A Homily Preached at Diocesan House

By Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
9 August 2012
Judges 8:22-35, Psalm 27, Saint John 1:43-21 (Feria)

With a practiced finger, the sales clerk pushed the bridge of his spectacles half-way up his nose and squinted.  “You could ride this bicycle all the way to heaven.”  The young lady, just twelve, returned her answer, “All I know is that I want to ride and to ride and to ride.  How shall I know if I get to heaven?”  “First of all,” the sales clerk said, “you’ll be on your way by doing what you really want to do.”  With practiced skill, he continued.  “And you will know you are there, because you will forget to ask your question along the way.”

And so it is.  The Lord who made us made it possible for us to find him by following what he made us to enjoy.  I have staked my life on this proposition: where there is truth, there is God.  It is not really possible to misappropriate truth.

In the Gospel today, Nathanael asks Jesus, “Where did you get to know me?” (1:48).  The answer “I saw you under the fig tree” means something like “How could I not know you?”  You see, we are his, and his forever.  Our paths lead to him.  Our paths are in him.  I know I have forgotten to ask my questions along the way.

Enduring as the person you are in the calling you have received

Sermon at Diocesan House
Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
The Thursday after Pentecost VI
Feria, 12 July 2012, Proper 9
Romans 9:19-33, Psalm 62, Saint Matthew 24:1-12 (Daily Office, altered)

The internet radio smoothly and unmistakably sounds.  The announcer proclaims clearly, “When you’re here, you can do anything.  You can be anyone.”

Crafty people, those advertisers.  They know some of us want to be somebody else.  They know that some of us want to be doing something else.  And they will use that to advertise, of all things—a casino.

You can do anything and be anyone, and you can lose and lose and lose all the way to the point that nothing else remains to be lost.

The kingdom of our Lord and the Christian life differ somewhat from a casino.

The Lord points to the difference in the Gospel today.  “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Saint Matthew 24:13).

Living, really living, is not about doing something else or being somebody else.  It’s about enduring as the person you are in the calling you have received.  The person you are and the calling you have come from God, and making that connection saves you, saves you from losing and losing, and preserves you to eternal life.

A Rope We Cannot Give Away

A Homily Preached at Diocesan House by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Thursday after Advent Sunday

Isaiah 26:1-6, Psalm 118:19-24, Saint Matthew 7:21-27
1 December 2011

[Better to understand the image of the rope, look at Edwin Friedman’s fable, “The Bridge.”  It has been made into a brief film, “The Crux,” available on YouTube.  The Staff at Diocesan House have seen it and discussed it.  —  H. S.]

It happens every year.  It is as certain as finding Santa Claus at Macy’s in November.

Here we are almost at the very beginning of Advent, and things are about to take a turn.  They do every year.  The solemn and sobering image of our Lord as Savior and Judge will again this year, as it does every year, morph into the image of our Lord as a pitiable and helpless Baby, so helpless that even our help seems necessary.  Even a Little Drummer Boy has a gift to offer.

I understand this.  It’s so much more rewarding to be helpful than it is to be accountable.  Taking a rope is a lot more fun than being asked what in the world we’re doing with rope in our hands—especially when the rope isn’t our own.

While we have time, let’s let our Lord be our Savior and Judge, and not distort him into helplessness.  He can be a Savior and Judge at once, at the same time, because his Mercy is his Justice, and his Justice is his Mercy.  I mean by this that Jesus’ love for us, unconditional and uncompromised, seems to be one or the other, depending upon where we are, where we’ve strayed or where we haven’t strayed, or whether we’ve identified with him or accepted a substitute.

In the terms of the Gospel today, we receive his Justice if our house is built on sand, if we’ve heard and not acted on his words.  We receive his Mercy if our house is built on rock, if we’ve heard and acted on his words.

Each one of us has the power, the freedom, to decide which foundation our lives shall have.  We inevitably become in this life what we most want to be.  And this choice is a rope that we cannot give away either in time or in eternity.

The Dorchester Chaplains

by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Preached at Diocesan House on 3 February 2011

[Note: The Dorchester Chaplains is a lesser feast in the proposed Holy Women Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010) approved for trial use by General Convention in 2009.  They were two Protestant, one Roman Catholic, and one Jewish Chaplains who gave up their life jackets and means of rescue to others on the Dorchester, a converted cruise ship whose boiler room was struck by enemy fire on February 3, 1943, a day from their destination of Greenland.]

Every time I cross the Atlantic I cannot do other than to think of the ice and the horribly cold water below.  To me the horror of those conditions excels by far the wood and the nails of our Savior’s cross.

Seventy-eight degree water, passing for eighty, at the gym’s lap pool gives me pause and takes my breath away once I summon the courage to jump in.  So think, if you will, of nineteen degree water a day’s sail from Greenland.

Into that condition, four chaplains went down today in 1943.  Their life jackets had been given to others.  Their arms were linked in prayer.  We are invited to believe that the Lord was there with them.  We are invited to believe that theirs was the greatest love for indeed they laid down their lives for their friends (Saint John 15:13, the Gospel of this Eucharist).  We are invited to believe that their sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that is being revealed in them (Romans 8:18, the Epistle of this Eucharist).

There is a Christian interpretation of the fourth man whom Nebuchadnezzar sees in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3:25).  The fourth man, the interpretation goes, is the Lord.  And when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego emerge from the furnace they are not singed, nor do they have the smell of fire.

The Dorchester Chaplains enjoy and point you and me toward the glory of steadfast sacrificial love that only the Lord can bestow.  The best path to blessedness is the path of love and service of the True and Living God.  For the souls of those who follow this path are in the hand of God; they seem to have died, but they are at peace (Wisdom 3:1-3).

What prophecy guides you?

Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Preached at Diocesan House on The Feast of the Epiphany
6 January 2011

On one of the Twelve Days of Christmas, I cracked a fortune cookie and read: “To truly find yourself you should play hide and seek alone.”  The Wise Men weren’t seeking themselves.

The Gospel proclaimed on The Epiphany places us right in the midst of St Matthew’s evangelism, a proclamation that employs repeated formulas.

Often we hear something very like: “this took place to fulfill the words of the prophet…”  The Wise Men themselves follow the star having learned about it in the Book of Numbers: “a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17).

The Star of Bethlehem signifies God’s protection of God’s people and identifies that protection with Jesus.  By following a star, by following a prophecy, the Wise Men find Jesus.  What prophecy do you follow until it brings you to look upon his face?

My favorite is the one Jesus uses to disclose and to reveal himself.  Shut up in prison, John the Baptist sends some of his followers to Jesus to ask him: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  And Jesus tells them: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.  And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me” (St Matthew 11:2-6).

Jesus refers to Isaiah 29, Isaiah 35, and Isaiah 61 in his answer, and those prophecies lead and draw John and his disciples to Jesus.  The really important thing is that it really doesn’t matter which prophecy or which truth you follow or seek.  They all lead to him.

You can be a bricklayer or an attorney, a machine-worker or a writer, trying to do it the best way or the cleanest way, the smartest way or the honestest way, and your steps will lead you to him, for he knows the bricks, understands the laws and the machines, and comprehends the words.  For they are his, and so are you.

On the Feast of St Simon and St Jude

Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Preached at Diocesan House on 28 October 2010
29 October 2010

We find four verses in the Scriptures concerning Simon, and two of them mention Jude who also has his own mention in another verse.  In the face of such scarce biography, why shouldn’t we give full rein to hagiography?

The collect pushes us along a bit, especially the petition where we ask that with ardent devotion, like theirs, we may make known the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.  And I take it that that is a worthy goal of us all.  How do we make Jesus’ love and mercy known?

One of my heroes, Ed Friedman, wrote somewhere that when we push the box of kleenex across the table to someone struggling with a moment of insight or growth, we give the wrong kind of help.  We give encouragement to emotion and pain.  We kiss the victim when we could be waiting to congratulate the person for taking greater responsibility, and for growing into greater maturity and for transcending victimhood.

I think that’s what God does.  God certainly exercises a permissive will: we can sin and make bad choices for ever and a day, and God will permit us to do those things.  That permission comes with many price tags (both God’s and ours), but God seems to think that freedom is worth it.  And giving that freedom to another person represents the love of Jesus Christ, the same love by which he allows us to crucify him again and again.

And following that love, there is mercy, the mercy we ourselves know when we ourselves learn exactly how much God has permitted, how much God has tolerated, and how much God has forgiven.  And giving that mercy to another person represents the mercy of Jesus Christ, the same mercy by which Jesus forgives sinners over and over again.

Perhaps fondly, I believe Simon and Jude knew these things and made them truly and deeply their own.  And just so, I believe that making Jesus’ love and mercy known amount to making him known and amount to maturing “to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

On the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

On the Feast of St Michael and All Angels
Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Preached at Diocesan House on 30 September 2010 (transferred)
29 September 2010

Don’t we sound ridiculous when we say, “the devil made me do it”? We sound like we are copping out, and we sound as though we haven’t matured enough to take responsibility for what we’ve done or what we’ve left undone.

 But how do we sound when we say, “the angel saved me from it”? Or when we say, “the angel sent me in another direction”?

I’m going to go out on a limb and tell you about an experience I had years ago when I was driving up the mountain, as we Tennesseans say, from Nashville to visit some friends and to see a play, Henry IV, Part I, at Sewanee.

The road was no more than two lanes, and there was considerable fog. I was distracted and missed one of the curves. My car veered into the other lane while I stared at something I thought was a bear off the road. Somehow I was redirected to the road very quickly and without any light or sound to get my attention. I saw where my car had veered and returned to my lane just before another car came round the bend in its proper lane. Our front ends had been within fifteen feet of each other. I cannot explain the event naturally, and I have no hesitation to explain the event supernaturally.

The angels, we prayed to God today, “help and defend us here on earth” (BCP, page 244). I believe that, and I need that, for I am not able to withstand all the things that can befall us. But I am able to take the help that God gives, and I try to be open to that help. And in being intentionally open to God’s help, I hear God saying, “Do something simple, and I will meet you there.” Wherever God is, is exactly the place I want most to be.

May St Michael and all the holy angels direct your footsteps in the paths of peace and goodwill.

Ascension Day reflection by Archdeacon Stringfellow at Diocesan House

The Bear Went over the Mountain?
by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
The Eucharist at Diocesan House on Ascension Day
13 May 2010
In the Name of the True and Living God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
A senior warden of a prominent Anglo-Catholic parish in the Mid-West said to his priest that the Ascension of the Lord was a case of the bear going over the mountain to see what he could see. This charming anecdote came my way as a cautionary tale from priest to seminarian not to inquire too closely into what the lay people believe.
I have taken that advice but, at the same time, have held out to all people at all times that the bodily ascension of the Lord continues the Lord’s bodily resurrection to it full conclusion as St. Paul points out in the Epistle: God the Father raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly place, putting all things under his feet and making him head of all things for the church (Ephesians 1:20-23).
That to me is a lot more engaging, a lot more worthy of our worship, than a bear who went over the mountain. Somehow I think: that bear sadly disappoints. But the Lord of Life never does disappoint. The Lord of Life continually engages and delights; the Lord of Life takes us with him, and not just over the mountain. Amen.