“Aha!” – Sunday January 5, 2020

This Sunday there were three Gospel stories from which to choose; I think many came to church expecting the “wise men” Gospel from Matthew but instead I chose the story from Luke’s Gospel in which Jesus is separated from his parents without their knowledge. Eventually he is found… but, amazingly, in the Temple in deep conversation with religious and theological leaders. Quite a few “aha” moments flying around.
The basic text for the sermon is underneath the sermon audio.

 

 

Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport, RI; Sunday January 5th 2020 The Reverend Alan Neale; “‘Aha’”

It is our Greek friend Archimedes whose name is linked forever with moments of sudden discovery; sometimes called “aha” moments. The story goes that the king wanted Archimedes to discern whether his crown was made of gold. For many days Archimedes fretted about an answer until one famous day when, while taking a bath, he realizes the solution and then, allegedly, leaps from his bath and runs through the streets naked shouting “Eureka – I’ve found it”. Truly a quintessential “aha” moment.

Our minds but more especially our spirits (because they are eternal) can be laboratories for such discoveries though running around wet and naked are not crucial to the task, rarely required.

I think one “aha” moment occurred for the world to see when, a few days ago, there was a papal “hand swat” when Pope Francis (jerked backwards by an ardent fan) slapped a woman’s hand and clearly looked either in pain or disgruntled or both. This was an “aha” moment as we recognized, what we really should already know to be true, that the Pope (any Pope) is human and subject to human failings. Thank God, the “aha” moment continued the next day when the Pope made public apology to the woman. In a few hours we were propelled into seeing the humanity but also the Christian nature of the man.

I believe that today’s Gospel from Luke 2 shows evidence of “aha” moments both for Jesus and for his parents.

Verse 42 sets the scene for these crucial revelations: “42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.” There is much to be said for us to develop habits of worship, of prayer, of meditation, of service, of giving… to do such things “as usual”. The habitual does not war against the spontaneous, the known does not dampen the revelatory… a regular practice, “as usual”, is the good soil for us to discover and receive new truths about ourselves, about God and about our relationship with God.

And so the twelve year old boy, traveling as usual to Jerusalem, loses track of time and purpose; I feel confident that it was not Jesus’ intent to cause his parents distress and alarm but something happened, maybe something like an “aha” moment, that led him back to the temple… but not only that, led him into the center of theological discussion “46 He was sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”

Here surely was an “aha” moment that was going to shape the life and thinking and purpose of Jesus!

Mary and Joseph were subject to two “aha” moments in this precious Gospel story. Listen to Luke: “43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.” “When they did not find him” – here is surely one of the most poignant “aha” moments; when our assumptions that God is with us, on our side, defending our prejudices are shaken and we realize “we have left Him behind”. Or when we come to realize that years of faithful church attendance have somehow left us without a vital and authentic experience of God and assurance of God’s love and grace.

The second revelation for the parents was when they entered the temple and observed this miraculous, strange scene of their twelve year old son in deep and fruitful conversation with religious leaders. Their first reaction was more than understandable: “48When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” But then comes the “aha” moment as Jesus tries to help them understand, “Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house, doing my Father’s business.”

We are told the parents did not really understand but nevertheless the family was reunited, Jesus leaves the temple willingly and resumes his dutiful relationship with Mary and Joseph.

And Luke concludes the story with these words, “52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” What we see in the temple is not a fait accomplait, it is not a completed work, a done deed… what we see in the Temple gives strength and energy to continue to work of growth in wisdom and stature.

This Gospel story urges me to renew a commitment to regularity in prayer, worship, reading, service and giving; this Gospel story encourages me to look for those moments of revelation when I see/experience more deeply God’s love and grace for me and for others.

At the end of the story of the wise men (Matthew 2:12) we read that they returned home a different way, maybe indicating in part they returned home different people.

We can be sure that Jesus, Mary and Joseph returned home to Nazareth a different way, a different people. What they had seen and heard would help to begin changes in their lives that would affect them so very deeply.

Let us be bold and expect, ask the Lord to offer us moments of new revelation and deep understanding so that we will return to work, to family, to living… “by a different way”.

AMEN

“Awesome Beginnings” -Sunday, December 29, 2019

 

Today’s Gospel is the phenomenal, breath-taking, theologically explosive reading of John 1:1-14. Oh sermons could be preached on this Gospel without end (of number, or of time). I preached on what I thought was prominent for the time though, in the preparation, I mused a lot on the absence/discouragement of poignancy in our lives… perhaps because it makes us all a little more sensitive and fragile (oh dear, God forbid!). After such a long gap, it was a blessing to preach again.

The text is below the sermon audio.

 

 

Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport, RI
Sunday December 29 2019
The Reverend Alan Neale
“Awesome Beginnings”

I think with our familiarity with today’s Gospel, we easily forget the jolt it brought to its first readers. “In the beginning” was a phrase that had resonated throughout centuries and hundreds of scrolls but it was known to read as such “In the beginning God created…”. Now there is a new beginning, well what seems a new beginning, as the Gospel thunders with these opening words, “In the beginning was the Word… and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.

Here is the most simple of commixing Hebrew and Greek thought… the former with the emphasis on person, the latter with emphasis on reason.

Although in a sense it is all so artificial we all face a new beginning as New Year’s Eve clocks strike twelve and 2020 begins. This time last year Wendy and I were anticipating 2019 with great joy and excitement especially as we planned a visit to UK, Vietnam and Cambodia… we knew not what the rest of 2019 would bring. This year, looking to a new beginning, Wendy and I are a little anxious (mindful of recent events) but John 1:1 is an encouragement… In the beginning, in every beginning, there is the person and purpose of God…

In fact I believe the whole of today’s Gospel brings to each of us a reasonable and sure hope for the year to come as we reflect on the poignancy, the proximity and the power of God.

Poignancy. Listen to these verses from the Gospel: “He was in the world, the world came into being through him, yet he was unknown by the world. He came to what was his own and his own people did not receive him.” Here surely is one of the most poignant stories… of a son rejected by his father, of a community no longer able to survive economically, of excess wealth displayed in television advertising as children sit at home with barely enough to eat and surely little expectation of bright new toys. I think the Gospel should move us to experience this strange sensation of poignancy more often… of course we battle it as we ignore, or deflect or muffle it but maybe our experience of poignancy makes us malleable to love and to serve the Lord. And when we are most overcome ourselves by a weighty sense of poignancy, we can take heart… God knows!

Proximity. Listen to what I can only describe as a bombshell in religious literature… John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh… and lived among us.” Bishop Temple described Christianity as “the most materialistic of all religions”’ and Lord George McLeod once commented on this verse “Matter matters”. The world is alive, vibrant with this truth… and as this finds a home deep in our being so we cannot look on others, on ourselves, on any situation as godless, hopeless, beyond redemption, beyond the pale. This time of the year is often a time for reflection, for the inward journey and in that journey we will discover hopes and fears, secrets and skeletons – friends, nothing we discover, nothing that we have tried to hide is beyond the touch of God… The Word became flesh… everything, even that which draws us from the love and service of the Lord.

Power. “To all who received him, who believed on his name… he gave power to become children of God.” The Greek word for received suggests a warm and thorough welcome of the heart, the Greek word for belief suggests a determined commitment of the mind. And the promise of all this… that we become children of God… born of God. It is surely the birthright of each person in this church that she, he should know this special relationship with God; a relationship that moves far beyond an acknowledgement of God as Creator, that moves each of us to be able to cry (in the words of St. Paul), “Abba, Father…”. In this relationship there is no room for the lurking murmur of blame, nor the overbearing sense of shame.
I’m not sure it’s appropriate to share New Year Resolutions, oh for a variety of reasons, but this I will share with you all… this coming year I hope for a heart more ready to be touched and moved by poignancy, I want to have eyes to see and ears to hear God in all things and all people and all challenges and I want to cherish and nurture my status (given by God) as a child of God so that my spirit may not be too readily daunted.
Maybe you will share this with me this coming year?
Amen

Advent IV – Sunday, December 22, 2019

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

 

I shall be brief this morning, since we have already added two dimensions to this liturgy.

 

I want to talk about Joseph because we rarely say much about him and we do not have a very clear picture about him—who he was, what led him to make the choices he did.  And we have no intimate details of his relationship with Mary or even with Jesus.  He’s like the mother of the groom at a wedding, the least of the principals, except, we hope, to her son.

 

We know Joseph was older than Mary and was already established in his trade as a carpenter, for that is how they referred to him: Joseph the Carpenter.  But that is about it.

 

We also know from the portion of Matthew’s gospel for today that Joseph thought there was something wrong in staying in a relationship with Mary, for though they had never “known each other” in the Biblical meaning of that phrase, Joseph had no idea how she became pregnant, but she definitely was.  He was ready to end the relationship because the child was not his.  He also did not want to make a public fuss to shame or dishonor Mary.

 

That was Joseph’s resolve as he went to sleep on the night of this story.  Then something totally unexpected happened: an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him the child was from the Holy Spirit.

 

We could spend days discussing the use of the term Holy Spirit this early in this gospel, more days talking about whether Joseph might buy a certain bridge if it were available, and even more days discussing whether it is essential that Mary was and remained a virgin at his conception.  We are not going to do that, because most of those discussions would lead nowhere.  How do we second-guess God?  If you want to try, go ahead, but that is not my task this morning.

 

Just remember that there are stories in many contemporary eastern and middle-eastern religions where gods consort with human beings, again, in the Biblical language, “where gods know human females carnally.”  [I trust that will not shock your sensibilities, which is why I use such brazen language.]

 

Within that middle-eastern confluence of religions and beliefs, it would not have been unusual even for a good man and a devout Jew, which certainly describes Joseph, it would not have been unusual to believe that “the other gods did that with humans,” so there is a lot of openness to the idea that the God of the Hebrews might do this too.  And while Joseph who is described as a good and devout Jew, he very well might have had less than a clear view about monotheism.  So many cultures, so many religions, so many gods.  Joseph tried to be faithful to his.  He  believed in the God of Israel, but he knew many believed in other gods as well.

 

Leave it to an angel: the angel went further, saying this child to be is a son and tells Joseph to name him Jesus.  The angel tells Joseph this, not Mary.

 

When Joseph awoke from that dream, it was clear he believed this and did exactly what the angel told him.  It was Joseph who gave Jesus a home and took Jesus as his son.  That was an act of faith.

 

Let’s skip ahead a couple of weeks in liturgical time and a couple of years in historical time.

 

The magi or wise men or three kings or astronomers or all of the above or whatever they were had dreams, too.  One dream about following a star changed their lives and led them on a journey.  Of course, they visited a king’s palace to see a prince, and may have been taken in by the king’s interest in this new child.  The star led them to Jesus, and after seeing him, they had expected to go back to Herod on the way home and share with him the name of Jesus, his parents and where they lived, as Herod suggested, so Herod might make a visit.  They had a dream.  Was it one of them who shared the dream and everyone else bought into the meaning of it? Or was it that they each had a dream but the message was essentially the same: do not go back to Herod; go back a different way.  Whatever, they did.

 

Joseph had three more dreams and each one told him to do something for Jesus, something to protect him and keep him from harm.

 

Joseph’s second dream came after the wise men left and an angel warned Joseph to get up and take Mary and Jesus to Egypt, for Herod was seeking to kill Jesus when he found Jesus.

Again, Joseph listened to the dream and went to and stayed in Egypt until Herod died.  When Herod died, Joseph had a dream in which an angel told him, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.”

 

Sorry to say, but this third angel did not have the whole picture.  S/He was wrong.  Even Joseph had a strong hunch about that when he found out that Herod’s son Archelaus was the new king.  However far they got on the journey back to Israel, one night, in a fourth dream, yet another angel came with a correction or revision of the message: don’t go there, so he went to the district of Galilee and made his home in a town called Nazareth.  (A side note, the prophets had prophesied that this Son of God/Son of Man would be called a Nazorean, so this fulfilled more prophecy and helped the generation just after Jesus understand and welcome this news better than most of us do.)

 

For a long time, I have been fascinated by Joseph.  Jungian psychologists and psychiatrists consider him the most clear example in Christian and other myths of the one who personifies the care of the Being of Christ.  (If any of you want to play with this on Jungian terms, ask me and we can do an adult forum on this.)  Basically, I am fascinated by Joseph because he listened to his dreams, attributed at least four of them to God, and staked his very life on them, and even more importantly, at some point, Joseph’s “yes” to God about being Jesus’ earthly father was similar to Mary’s powerful claim: “Be it unto me according to your word!”  They were both obedient servants, obedient in terms of listening to revelations that were personally directed to them, and overwhelming to simple peasant folk in the culture of that time.

 

Let’s get back to us, because all these stories and events are spectacular, but I am always concerned about how we take them in.

 

Have you ever had an experience like this?  It is about dreams that help us to understand who we are and what it is that God is calling us to be and to do.  It may be very direct and basic, like “get over yourself and forgive someone.”  It may be much broader like how to invest the rest of your life, whether you are 17 or 77.  There may have been an angel in the dream, and probably not, especially since so few of us imagine angels from day to day.  I have had dreams that have called me to change the course of my life, whether to begin something new or to let go of something that was diminishing or defeating me.  Sometimes it was a single powerful dream and  at other times it was a series of dreams because I would never have understood the message in a one-time event or occasion.

 

This is not just about me.  I cannot tell you how many times people have shared some of their most powerful dreams that caused them to change their lives—perhaps a new direction, perhaps a powerful and wonderful letting go, perhaps a simple recognition and sudden realization of the gift that one is to the world in which one lives.

 

I deeply believe that God relates to us in our dreams, especially those dreams in which we see ourselves bringing goodness and grace and health and help into the world.  That is not a dream of grandiosity.  That is a time when HOPE transcends fear and doubt. That is a dream of our soul having a healthy influence on the world/society around us.  This is an area or arena in which we, who are taught modesty to the nth degree, need to affirm with the psalmist (139): “lo, I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”   Wonderfully: “full of wonder.”

 

Sometimes we learn this in a dream, because our daily conscious lives are not big or broad enough to take such wonders in.  Sometimes we learn this when a good friend says something unexpected to us, which may be either a compliment or a complaint or criticism.

 

Sometimes God speaks to us when we look in a mirror and see some dimension of ourselves for the very first time, and recognize that as a call to be brave enough to be bigger than we have been.

 

The themes of Advent are Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.  The spiritual emphasis of Advent is about practice: Stop!  Look!  Listen!  Watch out!  (Doesn’t that sound like first grade?)

 

The challenge is: be prepared!  {Doesn’t that sound like scouts?)

 

If we practice these dimensions of Advent well during these four weeks, we may listen more deeply all year.

 

We have two more days of listening before receiving the greatest gift we ever receive.  AGAIN.  Amen.

 

+James L. Jelinek, Interim Rector

Trinity Church

 

 

Advent III – Sunday, December 15, 2019

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

 

 

The image of the desert in bloom in the passage from Isaiah, recalls a trip I took with some of my seminary friends a year and a half ago.  We went to Phoenix, AZ, and it was my turn to line up the restaurants, the museums and other adventures we would have.  One of them was a sunrise ride/sail in the gondola of a hot air balloon.  Our gondola could carry 28, plus the pilot, and we learned that when they inflated that beautiful balloon, it held millions of cubic feet of air.  I was sure this was on everyone’s bucket list, as it was on mine.  Not so.  Four of the nineteen of us went up in the air.  It was spectacular, and we got to see coyote and deer near but unaware of each other, and rabbits scurrying out of the way.  Most of all, it was the blooming time for some yellow flower and the view was superb and magnificent.  So when Isaiah calls up this image, it speaks to me deeply.

 

Because you are searching for a rector, I want to speak today as someone who has served as a rector, and some of my closest colleagues who have done the same.  Every year since 1989, some portion of the General Theological Seminary Class of 1970 has gotten together for the better part of a week.  The first couple of days are social, dinner at the home of the host, a special restaurant and a museum or local sight during the daytime.  Then we go off for three days of being together to tell our stories since the last time.  One of our group is a gay guy with an outrageous sense of humor who told us that when a friend asked him with surprise and doubt, “What can you possibly find to talk about during that time?”  Richard, never at a loss for words, answered, “Well, at our age, it always starts with an organ recital.”

 

What I want to share most is that we were all “formed” together over three years by the faculty who taught us, the rhythm of daily prayer and singing and Eucharist in the chapel, and in that environment we found disciplines of prayer and work that served us well over the years.  I have a number of good and true friends from places where I have lived and served, but these guys, and since retirement, spouses too, have become a profound extended family.  We have gone through all the joys and sorrows of life together, including someone being deposed from the priesthood for a while, a few divorces, alcoholism, the serious illnesses of many of us, loss of children, spouses, some of our group and numerous beloved pets.  We met  each other over fifty years ago, when others who knew me then were wondering how on earth Jim Jelinek could become a priest.  My classmates’ friends felt that way about them, I learned, and at first I think we all felt that way about each other: him, a priest?  No way.

 

But time and practice and good disciplines and people attentive to our prayer life shaped us all.  We weren’t all best buddies, although some of us were closer friends than others.  It was after we started coming together annually that we really got to know the essence of each other, so that we could see how we each, with very different talents and skills, a wide range of political views both within the church and publicly, came together with a tremendous similarity of values, about honor and integrity and what it means to be a pastor and priest, about what the prophets and the apostles and disciples stood for and gave their lives for.  We have each learned for ourselves the cost of being God’s servant, why we continue to serve, and we know very well that our brothers have been on the same journey.  We know, most of all, that we have to be as honest with each other as we have to be with ourselves when we look in the mirror each morning.  That is always a test.  One glance is about being presentable to go out in public with what I have.  The longer look is about who I am, and am I being true.  We the men of General from 1970, have called ourselves “the Chelsea boys,” since the seminary close or quadrangle is named Chelsea Square.  We are truly brothers in faith and life and practice, and those we are or have been married to confirm that again and again.

 

Let’s go back to Isaiah for a moment: at first trying to reach out particularly to people “around my age”—that is when the body has started speaking more loudly and dramatically than we might like, Isaiah gives us images that seem impossible:

 

“The the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped”—OH do I have friends who hope and pray for that, especially my brother-in-law who never seems to find the right hearing aid, after spending thousands again and again.

 

“Then the lame shall leap like the deer” — Oh, my poor feet, if you hear that, remember that when you land, IT WILL NOT HURT!

 

“And the tongue of the speechless shall sing with joy!” — May anyone with stutters/halting speech/an inability to speak/and, shall we add, the fear of speaking listen: this is for you.

 

The rest of the passage is about safety and security which brings relief, thanksgiving and joy.

 

Central to all of this is the message from the Letter of James (5:7): “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.”  The Greek word for patience is “patior”, which means “to suffer well/to bear up well.”  None of us likes to choose to suffer, and most of us do not suffer well.  We groan and moan and complain and whine, and if we are suffering in silence it is because we are moping and in a quietly sour mood, doing all of our complaining internally when not aloud.  Really: doesn’t a good groan or moan or an oof! elicit some sympathy, which doesn’t change the pain but lets us know that someone cares for us.

 

To suffer well.  I have known some who have suffered well. I put them up for sainthood.

 

That is the downside of illness.  The gospel today seeks to remind us of the upside.

 

Let’s do a little Biblical theology first.  In this passage from Matthew’s gospel, John the Baptist’s disciples go to Jesus with a very direct question from John himself: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

 

Jesus does not say “yes” or “no.”  He does answer both profoundly and directly: “Tell John what you hear and see.”

 

He is saying: “Look!  Listen!  Experience this—what is happening now!”

 

Then Jesus gives an incredible litany of the blessings that come from his presence and ministry: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have the good news brought to them.  And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

 

There is no way Jesus could have answered that question from John with a yes or no.  It was all about the results that would come if God’s gift to the world came among the people of Israel.  Once he heard that report, John never doubted, and he paid with the price of his life.  My friends, many of us have to pay with some agony or anguish at the anger or even loss of a friend or more, but very few of us ever have to pay with our lives.  In thousands of years, there are very few martyrs, comparatively speaking.  Yet it is real and painful to take a stand on behalf of the suffering of the world and suffer the disdain and disparagement and even the separation of others.

 

Years ago I read a book on the Huguenot resistance in Switzerland and parts of southeastern France during WWII.  The title is, if I remember correctly, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, and the subtitle was what engaged me: “When goodness happened in the village of Le Chambeau”  (sp?).  Isn’t that intriguing?  “When goodness happened.”   I love that phrase, but the central story takes too long to tell, so I want to talk about “when hope happens.”  That’s like all the crocuses blooming in the desert which seems so dead for so much of the year, and then, suddenly, whether anyone is there to notice or not, it bursts into more life than we can ever imagine for a desert.

 

I want to make this very much about us, because your pledging this fall has been so much about hope, about new possibilities, and I have seen heroic leaps of faith.  I don’t want to quote numbers, although every number I would quote would make the Vestry as a body, the Stewardship Committee, and all of you, including people pledging for the first time as new members, those numbers would be a cause of celebration for all of us, for all of you.

 

Now can you imagine, that even with all this heroic effort, because we had big dreams, and because our buildings and grounds always have a way to grind us down with needs that we have put on the back burner for years, the people and matters we most wish to fund are being pushed back by those we seem to need to fund.  As I hear and read the budget, we are close to a balance, but I know the Vestry does not want to present an unbalanced budget when all of you have shown so much faith and confidence in where God is calling us and where we are going.

 

My sense is that we are within a few thousand dollars of a balance, which, in a budget over $400k, is usually not serious.  My sense is that you have been bold in your pledging, and you would like the Vestry to be similarly bold if the risk is not great.

 

Again, this is very much about us as a parish, and you have, as a parish, suffered and rejoiced and/or triumphed.  We might interpret your pledge increases as a simple affirmation that the current path is a good/right one.  We might interpret  your pledge increase as a sign of hope and faith.

 

I serve here for the greater good of the parish, not as its protector [to protect is usually to preserve what is, not to improve or grow it.]  I think you have spoken by your pledging out of hope and faith, and it is our responsibility to take some reasonable risks.

 

Of course, everyone can argue what “reasonable” is, and that’s why this is part of a sermon and not a debate.

 

May we all listen deeply to the Holy Spirit, when we all have our own sense of economics and what safety and security mean.  Amen.

 

+James L. Jelinek, Trinity Church

Sunday, December 8th – Advent II

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts always be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

 

I love the season of Advent because of its quietness and call to introspection, and the promise always of learning more, for the word itself means “to come,” or “that which is to come.”  Yet it is difficult to preach during this season because Jesus rarely appears in any of the lessons except as a reference to another story, even in the gospels.  Today we have a reference to Jesus in Isaiah, when the author says, somewhat vaguely, because it is a prophecy, “a shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse.”  I have some tree stumps on my property in Wisconsin, and new shoots come out of those stumps every year, never strong enough to become a new tree, but Isaiah speaks of just such a shoot that will bring overwhelming new possibilities for all of creation: harmony between creatures who are mortal or edible enemies, and the possibility of peace when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

 

So there we have a reference of the one who is to come, whom we believe is Jesus the Christ, for that is what we have named this promised saving being, or savior. We usually spell the word with an “ior,” but when the British who speak our mother tongue speak of Jesus himself, not just anyone who might save someone from something, they spell the word “Saviour.”  That spelling sets Jesus apart, makes him unique, identifies him as a man, a being, a particular person who is far above and beyond even the most gifted of human beings.

 

I am particularly moved by the psalm this week, Psalm 72, which refers to the hope of Israel always to have a king and ruler who will be there for the good of, the support of, the protection of, and the teaching of the whole of the people of Israel.

 

The psalmist asks for justice for the king and righteousness for his son.  It is not that the king needs justice for himself, he needs to mete out justice to all of his subjects.  And his son needs righteousness, not for his own sake of being morally correct and justifiable, but for the sake of the people he will one day rule, that he may be a person of peace and hope and trust.

 

Have you ever noticed that Hebrew psalms never speak in terms of selfishness, of self-aggrandizement, in reference to what is best for ME with no thought of the needs and values of someone less fortunate than that ME.

 

Be forewarned, what I am about to say next may seem troubling and partisan to some of you.  I have to note that this week, news reports said that America has reached the lowest level of unemployment in decades.  There is something worth celebrating there.  This was also true in the mid 1990s when every income level/group (how do we say that) was at its most prosperous and with the strong belief that this would continue), our government decided to cut welfare and food benefits.  When this country did that during the mid-90s, with no need to do so, I feared that we were selling our soul as a nation that had strongly held to our Jewish-Christian heritage, believing deeply in God’s preference for the poor, as evident throughout Jewish and Christian scriptures.  So this week we heard this is about to happen again.  We are on the verge of making the poor suffer again.  We have done a super tax cut for people with a high level of income, which may be fine, but do we have to pay for it by cutting the poor out of the little we provide for them to survive.  I realize I am becoming political here, but there are some injustices, given Judeo-Christian history and spirituality, that I, as someone who has committed my life to God’s promises to the poor and the Church’s commitment to the good of the whole, I cannot be silent in moments like this.  It is often necessary to cut corners and save money in times of great economic crisis.

 

It is an altogether different matter to do so when the common good will not be lessened or diminished by caring for the poor and disenfranchised.  It is not caring for the poor that will tax our democracy beyond its limits.  And it certainly reveals more faith in the power of money than in our Lord and God.

 

This is what John the Baptist is railing about when the Pharisees and Sadducees come to him for baptism.  He is downright nasty, calling them a brood of vipers, a snake being the lowest of the low as we remember the creation story.  He is furious that they are counting on their heritage to save them, the fact that they descend from a wealthy or sophisticated or learned family.  But they are not living justly, not pursuing or living in righteousness, and their hypocrisy is too much for him to stomach.  These are the folks whom Jesus will later describe as wearing long tassels on their prayer shawls, claiming the best seats in the synagogue, and expecting everyone to pay deference to them.  Of course, the others who were coming for baptism were sinners, too, but John finds them easier to love.  Our hearts go out to someone who is truly repentant after doing a wicked thing, but we grind our teeth in anger when the wickedness is coupled with hypocrisy.

 

What John says to the whole crowd is the important thing here: “I  baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. . . .”

 

John is certainly aware of our need to clean ourselves up from time to time, on the inside as well as the outside, which is why he makes the comment about baptizing with water.  But he also glimpses something about the one who has been promised as a savior for Israel, that he will bring something more: a spirit of energy and power and grace, enough to set them on fire with love for all of the rest of their lives and move them further to set those around them on fire, too.

There is a lesson from Isaiah (6:1-8) that we often read at ordinations.  It is a vision of the throne room of heaven with God musing as he sits upon the throne.  Seraphim are flying around, and hosannas and hallelujahs are being sung.  And God muses about sending someone out to save his people.  “Whom shall I send; who will go for me.”  And Isaiah stands there and blurts out: “Here I am Lord, send me.”  And one of the seraphim takes a set of tongs and brings him a white hot coal and touches it to his lips.  It is a searing moment in every way.  It is indelible, never to be forgotten or removed.

 

I remember the first time I was asked to preach on it at an ordination.  The more I read through and prayed over that lesson and what it meant to me to be a priest, in good times and difficult times, both with and without courage, except as God gave it to me, and the image I came up with is that when we are ordained we are called to kiss the fire.  Just as we go down into the waters of death with Christ in baptism, so do we kiss the fires of life in ordination.  The waters can drown us, the fires may burn us to a crisp.  I think I scared the hell out of some of those ordinands that day.  But, from what many said, I think they got it, too.  Amen.

 

+James L. Jelinek

Trinity Church

Thanksgiving Eve – Wednesday, November 27, 2019

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts always be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

 

 

In the passage from the Book of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Torah, we are hearing a new directive from God, a new commandment, which is fitting because the words ‘deutero’ and ‘nomy’ mean “second law” in Hebrew.  While the first giving of the law seemed to be full of a lot of what we should not do, this one is different, because it gives the people a directive to do something good: to give away something, because they have just been blessed with abundance in the harvest, and to celebrate, to rejoice for the goodness they have received.  Part of this celebration is a religious ceremony, when they take their offering to the priest of the Lord and when you give it to him, you shall recall who you are and where you came from.  They came from/were descended from a wandering Aramean, Abram, by name, whom God encountered, renamed Abraham, made a covenant with him and blessed with increasing resources.  The covenant was God’s promise to be with him and his descendants forever, and Abraham’s promise in return to be faithful to God and to teach his descendants to do the same by modeling for his children what faithfulness.

 

Abraham became wealthy, enough to leave an inheritance to his son Isaac, who in turn left his inheritance to Jacob and Esau, although Jacob was shifty enough to cheat his brother out of their father’s blessing.  Nevertheless, God blessed both with even more riches, though they lives estranged from each other for a long time.  Their story reveals one of the deep human flaws that we see several times lived out in Hebrew scripture, the jealousy and estrangement and worse that can happen between members of the same family.  We saw it in Cain and Abel and we shall see it again between Joseph and his brothers, and a number of other places.  Even among Jesus’ disciples, James and John argued who was the greatest of them, wanting to sit on his right hand and his left, and fully expecting that they were better than the others and deserved these two places of honor.  Jesus firmly discouraged such thinking.

 

When the Israelites gave their gifts of first fruits to the priest they were encouraged to consider all of their history, including the worst of the captivity in Egypt after the time of the great famine and well after Joseph’s death, and in that memory to recall all the things God did to bring them out of captivity, through a long and perilous journey, and into a land of milk and honey, all the way through that journey appearing before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

 

Many years ago, when I lived in Cincinnati, I was walking down the street on a Saturday morning and came to Plum Street Temple, the oldest Jewish house of worship in the area.  They had just finished some liturgy, most of the people had gone, but the doors were still open so I went in.  I found on one of the pews a leaflet of the day’s liturgy which was the equivalent of our confirmation rite.  Like at the seder, there were questions and responses that recalled some of the most important moments in their very long history.  There was also a canticle which I had never seen before, the Dayenu, which was to be said antiphonally, with a reader or cantor doing the first half of the verse, and the people responding “Dayenu,” which in English means “It would have been enough!”  or “It would have sufficed us.!”  It focuse mostly on the time of the Exodus from Egypt, and includes some of the later history as well, step by step.  I’ll start at the beginning and give you a sample.

 

 

 

If you had brought us out of Egypt and not carried out judgment against them, Dayenu!

If you had carried out judgment against them and not destroyed their idols, Dayenu!

If you had destroyed their idols and not smitten their first-born, Dayenu!

If you had smitten their first-born and not given us their wealth, Dayenu!

If you had given us their wealth and not split the sea for us, Dayenu!

If you had split the sea for us and not taken us through on dry land, Dayenu!

If you had taken us through on dry land and not drowned our oppressors, Dayenu!

 

It continues like this, a detailed accounting of all the blessings of the Exodus and the time in the Wilderness until they arrived at the Land of Promise.  In our modern world where advertising and pictures of the rich and famous constantly seduce us into believing we need more, subtly persuade us that we do not have everything we need or want, this canticle is a good antidote, a reminder of the depths of the problems our ancestors faced and their need to remember from what they have come and how blessed they are.

 

We Christians have our liturgies of praise and thanksgiving as well, most predominantly the Holy Eucharist, the thanksgiving we pray for God’s saving acts throughout history.  Both Fr. Neale and I have preached on that theme this fall, so I want to simply point to a few things.

 

Jesus warns his followers not to work for the food that perishes, that is, the foodstuffs we put in our mouths to nurture our bodies.  Rather, he says, work for “the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

He concludes with this: “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

 

I think this is what Paul knows deeply inside by the time he writes the letter to the Philippians, because he says something so outrageous that he only dare say it if he knows with his whole being: ‘the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding(!), will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 

One last note from this passage from Deuteronomy: after setting down their gifts before the Lord and bowing to the Lord, the Israelites are told, “Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.”  How like the first Thanksgiving in this country, when the early settlers came together for a feast and invited their Native American neighbors to join them.

 

I would like to make a suggestion to you for your Thanksgiving Dinner.  It is not another dish to prepare, nothing more to shop for, just something simple yet profound to do.  Sometime during dinner, when people are enjoying delicious food and, I hope, the loving warmth of family, ask them all to share with the rest of the people at the table what they are most grateful for this year.  Amen.

 

+James L. Jelinek,

Trinity, Newport

Sunday, November 24 – Christ the King

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts always be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

Today is the Feast of Christ the King, the climax of our liturgical year.  Jesus’ ancestors passed down the scriptures from ancient times which we know as the Hebrew Bible.  In those writings we hear many references to the kings of the past, particularly the great King David, and there are numerous prophecies of a great king and savior to come, a descendant in David’s line.  Just after Jesus’ birth, the Magi arrive, led by a star and seeking to greet the newborn king.  Of course, they go to Herod’s palace, but Jesus is not there.  The star leads them further, to a humble stable in Bethlehem, where they first see the Light of the World.

Throughout much of his life, especially those three or so years of his public ministry of teaching, preaching and healing, Jesus seems to have heard the word “king” in reference to himself.  One of his temptations in the wilderness is about having all power and authority, but he shuns that goal, knowing his call is to stay on the path God has given him.

When he enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he hears the crowd singing, “Hosanna to the son of David,” a clear reference to the Davidic line.  As he walks up the steps of the Temple, he turns at the top to look at the crowd who want to make him king.  The temptation is there for him again, and it is real.

We tend to dismiss or diminish this temptation because we know the end of the story, but remember the person Jesus was while on this earth.  A pastor’s heart, a shepherd’s heart beat in his chest.  Remember all the times we hear of his compassion; remember him weeping at Lazarus’ tomb; remember him looking down from the Mount of Olives while he was praying, watching so many wounded and unhappy people and remember his words: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, I would have taken you under my wings, as a hen takes her chicks, but you would not let me.”  Do you hear the deep sadness in his lament?  So when the crowds acclaim Jesus as the Son of David and want to make him king that day, can you imagine that Jesus might have been tempted one last time?    That’s the part of Jesus that may have been tempted by the power to heal all of humanity.  But Jesus reaffirmed God’s order of creation rather than seeking to impose his own.  Jesus looked at the crowd, turned and silently walked away.  His silence said everything.

In the next week, the final week of Jesus’ life, the week we call holy, how many times is the word “king” used in speaking to Jesus or about him?  At his trial, Pontius Pilate says, “So you are a king, then.”  But Jesus says simply, “You say so,” in other words, I am not claiming that.  Somehow Pilate is moved, for after Jesus has been nailed to the cross, some soldiers hang a sign above his head written in four languages: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”  The High Priest and the rabbis were furious and the High Priest said, “Do not say ‘King of the Jews,’ but that he said he is King of the Jews.”  Pilate answered tersely and firmly, “What I have written, I have written.”

Jesus’ throne is not made of rare woods, precious stones and gold and silver; it is a simple wooden cross.  What a way to treat a king!  And how do we understand God’s asking Jesus to bear this, to endure such agony and anguish and pain?

There’s a collect in Morning Prayer for Fridays, that helps me to understand this, and perhaps it will help you:

“Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy before he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified; Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace.”

The last collect in Morning Prayer goes one step further, as we address our prayer this time to Jesus:

“Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace;” [what a wonderful image, stretched wide to embrace the whole world, not merely the ones we want to include!].  The prayer concludes with a petition that we offer asking God to give purpose to our lives: “So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you.”

The ultimate recognition is that Jesus is the King of Hearts, the King of every heart, as in that great hymn:

“At the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow, every tongue confess him King of glory now; ‘tis the Father’s pleasure we should call him Lord, who from the beginning was the mighty Word.

In your hearts enthrone him; there let him subdue all that is not holy all that is not true; crown him as your Captain in temptation’s hour; let his will enfold you in its light and power.

Christians, this Lord Jesus shall return again, with his Father’s glory o’er the earth to reign; for all wreaths of empire meet upon his brow, and our hearts confess him King of glory now.”

Today we are blest to have another baptism, John Bury Weld McLaughlin, and during this liturgy his parents and godparents will literally give John back to God, promising to be responsible to him and for him and with him, and promising to live prayerfully and witness their faith with and in their own lives to help him grow up in a relationship with Jesus.  The language we use here is very strong, and imagine for a moment that we were baptizing John in a river or lake, for we say, “we go down into the waters of death and are raised up to newness of life.”  In another prayer, to make sure we hear it and take it seriously, we paraphrase this, asking that “all who are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ your Son may live in the power of his resurrection.”  Christ the King, resurrected!

Today is also Stewardship Sunday, a day when we pledge allegiance to the King of Kings and his Body the Church, which our Presiding Bishop ++Michael calls the Jesus Movement.  This refers to the movement of God’s love into our hearts and the movement of God’s love through us into the hearts of those we meet along the way.  It is not so much a movement of traveling, but rather a movement of gathering, the Spirit moving to gather us to be of one heart even when we cannot be of one mind.

This is a day of thanksgiving for all that we are, all that we have, all that we receive, and it is a day of thanksgiving for the blessed mission God gives us to reach out to the lost, the broken, the wounded, the grieving, the lonely, the forgotten, and to those who do not yet know their need of God.

From what I have seen in the pledges already received, there is a lot of gratitude among you, a lot of hope, and a confidence that we are walking with God.  May those of us who have not yet affirmed our faith and pledged our loyalty be so moved as well as we make our promises.  Amen.

 

+James L. Jelinek, Trinity Church

“Leap on That ‘Bus” – Sunday, November 17, 2019

The sermon text is printed below the sermon audio… this was a challenging text for me to understand, to expound and (to be honest) to claim as my own. As I say in the sermon: “The Lord is not finished with me, with you or with us…”

 

 

Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI; Sunday November 17th 2019. The Reverend Alan Neale; “Get on the ‘Bus”

Isaiah 65:17: “The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind”, or Message Translation “All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain are things of the past, to be forgotten”.

This text prompted me to think of an African-American spiritual that originated during the period of slavery but was not published until 1867. It has been sung by many famous artists, but for some reason I remember it being movingly rendered by Lena Horne. The song has appeared in a bewildering number of contexts and I think it makes a deep impact on its hearers because it speaks to something deep, primal, psychic in our being…

The first verse:
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve been through
Nobody knows my sorrow
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Glory hallelujah! (and at some point the last line was changed to “Nobody knows but Jesus”.)

As each one of us moves through life we discover that troubles not only beset us as they happen but the remembrance of them can maim, disfigure even mutilate us for a long time after the event… at times even on our death-bed.

But hear the promise…So do you hear anew the powerful promise of this text…

In the final and third part of Isaiah (sometimes called Trito-Isaiah, probably not written by the original Isaiah but true to the Isaiah School of thought) the people of Israel are enjoying the fruits of their return to Palestine but the enjoyment is marred as they recall “the trouble they’ve seen”; if only it were possible to forget all that was painful, debilitating, shameful and distorting their vision and hindering their enjoyment of the moment – weeping and cries of distress, premature loss of life, futile labor and destroyed homes. They had been invaded by the Babylonians, the Temple had been destroyed and their leaders had been relocated and abjectly treated – none of this is wholesome and fun stuff for scrapbooks.

To such a people then and to us now, the Lord offers this tremendous promise… Isaiah 65:17 “The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind”, Message Translation “All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain are things of the past, to be forgotten”.

But how is this to be made possible?

Before I attempt an answer, just a tiny digression into the Hebrew of our text (and it will be as brief as is my knowledge of Hebrew!). The word used for “mind” in our text is a mistranslation, the Hebrew word would be better translated as “the belly” – the place of emotion and feeling, the deepest place within our being that is not subject to rational thought and argument but feels, senses, intuits that leads us to speak of a “gut feeling” or a “gut reaction”.

You see the promise of our text is not that we receive some spiritual frontal lobotomy that eradicates the facts, the history, the truth of “past troubles” but rather that the Holy Spirit so reaches deep into our hearts that they are renewed and set free from the sensate reactions to the past.

It is crucial to notice the context of our promise; the verses surrounding the text are packed with references to the present action of the Lord… v.17 “Pay close attention now, I am creating new heavens and a new earth” (PRESENT TENSE), v.18 “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating (PRESENT TENSE); for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy”(PRESENT TENSE). We need nurture a firm conviction, a bold assurance, a passionate certainty that the Lord is at work, is in process, is active – being grasped by this conviction is more than sufficient to change a heart burdened by hurts of the past. One commentator somewhat dryly describes this divine process like this… “the participial form in verse 17 suggests that creation is God’s on-going activity; (this) ideal world is being created ‘new’ every day. Divine blessings radiate out into the steppe and the wilderness, the abode of wild and dangerous creatures” and listen to this paean of praise “every day, God recreates this cosmos: a world of harmony, prosperity and joy.”

As I was thinking about this theme, I had in my mind the times when safety rules were lax and it was then possible to jump onto a slowly moving train, leap onto a ‘bus just as it were leaving the stop… these vigorous images stirred in me the sense that day by day I am being presented with new opportunities to jump, to leap, to join Lord in this gloriously creative and ongoing process.

The Lord is not finished with me, and neither is He finished with you or with us. I believe that the daily (sometimes maybe even momentary) commitment/decision to jump onto the train or leap onto the ‘bus of God’s constant creativity will bring healing to my deepest being; that commitment, that decision will allow even the most painful, hurtful experiences to lose their tight, choking, gagging grip on my ability to laugh, to live and to love.

This past Wednesday I celebrated our Noon Eucharist. A verse from the Gospel demanded my attention – Matthew 9:36 “And when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them for they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd”.

Friends, as we are touched by the ongoing ever present active compassion of Jesus so our pains and hurts, our grudges and grievances, our anger and frustration from the past will be slowly healed and then we, like him, will see (really see) the ones around us who are hurt and alone. Those who need be led to that holy mountain where “they will neither hurt nor be destroyed.”

So, perhaps today when you come to the Table and receive Communion… with open hands you will offer to God a memory that stifles and cripples and ask to be healed and set free… remembering God’s promise: “The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.

Lord help us. Amen

A quotation from Corrine Carvello:

“Isaiah 65:17-25 invites us to consider how our experience of God’s holiness changes the world for us. We may not feel a great need to domesticate lions, but what would the world look like if children did not die from disease or gun violence, if adults had complete access to the best medical care, and if everyone earned a livable wage so that their work was not in vain. What if everyone could have the children they wanted, knowing they could provide for them without anxiety? Isaiah tells us that this is the world that worship should invite us to imagine.”

“Needs?” – Sunday October 20, 2019

Oh this Sunday I have never been more conflicted as to the text/s I should choose for the sermon. And though I wanted to preach on “Do the work of an evangelist”, I decided I needed to preach on the Gospel.
Below the audio (8am service) is the text, largely the basis for the sermon.
The 10am sermon was a little different, with a little more energy and much more participation. But overall… similar message. So good to have baby Siena participate (on time) with the sermon!

Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI; Sunday October 20 2019
The Reverend Alan Neale “So, what do I need Jesus?”

Luke 18:1 – “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

In 2005 a current presidential candidate co-authored with her/his daughter a book called “All your worth. The ultimate lifetime money plan.” It was based on the following 50/30/20 divide… 50% for needs, 30% for wants, 20% for credit payments and savings. It left unclear, though, how do we decide what are needs and what are wants and… interesting as we approach our stewardship season, it also left unclear whether giving back to God was a “need” or a “want”…???

Much earlier in 1943 Abraham Maslow created his pyramid of needs composed of five levels; the first four (starting from the beginning) he named D-Needs (Deficit Needs), the top level he named B-Needs (Being Needs). NEEDS – WANTS!

It would be unfair for me to ask baby Siena how she views her wants and needs; unfair and probably unnecessary because it’s obvious to her parents (Caroline and Frank) that her needs/wants are to be fed, to be kept warm but above all to be held and loved.

All this prompts me to ask Jesus this question, “What do you think, Jesus, I need?”.

Well, the opening verse of today’s Gospel gives me my answer – “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” In some archaic translations the word “need” is translated as “it behooves you”. Isn’t that a great word? Try it! “It behooves me to pray always and not to lose heart.”

So there we have it… Jesus’s analysis of our need. I could stop there but you know I won’t.

Let’s look at the context, the combination/the interlocking and the culmination of what Jesus considers to be our need.

The context. Look back in chapter 17 and you see the context is that Jesus is speaking to his disciples (17:1 & 22). Much, though not all, of Jesus’ teaching is addressed to those who have a relationship with him – they have observed his patience and acceptance, they have witnessed acts of power and authority, they have sat and walked and lived with him as a friend. Now this quality of relationship with Jesus is available to all (“Come to me all who labor and I will give you rest” – Matthew 11:28; “Behold I stand at the door and knock, open it and I will come in” – Revelation 3:20). And here we confront the classic chicken or the egg causality dilemma. In other words… which came first? The chicken or the egg? Is it our prayers and persistence that opens us to a relationship with Jesus; or is it the relationship that energizes the prayers and steels the persistence? Friends this tension will ever remain and so, to use a famous dictum of this week “Get Over It” and “Get on with it.”
The combination. Billy Bray was born in 1794; for years he was a godless man and most content with that condition. In 1823 this roue was roundly converted to Christ and began a powerful ministry preaching the Gospel throughout Cornwall. “I can’t help praising God.” Billy Bray insisted, “As I go along the street I lift up one foot, and it seems to say, glory. And I lift up the other, and it seems to say, amen, and so they keep on like that all the time I am walking.” Well, try this walking exercise… let the one step say pray, and the other step persist.” When Jesus speaks of our need to pray and not to lose heart, He does not offer us a choice of one or the other (this is no Christian buffet bar where we choose what we fancy). In his letter to the Philippians 2:12-13, Paul urges them “to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (persist, do not lose heart” but then, I imagine with a smile, Paul writes, “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” We will hear this soon as Siena’s parents and sponsors make solemn promises with this response, “I will… with God’s help” – another chant for walking maybe? As I have learned in another fellowship… “I can’t, God can, I think I’ll let him.”

The culmination. Consider beginning and ending of today’s Gospel… Jesus puts our need in the perspective of a wonderful culmination, a spectacular finish, a crowning moment of exuberant color and joy when “God, patient as he is, will see justice done for his chosen, who appeal to him day and night? Be assured he will not delay in seeing justice done” Luke 18:8, J.B.Phillip’s translation). To pray and to persist we need to be reminded of the Sovereign Lord’s presence, purpose and plan – this is why we come into community, this is why we worship. *** The great Baptist preacher once said, “We will not grow weary of waiting upon God if we remember how long and how graciously he has waited upon us.” If we remove ourselves (for whatever reason) from the arena that celebrates the majesty, the sovereignty, the authority of God then our passion for prayer and persistence will abate. Remember we do not believe in prayer… we believe in the God who answers prayer.

I conclude on a personal note. Earlier this year (April 5) I suffered what my surgeon called “an heart explosion”, again in his words, “I died seven times”. For quite a while I had neither the strength nor the inclination to pray or to persist. The period of recovery (maybe something like a church interim period?) was beset with feelings of sadness, grief, hopelessness and despair. But at one point I heard the Lord say to me, “Alan, helplessness is not hopelessness.” Though I could not, or would not pray, others carried me; and when it was most dark to me others urged “do not lose heart.”

I pray that Siena will grow up with a desire to pray always and never lose heart; and I pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit you and I, this week, will pray often and not lose heart… as we walk, like Billy Bray, day by day. AMEN

*** 2 Corinthians4:16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

“Bloom where you are planted” – Sunday October 13, 2019

Usually the sermon audio contains comments, phrases that are not written in the original text. Today, it’s all turned around. The audio here is the 8am sermon, between services I worked more on the sermon… so the text is for the 10am (without audio!). I sensed a greater connection with the congregation and with the Lord as I preached at 10am. The theme I believe is truly primal for us all; for all – some of the time, for some – most of the time, for a blessed few (or do I really mean blessed?) rarely.

 

 

Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI
Sunday October 13th 2019  The Reverend Alan Neale
“Bloom where you are planted”

This past week I observed some Facebook exchanges on the sad use of clichés even when faced with disaster and pain. With this in mind I decided to put my opening undeniable cliché into Latin – quo nunc es flore quod plantatum est . It somehow sounds better than – “Bloom where you are planted.” Or to quote Jeremiah 29:6-7 “Increase in number in exile – where you are; seek the prosperity of the city – where you are.”

It was doubtless galling for these exiles in Babylon, once some of the most prominent people in Jerusalem (financial wizards, powerful clerics, prominent socialites) to not only be lectured by this prophet born of common stock, this social “nobody, definitely not PLU (so unimportant even Nebuchnezzar did not bother to exile him) but told to settle down and settle in.

And yet their initial half-hearted compliance to “stay put and prosper” enabled Israel to wrestle with profound God questions, to learn that worship could happen anywhere, not just in the temple. In this period of exile much of the Hebrew Bible. In this period of exile synagogues became a vital part of the community.

Trying to settle in a place that seems alien, strange is an uncomfortable, disturbing experience and we see it all three readings today.

It was the experience of St. Paul. In a strange place (Rome), in strange accommodation (prison cell), in strange circumstances (in chains) Paul writes five glorious epistles describing the sovereignty of God and the power of the Gospel – Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and two letters to the young minister Timothy, of which we heard part this morning. Now Paul needs no Jeremiah to prod him into faithful witness and glorious service, Paul needs no Jeremiah to shame and to challenge him. No, because Paul has grasped and has been grasped by a glorious belief… the story of incarnation (God is where we are) and of resurrection (God’s raison d’etre is to bring life out of death) – so Paul believes and so Paul proclaims. What a powerful comparison Paul makes when he says, “Though I am in chains… the Word of God is not chained”.

It was the experience of Jesus. On his journey he passes through strange and alien land (as least as far as the Jews were concerned); Samaritans and all things pertaining to them were anathema to the Jews so much so that one of the worst insults was to call someone, “You Samaritan”. And yet… in this strange land with unaccustomed practices and despised foreigners, Jesus discovers an opportunity for mission, for the proclamation of the Gospel. He is not constrained by social expectations or religious convention. He hears them, he sees them and he heals them… though only one, the Samaritan, returns to give thanks… and he is then restored in body and in soul.

And I think it was also the experience of the lepers themselves. They were all too accustomed to living in exile where were shunned, feared, ridiculed; they were alienated from good health and ostracized from good company. But despite their experience they dare cry out to the Master… “Jesus, have mercy on us.” But notice from where they make this plea… “keeping their distance”, “standing afar off”. Sometimes, friends, when we feel we are in unknown environments, maybe even alien, we too keep our distance – why? Maybe we are angry, or defiant, or in pain or in despair and more. What do you think?

(And a digression on the Gospel… I’ve always assumed that all the lepers were Samaritans and yet Jesus charges them “go to the priests” – fulfil some social obligation, receive a certificate of cleanliness; or maybe nine were Jews and one was a Samaritan… if so, interesting that their anguish, their pain, their suffering broke down customary barriers.)

A few days ago Bishop Jim and I discussed briefly perhaps one of the most poignant verses in Hebrew Scripture – some of you heard last Sunday Psalm 137, verse four.

How can we sing the Lord’s song is a strange land – KJV

I believe this to be one of the most succinct and eloquent expressions of a human condition known to us all; it speaks to those of us who (from time to time) feel displaced, dislodged, dislocated; it speaks to those who feel unnoticed, unobserved, undetected; it speaks to that sense of loneliness in a packed room, it speaks to that sense of worthlessness in a success-orientated society, it speaks to that sense of alarm when security and home are at risk.
This is a primal, psychic question, “How can I sing a song of/to the Lord in a strange land?”
It speaks to African Americans descended from abducted Africans, Native Americans living on reservations distant from their ancestral lands.
Does it speak to you? It surely has and does to me.

Years ago, as a young choir boy, I was puzzled by today’s collect which once read, “Lord we pray that thy grace may always prevent and follow us”. Prevent? Really? Then a friend explained “prevent” is from the Latin “prevenire” to go before. Hence now “we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us and “make us” (KJV ) be given to good works.
Soon, in our parish prayer we say these words, “Surround us with your love that we may feel/know your presence.” It is this gospel of grace always, always, always going before and following after us, that enables us to do good works… and to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.

Click this youtube link to hear “How shall we sing in a strange land” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeFnTWszYJs