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This passage prompts me to think about my life, not only in relationship to the Sabbath, but also in relationship to the Church.

Permit me to tell my story.

My grandfather was a Methodist minister. Therefore my father grew up in a culture where Sunday was for church. You didn’t work on Sunday. You didn’t play on Sunday. Sunday was a day for contemplation, worship and rest. As a child I went to Sunday school and church and I was quiet. There was no going to the movies, no baseball, no working. This was the period of 1935-1945. The pressure of necessity impinged upon us. There was a war going on. We had victory gardens. Therefore Dad worked on Sunday after church. Gradually Sunday became secularized. There were chores, socializing, movies, sports, studying and homework.

I went off to college. None of my nine roommates went to church on Sunday. At Yale, our dorm was diagonally across the quadrangle from Battelle Chapel, the university church.

I realized that Yale was a secular university devoted to rationalism and science. There was no real exposure to religion, which a large chunk of life. So I decided I would go to church on Sunday. So for four years I went to Battelle Chapel and sat in the balcony. I heard all the great preachers and theologians. I took notes on the sermons of H. Richard Niebuhr, Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, Billy Graham, etc.

But better yet – I heard the Battelle Chapel Choir: thirty male voices and a superb pipe organ. Glorious music that sixty years later still sends chills down my spine.

I learned that it was important to be theo-centric, not ego-centric; and that the path to theo-centric  is Christo-centric. Great thinkers and philosophical theologians thought about and talked about life and where meaning is to be found.

During the week I was under huge pressure from my academic workload. So at 5 p.m. I would step into Dwight Chapel, which was in Dwight Hall and right next to my dorm, and sit for twenty minutes. That meditation and contemplation got me through an incredibly strenuous academic life.

My solitary religious life was for the most part unnoticed. But one of my roommates announced in his junior year that he could not remain agnostic and an atheist. He had to have meaning and love in his life. He became Roman Catholic, eventually a priest and served at Madonna House in Canada.

I also had a letter when I was in seminary from an undergraduate classmate, who said that he remembered that I always went to church on Sunday and later to seminary. Should he do the same? I wrote a lengthy reply said, “yes”. He went on to become the chaplain at MIT.

So, I guess there was witnessing.

When I came back to Connecticut from working seven years on a PhD at the University of Chicago, and took over the family personnel agency, the stress and pressure led me to seek a place where I could meditate. St. John’s was locked. St. Andrew’s was open. So every noon for twenty years I would come to St. Andrews and sit and pray. It got me through the death of Faye’s parents, Faye’s sister, Faye’s nephew, and the death of both my parents. The ups and downs of being an entrepreneur for twenty years were over whelming. Coming to St. Andrews kept me going and saved my life. Eventually at the suggestion of Fr. DeWolf, I re-entered the ordination process and became ordained in 1990.

I believe in the importance of a church being in the midst of a university land of the importance of a church as a sanctuary, where people can not only heard the Gospel, but also meditate on and contemplate the meaning of life as found in God’s actions in Jesus and in the presence of Christ in the liturgy of the Mass.

“The Sabbath is made for man/not man for the Sabbath.” The rules and regulations, forms and liturgy are meant to help you and me find and know God in Christ through our aesthetic sense, our emotional sense, our reason and through service with and to others.

The Gospel passage today underlines that God in Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath and of the Church.

You and I find and experience the love of God in Jesus and through the life of the Church. Through contemplation, meditation, prayer and liturgy the Church enables us to so believe on and find the love and presence of God in Christ, that we can have a sense of meaning in life as well as meaningful lives.

That is so terribly important in this secular city and in this time of chaos and conflict in the world.

Today, listen to the prayers of the Mass. Let them warm your heart, challenge your life and stimulate your thinking.

Then, “Go forth in the name of Christ.” Alleluia. Alleluia. Thanks be to God. Amen.





Man(kind)’s Best Friend

Man(kind)’s Best Friend

Jn. 15:9-17

          One Monday night I was in my study trying to figure out what to do with today’s Gospel lesson about love. Ben, my 75-pound black Labrador Retriever, came in and climbed up in my lap. He proceeded to wash my face thoroughly. Every fold and crinkle was explored front and back. Ben took particular care with my ears, nibbling away any extra skin. I didn’t interrupt him, because I was curious as to how long he wanted to do this. After an interminable period, he pronounced me “finished” and curled up beside me and went to sleep with his head in my lap. There can be no doubt that Ben loves me, and I Ben. As my vet pointed out recently, there is often a very strong bonding between companion animals and their owners. Meaning, purpose, and affection are often derived from this bonding. While Ben’s bonding may be prompted by visions of an extra dog biscuit, our relationship is one of creaturely love.

          There are other kinds of love. Mystery, excitement, and adventure are associated with romantic love, which goes back in literature to the troubadours. Those who do not have a romantic bone in their body are brittle indeed. We are bombarded with images in the media of eros, or sexual love. Platonic love, which is the meeting of minds on a headier level of abstraction, is less familiar to most of us. Maybe it is limited to persons in white jackets working in controlled environments.

          Musing, I got out my trusty Thompson’s Chain Reference Bible and looked up references to love in the Old Testament. There were a handful in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, etc. In most cases, love had to do with the relationship between individuals, for example, Abraham and Sarah; Jacob and Isaac; etc. The prophet Hosea had a lot of references (his book is based on the image of a dysfunctional marriage). The Song of Solomon needed an R rating. I was surprised to see a long list of references to love in the Psalms. That should not have been surprising, for the Psalms are often songs of praise and thanksgiving, extolling the relationship between God and man. Throughout much of the Old Testament, the term hesed, meaning “steadfast loving-kindness,” is used to refer to God’s faithful relationship with Israel. The writers in the early Church knew about Platonic love, creaturely love, filial love, brotherly, and sexual love. For them, the most important is agape, self-giving loving kindness. This is the love of God, focused and mediated in Jesus, and which we are to emulate. By presenting and embodying this love, He has given us a priceless gift of forgiveness, sacrifice, and inspiration.

          To this thought, Ben snored his acceptance. Amen.




Easter 4



       One of my all time favorite movies came out years ago and starred Glenn Ford.  Ford was a fair to middling actor, who turned in an awful performance in the movie, “Carmen,” with Rita Hayworth, but later gave a nuanced performance in “Pocketful of Miracles,” with Bette Davis as “Apple Annie.”  In between he starred in the movie, “Sheepman.”  “Sheepman” was a somewhat droll take-off on the standard Western movie.  Instead of riding and roping, Ford was sauntering along with a drove of sheep.  Of course the cattlemen went bananas because of the invasion of the grass cropping sheep, and much of the plot was about a struggle for territories and boundaries.  In a sense Ford was “the good shepherd,” guiding and protecting his sheep as he led them into new territories.

        My colleague Leander Harding, the former rector of St. John’s, was a sometime sheepherder and was famous for his sermon on The Good Shepherd.  When I read the passage from John, in which Jesus is the Good Shepherd and his followers are compared to sheep, I immediately thought of Leander and his sermon.  But I then morphed into thinking about Glenn Ford and “Sheepman.”  I could picture the sheep in the movie, but not Leander’s sheep, for I have no graphic image of them.  To think of myself as a sheep is a little difficult for me, and only so much can be done with the image.  The connotations of needing care and protection, guidance and husbandry work well for me.  But if you and I are now the body of Christ, and if He dwells in us and he in Him, then you and I are also shepherds and have to deal with issues of boundaries, territories and difficult crises which involve those for whom we care or for whom we are given charge.

       Today I want to talk with you about being shepherded or cared for.  I want to explain how pastoral care is carried out in our parish (the subject of my sermon).  Later I will talk about how you can practice Christian caring in your lives.

       Historically, pastoral care has been defined as “shepherding,” Up until the 19th century the responsibility for pastoral care was primarily exercised by the ordained ministry.  Pastoral care was done by an ordained person, and it usually took the form of “the offices of the church.”  The underlying theological, moral and spiritual principles were those which derived from the sacraments.  In the traditional Roman Catholic Church there was a sacramental system, which was understood as the fundamental comprehensive expression of the church’s care.  It included confession, absolution, blessing, baptism, confirmation, marriage, ordination, burial, penance, contrition and penitential discipline.  This work was done primarily by the priest.  Anglican, Lutheran and Orthodox churches followed this pattern to some extent as well.

       Towards the end of the 19th century there arose a second school of thought, which saw pastoral care as “the cure of souls.”  The emphasis was upon the pastor’s personal involvement with a parishioner and the delineation of theological principles and ethics with the parishioner.  It was top down and deductive.  Think of this school as he school of sage advice.  (My Methodist minister grandfather practiced this approach to pastoral care.)

       A third school of thought developed during the first half of the 20th century.  It arose at the same time as Neo-orthodoxy and emphasized the mission and theology of the church.  At the same time it focused on the condition of man, existentialism and the insights of Freud and Jung.  Richard and Reinhold Niebuhr as well as Paul Tillich were the theologians behind this.  The emphasis was from the bottom up, inductive. Out of this there grew a focus on anthropology, sociology and soteriology,.  The Clinical Pastoral Care Movement was born as was process theology and situational ethics. (Notice that sage advice and the offices of the church are dropped.)

       In the second half of the 20th century emphasis in pastoral care shifted to the work of the whole church, laity as well as priests.  The theology of the laity movement flourished.  Clergy were seen as persons doing specialized work in only special instances.  Marin Luther’s priesthood of all believers of the 16th century was reformulated into everyman a priest and counselor.  Social concerns and social work were seen as impinging of the role of pastoral care.  For many, a social worker was the one who did real pastoral care.

       A fifth school of thought regarding pastoral care was the marriage between psychological therapeutics and Christian spirituality.  Partly as a result of the focus on the individual, of the school of sage advice, there arose an interest in doing Christian psychological counseling.  Seward Hiltner was a pioneer in this work, and Bill Matthews is a product of it. Because of he great emphasis upon spirituality, other religions are also examined as offering insights in the development and care of the soul.   

       So using our metaphor from Glenn Ford’s movie, a sheepman could wear the clothes of 1) a practitioner of the sacramental offices of the church, 2) a giver of sage advice, 3) an existential anthropologist, 4) a lay minister, or 5) a spiritual guru.

       Obviously, all five schools or classifications bleed over into one another.  There tends to be a progression from one to five, but is not absolute.  There were mystics throughout the life of the church.  Monks and deacons often did the social work.  A pious man was always seen as doing the work of God.  We have often turned to devout individuals for sage advice.  What we used to call, “being a good Christian” or “practicing Christian piety,” we now call having a lay ministry.

       Pastoral care is sacramental and worship oriented.  The clergy and the laity work together to help each individual within the parish move into a fuller worshipping relationship with God and into a more supportive relationship with  his/her neighbor.  We walk together on our individual faith pilgrimages.

       The pastoral (shepherding) role of the clergy is three fold:  a) it is sacramental.  We emphasize the offices of the Church.  The Eucharist is celebrated six days a week.  Thee is anointing for healing, plus funerals, baptisms and weddings.  We hear confession, give absolution and bless.  2) It is Scripture based.  We study and teach the scriptures and strive to proclaim clearly the Gospel.  3) It is spiritual.  We work hard to guide individuals and groups on the spiritual faith journeys.  This is done through prayer, instruction and reflective conversation.

       The pastoral role of the laity is also three fold.  1) Through the cultivation of a devout and holy life, laymen and women set an example for others.  2) Laymen and women support one another through building up the life of the body of the church by the use of their individual gifts and talents.  3.  Through study and prayer, lay men and women live out their baptismal covenants by walking with others and seeking to bring them more fully into the life of the Church.

       Metaphors can both amuse and enlighten.  You and I are sheepmen or sheep persons exploring new territories, pushing boundaries, caring for others.  But above all we are blessed and guided by Jesus Christ, who lifts us when we fall, carries us when we are weak, reclaims us when we are lost, and guides us in our uncertainties and faith pilgrimages.   In our separate and collective lives you and I know Christ through one another, hearing the Word and receiving the sacraments and offices of the Church.

  For now, this fourth Sunday in Easter, let us rejoice that “The Lord is our shepherd.  We shall not want.”  Amen – Fr. Gage


The Time of Triumph


Lk 24:36-48

Alleluia! He is risen. Death is overcome by eternal life. Evil is vanquished by God’s goodness. Sin is defeated by sacrificial love. Alleluia! The good guys won!

We are still in the time of Easter. It is a time of triumph. Easter is more than one day; it is a day of resurrection followed by a time of rejoicing, of fleshing out what has happened. It is a time for feasting upon the event and for telling others about the great victory.

I got thinking about other times of triumph. Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, for example, celebrates Russia’s triumph over Napoleon. It is glorious. The finale, with its horns, drums and canons defines “exuberant finale.”

A while back I was parked at the corner of Grove and Broad, waiting for the green light. A guy came up next to me in a convertible. In the back of the car were two gigantic speakers. Boom, baba boom, baba boom. The church across the street nearly shook from the vibrations. I happened to be listening to WQXR, and the station was playing the 1812 Overture. So I cranked down my window and turned the volume up full blast. The guy looked at me and said, “Hey, man. What’re doing? Turn it down.” The canons were too much for him. “This is triumphant music,” I said. “The good guys won!” The rapper stomped his accelerator and pealed out. “Gotcha!” I said triumphantly.

There were other times of triumphant victory celebration. I remember watching the parade down Wacker Drive in Chicago on V-J Day. F-80 Shooting Stars flew overhead. The day was followed by a time of assimilation - of trying to figure out what the victory meant.

Times of triumph help us to understand what the disciples were going through, and they help us to view our time of religious triumph with a slightly different view from our everyday one. They help us to step back and to assimilate what is happening.

Perhaps you can think of times of triumph in your own lives. I remember a small triumph that happened many years ago. I was a sophomore at Shawnee Mission High School in Mission, Kansas. It was a regional high school of 2,000 students. Our basketball team went to the state tournament, held in the field house of Kansas State University in Garden City, Kansas. Now you have to understand that at that time basketball in the Midwest was a second religion. Farmers’ kids put hoops up in their barns and played all winter. They were really good. Three of our starting five went on to play on the starting line at KU with Wilt Chamberlain. Anyway, we made it to the playoffs and defeated Hutchinson, Kansas. The crowd went wild. There were about 5,000 in the place. Our guys went down to the locker room to celebrate. Then they were called back, and the officials announced that there was a discrepancy between the buzzer and the time clock. A late shot by Hutchinson counted. The officials took the trophy away and gave it to Hutchinson.

I honestly expected a riot. There was racial friction between the schools. Hutchinson had a sizeable Mexican population. We were not all pussycats, either.

Out onto the floor strolled Bill Unruh. He was my math teacher, about 45, a veteran, coached junior varsity and taught my high school Sunday school class. He also drove Mercury like the one Sylvester Stallone drove in the movie, Cobra. Bill Unruh had an incredible rapport with kids. He took the mike, scuffed his shoes and said, “All right, guys, quiet down. There is nothing like winning. Hutchinson played hard, and they won. We owe them congratulations. They worked hard and they earned it. Not to take anything away from them, there are things more important than winning. Most importantly is what you believe and how you handle yourselves. You can square your shoulders and take your lumps, feeling proud of yourselves and confident in yourselves. Or you can whine and moan and groan and lash out. When you do that, you really have lost. You are no longer responsible. You have lost your integrity, principles and values. How you live your life is what counts. How you treat others is what makes you a person of character, a real and a lasting winner. I’m proud of you guys, and I know you will do the right thing.”

Bill put down the mike and shuffled off the floor. There was about a minute of silence, and then the kids broke into applause. I said to my buddy, Paul, “This is really incredible. In defeat we have found victory.” Paul looked at me and said, “Say whattt?” We all returned home without incident.

The following year our team won the state finals and won the championship handily. After the year of a seeming victory and a seeming defeat, there came a year of uncontested victory. It was an odd experience. We savored this victory. There was neither a sense of vindictiveness nor braggadocio. Rather there was a sense of mature satisfaction. We had taken stock of who we were, kept the faith, hung in, and worked hard. The aftermath that followed was a time of triumph. We gathered and ate at drive-ins and each other’s houses. The victory over against the prior experience brought a real unity to the school. There was a sense of confidence and purpose, a sense for sureness and respect. We had a sense of who we were – that we were not just a bunch of delinquent adolescents. We knew that we were different and were better than we had been. In the time of triumph there was exuberance, but there was also a quiet joy. Optimism and hope prevailed. Our guys had won, at least for a while. Our experience owned a lot to one man who stood alone in the midst of a crowd and told us what he stood for and what we could stand for as well.

The loose parallels between my high school experience and that of the disciples are obvious: a triumphant victory (Palm Sunday), which is snatched away and followed by defeat (the crucifixion). This is reversed in a new victory (the resurrection) followed by a time in which the participants assimilated (digested) what had happened. To me, the fact that there are parallels to the events of Holy Week and Easter indicates that the Gospel narratives are not made up, but are very human and very real. Jesus’ works, deeds and life speak to and resonate with our basic intuitions and experiences. The post resurrection appearances of Jesus attest to His bodily resurrection and literally put flesh on the story. They indicate the profundity of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – a God who has made a deep change in the cosmic relationship between defeat and victory, man and God, sin and mysterious love, death and eternal life.

These remaining four weeks of Easter are a time for you and me to celebrate Jesus’ victory over sin and death, evil and hopelessness. It is our time for triumphant living, for walking with confidence, for casting timidity and fear aside. It is a time for you and me to seize new opportunities and to tell others about what God has done in Jesus Christ. We can do that, if not directly, then by the shape of our lives. It is time to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. May we know the joy of God’s love in our hearts. May our lives be ones of triumphant living. Let us share the victory that Christ has won for us and in which we rejoiced. Together, let us say, “ Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!” Amen. – Fr. Gage-






Jn. 20:1-18

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Today is a day of triumph. Today you and I celebrate Christ’s resurrection, which is to say His triumph over evil, sin and death. God has intervened and shown us that hope overcomes despair, righteousness overcomes injustice, mercy overcomes oppression and that love overcomes terror and hatred.

To know victory, to know triumph, to know the release which it brings is not a rational, intellectual exercise. To know victory, to know triumph, is not the result of emptying one’s mind and controlling one’s breathing. To know victory and triumph is not the result of balancing one’s thoughts and actions, or balancing one’s medications. To know and experience triumph is not a practical and every day experience, nor is to know and experience triumph an axiom from which one might start to build an architectonic philosophy

To know and experience triumph is to know the end of the story. It is to see the outcome of events as unfolding in such a way that we have an encounter with something that has meaning and purpose and profundity. You and I find meaning in our lives through telling and hearing stories – narratives of characters and events, antagonists and protagonists, obstacles overcome and victories achieved. We cannot have a victory or a triumph without there being a narrative story in which there is a breakthrough to a meaningful conclusion. Scientific reasoning does not give us a triumph. Rational deduction does not give us a triumph. They only seem to give victory and triumph when there is progress, but in that case progress is set in the context of what has gone before – and that is narrative; that is story.

Now consider today’s reading from The Gospel of John. The story of the resurrection could be a fairy tale, a legend or a myth – like the story of the Easter bunny. It would be one of those except that the story of the resurrection has an air of verisimilitude about it. The story is oddly grounded in the reality of human experience and emotion.

For a few moments, Mary Magdalene is the central character. Here is a disreputable individual - a prostitute, a first class sinner. However, Mary has turned her life around. She is a repentant sinner.  Not Jesus’ mother, nor one of his sisters or brothers, it is Mary Magdalene who goes to the tomb out of a sense of duty to insure that the ritual preparations have been done to the body of Jesus. She is traumatized by the death and by her loss. (I can tell you from experience that anyone who has gone to the morgue to identify a body is traumatized.) The fact that Mary Magdalene does this during a period of high holy days – the time of the Passover – when the Jews are very aware of their history of the law, the prophets and their messianic expectation – only heightens the emotional poignancy.  

But the tomb is empty! The clothes are neatly folded. Where is the body? Mary is stunned. Has someone stolen Jesus’ body? Did he recover? Not possible! She turns, and two men, perhaps gardeners, tell her that Jesus did not recover nor was his body stolen. Rather He lives. There has been a bodily resurrection.

Now those of us who have been in the ministry a long time know that angels often appear in the form of mortal humans. They point to something or help us and then they revert back to being mortals. Mary’s confrontation with the angels is not to be dismissed.

It is at this point that she has an epiphanic moment. Jesus speaks to her. She hears His voice and sees him. Again, there is a verisimilitude, a sense of reality about this. For whatever reason, sometimes we do hear the voice of someone else, even when they are gone or dead. Perhaps you can still hear your mother yelling at your father. I know I can. Even more so, I actually heard her voice one night calling to me. I know that others have had the same type of experience.

Mary Magdalene runs and tells the disciples that Jesus is risen. He lives. Once again, as is so often the case in the Old and New Testaments, it is a woman who is the vessel of God’s intention and message.

John tells us that Jesus subsequently appears to the disciples and to others. These are not instances of group hysteria. Rather they are epiphanic moments of the countless appearances of Jesus.  They are recorded and testified to by many witnesses.

Can you not see your self in the experiences of the Easter story? Have you not felt yourself lacking in worth and guilty of one sin or another? Have you not soldiered on to do what is meet and right even when in grief or confusion? Have there not been significant times in your life when things have gone wrong and left you stunned? Were there not times when others guided you, when an angel appeared in the form of a compassionate individual or friend? Have you not heard the voice of someone, maybe only in your conscience or subconscious, that has spoken to you of something important? Have you not at one time or other been absolutely convinced of something (perhaps of love) and just had to share it with others (a wedding perhaps)? And finally, have there not been times when you have marveled at the acceptance of what you knew to be true and to be important by others, who might otherwise give you a hard time or be skeptical? I know I have.

The Passion story in the Gospels, and particularly in John’s Gospel, is the culmination of a narrative, which began in Genesis, continued throughout the ages and finds resolution in God’s incarnation in Jesus, who in turn becomes the Pascal sacrifice for all of us. You and I know in our common experiences times in which an individual incorporates all of the expectations and desires of a people (think of the Olympics, or even an election). But two thousand years ago there was a dramatic shift in events, which changed the whole story of the meaning of life – of your life and mine.

The story could end with the sacrifice of one man, who became the sacrificial lamb, the vehicle for the forgiveness of our guilt and sinfulness, our failure to obey God’s commandments and will. But God is profound and beyond our ability to comprehend. He is the creator and re-creator of our existence and our world. Three days after His death, when the stone was rolled away from His borrowed tomb, the disciples met Jesus, risen from the dead and fulfilling His promise of eternal life. In this theophany, this profoundly mysterious and imponderable event, you and I are told of the outcome to our narrative story. The outcome is cosmic and goes to the source of all meaning. Evil has been conquered; death has been conquered; sin and evil are never again to be seen as controlling the meaning of life.

This is a promise and an affirmation that says to you and me that life is purposeful, has meaning, is positive, creative, and re-creative, full of redemption, and hope. This is an affirmation of love – of divine love. It is more than a statement of the importance of sacrifice; it is the victory and the triumph of God’s eternal love. The Easter event that you and I celebrate today is an affirmation of that which is mysterious and imponderable. It speaks to our own instinct and conscience, to the image of God within us, which recognizes the truth of the unimaginable act of a miracle - of the resurrection event, which becomes the focus and signal of our life and our hope.

Hence it is that in life and even at the end of our mortal life, we say, as we read in the Prayer Book,

“I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.

I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.

For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For if we live, we live unto the Lord, and if we die, we die unto the Lord. Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; even so saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labors.” (BCP p. 469.)

Brothers and sisters, today, you and I celebrate that triumph because it speaks to us and it speaks for us. You and I exalt in the triumph of Jesus Christ over evil, sin and death. What an amazing triumph! It is our triumph. Jesus Christ is risen today. Brothers and sisters, let’s hear it: Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Amen. – Fr. Gage