St. Michaels Litchfield
The First Sunday after the Epiphany E. Bevan Stanley
January 10, 2021
From the Gospel: “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.” In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
Today is the first Sunday after the Epiphany and the day that we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. So one would think that the readings would focus on water and the rite of Baptism. And they do. And everyone of them emphasizes the Holy Spirit. In the reading from the Torah, we hear how the Holy Spirit moved over the face of the deep. In Acts there is a distinction made between the baptism of John with water only and the Baptism of Jesus, which comes with the Holy Spirit. The Gospel makes the same distinction between the two baptisms and also records the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus in the form of a dove.
That is, we hear that the gift of the Holy Spirit is inextricably connected with the creation at the beginning of time and with the new creation at baptism. Let us look a little more closely at these texts we have just read.
The story in the first chapter of Genesis is not exactly about creation from nothing. It is about bringing order out of chaos. The Deep was already there, and the spirit of God, or the breath of God or the wind of God—the Hebrew can mean any or all of these—swept over the face of the deep. This “deep” is the primordial chaos. It is the maelstrom of atomic particles in first nanoseconds after the big bang. Then was uttered the Word: “Let there be light. God, Spirit, and Word. The entire Trinity acts to fashion the universe.
In the reading from Acts, Paul finds some disciples who had been baptized into John’s baptism of repentance. Paul baptizes them in the name of Jesus, and they receive the Holy Spirit. This is evidenced by the fact that they spoke in tongues and prophesied just as the first disciples had at Pentecost. This story also tells us that repentance is only part one,
When we are baptized into Jesus we are baptized into his death and resurrect. If you want a new life you need to go through death to find it. This new life will be one that is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Then we have the Gospel reading. There are two parts to it. First, John says that although he baptizes with water as a rite of repentance to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, when the Messiah does come, he will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus does come and is baptized with the water, and the Holy Spirit comes upon him.
When we baptize people in the Church, not only do we pour water on the candidates, we also anoint them oil. With the anointing the priest says, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”
What a powerful combination of archetypal images: water, wind, breath. Melville in the first chapter of Moby Dick, comments on the way we are all drawn to the edge of the ocean to gaze at its vast, untamed power. We think of the power of gale force winds. We think of the gentleness of a mother’s breath. We reflect on the chaos that sometimes wells up in our hearts and the power of God’s breath to bring peace. We are startled at times at the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon us and give us courage to do the right thing in the face of opposition.
Christmas teaches us about the Incarnation. God takes on human flesh so that we can become divine. The Baptism of our Lord and our baptisms give us God to live out the divine in our human lives. We are all incarnations of God. We are called to express God’s love to the world. We are meant to be the love virus that will spread all through the world. We infect people with God’s love through close contact. In time this love of God will bring the vision of the Kingdom of God to be a reality. We are the means by which God intervenes in history.
We are at the beginning of a new calendar year. This year we are particularly hopeful that 2021 will be better than 2020. Hope is important, even necessary. Yet the new year is also the time to make resolutions that we will be better in 2021 than we were in 2020. We face the new year with a determination to love better, more strongly, and more consistently. We will listen more attentively and deeply to those we meet, to those we work with, and to those of our own households. We will be hospitable to all those who differ from us. We will consider different points of view seriously and allow them to converse freely with our own ideas and commitments. We will proclaim good news to the poor by being good news in our actions, our giving, and our voting.
Here is Richard Rohr on God’s love works: The love in you—which is the Spirit in you—always somehow says yes. (See 2 Corinthians 1:20.) Love is not something you do; love is something you are. It is your True Self. Love is where you came from and love is where you’re going. It’s not something you can buy. It’s not something you can attain. It’s the presence of God within you, called the Holy Spirit or what some theologians name uncreated grace.
You can’t manufacture this by any right conduct, dear reader. You can’t make God love you one ounce more than God already loves you right now. You can go to church every day for the rest of your life. God isn’t going to love you any more than God loves you right now.
You cannot make God love you any less, either—not an ounce less. Do the most terrible thing and God wouldn’t love you less. You cannot change the Divine mind about you! The flow is constant, total, and 100 percent toward your life. God is for you.
We can’t diminish God’s love for us. What we can do, however, is learn how to believe it, receive it, trust it, allow it, and celebrate it, accepting Trinity’s whirling invitation to join in the cosmic dance.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Let us be created anew by the Spirit of God. Let us create a new world through love.
 Richard Rohr, Meditation for Wednesday, May 22, 2019
O Antiphon,daily December 17 - December 23
Sunday, December 20,
Seasonal Music on the Front Lawn
Carol Sing and Seasonal Readings
Outside the church
Click here for Youtube
5 p.m. on December 24
Join us at 5pm or watch at a later time that is convenient for you.
On Sunday we will join with Episcopalians throughout Connecticut for a
Festival of Lessons and Carols in lieu of having a service in Litchfield
10:00 a.m. on Sunday, December 27.
The direct link for watching the Sunday Service for 12/27/20 is not available yet.
It will air on the Episcopal Church in Connecticut Youtube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/ctepiscopal
The Last Sunday after Pentecost E. Bevan Stanley
November 22, 2020
Proper 29, Year A
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.” In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
This is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. On this last Sunday we celebrate the end of all things, the culmination of all our striving and living and loving. In the Gospel reading we hear of the judgement. Jesus will sit on his throne in glory as King of the world. He will separate the people into two groups. One group will be those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, took care of the sick, and visited those in prison. Furthermore, Jesus identifies with the poor and marginalized. “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
It’s interesting that in this gospel reading Jesus talks about the King on the throne, but he uses the simile of a shepherd sorting his flock. He did not just make this up. The metaphor of a shepherd for the king was a very old tradition in Israel. From King David on it was common for the biblical writers, especially the prophets, to describe the kings and rulers as shepherds. Of course David was a shepherd before he joined Saul’s court and eventually succeeded to the throne. The same metaphor is used of God as the divine king or ruler over the People of God. Thus the Twenty-third Psalm declares, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
We see this metaphor again in our reading from Ezekiel this morning. “Thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.” Here, as in the Twenty-third psalm, God is the shepherd of Israel. In this passage the prophet emphasizes the care God has for all of us. Writing during the time of exile, Ezekiel declares that the divine shepherd will gather his people back from all the places to which they have been scattered. Then he will feed them on good pasture land. He will seek the lost and bring back the strayed, bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak. And there is judgment here also. “But the fat and strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.” So what is wrong with being fat and strong, you may wonder. It comes in the next few verses. “Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them fare and wide.” What God does not like is when the strong misuse their strength to abuse and bully the weak. Indeed this is the message of all the prophets for centuries. They condemn the rulers of Israel and of Judah for being bad shepherds. For exploiting the poor and abusing their power for their own gain. This is the reason given for being defeated first by the Assyrians and then by the Babylonians.
This message of hope is that, although disaster came to the people of Israel because of their bad leaders, God will intervene and bring everyone back home. He will feed them on justice. Then God goes on to say, “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them. . . I, the Lord will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them.” Now David the king had been dead for four or five centuries when Ezekiel wrote this. So this is clearly a prediction of another leader. This is the coming Messiah. The expected one. For us Christians, this is Jesus. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the King who brings justice. The leader who will save us from bullies, who hates the abuse of power more than almost anything.
It is clear that God’s view is that the purpose of a king or of government is to take care of the people. All the flock needs to be cared for. Special attention needs to be given to the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned. And yes, it is the job of all of us to care for our neighbors. And it is the job of the government to make sure that it happens. As Lyndon Johnson put it succinctly, it is the job of government to help folks. And the more wealth and power anyone has the more responsibility he or she has to use that power and wealth for to help those who do not have power and wealth. This is true of CEOs and senators and presidents. It is true of kings and prime ministers and emirs. It is true of parents and school teachers and police officers. This is how every one of us will be judged: did we help people or did we push them around with our flanks and shoulders and butt them with our horns?
The good news is that whether we do or not, Jesus is still on the throne. Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus contains nothing but superlatives for the risen Christ. He prays that God may give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation as we come to know him, so that, with the eyes of our hearts enlightened, we may know what is the hope to which he has called us, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. That is to say, our Good Shepherd rules the universe and nothing can interfere with his care for us. And not only that, but God has put all things under Jesus’ feet and has made him the head over all things for the church—and here is the amazing thing–which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. In Colossians Paul says that in Jesus all the fulness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell. Jesus has all of God in him. Here Paul says that, because we collectively are the church, all of God is in us. We have all the power we need to help our neighbors, to establish justice, and to build the Kingdom of God.
This is the feast of Christ the King. God calls us to be loyal citizens of God’s Kingdom.
The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
E. Bevan Stanley
October 18, 2020
Proper 24, Year A
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
This anecdote gives us a break from the unrelenting succession of parables we have been hearing in the past weeks. It shows us some facets of Jesus’ character and invites us to examine our own lives.
The story begins by saying the Pharisees set out to “entrap Jesus in what he said.” They wanted to get Jesus to say something that they could claim was treasonous so that they could denounce him to the Roman government. They come to Jesus and are portrayed as smarmy flatterers. “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think.” Of course they are not seeking instruction; they are setting a trap. Here’s the question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” It is natural enough that the Pharisees whose spirituality is entirely devoted to obeying every jot and tittle of the Law should frame their question as a question about the Law. Since nowhere in the Torah is this situation addressed, it could be an honest question. But it is not. The Pharisees see Jesus as a revolutionary. The expect him to say, “Of course we should not pay taxes to Caesar. We Jews should never acknowledge the government of Rome or do anything that would suggest that Rome has any legitimate authority over us Jews who belong to God.” Or something like that. Then they could report him as a dangerous radical who is urging people to resist Roman authority.
Jesus sees through this immediately. “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?” He names it for what it is, a test. And he names the Pharisees for what they are, hypocrites. But then Jesus takes up their challenge. He could have simply refused to answer, but rather than fleeing the confrontation, he faces them. He asks his opponents to show him the coin used to pay the tax, and thy produce a denarius. “Whose head is this, and whose title?” The Pharisees answered, “The emperor’s.” Actually, the Greek text says, “Caesar’s”; I don’t know why the translators changed it. Then Jesus said to them, “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are the Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away. “They” in the text means the Pharisees. Yet I wonder whether the disciples observing this exchange were amazed as well.
More to the point, what do we as disciples make of Jesus’s response? Specifically, what do we owe to our government of the land we live in, and what do we owe to God? First, it is clear that Jesus is not concerned about the money. His response seems almost flippant. It feels like Jesus is saying, “If the Romans want a bit of metal with some guy’s face on it, they can have it.”
Yet this is a big issue for Jews living under this occupying force. Remember that tax collectors were despised as being collaborators with the Romans as well as for coercion and overcharging. The tax was not only an expense; it was a symbol of the Jews’ subservient status as a conquered nation.
So how can Jesus make so light of this issue? Because he takes with utmost seriousness the second part of his answer, “. . . and give to God the things that are God’s.” That is to say, it is God who has ultimate authority in our lives, not the foreign government. Being citizens of the Kingdom of God is more important than being inhabitants of a conquered nation. In other words, the issue for Jesus is not about money; it is about allegiance.
We do not live under the thumb of a foreign power. We live in representative democracy. The taxes we pay are determined by people we have elected. We understand that they are to be used to pay for things that benefit all of us. Military security from foreign powers, roads, hospitals, education, advancement of science and the arts, and so on. As citizens we have obligations to our country. Nevertheless, the question remains, what do we owe to God? And how do we pay it?
First, we owe God our love. We offer our hearts to God. At every Eucharist the priest says, “Lift up your hearts.” And we all respond, “We lift them up to God.” Our first allegiance is to God; then to our country. When our government acts in ways contrary to what we have come to know as the will of God, then we are obligated to object. We use our vote, and we use our right to free assembly to make our voices heard in our democratic system. Our allegiance to God means we are obligated to participate in building the Kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” That means we are part of the Church, the Body of Christ, the People of God. We know that to be loving and powerful means that we live in communities. For most of us that means being part of a congregation. It means coming together, working together, serving our neighbors together, praying together. It means sharing our resources with each other so that we can have an impact on the world around us. It means sharing our money, our time, and our skills and gifts. It means allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to act through us. It means being free from all bonds of fear or addiction that hinder us from loving God, each other, and ourselves. It means rejoicing in God’s goodness, generosity, and abundance in all circumstances. It means responding to God’s invitation to be loving, powerful, playful, and free. This is what we owe to God.
We are in the midst of an election. It is easy to be consumed with what we want from our government and from our elected officials. This gospel raises in a different way the question that John F. Kenned asked, that is, what do we owe our country? And what we owe our country is our best lives as Christians. Our wisdom as the People of God. We render unto our country our best efforts to vote in accordance with the principles of Jesus Christ who summed up the will of God as to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
And we owe God everything else.
The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels
E. Bevan Stanley
September 27, 2020
(Transferred from September 29)
Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. In the Name of the one holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
This is the feast of St. Michael’s and All Angels. What do we know about Angels in general and St. Michael in particular? First, the word “angel” comes from the Greek ἄγγελος (angelos) which means “messenger.” Angels are messengers from God. In the reading from Genesis, there are angels going up and down a ladder that connects the earth with heaven. Angels are intermediaries. An archangel is simply a chief angel. Archangels are mentioned very rarely in the Bible. Michael is named three times in the book of Daniel, once in the very short letter of Jude, and once in Revelation. Gabriel is also mentioned in Daniel and then the birth narratives of Jesus. Raphael and Uriel are mentioned only in the Apocrypha. Most of the traditions about angels and archangels come from post-exilic Judaism and post-apostolic Christianity and are not part of the biblical canon.
Incidentally, there is a lot of nonsense in our popular culture about angels. They are not human beings. Human beings do not become angels when we die and go to heaven. Angels are not chubby little babies with wings as depicted in medieval and renaissance art. Remember that when angels show up in the Bible, the human beings to whom they are appearing are terrified and think they are about to die. Chubby babies, even if they do have wings, do not elicit this kind of response. The first thing angels often say is, “Do not fear.”
In the Bible, Michael is depicted as a warrior fighting on behalf of the chosen people. In art he is usually shown wearing armor and carrying a sword or spear. Often the devil in the form of a snake or serpent is shown beneath his feet.
What on earth might all this mythology have to do with us? Simply this: Michael is the patron saint of this parish. I have no idea why he was chosen back in 1745. It is not all that common a name for Episcopal churches. There is only one other St. Michael’s in Connecticut; it is in Naugatuck.
Michael’s role is that of a guardian, a protector, a defender. Michael protects us. In this time of COVID19, we need protection. And so far Michael has been doing a good job. I am aware of no cases of COVID19 among our members. But more specifically, Michael defends against the devil, Satan, the evil one, the Father of Lies, the Accuser. In this sense Michael may not be the most comfortable of patrons. For while he protects us from the evil around us, he also contends with the evil inside us. Part of his job is to protect us from the dangerous parts of our selves. He reminds us of Jesus’ surprising saying that he, Jesus, did not come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword.
In 2020 we are not only contending with a world wide pandemic. We are also confronting the realities of racism in our country, the inability or unwillingness of our criminal justice system to hold police officers accountable when they kill unarmed citizens, the shame that we incarcerate more of our population than any other country in the world and turn imprisonment into a new profit making industry, a political system benefits the very wealthy and neglects everyone else, and a degradation of public discourse that makes any real negotiations on behalf of constituents impossible. We need the help of our Archangels without a doubt. Yet the divine army, of which our God is the Lord, is made up of us humans as well as other less material beings. The Archangels, not even the entire host of heaven can save us unless we do all we can as well. Today as we celebrate our patron, we also worship together at this ten a.m. service for the first time in five months. We worship God together; we stand against evil, however we may experience it, together. We are the Body of Christ, the People of God, and part of the host of heaven. Together with God and God’s angels, we can protect the world from evil.
Hear again this prayer often called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” because of those parts of it which seek God’s protection. It is also sometimes called “The Deer’s Cry” or “The Lorica”. In this time when we all need protection, it is particularly powerful.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through the confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the Judgment Day.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.
I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of demons,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.
I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.
Michael comes to us today and says, “Do not fear. God loves everyone one of you. The evils you are experiencing are not the last word. The worst thing is never the last thing. Stand up and I will stand with you. Confront the devil and he will flee from you. Look, God makes all things new.”