Sunday News for Jan. 7, 2018

Sunday News Jan. 7

Sunday News for December 31, 2017

Sunday News Dec. 31

January 2018 Newsletter

January 2018 – electronic

Christmas Day Sermon by The Rev. Cameron O’Riley 2017 “The Theology of Buddy and Bonheoffer”

One evening, not too terribly long ago, I needed to jump start my Christmas spirit. So, I curled up into the corner of the couch with a blanket and a freshly brewed cup of coffee and settled in for a few mindless hours with Netflix. I was maybe a fourth of the way into my chosen flick, when my friend Amy called. “Whatcha’ doin’?” she inquired. “Oh just watching a stupid Christmas movie.” “Is it one of those where in the end they get everything they ever wanted including the guy?” Embarrassed to have been caught watching such sappy smaltz, I replied “Yes. Plenty of unrealistic holiday angst and cheer complete with snow on Christmas Day and a ‘foot popping kiss’ in the last thirty minutes.” “Not gonna happen” she said. “I know.”

We all have our favorite Christmas movies, the ones we watch year after year – holiday staples if you will. Movies that bring friends and families together, even give us common ground for small talk with strangers. Films that inspire us, make us laugh, or bring us to tears. And sometimes, they remind us of what Christmas is all about – capturing the timeless story of hope and joy and love and the birth of a child.

These reminders make their appearance in the most obvious of ways like in a Charlie Brown Christmas or a beloved rendition of the Christmas Carol. Others can be found in the classics of White Christmas or It’s a Wonderful Life. Or perhaps, you find such meaning in more modern films like Love Actually or Family Stone. Yet at times, the meaning of Christmas creeps in, in the most unlikely places of all.

Enter Buddy the Elf, who traveled the seven levels of the candy cane forest, journeyed through the sea of twirly whirly gum drops, and finally sped through the Lincoln Tunnel and straight into our hearts with exclamations of “Santa, I know him!” Buddy is a man of great joy, filled with a tremendous amount of belief and wonder, which he extols to all whom he encounters. He finds joy in riding the elevator and lighting up the buttons in the shape of Christmas tree. He shows us the proper way to greet someone is to tell them your name and then ask their favorite color. But perhaps most of all, he likes to smile. “Smiling’s my favorite” he says. And he reminds us to never overlook the opportunity to show affection and give someone a hug. Buddy’s life lessons are full of genuineness, but there is one lesson in particular I find most memorable and applicable to the gospel lesson we hear today. It even ranks number three in the Code of Elves! “The best way to spread Christmas Cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” I’ll say it once more just to make sure you heard it, “The best way to spread Christmas Cheer is singing out loud for all to hear.”

In a world that so often pushes past joy and excitement and focuses on the negative or the next best thing, we’ve simply shut down and let the extraordinary become ordinary. Buddy invites us to be present in the here and now and take the risk of spreading cheer. Imagine if we were able to bring Buddy’s level of wonder and amazement to our encounter with God. What would it be like were we to respond with such enthusiasm not only this Christmas morning, but throughout the entire year “Jesus, I know him!”

We see in today’s lesson various styles of processing information. The shepherd’s talk it out, and are spontaneous in their reaction. As soon as they see Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger, the shepherds make known what has been told them and all are amazed. And then upon leaving the holy family, they praise and glorify God for all they have seen and heard! They can’t contain, they just have to tell someone and immediately engage others in the conversation. Yet Mary treasures all these words and ponders them in her heart. She demonstrates the merits of feeling as well as thinking it out. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Mary in this state.

Just yesterday morning, Advent 4, we heard the reading which precedes this one in which the Angel Gabriel appears and announces an impending and miraculous birth. But Mary doesn’t freak out, she is perplexed! She’s thinking, trying to understand clearly. It’s a bit confusing to be honest. Yet she sings her fearless song-responding to her unique call with faith and trust- let it be with me as it pleases God she says. Nothing is impossible with God and “while it doesn’t mean God will do anything and everything” it does mean that today through the humble birth of Jesus all other things become possible. So yes, Mary clings to what has happened. She continues to ponder the events and the words…the angel Gabriel’s visitation, her visit with Elizabeth, the journey to Bethlehem, giving birth in a stable, of the shepherds’ visit, and on and on.

Our engagement with Mary points us to the Christ child, and ultimately helps us to see with greater clarity the many dimensions possible as we engage with this new born babe. She models for us learned compassion, and an ability to listen often and listen deeply. Mary becomes a means for us to discover and more fully understand our nuanced relationship with God so that we can in turn share that message with others. Through quietly listening and observing, we are able to inwardly digest and then outwardly respond according to God’s will. Our relationship with God and our faithfulness to the teachings of his Son is a relationship which must be continually sought after and nurtured faithfully.

Theologian, Dietrich Bonheoffer spent two years in prison for his vocal opposition to Hitler’s anti-Semitic rhetoric. While there, he corresponded with family and friends, pastored to fellow prisoners, and reflected on the meaning of “Jesus Christ for today.” In a letter to his friend Eberhard Bethage in 1944, Bonheoffer speaks of our relationship to God in terms of a fixed song, a cantus firmus. That is a pre-existing melody that forms the basis for a multi-voiced composition. While there are “twists in pitch and style, counterpoint and refrain,” the fixed song is “the enduring melody, not always in the forefront, but always playing somewhere within the composition.”

In essence, what Bonheoffer says is this: “God the Eternal, wants to be loved with our whole heart, not to the detriment of earthly love or to diminish it, but as a sort of [fixed song] to which the other voices of life resound in counterpoint. Where the [song] is clear and distinct, a counterpoint can develop as mightily as it wants. The two are undivided yet distinct…like the divine and human natures of Christ. Only this [multi-voiced composition] gives your life wholeness, and you know that no disaster can befall you as long as the [song] continues…Have confidence in the [fixed song].” (Women, Wisdom and Witness, p. 23-24)

This Christmastide, see the extraordinary in the ordinary, wonder in amazement at God and God’s marvelous works. Perhaps in so doing, we will learn to grab hold of these precious moments, ponder them in our hearts, and hold them in our hands before the memory of them flies away. Willingly and with an open heart, cling tightly to the song of God as it flows over and around us listening intently for what speaks of joy, what our souls are praying over and over, and how the light is shining in the darkness. Unto us is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah the Lord. It is in this we find our tune, and join in the chorus spreading Christmas cheer singing out loud for all to hear.

Christmas Eve Sermon by The Rev. Stephen Smith 2017

The Rev. Stephen Smith Christmas Eve 2017
St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Dublin, Ohio

One of my favorite cartoonists was Doug Marlette. He was the political cartoonist for the Atlanta Constitution and then the Charlotte Observer, until his death in a car crash in 2007. Like many political cartoonists, he also created a daily comic strip. His was called Kudzu. The strip took place in By-pass Mississippi, and the main character was Kudzu DuBois, a sixteen-year-old boy with all the issues and problems that sixteen-year-old boys have. Kudzu’s best friend was a short, portly, nerdy looking boy named Nasal T. Lardbottom. And their spiritual advisor was the pastor at Bypass Baptist Church, the Rev. Will B. Dunn, a cowboy-boot sporting, tobacco chewing, and broad-brimmed hat wearing man of God.

Obviously, the comic strip had a southern feel. It did not find a home in newspapers up north, but when I was in seminary back in the 1980s it did not matter if I was reading the newspaper from Atlanta, Nashville or Chattanooga, Kudzu was always at the top of the comics page.

One December I remember a series the Kudzu strip ran. Apparently Nasal T. Lardbottom was having an attack of teenager hormones. He was found doing the “Shimmy” on top of the Card-Catalogue in the library, while listening to Van Halen music and shouting “Girls, Girls, Girls.” He was brought before the student council to determine an appropriate punishment for such lascivious behavior.

The council decreed that since he had so besmirched the reputation of Bypass High School, henceforth he would be required to wear a bag over his head with the letter “H” on it, so that decent people might shun him.

So, for the next few weeks Doug Marlette milked this story for all it was worth. There would be a panel showing Nasal sitting all by himself in the lunch room, with everyone else at the tables crowded against the far wall away from him. He would be sitting at the front of class with the teacher at the far end of the blackboard, and all the other students crowded against the back wall.

The local BBQ refused to serve him, and the Piggly Wiggly grocery store no longer redeemed his coupons, not even on double coupon day.

Finally, on Christmas Eve, Nasal seeks solace at Church. As he enters, still with the bag over his head, everyone screams and rushes out of the Church. But they gather around the windows to look in. Because everyone wants to see what the Rev. Will B. Dunn will do with this situation.

The Reverend marches up the pulpit steps and puts a bag on his head with the letter “H” printed on it and says, “Nasal, unto us a child is born.”

Great theology, and form a cartoon. No matter who we are, “unto us a child is born.”

Now I hesitated to use this story because the bad guy in it is pretty lame. Let’s face it, Nasal T. Lardbottom doing the shimmy on the card catalogue while listening to Van Halen and shouting “Girls, Girls, Girls,” is not all that bad. So, yes unto him a child is born.

There are people so much worse than Nasal, like the man who shot his supervisor at the Dublin post office yesterday and then the postmaster outside her apartment. Recently, we have heard so much about those who abuse their power to take advantage of others, from Harvey Weinstein to Matt Lauer, and so many others. There are those who try manipulating racism and fundamentalist Christianity for the sake of political power. We see violence and war perpetuated by the powerful against the lowly. We fear the onslaught of war from a madman in North Korea.

Yesterday I heard a woman from the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests (also known as SNAP) say that she hoped the doors of hell would swing wide to let in the recently deceased Cardinal Bernard Law, the man who conspired to hide priestly abuse of children for years.

There is no shortage of horrible people. There are plenty of villains. Do the angels say to them, “Unto you a child is born.”
In a word, “yes.”

By coming into the world as a vulnerable, little baby, God declares God’s love for us; all of us. Even if it means that horrible people will visit their violence on that baby Jesus when he grows to be a man. Still, God bestows favor upon us. When the Angels say, Peace, good will to all whom God favors, they are not picking and choosing. God favors this one, but not that one. Rather, it is blanket statement meant for all humanity. Because God comes to all humanity, therefore all humanity are recipients of God’s favor.

What we forget is that when God declares God’s love for us, or bestows favor upon us, it is does not mean that we deserve it. And it certainly does not mean that God now excuses our bad behavior, or that our behavior has no consequences. Rather, God is saying, in essence, “let me help you with that. Let’s see what we can do to turn your life around.”

Maybe a good way to explain this comes from my experience nearly 20 years ago when I was summoned to jury duty. I wore my collar, to be honest, in hopes it would get me out of serving. But the very first day I reported to duty I was called into a courtroom to be interviewed for serving on a jury. The prosecuting attorney did not waste any time. Seeing my collar, she immediately homed in on me and said, “Reverend Smith, you’re in the forgiveness business, am I right?”
“That’s correct,” I replied.

“How will that affect your serving on a jury?” she asked.
I thought for a moment and said, “Forgiveness does not take away the consequences of our actions. Instead it helps allow the love of God to support us as we try to face those consequences and amend our lives.”

“I have no problem with this juror,” the prosecutor said. Meanwhile, the defense attorney was looking much paler.

The world is a messed-up place. It would be so much easier if we could pick and choose who the bad guys are, and who we could write off; who is deserving of God’s favor, and who should be cast into the depths of hell; who is right, and who is to be shunned for their wrong actions, their wrong beliefs. We certainly use that kind of language in our politics these days.

But God comes to us all. Unto all of us, a child is born. And God comes in hopes that some who must face the consequences of their horrible behavior may actually be changed.

God comes to us, God favors us with his presence, not because we are all that good, but because God hopes and works for our transformation. After all, without God it is a vicious circle, of hate and war, revenge, and violence.

But with God there is hope, that even those we describe as horrible, evil, our enemies, can be transformed.

If we did not believe this transformation was possible then why are we doing prison ministry?

So, whether we are Caesar Augustus in power and luxury, or the unnamed shepherds in the fields, unto us a child is born.

Whether we are people who have made poor choices which we regret harmed others, or people who tried our whole lives to live as virtuously as possible, unto us a child is born.

Whether we are the perpetrators of evil and abuse who deserve to face the consequences of our actions and amend our lives, or the victims of violence and abuse who need the healing love of God, unto us a child is born.

Peace, good will to all whom God favors. And God favors us all, for unto us a child is born.

Advent 3 Sermon by the Rev. L. Cameron O’Riley

I wonder what hopes and fears you carry with you today as we mark this third week of Advent. You may have noticed the four posters in the parish hall each noting a different theme of Advent. We started the season Staying Awake waiting in eager anticipation, then moved to being prepared for the arrival foretold, and now at the top of this week’s poster are written the words “Do not be afraid” which then further invites us to consider what it is we need to stop fearing in our lives. In general, we are familiar with the readings from Christmas. In the Gospel of Matthew, an angel appears to Joseph and tells him “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” In the Gospel of Luke, an angel first appears to Mary and says to her “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” And then, “there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night” when “an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them. ‘Do not be afraid; for see- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.’”

But the first chapter of the Gospel of John, nestled deep in the middle of Advent, does not offer us a familiar telling of Jesus’ birth. There is no young family trekking their way to Bethlehem weary from their travels because of decreeing emperors, no grumpy innkeepers, or swaddled babies lying in unsanitary mangers. Rather John uses curious language, suggestive of holy mystery in the prologue that leads to today’s reading. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” It is this new light, this new life-light, that John the Baptist bares witness to crying out from the darkened wilderness.

Do you remember being afraid of the dark? Maybe you still are. Recall with me, if you will, being tucked in, the pillow fluffed, the blankets pulled up tight. You’ve been given a final drink of water, and under threat it will not be pretty if you get up again, the light is turned out. And then it begins. The wind outside gusts and the tree branches rattle and scrape up against the window pane. The house creaks and moans as it settles in the winter cold. Your senses are heightened attuned to each noise and dancing shadow. What if there’s a nightmare in my closet, or an alligator under my bed? Did I close the garage door? Are all the windows locked? It’s natural for us to fear what we cannot see, what we don’t know, or understand. Being scared of the dark is a fear we prepare for. We plug in a fun nightlight and grab hold of a comfort item seeking to significantly reduce bedtime fears and improve sleep.

When I was very little, I had a patchwork blanket with a satin edge that I’d rub on my nose as I sucked my thumb to self-soothe. And then when I was six, I traded that blanket for a Bear. I stopped sucking my thumb, the blanket made me do it I’d said, but I still needed something to hold onto. Bear never left home for fear something would happen to him. Someone would take him, or I would lose him somewhere. So when I went to spend the night with a friend or away to camp, I would take my Glo-friend, a little skunk-bug. These various bugs were miniature versions of Playskools larger Glo-worm, a battery-operated doll that would gently light and play lullabies when squeezed. My little Glo-bug wasn’t the light. It simply absorbed the ambient light and reflected the light which had surrounded it. But, the smallest light can make us feel protected and more grounded. When we let a little light in, our vision is partially restored. In the context of our faith, we often use shadows to help us define the divine light which encircles us. For most assuredly, darkness exists and getting lost in the wilderness happens, but the light of Christ will persist and prevail gripping the remotest and loneliest of the world. (Feasting on the Word-Advent, p. 140) It has to be completely dark to see my friend’s faint glow, and it disappears over time. Yet the birth of Jesus brings true light to the world that never fades, a light that is made all the more visible by the surrounding darkness. It can be helpful to keep in mind when the darkness seems to consume and is so very scary, the darkness does not come from a different place than light, nor is not presided over by a different God. God has been with both since the beginning. As in creation, darkness fades giving way to an awareness that the graciousness of God is breaking in all around us for that is where new life begins.

But keep alert! Sometimes in our fascination we become absorbed marveling at the reflected light. We come to see in the refractions ourselves as the source of the light within us and in the world around us. Beaming in self-importance. It is then that John appears all too aware of our human limitations, but also our possibilities to guide “us back to the road of true discipleship.” (New Proclamation 2008, p. 20) “John’s role is to recognize the true light when it appears, and to call attention to it so that others may recognize it and believe- that is, recognize, trust in, and commit themselves to the light.” (Feasting on the Word, p. 71) We are not the light and we do not have the ability to save the world, or answer the world’s deepest questions or solve its most intense problems for We are not the Messiah. We are Advent witnesses. Like a Glo-friend, we share the gift of light as a witness and testimony to the light. Christ is standing among us, even when we aren’t able to see it. The Good News is that Jesus still comes, still waits for us in ways that are so much greater than we could ever imagine even in our greatest darkness. (New Proclamation 2008, p. 20)

As eager as we may be to induce the arrival of Jesus and celebrate Christmas now, the baby isn’t ready yet. We aren’t ready yet. We still have some time in the dark left to go, cause it’s not all about the baby. It’s about seeing Christ ever present here and now in our own crazy and messed up lives.

May you find some time in this Advent darkness to discover the light that will lead you home. Do not be afraid, but walk confidently as a child of the light in hopeful expectation that others may see Christ in you.

Sunday News for Dec. 17

Sunday News Dec. 17

Advent 2 Sermon by the Rev Stephen Smith

 

Sunday News for Dec. 10

Sunday News Dec. 10

Advent One Sermon by the Rev. L. Cameron O’Riley

We welcome Advent today not joyfully, but with an initial sense of distress. The words and the pleas imparted through our readings continue to reach across time as the authors seek God’s intervention and restoration. “Isaiah has beseeched God to rend the heavens and come down. The Psalmist calls on God to restore the fortunes of God’s people. Paul speaks to a community that waits for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And in Mark’s “Little Apocalypse,” Jesus seems to warn “Be careful what you ask for.” (New Proclamation 2005)

The people are disheartened and lonely, yet express a sincere confidence that God can and will save them. As scary as it is, they call for God to make a spectacular entrance, an awesome display of unbridled vibrant power that scares our fears away and shows our enemies and us who’s in control. What a contrast to the gentle quiet God we envision coming into the world on a Silent Night in a stable bare. This is a raw plea, for a passionate God. So keep your eyes open and be on guard, because you know neither day nor the hour. And you don’t want to miss this!

Thomas Merton’s poem Earthquake best captures the spirit of this morning’s (Evening’s) readings. It can be found in a series entitled “Eight Freedom Songs,” written in 1966 in response to a special request in connection to the Christian Civil Rights movement. (The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton, pg. 670) I first learned of Earthquake in 2007 when the Concert Choir at my Alma Mater performed a musical adaptation by the inspired composer Gwyneth Walker. The lyrics are arranged into verse pairings, so the men’s voices are paired with, and answered by, the women’s voices. The alternation between them continues several times, with the revolving notes of the piece shifting up a step with each section of the poem. The modulations, or variations in vocal tone, are intended to increase the strength and intensity of the song, and thereby the voice of God. The hearer is carried along by the call for peace in the sections in which “pacem” is inserted to form bridges between the verses. The overall effect is both unified and dimensional. As Merton calls for the earth to shake “with marching feet of messengers of peace,” the singers bringing of peace becomes the means by which the people are brought together as one. (http://www.gwynethwalker.com/tellthee.html)
These are the words of Merton’s Earthquake:

Go tell the earth to shake
And tell the thunder
To wake the sky

And tear the clouds apart
Tell my people to come out
And wonder

Where the old world is gone
For a new world is born
And all my people
Shall be one

So tell the earth to shake
With marching feet

Of messengers of peace
Proclaim my law of love
To every nation
Every race.
For the old wrongs are over
The old days are gone
A new world is rising
where my people shall be one.

So tell the earth to shake
With marching feet
Of messengers of peace
Proclaim my law of love
To every nation
Every race.

And say
The old wrongs are over
The old ways are done
There shall be no more hate
And no more war
My people shall be one.

So tell the earth to shake
With marching feet
Of messengers of peace
Proclaim my law of love
To every nation
Every race.

For the old world is ended
The old sky is torn Apart.
A new day is born
They hate no more

They do not go to war
My people shall be one

So tell the earth to shake
With marching feet
Of messengers of peace
Proclaim my law of love
To every nation
Every race.

There shall be no more hate
And no more oppression
The old wrongs are done
My people shall be one.

Hearing these words, I wonder if such a world is possible given our proclivity to sin. As we mark the first week of Advent, we are beckoned into holy sobriety. To glance back and look forward, and ask of ourselves are we living as a people of hope believing and behaving as though there can be peace on earth. The splitting open of the heavens is exactly what we seek each Advent, recalling heavenly visitations of the past, angels spilling over heavens edge, God made manifest, and anticipating the magnificent return of Christ yet to come. We seek divine intervention, a revelation that what we believe is real, and we aren’t alone, that our suffering has not been for naught. “We seek signposts and roadmaps to help us find our way.” (New Proclamation, 2005) Perhaps even a fig tree or two. And what lesson were we to learn from the fig tree. Not long ago the tree was cursed, and now today it’s leafing and tender. But Life is found in the continuity of cycles, “in the flashes of grace and forgiveness we see every day.” (New Proclamation, 2012) It’s as sure as one season turning to another. One must end so that another may begin. Do not be anxious of life changes, Jesus’s words, the love of God, do not pass away. They are continual. “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)
The challenge then is to break open our hearts, so that we may be overcome with the peace and love of our awesome God. Then perhaps courageously and confidently, fully alert, we can Go and tell the earth to shake with marching feet as messengers of peace proclaiming God’s law of love to every nation, every race. In the bringing of peace, there is hope. Just you watch…We shall be one.

A Joyful Community of Faith