The Christ Candle

Sermon Delivered on Christmas Eve 2016

by the Rev. Rhonda J. Rubinson

Church of the Intercession, NYC

Merry Christmas!

It’s a wonderful night, isn’t it? Take a look around you this evening – just look at our church. Look at the candles up and down the nave, here in the chancel, up in the sanctuary. Even though it is deep in the evening, the church is filled with light. Look at the beautiful flowers, all the poinsettias, the trees, the wreaths, the greens. And of course look at our beautiful church building, built of the finest materials by the most skilled artisans in the world over a hundred years ago, a house of God and for God built to glorify God. Last but not least, look at all of you, come here through the darkness to this place of light, all dressed up for the occasion.

We’re not the only ones to have gotten gussied up for Christmas – across our city there are window displays, street hangings, Christmas lights strung around trees and houses and restaurants and stores. Between them travel snazzily dressed folks going from store to store, party to party, home to home, all to celebrate the birth of one baby born in a stable in one dark corner of the world about 2000 years ago – Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, son of God, the Christ, the Messiah, our Savior.

Now most of you know that I was born Jewish. Of course, our family celebrated Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights – which begins tonight by the way – but we weren’t the kind of Jewish family who put Hanukkah into direct competition with Christmas, we didn’t have a Hanukkah bush or anything like that. We would take a yearly holiday-season drive around Fair Lawn where we lived, to see the beautiful Christmas decorations (my Mom particularly loved this) – that was our nod to Christmas, but otherwise we stuck to dreidls and chocolate Hanukkah gelt and of course lighting the menorah every night, all of the candles lit at sundown from the center candle for all eight nights of the holiday. That center candle is called the “shammas” – and shammas in Hebrew means servant – because it’s the candle that serves all the others. In fact in the Jewish Temple the priest who lit all the candles was called the “shammas.”

I find it odd that here in church we do the opposite with our candles in the Advent wreath – we light our center candle, called the Christ candle last – on Christmas, so throughout the Advent season it remains dark, waiting for its moment to shine. This has always felt wrong to me – in fact it feels so wrong that if you were here on the First Sunday of Advent this year I made the mistake of directing that the center candle be lit first and then the first purple candle – I had a Hanukkah relapse. Usually my Hanukkah relapse take the form of a craving for potato latkes but this year it took the form of a craving for light – a particular kind of light: light that serves other light.

Given the year we’ve had, this isn’t surprising; it’s been a dark year. I’m not only talking about physical darkness, lack of sunlight – we just passed the winter solstice so our time of sunlight as against darkness has slowly begun to increase – I’m not talking about that kind of light, I’m talking about darkness of spirit. It has been a year of vertiginous destabilization across the world – not just here in the United States – as the darker aspects of our human nature have crept out of the shadows into the glare of day.

As a result, I’ve honestly felt like I’ve been suffering from a light deficiency for about a year, and I don’t think I’m alone. We human beings need light to live – not necessarily the light of candles or electric light – we need the light of life, the light of truth, the light of God, the light of Christ – as much as we need food and water. And if we don’t get our required doses of light, we begin to suffer sickness of soul, and yes, even sickness in our bodies. We know this subconsciously because we gravitate towards light sources.   We love these candles so much not only because we see by them but because we feel a kinship to their flame, knowing instinctively that we share something with them, something of the nature of God; as the First Letter of John says, God is light, and in him is darkness at all. We love the stars in the night sky, moonlight, the light of a glowing fire in a fireplace, even the light in our beloved’s eyes – all for the same reason that we string those Christmas lights wherever we can in an effort to drink of the kaleidoscopic love of God in all of its spectral glory to satisfy our need for light.

But here’s the thing: those lights are all external, and beautiful as they are, they cannot fill our hunger. Even kings have had to learn this lesson. It might surprise you to know that the first Christian nation in the world was not Rome; it was Armenia, which in the early years of Christianity sat unhappily between the two huge empires of Rome and Persia. Armenia flirted with Christianity for a time, having been visited by some of the original apostles, but it was finally truly converted by one man known as Gregory the Illuminator who made a Christian out of the thoroughly pagan King of Armenia, and so set the precedent for Rome and many others to follow.

That’s the way that Christ is born into the world, person by person, the same way that we lit our candles here tonight – passing the light from candle to candle, flame to flame, soul to soul, heart to heart. But the light of the Christ candle isn’t always found in the prettiest of places; in fact it can often be found at its brightest in places that for all the world look dark.

Take for example, my local post office. I live near Columbia University and we have a small, dirty, badly lit, truly depressing post office that serves what has to be a hundred thousand people in the neighborhood. At this time of year, it is absolute torture to stand on an endless line of stressed and sullen people who are dragging huge packages an inch at a time up to the counter which never has more than two or three clerks working – because all the other clerks “call in sick” this time of year.

Even though I’ve lived in my neighborhood for over thirty years and I know how bad the post office is during the holidays, last week I got the bright idea to mail copies of the small book I wrote on breast cancer to local hospitals. So I dragged twenty packages of two books each to that post office in the midst of the holiday crush. I stood on the awful line for an eternity, until eventually the light lit up at Desk 6 and I trudged up to a woman clerk who was managing to look both bored and tense at the same time. She asked me the required questions of whether I was mailing anything hazardous – batteries, bombs, anthrax, etc. – I said no, these packages are the same, there’s two copies of a book I wrote on breast cancer in each. She immediately snapped awake and said, “that’s funny, someone I know was diagnosed today and she needs a mastectomy and she’s really scared and I felt so bad for her.” I told I’d drop by a copy of the book for this woman. Then a funny thing happened. As the clerk was going through my packages, weighing, noting, stamping each one, we began doing church right there at Desk 6 in the Columbia University post office.

First she said, “Mmm, mmm. By his stripes we are healed!” Amen! Then I said, “God is good!” and not only her, but also the clerk next to her called back “All the time!” And we were off to the races – we went through every healing scripture we could think of; Amen! After each one and at one point the clerk at Desk 7 started singing, “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me O Lord, standin’ the need of prayer.”

Now it would be great if the whole post office joined in – but that didn’t happen. The patrons waiting for us to finish our mini tent revival, were mostly glaring at us, but some looked curious. What I do know – definitely – is that a Christ candle was lit in that dark place that day, and only God knows how many hearts will be set ablaze by it.

My sisters and brothers, all of the light in the universe does us no good unless we shine. If the light remains outside of us and does not kindle our spirits, we may as well remain in darkness. We have one job as Christians – only one – although that one job can take many forms – and that job is to be light. We are called to be both the shamas candle, lighting the others, serving others, and the Christ candle, afire with the love of God. If we do not become like Gregory the Illuminator, unafraid to speak truth to power and feed every person no matter high and mighty the light that they so desperately need, then Christmas is nothing more than an opportunity to hang some pretty decorations, have a party and swap some gifts – all good, of course, but only a fraction of what can happen if we truly shine with God’s love.

Christmas isn’t a fantasy. It isn’t about the superficial things in life, as enjoyable as they may be, and it certainly isn’t about pretending that we’re happy when we’re not. Christmas is about intentionally embracing light within darkness, and doing the often very tough work of loving and persevering in hard times, even when it feels like the darkness is winning. As the Second Letter of Peter says, You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

My sisters and brothers, Merry Christmas, and may your shamas Christ candle always shine brightly in the darkness. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Apocalypse Now? A Reflection Upon the Events of Election Day, 2016

by the Rev. Rhonda J. Rubinson, priest-in-charge

Church of the Intercession, NYC

November 9, 2016

Text:  Luke 21:5-19

This past Tuesday, we held a general election in this country to elect the next President of the United States, as well as various members of Congress. I think it’s safe to say that the results shocked everyone on both sides – no one was expecting what transpired that night. By Wednesday morning as the sun came up, we gazed out upon a changed nation, and a different world. Many of our personal universes were altered well, shaken in ways that we could not imagine the day before. It felt – at least to me – something like an Apocalypse.

Everyone is different, and everyone processes such things in their own way. I first had a physical reaction: vertigo, visceral fear, even nausea, not unlike the reaction that I had when my father collapsed and died two hours later of an aneurysm in 1997. This physical reaction was accompanied by an emotional one: deep denial that what had happened hadn’t really just happened. Those manifestations of shock lasted for a few hours, during which time I found myself spiritually paralyzed, unable to pray. 

But then I reached for my Bible and my rosary. At about 3:30 in the morning I began to pray, in earnest. Then I went to the gospel for today, aware that the light-hearted stewardship sermon I had prepared for this Sunday had been rendered utterly irrelevant by the election. In our text this week from Luke, after Jesus describes the destruction of the temple, his disciples ask him, 

"Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?"

Listen to Jesus’ reply:

"Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!' and, `The time is near!' Do not go after them. When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”

Jesus may as well have said, “Republican will fight with Democrat, red with blue, urban population with rural population, the 1% versus the 99%, the college educated with the non-college educated, women against men, white versus minority” and on and on, describing conflicts along the fault lines that have opened up within our one nation in the past year and a half. Yes, Jesus says, there will be wars. But he also says, do not be surprised by them, and – most crucially – “Do not be terrified.”

Do NOT be terrified. While Jesus is describing the Apocalypse, the End of Days, he is also reminding us of something that we in our personal myopia about our own world view tend to forget: we are part of something much larger than ourselves, a plan of salvation that is meant for all creation, and that getting there is not a series of ascending steps in a staircase. There is opposition, there are slides sideways or backwards backwards, and these slides look to us to be dreadful aberrations from God’s plan. But Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that these aberrations are known to God and are, in fact, expected. They are not good, mind you – I am not saying that they are – but they are not a surprise to God.

Nor should they surprise us. After all, Jesus gave everything he had to bring God’s kingdom to earth and to create a just, healthy, loving society, and he was murdered for his trouble. But was that outside of God’s plan? No. It is sobering to realize that without Jesus’ death, we would not have resurrection. God’s plan was bigger than even death, even that of our own. 

Jesus alludes to his own death and the persecutions we can expect from our society in today’s gospel:

". . . they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls."

In our present situation, it is helpful to look at another time of conflict in our nation’s history, our dreadful Civil War, to see how people of faith coped with uncertainty, dread, and actual horror.  President Abraham Lincoln wrestled often with questions of faith and morality, struggling with what courses of action to take in his very dark times – times, we should remember, that were very much darker than our own at present. Often, Lincoln wrote meditations for himself that were not meant for the public consumption. One such meditation was written in September 1862 after the Second Battle of Bull Run, which was an excruciating loss for the Union with heavy casualties on both sides. This document was untitled and undated and found on Lincoln’s desk by his secretary John Hay. It has come to be called to “Meditation on the Divine Will” and it is hauntingly applicable to our national situation today. Here’s an excerpt:

The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be and one must be wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party – and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost willing to say that this is probably true – that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By His mere quiet power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And having begun, He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds. [1]

My sisters and brothers, God gave us free will and does not interfere with our exercise of that gift, no matter how we use it. We have in our nature a powerful drive to use that gift for ill – that is a definition of sin – even to the point of enslaving our fellow humans, even to the point of murdering the Son of God. Yet nothing – nothing – can fall outside of God’s love for us, or the ultimate fulfillment of his plan, certainly not a presidential election.

At our diocesan convention last weekend, Bishop Dietsche used the analogy of a walking a labyrinth to describe our individual walks with God. Labyrinths have many twists and turns, he said, and they often lead away from the goal of reaching the center. Yet whatever path you take, you cannot get lost, for all paths, no matter how circuitous, take us to the same place. As individual souls, we can never get lost. The same can be said of our national life. We can roam far from the center, from our goals of justice, compassion, and wholeness. Yet no matter how dislocated we might feel, we are not lost to God.

So what do we do? How do we cope with our new, altered landscape? It feels like everything has changed, yet in truth nothing has, in the sense that we need not do anything new to cope. The prophet Micah said,

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

That instruction hasn’t changed. Nor have the words of first Moses, then Jesus, who gave us the two Great Commandments: 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

My sisters and brothers, we are Christians. We walk the Way of the Lord. We are called upon to be light in the darkness, the force of love in a world riven by of hate. We are called upon to work for justice, and show compassion and mercy to all of God’s children.

This past Wednesday, we awoke to a changed world. We may or may not be in the end times, in the days preceding the Apocalypse, but whether we are or aren’t we need not be afraid, and we need not lose our faith. We can never, ever fall outside the gaze, love, or purpose of God, and it is up to us to proclaim that message to everyone: Republican and Democrat, urban folk and rural folk, members of the 1% and those who belong to the 99%, the college educated and the non-college educated, women and men, white people and those are in the minority, because after all what does God require of us but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God?

May God bless each and every one of us and our country, the United States of America.

Amen.

[1] As quoted by Alton Trueblood in Abraham Lincoln:  Lessons in Spiritual Leadership (New York:  Harper Collins Inc.), 1073, page 7.

 

 

THE NINTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Sermon Delivered by the Rev. Rhonda Rubinson

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Church of the Intercession, NYC

Where is Hospitality in our current age? 

Texts:  Genesis 18:1-10a, Luke 10:38-42

 

In the name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

If we thought that two weeks ago we had endured one of the most disturbing weeks in memory, with the murders of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and the sniper attack on Dallas police officers, these past few days feel like they’ve upped the ante even further.  I’m sure many of you watched all of the horror in Nice, France, unfold on your TV set, followed the next night by the mayhem of the attempted coup in Turkey, which featured, among other things, some soldiers firing wholesale at civilians who had tried to stop them on the Bosphorus Bridge.  And for every atrocity we hear about on the news or see on TV, there are countless others in our country and across the world that don’t get that same exposure, particularly if they occur in African, Latin American or Middle Eastern countries.  But even with the relatively small sample we receive through our media here, it certainly feels like the whole world is at war, one way or another.

Last week after each of our services, I asked you for thoughts on what we could do here in upper Manhattan in reaction to the continuing violence between police and black men.  There was a strong consensus for local action – there are many marches and protests, particularly downtown, but our community here at Intercession clearly felt that prayer and civil dialogue between the police and the neighborhood was the way to go, that we needed to start in our immediate surroundings with our families, our schools, our police precincts, first, before we presumed to take on the world.

I’ll tell you what our IPC decided at the announcements, but for our homily time now I’d like to address something that contributes to the general breakdown we see in our society, and it’s the topic that is addressed in our Bible readings today.  One of the many factors contributing to the general degradation of our culture is a gross loss of civility.  Would you agree with me about that?  The art – indeed the expectation – of engaging each other in a respectful manner, even when we disagree strongly, has been utterly lost. Civility and respect are, of course, conducive to dialogue, and dialogue may even result in resolution – but instead of conversing like civilized human beings, we have now resorted to simply yelling at and past each other.  I’m not just speaking of recent protests, like those both for and against Black Lives Matter; I’m talking about a much larger issue, about our culture in general.  We live in a world now where it is somehow permissible for a congressman to yell, “you lie!” at the President of the United States during a joint session of Congress, and where degrading name-calling and vulgar nicknames have replaced any semblance of respect for another human being.

Now it should be obvious to anyone who has ever an argument at home (a regular old argument, we’re not talking about abuse here) – that is to say, everybody – that fights usually have two stages.  First is the loud part of the argument, which resolves nothing; that’s simply the first sometimes staking out of contrary positions.  But if a disagreement is ever going to get worked out, it must move on to stage two, which takes place after everyone’s voices are lowered, and the problem can get talked out.  Sometimes it’s hard for folks to get to the point of talking instead of simply repeating themselves at high volume, but that’s why our society recognizes that this is harmful, and that is why help is available: family therapy, marital counseling, anger management help, and so on.  This is recognition that in order to resolve any disagreement – even a gross injustice – we must speak and listen to each other with respect.

Yet our society has adopted an intractable inability to move past the yelling stage.  We see this most clearly on television – indeed this problem may have originated on television, in the “political talk show.”  The first one that I remember is the McLaughlin Group, which started in the early 1980’s – the format of a “moderator” surrounded by two republicans and two democrats who “discuss” issues by yelling at each other across a table, or if they are not in the same room, across the TV screen each in their own little boxes.  This format has spawned countless offspring, all of which simplify every issue into partisan talking points that solve exactly nothing and keep the volume of the dialogue turned up high.

Here’s where the Bible comes in.  All of the fruitless noise is the symptom, not the disease, of the illness in our society: the loss of spiritual life, both individual and communal. It is the connection to the divine that makes us feel loved and worthy of respect, and it is only when we feel worthy of love and respect that we can offer love and respect to others.  Without exception, cultures that are grounded in connection to divinity – and these are not only western cultures, but eastern ones too – these cultures have always been able to foster community by welcoming others, by truly practicing hospitality.  Those who practice true hospitality base it on spiritual connection.  They do it not simply because it’s a random social rule, they do it because they recognize that the person you are welcoming shares a common heritage in the divine.  Sometimes, you may even be welcoming God himself, as can be seen in our readings today.  We have the two classic hospitality stories of the Bible side by side – one from the Hebrew Scriptures: the story of the three men who appear to Abraham and Sarah by the oaks of Mamre, and one from the New Testament: the very famous story of Mary and Martha welcoming Jesus into their home.

Hospitality rules today in much of the Middle East are much the same as they have been for millennia.  A guest is to be welcomed as though they were royalty, offered at the very least tea, but usually a meal, and if they need lodging the guest is welcome for 3 days, no questions asked, after which they must leave.  The point, of course, is to provide for the traveler’s physical needs first, but the larger purpose is to spend time with your guest, sharing not only your food and bedding, but also your time.

The reason hospitality requires us to spend time with guests is that time is the most precious commodity we have, second only to life itself.  After all, without time, life as we know it is not possible.  This is recognized by older, slower cultures than our own.  We say “time is money” and by that we mean that if we use our time productively we will have bigger bank accounts, but Biblical time is currency too, to be spent on things that do not have monetary, but rather spiritual value.

Judaism and Christianity at their very foundation are all about being present in time, to God, and to each other.  Remember that God creates the universe in Genesis in the framework of time – and that in fact the word “holy” (“qadosh”) is first used in the Bible to describe not a thing or a person, but a period of time:  the Sabbath day.  Remember too that in “the fullness of time” God sent his only Son to be with us in our time, in our history.  Time is a precious gift from God given at creation.

This is the light in which both of our hospitality stories take place today. Abraham welcomes three men that show up at his tent by the oaks of Mamre with appropriate respect and some urgency.  Neither he – nor we – knows exactly who they are. There is some debate even among scholars as to whether the three men are angels, or the Trinity, or are the Lord himself. Abraham instructs Sarah and his servants to provide the best meal possible as quickly as possible. Take a look at the language in the reading:  there’s a of speed (everybody runs and hastens and rushes) and when the meal is ready Abraham even stands apart from the men as a servant would, making himself available to them.

After the meal, one of the men tells Abraham (and Sarah who is hiding yet listening) that they will have a son, even though they are very old and Sarah has been barren all her life. But because Abraham welcomed the men as though they were the Lord, they are rewarded with an incredible prophecy: they will have a son, and through this son, all of the People of the Book – Jews, Christians, and Moslems – would be born. The important point to take away is that any guest is to be welcomed as though they were the Lord in disguise.  You never know.

Now we turn to the hospitality story of Martha and Mary.  Many of us, myself included, think that Martha gets a bum rap in this story.  She’s the one doing all the work – and it’s necessary work – just like Abraham and Sarah, yet Jesus chides her, and clearly prefers the way her sister Mary is interacting with him, by just sitting and chatting.  Why?

Remember: Martha and Mary know Jesus very, very well – they are close friends and know him as the LORD who raised their brother Lazarus from the dead.  So they are not welcoming a stranger into their home, they know he is the LORD.  This is different from Abraham and Sarah; they welcomed strangers, and so they hastened to prepare first and spend time with them after the meal was over.

What Jesus is sensing in Martha is not that she’s not so much making an effort at being hospitable, but rather that she is avoiding him.  People who rush the way Martha does are not at peace with their existence in time, and therefore resist being present to God and to others; in essence they are being selfish. I think many of us do the same thing; I know I do.  Staying busy is a very effective tactic to avoid anything or anyone; we can avoid responsibilities, people, making decisions, confronting issues, and even God by simply staying too busy.  By contrast, Mary basks in the precious opportunity to share time with God.  She is willing to slow down, be still, and know that Jesus is God.

If we are to transform our lives and our society we must give our connection to God first.  Even in our time of noise and hyperactivity, there are some things before which we must be still:  a burning bush – a sign that God wants to speak with us (we all have burning bushes, signs that God is trying to get our attention, we miss many when we are distracted); that is one time we must put down what we are doing, and pay attention.  Other times are when we see a star in the eastern sky hanging over a house with a very special newborn in it (that is, the signs that God has arrived in our life, sometimes in a surprising form, like a stranger), or, as we are about to do, when welcome the Lord to our Table, our altar here in church.  These demand our full attention and our time.  Anytime we have the opportunity to spend time with Jesus, our ordinary busy-ness is, forgive the word, trumped, by that opportunity.

Can we re-learn to be quiet, respectful and still?  Can we recover that which our culture has robbed from us?  Can we bring the temperature down, lower the volume, and help transform our society into one that has civility and respect for every human being?  We have that opportunity today, but we must be open to welcoming Jesus.  He is knocking on our church door, waiting to be invited in.  We know he is coming, and he is not a stranger.  We have a choice: we can be like Martha and rush distractedly through the encounter, so that even though we are physically present we are spiritually absent. Or we can be like Mary and enter into this awesome opportunity to be in communion with our Lord, to get to know him, to allow him to enter into us by surrendering to his presence in the Eucharist and in each other.  We pray:  “Be known to us LORD Jesus, in the breaking of the bread.”

Make no mistake about it – Jesus is not saying that we are never to do the things that Martha is doing, like cook, clean, and serve.  He’s not giving us a lifetime dispensation from housework.  But remember, our times are in God’s hands. If we are present to Jesus, he will be present to us, and if he is present to us, he will be made present through us to those in our lives – our family, our colleagues, our community, our city, our country, and yes, our world.  And once he is present, true resolution, true reconciliation becomes possible. 

Our world has never needed it more.

Amen.

THE NINTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Sermon Delivered by the Rev. Rhonda Rubinson

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Church of the Intercession, NYC

Where is Hospitality in our current age? 

Texts:  Genesis 18:1-10a, Luke 10:38-42

In the name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

If we thought that two weeks ago we had endured one of the most disturbing weeks in memory, with the murders of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and the sniper attack on Dallas police officers, these past few days feel like they’ve upped the ante even further.  I’m sure many of you watched all of the horror in Nice, France, unfold on your TV set, followed the next night by the mayhem of the attempted coup in Turkey, which featured, among other things, some soldiers firing wholesale at civilians who had tried to stop them on the Bosphorus Bridge.  And for every atrocity we hear about on the news or see on TV, there are countless others in our country and across the world that don’t get that same exposure, particularly if they occur in African, Latin American or Middle Eastern countries.  But even with the relatively small sample we receive through our media here, it certainly feels like the whole world is at war, one way or another.

Last week after each of our services, I asked you for thoughts on what we could do here in upper Manhattan in reaction to the continuing violence between police and black men.  There was a strong consensus for local action – there are many marches and protests, particularly downtown, but our community here at Intercession clearly felt that prayer and civil dialogue between the police and the neighborhood was the way to go, that we needed to start in our immediate surroundings with our families, our schools, our police precincts, first, before we presumed to take on the world.

I’ll tell you what our IPC decided at the announcements, but for our homily time now I’d like to address something that contributes to the general breakdown we see in our society, and it’s the topic that is addressed in our Bible readings today.  One of the many factors contributing to the general degradation of our culture is a gross loss of civility.  Would you agree with me about that?  The art – indeed the expectation – of engaging each other in a respectful manner, even when we disagree strongly, has been utterly lost. Civility and respect are, of course, conducive to dialogue, and dialogue may even result in resolution – but instead of conversing like civilized human beings, we have now resorted to simply yelling at and past each other.  I’m not just speaking of recent protests, like those both for and against Black Lives Matter; I’m talking about a much larger issue, about our culture in general.  We live in a world now where it is somehow permissible for a congressman to yell, “you lie!” at the President of the United States during a joint session of Congress, and where degrading name-calling and vulgar nicknames have replaced any semblance of respect for another human being.

Now it should be obvious to anyone who has ever an argument at home (a regular old argument, we’re not talking about abuse here) – that is to say, everybody – that fights usually have two stages.  First is the loud part of the argument, which resolves nothing; that’s simply the first sometimes staking out of contrary positions.  But if a disagreement is ever going to get worked out, it must move on to stage two, which takes place after everyone’s voices are lowered, and the problem can get talked out.  Sometimes it’s hard for folks to get to the point of talking instead of simply repeating themselves at high volume, but that’s why our society recognizes that this is harmful, and that is why help is available: family therapy, marital counseling, anger management help, and so on.  This is recognition that in order to resolve any disagreement – even a gross injustice – we must speak and listen to each other with respect.

Yet our society has adopted an intractable inability to move past the yelling stage.  We see this most clearly on television – indeed this problem may have originated on television, in the “political talk show.”  The first one that I remember is the McLaughlin Group, which started in the early 1980’s – the format of a “moderator” surrounded by two republicans and two democrats who “discuss” issues by yelling at each other across a table, or if they are not in the same room, across the TV screen each in their own little boxes.  This format has spawned countless offspring, all of which simplify every issue into partisan talking points that solve exactly nothing and keep the volume of the dialogue turned up high.

Here’s where the Bible comes in.  All of the fruitless noise is the symptom, not the disease, of the illness in our society: the loss of spiritual life, both individual and communal. It is the connection to the divine that makes us feel loved and worthy of respect, and it is only when we feel worthy of love and respect that we can offer love and respect to others.  Without exception, cultures that are grounded in connection to divinity – and these are not only western cultures, but eastern ones too – these cultures have always been able to foster community by welcoming others, by truly practicing hospitality.  Those who practice true hospitality base it on spiritual connection.  They do it not simply because it’s a random social rule, they do it because they recognize that the person you are welcoming shares a common heritage in the divine.  Sometimes, you may even be welcoming God himself, as can be seen in our readings today.  We have the two classic hospitality stories of the Bible side by side – one from the Hebrew Scriptures: the story of the three men who appear to Abraham and Sarah by the oaks of Mamre, and one from the New Testament: the very famous story of Mary and Martha welcoming Jesus into their home.

Hospitality rules today in much of the Middle East are much the same as they have been for millennia.  A guest is to be welcomed as though they were royalty, offered at the very least tea, but usually a meal, and if they need lodging the guest is welcome for 3 days, no questions asked, after which they must leave.  The point, of course, is to provide for the traveler’s physical needs first, but the larger purpose is to spend time with your guest, sharing not only your food and bedding, but also your time.

The reason hospitality requires us to spend time with guests is that time is the most precious commodity we have, second only to life itself.  After all, without time, life as we know it is not possible.  This is recognized by older, slower cultures than our own.  We say “time is money” and by that we mean that if we use our time productively we will have bigger bank accounts, but Biblical time is currency too, to be spent on things that do not have monetary, but rather spiritual value.

Judaism and Christianity at their very foundation are all about being present in time, to God, and to each other.  Remember that God creates the universe in Genesis in the framework of time – and that in fact the word “holy” (“qadosh”) is first used in the Bible to describe not a thing or a person, but a period of time:  the Sabbath day.  Remember too that in “the fullness of time” God sent his only Son to be with us in our time, in our history.  Time is a precious gift from God given at creation.

This is the light in which both of our hospitality stories take place today. Abraham welcomes three men that show up at his tent by the oaks of Mamre with appropriate respect and some urgency.  Neither he – nor we – knows exactly who they are. There is some debate even among scholars as to whether the three men are angels, or the Trinity, or are the Lord himself. Abraham instructs Sarah and his servants to provide the best meal possible as quickly as possible. Take a look at the language in the reading:  there’s a of speed (everybody runs and hastens and rushes) and when the meal is ready Abraham even stands apart from the men as a servant would, making himself available to them.

After the meal, one of the men tells Abraham (and Sarah who is hiding yet listening) that they will have a son, even though they are very old and Sarah has been barren all her life. But because Abraham welcomed the men as though they were the Lord, they are rewarded with an incredible prophecy: they will have a son, and through this son, all of the People of the Book – Jews, Christians, and Moslems – would be born. The important point to take away is that any guest is to be welcomed as though they were the Lord in disguise.  You never know.

Now we turn to the hospitality story of Martha and Mary.  Many of us, myself included, think that Martha gets a bum rap in this story.  She’s the one doing all the work – and it’s necessary work – just like Abraham and Sarah, yet Jesus chides her, and clearly prefers the way her sister Mary is interacting with him, by just sitting and chatting.  Why?

Remember: Martha and Mary know Jesus very, very well – they are close friends and know him as the LORD who raised their brother Lazarus from the dead.  So they are not welcoming a stranger into their home, they know he is the LORD.  This is different from Abraham and Sarah; they welcomed strangers, and so they hastened to prepare first and spend time with them after the meal was over.

 

What Jesus is sensing in Martha is not that she’s not so much making an effort at being hospitable, but rather that she is avoiding him.  People who rush the way Martha does are not at peace with their existence in time, and therefore resist being present to God and to others; in essence they are being selfish. I think many of us do the same thing; I know I do.  Staying busy is a very effective tactic to avoid anything or anyone; we can avoid responsibilities, people, making decisions, confronting issues, and even God by simply staying too busy.  By contrast, Mary basks in the precious opportunity to share time with God.  She is willing to slow down, be still, and know that Jesus is God.

If we are to transform our lives and our society we must give our connection to God first.  Even in our time of noise and hyperactivity, there are some things before which we must be still:  a burning bush – a sign that God wants to speak with us (we all have burning bushes, signs that God is trying to get our attention, we miss many when we are distracted); that is one time we must put down what we are doing, and pay attention.  Other times are when we see a star in the eastern sky hanging over a house with a very special newborn in it (that is, the signs that God has arrived in our life, sometimes in a surprising form, like a stranger), or, as we are about to do, when welcome the Lord to our Table, our altar here in church.  These demand our full attention and our time.  Anytime we have the opportunity to spend time with Jesus, our ordinary busy-ness is, forgive the word, trumped, by that opportunity.

Can we re-learn to be quiet, respectful and still?  Can we recover that which our culture has robbed from us?  Can we bring the temperature down, lower the volume, and help transform our society into one that has civility and respect for every human being?  We have that opportunity today, but we must be open to welcoming Jesus.  He is knocking on our church door, waiting to be invited in.  We know he is coming, and he is not a stranger.  We have a choice: we can be like Martha and rush distractedly through the encounter, so that even though we are physically present we are spiritually absent. Or we can be like Mary and enter into this awesome opportunity to be in communion with our Lord, to get to know him, to allow him to enter into us by surrendering to his presence in the Eucharist and in each other.  We pray:  “Be known to us LORD Jesus, in the breaking of the bread.”

Make no mistake about it – Jesus is not saying that we are never to do the things that Martha is doing, like cook, clean, and serve.  He’s not giving us a lifetime dispensation from housework.  But remember, our times are in God’s hands. If we are present to Jesus, he will be present to us, and if he is present to us, he will be made present through us to those in our lives – our family, our colleagues, our community, our city, our country, and yes, our world.  And once he is present, true resolution, true reconciliation becomes possible. 

Our world has never needed it more.

Amen.

THE EIGHT SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Sermon Delivered by the Rev. Rhonda Rubinson

July 10, 2016

The Church of the Intercession, NYC

Text:  Luke 10:25-37

In the name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I was a child of the 60’s, so the Viet Nam war and all of the social unrest around it were what poured out of my family’s television set in Brooklyn.  Video of the horrors of the jungles of faraway Southeast Asia, closer to home riots and protests across our own country, assassinations of our leaders: some of you will remember those times as vividly as I do, especially that violent summer of 1968, when anger and frustration at the war and the murder of Dr. King exploded across the country. 

I don’t remember what grade I was in when the war officially ended.  What I do remember is that we had a nightly school assignment to write a paragraph on current events for class the next day.  And I remember that night in the mid-1970’s when it was finally announced that the war was over, and we were pulling out our troops.  I sat down to write my paragraph for class the next day at my favorite little flip down-top desk, and to start my assignment I wrote the words “Thank God the war is over.”  Then I burst into tears.  It surprised me, those tears, and I soaked the loose-leaf page I had written on, crumpled it up, threw it in the trash.  So I wrote it again “Thank God the war is over.”  I had to throw that one into the trash as well. And so it went for most of that night.  Not knowing a warless world as I grew up, I never remembered a time when it wasn’t all around me, and I wasn’t aware of how it was affecting me.  I didn’t really understand the ins and outs of the politics and the ideologies of who we were fighting and why, and God knows I was in Brooklyn, not Viet Nam, so I wasn’t living in terror of being killed by napalm or carpet bombing.  But when that war stopped, something fell into place that wasn’t there before.  Something was healed.  Suddenly there was wholeness and peace where there had been discord and pain.  In its place was something new:  hope.  It felt like we (our country, our society, our world) were making progress. 

Can we get there again?

More recently, I’m sure you remember where you were on the evening of November 4, 2008. I can tell you where I was. I was dozing on my living room couch with the TV on when at about 11 o’clock, Brian Williams on NBC announced that Barack Obama was projected the winner of the presidency of the United States.  I’ll never forget what happened next. The city all around me erupted in joy.  You could literally hear a shout go up from every apartment in every building, cheers of celebration, an almost electrical whoop of joy that I never heard before, even when the Yankees won the World Series, and I could hear those celebrations in my apartment too.

There was that whoop of joy, and then something absolutely unprecedented happened:  everyone poured out into the street.  There was an overwhelming desire for community, a need to celebrate together, because somehow this moment was not about individual joy or triumph, it was about all of us.  Even though I wasn’t feeling very well – I had undergone cancer surgery the week before – I put on a coat and went downstairs.  If I felt up to it I would have walked the 6 blocks up to 125th Street to join in the magnificent celebration that I’m sure many of you attended:  the chanting, the singing, the spontaneous parades, the car-honking, the church bells ringing for over an hour for miles around. 

This was a celebration that erupted not only here in New York City, but across the country.  A friend who lives in Portland, Oregon said she went out to the Portland town square where a thousand people gathered in a driving rain to join hands and sing our National Anthem.  Friends in Tucson Arizona left their house in joy and started going from house to house in their gated neighborhood with hundreds of others, knocking on everyone’s doors to invite them to come out and celebrate – and that is a Republican neighborhood, John McCain country, I’ve been there.  But across the country, even across the world, it felt like we were finally making progress.  After the horror and sadness of the terrorist attacks of September 11, the wars that followed both justified and not, it felt like a pall was finally lifting.  The grievous sin of racism seemed to be healing, and in its place there was something new:  hope.  It felt like we (our country, our society, our world) were making progress.

Can we get there again?

Here we are in July of 2016, and the pall is back. We are clearly in a time that is just as volatile, horrible, and uncertain as the late 1960’s and the years following 9/11, except worse, because now we are destroying ourselves from the inside-out, taking part in slow-motion national suicide driven by racism – it hadn’t gone anywhere- plus homophobia, xenophobic fear, economic inequality, and untreated mental illness combined with easy access to military-grade guns and social media that both thankfully exposes injustices to the world on the one hand while simultaneously fomenting hatred in the time in takes to hit the “send” button on a smartphone on the other.

This does not feel like a hopeful moment, yet as Christians that is exactly who what we are called to be at this moment.  The fact of the matter is that when we feel helpless and hopeless that is exactly where we meet Jesus.  When we feel that we have absolutely intractable enemies, that is exactly when we are called on to follow the gospels.  And today’s parable of the Good Samaritan, far from just being a famous, somewhat trite story, is a powerful statement of what a Christian should do in the most frightening of times, that is to say, today.

Over the past few years, I’ve shared with you some deeper lessons from this story, including that of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., from the “Promised Land” speech he gave the night before he was assassinated; that speech was mostly about the Good Samaritan.  Rev. King interprets the parable as a lesson on the courage to love in the face of fear, since the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was very dangerous, much like our world today; that is why the priest and the Levite were afraid to stop – they thought it might be an ambush trap.  The Samaritan is the only one to exercise what King calls “dangerous unselfishness,” which encourages us never to count the cost to ourselves, even if there is the risk of personal danger, in order to connect with on the deepest human level with a fellow child of God in compassion and mercy.

We also spoke about the early church fathers, who viewed this parable as an allegory.  In their interpretation, the city of Jerusalem represents the kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem – what we aspire to – and Jericho represents our fallen world, the wounded man us sinners, and the Good Samaritan, Jesus.  Surprisingly, in this allegory, Jesus himself is the Samaritan.  This means that Jesus willing took on the identity of a member of a despised and rejected race, despite the fact that he historically was a Jew.  This foreshadows Jesus’ crucifixion, when he indeed will be “despised and rejected,” and teaches us that we, too, need not stick to our biological or social class when we minister to others.

There is one more way to look at this story.  All of the other lessons we can learn from this story center on the Samaritan; indeed the parable is known by his name.  But let’s change our focus for a moment to the robbery victim: what if we consider ourselves as this victim, as someone who has been attacked by someone or something that came out of nowhere, or perhaps a long-entrenched social system and left us broken and bloodied, perhaps even dying, by the side of the road – the road represents our life.  Think about it – many of us have been either blindsided by an attack that we never saw coming:  a serious illness, a betrayal by someone close to us, even being unexpectedly fired from our job, the loss of a loved one, sometimes by murder. Or we have been the victim of social injustice. In either case we are left us bloody and helpless, dumped on the side of the road.  Today we recall that Jesus was himself a murder victim, and so he can play both roles in the parable – both victim and savior, both priest and sacrifice, both the injured man and the Samaritan.

Further, I think at different times in our lives we, too, play both roles in the parable – sometimes we are the victim in need of help, and sometimes we are the Samaritan.  This is the key to the relevance of this parable in our times – when we are the victim we should also remember that we can also play the role of the Samaritan, and stop even in dangerous times to recognize the humanity of someone who might be despised, or a sworn enemy.  And when we are in a position of power, able to help, we must, must, put ourselves in the place of the victim, and in model of the self-giving sacrifice of Jesus himself, willing to step in to danger to work for justice, going to every length to connect with every child of God.

Neither role is easy, but transformation demands ultimate sacrifice.  It is absolutely true that white people, myself included, can never know the truth of what it is to live a black life in this country, but that does not mean that we cannot be part of the drive for justice and change – indeed we must be.  It is also absolutely true that folks who have been raised in privilege can never know what it is to live a life of deep poverty, yet they too must be partners in any deep, meaningful change in the economic structure of this country.  And so on.  Jesus ministered to every one – Jew, Gentile, male, female, rich, poor, sick, and healthy.  Every child of God can be reached with the gospel, if only Christians have the courage to truly exercise the dangerous unselfishness called for by Martin Luther King.

The New Jerusalem, the kingdom of God on this earth, may feel very far away at this moment, but either we have faith in the power of God to help us transform our world, or we don’t.  If we do, let us take the parable of the Good Samaritan to heart, and resolve to exercise our faith, mercy, compassion, and effort on behalf of both the victim, and the Samaritan.  May God bless all of us in these troubled times, and give us true healing, that our sin-sick world may indeed be truly transformed. 

Amen.

FEAST OF PENTECOST

Homily Delivered on the Feast of Pentecost

May 15, 2016

The Church of the Intercession

New York City

by the Rev. Rhonda J. Rubinson 

Texts: Genesis 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-21

 

In the name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Today is the fulfillment of Jesus’ last promise before he left this earth:  “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit come upon you,” Jesus said right before ascending into heaven.  Today, that prophecy comes to pass in spectacular fashion:  a tornado fills the house in which the disciples had gathered, and a huge flame descends from heaven then splits into tongues of fire – each tongue resting upon every disciple’s head, causing them to speak new languages.  Usually we say that these “new languages” are not just human languages that the disciples hadn’t spoken before – like speaking Italian if they had only spoken Hebrew – but rather a language of the Spirit – often called “speaking in tongues” after the “tongues of fire.”  If that weren’t strange enough, people of different nationalities who spoke different languages could all understand what the other disciples were saying about “God’s deeds of power” as though the words were in their native language. 

In our readings today, that Pentecost story of a new, universal language contrasts with the story of the Tower of Babel, in many ways its opposite.  The Book of Genesis recalls the story of people beginning to fall prey to pride and ambition yet again – today’s story takes place after the story of the flood that left behind only Noah and his descendants.  God had hoped that a new start would lead to a better outcome, and after the flood, God promised that he would never destroy humankind again, not matter what they did.  So when the new population begins having ambitions to build a tower that reaches to heaven – which means that they want to become like God – and with mass destruction no longer an option, God decides to thwart them by hindering their ability to communicate:  he takes their common language and splinters it into many.

It is tempting to contrast the many languages in the Genesis story with the universal language of Pentecost and say that these are both stories about how language can either divide us or bring us together.  But that would miss the deeper message, which is that it is good or bad spirits that unite or divide us, not language.  Let me explain.

The Bible speaks of many kinds of spirits, but they can be summed up this way:  there is one good spirit, the Holy Spirit of the Lord, which is what filled the prophets and the great leaders of the Bible, like David and of course Jesus.  But there are many kinds of evil spirits in the Bible: unclean spirits, spirits of divination, and spirits of strife, to name a few.  Notice:  God’s Holy Spirit in One – but evil spirits are many.  Moreover, good and evil spirits cannot abide together:  the holiness of God’s spirit always casts out an evil spirit.  That good and evil spirits cannot be in the same place at the same time is shown in the story of how the Temple was built:  God gave orders that there could not even be the sound of hammers at the building site – because hammers were the sound of strife.  The stones of the Temple had to be completely finished before they were brought to the site where they were installed, always to the sound of music, both instrumental and vocal.  Even the sound of an evil spirit could not be abided in a holy place.

So when God heard the men in Genesis discussing their plans for the Tower of Babel, he heard the sounds of evil spirits:  ambition, pride, lust after power and fame.  Their language could not remain one because they had broken away from the one Holy Spirit and turned to a multitude of evil ones.  Their “many languages” – which meant that they were no longer united in God – were simply an outward sign of the sins they had already chosen to commit.  God did not have to divide these men from each other:  the “many languages” were a symbol of their inward state.

 

We know this is true because we’ve all had the experience of not truly being able to communicate with someone who speaks our native language, say Spanish or English, while we have much more in common with someone who doesn’t speak our language.  Sometimes we feel like we are talking to a brick wall even in our own tongue, while we can share more deeply with someone who doesn’t speak our language.  It all has to do with spirit.

I’ll give you an example.  A number of years ago I worked for a few weeks on the island of Corsica, off the coast of Italy.  It is a wild place, with a language to match:  the natives speak “Corsu,” a combination of Italian and French, with some Spanish and German thrown in.  Even though I know some French, I couldn’t understand a thing anyone was saying, and so I mostly communicated through hand gestures.  But there was one time that was an exception, and I’ll never forget it.  There was an old stone church not far from our lodgings, and one morning I got up very early, took my prayer book, and went to see if there was an early morning mass.  If not, I figured I could sit outside and pray the morning office.  The church was closed, but there was a bench in the little square in front of the church, so I sat down, opened my book, and began praying.

A very old woman carrying some bags was passing by.  She noticed that I was a stranger, so she came over to me and began speaking in Corsu. With many gestures and miming we had a conversation about the church being closed and the time of Mass.  But then she pointed at my Book of Common Prayer and motioned for me to continue praying.  She sat down on the bench next to me closed her eyes, lifted her hands, and listened to me read first Morning Prayer, then the Communion service in English.  On that bench in front of a small church on Corsica, we shared spiritual communion, not physically eating the bread and drinking the wine, but closing our eyes and imagining taking in Christ’s body and blood.  I can’t tell you how moving it was.  When we were done she hugged and kissed me, then went on her way.  I never saw her again.

That is what happened to the disciples at Pentecost – the experience of being united in one Spirit, the Holy Spirit.  No matter what their native language, the disciples were one in Christ, so communication was effortless.  The nature of our spirit determines what language we speak, not the other way around.  When we unite ourselves to God in prayer, when we turn away from the evil spirits that divide us, the universal language of God’s love prevails. There is indeed One Body and One Spirit, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One God and Father of all.

May the One Spirit of Pentecost rest upon us all, and may we unite our broken world in its power.

Amen. 

MEMORIAL SERVICE for RICHARD FREEMAN

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote: “much of what the Bible demands can be compared in one word “Remember.”  Through the writings of Scripture we learn how important it was for the early Church community to help the faithful to remember what they had received in order that they might carry it on to others. One of the major roles of the priest –even today - is to recall the same story: God entered into our life through Jesus, how he brought about our salvation. We remember the words of Jesus pertaining to the Eucharist: “Do this for the remembrance of Me.”

Henri Nouwen in a little book entitled “The Living Reminder” states “our memory plays a central role in our sense of being. Our pains and joys, our feelings of grief and satisfaction, are not simply dependent on the events of our lives, but also, and even more so, on the ways we remember these events.” (p. 19)

“Most of our human emotions are closely related to memory.  Remorse is a biting memory, guilt is an accusing memory, gratitude is a joyful memory, and all such emotions are deeply influenced by the way we have integrated past events into our way of being in the world. In fact we perceive our world with our memories.  Our memories help us to see and understand new impressions and give them a place in our richly varied life experiences.”  (p. 19) Memories help us to avoid bad situations, and hopefully nurture us into good experiences.

 Henri Nouwen reminds us how our hope is built on memories.  “We do not always realize that among the best things we can give each other are good memories: kind words, signs of affections, gestures of sympathy, peaceful silences, joyful celebrations… they can save us in the midst of confusion, fear and darkness.  (p. 60)  The memory of Jesus guides us and offers us hope and confidence in the midst of a failing culture a faltering society and a dark world.”  (63)  

Today we are here to remember, to remember a man named Richard Freeman, and to thank God for his presence amongst us.  Born in 1951, he was baptized on a Saturday in December in 1961, and Confirmed by the bishop one day later. He attended George Washington High School, and later Manhattan Community College. He was employed for many years at Bankers Trust.

He was devoted to this parish.  He loved this parish, and in so many ways it was a real home for him. He was virtually adopted by this parish. Indeed, he lived for many years within the confines of Intercession buildings. He served as Verger, and with his talents helped to keep the building in as best order as he could.

One of the difficulties in preaching at the memorial service for someone whom you have not seen much in some 40 years is trying to remember accurately the things you want to say so that we might truly together celebrate his life.  Hence, I reached out to a variety of his friends, old and new, who helped to confirm my thoughts, as well as add some new perspectives.

And they all agreed:  Richard was a man of good character… and so good natured, friendly to all, a man of peace.  Let me give some illustrations.

During the 1960s, drugs were rampant in this neighborhood – and in much of the city. Richard had the good common sense not to use heroin during the time that I knew him. I like to think that he never used heroin, which was in a short period time to kill several of his friends.  For some, this may seem not such a big deal, but let me tell you it was.

We had a large EYC in those days.  I remember this one particular year in the late 1960s  when we had some 60 teenage members (30 boys and 30 girls) Of those 30 boys, 20 mainlined heroin, in that one year, or shortly thereafter.  It wasn’t easy saying “no” when so many of your friends and acquaintances were saying “yes.”  Richard said “no.”

He was a member of the choir under Clinton Reed for a while, but singing was not his forte. When we produced stage musicals (Bye Bye Birdie, etc.), he served on the stage crew; but when we produced our shows without singing, he was right up there on stage.  I have a picture of him in one of our shows along with Robert Washington.

Among the acolytes, he was most faithful. He enjoyed serving at the altar, carrying the cross, and perhaps most of all – being the thurifer at the Mass.

He participated in the EYC, the teenage youth program of the Church.  Teenagers can be a rowdy bunch – to say the least. Richard, however, was one of the ones who helped things to stay cool.

I am told that when I left this parish, he took over the leadership reins of the group, keeping the group going for as long as he could.  He enjoyed working with younger students and was willing to give of himself for their benefit.

We used to have monthly Friday night dances in the upstairs hall.  500 of so teenagers would pack the place with their energy and music. We used to charge $1.00 a person, so we would raise $500 a night.  This money was used to sponsor our weekend conferences at the YMCA Conference Center in Pawling, NY, as well as other activities.   Richard was someone whom I knew I could count on to help keep order, to quiet down those who became upset or enraged.  He was a peace maker, even in those days.

For many years Richard was active in the Cadet Corps of Minisink, and I have learned that he remained active in Pen and Scroll throughout his life. This was one of the ways in which he believed he could serve others. Apparently part of his role each Christmas was leading the Procession to the grave of Clement Clark Moore.

As the years passed, he could nolonger make the procession down to the grave.  At his last Christmas here, he was dressed up as an elf of Santa, and remained at the front door of the church where he gave out candy and goodies to the children. Heloved being part of the mix, and the “mix” loved him being there.

I know that both Father Williams and Father Berto relied on Richard to help them in their work in this parish.  They both told me that personally. Richard was one of the constants, a man upon whom they could rely.

His last few years were not easy. He unfortunately experienced more than his share of physical illnesses, and yet in the face of these, he was courageous. He was always of good humor

He was also a man of faith. Rarely did he miss Sunday Mass. I am told that even on the Sunday before he died, he managed to come to Church from the nursing home. More than any place on earth, this was his home.

Should this not be true for each one of us?

I know that each of us has family or friends, children or parents – numerous persons with whom we relate. We have our work partners, our friends in recreation, our casual acquaintances. Today we are here because one of our friends was Richard…and in the case of LeShan – even more.  He was her father… and LaTytianna. He was her grandfather.  Our prayers go out to them.

But should there not be a relationship which supersedes everything else… which makes meaningful all other relationships…. Which helps us to make sense of the ways of this world, which sometimes are not pretty… which helps us work through times of grief and separation? 

And that relationship is with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Last Sunday one of our readings from Scripture quoted Jesus as saying:  “The Father and I are one.”  To the unlearned or the non-believer, that may sound like nonsense.  How can Jesus and God be one?

The Christian understanding is that there was such a bond of love between Jesus and his Father, that Jesus was able to be obedient to the will of his Father, even unto the Cross.  That same bond of love he wishes for us… with Himself and with each other.

Now we consign Richard to the ages.  We thank God for his presence with and amongst us.  We pray for him:  May he rest in peace and rise in glory.