Oscar Romero

[Except for four new paragraphs at the beginning, this is a slightly revised excerpt from a sermon preached by Bill Lewellis in 2010.]

Almost a year before I left the Roman Catholic Church, Oscar Romero became one of my heroes. Onetime Archbishop of El Salvador, he was assassinated at the altar on March 24, 1980.

Pope Francis recently announced that he would declare Romero saint of the universal church in a ceremony in the Vatican on Oct. 14, 2018.

The Episcopal Church had added him to our book of saints, Lesser Feasts and Fasts, now Holy Women, Holy Men. He was attentive, intelligent, reasonable, responsible, in Love … and, when necessary, he changed.

Ironically, it was his change that got him into trouble with the institutional church. Many holy women and holy men experienced that. Does make one wonder. Pope Francis recognized that.

A conservative bishop who sided with the local power brokers who kept the poor oppressed, Oscar Romero was made archbishop in 1977 as a “compromise” candidate who was not impressed with Vatican II renewal.

When he was named archbishop, the local liberation theology Jesuits threw up their hands and wrote him off. They had been asserting heroically by their ministry that “the contemporary church must wield not only the teaspoons of charity, but also the bulldozers of justice, and become the voice of the voiceless.”

Over the next few years, however, especially after personally witnessing early morning clean up of bloodstained corpses on San Salvador's streets, victims of paramilitary death squads, and the slaying of his good friend, Father Rutilio Grande, Romero became a powerful critic of those in power who sanctioned atrocities.

When his Jesuit friend was gunned down in his jeep, Romero cancelled all services in San Salvador the following Sunday except for a single Mass outside the San Salvador Cathedral, celebrated with 100,000 people. His repentance and transformation accelerated after these and other events turned him around the bend. Reprisals intensified, while right-wing groups were leafleting the nation: Be a patriot: kill a priest.

“Romero's journey was not easy,” Canon Andrew Gerns at Trinity Easton on the 30th anniversary of Romero's martyrdom. “He was not raised to be a radical. He was raised in privilege and was appointed to care for the church in his archdiocese in a rather conventional way. Appoint priests, oversee schools, manage the books...don’t rock the boat. But he had a heart for faith and was willing to go where Jesus led him. At first tentatively, and later boldly, he began to connect the dots. He believed that the job of the church was to care for the weakest of God’s people. For Romero, this was a death sentence.”

We may not be able to point to any one event during which Romero was born again. As it is said of most Episcopalians, he was born again and again and again ... transformed, transformed, transformed and transformed. Not long after his incremental transformations – and actions taken in line with his transformation – Romero was shot on March 24, 1980, in the shadow of the cross.

For those of us who have read Mountains Beyond Mountains, it might be enough to note that Dr. Paul Farmer, living at Duke University when Romero was murdered, marks his own conversion and transformation from that event, from the witness and transformation of one man. Farmer, a Harvard doctor, reinvented international healthcare to bring medicine and healing to the poor in Haiti, Rwanda, Russia, Peru, Mexico and other nations.

Trinity – A Glimpse into the Mystery of God

[A slightly revised excerpt from a 2001 sermon preached by Bill Lewellis on Trinity Sunday]
Religion is about relationship because that is what God is about. God is three-in-one, being-in-relationship, being-in-community. That is what we celebrate on Trinity Sunday.
The ancient Greeks had a word that sounded like "mystery." Its Latin translation is a word that sounds like "sacrament." Christian thinkers used both words, mystery and sacrament or sign, to refer to the hidden presence of the real -- the partially veiled and partially unveiled presence of God -- to mean something visible (e.g., persons, community, bread and wine) something visible that communicates something of God's hidden presence.
Whenever we talk about God, we're in that realm of mystery. Unfortunately, our English word speaks of puzzles, riddles or problems to be solved. God is not a problem to be solved, an issue to be dealt with, or a belief to be held. God is first of all a presence to be encountered in our relationships, a presence that lures us into life.
Most of the great days of the church year celebrate events: the events of Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost. Today, however, we celebrate and give thanks not for an event but for a glimpse into the heart of the mystery of God, a glimpse into God as a community of persons. We celebrate our faith that the mystery of God has to do with relationship, and that the relationships within the being of God form a pattern for all of our relationships, relationships meant to reflect God’s dream for all of us, the dream we refer to at times as the Kingdom of God or the Reign of God.
A glimpse into the mystery of God. In a university in Rome, where I studied theology, this was how a professor in a large lecture hall introduced.his course. He made a white chalk dot on a very large blackboard. “The dot,” he said, “is what we know about God. The blackboard is what we don’t know about God. What we know about God is precious little. But the little that God has given us to know is precious.”
I’ve found that to be a helpful image. What we know about God is precious little. But the little that God has given us to know is precious.
Experiencing God as Trinity. Most of us, as children, were baptized in the name of the Trinity. As children, many of us learned how to sign ourselves in the name of the Trinity. The most popular name for churches in our diocese is Trinity. The three-in-one God is a core teaching of the Church.
The idea of Trinity was not thought up by ivory-tower theologians to make things more complicated than they needed to be and to obscure the simple faith of ordinary people. It was, in fact, pretty much the other way around. It arose from how the early Christians, ordinary people, experienced God in their lives after the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit. They experienced God as three different persons. Yet, there could not be three gods. God, to be the biblical God and the only God of all, had to be one God. They attempted to put their experiences of God into words. Among the words they used to capture this experience were Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The faith that arose from the experiences of ordinary people was then handed over to the theologians to try to make more intelligible. They have been trying ever since. A simple definition of theology is “putting your experiences of God into words.” The doctrine of the Trinity is our human attempt to use words to express our understanding of God – yet none of our words or images will ever be adequate to capture all of God.
I used to wear a tight, white T-shirt much too often in public, even after it framed my growing middle too well. Black lettering on the T-shirt proclaimed, “My life is based on a true story.”
Truth is not a thing apart. Truth is a relationship. If I remain in the relationship, continuing to explore the pattern of Trinity, I remain in the story.
God as Trinity means that relationship is at the heart of the universe, that relationship is the ultimate pattern, the ultimate design on which we explore the infinite possibilities of creation. God as Trinity means that you and I do not exist as genuinely human persons unless in relationship with others and with God. We are anchored by relationships. Our soul (spirituality, meaning, reality) is neither within nor without, but between… exploring the infinite possibilities of relationship.
Our lives are not limited by failure, nor by our illusions of success. There is always a call forward. None of us is there yet. Don’t ever think your life has come to a full stop. We are seeds swelling toward a ripeness never fully achieved, but ever in the process of becoming. In this moment, in every moment, we are being lured into life. We are becoming fit to live.
In the same way that nature constantly explores the infinite possibilities in a simple pattern like a tree, a leaf, a head of cauliflower, a snowflake, a human face, we too are exploring the infinite possibilities of the basic pattern of Trinity, being in community, being in relationship.
Life is a dance… with steps you don't know… Learn as you go.

Today We Remember Tomorrow

[A slightly edited sermon preached at Diocesan House by Bill Lewellis, Oct. 31, 2013, Vigil of All Saints]

From several of my classmates and friends and professors in Rome during the early 60s, I gained a love of good theology. But it wasn’t until some 15 years ago that I heard four words, right here, that captured the purpose of theology and the meaning of Eucharist.

Today, we remember tomorrow. My mantra.

I owe Jane Teter for this insight. It was September 13, perhaps 15 years ago. The next day was the Feast of the Holy Cross. Jane was our celebrant. She began to explain that on this day, September 13, not a special day on the church calendar, we would use the readings and prayers of the next day, which was a special day. Somewhere within those words, Jane got caught up in a circular explanation. She escaped with, “So, today we remember tomorrow.”

The words sang in my head. I wanted to applaud.

Today … We … Remember … That’s the heart of it. We remember. We make Eucharist, our Great Thanksgiving, by remembering. In our celebration together of this and every Eucharist, we give thanks by remembering the acts of God through the multi-millennial history of salvation … and the fourscore years of our lives.

Listen to some of the words we pray as we make ucharist. “We give thanks to you, O God, for the goodness and love you have made known to us … in creation … in the calling of Israel to be your people … in your Word spoken though the prophets, and above all in the Word made flesh, Jesus your Son … On the night before he died for us, he took bread … Do this for the remembrance of me. After supper, he took the cup of wine … he gave it to them … Drink this … for the remembrance of me …

Today … We … Remember … Tomorrow.
Imagine that. Remembering tomorrow! Remembering God’s acts on our behalf and God’s promises, we give thanks, we hope, we trust … we … remember … tomorrow.

We express our faith with wonder, hope and trust.

“There is but one fundamental truth for Christians,” Bishop Paul preached a few years ago on All Souls Day. It is that “in Christ we are tied to God and each other in a way that the circumstances of time and space cannot defeat.”

Or, we might say: Relationships trump doctrine.

Doing what we do in the words and actions and hymns of our liturgy, we “gently heal our past … and calmly embrace our future.” Today, we remember tomorrow.

Listen to the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer for All Saints Day. We pray this: It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. For in the multitude of your saints you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses, that we might rejoice in their fellowship, and run with endurance the race that is set before us; and, together with them, receive the crown of glory that never fades away.

We saints look deeply within. We somehow find God. We see God as we squint through the smokescreen of our conditioned reality … and we allow the God within to transform us and the world around us.

We saints. “You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea. In Church, or on trains, or in shops, or at tea. For the saints of God are just folk like me. And I mean to be one too” … while today I remember tomorrow.

Saved by Faith –– Created for Good Works

[A slightly edited excerpt from a 2006 homily, Lent 4B, by Bill Lewellis, Eph. 2:4-10]

There was a time I thought faith and belief were simply two words for the same reality. I no longer think that. I have come to experience faith as quite different from belief.

Faith (belief in, trust) has to do with our relationship with a person. "Belief that" has to do only with intellectual assent. "Belief that" requires little more than a nod of the head and, perhaps, an occasional argument. Belief that God is Trinity, three persons in one divine nature, that God became incarnate as Jesus. that Jesus died on the cross, that God raised Jesus.

During the early 90s, our diocesan community invited Bishop William Frey, once bishop of the Diocese of Colorado, to spend a few days at various locations around our 14 counties in order to conduct an evangelism mission, a kind of diocesan renewal. One of the simple stories he told impressed me. He told it as a way to recognize the difference between believing in from believing that.

Imagine yourself in a crowd looking up at someone about to push a wheelbarrow along a tightrope stretched across two four-story buildings. “Believing that,” Bishop Frey said, is to wager $10 with someone near you that the man pushing the wheelbarrow will make it across the tightrope. "Believing in," on the other hand, is to put yourself in the wheelbarrow.

Faith includes believing in.

I believe in one God … And in one Lord Jesus Christ … And believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, and Giver of Life.

Soon, in our service, we will pray the Creed. Creed, from the first word in the Latin version, Credo … “I believe.” If we go deeper into the Latin root on which the word is built, we discover the Latin word for heart, cor, readily seen in English words such as cardiac, cordial, courage and encourage.

With that in mind, think of what we are soon to say, I believe in God, as not so much a work of the mind as a matter of the heart. It helps me when I pray the Nicene Creed, when I say “I believe in God,” to think “I set my heart on God … I set my heart on Jesus Christ … I set my heart on the Holy Spirit.”

We may have long forgotten, I think, that the creed speaks to us of matters of the heart, not simply of matters of the mind and will. In today’s second reading, St. Paul reminds us of why.

The reading we heard today from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians includes words on which to set our hearts. Hear those words again: "By grace, you have been saved through faith, and this is not our own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast."

During this last quarter of my life, I’ve thought often that the hardest thing to accept about God’s relationship with you and me is not one or another of God’s marching orders to us, those strong verbs of God’s word such as “be, do, give, forgive, feed, clothe, go, sow, pray, judge not, fear not, love God with all your heart, love your neighbor as yourself, love your enemies, be reconciled, take up your cross, find your life by losing it for my sake…”

Those are not the hardest things. The hardest thing to accept about Gods relationship with us is that God loves us unconditionally, that we are saved by grace through faith, not by our own doing, by gift of God, not by our good works. That God loves us unconditionally is so hard to imagine. Can we trust God that much?

I wonder at times if I may not want unconditional love. The most secure grip the devil has on me has not to do with any doubts I may have about the Trinity or the Incarnation or the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit … nor with any sins I have committed through my refusal to allow gospel imperatives to direct my life. The devil’s last and best hope is my shred of pride that suggests I have done or can do something to earn God’s love … and so should others. Perhaps I don’t want God to love me unconditionally. For, if God does, then I know that is how I will need to relate to others … loving others as God has loved me.

I studied theology at a Jesuit university in Rome for four years during the early 1960s. The classrooms were large … more like lecture halls. One of the professors used to begin his course in this way. He paced back and forth on a raised platform. Behind the platform, a blackboard covered the entire wall. After a few trips back and forth, while studying the blank blackboard, he took a piece of chalk and, with one loud pound, made one white dot on the enormous blackboard. Turning, then, to the students, he said, “The white dot is what we know about God. The blackboard is what we don’t know about God. What we know about God is little. But the little we know about God is precious.”

With the passing of my years, I find that I focus more and more on the white dot. I tend to think of that as setting my heart on less, but more so. The less, however, is indeed precious. I set my heart on God who, in Jesus, became one of us. I set my heart on Jesus who is for me a window into the heart of God. I set my heart on the Holy Spirit who keeps me from turning that window into a mirror. I set my heart on God who has saved me as pure gift, not because of anything I have done. I set my heart on God who in Jesus has said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

It is not by good works that we are saved. God saved us before we did any good work. At the same time, however, St. Paul, in this same reading we heard today, reminds us that, though God’s gift of salvation is not the result of any of our good works, God has created us for good works … that good works might be our way of life … not in order to earn God’s love but in response to God’s love.

Being Somebody

Bill Lewellis
An old sermon

Glengarry Glen Ross is a 1992 screen adaptation of David Mamet’s play about four salesmen who work in a cutthroat marketplace. Their company values them only for the leads they close. They give in to their worst instincts. To survive. GGR has been described as one of the most powerful and convincing films ever made about how the human spirit is often violated in the workplace.

The film opens with a hot shot motivator from the home office berating three salesmen while kicking off a new, week-long contest to boost sales. The winner gets a Cadillac, he tells them. Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize: you get fired.

The motivator spews more verbal abuse than, I suspect, most of us have ever experienced during one brief interval. Finally, one of the salesmen says, “Who do you think you are, talking to us like that?” Then follows the motivator’s self-definition, who he thinks he is: “You drove here in a Hyundai,” he says. “I drove here in a BMW. This watch is worth more than your car. That’s who I am!”

It’s a version of the lie once told to Jesus. “You won’t be somebody until you do something, so turn stones into bread,” Jesus heard within himself in the desert. “You won’t be somebody until people speak well of you. Show them something. Jump from the top of the temple and let angels catch you unharmed. You won’t be somebody until you have something. Worship me and I will give you many things. Then, you’ll be somebody.”

“That’s a lie,” Jesus said. “I know who I am. I am somebody. I’ve heard the Father say I am loved.” Jesus identified himself in relationship to the Father who loved him. Because Jesus remembered that, he recognized the lie he heard in the desert. Then he proclaimed publicly in the synagogue at Nazareth what it means to live the life of the beloved. “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” You can read that “screened scripture” in the third and fourth chapters of the Gospel according to Luke (3:21 - 4:21).

Throughout our lives, two myths compete to define us. One, from our scriptures, tells us we are somebody even before we do or have anything, even before anyone speaks well of us. Our dignity, it says, is God-given. It is within us. "Jesus loves me, this I know."

Don't confuse that myth with the religiously skewed version that goes, "God will love me, this I say, if I’m good and if I pray." Many who have experienced the temptation to put their trust in morality or piety rather than in God have been haunted by this version.

The secular competing myth, not so unlike the religiously skewed version, tells us our worth lies in what we do, what we have, what we buy and what others think and say about us. It's a cultural tape that plays over and over again. Throughout life, people expend extraordinary time and energy, even doing violence to themselves and others, in pursuit of those lies.

Glengarry Glen Ross is about people who let systems and corporations that do not love them define them. It’s about the classic temptations we experience around self-definition whenever we need to decide or remember who we are and which myth to claim and to live. Most of us struggle with those temptations more than once: “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4: 13)


The following is an excerpt from the film referenced above. Warning: A lot of colorful language.



He is Risen! We are Risen!

(An excerpt from a sermon Bill Lewellis preached on Easter Sunday, April 15, 2001, Grace Church Allentown]

Christ is risen, Alleluia! I’m tempted to tell you how that happened.   But that would simply be my imagination working overtime.

We don’t know how the resurrection happened. Whatever we can imagine is surely not what happened. For we are in a dimension of mystery, of hidden presence, a dimension far beyond our wildest imaginations.

We aren’t supposed to explain the resurrection. God’s resurrection of Jesus as the Christ, our Lord, explains us. The message of Easter is always in the present tense: He is risen! We are risen!

The gospels ground our faith not on the argument of the empty tomb, but on the presence of the risen Lord in human experience. It is not the persuasive power of the empty tomb that leads to faith. Personal encounters with the risen Lord lead us to faith and hope and love and action.

A reminder of those personal encounters with the risen Lord is front and center before us today in this sanctuary – and, hopefully, in our hearts. It is the paschal candle, the light of Christ. We will see this lighted candle before us at every service over the next Great Fifty Days of Easter. It will lead our way at baptisms, at eucharists and at funerals. It is a symbol of the risen and living Christ leading/modeling us, in death and resurrection, to our transformation as a new creation in Christ.

(I heard this story first from Father Charles ????. I believe he served in San Francisco before retiring at Nativity Cathedral. I suspect someone here will remember his last name.)

A long-time legend from the artist's colony of Rome says that more than 500 years ago monks from Milan discovered a young artist painting the ceiling of a chapel in Florence. Deeply moved by his work, they asked him to paint a fresco on their dining room wall.

When he completed his work in Florence he went to Milan. He talked with the monks. He felt the wall. He asked about everything in the bible even remotely connected with meals. He listened. He thought. He imagined. Then he sketched out a rough drawing.

Because he always worked with live models, he began looking for 13 models from whose faces he would paint Jesus and his apostles at table. Easily enough he found 11 faces that matched his conception of Peter and Andrew, Matthew and Bartholomew… Thomas, James, John…

Imagine Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, however, with two blank faces. He had not found models for Jesus and for Judas.

He searched for more than a year. One day he watched a procession entering the Milan cathedral. Leading the procession was a young man with a determined yet peaceful face. Da Vinci saw the young man's face through the light of the candle he carried in front of him. Da Vinci found the face of Jesus.

Then there was only Judas who had no face. Leonardo DaVinci searched for Judas. Twelve years later, Da Vinci was still looking for Judas.

In the meantime he had begun to do some work in Rome. One day, while walking through Rome's Trastevere section, Da Vinci heard loud shouting and cursing. A muscular man with a mean look that takes years to develop pounded his fists into the face of another. He beat him, robbed him, and probably killed him.

Weeks later, Da Vinci saw the hoodlum again. He asked him to go with him to Milan — to model. This was the face he had been looking for for years. Da Vinci told him he would provide a place for him to sleep, provide all he could eat, and some gold besides — and all he would have to do would be to sit still for a few hours a day. The man agreed.

They went to Milan, to the monastery where a drape hung over the unfinished masterpiece. The mean, muscular mugger sat still for Da Vinci for weeks — but did not see the fresco.

When his work was finally completed, Da Vinci unveiled it and pointed to each face. Peter, Matthew, Thomas, James John… Jesus. Finally he pointed to the model's face in the fresco — Judas.

The hoodlum stared at the fresco. He looked at Judas. He looked at Jesus. Again at Judas. Again at Jesus. He backed away. He began to cry. Finally, gaining some composure he said to Da Vinci: “You don’t remember me, do you?” “No," Leonardo said, “I don’t."

“Years ago," the hoodlum said, “years ago, as a young man, I was your model for Jesus.” He whispered, “I want to be Jesus again.”

Jan Charney

Sermon by Canon Clifford Carr
At the private requiem liturgy and committal for the family
Trinity Easton, April 2, 2017

[A memorial and celebration of Jan's life, open to the community, will be held at Trinity Easton on Saturday, April 22 at 2:00 p.m.]


And so through all the length of days thy goodness faileth never:
Good Shepherd may I sing thy praise within thy house for ever.

                                                      + +

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water....."

                                                      + +

She was nourished with your body and blood,
grant her a place at the table in your heavenly kingdom.  

                                  + +

The hour is coming and now is,
when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

                                                      + +

   These words of scripture, hymn and prayer are words of promise and hope .... words of homecoming and welcome. At a time of death and sadness they speak to us of the hope that is ours as the People of God. They assure us that we have a share in the eternal life of God, in that place where the shepherd knows us by name and where we will join with the angels & archangels and all the company of heaven to sing the praises of God.

   We hear, sing and pray words like this at the time of death because we Christians believe that life is not ended in death. We believe that Jan's life continues in a new form in a new place, for although the body has died, her spirit has been born again into a glorious and wonderful life - a life that we will share with her one day, for not even death can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

   The Prayer Book is quite clear in saying that what we do here this afternoon is an Easter liturgy. We wear white vestments, the Easter candle, which is lit at every baptism, burns now to symbolize the Risen Christ who scatters the darkness of sin and death. When Janet was baptized, the life of the Risen Christ was poured into her soul, she was anointed by the Holy Spirit and filled with the Spirit's gifts which would help and guide her throughout her earthly journey. From that moment, she belonged to Christ. And now she has traveled long and well through this part of her life and she has been raised up to her eternal home.  

   "We are an Easter People, and Alleluia is our song!" There's no doubt that Jan lived an "Easter Life" - she knew a lot about death, resurrection and new life, after having been in recovery for almost 37 years.... as someone passionate about gardening, she had faith that those dead bulbs and bare branches, those seeds sown, would come to life with the returning spring.

"Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
love lives again, that with the dead has been:     
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green."

   Those words of an English poet set to the music of a 15th century French carol were favorites of Jan, and yet one more way she shared her Easter Faith with us. For her the mature grain in the sheaf of wheat was a direct symbol of the Resurrection: the life beyond the grave, the fulfillment of the baptismal promise.

   In our youth, Jan, Dan & I were formed and nurtured in our faith by the hymns of the Hymnal 1940, and I remember one hymn which was always sung at funerals, but which did not make it into the current hymnal. "Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand." -- the third verse began with these words which have stayed with me for more than 60 years: "O then what raptured greetings on Canaan's happy shore, what knitting severed friendships up, where partings are no more...." I'm looking forward to that - and of course I also expect rare roast beef & good scotch along with a grand organ of many ranks! Just think of the noisy reunion there has been with Jan and all those who have gone before her as she now takes her place in the heavenly choir.

   The question, of course is, will she sing alto or tenor?

   At any rate, she will celebrate the Easter feast at a different table and on a distant shore in a place prepared for her from the moment of her baptism. In baptism we are marked and sealed as Christ's own forever - that's a long time. ... far longer than 78 years. Eternity is a reality - God delivers - it's letting go at this end that's tough - the rest is a snap!

   On an occasion such as this, I once heard her say that there are people who "stand on the God-ward side" of us ... People who help us see what God's love is all about. ... That God's love is for everyone. That's God's love is to be celebrated – that God's love is about being an "Alleluia people" – that God's love is about living life to the fullest – enjoying the gifts of God: Good music, good food, good works ... good giving & living.

   Jan was one of those people for many of us.

   Dan, Beth, Kira & David – you and those close to you will hear many things about this special woman in the days and weeks to come – things that you know and things that are perhaps a surprise. In the hearing and telling of these stories you will be reminded that she was someone who lived out her love for God and for you as best as she was able. In all of this you will not only remember her, but you will also learn something of the power, grace, hospitality and generosity of God. It is Jan's continuing gift to you.  

   May she Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory!

Jane Ballantyne Teter – A Celebration of her Life and Ministry

Sermon by Archdeacon Richard I Cluett
January 28, 2017
Nativity Cathedral, Bethlehem

Jane Teter
This has been very hard – trying to capture the faith and the life – the essence of a beloved friend and sister I have known for 40 years. But here is where I have come to this morning.

Because of her firm and uncluttered faith in the God who created her and loved her, Jane Ballantyne Teter was one audacious and tenacious woman. Just ask her kids. Just ask me.

I first met Jane in the late 1970’s when she was beginning to discern that she was be called by God to the priesthood. That was an audacious act, in and of itself – to think that she could and would be called by God to be a priest, this young-ish widow of a priest and the mother of three kids. What an audacious idea back in those days when the ordination of women was recently authorized and certainly not the norm and not accepted by many,

But once that call was affirmed in her heart and soul, she was tenacious in pursuit of it. Willing to endure institutional hurdles, the skepticism of others, managing family life, work life, and seminary studies, to be the person God created her to be, working as hard as she had ever worked. It took a lot, it cost a lot and by God she got there. Thanks be to God.

You all might not think of Jane as audacious and tenacious, but in her own quiet way she was indeed. How else could she have lived with the untimely death of her husband Edgar, raised and educated three wonderful and diverse kids, worked full-time, and made her way in the world and the church with such Grace and commitment. Audacity and Tenacity.

She built a life with her family at the center, certainly her kids, Deb, Ned, and Laurie, and then their families, and always caring for her beloved twin brother Robert and his family across the country, and her grandparents and aunts and others I do not know about.

She was the keeper and sometimes the Sheriff of family traditions. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter and the annual summer weeks spent at the camp on the lake in the Adirondacks. These were pretty much nonnegotiable for Jane and so for her family, and she would sacrifice and go to some lengths to see that they happened and were opportunities for celebration in her family.

We all knew about her mystery novels, 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles, and her love for her dogs – even though she carped about them from time to time – and her knitting, always knitting. Sweaters for family, blankets for babies, and wool caps, scarves, and mitten for seafarers, and more. That one she spread throughout the diocese.

Indeed as her health began to fail, it was her Deb and Laurie and Ned who became the keeper of the traditions, who saw that these family events and times always happened. I know, perhaps better than they do, how much she loved them and how proud she was of them.

When I was rector of St. Margaret’s Church in Emmaus, it was my pleasure and privilege (and a bit my conniving, too, as chair of the Commission on Ministry) to have Jane come to St. Margaret’s as a seminarian intern, then stay on as assisting deacon and priest. She was ordained priest in the church named for Queen Margaret of Scotland, the patron of the Church in Scotland. How fitting was that for a woman in the family and clan of Ballantyne?

As a priest in a time when the ordination of women was still a new idea for some, viewed with skepticism by others, and denied altogether by some others, Jane’s audacious faith and tenacity took her into many, many parishes of this diocese to give people the chance to experience and come to know a woman in holy orders. By celebrating and preaching as a visitor on Sundays, by being willing to be interviewed by search committees whether or not she was interested in a move to a parish, serving as a consultant to parish leadership, she demonstrated the fullness of the ordained ministry to those who had never experienced it or even knew it was possible.

She exercised a special ministry as mentor, model, and wise woman for many women, especially, as they came into the ordained ministry of the church

Her ministry as priest, pastor, spiritual guide, mentor and friend was a gift to so many and she is loved to this day for it. Just look at the comments on the diocesan Facebook page testifying to her gifts, life, and ministry.

Serving in parishes as assisting priest, interim rector, vicar and eventually, as Edgar her husband had before her, serving as a canon to the bishop, she touched and enhanced the lives of so many of us.

Small parishes were a special love and concern for Jane and she advocated for their care and wellbeing in the councils of the diocese and beyond in the councils and General Convention of the Episcopal Church.

Even as her health declined, she took on a ministry of care for the retired clergy and widowed spouses of our diocese with prayer, greeting cards, phone calls, birthday remembrances and advocacy, never forgetting anybody.

Jane was “Never Quit Jane”. If it was important to do, then it was important to do it. Right up to the end. Dying, still a member of the bishop’s staff, carrying out this unique and important ministry at the age of 79.

You may have noticed that the scriptures today are not meant for Jane. They are meant for us, for those who have loved her and will always miss her –and may need the reminder, the reassurance that she has entered into the bright light of God’s love, into eternity, into the blessed company of the saints. She knew all these things deep I her heart and soul, and when it came time to contemplate passing from this life into eternity, she just set her face to it and went about it.

That is a gift to her family, and that is her gift to the rest of us. There is no need to live - or die - in fear. We are in the love and care of God all the day long, even and especially “when the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done” – even as we are passing from this life to the next.

I want to leave the last word to Hillary Raining, another priest ordained from Trinity Church, Bethlehem. Hillary posted this on our Facebook page: “Jane was a mentor and a friend to me. One of the greatest honors of my life was interviewing several first generation women priests in DioBeth, including Jane, to capture their pioneering stories. Jane taught me so much in that interview and this has prompted me to take the transcripts off the shelf today to read them. In her own words, Jane told me to always, “claim the good that you are doing so that others will feel empowered to do the things they might not know they can do. That will be how God works through you.”

Yes, indeed. Yes, indeed. And this is how God worked through Jane. And now, dear friend, may you rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.

Loving God, Loving Country

Homily, Pentecost 7, July 3, 2016
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Troy, PA
Fr. Han van den Blink

[Father Han of St. Paul's Troy is professor emeritus of Ascetical and Pastoral Theology, Bexley Hall Episcopal Seminary.]

1. Tomorrow we celebrate the Independence Day of the United States. This morning I want to say something about what I understand it means, from a Christian perspective, to love God and to love one’s country, particularly at a time when our country is still engaged in armed conflict abroad, and experiencing intense disagreements, partisan strife, and political polarization at home.

Let me begin with a personal experience. About twelve years ago, on April 22, 2004, I was naturalized as an American citizen in the Tompkins County Court House in Ithaca, New York. I had no idea what to expect that day but was surprised how moving an occasion this turned out to be.

From the moment I set foot in that Courthouse, I felt like an honored guest. This had everything to do with the way in which those of us who became American citizens that day, and there were 45 of us from all parts of the world, were made to feel welcome by those who were in charge of that ceremony.

I had lived in this country for many years without feeling the need to become an American citizen. I had been quite content with my Dutch passport and Alien Registration Card, commonly known as the Green Card, although currently no longer green but pink.

About two years before I was naturalized I became aware of a growing sense that I needed to become an American citizen. The persistencea and strength of this feeling was unexpected. It took a while for me to be able to articulate what motivated that feeling.

There was, first of all, my age. I immigrated to this country from the Netherlands when I was 22. A week after becoming a citizen I turned 70. It began to dawn on me that I did not want to die a “resident alien” in a country which has given me so much, where I married the love of my life, where my children and granchildren are, and where I have lived and worked with so much pleasure and personal and professional satisfaction.

The second reason had to do with my experience as a refugee in Indonesia during the Second World War and its aftermath. I was a boy then but old enough to experience the horror of what was going on around me. I not only literally had been a refugee and for that reason qualified as a refugee when immigrating to this country but my identity had in many ways remained that of a refugee.

I knew that if things went wrong here or anywhere else for that matter, I could always return to the Netherlands. My Dutch passport was a like a parachute that I could count on in case of trouble. But I realized that I did not need that parachute any more.

A third reason was a sense that, with this country going through such trying times, I needed to be able to cast my vote, and that not doing so would be irresponsible. Closely related to this was a fourth important reason. That had to do with the America that I had come to appreciate and value, the America that has the potential of manifesting what a peaceful, diverse culture (ethnically, racially, religiously and politically) can be like, without the oppression, ethnic cleansing, strife and warfare that characterizes the situation in so many other places in our world.

This is the America that, for all its problems and the endemic racism that can pop up like a toxic fungus, continues to be the most promising experiment in multicultural human relationships of people from different ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds, that, to my knowledge, the world has known. This is the America that, when it lives up to its highest standards, is a place of hope, a place of opportunity, and a place where all its citizens can be free and treated justly.

This is the America that was founded by courageous and far seeing patriots with an unusual commitment to what they called self-evident truths, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These majestic, powerful words have acted, ever since then as a beacon of hope that has, again and again, helped people of faith and good will in this country to make the necessary course corrections when things have gone off track.

This ringing declaration resounded compellingly 187 years later in a famous address at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on August 28, 1963, gave his historic “I have a Dream” speech in which he directly appealed to the Declaration of Independence as “a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir” regardless of race, color, religion or national origin.

2. A Christian perspective always needs be grounded in the Mind of Christ, as we have been given to know that mind through the life and ministry of Jesus. We are to love the Lord our God, the one who has given us life and in whom we live and move and have our being, with all our heart and soul and mind and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Love understood as what the New Testament calls agapē, that is to say not a feeling of kindness but an inner spiritual disposition that is exemplified by the way we behave toward others, as Jesus did, with compassion, truthfulness, and humility. How do we operationalize the Mind of Christ in loving God and country? How can such critical spiritual virtues as compassion, truthfulness, and humility shape our behavior in that regard?

Let me suggest a few points of reference. First of all, love of country for the Christian always begins with the love of God. From a Biblical perspective all life is a gift from God and that includes the land where we were born, where we live or that we have adopted.

On this view our country is also a gift from God. In spite of the way we talk about ownership of land, property, and talents and have a whole legal system to back that up, we never really own anything permanently, either personally or as a group. Rather, we are given land and property and talents in by our Heavenly Father, to take care of as faithful stewards during our time on earth.

Claiming to love one’s country remains an empty phrase devoid of meaning if our love does not include actively caring for the welfare of its people, its land, its water and its air. Every time we say the words, “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee” when the collection is gathered during the Eucharist, we acknowledge this truth and are reminded of our responsibility toward what we have been given in trust.

Second, it is critically important, but particularly so during times of strife and conflict, to remember that, as St. Paul put it, “all have sinned [that is to say missed the mark] and fall short of the glory of God”. And that does mean all of us, including you and me, including every institution, every governmental agency, Congress, the White House, every state, every county, every city and town.

Whenever we are physically, emotionally or politically threatened, we tend to to do two things: first, we resort to absolutizing what we most love and most trust, our family, our theology, our political party, our country. And second, we begin to demonize the opposition, the enemy. It takes real effort to avoid making those mistakes and to back away from them when we find ourselves doing so.

I am deeply moved by what Abraham Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865, while the Civil War was still raging. Knowing that we must never turn our own cause, no matter how worthy, into an idol, he had the courage to say that “Both [the North and the South] read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other … The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”

3. The third point of reference is the importance of compassion in our desire to love God and country, especially in our dealings with those who oppose us at home and abroad. Again, it is Lincoln who was able to articulate this at the end of that Second Inaugural Address when he closed with those astonishing words, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

And that brings me to the fourth point of reference, namely the critical importance of humility. What Scripture and the Early Church meant by humility is entirely different from what it has come to signify in our day. “For them,” the patristics scholar Roberta Bondi writes, “humility was not about groveling before God and other human beings. It had nothing to do with being passive, being a doormat or glorifying a poor self-image. It was certainly not a virtue recommended to women or poor people so that they would accept their place in society. No, humility for the ancient teachers meant accepting ourselves and others just as we are, limitations, vulnerabilities, and major imperfections included, as already equally valuable and beloved of God without our having to prove our worth by what we accomplish.”

I recently became aware of an incredible example of humility in none other than George Washington, the General who explicitly prohibited the use of torture, the man without whom, it is widely agreed, the revolt of the 13 American colonies against King George III and the British Empire would not have succeeded.

After the defeat of the army of Cornwallis at Yorktown, there was a growing sentiment to proclaim Washington as King of the newly liberated colonies. This movement was fanned by the inability of the Confederation Congress to forge a more unified government which had the power to levy taxes and thereby give the Continental Army the backpay it was owed and provide the resources needed to pursue the war against Great Britain.

The historian Joseph P. Ellis comments on this episode, “All these considerations –Washington’s transcendent stature, the weakness of the new federal government, and the grievances of the army- came together in March 1783 to create the Newburgh Conspiracy.”

This conspiracy by a few congressmen and officers of the Continental Army aimed at threatening Congress with a coup if that body did not agree to assure promised pensions and to concentrate executive power in the hands of the only trusted man, George Washington, was stopped cold by the great man himself.

“In this culminating moment of his military career, George Washington demonstrated that he was as immune to the seductions of dictatorial power as he was to smallpox…” If we ever need an example of humility in politics, especially now, here it is.

Loving God, loving country. The need to do both well, to avoid confusing the two, to know which one is most important, and to do so in the awareness that even at our best, we will never fully succeed but, by God’s grace, can contribute our part to the healing of the world of which the United States is such a critically important part - this, in our time, is more urgent than ever. And this is what we are called to do together. So help us God. Amen.

And now to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be might, majesty, dominion, and power forever and ever. Amen.

Sermon: Archdeacon Cluett

The Temptation of Jesus
First Sunday of Lent, Feb. 14, 2016
Nativity Cathedral, Bethlehem

[Listen to the sermon: Here]

So, if you were going to boil down this Gospel lesson about the Temptation of Jesus to a simple form, what were these temptations about? How about this way?

In the first temptation the devil seeks to reduce everything to basic human hungers. Spiritual things are not denied, but they serve as the basis for meeting physical needs. Jesus says that God is what is needed for life.

The second temptation is the devil’s show and tell about Power. Jesus is shown all the word’s kingdoms, and it is all offered to him if he would but worship the devil. Jesus says that God alone is worthy of worship.

The last temptation takes place in Jerusalem on the temple. The temptation is to use God for personal safety and salvation. Jesus says that we are not to bring God to the test.

  • Temptation #1, to satiate one’s hungers, at any price. Go for it!
  • Temptation #2, to make a god of something other than God for the sake of gaining power.
  • Temptation #3, the subtlest of all, to throw away personal re­sponsibility and demand that God perform daily miracles of personal care and security.

They have been summed up this way: Bread, power, and safety, or youth, beauty, and wealth, or confidence, fame, and security.

On one level, we experience specific temptations very concretely, but on another they are all the same, as they seek to shift our allegiance, trust, and confidence away from God and toward some substitute that promises a more attractive identity.

It is clear to me that today while no less dangerous, evil is much more subtle, and rather than being confronted with blatant tempta­tions to ignore God, to worship some other gods, or to manipulate God, people in our day and time are tempted and seduced away from God and away from the true selves that God created us to be

Most of us spend considerable time trying to make our lives as safe and secure and comfortable as possible. We want to be able to sit back and count our blessings – our jobs, our homes, our successful children. Jesus turns the notion of a blessed life upside downit’s dangerous!

Living in the Kingdom is finding strength in offering oneself, being vulnera­ble to God and to others, for others. Living in the Kingdom of God brought by Jesus leads to a life that is full and blessed, and can be, itself, a blessing to others. It is also a life that is risky because there are so many temptations.

In John Marquand's novel Point of No Return, for instance, after years of apple-polishing and bucking for promotion and dedicating all his energies to a single goal, Charlie Gray finally gets to be vice-president of the fancy little New York bank where he works; and then the terrible moment comes when he realizes that it is really not what he wanted after all, when the prize that he has spent his life trying to win suddenly turns to ashes in his hands.

His promotion had assured him and his family of all the security and standing that he has always sought, but it turned to dust. Charlie Gray comes to the truth when he realizes too late that he was not made to live on status and salary alone but that something crucially important was missing from his life even though he was not sure what it was.

Akin to this is the temptation to sacrifice one’s family on the altar of power, influence, and success. Some of you will remember the Groucho Marx TV show, “You Bet Your Life.” Well, we all do that everyday. The choices we make are about how we spend the life God has given us to live. It is the one life we have to live as we travel through this world of temptation.

Now there is nothing moralistic or sentimental about that. It simply means that we must be careful with our lives, because it also seems that this is the only life we are going to have in this puzzling and perilous world, and so what we do with it matters enormously.

Everybody knows that. We need no one to tell it to us. Yet in another way perhaps we do always need to be reminded, because there is always the temptation to believe that we have all the time in the world, whereas the truth of it is that we do not. We have only this finite life, and the choice of how we are going to live it must be our own choice, not one that we let the world, the flesh, or the devil make for us.

The complaint is sometimes made about Christians that we don’t live in the “real” world. Often there is the attempt to protect people from the “real” world – the world of evil and temptation – the world that plays out 24-7 on TV News and on the front pages of newspapers. Jesus knows this “real” world.

My pal, Bill Lewellis reminded me this week of the speech given by author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel when he received the Nobel Peace Prize, 30 years ago. In part he said,

There is so much injustice and suffering crying out for our attention: victims of hunger, of racism, and political persecution, writers and poets, prisoners in so many lands governed by the Left and by the Right. Human rights are being violated on every continent. More people are oppressed than free… Yes, I have faith. Faith in God and even in His creation. Without it no action would be possible. And action is the only remedy to indifference: the most insidious danger of all.

"Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil … The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.

In our own day and time, I do believe it is the most insidious temptation offered by Satan; the temptation to indifference about the plight of others, the temptation to the priority of our own comfort and security, the temptation to deny our full identity as God’s own child, our full identity as Jesus own disciple, our denial to minister in his name.

It has been said that the devil’s goal was to tempt Jesus away from himself, from his identity as God’s own, God’s Beloved: to tempt Jesus away from being the One he was born to be. The devil failed with Jesus, thanks be to God.

How will Satan fare with you and me in this season, this world, this life, of temptation?

I will leave the last word to St. Peter Chrysologus, 5th century bishop of Ravenna, who described a holy Lent this way. "When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give … let prayer, mercy, and fasting be one single plea to God."

Clear Grace – Sermon by Bill Lewellis

Clear Grace
Pent 14B, Proper 17B, August 30, 2015
Redeemer, Longport NJ (Bill Lewellis)
Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Psalm 45
James 1:17-27; Mark: 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

[This sermon is an expanded version of my column – also here – published August 29 in The Morning Call.]

A nun who taught me in grade school had a technique more efficient than waterboarding. She would sit you down, sit across from you, look you in the eye, and say, “Now tell the truth and shame the devil.” Whatever you may think of that, you know it is clear.

Clear too are a few truths from today’s readings: Every generous act of giving is from above … Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers … You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition … There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.

All of these are clear truths, clear commands. What can make them clearer? As an old priest friend used to say, “When you’ve made your point, stop boring.”


In concert, at the metro
On a cold Friday in January 2007, during morning rush hour, a white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T and a Washington Nationals baseball cap emerged from the metro at the L’Enfant Plaza station in Washington.

He positioned himself against a wall beside a trash basket. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he threw in a few dollars and pocket change: seed money. He swiveled the case to face pedestrian traffic … and began to play six classical pieces for the next 43 minutes.

It was a social experiment sponsored by the Washington Post: “If a world-famous musician and his $3 million fiddle brought some of history’s most beautiful music to a rush-hour crowd in a DC metro station, would people stop and listen”

Not really. Of 1,100 people walking by, 27 stopped to listen. Hardly anyone noticed.

Hardly anyone noticed when Joshua Bell played some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made.

[Journalist Gene Weingarten received a Pulitzer for his feature story about it. I have drawn some of my description from his story.] 

Joshua Bell’s concert hall performances are regularly sold out. He earned just over $32 when he set out his case at the metro stop. Hardly anyone noticed.

Was that because it was free? Because it was unscheduled? Because of the clothes he wore? Because of the venue?

In any event, hardly anyone noticed.

People who have received emails from me may have noticed my signature line – running for some 25 years: Be attentive, Be intelligent, Be reasonable, Be responsible, Be in love, If necessary, change.

The first phrase, “Be attentive,” is about noticing. It’s about being attentive to all of our senses, to what we see, hear, touch, taste and smell. Being attentive to our experience, to our imagination, to the voices and hearts of those around us.

Be not among those who hardly notice.

Do we notice during Eucharist, when we receive the bread of life?

Seven years later, last year, Bell gave it another try. This one was advertised by the Post: at 12:30 p.m., Sept. 30, Bell would perform for 30 minutes in the main hall of Union Station.

He would trade the baseball cap and long-sleeve T for a crisp black shirt. Busy commuters would be traded for what the Post hoped would be a large and engaged audience, there to hear a program of Mendelssohn and Bach.

Not surprisingly, the area was crowded. Though the music was not more beautiful than seven years before.

Both events are evocative. They call out to us. They might say something to each of us, about how we go about our lives.

A friend of mine, one time journalist for the New York Times and the Washington Post who now helps Episcopal dioceses and agencies improve their communication, said that reflecting on these two events had him thinking about grace.

“Grace” is a common enough word, but also one of those in-words used often by those of us who have had the privilege of reading and thinking a lot about theology.

“Grace” suggests God’s love for us, God’s mercy, God’s compassion, God’s forgiveness … all of this even before we ask.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve become convinced that the less one says about God, the better.

When anyone goes on and on about God, be sure they don’t know what they’re talking about.

They may be sincere, but that’s not saying much if they don’t know what they’re talking about. To say someone is “sincere” may be the lowest form of compliment.

Think about how you use “sincere.” “And she’s sincere” is ok. “But he’s sincere,” however is not saying much. The “but” usually implies they’re wrong, but they’re “sincere.”

Two statements seem to me today to sum up all the theology I’ve ever learned.

One is that God is like Jesus.

The other is that grace is “undeserved blessing.”

And I’m “sincere” about that.

Among the few spiritual disciplines
We don’t deserve grace, to be sure, my journalist friend Jim Naughton wrote recently, but what we need to reckon with is the fact that we don’t recognize it.

“It wears the wrong clothes … shows up in the wrong places … at the wrong times. It comes in the guise of people we generally avoid. 
We hardly notice. We fail to see it for what it is.

“We take the word of others – experts, advance teams – for what grace is and what it isn’t, when we must pay attention and when we can walk on by.

“Perhaps we don’t trust ourselves to recognize and respond to grace when we see it or hear it. Or perhaps life is constructed in such a way that grace needs references and a spot on our calendar before we can give it its due.

“Henry James once urged readers: ‘Try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost.’

“This,” my friend said, “is among the few spiritual disciplines that still make sense to me.”

Trying to be one of those on whom nothing is lost. Not being among those who hardly notice. Being attentive.




Memorial Service for Dolores Caskey/Sermon

Sermon by T. Scott Allen
Trinity Bethlehem – May 23, 2105

In the name of God who says “I am the Resurrection and the Life”   AMEN

It is not very often that one gets to be the preacher at the Burial Office of a woman as remarkable, complicated, intelligent and amazing as Dolores White Caskey. In fact, I have dreaded having to write the epitaph for a person who had the impact on me and her world that Dolores had because whatever I say I will most likely forget a detail, a good work, an amazing speech, a kind act, an important contribution of a life lived very well. 

And while my background is as a journalist, my occupation of the last 30 plus years has been as an Episcopal priest, so while my reporter instinct wants to report “the facts” and not miss one, my heart says that we all stand here this afternoon as witnesses of what a life lived with grace, gusto and yes, at times, guts, looks like.

 I don’t know when I first met Dolores. I expect it was sometime in the early Spring of 1989. I had just joined the Bishop’s Staff as Social Missioner and she served on the Jubilee Committee which was the name of the Diocesan Social Justice Committee at the time. Dolores and I took an instant like to one another for which to this day I am thankful. Dolores didn’t suffer fools gladly and I would never want to be on the “outs” with her. We disagreed on some occasions, but we both knew the other’s heart and couldn’t stay cross with one another very long. We knew we were acting out of the same love of the same Lord who redeemed us.

No matter where you knew Dolores I can say that all that she did emanated from a deep faith in a God who is manifested in self-giving love. This faith did not express itself in saccharine piety, but in incarnational acts of justice, truth, mercy and love. Her faith had a very real social expression for the poor, the marginalized, the unfairly treated and the helpless.

The lessons we just heard are most fitting for a saint such as Dolores.  “To everything a season and a purpose under heaven”.

She took everything in stride and even in defeat did not back down from her principles. She was a non-anxious presence when emotions were high and more smoke than light was being generated in any debate or discussion---she was part of our Church’s controversies. For her, everything did have its time and season, but truth, justice and mercy did not. Articulate, she didn’t shy away from eating your lunch when an important principle was at stake.

Dolores met her beloved husband, Jim, in the Air Force and they were both veterans and later will rightfully be laid to rest together in Arlington National Cemetery. As Jim told the story, Dolores worked in the office of a high ranking officer and she had come to his office on some official business where she asserted her rank with Jim’s secretary. Thinking Dolores had left the office, Jim made some smart comment about Dolores which she heard as she left the room and turned back on her heels and reminded Jim of who she was and whom she worked for! As Jim told it, his secretary was a shy, timid woman who one would have thought was a slight woman. Dolores would laugh at this story when Jim told it and said “Jim, your secretary was not this defenceless little person! She could have gone bear hunting with a switch!” This was just one of what I call “Dolores-isms”.

When speaking of a local politician a few years ago she said, “You ask him the time and he tells you how to build a watch!”Dolores was greatly committed to Northeast Ministry located in the Marvine-Pembroke village and she spoke one of my favorite stories about a time when drug dealing and use was an especially chronic problem on the streets of this housing project. Someone got the idea of a parade through the streets of Marvine-Pembroke to provide a counter-point to the drug dealers and support recovery and health for the residents. In order to send an anti-drug message to residents and the drug addicted of that area. Her co-board member was Victoria (Lala) Leach who was a member of the Nativity Cathedral. Lala had a yellow Cadillac convertible and Dolores and Lala rode in the parade in that car. Dolores laughed as she said, “I can’t imagine what the people thought of us in this parade.  Probably something like—“O look! Those two old ladies got off the stuff and now they have a Cadillac!”

Always well put together (I rarely remember her wearing pants in public—always a dress, jewelry and make-up—even when at the Soup Kitchen!), Dolores always had the Oasis of her weekly Friday hair appointment. The day she died I happened to arrive at Dolores’s room at Moravian Village Health Center 5 minutes after her passing. As I gazed upon her lifeless body, the chaplain whispered, “Isn’t it great that the nurses aide ran in and put lipstick on her?” And sure enough, her lips were bright pink! It was great, and I can imagine Dolores somehow beholding the scene and finding great humor in it, but also a great corporal act of mercy in that act!

Dolores was a good Democrat as well. And it was because of Dolores’s advocacy with me that I switched my primary vote from Hillary Clinton to Barak Obama. We both loved John Stewart and would call each other the morning after a show and laugh about his report, but only momentarily as the issues he addressed were ones that had substance and legs. 

I missed Dolores this past Tuesday when I was faced with my ballot in the primary. I counted on Dolores to give me good names to vote for in local elections and would always take (what I called) “Dolores’s List” (not to be confused with Emily’s List) into the polls on more than one occasion. As the first and scandalously only (to this day, by the way) woman President of Bethlehem City Council (ladies, you have some work to do!). Dolores once was quoted as telling the press, “Well, Bethlehem may be the Christmas City, but city council is NOT Santa Claus!”

Dolores was parsimonious. She didn’t believe that throwing lots of money at a problem necessarily solved it. She believed in balanced budgets, living within your means, and when you spend money, it had to count to relieve misery in people’s lives. This did not mean she was not generous. She supported people, causes and candidates with cash. Real money. And was generous in her support of causes she believed in and thought made a difference.

I once was Dolores and Jim’s chauffer to a rally for presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry at Allentown Fair Grounds and they would not let Jim in with his ever present little pocket knife, which I recall dutifully taking back to my car and re-joining them after we were disarmed.

I have to tell you, I will miss that “Greatest Generation” commitment to integrity in all aspects of life. I mourn the passing of that generation as I believe they were one of extreme integrity, fairness, not afraid of uphill battles and self-giving of themselves for people, movements and projects that enhanced fairness and community. They were biased toward the underdog. We Baby Boomers are poor imitators of their example.

Dolores had the tenacity of a journalist when seeking information and had an eye and a memory for important and often missed detail. She served as an advisor to diocesan publications and served many years as the Consumer Reporter at the Globe-Times in Bethlehem. One apocryphal story about that job––when she first arrived at the Globe-Times she pretended that she couldn’t type in order to be assigned a secretary to do it! 

Things I recall Dolores loved:

• Chocolate and sweets of any kind, I always took them a cut of my Christmas baking in her latter years.

• Animals—dogs, cats, squirrels, even a mouse that took up residence in a storage closet off of their patio in their Moravian Village apartment and refused to let the management know of this rodent’s presence. She delighted in watching him and put nuts and seeds out for him. She also fed birds. I made sure my miniature schnauzer, Martini, visited Dolores and Jim often—her last visit with Dolores was near Christmas Eve of last year.

• She loved the beach and seashore and after Jim died got her aide to drive her there. That may have been her last visit.

• She loved breakfast at Jenny’s Luncheonette before it was razed to make way for a new access to the Hill-To-Hill bridge—and tipped her waitresses handsomely.

• She loved the poor, the underdog, the rejected for no fault of their own and anyone being given a raw deal by government, church or social structures.

• She loved the 1928 Prayer Book AND the 1979 revision and both were near her whenever I visited. She liked the confession in Morning Prayer, and the Prayer for Humble Access. She prayed.

She had her dislikes as well:

• She disliked hypocrisy, privilege which blinded to human need. Using the phrase “greedy geezers” to describe some of her peer’s attitude toward discounts, Social Security, Medicare and other benefits.

• She disliked using more medical care than she thought was warranted for people “living on an expired warranty” as she and Jim would say.

(I am sure you can share others with me later in the parish hall as there are hundreds of ways she impacted and inspired all of us)

 So what is the take away for us that she leaves behind? What is it that is for us in this room this afternoon? 

I believe one of the take aways is that Christian faith can take us to places we never thought we’d be. It can put us in partnership with people very different from us. We are convicted by the witness of her life that our actions should reflect our commitments. Her work for anti-racism is exemplary, she served on the first HIV-AIDS Task Force of the Diocese in the early 90’s and served on a board to develop a personal care home for persons living with HIV-AIDS. Before a plethora of Spanish Speaking interpreters, she would be the middle person to translate for the courts when a Spanish speaking defendant appeared before a Northampton County judge.

There are no outcasts, save the well-funded and privileged who have hard hearts toward the perceived outcast. But even they can repent and be welcomed back.

She saw the blessedness in all of the things we try mightily to insulate ourselves from—mourning, being peacemakers, poverty of life and spirit, mercy, hungering for justice and an even playing field; and putting ourselves on the line for it (even when it means rejection and vilification).

She taught me how to age. To never disengage from life and justice seeking, no matter what your age or physical capability. Always get the news and talk about it!

I hope we can all take comfort and challenge in the life Dolores exemplified. And Michael, David, Robert, Mimi,  you and your offspring can look to her as an example for your own lives and be inspired by how she inspired many of us!

Scott Holland a 19th Century Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University wrote the following which I think a fitting last word today, and one I know Dolores would probably affirm:

Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched and unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is dath but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind just because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well.  All is well.

Dolores, my good friend, you have finished the race, you have competed very well. And I am certain that you will receive the crown of glory reserved just for you! 

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!

[The Rev. T. Scott Allen is rector of St. Andrew's Allentown.]


Riots, vines, branches and abiding

Sermon by Andrew Reinholz
Vicar, St. Margaret's Emmaus
May 3, 2015

Chicago 1919
Harlem 1935
Philadelphia 1964
Washington D.C. 1968
Los Angeles 1992
Ferguson 2014
Baltimore 2015

The sad truth is, riots are a part of American history. The sad fact is, riots are probably going to be a part of America’s future.

As we watched and read about the events that unfolded in Baltimore this week, a lot of things were said.

Many condemned the police for their treatment of minorities. Many condemned the rioters for their use of violence.

Debates raged about failed economic policies, and unjust civil structures. About the negative consequence of violent protest over nonviolent demonstration.

People from across the political spectrum weighed in. People of all races, and economic status, commented.

Some applauded, while others condemned. Some demanded progressive change in our society, others called for a return to conservative values.

Police from neighboring cities and states came to the aid of the city of Baltimore. Maryland sent in the national guard. Religious leaders and community organizers gathered and marched.

Night after night, this country watched with a collectively held breath, waiting to see if one of our cities, would erupt into more violence, and more flames.

The discussions surrounding the Baltimore riots are hard ones to have. But, they are important. We need to, as a society, talk about what has happened, and what caused these events. We need to openly talk about them, so that we cannot just move on from this, but work to see that it does not happen again.

A danger in these discussions, is to break down, and condense things into statistics and figures. Names and faces become meaningless. People no longer are people, but they become numbers. They lose their shape and being.

Numbers upon numbers, that competing sides crunch and compile.

Numbers upon numbers, that competing sides quote to build and construct their own preferred narrative.

To do this keeps us from going deeper into the problems and issues. To do this keeps us separated from the real dilemma. It keeps us separated from one another.

Our readings for today help to point us to the deeper issues at work here. Points us to a deeper truth we need to see.

Jesus is the one true vine. And we are the branches of that vine. A branch separated from that vine, does not and can not bear fruit. A branch separated from the vine withers and dies.

Last week we heard this same message, with different imagery. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. There is one shepherd for one flock. Without that shepherd, the sheep are snatched up, and scattered.

Vine and branches, flock and shepherd.

Jesus is our source. Jesus is our foundation. It is by Jesus that we are created. It is by Jesus that we are sustained. It is by Jesus that we are redeemed.

If we do not abide in him, and he in us, we are nothing. We are dried up branches. We are scattered and lost sheep. If we do not abide in Jesus and he in us, we lack the very essence of our being. We have no foundation.

Without Jesus, we lack that thing which lifts us up and redeems us. Without him, we fall into sin and death. Darkness and despair. We lack the light of Christ, which illuminates, and lifts up all of humanity.

We need to stop seeing others as statistics and demographics or figures from failed urban and civic policies. When we reduce them down we take away their humanity. When we have taken away their humanity, we have severed our connection with them.

We begin to sever the branches from the vine. We scatter the sheep from the flock. Sheep separated from the flock cannot survive. Branches separated from the vine cannot thrive. They cannot grow. They wither up and die.

By abiding in Jesus we abide in his divine and eternal love. And that love teaches us that we are all children of God.

That love placed Jesus on the cross for us all. That love raised Jesus from the dead. That love lifted him into eternal life. That is the love we are called to abide in. A love that changes us to our very core. A love that completes our very being. A love that illuminates humanity, and lifts it up.

Jesus calls us to go deeper in our relationships with each other. If we do not do that, we dehumanize one another.

We categorize and stereotype.

They become criminals and thugs.

They become abuser and oppressors.

They stop being people. They stop being human beings with a heart and a soul and a mind.

They become that which we fear. That which we hate.

They become the reason for our problems, instead of the reason for solving them.

They stop being children of God in our eyes. And we cannot see, that just as Christ suffered and died for us, so too did Christ suffer and die for them. Just as Jesus calls us to live in his risen life, so to does he call them. Just as Jesus calls us to abide in his love, so too does he call them to abide.

God calls us as Christians, to love our enemy as ourselves. To abide in his love. To grow and be nourished from his vine.

Is this easy? No, no it is not.

It takes courage.

It takes strength.

It takes faith.

But we have to be willing to put aside our fears. To put aside out hate. To put aside out dehumanizing ways that separate us, and divide us.

It is clear, it is so painfully clear, that we do not yet fully abide in the love of Jesus Christ. It is clear, so painfully clear, that the kingdom of God which we are called to build, still has much work to be done.

Too many from our flock have been snatched away. We have been scattered and flung so far apart. Too many branches have been cut from the vine. We are slowly drying up and being consumed by flames of our own making.

We will continue to face this problem until people on both sides are able to see, that its not just fellow Americans standing across from them, not just fellow human beings standing across from them, but fellow Children of God standing across from them.

We must abide in the love of Jesus Christ. For without it we are nothing.

With it, humanity is illuminated, and humanity is lifted up.


Eric Snyder [From 2008]

A Sermon Preached by The Ven. Richard I. Cluett at
The Celebration on the Fiftieth Anniversary of
The Ordination to the Priesthood of The Rev. Eric Snyder
June 21, 2008 at Church of the Holy Apostles, St. Clair, PA.

Bishop Paul, dear friends in Christ and colleagues, we have come together in the presence of God to give thanks for the ministry of the Rev. Eric Snyder, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. 50 years! As it is written in Psalm 104 and in Hebrews chapters 5 & 7, he is, as was Jesus so designated,  “a priest forever after the order of Methuselah.”

Oh, I am sorry, the correct quotation is “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek”, Melchizedek, not Methuselah. Sorry, Eric. I don’t know why the name of Methuselah would intrude here.

I first met Eric in the food bank in the undercroft of St. Paul’s, Montrose where he was working for Treehab, a Susquehanna County community action agency. He was in between a national church staff gig in New York City and finding a priestly post in the diocese of Bethlehem. This urbane, urbanite was living with his beloved Jean on their goat farm in Hopbottom, Pa, so I knew he was going to be an interesting person.

I have since come to know him as an amazing person who incarnates the church’s life of spirituality and mission and he is a priest whom it is a privilege to know and to call dear friend, valued colleague, and wise mentor.

You would think that he is or should be a living dichotomy, a person of separates and contradictions. With a beginning in the laid-back, flaky state of California and being born into an up right (I did not say up-tight) Presbyterian family, you would not expect much else.

Someone who marched and protested and demonstrated against war and injustice in the roaring 1960’s & 70’s, in the person of a devout, and spiritual Benedictine associate, for whom “ the smells and bells” of the Eucharist are the right and preferred modes of worship.

An ordered priest, whose ministry was to, at times, break order to lead the church in ministering to the needs of God’s people, especially the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the hungry, the imprisoned, the lost and the disempowered when the church would rather have been complacently comfortable.

A gentle man who would vigorously, but humanely, contend in the corridors and offices of power.

Such contention, such belief in action, inevitably call for an institutional response, and a new presiding bishop felt that the church needed to be more, not less, comfortable. Eric was let go.

A man of constant contradictions or a man of divinely inspired integrity called to a unique and wonderful life of ministering? It is only when you watch him closely, listen to him carefully, work with him daily that you come to learn the riches of God’s graces incarnate in this man and how they work together to accomplish God’s good purposes.

Psychologist Erik Erikson would have designated our Eric as having attained to the Eighth Stage of human Development, the stage of full integrity – and so would I.

Eric has spent most of his time in the small parishes and towns of this diocese. He has been priest and pastor to many, many people in his time here. He has taught, baptized, married, anointed, buried, preached, ministered the sacrament, and counseled with many people in many places. He was sent to be that shepherd to God’s people in those villages and towns (like the ones Jesus spoke about in last weeks Gospel lesson). Working with local lay leaders, he made sure that the church’s presence and ministry was sure and constant in all seasons.

And he has been a quiet, but very persistent force for change in this time. Two changes, out of many possible, come most easily to my mind.

There is in the town of Tamaqua in Calvary Church an elder day care program, the only one of its kind in Carbon County, because Father Eric and the very few remaining members of that tiny church saw the need for such a program, and the need for the church, even a run-down church, even a tiny church to be of use in caring for God’s people. And they cobbled together an ecumenical coalition of churches and community leaders. They built their case. They sought grants from public and private sources, including significant funds from the Diocese of Bethlehem. And they brought that program into being in that town, in that tiny church. And God must have been amazed, and must continue to be very pleased.

The second begins, in my memory in a conversation Eric and I began maybe 20 years ago. That conversation bore fruit the day that Jim Smith was ordained to the priesthood in a localized ministry to the churches of Schuylkill County, and it will be borne again when Dolores Evans is ordained as priest next month. The conversation was about how the church can provide a priestly, sacramental and pastoral presence in the most rural and rugged country that has few people and fewer resources.

The very idea that people in a place can see God’s hand at work in a particular person and then they call that person to a new role in their midst as priest, and the bishop and diocese confirm that choice and prepare that person. The very idea, indeed! Who would have thunk it? Who would have trusted it? Who would have taught and prayed and pleaded and trained for it? All those years?

Why that would be the Rev. Eric Snyder, who even without the title, served as rural dean of all Schuylkill County.

The feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist calls to mind the Good News that was coming into the world and also the role of the Messenger in bringing the message.

“…And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace."

 No camel’s hair clothes or mouthfuls of wild locusts for Eric, but he has indeed the visage of the prophet of old, and in his person he has brought this message of salvation and God’s tender mercies. Rough places have been made smooth, mountains have been made into mere hills, God’s message has been proclaimed, and the church and God’s people are better, richer, more faithful, and more secure because of the ministry of Eric Snyder.

I want to name one more dimension of this priesthood we celebrate today. Namely, that it has been aided and abetted, it has been enabled and guided, it has been encouraged and nourished and challenged to be more and better, it has been totally and truly, in the most intimate and loving way, shared with one Jean Snyder, wife, life-partner, mother of their children, nudge, conscience, goad, co-conspirator, author of joy and twinkle in her eye –  partner in ministerial mayhem for the gospel’s sake.

Indeed, together, they bet their life on this gospel, built their life together, and that of their family, on this gospel, helped shape the church with this gospel, changed people’s lives with this gospel and left the rest of us an incomparable, wonderful legacy of a life’s commitment and a life’s work for the gospel’s sake.

In her letter to the Church dated June 4th, the Presiding Bishop wrote, As we move toward a great gathering of bishops from across the Anglican Communion, I call this whole Church to a Day of Prayer on 22 June (for the Lambeth Conference).” And we all will do that, I hope, knowing that among them will be our own bishop.

She continues in her letter, “I would bid your prayers for openness of spirit, vulnerability of heart, and eagerness of mind, that we might all learn to see the Spirit at work in the other. I bid your prayers for a peaceful spirit, a lessening of tension, and a real willingness to work together for the good of God’s whole creation.”

As well as being a worthy prayer, it is also a worthy description of one fine priest’s service to his God, Christ’s Church, and to all the people.

A learning here is that it is, indeed, possible to meld the roles of priest, prophet and pastor. As the psalmist sings it,

Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.                                       

This integrated life of mission and spirituality shows that any of us, each us, can also come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

Each of us is called to claim and to live out, as Eric has, this blessing that is ours.



Sermon by Archdeacon Rick Cluett

The Ordination of Michelle Marie Moyer
To the Sacred Order of Priest
January 24, 2015
Cathedral Church of the Nativity

Friends, we are here this morning to affirm God’s call of Michelle Marie Moyer and to witness her ordination into the priesthood of Christ’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

We do this on a day that the church has set aside to remember the Conversion of St. Paul. After listening to the reading from Acts, I think we can all take a breath and relax. If Paul is acceptable to God after what he did as Saul – harassing, persecuting, prosecuting, even stoning, bearing false witness, and physically attacking the followers of Jesus – if he could do those things, and then be used by God in carrying on the ministry of Jesus, then you and I and Michelle don’t have much to worry about, do we? There is no way that the failings and inadequacies which seem so great in ourselves and in our gifts and in our lives could separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, is there? No, there isn’t! Nor could they keep us from seeking and receiving a share in the ministry of Jesus either.

God’s love is that great. God’s mercy is that wide. God’s Love great enough for Saul, great enough for each of us. God’s mercy wide enough for Saul, wide enough to surround and enfold each of us, too. How’s that for the Good News of this day?

Paul received this Good News in a rather startling and dramatic way. He was riding along on his horse and there was a blinding light that knocked him off his horse and on to the ground, and then he heard Jesus speaking to him. It’s hard to believe that Jesus wanted Saul in his ministry, but he did, and Jesus went to some extraordinary lengths to get that message across to him.

I know something of Michelle’s spiritual journey and there is a powerful experience of God’s mercy and God’s love in her own life. A moment when she knew no matter what, no matter anything else in her life, she knew God’s love and mercy was flowing over and in and through it.

I also know that she, like many of us, has also experienced that love and mercy growing in quiet, but nonetheless miraculous ways, in her life and in the lives of her family. For most of us, I think, that is how God’s presence is experienced; as a growing awareness that we are surrounded and infused and empowered by God’s love and acceptance and forgiveness.

Do you remember the wonderful telling of that experience by Albert Schweitzer, one of the giants of faith, who came to know Christ in this way. He wrote:

He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, He came to those … who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.

This is precisely what Jesus is telling us in the Gospel reading. If we will seek Jesus, if we will take him into our hearts and lives, if we will follow him, if we will take on his work as our own, if we will remain faithful, each of us will come to know fully the love and mercy of God revealed in Jesus Christ, and we will be saved. We will be saved.

My most favorite psalm is the 139th Psalm.
Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You trace my journeys and my resting places
 and are acquainted with all my ways.

God knows you Michelle, God knows you and all your ways, and God has called you forever to this very day to be made a priest. Today you stand before God and the Church. Child of God. Disciple of Jesus. Servant of any and all in need. Ready. Ready to take on this new ministry, this new servant role.

It seems that your considerable gifts can be useful in the work of God; that you can take on this new work in the ministry of Jesus. God has called you anew. God has called you deeper into the mystery of God’s love. And you have discerned God’s call anew. The Church has also discerned and tested that call with you and affirms that you are being called by God into the priesthood of Christ.

Frederick Buechner writes in The Alphabet of Grace, (pp. 109-110) “I hear you are entering the (priesthood),” the woman said down the long table meaning no real harm. “Was it your own idea or were you poorly advised?” And the answer that she could not have heard even if I had given it was that it was not an idea at all, neither my own nor anyone else’s. It was a lump in the throat. It was an itching in the feet. It was a stirring of the blood at the sound of rain. It was a sickening of the heart at the sight of misery. It was a clamoring of ghosts. It was a name which, when I wrote it out in a dream, I knew was a name worth dying for even if I was not brave enough to do the dying myself and if I could not even name the name for sure. Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you a high and driving peace.

In other words, it is both a mystery and a grace that one is called to be priest.

God calls you to become priest. It is both terrifying and it is terrific! We follow the Christ who leads us through death to life. Death to selfishness, death to ego, and life to the truest self within. … our call is to continue dying to self and, as a result, to continue becoming truly alive, to continue growing in boldness and righteousness, in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and, yes, even holiness.

Your bishop believes in his heart that this is God’s call to you. Your own sponsoring priest and parish believe this is God’s call. One-time strangers in a discernment group believe this is God’s call. The Commission on Ministry and the Standing Committee of this diocese believe this is God’s call. This cathedral parish and all who are in it and have come to love you and have received your ministry as pastor believe this is God’s call to you. And it is our will that you, Michelle Marie Moyer, be ordained a priest.

Some level of what Jesus describes in the Gospel will come to you in this ministry. As they say, no promise of rose gardens. Real people, real life, real dangers. Some sadness, some hurt, some disappointment. Into this real life God comes in Jesus Christ, and in this real life you will minister to God’s people and build God’s kingdom brought near in Jesus.

Michelle, will you stand. Michelle, your ministry as priest will be to heal and to reconcile, to baptize and to anoint with holy unction, to teach and nurture the young, and to preach God’s holy word, to soothe the wounded and to comfort the lonely, to guide the confused and lost, to visit in home, hospital and prison, to lead God’s people in caring for Gods world, and to administer the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ that strengthens and empowers all who partake of it.

To stay strong and faithful keep close to God’s holy Word. Keep close to God in regular prayer and contemplation. Keep close to your colleagues who know and understand your ministry as priest like no others can. They can guide and comfort you, and laugh and cry with you. Do not deny yourself their fellowship. Remember when God calls us it is always into community.

The mystery of God’s love will be revealed to you as you go about this ministry, and you will know Grace upon Grace upon Grace from God.

And we promise to be with you and support you in all of it, because we know that that your ministry as priest is of God.

May God bless you, guide you, and strengthen you for it in all the days ahead. Amen.

Sermon for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Canon Maria Tjeltveit
Friday, January 24, 2014
St. Peter’s RC Cathedral, Scranton, PA

Here is the sermon I gave at the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity service at St. Peter’s Cathedral, in Scranton. It was very well received, and I felt good about it. In case you are interested in the images I mention in the sermon, here are the links: Poster from Canadian Church and Image from Churches Together of Britain and Ireland.

   I always find it moving to see the expression in the Roman Catholic women’s faces when I have the honor of preaching at a Roman Catholic service. The Diocese of Scranton is incredibly gracious, especially Bishop Bambera and the Rev. Phil Altavilla (the Ecumenical and Interfaith Officer and pastor of St. Peter’s Cathedral), and I know that inviting me as a woman to preach was intentional on their part. They also had The Rev. Dr. Barbara Smith, General Presbyter of the Presbytery of Lackawanna, read the gospel. –Maria

It is an honor for me to preach at this service celebrating Christian unity, and I want to thank Bishop Bambera and the Rev. Philip Altavilla for their gracious invitation and hospitality.

When I first learned that I would be preaching on the theme for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity—“Has Christ been divided?”—I thought, “This is great! All I have to do is pose the question, ‘Has Christ been divided?’ answer ‘No!’ and sit down!”

But it’s not that simple is it? Because the apostle Paul asked this question to the church in Corinth as a rhetorical question, like, “Is the pope Catholic?” We all know the answer to that is “Yes!” Paul knew that the Corinthian church would know that the answer to the question “Is Christ divided?” was “No!” But the way that they were living out their life in Christ was giving the opposite answer; with people being divided among different factions within the church.

Since I couldn’t just have a one word sermon, I did what every good preacher would do in my shoes and googled “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.” What I found were two different images, using two slightly different questions for this week.

The first is the official poster, designed by the Christian community in Canada, which on a blue-green background, has a round earth, with a cross on the top, and a vine growing up the cross. Around the outside of the globe are churches of all different styles and sizes. At the top of the poster it says, in beautiful type face, “Has Christ been divided?”

The second image comes from Churches Together of Britain and Ireland, and is on the front of your bulletin. In hues of dark orange and brown it has an icon of Christ cut up and put back together, with white spaces between the pieces. At the top it says “Is Christ” and the question “divided?” slices down a jagged triangle that splits apart the image of Christ.

These two images are a contrast artistically and emotionally. They capture a little of how these two different Christian communities have experienced difference in their churches. The people of the churches in Canada speak different languages, and have different cultures and climates. For the most part they have experienced difference as diversity, finding a sense of unity in their differing ways of expressing their faith.

The people of the churches in Ireland and Britain also have differences in their languages, and cultures, if not their climates. But they have experienced their differences as division in their history, division that has sometimes led to violence in the name of Christ. For them, seeking a sense of unity in Christ has been a hard road in the midst of much brokenness.

So the two images reflect two distinct contexts in which the Apostle Paul’s question is heard and answered by Christians today.

As I reflect on these two images, I realize how grateful I am that, for the most part, our experience in the church in America is like that of our brothers and sisters in Canada. Particularly here in this part of our state, with the long-time ministry of Christian Communities Gathering of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Roman Catholic, Assemblies of God, Lutheran, Orthodox, Methodist, Polish National Catholic, Moravian, Episcopal, American Baptist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Salvation Army, and non-denominational church clergy, lay people, and religious, come together regularly to learn about our differences and discover unity in our diversity. Back in our own communities, we seek opportunities for ministry together with other Christians; discovering in our differences a diversity that, when brought together can strengthen our witness to Christ.

So, when we ask the question “Has Christ been divided?” we are working to live into the answer that Christ is not divided and that we are given different gifts of the spirit to be together the body of Christ. (In 1 Corinthians 12) Paul uses this image of the body, that each of us, or perhaps we would say each of our churches, is like a hand or foot or eye or ear in the whole body of Christ. We need each other in our difference and diversity so that we can more effectively serve as the united body of Christ.

Originally I was going to stop my sermon there. But it’s not that simple is it? Even as we give thanks to God for the gifts of diversity that we celebrate among our different churches here in northeastern Pennsylvania, I realize that for my own church, the Episcopal Church, difference has sometimes been experienced as division. Since I was the age of the school children in the choir, my Church has split apart over divisions about liturgy, the role of women, and issues of sexuality. Even now there are divisions in the Anglican Communion, the larger body of which the Episcopal Church is a part. And the Episcopal Church is not alone. Each one of our denominations has or has had things that have divided us; many of them the same issues that my church has struggled with. We share with the churches in Ireland and Britain the experience of difference as division. We know the brokenness of division in the body of Christ.

As I sat in the Martin Luther King Day service at St. James AME Zion Church, in Allentown, on Monday, with a wide diversity of African Americans, Latinos, and Caucasians, I thought about how, all these years after King’s death, Sunday morning at 11:00 is still the most, divided, segregated hour in America. Yes, difference is not always diversity; it is sometimes division in the body of Christ. When we only talk about diversity, we may be making things too simple. As the preacher at that service said, “If you can’t face it; you can’t fix it.”

An optional part of the suggested liturgy for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a time for people of different denominations to bring forward symbols of the gifts that each Church brings. In a paradoxical way, I believe that experiencing division within our churches or denominations is a gift that we bring to the work of Christian unity and to the world. In our common lives we know the brokenness of division, its pain and longing. That can humble us and open our eyes and hearts to the brokenness of the world around us. We can reach out to our brothers and sisters in other Churches, not smugly or triumphantly, as though we have it all together, but humbly, knowing that each of us falls short of Christ’s calling but that, together we can be more closely the body of Christ. In our brokenness we can work together to bring Christ’s healing love to the people around us broken by poverty, disease, racism, injustice, and violence; to people in places where division has led to alienation or civil war.

Pope Francis, in many ways, seems to exemplify this way of having the brokenness of the church open us to the brokenness of the world. He has embraced a humble attitude toward, not only his Christian brothers and sisters, but particularly people broken by poverty, disease, and alienation. The answer to that old rhetorical question “Is the pope Catholic?” has become for some of us Protestants, “Yes, but we might like to claim him too.”

In his witness, Pope Francis is following, not only the saints for whom he is named, but Jesus Christ. For Christ, who is undivided, embraced the brokenness of the world and for our sake was broken on the cross. Through his death and resurrection he heals us and brings us to wholeness and life. He has given us all the gifts that we need to be united together as one in the Body of Christ.

When we acknowledge our divisions and brokenness; when we, in humble love, focus on the undivided Christ and the needs of our broken world, Christ will make us one.

Maybe it is that simple.


[Maria Tjeltveit is Canon for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations for the Diocese of Bethlehem.]

Sermon by Canon Kitch at the funeral of Marilyn Croneberger

A Celebration of the Life of Marilyn Croneberger
Christ Church, Reading PA

A sermon preached by The Rev. Canon Anne E. Kitch
January 4, 2014

There is no getting around the fact that today is difficult. We gather today to celebrate life—in particular the life of Marilyn Cronberger. There is indeed much to celebrate. But it would be wrong, and a kind of a lie, not to acknowledge that this celebration takes place in the midst of grief.

The landscape of grief is somewhat like the desert (or a winter blizzard). When the wind blows, the sands shift and the terrain changes. It can look and feel different from day to day, or even hour to hour. Under such circumstances, it is easy to lose our way. No person’s grief is the same as another’s. And not only is grief different for each person, it’s changing topography can be unfathomable for any individual.

Regardless of how we approach grief—whether we try to circumnavigate it, and perhaps some find this necessary and successful; or face it head on, bowing into the gale forces and forging ahead; or wander in the midst of it, opening ourselves to both its ravages and light caresses—neither it nor the power it works on us can be completely avoided. We are changed by grief. And what most of us find so difficult about change is the fear of loss.

But what is true about a life in Christ is that we know that we do not travel alone…ever. Even when it comes to grief and sorrow and pain, God has been there before us. So we do not travel without hope, and we do not travel without love. Clearly, Marilyn traveled with love.

Forty-­‐eight years ago, in the Church of the Good Shepherd in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Marilyn and Jack pledged their love to one another. They promised, that forsaking all others, they would choose to be faithful to one another. And so they have, making loving choices over and over again. In the current marriage rite in the Episcopal Church, these words are prayed over the newly married couple:

Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful  and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement,  forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.  (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 429)

These words were not yet in use when Marilyn and Jack were married, but Marilyn and Jack had such a marriage. The love they shared with each other did not remain a private thing. Rather it radiated, so that their life together became a sign of Christ’s love. Their love added love to the world. Look around this church today and see the evidence of their love. Look how it has multiplied.

 You do not need to be long in the presence of any part of Jack and Marilyn’s family to know this love. Together they raised five children who are kind hearted, who care for others and look to make the world a better place, who love their parents, are willing to struggle with difficulty, and who laugh well. In turn, Amber, Judy, Rebecca, Tim and Jen, along with their partners and spouses and children, have chosen to add to the good in the world.

Marilyn’s love was evident in her inspired leadership of Cursillo in the Diocese of Bethlehem and the Diocese of Newark. It was apparent in her commitment to justice by founding a PFLAG chapter. It was obvious in the hospitality she loved to lavish so beautifully on friend and stranger alike, and in her ability to welcome others. Her children’s friends still speak of that welcome and even the friends of her grandchildren were not excluded from her exuberant embrace in recent years.

The gifts of love and faithfulness that Marilyn nourished year after year were so great that even when adversity hit full force she continued to build on her legacy of service to God and others. The welcome that is part of Marilyn’s legacy is surely a reflection of the love of Christ. Jesus promises to welcome anyone who comes to him and Jesus promises us that nothing is lost, “Anyone who comes to me, I will never drive away,” proclaims the Savior of the world, and it is God’s will “that I should lose nothing of all that God has given me.” (John 6:37-­‐40)

This is the promise: that nothing will be lost. There is no place we can be, where Christ is not. Nothing is lost.

Clearly the love Marilyn had for the world, for Jack, for her children and grandchildren, has not been lost. But it is more than that. In God’s economy, her voice has not been lost, her soul has not been lost, her laughter has not been lost. “I shall lose nothing of all that God has given me,” promises Jesus, “I will raise them up on the last day.” This is the promise we hold on to now as we celebrate the life of Marilyn—that she is already partaking in the resurrected life of Jesus. We can imagine her not just being at the banquet table in the heavenly court, but hosting the event.

And this is also the promise that we grasp for ourselves: that we too are God’s beloved. Our lives, our voices, our laughter, our struggles and tears, our grief and our joy, are all precious to God. We too share in the promise of the resurrected life in Christ. There is a place for each of us at the banquet table—and Marilyn is there already, waiting to welcome us.

Sermon by Bill Lewellis at Bishop Paul's retirement

God-baked, God-broken, God-made
Bishop Paul’s Retirement
St. Stephen's Pro-Cathedral, W-B
Sermon by Bill Lewellis, Dec. 15, 2013
Ezekiel 34:11-16; 2Timothy 4:1-8; John 21:15-19

Bill preaching at Paul retirementLove is a word
"Do you love me?" Yes, Lord, I love you. Then what?

"Do you love me, Paul, Diana, Anne, Howard, Andrew?” Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. Love is a word. Then what? 

Even God's Word became flesh.

When Bishop Paul heard this passage read also at his 1996 consecration, as today, this passage about loving God and being taken to difficult places, he must have suspected that God's love leads far beyond what we might naively expect.

"Do you love me?" Yes, Lord, you know I love you. Well, not so fast. Then what? "When you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." Will you love me then? Will you love me when you're 64?

About a month ago, I asked Paul: Is there anything you’d like me to say during the sermon. Only two things, he said without missing a beat. (1) Say that whatever has been done these past 17 years, we all did it together. (2) Tell the truth.

Seems like an easy assignment, except that there’s just too much truth to tell. But, I’ll do my best.

Sudan 2006/New Hope
Upon returning from a 2005 mission trip to southern Sudan, Paul Marshall told this story: “At the end of a week in that bomb-torn country, Diana and I baked in a bus for 14 hours.

"Finally you give up wiping your face. As we became increasingly caked with red dirt, and the overcrowded bus grew hotter and hotter, I found myself baking in a creative and holy sense: I knew God wanted my attention. 

"Genesis says humans began our existence as kind of mud pies, and the red dust of the earth baking into my pores helped me have a new beginning of insight: Here were sisters and brothers with almost nothing to their names trying to build a life and a country — how could I go on as usual?

"In addition to altering how I live personally, I have had to abandon some of my bricks-and-mortar dreams for our own diocese in order to see what God would have us do for others. The question that intrigued me was, Could we dare to have a capital fund drive where we didn’t get the money?”

Do you love me? Yes, Lord, I love you. Then what?

From those African mud pies and red dust, the New Hope Campaign was created for the people of our companion Diocese of Kajo Keji and for the needy among us. With his leadership, we did dare. The New Hope Campaign – a capital fund drive for others – has been eminently successful.

Six years earlier, in 1999, with proactive encouragement from the bishop, the diocesan World Mission Committee began to focus the attention of the diocesan community on conditions in developing countries. “Our deeper attachment to brothers and sisters in the third World can only mean good things,” Bishop Paul said at that time. “I’d like to see the day when people from our diocese go to Third World countries to do various kinds of ministry.” And we did. 

Bishop Paul had previously asked Charlie Barebo to help spearhead a capital campaign to develop a diocesan camp and conference center. “A funny thing happened on the way,” said Charlie, “I woke up one morning in the Sudan. It was a life-changing event that has deepened my faith and altered my outlook on this world.”

Do you love me? Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. Then what? Love is a word.

During that 2005 visit, Bishop Paul ordained 37 Africans, including a woman. He and Diana – attorney, registered nurse and Mama Diana in the Sudan – addressed 17 gatherings during the weeklong visit. During one gathering, laying the foundation stone of the Mothers Union Training Center in Kajo Keji, Mama Diana observed that the church in the United States is grateful to have heard the wisdom of African men, but that the African witness will be fully present in Anglicanism when women’s wisdom is celebrated and revered by all. “It is time to hear the voices of African women,” she said.

Over the past year, we have begun to hear of African women bishops.

"Would you send me a headshot," I emailed Dr. Paul Marshall back in 1995 while he was teaching at Yale when he became one of five nominees from which we would choose our next bishop. You'll have to use your graphic imagination to appreciate what I received by return email. Picture the ivy-covered buildings and walls of Yale. Paul stood in front of a building but behind a head-high wall. Only his head was visible, as though mounted on the ivy-covered wall. No body, not even a neck. Only a head. A headshot. John the Baptist's head on a platter.

We've got a live one, I thought. I hope he keeps me on staff if he's elected.

Easy mark
In December of 1995, during our Diocesan Convention when he was elected bishop, however, despite my great appreciation of his wit, I neither rooted for nor voted for Paul Marshall.

He soon found out. The tell was that I had prepared a news template with Rosemari Sullivan's name and address, the nominee from Virginia. When the electors voted Bishop Paul in, I substituted his name. In my haste, however, I did not delete Rosemari's address.

He did keep me, but he never let me forget. There were many strategic instances of "You didn't vote for me. I know" – or, to others, "You know, Bill didn't vote for me." I was an easy mark for his wit ... for years ... and years. 

Bulletproof vest
Move forward. Seven months.

July 29, 1996. In this church ... when Paul Marshall was to be consecrated the 919th bishop in the Episcopal succession and eighth bishop of Bethlehem. I understand that four burly men stationed themselves at strategic parts of the church. Many mistook them for ushers. They were police. I didn't know it at the time. 

Edmund Browning was then presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. He would ordinarily have been the principal consecrator. He wasn't present, because he had received death threats. The late Bishop Robert Rowley stood in his place ... wearing a bulletproof vest. 

Bishop Paul, that was some beginning!

All because you invited the late Walter Righter, retired Bishop of Iowa, to be a co-consecrator. 

Six years earlier, Bishop Righter had ordained an openly gay man to the order of deacon. Two months earlier, he was cleared of charges of heresy brought by ten of his brother bishops. Thus the death threats and the security.

Bishop Righter took this essentially political charge in good humor. He got a vanity plate for his Subaru Legacy: HRETIC. Being accused became for him a mark of honor.

Bakerwoman God
During her homily at the consecration Eucharist, Bishop Cathy Roskam read a poem by Alla Renee Bozarth-Campbell. I think you will want to hear it. For some of us, hear it again.

Bakerwoman God,
I am your living bread.
Strong, brown, Bakerwoman God,
I am your low, soft and being-shaped loaf.

I am your rising bread,
well-kneaded by some divine
and knotty pair of knuckles,
by your warm earth-hands.
I am bread well-kneaded.

Put me in your fire, Bakerwoman God,
put me in your own bright fire.
I am warm, warm as you from fire.
I am white and gold, soft and hard,
brown and round.
I am so warm from fire.

Break me, Bakerwoman God.
I am broken under your caring Word.

Drop me in your special juice in pieces.
Drop me in your blood.
Drunken me in the great red blood.
Self-giving chalice, swallow me.
My skin shines in the divine wine.
My face is cup-covered and I drown.

I fall up
in a red pool,
in a gold world
where your warm
sunskin hand
is there to catch
and hold me.

Bakerwoman God,
remake me.

"When we put ourselves in God's hands to be bread,” Bishop Roskam said, “God keeps messing around in our lives … The process is dynamic, creative, intimate and sometimes painful.”

It's not easy being bread. But, it seems to me to be a bishop's occupational hazard ... and call.

Paul's ministry among us
From my unique perspective, over the past 28 years, on both Bishop Mark Dyer's and Bishop Paul's staff – I saw how broad and deep Bishop Paul's ministry and dedication among us has been ... well-kneaded, God-baked, God-broken and God-made: teacher, pastor, preacher, administrator, author, advocate and participant in ministry with people in the developing world, children and youth, the poor and the marginalized, advocate and reconciler with those within the church who consider themselves progressive as well as those who consider themselves traditionalists, interpreter of family systems theory, communicator within and beyond the diocesan community, a leader who consults with colleagues, and a person whose ministry as bishop proceeds from prayer and a contemplative vision of God's kingdom.

From my unique perspective, I saw not only how broad and deep was Bishop Paul’s ministry among us, but also how deep was his suffering and how en-fleshed was his love.  

Messages in the Mall
During his first year with us, Bishop Paul decided to write a monthly column and offer it to dailies and weeklies that circulated to some 400,000 homes in our 14-county diocese, and a bit beyond, over the next 13 years. It was a unique ministry that no other bishop in the U.S., episcopal or other, could claim, then or now.

He meant the column to engage the secular culture and to bring the church's message to the culture by commenting on the realities of the human condition and on issues of general interest. With dry and gentle wit, deep compassion and, sometimes, anger, he wrote about topics from the tragic Columbine school shootings to the spiritual ramifications of the TV series The Sopranos.

Doing the column, he told me, was a monthly agony, but it was a way he had ... to reach the most people.

In Learning From What Jesus Did Not Do, he wrote that Jesus "did not give in to his disciples' desire to have more power than others, did not force anyone to believe in him, did not condemn those who were pushed to the edges of life ... The ministry of not condemning was one of the most radical things Jesus did."

One of my favorites, from a column subtitled Don't Confuse Being Valuable with Being Right: "We don't maintain the unity of Christ's Church by being right. The late Rabbi Edwin Friedman said in his lectures on family systems that no aquarium survives unless some fish is willing to eat the garbage.”

Many people beyond the Episcopal Church got to know Bishop Paul through those columns. 

Permit me a commercial. Messages in the Mall -- Looking at Life in 600 Words or Less (Seabury, 2008) is a compilation of some 90 selected columns from those years. I recommend it to you for entertaining ... and spiritual ... reading ... and to get to know this man better. It's even available for Kindle.

The Dance
“We are a curious lot, we who serve the church in whatever capacity,” Bishop Paul wrote in one of four sermons he preached during the summer of 2012 when he served as conference preacher during a gathering in Philadelphia of the Anglican Association of Musicians.

Paul's sermons, not only these four, are among the best I've ever read or heard. But, of course: in his 1991 book on preaching he wrote, “I have a rather pragmatic view of preaching. If it doesn’t help people live, then it’s probably a waste of their time.”

Those who visit our newSpin blog or read my online notes may have wondered why I very recently posted those sermons: Because Bishop Paul told me only recently that he wrote them at a time he thought he was soon to die. 

With that in mind, I searched those sermons for a perceived “soon-to-die” passage. Allow me to quote, in slightly edited form, a passage from the first.

He noted that Gustav Mahler, when asked why he never composed a mass, said it was because there was a creed in it.

“For the orthodox Christianity of Mahler’s day, the creed was for the most part data, not a song. So perceived, it ultimately reduced God to an object, capable of study, dissection, and definition, the fuel for debate and even persecution. Such talk of a domesticated and definable God does not invite the ecstasy of music.

“Beliefs, including our own,” Paul preached, “are motivated, by many things going on inside of us in our deepest unconscious. Not all of us believe with words.

“The creed has gotten more musical of late. The revival of Trinitarian theology in the last two generations has been, at its heart, the rediscovery by western Christians that what the ancient church chose to say about God is not in the first place data; it is doxology (praise).

“Doxology comes from reflection on both practical and ecstatic experience, and Trinitarian doxology comes to the conclusion that God is, in God’s deepest self, in relationship, from before time and forever. 

“Many have observed that the Greek word for that relationship is very like (but not identical to) the word for dance: Three distinct persons in one eternal Dance. Delicate, rhythmic, supple, inviting.

“What we call the heresies often moved theology from the mystical dance to something like bad PowerPoint.

“So to the part of us that resonates strongly with Mahler and other spiritually rich composers who balked at dogma perhaps because of its unmusicality, there come two words.

“The first is that our God worshiped with the creed is not worshiped as a datum, but is adored as the eternal dynamic relationship; we perceive that very God inviting us to join the dance.

“The second word is that if I try to figure God out rather than relax and adore the mystery, and lose myself in it, I condemn myself to theological tone-deafness and will not get to dance.”

I said earlier that, when Paul asked me to tell the truth, I thought that there were too many truths to tell. One of the truths is how deeply he touched many with his writing and his sermons. We’ll never know.

As one who is well into the last quarter of life, I can tell you that Bishop Paul has touched me deeply with a tune that’s easy to dance to.

Will you love me when you’re 64?
Bishop Paul, may the bakerwoman God continue to bake, break and remake you. You’re not too old. God meddling in our lives is good even for bodies he has molded more than once. May Christ, the bread of life, feed and sustain you.

"Do you love me?" Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. Then what? 

"When you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go."

Will you love me then? Will you love me when you're 64?

# # # # # # # # # # # # # #

Four sermons by Bishop Paul (AAM, July 2012)

by Bishop Paul Marshall (1 of 4)

© Paul V. Marshall

[Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem served as conference preacher for the June 2012 Association of Anglican Musicians in Philadelphia. He preached four sermons. This is the first.  "Grave" is a musical term meaning "played slowly and seriously."]

Gratitude is the chief word I have for the opportunity to share this week with you, gratitude and a little awe, but with your permission I will not go into that now beyond acknowledging the keen pleasure I take at the invitation to be among this company in this hallowed place.

You have given me a tough place to start, however, as our propers are “of the Holy Trinity.” 

You know better than I that Gustav Mahler was asked why, given the immense spirituality of his compositions, he had never composed a mass. His reply was telling, “Do you think I could take that upon myself? Well, why not? But no, there’s the credo in it.” Fair enough, but then he went on to recite the creed in Latin, keeping the ambiguity of the encounter high. 

I think of Mahler today because his story is tantalizing. We cannot say with precision exactly what if any brand of faith he had. Nobody can prove what his conversion Christianity was ultimately about, and there are lots of opinions. That multitude of opinion about the very same information reminds us that all beliefs, including our own, are motivated, motivated by many things going on inside of us in our deepest unconscious, so we may perhaps put nagging historical questions in favor of the theological one when we think of this story. Mahler would not have been the first to write a mass with no creed (of course, he couldn’t write anything-Brevis); why would he have focused on the very existence of credo as a reason to bow out of mass-writing entirely?

Let me thicken that question. More than one of the great composers of religious music in the Anglican tradition, when pressed about theology, has chosen to declare for atheism or agnosticism as did Vaughan Williams. Others will mount an esoteric heterodoxy like that of my beloved Parry. Again, we can speculate about their deepest motives, but is it not possible that for those who sing of God and the Lamb the language of dogmatic theology is, forgive me, not always very interesting, and perhaps quite alienating? Bach is the greatest exception here, but he is always the greatest exception. But for Mahler and my English examples, perhaps it was one thing to set the earnest prayer “Veni Creator Spiritus” in a symphony of a thousand, and quite another thing to set to music a group of propositions. Not all of us believe with words.

Perhaps the dogmatically hesitant have a vital point to make, at least in the present culture that speaks so trippingly of the uncertainty principle and parallel universes. That is, I have to remember that for the orthodox Christianity of Mahler’s day, the creed was for the most part data, not a song. So perceived, it ultimately reduced God to an object, capable of study, dissection, and definition, the fuel for debate and even persecution. Such talk of a domesticated and definable God does not invite the ecstasy of music. Who would want to set the periodic chart of the elements to music?—well, of course, Tom Lehrer did just that, but you get my point.

To those for whom the idea of God as object is unthinkable or at least uninviting, it is life-giving to observe that the creed has gotten more musical of late. The revival of Trinitarian theology in the last two generations has been at its heart the rediscovery by western Christians that what the ancient church chose to say about God is not in the first place data; it is doxology. That doxology (and let us steadfastly remember that all doxologies get an Amen played at the end, just as one is said at the doxology in each prayer!), that doxology comes from reflection on both practical and ecstatic experience, and Trinitarian doxology comes to the conclusion that God is, in God’s deepest self, in relationship, from before time and forever.  Many have observed that the Greek word for that relationship is very like (but not identical to) the word for dance. Three distinct persons in one eternal Dance. Delicate, rhythmic, supple, inviting.

It is also worth reflection that over the course of the years most of the so-called Trinitarian heresies that have been rejected have one thing in common: each of them simplified words about God, made God seem to be understandable and manageable, pedestrian, and certainly less lyrical. What we call the heresies often moved theology from the mystical dance to something like bad Powerpoint. (This is not to say that the Arians, for instance, didn’t have popular songs, but their songs were apparently shallow, slogan-like, and not very sophisticated musically—but that was a long time ago.)

So to the part of us that resonates strongly with Mahler and other spiritually rich composers who balked at dogma perhaps because of its ineradicable unmusicality, there come two words. The first is that our God worshiped with the creed is not worshiped as a datum, but is adored as the eternal dynamic relationship, and that we perceive that very God inviting us to join the dance. The second word is that if I try to figure God out rather than relax and adore the mystery, and lose myself in it, I condemn myself to theological tone-deafness and will not get to dance.

We can focus this by asking what does any of this doxological dance look like when it is at home?

Let me illustrate by mentioning the spirit of a musician who hovers over this meeting. A colleague[1] in my office wrote this about Gerre Hancock back in 2000:

“When I was a seminarian and the thurifer for a Sung Eucharist one Sunday, I opened the ambulatory door as quietly as possible to see how soon incense would be needed in the service.  The ambulatory was empty, and the view from that door to the organ bench is perfect.  And there was Uncle Gerre sitting on the bench, unaware that someone was watching.  The heels of his shoes were cocked on the beam beneath the bench itself.  His hands were just outside his knees, gripping the bench.  His head was bowed, and his shoulders were slumped.  I put it to you that he wasn’t trying to remember how to play Merbecke….

“He was doing that rare thing, rare for church employees everywhere, both lay and clerical.  He was praying.  He’s based his life on the conviction that he’s on earth for one reason: to praise God.  And, he does it with his playing.  He does it with his composing.  He does it with his conducting.  He does it with his teaching.  All of which is to say he gives thanks and praise unto the Lord with his whole heart.”

I left those verbs in the present tense, because that is where they belong. Gerre Hancock touched to many in this room with his authentic blend of faith and art. Perhaps as we honor his memory by singing it, we may also experience just a bit more gladness to feel, experience, and say, “Credo.”


Andante: Starving Artists
by Bishop Paul Marshall (2 of 4)

© Paul V. Marshall

[Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem served as conference preacher for the June 2012 Association of Anglican Musicians in Philadelphia. He preached four sermons. This is the second.  "Andante" is a musical term meaning "to play with a moderate tempo, in a light, flowing manner.]

The first lesson this morning from Numbers 11 is an unfortunate example of the humorlessness of lectionary makers, who have trimmed a story from the wild side into something perhaps too neat and tidy. In its context Numbers chapter 11 is another of those stories that is many layers deep and thoroughly soaked with irony. It starts with the people being tired of miraculous manna – there is the first movement of a cantata right there. In any event, they are sick of the miracle food and remember the Chateau Briand, Hagen Dazs®, and single-malt back in the ghetto in Egypt. Sure, they may have been slaves, but they had all the basic food groups.

Moses is caught completely off guard by this concern popping up when they are finally getting on track with their mission, and we see him here overwhelmed, losing his vision. So he complains to God for most of the chapter, ending up with a stunning combination of blaming, sacrcasm, and whining:

{12} Did I conceive all this people? Did I bring them forth, that you should say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries the sucking child, to the land which you swore to give their fathers?' {13} Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, 'Give us meat, that we may eat.' {14} I am not able to carry all this people alone, the burden is too heavy for me. {15} If you are going to deal with me this way, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness."


YOU gave me this rabble, this motley crew – all of a sudden he forgets he is part of “them.” I’ve been there; you’ve been there, everybody in this room who cares about the church has been there in one way or another. And for some who serve the church, if the truth were told, there are brief moments when death seems likes like a pretty good way out, and the number of church professionals who maintain unhealthy habits is by no means small. Moses speaks for many.

God and Moses, I suppose, could have debated theology and catering strategy for hours, and then they could have moved on to discussion of Moses’ inner child. But God doesn’t argue back, and simply goes to work on Moses’ near-burnout condition, dealing only with Moses’ inner adult.

And the great surprise is, God’s answer to the kind of burnout that only the very gifted and driven experience is… colleagues, community, lots of company on the journey. Moses’ prayer for a quick death is not only ignored, he is plunged headlong into a re-creative and redemptive experience of community. All of a sudden he has 70 co-workers, burden-sharing, perspective-maintaining colleagues who no doubt had active listening skills as well. And those people had been there all the time.

But the interesting thing is that this isn’t exactly a music committee, a choir picnic, or a vestry. They “prophesied,” we’re told. Now that’s an interesting word, because only much later in Israel’s history did “prophet” come to mean unattractive or irritating speech-maker. In the period of our story it means being full of the spirit, being in ecstasy, shouting, dancing, singing words from the Lord in a totally unrestrained state. In short, although the 70 shared in Moses’ spirit and helped bear his burdens, they were more than his briefcase-carriers: they were outside his control. A few verses later somebody immersed in control issues comes up to Moses all upset that although Eldad and Medad (the Old Testament Blues Brothers) – although Eldad and Medad hadn’t been up on the Mountain to be regularly and validly commissioned (sort of like the people who don’t come to rehearsals and expect to sing on Sunday), they were prophesying anyway, right there in public, shouting, singing, dancing, and generally scaring the orderly types.

And through Eldad and Medad’s disorderly conduct Moses gets the point at last. He replies that it would be of great practical value if all of God’s people prophesied. I happen to believe that stories like this one were saved precisely because of the comic, ironic and slightly embarrassing light they shed on great and small figures in the life of God’s people. If we can chuckle at them, it’s probably safe to take a closer look at ourselves in our desperate moments.

First of all, when it all seems too much, it’s good to remember the manna, the miracles around us that have brought us this far. It’s a long pilgrimage, and it pays to remember not only the goal, but how far we have come in our lives, and how God has sustained us. I will explore this a bit more tomorrow.  But let’s encourage each other not to get bored with the miracles of word and sacrament, faith and community, with which God nourishes us regularly. Sacraments and liturgies seldom bring entertainment, but they surely bring sustenance.

And with Moses, I have to confess that it is Eldad and Medad who surprise me, constantly, in my own life. I treasure the encounters with friends but am often stunned back to sanity by perhaps chance acquaintances who often sustain and guide me. Who are Eldad and Medad for you? On the other hand, which of your colleagues is a little too isolated, and might need a phone call? I have a musical example, one that people in this room this morning have taught me to love.

Many of us play it and some of you have recorded Elgar’s “Nimrod,” so perhaps you can hum along as I talk about it as it helps us remember Moses. The longest of the original Enigma variations, the Nimrod movement is not coded with someone’s initials, but marked with that strange Biblical moniker. Genesis merely says that “Nimrod was a mighty hunter before the Lord,” but various ancient traditions assign him everything from keeping Adam’s original loincloth (!) to ruling Babylon and/or Ninevah. This variety invites much wonderful speculation, all of which could be profitable in other contexts, but in Elgar, Nimrod slyly and simply stands for a conversation he had with one August Jaeger, a man from Duesseldorf whose name just happens to mean Hunter, and I mean to invoke Jaeger’s presence as a reminder of how God touches us Mose-types in the unspectacular.

More than his music editor, Jaeger was, for Elgar, both a comfort and source of courage. Recall how in Nimrod he begins sadly, with echoes of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata. Elgar, of course, was plagued both by depression and his actual exclusion from many an inner circle because of his religion. Like Moses, he was often burnt-out. Once he was so low that Jaeger had take him out for a walk to remind him of Beethoven’s personal struggles and doubts, all which were overcome by Beethoven’s strength of character and devotion to vocation. This was far more than a command to suck it up; it was an affirming reinforcement of character and identity, an invitation to borrow some of Beethoven’s strength.

What happens to the music after the sad encounter is thrilling, in a measured way, and reminds us yet again that mere words seldom have last word. Without erasing the sadness, the music steadily builds in hope, confidence, and fullness (even with tympani in the orchestral version)…but it never reaches the anticipated Edwardian boisterousness, triumphalism, nor does it offer any oblivion to the pain that is expressed early in the piece. In fact, just when the peaking crescendo could explode into another Elgar hit like Land of Hope and Glory, the music fades very rapidly to a centered and calmer version of its somewhat sad beginning. We rush to tromp down the expression while reducing the registration. Then the music stops, without a note of further explanation.

As must sermons. But we hear can hear the whisper through the closed swell shades, never lose heart for our work and always encourage each other to thrive. Just as you are doing by being here this week.


© Paul V. Marshall

[Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem served as conference preacher for the June 2012 Association of Anglican Musicians in Philadelphia. He preached four sermons. This is the third.  "Scherzo" is a musical term meaning a fun, playful piece of music.]

It is a pleasure to greet the clergy joining this third convention day. To catch you up: Monday’s talk was a kind of prelude about believing, and yesterday was an andante through God’s plan for supporting emotionally starving artists by plunging them into community. Today is perhaps a bit of a scherzo about the gifted and talented.

Since you don’t have the entire conference booklet complete with bios, I can introduce myself to you with two sentences. I have known Margaret Farley longer than the pope has. However, it is also true that this spring I stood directly behind Peter Conte in line at the Metropolitan Opera gift shop before Goetterdaemmerung but was too shy to introduce myself. That kind of sums it up AND it is also to say that we are a curious lot, we who serve the church in whatever capacity.

But that’s our tradition. I can see it when I imagine taking a photo of the Last Supper. There are Mother Thunder’s two sons, James and John, coming in a little late because they had been at the gym and were still arguing about who had the greatest abs in the Kingdom of God. There’s Matthew, wondering who will pick up the check. Mary Magdalene, wondering why everybody starts calling her Mark when the camera comes out.  Peter having very obvious but strongly-held opinions about absolutely anything that came up. And of course there’s John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, nestled in his bosom, enjoying the master’s favor yet strangely thinking, “There has got to be a book in this.”

But the point is that they are there, and they are both getting it and not getting it, and it will be all right because they are there. And Jesus loved them for all their complex motivations, and saw the possibilities in each of them and chose to work with them.

Fast forward. And his gifts still are that some of us who come to his table would be teachers, some organists, preachers, composers and conductors, not for our own sake, but for the building up of his body, the church, we who have our mixed motives, great gifts, and sometimes curious ways. We who have said or thought about an under-rehearsed piece of music or under-polished sermon, “it is good enough for this parish.” That is God’s loving kindness, having the likes of us about. And having these ministries, we do not lose heart, because Jesus knows what he’s getting when he calls.

About six years ago a niece once removed was just discovering the joy of the piano, and was telling us about it, with a little coaxing from her mom, at Easter gathering. My heart was thoroughly warmed, so I said how cool the piano is, and how grateful I will always be to my late mother for making me practice. I was trying to give her own mother a little support there, but something else was going on for her. She paused, looked at me very seriously, and asked me, leaning against my Steinway B, “Are you talented, too?”

She wasn’t too much wounded by the collapse of her childhood grandiosity. In fact, she was at the perfect age to be reconsidering the world. Five years later she is playing the cello in a regional orchestra and is very much aware of the talents of others, but I got to witness the sacred moment of her realizing that precisely the same passions could exist across generations and between relative strangers, and after the slightest nano-moment of grief she took it very well. Me, not so much.

With the shining wisdom and spiritual insight that constantly elude me just when I need them, I know now that I should have asked if she would like to play a duet: Chop-sticks, Heart and Soul, On Eagle’s Wings, anything. I think that if we had played together we would have enjoyed each other’s talent in a way that would have transcended my acute experience of a generation gap and might have helped her connect with her elders.

There is a grade-A, champion, USDA Choice generation gap dispute in the history of church music. In considering the extraordinary disliking that Cantor J. S. Bach and school Rector Johann August Ernesti took for each other at St. Thomas in Leipzig, I assume that our rooting interest is on Bach’s side, even though we know he could be a little difficult at times and the Rector may have been trying to teach him something. When we look at the unmusical younger man’s resume, however, we find out that Ernesti was not just an administrative thug. Like Bach, he a child prodigy in his family profession; he turned out to be theologically quite important and achieved professorships in both philosophy and ancient languages. Beyond that, his work laid important foundations for how the Bible is still studied. In his spare time he edited classical texts. Oh. Talent.

Two things are certain. One, neither of these gifted and intense men ever went to charm school. Two, the tragedy is that there is no record of either of them ever saying to the other, “Ah, you have talent, too.”

Their basic disagreements were about theology on the manifest, intellectual level, and about power and control on the emotional and organizational level, and that isn’t just a guy thing. No, they represent different skill sets and different generations of piety in collision. We cannot detect from the vituperative correspondence they had about each other when exactly it was that they forgot their love of God and their service to God’s people, that terrible moment when this all became name-calling and morphed into a struggle that reached the King’s ear. Bach, as you know, became violent at one moment in this “affair of the prefect,” and it wasn’t the first violent time in his life. The loser was, of course, the church-goer, the person in the pew.

Bach represented the absolute pinnacle of the old in his field. Ernesti was an important part of the beginning of the new in his. They were 22 years apart in age, so conflict was hardly unlikely. These two clashing virtuosos came rather naturally to mind as I thought about the reality of this day, devoted as it is to acknowledging and blending the gifts God gives among our professions and between our generations.

It isn’t so much that postludes increasingly get applause in church and sermons usually don’t. It isn’t so much that the rector is often the decider and the musician sometimes just has to swallow that. No.  It’s that we all sometimes forget. We drift from the love of God to the love of what we sing or say about God, and then any meanness becomes terribly possible.  People then become threats to our love of what we say or sing, threats to the part of us that can be deluded into thinking we have all the talent.

That is why my little image of the Last Supper was not a joke for the most part and is really quite biblical. Jesus would try to teach them, try to show them, but ultimately they had to decide to work with each other. Saul of Tarsus, he of blended worship in the most extreme sense, would ultimately complicate the scene tremendously. And yet we carry on, trying to be like Jesus and also aware that much is going on, in and out of consciousness, and that ultimately we are all being lovingly tolerated and accepted for who we are: the gifted and talented, yet thoroughly and vulnerably human.

For some, our present circumstances are a great adventure, and for others they are a burden, but we do live between musical, cultural, and theological generations, and some of us are getting old, and we worry about how it will turn out. Ours is one of those historical moments that calls for courage and good will all around. And the belief that God is faithful in the call given to us.

We will have seminars today on the practicalities of our work together, but I have tried a kind of glissando over the attitudes that I think underlie it. First, awareness that each of us bears a divine gift. Second, respect and healthy ambivalence about ourselves and others. Third, awareness that generations alwaysdo struggle. Finally, celebration that it has ever been thus, and God has gotten us to this time and place nonetheless.

I don’t believe in praying in the pulpit, but if I did I would pray the old prayer now, “Guard us, o Lord, from contempt of what is old and from fear of what is new. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.”


Cecilia, Martyrdom and Resurrection
by Bishop Paul Marshall (4 of 4)
© Paul V. Marshall

[Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem served as conference preacher for the June 2012 Association of Anglican Musicians in Philadelphia. He preached four sermons. This is the fourth.  "Scherzo" is a musical term meaning a fun, playful piece of music.]

And in the furnace we still praise God today.

We come at last to the translated feast of our patron, the second-century martyr St. Cecilia. Regarding her patronage of music, it would be preferable for me quietly to sit down and let Handel’s version of Dryden’s “Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day” fill this time. The poem sees music in the origin of the cosmos and in all aspects of our emotional lives; it even has a stanza about the superiority of the organ. Sadly, there can slide by all too quickly the account of the angel who hears music such as Cecilia’s and appears, mistaking earth for heaven. There couldn’t be more encouragement for what we strive to do! That 35-second recitative might slip by unnoticed, but no one can miss the metaphor for the end of world in the great and final day at the sound of Gabriel’s trumpet. “The dead shall live; the living die; and music shall untune the sky.” In that untunedness is readiness for a new heaven and a new earth, and the music brings it all on.

That closing passage is one of my favorite five minute slices of music, and is a fitting tribute to our patron saint and to the profession of music itself.

There is just that one other tiny thing, if I may. As the words are commonly used, it is not impossible to think of the words “martyr” and “organist” in the same sentence. Or conductor. Or singer. I doubt I can change that, but perhaps that coincidence of terms can be reframed, and our martyrdom, our witness, embraced more fully.

Back in 2010 scientists discovered that the brain scans of someone in a creative moment were indistinguishable from brain scans of schizophenics. Please hear me out on this. The separated feeling, the intensely inward focus, the sense of disconnectedness from others, the altered perception of what’s out there, the sense of possession along with the elation, simply do put one apart from one’s surroundings, and can be quite painful, or exhausting. Apparently it is biologically necessary to experience a kind of ecstatic disengagement with the ordinary in order to be creative. In short, absent other problems, geniuses only look crazy—at the creative moment that is, and then they come back to us. People who never leave the creative sphere, cannot touch down and rest. Choosing to break a creative state can be part of health maintenance.

Martyrdom means witness; often witness through suffering. Many people suffer and many people die suffering, and yet they are not martyrs. Martyrs are those whose suffering points beyond themselves, points to God, as did the prolonged death of young Cecilia.

This is to suggest that musicians, artists, and writers, if they are any good at all, are going to suffer. Perhaps they will also be inconvenienced at the hands of other people, perhaps not, but that is not my concern today. The internal conflicts and struggle to get just the right sound, the right intonation, or just the right word, are more intense than those we serve probably will ever know. Getting what exists so beautifully in one’s own head out of a choir, orchestra, or multiply rebuilt and characterless organ can bring a kind of pain nobody else will ever understand. Historians wonder what it could possibly have been like for Bach, who never heard any of his major works performed by decent ensembles. Perhaps there is more contemporary data available than they think about that.

Thus musicians can have martyrdom several ways, all of them good.

Musicians are martyrs in the sense of witness when things go extremely well and the congregation or audience is drawn into the music and their hearts and minds go to places they never knew existed. When the concepts of “flow” and “ecstasy” meet in the musical moment and everyone in the room touches a deeper reality.

On the other hand, when those days come when obstacle after obstacle must be overcome, and then the only actual tenor calls in sick, and yet God is worshipped through the very fact of our going through with it all because we remember Who it is that we love, a very different and equally important witness takes place.

Finally by all accounts, Bach wrote the Art of the Fugue for the sake of his soul, after he had to some extent withdrawn from public composition. It was enough that the composition existed—that alone gave God glory. Beauty that resides in the head and heart praises God, too.

In every case, when martyrdom is about us, it is fake, when it points to God it is real.

Both for sermon compositional and deeply personal reasons, I want to end these four talks where I began, with Mahler, who paints a picture that complements Dryden’s ode.

My favorite five minutes of his second symphony, probably everybody’s favorite five minutes of that symphony, come at the end of the fifth movement, after the orchestra has rejected a rosy and unrealistic plea for the future, and after Mahler has finished quoting the poetry of others. He finally speaks his own words.

With wings which I have won for myself,

In love’s fierce striving,

I shall soar upwards

To the light which no eye has penetrated!

Its wing that I won is expanded,

and I fly up.

Die shall I in order to live.

Rise again, yes, rise again, will you, my heart, in an instant!

That which you have conquered,

Will lead you to God!

You can feel it build. Was du geschlagen. Was du geschlagen…zu Gott wird es dich tragen. Tubular chimes. Silence. Then the orchestra says it all over again, and a window opens on immortality.

“That which you have conquered” is occasionally mistranslated as what you have suffered. That is to miss the context, the grammar, and the point. Mahler is expressing that side of him, and us, that knows that faithfulness to one’s vocation requires conquest of self and circumstances. It is martyrdom in the most glorious sense.

Spiritual maturity, in this symphony, means taking one’s gifts and winning one’s wings at considerable cost. While we always talk about grace and the gifts that have been given us, vocational maturity is both martyrdom and stewardship; no one but ourselves can sweat out the coming to fullness of God’s gifts in our lives. Mahler’s Second seems to me to echo all the ancient Christian poets who saw martyrdom as victory over self and world. The powerful words and powerful music of the Resurrection Symphony help us believe emotionally that life is not futile, that our various ways of suffering for the truth we carry, perform, and conceive, will lead us to God, if that is what we want. If that is what we want.

The fundamental confession of our faith, the “credissimus,” is that Jesus’ faithfulness led him to both cross and new life. I am saying as directly as I can today that choosing to be who we are as creative persons and being willing to embrace the occasional external suffering and often prolonged internal suffering that the choice may involve is not a sad thing, but a road to glory. “Was du geschlagen,” what you have conquered, in yourself and in your vocation, will lead you to…God. And it will point others in that direction, too.




[1] The Venerable Howard W Stringfellow III, whom I quote with permission.

Goldie, the Temple, and Us [Maria Tjeltveit]

Pentecost 28/C, Nov. 17, 2013
Mediator, Allentown
Canon Maria W. E. Tjeltveit, rector

[Maria Tjeltveit, rector at Mediator Allentown, said this sermon got more comments than any she has preached lately. Although it deals specifically with things at Mediator, I thinks it applies to many of our churches. It’s about adaptive change and technical fix as related to the church. She said she might entitle it: “Goldie, the Temple, and Us.”]

My puppy Goldie loves to sleep under our bed. Unfortunately, since she grew from 12 pounds to 45 pounds in the last six months, she can still squeeze under the bed but can’t get herself back out, because she gets stuck. After weeks of hearing her whine and having to drag myself out of the bed to drag her out from under it, I began looking for a solution to this problem so I could sleep through the night. I brought her dog bed up to the room but she would have no part of it at night. I tried having her sleep downstairs but she started barking at the slightest noise, and would only stop when I brought her up to our room.

As part of the Missioner for Growth Task Force, I learned about two approaches to problems: adaptive change and technical fix. In adaptive change, there is no clear solution to the problem and you need to change your behavior to adapt to the circumstances of the problem and work for a solution. With a technical fix, there is a concrete solution which you can apply to the problem and, voila!, the problem is solved.

I realized I had been trying adaptive change which wasn’t working with my dog. So I called a mattress store and discovered that there are things called bed risers, which you put under the legs of the bed to make the bed taller. A technical fix! Now Alan and I have elevated sleep and Goldie can get herself in and out from under the bed.

It may seem like a stretch to go from the problem of my puppy under the bed to Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple, in today’s gospel reading from Luke. But, if you hang in there with me, I promise I will make a connection.

The temple in Jerusalem that was built by King Herod, was not only massive and beautiful, it was the center of Jewish worship and life. The system of offerings and sacrifices at the temple shaped a person’s life from birth, when an offering was made for the first-born, to regular visits throughout the year, even if you lived away from Jerusalem. So, to predict the destruction of the temple, that “the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down” (Luke 21:6), was like predicting the end of the world.

The Jerusalem temple was in fact destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Jerusalem was razed and became a Roman city called Aelia Capitolina. The Jewish population was killed or driven out.

This was a huge problem for the Jewish people. The temple had been the place where God’s Name dwelt. Their central place of worship was gone, and the whole sacrificial system stopped. What were they to do?

There was no technical fix for the problem of the destruction of the temple. But there was adaptive change. Already, in the time of Jesus, a synagogue movement had shifted some of the focus away from the temple. With the temple gone, the locus of Jewish worship and life moved to the synagogue and the home. As the Jewish population dispersed around the Mediterranean they took with them the Torah and the teachings to guide them into a new kind of living faith. The destruction of the temple, as painful as it was, turned out not to be the end of the world, or the end of Judaism, because the Jewish people learned to adapt to their new circumstances and find new ways to live out their faith in God.

Reading about the destruction of the temple, with its stones being thrown down, may resonate with us in the mainline churches. Although the mainline or establishment churches, like the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian, Lutheran, United Methodist, and United Church of Christ, have not been destroyed, they have declined significantly in the last 50 years. No invading army has led to this but the changing culture has thrown some of our stones down.

Christmas Eve services when we had to put up extra chairs in the back since the church was so full….That stone was thrown down.

Being the church in which to be seen, where the Air Products executives and rising stars worshipped….That stone was thrown down.

Sundays reserved for church with stores closed and no youth sports on Sunday afternoons….That stone was thrown down.

National attention when our church leaders spoke about social and political issues….That stone was thrown down.

Young people raised in the Episcopal Church automatically coming back to church when they had kids….That stone was thrown down.

We are in a period when, on a national level, and on a parish level, things that we thought were set in stone have crumbled. Just deciding to go to church on Sunday morning is an active decision now, not a given. We live in a largely secular culture, where those who say they are “Nones” (meaning no religious affiliation), or “spiritual but not religious” are rapidly increasing. Even for those who go to church, that does not necessarily include worship, with more families coming regularly just for Sunday School. The church is increasingly marginal in our society. It used to be a place for seeking community, as well as faith, but now people often seek community on line, not in the pew.

Mediator is not exempt from these problems. Our attendance has declined dramatically since the 1960s, with the trend continuing in the last decade. We have some strong ministries and bonds with one another but we are an aging congregation and unless we do something, we will not be viable in the long run.

What do we do? Is there a technical fix for this? About 20 years ago some in the parish thought that moving to the suburbs might be a fix; an idea derailed by the bishop at the time, who said that Mediator could not sell this building. But there are small churches in the suburbs, so even a move would not necessarily have meant that we would have grown. This is a problem that requires adaptive change.

As many of you know, our Widening Our Welcome campaign this spring raised over $400,000 to renovate parts of our building and to hire a part or full-time Missioner for Growth. It would be nice if our new kitchen, when it is done, and the Missioner for Growth were technical fixes, but they are part of adaptive change. There is no one easy clear solution to the problems that face our parish and the mainline church. What we are called to do, and what the Missioner for Growth will help us do, is to learn about the culture and community around us and adapt our ministry so that we can find ways to proclaim the good news of God in Jesus Christ in language that people can understand and relationships they can trust. To do this we will need to change; perhaps our language, perhaps our behavior. We have already begun some of that change, with the Contemporary Eucharist on the fourth Sunday of the month reaching out to people who seek a shorter, simpler service. We are also reaching out to those who seek more formal worship, and will be using incense at our next Choral Eucharist.

Adaptive change to the problems faced by our Church and our parish, will move us away from focusing on institutional survival (trying to keep the temple from being thrown down) to seeing what God is up to in the community and world around us, and seeking to be a part of God’s mission to our hurting and hungering world. It will also challenge us to be able to articulate who Jesus Christ is for us and for others, in our increasingly pluralistic world. 

In today’s gospel, Jesus talks about people being taken before secular authorities, and says, “This will give you an opportunity to testify” (Luke 21:13). In a similar way, part of our adaptive change will be to learn to testify, to talk about our faith, in ways that people around us can relate to. We have been doing some of that in our Adult Forums, as we have discussed our parish history, and I will be inviting members of our congregation to testify or give a lay witness in place of the sermon periodically in the next year. If we can learn to do this in church then we can learn to do it in our communities where people need to hear about God’s transforming love.

Change like this is challenging. Some of us find change exciting, but others do not. We may not want the stones of our traditional way of being the church thrown down. We may not want to learn new ways of worshiping, speaking about our faith, refocusing on God’s mission toward the world around us. But doing the same thing we have always done is like Goldie squeezing her way under the bed, only to get stuck. The last seven words of an Episcopal church are: We’ve never done it that way before!

When the temple was destroyed, the Jewish people learned adaptive change to continue as God’s faithful people. We too can learn adaptive change, discovering what new things God is calling us to do, what God is seeking to do through us. In the process we can rediscover the truth that the church is the people, not the building; the body of Christ, continually being given for the world.

In the midst of change, may we trust that Jesus Christ is the one stone that cannot be thrown down. May Christ be with us, guide us, and bless us as we seek to embrace adaptive change.