Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Rhea S. Bossart

The Burial of Rhea Bossart
Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 6:37-40

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.
The first time I stepped into this pulpit, two and a half years ago, Rhea shouted out, “I love you!”  In some ways, that tells you everything you need to know about Rhea.

When she was well enough to come to church, Rhea always sat in the front row, with her caregiver.  She was very much like a part of the church itself, at least from this vantage point—Sunday morning, look to my left in the front row, Rhea.  Or, walk out of the 8 o’clock service into the parish hall, Bob and Rhea sitting at a table, with Rhea making some beautiful creation out of yarn.

But there’s more than that.  If you look at the church photo on the wall in the lounge, you can see Rhea nestled among the people.  And if you look back through the baptismal records, you’ll find Rhea.  And in the marriage records, you’ll find Rhea.  And now in the necrology, you’ll find Rhea.  But you will also find Rhea in our hearts and in our memories, because Rhea is everywhere, it seems.  She lived her entire life as part of this church.  Given to God in her baptism, and now given to God in death.

Jesus said, "Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away . . . And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”

The Rhea we knew in her earlier days might have seemed lost to us these last few years, but she was not lost to God.  No one is lost to God.  Though the Rhea we cherished slowly slipped away from us this past year, she was always known to God, always cherished by God, and always redeemed by God.

You could say that in death, Rhea has now stepped through a door to another room, to be greeted by the ultimate caregiver.  And I imagine Jesus greeting her the way she first greeted me, shouting out “I love you!”  Because that would make Rhea smile, like only Rhea can smile.

One day we will see Rhea again, and it will be a glorious reunion indeed.  And in the meantime, we hold onto that promise from Jesus:  I will lose nothing that has been given to me, but will raise them up on the last day.  Rhea is safe, in the arms of Jesus, and we will see her again.


Monday, December 3, 2018

Carl D. Pennington

The Burial of Carl D. Pennington
January 15, 1930-November 29, 2018
Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 23
Revelation 21:2-7
John 6:37-40

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

You are all here because you knew and loved Carl Pennington.  Unlike nearly everyone in this room, I did not get to know Carl Pennington.  I met him, of course, but it was long past the time when he would have known who I was, or why I was there.  I can’t tell you anything about Carl that you don’t already know.

I do find it quite interesting that he enjoyed hunting for arrowheads.  And that he was a member of the Archeological Society of Ohio, which has been “Striving to Preserve Ohio's Archaeological Heritage Since 1942.”  I admit, I’d never heard of the Archeological Society of Ohio before, but I appreciate that they do strive to preserve the past for the rest of us.

In many ways, you all share their desire to preserve the past, as you remember Carl, and all that he means to you.  Over time, you had to hold on to memories for Carl, because he could not hold onto them for himself.  And together today you remember the life of the one you loved.  And just like the arrowheads that Carl hunted, you cherished Carl as you found him, diminished though he might have been from the peak years of his life.

I hope that you will continue to share stories and memories of your time with Carl on this earth in the days and years ahead.  But here is what I really want you to hold onto as you leave this place today . . .

Jesus said, "Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away . . . And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”

The Carl you knew in his prime might have seemed lost to you in his latter days, but he was not lost to God.  No one is lost to God.  Though the Carl you once knew was hidden from you, much like an arrowhead is hidden in the earth, Carl was always known to God, always cherished by God, and always redeemed by God.

One day you will see Carl again, and it will be a glorious reunion indeed.  And in the meantime, hold on to that promise from Jesus:  I will lose nothing that has been given to me, but will raise them up on the last day.


Monday, October 22, 2018

Elizabeth McLain Humes

Elizabeth McLain Humes
October 22, 2018
Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 23
Revelation 21:2-7
John 14:1-6

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

Unlike nearly everyone in this room, I did not know Betsy Humes.  I’m sure you all have lots of stories and memories to share, and I hope you have already been doing that, and will continue to do so in the months and years ahead.  And thank you to Billy for the stories he shared with us this morning.

It’s never easy to lose someone we love.  A mother, a grandmother, a great grandmother.  Someone who has been there our entire lives is no longer with us.  No longer seen or heard from.  And the emptiness can be overwhelming.  Someone who was in our lives forever is no longer here, which makes everything seem fleeting.  But that is not true.  Not for God, and not for those who live their lives as part of the Church of God on earth.  Because there is continuity in the changelessness of God.

I know that Elizabeth and William were married at this very Altar by the Rector who was here four priests before I arrived.  I’ve seen the pictures!  That’s a long time ago, and much has happened in our lives and in the world since that time.   So long ago, in fact, that no one batted an eye as Bill lit up a cigarette on the front steps out there.  From our perspective, that wedding was ages ago.  But from God’s perspective, it just happened, and the reception is still going full swing.  And the difference between our sense of time and God’s perspective can really help sometimes.

And here is what I mean by that:  There are things that we are waiting for which are already accomplished for God.  As we heard from the prophet Isaiah, “God will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.”  And as we heard from the Revelation to St. John, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”  And because Jesus is the beginning and the end, everything that happens to us happens within the arms of Jesus.

You and I are still waiting for the day when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and will swallow up death forever.  But for Betsy, that day has already come.  She is safely within the arms of God, which is where she has always been.  Because in Betsy’s baptism, she was claimed as God’s own forever.  And nothing can ever take that away from her.  Betsy is with God, and God is with you.  And one day, you will be together again.


Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Marriage of Amanda and Brandon

A Marriage of Smiths
September 1, 2018
Ephesians 5:1-2, 22-33
Colossians 3:12-17
John 15:9-12

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

So, I'm going to let you in on a little secret.  Usually, when I give couples the options to choose for the readings at their wedding, I intentionally leave out that reading from Ephesians.  You know, the one we heard a few minutes ago, with that stuff about wives be subject to your husbands and all that?  And the reason I leave it out of the list is because we are apt to misinterpret Paul’s words, unless we also have a two-hour sermon so the preacher can unpack it for us.  Since Amanda and Brandon have chosen that as one of the readings, settle in for some preaching, everybody!

I’m kidding, of course.  I’m just not going to talk about that reading today.  There isn’t time.  But the reason I can ignore that text is because these two have also chosen an excellent text from John’s gospel, where Jesus talks about his commandment to us.  Normally when we hear the word commandment, we assume there’s going to be some complicated lesson telling us how to behave, or what to eat, or what to believe.  And we probably all carry in our minds the expectation that a commandment is followed by a threat of punishment.  So, okay, Jesus is going to give us a commandment.  What is this thing that Jesus wants us to do, on top of all the other things we’ve already been told we’re supposed to do?  We’re ready Jesus:  give us the bad news . . .

And Jesus says, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  Seriously?  That’s it?  Nothing about shellfish or coveting or gluttony?  Nothing about adultery in our hearts and killing with evil thoughts?  Just . . . love one another?  Oh, wait.  Love one another as you have loved us.  You knew there had to be a catch, right?  We’ve got to see what it means to love like Jesus loves.  So, let’s consider the question:  How does Jesus love us?

Ah.  And this gets us right back to why we are gathered here today, and maybe why Amanda and Brandon chose this verse for today’s reading.  Jesus loves us unconditionally.  Whether we are rich or poor.  In sickness and in health.  For better or for worse, you cannot make Jesus stop loving you.  You’re stuck with him, whether you like it or not.  Jesus will always love you.

And that’s what makes this such a perfect thing to hear on such a happy occasion.  Jesus calls us to love one another as he has loved us.  It obviously applies to the couple getting married.  But it applies to all of us as well.  You want to know the best wedding gift you could give these two?  The best gift is for you to love them.  Unconditionally.  Support them in their love for one another.  Forgive them, encourage them, walk with them, and love them.  And together, let us wish them many, many happy years together.


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.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Sally Stevenson

Sally Stevenson, July 11, 2018
Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 23
Romans 8:14-19, 34-35, 37-39
John 14:1-6

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

 If you mention the name Sally Stevenson around St. Timothy’s Church, people will tell you two things:  Sally was amazing with kids, and Sally walked everywhere.  They didn’t always know where Sally was going, but Sally knew.  Both these things that everyone knows about Sally happened  before my time at this church, but they are still what she is known for.  Being great with kids, and walking everywhere.  If that’s the kind of thing people remember about you and me, we will have done enough with our lives.

By the time I got here, two years ago, Sally was already spending her days at Amherst Meadows, where I would visit her.  Sometimes she was at Mercy hospital for some sort of treatment, and I would visit her there.  As I sat with her, she would tell me about what worried her, and her hopes for other people’s futures.  But she always spoke with confidence about where she was heading, and that she would one day be reunited with her brothers, Tom and Bill.  Sally knew where she was going.

In the gospel reading we just heard, Jesus tells the disciples that he is leaving them, and not to be afraid because they know the way.  And Thomas speaks up and says, Lord we don’t even know where you’re going.  How can we possibly know the way?  And Jesus tells them, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  The disciples did know the way, just as Sally knew the way.

Sally was amazing with kids, and she walked a lot, and she knew where she was going, because she knew the way.  And as Jesus says to the disciples, do not let your hearts be troubled.  In God’s house there are many dwelling places, and Jesus has come to walk with Sally to the place he has prepared for her, because she knows the way.  May God give us the confidence to know where we are going, and the comfort to remember that we know the Way.


Saturday, July 7, 2018

Mitzi Ruwadi

Mitzi Ruwadi, July 5, 2018
Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 23
John 10:11-16

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

I do not know much about Mitzi’s life other than what I have heard from others, or read in her obituary.  Her active years at St. Timothy Church happened before I got there, but I’ve been her priest for about two years.  I’ve visited her and Ray a few times, more frequently in the final weeks of her life.  But there are two things I know for certain about Mitzi.

First, she loved taking communion.  I don’t think she had the words for why the sacrament mattered so much to her—and, if I’m honest, I feel the same way.  She had a deeply spiritual experience every time she took communion, and it was an honor for me to be the one to bring it to her.

The second thing I know about Mitzi is that she loved the 23rd Psalm.  And many of us share her love of that little piece of poetry.  Maybe it’s the pastoral imagery.  Or maybe it’s the assurance of God’s presence in our lives.  Or may it’s just that final line, about dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.

But what I really love about Psalm 23 is the actual language of the part that gets translated as goodness and mercy following me.  The Hebrew word that becomes “following” is actually more like chasing, or hunting down.  Goodness and mercy don’t follow us, like a stray kitten.  No, God’s goodness and mercy hunt us down like a tiger.  We cannot escape them, even if we wanted to.

Mitzi lived her life hunted down by God’s mercy and goodness, and she did not mind getting caught.  And receiving that goodness and mercy from God, she turned right around and passed it on to others, her family, and friends, and fur babies, and of course her wonderful home health aids.  Mitzi responded to God’s love by passing it on to others, and I hope you will take inspiration from that and continue to do the same in your own lives.

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”  Mitzi knows her shepherd, and her shepherd knows her.  May God give us all the grace to hear the Shepherd’s voice, and to be led to lie down in green pastures beside still waters, where Mitzi now rests in peace.


Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Marriage of Douglas and Alana

The Marriage of Douglas and Alana
May 26, 2018, The Signal Tree
Song of Solomon 2:10-13; 8:6-7
Psalm 67
1 John 4:7-16
Matthew 5:13-16

Alana and Doug asked me to include a particular Robert Fulghum quote somewhere in the service, and since I know a good quote when I read one, I am happy to oblige:

"We're a little weird. And life is a little weird and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness- and call it love - true love."

And speaking of weird, how about this tree, huh?

I don’t know how many of you know anything about the Signal Tree we have gathered under.  If you read the plaque in front of it, you get the sense that it was some kind of navigation marker for Native Americans.  But others say it might have been used as a ceremonial place.  Some say it was trained to grow like this, and others say it could just be a freak of nature.  But no matter the reason it is shaped like it is, the one thing you can’t mistake is that it suggests that we are welcome, with its arms spreading out to embrace us this afternoon.

And for us, today, this Signal Tree signals something else: The place where two young people have decided to bind themselves together—against the odds—to promise to live with and for one another until the day they die.

Now THAT is something worth marking.  It is worth remembering, because it is worth noticing that people are still willing to hold hands and take a leap of faith into the unknown.  And as those of us who are married know, it truly is a leap into the unknown, like it or not.

These two make their promises in good faith, trusting one another.  And you have all gathered here as witnesses and cheerleaders, to help them along the way.  Cheering at times when they need it, consoling and comforting in the times they need that.  Sometimes, things work out exactly as we planned, sometimes not so much.  And sometimes even better.  And so please remember, that having your support will make a difference for these two.

It is fitting that Alana and Douglas have chosen to be married in front of the Signal Tree, because they are sending a signal to the world.  As we just heard Jesus say, You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.

Douglas, Alana: You are the light of the world.  Because love is the light of the world.  You are proclaiming love, and commitment, and hope to all the world on this day.  Sending a signal as clear as this tree.  And along with everyone who has gathered with you today, I implore you to let your light shine, and give light to all the house.  We need that light in our world.  Today, we celebrate the light of your love.  May it burn the brightest of all!


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Mary Regula, 11/29/26-4/5/18

For Mary Regula
Isaiah 25:6-9
Revelation 21:2-7
John 6:37-40

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

We gather together on this day to commend Mary into the care of God’s loving arms.  There will come another day when we will gather to celebrate Mary’s remarkable life and incredible accomplishments.  Today, we have met in this holy place to be reminded of her deep and abiding faith in God, and—more importantly—to be reminded of God’s unfailing love for Mary.  There are three things I want to share with you this morning.

First, a greeting.  I did not know Mary for very long, in the scheme of things.  But every time I visited her, starting two years ago, right up until the time she stopped speaking, she would always take my hand, look me in the eye, and ask, “From whence have you come?”  The best name I have for this is, “Regal Curiosity.”  From whence have you come?  I always wanted to say, “from hither and yon, M’lady.”  But I always answered truthfully:  From St. Timothy’s Church.  And every time I gave that answer, Mary’s eyes would light up.  She knew the place well, and even as her memory slipped away, she still recognized the name, and she would smile at the memory.

Second, a poem.  The very first time I visited Mary and Ralph at the farm in 2016, I sat down with them to chat and to bring them the Sacrament.  Several times during that first conversation, Mary quoted from a Robert Browning poem.  She wanted to be sure I understood how important it was to her.  And she would stop the conversation, and look me in the eye and quote two lines:  “Grow old along with me.  The best is yet to be.”  She was so insistent about this, that I looked up the poem as soon as I had time.

It’s a l-o-n-g poem, but Mary knew the best part, which is the first stanza:  “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, 'A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!”  Mary and Ralph lived together fearlessly, embracing a full life, trusting God, seeing all.  A whole life together as God hoped, and they lived all of it.

Third, the Sacrament.  From my very first visit, after Mary took the bread—the body of Christ—she would weep.  Uncontrollable tears streaming down her cheeks.  Every time.  These were sacred, holy moments, and no one dared speak until Mary would open her eyes again.  Taking Communion was a transcendent experience for Mary, and I was honored and humbled to be the one who was blessed to bring it to her, over those few short months.  If I ever doubted whether Jesus was truly present in the Sacrament, a short drive down to Navarre would set me straight.

The greeting, the poem, and the Sacrament.  These are the three things I will always remember about Mary.  And you could give these things different names: people, abundant life, and Jesus.  These are the three things that Mary was passionate about, and—it’s no coincidence—these are the same things that God is most passionate about: people, abundant life, and Jesus.  Mary lived a life attuned to God’s will.  She cared about people, she wanted people to live the fullest life possible, and she knew that, somehow, Jesus came to her in the sacrament.

Mary’s life was an inspiration yes.  But her faith in God is what made it so.  Jesus said:  “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.”  Mary surely has come to Jesus.  And if Jesus asks her, “From whence have you come?”  She can say with confidence, “From a life well-lived, and people well-loved:  a life well-pleasing to God.”


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Braden Ehmer, 8/17/93-3/29/18

For Braden Ehmer
Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 46
Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 23
John 11:21-27

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

I never met Braden.  But I can tell by watching you enter this room today that he was deeply loved, and will be fiercely missed.  We probably all feel the same way today.  We don’t want to be here to bury one so young.  This is not the way things are supposed to go.  And yet, we have to be here.  For one another, and to try to find a way to honor Braden’s life.  At times like this, we have no words.  And so we turn to God’s Word, and we focus on the promises God makes to all of us.

As we heard from Isaiah, God will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. 

And from the book of Revelation, They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. 

And, most importantly, from Jesus himself to Martha:  "Your brother will rise again."

We all struggle in life, through good and bad, because things do not always go as we intend.  Things don’t go as God intends either, because this world is not the way God wants it to be, intends for it to be.  Sometimes parents and grandparents outlive their children and grandchildren.  Sometimes brothers and sisters and cousins have to gather on a day like this and say goodbye to someone they love so dearly, long before they should have to.  And in the midst of that, Jesus says to us, your brother will rise again.  Your son will rise again.  Your friend will rise again.

We all struggle to believe in God sometimes.  But when we experience love, we experience God.  Because God is love.  The love you have for Braden and that Braden has for you is a gift from God.  Love does not die.  You love Braden forever, and he loves you forever.  Because of this, you will see him again one day.  I don’t know how or when—but I know that it is true.

This is our faith:  to believe that you will see Braden again.  Until that time, hold onto that hope.  The hope of Easter.  Remember Braden.  Live in the ways he has inspired you in your life.  None of us is perfect, but love is perfect.  Hold on to that love, hold onto each other, and hold onto the promise that your brother will rise again.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Massillon Ecumenical Lenten Service, 2018

MACA Lenten Service, 2018
James 1:12-14
Matthew 6:9-13

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

So, back when the preachers got together and decided to divide up the Lord’s Prayer for preaching, I picked “Lead us not into temptation.”  Mainly because I was interested in it, and also because I was too dumb to realize how difficult it would be.  Pastor Gower, being a wiser pastor chose the phrase, “Our Father,” although he was hoping for just "Our."  Which reminds me, let’s begin by reviewing what we’ve heard so far.

The Lord’s Prayer begins with that phrase, Our Father.  It reminds us that—even though we tend to think of this as an individual prayer—it is a prayer from and about our community.  And the next week, we heard that asking for God’s kingdom to come is asking that life in this world would be like it is in the parables, when Jesus describes what the kingdom of God is like.  Then we heard that asking for our daily bread really reminds us that all our needs are provided by God.  And last week, we heard that—with God’s help—we can let sin pass us by rather than grabbing onto it when it comes to us, because come to us it will.

And that leads us to today:  Lead us not into temptation.  This is, perhaps, the strangest of all the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer.  In Matthew’s version, it gets coupled with, “but deliver us from evil,” which is the easy part.  Luke’s version stops with the hard part: Lead us not into temptation.

Even when I was a little kid, I thought this was a strange thing to ask of God.  I mean, God wouldn’t want us to fall into temptation, so why would we need to ask God not to tempt us?  It’s like asking God not to make me steal candy from the kids at school.  And, as I grew to be a teenager, I began to think of this phrase as being more like, “Lead us not into temptation, because I can get there on my own just fine, God, thanks.”

The more you think about this petition, the stranger it becomes.  If you have a world view where God is literally in control of everything, maybe it’s a less confusing request.  You know, everything happens because it is God’s will, even the bad things.  And therefore, it might just be God’s will that we fall into temptation, so we’d better be sure to ask God not to lead us into temptation, in case that’s one of the things God had in mind.  And if that worldview works for you, then, well, good for you.  But I just can’t embrace that, personally.  As best I can tell, bad things happen in this world, even though God does not want them to happen.  And not put too fine a point on it, a God who actually wants innocent people to suffer is a God I’m not that interested in.  Please don’t throw anything at me.

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  Job.  Some people will point to the book of Job as an example of God leading someone into temptation.  Now I’m not going to debate whether the book of Job is an allegory or not, since I feel like I just dodged being hit by a load of Bibles from you all.  But I do feel the need to point out that it is Satan who is tempting Job to denounce God; God is not leading Job into temptation.

And what do we do with that verse from the book of James that we heard read a little earlier tonight?  “No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.  But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it.”  No person should say, “I am being tempted by God.”  That’s pretty clear, right?

Huh.  So on the face of it, we don’t really see God leading anyone into temptation.  And we have James telling us that God does not lead us into temptation.  And yet, on a regular basis, we pray that God would not lead us into temptation.  As the Lutherans might say, “What does this mean?”

You may have heard that Pope Francis has begun floating the idea that this phrase ought to be rendered something more like, “Do not let us fall into temptation.”  And the Catholic Church in France has begun using that phrasing.  Well, in French.  And soon the Swiss Church will make the same change, starting on Easter day.  But I don’t think that’s going to catch on really, because language scholars have lined up against it and . . . well . . . people just won’t do it.  The Lord’s Prayer is the Lord’s Prayer.  Just ask any Episcopal priest how easy it has been to introduce the “Contemporary” version, which appeared in 1928, and is still considered “too modern” in many churches.

But here’s another thing to consider.  In the Gospel of Mark, right after his Baptism in the River Jordan, Jesus is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, where he is tested, or tempted by Satan.  In fact, the actual phrase is “thrown out” into the desert.  The suggestion here is that Jesus was not looking for this; Jesus was not slipping into temptation; no, Jesus had to be thrown into temptation, since it is so contrary to his very nature.

And maybe that’s a helpful thing to keep in mind when we consider the phrase, “Lead us not into temptation.”  Like, it is certainly our nature to fall into temptation.  We don’t need to be thrown.  We don’t even need to be led.  Show us temptation, and the honest among us will say, “Where do I sign?”  We are all tempted to sin against God and our neighbor, and we are all prone to give into those temptations, no matter how hard we might strive to fight against them.  And that is why we constantly and consistently confess that we have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, and why we constantly and consistently need to hear the words of assurance and absolution, that God forgives what we have done, are doing, and will do in the future.

And so, what about this phrase, “Lead us not into temptation?”  Why did Jesus tell us to pray that, and why do we keep on doing it, even though it is so confusing to us?  The answer is . . . I have no idea.

HOWEVER, maybe this is something to carry with you, and it goes back to the first sermon we heard at these weekly gatherings:  Us.  Our.  The collective.  I do not pray that God would give me my daily bread.  Or forgive me my trespasses.  And you do not pray that God would not lead you into temptation.  It is us.  It is the church.  It is this collective, messy, struggling, hungry, forgiven people of God, following God’s call to go out into the world and make it a little more like the Kingdom of God that we pray will look on earth as it does in heaven.

You and I are in this together, whether we like it or not.  And my prayer for all of us is that God would lead us away from temptation and into being the church that God wants us to be.  Forgiven, united, welcoming, loving, and ready to celebrate the risen Christ who passes over from death into life, and pulls us with him, by the grace of God, and by the will of God.  The one who has the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Installation of the Rev. Bridget Coffey

Installation of the Rev. Bridget Coffey
Feb. 17, 2018
Joshua 1:7-9
Psalm 146
Ephesians 4:7, 11-16
John 15:9-16

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

It truly is an honor to be with you all this afternoon.  A month ago, I asked Bridget to send me a sermon to read today, but with all the planning, I guess she forgot.   Bridget and I went to seminary together in New York.  But before seminary, my family and I lived in Maumee for about ten years, which is when I joined the Episcopal Church.  In my journey into the priesthood, members of St. Andrew's were on my various discernment committees.  And just before leaving for seminary, my wife and I attended our first Easter Vigil right here at St. Andrew’s, with all the drama and flair that Lynn McCallum brought to such things.

In my second year of seminary, the incoming class included Bridget Coffey.  We became friends, and eventually both became part of a small clique of marginal Anglo-Catholics . . . like you do.  For complicated reasons, I stayed in seminary an extra year (which I usually refer to as my “victory lap”), and spent most of my senior year hanging around with that small clique of four other future priests.  (And now that Bridget has been called to our Diocese, my secret reunification plan is 3/5 complete!)  So, then, Bridget came to my ordination here in Ohio, and I went to her ordination in Kentucky, and then we went off to our first calls.

I began my priestly work in Brunswick, which is southwest of Cleveland.  As the people and I approached our first Christmas together in the parish, a couple asked me if they could be married at the Christmas Eve service, since the bride’s mother was married on Christmas Eve.  I said, “Let me think about it,” and quickly called my assigned mentor, the Rev. Gay Jennings, current President of the House of Deputies.  (Yes, this is what you call “Episcopalian name dropping.”)  So Gay suggested I would have my answer by just imagining the opening procession of the service.  Where does the bride go?  Before the gospel book?  Behind the priest?  Carrying the cross?  And it was then I learned that some things just don’t go together.  Not all seasons of the church are appropriate for all things.

So let’s talk about having a celebration on the first Saturday in Lent, shall we?  As you know, Lent is a time of fasting and self-reflection, a time when many people give up sweets and treats.  So, a Lenten invitation might end up saying something like, “Come to my party this February!  There will be plenty of bread and water for everybody.  And if things really get hopping, we might even break out the sackcloth and ashes!  Regrets only.”  But . . . there is a distinct difference between a celebration and a party, when you think about it.  We might have a party for New Year’s Eve, but we have a Celebration of Life to remember a loved one.  While a fraternity might party till dawn, you and I gather together to celebrate the Eucharist at an Easter Vigil.  And though there might well be tables full of sweets awaiting us here in the parish hall, we are here today to Celebrate a New Ministry.

So, speaking of celebrating during Lent, let’s talk about commandments.  Many churches begin their services during Lent by reading The Decalog.  (Which is a fancy word for the Ten Commandments.)  The Ten Commandments, of course, are the list of things God gave to Moses up on Mt. Sinai.  If you ask most people about the Ten Commandments, they will tell you they’re a list of things that God says you shall and shall not do.  You know, like some basic guardrails of human behavior.  Most people think of the Ten Commandments as a list of dos and don’ts, all designed to bring the party down.  You know, like a commandment puts limits of the fun.  “I hereby command you to stop enjoying life.”

I think when we hear the word “commandment,” we all tense up a little.  Because we think of  a “commandment” as something against our will, or something we’re going to fail at.  Either it’s a list of rules we can’t keep, or it’s some requirement that is going to take away our fun.  We’re not good with commandments, especially when we know we can’t keep them.  That’s why the word makes us nervous.

In the opening chapter of Joshua, part of which we heard in our first reading, God tells Joshua to be “careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left.”  So, Joshua, stick to the commandments that I gave to Moses, plus the other rules.  And then, following that, there’s another command: “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

It feels a little strange to be commanded to be strong and courageous, doesn’t it?  I mean, if it were that simple, we could all be strong and courageous by sheer will, right?  But notice that the command to be strong and courageous is because the Lord your God is with you.  It is not strength and courage based on self-confidence and internet motivational courses; it is the reliance on God that gives strength and courage.  So, phew, it turns out that commandment comes with a set of tools and instructions.

In the Gospel reading from John, which we just heard, Jesus uses the word “commandment” three times.  And with such a short reading, that’s a lot!  And, as is typical of John’s Gospel, there’s a lot of logic and if/then kind of stuff going on.  John is often hard to follow for that very reason.  Like you have to pick it apart to see what he is saying.  And, as the preacher, today it is my job to do the picking.

Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”  That’s pretty straight forward, right?  Jesus loves us like the Father loves him, and he says: abide in his love.  Got it.  So . . . How exactly do we abide in his love?  Well, Jesus helpfully answers our question: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”  Uh oh.  This If and Then sound like bad news, and I think it starts to make us sweat a little.  Because now there’s a condition attached, right?  And the condition is attached to our old nemesis, “commandment.”  IF we keep the commandments of Jesus, THEN we will abide in his love.

We’re all pretty sure Jesus’ commandments are a mile long, based on the Sermon on the Mount.  And then, Jesus ratchets it up by saying, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”  So now, on top of if, then, and commandments, we’ve got long-term goals, right?  We will abide in his love, IF we keep his commandments.  And if we keep his commandments,  our joy will be complete.  So there’s a lot riding on getting this right, right?   We would like to abide in Jesus.  We would hope to keep his commandments.  And we certainly want for our joy to be complete.  Okay.  Alright.  Let’s have it Jesus.  What are your commandments?  Seriously, just go ahead and give us the bad news.

And Jesus says, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  Seriously?  That’s it?  Nothing about shellfish or coveting or gluttony?  Nothing about adultery in our hearts and killing with evil thoughts?  Just . . . love one another?  Oh, wait.  Love one another as you have loved us.  You knew there had to be a catch, right?  We’ve got to see what it means to love like Jesus loves.  So, let’s consider the question:  How does Jesus love us?

And the answer is, unconditionally.  Jesus loves you unconditionally, whether you like it or not.  If we love one another unconditionally, we will be keeping the commandment of Jesus, and we will abide in his love, and our joy will be complete.  It’s that simple.  Well, maybe simple is the wrong word.  I mean, it’s that straight forward.  Love one another unconditionally, and your joy will be complete, because you will abide in the love of Jesus.

Rev. Bridget Coffey, People of St. Andrew’s, we all want your joy to be complete.  And so we ask you to follow the commandment of Jesus: Love one another as Jesus has loved you.  Be patient with one another.  Give each other the benefit of the doubt.  Laugh and cry together, dance and pray together.  But above all else, love one another, as Jesus has loved you.

Your New Ministry together is     indeed something to celebrate.  We are excited for you, and we will support you in everything you do.  But I can tell you right now, we absolutely draw the line at having a wedding on Christmas Eve.