Kept the good wine until now…

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P1000018To my mind, there are two key takeaways for us this week. We who are Christians stand in the crowd of witnesses that began with the first stories, with Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, with the family of Abraham, with Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Deborah, Ruth, Samuel, Saul and David, and all the prophets.

We remember what they longed to see. We are gathered and transformed by what happened just as they were created and transformed by what they were promised.

And standing in that crowd, being given the story that unlocks the deepest meaning of all the stories, it is our turn to share them with our children and our neighbors. They too, whether they know it or not, are being remade by the working of the same Spirit.

His winnowing fork is in his hand…

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May House in the snowTo us has been given the Word of truth, the Word of faith and of hope. So that even in this moment, as the nations roar and creation groans, we see the working of the Spirit to bring all to perfection.

Do not wonder then but behold the working out of Salvation in our midst. It is being made manifest to us. And how appropriate today that the name of this liturgical season, Epiphany literally means manifestation.

So what should we do in day like this? Care for one another. Care for the people in our lives. Care for the world as best we can. But also know that God is working in us as individuals and in all us as part of God’s created order.

The winnowing fork and the wind are separating the good parts from the bad. Thanks be to God.

The Heavens declare the glory of the Lord

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The moon in the treesOne of the optional readings for this second Sunday in Christmastide is the story of the Magi and their visit to the Christ Child in Bethlehem. In this Gospel, the Magi study nature, act on what they learn, and arrive at the foot of the Christ Child, the Lord, and author of Creation.

To me, this lesson has been a reminder that the present apparent conflict between Science and Religion in this moment of history isn’t helpful or even necessary. In this sermon, I talk about one of the roots of the conflict, and more importantly, how this conflict is being used today to divide us into warring tribes in society.

Do not be afraid, behold the Gospel moment is here!

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Lamp and Christmas decorationThis year is not what we had hoped. The fourth wave of the pandemic is sweeping across the world. We thought this summer we were through the worst of it and that all things would be being made well by now. But it hasn’t turned out that way.

But don’t lose heart. For those with eyes to see, the light of God is still in this world and waxes strong. Christmas is the celebration of God’s entrance uniquely into our story, and that moment transforms our perception of everything.

This video is longer than usual. My wife and daughter join me as we use a liturgy adapted from the Church of England meant for family home celebrations of Christmas. This video is for you to use if you must stay home this year but want to keep Christmas somehow.

When I was a boy, one of my favorite family traditions was gathering around the piano on Christmas Day with my mother playing carols and all of us singing together. There’s an echo of that in this video, and though the production values are not terribly fancy, I hope it brings you a bit of light or a smile.

You can find the liturgy we’re using here.

An old and familiar song but sung in a new key.

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Sheet Music

Mary, in this passage from Luke’s Gospel, sings a riff on Hannah’s Song which Hannah sang when she learns that she is to give birth to the Prophet Samuel.

The old stories are coming true again. The same power which moved in times of despair and fear is moving once again.

That is a message for our day too. We bear within us the hope for all the years.

We too burst into song, singing songs from our childhood and songs from today.

The Great Story of God’s Love, Kindness, and Faithfulness is always being told and is always new. Just as the celebrations of Christmas remind us in times of War, Financial collapse, or Pandemic, that this gloomy time is being pierced with the True Light – and we only have to look with mystic sight to see it.

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

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IMG 2931Happy Advent, you brood of vipers! 

This is Gaudete Sunday on the church calendar when we light the pink candle on the Advent wreath and rejoice. Two of the lessons read in churches worldwide speak at length about our joy that our salvation is drawing near and even repeatedly use the word “rejoice” in their text.

But this Gospel… well, it goes a different way. John uses language that Jesus uses as well to describe the leaders of the people who live in and around Jerusalem. They are described as a brood of poisonous snakes, the sort of thing that needs to be destroyed or at least avoided lest they harm us. And John tells how the Messiah is coming with fire and his winnowing fork to sift the grain and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.

It’s hard to fit this lesson in with the others.

And yet, when you think about it, there’s hope here. Because when the people who make their living by extortion and violence go to John to ask what is expected of them, John gives them hope. He tells them they need to curb their excess and seems to recognize that even as welcome as their vocation might be, they have a role to play in the world God is transforming.

And perhaps we shouldn’t just focus on others, but ask ourselves if we too might have something to hear in this challenging Gospel. Jesus comes with fire, but it is a refining fire. The fire that Jesus brings with the Spirit burns away the pollution and sin in each of us and burnishes the best parts so that we glow with the reflected light of God’s love.

And that’s something to rejoice about – even if the transformation may require more of us than we want to give.

So rejoice, all of you! Your Savior is coming near.

God is coming into the world – not to condemn but to save.

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Hope despair SBI 300278972I wonder if we sometimes lose the main thread of Advent in our zeal to differentiate our season of quiet preparation from the secular celebration of the “holidays.” It feels like we’ve overcorrected and inadvertently send a message that God’s advent into our lives needs to be anticipated with dread rather than joy. I know that’s not what we intend in our Advent traditions, but given that Advent carries a penitential cast for some, it is how our actions are received.

So this week, when we hear of John preaching a baptism of repentance, I fear we miss the reason for his baptism – which is the forgiveness of our sins. It’s a cosmic reset of our relationship with God. We are not getting what we deserve; we are getting what God longs for, a healed and restored relationship.

When I look at the lights in the darkness and the decorations hung up well in advance of Christmas, I see a message of restoration and hope. Many may have forgotten the more profound truth of the solemn joy of Advent, but I hope those of us who remember the whole story, can by our quiet preparation, recall them to the hope that is breaking has been breaking into the world since Jesus’ birth.

There is a direction to time and history, a purpose that is being worked out by God.

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Glowing wooden cross SBI 300278804When Jesus speaks to his disciples about what is to come in history, and explains to them that this is a reason to have hope, it can be hard to find comfort in what he’s describing. At first hearing, it sounds like a cataclysm is coming which will bring destruction and turmoil. But what he’s describing are the birth pangs of a healed and restored Creation.

The Biblical stories insist that God is active in history and that there’s a purposefulness to the events that unfold. For people who see injustice and long for a new order, this is the primary reason to have hope.

A king who conquers by dying, not killing

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Chess pawn with the shadow of a king SBI 300278366The Episcopal Church is the descendent of the Church of England. We still sometimes jokingly describe ourselves as the Anglican franchise in the United States. And with that history comes a complicated relationship with power.

The Church of England and its role as an established part of the British Empire was seen by us as something to be achieved in our context. At the height of the Empire’s power, we started building large Gothic cathedrals in the United States, seemingly to connect ourselves to their power and prestige. I suppose that’s an understandable human desire, but it’s not a godly one.

In today’s Gospel reading, we see Jesus standing before the sheer power of the Empire in his context. Pilate has no time for confusing riddles or to match wits with a rabbi. He needs to identify a threat to the power of the Empire and deal with it. And he does that – except by dealing with it, he sows the seeds of the Empire’s transformation and its end.

Jesus as King comes not to kill but to accomplish God’s reign by dying. It is something that the world’s powers, and often the Church, still struggle to recognize.