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Born a Texan, but traveled the US extensively.  Now staying on the East coast.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Father Gage again: the Easter Message

          Tonight is the defining moment of Christendom. Tonight we meet the empty tomb. In so doing, you and I confront Christ’s resurrection, which marks His victory, His triumph, over evil, sin and death. By the resurrection of Christ, God shows us that hope overcomes despair, that righteousness overcomes injustice, that mercy overcomes oppression and that love overcomes terror and hatred.
          It is the doctrine of the resurrection that sets Christians, you and me, apart from other religions and interpretations regarding the meaning of life. By His resurrection Jesus is more than just a holy man, more than a prophet, more than a teacher-rabbi, more than a miracle worker-healer. Christ’s resurrection affirms Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, the guarantor of eternal life. Christ’s resurrection changed history and redefined the meaning of life for millions.
          Now I am going to tell you three stories. You have heard them before. The first story: Years ago, I met the Easter Bunny. It wasn’t really the Easter Bunny; it was a person in a white rabbit suit out in the day care playground. She was having a great time with the kids. In my imagination I asked, “What are you doing?” “ “Oh, I’m having fun with the children. I guess I am trying to remind folk of joy and peace and new birth.” “ Funny, I replied, that is my job too. Hop along,” I said, and she did.
          Imagination transports us through the spectrum of time, enables us to participate in various dimensions of reality and to grasp truths that often seem ephemeral. One of which is the story of the resurrection. It is the story of hope. It is the assurance of eternal life with a loving God. The story of the Easter Bunny moves us to that direction. It is good. The secular world is but a reflection of the eternal world. It prepares us for truths too deep for tears, too joyous for laughter.
          For many Easter is simply the seasonal celebration of spring and new birth, a reflection of the life cycle. But for Christians, Easter is more than the religion of nature; it is the statement that through the revelation of Jesus Christ each one of us receives the promise of eternal life with the source of all life and all beauty and all love, God Himself.
          Now for my second story: Jesus was a Jew. You cannot understand Easter without knowing about the prophecies in Isaiah, Jeremiah and the Psalms. Israel longed for, hungered for, a messiah. Jesus fulfilled that expectation and hunger. The Old Testament is the foundation for Christianity. Our Easter event is the demarcation of Christianity from Judaism.
          The third story: It is part of a much longer story, which is one of my favorites. Some years ago I had a call at 10:30 p.m. from Bouton and Reynolds Funeral Home. “Father Gage, this is Michelle. I have a special request of you. Could you do a Jewish funeral tomorrow at 11:00 a.m.? I cannot get a rabbi. The family had decided they would not have a funeral, but at the last minute felt that they had to have some kind of service. They are more or less non-practicing Jews. When I was unable to get a rabbi, I told them that I knew a really nice Episcopal priest, who would try to help them. It will be just a small family gathering. Can you help me out?” “Sure, Michelle, I’ll do what I can,” I replied. After I hung up and told my wife, Faye, about this, she replied, “Are you out of your mind?”
          Apparently I was. I got up early the next morning and went down to my office. I have some books on funerals, and I thought I would find something in them. Nothing. “Oh, well, I thought, I’ll just take the burial service in The Book of Common Prayer and delete any references to Jesus.” Wrong. The burial service opens with, “I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” (BCP p.469)
          The whole burial service is loaded with Easter and resurrection theology. So I put together a service of an opening statement, a prayer, a psalm, a reading from Ecclesiastes, a prayer, a psalm, a eulogy and a closing prayer.
          When I got to the funeral home, the “small family gathering” was of 80, 60 men and 20 women dressed in black. I told them that I was honored to be with them in their time of grief and loss and that my job as a minister was to tend to the needs of all people in the heart of Stamford. They were relieved and the service went well.
          My point is that it is the Easter story of the resurrection that is the lynchpin of our Christian religion. Judaism is wonderful and we are deeply indebted to it for our Judeo-Christian heritage. But we part company in our narrative, in our history, in our imagination, in our expectations and in our philosophic/theological worldview as a result of the Church’s experience, of your and my experience, of the empty tomb.
          My third story is more of a reflection. On Tuesday of the following week, I gave the homily at the funeral of a woman I had known for 25 years. She was the same age as I am and we shared the same tart sense of the absurdity of life. We also shared a deeply felt reliance upon God and thankfulness for the salvation, which we found in Jesus as the resurrected Christ. We will meet in heaven someday and have a great time comparing our observations and experiences. Following her funeral, I had two other funerals in the upcoming weeks. One woman I’d known for 45 years. The other woman I knew not at all.
          In each of these funerals, my job was to articulate the Easter message of the resurrection. It was to affirm that in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ you and I have a personal promise that says that life is purposeful, is meaningful, is positive, creative, recreative and full of redemption and hope. It is the message of the resurrection. The Easter event that you and I celebrate is the affirmation of that which is mysterious and imponderable. It speaks to our own hunger for victory and triumph in life. It speaks to our own instincts and consciences, to the image of God within us, which recognizes the truth of an unimaginable triumphant act of a miracle – of the resurrection event, which is the focus and pulsating signal of our life and our hope.   
          Brothers and sisters, the old Book of Common Prayer has it nailed when it proclaims, “I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.
          I know that my Redeemer liveth, and he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.” BCP     
          Tonight you and I celebrate the victory of love over cruelty, mortality and despair. We celebrate that triumph because it speaks to us collectively and individually and because it also speaks for us. You and I exalt in the triumph of Jesus Christ over evil, sin and death. And that’s an amazing victory and triumph! That brothers and sisters, is our triumph. Jesus Christ is risen. Brothers and sisters, let me hear it; Christ is risen. The Lord is risen in deed. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Amen. – Fr. Gage

Saturday, April 15, 2017

I promised to share, but have not always

          It is funny how the ceremony of foot washing seems to be kind of embarrassing to us. It seems so intimate and personal. We are hesitant to bare our feet. And yet in our current culture people bare their souls on television and their torsos on the stage and on the beach.
          A number of years ago I worked closely with the manager of one of the Union Trust branches. She literally kept me solvent while I was in business. She taught me to hoard my cash and to work the interest rates, etc. One day she told me that she would be away for six weeks. “How so?” “I asked. I am going to have my feet operated on,” she replied. She then kicked off her shoes and showed me her feet. They were so misshapen that I marveled that she could walk. Six weeks later she was back at her desk. “How are the feet?” I asked. She kicked off her shoes and showed me the most perfectly formed feet you could think of. “Now, I can really walk,” she exclaimed.
          You see, when your feet are in good shape, you can walk.
          Years later I started going to a podiatrist. Every ten weeks I have a whirlpool bath and the nails clipped. I leave with “happy feet.”
          We think of Andronocles and the lion, where the lad removes the thorn from the lion’s paw. For years I had to tend to my Black Lab’s feet. Over the years I tended to my children’s feet and even to my wife’s.
          Several times during Lent we have read passages in which Jesus’ feet are washed by one or more women. The act of foot washing was at the time seen as an act of hospitality and civility. But there is more to it than that. In the act of foot washing the host becomes the servant. There is a certain humility (even if it is done by a servant) that is intended. When Jesus’ feet are washed by the women, it is an act of devotion and a foreshadowing of His kingship and His death.
          When at the Passover meal Jesus washes the feet of His disciples, He is taking upon Himself the role of servant hood. The Lord becomes the servant. He admonishes His disciples to emulate His behavior. Thus their role is to be one of servant hood and humility. Their souls are to be tended to by such humility and service to one another and to Christ.  
          You see, when your feet are in good shape, you can walk. Or to put it differently, when your soul has humility and is in good shape, you truly live.
We tend to our souls through acts of genuine humility and devotion. They prepare our souls to walk through the events of Good Friday and to approach the empty tomb, and later, while walking, to meet the risen Lord.
          Through the practice of humility, and through emulating Christ’s washing of His disciples’ feet, you and I prepare to have, perhaps, on the Day of Resurrection not “happy feet,” but “happy souls.”  - Amen-                              

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

a healer and a cousin

my cousin cooking
i just finished, two weeks with an amazing person,
my cousin on my dad's side, from France.
I have never met her in person,
tho we communicated often by all technologies current means.
She is easy going and her presence was soothing to my soul.
I missed her as soon as she had left.
French, with French sensibilities,
my health responded to it.
Now to get better, so i can visit her!

a bit mixed up

i seem to be saying that,
a lot lately.
My heart begins with the older penitential rite
of the Anglican church:
"I acknowledge and bewail my manifold sins...
There is much going on,'preparation for a move
and i am finding those who drew close to me,
are sorrowful,
at my impending absence from their lives.
i have never been sure of such things,
i do not feel "worthy" of such love,
though i have always desired it.
My body has suffered many losses
and it is recovering,
faster and faster each week.
It was time for my heart,
which has also suffered greatly,
to heal also.
The hard shell that was built around it,
is softened
and so i feel more now.
The healing process,
is the same,

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

mish mosh or have you ever wondered?

Wonder - a marvelous thing,
how much do you?
Not wander,
wonder about just about every thing.
I was told that such a thing is spelled out,
in Jewish literature as a gift of the Spirit,
i never knew...
But i ask questions
and i experiment
and constantly ask what if?
I have a lot of knowledge
and i shared everything,
when i worked,
but less so now.

I thought of writing a cook book,
not of how to do things,
but what does not work.
I see questions when people get colds and viruses,
i have answers,
answers that might surprise a person who knew my background...
a degree in chemistry, with a lot of biochemistry.
Working in a health department,
where traditional medicine was accepted without much question,
but i knew there was more.
Did you know the vinegar is the most effective substance,
i have tested against most dangerous bacteria
and that zinc does stop the replication of viruses
or that turmeric is a great anti inflammatory?
colored or greenish sputum is a sign of infection
and if it got that far,
you need antibiotics?
I take every vaccine i can and know it has protected me,
but the vaccine for the normal childhood diseases,
measles, mumps and chicken pox,
were not developed yet
and i lost hearing in one ear because of it.
I eat things that most people would not because it might make them ill:
raw oysters, rare hamburger, sushi, but i know my risk
and it is up to me to take them.

How is that for a variety post?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

perhaps i see things differently than you

The morning light,
soft and gentle,
caresses my eyes
with shadows that seem some what muted,
to my eyes.
The early light,
beckons me,
from my slumber
and calls me out of my warm bed.
I do not return during the day,
for the light of days,
tells me to come and play.
As afternoon comes
and shadows grow long,
they seem sharper,
than the noon day sun
and my eyes begin to cry out in pain.
No slumber yet,
but i might close my eyes
or remove my glasses,
to give relief,
from the pain.
I am awake,
but not for long,
for as the sun sets in it brillance,
I wince,
for darkness does not bring a reprieve,
yet i struggle on for a bit.
My mind,
now struggles
and my body feels the strain.
Only but a few short hours,
I am up
and slumber takes me,
waiting for the sweet caress,
for morning's light.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

he never took a course on preaching...yet

that is the priest at the small episcopal church i attend and yet each Sunday and when he speaks at a Wednesday service - what he shares is strong...

Matt. 4:1-11
Lent I
          The story of the temptation of Christ touches the heart of the matter of our relationship to God. It touches the point at which we are the most real, the most engaged.
          You know the story. Jesus is fasting in the dessert and tempted by the devil to 1) turn stones to bread, 2) jump off a high place and let the angels catch him and 3) seize power over all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus replies 1) “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” 2) “Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” and 3) “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”
          In the Gospel of Mark we are only told that Jesus was tempted. It is in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew that we have the temptations elaborated. This is a type of story seldom found in the Gospels. It is apocalyptic and fanciful. The story lacks the usual down to earth plodding of the parables or the Birth or Passion narratives where bits of everyday life stick out from a manger or the road. Whereas most of the stories in the Gospels are not of a form found much in other literature, this story would fit right in with an Arabian tale or even a Hindu story. Hence it is tempting to say that the story is not “real.”
          There is, however, a sense in which the story has a high degree of “realism.”  If you saw the film, “The Last Temptation of Christ,” you saw a film that strove for grainy realism. It was filmed in Morocco. Jesus walked grubby narrow streets and the Palm Sunday march looked like a Cub Scout parade. Because of the diminution of scale and the attempt for “naturalism” the film failed to convey that what was happening was of extraordinary importance. It changed the world. Big events require appropriate big tellings. You can’t say, “The Patriots won the supper bowl!!” in a whisper and have it make sense. You have to say it boldly.
          So it seems to me that the conversation in the wilderness between the devil and Jesus is quite real in its dramatic presentation. In Jesus God meets mankind right where it hurts, right at the point of temptation. Ever since Adam and Eve there has been the desire to “want to do things my way,” to see ourselves as the center of the universe and to measure all things over against our own needs. It is this tension, this conflict, that has dogged mankind, the Jewish people and people like you and me today. 
          This tension between being homeocentric and theocentric, self-centered or God centered, was dramatically spelled out in The Book of Job. Many of us are familiar with that story from Archibald MacLeish’s play J.B., which I’ve seen several times. Historically the story of Job arose out of the Deuteronomic theory in the Old Testament that if a person were devout and morally good, then he would prosper. If a nation obeyed God, then it would prosper. Hence prosperity was seen as a sign of God’s favor. Wisdom literature, of which Job is a part, on the other hand, said that unfortunately the good often suffer and bad people prosper. Why then do the good suffer? Why does God let good people suffer? Job is tempted to “curse God and die.” Job goes through horrendous loses and pain but refuses to curse God. The resolution of this conflict appears to be the answer that the nature of God in the universe and in life is to a large extent unknowable - beyond our comprehension. What we do know is that we continue to survive and to find new life and new beginnings and new hope. Part of the profundity of God, of the mysterium tremendum, is love. His never giving up on us and our renewal is a sign of God’s love. The love that we have for one another, for husband and wife, parent and child, for friends, although inexplicable, is a sign of the love God has for us. In the end, as MacLeish tells it, the answer is that there is incomprehensible, irrefutable love. The story of Job tells us that while you and I are tempted to renounce God, God does not renounce you or me.
          So temptation is the issue that touches us right on the psychic nerve. Now, I want to tell you a story. Twenty-some years ago I was celebrating the Eucharist at Courtland Gardens nursing home. Thirty patients were lined up in front of me in their wheel chairs and their walkers. They were in decrepit condition. Most slumped, some slept and a few gazed vacantly around the room. When it came time for my homily I discovered that the Gospel passage was about temptation. “How am I ever going to make the issue of temptation real to these old people?” In a moment of inspiration I remembered that during the early 1940s there was a song called, “Temptation.”  Hoping to use that as a way of getting into various areas of temptation in life, I started singing. “You came. I was alone. I should have known…” At that moment thirty patients snapped bolt upright and with gesture completed the refrain with, “YOU WERE TEMPTATION.” I was stunned. I tried to talk about temptation, but they all flopped over back to sleep or whatever catatonic state they were previously in.
          Upon reflection I realized that when I sang that song I brought them back to the 1940’s. That was when they were the most active, most engaged and most alive. Now they were in their late 70’s and 80’s. But back when they were in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s there were lots of temptations. Obviously there were the temptations of the appetites. There was the desire for gratification. Food or bread is of course one of those means of gratification. There is also the desire to feed the appetites of others. Surely that can be seen as a good thing. A chicken in every pot may be the slogan for a politician, but it is also the dream of millions of people worldwide. In our youth there are the temptations to do the impossible – to be a rock star, to be famous, to find the cure for various dysfunctions, to set a record in sports, academics or business. All of us dream of doing things that would test the ingenuity of angels. Most insidiously there are the temptations for power. Simply put, we all like to control things. In each of us there is an “I want to do it myself” DNA computer chip. You and I like to fix things. Sometimes we even want to fix others!
          The truth of the matter is that temptation greets us at all stages of life. We are tempted to feel sorry for our selves, to feel jealousy and resentment, to nourish grudges and hurts, to control our lives by being mean to others. When my mother-in- law was in Courtland Gardens, I used to watch the dynamics of the old ladies at the dinner table, as they would cajole, maneuver and bully one another. It was subtle, but clear and often cruel. The devil and temptation were very much at the table.
          Where there are the sparks of life and of choice, where there are those basic elements that constitute life in us, that is where the essence of our individual life resides. It is there, at the heart of the matter of life, the life of our lives, that the conflict with temptation exists.
          On the one hand, the story of the temptation of Christ tells us that Jesus was both human and divine. It is illuminated by our knowledge of the Passion and Resurrection stories. It continues the tradition of Job in which the most faithful servant of God is tempted and refuses to give in. At the same time the story goes beyond the theology of Job and points to a unique messiahship, which eventually includes the Kingdom of God and eternal life. By stating that man is sustained not only by bread but also by the word of God, Jesus reminds His audience that life is more than material possessions and earthly appetites. Moreover, by refusing to allow Himself to be born by angels after a jump into space, Jesus maintains that toying with God for magical relief violates the importance of faith. To seek spectacular, wondrous acts is to appeal to “do it yourself” magic and quick fix gimmicks. Finally, by refusing to seize power over the kingdoms of this world, Jesus rejects the dream of a messianic kingship and a new kingdom of bricks, mortar, blood and conquest. So on the one hand, the story of the temptation tells us that Jesus was both human and divine.
          On the other hand, the story tells us something else. It tells us that in Jesus Christ God has entered into the heart of the matter. He has entered into that place where there is the struggle in our hearts between choice and fatalism, where there is the tension between doing things  homeocentrically or theocentrically – man and woman centered or God centered. By being tempted and refusing, Jesus breaks the power of the Tempter. You and I are not doomed always to choose bread over the word of God, to choose the material over the spiritual. By God’s acting in Jesus, the spell is broken. The power of the extravagant exhibitionism of narcissism is stifled. It is by resisting the earthly crown of control, the desire to make small kingdoms in life and big kingdoms in the world, that the influence and appeal of earthly power is diminished and shown to be hollow.       
          The story of the temptation of Christ in the end shows us a God who speaks to the heart of the matter, to the heart of our hearts, and reveals Himself as one who enters right into the area where things are determined to be done and left undone. The story foreshadows the Passion and Resurrection narratives. Here we see Christ’ victory over self-centeredness (being homeocentric,) over materialism, over grandiosity, over narcissism and over the seductive power of control. Having defeated those temptations, Christ achieved victory for you and me over the stifling power of the temptations of self-centeredness, materialism, grandiosity and control. This story is a prelude. Later in the gospel story Jesus by His death and resurrection will break the grip of and emerge victorious over sin, evil and death.
          This lent do not despair. Do not feel captive to the temptations of self-centeredness, materialism, grandiosity and control. Their grip has been broken. You and I are called to work with God, valuing things spiritual as well as earthly, engaging in dreams and visions without tempting or mocking God, and enjoying the freedom found in being loved and in loving. In Christ you and I are offered the liberty of feeling safe and assured of meaning and purpose in the cosmos, in the world, in life and in our lives. This Lent be both honest with yourself and thorough in your self-examination. At the same time, relax. Like the old ladies in the chapel at Courtland Gardens, push your temptations to the past and sing, “You came. I was alone. I should have known. You were temptation.” The difference is, of course that you are not alone. Your old battles with temptation have already been won by Jesus Christ. Reach out and take God’s hand. Better yet, reach out and allow God to take your hand. Amen. – Fr. Gage-