A sermon for the first Sunday after the Epiphany

I was only three weeks old when I was baptized, so naturally I don’t remember the event. It’s not surprising, although when you think about it, it’s kind of strange to have no real recollection of something so momentous, something that really set a course for my life. I have the pictures, I have a certificate, and that’s about it. But I look back on it and I know that a lot of my identity was formed in that moment, and you can see that in all of the details of that day. 

There’s a picture of me with my godparents. My godmother was my mother’s cousin. My mother was an only child, and so this cousin was the closest thing she had to a sister. My godmother had had a baby who was two months older than I am, and he was my buddy in the early years of our lives.

My godfather was my father’s uncle. He was someone who was known in our family for his humility and also for his personal holiness. He was very devout. He was really a good guy, and since my dad’s dad had died when he was a little boy, I think he was sort of a father figure to my father also. 

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Thankful

Today on the sixth anniversary of my ordination I’m grateful for meaningful work, and grateful also for all of those who have been my teachers along the way, beginning with the priests and pastors who were my models long before I found myself walking down that long path we call “the process.” 

I’m grateful for the people of my parish who supported and encouraged me as I pursued the dream, for the professors who shared their wisdom, for the friends who walked beside me in seminary. I’m grateful for those who stood with me on ordination day. 

I’m grateful for those mentors, ordained and lay, who knew what I was supposed to be doing before I did, and who gently directed me, and for those who taught me simply by the way they received my ministry. 

I’m grateful to my family for their support and patience especially over these past 10 years or so. 

This part of the journey has been shorter that I thought it would be, but rich enough for a lifetime of grateful prayers. 

Now I’m looking forward not only to having more time for my family after March 1, but also to discovering what the next phase of this adventure will bring, because leaving parish ministry doesn’t by any means imply that I’m done. But I have to admit to some anxiety going forward, and I’ll say that I’m grateful for those I know will be there with me, continuing to help me find the way.

Home

I just really never get tired of this view. For a kid who moved again and again and never felt as if I really belonged anywhere, it’s a blessing to be able to claim such a beautiful place as home.

Intimations of mortality

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cemetery, Doylestown

Nothing like a pastoral visit to the ER followed by a drive past a gloomy cemetery to stir intimations of mortality

I know that the poem is actually about “Intimations of Immortality.” I love the thought that we come into this world trailing clouds of glory. We do. Thank you, William Wordsworth.

A sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany

If you were paying attention over the past couple of weeks, you might have noticed that there were no “wise men” at our stable on Christmas. They didn’t get there until this morning. They started out nestled in some holly on one of the back windowsills, and by last Sunday they’d moved forward a little, but only as far as one of these windowsills here.

Because it’s a long way to Bethlehem, you know. They were on the road for a long time. It took a while to get there. But today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. It’s a word that means a sudden manifestation, or a flash of understanding. And our wise men have finally taken their place with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds all gathered around the manger.

Which of course is completely wrong.

The wise men weren’t there at the manger in the Gospels. They never met the shepherds. The traditional crèche scene like ours is based on the Nativity story as Luke told it, although the stable looks more like something you’d find in Europe than in Bethlehem. 

But Luke never mentions the magi—only Matthew tells a story in which they arrive in Bethlehem after Jesus was born, perhaps long after Jesus is born, and the find him with Mary in a house, not a stable.

So what you see on proud display here is basically a Biblical inaccuracy. I guess the best thing we can say about that is, at least we’re not the only ones. 

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A path of plentitude opening before you …

I’ve been reading a book of John O’Donohue’s musings, full of delightful new insights at almost every page turn, but this one is an old friend:

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you. 

“For a New Beginning,” originally from “To Bless the Space Between Us,” included in “Walking in Wonder: Eternal Wisdom for a Modern World.”