During the season of Lent, we’ve been meditating on some descriptions of our Lord which we find in the Stations of the Cross – each of which invites us to behold – to put before our hearts and minds – some aspect of Jesus in his life and work: We have thought about Jesus as the Lord of Justice and the Lord of Beauty; the Lord of all Creation and the Lord of heaven; and today, we are invited to put before our eyes of our hearts and minds Jesus the Lord of Life and Love.
And that is what today is all about – it is about a loving God who comes to us in the darkness of our sin to make us new and to give us light and life.
That is God’s gift to you and to me – love and life. And there is nothing we need more in our own lives and our own relationships than God’s love and God’s life.
The story of Scripture is the story of our need for that life and love:
The Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden shows humanity walking apart from their creator – showing that at its worst, humanity will choose itself. The story of Noah and the Flood showed that as things got worse and worse, God still wanted to restore us to our rightful relationship to himself, but that simply getting rid of those rotten apples in creation wouldn’t avail us for our salvation – something more had to be done. Sin and evil would still find a way into the world – death still reigned over God’s beloved creation.
But then, with the Call of Abraham and God’s covenant with him began the long story of God’s eternal plan to save us from sin and death.
God promised Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars in heaven and as innumerable as the grains of sand on the seashore. And though Abraham had faith that God would fulfill his promises, when God told him that he would in his old age finally have a son – Abraham and his wife Sarah laughed at the thought – and so they named him “Isaac” – which means – he laughed. I like that little touch – right from the start of our creation – faith is joined with laughter – joy lies at the heart of our new life in God!
The story of God’s redemption is a long one. Slavery in Egypt, rebellion while wandering in the desert for forty years, the giving of the Law of Moses, entrance to the promised land, the creation of the monarchy, the building of the first temple, exile from their homeland in Babylon, the restoration of the temple. Everything that happened to God’s people would be a foreshadowing of the great things to come.
But Scripture not only tells us of God’s great and powerful acts from the beginning, it also reflects back to us our own need of his grace in order to live and love in this world. Human history is filled with people striving to fill themselves with life and love. But we end up filling ourselves instead with worthless things like power, fame, wealth possessions, relationships, people, drugs, money, – you name it – anything that might serve as a cheap replacement, a cheap imitation of true life and true love.
Easter tells us that we no longer need to accept a cheap imitation – we no longer need to look to “things” to fill us and to try to satisfy our every need. Instead, we look to Jesus, for he is the one who said “I am the bread of life”; he is the one who said, “If anyone thirst come to me and drink.”
Christ has risen from the dead – trampling down death – no merely of the body – but of our emptiness.
And I think that is where my thoughts are centered this Easter – that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we find we are filled with life and love – we are made fully alive – not as some promise of the distant future, and not merely of our bodies in eternity; but even here and now, in the very depth and core of our being.
I would say “if we look around in the world we see many people seeking to fill their emptiness with cheap imitations”: but I don’t think we have to look out into the world. I think we need only to look into our own hearts to find that we, the redeemed people of God – still possess in our own lives, our own hearts those empty places of longing, of pain, of anguish – places within us that are dead – places we put on artificial life support by feeding them with cheap imitations even though an innumerable abundance of God’s grace is offered to us – made available in Christ by the power of his resurrection!
Too often, in our weakness to sin, our unwillingness to give our selves fully to God, we accept those cheap imitations when the Lord of Life and Love stands waiting to give us the real thing.
And all we need to do to receive it is nothing more than to Behold the Lord of Life and Love; the Lord of Justice and Beauty, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, and like Abraham – trust in God’s faithfulness that he will give us more than we could ask or imagine.
For when we trust in God, he will touch our hearts, he will transform our minds, and he will give us the grace to live in his life and love. We need not fear nor be afraid – for he has done the work of our salvation for us because we could never do it ourselves.
And that faith is joined with laughter, as we rejoice to behold the Lord of Life and Love – for he has given his life in love fully and completely to us so that we might have his life in us that we might dwell and abide in his love forever.
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Schedule for the Triduum Sacrum
Maundy Thursday – March 29
7:00 p.m. Eucharist
8 p.m. until Midnight – The Watch at the Altar of Repose
March 30 – Good Friday
Solemn Afternoon Liturgy – 12:00 p.m.
March 31 – Easter Even
Easter Vigil and First Mass of Easter – 8:00 p.m.
April 1 – Easter Day
Parish Family Mass 9:00 a.m.
A light Parish Brunch and Easter Egg Hunt to follow in the Parish Hall!
This Weekend is the World’s Largest Garage Sale in Warrensburg!
- Saturday September 30th – Noon until ? – Soup Sale
- Helpers needed in the morning to help set up!
- Sunday, October 1st – 8:00 a.m. – Said Eucharist
(This is the only service today!)
Rector’s Report to the Annual Meeting
This morning, I want to lay out the priorities which I think are essential for this coming year for the life of our Parish Family.
Over the last several years, one priority that has constantly been brought up by members of our parish is the need to bring in new members. I can honestly say that, in the past few years we have indeed been bringing new people into our parish family. A few Sundays ago, when the weather was, well, typical for this time of year (cold and snowy) I looked around and at the congregation, as small as it was that day, and realized that over 3/4 of those there that day were new members since I came to Holy Cross five years ago.
Growing a small parish in a small town that is not it self growing is a tough enterprise. Indeed growing any church in any town is tough. The first thing we need to remember is that it’s not us who make the parish grow, but God.
Now, I please don’t think I’m throwing all the responsibility of growing our parish on God. Actually, I am, but we need to be mindful of the things that God is calling on us to do to work with him. That’s what the whole Christian life is about: God doing what he does, and us responding in the way which God wants us to respond in order to be the hands and feet of God here on earth. That’s what you and I are called to be – the body of Christ, carrying on his mission in the world, by his grace. My sermon this morning was about Christ leading the Charge from death to life, and the mission of the Church, and therefore the mission of this parish as the Church in Warrensburg, is to carry out that work which God has called us to do. Indeed we end our Mass each week asking God to help us “do all such Good works which though has prepared for us do to.”
In order to be a place where people want to come. In order to be a family that people want to be a part of, we need to have our business in order. And to have that business in order, we need to be constantly asking ourselves, “Is this what God want us to do?” More than any priority which you may think our parish family may have, that must be priority number one. Are we doing what God wants us to do.
And I want to invite you today, to join with me in adding to your prayers “O Lord, what would you have us do?” That was the prayer which Paul offered up when he was confronted with the vision of Christ on the Road to Damascus. “Lord, what shall I do?”
I’ve been asking that very question myself over the last several months. What would God have us do as we move toward the future. I want to share with you a few thoughts which I have discerned.
One area which we need to pray about is how can we do more to reach out to our community. I’ve struggled myself with this very question. There are a lot of wonderful ministries which God has called other churches to in our town. North Country Ministry, the Gathering Place, the Food Pantries. What can we do?
Within our own parish, too, each of us needs to consider how we can offer service. There wonderful people in our parish who bear a lot of the work. We need volunteers to help out with things like serving on the Altar as Acolytes and Chalice bearers and members of the Altar Guild.
But we also need more people to step up and help out with those special events, like dinners, and monthly breakfasts, with those special events like the quiche luncheon and the annual Christmas Bazaar. The more people who are willing to help the better.
One of the first items the vestry will be discussing next month at our first meeting of the year will be bringing back a few committees comprised of both members of the vestry and parishioners in general. Please be willing to volunteer or serve when asked.
In the area of our worship, the vestry has discussed trying to have a contemporary service in addition to our traditional worship services. Personally, I think that there is value in having a broad range of worship offerings, but I am hesitant at the idea that we should use worship as a means of evangelism. Other churches and parishes have tried it and that’s not what worship is for.
In the area of Evangelism, we need to get ourselves out there in the public eye more often than we have in the past year. That’s one important thing. After five years, im recognized enough around town to be a visible part of our community. That’s been an important aspect of bringing new people into our family. But the biggest and most important and best way to get more people to church is to invite them. If everyone in the room today, worked this year to invite just person to church this year, we could double the size of our parish. Who will you try to bring into the church this year? Think of one person, just one and start working on them remembering that the best thing you can to start that process is to start praying for them on a daily basis. And then start inviting them.
In the area of Education, Holy Cross has a robust offering of Educational opportunities. We have the Rector’s forum on Several Sundays and Weekly Tuesday Evening meeting that goes back and forth between a book of the Bible and some other book. We also have a Men’s Bible study and a women’s bible study that meet once a month. I can share with you that I have felt personally heartbroken when I have made direct invitations to people to participate in the Rector’s forum and been told “no I’m not interested.” I can honestly say I’m hurt when I hear that. What I want to ask of each of you today is to commit to participating in some form of the educational study offerings that we have here. They are really one of my favorite parts of my job. You don’t have to talk in the groups, you don’t have to do answer questions, but just come and see, like Andrew told his brother Peter in today’s lesson.
Pastoral care is probably my second favorite part of my work here at Holy Cross. You actually pay me to go and visit people and I really do enjoy visiting our shut ins, and being there for people in their time of need.
At the same time, caring for our parishioners is a job for everyone. I’m always delighted to hear from our shut ins that so and so called them or stopped by and visited them. Our shut ins don’t make it here because they’re not able, so please, keep them part of the family this year by reaching out to them with a phone call, a card, or a visit.
I would also like to institute Lay Eucharistic Visitors in the parish. In some parishes, there are trained volunteers that take Communion from the Mass on Sunday to shut-ins each week after mass. I wonder if this might be something we can try here? Would any of you be willing to go visit a shut-in after mass on Sunday and bring them communion?
Another ministry, which exists in our parish, but you don’t hear much about is our Parish Nurse. While you don’t hear much about it, I want to just say two things. This is a wonderful ministry that has done a lot of wonderful things for our parish this past year, the results of which are private and confidential, and so done not so much in secret but in a way to keep people’s personal medical lives private. And secondly, if you have any questions regarding your health care, we have a Nurse in our parish who is available to you to help you get answers.
The final area I want to speak about today is Stewardship. Stewardship is perhaps the second most important dimension of parish life after Evangelism. Each of us is called to share the Gospel with others, in intentional ways in our lives, that’s evangelism. What follows on evangelism’s heels is Stewardship.
Stewardship involves a lot of dimensions. One of those dimensions is the maintenance of our day to day operations. You received today a report from our Treasurer. You’ll see that at the end of the year, we made ends meet and all our bills are paid. That’s wonderful. That is a blessing from God.
But one of the things that concerns me is that as you look at the report, only half of our income came from regular giving envelopes. Almost 10% came from our endowment, and almost 25% came from special projects, which are funded by things like the annual Raffle. As we look to the future, we need to have a better understanding of how God wants us to be good stewards of our annual expenses and income. A few years ago, a few parishioners went to the Parish Leadership Conference and heard about a program called “New Consecration Sunday.” This year, I’m going to be enlisting the help of some of you, and some fellow clergy to help us better understand how we might become better givers in the kingdom of God for our annual budget.
Lastly, as members of our Parish we are responsible for being good stewards of the things we have been given, our buildings being a key component. We have done a great job over the years of keeping up and maintaining the buildings we have, and being able not just to use them for our own needs, but to offer them up to the community for their needs. Our ability to be there for our surrounding community is a great blessing to us as well as to the people of Warrensburg. Our buildings are used on a regular and continuing basis by the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, North Country Ministry, Alcoholics Anonymous, and for private gatherings, such as baby showers, and receptions following funerals to name a few. I’m grateful we’ve got the beautiful and functional space to do that. And as part of our life as a family we’re charged with making sure its available for years to come.
To that end, our vestry has decided that we need to undertake another capital campaign this year. Over the last several years we’ve raised money to pay for big projects like the new roof over the kitchen, insulating the chapel roof, and the repaving of the driveway. This year, we don’t have any big ticket projects in the works. But we do have a number of smaller projects which need our attention. IN the next few weeks, you’ll be receiving a letter asking you to join in a capital campaign to raise $25,000 in order to get accomplish those little projects we need to get done. When you get that letter, please consider prayerfully how you will contribute.
I want to end this morning on a personal note. Its hard to believe that its been five years since I first stood up here and addressed you as your Priest-in-Charge. Remember that? I was 9 days into this thing called “being a priest.” I want to say how grateful I am to you all for all your love and support you’ve shown me. You’ve continued to teach me what it is to be a family in Christ. I know that I haven’t always been on top of my game, but I couldn’t do any of it without the love and help you’ve given me. I truly hope that someday I can somehow repay you all for what you have done for me. I can’t even begin to express what it means. But from the bottom of my heart, thank you. I really do love being here with you all, and serving you as a priest in God’s Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. And I truly hope that this year will bring great blessings on our church family.
May God bless you all as you have blessed me these last few years.
Key Points from the Report to the Annual Meeting
- In everything we do this year, ask with Saint Paul, “Lord what would you have us do?” (Lord, is this what you want us to do?)
- Find a community outreach program and build on one which we have already
- Increase service within our parish
- More people helping out with events within the parish. (Breakfasts (Vestry), parish dinners, quiche luncheon, Christmas Bazaar)
- Need a server for the 8 am service.
- Host a worship event that the wider community would participate in
- Get out in the public eye as a parish.
- Every member invites one person to become part of the Holy Cross Family this year.
- Start by praying for them
- Then, invite them to “Come and See!”
- Encourage more people to participate in some for of Christian Education
- Rector’s Forum
- Tuesday Evening Bible Study
- Men’s Bible Study
- Women’s Bible Study
- Encourage parishioners to reach out to shut ins
- Cards, visits, phone calls
- Lay Eucharistic Visitors – bring communion on Sunday to a shut in
- Keep people informed about the availability of the Parish Nurse
- Hold a New Consecration Sunday program this year.
- Conduct an Capital Campaign to raise $25,000 for “small” upkeep projects around the parish
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The word “epiphany” is a Greek word which we’ve taken into the English language. So technically, we might call it a loan-word because the meaning in Greek and the meaning in English are pretty similar. It means manifestation or appearance. And during this season of Epiphany, we’ll be looking at the several ways which the arrival, identity, and mission of Jesus were manifested, or made known to us and to the world.
Just to play catch up for a minute, this past Friday we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany. We all know that day as the day when the three wise men came from the East offering their gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Just four quick things to note here:
First was these three wise men (not to be confused with three wise guys) were astrologers. The song calls them Kings, sometimes were call them Magi, but they were astrologers and we think very likely practitioners of a religion called Zoroastrianism. They traveled from the East, likely from Persia, or modern day Iran. And they came, following the star, to worship the newborn King of the Jews. Perhaps we should remember as we think about that idea, that God reaches out to people, whoever they are, where ever they are, however he can, to lead them to the Truth. Sometimes even those whom God reaches out to don’t full grasp the fullness of what they have found, as I doubt the three wise men really fully grasped who this little child they paid homage to really was. Nevertheless, God reaches out. He does it to you and to me, he does it to our family and friends, to Christians and non-Christians alike, calling them to come and worship the King. God is always calling, sometimes people just don’t realize who it is that is calling. We need to be mindful of that, I think, and at the right times, help them understand in ways they will hear and accept, who really is doing the calling and to what they are being called to.
Secondly, thirdly, and fourthly, are the Gifts. Each of the magi brought a gift to offer the Christ Child. These three gifts, Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh, represent three significant roles of the Christ in his mission to the world. They gave him myrrh, a fragrant ointment, as a sacrificial victim; frankincense, as priest who offers up the sacrifice; Kings as the ruler of the universe, the one worthy to be the sacrifice. Gold, from which a crown is fashioned; Incense, which a priest offers up, and which burns with a sweet smelling fragrance, whose smoke rises up to heaven, symbolizing our prayers; myrrh, the ointment used to anoint the body in preparation for burial after death. Christ our Lord is all of these things, and because of that he is able to firmly establish the reign of God, the Kingdom of God in this world.
Today, we come to the baptism of our Lord. An event central to the establishment of that reign. We should first note, of course, that Jesus had no need to be baptized. Though he was fully human, sharing in all of our woes, all our sufferings, he had never sinned, nor was he born with original sin, which we might describe as the proclivity to sin.
Yet, for our sake he submitted himself to the outward act of John’s baptism in the Jordan river. One which John proclaimed to the people for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. In doing so, in submitting himself to this outward act, Jesus did two things for us:
First, he gave us, who are indeed sinful, who do screw things up all the time, an example which we can follow. Yes, he says, John has it right. The kingdom of heaven has come near, turn from your sins, repent and return to the Lord. In submitting to the baptism, Jesus is telling us that John had it right, and we need to listen to what he’s saying.
Secondly, and perhaps more profoundly, by submitting to the outward act of Baptism, Jesus firmly confirmed the nearness of the Kingdom of God. And in doing so, in submitting to the baptism of John, Jesus firmly plants a flag and declares that the Kingdom of God is now being established here on earth. And with the establishment of that Kingdom, Jesus leads the charge out of our captivity to Sin and out of the kingdom of death. He leads establishes the Kingdom, and leads the charge out of the Kingdom of this world, the flesh, and the devil, and into the kingdom of God’s new life for his chosen people.
That life that we have received in our baptism is a life which is no longer enslaved to sin. We are no longer hopelessly and helplessly caught up in the failures of our lives, our sins, our transgressions, our mistakes. But we are now established in the new life in Christ, eternal life with him.
This last week, I reflected on a statement that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Blessed Michael Ramsey once said to a woman who was a little tenuous about the idea of eternal and everlasting life. She thought, which in our worldly way of thinking makes a lot of sense, that idea of Forever seemed like a long time and she wondered if she had to go on forever. Bishop Ramsey’s reply to her was that the idea of eternal life was not so much about time, or foreverness, as it was about the kind and quality of life which God gives to us. I presume the woman was content with the answer as I can’t remember if the dialogue continued.
But getting back to that wonderful image – Jesus leading the charge out of death into eternal life – that quality of life which far surpasses our understanding. I think I like this image, because it is one full of energy and in a wonderful way it captures the struggle we all face as we make this journey to eternal life, this pilgrimage to God, if you will.
You see, Baptism, our baptism, which we undertook or our parents undertook for us, so many years ago, transferred us from the kingdom of death into the kingdom of life. But I’m reminded, by the events of my own life, by my own sin, my own struggles, that even now, having been baptized, and being a firm believer, one who has been given the grace of God to believe the Gospel, I struggle with sin. Indeed, it seems that I’m haunted by the ways of that old life, that I’m haunted by sin, temptation, indeed, the devil.
Although we are baptized, although we are regenerated into a new life by the Holy Spirit in Baptism, marked as Christ’s own forever, we still need to grow in our faith and love. We need to grow into the new life that we have been given through baptism. We need to become mature Christians.
But doing that is a struggle, and that’s why I really like the image that Jesus submitting to baptism in the Jordan river is him leading that charge out of death into life. We face and will face for the whole length of our lives on earth the need to struggle against temptation and sin. That fight, is a real one which we are called to. Sometimes that fight hurts terribly.
Why does it hurt so much? Because as much as we may not like the things we do wrong; as much as we may be uneasy about some of our habitual sins, we’ve learned to live with the life we had. We’ve learned to compensate. Like learning to compensate for that old football injury by putting more weight on the other foot when we walk, we learn to compensate for our sins. We learn to live with and around them. The problem of course is that as we do that we continue to live in them. And Jesus calls us out of them, into his new eternal, everlasting life. A life we couldn’t begin to image the glory and wonderfulness of.
Transistioning from this old world to the new life in Christ is a tough out. But in his baptism, by submitting to baptism, Jesus tells us that he is right there with us. He doesn’t need to be for his own sake, but he’s there for ours, so that we might, by his grace, by his strength, by his love, and his help, attain to the fullness of life which has been promised by our heavenly father.
Today, we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. He identified with us in our baptism, he led the way, and leads the way still; he is there for us, in the trenches, fighting the Good fight of faith right along with us as we seek to enter the Kingdom of his Father and our Father, his God and our God, who is, The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
+ IN the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. God’s plan of salvation came to us in the flesh and blood, and it had happened all as it was foretold by the prophets of old. And in the field, the angels told the great tidings of Joy to the shepherds, who on seeing the child glorified God. But Mary pondered these things in her heart.
And indeed, we come together this evening, in the midst of the darkness of the world, metaphorical and literal, to join the Blessed Virgin Mother and to ponder these things in our hearts.
My thoughts this year have been, throughout our season of Advent, focused on the future. And throughout that season of Advent, I repeated said that our time of preparation is not so much about what God has done in the past, but what God has in store for us in our future.
But, what I haven’t said much about, really, is that future. So what is it exactly that God has in store for us? Well, tonight on this night, we discover what it is.
And the way we discover it, is by going with the Shepherds, to that manger, peering in, and looking in to the face of Jesus. And if we, like the Blessed Mother, look with our hearts long enough into that face, we might just begin to realize, that there, in that manger, IS our future, God’s Future, God’s plan for you and for me.
Christmas is for me, a time when a little sentimental feeling should be allowed. Normally, religion based on emotions and sentiments will only get you so far. But on this night, I can’t help but feel nostalgic for the place where I grew up as we sing the hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” The words of that hymn nearly always bring tears to my eyes.
For me, the images of which that hymn speaks, that the greatest event which has ever happened in the history of the universe since its creation – namely that God has descended and taken our flesh up on himself in order to begin the mission of Saving us from ourselves – happened in such a way that, if it were happening even now, in this very town of Warrensburg, even next door, we might miss it. The birth of the Savior would go unnoticed. How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!
In that little town of Bethlehem, so still, and quiet, the stars running their course as they do each and every night, something from beyond this world was breaking in. It was the light, a light shining in the streets, an everlasting light. One in which all our fears are ended, and in whom all our hopes are met. It is that line that got me thinking of what I wanted to say tonight. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
In the course of our lives, we pin our hopes, our futures, on many things which, on looking back, seem pretty trivial now, though at the time, they were the source of much anxiety, and fear. In school, perhaps it was passing that exam, and then making a good impression and getting that Job, and then keeping that boss happy, and getting that good review so we could get that promotion or that raise, so we could save a few extra dollars, so we could buy that shiny new thing or go to that new place we had never been before. It was that shiny new thing, or that new place, which we hoped would entertain us, distract us, placate us, so that we would be distracted from the worries that hounded us. And then the cycle would repeat itself all over again.
Sometimes, those things we pin our hopes on fail us, utterly and completely. The job we didn’t get. The relationship we couldn’t fix. The doctors who couldn’t figure it out. It hurt us terribly. We’re not yet completely recovered from it. We don’t understand it. We’ve perhaps only begun to realize that we put our hopes in the wrong place.
Tonight, we go to the manger, to Bethlehem, with the Shepherds, and we ponder in our hearts, along with the Blessed Mother, these things which have come to pass in our lives.
And if we look long enough into that face, we’ll begin to see the one in whom we can place our hope, in whom all our fears are vanquished in whom all darkness is cast out, whom no amount of darkness could ever overcome. And so, God imparts to human hearts, the blessings of his heaven.
More than all the activities of the world, that’s what Christmas is about. Its about pondering in our hearts the truth of what God has done for you and for me in the event we celebrate. And its about receiving the Word, fresh and anew. Its about setting aside our world focus, and pinning all our hopes on him, so that, knowing him to have never forsaken us, our fears shall find their end in him. It’s about knowing that where meek souls will receive him still, the Christ Child enters in.
On this holy night, we have come, to worship the one who saves us from death. And it all happened, or rather started, while the world slept, and the stars ran their courses.
O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I woke up Wednesday morning after a late Tuesday night watching the election returns to discover in my Facebook News Feed half of my friends in a state of great anxiety that the end of the world was near and the other half in joyful jubilation as though the Parousia, that is Jesus’ return, had occurred.
I was grateful for two things. One, that my news feed was 50/50 on the matter. It tells me I have the right balance of people in my life. And secondly, something I was confident would be the case long before and regardless of the outcome of the election process: As my friend Father Griswold-Kuhn is wont to say, “God is still God, and Jesus and still on the throne.”
There’s an irony, of course, that today’s Gospel Lesson is taken from the passage which introduces what biblical scholars might call the section of apocalyptic teachings of Jesus. That’s a fancy way of saying that for the rest of the 21st chapter, Luke put together the things which Jesus had to say about the end of this world as we know it and the coming of the fullness of the Kingdom of God.
Our little section this morning focuses on the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. And it is important that we note how very important the temple was to the life of the Jewish people.
Way back in the Book of Exodus, after God had brought his people out into the Desert, to the foot of Mount Sinai, he gave them directions on how to build the Tabernacle. The details of how it was to be built were very specific: the dimensions were given, the type of fabrics which were to be used. How its furnishings were to be built.
First, in this tabernacle, and then finally, during the reign of Solomon, when the first permanent Temple was built in Jerusalem, God and his People would meet. The temple was the place where God and his people were to meet. It was literally the place where heaven and earth met. And here, Jesus tells his audience, that some day, and someday soon, this temple, adorned with glimmering gold and built of massive stones would be reduced to a pile of rubble.
Can you imagine how you might have felt about that if you were hearing Jesus say that? How might you react?
First, you might laugh. The destruction of the Temple would take a huge cataclysmic event. The act of moving those stones would require so much force, so much energy, that the very thought of it would seem preposterous. Like many, you may think he was out of his mind to suggest something so ridiculous.
But what if you did believe that what he was saying was possible? What would that mean for your Jewish Faith? What would it mean that there would be no more temple at which to come and worship?
Spoiler alert. In the year 66 AD. About 33 years after our Lord’s death and Resurrection, there was a rebellion in Judea. The Emperor Nero sent an army to restore order. In the year 70, after seiging the city of Jerusalem, the Roman army captured the city and burned the Temple to the ground. All that remains of the structure is the retaining wall that held up the soil on which the temple was built. We call that the wailing wall or the western wall.
But that was 30 years down the road. What would it mean to the Jews of Jesus’ time? To put it in perspective, it wouldn’t be like tearing down this church. If this church were torn down tomorrow, we’d still be the Church of the Holy Cross. I’m not sure there’s a straight analogy. Perhaps it would be like taking away the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. Those two rituals are so central to our life a Christians, that every Christian denomination has them. If we were to no longer have those in our religion, the very fabric and nature of Christianity would change, instantly.
For us, the tearing down of this beautiful building built by our ancestors in the faith, while tragic and while sad, would not change one tiny iota of the practice of our faith. We’d still gather and we’d still be the Church of the Holy Cross.
Why? Because the core fabric of our faith is not found in buildings made of stone and covered in gold. It’s not in beautiful ceremonies, or silver chalices. The very essence of our faith, as holy scripture tells us is the Word of God, with a capital W. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. That word, is our Lord Jesus Christ.
And so long as we cling to that truth, so long as we cling to that cross, nothing shall be able to shake us.
In short, God is still God, and Jesus is still on the throne, sometimes despite our best efforts to displace him. And the temple in which he wishes to dwell is not one made of stone and gold, but of flesh. The temple where he wishes now to come and tabernacle, to dwell, is in our hearts.
The rest of our Gospel this morning, frankly, its pretty scary, if you really pay attention to what our Lord said was coming. Wars and rumors of wars. Betrayals. Persecutions. Even for some, death. Things, he says are going to get worse before they get better, but in a real way isn’t that always the case?
Despite all that may happen. Despite all that we may face, we are called to embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life which he has given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.
This is our hope, this is our calling. And for that we give thanks to our God, who is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen
For Mickey Vassallo
November 10, 2016
+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
They say that you’re supposed to be eminently relaxed in front of family, but for the first time in over two years, I decided to sit down and put down on paper the thoughts I hope to share with you this morning.
So let me start with my own experience of knowing Mickey. I can’t remember the first time I met Mickey, but I can say that it must have been at Bethesda. I can’t remember any one conversation with her that stands out. What I have are simply images imprinted on my memory.
And the image that stands out among them is set in the Kitchen on Washington Street, where all of us so often enjoyed each other’s presence and company and shared our lives with one another. Here I was, an early twenty something want to be priest, welcomed into the extended Rectory family. And there was Mickey, with what I think is a glass of white wine, talking to me, truly engulfed in our conversation as the hustle and bustle of the Rectory family swirled around us. Allison there making lunch, no doubt something organic with which she will later use to challenge my palate. The Crawfords doing whatever it is they do, which never was, nor is nor ever will be, below the level of 180 decibels. And Tracy, of course being her just come from church bubbly self. And Tom there, somehow holding us all together.
And there in the midst of the whirlwind, was Mickey, focused and centered, asking me about my latest adventure. What struck me the most, perhaps, about any memory of our conversations with her were two things. First, the softness of her demeanor, her gentle spirit. She, like me, had been no doubt been thrown headlong into that cacophony which we call the Rectory Family. But even as the scene raged on around us, she never lost that focused and gentle spirit. And secondly, the genuineness of her questions. She never made me feel like she was just asking questions for the sake of making conversation. It always felt, and I think was the truth that, she truly wanted to know, that she was truly interested in what I had to say.
In an email Allison wrote to me saying “It’s so hard to sum up 90 years of her life.” Perhaps no more greater tribute could be given to someone than to say just that. Here was a person who had such an experience of life, the good and the tough mixed up and tumbled together, that no words would be enough to say we’ve captured the essence of it. Obituaries tell us where a person has lived, the things they liked to do, the organizations of which they were a part. Mickey had no small list of accomplishments there. From Tennesee to England, to North Carolina, to Vermont, and Saratoga; she loved golf, and gardening clubs; collecting Wedgwood and antiques; UFOs and ghosts; and oh, let’s not forget the New York Yankees and Derek Jeter.
But an obituary can only tell us so much. “It’s so hard to sum up 90 years of her life” Allison wrote to me “And in the end it’s not about what someone has ‘done’ but what qualities they brought forth into the world and how they affected others.”
How can one really put into words what it truly means that Mickey will be remembered for her warmth, free spirit, humor, and sense of adventure? It’s hard to sum that up because those are the ways she affected the world. Those are the images she has left implanted in our hearts.
I want to share with you another little anecdote from my time in the Rectory in Saratoga. One which really has nothing to do with Mickey. It was sometime, between January and March, I found myself there in the bedroom with Jane and Tom. In the midst of the conversation, Jane said to Tom “even now, you have so much more to teach us about the Kingdom of God.” I’ve never forgotten those words, and in a real sense, they have over these last 5 years shaped how I understand the latter and end stages of life for those who I am privileged and honored to minister to, and it something I share with them and their families. We never stop teaching others, showing others, the Kingdom of God. CS Lewis of Chronicles of Narnia fame wrote in another book “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”
One of the things which Allison said to me is that as Mickey’s dementia continued to run its course, it became more and more difficult for Mickey to interact with the world around her as she once did. But she said one of the blessings she saw was the worldly anxieties of an accumulated lifetime, which we all have, began to fall away. And the way that Mickey began to respond to the things around her was as a pure soul, simply with love. When all that other stuff had disappeared, what shone forth from her was love.
The response that came to mind was that’s God shining through. As she decreased, God increased. The Church teaches that the goal of our lives, above anything else, is union with God, to be one with him. We gather here today to offer our prayers and remembrances, and to make our communion with him. And in a beautiful way, the more and more we are united with God in his life, the more and more his qualities shine through us
I said to Allison, that in his letter, the Apostle John, when he was trying to find a way to talk about God could find no better word than Love. He said, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love come from God… God is love; whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”
You see, even as the disease of dementia ran its course, Mickey, in a most wonderful way taught us about the Kingdom, showed us God. And as everything that we thought mattered, what she thought mattered, fell away, what really and truly mattered eternally, remained: Love.
And so today, as we gather here, we do so to remember and to give thanks for Mickey’s life. Not so much the things she did, where she lived, or the adventures she went on – those were for her.
Rather, we are here to give thanks for the qualities that she brought for into this world which affected us, which showed us God: that warm, gentle and free spirit, that sense of fun and adventure, that genuine friendship, the humor and most importantly, Love.
We offer her life back to God in thanksgiving for the opportunity to have known that life and to have been touched by it. For the gift of having seen God working through it for indeed, God is Love; whoever abides in love, abides in God, and God in him. Amen.