Sunday, February 26, 2017

"A Foretaste of Glory Divine"

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
February 26, 2017

Year A: The Last Sunday after the Epiphany
Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 2
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

A Foretaste of Glory Divine
            We’ve been busy around here. Just this weekend alone, there have been a lot of exciting things happening here at St. Paul’s and over at Incarnation.
            On Friday night, we had a beautiful Black History Month celebration with our kids and kids from other churches singing so beautifully.
            And, this afternoon we’ll be back over at Incarnation to bless “The Lighthouse,” a home for people who have received asylum in the United States.
            And, of course, this week we have Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, and JC Friday.
            There’s been so much going that it’s easy to lose sight of the “routine” ministries that take place here week after week: the Craft Guild gathering each Monday evening, the Altar Guild and the choirs going about their work to make our worship beautiful.
            I could go on.
            As most of you know, one ministry that we’ve been up to now for more than three years is our monthly healing service over at Majestic, the nursing home on Montgomery Street.
            I haven’t talked about this work lately – though we pray for the residents and employees of Majestic at all of our services.
            It’s not always an easy place to visit. Many of the residents are profoundly disabled, physically or mentally, and often both.
            Over the years we’ve been going, some of our regulars have noticeably declined and others have vanished.
            So, it’s hard, but, to my surprise, our monthly services over there have become an important part of my life, a gift to my spiritual life.
            Part of the blessing is that almost always Gail and Vanessa and I lead the service together.
            We’ve been working together for so long that by now we don’t really have to plan it out or even talk about it ahead of time. We know what works and what doesn’t.
            Gail has honed a repertoire of music that we sing most months. A few of the residents seem to know or remember the hymns and sing along – our “choir” – while others look on with appreciation, and others stare ahead blankly or snooze.
            This past Wednesday, however, Gail deviated from the repertoire, pulled out her copy of Lift Every Voice and sang that great old hymn, Blessed Assurance.
            “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine!”
            As sometimes happens, a woman who had seemed pretty much out of it perked up and she began to whisper the words along with Gail.
            And, at that moment, the old hymn came alive. The words became real.
            Seeing that old and sick woman, seemingly barely alive in this place of suffering, seeing her whisper those words, was a foretaste of glory divine, a foretaste of love defeating death, a foretaste of Easter.
            “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine!”
            Today is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, the last Sunday before we silence our “alleluias,” veil all the crosses, and put away the silver, the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent.
            And, on this Sunday we always hear the same gospel story, the story of the Transfiguration.
            It’s a story with lots of biblical echoes, reminding us of other mountaintop encounters with God, most especially Moses on Mount Sinai.
            It’s a story that reminds us of Jesus’ baptism when he heard the voice from heaven reveal that he was the beloved Son of God.
            We’re told Moses and Elijah are there, maybe representing the Law and the Prophets – Moses and Elijah who, according to tradition, had not died but were taken up into heaven.
            And, in fact, with Jesus’ face shining like the sun and his clothes dazzling white, the Transfiguration looks and feels like a resurrection story – like an Easter story, right?
            And, you know, that’s exactly what it is. It is an Easter story.
            There on the mountain, hearing the voice of God, seeing Moses and Elijah, there on the mountain, Jesus, along with his friends and disciples Peter, James and John, received a foretaste of Easter – a foretaste of glory divine.
            “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine!”
            And then, it was over - for now.
            At Majestic, after we finished singing the hymn, the woman who had been whispering the words faded away again, maybe still aware of us, maybe not.
            In the same way, the cloud and Moses and Elijah vanished.
            And, although Peter understandably wants to stay, Jesus and his friends make their way back down off the mountain. They begin the journey to Jerusalem, the journey to rejection and abandonment, the road to suffering and death.
            My hope is that even in the moments of despair, as Jesus was hanging on the cross, as the disciples fled in terror, confusion, and heartbreak, my hope is that, even for just a moment, they could remember and hold on to the foretaste that they had received on the mountain, the foretaste of glory divine, the foretaste of Easter.
            And, I have the same hope for us.
            We’re about to enter Lent, this time of self-examination, repentance, and sacrifice.
            Lent can be a beautiful time but it can also be a hard time.
            Often it’s not easy or comfortable to look into our hearts and look at our lives and see the ways that we’ve fallen short, that we’ve missed the mark.
            And, while the Church is moving into Lent, for a lot of people, including some of us here at St. Paul’s, it feels like it’s Lent all the time.
            I don’t need to tell you that evil and powerful forces are at work in our city and country, targeting, as usual, the scapegoats, the weakest and most vulnerable.
            There are gunshots ringing out every night in the southern part of our city, as our young men target and try to destroy one another, and hold whole neighborhoods hostage with their senseless violence.
            There are landlords making the lives of their tenants miserable and there are schools lacking basic supplies, sending the clear message that some children can and will be left behind.
            There are bomb threats being called into Jewish Community Centers, terrifying parents, children, and teachers – and vandals are toppling headstones in Jewish cemeteries.
            Government agents are rounding up people who may lack the right documents but who, let’s be honest, have usually lived and worked peacefully and productively among us for many years, often doing the work that American citizens just won’t do, earning a pittance and making others rich through their backbreaking labor.
            Just the other day in a Kansas bar, two Indian immigrants with all the right papers were minding their business having a drink when they were first verbally abused by a white man who then shot them both, killing one and wounding the other.
            And, transgender people, so often ridiculed and picked on, so often driven to suicide, are being targeted once again.
            I could go on. And, you could, too, I bet.
            Yes, we have definitely come down off the mountain.
            But, as we continue this journey together, this journey with Jesus into an often frightening future, let’s hold on to the foretaste of glory that we receive each time we come here to pray and feast and sing.
            This Lent, let’s hold on to the foretaste of Easter that Jesus and his friends received on the mountain, the foretaste of love’s victory over hate and life’s victory over death, the foretaste of Easter that I saw and heard over at Majestic, when an old woman came back to life and sang:
            “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine!”
            Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Love Begins with Empathy

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
February 19, 2017

Year A: The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Psalm 119:33-40
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Matthew 5:38-48

Love Begins with Empathy
            It’s hard to believe that we’re already more than halfway through the month of February – this short and cold month when there’s been a whole lot going on in our country and around the world and right here in our city and our church.
            There’s been so much going on, so much to think and talk about, that we really haven’t said much about Black History Month – though I know lots of us are looking forward to the musical event that Gail has prepared for us to enjoy on Friday evening over at Incarnation.
            So, do any of you know why February is Black History Month?
            Contrary to myth, it’s not because it’s the shortest month of the year, but because it began as a celebration honoring one of the greatest African-Americans, someone who, despite being dead since 1895, has been in the news lately - Frederick Douglass, who chose to celebrate his birthday of February 14.
            I say chose to celebrate because Douglass, like most people born into slavery, didn’t know the exact date of his birth. Even that simple thing – knowing one’s birthday – was taken away by the great evil of slavery.
            Although I knew some things about Frederick Douglass, lately I’ve been reading more about him and have become even more fascinated by, amazed by, his life and character.
            He was born a slave in Maryland in 1818. His father was likely the master of the plantation and his mother a slave, meaning he was not produced by love but by rape.
            He was separated from his mother at a young age and was sold, owned, and passed around by various white families.
            Unlike most other slaves he managed to learn how to read and write – which would make all the difference in his life and for our history.
            When he was about 20 years old, Douglass ran away to the North, where he quickly distinguished himself as an outstanding orator – he was a licensed preacher in the AME Zion Church – and then as a writer, able to tell his harrowing story with powerful eloquence.
            He was such a gifted speaker, such a talented writer, that many white people found it hard to believe that he had ever been enslaved.
            He published several newspapers and advocated for the abolition of slavery and for equal rights for women.
            By the time of the Civil War, he was already something of a living legend, the most famous African-American of his day.
            All that is impressive and interesting, but, as I’ve read up on Frederick Douglass, I’ve discovered something else about him that’s remarkable – and it’s the reason why I bring him up today.
            Frederick Douglass was a man of deep empathy.
            He was a man of deep empathy, able to put himself in the shoes of others, especially, amazingly, able to put himself in the shoes of his enemies, those who enslaved him and millions of other men and women.
            In a way that most of his contemporaries didn’t recognize, or chose not to see, Douglass understood that slavery and racism didn’t just harm black people. Douglass knew that white people were also dehumanized by these great evils.
            It was dehumanizing to treat people like property.
            It was dehumanizing to force yourself on a woman that you “owned.”
            It was dehumanizing for white women to see and live among black children, slaves, who bore a striking resemblance to their husbands.
            Once, when Douglass was being forcibly removed from a whites only railroad car he said, “They cannot degrade Frederick Douglass. The soul that is within me no man can degrade. I am not the one being degraded on account of this treatment, but those who are inflicting it upon me.
            And then, one of his most famous quotes:
            “No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.”
            In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus gives us one of his most challenging teachings – a teaching that is unique to him:
            “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.”
            Now, I don’t know about you, but each time I’ve read those words, I’ve thought, especially in our time of bitter divisions at home and abroad, I’ve thought we have such a long way to go until we love our enemies, until we pray for those who persecute us, until we become like God, who loves both our friends and our enemies.
            Yes, we have a long way to go, but the first step towards love is empathy, to put ourselves in the shoes of others, to see and feel things their way.
            And, you know, the experience of Frederick Douglass teaches us that empathy can actually break down walls, heal old wounds, and turn enemies into brothers and sisters.
            Years after he ran away and after the Civil War and emancipation, Frederick Douglass returned to the South, returned to the plantations where he had been enslaved and met with some of the people who had oppressed him and their descendants, the people he had written about and spoken about for so long.
            We might imagine ourselves returning to a place of such pain, determined to seek revenge, to crush our old enemies, to burn these places and their people to the ground.
            But, Douglass went in peace – and empathy.
            At one plantation, he visited with the grandson of one his former owners. There he saw the closet where he had slept in a bag, where he had witnessed the brutal whipping and beating of a woman slave.
            Together the former slave, this great man, and the owner’s grandson walked around the plantation cemetery. The grandson picked flowers and presented them to Douglass who held them as they chatted on the veranda – a bouquet that Douglass kept for the rest of his life.
            Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
            Douglass also visited one of his former owners, Captain Auld, who by this time was a bedridden old man.
            Douglass said he agreed to visit him because “He was to me no longer a slaveholder either in fact or spirit, as I regarded him as I did myself, a victim of the circumstances of birth, education, law, and custom.”
            When they met, Captain Auld shed tears and said to his former slave, “If I had been in your place, I should have done as you did.”
            The encounter left the great Douglass speechless.
            Yes, we have a long way to go, but the first step towards love is empathy, to put ourselves in the shoes of others, to see and feel things their way.
            The experience of Frederick Douglass teaches us that empathy can actually break down walls, heal old wounds, and turn enemies into brothers and sisters.
            And, if Frederick Douglass could feel empathy for those who enslaved him, then with God’s help, with prayer and reflection and reading and imagination, we can take the first step towards love by feeling and offering empathy for…
            The landlord who makes our life miserable to drive us out of our apartment so he can jack up the rent.
            The drug dealers who stand menacingly on the street corner.
            The co-worker who talks about us behind our backs and tries to undermine us.
            The alcoholics begging for change outside Royal Liquors or Dunkin Donuts and who are later passed out in doorways around the neighborhood.
            The person so desperate for money that he or she steals from us.
            The people who are so frightened and even overwhelmed by ever-faster social and economic change, living in places with no jobs and no hope.
            The refugees fleeing oppression and violence to take a chance on a new life in a faraway, and not always welcoming, land.
            Our “enemies,” those who hurt us or want to hurt us, who try to take away our dignity, who try to degrade us in ways large and small.
            If Frederick Douglass could feel empathy for those who enslaved him, then, with God’s help, we can take the first step towards love, take the first step towards being like God.
            Love begins with empathy.
* For the material on Douglass in this sermon, I am especially indebted to “The Liberal Imagination of Frederick Douglass” by Nick Bromell, in the Spring 2008 issue of The American Scholar.

Sunday, February 12, 2017


St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
February 12, 2017

Year A: The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

            Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but fulfill.”
            You may remember that we heard Jesus say those words in last week’s lesson from the Gospel of Matthew:
            Jesus comes not to do away with the Law but to fulfill it.
            Some of you know that last week I managed to get away for a few days of vacation. And, while I’m grateful for those days of rest I’ll admit to being a little grumpy about the fact that where I was it rained almost the entire time.
            So, that was a bummer, but it gave me the chance to read a lot – to read a couple of books and also to read the newspaper a little more thoroughly than I normally do.
            One day I read an article about the discovery of some letters written by Jacqueline Kennedy to a friend of hers who, after President Kennedy’s assassination, had wanted to marry her.
            Maybe you heard about this, too.
            Not a particularly important story, I guess, and I wonder about the ethics of publishing, and now auctioning, these very personal artifacts.
            But, I was struck by this quote in the article from a biographer of both President and Mrs. Kennedy:
            “Jackie loved in Jack the man he wanted to be.”
            “Jackie loved in Jack the man he wanted to be.”
            On the one hand, there’s something beautiful about that, isn’t there?
            There’s something touching about a wife who can see in her husband his deepest hopes, aspirations, and ambitions – and love him for them.
            But, on the other hand, there’s the implication that maybe she wasn’t so crazy about the man he actually was, with all of his human flaws and failures, many of which have come to light in the years since his tragic death.
            And, then there’s President Kennedy himself, born into wealth, fame, and power – Kennedy, who despite his many accomplishments and gifts at a relatively young age – war hero, U.S. Senator, married to an intelligent and beautiful wife, adorable children, Pulitzer Prize, and, finally, President of the United States, apparently still yearned for more, to be more, to be better, yearned to be fulfilled.
            But, I guess, none of this should surprise us, right?
            We’ve all heard of lots of people, famous and successful in the eyes of the world, who never seem happy or satisfied, who always hunger for more fame, more money, more power, more popularity, more pleasure – people who seem to already have everything and yet still yearn to be fulfilled.
            In the words of that great theologian William Shatner reflecting on his own sense of dissatisfaction, “It hasn’t happened yet.”
            And, often, in the desire for “it,” in the desperate search for fulfillment, the rich and famous do great damage to themselves and others, right?
            They end up choosing death instead of life.
            And, I bet, that lots of us have had similar experiences, thinking that if I just got this job, or earned this amount of money, or if this person loved me, or if I could just somehow escape my responsibilities even for just a little while, if I just had “it,” then I’d finally be satisfied, then I’d finally be fulfilled.
            But, it hasn’t happened yet, right?
            This human predicament is an old, old story.
            Someone who knew all about it was Augustine of Hippo, who lived back around the year 400, and for many years he searched for fulfillment in different philosophies and religions, searched for fulfillment through professional achievement and, yes, through, sex.
            It didn’t happen, though.
            It didn’t happen - until he finally turned to God.
            Later, when he sat down to write his life story, when he began to write his Confessions, he offered this reflection, this now-famous prayer to God:
            “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”
            We are made for God and so we find our rest, our ultimate fulfillment, in God.
            Now, I’m guessing most of us can agree with that at least in theory. We’re onboard with that, but we’re left with the question of how.
            How do we find our fulfillment in God?
            Well, the people of Israel had and have an answer.
            We find our fulfillment by following faithfully – by fulfilling - God’s Law.
            Now, we Americans and we Christians, we have a kind of complicated relationship with the law – and even with God’s Law, right?
            As Americans, because we value personal freedom so much, it’s kind of in our national DNA to see the law as oppressive and to push the envelope when it comes to the law – to calculate just how much above the speed limit we can drive without getting pulled over and ticketed – to jaywalk all over the place, making our streets chaotic and dangerous - to litter because we can’t be bothered to find the nearest garbage can – and for the well-to-do and big corporations to find and use every tax loophole and benefit, walking right up to, and sometimes crossing, the line.
            You’ll notice that all of this tends to make us and our communities miserable, right?
            And as Christians, we’ve spent a lot of time debating how much of God’s Law still applies to us. I think it’s safe to say the Ten Commandments – and certainly the great commands to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
            As Christians, we’ve tended to think of God’s Law as somehow separate from God’s love – that, like a doting grandparent, God loves us so much that God isn’t terribly concerned about us following the rules.
            But, our Jewish brothers and sisters didn’t and don’t see it that way, and neither does Jesus.
            For them, God’s Law is not a bunch of burdensome rules meant to make us unhappy but a beautiful gift of love, a gift because it offers us a way to respond to God’s love, offers a path to God.
            God’s Law is a gift because it paves the road to fulfillment.
            “You have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”
            In fact, the way Matthew tells the story, Jesus doesn’t just embrace the Law but he calls us to fulfill the Law even more deeply – to even more deeply fulfill the Law by paying close attention not just to our actions but to what’s going on in our hearts.
            The Law is fulfilled and we are fulfilled not just by following the rules, not just by avoiding idolatry and adultery, not just by not killing and not coveting - but by aligning our hearts to God’s way.           
            Now, let’s be honest. Even with God’s help, none of this is easy, right?
            But, you know what else isn’t easy?
             “I’ll be fulfilled if I just get this job, or earned this amount of money, or if this person loved me, or if I could just somehow escape my responsibilities even for just a little while, if I just had “it,” then I’d finally be satisfied, then I’d finally be fulfilled.”
            That’s not easy – it hasn’t happened yet - and, in fact, is doomed to fail.
            It’s true that God’s way isn’t easy and, even with God’s help, we’re going to fall short – we’ll still get angry with each other and even insult one another – we’ll still check out people we find attractive, treating them, even for just a moment, as things instead of images of God – we won’t always be able to hold our relationships together, and, yes, sometimes that’s for the best to keep us safe and sane – we’ll still break things that can’t quite be put back together again.
            No, none of this is easy and we’re going to fall short, and we can only even begin with God’s help and forgiveness, and we can only continue knowing that Jesus is right here beside us, loving us and praying with and for us – we can only continue knowing that we’re all in this together, ready to love and support each other no matter what.
            It’s not easy, but following God’s Law is the way of life, aligning our hearts with God is the way to be, not who we want to be, but who God wants us to be.
            Fulfilling God’s Law is the way to fulfillment.
            “You have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”
            Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but fulfill.”

Sunday, February 05, 2017

The Days are Growing Brighter

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
February 5, 2017

Year A: The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 112
1 Corinthians 2:1-16
Matthew 5:13-20

The Days are Growing Brighter
            So, last Sunday evening at around 5:00 I came into church to set up for the Last Chance Mass.
            This is a normal part of my Sunday routine but last week I realized that something had changed: there was enough natural light in here that I didn’t have to turn on the lights, at least not right away.
            Yes, it’s still cold and we have a long way to go, but the days are growing noticeably brighter – once again, the light is beginning to overcome the shadows.
            And, not a moment too soon, right?
            For some of us, the brighter days bring us physical relief.
            I know a couple of parishioners who suffer from what’s called “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” a depression that’s caused by the reduction of sunlight during the winter.
            And, even if we’re not plunged all the way into depression, this time of year can still have real effects on our bodies and our minds, leaving us feeling the blues.
            For many of us, there’s not much light when we get up in the morning and there’s not much light when we get home in the evening.
            At the same time, for many of us lately the world has seemed spiritually dark, too.
            Many of us start each day with dread or fear.
            What will be the latest news out of Washington?
            What new horror will have occurred in some seemingly God-forsaken corner of the world?
            And, many of us start each day with dread or fear about matters closer to home, closer to our hearts – worries about our health or the health of someone we love – concern about how we’re going to pay the stack of bills on the kitchen table – hopelessness about our neighborhoods, with their ruined streets stained with the blood of our young people, poorly served by decades of leaders, places where, unfortunately, gangs have all too often replaced family and church.
            You know, I talk to a lot of people and what I’ve realized is that many of us have been suffering from what I’ll call “Spiritual Affective Disorder” – a spiritual depression, a despair caused by the shadowy time in which we find ourselves living.
            But, at the same time, maybe because so many of us are down and stressed out, I’ve noticed that we’re beginning to take care better care of one another.
            I’ve noticed that, in ways large and small, we are beginning to stand up for one another, increasingly willing to defend the weak and oppressed.
            I’ve noticed that we’re beginning to do what our bishop always calls us to do – risk something big for something good.
            No, we’re not there yet – we still have a long way to go - but I’ve noticed that, once again, as always, the light is beginning to overcome the shadows!
            The days are growing brighter.
            And that light that we see is the Light of Christ shining in and through us.
            As I’ve been preparing for today’s annual parish meeting I’ve been looking back at the year just past but I’ve also been reflecting on what is now my long association with St. Paul’s, first as a parishioner and now as your rector.
            If you were here a few weeks ago, you may remember that I told the story of how Sue and I ended up in this church, walking through those same doors back there, and finding a place that would transform our lives in ways we couldn’t begin to imagine.
            But, you know, good news is meant to be shared, so after a while we began to tell some of our friends and family about the light that we had discovered here.
            Although many of these people were very familiar with Jersey City, I’d tell them about St. Paul’s, and they’d assume it was one of the other St. Paul’s in town.            
            I’d patiently tell them, “No, it’s on Duncan, by St. Dom’s” and often they’d look at me blankly – or, sometimes they would think I was talking about First Baptist Church around the corner on the Boulevard.
            They’d say, “Oh, right, the church that looks like a castle!”
            And, I’d say, no, not that one. The church around the corner on Duncan.
            The truth is our beautiful church is kind of tucked away here, easy to miss. In fact, Sue went to St. Dom’s for four years and never knew this church was here!
            This situation wasn’t anybody’s fault – lots of people worked really hard to keep this place going especially during some hard years there for a while – but thinking about how so few people knew we were here, I’m reminded of Jesus’ description of the lamp covered by the bushel basket.
            I hope – and I think – that, with God’s help, over the past few years together we have taken the basket off of our lamp and let the Light of Christ – let our light - shine not only here in our beautiful old building but out into our neighborhood, and out into our city.
            Over the past few years, with God’s help, we have shined the Light of Christ when we have worked with people all across our city in Jersey City Together to “loose the bonds of injustice” – to fight for decent schools, safe streets, and affordable housing.
            Over the past few years, with God’s help, we have shared our bread with the hungry when we’ve invited anybody and everybody to our community suppers, and the Thanksgiving feast, and as we’ve done a little better with our food pantry donations, and now as we bring a hot delicious lunch to guests at the homeless drop-in center.
            But, you know, not all bread is baked, so we’ve also fed people by offering them so much art and beauty in this place – the reverence of our worship, of course, but also concerts and exhibits and plays and readings.
            And, just yesterday a bunch of us from St. Paul’s along with friends from Grace were over at Incarnation helping to create the Lighthouse, which will provide light – and safe harbor – for people who were forced to flee their homelands and have been granted asylum here in the U.S.
            It was beautiful to see.
            My beloved friends, the days are growing brighter.
            And that light that we see is the Light of Christ shining in and through us.
            If you listened to today’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah, you may have noticed that he essentially says that if we feed the hungry, if we let our light shine, then, you know what, our light will grow even brighter and stronger!
            It’s true: the more we give, the stronger we become.
            And, that’s exactly what’s happened here at St. Paul’s.
            We’ve let our light shine and our light has grown even brighter and stronger, as longtime parishioners have taken on new ministries and responsibilities and as new people have been drawn to the light, bringing different experiences, skills, and hopes, enriching our community.
            We’ve grown stronger by giving more to support to our church – almost everybody has made a financial pledge for this year – and it’s not too late for the rest of you to get onboard.
            We’ve grown stronger by taking care of many physical plant issues, both things we’ve known about for a long time like the crumbling front stairs, and also the occasional unpleasant surprise, like an infestation of raccoons in the tower!
            The days are growing brighter.
            And that light that we see is the Light of Christ shining in and through us.
            Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I may have mentioned to you once or twice that one of my absolute favorite things to do as a priest is to baptize people.
            And if you’ve been here for a baptism (and, I’m overjoyed to say, we had 17 of them last year!) you know that each time when I present the newly baptized with a candle, I say Jesus’ words from today’s Gospel lesson:
            “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
            Many of us, and a lot of people all around us, for lots of different reasons, are sad and frightened, suffering from “Spiritual Affective Disorder.”
            We still have a long way to go, but the days really are growing brighter – the days are growing brighter as winter gives way to spring - and the days are growing brighter as we allow the Light of Christ to shine in and through us.
            My prayer for the year ahead is that we’ll remember that we are the light of the world – and that we are meant to uncover the beautiful Light of Christ and shine it out there, out into the world.