Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday New York Minute

There goes the train.....

Collect for St Andrew

Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give us, who are called by your Holy Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Read more about Andrew, Apostle and Patron of Scotland, here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

Nice neighbors. 

Collect for Kamehameha and Emma

O Sovereign God, who raised up (King) Kamehameha (IV) and (Queen) Emma to be rulers in Hawaii, and inspired and enabled them to be diligent in good works for the welfare of their people and the good of your Church: Receive our thanks for their witness to the Gospel; and grant that we, with them, may attain to the crown of glory that never fades away; through Jesus Christ our Savior and Redeemer, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Read more here about this royal couple who worked to spread Christianity among the Hawaiian people and to found charitable organizations there.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


As everyone (at least in the U.S.) knows, "the holidays" is a time period that lasts roughly from the day before Thanksgiving through Christmas.  Technically, there is Thanksgiving, and then Advent, and then Christmas, all usually pretty much back-to-back except for years like this one in which we have a week after Thanksgiving before Advent begins.  (I personally am having cognitive dissonance this week. Thanksgiving is over and Advent hasn't started yet, and yet I keep thinking that it is already December.)

At any rate, for some of us, "the holidays" includes the twelve days of Christmas, and so we go until January 6, although others tire of "the holidays" somewhere around January 1 and declare the whole thing over on that day and go into a cleaning/organizing frenzy on New Year's Day.

This is a long time.  It can look daunting (if you have lots of church programs to administer!) or dizzying (if you are giving a lot of parties!) Whatever your particular definition of "the holidays" is, we are in the thick of it now even if it is the week after Thanksgiving and the week before Advent.

As evidence of being in the thick of it, I went out to do some shopping last night and noted that many of the shops were using eerily similar soundtracks. Santa Baby, sung by a Bettie Boop-like female (except for the one really flat rendition by a guy who didn't seem that excited about Santa Baby bringing him a ring etc. so I don't know what was up with that), followed by Bruce Springsteen's Santa Claus is Coming to Town and then either The Pretenders 2000 Miles (It Must be Christmastime) or one of the many renditions, vocal or instrumental, of Baby, It's Cold Outside.

But I digress. What I wanted to say is that "the holidays" are the often times we remember (or dis-remember) the most. We have very distinct (if not accurate) memories of family gatherings, traditions, events that happen during "the holidays."

We remember meals, and what we wore, and who said something funny or silly or obnoxious. We may remember standing awkwardly under the mistletoe with expectation and hope. Sometimes we remember disappointments and may hold grudges for years because of some holiday happening.

I myself have an odd collection of Thanksgiving holiday memories that include a turkey-shaped gravy boat (which I now have in my possession), a broken butter dish (I didn't break it, thank God, since it was my sainted grandmother's), eating several versions of pumpkin pie, making an apple tart, going to the beach where we stuffed ourselves at an all-you-can-eat buffet and then went for a bike ride, being on bed rest with my last pregnancy and having the whole family gather and cook everything while I watched from the couch, dressing up for the Thanksgiving meal even though we didn't have any guests, the year we had ham, raking leaves, watching the Macy's parade on TV many times and once in person, cooking for my parents and being so anxious about it that I came down with a migraine and had to go to bed after the meal.

This year, my husband and son and I went to a lovely French restaurant for Thanksgiving. We had champagne and were fascinated with how the bubbles rose in the glasses as if there were a channel from the bottom of the flutes to the top. I hope I will remember that golden bubbly-ness.

And now we are on the brink of that very busy time when we go to parties and holiday concerts (or see the Nutcracker), and do lots of shopping, and make travel plans, and have to-do lists that are as long as Santa's list of who's been naughty and nice. Every year we say we aren't going to do so much, and then we do it all anyway.  The years slide together and we maybe can't quite remember what we got for the aunts or the nieces last year. We think we don't want to go out so much but then remember the magic of a candlelight concert from long ago (and that we wore a velvet dress or shiny shoes), the clink of glasses at a party, the high spirits of gathering with friends.

Don't let "the holidays" make you crazy. Enjoy them. Remember the past. Enjoy the present. Look forward to the future. Wear a new outfit, go to a new place, gather with old friends. These are the times when memories are made.

Morning Psalm

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

(Psalm 122:6)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Some thoughts about kings

The last Sunday after Pentecost (and thus the Sunday before Advent begins) is often celebrated as "Christ the King" or "The Reign of Christ" Sunday. 

We don't know that much about kings in this country (although the place where I live is all about life in an English colony under George III), and, further, the whole idea of "king" is fraught with peril.  There have been plenty of kings who were hardly what one would dare to call a savior or anything like it.  Kingship comes too near to "autocrat" or "dictator" or "power-monger" and the like. Far be it from you, God, might Abraham say, to designate your only begotten son as a king.  After all, it was wanting a king like the other nations that sent Israel down a treacherous path, according to God and the prophet Samuel. 

Our preacher today reminded us of the limitations of language. We mean a certain kind of king, of course.  The kind described in Psalm 72:  who will rule God's people righteously and the poor with justice; who will defend the needy, rescue the poor, and crush the oppressor; in whose reign there will be abundance of food and peace in the land until the moon is no more.  That's the kind of king we mean.

Language is limited. There are those who cringe at all the references to God as father. Not everyone knew the kind of father we mean when we call God "Father." For some, the image is frightening or perhaps it brings up memories of the withholding of love or even of abuse. 

Ditto Mother. While many women clergy are called "Mother," not everyone has an image of mother that they feel good about.  But of course, we don't mean that kind of mother.

So what can we say about kings? What can we say about ideals - ideal kings or ideal fathers/mothers or ideal spouses or ideal children? Does having an ideal simply invite comparison - through which we see how far we fall short? 

I don't think so. We may not live up to ideals, but that's no reason not to have them.

Christ is like no king on earth. No king can ever be like Christ completely. But I think it is good to see the example Christ sets for us as the kind of king a king ought to be. One who does justice and loves mercy and walks humbly with God.

Collect for Christ the King Sunday

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Saturday Morning Jazz

Here's the Jeffrey Cox Quartet playing Magnolia by Taylor Eigsti.

Jeffrey Cox - Trumpet
Luis Rovira - Piano
Andrew Sommer - Bass
Jordan Holiman - Drums

Live at The Velvet Note club in Alpharetta, GA, October 7, 2012.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Friday New York Minute

A mosaic over one of the doors of the All Saints' Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the East Village.  Lots of interesting people here.

Collect for Clement of Rome

Almighty God, you chose your servant Clement of Rome to recall the Church in Corinth to obedience and stability; Grant that your Church may be grounded and settled in your truth by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; reveal to it what is not yet known; fill up what is lacking; confirm what has already been revealed; and keep it blameless in your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thoughts for Thanksgiving Day

Today is our American holiday celebrating food - Thanksgiving. We give thanks for all of our many blessings and celebrate by eating lots of food. Thanksgiving is not about gifts nor does it celebrate a saint. For most of us, it’s simply a feast.

We celebrate this feast by eating a feast. By eating our favorite foods, comfort foods like green bean casserole or sweet potatoes with marshmallows, pecan pie, turkey and cornbread dressing.  Or perhaps eating exotic variations of the traditional Thanksgiving feast - deep fried turkey with oyster dressing, jalapeno cornbread and curried carrot soup, turkey with poblano mole sauce.

The readings for today are certainly apt. Joel says, do not fear, for God makes it rain and causes the trees and vines to bear fruit and that vats will overflow with wine and oil and the threshing floors shall be full of grain. Everyone will eat in that time and place of overflowing plenty and be well satisfied.

The letter to Timothy reminds us to give thanks for everyone.

And Jesus reminds us (in one of my all-time favorite passages) not to worry about our lives, about what we will eat or drink or what we will wear.  He asks us to consider the birds of the air who neither sow nor reap and the lilies of the field which neither toil or spin and yet are given blessings beyond measure. Not even Solomon in all his glory is clothed as one of these.

How much more will God provide for us, the God who knows our needs, Jesus asks? So why should we worry about our lives when worrying will not add a single hour to our span of life? Why don’t we simply have faith that God will provide?

And friends, we do have all that we need. 

Now, I am glad that the letter to Timothy is included, reminding us to give thanks for everyone. Although I note that the letter focuses on the upper rungs of the ladder once it gets specific.

But I kind of wish a reading from the Letter of James had been included instead. The part where James says, “What good is it, brothers and sisters, if a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”

Friends, we have all been provided for. We have all that we need and more.

But there are others who do not. And I wonder how God is going to provide for them?

Last Friday, I was on a subway car in Manhattan, returning to my hotel after a sumptuous lunch with some other church people who wrote sermons and reflections for a book that is being sold to benefit homeless ministries in New Jersey.  That book is called “Hungry, and You Fed Me.”  I was full and thankful for the food and the company and for my many blessings. I was well satisfied.

And a woman on the train was holding a child and a sign that said she needed help. She asked us all to help her.  But of course everyone looked the other way as she passed by.

And I remember what Teresa of Avila said, that God has no hands and feet in this world but our hands and feet. If God is going to provide for that woman (unless we think that Jesus didn’t mean her when he spoke those words we read today), then it has to be through our hands. 

I was relieved to see, as I got off the train, a group of people on the platform pulling a wagon filled with sandwiches and water bottles and juice. A subway feeding ministry. Those were the hands and feet of God who made those sandwiches and pulled that wagon.

And then I was over at Food Lion the other night, buying canned goods to be blessed at our Thanksgiving Eve service at church and taken two local outreach ministries here in town. The grocery store had a display of boxes already filled with food to be donated to local feeding ministries. 

You didn’t even have to shop, just give the clerk $5 and the store would deliver the boxes for you.  But the clerk told me that not many people were buying them this year. Still, she had thought that the week of Thanksgiving would be a good time to put the boxes out when so many were shopping for their own feasts and her thanks to those customers who did buy them were filled with genuine gratitude.

There were the hands and feet of God there at the Food Lion attached to a young woman making minimum wage.

This is a land of plenty, and yet we have so many in our own community and across this great land of ours who lack food and clothing and shelter.

Do not worry, says Jesus, about what you will wear and what you will eat. 

But perhaps we might, this Thanksgiving, worry about what someone else is going to wear and what someone else is going to eat. God will provide, but as James says, what is the good of wishing someone in great need “peace” and telling them to be filled with God’s food and to keep warm with what God provides if we do not feed and clothe them ourselves? 

God has no hands and feet in this world but our hands and feet. And so on this Thanksgiving, let us give thanks for what we have, for all our blessings, and enjoy our feasts, and use our gifts to provide for others from God’s abundance to us.

Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Happy Thanksgiving, Y'all!

From "Life Underground" art installation in the 14th Street Subway Station, NYC

Collect for Thanksgiving Day

Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Titmouse Trio

Tufted titmice in Central Park

Music from Thomas Tallis

Today is the feast day of Thomas Tallis, John Merbecke, and William Byrd. Here are the Cambridge Singers, under the direction of John Rutter, singing Tallis' If You Love Me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Collect for Edmund of East Anglia

O God of ineffable mercy, you gave grace and fortitude to blessed Edmund the king to triumph over the enemy of his people by nobly dying for your Name: Bestow on us your servants the shield of faith with which we can withstand the assaults of our ancient enemy; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hungry, and you fed me?

Last week, I went to a very nice lunch at a very nice hotel along with several other contributors to the recently-published book of homilies and reflections for the upcoming liturgical Year C, Hungry, and You Fed Me. (See my post about that book here and consider buying one to support homeless ministries in Sandy-ravaged New Jersey.)

The luncheon was simply fabulous. Excellent food and wine, stimulating conversations with my fellow contributors (even a little joking about who among us might be "famous" and "not in the least famous"), wonderful camaraderie among friends old and new.  After more than two hours, I left the table with both a full heart and a full belly.

Later in the evening, however, as I was headed back to my hotel via the downtown A train, a woman with a baby got on the train and began to ask for help as soon as the doors closed. She had a heavy accent and a sign that basically said she had no job and needed assistance. She wandered through the car saying in a very tired voice, "Help me, please.  Help me."

That voice hit me right in my full stomach. I felt my face go red and my palms begin to sweat. I watched everyone ignore her as she moved quickly through our car and took in the futility of her wandering quest. Her flat affect and flat voice suggested that she knew the futility of it herself, and yet she went on with her asking.

I also knew that in New York, it's not a great idea for a woman alone and from out of town to simply give someone on the subway money. I knew that I wasn't equipped to respond to her the way I could respond to someone in my own community. I wished like hell that I had one of those manna bags we keep here at the church - a ziplock with a bottle of water, a pair of socks, and some non-perishable food (granola bars, canned fruit, tuna etc). We are supposed to keep one in our car to have a way to respond to people asking for help - and also to remind us when we see the manna bag that there are people who need them. That reminder ought to help spur us to work for systemic change as well. But of course I was not in my community and not in my car and not sure how I should respond.  The woman continued into the next car while I sat there sad and wondering.

My stop was next, and when I got off, I looked around to see if the woman had gotten off there, too. I had a vague notion about taking her to get something to eat. I didn't see her, but I was overjoyed to see instead a couple of guys with a wagon filled with sandwiches and water bottles in the station. They were running a ministry to feed people in the subway station.

Did the woman find them? Did they find her? I don't know. And I don't know if I was right not to help her directly instead of helping the feeding ministry instead. She was hungry and I was full and I didn't feed her. I just hope someone who could help her did so, somehow. I just hope that the memory of that experience will stay with me and spur me to help in the places and ways I know I can.

It's Thanksgiving week here in these United States of America, one of the wealthiest nations in the world. This is the one holiday where we're all about food and hardly anything else.  Further, today is St Elizabeth of Hungary's feast day. Her claim to fame is her care for the hungry.

And so I am making donations to every feeding ministry I can think of this week. I hope you will, too.

(P.S. At the local grocery store this evening, where I was shopping for groceries for our outreach program to be blessed at our Thanksgiving Eve service at church, there was a display upon which were a number of boxes filled with food that one could buy for $5 and donate to the local food bank.  I picked up two, and the cashier gave me a grateful smile. "Thank you so much for your donation," she said. "I thought it would be good to put these out here at Thanksgiving, but it's been very hard to get anyone to buy them."  

"Really?" I said. This was so easy. A box already filled. For $5. The grocery store would take care of the delivery. And it was still hard to get people to part with $5 to feed hungry people.

She put my donations on the "donations" shelf beside a few other boxes.  "Thank you again. It means a lot," she said.

Please be generous this Thanksgiving.)

Collect for Elizabeth of Hungary

Almighty God, by your grace your servant Elizabeth of Hungary recognized and honored Jesus in the poor of this world: Grant that we, following her example, may with love and gladness serve those in any need or trouble, in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Photo of the Day: Two sparrows in conversation

Seen in New York on Friday: 
Central Park sparrows discussing an important subject. 
The male is literally shaking his tail feathers, so it must be exciting stuff!

Collect for the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Saturday Morning Music Video: Even More Jazz

The Jeffrey Cox Quartet plays Jeffrey's arrangement of the hip-hop group The Roots' song Rising Up at the Velvet Note jazz club in Alpharetta, GA on October 7, 2012.

Jeffrey Cox, trumpet
Andres Rovira, piano
Andrew Sommer, bass
Jordan Holiman, drums

Thanks to Jordan's father, Mike, for recording and posting his videos on YouTube.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday New York Minute

The Van Gogh Movers. A cut above the rest. Specializing in ears.

What can I say? They're creative.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Sanderling at Sunset

Collect for the Consecration of Samuel Seabury

We give you thanks, O Lord our God, for your goodness in bestowing upon this Church the gift of the episcopate, which we celebrate in this remembrance of the consecration of Samuel Seabury; and we pray that, joined together in unity with our bishops, and nourished by your holy Sacraments, we may proclaim the Gospel of redemption with apostolic zeal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Read about Samuel Seabury, the first bishop of the Anglican Communion, here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Now the day is over....

Shadows of the evening steal across the sky.

Collect for Charles Simeon

O loving God, we know that all things are ordered by your unerring wisdom and unbounded love: Grant us in all things to see your hand; that, following the example and teaching of your servant Charles Simeon, we may walk with Christ in all simplicity, and serve you with a quiet and contented mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Read more about Charles Simeon, 19th Century teacher and inspirer of both Henry Martyn and William Wilberforce, here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Yellow-rumped warblers.

On my last trip to the beach/National Wildlife Refuge/State Park, I was accompanied by clergy colleague with whom I have a budding friendship. She's taken up birdwatching and noticed via Facebook and here at The Large Party that I take a lot of photos of birds. So on our day off (hooray for days off that are sunny and beautiful) we went together on a ten-mile hike through the refuge/park and beach.

We saw a number of these little birds in at least two different areas of the refuge, and only after getting home and blowing up the photos and consulting numerous bird books in our separate bird book collections did we determine that they are yellow-rumped warblers. I didn't know that such a bird existed. Turns out there are a lot of types of warblers out there. But the yellow rump (you can see it peeking through the wings of the bird pictured here) turns out to only appear on one variety: the thus-aptly-named yellow-rumped warbler.

It was fun to share the place I love so much with someone who appreciated it as much as I do. It was fun to watch these little birds playing in the trees. It was fun watching a cormorant doing its thing. I was happy to see another loon in the ocean. The sanderlings did not fail to delight.

And Mother Nature cooperated beautifully. The weather was fabulous and we walked back along the beach during the golden hour before sunset that starts out golden and ends up pink and blue at the beach and flame orange over the bay.  There is no better place to be than on a beach during the golden hour.

A delicious dinner at a local dive that overlooks the bay (so we got to see the rest of the sunset) was the icing on the cake.

Most of us need time with friends as well as time alone. And sometimes we clergy go overboard on the time alone because we are working too hard or spending a lot of time/energy with pastoral care. Being alone helps us recharge.  But for an extrovert like me, being with friends is the way I recharge best. I play off the environment of give-and-take, both of conversation and companionable silence. And yet I've noticed that I am tending to spend more time alone than I ever used to.  More than once in the last few months, a mentor or friend has wondered if I am spending enough time with friends. It is a delicate balance, no doubt.

And so after spending a whole day with a friend, I am remembering what Bette Midler sang:  You've gotta have friends!

Collect for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Saturday Morning Music Video: More Jazz

Here's an original composition by my son, Jeffrey Cox:

Midnight in Nowhere played by the Jeffrey Cox Quarter at the Velvet Note jazz club in Alpharetta, GA on October 7, 2012.

Jeffrey Cox, trumpet
Andres Rovira, piano
Andrew Sommer, bass
Jordan Holiman, drums

Thanks to Jordan's father, Mike, for recording and posting his videos on YouTube.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday New York Minute

This is my favorite public art in all of New York. It's on the platform in the 14th Street/8th Avenue Metro Station, part of the installation called "Life Underground" by Tom Otterness.  Everybody knows that alligators live in the sewers, right?

Letters to Me: Another Book Project!

I am so pleased to announce the publication of this book of essays, Letters to Me: Conversations with a Younger Self.  As you can see from the book cover above, a number of writers (including Brian McLaren and me) contributed to this project whose target audience is young men and women in the 18 - 28 age group.  Our hope is to offer insight and encouragement to them during this sometimes tumultuous and transitional time of life.

Our assignment was to look back at a critical time/event in our own life during that important decade and wrote a letter to our younger self reflecting on the event from the vantage point of ten to thirty years later.  (I'm in the thirty years later category.)  I have read all the essays, and they are terrific. Some of us looked at happy events, some of us recalled unhappy and even what seemed to be disastrous events, and then, either way, offered commentary on that time with the assistance of hindsight.  The tone throughout is gentle and generous, wise and sometimes wry and occasionally even slightly amazed at our younger selves.

The book is now selling on Amazon as a Kindle download for only $4.99.  Such a deal! Click here to purchase an e-book. The paperback version is available for $12.99.  The paperback would make a great gift to the young adults among your acquaintance.

As a side note, the editor, Dan Schmidt, who blogs at Toucanic, found me here at the Large Party and that's how I came to be part of this effort.  After reading my blog for a while, he invited me to write an essay.  And now I can say, "the rest is history!"  Thanks, Dan!  Here's a link to the interview I did for Dan on his blog as part of the book release this week.

Please do take a look.  All of us in the Letters to Me team would appreciate your help getting the word out about the book.  Buy one, link to it on your blogs, write a recommendation at Amazon, give some away as gifts.  Let me know if you have other suggestions.

Thank you! And, as we church folk say, God Bless.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thursday Bird Photo: Stretching

Black backed gulls

Collect for those who suffer for the sake of conscience

O God our Father, whose Son forgave his enemies while he
was suffering shame and death: Strengthen those who suffer
for the sake of conscience; when they are accused, save them
from speaking in hate; when they are rejected, save them
from bitterness; when they are imprisoned, save them from
despair; and to us your servants, give grace to respect their
witness and to discern the truth, that our society may be
cleansed and strengthened. This we ask for the sake of Jesus
Christ, our merciful and righteous Judge. Amen.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Visual Morning Prayer

All of them look to you
to give them their food in their due season.
You give it to them; they gather it;
you open your hand, 
and they are filled with good things.

(Ps 104:28-29)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Collect for William Temple

O God of light and love, you illumined your Church through the witness of your servant William Temple: Inspire us, we pray, by his teaching and example, that we may rejoice with courage, confidence, and faith in the Word made flesh, and may be led to establish that city which has justice for its foundation and love for its law; through Jesus Christ, the light of the world, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Read more about William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury during World War II, here.

Prayer for an Election

Almighty God, 
to whom we must account 
for all our powers
and privileges: 
Guide the people of the United States
in the election of officials and representatives;
that, by faithful administration and wise laws, 
the rights of all 
may be protected 
and our nation be enabled 
to fulfill your
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Even more about saints

Today we are celebrating the Feast of All Saints’ (having transferred the feast from last Thursday), which not only honors the great heroes of the faith but assures us of our own place in the communion of saints.  All Saints’ is the day in which we know ourselves to be part of that mystical body of Christ, the intercommunion among the living and the dead, a people from all ages and all times, full of the hope of immortality. 

Over the past few days, we have considered death in a number of ways. 

We made fun of it, laughed at it, dared it to come near us on All Hallow’s Eve.

And then we recognized it as the end we will all face as we remembered all those we love but see no longer at the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed.

And now we come to number ourselves among that great cloud of witnesses, inspired by the deeds of those whose faithfulness places them among the highest ranks in heaven - the prophets, apostles, martyrs, the great theologians and writers.  The Feast of All Saints’ connects the Church Militant (that is the church on Earth) to the Church Triumphant (the glorious saints in heaven).  All Saints’ celebrates ALL the saints - the faithful people of all generations, past, present and future.

And who are the saints?  Many are widely agreed upon (St Mary, St Francis, St Augustine, St Catherine), some less so (Enmegabowh or Emma of Hawaii, despite her serious run at the championship in last year’s Lent Madness bracket).  St Paul called the Corinthians saints.  The Corinthians!  In the Roman Catholic sense, the saints are the famous ones in heaven. In the Protestant sense, the saints are the faithful on earth. We Anglicans, always in the middle, keep all of the layers in this feast.

Those gone before, those gathered now, and those who will come after. One long tradition that is and was and is to come. Some saints are giants. Others have had smaller roles and smaller impacts.  Some are the famous and some are the ones who may have been forgotten by all but a few.  

Rather than argue about who gets to be a saint, or which are more important and which are less, let’s consider what it is that saints are called to do.  Because this is not a feast in which we simply sit back and admire some heroes, check out some Christian Hall of Famers, and then go back to watching TV while we finish off the Halloween candy.  We have a place in this feast, too.

And so let me suggest, for our consideration today, this broad definition: saints are those whom God has called to be holy.  And if the Corinthians are saints, then that designation means that all of us whom God has called to be holy, whether or not we have come near to botching the job, are part of the communion of saints.

There must be something that we do in our lives, in addition to what we are to God, that makes this connection between the faithful heroes and faithful us a living and lively connection.  A connection full of life.

And so we turn to the story of the raising of Lazarus.

Jesus is greatly agitated about the death of his friend Lazarus whose sisters say to Jesus the thing we all have said about the death of a loved one - if only, if only, if only. Jesus is angry, he weeps, he prays - and then he does the unthinkable. He tells the people to roll away the stone, and he calls Lazarus who has been dead four days and so is really, really absolutely dead - he calls Lazarus to come out.  He raises Lazarus from the dead. This is the last and greatest of the seven miracles Jesus performs in the Gospel of John, to give life back to a dead man.

In fact, it is this miracle that sets in motion the arrest and trial and execution of Jesus. He gives life to Lazarus even though it will mean he will lose his own life because of it.  It is a heroic action, and one not likely to be repeated by many of us.

And yet.  It IS Jesus who gives the life, but the people - the gathered community of friends and neighbors and onlookers of every stripe - they are the ones who are to unbind him so that he can be literally and physically freed to live that life. Later in John Jesus will unbind himself as he is raised from his own tomb.  But for Lazarus, the job is only started by Jesus. It is finished by the people around him.  Roll away the stone, Jesus says to the people.  And then unbind him, Jesus says. Unbind him and let him go.

Jesus may do the spectacular - it is Jesus who saves, after all. And the great apostles and martyrs and theologians were giants and heroes of the faith.  But there is sacred work for us to do as well.  We are to participate with Jesus in the holy work of freeing those around us now who are bound by what is crushing them and holding them back from being what God made them to be. 

And so on this Feast of All Saints’, I invite you to see yourself as one who unbinds and then look around to see where you might be called do that holy work. It might be simply listening to a friend bound by fear. It might be working to eliminate poverty or hunger or disease. It might be donating to Episcopal Relief and Development's Hurricane Sandy Fund (to which our loose plate offering goes today) or purchasing groceries for our Thanksgiving food drive.  It might be giving a manna bag to a hungry stranger or spending the night in the winter shelter. It might be something big or something small.

Not all of us will be famous, but all of us are called to participate in the sacred and holy work begun by Jesus. There are people who are bound everywhere. They may not be attractive or appealing and we may prefer to believe they deserve to be bound.  But open your eyes and see them anyway.  

And act with courage to unbind them.  Because Jesus loves them as he loved Lazarus and as he loves us. 

Unbind them, and let them go.

Collect for the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Saturday Morning Music Video: Jazz

Here's the Jeffrey Cox Quartet playing Robert Glasper's song FTB at The Velvet Note jazz club in Alpharetta, GA on October 7, 2012.

Jeffrey Cox, trumpet
Andres Rovira, piano
Andrew Sommer, bass
Jordan Holiman, drums

Thanks to Jordan's father, Mike, for recording and posting his videos on YouTube.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Friday New York Minute

George Washington in (where else?) Washington Square Park.

Meditating on All Souls'/All Departed

Today is the day for commemoration of all faithful departed, which used to be called All Souls’ Day.  

I rather like calling it All Souls’ Day, because, frankly, some of us worry about the faithful part. We have loved ones who have gone before, but we’re not sure about the faithful part for them. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t, faithful. 

Maybe they were full of the kind of doubts that tilted them away from “religion.”  Maybe they were scared away from religious life because they couldn’t get past the hypocrisy or faithlessness they saw in some church community somewhere, or they were threatened by some preacher’s insistence on parading around an angry wrathful God who consigned poor hapless people to hell for small infractions.
Maybe they never had a chance to develop much of a faith life, because they were just too young or they were in the grip of mental illness or addiction or disease or impaired cognitive functioning.  Maybe they lived in a place of hopelessness and could never get out of it. 

Maybe they were part of a different faith group or of a non-traditional community. 
Maybe they had been wounded too deeply - maybe even wounded by the church - to be part of any kind of “faith community.”  

Maybe their faith was known to God alone, but because it was not known to us, maybe we worry about them, worry about their souls.

And so I like the part about ALL souls.  All souls belong to God and even as we miss those we no longer see, we are comforted by the idea of their souls resting in God somehow, even if we don’t subscribe to the ancient Greek idea of souls and bodies being separated at death.

All souls.  All departed.  All of those created by God whom we hope have returned to God in the mysterious way we come to dwell in God’s presence on the other side of this life.  

All those whom God created, whom God loves.  All of them.  And so that’s why I like calling this ALL Souls’ Day.  We, at least some of us, have more than enough upheaval and emotion to deal with regarding the departed without adding in worry about how well they scored in some kind of mysterious faithfulness department.

And so, to help us with this mystery, let us hear the prophet Isaiah:  
The Lord of Hosts will make a rich feast of food and wine for all peoples, and God will destroy the darkness that covers and smothers hopeless and weary and wounded and knocked-about people, and God will swallow up death forever.  

God will take away the disgrace of those who have been disgraced; God will feed those who have been starving for health or love or understanding or wholeness; God will wipe away the tears from all faces.  

And this will be salvation.  Bringing wholeness, removing disgrace, comforting those whose pain and shame and sorrow and deep, deep sadness cover their faces with tears.  

This will be salvation, when God wipes away the tears from every face, from all faces, of all souls.

Collect for the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed

Statue in the memorial garden, All Saints' Episcopal Church, Atlanta GA

O God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers: Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of your Son; that on the day of his appearing they may be manifested as your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Blessed are the Who?

Text:  Matthew 5:1-12 (All Saints’ Day, Year A)

[This is my sermon from last year's All Saints' celebration.]

There is a scene in the Monty Python comedy “Life of Brian” in which Jesus is standing on a rocky hill, speaking to the multitudes gathered below.  Rather far away from Jesus,  there is a small group of people bickering among themselves, insulting one another mostly, who are obviously present because this appears to be an “in” happening and they want to be among the spectators.  Some of them are nicely dressed and obviously well-off.  

They can’t really hear Jesus, and it seems that for the most part, they don’t really want to hear Jesus, but they’re hanging around the scene, sort of in the back row, perhaps because it might give them some status to be seen there.

Brian, the actual subject of the movie and whose life seems to oddly parallel Jesus’ - Brian does want to hear what Jesus is saying.  But between the bickering and the distance between himself and Jesus, it’s hard to make out the words.  

At one point, the well-dressed man asks someone who is a little closer, “What did he just say?” “I think he said blessed are the cheesemakers!” the other replies. “Blessed are the cheesemakers?” the well-dressed woman cries, “What’s so special about cheesemakers?”  The well-dressed man explains, “Oh, you shouldn’t take that literally.  It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.”

And the scene goes on with more bickering and name-calling.

Well, the scene is good for a laugh, but there is much truth in it.  Jesus may not have actually said “Blessed are the cheesemakers,” but what he did say sounded equally ridiculous to the real crowds who heard his words in the first century, and no less ridiculous to those of us who hear them today.

Blessed are the meek.  Blessed are the poor.  Blessed are those who mourn, who are hungry and thirsty. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are those who are persecuted.  And perhaps strangest of all, blessed are the peacemakers.  

Peacemakers.  Those who make peace.  Those whose business is peace.  

Peacemaking is not a passive term - it’s not rolling over or staying out of the way or giving in or a simple refusal to fight.  There’s the “making” part of it.  Making is active.  Peacemaking is something one does through action, deliberately.  And it doesn’t tend to be popular, making peace, even though one could argue that there is a lot of demand for that kind of work.  

Really, what’s so special about peacemakers? 
People tend to think of peacemakers as a little weird, as dreamy idealists, ineffective, out of touch with the way things really are, maybe even crazy.  Peace making, getting in between those who are fighting, working for reconciliation, making broken things whole, could be dangerous and is likely to fail - who’d want to do that?  It’s a dangerous and perhaps futile action.


Speaking of action, it’s important to note that Jesus is not just standing on a hill spouting off some instructions in this scene from Matthew.  He says these words to his followers and to the crowds who have gathered around him after he has been living out an extraordinary career for some time.  

Matthew sums up Jesus’ career in just three verses - the three verses before our Gospel reading for today: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them.  

And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.”

Jesus’ career was mostly about action, even though many more verses in Matthew are concerned with his words. The words come after, and in light of, the action, though.  Jesus healed people. He made them whole. 

And this was so wonderful, so needed, so desperately desired by people all over the place that they came from everywhere and brought their friends and family and neighbors to Jesus - they hauled them out of their beds or the ditches they were dying in and brought them to Jesus so that Jesus would make them whole.

And so this set-piece discourse about blessedness comes out of the work of Jesus among the broken people whom he made whole.  The poor, the meek, the grieving, the hungry for food and the hungry for justice, the oppressed and persecuted, and also the peacemakers.  They, Jesus says, they are blessed.

And then Jesus makes a turn: You, you also are blessed when people think you are crazy and ineffective and weird and a dreamy idealist when you do the work of peacemaking and others treat you badly for it.  When they dismiss you or taunt you or revile you because you take action, when you work to make peace.  When they think you are out of touch with reality for working to be merciful.  When they shun you for working for justice.  When they laugh at you for your idealism.

But peace making, mercy-giving, comforting, justice-doing are the actions that Jesus holds up to us as blessed.  Making people and their communities whole, healing their woundedness and their brokenness on this earth here and now is the work Jesus gives us to do through these words he speaks from the mountain.  

Well. What does peace-making, mercy-giving, justice-doing have to do with the Feast of All Saints? we might ask.  If all the saints are a sort of hall of fame of the heroes of the faith, people from long ago and far away who are bigger than life and in many ways rather removed from the experiences we might have in our own lives, we don’t have to wonder what’s so special about them.  They’re saints.

I don’t know that Jesus ever actually said anything about saints, but I can imagine that he might say, blessed are the saints: see how they acted courageously, see how they acted faithfully - they were willing to be thrown to the lions; they were willing to stand up to power mongers; they were willing to give away all their possessions; they were willing to live and work among lepers; they were willing to persist in translating the gospel using only one finger because that was the only part of their body that still worked; blessed are they when they acted in ways that other people would find futile and crazy.  

And then he would make the turn and say, and you - blessed are you when you act courageously and faithfully even if people think you are crazy to do so and that your actions are futile.  Blessed are you when other people think you are weird for mercy-granting, for justice-doing, for peace-making because everybody knows that won’t help you get ahead in life, that won’t make you rich or famous.  

Blessed are you when people think you are crazy and ineffective and weird and a dreamy idealist when you do the work of peacemaking and others treat you badly for it.  When they dismiss you or taunt you or revile you because you take action to make peace.  When they think you are out of touch with reality for working to be merciful.  When they shun you for working for justice.  When they laugh at you for your idealism. 

For all the pageantry with which we celebrate All Saints’ Day, it behooves us to remember that ultimately, blessedness is not about achieving glory.  It’s not about earning one’s way into heaven through sacrifice.  It is about celebrating not only the courage and faith of those gone before us but about the faithfulness of the one who heals us.

Blessed are the poor, the suffering, the ones who practice mercy, who make peace, who are broken or outcast or thought to be crazy, because they, and we if we are willing, will be made whole by the Prince of Peace.


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