Christmas Joy is Hope

We come again to the most wonderful season of Christmas. W e may celebrate the day with many cherished, familial customs and traditions. For some our celebration may be with  family and friends. For others it might be or alone, or with the memories of loved ones we remember. However we celebrate, by far the greater celebration is the gift, the coming of infant Jesus into the world. He, a king, for our sakes came into this world as a pauper. He through whom all things were created, came as a baby. He who is all powerful came as the one who is vulnerable to all things human. He who came as the expression of God’s love came into an environment which is largely indifferent, if not outright hostile to the mystery of His holy birth. He came as a human, υποτάσσω, which is the Greek word meaning subject, as in under the rules, limits and conditions of humanity. As we say in a familiar Eucharistic prayer: He lived and died as one of us.

But something there is that does not love grace and love in this world. The people in the inn were indifferent to the grace of God just a few yards beyond the back door. Herod wasn’t indifferent. He was outright hostile. And in this year, 2017, some two thousand years after Jesus’ birth, he still persists in coming into a world that is indifferent, if not outright hostile still. Yet, deny it though we might, people still need the Lord. We still need grace. Compassion, forgiveness and charity are lost commodities in our time and place. If we look at the crèche and see the love of God, then we most also an indictment of our ignorance and indifference to the greatest treasure of all time.

May it be that your hearts are curiously moved during this holy season. May that love of God still touch your hearts and souls and be that lever that pries away the sin of indifference.

Blessed Christmas to one and all!

 

Fr. G+

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A new look at John the Baptist

The humility of John the Baptist is striking. In an era when most are compelled to blow their own horns and where self-aggrandizement is the order of the day, John’s response might be a paradigm to us all. “Who are you?” ask the priests and Levites. It is a question about authority. “Who do you think you are? How dare you behave in this manner? Who gave you the authority to proclaim a message of repentance? Are you a prophet? Are you Elijah? Elijah was expected to return before the end of the age based on the prophecy of Malachi in Malachi 4.5-6, where it is written, ‘I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.’”

Those are the last words of the Old Testament. Those priests and Levites want to know by what right, by what commission, by what authority, is it that John does what he does. “Who are you? Give us an answer.”

And John’s answer is not very satisfactory to them. “I am not a prophet. I am not the Messiah. I am not Elijah. I am just one single, solitary voice crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. To get ready for His coming. To make his ways straight. I am here to get you ready to receive the one who will baptize you, not with mere water, but with Holy Spirit.”

We, of course, have been baptized with water and the Holy Spirit. While most of us are not holy rollers, wave our hands in the air and speak in tongues sorts of people, being infused with the Holy Spirit compels us to a certain world view:

For starters that includes:

The ability to rejoice always. We may not always be in circumstances that are happy circumstances. We may not always be able to be filled with cheer. Yet, as we know that we are in the fullness of God in Jesus Christ, we are in on a secret—that’s how the sufferings of the present time are not worthy of comparison to the glory that shall be revealed. The grounding of our rejoicing is that God has a plan for us and that God will carry us through all things, even when we do not see how it shall be possible for us.

Secondly, we are called to live a life of prayer. Living a life of prayer includes regular worship on the Lord’s Day, but it transcends filling a Sunday obligation. If you have a relationship with a significant other, but you only see them once a week, that relationship is not going to flourish. Chances are that relationship would deteriorate from your lack of attention. If your life is truly hidden with Christ in God, then you will find yourself resorting to pray frequently, such that it would be essentially praying with out ceasing.

Thirdly, in a life that is filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit eventually we learn not to quench the spirit. Have you ever the experience someone coming into a group with such negativity that they manage to poison any positivity that might have been?

If the spirit of the Lord is truly upon us, we will be preoccupied with building community and building relationships. We will focus on those things that unite, not divide us. We will come to recognize that we all bear a responsibility to encourage and to lift up not only ourselves but the culture in which we live. Because that’s what it is to be transformative in the name of our Lord Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Faithfully,

Canon G+

 

 

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Render unto Caesar . . .

“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars and to God the things that are God’s.” Most of us have little trouble rendering onto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Every year, quite a while before the deadline of April 15, we sit down and struggle with form 1040. In my instance, it usually winds up being a packet about 3 inches thick. Through the variety of computations and attached schedules we generally come to an understanding of exactly how many dollars and cents we need, under penalty of law, to render unto Caesar. Whether we feel cheerful or resentful doesn’t matter. We still need to send it. Some of us have been rendered enough and might be getting a refund; others of us are invited to send along a check to complete our being rendered. In some happier instances we look forward to a refund. That means of course that we’ve overpaid during the course of the year.

 When it comes to the matter of stewardship, it’s all different. There is no schedule 1040. There is no one demanding particularly that we give. There’s no schedule to be filed to tell us how we are to give, or under what circumstances we give. It’s a matter between what’s in our heart and what we know is right in proportion to what we know about our relationship with God. Far from being a compulsory burden, stewardship is supposed to be an occasion of joy. It is not an act based on compulsion, but an act that is based upon our loving response to the tender mercies which we have encountered from Almighty God.  The heart of stewardship stems from an awareness of the blessings that we have received during the year and during years past throughout our lifetimes.

 The very heart of stewardship rests on the notion that we are aware that we have received blessings from Almighty God, and that we are thankful and filled with gratitude for the blessings which we have received. We are asked to count our blessings and to approach the altar with hearts that are filled with thankfulness.

 Now, being human, it is our tendency often to base our system response of stewardship on what we see as the needs of the church. We all know costs go up in terms of price. Most of us know that from running our homes each year.  We also know how things go up in the life of our parish. Utilities, insurances of various sorts, Cost of living, (2% this year) necessary but routine repairs. We all know none of it goes down. We know that if our stewardship is strictly parish-needs based that for Saint Paul’s to

But ultimately the grounding of stewardship rests on the ways that we are aware that we have been and how we are blessed. That’s the thing that our theme for the year is supposed to remind us. It is not me and it is not you that have gotten for ourselves all that we have and all that we enjoy. Rather it is that all that we are and all that we have comes from God. The real challenge of those words of Deuteronomy “Be careful lest you may say to yourself, “my power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember to give your thank offering to the Lord your God.” The real challenge is don’t forget to be thankful, don’t forget to be grateful. Remember to show your gratitude to the Lord your God and offer your gift with thanksgiving.  

Faithfully,

Fr. Greg+

 

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“The Thing I do, I hate. . .”

Here’s a meditation on Romans 7:15-25

Before we decide that St. Paul has gone around the bend, before we analyze him from the view of modern psychiatry, before we dismiss that second reading from the Epistle to the Romans as the ravings of one gone mad, perhaps we might pause for a moment of gratitude. We might be thankful for his candor and self-disclosure. We might rejoice for his fundamental honesty. Because what we could learn from the 2nd reading this morning is that life in the fullness of the power of the Holy Spirit entails hard work. It is an invitation to a life of self-discovery in the light of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. To embark on the life is essentially to engage in journey, no; more than a journey, an adventure of growth in the life of the spirit.

Of course, God loves us just the way we are. But that’s not to say that he has the expectation that we will engage in the that journey towards the fullness of life in the Holy Spirit. And eventually, in that life of the spirit, if we are faithful to the promptings and the calling of the grace of God, we will come to a realization. And that realization is twofold.

-One, that you are being called to become something other than what you are today, because God is not finished with you yet.

-And Two, that as we become more attuned to life in the power of the Holy Spirit, that there is a gulf fixed between where we are and the high ideal that we are called to in the completeness of life in Jesus Christ our Lord.

That’s because it is, as we all know, impossible for us as human beings to live fully and completely every minute in the life of the Spirit. Even if we were to live in a place where the distractions were minimized, it would be impossible for us to with that much energy and intentionality. Eventually we come to the recognition that there is a distance from the high ideal to which we are called and the reality of where we are in human terms. Curiously, the more aware we become of the potential which is ours in the of life in the spirit, the more we are also aware of just how short we fall from the ideal. While we might delight in the law of God, like Paul, the more we are aware of what life might be like in the Holy Spirit, the more aware we become of how our mortal nature weighs us down.

Sometimes it is alleged of Christians that we seem to be people who are preoccupied with sin. In some popular perceptions, Christians are characterized as the sort of people who are no fun to be around, who can’t lighten up and enjoy life, who have an overwhelming sense of rigidity in making sure that they don’t transgress the commandments. I would tell you with tears in my eyes that I have known well-meaning people who present Christianity in this fashion. But that is not the essence of Christianity. Christians are called to be preoccupied, not with sin but with life in the grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. We would be doing a greater service to the mission of the Church if we could figure a way to articulate this better and more accurately.

Canon Greg+

 

 

 

 

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Ascension–why’s it important?

Most of us can relate to many of the aspects of our Lord’s life. For example, most of us can relate to the idea that it’s good news that someone has conceived and is about to bring a child into the world. So we can find a way of understanding the doctrine of the incarnation. Many of us, if we do not have the experience ourselves, have known people that have had the joy in bringing a child home from the hospital. So we can relate to what a tremendous joy birth is. We don’t really have a hard time conceptualizing or struggling with the meaning of Christmas and the touching story of the birth of Jesus.  While I’m reasonably sure that none of us have had the direct experience of resurrection, I’m quite sure that all of us here have had the experience of laying a person to rest. Someone whom we have loved and cared for. Someone for whom our heart aches as we come to that moment “where even at the grave we make our song alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” So in a real way we can relate to the disciples and Mary Magdalene and the others. We can imagine the tremendous joy that they must’ve experienced when they encountered the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

But things are different with the Ascension. That’s an experience with which throws most of us. It is hard for us to relate to it.

For starters, no one I have ever met ever had any direct experience of anybody else’s Ascension.   We have never had the experience of someone that we know and love being suddenly picked up and drawn up into heaven and disappearing before our very eyes. Oh, we can understand the likes of Ralph Kramden making a fist and hollering “to  the moon to the moon, Alice, to the moon. But Ascension? That’s something entirely different. If we were to experience something like that, I’m sure that our reaction would not have been so different from the early disciples. “Men of Galilee why stand you gazing up into heaven?”  Why indeed? Wouldn’t we all?  For most of us  the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ stands fairly abstract and obtuse, something inaccessible and incomprehensible.

Well, we can reflect theologically the Ascension, and in so doing, we could make the statement that the Ascension of our Lord is important because it reminds us that Jesus is not only an itinerant preacher from Galilee but he is also the cosmic Lord and King of all creation. We can reflect, as Saint John did, that there is a certain necessity of the Ascension because our Lord goes to prepare a place for us in his permanent heavenly kingdom. We might notice, as did Saint John that there is a necessity to the Ascension:  he goes that we might be filled with power from on high. The Ascension is a precursor signaling that the Messianic era is over as we look forward to something new which is the era of the Holy Spirit  shared upon all humankind.  We celebrate that in the feast of Pentecost,  next Sunday. The fulfillment of the promise of the prophet Joel, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.”

But the second thing about the Ascension is that it is a marvelous moment in which the followers of Jesus are reminded that they are commissioned to go forth into the world to preach, to proclaim the gospel to all nations, and bring all peoples into the fold. In the words of the Great Commission we are sent to baptize all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The angelic beings chastise those men of Galilee for standing around too long saying goodbye. “You have work to do. Get on with it.  Get out into the world and start proclaiming the love of Jesus and quit standing around staring up into the sky.”

Graduations are popular at this time of year. So I suppose we could think of this disciple graduation day. Usually the other name for graduation is commencement. It’s not the end of the journey but it’s the new beginning. So Ascension Day is tremendously about this living into the vocation of proclamation. Proclamation is a thing that we are all called to do. To proclaim Christ by word and example to seek and to serve him in others. Unfortunately, it’s a whole lot more comfortable for all of us as it was for Peter, Andrew, James, and John, and the rest to stand in to gaze. Far more comfortable to stand and gaze than to go out into the world and to represent the love of God in Jesus Christ. Yet the mission of the church is the proclamation and representation of Jesus in the community in which we live. Yours is fundamentally the same as the apostolic commission and so is mine.

Last thing that comes to my mind with the assumption of our Lord Jesus Christ is this: it’s a very touching moment and it’s a hard moment because most of us find it incredibly difficult to say goodbye. In representations of art often times the disciples are shown reaching up in the air as if to grasp the feet of Jesus to hold him back stay with us stay with us a little longer. Reassuring as our Lord’s last words to his disciples may be about how he’s going to be present with them always, that does not soften the blow as they reach up while he ascends. Yet ascend he must so that they must be filled finally and wonderfully and completely in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Faithfully,

Canon G+

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How to be human

Moral Theologians instruct us that there are three main virtues, known as theological virtues. They are Faith, Hope and Caritas. Caritas is one of those specialized Latin words. Sometimes it is translated as Love; at other times Charity. In English, of course, there is a vast difference between Love and Charity, though presumably any act of Charity springs from an intrinsic attitude of love which finds its expression towards meeting the need of an individual or group.

In 1 Corinthians 13, Saint Paul articulates that the greatest of these virtues is love, and that is doubtlessly inspired by the words of Saint John’s Gospel such as we have heard this morning. But we might notice just how inter related these are.   Faith, in the way in which Saint Paul expresses it, is not a dogmatic system of belief—as we sometimes refer to the Christian Faith—as an expression of systematic theology. No, in Saint Paul, it is different. Faith is a thing that springs from our response to the love of God which we have encountered in Jesus Christ. As a virtue, Faith entails the development of a dynamic relationship of trust towards God. It also entails a dynamic relationship of trust towards other people in our lives. So we place our faith in those of whom we have the experience that they have earned our trust.

But without faith, hope is not possible. One of the great things that springs from our capacity to grow in faith is the capacity to have hope. Absent faith, eventually the human spirit becomes hopeless, downtrodden, browbeaten into the dust of the earth. Absent hope, the only response that makes sense is radical alienation.

Carried to its logical extension that means separation from God, from one’s fellow human beings, and ultimately from life itself. One finds that sense of radical alienation in the existential philosophy of the last century; one finds it also expressed certain hate groups that seem to be gaining ascendency today. Because if I have no hope and no influence of positivity, something essentially has to come in to fill that void. Those might include: fellowship with others who express their radical alienation in the same manner as do I; it might have to do with turning to drugs, or alcohol to numb the innate human drive to find meaning to life.

If it is true that without faith, there is no hope, it is also true that without hope, humans have a diminished capacity for love. If I have no ideal, nothing in which to believe, then why should I be concerned about anything other than myself. Absent faith, hope and love we all too quickly find ourselves down a path to sociopathy.

And that is why religious experience is fundamentally a part of what makes us human. It serves as a critical reminder that

-life has meaning and has a purpose

-that life is based on a series of relationships with G od and with our brothers and sisters, our fellow human beings, and the family of humankind,

-Faith, hope and love channel our attention from negative, self-destructive thinking to positivity and potential rather than failure and self-loathing. Without these, the world devolves into a vicious, hostile environment.

In 1971, a somewhat obscure Country singer/songwriter published a cut “Angels from Montgomery.” That song had a bit of popularity when it was performed by Bonnie Raitt. The Chorus is:

Make me an angel that flies from Montgom’ry
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go

So it is for good reason that we are reminded of these virtues: Faith, Hope, and love do more than abide forever. They are the minimum required building blocks that make us human.  Want to be human? Abide in the love of Jesus, strive to live a life filled with faith and hope.

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The Lord is Risen Indeed Alleluia!

Alleluia. Christ is Risen.

The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia.

This has always intrigued me. In scripture, God always speaks the language of positivity and the language of hope.

Even at those moments such as one encounters with the prophets, where there is that dark and angry tone of excoriating judgment, there is always a note of hope. Even when it is not likely that his people will either hear or heed his voice, there is always that subcontext of God who created all things in love. While God may be angry or frustrated with his people, it does not seem to be in his character to hate them.  So even those prophets whose message was so strident, there is that note of compassion: “if only my people would listen to me.” “if only they would turn with new hearts.” “if only they would follow and obey my commandments.” “if only they would be my people and if only they would let me by their God.”

Over the years it has been the task of preachers on this happy Easter morning to try to persuade people that the resurrection of Jesus is real. And of course there are a number of resurrection appearances of our Risen Lord recorded in the New Testament; most of them are not private audiences but involve two or more witnesses. Those appearances have a weight of authenticy about them. They are credible, if for no other reason, no one makes up a tale about someone being raised from the dead—and if they had concocted such a tale, who among them would endure the suffering and painful deaths that all the apostles endured (except John). They would have folded—changed their story—as part of a plea deal. But they didn’t. And that in itself testifies to the truth. It makes no sense from human experience; Easter, this day of Resurrection,  while incomprehensible from from the human point of view, teaches us

·         that God is greater than the human point of view,

·         that the power of God is greater than all things in heaven and earth

·         that in the face of all things broken in the world, God was in Christ, reconciling all things to himself.

·         That the love of God is greater than the hatred of the world.

That our Lord’s message to the disciples, “be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world,” is just as applicable today as it was then.

When we live fully in the power and the promise of Jesus’ resurrection, things change.

·         We are no longer held prisoner by the fear that is in the world,

·         We are no longer, chained by the negativity that grips people’s lives, and institutions and systems,

·         We can give up what I call the little liturgy of the wringing of the hands over the dismal prospects of a bleak future, because we can come to trust in Him who promises, “Behold, I make all things, New.

·         We are no longer consumed by the pettiness that is the hallmark of the press and grind of daily life, because we know that we dwell in the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

·         We can fully live in the vision of this morning’s epistle, for if we have truly set our minds on the things that are above, and not the things on earth, we will be continually renewed by the way in which our life is hidden—that’s to say covered, protected and enfolded, with Christ in God.

Here’s the mistake that most people make: the resurrection of Jesus is not an intellectual proposition. It is not a time worn, outdated dogma of the Church. And we need to quit acting as though it were those things. The celebration of Jesus’ resurrection is a proclamation about a dynamic relationship with the living Lord Jesus Christ that transforms life wondrously.

Alleluia. Christ is Risen.

The Lord is Risen indeed.

Faithfully,

Canon G+

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