Saturday, April 28, 2012

Easter 4B 201

Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

Since Easter we have been hearing the events of the Resurrection from the various Gospels.  But on the fourth Sunday of Easter every year there is a dramatic change in the character of the Easter readings.  Every year on the fourth Sunday after the Resurrection, we hear something about the Good Shepherd.  We move from those stories about the resurrected Jesus to the first image of Jesus that was ever developed.  In early Christianity, it was not the cross or the fish that became the most prevailing image of Christ.  It was the Good Shepherd. 

Having grown up here in Texas, I must admit I didn’t grow up with a really good image of sheep or shepherds.  Being called a shepherd or a goat-roper were fighting words here in Texas and I didn’t think much of sheep. I related this to one of my early parishes up North in a sermon once and from that point on, I was ‘visited’ with some kind of ‘sheep’ icon at various moments of my career.  A fuzzy little sheep inserted into the altar book, a sheep pillow on my chair, a marshmallow sheep in the bread box, a new stole with a sheep on it. At one point I had a collection of well over 200 'sheepy things'.  Until one Good Shepherd Sunday morning my Junior Warden knocked at the door of the rectory before the first service inviting me to meet our new ‘landscape assistants’ for the rectory and the church.  There was a flock of sheep on the lawn and in the graveyard that separated my home and my suburban parish!

Shepherds and sheep have been a part of Christian consciousness since the beginning.  They had been a part of the Hebrew consciousness since the time of the pastoral progenitors of the tribes of Israel.  Their ancestry drew upon the time when they were Bedouin-type nomads and came to know their God in the grasslands of the Fertile Crescent.  Good leadership was described by the images of those who cared for the flocks. Kings and governors were compared to those who cared for the flock  long after the Hebrew people had become agriculturalists or traders.    And the Messiah, the one who was to come and straighten out the problems of Jerusalem, was described over and over with images of sheep herding and care for  sheep. 

Today we liken bishops, pastors and priests to the shepherd even though the majority has never even seen (or smelled) a sheep.  Most of us don’t know that that by Jesus’ day that shepherds were not even allowed to give testimony in the local courts because they were so distrusted.  It is the reason that the witness of shepherds to the birth of Jesus is so ironic in the gospel of Luke.  By Jesus’ day the iconic value of the Good Shepherd had been totally removed from the reality.  

The image of the Good Shepherd has been overlaid with so many levels of meaning that it is hard for us to clearly see Jesus without it becoming saccharine.  I am glad that we don’t have one of those stained glass windows of the Good Shepherd in this parish—the ones with the lamb slung over his shoulder.  I grew up with that image and I knew that she shepherd was Jesus but the sheep was supposed to be ME!  And that did not convey the image of Christ the liberating Spirit that finally opened my heart to the faith in a God who loved beyond all measure.

What images of Christ speak for our own time?  What icons of our lives draw us to know Christ more intimately?  We need to be able to translate our visual images into relationship because it is relationship that marks our faith.  Our faith is not based on what we see or what we believe.  Our faith is based on intimacy with the God who loves us more than life, whose passion for us goes beyond death—who entrusts us with creation, who calls from us justice, peace, love and respect  and enjoins us to  live fully the lives we have been given. 

The image of the Good Shepherd reminded the people of Jesus' day that the leader, the king, the governor, the pastor, needed to be willing to know the sheep. “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father,”  Jesus says, today's Gospel.   Sheep responded to the voice of the shepherd and would not follow those with a different voice.  Christian leadership does not have that much to do with preaching good sermons—Christian leadership has to do with loving people so that people can know the voice of Jesus when they hear it.  That is the image that comes down to us today from this Good Shepherd image. 

At this point in the redevelopment of our diocese we will soon confirm a new provisional bishop.  What images do we have for that person?  For some of us, we want someone who can manage.  For some of us, we want a person of compassion.  For others, we want someone with vision.  Others want a leader who ‘will stand for something.’  I daresay those are the same attributes that we find for us when we are trying to imagine who we might want to lead our business, or our governmental structures…Leadership that is mindful of the rank and file—that is mindful of the needs of the least as well as the great. And this image still holds for us.  Do we turn to the image of the Good Shepherd when we elect our politicians?  Do we look for the image of the Good Shepherd when we hire people into managerial positions?  Do we look for sheep-sense among the teachers who teach or the preachers who preauy7ch?

In this new technological age, I think that the world needs to find new icons –new ways of describing the God-infused images of leadership for a world that is becoming more visual.  Just as the image of the shepherd has changed over the millennia we will need to claim new images of Christ.

I think that the popularity of such things as Facebook, Twitter, Social medias of all kinds are icons of the human need for contact and intimacy no less than the image that image the Good Shepherd provided for first century Greeks trying to reconcile the loneliness and defeat in the face of the Crucifixion or the fall of Jerusalem. 

The sign of the Good Shepherd provided hope for the first century.  What provides hope for our generations?  What calls us to trust in one another?  It is the same thing as knowing the voice of the one who calls us.  There are people on the internet with whom I have corresponded with for some time that I trust as friends.  Now, I am aware that that I shouldn’t do that with most, but there are those whose voice I have come to know on the screen and know it to be that of a friend just as surely as I hear the truth of the Gospel.

   ----  Notice I did not say fact of the Gospel.  We need to distinguish between the truth of the Gospel and the facts—Jesus was never a real shepherd that we know of— he was most likely trained as a carpenter. But the Truth of the Gospel is that he was and IS the Good Shepherd.  It is the IMAGE or icon that draws us into God’s truth of human relationship.  It is this truth that allows us to trust one another.  And it is this truth that is conveyed by the image that we know how to live as Christ’s own in a world that has grown more and more distrustful. 

 Perhaps Friend is the icon for our new world. Through facebook we can 'friend' folks thousands of miles away.  Lamentably, that word too has become so popularized as to not convey that deep trusting relationship that God has with us and we have with God.  And yet Jesus does say in the Gospel of John that he no longer calls his followers 'disciples' but he calls them 'friends.'  At the end of his ministry, Jesus moves the relationship from teacher/student to that wonderful equal relationship of peer, of friend, of beloved.

Trust is essential in leadership.  The sheep must know and trust the shepherd’s voice in order to follow.  Trust is what every group must have in order to function in society or to follow the Holy with fidelity.  And yet just basic trust in one another has been eroded from a shake of the hand to reams of legal contracts.  So how are we going to acknowledge, how are we going to claim a new vision of what we want in a leader for this new age?  We need to do this for church, for our nation and we need to do this to enhance our  own relationship with the God of our lives. 

This week I would encourage you to think about who and what you trust.  I would ask you how you image—how you visualize that trust and why and how you can connect that with your relationship with  Christ Jesus.  In that conversation with yourself ask yourself how you envision Christ in your life? Do those images take you deeper into relationship with him?  Can you reveal yourself more with him?  Can you reveal more of yourself to yourself in his presence?  It is always easier to reveal yourself to Christ when you know that judgment is already past and over.  It is this friendship that centers the friendships that we have with others—allows us to trust our friends and step out in intimacy and community with one another.  And while you are at it, think of images of Christ that work for you—that claim that intimacy for a future world and share them. I would love to know.  Amen.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Five: Sacrament...all is holy? OR Theology 101: Sacraments

Sally has gone all theological on us.  She is asking tough questions but absolutely important questions.  

This Friday Five stems from some questions that have been running around my head and heart recently and are squeezing their way out through my blog here and again here

So I'd like to ask you some simple questions about the sacraments:

Sally, I am quite catholic in my understanding of Sacraments.  Signs and symbols are hard for me to detach from reality.  I do not debate the fact/symbol issue anymore because Sacraments have become what they signify.  

I am thankful that Sally is a Methodist and is only asking about the biblical sacraments: baptism and eucharist, rather than the seven catholic sacraments.  But there are always more sacraments (signs of God's presence) than those listed by our various denominational traditions.  For me there is a sacrament is touching the hands of a new baby or the hand of dying person in hospice.  There is sacrament in the love I share with J when  we are laughing over some odd moment of living in community.  There is sacrament in sunsets in Texas or a field of blue bonnets --God signing God's love for me and for the whole world.

1. What does the Lord's supper/ Eucharist mean to you?

The Eucharist is the center of my life.  Period.  It is the reason I became a priest.  It is the most powerful sign of Christ's presence in my life.  For many years after I became a Christian, I was a daily communicant.  Now, I see the need for community as profoundly important to how I want to celebrate or receive Christ's Body and Blood.  Yes, I believe in the Real Presence in the bread and wine.  I don't know how it happens ( I don't subscribe to all the theological paradoxism that many theologians tie us up in) --I don't need to.  I just know that the unity with human and Divine happens most often when I am participating in this mundane sign of eating even tasteless wafers and bad wine.  

It signals to me that God isn't finished with me yet.  It presents me with an ongoing sense of hope for the world.  It allows me to trust in this crazy church (both big C and little c) even though it has betrayed me over and over.  It conjures up within me the stories of prophets and saints and reminds me of how many people over the millennia  have participated in this same act of taking bread, blessing it, breaking it and giving it.  It is standing in that long line that unites me with humanity and at the same time unites me with all the holiness of God.

2. How important is preparation for this, and what form does it take?

I am not so aware of the preparation for the sacrament as it has become so habitual but as I put on vestments, prepare the altar book, recall the prayers I have developed over the years for centering on the liturgy, that there is a bit of a ritual in it.  Periodically I need to talk to others to hear what they understand Holy Communion to be.  I need to claim what it is that I mean by Holy Communion and blog about it.  It keeps me centered on the center of my life.  Even when I am on vacation, I am loath to miss the Eucharist.  It isn't magic.  It is like calling home for ET.  It is where I am rooted.  If I can't find an Episcopal church on a Sunday I have no problem being an anonymous Roman and slipping into Mass.  (I just don't tell the priest who I am.)

In the parish, I try to make it known that I don't want to talk church business before church.  If it is an emergency, that is another matter.  But I try to help the congregation know that if I am going to center them in liturgy, my mind needs to be on the Eucharist before the service.  It is not just the sermon that I try to have before me, but the whole experience so that worship is truly worship.  In my present congregation we have a tremendous group of laity, both adult and youngsters, who takes responsibility for the their own parts so I don't have to worry about acolytes or readers.  They truly see it as their ministry so it is good to be able to trust them so I can immerse myself in the leadership of the service.

3. What does baptism mean to you?

Baptism is the beginning of my relationship with Christ.  It signs that I am part of a community of faith.  It signs membership.  And while I believe that it washes away sins, I am not big on the need to wash away Original Sin since I don't believe it that.    Baptism is the source of all ministry.  All orders: Laity, bishops, priests, deacons find their ministry in the waters that not only cleanses but slakes the thirst for God.  It is Baptism that waters the seeds of faith to make them grow.

But I don't get up tight about who is baptized and who isn't when it come to handing out Communion.  In my old Roman Catholic theology we understood the meaning of "Spiritual Communion"--when some one could not receive the elements of bread and wine, others could receive on their part.  I believe that this applies to Baptism too.  When someone presents themselves for Holy Communion that I know is not baptized or even a member of another faith, I will commune them.  At that moment, I believe that God is doing something within that person that I cannot understand.  I am the same way with little children.  When a child reaches out for the Eucharist, it is time for that child to receive.  We don't need white dresses and veils to denote a child's first communion.  It is when God and humanity have set down at the Table of the Lord.  But I do believe that Baptism is necessary for the individual Christian .  It is the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval of our decision to follow Christ.  It is the public witness of that inward and spiritual grace that God and the individual person are working out salvation in fear and trembling. ( See I have tasted of the Arminen tree too!) Like Eucharist, the sign does confirm what is going on spiritually in the person.  So once baptized--always baptized.  Does it mean that I am saved?  From what?  I don't believe in Hell so I have had quite a bit of problem with Augustine for some time.  Salvation isn't just being promised in the Bye and Bye.  Salvation is the on-going relationship with the God who is both within and transcendent who allows me to know the richness of life.  Baptism calls me to a way of living that witnesses to the love God has for me and frees me from  self-absorption that stultifies life.  Baptism means freedom -- freedom to love, freedom to think and the freedom to serve others in God's name.

4. How important is preparation for baptism and what form does it take?

This depends upon how old they are.  Adult baptism looks more like a confirmation program  because it is an adult decision to be a part of the worshiping.  I have used the whole catecumentate program in Lent with only one person in my career and believe that it was quite successful.   But usually for infants, I gather the parents and godparents and discuss how they can see to the raising the child in the faith.  But I don't worry too much about teaching lots of material--especially about Church.  I am more concerned that they know the stories of God's presence to the people of Israel and the early Church and that it is in church that they can always find Christ's love.  

5. A quote/ poem/ song that brings you before God in a sacramental way, and helps you to engage at a deeper level...

This applies to the US of A too!

William Blake

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday Five: Internet Connections

Friday Five: Internet Connections

Jan is at it again!  She is asking tough questions again.  But there is one thing about Jan--we are about the same age and there for I UNDERSTAND what she is talking about!!!  

Jan is at it again!  She is asking tough questions.  But there is one thing about Jan--we are about the same age and there for I UNDERSTAND what she is talking about!!!  She posted:

I have vaguely been hearing about the coming trend of people using mobile internet devices rather than desktop computers. Having four adult children, I see them using cell phones, laptops, tablets, ipods/iphones/ipads instead of the desktop computer, which I am using right now.

So I am asking you to answer the following questions about whatever device you most often use these days, first by telling us what you have:

1. Do you use social connections, like Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in or whatever else there is? Describe how you use 

 I use Facebook.  I have a Linkedin account but I haven't the foggiest how to use it.  I kind of 'like' fb but haven't quite learned how to use it well.  I try to link my blog posts to fb to advertise an article I have written but with the changes on fb, I am not as clear about how to link the two anymore.  And I hate timeline!

2. Do you text on your cell phone? Work, friends, family?

I do text now.  When I started being a chaplain to a local university, I knew I needed to text BUT my thumbs don't fit those little spots on the keyboard.  It takes me forever to text a short message.  I know that having opposible thumbs was a sign of human evolution, but I am not sure about textable thumbs!
3. Do you play any games? Which ones? 

 I play Spider Sol, Regular Sol and Bedazzel 3.  I can spend way too much time doing that.  But they are all on my laptop.  If I play games on my phone, my battery gives out pretty quickly.  WTH is Angry Birds?

4. How do you predominantly use the various electronic devices you possess?

I am admit I am glued to my laptop as much as 8 hours a day.  I write and research on my laptop.  I don't use the iphone that much unless I am stuck somewhere, bored and without a book.

 I no longer have a desktop.  I wish I did because the laptop is tiring to work from all day.  But I do love its mobility for classes and meetings

 I also have Kindle which I adore because it will produce the book in a font and size that I can read since cataracts!  I especially appreciate the old Kindle because it is easier on the eyes than a laptop or the new models of either Nook or Kindle.  

I do not have an Ipad or a notebook and am coveting one.  But because younger folks think that Social Security is an 'entitlement' and  Baby Boomers decided that we could privatize and made off with all the retirement funds I banked on, I cannot afford one. ( If I sound like a socialist, I becoming more of one every day!)

5. How do you feel about blogging? Are you as involved in blogging as when you first started? What facilitates your blogging?

I don't blog as often as I used to.  I do appreciate Revgals that encourage us to use our brains and to think outside the box about what we are doing in our parishes.  Now that I am retired, it is a perfect place to sift through my life and claim what has been good, what isn't about the Church and test out what I am thinking now that I no longer have regular pulpit.

  I have a series called Theology 101 that I am trying to verbalize what it is that I believe.  There is one good thing about being an Episcopalian, we do not have a body of dogma to which we must conform.  This new age into which we are moving allows me to explain to myself and others how my faith is confronting an age in which morality is not only changing but is being blown off the charts.  It helps me to claim what is essential to what it means for me to be a Christian.

I will probably continue to blog because it is a place where this extrovert can get her ideas out and allow others to comment without boring my family and friends.

Bonus: Anything you want to add. You might like to discuss what helps you most in your vocation with internet connections.

There are a few things about social media that are bothering me.  As I don't Twitter, I am a bit overwhelmed by the impact that social media is having world wide.  Recently, I have been a part of an organization that through its internet efforts brought down the Anglican Covenant in the UK and ultimately brought the Archbishop of Canterbury to resign. 

 I am mildly uneasy about such an effort.  I have no problems that what we were doing were just and appropriate, I am just overwhelmed with having that much contact with the vastness of the people of my communion.  I am used to having contact with small congregations of up to 250 on Sunday.  Now I speak to thousands through social media.  

The field of ethics of the use of these new vehicles of information is immense.  And we have no rules.  Now I have to really live into my relationship with Christ to ascertain what is right and what is wrong about information and what I say.  

I know that many folks are afraid of social media and the way that it opens us up to all kinds of folks who might use what we say against us.  But when I became a priest and first lived in a small town 30 years ago, I knew that every moment of my life was subject to critique by the community.  It didn't matter if it was fair or private, it just was what it was.

 If the local banker or postal employee wanted to talk about my private life, they did. I do not fear the invasion of privacy because I try to live what I am.  Yes, others can use such information inappropriately, and they have always been able to do so.  It is no different because of facebook or the internet.  When we chose to serve as the 'parson' of a community we choose to live in a fishbowl.  It is what witness is all about.

Brava, Jan.  I tough topic but ohhhh so necessary!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Easter 2B

Sermon:  Easter 2b 2012 
Psalm 133, Acts 4:32-35, 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31

“We have seen the Lord,” the disciples said when they saw Thomas.  They were excited—most likely deliriously happy.  They had all seen an ‘apparition of Jesus’ they thought.  And they were chattering on and Thomas isn’t willing to have any of it.  "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe,” says Thomas. 

Like so many of us, Thomas is the practical one.  He is not going to get on any bandwagon or get hopeful just because his friends think they saw “something.”  Thomas is the steady one, the conservative one--the one who is going to provide some stability to this ragtag bunch of disciples of the Rabbi of Galilee.  Some of them had watched from a far, some had even been at the foot of the cross at the senseless and cruel death of their leader. And yet, like the women who had come back from the tomb, they were saying that Jesus had returned from the dead.
So when the Resurrected Christ appears to Thomas, Jesus invites him to put his hands on the wounds of his crucifixion, on the hurt that he had suffered so that Thomas would know not only that he was alive, but he had endured those pains for him.

Friday night Judy and I went to the opera in Dallas.  It was La Traviata.  They had the words in English over the stage, but I know just enough  Romance language that the words weren’t quite the same in Italian than the translations was for us in English. The whole story of La Traviata is about Love conquering Suffering and Death. ‘Suffering’ is part of the Mediterranean ethos.  This is true not only for the Latin cultures but it is also for the Semitic peoples of the Levant.  It is the way that they describe everything—it is a tension between joy and suffering, love and hatred, life and death.  I do not believe that Latin culture could exist without the words for tears and suffering

We who have been formed by the Northern European and British ethos often are uncomfortable with such ideas as suffering and pain. I have never been especially fond of Latin ecclesial art for the same reason—it is too bloody and painful. For the most part, we tend to bury such feelings, or talk of them only under duress or secretly.  Or perhaps we watch a movie or read a story that siphons off our feelings  Guys shake off injury on the playing field.  Women tend to ‘suffer in silence,” but not so in first century Palestine.  Thomas understood that by touching the suffering of Jesus he could find communion with him.  He knew that by touching his Lord’s wounds that he would know healing—healed of his doubt, healed of the anxiety about his brother disciples, healed of the fears that life held for him.

Often we get to Easter without an encounter with Christ’s sufferings.  I know I missed the reading of the Passion completely this year.  I got to church late on Palm Sunday and missed Good Friday completely.  It is the first time in over 40 years I have done that.  Most Christians experience Easter that way.  They like to go directly to the empty cross to re-enforce for ourselves the joy of the Resurrection.

 But Thomas knew that wasn’t the whole story.  The whole story is about the tension between life and death and resurrection.  And when we can tie our own sufferings to the passion of Christ, it makes sense of them.  When we can tie our own joy to Christ’s resurrection, it is to give not only hope, but to make sense our lives.

All too often we tend to see our lives in the realms of ‘good and bad’.  And I believe that Jesus came to teach us that life isn’t that way.  Life is! --Pure and simple.  Life is neither good nor bad.  Life is to be lived knowing that we are not alone and that we are tied inextricably to one another and to God.  We are tied by our love just as we are tied by our suffering.  We cannot avoid either.  And it is in our relationships with one another and God that make sense of happiness and sadness, of joy and suffering, of life and death.

The Incarnation of divinity in Jesus Christ gives us the chance to touch our own wounds so that they do not close up and fester.  It is Christ who can allow us to know the suffering that we experience and learn to turn it into points of healing for others, to give strength to the ministry we offer or to balance us when faced with what we think is too much for us.  It is  Christ who teaches us to allow our stories of pain and sadness to be resurrected into joy.

I know that in my life. I have experienced pain and sorrow that have been moved to experiences of peace and joy.  The circumstances of the pain and sorrow may have been caused by me or someone else, but by opening those experiences up to the healing love of Christ, they have often become the points in my life where I have experienced the most permanent places of joy, healing, love, and faith. 

The story of Thomas is one that we can all know in our lives. We too see the Lord  by touching his wounds.  And in doing so we touch the wounds in our own lives so that they too can be converted into points of healing, joy, love and faith.  And we too can utter:  “My Lord and my God.”

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday Five: Mission Trips

Karla has posted about mission trips:

I am in mission trip mode right now, as I get ready to take a group of youth to DC to do service work around hunger and homelessness issues.   So, in that spirit, our FF is Mission Style!  So here are your questions:

1) Have you ever been on a mission trip, as a participant or adult chaperone? What was it like? 
I was a missionary for about two years.  But before I went on long term mission, I went on some short-term missions to Mexico.

2) What is the worst thing that happened to you/your group on a mission trip (or retreat, or camp, or Habitat for Humanity experience, or something like that--hey, this is YOUR Friday Five, so you get to play it how you would like.)
I broke my hip.  We were in the boonies of the Sierras and I was 10 days without treatment (thank God it was a green stick fracture) before I could catch the bus into Mexico City and fly home to Texas and major surgery.  It ended my missionary career, but I still have a missionary heart.

3) If money were no object, where would you want to go to help and serve?  What would you do?  I am no longer able to do heavy duty work.  Sleeping on floors or doing physical work is beyond me now.  If I were physically able, I would love to go back to Central America.  I have worked in Honduras some years ago or perhaps Costa Rica.  But I have a BIG problem with our Missionary societies and their theologies.  (Don't get me started!)

4) What would be your advice to someone who will be sleeping in a gym with 20 other people for a week?   Find a place where you can be alone or quiet everyday if it nowhere else but the bathroom or in the shower.  If you  are a part of the planning, plan this quiet time for all of the participants.  It will keep the introverts among you sane and the extroverts  to process what is happening in their lives.  If you are supervising kids, take turns with the other supervisors.  When I was working in Mississippi following Katrina, having evening prayers before dinner in which we brought what we had seen that day to God was one of the more powerful spiritual experiences we had.  

5) Any parting thoughts, stories, or questions you have around the whole theme of Mission Trips?  The jobs that you are doing is less important than the people you are going to serve.  Try to connect with the people in the neighborhood.  And you are not there to 'change' them.  They must do that themselves.  But if you connect with them, be genuine and help the kids be genuine with the kids they are connecting with.  It is not part of my tradition or nature to evangelize while on such trips.  The willingness to be there with them will say tons more that if we are just 'peddling Jesus'.  We aren't peddling a culture either.  Trying to make others like us is NOT the place of missionaries.  But that you may find the Christ in them and they find the Christ in you is the most important thing.

Mission work changed my life.  It made me much more aware of the 'thingyness' of my life and helped me realize how much a part of the world I am.  I am convinced that middle-class Americans SHOULD have a missionary experience sometime in their life.  It is the only way that we can really even begin to understand the reality of the rest of the world.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Alleluia. Christ is Risen.

After the Easter Vigil, everything is a bit anticlimactic for me.  Oh, don't get me wrong, I love Easter.  Full churches.  Easter finery. Incense. Easter egg hunts.  All the adult kids home and attending church while visiting parents. Seeing all the people of the parish on the SAME day!  It is a wonderful celebration.  And there is nothing like, the choir singing their liveliest hymns, the top acolytes doing their work and the best readers.  We do know how to pull out the stops.

I always found Easter sermons the most difficult to preach.  The Easter Sunday service is no different than all of the Eucharists we celebrate.  I know some parishes do not include the confession during the Easter season.  I generally did on Easter Day thinking that those who were C and E (Christmas and Easter) Christians needed to make their confession, but hey...whatever works.

Easter is our everyday--every Sunday default.  We celebrate Easter every Sunday.  And sometimes that gets lost in the music,  flowers and Easter eggs.  Resurrection is an everyday event.  Then why am I so tired???

There is an anxiety over Easter that I think we create for ourselves in the Church.  We try to make the services the culminating service of the Church year.  After all, Easter IS the pinnacle of Christian worship, isn't it?  But I wonder.  After the 40 days of Lent and the heaviness of Holy Week there doesn't seem much more to say about Easter than:  Alleluia, Christ is Risen!

This is the most profound theological statement there is.  All of Christian scripture points to it.  But when faced by the reality of preaching on this singular event of Christianity--what is there left to say?

But then I came home from church a bit wound up by the Hallelujah Chorus and way too much decaffeinated coffee and found a Facebook message from a woman who was in one of my earliest parishes.  She was only a child then and she had found me on fb.  She told me of the terrible twists and turns of her life since I last saw her and then related a story of despair and resurrection.  She had contacted me after all these years.  It made the whole of the Easter service come into focus for me.  It is why we have it each week.  It is why I scratch my noggin trying to figure out what to say on Easter.  Even after 30 years, that relationship of a priest with a young parishioner comes to life and I am humbled by the joy.   

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Vigil: 2012

This service is one of the oldest services in Christendom.  The Easter Vigil was so important to the 3rd and 4th century Church because it was THE service of baptism.   Baptisms were only performed by the bishop in those days and only at Easter.
 A person seeking admittance to the mysteries of the Church became a catechumen on Ash Wed and spent the whole of Lent preparing to be admitted to Holy Eucharist.  In those days, if you were not baptized, you were dismissed from the church before the time of Holy Communion.  So full admittance to the Eucharist was an important experience for all of the Church.

In Christian communities all over, on Maundy Thursday all fires, not just the altar lights were extinguished.  Hearth fires and all lights were extinguished for all of Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  And until the building of the New Fire on Holy Saturday, people not only lived in darkness, they lived and slept in the cold.  As soon as the new fire was lit, runners took torches to peoples’ homes, and the light and warmth of Christ’s light spread through the communities, hearth to hearth and heart to heart.  Then the community gathered in their churches and the candidates for baptism returned from their retreat.

The candidates for baptism would prepare for this night with fasting and prayer and then be brought into the church in darkness following the Pascal candle.  The Exultet, the long chant I sang earlier, is one of the few ancient chants that we preserve in our tradition along with the litany and the sursum corda. The Pascal candle signifies the Pillar of Fire by night that led the Children of Israel through the desert.

Then the stories of God’s saving works were read by the flame to the whole Church.  From the beginning of Creation, through the desert and Red Sea, the crisis of the exile, the miracle of the dry bones, the promise of Salvation to all and the promise of the Messiah are all read to remind the people that we are a people formed by God’s wonderful deeds throughout history.

This service fell into disuse after the majority of Europe had been evangelized.  It became customary to baptize infants and fewer and fewer adult baptisms were performed.   However with the liturgical study and reforms that the Roman Catholic Church undertook following Vatican II in the early 1960’s, this service was restored. And now it is not uncommon to find Easter Vigils among many different denominations.  Actually the Sunrise service has its roots in this service for it was at dawn that the first Alleluia was proclaimed.  I was baptized and confirmed at the age of 25 in the late 1960’s at this service, so it has great meaning for me.  It was the admittance to that incredible walk of faith that still thrills me to this day. 

All of the events of Holy Week are events to be lived.  They are not events to be thought about so much as they are events to experience with all of our beings.  This service is the same.  We too must acknowledge our creation at the hands of a God who says to us that we are good. We too need to know our salvation from waters that would overcome us.  We too must acknowledge that we have endured the deserts of doubt or ennui or perhaps even rebellion.  We have found our own lives in these stories and heard the promise of God's grace and love in them.  We have known the darkness of our own making before God and yet, we still come to the light and warmth of these stories, the community and the common faith.  We are given a new Spirit that rebuild our sinews, that enliven our hearts to love those again and we find peace and wholeness once again in the light of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Tonight is not a recitation of doctrine or dogmas.  It is a time to know the holiness into which we have been called.  We have a risen Savior who invites us to a journey of brokenness and healing, of  crackling dryness and living water, of hunger and being filled beyond our asking or imagining, of discouragement and joy, of death and resurrection.  No matter where you are on that journey of faith, the story of Jesus is our story and our stories converge in this night. 

Alleluia Christ is Risen
The Lord is Risen Indeed, Alleluia.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Disaster Relief Arlington and Lancaster TX

The Morning After

What does it mean to be saved?
        The storm passed me by.
Yet my neighbor lost everything.

Is salvation the sparing of death?
         The few injuries?
Or is it the love of neighbors
        who come to the aid of others' loss?

God was not in Elijah's whirlwind
          nor in hail or fire or earthquake.
It is in the still quiet voice that moves us to act.

If you are interested in working with crews to help those who were hit by tornadoes yesterday, please leave a comment here or call the diocesan office and leave me your name, phone and address and I will contact you. Or comment on my facebook page.

Lauren Gough+

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Simple Gift: Blessing of Oils

Today the clergy of our diocese met for the traditional service of the Blessing of the Oils used in the liturgies of the church.  It is a small service that I have experienced in various dioceses.  It is usually held during Holy Week and it often seems like a pain when one is faced with the multiple services of the busiest week of the Christian calendar.  But it is generally the only time when the diocesan clergy can worship together during the Easter season.

Today’s service, as is often the case, was an occasion of repeating our ordination vows.  I love it when we can gather together as the college of clergy to do that.  Each order repeated their commitment, deacons, priests and even the bishop. 
We are a small body of clergy here in Fort Worth.  Today we are almost half women.  All of our deacons at the moment are women, but that will change relatively soon as we have men in formation for the permanent deaconate. 

Following the repetition of our vows the bishop called us each before him and anointed our hands.  Now, I know that is the custom of many of the higher or Anglo-Catholic dioceses, but I had never had that done either at my ordination or subsequently.  It was a singularly moving event.  As the bishop anointed my hands he pressed them together like a child going to first communion.  I didn’t want to open them as a returned to my pew but I knew I had to in order to be the priest that Christ had called me to be. 

Afterwards at lunch I asked +Wallis how he had come to include that portion in the service.  He said he had inherited it as a practice from his predecessor when he was consecrated for Northwest Texas.  + Sam Hulsey now lives in our diocese and I am thankful for his ministry too.

Such simple things such as water, oil, bread and wine mark the most sacred of actions.  They often touch our souls so deeply to remind us of the simplicity of God’s love for us.  And we humans so often screw those humble actions up so badly by denying them when they should mark the simplicity of our love. 

Today I am thankful for the unvarnished, simple  episcopal touch of oil to remind me of the love the Holy One has for me.  I am amazed at the simple gift, the awe of the first dandelion, the first flake of snow of the winter, the first blessing of a priest, the awe of a new mother or father holding their child. It requires no theological rhetoric.  Words fail.  Only the abiding presence of the Holy can mark this touch, this relationship, this call, this wonder.

This week will be far more complex.  God’s love will be complicated with Cross and salvation, the mysteries of death and resurrection, surrender and redemption.  Today Divine Love was merely in the holding of hands and the willingness once again to step into the yoke of Christ’s ministry.  After all these years it does not become common, never tired, and never rote.  It is always the reminder that God isn’t finished with me yet and there is more to life than what I have live so far. Gratia Deo.