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

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

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 -
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