Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Enemy
Rob Gieselmann Epiph 5A, Feb 2, 2017

I was sitting on the back deck of our house in California.We lived on the side of a hill, so the deck overlooked the neighborhood and the valley below. It was Friday, my day off, and I was pretending to read a novel – only I had shut my eyes, and was daydreaming. Suddenly, in my dreams – or was it real? – I heard this most exquisite, symphonic sound. Now normally, I don’t like crows. They caw and cackle, they swarm, and they dive-bomb songbirds’ nests,
to steal hatchlings.  They are murderers, which is, I suppose, why they call a flock of crows: a murder of crows.
Only this particular murder of crows - sounded exquisite. And it was not a dream. Flying from the hills above me, now passing around me from both sides of the house, were well over a hundred crows, maybe two hundred - fanning out into the valley below. Their cawing was, if you can believe it,the most perfect natural sound I think I’ve ever heard…
… despite their murderous mission. You see, they were chasing a lone hawk. Attacking the hawk, dive-bombing the hawk, determined to kill the hawk. Dodging the crows, the hawk took refuge in one of the neighbor’s pine trees. And now, from my perch high above, I watched the crows attack this hawk in the tree with murder in their eyes.
And I was not amused. To quote Thomas Aquinas:
one should not bear patiently wrongs done to someone else. I decided to rescue the hawk.

**Paul speaks of the mystery of God. This mystery eludes – us - as mere mortals. We think we know, when in fact we do not. We think we see, when in fact we are blind. Even our rulers, Paul writes, think only as mortals think, and not as God. See as mortals see, not as God. But the prophet – Isaiah – offers clues to the mystery of God. The mystery is revealed not – believe it or not - in religious devotion; it is revealed through charity. When you free the oppressed.
When you share your food with the hungry, and share your home with the homeless. The psalmist agrees: it is when you deal generously with others, and lend to those in need. For you see, it is in giving that you receive. That you purchase an understanding of God. In generosity of spirit and action, you become the light of the world. The salt of the earth.

*I don’t know whether President Trump’s executive order limiting the inflow of people from certain countries is a smart political move, or not. Personally, I am not comfortable with it. But I suspect some here might be. But what I do know is this: from a Christian standpoint, we uncover the mysteries only by being generous. Not by withholding. For fear – is the mark of those who cannot share with others. It is this fear that I want to address.  *A year ago this past fall, I spoke about the Syrian refugee crisis. That so many western nations had turned a cold shoulder to people in desperate need, ordinary people like you and me,fleeing war and murder, hoping for nothing more than survival. At the time, England had taken in only a handful of Syrian refugees. The United States about 1500.  But Germany and Sweden had welcomed over 300,000 of the Syrian homeless, and many Germans passed out water along refugee paths running through their backyards.  Not much has changed from these national pictures. And I said then, what I want to say now:
you and I are Christians. Regardless of one’s political viewpoint, we are noT people of fear. We are people of faith.*Do you remember the story of the Dutch girl, Corrie Ten Boom? Her father took the Bible literally when it calls the Jews, God’s chosen people. So he and his family hid those Jews escaping Nazi Germany – but they were arrested. The whole family. Corrie and her sister, Betsie, were imprisoned together in concentration camps. In the camps, rather than cower in fear, they held clandestine Bible studies to encourage the other ladies in their barracks. Betsie even died in Corrie’s arms, but as she died, she reminded Corrie of the goodness of God. And later, Corrie Ten Boom had this to say about anxiety: Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength. So – when it comes to terrorism and the so-called Islamic State, I as a Christian have a hard time understanding why we are so afraid. Sometimes I think we fear all the wrong things. Did you realize that this last year, 2016, only 100 people died from terrorism in the United States.  And half of those died in the Orlando massacre – which may not have been terrorism at all. Yet over 15,000 Americans died violently by guns. A number that does not include suicides. 40,000 Americans died in car accidents. Worse – every single day in this country eleven teenagers die when texting while driving. So if we must insist on harboring fear, let’s at least direct our fear appropriately – But we are Christians, called out of fear, to fearlessly give away from ourselves.To share our bread and our homes. Like Corrie, and her sister Betsie.

**So there I was, determined to rescue the hawk. I hopped in my car and drove down to my neighbor’s house, to try to chase the crows away. Now, I’m a tad eccentric. And when I hear crows outside my house, I go outside to chase them away.  I clap loudly, shout, throw rocks and make threatening gestures. Like I said, these miscreants rob hatchlings from songbirds’ nests. Believe it or not, my jeering usually works.  Anyway, upon arriving at my neighbor’s house, I explained the situation to her, and she gladly joined my cause.  So there we were together, out back, clapping and yelling and throwing pinecones at the crows to try to chase them away. Only this time, the crows were unyielding. When throwing things didn’t work, we triedspraying them with water from the hose -  but that didn’t work, either. Eventually, my neighbor ran inside to find a pair of binoculars – so we could try to figure out why the crows were so angry at the hawk. Sure enough – When I peered through the binoculars, I could see – the hawk looked exactly like a hawk should look. Stoic and stately, impervious to the cawing of the crows. But there was more. He was clutching something in his talons that I hadn’t been able to see before. There were - tufts of black. Then, it struck me. I had chosen the wrong enemy. For you see,the hawk clutched in his talons a baby crow. He had raided the crows’ nest. And stolen one of their young. And this is my point: sometimes we pick the wrong enemy. Our enemy is not flesh and blood, but fear. In the wisdom of Pogo – for those of you who remember him – I have seen the enemy
and he is us. But you and I are people of faith. The love of God abides deep within us. We need not fear – any perceived enemy. Real or otherwise. I suppose I’m most uncomfortable with the restriction on refugees because it

seems to be a policy based on fear. But I also know thatyou and I – we’re called to generosity. Giving away from ourselves. And I for one do not intend to leave my light hidden under a bushel.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Joy and Hope
Rob Gieselmann, Christmas 2016 (A)
(rhinocerous joke: why do you never see a rhino hiding in a tree? They are so good at it)

Broadcaster Alistair Cooke liked to tell the story about planning a Christmas entertainment show with Leonard Bernstein. You remember Leonard Bernstein - he conducted the New York Symphony and composed the scores for West Side Story, and Peter Pan.  The group was tossing  ideas around, when Cooke suggested they offer a shortened version of Handel’s Messiah – Cooke noted, a hackneyed idea, but people will like it nonetheless. Bernstein looked bewildered, and confessed: Messiah? I don’t know the work. Imagine that, Leonard Bernstein unfamiliar with Handel’s Messiah. Somewhat ironically, Bernstein composed his own version of a faith symphony, years later, for the grand opening of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Bernstein aptly named his work, Mass, a postmodern interpretation of the Christian mass. At first, the entire cast: the priest, the choir, and the altar party,sing as though unified – harmoniously. At some point, though, division intrudes, an unpleasant note; the discordancy grows, and the choir falls into disarray. Their chaos and bitterness becomes palpable. They no longer believe God exists, and even if God does, why do we need him? They wonder. The tension builds into climax, when the priest himself finally erupts, throwing the chalice and paten, the holy bread and the wine, to the floor, smashing them to bits. Everyone on stage collapses into silence. And the stage turns dark. But … Then … after a minute … you hear a flute – darting about, searching for its note. The flute is the Holy Spirit, for with God, there is always, always redemption.  Always an element of hope.

When the Spirit fixes on its note, one member of the altar party rises to sing a simple song of praise. The rest rise, too, returning to unity, singing harmonically. It is a fulfillment of the prophet: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. There is now peace. Pax Tecum. Go in peace, the priest intoned, sending them forth in the name of God.

And this is what is on my heart this dark night: I am wondering, how in this present world of chaos, this world in which trucks plow through throngs of Christmas shoppers, developed nations have fallen into political chaos, and wars ravage even children, Where do you – you – find your peace? On that night, so many, many years ago, the shepherds too, wondered at peace. They were equally afraid, Sore afraid.On your bulletin cover, you can see a representation of this fear –
This unique version of the shepherd scene was painted by seventeenth century Dutch artist Adam Pynacker. My son, Tate, and I stumbled across this painting at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always imagined the shepherd scene to be placid. But Pynacker paints of shepherds consumed by fear – The skies are roiling black, the storms held at bay only by the beating of the angels’ wings. The shepherds are stumbling over each other, for they are sore afraid. Even the animals are afraid, the bull ready to charge, the goat bucking rebellion. Deep darkness covethe earth, said the prophet. The deepest darkness. And yet – when life is darkest; when the stage turns black – there is, if only you could hear it – the singular sound of a flute seeking its note. The choir was sore afraid. The shepherds were sore afraid.You and I – we are sore afraid. Darkness forms a shroud about us.

But do you not know? Have you not heard?

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For unto you is born this day in the city of David,  a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
In the old Provencal French countryside, they still tell an old Christmas legend – about a little shepherd, whom everyone thinks has been lost – they search and search for him, until they find him at long last kneeling at the foot of the manger – in sheer delight. He is exactly where he wants to be.

Dorothy Day – that twentieth century Catholic social activist – believed Christians have an obligation to delight. Despite the world’s great suffering, despite your own struggles and pain, despite chaos and discordance and confusion – We would be contributing to the misery of the world, if we failed to rejoice in creation. The world, she said, will be saved by beauty. One day, a wealthy woman came into their center and donated a diamond ring. Dorothy Day didn’t sell the ring to raise money to feed or house the poor. Instead, she gave the ring to one of their poorest of ladies – Outright. Just gave it to her. When criticized, Dorothy responded: This woman can sell the diamond to buy food. But, she might decide just to enjoy it.  Do you suppose God created diamonds only for the rich? What diamonds did God create for you? The tiniest and most insignificant shepherd delighted in the baby at the manger. A poor old woman who could barely feed herself wore a diamond on her finger. And if you listen carefully – amidst the world’s fear and chaos – I promise, you will hear the single note of a flute rising. The Holy Spirit of God, intoning, delighting in, joy. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Seize that joy, my friends, on this holy night. Delight in that grace. And be not afraid. For don’t you know? The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Crosses and the Other Side
Rob Gieselmann, Pent. 18C, Sept. 4, 2016

I remember a poem from years ago – Only I cannot
recall the poet or the actual words of the poem – Age
seems to have eroded my memory …But the poem left
me with an image.  It is winter, and a man is walking
through snowy woods late at night. He is walking
backwards, away from his cottage, staring at the light
shining through the front window of the cottage. As he
walks backwards the light disappears from his view. He  stops – then walks back towards the cottage, and the light reappears. He reverses course again, and the light disappears. And he realizes, now, that there exists an invisible line dividing his sight – a perimeter beyond
which the light is no longer perceivable. A circle within
which he can see.

*Jesus is traveling from his home in Galilee towards Jerusalem, through Samaria. Somewhere along the way,
he crosses some invisible perimeter – he becomes the
man in the poem – Only he has walked inside the circle, through the perimeter of truth. The truth about his
life. That truth, though, perversely dark, remains
evanescent. Now he can see now what he could not see
in Galilee. He is going to die. On the cross. How is it nobody can see his cross. That the people would turn against him. He must have wondered. Instead, the people crowd him
like crazed fans at a rock concert, or Big Orange Volunteers at the home-game opener. Pressing in on every side. No, they don’t see the cross like he does, but it is there. Jesus tells them as much – and he tells them about their own crosses, too. Cross and death loom like a red moon rising – for all of us.

*What do you think Jesus meant when he said you’d
have to carry your cross? Give away your possessions?
The disciples once claimed they’d given up everything to follow Jesus. But they hadn’t - not really - had they? Given up everything. They had families, and, to a person, each of them abandoned Jesus at the end, Peter included.  And if not these men, who then could take up their crosses?
In light of that - I don’t think I am a very good at following Jesus.

When I was young and impulsive – I promised Jesus I’d follow him wherever he would lead me. They say some people grow into faith, while others leap. I lept.
Leave it all, I had imagined, as a young man and follower of Jesus. I might just as well  have been the young man who promised to follow Jesus wherever he went, to whom Jesus retorted, foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Abandon everything, only – I seem to give away my possessions – metaphorically – only to buy them back right away.

I’m older, now, and I, like Jesus, seem to have crossed some invisible perimeter into the field of the cottage light.
I will turn 58, soon, which places me on the back side of middle age. And these days it is as though I see things that were once outside my field of vision. In July, I attended my fortieth high school reunion. My old friends had aged – everybody that is, except for me – You’ve heard the old
line: I was young once, but I got over it. Reminds me of the the Simon and Garfunkel lyric - I’m older than I was,
but younger than I’ll be, that’s not unusual. Just a few years ago, when I was in my forties – and even as late as 50 – people called me the “young Episcopal priest” – I would laugh at them - only in the Episcopal Church is a priest called young at 50. But I’m no longer 50, and soon I will be 60, entering my seventh decade. And I have seen what many of you already know – that there is an invisible perimeter - a dividing line separating those who see the cottage light from those who do not. Turns out – you are young only until you aren’t. And somewhere along the way, your own cross as a cottage light comes into view. And at that point, if you haven’t done so already, you face the choice:  What do I want my life to be about? Is it my possessions? Money? All that I own? The concept of ownership is actually an illusion – ephemeral. You cannot take it with you, after all. But there is something you will
take with you. And that is this: You will take with you the
very real substance of a life well-lived. Or not.
Which is why I must ask, what kind of life  do you lead? What values have you purchased along the way? Now, please do not misinterpret my melancholy – I believe
deeply in resurrection. I believe that Jesus at Easter
leads to life beyond the grave. Like I said Thursday at
Chalmers Wilson’s funeral, We are Easter people!
The nineteenth century religious philosopher James Martineau said, I don’t believe in resurrection because
I can prove it, I am forever trying to prove it because I believe it. People across the world –  not just Christians,
but people of all traditions – have this inalienable sense that life does not end at the termination of the physical body.
Meaning now – that how you choose to live this life now – makes a difference. Which is – what Paul is telling
Philemon – that he, too, has a choice – to do good in accepting Onesimus, his runaway slave, back as a
brother – Or not. Yes, how you choose to live, to forgive,
to be generous – or not –  Brings Jesus’ imperative
into view – your cross, your possessions, laying up treasurers.  These concepts are all about the soul – The quality of the soul. The care of the soul. Although they hint at the world to come, Jesus is certainly speaking about the life you live today. Whether you are young, or old. Whether your cross is yet in view, or not. And so – acquire possessions
if you must, but I’m wondering what you might purchase on your way, as you travel to Jerusalem?