Monday, October 18, 2021

OK, I get it...

This month I've had a blood test, an MRI, seen my Allergist, my Cardiologist, and will see my urologist on Friday, plus the two shots I get every month at Waterbury Hospital.

Next week I see two doctors and have another MRI about a heart valve issue.

OK, I get it--I'm getting older by the day.

I haven't wanted to admit it, but the evidence is clear.

I always take a book to the doctor's office since they are often so slow.

The Cardiologist is different. As soon and you sign in they take you to a room for blood pressure and EKG and the doctor comes in before I can read three pages.

I guess Cardiologists have to work fast.

I also use a cane every day.

I'm an old man.

It's hard to admit.

But I admit it.

I admit it.

It's not all that bad....

 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

What a disaster!

The sermon I posted a few days ago was a disaster!

I had read the wrong lessons--they are for next Sunday.

I was lost in time.

When I got to church today and looked at the lessons in the bulletin, I knew what I had done.

I explained, at sermon time, what I had done wrong.

I then faked a sermon on the spot.

Several people told me what I had said was great.

I didn't believe them.

What a screw up!

I felt like an idiot....

 

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Second in a row

I celebrated a Burial Office today at Trinity, Milford.

The one before was at St. John's, Waterbury. 

What they had in common was they were both funerals for a parent with an only child.

Since I am an only  child, they both reminded me of burying my parents.

Those two deaths--many years apart--we two of the few occasions I have ever wished I wasn't an only child.

(I tell the joke that whenever I begin to feel cheated by being an only child, I simply have to talk to someone with siblings!)

People were with me for both my mother's and my father's funerals, but none of them were going through the profound and painful regrets I was experiencing. The good times were very good with my parents, but their deaths caused me to remember how many times I disappointed them.

It would have been supportive to have brothers and sisters to share that with--they would have understood....

 

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Sunday's sermon

Job is the most troubling book in the Bible.

        You all probably know the story—Job is a good and faithful man, a devout follower of God. Yet God hands Job over to Satan and Satan torments and punishes him and takes away all that he has.

          In last week’s reading, Job was covered in blisters and sitting in dust and ashes and even his wife says to him, “Job, curse God and die!”

          But Job will not curse God because that’s what Satan is trying to make him do. In the face of all his suffering and loss, even when he wishes he had never been born or had died in child-birth, Job remains faithful to God.

          Today we hear the end of Job’s story. God restores all his fortunes ten-fold and makes him a very rich man who lives another 140 years and sees 4 generations of his descendants before he dies in peace.

          Job’s suffering is not the issue to me—suffering is a part of human life--it is all around us. Many people, in this, the richest country in history, suffer hunger, fear, violence and illness.

          No, the issue to me is ‘why did God let Satan do this?’

          In fact, in the beginning of Job, it is God that brings him up to Satan—speaking of Job’s virtues. God lets Satan take Job’s earthly goods and cattle and even his children, but Job will not renounce God.

          Satan returns to God and tells Him, Let me touch his bone and flesh and he will curse you.

          So, God says to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power, only spare his life.”

          Not a very ‘God-like’ thing to do.

          Is it all a big Test of Job’s faith? A very cruel and un-holy test, indeed.

 

          Contrast Job with the blindman in today’s gospel lesson.

          Bartimaeus is a blind beggar who hears Jesus was passing by.

          He calls out to him and says, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

          The people in the crowd try to make him be quiet, but he calls out even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

          Jesus stops and says, “Call him here.”

          And Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and, blind though he may be, rushes to Jesus.

          Imagine a blind man rushing, bumping into others, tripping on unseen things.

          And when Jesus heals him, he says, “Go. Your Faith has made you well” and his sight returns.

          Maybe that is the meaning of Job’s story too—His Faith in God made him well!

          I just wish God had not let Satan have his way with Job.

          And I pray, that in hard times, our Faith will make us well….

 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Reading the Gospels side-by-side

Today was our next-to-last session at Trinity, Milton on reading the Gospels side-by-side. We read the crucifixion in all the Gospels. I'm always amazed, whenever I do this course, that people who know their Bible quite well are surprised by the different versions of the same story.

It will get ever stranger when we read the Resurrection narrative next week.

Each Gospel is different but we tend to thing there is one story.

I posted my closing remarks for the class--'Knowing 4 Jesus' a while ago. You could go back and read it again.

Next, the Bible Study will take on the Gospel of Mary of Magdala. That will raise even more eyebrows.

It's a shame that so many so-called 'gnostic' gospels didn't make it into the Bible by the Council of Nicea in 325.

They give even more insight into how the early church perceived Jesus.

It's a mixed bag.

But we must remember "Jesus stories" were dispersed across the known world at the time. Many versions and interpretations.

It's amazing.

We need to know them all to know the Jesus we will chose to follow.

 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Halloween is coming (an old post)

Tomorrow is Halloween, the day before All Saints Day. There's a cartoon on a bulletin board at St. Andrew's, Northford, that shows a bishop with miter and crosier starting toward an Episcopal Church beside a sign that says, "All Saints Day--Bishop visits".

Two kids on bikes are near him. One says, "Hey, dude, great costume!" The other says, "doesn't he know Halloween was yesterday?"

In the Celtic world (which exists only in patches though it used to cover all the British Isles, some of France and some of Scandinavia) the end of October and the beginning of November is 'a Thin Time' when the barrier between this world and the next is permeable and can be crossed. The dead wandered the earth in the Thin Time. Once Christianity came, lo and behold, All Saints day fell into the Thin Time, so on All Hallows Eve, those from the other side of life came through the gauze between the living and the dead and wandered the streets looking for gifts.

That's where trick or treat and the costumes came from. All Hallows Eve shortened into Halloween and ghosts are among us.

I hated it as a child. I had 300/20 vision and couldn't wear my glasses under the masks and there were few streetlights and people ran by making spooky noises and I was terrified though I did like the candy the next few days.

In Latin cultures the big day is November 2--All Souls Day--a day to remember all the dead. For folks in Central and South America they have picnics beside graves of loved ones and believe they commune with those who've gone before.

A thin time in either case--a time to be aware of how porous the barrier really is.

I use these days to remember those I love but see no more. A Thin Time for me--Celt to the core.

My Mom and Dad, all my Aunts and Uncles, several cousins, and a lot--I mean 'a lot' of folks I served as a priest by celebrating their passing over.

I averaged nearly 50 funerals a year at St. John's in Waterbury. Since I was there 21 years that may be close to 1000. Many  of them I didn't know at all or only slightly. St. John's was one of those down-town churches people 'thought' they belonged to. So I did many of those funerals! But I celebrated the lives on many, many people I loved and mourned deeply.

Such is the lot of a priest. And not a bad lot by half. It is a humbling honor to be with someone on that last journey. I told the 25 or so seminarians I worked with over the years that funerals may be the most important thing a priest does. I believe that and have lived out of that my whole priesthood. I hope some of those I mentored agreed with me.

Since it is the eve of All Hallows Eve I'll go search for a chapter of my book (not published) about my priesthood and death. The title of the 'manuscript', since it's not a book really, is "Tell the Story, Tend the Fire, Pass the Wine"--which is my definition of what a priest 'does'. "Being" a priest is the essence of priesthood--but a priest 'does' some things: he/she tells the story of the family, keeps the hearth burning and celebrates the sacraments.

Look for the next thing if I can find it and figure out how to post it....

And, Happy Halloween!

 

Monday, October 11, 2021

Sermon for Deven

(A sermon I preached for Deven's installation)

 

D’s Sermon

 

 

          A hot air balloonist set off one fine May day from just outside London. He expected a calm trip but a sudden storm blew in off the English Channel that took him north for over an hour. When his balloon was deflated, he found himself suspended in a tree beside a small Anglican Church. Looking down from his precarious perch, he saw the Vicar leaving the church and heading for the Vicarage.

          “Father, Father,” the balloonist called out, ready to dial his cell phone and tell his friends where to pick him up, “Father, can you tell me where I am?”

          The priest looked up and smiled, “Yes, my son,” he said, “you’re stuck in a tree.”

          “Just like a priest,” the man muttered to himself, “what they say is often TRUE but it is seldom helpful….”

                                                ****

          It is my hope that this sermon will be more “True” than “helpful”. And it is my sincere and devout prayer that Deven’s ministry in your midst will be like that as well—more TRUE than HELPFUL.

                                                ****

          Another story.

          A group of wealthy Americans are on a safari in Africa. Things are going well except that the natives who are carrying much of the equipment stop every hour or so and sit quietly on the ground for 15 minutes.

          Finally, one of the Americans goes to the head guide and says, “look, we’re paying you a great deal for this safari, yet your workers stop too often and rest too long. What do they think they are doing?”

          The head guide, being as polite as possible, tells the impatient American this: “Our tribe believes that if you move too quickly you will outrun your soul. So we must sit on a regular basis and let our souls catch up.”

          Well, the rich American is outraged. “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” he says.

          The head guide nods, “Of course you think that, having long ago left your soul far, far behind. But our souls hover near and we will wait for them to join us again.”

                                                ***

          It is humbling to be with you this morning. I thank you for your hospitality. I thank Bishop McKelvy for allowing me to preach in his diocese. There will be some heresy spoken today, Bishop, but not so much or not of any ilk that you will have to report back to Bishop Smith in Connecticut. That is my hope.

          Mostly, I thank Deven, your new Rector, for the privilege and honor of “coming north” to celebrate with her and with all of you about this new ministry you have begun. I’ve known Deven longer than either of us wants to admit. She has been an important part of my life and my ministry. And it is with unspeakable joy and not a little trepidation, that I bring to all of you, this morning, the “good news” about this relationship between a Rector and a Parish.

          I’ve been a parish priest since 1975. I have served three of the most remarkable congregations in this church—the present one, St. John’s on the Green in Waterbury for 16 years. So, I’m not just a guy you met at a bar when it comes to parish priesthood. I do know what I’m talking about. I only pray that God will give me the grace and the words to speak to your hearts and your souls about this “love affair” you and Deven have begun.

 

          Two things, I hope, she will bring to you as precious gifts and you will accept them in that spirit are these:

          I hope she will give you Truth rather than Helpfulness. And, I hope she will make you stop in the midst of your shared ministry and shared lives—as often as necessary…and it may be very often indeed—to let your souls catch up with you.

          You see—from one who’s not a guy at a bar—the parish church exists for this and this only: TO FIND AND BE FOUND BY GOD.

          That’s all you are here for, that’s all your common life is about. Finding and being found by God is the only reason this church exists. Everything else you do emerges from seeking and being sought by God. So, lean into Truth and make sure you don’t outrun your souls.

                                                ***

          A third story, this one told by John Mortimer in his memoir.

It goes like this:

       A man with a bristling grey beard came and sat next to me at lunch. He had very pale blue eyes and an aggressive way of speaking.

       He began, at once and without any preliminary introductions, to talk about yachting in the North Sea.

       “But isn’t it very dangerous, your sport of yachting?” I asked.

       “Not dangerous at all, provided you don’t learn to swim. I made up my mind when I bought my first boat, never to learn to swim.”

       “Why was that?” I asked.

       He told me, “when you’re in a spot of trouble, if you can swim you strike out for the shore. Invariably you drown swimming for safety. As I can’t swim, I cling to the wreckage and they send a helicopter out for me. That’s my tip, if you ever find yourself in trouble, cling to the wreckage.”

          I want to suggest to you that there are many worse metaphors for the parish ministry of your Rector and for the parish life of this congregation than “clinging to the wreckage”.

          I want to suggest to Deven that her most vital and important role in your midst, as your priest, is to be about her own “soul work”. And “soul work” it seems to me at least, has a lot to do with clinging to the wreckage of life until it becomes, literally, a “life preserver.” It is the wreckage that will save your soul.

          And I want—just like a suggestion—to suggest to you, to this parish community, that “clinging to the wreckage” is an apt paradigm for your life together as the Body of Christ. The wreckage of your individual lives will lead you to new life and the wreckage of your common life together will sustain you and support you and give you, in the end, a wholeness and salvation you could not imagine.

 

          Finally, here at the end, I want to turn to scripture.

          In John’s Gospel this morning, Jesus says to his friends, “abide in my love.”

          Back where I grew up, in the mountains of Southern West Virginia, people actually used the word “abide”. They didn’t pronounce it that way, but if you were walking down the street in front of their house and they were on the front porch in rocking chairs and a swing, they would say to you, “Come on up and bide a spell.”

          “Biding a spell” meant simply this: just sit here and “be” with us.

          “Abiding” is a passive verb—it implies nothing more and nothing less that simply “being there”.

          What I want to suggest to you—to Deven, of course, but to all of you as well and as passionately—is that you have entered into a “love affair” with each other and what you need to do…most need to do…always need to do is this and this only: “Abide” in each other’s love.

          There is much to “do” and many “tasks” and lots of “committees” and a multitude of “works”. All that will take care of itself if you simply “abide” in your love of each other and God’s unbridled love for you.

          Some advice for the journey:

                    Long more for Truth than helpfulness,

                   Stop often and wait for your souls to catch up;

                   Cling to the wreckage together;

                   Abide in love; and

                   Seek always to find and be found by God.

          There is nothing else. That is all there is. May your life together in ministry be filled chocked full of Truth and Waiting and Clinging and Abiding and Seeking.

          That is enough. That is more than enough

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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.