Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Funeral Sermon for Mrs. Bertha Young

Funeral Sermon for Mrs. Bertha Young
St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
October 24, 2007

Isaiah 6:1-3
Revelation: 9-17
John 14:1-6

An Oak of Righteousness

Right around the time that my wife Sue and I started to come to church here at St. Paul’s my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer and died a few weeks later. As it turned out, her illness mostly took place during Christmas vacation so I had the chance to spend more time with her than I had since I was a little kid.

During those days in Christ Hospital we talked about lots of things. She reminisced about her life – the happy times and the not so happy. She pretended that everything was pretty normal, but she knew that her life was drawing to a close. At one point she looked at me very seriously and said, “I know where I’ve come from and I know where I am going.” “I know where I’ve come from and I know where I am going.”

After she died I remembered those words and I got to wondering if I would be able to say the same thing when my life draws to a close. Could I have that same kind of confidence that I had lived my life as well and as fully as I could? Could I have the same confidence that death is not the end? Could I have the same confidence that Jesus had gone ahead to prepare a place for me and that I would be with Jesus forever? To be honest, I was more like the apostle Thomas in today’s gospel asking, “How can we know the way?”

Well, as soon as I met Bertha she reminded me in many ways of my grandmother. Both of them were strong, faithful women who knew the way. They knew how to live. Bertha lived her life as well and as fully as she could. Bertha was deeply proud of - and fiercely protective - of her family. Bertha dearly loved and sorely missed her late husband Bill. Bertha lived her life with zest and a whole lot of confidence. As Belinda said to me just a few days ago, “She was the boss to the end.” In the words of the prophet Isaiah, she was an “oak of righteousness.” I like that Isaiah’s image of the oak – solid, not easily bent or broken. The oak of righteousness that displays the glory of God.

Over the past months visiting “the boss” in the hospital or sitting on the porch in Jersey City or talking on the phone she was always very brave and boasted that she felt fine. Bertha was always quick to change the subject to what was going on with me or Sue or the church. She reflected back on her life, expressed no regrets and seemed ready to face whatever the future would bring. I’m sure there was some fear there too – but she wasn’t about to let me see that.

And so again I found myself wondering, would I face the end of my life with the same kind of confidence and peace. Would I reflect on my life and feel all in all I had done the best I had? That I had lived the kind of life I was supposed to live?

And, really, these are the questions for all of us today. Bertha has completed her journey. Bertha has completed the journey that began in God’s imagination and now has ended back with God forever. Bertha, our oak of righteousness, is home again.

But you and I, we’re not home yet. We’re still on our journey. How will our journey end? Will we face the end of our lives with the same kind of confidence and peace that Bertha knew? Or will we be filled with doubts and regrets? What will it take for us to live the best lives that we can?

Only we can answer those questions. We can look to Bertha as an example, as a role model. We can look to Bertha as someone who knew the way. If we open our hearts to God we can be like Bertha and love our families and friends deeply, fiercely. We can be dedicated to our church – especially to this church - to our community. We can live life with zest and joy. We can laugh easily and love deeply. We can place our trust in Jesus who has gone ahead to prepare a place for us.

It’s not too late for us, there’s still a ways to go on our journey. So let’s all honor Bertha by remembering her, but more importantly, by following her example. She wasn’t perfect and we’re not perfect. But, today let us pray that we can be like Bertha. Let us pray that we can live lives of love and service. Let us pray that we can be oaks of righteousness, displaying the glory of God.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Ignatius of Loyola: A Spirituality for Our Time

The Messenger
Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
October 2007

Ignatius of Loyola: A Spirituality for Our Time

One of the goals for my first few weeks at Grace was to be present for as many events as possible so that I could get a sense of the life and ministry of our church and to meet as many parishioners as I could. After three wonderful, busy weeks I can tell you in all sincerity – there is a lot going on at Grace Church! I have been so impressed and moved by the deep and costly commitment that many of you make to the ministries, committees and activities of this vibrant church. Whether we’re enjoying the Men’s Breakfast at the Bagel Chateau first thing on a Friday morning, praying the Daily Office in the morning or evening quiet, offering a Sunday afternoon service at a nursing home, or throwing a great party after an ordination, it’s clear that the Kingdom of God is being built here on Madison Avenue and King’s Road.

One of the lesser-known gems of Grace Church is the contemplative prayer group led by Mary Lea Crawley that meets in the Children’s Chapel at 9:15AM on Saturday mornings. After hectic weeks of starting a new job and moving to a new place I have found this practice of centering prayer to be an enormously valuable opportunity to get back in touch with God, who so often is best found and heard in silence. Of course, it is possible to practice centering prayer on your own, but there is something powerful in being present with others who are being mindful and attentive. I hope you will consider joining us on Saturday mornings.

I especially want to invite you to an expanded edition of contemplative prayer on Saturday, October 20. From 9:15AM to 1:00PM I will offer a “quiet day,” or a mini-retreat, on the spirituality of the Sixteenth Century mystic and founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola, who is commemorated by the Episcopal Church on July 31. Some of you know that before entering seminary I taught at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, New Jersey’s lone Jesuit high school – and also my alma mater. Although I was aware of Ignatius and the basic outline of his spirituality, it was only after I had left St. Peter’s that I became increasingly interested in Ignatian Sprituality. In my last semester at seminary I wrote my thesis on how two very different Jesuit high schools attempted to put Ignatian Spirituality into practice.

I am convinced that Ignatius offers a spirituality for our times and a spirituality particularly well-suited for busy people trying to juggle work, family, church and community responsibilities. Someone has summed up Ignatian Sprituality as “a spirituality for busy people.” What exactly is Ignatian Spirituality? Pedro Arrupe, who renewed the Jesuits in the mid-20th Century, described Ignatian Spirituality as “Constantly seeking the will of God.” In short, Ignatius was concerned with discernment. He believed that we could become aware of God’s love and will by reflecting on our own everyday experience and especially through the use of our imagination. And he believed that once we became aware of God’s love and will we would experience metanoia – a change of heart that would transform our lives.

There is much more to say about Ignatius and his spirituality so I hope you will join Mary Lea and me on October 20th for a day of prayer, learning, sharing and reflection. We will have a simple breakfast available. Please let me know if you’re coming or if you have any questions or comments.