Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Do Not Mess With the Woman's Auxiliary!

So, the electric company had to replace three transformers on the pole outside our church this morning.  I was sitting in the dark, reading a 1943 edition of our Diocesan magazine, “Church Life,” like you do.  And I ran across this  letter written to a movie reviewer at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

June 1943
Church Women Protest Cleveland
Plain Dealer Writer’s Views on
Japanese Children’s Christmas Gifts

Dear Mr. Marsh:

On behalf of, the Executive Board of the Woman’s Auxiliary of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Ohio, I am writing to protest a reference in your recent “Moon Is Down” review in which you spoke contemptuously of people who send toys to Japanese children, as you heard “was done in one place.”

The one place this was done, Mr. Marsh, was the whole United States of America. And while we are a free nation it is the sort of thing that will always be done.

We have no wish to enter into any controversy with you on the subject of hate, though we believe plenty of proof could be brought to the argument for the other side.  As, for instance, the British have stopped the teaching of hate to commandos. We consider it spiritual immaturity to confuse hate of a loathsome disease with hate of those who have it. We recognize the need to exterminate the rabidly infected Nazi-Fascist, Black-Dragon ridden militarists, but we do not consider it necessary to hate each individual of the nationalities most affected.

We are not pacifists nor isolationists, Mr. Marsh, nor soft sentimentalists.  Many of us hated this Thing long before you, apparently, were aware of its menace to us-—in your own words you were a most ardent peace lover “before Germany marched into Poland and . . . . the Japs blasted Pearl Harbor.”  Do you think these were the cause of the war?

Many of us have hated this Thing since it started the downfall of Germany around 1928; through the invasions of Manchuria and Ethiopia, the rehearsal in Spain and war in China; through Munich and murder of Czechoslovakia, our hatred increased until we would go ourselves to fight the ugliness on any battlefront, if such action would help. We hate this cancerous disease wherever it is found--and it can be found even in Cleveland.

It is found, Mr. Marsh, in blind prejudice against children who happen to be born to a race with whose homeland we are at war.

1f you are well informed, you will know that most of the Japanese who were sent to relocation centers are loyal to the United States. Very many were born here and are citizens who surrendered their constitutional rights to protect their country from possible subversive activity by the enemy alien minority they knew existed among them. They gave up homes and means of livelihood and freedom itself to help beat Japan. Many are in the U. S. Army. The F. B. I. has now had time to double check on them and you can if you take the trouble, learn more about them from the War Relocation Authority office here in Cleveland.

The Relocation Centers are not beds of roses, Mr. Marsh. You wouldn’t like having to take your family and live in these barren quarters behind barbed wire and under guard. For the high percentage of professional people especially, life has become a pretty bleak affair. Christmas was coming, and there was nothing to brighten the season for thousands of restless children who had faith in Santa Claus and American Christmases.

The Women’s Department of the Home Missions Council recognized the desperate need of keeping this faith alive, and appealed to women of all Protestant churches all over the United States.  Catholic and Jewish women may have done the same sort of thing. The response was what Hollywood might term colossal. We had feared that the prejudice you reflected might prevent the success of the project. But toys and money poured in, and that Christmas in camp was proof to people in a cage that America is still a healthy-hearted nation. It was a little thing, but it came from countless people who had the vision of the real spirit of Christmas.

Anyway, Mr. Marsh, you may call this soft and pantywaist if you will. It is cheap and easy to lump all these people together and condemn them. The Christian way is harder and takes more courage--but it is the only way to free the future from the appalling effects of a moral sickness whose byproducts are hate and war and eternal tragedy.

We are proud of having had a small part in one action to rebuild hope and faith and love.

With best wishes, believe me

Sincerely yours,

National Executive Board
Woman’s Auxiliary, Protestant Episcopal
Church in U. S. A.


Sunday, August 26, 2018

YEAR B 2018 pentecost 14

Pentecost 14, 2018
Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18
Psalm 34:15-22
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

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

So, at our midweek service on Wednesdays, we usually honor some saint of the church, using the readings from Lesser Feasts and Fasts.  And in place of a sermon, I usually read a meditation on the day from Sam Portaro, an Episcopal Priest and writer.  This past Wednesday, we honored St. Bernard, a monk from the 1100s—not the dog from Swiss skiing accidents.  Anyway, in the mediation from Sam Portaro, he talked about the dual nature of compulsion, and how we generally think of compulsion as a bad thing.  Something to be resisted.  But there is another side of compulsion, a side where we cannot help ourselves from doing the right thing, no matter what our brain might tell us.

For example, we think of putting a leash on a dog and compelling her to go where we want on a walk.  (Well, you know, a small dog.)  But if you shine a little red laser on the floor, your cat is actually compelled to chase it.  They cannot stop themselves.  Or, like we think of someone being found guilty of a crime, and being compelled to go to jail.  But I am sometimes compelled to hold hands with my wife in a gazebo.  Point being, sometimes we can’t help ourselves from doing something good, or fun, or worthy.  We are compelled.

I was reminded of that duality of compulsion when I was looking at today’s gospel text.  And we’ll get to that in a minute.  But first, I just want to let you know, that we have come to the end of the bread series.  This is the fifth and final Sunday of hearing Jesus talk about being the bread that has come down from heaven, and that the Israelites who ate manna in the desert did not live forever.  It’s been a long run, I know.  Believe me, I know!  Every three years we get this five week series, and every three years, many priests decide to take their vacation in August, rather than in July.  Because there’s only so much you can say about bread, right?

On the other hand, since Communion is the central and most important part of our weekly liturgy, it really should be the easiest thing to preach about.  You know, in theory at least.  However, if you read through the second half of the sixth chapter of John’s gospel, where all these readings come from, it does get a little repetitive.  It’s almost the same reading for five weeks in a row.

Jesus keeps saying, I am the bread of life, which has come down from heaven.  Not like the manna that came down from heaven, which your ancestors ate and died.  Those who eat my flesh will live forever.  Then someone questions how this can be true, and Jesus says it again.  Then someone scoffs, and Jesus says it again.  Rinse and repeat.  And then in today’s reading, some of the disciples start grumbling and leave, and Jesus asks the 12 disciples if they want to leave also.  And we get that line from Peter who says, ““Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”  And that’s the side of the compulsion that I want to talk about.  Eventually.

But first, let’s go back and look at the other side of compulsion.  The time when the manna came down from heaven.  Do you remember that story?  Back in the 16th chapter of Exodus, Moses has led the people out of slavery in Egypt.  And they have crossed the red sea and are now wandering around in the desert, and they have run out of food.  And the people begin to “murmur” or “grumble” to Moses and Aaron that they would have been better off back in Egypt, where at least they had food to eat.

And flipping back to John’s gospel, we hear that the disciples are complaining at this hard teaching from Jesus.  But the word that gets translated as “complaining” has an intentional connection to the “grumbling” back there in the desert.  The connection gets lost, because, well English.  But the words are intentionally similar in origin in order to make this connection:  The people in the desert have the same reaction to the promise of manna as the crowd has to the promise of Jesus being the bread from heaven.  They scoff, they grumble, they complain.  Same reaction to the promise of being fed by the bread of heaven.

Which leads us back to the compulsion I mentioned.  In the case of the Israelites, following Moses around the desert, where else are they going to go?  They might complain, but they are compelled to stick with Moses.  They have no choice.  It’s not like they can walk away and join up with some other group of people wandering around the desert for 40 years.  Though they may grumble, the compulsion to remain is real.  It’s Moses or death.

Now, let’s cut away to Joshua for a moment.  In today’s first reading, we’re at the end of that 40 years of wandering.  The people have found their homeland, the promised land.  And Joshua is going to die soon, and wants the people to decide which god they will serve.  The reading as assigned jumps from verse 2 to verse 14, but that whole section that gets left out covers everything God has done for the people, from freeing them from Pharaoh, all the way to living comfortably in the land that was promised.

And then, Joshua says, given all that stuff that God has done for you, freeing you, feeding you, saving you, housing you, you all go ahead and choose which of the available gods you think you’d like to serve.  “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  And, well, given the reminder of everything God has done for them, the people choose wisely and say, “we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”  So, this is the middle ground between the Israelites in the desert and the Disciples in Capernaum.  The Israelites in the desert were compelled out of necessity; they had no choice.  The Israelites in the Promised Land with Joshua look at the history, and logically decide to dance with the one who brung them, or whatever that phrase is.  They are not compelled so much as making a decision based on evidence.

Now . . . let’s look at the compulsion of the disciples.  Remember, the set up is similar: Jesus says that there will be food from heaven, just like in the desert; the people listening begin to grumble, just like in the desert.  BUT, whereas the Israelites have no choice but to stick with Moses, in today’s gospel  we heard, “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”  The twelve did not leave, but some other disciples did.  They all had a choice whether to continue to follow him, and some decided not to.  These others were not compelled out of necessity, as the Israelites in the desert were.  They were not convinced by hearing the long history of God’s saving work to dance with the one who brung them.  They just . . . walked away.

But what about the 12?  Were they compelled by having no choice?  No.  Were they are argued into staying by hearing the history of God’s saving work?  No.  They were compelled from the other side.  Not from fear of death, but from the hope of life.  Compelled not by the law but by love.  Peter says, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”  The Israelites were compelled by fear: Don’t die.  The Disciples are compelled by love:  Choose life.

We could sum up these five weeks of readings with this idea of flipping compulsion to be a good thing rather than a bad thing.  In the desert, God’s people were eating just to survive, compelled to follow Moses to stay alive, and they still died.  But because of Jesus, God’s people are eating to have life, compelled to follow Jesus out of love, and now have eternal life.

May God continue to draw us all to follow the way that leads to life.  Not out of fear or necessity, but because we are drawn to the one who is our only hope:  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the living bread who has come down from heaven.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

YEAR B 2018 pentecost 13

Pentecost 13, 2018
1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14    
Psalm 111
Ephesians 5:15-20    
John 6:51-58

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

In case I haven’t told you a million times by now, I grew up in the Lutheran Church.  In fact, I grew up in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.  For those of you attuned to the flavors of Lutheranism, you’ll now finally understand why I’m so quiet and reserved.

Anyway, like many church bodies, some Lutherans require that a person be confirmed before coming to the communion table.  In fact, in the Missouri Synod, the person must also be a member of that specific church body—you and I could not take communion there.  (The technical term is “Closed Communion.”)  The requirement for confirmation is, of course, a way to ensure that the young people fully understand exactly what is happening in the meal.  Just like the rest of us, right?  And the requirement of church membership is to ensure that every single person believes exactly the same thing when they approach the altar.  An admittedly lofty goal, to be sure.

Of course, since in the Episcopal Church we are bound by worship, as opposed to belief (broadly speaking), our only requirement is that the one taking communion be baptized.  Certainly makes things easier on the priest, I have to say.

But I want to come back to that idea of shared belief for a minute.  The justification for putting other barriers to communion is that it really is for your own benefit.  As Paul writes to the Corinthians,  “Those who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.”  In the best construction, closed communion is an effort to save you from damnation.  Only by the pastor being convinced that you fully discern and understand can they know that you are not eating and drinking to your own damnation.

And, as you know, different denominations have different understandings of what is actually happening at the altar, right?  Some say it’s just a memorial to remind us of what Jesus endured; and at the other end, some say the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus.  True to form, in the Episcopal Church, we allow for the full spectrum.  We do not tell you what it is you’re receiving, per se.  And, thanks to the Elizabethan Compromise, the rubrics allow the priest to pick and choose directions on the map as we go, to emphasize certain understandings.  Our liturgical map comes with an implied message: Be ye warned!  Here there be theology!

Since I lean toward the “real presence” understanding, I regularly choose those options throughout the service.  A specific example of this is that I merely announce, “The gifts of God for the people of God,” since the optional add-on sentence about feeding on him in your hearts is there to reassure those who don’t believe Jesus’ body and blood are truly present in the sacrament.

Wow.  You’d never guess that my main point is to steer us away from doctrine, would you?  I promise, we’ll get there.

Okay, so different expressions within the Church have different understandings of what is happening in the Lord’s Supper.  And different denominations have different barriers to the table.  The Episcopal Church still officially holds the minimum requirement that one be a baptized Christian in order to partake.  So that’s where we stand, here at St. Timothy’s today.  And with all that wandering around out of the way, let’s go back and look at the text we have before us . . .

Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.”  Rather than talk about what he does say here, let’s look at what he doesn’t say.  There is nothing in this text about prerequisites.  Nothing about requirements.  Nothing about barriers.  No mention of belief, or membership, or understanding.  It’s just a flat-out claim that the people who eat and drink will have eternal life.  “Boom,” as the young people say.

You want more?  Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”  When you eat stuff—as I mentioned in last week’s biology lesson—it isn’t just fuel for your body.  The food you eat replaces your cells over time.  You really do become what you eat.  “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”

If we take Jesus at his word (and since you’re sitting here today, I’m guessing you do), he seems to be saying quite clearly that eating his body and drinking his blood gives us eternal life.  And that doing so means he abides in us . . . lives within us.  Now let’s circle back and look at that first quote I used from today’s Gospel.

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.”  Nothing suggesting a right understanding, a sound doctrine, or even any belief at all!  Based on this text, you don’t need to understand, or believe, or make some special effort at being worthy, or have a contrite heart, or anything.  Sure, our Outline of the Faith says, “we should examine our lives, repent of our sins, and be in love and charity with all people,” and the Episcopal Church does hold out the requirement of baptism as a pre-condition.  And there are very good reasons for that, given our understanding of baptism being the entry point into the Church.

But notice that it is not the belief or understanding or doctrine or anything else that seals the deal.  It is not our words, but rather it is the words of Jesus.  It’s a simple factual statement from him: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.”  No conditions.  No exceptions.

Of course, we are always free to say no.  We are always allowed to stop ourselves from accepting a gift.  Always permitted to say, “That food is not for me.”  You don’t have to stretch out your hands and receive the body and blood of Jesus.  You are always given all the time you need.  There is no pressure, no deadline, and the invitation is always there.

The church of my childhood would keep you and me from this altar.  We would be closed off from the Sacrament.  But Jesus gives us no restrictions.  Do you want life?  Do you want Jesus to abide in you?  Do you want to be raised up on the last day?

If the answer is, “YES,” then I invite you to come forward this morning, and I ask you to believe the words of Jesus.  “The one who eats this bread will live forever."

Come to the altar today.  Come and receive the free gift of life: the bread of heaven, and the cup of salvation.


Sunday, August 12, 2018

YEAR B 2018 pentecost 12

Pentecost 12, 2018
1 Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

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

So, sometimes the lessons assigned on a Sunday all fit together, and sometimes, not so much.  We typically use all three readings in our parish each week, plus the Psalm.  Today we heard from 1st Kings where Elijah wants to die, but the angel says, “You just need to eat something.”  You’ve probably been in the angel’s shoes before, if you have children; and then we read together part of Psalm 34, where the writer rejoices in God’s power to save us; and then we heard a portion of the letter to the Ephesians, where the writer tells us the importance of treating one another with love.  All of which was followed up by the Gospel reading we just heard from John, another discourse on bread and heaven and eternal life.

These readings kind of go together, as you can see.  Butlet’s begin with the old saying, “You are what you eat.”  We all kind of have a vague idea that this is true, right?  Like we want our kids to eat healthful food because we want our kids to be healthy kids.  Or, at least, more vegetables and less cake is something we consider a rule of thumb.  It’s kind of related to that other old saying, “Garbage in, garbage out.”  And if you don’t think about it too much, it’s easy to get the idea that food is like the gasoline of our bodies.  We always talk that way, about eating an energizing breakfast, food for energy, and so on.  I think we’re more apt to think about food as being fuel for our bodies, rather than raw material for our bodies, even though in truth, you really are what you eat.

Since our bodies are constantly losing cells, the stuff we eat replaces those lost cells.  That is why if you stop eating, you will start to shrink until . . . well, until you die.  In simple terms, you need a constant supply of nutrition to build more cells to replace the cells that are dying every day.  And that nutrition actually replaces the cells that have died, as well as feeding the living ones.  And since here ends what I know about biology, we turn to today’s gospel . . .

In this five-week stretch we’re in, we get Jesus talking about bread, and distributing bread, and comparing himself to bread.  Five Sundays in a row about bread and Jesus.  And in the little section of John’s Gospel that we just heard, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

And then, as is often the case when Jesus has said something amazing, people begin to grumble about what he has said.  Today, they’re scoffing over Jesus coming down from heaven, because they know his parents.  You can’t have come down from heaven, because we know what you are!

Hold that thought, as we go back to last Sunday’s first reading, which perhaps you remember.  The Israelites have escaped from Egypt but they are hungry.  Moses talks to God, and God sends down something from heaven for them to eat.  The Israelites call this stuff  “Manna,” which literally means, “What is it?”  They don’t know what it is, so they call it “What is it.”

Now flash forward, back to the gospel scene with that in mind: The crowd is saying, Jesus, you cannot have come down from heaven because we know you.  You are not manna.  You are Joseph and Mary’s son.  We know what you are!

And check out Jesus’ response:  “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.”  They’re complaining that he can’t be from heaven because they know him.  And Jesus says, don’t complain; no one can come to me unless the Father draws them.  And then he continues, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”  This is harsh!  This is a very strong smackdown, to say the least.  The implication is, the reason they don’t understand is because the Father has not drawn them.   And, just to be clear, the people Jesus is talking to are the chosen people of God!

Jesus is speaking to the descendants of the Israelites.  The ones whose ancestors were delivered from slavery in Egypt, who ate the manna, and welcomed the food, but did not know what it was.  Remember?

And Jesus says, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.”  See?  Yes, they were fed day by day, but it was just food to get them through the day.  Day by day, they ate and lived, but eventually, they all died.  God provided, but they still died.  Even the unknown food from God’s hand was not enough to give them everlasting life.  As the disciples will say in a couple weeks, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?"  Food from the very hand of God is not enough to provide everlasting life?  Huh?

Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.”  Whoever believes has eternal life.  I am the bread of life.  Your ancestors ate bread in the wilderness, and they died.  What is different here?  Two things.  First, whoever believes has eternal life.  And second, Jesus is the bread of life, and whoever eats of this bread will live forever.  Daily manna from heaven?  That day-to-day food that does not bring eternal life?  Child’s play!  Well, child’s play for God, I mean.  (Maybe Godly play?)

But, eternal life?  That’s different.  Eternal life takes a whole new way of thinking.  Eternal life takes Jesus.  The living bread.  The bread that has come down from heaven.  That is an entirely different thing to be eating.  Which takes us back to that first point: You are what you eat.

Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”  You are what you eat.  The food you eat becomes the cells in your body.  If you eat the living bread, your body becomes the living bread.  Jesus finishes up, “and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."

Does this mean that you and I will live forever in these mortal bodies for eternity?  No, of course not.  And the older I get, I would add I hope not!  We have two thousand years of Christians before us to prove that eating the Bread of Heaven does not keep you alive forever.  The point is not that we will live on forever in these aging bodies.

Although we only get it once in today’s little snippet of reading, but all around this reading--before and after--Jesus says, “And I will raise them up.”  If you read the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel, FOUR times Jesus says, “And I will raise them up on the last day.”  Over and over in this chapter he says, “I am the bread of life.”  And over and over he says, “I will raise them up on the last day.”

We get it from every different angle, with every different nuance:  Jesus is like the manna in the wilderness, but with these two crucial additions . . . He is the living bread, and therefore he will raise us up on the last day.

People of St. Timothy’s, it is true: we are what we eat.  And today Jesus comes to us in the sacrament as the living bread that has come down from heaven.  He infuses every cell of our bodies with his presence, and then sends us out into the world in peace, to love and serve God, with gladness and singleness of heart.  Living bread for a living world.