Monday, January 3, 2022

2 January 2022 -- 2nd Sunday after Christmas Day


Trinity, Iowa City – 2:00 pm 

Revelation 7.9-17 | Psalm 130 | 1 Corinthians 15.20-26 | John 14.1-6 

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. [John 14:2 AV] 

I knew that this was one of Tom’ s favorite passages in the Authorized Version. Or maybe I was just imagining this scene: “Tom, Welcome to heaven!” “Thanks. Which one is my mansion?” 

But of course that’s silly! 

Actually, the Authorized Version is not quite right in the translation “mansions.” The Greek(*) is a simple word that has the general meaning of “dwelling,” “room,” “abode,” “home” – and so what Jesus is saying here is basically “In my Father’s realm there’s a place for everyone.” And that’s good news! And whatever our image of heaven may be, the one most important thing to say and to believe is that we shall be with the Lord. 

Like most of us, Tom began his ordained ministry as a parish priest. That was before I knew him, although some of you may remember. But a parish is not the only way to minister in Christ’s name (though not always overtly!), and Tom acquired additional skills in pastoral care (though that’s not what the University of Iowa calls it!) and he served for many years beyond the formal church organization in Child Health for the State of Iowa. But as he began that ministry the church organization remained important to him, and he also returned to this his home parish as a Priest Associate. (That’s also a good ministry: you get to do what you like to do, maybe even are good at, but don’t have to go to vestry meetings!) And then beyond ministry in this parish were the manifold opportunities to serve as a guest or supply priest in congregations large and small around much of the Diocese of Iowa. And some of you know and remember his ministry in your parishes well. 

At the heart of the ministry of the priesthood there are I think two things: Proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ and teaching faith in him; and celebrating the Sacraments of God’s grace. I suspect we have all had the experience of sitting in church in worship and hearing the Scriptures read, and saying to ourselves, “I wonder what that was all about!” One of the blessings Tom often shared with us was to introduce the Scripture readings by setting some historical or theological context, so that when the passage was then read, we were able to say, “Oh, that’s what that was all about!” One of Tom’s gifts to this parish and to many parishes throughout the Diocese! 

Tom was a very dear friend of mine and mentor during the many many years we shared as Priests Associate in this parish. Wendy and I will miss him immensely, but in full confidence that in due course we shall see him again with the Lord. “Well done, thou good and faithful servant! That’s your mansion right over there…!” 

And now, O Lord, have mercy upon us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 (*) pl monai, sg monĂª

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

26 February 2020 - Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday  — 26 February 2020
Trinity – 7:00 am & 12:15 pm
Joel 2:1-2,12-17    |  Psalm 103:8-14  | 
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10  |  Matthew 6:1-6,16-21
In just a few minutes we will begin the distinctive Ash Wednesday part of the Liturgy, with the invitation “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”  [BCP page 265]  

Repentance.  Obviously, traditionally, a major theme of the season of Lent.  What runs through your mind when you hear the word “repent”?  Maybe it’s a New Yorker cartoon with a rough bearded man in a dirty tunic striding down the street with a sign that reads “The End Is Nigh!”  (Yeah, well, that’s pretty silly.)  (Which doesn’t mean it might not be true!)  Or perhaps an old fire-and-brimstone preacher shouting, “Repent, you sinners!”  Or maybe, closer to our reality, Jesus at the beginning of St. Mark’s Gospel, fresh from his sojourn with the Devil in the wilderness, proclaiming, “Repent, and believe the good news!”  [Mark 1:15]  

Okay, what does Jesus mean by “repent”?  Let’s face it, for a lot of us, at least, and some of the time, at least, “repentance” involves beating our breasts, moaning and groaning about what miserable sinners we are, and wearing a hairshirt or sitting in dust and ashes.  And actually there’s a fair amount of that kind of stuff in Biblical and Christian history.  In fact we just heard some of it!  Jesus himself even seems to encourage it a little bit in his parable about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in the Temple.  [Luke 18:9-14]  But is this what is at the heart of what it means to repent?  Is this what Lent is about?

You already know this, because we clergy learn it in seminary and we spend the next fifty years telling it to you over and over:  The word in the New Testament that we normally translate into English as “repentance” is the Greek word metanoia.  And the basic meaning of metanoia is “to change your mind.”  Well, that’s simple enough.  Most of us change our minds all the time.  I say, “I think I’ll go over to McDonald’s for lunch,” and then on the way I say, “No, I’ve changed my mind, I’ll think I’ll go to Burger King instead.”  

Metanoia is about a lot more than that.  

In Greek the preposition meta- has a whole lot of meanings, depending on context.  In this context we usually say it has the sense of “change,” although I’ll come back to that shortly.  -Noia is derived from the Greek word nous, which means “mind,” more or less.  Thus a metanoia is a “change of mind.”  Yeah, but…  Nous, “mind,” has to do with a lot more than just whatever fluff is floating around in our heads at the moment.  It has to do with perception, with understanding at a deep level, both intellectual and intuitive.  It is at the level of nous that we deal with our most profound understandings and commitments about who we are and what our relationships are to other people and to the world.  And the meta- in metanoia is not just “change,” but, like as we use the word “meta” in other contexts, it means taking our most profound understandings and commitments to a whole new level.  A meta-noia  is a whole new way, a whole new dimension, of thinking and perceiving and understanding and being.  To repent is to become, by God’s grace, as St. Paul puts it, a new creation.  [2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15]  

So we will shortly be invited to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance.  “Self-examination” may of course call to mind making your list of sins to take to confession – “I yelled at the kids three times, I said ‘goddammit’ seven times…” – and of course “repentance” includes being sorry and trying to stop doing things like that!  But just as “repentance” means a lot more than groveling about our flaws but as metanoia involves raising our thinking and perception and understanding of ourselves and our world and ourselves in God’s world to a whole new level, so “self-examination” involves an honest assessment of who we think and perceive and understand we are, how we are in relation to other people, what place we claim in the world, and to what extent we recognize the world as God’s world.  And for this, prayer and the prayerful reading of and meditating on God’s holy Word are essential.

May you, and I, and all of us, have a holy Lent!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

30 May 2019 -- Ascension Day

Ascension Day  — 30 May 2019
Trinity – 12:15 pm

Acts 1:1-11  |  Psalm 93  |  Ephesians 1:15-23  |  Luke 24:44-53

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.  [Ephesians 1:20-21]

In the Nicene Creed, which we shall say in a few minutes, we profess:  “On the third day [Christ] rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and in seated at the right hand of the Father.”  It’s not clear how strictly literally we are to take that.  “The right hand of the Father” is clearly metaphorical.  (God the Father does not literally have a right hand.  Or a left, either!)  

But that the risen Christ now reigns in heaven with God – well, even there we are flirting with the boundaries between the literal and the metaphorical.  (I was recently reading a piece by our old friend and former fellow-parishioner, Professor/Father Thomas Williams, in which he talks about our God-language as often metaphorical, and literal only by way of analogy.)

But, however we understand it, that the risen Christ now reigns in heaven with God is a core belief that runs throughout the New Testament.  (“Risen,” “reigns,” “heaven,” and even “God” are all words that we could spend all afternoon unpacking.  But, as Arya says, “Not today.”)  In his final discourse to his disciples in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus tells them that he is going to his Father to prepare a place for them, and in his meeting with Mary Magdalen on Easter morning he tells her that he must ascend to the Father.  St. Paul tells the Romans, “It is Christ Jesus who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.” [8:34]  In the letter to the Philippians Paul quotes from an early hymn:  “Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name.”  [2:9]  In the letter to the Colossians we hear – and will hear again in a few minutes if I remember! – the Easter summons, “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the thinks that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”  [3:1]  The First Letter of Peter speaks of Jesus Christ, “who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God.”  [3:22]  The author of the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of Christ, who “when he had made purification for sins…sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” [1:3]  He goes on to write about how Christ “entered into heaven itself, now to appear before the presence of God on our behalf.”  [9:24]  And of course a few minutes ago we heard in the Letter to the Ephesians, “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,” [1:20] 

What we refer to as “The Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ” is obviously central to our Christian faith right from the first generation of believers in the first century.  And yet this fundamental reality is recounted as an event only once in the New Testament.  Well, twice.  But by the same writer,  (St. Luke.)  And you will have noticed in the readings today (I hope!), Luke doesn’t tell it quite the same way.  And, we might note, he is writing two to three generations later, for whatever that’s worth.

So what are we to make of that?  Well, I’m not really sure.  I hope when I get to heaven I can look up St. Luke and ask him, “Hey, what’s this with these two narratives – narrative stories which nobody else tells?  And they’re not the same!  What’s with that?”  To which Luke may respond, “I am so tired of everybody asking me this question!  I should just post something on Facebook!”  I could go on at length about what Luke may be up to with his use of the literary forms of “gospel” and “Hellenistic historiography.”  But, again, as Arya says, “Not today.”

The meaning of Ascension Day is best summed up, I think, in the Collect for today:  “Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things:  Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages.”  Jesus had to leave 1st-century Judea so that he might be present in 21st-century Iowa – and everywhere and everywhen else – now!  Or, as Jesus himself says to his disciples at the conclusion of St. Matthew’s Gospel:  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  [28:18-20]

Friday, April 19, 2019

19 April 2019 - Good Friday

Good Friday  — 19 April 2019
Trinity – 12:15 pm

Isaiah 52:13-53:12  |  Psalm 22  |  Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9  |  John 18:1-19:42

Pilate asked them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but the emperor."  [John 19:15b]

As you may be aware, especially if you have been wandering around in the Books of Judges, Samuel, and Kings (and haven’t we all?!), Israel always had a problem with kings.  In the first generations after the deliverance from slavery in Egypt and the entry into the Promised Land, there was no central rule among the Israelite tribes.  Sometimes a charismatic leader would arise to repel outside oppression, but that was not a long-term solution, and eventually there arose a desire for a single national king.  The prophet Samuel said, “That’s a bad idea – the Lord God is your king.”  The people said, “Yeah, but we want one anyway, like all the other nations,” and so God and Samuel relented and gave them a king, Saul.  Well, that didn’t work out very well.  So they tried again, this time with David, and that worked out a little better, though probably not as well as they recalled it in retrospect.  David was succeeded by his son Solomon, who was remembered for being very wise, for reasons not very well supported by actual history.  And then the kingdom split up into two, each with their own king, a few of whom were pretty good but most of whom were not (you remember Ahab and his queen, Jezebel.  Lovely couple!).  And then first the Assyrians, and subsequently the Babylonians, put an end to the whole Israelite King business.  Eventually the Jews put together a kingdom of sorts following the successful revolt of the Maccabees against the Greek empire, but that really didn’t work out very well, and ended up with the sort-of-Jewish Herod (“Herod the Great,” at least that’s what it said on his baseball caps), installed by the Romans as “King of the Jews.”  And we know how that worked out.

For people of faith, God is King.  Period.  The prophet Samuel tried to tell us three thousand years ago, and we didn’t believe him then.  We still don’t.

Actually, I think Pontius Pilate rather enjoyed the notion of this Jesus of Nazareth being King of the Jews.  (“Shall I crucify your King?  You bet – just watch me!”)  He had a sign made for Jesus’ cross, and according to St. John’s Gospel it was in three languages, to make sure that nobody would miss the point.  The high priests whined to him, “Don’t say that!  Say ‘This guy claimed to be King of the Jews’!”  To which Pilate replied, “Yeah, well, get over it.  This is what Rome thinks of your ‘King of the Jews’.”

“We have no king but Caesar.”  (That’s what the text actually says; it refers to “the Roman emperor” of course, but Tiberius was a member of ol’ Julius Caesar’s extended family, the stepson and adopted son of Octavius Caesar Augustus, and Tiberius still used the family cognomen.  But by the end of the century when John’s Gospel was being written, Julius’ family dynasty was long gone and “Caesar” had become an imperial title, no longer a familial proper name.)

“We have no king but Caesar.”  This wasn’t just about the high priests.  It’s about us.  We still have a problem with it.  The Church has had a problem with it through most of our history, and we still do today, as you will have noted if you have read a newspaper or watched the TV lately.  We are confronted with the same choice, the ultimate choice – a choice we must make, a choice we are making every day of our lives:  Who is to be our King?  Caesar, or Jesus?  our own world, or the kingdom of God?  Wealth and power, or justice and love?  Death, or life?