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Monday
Dec112017

The Dialysis of Faith

The Dialysis of Faith

Advent 2
Mk. 1:1-8

This period before Christmas can be an anxious and frustrating time. On the one hand there is expectation and anticipation, and on the other hand there is an element of dread and caution. I love getting presents, and I love giving presents. But I am never quite sure that I have gotten the right one for somebody. And I know that after I get a really neat present there will be a let down and the “big gift” will look smaller and smaller as the days go by.

It is really fun to go to my favorite shop or to the mall and wallow in the wonderful clothes of Abercrombie and Fitch, to look at my reflection in a piece of Steuben glass, or to listen to the melodic ping of my finger upon a Waterford goblet. The leather goods at Coach dazzle my senses, and their prices boggle my mind. All the while I am aware of the crush of credit card debt. Worse of all there are those little sanctimonious voices in the back of my head which whisper that Christmas is unself-conscious charity, simplicity and purity of heart. These are the voices, which lead some people to give me a card, which says, “Instead of buying you that red flannel shirt you have been hinting for all year, we have decided to make a contribution to the Lost Children of Central Peoria in your name.”

I love to party with my relatives and friends. Their presence gives me great joy. They are wonderful to be around ‹- for relatively short periods of time. Too often when they “ying,” I “yang!”

Moreover, although I had a good childhood, and was reared by loving parents, I sometimes get a mild case of pre-Christmas “blues.” Psychologists have identified this state of mind as a serious problem for some people. My case, of course, is never very serious or dramatic. I just want to stay in my room, curl up in a corner and go away.

Now perhaps some of the above sounds familiar to you. It is not meant simply to be amusing, but to describe our very human condition, which is often one of ambivalence. You and I are complicated creatures, and we have to live with dichotomies and ambiguities.

Our Anglican Church in her infinite wisdom presents us with the liturgical season of Advent. Whereas the Methodist Church when I was a boy presented Advent as a time of increasing joy and happiness climaxing in the incredibly beautiful drama of Christmas Day, our Anglican tradition presents Advent as a time of penitence and expectation. For us, the Christmas season is supposed to begin after Christmas. We are allowed only glimpses of the beauty of the Madonna and Child, the angels and the shepherds, the wise men and the star.

And theologically? Theologically we are reminded that history has a direction and is moving inexorably towards God’s destined end, as He works out His eternal will for His people in this thing called time. However, there is a cyclical component involved. For each year we come around to hear again the story of the coming of the Christ Child. Even though we know how the story is going to come out, we are to supposed to receive it as something fresh and new.

So how are you and I to greet and prepare for Christmas? I would suggest this: let the story of Christmas wash over you and through you. Let the story cleanse you of the poisons of fear, regret, doubt, and selfishness. Allow the Gospel to work its power in your heart and mind by listening to the great passages of our common faith. The fathers of the Church were indeed wise to combine repentance and expectation during the time of Advent. For in the telling of the Christmas story and in the celebration to come of that Christmas story, you and I can be cleansed and made ready to soldier on in the new secular and liturgical year. The Gospel of Christmas can renew us so that we can work to prepare the way for the Kingdom of God. When we are cleansed by the story of Christmas, we are moved by the Holy Spirit to a greater love of our neighbor and of our God.

Renewal. It reads: “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” How can this happen? Partly by listening to the powerful words of the books of Isaiah and St. Mark. Now hear—feel—the agony of a defeated Israel, yearning for a Messiah, in the words of her prophet, Isaiah. Israel’s agony is an eternal representation of everyman and every society’s yearning for meaning and salvation in the midst of her constant pursuit of false gods, material gratification, control and dominance. Taste the bitter sense of man’s disappointment in achieving only a partial good or a partial success or partial happiness.

Like an over compensating spouse who feels that her mate is a disappointment, but of course the mate couldn’t help it, the spouse struggles ever desperately to do more and more, to control more and more, lest he or she fall into the oblivion of chaos, so a society or nation can convulse, trying first one policy and then another, and even turn upon itself, only to injure the helpless and defenseless, as it seeks to ring satisfaction and happiness out of material and transient half-goods, ephemeral values and false messiahs.

Such was the plight of the people to whom Isaiah spoke. Hear in today’s lectionary reading Isaiah’s call to look to a God who has compassion and who promises salvation and a messiah. “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid….A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together….The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem…say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him: his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”

Incredibly powerful words. Again and again washing over the people, Israel. Words that are part of Israel’s vibrant faith. These are God’s words of hope, which run through the veins of the faith of the people cleansing and renewing them again and again and again. Like Israel, there is within you and me a yearning for such a messiah. There is a hunger for history to make sense—the history of our world, the history of our nation, the history of our church, and the history of our own lives.

To a despairing people, to a disillusioned nation, to the confusion of individuals—300 years after the last of the prophets—John the Baptist lurched onto the stage of history. Indeed, he lurches onto the stage of our own lives and cries, “Repent! Turn around and see God!” Turn from your tangled pursuit of happiness. Turn from your struggle to wring meaning out of the work-a-day values of your own lives. Let your self go. Give yourself up! Allow yourself to be washed—made new—symbolically cleansed, even as you are cleansed by repentance, from the contaminants of materialism, bogus goods, jealousy, resentment, envy, and disappointment.

Don’t you see? God has a plan for His people. God brings salvation, and it is to be found in His messiah. Hear the good news. Receive the Gospel. God is giving His people a gift not a reward. This priceless gift is the Good News of a Saviour. That Messiah will empower you with the Holy Spirit. God’s Saviour will bear your fears and hopes, your doubts and dreams, your dashed expectations and your broken efforts. Through the gift of His Messiah, and through the Gospel message of that gift, you will receive the Holy Spirit. That Spirit, like fire, will cleanse His people, and in effect baptize those who turn and receive the Messiah.

So it is that St. Mark tells us that the promise of John the Baptist is the promise of the Gospel. It is at once grounded in history and at the same time is timeless and eternal. It is true for you and me today, just as it was true 2,000 years ago. Hear the promise of God as it is found in the Scriptures and in the Sacraments. In that assurance, you and I receive the life-giving power of the Gospel of His Messiah, His Son, Jesus Christ. Lift up your hearts! Amen.

 

Monday
Dec042017

Fly Me to the Moon

FLY ME TO THE MOON

 

Matt. 13:24-37

Advent One

“Fly me to the moon, and let me play among the stars….”  With apologies to Frank Sinatra, it seems that we have always wanted to stand back and get a perspective on things. Today’s passage from The Gospel of St. Mark is one of those passages which seeks to give us a perspective. It is called “The Little Apocalypse.” Apocalyptic literature is found through out the Old and New Testaments. It speaks of the end of times when all things cease and we stand before God. “….The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”  Pretty grim stuff. But this kind of thought is not unknown in our own times. Fifteen-year-old boys love to go to movies in which there are cataclysmic events. As a fifteen year old, I saw one movie in which there was a huge earthquake in California, and another movie in which water was covering the earth. The movie, Independence Day, dealt with an alien invasion from outer space. These images, found in both the Bible and contemporary media have spawned a whole literature of Rapture Novels, in which people are jerked out of their convertibles and find “the peace that passeth understanding.”  Whether in horror movies, science fiction, Rapture Novels or apocalyptic literature the reader experiences a heightened sense of expectation, an adrenaline rush and foresees a cosmic rush. The sun is darkened; the moon is gone and “stars fall on Alabama.” (Apologies to Billie Holiday.)

In the Old Testament the Hebrews lived always with a sense of expectation. They marked the seasons, the movements in the cosmos, and the catastrophic events of history. Just think for a moment of Noah and the flood, the parting of the sea during the Exodus, the locust in the dessert, and the rise and fall of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Yahweh, the God of our Old Testament is a God who acts in history bringing about His divine purposes within the world and the cosmos. The Jews acknowledge that much of life is cyclical with its seasons, much of life is also inevitable (read the Wisdom Literature of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs) but above all there is a sense in which all things move beyond history. There is meaning in the cosmos and the heavens and the stars that affect man. Man, however infinitesimal does count and is important. “What is man that thou art mindful of him…” says the Psalmist. (Ps. 8)

When I think of the heavens, the moon and the stars, I think of my father. Born in 1901, he was fascinated with flight and air travel. In his twenties, Dad worked for the Exchange Club in Toledo, Ohio, at its national office. The Exchange Club sponsored a program of encouraging towns to paint the name of their town on the roofs of barns and commercial buildings. In the early days of aviation pilots lacked navigational aids and didn’t know where they were. Pilots followed rail lines, rivers and roads. By putting the name of a town on its buildings, the town enabled the pilots to become oriented. (My friend, Richard, told me that the same thing was true with helicopters in Vietnam during the war. You would get lost in cloud cover and have to come down and find a river or town in order to know where you were. The pilots were constantly trying to get a fix on where they were.)

I remember how thrilled my father was when we put a man on the moon. He never expected in his lifetime to see that happen. He was disappointed that I didn’t share his awe. I built model planes during WWII but the jet age bored me and being a callow youth I didn’t care whether we were on the moon or not. Except for one thing. I was awed by the photographs and the shots of the earth from the moon. There was this planet orbiting in space, stuck in the cosmos and it was possible to step back, get the ultimate perspective and see this fragile island we call home.

Later on there were shots from satellites (my son, Chris, worked for a time on global mapping by satellite). All of those shots showed the continents, landmasses, waters, green and arid areas. They imaged how fragile, how vulnerable, and how alone in space we seem to be. Looking at the photographs from the moon, it was apparent to me that this world of ours could perish, could burn out or dry out or wear out. How futile and petty the feuds between tribes and nations. The exploitation and raping of the forests and lands were apparent. The wanton destruction by man. You wanted to cry out, “STOP! Take care of yourselves! Take care of the earth!”

Looking from the perspective of space a sense of beyond words, of dimensions beyond our imaginations, of a spirituality of the stillness, of a profundity of meaning – all of that was overwhelming. I felt a marveling that the source of creation—our God—had in the midst of the darkness and vastness of the cosmos created this thing we call the world and given to it life. The “darkness comprehended it not.” It seemed as though the writers of Genesis really got it right. “In the beginning day one. Day two…” From the perspective of the moon, from the vastness of the cosmos there was an eerie sense of an awareness of there being a moral reality. There is light and darkness, creation and destruction, creation and recreation. I had a sense of the struggle to survive and to do the right thing, to battle against evil if we are to survive. Life from the apocalyptic, cosmic point of view appears to be more than matter. There are moral boundaries and imperatives and battles in the midst of the movements of the planets and meteorites, the natural shifts and forces and cataclysms of the cosmos and the world. How puny are the worries and concerns of man! How small a perspective man has, cloistered in our own concerns – sort of like living in a cigar box and peeping out from time to time (whatever time is).

In a sense, my reaction is what the authors of apocalyptic writings were trying to articulate. They were trying to step back, to get perspective. They were trying to connect with the cosmic dimension and to acknowledge that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and of the prophets is somehow beyond our comprehension. And yet just as the creative and recreative force of creation made the cosmos and our world, this source is more than energy, more than beauty, more than power. It is a moral source and seeks to relate to us in the midst of the eternal struggle between light and darkness, knowledge and ignorance, love and hate.

The world is not abandoned from this force, and the prophets and John the Baptist caught a glimpse of the revelatory, regenerative, redemptive action of God. They sensed a God who reaches out to us by coming to us. And in all of the unimaginable ways, in a god-forsaken (not literally) part of the world, where Jews and Arabs and Gentiles have fought with each other since time in memorial – in a child – in a manger – in a stable – in a small town.

The apocalyptic writings tell us to wake up. To look beyond war and sin and cataclysms. To shift our perspective and to see what God has done for us. To listen to the Gospel and to receive His Son because we can ruin it all, and things do come to an end, and this island home called earth is perishable, even as we ourselves, individually, are perishable.

The apocalyptic passage of Mark articulates the call of God in Jesus Christ to choose to see the ultimate glory and to praise and rejoice in His Son and the glory that awaits all of us both now and forever. This passage, this call, shakes us in this penitential time of Advent, rousing us, calling us to wake up – to look up – to open up – to see the rivers of history, the tracks of redemption, the signs of justice and righteousness, and the marks of One who is creative and recreative. You and I are called to allow our spirits and our souls to soar, perhaps not to the moon but in response to the love and power of our creator and redeemer God who brings light out of darkness, hope out of despair, and love out of hate. In our worship, in our relationships, in our reflections and in our faith you and I are called this season to wake up, to soar on the wings of the spirit and in holy imagination. Fly to the moon? Maybe not. But prepare to fly soon to Bethlehem. Amen. – Fr. Gage - 

Monday
Nov272017

You Are What You Do

You Are What You Do

Matt. 25:31-46

Some time ago, I read an article in The New Yorker about C.S. Lewis, scholar, writer and Christian apologist. The essayist made the comment that “As for faith, well, a handful of images is as good as an armful of arguments, as the old apostles always knew.” (P.93, Nov. 21, 2005 issue.)

The apocalyptic images of the last judgment are vividly presented by Jesus in today’s lesson from the Gospel of St. Matthew. People and nations will be gathered before the King (God/Jesus) and divided into “sheep” and “goats.” On His right hand will be the sheep who are blessed. They fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked and gave shelter to the homeless and strangers. Moreover, they were apparently unaware of the importance of this. For in so doing the aforementioned, they tended Christ Himself. Those who did not take care of the hungry, thirsty, naked and homeless will go to hell, or at least to a very uncomfortably warm place. This pericope, this passage, is vivid and underlines the importance of compassionate behavior. The reading also comes right after our Thanksgiving holiday and just before the season of Advent. Unlike the secular year, for the liturgical year the season of Advent is a penitential season in which we consider our failings.

I have suggested that when we look at passages like this we ask three questions. The first one is, “What is the point of the passage?” It seems to be to be quite clear that the point of the passage is that there is an ultimate accountability in our lives. Not everything is relative. We really are the net result of what we do. If we have not been charitable and compassionate we are (probably ultimately) estranged from God. There is not only “a dress code in the kingdom of heaven,” there is also “a standard of conduct” that is acknowledged. If you remember the Beatitudes, it is the “pure in heart” and the “merciful” who, among others, are blessed. So, yes, there is a judgment day. There is an ultimate accountability. (The issues of justification by grace and of works righteousness, or Palagianism, can be dealt with elsewhere.) So the apocalyptic images make for a sense of urgency in Jesus’ message and work to remind us that “we are what we do.” we are ultimately accountable for our lives.

As to the second question, we ask, “What is the emphasis of the passage?” We have an intriguing answer. In the prophets and in Judaism there is a strong ethical demand for righteousness, compassion and mercy. That demand is really heightened here. It is heightened because it is directly linked to Jesus Christ. When one is merciful to one who needs mercy, when one feeds the hungry or clothes the naked, THEN Jesus Christ is the recipient! When a charitable action is done with a pure motive towards one of the least in society, Jesus Christ is the recipient. The face of Jesus is seen in the face of the outcast and less fortunate.

It is tempting to water this passage down and to make a universalism out of it. “All people who do good will enter the kingdom of heaven.” A friend of mine made that connection when he had been a prisoner of war in Japan. He said that the guards treated the prisoners as equals and shared their food and supplies with them. The prisoners were Christian and the guards were Buddhists. My friend (who is, ironically, Roman Catholic) decided that ethical behavior was all that mattered. Well, maybe yes and maybe no. But that is not what this passage is saying. This passage is addressed to Jesus’ followers. It is addressed to Christians. When a follower of Jesus out of purity of motive feeds the hungry and shelters the homeless, THEN he/she is ministering to Jesus. When the Christian does not do that, THEN he/she is in big trouble. It is not simply a matter of having right theology or right doctrine. By our deeds we are known.

In reflecting upon my actions as a Christian and growing up in a Christian family, I pondered for a long time about where there had been instances of pure grace, of pure, genuine charity — feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, etc. I was shocked to discover that I could not think of any occasions of our doing this. My father had chaired the United Fund. My mother helped out at church and school. Yes, Faye and I supported St. Luke’s Life Works, Bread and Roses, etc. But most of our charitable actions, then and more recently, were primarily institutionalized, or at least not personalized. It was then, to my surprise, that I discovered that those instances in which persons were fed and clothed and sheltered all took place within the family. Pure motive of giving, or hesed (loving kindness) has and tends to take place within the family.

Here then is the essential connection to our faith. Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” The emphasis is that we are to show compassion and charity to others as members of our family. Just as in the baptismal ceremony we introduce the newly baptized as to “our brothers and sisters in Christ,” so we are to live in relationship to others as “brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Finally, the third question that we ask of a passage is this, “What is the action dictated by the passage?” What are the ethical implications? I think we are asked by Christ to look carefully at our actions. What do they say about us? Do we really look at those in need as our brothers and sisters in Christ? Do we see them or treat them as “family?” This is an important matter of perspective or inclination (in the sense of the term as used in physics). I am daily besieged by letters and individuals asking for money for food, clothing and shelter. It is tempting to be indifferent, self righteous and dismissive. It is tempting to allow myself to become hardened because I am overwhelmed with guilt.

Let me make a personal observation from my own experience. When I was at student at Yale in the 50’s we always had panhandlers or “down and outers” who worked their way through the campus. They lived at and were helped by the Yale Hope Mission. Every day they caged quarters and dollars from us and there was an easy truce or rapport between the students and the down and outers. Things changed in the 60’s. Thanks to drugs and to some sort of social shift the campus was populated with beggars who were mean spirited and skillfully worked to embarrass the students and faculty. With the emptying of the mental hospitals in the 70’s and 80’s many more of the homeless and hungry were mentally ill and hostile. I worked in the early 60’s in parts of Chicago that I wouldn’t dream of going into now. I feel that with the increase in immigration as well as the permanent racial underclass that it is much harder to respond to someone as my brother and sister in Christ. But the sad truth of the matter is that unless I do respond that way, Christ does not live in me and I in Him.

As a parish and as a society you and I are challenged to see others as brothers and sisters in Christ and to stop polarizing classes and solutions. The media and politicians encourage us so to do. But unless we drop the “blue state/red state” mentality in society, the “us against them” mentality, and the “real Christian/secular Christian” attitude in our denomination and in the greater Church as a whole, we will not be able to see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

This Thanksgiving weekend, on the Sunday of Christ the King, give thanks for the blessings that you have received. Share your love and generosity with your family, friends and neighbors. Be open and generous in big things as well as in little things. Our tasks as Christians on a journey of faith are not easy. But in the face of those in need there lies the face of Christ. By our actions you and I are known for who we are. One action is worth a hundred words. We are what we do. Let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Amen. - Fr. Gage

Monday
Nov202017

Shoes

 

Shoes

Matt.25:14-29

My parents were born in l901 and l903, Dad being the older. They were fine people. Their lives were marked severely by the Great Depression, and by a major illness in l940. As a result of these experiences they were very careful with their money. Whenever they made a “serious purchase,” they did it together. When my mother bought a dress, Dad went with her. When he bought shoes, or a suit, she went with him. I joined the family business when they were in their late 60’s. One day my father went into my mother’s office and said, “Helen, I need a new pair of shoes. These have holes, are worn, and just aren’t good for the office.” Mother said, “Fine, my arthritis is so bad I can’t go up and down the stairs again. Take Bart with you and go across the street and get a pair.” “What size do I take?” he asked. “You have a very narrow foot. You have always taken a 10A,” she replied.

So I helped my father, age 72, through the traffic on Bedford Street to Foot Form, where we had bought shoes since l949. “I want a pair of brown Oxfords, size l0A,” my father announced. “You don’t want l0A; you take a 10 1/2-11B,” the salesman replied. “No I don’t,” Dad protested. “I’ve always taken a 10A!” “I’ll prove it to you,” said the salesman. He got his foot ruler out, and sure enough Dad was a 10 1/2B. Skeptically he put on the l0 1/2, but the 11 felt even better. Dad bought the shoes and as we left the store, turned to me and said, “You know, I’ve always wondered why my feet hurt so much!” We went up to the office and Dad showed the shoes to my mother. She said, “But these are a 10 1/2B. You take a l0A.” “But Helen,” Dad replied, “the man measured my foot, and I take a 10 1/2-11B.” Without looking up, Mom said, “Oh.” The next day Dad came into the office in his new shoes. He had a big smile on his face and lots of spring in his step. Neither of us pointed that out to my mother.

Now this is not just a funny family story about a loving couple on their journey into old age. It connects, I think, to the Parable of the Talents. Before pointing out the connection, I want to say a couple of things about the parable. You have to understand that a talent is a measure of weight of precious metal, usually silver. A talent is probably about $1,000. It is very valuable. Jesus is saying that each of the servants is given something of great worth.

Some scholars read this parable as a critique of the Sadducees and Pharisees. What was it that was of great value to them? Answer: the Torah and the community. It was often said that the job of a rabbi was to “build a fence around the Law and the community,” to protect and to resist change. The servant who buried his talent and returned it to the master, then, is a criticism of the Jewish leaders who refuse to see the coming of the Messiah and a new covenant.

Other scholars say that this parable refers to the experience of the early Church and the conflict between the mission to the Gentiles and the position of the Jerusalem Jewish Christians. The servant who buries his treasure, according to these scholars, refers to the desire of the Church in Jerusalem to keep the faith to itself and to exclude the Gentile churches.

Well, there may be some truth in each of those positions. But I think there are more fundamental, universal, dominant human connections. Therefore I ask the question, “What is it that is of infinite value for both the Jew and Gentile of Jesus’ audience, and for you and me today?” Answer: that which is of incredible value is the gift of the Gospel and God’s incarnate love. The priceless “talents” which you and I bear are not our abilities and personal attributes, although they are surely important. Rather the talents, the measures of weighty value, which the master gives us, are the priceless gifts of the Gospel and the incarnate love of His Son.

Look, you and I are pilgrims on a journey of faith. Some of us have a greater realization of the Gospel and God’s love than others. But what really matters is what we do with it, or how we run the race. My father did a pretty good job. He preferred his old shoes. They were comfortable, familiar, and they bore his stamp. But they really didn’t get him anywhere. He couldn’t wear them to work. The hymns of his youth, and the message of the Methodist tent revivals were dear to him. But the forms of evangelical fundamentalism were tired and inappropriate. They could not carry the Gospel of God’s love during the decades of WWI, WWII and the decade of putting a man on the moon. They couldn’t support the whole panoply of issues, which address the human heart. Dad learned to put on a sturdy Oxford, at the University of Chicago Divinity School in the 20’s. He loved listening to Harry Emerson Fosdick and Ralph Sockman. Even so, he was pinched by events and circumstances and inclinations. He was unable to “glory” in the cross and in the Gospel. For whatever reasons, he missed the joy of the Gospel and the freedom to share the abundance of God’s love. In his last years (when his shoes fit) he was much more at peace with his faith, expansive, and loving.

What I am saying to you this morning is this, for God’s sake, for Christ’s sake, for your own sake, face the fact that you carry with you every day the greatest treasure the world has ever known: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Each day, as you go about your appointed tasks, you carry with you salvation and God’s love. Do something with that Gospel and that love. Can I tell you something about love? Keep it bottled up and it dies. Put it in old shoes, where it goes nowhere but the easy chair, and it disappears. Carry it around with pursed lips, pinched attitude, and an anxious mind, and it evaporates. Give it freedom and support and room for bounce and it flourishes. That is true for babies. That is true for marriage. That is true for the community and the Church. And you can bet your life it is true for the Gospel. You see, ours is a go-for-broke religion. We live under all sorts of constraints: earning a living, taking care of the elderly, dealing with demanding children, pleasing a difficult boss. What is important is to adopt a style of life, which enables us to have some freedom to enjoy God’s love and to witness to the Gospel. Our doctrines and creeds give us some arch support, but it is up to you and me to find wiggle room.

Now here are some practical suggestions: spend some extra time with your grandchildren. Sit down and write a letter to your brother or sister and tell them that you love them and that you love Jesus. Tell your parent(s) that they did a good job rearing you and you wouldn’t trade them for anyone. Take your wife or husband by the hand and say, ” I love Jesus, but you are the most immediately available.” Stop walking around in “I feel sorry for myself” too tight shoes. Reach out to a stranger in church or across the fence to a neighbor at home. Make a real pledge. Enjoy the freedom of a tithe. Bring folks to our church, to lunch, to the Christmas Eve Mass. Be hospitable to new comers. Praise rather than criticize. Have you got the drift?

Don’t carry the precious gift of God’s Gospel and God’s love around with you, in too tight shoes. Don’t wait until the last three years of your life, or the last three months, to invest His Gospel and love with others. Jesus Christ gives you the Gospel and His love so that you can share it and have a smile on your face and a spring in your step. Love flourishes when set free. Share the joy! Amen. Fr. Gage.

Monday
Nov132017

REGRETS

Regrets                                                                                                   Matthew 25:1-13

“Miss Otis regrets, she’s unable to lunch today, madam, Miss Otis regrets, she’s unable to lunch today…”

There is in our society, and in life in general, a subculture of regret.    We regret mistakes, omissions, intentions, actions and inactions.  It is so much a part of our life that people write songs of regret.  In 1956 I was living in Fayetteville, Arkansas.   On Sunday afternoon, I strolled over to the university campus to attend a recital given by students in the summer music program.  I have never forgotten the voice of the woman who sang Cole Porter’s song, “Miss Otis Regrets.”

The singer’s voice was like warm milk chocolate.  She caught the sly wink, the tongue-in-check humor and nearly naughty voice of Porter’s lyrics, which were written for a birthday party for Monty Wolley.  Such a song fed into the blues culture, and parallels the more familiar song, “Frank and Johnny”, which came out of Tennessee.

Later I worked at St. George’s Episcopal Church on the Southside of Chicago, I was further exposed to the blues, which is a culture of regret.  One of the parishioners was a disc jockey.  He befriended me and gave me several records with songs by noted vocalists.  Who of us has not sung “the blues”?  We’ve sung the blues over romance, marriage, work, family, vocation, and past mistakes.  Singing the blues and listening to the blues music is good fun and okay up to a point.  We have crossed the line when our life or our marriage or our job or our organization or a church is poisoned by regret.  For with regret, goes a sense of abandonment, of having “missed the boat” or life being irredeemable, of being “shut out”,  left behind.

This need not be the case.  Life need not be lived in the land of regret.  Jesus Christ offered to those who came to hear him a different way of living.  (He offered it then and he offers it now.)  He spoke of life in the Kingdom of Heaven, (Which is living in a close relationship to the reality of god’s presence and love, here and in the hereafter.) Jesus told the story of the wise and foolish virgins.  Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  The wise took oil with them; the foolish only took their lamps.  Since the bridegroom was delayed on the equivalent of Israel’s I-95, the bridesmaids fell asleep.  They were roused by a shout that the bridegroom was on his way.  Those virgins who had oil lit their lamps and went out to meet him.  The foolish begged for oil, but were rebuffed and told to go down to the 7-11, and get their own.  When the bridegroom came, there was a wonderful wedding banquet.  The foolish virgins were too late and got shut out.

Some scholars allege that it is possible to document marriage customs during the time of Jesus and that this story fits right in.  Other scholars say that this story does not have cultural or historical roots. Therefore they try to make an allegory out of it.  The bridegroom is Jesus.  His coming refers to the parousia, or the Second Coming of Jesus.  The oil is good works.  Or it may be that this story speaks to the messianic expectation of the prophets.  The oil is the keeping of the law.  Whether the parable is apocalyptic or eschatological, whether it refers to the life of the Jews or the life of the early Church is for me a moot point.  The question, I think, is what is it saying about the human condition?  What is it saying about you and me?

First of all, I think it is saying that to live in the Kingdom of Heaven is a desirable thing.  It is comparable to being at a joyous celebration—a wedding banquet.  That is what it is like to live in a positive and appropriate relationship to God.  To do so one must have commitment and dedication.  It is to live in a dynamic relationship, to be in a process—to live expectantly, to greet the moment with readiness.  This is what it is to have faith.  Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (present in His life). His message is “Listen up.  Come to the banquet.”  Live life with a gladsome heart.  Secondly, I think Jesus is saying that not to respond with watchfulness and faithful dedication, to be without commitment, is to be left behind.  It is the foolish virgins who catch my attention.  They will live a life of regret.  They represent the failure and sometimes the fear that many of us deeply feel.  Let me elaborate with a story.

When I was a toddler in the 1930s my mother left me in my crib and drove my father one mile down to the Chicago and Northwestern train station.   I awoke, heard the car leave, climbed out of my crib and trudged down the street after my mother.  Upon driving back up the street, she met me crying and plodding down Main Street. She was properly aghast, for although I had my hat, I had failed to put on any clothes.  Mother gathered me up and brought me to my safe home—my infant Kingdom of Heaven.  I think many of us live with a sense of being left behind, of running after that which we have lost or even never had.  It is that sense which I think fuels the culture of regret and the life of regret. 

Thirdly, you and I are called to the banquet.  Jesus tells us that we need not live in the land of regret.  We can come home to Him.  We are called to lives of faith and of expectation, of openness to His grace and mercy.  I do not believe that we need to wait until the end of time to participate in the Kingdom of Heaven.  For as it is breaking into the world now, through the life of Christ in the Church, you and I can participate in it each day.  Yes, the door sometimes is shut.  But each day as we deal with the decisions and events in our lives we have a new or continuous call to come to the banquet.    We are invited to live a life of thanksgiving and not of regret.  

Today you and I start the week with the Holy Eucharist.  (The word Eucharist, as you know, means thanksgiving.)  We believe that through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice we are redeemed, and that through prayers of confession and petition we become “turned around.”  In the bread and wine, we are renewed and become participants in the life of Christ, in the life of the Church which is His Body, and therefore in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Each Eucharist gives us the promise and the renewal not to go through life “singing the blues” like Miss Otis, but rather to go through life rejoicing.  In the familiar words of the prayer book, “yet even at the grave we make our song: “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. “ Thanks be to God!  Amen—Fr. Gage