Venite Psalm 95:1-7 Come, let us sing to the Lord; * let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving * and raise a loud shout to him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God, * and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the caverns of the earth, * and the heights of the hills are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, * and his hands have molded the dry land. Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, * and kneel before the Lord our Maker. For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. * Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!
We had a lovely snow on Tuesday night. Powdery dry stuff that lasted all day thanks to temps that didn't get above 24.
One of our winter visitors is the little junco, which is often hard to see because it's white on the underside and dark grey on top. Of course, the contrast on a snow day made getting sharp photos difficult, but here's a junco going after a sycamore ball yesterday.
Collect of the day: Almighty God, you have enriched your Church with the singular learning and holiness of your servant Thomas Aquinas: Enighten us more and more, we pray, by the disciplined thinking and teaching of the Christian scholars, and deepen your devotion by the example of saintly lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. Readings for the day: http://www.lectionarypage.net/LesserFF/Jan/Aquinas.html Yesterday was the feast day for St Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor of the church who lived and worked in the 13th Century.
Aquinas is often connected with the word “orthodoxy” as in he was all about doing theology the right way. The thing is, for much of his life, he was right on the edge of not doing theology the right way, at least in the eyes of the 13th century church. He wrote against “heretics,” but was often under investigation as one himself.
Aquinas had an interesting life. He came from a powerful family and was taken to the famous Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino just outside of Rome, founded by Benedict himself, with the expectation that he would become the abbot there when he grew up. Thomas had other ideas, however. He was academically inclined and went off to study in Naples where he discovered that he liked the Dominican Order better than the Benedictines. The Dominicans were famous for their preachers and for their academic tradition. His family found out and had him kidnapped and confined to the family castle for a couple of years.
Eventually they let him out and he went back to academic life among the Dominicans. He was an intellectual giant. During his time, the works of Aristotle became available and became quite popular. Many people embraced Aristotle as an alternative to Christianity, but Thomas set out to incorporate Aristotelian concepts into Christian theology. This was definitely controversial at the time, but he wanted to show that truth can come from many places, some of them surprising. If God is really the God of everything, then we need not be afraid of other faiths, or traditions, or cultures.
Then, after this life of intense study, frequent lecturing, teaching and being part of high level disputations and an incredible output of serious theological writings, Thomas went through some kind of mysterious and traumatic experience while saying mass (he was a priest, too) and never wrote another word or taught another lecture. He said, “Everything I have written seems like straw by comparison with what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.” He died a few months later.
Aquinas wanted to connect ideas with experience, to show how theology informed worship, morals, and spiritual practices in an age when that connection was often obscured because of the way theological studies were fragmented into different areas. He also wanted to connect reason and experience with tradition and doctrine. He was not an either/or kind of man - he was in the both/and camp often. Body and soul, heart and mind, tradition and revelation, experience and academics. None of these alone would be enough to even begin to help us understand God or the work of Christ, or to dictate our response to that work.
The church no longer finds Aquinas difficult to defend. After Vatican II, it was ok among the Roman Catholics to say that truth is found in many places and that we ought to be open to the insights we gain from other cultures or faiths or disciplines. The current Pope speaks this way himself. What we are looking for is the living God, whose Spirit moves through history and is still speaking today.
So, what does this all have to do with our Gospel reading about separating the fish and throwing out the bad?
Well, remember what Jesus said at the end of the reading. Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.
Wisdom is found in many places, both new and old. Tradition is important, wisdom is often of the ages. There are truths that have been handed down from way, way back that have only become more lustrous with the passage of time.
But there are truths to be found in new things, too, different realms, in places we might not think to look. Sure, we should read Aquinas, and Basil, and Gregory, and Augustine. And also we should read Anne Lamott and Nadia Bolz-Weber and Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza and Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Shane Claiborne. And that is all really ok. Wisdom is found where wisdom is found.
One of my grandmothers never had any use for anything old; the other treasured everything that was passed down and never thought much of the new. But wisdom is not limited to the past nor truth nor beauty nor any other sacred idea or action. Holiness can be found anywhere, even in other traditions and cultures; God can be found working everywhere.
That inclusiveness doesn’t mean that every old thing is wrong and every new thing is great. Discernment is necessary. Discernment is part of our daily journey ever closer into the heart of God. And so we scoop it all up, we are open to seeing the Spirit anywhere, and then we do the work of discernment using reason and experience in addition to tradition and scripture, to separate what is true, what could be true, what is beautiful and holy from that which is not. And our findings might surprise us.
In the words of Sam Portaro, late of this parish, who wrote a lovely reflection for St Thomas Aquinas’ feast day in his book Brightest and Best:
“Jesus commends a wisdom attentive to all of life’s experience and discriminating in its judgment. Wisdom, Jesus seems to say, will be gleaned fro the whole of life and in the midst of the swirling tides of time….[And so] it is time to set sail with the spirit of Thomas Aquinas, to toss the net far and wide, open to the wonder of this world, sweeping the vast ocean of life’s generous wealth of experiences. It is time to go fishing, to get ourselves some wisdom.”
Photography is part skill, part equipment, and mostly lots of luck. I really lucked out on this shot. I took it on a very cold day - high of 22 degrees - in a national wildlife refuge that is mostly only accessible by car. I knew I wouldn't be able to take being out in those temperatures for very long at a time, not to mention that my camera might not operate well under those circumstances. So I chose that wildlife refuge for my day off outing. It turned out to be a great idea.
I had been driving down a road that was next to an area that had been flooded for wildlife use (the photos of the ibis I've posted for the last couple of days were from that spot) with my car window down in case I saw something to photograph. (Getting out of the car usually caused the wildlife to skeedaddle away, another lucky thing for me on such a cold day.)
I saw a flurry of activity in the trees and a couple of small birds flying by very fast. That captured my attention and I stopped the car. Behind them was this hawk. Frustrated by his lack of success with those birds, he landed on this branch and looked over his shoulder, perhaps in embarrassment - was anybody watching? And there I was, sitting in my car with camera ready.
So that was luck. The other lucky thing was that I had set the camera on a setting that turned out to be the right one. With my new camera, this is not always a given.
I had a friend once who felt that he wanted to deepen his spiritual life. He was struggling with his faith. So he came to church every week and enrolled in EfM (Education for Ministry, a 4-year layperson's class that teaches church history, Biblical scholarship, theology and such, to equip people for ministry in the world). Someone asked him why, if he had doubts, he did so much stuff at church. His response was, if you want to get run over by a car, you should go lie down in the road.
So I take that advice about wildlife photography. If I want to photograph animals in their habitat, I need to go there and spend a lot of time there and keep my eyes peeled. I need to be prepared with my equipment (including appropriate clothing!). I need to be patient. And I need to be ready to grab on to any wonderful thing that happens in front of me.
Almighty God, we give you thanks for surrounding us, as daylight fades, with the brightness of the vesper light; and we implore you of your great mercy that, as you enfold us with the radiance of this light, so you would shine into our hearts the brightness of your Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 110)
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Normally, I don't post stuff about football. I am not that much of a football fan. But my kids turned me on to these hilarious "Bad Lip Reading" videos, and since there's a lot of football stuff going on out there, I wanted to join the conversation.
We had a rare snow day today in Virginia. After a sunny and 60-degree day on Monday, by Tuesday late afternoon, frigid air had swooped into town, bringing with it snow and wind. The overnight low was something like 11 or 12. Brrr. We only got about 3 inches of snow, but it's sitting on top of a layer of ice, and the temperature never got out of the 20's this afternoon.
I have been impressed with the response. The snowplows were out yesterday as soon as it started snowing. People have been shoveling and scraping and salting both public and private streets. We don't get much snow here (either in quantity or frequency) and this is a small city, but it is clear that the local government knows what to do when we do get snow and ice.
And meanwhile, at the parish house, the huge group of people who are volunteering during our week to host the homeless shelter (coming up in early February) met to get the training for that work.
So today, I am thankful for all those who work behind the scenes. I appreciate all the people who got up early to go out in extreme cold to help make things safe for everyone. And I am thankful for those in our parish who will be putting in many hours to make sure that our winter shelter week goes as smoothly as possible for our guests.
This is what makes community great - an understanding that we are all in this together and that each of us has a responsibility towards others, that we are all working to build up the whole community, knowing that if one segment of it suffers, then we all are diminished. It's not just our own sidewalk that needs shoveling, but our neighbor's sidewalk, too. We must be concerned not only with putting food on our own tables but also the community table where those in need come because they have no table of their own. I was thrilled to see the room full of people preparing for our shelter week and to see the excited, happy faces of the volunteers who are eager to do what they can to address the needs of our neighbors who are unable to provide for themselves.
I am grateful for my community on this cold, snowy day.
12A Song of CreationBenedicite, omnia opera Domini Song of the Three Young Men, 35-65 Invocation Glorify the Lord, all you works of the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever. In the firmament of his power, glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever. IThe Cosmic Order Glorify the Lord, you angels and all powers of the Lord, * O heavens and all waters above the heavens. Sun and moon and stars of the sky, glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever. Glorify the Lord, every shower of rain and fall of dew, * all winds and fire and heat. Winter and Summer, glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever. Glorify the Lord, O chill and cold, * drops of dew and flakes of snow. Frost and cold, ice and sleet, glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever. Glorify the Lord, O nights and days, * O shining light and enfolding dark. Storm clouds and thunderbolts, glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever. II The Earth and its Creatures Let the earth glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever. Glorify the Lord, O mountains and hills, and all that grows upon the earth, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever. Glorify the Lord, O springs of water, seas, and streams, * O whales and all that move in the waters. All birds of the air, glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever. Glorify the Lord, O beasts of the wild, * and all you flocks and herds. O men and women everywhere, glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever. III The People of God Let the people of God glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever. Glorify the Lord, O priests and servants of the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever. Glorify the Lord, O spirits and souls of the righteous, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever. You that are holy and humble of heart, glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever. Doxology Let us glorify the Lord: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; * praise him and highly exalt him for ever. In the firmament of his power, glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
(Reposting this from last year, when it was also Inauguration Day.)
To celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, listen to James Taylor's Shed a Little Light from his CD "Pull Over." I like the addition of the horns on this live version and introduction of the backup singers at the end.
Sometimes, when I think about God, I am blown away by the idea of God’s power and might.As we sing in children’s church,our God is an awesome God,who reigns in heaven abovewith wisdom, power and love.
When I read about creation, God’s awesome ordering of the dark and jumbled chaosinto our beautiful world teeming with life,when I look into the sky at night and see the starsand read about new galaxies being discovered30 billion light years away,when I think about the vastness of eternity,outside of time and space, I feel very tiny and insignificant,like a grain of sand in the Sahara,like a drop of water in the Pacific.
But I think of that insignificance in a good way. Partly because I just like thinking!I like ideas!I like the idea of the vastness of Godand the smallness of me in comparison -it is as it should be, I think.
But we can’t always live in a world of ideas. I try, believe me,but I know that those ideas have to connectto real things,to things that are touchable and livable,things that can be experienced by all of me -my mind and my heart and my body.
The first chapter of the Gospel of John works like that, too. It starts out with a cosmic set of ideas -in the beginning was the Word, full of grace and truth,through whom all things came into beingand who came to give us life -and then begins to narrow and narrow its focusuntil we get to this scene we read todayin which certain people are walking and talking together in Palestine.
We go from a huge concept that begins outside of time to a particular experience in a particular time and place,an interaction of particular people,as we are introduced to Jesusand see how he begins his ministry.
That ministry begins with just a small thing. Jesus asks them a question.What are you looking for?These are the first words Jesus speaks.What are you looking for?What is it that you are seeking?What do you want?
And, basically, even though they don’t answer directly, it is clear that what they wantis to just hang around with Jesus,the one who has been identified as the Lamb of Godwho will take away the sin of the world.(What a huge idea that is!)
Perhaps they are simply curious. Perhaps they are seeking salvation.Perhaps they want a new teacher.Perhaps they want to know what it meansfor someone to be the Lamb of Godand want to be connected to such a huge idea.
Whatever it is, they do go and hang around with Jesus,they experience him,because he says another small and simple thing:Come and see.
He doesn’t explain himself. He doesn’t expound on his philosophy to see if it resonates with them.He simply says, come and see.
And they do.
And their experience with Jesus, whatever it was, leads Andrew to invite Peter to come and see for himselfthis Messiah they have experienced. And so just a small thing - come and see! - brings Peter,the rock upon whom Christ will build the church,into relationship with Jesus.
It’s all about witness, invitation, and experience.
John the Baptist shares the amazing sight he saw at Jesus’ baptismand that’s how Jesus meets his first discipleswho, by the end of the story, will carry the message of salvation to the ends of the earth.He simply invites them to come and seeand lo, together, they take offon a epic adventure.
We go in these few verses from the cosmic to the particular,and from big idea to personal experience,and from experience to witness,and, because we do know how this storyis going to turn out,from witness to the transformation of the world. A great big loop from vastnessto particularityand back to sweeping expanse again.
But this chain of events all starts with something small and simple. A question and an invitation.What are you looking for?Come and see!
Now, don’t get nervous, but I have to tell you something:This is how evangelism works.
Experience, followed by sharing, followed by invitation.This is how the disciples came to Jesus. Later in the Gospel of John, the woman at the well will also have an experience with Jesusthat prompts her to invite all her neighborsto come and see, too.It’s even how I came to be an Episcopalian -someone invited me because of their own experienceat their Episcopal church.
It’s actually pretty simple - but the effects are pretty awesome.
Jesus is inviting us too, here, today, to simply come along with himand see what God is doing in the world.
As much as I love church history and doctrine and theology and ideas,as much as I love the idea of my small selfbeing connected to the vast eternal,all of that has to be based onand connected tosomething real: experience.Seeing and comprehending what God is up to in the world around me.Because I have to be able to see and recognize itand experience itin order to share it,in order to invite anyone else to experience it with me.
Last week at youth group we talked about how God inspired the writers of the Bibleand wondered how God speaks to us in our every day lives, which is another way of thinking about experience,and I gave them some homework.I asked them to pay attention this weekto try to notice God’s speaking in the world,to see what God is saying to themas they go through their days.
Because that’s the first step in experiencing God at work in the world: developing the ears to hear and eyes to see God,to tune ourselves in to the channelthrough which we can experience God. Which means we have to be out in the worldexperiencing life so that we can experience God in it.
And then, only then, can we tell about our experienceand invite others to share it.
It is a small thing, tuning in to God, but it yields awesome results.God loves to take small thingsand do something wonderful with them.
So, what are you looking for? I hope you are looking for God,who has come to be among usand to give us life through Jesus,the word made fleshwho invites us every day to simply come and see,to come and experience life and love and graceand redemption.
For in seeing, we will be changed, and then we can change the world.
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, "I dwell in the high and holy place and also with the one who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite." Isaiah 57:15
On Sunday, I had the privilege of baptizing a 6-month old boy. What a great age! He was a delightful baby - curious but trusting. He was very interested in what was happening all around him, but in a calm way. A few months later and he'd probably be in that "only Mommy may hold me" stage, and a few months earlier he might just be sleeping, but this guy was engaged in it all.
Our baptismal font is a few hundred years old (it came from England and was in the Anglican church at Jamestown, which was settled in 1607, before it came to Bruton Parish) and we put a silver Revere bowl inside the basin into which we pour the water for baptism.
The baby was very interested in the shiny bowl and the water, and he kept his eye on it the whole time that I was baptizing him in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He turned his face toward the water and looked into it with great interest, no doubt seeing his reflection in the bowl through the water.
I love that image. We should always try to see ourselves through the waters of our baptism, which, in truth, gives us the clearest image of who we really are.
We don't use this prayer much at Baptisms in church (because we include baptisms within the context of Eucharist and other prayers are used) but this is a good prayer to remember:
Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom every family in heaven and earth is named, grant you to be strengthened with might by his Holy Spirit, that, Christ dwelling in your hearts by faith, you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Amen (BCP 311)