this is what I said (to the best of my immediate memory)

My sisters and brothers, the sermon I intended to preach I will post later this afternoon on my blog page. Should you desire, you can read it there. Another word has been given to me to share with you this day.

As I age, day by day I feel more and more the pains, the sorrows of others. So much so, that, at times, I sleep less, I eat less because I feel more. This past week was one of those times.

Last Sunday, in Las Vegas, fifty-eight of our sisters and brothers were murdered. Over five hundred others were injured. Only God knows how long their recoveries, if they do recovery fully, will take.

Less known, perhaps, is that this past week there were three or four other mass shootings; defined as the death or injury to four or more persons in a public setting. Yet this is not a word about gun control. Though I will say that I am not opposed to the individual, private ownership of guns.

Now, during this past week, as I watched and listened to the news coverage in the aftermath of Las Vegas, especially the stories of the lives of the dead, the testimonies of their families and friends, I heard many words, among them: “kind”, “compassionate”, “always thinking of others first”, “infectious laughter”, contagious smile”. I am struck by a sense of the spiritual capital these folk, none of whom I knew, amassed and shared in their lives of goodwill. Spiritual capital now lost to their families and friends and to us.

In my sixty-five years, one of the hardest things for me to do is to stay in the present. I spend a lot of time reviewing the past, my past and a lot of time anticipating the future. The past is past and the future has not yet come. Las Vegas reminds me that today is here and tomorrow is not guaranteed, thus, the necessity, the essentiality of striving as much as possible to remain in the present.

So, today, as your priest, I beg you, let those you love know, in every way you can, that you love them. Tell them. Show them. Even when they upset you rejoice and be glad that you are upset, for that demonstrates that you are alive to feel and that you love others enough to be upset by what they say or do or don’t say or do. Tell them, show them: I love you…I love you…

So, I say to you now: I love you.

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the victims – those who died and their families and their friends and their communities and the world and all of us

Tonight, I watched the reporter and commentator Anderson Cooper’s CNN broadcast, AC360 Special Report: Las Vegas Lost: Remembering the Victims; a compilation of vignettes of the lives of the 58 victims of the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday, October 1.

Las Vegas

As I watched, I noted the differences; never hard to seek and to find in any crowd of people. The victims were…

women and men,

young and old (the youngest, 20, the oldest, 67),

mothers and fathers, daughters and sons,

grandmothers and grandfathers, granddaughters and grandsons,

mothers-fathers-daughters-sons-in-law,

wives and husbands, partners and lovers, fiancées,

Asian, black, Hispanic, white,

Americans, mostly, and two Canadians,

small town and big city folk,

outdoor-and-indoor folk,

patriots and rebels,

straight and gay,

people of faith and not,

beer-lovers, wine connoisseurs, and teetotalers,

teachers, truck drivers, medical practitioners, construction workers, military and police personnel, combat veterans and pacifists, students and retirees.

And as I watched, I noted the similarities; never hard to seek and to find in any crowd of people. The victims were lovers of country music who, when shot, bled the red blood of our unmistakably, ineradicably common humanity and died.

And as I watched, I noted the similarities in the testimonials of families and friends who, with tearful, confessional honesty, and who, in their grieving, grappling with their paradoxically excruciating numbness, described their loved ones, almost to a person, as…

“kind”

“thoughtful”

“enthusiastic about life with a contagious smile and infectious laughter”

“filled with love”

“loyal”

“self-giving”

“joyful”

“putting others ahead of herself/himself”

“caring”

“compassionate”

And as I watched, I beheld (never hard to seek and to find) the composite, thus, magnified goodness of these 58 souls – all they did, all they were for all they knew and all who knew them – now lost to their families and friends, to their communities, to the world, and to all of us.

We never will, never can know all the more good these 58 souls would have done. And we who live to exercise our freewill toward the fulfillment of goodwill have lost 58 comrades in the daily labor to make this world a better place. So, let us, by the grace of God and in the strength of the Spirit, redouble our efforts.

the push and pull of mystery

I awoke this morning in a melancholy mood thinking about the cares that beset any human under the sun, the daily reminders of our limitations, the not (never?) having enough time, energy, or money (or any two or all three), in the face of our desires and needs, to complete, compete, or compensate.

Then I pushed beyond my personal, largely small cares, thinking about greater current woes of the world. Among them:

  • The horrific destruction of hearth and health and hope wrought by the winds and waves of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and the tectonic tumult of earthquakes; turning verdant lands barren, bringing darkness, save for still-shining stars, to what seem endless nights, cancelling the coming day for the final closing of the eyes of the dying, and
  • The dread specter of rising, billowing nuclear clouds, and
  • The social, cultural unrest of an America stirred by the symbols of flags, anthems, and statues, and actions, whether to stand and salute or lock arms and kneel.

Then pulling back from these painful thoughts, as I oft do, I meditated on mystery – not a riddle to be resolved by human reason, but rather the reality of all things beyond human power to control, perhaps even human ability to understand and, thus, to amend.

mystery - Hubble telescope

My meditations provoked, as they always do, questions. Among them:

  • Why do, must people suffer?
  • Why, after centuries of observing and studying the futility of war to resolve disputes, do we, as peoples and nations, continue to lust for combat and long for conquest; the latter, given the superior and spreading nuclear capacity to destroy both enemy and self, being a fool’s goal?
  • Why, despite our best ambitions toward equality, do we continue to separate ourselves along lines, some invisible, yet all seemingly inerasable, of race and class, culture and clan, party and perspective; resulting in our apparent inability and unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of another point of view?
  • Why, long recognizing the incontestable truth that we occupy one planet (notwithstanding the dreams of lunar and Martian colonization) and that we form a global community of inseparable, interlocking interests, do we remain blinded by our prejudices, refusing to see the common humanity that we all irrefutably share?

Underneath these realities, as I behold them, lies unfathomable mystery. Understanding so little, I cannot answer my questions. One thing I do know. I cannot end suffering, war, inequality, prejudice, and a legion of human ills. However, as a person of faith, I can and do pledge to repent, daily, praying the Holy Spirit to make me more conscious of my:

  • time, energy, and money and how to use what I do have to serve, to share with my sisters and brothers of greater need;
  • anger, oft rooted in my sense of an affront to my personal honor and how to channel its virulent energy toward efforts to make peace with others and myself;
  • individuality of self and my commonality with all, so that in acknowledging the former I never disavow the latter;
  • biases and how to peer more deeply into the eyes of “the other” and mine own to behold our common God-given image.

I am not sure how this does, can, or will work. For I perceive it as mystery. By faith, I shall trust God, the greatest Mystery, to bring it to pass.

waiting…

thinking

Restlessly, as I reflect, in general, on life and, specifically, on these past days of earthquake, fire, tempest, and flood, I think about waiting. I am constitutionally, perhaps characterologically impatient. I don’t like waiting. Oft I’ve mused that if everything, even most things happened as I desired, then I wouldn’t have to wait. But life isn’t like that. For me. For anyone. Despite the sometimes grand significance of our need and the always great sincerity of our want, there is much beyond our command and control. So, we wait…

in line,

in traffic,

by the phone,

for the mail, whether electronic in speed or snail in pace,

for meetings to begin and to end,

for planes and trains,

for time to pass,

for one another,

for results of school exams,

for reports of medical tests,

for return calls from potential employers,

for our partners or spouses, children or parents, families or friends to change,

for word from loved ones at times accident or natural calamity,

for help and healing, relief and release,

for birth and death,

for God…

However, today my restlessness provokes this persistent question: Who – and where and how – is waiting for me to act for good?

relatively speaking

preaching, 1-22-17a sermon, based on Matthew 16.21-28, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, September 3, 2017

Our God, whom we address as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as a trinity dwells in eternal ontological, relational union. And we, created in God’s image, are physically formed and psychically, spiritually wired to be in relationship with others.

Relationships are an important, perhaps most important aspect of our lives. To use theologian Paul Tillich’s[1] descriptive phrase for God, I liken our relationships to “the ground of our being.” Our relationships are a lens through which we can perceive and know ourselves; the ground from whence we come, our histories and memories, and the ground on which we stand, our daily experience of thought and feeling, intention and action. Though, as the Apostle Paul says, “we see in a mirror, dimly,”[2] unable to know ourselves fully, it is our willingness to look that matters. And this life-long self-examination in search of ourselves, seeking to know ourselves is for the purpose of giving ourselves away in relationships with others, therefore, imitating how God is with us.

Now, here’s the challenge. Relationships are hard. For, again, it’s hard, truly impossible to know ourselves completely. And, given our self-interest, it’s hard, also impossible to give ourselves completely to others. And it’s hard to see and know clearly what others are showing and giving to us. And even when we do see and know clearly what others are showing and giving to us, it may contradict who we believe they are and conflict with who we believe we are.

All this, the rewards and risks of relationships runs through this intense encounter between Jesus and Peter.

Jesus called disciples to follow him, to be in relationship with him. At a critical moment, he asks, “Who do you say I am?”[3] (Do you see and know me?) Peter answers, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.”[4] Jesus replies, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah![5] (You do see and know me. Now, let me tell you what kind of Messiah I am.) “I must go to Jerusalem, suffer and die…” Peter doesn’t like, hates what he hears. Who Peter thinks Jesus is as Messiah is not who Jesus is. Though using the same language, they mean different things.

In one sterling moment of recognition, they had drawn so close. In the next shattering instant, they fall far apart. For Jesus, Peter, his chief disciple, upon whose confession of his messianic identity he would build his church,[6] becomes “a stumbling block”, so great an impediment to Jesus doing God’s will that he calls him “Satan.” And Peter has to question who Jesus is and why he has given up everything to follow him, and, if Jesus’ predictions of his suffering and death come true, then what will happen to him; must he suffer and die, too?

Get Thee Behind Me, Satan (Rétire-toi, Satan) (1886-1896), James Tissot (1836-1902)

How easy it would have been for them to part company: Jesus casting Peter aside, Peter walking, running away. But they didn’t. They remained in relationship and experienced everything that Jesus prophesied; his suffering, his dying, and (as he also foretold) his rising on the third day (but, I believe, prefaced by the predication of suffering and dying, Peter missed that part!). And all this leading to a relationship, a life without end.

So, too, for us as we continue to follow Jesus in our living and, yes, our suffering and our dying, whenever and however it comes, and then, yes, thank you, Jesus, our rising.

 

Illustration: Get Thee Behind Me, Satan (Rétire-toi, Satan) (1886-1896), James Tissot (1836-1902)

Footnotes:

[1] Paul Johannes Tillich (1886-1965), German American Christian existentialist philosopher and theologian

[2] 1 Corinthians 13.12

[3] Matthew 16.15

[4] Matthew 16.16

[5] Matthew 16.17a

[6] Matthew 16.18

saving faith

a sermon, based on Matthew 14.22-33, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, August 13, 2017

Jesus saving Peter from sinking, Caspar Luyken (1672-1708)

Peter sinking beneath the waves is us. For who among us has not known of a time and, as we live, again will know times when we, at the cruel hand of whate’er the cause, are immersed in onrushing waves of anxiety or fear? And who among us, at such grave moments, as Peter, has not cried out, with whate’er the words that burst from our burdened breasts, “Lord, save me!”?

For me, at this very instant, I am stricken, sickened by what has transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia, and all that it says, screams to me about our unresolved American problem about racial superiority and, the truth be more widely told, our American problem about human supremacy of any kind that in its alway deadly ways demeans “the other” as a lesser form of humanity, and, therefore, as all this exists, insidiously, virulently, and brazenly out in the open, our American phobia about the universal equality of all people.

And all this painfully, tragically reminding us that in this life, though, yes, comforted by the joys of sunlit days and starry nights in the blessed fellowship of family and friends with strength of purpose and goodly labor at hand, sorrow is an ever-equal companion; perhaps more than the equal of joy for those among us who daily wrestle with generational cultural, racial, socio-economic deprivations difficult, perhaps impossible to overcome. And, in either case, for them or for us, when immersed in the waves, how many of us most of the time or even once had Peter’s experience of a savior walking across the water, lifting us, saving us from the peril of drowning?

If we haven’t or don’t know of anyone who has, then what more do we make, can we make of this story than a fanciful, ghostly tale? At best, it is a metaphor, a symbol of a common human, though oft vain hope for supernatural rescue from worldly trial and tribulation. Therefore, even at best, it is hardly a worthy foundation for our faith, which is the subject at the heart of the story.

And here’s the irony. Jesus, the miracle-worker, yes, made the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead rise. Yet, before inaugurating his ministry, Jesus spurned the temptation of the devil to leap from the pinnacle of the temple to prove that he was the Son of God, saying, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”,[1] therefore, rejecting miracles as the basis of faith. Rather faith – assurance, confidence, trust – in the presence and benevolence of God, oft in the face of life’s contrary evidence, is the miracle.

This is the faith, however small, unformed and unfocused, that led Peter to test himself: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus, as I imagine him, delighted, thrilled that one of his disciples would dare risk a bold, uninhibited literal leap of faith, said, “Come.” Yet, straightway, Peter, the salt spray spattering his face, the wind tearing through his hair, took his eyes off Jesus. Beginning to sink, he cried, “Lord, save me!” Jesus reached out and rescued him.

An olden hymn comes to mind:

O love that wilt not let me go,

I rest my weary soul in thee;

I give thee back the life I owe,

that in thine ocean depths its flow

may richer, fuller be.[2]

These words mirror this story. Jesus does not promise nor does our faith in Jesus profess that the storms of life, whether in Charlottesville or anywhere else, will not threaten us, for they do and will; that trial and tribulation will not darken our door, for they do and will; that death to this life in this world will not befall us, for it will. Jesus, in taking our flesh and in his life, death, and resurrection, does promise and our faith does profess that he who is greater than the winds and the waves, greater than trial and tribulation, greater than our anxiety and fear, greater than death reaches out and holds us forever in his saving hands.

 

Illustration: Jesus saving Peter from sinking, Caspar Luyken (1672-1708)

Footnotes:

[1] Matthew 4.5-7

[2] From the hymn, verse 1, O love that wilt not let me go (1882); words by George Matheson (1842-1906), Scottish minister, poet, and hymn writer.

a restless prayer in perilous times

my-hands-2-27-17O Lord, our God, our times are perilous; our days o’ershadowed by threat of war, our nights, enshrouded by fear of what sorrow, whether on this land or half a world away, may befall before next light. Rocketry’s spears aim skyward, targets in sight, tipped with bombs; the only purpose of launch to rain doom and death. Leaders, comme des enfants terribles, trumpeting infantile bellicose threats of annihilation, disfigure the face of diplomacy and threaten to make nonviolent, even if uneasy resolution less an imagined ideal and more an impossibility.

O Lord, our God, though You ne’er herald our liberty from all trial and tribulation nor that our hearts ne’er will be made anxious by what transpires in time and space at the hands of despotic human wills, You alway assure, come what may, come whene’er, as Your Apostle saith, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from (Your) love in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[1] By Your Spirit, O Lord, our God, speaking, breathing through us “with sighs too deep for words,”[2] let us pray for Your presence and power to cleave to the impregnable peace of this Your eternal promise.

Amen.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Romans 8.38-39

[2] Romans 8.26