose some preachers have to do that to hold people’s attention.
Gospel in a Blue Notehttp://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/themes/crocal/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg150150adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
Lord Jonathan Sacks is the Chief Rabbi in Great Britain. He opens his most recent book with these words:
. . . . God weeps. So the book of Genesis tells us. Having made human beings in his image, God sees the first man and woman disobey the first command, and the first human child commit the first murder. Within a short space of time ‘the world was filled with violence’. God ‘saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth’. We then read one of the most searing sentences in religious literature. (Genesis 6:6) ‘God regretted that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.’
Nothing was different by the time of Jesus. He was born into a world of mass murder (the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem), beheading (John the Baptist), and crucifixion (Jesus himself and thousands of others in the first century). This wasn’t the world of Hallmark cards and prosperity Gospel, sugar plum fairies and red-nosed reindeer, but a world of evil and pain.
In the reading this morning we heard John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, describing the world of “those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”
Some years ago there began a movement to hold “Blue Christmas” services for people who couldn’t bring themselves to participate in the happiness and joy of the season—folk who were recently bereaved, depressed, wounded in some fashion. But there has always been a sense in which Christmas is blue, and we should never forget that there’s a contextual gloom.
This contextual gloom is so much a backdrop to our world as well. It seems that there’s a new report of evil, of carnage, of mass destruction in every news cycle . . . punctuated by natural disasters and pending disasters. Place names, formerly known and unknown, now carry a punch: names like Columbine, Nichel Mines, Sandy Hook, Ferguson, Paris, San Bernadino and so many others.
In his 2014 Beecher Lectures at Yale University, The Rev. Otis Moss, suggested that in this context, the Church must learn to speak the Gospel in a Blue Note. The blues combined African rhythms with the experienced pain of slavery. The result was the emergence of the negro spirituals that spoke of struggle in a way that sustained the slaves in their darkness.
Many Christians speak of Jesus as savior and liberator of those who have their backs up against the wall. But before looking at Jesus as savior of the oppressed or as victor over the power of death—we need to pause and see Jesus as a victim—a victim who understands what it means to be terrorized, diminished, and demeaned.
“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus.”
According to Flannery O’Connor, Christians . . . are burdened by their knowledge of an alternative world because they have encountered a God of grace and love. But the world that they look at does not fit the alternative world. . . . They see “the grotesque,” who are out of synch with God, as well as characters who demonstrate the grace of God even though they (too) are distanced from God. Through this tension (we are) drawn to the grotesque of blues and find that God is loose in the world.
I think of Mother Teresa who felt separate from God—abandoned by God—but demonstrated God’s love every time she wiped the face of a leper—which of course was the face of Jesus.
Moss says that “Blue note (theology) is a way of knowing. We refuse to turn away from the beauty in the ashes; neither shall we turn from the ashes that were once a bouquet of beauty.”
I think of the provost of Coventry Cathedral, England. On the night of Nov. 14, 1940, the City of Coventry burned to death. Wave after wave of German bombers spewed destruction from the heavens. It was the first attempt in the history of warfare to totally destroy a city by indiscriminate bombing in a single operation. It was not the last: Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki. But Coventry was the first.
On the morning of November 15th the dawn revealed the full horror of a dying city. The silence was the silence of shock and terror. A small group of people gathered in the smoldering ruins of their beloved cathedral and caretaker Jack Forbes took two charred 14th Century roof timbers and fashioned them into a rude cross and drove it into the rubble, making it another Calvary, identifying human suffering, brutality, and pain with the Crucifixion of Jesus.
Provost Richard Howard then etched two words in the ashes at the foot of that rude cross, words from Jesus’ own lips when he hung on his cross: “FATHER FORGIVE.”
“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus.”
Otis Moss tells the story of learning about the Gospel in a Blue Note from a six-year old girl. His parish, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, was going through a stressful time.
My predecessor had been unfairly lifted up and attacked in the media because a person who’d been kissed by nature’s sun was running for the presidency.
As a result media were outside of our church everyday. There were a hundred death threats every week: “We are going to kill you. We are going to bomb your church.”
The stress was so painful that it was very difficult to sleep at night. One night I was half asleep and heard a noise in the house. My wife, Monica, punched me and said, “You go check that out.”
So I did. Like a good preacher I grabbed my rod and staff to comfort me. I went walking through the house with my rod and staff that was made in Louisville with the name Slugger on it.
I looked downstairs, and then I heard the noise again. I made my way back upstairs and peaked in my daughter’s room. There was my daughter Makayla dancing in the darkness—just spinning around, saying, “Look at me, Daddy.”
I said, “Makayla, you need to go to bed. It is 3 a.m. You need to go to bed.”
But she said, “No, look at me, Daddy. Look at me.” And she was spinning, barrettes going back and forth, pigtails going back and forth.
I was getting huffy and puffy wanting her to go to bed, but then God spoke to me. “Look at your daughter! She’s dancing in the dark. The darkness is all around her but it is not in her!”
Makayla reminded me that weeping may endure for a night, but if you dance long enough joy will come in the morning. It is the job of preachers to teach the Blue Note gospel, the gospel that sends this word to us in the hardest of times: do not let the darkness find its way in you. Dance in the dark.
Don’t let the darkness live in you. No revenge. No hatred. No sense that getting even is part of our response to great evil. The only retort that does not encourage more evil is forgiveness and love.
The next time you hear of monstrous evil, and the pundits and politicians start their hateful rants, turn them off. Listen, rather to the angels. “Fear not.” Don’t be afraid.” Listen to the child dancing in the dark.
 Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, Schocken Books: New York, 2015, p. 3
 From the Song of Zechariah, Luke 1:68-79. Quoted text is from Luke 1:79.
 Article in The Christian Century, Nov. 25, 2015 adapted from Otis Moss, Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World, Westminster John Knox, 2015, based on his 2014 Beecher Lectures at Yale.
Life Tree Cafe Is Movinghttp://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/themes/crocal/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg150150adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
The Life Tree Cafe is moving. Until farther notice, beginning on Tuesday, November 10, we will meet in the Christ Church Parlor from 6:30-7:30 pm.
The vision for Life Tree Cafe is to offer serious conversations about issues that matter in people’s lives and experience, and to do this in a fairly public place for accessibility and visibility.
We are grateful to the owner of The Toxic Brew on Fifth Street in the Oregon District for hosting us every Tuesday since our public opening in mid-September. Despite our fondest wishes and best efforts, some evenings the noise level was fairly loud, which made it difficult to hear the leaders and/or the video portions of the programs. Last night we also had a barking dog in addition to very loud chatter in the other room—so much so that at times we couldn’t even hear each other.
Please share this word as broadly as you are able. And let us know of any ideas you may have for a more public space where we can offer the Life Tree program. Ideally, it would be a somewhere that is regularly available early on Tuesday evenings at no charge, fairly quiet, with a flat screen smart TV, and with a fair amount of foot traffic close by.
The topic for November 10, examines the question, “Does everything happen for a reason?”
A CityHeart Moment: The Invaluable Gift of Time and Resourceshttp://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/themes/crocal/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg150150adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
As CityHeart expands our volunteer base we also expand the combined skills, knowledge and expertise of our ministry.
We are pleased to have welcomed our parish nurse as a CityHeart volunteer a few months ago and we are keeping an open mind on how her skills might impact the ministry. We have discussed the possibility of health screenings at CityHeart, but getting to know the daily operations and the people we serve is a critical first step in process. In the short term, individual visitors are benefiting from her presence and skill as the following example demonstrates the invaluable gift of time and sharing of resources.
Ryan came to CityHeart on a recent Monday morning and asked if we could help with a prescription. CityHeart can and will help to purchase a prescription or offer to help with co-pay if needed. But this situation would prove to be a great learning experience for our newer volunteer who is training to be a Resource Specialist. We begin by verifying if the client can be served by an existing local program. We know of at least two possible resource options for people who are homeless and/or un-insured needing health and pharmaceutical care in Dayton.
In listening to Ryan’s story, we learned he was just released from Miami Valley Hospital and has a blood clot, and was given a written prescription for a blood thinner. He quietly stated that he is homeless and has no money to pay for the medicine. He indicated he is staying at the Gateway homeless shelter.
First we asked if he had ever used the Samaritan Homeless Clinic and Ryan replied that he can’t go there because he doesn’t have a case manager. This was an incorrect assumption, but Ryan was confused, possibly developmentally delayed, and is not fully aware of his options. It is uncanny how so many people like Ryan who are confused or mentally ill – who have difficulty knowing what to do or where to turn for help – find their way to CityHeart tucked away in the basement of Christ Church. We believe it’s a God thing!
So we explained that the Samaritan clinic provides ongoing treatment for homeless persons and can usually prepare their prescriptions on-site, with transportation from the shelter provided. We also suggested that he could possibly have the prescription filled at the Reach-Out Pharmacy that offers both a clinic and prescription assistance for low-income and un-insured persons. Ryan agreed that we could make some contacts on his behalf.
Our health-minded volunteer confidently jumped into action and began checking the resource information we have on-hand in our office. Next she verified information on the respective clinic websites in attempting to determine the best course of action for Ryan. After making some phone calls, she confirmed that his prescription was unfortunately not on the formulary at Reach-Out Pharmacy. A new and different prescription would need to be written for them to serve Ryan. Since he came from the ER this did not seem like the best option.
In speaking with the people at Samaritan Homeless Clinic, the CityHeart volunteer found they were very interested in serving Ryan and asked if he could come in that afternoon. We verified he did not need a case manager to receive services. The CityHeart volunteer then carefully explained to Ryan what she had found out and he agreed to go. She gave him directions and a bus token to get to the clinic. She explained that a transport van makes two round-trips daily between the Gateway shelter and the homeless clinic. Samaritan would be able to fill his prescription and provide follow-up care as necessary. Ryan would get a ride back to the shelter in the late afternoon. Ryan was very appreciative for our help, happy to have a plan, and grateful that someone who took the time to care.
By capably and compassionately responding to Ryan’s immediate need, this new volunteer learned first-hand some of the resources that are available in the community. This type of on-the-job “training” that a Resource Specialist volunteer receives at CityHeart occurs on a daily basis. The situations may be different but the same lesson applies. We simply learn by doing and then we share what we have learned with those who need our help.
If you have compassion for others, a willingness to learn, and the aptitude to search potential resources, you too can become a CityHeart Resource Specialist! Step out in faith and use your talents to serve others through CityHeart.
For more information on volunteering as a Resource Specialist or greeting visitors as hospitality and Intake Specialist, please email CityHeart Director, Kris Sexton at: firstname.lastname@example.org
A CityHeart Moment . . . God Works in Mysterious Wayshttp://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/themes/crocal/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg150150adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
John was one of a number of folks who found themselves “stranded” in Dayton this summer. Most of the others we spoke with were transients who travel across the country for various reasons while the weather is favorable. John was different and his story reminds us of the mystery of God.
John was stranded in Dayton because his car broke down here. He was trying to get from Pittsburg, PA to his home in St. Louis, MO. He went to Pennsylvania to see his sister following the death of a relative. She was struggling greatly with the loss. John explained he has a job but is on a leave of absence until September. He already used the last of his money to repair the car once on this trip. Our CityHeart volunteer sadly told John we do not give money for car repairs, and have no referrals for this type of assistance. We suggested he contact family or friends who might offer financial help.
John has some time before he must return to St. Louis, and he is willing to work. He says he is sleeping in his car which caused us immediate concern. We encouraged him to go to the Gateway Men’s shelter until he can determine how to proceed. We offered him hospitality of coffee and snacks, and gave information for places where he can get free meals. We also provided a resource guide for possible jobs and gave him some bus tokens to get around. He was very appreciative for our help.
John came back the next morning and proved just how resourceful he could be on his own behalf. He told us that he called a friend who paid for one week in a small local hotel. John then contacted a junk yard auto parts department and found the part he needed for about $200.00. A repair shop near where the car broke down had offered to do the repairs for free if John could provide the part. He was very anxious to find some day labor or temp work and was prepared to ask CityHeart for more bus tokens.
It was busy in the office that morning, and while John waited to be seen he chatted with two other visitors about his story. One of those people reached in her pocket and pulled out six bus tokens and generously offered them to John, even though she herself was at CityHeart to request help with a utility bill. Then one of our regular visitors suggested that John check out two Dayton area companies that always need licensed drivers for neighborhood ice cream trucks. Unfortunately the one who offered this suggestion doesn’t have a valid driver license, and he also desperately needs work. The driving job would pay at the end of each shift, which meant that John would be quickly on his way to $200 for the auto part. CityHeart helped to locate both companies on the internet. John called and the prospect was very favorable. We gave John directions and bus route information to find his way.
John left CityHeart a happy and grateful man, and never returned. We can only assume that he quickly accomplished his goal and made his way back to St. Louis. As for our two kind friends, CityHeart paid to stop the utility disconnection for the generous woman who gave away her bus tokens. And then CityHeart ended up providing transportation for the man with the knowledge of ice cream jobs, so he too could go to apply for a different job opportunity!
Sometimes it can be very hard when we are limited in our response, and yet it was a good day at CityHeart, with a wonderful display of generosity and networking amongst these apparent strangers.
Truly, God works in mysterious ways, and all things came together for good!
This sermon was preached on Sunday, August 23, 2015, at Triangle Park, Dayton, Ohio, at an ecumenical service with Christ Episcopal Church, First Baptist Church, and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.
I used to live and work in Bath, Maine. Bath is the City of Ships—shipbuilding started there in 1607 and continues to this very day at the Bath Iron Works.
One summer, just down the peninsula from Bath, a replica of Leif Ericson’s Viking ship was built. Named the Snori, it was taken to Greenland where it was then sailed to Nova Scotia—tracing the voyage that Ericson had made nearly a millennium before.
There’s a saying that there are two seasons in Maine: winter and July. Later that same summer, one July weekend was particularly hot. There was no air-conditioning given that there was only a month of summer. When I got to the church early on that Sunday morning, I propped open the main church doors as well as two other doors in the back of the sanctuary do ventilate and cool the space.
About half an hour before the service began, a squirrel entered the church. I discovered it as it jumped from the altar to the pulpit. Two ushers and I gave chase, only to be eluded at every turn—over and under pews, up and down the aisles—you can imagine. It only left as others arrived for worship—the squirrel apparently decided that it was getting too crowded. So out the door it ran without so much as a glance back at its frustrated pursuers.
I later told the congregation that I had a new symbol for the Holy Spirit—who, like the wind—goes where it will, completely beyond human control. A few weeks later I was presented with this stole to commemorate that Maine summer—a representation of the Viking ship and, of course, my squirrel. It seems appropriate for me to wear my “summer stole” today as we worship on this glorious day in Triangle Park.
That description of the Holy Spirit as being like the wind comes out the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus—in the third chapter of John. Jesus tells Nicodemus that to be part of God’s Kingdom, a person has to be born again.
Nicodemus – a literalist—has a hard time trying to get his mind around how he can get back into his mother’s womb. At which point Jesus says that what he means is that one has to be born of the Spirit.
The wind* blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ (John 3:8-9)
To a Pharisee, a literalist, a legalist, the idea of sitting loose, being free like the wind or a squirrel—“How can these things be?”
Well, here we are on another summer Sunday, Episcopalians and Baptists getting ready to share bread and the fruit of the vine. How can these things be? We have all kinds of jokes about wine and grape juice that arise out of doctrinal differences about the meaning of the Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Mass, the holy Eucharist, the Last Supper. These different understandings have led to division and pain.
About 40 years ago one of my seminary classmates participated in blessing a mixed marriage (Just so you know how much things have changed, back then a mixed marriage was between a Roman Catholic Bride and an Episcopal Groom. The service took place in the Roman Catholic Church. When it was time for distributing the bread and wine, my friend was disinvited, by name, from participating—right along with the groom and his entire Episcopal family.
Seething, my friend bided his time. He was asked to offer the prayer at the reception. He began, “Unfortunately Lord, we were unable to share earlier at the church, so this reception meal is going to have to be for us the true communion this evening.” –Not the most politic thing to say, but many of us have been there—where in the midst of worship—the people of God were unable to share the holy meal.
I don’t mean to diminish or disparage anyone’s dearly held doctrinal understanding of what does or doesn’t happen to the bread and the fruit of the vine. But I do suggest that we can become so protective of our particular doctrines that we lose sight of a larger calling – as St. Paul so clearly said:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (I Corinthians 12:12-13)
So you see, regardless of what we think about what happens with the bread and grape juice—the real body of Christ is the Church—the baptized—you and me.
In a world where
people are terrorized,
fearful for the economy,
fighting terrible diseases,
being exiled in overcrowded refugee camps,
made homeless and marginalized,
so desperate to escape such unimaginable conditions that they’re willing to risk all in unseaworthy vessels to cross the Mediterranean
with global warming proceeding unabated while politicians play Russian roulette with the future of humanity
where candidates for the presidency of the United States promote racial and ethnic hatred and ignorance.
In such a world the church does not have the luxury to squabble over the meaning of communion, how much water must be involved in a baptism, or whether we have bishops in order to be part of the Body of Christ.
We have too much to do—too many issues to address—too many demons to slay—too much hatred to overcome—too few resources to draw upon—to be distracted by doctrinal subtleties. Our work as the Body of Christ is too important.
So what we do here this morning is to throw out the divisions. It is why I so treasure our relationship. We are proclaiming and living out a message for the world. Even with our different doctrines, Episcopal and Baptist—we are one. One Body, one spirit, one Lord, one God and Father of us all.
The Holy Spirit of God, wind or squirrel, is a Spirit that eludes our divisions. It is a Spirit that calls us beyond ourselves to minister to the world.
In the Episcopal tradition, as we distribute the bread’ we say, “The body of Christ.” I have long advocated that we say, “You are the body of Christ.”
It bypasses the liturgical and doctrinal divide about what happens to the bread and the wine. It places the responsibility to be Christ’s body directly on us. It gives us meaning and purpose and courage to follow wherever the Spirit leads
Thanks for being here. Thanks for caring enough to transcend the barriers that separate. And most of all, thanks for the willingness to be Christ’s body to feed the hunger of the world.
O Little Town of Bethlehemhttp://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/themes/crocal/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg150150adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
This has been bread month. By that I mean that today makes the fourth week in a row that we’ve been reading from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John.
July 27th – Feeding the 5000 August 2 – “I am the bread of life.” August 9 – “I am the bread of life.” Twice! plus “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”
Today – Repeats the last verse of last Sunday’s Gospel, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” And then a little eucharistic theology: “Eat my body and drink my blood.”
And guess what? Next Sunday’s gospel portion will include part of today’s reading.
Now, imagine that you were a preacher or even a parish musician. You have to preach about bread for five Sundays in a row, and to select hymns about bread for five consecutive weeks—based essentially on the same texts and phrases. Yun Kim has done a masterful job on picking the hymns, and I’ve avoided the topic by preaching on the Old Testament. But I’ve run out of excuses, so today my subject is bread and Yun has us singing about the Little Town of Bethlehem.
Actually, the Christmas carol was my idea. First of all, I like Christmas carols, and the Christmas season is so short that I never really get enough of them. Second, I thought that we might get a jump on the retailers who will kick off the Christmas season in ernest after Labor Day. And third, I love the fact that O Little Town of Bethlehem was written in 1868 by an Episcopal priest, Phillips Brooks, a few years after he visited the Holy Land. Brooks later became Bishop of Massachusetts. And fourth . . . . let me back up a moment and try to tie this all together.
The compilers of our lectionary may have gone a little overboard with the four consecutive bread readings with the repeated phrases and verses. However, the four gospels agree that Jesus was all about bread. John may have summed it up with Jesus saying, “I am the bread of life,” but Matthew and Luke actually begin their stories by telling the world that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
So the fourth reason for O Little Town of Bethlehem is that the Hebrew name, Bethlehem, literally translated, is beth, house, lehem, bread. Jesus was born in the house of bread.
“Yet in thy dark streets shineth, The everlasting Light, The hopes and fears of all the years, Are met in thee tonight.”
Of course, bread is a metaphor for all that sustains us. Without food and nourishment we wither and die. In order to flourish, we not only need to eat, but to eat well. So it comes as no surprise when John tells us that Jesus came so that we might not just live, but live how? — abundantly.
To live abundantly is to live in the company of Jesus who is the Bread of Life.
Here at Christ Church feeding is what we do.
At CityHeart we feed people with the bread of hope.
Men’s gateway shelter, the women’s and family shelter, the Episcopal Food Pantry, the Red Wagon ministry where we collect food for the “hungry in our city”
The basket where we receive offerings for the hungry
Waffle Shop feeds bodies and souls.
These aren’t extras These are at the heart of what we’re all about as followers of the bread man.
The mission of Christ Church “is to love and serve God, giving of ourselves as we worship, wrestle with questions of faith and nurture the Christ in all people: the friend and the stranger, the satisfied and the needy, the believer and the unbeliever.” In other words, our purpose is to feed, to nurture people, with spiritual and physical food, so that they might thrive.
Our metrics are wrong. The annual parochial report to the diocese and The Episcopal Church, due on March 1, each year, measures institutional numbers focused on weekend church attendance, income, and expenses. Left unasked is the most important question of all. How many people have you fed?
This fall we’re planning to offer a weekly series of conversations on things that matter — as a way of expanding our food ministries—feeding the souls of people, some of whom may not now be members of the church nor may ever be members of it. It’s called LifeTree Cafe to be held in the Oregon District on Tuesday evenings, 7-8 pm, right on 5th Street.
Subjects will vary week by week: immigration, depression, addiction, homelessness, marriage, race, and insights from people who have walked away from church. Participants will be asked to reflect on these and many other topics from their own experience, the stories of others, and from the perspective of what Phillips Brooks called “the hopes and fears of all the years.”
I invite you to be a part of it: to feed hungry souls by connecting them to Jesus, the Bread of Life. We will need a number of volunteers: people to lead, set up, participate, do some publicity, provide financial support, and offer prayer. I’m not asking anyone to make a commitment today—simply to think about how you might help people be fed by the man from the house of bread. We’ll be rolling out the LifeTree Cafe sometime in September—engaging people who might never think of coming through our doors to satisfy the gnawing hunger in their souls. We’ll be getting back to you soon with more details about how you can help.
Remember: week by week we take into ourselves the Bread of Life that we might truly become bread for the malnourished in our city.
May God give us the vision and the means not only to feed hungry bodies but to nourish their souls . . . with abundance.
Lifetree Cafe Coming in Septemberhttp://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2014/10/worship.jpg675582adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
This fall we’re planning to offer a weekly series of conversations on things that matter—as a way of expanding our food ministries—feeding the souls of people, some of whom may not now be members of the church nor may ever be members of it. It’s called Lifetree Cafe to be held in the Oregon District on Tuesday evenings, 7-8 pm.
Subjects will vary week by week: examples include immigration, depression, addiction, homelessness, marriage, race, and insights from people who have walked away from church. Participants will be asked to reflect on these and many other topics from their own experience, the stories of others, and from “the hopes and fears of all the years.” It will be a non-judgmental atmosphere where people will be encouraged to share.
I invite you to be a part of it: to feed hungry souls by connecting them to Jesus, the Bread of Life. We will need a number of volunteers: people to lead, set up, participate, do some publicity, provide financial support, and offer prayer. I’m not asking anyone to make a commitment today—simply to think about how you might help people be fed by the man from the house of bread. We’ll be rolling out the Lifetree Cafe sometime in September—engaging people who might never think of coming through our doors to satisfy the gnawing hunger in their souls. We’ll be getting back to you soon with more details about how you can help.
Remember: week by week we take into ourselves the Bread of Life that we might truly become bread for the malnourished in our city.
On Sunday, August 30, at 9 am in the parlor at Christ Church, a sample Lifetree program will be offered, so that you can get a flavor of what is to come. Please join us.
May God give us the vision and the means not only to feed hungry bodies but to nourish their souls—abundantly.
A CityHeart Moment, July 2015adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
CityHeart is breaking records in our efforts to help people in need.
Activity at CityHeart has been on the rise this spring and summer. In May, we broke all-time records for the number of requests we received for help, the amount of time we spent with those people, and the amount of money we contributed to their emergency needs. CityHeart articles usually focus on a particular story based on the needs of one individual or family. In all this busy-ness I realize it has been two months since I have taken time to write such an article. I implore you to continue reading to experience the reality of a day in the life of CityHeart volunteers and staff . . . an attempt to show how many people and circumstances we encounter in any given day – and the difference we are making.
The day is Monday, July 6 – Katie is the regular volunteer today, a new volunteer Nancy is here to observe, and Kris is staff. The three of us barely keep up with the level of activity. These short snippets just touch the surface of their stories. (All names have been changed to protect their identity.)
10:00AM Opening time – Teresa called just as we opened for the day, she had left two messages over the holiday weekend. We had offered a pledge for her DP&L last week and she says she has paid the rest now. She wanted to know if we send our check to DP&L? Told her we will confirm and take care of it.
Darren came in and asked for a bus token to get home. We haven’t seen him in about two years, still doing well he says smiling, alcohol and drug free! Visited with him briefly and he went on his way.
Mary came in to wait for her friend Kevin who is a CityHeart regular visitor. They often meet up here at CityHeart to enjoy a cup of coffee or cold water, and plan the next steps of their day. Kevin was running later than usual, but he finally arrived and then they were also on their way soon after.
Cindy called the office, she was referred by her Parole Officer because her ID expired while she was in a local detention program for six months. She must have a new ID today before she meets with him for her appointment. We gave her directions on how to find CityHeart, says she will come today.
James called asking for help with a birth certificate. After checking our database we found that CityHeart had recently assisted James to pay his DP&L bill. Our financial policy for emergencies is once in a twelve month period, so today we could not help to purchase a birth certificate, but we were able to give him a referral for another resource where he could get help the next day.
Loretta called for help with rent and deposit. She is a full time student, has four children, and is a victim of domestic violence. It is dangerous for her to stay in her current location and she suddenly needs $1000.00. She only has $400 right now. We confirmed that she is receiving counseling and assistance from the local Domestic Violence program. Although we don’t usually help with up-front moving costs, we have flexibility in extreme circumstances such as this one. CityHeart offered a partial pledge toward her total and gave some referrals for other possible resources. We will anxiously await her return call.
Cindy who called earlier arrived at CityHeart while we were working on the situation with Loretta. She patiently waited and then we prepared a check for her to take to the BMV to obtain her ID today.
Robby walked downtown, he lives about 10 blocks away. He brought his friend Ben who needs help. Robby needs to get to the Job and Family Services where he will pick up the monthly bus pass he receives for medical appointments. We gave him a token so he doesn’t have to walk all the way.
Robby and Ben met when they were both at the Gateway shelter. Ben had been placed into permanent housing through Homefull about a year ago. At that time he was working two jobs and took on a roommate to help with expenses. That living arrangement didn’t work out, he has since lost one of his jobs and hasn’t been able to keep up with the rent. The landlord has allowed him to fall behind three months for $1250.00. We tried our best to offer some referrals but there is not much available for such a large amount. We encouraged him to ask for more hours at work or a get second job again, and actively seek another roommate. Sadly, he may become homeless again. We pray not.
Andrew was stranded in Dayton, travelling from California to Pennsylvania. He arrived just before lunchtime. Volunteers offered him coffee and a snack. He asked if we could help get his birth certificate from West Virginia, says he will need an Ohio ID to go to the bank? He saw how busy we were and said he would come back, told him we were open till 3:00.
Throughout the morning a few other CityHeart regulars were in and out for coffee. At 11:30 members from the noon AA 12-step meeting began to arrive, they often share in CityHeart hospitality offerings of coffee and fruit before their meeting begins.
12:00 NOON – BREAK FOR LUNCH (Are you worn out yet? Volunteers and staff take this time to re-fuel for whatever the afternoon will bring.)
Our first visitor for the afternoon was a new downtown resident, Tammy, who is Deaf. We had talked with her landlord and suggested that if she needed help to come on a Monday when Natalie, our church volunteer who knows sign language, will be on site. New to this area, Tammy came asking for food resources. With Natalie’s help we were able to give referrals for: free hot meal sites, emergency food pantry she can access today, a food pantry list for this zip code, and information for our own Dayton Episcopal Pantry. She was also made aware that our Sunday service is interpreted for the Deaf and invited her to join us for worship. She left with lots of information and a new friend!
Sherry was referred by First Baptist Church, needs help with rent. She called while we were busy working with Tammy, her information was taken and she was told we will need to call back later.
A short break in the action allowed Kris to contact DP&L for Teresa who had called first this this morning. We wrote a check for our pledge, prepared a letter to accompany it and mailed it to DP&L.
Andrea came as a walk-in. She was downtown looking for help with a potential eviction situation. She had a darling 7-month-old baby boy with her, (she is stepping in to get custody because her cousin can’t take responsibility for the child.) Due to an unexpected car repair she still needs $350.00 for rent. She can pay $150.00 and thinks she can get another $150.00, so we faxed a pledge of $50 to the rental office, hoping to help stop the filing of an eviction. Once an eviction is filed at court, she would have to pay an additional $135.00 filing fee which she cannot afford. She was grateful for our offer.
Sheila called wanting help for a deposit on a new apartment. It was explained to her that we assist in emergencies and a deposit is really an up-front cost of moving, so we would not be able to help in this circumstance. She understands our position.
3:00pm – As we were preparing to close for the day, our stranded friend Andrew who was here just prior to lunch came back again. We gave him bus tokens back and forth to the shelter for the night. (He returned the next morning and we took time to assess his situation in greater detail and realized his issue has more to do with gaining access to his social security money for July than needing a birth certificate. The debit card he uses was put on hold because he left California. We contacted Bank of America customer service center and after confirming his identity, they allowed us to explain the situation on his behalf. They will mail a new card to him at the homeless shelter here in Dayton, it will arrive in 5-7 days. Then he can get on his way to Pennsylvania which was his original destination. He was very pleased.)
3:00 + CLOSING TIME – WHEW!!! WHAT A DAY. (Just ask Katie or Nancy, or any other CityHeart volunteers!) Mondays have always been busy, but we are seeing more and more days of non-stop activity like this as our ministry grows and becomes known by more people in the community.
We hope to offer another perspective of CityHeart to the parish soon. This will be a presentation of the overall program, looking at the accomplishments we have made in our three year strategic plan, and what is coming for the future of CityHeart. Please continue to pray for all who are actively engaged in this ministry. It can be difficult to hear the stories and see people suffering, but in the end, serving others and giving hope is what Jesus calls us to do. Amen!
Boating With Jesus: Facing Racismhttp://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/themes/crocal/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg150150adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
Sermon Preached at Christ Church on June 21, 2015
Today is Father’s Day. I loved my dad as I’m sure that most of you did or do as well. But Father’s Day is not part of our liturgical calendar, and today we’ve other fish to fry. So . . . we’ll remember Fathers in the prayers (good fathers and bad, and we’ll ask God to bless them and help them.)
We would be totally remiss to ignore the thing that is upper most in many of our minds, the carnage at Emmanuel AME Zion Church in Charleston, South Carolina this week. Once again, Black people dead. A White shooter.
As a White Man I cannot begin to fathom the depth and extent of Black fear, rage, and pain. Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, Beavercreek, South Charleston and on and on and on. Just the mention of any of these cities triggers a whole new wave of emotion. And, of course, these are deeply connected to the horrible legacy of the Middle Passage, slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings. Racism was built into the founding of this country and into our foundational texts. It is what Jim Wallis called, “America’s Original Sin.”
But because I’m not Black I cannot speak with any authority about what it’s like to be Black in America today. What I can speak about is my Whiteness, my power and privilege, which go largely unnoticed by many with my shade of skin.
Racism is alive and well in America, and one reason for that is because we Whites are the norm. We can go blithely about our business without a thought to our race. . . thinking that race belongs to others—to Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians. If there’s a race problem in America it’s their problem—not ours. And that’s one of the biggest lies going! It’s called denial.
Our friends in AA know all about denial. “If I’ve got a drinking problem, then perhaps I’ll just ignore it and maybe it’ll go away. If I don’t acknowledge it, perhaps no one else will notice and it’ll disappear.” It’s like having an elephant in the living room and everyone in the family just goes about their business pretending that the elephant isn’t there. Denying an alcohol problem doesn’t mean that it isn’t real. It just makes it next to impossible to deal with it and the damage it causes to everyone in the family and the community.
Until we White folk can stand up and tell the truth, stop denying our power and privilege that whiteness buys us in this society, then we can’t solve the problem. We’ll just keep tip-toeing around the elephant.
You’ve got to have a proper and true diagnosis to treat a disease. Two aspirin and a good night’s sleep won’t fix cancer. Putting a stitch in your cheek can’t repair a broken bone. And pretending that it doesn’t exist or that it’s somebody else’s problem can’t cure racism.
We Episcopalians have something to contribute here. In many our liturgies we have confession: daily office, Eucharist, compline etc. Confession is another name for truth-telling, letting go of denial, and accepting responsibility. Truth-telling. No forgiveness without owning up to what I am and what I’ve done and what my society does. Desmond Tutu called the process for moving beyond Apartheid “Truth and Reconciliation.” That’s because he’s an Anglican and he knows how it works. You first make your confession, tell the truth, and only then can we talk about repair, forgiveness, and absolution.
So we Whites have some truth to start telling: truth about our history, truth about power and privilege, truth about our national symbols and icons. To hear some people talk about the Civil War, it was an unpleasantness about “states’ rights” and not about ending slavery.
We just had Memorial Day and soon we’ll celebrate the 4th of July, but we don’t talk much about Juneteenth. It wasn’t until the middle of June, 1865, (June 19th to be precise, nearly two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the end of the Civil War) that a Union ship pulled into the port at Galveston, Texas, with the news that the slaves were free. Juneteenth is the annual celebration of the end of slavery in America, and White America is largely oblivious.
We hear a lot about the Constitution but not much about Blacks counting as only 3/5ths of a human being. We hear all about the “flag that was still there” in a battle with the British, but not about how the bluecoated, U.S. Calvary rode behind that same flag massacring every man, woman, and child in a number of Native American villages. There are different stories and different experiences in this land depending on who we were and where we were. We need to hear those stories!
We have to start talking seriously about denial: denial about racism, denial about global climate change, denial about our militarism, denial of the downside of capitalism—all of which damage and destroy the poor, the non-White, and the weak to a far greater extent than they do the White folk on this planet. Thank God that Pope Francis refused to keep silent any longer about climate change, and took up the truth-telling this week in his latest encyclical.
One very astute television commentator said the other evening:
I have one job and it’s a pretty simple job. I come in in the morning and we look at the news and we write jokes about it…But I didn’t do my job today, so I apologize. I’ve got nothing for you in terms of jokes and sounds…I honestly have nothing other than just sadness, once again, that we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist. –Jon Stewart
Racism is structural. That is, it’s built not only into our history but our institutions: education, legal system, economics, prison system, gerrymandered electoral districts, the placement of polling stations and hours of operation, our politics, and even in our churches where, as some have observed, the most segregated hour of every week is on Sunday morning.
About the boat. The old question goes, “What’s the difference between a leaky fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee and the Titanic?” The answer: “It depends on who you’ve got in the boat with you.”
Is Jesus in our boat? I don’t mean that in some simplistic way that He will calm all the storms of life and that no one will drown or be shot to death. I mean it in the profound sense that when Jesus is among us we are in the presence of the eternal.
We’re all in this boat together: this “fragile earth, our island home:” Black and White, male and female, young and old, gay and straight. We are in it together. Our Lord wants us to resolve the things that divide us, that damage our souls and destroy our neighborhoods.
I call upon this congregation, partner congregations, and the wider community of which we’re a part to stop denying issues that matter and keeping our silence because they’re hard or controversial. We have to start talking about them. I commit myself to provide opportunities for those conversations. This is the work of the church. And in some ways the church and communities of faith may be the only places where we can have those conversations. Let it begin with us.
So come, let’s go boating with Jesus. Let’s set out on this grand expedition in the name of The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Cesar Chavez and the Struggle for Justicehttp://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/themes/crocal/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg150150adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
When I was 17, I went to work for an Ohio farm owner who marketed his produce out of a grocery story located in his barn. I trimmed produce, loaded the truck that delivered goods to a market in the city, and labored in the fields alongside Puerto Rican workers who had been lured to Ohio by the promise of “high wages”, a dollar an hour.
As Felito, Miguel and Oscar became my friends, I learned more of their stories. Their lives resembled those of coal miners before the advent of strong unions. My friends paid rent to the owner, purchased their groceries and necessities in his store. Those who had families to support were trapped. The work was grueling, the hours long, the pay minimal.
One day I overheard the owner’s adult son talking with a deliveryman. “These Puerto Ricans will stay and work as long as you can keep them dumb,” he intoned. “Once they earn enough money to buy a car, they get out and see what kind of money other people are making and they won’t stay.”
I learned two things that summer: In union there is strength, and knowledge is power.
The lot of agricultural workers has always been a hard one. They were one of the only groups of private employees excluded from the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, guaranteeing Americans the right to form unions. For decades, farm workers have lived in migrant camps, shacks, even tents and been denied basic amenities.
Beginning in the 1860’s, waves of immigrants were recruited as farm workers in California, where most of the nation’s fruits and vegetables are harvested: Chinese, Japanese, East Indians, Filipinos, desperate “Okies”, fleeing the dust bowl of the 30’s, and Mexicans. As the labor pool increased, wages decreased and conditions worsened.
Cesar Chavez was born in 1927 in Arizona, the son of a small farmer and businessman. When the Great Depression hit, his parents barely survived but offered what food they had to those passing by who were in even greater need. Cesar’s mother, steeped in Catholic teaching, instilled in him the importance of generosity and nonviolence. Cesar’s boyhood remained carefree until a drought caused his family to lose their farm and businesses and join the great mass of other homeless people wandering the California countryside in search of work. He knew hard, grueling labor and desperate poverty first hand. He attended 36 different schools as his parents moved from job to job. He knew the sting of racism, being denied entrance or service at stores, restaurants and theaters because of his ethnicity. Some of his teachers treated Mexican children cruelly, assuming that they lacked intelligence.
Cesar, a World War II veteran, possessed only an eighth grade education, but under the tutelage of an activist Catholic priest Father Donald McDonnell he read carefully and obsessively the words of St. Francis of Assisi, Alexis de Tocqueville, labor leaders like John L. Lewis and Eugene Debs, and Mahatma Gandhi.
Recognizing Cesar’s quiet but firm leadership qualities, community organizer Fred Ross recruited him in 1952 for the Community Service Organization, a Latino civil rights group. During the years while Cesar rose to become its president, he concluded that the only way to truly improve the lives of farm workers was to create a powerful union and that only the nonviolent techniques of Gandhi could be effective.
As he would say later, “Nonviolence is not inaction. It is not discussion. It is not for the timid or weak. Nonviolence is hard work. It is the willingness to sacrifice. It is the patience to win.”
In 1962, he left CSO and co-founded the United Farm Workers Association. This decision was to define the remainder of his life. Author Peter Mathiessen, who knew him well, tells us that Cesar chose to live nearly penniless, owning no property and giving all he had, even endangering his health, to the farm workers union. He was a man unmoved by money, who offered his entire life to the service of others.
The goals of the union were modest: Demands for a living wage, clean water, decent housing, toilets in the fields, health benefits, collective bargaining without interference from police or corporate growers and a cessation of insecticide spraying while workers were in the fields. As one member explained, “Cesar wanted the patron to share the riches he was able to earn.”
The only weapons in the arsenal of the UFW were the boycott and “la huelga”, the strike.
Chavez and his followers met with hostility, even violence. Some growers imported desperately poor Mexican nationals willing to work for any wage to harvest crops and break UFW strikes. Cesar refused to allow growers to pit Chicano against Mexican and relied upon patient persuasion and education in the fields to bring them over into the union.
Some growers hired thugs from the lowest rungs of society as strikebreakers, violent men of whom Jack London once said, “When God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with which he made a strike breaker.”
Some growers even used small children as strikebreakers to pack grapes.
Minority farm workers were often victims of racial violence. Local officials seldom prosecuted those who attacked farm workers. Strikers and protesters were often harassed, intimidated and beaten by thuggish growers and their hired toughs, including members of the corrupt Teamsters Union, who used brutal, fascistic methods in their attempts to replace the UFW. In return for large campaign contributions to Richard Nixon’s re-election efforts in 1972, the administration supported the Teamsters’ attempt to supplant the UFW.
Meanwhile, growers and the Farm Bureau accused the UFW of using heavy-handed tactics.
In 1971, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms investigated an alleged plot to assassinate Cesar. According to BATF, a drug dealer had been paid $25, 000 to hire a hit man to shoot Cesar. The investigation was later dropped, possibly under pressure from Washington.
Chavez and members of his union were also victims of red baiting by growers, police and the local press. During the 1950’s, a time of anti-communist paranoia and McCarthy-ite hysterics, any challenge to the status quo was considered Communist inspired. To speak openly of civil rights, police brutality or voter registration was to invite being labeled Communist. Even though they found no suspicion of Communist subversion, the UFW was kept under FBI surveillance for many years.
On more than one occasion, Chavez, a vegetarian and animal rights advocate, endured lengthy, highly publicized fasts to promote his causes. While leading a thousand mile protest march across California, he subsisted on watermelon and raw vegetables.
Consumers are generally unaware of where their food comes from. In order to build support for the union, the public had to be reached through the media. Utilizing the non-violent techniques of Gandhi, success came, but it came slowly and at great sacrifice. It took decades, for instance, to finally ban “el cortito”, the short-handled hoe, which forced workers to stoop all day while harvesting crops.
Membership in the UFW grew, and similar unions arose in Texas, Wisconsin and Ohio. By the 1970’s, the Salad Bowl Strike was the largest farm worker strike in history.
One major issue continued to be the spraying of pesticides while workers of all ages were in the fields. Pesticide poisoning was so severe that nearly a thousand wells around Fresno were closed. After exposure to spraying, hundreds were sometimes hospitalized with low heart rates, shock and vomiting. Cancer clusters, including leukemia, began to appear among children of farm workers in small towns near Delano, California.
In the 70’s, Chavez negotiated an end to spraying DDT and other toxins on grape and lettuce crops. Still, in the 80’s, hundreds of people became ill after eating watermelons sprayed illegally with Aldicarb, a toxin that is now strictly regulated. Such incidents led to UFW inspired boycotts to eliminate chemicals that could cause illness and death among farm workers. The UFW helped Monterey County enact the nation’s toughest pesticide-use laws, which prompted statewide regulations.
In 1965, the UFW joined a grape strike initiated by Filipino workers. The ensuing nationwide grape boycott lasted for five years. As public awareness of the plight of farm workers became evident, people across the US and Canada joined the boycott. Senator Robert F. Kennedy expressed support for the strike, but Governor Ronald Reagan called it immoral and contemptuously slowly ate grapes in public.
When agreements were reached, the strike ended. Cesar insisted that UFW members respond with humility, not celebration.
While the struggles of Cesar Chavez and the UFW accomplished much to improve conditions, life remains harsh for agricultural workers. Individuals and corporations have all too often regarded Mexican people as merely a source of cheap labor. Whenever there were labor shortages—as during World War II—Mexicans were encouraged to seek employment north of the border. When the troops came home, we could not evict them fast enough. Today, individual and corporate growers continue to intentionally recruit a workforce from across the Mexican border that they can exploit and use against local laborers.
Those who profess Christianity and yet abuse the destitute and the homeless would be well advised to remember that dehumanizing and “othering” anyone is an offense to the Good Shepherd.
Cesar cautioned, “It is possible to become discouraged about the injustice we see everywhere. But God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. He gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose they way we will use our limited time on earth.”
As human numbers continue to surpass the carrying capacity of many nations, excess populations spill across international borders providing a pool of desperate, easily victimized unemployed.
Real change will occur globally only when the twin issues of overpopulation and the marginalization of women are realistically addressed. At the same time, the growing power of massive corporate oligarchies is long overdue for curtailment. Much stricter standards need to be applied to the use of pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified organisms that constitute ever more serious threats to the world food supply.
As Cesar said, “ The risks are given to the consumer, the unsuspecting consumer, and the poor work force. And who gets the benefits? The benefits are only for the corporations, for the money makers.”
Cesar Chavez died of natural causes in 1993. The Speaker of the California State Senate observed, “We have lost perhaps the greatest Californian of the twentieth century,” elevating him above two of his old nemeses, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
Today, Cesar’s spirit lives on, inspiring any peaceful struggle by the poor and disenfranchised against heavy-handed power elites.
Abide in Lovehttp://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/themes/crocal/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg150150adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
We are family
Jesus said: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.” –John 15:1-2
Although I’ve driven by vineyards in the lake country of western New York and near the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland, I know almost nothing about growing grapes. So I went to Google and found the Iowa Extension Service. I’m still not quite ready to start a vineyard, but I did discover a few interesting facts.
First, grapevine branches that are more than two years old don’t produce fruit. They just add excess weight and contribute nothing. So they must be pruned away.
And second, before pruning, an average grapevine may have 200 to 300 buds, which are capable of producing fruit. If the vines are left un-pruned, the number of grape clusters would exceed the capacity of the vine to support them. The vine would be unable to ripen the large crop and the weight would damage the vine. Since most vines can handle only 40 to 50 buds, they must be pruned back a lot in order to be fruitful.
The point of the metaphor of the vine is that its purpose is to be fruitful. The Father is the vinegrower, Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. When we stop producing, we’re like old, dead branches that might as well be pruned away and thrown into the fire.
Of course, every parable and metaphor can be carried too far. This isn’t a condemnation of older Christians who’ve been around for two years or more. And neither is it a teaching about the fires of hell. It’s an affirmation that the Church exits to produce the fruit of the reign of God by abiding in Jesus.
And what is this fruit of the vine? It is love. The author of the First Epistle of John affirmed that “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” (1 John 4:16) And St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, proclaimed: “Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
This isn’t the Hollywood kind of love where people “hook up” for a night or a season. It is, in the Greek of the New Testament, agape: self-giving, other-concerned, other-focused love. It doesn’t condemn or exclude or draw boundaries. It’s the love embodied, incarnated in Jesus as he emptied himself on the cross. Agape is Divine love, love of God, love of neighbor, love of enemy.
This is the kind of love that an exhausted mother exhibits when she nurses her baby at 3 a.m., changes dirty diapers, cleans up after a child with stomach flu, or responds to the grown child’s relationship crisis. It’s the love of an adult child who carefully and patiently tends to the needs of an elderly parent who can no longer remember his or her child’s name. It’s the love that drives people out of the comfort of their homes to care for their next-door neighbor or the neighbor across the city, or even across the globe in places like Nepal.
This agape isn’t found exclusively among Christians. It’s a part of the Divine breath that God breathed into humanity. It’s found among people of various faith traditions and no traditions. But it is stark and jarring when it’s absent . . . as the epistle writer observed:
Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. –1 John 4:20-21
Recent studies indicate that many youth and young adults do not believe that Christians are very loving . . . in fact, some say “hateful.” Christianity, as practiced by some, can indeed be quite negative—defined by what or whom they’re against—rather than what they’re for.
But at the end of the day, people are watching us to see if our faith makes a difference. They ask, “Is there love?”
There are powerful images for the church in the New Testament. In addition to the vine and branches, there are the metaphors of the Body of Christ and the ecclesia or assembly of disciples. But what they all have in common is that they’re defined by what holds us together—not by who we keep out. All are welcome—whether born into the faith or grafted in—we’re held together by our bonds and connections to Jesus—by Christ’s embracing love.
One of the things that keeps me connected and inspired is to see these bonds being acted out on a regular basis.
The deep love with which people say goodbye to and bury their loved ones.
The agape that welcomes young children as they are grafted into a family of their own by adoption.
The abiding love that inspires an older couple to try once again as they enter into marriage.
The commitment to volunteer regularly to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger.
Easter Sermon is about living between Good Friday and Easter
Throughout the season of Lent we refrain from using the word “alleluia” in our formal worship. Lent begins with a reminder of our mortality with the ashes of Ash Wednesday placed on our foreheads along with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Lenten practices involve acts of self-denial, walking the way of the cross, confessing our sins, practicing repentance. And, of course, Lent ends with the proclamation of the resurrection: “Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia.”
Oh, how I wish that we lived fully in an Alleluia world. We come to church on Easter with the beauty and aroma of glorious flowers and magnificent music. We sing, “Jesus Christ is risen today. Alleluia.”
But in the back of our minds may be a relative’s disease, a friend’s looming surgery, a loved one’s diminishing mental ability, or our own worries for ourselves. The media bring us news of troubles, tragedies, and evil near and far.
In some real respects we continue to live in a Good Friday world: a Lenten, “alleluia-less” world. The landscape is littered with crosses—real and imagined. And so we exist in the tension between Good Friday and Easter, between grief and alleluia, between death and life, always hoping that life will prevail, but realistic enough to know that the angel of death still looms, still roams the world.
Interestingly enough, that seems to be the very place that the Gospel of Mark says the first witnesses to the resurrection were. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome had gone to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body for final burial. They found the stone that covered the opening had been rolled back. Inside they encountered a young man dressed in white, who told them that Jesus wasn’t there, he’d been raised, and that they and the disciples would see Jesus in Galilee.
There was no unmitigated joy for the people who experienced the resurrection on that first Easter morning. It seemed that it raised more questions than it answered. The text says, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” In fact, some ancient authorities believe that Mark’s Gospel ends right there – with terror, amazement, and flight.
In other words, they didn’t quite know what to do with Easter. “Alleluia?” Maybe. But Good Friday was still too real. So there they were, caught in-between. Mark suggests, with his abrupt ending, that Easter—although a present reality—still lies ahead as well.
Leonardo Boff is a Brazilian theologian and writer who has lived among the poor and marginalized. He has witnessed a great deal of human pain and suffering. Boff suggests that the resurrection is not a one-time event but an ongoing activity. He has written,
“The resurrection is a process that began with Jesus and that will go on until it embraces all creation.Wherever an authentically human life is growing in the world, wherever justice is triumphing over the instincts of domination, wherever grace is winning out over the power of sin, wherever human beings are creating more fraternal mediations in their social life together, wherever love is getting the better of selfish interests, and wherever hope is resisting the lure of cynicism or despair, there the process of resurrection is being turned into a reality.”
In our human experience, there are long stretches of life without “alleluia’s.” But when those Easter moments occur, life is indeed filled with hope and joy.
What was or is an “Alleluia” moment for you where you experienced a sense of meaning and purpose, where your life was filled with hope and energy . . . where for even a moment you felt like you and God were on the same track? Perhaps it was when you fell in love, birthed a child, gave yourself over to some good cause, or were transported by a symphony. Such moments might have been in church where you experienced closeness to God that caused you to devote yourself to the Lord’s work; or when you pondered a sunset or beheld the stars in the night sky.
Or maybe an “Alleluia” moment was in the midst of the mundane: washing a floor, driving a car, preparing a meal, finishing an exam, reading a book, helping a neighbor, serving another.
Easter doesn’t cancel Good Friday. They both recur. We dwell in the tension between them. But it is our faith that out there ahead of us, in some future Galilee, we will, indeed, see the Lord. In the meantime, we hang on to our Alleluia moments and trot them out when we need them.
Today, we baptize three people into our Easter faith: Stephanie and her two daughters, Sophia and Charlotte. Stephanie’s husband and the girls’ father, Matthew, is her sponsor and his daughters’ godfather.
Easter Eve and Easter morning are traditional times for Baptism—and have been so from the early days of the church. One of the reasons for that was because those early Christians knew that they lived in a Good Friday world: a world of danger and possible martyrdom. But they refused to live only in fear. So they baptized – acknowledging Good Friday as they were symbolically drowned – but proclaimed Easter faith as they were raised from the water into life.
Cross of Nails
One of our friends here at Christ Church is Andrew White who is a partner with us in the Community of the Cross of Nails that works for reconciliation in various places around the world. Andrew presently serves as the priest of St. George’s Anglican Church in the heart of Baghdad, Iraq. He is fondly referred to as the Vicar of Baghdad. Andrew writes that when he baptizes a child, he is very aware that he may be signing not only the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead, but he may be signing his or her death warrant as well. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
But he does it anyway. Why? . . . because all the Good Fridays we experience cannot be the last word. Christ is alive, he’s still out there in some Galilee ahead of us, waiting to greet us and to fill us with Alleluia’s.
This is our faith. It is the testimony of the witnesses to the first resurrection. And it is the witness of our Alleluia moments.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia.
Alternatives to Church on Sundayhttp://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/themes/crocal/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg150150adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
Seeking for alternatives to Church on Sunday. Sunday morning is a difficult time for many people. With busy schedules and active lives, Sunday a.m. may be the only time for people to sleep in, relax, read the paper, take a leisurely walk. In other words, Sunday is indeed Sabbath time. It’s a break from the rat race.
Our church’s Sunday morning schedule of worship and Christian education comes out of a previous era when the pace of life was very different. Research indicates that a vast majority of folk are “spiritual but not religious”—meaning, in part, that they are very interested in God and community but not very excited by the ways and means of traditional religious institutions.
I would like to know your ideas and suggestions about how you would like to explore the spiritual in your life: house church, small group, online, alternatives to traditional church. We certainly have folk who will want to continue their church life as they always have. But if you are seeking to explore the presence and meaning of God in alternative ways, please let me know what questions you have, what practices you suggest, and your ideas about how I might help. You can contact me through this link.
This sermon on “Everyday Idolatries” was preached at Christ Church on February 1, 2015.
The passage from Deuteronomy is part of Moses’ farewell speech to Israel as they were preparing to enter the Promised Land. They had escaped from bondage in Egypt, wandered for 40 years in the Sinai Wilderness, and now stood near the East Bank of the Jordan River—ready to cross over into the Land of Milk and Honey.
Moses will not go with them. He’s at the end of his life. So he speaks to them about their desire to have a new prophet who will be a spokesperson for God. Now a prophet is not primarily a foreteller of the future. Rather a prophet is one who listens for the voice of God who said, “I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who will speak to them everything that I command.”
Then there’s a warning against “Any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak. . . . ”
Idolatry is the worship of other gods. When I think of idolatry I’m tempted to imagine altars to the gods of Olympus, temples to Isis, shrines to the Earth Mother, or rocks piled high on a mountaintop dedicated to the Baals of the Philistines. But recently I ran across the phrase, “everyday idolatries,” referring not to formal religious dedication, liturgy, and practice—but to something much more informal, below the level of anything I might normally think of as a god, a divinity.
Here on Super Bowl weekend/Sunday dare I suggest “football” as an example. There is a regular schedule of services/games. There is a liturgy of bands, cheers, team colors, uniforms, mascots, color commentators, play by play callers, food, and so on. I’m not suggesting that football is idolatry, in itself, but for some people it is. Their devotion is to their team. They give it their money, time, and attention. The same can be said of most, if not all sports. Curling might be an exception.
Certain celebrities are treated as deities among some of their fans. Whole industries have grown up around delivering regular news and every detail (real or imagined) of the rich and famous.
Almost anyone or anything can become an idol. This is what I invite you to ponder in your life as I’m pondering it in mine. Who or what do we idolize? What might be the everyday idolatries that draw us away from our devotion to Jesus and to the realm of God?
I remember a line from the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Screwtape is a senior demon in hell who writes a series of letters to his nephew, Wormwood, a junior tempter. Wormwood is attempting to secure the damnation of a British man known only as “the Patient.” The uncle uses the letters to offer advice to young Wormwood about his project.
Wormwood wants his Patient to engage is some horrible, spectacular sin, to which his uncle responds:
“It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
That’s how I think it is with everyday idolatries—nothing particularly dramatic or overt. The commandment is that “You have no other gods before me.” But inasmuch as I become focused on that which is not God—that which draws my time, attention, energy, and resources—then I am “edged away from the Light and out into the Nothing.”
These everyday idolatries can be good things in and of themselves: family, country, church—even the Bible. It’s when my devotion to them distracts me from the call of Jesus on my life, then I’ve made that good thing into an idol.
A few decades ago the Charismatic Movement, as it was called, became very popular in American Christianity—including in The Episcopal Church. At the particular time that I’m thinking about, I was serving as Assistant Rector of a parish in suburban Columbus. A number of parishioners were involved in the Charismatic Movement, including the Rector.
One particular group within the parish became obsessed with demon possession. They began to suspect that anything difficult that people experienced was a sign that they were possessed by a Wormwood or worse and needed exorcism. Before long, common colds, parking tickets, even a broken dish became an occasion for exorcism. The group became so focused on keeping the devil out of people that they ignored the love of Him for whom they were trying to keep everyone else pure.
And we all known Bible-loving, Bible-believing Christians who, after a time used the Good Book not so much as a witness to the love and grace of God—but rather more like a club with which to beat others over the head.
Shortly after the Israelites entered the Promised Land they began to worship other gods: the Baals of the Philistines, the land itself, their kings. And they soon regretted their request for prophets, because prophets they got—one after another—all condemning them and calling them back to covenant faithfulness.
According to Paul in today’s epistle, there is no such thing as another god. Although he may be right, it’s not as easy as that. The question is whether we treat that which is not God as God.
What I’m inviting you to do, as we approach the season of Lent, is to become much more self reflective, to seriously and deeply consider what idols might we have quietly and even unconsciously allowed into our lives—those everyday idolatries—and to turn back—to repent—to redirect ourselves and our church to the devotion of Jesus as the one who points us toward the true God.
Annual Parish Meeting Address
Actually, this is a two-part address. Part I was the sermon about “Everyday Idolatries” on the personal level. I now invite you to think with me about everyday idolatries on the corporate and institutional level.
A number of researchers have recently been identifying deep trends affecting Christian institutions. We can’t ignore them, because they’re part of the cultural air that we breathe. So our challenge is to discern how to adapt faithfully and creatively to them.
These deep trends are more pervasive than temporary fads. We cannot pretend that they don’t exist, or that they’ll simply go away. There are many such trends that we could examine, but today I want us to focus on three.
Trend One: The Digital Revolution
Love it or hate it, we’re in the midst of a digital revolution that’s fundamentally reshaping much of our daily lives.
When I was ordained a priest, the tools of the trade in communications were “landline telephones” (We didn’t call them that—they were the only kind of telephones.), mimeograph machines that produced mass mailings and church bulletins, the U.S. postal service where a first class postage stamp cost 8 cents. The real avant guard might even have had a portable typewriter.
Now we have computers, tablets, and smartphones; websites, email, instant messages, digital newsletters, and social media.
There are tremendous advantages to new technologies. Our Finance Committee meets monthly by conference call. We haven’t had a face-to-face meeting for several years. It saves gasoline, time, and is far more efficient.
This coming Wednesday an Education for Ministry (EFM) group will begin meeting weekly in our parlor. They have installed a Smart TV that will allow members who live at great distances, when driving conditions are poor, to still attend meetings by teleconferencing with Skype.
But you can’t do that with everything. There’s no way to send virtual Holy Communion—and even if there were, it wouldn’t be the same as the communion of the body of Christ—we the people.
Words on a screen can never replace words spoken from mouths; the tonal ambiguity of text can lead to misunderstanding, and reliance on virtual means of communication can impair our ability to have profound experiences together in the flesh.
Our growing dependence on technology for sociality, collaboration and education is affecting yet another aspect of our lives: how we think. On one hand, human beings have never had such immediate access to facts and figures, exposure to such a wide range of thoughts and research, or the ability to communicate those thoughts so freely to anyone at any time.
On the other hand, this flood of technological stimulation overwhelms our ability to remain attentive to a single pursuit for a long period of time. How can we best understand the benefits and constraints of technology on our thinking? On the cultivation of wisdom?
Any strategy that churches develop must take into account the ways that the digital revolution is changing daily life—for good and for ill.
But we need to acknowledge that the digital revolution is with us to stay and then learn how to harness it in ways that benefit the Gospel of Jesus.
Trend 2: Reconfiguring denominations and emerging forms of congregating
The decline of mainline Protestantism’s membership and cultural influence has opened the door for a range of new configurations, most of which differ sharply from the mainline model.
Megachurches have exploded onto the scene, attracting new members by the thousands and planting satellite campuses across the country.
On the other end of the spectrum, a growing number of young Christians have moved in the opposite direction. “New Monastics,” as they have been called, create intentional communities among the poor to live out their faith in the neglected places of society.
Many other Christians, especially among younger generations, have also begun experimenting with new patterns of congregating. House churches have sprouted up around the country, often growing out of local networks of people committed to a biblical form of congregating. Others are gathering around music or particular forms of social witness, where Christian community—and often intentional living arrangements—are connected to a desire to find life in community less encumbered by traditional institutions and established notions of “church.”
In its most extreme form, frustration with traditional institutions has led to what is commonly called “I’m spiritual but not religious”, in which a more private and individual form of spirituality undermines the search for community.
Amidst these nondenominational movements and new forms of congregating, denominations find themselves struggling.
The terms “conservative,” “liberal,” “traditional” and “progressive” are now more indicative of people’s loyalties than ”Methodist,” “Episcopal” or even “Roman Catholic.”
The future of denominations isn’t clear; what is clear is that the old structures are changing dramatically. The focus of this coming summer’s General Convention of the Episcopal Church will be re-structuring. The focus of our last Diocesan Convention was re-structuring. But the Diocese gave up—not knowing how or what to restructure other than to do away with deaneries which no one knew what to do with.
Trend 3: Questioning institutions
According to a recent Gallup poll, only 44 percent of Americans have confidence in churches and other religious institutions.
This lack of institutional trust extends far beyond the walls of religious institutions. Government, education, the economic system, healthcare institutions are all suffering the same demise of consumer confidence.
There’s deep confusion over the nature, place and role of institutions in American society.
In February of the year 2000, my first Annual Parish Meeting here at Christ Church there were competitive elections: 2 and 3 candidates for every open position. Today we have 4 open seats on the vestry and one nominee.
It is evidence to me that we are very much a part of the larger societal trend where participation in the inner workings of the institution of the Church is being played out.
I spoke earlier this morning about idols. We have been in downtown Dayton since our beginning, first on South Jefferson and then in this building since 1879. That is 136 years at 20 West First Street.
I’m asking, have we made idols, graven images, that are taking us away from the true God?
The question is not have we been called into the service of Jesus and his Gospel. It’s not whether we’re called to serve God’s people and God’s creation. The question is whether we’ve become more devoted to the ways and means than to the ends.
The context has changed. Our building—the whole second floor of the parish house was designed for a flourishing Sunday School with a classroom for almost every grade in school.
Our Sanctuary was designed to hold at least 350 people in worship.
Our un-insulated Nave was designed in an era when energy was extremely cheap and when global warming wasn’t on the radar.
In light of the deep trends, in light of the prophetic witness, where have we made idols that separate us from the worship of God?
I’m not clear about this. But I know that these are the questions.
What I’m inviting you to do is to become much more self reflective, to seriously and deeply consider what idols might we have quietly and even unconsciously allowed into our lives—those everyday idolatries—and to turn back—to repent—to redirect ourselves and our church to the devotion of Jesus as the one who points us toward the one true God.
Maimonides Eight Levels of Givingadminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
On Sunday, January 18, Ann Paddock spoke about Maimonides eight levels of giving as described by the great Jewish thinker. Here they are, paraphrased by John Paddock, from the least to the greatest.
This is when one gives unwillingly, perhaps due to pressure from others.
One gives inadequately, but gladly and with a smile.
One gives to the poor person after being asked.
One gives to the poor person directly into his hand, but gives before being asked.
One does not know to whom one gives, but the poor person does know his benefactor. The great sages would throw coins behind their backs, and the poor would come to pick up the coins so that they would not be ashamed.
One knows to whom one gives, but the recipient does not know his benefactor as when the donor might leave coins on the doorstep of the poor.
One gives to the poor without knowing to whom one gives, and without the recipient knowing from whom he received. This is performing an act of charity solely for the sake of Heaven.
The greatest level is to support another by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order that he need no longer be dependent upon others.
Martin Luther Kingadminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
One of the most iconic scenes from the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is Martin Luther King, Jr’s I have a Dream speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The most replayed video and audio clip is his quote from Amos 5:24:
It’s a wonderful sound bite, a powerful dream. But like with many biblical passages it has a context. It’s part of a larger picture – without which the interpretative process is interrupted and understanding limited.
The prophet Amos was called from Judah in the south to go to the Northern Kingdom of Israel to prophesy against the tremendous inequality between the rich and the poor, abuses of power, and betrayal of the Covenant relationship with Yahweh, their God. Amos went into the sanctuary of the temple at Bethel – which, in Hebrew, means House of God. There he delivered a series of condemnations of Israel, including this one.
21 I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I think of that condemnation when, yearly, we’re treated to numerous politicians, celebrities, and faith leaders attending festivals and assemblies – and with great solemnity claim the mantel of Dr. King and even mouth Amos’ lines about justice and righteousness – but who will return to their places of power and prestige and privilege on Tuesday where they’ll ignore the pleas and plight of the poor, the weak, and the powerless.
In many ways, MLK Day is a way of co-opting the legacy of the great struggle for jobs and freedom without doing anything to promote jobs and freedom – or a least not doing anything to foster jobs and freedom for the least, the last, and the lost.
Actions speak louder than words. This is the mantra of the biblical witness.
In our Old Testament reading today, Eli’s sons are accused of blasphemy. God said to Samuel:
13For I have told (Eli) that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.
What was this blasphemy? It is described in the previous chapter.
Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord 13or for the duties of the priests to the people. When anyone offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, 14and he would thrust it into the pan, or kettle, or cauldron, or pot; all that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. 15Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the one who was sacrificing, ‘Give meat for the priest to roast; for he will not accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.’ 16And if the man said to him, ‘Let them burn the fat first, and then take whatever you wish’, he would say, ‘No, you must give it now; if not, I will take it by force.’ 17Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord; for they treated the offerings of the Lord with contempt.
The blasphemy wasn’t using bad words or speaking poorly about God. It was their behavior: stealing the offerings of the people, living easy, abusing their positions, only looking out for themselves.
The poor of the land would journey to the Tent of Meeting at Shiloh with their carefully fatted animals to give them as love offerings and worship to God – only to have their gifts taken away by the greedy sons of Eli before the liturgy was even complete.
What many forget is that Dr. King was a biblical scholar and theologian whose agenda extended far beyond the civil rights struggle against Jim Crow and segregation. He had an economic agenda as well.
The March on Washington was for jobs and freedom.
He was killed in Memphis in 1968 in the middle of his support of a Sanitation Workers’ strike – connecting Civil Rights with workers’ rights and anti-poverty.
At the time of his death he was preparing for a Poor People’s Campaign and March on Washington.
Singer, actor, and Civil Rights activist Harry Belafonte reflected on this in an essay. He wrote:
Midway through the Civil Rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. realized that the struggle for integration would ultimately become a struggle for economic rights. I remember the last time we were together, at my home, shortly before he was murdered. He seemed quite agitated and preoccupied, and I asked him what the problem was. “I’ve come upon something that disturbs me deeply,” he said. “We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will win. But I’ve come to believe we’re integrating into a burning house.”
That statement took me aback. It was the last thing I would have expected to hear, considering the nature of our struggle, and I asked him what he meant. “I’m afraid that America may be losing what moral vision she may have had,” he answered. “And I’m afraid that even as we integrate, we are walking into a place that does not understand that this nation needs to be deeply concerned with the plight of the poor and disenfranchised. Until we commit ourselves to ensuring that the underclass is given justice and opportunity, we will continue to perpetuate the anger and violence that tears at the soul of this nation.”
Issues of race, poverty, and powerlessness continue to be in the forefront of our news. From Ferguson to New York City to Beavercreek we are reminded that racial strains abound. We can’t seem to get a grasp on matters of immigration reform and living wage jobs.
Although we keep hearing about an improving economy and decreasing unemployment, the reality is that there is growing disparity and a shrinking middle class. Here in Montgomery County 24% of men, age 25-54, are not working. Among those of prime working age, that amounts to 100,567 men. That figure does not include women nor does it count those who are under-employed.
Although these are matters that require powerful entities in business, government, banking, healthcare, education—every area of life for their solution, there seems little energy to do so. At heart they begin with a spiritual poverty that displays a broken moral vision. This is our – the Church’s mission: to pay attention to the biblical witness and continue to proclaim it.
From the revelation to young Samuel to the prophetic proclamations of Amos, from the teachings of Jesus to the Epistles of Paul, there is a continuous theme:
Amos: 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 
Paul: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
It is a call to authenticity: that the words our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be reflected in what we do for the welfare of all of God’s people.
Dr. King would often preach to and bear witness to the decision-makers who could make real differences to improve the lives of the poor. In one hand would be the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. In the other would be a Bible. He would hold them both up in front of his audience and say, “I insist! I insist!”
So this is the context within which Amos’ demands:
A few days ago I was driving along when the sun suddenly broke through the grayness and the whole world brightened. Those rare times that we see sunshine in our Midwestern winters are moments to treasure. They lift our moods and push back the Seasonal Affective Disorder (acronym “SAD”) that seems to afflict so many. This is, in a literal sense, the darkest time of the year—with the shortest daytimes and the longest nights.
Light and dark are powerful metaphors as well.
Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, gave the title Night to one of his most well known books, a work based on his experiences as a prisoner in the concentration camps at Auschwitz, Buna, and Buchenwald.
We refer to long stretches of spiritual impoverishment as “dark nights of the soul.”
Star Wars fans certainly know what it means to “Go over to the dark side.”
So here it is night. What brings us out in the nighttime? What longing causes us to go to so much trouble to prepare for this evening? What motivates us to be here when it’s dark outside?
We crave light and hope.
The tradition says that Jesus was born at night in what would have been a dark stable. In Luke’s telling, the birth story starts off in a disheartening way. Joseph and Mary are forced by a decree from the Emperor to leave their home in Nazareth and make the difficult trek to Bethlehem, to the City of David, Joseph’s ancestral home, to participate in a census. When they arrived, the inn was full, so they settled in the stable. If our crèche scenes and carols are to be believed, farm animals surrounded them, the cattle were lowing. When her time came, Mary gave birth there and laid her infant in a manger, which was nothing more than a feeding trough containing hay.
Only then, the story goes on, was the darkness split and the angels appeared to the shepherds. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’ (Luke 2:9-14)
In the Bible, wherever the word “glory” appears (“doxa” in Greek), it refers to a visual, non-verbal experience of God. Splendorous, luminous, bright! As our text says, “The glory of the Lord shown around them.” The night was lit up; the darkness pushed back.
The Gospel of John doesn’t have a birth story about Mary, Joseph, shepherds, or wise men. John speaks of darkness and light.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)
The date of Christmas is not given in the scriptures and neither is the season. The earliest mention of December 25 for Christmas was in the year 400. But here in the northern hemisphere and in the western church . . . it works. We progressively light our Advent candles as the days grow shorter. When we reach the solstice, which the ancients called “the rebirth of the sun,” then it is Christmas.
The Incarnation is a celebration of light, but it’s one that begins in darkness. The starting point for faith is recognizing the darkness in which we live, comprehending what we lack, coming to the realization that we stand in need of God.
On this night we read from Isaiah, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)
Or as the great theologian, Arlo Guthrie, once observed, “You can’t have a light without a dark to put it in.”
The darkness of the world surrounds us where horrific tragedies, disasters, and monstrous evil deeds are regularly reported. Sometimes the dark is far away and sometimes close at hand and in our own experience. But it’s always there in the background if not right in our faces.
God sees the darkness and is heart broken. God’s heart breaks for it’s God’s intention that we have life and have it abundantly. So it is God who choses to shine a “great light” into our darkness.
Google (the Search Engine people) just put out a report they called “A Year in Search: In 2014 we searched trillions of times. What do these searches say about us?” They categorized the searches, and here’s what they found.
People searched for hope more than fear.
We searched for things we love.
We looked for greatness.
We hunted for help to make sense of things and events.
We sought to remember those whose lives gave our lives meaning.
And we hungered to be inspired.
Hope, love, greatness, remembrance, meaning, and inspiration. Google’s summary of our online searches sounds like a theological reflection on the Christmas story. Despite the deep darkness that that surrounds us, we are focused on the light. That’s what draws us here tonight.
In the wonderful words of Phillips Brooks, from his Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
May the light of the Christ child shine upon you, reside in your heart, and push back the darkness all your days and nights.
A CityHeart Moment … Peace, Love, Joy and Hopehttp://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/themes/crocal/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg150150adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
The season of Advent is characterized by anticipation and expectation. We long to find Peace, give Love, experience Joy and receive Hope.
It is a season in which the stories of the most vulnerable in our community are crying out to be heard.
Peace – Anita reached out to Christ Church and CityHeart seeking peace. A 24 year old young woman who has recently begun “hearing voices” in her head. She is struggling to understand what is happening and insists that she is not “crazy.” Unable to focus her mind, the torment led Anita to quit her job. After speaking with both the clergy and CityHeart staff, we helped Anita make the connections to get an appointment for mental health assessment later this month. We also met her immediate need for food and coordinated rental assistance to help stabilize her situation. And in the presence of those who cared for her, Anita found peace in the moment.
Love – Early each month many recipients of Social Security benefits are at-risk of becoming victims of theft or abuse. Lauren contacted CityHeart on behalf of her neighbor Agnes, whom we believe is a victim of elder abuse at the hands of her own children. Lauren says that Agnes never has enough money to pay all her bills. This concerned neighbor has reached out in love to help, contacting churches throughout the community to pay the gas and electric bills. When CityHeart suggested that Lauren might report the suspected abuse, she informed us that they have already begun the process of setting up a legal representative for Agnes. We were able to keep the heat on by splitting the Vectren bill with another church. Two days later a very nice card came in the mail from Lauren thanking US for our help! Agnes is lucky to have such a caring and loving friend as Lauren. She deserves all the thanks.
Joy – Another vulnerable and unaware victim was our neighbor John, a simple man. He came to CityHeart asking for help with his rent because he said he “lost” his wallet. After receiving his monthly Social Security money he was visiting at the home of some family. He said there were many people gathered there that he didn’t know, and when he got home his wallet was missing. A social worker in his apartment community confirmed for us that two other churches had already pledged to help with his rent and CityHeart agreed to pay the balance. When John came back over to pick up the rent check he was filled with appreciation and joy.
Hope – In each of these circumstances, CityHeart brought hope to the lives of those who were suffering.
And for those of us who wait in anticipation of the coming of our Lord, our hope is fulfilled in the assurance that God’s presence is indeed here among us, working in and through all those who love and serve in his name.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:1, 1:14)
My friend, The Rev. Dr. Rodney Kennedy wrote the following in his “E-Pistle” today, December 12, 2014:
A grisly headline greets me in the Dayton Daily News: “Restart of executions nearer.” The Ohio Senate voted 20-10 in favor of a bill that will hide the identity of pharmacists, pharmacies, and drug makers that provide the drugs used in executions. Why hide those who aid and abet in the sanctioned murders of the state? Publish all the names including the executioner. Tell us who the killers are.
Here we go again. Just when we think there’s progress in preventing capital punishment, our legislature backtracks. Why the lust for vengeance has no limits among those who love Jesus is, as religious people like to say, “a mystery to me.”
Will Campbell was once asked to debate the death penalty with a well-known scholar. He gave a lengthy and learned statement on why he favored it. Will had no prepared remarks so he stood up and said, “I just think it’s tacky.” That led to a debate as to just what “tacky” meant. Later Will defined “tacky”: Ugly, no style, no class.
I like what Will said about the debate: “I didn’t win the debate, but I do believe America has too much class, and too much style to go on sinking to the crude level of death practiced in executions. So for the sake of our own soul, let’s just cut it out.”
Rod Kennedy and I are on the same page.
As one of the legislators stated the “problem,” the drugs formerly used for lethal injection in Ohio were made in Europe. The Europeans will no longer sell them, because in order to be a member state in the European Union, the death penalty must be banned and the drugs for lethal injection cannot be sold. The Ohio legislator I heard speaking on NPR during my morning commute said, “We have to stand up to this European cartel!” The bill that passed allows American pharmacies to make the drugs, sell them to the state in secret to protect them from embarrassment.
We are always hearing about how Europe is post-Christian. And how the United States is the most Christian nation in the world. Jesus was executed by the state in an act of capital punishment. One might think that we who claim to follow the Prince of Peace might have enough “style and class” to put state-sponsored vengeance behind us. Why is it that the Europeans ban the practice because it’s immoral and inhumane (or in Will Campbell’s word, “tacky’), but Ohio and many other states continue it? One might well ask who is really following Jesus?
Well, at least the drug-makers will be saved any embarrassment.
Christmas is coming! Of course, that’s no surprise to anyone. The holiday is upon us with full force as we shop, decorate, bake, and wrap. Christmas music is in the air and wonderfully lighted trees and displays are now part of our evening landscape.
I recently heard a fascinating recollection by some of the folk who worked on A Charlie Brown Christmas, the television special that first aired in December, 1965. The animated musical is based on Charles Schulz’s comic strip, Peanuts. Apparently, before the show aired there was a great deal of angst because Schulz had insisted that the voices be those of real children and not professional actors. There was also worry that Schulz included the Christmas story from Luke’s Gospel. Perhaps this injection of religion into the Peanuts cartoon would somehow cause harm to the production. Not to worry. When it airs this month for the 50th year, it remains one of the most popular and endearing of the Christmas television traditions.
It’s always good to be reminded of the Christmas story, and that it includes children, real children! I appeal to your generosity to make a special Christmas contribution to support ministries to families and children through hunger ministries, scholarships, and other forms of aid.
Creche at Christ Church
I also invite you to join us in worship during the Christmas Season. The story of the Bethlehem stable is so very familiar. We’re not going to hear anything new or different about the manger and the shepherds. When we hear the opening line, “In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus . . .” we know what’s coming next. What we may lose sight of is that this story is not just a recollection of what happened so long ago, but an invitation to let it happen again in us. As we re-visit Bethlehem, let the holy God “. . . be born in us today.” That’s one of the reasons why we worship and listen to the old, well-known tale that it may live again in the present.
Listed below is a schedule of our Christmas services and giving information.
With all best wishes for a glorious revival of the birth of Christ in you, I am
The Rev. John PaddockYou can donate your Christmas offering online, as well as Christmas flower gifts. In order to be included in the Christmas bulletin, flower donations must be received by Thursday, December 18. Envelopes are also available at the church for your use. For flower donations, please include the names in memory of or in thanksgiving for your loved one(s). Of course you can donate as well by putting your offering in an offering plate at a service or by sending to the church office.
Christmas Eve Services: Wednesday, December 24
3:30 pm Holy Eucharist with music
Wassail Bowl at Christ Church
7:00 pm Music Preludes and Holy Eucharist followed by a reception with Wassail Bowl punch and Christmas treats. (Wassail comes from an old English toast, “Be ye healthy!”
What Shall I Cry?adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
I want to begin these remarks with a short demonstration of the difficulty of being a biblical literalist. In Isaiah’s prophecy reported in our first reading is this passage. “The voice of one crying out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord . . . .’”(Isaiah 40:6)
(Then in the gospel we find Mark quoting Isaiah. He doesn’t just quote him. He makes it absolutely clear that’s what he’s doing: “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,” says Mark. He then goes on to misquote Isaiah. “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’”(Mark 1:2-3)
Isaiah says, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.”Mark says, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
Is the way for God in the wilderness, or is the voice in the wilderness?
Actually, it’s not Mark’s fault that he misquoted Isaiah. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, which had no vowels and no punctuation. While the New Testament was written in Greek that did have vowels, the earlier versions still had no punctuation. It was left to later editors to add the missing elements. They obviously punctuated Isaiah and Mark differently.
It simply illustrates that literalism is a very real problem when we’re not sure what the original text was meant to say. Add to that the mistakes (intentional or unintentional) in copying these texts by hand for 1500 or more years until the invention of the printing press; and the interpretations that are necessitated by translations into English and other languages. Then perhaps you might begin to understand the magnitude of difficulty.
Even our English isn’t static. Language changes. Rabbi David Sofian of Temple Israel uses the example, “a pair of Levi’s.” Are we talking about two people from the Hebrew tribe of Levi, or are we referring to a pair pants?
Another illustration comes from one of the songs of the season: “Now we don our gay apparel.” What once meant “merry and bright” is now commonly used for a sexual orientation.
Problems in biblical interpretation aren’t the subject of this sermon. I simply offer these thoughts raised by today’s readings from Isaiah and Mark as a resource to you if you ever find yourself in a conversation about literalism.
The subject I do want to raise up is the matter of the cry. From Isaiah: A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
This isn’t the first time, nor the last, that we hear of people crying out. In Exodus 2, we read: The people of Israel groaned under their bondage, and cried out for help, and their cry came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God saw the people of Israel, and God knew their condition.
Whenever we’re in pain, we cry out. We may not be sure what’s causing the pain. We may very well not know what to do about our pain. But we do cry out.
This was vividly brought home to me recently as our daughter Jessye, Deaf and mute, suffering a debilitating disease, was sobbing in pain in my wife’s arms. She cried out in the clearest words she has ever spoken, “Help me!” It was wrenching. I didn’t know what to do. Her mother held her, and slowly her tears subsided. And for a time, she was comforted.
Sometimes worse than physical pain are social and psychological agonies that we endure.
Recently, our national attention has been focused on the shootings of unarmed Black men and children by police officers. So far, the grand jury process has produced almost no indictments and has raised serious questions about the process and lack of transparency. Aside from the facts of any particular incident or case, the bandage has been ripped off the only partially healed wounds of our racist past to reveal the very deep pain and prejudice that still exists.
I resonate with Isaiah when he wrote: “A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
As a white man, I’m asked by my brothers and sisters in the Black community to cry out. The situation calls for crying out. It pains me to know that my children and other people’s children are fearful—afraid of law enforcement—fearful that they may be endangered by the very ones who are sworn to serve and protect them.
Blacks are incarcerated far more than whites. Their health is worse. They die younger that whites.
But what shall I cry?
This month, on the fourteenth, will mark the 2nd anniversary of the Sandy Hook killing of 20 elementary school children and 6 adults by a deranged man. It seems that almost weekly there’s another shooting, another act of gun violence. Many voices cry out, but not enough so far to make any change.
What shall I cry?
This is a critical moment in our history. Only the cries of many voices can create the momentum to change the status quo on gun violence in white and Black communities. Only by standing up and crying out can we hope to create enough noise to get the attention of those who are in positions to make real change. Only by crying out in the wilderness, crying out in the urban landscape, raising our voices anywhere and everywhere can we hope to succeed.
But the question remains, “What shall I cry?”
I don’t know what particular policy solutions, what changes in law and in law enforcement or in gun control or gun licensing, what will make for real, lasting and righteous change. But I do know that nothing will happen until and unless we cry out for justice.
The Hebrews didn’t ask God to send Moses to Pharaoh. They didn’t lay out a plan for plagues, Passover, or Exodus through the Red Sea waters. They started by simply raising their voices. They cried out. And God heard their cries.
This is a time to express our pain and the agonies of our brothers and sisters. In email and letters, community gatherings and marches and protests, raise your voice.
In six weeks, Monday, January 19, I invite everyone who is physically able to join me and thousands of others in the Martin Luther King Day march here in Dayton. Let’s turn out in so many numbers that no one will fail to hear our cries and no one will doubt that we are all in this together: white and Black, brown and yellow, male and female, gay and straight, young and old, Republicans and Democrats and Independents. We’re all in this together.
Make no mistake. It’s not that God needs to be awakened from slumber by the shouts of his people. We’re the ones that need to wake up. We need to move out from isolation and places of comfort to see, hear, and understand the pain of the world and join in the world’s cries.
God works in and through us. We’re baptized to be Christ in the world. We receive the bread and the wine to be reminded that we are the body of Christ. It all starts by our waking up, feeling the pain that is our own and the pain of others, and then crying out. Don’t wait until you have the perfect policy solution; don’t hold off until you’ve got all the politics right; don’t refrain until your plan is complete. Lead with your heart. Join in the cries of others.
For this is where we start to prepare the way of the Lord. Amen.
An Eye-Opening Experienceadminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
Emily is a young woman from Beavercreek and a member of Christ Church. She is working in Los Angeles as a participant in the Young Adult Service Corps of the Episcopal Church. This is an adaptation of a recent post on her blog. Used by permission.
Living in LA has been such an eye-opening experience for more reasons than I could count. Steady warm weather and sunshine is one clear benefit, and living a half-hour from the beach doesn’t hurt either. Living with four other girls and sharing a bedroom is new, and working 8-5 (or longer) and commuting and hour each way daily is a change, too. Those are changes that I expected though. Some differences are bigger than I’d ever imagined.
Contrast of Privilege and Poverty
Growing up in Beavercreek, Ohio I had immense privilege. I was already aware of that, but seeing what I see everyday in LA made me feel raw and crawling with unearned, undeserved privilege. This article isn’t going to be about my privilege, although that post may come on a later date when I’ve had more time to adequately formulate words that acknowledge the enormous amount of privilege that I have benefited and continue to benefit from in my life. Instead, I want to share some facts and figures that made my mind stumble, and compare/contrast Los Angeles and my hometown.
Facts and Figures
This is an image I see daily, and I’m not even close to exaggerating when I say that. Street homeless keep their belongings in carts, which makes it easier for them to move if needed.
254,000 men, women and children will experience homelessness in LA at some time during the year.
On any given night 82,000 people will be homeless in Los Angeles; in Dayton, there are 1,000 people homeless on any given night.
12% of the homeless population are families with children.
1 in 3 homeless adults have mental and/or physical disabilities.
1 in 4 homeless adults are chronically homeless, meaning that they have disabling conditions and are experiencing long term street homelessness.
I feel that it’s important to note that these numbers only include those persons who are ‘literally homeless’ meaning they are
Sleeping in places not meant for human habitation, including on the street, in parks, along rivers, in backyards, unconverted garages, cars and vans, along freeways or under overpasses, and the like;
Sleeping in emergency shelters, safe havens, or transitional housing programs and were homeless upon entry into the program.
These numbers do not reflect other forms of homelessness that I find is prevalent with the clients I work with, such as rotating sleeping on friends or families couches, hopping around to different motels, etc. I would call this transient homelessness, that have no permanent residence, which creates extreme instability.
It may be hard to believe, but this is what I see every day. I have never witnessed so many homeless people in my entire life. I think what really hit me was realizing that they are not just staying in a downtown area, like many of us are accustomed to seeing. I see homeless people every day, outside of my work, living by the highways on my drive to anywhere, in the metro stations, outside of my grocery store, in my neighborhood.
I’ve always been able to escape it. Most people are able to leave areas of homelessness and return to their homes in their comfortable neighborhoods and they no longer have to see or think about it again for a while. It’s like it doesn’t happen if you don’t see it. But I can’t stop seeing it, and I also can’t stop the problem of homelessness. It’s so much bigger than me, it’s bigger than the people living it. And I’m left every day questioning how do we make a change?
Often times Matthew 25:35-40 plays in my mind, and I wish that I could say I follow it. I try hard each day, but I’m not perfect. And then I remember that I have no right to place judgment on others. I am called to serve, we are all called to serve. How are you serving your community? Are we doing all we can? Are we engaging not only in acts, but in conversations that change the way we look at poverty in our country? Are we ready to remove judgment and bias from our being and instead actively work towards a society that sees the dignity of every human being and honors that?
What will it take to for us to lay down our pride and selfish wants and desires to live a life of authenticity, passion, love, and mercy? What will it take for us to be humble?
Numbers from My Neighborhood
I wanted to learn more about my neighborhood, so I did a little digging, and what I found was pretty interesting. Firstly, I live in Koreatown which is in central LA. I live with four other girls on the first floor unit of a rectory turned duplex.
The neighborhood of Koreatown is 4 square miles. My hometown of Beavercreek is about 26 square miles. Get this: my neighborhood holds 3 times more people than my entire hometown. How wild is that?
Ethnicity is one of the largest differences that I see in front of me every day. It is a huge change for me to be a minority in my neighborhood.
87% of residents in Beavercreek are White, whereas 7.4% of residents in Koreatown are White.
7% of Koreatown residents are Hispanic and Asian. In general Koreatown is considered highly diverse for the city of LA, and for the country.
28% of the residents in my neighborhood fall below the poverty line, 4% of Beavercreek residents fall below the poverty line.
40% of people in my neighborhood did not finish high school and did not earn a GED/equivalent. This is 9.7% of Beavercreek residents.
The median Beavercreek household income is $74,533.00; the median Koreatown household income is $34,136.00.
In 2012, Beavercreek had a total of 130 crimes. Koreatown had a total of 231 crimes in August alone.
I’m not sharing these statistics because I feel unsafe in my neighborhood and wish I was back in Beavercreek. I’m sharing them because if I had never left my hometown, I could easily forget how privileged I am. I don’t want to live in a way that chooses to be blind to the struggles of my neighbors. I am choosing to live in a way that reinforces my passion for social justice. I am choosing to live in a way that reminds me every single day that our society is broken, and that we need to fix it. If not us, who? If not now, when?
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”
All Saints Sundayhttp://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2014/11/IMG_0070.jpg12241632adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
The Beatitudes that we just read form such a poetic and wonderful introduction to Jesus Sermon on the Mount which is the Gospel reading for this All Saints Sunday. Beatitude means blessing.
These blessings form a list of qualities, virtues, and actions that frame a Christian life – we’re encouraged to adopt them and live them in our own lives. Poor in spirit, mournful at the plight of the world, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, makers of peace, willing to suffer for the sake of doing right and seeking equity for all.
Imagine what it might be like to see the Beatitudes practiced and lived. What might a Beatitudinal community look like?
We’ve seen glimpses. There was the convent of sisters led by Mother Teresa ministering to the severest illnesses among the poorest of the poor in India. There was the Beloved Community of Martin Luther King, Jr. whose non-violent movement led to the collapse of Jim Crow.
Throughout 1988 and 1989, every Monday night people gathered in St. Nicholas’ Church in Leipzig, Germany, to pray for peace and freedom. Leipzig was in The German Democratic Republic, what we in the west called East Germany. These folk lived behind the wall that divided Berlin and the two Germanies. The prayers for peace began to attract larger numbers of people. State authorities set up roadblocks, arrested participants, and tried to cancel the peace prayers altogether. But the crowds kept coming and growing to the point that the two-thousand seats in the church were insufficient.
On October 9, 1989, some 1,000 Communist Party members along with Stasi (state police) were ordered to go to St. Nicholas Church in an attempt to take the majority of seats before the peace pray-ers arrived in early evening. 600 of them were in the church nave by 2 pm. What many haven’t considered is that these folk were exposed to the word, to the Gospel. At each gathering the Beatitudes were read.
One of the clergy from St. Nicholas has written:
I always appreciated that the Stasi members heard the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount every Monday. Where else would they hear these? So these people heard Jesus Christ’s Gospel, which they didn’t know, in a church they couldn’t do anything with. They heard from Jesus, “Blessed are the poor!” Blessed are the meek!” “Blessed are the persecuted!”
The prayers for peace that particular night ended with the bishop’s blessing and the urgent call for non-violence. More than 2,000 people leaving the church were welcomed by tens of thousands waiting outside with candles in their hands – an un-forgettable moment. Two hands are necessary to carry a candle and to protect it from extinguishing so that you cannot carry stones or clubs at the same time. The miracle occurred. Jesus’ spirit of non-violence seized the masses and became a material, peaceful power.
Within a month, this movement caused the party and the ideological dictatorship to collapse, on November 9, 1989.
Horst Sindermann, who was a member of the Central Committee of East Germany, said before his death: “We had planned everything. We were prepared for everything. But not for candles and prayers.”
People who had never heard the Gospel, standing outside of the Christian community, heard the words of Jesus and watched as they were practiced in deed. And they were blessed. The world was blessed.
The passage we heard from the Revelation to John speaks of a vision of heaven:
“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”
I like to think that the Communist Party members and the Stasi are among those multitudes that were too great to number. Looking at the Beatitudinal community, from the outside, they found themselves transformed.
I Am Baptized
The part of Germany near and around Leipzig was the area where Martin Luther lived and worked and witnessed almost 500 years earlier. Luther, leader of the Protestant Reformation, was strongly opposed and resisted by many religious and secular authorities of his day. When Luther was feeling alone and oppressed, consumed by self-doubt, he would remind himself, “I am baptized!” It was a way of affirming that he was not alone – he was a child of God, and he was surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses: the saints of God.
The Church of Domine Quo Vadis
Domine Quo Vadis
There is a story that comes to us from the early days of the church. Just outside the wall of Rome along the Appian Way sits a tiny church. It would be easy to miss altogether.
The story goes that St. Peter came to Rome when Nero was Emperor. A great fire broke out and burned much of the city. Nero blamed the Christians and used the fire as an excuse to round up and persecute them.
Warned that his life was in grave danger, Peter fled the city via the Appian Way to get to safety. He got just beyond the wall to the spot where the little church stands.
In Latin, the church is named “Domine Quo Vadis.” In English, it’s “The Church of ‘Lord, Where are You Going?’.”
According to the apocryphal Acts of Peter, it was here that he encountered the risen Christ. He saw Jesus walking in the opposite direction going back toward the city. Peter, astonished, asked Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus responded, “I am going back to Rome to be crucified again.”
Peter believed that the divine life of Christ actually lived within him and within all believers. Earlier, he had recorded this in the New Testament:
Christ has given us . . . his precious and very great promises, so that through them you. . . may become participants of the divine nature,
Because of this, he knew that Jesus was telling him to go back to Rome where, as a participant in the divine nature of Christ, he would be crucified. Peter would not be alone on that cross. Jesus was with him – living through him – crucified again. So Peter obeyed. He returned, was arrested, and crucified upside down on a cross.
Let us pray: “Domine Quo Vadis?” Lord, where are we going? How is the Spirit calling us to participate in the divine nature? Where does Christ want to take us? How can we be his hands and feet in our time?
Baptisms on All Saints Sunday
Today, as we observe the Feast of All the Saints, we are baptizing five children.
All Saints’ Sunday is a family reunion. Barbara Brown Taylor says that all of these saints are our relatives. And the reason we have baptisms today is that we want the new saints to meet the old ones. We don’t want them to miss knowing and connecting with their ancestors.
We are family
(To the children and their families) We welcome you to this family! Remember that you are baptized! Live the beatitudes! Be a blessing! Be blessed! And let us all ask, “Domine Quo vadis?” “Lord, where are you going?” And then follow.
I have a suggestion about one way you can do that. You may have seen the red wagons we have just outside the doors to this worship space. We use them to collect food for adults and children who don’t have enough to eat. At the offering time we pull those wagons into the church, offer the food to God, who then has us take the food to God’s hungry people. Every week when you come to church, you can help by bringing a can of beans or a package of pasta or some other healthy food to share. Children are a very important part of this family along with St. Peter and all the other saints. Can you do that?
Let the candidates for Holy Baptism now be presented.
Lessons From Saint Francisadminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
first manger scene
It was a bitterly cold Christmas Eve in 1223, in the tiny Italian mountain town of Greccio. The peasants trooped off to a nearby stable to see what the eccentric holy man Francis had planned for them. Within, they were amazed to find a baby nestled in a manger, the air of the stable heated by the breath of a small herd of sheep and cows. Thus did Saint Francis teach about the Nativity to an unsophisticated audience. This first known manger scene more accurately captures the spirit of the season than the frenzied commercialism that has come to characterize the holiday in our time.
On March 13, 2013, the Roman Catholic Church elected the first pope from the Americas, who immediately took the name Francis, in honor of the 13th century holy man from the Italian town of Assisi, the first person in recorded history to bear the Stigmata. Saint Francis may be the most beloved of Christian saints. Underlying the popular image of a kindly man who preached to the birds, we find a man of peace and compassion, who challenged the status quo of his day by living the kind of life preached by Jesus.
Saint Francis, patron of the poor, of animals and nature, was born around 1181, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant who insisted that he pursue a career in business. As a youth, Francis was a playboy, aspiring to become a knight and do great deeds in battle. Yet, he was kind and generous, giving money to every beggar he met. He sometimes gave away his own clothes, and smuggled food to the poor.
Riding out to do battle with a German king, Francis fell ill and was forced to return home. One day, he met a leper. Terrified of being infected, Francis nevertheless, embraced the man and gave him a sack of coins. Filled with joy, he recognized that his purpose was to help others, and he spent long periods ministering to victims in a leper colony.
While praying at the Church of San Damiano, a voice ordered him, “Francis, do you see that my house is in ruins? Go and restore it for me.” Concluding that he was to rebuild that crumbling structure, Saint Francis sold his father’s best cloth to purchase mortar and stone for the project. His father, angered by what he regarded as his son’s irresponsible, even delusional, behavior, sued to force him to return the money. At court, the bishop advised Frances to repay his father.
Francis responded by giving away all his possessions, including the clothing he was wearing, shouting that from then on only God was his father. He fled into the woods, where he lived a life of poverty, prayer and charity to others.
At the time, many clergy were focused more upon materialism than upon their vocations. Francis opposed greedy, gluttonous behavior. Jesus had advised a wealthy young to sell all he had, give the proceeds to the poor and come and follow him. Francis took that passage literally, adopting the simplest of lifestyles. Saint Francis advised, “Blessed is he who has nothing, for he will enjoy everything.”
Thousands followed his example, men joining the Order of Friars Minor, women joining the Poor Clares, living in huts and giving the proceeds of their labors to the poor.
nature and animals
Saint Francis is perhaps best known for his close relationship with nature and animals. He believed that the Creator communicates his joy through his creation. He took great joy in birds and other animals and always treated them with kindness. Francis believed in the sanctity of all life at a time when even human life was regarded cheaply. He considered God as an artist who is known through his art, the majesty and variety of his creation. His words and actions seem to anticipate the panentheistic teachings of Meister Eckert a century later, the view that the Divine interpenetrates all of creation. His Medieval Catholic outlook is evident in his famous Sermon to the Birds, but he expands that concept, addressing the birds as Little Sisters.
Francis took great joy in all creatures, singing with a cicada, freeing a rabbit from a trap, taking warm wine and honey to the bees in the winter, purchasing lambs to save them from the slaughter. His “Canticle to Brother Sun”, pays homage to the glories of creation.
wolf of gubbio
The most famous story about Saint Francis involves the Wolf of Gubbio, who had been preying upon the peasants’ livestock. Francis convinced the wolf to cease his evil ways. Afterwards, the wolf followed Francis docilely through town. From then on, the people fed the wolf and he lived peacefully among them. This story is cloaked in myth but not so unbelievable when we remember that animals often respond positively to acts of kindness, as the experiences of Dr. Lynn Rogers with wild black bears affirm.
Francis would be saddened by vivisection, bull fighting, trophy hunting, poaching, the destruction of God’s creation by mountaintop removal mining, clear-cutting and fracking, the corruption of nature by the introduction of genetically modified organisms, the inhumane practices of factory farms, the heavy handed attitudes of energy companies and polluters.
During the Fifth Crusade, Francis journeyed to Egypt in an attempt to bring peace and convert Sultan Al-KamiL. He was welcomed warmly and the two developed mutual understanding centered on monotheism, prayer and kindness to the poor.
lessons from Saint Francis
Francis turned no one away, always attempting to erase the boundaries between individuals and ideologies. He avoided language that blocks the poetic flow of Christianity and encases its living spirit within the iron cage of literalism and legalism.
Anyone can begin applying Franciscan principles to their lives by cultivating a vegetable garden, feeding birds, treating animals with kindness, practicing the Leave No Trace doctrine as we walk the beach, the woodland path, the mountain trail. Sharing our wealth with victims of poverty, disease and injustice could go a long way toward eradicating many of the ailments that trouble mankind.
Francis asks even more of us, urging us to put aside the vanity of earthly goods and transcend the twin evils of success and failure. He urges downward mobility, a life of poverty and service to others.
Francis prescribes a life of solitude, necessary for silencing noisy souls, creating a space where we can experience the Ultimate.
He insists that we turn off the outward dialogue and the inward monologue, shut off the constant noise to which so many are addicted in their panic to escape themselves. He cautions that happiness cannot be successfully sought by means of fleeting emotional highs, pharmaceutically induced avoidance of normal emotions, the acquisition of this or that vehicle or technological bauble, but only through the cultivation of solitude, silence, stillness.
When Francis passed away in 1226, it is said that myriads of birds and animals appeared to mourn the passing of their friend.
In our time, his likeness stands watch over lawns, gardens and birdbaths around the world. Each year on October 4, the Roman Catholic and Anglican Communions honor Francis with the Blessing of the Animals. My grand-dog Kodi, a precocious Labrador retriever, is always in attendance.
Does the Exodus Relate to Us Today?http://daytonchristepiscopal.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2014/10/moses-exodus.jpg530532adminadminhttp://0.gravatar.com/avatar/34b70fefa23433095c9cf00b5015a03b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
Sermon Given on September 14, 2014
The Exodus is Relevant
I was reading a commentary on the scripture selections for this week that warned preachers against seeing a relationship between the account from the Book of Exodus and the Gospel according to Matthew; that we preachers should not be tempted to see connections here that do not exist. Just so you know in advance, I’m going to ignore that expert advice, because the theme of both texts is the same.
Matthew may or may not have had Exodus in mind, but freedom was very much on his mind.
The greatest event in the entire history of the Hebrews was the Exodus from slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea waters. It was celebrated in song and Psalm and dance: “Sheroo, la Yahweh, key-‐go-‐o, ga-‐ah, sus wa-‐row-‐ka-‐voh, ra-‐mah, vay-‐ yam.”
“Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously, horse and rider have been cast into the sea.” This is thought by some to be the oldest line in the Bible, uttered by Moses’ sister. It’s the Song of Miriam (Exodus 15:21).
The Exodus was celebrated in liturgy and creed. When subsequent generations came to the temple in Jerusalem to make their offerings to God, they said this little creedo as a statement of their faith and the reason for their offering.
A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey (Deuteronomy 26:5-9).
The Exodus, along with the subsequent period of Wandering in the Wilderness, was considered by many of the prophets as the most fertile and formative time in all of the history of Israel. This deliverance out of slavery into freedom became the defining moment for the Hebrews who saw their God as a God of liberation.
Some 600 or 700 years later, when the Babylonians defeated Israel in the time of King Nebuchadnezzar, they were carried off into a new captivity, which they called the Babylonian Captivity. But to their minds, this was just another slavery of the type that they’d experienced in Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar was just another Pharaoh. It’s the same game, but different names and faces.
Subsequent persecutions, enslavements and dominations have been interpreted in the same fashion. The archetype is the Exodus. The people of God are in bondage, and God is a God of freedom.
Such was the case in the Israel of Jesus’ day as she struggled under foreign oppression once again. This time, Pharaoh’s name was Caesar. The Roman Empire ruled the Mediterranean world. And once again, Israel began to seek for God’s deliverance. God would send a savior, a new Moses, a new Joshua, a new David, a new Daniel; ‐ a Messiah who would set God’s people free.
Is it any wonder that wherever people find themselves oppressed with something new, the Exodus has served as the pattern for the struggle for freedom? When the slaves sang, “Go down Moses into Egypt and tell ole Pharaoh, Let my people go,” the plantation owners thought they were singing about an Old Testament story. Little did they know that they were Pharaoh.
Jesus came to make us free. St. John says: “You will know the truth (“I am the truth,” he said) and the truth will make you free (John 8:31). “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a permanent place there forever.
So if the son makes you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:34-36)?
And understand here, that the sins Jesus is referring to are not the moral failings of individuals or rebellion against God. The sins were the violations of the holiness code and the kosher laws, sins often caused by poverty or station in life. Slaves, the working poor, beggars, shepherds, the sick – they had neither time, energy, nor resources to wash or perform the rituals to maintain purity. Some despised professions or trades, like undertakers, butchers, and tanners, people who regularly touched the dead or the products of death – these people were perpetually unclean and otherwise known as sinners. They were slaves to their sin.
In addition to economic, racial, and social bondage, there’s also internal oppression. Internal oppression is simple. You keep someone down long enough, you tell someone that they’re stupid enough times, you demean another over a long enough period of time, then there will come a day when you don’t have to oppress them anymore. They’ll do it to themselves! That’s internal oppression. You can remove the Jim Crow laws, you can open up the employment process, you can tell a person that she is now free to be and do and become whatever she wants. But after 400 years of oppression, she’s internalized it so much, that she’s now telling herself that she’s
not capable, smart enough, or worthy enough to even give it a good try. She’s still a slave.
I talk a lot about freedom and openness and equality. I think about it every single day of my life. Part of it is due to my family history. I can attribute it in part to my experiences. But most of it is this Gospel of Jesus that has taken hold of me and won’t let me go.
Those who say that people like me would discriminate against those who don’t want to change, ‐ who don’t want freedom, equality, and openness; those who want to continue to discriminate or exclude . They’re right. They want to keep some people from having a place at the table and in society. God won’t stand for that and neither should his Church.
That’s why the Gospel story of forgiveness is an Exodus story. Jesus was talking to Peter about forgiveness. You should forgive so often, Peter, that you can’t keep track anymore. Not once or twice or seven times, but 70 times 7 times! And then he told the story of the king who forgave a massive debt to one of his slaves, who begged for mercy and patience. The slave was set free, allowed to go his way, unburdened. He crossed the Red Sea! “That’s what God is like,” said Jesus. He’s like the King in the story!
But when the first slave had the opportunity to do the same for a fellow slave who owed a much smaller debt, he refused to be patient and merciful, and he cast him into prison. “No crossing the Red Sea for you,” he said. The ungrateful servant’s fellow slaves saw his wretched ingratitude and called him on it.
The King was angry when he heard about it. He called the slave wicked, for he kept a fellow slave in bondage. That’s why Jesus asked us to pray: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Forgiveness is related to exodus. Exodus from slavery to Pharaoh is the same as Exodus from slavery to sin. Exodus and forgiveness are both about freedom, empowerment, new life. Movement from slavery from Pharaoh and from slavery to sin is movement from death into life. It is resurrection!
Refusal to forgive is a refusal to free the other. The first slave was forgiven. The second was enslaved.
The New Testament may appear on the surface to be different from the older testament. But when all is said and done, it’s the same old story. The New Testament is midrash (that is, it’s commentary) on the Exodus. From the time of Moses God has not changed. But our perceptions of God have changed. The movement of Holy Scripture, from Moses to Jesus, is a expanding understanding of hospitality and welcome at the freedom banquet of the Lord.
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Our Common Ground
Sermon Given on September 7, 2014
I was asked the other day, “What is a Christian response to shootings in places like Ferguson, MO, and Beavercreek, OH?” People are rallying and fundraising to support the police officers involved, while others are doing the same for the victims. The media and internet are filled with people taking sides and making venomous attacks on people representing different points of view. It’s hard to avoid.
I personally have strong feelings about circumstances like these. I know that racism permeates the systems. Powers of this world and prejudice infects us all in many conscious and unconscious ways. It’s also true that police have a difficult job at best, and they fear for their lives as they go into fluid and potentially threatening situations. It also seems to me that all people of good will would like to see our society become more fair and just for everyone.
With that said, what’s at risk as we rush to judgment and the taking of sides is truth. First, there’s the truth of what happened. Public officials do us all well to be as transparent as they can with the evidence that they’ve gathered, without jeopardizing continuing investigations and possible prosecutions. It strikes me that we Christians, if we value truth, then we would withhold judgment until we have all of the evidence. To rush to judgment in any particular case without all of the evidence is to sacrifice truth to prejudice.
But even more importantly, there is a second kind of truth that’s in peril. It’s the affirmation that we all bear the stamp of the image of God. We all have value in the eyes of God. In today’s super-heated environment those who are on the other side of almost any issue are often demeaned, dismissed, and even hated. Once that begins to happen, the very fabric of society begins to unravel. We cease to believe that there’s any good in our neighbor, that he or she is less than human, and that even our enemy is not worthy of our regard. We don’t even try to walk in the other’s shoes in order to understand him or her.
And yet, concern for the other is at the very heart of our faith. It’s in the center of the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament that comprise the holiest writings of the Jewish people. The rabbis point out that these words are the literal center of Torah. Half of the Torah is before them, and half of it follows, which gives them even more weight.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Then there’s Paul’s affirmation in today’s reading from the Epistle to the Romans: The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“And any other commandment.” Did you hear that? Paul says that all the commandments (including loving God) are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.
This idea that love of neighbor is the equivalent of love of God is spelled out in the First Epistle of John: Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from Him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
All three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), report Jesus as saying that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, and John has a close cognate when we Jesus said: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
The Single Truth Behind Love
I’ve led you on this tour through the Old and New Testaments with one purpose in mind. And that’s to demonstrate that love of the neighbor is central to our faith. It’s not an idea that appears only once or twice, but is repeated time and again. Love of the other and care for the common good are fundamental to comprehending Jesus. Reconciliation with God and with one another is THE program of the Kingdom of God.
Yes, there is wrong thinking, prejudice, mistaken snap decisions and too many fears that can and do, in the heat of the moment, lead to division and tragedy. But we do not contribute creatively and constructively when we forget to live out our faith.
Listen carefully to these words of Paul, written a number of years before the Epistle to the Romans. This earliest writer in the New Testament, wrote in Galatians: For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-‐indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Here is the United States we treasure our freedoms; but as Paul warns, freedom that is not used in the service of others becomes a form of self‐service, self- indulgence. Failure to love our neighbors, to affirm their value and their freedom, can lead to the death of our faith, our trust, and our hope.
So, as the Psalmist proclaims, we “sing to the Lord a new song. New in the sense that’s it’s not sung often enough, new in that it’s rarely fulfilled, but old in that it’s been a song to the Lord for a long time.
These are the lyrics of a song that was written a very long time ago. Do you recognize the song?
If I had a song,
I’d sing it in the morning.
I’d sing it in the evening all over this land.
I’d sing out danger, I’d sing out a warning,
I’d sing out love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land.