Holy Elizabeth Pray for Us

One hundred years ago today, the last Emperor of Russia, Nicholas II and his family were murdered. A century ago tomorrow Grand Duchess Elizabeth, the Empress’s sister was martyred. Thus began the blood century of two world wars and a bloody cold war.

Saint Elizabeth Romonova


HIH Elizabeth Feodorovna Grand Duchess of Russia, Martyr

4 February, 1905, at the moment when the Grand Duchess was leaving for her workshops, she was alarmed by the sound of an exploding bomb nearby. Hurrying toward the place, she saw a soldier stretching his military overcoat over the maimed body of her husband. The soldier tried to hide the horrible sight from the eyes of the unfortunate wife.

The Grand Duchess dropped to her knees, on the street, put her arms out to embrace the torn remains of her husband. From that time on, the Grand Duchess refused the food she was accustomed to, and milk, vegetable and bread became her daily nourishment, even before she took the vows.

Elizabeth new mar

The lofty spirit with which she took the tragedy astounded everyone: she had the moral strength even to visit in prison her husband’s assassin, Kaliaev, hoping to soften his heart, with her Christian forgiveness. “Who are you?” he asked upon meeting her. “I am his widow,” she replied, “why did you kill him?” “I did not want to kill you,” he said. “I saw him several times before when I had the bomb with me, but you were with him and I could not bring myself to touch him.” “You did not understand that by killing him you were killing me,” she said. Then she began to talk of the horror of his crime before God. The Gospel was in her hands and she begged the criminal to read it and left it in his cell. Leaving the prison, the Grand Duchess said: “My attempt was unsuccessful, but, who knows, perhaps at the last minute he will understand his sin and repent.”The murder of Grand Duke Serge Alexksandrovich brought about a change in the soul of his wife and caused her to withdraw from her former social life. The shock and horror she had experienced left a wound in her heart which healed only when she lifted her eyes to see that which is above this world.

From then on, she devoted her life to the organization of a community in which spiritual service to God would be united with caring for the poor. She Grand Duchess Elizabethmoved from the palace to a building she bought in Ordinka where she reserved herself three modest rooms. She called this community the convent Saints Martha and Mary, intending it to be as the home of Lazarus visited so often by Jesus Christ. The members of the convent were invited to unite the high aims of Mary (listening to the words of life), and the service of Martha (as if they were taking care of Christ), since he was present in his brethren, the poor.

The convent quickly developed, and attracted many nuns from the upper classes as well as from common people. Life within the convent was that of a monastery. Outside, the sisters’ consisted in helping the sick, hospitalized in the convent or in their homes, giving material and spiritual help to the poor, and taking care of the orphans and deserted children so many of whom used to perish in the big cities.

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A house for young women, workers, and students was organized to give inexpensive or rent-free lodging to them. There were free hospitals, ambulatory, schools for the Red Cross nurses, free kitchens, and during the war, hospitals for the badly wounded. Sisters of Saints Martha and Mary visited the houses of the poor and sick, took care of the children, did the housework, and brought peace and happiness wherever they went.

Many tiresome duties were performed by the Sister Superior of the holy Convent, the Grand Duchess. Innumerable business transactions, consideration of many requests and petitions from every corner of Russia, and other cares, filled her day, sometimes bringing her to a state of complete exhaustion. Nevertheless she often spent the night at the bedsides of critically sick people, or some other church popular among the people for it’s feast day, or she would make a pilgrimage to a Moscow monastery. Her soul was stronger than her body. The only rest she got was during the pilgrimage to the holy places of Russia, but the crowds deprived her of peace and solitude.

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Marfo-Mariinsky Convent, build by Elizabeth Feodarovna

They revered her for her sovereign standing, her goodness and charity, and enthusiastically expressed their affection turning her trips into triumphant processions. She tried to hide her weariness and appeared before people with a smiling face. Withdrawing from almost everything earthly, she shone with that inner light which comes from the soul, expressing love and tenderness. No one could have been more considerate in giving pleasure and comfort to others – according to each one’s spiritual needs.It is difficult to estimate the amount of money she spent on charity. Her own personal expenses were insignificant. She lived in three small rooms, white and clean, separated from the hospital by the house chapel. They were simply furnished, with wicker chairs, icons on the walls. She slept on a wooden bed without a mattress, or a hard pillow; but after long hours of work she would fall asleep instantly. Often her sleep lasted only three to four hours a day. At midnight she would get up to pray, after which she made a round of the hospital. When the condition of a patient worried her, she would sit at his bedside until dawn trying to ease his sufferings. Intuitive and tactful, she always found the right words of comfort, and the sick testified that her mere presence affected them favorably and relieved their sufferings.

From the very beginning of the war, the Grand Duchess had devoted herself unreservedly to the service of caring for the sick and wounded soldiers, whom she visited in Moscow hospitals and at the battle front.

 

 

 

The Dowager Empress Marie, the Empress Alexandra and the Grand Duchess Elizabeth divided among themselves the work of nursing the wounded according to the front lines: the German front, the Austrian front, and the Turkish front, the latter, although smaller in size of operations, was just as intense in fighting. They were able to draw all kinds of people into their organization, men of high and low ranks, officials, clerks, government workers and a whole hierarchy of women. The Red Cross on a white uniform was seen on everyone who could spare any time from housework in order to serve the great cause of war and victory. There was no sacrifice too great – money was given freely and personal life was not important in the time of war.

The Grand Duchess met the revolutionary storm with remarkable calmness and self-control. She continued to live in the convent nursing the sick in her hospital, where she also fed the poor. There was no change in the routine of her life except that her prayers became even more fervent. She was always composed and completely resigned to the will of God.

The Communists, after seizing the power during the October revolution in 1917, to everyone’s surpass, allowed the Grand Duchess and all the members of her convent complete freedom; even rendered material support in the way of food supplies. It made it more difficult to bear the sudden blow when, on Holy Pascah (after Agape Vespers) the communists ordered her to leave Moscow and join the Imperial Family in Ekaterinburg. She asked for two hours to make the necessary preparations for the long journey but they were denied. She left with two novices, Sister Barbara, and Sister Katherine, escorted by a convoy of Latvian Guards.

Her future suffering could have been avoided if she had heeded the words of the Swedish Cabinet Minister who came to Moscow at the request of the German Emperor offering to help her leave the country. She answered him that he was right, that horrible times lay ahead, but she wanted to share the fate of her country and its people. Her decision was of course her own death sentence.

Elizabeth new martyr

The Grand Duchess was told by the communists that in the South she would be working as a Red Cross nurse. They gave her a private compartment on the train and offered all the comfort. She was happy at the prospective meeting with her sister, the Empress Alexandra, and ready to serve the people at the new place. Arriving at Ekaterinburg, the Grand Duchess was forbidden contact with the Tsar’s family. Sister Barbara succeeded in getting near the house of the imprisoned and seeing (through a crack in the fence) only the Emperor Tsar Nicholas II, in the garden or at a window.

The Grand Duchess was temporarily placed in the convent where she was warmly greeted by all the sisters. She especially appreciated the fact that she was permitted to attend all church services.

In the spring of 1918, soon after the arrival of the Emperor’s from Perm and lodged in a dirty town inn: Grand Duke Serge Mikhailovich with his attendant R. Remez, three brothers, Grand Dukes John, Constantine, and George Constantinovich, and young Count Vladimir Paely, just twenty years old. They were placed in one room, badly treated, and kept half-starved: But they were allowed sometimes, to leave the inn which gave them a chance to meet people and even visit old acquaintances.

At the end of May, all the above mentioned and Grand Duchess Elizabeth were transported to Alopaevsk near Keaterinburg, and lodged in a school house on the edge of town. Although guarded, the Grand Duchess was permitted to go to church, work in the vegetable garden, with her own hands she weeded the vegetables and arranged the flower beds: she also painted and prayed. Lunches and dinners were served to her in her room: the rest ate together.

At times the Grand Duchess was able to send words of encouragement and consolation to the sisters of her convent in Moscow, who deeply mourned her absence.

There was some contact with the population, as among the possessions of the Grand Duchess there was a handmade towel of plain peasant linen embroidered with flowers and the inscription: “Dear Mother Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, do not refuse to accept in the ancient Russian custom the bread and salt from the loyal servants of the Tsar and the Motherland. Peasants of the Nievo-Alopaevsk district, Verkhotursk county”

Such were the conditions of their life until the fatal night of 18 July. On that night they were suddenly taken to a place 12 miles from Alopaevsk, where all were atrociously murdered. It happened in the Verkhoutsk tract of a mine called “Nizhnaya Selimskaya”.

new martyrs at mine

Only Grand Duke Sergey Mikhailovich was shot: the rest were blindfolded and thrown into the mine alive, (According to medical reports, only Grand Duke Sergey Mikhaelovich was shot. All the others were thrown alive into the mine and death had followed them hemorrhage, as a result of contusions.”) after which the murderers threw into the mine some hand grenades and some junk. The mine was about 200 feet deep, but the corpses of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Grand Duke John Constantinovich were found on a ledge only 50 feet from the top. The Grand Duchess Elizabeth had remained alive for a long time. Near the mine, one could hear hymns – some say from hymns from the Vesper service,and these hymns continued through the following day. A peasant driving by on his cart heard the singing. In fright, he drove hurriedly to the camp of the White Army not very distant from there and told them about it. They reproached him for not giving any help, at least by throwing a piece of bread into the mine. When the White Army was able to reach the spot they removed the bodies of the murdered. Investigation showed that the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, herself mortally wounded, had dressed the wounds of Grand Duke John. Near her body were two unexploded hand grenades, on her chest an icon of Jesus Christ. The holy martyr had sung hymns for herself and for others, funeral hymns, hymns giving thanks or glorifying God, until the hymns of God’s kingdom had sounded her. Thus the holy martyr’s crown of thorns was placed on her head for her to join the saints.

The Grand Duke John Constantinovich always loved the church singing and was regent of the church choir of the Pavlovsk Palace, and continued to sing in a church choir during his exile in Perm.

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Alopaevsk Mine today

Young Count Vladimir Paley, the son of the Grand Duke Paul Alekssandrovich, was a talented poet. A number of his verses, which were heard by friends in Ekaterinburg, were written about his exile, where, in his words, “all dear to the heart was so painfully distant, and the enemies so painfully close.”By the order of Admiral Kochack, the head of the Siberian White Army, the body of the Grand Duchess and all who were murdered with her were solemnly buried in Alopaev Cathedral (November 1,1918. Later,when the White Army had to retreat under pressure from the Reds, the bodies were taken to Irkutsk (July 1919) and later to China (February 28, 1920).

At a point near the Chinese border the communists were able to attach the convoy. They had time to throw out the coffin of the Grand Duke John, but some Chinese soldiers arrived in time to stop the sacrilege. On 3 April, the bodies were buried at the church of St. Seraphim of Sarov at the cemetery of the Russian mission in Peking. Later, the body of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth and that of sister Barbara, through the care of Princess Victoria, were taken to Palestine. There, on December 15, 1920 they were solemnly met in Jerusalem by the representatives of the English government, by the Greek and Russian clergy, and by innumerable Russian immigrants and local residents.

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The Church of Saint Mary Magdalene built by their IH Grand Duke & Duchess Serge of Russia

The Grand Duchess Elizabeth was buried in the church of St. Mary Magdalene of Gethsemane, the church built in memory of the Dowager Empress Maria (wife of the Emperor Tsar Alexander II) by her august children. The Grand Duchess had been present with her husband at its consecration in 1888, and they say, she loved the church so much that she expressed a desire to spend the last days of her life near it.

 

 

“Like a beautiful apparition, she passed through this world, leaving behind her a radiant trail,” wrote her biographer, His Emminence Metropolitan Anastassy. “Together with the other sufferers for the motherland she is at the same time the atonement of former Russia, and the foundation of the Russia to come, which will be built on the remains of the new holy martyrs. Such images have lasting significance: their predestination is eternal memory on earth and in heaven. Not in vain had the voice of the people of Russia proclaimed her a saint while she was yet alive. As if to reward her for her glorious deeds on earth, and especially for her love for Holy Russia, her martyred remains (which according to eyewitnesses were found in the mine untouched by decay) were destined to rest near the very place of the sufferings and holy Resurrection of the Savior.”

Source: “THE NEW MARTYRS OF RUSSIA”, by Archpriest Michael Polsky, Montreal, Canada., 1972., pp. 124-32.)


Holy St. Elizabeth,
Pray Unto God,
For Us!

Holy St. Barbara
Pray Unto God,
For Us!

Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

In these early years of the third millennium of the Christian experience there is deep unease. Terrorism, war, crime, shootings and murders, disregard for life, fear, greed, hatred, natural disasters, and plagues, raise the question: “We are afraid and where is God?” The Apostle John, looking back half a century after the resurrection, records these words of Jesus. Jesus spoke these words before his death and resurrection and they are directed toward the future. So in a real sense these comforting, powerful, and disturbing words are for us.

jesus_4Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself so that where I am, there you may be also.”

We are afraid. Many are afraid some of the time. Others are afraid all the time. I knew a woman once who was paralyzed by fear. Every morning when her husband and children left the house she began to run horror movies through her mind all day long of them being injured and harmed in a variety of horrible ways. This would go on until she saw them at the end of the day.

Jesus: “Let not your hearts be troubled.” The word here is the same used to describe the experience of Jesus in the Garden. The sense of the word is to shudder. It is a deep apprehension.

Parker Palmer

Parker Palmer

Parker Palmer in an interview said, “Faith is the willingness to take the experiential journey without being crippled by your fears. It is the willingness to keep walking, putting one foot in front of the other, even when we don’t know exactly where we are going. There are three words which sum up all the spiritual traditions which are familiar to Christians. They are ‘BE NOT AFRAID’. Notice it doesn’t say we shouldn’t have fears BUT, we don’t have to BE our fears.”

Many of us become our fears. There is an urban myth going around about an elderly woman who was terrified that she would become the victim of violent crime. So she bought a little gun which she carried in her purse.

One day she came out of the local mall, arms loaded with packages. When she got to her car to her shock there were two young men sitting in it. She was horrified but she had her gun. So she pulled it out and bore down on those young man and ordered them out of her car.

They went.

Trembling she got into the car, fished her keys out of purse, put them in the ignition. The key wouldn’t turn. It wasn’t her car!!!! She got and there one row over was her car. She got in and drove away in a hurry with two young men yelling, “That old woman stole our car!!”

It is human to have fears.

But the Gospel of Jesus the Christ proclaims, that  we do not have to BECOME our fears.

Jesus also says, “Believe in God, believe also in me.”

This believing is not simply a matter of believing with the head; the sort of believing that affirms that Jesus lived 2000 years ago. It is not simply a matter of intellectual affirmation that Christ lived. If it is only that, then it is not any different from believing in George Washington

george-washington-picture

  • I believe in George Washington.
  • I believe that George Washington lived from 1732-1799.
  • I believe that George was a pretty good man.
  • I believe that George was the “Father of his country.”

BUT, that doesn’t have too much to do with how I live my life in 2014.

  • I may take George’s name in vain and say “By George” in conversation but then such talk is cheap.
  • If I am in Virginia, I might go to Mt. Vernon and see where he lived and is buried.
  • I might go to the Washington Monument in Washington DC .
  • I even carry a few copies of his picture around in my wallet. And while, they are not holy cards they are of untimate concern to many.

My point is that I can be culturally Christian in much the same way. I can believe all sorts of things about Jesus without being transformed, without living in the Resurrection.

Believing = as Jesus describes it is a radical belonging to the truth. Truth here involves the ideas of reliability or faithfulness: what is real compared to mere appearance.

Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself so that signwhere I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

Jesus said, “And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas speaks for himself and multitudes of others when he contends that he doesn’t know the way. Jesus is more clear.

“I am the way, the truth and the life.” The way is not a road map, BUT A PERSON!

1. Jesus is the way because he is the truth or revelation of the Father.
2. Jesus is the way because he is the life. Since he lives in the Father and the Father lives in him, he is the channel through which the Father’s life comes to people.

This passage is used often at the burial of the dead. These words of Jesus are not intended just to give us comfort at funerals. They speak to the power of the resurrection working now, here, in us, and between us, in the world. And that power will not end here but will go on forever.

We are called by our baptism, to live into this resurrection now, not waiting until we are dead. This is not fire insurance. This is the power of God to authentically alive NOW.

We ask where is God? One answer is that God is here. We believe, as Christians have believed since that first Easter, that whenever we gather together and break the bread, Jesus is present. Therefore, this Eucharist which we are about to eat and drink is for a sure and predictable way of encountering the risen Christ.

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I invite you and me this morning to bring your fears to this table. We all have fears. But we do not have to BE our fears! Let us eat and drink, healing, and confidence, and joy, believing as he has taught us that regardless of what we face, He will be with us and will come for us that where he is we will be also. Let us take comfort and courage from these words and this feeding.

 Amen.

“The church beg…

Quote

“The church began as a movement in Jerusalem. It became a philosophy in Greece, an institution in Rome, a culture in Europe and, when it came to America, it became a business… a highly profitable business. But God is coming back for a movement.”

– unknown

THE PRESENTATION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST IN THE TEMPLE

Presentation of Christ in the Temple - Rembrandt

Presentation of Christ in the Temple – Rembrandt

The Feast of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple is not one we know well.  So, let’s talk Theology:  The Presentation marked on February 2nd is the other half of the Annunciation marked on March 25th  (9 months from Christmas

Gabriel – Annunciation of great joy – He is Messiah   & Virgin born
[Contradiction]
Anna & Simeon – Presentation of great suffering – He will redeem his people at great cost.
Equals Paradox

The reading from Hebrew Scripture is from Malachi, the last of the prophets.  He writes,  “. . . and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight  — indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.”

The prophet tells the House of Israel and us two things:  1. The Lord is coming   and   2. He is coming to the temple.

In the 1st Century the longing for Messiah was keenly felt in the era of Roman occupation. The temple of that period, the third temple was built by King Herod, the Roman puppet king. In 19 BC he began work on a new temple at Jerusalem.  He did this to win favour with his subjects and to impress the Roman world with his splendid building.  The main building was finished in ten years but work continued for the next fifty.

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The temple itself was covered with so much gold that it was a blinding sight in the bright sun.  The temple platform was extended beyond the hill to enclose an area of 35 acres. I have read that 24 or so football fields would fit on that vast platform.  It could be seen from outer space.   At its southern end, it stood 100-150 feet above ground level.  A covered cloister ran right around the outer courtyards.

 The Temple was laid out in concentric courtyards.

  • The main entrance was from the south, and led to the Court of the Gentiles.  Anyone could enter this part of the temple.  [Notices in Greek and Latin forbade non-Jews to enter the inner court of the temple.]
  • The next court was the Court of the Women.  This was as far women were allowed to go into the temple itself.   It was here where Mary and Joseph stopped.
  • Men could go further, into the court of Israel.
  • The inner court was limited to priests only.
  • In the center of the complex was the Holy of Holies where only the High priest went once a year on the Day of Atonement.

The point I want to make here about Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus in the Temple, is that it is nothing like anything we have ever seen.  You may think this is sort of like a baptism since we tend to view the Scriptural setting as identical to our own.

Not so, put that right out of your head.

Going to the Temple was less like going to Church than going to the Fair!

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Model of Temple

The centerpiece of temple worship was the ritual slaughter of animals: sheep, goats, bulls, and if you couldn’t afford four-legged animals a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. By this time the Jews were no longer a nomadic people, each family with their own flocks.  But you still needed animals for sacrifice. A thriving business grew up supplying animals for sacrifice. [You recall that Jesus did something about that but that is 33 years in the future.]  So:

  1. You bought your animal, got in line and when your time came you presented your beast to the priests.
  2. They killed the animal and it’s blood poured down a special drainage system designed to drain away the vast amounts of blood spilled every day.
  3. The outdoors altar was a slaughter assembly line  with the Sun shining and the animals bellowing.
  4. Some of the meat went to the priests;
  5. Some of it was used for your family ritual meal, while the remaining parts were burned.
  6. It was a bloody, smoky, smelly place.
  7. At the same time worshipers were praying out loud,
  8. Choirs were singing psalms
  9. Religious scholars were holding forth to their students in the porches around the courtyards.

Going to the temple and going to church have little in common unless we open a stock yard at the Cathedral and hold graduate classes in theology and choir rehearsal at a continuous Pentecostal revival and barbecue!

 “ . . . And the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple!”  Certainly Simeon knew the words of the Malachi.  And then it happened one day, not perhaps the way he had imagined but nevertheless it happened.  A couple came into the temple to make sacrifice, as required by the law, for their first-born son.  Most families sacrificed a sheep or a calf.  The law made provision for people of less means.  They could get by with a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.

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The irony is that all the crowds that thronged the temple that day did not discern the presence of Messiah, the very one that they desired. They were so busy doing what was required that they missed the great day, when the Son of God had his coming out, presented to all the world and only two eccentrics whose eyes were fixed, looking for God, saw him.

Presentation_of_the_LordThe Spirit gave Simeon the gift of recognition.  So Simeon spied them and his heart, long trained to look for Messiah, discerned in the face of the little one, the face he had longed to see: the face of the holy one.  Taking the babe in his arms, he blessed God in the words we sing at evening prayer or often at the burial of a Christian, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.”

Anna, eighty-four years old, who lived in the temple and worshiping there fasting and praying day and night came in. She too recognized the child as the promised one, and began to tell the news to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel.

This Day is also called Pro Orantibus [For those who pray]   These two old people, Simeon who prayed and dreamed, Anna who prayed and fasted  may have been half blind with age but the eyes of their imagination were clearly and sharply focused.

Mark Twain once said, “

“You cannot trust your eyes, if your IMAGINATION is out of focus.”

If Renewal Works has taught us anything it is that while everyone owes God One soul, the care and feeding of your soul cannot be delegated, hired out or left to force feeding by the clergy.  It can however be neglected, starved and abused.

RenewalWorks is a process we are using to get our imaginations in focus! How?

  1. We are reading some scripture from day to day or at least regularly; not enough we believe but more scripture than we have in the past. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly! It doesn’t take much Bible to affect us!  Embedding our lives in Scripture focuses our imagination!
  2. In the breaking of bread: To discern the presence of our Lord in the bread and wine.    We believe that in this place we encounter the risen Jesus in bread and wine just as he promised.  If this is true do you see it is the most important thing we do all week!
  3. In our own inner life I believe that God is speaking to us constantly in our prayers, dreams, visions, and hunches.  But we are to busy doing our daily sacrifices of time, talent and ambition to even notice.  It is only when we are willing to slow down and focus our imaginations that we can trust our eyes.
  4. In each other:  God often seems to speak to me through the people in my life. Parker Palmer once wrote that, “Community is that place where the person you cannot stand always live.” It takes a work of imagination to see that we are all gifts of God to each other, especially those who irritate and scare us the most.
  5. In the faces of the poor and stranger: The Blessed Teresa of Calcutta spoke of Jesus in his disturbing disguises.  She said that when she encountered him in the breaking of bread that she could encounter him in his most distressing disguises.  Eyes with focused imagination see him and hear him, “If you have done to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters you have done it unto me.”
Icon of the Presentation

Icon of the Presentation

I ask you to take better care of your souls.  Please call on us. The clergy are not paid to be Christians for you.  The clergy are here as player-coaches.  We are in ministry of equipped and coaches ministers.  Please, Please, by the mercies of God come and join in this movement.

In our baptism we are given the gift of the Spirit, who penetrates history and existence in order to focus our imaginations will come into focus. With clear eyes it is easy to discern the Holy One in us, between us and to holy hands for the care those in need.

I see you.  I see him in you. Look around you will see him too. To him be glory now and forever.  Amen

THE EPIPHANY

The Magi - Henry Siddons

The Magi – Henry Siddons

What would have happened if, at Epiphany, there had been wise WOMEN instead of wise men at Bethlehem? They would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole and brought practical gifts!

Most people know nothing of the Epiphany. As a feast of the Church, The Epiphany ranks with Christmas, All Saints, Ascension and Pentecost. Unlike Christmas Eve, we will not need four services tonight to accommodate worshipers.

The Word Epiphany comes from a Greek word that means to manifest or to reveal. The deep mystery of the Incarnation – the coming of the Second Member of the Trinity – to live as a human being, now is revealed or displayed not just to the Jews but to Gentiles.

magiIn Judaism the thread of universal salvation weaves in and out among the fabric of Israel’s special call.  Periodically individual gentiles found their way into the household of Israel,   such as Rahab the harlot of Jericho who hid the spies sent by Moses to scope out the Promised Land and Ruth the great grandmother of King David was a woman of Moab.

The theme of the Book of Jonah is the concern the God of Israel has for gentile people, even including the hated Assyrians. This concern is a source of much aggravation to the prophet Jonah.   Isaiah predicts that the nations will come to the light revealed in Israel. In today’s Epistle, Paul writes to the Ephesians,  “that … the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.”

Now,  Jesus, the Son of God, has been born in Bethlehem.  The Magi arrive, the first non-Jews, to encounter the Christ child. The scriptures do not label these mysterious figures kings or indeed number them three. Echoing Isaiah their gifts are gold, frankincense and myrrh. Or as the little boy put it, “the Wise Men arrived bringing gifts of common sense, frankness and mermaids. “

2012-1_Epiphany

Following the star, they came via Jerusalem where the wise men met the wise guy, Herod, King of Judea.  They asked to see his newborn son.  Herod had no such son.   Bethlehem is the place to look they were told.  “Come back and tell me when you find him” said the wise guy.  And when they came to Bethlehem the star stopped over the house where the holy family was living.  After they worshiped they wisely went home another way avoiding the wise guy back in Jerusalem.

The Epiphany is our story, the story of all non-Jews who have no claim to be children of Abraham, all who are beyond the perimeters of ordinary grace. Evelyn Waugh in the novel, Helena, has the title character pray the following prayer to the Magi, “You are the patrons for all latecomers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents.  … For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.”

Ethiopian iconBlaise Pascal once wrote,

“The knowledge of God is very far from the love of God.”

We come tonight celebrating know what we know realizing that our most elegant descriptions of God are always just descriptions.   We will never know enough to know what we want to know.  The good news is that we experience God without understanding.  The love of God is a very different economy from the economy of epistemology!

Jesus never said, “repeat after me.”   What Jesus said was, “follow me.”  So let us follow him who was manifested to the magi, that through his cross and resurrection, the love of God revealed through him will be manifest in us.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

James Tissot

James Tissot

Aside

I’m having a hard time shutting up tonight as I write in late evening in York, UK. I’m sad and happy at the passing of Robert Farrar Capon. I’m sad because the world is a little darker for his passing and I’m happy because  he now experiences the reality that is God moving beyond his intuitions of the mystery that moved multitudes to smile and weep as they smiled at the beauty of his light touch of the glory to be reveled.   One of his great works was a cookbook, a theological reflection.  In wonderful work of graceful whimsy is a toast that is a blessing as the great toasts always are.  But the man can speak for himself.

“I wish you well. May your table be graced with lovely women and good men. May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfactions of maturity. May your men wear their weight with pride, secure in the knowledge that they have at last become considerable. May they rejoice that they will never again be taken for callow, black-haired boys. And your women? Ah! Women are like cheese strudels. When first baked, they are crisp and fresh on the outside, but the filling is unsettled and indigestible; in age, the crust may not be so lovely, but the filling comes at last into its own. May you relish them indeed. May we all sit long enough for reserve to give way to ribaldry and for gallantry to grow upon us. May there be singing at our table before the night is done, and old, broad jokes to fling at the stars and tell them we are men.

We are great, my friend; we shall not be saved for trampling that greatness under foot … Come then; leap upon these mountains, skip upon these hills and heights of earth. The road to Heaven does not run from the world but through it. The longest Session of all is no discontinuation of these sessions here, but a lifting of them all by priestly love. It is a place for men, not ghosts—for the risen gorgeousness of the New Earth and for the glorious earthiness of the True Jerusalem.

Eat well then. Between our love and His Priesthoood, He makes all things new. Our Last Home will be home indeed.”

And all God’s people said, Amen!

Luke 10: 30 – 35

Aside

good samaritan

The Good Samaritan – after Delacroix – Van Gogh

30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho , and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds , having poured oil and wine on them .

Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha,  Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

Image

Good place to start to jump-start your soul!


A Lawyer got up to test Jesus.  It doesn’t say the attorney is hostile; perhaps it is simply playing to test his reflexes and wit against Jesus.

He begins with a discussion on salvation.  Who is saved and how do we get to be one of them?

What do I do to inherit eternal life?  What must I do to share in the resurrection of the righteous at the end of time? How can I be sure I am in the will among the beneficiaries?

Jesus as usual doesn’t answer the question but asks one.  What is written in the law? The Lawyer is quoted whenever Christians gather for Eucharist Rite I:  Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with  all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

“Bingo” said Jesus, “do this and you’ll inherit eternal life and live!”

The lawyer couldn’t leave well enough alone.   Wishing to justify himself,

Well, who is my neighbor?   The lawyer is looking for a definition of “neighbor” – to define is to as a way to limit – to define is to cut off.  He wanted something like:

A rebuttable presumption arises that a person (henceforth to be known as the party of the first part) is one’s neighbor (henceforth to be known as the party of the second part) when the purported party of the second part’s real property boundary is adjacent to or contiguous with the party of first part’s real property boundary, provided, however, the two interested parties 1) received respective ownership interests in the real property in question in accord with Judean Code Ann. § 66-5-103; and, 2) inhabit the respective parcels of real property as defined by the Court of the Sanhedrin  in  Samuel ben Hur v. Benjamin ben Abram  309 S.W.2d 403.

  • Traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho he would have gone through the Pass of Adummim,  [Hebrew, blood]
  • 2,600 feet about sea-level to 825 feet below sea-level over a twisting route 17 miles long,  rocky desert surrounded by caves and famous for robbers and terrorists long before the first century.
  • He is robbed, stripped, and beaten – left for dead or half-dead.   Having set this scene of desperate need with tragic consequences, Jesus now sets about rescuing the man.  Who will help?

As almost always in human stories there are three candidates (as always in human stories).  By chance (this is hopeful – help is just around the corner) and who comes into view?

  1. A PRIEST – God’s servant who ministers in Gods’ temple and represents the height of piety. His hearers are hopeful.  (I want to be hopeful for my profession, but have already read the punch-line so I hold my peace).

What will he do?  He sees the man and “passes by on the other side of the road” =  the word is “anti” – against or opposite – There is no help to found here!!!!

Why?  We don’t know but the point is not WHY he didn’t help but that he DIDN’T HELP.

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Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861)

The New Decalogue

THOU shalt have one God only; who
Would be at the expense of two?
No graven images may be
Worshipped, except the currency.
Swear not at all; for thy curse
Thine enemy is none the worse.
At church on Sunday to attend
Will serve to keep the world thy friend.
Honor thy parents; that is, all
From whom advancement may befall.
Thou shalt not kill; but need’st not strive
Officiously to keep alive.
Do not adultery commit;
Advantage rarely comes of it.
Thou shalt not steal; an empty feat,
When it’s so lucrative to cheat.
Bear not false witness; let the lie
Have time on its own wings to fly.
Thou shalt not covet, but tradition

Approves all forms of competition.

 So the priest scooted on down the road.

  1. WE HEAR THE SOUNDS OF A SECOND TRAVELER.

A second religious leader – a Levite :  Choirmaster Organist as it were.  Likewise he passes in opposition to helping the victim on the shoulder of the road.

Again why is not important so much as the fact that now 2 religious leaders have flunked the test of their own faith.

  1. NOW NUMBER 3 IS HEARD IN THE DISTANCE, THE CLOPPING SOUND OF A MULE.

And who comes into sight but a Samaritan.  Jews do not like Samaritans – Eating with them was the same as eating pork for observant Jews.  No one hearing this twist of the tale is not disturbed this despised outsider

SIX CONCRETE ACTS:  COMPASSION ALWAYS COSTS SOMETHING–

He:

  1. Comes up to him
  2. Binds his wounds
  3. Anoints the cuts with oil and wine – soothing & disinfecting
  4. Loads him on his own mule
  5. Takes him to an inn
  6. Provides care and comfort
  7. Pays for care and will cover any further costs.

Jesus, “Who was his neighbor?”  Notice how the lawyer replies, “The ONE (won’t even say Samaritan) that had mercy on him.

Go and do likewise!  One should not seek to narrowly define who is a neighbor so as to limit one’s responsibility. The object is not to see what can be avoided, but to render aid when it can be readily supplied.

That was them there and then. What about us here and now?

Thirty years ago the Episcopal Church’s standard on priestly formation was called  “Minimum competency” –  the least you could get by with.   It was a joke among us as it seems (is) contradictory to the Good News of God in Christ.  Shouldn’t our standards be a little higher than that.

Salvation is a gift!  However, salvation is a gift that must be accepted.   Finally, it is something you do.

Brian McLaren in his book, “Finding Our Way Again” tells the story of being asked, “Why do Books on Buddhism sell better than Christian ones?”

Why is that?  He asked the man, “Buddhism is a way of life while Christianity is a set of beliefs.”

What we need is not Orthodoxy (Right Belief) but Orthopraxy (Right Practice).  Episcopal Spiritual Life Renewal Process is about this very thing!   This fall begins the Year of the Bible Challenge here at Saint John’s.  We will read the Bible from Cover to Cover in a year. We will provide lots of resources to make this task possible.  It can be done.  I learned at my father’s funeral that he was half-way reading through the Bible for the 25th time when he died.

Bibles will be in the pews.  What we need from each other is the one thing nobody can do for us: the decision and discipline to do this very thing.

Ignorance of the Bible is no longer acceptable here.

Not minimum competency – maximum commitment, maximum practice, maximum self feeding – when we do this, grace is ours for the having.

Tomorrow marks 10 years for me as your rector.   Thank you for the multitude of your kindnesses to Marilyn and me these past 11 years.

As you know, I will be on vacation in August, and then on sabbatical from September 1st  until December 1st   The day after Labor Day, I plan to travel to Great Britain and stay in York and environs until mid-October.  I will keep a blog during this time.

I ask that you pray for me as I will for you as I take this time to reflect, travel, rest, and write.  In the New Year we will continue our adventure.  I couldn’t ask for better companions for the way.

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Aside

We continue in our careful consideration of the Gospel of Luke in the long sequence of Sundays of Ordinary Time before the First of December. It is useful to look at the texts immediately before the reading for today and then those that follow directly.
BEFORE

  • The True Kindred of Jesus  – 21 But he said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
  • Jesus Calms a Storm – 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”

JESUS HEALS THE GERASENE DEMONIAC

AFTER

2 Healings

  • Woman with issue of blood
  • Jarius’ daughter

Were I to name this I might call who’s in and who’s out.  The prepostions in and out get used a lot by Luke.  What might they tell us?

I am indebted to Ann-Janine Morey for this insight of the dominant use of Out in the first half and In in the second half.

  • Jesus goes out of the boat
  • Man out of the tombs
  • Jesus prepares to tell demons: out
  • Don’t send us out of the region
  • Send into the pigs
  • Demons come out of man & into the pigs
  • Pigs go into the sea and are drowned in the sea
  • Pig-herds go to tell what happened in the city and country
  • Residents beg Jesus to “get out of here.”
  • Jesus gets into boat
  • The healed man goes into the city/Gadara  [Mark:5:1-20 – He testified in all the ten cities what Jesus had done for him]
Map of Roman Palestine with the Decapolis citi...

Map of Roman Palestine with the Decapolis cities labeled in black. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is this the end of the story. No, actually not.

The Gadarene swine fallacy

The GSF is the fallacy of supposing that because a group is in the right formation, it is necessarily on the right course; and conversely, of supposing that because an individual has strayed from the group and isn’t in formation, that he is off course. The individual may seem lost to the group but not off course to an ideal observer.

The fallacy is  illustrated  in R.D. Laing’s Politics of Experience. Here is an excerpt from that work:  From an ideal vantage point on the ground, a formation of planes may be observed in the air. One plane may be out of formation. But the whole formation may be off course. The plane that is ‘out of formation’ may be abnormal, bad or ‘mad,’ from the point of view of the formation. But the formation itself may be bad or mad from the point of view of the ideal observer. The plane that is out of formation may also be more or less off course than the formation itself is.

I learned this very thing from just such a family.  Many years ago  a fine perfectly normal
family brought me their crazy member, as I recall,  to “be fixed.”   After quite a lot of work I realized finally that in this family the only healthy response was to be crazy! The “crazy” one was indeed crazy but was not nearly as scary as the so-called “healthy” family members.

  • Note the Pigs are in perfect formation just as they run off the cliff
  • The Gadarans are in perfect formation just as they tell Jesus to get lost

The healed demoniac went throughout the ten cities [Mark says] preaching the Gospel.   End of story?    No, not at all.

James the Just, brother of Jesus, was the first Bishop of Jerusalem for almost 40 years beginning shortly after the resurrection until he was martyred ca.68 AD.

In 70AD Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple burned, and  Jewish state ended. Just after 70 Simeon bar Cleopas,  first cousin of Jesus, was elected the second Bishop of Jerusalem.  During the second rebellion against Rome, Bishop Simeon led the Church out the burning Jerusalem to Sanctuary in Pella. It turns out that Pella was  just south-west of Gadara and is one of the 10 cities of the Decapolis. There is evidence of a very early church there. Who do you suppose started that?

I’m Just Saying.

Remember:

  • The Gadarene swine fallacy:  Just because a group  are ‘in formation,’ doesn’t mean they are necessarily ‘on course.’
  • Sewell’s Corollary to the Gadarene swine fallacy:  In the economy of heaven the crazy ones, who know they can’t make it on their own are the very ones God chooses to use.”

And so it is.  In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rector’s Address at Saint John’s Annual Parish Meeting

I suppose one of the good things about rising age is the perspective gained from traveling over that much geography.  One of my favorite writers, Morris West, titled his memoir, A

 

Cover of "A View from the Ridge: Testimon...

Cover via Amazon

 

View from the Ridge, looking back over his life just before slipping into the next life in valley beyond.  I have not yet reached the ridge but I can look back over a few foothills. This is the 10th time I have attended an annual parish meeting at Saint John’s.  Ten years is a long time.  I was 51, I had hair, I also was a lot heaver than I am today for which I am grateful.

 

As I look over this nave, In my mind, I also see in their old accustomed places some of those who greeted me here in 2002 and have gone before us into that perfect rest.

 

*        Stan Gafford – at 92, Stan took up tap-dancing to meet chicks.

 

*        Sara Jane Prothero wrote the date beside the hymn every time that hymn was sung in church.   Geoff keeps it up today.

 

*        Harry Wilcox who every animal at the Memphis Zoo, and their mate, their progeny and all their names.

 

*        Carol Leatherman, a force of nature, instructed me in the family secrets of old Memphis.

 

*        Louise Carr who on her deathbed, called her financial adviser & moved money in 5 figures to the memorial fund in honor of her husband & daughter who preceded her in death and waited to embrace her only hours later.

 

They & many others have departed this life in the faith & fear of God, waiting for that great day, when we all will be with Jesus and he will wipe away all tears and death will be swallowed by life.  In the communion of the Saints all those who ever loved God in this place, join us this morning as we gather and order our common life.

 

This year I have found a clarity, verging on high definition, about this Christian experience we share.

 

I see that there are two parts of ministry: my job & my work:

 

*        My job is Rector:  I was made chief steward of this place ten years ago, to husband the resources, to guide and serve this community until I surrender this privilege to the Bishop at some future day. I intend to deliver this institution into his hands hopefully a little better than I received it. This is my job.

 

*       On the other-hand my work is “the cure of souls.”  When I was installed as rector in September 2003 with precise & archaic language, I was given “charge of the cure.”  This means that in a sense I am a “player-coach,” in that I do my own soul work, while I coach others as they as they their soul work.

 

One would think that my job & work are exactly the same and I say with sorrow that such is often not the case. The tyranny of the immediate, the speed of communication & the maintenance of the fabric of the institution often obscures if not blinds me to the deepest concerns of ministry.  For several years now, I have admitted to myself that while the institution of Saint John’s is in pretty good shape given the anxiety in the Episcopal Church, soul work is not the focus of our common life in a way that deeply transforms lives. Yet, the simple truth is that this place exists for one purpose and one purpose only: that here people safely experience God. That is why this room is filled with world-class art, better music than I have ever dared hope for and indeed treasures of all the arts making this Church aesthetically exquisite; in addition the liturgies are carefully planned, the altar carefully prepared and the buildings a faithfully cleaned and with the care that the occasion of meeting God in the breaking of the bread deserves.

 

What we do with that is up to us, of course, we can come and eat bread & drink a sup of wine leaving in the same shape we were in or we can come with expectancy meeting the resurrected Jesus in the bread of heaven & the cup of salvation.  This place, this beautiful place, this “home place” is here serving  as – an open space – where we  in that great ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­choreography of grace  dance with God & each other here on Sundays & the Holy Days.

 

And yet, more is needed.  For a long time I have sensed that how we have done church, the way I experienced church as a boy, is no longer working.  Each generation faces the unique challenges that comprise life in that day.  We are no different, but discerning the signs, it appears that we live at a cadence point in history. Naively I thought that modern went on forever.  But, what we call modern is no longer the cutting edge of speculation and innovation but is the label of a history, like the Victorian or Colonial era.  Not all generations lives through at such a cultural pivot, but we do.

 

It is not as if Christians have not been here before, in anxious years, look for a life-giving way forward.

 

§  In 70 AD, the Temple was destroyed and Christians adapted and proclaimed the never-changing truth of the Gospel as the Church was freed from persecution and became the religion of the Roman Empire.

 

§  In late Antiquity as the Roman Empire in the West crumbled, Christians adapted, proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ and evangelizing pagan Europe.

Roman empire in 117 Roman Empire Contested ter...

Roman empire in 117 Roman Empire Contested territory (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

§  The end of modernity is such a time, a reinvention must happen if the Gospel is to go to all the world.

 

For the past 500 years we have done church pretty much as we have experienced it in our life time.  But that way no longer works.

 

The day when the culture propped us up is no more, the public schools are no longer the Protestant parochial schools & Blue laws no longer protect us from competition; no longer can we prosper by a sort of genteel ignorance of the faith, while hiring people in collars to do our Christianity for us.  I’m not saying folks were not Christian & I’m not saying that they were unconcerned about faith.  What I am saying is that the future requires a kind of commitment and formation that we have not needed for centuries.

 

Living forward, each believer will need to be self-feeding, taking responsibility for the health of her or his soul. We have not done that sort of intentional soul work for a very long time. Past generations worshiped in churches sitting on various corners and  waited for folk to wander in. The un-churched no longer seek us out and we are at a loss as to what to do.  For we live at the end of a chapter of history, the page is not yet turned but we prepare for whatever this next chapter brings.

 

Let us not succumb to a fixation on survival, a sure and certain path to death, no let us rather embrace the adventure ahead of us, for the plot thickens & The Holy Spirit will guide us as Jesus promised.

 

Your clergy, three priests & two deacons are committed to soul work, in us and in this place. I have prayed for 2 years & when I ran out of options to will it into being and slumped over exhausted, a way forward appeared.  This better thing is the EPISCOPAL SPIRITUAL LIFE RENEWAL that began at Holy Spirit Parish in Lake Forest Ill. You can read about it on the Webb page of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. Bishop Johnson supports, & your vestry has voted to become a pilot parish for this process & we are already underway. This is the process:

 

*        Between January 19th & February 10th every member of Saint John’s is asked to take an online survey.

 

*        This survey is anonymous; no one will know who took the test

 

*        This survey examines two key questions:

 

          ^    What is the Spiritual health of Saint John’s

 

           ^   What is Saint John’s role in the formation of souls.

 

*        In March, we will receive the results.

 

*        A team of Saint John’s communicants will work with this material over a period of months.

 

*        By late spring, they will advise us how best to proceed given what we have learned from each other.

 

*        Then, God willing, we will organize Saint John’s that all our resources serve the soul work of the people, supporting them in the various ministries emerging from their soul work.  We will pray, learn & do what is  required to grow our souls up. Growing ourselves up and calming ourselves down is the greatest contribution we can make to our culture and this Republic we love.

 

§  This is what I ask all of you to do:

 

§  Ask questions, go online & read about Episcopal Spiritual Life Renewal.

 

§  Above all, please take this survey.

 

I am hopeful today in a way I have not been in a long time. I want to invest my remaining years of public ministry in this place. The words of Paul in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus come to mind over and over and I ponder the call of God.  Ephesians 4:11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

 

Over twenty-five years ago I awakened from sleep with a dream, it was simple, a single il_430xN.5223215picture, if you will.  In my dream I was a member of a Christian community and we were planted a orchard.  To plant an orchard is an act of faith as the trees will not bear fruit for years.  Some of those planting would not benefit from the fruit they would bear.  Later, I came across a quote from Martin Luthers where he said, “that if he knew the world would end tomorrow he would plant an apple tree today.”

 

 I have a realization sense that you are that community and that Memphis is that orchard.  Let us go this adventure together.

 

In the name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit.  Amen.