31 December 2008

Economics and the schismatic spin

If this were a melodrama, the full title would be:
Economics and the schismatic spin
any life jacket will do.
I've been reading quite a bit lately about the deficits many (if not most) churches in TEC are experiencing. Some parishes are 70-100,000 in the hole and the deficit projected for 2009 are even greater. Even the National Cathedral is in financial distress and as I understand it, heads have rolled.

What is so interesting about all of this is the way the schismatics in the United Stated have grabbed it and run with it in an attempted end play. (I think that's the correct metaphor - I didn't play football in school.)

So desperate are they for validation of their new organization that they are grasping at straws. Canterbury has not validated their new organization, so they have something to make themselves feel good.

So, the economic crisis is the best thing possible for them. They can point to the reduced income of come parishes to show that God is cursing TEC and blessing the schismatics. What they don't tell us is how their cash flow is holding up. I have it on rather good authority that the schismatic organization is having financial difficulties, too. But, we aren't going to hear about that - that bad news wouldn't make them look like the anointed remnant of "true Christians."

They don't examine the full scope of this economic downturn. The church for which I am pastor musician has a deficit of 48,000 for this year. Pledged income for 2009 is only 140,000 of which 127,000 is what they pay their minister. The whole projected budget was slashed more than 60 percent. This has nothing to do with gay rights or God's curse. It's a simple economic matter. The above fact proves the schismatics are breaking wind about TEC's finances proving anything.

So, in the end, it's more propaganda from the schismatics. But then, that's all they know how to produce. Didn't someone biblical say "by your works shall all know you?" Ah, yes. lies and manipulation are such great Christian virtues.

On a different topic, you must, not need to, you must go read his article on MSNBC: Parents' response key to health of gay youth. Most of us have known this information for a long time, but it's nice to see it presented and confirmed by reputable researchers.

For me, the most interesting bit is that our sons and daughters are "coming out" at a younger age than ever before:
Such conversations are necessary because young people have been coming out at younger ages. Consistent with other studies, the youths in Ryan's study were on average younger than 11 when they first experienced a same-sex attraction, were just over 14 when they realized they were gay and came out to their families before they had turned 16.
How things have changed since I was that age - and what a great thing it is that they can come out at such a young age -- for their peers, it's a non issue. Thanks be to God!

And on a completely different subject, sometime early this morning, TTLS received it's 28,000 unique visitor. Who'da thunk.

30 December 2008

Does prayer work?

The book of James says that the fervent prayer of the righteous "availeth much." We have received the following update from JCF about her friend Cath
I saw Cath today: I can tell you those prayers ARE moving heaven, because she looks great! She says she feels pretty well, too.

Let's keep those prayers going, though. Lung cancer isn't supposed to surrender, but with our prayer power - and if it be Bod's will - I think we can lick this thing.
I'd say that prayer does work. My personal thank-you to all who pray for those on our list. Also, between now and New Year's Day, please give us an update on anyone you've placed on the prayer list.

Take a close look at the holy card I've posted. See if you see what took me ten minutes to see after I received it.

29 December 2008

Congratulations Wayward

A wee shout out to my online friend, Nathan, who celebrates his 500th post on his blog, The Wayward Episcopalian. Way to go, my friend!

Holy Innocents and St. Thomas Beckett

Today most of the Western Church is commemorating the Holy Innocents. The actual feast was 28 December but it was transferred because the First Sunday after Christmas has precedence in the liturgical world.

But today is also the Feast Day of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. It has been omitted this year because of the transfer of the Holy Innocents. I do not want to forget Thomas this year, though.

For most of my life, I didn't think much about him. That changed a couple of years ago when I spent the summer in the United Kingdom. As part of my sojourn there, I made the obligatory pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral. As cathedrals go, it's not much, in my opinion. There are so many more beautiful cathedral, particularly at Petesrburgh.

As I was wandering about after the principal Eucharist that Sunday, I walked though a passage and ran smack dab into Thomas' death site. I hadn't even thought of him on the way to the cathedral or while in the cathedral. But there it was.

My whole body stopped moving as if I'd been physically restrained and shoved backwards. Although I'd looked at the Martyrs' monument in Oxford, this was different. Oxford was much changed since the burning days.

But here, it was exactly the same as it was on this day in 1170! There they were-- the actual stones his blood ran over. In that instant history and faith were one for me. I stood there in stunned silence because I understood the power that martyrdom has.

I was alone there at the spot for a few minutes before other people, who knew the spot and had come specifically to see it, arrived. One visitor was a history "don" (a head, fellow, or tutor of a college) from Cambridge. He stood there for a minute then looked at me and said, "I had the same reaction; it's really remarkable, isn't it."

As we talked (history major to history major) he filled me in on many interesting things about Thomas (including a possible/probably romantic link between Henry and Thomas) and the site. One of the things he said was, "If you reacted thusly to this, can you imagine the reaction of the pilgrims 900 years ago when they saw the shrine?" My reply was so inadequate, "no, I can't!"

He took me up the stairs that Thomas had taken his last steps, and once in the great Choir he showed me where the shrine stood and pointed to a candle burning in the center of the floor. He explained that the candle burns continually and marks the spot where Thomas' body lay in the shrine.

Then he took me back down the stairs and showed me a little chapel to the side of the spot of martyrdom. He explained that many "competent" historians believe Thomas is burred in the chapel. When Henry VIII sent his men to loot the shrine and dispose of the body, the monks apparently secreted Thomas away and buried him in this chapel and put some other unfortunate person's bones in the shrine and it was the "fake" Thomas who was disposed of.

He told me of "odd" services held throughout the centuries in the chapel on St. Thomas' day, and other interesting bits that lead the experts to believe the events transpired as he told me they had.

But, in the end, it was the power of the spot that captivated me; and continues to captivate me. I understand the power of the martyrs now. I'll never be able to sing the Te Deum without realizing that power in the phrase "The Noble Army of Martyrs praise thee...."
O God, our strength and our salvation, you called your servant Thomas Becket to be a shepherd of your people and a defender of your Church: Keep your household from all evil and raise up among us faithful pastors and leaders who are wise in the ways of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ the shepherd of our souls, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Here's a bit of trivia for you: The same day same three knights of King Henry killed a baker and his family after the king stated that he'd kill for a good meat pie. Say a prayer for the baker and his family, too.

28 December 2008

The First Sunday after Christmas

Christmas I
Dum medium silentium

(Year B RCL) Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147; Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18

“Fast away the old year passes.” So goes the last verse of the old Christmas carol, “Deck the Halls.” For Christians, our celebration of Christmas is but three days old. We have nine more days, and would that we could have all the world join in; some will, but for many, once the tree is out with the trash, it’s time to move on.

The twelve days of Christmas are intended as days of celebration, but also for reflection. The majestic hymn that opens the Gospel of John sets the stage for a whole new order of life, forged in the beginning of Creation with the presence of the Word, now made flesh among us, full of grace and truth.

Once in awhile, people get a glimpse of what God is doing among us. Once in awhile the light shines so brightly in the darkness that nothing can dim it. Once in awhile people feel an upwelling of joy in their hearts, and they don’t even know where it comes from.

These days of Christmas call us to celebrate, to re-order and perhaps re-frame our lives so that we can live differently, not because it’s the time of New Year resolutions, but because Jesus has come to live among us to show us the way.

As this particular, some might say peculiar, year comes to a close, think about what has happened. The world economic engine has all but collapsed. We are officially in a recession in the U.S. We have a new president-elect who will take office amidst the ravages of war and terrorism and economic chaos. Some have lost their jobs, and more likely will. Others have seen much of their retirement disappear. Many of the things that we rely on for our security have vanished.

So, in the midst of our lowliness, in the time of our testing, the Lord appears among us. God enters our hearts with a love that cannot be extinguished. God offers us a guide to faith and salvation that no economic collapse can erode or cheapen. God takes our puzzlement and our failure and redeems them with new insight.

If the light truly shines in the darkness, then where have we been living? Some would say we have chosen darkness over the light. We have chosen to live on credit. We have chosen to live beyond our means as a nation and a people. We have forgotten that there is always a price to pay for greed – a price paid by all of us. And if we were honest, we would admit that deep down, we all knew this economic splurge would have to end; perhaps “not with a bang, but a whimper,” as T.S. Eliot wrote in one of his poems.

But in that darkness comes the light of the Word made flesh. Within the darkness can always be found the seeds of light.

In a neighborhood shelter there was a financial crisis. Grant money that usually supported the shelter had dried up, and the place that many relied on for a daily meal was faced with imminent closure. A local rabbi came by to see the director and asked, “Why are you closing?”

“We’re out of money, rabbi,” she said.

“Well,” he replied, “then go get some!”

She looked at him oddly for a moment and then realized she hadn’t thought about any alternatives. In a month, with the rabbi’s help, seven churches and a synagogue had taken on support of the shelter. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

So, how is it with you as the old year passes? Are you simply waiting to see when the other shoe will drop? Are you waiting for a new president to do something big and bold? Well, he doesn’t have any money either. It has all been committed to war and bailouts.

It is time to go to work, time to act like the gifted people God created us to be, time to be about God’s business in our churches, communities, and families – business that is committed to redemption, and business that brings graciousness to the lives of all people. That is what we should be doing, because that is what God has done for us.

“Fast away the old year passes;
“Hail the new, ye lads and lasses.
“Sing we joyous all together;
“Heedless of the wind and weather.”

Welcome to the twelve hallowed days of Christmas. May they be days that you see the Word made flesh scatter the darkness from before your path and empower you to give light to others.

-- Ben Helmer will shortly complete an 18-month assignment as interim ministry developer with the Episcopal Church in Micronesia (Guam). He and his wife, Jane, will be returning to their home in West Missouri. E-mail: bhelmer1247@msn.com.

26 December 2008

The Second Day of Christmas - St. Stephen

Happy Second day of Christmas. My Christmas day was quiet. It was just me, my honourary granddog, Raven, and the small tree which I finally decorated on Christmas day.

About six o'clock, my honourary son, Josh, and his partner, Matthew, arrived and we had a small, quiet meal together watching South Park Christmas shows. How sacrilegious can it get?

Following Christmas Day there are a couple of major feast days of the church that get lost - almost completely lost. The first is today, and it honours Stephen, the first martyr of the followers of Jesus. Steven is the principle figure in the holy card. I'm sure he didn't look that femenine or holy in real life, but I chose this card because it follows the Eastern Orthodox tradition - there are two things going on in the card.

Stephen was one of the first deacons of the church. If you notice the holy card at the right, you'll see that he holds the napkin which became the maniple, the chief vestment for deacons even today. The maniple was used long before the deacons began wearing soles. Sadly use of the maniple has fallen out of favour. I remember when the bishop used to make his annual visitation and he would have his bishop's vestments on, and the priesthood vestment and the maniple to show that he held all three offices of our church. Being the traditionalist I am, I wish the priests and deacons would return to wearing the maniple.

Stephen was called before the council and made a brilliant defense of Jesus. For that he was stoned to death. In the holy card you'll see that martyrdom going on in the back ground. Like Jesus, as Stephn was dying, he said "Lord, do not hold them accountable for this. You'll find Stephen's story in The Acts 6:8 - 7:2a, 51-60. Go read it.

The Collect for St. Stephen's Day
We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Now go over and read Bro Tobias' post of his Christmas sermon. You'll be glad you did.

25 December 2008

The Nativity of Our Lord - Christmas Day

Christmas Day
In festa Natalis

Year B

The Collect of the day:
O God, who makest us glad by the yearly remembrance of the birth of thy only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our Judge; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-12; John 1:1-14

One of the readings suggested for Christmas Day is from the first chapter of Hebrews. It starts out with this introduction:
“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs.”

How appropriate it is that we leap from the birth narratives of Christmas Eve to the full, exalted maturity of the Hebrews passage overnight! It is a pity that so few of us attend services on Christmas Day, thus missing out on sermons that delve into the mysteries and wonders of the Letter to the Hebrews. This magnificent theological treatise is not studied frequently enough in the lectionary, maybe because it is so profound that it is not easy to preach on its riches.

But something remarkable happens in the prologue to this letter, or long sermon, by an unknown writer. Over the weeks of Advent, we have been almost lulled by the sweetness of anticipation and the tenderness of Luke’s and Matthew’s narratives into thinking of Jesus the infant; Jesus, born poor among the poor; born of a woman. We are sensitive and emotional and longing to give gifts of love not only to those who are close to us, but also to those we have never met but only heard about. We are overflowing with generosity, food, and images of angels.

And here comes this remarkable, brilliant writer to remind us that it is the Christ of God we should be thinking of and worshipping, not a child in a manger. With breathtaking beauty and with alliteration of explosive consonants in the Greek, the writer opens his letter to remind us in one very long sentence that the one whom we have been anticipating through Advent and adoring on Christmas Eve is God’s heir, a reflection of God’s glory, God’s exact imprint, sustainer and redeemer. We have been singing about angels, but this writer assures us that the Christ is superior to the angels.

We have been kneeling before a mother holding a baby in her arms. We now kneel before the One who was at the beginning of creation with God the Creator.

We have no way of knowing whether or not this writer knew the prologue to John’s gospel, but the two here converge. These two prologues in all their earth-shaking faith and profound thinking encompass the grand theology of the Incarnation. They are not concerned with the earthly Jesus but with Christ the Son of God. They remind us how quickly the early Church arrived at a solid, complex, and intricate theology and that the people writing of the Christ possessed not only great hearts but admirable brains; they confirm also that the doctrine of the Trinity emerged early and was not a creature of the minds that gathered in Nicaea.

Reading these two prologues, we leave the comfortable realm of storytelling as found in the birth narratives and enter the complex realm of intricate theology. These writers have already moved from Jesus to Christ. It is the glorified Christ that matters to them, the same one who appeared to Paul and changed him and the history of humanity unto eternity.

The one who emptied himself to take on human form is on this day the One who was at the beginning with the Father, the one whose word creates with the Father and sustains all things. The writer of Hebrews sees the Christ as the one who, after he has made “purification from sin,” is sitting “at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” both in control and in touch with those he has created.

We feel a tremendous sense of connectedness as this magnificent prologue and the one that opens the Gospel of John take us to the beginning of creation and lead us to this moment of acknowledgment – that the one who came as a helpless infant is the one who is superior to the angels, superior to the prophets and to Moses. He is the Logos of God, the expression of God; but above all he is the one who gave us power to become children of God.

Knowing all this, why should we be afraid? Knowing all this, why should we worry that Wall Street has fallen?

“The Word became flesh and lived among us.” What is more important than this reality that we are urged to grasp onto on this Christmas morning? Nothing! The eyewitness of John’s gospel assures us: “We have seen his glory as of a father’s only son full of grace and truth.” Let us then rejoice and be glad.

-- Katerina Whitley teaches communication at Appalachian State University and is the author of two books on Advent: Waiting for the Wonder and Light to the Darkness. She can be reached at katewhitley@charter.net.

24 December 2008

And she brought forth her firstborn son...

...And she brought forth her first born son and laid him in a manger because there was no room in the inn...

This sermon extract is sixty years old, but it's the best Christmas Eve sermon I've ever heard.
Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking.

Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child's cry, a blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven't forgotten that night down the centuries. We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sounds of bells, and with gifts.

But especially with gifts. You give me a book, I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry can do with a new pipe. For we forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled, all that is, except for one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It's his birthday we're celebrating. Don't let us ever forget that.

Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most. And then, let each put in his share, loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.
If you are young enough that you didn't recognize the excerpt, it is from The Bishop's Wife.

The Collect for Christmas Eve
Let us pray:

O God, who hast caused this holy night to shine with the illumination of the true Light: Grant us, we beseech thee, that as we have known the mystery of that Light upon earth, so may we also perfectly enjoy him in heaven; where with thee and the Holy Spirit he liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlasting.

23 December 2008

Rejoice, the Christchild comes soon!

This is the first Christmas song I learned. I was about five years old. I learned it from German Mennonite friends.

Softly falls the snow,
Still and frozen rests the lake,
The forest looks like Christmastide,
Rejoice, the Christchild comes soon!

In every heart it's warm
Quiet from worries and harm
Cares of life are restrained.
Rejoice, the Christchild comes soon!

Soon is the Holy Night
Choirs of angels awaken
Listen now, how lovely it echos!
Rejoice, the Christchild comes soon!

22 December 2008

Mama and the trees - all fifty-six of them

I feel like telling a family story, for some reason.

For a variety of reasons, my mom neither had nor saw a Christmas Tree until 23 December 1938. On the 3rd, she had married the man who would be my father and she moved to his parents home.

On the 23rd, my grandfather, who never called mom anything other than sister, said "Sister, get your coat; we're going to town."

Grandpa bought lights and ornaments an a couple of presents, some ribbon candy and Christmas pillow candy (do they still make that stuff? The little white ones with orange stripes were my favourite) and some corn for popping.

Later that afternoon, grandpa sent my dad out into the woods to "bring home a Christmas tree." Mom and grandma popped corn and strung it on thread. When dad arrived with the tree, they decorated it. That was mama's first Christmas tree.

Mama told me that it was the prettiest thing she had ever seen and that she made a vow that every year her children would have a tree. Perhaps there would be nothing under it but a dime store toy (it was the depression, remember), but that there would always be a tree.

And there was for the next 56 years until she died. Papa had been dead ten years by then.

Every year mama made a big deal out of putting the tree up. She preferred it to go up just a few days before Christmas Day, but we kids usually won the discussion and the tree went up too early in Advent. And mama's prophecy was true - sometimes the dime store supplied our presents, but we never knew and it didn't matter to us.

When I was about 12 years old, I inherited the job of decorating the tree and the house. I'd spend far too long, but the tree had to be "just right." And each year, when it was finished and I'd cleaned up the war zone I created during the decorating, my dad would always say, "Mama, he did a good job; I think this is the prettiest yet." Mama would pass the comments on to me because for some reason, dad never gave me a compliment, to my face, about anything.

This year the treatments have really killed me off and I really am tired, but I have an SOS out to a friend who is coming over Tuesday to dig out my tree. It will only be one small three-foot tree this year, though, not one of the nine huge trees I have. There will be no other decorations this year.

I'll get out the box of special ornaments. Things from decades long past -- the snowman that was mom's ornament, the pink and blue 1950's tree birds that are my brothers' ornaments;. I remember the day we bought them at Kreisinger's mercantile and grocery store. There will be the caroler ornament my oldest oldest brother made in school in 1951 and the wee pine cone bird I made in kindergarten. And the wee pink pig, and the elephant given to me by Leona Kaiser of blessed memory.

As each ornament goes on the tree I'll remember each person and all the Christmas parades, shopping at Western Auto, candy canes, toy cars, Aggravation games, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer show year after year, and that Red Rider BB gun that actually shot sideways, and all the turkeys that helped make our Christmas Day celebration. (The birds, by the way.) And all the love--and all the love. I'll probably cry a little bit, too.

Like my friend Wayward said, "The tree is an old friend" of mine, too.

I'll thank God for blessing me with such a good mother and for the dysfunctional family in which I grew up, and for allowing my memory to be clear of those long ago days. And thank God that because of the wee bairn in the stable, I'll see them all again. That's the best Christmas present I ever received.

Today, enjoy "Alle Jahre Wieder" - it's for Frau Gwen Frank, my college German instructor, a woman whom I was privileged to call friend and who honoured me by allowing us to "Dutzen." Frau Frank died this year. I miss her, too. The clip a modern rendition and the scenes are from the Frankfurt Advent festival. The song captures the essence of this post, and in my opinion, what it's all about, year after year.
Alle Jahre Wieder -------- Every Year again
Kommt das Christuskind ---comes the Christ child
Auf die Erde nieder --------Down to earth
Wo wir Menschen sind. ---- Where we humans are.

Kehrt mit seinem Segen ---Sweeping in with His blessing
Ein in jedes Haus ----------One in every house
Geht auf allen Wegen ------Walks in every path
Mit uns ein und aus. -------With us in and out

Steht auch mir zu Seite ----Stands also at my side
Still und unerkannt --------Quietly and unrecognized
Dass es treu mich leite -----To guide me loyally
An der lieben Hand --------By his dear hand

21 December 2008

Evensong Advent IV and Concert

I'm doing something a bit different tonight. In addition to the BBC Evensong, I'd like to direct you to the online recording of the 2007 St. Olaf Christmas Festival. Go, enjoy; it is more than worth the click.

For the BBC Evensong, click here.

I'm posting a Christmas song that is quite popular in Scandanivia. I wanted to post it in Swedish, but I couldn't find a good version of it. So, it's in Norwegian. Here is the English translation. My thanks to Goeren for correcting my Swedish.
Now thousands of Christmas candles blaze
Upon the dark round earth
And thousand, thousands beam
Upon heaven's deep blue background.

And over town and land tonight
Goes the glad tidings of Christmas
That born is the Lord Jesus Christ
Our Savor and God

Thou star over Bethlehem
Oh, let they gentle light
Shine in with hope and peace
Into every home and hosue.

In each heart, poor and dark
Send thou a soft beam
A beam of God's loving light
This blessed Christmastide.

Advent IV

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Canticle 3; Romans 16: 25-27; Luke 1: 26-38

“She struck the angel Gabriel as hardly old enough to have a child at all, let alone this child, but he’d been entrusted with a message to give her and he gave it. He told her what the child was to be named, and who he was to be, and something about the mystery that was to come upon her. ‘You mustn’t be afraid, Mary,’ he said. And as he said it, he only hoped she wouldn’t notice that beneath the great, golden wings, he himself was trembling with fear to think that the whole future of creation hung now on the answer of a girl.”

The whole future of creation hung now on the answer of a girl. Imagine all the angels gathered around, looking down, holding their collective breath. “What will she say? Will she do it? C’mon, Mary, say yes!” Because they all know the way God works is only by allowing people freely to answer "yes."

Freedom of choice, the exercise of free will, has always been at the top of God’s priority list when it comes to interaction with human beings. God would never force a “yes” from anyone, would never trick anyone into a response of love, would never make obedience the best choice if people didn’t truly have the option of disobedience as well.

That’s the way God has been from the beginning. God would even allow people to continue in their own disobedience, turn them over to their own ideas of how to make their own way, to get their own way, to find themselves in the prison of their own designs, hit bottom if necessary, if only to give them a firm place from which to say, “Okay, yes. Your will be done.”

God respects our freedom – has, since those days way back in the garden. If it weren’t so, God wouldn’t have to come up with new ways to reach out to people, to ask them again and again to say yes – freely say yes to God. And now those ways had culminated in this moment, when an angel stands before a girl, answering her questions, his knees knocking together, trying to keep the quiver out of his voice, as he and all the angelic host and even God wait. Will she do it? Will she say, “Yes”?

We know the answer Mary gave: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.”

Here am I, the servant of the Lord. With this answer, all the heavens rejoice, and the plan is set in motion that would cause a new light to shine in the darkness, new hope, new peace, new freedom. And Mary’s answer gives words for us too. These are words that change everything.

During Advent, we hear about how to prepare for the coming of the Lord, how to become more and more the disciple – the follower of Christ – you are called to be. We hear about Advent’s gifts to us: a time for self-examination, a time for repentance, for turning away from things and people and ways of life and behavior that keep us from drawing close to the God who is always rushing to meet us, whether we acknowledge that God and God’s open arms of love for us and the whole world or not. Today’s Advent gift is the gift of commitment, of turning toward God and making the commitment to offer ourselves as no less than the servants of God, to say, along with Mary, our own “yes”: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” These are words that change everything.

Mary wasn’t the first to say these words. She stands in a long line of witnesses who have been brave, or ignorant, or joyous, or adventurous, or grateful, or obedient enough to say to God’s request, “Here am I.”

Noah said, “Here am I,” and God told him to build a floating zoo and told him that he would spend the next forty days feeling seasick and wondering about God’s sense of humor in making this his reward for being righteous.

Abram said, “Here am I,” and God told him to get his wife, pack his things, and go sight unseen to a land God would show him.

The boy Samuel said, “Here am I,” and then began a long career of speaking truth to the powers that be, King Saul in particular, and being the bearer of the unpleasant news that Saul had done wrong in God’s sight. Samuel had no way of knowing if he would still have his head, let alone his job, in the morning.

And Mary, this young girl, probably just old enough to bear a child, ponders and asks and wonders, and then says the words that change everything: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.”

And she would give birth to the one who would make service, even service unto death, the way of life. She would give birth to the one, in the words of our Prayer Book, “in whose service is perfect freedom.” The name of Mary’s baby was Jesus. In Hebrew, his name is Yeshua, which means, “Yahweh or 'God' liberates.” God brings freedom.

When we are willing to serve God and do what God asks of us, it is freeing. When we can stop asking, “What’s in it for me? How does this help me? What can I get out of it? What have you done for me lately?” then we will know freedom.

When we are freed from all attempts to be self-important and self-serving, we can be truly freed – freed for service, for purpose, for meaning.

When we present ourselves as God’s servants and are open to hearing what it is God asks of us, we will take our places in a long line of faithful people who have done just that. Then we will find ourselves set free to perform both small acts of care and compassion and large ones. We will be made available for the adventures God has in store for us, for the work God needs us to do, and the work God has designed us, uniquely, to do.

That’s the beauty of it. Even though you may never have thought about what God is asking of you, it doesn’t mean that God hasn’t been preparing you to do it. Or that God doesn’t need you, and you in particular, to do it.

Mary has already taken care of giving birth to the Divine Word Incarnate, so God isn’t asking you to take that on. But don’t think the angels aren’t all holding their breath to hear your answer when God approaches you with a task. And don’t think, just because you can’t hear it, that all the heavenly hosts aren’t singing, “Alleluia!” when you say, freely, “yes.”

God works with groups this way too. God asks particular things of particular communities, gives them particular gifts and opportunities, and only asks that we answer "yes." But don’t get distracted thinking that someone else is taking care of things. Sometimes it’s through a group like the church that you will be asked to help a group answer “yes” to God’s call.

Either way, you don’t need to find new words. These will do: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.”

-- The Rev. Amy E. Richter is Missioner for Lifelong Christian Formation for the Diocese of Maryland. E-mail: arichter@ang-md.org

20 December 2008

Again each year.....

I'm not a "Santa" person. What has happened to Christmas because of the secular person is a travisty. But this clip made me laugh. Perhaps you need a laugh today too. The caption "Alle Jahre Wieder" means "Each year again" and is one of Germany's most beloved Christmas songs.

19 December 2008

Schismatics win round one in Virgini

Given the state of affairs in Virginia, it will come as no surpirse taht the judge who has continually ruled in favour of the schismatics has once again ruled in their favour.

The final rulings in this case concerned whether four parcels of property owned by the Anglican congregations were covered by the congregations' Division petitions. +Marty Minns, the propaganda creating spokespeople for the schismatic group said

We welcome these final, favorable rulings in this case. This has been a long process and we are grateful that the court has agreed with us. ... It is gratifying to see the court recognize that the true owner of The Historic Falls Church is The Falls Church's congregation, not the denomination, and that the building is protected by the Division Statute. The Falls Church has held and cared for this property for over 200 years.

We hope that The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia will realize that it is time to stop this legal battle. In these economic times, we should be focused on helping our communities and spreading the Gospel, not spending millions of dollars on ongoing legal battles. The money we have been forced to spend to keep our property from being forcibly taken away from us is money that could have been spent in more productive ways.

This should come as no surprise, and I, at least, was expecting this ruling. So now, the appeal comes and the case is removed from the biased "local" courts and into a more balance-viewed venue.

If they had really been concerned about the amount of money they've had to spend, they would have walked away from the buildings and used the money to further their schismatic cause. But they are seeking some type of legitimacy and for them, the buildings create that illusion.

But it's not all good news - the courts made the following ruling that is clearly in favour of the diocese:

The Fairfax County Circuit Court today affirmed that petitions filed by the CANA congregations do not include the endowment fund of The Falls Church (Episcopal) in Falls Church, Va. As a result, the endowment fund was not subject to the congregational vote and the following legal action taken by the CANA congregations seeking to take this property.


18 December 2008

Schofield and the Roman Catholic Press - more propaganda

Yesterday must be a slow news day as even the Roman Catholic press can't keep their reporters from dealing in propaganda where the Episcopal Church is concerned.

An article appeared in the California Catholic Daily on 17 December by an unnamed journalist. Of course, the article praised David Schofield, a bishop who forfeited his right to exercise episcopal authority when he renounced the church that gave him that authority,and was subsequently deposed by the house of bishops.

And guess who the "reporter's" chief source is? I'll give you two guesses and one isn't Schofield himself. It's David Virtue via his blog. The second source is Mr. Ron Parry, "pastor" of St. Luke's in Merced. Parry states
The current presiding bishop, Katherine Schori, got [Mr] Schofield deposed, which violates our canons.
The first questions is, "whose canon?" The Episcopal Church of the Southern Cone which has no provision for Schofield and his camp-follows?

The second question I have is, "Why is it that these people cannot have the common courtesy to use the proper name for the Presiding Bishop?" Her name s Jefferts Schori. By refusing to use her legal name, they show how low they are themselves.

The third question is, "why would a journalist interview people only on one side of an issue if they intend to write an honest article? The answer, of course is, the journalist didn't intend to write a balanced article. The journalist was writing propaganda.

And of course, we hear the sad story of persecution:
[Gene Robinson's ordination] was the straw that broke the camel's back, to make a man living in an openly homosexual relationship outside of marriage a bishop. Things had been going on for years--problems with the authority of scripture, the nature of Christ, the historic faith. People in authority, all the way back to Bishop Pike, denied the tenets of the faith, but they were never disciplined.

Bishops Jefferts Schori, when she was pressed as to whether Jesus Christ is 'the way, the truth and the life,' responded, 'For us, He is.' There are bishops who don't believe in the resurrection or the incarnation. The whole notion of the atonement is under question. But Gene Robinson's ordination made it absolutely clear that this was not going to turn around.
Well, if they are making a list of bishops who aren't sure Jesus Christ is the only way, they must include the current bishop of Rome, Benedict on that list. But they aren't making a list they are promulgating factoid and fiction. They continue to make Robinson the whipping boy, the mask to hide their fundamentalist membership in the flat earth society. But they forgot to mention Spong. All the other propaganda is there.

But there is one interesting bit in this article:

The split was also driven by concerns about who would lead them in the future. 'The mandatory retirement age for a bishop is 72 and our bishop (Schofield is 70). In order for us to have any chance of ever getting [a fundamentalist] bishop again, we felt that we had to step away on a temporary basis.
There is it in black and white -- Schofield not wanting to relinquish the total authority he has accumulated over the past two decades. Power greedy people do not step aside in favour of others. The power hungry leaders of the diocese do not want to relinquish their power, either. They had to leave TEC to retain power when Schfield relinquishes power which, in my opinon, will be sometime after he is embalmed.

But the really interesting bit is the last; "we felt that we had to step away on a temporary basis." As a friend's son says, "Say what?" It sounds as if they plan to return to the Episcopal Church at some future date. What about the "province in waiting"? What about the apostasy of TEC?

And then the article turns to another odd bit:
According to the canons and constitution of our church, we have a right to leave. But the mindset of the Episcopal Church is that parishes and dioceses cannot leave. Only individuals can leave. The problem is that the parishes that left took their property with them, so we are all being sued.
What church? Whose canons and constitution? Neither TEC, nor the Southern Cone nor Schofield's dominion allow parishes to take property when they leave. Mr. Parry is not familiar with the canons and constitution of any of the organizations involved.

Of interest are the comments left on the web site. I left a wee comment
Well, the article isn't exactly correct and it's obvious that the reporter didn't check the facts. But the most egregious bit is that the presiding bishop illegally deposed Schofield. He left the Episcopal Church -- he quit. The deposition came after he had quit and joined another church.
A comment following mine said:
James, once again you've denoted the most conscience rattling information of the millennium. your insight is near godlike
I'm not sure if that was a compliment or an insult. The best comment is from "Dave N."
Schofield's remarks and actions seem a bit disingenuous. First, the Episcopal church has been appointing barely closeted gay suffragan bishops for decades and certainly openly gay priests for the same amount of time. Yet when the people ELECT a gay bishop (bishops are elected in the Episcopal church) suddenly it's an issue. And I say "suddenly" with some irony since it took Schofiled et al. almost four years to leave in spite of the fact there was clearly no way Bp. Robinson's election would be overturned, even if the church wanted to (and they did not.) If you have democracy in the church, you'd better be prepared to live with whomever gets voted in. And this "got him deposed" business is more than just poor English, it's a canard, as James observes, again pointing to Schofield's lack of sincerity in the matter. It's the blind leading the blind basically--the whole lot is headed for the pit. So if you think that democracy might be the eventual solution to our own egregious bishop problems, you might want to reconsider
He is absolutely correct, of course. Most Episcopalians who are even slightly involved at a diocesan level can name at least two dozen gay bishops. And of course the smoke around Schofield has been rising for forty years or more. But it is the "outness" that gave the schismatics their moment in the sun and seize it they did. The problem is, things aren't going as the Chapman memo told them it would go.

Dave brings up the central issue in the whole schism: "
If you have democracy in the church, you'd better be prepared to live with whomever gets voted in." The schismatics don't want democracy, the want monarchical rule in the guise of theocracy. Oh, they will give it just enough "voting" to make is look like a democracy. But as in San Joaquin, anyone who was involved in the diocesan process knows, it was a monarchy and it still is a monarchy.

Almost all the comments sound as if they come from schismatic supporters. One wonders if the comments come from Romans or former Episcopalians.

If you want a good read, and a few good laughs, check out the article.

17 December 2008

Christmas Trees and pigs

I probably won't post much on the state of the Anglican Communion for the rest of this year unless something really amazing happens.

Instead, I'm going to post a series of Christmas memories. The posts will be just for me, but that's the privilege of having one's own blog - right?

It's getting close to the time to put up the tree. For me, any day after Luciadag is acceptable, but I prefer to put it up on Christmas Eve. Putting the tree up always makes me think of Christmases past and of people long departed this life.

One of the reasons I like to decorate the tree is because each thing on my tree has a very significant history and meaning. I even have a wee broken porcelain pig. It was given to me by Marie Waller an elderly Swedish friend.

When Marie was a little girl her next door neighbour was an old Swede whose son had died when he was only three years old. That pig had been his favourite toy. When the woman was near death, she asked Marie to keep the pig for her and her son.

And Marie did for the next seventy-four years. One Christmas tide I commented on that pig and how cute it was. Marie told me the story and said,
Jim, I've been wondering for years who would take care of that little boy's pig -- my family will throw everything away and they don't care about old things or dead people.
She took the pig off the tree and gave it to me and asked me to keep it for the boy, his mom, and for her. Each year I put the pig on my tree and say a prayer for the unknown boy and his unknown mother. And for the past two years, for Marie, too, who is now in the Church Triumphant.

I wonder why Christmas makes us more lonesome for times past and people no longer with us. At Easter I don't miss those people; even Thanksgiving doesn't stir the emotional cauldron like Christmas does. But for some reason, each Christmastide, I want to be a child again and have all those wonderful people (and even the not-so-wonderful people) around like it used to be. What is that poem --- Oh, yes, Rock Me To Sleep:

Backward, turn backward, O Time in thy flight
Make me a child again, just for tonight
Mother, come back from the echo less shore
Take me again to your heart as of yore.

Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care
Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair
Over my slumber your loving watch keep, ---
Rock me to sleep, mother, rock me to sleep

Mother dear mother the years have been long
Since I last hushed to your lullaby song
Sing them and unto my sole it shall seep
[All of the years are like just a dream]

Backward, oh backward, Time in your flight
Make me a child again, just for tonight.
Come from the silence so long and so deep,
Rock me to sleep, mother, rock me to sleep

I cut out the most morbid parts of the poem. Perhaps the Christmas memories are so strong and vivid because we have erased the bad memories, and focus only on the good things. "The good old days" that weren't so good, really, when people sat around and talked about "the good old days."

I guess it's time watch "A Christmas Story" and remember the good and forget the bad like the time I stuck plugged in power cord into an apple and took a bite of it apple. Knocked me across the living room floor on my rear! Scared the HELL out of my mom and dad. I wonder, how did THEY survive my growing up!?

Ah, yes, the good old days.

PS I have a LOT of silver strands in my hair, you just don't know it because I've been dying it for about ten years. Who says men aren't vain?

16 December 2008

Do Prayers work?

We have received news from Cath, JCF's friend. Prayers do work friends. I'm just reporting the facts.
Positive News:

I had my six-week follow-up with the oncologist today and the news was positive: My lab results are all within normal limits and the chest X-Ray showed no tumor growth or other progression. My lungs look pretty clear otherwise.

Relieved and happy? Yes, for sure.

I'll have another follow-up visit, labs, and CT scan in six weeks.

Thank you for your prayers, thoughts, ceremonies, and everything. YOU are POWERFUL Women and Men and I am so grateful to have you on my side for this.
Fred sends us an update concerning Jerry:
Jerry's white count is now at 35. I am told that is good. I believe it allows the chemo to continue.
Lynn reports that Lee's condition has improved slightly.

Deo gratias! Let's all sing a Te Deum for this good news.

14 December 2008


I really miss the good old days when almost every Sunday of the year had a cool Latin name like "Quasi modi genite" and "Oculi" and "Misericordiae".

In those old days today was known as Gaudate Sunday. Gaudate is Latin for rejoice. It takes it's name from the opening antiphon: 'Rejoice in the Lord, again I say rejoice, the Lord is near.' Rose coloured vestments were used. That's why we have a rose coloured candle in the Advent wreath for this Sunday.

Today marks the midpoint of Advent. Yes,
the days are hastening on by prophet, seer, foretold.....

Today's BBC Evensong is from St. Edmundsbury Cathedral. Evensong is here. For evensong from Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, click here. You can chose broadband or dial-up.

I've chosen "Gaudate" for the Evensong post. I chose it for it's medieval character and because it is from the wonderful group "Enjoy!

The Saviour draws neigh! O, come let us adore him! (You have to be and oldie to get that one.)

Advent III

The Third Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

A Sunday school teacher in Kansas reports this conversation in her class:

“If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into Heaven?” she asked the children in her Sunday school class.

“No!” the children all answered.

“If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into Heaven?”

Again, the answer was, “No!”

“Well, then, if I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children, and loved my neighbor, would that get me into Heaven?” she asked them again.

Again, they all answered, “No!”

“Well,” she continued, “then how can I get into Heaven?”

A five-year-old boy shouted out, “You gotta be dead!”

These Advent lessons lead us to think about such things as salvation and mission. And we may as well admit it, we tend to think in terms of such questions as: From what are we being saved? God’s punishment? The Devil? Our own Sins? Death? All of which tends to make us think of salvation in terms of “getting into heaven.”

Such thinking inevitably leads us to see mission as the work of getting as many people into heaven as possible. Further, such thinking makes us ask questions like “Who will be saved?” Or “Who will be in heaven?” And underneath it all is the little boy’s assumption that the single prerequisite for salvation and heaven is death.

Along come Isaiah and John. Isaiah is a poet. John, in today’s rendering is “a man sent from God” who came “as a witness.” Both Isaiah and John have something to say about salvation. What they both seem to be saying is that salvation is not about another place or time. Both Isaiah and John announce that salvation is the reality of this world as it should be.

Isaiah offers a vision of just what salvation looks like: we are to turn our attention to those named as recipients of God’s Good News – the poor, the oppressed, the brokenhearted, captives, prisoners, the mournful, and the faint of spirit. Our mission to, with, and among them defines God’s people as those people who exist for the sake of others.

Further, Isaiah the poet says we will know we are involved in God’s saving mission work when others, “the nations of the world,” notice that God’s people live differently – that is, we live for God and for others, all others. Earlier in Isaiah 49:6 the poet says, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

Enter “The Light” from before time and forever. In the first chapter of the Gospel According to John (which would be John the Evangelist, not John the Baptist) one is immediately struck by the fact that he is not named “John the baptizer” as he is in Mark, or “John the Baptist” as he is in Matthew, or even “John the son of Zechariah” as we find in Luke. John is simply “a man sent from God … as a witness to testify to the Light.”

The Light, of course, is “the Word,” or logos, which has been with God and is God since before creation, and as it says in the first chapter of John, through Him “all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” This same Word or Light, we are told, “became flesh and dwelt among us – pitched his tent to tent among us.”

As God’s Word, God’s Light grew up and lived in our midst, he would one day read Isaiah chapter 61 in his hometown synagogue and declare, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” That is, the time is now to begin living out the vision of salvation and mission Isaiah proclaimed. It is time for salvation as the reality of this world as it should be! It is this vision of salvation and mission John was sent to witness. John is a witness, in Greek he is a martyria, from which we get the word “martyr.” Witnesses say what they have seen or heard or attest to the truth of another’s testimony.

John’s role is to recognize the true Light that has come into the world – a light that the darkness has not overcome – and to call attention to this Light so that others might recognize it and believe. Belief in this sense means to recognize, trust, and commit ourselves to the Light – the Light which is a fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision.

This in turn means to commit ourselves to the kind of salvation and mission that Isaiah proclaims, that John recognizes, that Jesus lives, and that both John and Jesus call us to follow so that our lives might become “a light to the nations.”

John was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. John did not come to decorate everyone and everything for Christmas. John did not come to announce the beginning of the Christmas sale season. He did not come to stir us into a frenzy of shopping and spending. He came to remind us and to bear witness to all who will listen that the darkest forces of the world are not as powerful as they claim or appear to be.

We begin this Third Sunday of Advent by praying, “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with Great Might come among us.” Will we take the time this Advent to allow God to stir things up within us and within our parishes and throughout the Church, so that we might become more like John, “a man sent from God?” For that is, in fact, who we really are – men and women sent from God as witnesses to testify to the Light, so that all might believe through him.

And maybe, just maybe, as we testify, bear witness to, and proclaim the glory of the Light, we will embody the Light and become those who reveal the life of Christ anew in the world – a world that increasingly is desperate to see and know the Light.

As it says in John, in the Light is “life, and the life was the light of all people.” All people look to us to see the Light. When all that we say and all that we do bears witness to the Light, heaven and salvation will be understood not as a time and place after death, but rather the world as it should be, here and now.

-- The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek is rector of St. Peter's Church in Ellicott City, MD, a parish in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. He also travels throughout the church leading stewardship events for parishes, dioceses, clergy conferences, and diocesan conventions. He has long been involved in the work of The Episcopal Network for Stewardship (TENS), and the Ministry of Money. He frequently uses music and storytelling in his proclamation of the Word. E-mail: kkub@aol.com.

13 December 2008

Rio Grande disaffiliates from ACN

The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande voted unanimously at its December 9 meeting to disaffiliate from the Anglican Communion Network and to reaffirm its commitment to The Episcopal Church.

In response to the announcement that the Anglican Communion Network (ACN) has chosen to leave the Episcopal Church and join in forming the Anglican Church in North America, the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande voted unanimously to disaffiliate from the ACN," according to a December 11 press release. "The Area Deans, and the Cathedral Dean, added their unanimous endorsement to this action of the Standing Committee.

The Very Rev. Mark Goodman, dean of the Cathedral of St. John in Albuquerque, said the ACN's future direction had been a source of concern for several months. "The threshold was reached on December 3 when the network moved its allegiance under the Common Cause Partnership and the new province," said Goodman, who is not a member of the standing committee.

He added that the diocese is "a pretty diverse mix. I think the picture people have in their mind about the Diocese of Rio Grande being a very conservative and evangelical diocese is, in many ways, not an accurate picture of where we are today.

There are a good many parishes, the Cathedral being one, that are diverse theologically and socioeconomically; the differences with the Episcopal Church were differences of primarily the (former) episcopal leadership.

The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey N. Steenson was elected the diocese's eighth bishop on October 24, 2004. He had served as canon to the ordinary under Bishop Terence Kelshaw, who had joined 20 other bishops in dissociating from General Convention 2003's decision to ratify the election of an openly gay bishop. Kelshaw retired in 2004 and subsequently joined the Anglican Church of Uganda. Steenson announced his resignation September 25, 2007, in order to join the Roman Catholic Church. Retired Bishop William C. Frey of Colorado is serving as assisting bishop; a search process for the ninth bishop of Rio Grande is in its early stages, according to the diocesan website.

The standing committee's statement acknowledged congregations "who have sympathy with the work of the Anglican Communion Network" and offered reassurance that "they are valued parts of the Body of Christ that is the Diocese of the Rio Grande."

Goodman said that "a good many parishes and congregations . see their relationship with the leadership of the national church in a much more positive way. That's not to say everyone agrees with everything, but I think there's a sense of positive engagement and wanting to be part of TEC and seeing that as something to be worked toward."

While some congregations may still feel estranged from TEC as well as decisions of Executive Council and General Convention, "most of those congregations are remaining engaged and working hard to do so," he added.

I would venture a guess that Mr. Duncan is not amused.