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

Sunday, July 10, 2016

so many things to think about

Again from Father Gage:

Luke 10:25-37
          Two weeks ago I talked about “sentences”, moving ahead in our Christian faith. Last week I talked abut “rewards.” This week I want to talk about mercy and power.
          In today’s Gospel passage from Luke, Jesus tells the story of the man who had fallen among thieves and was helped by a Samaritan. The story of the Good Samaritan has found its way into our culture. Hospitals are named “The Good Samaritan Hospital.” Usually such a hospital has as part of its mission medical help to the less fortunate. We also have “Good Samaritan” laws, some of which went into effect following the Kitty Genovese murder in New York City in which the cries of the young woman were ignored. Now it is a crime to walk by certain instances of obvious distress. In various states there are cars or trucks that patrol the highways looking to give help to those whose car has broken down or who have been in an accident. Those emergency vehicles are called “Good Samaritan” trucks.
          So this passage has been used over the years to encourage the helping of others, charitable acts and good deeds.
          It has also been used to beat up on the clergy and the pious. Adherences to liturgical niceties, ritual proprieties and things religious have been pillared in the stock of hypocrisy. So too those who have been Bible thumpers and strict adherents to the Law and the prophets (the Levites) have been disparaged.
          This passage has also been used to ridicule lawyers.
          Indeed, it is a fascinating story. As we noted two weeks ago, there was great enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Samaritans broke away from Israel following the divisions under the kings who succeeded Solomon. The Samaritans kept the Law but rejected the prophets. Their holy city was not Jerusalem. So the story is set in the context of divisions, conflicting tribes and enmity.
          As He was traveling, a lawyer asks Jesus what one must do to inherit eternal life (in effect be saved). The lawyer is “testing” Jesus. Jesus asks the lawyer what is written in the Law. He answers from Deuteronomy, “thou shall love the Lord your God…. and your neighbor….” “So do it!” Jesus replies. But the Lawyer works in New York and replies, “Who is my neighbor?” 
          Jesus replies by telling the story of The Good Samaritan. At the end of the story Jesus asks, who was the “neighbor” to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer answers, “the one who showed mercy.” “Go and do likewise,” Jesus replies.
          You probably have your own Good Samaritan stories, but I am going to tell you my favorite one. My father-in-law, Paul, was a gnarly old Irishman who had grown up in Hartford in the early twentieth century. He used to deliver milk from horseback as a boy. Later he worked in insurance for “the two Hartfords.” He could remember when factories posted signs in their windows, “Irish need not apply.” Paul was a good Democrat, Irishman and Catholic. Much to the chagrin of his wife and daughters, Paul was also intolerant of Blacks. He hired Blacks, worked with Blacks and had Black friends. Even so, sadly he was a bigot. Because of hard living Paul suffered from emphysema and much of his latter years were spent battling lung infections.
          Well, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Paul decided he needed a widget. So he drove out to Sears at Corbin’s Corners in West Hartford. On the way back his old Thunderbird stalled and died. Paul got out and tinkered under the hood, getting soaked. Nothing worked. So he got back in the car. Another car pulled up behind him. A big Black man came up to Paul’s window and said, “Can I help you?” “Car won’t start,” Paul said. “Pop the hood,” replied the Black. They both fiddled with the carburetor. Nothing worked. “You are soaked,” said the Black. “Get in my car.” Reluctantly Paul got in the man’s car. “I’ll take you up to the gas station and arrange for someone to come back and get your car,” volunteered the stranger. After they did that, the Black said, “You are shivering. Wrap this blanket around you. Where do you live? I’ll take you home.”
Meanwhile, back at the homestead, my mother-in-law and her daughters worried where my father-in-law was. Suddenly there was a knock on the door. They opened it. Standing there was a tall Black man holding my father-in-law in his arms. “This man is very sick,” he said. The Black came in, deposited Paul in a rocking chair, and said, “His car stalled. He should go right to bed.” “Its upstairs,” my mother-in-law said. He picked up Paul, carried him upstairs, dumped in his bed, came back down, and left.
Ten days later the man called and asked if Paul was all right! My mother-in-law never got the name of this “good Samaritan” stranger. Paul never again said a prejudice word against Blacks.
Some Early Church Fathers in their interpretation of the story of The Good Samaritan suggest that the man who fell among thieves was the Church and the Good Samaritan, the one who showed mercy, was Jesus. Perhaps they were right. Of course the story encourages charity and good works. Of course it judges the religious who are too caught up in the structures of liturgy and purity. Of course it skewers the lawyers and theologians who get lost in logical acrobatics and distinctions. But I think the Patristic fathers were right when they identified the outcast and despised one who shows mercy as having the presence of Christ. For it is from Christ that you and I know real mercy and derive the power to do good things and to witness in the world. We do see Christ in all persons. It is His mercy and power that transcends all of the divisions and distinctions that separate us from one another: age, race, money, and education. It transcends the differences between immigrant and citizen, Baptist and Roman Catholic, Muslim and Hindu, Shiite and Sunni, Christian and Jew.
It is Christ who stands at the door, holding the poor and the hungry, the forsaken and the despairing, the sinner and the lost and says, “This man is very sick.”
It is Christ who gives His body and blood to us in the Eucharist and whose mercy and compassion enable us to live in Him and He in us so that we can do His will.
Brothers and sisters, it is our unity in Christ’s mercy that gives us the power to do acts of hospitality and courage and to aid and anoint those whom Christ holds in His arms.
It is Christ who stands at the door and calls us not only to proclaim but also to embrace the Gospel. To embody the mercy and power of Christ has always been our calling as Christians, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
          Today’s Collect summarizes our heartfelt prayer during this Pentecost season. O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have the grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. BCP p.231  -Fr. Gage-

how we struggle

that black fog,
has been hanging around my life again.
It can not touch me,
but it can bring me down.
What i was not aware of,
was how easy it was to dispel!,
It wishes you to give up,
to run for a corner
and curl up into a ball.
It is then that it wins,
but i would not have it so...
little actions,
cleaning here,
cooking there,
i shrug
and that heaviness falls off.
Light dispels dark,
it has always been so.
I look around,
so many struggles,
so much despair.
I know that there are other answers,
i just won't look at the waves.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Not many read these "church" posts, but they inspire me

The last sermon brought me to tears,
for it showed compassion and peace,
this sermon literally blew me away...
again because compassion is the Key...

Luke 7:11-17
          Over by the Noroton Heights train station in Darien, there is a side street where one of the householders often changes the flowers and plants in his front yard. Around the time of Memorial Day he has a dazzling display of poppies – resplendent in their orange/redness. They are in straight rows, side by side. In front of each row he puts a sign that reads, “In Flanders’ Fields the poppies grow, row upon row upon row.” It is a literary reference to the poem In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, which commemorates the thousands of young men mowed down by the guns and artillery of World War I. Each time I pass the rows of poppies, I have to advert my eyes to keep from crying. For my parents WWI was THE WAR, not WWII. WWI scared them as no other conflict. They personally saw and knew the boys who were sent off with a boisterous song  to be massacred in senseless war.
          Is there not a mother who would not give her very soul to bring back the life of her dead son? Is there not a father who would not gladly give his life to bring back his lost son? Do we not all wish for the resuscitation of a lost one – a parent, a child, a sibling or s spouse?
          Some time ago, I finished my work at my desk and flicked on the TV to watch a movie. It was late and I caught one of those films that are only shown in the wee hours. My black lab was seated comfortably in my lap and interrupted my concentration occasionally by a well-developed snore. I watched a movie called “Resurrection.” It starred Ellen Burstyn and Sam Shepard. In the movie Ellen Burstyn is killed in an accident, has a near death experience and is resuscitated, or comes back to life. Subsequently she is healed and discovers that she has the power to heal others. This proves successful about 70% of the time. Conflicts arise with her notoriety and the various attempts to attribute her power to heal and resuscitate to various causes. The result is that the blessing of her power becomes a curse and creates deep personal and emotional problems for her. Hence she becomes a recluse and lives a private and solitary life. One day a car stops in front of her house because of engine trouble. The driver asks to use the phone and Ellen discovers that the family has a child who is severely handicapped. Moved to compassion, she lays her healing touch upon the youth, who responds. What fascinated me about the movie was the inner turmoil of the character that Ellen Burstyn portrayed. I found the movie moving and profound. The critics didn’t (neither did my black lab.).
          There is a near atavistic desire and fascination with the power of healing and the power of resuscitation. Throughout history, in all cultures, there have always been those who have had the power to heal and to restore life. We have an atavistic urge for healing and the restoration of life. Now days most of that takes place within the realms of the medical profession. Patients are resuscitated every day in hospitals throughout the world. People are given new life. My brother was given a new aorta heart valve. One of my friends was given a new kidney. But there is still healing and the giving of new life within the realms that are far afield from your local hospital or doctor. These are rare instances and often seemingly unexplainable.
          Indeed, in the Old Testament both Elijah and Elisha not only heal, but also restore the life of someone who has died. As a result they are seen as true men of God, true prophets. Moreover, in today’s gospel passage from Luke, Jesus restores the life of the son of the widow of Nain. Up to this point much of His ministry has included healing as well as preaching. (Last Sunday we had the story of the healing of the centurion’s slave.) Today’s story goes beyond healing to that of resuscitation. Jesus has compassion upon the plight of the widow. Without a son to support her she is condemned to life of poverty. This is a major tragedy in regards to her well-being and future. Jesus takes pity upon her and raises her son. What is of note here is that unlike many of the other healing acts of Jesus, there is no reference to the faith, or lack of, of the recipient of the miraculous act. By this act, Jesus places Himself in the direct line of the prophets, particularly Elijah and Elisha. This is important, because they are seen as the fore runners of the coming messiah.
          Soon John the Baptist will be arrested and imprisoned. He will send a messenger to Jesus to inquire whether or not Jesus is the messiah. Jesus doesn’t reply, “Yup.” Or “You got it.” Nor even, “Yes.” Rather He says, “Tell John that the blind see, the lame walk and the dead are raised.” In other words, the messianic expectations set forth in Elijah and Elisha are fulfilled. Jesus is not giving simply a verbal assent; rather he is citing concrete incidents as proof of His messiahship.
          The result is that the resuscitation of the son of the widow of Nain foreshadows the inquiry of John regarding the identity of Jesus as the Messiah. It also foreshadows Jesus’ physical return from death and His resurrection.
          Throughout the New Testament there are four major themes: repentance, renewal, resuscitation and resurrection. John the Baptist presents a message of repentance and renewal. Jesus goes beyond John and presents a message of resuscitation (new life) and resurrection (eternal life). Obviously there are other themes and motifs within the New Testament. But I think these are the dominant ones.
          Today’s passage focuses on the theme of resuscitation (new life). Scholars wax eloquent about compassion of Jesus in this passage, but it does not strike me as showing Jesus’ compassion any more than many other passages in the gospels. Rather, I think the blatant image that practically screams at us is “new life.” The act of the resuscitation by Jesus of the son is important in and of itself, but it yields itself as a metaphor of what happens to those who are touched by Jesus, or who Jesus is. In Him is life. The disciples find new life in Jesus. The apostles and the early Church experience new life in Jesus (initially through the Pentecost experience of the Holy Spirit). Christians are called not only to repent and to be renewed but also to have new life – life that is totally different from life without the presence of Jesus in their lives and their presence in the life of Jesus (He lives in us and we in Him, as we say in the liturgy).
          So the function of the Christian is to look for and to bring new life to those around him/her. Secularly that can be done through teaching, through medicine, through charity, through sharing one’s faith and through simple, godly presence. Sharing one’s faith, overtly or inadvertently, is the role and obligation of the Christian. We all know the hymn, “I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love.….” We do this when we take a stand for what is right. We do this when we commit ourselves to the life and work of the Church. We do this through our tithing, our piety and our charity. Over and over again you and I are given opportunities to bring new life into the lives of our family and our friends.
          As a parish our task is not simply to survive. It is to bring resuscitation, new life, to this parish and to our community. That takes imagination, dedication, co-operation and just plain hard work.  You and I as Christians do make a difference in the lives of others and in the world.
          In closing, let me tell you a story. In 1989 I was working as a chaplain assistant in the CPE program at Stamford Hospital. One night I was called up to the third floor to be with a family whose ten-year-old daughter had suffered pulmonary complications. I don’t know what she had, but I think it was cystic fibrosis (whatever that is). The doctors and nurses were gathered around the bed of the girl and working furiously on her. The mother sat in a corner weeping and the father stood in the doorway absolutely beside himself. The father was taller than I and was a state trooper. He wore his side arm. I tried to keep out of the way and not impede what was going on. Finally the doctors and nurses drew back and said, “She’s gone.” The mother sobbed uncontrollably. The father grabbed me by the arm and thrust me towards his daughter. “Go in there and pray for her.” Since he had a small canon on his belt and was visibly upset, that seemed like a good idea. I went over, laid my hands on her head and prayed for her, much as I do each Sunday for many of you. My heart was broken for the family and for the loss of a girl so young. I then repeated the Lord’s Prayer and took the father by the arm and marched him down to the end of the hall, just to get him out of the room and to try to bring the overall anxiety level down. I said to him, “Now you and I are going to pray.” Just then a nurse appeared in the doorway and said, “My God. She’s alive!” The father bolted down the hall and I sat down for a while.
          The next day I went down to the supervising chaplain’s office and said to him, “I’ve got a problem.” “You always do.” He replied. “This is different,” I said. “A young girl died last night and I prayed for her and she came back to life.” He looked at me and said, “Well, what did you expect?” “I expected her to be dead.” “Well, perhaps you ought to rethink that,” he said. He then turned and left.
          I decided then and there that things were too complicated for me as it was and not to push things nor exploit them. Nevertheless, over the years I have felt it important to include prayers for healing and anointing when possible after a service. I have been careful to keep myself out of the process and to focus on the prayers and upon the recipient. Has it made a difference? I think so. But I have done it because I think it is the right thing to do. I have rethought my experience and I think that you and I are called as Christians to pray for new life in the lives of ourselves and in others:  be it new life from dead dreams, dead emotions, dead thoughts, or s dead faith. Daily, as Christians, you and I are asked to witness to and to live out the compassion of Jesus Christ in our relationships with others.

          Through Jesus Christ you and I are given new life. Let us always and everywhere share that life. Thanks be to God. Amen. – Fr. Gage- 

here i am singing my struggles again

i called it out,
this adventure of mine.
It is not over,
nearly eight years,
it has been...
The aches and pains and wobbles,
caused something that caused me to live a bit longer.
i sometimes get down
and want to give up,
but something inside says go on.
The tests came back negative,
and i am sure they are,
this is  what i face now,
with this song in my head.
Life i have been given
and i shall not squander it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Day Lilly

Here for but a day 

or a bit less. 
By noon she will be gone,
But so beautiful while she reigns.

Sharing church...and life

I love the priest at our church (St Andrew's Episcopal church in Stamford, CT).
He speaks of his life - in reference to the scriptures of the day...
This is important for our lives should show those things we read - every day and his life is one testimony...i share this and will share still at least one more because of their depth.

Luke 7:36-50
          Men love long hair. It is one of the basic differences between men and women. There is a microchip embedded in the male brain that attracts men to women with long hair. When I was courting my wife, she had long auburn hair that reached down to her waist. It was gorgeous, chestnut hued. After we got married she complained about how hard it was to take care of, so she went to the hair dresser and had it chopped off. She brought it home in a grocery bag and said, "Here. You like it. You can have it. I've got to go to work." My Irish colleen had made her point. Gorgeous hair was not high on her list of priorities. Even so, there is something luxurious and sensuous about long hair. It is a woman's crown and her glory.
          How startled the onlookers at the Pharisee's house must have been to see a woman in the crowd, who had been weeping, kneel and wipe away her tears from Jesus' feet with her hair. You can almost see her. Of course her hair must have been dark, and it must have been really long and straight, possibly with a little wave. This was an incredibly sensuous, personal and bold act. Moreover she kissed his feet and pulling out her own vial of oil anointed them. Had she no compunctions? Was she without shame? The host wondered what kind of man he had invited to his house. He thought he had invited a prophet. But Jesus could not have been a prophet because he didn't foresee or recognize that this woman was not respectable. She was a bad woman. She hadn't played by the rules.
          Jesus noted that the Pharisee hadn't played by the rules, either. The host had kept Jesus "in his place" by neither greeting Jesus with the kiss of peace, nor providing for His feet to be bathed, nor providing oil for anointing His head. These little lapses of hospitality told a big story - a story of judgment, diffidence, condescension and haughtiness.  The woman had sinned much and therefore need much love and forgiveness. Her repentance and humility were genuine. She recognized the grace filled presence of God in Jesus. Dropping  pretense, shame and propriety she allowed herself to let herself go and accept the compassion and forgiveness of God which was incarnate in Jesus Christ.
          Is this an old tale? It speaks of the brittleness of mores and folkways, the habits and rules of our lives. It shames us for our detachment, for our holding onto our Pharisaic rules. And it points to God's incredible love and forgiveness. Is it an old, once-told tale fit for a Sunday School lesson and devoid of reality and the real world? Or does the Church constantly relive it through its ministry and the sacraments?
          Let me tell you a true story. My friend Maggie had gorgeous hair. A real lioness, it was her mane. She lived well, smoked like a smokestack, drank like a sailor and worked like a horse. All the clichŽs fit. Although never married, she loved men. She also loved her cousins and her cats. Time was harsh to Maggie. Her hair got coarse and gray, her face lined and her teeth yellowed. She put on a couple of stones of weight, still drank and smoked. Her antics and her family were known about town. She was tolerated in a pursed lips sort of way.
          Maggie got sick. Really sick. Her lungs went. She was in and out of the hospital. Her friend, the old priest, brought her communion and gossiped with her. She could get up and move around, but not much. What was stricking was that she was as bald as a cue ball. The treatments did that. Maggie was a little embarrassed about her lack of hair, but the old priest would greet her daily with, "Maggie, my dear, how I love big bald headed women." Then they would both laugh. She would cough, and he would wheeze.
          One evening just as she emerged from the shower, the old priest  stepped into her room. There he was in his clericals and she in a towel. The nurse at the desk, who observed this said, "It was the strangest thing. They froze, locked eyes and carried on a conversation for five minutes. He was seventy-five and had seen it all. She was old, sick and it didn't matter." What happened was that as they stood face to face, Maggie told the priest that she had been a sinner all her life and had done countless things which she regretted. She regretted them deeply and she desperately needed forgiveness and absolution. The old priest heard her confession, and then doing that for which he was commissioned and ordained, gave not his absolution but the Church's. It was the same forgiveness and absolution that Christ gave centuries ago. The old priest put his hand on Maggie's head, then anointed her forehead and kissed it. He turned and went down the hall. Maggie slipped on her gown and got into bed.
          Two days later Maggie died of a heart attack. When the nurse called to tell the old priest of Maggie's death, he sat at his desk, thumbed his breviary and wept.
          You and I live in an imperfect world of rules and habits, mores and folkways. We do the best we can to figure out the rules and to play by them. Sometimes they are legion, and sometimes they are amorphous. But none of us leaves this life blameless. What we crave deep down is love - that plain old compassion and forgiveness that we call love. Because it is so easy to hide behind the routines, demands, and rules of the day, it is easy to clothe ourselves in the material and extraneous rags of life. St. Luke's Gospel message on this forth Sunday in Pentecost reminds us of our fragility, frailty, fallibility and sinfulness. It points to a compassionate God, who at the center of existence embodies what we need most, love. That is what the Church offers. That is what Jesus offered. That is why you and I come to the altar Sunday after Sunday. Clothed in our nakedness, our hair garlanded with hope, we come to kneel. We lift up our hands and hearts to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ - the forgiveness and love of God.
          Christ offered forgiveness and love to the woman at the Pharisee's house.
          That is what the old priest offered Maggie.
          It is that forgiveness and love of Christ that you and I, the Church,  receive in the sacraments, share with one another and carry out into the world through our actions and lives.  May God forgive us. May God help us. Amen. – Fr. Gage -

awake early

oh, not that early,
but my typical early, 6 AM.
The sun is already up
and i am enjoying,
the sounds of the birds and squirrels,
and other creatures of the day,
squabbling, fighting, arguing
over territory
or a bit of favorite food
or whatnot.
My brain always works best in the morning.
I think clearly,
do complex math in my head,
but i know it won't last till noon.
I am good with that.
Now, my body,
rejuvenated from a nights sleep,
is NOT cooperating.
There are pains and aches,
and other such nonsense,
that make me feel,
well, terrible.
I get up anyway.
Waiting for blood work,
The doctor gave one of three scenarios,
none of which are serious
and i understand and continue on,
but my exercise,
which had been vigorous,
is limited
and that is not good for me.
so i wait and ponder
and do what i can...
This is NOT going to bring me down.