Welcome to the new face of the Episcopal Church.
Thanksgiving Message from our Vicar
Thanksgiving was first celebrated by Christians who were thankful to God for preserving them through some very lean times until their first harvest. The holiday has endured and become part of the fabric of our nation. However, in the nature of the case, it has also been transformed to something far different from what the founders envisioned. For many, football has become the center attraction. For others, a family get -together is the most important part of the holiday. For still others, it marks the beginning of the buying season leading up to Christmas. While none of these accretions are bad in and of themselves, they tend to distract us from the original purpose of the holiday. It is important for families to get together and Thanksgiving is a good time for families to gather. It is enjoyable after a good dinner to watch some football (at least for some), and, for those who enjoy shopping, looking forward to the sales can be fun. I want to encourage you, in the midst of all the additions to the holiday, to take some time to really thank your creator for all the many blessings bestowed on you by God's grace. If you do that, you will be in tune with those who began the celebration so long ago.
Father Daniel Barker
September 28, 2014
Block Island - Year A
On March 24, 1996 the father of Leon Wieseltzer died. Wieseltzer was 44. He was the literary editor of the New Republic and was one of the elite of New York and Washington, D.C. society. Like many of his contemporaries he had left behind the Jewish faith of his childhood. But when his father died he decided to do what was expected and pray the mourner’s Kiddush 3 times daily. The prayers were to be said in synagogues and so if he was at home he went to his local synagogue but on the road he had to find a synagogue wherever he was and attend 3 times a day.
The Kiddush prayers are about publically sanctifying God’s name “May his great name be blessed always and forever.” The point of publically proclaiming God’s name is a priority that calls you to worship with others. Even if you are a very important person – even if you have lots of travel scheduled. You can’t do it by yourself in the car or at home.
What Wieseltzer discovered was that his inner life was being changed in the process. The impact of this obscure and arduous practice was seeping into every part of his life. A season of sorrow became a season of soul renovation for him.
The faith of his head made that arduous 18-inch journey to his heart. He heard the word and said ‘yes’. He then took the word and implemented it by his ‘yes’ to action.
Good ole’ Mark Twain said the difference between one knowing the truth and doing something to make it visible by acting on it is the difference between seeing a lightening bug and experiencing lightening.
In the first half of life – hopefully in childhood – you learn the fundamentals of Christianity. Who was Noah? What happened to Jonah? What is Lent? Who was Martin Luther? Who was Paul? Why do we cross ourselves before the reading of the Gospel? What was the reformation? Obey the comments and go deeper with the Sermon on the Mount? You are finding out about your family of faith. You identify with Christmas more than Hanukah? But if faith doesn’t begin to take root and start to change your life when the storms of life hit (for there are many in the second half) your house is built on sand and not solid rock (to mix parables here). As an adult in faith you knew enough about God – now you need to know God.
Going back to Mark Twain’s image of the lightening bug and lightening – you need to “do” faith not watch it. Like when you learn to swim or ride a bike. It is something you can’t learn just by watching.
It takes discipline and time to walk into knowing God. You start small – maybe 5 minutes of gratitude and prayer a day. Maybe praying the scriptures – adding good works to this perhaps ... and worship on Sunday.
You make faith something you take as seriously as your physical health, your work or your family. In 2009, when the passengers aboard flight 1549 landed in the Hudson River, they called it “the miracle on the Hudson.” A year later curious reporters followed up with the survivors to see what impact the event had made on them. Survivors usually said that after this near death experience they were committed to living differently. They had promised God, themselves and others to change priorities . . . yet a year later most hadn’t changed much at all by self-report.
Real change demands what Eugene Peterson calls, “a long obedience in the same direction.”
In the parable of the two sons – the theme of those who heard John the Baptist, who heard Jesus and did not act on the words they heard is fear – fear of the crowd, fear of losing something we want to hold on to – maybe a narrative about ourselves? It is also about authority. The crowds praise God because Jesus uses his authority for forgiveness of sins. It is important to note they don’t say, “Praise God for giving this to Jesus” they say praise God for giving this authority to forgive sins to “human beings.”
Jesus doesn’t critique the Jewish leaders for not being Christian . . . (although the ??? church sometimes forgets that Jesus himself was not Christian but Jewish). Jesus expects that the authority and power from God when lived out will change the way we think of authority and power. It will look more like powerlessness to us. Talk about “honor/shame” in the First Century. Inclusion in faith is about inward bowing of the heart – surrender of pride and fear.
The Exodus story is our story too – when we are in the desert do we say take me back to Egypt? or I don’t want to be the way I was before I had faith. I don’t want to go back to slavery again. I want to be different because I have heard these words of Jesus. How different are you now than you were when you last heard this parable?
I am not going to insult you by saying ‘which son are you?’ Everyone here is like both sons. But we can grow to become less arrogant and to be more willing to listen if we keep moving along and eating the manna of God’s word in text and heard in prayer. Quenching our thirst for God by submitting to the practices of the spiritual life.
Change is inevitable I say all the time but growth is optional. And the benefit becomes being able to forgive people for being broken, ego driven and petty because you have forgiven those things in yourself.
August 15, 2014
In 1973, adventure writer Peter Matthiessen set out with his traveling partner, zoologist George Schaller, to journey some 250 miles across the Himalayan Mountains. The stated goal for the trip was to study and document the migratory and mating patterns of Himalayan blue sheep. For Matthiessen, the study of the demographics of blue sheep allows him to obtain grants and appear legitimate in the eyes of the world. But his real mission is to search for one of the rarest animals in the world …. a snow leopard. Eventually, he would write a book about the expedition called, The Snow Leopard. Not only is the book interesting for what it has to say about animals but also for what it has to say about the search for ultimate reality.
It is clear that for Matthiessen, the snow leopard is more than a creature of interest… it is a symbol for the authentically spiritual … an encounter with fleeting beauty. Something you capture in a moment’s gaze and then spend years trying to interpret and remember.
Peter Matthiessen’s metaphor of the snow leopard is another way of speaking about how we can become more attuned and aware of “God with us.” In his book he says only a handful of people have ever seen the snow leopard in its natural habitat. It hides so well that you could be staring at it, from just a few yards away and still miss it standing there in front of you.
Which leads to my point. The gift of uncovering this exotic creature comes as a function of plodding dull work.
The people who have seen the snow leopard aren’t the ones who have gone looking for it directly. The ones who saw the leopard paid attention to something more mundane … they observed what the leopard likes to eat … Himalayan Blue Sheep. They didn’t define what mattered too narrowly.
It’s a good lesson for those of us who seek God or Ultimate Reality. It’s a reminder to keep your eyes open. Why? Because every now and then by tending sheep you will catch a glimpse of something that absolutely blows you away – something like the silhouette of a snow leopard standing right in front of you.
I believe we all long at some perhaps inarticulate level to be transformed, that something within us responds to the lure of the spirit. Emily Dickinson said we appear to be born with a “dim capacity for wings.” So why are we so deaf to the invitations of the soul? Because it seems that somewhere within us, as deep as our yearning for God, runs our resistance to transformation. It is one thing after all to be made whole, it is quite another to dictate how that will happen.
For most of us nature is one of the “thin” places. Something the Celts speak of as an environment where God and the human person are separated by the thinnest of veils.
The psalmist writes, “the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” … the whole of the world and all of us its inhabitants.
Cotton Mather, good Calvinist that he was, put it this way: Everyone has two callings; one general and the other personal. The general calling is primary. We are called to see and name the glory of God in the world. The second is our personal calling. It is how we see and name the glory of God in the world. It involves our personal effort … what you do from day to day and it is unique to our “situation in life” … our work, our resources, our relationships. Mather suggested that if we were to only mind one of our callings, the boat would be pulled to one side: making poor dispatch of helping us to arrive at what he called “the shore of blessedness.”
One concern with Cotton Mather’s image of the boat and the oarsman is the strongly individualistic tone of the image, of honoring God’s glory in the world.
An old axiom applies, “you alone can do it but you cannot do it alone.” Community and identity are intertwined. In authentic community helping others and being of service are not by-products of calculation and self-interest but instead from a way of seeing, a way of “be-ing” that recognize the deep connectedness that binds us together in need, if not in love. To quote Mark Nepo, “all things are connected, the purpose and art of community is discovering how.”
In order to preserve the environment … it is essential to see ourselves as part of a greater whole. That sounds all well and good but let’s face it – sometimes working with others is difficult. It can be tempting to go it alone in environmental justice or any other common cause … it allows you to travel faster for a while but it is said in the company of friends you can travel further. (Breyton Breyenbach).
Years ago I heard a parable that stuck with me. Using the example of the old New England Green as an image of the world’s resources it goes like this. A New England green can in theory support 100 sheep and maintain sustainability. So if 10 families agree to each graze 10 sheep they can all benefit equally and the land can support that level of consumption. But what if one family gets greedy? If they choose to enhance their profit by adding an additional 5 sheep they can get more income by having 15 sheep. And the cost?? The cost of having 105 sheep is shared by the other families who can’t depend on the green to adequately feed their 10 sheep each. It is a sober reminder of how easy it is to give way to the impulse of greed and the cost of that to the earth’s resources.
But the Conservancy has changed the paradigm of the New England Green. It reminds us of a third way. What if instead of trying to graze 105 sheep one family gives their share to others and only grazes 90? Who benefits – everyone. The choice to be selfless is right alongside the choice to be greedy. Like a snow leopard hiding in plain sight.
Examples of such altruism inspire us all to give Glory to God in the way we answer our mutual callings to quote Mather again.
It is an irony of Peter Matthiessen’s quest – where we began – that it was not the adventurer and author who saw the snow leopard. It was the more diligent scientist, George Schaller who saw the mythical creature two weeks after Matthiessen left the Himalayas. Schaller was simply doing the hard work of gathering blue sheep data – out being a shepherd among the blue sheep when the snow leopard appeared.
Today, we can perhaps be encouraged that our best possible chance of glimpsing the God of all Glory is by going about our daily work of conserving and tending the earth’s glory. Because God is good at Hiding in Plain Sight … visible for those with eyes to see it … in places just like this. + Amen.