Sunday, May 31, 2009

"Also the Holy Ghost the Comforter"

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
May 31, 2009

Year B: The Day of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

“Also the Holy Ghost the Comforter”

One of my favorite features in The Messenger is the “Did You Know?” column. Each month Mary Lea reports on some of the interesting activities that our fellow parishioners have been up to – the awards that have been won, the children and grandchildren who have been born, and so on. Each month I always learn something new about at least one person in the parish.

Well, today is Pentecost and I thought I might try out a “Did you know?” on all of us here today. Here goes: Did you know that Pentecost is second most important feast on the church calendar – second only to Easter?

It’s true – Pentecost is a principal feast - second only to Easter in importance. So, the Church considers Pentecost a pretty big deal. On Pentecost we celebrate the “birthday of the Church” and remember the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the apostles in Jerusalem so long ago.

The account in the Acts of the Apostles paints quite a vivid picture doesn’t it? In this dramatic depiction we encounter the small group of Jesus’ timid and directionless disciples – “all together in one place.” Apparently the small group of disciples was still keeping a low profile, still fearful despite having encountered the Risen Christ.

And then something remarkable happens – Pentecost happens – God pours out the Holy Spirit on the disciples. The disciples are knocked off their feet. The timid and directionless disciples are transformed into courageous and bold witnesses for Christ. As amazing as Pentecost must have been, it must have been a little scary for the disciples too. First their lives had been upended when they encountered Jesus, now God pours out the Holy Spirit, knocks them off their feet and once again changes the direction of their lives forever.

The account of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles paints a vivid picture of a prediction and promise fulfilled. Way back, John the Baptist had predicted that Jesus would bring a baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit. And as we heard in the Gospel of John, Jesus himself promised that he would send the Holy Spirit “to guide us into all truth.” And now John the Baptist’s prediction and Jesus’ promise have both been fulfilled in Pentecost.

So, having said all that, it seems appropriate, doesn’t it, that Pentecost is the second most important feast of the church year. And today we do kick it up a notch. Lauren and I are wearing our red vestments. And the service is full of festive hymns celebrating the Holy Spirit.

But that’s about it.

Let’s face it, our celebration today – as fine as it is – pales in comparison to Easter and pales in comparison to Christmas. (Maybe we should give everyone a bookmark today?!) The attendance is nowhere near as high, and even though Pentecost is a big deal, even though the birthday of the church is a big deal, even though the pouring out of the Holy Spirit is a big deal, there just doesn’t seem to be that same sense of joy and excitement that we experience at Easter and Christmas.

Part of the problem is that here in the Northern Hemisphere we’re at the start of the summer season and in the United States we’ve passed Memorial Day so for many of us our minds are drifting from church to vacation or just outdoor activities.

But, I think the problem is deeper than just the summer weather. I think that we are a little uncomfortable with the Holy Spirit. We tend to downplay the Holy Spirit. We often treat the Holy Spirit as an afterthought.

There’s a canticle we sometimes say at Morning Prayer that is a perfect example of treating the Holy Spirit as an afterthought. And, I have to admit, it’s a canticle that always makes me smile a little.

It’s Canticle 7, called “We Praise Thee.” In beautiful Rite 1 language it lavishes much praise on God the Father and God the Son. Here’s the part that always makes me smile and illustrates how we downplay the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s right in the middle of the canticle and the only time the Holy Spirit is mentioned:

“The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee, the Father, of an infinite majesty, thine adorable, true and only Son, also the Holy Ghost the Comforter.”

I always smile at describing Jesus as “adorable” since nowadays we use “adorable” as a synonym for cute. And I smile at the one throwaway line about the Third Person of the Trinity, “Also the Holy Ghost the Comforter.”

The Holy Spirit is described as the “Comforter” but we have some discomfort with the Holy Spirit.

If we are open to it, the Holy Spirit can knock us off our feet and transform our lives just as those first disciples were knocked off their feet and their lives were transformed. And that can be scary.

But there is no reason to be afraid because if we are open to it Pentecost is not a one time event. Pentecost continues to happen to us. The Holy Spirit really is the “Comforter” The Holy Spirit knocks us off of our feet but then the Holy Sprit continues to sustain and to comfort us as we more fully live out our Christian lives.

If Pentecost were a one time event then after that amazing day described in the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples would have gone back to being their timid and directionless selves. If Pentecost were a one time event I can imagine them sitting around years later, shaking their heads sadly, saying to one another, “Remember that day when we were walking around preaching the Good News in different languages? Remember when we were so filled with the Holy Spirit that people thought we were drunk? Wow, that was a really crazy day, huh?”
And then in my imagination they all look at each other sad, disappointed and a little embarrassed that they had gotten so carried away on that amazing day in Jerusalem.

But, that’s not what happened. Pentecost is not a one-time event. Pentecost is an ongoing experience. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, the beginning of the Church, and the ongoing experience of the Church. God continued to pour out the Holy Spirit to sustain and comfort those first disciples as they lived out their lives as followers of Jesus. The Holy Spirit continued to sustain and comfort those first disciples even as most of them gave up their lives for Jesus.

If we are open to it, the Holy Spirit knocks us off our feet, transforms our lives and continues to sustain and comfort us.

Maybe you’ve experienced the Holy Spirit knocking you off your feet and then also sustaining and comforting you.

In my own life if I had to name a Pentecost moment I’d say it was when I decided I really was called to be a priest. I really felt the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. It was the most carefully and prayerfully made decision of my life.
And then after three years of seminary it was time to get a job. And nothing much seemed to be happening. There might be a part-time position, but that was about it.

I began to have doubts about the whole thing. That decision a few years back had been amazing and seemed to be Spirit-filled. I was convinced that the Holy Spirit had knocked me off my feet and changed the direction of my life. But now there was no job and Sue and I had depleted our savings. I began to wonder if it had all been a mistake. I imagined a time in the future when Sue and I would be sitting around and I’d say something like, “Remember when I went to seminary and thought I should be a priest. That was a really crazy time, wasn’t it?”

The day of my seminary graduation was kind of bittersweet. It was great to be done but most of my classmates had already lined up jobs and were eager to get started.

And then in the midst of my anxiety and despair Lauren Ackland walked up to me, congratulated me on my graduation and asked if I had a job yet. And here I am. Back when I left teaching the Holy Spirit had knocked me off my feet and changed the direction of my life. But maybe more importantly, when I pay attention I know that the Holy Spirit has continued to sustain and comfort me and to offer blessings here at Grace Church far richer than I could have imagined.

So on Pentecost, the second most important feast of the Christian year, we give thanks that Pentecost was not a one-time event. If we are open to it, Pentecost continues to happen to us. The Holy Spirit is poured out on us, knocks us off our feet, transforms our lives and continues to comfort and sustain us to more fully live out our Christian lives.

Now, confident of the Holy Spirit’s power to sustain and comfort us, let us stand and renew our baptismal vows…

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What Makes You Happy?

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
May 17, 2009

Year B: The Sixth Sunday of Easter
(Acts 10:44-48)
Psalm 98
1 John 5:1-6
John 15:9-17

What Makes You Happy?

Jesus said to his disciples, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

Today’s gospel lesson picks up right where we left off last week. You may remember that last Sunday we heard one of the “I am” statements of Jesus in the Gospel of John. In this case, at the Last Supper, Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”

As Lauren pointed out in last week’s sermon, these “I am” statements by Jesus in the Gospel of John would have packed quite a wallop for the first Jewish readers and hearers of the gospel. They would have picked up the reference to the name of God revealed to Moses in the Book of Exodus. The first readers and hearers would have understood that the author of the Gospel of John was making the bold claim that Jesus was divine.

That bold claim of Jesus’ divinity doesn’t have quite the same impact for us Christians two thousand years later.

But the rich metaphor given by Jesus, “I am the vine, you are the branches” should still pack quite a wallop for us today because it offers us deep insight into our relationship with Jesus and with one another.

“I am the vine, you are the branches” reminds us of our complete dependence on Jesus and our deep connection with another.

And then in today’s lesson Jesus continues by telling the disciples how the branches of the vine – how we – are to live. Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

I don’t need to tell you that’s a tall order – and we might very well reject it as pie in the sky, idealistic nonsense. Or we might look at that commandment and see it as an undue burden – with all that we have to do, with all of our worries and responsibilities, on top of all that, we have to not just tolerate, not just get along OK with, but we are commanded to love one another.

Everybody here knows this commandment, but even though it’s familiar, it still seems unreasonable. Really, love one another? Is that really necessary?

But Jesus insists loving one another is necessary when he says, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

Jesus gives this great commandment to love one another so that our joy may be complete. The truth is, when we love one another we’re the most joyful, the happiest, the most human we can be.

And I think everyone here knows that’s true. And yet, and yet… It’s still a tall order for lots of reasons. When we offer love we make ourselves vulnerable – vulnerable to rejection and, let’s face it, there’s a good chance people may just take advantage of us. And, needless to say, society gives us a very different message than love one another as Jesus has loved us.

And sometimes, with all that goes on in our lives, we may simply forget of us that it’s when we love one another that we’re the most joyful, the happiest, the most human we can be.

And since offering love makes us vulnerable, since offering love is not the way of the world and since we sometimes forget, we try to find that joy and happiness elsewhere – maybe in buying and accumulating stuff, maybe making a lot of money, maybe in achieving prestige, maybe in entertainment.

And, time after time, all of that fails to truly satisfy us – fails to give us the joy and happiness we receive when we love one another.

Maybe because the world hasn’t made them cynical yet, I think children can remind us that loving one another gives us true joy and happiness.

I received one of those reminders from the kids who came to this month’s “Pizza Compline.” Now, you may think this is funny, but “Pizza Compline” is one of the more challenging parts of my job.

Many of you know that on the first Wednesday of the month the kids and I make pizzas in the kitchen, Mary Lea provides leads a craft or service activity and then we all go into church for compline – the beautiful bedtime service of the church.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – but it’s not the pizza-making in a hot kitchen full of kids that makes “Pizza Compline” so challenging for me. (And, if I may so myself – the pizza we make is actually pretty good.)

What makes “Pizza Compline” challenging each month is coming up with a homily that can say something meaningful to the children, but also at the same time also offer some food to the adults who are present.

A couple of weeks ago I was really struggling to come up with something for my homily so I asked Mary Lea if she had any ideas about what I could talk about.

She thought for a few moments and then she said how the kids – and all of us, for that matter – are constantly bombarded with images and sales pitches that tell us that we’ll be happy if we have a particular object, or dress in a certain way, or drive this kind of car. She thought this would be something worthwhile to talk about with our children. Yes! I wholeheartedly agreed – relieved to have something good for my homily.

So, that evening I began my homily by simply asking the children, “What makes you happy?”

I thought I was ready for their answers. I expected that they would talk about all the things that make them happy – things like their American Girl dolls, or video games, or some TV show.

Instead, one by one, they talked about their friends, their families and (especially) their pets as what made them happy. Not one of the children mentioned a “thing” – only the people and pets they loved. One of the adults did chime in and said gin and tonic made him happy, but I chose to ignore that at the time.

What the kids had to say was very moving, but also created a problem for me – because with their beautiful answers, one by one the children were preaching my homily. They were stealing my thunder! At the end, I was left in the position of saying something like, “well, keep up the good work,” and then quickly throwing it to Dr. Anne to lead us in the next hymn.

Although my homily was ruined, I was deeply moved by how the kids understand what really gives us joy, what really makes us happy. The children offered a powerful reminder that Jesus is right – we find our true joy and happiness in loving one another as he has loved us.

If you’re still not convinced, it turns out that science backs up Jesus and the children about what gives us true joy and happiness.

In this month’s issue of The Atlantic there is a fascinating article called “What Makes Us Happy?” It’s about a Harvard study that’s been going on for 72 years, tracking 268 men who entered Harvard in the late 1930s, tracking them through all the ups and downs of life. About half of the subjects are still alive and they are almost all anonymous, although we know that John F. Kennedy and Ben Bradlee (the former editor of the Washington Post) were part of the study.

Not surprisingly, many members of the study achieved a great deal of worldly success, rising to high levels in government and business, writing best-selling novels. And, maybe also unsurprisingly, the lives of others in the study seemed to fall apart and end tragically. Reading the summaries of the case studies, it’s disturbing how young men who seemed well adjusted in their youth, full of optimism and promise, ended up dying drunk and alone. And others, who seemed to be dealt a pretty bad hand in life, ended up overcoming challenges and living a happy life.

With over 70 years of data, the study offers some fascinating insight into what makes for a happy life. Some factors are obvious – education, stable marriage, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, some exercise and healthy weight.

Certainly those are all crucially important, but when the current director of the study was asked what he had learned from this enormous study he said, “The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

“The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

This enormous study reveals that although we may try to find happiness and joy elsewhere, it’s in loving one another that we are truly happy and truly joyful.

Jesus said, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Jesus gives us this commandment not as a burden, but because this is the way to a joyful, happy life. We can try to live other ways, looking for joy and happiness in things, or money, or prestige, but each time we’ll find that they don’t satisfy us.

Jesus knows, the children know and even the scientists know that it’s loving one another that gives us true joy and happiness.

What makes you happy?


Sunday, May 03, 2009

Consolation and Challenge

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
May 3, 2009

Year B: The Fourth Sunday of Easter
(Acts 4:5-12)
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

Consolation and Challenge

Today’s lessons and psalm offer us a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar, a mix of consolation and challenge.

The 23rd Psalm definitely falls into the familiar and consoling category, doesn’t it? Thinking about the 23rd Psalm, I was reminded of an experience I had early in the ordination process when I attended my first conference – a series of meetings with members of the Commission on Ministry who asked me a variety of questions about my sense of call for the priesthood.

It was the first time I was being asked questions like this by strangers and in a formal setting, but I was fortunate enough to have some good mentors who prepared me well for the kinds of questions you get asked at this kind of thing – so, although nervous, I felt I was ready to talk about why I wanted to be a priest.

Things got off to a good start and then I got what felt like a curveball question. One of the members of the Commission on Ministry asked, “What’s your favorite psalm?”

I stated at him blankly. “My favorite psalm?” I said, cleverly stalling. “Yeah, what’s your favorite psalm?” he said in reply.

After an uncomfortable pause I finally admitted, “I’m not sure I have a favorite psalm.”

He looked at me for a moment and then we went on to talk about other things but the whole rest of the time I felt that sinking feeling in my stomach. How could I be a priest if I couldn’t name my favorite psalm?!

At the end of our interview he looked at me and said, “If anyone ever asks you that question again, I’d suggest you say the 23rd Psalm.”

No one ever did ask me my favorite psalm again, but it was a good piece of advice. Especially in the King James Version and especially in times of fear or loss the 23rd Psalm offers us the profoundly consoling image of God as the good shepherd…

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and they staff, they comfort me.

And I’m sure the 23rd Psalm has been in many of our hearts and on many of our lips in recent months and days as many of us in this community have worried about the economy and some of us have faced illness and some of us the death of one we love.

Maybe through tears and with queasy stomachs and perhaps even with anger we say those familiar words,

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

And just as famous - and maybe even more consoling - as the 23rd Psalm is the passage we just heard from the Gospel of John in which Jesus declares,

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Of course, there are many other examples of sheep and shepherd imagery in the Bible. And, of course, the Bible was written by people who were very familiar with the everyday lives of sheep and shepherds – they didn’t need to use much imagination when they thought of God as a shepherd or of Jesus as a good shepherd, laying down his life for the sheep.

But, here in lovely suburban Morris County it is all too easy for us to romanticize the pastoral imagery in this gospel passage. It’s easy for us to imagine the sweet scene of Jesus looking after the cute little lambs – perhaps even carrying one of the sheep around on his shoulders. It’s a scene that’s often depicted in religious art, isn’t it?

But if we stop and think about it, there’s nothing romantic about being a shepherd. It’s a hard and unpleasant and tedious way to earn a living – spending day and night with smelly sheep who, let’s face it, are none too bright.

Yet in the gospel passage, Jesus goes even further than the psalmist when he declares that he, the good shepherd, lays down his life for the sheep. John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus the good shepherd loves these stinky and not very bright sheep – loves us – so much that he lays down his life for us.

There’s nothing sweet or romantic about it - the good shepherd living and dying for the sheep. Instead the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ is an awesome, mind-blowing flesh and blood reality.

And maybe we’d all like to stop right here. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. And Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. Sounds good to me – I feel very consoled.

But today the church also offers us a reading from the First Letter of John – a challenging reading that should make us very uncomfortable.

First John was probably written after the Gospel of John, some time around the start of the Second Century. And it seems like this epistle was written during a time when there was a major and painful split in this early Christian community – a community that was shaped by the Gospel of John.

We only get one side of the story in the Bible, but it appears that some people in this early Christian community were downplaying the humanity of Jesus. And since they were downplaying the humanity of Jesus it would follow that they would downplay the real, unromantic, flesh and blood death of Jesus on the cross.

It seems that at least some of these early Christians preferred to think of Jesus mostly as a divine being and not so much as a real flesh and blood human being. It will be a continuing challenge throughout Christian history to remember that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine.

Anyway, the author of First John writes this epistle in an attempt to correct these errors, insisting that it is in Jesus’ flesh and blood life and death, in Jesus’ flesh and blood sacrifice, that we see God’s love.

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us.

So far, so good – still very consoling. But then here comes a curveball for all of us. Here comes the challenge for all of us… The author of First John continues,

And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?

So, yes, today’s lessons and psalm offer us consolation.

Yes, the Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want.

And, yes, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.

Yes, it’s in this sacrifice that we see God’s love.

We’ve received our consolation; we’ve received our assurances of God’s love. And now as Christians you and I are challenged to lay down our lives for one another. And it’s in our unromantic, flesh and blood sacrifice, our loving sacrifice for one another, right here and now, that the world sees God’s love.

It’s quite a challenge. It’s easy for us to love and sacrifice for our family and friends. But the author of First John has the whole community in mind when he writes, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?”

Most of you know that I used to be a high school teacher. Believe it or not, many times I would get frustrated by students who obviously didn’t want to be in my class, who wouldn’t or couldn’t do the work, and who sometimes even cheated on tests or quizzes.

And when I would get frustrated I would try to remember what a wise older teacher once told me. She said that we always had to give our best even to the kids who drove us up the wall because they were deeply loved and cherished by someone – hopefully a parent or a grandparent. And even if they didn’t get love from a parent or a grandparent, they were deeply loved and cherished by God.

Just as the Good Shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep you and I are challenged to show that God’s love abides in us by sacrificing ourselves for one another – for people who drive us up the wall and for people we may not even know.

Our faith challenges us to sacrifice for one another and we may very well wonder if that’s just religious pie in the sky stuff, since our society insists we must look out for “Number One” first and foremost.

But if we look around we have so many examples of people sacrificing themselves not just for people they know and love but for strangers - brothers and sisters who are loved and cherished by God.

On Monday as I was driving along Greenwood Avenue on my way to the vestry meeting I had to pull over to make way for a fire engine racing into Madison from Florham Park. As I got closer to Main Street from the smoke I saw that it was a pretty bad fire. As I passed by I thought of our own parishioner, Ed Nunn, who’s a captain in the Madison fire department, and then saw another fire engine arriving from Cedar Knolls.

Most of us take the fire department for granted, but what an example of flesh and blood sacrifice. They stand ready to sacrifice for strangers – but still beloved brothers and sisters.

Here are two other examples, a little less dramatic, but still impressive.

If you were around here two weeks ago you saw a core group of people who spent the entire week here at church getting ready for the rummage sale. I don’t think they gave up so much of their time out of a deep love of rummage. Instead, they offered this unromantic, flesh and blood sacrifice because they know the good that comes out of the sale.

A couple of weeks ago we had our turn at the Community Soup Kitchen again, and you can read in the Messenger about all the people who donated food and/or spent the morning cooking and serving food. I was particularly struck by the people who spent so much time and money preparing tray after tray of what looked like delicious chicken so that, at least this day, these strangers – but still beloved brothers and sisters will have a substantial meal. And I was also struck that day by the parishioner who spent the entire morning over the sink washing hundreds of trays and scouring pots and pans.

You can probably think of many more, but these are just a few examples of people hearing the challenge given to all of us in today’s lesson. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?

Today’s lessons offer us a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar, a mix of consolation and challenge.

In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Good Shepherd we have received our consolation.

And now, strengthened by Christ’s loving sacrifice, we are given the challenge of sacrificing ourselves, laying down our lives, for one another.


Friday, May 01, 2009

Our Spiritual Heritage

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
The Messenger
May 2009

Our Spiritual Heritage

The Episcopal Church, with its roots in the Church of England, is profoundly enriched by the long history of deep spirituality found in Britain and Ireland. We most often experience the legacy of that spirituality in the elegant language of the Book of Common Prayer as well as in our beautiful – and theologically rich – hymns. Our church calendar also gives us the opportunity to get acquainted with some of the spiritual masters produced by the British Isles who have much to say to us today.

In May the Church honors three of these important figures: Dame Julian of Norwich (May 8), Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury (May 19) and the Venerable Bede (May 25).

In recent years there has been a renewed interest in the spirituality of Julian of Norwich, who was born probably in 1342. In May of 1373 she experienced a series of visions of our Lord’s Passion. Claiming that these vivid “showings” gave her a sense of peace and joy, she spent the rest of her life as an anchoress (essentially a recluse) reflecting on what her visions meant and writing about them in her book, known to us as Showings or Revelation(s) of Divine Love.

In her vision Julian vividly sees the evil and pain of sin in the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus. Although for Julian this is a very frightening image, it passes quickly and she comes to realize that the power of God ‘s love – especially as experienced in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – is more than a match for the sin of the world. Julian writes, “Because of his tender love for all those who are to be saved our Good Lord comforts us at once and sweetly, as if to say: ‘It is true that sin is the cause of all this pain; but it is going to be all right; it is going to be all right; everything is going to be all right.’” In our time when the world is filled with so much pain and anxiety, Julian’s message is as timely as ever: God’s love is more powerful than sin and in the end all will be well.

Dunstan, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 959, is not nearly as well-known as Julian of Norwich. He is, however, an important figure in his own right mostly because as abbot he reformed practices at the famous monastery at Glastonbury, making it a center both of serious spiritual practice as well as of learning. As Archbishop of Canterbury he attempted to extend the same kind of reforms across the entire English Church, with limited success.

In 973, Dunstan composed the Coronation Oath for English kings which contains worthy ideals for any Christian leader. Dunstan included these promises in the oath: “Three things I promise in Christ’s name to the Christian people subject to me: First that the church of God and the whole Christian people shall have true peace at all time by our judgment. Second, that I will forbid extortion and all kinds of wrong-doing to all orders of persons. Third, that I will enjoin equity and mercy in all judgments, so that God, who is kind and merciful, may vouchsafe his mercy to me and to you.”

The Venerable Bede (c. 673-735) has been described as “the foremost and most influential scholar from Anglo-Saxon England.” As a priest and monk Bede devoted himself to a wide variety of scholarly pursuits, writing books about Latin, natural phenomena and a large number of biblical commentaries. Today he is almost exclusively remembered for his greatest work, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People – the most important source of information we have about life in early England from the invasion of Julius Caesar to Bede’s own day.

Bede is particularly important as an early model of the Anglican priest-scholar, a person eager to understand the world but at the same time deeply grounded in the Christian faith. Bede captures the hopes of the priest-scholar at the conclusion of his Ecclesiastical History when he writes, “I pray you, noble Jesu, that as you have graciously granted me joyfully to imbibe the words of your knowledge, so you will also of your bounty grant me to come at length to yourself, the fount of all wisdom, and to dwell in your presence for ever.”

As Episcopalians, let us give thanks for the rich spiritual heritage found in our prayer book, our hymns and in the holy men and women of our tradition.