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.
During this time of "social distancing" our worship has moved online.
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.
February 9, 2018
Funeral Service for Gus Andrian
Trinity Church, Hartford
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.
February 11, 2018
Trinity Church, Hartford
Feast of the Transfiguration
2 Kings 2:1-12
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
The Rev. Dr. Frank G. Kirkpatrick
This is the day on which we celebrate the event known as the Transfiguration of Jesus. As dramatic as this event must have been, however, it is one whose meaning is not entirely clear. Some would add it to the list of major events in Jesus’ life alongside his birth, baptism, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Some have used it to develop what is known as a Christology, a philosophical theory about who Jesus was in relation to God. Searching for such a theory eventually led to the calling of a conference of bishops by the Emperor Constantine in the year 325 at Nicaea, near modern day Istanbul, known to history as the Nicaean Council. It was out of that council that the bishops created what we now know as the Nicaean Creed which defined what the Church considers to be orthodox or correct belief. But why should we recall that council today, almost 2000 years later? Because it reminds us of both the importance and the dangers of searching too hard for precise formulas for articulating what we as individuals believe about Jesus. It is important to know who Jesus was (and is) because he is the core of what we believe as part of the Jesus movement. But the conviction that we have gotten our knowledge of Jesus down pat once and for all in a creedal formula in words and language that are beyond revision has, unfortunately, led to the labelling of some as heretics and others as orthodox depending on whether they can accept these exact words and formulations. And the fate of heretics in church history is not pretty. We often hear Don welcome those who come to our worship no matter where they are on their journey of faith. That seems to suggest and rightly so, that we are not all at the same place on that journey. We may all be coming to Jesus in our own unique ways but we might not have all signed on to a single, perfectly formulated set of phrases depicting who Jesus is, even though there are such phrases in the Nicene creed.
As someone who spent almost a half-century teaching theology as a professor of religious studies, I am clearly sympathetic to the urge to define our faith as carefully and as truthfully as possible. To state with accuracy and fidelity to the various attempts by our predecessors what they came to believe about Jesus is a responsibility we all share. Some of you would even say that I value precision of thought and articulation to a fault. But looking back over my career I have become increasingly more sympathetic to the limits of the search for precise theological language that claims to be the final formulation, once and for all, of what we want to say about Jesus. This sympathy for a less systematic or final formulation of our faith is driven in no small measure by the sadly lamentable fact that once people are convinced that they have an absolute grasp of the truth they often feel justified in condemning those who don’t share that particular version of the truth. Intolerant fanaticism is the ugly side of religious certainty.
Of course the truth about anything is important: we can’t live successfully on the basis of lies or deceptions. Alternative facts or fake news are nonsensical, and when they become the basis of actions they are dangerous and perverse. Facts and truth matter a great deal. Without them we are subject to the demagoguery of tyranny. But it is one thing to search honestly and openly for the truth: it is something else to believe we have found it absolutely and then use it to bludgeon others into submission to the truth we believe we have found.
Once some members of the church believed that they had seen the truth about Jesus in the stories of the transfiguration which we heard this morning, or read their belief back into those stories. They then used that belief to hammer out creedal statements that required strict adherence to every word and phrase if one did not want to be labelled a heretic and thus subject to persecution.
But any revelation of the truth about Jesus requires not only a revealer of what is transfigured, but it also requires acceptance by the one to whom the revelation is made, a personal transfiguration of the recipient. Unless God simply rams the truth into our minds without our consent or understanding, we are left with the very human situation of having to interpret through our finite limited ways of understanding what is presented to us by God. Not only was Jesus transfigured but those who see him must be transfigured in their lives as well. God gives us the space and freedom to respond to his revelations as they speak to us in our own individual life-situations with all the particularities of who we are, by where we are on our individual journeys of faith. The life situation of the seeker after truth is uniquely personal. It is the filter through which one’s interpretation is formed and developed. But interpretations exist in a sea of various other interpretations, no one of which contains the fullness of truth in absolute purity and completeness.
It would perhaps have been nice if after the transfiguration Jesus had handed out an instruction manual on how to interpret what had happened. Unfortunately he didn’t leave us with a theological treatise in which the definitive meaning of his revelation was spelled out in excruciating detail leaving nothing to be interpreted by us. Instead Jesus left it to his followers to work out ways in which he could be understood and responded to in their own personal lives. It’s significant I think that Jesus takes only 3 of the disciples with him up the mountain to view the transfiguration. If he’d really wanted a definitive consensus on the meaning of this event he should have taken no one with him because the more observers there are the more interpretations there will be.
The responses we make to the story of the transfiguration can take two forms: one is theological. The other is existential or personal: the way of precise conceptualization and the way of engaged meaningful living. While not totally opposed to each other and always in need of integration, they are two paths with different emphases and orientations. Too often, I’m afraid, the church has chosen the way of theological sophistication (to which I confess I have contributed over the years). In the process we, the church, have often neglected the nitty-gritty realities of our complex, variegated, complicated and messy lives in which we are challenged daily to make sense of Jesus for ourselves, here and now, in the actual situations that make up who we are. It may be true, as the majority of bishops at Nicaea insisted, that Jesus was of the same substance or being with the Father (or in Greek homoousia) and not of a similar substance (homoiousia). The difference between these two Greek words is the addition of the Greek letter for ‘I’, or iota in one of them, leading Constantine to remark at one point during the debate that he couldn’t see an iota of difference between them. But I’ve probably already lost you in this theological word-salad of foreign and virtually incomprehensible terms. This formulation regarding the substance of Jesus and God became the orthodox definition of Jesus which was later elaborated in a mid-fifth century church council at Chalcedon. There the official theological language about Jesus asserted that he was and I quote from the official text: “at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, of one substance (homoousios) with the father as regards his Godhead and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood, recognized in two natures, without confusion, the distinction of the natures being in no way annulled by the union, but coming together to form one person and subsistence, but one and the same Son and only begotten God the Word.” [And I’ve edited out a lot of additional language]. And to think I got paid to explain this stuff. In many ways this Chalcedonian formula was an important step toward theological precision but I suspect that for many of us it doesn’t stir our souls, inflame our hearts, cause our blood to grow warmer or help us to come closer to the love of Jesus in our lives. Many of us are not ourselves transfigured by this theologically sophisticated language. We may be more like those people, later called Arians, who saw in Jesus more of a big brother, a somewhat less than divine companion on life’s journey; who saw no need to engage in metaphysical attempts to tie Jesus down to a precise theological formula that in their opinion overstressed the identity of substance shared by Jesus and God. In hindsight we can say that Arianism failed to do justice to the divinity of Jesus but the final vote at Nicaea revealed divisions in the thought of the assembled bishops there. These divisions did not prevent Arianism from being called a heresy and the eventual persecution by other Christians of those who refused to denounce Arian views. There is clearly truth in the orthodox position. But is it possible that we can accept that truth and still welcome those who find Jesus in some other way than through theological formulas that, so far on their journey of faith, make little or no sense to them or don’t speak to their personal questions and life-situations? We don’t need to rush to judgment against those who are not fully reconciled to the theological concepts and words that have defined the so-called orthodox position of the Church. If Jesus did not himself give us a complete owner’s manual or treatise of orthodox theology, then let us be willing to admit a variety of interpretations of who Jesus was and is for us. Because that is what is important: how do we at a deeply personal level, encounter and relate to Jesus as one who meets us where we are, as one who welcomes us person to person, not concept to concept. The only thing we would expect of those who are seeking Jesus is that they are doing so sincerely, faithfully, honestly, and because they desire something that will make their lives fuller, richer, and more fulfilling. They want to see Jesus as one who illuminates what it means to be fully human. As Saint Irenaeus reminds us, "the glory of God is a live human being and a truly human life is the vision of God.” In whatever way seekers find Jesus who will provide that model of a truly human life, they can be celebrated, and not made the subject of heresy trials and exclusion. Let us welcome all those who are truly seeking to find a Jesus who can transform and transfigure their lives no matter how loosely they define him in theological language. It is the personal, spiritual, and fully human encounter with Jesus that really matters. Existential personal transfigurations in our own lives are worth more than all theological formulas if the latter do nothing more than distract us from the business of living as Jesus would have us live.
Trinity Episcopal Church
5 Epiphany – February 4, 2018
“Nothing is Lost on the Breath of God”
Isaiah 40: 21-31 Mark 1:29-39
This week’s Gospel passage from Mark Chapter 1 verse 29 is Part 2 of the story that began in last week’s Gospel with verse 21. You may recall – and if you don’t I’ll recap it here – that Jesus and his newly acquired disciples were in Capernaum, and Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. And there was a man with an unclean spirit that began acting up and— after an interchange between Jesus and the spirit – Jesus commanded the spirit to come out of the man. And everyone was amazed at what they called this “new teaching” which can order the dismissal even of unclean spirits.
Last week, we heard an inspirational message from Fred Faulkner, a message of hope and healing as we observed Recovery Sunday and I want to thank Fred again for that. This morning I want to pick up on the significance of this “new teaching” of Jesus in the events of this morning’s passage.
What we saw in last week’s Gospel is that Jesus teaching and his power to heal are interrelated – they are one, and this theme continues today. This morning’s story takes place immediately after they have left the synagogue – so this is all one day of activity. As soon as they leave the synagogue, they enter the house of Simon and Andrew, where Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. Jesus comes to her, takes her hand, lifts her up – and the fever leaves her, and she immediately sets about to serve them. That very same evening, everyone in the city who is sick or possessed with demons was at Simon’s door, waiting for that healing touch of Jesus. And today’s passage closes with these words: “And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.”
Teaching and healing. Healing and teaching. It was the pattern of Jesus’ ministry, and I think it can also serve as a good model of ministry for the people who follow him. For nearly 10 years, the sign on the front of this church has proclaimed that we are a place of “welcome, hope and healing.”
I think one of the most powerful things we can do for and with one another is to pray, and I couldn’t be more pleased that in the last month we have re-established our intercessory prayer ministry on Sunday mornings. Especially when someone is suffering from some affliction – whether it be addiction, physical or mental illness, a broken spirit, hopelessness, poverty or maybe some combination of these – the ministry of presence of another person sharing that burden and praying with them is actually sacramental – an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.
But what, exactly, are we praying for? Contrary to the understanding of his day, Jesus makes it clear in the Gospels that physical or mental illness is not the result of some offense against God – either the person’s own sin or the sins of others. In John 9 we find the story of Jesus healing the blind man. In verses 1-3 it reads, “As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.
He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. Jesus teaches us that even the hurts and shortcomings of this imperfect world are occasions for God’s light to shine through. Jesus understanding of healing seems to be more aligned with the contemporary understanding of healing not necessarily as cure but as a process that leads to wholeness. In Mark 5:34, where a woman reaches out and is healed simply by touching the hem of Jesus’ garment, the King James Version reads, “And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.”
When I was a chaplain in training at Hartford Hospital, and when as a seminarian a group of us started an intercessory prayer team at Yale Divinity School, one of the hot topics of debate was, When we pray with someone, what exactly are we praying for? Are we praying for a cure? Or are we praying for a healing of body, mind and spirit? There were those in our group who were convinced that they had a charism of healing – that when they prayed with someone God worked through them in a unique way that enabled actual physical healing. And there may well be such people in the world – I’m not sure I’ve ever met one.
Without getting into the merits of any one person’s individual charism for healing, the sad challenge for us is always the question, how are we to understand situations where the desired outcome doesn’t happen? How do we respond? Pastor Thomas Oord tells the story of the mother desperate to have a child but instead has her fourth miscarriage despite her own prayers and those of others. The comments from people at church ranged from, “This is part of God’s plan,” to “It will make you appreciate your children even more once you have them,” to “God is building your character by allowing this.” Or perhaps the most hurtful of all comments came from those who shared biblical passages pointing to the faith of people whom Jesus healed and concluded, “You just don’t have enough faith.” Weak faith, so the argument goes, gets weak results.
In just the last two weeks, Paul Bolduc, husband of Trinity Academy’s Development Director Lisa, and LJ Sadosky, Jo-Ann Sadosky’s son, died suddenly and unexpectedly of massive heart attacks. This morning as we pray here, the husband of Karen Connal, Trinity Academy’s Head of School, lies at UConn Medical Center having just suffered a stroke. Who among us can find a coherent rationale for that? How do people of faith understand these things, and how do we respond? What are we to say or believe when the young father has a heart attack or a stroke and doesn’t survive? When the young cancer patients whom our own Kate Steven cares for at Children’s hospital don’t respond to the latest “miracle” drug?
The question of wholeness and healing isn’t limited to issues of physical or mental health. What role does our prayer play when the person who has been desperately seeking employment is turned down yet again? When the single mother piecing together several low paying jobs can’t be home at night to supervise her children and they fall into harm’s way?
Philosophers, ethicists and theologians have written thousands upon thousands of pages over many centuries attempting to address the “problem” of how evil and suffering can co-exist alongside a benevolent, loving God. They have provided no certain answers, nor will we arrive at an easy answer this morning. But we can reflect and learn something about how we respond.
I’d like to suggest that the role we play when we pray for others is to provide human interaction – whether it be actual touch or just physical proximity. That human interaction reminds us that God became incarnate – one of us – in the person of Jesus Christ so that we could experience God’s presence in him. As brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus calls us his followers to experience that same presence in each other. Research studies have actually been done comparing the outcomes for people who were being prayed for by known members of their own church as contrasted with those who were told they were being prayed for by faithful but otherwise anonymous people. The patients who had no intimate relationship with their prayer partner showed no significant difference in improvement from the general public, whereas members of the group who knew their prayer partners indicated a marked improvement in their condition or in their quality of life, or both.
Gerald May, a medical doctor who practices psychotherapy in Washington, D.C., writes of the importance of community in the healing process: God’s grace through community involves something far greater than other people’s support and perspective. The power of grace is nowhere as brilliant nor as mystical as in communities of faith. Its power includes not just love that comes from people and through people but love that pours forth among people, as if through the very spaces between one person and the next. Just to be in such an atmosphere is to be bathed in healing power.
Last week, as we observed Recovery Sunday, we were reminded that folks in 12-step programs are not the only ones in need of wholeness and healing. All of us – from the most successful businessman or elite celebrity to the person under the bridge and everyone in between – we, each one of us, has holes in our soul that are desperate for the healing touch of God that can lead us closer to wholeness – to being the person God desires for us to become. After all, Bill W, the moving force behind Alcoholics Anonymous, was himself a successful businessman who, despite his success, never felt he was good enough, or deserving enough. The condition is so common it even has a name – Imposter Syndrome. My friend and former colleague Matt Lincoln, who is now the rector of Trinity Church Buffalo where they have a weekly recovery service, speaks of the cruel reversal that many of us make in our subconscious assumptions about ourselves, “namely, we think of ourselves as more important and at the same time less valuable than we are. We put ourselves at the center of the universe, yet view ourselves as barely worth being thrown into the outer darkness. . . None of us is the center of the universe, yet each of us is cherished, valued infinitely by the one who actually is the center of the universe.”
This understanding of community and the intrinsic value of every single human individual is part of the DNA of this congregation, Trinity Hartford. It was articulated at the laying of the cornerstone of our present building in 1894 by Colonel Jacob L. Greene, who said, “Here no one is to be higher in right or privilege than another, this common and equal right being based on the common and equal need which each one has of divine help.”
In this morning’s message from the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Isaiah asks ,“Have you not known? Have you not heard?” The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. . . He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. . . [T]hose 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.”
As brothers and sisters of Jesus the Christ, as his followers, one of our most important roles is to be partners with God in promoting wholeness, hope and healing, for ourselves, for each other, and for the whole world. Because as Episcopalians we believe that everything God creates is cherished by God and to be honored by us. In the beautiful words of our sequence anthem by New Zealand composer Colin Gibson, Nothing is lost to the on the breath of God, nothing is lost forever, God’s breath is love, and that love will remain, holding the world forever. No feather too light, no hair too fine, no flower too brief n its glory, no drop in the ocean, no dust in the air, but is counted and told in god’s story.”
God so loved us that he gave his only begotten son to become one of us. As part of Jesus call to follow him, we are called to share in His ministry of healing, to extend that touch to humankind, for the healing and wholeness of the world, and to the glory of God, that God’s works may be revealed through our own self-giving love. Amen.
Recovery Sunday: Amazing Grace
A Sermon by Mr. Fred Faulkner
Trinity Episcopal Church, Hartford, Connecticut
Sunday ,January 28, 2018
I want to start out by expressing my sincere thanks to the staff and members of Trinity for the very warm welcome that you have extended Janice and I. Trinity has a strong and positive reputation in the church and secular communities. I have wanted to be a part of the Trinity community for a long while. You see I believe that the church, the parish, is the place where members of the Jesus movement come to organize, energize and revitalize in order to go out into the world and do the work of Jesus. The church is not the place where the work of Jesus is done. Unless, of course you invite the world into your church. Trinity is a model on both counts. The boundary between the world and the church that exists in many places is not here at Trinity. Trinity both goes out to the community of need and brings that community in. I want to be a part of that. I am so very happy to say that Janice and I are going to be a part of the Trinity Hartford branch of the Jesus movement.
Last week Father Don came to visit me at my house in the Coltsville section of Hartford. My house is called The Open Hearth. 110 men live in my house and 35 staff work there.
Most of the men in my house are alcoholics, drug addicts or chronically mentally ill. Their legal status includes legal incarceration, parole, probation, and jail diversion. Many of them have never committed a crime but most have. Their convictions range from petty larceny to murder but the vast majority of their crimes are drug and alcohol related. I am proud to say that the backgrounds of the staff reflect the backgrounds of the residents.
The Open Hearth is the last stop for many of the men in the programs. They have lived on the fringes of society their whole lives. You will find men at The Open Hearth who are 50 years old and have never had a real job. Men live at The Open Hearth who are 30 years old and have never completed a full year outside of a prison as an adult. I have brothers at the Open Hearth who went from foster care to mental hospitals to living under bridges. Men live at the Open Hearth that havw no recollection of clean and sober days until they arrived at the Open Hearth.
There is pain, guilt, remorse, anger and frustration at The Open Hearth. But there is something else at The Open Hearth. There is hope, there is joy, there is success, there is freedom, there is relief, there is a sense of caring and belonging.
I haven’t had a chance to talk with Father Don since his visit. I haven’t asked him to share with me his impressions. I don’t know what he walked away with. But I hope he saw a little of what I see on a daily basis. In the midst of the pain I hope he saw relief. In the midst of the anger I hope he got a sense of men taking responsibility for their actions. I hope he saw men asking for help and I hope he understands what a huge accomplishment that is.
People see or hear about what I do and often they are impressed. They congratulate me on doing such admirable and difficult work. But they don’t understand. I thank God on a daily basis for giving me the opportunity to serve him at The Open Hearth. There is no place on the planet that I would rather be on a daily basis than the Open Hearth. I spent my entire adult life preparing to serve God by serving his people who live on the edges. They are me and I am them.
So let me properly introduce myself to you.
My brothers and sisters in Christ I want to tell you that my name is Fred and I am an Alcoholic. My name is Fred and I am an alcoholic. It is important that you know that about me but it is even more important that I remember it about myself. You see I am also a husband, a father, a brother, a counselor but none of those things are as important as my declaration that I am an alcoholic. Because you see if I forget that I will not be able to function as any of those other things.
And as an alcoholic I know pain, I know depression, I know guilt. Many a night my prayer was that God take me that night, that I not wake up in the morning. That the pain of my death to my family would be less than the pain of my living. There were times that I thought that I wasn’t even good enough to end it all. I was guilty that my love of the bottle was greater than the love of my children.
And somebody within the sound of my voice understands what I am talking about. Whether it be alcoholism, drug addiction, or other forms of mental illness there are people in this room that know what I am talking about. They know what I am talking about because they have the disease or love somebody who does.
Somebody here knows about depression so deep, so pervasive that it actually physically hurts and you lack the energy to get out of bed for days at a time. Somebody here knows about addiction so strong that feeding your addiction is more important than feeding your hungry baby. Somebody here knows about fighting off the voices in your head that you know are not real and losing that fight and they become more real and more powerful than any voices outside of you. Somebody in this church knows somebody whose emotional pain was so deep, so intense that they cut themselves and inflicted physical pain on themselves to distract from the emotional pain.
And all of these illnesses make the victims unable to fulfill their basic responsibilities to their families and to society. And unlike other diseases the symptoms of these diseases engender rejection and anger in others rather than understanding and caring. When was the last time you sent a get well card to somebody in active addiction? And unlike other diseases victims of mental illness will blame themselves for having the disease. And because we blame ourselves we do not feel worthy of restoration. We do not come to God because we do not feel worthy of the love of god. Our sins are too great. There is a sense that we deserve to be punished. Our guilt and self-loathing is pervasive.
But Jesus said
“He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
God sent his son here for us, for we who are captive to our addictions. We who are blinded by our diseases. We who are oppressed by a system that is too quick to treat mental illness as a crime.
But my brothers and sisters let me tell you something. Jesus came here because of our sins not in spite of them. Jesus came here for us who suffer. Jesus walked amongst the lepers and he cast out demons and at no time did he blame the victims for their disease. For Jesus it was the disease that was rejected not the victim of the disease. Jesus didn’t suffer on the cross for the righteous. Jesus spent his time engaging with the very people that many so called Christians try to avoid. Jesus spent his time with us, us who live on the edges of society. I heard Jesus say
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
The message is clear from Jesus . Come to me with your burdens, we will do this together. Coming to Jesus does not mean the work ends. Recovery work, particularly in the early days is probably the most difficult work you will ever do. But if you join us, if you join the people of Jesus who are in recovery you will find rest from your work. Your burden will be lighter because we will carry it together. Learn from us, be with us, the people of Jesus in recovery.
I stand before you today a grateful man. I am not grateful in spite of all the pain I endured. I am grateful for the pain I endured. Because it is because of that pain that I am the man I am today and I am happy with the man I am today. It is because of my suffering that I can serve my God through his people the way I do. It is because of the life that I lived that I can say to a homeless destitute mentally ill alcoholic that change is possible and have him believe me. It is because of my history that I can offer men the opportunity to change their lives. It is because of my experiences that I can talk about the love of Jesus the way I do.
One of the reasons our staff at the Open Hearth reflects the clients is because at The Open Hearth we not only teach that recovery is possible we show it. We live it. Because of my experiences I can model recovery -- I don’t just have to talk it. I thank God for that privilege, a privilege that comes only because of my experience.
I stand here and disclose to you my disease and my recovery because I want you to know that long term recovery is possible, it is doable. It is not to portray myself as exceptional because of what I have overcome. It is exactly the opposite. I want you to know that if this garden variety gutter alcoholic can stop using so can you. 16 years ago I was unemployed and unemployable. I stand before you today an employed man. 16 years ago my health was marginal at best. I stand before you today in the best health of my adult life. At 65 I am living and pursuing dreams that I never thought possible.
But let me be clear about something. While I consider it my right to disclose my recovery status I am very clear that I do not have the right to disclose others. There is clearly a movement in recovery to depart from the traditional guidelines regarding anonymity. I am part of that movement. But I strongly believe that each of us has the right to make that decision for ourselves. To my brothers and sisters out there that I know from the rooms do not be concerned. I will maintain the spirit of anonymity.
I’ll be done in just a few minutes but first I want to talk about something that at one point I wasn’t aware of, that I didn’t believe in, that I didn’t accept and to this day I don’t truly understand. I want to talk about grace.
Archbishop Justin Welby said, “Grace is the most beautiful word in the language of God. It means love given freely and without the expectation of return. “
Rick Warren said, “In God’s garden of grace even a broken tree can bear fruit. “
Tim Keller said, “The more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying and amazing God’s grace appears to you. “
But what then is grace? I think grace is a gift from God. I think grace is God giving us something that we have done nothing to deserve. The granting of grace is counterintuitive. Many of us who have suffered from mental illness have lived lives that we think are worthy of punishment. But grace grants us peace and rewards despite our sins and irresponsible life styles.
God is not a vengeful punishing God but a loving, caring and forgiving God. That is Jesus’ message to us and that is my message to you.
For a Christian to maintain a healthy recovery an acceptance of the pervasive existence of grace is essential. Without it we get caught up in a vicious cycle. You see we become consumed by guilt which translates into feeling not worthy of God’s love which leads us to desperation which leads us back to active addiction. Without an acceptance of grace we can’t get beyond the feelings of self-loathing.
I’m here to tell you the road to sustained recovery is not easy. It requires work, hard work and in many ways the work never ends. But take my yoke upon you and I’ll take yours. Together each of our loads will be lighter.
You see God understands that our conditions are diseases. We didn’t ask for them. No schizophrenic saw schizophrenia as their life’s goal. When as a child, I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I never said I wanted to be an alcoholic. You should feel no more guilty for having depression than a diabetic feels guilty for having diabetes.
Trust me God loves you and understands you. Jesus came here for you. He suffered and died for you.
So today I am going to finish my first sermon at Trinity Church by telling you about something that I accept but don’t understand. But really there’s nothing new or different about that concept. I have no understanding of how electricity works but when I flip the light switch I expect and accept that the light will come on. I don’t understand the maternal instinct but you won’t see me getting in between a mother bear and her cub.
I can’t explain grace but I know what it is and I accept it. It is that phenomenon that tells us that God loves us no matter our sins. Grace is that sense that God has forgiven me so I can forgive myself. It is the knowledge that in the throes of my addiction I rejected God out of a sense of anger, defensiveness and shame but God never rejected me. Grace tells me that I am worthy to be called a child of God and treated that way. Grace tells me to learn from the past but not get stuck in it. Grace tells me that no matter what I have done, I am still a child of God and that as a child of God I deserve recovery, dignity, and respect. Grace tells me that it is not by works that I will be saved and inherit the kingdom, it is by faith. Faith in a loving, caring and forgiving God. Amen.
Trinity Episcopal Church
Christmas Eve 2011
“Home for Christmas”
One of the most popular Christmas songs over the years has been “Home for the Holidays.” I remember as a kid listening to Perry Como -- with his red sweater -- who sang kind of the classic version of this:
Oh there’s no place like home for the holidays.
For no matter how far away you roam,
If you want to be happy in a million ways,
For the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home.
The song conjured up images of families gathered around a fireplace and home-baked pumpkin pie. It became something you longed for even if you had never experienced it.
And “going home” or people “returning home” is such a central part of the holiday for so many of us. My own daughter returned home from Washington, D.C. – just in time to finish my last minute Christmas shopping and wrapping for me! The interstates were packed over the past few days, as were the airports and bus and train terminals, with folks traveling to some version of “home” – parents, children, siblings. At Christmas time, our hearts seem always to drift to some version of “home” – whether real or romanticized.
And so it is ironic that at this season in which the home hearth is so desirable we also turn to the most beloved story of the New Testament found at the beginning of the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Because in this story none of the central characters are going home – they are all going away from home.
n Mary has left her family in Nazareth to join her betrothed husband.
n Joseph is leaving his home in Nazareth to return to his ancestral home in Bethlehem for the census – clearly he no longer has relatives there or Jesus would have been born in someone’s guest room instead of a shelter for animals.
n The shepherds are summoned by the angel away from their posts in the fields outside of Bethlehem to search for the child who is proclaimed to be the Messiah. To put the distance in perspective for you, it is a distance similar to walking from the top of Avon Mountain to arrive here at Trinity.
n And perhaps most importantly, the ultimate departure from home is for Jesus himself. He went from the infinite to the finite, the almighty to the powerless, from absolute Spirit to the most vulnerable of humanity in the person of a helpless human infant. You can’t get much further from home than that.
Quite different from the nostalgia associated with “Home for the Holidays,” where everything is familiar and comfortable. The characters in the nativity story are going away from that which is familiar, comfortable and reassuring. Indeed, all of them are heading to a first Christmas which is uncertain, unfamiliar and even a bit scary.
During this past year we have “adopted” a refugee family from Syria, in partnership with our friends at Trinity College. For them, this has been an amazing year – and their family is still not together, with some remaining in Egypt, unable to gain access to our country. They, along with many in our congregation, uniquely know what it is like to be forced to leave one’s homeland with virtually nothing but your family pride and enter into a strange new world where virtually nothing is familiar and you are totally vulnerable – depending upon the hospitality of friendly strangers.
This is also the story of the people to whom the prophet Isaiah was writing. “The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light,” he writes. “For the yoke of their burden , and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. . . For a child has been born for us, a son given to us, authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” You know, as Western Christians, we tend to focus on the last half of this passage and tie it to the “joyous” Christmas story of Luke. We celebrate the arrival of the one who will fulfill God’s mission, but we forget the beginning of the passage that talks about the struggle. God comes in the midst of a world of conflict, and that is the world that Jesus entered. That is the world which Jesus came to save. It is the world into which Jesus calls us, his followers, to continue the mission he began as a vulnerable infant on that first Christmas morning.
How is it that in the midst of disruption, the scene at the manger is one of peace? What can we learn – what spiritual insights can we gain from looking at our traditional western notion of a homey Christmas next to Luke’s picture of a group of displaced people away from home.
Considering the two distinct pictures reminds us of those Christmases when we have been separated from family, or when family or friends from far away have joined our family for Christmas. And what actually happened on those times was that God led us to discover a new family – the family of those who were gathered in Jesus’ name around a common table, sharing a common belief, celebrating together the hope and the promise that was born with the Christ child. It is not the promise of the Garden of Eden that all will be simple and idyllic – but it is the promise that God is with us and remains with us in a world that includes war, injustice and violence.
And that is a reminder we can take with us this Christmas: That around that gamy manger, with the sounds and smells of the animals nearby, perhaps even providing a bit of warmth, the shepherds and the Holy Family had indeed found a home. And the hearth of the home, providing both light and warmth, was Jesus, the infant, himself. He became the light of Mary and Joseph’s life; he brought the attention and the adoration of the shepherds and later the wise men as they gathered around that manger. And he became the Light of the World.
What does it mean for us that Jesus was born in a barn? The answer is as challenging 2000 years later as it was then. Would we believe it if we were led to a new born savior in a homeless shelter, or under a bridge? But here we have it in Luke’s Gospel, the Savior of the world is born into the most humble of circumstances.
The Gospel of John proclaims that “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” That is the extraordinary story that we celebrate this day: Not that the Word became text, or the Word became a Bible memory verse. The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us – in all our varied circumstances, in all our varied cultures and backgrounds, in every facet of human life. Jesus became one of us.
The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 6, tells us that “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And nowhere does that hold more true than on Christmas night. For indeed, tonight we can reflect that wherever we feel the presence of Jesus, whenever we see the face of Jesus in others, there we can find a home. Jesus made His home with us. Let us always find our home in Him. Blessed Christmas. Amen.
First Sunday of Advent B Trinity Church Hartford December 3, 2017
If I were a fly, and I wouldn’t want to be a fly, but if If I had to be a fly on the wall, I would like to be a fly on the wall of the locker room, say after a practice, or — even better yet, at half time, when the team is in there with their coaches, and Geno Auriemma and the UConn women have had a so-so first half, turnovers, missed baskets, not much hustle on the floor and they are in real danger of falling behind in the game.
Because I wonder what goes on in there. Something happens in that locker room, for when they come out onto the floor for the second half, it’s a different game. Defense has been adjusted and tightened, some new players are in the mix, the women play with new confidence, making shots, grabbing rebounds: they’re back on their game.
Something happens in that locker room.
I’m sure a lot of it is what comes from the coaches. They’ve been watching, noting who is as he puts it, sleepwalking, out there, and they’re thinking, and planning while the players are been playing the first half. That’s their job, to make the players see what they can’t see out there on the floor, to remind them of the playbook, to help them adjust their game, reset the offense and defense, to push for corrections, even to bench players when they need rest or they just need to sit out and learn. The same is true in the off-season, to discipline them in the best sense of that word, to watch their diets, care for their their emotional health, to help them grow not only in the in the game but personally in life.
But I imagine a lot also comes from the players too: they are smart people; they know what’s going on out there on the floor, up close in the quick rough and tumble of the basketball game. They hear and see and feel the game. They encourage each other — you can see that when they’re on the floor — and from those who have to stay on the bench — in abundance. So I imagine in that locker room half-time they the players too have things to say, questions to ask .
Whatever it is, it’s clearly working. The UConn women have started their new season with a fierce rush. Division One Team. Although defeated once at the end of last year’s season, a hard loss, with no trophy. Yet, in the world of basketball, coming out now with a strength and an effectiveness and spirit that have made them undefeatable so far this new year. You can see their joy as they play. A championship team.
Yet without that training, without the coaches, without those evaluations and interventions and locker room corrections and that spirit, it never would happen. Go Huskies!
Happy Advent. Do you see the metaphor?
Here we are, Team Trinity: The First Sunday of Advent; for us it’s our new season, the beginning our new (church) year.
What f we would think of Advent as a locker-room sort of time. A time a little like half-time, to get off the playing floor, and think together about who we are and what we’re about and how we’re playing the game.
For the game we play, team Trinity, is much more than an NCAA game.
As the lessons today and through the next three Sundays will hammer home for us, we are a team engaged by God in a contest against all the evil powers which would corrupt and destroy the creation and the creatures which God has ordained. The discernment and vivid visions of Isaiah, of a world gone awry, brutally far from the love and peace that God intends, and warnings of the consequences, wake us up. The word from Jesus is to be on the watch, preparing ourselves and others to take our part in winning against evil. In the weeks ahead, John the Baptist, will be calling on whoever will listen to change the way we live, he bids us all to share in the victory over the opposition.
Ours is not a season of games in the NCAA but a Cosmic Arena of competition against everything that is evil.
I am feeling it in this time more and more acutely. We are in a time when personal and community grace has been replaced by name calling and personal demeaning, when lying is legion, truth is refuted in spite of its overwhelming evidence, when people who differ are disparaged and slandered, attacked and killed, when patterns of interpersonal exploitation surface daily, so that we become habitually wary and suspicious, more divided, more ready to mistrust than to accept, to condemn than to rejoice.
Well it is that we have prayed to God that we cast away the works of darkness, and put on us the armor of light, now. And to get onto the floor to represent and push for what by God is right.
So, let’s think of ourselves as a team, nw at the start of a new season, and here we are in Advent in our locker and training room. If there were a fly on the wall of this room, or anther visitor today, what would she see?
The team is gathered in — every one a player, each with different skills, (forward, guards, post layers), some more experienced, some new recruits, together equipped and training to become more versatile, well-rounded, cover all the positions. (Saint Paul makes very clear in his epistles to the Corinthians and Romans that we all are gifted in the Spirit.) I hope from all she would ee the joy of being on the court. And some have moved on, transferred to different teams, or graduated into the larger Sky League
Coaches. We don’t have Geno, but we do have Coach Don Hamer — with some other coaches assisting — nurturing the players, teaching us, training us, encouraging us, pushing us, helping us to see the bigger picture and play on the court more effectively.
I was tempted to say that the coaches are “player-coaches” — but as I think about it, it seems more that the clergy are like Geno and Marisa and Shea and Chris — not full-time players, in the sense that we are out there in the work world day by day, in the same way as the rest of the team. No, the Church in God’s name tapped some focus on building the team. That’s probably not entirely correct, but that certainly was what I felt when I served in the episcopate: early on I realized that I was living a life different from what most people live day by day.
The Game Playbook — Holy Scriptures. Not a play-by-play manual by any means. But the One Source through which we get to know the story of what the game’s about and how life in God through Christ is offered and can be lived. Like Jesus telling us not to sleepwalk out there, but to stay awake! We read a lot from it every time we’re together.
And yet it’s not all up to the “coaches” in the locker room. The dynamic for victory is not a one-way street. The players have lots to offer and say, and questions to ask, just as they do, I think, at UConn. If I have a dream of our Advent in-house training and sharpening up time, it is that we set up occasion so the players could ask more questions — offer more insights.
Sermons are so one-way. Forums start out one-way. I wish we could have some open times, when as we gather players and so-called coaches, we begin with stuff that is on the team’s mind, stuff that would move us into perhaps unexpected areas of the game.
Now, to really pull back the curtain, and open the scene hugely wide, all of this team’s life and effort is played out before the God of heaven and earth, in communion with that same God who loves and nurturers us far more than any earthly so-called coach could ever do. In Christ Jesus we are fed in the Holy Eucharist. In the Spirit we are filled with direction, resolve, energy — and drive, spirit. We pray and we listen in prayer, for God is the epotter, we are the clay. And we know, fo sure, who is going to win: it is God of all, with the host of heaven and God’s various teams on earth — not competing against one another, we trust, but competing against evil that would seek to diminish and separate and destroy.
Every metaphor, every comparison, falls short, of course. This one does.
I pray the fly on our wall would see here especially in Advent a team eager to begin its new season, knowing the greatness of the challenge, deep in training, eyes on the prize, spirited, engaged joyfully, actively seeking to be a National Champion Division One team, disciplined and prepared for the encounters ahead.
In the glory of God:
Trinity Episcopal Church, Hartford, CT
All Saints Sunday – Year A – November 5, 2017
1 John 3: 1-3; Matthew 5: 1-12
As we celebrate this All Saints Sunday, 2017, the passages from the First Letter of John and from St. Matthew’s Gospel point us again to “the way of Jesus” and what it means to grow in mission. And as we renew our baptismal vows and, at the 10 a.m. service, welcome three new boys into God’s household, we can remember once again what it means to be a saint.
In this Year A of the three year lectionary cycle, our Epistle is from the first Letter of John in which John is emphasizing the humanity of Jesus and, through him, our own status as children of God. And that is where chapter 3 begins: See what love the father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. And since we believe that Jesus is God’s son, that makes us brothers and sisters of Jesus himself.
One of the things we get as children is an inheritance. So as children of God, we have received an inheritance from God. This point is also made by St. Paul in the first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians. Now, inheritances are things we like to get, right? I mean, who here does NOT want to get an inheritance? In 25 years of practicing law and 14 years presiding over cases where people were often clamoring for their inheritance rights, I can tell you I have yet to see the person who says, “No thanks, you can have my share.”
But this inheritance is not an inheritance like the one we might get from rich Aunt Matilda. This inheritance is not a pile of money we can run out and spend on ourselves. Because we inherit other things from or parents as well, don’t we? We inherit our parents looks, a lot of their bodily characteristics and some of their personality characteristics – we inherit their whole gene pool, both good and not so great.
In Ephesians, Paul tells us that our inheritance from God through the life and death of Jesus Christ is so that WE might LIVE to the PRAISE OF GOD’S GLORY. The writer repeats that one line later: we have been MARKED WITH THE SEAL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT – NOTE TO SELF – THAT IS WHAT WE RECEIVE IN BAPTISM --and that is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of God’s glory (vv 13-14).
And a couple of verses later, Paul writes that with our hearts and minds enlightened by the Holy Spirit, we will know THE HOPE to which Jesus calls us, and we may know the RICHES OF HIS GLORIOUS INHERITANCE AMONG THE SAINTS.
John is saying the same thing. Unlike the inheritance from rich Aunt Matilda, our inheritance as children of God is received over the course of a lifetime. He writes, Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him for we will see him as he is.
So let’s see. We have this inheritance from God – that means God has given us something of value. And with that thing of value, we are supposed to take it, and use it throughout our whole lifetimes to become more like Jesus. And what do we call people like that? We call them saints.
Now, who do we usually think of as saints? Really holy people, right? They write stuff in the Bible. They perform miracles. They distinguish themselves in history somehow. Sometimes they even get killed for what they believe. If you look up the word “saint” in the dictionary, the first thing you see is something like “a person formally recognized by the church for exceptional holiness in their life” or “a person of great virtue, holiness or benevolence.” They get a day named after them and, in the Episcopal Church, get an article printed about them in Holy Women, Holy Men or Lesser Feasts and Fasts. We think, These are exceptional, one-of-a-kind people. It takes someone like them to make sure that God is glorified. We begin to think of saints as someone whose performance and sanctity of life is unattainable for us. And we begin to think of saints as someone else.
And that, my friends, is a mistake. Because when we start thinking that only someone else can be a saint, it is the beginning of giving up that special inheritance that God gives to each of us. And how does God give us that inheritance? Through our baptism. It is through our baptism that we join the community of saints – those who have gone before us, those whom we have loved and see no longer, all of us who are part of Christ’s church, and those who will follow us. All of us, together, form “the communion of saints.”
And what is our task as one of these saints? Our Book of Common Prayer sets it out on page 855: To be a saint is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them – those gifts are that inheritance we talked about—according to the gifts given them to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.
Representing Christ. Bearing witness to Jesus Christ wherever we may be. What does that look like? Well, a lot of things, but Matthew gives us some ideas in today’s Gospel from the sermon on the Mount: Whenever the poor are blessed, whenever the hungry are fed, when those who mourn can laugh or have their burden lifted, whenever we can make the world a better place even in spite of those who may stand in the way. When we love our enemies, when we do good even to those who hate us, when we can bless those who curse us, when we can pray for those who abuse us, when we can give without ceasing – when we do any of these things, we are representing Christ. We are bearing witness to Jesus Christ – following his way – in the words of 1 John we are becoming more like him – and when we do that the world cannot help but stop and take notice.
That’s what each one of us is called to do, whatever our gifts may be. We need to use the gifts we’ve been given to look more like Jesus. We know from the writings of St. Paul that all of our gifts are different, but Ephesians also promises us that each and every one of us has gifts through our baptism. And when we pool our gifts together, only then do we become the Body of Christ that Jesus envisioned.
When we think of saints as someone else, as people set apart, as only people with extraordinary abilities, it is so easy for us to tell ourselves, “someone else will do it.” Someone else will give glory to God. Someone else will feed the hungry, lift up the poor, educate the children, soothe the afflicted. Someone else will help teach church school. Someone else will bring that dinner to the sick person or give the person who doesn’t drive a ride to the doctor’s office. Someone else will step up and tithe to the support of the church. Someone else will bring communion to the person who can’t get out. Someone else will be a witness to the way of Jesus.
And that, my brothers and sisters, is when we begin to walk away from that blessed and abundant inheritance that God has offered to us in the person of Jesus the Christ. And when we do that, we sell ourselves short of being the people God has made us to be. And not only do we sell ourselves short, we sell our church short, and the Body of Christ doesn’t look so much like Jesus any more. And when we’re not living up to our inheritance, we’re also selling God short. We fall short of the glory God has set for us. And when that happens the world – whatever our world is – misses the opportunity to recognize Jesus in its midst. We don’t do it for our own glory. We don’t do it for the glory of the Episcopal Church or even the Christian church. We do it for the glory of God – the God who has a mission in the world and who has adopted us – who depends upon us – to be a part of that mission.
So on this All Saints Sunday, we celebrate our day! We welcome three new children into the Body of Christ. We renew our own baptismal promises, and remind ourselves that we – each of us – are heirs to God’s grace and blessing. And that inheritance brings with it a responsibility – our responsibility to look more like Jesus, to witness to his love, to shine the light of Christ into the darkness of the world. On this All Saints Day 2017, may this be our prayer: That each of us will try to look a little more like Jesus each and every day. AMEN.
Trinity Episcopal Church, Hartford, CT
Sunday, August 27, 2017
Romans 12: 1-8, Matthew 16:13-20
Holding the Keys to the Kingdom
And I tell you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
-Matthew 16:18, 19
With these words found in this morning’s Gospel, Jesus officially establishes the notion of a “church” that, in some as yet undisclosed way, would affiliate his followers. Notice he doesn’t say anything about what that will look like; it just represents the whole body of people throughout the world who confess Jesus as their Lord. This is true throughout the Christian scriptures – the word “church” refers not to a building or even a place, but an assembly of people professing Jesus.
And it is on this occasion that Jesus chooses to change Simon’s name to Peter – or Petros, the Greek word that means “rock.” And with this strong name, Jesus appoints Peter as the first in what Roman Catholics and, in a different way, Anglicans and others consider to be an unbroken line of succession of church leadership to this very day. Jesus gives Peter “the keys of the kingdom.”
Quite a responsibility! And don’t lose the symbolism here: Jesus – who is God but who came to earth as a full human being – has begun the process of turning over the movement he started to a mere mortal. I sometimes wonder if Jesus regretted these words mere moments later, when he refers to Peter as “Satan” when Peter refuses to accept Jesus’ forecast that His earthly ministry will end in his death. Not to mention that Peter, within earshot of Jesus, denies even knowing him three times immediately before the death that Peter said would never happen. Way to go, Peter!
How many you are parents that have experienced giving the keys to the family car to a child for the first time? How many of you remember receiving the keys to the family car for the first time? How many of you aren’t 16 yet and can’t wait to get the keys to the family car? It’s a big deal, right? So you can imagine what it felt like to Jesus to name Peter to be his successor as the leader of this movement that Jesus had started. Peter himself pretty clearly, at least at this point, didn’t have a clue what Jesus meant. He got the keys and then promptly drove the car into a ditch. I wonder if Jesus felt a little like parents do when they give their teen-aged child the keys to the car for the first time. Sure, child had some training, but how will they act when they are out on their own, when the rubber meets the road? You have to be a little worried.
Clearly Peter has just received a big promotion. If there was ever any doubt about his leadership among the small band of disciples, Jesus has erased that doubt. What did Jesus see in Peter at that point that the text of the Gospels does not reveal? Perhaps it was not Peter’s actual behavior that caught Jesus’ attention – surely there was a lot of room for improvement there. It not his behavior, then, it may have been Peter’s heart, and his faith – simple as it was – that allowed Jesus to see the leader in him. Perhaps it was his testimony: You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!
I mentioned earlier the office of Pope in the Roman Catholic tradition and the office of Bishop in both the Roman tradition and many Protestant denominations, including our own. The Rev. Dr. Jin S. Kim of The Church of All Nations in Minneapolis, commenting on this text, has written that “the temptation of the church has always been to attempt to shore up its authority through external means, the doctrine of apostolic succession being one of them. . . . Furthermore, the authority of its ministers has become rooted in seminary education and ordination certified in a particular denominational tradition. Jesus is a very mercurial figure, though, who cannot be boxed in and used in these ways. The foundation of the church is not Peter, the original bishop, who passes o his regal authority from pope to pope as in the Roman Church, but neither is it the ability to memorize, assent to, and repackage the “hallowed” confessions of the Protestant Reformation.
“The church is not founded on Peter, just as it is not founded on John the Baptist or Elijah, Luther or Calvin. The Rock is not Peter, but Peter’s testimony. Therefore, while this passage has been interpreted to give the church empirical power and permanence, the underlying lesson is that the church is as resilient or fragile as each of us in our own faith. . . . Jesus’ question to each of us (as it was to those disciples) is, “Who do you say that I am? What is your testimony of me? What is your experience of the living God through my witness and presence?
“This is the rock on which the church is founded and the source of the Christian’s authority. This is what grants us the keys of the kingdom of heaven, to bind and to loose on earth. God relates to the church not as a coercive ruler but as a loving parent who entrusts to a fragile and immature child the power to do right and to do wrong, to be faithful and to drift away.”
So the question posed by today’s Gospel passage is, “How do we, as followers of Jesus, handle our responsibility with the keys to the kingdom?
In chapter 12 of his letter to the Romans, St. Paul reminds us that each and every one of us has a vital role in this movement. Jesus has given each of us a set of keys, and it is our responsibility – indeed, our blessing – to make a difference and to contribute to this Jesus Movement, to make it most fully what Jesus intended for it to be.
For the first 11 chapters of his letter to the Romans, Paul has been laying out his understanding of the theological foundation of the early Jesus Movement. And once again, congregation, I want to remind you not to be scared of that word, “theology.” Remember what theology is: Faith seeking understanding. (Thank you, St. Anselm) So having laid out how we might understand these teachings of Jesus, beginning with Chapter 12 Paul now begins exhorting his audience on the moral implications of that theology.
And Paul does something remarkable here: Just as Jesus, the God-Man, gave the keys to the very mortal Peter, St. Paul tells us that to present our own human bodies in service to God is a living sacrifice, the real type of sacrifice that God seeks from God’s people – not the symbolic sacrifice of birds and goats and other creatures. It is the giving of ourselves that God wants – that is our spiritual worship. I am reminded of the 19th century hymn text written by John G. Whittaker entitled O Brother Man. The opening verse goes like this:
"O brother man, fold to thy heart thy brother;
Where pity dwells, the peace of God is there;
To worship rightly is to love each other,
Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer."
I am also reminded of the Royal School of Church Music prayer that our choirs pray before each service and during each rehearsal: Bless us, O Lord, your servants who minister in your temple. Grant that what we say and sing with our lips, we may believe in our hearts, and what we believe in our hearts, we may show forth in our lives. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Paul adds another interesting point about the giving of ourselves. In verse 3 he writes, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” At first glance, it might appear that the important part of this is not to think too highly of ourselves – which is always a good self-check to consider. But I think in the church the opposite is more frequently the case – that people think too little of themselves, and assume that what they have to contribute, if anything, is not important or valuable. Paul’s “body of Christ” metaphor – which he of course repeats in the 12th chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians – supports this interpretation: Each and every one of us has something important to contribute, and the body is not complete, and the mission is not complete -- without that offering of time, talent and treasure from each and every member. As Paul writes in verse 5, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.
And so, I close in St. Paul’s opening words of Chapter 12: I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect. AMEN.