Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Daphne B. Noyes at the Church of the Advent, Sunday, November 11, 2018, the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus said, of the widow: “She out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.”

It’s tempting, perhaps, to read this as a lesson about money and sacrificial giving (especially in this stewardship season). But Jesus sets us straight — as he so often does: it’s not about money, it’s about life. The woman put in her whole living. She gives neither fortune nor tithe — but her bion [Greek], her livelihood.

# # #

For 100 years, November 11 has been known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day. On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month of 1918, fighting in World War One ceased. At that moment, Times correspondent Edwin L. James wrote from the front, “four years’ killing and massacre stopped, as if God had swept His omnipotent finger across the scene of world carnage and cried, ‘Enough!’”

So just as we remember all the departed on All Souls Day, and all the Saints on All Saints Day, on Remembrance Sunday we call to mind the soldiers, chaplains, medics, nurses, cooks on the front lines, and mothers, children, grandparents on the home front — those who “put their whole living” into what was supposed to be the war to end all wars.

In 1914, just weeks after Britain declared war on Germany, H. Hensley Henson preached at Norwich Cathedral: “This War is, we may dare to hope, destined, by the Governing Mercy of the ALMIGHTY, to cleanse the vision of the nations, and to clear their path, so that in the Retrospect it will be seen to bring appreciably nearer the Final Overthrow of the Theory and Practice of International Violence, and to hasten the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace.” [punctuation as in original]

Sadly, we have not seen the “overthrow of the theory and practice of international [— or indeed national —] violence.” And we are hard-pressed to believe the long-awaited coming of the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace been hastened.

The war that was fervently hoped to be the last will instead be remembered for many firsts: The first war to be fought on land, air and sea. The first major use of poison gas. The first use of tanks. The first British women in military service. The first war cemeteries.

We observe this Armistice Day in some concrete ways: there’s a wreath of red poppies at the shrine of Christ the King — see the note of explanation about their significance in your bulletin. And if you arrived between 11 and 11:10, you may have noticed a group of people outside, standing quietly with heads bowed, listening to the bell toll 100 times.

wreath of poppies at the shrine of Christ the King in the naveThis is in keeping with the Advent’s longstanding tradition of honoring the men and women who played the always complex, often contradictory role of peacemaker by entering into war. Those who said they would die for their country, their beliefs. And what’s more, would kill for them.

In 1914, the outbreak of the war in Europe sparked a strong response from the 48-year-old rector of the Church of the Advent, William Harman van Allen. Dr. van Allen, as he was known, had a reputation of being “always a strong and often brilliant preacher.” The Centennial History of this parish reports that he was “profoundly moved by the [war’s] outbreak…and during the period of the war he delivered what were perhaps the finest and most forceful of all his sermons….In the pulpit, in his weekly Message to the congregation, by letters in the press, he maintained his championship of the cause of the Allies, even in the face of threats of personal violence.”

Dr. Van Allen guided the parish through the war’s turbulent and challenging years, priest and people bringing the conflict and heartache of the world to the altar of God, and the promise of redemption to the turmoil of the world:

  • After the sinking of the British ship Lusitania by a German torpedo, a Solemn Requiem was held. (If you were here for the All Souls requiem, you know what a powerful and moving service this is.) Lusitania was carrying almost 2,000 people — passengers, crew, stowaways. Nearly 1,200 were lost.
  • In the early years of the war, when this country was striving to be neutral, one of the Advent’s assisting priests, the Rev. William Russell Scarritt, preached a sermon calling upon the United States to abandon neutrality and join the Allies against Germany. His sermon attracted widespread notice; some even credit it with marking the turning point in American sentiment toward entering the war.
  • As many as 50 “war orphans” (pupilles de la nation) in France were supported materially and morally by members of the congregation. Additionally, there was a service of intercession for “martyred Belgium” (1917), and a Red Cross chapter provided surgical dressings and other necessities.

The United States formally entered into the war on Good Friday 1917.

One hundred twenty-nine men from the Advent served in the Armed Forces during the war. “Dr. van Allen wrote regularly to [the] names on the Advent Honour Roll, and the six gold stars which appeared there were suitably revered….”

On the first Sunday after the armistice was signed (November 17, 1918), the Advent’s weekly bulletin was printed in red, and instead of the day’s designation according to the ecclesiastical calendar, that Sunday was listed as “The Sunday After the Great War.” A Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving for Victory was celebrated; the Hallelujah Chorus was sung as an anthem and The Star-Spangled Banner was the sermon hymn.

But many of the most ecstatic celebrations were followed something far more sombre. Perhaps the most potent and poignant example is that of a British baby who was born at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and in honor of that great day was christened Pax — peace. At the age of twenty-one, he would be killed in the next war.

# # #

Why is all this important? After all, World War I is well behind us, and without a doubt we have our own troubles and pressing needs. I don’t need to describe or identify contemporary parallels; I am certain you know what they are. They are powerful: they threaten to overwhelm us and overtake our quest to draw each day closer to God, to follow Jesus in loving and serving God and our neighbor. But like those who have gone before us in this holy place, we are called to “pray for peace against all odds and act with hope when there is little light to be seen.” Through faith, we can, like the widow, offer all we have — our whole living — to the God who created us, who loves us, and who has promised to redeem us. And one hundred years hence, when the people sitting in these pews, standing at this altar and in the pulpit, look to us for an example of how to remain faithful to God and to each other in times of strife and conflict, may they not be disappointed.

Amen.


Sources etc.

  • “four years’ killing and massacre…” Edwin L. James, quoted in “Annals of History: The Eleventh Hour” by Adam Hochschild in The New Yorker, November 5, 2018.
  • “This war is, we may hope, destined…” H. Hensley Henson , 27 September 1914, Norwich Cathedral. Wartime Sermons: 21 Sermons delivered 19 September 1914—3 October 1915. London: Macmillan and Co., 1915.
  • The Parish of the Advent in the City of Boston: A History of One Hundred Years, 1844-1944. Privately printed, 1944.
  • A History of the Church of the Advent. Betty Hughes Morris. Privately printed, 1995.
  • William Harman Van Allen (1870-1931), rector, Church of the Advent from Advent Sunday 1902 to March 1929.
  • “His sermon attracted widespread notice…” William Russell Scarritt (1846-1931). National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Vol 23, 1933. p 389.
  • “pray for peace against all odds” Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury. Remembrance 100. https://www.remembrance100.co.uk/reconciliation/

Blog Post: “Aslan Is Not a Tame Lion: The Serious Mistake of Casual Worship”

Recently, a blogger and church musician, Jonathan Aigner (https://www.patheos.com/blogs/ponderanew/about-jonathan-aigner/), visited the Church of the Advent for Sunday worship and was moved to write the following on his blog, “Ponder Anew.” We thank Mr. Aigner for the opportunity to share his post here.

Aslan Is Not a Tame Lion: The Serious Mistake of Casual Worship

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Allan B. Warren III at the Church of the Advent, Sunday, November 4, 2018, the Solemnity of the Feast of All Saints

Alleluia!  The Lord is glorious in his saints!  O come let us adore him!  Alleluia!

Mary the Virgin.  Paul the Apostle.  Augustine the Theologian.  Martin of Tours.  Francis.  Theresa of Avila, Father Damian of the Lepers.  In our own day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Mother Theresa of Calcutta.  The list goes on and on.  They cover the centuries – the men and women whom we celebrate today. 

As we all know too well, the Church has a history which at certain times has been tawdry and shameful.  Like the world around her, the Church too is marred and all too often diminished by the power of sin.  But there have always been, even in the darkest times, bright lights, witnesses, giants of faith and sacrifice and love – the saints.  Those who point to Christ and make manifest to all, Christ’s power, Christ’s grace and Christ’s transforming love.

Today we celebrate those women and men – the saints – and we also rejoice in a possibility for ourselves: and that possibility is holiness, sanctity, and true happiness.  Léon Bloy, the French novelist, who began life as a young man who actively hated Christianity, but underwent an overwhelming conversion, Bloy said something that bears thinking about and remembering.  It is also very disturbing.  It bothers me all the time.  “The only real sadness in life, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life is not to become a saint.”  Again, “The only read sadness in life,  the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life is not to become a saint.”  And what he means by this is very simple:  you and I were created by God in his image and created to be holy as he is holy.  And God has given us the means of becoming holy, that is, of becoming saints.  God has set us on the road to holiness and sanctity, for God has given us Jesus, given us himself.  God has then called us by our nature and called us also in Christ to be saints, and in Christ God has given us the means to fulfill that calling.  And so, if at the end of our lives we have failed to respond, that life is a tragedy.  If at the end of our lives, we have failed to receive the gift of sanctity which God so freely gives us, then it was a life un-actualized, a wasted life which never attained is purpose and fulfillment.  It was a life which has missed the mark, fallen short of what it was intended to be and what it could have been.

*     *     *     *     *

You and I are called to be saints, and this should not surprise us for, you see, that saints of God were not necessarily extraordinary people in and of themselves.  Some were, to be sure, giants of the mind: others, doubtless, couldn’t even read.  Some were born with power and privilege; others knew only poverty.  Some accomplished great things and were known by the world around them; others lived quietly and were unnoticed by the world.  Some were oddballs, cranks, and characters; others were just plain ordinary folk.  They were a very diverse lot the saints; just like you and me, we are a very diverse lot.  What they had and what they have in common with us is the grace of God in Christ.  They were saints not because of themselves, but because of God.  They received the gift which God offered them, the gift of himself in Jesus, God’s Christ. They responded to God’s call and took advantage of God’s gift.  And their lives were never tragedies or failures, no matter what befell them.  Their lives were full and victorious. Their victory was the victory of “God.

And that victory can be ours, dear people.  It is offered to you.  It is offered to me.  That is the message of the Gospel .   .   . which is why we call it Good News.

*     *     *     *     *

And here again is a story which I have told you before, but it is a good story, so I’m going to tell it again.  When I was a child, our rector, who was a rather saintly man himself, used to assemble the whole of the Church School in the Church to tell us about the saints.  We sat in our pews, and the old man asked us, “What is a saint?”  There was silence, of course; at six and seven and eight we were all too timid and shy to venture an answer.  And so he pointed all around the Church to the beautiful and rather impressive stained glass windows on the walls.  “Do you see the people in the windows?” he asked.  “They are the saints.  And what do they do?” he asked again.  “They let the light shine through.”

The saints are the people who let the light shine through, let the light shine through.  I’ve never forgotten that definition, and it’s as good as any I can think of.  Naïve?  Too simple?  Not at all.  In fact, it is quite exact.  “I am the light of the world,” says Jesus.  And the saints are those who let the light of Jesus, God’s Christ, shine through themselves and in themselves.  The saints become transparent to Christ.  Moreover, they let themselves be transformed and transfigured by his light and by his life.  And they shine brilliantly with Christ’s own life and the life they live is Christ’s own life within them.  The light shines through, and their words, their actions, their very selves point always to Christ.

They are then examples to us of what a Christian can be.  They are indeed what the Christian and the Church must be.  The saints show us what God can do with a human life.  They are witnesses.  They present evangelical truth.  They show us a possibility that is just a real and active now as it was for them in their own time.

And so, as St. John tells us, the light shines through in the darkness!  It is the light which overcomes evil and sin and triumphs over death.  It is the light which turns the tragedy of life into victory.  It is the light which shone in the saints – and it may shine, as well, in you and in me.

Amen.

Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Jay C. James at the Church of the Advent, Sunday, October 28, 2018, the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Take heart; rise, (Jesus Christ) is calling you.  

In all of the healings of Jesus, including the one presented in today’s Gospel of Blind Bartimaeus, Jesus supplies what is needed.  “What do you want me to do for you?  Master, let me receive my sight.” is the response; so simple and straightforward.  Bartimaeus wants to see, so Jesus gives him the gift of sight.  It’s true with many of the other miraculous healings.  The man who needed to walk is told: “Take up your palate and walk.”  The woman who is hemorrhaging touches the hem of Jesus’ garment and is healed.  Legion, possessed by many devils, has them exorcised and driven into the herd of swine.  The healings are instant, complete, and whole and are even accomplished, in two instances from a distance. The centurion’s servant has his paralysis and distress leave him, as soon as Jesus gives the word, and the nobleman’s son who is very near death is healed from the moment Jesus says, “Go; your son will live”.  Jesus is the source of all healing because all healing comes from God.  It is a great gift and when we stop to think about it.  All good things come from God the source, the creator.  This is why we say, when we offer the gifts during the Mass,  All things come of thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.  

We clearly act on the knowledge of this principle of the Christian Faith at this time of year when we enter the stewardship campaign.  We are asked to take stock of all that God has given us, and in response to what He has given us, we are asked to give a portion back to Him.  Remember, everything comes from Him.  Whether it’s healing, forgiveness, solace in times of trouble, our families, friends, our homes, our work, our church, everything that we have begins with Him.  In response to all those gifts, we have the privilege and duty of outwardly thanking Him at this time of stewardship.   We commit to offering and giving a portion of what we have back to God and we outwardly state what it is when completing our pledge cards.  

Practicing good stewardship is a duty of every Christian not because the Church needs to keep going.  The Church is going to survive because the Holy Ghost drives and sustains the Church.  The Church does not survive or collapse because of our pledge cards.  Good stewardship is a duty because our souls, our lives with Jesus now, are affected by it.  Your giving affects your life as a Christian.             

Knowing the true meaning of stewardship as a necessary part of our Christian lives will help us see it as more than giving away some of our money.  Again, the spiritual principle is that everything comes from God.  We do not have anything of our own, it all belongs to God.   If God created everything, and He did, then everything, even our lives, including our souls and bodies, belong to God.  We are not our own.  We are His. 

Now if we belong to God because He made us, our first act is to accept this principle and then act on it.  Our lives and everything we have are on loan from God.  That means that it will be useless and silly to talk about giving anything to God unless we first realize that He first gives us everything.  We are to use this time on earth as a gift and use it as God wants it used, and then give an accounting of how we have used it.  That is stewardship.  Taking responsibility for what has been given to us, making it better, and then giving an accounting of our stewardship.  

Now we can consider Christian Stewardship.  Unless we first give our lives to God through Jesus Christ there is no need to talk about stewardship, or giving of money.  The only way to have this type of giving as part of our spiritual lives is to have given our life to Christ.  Our lives must be His first.  And that self-giving must be for all time and be continually renewed.  Each Sunday we are here celebrating Mass we pray in the consecratory prayer, … and here we offer unto Thee, our selves, our souls, bodies…if you have not given yourself to the Lord and committed yourself to Him, then do not bother giving any of your money to God.  Your stewardship will not work.  If there is no commitment to giving yourself to Jesus Christ, then do not give any money to His Church.  The Church is His Spiritual Body in space and time.  To have your giving be effective in your spiritual life giving yourself to Christ will have to be first.   Renew that self-giving, then decide what of your life’s worth you will commit to Him.  Giving yourself back to God does not need to be complicated or tremendously emotional.  A prayer like the petition from The Our Father:  Thy will be done is sufficient.  Or saying to the Lord, Here I am Lord, send me.  Any one of those will do, it needs to be a simple handing over of your life to Jesus first.    

Your spiritual life can be affected by in two ways with this kind of giving.  Both affect your spiritual life because you grow in love, trust, and faith either way.  You are stewarding everything about your life. He is the source of everything that you have and when you use it in the right way, you become more and more His.  One way is giving by your heart and soul being moved by giving of thanks.  Consider what you have from God and what Jesus Christ has done for you.  Of all that, what is it worth to you?  There is no way that we can ever possibly repay the price that Jesus paid on the Cross.  We can through prayer, service, and giving, offer give some outward sign that represents part of our life and substance.  We actually become even more thankful when we give from the heart this way.               

The other way is to have your spiritual life deepened by drawing closer to the Lord through giving and seeing if your heart is not drawn to God.  Jesus knew that our hearts work this way.  Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.  Where your money is, that is the place of your true devotion.  Make it be so.  Don’t you find that if we truly want to do something, we make the time to do it and we do not let anything get in the way.  That is true with our time.  It is certainly true with our treasure as well.  We will put our money toward what we think is important.  Take the step and put your money toward Christ’s Church and see if your life with the Lord does not have more of an importance to you.  Your money follows your heart, and your heart follows your money. 

Now, how much should you give?  The Bible tells us that only a portion, ten percent, should be given back to Him.  It is all His and we only give back ten percent.  I like that biblical tithe as the standard for giving.  It is clear.  It is small enough so everyone can do it and it is large enough so it feels sacrificial.  It also is a clear sacramental act.  You see it and the thankfulness is real in a way that is not vague or just words.  When we give in this disciplined way, it really makes us trust God to give us everything we should have, or that He thinks we should have.  You see all sorts of ways that God provides everything and even more after the giving has taken place.  The prophet Malachi says, “…put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. Try it and see if it is not true.”  

We do like to worry and fret about money.  We plot and scheme about how to get more.  We worry about whether or not there will be enough and if there’s not enough, then we wonder, “From where will it come?”  The Christian antidote to this is freedom.  Our Lord had the answer for us when it comes to our things.  He wants to free us from the bondage of money.  He knew that the love of money was and still is the root of all evil.  Freedom only comes in giving and trusting in the Lord.  The giving that results in freedom is sacrificial, scriptural and disciplined.  Once it is done that way then we see how tremendously freeing and reassuring it is to let God provide.  Doesn’t Jesus say, Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.  Is not life more than meat, and the body than raiment?  Giving frees us from relying on ourselves and puts the trust and dependence on God.  

Giving thankfully; giving to bring your heart to the source and purpose of your life, Jesus Christ, is surely going to have an effect on your spiritual life.  It is supposed to.  It is a necessary part of the Christian life if our purpose is to draw closer and closer to Him.  What a spiritual experience to have and it works.  Tithing will bring you to a deeper experience into God’s operating in your life and freedom from worry about money because it is turned over to God.  Welcome giving and welcome it with these words, All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.  

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen. 

Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Daphne B. Noyes at the Church of the Advent, Sunday, October 21, 2018, the Solemnity of the Feast of St Luke

The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. This saying has been attributed to Augustine of Hippo, John Chrysostom, Abigail Van Buren, the African Methodist Episcopal minister L. L. Nash, and Ignatius of Antioch, among others. No one can identify the origin with certainty. But thanks to St. Luke, who we commemorate today, we have the words of Jesus himself to reinforce the idea: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

I daresay both sayings cut right to the heart of the matter. Is there anyone among us who does not carry the burden of some weight which might be called sin? Perhaps the burden has no name, is simply a gnawing feeling that something is not right. Or perhaps it does have a name, one that is too difficult to say out loud, yet echoes in the deepest chambers of the heart. And so we come to this hospital for sinners, in search of relief, healing, wholeness.

The quest begins with identifying and confronting the problem. The physician asks, What ails you? In this hospital for sinners, the ailments include the illnesses of body, mind, and spirit that beset us as individuals, as well as those that beset the world we live in: injustice, poverty, violence, apathy, greed, arrogance. All must be confronted, challenged, and — with God’s help — ultimately conquered.

I was recently introduced to St Anna’s Episcopal Church in New Orleans and was struck by the similarities between Church of the Advent (established 1844) and St. Anna’s (established 1846):

Like the Advent, St. Anna’s is an Anglo-Catholic parish, and was the first “free church” in New Orleans (not charging pew fees) with open seating for all, just as Advent was in Boston.

Both have weathered controversies over liturgical practice and survived conflicts with bishops. In the mid-1800s the Bishop of Massachusetts was outraged at the presence of a cross and “golden candlesticks” on the altar. In the late 1800s, the presence of lighted candles on the altar at St. Anna’s sparked an indignant letter from an evangelical parish in the diocese.

But perhaps most dramatically, a later Bishop brought an ax into St. Anna’s and destroyed the confessionals them in place.

St Anna’s and the Advent share a commitment to social justice — healing the ills that plague our society — as an essential expression of spirituality. This commitment demands both courage and humility. Courage to go against the prevailing norms, and humility to accept that our efforts, even when successful, will always fall short of the mark in this life. (Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you.”) The Jesuit activist Daniel Berrigan taught that it is not so much the outcome that is the charism of social justice but rather the act of doing social justice that is trans-formative.

So here at the Advent our work to bring about healing of social ills includes, every Tuesday, offering a hot meal, a clean bathroom, and a gracious welcome to anyone who is hungry. And we regularly prepare a Sunday meal for the Common Cathedral community and join them in worship. The resulting trans-formations are both individual and collective. Just ask anyone who helps serve one of these meals. Just ask anyone who partakes of one of the meals.

At St. Anna’s, a highly visible social justice effort centers on violence — specifically, the number of people in New Orleans who die violent deaths. In 2007, while the city was still reeling from the affects of hurricane Katrina, more than 200 people were murdered. St Anna’s deacon, Elaine Clemments, said, “I feel that we have to do something. But it is so overwhelming I am not sure that anything will help.”

Thus, through courage and humility, was born the Victims of Violence ministry, a way to honor and remember the victims of violence, to pray for all affected by urban violence: perpetrators, victims, families, officials, and police officers. The outward and visible sign of remembering was to create a public tableau on the fence of the churchyard. This tableau, which has became known as The Murder Board, lists each victim by name (when known), age, and the method by which they were killed. For the past 11 years, the board has been — and continues to be — updated, month by month by month by month. So we remember seven-month-old Carter and 76-year-old Louie. We remember Jane Doe and John Doe. We remember those who died as a result of hit-and-run, of beating, of stabbing, and — most predominantly — by gunfire.

Like the Tuesday supper and Common Cathedral, the Murder Board is part of a quest for healing. Both are concrete, visceral examples of beleaguered human sinners calling out to our righteous and merciful God. With the psalmist we address the God who “heals those that are broken in heart: and gives medicine to heal their sickness.”

The physician Herbert Benson is credited with identifying the concept of “remembered wellness.” Would you be surprised to hear that this is what was previously known as the placebo effect? Benson lists three components that identify remembered wellness: (a) positive beliefs and expectations on the part of the patient; (b) positive beliefs and expectations on the part of the physician; and (c) a good relationship between the two parties.

This list of components — positive beliefs and expectations on the part of the patient; on the part of the physician or healer; and a good relationship between the two — calls to mind our relationship with God, doesn’t it? Perhaps you immediately think of your belief in God’s power to heal. Or perhaps you trust that God wants good things — health and wholeness — for you, and for the world. Perhaps you are here to nurture your relationship with God, or to repair it in some way.

The Murder Board made a huge impression on me. But for some reason I can’t escape a vivid image of those splintered confessionals. Why? Because I believe that in those fine and private places, a whole lot of healing happened. I suspect that many burdens were lifted, that many wounds were soothed, that many conflicts were confronted and led toward reconciliation. Because the people who entered into those confessionals, who entered into the act of confession, were patients in the hospital for sinners, drawn to there by wispy dreams of remembered wellness. They were asked, “What ails you?” and they opened their hearts to speak of relationships broken, mistakes made; of unhealed wounds and inescapable regrets. So healing could begin. So wellness remembered could be wellness restored.

On hearing that we are commemorating St. Luke today, more than one person asked me, “So, are you doing any special healing prayers in the service?” My answer: In this hospital for sinners, every service is a healing service.

The Great Physician asks, “What ails you?” Together, we answer in prayer: “We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed…” One by one, we answer from the depths of our desire for healing. We open our hearts and we open our hands to receive God’s bountiful love, to be led closer to the health and wholeness God desires for us, and for all creation, from the very beginning of time, now, and unto ages of ages. Amen.


For more on the ministries and history of St. Anna’s, see https://www.stannanola.org/

For more on the Murder Board, see https://www.stannanola.org/archived-content/missions/victims-of-violence/

For more on remembered wellness, see https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/10.1146/annurev.med.47.1.193

Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Jay C. James at the Church of the Advent, Sunday, October 14, 2018, the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

For a number of years we have sent a few of our high school and college-aged young people to Saint Michael’s Conference for a week in August.  Included in that number are some of our parishioners who have volunteered to serve on the staff of that conference.  At this teaching conference the young people take three one-hour courses.  The courses vary each year and about four or five years ago one of the electives was titled “Who are You When No One is Looking?”  It is an engaging title, and even though I did not teach the course, I suspect its content had much to do with honesty.  I think it meant mostly how you present yourself to God.  Are you honest with yourself and with God?   The students probably learned that they cannot hide their inmost thoughts, feelings, and sins, no matter how small or large. There is no hiding from God.  It’s good for all of us to know that nothing can be kept from God’s all-knowing self.  We learn that He is omniscient.  So, the course probably had much to do with the truly intimate side of connection we have with God our Creator.  To find out, the students taking the course probably had to learn how to be completely honest.

Honesty for most of us means putting forward the truth and knowing the truth when it confronts you.  It means not denying anything about the way things are and the way we are.  In contemporary psychological terms; being a “real” person.   Many falsely think that to be a “real” person in contemporary society we should be open and honest with everyone.  Some popular psychologists, counselors, and now I understand, life coaches, maintain that suppressing our feelings will only lead to repressed anger, or developing an alternate way to be “real” and therefore not be honest.  When this advice and counsel are pushed and put into practice they can actually be damaging.  Let’s face it, do you want people to be completely honest with you all time?  Do you really want them to tell you their inmost and immediate thoughts at any given time?  When put into practice this could be devastating.  I don’t want to know what’s on people’s minds all the time.  I don’t want them to tell me exactly what they’re thinking and feeling at a given moment.  They don’t want to know what I’m thinking and feeling all the time.  It would be horrible to have complete honesty and openness all the time.

I have witnessed someone whom I think was truly an honest and open person.  He was “real”.  Father Caldwell, who is now in Glory, was a retired, part time assistant at the last parish I served.  He was mature, scholarly, friendly, and truly honest.  He seemed to have reached an age where his love of people and his Lord just came through by working with him and witnessing how he associated with those around him.  He loved working in our parish that had a large parochial school and enjoyed being with the more than five hundred children each day.  One day there was to be a big performance of a student organization event at the School.  Everyone, including the headmaster and the entire staff, as well as the student body and parents, was excited for the performance and I’m sure assumed there was not a person alive at that time who would not make every effort to attend.  The headmaster asked our Father Caldwell if he would be attending the performance and Father Caldwell said, “No”.  The incredulous headmaster asked why he would not be attending such an attractive and exciting time for the children and Father Caldwell paused and then said, “Because I don’t want to.”  There was no upset, no disbelief, no great reaction on the part of the headmaster.  Father Caldwell told the truth and told the truth in a way that just seemed natural.  Father Caldwell was one who was “real” and simply spoke the truth in love and it came through that way to his hearers.  He was not going to go because he honestly just did not want to go.  It was so refreshing to hear.  I wondered would I ever get to the point where that kind of honesty could be part of who I am.  I hope so.  

We do well to open our hearts and minds to those with whom we have trust.  Openness and honesty need to be reserved for those who truly care and love us.  It is a very sensitive and delicate time in your life to reveal your inmost thoughts and feelings to someone.  This should only be done to those who truly care for you.  We can live well with one another if we choose carefully with whom we will be “real”.  With most people, if we’re going to live well with them, we will have to suppress some of our immediate thoughts and feelings.  We cannot go around telling our immediate desires and thoughts to anyone.  Those with whom we have built a deep level of trust will be able to receive our inmost thoughts and feelings and it is with them that we may be able to be “real”.

In this episode in Jesus’ ministry of the rich, young ruler, it seems to me that we can learn that there is and can be complete honesty and openness with Jesus.  The openness and honesty are there whether we like it or not.  This is powerful to know and it must have made a powerful impression on those disciples who were there because the story stayed with them and appears in all three synoptic gospels.  It would tend to remain in the mind when someone clearly sees down into the condition of your soul, or forces you to look deeply into your true standing with God Almighty.  That is happening in this scene.  Jesus is looking right down into the rich, young ruler’s soul and forcing him to look there too.

You can tell that Jesus wants him to go further and deeper in his spiritual life because Jesus makes the rich, young ruler look at his complete spiritual connection with God and not just his connection with his neighbor.  If you read the Gospel carefully, there are two ways that Jesus forces the questioner to look at where he stands with God.  One is that Jesus tries to get the man to see that Jesus has the goodness of God.  The man asks, …Good Teacher, what must I do inherit eternal life?  And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone.’  The man does not make the connection that if God is good, and Jesus is being called good, then Jesus must be on equal authority with God;  and He is.  The other way that Jesus forces the issue so the man has to see where his heart is with God, is to look at the four commandments that Jesus does not list when Jesus tells him to keep the commandments and the responsibilities they bring upon him.  

Notice that Jesus lists all the commandments that have to do with the rich, young ruler’s obligations to his neighbor and not the ones having to do with his obligations to God.  We learn in confirmation classes that the first four commandments have to do with our duties to God and the last six have to do with our duties to our neighbors.  Notice Jesus lists only those duties to the rich, young ruler’s neighbors.  As the young man says, all these I have observed from my youth.  Jesus knows that.  Now Jesus has him dig even more deeply and do something about his duty to God and to do that the rich, young ruler will have to give more of his own life, his own goods.  He will be forced to put his spiritual life and obligations to God first, even before anything that he has in this world.  That is what it takes to inherit eternal life.  

The key here is to not miss the reason Jesus is making him look more deeply into his duties to God.  Jesus makes him do this out of love.  Then Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing; sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven;  and come, follow me.’  The rich, young ruler had been faithful to his duties to those around him, and now he had to reach farther and place his heart and soul completely in the hands of God.  The love of Christ demanded it because that needs to be a priority.  He was getting there, and Jesus was making him have his first love be God, and not those things that may be holding him back like his possessions.  

The giving of heart, mind, body and soul to God through the love and grace of Jesus Christ needs to happen.  The Scriptures and the Church call this self-giving.  It is sacrificial love and the rich, young ruler, like the rest of us, needs to show forth that kind of love on his way to heaven because that’s what will get him and us into heaven and eternal life.  I think we learn today that it can happen in two ways.  We show forth the kind of life that the Ten Commandments demand and come to the conclusion that we cannot do that without the grace of God.  That grace ultimately saves us.  The other way is to have the grace of God first control our lives, and as a result, show forth the kind of life that is written in the Ten Commandments.  Either way, we are ultimately dependent on the love and grace of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and our whole selves, souls and bodies are given to Him.  

It is the grace of God that saves and binds us to Him.  Nothing should hold us back from that.  The rich, young ruler was shown that by Jesus.  We need to be imbued with His help and presence in everything.  His grace needs to be before us and after us and in us if we are to be a complete follower.  Didn’t we pray that at the beginning of this Mass?  Lord, we pray thee that thy grace may always precede and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works…   We are asked to lay ourselves open to God.  He knows who we are when no one is looking.  We need to be at the place where He discerns that our wills are the same as His.   When that happens, we will have a life that has Christ in every aspect of it.  Our joys, our blessings, our sufferings, and persecutions will all be offered to Him and who we are will be faithful disciples of Christ.  Even when no one is looking. 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.   

Sermon Preached by Eric Fialho at the Church of the Advent, Sunday, October 7, 2018, the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

I live in Salem, Massachusetts. For those who do not know, Salem is the unofficial Halloween capital of the world. Just yesterday my fiancée Emily and I were taking what we thought would be a leisurely stroll through a street bazaar in the downtown. We ran into what seemed like an unending mass of humanity which is typically only witnessed on Halloween night. The place was mobbed. Vendors sold things ranging from vampire fangs to beeswax candles and just about everything in between. In the middle of it all was the obligatory October in Salem street preacher. The gentleman was in jeans and a maroon hooded sweatshirt standing atop a black metal step ladder. His Bible was firmly gripped under his right hand. Emily and I were forced by the size of the crowd to stop, and we were both stopped in front of the preacher. I was able to see up close the very worn gold leaf edges of his portable King James Bible. Like many October street preachers in Salem he was warning the crowds of the evils of witchcraft and the need to avoid being lured and caught up by the imbibing caresses of sorcery in all its guises.

It was fitting that the man was standing at a crossroads, that is, Essex and Central streets. He would look up to heaven occasionally and then down at the crowds. He had an earnest and heartfelt desire to deliver the tourists in his midst out of the snares and deceptions of the adversary.  A young family of four walked by him. The children had their small faces painted. One as a ghost, the other as a pumpkin. An elderly couple walked by. Both had warm coats on. They both had Peabody Essex Museum stickers on their lapels, and both leaned in to whisper something to themselves. Finally the crowd let up and Emily and I were able to go on our way through the streets of a supposed Sodom and Gomorrah.  While I don’t usually agree with what the October street preachers have to say, or with the manner in which they say it, more often then not they preach on a somewhat universal idea— they preach on being mindful of God and on his desire for humans to repent and turn to the Lord. While I may disagree with what they wish people to turn from, a universal and ancient message is there. Somewhere in the middle and at the back of my mind I began to interact with our text from this morning.

The Gospel from this morning speaks about marriage. In fact it speaks about Jesus’ teaching on divorce. While this is certainly an interesting theological point to ponder, my heart is drawn to something else within this teaching.

What is a marriage? What is it exactly? I ask this question not only as a man who within the year will be wed to his fiancée, but I ask it also as a fellow Christian, as a follower of Christ Jesus.

What exactly is a marriage? I shall like to step back, if I may, from the concept of human marriage, that is of the joining together of two in holy matrimony, and instead look at what marriage is. What is represents, and what it calls for. What it doesn’t mean, and what it serves to do.

Peeling back the human concern, the human and human joining what is it in its basest definition?

The Gospels tell us that within a definition of marriage there is a presumed air of permanence.

In the concept of marriage there is a steadfastness, a loyalty on the part of humans when entering into it. Steadfastness, loyalty.

The co-mingling of marriage. The separate being made whole. The separate being made one. Conjoined and commingled.  

A marriage then is not done in isolation. It is not done without the main precedent of stability, and of loyalty, and steadfastness at its very core, at its root.

Again, removing the human and human marriage idea here for a moment let us ask,

What are the things to which we are wed? What are the things which we marry, the things which marry themselves to us. These things which we attract or are attracted to?

To each of us in our own time comes marriages. Some of us marry our work, some of us marry a self-created image of ourselves. We marry a concept of how we should look and how we should live. We wed an inauthentic self.

Some marry a particular philosophy or outlook on life. Others marry the concept of avoiding commitment. They marry an idea which at its root is anti-marriage.

We all interact with the concept of marriage, in all its forms, then, because we are social beings. We live out marriages daily. Sometimes these sorts of marriages last for minutes, some last for years and years.

There is still another thing which a marriage, whatever it may look like, requires. It calls for giving up a part of ourselves. Marriages call for a reliance on something outside of just ourselves and to a commitment to something outside of ourselves. When two things are made one they are a new creation. The two things wed are subject to a new balance, a new way of perceiving the world, and everything in it, and a new way of perceiving self.

It’s a quest which we all possess— to become one. The question is to what do we want to become one with?

We can allow for a marriage to work, to self, to philosophies, and still to more things, to less beneficial things. We sometimes directly or indirectly wed ourselves to the evils of the world. We can allow ourselves to be molded to and combine with something which clouds and obscures our gaze, and confuses us.

We can combine with things which we cannot look up from — are gazes stop at it. And why? Because the idea of marriage is strong. The striving towards unity is so strong. The want of it is so innate and deep that it can have adverse effects too whether we discern them or not.

You can also be within a horrible marriage you can’t look up from. Whether one is married to another or to another thing or concept or idea, some combinations we have in our lives have adverse effects.

What purpose does marriage serve? For what reason is it considered holy and Good, this concept of marriage. The action of marriage, the use of marriage, the living out of marriage it all points to one thing.

To the end. It prepares us for the end. It gives us a foretaste of our end with God.

The commingling with God we all here have a reasonable hope for. A longing for. To be deified. To one day be brought up into the fullness with God sharing in His permanence, His loyalty, His love, His steadfastness which is before ours and above our own always.

As humans we are social creatures, beings who like to be in the midst of community in all its forms. We share in fellowship with our fellow creatures and with God and all the communion of saints above. This melding of the two — ourselves and fellow beings is good and righteous in God’s sight.

We are social beings, beings who are to stand in communion with all of the created order. We are ordained in our own ways to become both partakers and givers within this world. Daily God prepares us for the things to come in this world and in the next.

Our Father in heaven does not usually accomplish this through force, or through wrath, or through a want of myopic obedience, no but instead our Lord does it through those daily interactions with our fellow man, with our fellow citizens of this world. Through those small and large marriages, those wedded parts of our selves working in our lives.

Daily are we brought to a knowledge that we are but extensions of God in the world. We are brought to wonder and to think on this plain fact by those interactions, those encounters with other created beings who too share so much with us. We share in brokenness, in grief, in struggle, in mental wresting, and in a shared humanity.

God brings us to a knowledge of his hand at work in the world not through wrath or retribution but through a clear and simple fact— we are designed to interact, and we strive for wholeness.

In our very design and through our striving we meet with many wedded moments, some good, some bad. In the end all of it prepares us for awakening to God, to turn even more fully towards him.

Amen.

Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Jay C. James at the Church of the Advent, Sunday, September 30, 2018, the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltness, how will you season it?  Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

There are lots of “isms” around these days. We are hearing a good deal from the media outlets about “isms”.  Some of them are popular so you know what some are:  socialism, communism, capitalism, totalitarianism, racism, sexism, and ageism.  These are only a few.  These “isms”, to be put into place and practiced, require some “ists”.  Socialism needs socialists.  Communism requires communists.  Capitalism needs capitalists, and so on.  Depending on your own thoughts, views, and opinions, some of these “isms” may be seen like bad things and some of them may seem like good things.  correspondingly, if you like the “ism” you’re more likely to  be drawn to the “ist” who puts the “ism” into practice.

There is a particular “ism” that is prominent in today’s gospel and it is sectarianism.  The “ists” practicing the sectarianism are the apostles and particularly the Apostle James in the Gospel and Joshua and a young man in the book of numbers.  Sectarianism in both cases is sinful because it is the preference of a particular sect or group to another based on the sect’s religious views.  

In the face of this blatant sectarianism is the counsel Jesus gives to the disciples.  Jesus corrects John the Apostle when John forbade a man from exorcising devils in Jesus’ name.  The man was not part of the band of disciples whom Jesus originally called.  He is not one of us, John declares, and he’s using your name.  John is one of the disciples of James and John fame:  The so called “Sons of Thunder”.  They were brash and bold.  They spoke and preached with great confidence and made no bones about being with Jesus.  This may have been part of what led to their sectarian attitudes.  John’s attitude is, “unless this man is one of us, he ought not be casting out devils in your name, Jesus, so we stopped him”.  Jesus would not have it.  Jesus corrects James and John with these words, Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me.  As if to say, “For crying out loud, John, leave some room for the Holy Spirit to operate”.  If he’s casting out devils in my name, then he’s doing our work. 

This is this same kind of sectarianism we find in our Old Testament lesson for today.  This is probably why we get both of these lessons on the same Sunday.  The sin of sectarianism is prominently displayed in both readings.  Again, the Holy Spirit is being allowed to operate outside of a specific group.  The seventy that God ordained to help Moses, when the people in camp were grumbling due to lack of meat, were ordained at the Tent of Meeting.  Two of the seventy, Eldad and Medad, were ordained by same spirit, but they were not at the Tent of Meeting.  They remained in the camp and even though they were not with the others the Bible says, … two men remained in the camp…and the spirit rested upon them;.  Eldad and Medad began prophesying in camp and a young man told on them.  Even Joshua the Son of Nun, Moses’ own minister asked Moses to forbid them from prophesying.  Moses refused and even said, Would that all the lord’s people were prophets, that the lord would put his spirit upon them!  Have faith that the Holy Spirit can and will operate; not just inside the Tent of Meeting, but in the camp and on Eldad and Medad too.  The ultimate goal, according to Moses, is that all the people with us would be prophets and his spirit would be on them too! 

How do we avoid the sin of sectarianism?  Use salt.  That’s right.  Use salt and be salt are our instructions in combating that sin.   If we are using salt the way that Jesus instructs us then we are to “Have salt in ourselves.”  Come to be the kind of Christian that is entirely dedicated to Christ by the purifying that fire provides and the preservation that salt provides. 

I really wish our lectionary would include the last two verses of Chapter Nine in today’s Gospel reading from Saint Mark.  The lesson stops at verse 48, just two verses short of the end of the Chapter.  Here are verses 49 and 50 that really need to be included if we’re going to know how to be part of the kingdom and stay there.   For everyone will be salted with fire.  Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltness, how will you season it?  Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.  It is really all about being wholly dedicated to Christ.  When our love of Christ is to Him alone and that dedication is salted, that is preserved, and strengthened by fire, that is purified, then we will not need to worry about falling into sectarianism.  We will be loving God and our neighbors as we should.  All the works done by those dedicated to Christ will be accepted by him.  The people will be part of His Kingdom.  All those works done by those not yet dedicated to Christ will direct people to Him so they can be brought into His Kingdom.  

The Holy Spirit needs to be allowed to bring people to Christ.  Are there ways that I hinder the Holy Spirit?  Do I commit the sin of sectarianism by being a little sect unto myself?  In The Letter of James there is a warning about making sure our choices in this world side with having us in the Kingdom of God and not on the side of the Devil.  Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.  The choices that we make steer us into or away from the Kingdom of God.  Speaking evil against a brother or sister in Christ, acting as a judge, complaining about the Law of God, any boasting, an inordinate love of worldly goods, holding back from others what they truly deserve.  These are all ways that hinder or block the Holy Spirit from guiding us while we’re in the Kingdom of God here in the world.  All the more reason to be dedicated to Jesus.

Uniting ourselves to Jesus now and staying with Him is our life’s purpose.  That is why He’s put us here.  According to Jesus it is so urgent, so pressing, so precious, that whatever sacrifice it takes to get there, then we should make that sacrifice.  In the Gospel for today Jesus is, of course, not literally saying to tie a millstone around your neck and throw yourself into the sea, or lose your hand or your foot, or pluck out your eye, but He is saying that you want to be in the Kingdom.  Life without Christ is dangerous;  dangerous for your life with others and dangerous for the sake of your soul.  Bring whoever you can into Christ’s Kingdom and allow whoever is doing the work of the Kingdom to do that work.  It’s that important.  Leave lots of room for His Holy Spirit to work inside and outside His Kingdom. We need to do whatever we can and be the way we need to be to get into His Kingdom and stay there until we are part of His Kingdom in heaven.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen. 

Sermon Preached by the Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates at the Church of the Advent, September 28, 2018, the Feast of St Michael and All Angels

To worship at The Church of the Advent is always to experience a celestial ceremonial. As the emissaries of Prince Vladimir famously reported in Kiev in 988, following their experience of Orthodox worship in Constantinople, “We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth.” And so it is for us tonight. The processions are glorious. The congregation sings with joy. The choir is sublime. And repeatedly in the liturgical instructions, at the laying on of incense, the note reads, “The Thurifers should encourage the Bishop to be extravagant!”

Perhaps on no occasion is such a liturgy more appropriate than on this, the Vigil of Saint Michael and All Angels. We seek to glimpse another realm, to put sight and sound and scent to the verbal images of celestial hosts with which this evening is replete: “where, Cherubim and seraphim bow and adore.”

So with a slight hesitation, I nonetheless invite you for a moment into a different musical vernacular than that to which you are accustomed. Humor me and sing along.

We are climbing Jacob’s ladder
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder
Soldiers of the Cross

The Scriptural propers for this Feast feature two lessons in which angels are ascending and descending – on what? On ladders, of course!

[Then Jacob] dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. [Genesis 28:12]

Jesus alludes to this same vision when he declares in the Gospel:

‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’ [John 1:51]

So we are given this image tonight of heavenly messengers ascending and descending, connecting us with another realm we are eager to glimpse; “climbing Jacob’s ladder,” advancing – by God’s grace – towards the union of things earthly and heavenly.

The thing is, one of those three scripture lessons includes some angels being thrown down, instead of climbing up. We heard how Satan “was thrown down to earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” Angels climbing up. Angels being thrown down. So now I am put in mind of a rather different image. Maybe it’s because I so loved playing board games as a child, that these readings make me think not only of Jacob’s Ladder, but also of that wonderful, terrible game … Chutes and Ladders.

You know the one, right? Where you roll a single die and move your little marker along, trying to make your way up the winding path to the finish line at the top. And oh, how great when you land at the bottom of one of those ladders, and scoot ahead towards the top. And oh, what frustration when you land instead at the top of a chute, and slide right back down to a place you’d already left behind.

So what do you think – does life sometimes feel like a game of Chutes and Ladders? Sure it does. We have good days and bad ones. At one moment we climb to some new and unanticipated height. At other moments, we have setbacks and disappointments, frustration and seeming futility.

We simply do not experience life as a steady or predictable trajectory, a ladder of evenly-measured steps and inexorable, unidirectional progress. Surely this is true of us as individuals, knowing as we do the vicissitudes of life. No doubt this is true also in our national lives, where collective advancement in matters of equity and justice – however we might choose to define those – is fitful, unpredictable, iterative, elusive.

I expect this “chutes and ladders” paradigm might be applied to the life of parish churches as well. The Church of the Advent is no exception. In early years the parish embodied its noble vision of securing for Boston “the ministrations of the Holy Catholic Church, and more especially to secure the same to the poor and needy.” Yet the fledgling parish also experienced opposition from high places. Infamously, my predecessor Manton Eastburn, Fourth Bishop of Massachusetts, was so outraged at the presence of a cross and candlesticks on the altar that he refused to return for eight years, and only then when forced by canon law to do so.

Sometimes, of course, the strife was not from without but from within, as during your more recent Time of Troubles a quarter century ago. The point is, throughout its history this parish church, like every other (and not unlike that game of Chutes and Ladders) has had its ups and its downs.

But here’s the thing: In God’s economy, even our setbacks are part of our path towards greater faithfulness and service. In the final analysis, your life in the church is much more akin to Jacob’s Ladder than it is to Chutes and Ladders. And I will tell you why. Because Chutes and Ladders is a game of pure chance. There is nothing whatsoever in that game to determine your progress except the roll of a die. It’s sheer, dumb luck. But your life, people of the Advent, is not a function of dumb luck. Your life is guided and led supremely and unfailingly by the grace of God. And your life is guided also by skilled and faithful leaders.

This leads me to that certain parochial subtext for tonight’s celebration. Alongside scriptural imagery of angelic choirs and ladders that lead towards the heavenly kingdom, we are thinking – or trying to avoid thinking – about priest and parish reaching for the next rung, moving on to the next chapter of your respective lives – lives linked and virtually synonymous for almost twenty years, now with a leave-taking on the horizon.

Father Warren, no doubt, would be the first to object if his bishop veered in the pulpit from proclamation of the Gospel to either roasting or canonizing the rector. Besides, there is, I believe, some roasting planned for the reception which follows this liturgy. But let me say this. Gifted leaders are a tradition at The Advent. You have a history of dedicated clergy, and your faithful, eccentric, devoted incumbent has been no exception. Under his leadership your life together has indeed born much more resemblance to the divine vision of Jacob’s ladder than to the haphazard chaos of Chutes & Ladders. Not random windfalls and pitfalls, but the steady labor of God’s servants, coming and going from this place – such is your life with this journeyman priest.

Now, if an “angel” is understood as an ethereal, unearthly being, the I suspect that few of us would attach the label to Allan Warren, who is altogether corporeal and earthly. But cautiously, and in the same way that the term “saint” can be applied with both specific (capital-S) and communal (small-s) connotations, I want to say that if the definition of “angel” is not “ethereal being” but “messenger,” Fr. Warren has been that – faithfully and consistently. No less a personage than Gregory the Great has reminded us that “the word ‘angel’ denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits, but they are only called angels when they deliver some divine message,” says Gregory. [i]

What, then is the message that this small-a angel, this messenger of the Gospel, has brought to you? I quote to you from Fr. Warren’s Annual Meeting Address nine months ago:

I have mentioned to you before that the word ‘parish’ comes from two Greek words – ‘para’ and ‘oikos’ – which together mean “away from home.” The implication being that a parish is our “home away from home.” Our true home is with God, but on the way to that consummation of our lives, the Parish is our “home … away from home.” In this parish we gather together, we pray together, we are nourished by Christ’s presence together, we renew our friendship. We are a community, a family, in this “home away from home.” [ii]

And now, listen to these words from a sermon of Bernard of Clairvaux for Michaelmas:

[E]ven if the splendor and glory of the holy angels before God is beyond our comprehension, we can at least reflect upon the loving-kindness they show us. For there is in these heavenly spirits a generosity that merits our love, as well as an honor that evokes our wonder. It is only right that we who cannot comprehend their glory should all the more embrace their loving-kindness in which, as we know, the members of the household of God, the citizens of heaven, the heirs of paradise, are so exceedingly rich.”[iii]

I hope that you can hear the deep resonance between your rector’s foundational image of the parish as a Christian manifestation of our truest Home, and Bernard’s testimony to the angels as exemplars of the loving-kindness which merits our wonder, our love, and our emulation, in the household of God.

And so, dear friends – now, and next year, and in the years beyond – be that household of God. Be that home away from truest Home which your rector has described. Weather the occasional Chute, and steadily climb Jacob’s Ladder toward the Kingdom. Be thankful for your pastor, priest, and friend. And be faithful messengers of God – that others might say, as Jacob said upon waking from his vision: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” [Genesis 28:17]


In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

i – Celebrating the Saints: Devotional Readings for Saints’ Days, ed. Robert Atwell and Christopher Weber (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2001), p. 324.

ii – The Rev. Allan B. Warren III, Rector’s Annual Report, January 28, 2018.

iii – Celebrating the Saints, p. 326.

Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Allan B. Warren III at the Church of the Advent, Sunday, September 23, 2018, the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Too many years ago when I was a student in college, the Episcopal chaplain there was a very with-it fellow – concerned and involved and very in-the-know with all the issues of the day.  He was a friend of mine, and I liked him a great deal.  I was even his daughter’s babysitter from time to time.  But, like all of us, he made his mistakes.  One of the greatest of these involved a series of sermons he planned and delivered for the Sunday evening chapel services.  Actually, it was not so much a series of sermons as it was a gimmick which he had cooked up to prove to us – as if it needed proving – how relevant Christianity was to life in the world of today.  In those days relevance was, as you may remember, the chief criterion.  Relevant or irrelevant? – that was the question put to all kinds of things – even to things to which the terms didn’t apply at all.

His method was to be this: in place of the sermon he would simply page through the New York Times, pick out headlines and comment on what was going on from a Christian perspective.

Now, in principle such a thing is not a bad idea – if Christianity is worth its salt, then it is indeed relevant – that is, has something important to say to what is going on around us.  The trouble, though, was that, again, this was a gimmick, and like all gimmicks it should be tried once and then discarded.  The first time the novelty engaged us; by the third time the sermon – or whatever it was – was greeted by a yawn before it had even begun.  After the fourth of these preachments, even my friend began to see the light, and returned to the tried and tested technique of writing something down and delivering it.

But, you know, looking back on that, I find something interesting and something quite significant about my friend’s failure.  What he was doing became boring and gave rise to yawns and glazed eyes, because it was always about the same old thingAlways about the same old thing

Reading the newspaper or listening to the news on the radio or watching CNN, don’t you find? – I do – that day by day, night by night, we are presented with the same sorry spectacle of human affairs in the world around us? 

Oh yes – thank God! – there are bright spots and glimmers of hope – a new discovery in medicine, an account of heroism or self-sacrifice in the midst of some calamity, the downfall of a sleazy politician – but even so, doesn’t it seem as if the same patterns repeat themselves over and over – hatred, greed, dishonesty, mistrust, arrogance; nation against nation, group against group, individual against individual, betrayal, denial, stupidity stirred on by self-interest.  Don’t we see these same things repeated again and again in human life?

I’ve been watching a series of lectures on the Old Testament.  I just got through First and Second Kings this week, and it occurred to me how very like what was going on then is to what is going on now.  Change the names, transpose the cultural context, add some bells and whistles – and you have the world of the twenty-first century.  Again, greed, lust for power and wealth and possession, arrogance; nation, group, individuals opposed to one another, and lies everywhere.  It’s the same old thing.  It seems to be the way of the world.

In the epistle this morning we heard from the letter of James.  Part of what you heard may have surprised you.  Do you remember?  Let me repeat.  James writes and he asks those to whom he writes: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”  Some of you, when you heard that, may have been startled or confused; it’s pretty strong-sounding stuff.  Some may have been downright offended.  Certainly, there are many people in today’s secular world who, hearing such a thing, would simply dismiss it – just another example of religious pessimism, nasty old life-denying Christianity ready to make everybody neurotic and miserable.

Well, I am happy to say that’s not what it is about.  When St James talks to us about the world he means what I’ve been calling the same old thing.  The same old thing that made my friend’s sermon series so boring.  The “same old thing” that makes the daily paper or the news on the radio so remarkably like the Book of Kings.  The same old thing that is the way of the world.  And what James says when he addresses his fellow Christians is this: Your way is not the same old thing.  Your way is not the way of the world.  Your way is the way of God.  And that is something new – something always new and unexpected.  Something astonishing in a world tired, burdened and bored and hurt by the same old thing.

Our Lord, of course, says this as well, and we heard it in the Gospel this morning.  It is a passage typical of St Mark, full of misunderstanding by the disciples and Jesus’ gentle, but telling, correction.  They are all on the road to the city of Capernaum, and Jesus tries to teach them about his mission.  “The Son of Man,” he says, “will be delivered into the hands of men and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days, he will rise.”  But the disciples, frankly, don’t get it.  They don’t understand what he tells them about his destiny and how the plan of God is to be realized through his death.  What he has said makes no impression at all. 

Later, he overhears them, and they are discussing who will be first, who among them will have the power, who among them will achieve success, who will be the one on top .   .   .  with all the rest below.  The disciples, you see, are still talking in terms of the world.  That is, in terms of the same old thing, But Jesus came to bring the new thing, and he tells them what that new thing is – “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

And that is indeed a new thing, absolutely new.  It is so new that most of us today don’t get it any more than did the disciples themselves two thousand years ago.  Most of us – and I definitely include myself – most of us are so mired, so trapped in the way of the world, that we find the new way, the way of God and the way of Jesus, unimaginable, ridiculous, impractical, doomed to failure.  And you know in terms of the world it is all these things.  In the reckoning of the world we shall never be first by being a servant, by making ourselves last of all.  But, in the reckoning of God (And does anything else count?  Will anything else make us happy?  Make us alive?  We know the way of the world, that same old thing, and we know where it leads.) – but in the reckoning of God being last, being a servant, even being delivered up and killed – that is what it is to be first, that is the new thing in the world which is real power and authority, that – to be last, to be a servant, even to be killed – that is to rise up again and to live.  And, of course, in spite of ourselves we know this, for God in Jesus followed that way himself, to show us and to lead us and to free us from the hold which the world’s way had upon us. And God vindicated him.  God set his stamp on Jesus’ way by raising him from the dead!

What is the way of God and the way of Jesus?  It is, again, the way of the servant.  It is the way of humility, of gentleness, of love.  It is to put oneself last in order …  and what real strength this is ! …  to put oneself last in order to make others first.  Our Lord spoke about this in detail.  I can do no better than to leave you with His words.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account!  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward shall be great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you!

Amen.