That Blessed Dependancy

"There wee leave you in that blessed dependancy, to hang upon him who hangs upon the Crosse…" -John Donne, "Death's Duell"

Faith cometh by hearing…

It is truly a privilege to preach every week. The opportunity and the challenge of mining the Scripture (whether a lectionary text or the next installment in a sermon series), and exploring it with the same congregation Sunday after Sunday is exhilarating. But family joys, parish responsibilities, and the need to focus on each successive Sunday’s message all mean I am not able to edit and post much of anything here on my blog these days.

Recently, though, some wonderful parishioners made it possible to record and post my sermons online, and I wanted to share this new resource. Audio recordings of my sermons can now be found here. You can also access them from the homepage of our parish website.

You will notice that most Sundays include a recording from both the 8:00 service and the 10:00 service. While I am of course working from the same material for both, I regularly make changes or add comments or asides. Sometimes the edits are minor. Sometimes they are substantial. Sometimes they don’t really work all that well, and I find myself wishing I had stuck with my original version! But I offer up both, and pray that the Holy Spirit will move in my mistakes and infelicities as much as he does in those rare times when, by God’s grace, I get something right.

May the Lord bless the preaching and the hearing of his Holy Word–most especially in the internet age!

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O ye ice and snow, bless ye the Lord!

We’ve had a snowy couple of days here in Cooperstown! All is well in the Boston household, and I am thinking of and praying for snowed-in parishioners and friends. Be safe and stay warm!

Events and meetings for this week have been cancelled, but we are looking forward to a good third Sunday of Lent, focusing on Commandments 5 and 6 in our Lenten Sermon Series on the Ten Commandments.

In the meantime…

…who says a Florida boy can’t hack it in upstate NY?

“A Song for Simeon” by T.S. Eliot

aert_de_gelder_-_het_loflied_van_simeon

(“Het loflied van Simeon” by Aert de Gelder, ca. 1700-1710)

[Posting a day late.]

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple, commonly called Candlemas.

This day commemorates a dual-event described in St Luke’s Gospel (2:22-39): Mary’s purification and Jesus’ presentation at the Temple in Jerusalem. While in the holy city to fulfill the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12:1-8 for purification; Exodus 13:12-13 for presentation), the Holy Family receives prophetic pronouncements from the aged Simeon and Anna. Both of these holy people have been watching and waiting long for God’s Messiah. Luke even tells us that Simeon had been given a promise that this glorious day would come: “And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” After taking the infant Jesus in his arms, Simeon sings out the song we now know as the Nunc Dimittis: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou has prepared before the face of all people: to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people, Israel.” This hymn is repeated daily at Evening Prayer. 

T.S. Eliot’s poem tells the story from Simeon’s point-of-view. He’s a tired old man who has seen much of life and who desires to see no more. It is a dark poem–Simeon’s prophetic sight is clouded with gloom and the threat of future suffering. The suffering will be for his descendants in Jerusalem and for the child he holds in his arms. It is the pain and tumult that attends the overturning of a whole world. And yet Simeon’s weary prayer is for peace: “Grant Israel’s consolation / To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.”

Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season has made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.

Grant us thy peace.
I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have taken and given honour and ease.
There went never any rejected from my door.
Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children
When the time of sorrow is come?
They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,
Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.

Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to—morrow.

According to thy word,
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
Thine also).
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.

What are you looking for?

lamb

A Sermon Preached on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 15, 2017

By the Rev’d Dane E. Boston, Rector of Christ Church, Cooperstown, New York

Texts: Isaiah 49:1-7; I Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

What are you looking for?

That’s the question Jesus puts to those disciples of John the Baptist who follow him in this morning’s Gospel.

What are you looking for?

It’s a reasonable question to put to a churchful of people on a chilly January morning. No one comes to church by accident. Did you know that? You may think you’re here because your mother made you come, or because you simply show up out of habit week after week. But no one comes by accident. Whether we recognize it or not, we have all been brought here–assembled here–for a purpose. We are all here to seek, to search, and to find.

What are you looking for?

It’s a question that can, ultimately, be put to all humankind. For the truth is, we are creatures made to seek and search; to yearn and hope; to quest and to find. We are men and women made to look for something–for Someone.

What are you looking for?

The cosmos itself poses the question. This world of beauty and complexity and pleasure and delight urges us on: “Keep looking!” All the good things of this life have been given to us as gifts–as love letters from the Giver. The glories of our earth–glories given to us to explore and enjoy–are meant to spur us in our quest; to whet our appetite for their Source. We are meant to be looking. We are meant to find.

But something has gone wrong. The long story of the human race is the story of our turning away from our ultimate Destination and settling for the signposts pointing the way to him. It is the story of our turning away from the Creator to find satisfaction with his creatures.

That is, perhaps, the simplest definition of Sin. Not sins, plural: the many individual “things we ought not to have done” that you and I do each day–or the many good things we fail to do. Those are sins, plural. But Sin, singular, is the sour source of them all. It is the rejection of God for the things God has made. It is the attempt to end our seeking too soon. It is the vain effort to sate our hunger for the eternal with the temporal and the corruptible.

And corruptible they are. The good things of earth cease to be good when we make them ends unto themselves. The delights of this life become dust and ashes in our embrace when we hold onto them alone. The pleasures of existence become pain and suffering and shame when we seek them with all our heart.

What are you looking for in those corners of your life of which you are ashamed and afraid? What are you looking for in your endless seeking after wealth and worthiness? What are you looking for in your quest for status and significance? What are you looking for in your web searches and your eating habits? What are you looking for in your self-medicating and self-loathing? What are you looking for?

John knew. John the Baptist knew what he was looking for. He knew because he had been readied. He knew because he had been given the sign. He knew because he was a prophet fulfilling the work of a prophet. He knew because the Lord had told him, “The One on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”

John was looking for the Lamb of God: the Creator become flesh for the sake of his lost creation. John was looking for one who would take away the Sin, singular, of the world: who would submerge the people of God in the Spirit of God so that their hearts would never again settle for anything but God. John was looking for the Anointed one who would save his people, and all people.

And when John saw Jesus he declared to his disciples: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

What are you looking for? It is here in his embrace. What are you looking for? It is found in his gift of himself. What are you looking for? He holds it out to you in his Word and his Sacraments, as he stokes and sates the hunger of his people, calling us to go beyond the gifts to continue seeking after the Giver.

“What are you looking for?” Christ Jesus asks it of you, today, as he asked it of those disciples of John long ago. And as he invited them, he invites you too. Stretching out his arms of love on the hard wood of the Cross, the Source and Summit of all our longing bids us, “Come and see.” AMEN.

 

The Devil is in the Details

leonart_bramer_circumcision_christ

(“The Circumcision of Christ”, by Leonaert Bramer, 1631.)

A Sermon Preached on the Feast of the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, January 1, 2017

By the Rev’d Dane E. Boston, Rector of Christ Church, Cooperstown, New York

Texts: Exodus 34:1-8 ; Philippians 2:9-13 ; Luke 2:15-21

May I speak in the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

There’s nothing worse than the day after Christmas. Even if you’re not a kid anymore–and many of you haven’t been kids for a long time–December 26th is a day of deflation and disappointment. After all the build-up, all the excitement, all the anticipation that finally culminates in the glory of Christmas Day, you wake up the next morning and find that everything is dull and ordinary again. The candlelight services are over, the glorious concerts have been sung, the gifts have all been given and unwrapped, and now we’re back to normal life. The holy and extraordinary yields to the mundane and the everyday.

Indeed, it might even be worse for grown-ups. We’ve been through it all often enough before to know that the change back to dreary normalcy is inevitable. It’s this way every year. And that sure and certain knowledge even starts to invade our sense of the holy and the extraordinary. We find it harder and harder to enter into the mystery, knowing that it’s only a matter of time before the little niggling things intrude on us again–and even make us doubt whether anything special ever happened in the first place. Sure, the church looks lovely when we all kneel by candlelight and sing “Silent Night,” but Christmas dinner still has to be prepared. The details still have to be attended to and, as we say, “The Devil is in the details.”

Thus deflated and disappointed and facing again the demands of the ordinary do we gather on this New Year’s Day. Our carols and Christmas decorations tell us it’s still Christmastide, as indeed it is for a full Twelve Days. But if we’re honest, we know it doesn’t really feel like it. We have already passed from the holy and extraordinary to the mundane and the everyday.

And that’s precisely what this day is for. Today is the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. It sounds rather grand when we put it like that. But it isn’t. This is an extraordinarily ordinary feast.

Didn’t you hear the drudgery in our Gospel passage this morning? The shepherds who have heard something wonderful–these shepherds to whom the Angel of the Lord appeared, around whom the glory of the Lord shone, who stood “sore afraid” while “peace on earth and goodwill towards men” were proclaimed to them–go and see the glorious sight. They worship at the manger with the Child’s mother and father. They proclaim the Good News about the boy to everyone they meet.

And then…they went back to their sheep! “The shepherds returned, praising and glorifying God for all that they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” They returned. After everything they’d experienced that night, they went back to the smelly old sheep on the hillside. And there in the dreariness of the everyday they continued to praise and glorify the God who had called them out of their work-a-day dullness–and who brought them back in safety to it.

Or what about the end of our Gospel passage–the scene that gives this day its title? “When the eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus.” For us, the scene is fraught with wonder and beauty and grace. The name of Jesus is holy and sacred beyond measure. Were you impressed by all that? Don’t be.

While a circumcision may have been a remarkable event in the life of an individual family, it is actually a routine and ordinary thing. (Though I suppose one oughtn’t to say that to the one actually being circumcised.) It’s a great event focused on the plain and ordinary details of life. Circumcision brought Jesus–and every baby boy born into a Jewish household–into the 613 commandments of the Law of Moses. And what were those commandments for? Yes, they guided a faithful Jewish man through the great questions and challenges of his existence. But much more, they shaped and sustained the faithful Jew in the normal living of his daily life. The commandments weren’t simply for the extraordinary and the holy. They found their fullest expression in the everyday and the mundane–the profane, even, when we consider how many of the commandments in the Law of Moses dealt with daily activities and functions not usually discussed in polite society.

And even the name of Jesus is downright ordinary! While it has existed in many forms and variations, it is simply a version of the name “Joshua.” It was borne by several figures in the Bible. It was a normal Jewish name of that time and place. I can assure you that there were at least three other Jesuses in the little Hebrew school in Nazareth in 10 A.D. It was a common, everyday name for a common, everyday boy.

All of this is what makes this day extraordinarily ordinary. And it’s why this feast is such an important part of our Christmas celebration. Already in these glorious Twelve Days, we’ve contemplated the wonder of the Incarnation: the astonishing love made clear when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And today we see just how thoroughly he dwelt among us. We see just how far he was willing to go to be with us. He accepted a lowly name in a lowly family. He submitted himself to the Law in his waking and in his sleeping and in his normal life. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us–in all of our boring insignificance, our unremarkable normality, our everyday grind.

The Devil is in the details. And because of Christ Jesus’ conception, and birth, and circumcision, and naming, God is in the details now, too.

That’s not normal! The God we human beings expect is the God Moses met on Mount Sinai. He’s the God who threatens anyone or anything who comes near the mountain. He’s the God whose face cannot be seen, lest the one who sees it perish. He’s the God whose Name is too holy to be spoken. He’s the God who gives his Law in power and majesty and awe. He’s not supposed to become subject to that Law, in a frail human body like mine! He’s not supposed to bear a common name that can be called to come for supper, just like yours! He’s not supposed to be present in ugly, ordinary details of lives like ours.

And yet this day tells us that, in Jesus, our God is present in the ugly, ordinary details of lives like ours. In Jesus, our God does bear a name that can be called on in the most desperate, most pointless prayers. In Jesus, our God has taken on a body that hungers and thirsts and suffers and even dies–just like mine and yours.

How changed is our everyday life, now charged with the glory of God! How transformed and transfigured are our goings and comings, our waking and sleeping, our family life and our work life, our time on the roadways and our time in the grocery store, our loving and fighting and eating and drinking–our living and our dying. For there can be no mistake: God in Christ Jesus is there with us, in all of the ordinary things of life, calling us to new hope, new holiness, new birth.

St Paul told the Christians in Philippi, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” and if he stopped there, it would seem that he left them with little to go on in their everyday lives but drudgery and duty. But Paul did not stop there. He continues: “Work out your own salvation…because it is God who is at work in you.” The Word has become flesh and dwelt among us, and by his death and resurrection he is now not simply among us but within us. “God is at work in you.”

Beloved, we stand on the brink of a New Year filled with a few cosmic challenges and a thousand tiny frustrations–a year filled with wondrous hopes and daily disappointments. Go forth, into the thick of it, knowing that our God has claimed it all as his own. He is Lord of the heights of Sinai, and he reigns in your daily existence. He is the God who made the heavens and the earth, and he is the Christ who has descended to the deepest depths of pain and suffering. He sustains the universe by his mighty, outstretched arm–and he is at work in you, revealing even greater measures of his power and his love. AMEN.