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From the Pulpit

Trinity is blessed with many excellent preachers on its rota, which gives us a wonderful diversity of voices from the pulpit. Read on to see what we mean.

Ordination of Benjamin K. Wyatt by The Rt. Rev. Andrew D. Smith

THE ORDINATION OF BENJAMIN WYATT AS PRIEST  December 13, 2018

Trinity Church, Hartford

(Dear God, let your priests be filled and clothed with righteousness, and let your people dance and sing for joy.)

 What a very happy night!  Tonight, here, with God’s blessing, we will ordain Ben Wyatt a Priest in the Church of God.

A priest.  How can we describe or comprehend what that is, or, what he will be jumping into?

 Priest.  The title itself been adopted by and passed through so many traditions, religions, and even Christian variations, it’s been added to, reformed, mostly held in honor, sometimes dishonored and despised.

 At the same time for us in the Church it is a central mystery, priesthood, an office divinely ordained and revered among us, conferred and blessed by God and the Church together, for God’s glory and the blessing of Christ’s people and everybody in the world.

 Even if we cannot pick it up, spread it out and pin it neatly down, there are some of the aspects and gift of “priesthood” that rise and shine from Scripture we have read tonight.

 In the Gospel according to John, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep … I know my own and my own know me.  I have other sheep that don’t belong to this fold.  They also will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” 

 Should this be the defining symbol?  The shepherd?

 My knowledge of sheep and shepherds comes mostly from hiking through hillsides and pastures in the British Isles.  Just from walking and watching, I’ve learned that sheep are sheep.  And a shepherd is not a sheep; a shepherd is a knowledgeable, skilled and experienced human who knows and feeds and guides and cares for and protects the lives of the sheep.

 I think the temptation on an occasion like this, is to peel off the shepherd metaphor for Jesus and paste it on “priest” — to say that the priest is the shepherd of a flock, and what we’re about tonight is to elevate a sheep into shepherd-ness..

 Which temptation we should resist, I think.  The shepherd image is not about a priest.  It is about Jesus.  Just as sheep are sheep, and the shepherd is the shepherd, and they’re really different, so it is for us.  For better and for worse, in the image, we are the sheep.  Jesus is the shepherd, the good shepherd, the really good shepherd.  The best.

 And of course it’s a metaphor:  we are not sheep; we are made in the image of God, brought into new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, baptized and empowered with gifts and ministries in the Holy Spirit, every one.   Including the care and protection and guiding of each other.  But to lay the expectation to be the Good Shepherd on any person  is to look way above our created pay grade.  Even those of us who are ordained and appointed to carry a pastoral staff have to remember that the staff we bear is about Jesus.

 The truth of the shepherd image is that it’s about Jesus.  Who at all times and in all places is The Good Shepherd, ours, the best, no matter who or what may come to seek to snatch and destroy.  A profound and joyful truth for all of us of the flock, and especially for those of the flock ordained to be priests.

 So to be a priest therefore is not to be elevated over the flock, and changed into someone we are not, but is to be a member of the flock who has been specially identified and co-missioned within the flock. 

 There was a time in the 1960’s when some of us clergy resisted the notion of being “set apart” or “singled out” or “made different” in ordination.  Yet, a priest does agree to enter into “orders,” to give up the freedom of the laity, no longer a free agent,  and to accept a framework of canonical accountability and discipline, and to assume responsibilities and yes, privileges also, on behalf of the ekklesia, the community of believers, and on behalf of God.

 A rabbi once told me this:  I am a rabbi, I am a scholar and teacher for God’s people; and the people pay me to be a rabbi so that I don’t have to be a doctor or car mechanic or lawyer. 

 In this age it may be that the priesthood may not be a ticket to full-time pay, (Sorry about that, Ben), (Saint Paul supported himself in his trade as a tentmaker) but there is the charge that they fashion their lives so that the responsibilities and privileges of a priest will be at the center of their lives.

 As a member of the flock we heap on the priest-person the tasks of professor and confessor of the faith, nourisher, strengthener, learner, gatherer, prayer, so many hopes.  Listen to the charges the bishop will name in the Examination.  Do we realize how much, what we ask, day to day, of our brother in this liturgy tonight?  Faithful pastor to all.  Patterning his life to be a wholesome example of Christ for all.  Diligent in reading and the study of Holy Scriptures, serving young and old, rich and poor.  Pile it on!

 Then, there are privileges of authority given to a priest by the Church — specifically to pray in public, to preach, to Baptize, to celebrate the Eucharist, to pronounce blessing and declare absolution for sin, and to care and serve among the people among whom she or he works.

 It’s all a bit breathtaking, isn’t it?   A priest, one of us, identified, taught and ordered to know God and make God known.  Who is as absolutely essential to the nature and life of God’s people as God’s people are essential to life of the priest.

 One other thought tonight about “priest.”  It flows from the vision-experience of the prophet in the sixth chapter of the book of Isaiah.  Like Isaiah, a priest is sent, and may never again have one earthly place to call home.

 “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne high and lofty.  And I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am lost, for I am a man unclean and live among a people unclean.’  Then a seraph touched my mouth with a live coal taken from the altar.  And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, who will go for us?’  And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’  And he said, ‘Go!’

 Maybe we don’t often think about it, but it’s true:  ordination as a deacon or priest or bishop often means leaving to go, leaving home, and moving from one place to another in response to God’s call, the needs of the Church and the world, faithful to God’s mission.

 To be a priest is not a place for the personally ambitious or those who crave life predictability.  It is a place for gentleness, peace beyond understanding, prayer, for exercising lifelong humble personal discernment in the Spirit, obedience to Christ’s call, and openness to God-knows-where or -who will be the people among whom one will serve.

 The pattern is Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah, John son of Zechariah, the apostles, Saint Paul for sure, and above all, the pattern is Jesus. 

 Ben Wyatt, our brother in this parish community, in the Church of God.

 We are about to ask many things of you, and the Bishop specifically will ask you if you believe you are truly called to the priesthood. and that you commit yourself to this trust and responsibility.  We will be thrilled when you say, “Yes.”

 You bring special gifts to the Church for the exercise of the priesthood.  Your ability to proclaim the Scriptures we already know well. And your curiosity and thirst to study the faith, and especially the intersections of holy spiritual practices and the intellectual disciplines of theology are blessings for the Church. 

Remember always that this sacred life you enter in Christ may surprise you, and take you geographically, spiritually and culturally to places you ever expected or thought.  And always, always I pray the joy of your life as a priest will be to serve among the people, whoever they are, and wherever they are.

 And above all, Rejoice in the Lord always; know that Christ Jesus, the One who is The Good Shepherd, who knows your name even more surely than you know his, always watches over and guides the flock and you within it, and stick close to this Jesus whom you serve as priest, who is The Good Shepherd, the Best!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted 12/13/2018

Reclaiming Jesus by The Rev. Dr. Donald L. Hamer, Rector

Trinity Episcopal Church, Hartford, CT

August 26, 2018

Pentecost 14, Proper 16B

 Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

“Reclaiming Jesus”

       For the past several Sundays, the Gospel has focused on Jesus as the Bread of Life and variations on that theme. As we approach that theme Sunday, I would like to do so through the lens of the Collect for the Day, which asks God’s blessing so that the Church can show forth God’s power to all people.

There are two aspects of today’s Gospel passage that I find particularly fascinating. The first is the growing disaffection of some of Jesus’ followers with His message, and the second is the way that Jesus responds to their challenge to his teaching.

The scene in today’s Gospel passage is from a part of Jesus’ ministry which represents almost a crisis point. Jesus has been wildly popular, travelling about the countryside preaching, teaching, healing, performing miracles, and the world was charmed. But then as he continued his teaching, as the real meaning of what he is saying begins to set in, the crowds that were once charmed find that the full package of what Jesus is teaching is too much to take. Many of the disciples say, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Jesus can see that even the original 12 are struggling, and decides to test them. He must have felt pretty dejected when he turned to them and asked, “Do you also wish to go away?” And Peter’s response could not have been very reassuring: “To whom can we go?” It’s as if Peter is saying, “Well, you’re the best we’ve got, so we’ll stick around for now. . .”

       But there is something else we see in this passage, and that is the way Jesus reacts to public criticism and reaction.  That must have been more than a little intimidating for Jesus, the man, when many of his previously loyal followers turned away from him. He must have internally struggled, at least a little bit, about how to share his message, whether he should hold back on some of the harder truths, perhaps whether he should “change his brand.” And yet, he never – ever – gave into this temptation. Instead, he maintained his commitment to proclaim the truth that He was sent to proclaim to the world, the Good News of the Gospel: love, peace, forgiveness, acceptance, grace, reconciliation for all of God’s creation.

       My friends, it is so easy for us to look at those disciples from our arm chairs while we are reading our Bibles and criticize them for what may appear to be a hollow or a shallow faith. But I’d like to suggest to you that before we get down on the apostles, or criticize the ways in which our own contemporaries live out their version of the Gospel, that we take a look at our own lives – as individuals in a democratic society, and as a church in a country which allows freedom of faith – and assess how faithful we ourselves have been to the life and teachings of Jesus.

As Christians in the United States, we might well adopt as our own the famous line of the comic strip character Pogo on the occasion of the first US Earth Day in 1970: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Throughout the history of the church in this country, we can see the ways in which the institutional church has shied away from proclaiming the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and instead has settled for an easier message that people want to hear – that won’t make them turn away and mutter, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” This has actually been a phenomenon throughout the Western world, and the phenomenon has a name: Christendom. “Christendom” – in contrast to Christianity – is the rather unholy alliance between the institutional church and the secular society that leads some politicians today to refer to the United States as a “Christian nation” despite the fact that the United States Constitution specifically says there will be no establishment of an official state religion in this country. In my humble opinion, “Christendom” is the reason why Thanksgiving Day is more known for great football games and overeating than it is spending an hour in church to thank God for the many blessings in our lives. It’s the reason why liturgical Advent is all but ignored and Christians begin preparing for Christmas before Halloween when the displays change on the shelves in the stores. What are essentially religious holidays get hijacked by secular festivities.

It is an age-old problem – we are always, at least in part, creatures of our environment, of our culture, and of the particular traditions with which we have become familiar. We see it in this morning’s lesson from the Book of Joshua, where Joshua is challenging all of the Elders and other leaders of Israel to put away the gods of their ancestors and to serve the Lord. “Choose this day whom you will serve,” he tells them, “but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Just as Joshua’s people needed to decide which God to serve, just as those early disciples of Jesus had to make the decision whether to walk away from Jesus or to embrace the life-giving, life-changing yet hard teachings he taught, so we today in the Christian Church in the United States and throughout the world also are being called to make a choice between the institutional church as it has evolved and as we have known it through the recent decades, or to stand by the teachings of Jesus, in the way He actually lived them and taught them. Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has summoned all Episcopalians to renew that Jesus faith, to reclaim at least some of the passion of Jesus early followers, and to accept the challenges Jesus’ actual teachings make to our comfortable American lives. And he calls our church “The Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.”

Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, states the problem succinctly: For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:10-20 offers us a powerful outline for resisting the forces that would lead us away from Jesus’ fundamental teachings:

  • Proclaim the Gospel of Truth as Jesus taught.

  • Strive to live a righteous life.

  • Be agents of peace and reconciliation in the world.

  • Have faith in our Lord, believing that God is for us and with us at all times and in all places.

  • Believe in and value the salvation that Jesus promises.

  • Let the Holy Spirit guide us and take control over our lives.

  • Pray in the Spirit at all times.

       You know, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.” I’m afraid that over the decades we have lost sight of that role.

We Americans like to pride ourselves on the myth that our Constitution preserves a separation between Church and State – and indeed, it may do that better than any other constitution in the world. But that can’t change the fact that we who have grown up as Christians – particularly if we are white Christians – have become all-too used to a world in which the mechanisms of society have in fact been molded around the major tenets of the Christian faith, and the church and State have developed a symbiotic relationship that would have made Jesus turn over in his grave if he had stayed there long enough. As a lawyer and an Episcopal priest, I have to say that I am appalled that in the United States of the 21st century there are serious claims by various sectors of the Christian church that by granting basic human rights to all people, we are denying rights to Christians. What rights did Jesus ever deny anyone?

My friends, the question we face is this: Who is Jesus Christ for us today? What does our loyalty to Christ, as disciples, require at this moment in our history? Bishop Curry has issued a statement, co-authored with The Rev. Jim Wallis and joined by leaders of many major Christian denominations, laying out some fundamental principles not just to profess when we are within these walls, but to live by in our public lives. In “Reclaiming Jesus,” he writes, “We believe it is time to renew our theology of public discipleship and witness. Applying what “Jesus is Lord” means today is the message we commend as elders to our churches.

“I. WE BELIEVE each human being is made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). That image and likeness confers a divinely decreed dignity, worth, and God-given equality to all of us as children of the one God who is the Creator of all things. . .

“II. WE BELIEVE we are one body. In Christ, there is to be no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class (Galatians 3:28). The body of Christ, where those great human divisions are to be overcome, is meant to be an example for the rest of society. . .

“III. WE BELIEVE how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself. (Matthew 25: 31-46) “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” God calls us to protect and seek justice for those who are poor and vulnerable, and our treatment of people who are “oppressed,” “strangers,” “outsiders,” or otherwise considered “marginal” is a test of our relationship to God, who made us all equal in divine dignity and love. . .” My friends, I remind you that almost these exact words are part of the founding principles of this congregation in which we claim membership. The statement continues, “Our proclamation of the lordship of Jesus Christ is at stake in our solidarity with the most vulnerable. If our gospel is not ‘good news to the poor,’ it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ (Luke 4:18).

“IV. WE BELIEVE that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives. Truth-telling is central to the prophetic biblical tradition, whose vocation includes speaking the Word of God into their societies and speaking the truth to power. A commitment to speaking truth, the ninth commandment of the Decalogue, “You shall not bear false witness” (Exodus 20:16), is foundational to shared trust in society. The search and respect for truth is crucial to anyone who follows Christ. . .

“V. WE BELIEVE that Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not

domination. Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles (the world) lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-26). We believe our elected officials are called to public service, not public tyranny, so we must protect the limits, checks, and balances of democracy and encourage humility and civility on the part of elected officials. We support democracy, not because we believe in human perfection, but because we do not. The authority of government is instituted by God to order an unredeemed society for the sake of justice and peace, but ultimate authority belongs only to God.

“VI. WE BELIEVE Jesus when he tells us to go into all nations making disciples (Matthew 28:18). Our churches and our nations are part of an international community whose interests always surpass national boundaries. The most well-known verse in the New Testament starts with “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16).

The statement continues: “The best response to our political, material, cultural, racial, or national idolatries is the First Commandment: ‘You shall have no other gods before me’ (Exodus 20:3). Jesus summarizes the Greatest Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, and your mind. This is the first commandment. And the second is like unto it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:38). As to loving our neighbors, we would add ‘no exceptions.’ “

When everyone else was bailing on him, Jesus asked his 12 closest friends, “Do you also wish to go away?” Without really knowing the historical or theological context in which Jesus was teaching, and with no way of knowing what theories or practices theologians and church leaders would come up with over the centuries, Peter, as it turns out, came up with about as good a response to Jesus’ question as anyone has since: “To whom can we go if not you?” We have seen your life, we have heard your teachings, we have seen your miracles. You have the words of everlasting life. Where else would we go?”

And to Peter’s words, I would invite us all to add the response of Joshua: Choose this day whom you will serve. . . As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” AMEN.

 

Posted 8/26/2018

First Sunday in Lent February 19, 2018 Year B

First Sunday in Lent   February 19, 2018  Year B 

Trinity Church Hartford

The Rt. Rev. Andrew D. Smith

 

9 In those days the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ 

 

It’s the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness the forms the paradigm for the forty days of Lent, which we began on Ash Wednesday.

 

“40 days” is Bible-speak, code, for a long long time —Tink of Noah of whom we read this morning, and the dirty days and nights on the ark, Israel homeless for forty years in (another) wilderness, and the forty days between the Resurrection and the Ascension, indicating that Jesus was with the disciples for quite a while after he was raised from the dead.

 

So, now, the gospels say that Jesus spent forty days int he wilderness.  He was alone.  the Bible doesn’t record that Jesus was DOING anything out there — just that he WAS there with himself, with temptations of the world and also with the angels (God).

 

And at the end of that time he came out, a changed person — stamped by who he is and ready to take up the mission God had given him:  to proclaim the good news.

 

Forty years ago  — almost to the month — I took the opportunity to be alone in the same wilderness near where we think Jesus spent his long, long time— not for forty days but one day.

 

I left Jerusalem on an early morning bus and headed down the Dead Sea valley.  The bus left me off where there was nothing but a signpost and a side road.  I was going to climb the mountain to Masada, the desert fortress Herod had built as a last defense.  At the bottom of the snake path was the warning sign:  Be certain you are fit and equipped with water and food; you could die on this path.   The silence during the climb was like nothing I had experienced before; the only sounds were the rock crunching under my boots, my breathing, and my heart beating.  I was utterly alone, with my thoughts —  and, strangely, with God.

 

There have been other times too, alone, in silence, with God.  The second night in silent retreat at Holy Cross Monastery.   On snowshoes deep in the White Mountains.  Silence.  Deep awareness.  God.

 

And those times have marked, changed,  my life with God, forever.

 

Have you had times like this too?  (I hope so!)

 

What I have come to realize as this Lent season began is that I haven’t had that deep alone-ness, apartness, with God, for a very long time.   It’s been as if life, especially in recent years, has been on cruise-control — marked I hope by good works, and  nourishing relationships — but without that com-munion and closeness with God which can bring such insight and change to the way we live.

 

And Jesus regularly went off alone, sometimes with his disciples, to places where they could be apart.  We read recently of his leaving Capernaum early in the morning to pray alone, and how the disciples hunted all over the countryside looking for him.  Remember their going to Gethsemane, apart to pray. 

 

So I thought, what if we pledged in Lent not to find but to make time, say once a week?, perhaps at home, to be alone, in silence, just oneself, open to God?

 

With the phone off the hook, tablets and smart phones turned off; no radio, no tv, no computer, no facebook, or twitter, or texts; no chores, no busyness, just to be apart by yourself, by myself, and be open to God.

 

As with Jesus, I am sure alone there will be temptations — distractions, desires,  doubts:  Recognize them, and ask, God, where are you in these things?  There may be inspirations — the Spirit being in there — working to impart revelations, and even new purpose.  There may be peace.  And joy. 

 

While thinking on these things, other things also have filled my mind:  about the ways we are living in this world, and especially the ab-use of power.  Persons in corporate authority, abusing others, Hollywood, Washington — officials in all branches of government, computer hackers in St. Petersburg, the new outbreak of atrocities and massacres one tribe against the other in eastern Congo, in the church, domestic violence ..

 

The violence happens over and over — a pattern now becoming ingrained and are we becoming inured? 

 

What has struck me, all of us?, most especially this past week is the violence of white males with assault rifles shooting our children — while we refuse to ban and put outside the law the owning of these weapons whose only purpose to take life and take it massively.  

 

How I wish our whole culture, the whole world, would go take time, go to the wilderness, face its ways, and God, and be changed into new life and purpose!

 

With the families now in Florida, with so many, I cry out, When will we ever learn? 

 

We don’t allow citizens to own armored tanks or howitzers or machine guns, can’t we see how wrong it is to allow assault rifles and bump stocks, for anyone?

A mental health issue?  Can anyone see where we as a nation are funding mental health care?  And could that ever prevent violence which arises from within deep and hidden thoughts and fears?

 

A self-defense issue — against a potential enemy or even our own government?  As one co-worker in New York, who served in Viet Nam and with the CIA told me, don’t be fooled:  if we wanted to get you we would get you. 

 

Come on, America!  Come on, world!

 

A retreat time for all humankind is unreal, but maybe if we took time, apart and away, in silence, seeking God, God would rouse us (me) to do something to work to change maybe this one part of our culture, our policies, our codes.

 

Our children, those who have been killed and those who survived, now are begging us.

 

Maybe that’s too specific, but as Jesus and the prophets railed against how their ages turned their backs on God’s love and sovereignty, mustn’t we also?

 

Is it too much to ask?  To begin with ourselves, and our forty days of Lent.  Rather than race along on cruise control, like a train about to jump its tracks, let’s do what Jesus did:  Make time.  Apart.  Outside the normal stuff of life.  In silence.  To be with God.

 

And like Jesus, find ourselves affirmed in who we are and who we are called to be — children of God,  together the Body of Christ — and to proclaim, by word … and action.

 

The time is now.  The Kingdom of God is near.  Stop, world.  Repent.  Believe the Good News.

 

Dear God, as Jesus went to the wilderness and faced temptations and found you there, so may we there go, and know ourselves to be called to proclaim the good news, through our Savior Jesus Christ.

 

Posted 2/23/2018

Funeral Service for Gus Andrian

February 9, 2018

Funeral Service for Gus Andrian

Trinity Church, Hartford

Isaiah 25:6-9

Psalm 91

Revelation 21:2-7

John 14:1-6

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Frank G. Kirkpatrick

In the book of Genesis, God comes to Abraham, who was already 99 years old, and says to him that he and his wife Sarah, herself well-past child bearing age, will have a child.  When Sarah hears this she can’t do anything other than laugh. I’m reminded of this story when I marvel at the advanced old age to which our friend Gus Andrian lived. He lived to the same age of Abraham when God spoke to him, an age that can truly be considered a blessing despite the afflictions that also accompany growing older. But in the Bible old age is honored and those who have attained it are worthy of praise. As God says to Abraham, "As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age.”  Gus is certainly being buried at a good old age. Generally the Bible thought of old age as anything over 70. The psalmist says The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength [perhaps] eighty,  but Gus defied these biblical assumptions about old age and made it well into his late 90’s. And so we have come here today not so much to mourn or grieve an untimely death (though those emotions are certainly appropriate), as we are to celebrate a long life well-lived from which Gus passed peacefully.

                Gus Andrian led a life of accomplishment and fulfillment, as a scholar, as a teacher, a writer, a mentor to students, as a member of the faculty at Trinity College (where I was honored to serve with him for a number of years before his retirement), as someone who cared about everyone from janitor to president at the college, as a friend and colleague, as a neighbor, as a fellow-parishioner here at Trinity, but above all as a husband for 66 years to his dear wife Peggy, and as a father to his children Barrie, Bill, and Bob, and as a loving grandfather. If anyone has done so, Gus truly embodied what it means to live a long, full life, astounding many of his neighbors in Wethersfield before he and Peggy moved to Glastonbury with his energetic walking jaunts around the town well into his old age. And as his son Bob put it in some notes he sent me, “Up to the end of his life, Gus was conscientiously managing family affairs, checking his social calendar, spending quality time with Peggy like going to "happy hour" with their new found friends at their assisted living facility, welcoming his kids and grandkids, and trying to adjust his hearing aids.”

 He led a full and remarkable life.

But I’d like to add another note to our memory of that life. Gus and Peggy were members of this religious community for sixty years. This is part of his remarkable life. We live in a time in which affiliation with a religious community is on the wane, as established religious institutions have ceased to be relevant for many people. But Gus and Peggy, even when their health was such as to make physical attendance at services difficult, looked forward to having communion brought to their home by members of this parish. As a scholar and academic Gus might have been expected to join in the anti-religious sentiments so many in the academic world seem to share. But I’m convinced that over the course of his very long life he acquired a certain kind of higher wisdom, not found in the often shallow understanding of the secular world, a wisdom that allowed him to see beyond the biases that so often afflict the worldly wise. As Paul says in the book of Titus: Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance. And Gus embodied these characteristics. The wisdom he acquired through his long and fruitful life was evidence of a deep and abiding faith in the reality of God and his presence in Gus’s life. His faith was deeply grounded in his conviction that life is essentially meaningless if it is lived only for oneself. How exactly Gus defined the meaning of his life in relation to God I don’t know. There are, as the gospel we read this morning reminds us, many dwelling places in our Father’s house. Which exact one Gus was most comfortable in I don’t pretend to know. The precise concepts and words that encapsulated Gus’s faith are known to him and God alone. I’m convinced, however, that as the psalm we just heard says, Gus knew that God, in whatever form, was his refuge and stronghold, in whom he put his trust. At the heart of that trust, that fundamental religious conviction, is the belief that ultimately death has no final dominion over us. Death will eventually bring this present life to an end but God promises us as the prophet Isaiah says: Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you;  And I will bear you and I will deliver you.  But to what will we be delivered? The Christian faith looks forward to a new world, a world beyond this one, full of all those things that will enrich, fulfill, and complete us. It will be a world in which we will flourish fully and without restriction. We may get hints of such a world beyond our biological death while we live out our lives here and now and Gus’s life is a living example of such a hint. But the religious seer, John of Patmos, in the book of Revelation, affirms that after death we will live in a new heaven and a new earth, a new Jerusalem. It will be a place where “God himself will be with his peoples, and he will wipe every tear from their eyes. And death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more” because God is making all things new.

     And so on this occasion of remembering our friend’s long and fulfilling earthly life we can rejoice in the newness of life beyond death which God promises us. It is a life which, I am convinced, Gus is already enjoying while he is walking again with full vigor and enthusiasm down all the corridors of the mansion God has prepared for him. It is a life in which we, too, will share someday, when the time comes, as we rejoin Gus and all those who have gone before us. And so the final word is not our celebration of Gus’s life and journey into death as important as that celebration is. The final word is that of hope and promise that nothing essential to the meaning of Gus’s life has been lost. It is preserved forever in the love of God and the new world beyond death into which we will all eventually be welcomed and embraced.

 

Posted 2/20/2018

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It is God who calls us together into a community of faith. It is not a random happenstance: God calls us to our location on Asylum Hill as the spiritual base from which we live out our call to minister in Jesus' name.

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