Sunday, January 31, 2016


St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
January 31, 2016

Year C: The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 4:21-30

            Rejection is one of the hardest things we face in life.
            At one time or another we’ve all been rejected, right?
            The other day at the nursing home I amused the crowd by telling the story of the first time I worked up the courage to ask a girl out on a date.
            We had gone through all of school together so we knew each other pretty well and by 7th grade I had worked up the courage to ask her out. I practiced what I was going to say and imagined what the date would be like.
            The day came and I said the words and waited nervously and expectantly.
            She looked at me with a look that said, “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard” or “You’ve got to be kidding me” or “Uh, no, not ever.”
            It was painful and so embarrassing. For years after I avoided her, looking the other way whenever I saw her coming.
            At one time or another we’ve all been rejected – rejected by someone we like, someone we love, rejected by someone we try to befriend, rejected by a potential employer.
            Of course, we’re in good company.
            I was really bummed out that last week’s celebration of our patronal feast, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, was almost snowed out by last week’s blizzard.
            Almost snowed out, because nineteen of us still managed to get ourselves to church – church where it was freezing cold because on top of everything else the furnace was out – church where we still managed with chattering teeth and visible breath to worship God and receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
            I’m not eager to repeat that icy experience anytime soon but, you know, there was something appropriate to celebrating St. Paul in conditions like that.
            If you know anything about Paul you know that he faced many obstacles in his mission of sharing the Good News to the Gentiles, the non-Jews.
            The other apostles didn’t always trust him, remembering only too well that earlier in his life Paul, or Saul as he was then known, had persecuted the early Church.
            Over the course of his ministry, as he traveled around the Mediterranean world, he endured arrests and beatings and shipwrecks, and, ultimately, according to tradition, execution in Rome.
            All of that was bad enough, but probably the hardest thing faced by Paul was rejection.
            Maybe because he suffered from some kind of physical ailment – maybe a speech impediment or an eye disorder, maybe because he was not particularly good-looking or the most eloquent, maybe because his message was just too hard for people to understand or accept, for any number of reasons, over and over Paul was rejected.
            And even when he wasn’t rejected, even when he managed to get a little Christian community started, no sooner would he leave than he’d get word that they were doing exactly what he had told them not to do.
            The church in Corinth gave him particular trouble because they seem to have been led astray by others and fallen in love with what they perceived as their many special spiritual gifts, things like prophesying and speaking in tongues.
            And so Paul’s beautiful hymn to love that we heard in our second reading is actually part of a rebuke. Paul is criticizing the Corinthians because they had rejected his teaching and forgotten the most important thing: love.
            Love that is patient and kind. Love that is not envious, boastful, or rude.
            Love that endures all things.
            Love that never ends.
            Paul faced rejection through his life and, yet, despite his anger, hurt, and disappointment, managed in the end to remember the most important thing: love.
            Of course, like us, the rejected Paul was in good company.
            Jesus himself knew all about rejection.
            Today’s gospel lesson is the second half of the story of Jesus in his hometown synagogue.
            Actually, things got off to a good start.
            Some of his fellow Nazarenes were aware of works of power that Jesus had performed in Capernaum and maybe other places before coming back home.
            Jesus took his place in the synagogue and read from the Prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of the sight of the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
            After that he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, sat down, and said, “Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
            So far, so good. The people are impressed by his eloquence but then we realize things are going off track when they ask, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” Of course, we know that they’re wrong about that, but there’s also a hint of doubt and maybe even hostility.
            How could a local boy, son of a craftsman, speak so well?
            And, how on earth could this local boy possibly be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s long ago prophecy?
            Jesus seems to anticipate the rejection of his hometown, the rejection of the people he had known his whole life – a most painful rejection.
            Jesus seems to anticipate the rejection of the people who looked like him and talked like him when he reminded the crowd of the prophets Elijah and Elisha who had both ministered beyond their communities, to non-Jews, to Gentiles.
            This enrages the hometown crowd, cements their rejection, and, we’re told, they want to throw Jesus off a cliff!
            Now that’s rejection.
            Jesus knew all about rejection.
            And, of course, that day in Nazareth won’t be the last time Jesus faced rejection.
            At the end – or what seemed to be the end - we know that Jesus was rejected by just about everybody, left to die on the cross, abandoned by all or nearly all of his friends.
            And yet, how did Jesus respond to this terrible rejection?
            Despite the pain and disappointment and even horror, despite this most terrible rejection, Jesus offers nothing but love and forgiveness.
            So, what does all of this mean for us?
            First, when we’re rejected, we’re called to offer nothing but love and forgiveness. Very hard, I know. Only possible with God’s help.
            Second, we all, at one time or another, probably lots of times, reject Jesus – reject Jesus when we fail to love one another and forgive one another, yet we know that even when we reject Jesus, no matter how many times we reject Jesus, Jesus will always respond with love and forgiveness.
            Jesus will never reject us.
            And that, my fellow rejects, is very good news, indeed.

Sunday, January 24, 2016


St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
January 24, 2016

The Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul
Acts 26:9-21
Psalm 67
Galatians 1:11-24
Matthew 10:16-22

            Last week I was blessed to get away to San Francisco for a few days, although now after the great blizzard of 2016 it feels like that was about six months ago!
            But, San Francisco is one of my favorite places and I’m always glad to be there to relax, to sip coffee in a cafe and work on the New York Times crossword puzzle, to visit friends, and to walk those beautiful streets – yes, even with those incredibly steep hills.
            To my surprise, while I was there I noticed quite a few Jehovah’s Witnesses hard at work spreading information about their faith.
            Unlike here, where I’m sure we’ve all seen them traveling in groups, walking house to house, ringing doorbells, carrying their pamphlets, out in San Francisco they were set up on street corners, each group standing around a rack containing pamphlets in various languages.
            They were on a corner just a few blocks from my hotel – every day, rain or shine, from quite early in the morning to after dark.
            Although I never once saw anyone stop to talk with them, still I was impressed by their commitment and determination, their willingness to try to convert people to their faith.
            Here in the Episcopal Church, along with most other mainline Protestants and even Roman Catholics, we don’t really talk much anymore about conversion.
            And, we don’t really send missionaries anymore to convert people to Christianity. Instead, most, if not all, of our missionaries go out to the poorest places on earth to teach or to heal, rather than to convert people to Christianity.
            But, seeing those faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses and thinking about today’s sermon has got me thinking about conversion.
            Or, actually, conversions.
            It’s not my place to criticize missionaries, past or present – and, without their courage and faithfulness, quite a few of us wouldn’t be in church today - but I do think that we made a mistake by fixating on conversion as one big moment, instead of thinking of conversion as a process.
            God is all about conversions – working at us, working in us, working with us -converting us into who we were always meant to be.
            Today we celebrate our patronal feast – the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle.
            As we heard in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles and from Paul himself in his letter to the Galatians, as a young man Paul (or Saul as he was then called) persecuted some of the earliest followers of Jesus.
            Elsewhere in Acts we hear the story of the first martyr, Stephen, who was stoned to death while Saul cheered on the rock-throwers and watched everybody’s coats.
            Saul persecuted the first followers of Jesus until he had his powerful conversion experience on the Damascus road, the blinding light and the voice of the Risen Christ saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
            Saul was truly converted, transformed from a persecutor of Christ into an apostle who brought the Good News to the gentiles, who carried the word of Christ to non-Jews, to as many places and people as he could, who, ultimately gave away his life for Christ.
            But, we know from his letters that after his big conversion Paul didn’t have an easy time of it.
            The leaders of the church were understandably suspicious of him, remembering only too well his not so long ago persecution.
            And, they weren’t sure about his mission to the gentiles. They needed to be convinced that these non-Jewish followers of Jesus could skip Jewish dietary and other rules.
            And, we know that Paul wasn’t always so successful as a preacher and teacher. He had some kind of unnamed disability – maybe a speech impediment or something wrong with his eye – that made him less persuasive – that made people wonder if God really did favor him.
            We know that there were other more attractive and eloquent evangelists who taught a gospel different from Paul and may even have had more success, at least in the short-term.
            And we know that sometimes Paul would set up a Christian community and move on only to find out that they had been led astray and were doing exactly what he had told them not to do.
            We know that he endured arrests and beatings and shipwrecks - and ultimately death in Rome.
            And, we know that Paul didn’t always handle all of these setbacks with grace and humor. Instead, in his letters we hear plenty of anger, jealousy, insecurity and boasting, disappointment, and frustration.
            As powerful as Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus was, I don’t think it would have been enough to keep him going.
            Yet, Paul didn’t give up on God.
            Because God didn’t give up on Paul.
            Instead, even in the midst of all those setbacks and disappointments, God kept working at, working in, and working with Paul – continuing to convert him into who he was always meant to be.
            So, despite all his hardships, Paul the converted apostle was able to write to the little Christian community in Philippi, “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until.”
            And, in the middle of a pretty tough criticism of the church in Corinth, Paul the converted apostle was able to write his great hymn to love, ”Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
            God kept working at, working in, and working with Paul – continuing to convert him into who he was always meant to be.
            And, the same is true for us.
            Like our brother Paul, we all face setbacks and hardships.
            And plenty of times when things don’t go our way, we get angry and jealous, disappointed and frustrated. We may even puff ourselves up out of our own insecurity.
            But, as long as we remain open to God, God will continue to convert us.
             And, just as God used Paul, God will use us – use St. Paul’s - to convert a world broken by all kinds of sin into the world of love, the world revealed by Christ and proclaimed by Paul.
            Thanks be to God.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Signs of God's Abundance

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
January 17, 2016

Year C: The Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 36:5-10
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
John 2:1-11

Signs of God’s Abundance
            On Thursday evening we once again had a fantastic Stone Soup Community Supper.
            The crowd wasn’t the biggest ever, but it was diverse and beautiful.
            There were parishioners, neighbors, and friends. There were people I knew well and people I had never met.
            There were people who were hungry for food – and there were people who were hungry for companionship, hungry to break bread with others, to talk and to laugh, to see and be seen.
            And, there was food! Lots and lots of delicious food, prepared this month by Trish who worked very hard to make something special and very tasty.
            At one point during the supper I found myself just looking around and being aware of the abundance – aware of God’s abundance – that I – and I think all of us there that night – were experiencing in Carr Hall.
            Signs of God’s abundance.
            The abundance of the earth.
            The abundance of generous and talented people who cook such wonderful things to eat.
            The abundance of our hall and kitchen and those who clean and maintain them.
            The abundance of all these different people – all different kinds of people –making their way to St. Paul’s to be fed.
            This month – every month, actually – Stone Soup is a sign of God’s abundance.
            In today’s gospel lesson, we heard about another powerful sign of God’s abundance – a sign, no coincidence, that also involves a feast.
            We’re told that Jesus and his disciples along with Jesus’ mother are at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.
            Jesus’ mother informs her son that the wine has run out.
            It’s every host’s nightmare – not enough food, not enough drink.
            At first Jesus seems shockingly rude to his mother – “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” – but Mary knows her son and, sure enough, he instructs the servants to fill the huge stone jars with water.
            We’re told that each jar held twenty or thirty gallons.
            And, of course, we know the rest of the story. Instead of water, the huge jars are miraculously filled with wine. And, not just wine but the finest wine, the finest wine that has, shockingly, been saved for last.
            It’s a richly symbolic story.
            Jewish hearers and readers of the Gospel would have been reminded of the Hebrew prophets – the prophets who dreamed that the arrival of the Messiah would be marked with a wedding banquet where the tables would groan under the weight of delicious food and cups would be overflowing with wine.
            In fact, we heard some of that wedding imagery in today’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah, comparing marriage to the union of God and God’s people: “For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”
            Some of you know that we had a beautiful wedding here at St. Paul’s last Saturday afternoon. I had the joyful privilege of officiating at the wedding of our wonderful neighbors, Adam Krieg and Katie Lynch.
            There was so much joy in this room as we all celebrated the union of these two fine people, rejoiced at the life they share, and anticipated the new life they will bring into the world.
            Again, looking around the room, I was aware of God’s abundance.
            Signs of God’s abundance.
            Now, while the wedding banquet is a great symbol of God’s abundance, fortunately it’s not required to attend a wedding – and, no, it’s not even required to come to Stone Soup – to see signs of God’s abundance.
            There are signs of God’s abundance all around us.
            I’ve been working on our 2015 church statistics and there are signs of God’s abundance all over this place!
            Here at St. Paul’s, we continue to grow with, on average, 108 people in church on Sunday.
            There are some of us who’ve been coming here for decades, remaining faithful even during the lean years, keeping this place going despite the odds.
            There are some of us who’ve been coming here all along who’ve now taken on new ministries, welcoming people at the door, reading the lessons and prayers, sharing the Blood of Christ, offering healing prayers, serving on the vestry, and more.
            Signs of God’s abundance.
            There are some of us who’ve been away for a while but our now making their way home. I sure know what that’s like!
            And, then there are some of us who have found and are finding a spiritual home here at St. Paul’s - and are bringing new ideas and new energy with them.
            For example, who would have thought even six months ago that we’d begin “Stratford-Upon-Duncan,” a new monthly series of Shakespeare readings along with an elegant High Tea?! Pretty amazing!
            Yes, there are signs of God’s abundance all around us.
            There’s our choir, which, under Gail’s brilliant leadership, has grown into an amazing all-volunteer ensemble, enriching our worship week after week.
            There are the special events we’ve hosted, most recently our glorious Christmas cantata last month and the spectacular Martin Luther King service on Friday night.
            There’s our Craft Guild knitting hats for babies in need and prayer shawls for the sick and suffering.
            There’s the altar guild going about its work, making sure everything is all set and beautiful for our three Sunday services.
            Then, there’s our generosity, giving more to the church and giving more to the community, including all those gloves that we gave away at the homeless memorial and the growing amount of food that gets given away each month over at Church of the Incarnation.
            Yes, just like at the wedding in Cana, there are signs of God’s abundance all around us. St. Paul’s is filled to the brim with the best wine.
            But, you know, Jesus’ ministry began at Cana  - but it didn’t end there.
            Jesus wasn’t a one-hit wonder.
            No, in a world that was often hostile and cruel, in a world that believed there just wasn’t enough, in a world that thought if you win I lose, in a hostile and cruel world, Jesus spent the rest of his earthly life as a sign of God’s abundance - sharing God’s abundance – sharing God’s abundant love, sharing God’s abundant mercy, sharing God’s abundant forgiveness, sharing God’s abundance right up to the cross, and Easter morning, and beyond.
            Unfortunately, our world is often hostile and cruel, our world believes there’s just not enough, our world believes that if you win I lose.
            In a hostile and cruel world, we who see signs of God’s abundance – we who drink in signs of God’s abundance are called to be signs of God’s abundance - to share God’s abundance with the hungry world all around us, to share God’s abundance with people who face far greater problems than a lack of wine.
            We are called to be signs of God’s abundance – to share God’s abundance with those who lack shelter, food, companionship, and, most of all, love.
            So, in the year ahead, let’s invite even more people to the banquet here at St. Paul’s.
            And, let’s head out into our neighborhood and into our world as signs of God’s abundance, sharing God’s abundance.
            There are signs of God’s abundance all around us.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

We Belong to God

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
January 10, 2016

Year C: The First Sunday after Epiphany – The Baptism of Our Lord
Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

We Belong to God
            “Thus says the Lord…Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
            “I have called you by name, you are mine.”           
            Back during the summer I had the honor of officiating at the wedding of a former student and his fiancée.
            They’re a great couple and the wedding was a lot of fun. As I was leaving they thanked me for officiating and I told them, “And, you know, I do a nice baptism, too.”
            Well, sure enough, a week or two ago I saw the Facebook post announcing that they’re expecting a child. I couldn’t resist writing to them, “Remember, I do a nice baptism!”
            They both liked the post so I guess we’ll see!
            I know it’s kind of a goofy thing to say, and I don’t know if I do a nice baptism or not – I hope so - but I can tell you that baptizing is just about my favorite part of being a priest.
            It’s such an honor to help parents prepare to have their children baptized. That’s really great - but it’s even better to prepare adults for their own baptism – when they get to make their own baptismal promises – when they get to promise to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship – when they get to promise to persevere in resisting evil and when they fail to repent and return to the Lord – when they get to promise to proclaim the Good News by word and example – when they get to promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons – when they get to promise to respect the dignity of every human being.
            It’s such an honor to help adults prepare for their own baptism – when they get to make their baptismal promises – promising to do all these incredibly challenging and difficult but so essential tasks – promising to do them all, with God’s help.
            And, that’s the most important thing.
            Because whether I do a nice baptism or not or if I enjoy baptizing or not, baptism has nothing much to do with me or anybody else who pours the water or does the dunking.
            In Baptism, God makes an unbreakable bond with us – a bond that can never be dissolved no matter what we do or don’t do.
            In Baptism, we discover that we belong to God.
            In Baptism, God says to us what God said to the people of Israel through the Prophet Isaiah long ago:
            “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
            In Baptism, God calls us by name – and tells us that we belong to God.
            We belong to God.
            We probably don’t need to hear that on the day of our Baptism or on the day of our child’s baptism.
            We don’t need to hear that on that special day when we feel so close to God, when the Holy Water is still making the baby’s hair damp or is still running down our own collar.
            But, we do need to hear it – we need to remember it – during those times we don’t feel so close to God.
            That’s one of the reasons why we don’t baptize off in private or on a Sunday but we baptize right here during a Sunday service. Whenever we have a baptism, I’m sure there are plenty of people right here who are having a tough time and need to be reminded that God has made an unbreakable bond with us – plenty of people who are feeling a little lost who need to be reminded that they – we – belong to God.
            Today’s passage from the Prophet Isaiah was written during a tough time for the people of Israel – Jerusalem, including the Temple of Solomon, had been destroyed and many were living in exile in Babylon, far from home, trying to hold onto their identity, trying to remember who they really were, trying to remember to whom they belonged.
            During that time of exile and fear, God offers a powerful and beautiful reminder through Isaiah:
             “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, the flame shall not consume you.”
            “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
            On this First Sunday after Epiphany we always remember Jesus’ baptism – we remember that our brother Jesus was baptized – which is always a little awkward because, as Luke takes pains to remind us, Jesus is far greater than John the Baptist – it’s a little awkward because Jesus the Son of God was without sin, so why the need for Baptism?
            But, maybe, like us, our brother Jesus needed to learn who he was – and to whom he belonged.
            Luke tells us that after Jesus’ baptism, he heard a voice from heaven say, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
            You know, Christmas has just passed but we’re already into planning for Lent and Good Friday when we’ll once again follow Jesus walking the Way of the Cross through some of the places of bloodshed here in Jersey City.
            And, I imagine that as Jesus lived his ministry, as we was misunderstood by his often thickheaded disciples, as we was rejected by so many people, as he was betrayed by own of his own, as he was beaten and left hanging on the cross abandoned by nearly everybody, during all of those hard times, our brother Jesus could hold onto his baptism - could remember his own baptism – remember and know who he was – and to whom he belonged.
            “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
            I know right now there are a lot of us going through tough times, who feel hurt, lost, frightened, maybe even exiled. And, I know there are a lot of us who struggle with our baptismal promises to worship together, to proclaim the Good News, to love one another and to respect every single person.
            I wish we had a baptism today to remind us – I wish we could hear and see the splash of water through which God says:
            “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
            But, today the words will have to be enough for us to remember that we are baptized.
            In Baptism, God calls us by name – and makes an unbreakable, indissoluble, bond with us.
            We belong to God.
            No matter what.



Saturday, January 09, 2016

A Glimpse of the Kingdom

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City
January 9, 2016

The Wedding of Adam Krieg and Katie Lynch
Isaiah 32:2, 16-18

A Glimpse of the Kingdom
            Well, this is a great day, right?
            What a joy to be here in this beautiful place today celebrating with all of you, celebrating the union of Adam and Katie.
            I have to say I’m especially excited to be here today.
            I was very honored that Katie and Adam asked me to officiate at their wedding – and they assure me that it’s not only because of the super-convenience of having my church right next door to where they live.
            Though there’s that.
            It’s been a joy to help prepare Adam and Katie for today and for married life beyond – it’s been a gift to become friends.
            When we started I didn’t really know them well. We had had a few conversations, mostly outside when one or both were walking their beautiful dog, Teddy.
            But, over these past few months as we’ve prepared and talked I’ve learned what I bet you’ve all known for a long time:
            These are two truly exceptional people – deeply caring, whip smart, a perfect fit for each other – both kind of quiet, very thoughtful, very what the kids call “chill.”
            How fortunate for us to know them and to love them, right?
            What a blessing.
            Now, I don’t know, but maybe there are some of you here today who might be thinking, well, you know, it’s about time – it’s about time that these two who have been together for so long, who obviously love each other so much, are finally making this big commitment to each other, finally tying the knot.
            And, believe me, I certainly understand impatience.
            In a way, our whole society is based on impatience – the need for everything to get done ever faster – the impatience and demand for ever-greater efficiency and multi-tasking that’s making us all a little crazy, I think.
            But, that’s not God’s way.
            God has all the time in the world so there’s no rush at all.
            And, throughout the Old and New Testaments there is a vision of a restored creation, of the world finally being set right again, of God’s kingdom being established on earth – a vision of us living the kind of lives that we were always meant to live.
            We heard a piece of that vision in today’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah – a typically unconventional choice by Katie and Adam.
            Isaiah presents this beautiful vision of God’s kingdom:v
            “Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust for ever. My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places.”
            It’s a beautiful vision, isn’t it?
            Of course, I don’t have to tell you that in our broken world scarred by poverty, injustice, fear, and violence, we are nowhere near the kingdom described by Isaiah.
            God takes God’s time – and seems, at least so far, willing to give us time to work with God to build God’s kingdom on earth.
            But – and here’s the thing – as we take our time God gives us glimpses – gives us glimpses of God’s kingdom – glimpses of the way things were always meant to be – glimpses that inspire us and encourage us to keep going – to keep working with God to build the kingdom.
            I hope you’ve seen those kinds of glimpses in your life – holding the hand of the one you love, getting help from someone even though they know you can never repay them, receiving forgiveness for what you thought was unforgivable, looking into the eyes of your child for the first time…
            I hope you’ve seen glimpses of God’s kingdom in your life – but I know you’ve gotten at least one glimpse of God’s kingdom because you’ve seen, you’ve known, you love Adam and Katie.
            When we look at the life and love they share – while imperfect like everything human – we get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.
            And, I have no doubt that when they welcome new life into the world, we will get even more glimpses of the way things were always meant to be, thanks to the love shared by this beautiful family.
            So, today we celebrate.
            Today we promise to support Katie and Adam, no matter what.
            And, today we all get a truly beautiful glimpse of God’s kingdom.
            What a great day.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

The Shadows of Christmas

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
January 3, 2016

The Second Sunday after Christmas
Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

The Shadows of Christmas
            Merry Christmas!
            Although the world has already moved on to other things, here in church it’s still Christmas.
            It’s still Christmas, so, Merry Christmas!
            Christmas is a joyful time for lots people – and we’ve certainly had – are having - a joyful Christmas here at St. Paul’s – with a church full of all kinds of people along with great music and adorable children and delicious food and so much love and generosity just about blowing the roof off this old place.
            But, most of us know, and as a priest I’m especially aware, that Christmas isn’t joyful for everybody.
            We know that Christmas isn’t joyful for lots of us.
            There are the shadows of Christmas.
            The shadows of Christmas include spending the holiday alone, mourning those we’ve lost, grieving those we’ve lost to disagreement, distance, or death. The shadows of Christmas include the disappointments of life, the wrong turns we’ve made, the connections that were missed, the loves that once had such promise but are no more.
            The shadows of Christmas include our fears of illness and unemployment and poverty and even homelessness.
            The shadows of Christmas include the mess of the world, the war and hatred and terrorism and the ever-widening gap between the few who can jet around the world, flying high above all that mess and the many who can’t escape or are forced to take drastic and dangerous measures to flee war, terrorism, and lack of opportunity, often arriving in places where they are not so welcome.
            Yes, it’s still Christmas, and there’s lots of joy around but there are also shadows – the shadows of Christmas.
            And, actually, the shadows of Christmas have been there right from the start.
            The shadow of a young girl pregnant in a most unexpected way. The shadow of small-town neighbors who almost certainly gossiped about and smirked at and, maybe, even shunned Mary and her husband, Joseph, who inexplicably stuck with his pregnant fiancée.
            The shadow of that same couple desperately looking for a place to deliver new life and having to settle for a cave or a barn, having to make do with an animal’s feeding trough instead of a crib.
            The shadow of a world that, right from the start, didn’t – wouldn’t or couldn’t – provide a home for Jesus, the newborn king.
            The shadow of the Magi, the wise men from the East and the gifts that they presented to the newborn king: gold for a king, frankincense for a God, and myrrh…an oil used to embalm the dead.
            And, then there’s the shadow of the old king Herod, a particularly brutal tyrant, notorious in his own day for the murder of his own sons.
            There’s the shadow of Herod who pretended to welcome the Magi from the East, wanted them to let him know the location of the newborn king so he could also “pay homage.”
            There’s the shadow of Herod who ordered the killing of the children of Bethlehem, in a bloody but failed attempt to be rid of the newborn king – the shadow of a world that wanted to be rid of Jesus right from the start.
            And, finally, as we heard today, there’s the shadow of the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt, fleeing into the unknown, fleeing into the place that had enslaved their ancestors long ago, fleeing in a desperate attempt to save the life of their holy child.
            Yes, the shadows of Christmas have been there right from the start.
            And, that’s exactly the point.
            Jesus wasn’t born into a make-believe world filled only with love and joy and rainbows.
            No, he was born into the all-too-real world filled with homeless families making do, an all-too-real world filled with tyrants who spread hate and oppress the people, an all-too-real world filled with refugees fleeing for their lives, an all-too-real world where so many of us often feel lonely, frightened, disappointed, and unloved.
            Jesus was born into and lived in and died in the all-too-real world.
            But, so what?
            I mean, what are we doing here on this Second Sunday after Christmas while others are squeezing out the last few hours of Christmas break or just getting ready for the week ahead?
            Why do we gather here week after week?
            Why do we follow Jesus?
            Why do we celebrate Christmas? Why do we re-tell the story of the birth of a poor Middle Eastern child two thousand years ago when there are plenty of children being born into poverty and violence in the Middle East right as we speak?
            Well, we come here week after week, we follow Jesus, and we celebrate Christmas not because of Christmas - but because of Easter.
            We celebrate Christmas because of Easter, because Jesus’ crucified, dead, and anointed body wasn’t the end of the story.
            We celebrate Christmas because of Easter - when light cast out shadow, when we all learned that, while it may not always look like it, in the end, Herod and Pontius Pilate and all the other tyrants past and present, they all lose.
            We celebrate Christmas because of Easter, when, in the end, love and light win, defeating shadow and death.
            It’s only because of Easter that the Evangelist John can write at the start of his gospel that we read on Christmas morning and also last Sunday: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
            So, yes, thanks to the hard work and participation of so many, we’ve had a joyful Christmas here at St. Paul’s.
            But, yes, for some, maybe many of us, Christmas hasn’t been so joyful.
            There are the shadows of Christmas.
            The shadows of Christmas have been there from the start, when Jesus was born into our shadowy world, bringing the love and light that ultimately defeat shadow and death.
            So, even in the shadows, we still celebrate Christmas, it’s still Christmas, we still say Merry Christmas because…
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!