Monthly Archive for January, 2011

Epiphany 4 January 30, 2011

Micah 6:1-8                                                                         

1 Corinthians 1:18-31                                                        

Matthew 5:1-12

Friends of mine, active Episcopalians, are trying out a new church. They’re tired of their big, rather safe and stuffy church. They’ve been visiting another Episcopal church in the city where they live: a mission founded to minister to people released from prison. It meets, they write, “in a drafty hall with folding chairs; the music is amateurish and in many genres; the service is one of several modernized versions of the Eucharist; the sermons we have heard have been full of energy and commitment. The place has a strong bent towards social action; it is interracial and clearly gay-friendly. The people are friendly and warm, clearly connected with each other, and clearly engaged in worship.  After the sermons, the priest hands around a mike and a few people talk about the sermon or the text, so far as we can tell in pretty real ways, connecting what they have heard to their lives.”

But my friends have one concern about this new congregation: “whether there is a discipline here and if so what it is.” By “discipline,” they mean what is the standard, the criterion, by which the life of the congregation is measured and held to account. And that’s a very important question; an important question for all churches, and for each of us as individuals. Is our “discipline” just what we like? What makes us feel comfortable or happy? The way we’ve done things in the past? Continue reading ‘Epiphany 4 January 30, 2011’

Epiphany 3 January 23, 2011

Isaiah 9:1-4                                                                          

1 Corinthians 1:1-9                                                             

Matthew 4:12-23

I was talking with a friend who goes to an Episcopal church in Washington, D.C. He grew up a Baptist and has respect for that tradition, but he’s long been an Episcopalian and a very serious one. “I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t go to church, and especially Episcopal churches like mine and yours,” he said to me. “The words are beautiful, the music is beautiful; it’s the time each week I connect with God.”

“Well,” I responded, “it’s easier for me to list the reasons people don’t come to church than the reasons they do.” And I quickly gave him a dozen “don’t come to church reasons” off the top of my head: the competition of other activities, families where one parent doesn’t want to go, families where the kids are with their other parent every other weekend, the negative image churches and religion have in the media, bad experiences with churches in the past . . . and so forth. Really, when you think of all these reasons, that anyone comes to church here at Holy Cross on a Sunday morning, that we manage to keep this congregation alive and vital, is a miracle, given all the forces ranged against us.

It set me thinking, this conversation with my friend, about why I myself come to church; why even after I retire and am not paid to come, and have to go to a church that won’t be as close to what I personally love as this one is – why even then I will go to church every Sunday, pretty much no matter what. And the answer, for me as I thought about it, is really very simple:  I come to be with Jesus. I’m like those fishermen in the gospel reading this morning, to whom Jesus said, “Follow me.” It’s as simple as that. I long ago made the commitment, really out of desperation, to follow Jesus, to try to be with him. Continue reading ‘Epiphany 3 January 23, 2011’

Epiphany 2 January 16, 2011

This homily is different from the usual sort. It comes in the context of a discussion that began last week after breakfast on bullying in schools and grew, with reference to national events, into a broader concern with violence and incivility in our society and world. That discussion will continue this morning after breakfast. The homily begins with an introduction to the whole worship service; continues with the homily proper, intended as an introduction to some congregational comments; and then has a short list of some thoughts for going forward that the preacher came up with, reflecting on the readings. You are invited to add your own comments! Continue reading ‘Epiphany 2 January 16, 2011’

Baptism of Our Lord January 9, 2011

Isaiah 41:1-9                                                                        

Acts 10:34-43                                                                      

Matthew 3:13-17

 If you’ve driven down 114 in the past few weeks, you may have noticed the message on the sign board at Christ Community Church: Christmas is not a day; Christmas is God with us. We might expand on that thought: Christianity is not a religion; Christianity is God with us.

That’s an almost impossible idea for us human beings to get our minds around, and it must be said that in two thousand years we’ve never really succeeded. We want a religion. We want a God who is comfortable, understandable; a God who fits nicely into our lives, a system that suits us, that works for us; a church that meets our needs, that comforts us with certainties and never challenges us or confronts us with the awesome mystery of the living God. Continue reading ‘Baptism of Our Lord January 9, 2011’

Christmas Pageant Photo Album


As the pageant begins, the Vicar has a sleepless night, worrying about how he’ll pull off yet another Christmas pageant. His wife reassures him: it will happen, trust God.


The “ghosts of Christmas pageants past,” parish teens, appear. They remind Fr. John of the pageants they enjoyed when they were little kids.


The Holy Family arrive at the stable, as a “ghost” prepares to pass her veil to this new generation Mary.


Angels and shepherds make their appearance.


O, come let us adore Him!

Christmas 2 January 2, 2011

“The Ghosts of Christmas Pageants Past”

 The Liturgy of the Word this morning took the form of the annual Christmas pageant. This year the pageant was written by the Vicar, with his wife Anne assisting and apologies to Charles Dickens. High school students took the roles of ghosts of Christmas pageants past; younger children in the congregation took the other roles.

I. Domestic Tranquility at the Vicarage

The pageant opens with the Vicar sprawled on a chair, sleep-fashion, with a quilt over him. His wife is under the quilt on a chair next to him. He tosses and turns, then speaks.

Vicar      Oh, I just can’t get to sleep.

Anne     For heavens’ sake, settle down. What’s the matter?

Vicar      It’s the Christmas pageant. I just can’t come up with yet another one. Why didn’t I decide to retire December 31st?

Anne     Now, take a deep breath. You’ve done Christmas pageants for the last 30 years. This will be your last. It will happen. It always does. You can do it.

Vicar      Don’t “therapist” me. You don’t have to do it.

Anne Oh, no? Seems to me that I and the Lauras and a few others of the moms are the ones who pull it off every year. You just kind of preside over the chaos and take credit for the cuteness.

They’re interrupted by the clanking of chains, as the Ghosts of Christmas Pageants Past enter, dressed in gray or white vestments. Monica carries a blue veil for Mary, Ben carries a shepherd’s crook. Tom, Amanda and Jon wear “king” sashes or other magi regalia.

Vicar Wha . . . what are you?

Connor We are the Ghosts of Christmas Pageants Past. Don’t you remember us? We remember you.

Vicar Well, you do look vaguely familiar. But you were cute and little then. Now you’re big and, well . . . some of you are bigger than me. Why have you come back to haunt me?

Amanda You have to do a Christmas pageant, Fr. John. Oh, please! It’s what we remember from growing up at Holy Cross.

Ben  Yes, do you think we remember your sermons? Dream on! We remember being in the pageants. I was a king. It was wonderful.

Vicar I remember you. You were kind of a short and pudgy king. Not at all majestic. In fact, a bit of a brat sometimes, as I recall. But never mind . . . .  Why are you here?

Tom We are here to give you heart. Your wife is right.

Monica As usual.

Jon The whole point of a Christmas pageant is to tell the story of God breaking into the confusion and chaos of this world to be born as a little child.

Connor So it doesn’t matter that the pageant’s not going to be perfect. Perfection is your hang-up. The world into which Jesus was born wasn’t perfect. As Jesus himself said, “No one is good except God alone.” So it doesn’t matter that you never know until the last minute who’s going to be in town to take the various parts in the pageant; who’s going to be sick and have to cancel out; who’s going to get scared and not want to be a sheep after all. Christ is going to be born one way or another. It doesn’t depend on you. It’s up to God.

Amanda Trust! Like you’re always telling us: trust! Trust God to pull it off, like Mary and Joseph trusted way back then.


 II. Mary, Joseph and the Babe in the Manger

Luke 2: 1-7 – The Birth of the Savior

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

People Thanks be to God.

“From heaven above to earth I come”              Hymnal 80

As the hymn is sung, Mary and Joseph enter, carrying with them the Baby Jesus in a manger. They take their places in front of the other actors. Monica takes off her veil and puts it on Mary’s head.

Vicar You know, you’re right. I remember when we couldn’t get a boy to be Joseph. So Tammi Compagna volunteered and we painted a moustache on her. She did very well, too.

Ben That’s the spirit! Trust in the Lord: he will provide.

Monica Joseph isn’t exactly a guy part anyway, if you think about it. And these days, what’s gender?

Vicar Wait a minute! If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 30 years of ministry, it’s don’t mess with Christmas or Easter. Respect tradition at Christmas and Easter . . . or lose pledges.

Jon Tradition?

Vicar Poinsettias at Christmas, lilies at Easter. That’s tradition. They don’t teach you that in seminary, but you learn it on the job, believe me!

Tom Well, anyway, Mary and Joseph aren’t really very important in the Christmas pageant. What’s important are the littlest kids. The shepherds and the sheep. The angels, the heavenly host.

 III. The Shepherds and Angels

Luke 2:8-14 – The Shepherds and the Angels

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!

People Thanks be to God.

Angels from the realms of glory                                      Hymnal 93

As the hymn is sung, shepherds, sheep and angels enter. Ben gives the shepherd’s crook to one of the shepherds.

Vicar You know, speaking of Christmas pageants past, I remember how there was always a boy who wanted to be the sheep dog – Ryan Plamondon, for instance; I remember him barking at his little brother Wyatt. Or going back a ways, I think you, Connor, wanted to be a sheep dog.

Connor Actually, I think I wanted to be the wolf. But you said there wasn’t any wolf in the Christmas story.

Vicar Right. My role is to maintain orthodoxy.

Connor And spoil the fun . . .  just kidding.

Ben As we all got older, what we really wanted to be in the pageant was one of the kings.

Amanda It was neat that girls got to be kings as well as boys. You gotta love the Episcopal Church!

Vicar But we always had three kings. Tradition! Although actually the Bible never says anything about how many kings there were.

Tom But you have to have three because you had three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Tradition!

 IV. The Visit of the Wise Men

 Matthew 2:1-12 – The Visit of the Wise Men

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise  men  from  the  East  came to  Jerusalem,  asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed  his star at its  rising,  and have  come to pay  him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people,  he  inquired of  them  where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: `And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

People Thanks be to God.

We three kings of Orient are                              Hymnal 128

As the hymn is sung, three of the ghosts of pageants past put on king costumes and bring their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, laying them before the manger.

Monica So, you see, Fr. John, there it is: your Christmas pageant. You have nothing to worry about. Trust in the Lord. He’s always being born in this world of ours, if only we have the hearts and souls to receive him.

  V. Trust God

Joy to the world                                  Hymnal 100 vss. 1 & 4

 The cast bow as the hymn begins, then depart. The Vicar and Anne remain.

 At the conclusion of the hymn, the Vicar speaks to his wife.

Vicar I just had the most beautiful dream. It was all about Holy Cross and how wonderful our time here has been. All those Christmas pageants. All those memories. All those little kids growing up to be big kids. I don’t ever want to retire!

Anne See, I told you not to worry. It always happens. It always will happen. But it will happen even after you retire. Trust the people of Holy Cross! Trust God!

They stand and bow. The Vicar says

Vicar      The peace of the Lord be always with you.