Sunday, May 31, 2020

Pentecost 2020

This is the sermon I gave today on Zoom and Face Book. At least it's the sermon I reconstructed to write it down--the original was from a page of notes. I wrote it down tonight because I won't remember it for long. Often people tell me they liked my sermon 'last week' and because I try to be polite, I say 'thank you', when I really want to ask, 'what did I say?'

PENTECOST 2020 (Zoom and Face Book)
Welcome to Pentecost! This is the day the fire fell and the wind blew and the Spirit began the church.
Pentecost was a Jewish holiday commemorating the Spring Harvest. It was one of the most important holy days and people came from around the known world to celebrate in Jerusalem. For Jews, Pentecost was 50 days after Passover (‘pente’ is 50 in Latin). For Christians today, it is 50 days after Easter.
My early years were spent in the Conklintown, West Virginia, Pilgrim Holiness Church. They did not speak in tongues. Pilgrim Holiness was a break with the Wesleyan Church which had broken from the Methodist Church—each break declared that ‘we are holier than those we left behind’.
No tongues, but they were ‘holy rollers’! During prayers people would be ‘slain in the Spirit’ and fall to the floor quaking. That was very unsettling to the children, as you can imagine, seeing people lying on the floor, twitching.
But the Pilgrim Holiness people had a hymn that went—“Come on Holy Spirit, but don’t stay long!” These were people who appreciated the power of the Spirit.
Another thing they did was ‘testify’. They would stand up and tell how God had touched their lives—give ‘testimony’ to the power of the Spirit.
I want to ‘testify’ today about my spiritual journey.
When I was 14, my cousin, Mejol, locked me in her room with a Bob Dylan album and a copy of Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. My Spiritual journey began that day.
When I was a sophomore in college, I had an hour between classes on Tuesday and Thursday. I didn’t want to go to the library but I found a church a block from campus that was open all the time. So, on Tuesdays and Thursdays I would go there and sit in the silence to read. But one day, before I could get out, a funeral began. They used the Episcopal Burial Office and I had never known a church could be so solemn and formal, yet joyous in a way. There was lots of standing and sitting and kneeling and I couldn’t get it right at a funeral for a stranger. When it ended an older woman behind me touched my shoulder. She said, ‘don’t worry, young man, we never know when to knell or stand either.”
Only a few weeks later, I was in the student union with a friend and a big, red-headed man came over to talk. He invited us to a party at his house that night, so we went. He was the Episcopal chaplain to the university and the ‘party’ was the Eucharist around a huge table. After the service, we all finished the wine. I knew I had found my ‘church’!
I went to Harvard Divinity School on a Rockefeller Fellowship two of my professors nominated me for. It wasn’t in my plans. I was going to get a Ph.D. in American Literature, but it kept me out of Viet Nam because Divinity Students were the only ones eligible for a deferment in 1970.
After two years we moved back to Morgantown so Bern could finish college. The next Episcopal Chaplain had ‘house church’ in the attic of Bern’s and my third-floor apartment. Every one who came was under 30 except the chaplain and a woman in her 70’s named Mariah Cartledge. Once at what we called ‘coffee hour’ but was really ‘wine hour’ and even ‘pot hour’ for some since the service as on Wednesday night, Mariah came to me and said, “Jim, when are you going back to seminary and getting ordained?”
Being even more of a smart aleck then than I am now, I answered: “Mariah, when God tells me to.”
Not missing a beat, she replied, “Jim, who do you think sent ME?”
My blood went cold. I called the bishop the next week and he said, “I’ve been waiting to hear from you.”
God speaks in mysterious ways. Through Dylan and Salinger and my cousin. Through being in a church for a funeral for a stranger. Through two different college chaplains. Through Mariah.
God speaks in many tongues—different ways to different people. BUT GOD SPEAKS.
(Together in a room, the twelve gathered, missing their Lord, and the Fire fell and the Wind blew and the church was born!)
I want to invite you to get in touch with ‘WHY YOU’RE HERE’. I don’t mean on the zoom call, but why are you in the place where you are in your life.
How has the Spirit moved you? How has God spoken to you?
When and where did the fire fall in your life? When did the wind roar? How did God’s still, small voice sound in your ear.
It can be something small, almost incidental.
It can be that someone…or something…touched your soul.
Maybe the breath of God breathed into your fear and confusion.
Maybe, as if by accident, something moved you and warmed your heart.
Maybe it was a gradual thing, over years…a longing in you, some itch you couldn’t scratch.
St. Augustine said we all have a ‘God-shaped empty place’ within us that only God can fill it up.
“My soul is restless, Lord, until it rests in thee…”
Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “faith seeking understanding….”
That’s what I’m asking of you. Let your faith ponder where it came from and seek to understand how the fire fell in your life. How the wind blew. How God spoke to your ‘God-shaped empty place’.
What GOT YOU HERE? Not just today, but ultimately.
Fire and Wind a still small voice…
Happy Pentecost.

Saturday, May 30, 2020


(This is the sermon I gave last year, not tomorrow.)

PENTECOST 2019 St. Andrew’s Northford
          Fear always says “no”.
          If you’re going to remember anything I say this morning—remember this: FEAR ALWAYS SAYS “NO.”
          And remember this as well: GOD SAYS “YES” TO US….
          Jesus’ friends were gathered in the same room they’d been using to hide. How many were there isn’t clear. The book of Acts says 120—though that number may be high. They huddled together, still frightened that the Temple authorities might be after them, still grieving in some way—though they had seen the Risen Lord time and again, felt his breath upon their faces—and, most…most of all,  they were terribly, wrenchingly lonely.
          Jesus had promised them they would be clothed in power. Jesus had promised them he would send an Advocate to be with them. Jesus had promised them they would be baptized in Fire. Jesus had promised them he was already preparing a place for them.
          But the promises seemed like so much pie crust to the disciples. They were still waiting for the promises to be fulfilled. They were frightened. And they were so lonely—so profoundly lonely.
          That image…that metaphor…that paradigm of being crowded into a lonely, frightening room rings true for us today.
           Fear haunts us these days. And though we huddle together in our fear, we are still so profoundly lonely. Fear speaks but one word and that word is “NO”.
          Our faith teaches us to be hospitable to strangers—but our Fear says “no” and we distrust those who are different from us.
          Our faith teaches us to be compassionate—but our Fear says “no” and we ignor the 'least of these' in our midst.
          Our faith teaches us to share our gifts with those in need—but our Fear says “no” and we live in the richest nation in the history of human kind where the gap between the rich and the poor gets wider every day.
          Our faith teaches us that “a little child shall lead us” and that we must become like children to enter the Kingdom of God—but our Fear says “no” as millions of children go underfed, undereducated and neglected  around the world and in our country.
          Remember this: Fear always says “NO”.
There is no easy or simple way to explain it, what happened in that closed and fearful room on the first Pentecost—it happened like this: one moment the room was full of fear and the next moment the room was full of fire and a mighty wind fanned the flames until the fear was burned away and all that was left was hope and joy and those formerly frightened people “found their voices” and left their hiding place and spoke words that transformed the world.
We need the Fires of Pentecost to burn away our fears and the Winds of Pentecost to blow away our loneliness. We need the Spirit to give us our voices so we may proclaim the “Yes” of God to this world.
Fear always says “NO”—but God always says “Yes”….
We need a Pentecost. We need to know that God says “Yes” to us. That God calls us to wonder and joy and love and compassion and hospitality. And not just in the “big things”—God’s “Yes” to us is about “little things” too. God’s “Yes” to us is global, universal, total.
This is a poem by Kaylin Haught titled God Says Yes to Me. It is a Pentecost poem, whether she knew it or not.
I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
          and she said yes
          I asked her if it was okay to be short
          and she said it sure is
          I asked her if I could wear nail polish
          or not wear nail polish
          and she said honey
          she calls me that sometimes
          she said you can do just exactly what you want to
          Thanks God I said
          And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
          my letters
          Sweetcakes God said
          Who knows where she picked that up
          What I’m telling you is
          Yes Yes Yes

          What Pentecost is about is God saying “Yes” to you and you and you and you and you and all of us.       What Pentecost is about is the Spirit coming so we are never, ever, not ever lonely again.
          What Pentecost is about is Fire burning away Fear.
          What Pentecost is about—and listen carefully, this is important—Pentecost is about God saying to you and you and you and you and you and all of us:
          Sweetcakes, what I’m telling you is Yes Yes Yes.

Friday, May 29, 2020

I can't write tonight

I can't write tonight because it would be so hyper-political and hyper-partisan that it might offend some of my readers.

I an heart sick about Minneapolis and George Floyd and the reaction of the President, who quoted racist rhetoric for decades ago.

I just can't write.

I'll pray for those demonstrating for justice for George around the nation--may they do no harm and not be harmed.

My heart is sick.

I cannot write.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The President at war with Twitter (and most everyone else!)

This President loves 'executive orders'--most of which mean nothing since he 'orders' things he has no Constitutional Powers to order.

The one today about 'social media' is like that.

It means nothing and was opposed by many of the most conservative members of his team.

He claims that by footnoting his tweets with alternative evidence damages his 'first amendment' rights to free speech.

In fact, he is doing the opposite. He is trying to hamper Twitter's 'first amendment' right to correct what are false or bogus statements.

Speaking Truth to Power is at the very core of 'free speech', not hampering 'free speech' as the President claims.

One more of a long line of misleading pronouncements by this President.

And, oh, by the way, his stern opposition to mailing in ballots has nothing to do with fair elections.

He voted by mail in the Florida primary!

It has to do with being able to claim, after the election, that it was rigged.

I have several friends who believe he won't leave when he loses. What then?

Who knows?

We shall see, beloved. We shall see.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Long conversation

The phone and internet is what keeps us connected to each other.

Amazing! I've never been a fan of technology until now.

I had a long conversation with Bob today. He was the organist at St. John's with me for--I know exactly how long--but at least a decade.

He just retired after 52 years as music director at Westover School--a private girls' school in Middlebury.

52 years! Will anybody born since 2000 ever spend their whole, long career at one job?

Probably not.

Anyway, Clair, another friend, sent me a video the school made honoring Bob. Former graduates, teachers and various members of the administration shared memories of him. It was amazing.

I started my conversation by saying, "you don't need any more praise!"

Which, humble man that he is, he admitted.

He was a great musician and choir director for St. John's. And a good and, oh so decent man.

It was great to talk with him and catch up in this not-normal time.

He and his wife, Bonnie, have a home on Nantucket where they're going in a few weeks.

Good and dear people.

What a joy to have them back in my life, if only remotely....

Call someone you love and haven't talked to since the pandemic started. It's a real healing thing.

Do it! I order you....

You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020


I was hoping it wouldn't happen is sleepy, little Cheshire, but today it did.

Half dozen people or so were protesting in front of city hall with "Open CT Now!!" signs and one of those ultra-right wings "Don't tread on me!" flags with the snake on it.

They also had signs that said "Honk if you agree"--I must confess that I was proud of my townspeople when I heard no honks....

Several of them--no masks, standing close together--raised their thumbs at me.

I wanted to raise another finger (not the thumb) at them, or roll down my window and shout, "put on masks, a**holes!" but I didn't. I just pulled up my mask alone in the car and shook my head at them sadly.

And it is sad.

CT was hard hit and our governor has been more cautious than many about re-opening anything.

Bless him.

I know people want to get back to 'normal' (whatever that CAN look like) but at what cost?

I have little room to talk since my income has not been affected in any way--Social Security, the generous Church Pension Fund and my part time job keep putting money in my account, just like before. We even got a stimulus check in our account. I get all that. I know it.

But I have room to talk since I only have one life to live and I'm in a vulnerable group.

Half the people who have died in the US have been over 75. I'm 73.

I have a voice in all this.

Don't show up in my town, at my town hall, recommending things that could endanger me.

Just don't.


Monday, May 25, 2020

We went out today

It was our friend Jack's birthday and for the first time in over three months, Bern and I were around people today. 11, to be exact, one over the limit, but they have a huge front porch and big yards and we tried to keep apart and almost all of us had masks we wore when not eating or drinking.

And I felt weird.

What was always so normal felt weird.

That's what the virus has done to my psyche, and probably  yours.

Ordinary things back in January feel weird today.

I washed my hands twice while there and immediately when I got back home.

No one there knew anyone who had the virus.

But it still felt weird, just being around them.

Will that be the new normal (which won't be normal in any way) ordinary things a few months ago are going to feel weird?

Probably so, beloved. Probably so.

Alas and alack....

Sunday, May 24, 2020

It didn't feel like Sunday

I went out an hour ago to look for the mail.

There wasn't any.

It's Sunday.

But it didn't feel like Sunday because church was on Zoom. I didn't hug anybody. There was no coffee hour.

But it is Sunday.

Then a few minutes ago I heard the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church on NPR, talking about the President's assertion that 'houses of worship' should reopen now.

Michael Curry (our PB) said, "Church isn't closed, just the buildings. Church is the people and we can pray where we are. Just because the buildings are closed doesn't mean Church is closed."

That brought me to my senses.

I'd 'had' Church today--on Zoom and Facebook!

And Bryan's sermon was both funny and moving. I thank him for it and thank God for him. Many of us ate bread and drank wine at the same time. I'll leave it to the Holy Spirit to decide if it was virtually 'consecrated'.

'Church' IS NOT a building. It is the people who sometimes gather there. And those people were with me on line this morning.

Now, it feels like Sunday!

I give thanks for that feeling and hope all of you feel it as well.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

OK, I know

OK, I know my posts are getting too political. But my purpose here is to 'ponder' the world and much of what is going on in my world is political.

An election is coming, in case your forgot (sorry for the sarcasm there--I'm apologizing for everything tonight!) It is certainly the most important election in my lifetime and I'm over 70, so that's a while.

We've been in a maelstrom for over three years now--nobody in charge, major offices unfilled or filled by temps, no real national policy on much of anything--and then this pandemic and states left to fend for themselves (thankfully many did) and re-opening against all scientific advice.

No wonder I've been obsessed with politics!

But tomorrow is the 7th Sunday of Easter and the reading from 1 Peter begins like this: "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed."

This ordeal is terrible.

But we have hope and we have God and we have our faith or non-faith, but at least 'hope'.

Deep breath.

We will survive this.

And we will move on.

Hopefully rejoicing as we do.

Be hopeful my friends.

Be hopeful above all.

Blog Archive

About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.