Sermons at S. Stephen's Archive

Sunday January 19, 2020                                                                     >> Printable Transcript

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany                                              >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

The Blessing of the Great and Living Water                                                          

Fr. Sturni | 10 am Solemn Mass

Isaiah 49:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; St. John 1:29-42
                                                             

            Today’s Gospel from St. John continues the telling of the event of Jesus’s baptism begun last week.

            Last week John the Baptist in Matthew says “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

            This week we have just heard “I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 

            If you can bear it, I’d like to revisit the Baptism of Jesus this morning in still, and yet another, or third, way: that is, through the lens of the Eastern Orthodox liturgy. In its celebration of Jesus’s Baptism the Orthodox Church makes clear, in distinction from our own, that Jesus’s Baptism – and our own --  is not only a cleansing from our private and personal sins, but more significantly, it is the work of God in the salvation of all creation. 

            In the West, we seem preoccupied with one half of a two part baptism. Both Matthew and John quote the Baptist as talking first about baptism in water for repentance, and then, secondly, about baptism “with fire and the Holy Spirit.” The problem is that we tend to latch on to the first – a baptism in water for repentance for sin—and almost wholly forget the second part – baptism with fire and the Holy Spirit. We focus, mostly, on being cleansed from sin, which was meant by John to be a preparation for something much greater, yet to come.

            In many Episcopal Churches, if there are no parish candidates to be baptized on the Sunday of the Lord’s Baptism (that is, last Sunday), then the entire congregation renews their own Baptismal vows – and that might encourage this sense that Baptism is primarily personal and private. Renewing our baptismal vows comes to mean we pledge to try harder to live up to the calling we have as Christians. But “trying harder,” in my experience, is tiring, and, like trying to keep New Year’s Resolutions, depletes us of energy and optimism about ourselves very quickly. The second dimension -- being filled with the Holy Spirit and with fire -- doesn’t seem to figure at all into this scenario.

            In Orthodoxy, by contrast, the heart of the liturgy for this day is The Blessing of the Great Waters. Description of the liturgy. Does that not sound like fun? Here the focus is not so much on the personal and private. Here, what takes place when Jesus steps into the water of the River Jordan has cosmic, not just private, significance. We are caught up in something far greater than ourselves.               

            The Orthodox include in their service a reading from Isaiah 35:  Behold, our God renders judgment and will render it. He will come and save us. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb will speak clearly. For water shall burst forth in the desert, and a valley in the thirsty land. The waterless desert shall become meadows, and the thirsty land springs of water. There will be the gladness of birds, a habitation of reeds and marshes. A pure way shall be there, and it shall be called a holy way. But the redeemed shall walk in it, and those gathered by the Lord shall return and come to Zion with gladness, and exceeding joy will be on their head, and gladness shall possess them. Pain, sorrow, and sighing fled away. We are caught up here in the profundity of God’s salvation of the world.

            The Orthodox commentary at this point reads “By His immersion in the Jordan, Christ sanctified not only the waters of the Jordan, but the whole nature of the waters, as the Church cries out in its hymns: “Christ hath appeared in the Jordan to sanctify the waters” (troparion of the forefeast); “Today the nature of the waters is sanctified” (troparion at the Blessing of the Waters). Since there is water everywhere, by sanctifying the waters, Christ thereby sanctified all of creation and the entire universe.”

What might all this mean for us? One obvious lesson is that preoccupation with self ignores the bigger picture God holds out to us. 

            One writer says: Early Catholic moral theology taught that there were three major sources of evil: the world, the flesh, and the devil. My moral theology professor always added emphatically: “In that order!” Yet, up to now, most Christians have placed almost all of our attention on the secondary “flesh” level. We have had little education in or recognition of what Paul meant by “the principalities of the world” and even less understanding of what he meant by “the ruler who dominates the very air” (Ephesians 6:12). The world and the devil basically got off scot-free for most of Christian history while individual humans carried the majority of the blame.” An emphasis on the frailty of the flesh deflects us from our larger calling to be ministers of God’s justice and mercy.

            In other words, we can become preoccupied with very minor things. “Sin” comes to mean piccadillos: things we have said or done that might not be sins at all. We can come to have a super sensitivity to any act or word that only in our prurient imagination might be titillating --  and thereby something that we can falsely name concretely as sin, because that would give rise to its repudiation, and this would be to us a sign of our own virtue. These mental gymnastics the Church has recognized as a form of pride called “Scrupulosity.”

            This is why the Orthodox, cosmic, celebration of Baptism is such a tonic for us in the West. A tonic, because: Understanding Christianity as “Being good,” besides being tiresome, leads to even more confusion. I was presiding at the funeral of a friend last month, and I was surprised to hear that he frequently said “I live life with no regrets.” What might that mean? I think he meant – in a good way, but because of a defective understanding of the faith -- that he refused to wallow in guilt. He refused to have his integrity violated for what some outside authority named as sinful.  

            For my part, I have lots of regrets – about not being a better spouse, father, priest, you name it. I do have regrets. But as a Christian, I don’t wallow in guilt – although I expect Mrs. Sturni sometimes thinks I don’t wallow in it quite enough – but we confess, ask for grace and move on. Mark Twain said “A person who has a clear conscience has a short memory.” Jesus himself said “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Goodness is a byproduct of a relationship of faith, not something we can even begin to aim for in itself.  

            The Blessing of the Great Waters is a tonic because it emphasizes that human beings change when they are swept up into something bigger than ourselves, not by being shamed into guilt, not by focusing only on repentance for our personal sins, but being in touch with a calling that touches and claims our imagination and aspiration. We need not be slaves to self-absorption; we are offered, through Christ’s sacrifice, the delight, energy and joy of Christian community and ministry, which is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire. 

            As examples of those caught up in something bigger than themselves, Let us end with a quick look, only briefly, at the two men, Andrew and Peter, at the end of today’s Gospel: John the Baptist said: “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.”

            The scene is awkward:  their level of interest in Jesus might only have been idle curiosity: “they followed him.” Jesus feels their presence, and turns around to confront them. He says “What are you looking for?” They are caught and come up with a lame and awkward response: “Where are you staying?” 

At this point in their discipleship the brothers lack confidence and are a little –clumsy: they don’t know what to make of Jesus, of John the Baptist, of themselves. But they have the good sense to risk getting started – even if it’s only to ask in a bungling way “Where are you staying?” They sense something good is happening; they are intrigued.

            Very graciously, Jesus accepts their effort with love and understanding (and perhaps with humor). He says “Come and see.” He invites them to walk with him and beside him, not behind him. 

            We also may lack confidence in our discipleship. We bungle about in our own minds wondering how to understand ourselves, how to let go of ourselves in order to enter God’s presence, how to love another person, how to be of use in the world, what to read, what to sacrifice for, who we should get to know, how we should spend our time. But be assured:  [Then] the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb will speak clearly. “For water shall burst forth in the desert, and a valley in the thirsty land.”

            Jesus invites us, with Andrew and Simon Peter, still thirsting for understanding, into and through the waters of his baptism and our own. He says “I am the living water.” He senses our presence at Mass here and now, inquiring about him. He says “What are you looking for?” He invites us to walk with him, to see where he stays, to approach his Tabernacle and reach out for Holy Communion, to have supper with him, to be renewed by his Spirit daily, to be caught up in something truly grand. “Come and see.”

            In nomine….

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Sunday January 12, 2020                                                                     >> Printable Transcript

The First Sunday after the Epiphany:                                                  >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ

The Mystery of Christ's Baptism                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Solemn Mass

Isaiah 42:1-9; Acts 10:34-43; St. Matthew 3:13-17                                                             

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            The Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan is told by all four evangelists, each with his own perspective. Today it is Saint Matthew, whose account raises a question that might well occur to us. Jesus comes to John to be baptized, and John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John’s baptism was a washing from sin and a sign of repentance. 

            Jesus’s answer to John the Baptist is profound. “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” John seems in some way to understand, because at this he consents and baptizes Jesus. For years I have pondered what Jesus means here, and I believe this is the meaning: Jesus by being baptized is identifying, showing solidarity, with sinners. Even though Jesus is free from sin, he does this, because, as he says elsewhere, I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. We will come back to this at the end.

            Meanwhile, what happens as Jesus is baptized? There is a great epiphany, a manifestation or revelation, of God the Holy Trinity. The heavens are opened. The Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove. A voice from heaven says, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. God manifests himself as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Then the Holy Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness where his Sonship, his filial relationship with the Father, will be tested before he begins his ministry. This anticipates what will happen, when the devil returns for the opportunity presented at the time of Jesus’s Passion and Sacrifice.

            Jesus’s relationship with God, his nature and identity as the Son, have all been the case from the beginning. They do not begin at his Baptism; they are manifested by the epiphany at his Baptism. Jesus’s Sonship actually has no beginning, because he is eternally begotten of the Father before time. When Jesus was conceived through the faith of his mother, the blessed Virgin Mary, as she heard and received the Word of God, he was the incarnate Son of God. When he was in her womb, when he was born, when he was an infant and then a youth, onward as he grew up, Jesus was the Son of God and as a human being he was learning and undergoing his Sonship at each stage of his life. 

            Now, at his Baptism, Jesus is ready to begin his public ministry, and he does so by identifying with sinners. He does not sin, but he shows utter solidarity, he reveals the divine compassion, for the fallen human race. He is the sinner’s truest Friend because he has something of the most precious value to give us. This will become more and more evident as Jesus moves through his ministry. As Saint Peter says in our lesson from Acts, he goes about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. The prophet Isaiah, many centuries before Jesus, in our first lesson foresees these works of the Messiah who is to come.

            Sin is separation from God. As the apostle says, the wages of sin is death, because it cuts us off from life, which God wishes us to have eternally. The saddest words in the Bible for me come in Genesis. Having said it is not good for man to be alone, God creates Eve for Adam. Then they separate themselves from God by eating the forbidden fruit; and they hide when they hear the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. Whereupon God says, Where are you? They are alone, again, in their own self-imposed exile from grace. Sin is our great corporate and personal enemy, and it is sin’s isolation from which Jesus came to save us. As he does his works, he heals the sick, makes the blind to see and the deaf to hear and the lame to walk, raises the dead, and give good news to the poor. He restores sinners to life and fellowship with God. All these are signs, epiphanies, of our Lord and Savior.

            The apostle Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians, describes this restoration to life wonderfully (II Corinthians 6:16-21) when he says that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old (sin) has passed away, and the new (grace in Jesus) has come. Not only that, but Jesus has given to his disciples, to his church, this very ministry of reconciliation. It is what the Eucharist this morning manifests as we take part in the life-giving Body of Christ. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, says the apostle, be reconciled to God. And then he plumbs the depths of the Good News of Jesus Christ with these words: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

            This takes us back as I said to what Jesus said to John the Baptist about his being baptized as though he were a sinner. Let it be so now, for it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. What happened on the cross? God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin. What happened at the empty tomb? God raised Jesus from the dead, and vindicated him as Lord and Savior. So Jesus has opened up his relationship to God to us, in order to restore us to fellowship, actually to re-integrate us into the Holy Trinity who revealed himself as Jesus was baptized. How can we fail to accept that invitation?

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Sunday January 5, 2020                                                                      >> Printable Transcript

The Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ (anticipated)                          >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

The Journey of the Magi                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Solemn Mass

St. Matthew 2:1-12                                                             

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            Epiphany, the journey of the Magi, the Three Wise Men, to the newborn Christ in Bethlehem, is a major feast of the Church. It is the beginning of a new liturgical season until we reach Lent, and it is also the climax of Christmastide. So we do well today at Saint Stephen’s to anticipate the feast this second Sunday after Christmas Day. In the Eastern churches, Epiphany really is the celebration equal to or greater than the Nativity itself, wherein the Infant Jesus manifests his glory to the nations as personified by the Magi. This is also true in Spanish-speaking Christendom, where the Epiphany is as great a celebration as Christmas.

            Epiphany means Manifestation, in this case the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. Jesus thereby reveals himself, even as a newborn child, not only as Messiah of Israel but as Lord and God of the Gentiles, the non-Jewish peoples of the earth, who very soon after Christ and his Apostles became the preponderant members of his Church.

            Saint Matthew’s story of the Journey of the Magi, which is unique to his Gospel, is full of meaning worth knowing and cherishing. First of all, he does not say there were three wise men, but tradition has assumed there were three because of the three gifts that were presented to Christ: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Tradition has added their three names, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, representing the races of mankind. And the beloved hymn, “We Three Kings” actually puts this very clearly and beautifully, as each king describes his gift. Gold for a King. Frankincense for God. Myrrh for a Sacrifice.

            A second thing to notice is that the Magi begin their journey by their Gentile arts and sciences. They are stargazers. They see a great star, or perhaps as some have fascinatingly argued, a great comet, crossing the sky. They somehow divine it is a king of the Jews to be born, and having seen his star in the east, make their way to Judea. T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Journey of the Magi,” is highly to be recommended as a meditation on their journey and their feelings as they also make an inward journey from seeking to believing.

            When the Magi get to Judea, being kings they naturally go to King Herod, who rules Judea under the auspices of the overlords of the Roman Empire. “Where is he who is born king of the Jews? We have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” Herod is alarmed by this news, but he also is an instrument (though a dangerous one) of Providence as he summons the Jewish scribes to tell where the Scriptures say the Messiah, the Christ, is to be born. So we have gone from Gentiles arts to the Hebrew Scriptures. The answer from the prophet Micah is Bethlehem in Judea, King David’s hometown. So Herod, desiring to destroy the child, tells the wise men secretly, When you find him, come tell me where he is, that I may worship him also.

            So the Magi, aided by both devout Gentile reason and by the revelation of Holy Scripture, and by the movement of the star, find Christ and his mother, and they present their three gifts. But they are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and they go home by another way. God will also warn the Holy Family to flee, once Herod realizes that the wise men are not going to return to him. He will commit an atrocity, the Slaughter of the Innocents, which prefigures Jesus’s entire life of Sacrifice, especially at the end.

            But the wise men return home by another way in a deeper sense. They have sought, and found, and worshiped Christ. They have made a long inward as well as a long outward journey. Eliot’s poem which I mentioned earlier has them say they returned to their places, their old kingdoms, no longer feeling at home “in the old dispensation, with an alien people clutching their gods.” They felt they had seen death as well as birth. They saw Christ’s birth, and in so seeing, they experienced a death, “our own death,” the death of their former way of life; and the speaker, speaking for the Magi as a whole, finishes, “I should be glad of another death.”

            Once you have really seen Christ, you are not the same. You have seen a glory and a life that is meant to be yours but cannot be had unless you receive it as a gift. And the means of reception is itself also a gift, the gift of faith. Let us each cherish that gift, the gift of faith, and pray that above all we are given the gift of final perseverance to reach the end of our own journeys, wanting above all to go home to our Lord.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Sunday December 29, 2019                                                                              

The First Sunday after Christmas                                                       >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording)

God became Man in Jesus Christ                                                       

Fr. Mead | 10 am Mass with Hymns                                                              

Isaiah 61:10—62:3; Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-1

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Tuesday December 24, 2019                                                                              

The Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ                                >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording)

The Three Births of Christmas                                                         

Fr. Mead | 10:30 pm Solemn Mass & Procession                                                              

Isaiah 62:6-12; Titus 3:4-7; St. Luke 2:8-20

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Sunday December 22, 2019                                                                 >> Printable Transcript

The Fourth Sunday of Advent                                                             >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

Christ: Conceived and Raised by the Holy Spirit                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Solemn Mass

Isaiah 7:10-16; Romans 1:1-7; St. Matthew 1:18-25                                                             

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            We are near the end of the Advent season, on the brink of the Church’s official celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. The old 1928 Book of Common Prayer put the title elegantly: The Nativity of our Lord, or the Birthday of Christ, commonly called Christmas Day. 

            Let me begin asking if it has occurred to you, as it occurs to me, that it is truly remarkable that we celebrate, as we do, the birthday of a man who was crucified, died, and was buried about 2,000 years ago? It is a question well worth reflection, because it gets at the heart of Christianity.

            The reason, of course, is stated in today’s reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans. We heard the very beginning of the epistle, where Paul introduces himself as an apostle to the Church where Saint Peter had gone before. The Apostle says he has been set apart for the gospel of the Son of God who was raised from the dead. In other words, we celebrate Jesus’s birthday the way we do because he is alive and blesses us as he has blessed our ancestors in the faith for the two millennia since he was born.

            God’s Son was conceived by the same power that raised him from the dead – in Paul’s words, by the spirit of holiness. In today’s Gospel Saint Matthew tells the birth story from the perspective of Saint Joseph. Engaged to Mary, before they came together she was found to be “with child by the Holy Spirit.” But that wasn’t Joseph’s first and natural thought; being a decent and devout man, he resolved quietly to dismiss Mary as his fiancé. Then an angel appeared to him, telling Joseph not to fear; Mary’s child was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 

            Saint Luke tells this story from Mary’s perspective, and when the angel announced to her that she would become the mother of God’s Son, she was troubled by the same first and natural thoughts but from the mother’s side: How can this be, since I know not a man? The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and power of the highest shall overshadow thee. So it was that first Mary (as told by Saint Luke) and then Joseph (as told by Saint Matthew) said Yes to God. Joseph’s Yes was the first confirmation to Mary of the angel’s message, and that God would protect the Holy Family, let circumstances happen as they would.

            Just so, the child would grow and his life and ministry would flourish – as well as provoke lethal opposition from the world. Jesus once said to his followers, In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. 

            My dear friends, this child, this man who was indeed God’s Son, God’s Word made flesh who came to dwell among us and save us from what ails us, is The Good News. We do very well to celebrate his birthday, just as next Easter we do very well to celebrate his resurrection from the dead. Week by week he gives us his body and blood, and do you know, there is a lovely Communion anthem that connects Christ’s birthday to his resurrection. You know it, and the choir sings it, the Ave Verum Corpus. “Hail true Body, born of the Virgin Mary, having truly suffered, sacrificed on the cross for mankind, from whose pierced side water and blood flowed: Be for us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet in the trial of death. O sweet Jesus, O holy Jesus, O Jesus Son of Mary, have mercy on me. Amen.”

            So as we prepare to celebrate his Birthday, which is actually a feast which is part of his Resurrection, may our dear Lord Jesus bless and keep us. Be of good cheer, he has overcome the world.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Sunday December 15, 2019                                                                              

The Third Sunday of Advent                                                               >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording)

Are You the One to Come?                                                          

Fr. Pearson | 10 am Solemn Mass                                                               

Isaiah 35:1-10; James 5:7-10; St. Matthew 11:2-11

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Sunday December 8, 2019                                                                  >> Printable Transcript

The Second Sunday of Advent                                                           >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

John the Baptist is not the Grinch Who Stole Christmas                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Solemn Mass

Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-13; St. Matthew 3:1-12                                                             

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            You don’t see Christmas cards featuring John the Baptist. Today for example we hear John’s message begin with Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Then he spots the Pharisees and Sadducees among the crowd and addresses them as a brood of vipers, casting doubt on the reality of their repentance. Finally, he speaks of his successor, Christ, for whom John was the herald and forerunner; and he dwells on the winnowing of the wheat to be gathered into the Lord’s granary and separated from the chaff that will be burned with unquenchable fire. Merry Christmas.

            Why does the Church do this, assigning readings about John the Baptist, on two of the Sundays before Christmas? Because, beautiful as it truly is, Christmas (remember it means Christ-Mass) is about the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel and Lord of the Gentiles, God incarnate, the Word made flesh who dwelt among us. He came to dwell among us not simply to join us and be our companion, but to save us from what is the matter with us. Or, as John the Baptist says elsewhere, Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Christmas is beautiful because it is Good News, the best news there is for every one of us: for God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. At bottom, that is what Merry Christmas means.

            Christmas is seriously Good News. It is not just superficially festive. So, John the Baptist is our wake-up call, our alarm bell. The most important thing he says, aside from Behold the Lamb of God, is Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. If we listen to John, we see through the annual avalanche of commerce and sentiment at this season, into the mystery and the Good News of Christ’s incarnation, and we hear a message to prepare ourselves. In the world we live in, and in the lives we lead, let’s be honest, matters are so infected and influenced by sin, so overwhelmed by strife, so fallen and sad as a result, that the most creative thing we can do is start again. Repent means Stop, turn, begin again. Stop the “same old same old” of what you’ve been thinking, saying and doing. Turn toward a time of refreshing. Begin again with the Lord. Put another way, be reborn. This is a real spiritual possibility, in fact a necessity, a fresh start brought about through God’s grace and our willingness.

            John cast doubt on the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders, the clergy. He called them a brood of vipers. Why? Because of their inclination to rely on credentials. Do not presume to say, we are children of Abraham – for God can make children of Abraham from these stones. This doesn’t mean that religious leaders, clergy, churchmen and churchwomen cannot repent and be saved; we need good religious leaders; it means that they have to watch out against being jaded or cynical or proud or envious, the occupational hazards of religious people who think they’ve seen it all. 

            The fact is, none of us has anywhere near seen it all. The kingdom of heaven is at hand, said John. Behold the Lamb of God, he later said, referring to Jesus. And when some of John’s followers turned to Jesus and asked where he was staying, Jesus said Come and see. I have been a priest nearly fifty years. I first started wanting to come and see Jesus as a youth. I tell you, I have had glimpses and sightings of his glory and grace, as you have, but I haven’t seen anything yet. Neither have you. That is why the message, Repent, for the kingdom is at hand, is always relevant, I would say urgent. Clear out the rubbish, get rid of the obstacles, look again with fresh eyes. “Sir, we would see Jesus,” said some Greeks to a disciple. We have so much more to see. In fact, one of the key features of the kingdom of heaven, which we glimpse here and now, is called the Beatific Vision on the other side of death.

            The role of John the Baptist is to prepare the way of the Lord. There is a sense in which in his person John summarizes all the prophets before him. Jesus would later on refer to John as “Elijah.” But John’s ministry only went so far. It went as far as repentance. He said so himself. “One who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Strong words.

            One of the things John surely means, whether he himself knew it or not, is that when we repent and then turn to the Lord, when we come first to see Jesus, when we begin to put our faith in him, an exchange begins to take place between ourselves and Christ. We hand over our sins; the Lord hands over his grace. He lives the life we have not lived but can have as his gift. That is why the exchange, which you can literally see at the altar rail, has Christ turning over his body and blood, his sacred humanity, to us. It is an exchange involving soul and body. Look at how physical and realistic the language is. That Prayer of Humble Access which we say just before Communion, just after hearing the words, Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; that very physical language is no church invention. It is from the lips of Jesus himself. “Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. My flesh is food indeed. My blood is drink indeed. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood dwells in me and I in him.”

            God came down to make himself our very food and life. No wonder it is so necessary to repent and turn in order to receive him. That is the heart of Christmas.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Sunday December 1, 2019                                                                  >> Printable Transcript

The First Sunday of Advent                                                               >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

Amen. Come Lord Jesus.                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Solemn Mass

Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; St. Matthew 24:36-44                                                             

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            Today we begin a new Church Year with Advent Sunday. The word, Advent, is derived from the Latin, Ad-venire, which means to “come to or towards,” and in our case it means that our Lord Jesus Christ is coming to or towards us.

            If we fast forward to the fourth or last Sunday of Advent, the Sunday before Christmas, and we work backwards to where we are now, we see the comings of Jesus Christ in historical order. There is first the coming of Jesus in his Incarnation – his Annunciation, Conception, and Birth as the Word-made-flesh born of the Virgin Mary. Then there is the coming of Christ in his public ministry, heralded by the prophet John the Baptist. Finally, there is Christ’s coming in glorious majesty to judge the world at the end of time, described as the event of all events for us all to be alert and to watch for.

            By the way, this evening here at 5:30, I encourage you to return for the beautiful service of Advent Lessons and Carols, especially for the powerful music performed by Maestro Busby and the Choir. This service gives an overview, as just outlined, of the themes of the entire Advent Season.

            As I sketch the meaning of the word Advent, and outline the great Advent themes from Christ’s Virginal Conception and Birth to his public ministry to his return in glorious majesty, I feel the need to add something, something implicit in the narratives of both Mary and John the Baptist. That is the singular personal dimension of Jesus’s Advent.

            Let’s begin briefly with Mary and with John the Baptist. They were both real people. When Mary was greeted by the angel with the word that she was highly favored and was going to be the Mother of God’s Son, she was troubled. She was betrothed. She was a virgin and would remain so. How could this be? The Holy Spirit would overshadow her; God’s power would come upon her. The risks of public shame and rejection by Joseph notwithstanding, she said Yes and embraced the Advent of her Son and Savior: Let it be. Mary’s and Joseph’s are great stories of faith and courage.

            John the Baptist, having baptized and heralded Jesus, began to worry and doubt. Herod had imprisoned John and would execute him. Had John bet everything on nothing? Where were the great acts of the Messiah? His answer from Jesus overturned the Messianic assumptions of power and politics: instead, the blind received sight, the lame walked, lepers were cleansed, the poor had good news – this was a message from the Lamb of God whose sacrificial life and love would overcome the sins of the world. 

            But maybe you find it a little hard to identify with the Virgin Mary or John the Baptist. Then how about a sinner and intellectual who frequented lecture halls and had a complicated domestic life? This would be in this case the African Augustine of Hippo, an urbane well-born man living near the end of the Roman Empire, whose blessings he enjoyed. He found himself at sea in the spirit. Was there a God or not? What meaning was there to life? These sorts of world-weary questions weighed on him. One day he had a strange feeling as he overheard children playing and one of them kept repeating, “Tolle lege, tolle lege.” “Take and read, take and read.” As it happened he looked at Scripture (his mother was a devout Christian) and came upon this from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It was our Epistle reading for today:

            “The night is far gone, the day is near. Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling or jealousy. Instead put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” So in process of time, he did. It was quite a personal Advent Christ made to Augustine. He became the father of western Christianity. A millennium later, both Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther looked to him.

            My own life was upended by Christ’s Advent. As a boy I had been very moved and troubled by the crucifixion of Jesus. Fast forward to studying in college the night before a quiz which happened to be on Christ’s prediction of his death. Let’s just say Jesus really introduced himself to me that night, and the introduction included the fact that he lives and reigns as Lord from his cross. I haven’t changed the world like Augustine, but I wouldn’t be here today otherwise. 

            And I suspect you wouldn’t be here otherwise, either, had not Jesus in one way or another made his Advent to you. I have listened to enough of you in the past six months to know that here is a treasury of grace and of experiences of Christ in this little flock of his. Some of your stories have knocked me back on my heels – and it is one of the privileges of the ministry to see how Christ works his way, makes his Advent, to his people in his church.

            So what are we bidden to do? To stay awake. To watch. To hold fast to Christ’s Advent, to what we already have received. We know not the day nor the hour. I don’t know when The End will come. But I certainly know that my own End will come, and that I will meet Jesus as both my Savior and Judge. How do I want him to find me? In what condition? 

            We can, in this Mass, prepare by making a devout Holy Communion. If the Eucharist, in that precious Host and Cup, isn’t an Advent, then I don’t know what is. So I say Amen, come Lord Jesus.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Sunday November 24, 2019                                                               >> Printable Transcript

The Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King                              >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

The Scandal Is the Good News                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Solemn Mass & Te Deum

Jeremiah 23:1-6; Colossians 1:11-20; St. Luke 23:33-43                                                             

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            Since the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer was revised in 1979, the Last Sunday after Pentecost (the Sunday next before Advent) has had lessons drawn for what is called Christ the King, bringing us in line, as in many other things, with the usage of the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutherans, and other Protestant churches.

            The Feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, in response to the rise of menacing totalitarian notions of kingship, particularly fascism and communism. Later, in 1969, during the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI moved the feast to where it is now at the end of “Ordinary Time” and renamed it the Feast of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. It was adopted in short order by other western churches and has ecumenical acclaim.

            Pope Paul VI’s new name for the feast suits our second lesson, Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossians, admirably. Let’s hear it again. “In [Christ] all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether or earth on in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” This is so extraordinary. Jesus Christ is king of the universe! He is the healer of the universe! He is the firstborn from the dead for the renewed universe. It is Good News beyond comprehension.

            Yet when it was seen by eyewitnesses, that is, the blood of his cross, it shattered his friends and followers. Saint Luke tells the story today. His judges and killers mocked. “He saved others; himself he cannot save.” And one of the malefactors crucified next to him similarly reviled him. But the other, the penitent thief whose name lives in tradition as Saint Dismas, rebuked the reviler, confessed Jesus’s innocence, and begged the Lord to remember him in his kingdom. And has anyone ever heard a richer blessing, especially as they were dying: “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” We have come from Christ the healer of the cosmos to Christ the savior of the criminal. Or should we say it in order of the church’s grasp of this truth: Jesus the companion/savior of the criminal is Christ the King of the Universe. We go from the word of dying Saint Dismas to the apostolic teaching of Saint Paul.

            In his book, Training in Christianity, which has deeply influenced me ever since I read it in seminary, the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard repeatedly sharpens the double “offense” of the Gospel. On the one hand, he says, the world (which did not know him) is scandalized to find that its creator is that Jewish man dying on the cross in 33 AD in Jerusalem. On the other hand, he says, the world (which attempted to annihilate him) is scandalized to discovered that its victim is in fact its creator. To quote Saint John, He was in the world, and the world was made by him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own, and own people received him not. 

            There follows a “but” in Saint John. BUT to those who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And [so] the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.

            At diocesan convention on Saturday November 9 at St. Luke’s East Greenwich, nearly the last item on the agenda was the Bishop’s Address, required by canon law. We had finished our business, but we had lunch before the address and before courtesy resolutions and adjournment. I am not a resident priest in Rhode Island, I am licensed to officiate as a priest resident in the Diocese of New York where I retired. I was a registered guest accompanying Saint Stephen’s lay delegates who were Jacob Ihnen and Nancy Gingrich. Fr. Bill Locke was with us in the pews. I was ready to go home and have a nap. I wasn’t ready for what I was about to hear from Bishop Knisely.

            The Bishop spoke of the mysteries that we have before us, week after week, day after day, in the church. He mentioned how precious is the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer as a lifeline to Holy Scripture and to the mystical communion of other church members. He mentioned that in the Holy Communion we have put into our hand the Creator of the Universe as our food and drink. He also mentioned that the same Creator has emptied himself into bread and wine as our life and nourishment. He had some slides showing the host in a recipient’s hand.

            Then he said he thinks we all (he included himself) often miss the awesome, mind-boggling mystery that is placed right into our midst, our hands, our mouths, our bodies. He said that church routines can callous our souls and numb our minds to the wonder right before us. This of course is due to our poor fallen nature, the very nature that Christ came to save and heal; the very condition that his self-giving has had in view from before the beginning of time.

            It was an extraordinary word to hear anywhere from the Bishop, but all the more at the conclusion of a Diocesan Convention. It would have been a powerful word in a sermon or on a retreat. But at the end of long day full of church business, it was as though the Apostle himself had stepped into the room. As at Colossae, dealing with that church’s dirty laundry, its calloused spirit and its heretical temptations, the Word came in all its Gospel power. 

            Dear friends, we are at the end of another church year. We are collecting our pledges and offering them. We are concerned, rightly, about all this, especially about our future and the call of our next rector. But here, now, let us not overlook the wonder that is put into our hands, our mouths, our bodies. The Creator and King of the Universe has made himself our food and drink. 

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Sunday November 17, 2019                                                               >> Printable Transcript

The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost                                                                      

By Endurance You Will Save Your Souls                                                          

Fr. Jeffrey A. Hanson | 10 am Solemn Mass

St. Luke 21:5-19                                                               

            The scene of today’s Gospel reading from Luke is the temple in Jerusalem. We are at the end of a long journey that in Luke’s telling spans several chapters across which Jesus is on the road to here, this place, the heart of Jewish life and worship.

            King Herod, who readers of the Gospel remember as an enemy of Christ, sought rather to be remembered as an ambitious builder, and the renovation of the Jerusalem temple was to be his crowning achievement. His aim was that the Jerusalem temple should be the most opulent in the known world, and according to Roman historians, he succeeded. The temple’s outer court was built of towering columns of marble, single quarried and polished stones each over 30 feet high, accented by dazzling gold. This explains Luke’s opening reference to the temple’s “noble stones.”

            The temple was surely a splendor to behold, and yet our Lord issues a sober warning about the fate of the temple: “the days will come when there shall not be left one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

            Picture the immensity and beauty of the stones that composed the temple, and you can begin to appreciate the gravity of our Lord’s statement. And yet this does not capture the depth of what he is saying, for the temple is not just a building, imposing and gorgeous as it was, but it is the very spiritual home of the Jewish people and the place where God is rightly worshiped. What Jesus predicts here is not just the destruction of a building but nothing less than the destruction of an entire way of life.

            Within one generation though what he says will come to pass, does. The Roman general Titus tore the Jerusalem temple down to the ground in 70 AD, looted it of its sacred treasures, and massacred most of the city’s surviving population. 

            No wonder our Lord’s hearers ask when this unthinkable disaster will come and what signs might portend it. But Jesus never answers a question like this directly: He never talks about when and where. Instead he promises yet more disasters: “wars and tumults,” “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom,” “there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.”

            The ancient world was obsessed with signs of this kind, finding all sorts of significance in odd inexplicable events thought to augur imminent doom. The Jewish historian Josephus records that the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem was presaged by a star in the heavens that looked like a sword, by a comet that lingered in the night sky for a full year, and by a cow giving birth to a sheep.

            You will notice though that our Lord’s description of the signs of things to come is much more pedestrian than Josephus’s rather eccentric—and frankly implausible—list.

            Wars and famine and pestilence and natural disaster are all too familiar. They would have been then, and they remain so today. We don’t need a cosmic freak show like a cow giving birth to a sheep to tell us that the world is beset by evils.

            But I haven’t even got to the worst part yet. “Before all this,” Jesus says, “before all this,” as if that weren’t enough, “they will lay their hands on you and persecute you…for my name’s sake,” “you will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”

            This too is all too familiar. Read the book of Acts, Luke’s sequel to his Gospel, and you will see that all of this comes true too, within a few short years of Jesus’s resurrection and ascension to his Father. To be hated for bearing the name of Jesus Christ was a reality then, and it is so for many today.

            Our brothers and sisters around the world face persecution the likes of which we can be grateful we don’t know. But even here as we confront the decline of the Christian church’s vitality and influence, the prospect of an end to our way of life does not seem that remote.

            So what are we to do?

            The answer is in verse 9: “do not be terrified.” When confronted with wars and tumults it’s hard to imagine how we could be anything but entirely terrified. So how are we to obey our Lord in this matter? There is only one way, and that is to learn what is really worth our being terrified of.

            My favorite philosopher, the Danish existentialist Søren Kierkegaard, says one difference between the Christian and the nonbeliever is that the Christian laughs at what terrifies the nonbeliever and is terrified of only one thing: the loss of our soul. For the Christian, loss of safety, loss of livelihood, loss of family are grave evils to be sure, but they are not the worst loss.

            Jesus Christ tells us in verse 16 that some of his hearers will be put to death, and yet “not a hair of your head will perish.” How in the world that can be true? How can a person die and yet not have a hair of their head perish? Only if there is a fate quite literally worse than death. Only if the death of the body is nothing compared to the perishing of the soul. This I think is what Jesus really means in the final verse of our Gospel reading today, which translates the Greek word “souls” as “lives.” By your endurance you will save your souls.

            As much as we rightly cherish the noble stones and offerings of St. Stephen’s Providence or the Church of the Advent Boston or St. Thomas Fifth Avenue, our faith is not built on those noble stones.

            Our faith is built on the solid rock that is Jesus Christ himself. And not even the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.

            We look at a beautiful and solid structure like this, we look at empires and nations, and we think these things last forever, and our lives our so short as to pale into insignificance, but we have it exactly wrong. It’s the other way around.

            Not one stone of this building could be left standing, our way of life as Christian people in this place could come to an effective end, and yet those of us who believe in Jesus Christ would have no reason to be terrified because by faith in him though we be martyred we shall not die but live.

            The life that Jesus Christ promises us is a life that cannot die. It is indestructible. This cannot be said of anything else.

            Yet if you can say of yourself that you trust in him, that you are not terrified, that you will save your soul by enduring all things through faith in him then you too—you too are indestructible. Amen.

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Sunday November 10, 2019                                                               >> Printable Transcript

Remembrance Sunday                                                                      >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

Where Are the Dead?                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Solemn Requiem Mass                                                               

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            Let me begin by thanking Maestro Busby and our choir for this beautiful Requiem Mass. The texts for the Requiem really preach the Word for me today, but I do want to say a few things. 

            I have long thought the Church needs a Sunday devoted to the Requiem the week after we celebrate All Saints Sunday, for All Souls, as this is properly named, is an extension of All Saints. Whereas All Saints celebrates the triumphs of Jesus Christ in his servants (such as the recently canonized Saint John Henry Newman) as well as the calling to which every one of us disciples of Jesus is summoned, All Souls extends the mercy and grace, yes the triumph, of Christ to everyone who will. In the words of the priest and poet John Donne, “Salvation to all that will is nigh!” Having such a Mass on a Sunday, calling it Remembrance or All Souls Sunday, is a marvelous teaching instrument about one of the central mysteries of the faith – that is the relationship of our death to our Lord.

            Today briefly I want to ask, where are the dead, and why do we pray for them?

            The dead are in two places that are really one. The dead whom we have known and cherished, or known and not cherished or even hated (!) are in our hearts. And all the dead, we may call them the departed, whether we have known them or not, are in the hands of Almighty God, whom we know as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore we also know God is Love Almighty.

            We hold the dead in our minds and hearts and thereby have a relationship with them. And here we may, in that relationship, pray for them and for ourselves, because that relationship has a bearing on life everlasting. So we pray for many things, for peace and rest, for healing and understanding, for justice and mercy, for forgiveness and grace. But all of these things are functions of the fact that what we are really praying for is that the good work of Jesus Christ, who gave his life for the life of the world, will be brought to fulfillment and completion in all the souls of the departed.

My much beloved father-in-law, as he was near his death some years ago, sat up alertly from what I thought had been sleep, and said, “Andrew, will we meet foes in heaven?” I thought, is he thinking of his days in World War II, or of a more personal enemy? But I realized it didn’t matter, as I said, “Yes, Sam, I believe so. But it’s ok, because heaven belongs to Jesus. It’s his homeland. And he has a great way of making foes into friends.” Sam thought, and nodded, and closed his eyes again. 

            This is not praying for a second chance. We have our life to live and it is not a dress rehearsal. We pray that God will bring whatever grace there is in a life to its completion. And this is not an assumption that everyone is heavenward bound no matter what, for that would make a mockery of the highest gift of human dignity, our free will. No one is forced to love God, or to love at all for that matter. That is why the Requiem texts have a severity about them, but they are really, if you look closely, severely merciful: “What shall I, frail man, be pleading?  Who for me be interceding, when the just are mercy needing?” It is all the mercy of God as extended to the uttermost (which is what I must have if I am to be there!) for our salvation.

            Let me finish with an old funeral prayer from the Book of Common Prayer which says it all. “Into thy hands, O Lord, we commend thy servant N., our dear brother/sister, as into the hands of a faithful Creator and most merciful Savior, beseeching thee that he may be precious in thy sight. Wash him, we pray thee, in the blood of that immaculate Lamb that was slain to take away the sins of the world: that, whatsoever defilements he may have contracted in the midst of this earthly life being purged and done away, he may be presented pure and without spot before thee; through the merits of Jesus Christ thine only Son our Lord. Amen.” (BCP, p. 488)

            And what then? To stick with John Donne: “From the round world’s imagined corners, blow your trumpets, Angels, and arise, arise from death, you numberless infinities of souls, and to your scattered bodies go.” As I once heard a great African American preacher proclaim, it is that “great getting-up Day” of the Resurrection and the Life Everlasting.

            So to that end, dear fellow disciples, let us do the good work of prayer for the departed, and pray that we ourselves will be there with them.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Sunday November 3, 2019                                                                              

The Sunday after All Saints Day                                                        >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording)

All Saints' Sunday: Victory, Mystery, and Hope                                                          

Fr. Locke | 10 am Solemn Mass                                                               

Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10, 13-14; Revelation 21:1-6; St. Matthew 5:1-1

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00:00 / 09:40

Sunday October 27, 2019                                                                  >> Printable Transcript

The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost                                              >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

Make a Career of Humility                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Solemn Mass                                                               

St. Luke 18:9-14

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            Jesus’s parable today contrasting the prayer of the Pharisee with the prayer of the tax collector is one of his most important, in order for us to understand what Jesus means by a right relationship with God.

            When Jesus says that the tax collector returned home from the temple “justified” rather than the Pharisee, he means he went home in a right relationship with God, and the Pharisee did not. And in order to appreciate the contrast, we need first to see what a Pharisee was and what a tax collector was as Jesus told his story.

            The Pharisees were the strict, observant, orthodox Jews of Jesus’s day. In fact, Jesus agreed with the Pharisees on several doctrinal matters; for example, on the existence and ministry of angels, or on the resurrection of the dead on the last day. Yet the Pharisees formed the hard core of the spiritual opposition to Jesus and his ministry. And it was the spirit of the Pharisees, or at least many of them, that Jesus found himself up against.

            On the other hand, tax collectors were despised because they worked for the Roman Empire, the overlords of occupied Judea. And the Roman taxation system made the collectors even more disliked, because they were allowed, as long as they collected the taxes due to Caesar, to gouge a cut for themselves. For example, one tax collector in Jericho, Zacchaeus (who was to become a disciple of Jesus), was very rich. 

            So generally speaking, the Pharisees were the strict and observant Jews, while the tax collectors were regarded as religiously unclean. 

            Jesus was not favoring the occupation of the tax collector over the lives of his observant fellow-Jews. He was making use of an offensive contrast to make a profound spiritual point. We know that Jesus had disciples from both groups. Witness Zacchaeus already mentioned as well as Saint Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist, both tax collectors. Witness as well Nicodemus from the high council of the Jews in Jerusalem (the very one that condemned Jesus) and Saul of Tarsus who became Saint Paul the Apostle – both eminent Pharisees before following Jesus.

            So what is Jesus’s point? His point is that none of us, ever, has a ground for boasting, or the entitlement of credentials, in our relationship with God. When the Pharisee in today’s Gospel story thanks God, he does it because he imagines he has grounds for boasting and credentials over against others. But if everything we have is a gift, how in the world can we imagine we have something to brag about, especially standing before the Giver of all gifts?

            The tax collector in Jesus’s story, on the other hand, is relieved by his social standing from the delusions cherished by the Pharisee. He has not fooled himself into thinking he has bragging rights or credentials, especially in relation to God. All he wants is mercy.

            I believe Jesus is saying that mercy is all anyone should want from God. Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, spoke often of his relationship with the Father, in order to attract and invite followers into the grace of that relationship. As he told Nicodemus, in order to see and enter the kingdom of God, we must be reborn. A tax collector beating his breast and asking for mercy is much closer to that rebirth and entry than an outwardly religious person who is inwardly full of pride. The former is “justified” and near the kingdom while the latter is far away.

            Jesus is not recommending that we take up disreputable vocations so that we may then cry for mercy. He is not saying that we should sin in order that we may be forgiven. He is describing what it takes to join him in his sinless filial relationship with God, that we might be adopted children, sons and daughters of his Father. It is what Saint Paul, that former Pharisee, calls being and living “in Christ,” dying to the old life of sin and rising with Jesus in his victory over sin to the new life of grace.

            If we are to take up any career, it is a lifelong career of self-forgetful humility leading to a joy that is free from the pressures of self-assertion, self-will, and self-esteem. It is the state of soul described by the Apostle in his famous passage about self-giving love. Namely, that it is patient and kind; not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude; not insistent on its own way, not irritable or resentful; not rejoicing at wrong but rejoicing in the right; bearing, believing, hoping and enduring all things. And in fact, never ending, because love will be needed on the other side of death since God is Love.

            This is why Saint Paul says that faith, hope and love abide, but that the greatest of these three is love. Why? Because, when we get there, on the other side, faith will have been fulfilled by sight. We will see Jesus. And hope will have been fulfilled. We will be there with him. But love, which never ends, is still needed as the ingredient that will make us happy there with joy unspeakable. For the unloving soul, heaven would be an unpleasant surprise and, God forbid, we might be more at home in some other place, especially if we insist on our bragging rights and credentials rather than rejoicing in God’s mercy.

            The greatest of the saints, as they have grown in grace, have at the same time become ever more acutely aware of how far short they have fallen of the perfection of Jesus. And in this awareness, they are all the more thankful for his love and mercy which has been with them all the way, from the first day until now. 

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Sunday October 20, 2019                                                                  >> Printable Transcript

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost                                            >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

Go the Distance                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Solemn Mass                                                               

St. Luke 18:1-8

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            Today Saint Luke tells us the point of Jesus’s parable of the widow and the unjust judge. Jesus’s disciples are to pray and not lose heart; persevere and not give up.

            In the parable the widow keeps coming to the judge for judgment, vindication, against her adversary. We are not told the circumstances. But we are told the character of the judge. He is unjust because he doesn’t care; he has no regard for God or for people. But the widow perseveres and keeps returning for his judgment in her cause: Vindicate me against my adversary! So the judge caves in. He says to himself, though I do not fear God nor have regard for people, I will give this woman what she wants. Otherwise she will wear me out. One distinguished commentator says the judge is worried lest the woman strike him and give him a black eye, and that Jesus meant to make his hearers laugh at the judge.

            How much more, therefore, says Jesus, will God hear the prayers of his people and give them justice; yes, and do so suddenly. But then Jesus asks, and the reading closes with this question: Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth? So this is not simply an issue of one particular person and her request; it is an issue of the persevering faith of the whole body of Jesus’s disciples.

            One of the things commended by Jesus in the parable of the widow and unjust judge is how she hangs in and wears him down with her persistence. I think what he is saying is that we are invited by God, especially through God’s Son as our Advocate and Mediator, to take hold of God – as it were – by the lapels of the jacket in our relationship with him. 

            We have a classic example of this in the old liturgy in the Prayer of Humble Access. I believe this is the quintessential Anglican/Catholic prayer. It arises out of a Gospel story and is the product of at least two famous Thomases: Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Cranmer. The Gospel story is the one where a pagan woman, a Syrophoenician, beseeches Jesus to cure her daughter who is vexed by a devil. Jesus demurs by saying his ministry is to the lost sheep of Israel. When she persists, Jesus roughly says that its’s not right to give the children’s (the Israelite’s) bread to the dogs (the pagans). And she grabs Jesus by his lapels (or his tunic) and says, yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table. Whereupon Jesus commends her for her great faith (better than what he has seen in Israel), and her daughter is healed from that moment.

            The Prayer of Humble Access concerning the Body and Blood of Christ reflects this exchange when it says we are not worthy to gather up the crumbs under thy table. And then it, like the Syrophoenician mother, takes the Lord by his lapels, reminding him that his very nature, his property, is to have mercy, and to grant us the full blessings of receiving Holy Communion. So here is today’s Gospel right in the heart of the Mass.

            When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth. There is a powerful story about the martyrdom of Saint Polycarp, who as a child knew Saint John the Evangelist. Polycarp became Bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor (Turkey) and lived to a great age. A persecution was unleashed against the church by the Roman empire, and Polycarp was invited publicly to disavow his faith in Jesus. He replied, All these years he has stood by me, and now I am asked to deny him? No indeed. And so Polycarp entered into his martyrdom.

            After Mass today in the Guild Hall, Canon Dena from the Bishop’s office will give the people of Saint Stephen’s a chance to reflect on the life, and perseverance, of this congregation over the several preceding decades. When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth? Well, he will find faith and prayer, here and now, at this beloved parish.

            We are to pray, to believe, to love and serve, to persevere in our relationship with God through Jesus. We do not know the times or the seasons as God does. With God, a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a day. We are to understand that in Christ Jesus, we see the human face of God, to trust that revelation, to hold to it to the end. As I get older I more and more realize that time is short; eternity is long and presses in upon me every day. 

            The story of the widow and the unjust judge does not recommend a particular style or technique of prayer. It recommends a whole attitude of faith which expects its object, our Lord Jesus, to come through on the very basis of his nature. To come through at any moment. The unjust judge caved in because he was worn out. But God hears and relates to us with the empathy and passion of Jesus. Let us take him at his word.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Sunday October 13, 2019                                                                              

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost                                              >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) TBA

Sermon Title TBA                                                          

Fr. Pearson | 10 am Solemn Mass                                                               

Jeremiah 31:27-34; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; St. Luke 18:1-8

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Sunday October 6, 2019                                                                              

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost                                            >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

Leaning upon God                                                          

Fr. Sturni | 10 am Solemn Mass                                                               

Lamentations 1:1-6; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; St. Luke 17:5-10

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Sunday September 29, 2019                                                                >> Printable Transcript

The Feast of Saint Michael & All Angels                                             >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

Angels and Mortals                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Solemn Mass                                                               

Genesis 28:10-17; Revelation 12:7-12; St. John 1:47-51

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            Not only does the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels have awesome lessons from Holy Scripture, it has glorious hymns to sing. And rightly so. God has created a cosmos in which there really is no such thing as an inanimate object, permeated with spirits who freely serve him (and some who have chosen not to), a cosmos where free will and love characterize God’s image and its reflection in creation.

            Jesus said he saw Satan fall from his pinnacle, a scene also told in today’s reading from the Revelation of Saint John. In this reading, we see that Michael drives Satan out of heaven – and then Satan and his unloving minions fall to the earth to continue their campaign. But subsequently we learn that Michael is the prince, the guardian angel, who sponsors and protects the People of God, Israel and the whole Church and communion of saints. 

            If you follow the Book of Revelation, Satan takes a third of the spirits into his rebellion. So if the Kingdom of God were a democracy, the good guys still have a super majority of two thirds. But it’s a Kingdom, and Satan’s cause against love is tired old news when shown up by the Gospel’s Good News of Jesus Christ.

            The angels are everywhere, which of course is where their Lord and Maker is. They are in the cosmos and the microcosmos, in the galaxies and the electrons. They worship at the throne of Godhead, and they are with us in daily decisions; and more. When we gather to worship and receive our Lord in the Mass, we do so with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

            Michaelmas is a great way for us to begin a new season at Saint Stephens. All sorts of things are going on. The choir and the Sunday School and other activities are re-commencing.  The Solemn Mass has resumed. And…the pledge campaign is underway, but before I get to some words about that, let’s focus on the role of the grace of God and free will and the choice to love and serve the Lord.

            The Collect for Saint Michael and All Angels speaks of the ministries of “angels and men (or mortals) in a wonderful order.” So as we try to envision the presence and ministries of God’s angels, let us at the same time think of the witness and work of God’s people, right here at this church. It is a reflection of heaven and the created/redeemed order.

            We start at the altar and see several presences and ministries at work there, just like the cherubim and seraphim worshiping at the heart of the Trinity. We see leaders and various participants, just as there are angelic powers and principalities carrying out God’s will in the world. 

            One of the really good things I can see, even though I am new and only an interim priest, is the communion and fellowship among the people of the congregation here; and, stemming from that, the emerging sense of responsibility and leadership for our beloved Saint Stephen’s future. All this is the right use of time and talent. It is something that will be critically important as Saint Stephen’s presents itself in a self-description for prospective candidates, priests, one of whom will be Saint Stephen’s next Rector.

            So this requires not only time and talent. It required devout and constant prayer by every single one of you. Ultimately the Vestry, with the consent of the Bishop, will call the next Rector, we hope sometime in the spring. But before things get to that point, there is much discernment to do at other levels. Discernment means spiritual insight. Spiritual insight requires prayer.

            And the prayer needs the backing not only of your time and talent, but of your treasure.  Our pledge campaign is underway now. I said some things on this score last week – I had to, because of the message of the Gospel last Sunday. But today, we need to say that we need every one of us to give to the support of Saint Stephen’s for the upcoming year. If ever there was a time to do so, this is it.

            Pledging helps the vestry plan our budget responsibly. Pledging also represents good will, love for Christ through Saint Stephen’s, and prayer in action. We need more pledgers, and we hope that if you are one of them, you will consider increasing what you pledge.

            It is not the flat amount that matters. Some of us have more means than others. What matters is the proportion of what we give. That is why Jesus commended the “widow’s mite” more than the large sums contributed by the wealthy. What the poor widow gave was all she had. Her proportion was bigger than anyone’s. Her heart was in it.

            And that’s just what we need here. Lots of heart, lots of prayer and love and good will, in this effort. It’s a crucial part of Saint Stephen’s search for a new rector. So do please take this appeal to heart. Pray over it. Make your pledge. Do be one of the angels.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Sunday September 22, 2019                                                                >> Printable Transcript

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost                                                 >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

Hop to It for Saint Stephen's                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Solemn Mass                                                               

St. Luke 16:1-13

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            Today we have a story told by Jesus about two worldly characters, a rich man and his financial manager or steward, followed by sayings about how Jesus’s disciples are to regard and to use money. Let’s start with the story.

            A rich man discovers his steward has been mismanaging his accounts with his debtors to the steward’s advantage. He calls the steward onto the carpet, demands a full disclosure, and says the steward is going to be fired.

            So the steward goes around to the debtors, asks them what they owe his master, and reduces their bills which probably included high interest for the steward. He knows the debtors will be grateful to him. In fact, he has done this, because he is not strong enough to dig ditches and is ashamed to go begging, and he hopes his maneuver will ingratiate him to the debtors so that they may receive him into their houses, perhaps as manager.

            Upon seeing this, the steward’s offended master commends the worldly shrewdness and prudence of the manager. 

            It seems that Jesus, our master, is himself commending this hustling by the dishonest steward, because, as he says, the children of this world are better at this sort of thing than are the children of light. And then, says Jesus, follow the dishonest steward’s example of hustle in a crisis, using the “mammon of unrighteousness” for the purposes of the Kingdom of God. Just as the dishonest steward would be received into those worldly households for his hustle, so the children of the Kingdom will be received into heavenly mansions by their use of the world’s money. 

            Just as the dishonest steward faced an employment crisis, so also the disciples of Jesus have a crisis of their own; namely, time is short and eternity is long and the Kingdom of God is daily at hand. Walk while you have the light; night comes, when no one can work.

            Jesus is not commending the dishonesty of the steward in his story. He is using the alacrity of the steward’s response to his crisis as an example for us. He is telling us to hop to it for the Kingdom of God. And hopping to it certainly includes our use of our money, right now, for we know neither the day nor the hour of the Lord’s visitation.

            You cannot serve God and mammon, says Jesus. Money is certainly one of the gods of this world. And yet Jesus talks a great deal about money, that is, about our relationship with money. When money is used to promote the purposes of the Kingdom, it is in the service of God and indicates what lies at the heart of one’s life; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

            As I believe most of you know, Saint Stephen’s is embarking on the first stages of a search for a new Rector. We also are beginning the pledge campaign for Saint Stephen’s. This past year, we had 66 pledging units (either individuals or couples or families) pledging a total of $104,000. My arithmetic says that amount divided by 66 is about $1,578. That’s a bit over $30 per week. That’s a start, but I need to tell you something. When I was rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont PA, we had no endowment and had to rely on what the people gave. They were not dissimilar to the people here in economic background. The parish was similar. One of Saint Stephen’s rectors, Fr Charles Townsend, came here from Good Shepherd and retired here after 15 years in 1945. I was rector at Good Shepherd between 1978 and 1985. One year, when I divided the number of pledging units at Good Shepherd into the total of what they pledged, the same kind of math I just did for us here, I came up with $2,500. That was over three decades ago. So dearly beloved I think we can do better here, and there never was a more urgent time to try. The manager in Jesus’s story had a crisis to deal with. We have one of our own here. We cannot rely on Saint Stephen’s endowment, the money that comes from the donors of the past, to do the work for us. In fact, we need to reduce our reliance on it and be careful stewards of it. We need to hop to it ourselves. 

            One of the first things I decided to do here was to return to God, through a pledge to Saint Stephen’s, a tenth of what you pay me to be your Interim Priest. A tenth is a tithe. The point is not 10 percent. That is not a mandate by Jesus, although the Episcopal Church embraced the principle for sacrificial pledging some decades ago. But let me challenge us all as we consider and pray. If we were to raise our average pledge by $1,000, with just the 66 pledging units we had last year, we would lift the pledge total from $104,000 to $170,000. And of course we need more pledgers than we have now. What an enormous encouragement that would be for everyone, including prospective priest-candidates for Rector.

            I’ll leave you with that thought. More next week when we celebrate Saint Michael and All Angels. Join me in hopping to it for Saint Stephen’s.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Sunday September 15, 2019                                                                              

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost                                               >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

According to Our Needs                                                          

Fr. Pearson | 10 am Solemn Mass                                                               

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; St. Luke 15:1-10

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Sunday September 8, 2019                                                                   >> Printable Transcript

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost                                                >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

After All These Years, What Has Sustained Us?                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Mass with Hymns                                                               

St. Luke 14:25-33

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            Let’s begin with the harsh and I assume if you’re with me the off-putting statements by Jesus in today’s Gospel, about the necessity to hate one’s parents and family and indeed one’s own life in order to be his disciple.

            For starters, the statement is softened somewhat in Saint Matthew, where Jesus says his disciples cannot love parents and family more than they love him in order to be his disciples. Secondly, Jesus is not speaking of emotions; he speaks of priorities. He is saying that the Kingdom of God is about life, and to choose it means putting all other good things on a lower level. For example, as in he who would save his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake and the Gospel’s will save it. Third, when you add up all the other things Jesus said, you gain still more perspective; namely that Jesus is putting the Kingdom of God first and foremost – as in Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then all these (other) things shall be added unto you. I hope this helps, because it’s the only way I can understand these hard sayings.

            Then Jesus goes further on, speaking of counting the cost of being a disciple. He uses the example of building a tower and not being able to finish. Or facing an adversary in war, and not having enough strength to prevail. In other words, when we choose to be Jesus’s disciples, we need to see if we are prepared to pay the price and go the distance.

            So I think what we are faced with today is really the question of sticking to our discipleship and persevering. About a decade or more ago, a classmate of mine from Yale Divinity School, a Presbyterian minister, did a survey of his classmates who had entered parish ministry at graduation (Class of 1971) and were still in it. Most YDS graduates at that time did not go into parish ministry, perhaps a quarter to a third of us did. My classmate’s question was, After all these, nearly forty, years, what has sustained you? I answered immediately that there were two things, God and Nancy Mead. 

            Let’s just say the Nancy Mead part was her unstinting faith and support of my calling from the first day until now. Then the God part I unpacked into four categories: Holy Communion on Sundays and Major Holy Days, daily Morning and Evening Prayer, tithing my pledge to Christ through the Church, and Sacramental Confession. Though I’m an Anglo-Catholic and my old friend is a Presbyterian, he understood me at once. Each of these categories are applicable across denominations and, I would add, are not confined to the clergy exclusive of lay people.

            Holy Communion keeps us sacramentally in touch with Jesus. Morning and Evening Prayer keeps Bible-reading, Psalm-saying and daily prayer alive, pledging keeps God involved where our treasure and priorities are, and self-examination/confession keeps our repentance up to date. These comprise the “God” part of what has sustained me in the faith and ministry. One keeps the faith over the long haul through such means of grace.

            Our church is a long-haul church. The Book of Common Prayer and the traditions of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion, all part of the catholic tradition of Christianity, are designed to help individuals and congregations go the distance.

            But in all this there can be a danger. If you pay attention to the language of the liturgy and the Prayer Book, you can’t fail to notice that it assumes that the users and participants are believers, committed disciples of Jesus. How else could we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ unto everlasting life?

            In the Book of Revelation, the Lord says to one of the Seven Churches, the Ephesians, that while he commends them for their long-term faithfulness, he says they have lost their “first love” (Rev 2:3-4). They have, in keeping the faith, become calloused. This can happen to people individually and corporately. What good is it, to be orthodox and faithful in things, while losing the warmth of the love of Christ that won us to Jesus in the first place? And this problem obviously can be reversed. What good is it, to be flush with new enthusiasm for the Gospel, and then to burn out and quit?

            If we think of the church, or our lives, as a house, then let’s think of the heating. We need a fire. But if the fire is not controlled, it will burn the house down. It needs a fireplace with a good system of burning – heat, fuel, air. But a fireplace with no fire is dead and cold. This it seems to me is the issue in the Gospel between spirit and form. Both are essential.

            Were my Presbyterian friend to come to us and ask us, After all these years, what has sustained you, I think the considered answer would be very important. Saint Stephen’s is soon to present itself publicly for the process of a search for a new Rector. Groups of parishioners will gather to answer the vital question: What is it about Saint Stephen’s that I cherish, that you and I, that we, cherish? What improvements would we like to see? What qualities do the answers to these questions imply regarding a priest who might be the right fit for our next rector?

            We’ve come a distance from the harsh questions that began this sermon, but counting the cost and going the distance are what Saint Stephen’s and its people are about. Let us keep asking ourselves, After all these years, what has sustained us?

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Sunday September 1, 2019                                                                   >> Printable Transcript

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost                                                    >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

Overturning the Table                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Mass with Hymns                                                               

St. Luke 14:1(2-6), 7-14

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            In today’s Gospel from Saint Luke, Jesus is the guest of a Pharisee ruler at a dinner on the Sabbath. The very words Pharisee ruler and Sabbath should alert us to trouble coming. But we don’t know the half of it. 

            It starts with Luke saying that Jesus’s hosts were watching him closely, and it then proceeds to Jesus’s remarks on the table etiquette, how the guests were choosing for themselves the best places. But we have skipped over something because of the Church Lectionary, and in order to understand what follows we need to see what we missed by skipping.

            Here it is. After Luke notes that Jesus’s hosts were watching him closely, he tells us that a man swollen with dropsy, presumably an uninvited guest, presented himself to Jesus, who asked his hosts if they thought it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. They were silent, so Jesus took the man’s hand, healed him, and released him, noting how exceptions were made to help children and animals; and the hosts were speechless. Then Jesus proceeded with his observations about how people were seating themselves at the table.

             So what we have today is even more extraordinary than it reads, especially when you realize what has been skipped. Jesus, knowing he was being scrutinized, began things with a thunderclap, a miracle. From what follows, we see that things have changed, and it is now not that his hosts are scrutinizing Jesus; he is scrutinizing his hosts. In fact, he has taken over the dinner party. Jesus has known his hosts’ hostility from the moment of their invitation; and now, in the wake of a healing miracle on the Sabbath in the Pharisee’s house, Jesus turns to the attack.

              Jesus begins with what seems to be practical advice about seating arrangements. When you’re a dinner guest at events such as this one, it is prudent not to claim for yourself a prime seat. A more eminent guest may come later – as they often do – and you may be asked to give place to the eminence. So in order to avoid embarrassment, pick out the lowest place for yourself, and wait and see. The host may say to you, Friend! Come up higher! And you will enjoy the respect. There is practical advice like this to be found in the book of Proverbs.

              But this isn’t where Jesus is going. He is not interested in the “right way to get exalted.” In fact, as we know from innumerable passages in the prophets, God will do all the humbling and all the exalting. So what Jesus is touching on here, when he speaks of humbling and exalting, is the same as when he speaks of repentance. Humility, and repentance, like all the graces, are entire frames of mind that express themselves as we go along in specific circumstances. Basically, those who forget about themselves and look to goodness for others are those whom God will exalt in the end; and it will be a gracious surprise, because they weren’t thinking about self-exaltation at all.

              Now on to the destination. Having commented on table etiquette among his hosts, Jesus says that when they give a dinner party, they should invite those who cannot reciprocate: the poor, the lame, the blind. Dinner parties, when they proceed from the frame of mind of humility and generosity, are like that. They are not given with an eye to repayment or reward. If there is a reward, it will be at the Resurrection, when like in the story of the sheep and the goats, the Lord will say to the surprised sheep that when he was hungry or thirsty, or in prison or sick, or needy in some way, they ministered to him. How? By doing it to “the least of these,” said the Lord, you have done it to me.

              At this point, we do need to say that the Lord frequently enjoyed meals and receptions with friends. Such things are good. They are done as a joy in themselves. The Last Supper itself could fall into that category.

              The point is not credit-seeking. It is not credit-seeking in the form of building up IOU’s among people we want to impress. And it is not credit-seeking in piling up merits that will be cashed in on the Last Day as a heavenly reward. The point is to walk with God and to be rewarded in that very walk. Any “reward” will be made clear in the end, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed.

              Our story today began with the Pharisees inviting Jesus to a Sabbath Day dinner party in order to monitor and trap him. But Jesus, beginning with a healing miracle for an uninvited guest and continuing with teaching about the purpose of the Sabbath and hospitality in general, did not just turn the tables. He overturned them, as he did the tables of the money changers in the temple court. He took over.

              One final thing. We mentioned the Last Supper as a gathering of Jesus with his friends. Jesus, on that occasion, said we are his friends, if we do what he commands us. And what is that? “A New Commandment I give you, that you love one another, as I have loved you. By this people will know you are my disciples.” Now a lot has happened since that Last Supper. It was Jesus’s last supper but also his first Eucharist with us. Week by week, even day by day, around the world, Jesus gives his own reception and meal. As his servants, let us try to be as welcoming as the host.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Sunday August 25, 2019                                                                       >> Printable Transcript

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost                                                  >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

What's the Sabbath For?                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Mass with Hymns                                                               

Isaiah 58:9b-14; St. Luke 13:10-17

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath Day, says the Fourth Commandment. One of the charges leveled against Jesus by his enemies among his own Jewish people was that he was a Sabbath breaker. The Romans would not have cared about this, but Pontius Pilate needed to keep peace in Judah over which he was governor. So there were a number of dangerous items in these Sabbath charges.

            One item came from an incident (Mt 12:1ff) when Jesus’s disciples were criticized for picking and eating corn on a Sabbath day. However, as Jesus remarks in today’s Gospel, most Jews allowed the untying of an ox or a donkey so it could be led to water. And today’s incident has some serious drama which must have added fuel to the fire concerning Jesus and the Sabbath.

            Jesus is teaching in a synagogue. A woman, who must have been a well-known presence, came to Jesus’s attention. She had been bent over for eighteen years. She could not straighten herself. Both Jesus and Saint Luke attribute her ailment to a “spirit of infirmity,” which in due course Jesus will further identify. Jesus called her, and said, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity,” and he laid his hands on her. Immediately she was made straight and praised God.

            Now you would think, wouldn’t you, that everyone would rejoice. Not so. The leader of the synagogue, not directly addressing Jesus who had been teaching, addresses the congregation.  “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath Day.” What are we to say to this?

            Well Jesus said something, directly to the leader and his other critics. “You hypocrites!” He points out how they all let their animals loose on the Sabbath to feed and water. And then he puts the issue to them. “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” He places the suffering woman squarely within the covenant of grace, identifies her suffering as an affliction from Satan, and says her healing took place at exactly the right place and time – in a house of worship engaged in the holy Sabbath, where Jesus himself has been teaching. Jesus not only healed her; he honored her.

            What is the Sabbath for? Rest and worship, surely. In the creation, God rested on the seventh day and blessed it as the Sabbath. God saw that his creation was, behold very good, and he celebrated that goodness on the seventh day. The prophets of Israel constantly upheld the Sabbath and opposed the selfish bending of the rules used by both leaders and people for their own interests. 

            Today, we heard the prophet Isaiah denounce the profaning of the Sabbath by selfishness. But we also heard him say that removing accusations and meeting the needs of the afflicted would make the sabbath a delight and a true honor to the Lord. No doubt the leader of the synagogue could cite rules and traditions to uphold his criticism of Jesus and the infirm woman. But how do we think the prophet Isaiah would have responded to this moment of grace? It was as though the ruler of the synagogue was offended by seeing the working of a miracle in his own church, oops, synagogue.

            There is another aspect to this. Jesus was there then, not on some other day where he would have been elsewhere.

            How does this Sabbath episode relate to us? I will confess to you and speak for myself as a priest. A big part of a priest’s calling has to do with the ordering of worship. I am a believer in decency and order in worship – and that phrase comes from Saint Paul (let all things be done decently and in order). I am sure that Jesus loved decency and order as well, and that his conduct in the synagogue service was exemplary. But when he called and healed that poor woman he fulfilled the decency and order of the day. It was necessary for the purposes of the Sabbath and pertained to its reason for being. It was the synagogue ruler who introduced indecency and disorder. And Saint Luke does say that even Jesus’s enemies were put to shame that day by what Jesus said to them, while the people rejoiced.  

            Nevertheless, do not doubt that this incident was yet another contributing item in the agenda against Jesus by those who had a fixed grudge against him. The grudge was so fixed that it blinded them to what was happening before their eyes – a wonder of God’s grace.

            It is this fixed grudge which bothers me. Am I sometimes so preoccupied with making worship go the right way, that I am missing out on the grace which worship is meant to celebrate? Week after week, here at Saint Stephen’s and at countless other churches on the Lord’s Day (Sunday, the Day of the Lord’s Resurrection), we celebrate the holy mysteries of Jesus’s sacrifice, death and resurrection. We use great reverence to handle the Sacrament of his body and blood. All this is excellent. But do I, do we, miss some things because of various obsessions and preoccupations? Is there anything about me, or within me, that bends me in the direction of that synagogue ruler?  

            I think the remedy is simple and deep. Get over yourself and pay attention to Jesus.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Sunday August 18, 2019                                                                              

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Transferred)                          >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

A Journey to Heaven and Back                                                          

Fr. Pearson | 10 am Mass with Hymns                                                               

Isaiah 61:10-11; Galatians 4:4-7; St. Luke 1:46-55

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Sunday August 11, 2019                                                                        >> Printable Transcript

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost                                                       >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

Everlasting Purses and Constant Prayer                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Mass with Hymns                                                               

St. Luke 12:32-40

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            As we have been saying for most of the Gospel readings this summer, Saint Luke narrates episodes set within the context of Jesus’s journey up to Jerusalem; that is, his journey towards his confrontation with the religious and political authorities there, his condemnation by them, and his consequent crucifixion and death. Jesus had been predicting this, and his disciples, beginning with Peter at the lead, did not want to hear it. Jesus had also said that after three days he would be raised from the dead, but since the disciples couldn’t bear to hear about his death, they couldn’t hear about his resurrection either.

            Saint Luke of course is writing his Gospel from this side of Christ’s death and resurrection, this side of his empty tomb and subsequent appearances to his astounded disciples. The Evangelist therefore sees that Jesus’s journey up to Jerusalem was not only foreseen by Jesus, it was his life’s mission and work. Further, Jesus’s death and resurrection were God’s plan from the beginning, to redeem his errant children from their sins and to re-incorporate them into his life within the Body of Christ.

            What we do here, week after week, even day after day at Saint Stephen’s, when we set forth the Holy Eucharist, is to display, in these outward and visible signs, this plan of redemption. We offer it, we celebrate and consecrate it, we receive it, and thereby show the ongoing life of the Body of Christ. So when we hear Jesus in today’s Gospel, making his way up to Jerusalem for his approaching Sacrifice, we need to hear him through the redemptive filter, see him through the redemptive lens, that Saint Luke offers his fellow believers in the church, then and now.

            Today we hear Jesus telling his followers not to fear. Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom. And then he counsels us on two things. The first is to have “purses” that do not grow old or fall apart, cannot be stolen or in any way taken from us. The second is that we are to be ready, for we know not the moment when Jesus will come and summon us. Jesus is building on the words we heard last week which culminated in his little Parable of the Rich Fool.

            The Rich Fool did exactly what Jesus warned against. He had enormous “purses” which could grow old, fall apart, and be taken away. And he was by no means ready for a visitation from God. Just as he put his feet up and comforted himself on his material security, God said, “Fool, your soul is required of you tonight. And all these things of yours, whose will they be?” So it is, said Jesus, when we are not “rich towards God.” 

            So today Jesus goes further. The purses that do not wear out and cannot be stolen away are the things that stem from love. God is love. He has shown himself to be Love by planning always to send Jesus to reveal himself to us and save us. Having a loving relationship with God and with God’s children builds up the purse that Jesus is speaking of. This relationship opens up our heart and mind and will to think, say and do the works of love. It prompts us to thankfulness for the life and time we are given. It moves us to joy and reverence concerning God’s world we are placed in. It influences us to be generous to others in every way that it possible to be generous: to listen, to bless, to forgive, to do acts of kindness. It restrains us in temptations to envy, to arrogance, to prejudice and judgment, to lust and anger, to fear and greed.

            In one immortal sentence, Jesus describes the issue concerning purses that do not grow old versus purses that do and can be stolen or removed: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Where do we want our hearts to be fixed? On things that are impermanent and pass away, or on things that abide, even unto eternity?

            Now what about the second part of Jesus’s counsel today, that we are to be ready for the summons, for God’s visitation? Jesus uses images of servants keeping awake, of being clothed in readiness, prepared for their master’s arrival at any hour, whether it be midnight or the middle of the day. I believe the answer to this is prayer.

            By prayer I do not mean just particular said or recited or memorized prayers, beloved and helpful as they are. I do not just mean liturgical and corporate prayer, even prayers like this Blessed Sacrament of the Mass, essential as it is to our lives and the life of the Church. I mean an entire disposition of the soul of which these prayers are part. Saint Paul says “pray constantly.” He doesn’t mean repeat prayers constantly, useful as they are. He means to allow our spirits in every situation to be open to and in a kind of conversation with, the Spirit of God. God, the loving and self-sacrificing Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has shown he is constantly open to us, and if we respond in kind, we are beginning to pray constantly, no matter what time or place we are in. In trial and tribulation, in joy and thanksgiving, we can be in prayer. Why worry, said a wise woman, when you can pray?

            The person in this disposition, whose spirit is in ongoing communion with God’s Spirit no matter what the circumstance, is the servant whose loins are girded and is ready for the master’s appearance. Prayer is living faith in moment-by-moment conversation with the Lord whom we love and believe. And so it is that by prayerful readiness, we can say “Guide us waking, Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may walk with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace.”

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Sunday August 4, 2019                                                                         >> Printable Transcript

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost                                                      >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

Rich Towards God                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Mass with Hymns                                                               

Colossians 3:1-11; St. Luke 12:13-21

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            To appreciate today’s Gospel, which climaxes with Jesus’s pointed parable of the Rich Fool, we need to see the story within its context in Saint Luke. Jesus is on his way up to Jerusalem. The Gospel readings appointed for most of this summer are all within this final pilgrimage of the Lord up to Jerusalem. So there is an urgency in the air.

            Just before today’s episode, Jesus has been warning his disciples about persecution. What he will face in Jerusalem, they will face in due course. So he has been preparing them for their trials within hostile situations and before hostile judges. In order to be prepared, Jesus says, they need to have their concerns and fears in the right order. In a word, fear not those who can kill the body but after that have no more that they can do. Rather, fear the One who, after death, has the power to throw both body and soul into hell. That must have got their attention. Courage under persecution relates to having these spiritual realities clear. Therefore, settle it in your minds and do not be anxious: The Holy Spirit will give you what to say and do in that hour. Very urgent is Jesus’s teaching. (Lk 12:1-12)

            So today’s Gospel, following upon this urgency from Jesus, begins with a question that seems irrelevant to the point of being surrealistic. There are not only Jesus’s disciples, but a crowd so great that people were stepping on one another. And someone in that crowd says, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.” 

            With this, we are right back in the world of money and stuff. The person thinks Jesus will provide justice for him in his dispute with his brother over the family inheritance. “Man,” replies Jesus, “who made me a judge and divider over you?” Here the Lord, who will divide the sheep from the goats at the last judgment over all the nations, who will judge each of us in the end, declines to get involved. Instead he warns the speaker, “Beware of all covetousness.” And then he goes on to say something that contradicts much of the conventional wisdom of the world, the world at the time of Jesus and our world now. “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 

            Every day the world’s conversation in which we live and move and have our being assumes that this conventional wisdom is what we believe and act on; that one’s life does in fact consist in the abundance of possessions. Worth is apportioned, measured out, by possession: of money, of power, of marketable achievement of one sort or another: credentials of richness in culture, in physical prowess or attraction, in intellectual attainment, in social connections. These make for the “abundance of possessions” by which value and merit are assigned in the world – Jesus’s world and ours.

            In a flash, Jesus tells a little parable that deflates the world’s conventional wisdom, his parable of the Rich Fool. But not only does he deflate this wisdom, he replaces it with a word that returns things to the overall context of urgency and some counsel for all seasons, whether we think it an urgent time or not.

            A rich man’s land brought forth a plenteous harvest, more than he could store up. What did he do with the surplus? He has a conversation with himself, revealing his deepest thoughts. “I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods.” Then comes the clincher. “And I will to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.”

            Then that very day comes urgency. “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” It is quite a play on Soul. The rich man soothed his Soul with material comfort and security, and then God interrupted, saying his Soul was summoned that very night.

            Where will all those possessions go? And after they go, what will be left of the Rich Fool’s Soul? Where your treasure is, there will your heart be. Without the money and stuff, will there be anybody, anything, there? The parable is over, but Jesus concludes, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God.”

            Rich towards God. In today’s epistle, the Apostle gives us the same counsel. If you are risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is.

            It seems to me that, if we follow the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel, we see that richness towards God lies in this ongoing relationship: Seek those things that are above, where Christ is. This involves repentance, which means constantly turning towards God. If I know that my soul is required of me tonight, I will want to be sure that my repentances are up to date. I will want to be sure my grace notes are current. Is there an apology to be made? Do I need to make peace somewhere? Have I said my thank-you’s? What about my I love you’s? Is there something important left undone? Have I kept my word? Do I pray for and bless others, including enemies? You see where this goes: intending to love the Lord with all our heart and loving our neighbor as ourselves; even more, trying to love one another as Christ has loved us. That relationship, as we turn towards God, is what enriches life with a meaning which is not erased by our death. It is what people are loved for and why they are cherished.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Sunday July 28, 2019                                                                               >> Printable Transcript

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost                                                      >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

Jesus's Perfect Prayer                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Mass with Hymns                                                               

St. Luke 11:1-13

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            As Jesus is leading his disciples on the way up to Jerusalem as narrated by Saint Luke in today’s Gospel, the disciples ask him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John [the Baptist] taught his disciples. And Jesus responds with a short version of what we know as The Lord’s Prayer. He leaves out “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and other phrases, although in what he says later he addresses these matters.

            The fuller version of The Lord’s Prayer that we know and use was taught by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount in Saint Matthew’s Gospel. The Book of Common Prayer orders that full version to be used in virtually every one of its appointed services: Morning and Evening Prayer, various pastoral offices such as Holy Matrimony and the Burial of the Dead, the Visitation of the Sick, Holy Baptism, and most crucially, at the very heart of the Holy Eucharist – right after the consecration of the Bread and Wine and just before the Breaking of the Bread and Communion.

            Great spiritual writers have called the Our Father “the perfect prayer of our Lord.” I have come to believe and know that The Lord’s Prayer is just that, but like you (I suspect) we use it so frequently that our familiarity actually leads us to miss its simple, comprehensive profundity. Let me tell you how I have come back around to cherishing The Lord’s Prayer more than I ever have in my life.

            I started some years ago to use familiar devotions to help myself fall asleep when, as an older person, I would awaken at midnight and/or various wee hours of the morning; and I would want to fall back asleep. So I started with The Lord’s Prayer, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, the Gloria Patri, then the Hail Mary, then the Apostles’ Creed, and even the Ten Commandments. Often, I would doze off before I got to the end. It wasn’t foolproof, but it helped, and at least I was praying, so I felt closer to the Lord in this state.

            But as this practice went along for quite a while, I began to notice something about The Lord’s Prayer. It is a perfect summary of Jesus’s teaching and ministry. If you follow it from start to finish, it gives you his Gospel in one prayer. Let me show what I mean.

            Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. This is the distinguishing teaching of Jesus about God. You can count on your fingers the times God is called or likened to a father (or a mother) in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament. But in the small New Testament, especially on the lips of Jesus, God is called – and often directly addressed – as Father, a total of 170 times. And that name, Father, is hallowed, because it is the name given by Jesus, by God the Son himself.

            Thy kingdom come. How much of Jesus’s teaching was taken up in parables and stories and illustrations designed to give us various glimpses of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven? From the Parable of the Sower at the start all the way to the Picture of the Last Judgment with the sheep and the goats, the Gospels, especially Matthew, Mark and Luke, are filled with these pictures of God’s Kingdom, as contrasted with the ways of our earthly kingdoms. And then in Saint John as well, there is a direct confrontation of those kingdoms as Jesus is faced with Pontius Pilate.

            Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus said that those who hear the word of God and keep it, who do God’s will, are his true brothers and sisters. And Jesus told his disciples that his food was to do the will of “him who sent me” and to accomplish his work.

            Give us this day our daily bread. Speaking of food, Jesus tells us to ask God for our needs each day. He had much to teach against anxiety, principally teaching us to seek first God’s kingdom and goodness, and that “all these things” (food, clothing, shelter, etc.) would be “added unto you.”

            Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. How many times does Jesus stress this point? Repentance and forgiveness are the only ways forward in our fallen world. They create the possibilities of new life. And they go right together, even as Jesus based so much of his ministry on the forgiveness of sin to heal what’s wrong with us.

            Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Save us in the time of trial. Our Lord said God would send us the Holy Spirit to give us the thing to say and do when we are on the spot for our faith and integrity. We are simply to settle it in our minds that we are the Lord’s.

And then the Church adds the doxology.

            There it is. If you are stranded without a Bible, The Lord’s Prayer contains the whole teaching of Jesus for you. Just unpack it phrase by phrase. It is his perfect prayer. I have come to thank the good Lord for those sleepless hours, because in them he has taught me how to summarize the Gospel in his own words.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Sunday July 21, 2019                                                                              

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost                                                          >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

Mary or Martha: Do we have to choose?                                                          

Fr. Locke | 10 am Mass with Hymns                                                               

Amos 8:1-12; Colossians 1:15-28; St. Luke 10:38-42

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Sunday July 14, 2019                                                                               >> Printable Transcript

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost                                                           >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

Surprise Samaritan                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Mass with Hymns                                                               

St. Luke 10:25-37

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            Is Jesus’s story of the Good Samaritan the best known and most popular of his parables?  That’s my guess. My guess also is that the context and details of the story that gave it its power and sharp edge when Jesus told it are not well known. Were they well known, would the story be so popular? Let’s go over it and see for ourselves.

            The first thing to notice is the setting is in Samaria and the context is one of hostility. A bit earlier, as Jesus was walking with his disciples on the way to Jerusalem, he crossed into Samaria from Galilee (his home neighborhood) to go through it to Jerusalem. The Samaritans were the people left over from the conquest of northern Israel seven hundred years before and had mixed ethnically and religiously with other peoples. Southern Judah and Jerusalem fell a few centuries after the north and had remained ethnically and religiously Jewish through Babylonian captivity. So the Samaritans were not pure or orthodox Jews, and there was hostility between the two peoples. Jews looked upon Samaritans as ethnic and religious half-breeds, whereas Samaritans had their own shrine and rituals. 

            When some Samaritans heard Jesus and his disciples were heading for Jerusalem, they did not receive them into their village. The disciples James and John wanted Jesus to call down fire from heaven on these Samaritans, but Jesus rebuked them. (Lk 9:55) And on they went.

            When we get to today’s Gospel, as Jesus has been speaking, a certain lawyer stands up to test him, asking, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” It isn’t a sincere question, because when Jesus answers him with a summary of the Law of Moses (love the Lord with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself), the questioner persists. Saint Luke describes the persistence, “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” Jesus had already said, concerning loving God and loving one’s neighbor, “Do this, and you will live.” But the lawyer was seeking to catch Jesus, not to follow him.

            And Jesus’s story of the Good Samaritan takes the questioner up, not on his trap, but on his original question! But Jesus’s explosive answer doesn’t come until the conclusion.

            First he tells the story of the man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Jerusalem is a signal that the man, the victim of the beating and robbing, is a Jew. [By the way, you really do go down from Jerusalem to Jericho: Jerusalem is 2,500 feet above sea level; Jericho is 700 feet below sea level, near the Dead Sea which is lowest place on the planet.] The Jewish man is left half dead. Jesus has drawn an historically accurate picture of the perils of travel in that time and place. His fellow countrymen and co-religionists, first a priest and then a Levite, each see the victim and, because of the great inconvenience perhaps including reasons of ritual purity, pass by on the other side of the road.

            Then comes the Samaritan, who saw the Jew, had compassion, bound up the man’s wounds and poured on oil and wine, put him on his beast which he himself had perhaps been riding, and took him to the inn where he further took care of him. He paid the innkeeper two denarii (about two days’ wages), telling him to look after the man while he was away, “and whatever you spend, when I return, I will repay you.” It is a dramatic difference.

            But Jesus has not answered the trap question. Instead, he has told the lawyer, and his overhearing disciples (including James and John those “sons of thunder”) and others a story not expected. The object of concern, the victim, is a fellow Jew. The one who is following the Law of Moses in this extraordinary case is an outcast, the Samaritan.

            And then Jesus asks the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer cannot bring himself to say the word, Samaritan, and replies, “The one who showed mercy on him.” Yes. Jesus answers, “Go and do likewise.”

            Although Jesus did not fall for the lawyer’s trap question, he answered his original question about what must be done to inherit eternal life; answered it twice. First he answered it with the summary of the law of Moses. Second, he answered it with great specificity. But the doer of the deed which leads to eternal life is not a Jewish scribe, not a Jew at all, but rather one of those despised Samaritans. 

            So the lawyer, the one who tried to trap Jesus over a question about just who was his neighbor, is given a splendid answer about what he is to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him, Go, and do like that Good Samaritan.

            In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Sunday July 7, 2019                                                                                   >> Printable Transcript

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost                                                           >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

Integrity: A Gift From Jesus                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Mass with Hymns                                                               

Galatians 6:1-16

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            The Church Lectionary has appointed Saint Paul’s great Epistle to the Galatians for the past several weeks. Today, we read near the conclusion, when Paul famously exclaims: “Far be it for me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” 

            Before we go further into this, let’s remind ourselves who Saint Paul was (is), who were the Galatians, and what was the context of Paul’s correspondence with them?

            Paul was the premier missionary apostle of the early church who took the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, beyond the boundaries of first century Palestinian Judaism to the world of the non-Jewish nations, the Gentiles, some of whom were quite heathenish in their practices. Paul, who was formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, had been a strict orthodox Jew, known as a Pharisee, a zealous, brilliant intellectual and a persecutor of the early church. But on one of his persecution errands, the Risen Lord Jesus appeared to him, spoke to him, and turned him around into what one great scholar has called “the Apostle of the heart set free.” Meaning, when he gave his heart over to Christ, Paul underwent a spiritual emancipation he was impelled to share with as many fellow human beings as possible. One of several ironies here reveals God’s sense of humor: the strict legalist Pharisee becomes the messenger of freedom in Christ to all, including the very unwashed. In a word, the former Pharisee founds the one holy catholic apostolic church of the creeds, once aptly described as, “Here comes everybody.”

            Now for the Galatians. Galatia had been a kingdom of Celts (!) who had migrated to central Asia Minor [Turkey] from Gaul [France] a few centuries before Christ; and then under Roman conquest Galatia became a large province of the Empire under Caesar. They were related therefore to the Scots, the Welsh, the Irish, the Bretons in France, and the Galicians in Spain. I don’t know if they wore kilts or played bagpipes. But that was not the issue Paul was addressing.  Paul was very upset with the Galatians, to whom on his first missionary journey he had introduced the Good News of Jesus as Messiah of the Jews and also Lord of the Gentiles; upset that they were trading away their Gospel freedom for legal/ethical bondage. What Paul does in his letter is clarify the difference between Christian righteousness, or integrity, and all other kinds.

              Righteousness, or integrity, is normally thought of as self-worth: I consider myself, and wish to be considered, a good person, because I mean well and try to do good, I amend my faults and strive to do better. I work hard. I do unto others as I would have them do unto me, willing and trying to do the good for them. This is standard universal ethics, righteousness in the sense of right relations accomplished inwardly, inter-personally and socially. 

But Christian righteousness is of another order. It stems from the faith that only God’s Son has a perfect relationship with our Maker, so much so that Jesus called him Abba, Father; so much so that he is really the One, True, Fully and Perfectly Human Being. He is free from the dehumanizing effects of sin. Therefore Christian righteousness is not a goodness that we earn, but rather that we receive as a gift flowing from Jesus Christ the Son of God through the gift of our faith in the Lord. Christian righteousness is a gift flowing through a gift! There is not a thing about it to boast about.

            Many years ago a man at my church door was very angry after the service. He said to me and my rector who had been the preacher that day, “I’m sick and tired of hearing you guys talk about salvation. I’ve lived a pretty good life. I don’t need to be saved.” There you have it: the difference between Christian righteousness and all other kinds. It’s the difference between union with God through Christ versus a pretty good life (or not so good life, depending on who’s judging).

            This difference is precisely what Paul was stressing to the Galatians. They were falling back on ethical, legal self-worthiness, leaving behind the Gospel of freedom and integrity in Christ. They were re-entering the world of moral and religious credentials, the world that crucified Jesus.

            The Lord, in his perfect filial relationship within God, in his full and perfect humanity free from sin, inevitably collided with the powers of this fallen world. God knew perfectly well from all eternity the price he would pay for creating free agents and redeeming us. When I was a boy I was shocked by a graphic portrayal of the crucifixion in a movie. “How could they do that to him?” I cried to my father, “All he did was good!” Years later in college, I came to see, one night while studying for a quiz on the Gospel, that the crucifixion was not only Jesus’s life’s work and mission, but that three o’clock on Good Friday was his great victory: “It is finished.” That vivid movie portrayal of the crucifixion resurfaced as wondrous good news. I also saw that Jesus lives, and that he reaches out from that cross towards every one of us. This is what the Apostle means when he says that he glories in nothing but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified to him and he to the world.

            And this is just what we are saying here today, when we offer once again the Holy Sacrifice and take part in Holy Communion. We stand on Christ’s righteousness, on Jesus’s integrity; and we receive it as our life, his Body and Blood, unto life eternal.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Sunday June 30, 2019                                                                              

The Third Sunday after Pentecost                                                           >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

On Freedom and Enchantment                                                          

Fr. Sturni | 10 am Mass with Hymns                                                               

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; St. Luke 9:51-62

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Sunday June 23, 2019                                                                              >> Printable Transcript

Corpus Christi                                                                                       >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

Corpus Christi: We Are What We Eat                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Solemn Mass                                                               

Genesis 14:18-20; I Corinthians 11:23-26; St. Luke 9:11b-17

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            If you’re on the Altar Guild or in the Corps of Acolytes at Saint Stephen’s, or if you hang around the working sacristy behind the Lady Chapel and pay attention, you notice something important. Great care is taken regarding the vessels that will hold the consecrated bread and wine for the Eucharist. There are linen corporals for the chalice and paten to be placed on and purificators to cleanse the chalice after communion – which are then carefully washed. There is the piscina, down which any consecrated wine or water may be poured and will go straight into the earth. It was like this at my former parishes, and it gladdens my heart to witness it here.

            All this care is to honor the Real Presence of Jesus Christ under the forms of the consecrated Bread and Wine in Holy Communion. The Book of Common Prayer honors this Objective Presence when it orders that the consecrated Bread and Wine is not to be returned to common use, but rather consumed or reserved for the Communion of the Absent (the homebound or the sick who cannot make it to church).

            In the last fifty years there have been enormous ecumenical advances in understanding among the churches, especially among the Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans, who have a high appreciation for sacramental liturgy. And that big word from the Middle Ages, Transubstantiation, which was denounced in our Anglican Articles of Religion in the sixteenth century, has been unpacked in the twentieth to the satisfaction of the various parties involved. A short example will illustrate that anyone who believes in Christ’s Objective Real Presence essentially embraces the notion of Transubstantiation.

            If you were to send a consecrated Host to a chemist for analysis – as a mischievous Anglican Bishop did a century ago to tweak the High Churchmen of his time – what would you find? You would not find flesh and blood, you would find bread and wine. But that does not disprove Transubstantiation. The physical attributes are the “accidental” properties; the inner spiritual reality, the “substance,” is the unmeasurable Presence of the incarnate, crucified, risen, and ascended Lord. In fact, Saint Thomas Aquinas himself promoted Transubstantiation precisely to exclude the crude notion of the conversion of the physical properties, the “accidents,” from bread and wine into plasma and corpuscles. Our Article of Religion mistook the Doctrine for the error it was intended to exclude, equating “substance” (essence) with “accidents” (measurable properties). The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, about fifty years ago, reached substantial [pun intended] agreement on these matters in the Eucharist, concluding that, on this issue, there was no reason for the churches to be separated.  Truly, as long as the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer are followed, we have a wide latitude for all who believe that Jesus Christ gives himself to us in Holy Communion.

            Today we have a festival to celebrate the Body of Christ. What I want to say now is simple, and I’ll keep it short.

            First, we are what we eat. When we eat and drink, as the Prayer of Humble Access puts it, the flesh and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under those forms of bread and wine, our sinful bodies are made clean by the Lord’s Body and our souls are washed through his most precious Blood, and he dwells in us, and we dwell in him. We are what we eat.

            Second, all that reverence that we devote to the Blessed Sacrament properly translates into courtesy, kindness, consideration, generosity, forgiveness, and in a word, love, for our fellow members of the Body of Christ. It is fitting that we wind up the Choir’s and the Sunday School’s terms on this day, because they are important organs of the Body of Christ, singing God’s praises in the congregation and teaching God’s Word to his children. 

            Third, the healthy life of the Body of Christ animates both our in-reach as a congregation and our outreach. When charity and generosity and all those attendant virtues thrive within the Body of Christ, along with reverence and devotion towards the Sacrament, things are HAPPY. This blessed happiness has a way of catching on, of being attractively contagious. It starts with horizontal grace right here in the Eucharist, as we exchange the Peace and receive the Sacrament alongside each other at the Altar Rail. It spills over into the classes and the various meetings of parish leaders. It flows up to the Coffee Hour and goes out the door. It prevails at the Soup Kitchen and feeding programs. It is infectious, and it cannot help growing the church in every way that it is possible to grow.

            In CS Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, which are the counsels by a senior to a junior devil (Screwtape and Wormwood) to destroy the life of a particular soul, there is an apparent setback for the devils. The subject has become a Christian! So the first piece of advice Screwtape gives Wormwood is to get the subject to notice who are in the pews with him in church. He will notice their many annoying characteristics, and, so the advice goes, he will be derailed from his good intentions in no time.

            I have been with you at Saint Stephens for less than a month. I have seen that our congregation is, yes, small, and, like you, I think it should grow. But I have been very impressed with the faithful remnant I see here, with your spirit and faithfulness all around. I see no reason why Saint Stephen’s cannot grow and flourish, even by leaps and bounds. Of course, you need to call a good priest for your next Rector. But starting right now, we all have work to do to prepare for that momentous day. Work, and much prayer.

            First, we need to renew the life of Jesus in our own souls. Clear out the rubbish and let the grace in. And as our relationship with the Lord, and within our own souls with their appetites and faculties, inspires virtues to strengthen and grow, then our personal and social relations will be enhanced. This advancing good health and order will open the door to peace and joy. And people, starting with ourselves, will not fail to notice.

            Ave verum Corpus! Hail true Body. Dearly beloved in Christ, we are what we eat. We are the Corpus Christi.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Sunday June 16, 2019                                                                              >> Printable Transcript

Trinity Sunday: The First Sunday after Pentecost                                     >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

The Trinity: The God of Jesus                                                          

Fr. Mead | 10 am Solemn Mass                                                               

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Romans 5:1-5; St. John 16:5-15

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            Almost every sermon here follows the old custom invoking the full name of God as revealed by Jesus Christ; that is the Holy and Undivided Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost (or Spirit). Far from being merely a doctrine in the creeds, the Holy and Undivided Trinity is the unfathomable mystery of God’s very life and being.

            I do not mean to diminish the importance of the Church’s creed, by no means. I will get to that briefly. But first and foremost we need to appreciate the fact that the Trinity is not some man-made or church-invented construct, dated centuries after the simple Gospel of Jesus was first preached. Far from it. The Holy and Undivided Trinity is, simply, the true and living God taught and revealed by Jesus, as in today’s Gospel according to Saint John and in other places too many to recount in a homily.

            One of the most striking contributions of Jesus of Nazareth to the knowledge of God is his constant use of the word Abba, Father. You can count on your fingers the number of times God the Lord is called or likened to a father in the enormous Old Testament collection of Scripture. But in the Gospels alone, God is directly named Abba, Father 170 times, principally on the lips of Jesus himself.  And we haven’t counted the rest of the New Testament. This is very striking.[1]

            Secondly, Jesus spoke and acted as though he were in the place of God. It got him into trouble. The evil spirits seemed to appreciate the divinity of Christ more than his followers did. The opponents and enemies of Jesus, similarly, seemed to grasp the import of his speech and acts as much as or even more than his disciples; except, instead of following him, they condemned him for blasphemy (or demonic possession, or madness).  “Who is this, who forgives sins?” His teaching of the Kingdom of God made them suppose he was thinking of himself as its King (or the King’s Son). His miracles, far from convincing his adversaries of his goodness and union with God, drove them to a murderous frenzy. Jesus did not go around saying, “I am God”; but the cumulative effect of his words and deeds, together with his own confessions when put on the spot, are overwhelming. And so it was, on Easter, when Jesus appeared to Saint Thomas after his Resurrection, that the former Doubter made the highest confession of faith in the New Testament: “My Lord and my God!” 

            Thirdly, Jesus, as we see in today’s Gospel, spoke of his going away, and of his sending from the Father the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, to be the Person of God in his place, to empower his Church and to guide it into all truth. “He (the Holy Spirit) will take what is mine and give it to you. This means that the disciples were no longer to be, as it were, that inward-looking circle we mentioned last Sunday, gathered around the incarnate and then crucified/risen, body of Jesus. When Jesus ascended to the Father, sending the Holy Spirit in his place, that circle was turned inside out: The disciples were filled with the Spirit to preach and live the Gospel to the ends of the earth and through the ages of time until now, and here, on George Street in Providence.

            What is most important to realize is that as the Spirit came to the Church, those disciples were transformed into the bold members and witnesses of the Body of Christ. They entered the Kingdom of God preached by Christ, lived by its principles, and enjoyed its life. In a word, they were drawn into very life of God the Holy and Undivided Trinity. They were moved by the Spirit. They were made members of the family of the King’s Son; they became his adopted brothers and sisters, members of Christ’s body and bride, Holy Mother Church; and finally, they prayed with confidence, “Abba, Father”, as God’s redeemed sons and daughters.

            Now a word about doctrine. Doctrine is to the Gospel literature as grammar is to language. If our grammar deteriorates, our ability to speak, communicate and understand is corrupted until, at last, we speak nonsense. This is why the Church has her creeds. They define and summarize the Good News of Jesus about God. If you want to learn more about them, after I’m done with our Bible Study on Acts, I’m starting a Christian Doctrine Class. For now, suffice it to say that the doctrine of the Trinity places in balanced tension the two great truths of Holy Scripture. First, that there is but one living and true God. Second, that the Gospel of Jesus has revealed this God as three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And these two great truths arise because Jesus Christ reveals existential Good News about the nature of God; namely, that the Holy and Undivided Trinity is self-sacrificial, almighty Love. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. And that means that God loves me. I and me here are explicitly plural as in Jesus loves us, this we know, for the Bible tells us so. Little ones to him belong; we are weak but he is strong. 

            In the meantime, let us believe and realize that we live and breathe in the Holy and Undivided Trinity, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let me finish with an ancient Celtic rune from the Scottish Highlands, a preface to prayer. I use it myself frequently before I start my own Morning Prayer Office. We might think of some of these words today as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion.

“I am bending my knee

In the eye of the Father who created me,

In the eye of the Son who purchased me,

In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me,

In friendship and affection. 

Through thine own Anointed One, O God,

Bestow upon us fullness in our need,

Love towards God,

The affection of God,

The smile of God,

The wisdom of God,

The grace of God,

The fear of God,

And the will of God

To do on the world of the Three,

As angels and saints do in heaven;

Each shade and light,

Each day and night,

Each time in kindness,

Give Thou us thy Spirit.[2]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[1] Joachim Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus, pp. 29ff.  This is a little masterpiece of scholarship.

[2] Celtic Invocations, Alexander Carmichael, “Rune Before Prayer,” p. 37.

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Sunday June 9, 2019                                                                               >> Printable Transcript

The Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday                                                         >> "Viva Voce" (Audio Recording) 

A Holy Necessary Exchange                                                         

Fr. Mead | 10 am Solemn Mass                                                               

Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21; St. John 14:8-27

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            When I was a kid, and even every once in a while to this day, I didn’t much care for the great exchange at the end of Eastertide – the exchange that occurs between the Ascension and the Day of Pentecost. I thought, this is not a good deal. Jesus goes up, the Spirit comes down. God gets Jesus, we get the Church. No sir, not a good deal at all.

            Let’s back up to Good Friday and Easter morning and see how we got here. The disciples were appalled by the cross, as we would have been and in fact still are. It is the embracing of the cross of Christ as the Best Good News There Is that constitutes the life’s work of the Christian. The disciples, even though Jesus had forecast his death, were stupefied. So much so, that they were slow, especially the men except for John, to believe that God raised Jesus from his grave – even though Jesus had forecast that as well. It was too much for them to take in.

            Throughout the first Eastertide, in many ways, Jesus made his Resurrection known to his followers. He called them by name (as with Mary Magdalene and Simon Peter and Thomas). He showed them his wounds (as in the Upper Room, especially with Thomas). He ate in their presence; in fact he prepared a charcoal fire for them by the Sea of Galilee. He walked distances with them. He opened the Scriptures for them (can you imagine taking that Bible study on the road to Emmaus?) He healed them (especially Peter). He wasn’t a ghost, and he wasn’t a resuscitated corpse brought back into this life, like Lazarus. This was a new reality for a new world. Although his Resurrection was certainly bodily, it was also spiritual – the doors were locked but Jesus simply appeared; and at Emmaus, he vanished when they recognized him. And so forth. But this period came to an end.

            It had to come to an end. Why?  Because the Church would never have spread the word otherwise. During that first Eastertide, the disciples of Jesus were a circle of people looking inward at the center, at the risen Lord, whose Resurrected Bodily Presence overawed them. So what happened? On Ascension Day he removed himself from the center of that circle.

            But it couldn’t stop there. Jesus had told them he would send them power from on high, and that they were to wait for its coming. Or should I say, as Jesus did, wait for His coming; and who is that? “I will send you another Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to be with you forever.” The Greek word in John’s Gospel, translated Comforter, Advocate, Counselor, Strengthener, is Parakletos, almost impossible to translate, except that we have a good term in the Anglican/Episcopal tradition: Vicar! A Vicar is the Bishop’s appointed priest in an aided parish. He, or she, represents the Bishop there. The Holy Spirit is Jesus’s Vicar in the holy catholic Church. Jesus is the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, and the Holy Spirit is his Vicar, the universal Vicar of Christ.

            So when Jesus withdrew by ascending into highest, or if you prefer, deepest heaven, he did not leave that circle of meek little people powerless. He sent the power. Here’s another Greek word, from Saint Luke’s Book of Acts: Dunamis. As in dynamo or even dynamite. Kaboom! That circle of meek little people, turned inside out by the descending Spirit with wind and fire, came bundling down the stairs from the Upper Room into the streets of Jerusalem, where Peter preached the first explicit sermon of Jesus Christ to the world – after the disciples were heard speaking God’s praises in the various languages of the pilgrims on the Feast of Weeks in Jerusalem. Even the Medes were there and heard it.

            Speaking of Peter, recall that fifty days earlier this was the man who denied Christ and swore he didn’t know Jesus. The same old power structure before whom Peter had cowered was still in place: the high priests, the council, Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate… Yet look at the difference. Dynamite. Here, the Holy Spirit had transformed the Apostle truly into a Vicar of Christ. And that is why the exchange of Ascension and Pentecost is, after all, not a bad deal at all, but a very good deal. We certainly would not know about Jesus otherwise.

            So where is our Pentecost at Saint Stephen’s Providence? Right here, now. Have you ever noticed that what goes on here today, and for that matter at every mass, has the same shape as Good Friday/Easter/Ascension/Pentecost? We gather together to bless and break and share the Bread and the Cup, thereby showing forth the Lord’s Death. We eat and drink his living Body and Blood by the power of his Resurrection. But we don’t just stay here, a circle facing inward, facing the altar and the tabernacle. Our circle is turned inside out. We are told to get out of here, to go in peace to love and serve the Lord, to rejoice in the power of the Spirit, who goes with us wherever we go. And what a great name for our city, Providence. For it is the Holy Spirit who guides our steps, who changes life from the cynic’s view of life as “one damn thing after another” into an adventure in God’s providence by pilgrims heavenward bound.

            Today we are going to have a forum with Canon Linda Grenz, who will help us set some things in order in our hearts and minds, so that we are not stuck in the past but rather freed and empowered for mission in the here and now and the future. If there needs to be some healing, let it be so. But let all things be accompanied by prayer and thanksgiving. Saint Stephen’s is a breath-takingly beautiful sanctuary of Christ with a lovely tradition to be developed, strengthened and carried forward; which by God’s grace, by the dynamo of the Holy Spirit, we shall do. And what a mission setting Saint Stephen’s has been given! Do we have a parking problem? Yes, and the two churches I was in for thirty years have even worse parking problems. Perhaps the problem defines a mission question for us: Who doesn’t need to drive here in order to walk through our doors and take part in our Eucharist? Hmm. If even a tiny percentage of those souls were to do so, we wouldn’t be able to seat them all. So by the power of the Spirit let’s hop to it, and make our various witnesses for Jesus. [And invite people to join you in church.]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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