Ash Wednesday Sermon
All Saints' Church
February 27, 2020
The Rev. Spencer D. Cantrell
Seeing with Transfiguration Eyes
The Rev. Steven D. Paulikas
February 23, 2020
All Saints’ Church
In the summer after I graduated college, I had the opportunity to work as a ministry intern with a very talented mentor. Our church was in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio. Most of the residents were originally from the Appalachian regions of Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky, and had come to the nearest big city to pursue economic opportunities for themselves and their families. But here, in this urban neighborhood sitting under the shadows of the downtown skyscrapers just a stone’s throw away, things always still felt a little bit country.
I loved the people I got to know that summer. They were warm, matter-of-fact, and tested by the challenges of a hard life. I also watched how my mentor interacted with them—sometimes with sternness, sometimes with unbounded charity, but always with deep compassion and fierce love. She was constantly worried about the children leaving the elementary school on our block as they passed the drug dealers’ house across the street from the church. She mobilized the community when a twelve-year-old boy in the neighborhood shot and killed his nine-year-old cousin over a fight about a video game. She was constantly present, and in walking with her people, she got to see them in a deep and powerful way that, I came to understand, was a glimpse of how God saw them but the world did not.
She told me a story about a parishioner who had died before I was there. Apparently she was a wild mountain woman through and through who came to church only occasionally. My mentor said she was always filthy and cussed like a sailor, but was also tough as nails. One time, my mentor went on a pastoral call to her house, which was not much more than a run-down shack with no indoor plumbing. The woman had been sick, and my mentor brought her Communion, but when she knocked on the door, the woman didn’t want a visitor. “What the hell do you want?” she said to her priest. Oh, apparently she was also totally naked.
Apparently my mentor was one of few people in the community who had affection for this woman, and when she went on to her greater reward, she was the only clergy person in the neighborhood who agreed to officiate her funeral. And this is actually the part of the story that has stuck with me in the twenty years since I first heard it. My mentor said then when she saw this woman in the casket, she looked completely different. Under all that dirt and grime, the tough talk and the tougher acting, she was a truly beautiful person, with rich hair, glowing skin, and look of peace. All this time—the world had seen this person as an outsider, a nuisance, a gadfly. But this was how God saw her, in all her beauty and splendor--God’s beloved child.
It’s no coincidence that I asked St. John’s in Columbus to sponsor me for ordination a few weeks later. Among the many things I learned that summer, I decided I wanted to be able to see people the way my mentor saw them—transfigured. I was tired of judging people by outward appearances, the way they looked or acted or what other people thought of them. I wanted to see that inner light, the radiance that shone forth from that woman. It turned out my mentor could see it coming from her all along. I wanted those eyes—transfiguraiton eyes—the eyes that give us that power to see our fellow human beings more like the way God sees them. I wanted to see the world in the light of transfiguration.
Friends, I think we all have our transfiguration stories, the ones about the times we caught a glimpse of the world as God sees it. Matthew shows us how to tell a good transfiguration story. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up to a high mountain. When they reach the mountaintop, he is transfigured. His face is as bright as the sun, and even his clothes are bright and shiny. Moses and Elijah appear with him. And a great voice proclaims, “this is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased!”
It’s important to understand a little bit of the context of this story. That woman in Columbus stands out to us because we don’t often encounter people who are habitually dirty. But that has only recently become the case. Modern sanitation and hygiene really only got rolling in the last few generations. So most hearers of this story over history would have understood how dirty and smelly Jesus and his companions were that day.
But what makes the story even more fantastical is that this transfiguration miracle would happen to Jesus, of all people. Here he was, son of a carpenter, itinerant preacher and healer, despised of the religious authorities. When Moses and Elijah appear alongside Jesus, it’s as if the light of his entire spiritual tradition is shining through him. And the tradition itself has been transfigured along with Jesus. His message is that God loves each and every one of us—Peter, James, and John, the sinner and the righteous man, even a difficult lady in Columbus two thousand years later. But this isn’t just a message—it is revealed to be the very force of God, shining through Jesus and out into all of us.
Much is made in this story of Peter’s desire to make the moment linger. This is not the story of a permanent transfiguration, but rather of a snapshot in time, a mountaintop moment. On the mountaintop, Jesus shines with the brightness of the sun. Very soon thereafter, he is condemned as a criminal and sentenced to death on a cross. On that day, a dark cloud covers the earth, and the curtain of the Temple is torn in two. But even in that darkest of times, Jesus’ friends must have remembered the mountaintop. The light of their memory would have pierced the darkness of the present.
I have never stopped wanted to see the world with transfiguration eyes. And the story of Jesus’ transfiguration in the Gospel of Matthew teaches us what that’s like. Like Jesus’ unwitting disciples on that day, we don’t get to choose the time, manner, or place when we see the world transfigured. Like them, we most often will be overwhelmed and even afraid when we see God’s glory transfiguring what we see into something different and bright. And like them, we may want to stay in that moment, but will instead be led back down the mountaintop. Because the driving force that lets you see the world with transfiguration eyes isn’t your own worth or skill, and it’s never going to be a situation of your own making. The only way to see with transfiguration is to be faithful. You must follow Jesus up the mountain and believe what your eyes are seeing, then follow him back down and remember what you saw.
I think most of us are here in part because we want to see the world with transfiguration eyes. I think most of are drawn to seek God’s presence because there is a deep and abiding faith within us that there is a spiritual reality within the world around us that is often hidden from our sight, but that might burst through with the dazzling light of the Transfiguration. Honestly, it’s people with that faith who shape the world into something better than what it is today. If you have transfiguration faith, then you can look at even the darkest situation or system and remember a mountaintop vision. That memory will keep you working for change even through the darkest circumstances. And the crazy thing the Bible teaches us is that that memory doesn’t even have to be yours—it can be a spiritual memory told to you by Matthew, or Peter, or even a priest in Ohio. A transfiguration faith is a shared faith, and the stories and memories of it belong to no one in particular.
I’ve shared my transfiguration story with you. What’s yours? When did you unexpectedly see God’s brilliance shining through someone or some thing? Remember your story, and if you dare, tell someone. Tell someone at coffee hour, or later today, or at some opportune time in the future. The light of what you saw will shine through your words and enter someone else’s memory. And then they will be inspired to see the world with transfiguration eyes too.
On Wednesday, we begin the penitential season of Lent. For many, this is a time for facing the darkness—both inside and outside of us. As you do, let the light you have seen with your own eyes light the path in front of you. This is the light of Christ, the light of transfiguration.
You are the Light of the World
The Rev. Steven Paulikas
February 9, 2020
All Saints’ Church
This past summer, I was afforded the luxury of a sabbatical. For a little over two months, I had time away from my usual duties at All Saints’, and I used this time to relax, think, write, and travel. I had read that one thing that sometimes happens to people on sabbatical is that they develop new hobbies or interests. What I didn’t expect was the new interest that would grip my imagination: astronomy.
It happened like this. In June, I visited my mother in northern Michigan. There’s a place near where she lives called a dark sky park. Every evening, a few hundred people gather at dusk at an amphitheater by the shore of Lake Michigan to watch the stars slowly appear in the summer sky. There are astronomers present who guide you through the constellations. There are also telescopes pointed at objects in the sky.
That night, the first thing I saw through the lens of the telescope was Jupiter with its four largest moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. I learned these are called the Galilean moons, because they were first discovered by Galileo in 1610. It was an incredible sight. I mean, I could see them, right there, in the sky. I even took a picture in my phone. Then they pointed the telescope deep into the sky at an object called a globular cluster. It was a fuzzy-looking ball of thousands of stars like our sun that orbits the core of a galaxy thousands of light years away. I was already amazed to see these things, hiding in plain view just above our heads every night.
But then I saw the doozy, the one that converted me to astronomy. I leaned over the eyepiece of the telescope, and saw a sight I had seen all my life in pictures, but there it was, right there: Saturn. I immediately recognized its rings, its stripes. How could you not? I couldn’t pull myself away from the telescope. I mean, Saturn is up there, in plain view, and this is the first time I’m seeing it. And this thought lodged in my head: I’m a person of faith who believes in a God who created the universe and all that is in it—but I know almost nothing about that universe, not even this beautiful, terrifying, graceful, giant planet right here in our solar system.
Friends, after that night, I went full nerd. I spent hours and hours watching documentaries and YouTube videos. I devoured basic articles about our theories of the workings of the universe. I learned basic facts that I now realize--as someone who claims to be educated--I should have known a long time ago. Here are some of those facts. The universe is 13.8 billion years old. Gravity is not a force, but a fabric. Our own system is ringed by something called the Kuiper Belt, filled with small rocky objects, and beyond that is the Oort Cloud.
I also developed a new habit. Instead of starting the day by reading the invariably depressing headlines, I read the astronomy news. Let me tell you: getting news about the cosmos puts the pettiness of the 24 hours political news cycle in perspective. Here are the highlights of 2019. For the first time, scientists photographed a black hole. An object from outside our solar system was discovered inside our solar system—only the second such alien object recorded. The big news right now is that the star Betelgeuse has mysteriously gone dim. You can see Betelgeuse this time of year in the constellation Orion, and it’s usually the 11th-brightest star in the sky. But now it’s number 21. Some astronomers think it might be getting ready to explode in a supernova. The whole astronomical community is watching the light of this star that is 642 light years away.
And that brings me to today’s Gospel reading. Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world. The light of the world! Can you imagine? Little old you, little old me, little old All Saints’ Church—we are the light of the world. Jesus Christ himself says so. I used to stop right there, because honestly, it’s spiritually powerful enough message on its own. If you’re feeling down about yourself or the world or whatever, look yourself in the mirror and remember what Jesus says to you: you are the light of the world. We are bright shining lights in the darkness. Place your light high up on the lampstand and let it shine before all people.
But you see, now that I’ve dipped my toe into astronomy, I’ve learned a lot more about light. There’s a whole lot more to this truth Jesus tells us, because light is a complicated thing. And in fact, most of the entire science of astronomy is about light.
First off, nothing in the entire universe can travel faster than light. Think about that for a second. Your light, God’s light, the light coming through these windows, or the light of the moon or the sun or the stars—that light is the absolute fastest message that can be given or received. And that’s according not to the Bible, but to the laws of physics. So if we really are the light of the world, and the world is covered in darkness, the minute we let our lights shine, it will push the darkness back faster than anything else imaginable. The fastest way to make a change in the world is to let your light shine. Amazing.
But here’s the other pretty crazy thing. Because light travels so quickly, unlike anything else, it bridges the great divide of time. Let me explain. The sun is an incredibly far distance from the Earth, about 100 million miles. But light from the sun travels so quickly that it reaches us in 8 minutes. Still, it takes 8 minutes to get here. That means that when you watch a sunset, you’re actually seeing the sun not as it is now, but as it was 8 minutes ago. Back to Betelgeuse. I said Betelgeuse is 642 light years away. Even though a light year sounds like it should be a measure of time, it’s actually a measure of distance: the distance light can travel in one Earth year. So when you look at Orion and see Betelgeuse in his left shoulder, you’re actually seeing Betelgeuse not now, but as it was 642 years ago. If indeed the star does explode tomorrow, that would actually mean it blew up in the year 1378. We’d just be seeing it now.
I warned you: full nerd. But it’s a nerdiness with some really deep spiritual truth here. Nothing travels faster than light. And nothing connects us to the past and the future more than light. And YOU are the light of the world. That means that your light is shining out into the future in ways you will never understand in your lifetime. It means that every act of faith, charity, and love will shine light for years, decades, and centuries to come.
If you’re skeptical of my astronomical reading of the Bible, think about this. Jesus told his followers that they were the light of the world 2,000 years ago. And here we are, still talking about it. They’ve been dead and gone for a long, long time. But their light shines on. In the church, in Scripture, in the sacraments. Kind acts from that time begat kind acts after that, and so on and so on. The Letter to the Hebrews says that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. I think of them like that globular cluster I saw through the telescope—thousands upon thousands upon thousands of lights, shining through the darkness of time and space on us, even today. And you are one of them.
There’s no doubt that we are living in a dark time. But when you are light, the darkness is nothing. It’s just something to shine yourself through. The darkness doesn’t communicate anything. It doesn’t help anything. And it doesn’t last for the ages. It’s just there. When you’re light, you pierce the darkness. Scatter it. Subdue it. When you are light, darkness is nothing at all.
And you are the light of the world. Those aren’t my words; they’re Jesus’ words. So in the weeks and months ahead, if you start to feel overwhelmed by the darkness, just wait until night falls, and look up. Even in New York, you can see some pretty amazing stars. Their light shatters the darkness and bridges time and space to rest on you. Then, take a look in the mirror. Because that light is inside you. That light can never be extinguished, because it is the light of God. The same God who created the heavens and the earth, who is of time eternal, and who lights the paths of all holy people. Let your light shine brightly before all people, so that they may see your good works, in this age and in the ages to come, and my give glory to your God, the God of heaven. Amen.
Let yourself be presented
The Rev. Steven Paulikas
All Saints’ Church
February 2, 2020
Feast of the Presentation
Today we celebrate a special holiday you might never have heard of. It’s officially called the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple, which is a mouthful. It’s also called the Presentation for short. It has another name, too: Candlemas. Whatever you call it, it’s about the story from today’s Gospel reading, in which Mary brings Jesus to the Temple, the ancient Jewish rite performed on the fortieth day after the birth of a first male child. The Feast of the Presentation is always celebrated on February 2. Why? Well, February 2 is exactly forty days after Christmas. So this feast is meant to help us feel the rhythm of Jesus’ first days.
If you’ve never heard of today’s special day, I certainly don’t blame you. Most churches—even Episcopal ones—don’t make a big deal out of it. But the Presentation still hangs on. In fact, it’s a very, very old holiday—basically just as old as Christmas itself. Traditionally, the Feast of the Presentation brought the Christmas season to an end—which means if you still haven’t taken your decorations down, you can just say you’re following the old liturgical calendar. It’s important enough that when February 2 falls on a Sunday, as it does this year, we chuck out the regular Sunday readings and celebrate the Presentation instead. And there’s an added lovely practice. Because the Feast of the Presentation is observed in the depth of winter, a tradition of candle lighting and blessing became associated with it, which is how it got the name Candlemas.
To be honest, the Feast of the Presentation has never been very high up on my list of priorities. It always seemed like something quaint and European from a bygone era. But my perspective has changed this year. In fact, now I think that the Presentation has the perfect message for 21st century Christianity. The message I hear is this: Let yourself be presented, just as Jesus was presented in the Temple. Enter the sanctuary, and know that you that you belong to this holiness. Appear before the Almighty, and receive the blessing that is reserved for you.
Think again of the story of the Presentation is part of the Christmas cycle of readings about Jesus. Jesus was born to a human mother. The wise men came from afar to adore him. He was baptized in the River Jordan. And here today, he was presented in the Temple.
These are stories from Holy Scripture about Our Lord. But if they mean anything, if they have any life in them, then they are also stories from the holy book of your own life, and they are about you. You, too, were born of a human mother. There were those who came to adore and care for you at your birth. Your baptism is a shared sacrament with Jesus.
And now, to complete the story, you are here, in this holy temple. You have presented yourself to God. There is no greater gift you can offer God than this. There is no sacrifice more pleasing to God than your very self. You presenting yourself means that you have decided to accept God’s love for you, to allow yourself to be acknowledged as part of this divine mystery of life in which we all find ourselves.
Why is this the perfect message for today? Because we find ourselves in a time when people are reluctant to present themselves to God. I’m sure you are aware of the steady decline in church membership and attendance among most religious groups. And there are many reasons for this, some of them totally justified. The Church as too often betrayed the trust of its own people, or taken them for granted, or offered messages that run contrary to our faith.
But there’s another side to the abandonment of religious participation. I think it comes down to a refusal to take responsibility for the care of our own souls. It’s easy to get distracted by the challenges and temptations of modern life. For me, it’s an uphill struggle most days. But ultimately, we all have the obligation to ourselves to care for our own spiritual well-being. In the Christian understanding, this means devoting ourselves to lives of prayer, service, and fellowship. It means nourishing ourselves out of what The Book of Common Prayer calls “the riches of God’s grace.” And it means showing up: showing up to prayer time, showing up to visit the sick and console the downtrodden, and yes, showing up to the Temple. Over time, when we present ourselves over and over, we become transformed into the person God sees most deeply and wants us to be in the world. Sure, it takes some commitment and effort. But what greater reward could we be offered for simply being present?
I believe that the vast majority of people are aware of their spiritual lives and care about them. I also believe that one of the reasons our culture is in such a state of crisis is that now that people are no longer presenting themselves in the Temple as their means of spiritual nourishment, they are at a loss for what to replace it with. I often hear people say they are “spiritual but not religious.” That’s kind of what I’m talking about. “Spiritual but not religious” to me says, I acknowledge the importance of my spiritual life, but I’m not sure or maybe not willing to do anything about it that I’m not in complete control of. And let me say, that’s a dangerous thing. Religion shapes and molds us and forces us to confront hard truths about ourselves. If we are in control of this experience at all times, then our spiritual practices just become a flattering self-image. Going to yoga class or attending a political rally—these are both substitutes for the communal catharsis of religion. But when all you get from these practices are words that confirm your prejudices and a sense of superiority, then we’re in trouble. Then you’re trying to force the Temple to look like your house and not God’s.
If you want a special image in your head of what it looks like to be presented in the Temple, we had an incredibly moving one right here last Saturday. Chris Lee was ordained a deacon—and I have to say like many of you, I’m still riding high from that morning. If you were here, then you saw how during the Litany, he lay down on his stomach at the foot of the altar. I’ll never forget that image—this man, dressed in a white robe recalling his baptism, prostrate before the unthinkable enormity of the Almighty God. Chris truly presented himself in this Temple.
But as great of a day as that was, I don’t think Chris would mind if I told you more about everything that came before it. Chris grew up going to church, but like most people, drifted away as a young adult as he pursued his career in music, then in journalism. He went to church on occasion, and never lost his connection to his spiritual life, but I think it’s fair to say that he wasn’t necessarily presenting himself in the temple with the regularity that he does now. I remember the summer Sunday he first came to All Saints’. I saw a guy sitting in the back row. He stayed long enough for me to have a brief conversation after the Eucharist. Chris and his family live nearby, and he said he had passed this church many times and wanted to come for a service. He signed the guest register, but I didn’t see him again for several months. Then he came back, presenting himself again. And again. He kept coming back, and eventually, he discovered that there had been a path in life for him that had been waiting for him all these years. Presenting himself in this place literally changed the course of his life, and in following that path, Chris has already impacted the lives of many around him—and this is just the beginning. And it all started when he just showed up. There were no choirs of angels that day, no blinding flash of light. He was just—present. And that was all God needed to work wondrous things.
On this Feast of the Presentation, you have been present. You have showed up in the Temple and are presenting yourself to God. By presenting yourself, you encounter yourself the way God sees you—and to confirm this, you will soon be fed with God’s own body and blood. Keep showing up. Keep presenting yourself. When you get the chance, find a way to encourage those around you to present themselves too. It can be a bit scary at first to see all that truth, all that light, all that love. But these are the gifts of God we receive when we present our whole selves to the One who made those selves to begin with. Amen.
The Third Sunday after Epiphany
The Rev. Deacon Christopher Lee
January 26, 2020
The Third Sunday after Epiphany
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?
the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?
There’s something that typically happens at social gatherings, whether it’s a backyard barbeque or a formal dinner party, a wedding reception or gallery opening. Maybe you’ve experienced it—you’re introduced to someone you haven’t met before, and you fall into conversation with them. And after exchanging the usual pleasantries, one person inevitably asks the other: “so, what do you do?”
I don’t know why this question has always bothered me. It’s not like it’s too intrusive; I’m not being asked to reveal the deepest, darkest secrets of my soul. And I’m not in the CIA. (As far you know.) I think what I find annoying is the assumption that what I “do” will then be identified with who I am. So if I say I’m a journalist, or a banker, or a cop, or a Deacon in the Episcopal Church—all of these descriptions give people permission to define me by my occupation.
And I think that’s especially frustrating for anyone who doesn’t necessarily love what they do professionally, or people who just see their jobs as a way of paying the bills, and who pursue their passions—what they see as their real calling in life—in their spare time. There are plenty of people who don’t equate who they are with what they do for a living.
This tendency to define people by their occupations can be especially difficult for those who feel deep in their hearts they have a certain calling, but struggle to earn a living from it. They yearn to be a professional athlete, or an artist, or to start their own business. They believe beyond the shadow of a doubt, and usually not without good reason, that God put them on the earth to do just that. And if things don’t work out quite the way they’d hoped, they face a pretty awful dilemma: Who am I, if I’m not what I always saw as my true calling? And if I wasn’t called to be that after all, then who was I called to be?
In today’s lesson from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus calls his first disciples: Simon/Peter and his brother Andrew, and then another set of brothers, James and John. All four live in Capernaum, and work as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Now this was a very good living in those days; the brothers very likely enjoyed a stable, respectable, middle class existence. And yet in spite of this, Matthew tells us that all four, at Jesus’ simple request, immediately dropped everything and followed him. According to Matthew, they didn’t ask where they were going, or why. They didn’t even ask this apparent stranger who he was or where he had come from. The first pair of brothers at least got the odd explanation that they would be made “fishers for people.” OK Jesus, that clears everything up, thanks a lot!
Why would these hardworking and upstanding men toss their lives aside for this eccentric figure? What gave them the courage to answer Jesus’ call so quickly? Remember, at this point Jesus hadn’t said or done anything especially remarkable—he’s not yet Jesus the miracle worker, the charismatic preacher and teacher. The Sermon on the Mount, the Last Supper, the Transfiguration, Passion and Resurrection, all of this is still to come. In Matthew’s account, Jesus has only just been baptized by John in the Jordan, and resisted the Devil’s temptations in the desert. He has just moved from his native Nazareth to a brand new town, and is going around making the rather obscure proclamation “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
And that’s what, to me, makes this text so extraordinary. What made Jesus’ call so irresistible? What was it about his sheer being that inspired enough trust in these fishermen to drop everything and follow him? I wonder if it’s because in Jesus, they recognized someone who was truly and fully and fearlessly himself. And I wonder if direct contact with that kind of raw personal freedom and honesty radically and instantly transformed how these first disciples saw themselves. My guess is that seeing Jesus suddenly made them feel, perhaps for the first time, fully alive, fully human. Apart from anything he said or did, Jesus simply embodied and radiated light, strength and the promise of salvation, as the Psalm says. And Jesus’ presence alone produced a fearlessness in these first disciples that empowered them to answer his call, to give up everything and follow him.
The Gospels don’t tell us how the disciples felt about their professions. Did Andrew and the others feel that fishing was their true calling in life? Were they called because they were fishermen, or did Jesus simply make use of what was already there? Whatever the answer, meeting Jesus made these two pairs of brothers recognize that they were called to be more than fisherman; by calling them to be disciples, Jesus freed them to be fully themselves, and empowered them to do things they would not otherwise have done.
Now what about us? The disciples experienced a kind of intimacy with the earthly ministry of Jesus that doesn’t seem available to us, all these centuries later. How do we get close enough to Jesus to hear that same irresistible, empowering call? One simple but profound way is through the sacraments: first of all Baptism, which grafts us irrevocably onto the Body of Christ, and then the Eucharist, which nourishes that Body, week after week by bringing us into a mystical union with one another, and with the risen Christ, at the Lord’s Table.
But the fact is that if we really want to spend time with Jesus, we need to be with those he came to lift up. Not the wise and powerful, not the winners and the heroes. If we’re looking for Jesus, we will find him with the sick and the dying, the prisoner and the refugee, the homeless, the hungry, the victims of violence. We’ll also find Jesus in what is perhaps, for many of us, an even scarier place: in our own hearts and minds, the places where we keep our deepest, darkest secrets, where we relive our most heartbreaking and traumatic experiences.
The miracle is that when we meet Jesus in these painful, difficult places, we are also most likely to meet ourselves—sometimes for the first time. We can finally see ourselves as God sees us, and instead of feeling unworthy or insufficient, we suddenly we feel, in an instant, that God holds and loves us more deeply than anyone or anything else can; we finally know that, despite all our self-doubt and imperfections, we are more than enough in God’s eyes. The closer we get to Jesus, the clearer his call becomes; it drowns out all our fears, and frees us to become who we truly are.
Now I understand that in the real world, and especially New York, life is expensive; it’s not entirely clear how the ability to see ourselves as beloved children of God is going to put food on the table. All this talk of our true calling and vocations might seem like a luxury, maybe even an insult, to someone who is struggling desperately to make ends meet. What we do is obviously important, it’s an integral part of who we are. Research shows over and over again that meaningful work is crucial to self-esteem and overall happiness. A good job fuels our sense of dignity and integrity.
No one would deny that, and yet I believe there’s still more to it. I’m convinced that the more we suppress our deepest longings, and the more cut off we are from the joys and sorrows of our neighbors, the more difficult it is to find meaning in anything, including our work. By the same token, no job, no career will ever give us everything we need. And the more we identify ourselves with our jobs and careers, the less likely we are to be in touch with our true selves. What we do is important, but it’s not who we are.
There is an unfathomable and blessed diversity in our world: we are doctors and baristas, teachers and custodians; we are rich and poor; black, brown and white; female and male; trans and non-binary; bi-, gay and straight. But I believe that none of those descriptions alone captures the full reality of our being. None of them alone does us justice. At our very core, each of us is an utterly unique and irreplaceable human person, whose most fundamental identity is as one of God’s beloved creatures.
My friends our true calling, our primary vocation, is to be fully and fearlessly ourselves. This is what those Galilean fisherman instantly recognized in Jesus’ call—the freedom to be who they truly were. Which was more than what they did for a living, more than who their family or society, their friends or enemies, said they were.
This freedom is God’s gift to all of us. And we receive it whenever we let Jesus into our lives. So move closer to him, close enough to hear his call, close enough to know that, as a beloved child of God, you have nothing to fear. You are free to be who you are. AMEN
Coming out of the Fog
2nd Sunday after Epiphany
All Saints' Church
January 19, 2020
The Rev. Howard E. Blunt
Let us pray:
O Lord we give thanks for all divine manifestations in Epiphany tide. And yes we give thanks
for our American prophet the unexpected revelation of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. May his life and work be ever remembered in our time. In the Father in the Son in the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I think this is the second time I have been asked to preach here on this weekend. The first time it was 2000 something I can not remember exactly. But I remember speaking about my recall of what he was like, the effect he made on all all around. I remember telling us here that he was killed in Holy Week 1968. Those of you who can recall that year you know it was an annus horribilis. Today in this time frame we should hope that such a one might rise up and come among us again. O lord may it be so. I was talking with myself ( I do that) and then others about him. In the midst of that conversation, I heard myself say, if he had not occurred in our history he would need to be invented. For he came at the right moment for the right reason and the right effect. The moment was the era of Civil Rights and the war in Vietnam. There as on was our need for a divine resounding voice speaking truth to power for the powerless. The effect we should hope is that the ark of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. That was a glorious phrase in his oratory.
I believe in spite of all the possible nay says We in this country and even beyond we are far better off because there was in his time such a person such a prophet and such a martyr for this troubled landscape USA. You know I was going look at this celebration from the mixed mess of our contemporary America. I am so tired of doing that. I am watching the media too much. Maybe you are doing this also and you find it a hopeless fog. Surely our national life is in a fowl miasma; it is like a fog that that hasn't lifted. I consulted a friend of mine, he is a fellow priest who pastors a parish in Bedstuy. He advised me to leave the fog behind, get out of it. He said and ask yourself "who are we now because there was this man who rose up from his pulpit in the city of Atlanta and preached to the world. " He said we Americans are now far different and blessed by far, raised to a new level way above the one on which we once stood. And that platform is not going to changed. " No matter what else happens. " This priest serves his constituency in Bedstuy and he was telling me that he and his congregation feels and knows they are an equal partner with the human race with the Christian faith this country and the city of New York. I stood there in his office, him looking at me straight in the eye and I was transfixed. I was hearing good news calling me out of my fog. I tell you of another who was called out of his usual life. John the Baptist was full of doing his work day to day, calling people to repentance. It must have been hard going. I baptize you I baptize you and you. Suddenly his work is given a new direction. His sermon is changed. Look at him doing his ceremony at the Jordan. I baptize you and you, then the son of man comes down by the water, John is startled to see him. He says behold the Lamb of God. After that every thing changed. We are all different and blessed because John the Baptist met Jesus. Have you noticed our moment in the liturgy at this Jordan, All Saints, it is when we get out our pews and we meet each other to say the peace of Christ be with you. This gesture should tell means we go from glory to glory with each other in communion with Christ. I believe something indelible takes place each Sunday here. When we hear the scriptures listen to the sermon, say the prayers and receive the sacrament of renewal of Easter. Take a look at last Sunday when we took two little ones into our arms, son and cousin to Mother Julia Stroud. We baptized them and told them you are marked Christ's own forever and therefore you are lights to the world.
As I look out from this pulpit I see a whole conclave marked as Christ's own for ever shining and using lights for the world around you. Moreover we are a people here who circle the globe. It is a blessed diversity bringing light to our corner of the globe. These Park Slope people pastored by Fr. Steve. It is a place that has a full share of Martin Luther King. I hope there are many other gatherings in Christ like this one.
I think my friend in Bedstuy was saying this type of mixture would not be possible but for Dr. King. His coming was a surprise and not always accepted by the way. But gradually folks understood his prophecy and now we have a holiday in his honor. That holiday is holy. Did you know that this man came from a line of preachers. His father, I believe his grandfather and then
himself. Three generations from the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. GA. It is now a national
shrine. If you go to Atlanta you should not miss going there. The original church is cared for by the parks department. And across the street is a brand new modern and larger ediface where thousands gather every Sunday. I was there some years ago. The service I attended began with "come thou font of every blessing" It was a joy to be in that font of every blessing. Such a blessing came from the witness of that place. That blessing has touched every church, every synagogue every mosque. It has circled the globe and we here receive its benefit gratefully. And
this blessing wonder of wonders it continues. It is now a succession generation to generation.
In just a few days we are going see one of our own going on and on to continue that succession. I think we are all very proud of this young man. He will pick up the baton in St. Paul's race that is set before us. When Fr Spencer leads us in the consecration giving thanks for the creation and salvation of the Lord Jesus we could include thanksgiving for the recent baptisms here, for the phenomenon of Dr. King every year and now for the one who will made deacon next saturday.
Did you know that Martin L. King was originally named Michael. His father changed it to Martin. He must have wanted to put him in line with the great reformer of 1517. The one banged his theses at the Wittenberg Gate. But I would offer that his name might have stayed as Michael. For in the Book of Revelation Michael is the who leads an army of the righteous against all perfidy
all sinfulness all straying from the holy way. I googled his church in Atlanta and found the service there for last sunday. The minister used his text from the 2nd chapter in the Prophet Habakkuk. Not a text usually heard from but it goes like this: "I will stand on my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart. I will keep watch to see what God will say to me.....then the Lord answered me and said: write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that the runner may read
it. This latter day prophet descended upon our scene in the 20th century and wrote a vision on tablets so that no one going by could miss it. His vision was all God's children hold hands with each other, all God's children would maintain respect for each other and all would refrain any violent intention nation to nation, religion to religion, race to race. For he was like the vertable Michael in the book of Revelation. That one who descended to earth to route out all bedevilment in the human heart. Some of us were in our study of that book and there many viewpoints to
consider that difficult book. However you see it trying to head us towards the ultimate Kingdom of God. I 'd like say that we have glimpses of that kingdom here and surely part of that glimpse is of Martin Luther King. Gratias ago pro Martini Lutheri. Pray that in this present time we do not lose sight of this man and his work. I told you my priest friend offered me a very optimistic out look. Let us pray that he is right and that we will be enabled to keep our lights burning. Amen.
The Rev. Steven D. Paulikas
January 12, 2020
Baptism of Our Lord, Year C
When John baptized Jesus in the River Jordan, Jesus stood up from the waters, and the spirit of God descended on him. And then a voice was heard from heaven, and it said, “this is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Every year on this Sunday, in the bleak midwinter when it’s cold and snowy, we remember and celebrate the fact that Jesus was baptized. It was at the beginning of his public ministry, before he called his disciples, before he became famous, before his miracles, before his passion and his resurrection. Jesus didn’t do any of these things until he was baptized. His baptism was the act the initiated a lifetime that would change the course of human history.
And what did Jesus do to deserve this baptism? Did he take a course or pass a test? Did he have to prove himself or explain the mysteries of the universe? What did he do to prove his worth?
The answer is: nothing. Yes, Jesus was God, Son of God. But at this point, this was nothing in particular he had done in his life other than be born and go out to see John. The Father is well pleased in Jesus simply because Jesus is, because he exists. And that’s the same way God feels about you, too.
You know, every time I’m at a baptism, I listen for that voice, and I can swear that I hear it. “This is my child, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” One of the things we do in baptism is acknowledge that those being baptized truly are God’s children. It’s a pretty basic part of being human, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that we didn’t create ourselves—someone created us. Our parents play a pretty big part in that, but as these underslept parents in the front row can already tell you, their children already have minds, personalities, and souls of their own. Even if you think we’re just the product of an intricate biological process, there’s still that something, that deep well of mystery about who we are and where we came from that makes us us that can’t really be answered by science. And as those same underslept parents will tell you, the birth of a child—any child—is a miracle. I think that’s what that voice means when it booms out: “this is my child, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”
Friends, what would the world be like if we all treated one another as beloved children of God? And what would our lives be like if we all believed we were God’s beloved, in whom God is well pleased? Again, these are simple questions—they’re easy enough for children to understand. And yet as we get older, they seem to get harder and harder to grasp. Nonetheless, the answers are central to this old, old faith of ours. Yes, every human being is a miracle. Everyone is a beloved child of God. You, the members of your family, the people in these pews. Friends, strangers, enemies. The people you see in the news every day and the people you’ll never hear about. The rich and the poor, prisoners, victims of violence and war and climate change. Babies born today and people on their deathbeds. God is saying of each and every one of them: this is my child, my beloved. As we get older, we inevitably to some things that God probably isn’t very pleased with. But like the bond between any parent and child, the love behind that voice never ends.
So if God loves each of us that way, then we should love one another the same. Imagine, for a moment, that every time you met someone, you thought about how they were God’s beloved child. It’s actually not that difficult. If you’ve never tried before, you can start today, right now. Aha, you’re God’s beloved child. You’re God’s beloved child. Imagine if every meeting began that way, every session of Congress and the UN, every corporate negotiation, every classroom session, every courtroom trial, encounter on a crowded subway car…
…well maybe that’s getting carried away. Because we all know it’s hard to love everyone on the subway. And the fact is that it can be pretty hard to see loved-by-God child in certain people. There’s a reason every event doesn’t begin with people acknowledging God’s love for one another. We are offended or hurt or even repulsed by something someone else does, and it becomes hard to remember that they are God’s child too. But just remember: when that happens, when it’s too difficult to see the child of God in someone else, it’s probably because there’s a little part of you that’s having trouble remembering the child of God in yourself. We are all children of God—including you. You’ve done nothing to deserve this status, which can make it hard to believe it’s real. So the annoying person reminds us of the ways we think we’re annoying. The criminal reminds us of our own offenses. Even the person from that other political party reminds us of the things we don’t like about ourselves. So it’s just easier to think of them as somehow not God’s beloved children—because they frighten us, trigger our own anxiety that maybe that booming voice from heaven wasn’t meant for us, or doesn’t mean it any more.
I’m convinced that most of the crazy things people do in this life—good and bad--they do because they are desperate to hear the words Jesus heard at his baptism. Mother Theresa wrote in her journals that she was desperate for God’s affirmation. But then, children that we are, we sometimes try to get God’s attention by being naughty. We all know the mischief kids get up to to test their parents’ love for them. When we grow up, we do it on an adult scale. Let’s trash the planet to see if God’s watching. Let’s bully the vulnerable and make life harder for the poor and see what Dad says. The mistreatment we visit on one another—abuse, dependency, neediness, violence—most all of it stems from our deep, deep fear…that our heavenly Father doesn’t really see us, that we are not God’s beloved.
So, friends, listen once again to the Gospel. Listen to it and believe with all your heart and all your mind that the same voice that says this about Jesus is saying it about you—and everyone you’ve ever met. “This is my child, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” You are God’s child. That’s why you’re here. You are God’s child, and you will always be God’s beloved.
There are two special children here this morning. Oscar and Harry are cousins. They are two beautiful 12 year old boys…just kidding that’s an inside joke between Julia and me. Oscar and Harry are just beginning their lives, and it is our prayer that they will remember long into the future that they are God’s beloved. I was thinking about Oscar and Harry on Friday, when I visited the senior member of our parish, Vera Crane. Vera lived in Park Slope from the time she moved here as a teenager—in 1927. A few years ago she moved to a lovely facility in New Jersey, and I went out with Chris Lee, our parishioner who will be ordained a deacon here at All Saints’ next Saturday. Chris heard his call to ordained ministry in part through is weekly visits to Vera to give her communion when she still lived in Park Slope. Vera is 106 years old. She reads without glasses and takes no medication. And I can tell you, when you spend time with Vera, you always leave feeling better about yourself. Everyone who has ever known her says she’s never been anything but kind and generous—and quick-witted. Once when I asked her about her favorite memories she said, well the first fifty years were so long ago I can’t remember a thing from then. Vera turned 50 in 1963.
You don’t spend over a century on this planet like that without knowing that you are God’s child, without that continued faith that we are all God’s beloved. When Oscar and Harry are Vera’s age, it will be the year 2125. And even though that is a future too distant for us to imagine, one thing is certain: there will still be a voice from heaven. It will be the same voice we hear this morning, at their baptism. It will be the same voice that calls out to you and to me and everyone you will ever meet. “This is my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Amen.
The Hope Beyond Anxiety
The Rev. Steven D. Paulikas
January 5, 2020
All Saints’ Church
Happy Twelfth Day of Christmas! And while we’re at it, Happy New Year! Pretty much everyone says this every year, but honestly, it’s hard to believe it’s already 2020. To me, it sounds like a futuristic number for a year. I’m old enough that when I was a kid, I assumed that by 2020 we’d be living in bases on Mars. But I’m also young enough to know that I will be living with the consequences of decisions made this year for the rest of my life. It’s a strange place to be this year.
One thing I will say about 2020 is that rarely have the people around me greeted a new year with so many expressions of anxiety and dread. Maybe you feel it too. Of course the focal point of this impending stress for many is the election this fall. And the news of U.S. military action in the Middle East has been a deeply unsettling way to start the year. I hate to state the obvious, but this is just the beginning of what promises to be a rollercoaster of a year. I know of few people who are looking forward to the media saturation and public drama that we will have no choice but to be part of for the next 12 months. I am observing how the uncertainty about the future is taking its toll on many of us in this parish and in our wider community. And that’s the point where the things happening in the news meet your own spiritual welfare and the spiritual well-being of this church.
If you are feeling a gnawing sense of anxiety at the beginning of this year, let me say: the time to start building up your spiritual defenses is right now. And you’re in the right place to do so. We come here to worship the Immortal, Invisible, God only wise. We come here to encounter Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega. We hear the words of Scripture, which have comforted and guided countless generations through times even scarier than these. We address our prayers to an all-hearing ear, a God who has promised to hear the supplications of all. And we partake of the Sacrament that is the very body and blood of Christ, so that his eternity becomes part of us and we of him.
All this should be of great comfort, and it is. It is the Christmas gift that keeps on giving, twelve days later and beyond. Because the way to keep yourself sane this year is to ground yourself in God, who enfolds the troubles of the present in the knowledge of the past and the future, who holds all times in the hand of the divine.
Maybe it’s a little bit of a stretch, but I see this message pretty clearly in the Gospel reading we hear this morning. It’s the story of Mary and Joseph losing Jesus at the Temple. We’re still in the Christmas season this Sunday, and believe it or not, this story about the 12-year-old Jesus is in the same chapter of Luke’s Gospel as the story of Jesus’ birth. Pre-teen Jesus and his family go to Jerusalem for Passover, then leave with the rest of the people from their village. An entire day passes before they realize he’s not with them. When they go back to Jerusalem to look for him, it takes them three whole days before they find him back at the Temple.
Can you even begin to imagine what Mary and Joseph felt when they realized their child was missing? First, shock. Next, panic. After that, I’m sure there was a mix of adrenaline, guilt, and anger. Jesus was old enough to fend for himself, but I don’t know any parent who wouldn’t be beside themselves at losing their 12 year old.
Those must have been a rough three days of searching in the holy city. Some twenty years later, there would be another three days of loss in Jerusalem that would shake more than just Jesus’ family—they would rattle the world forever. Adult Jesus would return to Jerusalem with triumph, only to be crucified and buried. Those three days of the sealed tomb were for his disciples much like those three days of searching for Mary and Joseph, a time of shock and anxiety over the loss of the world as they had known it.
Maybe right now you feel like Mary and Joseph frantically looking for their child. Maybe right now you feel like the world the way you’ve known it is sealed in a tomb, a past that can never be reconciled with the present. We all feel that way at times in our lives, the bitterness and confusion of life as we knew it being shattered. We can have those feelings about the world around us, the way of being we once knew changing before our eyes. But the more difficult times are when our personal lives follow the same pattern; someone you knew and loved is no longer around, a setback with work or money, or relationships that seem broken beyond repair. All these things are our moments of panic, the times when we, like Mary and Joseph, turn around in disbelief and see the thing that meant most to us all of a sudden—gone.
Friends, if this weren’t something everyone experiences, it wouldn’t be in the Bible. But look what else is in the Bible: after those three terrible days, Mary finds her son. Not just anywhere, but in the Temple itself, the holiest and safest of places. He was right where he belonged all along; she just couldn’t see it.
Being a Christian means having faith in times of panic and loss that the same God who was with you before is with you now—and will deliver you into a better future. It means having hope, like the apostle Paul, that nothing can separate us from the love of God. It means trusting that that which is lost is being cared for even now in ways we cannot understand, like the young Jesus in the Temple.
This is anything but a simple faith. It is not a naïve belief that things will get better on their own. Nor is it a way around the pain of loss. Quite the opposite. Our faith in the enfolding love of God is an acknowledgement that loss is inevitable. But it is also the motivator for us to push forward to a new future. When Mary lost her son, it was her faith that he was still out there that kept her searching for him. She didn’t just give up and go home. It’s how she kept her cool enough to keep doing the work she needed to do in the midst of stress and heartache. So too must we press on, keep searching, ruthlessly, tirelessly, until we discover the new reality that God has prepared for us.
So how do we live out this faith in a time of anxiety? How are we going to stay grounded in a year that will undoubtedly end much differently than it is beginning?
For answers, we can look to the Gospel. First, pray. Prayer is your immediate connection to the eternal. When we pray, the Spirit prays in and through us. Through prayer, we surrender our perception and our will to God. Think of the words we pray in this liturgy of Holy Eucharist. Most of them are almost two millennia old. They refocus us away from the terrors of the present and into the fullness of time. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were bathed in prayer; it bound them together even when they were separated.
Second, fellowship. Again, the Holy Family wasn’t just on their own—they were part of a fellowship of pilgrims who went up to Jerusalem. Jesus was kept safe by the fellowship of the temple. You’re not going to get through a time of anxiety alone. There are so many nurturing communities in our community. I can only speak for this one, where every single person is welcomed and greeted with love. If you are here, these are your people. Show up. Lean on us. Lift up those who are down. This is what the saints have done since the first days. It is one of the great ironies of our time that though we are more connected than ever, we seem to be more isolated than ever. A fellowship centered on God not only connects us to one another, but invites God into our midst.
There are so many other ways to ground ourselves in God. We can enjoy the gifts of beauty around us in art, music, and nature. We can care for ourselves and others gently and with love. We can vow to begin each day anew with wonder at this Creation before we move on to the disturbing headlines of the day. We can resolve to serve this church our the wider community in new ways. We can outdo one another in acts of generosity and love. These are the things Jesus did—and remember, he’s the one who said who said, “it is I; do not be afraid.”
Do not be afraid, for Jesus is here. Let him transform your fear into action. Let him turn your anxiety into confidence. Hand over your gloom to the God of hope. For our God will never abandon us. Amen.
The Rev. Spencer D. Cantrell
December 25, 2019
All Saints’ Church
The Rev. Steven D. Paulikas
December 24, 2019
All Saints’ Church
Christmas, When Heaven Comes Down to Earth
Merry Christmas! And welcome to All Saints’ Church. We say this here every Sunday, but for those of you who haven’t heard it before: all are welcome in this place. All Saints’ is God’s house and no one else’s. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you believe or don’t believe, what you’ve done or haven’t done—you are most welcome here. On Christmas, we remember that there was no place for Mary and Joseph the night Jesus was born. So it is a sin for a church not to offer a place to any person on this holy night. And if you have been hurt by religion, I’m so sorry. We happen to live in a time of spiritual impoverishment, a time when religion is too often used to make people feel excluded and bad about themselves. This is also a sin, especially for followers of Jesus Christ, who proclaimed that the greatest commandment was love. Offering welcome to all people is a powerful form of love, and we hope you feel welcome and loved here.
And a very special welcome to our Jewish friends and neighbors, especially on this third night of Hanukkah. You may notice that we have eight candles at the high altar. Of course, all of them are already lit. So as you can tell, just because we worship a Jewish child this evening doesn’t mean we know how to do Hanukkah. Maybe we’ll get it right in 5781.
If you’re anything like me, you enter this holy space tonight with a mix of emotions. For some, Christmas is a time to rejoice in the presence of family and friends. For others, the holiday is a reminder of absence, of those we love but see no longer or won’t get to see this year. For some, Christmas is a chance to sing familiar hymns or to hear the amazing music of Arturo and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. For others, the pomp and traditions may ring hollow. For some, Christmas is an affirmation of faith in the birth of the Messiah. For others of you, it may have been a long time since you’ve been in a house of worship, or you may be looking around thinking, how the heck did I get here?
To all this, let me say: there is no right way to feel on Christmas. Religion is engagement with mystery. Religion is engagement with mystery. So it doesn’t really matter what’s going on for you tonight. Good or bad, joyful or anxious, faithful, curious, or doubting—it’s all authentic and true. And even if your authentic and true self today isn’t as sparkly as the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza, it makes no difference. In fact, you might know something everyone else doesn’t. Because on Christmas, we proclaim that when heaven descends to earth, it doesn’t arrive in the highest and brightest spots, but the lowest and darkest. God comes to us through our frailty, our humility, our humanity. Heaven touches earth at its darkest spot.
Everything about the birth of Jesus Christ tells us that God enters our lives in the most vulnerable, improbable places. The Christmas story is the story of God’s interest in--and love--for our flaws and faults. At Christmas, we acknowledge God’s power to transform that darkness into light.
Joseph and Mary are in an impossible situation. They are two anonymous young people thrust into the current of history. Can you imagine how powerless they must have felt when they couldn’t even find a place for Mary to have her baby properly? Think about the shame of that first Christmas, two hapless parents who couldn’t even manage to have Mary’s baby delivered in a proper place. Of course it’s not all their fault. The emperor decided to flex his muscle at the expense of his poor Jewish subjects. The innkeepers had a business to run. And the pregnant, unmarried teenage Mary could hardly count on support from her community. It is into this unjust, flawed, twisted world that Jesus is born.
But God wouldn’t have it any other way. Jesus comes into the world because of its flaws, not in spite of them. A perfect world wouldn’t need him. That manger where Mary laid him may have been made to hold slop for the livestock. But it was the perfect spot for God. It’s where God most wanted to enter the world.
There are a lot of crazy messages out there about this particular holiday. But Christmas is not about creating the perfect world, the Christmas card picture of the way we want things to be. Instead, it is about God touching this world in the places that most need it. In this over-stimulated, over-consumerized, over-capitalized society in which we live, it can be impossible to believe that something of ultimate value is offered to us absolutely free of charge. But that’s how God comes to us. Christmas is an opportunity to train your spiritual eye to ignore the distractions of life and see God truly at work. So if you’re looking for Christmas, look in the cracks and shadows of this world. It is in those places that heaven emerges.
At the first Christmas, Jesus was born into poverty. He is born this night among the poor.
At the first Christmas, Jesus’ birth was unplanned. He is born this night where there is chaos and confusion.
At the first Christmas, Jesus was born to migrant parents. He is born this night in the migrant and detention centers of this country and the world.
At the first Christmas, Jesus arrived unbidden into the most humble of circumstances. If you seek him, look to your own humility, your own frailty, your own imperfection. Because that is where you will most see and understand God’s presence.
I do not believe that Christmas is a metaphor. I believe in the incarnation of God in the birth of Jesus Christ to the Virgin Mary. But I also know that this belief has no meaning at all to me or to anyone else unless I live like I believe it to be true. So on Christmas, we decorate this church, say these beautiful prayers, listen to this amazing music, and I put on this crazy silk outfit. But it’s all to celebrate the grace of humility and God’s love for our weakness. It is a paradox. But again, religion is engagement with mystery. And one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith is how the God of all power and might could come among us as a poor little child.
And is it just me, or does something feel different about this Christmas? It seems like everyone is rushing to celebrate, like it’s one last party. Maybe that’s because in the backs of our minds, we all know the world will be very different next Christmas, no matter what the results of a year of campaigning.
Now, if you’re visiting from out of town, you may not be aware of the political reality of Park Slope. Senator Schumer lives up the street and Mayor DeBlasio’s house is literally just a few blocks away. You may not know that a recent poll of Park Slope residents found support for impeachment at 107%.
But as the year before us unfolds, remember the lesson from this Christmas night. Because no matter the occupant, will NOT come from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Salvation comes from God alone, and when heaven touches earth, it will land in the most neglected places, not the most exalted ones. Love cannot be elected or bought. So support your chosen candidate, and work for what you know is right. But if you want a slice of heaven, go out into the darkest places and do what Jesus did once he grew up: offer love. Offer light. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, befriend the lonely and the stranger. Do these things, and those darker corners of your own soul will be illumined with the same light that shone from the manger on Christmas.
It may not always be obvious, but heaven is around us all the time. Sometimes you just have to look where God is working. This Christmas, may God work within and through you, and may the light of Christ shine in your hearts, now and always. Amen.