Godspeed Brother!

Joe Orgill

It was a brutally cold December weekend, unusually so, for Memphis Tennessee. At St. John’s we canceled the 8:00 AM’s holy Eucharist that morning so that our staff would not have to be out quite so early. So about 9 o’clock or so the choirs were upstairs preparing for the service. Eucharistic ministers and acolytes checking the readings into whether or not there that they had found the right pages. Altar Guild was going to and fro adding a bit of water to the flowers, while the first arriving ushers stacked service bulletins by every entrance.

Coming from my office to the church, the elevator doors opened revealing a man sitting on a bench by the Bride’s Room. He clutched a steaming cup of coffee in both hands. Not knowing him, I introduced myself. He said his name was Kirby (not his name). Later I heard the back story.

Kirby had literally found no room in the inn in downtown Memphis. Turned away from the last available shelter he began to walk east. He walked all night, realizing that to sit down to rest was to tempt death. So he kept walking. About 9 o’clock on that Sunday morning he was walking up Central Avenue and apparently the first place he had found people stirring was St. John’s. Trying the door he found it unlocked. Hearing sounds upstairs, he followed the sounds and discovered the choir rehearsing. The organist choirmaster, Dr. Ward, realizing that he was dangerously chilled, got him some coffee and settled him on the bench by the elevator. It was there that Deacon Emma spied Kirby and invited him to church. Kirby settled in a pew, say 10 rows back. A parish family was seated in the pew behind him. At the conclusion of the Eucharist, the husband asked Kirby, “Man, do you have a coat?” The answer, no. That man took off his own elegantly,  fine overcoat and put it on Kirby and they parted ways. That man was Joe Orgill, laid to rest with his ancestors today in Bolivar TN.

Having recently retired as Rector of Saint John’s, I did not have the privilege of preaching today at his funeral. I regret that I could not tell the story of that day when the Kingdom of God came near us on a frigid Sunday morning. We live in an age of malignant narcissism fueled by greed, self-entitlement and hubris. I will testify that such was not the case with my friend Joe Orgill, III. He would not approve my telling this story, I ask his forgiveness.

In the March issue of Harper’s, Rebecca Solnit explored the relationship between empathy and power. She turned to psychologist Dacher Keltner’s study of the rare proximity of empathy and power.

While people usually gain power through traits and actions that advance the interests of other, such as empathy, collaboration, openness, fairness, and sharing; when they start to feel powerful or enjoy a position of power or enjoy a position of privilege, those qualities began to fade. The powerful are more likely that other people to engage in rude, selfish, and unethical behavior.

Joe was acquainted with power, wielding some, more than some. Yet the atrophy of morals and soul, pixelated by power, was not his lot. I can testify that I was in a place just yesterday where the staff knew Joe well. Their unanimous chorus was sorrow at the passing of such a good man. The waiters, ushers, servers of this world always know the truth about such things.

Godspeed brother. I rejoice to know you. I count it my honor to be your priest. You brother, practiced Christianity, day in and out, year by year.  I testify that on a very cold day, when you gave Kirby your coat, you did what Jesus would have done had he been in church that morning. But, then Jesus didn’t need to be incarnated that morning because Joe Orgill, III was here and the Kingdom of God was manifested among us.

Rest brother, we’ll meet again.

John W. Sewell

CHRISTMAS DAY 2016

John 1:1 “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God.”

Christmas Day is not half over and already many people are exhibiting symptoms of the “post-nativity” depression! Needles are dropping from trees that were cut in July and put up at Thanksgiving. Scraps of wrapping paper and ribbon peep out from under furniture. Our clothing is tighter around the waistline and we are almost sick from the excess of the Christmas feast. We are like the little boy who unwrapped package after package on Christmas morning. Finally sitting up to his chin in wrapping paper and bows asked, “Is this all?”

lessons-2016-2

The Third Proper (sets of readings) for Christmas are not of mangers and shepherds, but the cosmic hymn of the mysteriously glorious origin of the Son of God recorded in prologue to St. John’s Gospel. To see what John is up to here we need to go back to the beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures. Genesis 1:1 is usually translated from the Hebrew into English as, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” A more descriptive English translation can be found in Everett Fox’s brilliant translation of the Five Books of Moses. Here Genesis 1:1 goes like this, “At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth.” Here the emphasis in on process and the sense is more verb than noun. The Hebrew word is “Dabhar,” which can be legitimately be translated, “creative energy.”

It is no accident that this is the very language that John uses in the prologue to his Gospel. “In the beginning was the WORD,” says John. Here word is not a noun so much as verb. We could accurately say, “In the beginning was the Creative Energy: the Creative Energy was with God and the Creative Energy was God. The creative energy was with God in the beginning. Through the Creative Energy all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through the Creative Energy. Through the Creative Energy all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through the Creative Energy. All that came to be had life in the Creative Energy and that life was the light of humanity . . .. The Creative Energy was made flesh, it pitched its tent among us, and we saw its glory, the glory as is his as the only Son of God, full of grace and full of truth.”

Here is the deepest mystery of the Christian faith! How can this be? How is it possible that God has come among us becoming authentically human? Yet this is the core belief of our faith. We have been thinking, reflecting and fighting about how this is so ever since.

H. Richard Niebuhr spoke to this mystery when he said, “Jesus Christ is not a median figure, half-God, half-man; He is a single person wholly directed as man toward God and wholly directed in his unity with the Father toward man. He mediatorial not median!”

Let us reflect on this glorious mystery.

christthejudge

 

 

1. Jesus is fully human, wholly directed as a human man toward God. There was no alienation, no sin, between Jesus as a man and God as creator and Father. The alienation that has existed between humanity and God since Eden is overcome in the person of Jesus, the Son of God. It is essential to realize that all that Jesus accomplished as a human on earth was not accomplished through his divinity! The acts of Jesus, his preaching, his teaching, and his healing were done through his human obedience to God NOT because he was God! Thus he demonstrates for us what we are intended to be, authentically human.

2. Jesus is wholly directed in his unity with the father toward humanity. The important thing to say here is not that Jesus is like God, but rather to say that God is like Jesus. God, of course, is totally outside the realm of our understanding. As John says, “No one has ever seen God.” God is not playing hide and sick with us, it is just not possible to experience God the creator directly. Traces of transcendence are revealed in creation, but that is not enough to intuit God adequately. So in the fullness of time God’s son appeared, so that we believe we can now know who God is. So when someone asks, “what is God like?” The answer for Christians is, “God is like Jesus.”

The incarnation is good news because by the coming of God’s son in the flesh heaven and earth are joined and the alienation between God and humanity is overcome. Our God has acted! Alienation is overcome by LOVE! The incarnation changes everything. There is nothing so broken; nothing so jaded; nothing so twisted that it cannot be made new.”

  •  What happened in Bethlehem of Judea on that day when the calendar moved from one to one, there being no day zero
  • The Creative Energy: the Word has become flesh, the One who forgave those who crucified him, forgives us.
  • The Word who was baptized in the Jordan comes to us in our Baptism and claims us as his own.
  • The Eucharistic elements of bread and wine are more than mere bread and wine. Here the Word become flesh, broken on the cross, comes to us in the broken bread.
  • The same Word become flesh, drank the cup of suffering, comes to us in the cup of wine: the cup of salvation.
  • As the Word of God became flesh in Jesus, the Christ, so the truth of the Good News of that same Christ should become flesh in our lives.

 We are to go from here to be for those in world what this Word become flesh is for us. That is what it means to be the Church, the Body of Christ. The creative energy of God has come and dwelt among us and behold all things shall be made new! The Ideal and the Real here unite in the Actual. Is this all there is? Yes, and it is sufficient.

Merry Christmas! Amen.

JWS+

The Convenient or the Real?

faux_chocolate_bunnies_8_m2

Arriving on Easter morning, having bypassed Good Friday reduces the Day of Resurrection to a Rite of Spring consisting of plastic eggs and chocolate bunnies. – John Sewell

Feast of Saint Hubert


hubertus
Patron of Hunters & Dogs
October 26, 2014

Hubert (657 – 727 AD)  was the self-absorbed heir of the Duchy of Aquitaine in the 600’s. He was obsessed with hunting and went every day. Hubert could not restrain himself even in Lent continuing the chase during the forty days of self-denial. He crossed the line when he when he chased an enormous stag on Good Friday. With his dogs in full cry he pursued the deer – only to have the animal stop and turn. In the stags antlers was a crucifix – and the animal spoke said essentially, “Hubert if you don’t get your act together you are going to Hell!”

This young man got more than he expected on that Good Friday hunt. He became a priest and then a bishop and followed Jesus as a hunter of Men.

Jame Tissot  "And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright." (Genesis 25:30-31)

James Tissot
“And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.” (Genesis 25:30-31)

In the OT reading, Isaac and Rebecca had twin sons, Esau and Jacob:
Esau was a hairy man’s man – a mighty hunter – a Bubba – with gun-racks (or in this case bow-racks) on his chariot.

Jacob was a momma’s boy – staying at home reading cook books, while there is nothing wrong with cooking and many of the great chefs are male, the little brother has not yet begun to move from the nurture of childhood into the journey toward man-hood.

Esau and Jacob are the twin issues of men not leaving home and not growing up AND leaving home but not growing up either.

Esau comes home down and very hungry from a hunt having bagged nothing. Jacob has cooked up a pot of red lentils which must have smelled better than I imagine, so he says he’s dying can he have some of the, literally, red-red stuff. Jacob says sure big brother, it’s yours if you will give me the birth-right making me the eldest of the two of us and the heir. So Bubba did it despising his birth-right.

Esau could read the signs in the field but he could not discern the signs in his own life, does not connect to the deepest issues of his heart. In this we, especially men, are the sons of Esau who sell our treasure without considering its value.

The twin’s grand-father, Abraham, was a great hunter. Although there is no mention of his hunting game – he stalked a greater prize – a country promised by God and left everything behind to go and hunt the place that God promised. By faith he left home not knowing where he was going – and he went

Faith is the evidence of things not seen – Abraham is the type of this for believers ever since – today the religions count him as their spiritual ancestor. Abraham is the grand-father of hunters and from him the lore and the art of spiritual hunting is our legacy and our inheritance.

emblemWhat are we hunting when we go hunting and who is hunting us when we go hunting? Hunting is a metaphor for growing up and going on adventure – the goal being maturity and wholeness.

Jesus is God’s best and most complete attempt to come and hunt so that we and all who have ever lived and ever will live may be saved. After all, he said he came to seek and to save that which was lost. He of course tended to bring them back alive as he told the fishermen by the lake, “come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men;” of course he could just as easily told a party of hunters to follow him and he would make them hunters of men.

This hunting metaphor becomes the metaphor of evangelism. While hunting and feeding on the animal becomes the language of sacrament, “behold the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world” AND Jesus’ admonition, “eat my body and drink my blood” has been practiced by Christians ever since. In matters of faith as in nutrition you are what you eat.

Zacchaeus

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is passing through Jericho, the oldest continuous human settlement on the planet. Here the trade routes from Africa, Asia and Europe intersect. And wherever the trade goes the tax-collector follows.

Rome said, “Come and follow me and I will make your taxers of men.” Tax-collecting was a franchise with a stated amount required by the state, whatever else the tax-man could squeeze out of the traffic was his to keep; and trust me they could squeeze quite a lot – Zacchaeus was the head-taxer and therefore filthy rich.

He goes out to see Jesus and he is a little man so the crowd no doubt made sure he couldn’t see (the sort of petty revenge taken by the weak on the powerful). But Zac didn’t get where he was because of his dignity or passivity so he shinnied up a sycamore tree. As Jesus came along he looked up and realized that he has treed something or this case someone.

Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, come on down, I’m inviting myself and a bunch of my closest friends to lunch.” The text doesn’t record the reaction of Mrs. Zacchaeus when her husband showed up with all those strangers.

After lunch, Zacchaeus – I will give half of all I have to the poor and if I have defrauded anyone [of course he had], I will pay them four times as much. You see that when you are hunted and treed by Jesus things change, they change for the better and they they change in a hurry.

In 1492 Columbus set sail to the west to find the orient only to run into the Americas, and in that case for the explorer, as the tax-collector in Jericho, what he found turned out to be better than what he was looking for.

The Vision of Saint Hubert - Jan Brueghel - after Rubens

The Vision of Saint Hubert – Jan Brueghel – after Rubens

Saint Hubert heard the call of God and laid down his bow and took the hunt for souls, even as Jesus called the disciples. Let us seek God knowing that we find be found by Him and know that he sent his Son so that we might be…

…brought back alive – in fact more alive than we have ever been before – to have life and that life abundantly; may that be the ultimate concern of all hunting. In the name of God… Amen

PENTECOST

June 8, 2014 – Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Memphis Tennessee 38111

And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. Acts 2:1 NRSV
pentecost

The Day of Pentecost – El Greco

The Great 50 days are ended, the double alleluias are spent, and long months of Sundays stretch out toward Advent. However, the Great 50 days go out, not with a whimper but with a bang.

PENTECOST IS THE FIERCE FEAST OF FIREWORKS – A HOLY JULY 4TH

Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus left town, going out by Bethany, so as to go by one of his favorite places one more time. Jesus left town, not going to Galilee as he did through his life in the flesh, but going home, returning to God the Father. He blessed his disciples and as he did he was separated from them and ascended into heaven.

ascension

They stared, slack jawed, gaping at the sky until angels shooed them back to town reminding them that they were to wait until the Comforter came upon them – and for once they did as they were told.

Consciously waiting, hanging on to the promise of Jesus, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

This comforter is come. This comforter will lead us into all truth. This comforter, how shall we describe his work?

The Comforter, this Holy Spirit is

  • Playful,
  • Spontaneous
  • Creative

I quote Alan Jones, Sometime Dean of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, “The Spirit is present in three open spaces in our lives. In the:

  • unpredictable,
  • place of risk
  • areas over which we have no control.

The Spirit of Truth, this Holy Spirit works behind the scenes, promoting Jesus, pointing to his teaching but doing it behind the scenes. Notice what happens when I place the characteristics of the Holy Spirit into the Open Spaces in our lives?

IN THE UNPREDICTABLE = THE HOLY SPIRIT IS PLAYFUL

The unpredictable may prove dangerous, but it may also prove playful. The Holy Spirit is playful. For example check out the Psalm for today – [Pew Bible pg. 547 BCP – pg. 737]

Psalm 104

26 Yonder is the great and wide sea
With its living things too many
to number, creatures both
small and great.
27 There move the ships, and there
is that Leviathan, which you
have made for the sport of it.

Whales in Hervery bay

Whales in Hervey bay

God made the whale just for fun.

Fr. Craig Bustrin, “The Whale is God’s Rubber Ducky.”

IN THE PLACE OF RISK =  THE HOLY SPIRIT IS SPONTANEOUS

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. – Helen Keller

Let us, before this Day in 2015, strain to hear God’s spontaneous call, as the Spirit moves, broods in the risky places of life, of Memphis. Let this Day one year hence find us doing something we would never have dreamed possible.  The Spirit moves in the risky places.

IN THOSE AREAS OVER WHICH WE HAVE NO CONTROL = THE HOLY SPIRIT IS CREATIVE

The Holy Spirit brooded over the waters of Chaos.  For many years I have observed this in Alcoholics Anonymous = what can’t be controlled, or be willed into being true, CAN by surrendering to the Holy One most present in that very place, brings that very thing into being. It’s called recovery.  The Holy Spirit is perhaps most creative in the places over which we have no control.
________________________________________
I want to tell you a story.

I want to speak to you this morning of a man I know.
He has doctorate in Music Composition
He is a single-minded Christian
He is faithful
He smokes too much
He is legally blind

I have known him for the better part of ten years.  At the altar rail, he asked for prayers. He has the charism of servant, he is thoughtful, he is committed, he is prayerful, He walks a lot – He knows the people of these neighbors around Saint John’s. He knows us who are educated and live a reasonable facsimile of what passes for the post-modern American dream. He knows those who live below this level on less. He knows the community of the street, those whose place we pass through on the way to the rest of our lives.

Our way is their place.

Let me tell you what he means to me. He is single minded, A mostly-blind man is teaching me about life beyond my air-conditioned bubble with wheels that takes me through the streets and insulates me from them by isolating me from them and moving me quickly through them.

Let me tell you what I discern he means to this parish. If we went to hell it will because we were too busy to make other arrangements. He prays for the rest of us who do not have enough to pray for ourselves.

Mark has allowed none of his limitations to define him. What I call limitations, I suspect the Holy Spirit calls opportunities. These are the very places he has opened to God. These are the open places where the Holy Spirit is working in him and through him to do the Work of Christ in this place. To do the work of Christ is our task, Doing the work of Christ is Mark’s vocation. Why? Because he is baptized!

sugar

sugar

Sugar is made up of three molecules – oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon. Where is the sweetness? The sweetness is in the relationship. It is not a quality in any element of sugar. It is an emergent quality that resides only in the system as a whole. The sweetness is not in any one of us. The sweetness is in the molecular cohesiveness of the Holy Spirit.

The Spontaneous, Creative & Playful nature of the Holy Spirit is busy in the open spaces in Mark’s life and ours to make the sweetness of Grace

The sweetness of this grace is why today I name Mark Bradshaw, Street Missioner from Saint John’s Parish  Amen.

Easter III

Abraham's Oak - Henry Ossawa Turner

Abraham’s Oak – Henry Ossawa Turner

Pausing, looking back toward where the story began there is symmetry, a type–antitype. The place God began his self-revelation was at Mamre, which wasn’t much even then except for one world-class oak, In fact the place was known as the Oak of Mamre as the tree gave it about its only reason for being.

God and two archangels some say or perhaps God, the Trinity, dropped by for lunch with Abraham and his wife Sarah. Since most have not seen an archangel and no one at all has seen the Trinity, it’s a little hard to know where one left off and the other began. It is safe to say that neither wife nor husband recognized their guests until all was revealed over lunch.

Abraham & the Three Angels - James Tissot

Abraham & the Three Angels – James Tissot

Abraham bent over backwards showing hospitality that day and Sarah would have baked a cake if they had given her warning. The holy ones gravely accepted Abraham’s spread under the spreading branches and then got on to the business at hand. You know how it turned out of course. The childless couple had a boy come new-year and Sodom and environs became the Dead Sea by year end.

Turning toward home, see the script? Cleopas and his companion are running away from home and bump into Jesus and then it all becomes clearer over supper. Both stories come to the moment of insight because of hospitality. Extending ourselves in service of the comfort and welcome of the stranger will often lead to gifts unforeseen. Do not neglect hospitality for some have entertained angels unawares. So you never know who might put their wingtips under your table, either expensive shoes or feathers. Prepare to hear the good news.

Jesus came near Cleopas and his un-named companion on the road from Jerusalem and Emmaus. Let’s get the actors straight on our program before we get confused. Hegsippus (early historian) records that Cleopas was the brother of Joseph the husband of Mary and step-father of Jesus our Lords. His companion may have been his son, Simeon. who became bishop after James, Jesus’ brother, was martyred?

road-to-emmaus1

Cleopas and company are running away from the scene of the crime. Their deepest hopes have become their deepest wounds. There is no one more cynical than a deeply wounded idealist. Their eyes were “held” so they did not recognize him. When they explain their distress, Jesus showed them, beginning with Moses and so showed them that another way to read and understand the Scriptures was exactly what happened to Jesus. Thus he reframed their history and made bad news into good news.

Anyone who has lived for very long has come to know that sometimes the only thing worse than the disappointment of not getting what we want is the remorse of getting exactly the thing longed for only to learn how bad it was for us and our souls. Of course, hopefully we learn from the consequences of getting what we want. It may well be that our “wanter” is broken. Actually it has been since Adam at the apple. It may be that God knows better what we need and want than we do.

Emmaus - James Tissot

Emmaus – James Tissot

They come to Emmaus, perhaps to the family home, where Cleopas and his older brother Joseph were brought up. It was there it happened. They were sitting at the old family table, the very one that for all their lives on Friday they had the prayers and only the day after the Passover Supper where again they had eaten and told the story of rescue, how God brought them out of Egypt into the promised land and where they hoped for Messiah, the anointed one of God.

Here Jesus did what is always done at this table, all Christian tables, at this service of Holy Thanksgiving.

Supper at Emmaus - Abraham Bloemaert

Supper at Emmaus – Abraham Bloemaert

The four movements of the Eucharist, He took, he blessed, broke and gave.

He Took

In reply to Satan who suggested he turn loaf-shaped stones into bread Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone.” Of course he doesn’t live without it either. In the only story told by all four Gospels (other than the passion) Jesus took a lunch of 5 loaves and 2 fish and fed 5000 people. If Jesus is God, then he was on the ground floor when the Universe began and if you can make matter from scratch then he can stretch molecules of bread in hand.

Supper at Emmaus  - Diego Velazquez

Supper at Emmaus
– Diego Velazquez

What folk should have learned that day was (and is), whatever we make truly available to Jesus can (and will) be used. In addition, we should have learned by now that when Jesus takes something (any old thing) it is transformed and it becomes enough..
Now, think of all the “castoffs” of our lives. . It is a hoot seeing what Jesus does when he up-cycles what we distain into something needful. Today, look around, take inventory and then offer what we find to Jesus. He can do more with less than anyone I have ever I have ever known.

HE BLESSED

A couple makes promises and then is married but when they are blessed their relationship is filled with divine content. Having taken the bread, ordinary stuff to sustain life in the body, Jesus now makes the bread “different/holy” and it is no longer just bread, but, like Manna in the wilderness, it is the bread of Heaven.

Blessing changes things. It changes relationships. It changes effect. It changes value. To be blessed by God gives dignity and worth. If we are worthless by all human standards not so with God, divine love and blessing creates value where none existed before.

What we will give up, Jesus will take up. What Jesus takes up, he blesses as he did that day when the children came running to him. And what he blesses has merit and dignity if for no other reason, because he blessed them. If God can do that with ground wheat seed mixed with water and baked, what can God to our lives?

HE BROKE

The most solemn moment in any Eucharist is the “fraction” – the actual breaking of the bread. On a day with low humidity there is a discernible “cracking” sound heard through the room. In that moment we are confronted symbolically with the suffering of Christ.
The rubric (stage direction) in the Prayer Book is, “The celebrant breaks the consecrated Bread. A period of silence is kept.” What can we do in face of his sacrifice other than be silent? I believe that the breaking of the bread is all the broken things in our lives, our souls and bodies, those things done, those things left undone, are all (everyone) broken there as well. It is a good breaking, like re-breaking a leg that was inadequately set, in service of fullness of life.

HE GAVE

What Jesus’ taking, blessing and breaking make, he gives. It is food. It is life. It is healing. It is celebration and it is joy. Above all it is Viaticum, literally “food for the journey.” That which God requires of us, God in grace provides us. We need not grow hungry, forced to eat fast-food along the shoulder of the road. Lest we succumb to the junk-food at the Jiffy Mart, Jesus provides us nourishment such that we will arrive prepared to do what needs doing.

When we come for “solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal;” (BCP. Page 372) then we miss the best part. And what is the best part, you ask?
Why, the best part is going out and doing what Jesus said for us to do and seeing that indeed it is happening. What’s not to like? Join a ministry team and find out. These are the four movements of the Eucharist.

THEY WENT

In truth there is a fifth movement: they went. Having the last say, the Deacon exhorts, “Go and do what needs to doing. If you have been fed – be bread.” (My language)

emmausJesus gave them the bread, they eyes were no longer “held” and they recognized him. Then he vanished. Then, no longer tired; (interesting how that happens) Cleopas and company marched immediately from Emmaus back to Jerusalem with the news of Jesus’ resurrection. Upon arriving they discover that the risen Christ has been busy and there afore them.

Our hearts burned as he reframed the scriptures to include Messiah’s “failure” death upon a tree, they marveled. It’s really a simple matter, you see. Their unconscious got it even if their eyes were “held” and the same, beloved, is true in our own day.

Ever since Emmaus, Christians know that Jesus shows up when the bread is broken. We don’t have to see him with our physical eyes. Our hearts will tell us even when our eyes fail us. Pay attention to the awaking fascinations of your soul. The soul turns unconsciously to God, as sunflowers follow the sun. .

JWS

RECTOR’S ADDRESS

Christ of the Homeless - Fritz Eichenberg

Christ of the Homeless – Fritz Eichenberg

 Saint John’s Episcopal Church – Memphis, Tennessee

I want to tell you a story I heard this week.  It happened in one of the Episcopal parishes in Memphis last Sunday.  The clergy and staff were busy preparing for the service when a man came in from the cold.  A staff person saw him and introduced himself. The man’s hands were rigid, clammy cold.  He was welcomed in given coffee and a place to warm himself.


Later the Rector learned the back story.  The man had tried to get the Union Mission but they were dangerously full.  He could find no place to be so he walked through that night because to stop, rest, perchance to sleep, was deadly in 22 degree weather. By morning he had walked a long way and happened upon that parish.

catholic worker homelessEveryone gathered themselves for church and one of the clergy invited the man to church and he came, sitting near the front behind a parish family.  They invited him to communion and he went.  The service ended as Episcopal Eucharist does with the congregation dispatched to do ministry in the name of the Lord. As everyone in Church busied themselves preparing to go off to lunch as folk in Memphis have done for generations, the man from the pew in front of the guest asked if he had a coat. “No.”  He took off his own overcoat and put it on him.

And the Kingdom came near that parish that morning.  And that parish, beloved was this parish, your parish, Saint John’s.

N T Wright, Bishop of Durham (retired)

N T Wright, Bishop of Durham (retired)

I was listening to Bishop NT Wright a few days ago as I walked in my neighborhood.  He spoke directly to me about these men when he spoke of the empowering nature of the Eucharist, giving those that receive it the energy to become the occasion where Jesus’ incarnation breaks out again.”  The moment that coat left its owners back and was slipped on the man Jesus was in-fleshed again – We know what Jesus would have done if he had been there because he WAS there!


While I was in York, I heard Dr. Anthony Campolo lecture in the choir of York Minster.

Anthony Campolo

Anthony Campolo

Britain is in a national debate about these very concerns.  Dr. Campolo launched his lecture from Genesis 4: 9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”

People rather love quoting Cain.  It distances them from any genuine connection.  Even in the Church we rather like to quote Cain, of all things?  That being as it may, the real answer Dr. Campolo announced is, “You are not your brother’s keeper.  You are your brother’s brother!”


That is my very theological point about the encounters in the film and in Saint John’s nave.  It is one thing to give, even vast sums of money, from a safe distance and from a higher position.  A story from my years in Mississippi is illustrative.  The Stew Pot was inter-faith soup kitchen in Jackson.  People from lots of religious communities had volunteers who went to serve food at the daily noon meal.  That was all well and good until a new director was appointed.  He decreed that food would no longer be served at the counter but that the volunteers would serve the homeless at their table and then when they had waited their table sit and eat with the people they served.  I don’t need to report the sad fact that when people had to come from behind the safety of the counter, serve as waiters and then break bread with the same people  …. they were never seen again.



Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi

E. Stanley Jones, a Methodist Missionary to India, was a great friend of Mahatma Gandhi.  He once asked Gandhi what Christians should do? Jones then writes the following: “The greatest living non-Christian (Gandhi) asks us not to adulterate it or tone it down, not to meet them with an emasculated gospel, but to take it in its rugged simplicity and high demand. But what are we doing? As someone has suggested, we are inoculating the world with a mild form of Christianity, so that it is now practically immune against the real thing.” (E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of the Indian Road, “The Great Hindrance.)


Which leads me to ask me and you the question: If we do not contract a lethal strain of Christianity, how can we die to self as The Holy Spirit penetrates our history and existence…

  •     How can those who do not believe contract the full influenza of grace?
  •     How can those with just enough Christianity to have an allergic reaction;
  •     How can those who contracted a comfortable Christianity, whose martyrdom is mild embarrassment;
  •     Or God forgive us, those who contacted certainty leaving them twisted and almost invincibly immune from the faith as we have   received it;
If we, you and I do not get up from breaking bread and be bread… If we have been fed and refuse to be bread, For God’s sake who will?

This city is starving to death for the very bread that only you and I can be…

That is why when I began to hear from a great distance the new life that was springing up among you as you read the scriptures, how Bible studies were organized not from the corner of Greer and Central but in offices and businesses and homes.  When I heard how new energy infused Sunday School as the daily feeding quickened the life force of faith within you, I gave thanks.


Constantine the Great

Constantine the Great

As I wandered the streets of York, knelt in Churches where human knees have bent for a 1000 years I prayed for you.  I stood near the spot that Constantine was proclaimed Emperor and went from that spot to relieve the Church from persecution and there I prayed, I asked the Almighty to give us vision for the freeing of the souls of Memphians from poverty and despair.  As I sat in the Quire of the Great Cathedral of Saint Peter, the Prince of Apostles,  who failed Jesus yet followed him anyway, and  listened to the choir chant ancient Psalms there I asked God to give us strength for the living of  these days.


Now that I am among you again, I see that the rumors of your quickening faith are not exaggerated and I give thanks.


What is the way forward?  Please join with me in praying. The renewal team continues to meet,  your staff and vestry pray and will take counsel together in the days ahead.  What I ask of you is that you consider adding the ancient practices into the living of rhythm of your days. Some physicians among us will coach us as we take up fasting.  We will offer this before Lent.  There are valid ways of anyone to fast. Resources, companions and a map will be provided anyone who will.  That is all required.  The Renewal Works process will continue as a way of life here.


Before I close, let me speak to you who signed a card in September and now find yourself wandering with the Children of Israel somewhere in the Wilderness of Numbers or Leviticus,  if you have read a sentence more scripture than you would have done otherwise that is good news.  My philosophy is that anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. So take up you Bible and read.  This is not a sprint it is a long distance.  No one will be left behind. We are in this together.

To Him be glory, now and forever. Amen.

SAINT HELEN’S SQUARE

Saint Helen’s Square

I sit in Saint Helen’s Square on a York Saturday morning. A long haired man in a boggan cap is singing rock in his own key weaving seamless “thank yous” – inserted  as needed, irregular, intermittent lyrics, for coins thrown into the open case at his feet.

In front of mBetty's Yorke is the Famous Betty’s Tea Room dispensing tea & English nurture, cozy since 1919, to a crowd wrapped half-way round the square.

A self-propelled street artist grinds out trinkets for tourists seeking Marco Polo (reversing) the Silk Road, unraveling the ancient trade imbalance caused by silk-mad Roman matrons.

Hanging out with love, I attend Celtic Eucharist at noon. Helen’s nave built in the Middle Ages today seats the middle-aged, the youngest near 50. Outside  thousands of young adults wander, circling, loitering near the door, while bewildered Christians wonder how to fill empty pews, young adults wonder how to stop the slow leak in their souls.

English: Saints Constantin and Saint Helen

English: Saints Constantin and Saint Helen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The cross Saint Helen discovered is re-hidden in plain view round the necks of manikins in Monsoons. The only Virgin displayed in the Centre City today is Virgin Money, a contradiction, false advertising as her easy virtue is known by all. 

Having feasted on the bread of heaven, I retrace my steps, taking my seat on a bench in the middle. A white dove lights amidst the pigeons pecking at bits of bread in the crack…while people eating lunch, munch on manna w/holy ordinary and not…

Nothing is so white – in plain sight. I glance around at souls oblivious. Does none but me see the Holy Bird of God stalking round the square, and inquire “Oh Holy Ghost inspire and lighten with celestial fire.”

That symbolic fowl paces, un-noticed by multitudes of shoes in pairs, and launches into the air a solitary witness to incarnation inspiring me in the synchronicity of my soul.

John W. Sewell
October 6, 2013
York, United Kingdom

Holy As The Day Is Spent

Aside

Carrie Newcomer

Holy as a day is spent
Holy is the dish and drain
The soap and sink, and the cup and plate
And the warm wool socks, and the cold white tile
Shower heads and good dry towels
And frying eggs sound like psalms
With bits of salt measured in my palm
It’s all a part of a sacrament
As holy as a day is spent
Holy is the busy street
And cars that boom with passion’s beat
And the check out girl, counting change
And the hands that shook my hands today
And hymns of geese fly overhead
And spread their wings like their parents did
Blessed be the dog that runs in her sleep
To chase some wild and elusive thing

Holy is the familiar room
And quiet moments in the afternoon
And folding sheets like folding hands
To pray as only laundry can
I’m letting go of all my fear
Like autumn leaves made of earth and air
For the summer came and the summer went
As holy as a day is spent
Holy is the place I stand
To give whatever small good I can
And the empty page, and the open book
Redemption everywhere I look
Unknowingly we slow our pace
In the shade of unexpected grace
And with grateful smiles and sad lament
As holy as a day is spent
And morning light sings ‘providence’
As holy as a day is spent

Holy Trinity – The Priory Church

On this spot Christians have prayed for over 900 years!

Looking toward the high altar - Trinity, Micklegate

Looking toward the high altar – Trinity, Micklegate