Monthly Archives: July 2013

Begun, continued, and ended

The road to the Mountain Theatre atop Mt. Tamalpais

The road to the Mountain Theatre atop Mt. Tamalpais

Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with your most gracious favor, and further us with your continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy Name, and finally, by your mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. (BCP 832)

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I had the great honor yesterday to officiate at the wedding of our “emotional daughter” Anna Kurtz to David O’Connor.

They were married in the beautiful Mountain Theatre atop Mt. Tam, an amphitheatre ringed with trees and with stunning views down through the blanket of fog to San Francisco Bay.

The Prayer for Guidance above formed the frame for my brief homily.

Begun

Anna and David have already begun their life together as a couple. Our grandson Alex is one of the fruits of their relationship, and David’s daughters Molly and Maeve fill out their lovely family.

Yesterday they made a new beginning, “[giving] themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands and the giving and receiving of rings” (BCP 428).

They have already begun well, and they will find every day offers an opportunity to begin again, to recommit themselves to their life together.

Continued

David invited local musician Will Sprott of The Mumlers to sing a few songs for the guests who gathered for yesterday’s ceremony.

When Will sang, “Your friends say I’m a dog,” David’s brothers chuckled, but when the verse continued, “… and I just want to stay here with you,” I could see how Anna and David moved even closer to one another.

Staying put is the countercultural and the spiritual heart of marriage.

Staying with one person, “forsaking all others,” continuing to be faithful, is something that runs counter to the personal freedom that our society really values.

Promising to stay put, and choosing daily to stay with just one person in the face of 5 billion other options, is a strange thing to do.

I have always found it intriguing that the prayers for the couple in the marriage service were written by a monk of the Society of St. John the Evangelist.

Monks and nuns make the same basic promise to stay put — it’s often called a vow of stability — and living each day under that promise is a key part of their growth into spiritual maturity.

For most of the rest of us, marriage is the place where that spiritual growth will happen, where dealing with one person every day rubs our rough places smooth and offers us the opportunity to become more mature.

Ended

That maturity is one of the key ends, or goals, of marriage.

In the final blessing over the couple, the priest prays “that they may so love, honor, and cherish each other in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that their home may be a haven of blessing and peace” (BCP 431).

Beginning with the promise of faithfulness, continuing in the daily discipline of staying put, marriage also builds in the couple (we pray) “such fulfillment of … mutual affection that they may reach out in love and concern for others” (BCP 429).

Along with the building of a home, a haven of blessing and peace where each person can grow and mature, another end of marriage is outward-looking care for others.

Anna and David’s family and friends testify to the love and care they already give so freely, and we pray that what they have begun anew will continue to bear fruit to the end.

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In the presence of the Lord

Mary Magdalene announcing the resurrection to the apostles (c. 1123).
St. Albans Psalter, St Godehard’s Church, Hildesheim.

The Lord watches over the innocent;
I was brought very low, and he helped me.

Turn again to your rest, O my soul,
for the Lord has treated you well.

For you have rescued my life from death,
my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.

I will walk in the presence of the Lord
in the land of the living.

(Psalm 116:5-8)

The Collect for today tells us that Mary Magdalene was “restored … to health of body and of mind” and “called to be a witness of [Jesus’] resurrection” (BCP 242).

What does it mean to be a witness of the resurrection but simply to speak of Jesus’ living presence in your life?

Mary Magdalene was the first to do that, telling the apostles that Jesus had risen and she had seen him. Each of us today is likewise to speak of what Jesus’ living presence means to us.

How has Jesus’ presence restored you — rescued your life from death, your eyes from tears, your feet from stumbling?

Follow Mary Magdalene’s example and speak simply about your walk in the presence of the Lord.

Beloved

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The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)

I received an email a couple weeks ago from a young woman asking to be baptized at St. Thomas, the parish I serve in the Diocese of Fond du Lac.

She did not grow up in a religious household, but she has pursued deeper and deeper spiritual engagement and is now led to make a mature commitment to Christianity.

In the Daily Office readings this morning, I couldn’t help reflecting on her request as I read about Peter’s vision regarding the Gentiles. When he arrived at Cornelius’ house, he saw that the Holy Spirit had come into their lives, too. He asks, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing from those who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47).

This young woman knows that the Spirit is in her life, and that Spirit is moving her to make a public act of faith.

Jesus himself makes the same public act in this evening’s reading from “the beginning of the good news” according to Mark.

The Spirit is surely already present in the life of the Son of God, just as the Spirit “proceeds from the Father” — Jesus does not need baptism in order to receive the Spirit, but the Spirit moves him to reveal his identity in a public way.

And what is that identity? “You are my Son, the Beloved,” says the voice from heaven; “with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).

All of us who are baptized into the Body of Christ share in his identity as Beloved.

I look forward to the day — soon, I expect — when we will welcome another Beloved daughter into the fellowship of Christ’s Body.

Where is your charity directed?

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. (Acts 9:36-41)

About a year after graduating from college (almost 25 years ago now), I got a job at Cathedral Shelter of Chicago, one of the Episcopal Charities of the Diocese of Chicago.

I didn’t know it, but I had walked into the middle of an ongoing dispute between the executive director (I was his assistant) and the board of directors over the future direction of the agency.

The dispute boiled down to whether Cathedral Shelter should emphasize programs like its Christmas Basket distribution, very popular with suburban parishes, or seek state funding to expand its residential halfway house for recovering addicts. In the fallout of the disagreement, my boss was let go (and I went with him, three months after I had been hired).

As you can see from the Cathedral Shelter website, their inpatient addiction treatment program was recognized as “Best of Chicago” from 2008-2011. They continue to offer the popular Christmas Basket program, but it’s listed third among their programs and services.

Peter doesn’t know it, but he’s about to turn the same corner. He will meet Cornelius in tomorrow morning’s reading, and his experience will raise a question of emphasis.

Should the Jewish believers in the Way continue to focus only on themselves and on helping through acts of charity like those exemplified by Dorcas?

Or will the new church have to also embrace the much harder road of reconciling Jew and Gentile, proclaiming more broadly the saving love of Jesus Christ and incorporating people who will stretch and test their capabilities?

It’s not an all-or-nothing choice, but a new emphasis that will take the church in many new directions and shape its mission profoundly.

At the heart of that decision, however, is Peter — the faithful disciple who not only “gave her his hand and helped her up” (Acts 9:41), but also proclaimed “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34).

The righteous shall gather

Holy Week Manual

Plate from An American Holy Week Manual, Second Edition (1958)
by the Society of St. John the Evangelist

Listen to my cry for help, for I have been brought very low; *
save me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me. 
Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your Name; *
when you have dealt bountifully with me, the righteous will gather around me. 

(Psalm 142:6-7)

Psalmody and Simony

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Seven times a day do I praise you, *
because of your righteous judgments. 
Great peace have they who love your law; *
for them there is no stumbling block. 
I have hoped for your salvation, O LORD, *
and have fulfilled your commandments. 
I have kept your decrees *
and I have loved them deeply. 
I have kept your commandments and decrees, *
for all my ways are before you. (Psalm 119:164-168)

This verse from Psalm 119 is behind the Benedictine rule of daily prayer in the monasteries — seven times of prayer which since the 6th century or so have been known as Matins, Lauds, Terce, Sext, Nones, Vespers, and Compline.

The Benedictine round of prayer is a workmanlike approach to prayer. Each office is relatively short, all 150 psalms are appointed to be read in the course of every week, and there is only minor variation from day to day, season to season, year to year.

The Daily Office in our Book of Common Prayer definitely springs from that Benedictine tradition. The fruits of the Daily Office are revealed only after long use and steady practice. It takes time for the words of the Psalms and of the rest of Scripture to soak into your mind and heart, time and repetition. I’ve been saying the Daily Office regularly for 20 years now, and I’m only getting started.

Now contrast this with the story appointed for today from the Acts of the Apostles, the story of Simon the magician.

Simon was a magician who did deeds of power in Samaria, but when he saw the disciples and their faith he turned to the Lord and was baptized. Apparently, however, he and the other Samaritans who were baptized did not receive the Holy Spirit, so Peter and John came down to lay hands on them. “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.'” (Acts 8:18-19).

It’s from this man Simon that we get the word simony, which means making a profit out of sacred things or buying and selling a position in the Church. The word really comes from the Middle Ages, when the wealthy would buy a bishopric or buy a position as abbot for a family member.

The gift of the Spirit is just that, a gift, and you can’t buy it. And the fruits of the Spirit are revealed over time, too — you can’t just leap to the end state.

I’ll bring it back to the Daily Office with an example.

There are several very marvelous iPhone apps that make saying the Daily Office much easier. My favorite is the app (and website) by Forward Movement called Day by Day. Just open the app or the website, click on Daily Prayer, and the office unfolds before you — no fussing with ribbons or bookmarks, no worrying about whether you’ve picked the right collect. Just click and pray.

Here’s the thing, though. The app makes it easy, but you still have to actually pray.

You still have to put in the time in order to give the Word a chance to soak in. So be like Simon — eager for the gift of the Spirit — but don’t be like Simon in his haste to skip over the work.

Unshakable witness

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“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. (Acts 7:56-60)

The Seven — commonly called the first deacons — were appointed by the apostles to ensure that the ministries of care and preaching were extended to the Greek-speaking as well as the Hebrew-speaking Christians (Acts 6). Stephen was not running a soup kitchen; he was preaching the Word. His preaching having landed him in hot water with the council in Jerusalem, he also became the first Christian to die because of his faith.

Stephen is the prototype for those who trust completely in God’s assurance of salvation, who do not even fear death. That unshakable faith is probably one of the reasons that following the naming of the Seven, “the word of God continued to spread, the number of the disciples increased greatly, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).

Many icons of Stephen show the Church resting in his arms. Stephen saw Jesus face to face, and the Church must forever rest on the unshakable faith of witnesses (martyrs) like him.