Epiphany News

Rob Morpeth Homily 9/18/11

Here’s the text of the homily The Revd Rob Morpeth delivered at Episcopal Church of the Epiphany on Sunday, September 18, 2011. In it he refers to three of the lectionary scriptures for that day:

Exodus 16:2-5

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaining against the LORD. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the LORD has heard the complaining that you utter against him– what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the LORD.”

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, `Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.'” And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. The LORD spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, `At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'”

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.”

Philippians 1:21-30

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well– since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, `You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, `Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, `Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, `You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, `Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, `These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, `Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Like the early Israelites in our story this morning, I have traveled across the Sinai … across the wilderness. I made my journey several years ago during a lull in the fighting that seems never ending in that region …However, I traveled from east to west …from the promised land to Egypt rather than in the opposite direction as the recently freed Israelites did in the story this morning as they fled from captivity in Egypt.

Oh, and also I did it in a day on charter bus with an Egyptian driver named Monty … I was the bus leader so I guess I was the Moses of our small band of pilgrims.

Even in our air conditioned, espresso equipped coach some of us grumbled as the day wore on … the terrain … stark and barren …. is interesting for only so long…then the trip becomes just tedious… at first you remind yourself of how this extraordinary place shaped the people of God, but after a time you just want the trip to end…you long for the lights of Cairo.

So forgive me if I go a little easy on the Israelites who grumble as they cross the Sinai on foot … seeing the same terrain, minute by minute, hour by hour, day after day … feeling the rocks and sand underfoot and the hot breeze on their dry skin … at this point they know very little about this god who has sent Moses and called them out of slavery … indeed they left behind everything they knew … even the certainty of food and water and a place to sleep…at this point in their story the encounter at the mountain still lies ahead … at this point there are no commandments … no stone tablets … there have been a couple of times when extraordinary things have happened … there was the bitter water at Marabah …water that turned sweet when Moses threw a tree into the water … was that God or did the tree just absorb the bitterness? … and indeed there was that lucky break back at the Reed Sea when the winds blew all night pushing the water to the south so they were able to walk threw the waters while the heavy Egyptian chariots sank into the mud … there was some debate even about that … was it a lucky break or was it the hand of this mysterious God who has so recently reentered their lives claiming to have been the god of their ancestors? All this they turn over and over in their minds as they walk on and on. The one thing it seems that they now have in abundance is time and the luxury of worry.

And in this they are not much different from most of us…though their circumstances are different and though 27 centuries separate us … the core question they face is the same as ours … shall our lives and the choices we make be grounded in and responsive to our relationship with God … or is that relationship merely a mirage leaving us to fend for ourselves making the most of whatever lot fate has dealt us?

For them this question was articulated in the choice between continuing on their journey through the Sinai or in returning to the security of Egypt. For us the question seems to take many forms but is essentially the same. The dollar bill proclaims that it is in God that we trust but the recent history of that dollar and its investment suggests that at least some of us are more like those Israelites who wanted to reject the trust implicit in a relationship with God and instead fend for themselves back in Egypt. Jonathan Edwards said during the great enlightenment that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry geod. I think it’s pretty scary choosing to fall into the hands of God no matter what the divine temper. That’s why it remains such a struggle for us. The choice that is… that’s why stories such as this still speak with such power.

We learn also in this reading of their embarrassing scramble to gather more manna than would be required for one day. The implication of their gathering was clear enough … this god could not really be trusted so you had better gather all you can while it is available … there is really no miracle in this manna, of course … to this day God feeds us each day …we eat manna from heaven everyday … for not one of us can make food from thin air … we use what God has given us … there is not enough for everyone because not all of us have learned the lesson of Exodus, to gather only what we need … instead we hoard, creating shortages … and so some starve while others throw away food that, like the manna in the story, has gone bad. At the heart of it all lies this same question about trust … about the fundamental orientation of our lives. … whether it is toward the promised land or whether we continue to look back to Egypt. Whether we dare allow ourselves to fall into the hands of God or continually snatch ourselves back from God’s embrace.

The apostle Paul is powerful because he has answered that question once and for all … his life is focused in a way that will elude us so long as we hold back and grumble …his path less traveled has brought him to a place of confidence that is worthy of envy. His confidence exudes in his letter to the Christians in Philippi. For to me, he proclaims, living is Christ and dying is gain. It is incredible when we remember that he writes some 30 years after the crucifixion and nearly that long after his own conversion … he writes from a jail cell but his spirit soars so that you cannot detect his incarceration in his writing unless he mentions it.

This is a man whose life is not dependent upon the peaks and valleys of the Dow Jones … or for that matter on any other worldly measure of success. But neither is he the fierce individualist so often exalted in the American mystique … he is utterly dependent…dependent upon God … he has fallen hook, line and sinker into the hands of God and has stayed put. Though his time at the hand of the plow has been long he asks only his daily wages for he knows that his employer is able to provide…and more important …he knows who his true employer is.

And so it is that we travel on in our journey having left the confines of our personal Egypts – some more recently than others…. We now find ourselves in varying degrees struggling to permit our tumble into the hands of God … to take up the trust that is both the way and the goal … struggling to learn to gather only manna enough but knowing that gather and labor we must … struggling to stay turned toward the land of promise when Egypt beckons safe and secure. We yearn to know how much is enough and when too much becomes just another Egypt. Can we set our hands upon the plow without looking back? Do we mind too much that others may seem to make the journey with greater ease than we?. Can we trust enough to know that all may at last arrive?

We prayed just a few moments ago that we not lose our way as we pass through things that are themselves passing away. Phyllis Tickle in her book The Great Emergence argues that we are living in such a time … a time when more than the usual number of things are passing a way … a time, she observes, that seems to come around about every 500 years … a time when it is especially important to have your bearings …. A time to know what is really worth holding onto and what must be left on the side of the road. … . A time for traveling lightly.

A good time to remember our spiritual ancestors who once traversed the Sinai leaving what they had known along the way and finding that the real journey was within …a journey in which they learned to trust in more than themselves …a journey whose destination was not really a place but rather a way of living no matter the place … a journey whose end is also its way. An English king and Christian 500 years ago expressed it this way:

“To see thee is the end and the beginning, thou carriest me and thou goest before, thou art the journey and the journey’s end.”

Priests and Teachers Through 11/20/11

Senior Warden Jimmy Weldon says we’ve lined up priests and Sunday School teachers now through November 20. Here’s what’s on tap:

Date Priest Sunday School
9/11/11 The Revd Charles Womelsdorf Lee and Amanda Borden
9/18/11 The Revd Rob Morpeth Lee and Amanda Borden
9/25/11 The Revd Arnold Bush The Revd Arnold Bush
10/2/11 The Revd Arnold Bush The Revd Arnold Bush
10/9/11 The Revd Rob Morpeth Lee and Amanda Borden
10/16/11 The Revd Arnold Bush The Revd Arnold Bush
10/23/11 The Revd Arnold Bush The Revd Arnold Bush
10/30/11 The Revd Arnold Bush The Revd Arnold Bush
11/6/11 The Revd Arnold Bush The Revd Arnold Bush
11/13/11 The Revd Arnold Bush The Revd Arnold Bush
11/20/11 The Revd Arnold Bush The Revd Arnold Bush

Rob Morpeth Homily 9/4/11

When I heard The Revd Rob Morpeth deliver this homily in our nave Sunday I was moved. Now that he has been kind enough to share the text with me, I appreciate it even more, and I am proud to share it with you. He based it on Sunday’s Epistle lesson:

Romans 13:8-14

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

They say good advice never goes out of style. Writing in the middle of the 1st century…probably about 20 years after the death of Jesus…Paul gives the Romans some advice that sounds oddly contemporary. Having never been to Rome…having never met them he tells them to owe no one anything. Debt, of course, has been a big problem lately, especially too much of it or the wrong kind of it. Funny, I haven’t heard this passage being cited in the recent debates in Congress. What an odd thing to contemplate. What if our government owed no one anything…except, as Paul says, love? Sounds like something right out of the 60s doesn’t it? Owe no one anything except to love one another.

With that Paul must be understood as turning our focus very much to the here and now of living. His goal for Christians is that we arrange our affairs and direct our desires with an eye toward freeing ourselves enough to respond to those around us, not out of greed or need but in love. Love here understood not as the stuff of emotions that comes and goes. We so often confuse other feelings with love. We get it wrong all the time. We confuse lust with love. We confuse infatuation with love. We confuse liking someone with love. And sometimes we’re so dang desperate we confuse our need to be loved with love. Paul would have a hard time recognizing any of these as what he had in mind.

Paul tends to go back to the cross as the central compelling concept of life and in the fidelity of Jesus first to God and through God to humanity. Paul sees the kind of love he has in mind when he suggests it be the only thing we owe one another. As he says…if we can but love…the commandments all take care of themselves.

Much later St Augustine in the 4th century….the fellow in whose writing much of our understanding of ourselves as Christians is grounded … in the 4th century Augustine advised the faithful to love God and sin boldly. He is clever: you cannot even approach the first and still do the later. You can make no claim to love God while sinning boldly.

Like Paul’s observation of the fulfilling of the commandments…it is all taken care of in love. The kind of love that wills good for the other… the kind of love that survives the ebb and flow of emotions … the kind of love evident in the fidelity of Jesus as he refuses to turn away from his mission and in the fidelity of God as God offers the radical hope of resurrection to the very people who had turned their backs on Jesus. Paul leaves little doubt about the importance of the here and now…the give and take of human relationships. We cannot just hunker down in our well stocked basements and await the end while all hell breaks loose round about us. We have a job to do and that job is love.

Yet you may say, but Preacher, doesn’t Paul go on in this passage to speak of an end time? And I would be obliged to say yes, yes he does. The truth is that Christianity does not see the world as just cycling on and on. Time does not circle but spirals … there is an end … a reckoning … things will be different.

It turns out that science seems to see things the same way although they do not assign the same meaning to certain events as we do. We know that our own sun will go the way of other stars eventually. It will exhaust its energy and engulf the earth. We know also that our own galaxy is on a collision course with the Andromeda galaxy. Although no one can say for sure how that will go down, it doesn’t sound good. All kinds of bad of things happen when galaxies collide; well, bad for the likes of you and me. And if that doesn’t get us, we’re pretty sure the whole cosmos will either run out of steam or itself collapse in what is loosely referred to as the “big crunch.”

But unlike Paul…science gives us plenty of time to prepare for or ignore these threatening events. Billions of years separate us from any of this. Paul’s sense of time may have been off a bit – after all, it has been almost 2000 years since he wrote to the Christians in Rome – but what Paul has exactly correct is his sense of urgency. In one sense now is always the time of God. Now is always a moment of reckoning, and potentially a moment of reconciliation and of resurrection. In our arrogance we sometimes think ourselves immortal, but the things we use to convince ourselves that we are masters of our own fate are tricky. For example, we have added years to our lives but we may have inadvertently shortened the time of humans on earth.

Most of us have probably heard the idea that a collision millions of years ago between earth and an asteroid created conditions on earth that resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs. But millions of years before that there was another extinction that intrigues me. Cyanobacteria breathed CO2 – carbon dioxide – and exhaled oxygen. This was fine back then because the earth’s atmosphere had far more CO2 than oxygen. The bacteria were wildly successful – you might say they ruled the day – but over time all that breathing resulted in an accumulation of oxygen in the atmosphere. The success of the CO2 breathing bacteria became their downfall as the presence of CO2 in the atmosphere dropped and oxygen increased.

I think what Paul commends whether the end takes the form of cosmological collapse, an atmosphere that favors other life forms, or it turns out that the Mayans were right after all – what Paul commends is not the hubris and arrogance we humans have always favored when left to ourselves. What he commends is a profound humility, a humility that is itself grounded in a Christian understanding of who we are and, more importantly, whose we are. We have here of late been far too quick to roll Jesus out as our newest weapon in some battle of our choosing rather than – in humility – recognizing that we are his instruments in a battle of his choosing … the outcome of which includes our ability to do the thing both Paul and Augustine see as central: love.

The prospect of an end need not send us frantically running to and fro in desperation attempting to arrange our own salvation, the basic human problem since Eve and Adam sought to get one leg up on God by eating an apple. The prospect of an end should evoke in Christians the same activity as Paul commends in our daily relationships. So we live each day as though it were the last but live it in a way that witnesses to our conviction that our very existence is in God’s hands always.

Someone great once said he who holds the future need not fear the present. We must recall as Christians that in Jesus we hold the future. And we therefore need not act in the present out of fear. We can choose – because of the bounty of his love for us – we can choose to act toward others – no matter the time – as though we owe them only love.

First Wednesday

Many of us enjoy the relaxed and informal time for fellowship that we have enjoyed during First Wednesday, so we’re committed to continuing our monthly gathering, even though we will NOT gather this Wednesday, September 7.

The question is whether the first Wednesday of each month is the right time for us to get together. We know of one active church member, for example, whose work commitments interfere with any gathering on a Wednesday night. And we know of two other active church members who would never be able to come on a Tuesday night. How about you? Do you enjoy our monthly fellowship time? Would you like to see it continue, and if so, on what night of the week? Let Jimmy Weldon or one of the other Vestry members know your thoughts and preferences.

Weekly Responsibilities

Beginning this week, you should begin seeing on the main page of the site a list of people responsible for each task required for our worship and smooth operation. Personally, I would love to see us decide to use VolunteerSpot.com to manage our task responsibilities, but until we do, at least we will have a place where we can all check to see what each of us is supposed to be doing this week. Right now I’m just copying the names each week from the service roster. If something on the list is wrong, please let me know and I will change it.

Lee

Supply Priests for September Through November

Good news. Jimmy Weldon, our Senior Warden, says we’ve lined up supply priests for most of the Sundays in September, October, and November. Here’s what we know so far:

  • September 4 – The Revd Rob Morpeth. We don’t yet have a bio on him. He’s the Director of Finance for the Alabama Diocese. If you’re interested, here’s the text of an evening talk he delivered during the Lenten series at St. John’s in Montgomery.
  • September 11 – Open – still working on this one
  • September 18 – Rob Morpeth
  • September 25 – The Revd Arnold Bush. We’re gathering information on The Revd Bush now. We already know he’s a consultant in congregational development, retired as an active priest. When we know more about him, I’ll post something here.
  • October 2 – Arnold Bush
  • October 9 – The Revd Charles Womelsdorf
  • October 16 – Arnold Bush
  • October 23 – Arnold Bush
  • October 30 – Arnold Bush
  • November 6 – Arnold Bush
  • November 13 – Arnold Bush
  • November 20 – Arnold Bush

Latest Changes to Web Site

The home page now has a link to the hymnal revision study. Hope you’ll click on it and let your voice be heard.

The home page also has each day’s installment of the Anglican Cycle of Prayer; it updates itself each day.

There’s a new page called “Episcopal Resources.” My personal favorite is the Top 10 Reasons To Be an Episcopalian from Robin Williams.

On the transition front, the Vestry meeting with Pat Wingo seems to have gone well. Our supply priest for September 4 and 18 is Rob Morpeth, Director of Finance for the Alabama Diocese. Haven’t found a bio on him online, but if you’re interested, here’s the text of an evening talk he delivered during the Lenten series at St. John’s in Montgomery.

We have the name of a retired priest available on September 25, and we hope to be able to firm things up with him soon. When we do, we’ll be able to share his name as well. Still working on September 11.

Vestry Meeting Tuesday

The members of the vestry will be meeting Tuesday evening (8/23) at 6:00 pm with Pat Wingo, the Deployment Officer for the Alabama Diocese. It’s our hope that the vestry members will have a full and frank discussion with Pat about the transition process, what we as a congregation need to be doing, and what we can expect from the Diocese. Let’s continue to support each of the vestry members with our prayers during this pivotal time.

Forum

Okay, we’re having some fun now. I’ve added a forum to the site so we can all visit with each other in real time. You’ll see the link on the left hand side; just click on the word “Forum” or click on this link. You can read everything that’s there (right now only my first welcome post) without registering, but to post or reply to a post, you’ll need to register.

You’ll also see that I’ve added several pages describing tasks that need to be performed at the church and all linking to that VolunteerSpot site. I’d love to know what experience you have with it. To use a geek term, please regard everything here as if it were in “beta” form right now. That means it’s important that you use it so you can spot problems with it but that it’s not quite ready for prime time, so you probably will encounter little (or big) glitches as you use it. Just make sure you let me know when you encounter those glitches so we can figure out together how to fix them. Thanks!

Lee

VolunteerSpot.com

I’m beginning to include some links on the site to a web service called VolunteerSpot.com so we can all see how it would function. If it works the way I hope, we’ll all be able to sign up for things like ushering, lay reader, nursery, and refreshments using the web service. The nice thing about it is that we’ll sign up for what we really want to do, and we’ll each get an e-mail reminder as the date approaches so we’ll be more likely to remember our commitments.

I hope you’ll play with the links and tinker around with it, because it will be helpful for us to know how it’s working and whether you find it easy to use. However, I don’t consider the VolunteerSpot.com system “live” yet, and I hope you won’t either. For the time being, let’s continue with the system already in place. If we decide to change to VolunteerSpot, I’m sure you’ll be hearing about it. Thanks!

Lee