St. Mary's Episcopal Church - 81 Warren Avenue, East Providence, RI 02914 - (401) 434-7456
"Alleluia, Christ Our Lord is risen today!"
Easter Homily Fr. Al
Before God called me to the priesthood, I was a teacher. Not just any teacher, but an English teacher. Most of us either loved or hated our high school English teacher. Clearly, I was one of those nerdy kids who loved their English teacher, most likely because I had a natural gift for reading and writing. So this morning I’m going to channel my inner English teacher and do something that I threaten to do from time to time. How about a pop quiz? You must remember the dreaded pop quizzes of your adolescent years I’m sure. The first question on Father Al’s Easter Pop Quiz is, “Do you remember what Jackie DeShannon and Dionne Warwick have in common with Burt Bacharach?” The second question is, “If you know the answer to the first question and you can sing the first line of what they have in common, you will get 100 extra credit points. Many of you will be far too young to know what I’m referring to, but don’t worry. It will all become clear, and as I used to say to my students, “Relax, this won’t be on the final exam.” The answer is that I’m talking about a song. And, this song has a lot to do with why we are here now celebrating the resurrection of our Lord and savior. In 1965 the songwriters Hal David and Burt Bacharach got together and wrote a song called, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love”. Does that ring a bell for anyone? Jackie DeShannon recorded it first, but most of us know the version made famous throughout the word by Dionne Warwick. Don’t worry I’m not going to sing it. Those of you who are here every week know that I am tone deaf and have what my music teacher at seminary called “a quiet monotone that won’t disturb anyone.” The first verse says,
What the world needs now is love, sweet love It's the only thing that there's just too little of What the world needs now is love, sweet love No not just for some but for everyone
Yes, it sounds like the second Commandment given first in Matthew, Chapter 22, Verse 39 and then again in Mark, Chapter 12, verse 31. Love your neighbor as you yourself. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of this around these days. Our world seems to be full of leaders who refuse any sensible dialogue. And, our own congress can’t agree on much, if anything, either. Jesus comes to us as the risen Lord and invites us in simple language to embrace the reordered world in a new way. And, he puts it very simply. First, love the Lord your God with all you heart, and secondly Love your neighbor as yourself. To follow Jesus we need to find first an appropriate way to worship God. This might mean coming to church on a regular basis, and I hope that is your decision. For others however, it might mean something different, but it always has to be intentional. In other words, we have to set aside time each day, each week, to thank God for the blessing of this life and to examine ourselves by remembering the second commandment. It’s taken for granted that we love ourselves, but often that is a difficult task. So initially we have to love all parts of our identity-good bits and broken bits. Then, and only then, are we able to love others. This means both the homeless and the forgotten as well as those with power, money, and material success. Our song continues… Lord we don't need another mountain There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb There are oceans and rivers enough to cross Enough to last until the end of time What the world needs now is love, sweet love It's the only thing that there's just too little of What the world needs now is love, sweet love No not just for some but for everyone
On this Easter we have to ask ourselves, why is it so difficult to love? I find it easy to love my family, my spouse, my parishioners, and those who agree with me. The nub comes when I am challenged to love those I find difficult. Those who disagree with me on social or political issues. It’s so easy for me to turn them into demons. Some of you know that I am also trained as a psychotherapist, and that part of me understands that what I despise secretly in myself often comes out into the world as despising those things in others without admitting to my own shortcoming. Arrogance, flip flopping on issues, sexism, the list goes on and on. As our song says…
Lord, we don't need another meadow There are corn fields and wheat fields enough to grow There are sunbeams and moonbeams enough to shine Oh listen Lord, if You want to know
What the world needs now is love, sweet love It's the only thing that there's just too little of What the world needs now is love, sweet love No not just for some, oh, but just for every, every everyone
I chose this song around which to structure my Easter homily because I don’t like to complicate things when I preach. I don’t dazzle you with my knowledge of the Bible, or use convoluted theological arguments, or berate you with admonitions from scripture. I like to keep it simple. So when you leave tonight and go on with your life, you will be faced with your own shortcomings and those of others. When this happens I hope I’ve implanted two things in you mind and heart – the commandment of our Lord to worship God and to love our neighbors. And remember as the song says, What the world needs now is love sweet love
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Trinity Sunday Fr. Al
Today is the Feast of the Holy Trinity when we celebrate the uniqueness of the three persons of God. Explaining how we understand the Trinity is not an easy task, so I will begin in a roundabout way with a story about my granddaughter.
Claire, my granddaughter, is 9 years old and she has been learning the piano for several years. A few years ago, I attended her first piano recital at Ms. Carolyn’s studio. She acquitted herself well: played all three pieces from memory without hesitation, made her introduction loud and clear, and she did not forget to take a bow at the end of her performance.
I have to say I was very proud of her since musical talent is sorely lacking in the Marcetti family, so she may be a genetic throwback to an ancestor who displayed a modicum of rhythm and musical ability.
I sat in the front row, and as she played I watched her concentration and dexterity. At one point she looked up from the keyboard and smiled at me, and I realized that she was playing from memory. Somehow the music, the correct keys, the pedal movements had become part of who she was. She could take for granted that all would be well and that she could relax for a moment and smile at her doting grandfather. Somehow the music had become imprinted into her brain.
For the past nine years, since she was about 2 or 3, she has also been learning about God. You might think this is an easy task for her since two of her three grandfathers are priests and the other one is a devout Christian. However, unraveling the Trinity for a 9-year old is not an easy matter.
For the past few years we have been fielding questions such as:
·“Who and where is God?
·Who is Jesus? Is he God?
·How come they are all guys?
·I don’t get the Holy Sprit?”
·And perhaps most difficult of all, “How can God be Jesus, Holy Spirit, and God all at once and anyway why is it so complicated?”
I trust that eventually the understanding of the Trinity will become part of her world view, become imprinted upon her brain like her music.
As I struggle with this task, I find myself explaining it all in terms of relationship. In the Gospel Reading last week, we saw that Baptism is entry into the life of the Holy Spirit as lived out in the community of the Body of Christ – which is the saving community of the faithful embodying Christ in the world.
To be human is to be relational. As human beings we are built for relationships. Our human need for relationship finds expression in the life lived in community – (One Christian is no Christian- says the Early Church Father Tertullian). Therefore, as relational beings living in community – Christians come to reflect the very nature of a God who is also relational.
God rather than a single divine being is a community of persons (Father-creator ,Son- communicator, and Holy Spirit sustaining presence) who together form the community of God.
The Trinity emerged out of the fundamental way the early Christians experienced God. The doctrine is important not because it explains anything but because it protects the mystery of God from being reduced to mere human understanding. Many people lost their lives in internecine conflicts that finally resulted in the need for a common agreed statement of faith – the Nicene Creed.
The first Christians, being Jews, came out of a tradition that understood God as the sole creator who was Father.
They also had the experience of Jesus whom they believed to be the Messiah – the anointed one of God sent into the world to save the world. They understood Jesus as the Son of Man – an ancient title for the Messiah and increasingly as the Son of God. Son of God is a human relational term to indicate that there is no fundamental separation between the Father and Jesus. They are in the later language of the Nicene Creed - of one substance. Jesus was understood as the Word of God or the Logos in Greek, which is the communicative function of God
The Trinity is fundamental to understanding the identity of Jesus as God’s Word, or Son or second person of the Trinity.
For most of us, there is no problem understanding the Trinity because it has been a part of our Christian life since birth. Like my granddaughter’s understanding of the piano, it has become so imprinted on our brains that it has become part of us.
So whenever we say, In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we can like Claire, look up at our audience and smile confident that the Trinity is safely with us.
“…love one another as I have loved you.”
Easter 6 May 10, 2015 Fr. Al “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
We are coming to the end of Eastertide, and Pentecost is just around the corner.
And, of course, today is Mother’s Day.
I am used to a rather different celebration of the maternal called in the English Church, Mothering Sunday. It is celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent, a day which changes each year. It was a day of refreshment during the strict observance of Lent.
Servants were given the day off, and one was supposed to return to their Mother Church, or as we would say Home Church. Families were reunited, and the focus of the day was often on one’s mother as well. In the 20th century the English combined Mothering Sunday with American Mothers Day, but they still celebrate it during Lent.
Today is our Mother’s Day, and I hope you who have living mothers are doing something particularly nice for them later today. For those whose Mothers have passed, I ask you to remember them in prayer today.
It is appropriate that today’s Gospel centers on Jesus’ command to love. It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t talk about a lot of commandments during His ministry. The Ten Commandments are of Jewish origin. Jesus knew this of course, as He was an observant Jew. The only commandment that Jesus leaves us is to love one another – John 15:12. He even tells us how to love one another. “…love one another as I have loved you.”
Sounds easy to you?
However, I find it quite challenging to keep myself on the path of love. I have spoken consistently about Jesus’ unconditional love and acceptance of us. How God is always with us, and that we only have to ask and God gives what we need. Not what we want, although sometimes it’s the same thing. But, God gives us what we need, and our challenge is to see how that love manifests itself.
To keep ourselves on the path of love is a challenge, as I have just said. Our minds are quick to judge, to accept only those who agree with us, or those who share the same values, education, race, sexual orientation, etc., etc.
We usually learn to love from our mothers. My mother loved me in a fierce, passionate dynamic way combined with expectation and judgment. So, as I grew up I loved those around me in the same manner, fiercely and with judgment and expectation.
As a Christian I came to realize that I only had it half right. I must love those that I care about fiercely and with passion. The judgment and expectation bits have no place in the type of love that Jesus asks of us.
Each week I read a blog written by Bob Elden, and this week he talked about love and how we are to know when we are loving as Jesus asked us to love. He made the point that whenever we do something for others we lay down something of ourselves. He goes on to say that when we visit the sick we lay down something of ourselves. When we befriend those who others shun, we lay down something of ourselves. He makes the point that love is not always flowers, stuffed toys and chocolate.
To love as we are commanded to do by Jesus is a challenge, and it is a challenge that he feels must be renewed each day.
I try to begin my morning mediation with an intention to be more loving this day. To not snap at those who surround me, to not be distant with those I love, to not punish those who do not meet up to my expectations. This is a small step toward being more loving, but at least it is a step. So, when someone in a shop is rude to me, I don’t immediately return rudeness. When I am approached for money because I am wearing a clerical collar, I take a moment to listen.
Listening with love is usually more important than whether or not I am able to give someone a dollar or two.
So, today on Mother’s Day, I honor my mother and her fierce and passionate love for her children. At the same time, I invite all of us to be more conscious, more Christ-like, in our offering our love to the world.
In the Church of England there is a set prayer for Mothering Sunday. Let us pray that Collect:
God of compassion, whose Son Jesus Christ, the child of Mary, shared the life of a home in Nazareth, and drew the whole human family to himself: strengthen us in our daily living that in joy and in sorrow we may know the power of your presence to bring together and to heal; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
(Collect for Mothering Sunday-Church of England)
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.”
Easter 5 Fr. Alvin Marcetti
Today’s Gospel brings up several questions for us.
First of all, why does Jesus often speak in parables, use metaphors, images, and references to the Old Testament? Why not just come out and say what He means. After all, we are Americans, and we place a high value on plain speaking. We don’t like it very much when people speak down to us or use language that is hard to decipher.
Secondly, what does Jesus mean when He says He is the vine and His Father, God, is the vinegrower? How can He be a vine and what is the fruit that we are all to bear?
And, thirdly, even if we can make some sense of what he means by all this, it’s a bit daunting to think that much is expected of us if we rest in Jesus.
I’m not sure I can answer all these questions to everyone’s satisfaction, but I can try. I grew up in farming family in California, and we had a vineyard. Not a big one, but one big enough to make some wine for the extended family each year. I also know that vineyards are not the big money crops in farming unless you own hundred and and hundreds of acres.
The vines don’t even begin to produce grapes for the first three yards, and you have to do a lot of labor intensive pruning every winter. This is not very nice work; I know from the experience of cold December days tying vines in our small vineyard.
So, why does Jesus use this image to convey his message? One reason may be that because grapes were not a big cash crop in His time, grain was, it was seen as a luxury, something for personal enjoyment that had to be nurtured in a special way.
The use of images to get across a point is a powerful tool because the idea begins to take a physical shape in our minds. Jesus uses images again and again, not to obscure what he wants to say, but rather to make it more powerful.
Jesus affirms his authority in this Gospel, assures his disciples that he is the Son of God, and that they are intertwined as the vine and vinegrower. The disciples would have immediately understood his meaning. Perhaps, it is less powerful for us today as most of us are far removed from the soil and the production of our food.
So now we have the image, the teaching, and we are left with the passage about expectations of bearing fruit.
We know from our perspective of 2,000-plus years that the disciples did bear fruit. They spread the message of the God’s reordered world far beyond the Jewish nation. Many of them suffered martyrdom for this, but Christianity becomes the final revelation from God.
We have to ask ourselves what fruit do we bear if we follow Christ?
Do we just come to church for personal satisfaction, spiritual comfort, and fellowship? Certainly that is part of the picture, but there is more expected.
Do we proclaim the gospel message by living holy lives of love.
That sounds good, but there are many in our lives that are hard to love. When we hear the promise of this Gospel it has the power to open new ways to live our lives. Jesus presents an invitation, not a command, to living a fuller life. We can have the same dynamic and fulfilled life that the disciple community experienced.
So, I invite you to examine your spiritual life this Eastertide and explore avenues for change, growth, development, and involvement in the Christian life. I also invite you to embrace change as we begin many changes in our own community here at St. Mary’s.
We are at the beginning of refurbishing the parish hall, relocating the Thrift Shop, and welcoming the Jonathan Daniels Fellows to live in the Rectory. They will form a residential community of service, working in the Diocese in areas of need for a year. This also means that the Rectory now serves the larger church as a focus of outreach ministry - our own part of the vineyard of Christ.
While all this can be experienced as exciting, it is upsetting at the same time. We ask ourselves, why do we have to change things? The answer to that is in today’s Gospel. If we are to be part of the vineyard, a branch of the vine of Christ, we are invited to bear fruit as well.
We can embrace change, as threatening as it might be, if we rest in the knowledge that God is always with us on this journey.
Let us pray the prayer attributed to the German theologian, Rheinhold Niebuhr:
O God, give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, The courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the one from the other Amen. joy, disbelief, and wonder (Luke 24:41).
Easter 3 Fr. Alvin Marcetti
I’d like to begin today by asking you to think about the experience of wonder in your life. This experience is key to the understanding of today’s Gospel reading as the disciples have their minds opened when Jesus appears to them. They experience joy, disbelief, and finally - wonder.
This set of feelings is common to human nature if you think about it.
So, take a moment as I continue to recall those times in our life when you experienced wonder. A good way to do this is to start with an experience of joy and follow the Disciple’s path to disbelief and then wonder.
In my life I have had some times that I would clarify as wonder experiences. Not many, but enough to make me understand this Gospel. Without the experience of wonder in our lives, we cannot fully understand what has been placed before us, and the Disciples certainly demonstrate this.
As a young man I couldn’t imagine myself as a father and avoided the idea because it seemed like a responsibility that I would not be able take on. When my daughter was born I recall those feeling of joy at being present when she entered this world and disbelief that it had come about.
There was no hiding or avoiding it because the reality of this little red, squalling infant with an astounding head of black hair was right before me. And, I have to say the prospect of taking responsibility for someone for rest of my life was terrifying.
This is the point in the story where wonder comes into play.
As I experienced the sense of wonder my mind, like the Disciples’ minds in the Luke’s Gospel, was opened to mystery of life and I became calm. I had a sense that all would be well and that I would be able to do what needed to be done.
And now 38 years later, I have been proven correct and the journey with my daughter continues.
The Disciples in that room are astounded when Jesus appears to them and some feel that he might be a ghost. This is why Jesus asks them to touch him, to feed him some fish, to make it clear to all that this was no ethereal vision but a resurrected flesh and blood Jesus.
They are joyful and their disbelief is banished when he proves to them that He is with them in a real, corporeal, presence. It is only then that they can move to wonder, or awe, or marvel, to be astounded…today we might resort to that the overused word – awesome. It is at this point that the Disciples can actually hear in a deep and meaningful way.
Jesus must open their minds so that they may understand His ministry, His previous words, God’s new plan for the created world.
From this point onwards the Disciples become witnesses to the reality that the world has been re-ordered. The revelation is to be proclaimed to the entire world, not just the Jewish nation.
Jesus reveals, and the Disciples are able to understand because they have allowed their minds to be opened through their experience of wonder. They come to understand that God’s plan for the world is more that just a political resolution to the problems of the Jewish nation. The Messiah has come for all, for everyone to the ends of the earth.
We have just experienced the joy of Easter Sunday, followed by last week’s Gospel about Doubting Thomas. Now we are ready, if we are willing, to open our minds to wonder and the Good news that Jesus brings to us. If we are able to do this, what wonderful things could happen. The prospect of that is truly awesome.
Let us pray:
Holy One, you have made us witnesses to the good news of the gospel-- that Jesus Christ, our flesh and bone, is risen from the dead.
Open our minds to understand these things, and let your word be fulfilled in us so that we may share the bread of life with a hungry world; through Jesus Christ, our peace. Amen.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29).
Easter 2 Fr. Al Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29).
This morning we are one week into a new season of the Church, Eastertide. The glories of Easter day, the chocolate, the special foods and family celebrations of springtime have past, and there is a natural let down of energy.
Last weekend Saint Mary’s offered Holy Communion close to 100 people at our two services. It was a pleasure to see the pews filled and to see familiar faces returning to the parish family, if even for one service.
However, Easter is not meant to last for one glorious day.
For us, as Christians, Easter is a daily fact of our spiritual lives. For the Church, Eastertide is the 50 days following Easter Sunday. The season ends on Pentecost Sunday, May 24 this year, which celebrates the Gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples and the world.
You will find that some things change for us during Eastertide as regular worshippers. The vestments and altar hangings remain white, and there are changes to the service as well. During Eastertide we use Form II of Prayers of the People and omit the confession in recognition of this season of celebration until the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. The “Alleluia” returns to the service as well and flowers are regularly allowed within the sanctuary. All signs that we have become what is termed Easter People.
As a further reminder, the Paschal candle will remain lit near the High Altar until it travels to the Baptism Chapel on Pentecost, where it remains for the year. It will be lit again when we welcome new lives into the Christian community at baptisms, at funerals and weddings.
Today we begin the reality of Eastertide and the readings are most appropriate. The disciples hiding from the religious authorities in a place of safety, Thomas who is so suspicious of the Risen Christ that he demands not only to touch Jesus but also to place a hand in the wound given Jesus on the cross.
Like the disciples we are just one week away from the Resurrection and the Gospel invites us to examine our faith. Even the faithful must come to terms with hidden doubts, and decide if their faith is real enough for ordinary time.
This is one of my favorite Gospel readings because I identify with Thomas so much. A few weeks ago I spoke about my grandmother who I said possessed the Gift of Faith - an unquestioning understanding of the reordered world that Jesus brings to us.
However, like most people of my generation I grew up with an assumption about how we test the truth. The scientific method where we collect information, test it for consistency, and only then can we make a statement. This is part of the web of our contemporary lives, whether we acknowledge it or not. It is even the basis of our legal system, “innocent until proven guilty.”
So, like Thomas, there is a part of all of us that longs for proof. Our search for certainty in this complex world often pulls us away from acceptance of what we know is true at a very deep level in our being.
Fortunately, there is another part of our makeup that responds to the Gospel message that Jesus brings with a certainty that guides my life. It is difficult to explain, but that part has no doubt about the ministry of Jesus. What He brings to the world feels so correct that I know it is true.
I don’t need physical proof to underpin or prove my faith. We don’t live at a time where it is even possible, as the events of Easter are now over 2,000 years behind us.
This Eastertide, these 50 days, can be accepted as invitation to explore more deeply the truth that lies in our heart, an invitation to awaken our memory of God’s presence and power in our lives, an invitation to look more closely at all the rich and varied textures of creation.
I read the story of Thomas, our beloved doubter, and strangely enough I am reassured.
In the darkest moments of doubt, I am reassured by the Gospel of John when he says, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29).
We are all blessed because we believe even though we haven’t seen the Risen Christ. That is to come and that is something that we can await with a sense of joy and anticipation as we begin this Eastertide. AMEN.
"Alleluia. Christ is risen." Easter Fr. Alvin Marcetti
“Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels, and let your trumpets shout salvation for the victory of our mighty King.”
Easter has arrived and we celebrate the Risen Christ.
For some of us, Easter is one of the few times we are in church, while for others it is part of a regular routine and commitment. It is almost a cliché that on Easter or Christmas the vicar of the parish can admonish those who only attend for the high holy days.
If these vicars actually looked at their church history they would find that in times past, Christians were required to attend mass only occasionally. Until the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, there was no obligation on anyone to attend Mass. That Council decreed attendance at Mass - once per year.
So, you won’t get any harassment from me today.
What I would like to talk about is why I go to church and why I enjoy it.
As I was thinking about today’s homily, I thought of several reasons including:
·I’ve always gone to church; it is sort of a habit and I am a priest after all.
·I believe in God, and I feel that someone who believes in God must establish some type of relationship with him/or her.
·I am also an Episcopalian, and tradition is one of worshiping in community, not alone or silently.
·On a deeper level, I am grateful for the many good things I have in my life, and Sunday mass is an opportunity for me to thank God for those thinks.
·Another reason is that churches are usually beautiful places filled with art and music, and I enjoy those things.
·And, the last thing I might mention is that going to church keeps me from being too self-centered and selfish.
I have always gone to church.
My parents signed me up for Methodist Sunday School as soon as I could walk and faithfully saw that I attended while they stayed home. As soon as I could make my own choice I took myself off to the Episcopal Church because it felt more like a home for me. So, like many of us Sunday worship was stitched into my soul at an early age, and if I’m now in church on any given Sunday I feel that the world is out of order.
I don’t feel guilty. Episcopalians aren’t big or guilt; I just feel not quite right if I miss Holy Communion.
I grew up on a farm in the great central valley of California, a ranch actually, and from an early age I was aware of the natural world – its beauty, its order, the change of seasons, of things living and dying. This was all put into an order of sense for me at my Methodist Sunday School and then deepened when I began receiving communion in the Episcopal Church. It made sense to me that the world was such a beautiful place full of life and love that thanking God once a week, or more, was a useful thing to do.
An hour a week of my life wasn’t much to give back for what I had been given.
I said earlier that our church tradition is one of community worship. We don’t have private, one person, masses, and we don’t normally worship alone. Coming together with other people who feel and believe as you do is a profoundly human thing to do. I often wonder how much personal depression could be alleviated by engaging with a community of believers.
The familiarity of the words from the Book of Common Prayer become part of our being. Have you ever noticed how if someone says, “The Lord be with you.” That you without thinking respond, “And, also with you.”? That is how an example of how imbedded our words of worship have become for us.
It is the same with the hymns we sing. I like to sing; I can’t carry a tune, but I like to sing. One of the advantages of coming to St. Mary’s was that I could choose the hymns that I like, and you will notice that some favorites come up again and again. If you worship regularly with us, you may become sick of singing “Lift High the cross” as I love it.
Worshiping in community, with a set service liturgy that churches throughout the world are using at the same time connects us with the larger world outside of East Providence. When I lived in England, I tried to go to Quaker meeting for a while. In the end it drove me to distraction because they only sat in silence. No one spoke unless moved to do so, there was never communion, and there was no singing. I realized that for me communal worship was a focal point and a focusing point for me when worshiping God.
I’ve been wandering around in this homily tiling about why I like going to church, but I would like to get a bit serious for a minute or two.
One of the most important reasons I go to church is that it helps to make me less selfish. It is so easy to get caught up in the soap opera of our lives that we forget that we are part of a larger world. That we live in a very privileged country and that most of us live very privileged lives. No war on our doorstep, no famine, no dictators controlling our lives.
Church helps me step outside of that place of safety and give some of myself to others. Sometimes that is here in a real way and sometimes it is being aware of others in less fortunate circumstances and supporting their relief through what we can give. This helps me be a better person and the payback for me is that it makes me more loveable, believe it or not.
These are just some of the reasons I go to church. I’m sure that many of you could say the same or list even better personal reasons.
On this Easter morning, I pray that you all will commit to improving your quality of life by joining me each week in church. I invite you to develop the habit of going to church and to see how it can enrich and deepen your life.
Let us pray:
We are often not the Easter People that we should be, living in the certain knowledge of your great mercy and love. Distracted by the world around us we fail to hear your voice, or we hide when faith is challenged as we wander off the path. Forgive us, we pray; restore the love that we first had,
a faith that can endure. We will keep our eyes fixed on you, Lord, and with you at our right hand we shall not be shaken.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” Lent 5 Fr. Al
We are coming to the end of Lent; next Sunday is Palm Sunday, and then we enter Holy Week, which culminates with the glory of Easter.
During the 40 days of Lent we have spent a time of self-examination, reflection, prayer, and preparation. Some of us accepted Lenten disciplines to change our behavior or our prayer lives during this time. The color of the altar vestments have been purple, and no flowers or extra decorations are allowed in the church during Lent.
As today’s Psalm says we are preparing to meet the risen Christ with a clean heart and a right spirit.
Next Sunday is the day we remember the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, exactly one week before His resurrection. We decorate the high altar with palms, carry palms, and bless them in memory of this event as described in the Bible.
"They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Hosanna in the highest!’”
In the Episcopal Church we also read the story of the Passion on this day as well.
Then we begin the solemn time of Holy Week and the services, which begin on Thursday and conclude on Easter Day. These services are called the Triduum or The Three Days. It recalls the passion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, as portrayed in the canonical Gospels: Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.
Thursday of Holy Week is called Maundy Thursday. In the group of churches known as the Anglican Communion, which the Episcopal Church is one, the English name "Maundy Thursday" arose from the "Maundy purses" of alms money which the king of England distributed to certain poor at Whitehall in London before attending Mass on that day.
This tradition continues through to today when the Queen will do just that on the steps of Sheffield Cathedral in England.
The service for Maundy Thursday is a solemn one which recalls Jesus’ progress toward crucifixion, Holy Communion is celebrated, then the reserved sacrament is removed from the High Altar to the Altar of Repose in the Choir Room, the church is stripped of all decoration, and we all leave in silence. The congregation is invited to wait and to meditate in the presence of the Sacrament for an hour if they can.
Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion with the reading of the Solemn Collects and the Passion according to St. John. The Blessed Sacrament is brought from the Altar of Repose and Holy Communion is distributed.
At Saint Mary’s we celebrate the Great Vigil of Easter at 5.00 on Holy Saturday with the church shrouded in darkness. As we light the Paschal Candle, it is brought into the church and we all light our individual candles from the newly lit Paschal Candle symbolizing the bringing of new light into the darkness of the world. The Gloria is sung preceded by the ringing of bells, and the risen Christ is welcomed with flowers and the traditional lilies of Easter.
This is easily the most important service of the church year and one that regular members of the congregation shouldn’t miss if possible. This year’s service is followed with a potluck supper in the choir room as the fist celebration of the Easter Season.
The Easter Sunday morning service usually attracts a larger congregation and for many this is one of the few times they may attend communion. We welcome them and invite them to continue their spiritual journey with us here at St. Mary’s.
This has been a brief refresher course for us as we prepare for Easter, and my prayer is that you all will want to take part in many, if not all, of the services offered during Holy Week.
Let us pray:
O God our King, by the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ on the first day of the week, you conquered sin, put death to flight, and gave us the hope of everlasting life: Redeem all our days by this victory; forgive our sins, banish our fears, make us bold to praise you and to do your will; and steel us to wait for the consummation of your kingdom on the last great Day; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Courtesy of Forward Movement)
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
Lent 4 Fr. Al I grew up in the central valley of California on a dairy and wheat farm that my family owned for several generations. The nearest town was about 15 miles away and our lives centered on the farm, the animals, chores, and family life.
However, every Saturday our parents would take us four children into town to see the Saturday matinees at the movies: 10 cartoons, followed by a serial, and then usually a cowboy movie with Lash La Rue, Red Rider, Hopalong Cassidy, or my sister’s favorite, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
I guess we were hicks in that we lived in the country and only went into town once a week. The closest town was a small sized village of 20,000 and the road into town was punctuated with billboards, many of which featured Bible quotes.
There would be a bit of scripture and then usually a threatening admonition, such a ‘Repent now or else’…or “You never know when the end will come”… or Sunday Services at the Salvation Temple-All Welcome.”
My favorite was always the John 3:16 billboard.
That’s all it said, John3: 16-nothing else. No threat, no invitation, no explanation.
This was my first introduction to Saint John, my most beloved of the Gospels and the hook that got me to read the Bible to find out what John 3:16 was all about.
This particular verse is often referred to as the Gospel Message in a Nutshell. This means that it is all you need to know about salvation. In today’s gospel there follows some rather confusing words about condemnation. Words that have been used over the years to banish to hell anyone who is not a Christian, and many of those who would see themselves as Christians.
However, I don’t believe we are condemned by God. We condemn ourselves by our actions. We have all been condemned many times. Whenever we move from the light to the darkness we condemn ourselves and then must seek forgiveness.
During Lent this is very much on our minds. All of this seems to be based on the concept of belief – intellectual belief or agreement with the Gospel. However there is a clearer understanding of the Gospel, which relies on understanding the direction to believe as being in synch with God, in other words to be in alignment with God at a deeper level.
Jesus is speaking about eternal life, the promise of the Christian Gospel. I would invite us to understand or to look at the concept of eternal life as having more than one dimension. More that just pie in the sky.
How about seeing eternal life in all directions - not just in the future after we die. It is also now, and even into our past, redeeming our whole life. When by our actions we do what is true, we are living in the light (John 3:21). This is eternal life now.
So, we can believe in the Gospel in a different way, remembering that not everyone experiences God in an academic intellectual manner.
My grandmother was an interesting woman in many ways. She was a Swiss immigrant to California who married the man she met on the ship on the way over. She was not an intellectual, did not have much education in the way we would understand it, and I’m not sure how much English my grandmother understood.
However she believed in the Gospel, attending Mass at least weekly and often several times week. She had what is called the Gift of Faith. A belief in the church and the Gospel that was part of her being.
She did not need to understand or discuss scripture in an academic way as she accepted God’s love as part of the givens of life. My grandmother lived in the light most of the time, but being human she, like us all, could slip into the darkness as well. She could not tolerate people who spoke English too quickly, she despised any form of uncleanliness, and was not always patient with noisy children, and was morally judgmental at times.
However, her Gift of Faith always reassured her of the path that God wants for us. Eternal life waits for us all in the light, the light of love, joy, peace and patience. John 3:17 says, “God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world.” This whole Gospel passage is about God gently inviting us back into the light. Let us pray and work to make this a reality – by seeking reconciliation; by sacrificing for others; and by loving as best we are able.
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
Lent 3 Fr. Al
This week’s Gospel is one of the more exciting ones during Lent. When I was a boy I always loved to hear this story. It showed a Jesus I could relate to; a Jesus who doesn’t take any guff from the powers that be, a Jesus who is so sure of himself and his ministry that he dares to throw out the moneychangers and defies the chief priests. He even says that the temple could be destroyed and that he could raise it up in three days.
To some, and certainly to those in charge of the temple, this claim smacks of arrogance and perhaps mental instability. How could one man rebuild in just three days a temple, which took 46 years to build?
Exciting claims and dramatic action, just what the adolescent Fr. Al loved about Jesus.
However, it took me many years to slow down and look at what was really going on in this Gospel. Jesus is outraged that the temple has become a marketplace, even though the business being conducted was necessary for the observance of the high holy days of Jewish tradition.
“Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!”
This is key in understanding that Jesus wants to say two things: Firstly, that you can’t put God in a box. Synagogues, and now churches, are not where God dwells. Pagan gods can live in temples, but not our God. He is too big for that.
And secondly, Jesus is saying that His Body is God’s body. This is what he means when he says that he will raise it up in three days. These are rather astounding claims for the temple, something that we now take for granted.
Or, do we.
As Episcopalians we take a great deal of pride in maintaining our traditional, and some quite startling modern, church buildings. In my ministry I have encountered many who spend their time, energy, talents, and money servicing the church building and forget to take care of the spiritual lives. Clearly our churches are holy places only if we allow them to be.
The rector of the church at which I assisted in Arizona is a great devotee of Celtic spirituality. That form of spiritual discipline and observance that grew up in the islands of Ireland, the Hebrides, Sky, Iona, and other places off the coast of England.
Fr. Gill speaks of thin places where the presence of God is more easily experienced and felt. For him walking in rain drenched Ireland on the Wicklow Way is one of those thin places. However, at the same time, both he and I would believe that when we come to church for Holy Communion a thin place is offered as well.
If we allow it.
It is particularly appropriate during this third week of Lent to allow ourselves the pleasure and support of experiencing God in the thin place created when we celebrate the Eucharist.
This brings me to the other point this Gospel illuminates for me. Most of my personal friends are what is called secular humanists. They are not atheists but they seem to have no interest in their spiritual lives, God, church, or any of what is so central to my life. It’s only at weddings, funerals, and the very occasional Easter Sunday or Midnight Mass at Christmas that they would ever think of going to church. They attempt to live their lives along Christian principles, either consciously or unconsciously, and will say that you don’t have to go to church to believe in God or to worship God.
I’m afraid, as an Episcopalian and as an Anglican, I don’t agree with that.
Our tradition is one of corporate worship, and we worship together, regularly, for a reason. The Body of Christ is present among us when we gather. Each Saturday evening and Sunday morning, we gather for Holy Communion and fellowship. We created a space where we can experience a thin place and Christ is present among us.
So, we have to hold in tension two aspects of experiencing God. We must avoid concentrating on putting God in the Church Box and understand that God is too big for that. There are physical places where the veil is thin, but God is not pinned to these places.At the same time, as Episcopalians we understand that corporate worship is central to our tradition and supports us in experiences God’s love in larger context.
Something special is happening today.
Epiphany 3 January 25, 2015 Fr. Al Marcetti
Something special is happening today.
Something that reminds us of God’s love for us.
A couple of week’s ago I spoke about one of my heroes in the Christian life – the television personality Mr. Rogers. I said that his ministry of love and acceptance that reached out to children for over three decades was founded on the simple catch phrase, “I love you just the way you are.”
This morning we are reminded again of the voice of God claiming us and offering us all unconditional love and acceptance.
As the Prophet Isaiah says of God:
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you pass through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.
When you walk through the fire, the flames shall not consume you.
I have called you by name, and you are mine.
Our lives are busy. The demands of work and family press upon us, and it is so easy to forget who we are and to whom we belong. If you come to church regularly you are reminded that you are God’s children, even if you are grown up.
We are chosen by God in Baptism. This means that God sees us as individuals, values our individuality, and holds us as precious gifts.
After leaving university I spent the first part of my career as a teacher. As a young man in a largely female secondary school English department, I was always given the classes of remedial slow readers. Of course these classes were predominantly boys, as boys develop reading skills at a much slower rate than girls. This often resulted in disciple problems and classroom control could be a nightmare.
At the beginning of each semester, all the English teachers would meet in the faculty office and exchange student files, which followed students throughout their high school career. Each teacher would write confidential comments about the students they taught last semester and pass them on to the next teacher.
For my students, these were almost always negative. A typical example would be, “John reads at a third grade level and has little motivation to improve his reading skills. He can be disruptive if disturbed when he puts his head down to sleep during class. He had done no homework this semester, and I expect this to continue. I doubt if he will ever graduate. PS-always check his pockets for cigarettes.”
You can imagine how that information would prepare the next teacher. And, I have to admit, most of the time what the teachers said was true.
However, I felt it didn’t have to be true if I was able to see each of my students as an individual. John would always be little monster in class if we told him he was a little monster, or in John’s case a rather big monster.
I stopped reading the files my second semester as a teacher. I thanked my colleagues, took the files, and put them in the cabinet, and got on with my teaching. As a Christian I could not offer less to my students than God offers me, that we are unique in God’s eyes and that uniqueness is precious.
And, slowly my rough boys began to improve. As they began to experience an environment where they felt acceptance of their strengths and weaknesses without judgment, their reading improved. It didn’t happen overnight, but our classroom was a quieter, gentler place to be. No one made a movie about us, but forty years later I still hear from some of those guys.
Today we come to baptize Irelynn Rose and to welcome her into the Community of the Beloved, another name for the Christian Church.
We will renew our own Baptismal Vows as a central part of the service. Irelynn Rose will experience the water of baptism at the font and be marked as beloved in Christ with Holy Chrism.
The next steps are up to us all to support her in growth in the faith.
Her parents and grandparents may commit to raising her in the church by regular attendance and loving care.
Her godparents may continue to support in the Christian life as well by being there for her when she questions life’s challenges.
However, Irelynn Rose will always know that she is seen by God as unique and precious.
As we all are.
Come and See 2 Epiphany Fr. Alvin Marcetti
Two of my favorites in the New Testament are Thomas and Nathaniel. Thomas, who doubted Jesus until he had verifiable proof by placing his hand in the side of the risen Christ, and Nathaniel who wasn’t about to be duped or intimidated by some preacher from Nazareth. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
I was greeted with that same suspicion when I first went to study in England. My fellow seminarians at Cranmer Hall in the far north of England didn’t actually say it, but I could sense that they were thinking, “Who is this guy? Can anything good come out of the United States?” Part of my reaction was surprise that not everyone thought that being an American was a wonderful thing. I was a very naïve seminarian clearly. However, I proved myself to my colleagues and before long I was known as The Nice American with the soft accent.
In today’s Gospel Nathaniel has the same kind of suspicion about Jesus, and is invited by Philip to get over his feelings and come to see the man before he makes a decision.
Come and see, says Philip.
And, what happens? Jesus looks into Nathaniel, greets him as a man within whom no deceit, or guile, exists and makes his foreknowledge of Nathaniel a fact. His greeting allows Nathaniel to open his eyes to see, to see Jesus as the Son of God, the one who is expected. He is overwhelmed by the magnetism of the presence of Jesus. Clearly as you read the New Testament, you have to admit that Jesus had a powerful impact on the people He met in his ministry. His teaching and ability to see into people in pain and crisis are featured again and again as we follow his short ministry.
Come and see, says Philip.
We are invited like Nathaniel to come and see the world as God’s gift of creation to us. Opening our eyes to see in a new way might be an appropriate theme for Epiphany. If we open our eyes at St. Mary’s, what might we see in the New Year? We are approaching our annual meeting when we look at where we have been and where we might be going in 2015.
You are asked to come and see.
There have been some exciting changes and there are more to come. In the fall of last year, you called a new priest to serve you and to lead you through a time of growth and new challenges. God doesn’t call us as Christian to sit with the status quo but rather to reach out and to dream of possibilities. What are some of our dreams that we are working to make a reality in this New Year?
Come and see.
In 2015 we will be reclaiming our sanctuary for services during traditional morning hours. In a few months we will be able to move our service to later in the morning as we end our long relationship with the Reformed Presbyterian congregation, who we have welcomed for nine years. They may still be with us in the afternoon, but the mornings will soon be ours again.
We are seeing some new faces at both Saturday and Sunday services, and we are so pleased that they have come to see what we do here at St. Mary’s and have decided to join us. That is how our congregation will grow. As we invite and welcome our friends and neighbors, as Nathaniel was invited to come and See.
Another new imitative is the re-visioning of our Rectory property across the street. Beginning in July, the Jonathan Daniels Interns will take up residence in the Rectory as their base for their work as Episcopal Service Corps Interns. More about that later, but this will mean that Rectory will return to church use which will take it off the tax roles and provide a major financial resource for St. Mary’s. Hopefully in addition, we will be able to welcome the Interns to worship with us and become part of our family when they can.
God asks us to come and See.
Yet another step toward what we can become as the Community of the Beloved will be the refurbishment of our parish hall for both church and community outreach activities. Our Thrift Shop will continue in another format as an important ministry to the community of East Providence however. So, when we invite people to come and see they will begin to see a reinvigorated St. Mary’s.
I feel that God is moving among us, placing us in a situation to share our faith in a meaningful way with a wide variety of opportunities.
In Exodus God says, “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you”’ (Exodus 34:10). As we invite ourselves and our community to come and see what the Community of the Beloved in Christ are growing here at St. Mary’s, let us take confidence in knowing that God is with us in this work and supports us with his love.
The Baptism of Christ Epiphany 1 Fr. Al
Today we hear about the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. John the Baptizer proclaimed that he baptizes with water, but that another will come after him who will not only baptize with water but with the Holy Spirit as well.
Then Mark jumps to the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. As Jesus rises from the water God speaks to him saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
What wonderful words.
In today’s world I wonder how many children hear this message from their parents?
This passage always reminds me of one of my heroes in this life. My hero is not a famous churchman, not even an Episcopalian, but someone whose gentle wisdom and commitment to children shaped four generations of Americans who were plunked down in front of the television each morning before school.
I’m not talking about Big Bird, although he could be a hero as well, but my hero is Mr. Rogers.
How many of you remember Mr. Rogers?
Perhaps you have to be over 40 to remember him, but from 1968 to 2001 his Public Broadcasting Program, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was the most popular children’s program on television.
If you do remember Mr. Rogers, you will of course remember that several times during each program he would reassure the children watching that they were perfect human beings.
“I like you just the way you are,” was his famous catch phrase and one that resonated with me as I raised my daughter and entered priesthood.
I like you just the way you are; you don’t have to change to be loved, you don’t have to win prizes, get good grades, go to college, buy me presents…I love you just as you are - in this moment in time.
How many of us are able to say we offer this reassurance to those around us, particularly our children and grandchildren? It’s hard because we want so much for those we love. If you want a reminder how to do this I invite you to go on your computer to You Tube and look for Mr. Rogers.
There are many, many clips of him and his program that illustrate his loving, reassuring faith in human begins and God. Yes, God as well because Mr. Rogers was a man of deep faith, and it was creatively integrated into his television work without being obvious.
Mr. Rogers didn’t have to be obvious because his message was so simple, as is God message to us, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
In two week's time we will have a baptism here at St. Mary’s. A young couple will present their baby daughter for baptism. As you all know baptisms are a time when we, as a congregation and as individuals, are asked to renew our baptism vows.
In doing this we are reminded of the deep love and compassion that God offs us. Baptism is much more that a church ritual or tradition; it is the initial step into the community of the beloved that God offers us. When we baptize children their parents accept the responsibility of nurturing them in the faith. When we are baptized as adults we take on that responsibility on for ourselves.
In baptism, God not only forgives our sins and offers us rebirth into a new life, but also welcomes us into the Christian community. As the service says, we are baptized into the Body of Christ.
This continues as we grow in the faith. Whenever we present ourselves for Holy Communion we participate in God’s love for us.
As we gather at the Holy Table we are reminded of God’s love for us. God is saying to us today, “You are my beloved sons and daughters; with you I am well pleased.”
Each time as I receive the Blessed Sacrament, there is a part of me that hears the voice of Mr. Rogers as well saying, “I love you, Alvin, just the way you are.”
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey…from T.S. Elliot’s poem, The Journey of the Magi
Christmas 2 Fr. Alvin Marcetti
The Christmas season is drawing rapidly to a close. Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi in today’s Gospel, is almost here. The epiphany feast completes the season of Christmas by inviting us to discern the identity of the Christ child.
On January 6, this Tuesday, the Episcopal Church celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany, which begins the six-week season of Epiphany. Epiphany recognizes the manifestation of the divine in Jesus, the Christ and recalls the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt to escape the tyranny of King Herod, who ordered the Massacre of the Innocents in Bethlehem.
In England, where I spent half my life, Epiphany is celebrated in many parishes with an Epiphany Party, which features a Kings Cake. On Epiphany, which is also called Twelfth Night, a small Christ Child is baked into the cake. The person who finds the baby without eating it is said to have good luck all year long.
However, since we celebrate Epiphany as the revealing of Jesus to the world at large as the savior, all of us are set to have good luck all year long.
Here in the US, it is the tradition to set New Year’s resolutions. I don’t know if that came from Epiphany, or is an American invention, but it’s not a bad idea. At the beginning of the year we often examine our lives and behaviors and want to make some changes.
The other tradition that surrounds New Year’s resolutions is that they are rarely kept much beyond February. By then we are approaching Lent and most of us gently, and somewhat guiltily, drop our resolutions to take on a Lenten discipline of some sort?
I was considering my resolutions this week and came across some interesting information. On the average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic. One researcher found that it took 66 days to be exact. So if you make a resolution on January 1, it doesn’t have a chance to become a regular habit until about March 7.
So, stick in there if you are attempting a new behavior.
Interestingly, the researchers also found that “missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process.” In other words, it doesn’t matter if you mess up every now and then. Building better habits is not an all-or-nothing process.
As we begin 2015 what might be some appropriate resolutions for Christians to make?
I might suggest that coming to mass each Sunday would be a good resolution, but most of us here do that anyway, so that would be cheating a little.
Let’s look at something a bit more challenging.
Reading the Bible, saying our prayers regularly, and developing our spiritual lives is something that we might think about. It is quite common to attend church regularly but not think about God outside of the church setting. This is a personal Christian responsibility, and one that everyone struggles with.
That’s why I’ve introduced the Forward Day by Day booklets available free each quarter to help pace ourselves in daily reflection. Also, in Lent we will be offering a weekly Lenten Study Group as well.
Since we all balance busy lives, it can be a challenge to build into our days some time with God.
For me, I find that the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night is best. I wake up and anticipate my day by thanking God for the blessing of this life and read some scripture. Each evening I read a bit before falling asleep and usually try to take some time to sit with my day, to review how I have been with God throughout the day. Sometimes I use a formal prayer, sometimes not, and sometimes I forget.
However, I find that the intention is as important in many ways as the accomplishment of the resolution.
So, I invite you to add an additional New Year’s resolution. To spend some time with the Christ who revealed himself to us in this season of Christmas and Epiphany.
Like the Three Wise Men who acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, let us acknowledge Jesus each day in our lives by taking on an intentional prayer and reflection time in our lives. Like the Wise Men, you will begin a journey, a spiritual journey, to look for God where he lives – through scripture, prayer, and worship.
And remember, it only takes 66 days for that resolution to become a habit. AMEN
The Journey of the Magi
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times when we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”
Advent 3 Fr. Al
When I was growing up in the church I don’t think I knew what Advent was all about.
I knew about waiting because I was waiting for Christmas and all the fun things that surround the holidays. As I look back at that time in the 1960’s, it seems idyllic in a way. However, this nostalgia might just be that – my own longing for a past that didn’t exist, or at the very least wasn’t quite as wonderful as I remember it.
But, I do remember growing up in a small country town in Central California where most people went to church. The youth group was the center of social life for many of us because television was just entering homes, computers didn’t exist, and cells phones were something only Dick Tracy had.
And, you have to be pretty old to remember that comic book character and his watch that was a phone as well.
As I look back at my teenage Christmases, they seem to have been produced for the Disney Channel – hayrides on cold winter nights, door-to-door Advent Carol singing, and going to the movies on Friday and Saturday nights. I’m sure I have removed all the stress and family drama that seem to be inevitable at this time of year.
But, I do remember waiting.
Waiting for Christmas Eve and the special service, which was always packed with the Christmas and Easter people.
Waiting to open presents – my family celebrated Christmas Eve by opening family presents and a big dinner. Christmas Day was for stocking and another big dinner. At last the waiting had stopped and there was the inevitable let down that came after the build up to the big event.
As I grew older, both in years and in the faith, I began to realize that the Advent season brought another kind of waiting. I began to understand the desire for the light as John describes it in today’s Gospel.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
In the Gospel, the priests and Levites begin to question with a barrage of queries.
Who are you?
Are you a prophet?
Why are you baptizing?
Are you the prophet Elijah?
John replies that he is a voice crying in the wilderness. In other words, he is waiting for the messiah and it is a lonely wait. The people acknowledge him and his voice, but the powers of the Temple question and argue.
As we journey through Advent, we might ask ourselves who we are and just what are we waiting for? It is easy to answer with our roles in society, a teacher, a nurse, a mother, a father, a priest, but are these descriptions of who we really are deep within our being?
Who and what do we wait for at this time of our lives?
It is easy to get swept up in waiting for things to happen in the world around us as I did as a teenager. To wait for love to come into our lives, to wait for the right job, or the right person to make us complete.
This third week of advent invites us to rest in our waiting and perhaps to remember that we are children of God first and foremost. That we wait for the messiah who comes to heal the world and reunite us all with the God of creation.
And, He will come.
It's our Happy New Year Advent 1 Fr. Al
We are at the beginning of the Church Year. Yes, in a sense, it’s our happy New Year.
The Church Year begins on the first Sunday in Advent. The church divides its year into seasons. That’s why you see changes in the colors of the vestments, changes in the communion prayer, and some changes in music as we move through the seasons.
In England I was a college teacher for years, and I was tempted to give you all a pop quiz to see if you could name the seasons of the Church Year. You know one of those terrible events in school where you are suddenly asked to recall information that you have clearly forgotten.
But, I won’t.
The Church Year moves from Advent, to Christmas, then Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday or Christ the King, and then we begin again with Advent.
Advent is one of the seasons of the church that I particularly love. I love it because we are anticipating the birth of our Lord and Savior, but also because I love everything about Christmas. My family often finds this devotion to all things Christmas a bit tiresome, but I am not daunted. I will go home after church on Sunday, unpack the Christmas ornaments and start preparing for Christmas.
I’m not one of those priests who forbid decorations in Church, and we will have a Christmas tree very shortly and the crèche will go up outside as well. However, it is very easy in our culture to get caught up in the secular, commercial side of the season.
Today at the beginning of Advent, I want to suggest that one way to defend ourselves against this is to be more intentional about Advent. Perhaps in the same way we are intentional about Lent.
Each week when we light the candle on the Advent Wreath we mark another step in our journey toward the coming of the messiah.
Each week on Sunday morning we will be singing verses of O Come O Come Emmanuel, which moves us closer to the birth of our savior.
These markers can become for us signposts on our journey.
The gospel this week from St. Mark presents us with some difficult images of the future coming of Jesus. An interpretation of this passage that sits well with me is that the Kingdom is here, now, in this moment. We are participating with Christ in the present and with those whom we share our lives.
A theologian I read this week suggests a reordered understanding of Advent. David Lose suggests that each week in Advent that we look for Jesus in those in need that are around us – both in our congregation and in our world. I would agree and suggest that each week during Advent as we light an Advent candle we take on a discipline of looking for Jesus, of anticipating Jesus, in others.
It’s up to each of us how we might do this, but for me I will step back from the frenzy of decorating, buying gifts, worrying out the church services, and spend some time with myself.
I am on retreat next week and part of my retreat will be spent painting an icon in a group of iconographers. This is a very personal spiritual experience, and it will prepare me hopefully to be more attentive to what others need rather than what I need or what I want to do.
For you, it may take the form of deciding to try to understand the complex feelings and issues in communities brought up by the events in Fergusson, Missouri.
It might be a volunteer opportunity in the community.
It may be that you try to be more open to the needs of our families at this busy time.
David Lose says, “…we might invite folks to make a short list – whether in their heads or on paper – of a few of the things that will occupy their Advent and then to think about how in each of those events and activities they might be more attentive to the vulnerability and needs of those around them and more honest and open about their own need that they might receive the care of others.”
This discipline might help us all participate in the coming of Jesus that Advent promises.
Christ the King Pentecost 24 Fr. Al This morning we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. That’s why the altar is dressed in white and I am wearing a white stole.
This is not a festival I am overly keen on as it is not something Episcopalians and Anglicans invented, but is rather a compromise. When the Anglican, Roman Catholics, and Lutherans were putting the Revised Common Lectionary – that’s the order in which we read the Bible in Church – each party contributed, or suggested, or demanded saints days, festivals, etc. which they were comfortable with.
Christ the King is a Roman Catholic contribution and one which was introduced into the Roman Catholic Church calendar only in 1925.
There is some interesting history behind its introduction, which I can share with you. Pius the Eleventh was the Pope, or the Bishop of Rome as we call him, at the time, and he was concerned about European society moving towards non-Christian secular political leaders. Rightly so, since in just a decade both Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini were directing major Europe countries.
In instituting Christ the King, Pius XI was instructing all Roman Catholics that only Christ is the Redeemer of the World. That political philosophies come and go, but Christ is always with us. Christ also guides in how to rule our lives with wisdom that comes from God.
So, the Festival of Christ the King is introduced into Roman Catholic life as a warning to the faithful to beware of demagogues and adhere to the teaching of Christ. I have no problem with that, but Anglicans operate in a more democratic manner. Acknowledging that the faithful can easily be swayed by human emotion and self-interest, Episcopalians still stand fast in the knowledge of Christ’s teachings and pray that society will see the error of its ways in the fullness of time. We are not an authoritarian church with a central powerful director, so the Festival of Christ the King doesn’t’ always sit well with us.
However, the Gospel reading does give us some help in understanding how to go about organizing our lives here on earth. The parable of the sheep and goats is one of the judgment gospels, which we have been hearing the past few weeks at the end of Pentecost. These parables seek to explain proper behavior for those who desire to enter the kingdom.
There appears to be some very bad consequences for those who do not follow the teachings of Jesus. Being cast into utter darkness, being denied entry to the wedding feast, being whipped, and today facing eternal punishment.
Some branches of the Christian church incorporate this parable into their theological emphasis on judgment, the idea of the chosen few who will go to heaven. In fact, they have almost worn out any reasonable interpretation.
For myself I acknowledge that Jesus is saying clearly that we must feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, and visit those in prison and those how are sick. We believe this and we act upon that direction in our lives here at St. Mary’s.
However, we must be careful of telling ourselves that these works of compassion will earn us brownie points in God’s eye. We do these works because we are followers of Jesus; the works flow from our understanding of the work of Jesus in our world.
Those who ignore these admonitions are already cast into utter darkness. Without a compassionate worldview of the other, we are living in utter darkness. Those who say that what is mine should remain mine and see no use in sharing with those less fortunate live in a kind of darkness that frightens me.
I give to people who beg from time to time. I don’t give every time, and I am realistic enough to know that some will use what I give for drink, drugs, or things of which I don’t approve.
That is not important in a way.
What is important is the desire on my part to share, to give. As we approach Advent and Christmas this something we might keep in mind. A loving heart is the model which Jesus sets before us.
“For to all those who have, more will be given,
and they will have an abundance…”
Pentecost 23 Fr. Al
For the past few weeks we have been travelling with Matthew through the parables of Jesus in the Gospel readings. Each week the parables become more and more challenging, and the theme of being a wise steward and standing ready for the Kingdom continues to develop.
This week a master, or successful businessman, prepares for a journey by entrusting a significant amount of his wealth to his middle managers, his stewards. He gives one five talents, another two talents and the last one talent. In today’s money scholars say that one talent is worth about $95,000, so five talents is a huge amount of money as is two or one. Two of the stewards invest wisely and one just buries it in the ground.
Today that would be like putting it in a very safe savings account and getting the current rate of .01 percent. I find this parable challenging and disturbing but at the same time rather comforting. From my point of view the parable seems to validate modern economic culture. We naturally would feel that the stewards who made money were the successful ones – clever managers of the material wealth.
However, is this what Jesus is saying?
Remember He didn’t live in our world. In the New Testament Jesus shows little regard for material success. He stands in the Hebrew tradition of prophets, which criticizes the exploitation of the powerless by the powerful. This tradition was so strong that for centuries it was forbidden for Christians to charge interest on loans. This gave rise to the important role that Jews played during the Medieval and Renaissance periods.
So, given that we know all this, what might Jesus intend in this parable?
Perhaps there is a deeper meaning here.
I might suggest that it is about taking risks with the abundance that God has given us. Whether we are financially comfortable or not, we all live lives of some abundance. Family, the Church, our democratic society, the lack of wars at home - these are just the beginning of the abundant lives we lead.
We can sit comfortably with our abundance like the third steward who buries his in the ground, or we can take risks. We are challenged to take the abundance that God has given us and develop it.
And, I believe God loves risk takers.
We are approaching the beginning of the Church year, Advent Sunday, and we are also approaching the time when we will renew or initiate our pledges for next year. The annual renewal of our giving is a time for us to conduct a spiritual inventory because our giving is an expression of our gratitude for God’s generosity in our lives.
When viewed from this difficult and deeper point of view, the parable of the talents is not about wise financial management. It is about our investment in the greater life of the Christian community.
Through energy and risk, we invest ourselves in the Christian community. Through this collective energy we begin to create a community that makes a difference in the world.
Unlike the servant who buries his talent, we can dig-up our talents, our gifts, our energies, and take the risks that brings us into a deeper relationship with God.
“The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day.”
Pentecost 22 Fr. Al It’s been a busy week again as we approach the season of Advent, the new Church Year, and the holiday season.
And, strangely enough, I have been thinking about jam. At first glance that might seem a bit strange, but then again our Parish Bazaar is next Saturday, and the Church has been busy with preparations. Parishioners are baking, decorating ornaments, collecting prizes for the Penny Social, preparing pickles, and yes, making jam.
I grew up on a ranch in California and my mother was a great jam maker. Always jam, not jelly. Apricot walnut jam was her specialty, something you don’t see much these days. Every summer and autumn, I remember my mom in the kitchen on the ranch boiling jars for jam. She wasn’t much of a cook, but she could make jam, and she overcompensated as we were always giving away jars to visitors.
But, I was thinking about jam for another reason as well when I read this week’s Gospel lesson.
At this point you may be asking yourself what do the foolish bridesmaids have to do with jam. But, give me some time and I’ll connect it up for you.
Another part of my childhood was being read to daily, and I was one of those kids who went off to school at age 5 reading like a champion. One of my favorites was Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and her adventures dropping down the rabbit hole.
One of the parts I love the best is her conversation with the Red Queen about jam. The Queen offers Alice a job at two pence a week and jam every other day. Alice wonders why jam every other day, and not today.
The Red Queen famously replies, “The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today.” And, Alice replies in the end that it all seems dreadfully confusing.
Confusing for Alice and for us as well.
Why no jam today?
Which brings me to the Gospel reading and our foolish bridesmaids.
So what are to make of the parable?
Is it a warning to us to be like the wise bridesmaids and be ready for the coming of Jesus? Will we miss out on the love of God unless we are on constant watch with enough oil for our lamps?
My favorite sermon blogger, Bob Eldan, warns us not to jump to the easy interpretation, and to remember that all the bridesmaids fell asleep. Like the bridesmaids, we all can fall asleep during our Christian journey. What we do when we fall asleep on the journey is forget that we don’t have to wait for Jesus to come again.
When we are asleep we begin to substitute good works for prayer and contemplation. We kid ourselves into believing that we must be good servants to earn God’s love.
When we are asleep we forget that in the Episcopal Church we know that Jesus is with us now - in every moment of our lives. As the Holy Spirit blows throughout the world, we experience the love of God in the here and now.
We have jam today.
We don’t’ have to wait for jam tomorrow or feel nostalgic about the jam from yesterday.
As we prepare for our Parish Bazaar, let’s remember how blessed we are to be part of a community on the Christian journey to wholeness.
As we offer our creations at the Bazaar, let’s remember why we do this, and see it as an act of sharing the love of God with the community around us here in East Providence.
And finally, as we come together next Saturday, let’s give thanks for the jam that we have today and every day.
We will remember those who have become Saints of God, the Cloud of Witnesses.
All Saints Fr. Al
We are at what I am choosing to call All Saints/All Souls Weekend because the Feast of All Saints is Saturday, Sunday is All Saints Sunday in the Episcopal Church, and Monday is All Souls, The Feast of the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. So, if you are in church on any day this weekend, you are celebrating both those whom we have loved and are at rest with God and those from past generations.
On Sunday afternoon (this afternoon) at a special service, we will remember those in our own lives who have become Saints of God, the Cloud of Witnesses that surrounds us daily on our journey of faith. The Saints of God don’t have to be extremely holy people or people who have performed miracles. In our tradition we are all saints as all followers of Jesus are. It is both our duty and the direction of the Church that we remember those people in our lives who have guided and influenced us in our growth.
For some this will be their beloved parent, others will include teachers, pastors, youth leaders, or any number of those in influential positions in our lives. I am probably quite typical as there are a number of people in my life who I would call a saint. They weren’t’ always ‘saintly’ in the religious sense but worked in my life as saintly person.
I thought I would share a story about one of my saints who was an ordinary woman in many ways. Virginia was the mother of my best friend from high school, and she died a few years ago after a long and fruitful life dedicated both to raising and guiding young people. I first met her when I was a freshman in high school; I was an M in class and my friend John was an L so I was seated behind him in class. We became friends quickly as both of us were new boys to the school and began spending time at one another's houses. We mostly were at John’s after school as he lived just down the street from Thomas Downey High School. Virginia was an elementary school teacher who both taught school and managed a household and an extended family. However, she always had time for us and was interested in our lives. This was a new experience for me as my parents were too busy at work to pay much attention to the intellectual needs of an inquisitive and often tiresome teenager.
She was the first adult to ask me what I was going to do with my brains. I was a very bright but very lazy and directionless boy. She encouraged me to realize that intelligence was a gift from God and that I had to honor that gift by serving others.
A new and shocking idea for me at the time.
Our relationship continued over the years, and I found myself attending university with her at one point, as she needed to finish her teacher training. My college friends that it was weird that I had a 50-year-old friend to have coffee with and sit with in class. It was then that she was able to focus my dreams into realistic goals for the future and convinced me through example that teaching was both a noble and creative endeavour.
She also reassured me at that time that if I were called by God to ministry it would happen in its own time. It took another 20 years for that call to be realized, but it did come. In the end, Virginia was probably not extraordinary, just a lovely intelligent woman who cared about other human beings, but she became a saint in my life. She took me seriously, which was likely the most important aspect of her gift, to make people feel special because they were children of God. Not because of anything they did for her.
So, that’s my story of an everyday saint.
I’m sure that all of you have experienced a similar relationship in your life and that is what brings you here today. When I was working on my homily I came across a quote from the author, Robert Louis Stevenson, about saints, which I found very reassuring, because I always feel that I am more of a sinner than a saint. He says, ““The saints are the sinners who keep on going.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
These two together make up what we know as The Greatest Commandment.
Pentecost 20 Fr. Al Marcetti
It’s been an interesting and exciting week for me in many ways. As I settle into being you Vicar, I find that I am very suited to the role and trust that you feel the same. I am also meeting many of my brother and sister clergy. I attended the installation of the new Rector of another St. Mary’s on Thursday evening – that’s St. Mary’s, Portsmouth, the Rev’d. Jennifer Pedrick.
It was a rather grand occasion and our two churches couldn’t be more different. They are located on what is called a campus with a variety of buildings on several acres with a charming church building and a new state of the art parish house. The Bishop installed Jennifer as Rector surrounded by her burgeoning congregation and 15 or 20 fellow clergy.
As I was sitting there looking around the beautiful and large sanctuary, I have to admit feeling a bit of envy. In England we would say that they are clearly not short of a bob or two. It is easy to assume that a parish like Portsmouth finds life easy and smooth sailing. However, I’m sure that is not always true. I also have to admit that I felt a bit ashamed of feeling envious of this large prosperous group and those feelings sat with me as I prepared my homily this week.
In the Matthew’s Gospel we get yet another testing of Jesus by the officials of the Temple. This time they are determined to trip him up on a legal point. In the Temple at that time Jews were governed by a multiplicity of laws – several hundred actually - which governed their lives and worship. The Pharisees send a lawyer to challenge Jesus by asking what is the most important or greatest law.
And again, Jesus outthinks them by choosing to say, “The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is followed by the second, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These two together make up what we know as The Greatest Commandment.
The group of Pharisees is dumbfounded and step away from challenging Jesus. Chalk up another one for Jesus.
However, this leaves us with some unanswered questions.
How do we go about loving God in the way Jesus describes?
And, furthermore, just who is our neighbor and what should that love look like?
Well, I can tell you that loving God is not sentimental, warm, fuzzy work entirely. That might be one small aspect of it. Those feelings when we attend a Carol Service in the holiday season, or Easter Sunday when the church is covered in flowers and there is special music. Or, when someone we love gets married or baptized or confirmed into the church. These all bring up warm feelings of God for us and it is easy to return that feeling of love to God.
But what happens when we are disappointed in life, our marriage fails; a loved one betrays us, someone we love dies. Then it is not so easy to love God. It is at these times that our concept of God is challenged. The loving God that Fr. Al talks about on Sunday becomes a judgmental unfair God. It is at times like this that some walk away from the Church and God and savor their angry feelings.
Complicated isn’t it?
It is at these times that we need to remember the blessing of this life and discipline our minds to stay the course. For me when I encounter these times, rather than stepping away from my prayers or Holy Communion, I find that I need to step into them. To sit with my feeling of pain, rejection, or even envy, and remain within the community of Christ.
When I was doing my reading for this week, I came across this. The author says about loving God, “Nevertheless, love is a risk. Our hearts might break. Mother Teresa said: ‘May God break my heart so completely that the whole world fall in(to it).’ “
Now, that’s loving God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.”
We must give to the Caesar those things that are Caesar’s without forgetting that we are the Body of Christ here on earth. Pentecost 19 Fr. Al Marcetti
The Gospel for this week seems particularly appropriate since elections are just around the corner. It’s been an interesting experience for me since I am new to Rhode Island. I’ve been going around asking people whom I should vote for. Not because I want their advice; I’ll make up my own mind. However asking this questions tells me a lot about the people I ask, and at the at the same time I do get some interesting information about the candidates.
I think I could easily fill an entire sermon with what I’ve heard about one particular candidate for Mayor of Providence. Tempting, but I won’t. So, in a few weeks I will go to the high school near my house and cast my vote. I will render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar. By this I mean my participation in representative democracy.
The Gospel brings up a question that has been around for Christians for over 2,000 years. That is, just how much do we participate in secular life and how much do we devote to the spiritual life? The Pharisees in the Gospel think they can embarrass Jesus in public by placing him between a rock and hard place.
They flatter him by saying he is a plain speaker and a honest man and send him and his disciples to the Herodians to answer the question about paying taxes to the Emperor. This seems straightforward to us, but remember that Roman emperors of the time believed themselves to be God. In fact this is stated on the coin used to pay Roman taxes.
So, if Jesus says to pay taxes, then he sides with Herodians, the men of the Emperor, and rejects the temple and therfore God. If he decides not to pay taxes, he is breaking the law and will not only anger the secular authorities, but place himself and his followers in mortal danger.
Jesus blindsides them by giving the response that still challenges us today. “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” But what are God’s things?
·What should the balance between the two?
·How do we know we are being fair?
·How do we mange the seductiveness of contemporary consumer life?
Can I answer these difficult questions in a short homily on a Sunday morning?
Well, at least I have to try.
First of all, what are God’s things? That’s not too difficult. Our existence, his creation here on Earth, his Church - the representative of the Body of Christ amongst us, the poor who are always with us, and our children, families, loved ones, and all those with whom we share relationship. So, give to those things of our time and love without judgment and without expectation of reward. This is no easy thing to accomplish as we all have expectations for our children, get our feelings hurt by those we love, and lastly only have a limited amount of material goods to share around.
Secondly, how do we know we are being fair? Are we giving too much of our love and time to family and loved ones ignoring the demands of secular life? There are popular movements in our culture, which want to withdraw from what they call governmental interference. Some are called libertarians and some call themselves survivalists, but what they share in common is a desire to withdraw from contemporary life – and some groups even want to do so for spiritual reasons. This is not what Jesus is saying either, and I don’t believe this is Christian behavior.
As Christians, I feel that we have a challenging agenda when facing these questions. The good news is that we share just that, the Good News of Jesus Christ. We do have to live in the present and live within our culture. However, we feed our Christian life and values by regular attention to our spiritual lives, coming to Holy Communion, participating in the life of the Church. By doing so, we allow ourselves to resist the temptation of consumerism, the desire to acquire more and to long for what is not within our reach. This simple act of weekly devotion reminds us of the needs of others and blessings of this life.
So, in the end, Jesus is right – as He always is. We must give to the Caesar those things that are Caesar’s without forgetting that we are the Body of Christ here on earth.