December 5, 2021: Second Sunday of Advent

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ADVENT 2 December 5, 2021

“Prepare the Way of the Lord!”

I don’t think John the Baptist broke into song when he called the people to repent. But to us he would have appeared a very strange fellow. Dressed in a camel hair cloak, girded with a leather belt, living in the desert on a diet of locust and wild honey. Gluten free, I am sure. But to those who came out to see, John was dressed like the great prophet Elijah, and his call to repent was far from silly. The word “repent” has the sense of changing the direction of one’s life, turning around and heading in the opposite way, initiating a new beginning.

Repent was a call to action, to do something, take specific steps to change. An example would be someone joining a recovery program to fight addiction described as taking steps toward healing. John was calling for change!

But there is more. These words have a sense of bringing something to life, a new way of acting, a new way of being. Embracing a new reality. All this will be expanded and clarified in the life and teaching of Jesus.

Preparing for new life is not a surprising message for Advent. But the call of Advent is not to prepare for the birth of the infant Jesus. That had already occurred in John’s day and certainly ours. The Advent message and Christmas Story do not invite us to go back and become spectators of ancient events. The message and story are about now.

Christmas celebrates the fact that Jesus came in human flesh to live in human history. He came at a time when all was not calm and bright. Society was filled with injustice and oppression. Jesus suffered and died. But, in Jesus, God revealed there is more.

The life and teaching of Jesus form a lens through which we read the Advent and Christmas story. We are to see ourselves in the ongoing mystery of Christ’s presence and still coming Jesus. The lens through which we are able to see ourselves, each other and our world in a whole new way with new attitudes and values.

The call to this vision is often repeated in the community that has gotten involved with that Being we call God.

The message we read in Baruch must have sounded strange to those who first heard it. Baruch was the name of the friend and secretary of Jeremiah. He, himself could not have written these words as they were written 400 years after his life. They are written to a people under foreign rule, but refer back to a time long past when Israel was in exile.

Confidence and hope in the saving power of God are offered to people in exile or domination. Confidence and joy seem out of place. Joy that all will be restored, and peace will abound seem only a dream. It is a call to faith and trust in a God, when God seemed so absent.

Paul, too, in our reading from his Letter to the Philippians writes serene words filled with hope. But Paul is writing from a prison cell where he faces imminent death. Words of faith and trust in a faithful God, when God could seem so absent.

We hear the call of John as Winter is about to begin. Not the time for new life. Days are getting shorter, colder. Nature looks more dead than living. And many of us adopt a “wintry personality: feeling less alive, spending more time indoors with less freedom of movement. Uncertainty about health and life abound. New life, hope, trust?

Ah, but then there is the Celtic view. The ancient Irish thought these days of winter were the beginning of the growth cycle. The cold and dark forced the seed to germinate in the soil just waiting for the warmth of Spring.

But John the Baptists calls us to repent, to an active waiting. But this does not mean more activity. Maybe the best way to prepare is as Euan said last week: to find time to be calm with God.

Can we look at having more time to be a blessing, not a burden?

This Advent, let us prepare the way of the Lord with confidence in the saving power of God, in a serenity built on hope, with a joy found in the calmness of God.

Submitted by the Reverend Brendan McCormick

November 28, 2021: First Sunday of Advent

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Advent I: November 28, 2021

Happy New (Church’s) Year! The liturgical year begins each year on Advent Sunday, and on this day each year we begin a new cycle of readings. We are just beginning year C, when the main focus will be on the Gospel readings from Luke, with John putting in appearances at important points.

Advent is in some ways a problematic season. Traditionally, it was a period of abstinence and penitential self-examination, before the great celebration of Christ’s incarnation at Christmas (a “little Lent”). That aspiration to reflective, spiritual preparation has been trashed by that other calendar, the secular calendar of consumption. No sooner have we passed through the commercial overload of Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving, than we are besieged by the exhortations to purchase (specially early this year because of shortages and transport problems) and consume. It was even worse in Britain. With less emphasis on Hallowe’en and none on Thanksgiving, the commercial run-up to Christmas lasted something like a quarter of the year.

We can, and should take the Church’s year, and the Church’s life, as our refuge and sustenance. Live into Advent as a time of calm. Resist, with a good conscience, the pressures of the world to be frantically busy. Make prayer lists rather than shopping lists. Set aside time to be calm with God revealed in Scripture, in sacrament, and in fellowship.

There is another side to our Advent hope. Advent was historically a time of preparation, not just for the commemoration of Jesus’s birth, but also of real anticipation of Jesus’s coming again in “power and great glory” as our Gospel reading for today says. The most famous of Advent hymns, Charles Wesley’s “Lo, he comes with clouds descending” speaks to that very expectation.

What are we, as thoughtful Christians, and fellow-Episcopalians, to make of this powerful historic tradition in the faith and culture of our Church?

First, the expectation of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is undoubtedly present in our Scriptures, and therefore in the thoughts of the first few generations of Christians. We heard a reading just now from the first Letter to the Thessalonians, which is believed to have been the earliest surviving text of our New Testament Scriptures to have been written. The preparation for Christ’s return forms a key part of both letters to the church of Thessalonika (only one is certainly by Paul). All three of the first Gospels contain “apocalypses”, where Jesus foretells his returning in glory (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). When we say in our Eucharistic prayers that “Christ will come again”, we join with that ancient tradition.

For a long time, it was mainstream belief in the Christian Churches that the world would end in the reasonably near future. Martin Luther wrote that the world would last only 6,000 years, and something like 5,500 of those years (since the presumed biblical date of creation) were already over. Responsible people said that one could never know exactly when Jesus would come again – because Jesus himself said that. Yet a serious medical writer called Thomas Browne could write, in the 1640s, “’Tis too late to be ambitious … time may be too short for our designs”. The mathematician who discovered a form of natural logarithms around 1600, John Napier of Merchiston, believed that he had worked out the time of the last days from the Book of Revelation.

There are still plenty of people, in this country and other parts of the world influenced by evangelical fundamentalism, who insist that the Second Coming is imminent. We may be tempted to think of such people as on the eccentric fringes of Christian thought. They perhaps think the same about us. So, we have a cultural problem with the Second Coming. What are we to do with it, taking scripture with the utmost seriousness, as we should?

First, the New Testament shows the writers of the Gospels and the Epistles struggling with this same question. When Jesus had left them for some thirty years, it was realistic to expect his return within a human lifetime. When the catastrophe of the Jewish Revolt, brutally crushed by the Roman armies, took place in 66-70, many of Jesus’s followers saw it as fulfilling the predictions of the final crisis. In fact, descriptions of the end-times and of the Jewish Revolt show clear parallels.

Then, of course, Christ did not reappear, at least not in the way expected. Already in the later writings of the New Testament, in the later works of Paul and the fourth Gospel, we see the beginnings of a new understanding. Christ has come again, but in the transformed lives of those he loved, and those who love him. The restored kingdom is with us, but it lives in the fellowship of the faithful people, in the midst of the messy, flawed world that we all know and struggle with.

Something very important risks being forgotten in the midst of these “apocalyptic expectations”. If this is the message, what should we do about it?

There are plenty of bad ideas about the Second Coming. In the 1840s, a farmer from upstate New York called William Miller calculated from Scripture that the world would end in 1843. When it didn’t do so, he re-calculated the date as 1844, leading to the “Great Disappointment” of his followers. Then apocalyptic thought fell under the influence of a British writer called John Nelson Darby. Darby believed that the Second Coming would be preceded by the “Rapture”, a belief still strong in some American circles. Much time has been wasted arguing about this topic; much money has been made, not least by two authors who have written a successful series of novels (the “Left Behind” series) based on these ideas.

There are other bad ways to anticipate the Apocalypse. Randall Balmer, a fine scholarly historian at Dartmouth College who grew up in evangelicalism, remarked recently that one of the consequences of expecting the Second Coming was a lot of really poor church architecture. If Christ is coming soon, we don’t need beautiful buildings of carved stone: cinder blocks will do.

Worse still, some of those who expect the Second Coming of Christ in their lifetimes, and who expect the physical world to be destroyed in the Apocalypse, resist caring for the environment as God’s creation. It’s not worth caring for a physical nature, they reason, which is destined to be incinerated soon anyway. In fairness, other Christian apocalyptists take the duty of being good stewards of God’s creation much more seriously.

What do the writers of our Scripture say? Their wisdom is that we should live our very best selves, in our own lives and in our communities, as though we expect Jesus to come and find us, asking how we have treated the world which he came to redeem, and the people whom he came to teach and to love; and asking whether we have the faith which he hoped to find [Luke 18:8].

That message never gets outdated. It does not matter whether the end of days is in a hundred years, a thousand, or ten billion. We can strive to live as though we have to account for ourselves to our risen Lord tomorrow. That means, above all, caring for all those whom God cares for. No-one who lives in the expectation of Jesus’s return has any business to tolerate gross injustice, exploitation on one hand and suffering on the other, between peoples, sexes, races and countries.

No-one who thinks that God’s eye of love looks on the whole universe (which it does) should accept the ruthless and unsustainable plundering of this most beautiful jewel in the cosmos which is our world. The more that we think about Jesus’s coming in glory, the more impatient we should be with all the things about our human world that need to be fixed. We know what those things are, and it is urgent that we address them.

How can we? Well, it is amazing how much change can be wrought by simply building responsible, caring attitudes towards people and the world, among our communities and all those whom we meet. It means, quietly, thoughtfully, re-orienting ourselves to the things that matter, and hushing the noise and chatter of the world around us. Don’t obsess about the everyday strident shouts about “crises” in the media, and in our often-depressing politics. Live into the calm, prayerful, loving time that is our Advent hope.

A blessed Advent to you all. Amen

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

November 21, 2021: Pentecost 26

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PENTECOST 26: November 21, 2021

This Sunday, the last Sunday of the Church’s year, is known as Christ the King Sunday. By the Church’s standards it is recent commemoration, less than a hundred years old. Today we reflect on what it means to give the title of “King of Kings” to the risen and glorified Christ.

In a country with such a strong democratic tradition, this celebration sometimes seems a little problematical. Even for me – and remember that Ruth and I are still subjects of a constitutional monarchy, with the word “kingdom” on the front of our passports – there is something jarring about applying the title to Jesus Christ. We think that the things of faith stand, or at least ought to stand, above politics and power.

And yet in the language of (especially) our first three Gospels, the imagery of kingship is everywhere. Jesus is hailed as a king by his followers, and accused of aspiring to kingship by his rivals before the Roman governors. Kingship is his honour and his curse.

This morning I wish to suggest why, in first-century Judaea, the idea of the supreme priest and the idea of the national saviour-king were entangled in one another. It was part of recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, God’s chosen anointed, that attributes of kingship should be wished upon him. Once we grasp this thought-world of the Gospels, we can see how “Christ as King” might be understood as an image and a message for us today.

Israel had a complicated and troubled relationship with its kings. After centuries of “judges”, the people insisted that they needed a king like other nations. At best, the king was there to lead the people in battle against their enemies, to give a sense of security as well as cohesiveness. Unfortunately, as we know in our own time, people can look for security and protection from the most unworthy, unsuitable, untrustworthy figures, just because they project their ego so successfully. Most of the kings of Israel and Judah went bad. By the time of the conquest of the northern kingdom and, a while afterward, the Babylonian captivity of Judah, the kings had failed even to protect the people against the power of foreign aggressors.

Once the people returned to Judaea after the exile, their leadership became increasingly vested in the hereditary high priesthood. The political leadership of the people was, in a sense, also its religious leadership. Even the Jewish Encyclopedia admits that “the high priest grew to be more and more also the political chief of the congregation”. The High Priests represented the people before the neighbouring empires of Syria (ruled by descendants of the Greek Alexander the Great) and Egypt (also ruled by Greek heirs of Alexander).

Our first reading from the Book of Daniel comes from that time in the 2nd century BCE, when the people of Judaea were struggling against the Syrian despots, who represented everything bad about kingship: greedy, corrupt, acquisitive, cruel, and generally immoral. In the language of apocalyptic visions, Daniel imagines irresistible power and dominion being given by God to one “like a human being”. The Hebrew original translates directly as “Son of Man”, which is one reason why this text has become precious for Christians. In a later chapter of Daniel, the prophecy looks forward to the emergence of an “anointed king” after the rebuilding of Jerusalem. “Anointed” in Hebrew is “Messiah”, and in the Greek the same word is “Christos”.

In the 160s BCE Judaea saw a priest emerge, who was also a leader against the tyranny and sacrilege of Antiochus IV of Syria. He was called Judas Maccabeus, and he fused priesthood and rebel leadership in the Judaean imagination. Judas Maccabeus’s purifying and rededicating of the temple in 164 BCE, is celebrated to this day in the Feast of Chanukah.

You will see what I am getting at: in Jesus’s time, the natural way for people to think of a liberating Messiah, was as a warrior like Judas Maccabeus, who would restore the autonomy of God’s people, purify worship, and reunite the kingdom. To expect a heroic priest-king was not a crass misunderstanding on the part of the disciples or their contemporaries: it was the national myth which they lived and breathed. The acclamation of Jesus as king (at his entrance on Palm Sunday) and the accusation that he wished to become a king (made before Pilate in Mark and John) are two sides of the same coin.

But surely, by the time that the Gospel-writers were writing thirty to sixty years after Jesus’s ministry, they had realized that Jesus was not a king in that sense? So why cling on to the image? Why do the wise men seek for the one born “king of the Jews”? Why does Gabriel say to Mary at the Annunciation that “the Lord God will give to [Jesus] the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever”? Why, in the first chapter of Acts, do the disciples still ask “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel”?

The evangelists knew that Jesus did not in fact come to restore the worldly kingdom. The rebels who rose up against Rome in 66 CE wished for that kind of restoration, and the result was total catastrophe. The rebels were defeated, thousands of lives were lost, and the Temple was destroyed and pillaged. To this day one can see a carved relief on the inside of the Arch of Titus in Rome, where soldiers carry off the menorah, the sacred lampstand, from the Temple. Yet the first three Gospels, written under the shadow of that disaster, could not abandon the image of the priest-king completely.

What the Gospels are saying, I suggest, is this: “look, the kingdom was in fact restored to Israel, but in a special, spiritual sense – and most of you did not even realize it when it happened”. All the signs were there (lots of them) but most of you didn’t get it. The kingdom has already arrived, but we did not recognize it.

Let’s suppose that we understand the “kingdom” as representing the best imagined state of community, the freedom and the grace to live according to our very best selves, and in harmony with our neighbours, under the leadership of one who teaches the way of love. Our entire political experience, even at best, is a restless struggle with our deep dissatisfaction at how our actual lives fall short of that kind of liberating harmony.

Yet the coming of Christ has made a special kind of liberation possible. In the community which the risen Christ creates, we are freed from all kinds of anxiety for unimportant or actually harmful things, especially the desire for power over others. No followers of the crucified and risen Christ have any business thinking themselves superior to other beloved children of God. If Christ is our king, in his humility he is our model and our teacher.

In his slightly prosaic way, John shows Jesus trying to make Pilate understand this point in today’s Gospel. John comes closer than any of the other Gospel writers to getting away from the “kingship” image, but even he cannot quite do it. But Jesus says he is a special kind of king – one who comes to testify to the truth, in effect, to teach.

The kingship that Jesus inaugurates is based on making responsible life in society possible for all. As Jeremiah says in next week’s reading, it sets the covenant with God in people’s hearts, so that they will willingly and spontaneously live together in mutual love and mutual service. Jesus’s kingship is based, not on rule or punishment, but on forming his people to live together by their own inmost nature, redeemed by his example and his teaching.

That ideal will never be completely fulfilled in this life, but it is important, first, that the Church try to live as much in the spirit of the kingdom as possible; and then, that we go out from Church into the rest of society, and enrich the wider community through the examples that we can offer. The kingdom of God is not meant to be a huddle of godly gathering together for protection and support, but a lamp on a lampstand.

In living like that, we show a whole new idea of society, of “kingship” to the world. And the world truly needs that.

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

November 14, 2021: Pentecost 25

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25 PENTECOST: November 14, 2021

If you go on the Internet and type in “Predictions for the end of the World”, you can find a very long list from the time of Christ until today. In fact, in the 78 years I have been on this earth there are 84 predictions of the end of the world. What struck me was that some people predicted The End more than once. Pat Robertson 4 times and Jehovah's Witnesses 9 times. You would think credibility would suffer when the foretold day came and went. It also seems strange to me that people claiming belief in a God who sent his only Son into our world and spent so much time and energy teaching and empowering us how to live in this world are in such a hurry to leave it.

However, our first reading reminds us there have been “times of such anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence”, that the end was something that could be hoped for. This reading comes from a time about 175 years before the birth of Jesus. The empire Alexander the Great built, had been divided into three sections at his death. One section, centered in what is Syria today, was ruled by a violent king who had mercilessly crushed a revolt in Israel in which many were killed and so much destruction that it certainly seemed a “time of anguish that never had been before”. Even worse, this ruler, ordered a statue of himself be placed in the Holy of Holies. The most sacred part of the Temple. No greater affront to the faith could be imagined. Surely, God would have to enter the battle and destroy the evil empire. However, God did not enter the battle. 100 years later this evil empire was defeated by another empire – Rome. Rome, however, became the evil empire at the time the Gospel of Mark was written. In 70 AD the Roman Army put down a rebellion in Israel which resulted in the destruction of the Temple and much of the city of Jerusalem. Most of the priests and many people were killed. At the same time, Christians were enduring severe persecution, especially those in Rome, where Mark’s Gospel was probably written. To many, it looked as if both the Jewish faith and this small Jewish offshoot group that followed Jesus Christ were being destroyed. The end must be near.The first Christians were mostly Jews who proclaimed Jesus to be Messiah. The Jewish scriptures were their scriptures. Jewish practices, on the whole, were their practices; added to and modified. But the destruction of the Temple and City changed Christianity as well as Judaism.

Temple sacrifice and having a nation were no more and so local rabbis and the Jewish communities scattered around thworld were now the anchors of the faith. Torah and Talmud, the Law became the foundations of the Jewish faith as it struggled to survive. Christianity, on the other hand, gradually became a religion of gentiles, separated from Jewish life. From the same roots, two separate religious traditions developed. At times, with disastrous results and unbelievable crimes by Christians against Jews. But when will the end of the world come? We hear Jesus, today, warning us about those proclaiming intimate knowledge of its arrival. “Beware that no one leads you astray.” But then what? These past weeks, scientists have been warning us of the catastrophe resulting from climate change to come. What are we to do? The author of the second reading captures Jesus’ admonishment to us to not be alarmed, but to be aware. “Patient endurance” is not the word Jesus uses, but it is used 49 times to express a gift the Spirit gives for us who are aware. New Testament. Christian communities, living in a hostile world, were called to a life of patient endurance. This is not something passive but a call to action; act with the power to withstand hardship, to not be afraid, to persevere, carry on in the struggle. We are not to be led astray, but we are not to become immobile or unconcerned.The Jewish theologian, Abraham Heschel has said: “True religion begins with the awareness that something is asked of us.” In our Collect we accepted quite a task: “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life…”

Everlasting life is planted within us here and now. Let us receive the gift of “patient endurance” and as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews says: Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering. Let us provoke one another to love and do good deeds. Deeds that preserve our Earth, save the lives of many, care for creation. And finally, through the power of the Spirit, let us encourage one another to endure.

Submitted by Reverend Brendan McCormick

November 7, 2021

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We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise… It is imperative that we, the peoples of the Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community, and to the future.

So states the “Earth Charter”, composed by members of a global movement working for ecological integrity, social and economic justice, democracy, non-violence, peace, respect and care for the community of life. It was signed over 20 years ago. The meeting in Glasgow last week showed how difficult it is for the greater community to respond to a danger so obvious.

These words can also describe the situation of religious life in our Nation. For the first time, fewer than 50% of citizens claim membership in a religious community. This is especially among the young. A church a few feet down the road closed a few years ago.

All Saints is a small, aging community well aware of the challenges and changes. But we are here, carrying out a life of prayer and ministry that began on this little hill in Ivoryton 126 years ago. And some of you know that All Saints has gone through a number of changes over these years.

For a while, All Saints was a member of the Middlesex Regional Ministry. We shared clergy with 4 other small churches in the region. Seeking more independence, members worked hard and grew enough to be allowed to establish a “partnership“ for 7 years with St. John’s, Essex.

Finally, with even more work, All Saints returned to a self-directed parish with its own clergy. So, change is not new to this parish and the strength of the parish membership has been demonstrated again and again, over the years

However, it is important that we reflect and plan what we, All Saints Parish, can and must do. What comes to mind is a statement by Edward Hale, American writer and clergyman:

I am only one, but still, I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

As individuals and as a parish we realize we cannot do everything, but we can do something. One thing we are doing is working to assure we can celebrate Eucharist every Sunday. We are blessed to have Rev. Euan Cameron as a member. Euan and I have agreed to share the Sunday celebration of Holy Eucharist. I will still meet with staff each Thursday and serve the other pastoral needs of All Saints. However, the Sunday celebration of Holy Eucharist will alternate and endure.

There are other things the Diocese requires of a parish our size. It is a case of formally identifying Lay leadership capable of managing parish business as well as leading worship if needed. This will be a focus as we move forward. We will keep you informed as we do.

We gather, today, as we are navigating through a pandemic. We have no roadmap, just directions from various health experts and church leadership. For many weeks we celebrated Morning Prayer over Zoom. We now meet in person but not like the old days. But with God’s blessing and your commitment, we will get there.

Sadly, we have lost several faithful members in the past year and a half. We will remember them in our Prayers of the People. In the words of the poet, John Donne, “Each death diminishes us”. However, the lives of these people have also enriched us. They have served this community and inspire us to continue in our service. Most people here do much to keep this parish functioning. Still, we need others to join them. You will be asked, if you are not already working to consider helping out.

Times of change and uncertainty are moments where fear abounds. That peaceful image painted in our first reading of a splendid banquet is not one that describes the life of the Church these days. Nor are we enjoying that victorious image from the Book of Revelations. However, these visions were written and proclaimed when Israel at the time of Isaiah, and then the Christian community at the end of the first century were in great peril. Israel faced destruction and Christians were undergoing persecution. They, too, were bound up with fear. Like Lazarus was bound up in all those wrappings.

We are also like Lazarus in that Gospel scene. It seems that Jesus was aware that following him will place us in situations where fear abounds. That is why an oft repeated call in the Gospel is “Be not afraid!”

Today we hear Jesus call out “Unbind him and let him go!” Can we hear Jesus call to each one of us, today, “Be unbound from the fear and all else that limits you!”. Can we hear today Jesus’s promise: “You who gather on that little hill in Ivoryton, CT, Know that I am with you always”.

Today, let us, the people of All Saints, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community, and to the future. Amen

Submitted by the Reverend Brendan McCormick

October 31, 2021: Pentecost 23

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Pentecost 23: October 31st , 2021

In the Celtic order of things tomorrow, November 1st begins the New Year. On the eve of this New Year, the ancient Irish believed the gates of the underworld were opened; the barriers between the living and dead removed, allowing the ancestors to return to speak to their living descendants to teach wisdom and remind them of the ancient customs and stories. How wonderful it would be to share a cup of tea with loved ones who have entered that life beyond what we know.

When Christianity came, November 1st was changed to celebrate the Saints who had gone before us. However, the Eve of All Hallows, which means Eve of All Saints, became our Halloween, and kept and changed some of these Celtic customs. I don’t think the goblins and witches that come trick or treating tonight know their roots

I was thinking that our Sunday worship can be described as a time we gather in the presence of our ancestors. We listen to the same stories they did, say the same prayers that nurtured and challenged their faith which they handed down to us.

In fact, in our first reading, Moses has gathered the band of desert travelers to do just that, remind them of the faith, the commandments, the Law, the promise given their ancestors. The Book of Deuteronomy, is the last Book of Torah, the first five Books of the Bible. Deuteronomy is presented as two lengthy sermons Moses gave just as Israel was to enter Canaan, what Israel understood as the land promised to Abraham 500 years before.

At the center of our reading, Moses recites the prayer handed down through the centuries: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” It is a prayer said several times a day by observant Jews.

While the prayer does not include “love of neighbor” the prophets will continually remind Israel that God’s love embraces the community, and their love must do the same: love one another.

Jesus quotes these ancestors in response to the question: “which is the greatest of the commandments.” We might immediately think of the 10 Commandments, but, there are 613 commandments in the LAW. Even so, Jesus and the Scribe have no trouble agreeing on what is at the heart of the LAW: love of God and love of neighbor.

In Luke’s Gospel this scene ends with the scribe then asking, “who is my neighbor”. Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan, which proclaims “anyone in need is my neighbor”. The commandment at the heart of Jewish LAW, and at the heart of Jesus’ teaching and way of life contains a demand for an active concern for the well being of others. To have care, respect a sense of responsibility for one another.

We have seen movements to have the Commandments placed in classrooms, law courts and other public places. In this nation that many say is founded on Judeo-Christian values, the commandment both Jesus, and Moses say is the greatest is not among them.

I have told the story of the Apostle John who is said to have passed his last days in a mountain retreat on the Island of Patmos. One year the people of the town below realizing the treasure they had, the last one to have heard the words of Jesus, invited John down for a celebration. At one point someone shouted, John, tell us what the Lord said. John replied, “Little Children, love one another!” People wept and cheered. John returned to his mountain retreat. The next year they brought John down again, and again he was asked: “John, tell us what the Lord said. Again, replied John, “Little children, love one another.”

This occurred for several years and always the same reply; “Little children Love one another. Finally, some said; “John, what else did the Lord say?” John replied, “there is nothing more, little children, love one another.”

Of course, there is something more. Love must be lived out in our daily lives. If we could have a cup of tea, or a glass of wine with those precious ancestors on this Eve of All Hallows, what wisdom might they share? I don’t think it would be about what stock to buy or encourage us to acquire more things. Among the wisdom the great Jewish Theologian, Abraham Heschel learned from our ancestors in our Scriptures are:

The prophets remind us there is no limit to the concern one must have for the suffering of human beings.

Indifference to evil is worse than the evil itself.

In a free society some are guilty, but all are responsible.

We are all in this together, and only acting on this reality will we survive

Let us learn from the wisdom of our ancestors. Care, respect, a sense of responsibility- an active concern for the well being of one another are what endure. They are also actions we need to do if we are to endure.

October 24, 2021: Pentecost 22

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Pentecost 22: October 24, 2021

‘My teacher, let me see again.’

Today’s Gospel tells us a familiar miracle story about Jesus’s healing powers, and the power of faith. That is extraordinary enough in itself, but there is more depth to the story. Mark compresses much meaning into few words.

In the Gospels as a whole, there are two basic stories of Jesus healing individual blind people: each of those is told three times in different Gospels, with slightly different details.

In a Gospel passage from Mark which we read a month or two back, there is the story of how Jesus heals a blind man at Bethsaida by applying his saliva to the man’s eyes [Mark 8:18-28]. Matthew locates the story somewhere in Galilee, and has Jesus just touch the men’s eyes, as there are now two of them [Matthew 9:27-31]. John relocates the story to Jerusalem, and has Jesus heal the man by applying a mixture of saliva and mud, after which the man washed in the Pool of Siloam [John 9].

Then there is what I call the “Jericho” story. Jesus and the disciples have been visiting Jericho, and as they are leaving (or in Luke, arriving) a blind man (or in Matthew, two men) cry out for him to notice them. In this story, the faith of the disabled person heals them. Mark [10:46-52] Matthew [20:29-34] and Luke [18:35-43] tell essentially the same story.

Why am I taking up your time with these bible-study details? Mark was, by general agreement, the first author to write the Gospel. Mark’s account of the healing near Jericho contains a number of really interesting details, which the other evangelists left out.

First, there is the name of the blind man. It is surprisingly rare in the Gospels for the people healed by Jesus to have ordinary, regular names. We do not know what Jairus’s daughter was called; we do not know who the woman with the flow of blood was, nor the names of the ten lepers.

And it is a very strange name. “Bar-” means “son of” in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus and his friends. But “Timaeus” is a Greek name. Mark did not expect his readers to know Aramaic, so explains the name: “Bar-timaeus, son of Timaeus”.

“Timaeus” is not just any Greek name. It was the name of one of the companions of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. Plato wrote a philosophical treatise in the form of a dialogue, named Timaeus. Timaeus is a work about cosmology, about the origin of the world and of everything.

When a Greek-speaker heard the name “Timaeus” the idea of the origin of the universe, would pop into their head. It was about as inevitable a connection of ideas as “Einstein” is to our generation – even for those of us who have no concept of higher mathematics.

There is another very interesting detail. Mark adds that “throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus”. Luke, who tells the story in almost the same words, leaves that sentence out. So why would the cloak matter?

In the ancient world, philosophers traditionally went around wrapped in a huge, heavy, enfolding cloak (and in some cases, nothing else). It was impossible to do manual labour dressed like that. The cloak showed that one lived by the mind – by conversation and teaching. It was a symbol of status.

Maybe “Bartimaeus” is a symbol rather than just a person. Maybe he represents the one who has been trying to understand the world by the light of his own reason, and has come, after much struggle, to realize that he cannot understand – cannot “see” – anything useful at all.

We need to pause and think how the word “blind” is used in the Gospels. Almost as often as referring to people who have lost their sight, “blind” is used as a term of disparagement of those who refuse to accept the message of Jesus, above all the Pharisees, the “blind guides”, to quote just one example.

In two ways we need to be careful with our scriptures, so that we do not fall short of the love which those scriptures teach.

First, for anyone to be unable to see well, is not their fault.

To refuse to recognize the evident truth: that is a fault, and sadly, it is one that is all around us today, in our public life. To call the willfully or invincibly ignorant “blind” is unjust to those who have, by no fault on their part, lost some or all of their sense of sight.

The second point is this: some of the partially sighted or unsighted find the tales of healing miracles a challenge. They do not necessarily see themselves, or wish to be seen by others, as waiting to be “cured”. They feel whole in themselves, and do not see themselves as lacking.

In Jesus’s day, the unsighted had no system of support, and were reduced to begging to survive. By healing them, Jesus was showing that the love of God extended to those who seemed least capable of achievement: and the message was as important as the gift of healing.

But to return to Bartimaeus: it is best if we take this story as Mark intended, as a symbolic or metaphorical tale about how following Jesus can give one a deeper, more satisfying insight into the workings of the universe than all philosophies.

Bartimaeus knows who Jesus is, and calls out for help: so, he already has some awareness that merely human knowledge and wisdom is deficient. He knows that he needs something more, and that something cannot be won by his effort. It can only be asked for, and it is received as a gift of grace, rather than mere human effort. ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Let me understand better. Let me reach beyond what I have learned so far.

There is another deeply symbolic part in this story. Bartimaeus casts aside his philosopher’s cloak, which was the symbol of human learning, of human status, and of the reputation for wisdom. He will no longer rely on the reputation that he has cultivated in this world.

What are our cloaks? What are the things that give us status, identity, a sense of belonging to a group, or even of being different from others?

Some years back, in UK universities, there was a regular encouragement (or requirement) of professors to list their “esteem indicators”. These were things like invitations to serve on committees, to speak at public events, things like that. In the business of the everyday world, distinction, difference, matters. Every walk of life has the same kinds of things.

It is not so in the Church of God. We are called to cast aside all those marks of esteem and signs of identity. We are called, explicitly, to recognize the call of God and the love of God in those who are not only different from ourselves, but those who lack any of the marks of identity that matter to us. God loves all of us for the sake of Jesus Christ, not because of our marks of esteem.

That knowledge is immensely liberating. We no longer believe that our worth depends on how we conceive of ourselves against the world’s standards. As Paul wrote in II Corinthians, “from now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away”.

For Bartimaeus, everything old was cast away. And he was freed to follow Christ, with a clearer and brighter vision of what life was about. So it can be for us.

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

October 17, 2021: Pentecost 21

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21 Pentecost October 17, 2021

We are approaching the end of the Church Liturgical year. Advent begins on the last Sunday of November and, with Advent, the Church begins its new year. A major change will be the Gospel reading assigned most Sundays will be from Luke. Whose feast the Church celebrates tomorrow.

Mark’s Gospel account has been the focus this year. Mark is the earliest and shortest Gospel. As we have traveled through this Gospel, we have heard Jesus Proclaim a new reality: “the Kingdom of God has arrived”! We are called to change, to live out the values of the Kingdom, here and now. We learn these values by listening to what Jesus says and watching what Jesus does. He embraces the poor and outcasts, confronts evil, heals the sick, tells us, shows us how to love and care, respect and assume responsibility for one another, especially those rejected and oppressed by society. Entrance into the kingdom is not based on status, blood, or wealth. There are not gatekeepers determining who gets in and who is kept out of the kingdom. It is a choice to follow Jesus. Be aware, however, living the values of the kingdom leads to an enduring but not an easy life. There will be suffering. However, God will always be present with us. We are not to be afraid. We will endure.

Today we are reminded of the huge problem Jesus faced. People, even his closest followers didn’t understand. James and John were acting according to respected values. Get noticed, get connected, get to the top. But obviously, they have not been paying attention to what Jesus has been saying: A disciple must take up one’s cross and follow. Expect suffering, even death. Become humble and trusting like a child, to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Lads, Jesus responds, there is no top. This is no ladder to climb, no power to seek. Remember, last week Jesus called us to unburden ourselves of worldly goods. Today Jesus tells us we are to be servants. Whoever would be great among you must be your servant; whoever would be first…must be a slave; I came not to be served but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many. What is all this?

We have more in common with James and John than we think. We, too, pass over those hard things Jesus says. His words often clash with what we are taught to live successfully in the real world. The words of Jesus are as much a challenge for us today as they were for those who followed him on that journey Mark relates in his Gospel. And there are people, some who may not believe Jesus is Lord, but who come close to agreeing with some of his difficult ideas.

Eric Fromm was one of the most popular psychologists of the last century. A focus of his research was what it is that makes human beings fully human. Fromm states that perhaps the highest power we have as human beings is the power to give generously of ourselves to others. In the act of giving to another support and respect, care and love, one experiences one’s own value, one’s richness and power as a person. The richness of who we are is not experienced in what we have but in the power of giving from what we have to others.

On the other hand, one who devotes all one’s time and energy acquiring much tends to seek more. It is not one who has much who is rich, but the one who is able to give generously from who one is. Fromm says that one does not become generous because one is wealthy. One sees oneself as wealthy because one can give generously to another. In other words: Be a servant.

G.K. Chesterton has said: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Not completely true. Even Jesus’ admonition to sell all, which we heard last week and be servant of all have been tried in various monastic and religious communities. What is true is that this is difficult. Monasteries have become rich and religious leaders have assumed a lot of authority.

But even in the corporate world the theory of Servant Leadership was developed. Servant Leadership states that a management style that shares power, puts the needs of employees first, helps people develop and perform at high levels. However, this is not the normal style taught and implemented in the corporate world.

The challenge of the Gospel is as real today as it was for James and John, and every disciple. When we read Luke’s Gospel, next year, we will come to a chapter frequently referred to as “The cost of Discipleship”. It is not cheap. So, we read the Gospel every week not to know history but to be reminded what is asked of us. Also, to remind us that Jesus did not give up on James and John; nor has he given up on us.

Today, we are invited again to listen to the challenge. To remember the promise of the presence of the Spirit, here and now, present in each of us. Rev. David Brown’s favorite description of the Spirit is “the encourager”. Encouraging us to hear the word of God, encouraging us to do it. Encouraging us to be servants.

Submitted by the Reverend Brendan McCormick

October 10, 2021: Pentecost 20

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20 Pentecost: October 10, 2021

“Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

The former Dean of Yale Divinity School told me once how he used to teach a course in New Testament studies on “difficult verses in the New Testament”. Students were invited to choose a really challenging verse in the Gospels and the letters, and to spend part of the semester exploring how to deal with it, alongside their colleagues and their difficult verses. The example which Dean Attridge gave of a difficult verse, was the very one which I have just quoted.

Make no mistake about it, every human community tends to be organized, partly or wholly, around the distribution of resources, what we call wealth. Our twenty-first-century society suffers from this condition to a particularly extreme degree.

When one reaches my age, one is besieged by messages from the media about whether one has saved enough, or invested enough, to make one secure in retirement. The message is that completing one’s life in comfort and security will depend upon having put enough money aside in the earlier years of life.

Other parts of the media seem fascinated with ranking the wealth of captains of industry and other celebrities, or of glimpsing the often indecent and sometimes outright vulgar luxury in which they live. Lotteries nurture the idea that a chance win could transform one’s life.

Behind that are much more serious issues. The political culture of the US, whether of the right or the left, expects individuals to be responsible for their welfare, and to wish to reap and keep the rewards of their labour, to a degree that is very unusual in the wider world. It is even strange compared to the way society was organized in this country two generations ago. Society has become more individualistic, more resistant to the idea of redistribution of wealth than when I was a child. Quite simply, as nations, we tax less than we used to. The top marginal income tax rate in the US in 1960 was 91%, even though very few earned enough to pay it.

The consequence, as we all know, is that inequality has become more extreme. It is estimated that the upper half of the population, by wealth, owns 98% of wealth of the United States. The less wealthy half (and remember, that is something like 150 million people) shares something like 2% of the wealth of the country. More importantly, the life which we in the wealthier countries of the world enjoy is made possible by taking economic advantage of less wealthy countries. We live in a world of chronic, structural economic injustice.

Jesus knew all about this kind of inequality. The ruling elites of the Roman Empire lived with an extravagance exceeding even that of modern billionaires. Close by the Colosseum in Rome, one can explore the remains of Nero’s palace, known as the “Golden House”. It is now largely buried under an artificial spoil-heap hill created when it was abandoned, as an embarrassment, by later emperors; but it still has vast, echoing corridors and rooms covered in wall-paintings. (Ruth and I visited it five years ago and were overwhelmed by its scale.) In Judaea, the family of the Herods, though they were little more than jumped-up governors under the rule of Rome, lived in grotesque luxury and self-indulgence.

Jesus knew all about gross inequalities of wealth, and yes, he certainly called on those who loved their neighbours to care for them, to give and lend to them. He knew that in his own tradition, many passages in the prophets – like our reading from Amos – warned against the abuse of economic advantage. Even before that, the Psalms repeatedly stress that to lead a life in harmony with God’s law, is better than to make unjust profits at the expense of others. To give just two examples, Psalm 37:12 says “The little that the righteous has is better than great riches of the wicked”. Psalm 62:12 advises “though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it”.

However, Jesus did not, I suggest, seek to replace an obsession with wealth by an obsession with voluntary poverty – nor even with an obsession with redistribution of wealth, or marginal tax rates.

Down the centuries of the Christian Church, some who sought to follow Jesus believed that if possessions are an obstacle to the kingdom, then the way to earn one’s way into God’s favour was to go entirely without possessions. In the Middle Ages St Francis, and the movement which he founded, made absolute, utter poverty their dominant principle. At one point they insisted that not only as individuals, but also as the order of Franciscan friars, they must own absolutely nothing, not even the habits they wore, the books they read from, or the buildings where they lived and worshipped. They tried to vest all their property in the pope. It was all right for the pope to fall short of Christian perfection, but their order must not.

No, I believe that this Gospel has a more radical message even than that. Jesus was, and is, teaching that the kingdom of God – the community which God calls into being through the Gospel – is not defined by wealth or poverty, high or low status, or by any of the ranks and orders by which we organize worldly, human society. Wealth is not a metric in God’s sight.

Secondly, Jesus makes clear, in a way that might easily be overlooked, that because rank and status do not matter in the kingdom of God, therefore entrance to it, membership of it, is an act of pure love on God’s part. We are called and accepted not because we have achieved anything at all, whether by gaining wealth or giving it away. We are accepted because God loves us, in spite of all the ways in which we fall short.

That does not mean that one need not do good things with one’s resources, especially supporting those in need, and working to build up and strengthen the community where the Gospel is shared and lived. One should certainly do all those things, as a response to how God’s love is poured out upon us. But our wealth, or even our generosity, does not define our place in the kingdom: it certainly does not make God love us more than God already does.

Then, what are we to make of the last paragraph of the Gospel reading? Peter points out to Jesus that surely, the disciples have indeed given up everything to follow him? Jesus says something striking and maybe puzzling. He says that everything that his followers have left behind will be, in some sense, returned to them in this life, as well as bringing them eternal life.

It seems that this saying foreshadowed how the society of Jesus’s followers would live after Pentecost. Those who had been made rootless by leaving their families and communities to follow Jesus, would find that they had a new community, a new family. They would receive all the sense of belonging and security that it could give them, defined not by their social and economic status in the world, but by their belonging to the community of the Gospel.

The passage ends with a saying found several times in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke in various forms, that “many who are first will be last, and the last will be first”. This is intended as a warning: don’t assume that your status in the world reflects how God sees you. Above all, do not assume that outstanding feats of holiness, generosity or leadership will place God under an obligation to place one in a particular rank. The disciples sometimes thought that way, and Jesus warned them against it. God’s love is far more generous than any human system.

This Gospel passage is intended, I believe, to offer us the greatest freedom from the greatest source of anxiety in this age, or any age. It does not mean that those who have little should be irresponsible with their resources; and it certainly does not mean that those who have much should hoard it, or seek always to increase their share. It teaches us where to look for our real well-being, our ultimate source of joy, strength, security and blessedness. And thank God, that has nothing to do with our ranking on some financial index.

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

October 3, 2021: Pentecost 19

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19 Pentecost: October 3, 2021

Karl Barth, one of the great theologians of the last century is quoted: “clergy should prepare the sermon with Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” The Word of scripture should relate to events in our daily lives. The scripture readings today are clearly relatable to topics that have been very much in our newspapers and other media: the health of Mother Earth, the status of women in our world, our attitude and actions toward the vulnerable and powerless refugees, and footprints in New Mexico.

Beginning with this last news item, archeologists have found fossilized footprints left by people who walked 23,000 years ago in an area of present-day New Mexico. Up till now, scientists have thought humans arrived in North America 13,000 yeas ago. Such knowledge will force us to rethink many things.

Discoveries like this have been going on for hundreds of years in Biblical lands, forcing us to rethink things in our Bible, giving us new understanding of many texts. Some of the discoveries have provided creation stories from other cultures, more ancient than what we read in the Bible. Comparisons show that biblical writers often borrowed from these stories. This has enabled us to learn more of what Biblical writers intended to say, especially when we see what the biblical writers changed in these stories.

It is important to realize that the Creation Story is just that – a story, not a scientific or historical presentation. It is meant to teach, but what it means to teach is not always what people learn. The first words of our Bible are: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth”. In a popular Babylonian Creation story, most likely known to the Biblical writer, many god’s were involved in a violent conflict. Some gods were good, others evil.

The created world that resulted from this conflict was a hodgepodge of good and evil. “One God created all” proclaims the Biblical writer. Also, our Bible uses the days of the week to show that creation was done in an orderly manner, with a loving design, not in chaotic battles among gods.

Among Israel’s neighbors the stars and planets, the sun and moon were deities who determined our lives. (What’s your horoscope). In Genesis these planets are “works of God’s fingers”, as the Psalmist declares, created objects that, serve humans, marking the seasons, dividing our day from nights.

And “God saw that all of it was good”. Matter is not evil as other ancient creation stories proclaimed, but sacred. But we do not treat Creation with the awe expressed by the Psalmist today (“When I consider your heavens…the moon and stars…I wonder). Fires and floods, storms and heat are destroying the sacred gift God has given us. The cause of this destruction is largely the result of human activity, human neglect. This week, scientist have stated that over 20 more species have become extinct. Both science and faith are calling us to action.

Our reading today is a second creations story awkwardly attached to the one we find in the first chapter of Genesis. In that first chapter human beings are created last, the crowning glory of creation. “Male and female, made in the very image and likeness of God. In this second story, humans are created first, not last. And the first human shares in creation, naming the other created beings.

All these other beings are created from “The ground”, we are told. But something is wrong: “none was found to be a helper, a partner equal to the human. So, God makes a partner, not from the “ground” but from the very same material. The image of the rib is to express this equality, the shared humanity of man and women.

As we read our Bibles, we see that the people who read these first two chapters did not live their teachings. Women were not seen as equal partners, made in the same image and likeness of God. But that failing is one we share.

Our newspapers and other media seem to have moved on from events in Afghanistan, where the leaving of US troops has seen diminishing rights, especially for women. A serious situation, but unfortunately, not unique. We seem to forget that women were not allowed to vote in this nation for 122 years. It was 145 years before a woman had even a cabinet role, and today, we celebrate the rise of women in federal government, but they still make up just over 20% of elected members.

“Male and female, made in the image and likeness of God”; “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”, are powerful words proclaiming the equality of women and men. An equality we do not live and an equal dignity denied by religious groups who hold the words of our Bible as sacred.

Divorce is one example. At the time of Jesus, a man could divorce a wife, but a woman had no such power. All a man needed to do was inform the wife that she was divorced. No appeal, no legal protection. Certainly, the injustice in the practice was a basis of Jesus’ response to the pharisees’ question. But Jesus begins his response by quoting the words from Genesis declaring this equality of women – made in the same image and likeness of God. And yet, Abraham had three wives, Jacob two. David is said to have 7 wives and Solomon 700.

Perhaps a biblical exaggeration, but the ideal expressed by Jesus that “two become one flesh” was not “from the beginning.” The issue of divorce was only one example of the “hardness of heart” of our ancestors – and ourselves. And the issue of divorce can not be separate from the position given women.

Our Church has come to the conclusion that justice and mercy and dignity are often possible only if divorce is possible. The belief that male and female are made in the image and likeness of God has yet to be lived out in the Church and society. When we can live that reality, we will better understand the issue of divorce.

Our Gospel ends with Jesus embracing children and proclaiming of such is the kingdom of heaven. We find it easy to attribute to children innocence and trust and infer that this is Jesus’ point. But children are also vulnerable and powerless – like the many refugees at our borders and around the world. This may not be Jesus’ primary focus here, but the many, many, many demands in the Bible for the care of refugees are unambiguous.

Tomorrow is the Feast of Francis of Assisi. A quote attributed to his says: We are to preach the Gospel every day, and sometimes with words.

Today we are reminded to proclaim in word and deed that God’s glorious creation is given to our care. Reminded that Jesus is not ashamed to call us brother and sister, made in the image and likeness of God, created equal in dignity. And, finally, reminded that we, like children, are called to trust in God’s loving embrace , and to share this embrace with the powerless and vulnerable brothers and sisters among us.

Submitted by the Reverend Brendan McCormick

September 26, 2021: Pentecost 18

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18 Pentecost: September 26, 2021

“Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

This week’s and last week’s readings are drawn from two consecutive extracts from the ninth chapter of Mark’s Gospel. These two weeks have a fairly similar theme. They address the risk that, even among the followers of Jesus, there will be just the same posturing, the maneuvering for prestige and status, that happens in nearly every community.

Last week we heard the disciples admit to Jesus, rather sheepishly, that they had been arguing on the road as to who was the greatest. You might think that after Peter’s declaration that Jesus was the Messiah, after the Transfiguration, after so many healing miracles, the disciples would be content to know that they were all the friends and companions of the Son of God. Wasn’t that enough? Apparently not. The relentless pressure for higher status than all those around one, worked its sorcery even among the apostles.

A few pages later, in the next chapter, the brothers James and John will ask Jesus for the special privilege of sitting at the right and left hands of Jesus in his glory: and the other disciples are not slow to express their resentment.

One of Mark’s recurring themes is that the disciples never really “get it” while Jesus is with them. Only with the Passion and resurrection does his message begin to make sense. But more than that – Mark knew that the issues which troubled the first disciples would continue to trouble the churches afterwards. Fallen as we are, we do not lose our restless striving for esteem, just because we have been loved beyond imagination by the sacrificial love of God. That should be enough – always – but it may not be so in practice.

So, let’s look at today’s reading in that context. Our Gospel opens with the story of someone casting out demons in the name of Jesus, who was not a disciple. Jesus answers, in effect, that “if he invokes my name, then he is committed to my message: let him be”.

What Mark seems to be referring to, a little obliquely, is that in the early Church there were many different communities gathered in the name of Jesus. Maybe they had slightly different recollections of what Jesus taught; maybe they understood who he was in a slightly different way. That would surely be the case for centuries afterwards – and it remains so today. Mark seems to be saying, “let’s not be sectarian about this”: let’s acknowledge that we have sisters and brothers who call on the name of Jesus differently, and it is good that they call on him.

The story of the exorcist in our reading from Mark evokes the story of the prophets Eldad and Medad from the Book of Numbers, which we heard in our first reading today. There, as here, God is pleased with those who speak sincerely in God’s name, even if they don’t necessarily belong to the chosen group.

Then we get to the really difficult passage, with the sayings about cutting off hands and putting out eyes. Given the unspeakably cruel things which human beings sometimes do to each other, I expect you find this a hard saying to hear: I certainly do. But of course, it is a graphic, attention-grabbing image, and nothing more than that. Let’s look beyond the graphic images, to what seems to be the message of this remembered saying.

We each of us hold things very dear to us. They may be values, ideals, priorities, ethical or cultural principles. These are so essential a part of oneself, that they feel like a hand, or a foot, or an eye. And yet, maybe these strongly, passionately held values may be an obstacle, hindering either us or others from becoming a full part of God’s new order of society. Maybe our passionate feelings estrange us from those we love within the open, inclusive community that the risen Christ is calling into being through the Holy Spirit.

How many times has the church been divided, and still remains divided, by those who believe that they are upholding a vital principle, something important for God, but which in context becomes a cause of stumbling to oneself or others?

In the Church of England, I recall the intense debate some thirty years ago (can it really be that long ago?) when the church was on the brink of ordaining women to the priesthood. The Episcopal Church had discerned God’s call to women nearly twenty years earlier, but in England it took longer (as it always seems to do). Distressingly harsh things were said, on either side of the argument, by those who believed passionately that they were upholding the message of Scripture and tradition. I am willing to believe that many, maybe most, of those with whom I disagreed were sincere in their beliefs. But the passion behind their feelings was a stumbling-block to those who might have been called by the Gospel, and certainly to those whom the Spirit was calling to ministry.

Over the past weeks we have been listening to readings from the Epistle of James. This pastoral letter, sometimes rather a scolding letter, is traditionally attributed to the first leader of the church in Jerusalem, known as “James the Lord’s brother”. He was not one of the twelve, but rose rapidly to leadership after Pentecost.

Much of James’s letter consists of a warning to his readers and hearers about the abuse of the tongue, about contentiousness, about the desire to be seen as cleverer, wiser, more influential than the next person. In last week’s reading, you may recall, James contrasted worldly, ambitious wisdom with the heavenly wisdom, the wisdom from above, which he described as “peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy”. In this week’s sequel, James envisages the kind of community where that kind of wisdom prevails, and where people share in their rejoicings and support those who are in any kind of distress.

James used a word which has strong resonances for me. The word which is translated as “gentle” is the rather beautiful Greek word epieikes, which means keeping to moderation and temperateness in debate.

In my work as a historian, I have often studied the work of Martin Luther’s closest colleague in the church of the mid-16th century, a scholar and teacher who went by the name of Philipp Melanchthon. Luther was a restless volcano of a man; Melanchthon was the one who tried to calm things down. To be moderate and temperate in debate, to have what he called epieikeia, was a watchword for Philipp.

Did it keep him out of trouble? Not in the slightest. When he tried to be moderate, and to go as far as he felt he could in accommodating his conservative Roman Catholic conversation partners, those within his own camp accused him of being soft, even of betraying the cause. It took centuries for his reputation to recover. No attempt to have a good attitude, you might say, goes unpunished.

The question is, when does defending a cherished value become a stumbling-block? When is the time to yield, and when to stand firm? Answer: I am not sure that we always know. And that is the wonderful beauty of Jesus’s teaching. Like many a good teacher, Jesus does not set down an inflexible set of rules which all we have to do is follow. He proposes things for us to think about, to ponder how they work in different situations, and yes, to debate about.

And by debating what God calls us to do, in the community where we find ourselves placed, we make space for the Spirit. That is why to debate with gentleness, with epieikeia, is so essential. If we discuss patiently, listen attentively to each other, we allow room for the Spirit to be present among us and to be heard. And as our Gospel says, we can “be at peace with one another”.

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

September 19, 2021: Pentecost 17

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17 Pentecost: September 19, 2021

“Keep Calm and carry on - a phrase that has become visible everywhere; printed on posters, tea cups, clothing. It originated in 1939 when advisors persuaded the British Royalty to use the phrase to stiffen British resolve as the war approach and the prospect of the bombing of English cities seemed inevitable. The posters, however, had limited distribution at the time. British stiff upper lip had to save the day. However, in 2000 a few of the old posters surfaced and now everywhere and often we are encouraged to “be calm and carry on”.

But looking back, the original encouragement to “Keep Calm” was not successful. At least that was the opinion of W.H. Auden. A British poet, . Auden wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book length poem in 1947, titled, The Age of Anxiety. Referring to the generation admonished to “Keep Calm”. Of course, many of the people in that age lived through two world wars, a depression, the Holocaust and the explosion of Atomic Bombs. It’s not surprising that psychologists diagnosed widespread loneliness in a people anxious about the meaninglessness of life and disillusionment with modern industrial society. Can you blame them?

But present day psychologists argue that WE live in the age of anxiety. Uncertainty on many levels and negative effects of social media have worked to make anxiety one of the greatest worldwide health issues. With good reason, then, we began our worship praying: “Grant us, O Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things…” , because we are.

Perhaps it has always been so. Look at Jeremiah in our first reading. There was much to make him anxious. He was an outspoken prophet who had a miserable life.

Much of the misery Jeremiah blamed on God, who sent him to proclaim rather unpopular words. Jerusalem was surrounded by the worlds most powerful army of Babylon. In this tense, anxious filled time, Jeremiah was sent to condemn and refute the words of the priests and politicians, who told the people not to worry, God was on their side. Jeremiah advised surrender which made most people think him a traitor. His nickname was “Old terror on every side”. “Gloom and doom seemed his message. Many did want to lead him to slaughter. But there were reasons to be anxious, reasons to be terrified.

Our psalmist was certainly anxious. “The arrogant have risen up against me; the ruthless sought my life.” He, or she, asks God to destroy these arrogant ones. Not a prayer we are encouraged to pray. Not likely to lessen anxiety.

:We find no refuge in the Letter of James. Over these past weeks we have heard him address what must have been a rather unruly community torn apart by prejudice and conflict between people of different social and economic class. It is almost in frustration that we hear James tell them: “Submit yourselves to God, resist evil and draw near to God”.

Wait a minute, in the Gospel Jesus seems to say if we want to draw near to God, we must be willing to carry a cross, endure suffering, be servant to all. And yet, so many times in the Gospel we are told “ Don’t be afraid!” Don’t be anxious. At least don’t be paralyzed by fear, dominated by anxiety. We have heard God’s promise to be present with us always. So, the question is how we can be present to the present God. How can we do what we prayed in our Collect: “Hold fast to those things that shall endure.”

Our religious tradition is rich in response to such a question. We are encouraged to set aside time and place each day for prayer and reflection. We have been called to a community in which we are nurtured, supported, loved and healed. We have promised to have an active concern for the wellbeing of one another. At the heart of our prayer, we are made aware of the gifts we are given and called to be grateful. These are among the things that endure.

A book I received a few years ago recently made its way to the front of my bookshelf. “Hope Dies Last “, by one of Chicago’s great writers and radio interviewer. It is a series of conversations of little-known people who did important things. They were people who acted out of hope, in situations that lacked obvious prospects for success. Their lives remind me of the words of a French poet: “Faith believes, love serves, but little hope gets up in the morning.”

Hope is a decision to not be afraid; a decision to be nourished by prayer, reflection, community; to be grateful and have an active concern for the well being of others, to get up in the morning and work to be the person God created me to be. If we did those things, I think we would be a little less anxious. Perhaps even calmer.

September 12, 2021: Pentecost 16

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16 Pentecost: September 12, 2021

Some of you are old enough to remember when the radio was the primary source of information and entertainment. I listened to shows like Fred Allen, Fiber McGee and Molly, The Shadow, The Lone Ranger, Inner Sanctum, and, my favorite, Gunsmoke.

The beauty of the radio was that each listener designed the scenery and painted a picture of each character. Marshall Dillon was the hero of Gunsmoke. His rich baritone voice allowed me to picture the Marshall as a tall, strong, rough and ready cowboy, imposing law and order in the wild west.

When television came along some of these programs were transferred to the screen. For Gunsmoke, there was a problem. Matt Dillon on the radio was played by an actor with a rich baritone voice, but he was 5 ft. 5 inches tall and weighed almost 300 pounds. Hardly the figure to jump on a horse and chase outlaws across the western plains. The image I had did not fit the real person.

This does not only happen with physical appearances. Our expectations of who the person is can distract us from who they really are. So, Jesus asks the disciples: “who do people say I am?”

As we have read Mark’s Gospel, we see that people have seen him as the hoped-for Messiah. Jesus has shied away from this title, aware that he will be a different “Messiah” than people expected. He was revealing a God not of power and force and domination, but a God of care and compassion, enduring love and faithfulness.

The disciples answer Jesus’ question, placing him in the line of the great prophets of Israel. But then, when Jesus asks a more personal question: “Who do YOU say I am?” Peter rises to the challenge: “You are the Messiah.” Not ONE of the prophets, but THE prophet, the one who would bring about the Kingdom of God.

But then follows the clarification. Echoing the words of the Prophet Isaiah which we read today, Jesus reveals that he will undergo great suffering and be killed.

Peter reacts. Rebukes Jesus, even. But then Jesus rebukes Peter and adds that one who follows him will also be required to “Take up one’s cross”. Following Jesus is not an escape from suffering. Rather, a disciple will enter into the mystery of suffering.

We certainly have learned that. We have moved beyond the radio age. Today technology brings into our living rooms pictures of suffering: rescuers digging through ruins of buildings in Haiti searching for survivors, flames engulfing homes in California, flooded neighborhoods in New Orleans, hospital rooms packed with people suffering and dying of Covid 19. Much, if not most of what is presented as news are pictures of people suffering. And yesterday, memories of 20 years ago have reminded us of so much suffering of so many. Suffering that is still alive and present in so many others.

Why do people suffer is a question echoed everywhere and always? But the people for whom this Gospel story was originally written already knew that Jesus had already born a cross and died on a cross. But they also believed that the cross led to the victory of resurrection and Christ’s return to the Father, and the gift of the Holy Spirit – God dwelling within and among them.

They had been baptized into that power and presence of God. So, why were they suffering. Where was the power of Resurrection and the power of God’s presence? The words of the Gospel we read today were a response to this community.

The Gospel does not explain the mystery of suffering but it does say something. Suffering is not God’s punishment of us. The Book of Job refutes that idea, and John’s Gospel story when Jesus and the apostles meet the man born blind, they ask Jesus for whose sin, his own or his parents was he born blind. Neither answers Jesus.

Not all suffering is a mystery. People oppress others. Violence by one person causes the suffering of others. But for many, that is not the case. So often, suffering is a mystery.

The message of the Gospel is that suffering is not God’s punishment, nor does God abandon us in suffering. God is present with us in the midst of suffering. The last words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel are “know that I will be with you always, until the end.”

How does God do this? St. Teresa of Avila reminds us: “Christ has no body on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassionately on the world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.”

Christ has sent us to one another to be the instrument of God’s loving, healing, supportive presence in the midst of suffering. We cannot prevent suffering. But we can be instruments of hope. I think the Gospel says, we must.

Submitted by Reverend Brendan McCormick

September 5, 2021: Pentecost 15

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15 Pentecost: September 5, 2021

Who is in and who’s out? It’s an uncomfortable, distasteful question. Instinctively, we wish to share everything with those who need and those who ask for it. That is the principle behind the Lord’s table: all who feel called to share in the sacrament of Christ’s presence are welcome. And that is very important, and a good thing.

And yet, let’s be real. In our everyday lives, resources, opportunities, places are limited, and not everyone who wishes for the best can have it. Not everyone can go to the best school or university; not everyone can have the best and most rewarding job. (I have just been asked to recommend three colleagues or students for the same job opportunity at a famous theological seminary; at best only one can get the position.) We may, and indeed should, wish that opportunities were more equally and fairly shared, that there should be greater equity between one school and another, or that the rewards for different kinds of work were not so excessively different. But even in the best imaginable society, choices will end up being made: this person has more gifts in this area, this person is more motivated or better qualified. The vital thing is that the choices are made honestly and fairly, and by the appropriate standards.

Then there are the other kinds of ins and outs: those created by human weakness, fallenness, prejudice and sin. Those with privilege tend to gravitate towards those who are like them, and to disdain those who are “not like us”. If you wish to see how deeply rooted that way of thinking is, consider our Epistle reading for today. The author is traditionally supposed to have been James, known as “the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19). In Acts, and the traditions which grew up afterwards, James is presented as the leader of the Church in Jerusalem. If he was indeed the author of the epistle that bears his name, he found himself leading a community where all were not as equally welcome as they should have been. The wealthy and attractive in the world’s eyes were looked on with extra favour, and James saw how wrong this was. Our Scripture constantly reminds us that, from the very beginning, the Church is made up of saints, who also make mistakes and need to be reminded of their calling.

So, there are the choices that we have to make (but by appropriate standards) and the choices that we definitely ought never to make, because they are made for all the wrong reasons. It may seem a strange question to ask, but where does Jesus’s behaviour in our Gospel fall along that scale?

In Mark’s Gospel the story of Jesus and the woman at Tyre is told with typically blunt and economical turns of phrase. Matthew (15:21-8) who also tells the same story, has Jesus respond at first that “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. The message of salvation, symbolized by the power of healing, is for God’s special people.

The historic faith of the people of Israel was that they were chosen by God, and preserved by God despite all the times when they fell short of God’s standards for them, not just in terms of worship but also in terms of treating each other with equity and care. God loved them and wished to care for them.

It is not at all improbable that Jesus, raised in a devoutly Jewish community, would have thought in the same way. But we must always remember that the Gospels are not verbatim witness accounts. The Gospel narratives are stories told from the perspective of the evangelists and their readers and hearers. This is what happened to get us to where we are now.

By the time that Mark, let alone Matthew, was written, the followers of Jesus had long since recognized that God’s revealed will was to call not just the historic people of God, but the outsiders, the pagans, to the faith as well. James himself, a dedicated exponent of the Jewish wisdom tradition, had been at the heart of that controversy and had reconciled himself to Paul’s calling Gentile believers.

So, let’s look again at this Gospel in that light. Jesus has gone to the lands of Tyre and Sidon, part of historic Phoenicia, present-day Lebanon. Mark suggests that he wanted to “get away from it all”. Yet here he was, among the unbelievers, and it is hard to imagine that he really expected to pass unnoticed. Tyre had a relationship with Israel. King Hiram, according to the Books of Kings, provided materials for the Temple. Elijah stayed with a woman of Sidon at Zarephath. The Tyrians were good neighbours.

Preachers have agonized down the centuries about Jesus’s apparently brutal words that “the children’s food should not be given to the dogs”. Yet there is something odd about the language and the image here. In the original Greek, the word for dogs is “kunaria”, the diminutive form of the word: it means puppies, lapdogs, even “doggies”. “Kunaria” are the little dogs that live in people’s homes and are cared for by them. People who have grown up in rural areas know well how the family dogs come to the table for scraps and are indulged.

Let’s say that this is what Mark meant. I’m still not especially comfortable with treating one group of people as the beloved children of God, and the rest, the outsiders, as their family pets. But Mark is representing a process of transition here. Those who have before this time been regarded as utter outsiders are now becoming part of the household of God. In reality, they were always part of God’s beloved creation, but now the people of God are starting to recognize that fact.

For the prophets of ancient Israel had again and again expressed the vision that all the peoples of the world would be drawn towards their faith and their God. The followers of Jesus believed that this was happening in their own time.

In the second part of our Gospel, Jesus travels across the very north of present-day Israel to a region East of the Sea of Galilee, called the Decapolis, which in Greek means “ten towns”. This region was probably (though not certainly) mostly pagan. In a rather primitive and very tactile story, Jesus makes it possible for one who cannot hear, and who (maybe for that reason) cannot speak properly, to hear and communicate effectively. Jesus, the story tells us, is opening channels of communication with people who have not been able to hear the message of God before.

Every Christian community has to find its balance between two things which are in themselves good things. First, it is right that we build communities of mutual love, care and support. The entire heritage of the Gospel and Epistles of John is focused on the need to build such communities. We show the Gospel at work by loving one another.

However, the kingdom of God and the Church of God are always in motion. We form community in order to expand beyond ourselves. “Outreach”, that overused word in church life, means literally that our arms are not folded, clasped together to hold ourselves safe, but extended, opened out both to offer support, and to welcome others in.

The task of reaching out and welcoming those in need is not only a work for the Church. Whole societies, whole countries, need to become more open to receive with care and equity the refugee, the victim of misgovernment or persecution. I suspect that the events of last week in Afghanistan will have made even those who express loud opinions on everything, recognize that this country owes refuge and support to those who would otherwise suffer, lose liberty or even life, because of helping our forces over the past 20 years. But how long that feeling will last, how capricious the care for the refugee will become, remains to be seen.

In the meantime, it is for us, the followers of Jesus, to extend open and welcoming arms to all those whom we encounter – and to show equal if not greater love and welcome to those who are “not like us”. All are alike in the love of God.

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

August 29, 2021: Pentecost 14

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14 PENTECOST August 22, 2021

When I or my brothers and sisters brought new friends home my father usually engaged them in conversation. He would ask about their family, school, interests, and then skillfully raise the issue about where they went to Church. It didn’t matter where, but whether they belonged to a place of worship. If they did, they passed the test my father would leave us alone.

I have come to learn that my father’s measure for suitable companions was not accurate. Religion was not necessarily a sign of virtue. Today, media sources are focused on events in Afghanistan. America’s longest war is not ending gracefully. One of the main fears is based on the role religion will play in society. Islamic Law, known as Sharia, is to be established as the law of the land. It is a religious code that has serious restrictions on women as well as other freedoms of modern culture. Religion, it is feared, will be used to oppress people.

That is not new. When we read the Gospel, we see that Jesus had the greatest difficulty with people who were religious. Today, we meet leaders who used religion to enforce rules and regulations, establish laws and customs that, as Jesus said, “taught human precepts as doctrine, honored God with their lips but their hearts were far from God.

In our opening prayer this morning we asked God to “Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion..” What is true religion? The Jewish theologian and philosopher, Abraham Heschel has said: “True religion begins with the awareness that something is asked of us.”

Moses is doing just that in our first reading today. He is giving a long sermon to the Israelites as they prepare to enter the Land of Promise. He recalls what God has done for them these past 40 years of hardship and danger. He reminds them of the Law, Torah, the Covenant which established a relationship with God and with one another. We will see that many times the community forgot that the relationship with God and one another was the main thing. Forgot that the most important thing asked of them was that they do justice, love compassion, and walk humbly with their God; that we have an active concern for the well-being of one another. The rules and regulations, customs and practices must support this, not replace it.

These past weeks our Gospel reading has come from John chapter 6. In what is called the Bread of Life Discourse, Jesus has spoken of himself and what is revealed in his teaching and actions as “bread of life, bread come down from heaven, living bread. Jesus goes so far as to say his flesh is this very bread, nurturing us to eternal life.

In this chapter Jesus tells us who he is: the word come down from heaven, the only One who has “seen the Father”, that he and the Father are One. Jesus also says who we are: those in whom the Father dwells, because of our relationship with Jesus. Wonderful gift, profound challenge.

The Divine Being dwells in you and me, but also in all others. There’s the rub. There’s the challenge. To see the Divine in others is what is asked of us at the heart of our faith. At our baptism we vowed to seek and serve Christ in all people, love our neighbor as ourselves, and respect the dignity of every human being.

58 years ago, yesterday, a Black man stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and said “I have a dream”. Words very familiar to every American. Words that are, to a great extent, still a dream...

I think words from another speech of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. may be more appropriate to remember today.

Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail was written in 1963 in response to a letter from 8 Birmingham clergy, including the Episcopal Bishop of Alabama, criticizing Martin Luther King and other civil rights organizers then in jail for marching without a permit. The clergy condemned racism and segregation but preferred slow progress rather than organized resistance.

Dr. King wrote a letter from jail and it was also published in newspapers. In it he explains what non-violent direct action is and why segregation must be confronted now. Toward the end of this letter, he wrote”:

I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions…But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly relate that I have been disappointed in the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the Gospel, who loves the church, who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery…I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priest and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.”

Much has changed in 58 years; much remains the same. Often, the church still honors Jesus with lips, but hearts are far from Jesus. Often, the church today teaches human precepts as doctrines, abandons the commandments of God and holds to human traditions. Often the church forgets to do justice, love compassion and walk humbly with our God.

The words of the Gospel we read are not history, not only addressed to Jewish leaders of Israel but to the Christian leaders and members of the body of Christ, today. Something is asked of US. WE are fed with the bread from heaven, the bread of life, bread that is flesh, a symbol of God’s presence with us, in us. Today, we are called to hear the word of God and do it.

-Brendan McCormick

August 15, 2021: Pentecost 12

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12 Pentecost: August 15, 2021

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them”.

In today’s Gospel passage we continue the “bread of life discourses” which form the core of this month’s readings. However, each week has its own particular emphasis, as well as developing the continuing theme.

According to John’s Gospel, here Jesus makes his description of himself as the “bread of life” both more precise, and in a sense, rather darker.

After repeating the expression “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever”, Jesus is reported to have added that “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh”. Not just “living bread” like manna, but a bread which represents flesh, given to be broken for the world’s sake.

In case we did not get the full point, Jesus adds that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life”.

If those words had actually been spoken by Jesus in Galilee in the early stages of his ministry, they would have been both bewildering and, to many of the traditional Jewish faith which Jesus and his followers all shared, gratuitously offensive.

Jesus and the disciples would have been aware of how many times (66 in all) the word “blood” appears in the book of Leviticus. The gist of these passages was that the blood of sacrificial animals was to be sprinkled ritually against all the sides of the altar. Leviticus 7 contains strict instructions that neither the fat nor the blood of an animal may be consumed:

“26You must not eat any blood whatever, either of bird or of animal, in any of your settlements. 27Any one of you who eats any blood shall be cut off from your kin.” The same point is made, just as emphatically, ten chapters later on at chapter 17, verses 10-12. Blood represented life, and for that reason was sacred, and might not be consumed.

As Brendan explained to us last week, this part of John’s Gospel emerges from a painful age, in which the followers of Jesus who held to their Jewish faith were being more and more excluded from the transformed Judaism that emerged from the destruction of the temple. If today’s Gospel passage speaks of offense, that is, sadly, part of the point.

I had to make that point distressingly obvious, to counter our Christian tendency to hear these passages about the flesh and blood of Christ and to say “of course, we know that”. Many commentators on this passage have assumed, and I believe rightly, that we have here a reference to the Eucharist, to the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ which we are gathered today to celebrate.

In the days when interpreters of Scripture tended to be more literal-minded, and to assume that Jesus’s precise words were recorded in the Gospels, what was reported from Galilee had of course to be a “foreshadowing” of the Eucharist. At this point we are still many chapters away from the Last Supper and the Passion. Jesus’s body was not yet broken, his blood not poured out, the Eucharist was not yet instituted.

As I suggested two weeks ago, we should not be too perturbed by the thought that these are not the exact words that Jesus spoke: they rather express how the early community of followers, which generated John’s Gospel, remembered his teaching and his meaning. We know from Paul, writing in I Corinthians, that the practice of celebrating the Eucharist was already established in many communities of followers of Jesus by the 50s, maybe as much as a half-century before John’s Gospel was compiled.

It is curious, though, that John’s is the only Gospel which does not include any reference to the blessing of bread and wine in the Last Supper; there is nothing like an institution of the Communion. It is in this passage, not later, that John invokes the memory of the Eucharist.

This passage is a recollection – not a verbatim record – and it was written down against the background of what became the familiar Eucharistic practice of the early communities. For them as for us, the sharing of bread and wine, blessed and offered, was a vital sign of membership and sharing in the life of the community of the risen Christ.

All the same, Jesus is reported as using intentionally graphic language to shock his hearers. Equally, Jesus clearly does not mean his words to be taken literally. It is “the Jews”, John’s sloppy verbal shorthand for those of the Jewish faith who rejected Jesus as Messiah, who try to understand his words literally, and are offended by them.

A few verses later, having given offence, Jesus reportedly said “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

In other words, the Gospel writer intended us to interpret the words spiritually and symbolically.

Here is where our Gospel begins to say something both interesting and important. What I wish us to focus upon here are Jesus’s words where he says “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them”. Two things are crucially important in John’s Gospel:

  • First, John constantly emphasizes Jesus’s oneness with the Father, his coeternity, his divinity, with a level of emphasis and frequency that exceeds all the other evangelists.

  • But also, John stresses Jesus’s oneness with his followers, and his promise that those who believe in him can “abide” in him.

Usually, one would think of these two things as two sides of a coin, maybe two entirely different coins: Jesus as divine, and Jesus as the accessible human being who was and is one with his friends. Yet John is insisting that both these things belong equally together.

That insight, that teaching has some very important consequences.

First, since we have an utter closeness to Jesus, and Jesus has the same utter closeness to God, then the fullness of the Godhead is almost ridiculously accessible and close to us, at all times and in all places. If we find ourselves praying to God with an almost casual familiarity, taking God’s closeness to us for granted, let us not be embarrassed. That is exactly what the Gospels are teaching us to believe we may do, through Jesus.

Secondly, if “we” have that kind of relationship with God, then so does everyone else. In our relationship with God, we are therefore necessarily bound in the same bond of closeness with every other created person.

And there are no exceptions to that: there are no barriers of race, gender, sexuality, or even faith. John probably wrote for a close-knit and maybe embattled community, but his perception of the meaning of Jesus irresistibly calls us to include everyone. That is the logic of the message of John’s Gospel, whether the evangelist or his readers realized it at the time or not.

Let’s reflect some more about the Eucharist. Jesus cannot be saying that only those who literally consume his body and blood in the form of bread and wine can be saved. If so, that would exclude many Christians of less sacramental traditions, not to mention other believers.

Jesus is saying that those who share spiritual communion, which includes but is not confined to the symbolic act of the Eucharist, are as close to him and to each other as can be imagined.

For that reason, we need have no fear that we were separated from God as we went without the physical Eucharist for months of the pandemic; nor because we are unable to share the sacramental blood of Christ just yet, until the public health messages improve.

On the contrary, we are grateful for the enormously helpful strengthening of faith which we draw weekly from our act of communion. But let us understand it as it is meant to be understood: as a spiritual act, one which strengthens the bonds that bind us, not just to those we see and know, but to all those whom God loves.

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

August 8, 2021: Pentecost 11

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11 PENTECOST August 8, 2021

Holy Women, Holy Men, is a book that lists people revered in the Episcopal Church as models who lived the values of the Gospel. Tomorrow, Edith Stein is remembered on the anniversary of her death in 1942. Born a German Jew in 1898 on the feast of Yam Kippur, the most sacred feast of the Jewish faith, Edith was a brilliant scholar who became a respected philosopher. In the 1930’s she converted to Roman Catholicism and became a Carmelite Nun.

As Hitler rose to power in Germany, the Carmelite community sent Edith to a monastery in Holland, thinking she would be protected from the anti-Semitic persecution that was growing in Nazi Germany. However, after the Nazi invasion of Holland, Edith was arrested and sent to Auschwitz where she, a Roman Catholic Nun, born and proud of her Jewish roots died in the gas chamber because she was Jewish.

In 1998, Pope John Paul II proclaimed Edith a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. It was an action that created controversy. After all, Edith Stein was killed because she was a Jew, not because she was a Roman Catholic. Also, the Christian Church has been an incubator of anti-Semitism for centuries. Down through the ages, writers, leaders and clergy of Christian Churches have written and spoken many words condemning Jews and the Jewish faith.

The beginnings can be seen in today’s Gospel. We read, “the Jews began to complain about Jesus because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven”. “The Jews” is used over 70 times in John’s Gospel, always referring to those who rejected Jesus. Of course, the writer using the phrase was most likely a Jew, as were all the apostles, and the most of Jesus’ followers in his lifetime. As was Jesus himself.

The Gospel we read today was written about 60 years after the events recorded. Things had changed. The Jewish faith was in a dire situation. In 70 A.D., the city of Jerusalem and temple were destroyed by the Roman Army, putting down a failed revolt by the Jewish people. Many of the priests had been killed. The center and form of worship was gone, and people relied on the rabbis and synagogues to survive. Threatened institutions become more restrictive and the Jewish faith became less tolerant of fringe religious expressions. Jews who proclaimed that messiah had come were no longer considered legitimate expressions of the faith.

Hence, Christian Jews were now expelled from synagogues. Families were divided, people cut off from the roots of their faith and heritage. For Jewish Christians at the end of the 1st century, the Jewish leaders appeared to be rejecting Jesus. And in rejecting Jesus, John’s Gospel says, they were rejecting the God handed down through Abraham, Moses and the prophets.

In the Gospel we are reading these weeks Jesus proclaims a special relationship with God. He is the bread that came down from heaven; the one who is from God; the God that no one has seen except the one (himself) who has come from the father; he is bread from heaven, living bread; bread that is his very flesh”. This is challenging, even to us. To many who heard him it was heresy. They knew where he came from, who his parents were. What is this talk of coming down from heaven? It even sounds like he is saying he is equal to God. So now are there two gods? What challenged “the Jews” of Jesus’ day, had challenged the Church down through the ages. It challenges us today.

But, today, let us go back to the use of “the Jews” as a title for those who reject Jesus. From the days of the Gospel there have been many Christians who have disparaged, ridiculed and even condemned Jews. For 2000 years leaders of the Christian faith have added to the evil of anti-Semitism that has infected society. One could argue that the Christian Church has been an incubator for anti-Semitism. At times this has exploded into public policy and behavior, laws and culminating, in our lifetime, with the murder of 6 million Jews. The evil is with us today.

Last year there were over 2000 reported anti-Semitic incidents of assault, vandalism and harassment in the United States. The time has passed when we can stand silent when we witness words, stories or actions of anti-Semitism. As the Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel has said, “Few are guilty, but all are responsible”. We may not do the acts or the words. But must respond, we must condemn. True, there are other forms of injustice, racism and oppression. But today, as we must, we speak of anti-Semitism.

In our first reading from scripture, we follow Elijah fleeing for his life, hiding out in the wilderness. A powerful prophet, he is a wanted man by the king. There is a price on his head. He sees himself a failure and asks to die. But God’s response is to send Angels to feed and encourage Elijah. Of course, the reason this reading is assigned today is that bread that fortified Elijah to travel 40 days. Great stuff, but no comparison to the bread come down from heaven, the very power and presence of Jesus that fortifies us with everlasting life.

But there is more. Elijah finally comes to Mt. Horeb where his spirits will be renewed, where he encounters the very presence of God. Mt. Horeb is also called Mt Sinai. It is here that the Carmelite community was first established in the 13th century. It is this community that Edith Stein joined 2600 years after Elijah arrived. Both, born into the Jewish faith, are connected by and encounter with the very presence of God. Both have been nurtured by bread from heaven. As we gather to receive this same bread, may we be empowered to proclaim the same God who embraced this Holy woman and Holy Man.

August 1, 2021: Pentecost 10

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10 Pentecost: August 1, 2021

John 6:27 Labour not for the meat which perisheth”

Over the next few weeks our lectionary readings will guide us through one of the most important, and one of the most controversial, chapters in the Gospel according to John. These readings are sometimes called the “Bread of Life discourses”. They contain much that is beautiful and inspiring. They also testify to the very difficult, sometimes conflicted atmosphere in which the fourth Gospel was written. Those people who followed Jesus from the foundation of their Jewish faith were increasingly being set apart from, and sometimes driven out of, the community of the synagogues where Jesus himself had taught.

One needs here to address something very important about the fourth Gospel, which some people may find challenging. The view of most scholars who study the scriptures is that the words attributed to Jesus in John’s Gospel were almost certainly not the exact words which Jesus spoke. Certain phrases within John’s Gospel do indeed reflect how Jesus’s own words were remembered; but many other expressions speak rather to the way that Jesus’s meaning was interpreted, and understood, among those who cherished his memory and his message in the 60-70 years after Jesus’s earthly ministry.

So, when we refer to something that “Jesus said” in this Gospel, we should keep in mind that what we are hearing and reading is the memory of Jesus’s teaching, filtered through the particular beliefs and community life of those who most cherished that memory.

This Gospel passage follows directly after the feeding of the five thousand and the walking on the water, two linked stories which appear to have been a coherent and widely-recalled tradition in all the Gospels. As I mentioned two weeks ago, Mark and John both report these two stories in very much the same way.

Between last week’s reading and this week’s, a handful of verses are omitted: these pose the dramatic puzzle that Jesus fed the people on, probably, the east side of the Sea of Galilee, and since he did not join the apostles in the boat when they left the shore, those who were seeking him out did not understand how he managed to get across the lake to Capernaum so quickly …

Their curiosity about his movements prompts Jesus to respond, with just a hint of gentle sarcasm, that the people were mostly following him because of the free food, and they should have a better reason …

Over twenty years ago, British television broadcast a much-loved situation comedy called The Vicar of Dibley, which featured the comic struggles of a woman priest (at that time a novelty in the Church of England) to minister to and care for the lovably weird people of an unbearably quaint English village. In one scene, the vicar met with some schoolchildren, and was asked what Jesus had achieved. Geraldine the vicar explained that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead: to which a child said, if he could do that once, why didn’t he raise lots of other people as well?

The question, and the vicar’s resulting embarrassment, were of course for comic effect. But the question is a real one. And similarly, one might say, well why did Jesus not continuously feed the hungry? Why did he not end all the hunger in the world?

Part of the answer, of course, is that we human beings can do that: as a society and a culture, we have it in our power to feed all those who need it. We just need to value that sufficiently to make sure that it happens.

Food is vitally important, and it is especially important that those of us who are secure in an abundance of food should be mindful of, and give practical support to those who are not. And yet, in multiple places in the New Testament, Jesus is reported as saying that concern about food, and about other aspects of our physical well-being, should not be our primary concern; that God knows our needs, and intends to provide for them, or intends that we provide for them ourselves.

Our Gospel passage refers to the gift of manna in the wilderness, quoting the passage from Psalm 78 that we heard read earlier. All Jewish believers would (or should) have known that, from the moment that God brought people into the promised land and gave them a harvest, the gift of manna ceased. In Joshua 5:11-12 it reads: “11On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.”

So, we have a bit of a puzzle. Jesus’s concern for the poor and the hungry was absolute; yet he is consistently quoted as saying that other things are more important than satisfying material needs.

Part of the key to the puzzle may lie in one word that Jesus is reported as using:

27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

The word translated “work” in the NRSV is translated “labour” in the KJV (a rare case where maybe the older translation is more convincing). It is a Greek word which means to devote energy to, to focus one’s concern upon, to make one’s primary objective, perhaps.

A few lines later, the people ask Jesus, using exactly the same word, which in this case is translated as ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Our translations obscure the fact that the word translated “labour” or “work” in one verse, and “perform” in another are actually the same word: the people ask, if “the labour of food” is not to be our primary concern, but “the labour of God” is, then what does the “labour of God” mean, practically speaking?

The point seems to be one’s “work” is something that one struggles for, that one dedicates all one’s effort towards, that one regards as one’s goal in life … and apparently, the people who listened to Jesus got the point, even if our Bible translators maybe didn’t.

So, what do we make our goal in life?

Jesus, as reported in John’s Gospel, replies to the people that ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ We are urged to make faith in the incarnate Word of God the heart of our life, our primary or ultimate concern …

From that, of course, lots of things can and must follow, including a powerful impulse to help the hungry, the suffering, and the oppressed, and to strive for justice for all people.

But the difference between the progressive person without faith, and the Christian seeking the kingdom, is that our striving comes out of our faith, faith that Jesus has come into the world to give all people abundant life: in bringing fullness of life to others, we “work the work of God”.

And the source of that abundance of energy is expressed in a metaphor, in an image, as the “bread of life”. Jesus clearly did not mean that those who had faith in him would no longer need to eat. But he does seem to have meant that those who embraced him and his message in faith and trust would find their lives transformed, once and for all. Their spiritual hunger and thirst would be satisfied forever.

There seems, later in this chapter, to be an anticipatory reference to the Eucharist. There is of course no doubt that the Eucharist expresses in a special way the sense that Jesus is the bread of life. It is not to be understood, as some devout people in the Middle Ages supposed, that one should try to live with the Eucharist as one’s sole physical nourishment! It is rather that Jesus offers us his presence, in his teaching, in our communion, and in the Spirit, as an inexhaustible resource, forever strengthening us to do his work. And that is more than enough.

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

July 25, 2021: Pentecost 9

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Pentecost 9: July 25, 20121

There is an old story about Leonardo DaVinci. According to the story, he painted his famous Last Supper in great privacy, allowing no one to see it in process. When he finished, he invited a close friend to be the first to view it. The friend gasped as he entered the room and set his eyes on this masterpiece. He uttered “magnificent, marvelous” as he approached the painting. He then focused on the elaborated chalice placed on the table around which Jesus gathered with his disciples. Again, looking at the chalice the friend repeated, “splendid, magnificent.”

When the friend left, Leonardo was disappointed and took his paint and removed the chalice from the painting. Nothing, he hoped, would distract other views from the focus of his work, Jesus sharing his last meal with his friends.

It is a story, of course, but one that can teach us something about our reading in today’s Gospel Story. The multiplication of the loaves and fish is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospel accounts. In fact there are 6 accounts of Jesus feeding a large crowd from a few loaves and fish. It happens twice in Mark and Matthew.

What draws the focus of many is the miraculous appearance of an abundance of bread and fish. Enough to feed 5000 people with plenty left over. What magic, they thought. What came to their minds was the story in our first reading. Elisha, the disciple of Elijah, fed hundreds from twenty loaves. Elijah, many believed, would return to announce the immediate coming of the messiah. In fact, the expression “the prophet who is to come” was a common reference to Elijah.

But the crowd who had eaten much bread in the Gospel story, thought the messiah would be a king who would lead their armies against the Roman occupiers and free Israel. The miracle led them to try to make Jesus that king.

What was Jesus’ response? He ran away.

The crowd was focused on the wrong thing. This work of Jesus is called a sign in the Gospel. Something that opened one to a spiritual reality beyond the material result of the miracle.

The real focus was to be on a very different bread. Bread Jesus can provide because of who he is in relation to God the Father. The God who fed Israel in the desert; who empowered Elijah, is present in Jesus to provide bread for eternal life.

The miracle was a sign pointing to this bread that would not just provide food to satisfy human hunger, preserve human life, but bread that would nurture everlasting life. That is the Eucharistic Bread we share. Bread that is Christ’s presence in the Church, in the community of faith in Jesus.

John’s Gospel asks a lot of the community for which it was written, and this chapter asks a lot from us. We are invited on a journey of faith. In this Gospel faith is a verb, something that must grow and open us to an awareness of who Christ is – the very presence of God with us. This is something we are still learning, still living, still growing in us. For on this journey we are fed with the Bread of Heaven. The Bread, the very presence of Jesus, the eternally begotten Son of God.

What follows today’s reading, is a long chapter (6) called the Bread of Life Discourse’ which is a reflection, even an interpretation of this mystery at the heart of our faith. So come in the following weeks and let us reflect together.

In the meantime, we gather to be fed by this Living bread from heaven. We are nurtured by the very presence, the loving presence of Christ. In this time of pandemic we have gathered for Morning Prayer but have returned to Holy Eucharist. With some changes. We share bread but not the common cup. We are following directives from health experts. Today, we will add the cup of wine but only the celebrant will receive at this time. We are moving, but with necessary caution. But let us not lose focus. All of us receive the same Heavenly Bread. All of us nurtured by the presence of Christ. All of us embraced by the living God.

July 18, 2021: Pentecost 8

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8 PENTECOST: July 18, 2021

The Sacredness of the Ordinary

Our Gospel passage for today seems, when you see it in context, like a very strange piece of selection from the Gospel according to Mark. As you will be aware, we are just now in Lectionary year B, when most of our Gospel readings come from Mark, with a few key moments marked, as they are every year, by readings from John.

Mark’s Gospel, generally believed to have been the first written, gives the appearance of artless and everyday style, grammar and language, which conceals much care and thought in its composition. In the first Gospel Mark organized the often-told and remembered stories of the ministry of Jesus, which had taken place some 30-40 years before the Gospel was written down.

Something that Mark does quite often is to wrap one story around another. As we read a few weeks ago, he wraps the two parts of the story of the healing of Jairus’s daughter around the separate story of healing the woman with continuous bleeding.

In today’s Gospel reading, however, the meat in the sandwich has been left out, and what we have are just the two slices of bread (or the wrap, if you prefer). We have Jesus teaching everyone who streamed out to listen to him in Galilee; then, after a break, we have his equally profuse and generous healing of all those who came to see him in vast numbers.

And what a filling in the sandwich has been left out! In the passages omitted from our reading, we would have heard the feeding of the five thousand – the only miracle attested in all four testaments – and Jesus’s appearance to his disciples walking on the Sea of Galilee. Those stories are, of course, told on other days in our lectionary.

What I wish to suggest today is that the wrapping of Mark’s sandwich is of enormous importance, perhaps it is the very essence of the story, as far as Mark is concerned.

It is rather interesting that Mark chapter 6 tells the story of the feeding of the 5000 and, just after that, Jesus’s walking on the water; and that these two stories are also presented in John (also chapter 6) one after another, and in exactly the same order. The best explanation suggested for this similarity is that there was an oral tradition, shared among the various communities of the followers of Jesus, that these two miracles followed one upon the other in that particular order.

So, for the miracles, Mark is probably drawing on a tradition, which retold the stories that everyone remembered: but the surrounding passages, where he sets the scenes for these spectacular stories, the “wrapping” so to speak, may just possibly be more authentically the voice of the evangelist, than the miracle stories which he learned from others.

Let’s just suppose that Mark was saying something like this: the regular day-by-day mission of Jesus (extraordinary for anyone else but ordinary for him) was teaching and healing. The astonishing, miraculous things that Jesus did were called forth by the circumstances where he found himself. Jesus could not help himself from doing deeds of power to help others; but maybe, just maybe the miracles were not the most important parts of his message. Is Mark, at least implicitly, saying that the everyday, continuing mission of Jesus, of being with the people in love and care, and teaching them the ways of God for themselves and for others, was really more sacred than the miracles?

Hold that thought a moment, while we consider our other readings for today.

Jeremiah was a prophet for an age of desperate crisis. The vital role of the leader, the anointed king who stood in God’s place, was to pastor and to care for the people. In this poetic reading, Jeremiah offers a lyrical passage about good pastoral rulership. Such an ideal was not reflected in the reality of the time that Jeremiah’s prophecies were compiled. In his days the kingdom of Judah was under repeated attack from the Babylonians. The claimants to royal status within the kingdom were humiliated or killed, or both, in rapid succession. In this time of chaos and despair, Jeremiah proclaimed that it was God alone who would, in the fullness of time, establish a new kingship, which would bring peace, order and protection for the people.

It never happened, at least not in that sense. Judaea would exist precariously under the rule of foreign dynasties for the next five centuries and be overwhelmed by Rome. But what Jeremiah offered was a vision of what real care for a people meant: not self-glorification, not oppression of the weak, not hostility to the outsider, but wise dealing, bringing comfort and stability to the people. It’s still a valid vision of good government, which far too many rulers around the world completely fail to acknowledge.

And in the letter to the Ephesians, we learn just who “God’s people” are to be. They are no longer to be divided into the people of the covenant and those outside. All are to be brought together into one universal body, as the love of God is universal and includes all.

God wishes the great all-embracing mass of God’s people to be cared for, looked after, in a way that brings peace, security, and flourishing.

In that light, let me return to Mark’s Gospel. Implicitly, as it were in an undertone, maybe Mark is suggesting that the ordinary business of life, which for Jesus meant being among the people, teaching and healing, was and is more sacred than the moments of special celebration or exaltation.

Here’s a thought: I wonder how many of us still watch award ceremonies on television? If the concern sometimes expressed about declining audience figures is anything to go by, it seems that not many of us do. And there is always something a little absurd about treating an awards event as a piece of entertainment in itself.

Those who receive Oscars, Golden Globes or Emmys earn them by telling stories through their work, and telling those stories well. One believes – one hopes – that what gives satisfaction to a creative artist of any kind is doing the work of creating, rather than being given accolades for doing it. It’s only by being a dedicated creative person that one earns awards in the first place.

The special, spectacular event is froth on the top of the dessert: it is not, so to speak, the substantial nourishment that comes from doing what one loves to do.

The everyday can, in fact, be more special than the spectacular.

How do those insights speak to our lives in the Christian community? Well, every Sunday we participate in something undoubtedly very special. It is something that previous generations of Christians at one time even regarded as miraculous. It is when we celebrate the presence of Christ among us in the form of the bread and wine which he blessed at the last Supper, and which his followers remembered, and learned to bless in his name.

This is a profoundly special thing, but it gains its value, certainly for those in our tradition, by being inseparably linked to the teaching of the Word of God. Teaching and prayer precede the Eucharist and help to give it its sacredness. To celebrate the sacrament without also surrounding it with reading God’s Word, teaching, reflection and prayer would be to deprive the sacrament of what makes it not only holy, but also powerful.

And then, strengthened and nourished by it, we take the insights which come from our shared worship into everyday life. If we are mindful of what we are doing, every day becomes a living out of the message that we have received and reminded ourselves of every Sunday.

Without doubt, we need to engage with the extraordinary holiness and sacredness which comes with the signs of God’s presence with us and within us. But the real reason for that experience of the sacred is to strengthen us for the ministries which we share, by living and doing our work in our communities of friends and colleagues through the week. Sacredness is, by a wonderful surprise, profoundly infectious. It spreads itself throughout the rest of life. And blessedly, we need no vaccine to protect us from its infecting power. It can do nothing but good, for us and for all whose lives we touch.

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

July 11, 2021: Pentecost 7

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7 PENTECOST: July 11, 2021

Cicero, the Roman philosopher, statesman, orator and challenge to every sophomore Latin student, said that the gods of Rome were careful about great things, but neglected the small things. Our God, however, is concerned with the many intimate details in human life. In fact, the Hebrew and Christian scriptures only speak of God in relationship to human beings.

Our God is focused on us. Creates a world for us to inhabit, makes a Covenant with us so we can agree on what is expected of us and what we can expect from God. Gives a law for daily life, sends prophets to remind us of the Law; lists the punishment when we break it, and offers hope when punishment comes. God just can’t leave us alone.

Amos found this out. Today we read that he happens upon God the Builder. God has a plumb line and is checking to see if Israel’s actions are building a strait relationship with God and one another. As we have all learned these recent days, there are rules for constructing buildings and if not done right, disaster will result. The same is true for our relationship with God and one another.

We also meet Herod today and learn he liked to listen to the prophet John the Baptist even though John was warning Herod of his sin. Obviously, Herod listened but did not hear and he has the prophet murdered lest he look weak to friends.

Of course, Mark tells this story to prepare us for the crime that will be committed against Jesus. Again, by a leader that did not want to look weak. Also, Mark teaches us that God so loved the world that the Son was sent to reveal a love without limit and without end. If the human family had been paying attention, we might have suspected this. After all that is the kind of God we have

We are reminded of this in the other reading that is part of our worship, the letter to the Ephesians. Again, the focus of the reading is on the relationship between God and the human family. I want to go back to the verse that comes just before where our reading begins today. The writer greets the community: “Grace be to you and Peace of God our Father…” “Grace and peace” are the greeting Paul often uses. The words in Hebrew would be familiar to a Jewish audience. In the Hebrew Scriptures these are the two words most often used to describe who God is and how God acts. They can be translated as “enduring love” and “faithful, lasting, true”. Over 248 times in the Hebrew scriptures God is presented as enduring, steadfast lover and faithful, true one. They come from the same words, today’s Psalm translates as “Mercy and truth”.

God is the faithful, steadfast lover whose gift, that is grace, has the power to transform us. What we can be is described to the Ephesians: “blessed with every spiritual blessing; chosen by God from before the world was created; holy and blameless; destined for adoption; redeemed; forgiven; taught the mystery of God’s love; inheritors of all that is good; empowered to hope; marked with the seal of the Spirit; one of God’s own people.” All by the grace of God.

The Letter to the Ephesians has been called the “Epistle of Grace”. The words appear 12 times and this amazing grace has the power to transform us to be the people God created us to be.

What is our response to this God who is so focused on us, so extravagant in grace? The Jewish theologian, Abraham Heschel has said: The only fitting response to the surprise of living is gratitude. And gratitude is at the heart of all our prayer. A second response is that we look at one another as gifts of God. Today, the Church celebrates the feast of Benedict of Nursia. In his rule for monks, he mentions that monks who live in community may not be the most heroic, but for most of us community is a necessary support if we are to live the life of the Gospel.

So, God, who pays attention to every detail, has given us to each other and with one another we prayed at the beginning of this service: O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that we may know and understand what things we ought to do, and also may have the grace and power faithfully to accomplish them.

We know that God is the enduring, faithful lover whose grace is everywhere and abundant. God has answered our prayer. Let us support one another as we live out our answer.

July 4, 2021: Pentecost 6

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6 PENTECOST: July 4, 2021

If you have been around town these days, most likely you have seen signs “Now hiring”, Help Wanted”. One of the jobs that has openings but is not advertised is “Prophet”. Matthew’s Gospel promises all prophets will receive a prophet’s reward. However, in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus indicates that may not be so great. “A prophet is not without honor except in his/her own town and among their own kin and in their own house. You have to read the fine print.

Even more, if we look at some prophets, we see the reward is often ridicule, oppression and sometimes death. In our first reading, God tells Ezekiel he is being sent to an impudent and stubborn people, a rebellious house. Not an audience that would give great rewards.

Paul, has listed the many indignities visited upon him as his reward for being a prophet.

Why? Well, Prophets can be difficult and what they say can offend. A prophet does not “fore tell” the future, but rather “tell forth” God’s reaction, God’s opinion, about events and actions of people. Prophets are “the conscience of a nation”, as one writer says, and what they have to say is often strong disapproval.

One prophet who learned this was Amos, who we will meet in next week's readings. He lived 750 years before Jesus and some of his famous words are known to many of us: “Let justice roll down like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:24). Favorite words of Dr. Martin Luther King.

I was greeted by words of Amos the day I arrived at my last Parish, 36 years ago. I found on my desk a book titled “A History of Wallingford”, the town in which I was to serve. There was a marker in the book and I opened it and read the page.

It was a story of the Reverend Samuel Andrews, the Anglican missionary that had established the parish 245 years before. He was described as a hardy priest who established 3 other parishes in the area. A man of prominence, he was invited to give the invocation at the town’s first July 4th celebration. He used as his scripture reading verses that come just before Dr. King’ favorite words in Amos: “The Lord says, I hate and despise your festivals, and I will not be pleased by your solemn assemblies.” (Amos 5:22)

Reverend Andrews then pointed out the Declaration of Independence declared “all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights”. He went on to point out the slaves of the assembled good people, who were out of the shade, sweating in the hot sun, caring for the horses of the assembled gentry. Not all men were created equal. What else he may have said was not recorded.

Both Amos and Reverend Andrews suffered a similar fate, A few chapters after these words of Amos, he was told by the king to “Get out, go home”, and a short time after his invocation, Reverend Andrews was asked to leave Wallingford.

In our day we are a Nation still in conflict over the fact that the high ideals upon which our Nation is built have not always been lived. Even the men who wrote and signed this declaration owned slaves. Not to mention the fact that women were excluded from these inalienable rights.

On this fourth of July, we are well aware that we fall short of living out our Nation’s creed. Unfortunately, reminding us of our failings is considered by some a greater evil than the failings themselves.

Jeremiah, another prophet who met much resistance, even persecution from his fellow Israelites, wondered if a nation can repent, change its ways. He feared it could not. But at another time in the history of this Nation, a time of even greater stress than we know, a newly re-elected President Lincoln. As the bloodiest and most divisive of our nation’s wars was ending. Lincoln concluded his second inauguration speech with these words:

‘With malice toward none and charity toward all; with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nations wounds….to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations”.

Today, we are called again to strive for the lofty goals proclaimed at the foundation of this Nation – “to bind up the Nations wounds, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

June 27, 2021: Pentecost 5

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6 PENTECOST: June 27, 2021

There have been reports these past weeks about Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion) as Roman Catholic Bishops discuss the possibility of denying Holy Communion to elected leaders who support Abortion rights for women. That issue is part of a greater concern in the Church about the understanding of the Eucharist among the faithful. Many articles I read describe Holy Communion as the central action of Roman Catholic worship. However, the “bread and wine” being the “body and blood” of Jesus have a variety of understanding among Catholics. The bishops want to establish unity in belief.

Unity of belief is not present in the community of Christians. If you visited a Congregational or Baptist or a Methodist Church on a Sunday, you would likely not find Holy Communion celebrated. In many Christian Denominations the Word of Scripture would be seen as “central”.

We Episcopalians like to see our worship and belief as balancing Word and Sacrament. Our understanding of the Eucharist is more nuanced than the Roman Catholic appears and many of us have been disinvited from receiving Holy Communion at a Roman Catholic Mass. Holy Communion, we are told is a sign of union. The Episcopal Church, on the other hand invites the baptized to receive; seeing Holy Communion as nurturing this union.

In these months of “Zoom Worship”, Morning Prayer has kept us together. But gathering together around the table of the Lord for Holy Communion is our desired way of worship. We prayed in our Opening Prayer: “Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching. To do so we will need to find a way for all of us to gather together around the table of the Lord.

But there is much other work to do. We are now at the point of our worship the BCP calls the Liturgy of the Word. We have read from 4 Books of our Bible. Bible means “books”, plural and our Bible is really a library of many books. But not all Bibles have the same number of Books. What we call the New Testament, the Christian Scriptures, contains 27 books. It is fair to say that most every Bible would contain those same books. However, the Bibles you have at home may differ in the number of books they have in the Old Testament.

This Bible developed over thousands of years and the final decision as to what would be in it was not made until 1500’s. Martin Luther emphasized scripture as central to our faith and worship. Hence, what was scripture, what was in the Bible, became more important. Rules were established and some books that had been used in worship and prayer were not considered to be within the boundaries of Holy Scripture. 39 books made the cut.

The Roman Catholic response to Luther, the Council of Trent, not only condemned Luther and his teaching but created its own category of scripture and it included some of the books Luther did not. 46 books made the cut. These left out books are sometimes called Apocrypha, and, today, Protestant Bibles often include them at the end of the Bible.

One book Martin Luther left out and was kept in by Rome is our first reading today. The Wisdom of Solomon was certainly not written by Solomon. It was most likely written 900 years after Solomon, and shortly before the birth of Jesus. Scholars think it was written in Egypt and appears to have been written for Jews who lived there among people of a different culture and religion in order to support them in the faith of Israel.

In our short reading, we hear the author re-affirm the goodness of creation which is made by the one Creator God in whose image we are all made. What is new is that for the first time life eternal, life after death, is presented as a blessing. The unity, which we prayed for at the beginning of our worship, our source and future, is already stamped on the human family.

Unity is an issue that concerns Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth. The Christians in Corinth were predominantly Gentile. Paul had come to believe one could be Christian without becoming Jewish, especially not having to be circumcised. The Christian community in Jerusalem was predominantly Jewish Christians. They held to the original idea that one had to be Jewish, just as Jesus was and all the early disciples. This included circumcision. This may seem like a small issue to us but it was of fundamental importance at that time and was the source of considerable disagreement.

Today we hear Paul praising and encouraging the Corinthians to be generous contributing money to be taken to support the Jerusalem Christians who were in need. Donating money to people with whom there is conflict can encourage unity.

Paul would not have used the words, but he was participating in the Jewish practice of “Tikkun Olam”, which means “repairing the world”. Some claim It is a concept that dates back to the time of Jesus that Jews bear responsibility not only for their own well-being but for the well-being of all others throughout the world.

In our Gospel, as we have been following Jesus in his ministry freeing people from the power of evil and healing the sick, we could describe him as working to repair the world. A contemporary prayer among Jews says: “Lord, you have taught us to support the failing, heal the sick, free the captive and comfort all who suffer pain.”

Our baptismal promise to “seek and serve Christ in all people, love our neighbors as ourselves and respect the dignity of every human being”, is participation in the work of “repairing the world”. Such work brings us into that “unity of spirit” for which we prayed. We are called to this unity by the words of scripture, by gathering around the table of the Lord to share bread and wine, by believing in the God in whose image we are all created and whose enduring life is present within is empowering us to participate in “repairing the world”. Amen

June 20, 2021: Pentecost 4

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June 20, 2021: Pentecost 4

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Well, Mark’s Gospel begins with the proclamation “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. From the very beginning of this Gospel, we, the readers, have our answer to the disciples’ question.

And yet consistently, throughout the Gospel, the disciples fail to realize what is in front of them every day; and just as importantly, the religious elite of Jesus’s day grows progressively more and more hostile and willfully uncomprehending. We saw two weeks ago how some of the scribes accused Jesus of expelling demons by the power of a greater demon, a logical absurdity. Last week, in the passage just preceding this text, Jesus taught in parables about the hidden but growing promise of the kingdom.

At the end of this chapter, in our Gospel for today, Jesus is portrayed as commanding the elements of nature, and they obey him. This is quite a difficult message for us to hear. We are accustomed to think of the physical forces of nature as a quasi-mechanical system, even if an unpredictable one that defies our full comprehension. The idea that a human being could by a word of command quell a storm at sea seems highly problematic.

Here we need to remember that, in the age of Jesus and the evangelists, the physical cosmos was not thought to be like some kind of machine. It was believed both to carry meaning, and to work under the direction of the divine power. Some cultures believed that the natural elements were controlled by intelligent spirit-beings.

The Psalms are full of examples of God controlling the elements. Dramatic events in nature demonstrate God’s power over them and through them. As part of Psalm 104 says: “you make the clouds your chariot; you ride on the wings of the wind.You make the winds your messengers, and flames of fire your servants.”

The Song of the Three Young Men, from the additions to Daniel, used from time to time as one of the canticles at morning prayer, sees nothing strange in calling on the cosmic order to express itself in praise of God: “Glorify the Lord, O nights and days, O shining light and enfolding dark. Storm clouds and thunderbolts, glorify the Lord, praise him and highly exalt him for ever.”

So, Mark’s Gospel was making a point here about who, and what, Jesus was. He makes it in an almost comic manner: the disciples panic because of a sudden storm on the sea of Galilee (a lake prone, as the disciples surely knew, to sudden outbreaks of violent weather). Jesus sleeps through it all, until the terrifieddisciples awaken him.

The whole story has a slightly stagey quality; the purpose of the whole account seems to be to show (i) that Jesus bears the same relationship to nature as the creating and sustaining God, and (ii) that his followers are incapable of believing that fact, even when it is forced upon their attention.

In the time of Jesus (and for centuries after) it was credible that the cosmic order was not only created, but sustained by a provident and at times judgmental God. Natural disasters, including floods, storms, earthquakes, and plagues, came as God’s punishment or warnings against sin, or as tests for the endurance of the faithful.

We are now challenged to think of nature in a quite different way. We still can, and should, think of it as the benevolent gift of God who loves to create, who rejoices in the beauty and diversity of nature. Psalm 104, again, speaks of whales thus: “there is that Leviathan, which you have made for the sport of it”. God, evidently, makes things for sheer enjoyment. That is a God to whom I can relate.

However, we also have to acknowledge that the created order is a fragile and beautiful thing, constantly in change, but also vulnerable to the excessive impact that the human race, in all our teeming numbers, has upon it. It is both rash and selfish to assume (as some Christians, sad to say, are willing to say and seem to believe) that our provident God not only creates the universe, but so regulates it that it will be utterly unaffected by whatever stresses, imbalances and pollutants we throw at it.

Most thinking people acknowledge that human beings need to make major adjustments to the ways that we live, work, travel, and feed ourselves, if we are not to cause damage to the global system so severe that it will harm everything, including human life, for centuries. That is something which people can see and agree on, without being Christians, or people of any faith at all. What might our Gospel tell us that is special?

We believe in a God who is profoundly invested in physical nature. The God of Christianity is not a God of abstract ideas or rarefied, disembodied wisdom. We have a God who cared so much about the physical order as a place of moral existence, that our God took human flesh to live in that order, subject to the same frailties and vulnerabilities as all other human beings.

In Jesus Christ, we have a leader and teacher who loves the world of nature, to which human beings belong, and who comes to share in its vulnerability, its fragility and its pain. In the light of the incarnation, the frail vulnerability of creation is what makes it sacred. Christ teaches us that creation is something not just to be appreciated, not just to be lived in, not just to be tended and cared for, though it is all of those things. Creation is there to be loved, with the same profound care and nurture that we hope to offer each other.

Loving creation means more than just appreciating what is beautiful and attractive in itself. There’s nothing wrong with that– as a start. I hope that, in a week or two, we may begin to see Monarch butterflies visit, as they did last year, the forest of milkweed plants growing either side of our garden fence.

But it also means appreciating the invisible complexity of nature – the interwoven and interlinked systems where even the unattractive creatures, the bugs and the rodents, yes, even the viruses, have their place. It means loving what is not obviously lovely or lovable.

Loving what is not in itself lovable is what God does with us, for the sake of Jesus Christ. It is what we are called to do, despite the outward appearances, not just to all humanity, but to all that God made.

It means protecting and supporting the wild places, not regarding them as waste ground, or as empty space waiting for us to exploit them. It can also mean tending and beautifying nature. God, we are told, planted a garden; the risen Jesus in John’s Gospel was taken for a gardener.

It also means loving all people, as a part of God’s creation, not as somehow in opposition to it. With a terrifying arrogance, some human beings in the past and even in the present seem to think that they can choose whom, of those created in God’s image, they can love and respect. In the holiday initiated yesterday for June 19th, we were given a strong reminder of the sad legacy of selective love, and the cost of setting that right.

So, our faith should add something vitally important to our relationship with the created order. Nature is not just a mechanism, a support system for our lives and cultures which must be maintained and tended, though that is part of it. It is also a gift of God, whose overflowing love never ceases to create beauty and complexity for the sheer joy of it.

Let us imagine, then, that in our communion today we expand the Lord’s table to include everything and everyone that God has made and loves. Let us with the eyes of faith believe that we are welcoming the entire creation to share in God’s gift to us.

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

June 13, 2021: Pentecost 3

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3 Pentecost: June 13, 2021

At this time of great concern about the health of our fragile earth, our island home, it is interesting to have a picture of God acting as a creative arborist planting trees to support life and provide beauty. Last week we had a picture of God taking an evening stroll through the garden enjoying the refreshing beauty of the good creation. And today we find Jesus sharing an image of a farmer at work. Something he would have observed growing up among the small towns and farms in the area around Nazareth.

Our Gospel reading comes from early in Jesus’ ministry. Even though last week we read that large crowds were following Jesus, there were signs of problems. Jesus’ family thought him to be out of his mind and religious leaders said he was possessed by the devil. The crowds seem to have been mainly miracle seekers who came and went. We know that when the crunch came, they disappeared.

In fact, in the chapters we are now reading, scholars believe Jesus was responding to questions why his mission, proclaiming the arrival of the kingdom of God, was having so little success.

We should also note that the community for which this Gospel was written was over twenty years later were in a similar position. Many scholars think Mark’s Gospel was written for a community in Rome who were experiencing persecution during which both Peter and Paul were executed, along with other leaders. They, too, were wondering where was the success. Where was the power of the Spirit and Resurrection? Where was the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed?

So, what was wrong? The parable we read today is among a collection of parables and sayings comparing the word of the Gospel with seeds. Before our story today is the parable of the Sower, sowing seeds over a wide area made up of different kinds of soil. Just like the soil, there are different kinds of people who receive the word. Only some actually receive the word and even then, some will fall away.

Today Jesus explains that the seed, the word he proclaims has real power and will ripen on its own time. And, finally, the word like the mustard seed may seem small at sowing but will result in spectacularly abundant growth.

I grew up on the prairie of Illinois, in an area of small towns and farms. However, the farmers I knew did much more than sleep and rise night and day as the seed grew on its own. They prepared the land, plowed the field, planted the seed, cultivated and removed the weeds and worked to prevent blight. I never got the impression that the seed just grew on its own. Maybe Jesus didn’t know that much about farming.

But I also learned from farmers that they knew no matter how hard they worked the harvest was, in so many ways, beyond their control. To begin with, the prairie’s rich soil was a gift they had not produced. They knew that the time for planting in Spring should not be too wet or the seed could rot. But as the seed began to grow it needed the right amount of rain and the right amount of sun and warmth. The young plants were vulnerable to blight and insects. All of these elements which determined the quality and size of the harvest were beyond the control of the farmer. They harvest truly was a gift.

Among the farmers there was no doubt that grace was essential to their work. The prayers offered in our Church were for rain, for warm sun, for protection from insects, and only then, thanksgiving for the harvest. They did not just sleep and rise in the process, but they believed their hard work needed grace, gifts they could not provide. Blessings over which they had no control, were essential to the harvest.

The members of the community who first heard or read these parables were meant to see them as explaining failures and disappointments in our Christian life. They were also signs of hope that ultimately the blessing of God would come. God had not abandoned them. God was present with them in the midst of life.

A few weeks ago, our Diocese closed a parish. It had been a large community which served many people for many years. It joins a growing list of parishes the Diocese has closed. The same process is taking place in the Roman Catholic and Congregational Churches. We might hear the question where is the success of the word. I don’t want to infer that our Church or any Church is the kingdom of God, but the number of communities are shrinking.

What is our response to this situation? Our opening Prayer today is a guide: “Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion.”

If we do this, our work, we will have the hope that can empower us to endure, trusting God will do God’s work. God will give the grace, be the blessing that will embrace us so that we will endure. Amen

June 6, 2021: Pentecost 2

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2 PENTECOST: June 6, 2021

Today we begin the longest part of the Church Liturgical Year. From now until the beginning of Advent, Sundays will simply be identified by their time after Pentecost. The season begins without much fanfare. The Gospel reading plumps us down in the early stage of Jesus’ ministry in Mark’s account. Jesus has been drawing crowds, so many, we are told that he and his disciples could not even eat. Perhaps some disciples were caught up in the wave of popularity. But not everyone else was.

Jesus’ family, we are told, came to restrain him, take him back home, and stop this crazy talk about the kingdom of God. The reaction of these relatives “He has gone out of his mind” is matched by that of some religious leaders who said: “He is possessed by Beelzebul”.

Beelzabul is a name borrowed from one of Israel’s neighbors who believed in two gods – one god of good the other, god of evil – Beelzabul, or Beelzabub, means “lord of the garbage heap”, or “lord of the flies.” Jews saw him as the tempter, Satan. An evil spirit but not a god.

Religions have wondered about the source of evil in our world, in our actions. Some religions imagined a powerful evil god. Others focused on human freedom to choose. So, it is in our first reading. It is a story from the Book of Genesis. Part of a larger story that addresses the origin of evil. The story of Fall is not history, the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil presents an imaginative picture in which human disobedience is presented as a source of evil in our world.

But the reality of evil and sin touch on the mystery of suffering and even who we are in the world. Are we creatures made in the image and likeness of God? Filled with the very presence of the Divine? Or are we fallen, sinful creatures, saved, only, through an abundance of amazing grace?

It seems we can’t even agree about sin and what evil is. Recently, a number of states in this country have passed laws severely punishing abortion providers, even relatives who support a woman in the process. One state even offers a $10,000 reward to a person reporting such people. At the same time, some of these states have passed laws forbidding teaching school children critical history about slavery and racism.

We are members of a Church whose leadership’s response to abortion includes a refusal to support legal barriers to a woman’s right to choose. At the same time, our Church has called upon each parish to examine its relation to the sins of slavery and racism. Indeed, we are called to reflection, study and action. And yet there is no doubt. No disagreement about the reality of evil in our world.

In our Gospel today Jesus speaks about the need to plunder a strongman’s house only after the strong man has been tied up. Jesus is the one who has entered the house of the strong man, that is, the evil one and has tied him up. Evil has no lasting power. And now, Jesus is plundering that house, defeating the power of evil in our lives, in our world. It is as if a tree has been cut down at its roots. However, the leaves have not yet withered even though they are on a dead tree. The enduring power of evil has been destroyed, but this is not obvious, except with the eyes of faith.

Paul sees with eyes of faith. He presents a picture of growth, renewal. Even as some things are wasting away, Grace abounds. For although we have the power to sin, and are capable of evil and our actions often lack justice and compassion, still our Gospel reading ends with Jesus calling us his sisters and brothers and mothers.

With the power of those relationships, we can do what we prayed on our Collect: “Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them.”

May 30, 2021: Trinity Sunday

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St. Benedict is called the founder of monasticism in the Western world. Around 500 AD he wrote a Rule for monks. Among his wise words is an admonition to the abbot (the head of the Monastery) to make sure that those seeking admission to the monastic community were people “truly seeking God”. He does not say they should be people who had found God, but seeking God. In fact, Benedict considered the monastery a “school of the Lord’s service” where the monk spent his whole life, seeking God, in a life of prayer and work.

This consideration is fitting for Trinity Sunday. Trinity is at the heart of our faith. The Book of Common Prayer says: “The faith is this, we worship God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity”.

Seeking God is at the heart of faith because it seems to be at the heart of human desire. In the Holy History of our scriptures, as well as the Holy Histories found in the sacred books of the vast human family, in all sorts of tribes and nations, we find a search for God. It is so among our ancestors around the world and down through the ages.

At times, people have thought they found god and made an idol, an object or belief that they tried to appease, control or manipulate. This is a strong temptation faced by one seeking God. So there are dangers on this journey. Isaiah, in our first reading, reminds us of this. Somehow Isaiah has stumbled into the presence of God and, as he is reduced to awe at the magnificence of this presence, he realizes he shouldn’t really be there. In fear and trembling , he finally volunteers to share the wonder of this God with others. Isaiah has been reminded of an important truth, the God we seek is a God who seeks us.

It was so from the beginning. The “holy, holy, holy God” seeks Moses as he herds sheep. Yet Moses must “take off his shoes”, for he is standing on holy ground when in God’s presence. Later, Moses, returning from the mountain encounter with God, receiving the covenant, is told by the people to cover his face because the brightness caused by this proximity to God was blinding to the people. And when God reveals God’s name, it was seen as too sacred to pronounce out loud. The “I AM” in its Hebrew version was not pronounced. Another word “Adonai”, which means “My Lord” was said in its place when scriptures were read.

“Holy, holy, holy” is the human cry. The awareness of how awesome and great is our God.

But when we come to Paul’s reading today we hear him tell the Roman community that they are children of God and when they pray they are to address God as “abba”. “Abba” in the dialect of Hebrew Jesus spoke is best translated as “Dad” or “Daddy, Mommy” in English. In Jesus, God has a human face. Joined us in human history. And yet, Nicodemus struggles with this Rabbi, because Jesus, as Son, also transcends human history. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God”, we are told at the beginning of this Gospel. We can easily say with Nicodemus: “How can these things be?”

But there is more – always more with this God. When Jesus speaks of one being born of the Spirit, he is not talking of human birth as Nicodemus thinks. The Spirit, which Jesus breathes into the apostles on the evening of Resurrection is the Divine Being that now dwells in all the baptized – in all created life.

And so, in our search we have encountered the awe inspiring High lifted up Holy One who has sought us out in human history. We have been told by human ancestors of the Divine one whose flesh they have touched and who has told us we are children of this “High Lifted up loving parent”. Finally, we have been given the Spirit as the continuing presence of this One to dwell within our human flesh.

Indeed, we are dealing with Incomprehensible Mystery. But we are seekers and we presume to give names to these three faces in which the God we seek, has sought us. “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” are most familiar, but maybe too familiar. Even names found in our holy history can become idols. A member of my previous parish left when I tried to assure him God was not a male.

We can think of this Triune God as Source and Future/ Transcendent and Imminent/ Indwelling Love as did a theologian of the last century. Source and Future is the Creator God and final home of all that exists; Transcendent and Imminent is God Present in the human Jesus as part of our human existence but also transcendent One who exists from all eternity; and finally Companion God, Spirit dwelling in each of us, here and now, as we continue to seek .

But we don’t have to journey far in our search. St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, who died at the dawn of the last century was a Carmelite nun who, as her title suggest was devoted to writing on this eternal Trinity. Elizabeth has written: “ I believe that Being whose name is Love is dwelling within us at every moment of the day and night, and asks us to live in his company.”

So, the invitation has been given. All we need is to respond. Amen

May 23, 2021: Pentecost

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Welcome to our celebration of Pentecost. Pentecost, in Greek, means 50, and 50 days ago we gathered here to celebrate Easter. It is fitting that we begin to gather together on a regular schedule on this day, after more than a year. For Pentecost completes Easter with the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit, the presence and power of God’s abiding love that creates the Church, the community, THIS community that gathers to give witness by our words and deed to God’s presence in our world.

The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples while they were at prayer. As we pray, let us be open to the presence of this same Spirit so that we know again the power of God’s love . A love we are called to share with one another; with all others.

Let us pray:


Most of us are old enough to remember the name Dag Hammarskjold. He was a Dutch diplomat who served as Secretary General of the United Nations from 1953 until his death in an airplane crash in September 1961. He was on his way to negotiate a cease fire in a war in Africa. After his death, his family found his journal which revealed a person of deep faith. One of his last entries was made on Pentecost Day in 1961. He wrote:

“ I don’t know who or what put the question. I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer YES to Someone or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence had meaning and that, therefore, my life, had a goal.”

Our readings today have two versions of a Pentecost. Each, however, is not as subtle as what Hammarskjold describes. In John’s Gospel on the evening of his resurrection, Jesus enters that locked upper room and breathes on the apostles proclaiming “Receive the Holy Spirit!”

In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles we find a large crowd gathered in prayer and with even more drama – shaking the house, tongues of fire – the Spirit embraces the disciples. The results, too, are more dramatic. They go out and to the crowd that gathered because of the wind, they begin to proclaim the good news. We are told that the group was made up of people from many different nations, gathered in Jerusalem for a Jewish feast. However, they all heard the disciples speaking in their own native language. What was that all about?

At that time, the Jewish feast of Pentecost had become a thanksgiving for the gift of the Law, Torah, the covenant between God and the Jewish people. At that time, a story developed in which the offering of the covenant with God was offered from Mt. Sinai not only to Israel but to the whole world. The voice of God from Mount Sinai was proclaimed to the whole world, heard and understood by all people in their own language. However, only one nation, Israel, accepted the gift, only one people entered into that relationship.

Now, the Acts of the Apostles is teaching, on the first Christian Pentecost, God is again offering this relationship, the presence of the Spirit, to all the peoples of the earth. Every nation, once again, hears the invitation in their own language. And now, people from every nation on earth are saying YES to this gift.

“All the people of the earth” are represented by 16 tribes and nations mentioned in our reading. Since then, we have learned that the world is a bit bigger. We now have 192 nations united in that group once led by Dag Hammarskjold. And in those nations are as many as 24,000 ethnic groups who speak almost 7,000 languages.

Most of the disciples present at that first Christian Pentecost never traveled more than 100 miles from Jerusalem their whole lives. And Paul, who journeyed all the way to Rome, traveled a distance that was less than NYC to LA.

The world into which the Spirit is renewed today is much larger, the diversity greater, the divisions wider, the tasks greater than those first Christians could ever have imagine. And, as we have seen, the missions of the Church have often led to oppression, violence and enslavement of nations. What is the mission given to us by the Spirit this Pentecost?

In the Gospel Pentecost the Risen Christ proclaims to the apostles “Peace be with you!” The gift of the Spirit is expressed as PEACE/SHALOM. Shalom includes a wholeness that demands justice, a concern for well- being that is expressed in compassion, gratitude that becomes generosity in actions, and a vision of harmony, unity that embraces the other as sister and brother.

In this large, changing world the Peace /Shalom of the Spirit is as present now as it was that first Pentecost. As we prayed in today’s Psalm: “O God, you send forth your Spirit and we are created; and so, through us, you renew the face of the earth”. All gifts ask something of the recipient. What is asked of us today is to believe who God is and who we are. Believe our existence has meaning and our lives a goal. Believe that today we receive the life-giving gifts of justice, compassion, generosity and love. What if the human family lived these gifts? What if you and I did?

May 16, 2021: Easter 7

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Easter 7, May 16, 2021

Since Easter Sunday, the first reading each week has been from the Acts of the Apostles. Acts is volume 2 to Luke’s Gospel, composed by the same author. Acts’ focus is the life of the earliest Christian Communities and the leaders who set about proclaiming the Risen Christ to “the ends of the earth”. In the early chapters, Peter is at the center of the group that saw themselves guided by the Holy Spirit, the gift of God’s abiding presence, that came upon them at Pentecost, which we will celebrate next week. This guidance did not have the clarity of a road map. It was with difficulty and conflict that they moved out of the security of that upper room into a world of different languages and cultures, laws and beliefs. As the Reverend David Brown has often said, “The life of the Church is like building a plane as we are flying.”

Initially, this small group thought their work would be of short duration since Christ promised to return. As time passed, they realized the “little while” Jesus spoke of would be quite a while. Commenting on this, one writer said that the earliest Christian Community waited in eager expectation for the return of their Lord in glory, but the Church showed up instead.

The community came to focus of Jesus’ words in a new light. By the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, THEY were the “body of Christ” on earth; THEY were the community in which the fulness of Christ dwelt. Although they couldn’t express it this way, THEY were the church, building the plane as they were flying.

If we look closely at these early years, we find one constant element. The community was never far from conflict. They were often groping in the dark, listening to the Spirit, often arguing about the direction they were going, adapting to situations, constantly facing punishment, prison, even death.

How different the situation in which our Church finds itself.Today the Church is close to the center of power, exerting influence on laws and customs. The Church is more apt to be aligned with the powerful, even the persecutors rather than united to the persecuted. A while ago I ordered a product for the Church. When I gave the address – 129 Main Street- the woman, located in Oklahoma asked, “is every Episcopal Church in Connecticut located on Main Street?” Geography hints at our status.

Even more, Ray Kroc, founder of McDonalds, aspired to have a restaurant in the shadow of every church in America. He considered the Church the anchor and supporter of societies values and morals. It certainly didn’t start that way.

Our Gospel today presents Jesus refusing to pray for the world. In this Gospel and the Letters attributed to John the “world” is presented as knowing neither God nor Christ. In fact, Jesus says the world hates his disciples because they do not belong to the world, just as he does not belong to the world. And yet both Jesus and the disciples are “in the world”. In an earlier chapter of this same Gospel we read “God so loved the world that God sent the only son that all might have life through him”.

“World” can have different meanings. The created world is called very good, in Scripture. In Paul’s Letters, the created world is presented as renewed through Christ. But there is the “world” that oppresses to poor, rewards the rich and powerful, casts out those who are different.

The Church has often confused the world that hates Christ and the world we are called to serve in his name; the world in which the Church lives comfortable at the center of power and prestige and the world that is offended by a Church that does justice and loves compassion.

As we build the Church in the world we pray in the words oftoday’s Collect: “send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us,and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before.” Our prayer must always be: “Come Holy Spirit!”


A graveside service for Kathleen Bannister will be held at Centerbrook Cemetery, Saturday, May 22nd at 11 AM.


In Person Worship on Lawn at All Saints. 10 AM. Bring a Lawn Chair. Chair provided if needed.

May 9, 2021: Easter 6

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Easter 6, May 9, 2021

The life of the Church is full of procedures. In the two dioceses where I serve, our bishops have supplied us with detailed directions to meet the requirements of both Church and State for the re-opening of public worship.We hope to begin to worship together at All Saints’ on Pentecost Sunday, following our inspiring and uplifting gathering at Easter. We shall all, of course, follow the requirements to keep everyone safe.

Two years after I arrived at Union Seminary in New York in 2002, I was asked to serve as Academic Dean, and did so for six years, often stressful and sometimes invigorating. I well remember a conversation with one of my successors (there have been three so far) in which I encouraged her to follow the seminary’s procedures, even if they seem to slow one down. Procedures are your friends, I emphasized. Following procedure means that when you make a decision, it sticks.

That was, I now recognize, quite a British way to think. Some of my colleagues in administration and board just wanted to get things done, by whatever seemed the most direct and effective approach. And here was this British person saying, “steady on, let’s go according to the rules, even if it doesn’t seem the quickest or most efficient way to reach our goal”. In my deanship we did some very controversial things, but they were never un-picked by review afterwards, because we had followed our own rules.

The author of the books we know as Luke and Acts was rather keen on procedure too. In the book of Acts, the apostles take on Christ’s leadership role after his ascension. They supervise the distribution of property ascharitable giving within the community. When the task becomes too sensitive and burdensome, they appoint (and in effect, ordain) a group of deacons to take their delegated role. Of all the evangelists, Luke seems to have the strongest sense that the Jesus movement had to work by some rules and, yes, procedures. In Acts, the movement becomes a Church.

Given the taste for structure and process in Luke-Acts, it is remarkable how, in that same work, the Holy Spirit works to bring new followers to Jesus. Last week, we heard the story of Philip and the unnamed eunuch of the Kushite kingdom. The eunuch had been to Jerusalem, so was possibly part of that most distant community of worshippers of the God of Israel. He is converted and baptized all in the same journey.

Two chapters on, in chapter 10, we encounter the story which, for the first time, unambiguously tells of the welcoming into the Jesus community of, not only a pagan, but a member of the hated, oppressive, brutal, and polytheistic occupiers of Judaea, a Roman Centurion called Cornelius. It is emphasized that Cornelius was a “good” Roman, but the insistence on his goodness only shows more clearly how troubling it was to approach such a person.

Our reading from Acts comes at the end of a long step-by-step narrative of how Peter, the most emphatic leader of the Jewish believers among Jesus’s friends, was with some difficulty persuaded by God to go and visit with a pagan. God sends a dream to Peter where all kinds of food are lowered from heaven, and Peter is told to eat of them. He refuses to eat unclean food. God answers with what sounds almost like Jewish humour. “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” “Peter, whom are you accusing of serving non-kosher food?”

The story ends on an even more extraordinary note, in the passage we have just heard. The Holy Spirit descends, visibly and dramatically, upon Cornelius and his household after Peter has preached to them. These Romans display the same signs of charismatic inspiration as the disciples did at Pentecost. This is not happening according to due process. The gift of the Spirit was supposed to come after baptism. So, Peter calls for these new Spirit-filled believers to be baptized. (Did you notice that Acts does not say that Peter baptized them himself? Maybe he still had slight reservations, even though he stayed some days in the house of this Roman officer.)

Through successive chapters of the Book of Acts, the key character in the story who refuses to follow procedure is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit descends whenever, however and on whomever it chooses. And it does so by such evident signs, including speaking in tongues, that it leaves the disciples absolutely no choice but to obey its call.

Luke is by instinct and preference a procedure-bound kind of guy, but in these cases the Spirit of God does away with procedure and due process, and Luke admits the fact. He was saying something about the unexpected, surprising power of God to confound and burst open our tidy organized lives.

Due process is often associated with hierarchy, with a settled order of who gets to make which decision. That is certainly the case in Luke-Acts. But what about our Gospel passage today, from John’s Gospel? This reading comes from what are usually called Jesus’s “Farewell discourses”, the chapters of John’s Gospel which follow on the washing of the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, and come just before the Passion narrative.

Of all the evangelists, John has the highest and most exalted sense of who Jesus was and is. His Gospel begins with the famous and cherisheddeclaration that the Word, co-existent with God in eternity, took human form and lived among people, revealing its glory through the life of Jesus.

Yet John also expresses the strongest, most emphatic, most often-repeated message that Jesus shares his very being, his closeness to God, with those who are his friends and his beloved followers. Today’s Gospel follows directly on last week’s almost-parable of Jesus as the vine and his followers as the branches. Jesus stresses repeatedly that his followers reside in, are one with, each other, with him, and with God. He uses a Greek word which is translated “abide” in our NRSV, which could also be read as “dwell” or “stay”. There is a permanent, stable relationship here.

There is a paradox: John portrays Jesus as both spiritually and in every other way exalted above us, and yet at one and the same time completely accessible. The only way it makes sense is if the followers of Jesus are, in effect, raised up in the Spirit to an unequalled closeness with God.

It is important, I suggest, to hold on to both sides of John’s (and Luke’s) paradoxes. As a community of faithful people, we are called to be close to each other and close to God. In our support for each other in times of stress, trouble, and grief, we express the love for each other which we are called to live out in our lives.

And at the same time, the Spirit of God has been reaching out, from the very beginning, to people whom human institutions might have been tempted to exclude – because of their religion, their race, their gender, or their sexuality. In the Episcopal tradition, we do not meet many who speak in tongues, but we certainly meet with those who are called by the Spirit. God calls us to welcome those who are different from us, not only into fellowship, but into leadership as co-workers in the ministry of the Gospel.

At seminary, I have had the privilege to meet many people who have at one time or another been declared unsuitable for ministry in the communities from which they came. Then they came to Union and discovered, not only that they were not alone, but that the voice of the Spirit was speaking, to them and through them, so powerfully that it could not be denied. To witness the growth in spiritual gifts of seminarians is to see the unruliness, the boundary-breaking generous love of the Holy Spirit in action.

So let us in all our lives be open to the call of the Spirit, not only to ourselves, but to others. As we approach the Pentecost season, we are reminded to be a Spirit-led community, a community of listening welcome. And let our procedures be open and flexible enough to make that welcome possible.

Submitted by Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

May 2, 2021: Easter 5

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Easter 5, May 2, 2021

In my younger days, as a young monk, I received a gift of Ella Fitzgerald singing her favorite hymns. I called it my Protestant Record, since it contained such hymns as “The Old Rugged Cross”, “Brighten the Corner, Where You Are”, “In the Garden”, and “Abide with me”.

Only later did I learn that this last hymn was not a protestant hymn, but was written by an Anglican priest, one time vicar of All Saints Church, Devon, England. The hymn was the favorite of Ella Fitzgerald, but also, Mahatma Gandhi.

While the hymn was inspired by a verse in Luke’s Gospel it is quick to come to mind when we read today’s Gospel of John. Jesus said: “Abide in me as I abide in you.” This is an oft repeated theme in John’s Gospel, the Divine Indwelling. To be a disciple meant to abide, remain in Jesus. Remain in an intimate, enduring, personal as well as communal relationship with Christ who remains within each of us. In you, the fullness of the Divine God dwells.

That is hard for many of us to accept. Perhaps we are too aware of our limitations, our faults and failings to place too much emphasis on the reality of God actually making a home in the likes of you and me. Even more, we are aware of the failings of others, to believe God abides in them. In today’s reading Divine Indwelling is joined to the image of the vine and the branches. We abide not only as individuals but as members of the community. Membership in this community is demanding, but entrance is not reserved to an exclusive group. It is open to all who seek.

Why else would Philip do what he did in our first reading. He is sent to meet a carriage traveling from Jerusalem to Gaza. He overhears a man reading Scripture. He is an Ethiopian eunuch. He would be considered some kind of freak by many today, but Philip engages him in conversation. “Do you understand what you are reading? “How can I?” is the response, “no one explains it”.

So, Philip does explain that Isaiah is speaking about Jesus, and tells the man the meaning of the passage. Soon, the man asks to be baptized into this Jesus, to enter into this intimate relationship of remaining in Christ. Surprisingly, when water is found, Philip baptizes the man, then and there. No classes, no trial period of church attendance. The desire, the request is enough. Philip was beginning a work and the Spirit, the Divine dwelling in the man would work to make this presence grow.

The emphasis here was not so much on the preparation of the individual before baptism, but on the transformation of the individual after baptism, a transformation that took place within and in response to the gifts the community shared with one another as they ministered the Gospel.

Since Easter, our scripture readings have focused on the various ways Christ is present within the community. We were told we are “children of God, deeply loved by God who like a shepherd watches over us. These readings, too, dwell on the power and responsibility we have to reflect the presence of Christ in the way we lived, worshiped and served others.

Today we learn that God dwells in each of us, abides with us, empowering us to love, to serve, to care for one another, and all others.

Divine Indwelling, Love one another, for only if we love one another can we love God, forgive, support, reconcile one another. Such words may sound a bit romantic in our age. After all we live in a complex, often hostile world. The reality is, the disciples who wrote and tried to live these words lived in a much more hostile world than we do.

For many, being a Christian was a crime, punishable by death. That was not hypothetical. Each of the Gospel accounts were written down in response to persecution. Living the words we consider inconvenient often meant death to those who handed them down to us.

It is interesting how we decide what words of Jesus are important and what words we think are outdated or suggestions. Far easier to accept the words of comfort than those that challenge. However, the One who abides in us is the same One who says, by this all shall know you are my disciples if you love one another. The challenge is more than we can do, except by the power and presence of the One who dwells within.

April 25, 2021: Easter 4

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EASTER 4 April 25, 2021

“I am the Good Shepherd,” Jesus tells his disciples in today’s Gospel reading. “Good” because he cares for the disciples, loves the disciples even to the point of laying down his life for them. Of course this reading comes from mid-point in John’s Gospel, long before the events celebrated three weeks ago; events at the end of the Gospel when these words of Jesus about laying down his life were proved to be true. Such dedication is demanded of a "good shepherd".

In our first reading, Peter, no longer hiding in that upper room has been arrested and stands before Ciaphas, John and Alexander. These are religious leaders who should have been good shepherds. They seem to be among the leaders the prophets have condemned as lousy shepherds. However, scholars today do not think it was these leaders John’s Gospel was warning the disciples about. At the time John wrote these words other Christian communities were creating roles and responsibilities in their attempt to organize their communities. They were giving the name “pastor”, that is “shepherd” to these leaders. These Christians are being warned that there is only one pastor, only one Shepherd- Jesus Christ. History has shown that there is wisdom in this warning as many of us called “pastors” have not been Good Shepherds.

Psalm 23, which we prayed today is among the most prayed words in the Jewish-Christian tradition. This psalm presents a job description of a “Good Shepherd”- guiding, feeding, protecting, working for the survival of those they lead. A pastor is called to follow Christ’s example, even to laying down one’s life for those they lead. I confess this was not part of my seminary training.

Unfortunately, many given the name and role of "pastor" have not been good shepherds but have acted more like hired hand. Care for the sheep has often been replaced by the search for power, prestige, wealth and control. Worse, Shepherds have sometimes acted more like wolves than shepherds.

But there is even more that must be said about the role of the shepherd. Shepherds are to find green pastures and springs of water for those they lead. Pastors must care for all that supports life, and our well being and the well being of others.

Also, Jesus, the Good Shepherd speaks about planting, sowing good seed in good soil, pulling weeds, pruning vines, plowing field's and harvesting abundant crops. He mentions the mustard seed, the fig tree, the vineyard and fishers casting nets, all images and metaphors for living now and in the kingdom to come. Jesus assumes that disciples will care for the creation God brought out of nothing and declared to be very good. Somehow, we seem to have forgotten. But now other shepherds, scientists, call out to us. As we celebrate Earth Day this week, we must hear them, and hear Nature itself and renew our commitment to be disciples that follow the Good Shepherd in caring for what God has so lovingly created and generously given to us. But as with all gifts, there comes responsibility.

One theologian has written that for more than 2000 years we human beings have thought and taught about faith as though we were looking in a mirror – We describe and respond to God in relationship to us : who we are, what we are called to be, to do. Certainly this is important. But, this scholar suggests, we must begin to look out the window, look at the rest of creation, the world of plants and trees, animals and insects, whales and fish - all , like us, God's handiwork.

She quotes the great naturalist, John Muir, who on a trek in the wilderness came upon the dead body of a giant bear. He paused and admired this marvelous creature and then wondered, "Is God's love broad enough to include a bear"?

But even more. Does God's love embrace all of creation: whales and wolves, sheep and cattle. bees and birds? Does God’s love embrace "all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small" with whom we share this Island Home?

Our Holy History recorded in Scripture begins: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth, and all that crawls on the earth and swims in the sea; and God saw it was very good”. The final words of this Holy History declare: “Behold I make all things new, all creation new.” , St. Ambrose said that in Christ’s Resurrection all creation rose, all creation was renewed, proclaimed anew to be very good.

Concern for creation is not just one of many current issues. This Island Home is the stage upon which God encounters us, embraces us, joins us in Jesus, redeems us and journeys with us. Spiritual writers speak of the Natural world as a sacrament, a sacred sign that reveals the glory of God. The Holy Spirit, God’s continuing presence is not reserved to human beings but enlivens all creation. St. Paul proclaims: “All Creation groans in expectation for God’s children to be revealed”.

Unfortunately, Creation is also groaning because of depletion of ozone, melting ice caps, rising seas, fires, droughts, and floods. We know that God’s love is broad enough to include bears and fish, birds and insects, mountains, seas and rain forests. Is ours?

We are all old enough to remember the picture of our earth taken from Apollo 8. One of the astronauts on that flight commentated that this view of our Island Home was perhaps the most important reason for going to the moon. We see the beauty and unity of our earth.

Sadly, the power of this vision has not transformed how we see our world and our place in it. We need to pause, to be grateful, to be in awe for the beauty of the earth and all that dwells therein. We need to commit ourselves to be good shepherds. Amen

April 18, 2021: Easter 3

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EASTER 3 April 18, 2021

Spring is a time when nature revives and regrows, and we are grateful. Until the rains came on Thursday and Friday, daffodils were holding up their heads in our yard. They are a bit beaten down now, but the forsythia bushes are blazing yellow all across the north-east corner, six feet tall or more, mocking our feeble attempts last summer to prune them down to something more compact.

And at this time, many people mark the return of flowers by sending them as gifts for Mother’s Day. Ruth and I find it slightly confusing, in that Mothering Sunday in the UK comes much earlier in the year than the American version, on the fourth Sunday in Lent. This year that date fell five weeks ago, on March 14th (which was the last time that I preached for All Saints’). Because of the earlier spring made possible by the Gulf Stream, our last parish in England was able, even in March, to present everyone with some daffodils to mark the season.

Easter is a time of much more than natural regrowth. Yes, we remember that in John’s Gospel, 12:24, Jesus likens himself to the grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies, in order that it may germinate in spring and multiply itself in great fruitfulness. However, Jesus’s resurrection meant something very different from the natural cycle of death and rebirth.

That was why it was so hard to come to terms with.

Something which I love about the New Testament is that, even while it insists that the death and rising again of Jesus was foretold and prepared in Hebrew Scripture, it also consistently describes how bewildering and confusing the appearance of the risen Jesus was to those who were closest to him. Several times it is said how the disciples were “terrified”.

As today’s collect reminds us, on the second Sunday after Easter Sunday (Easter 3) we often read the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and how Jesus joined them, unrecognized, on the road. (You will remember that Jesus then gave them a seminar on Scripture to explain how the Messiah was foretold to suffer as he had done, as though he had never done so before.)

Today’s Gospel reading from Luke follows directly after the Emmaus story. It is still the same day when the tomb of Jesus was found empty. No sooner have the two disciples rushed back from Emmaus to Jerusalem and told their friends of their experience, than Jesus himself appears among them, and insists on proving that he is raised in his body, by eating some food with them.

After that, a few verses describe Jesus taking the disciples out to Bethany and then how “he withdrew from them”. That is the end of Luke’s Gospel. It is a little less compressed than Mark’s, but it’s still almost brutally quick. The development of the story has to wait for episode 2, in the Book of Acts.

The disciples were bewildered, and for good reason. Despite Scripture, or maybe even because of it, there was no script to follow in responding to Jesus’s resurrection. There was all too much experience of confronting oppression, tragedy and loss. That was how it was in the Maccabean revolt, in the sufferings of those who tried to defend Judaea against oppressors. Between Jesus’s resurrection and the writing of Luke’s Gospel there was even more tragedy, in the disastrous uprising against Rome in the 60s and the destruction of the Temple in 70.

It is easier to get one’s head around bad news (because so much of the things that mark life are tragic) than it is to embrace the extraordinary power and promise of the resurrection. There was no pre-prepared way to understand and respond to something so new.

We still struggle with the resurrection. Christians have disagreed and will disagree about what it means. Reasoning it away into something else, such as some profound transformation in the disciples’ minds, has helped some Christians to cope with the scandal of proclaiming resurrection in a scientific world.

What matters is the proclamation which emerged from the disciples’ experience. Jesus was not resuscitated like Lazarus, or the widow’s son at Nain: Jesus rose into a new form of life. Jesus’s incarnation was received back into God, in such a way that Jesus’s complete humanity is not lost, but glorified. Luke takes the most care of any of the Gospel writers to stress that Jesus’s body was raised as a functioning human body, but also one that transcended ordinary limitations. Human nature, created in God’s image in the beginning, is welcomed back into God’s own being.

For the disciples, everything changed and nothing changed.

Everything changed in the sense that they now had the power to preach the message fearlessly, as Peter did in our reading from Acts. Peter, who so recently denied even knowing Jesus, scolded his audience for what they had done to Jesus, then offered them forgiveness because they acted in ignorance.

Nothing changed, in the sense that the disciples were still mortal (it was traditionally believed that of the apostles, only John died a natural death) and that they suffered persecution both from the religious elite and from the political powers. They were strengthened for mission, but mission became much harder. Before Jesus’s resurrection they could not possibly have coped with the hardship.

For us too, nothing has changed, yet everything has changed.

Resurrection joy is not something that we summon up in ourselves. If we make too much effort to do so, it won’t work. The resurrection hope does not abolish suffering and loss. We have experienced too much suffering and loss in the past year, and are continuing to do so.

Resurrection tells us that there is no limit to the will and power of God to love us. That unlimited love was poured out for us in Jesus’s suffering, and there was still infinitely more love left. God’s power showed the disciples, in Jesus’s rising again, that God is far stronger than the pain and loss that oppress our existence.

God calls us to trust that reassurance, without speculating about our eternal destiny. For this life, we have work to do; God will take care of what lies beyond. We are called to build the best possible foretaste of the community that a loving God wishes for us. The risen Christ invites us to spread the message of this special community – traditionally called the kingdom of God. In the community of the first followers of Jesus, we see the familiar paradox with which we still live. Because Jesus was raised in glory, the kingdom is already among us; but its fullness is not yet visible.

In the reading from the first Letter of John, the letter-writer (who may or may not have been the same as the compiler of the fourth Gospel) treats the kingdom as so utterly present, that those who live in Christ will by that very fact become like the risen Jesus. That reading contains the rather intimidating phrase that “all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure”.

In the two-part book that we know as Luke-Acts, there is a more realistic portrayal of a group of followers who are gradually finding their way, amidst a hostile environment and their own internal struggles, to build their new life in Christ. Our scriptures are so precious, because they offer some of the most psychologically honest stories that we shall ever read, about what it means to live in company with each other and the risen Christ.

Our new life is not our achievement or our performance. It is the presence of the Spirit among us, which Scripture also describes as the power of the risen and ascended Jesus. Our new life is liberation, given to us so that we can bring liberation to others. It will not mean that our churches or our communities are perfect. It does mean that we are given faith, power and energy to make them as good as they may be and far better than they are.

As we have seen recently and will continue to see, there is plenty of healing and rebuilding work to be done. As we live into the Easter hope, let that hope inspire us to do all that we can to build God’s kingdom.

Submitted by Euan Cameron

April 11, 2021: Easter 2

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EASTER 2 April 11, 2021

Today is one of the few Sunday's when we read the same Gospel story year after year. Our story, from John's account, begins "when it was evening on that day". And what a day it has been. In the morning three women went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. In John's Gospel they found... so they ran to tell the apostles. Peter and the one called the beloved disciple ran back to the tomb and found it as described. Mary Magdalen who had stayed behind encountered Jesus near the tomb and eventually comes to recognize the Risen Lord.

Now it is evening and Jesus comes and stands among the frightened, confused group and says "Peace be with you". He then breaths on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit".

The action of "breathing on them" looks back to a creation story at the beginning of the Bible. (Genesis 2) In that story God is pictured as a potter at the wheel, scooping down, taking clay from the earth and creating a human form. Then breathing into the clay the breath of life, making a living human being. Now, in that upper room life is renewed.

In John's vision, eternal life is present here and now. The life we share is eternal. But even more, the scene presents John's version of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is breathed into the community. The advocate, the helper, the encourager now dwells within us. What glorious news!

Thomas, is out and about and misses this most sacramental moment. When he returns and is told the glorious news, he is skeptical. "You mean to say that the one crucified on the cross, the one the women said was not found in the tomb was here in this room and breathed on you and said: "Receive the Holy Spirit!" Yes they assured him. He doesn't believe it. But he has good reason.

"If what you are telling me is true", Thomas might have said, "why are all of you still locked up in the room; why are you still hiding, bound by fear. Where are the signs of this new and abundant life? Where are the signs of the presence and power of the Spirit." It all looked the same to Thomas.

A few days earlier, when Jesus washed their feet, he said: "by this all shall know that you are my disciples, that you care for one another, that you love one another. Thomas recognizes that something is missing. Where are the marks of the Spirit; where is the power? He had the right to doubt the story.

Thomas hangs around this locked up group and the following week Jesus came again. He invited Thomas to check out the wounds in his hands and feet, the wound in his side. Without doing so, Thomas makes the most profound statement of faith in the Gospel: "My Lord and my God". Thomas is not the doubter, but the believer.

Then Jesus says something more startling. As one scholar has said, it is as if we have been the audience in the darkened theater watching the story of the Gospel unfold on the stage. Now, Jesus pauses and has the lights turned on so that we, the audience are visible. Jesus turns to look at us and assures us: "Blessed are you who come to believe even though you do not have the opportunity to see me."

We, too, are invited: Receive the Holy Spirit! We, too, are challenged how we will be signs of the presence and power of God's love in our lives, in our world, in our very being. In the first reading we see an early attempt to live in a community "of one heart and soul, everything owned in common, sharing all their goods." That didn't last. But we do want a community, as we have been reminded this past year. The "Beloved Community, as John Lewis said.

The lives of those disciples hiding in that upper room teach us that discipleship has a cost. Love your enemies; do good to those who persecute you; feed the hungry, cloth the naked; forgive; do justice, love compassion; have an active concern for the poor, outcast, the foreigner; take up your cross and follow; love one another. Clear, but not easy. Possible, perhaps with the support of the Beloved Community.

In John's Gospel, faith is a verb, presented as a process, something that grows. That is the lens through which we should look at Thomas in today's story. Faith is a verb, which means it changes, grows, faces new challenges. doubts, seeks, finds support, keeps us going. We need a community to keep us going.

The life of faith is expressed in the words of Samuel Beckett, the Irish playwright: Sometimes there is a torch in my head and I see all things clearly. But then the light goes out and I am left with images and analogies." So it is in a life of faith. So today we hear Jesus again, turn from the pages of our bible to look at us and assure us: blessed are you who have not seen and yet believe. Blessed are you when the torch burns bright; blessed are you when the light seems to have gone out. Know, always, that I am with you; know always that you will always have life in my name, always a place in my presence."

Thanks be to God. Amen


Note 1: Friday was Holocaust Remembrance Day. I sent a note to Rabbi Bellows and the community of Congregation Beth Shalom in Chester that we will remember the cost in human lives of anti-Semitism and oppose it whenever and wherever. In the words of Rabbi Abraham Heschel: "Not all are guilty, but all are responsible." Let us respond.

Note 2: Where do we go from here? Having gathered outside at All Saints for Easter Worship, the question is, what next? We are discussing possibilities. At present, I think we return to Zoom until Pentecost (May 23). After that, I suggest we meet outside, on the lawn for Sunday Worship and move toward celebrating Holy Eucharist. People bring lawn chairs and we will provide for those who cannot. My understanding is that Connecticut is stuck at a rate of infection that gives me caution. Vestry will meet in two weeks to discuss the future. We welcome your input. Contact one of us.

April 4, 2021: Easter Sunday

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EASTER SUNDAY April 4, 2021

Easter is such a wonderful feast. Not only does the feast celebrate the mysteries at the heart of our faith but Easter arrives as Spring begins its magic. the changes we long for - Light, warmth, renewal of life all around us. It's a little bashful this year but it is here.

This Easter holds a special meaning. Winter's death-like appearance has been nothing compared to the hundreds of thousands of deaths in our Nation and the millions around the world. On this day, the story of Easter light casting out darkness, hope overcoming despair, life conquering death is best experienced through the eyes of faith.

More that ever, today's Easter story pulls us into a living drama. We have much in common with the three brave women who make their way to the tomb. Their hearts ache with tragedy, the death of their friend; their hopes have been crushed. It is a terrible time.

"Come follow me" was the invitation extended by Jesus of Nazareth a few earlier. They did, and heard wonderful words and saw wonderful deeds. The glory of God seemed about to burst into this world. Instead, disaster struck. Jesus was arrested, beaten, executed. All that remaind was to make sure their friend was properly buried with the ritual prescribed by their faith.

We, too, have learned that things do not always turn out as we had hoped. Relationships fail, dreams are often unfulfilled, hopes can be crushed, loved ones die. We share much with these women as we walk with them to the tomb.

Oh, but now another problem. The women remember the tomb has been sealed with a large stone. "Who will roll away the stone for us?", they ask one another. The stone would prevent the sacred rite of burial. Stones have been obstacled for us in life. Behavior, attitudes, prejudices - our own and others- have prevented us from becoming the persons God created us to be. Fears, wounds, grudges, illness have burdened us, kept us in a tomb. "Who will roll away these stones for us?"

But when the women arrrive they are amazed; the stone has already been rolled away. How? By whom? The Gospel does not say. It isn't by magic. We know that in our lives the "stones" that limit us don't just disappear. And yet, there is something more than just our effort at work. There is grace- God's transforming love is real and present. In his Letter to the people of Corinth, Paul tells them three times that God's grace, God's powerful presence, was essential to his growth, the power to become a disciple.

With the stone rolled away, the women enter the tomb. But Jesus is not there. Instead, they find a youth dressed in white who announces the Good News: " Do not be afraid! Jesus has been raised! Go tell his disciples and Peter. He is going before you.." But our passage ends with the women running from the tomb, in fear and trembling and they tell no one because they are afraid.

Something is wrong. If they told no one, how come we are here? Down through history the story has been told and finally told to us. How can this be?

Who has continued to proclaim what the youth in white announced to the women? Well who is this youth dressed in white? From the earliest days of the Church, and down through the centuries, on Easter morning there were many youths dressed in white. They were the newly baptized, fresh from the Vigil just concluded. The baptized are sent to proclaim the Resurrection. Mark has drawn us into the drama. We are given a most important role to play.

We are called to "be not afraid" ; called to proclaim that Jesus goes before us, travels with us, empowers us to live lives of hope and service, of compassion and healing, reconciliation and love. Our live are to proclaim the good news of Easter: Christ is risen! Alleluia.

The Renewal of Baptismal Vows

Celebrant Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?

People I do.

Celebrant Do you believe in God the Father?

People I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Celebrant Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

People I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit

and born of the Virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again.

He ascended into heaven,

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Celebrant Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

People I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting.

Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

People I will, with God’s help.

The Celebrant concludes the Renewal of Vows as follows

May Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and bestowed upon us the forgiveness of sins, keep us in eternal life by his grace, in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

April 2, 2021: Good Friday

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Good Friday 12 Noon

Order of worship

Opening Prayer

Hymn: What wondrous love is this 439

Solemn Collects

Reading 1 Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12

Psalm 22

Hymn: When I survey the wondrous cross 474

Reading 2 Hebrews 10: 16-25

Passion according to John

Reflection by Euan Cameron

Christ was condemned to death, and died, at what by any human standards seems a horribly premature time, at the height of his ministry of teaching and healing, and through the machinations of corrupt forces.

Why was this necessary? From the earliest years of the proclamation of Christ crucified and risen, Christians have tried to explain exactly what purpose the death of Jesus served.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, probably writing under the shadow of the loss of the Temple, explained that Jesus had become the one sacrifice to end all sacrifice, the one who initiated a new relationship with God.

The letter to Colossians wrote that God through Christ [erased] “the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.”

So many explanations: none tells the full story; none can express the mind of God.

Suppose that we interpreted the suffering of Christ as the pattern for all our sufferings and those of the whole world?

Suffering is evil; it is not “redemptive”; it is not “worth it” even in the end.

However, it is the special gift of God to show both love and power through and in the midst of suffering

That is what the Psalms so often proclaim: that when life seems bleakest, the power of God is always closer than we can even imagine. We hear that message even in Psalm 22, the psalm of desolation that Jesus quoted on the cross.

God identifies with those who are downcast and humiliated, as in the suffering servant depicted in the poetry of the follower of the prophet Isaiah who wrote our first reading.

And that is what happens here: Christ went to Jerusalem because he could not teach and proclaim the kingdom of God in a corner; he could not minimize or silence the message.

And for whatever complex of bad reasons, enough people decided that he must be stopped.

But the love that forced him to keep on teaching, healing and witnessing would not allow that.

And in his painful torment and death, the loving power of God was revealed: God took what seemed to be a futile waste, and turned it into triumph through the Resurrection, which we shall celebrate in a few short days. God turned Jesus’s death into a unique proclamation, a message that could be read in so many ways … but however you interpret it, it speaks the power of God to save and the endless love of God for those who suffer.

From this point on, suffering whether individual or collective, whether great grief or private pain, is enfolded in the love of God. We are blessed with a saving, loving God who does not rejoice in triumphing over, or humiliating others. Our Christ made himself one with those who grieve, those who are humbled, those who live with affliction. In our care for all those near and far who experience suffering, let us bring the love of Christ to them, as it is brought to us.

March 28, 2021: Palm Sunday

Click here for Today's Readings

PALM SUNDAY March 28, 2021


We begin the week we call Holy; the week we celebrate the mysteries at the heart of our faith - the Passion/Death/Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Shouts of praise will give way to shouts of ridicule, humiliation and condemnation. Palm branches vanish and the Cross appears.

We pause, however, to acknowledge that moment of triumph

Reading : Brendan


Hymn: All Glory, Laud and Honor

Collect of the Day

Reading from Isaiah 50: 4-9 Mindy

Psalm 31: 9-16 Pat

Reading from Paul's Letter to the Church at Philippi chapter 2: 5-11 Pat

Intro: to Gospel Reading

The fact that we are here today reminds us that the story we are about to hear again does not end with death. Our presence at worship today is witness that life is stronger than death. Also, we are here not to celebrate suffering and defeat, but to proclaim the victory of love and life. We will read the Passion Story today, and on Friday. But in these stories of Jesus' death, the way he died, crucifixion, is never actually described. Typical is Mark's version read today where we are told: "Then they took him out and crucified him". The author did not wish to emphasize the terrible suffering of Jesus, but the love that accepted this suffering - a love without limit and without end. Let that be the drumbeat you hear throughout the Gospel reading and throughout this week, in all our life.

Dramatic Reading of the Passion of our Lord, Jesus Christ,

according to St. Mark

Following the reading there will be a period of quiet reflection

Hymn 458 My Song is Love Unknown


Hymn 473 Lift High the Cross


Please join us Good Friday via Zoom at 12 Noon for our Worship

Easter Worship will be via Zoom but also outside at All Saints at 10 AM . We will set up chairs properly distanced. Wear Mask. Service will be Morning Prayer.

March 21, 2021: Fifth Sunday of Lent

Today's Readings

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-13
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

Years ago an uncle of mine who was a pilot for an international airline told me on his journey to a foreign land he came upon a street vendor who offered to sell him an autographed picture of Jesus Christ. He passed up the deal. The Gospel does not say anything about the physical appearance of Jesus. And, I am sure the paintings by Italian or German or Dutch artists we have seen bear little resemblance to the Middle Eastern Semite named Jesus.

Even though the four Gospel accounts have no physical description of Jesus, they each present an "image" of Jesus, and they are different. This is not surprising when you consider that our Gospel accounts all existed in oral form, repeated in stories over many years in different communities, different nations and societies. Beginning 30 years after the death and Resurrection of Jesus, the first, Mark's Gospel, achieved the written form we have today, and the other three accounts were written down in different communities and circumstances over the following forty years.

On Palm Sunday we will read the Passion of Jesus from Mark's Gospel account, written down around the year 70 AD, possibly in Rome. Five days later, on Good Friday, we will read the Passion Story from John's Gospel, written down almost 30 years later, possibly in Ephesus, present day Turkey.

We find very different images of Jesus in these two Gospels. Simply stated Mark's account emphasizes the humanity of Jesus, while John's focus is on the divinity of Jesus.

In Mark's Gospel Jesus will say he doesn't know some things and when we find him in Gethsemane praying to the Father on the night of his arrest, he asks if the "hour might pass from him". In today's reading from John, Jesus refuses to pray that he be saved from "the hour", for that is the very reason he has come. The "hour" of his passion and death.

In Mark's account, Jesus prays that " God's will be done"; in John's account Jesus prays that God be glorified. In Mark's Gospel we see the human Jesus struggle with fear and uncertainty; in John's account Jesus seems to be in charge, even directing the events leading to " the hour".

What unifies all the Gospel accounts is that Jesus' passion and death are not the result of his being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but in the fact that Jesus saw his mission to reveal that God so loved the whole world with a love without limit and without end, even to the extent of laying down his life for us. So often we hear that God sent Jesus to die. Jesus came to reveal God's love for this human family. Humans chose How to react. Jesus is killed by human beings, not by God. We have done this other times to other people who proclaimed a similar message.

In today's reading Jesus paints a picture, demonstrating that life and death are joined together. Only a dying seed bears fruit. Our presence here today shows the truth in Jesus' statements: his death and resurrection have given birth to the Church. But there is a leap of faith required to go all the way with Jesus' words: that we must walk the same path. Those who love their life will lose it and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. "Hating one's life" means living in an unselfish way, deeply concerned for the well being of others, willing to give one's life for the life of another. If my whole life is lived only for me, how can my life nurture others?

Human suffering is the challenge. While the Gospels were written at different times and places they were all written in a crisis. Those who had come to faith and been baptized in the power of the Resurrection and filled with the Spirit still found themselves bearing the cross, even suffering death because of their faith in Christ. Where was the victory?

The unifying message of all the Gospel accounts is that in Jesus, God does not free us from suffering but joins us in the midst of human suffering. The promise is that God is present with us and will keep us to eternal life.

In this pandemic where would we be without the people risking their health their lives caring for the ill? Also, we witness people giving their lives doing justice and loving compassion in our world. Many lives do become grains of wheat dying but bearing much fruit.

Today is the first day of Spring. It's been a long winter, but the green shoots of daffodils and bright color of crocuses are visible . New life is returning. All this happens without our work. But mercy and kindness and healing and love, care for the suffering and dying, justice and hope and love can only exist if we plant them life. They exist in our world, in our society because of those who have lived the power of the Spirit and become the seeds of faith and love and hope for us. Easter calls us to live our lives, plant the seeds that will give life to those who come after us.

March 14, 2021: Fourth Sunday of Lent

Today's Readings

Old Testament: Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm: 107:1-3,17-22
Epistle: Ephesians 2:1-10
Gospel: John 3:14-21

Today is the fourth Sunday in Lent. For those who know the obscurer corners of the liturgical calendar, this is “Laetare Jerusalem” Sunday, or “rejoice Jerusalem”. It has been marked as the Sunday in Lent when the disciplines and abstinences of the Lenten season were eased up for a short while.

On this day, highly liturgical congregations still exchange the purple vestments of Lent for a rose colour. Deeply as we all yearn for the time when we can share the Eucharistic celebration together, let me confess that I am grateful that none of the parishes where I have served has so far chosen to use rose vestments. I’m sorry: I just do not believe that pink is my colour.

However, there is a serious point. The sober, even sombre tone of the Lenten season is not just there to help us feel gloomy, as though there were not already enough in the world for us to lament over. Sundays like this one serve to remind us that, in the Hebrew Scriptures and in our New Testament, lament always happens under the loving gaze of God: the God who stands by us in hard times, and passionately seeks our healing and our restoration. Lent is not just a preparation for Easter and the celebration of resurrection; it is an integral part of it.

The first verse of our Gospel passage today anticipates Christ’s crucifixion by likening it to what in Christian tradition was called a “foreshadowing”: the raising of the bronze serpent by Moses to heal those who had been bitten by snakes in the desert, described in our first lesson from Numbers 21.

This image of the serpent on a pole is enormously familiar, even to those who may not know where it comes from. It has become one of the most universal symbols of healing, whether in the form of two snakes twined round a pole (known as a Caduceus) or a single snake suspended from the top of a pole (sometimes called the rod of the Greek god of healing, Asclepius). You will undoubtedly have seen these emblems on the side of ambulances, on the logos of hospitals, or for that matter on the badges of members of the Army Medical Corps.

For such a widely used symbol, it is intriguing how uncertain the story of the serpent in the wilderness is. In the Second Book of Kings, chapter 18, we read that the reforming king Hezekiah “broke into pieces the copper serpent that Moses had made, for until that time the Israelites had been offering sacrifices to it; it was called Nehushtan”. The detailed story that we read in the Book of Numbers may have been elaborated from the legend that Moses had made the bronze serpent: though in truth serpent-gods were all over the world of the ancient Middle East, and it is possible, even somewhat likely, that the image that Hezekiah destroyed was derived from an Egyptian cult object.

Why, you might wonder, do we associate snakes, which we think of as harmful, with healing? We do not know for certain, but the association seems quite ancient. Possibly the snake’s shedding of its skin was taken as a symbol of new life; possibly the way that snakes, as cold-blooded animals, can regain energy with dramatic speed when the sun reaches them, was taken as a symbol of healing and recovery.

Healing, its wonders and its limitations, has been on our minds for the past year. God has brought healing to many in this terrible pandemic, through the skill of the medical and nursing professions, and through the prayerful support of families and friends, even when that could not be expressed face to face. In the last months, though the skill, determination and energy of the scientific community, God offers us the promise that vaccination will dramatically reduce the severity and the spread of the infection.

Yet not all are healed in body. Far too many lives have been cut short, an unimaginable over half a million in this country alone, and we cannot even know how many millions around the world. Moreover, the entirely justifiable focus on the pandemic has had a secondary impact, in that many people have found that treatment for other conditions has become more difficult. At the very least they have been deprived of the contact with family, friends, supporters, or indeed chaplains, which it is well known often plays an important role in healing.

The Israelites did not become immune to the bite of snakes in the desert. Though God loves us utterly, we still fall sick, because vulnerability to sickness, and mortality itself, are parts of the nature of which we are made.

Yet Jesus, in the account which we read from John chapter 3, says that through his ministry those who believe in him will have eternal life. When John wrote his Gospel, the communities who followed Jesus had been reflecting on the meaning of his death and resurrection for some seventy years. They believed that the loving power of God had been shown to be stronger than death itself: not because death was taken away, but because it did not have the last word.

The healing of which Jesus spoke was of a very special kind. It was a renewal of life even within life itself, which Jesus expressed as a new birth, as “being born of water and Spirit”. Our Gospel reading today comes from the long conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus was one of the sophisticated, cultured Jewish philosophers and believers of Jesus’s time. His name comes from the Greek language, which many learned Jews (including our Gospel writers) used as their natural means of expression.

Nicodemus, we learn, sought Jesus out at night, to escape the controversy and distraction which could follow from speaking to a teacher who stood outside the circles of privilege. By an elegant, literary paradox, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, in the darkness, and so doing he enters into a greater light than his own learning and wisdom could ever give him.

As the 17th-century poet Henry Vaughan wrote about this encounter, in his poem “The Night”:

Wise Nicodemus saw such light

As made him know his God by night.

Most blest believer he!

Who in that land of darkness and blind eyes

Thy long-expected healing wings could see,

When Thou didst rise!

And, what can never more be done

Did at midnight speak with the Sun!

O who will tell me where

He found Thee at that dead and silent hour?

What hallowed solitary ground did bear

So rare a flower,

Within whose sacred leaves did lie

The fulness of the Deity?

The message that Jesus brought to Nicodemus was one of new life, of freedom from the futility and the condemnation that their own lack of direction and divine light had brought on the Israelites in the desert. From the passage from Numbers, one might conclude that the Israelites were punished for their quarrelsomeness and ingratitude to God. But the author of the letter to the Ephesians gives a psychologically more profound explanation. God “loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses”. The mortality of the soul, the impoverishment of spirit that alienates us from God and from each other, is its own judgment and its own punishment.

It is from that emptiness which ensues when people live only for themselves, that Jesus comes to free us and to heal us. The letter to the Ephesians makes clear that it is God who brings us to new life in Christ; “by grace [we] have been saved”. The healing of soul and spirit that comes through the Gospel is a pure gift. It is grace given to those who not only do not deserve it, but do not know to ask for it. In Jesus the meaning of our lives is both affirmed and transformed. It offers us the possibility of living our lives in this world without being overwhelmed. Most of all, the grace that heals us, also restores us for the service of others. We are, as the epistle says, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand”.

Those who have gone before us are, I believe, safe in the love of God. We who remain, shall emerge from the present stresses and strains of the pandemic: that much is clear. But once we are able to be together, we must redouble our efforts to be present, in spirit and love, to each other in Christ’s name. There are many visible and tangible expressions of love and support for each other, with which we shall need to catch up when we can do so safely.

So, in God’s promises which cannot fail us, let us pray to become lights to the world and to each other.


— Euan Cameron

March 7, 2021: Third Sunday of Lent

Today's Readings

Old Testament: Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm: 19
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Gospel: John 2:13-22

When Jesus entered the Temple of Jerusalem and began driving out the animals for sacrifice and tipped over the tables of the money changers who helped people like his parents who came after his birth for many years, people were shocked. When he proclaimed: "destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up again", they were appalled.

They were in the most sacred place on earth, still under construction after 46 years. At its center was the room of the "holy of holies", God's dwelling place on earth. A place entered once a year by the High Priest. The temple guaranteed God's presence among the people. To declare its destruction was an attack on the faith, on the well-being of the nation.

This was not the first time something like this had happened. Almost 600 years earlier, the prophet Jeremiah stood in the temple and spoke of its destruction. At that time people grabbed Jeremiah and tried to kill him. The intervention of powerful friends saved his life. Jesus got off easy. At least it seemed at the moment.

Perhaps some who heard Jesus remembered Jeremiah. Maybe they remembered that a year after this event the Temple was completely destroyed by the Babylonian Army. The unthinkable had happened. A crisis of faith and survival followed.  They would not have known that it would happen again.  35 years after Jesus' warning, the Temple was destroyed by the Roman Army, along with the city. Again, a crisis of faith and survival followed. The words of this Gospel were written in that most difficult period.

The attack of September 11th on the US combined with the attack on the Capitol on January 6th could not have brought more pain to us than these events brought to the Jewish people. I think most of us are aware of what is called the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. The wall is really remnants of the foundation of this Temple. We can see the reverence  displayed by Jews who gather there to pray, to remember, to weep. So Jesus' words were uttered at a place considered sacred even to this day. Certainly this was more than that,  a marketplace as Jesus called it. For many it was a "house of prayer. So what was the problem?

Jeremiah's condemnation of the Temple was a condemnation of what religion had come to mean for so many in his day. Religious leaders, said Jeremiah, emphasized elaborate and expensive sacrifice was important, even most essential to belief in God. At the same time, the poor were neglected, oppressed. Doing Justice and compassion were the foundations of worship in the eyes of the prophets. To replace these essential values of the Covenant with Temple worship was, said the Prophets, a counterfeit religion.

Jesus was reaffirming the condemnation proclaimed by Jeremiah. Calling into judgement institutional religion. But the context in which the words we read is important. Things were different.

When these words were written in John's Gospel, toward the end of the first century, the violent conflict between Israel and Roman occupation following the destruction of the Temple, was continuing. The survival of Jewish faith and Jewish identity was threatened. The Jewish faith had been very tolerant of differences in belief among its members. But in an attempt to secure survival, new rules were developed. Jews who proclaimed that Messiah had come were no longer considered members. Christian Jews were in a bind. At the same time, missionary work like that of Paul had brought many gentiles into faith in Christ. An implication in the words of Paul we see that he had argued successfully that such people could be Christian without becoming Jews.

Christianity was becoming a separate religion. Jerusalem was home to the last of the communities that was still predominantly Jewish in its Christian faith.  In this conflict between Christian Jews and the Jewish leadership, the Temple scene we read today was helpful to Christians. Faith in Jesus could live without Temple.

But there was a problem. No longer was this story a call to be careful of the limitations of institutional religion in general,  but on the limitations of the Jewish religion. Tragically, in history this scene would be used to feed anti-Semitic movements.

This helped get the institutional Christian Church off the hook. The warning in the scene was applied to Jews not to Christians, not to us. However at the time of the Reformation, this Gospel reading was popular among Reformers. Christ was not driving out money changers but sellers of indulgences. This text all but disappeared from Roman Catholic worship in those days.

What about today?  When I was a young theology student a question we were asked was :"Did Jesus intend to found a church?" We all had learned theories. After a while the teacher said that he thought the question was poorly phrased. "The  question is", he said, "are we the Church Jesus, through the power of the Spirit, intended?". A good question.

Our Gospel story from today is found in the other three accounts. In all three it is found just before the arrest of Jesus. In Mark's version, Jesus quotes the Prophet Isiah: "My house will be called a house of prayer for all people".

We live at a time when even before the pandemic, institutional churches were declining in membership. We know that. The experience of this year has reminded us how important it is to live in a community of believers, a house of the church. But I think some have learned how to live without the church as we know it. It will be interesting to see the future. It will be different, it will be a challenge.

To say that we will rebuild our "house of prayer for all people" may not be enough, but I think it a good place to begin again.

February 28, 2021: Second Sunday of Lent

Today's Readings

Old Testament: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm: 22:22-30
Epistle: Romans 4:13-25
Gospel: Mark 8:31-38

The Opening Prayer for today, the Collect as it is called in worship, asks God to lead us to "hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word." However, if we look back at the history of the Church, we recognize that the truth is unchangeable but our understanding and the words used to express it cannot be unchangeable.

Sacred Scripture may be the Word of God, but it is the Word of God in human words. Well expressed in the story of the great St. Agustine walking along the beach one morning trying to find the words to express the Trinity. He came upon a young boy who had dug a hole in the sand and was carrying buckets of water from the sea and pouring them into it. Agustine paused and after a while asked the lad,"What are you doing"."I'm putting the ocean into this hole", the boy replied. Agustin laughed and said, "Don't be foolish. You'll never fit the ocean into this hole". The lad replied: "Far easier to put the entire ocean into this hole than put the mystery of God into human words".

In Hebrew , "word" expresses something that is living, dynamic, not merely lines on a page. The same idea is present in the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews: "The word of God is living and active."(Hebrews 4:12). At the beginning of his Gospel, John  speaks of Jesus as "the Word", the Incomprehensible Mystery, alive, present, unfolding in new ways the unchangeable truth of God. At the end of John's Gospel Jesus tells us that the Spirit will be with us to teach us down through history the living, new understanding of the mystery of God.  "Easier to put the entire ocean in a hole than the mystery of God in human words''.

And so we are ready to read the living Word of God assigned for today.  We meet Abram, who will soon have his name changed to Abraham.  Three religions - Judaism, Islam and Christianity all trace their roots back to Abraham. Jews and Christians plant their family tree in Abraham through his son, Isaac, while Muslims do the same through Abraham's son Ismael. Some of the same Biblical stories are shared in all three traditions.

Abraham is the model of faith for these three traditions. These "Abrahamic" religions are united in that they profess one God. The story we read today presents Abraham as a man whose trust in God is unchangeable even when the words God is speaking make little sense to.

The promise was made a few chapters earlier in Genesis when God first called  Abraham to "go from your land and your kindred and from your father's house to the land I will show you, thus I will make you a great people and bless you, and I will make your name great, so YOU WILL BE A BLESSING TO OTHERS". The problem is that Abraham and Sarah are old and have no son, and they have no land.

We know the story. Sarah will give birth to Isaac and land will be found. Words fulfilled. But what about "Being a blessing to others? If we study the history of the interrelations of members of these three religions tracing a relation to Abraham, it doesn't seem that "being a blessing" has been understood as the unchangeable word of God. There is work to be done.

In our second reading, Paul uses the faith of Abraham to change what many early Christians considered unchangeable truth. Many believed that to be Christian one must be of the tribe of Abraham, must be Jewish. For Paul it is the faith of Abraham and not the blood of Abraham that is important. One is Christian by faith in Jesus, not by belonging to the family of Abraham. We might not appreciate what a change that was in what most thought was an unchangeable truth.

In our Gospel  we meet Peter fresh from his vision of Jesus in glory on the mountain when he heard the voice proclaim "this is my Son, the beloved. Listen to him.” Peter forgot that last part. When Jesus began to explain that being beloved Son, being Messiah would mean taking up the cross and suffering, he tries to correct Jesus. Jesus changes the understanding of the unchangeable truth expressed in the words traditionally used to explain the role of messiah.

And so the Spirit, as Jesus has foretold, done down the years; Challenged us to distinguish what is the unchangeable truth from the changeable meaning in human words and experience. The role of women, sexual orientation, our relation to the world about us are examples. Our understanding of God's faithfulness and justice, God's image present in all human beings and in the goodness of Creation extends far beyond our understanding, less than the Spirit teaches us. And when we learn anew we are called to act.

This is the last day of Black History Month. It is a time we witness a great divide between many who profess belief in the unchangeable truth of the word, Jesus Christ. White Evangelical communities have become the bulwark of White Supremacy while Black Evangelical Churches have nurtured and sustained the cause of Civil Rights and racial equality.

White Evangelical communities use scripture to justify slavery and segregation and White supremacy. This is a tradition handed down for hundreds of years. It is alive and well in our day. In fact it is more open and brazen at this time. But so is the Spirit, and the lie that scripture justifies racial injustice must be confronted. As Abraham Heschel has reminded us in situations like this "Some are guilty, but all are responsible."  White supremacy must not be allowed to hide in, or worse, justify itself in the words of our faith. The unchangeable truth that the Spirit is unfolding again, that all are created in the image of God cannot be limited or diminished. This is the unchangeable truth. Let us live it, let us proclaim it. Let us be a blessing to others.

February 21, 2021: First Sunday of Lent

Today's Readings

Old Testament: Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm: 25:1-9
Epistle: 1 Peter 3:18-22
Gospel: Mark 1:9-15

Lent, among other things, has always been a time of preparation for Baptism on Easter. The readings for each Sunday have been selected as a basis for teaching candidates the faith. Today's Gospel goes right to the source, telling the story of Jesus' baptism. A short but dramatic scene:  the "heavens were "torn apart"; the Spirit descended like a dove; a voice from heaven proclaims "You are my Son, the Beloved". Jesus is then driven into the wilderness, by the Spirit, and tempted by Satan. He returns, proclaiming "the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the Good news."

There is a lot of material in this short reading, but what strikes me is the question: what is the Good News? How would you express the Good News? What does it mean in our lives? What changes now that the kingdom has drawn near?

Jesus proclaims the "Good News" only after he has been tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Mark does not tell us what the temptation was, but Matthew and Luke list three temptations in which Satan invites Jesus to choose power rather than love as the means to live out his role as "Beloved Son". Jesus was tempted to be something other than the "beloved Son".

Thomas Merton's definition of sin is the refusal to be who God has created us to be. That is what Satan tempts Jesus. To not be the beloved Son God has called him to be.

Our first reading takes us back to the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis. Genesis begins with two creation stories. The first is a poem describing creation taking place through the power of God's word, in an orderly fashion presented as six days. All creation is good but on the sixth day God creates the masterpiece, human beings.

God created human beings in God's own image and God's own likeness, we are told. Male and female, equal in dignity. In the second story, in Genesis 2, God is pictured as a potter, working at the potter's wheel, scooping up clay from the earth and forming a human being then "breathing into the clay the very breath of God." Humans are of the earth but also the divine breath. In both stories human beings are of great dignity - created in the very image of God and enlivened by the divine breath.

So, the first two chapters of scripture affirm the dignity of every human being. Sin, if we use Merton's definition, is the refusal to be, to act as this image, or refuse to treat one another as made in God's image, animated by the divine breath of God.

That is good news of faith. That is the way Jesus lived as beloved son. Jesus sought out the very people we are tempted to avoid - the poor, the outcast, the powerless, the foreigner. The beloved son recognized the dignity of all, especially those in whom society saw very little. The good news to us is that we all share this image, we all have this dignity. To refuse to acknowledge it, refuse to live it would be sin.

Today's reading from Genesis focuses on Noah. The great act of Creation has dimed. The image of God is hidden, denied in human actions. People no longer live as God created them to be. Remember the story, the first human beings denied who they were and who the other was. In the story, Adam and Eve succumb to the temptation to not act as "children" made in the image of God but seduced by Satan tried to be "like God ''.

When the plan doesn't work Adam blames Eve, who, in turn blames the tempter. The process continues as Cain kills Abel, and the division grows to where the whole human family is alienated from one another, and from God. All is lost when human beings are not content being who God created them to be.

Most scholars today read Genesis, not as history but a story that reflects on the source and effects of sin and evil.  They come from human actions. Jesus refused to succumb to the temptation to choose power over love. We, however , can and do, and thereby refuse to be who we are created to be, refuse to treat each other as made in the image and likeness of God.

The Church has fostered this distortion over the years. Some seek personal salvation rather than the beloved community. Some claim to be God's chosen, no longer members of the human family, made in the image and likeness of God. Faith in God is used to build walls, separate us rather than unite us.

The result is that we are alienated from one another. Separated from one another. We refuse to be who we are, made in the image and likeness of God.

Lent reminds us who we are. Lent calls us to repent, believe the good news; believe we are children made in God's image and likeness; alive through the very breath of God. Believe the Good News. Amen

February 14, 2021: Last Sunday after the Epiphany

Today's Readings

Old Testament: 2 Kings 2: 1-12
Psalm: 50: 1-6
Epistle: 2 Corinthians 4: 3-6
Gospel: Mark 9: 2-9

For the past 3 weeks our Gospel reading has come from the 1st chapter of Mark's account. We have followed Jesus from his baptism, as he gathered disciples and began to teach and heal in small towns. Today we jump ahead 8 chapters to the story of the Transfiguration. Why?

Wednesday, we will begin our Lenten journey,  40 days and 40 nights...that lead to the Passion and death of Jesus. The Transfiguration occurs just before these events. The evangelist records this vision of Jesus' glory, to fortify the apostles as they are about to be challenged by the events of Holy Week. The Church does the same for us disciples. Reveals Jesus' glory to fortify our faith in him, less we grow weary, afraid, discouraged as we follow the way of the cross.

It is important to remember that the Evangelist was writing for us. He was not writing the history of Jesus, but wrote to nurture our faith in Jesus. When crunch time came for the apostles, Peter denied he knew Jesus and James and John disappeared. Crunch time comes for us, too, and Mark is counting on us to  "hear the word and do it", to take up our cross and follow, to believe and act out the Good News. This is all spelled out in the Collect for today:

O God, who before the passion of your only begotten Son
revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we,
beholding by faith the light of his countenance may
be strengthened to bear our cross...

We have all lived long enough to know faith needs to be nurtured, supported. That is why we have joined this small community. As the Irish poet, William Butler Yates wrote: "Sometimes there is a torch in my head and I see all things clearly. But then the light goes out, and I am left with images and analogies." There are times in life when things seem clear, make sense, are manageable. But there are times when the light dims, even goes out, and we grope in darkness. There are times we are confused, afraid; times  we need support from others.

In the Transfiguration scene Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah. Two men who knew all too well  moments of light and assurance but also moments of darkness, doubt and fear.

Moses often complained to God when the people complained to him about the trials and tribulations of the desert. Elijah, whom we encountered in our first reading knew the same.  We have met him before. He lived about 800 years before Jesus, after Israel had divided by civil war into the Northern Kingdom called Israel and the southern kingdom, Judah.

In the north,  pagan worship was making a comeback. Elijah was one of the few prophets who remained faithful to Yahweh and he confronted the king who was leading Israel astray. You may remember a previous story in which we saw Elijah on the run, hunted by the king, feeling defeated, alone, without hope , disappointed in God. In the midst of this darkness he received the gift of light;  a "still small voice of God's presence". Elijah listened and received courage and hope and returned to the work of proclaiming the presence and power of God.

In today's reading, we are at the end of Elijah's life. His mission is being handed over to his disciple Elisha. The vision of Elijah taken to heaven in a fiery chariot inspired the Spiritual "Swing low sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home." which itself became a light for others seeking freedom.

So, here we have Elijah and Moses appearing in the brightness of God's glory "talking with Jesus". Moses, the foundation of the Law and Elijah, the greatest of the prophets, were talking, according to Luke, about Jesus' passing - the way of the cross. Again the voice proclaims: "This is my Son, the beloved, listen to him". Bidden or not, God is present.

In a way, that summarizes  Mark's Gospel message. The presence of God bidden or not bidden, seen or not seen, felt or not felt is with us - even in suffering.  As Paul proclaims to the Corinthians , "the Light shines in the darkness, shone our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

The English Jesuit, Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God;
it will flume out, like shining from shook foil;
it gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil.

Our technical capabilities make it possible to recreate the brightness of that scene on the mountain. Also, the way we treat our world is not in search of the grandeur.

The Jewish theologian, Abrahm Heschel said that the surest way to undermine our ability to believe is to take things for granted. If we have learned anything this past year it is to not take things for granted.

When we have gathered for worship under what we call "normal circumstances" to celebrate the presence and power of the "Beloved Son" we use simple but very human signs and articles - telling the story of God's saving acts in history, sharing bread and wine in a meal of thanksgiving. In the Middle Ages Thomas Aquinas celebrated this mystery at the heart of our faith. Thomas' hymn is in our prayer book - 314. A poetic translation of this hymn was written by Gerard Manley Hopkins. In part, he writes:

Godhead here in hiding, who I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shapes and nothing more,
See Lord, at thy service, low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder, at the God thou art.

Lord, can we know the presence of the Beloved Son when darkness clouds the Light. Can we affirm the presence for one another even when we are weary, afraid, distraught; when the cross seems very real. Can we, Dear Lord, be lost, all lost in wonder, at the God thou art. Amen.

February 7, 2021: Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Today's Readings

Old Testament: Isaiah 40:21-31

Psalm: 147:1-12, 21c

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Gospel: Mark 1:29-39

"As the light lengthens, so the cold strengthens" is an ancient Celtic saying that describes these days in which daylight grows but so does the cold. For the ancient Celts, these first days of February began the season of Imbolc, the second quarter of the year (February, March, April). In Celtic lore, Spring's approach was heralded by the Goddess Brigid, not some groundhog. When Ireland became Christian, the Church "baptized" Brigid and she became St. Brigid of Kildare, the most popular protector of Ireland after Patrick. St. Brigid's cross, made from straw was hung over the house door as a protection from fire, and the well at Brigid's shrine was famous for healing.

Shrines for healing have been places of pilgrimage throughout human history and are found all over the world, and healing is the focus at the beginning of Jesus' ministry as recorded in Mark's Gospel account. But these healings are presented as exorcisms, the casting out of demons who the people of the day believed were the cause of illness or impairment. It was a common understanding of illness in Jesus's day.

Today's Gospel reading continues Jesus' first day ministry. Last week we saw the day begin in a synagogue in Capernaum with the healing of a man possessed by an evil spirit. Today it continues in Simon's house where his mother-in-law is healed of a fever. Later crowds appear at the door with the sick of the village. In these healings, again, the source of the illness is demonic possession. As was said last week, Jesus' healings are presented as signs that the power of evil is reduced to impotency. It seems to endure but its roots have been cut. Its power is dying.

The reaction to this power of Jesus is voiced by Simon: "everyone was searching for him". Simon states this after hunting down to a deserted place Jesus had found for prayer early the second day and found him in the deserted place Jesus sought for prayer early the second day; after the "whole city gathered around the door where he was staying". By Simons reckoning the good news was working. Jesus' popularity was rising. But why was Jesus seeking a quiet place to pray?

One of the lessons we will learn as we continue our journey through Mark's Gospel is that Jesus continually asks silence from people who are healed; from proclamations that he is Messiah. One reason seems to be that what people think Messiah will be is not whom Jesus sees as "beloved Son". Simon's joy that "everyone is searching for you" clashes with Jesus' desire to "get out of here and go to neighboring towns and proclaim the good news, for that is what I came to do".

What we have here is a problem of communication. It seems Jesus sought out prayer because he realized he was not the "beloved Son" those who wanted to proclaim him Messiah thought he would be. Even more, Jesus realized his Father was not the God we would prefer God to be. Let us pause with Jesus for a minute.

We are about to close out the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany cycle of our Church calendar. At the heart of this season we proclaimed: "the Word became flesh and lived as one of us". We will soon begin our Lenten journey that will lead to the way of the cross and we are reminded that the beloved Son has joined us in the very depths of human existence. In Jesus, God does not take us out of human suffering, but joins us, heals us, redeems us in the very midst of human suffering.

As we have learned, each of the Gospel accounts were written, not as biography or history but as a summary of faith for a community in crisis. Over a 35 year period, the four accounts we have were set down in writing for different communities in different places experiencing a crisis, usually persecution for faith in Jesus. Mark's account, the first written, was addressed to a community, perhaps in Rome, experiencing a fierce persecution. Why, some were asking, are we suffering? Where is the power of Jesus' life, death and resurrection? In short, in the Gospel Jesus calls us to "take up the cross and follow". The disciple is not removed from the human situation of suffering, but is joined, by Christ, in the midst of human life, even human suffering.

We might wish it was the reverse. In the Greek tragedies human beings often get themselves in dire, unsolvable, painful situations that have no solution. But then arrives as a "deus ex machina" , literally, "god in the machine". The solution arrives via a god literally descending from heaven "in a machine" to resolve the unsolvable situation. Our God, however, has chosen to "become flesh" and joined us in the midst of human joy and sorrow, hope and fear, a God who suffers with us.

At the end of our reading from Isaiah this morning we read: "Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." It is a hope repeated elsewhere in Hebrew Scriptures, the assurance of God's saving power present in the midst of human life, especially at those times that seem unsolvable. Present not on some descending machine but within each of us. Present amidst our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows; present in all our suffering and pain. For those among us most in need, may our God's presence not be subtle.

January 31, 2021: Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Today's Readings

Old Testament: Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Psalm: 111

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Gospel: Mark 1:21-28

The beloved Rabbi of a large synagogue addressed his congregation one Sabbath: "My dear people, Messiah has come among us." Eyes opened, jaws dropped. Someone objected: "Rabbi, peace and justice will break out with Messiah's arrival." Another added, "prisoners will be liberated, the oppressed freed." " The wolf and the lamb will sleep together, and the leopard with the goat, " added a third. " I know, I know", responded the Rabbi, " we are still working out the details".

Working out the details is the mission Jesus assigns to disciples in Mark's Gospel. Today we get the first reactions to Jesus' preaching the Good News. The crowd marveled at the authority, the power of Jesus' words. They found such power lacking in the other teachers of the day. However, as we proceed in the Gospel, we will find that this Gospel has very few words of Jesus' teaching when compared to the other Gospel accounts. And we will learn that the crowd really doesn't understand what Jesus is teaching.

The demons, however, seem to know very well who Jesus is and what his presence and power and teaching mean. "You are the Holy one of God'', they shout. And the demons know why Jesus has come." "Have you come to destroy Us?" The answer is yes, as this first miracle demonstrates.

In Biblical times, sickness was ascribed to evil spirits. Hence, many of Jesus' healings are described as exorcisms, casting out the demons responsible for the illness. The focus is not that Jesus is a universal vaccine, but that Jesus possesses power over evil spirits and uses that power to break the power of evil in our lives.

If we pull back the camera on this Gospel story, we can picture Jesus' actions as the cutting down of a giant tree; cut off at ground level. The power of the demons, the source of evil, is cut at the roots. But like a large tree, the branches and leaves still look alive for some time. Just as the tree still appears alive, so evil still seems to have power in our day. But its roots are severed and in time the leaves will fade and fall off, the branches decay and rot. The power of evil has been destroyed.

But this is a vision that is not obvious. It is the vision of the faith Jesus proclaims. Disciples are called to work out the details of such a vision in our daily lives. The Gospel proclaims that not only does the arc of history bend toward justice, but that the future belongs to justice and compassion, peace and truth, hope and love. But if the devil is in the details, evil, though defeated appears very real and very present.

Just ask Paul. Today we find him in Corinth, busy working out the details. This conservative Jew from a small town in Palestine finds himself in what was perhaps the most cosmopolitan city on earth. Corinth is built on a narrow piece of land that divides two seas - the Agean and the Adriatic. Hence, it had two sea ports. It was a shipbuilding center, a military and manufacturing hub. The sports center of the day with a population drawn from across the Roman Empire. Excavations have found 33 taverns. The goddess of the city was Aphrodite- goddess of love; Venus in Latin. And here we find Paul, working out the details of God's presence among us.

The topic of today's reading is food, but the real focus is on the concern believers are to have for one another. At the time much meat was purchased from markets near temples. Animals offered for sacrifice were not entirely burned. Often just a small portion. The rest was sold to support the priests. Often, then, when one ate meat it was meat that had been offered to pagan gods. Some Christians had no problem. These gods don't exist so I can eat. Others thought to do so was participating in worship of a pagan god. Paul agrees that the first are right but that he would eat no meat if it would be a burden to the faith of the second group. The issue is care and concern for others. Our love for others.

The Letter we are reading is best known from what Paul writes 5 chapters further on. "Love is patient and kind, slow to anger and quick to forgive.." His famous poetic words describing love as the greatest of gifts. Paul tells us that one who accepts the call to follow Christ can do so because she is first embraced by God's love. So embraced, the Christian is empowered to love others.

In his book, "The Art of Loving", Erich Fromm says love is not a feeling that sweeps over us but a disciplined decision to act in a certain way. The signs of the presence of love are care, respect, and a sense of responsibility for the other. Love, he says, is an active concern for the well being of the other, all others. Paul would agree.

We have been called to be disciples. We have realized that this is a gift and a great challenge. Words to describe the challenge are found in a love song by Billie Holiday. She sings: "the difficult I'll do right now; the impossible will take a little while".

And so it seems. Working out the details of God's presence is difficult, even impossible. And yet, that is what we are called to do. But this is not something we do alone. As we read the first words in Mark's Gospel. I am reminded of his last words in Matthew's: Know that I am with you always, even to the end."

I am with you as you work out the details. AMEN

January 24, 2021: Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Today's Readings

Old Testament: Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Psalm: 62:6-14

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Gospel: Mark 1:14-20

Today we are invited to think about how God “calls” followers to help spread God’s word. We began with Jonah’s mission to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. Jonah’s story is one of the most memorable of the stories of the prophets. Jonah is called to do something unimaginable, to preach against the misdeeds of a vast city of non-believers in the name of the Hebrew God. Predictably, he runs off in the opposite direction. After his traumatic experiences in the Mediterranean, he preaches as he is told to – finally. And he succeeds beyond imagination. He is so successful that he is embarrassed, because God relents of destroying the people of the city. Jonah then leaves in a huff and camps outside the city to grumble about the capriciousness of his employer. The book of Jonah is almost an extended comic tale. Everything is exaggerated and ridiculous, even the size of the city. What is the moral of the story? Don’t resist the call of God – but even when you accept it, you may end up looking absurd …

Then, in total contrast, we have the story of the call of the first disciples in Mark. John the Baptist has preached the coming of Jesus, and suddenly there he is. Jesus calls Andrew and Simon, and they follow at once. He then sees James and John, and he calls them. They leave their family, their work, their lives, and follow Jesus.

Let’s pause for just a moment (because Mark never does). The Gospel that we know as Mark is written, especially in the opening chapters, in a clipped, laconic style, as though Mark wants to write the absolute basics. Mark was written, we believe, either side of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70, maybe a few years before or a few years after. In either case, it was a time of profound crisis for the Judaean people: it felt like the world, or at least the world they knew, was coming to an end. Time was very, very short.

In the past week, this country commemorated Martin Luther King. While reading Mark, I am constantly reminded of King’s famous expression about the “fierce urgency of now”.

King coined the phrase in his very controversial, sermon on the Vietnam War, preached at Riverside Church in New York City (just a few feet away from our seminary apartment) on 4 April 1967. King saw a choice between “nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation”. He went on: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late.”

That urgency, to get the message out as quickly as possible, is reflected in Mark’s style. One of his favourite words, especially in chapter 1, is the Greek word εὐθὺς (euthus). Mark uses this adverb no less than 11 times in the first chapter of the Gospel alone. It is used so often that translators of the Bible feel the need to use different translations to avoid repetition: in the King James Bible it is sometimes translated “straightway”, sometimes “forthwith”, sometimes “immediately”. For Mark, Jesus’s mission is invested with the same sense of deep urgency as Mark’s own re-telling of it. No-one pauses to think, no-one waits to consider alternative possibilities. No-one even waits to discuss and dispute, in a way that, then as now, came as naturally to Jewish religious thinkers as breathing itself.

We can understand why Mark tells the story in this way. But how can we benefit from, or even learn from, the extraordinarily abrupt way that the disciples are called, and begin their mission with Jesus?

One commentary that I read says rather grandly that “it is quite pointless to speculate, for example, on why the disciples responded without demur, or whether Jesus had met them beforehand. Mark is not interested in the psychology of the disciples or of their response”. Well, maybe not. But we may be interested; because, when we hear Scripture read and the Gospel preached, the disciples are us.

The disciples whom Jesus called were neither religious professionals, nor were they social outcasts with nothing to lose. They were ordinary people, men and women (we read elsewhere that both men and women travelled with Jesus) with lives to lead and business to do. There was nothing predictable about what Jesus was calling them to. In ancient Israel, travelling prophets typically went on their own or maybe with one pupil. Religious leaders taught their pupils in formal schools to study the Torah, as they still do. Maybe only John the Baptist before Jesus began the custom of calling multiple followers to go around with him and help him teach. So, the call to the disciples was to a completely new and rather terrifying vocation, something for which there was no direct precedent. That they responded so positively should be included among the miracles of the New Testament – and not the least.

There are two possibilities: either the disciples were so captivated by Jesus’s instant charisma that they obeyed his words, and followed him silently, like automata deprived of any agency or any control over their own movements. Or they made a decision to follow their teacher, just as any of us makes a decision, based on what and whom they knew, and where their values and hopes led them.

It does not sit well with the reality of faith to suppose that the apostles just moved, as though in a trance, unable to control their movements or make a conscious decision. Nor could they have confronted the enormous risks and challenges of their ministry without having embraced in their inmost selves the choice that they made. We know that the disciples considered the possibility of running out of money, because they kept a common purse. We know that they often muddled in their minds Jesus’s call with those of many “messiahs” who promised the restoration of a physical kingdom by insurrection.

No, I believe that the disciples responded in the same way that any of us responds to a call: consciously and intentionally, because they saw the path of their life and the urgency of their call in a new light, and responded to that call.

And who is to say that the wonderful power of God was not at work in every step in that process, as it brought the disciples to their moment of decision?

Earlier this week, I suspect that many of us watched at least some of the inauguration ceremony for the new President of the United States. In what seemed to me quite a fine speech, there was a good deal of the language of call: calls to the country to unite in order to address the health challenges, the social and economic challenges, and the challenges of deep political division that abound at the present time. The speech ended with a hope that the country would be seen, in future ages, to have answered “the call of history”.

The sentiments were good, and much needed. But we may never confuse calls to do the earthly business of improving our material world, with the call of God to build God’s kingdom. The call to build a community of mutual love and respect, for all our fellow human beings and all of God’s creation, is both intensely practical, and at the same time terrifying in its all-embracing ambition. God asks the impossible of us, calls us to repair the damage of centuries of fear, division, self-centredness, and exploitation, both of the earth and of each other.

Yet in the life of the disciples, we see that God does not call us, without at the same time giving us the means and the inspiration to respond. It was not easy for them. A hymn in our hymnal, which I briefly considered for today’s worship, speaks of how the first disciples were “contented, peaceful fishermen, before they ever knew / the peace of God that filled their hearts / brimful, and broke them too”. Yet I have no doubt that their response to Jesus felt like the most profound and essential thing that they could ever have imagined doing in their entire lives, even though it cost them so much.

We are all a bit like Jonah: we could so easily be tempted to run as far as possible in the opposite direction. But in every word that we utter, every ordinary interaction that we have with others, we can find ourselves building God’s kingdom. It is not a solo endeavour, but a shared work. Most of all, it is not humanity’s call, but God’s message, that makes the difference. The Spirit of God will know, and will tell us in due time, how to dispose our gifts in the best way. Let us be attentive, and when the call comes, as it does, be ready to respond obediently, with confidence and joy.

As our Collect says: Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

January 17, 2021: Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Today's Readings

Old Testament: 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20)

Psalm: 139:1-5, 12-17

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Gospel: John 1:43-51

"Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." This is the key sentence in the scene painted in our first reading. The one who makes this commitment is Samuel, one of the great figures of the Hebrew Scriptures. He lived around 1100 BC, a crucial time in the history of Israel. After entering into the land they considered "promised" to them, Israel found themselves in conflict with the tribes who already lived there. Israel had separated into tribal regions, which made them militarily weak. When attacked by other nations, the tribes would join together under a leader to deal with the threat. When the threat was thwarted they returned to their tribal areas. Hardly an efficient way to defend themselves. Many were calling for a more efficient government. A more centralized government - a king.

Some opposed the idea, saying that Yahweh was their king. Many opposed any centralization of power. Samuel was the figure who led Israel into this new age. He was the spiritual and political leader who convinced a reluctant people to establish a monarchy with David as "God's anointed", "messiah" in Hebrew.

The invitation in our Gospel to "Come and see" was uttered 1100 years later. David's throne had, for centuries, no longer been a political reality. We are now in a land under the heel of Roman domination. The arrival of a "messiah" to free Israel was a hope that united the Jewish people. The belief that a new leader, a new David, a new "messiah" would be raised up by God to liberate God's people. In today's reading we see Jesus, of the House of David, come to Galilee and begin to gather followers. One, Philip, joins the small band following the one whom Moses and the prophets wrote about, the hoped for messiah. Phillip immediately went to invite Nathaniel to "Come and see.". When Nathaniel came, he met this Jesus who showed he already knew him. Nathaniel is led to proclaim "you are the Son of God You are the King of Israel!"

We have all been invited to "Come and see". None of us was as clearly called as Samuel. But we were called. Both Samuel and Nathaniel learned that the journey was difficult. Samuel had anointed Saul as King first. Saul had failed to meet expectations and Samuel replaced him with David. Nathaniel will come to realize Jesus was not the messiah he expected. He joined the other disciples who abandoned this "Son of God, king of Israel."

Our journey has not been over a physical trail but a life lived. We have experienced moments of joy and beauty and awe, but we have lived long enough to know that life's journey has hills and valleys, disappointment, dry spells, doubts and feelings of being lost. A number of years ago I was at a lecture by a man who traveled up and down the trails of America. He said there were four rules that one must follow on the journey. 1) Never go alone; 2) Take only what you need; 3) expect difficulty; 4) Pause often to enjoy the beauty.

In these days of confinement to our homes the image of a journey is more inward. We have become aware of how important the companions are who journey with us. Zoom does not replace gathering around the table of the Lord. We don't want to travel alone. We have also learned what is essential and not. We all have a lot of "stuff"; much more than we need. We have been reminded again that life is difficult. We cannot protect loved ones from suffering, from illness, from death. And yet we have become more aware of the beauty around us. The beauty of love and friendship, the support of companions. We are grateful.

So, my dear companions on the journey, let the love we have for one another nurture you on the journey. You are not alone. We have much. Things are difficult, but let us not forget to be grateful for the beauty in nature, in each other, in oneself.

Another companion on the journey is Martin Luther King, Jr. At least we shared life on this earth at the same time. Tomorrow is the day dedicated to his memory. It is a fitting day, in these challenging days to pause and reflect on what he said, how he lived and how he asked other people to live. It is ironic, to put it mildly, that the FBI considered him the most dangerous person in his day. It is also said that at his death, only 35% of White Americans had a positive attitude toward him. I am reminded of what a seminary teacher said: "To live with the saints in heaven, Oh what glory. To live with a saint on earth - that's another story".

Dr. King was certainly a prophet in the Biblical sense. They were the "conscience of Israel", as one scholar describes them. Dr. King called each of us to live out the creed of our faith as well as the creed of our country. He showed a deep respect for our democratic institutions, Constitution, and human life even though he was a person denied so much of the justice these were to protect and preserve. I marvel at his insistence of non-violence. It is a demand so absent from our day. Included in this material I send is a link to one of his most famous writings, "A Letter from Birmingham Jail". It is long but I encourage you to read it. I also include some of his famous quotes. They have only grown in power and importance over the years. Today they offer hope, direction , faith and a path this nation can take to become more of the "beloved community" than the divided nation we have become.

"There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one's conscience tells one it is right."

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

"The ultimate measure of a person is not where one stands in normal times of comfort and convenience, but where one stands at times of challenge and controversy."

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

"We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope."

"Let no one pull you so low as to hate them."

"The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people."

"We may have all come on different ships but we're in the same boat now."

"We must live together as sisters and brothers or perish together as fools."

"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

"He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.


[Included in this material is a link to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail. It is a long letter but well worth the time. Written on Good Friday in 1963 from the jail in Birmingham Alabama where Dr. King had come to assist local Black clergy in organizing a boycott of local businesses to shed light on segregation and oppression. Seven local White clergy wrote an open letter to the Black community asking them to disassociate themselves from Dr. King. The letter is Dr. King's response.]

January 10, 2021: First Sunday after the Epiphany

Today's Readings

Old Testament: Genesis 1:1-5

Psalm: 29

Epistle: Acts 19:1-7

Gospel: Mark 1:4-11

Around the time of my second Christmas on earth, the poet W.H. Auden wrote:

So that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree, put the

decorations back into their cardboard boxes - We've eaten

too much - attempted to love all our relatives, and, in

general, grossly overestimated our powers.

Some of this is true, but this Christmas has been unlike any other. This year, taking down the decorations, especially the lights, seems, to me, a great loss. Why don't we leave them up till St. Patrick's Day. But even the Gospel pulls us away from Christmas. Another poet captures the reality:

When the song of the Angels is stilled,

when the star in the sky is gone,

when the kings and princes are home,

when the shepherds are back with their flocks,

the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost,

to heal the broken, to feed the hungry,

to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations,

to bring peace among sisters and brothers,

to make music in the heart, (Howard Thurman)

We should have known this was coming. For many weeks we have been reminded that every celebration in the Christmas Cycle proclaims the paschal mystery of the Lord's passion, death, resurrection and coming of the Spirit. Now that is the Easter proclamation, but the events in the Christmas cycle are rooted in the meaning of the events of the last days of Jesus' life. The events recorded in the story of Jesus' Passion are the foundation of our faith and the reason for our interest in Jesus' beginning.

Last week we were reminded that the first Christians' interest in Jesus' beginning did not focus on the birth. Epiphany, January 6th, was celebrated hundreds of years before December 25th, and the earliest focus of Epiphany was the Baptism of Jesus.

The baptism of Jesus manifests that Jesus entered into the depth of our human condition, shared our strength and weakness, joy and sorrow, success and failure. Also, in Christ we are all members of one body - neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, but one in Christ.

Our first reading, the great poetic hymn of creation, paints a similar picture. The entire work of Creation presented in Genesis paints a picture of a loving God, who gives existence to a world that is good, sacred even. All creation is interrelated and interconnected.The vast expanse of the universe, the natural world, the beings with whom we share this earth are all related, all good. And we human beings are made in the very image and likeness of the Creator, and are all sister and brother equal in dignity, equally loved by the Creator.

It is a beautiful and challenging image and, in these days of pandemic and social and civil strife, an image we need to be reflected upon and acted upon. The great Jewish theologian, Abraham Heschel has said that the major responsibility of religion is a continual proclamation that life is sacred, that each human life is sacred.

In a way, the pandemic has affirmed the interconnectedness of all human life. The virus is not prejudiced. It attacks all of us. The behavior of one affects the health of all. Our genes tell us we are one human family.We have a responsibility for and to one another.

The civil life of our nation is experiencing challenges that strike at the foundations of our faith. If the major responsibility of religion is the continual proclamation that all life is sacred, there have been serious sins of neglect. If baptism declares that in Christ there is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, then we have much work to do.

I have been thinking these days that in my life there have been two movements fueled to a great extent by Christians - the Civil Rights movement of the 1950's and 60's was nurtured by Black Churches, and the current Make America Great movement is strongly supported by White Evangelical Christians.

One movement was non-violent, demanding justice for all, seeking inclusion of all people in the rights proclaimed in the Constitution. The scriptural visions of the sacredness and interconnectedness of all life was proclaimed in this movement. Inclusion into the civil and political life of the nation was demanded through non-violent resistance. The building of a "beloved community" which includes the whole human family was its vision and its goal.

The other movement, which is largely supported by Christians claiming a literalallegience to the Gospel, has its roots, however, in the defense of slavery and segregation. A theme proclaimed is that divisions must be maintained. There is not one human family. God's favor belongs to some and with that favor they are privileged. People who believe differently from them, whether it is religion or politics are to be shunned, defeated, even oppressed. Only some life is sacred. Creation bears nothing of the "goodness" of the Creator. Jesus is the vaccine for the pandemic. On the feast of Epiphany, many in this group applauded an attack on the symbol of our Constitutional Government.

Abraham Heschel also said that true religion begins with the awareness that something is asked of us. We learned this at Baptism when we were "sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ's own". The work of Christmas is the work we accepted at baptism. We live in a world at a time that needs us to do this work.

So, let's do it.

I invite you, as we remember the baptism of Jesus, to renew our own Baptismal Vows. BCP 292