25 December 2011

Christmas collect

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

I wonder as I wander - St. Martin in the Fields, Philadelphia

24 December 2011

Christmas Eve Sermon - The Rev. Peter M. Carey - Candlelight Service

Christmas Eve Sermon
The Rev. Peter M. Carey
24 December 2011 – Isaiah 9:2-7

The dark is extinguished, and the light shines.  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.  We remember the light that came into the world, in the person of Jesus Christ.  But we do not merely remember, like some hazy photograph; some grainy 90mm film shown in the living room.  No, this is not a memory hidden in the past.  No, this is not a memory that will fade when our own memory of it fades.  This is remembrance that happened in the past, but this is remembrance that continues today.  The incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ happened those 2000 years ago, but the incarnation of God in our world is a happening that happened even in the beginning of the world and is a happening that happens today, and every day. 

This is a day when we remember the light that came into the dark world, and when we also recognize the light that is enlightening the world always.  If you merely close your eyes, you will see some darkness, but even now, in this place, in this glowing place of light and life, even our eyelids cannot shut out the light of these candles, lovingly arranged here for us.  No, our eyelids cannot shut out the light of these mere wicks and wax.  The light of these candles shines, even in the midst of the darkness of this night.  And so, also, the light of Christ shines, and could not be extinguished by small-minded people of his time, or by the petty darkness of our world; and cannot be covered by the machinations of the things of the world. 

The light of Christ has shined with celestial brightness, filling the world with its light. 

We began Advent praying to God, “give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light” as we prepared, once again, for God’s in-breaking into the world.  We began Advent by asking God to help us prepare for Christ’s coming, and to help us move into that place where we could, with Mary, “ponder these things in her heart.” 

We also prayed that God would give us the wisdom and vision of John the Baptist as he saw that something entirely new would enter the scene.  The people went out there to the wilderness and thought they had reached their destination, but John was not the destination, but a mere signpost along the way.  He pointed to one that was greater than himself, and he pointed to the true light that would come into the world, and who would baptize us with FIRE and the Holy Spirit.

And so, with our companions Mary, who pondered, and John the Baptist, who prepared, we have walked the dark pilgrim road of Advent, pondering and preparing.  We have walked the way of Advent while we also have put on the armor of light. We have looked deep within to find the hope and joy that God has given us, and we have projected our own bit of light into the world so that others could see a bit of the light of Christ. 

“This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, let it shine let it shine let it shine.”

The light shines, even amidst all those things of the world that aim to blow it out, or cover it, or wash it away.  Our light shines because the light of Christ shines. 

Our own light is much like one of these candles, but it is not a mere candle with a wick that can burn away, and it is not a mere bit of wax that can burn into oblivion.  Our own light our own life, is given to us on this night.  Our own lives are given to us, they are gifts, as the gifts that we might open tonight or tomorrow.  Our own lives are gifts given to us by God, our own lives are energized the light of Christ, that has flowed into the world.  Our own lives are empowered by the ever-flowing energy of God, the every present goodness, love, and mercy of God, ever flowing, ever empowering us, ever present with us.

On this dark night, let your light shine. On this dark night, let the light of Christ warm you, give you life, and light, and hope in the darkness.  Let the light of Christ give you joy and peace and love, so that you can share that light with the world.  Put on the armor of light, for God has cast away the works of darkness, and filled the world with celestial brightness. May we see it, may we be it, this night, and evermore! 

Christmas Eve Sermon - The Rev. Peter M. Carey - Lessons and Carols Service

The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Christmas Eve Sermon
Lessons and Carols Service

We have heard the glorious and challenging story of the reign of God.   The nine lessons we have just heard are signposts along the journey of God’s people as they made their way in the world.  From Genesis 3 and the temptation and Fall, through the promise to Abraham, through the glorious visions of Isaiah and the depictions of the Incarnation in the words written by Luke, and Matthew and John, we have received an overview of this great story of God. 

This narrative is one that needs to be told, and we need to remember it but we need to do more than merely remember it.  Here, in these words, so wonderfully read by members of our Emmanuel family, we hear the story of God.  This story is not merely a bed-time story, and is not merely a story to be analyzed and dissected by scholars and priests.  No, this story is meant to be the map that helps us to organize and situate our lives. 

Like a using a compass and coordinates on a map, these stories are knit together and give us direction so that we might live and move within the reign of God.  If these stories merely charm us, and if these carols merely entertain us with their melodies, we have missed the greater and deeper point in retelling these stories, and singing these sacred carols.  These stories remind us of God’s work in history, but also open a page for us to enter our own contribution to the story.

Allow yourself to hear these words anew this year, this Christmas.  Can we allow these words to strike our ears with the gift of newness?  If we do, we may hear the story of God and God’s people sound wholly other-wordly to us.   And so they should.  Karl Barth described this as, “entering the strange new world of the Bible,” and it can sound quite strange. 

A man and a woman walking in a garden, and being tempted by a serpent, and disobeying their creator.  God promising to a very very old man who has no children that he will be given descendents like the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the earth, a prophet describing a child who will be born and who will redeem the world, visions of a great tree growing from a mere shoot, of wolves lying down with lambs, and a child will play nearby snakes. 

This is strange stuff, no?  And what of the strangest of all, of a child being born, in an occupied land, to an unwed mother among animals and straw, and then being visited by dirty shepherds and wild magicians from the East.  And this child, somehow, in some way, is the child who will redeem the world!  This child, this child will save the world!?

This is a strange story, and it is a story that stands in sharp contrast to the various other stories in our world.  This story is a story of God’s work triumphing over all.  This story is a story of impossible figures and plot turns.  This story is a story of hope overcoming all hopelessness.  This story is a story that stands up against the stories of alienation and separation and fear and hatred, which tend to dominate the daily airwaves.  This story of the long journey of God’s people, culminating in the birth God as a child, Jesus, in the midst of the everyday and ordinary chaos of life, is a story that we desperately need to hear. 

When we overly sanitize the story we miss out on its ultimate strangeness.  When we dive into the story and have ears to hear, we may, in fact, hear that this is a story of God conquering over every human doubt.  This is a story of God coming among us, and within us, and being born, so that we too, might be born anew. 

Jesus said, I have come so that you might have life, and have it abundantly!  Abundance!  Gift!  Jesus has come as the gift of God.  God has given himself as a gift to us.  In Jesus we encounter the most remarkable and fear-some (awe-some) gift.  All we can do, is round up our own petty gifts and lay them down, and hope that they might show God that we are thankful.  We round up our gold, our frankincense, our myrrh, and we hope that these inadequate gifts might show God that we recognize the great gift that God has given us. 

This story recounts the long journey of God’s people, from Genesis, through the Prophets, to the Gospels, and we sing praises to God for all we have received, and we pray that we too, might offer our own chapter to this great narrative.  We hope that our own voices raised in song and praise might show forth our love for God, and our recognition that all God has done for us.  We hope that our voices raised in song will cast out the fear that resides in us so that we might live the lives that God has given us.  We hope that through the retelling of these strange stories and the raising of our voices we might truly live abundant lives knowing that our story is one of life, and love.

May we live in the light of God’s story this day, and forever! 

The Christmas Story - wonderful video

Merry Christmas!

12 December 2011

Disturb us, Lord

Disturb us, Lord, 
when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
when our dreams have come true
because we have dreamed too little,
when we arrived safely
because we sailed too close to the shore.

- Sir Francis Drake

11 December 2011

"May the God of peace sanctify you entirely" - Sermon for Advent 3 - The Rev. Peter M. Carey

The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Sermon preached at Emmanuel Episcopal Church 
Greenwood, VA
Advent 3, December 2011

“May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely.”

Are we ready to have our life stirred up? Are we ready for transformation?  Are we ready to prepare the way of the Lord?

Sometimes we think that we are not really ready for Advent and this is why we rush to Christmas.  However, Advent has great gifts for us. 

We would be missing out if we rushed the ending.  You see, Advent has these wonderfully challenging readings.  Today, we begin with this most excellent Collect of the day, “stir up your power.”  Are we really ready for God to stir things up?  Are we feeling relatively secure with the way that we have things brewing and simmering on our own stovetops?  Are we ready for the great master chef to enter into our world and start stirring up things in new ways, putting spices in our bland soups, heating up our lukewarm entrees, and throwing us into momentary spiritual turmoil?  Probably not.

God enters into this world at points through the voice of the prophets, who definitely stir things up.  Isaiah appears and is anointed by God, to bring “good news to the oppressed,” “release to the captives,” “comforting all who mourn” “repairing ruined cities.”  This would stir things up, good news to the poorest of the poor – which might mean that those of us who are not the poorest of the poor may have to give up some of our material goods, some of our myth of security.  Release to the captives would mean that those we consider to be guilty would need to be not only forgiven, but reenter society. 

How does this stir it up stuff sound to you?  Isaiah also shouts praises to God, and has become fully enmeshed in God’s presence, in God’s glory, in God’s hope.  “My whole being will exult in my God,” and I will be wearing garments of salvation, and a robe of righteousness!  What if the stirring up that God is doing will enable even us, in our somewhat placid and bland and lukewarm lives, to be spicier, to be heated up, and to be thrust into spiritual turmoil, but with the reward that “our whole beings will exult in God!”  I want some of that cooking, how about you?

“Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy!”

“Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.” 

How wonderful is this?  How crazy are these words, written so long ago, and inscribed in millions of Bibles around the world.  Those who sowed with tears, who planted while in mourning, who bent low to prepare the ground and put seeds into the earth, watering the seeds with their salty tears…these same folks will receive the fruits of these seeds and sing with Joy!  How could this be?  How does this God turn salty tears and small mustard seeds into great great trees of life.  How does this God turn our tears into Joy.  How does this God transform our weeping into song?

It is not ours to know the how.  But we do know the who. God does it.  As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “Rejoice always,” and how difficult this is, when we are sowing with tears, when we are going out weeping.  But Paul, no stranger to punishment, jail, and loneliness, claims “rejoice always”…”pray without ceasing” “give thanks”…”hold fast to what is good.”  And then he recognizes what might happen when God stirs things up.  He recognizes what happens to us when God enters into this world; even amidst our tears and weeping, even admidst our disappointment and loneliness. 

Like Isaiah, Paul believes that the entirety of our selves will become filled with God’s love.  Our entire selves, our minds, our souls, our bodies, our brains, our fingernails, our aching backs, our thinning hair, our weakening eyesight, all of it will be filled with God’s Spirit.  Paul prays, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely.”  This is the kind of stirring up that I can handle, even if the pots on my stove are going to be disturbed.  Perhaps I need some disturbing.  Perhaps I need some spice in the bland soup.  Perhaps I need my entrees warmed up.  Perhaps I need a whole new diet.  God will do it.  This is what “stir it up” Sunday is all about.  “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.”

Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated unto you; and then use us, we pray you, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

10 December 2011

Remembering Merton ~ December 10, 1968

Thomas Merton's work and life became known to me at an important point in my own journey of faith. I have much to say about him and love so much of his work. I will blog more about him soon, but right now I am remembering this wonderful person who helped me to see some hidden richness in the tradition that is Christianity. Remembering him today with love and fondness.

~ The Rev. Peter M. Carey

Thomas Merton - Dec 10 - "we are not converted only once"

"We are not converted only once in our lives but many times. 
And it is this endless series of upheavals, large and small, 
which leads to our transformation in Christ." - Thomas Merton

Whatever will be, will be

Caught by our own thoughts, 
we worry about everything.
But once we get drunk on that Love
Whatever will be, will be.
Rumi ♥

01 December 2011

Advent - Day 1 "leaning into Advent"

First Sunday in Advent, and First Day of Advent

Daily Readings
Psalm 146    Isaiah 1: 1-9    2 Peter 3: 1-10    Matthew 25: 1-13

Sunday Readings

Leaning into Advent

When we read the lessons for this first day of Advent in the Daily Office, we see that they each describe a state of leaning.  The image for me is one of leaning forward, leaning into the future, leaning towards something that we might not quite see or know just yet, but leaning nonetheless.  The lesson from Isaiah (1: 1-9) describes the beginning of his vision which describes the destruction of his time - "cities burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land" - but which also names the fact that God has left "a few survivors," there in that desolate place.  Even in the midst of turmoil and destruction, God has left a green shoot which will grow and thrive.  The image also points to our own time, time of trouble, time of turmoil, time of dissention, time of dividing differences.  But we should be reminded that God has provided a green shoot, a bit of hope even in the midst of chaos and change - and a bit of hope is all that is needed.  A bit of faith is all that is needed.

Also in the 2nd letter of Peter we hear words that offer the image of leaning, a leaning forward to a time when Christ will return.  The feet are firmly planted, but the body leans forward in hope and faith to a time of judgment, a time of reckoning, when God will return.  And this time will come "like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire."  All things will change, something new will happen, gloriously new, and we shall be filled with awe.  Our leaning forward in this time of Advent leads us into the deep understanding that God will break in upon this world in a new way, and also, incredibly, that God is always breaking into this world in a new way.

This new way of God breaking into the world should put us into a state of wakefulness, of mindfulness, of deep awareness.  The gospel of Matthew tells the story of the 10 wise bridesmaids who are ready, and are leaning forward into the future, they are ready for the groom who will return at any minute. The sense of waiting in anticipation, with expectation, is charged with the knowledge that God is always becoming known to us in new ways, are we really ready?  "Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour."

These Advent readings help us to lean forward into a state of eager anticipation and expectation.  Get ready!

~The Rev. Peter M. Carey

Advent – Putting on the armor of light

With the arrival of December 1st, we are now into the first week of Advent.  It is a time of busy-ness all around us.  Families gathering, shopping to do, decorating, an increase in social obligations, work parties, community parties, school parties – is this true for you as well?  It is also a time of increasing darkness as we move toward the shortest days of the year just before Christmas breaks in with all of its light and life. 

With all this busy-ness, and all of this activity, we may feel bombarded with “to do” lists, and also with the sense that there is a disconnect between the spirituality of Advent and the reality of the “holiday season.”

A helpful balm in the midst of this busy time is our Collect for the first Sunday of Advent.  Some of you might have missed hearing the Collect if you were away for the Sunday just after Thanksgiving, but it is perhaps my favorite Collect of the entire church year:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

We pray that in this time of Advent that we would “cast away the works of darkness,” that, even in this busy time, with all the temptations to be “of the world,” we know that God is giving us grace.  In this time, we know that God is empowering us to find time to reflect, to ponder as Mary did, to seek to go deep, and also to remember God in the midst of the blitz of the holiday shopping season.

We pray that we would put on “the armor of light,” which is a fascinating image, one in which we use our own deep hope and joy to create a physical protection around ourselves.  However, this protection is not merely defensive, rather, like light itself, it fills the world with the light of Christ.  If you have read Harry Potter, this is something like (in my thinking) the notion of a patronus, which is a figure of light and life which emerges from our own positive thoughts of joy and hope.  This patronus or armor of light casts away the works of darkness, and all the things of this world which can steal away our hope and joy and love.

And so, I pray that even in the midst of the increasing darkness of these days, we all might find new ways to “put on an armor of light,” or (if you like) to push out our own patronuses into the world, projecting light, and hope and joy and peace and love into a world that is in such desperate need of them.  As we walk the ways of Advent, we prepare for the coming of the one true light, and we do not walk alone, for our armor is not merely protection for us, but is projected outward, and together we will fill even the darkest places with the light that God has provided.