Category Archives: Sermon

July 28, 2019- Sermon for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Cameron O’Riley

Proper 12

Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13

You know how Father Stephen says, “We hear these stories every three years.” Or how after a weekend of deep diving into the Parable of the Prodigal Son at the Women’s retreat, I told y’all, “Don’t worry it will be three years before you hear this one again.”

Well, today is a perfect example of our lectionary cycle at work. On July 24, 2016, I preached one of my first sermons at St. Patrick’s on these very lessons.

That Sunday began a week of firsts. I had just finished my first St. Pat’s Vacation Bible School. My friend Christine came to visit and was my first guest in Ohio (who happens to be here today!). I celebrated my first Eucharist as a new priest at the Wednesday service. Only to culminate in my first celebration of a Sunday Eucharist at my first ever U2charist at my very first Irish festival.

Now that I think about it, that was a lot! But you know what? As scary and unsure as ALL of that was, someone had taught me these things. Someone guided the way. There was a foundation on which to rest this shaky beginning. The adults and youth who volunteered to teach Vacation Bible School when I was a child, provided the footings as they loved and nurtured me so that I might live a life rooted and built up in Christ, established in the faith, just as I was taught, abounding in thanksgiving much like today’s reading from Colossians suggests. My friends acted as sealant encouraging and supporting, keeping me humble, and being witnesses to the persistence. And all those teachers, ministers, and priests laid the first bricks influencing the way I engage in ministry with others. Sometimes I catch myself using their phrasing or mimicking their gestures, desiring in some way to have a faith like theirs.

We all have these kinds of people in our lives. Coaches that taught us how to throw a ball or swing a bat, instructors who placed our fingers correctly on our first instruments, mentors who advised us on how to be leaders in the workplace and our community. Just this past week on the Youth Mission Trip to the Appalachian South Folklife Center, I watched as our chaperones and site supervisors taught our youth and one another how to work saws, dig trenches, frame walls, lay flooring, spackle and paint the exterior and interior of a house, demolish a single room to a whole house, prepare meals, and so much more. The youth were teachers too. Those who had previous experience with these labor tasks brought the others along. They lived into the grace of inclusion and welcome as they worked and played and worshiped with the youth of Bruton Parish. And then as in the Gospel lesson today, they instructed each other in prayer serving as readers and officiants for morning prayer and compline. One day as we were struggling to get started at the job site, I asked Amani, “Will you show me how to do that thing you do with your fingers when you pray on your own?” “Of course,” he said. Patiently he demonstrated for Father Stephen and I how to form our fingers and slide our hands together, correcting my first attempt. “Now close your eyes and take a deep breath. Do that for a few minutes.” “Ok,” I said and opened my eyes. I realized Amani and Father Stephen were both still breathing, eyes closed, and I was like “Oh! We’re really doing this.” Amani didn’t just show me, he taught me.

 

Matthew L. Skinner, Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary says “It’s a very personal, intimate thing, one’s prayer life. Getting started at praying is less like learning how to drive a car, how to play the banjo, or even how to preach. For most, it is more like learning how to kiss. You learn some by watching others do it. You should be discerning about whom you will allow to teach you. You certainly make mistakes. And maybe you always worry deep in your head that you might be doing it wrong.”[1]

 

“There is very deep and personal longing for connection that defies forms and formulas.”[2]We seek such intimacy with God in prayer, to deeply know and be known. And Jesus here encourages such familiarity in the Gospel reading today, revealing far more than just how to, but also about the character and personality of the One to whom we pray.  Prayer “rooted in the kindliness and generosity of God.”[3]

 

Some of you may have seen a vignette about a grandfather walking through his yard when he hears his granddaughter repeating the alphabet in a tone of voice that sounds like a prayer. “What are you doing,” he asks? The little girl explains, “I’m praying, but I can’t think of the right words. So I’m just saying all the letters, and God will put them together for me, ‘cause he knows what I’m thinking.”

 

There once was a young boy named Jack. He loved spending time at his grandparent’s house. He’d follow his Grandfather around his workshop marveling at all the tools hanging from various hooks, drawers tumbling over with hammers and wrenches and screwdrivers, rags tossed about covered in varnish or motor oil, enticing coffee cans and glass jars filled with tiny treasures of nuts and bolts and various odds and ends, deeply breathing in the musty dual scent of wood shavings and car parts. The dusty worktable an altar of possibilities, a sacred and hallowed space of all things Grandpa.

He’d wander through the garden with his Grandmother checking on the flowers, picking vegetables for the daily meals. When he thought she wasn’t looking, he’d peak through her sewing basket. The pins and scissors sticking out the edges calling to him to come and explore. It was filled with notions of brightly colored thread, a spooled measuring tape that no longer stayed wound, and buttons galore. Her spaces smelled of rosewater and whatever labor of love was baking or being fried up that day. Cooking, gardening, and sewing were central to her theology of love.

Jack would sleep in his father’s old room on an old wooden spool bed that creaked when he’d lie down. It was a simpler less hurried time. Wrapped in a faded worn quilt, he’d wait and listen for Grandma and Grandpa to settle into bed themselves, slowly the mumbles became clearer as they prayed compline together. It was their evening ritual, each having their own part giving thanks for the joys and graces experienced at the close of the day.

Jack grew and the years passed, then one day Grandma passed away.

Jack came back to visit Grandpa. The garden was still there, yet it seemed smaller. The workshop now covered with dust and spiderwebs from disuse. The world had been shifted. That night as Jack lay in that same wooden bed, from down the hall he heard his grandfather praying, but this time he said all the parts of Compline himself, both his and hers. It was the rhythm of prayer that he had settled into and it was the rhythm that would see him through his grief.

It was this witnessing, this intimacy that guided Jack’s prayers more than any book he’d ever read, or sermon heard.

 

Lord, give us the words, and teach us to pray.

[1]Working Preacher

[2]The Rev. Dr. Stephen Smith

[3]Texts for Preaching, Yr C

 

 

Sermon for Epiphany Sunday

The Rev. Cameron O’Riley

Readings for Epiphany Sunday- http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearABC_RCL/Epiphany/Epiph_RCL.html

Epiphany Sermon 2019

On December 26th, the second day of Christmas, my cousin shared a video of her 2 ½ year old daughter holding two folded pieces of paper. One in each hand. When asked what they are, she determines they are Christmas Cards sent from her Uncle Rhett. As the tag line, her mother wrote “[Baby Girl] is going to be so sad when she realizes that Christmas is over! She keeps asking when Santa is coming back, where Poppa Elf is, and where are more presents.” My cousin further clarified that those Christmas Cards, were in fact NOT from Uncle Rhett, but were really Dollar Shave Club inserts.

I was aghast, and immediately typed, with perhaps an excessive use of exclamation points, “But Christmas isn’t over! We get 12 days of Christmas!!! We celebrate until Epiphany on January 6!” A fact she is well aware of considering our Grandmother’s birthday was on Epiphany. Let that sweet baby keep on celebrating!

That is the conundrum though, isn’t it? How to forge on when the seemingly grand celebration is over. When it feels as though there are more nettles on the floor than on the tree, when the boughs have begun to sag, and the pretty twinkly wrappings in which the gift was swaddled have been discarded. When life has begun to return to its usual routine, and we can hide from the media barrage no longer.

I can’t deny that it is challenging to carry the magic of Christmas into the days beyond and into all seasons of life. But incarnationally speaking, the wonder, the mystery, and the majesty do last. The gift of the Incarnation is that Christ always was, always is, always will be with us.

Today is Epiphany Sunday, the season of Christmas is officially over, and in less than 12 hours, the annual pageant will take place during the 5:30pm service. For some, the production of these enactments can be stress inducing with the pinning of halos, the learning of lines, and the distribution of costumes. But personally, as y’all have heard me say time and again, I LOVE Epiphany Pageants with their wayward lambs, errant little angels, twinkling stars, anxious wise-people and their camels, beaming Holy Mothers, Josephs hesitant to hold Mary’s hand, dogs dressed as donkeys, and Youth and Adults who are still willing to dress up and join in so that the whole church from the youngest to the oldest can be witness to the light of Christ in one another. It is an opportunity to engage with and live out one of our most sacred stories as Christians. Granted we’ve played with the storyline a bit. We’ve taken bits and pieces of different Gospel stories, added in a few apostles, saints, and historians. So, while perhaps not completely historically accurate, it is all done in an effort to embrace the spirit of the most sacred story of a journey to a place called Hope.

Barbara Crafton in her book, Come Here Jesus, released this past fall, reflects on her own experience with pageants, recalling that as a child the pageant ended the same way every year. “After the shepherds and the angels had departed, after the kings had given their gifts, after Mary had sat very still for all three verses of “Silent Night” while [they] all watched her ponder things in her heart, these Elizabethan words from the prologue to the Gospel of John” were spoken. Words we heard just last week from John “who draws us away from the manger, away from Bethlehem, away from the Holy Land, away from the earth- out, out into the mysterious universe, out into the mystery of time and the creation of everything that is.

And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”[1]

And thus, the lessons from last week and this week merge together as “We are invited to dwell in the Word made flesh and to bring our darkness to the place where it can comprehend [God’s] light,”[2]a star shining in the East, dazzling the cosmos. “The star the magi followed was the word of Christ. They never traveled alone. All along, Jesus was with them and calling them to [him]. His word, his presence, appeared to their eyes as a star, to their minds as a power to get up and go, and to their hearts as a longing and desire, an absence that held the divine presence within them.”[3]

Crafton invites her readers to recall the Christmas of 1968, when the crew of Apollo 8 read to viewers and listeners across the globe the story of creation.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

Crafton muses that “as they read the ancient words, they beheld the earth in a way no human being had ever seen it: hanging in the blackness of space like a bright jewel, its waters a rich blue, its continents snowy white…They read Genesis from space on that Christmas fifty years ago, not the first chapter of John” (or the story from Matthew or Luke) but choose “our ancient mythology over our ancient mystery. But both…tell the same tale, each in its own way: this was our beginning, this Word. Everything emerged from it and continues to emerge, traveling through space, traveling swiftly along with all the other bodies in motion: all the stars, every planet, asteroid, all the space dust, the molecules and atoms, the subatomic particles- all of us.”[4]

“God’s glory shines among us in Jesus Christ with vivid signs that move heaven and earth.”[5]A light shone down on us. A star of hope shines bright for us, and with us, and in us. We have been made living lights of Christ. Therefore, to help you embody and practice being the light bearers you are, you have been given a gift, an epiphany star of your very own, a star word. In your bulletins today, you will find a simple bright star with a word written on it. “The premise is this: the magi followed the star to find baby Jesus, bringing their gifts. We are also seeking Jesus, trusting God can/does use many signs (or stars) to guide us closer to the Divine presence.”[6]As we celebrate the experience of Epiphany, the star at its rising, you are encouraged to take this star with you, don’t discard it. Take it home, hang it up where you will be sure to see it every day. Ponder these words in your hearts, reflect on what significance this word might have in your life, what it may mean for you in the coming year, how God may be guiding you.

Throughout the year, you are encouraged to share some thoughts, either briefly or at length, about your star words with us and one another. “Thus it [may] be that on a bright summer Sunday in the heat of August, we will be reminded of” the wonder, mystery, and majesty of Christmas and of that January Sunday surrounded by candles with random stars taped to your bulletins when we were called to reflect on the brightness of God who continually guides, encourages, and strengthens.[7]“The more we become aware of ourselves as shined upon, the more we are able to reflect, and the more we are able to shine.”[8]Perhaps that is what is meant to be the delight of Star Words.

The story of Christ continues to live through us, through the children, Christmas cards, the heavenly hosts, and yes even in pageants. There is good news in the gift that has been given to us in the birth of Christ. We are called to follow unexpected lights, dancing stars that guide our way, to pray for peace, to give thanks, utilize the spirit of wisdom which has been given to us, and act with faith and courage in the face of risk and danger. These are the gifts we bring.So that with the eyes of our hearts enlightened, we may know what is the HOPE to which he has called us, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.[9]

 

[1]Come Here Jesus, Barbara Crafton, 2018

[2]Planning for Rites and Rituals, Yr C, 2018-2019

[3]https://interruptingthesilence.com/2018/01/07/what-is-absent-from-your-life-an-epiphany-sermon-on-matthew-21-12/

[4]Come Here Jesus, Barbara Crafton, 2018

[5]New Proclamation, Yr C, 2013

[6]https://revgalblogpals.org/star-words/

[7]https://www.reformedworship.org/article/september-2009/star-gifts

[8]Connections, Yr C 2018-2019

[9]Paraphrase of Ephesians 1: 18-19

Sermon by the Rev. Cameron O’Riley

Sermon for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 17

September 2, 2018

Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Sermon for Pentecost 2018

Sermon by The Rev. Cameron O’Riley

Day of Pentecost
Whitsunday
Year B
RCL

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Acts 2:1-21

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Psalm 104:25-35, 37

2nd Sunday after Epiphany- Sermon by the Rev. L. Cameron O’Riley

Most any southerner upon crossing the Mason-Dixon line or traveling west of the Mississippi, can tell you of a time in which upon speaking they were asked the question “Where are you from?” Or someone traveling in the opposite direction has been the recipient of the south’s version- “You ain’t from round here are ya?” I once asked someone upon moving further north “what name do y’all have for us seeing as we have plenty for you?” A bit confused, they replied “what do you mean?” “Well,” I said, “you know the difference between a Yankee and Damn Yankee, right? A Yankee visits and then goes home. A damn Yankees stays. So I’m curious, what do you call us?” Out of what I can only assume was politeness, I did have on a collar after all, they said “we don’t.” But I do know I’ve heard, can any good come from the other side of the river, or that trailer park down the way, or Michigan? How ‘bout Oklahoma?

It’s been said that theology is embedded in geography. That is- the understanding of God is deeply rooted in the physical features of the earth and human activity and their relationship with one another. In terms of today’s lectionary, we are provided with the opportunity to consider how God made manifest in Jesus and in our own lives is reflected in the church and in the world.

Yearly, the Diocese of Atlanta, the Episcopal Church in Middle and North Georgia publishes a journal entitled Pathways. The most recent edition was released at the close of 2017, and opened with a letter from Bishop Robert Wright stating that “in this day and time, love is in need of love.” He dared readers to consider “that Jesus’ love can be a ringing alarm for our selfish sleep.” He continued “It seems to call out to us without condemning. Calls for us to prioritize just and fair behavior. We must ask ourselves as people of faith, what is right? Right that transcends title, station, gender, pedigree, religious tradition, age, or ethnicity.” Within the pages of Pathways unfurl the stories of those who have dared to take a moral stand, from a Supreme Court Justice, from my home parish, who made ripples throughout the state as he stood in opposition to the death penalty, to a those seeking dignity and justice for immigrants, to others whom have provided health care for the poor in the foothills of Appalachia, education to children through Freedom Schools, and answered God’s call to serve families experiencing homelessness. Their stories challenge us “to look into the individual faces of mothers, of fathers, of children and listen to their stories- the stories of fear, the stories of survival, the stories of hope, and then walk beside them on their journey.” (Rev. Thomas Haygood, https://pathways.episcopalatlanta.org) Their stories shine a light on the pathway between heaven and earth, and the responsibilities we bear as Christians.

In February of 2017, 10 pilgrims set out on a 10-day journey from Atlanta to the West Coast of Africa in search of racial healing and seeking to build bridges between the Diocese of Atlanta and the Diocese of Cape Coast. Prior to their departure, Rev. John Thompson-Quartey, the Canon for Ministry, and native of Ghana, now 55 years old, was filled with immense emotion having spent the last 35 years of his adult life in the United States. He writes “There is an Akan (African) phrase: Sankofa, which translated means to “go back and get.”I am keenly aware,” he said “of the role my ancestors played in selling off Africans to the Europeans who coordinated the transatlantic slave trade. I know that African chiefs were complicit in this dreadful historical event that has been etched in our consciences, and that troubles me greatly… I am not sure what we are all ‘going back to get.’ But I trust the Holy Spirit to guide us in building bridges of reconciliation.”

Also among the pilgrims was The Rev. Dr. Sharon Hiers, a native South Carolinian, whose ancestors were slave traders. Heirs shared that “Professionally, racial reconciliation and [her] call to the priesthood are deeply intertwined in ways” that she is “still understanding and embracing.” She believed the trip would “have a deep impact on [her call as a priest,] a Southern white privileged priest.” “I have visited many plantations,” she said, “and heard the ‘white-washed’ sweet stories of the good ole days. It’s time to hear the rest of this history, to walk on new ground, to beg forgiveness, to find hope.”

And walk they did, trekking through Kakum National Park, touring the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity, and visiting the Seminary at St. Nicholas, before engaging in the sobering visit to places where Africans in shackles and chains were once shipped off across the Atlantic bound for the Americas and Europe, stood in spaces once used as holding cells for human cargo, visited Cape Coast Castle and stood in the waters of the “last bath.”

In an interview 6 months after their return, Thompson-Quartey and Heirs were asked how others could challenge themselves around the topic of race. Heirs response was to “challenge your assumptions” continuing that a big part of this for her was about learning her own history and realizing she doesn’t get to say “well, I didn’t do it.” Start questioning. And Thompson-Quartey? Well, “You have to try to understand where other people are to be understood [yourself]” he says. “I think you invite people into an honest, brave conversation with no preconceived ideas. Know that, ‘I might change my mind.’ And keep the conversation going. I think that is where we can start.” (“Go back and Get”, Pathways)

The apostle Paul believes that baptism is not solely about the individual, but rather, it is about us as a whole, united as the body of Christ working alongside our Redeemer to bring about justice and peace for the entirety of creation. While all things may be lawful, not all things are beneficial. Therefore, in obedience to the lifelong commitment God has made to us, and our own acceptance to be in this relationship, one relinquishes individual rights and freedoms for the greater and common good no matter the others geographical orientation.

The Rev. Dr. Fred Craddock tells a story of a man who was once a guest in a house with many rooms. The man is shown to his room, and weary from the day and all that he had seen drifts off to sleep. “Sometime during the night [his] sleep was interrupted by sounds from the next room.  [He] did not know who was in that room, but somebody was having a bad night.  The noise was not snoring, nor did it seem to be sleep talking.  [He] listened more carefully; maybe it was groaning or moaning accompanied by tossing and turning.  [He] thought once to knock on the door, but was afraid to do so.  [He] dared not call out lest [he] add to that person’s discomfort and perhaps wake others.  So [he] tolerated it till morning, catching only snatches of sleep.

At daybreak, [he] heard the person next door move about the room and then step out into the hall.  [He] did the same, wanting to see who it was, and, if appropriate, express regret that the night was so restless.

It was God.  [The man] was shocked; God restless and unable to sleep, the God who blesses with peace beyond understanding, the God who hushes even a whimpering child?  [He] was speechless.

God said, “I’m sorry if I disturbed your sleep.  I know my groaning was a disturbance, but I couldn’t get my mind off all my hurting children…” (https://thevalueofsparrows.com/2013/08/04/sermon-being-a-friend-of-jesus-by-fred-b-craddock/)

By listening and accepting the sacred call of all believers, We are not rushed into a world that is no longer cruel and heartless. We know all too well the contemptuous and corrupt things that are said and done to others simply based on where one is from, how somebody looks, or the accent with which they speak. Rather in responding to God’s call, we are faced with the challenge to offer both mercy and truth, justice and love, and usher hope into the darkness. A wise person once said, “Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.” (L.R. Knost)

Go my Dear Ones, and Shine On.

 

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.

Advent 2 Sermon by the Rev Stephen Smith

 

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. (https://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.