Friday Epistle – December 1, 2017

December 1st, 2017 by
Have you ever double-booked during the holidays?
“American Airlines Group Inc. is rushing to resolve a scheduling fault that gave time off to too many pilots in December — a flaw that has left more than 15,000 flights without enough crew during the holiday rush, according to a union for the carrier’s pilots.” Bloomberg News 29 November 2017

         Think about your own upcoming holiday commitments for a moment. (If your plans include a flight on American Airlines, you may have a bit of anxiety just now.) As you imagine the next six weeks for your family, you may feel a bit of sympathy or commiseration with the folks tasked with the immediate rescheduling of all the pilots, crews, and staff who now will themselves have to reschedule the plans they’ve made inthe meantime.
         Our schedules are one big window through which we may peer at our values and priorities. As your calendar for December fills, how have you prioritized your precious time and attention? Maybe you have maximized opportunities to consume eggnog in the company of St. Nick-hatted neighbors and coworkers. Or perhaps you rsvp mainly to make other people happy, even if eggnog always gives you a rather queasy feeling.
         This season offers us a wealth of family traditions, office outings, giftwrap-wrangling, community gatherings, attic-boxed decorating, favorite holiday movies, candle-lit silent night, slowly consuming an entire gingerbread village, twinkling lights, nativity scenes, hot-cocoa with the air-conditioner on, and singing along to the music in the mall.
All these, as you know, are just the tip of the tree.
          Each allocates a portion of our precious time, attention, and focus. As they should. We are, after all, both souls and bodies. And bodies have strong and valuable opinions about eggnog.
         We move through time (Advent calendars can really help) as people entwined within expectations, memory, uncertainty, and anticipation. We move through our December days toward a grand and greater end, to which Christmas morning in our homes serves as an interim sacrament-ed sign. The great kingdom celebration at world’s end to which the Feast of Christmas aligns raises a key question. How do the days before Christmas connect to Christmas itself?
The message of Advent, this faith-shaped countdown to Christmas, is not to abstain but to prepare.
          Prepare with intention so as to make the most of these holiday moments. Embrace the wonder of the Incarnation, the embodiment of God, who is Spirit, into the inspired craftsmanship of flesh and blood. Jesus was born and raised so that fruitcake (as part of the whole creation) could be and would be redeemed for the glory of God the Father.
         To do that, we re-center on the stereo-ed message of the prophets and apostles: rejoice in the fulfilled first coming of the Christ as the baby of Bethlehem and prepare for the guaranteed return of the Risen Christ as the King of Kings at the world’s grand end.
         To find that center again and to hold onto that center in the midst of the many scheduled and rescheduled events and opportunities ahead of you, we invite you to join us and others in this season for times of worship and connection.
        We know we won’t see you at everything. We don’t want you to double-book like the faulty scheduling system at American Airlines did.
        We would love to see you when we can hear together the booming words of Isaiah, watch the children gather around the crèche, greet new friends at Christmas on the Lawn, share a coke at Elf, take Steps to the Stable eachWednesday, and listen for the hush just before the Christmas story is read aloud on Christmas Eve.
        Welcoming the miracle of Christmas invites our best focus and intention, because we are turning our focus and intention to God’s own best gift to us. We will jump in this Sunday with the essential task of shipping out the ghosts of Christmas past and looking forward to the promise of the Christmas just ahead of us.
Prayer for the First Sunday in Advent
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.Amen.
See you Sunday,

Friday Epistle – Ben

September 29th, 2017 by
– one learning, never to forget, from a long, hot, first summer in ministry —
It was June of 1972.  I was the curate at Christ Church in Stratford, CT – the oldest parish in the oldest diocese outside of the British Isles.  That was a mouthful to remember.  June, July and August could be scorchers and that year they lived up to their reputation.
I was a bachelor, living directly across the street from the church in an 1801 former tavern. No AC and not a square corner in the place, nor a closet to be found, which proved interesting when after we wed, Barbara moved in and pointed out this anomaly to me. My clothes were still sort of in and out of my suitcase.  After all, it was only a year and a month later that we married.
Three lessons sunk into my perspiring being that summer.  One so speaks to last week’s gospel, about the workers in the vineyard — you remember, they all work a different number of hours and all get paid the
same — that I dare to share it here.
First then, the gist of the parable, there seem to be two key points.
One is; God’s ways are different than our ways.  You have to find this parable at least a bit irritating, if not a lot, I do. Is this not just?  It’s like when you count your items and you have exactly 10 and so you get in theten or less aisle, and the person in front of you has way more than ten.  You want to cry, “foul,” hold up a red flag, and say, “What are you thinking?”  God, where are you?  Is there no justice?*
The other key point is that God keeps going back to the marketplace and bringing more workers into his vineyard.  Those two points from the gospel came alive to me on my first pastoral assignment that hot summer in ’72.
The Rector sent me to visit Ben.  He said that his wife had died not too long ago and Ben needed to go to a nursing home.  My assignment was to get him ready to move.
When I arrived at Ben’s house and walked inside, I recall it was dark.  All the blinds were pulled or closed, which helped with the heat I supposed.  And it had a smell that wasn’t appealing, and from what I could see the place looked like a mess – but then I was a bachelor living in a huge old tavern and had only enough furniture for one of the many rooms and with no closets, well, so, neatness wasn’t exactly a priority for me either.
Anyway, Ben wasn’t much for conversation, so we got to the point quickly as I recall, “I don’t want to go to a nursing home.”  He knew my mission, and he was clear and seemed to know his mind on this, and so I said, “I understand, and don’t see why you should.”  Knowing that would not report well to my rector, I thought, I needed to find a plan B.
But what he said next, and my response, I can only, and most definitely, attribute to the grace and presence of God.
He told me that his wife had been a churchgoer and Christian.  And that he was now sick and old, near death, and thought it was too late for him.  That’s when this parable came to my mind, clear as a bell, hitting both points spot on!
I shared the parable and then simply invited him to receive Jesus – telling him it didn’t matter that he was late, he would be paid the same, and that God himself had gone looking for him to bring him into the vineyard.  He embraced it with tears.  God did it!
Well, for the rest of that hot summer, Ben and I had RSC (Reserve Sacrament Communion, as I was still a deacon) together on Sunday afternoons in his now not so dark and dank house, till one day later that very summer his Abba came and took him home, to his new home that Jesus had prepared for him.
I suspect he heard something like what God must have said to Enoch, “Its closer to my house than yours, why don’t you come home with me today.” Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.Gen. 5:24
Don’t you love it when God’s word, his stories, come to life before your very eyes?
Blessings to you all!