Monthly Archives: December 2013

Holy Innocents

Photo by REUTERS

Photo by REUTERS

A Song of Creation (Canticle 12 – BCP 88)
Appointed for use on Saturday mornings

Glorify the Lord, all you works of the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
In the firmament of his power, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Did the government agents knock down the doors in Bethlehem early on a Sabbath morning, when they knew families would be at home?

Glorify the Lord, O beasts of the wild, *
and all you flocks and herds.
O men and women everywhere, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Did the soldiers kill children indiscriminately — under two years? over two years? After all, as crusading abbot Arnaud Almaric said 12 centuries later, “kill them all; for the Lord knoweth them that are his!”

Let the people of God glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
Glorify the Lord, O priests and servants of the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Did the next-door neighbors hear anything? Did families with older children or elders with no children at home comfort themselves with the thought that if the police came to their houses, those other families must have done something wrong?

Glorify the Lord, O spirits and souls of the righteous, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
You that are holy and humble of heart, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Do we shut our ears to the cries of mothers whose innocent children are killed? Do we draw away when our neighbors are visited by the police? Do we comfort ourselves with the thought that at least we’ve done nothing wrong?

Holy Innocents

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 238)

Daily his delight

Icon of the Beloved Disciple from Mt. Angel Abbey

Icon of the Beloved Disciple from Mt. Angel Abbey – the inscription reads “My heart and my flesh cry out: O God, O living God!”

When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always.
(Proverbs 8:27-30)

Powerful Seeking

John’s gospel shines with both power and intimacy.

Jesus crackles with energy, turning water into wine, driving the moneychangers from the Temple, confounding learned and pious Nicodemus, speaking with a foreign woman, and healing with a word (whether the beggar by the pool wants it or not). And that’s only in the first five chapters of the story.

Jesus’ power radiates as clearly as his love and concern for people.

The man born blind, healed by Jesus’ touch and by a compress of mud (how like God’s own touch, forming mud and clay into the first human), is driven out of the synagogue by the religious leaders. But the story doesn’t end there, and John provides the key to understanding it fully.

“Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he had found him …” (John 9:35).

Jesus the power of God, whom John has come to understand is the same Word who was with God in the beginning, seeks out those who are hurting in order to effect their healing. He seeks out those who are estranged in order to effect their reconciliation.

As Reynolds Price writes in Incarnation: Contemporary Writers on the New Testament, the Gospel of John “says in the clearest voice we have the sentence that mankind craves from stories — The Maker of all things loves and wants me.”

Intimate Sending

John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, writes from a position of intimate knowledge. It is he who reclines next to Jesus at the Last Supper.

From within that close embrace, John sees both the betrayal Jesus suffers and the love that he demonstrates in washing the disciples’ feet and sending them out to serve one another.

Because today’s Feast of St. John falls on a Friday, in Morning Prayer we have the added poignancy of the Prayer for Mission that captures this intimate sending:

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. (BCP 101)

Daily His Delight

Jesus, the Word of God, was with God at creation and was “daily his delight.” At the Incarnation, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).

John, the Beloved Disciple, who was close to Jesus’ heart and “daily his delight,” wrote his Gospel “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

And you? The disciple whom Jesus loves?

You who have come within the reach of Jesus’ saving embrace and are “daily his delight,” how will you reach forth your hands in love to bring those who do not know Jesus into the knowledge and love of him?

Pattern and strength

Choir of King's College, Cambridge

Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Wherever the service is heard and however it is adapted, whether the music is provided by choir or congregation, the pattern and strength of the service, as Dean Milner-White pointed out, derive from the lessons and not the music. ‘The main theme is the development of the loving purposes of God …’ seen ‘through the windows and the words of the Bible’. Local interests appear, as they do here, in the Bidding Prayer; and personal circumstances give point to different parts of the service. Many of those who took part in the first service must have recalled those killed in the Great War when it came to the famous passage ‘all those who rejoice with us, but on another shore and in a greater light’. The centre of the service is still found by those who ‘go in heart and mind’ and who consent to follow where the story leads. (From the program of the 2013 service)


Let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious Redemption brought us by this Holy Child; and let us make this Chapel, dedicated to Mary, his most blessèd Mother, glad with our carols of praise. (From the program for the 2013 service)

Though the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols as celebrated at King’s College, Cambridge is an elaborate feast of sight and sound, its pattern is clear to anyone familiar with the Daily Office.

After an opening prayer, the main body of the Lessons and Carols service consists of nine readings from Scripture carefully chosen to tell “the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious redemption brought us by the Holy Child.”

Interspersed between the lessons are musical responses — carols and hymns — in place of the canticles we use in the Offices day by day.

The service of Lessons and Carols, like the Daily Offices, concludes with collects appropriate for the season.

Though the Festival of Lessons and Carols was planned in 1918 out of Dean Eric Milner-White’s felt need for “more imaginative worship,” its roots in the Prayer Book pattern of Morning and Evening Prayer are deep and nourishing.


The collects which conclude the service of Lessons and Carols, like the collects in the Daily Office, rehearse our “sure and certain hope” in the resurrection:

O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thy only son, Jesus Christ: Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him, when he shall come to be our judge; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

O God, who by his incarnation gathered into one things earthly and heavenly, grant you the fullness of inward peace and goodwill, and make you partakers of the divine nature; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.

In the strength of Christ we find not only rest but nourishment for service.

I’m weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ, the apple tree.

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ, the apple tree. 

Further thoughts on hope

Anchor - Rattle Your Bones - Group

The local paper’s front page story today is a feature on Advent and the themes of Peace, Joy, Hope, and Love.

I was interviewed on the subject of hope, and here are few more thoughts on the subject.

Hope springs from knowing you’re not alone, from receiving help given by those who have been through difficulty, and from sharing what has helped you with other people.

The Episcopal Church’s “Daily Office” – our Morning and Evening Prayer – nourishes hope by joining people into a prayer tradition shared by Christians around the world and by the communion of saints through the centuries. I write this blog to help people practice this particular form of daily prayer.

I participate in recovery groups, where people help those who are in trouble by sharing what has worked for their own healing. In many cases, recovery involves working with a sponsor, whose personal concern builds hope and reassures us that we are not alone.

Through organizations like NAMI Fox Valley and the Littlest Tumor Foundation, which my wife and I support, people learn they are not alone in their fears — whether about mental illness or about tumors in children — and they receive comfort from other families who face the same struggles.

The people of St. Thomas Church in Menasha, WI — where I serve as deacon — generously share their faith in Jesus, their hope in the resurrection, and their experience of healing with newcomers and people in the wider community, and they invite people to join them in reaching out in care and concern through ministries like the Double Portion meal.

I think hope is something you do, perhaps even more than something you have. Participating in Christ’s risen life — through prayer, study, fellowship, and service — builds and strengthens and nourishes hope in us, and we in our turn build up, strengthen, and encourage one another to live in hope.

NAMI Fox Valley

Littlest Tumor Foundation

St. Thomas Church


Sure and Steadfast Anchor


I’m being interviewed this morning by the local newspaper on the subject of Advent and the theme of “hope.”

The title of this blog comes from Hebrews 6:19 — “We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” Our hope, of course, is Christ.

In the season of Advent, particularly, we focus on the hope of the resurrection and look forward to the coming kingdom of God.

More generally, though, I think hope springs from knowing you’re not alone, from receiving help given by those who have been through difficulty, and from sharing what has helped you with other people.

I’ll talk with the reporter today about my parish, about local nonprofit organizations I work with and support, about recovery groups, and about other places where people find (and give) hope.

Where do you find hope? Where do you give hope to others?



Temple and Empire: Sermon for 3 Advent

Christ and John the Baptist from

Christ and John the Baptist from

Temple and Empire

 “From the days of John the Baptist until now
the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,
and the violent take it by force” (Matt. 11:12)

 Advent is not about waiting for Christmas; it’s about waiting for the kingdom of heaven to come. Advent is the season when we join the fight and look forward to the kingdom come.

It’s no coincidence that we read from the Book of Revelation at the Daily Office during Advent. It’s about longing for the Temple to fall and anticipating the day when the Empire will collapse.

In the biblical story the Temple, according to John Dally, professor of theology and culture at Bexley Seabury, stands for religion and purity over against the relationship that God desires with his creatures – symbolized by the Garden of Eden and by the table fellowship between Jesus and his disciples.

Empire is every impulse of violence that crushes human beings for monetary gain or personal pride. In the biblical story, the people of Israel contend against both the Babylonian and the Roman empires, and they are consistently urged to remember the poor and the needy.

Today we have made religion into a violent battle about belief, with the same rigid purity codes, exclusionary rhetoric, and shame-based culture that Jesus fought against. We keep trying to rebuild the Temple. And the constant splintering of denominations – Orthodox against Roman, Protestant against Catholic, some 24,000 Christian denominations in America today — betrays the violence at the heart of our dealings with each other.

Today we can live heedless of the suffering of billions of people around the world because we belong to the only remaining superpower – we are the only Empire left in the globalized First World. We play with electronic toys or watch flat-screen TVs or buy Christian consumer goods made overseas in sweatshop conditions, we send unmanned drones around the world to kill people (guilty, innocent, who cares?) just like in a video game, and we put children into jail on minor charges for profit.

Both Jesus and John the Baptist fought against Temple and Empire throughout their short lives. Advent is the season when we join the fight and look forward to the kingdom come.

John the Baptist

John is near the end of his life.

He has been taken by force, bound, and imprisoned in Herod’s jail. His judgment against King Herod (and more importantly, Herod’s adultery with his brother’s wife Herodias) has put him in the prison of the Roman Empire’s puppet state.

He sends a question to Jesus by his disciples: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Jesus replies: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

That’s not much help.

John has been preaching the message his father sang at his birth:

This was the oath [God] swore to our father Abraham,
to set us free from the hands of our enemies
Free to worship him without fear
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our lives

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins. (Luke 1:68-79)

Though his ministry has focused on preaching repentance and baptizing people for the forgiveness of their sins, surely in the back of John’s mind is also the promise of freedom in Zechariah’s song, that God’s people would be “free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship him without fear all the days of our life.”

From the perspective of his jail cell, as he lies there in the hands of the Empire, John must not get much comfort from Jesus’ healing ministry or his preaching against the Temple religion.


Jesus is near the beginning of his ministry.

He answers John’s question by pointing to the breaking in of the kingdom of God:  “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Jesus’ life and ministry are focused on subverting the Temple and its righteousness codes – depending on which Gospel you read, in fact, he has already overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple (or he will before long).

Dally suggests that Jesus takes the architecture of the Temple as the map of the people he will minister to – to those excluded at every stage. In the Holy of Holies, it’s only the High Priest and only once a year; in the Court of the Priests, it’s only the Levitical priests; in the Court of the Israelites, it’s only men; in the Court of the Women, it’s everybody but Gentiles, lepers and Nazirites.

The Ethiopian eunuch from the Book of Acts, baptized by the Apostle Philip as one of the first Gentile converts to the Way, wouldn’t even have been able to get into the Court of the Gentiles – the bazaar where the souvenir shops and the moneychangers were.

The healing Jesus points to in his answer to John is possible only because he goes out of his way to associate with the blind, the lame, the deaf – and especially ritually impure women and unclean lepers, Samaritan women and the undeserving poor.

In his focus on overturning the Temple religion, Jesus has not yet begun to fulfill his mother’s song, the Magnificat we just said together:

He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty. (Luke 1:46-55)

 Mary’s vision has to do with the overturning of the powerful – the proud, the mighty, the rich – but it won’t be long before the religious leaders use the power of the Empire to have Jesus put to death on the cross like a common criminal.

Without Fear

Today in Herod’s jail, the criminal John the Baptist is one of those people Isaiah describes “who are of a fearful heart.”

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

The prophet Isaiah reassures the people of Israel:

Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you. (Isaiah 35:4)

But Jesus doesn’t seem to be taking charge here. He doesn’t seem to be overthrowing anybody. In fact, John is still in jail and will be beheaded before much longer.

Jesus’ answer is not a direct response to the power of Empire, but it points at the hope of God’s kingdom, which is already coming into the world.

It’s not here yet – Empire and Temple still hold their power over people’s lives – but it’s coming and nothing will stop it.

How will you join the fight?

Advent is not about waiting for Christmas;
it’s about waiting for the kingdom of heaven to come. 

Advent is the season when we join the fight
and look forward to the kingdom come.

 How will you fight against Empire in this relentlessly commercial season? How will you fight against our culture, which engages in a war on the poor rather than on the businesses and policies that keep them in poverty? How will you work to keep people out of the literal prisons we build with private corporations – and with occupancy quotas that local governments have to meet?

How will you fight against the building of the Temple in this religious season? How will you fight against the judgmental attitude that sneers at “Christmas and Easter” worshippers or takes offense when someone wishes you “Happy Holidays”? How will you work to respect the dignity of every human being – Christian or not? How will you demonstrate that you are “so clothed in Christ’s spirit that you reach out your arms of love to bring everyone into his saving embrace”?

How will you practice repentance and forgiveness at holiday gatherings and with difficult family members? How will you, like John, preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to a world – and people like you and me – so desperately in need of them?

How will you practice self-giving in a season of consumer frenzy and self-centeredness? How will you, like Jesus, give your comfortable life away in order to heal people and bring them into fellowship – even if it means giving up your own power, your own privilege?

Advent is not about waiting for Christmas;
it’s about waiting for the kingdom of heaven to come.

Advent is the season when we join the fight
and look forward to the kingdom come.

20 minutes with Derek Olsen

Richard Mammana, Jr. interviews Derek Olsen today in The Living Church.

I cannot praise Derek’s work highly enough. I commend his blog haligweorc (he explains the name in the article) to anyone wanting solid food on the subject of liturgical spirituality. He is, to use his own words, “a tireless advocate for the Book of Common Prayer and the spirituality embedded within it.”

I also recommend that if you don’t want to pray the Daily Office “old school” with bookmarks and ribbons, you use the Forward Movement Daily Prayer website or iOS app — both of which are built on the backbone of Derek’s St. Bede’s Breviary.