Saturday, November 26, 2011

Advent 1B 2011

          That Jesus will come again is a matter of faith.  We’re familiar with the burial office reading (St. John 14: 2-3) Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” We think of the Lord’s coming for us at our death, but he will also come again at the world’s last day.

          When Jesus ascended to heaven (Acts 1:11) the angels told the disciples, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians about the Holy Communion, says (11:26) “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” 

In the Apostles’ Creed we say, Jesus “ascended into heaven . . . from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.” In the Nicene Creed we say, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom shall have no end.” We confess the mystery of faith in Eucharistic Prayer A “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” In Prayer B “We remember his death. We proclaim his resurrection. We await his coming in glory.”

          We don’t preach much about the final coming of Christ. The church teaches that Jesus will return; we don’t say how or when. There’s been lots of speculation and interpretation of the relatively few Biblical passages about the final coming.   You’ve seen  bumper stickers about the Rapture “In case of Rapture this car will be unmanned”. The Rapture teaching became popular in the early 19th century.It puts together verses from Thessalonians and Revelation in a complex system.  We’re free to speculate how and when Jesus will come again. I don’t know the how and when but I believe Jesus will come again and we need to take seriously his command in today’s gospel, “Keep awake.”

The final coming of Jesus teaches that life has meaning and purpose. It directly opposes the materialist notion that life is accidental and finally purposeless. That idea is a real temptation particularly when we wake up and hurt, or when we suffer loss and feel despair. Those are the times in life when we have to hold on to faith with both hands.

Jesus is alive; he will come again, our lives and the world are in the care of the God who made all things and has redeemed us and all things in Jesus’ death and resurrection. The day will come when God’s perfect justice and mercy will be done and will be seen to be done, and we wait expecting that day. We keep awake.

We keep awake and look for the ways God is at work in our lives and the world around us. We keep awake and rejoice when the sick are taken care of, when mourners are comforted, when as Jesus said in St. Matthew 25, the hungry are fed, water is provided for the thirsty, strangers are welcomed me, children who need them are given underwear, and those in prisons, physical, emotional, and spiritual, receive visits of encouragement and support.

Hymn 10 (Hymnal 1982 - the traditional tune is Melcombe 531) written by the Rev. John Keble in 1827 summarizes our Advent call: “New every morning is the love our waking and uprising prove; through sleep and darkness safely brought, restored to life, and power, and thought” especially verses 5 and 6, “The trivial round, the common task will furnish all we need or ask: room to deny ourselves, a road to bring us daily nearer God” “Only, O Lord, in thy dear love fit us for perfect rest above, and help us this and every day to live more nearly as we pray.” Amen.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Christ the King November 20, 2011

          On December 11, 1925 Pope Pius 11th ordered the last Sunday in October be the feast of Christ the King. In October 3 years before Benito Mussolini’s Fascists had seized control of the Italian government. The Fascists were political gangsters, determined to maintain order at the expense of justice. In June, 1924, they kidnapped and murdered Giacomo Matteotti, an opposition member of the Italian parliament. Fascist ideology moved Adolf Hitler to try to overthrow the government of Bavaria in November, 1923 In prison Hitler wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle) published in early 1925. In November, 1925 Hitler formed his private army the SS. Fascism promised social order opposed to Communist social revolution. Both Fascism and Communism were totalitarian ideologies, incompatible with Christian faith.

          Proclaiming a feast of Christ the King was a political act. The Christian world view that “Jesus is Lord.” Because Jesus is Lord the early church refused to burn incense to the Roman Emperor as a god and took the consequence of martyrdom. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor joined the plot to kill Hitler. Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador opposed the civil war in that country and was machine-gunned at the altar. Ten years ago the Rev. Emmanuel Allah Ditta, priest of the Church of Pakistan at Bahawalpur in the Punjab, 14 parishioners and the Muslim guard were murdered when a gunman broke in at the end of the church service and opened fire with an automatic rifle. In Iran, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani sits today in prison because he refuses to return to Islam. He was converted to faith in Jesus Christ over 10 years ago and arrested when he sought official recognition of the 400 member church he serves. Iranian courts say, “Once a Muslim, always a Muslim;” Pastor Nadarkhani says, “Jesus is Lord.”

          We are blessed to live in a country whose government power comes from the will of the people, not the barrel of a gun. Our civil government controls the military force. The stars and stripes represent “one nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” Liberty is not absolute; human justice at best only approximates God’s perfect justice. But Christ our King calls us to know God and in each situation seek to do his “service which is perfect freedom.”

          In August 1925, the same year Pius 11th proclaimed the feast of Christ the King in the face of European fascist and communist totalitarianism some 40,000 white sheeted unmasked members of the Ku Klux Klan marched up Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. The Klan is seen as southern, but these American fascists came from the upper Midwest and other parts of the North. My father said that when he was a boy in Chester, PA, the Klan was strong in southern New Jersey – just across the Delaware River. The people of this land soon saw this Klan as gangsters and turned against them and the social system they espoused.

          We’ve made some progress toward what we proclaim in the Pledge of Allegiance, “liberty and justice for all,”  and we have a ways to go in ordering our common life for our common good. First Timothy chapter 2 commands us to pray “for kings and for all in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable lives.” Here “we the people” are the final authority. Prayer includes action, so it is a religious as well as a civic duty to vote.

          Our church historically supports the good work of government. The separate identity of the Church of England comes from popular and government opposition to what was seen as unjust and tyrannical rule from Rome. From the 16th to the 18th century the Church of England in America supported royal authority. Many of the early Patriots were Episcopalians, and the Episcopal Church reorganized after the Revolution supported public order and government.

          Our call is to engage in the life of the community, not to withdraw to attempt to create something better. We proclaim that Jesus is Lord, that Christ is King, and we try to show that Lordship and that Kingship in our own lives, in the lives of our families, our work places, and our common political life.

          We all will face the final judgment of God. Both Ezekiel and the Gospel reading bear witness to that judgment. That judgment is real; that judgment is final, and that judgment is finally just and true.

       We all stand condemned. We have not, as individuals, as church, as nation, adequately fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, nor visited the prisoners. We’ve all done something, but “We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done,” and there is no health in us.

       But the good news of our salvation is that Jesus our Lord, Christ our King, was content to die for us to take away from us and from all who will claim his sacrifice the penalty of our judgment. By his resurrection he gives us day by day a new opportunity to love and serve him. On this Feast of Christ the King, a feast established in the conflict of Christian faith and totalitarian values, let us recommit ourselves to love and serve Jesus, our Lord and our King, this day and every day that is given to us. Amen.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Proper 28A November 13, 2011

“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.”

          Reading the Bible will change your life. Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky lived on the edge. His life was changed by reading the Bible, and his life changed the lives of millions of people.

          Schereskewsky was born May, 1831 and died October 15, 1906. He was born in modern southwest Lithuania, on the edge of the Russian and the German empires. His parents were Jewish, his father from the eastern European German and Yiddish speaking Askenazi community, his mother, his father’s second wife,  from the Spanish and Ladino speaking Sephrdi community, on the edge of two cultures. Both parents died when Joseph was young and he was raised by an older half brother on the edge in his family.

          The 25 years between 1790 and 1815 were a transitional time in the history of European Jewry. The philosophical Enlightenment, the French Revolution and Napoleon brought Jews out of the shetels and ghettos where they had been forced to live since the Middle Ages and forced them into new relationships with their neighbors.  Jews in western Europe began to share political and economic freedom. They could now own property and engage in all kinds of business. Schereskewsky learned to work with window glass.

          There were conservative, liberal, and moderate responses to the new situation. The liberal responses included the Reform movement. Some Jews became Christians and several societies were formed to support and encourage these new Christians. The New Testament was translated from Greek into Hebrew.  Moderate responses included a new system of Jewish education focused equally on study of the Jewish Law and on study of modern science and culture. When he was 16 Schereskewsky began to prepare to teach in one of the new schools.

          He was given a copy of the New Testament in Hebrew and read it over several years at school and university in Germany.  Schereskewsky later said that he was converted by reading the New Testament over several years.

Still a young man, he came to New York. A spiritual experience at Passover meal led him to be baptized and to study at the Presbyterian seminary in Pittsburgh where he became a friend of the Rev. Theodore Lyman at Calvary Episcopal Church. Lyman was later Bishop of North Carolina. Schereskewsky could not accept Presbyterian teaching on predestination and Bishop Wittingham of Maryland recognized his language gifts and sent him to General Seminary, New York. (I was ordained in Maryland and studied at General, but don’t have Schereskewsky’s gifts). Schereskewsky was in many ways on the edge of the church, a European Jew on the edge of a white, Anglo-Saxon church.

At graduation the Episcopal Church sent him to be a missionary in China. China had recently been forced to allow foreign commerce and foreign missionaries. It was on the political and economic edge. The missionary work was new and Schereskewsky and others saw the need for a Chinese translation of the Bible.

He learned spoken Chinese on the trip and joined the Peking translation committee using his knowledge of Jewish tradition of interpreting the Old Testament.

In November 1867 Miss Susan Waring arrived in Shanghai from New York. They met in January, and married in April.  In 1877 he was consecrated as Bishop of Shanghai where he established St. John’s University. In 1881 he suffered sunstroke and was an invalid until his death in 1906 in Tokyo.  Despite his illness he continued his Bible translation work typing with the one finger of his right hand that he could control. For 25 years he lived on the edge of death, but by determination, and God’s grace, shown in the missionary support of the church, he accomplished much. His translation is the basis of all modern Chinese translations of the Bible, and the

Four years before his death he said, “I have sat in this chair for 20 years. It seemed very hard at first. But God knew best. He kept me for the work for which I am best suited.”

They had two children – a son Joseph 1873- 1949, a doctor with the Public Health service, and a daughter Caroline 1874-1942. Caroline taught in a missionary girls school in Tokyo until 1941, died in Asheville and is buried at Calvary, Fletcher.

We don’t know as much about the ministry of Susan Waring Schereskewsky. She died 3 years after her husband. Her daughter Caroline wrote, “Had it not been for her sympathy, her unflagging devotion, and thoroughly consecrated Christian character, it would have been impossible for my father to have done his work. As nurse, secretary, companion, she was by his side for the 25 years of his life as an invalid. When he died her heart seemed to be buried with him.” One of her talents was an interest in keeping up with people.  The Tokyo chaplain said, “there as never a sick person or one needing a visit from me that she was not the first to advise me of.”

So what’s the point of this long story?  Today’s gospel is about the talents. Each of us has some particular talents given us by God our creator to be used in his service. Our times are as difficult and challenging as were the times Joseph and Susan Waring Schereskewsky lived in. Their use of their talents is an example for us in our use of our talents. Our lives have their own excitements and opportunities. God converted Bishop Schereskewsky through his word written, the Bible. Let us also read the Bible looking to our own conversion to Christ’s service.

“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.”

          Reading the Bible will change your life.