Every generation experiences change. But sometimes you sense you’re in the midst of truly radical change, the kind that happens only every few centuries. Increasingly, I think we’re in such a moment now. Those of us in in Western culture…Read More→
SAINT JOHN’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH — MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE
JANUARY 24, 2016
On this third Sunday after the Epiphany again we look at what God has given us in Christ. The word for Epiphany is “manifest.” What is revealed or manifested to the world by God in Christ Jesus? Jesus is God’s Word was made flesh. Jesus is the self-expression of God in a human life, God expressed in human terms. God, who is ultimately beyond our comprehension, becomes comprehensible in the life and work of Jesus. In other words,
God is like Jesus!
Which came first: • Let us remind ourselves that the Word that is Manifest is not the Book we call the Bible! The word of God is Jesus, the Christ.
• In addition, FedEx did not deliver a box of Bibles to a prayer group and the folks there sat down to put together a church, sort of like tinker toys. The sacred text grow out of the Church and the experiences of her body not the other way round.
• The Bible was written assuming that it would be heard read aloud, not silently.
• Tradition has it that the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, came to be with Child through the hearing of the promise.
• We continue that practice today in this Eucharist.
Now, to the reading from the Gospel of Luke.
Jesus went home to Nazareth and the people were excited to see the hometown boy who by all the rumors was doing some pretty impressive things. So they asked him to read at the Sabbath liturgy in the Synagogue. He stood and read from the book of the prophet Isaiah,
LUKE 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Afterwards, he likely paused, as our lectors do,before saying, “Here ends the reading or the Word of the Lord.”
Every eye was fixed on him. No one moved expect the peripheral glance, checking the reaction of the leaders. Then he “began to say: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Today this scripture has been filled full! Filled Full because Jesus filled it full of truth, not abstract philosophy; but experience. The reading pointed toward Jesus and Jesus became the reading. They saw Spirit upon Jesus, right then, right there, and they knew it was so.
That was them there and then. What about us here and now?
Now turning to I Corinthians 12:12 -13
Paul writes: One Body with Many Members 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free— and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Jesus became the reading he read,
we must become the reading we hear.
Whatever grace need is already in potential in our Baptism! We think that we have it and we do but a better question is, does it have us? As a Fr. Bronson Bryant, my mentor, often said, “We are always prepared to go to church and have nothing happen.” Are we afraid something will happen? If something happened then we would have to change.
There were five components in the early Church’s life through the graceful energy at tables like this one, thus becoming the Body of Christ in order to go into the world doing the work of Jesus.
Paul advocated a witness to the gospel that is both embodied and narrated, one that simultaneously practices, in an integrated way, what we today might call virtue, evangelism, reconciliation, and justice, all as aspects of transformative participation in the glory of God revealed in the crucified and resurrected Jesus by the Spirit.
1. Church of the Spirit: at the core of the primitive church was a “transforming, communicable experience of the Living Christ.’
2. Formed by the common experience of the risen Christ vitality to go and do what needed doing.
Ritual Actions are postures, positions and movements that affirm outwardly our inner beliefs and commitments. In and of themselves, they are not in any way essential. They can be helpful.
Back in the heyday of North Carolina basketball, a friend told me a story. Her sons and the neighborhood boys were playing basketball in the back yard. She happened to look at the window, only to see one boy shoot a free throw. Just before he got into position to shoot, he crossed himself. That was odd, given that the boy’s dad was the pastor at First Baptist Church in town. What had happened, was that the best free throw shooter on the University team was Roman Catholic and he always signed the cross before he threw the ball.
For the boys playing basketball, It was magic. I’m not talking magic.
I’m talking outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual commitment.
The Celebrant continues And we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to you, O Lord of all; presenting to you, from your creation, this bread and this wine. We pray you, gracious God, (the celebrant traces the sign of the cross in the air above the bread and wine) to send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and his Blood of the new Covenant. (People cross themselves) Unite us to your Son in his sacrifice, that we may be acceptable through him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Book of Common Prayer page 369
The bread and wine are blessed becoming the bread of heaven and cup of salvation. We are blessed, becoming the same graceful gift in the world as communion bread and wine is for us.
3. A Passionate People: a burning desire. What do you long for? What do you let nothing get in way of?
Interesting questions. We have to choose. The state and the culture will not only not prop us up. They will compete directly with us. We have to choose. Sports games on Sunday morning. We have to choose.
4. The Unbreakable Fellowship: there were no parties allowed. We simply cannot allow factions here in our body. We are in this together and we shall remain that way to the limits of my influence.
5. Risking Unconditional Love: a love for others which was not dependent on being loved, or liked or flattered. Serenity not based on Achievement or Performance It was life-changing (and very helpful) when I learned that I didn’t have to like someone in order to love them. However, I don’t ever recall choosing to love someone without positive emotions following afterward.
Beloved, as we take this sacrament at this table. Come expecting (if you will) that being fed with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus, the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation – we will become the Good News for somebody we encounter.
Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord. THANKS BE TO GOD. Amen.
© John W. Sewell
In the Thirteenth Century, the Blessed Virgin Mary began to be portrayed sitting in majesty, serving as a seat for the Christ Child. This posture is called Sedes Sapientiae or Seat of Wisdom. Mary, here is the Theotokos, Mother of God as she was proclaimed at the Council of Ephesus in 431.
This is the Henry De Rosen mural over the altar of the Lady Chapel at Saint John’s. Living with this world class art collection is, without doubt, one of the greatest privileges of my life.
A Christianity which is not basically mystical must become either a political ideology or a mindless fundamentalism.
Alan Watts – Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion.
I became an Anglican almost four decades ago because of the tradition’s high tolerance for ambiguity. To my dismay, even Anglicans, when confronted with the paralyzing anxiety of our time, have polarized.
The left has become political ideology. The siren of our present time, whispers that all boundaries are evil. Openness is the cry of our time. What my progressive relatives fail to see is the distinction between barrier and boundary. It is the difference between a castle wall and the membrane of a single cell. The cell wall, if I remember from ancient junior high science, is a semi-permeable membrane. Substance flow in and out as may be. The cell wall is there not to keep “stuff” out so much as to promote the integrity of the organism!
The family on the right have descended into mindless fundamentalism. Now mind you, it is more sophisticated than your garden variety, but it is mindless nevertheless. Rabbi Friedman used to warn us not mistake mental activity for thinking. There is a longing for the golden age of purity (a time that likely never existed). In this Episcopal Church my right wing brethren have withdrawn into sanctuaries of purity in the geography of certainty. The castle wall around the body ecclesiastical is a barrier to further contamination and thinking.
Both extremes have something to say. Both extremes say it. Nobody hears the useful ideas because the noise is too great. Closing our eyes, while sticking our fingers in our ears and singing “our old familiar fight song” may take us to our happy place; there is, unfortunately, no joy in the morning when we awaken from our hang over after a night drinking from the fire hose of pernicious rhetoric
I refuse to give up tolerance for ambiguity. The truth is discovered by pulling the extremes toward the middle and living in the tension of the competing forces. Fr. Hubbell, Chaplain at University of Kentucky in the 1970s said,
Trying to stand in the middle of the road is a good place to be run over.
I admit looking in the mirror at the tire prints on my soul from time to time. But in all truth, I do not know where else to stand.
In hope, in spite of the facts.
©John W. Sewell
Jan 3, 2016 – Saint John’s Episcopal Church – Memphis, Tennessee
©John W. Sewell
Today, we read the only story in the canonical Gospels of Jesus between Christmas Eve and His baptism.Jesus stayed behind. Discovered he was not with Uncle Cleopas & Aunt Mary. (It takes a Village). Mary & Joseph turned in haste to find their son.
Meanwhile, Jesus was drawn to his home place, the Temple of the Living God, he learned to call Abba, Father. There he found the Elders of Israel debating like a meeting of the Supreme Court.
Suppose this kid finds his way into the inner sanctum of the Court and asked the Justices a question that went to the very root of the question they were debating. They would begin to ask him questions, the matter at hand forgotten, as they marveled and whisper among themselves, “Chief Justice matter,” there. Jesus asked questions, endless penetrating, perceptive and prescient, such that the scholars of Israel may have never asked.
Three days his parents looked. Note three prophetic days here at the beginning in Jerusalem. In twenty-one years falls three days, mysterious days of resurrection will occur. But not yet.
Meanwhile Mary and Joseph have looked high and low for Jesus and just when his mother was afraid she would see his picture on a milk carton, there he was in the Temple carrying on with the fathers of Israel and holding own, mind you.
How could you scare us like this? “I had to be about my father’s business,” Joe! What can you say to that? They went on home.
About this story, Saint Jerome wrote, “Jesus advanced in wisdom and grace, as his humanity was taught by his divinity.” Even Jesus had to learn the language of his Soul!
That being so, how can we not do the same? Morton Kelsey, in his book, Encounter With God, gives us some hints. He says:
1. ACT AS IF THE SPIRITUAL REALMS EXISTS.
Is there a supernatural that exists beyond our four senses? Most Christians in the country live functionally denying that such exists.
Question; “How many of you had a supernatural experience since Christmas?
Not sure? Afraid to say? Not sure you would know one if you had it? All over town in every church, if I asked that question, people would look at me like I’m crazy, even though the scripture readings for these Twelve Days of Christmas assume the spiritual realm exists!
Studies show that people outside the Church desperately want to experience God. They don’t come looking in the Church because they’ll not meet God there. People are leaving because they have not experienced God.
At least we can cease from the interminable sermonizing … and tell the people in human speech as distinct from theological algebra, that the Church is where one comes to find union with God.  Behold the Spirit – Alan Watts
2. BEGIN ONE’S PILGRIM WITH SERIOUS PURPOSE.
A parish suddenly found itself with an infestation of mice. They were everywhere. One day the altar guild opened the drawer in the sacristy where the fair (translated: beautiful and very expensive) linen was stored finding that not only had mice invaded the holy place, but they had eaten holes all over the formerly fair linen, contaminated the drawer by their very presence.
The last violation was that about a half-dozen were still in the drawer finishing the job, because “muridae mus musculus” is nothing if not through. The startled mice leapt from the drawer scattering handmaidens of the Lord in every direction.
What had been annoying was now war! They looked for anything short of the nuclear option to get rid of them? After many suggestions, they asked the rector. He was then 40 years in service, “Oh that’s easy enough.
We’ll confirm them and we’ll never see them again.”
You got to show up, and keep on showing up.
3. BE AS HONEST WITH ONESELF AS POSSIBLE
We must be honest before we are able to face and grow through many things. Honesty in our affairs is hard enough, but honesty to ourselves in ourselves is rare as well as hard as we prefer to trust ourselves and suspect others. We must be right.
4. BEGIN SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES
a. Keep a journal – 3 pages before we get honest.
b. Keep records of dreams. God still speaks to us from our unconscious.
c. Read and study the spiritual life.
d. Pray, experiment with prayer. Impression – speak to that one. Go another way.
e. Find a spiritual mentor.
“A spiritual mentor wants to know our inmost self, our real self. He wants to know us not as we are in the eyes 0f men, or even as we are in our own eyes, but as we are in the eyes of God. He wants to know the inmost truth of our vocation, the action of grace in our souls. His mentorship is nothing more than a way of leading us to see and obey our real mentor – the Holy Spirit that is hidden in the depths of our soul.” Thomas Merton – Spiritual Direction & Meditation
5. SEEK GOD.
It is important to become as open to God as we know how and then expect him to meet us. As Scripture states if we draw near to God, will draw near to us!!”
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” Luke 2 : 5 2
2016 is our year to grow up and calm down in the power of the Spirit. We too must increase in wisdom and in years: in Divine and human favor. God by the Holy Spirit will make it so. Amen.
Note: Today I buried a fine young man full of grace and staggering potential. His father found him dead when he did not arrive for dinner on Christmas Eve. It has been a difficult week of inconsolable pain for the loss to his family but also to the human community. I share with you the homily I preached this morning. Have a purposeful new year.
©John W. Sewell
September 14, 1994 – December 24, 2015
December 31, 2016 ∞ Saint John’s Episcopal Church ∞ Memphis, Tennessee
Today we gather in this holy place to do what Christians always do when they gather:
• We come to tell the story,
• We come to quiet the fear in our hearts –
• And we come to speak to the hope that is in us.
WE COME TO TELL THE STORY
The story begins with Lane. It is the story of a son, brother, nephew, grandson and friend. Family, beloved that Lane loved with a clear and pure heart, not without a bit of cloudy haze from time to time, especially when he was in trouble usually because of a bone-headed immaturity. Then he was winsome, twinkle in the eyes, puppy dog eyes, inspiring if not at exactly forgiveness a weakening of the will bordering, at times, on indulgence, because he had no mean bones in his skeleton.
Lane loved his friends with joyful extravagance. There are friends of every sort crossing all the customary lines, constructed to keep people from reaching each other, race, class, economics, and sexual orientation. Let me modify, that he had no tolerance for bullies and was not a silent observer to such evil. He had learned early,
what I know to be true at 64, namely, that it is important to tell friends, especially the men in your life, that you love them.I ’m many of you squirmed at first or maybe always. But are you not glad this day for having those words? Remember that among yourselves. You need to hear it and you need to say it. Nothing takes its place.
Lane’s story merges with the big of story of the coming of Jesus among us, one of us, fully human that through his death and resurrection not only see authentic humanity (which is what God wants for us) but also by grace that we reach for that full, authentic humanity. But, I get ahead of myself,
I’ll come back to hope in a minute.
WE COME TO QUIET THE FEAR IN OUR HEARTS.
Our story fades into fear. There is a fear in our hearts. We are speechless with sadness, we are angry that such accidents happen. Why couldn’t Lane be more careful? His absence, his real absence is racking. We long to know if existence has meaning.We want things to mean something. Why did God do this? I don’t believe God did.
I believe that God made creation with certain degrees of freedom. In the mystical Jewish teaching, God chose to no longer be all that there is in order for creation to be genuinely free. God contracted, making room for creation. In that contraction, creation was made free.
God has made us for himself, our sacred text tells us that. Sacred texts of most of humanity tell us that.
God’s ultimate desire is for us to come to Him, how soon that happens is not of great import to God although it is of ultimate concern to us. – Reynolds Price
Of late, however, we began to see the trajectory of a good and loving man as Lane began to grow up, finding and doing a responsible job to the delight of his family and perhaps more importantly his boss.Nothing I say is a feather bed, nor an opiate of forgetfulness and there is not a quick fix.
What is happening in us regardless of how well we knew him is suffering. We know that through our bodies. All communication is through the matter of our bodies. What we know is that we hurt. Emotions too powerful to control have sprung a leak somewhere in our faces and water leaks out.
What is God’s will for us? My teacher, Rabbi Freedman put it simply, “God’s will is that we grow up!” How do we grow up? We grow up by facing challenge. Does God have to plan challenge? Of course not. The universe is rich with possibility, fruitful circumstance with perhaps infinite permutations. There is not conspiracy. Our choices are real ones. All choices are real ones, making real differences. We get no pass from mistake, accident or the choice of others. Gravity is unrelenting regardless of our virtue or how much we are loved. We quiet our fear by hope.
WE COME TO SPEAK TO THE HOPE THAT IS IN US.
We hear first from the words of the Prophet Isaiah who proclaimed, “On this mountain the Lord of Hosts will make feast FOR ALL PEOPLES, a feast of rich food, well-aged wines, full of fat [that was back when fat was still good news], well-aged wines strained clear. (Lane’s career was hospitality. See with me today: I suspect he has thrown himself into working the perpetual party of God’s intention. Think of choosing the wine. If you recall Jesus produced excellent vintage himself at that wedding in Cana). The marriage feast of the Lamb in Revelation is an echo of Isaiah’s party plan.
God is throwing a party, a gathering intended for all peoples. God gives us bread to nourish our bodies and wine to make our hearts glad. It is God who throws the party. Not only is God throwing a party, He will remove the disgrace of his people. And he will shallow up death forever and wipe away the tears from all faces. This is the salvation he promises to all peoples. Salvation is a party with God as the host.
This is the mystery of faith.
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.Unspoken but true is the fact that: We will die, We will rise and Christ will come again and we will be with him. Book of Common Prayer
As John wrote in his first Epistle,“We are all children of God, and yet it has not been revealed what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be in his likeness; for we shall see him as he is.” I John 3:
We shall be raised even as he was raised. We shall be in his likeness for we share a family resemblance.
John quotes in the 14th Chapter of his Gospel the words of Jesus, ” 1. Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. 4. And whither I go ye know… ” KJV
When we approach God’s house, filled with all amenities we can imagine and delights we cannot, we will see approaching, with a wide smile, Lane Carrick Jr. will welcome those he loved and loves eternally. It would be difficult to know his as he, even now, is adorned with all the qualities God had in mind when he made him. It would unless we too will be in the same fullness of being.
Today we lay Lane’s bodily remains to rest in the Saint John’s Cemetery. The word cemetery is a Christian term. In the ancient world the term for a burial place was necropolis or city of the dead. The Christian hope of the resurrection produced a new term, cemetery, from the Greek word for sleep. Believers sleep in Christ for they are not dead forever, but sleep awaiting his call at the last day.
We part from Lane this day but as we travel to the same destination in due season we shall be reunited in that place where there is there is no sorrow nor sighs but life and that life everlasting.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I didn’t write this. That genius, Anonymous, wrote it. In fact I don’t remember where I found it. It may have been the Movie made from this story. At any rate. I believe it is worth reading. Some would say sentimental, but I hope for such a place, where not only do Cars get refilled but also Souls!
The old man sat in his gas station on a cold Christmas Eve. He hadn’t been anywhere in years since his wife had passed away. It was just another day to him. He didn’t hate Christmas, just couldn’t find a reason to celebrate. He was sitting there looking at the snow that had been falling for the last hour and wondering what it was all about when the door opened and a homeless man stepped through.
Instead of throwing the man out, Old George as he was known by his customers, told the man to come and sit by the heater and warm up. “Thank you, but I don’t mean to intrude,” said the stranger. “I see you’re busy, I’ll just go.” “Not without something hot in your belly.” George said.
He turned and opened a wide mouth Thermos and handed it to the stranger. “It ain’t much, but it’s hot and tasty, “Stew … made it myself. When you’re done, there’s coffee and it’s fresh.”
Just at that moment he heard the “ding” of the driveway bell. “Excuse me, be right back,” George said. There in the driveway was an old ’53 Chevy. Steam was rolling out of the front. The driver was panicked. “Mister can you help me!” said the driver, with a deep Spanish accent. “My wife is about to have a baby and my car is broken.”
George opened the hood. It was bad. The block looked cracked from the cold, the car was dead. “You ain’t going in this thing,” George said as he turned away.
“But Mister, please help …” The door of the office closed behind George as he went inside. He went to the office wall and got the keys to his old truck, and went back outside. He walked around the building, opened the garage, started the truck and drove it around to where the couple was waiting. “Here, take my truck,” he said. “She ain’t the best thing you ever looked at, but she runs real good.”
George helped put the woman in the truck and watched as it sped off the hospital. I’m glad I was still open and had that truck, their tires were shot too, He said as walked back inside the office. But the stranger was gone. The used coffee cup was on the. George thought he was talking to the stranger, but the man had gone. The Thermos was on the desk with a used coffee cup beside it. “Well, at least he got something in his belly,” George thought.
George went back outside to see if the old Chevy would start. It cranked slowly, but it started. He pulled it into the garage where the truck had been. He thought he would tinker with it for something to do. Christmas Eve meant no customers. He discovered the the block hadn’t cracked, it was just the bottom hose on the radiator. “Well, shoot, I can fix this,” he said to himself. So he put a new one on.
“Those tires ain’t gonna get ’em through the winter either.” He took the snow treads off of his wife’s old Lincoln. They were like new and he wasn’t going to drive the car anyway.
As he was working, he heard shots being fired. He ran outside and beside a police car an officer lay on the cold ground. Bleeding from the left shoulder, the officer moaned, “Please help me.”
George helped the officer inside as he remembered the training he had received in the Army as a medic. He knew the wound needed attention. “Pressure to stop the bleeding,” he thought. The uniform company had been there that morning and had left clean shop towels. He used those and duct tape to bind the wound. “Hey, they say duct tape can fix anythin’,” he said, trying to make the policeman feel at ease.
“Something for pain,” George thought. All he had was the pills he used for his back. “These ought to work.” He put some water in a cup and gave the policeman the pills. “You hang in there, I’m going to get you an ambulance.”
The phone was dead. “Maybe I can get one of your buddies on that there talk box out in your car.” He went out only to find that a bullet had gone into the dashboard destroying the two way radio.
He went back in to find the policeman sitting up. “Thanks,” said the officer. “You could have left me there. The guy that shot me is still in the area.”
George sat down beside him, “I would never leave an injured man in the Army and I ain’t gonna leave you.” George pulled back the bandage to check for bleeding. “Looks worse than what it is. Bullet passed right through ‘ya. Good thing it missed the important stuff though. I think with time your gonna be right as rain.”
George got up and poured a cup of coffee. “How do you take it?” he asked. “None for me,” said the officer. “Oh, yer gonna drink this. Best in the city. Too bad I ain’t got no donuts.” The officer laughed and winced at the same time.
The front door of the office flew open. In burst a young man with a gun. “Give me all your cash! Do it now!” the young man yelled. His hand was shaking and George could tell that he had never done anything like this before.
“That’s the guy that shot me!” exclaimed the officer.
“Son, why are you doing this?” asked George, “You need to put the cannon away. Somebody else might get hurt.”
The young man was confused. “Shut up old man, or I’ll shoot you, too. Now give me the cash!”
The cop was reaching for his gun. “Put that thing away,” George said to the cop, “we got one too many in here now.”
He turned his attention to the young man. “Son, it’s Christmas Eve. If you need money, well then, here. It ain’t much but it’s all I got. Now put that pee shooter away.”
George pulled $150 out of his pocket and handed it to the young man, reaching for the barrel of the gun at the same time. The young man released his grip on the gun, fell to his knees and began to cry. “I’m not very good at this am I? All I wanted was to buy something for my wife and son,” he went on. “I’ve lost my job, my rent is due, my car got repossessed last week ..”
George handed the gun to the cop. “Son, we all get in a bit of squeeze now and then. The road gets hard sometimes, but we make it through the best we can.”
He got the young man to his feet, and sat him down on a chair across from the cop. “Sometimes we do stupid things.” George handed the young man a cup of coffee. “Bein’ stupid is one of the things that makes us human. Comin’ in here with a gun ain’t the answer. Now sit there and get warm and we’ll sort this thing out.”
The young man had stopped crying. He looked over to the cop. “Sorry I shot you. It just went off. I’m sorry officer.”
“Shut up and drink your coffee.” the cop said.
George could hear the sounds of sirens outside. A police car and an ambulance skidded to a halt. Two cops came through the door, guns drawn. “Chuck! You ok?” one of the cops asked the wounded officer.
“Not bad for a guy who took a bullet. How did you find me?”
“GPS locator in the car. Best thing since sliced bread. Who did this?” the other cop asked as he approached the young man.
Chuck answered him, “I don’t know. The guy ran off into the dark. Just dropped his gun and ran.”
George and the young man both looked puzzled at each other.
“That guy work here?” the cop asked. “Yep,” George said, “just hired him this morning. Boy lost his job.”
The paramedics came in and loaded Chuck onto the stretcher. The young man leaned over the wounded cop and whispered, “Why?”
Chuck just said, “Merry Christmas boy … and you too, George, and thanks for everything.”
“Well, looks like you got one doozy of a break there. That ought to solve some of your problems.”
George went into the back room and came out with a box. He pulled out a ring box. “Here you go, something for the little woman. I don’t think Martha would mind. She said it would come in handy some day.”
The young man looked inside to see the biggest diamond ring he ever saw. “I can’t take this,” said the young man. “It means something to you.”
“And now it means something to you,” replied George. “I got my memories. That’s all I need.”
George reached into the box again. An airplane, a car and a truck appeared next. They were toys that the oil company had left for him to sell. “Here’s something for that little man of yours.”
The young man began to cry again as he handed back the $150 that the old man had handed him earlier.
“And what are you supposed to buy Christmas dinner with? You keep that too,” George said, “Now git home to your family.”
The young man turned with tears streaming down his face. “I’ll be here in the morning for work, if that job offer is still good.”
“Nope. I’m closed Christmas day,” George said. “See ya the day after.”
George turned around to find that the stranger had returned. “Where’d you come from? I thought you left?”
“I have been here. I have always been here,” said the stranger. “You say you don’t celebrate Christmas. Why?”
“Well, after my wife passed away, I just couldn’t see what all the bother was. Puttin’ up a tree and all seemed a waste of a good pine tree. Bakin’ cookies like I used to with Martha just wasn’t the same by myself and besides I was gettin’ a little chubby.”
The stranger put his hand on George’s shoulder. “But you do celebrate the holiday, George. You gave me food and drink and warmed me when I was cold and hungry. The woman with child will bear a son and he will become a great doctor. The policeman you helped will go on to save 19 people from being killed. The young man who tried to rob you will make you a rich man and not take any for himself. That is the spirit of the season and you keep it as good as any man.”
George was taken aback by all this stranger had said. “And how do you know all this?” asked the old man.
“Trust me, George. I have the inside track on this sort of thing. And when your days are done you will be with Martha again.”
The stranger moved toward the door. “If you will excuse me, George, I have to go now. I have to go home where there is a big celebration planned.”
George watched as the old leather jacket and the torn pants that the stranger was wearing turned into a white robe. A golden light began to fill the room.
“You see, George … it’s My birthday. Merry Christmas.”
George fell to his knees and replied, “Happy Birthday, Lord.”
I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, naked and you gave clothing, a stranger and you welcomed me. I was sick and in prison and you visited me. When did that happen? We don’t remember any of these times. When you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters. You did it to me.
Jesus, the Christ (Matthew 25:35)
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
We live inside a box formed by time & space. Standing at the edge of that reality, peering beyond, we see, as the Apostle wrote, through a glass darkly and our mind fills with haze and vapor. We just can’t go there as nothing inside compares with the outside (so far as we know). Carl Jung posits the need for a point of reference outside the conditions of present reality.
Carl Jung, “It is possible to have an attitude to the external conditions of life when there is a point of reference outside them.”
Andreas Wagner, “All we know and experience is mediated through matter. If we step on a sharp object, the material known to us as a foot, begins to phone home: pain, pain, puncture, puncture, what is it? Pull it out right now. The change in message from my foot requires a change in the matter of my foot. Wagner concludes by saying, “Matter impacts meaning.”
Andreas Wagner, “we overlook that there is no conversation without matter, and similarly, that any change in the meaning of a signal requires a change in matter. Matter impacts meaning.”
We need two things to make sense of anything and everything.
1. What we must have then, is a point of reference beyond the time & space container in which we live.
2. And that reference point will be experienced through matter which is the only way we know how to know anything.
Before the foundation of the world, The Holy Trinity promulgated the incarnation. The Second Person of the Trinity, coming from eternity into time and space fully material to promulgate salvation. Matter impacts meaning and Divine matter imparts ultimate meaning.
Nativity story begins with an enrollment. The early enrollment that precedes the birth of Christ alludes to the “enrollment in heaven” that is his birth’s consequence. As he said to his disciples, “Rejoice not, that the spirits are subject to you but rather rejoice, because you names are written in heaven.”
The Christ-child is born and laid in a manager because there was no room for them in the inn. Like the birth of this child the origin of this son of God is outside the inn of the world and laid in a MANGER.
Interesting word, MANGER The Greek Old Testament uses the same word Kibotos (kib-o-tos)
The manger in the Bethlehem stable.
The manger signifies emptiness that is to be filled. The container available and waiting to be filled with the precious gift of God, the gift of the Son.
In this box, we live in time and space. To this ark, this Manger of time and space, is born a material reference point: Jesus the Christ.
Now, let me string together reflections by the Church Father on this great night.
In this manger Mary puts Jesus wrapped in swaddling bands (KJV). As Gregory of Nazianzus puts it, He was wrapped in swaddling bands, but at the resurrection he released the swaddling bands of grace. He was laid in a manger but was praised by angels, disclosed by a star and adored by magi.”
Inmost crèches and art of the nativity you find animals around the manger, always an ox and always an ass, why because of the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master’s crib.”
On a humorous aside. Last night (Christmas Eve) at the family service performed the traditional Christmas Pageant. Children were dressed as all the usual suspects. I did have to intervene when one little girl announced she wanted to be a pig at the manager scene. “No pigs,” I pronounced! Even though Memphians revere all things porcine, especially in its myriad of eatable forms, there was still no pig at the manager.
After the Church Fathers, the Venerable Bede, whose tomb lies at one end of Durham Cathedral, wrote in the 7th century, “He who sits at the right hand of the Father goes without shelter from the inn, that he may for us prepare many mansions in the house of his heavenly Father. Hence we have ‘because there was no room for him in the inn.’ He was born not in the house of his parents but at the inn, by the wayside, because through the mystery of the incarnation be is become the Way by which he guides us to our home, where we shall also enjoy the Truth and the Life.”
Luke ends the nativity gospel in fields near Bethlehem where the angel of the Lord proclaims, this day is born to you a savior who is Christ, The Lord, Savior = God’s activity come to earth, Christ/Messiah/the anointed one, the Lord, the prince of peace.
So there you have it. The story that begins this night with this Mass in the mid-night, ends on Easter Eve after the fall of darkness, but in that darkness has come a great light.
A latter day Church Father, C.S. Lewis, once wrote, “What a terrible place the world would be if it were always winter and never Christmas.” Unfortunately there is not much winter (70 degrees but thank God for 30 ton air-conditioners) but it is Christmass!
We are not alone, the Christ Child, the only Son of God, has come to be born in us. To Him be honor and glory now and forever. Amen.
©John W. Sewell
The Feast of the Incarnation
December 25, 2015
Jesus assured his followers that, “perfect love casts out fear.” The outcry against Syrian refugees brings to mind, “perfect fear casts out common sense as well as love.”
Living things instinctively view the “different” as potential threat. While, mistrust is in many cases warranted, human beings, at our best, are not merely instinctual, but seek by responding to, as Abraham Lincoln once said, the angels of our better natures form a community worthy of our place in creation.
Such union is always in jeopardy, as anxiety tempts us to regress, operating solely by instinctual, automatic unthinking, response. The challenges of this present time require thoughtful reflection which instinct cannot do. Since 9/11, terror is personal and local. Anxiety is paralyzing and never far from us. There are many things to fear. What we must do is not become our fear!
Syrians refugees now ask for entrance and solace among us. Though we are a nation of immigrants, fear of strangers, motivated by agendas that do us no credit, tempt us again. We are told that the wicked might slip in
among the refugees. That is likely, however, clear thinking advises us that rejecting these in need arms our enemy more than protects us. These are the very people who have paid the most to these killers. Let us embrace them as the friends they can be. They are not our enemies.
In this Thanksgiving week, let us hold fast the values that raise us above instinct, while employing thoughtful vigilance in guarding all we hold dear. We are better defended by thoughtful response than fearful reactivity.
In hope, in spite of the facts.
©John W. Sewell
Rector, Saint John’s Episcopal Church
“In a dying civilization, political prestige is the reward not of the shrewdest diagnostician but of the man with the best bedside manner. It is the decoration conferred on mediocrity by ignorance.”
A Coffin for Dimitrios (1939) – Eric Ambler