Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Rev. Peter M. Carey Christmas Eve Sermon 24 December 2017

The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Christmas Eve Sermon
24 December 2017

May Almighty God, who sent his Son to take our nature upon him, bless you in this holy season, scatter the darkness of sin, and brighten your heart with the light of his holiness. Amen.

May God, who sent his angels to proclaim the glad news of the Savior’s birth, fill you with joy, and make you heralds of the Gospel. Amen.

May God, who in the Word made flesh joined heaven to earth and earth to heaven, give you his peace and favor. Amen.

The scene painted in our minds eye depicted by St. Luke is a powerful one.  The scene we have imagined many times on this blessed evening as we recount the story of Jesus birth.  In the midst of an occupied land, with the threat of Imperial power, a mother and a father bring a baby into the world, a vulnerable trio in the midst of this place.  Not in an Inn, but rather out in the manger, the shed, the barn, instead of nurses or doctors or midwives or doulas, they are surrounded by animals.  Of course the visitors who arrive are equally unlikely, shepherds from the fields with their sheep, and a retinue of the heavenly host of angels, and finally, most improbably they receive visitors from the East.  An incredible and shocking scene.  The hope for the world swaddled in bands of cloth in a barn, in the midst of the troubles and challenges of the world - in the midst of this place - JOY -  in the midst of this time - HOPE - in the midst of these visitors - LOVE.  

The first creche was created by St. Francis of Assisi, who thought that this would be a wonderful way to retell the story of the Birth of Jesus, and also help people to see and experience the story in a real and tangible way.  The goal was not to highlight mere sentimentality, but rather to make clear the reality of the Incarnation, the real way that God became human, and that this incarnation was not a one-time moment, but because of the nativity of Jesus, and his presence among us, the incarnation is a present reality for all time.  

We sing, “Love came down at Christmas”, and this love was not merely for those who witnessed the birth of Jesus those two thousand years ago, but also for us here today, and everyday.  God’s love was so full, so powerful, so overflowing that the love poured out here among us.  While Francis is often solely remembered for his love of animals, he was deeply orthodox and grounded in his understanding of the incarnation, of Emmanuel, “God with us.”

As we consider the Incarnation on this rich and holy night, we might also adopt the mind of Mary, who “pondered these things in her heart.”  These profound and wonderful words give us a model of response to the events surrounding Jesus birth.  Ponder them, consider them, pray on them, hold them gently, allow your heart to enter into the overflowing love of God, sit with this moment, and ponder it.  

The first creche must have been an amazing thing to experience, can you imagine the good folks of Assisi happening upon this birth scene of Jesus, and not merely as a painting on a church wall, but in tangible, three-dimensional form.  Happening upon the nativity scene in the crowded streets of Assisi must have been shocking and surprising, not unlike the birth of Jesus itself.  

If you have ever visited a life-size nativity scene, or if you have ever played a role in a Christmas Pageant, you might have experienced the powerful sense of this story.  I, myself, have played several roles in Christmas Pageants over the years.  Beginning as a donkey with a smelly papier-mache mask over my head, I was terrified that I would make a mistake - and, I believe it was my first time being up in front of people in church.  Through the years, I was a shepherd, a magi, Joseph, and finally a narrator, the voice of Luke, telling the story from the lectern as it came to life in that church nave.  How about you, where do you imagine yourself in the scene?

Not merely seeing the scene on a screen or on the wall of a church, but experiencing the scene in such a way that there might be a place for you in the manger.  Where might you be standing?  Perhaps a lowly animal, though humble, still very nearby the baby.  There is room for you there.  

Perhaps a visiting shepherd, straight from work, dirty, hungry, smelly, and yet, there is room for you as well.  

Perhaps a guest at the inn, leaving the inn for a walk, and hearing noises, you walk around back where you see a most amazing sight, animals, shepherds, a man, a woman, a baby in a manger.  What is this?  There is room for you, too.  

Perhaps you are from far away, and you are a person of science, of facts, not faith, of observation, not imagination.  But here you are, incredibly.   There is room for you.  There is room for all of us, and, amazingly, even though there is room for us, there is room for us to welcome more.  We each have a front seat in the theater, a courtside seat to see the event, there is a prime seat for you, and there are seats for us all.  We sit, we experience the Joy, the Hope, the Love, which has come alive.  There is room for all to sit and ponder.  There are no turf wars while pondering.  There is no resentment over who sits where.  There is no jealousy but only welcome and hospitality.  We may pray, “Where two or three are gathered in his name, he will be in the midst of us,” but in the midst of the Lord, there is room for all.   As we ponder, as we worship, we are one with one another.  In the light of the Love of God we are enlivened by one another, we are made whole through one another while Christ is among us, and within us.  

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Rev. Peter M. Carey 4th Advent - Sermon 24 December 2017

The Rev. Peter M. Carey
4th Advent - Sermon
24 December 2017

St. Augustine begins his “Confessions” with the important notion that we are restless until we find rest in God.  
'Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord,
and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.'
~Augustine of Hippo

To be at home, to be at rest is a theme that echoes throughout the Hebrew scriptures.  On the seventh day of the creation of the universe, even God rested, and in so doing, God blessed the Sabbath, and blessed us with the real gift of being at home, at rest.  Later, when God speaks to David about establishing a house and a home, the Lord hints at three meanings, at least.  

  • The meaning is about a literal “place” where God may abide,
  • but also the establishment of a home for his chosen people,
  • and also an establishment of the “house and lineage” of David.

Of course, even the casual reader may note the juxtaposition of the house of the Lord, the Temple, which was built by David and Solomon but then God’s own son, Jesus being born into a place that was no house at all.

The house of the Lord built by David and Solomon was heavily stratified, there were many many doors, many thresholds to cross.  Many many requirements for followers of Yahweh.

Then we have the story of Jesus from the first chapter of John.  Followers of John the Baptist ask Jesus: “Where are you staying, where to you abide?”  Jesus responds with a deeper answer than merely where he was staying the night, instead, he answers with the verb which signifies a deeper sense of abide - that is, where will they find Jesus, where will they experience the depth of his being, where will the encounter the living God.  He answers, “Come and See”. Jesus is the master inviter who tells these followers to, “come and see” where I abide.  Come and see!

“The Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

The place where Jesus abides is a place open to us.  Of course, the word abide is very similar to the word abode – home, household, a place of rest, refreshment, welcome, safety, hospitality, gratitude, thanksgiving, and repentance and conversion.

To abide is to be present, to really “be” in a place, not to just pass through, but to really stay there.   To abide in a place means that we also need to abide with the folks around us.  To abide with someone is to really be with them.  When we are given the present of another’s presence we feel the blessing of that person, but also, through them, we can feel Christ’s presence in our lives.

Of course, to be fully present with another when they are in pain, suffering, or heartache can be quite a challenge.   So, the word abide signals a timeless quality of place – where Jesus abides is that timeless and eternal place where we might “come and see” the blessing that God has given us. Abiding in a place can point to the abode where God lives – the place that is open to us, if we cultivate the awareness of God’s presence.  The word points to a sense of timeless presence, the gift of abiding alongside someone; the gift of presence to those in need, those in heartache, those in suffering.

As we eat follow Jesus’ command to “eat my flesh and drink my blood” we do “abide in him, and he in us.”  Christ has given us the gift of the real presence of him in our lives.  We partake of the “bread that came down from heaven” and “the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

We pray today, “Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself.”

We abide in Christ and Christ abides in us.  We are given “rest for our souls.”  Through the gift of the Eucharist we are offered the gift of God’s presence in our lives.  We are made one with God, and he is one with us.  We are made one with God, we are also made one with one another.  We also offer each other the gift of invitation, the gift of hospitality to others.  And, so we offer others the gift of presence, of healing, of caregiving, for we are one in the Spirit with God, and one in the Spirit with one another.

'Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord,
and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.'
~Augustine of Hippo

Sunday, November 19, 2017

19 November 2017 ~ I want to walk as a child of the light

The Rev. Peter M. Carey
19 November 2017

“I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus.  In him there is, no darkness at all, the night and the day are both alike.”

When you walk around the side of the National Cathedral you come to stone stairs which lead down to the undercroft of the cathedral, where you can find some of the most beautiful chapels in that marvelous holy place.  As you descend the stairs, looking down to make sure that your feet do not slip, if you look up you see carved into the stone above the words, “A House of Prayer for All People.”  These words were carved there many decades ago, many decades before the Cathedral embarked on marketing plans, on catchy vision statements, visually arresting websites, and hundreds of marketing swag items sold in the cathedral bookshop.  “A House of Prayer for All People” is quite a remarkable statement of welcome for all of God’s people, not merely those who can recite the Ten Commandments, or the Nicene Creed, or the Episcopal Church’s Catechism printed in the back of our Book of Common Prayer.  

I have walked down those steps hundreds of times, and having lived on the Cathedral Close, I know many nooks and crannies of that building...I know a few places where you can sit and pray uninterrupted, where you can find a medieval monk’s bench where you can rest in the place where hundreds of monks have prayed.  For me, that “house of prayer” is, in so many ways, a home to me.  I used to attend the daily 7am Eucharist in the stunning Bethlehem Chapel where in the 90s only about 15 people attended the services, and my fellow worshipers included Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, David Souter, and the celebrant at least weekly was Senator and Priest John Danforth.  There, even amidst such notable heroes, I found a home for my soul, and was at rest.

“All People” signals to me the deep sense that we are all Children of God, and that we are each loved by God, blessed by God and gifted by God.  Each of us is special.  As my friend and chaplain colleague used to preach, with the style only a life-long Baptist can do, “You are special….you are loved by God...Just like everyone else.”  Of course, each of us are blessed by God, but then we have to remember that so is our neighbor, so is our colleague, so is our seatmate in the pew, so is our fellow vestry member, so is our fellow committee member, so is our fellow volunteer at the nonprofit, so is our fellow citizen who sees things politically just as we do, and so is our fellow citizen whose views we abhor and detest!  If you go online and look up “Washington National Cathedral” and scan around for awhile, you will see the range of people who worshipped there: Martin Luther King, Jr., Ravi Shankar, Princess Diana, Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Noor of Jordan, Billy Graham, Thich Nhat Hanh, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Ronald Reagan, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Woodrow Wilson, … Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Agnostics, Atheists, Republicans, Democrats, Americans, Russians, Native Americans, ….and where Ronald Reagan, legendery baseball player Walter Johnson, Woodrow Wilson, “A House of Prayer for All People, indeed. “

This “House of Prayer” models for us the sense that our worship spaces are, at the same time, “houses of God” and also homes for us.  We are each the “children of the light” who come to these “houses of God” so that we might worship, that we might get “strength for the journey,” that we might experience some of the free-flowing gifts from God and from our neighbors.  

Here, in this house, this home, we receive blessing and love from God, and we strive to also give and receive love to each other.  No matter who we are, what number is at the bottom of our bank statements, no matter what color of skin, no matter our age numerically, our physical status, our mental state.  Here, this “house of prayer” just like the National Cathedral, becomes a home for us when we embrace the Great Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  St. Mary’s is your church, your home, and also is the home for all those who enter our doors.  “A spiritual home for all people.”  

Here, we are reminded each week that we are all Children of God, and we are God’s beloved.  Because of this outpouring of love and compassion we are “children of the light,” here, I pray that we each receive the coziness of home.  Here, we experience a sense of home that we may not have always received in our own homes.  Here, we are God’s beloved, and we belong.  “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” perhaps should say, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You Home.”  We know that we cannot stay here in the cozy embrace forever, but we are empowered to be children of the light, and we are empowered to follow Jesus, and be the Church of Jesus Christ in the world.  We are given strength for the journey, in prayer, and song, and community, and sacrament, we are emboldened and given sustenance to face the world, and to not merely face the world, but transform the world.  

“I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus.  In him there is, no darkness at all, the night and the day are both alike.”