Today’s teaching sermon is focused on the daily office and daily prayer. I thought we might begin by exploring the role of prayer in our lives, share a bit of history about the daily office, and reflect together on how we might continue to grow in our prayer practice.
In her book, Beginner’s Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life, Chaplain Kate Braestrup suggests we need prayer in our lives. She writes:
"What it can do—what prayer, at its best and at our best, has always done—is help us to live consciously, honorably, and compassionately. Because I am not stronger, more self-sufficient, smarter, braver, or any less mortal than my forebears or my neighbors, I need this help. As long as prayer helps me to be more loving, then I need prayer. As long as prayer serves as a potent means of sharing my love with others, I need prayer." 2
Biblical scholar Walter Brueggeman, in his book, Prayers for a Privileged People, also emphasizes our need to be vulnerable and to connect to a Power greater than ourselves. He writes:
“Prayer is an act of openness to the One who sits on the throne of mercy. When we pray, we participate in the ultimate practice of humanness as we yield to a Power greater than ourselves. Our best prayers engage in candor about our lives, practice vulnerability, run risks, and rest in confident trust.” 3
Prayer is a sacred conversation with God. Whether it be individual prayer or community prayer, it has the power to offer up the most tender parts of ourselves to God, and in return we find ourselves better equipped:
…to praise the wonderful mystery of God;
…to discern a way forward;
…to discover the wisdom we seek;
…to persevere and renew our souls;
…to experience the healing power of God’s love in this world;
…to forgive ourselves and one another;
…to trust that we are all held in God’s loving embrace;
…to watch the beauty of God in our lives and creation.
Prayer is at the heart of what sustained and guided Jesus. Prayer would have shaped his early life; and he likely practiced the Jewish tradition of saying private prayers in the morning, at noonday, and in the evening. 1. On the sabbath, he likely would have partaken in the local synagogue’s liturgy of the word, and possibly would have attended a daily morning or evening prayer service.
After Jesus embarked on his public ministry, we routinely see him go off to deserted places to pray alone, in order to reconnect with God and revive his Spirit. (1:35; 6:46) He would often teach about prayer, affirming it really can make a difference, and reminding us that when we pray, we are to forgive others. (11:23-25). Because when we hold onto old wounds, they actually get in the way of our faith, our relationship with God, and even our connection with ourselves. The early Church took Jesus’ teaching on the power of prayer to heart, and in one of Paul’s earliest letters, he tells the Thessalonians to ‘pray without ceasing’. (5:17)
As early as the second century, the early Church had adapted the Jewish liturgies of community morning and evening prayer which included psalms, canticles, scripture readings, and some form of homily or instruction. 1 They also adapted the Jewish tradition of private prayers to mark morning, noon, and evening. By the time Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire, these prayers became more formal and consistent across congregations.
Just as these congregational forms of ‘the daily office’ were being established, monastic communities were also developing their own forms.1 These two different forms of daily prayer coexisted for several centuries before melding together. Monastic communities have played a critical role in the development of these liturgies, including the Benedictine practice to stop and pray at eight intervals throughout the day.
Late in the middle ages, the daily office became the duty of monastics and clergy alone, making formal daily prayer inaccessible to the laity. When Thomas Cranmer created the prayerbook, he simplified the number of set times for prayer and published it in English, making daily prayer accessible again.1 Our current prayerbook, The 1979 Book of Common Prayer, features Morning, Noonday, and Evening Prayer, and Compline, as well as four briefer versions of each liturgy that are meant for individual and family use. You may remember that in May of 2020, we took a deep dive into Morning Prayer. Instead of taking a similar deep dive today, I’d encourage you to review that sermon on our website if you are interested in learning more about Morning Prayer. 5
I do want to lift up the handout of resources that the Ushers gave you, and for those at home, I promise it will be posted online with this sermon. The very first resource listed is a favorite - Daily Prayer for All Seasons. This resource is our Church’s effort to extensively modify and expand those four brief daily devotions for individuals and families in the prayerbook. It offers eight different liturgies for each liturgical season, in keeping with the monastic tradition to pray eight set times a day. We use it to begin Clergy/Warden meetings, and we are more grounded as a result.
This handout also includes:
All that being said, there are endless ways to engage in prayer. The prayerbook defines prayer as: “...responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.” 4
It can be as simple as saying a prayer before each meal. While it can be tempting to rush through a familiar prayer without much thought, I would encourage you to pause when you sit down to eat. Notice the beauty of the meal and the many hands that made it possible; appreciate the company you are eating with, or the space you are enjoying your meal. Give thanks with a formal grace or speak from your heart.
All this is to say, prayer is as much about intention as anything else. Being intentional in our prayer life, expressing gratitude for the small things, has a way of connecting us with the divine, creation, and our own sense of self. What matters is not how you pray, but that you find a way to pray each day. Just as you nurture relationships with a spouse, children, parent, friends, or siblings, take the time to nurture your relationship with God.
Maybe you feel called to keep a list of people or concerns that need prayer. I once had a seminary professor, of the American Baptist persuasion, who said in great seriousness ‘If you tell someone you’ll pray for them, then you better remember to actually pray for them.’ It seems silly, but it is so easy for us to assure a friend or loved one we’ll pray for them, maybe offer up a quick word to God, and then lose track of it. If you are interested in keeping this kind of prayer list - it’s easy - find an old notebook or start a list on your phone. If you are interested in praying for others as a part of your ministry with the church, speak to Molly or myself about getting involved with our prayer circle.
Lastly, I want to leave you with a prayer by Chaplain Kate Braestrup. She writes:
What is Prayer?
… Be awake to the Life that is loving you
and sing your prayer, laugh your prayer,
dance your prayer, run
and weep and sweat your prayer,
sleep your prayer, eat your prayer,
paint, sculpt, hammer and read your prayer,
sweep, dig, rake, drive and hoe your prayer,
garden and farm and build and clean your prayer,
wash, iron, vacuum, sew, embroider and pickle your prayer,
compute, touch, bend and fold but never delete
or mutilate your prayer.
Learn and play your prayer,
work and rest your prayer,
fast and feast your prayer,
argue, talk, whisper, listen and shout your prayer,
groan and moan and spit and sneeze your prayer,
swim and hunt and cook your prayer,
digest and become your prayer.
Release and recover your prayer.
Breathe your prayer.
Be your prayer.2
I hope as we depart this week, that we’ll each find a few minutes to reflect on our prayer practice, and one small way we might continue to deepen that practice. Amen.
1 The information in this paragraph is drawn from Marion J. Hatchett’s Commentary on the American Prayer Book, pages: 89-91
2 Braestrup, Kate. Beginner's Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life, Kindle Edition, page 9, 175-176.
3 Brueggemann, Walter. Prayers for a Privileged People
4 The 1979 Book of Common Prayer, pg 857
The Daily Office - Resources
Daily Prayer for All Seasons
This is a favorite prayer resource for Heather & Molly. The book offers brief sets of contemporary prayer for eight times during the day for each liturgical season. The themes are: praise, discernment, wisdom, perseverance and renewal, love, forgiveness, trust, and watch. You can purchase this book online, with a local bookseller, or download a free pdf: www.episcopalchurch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2021/01/daily_prayer_all_seasons_eng_final_pages_0.pdf
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer
We own a great many copies of the prayer book, and are happy to lend them to folks who would like to use them. They are kept in the right hand upper cupboard of the sound cabinet (unlocked). If you need help finding them, speak to the clergy.
A simple, easy to navigate web version of the prayerbook; ideal for desktops: https://www.bcponline.org/
Electronic Common Prayer
A version of the prayer book for smartphones or tablets. Find in most app stores.
Daily Devotions for Individuals and FamiliesThis may be found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, pages 136 - 140. It is a simplified version of the daily office. The Daily Prayer for All Seasons resource was seen as an expansion of these five pages.
The Daily Office:
Instructed Morning Prayer Sermon
You can read a sermon given outlining the Morning Prayer liturgy in detail that Rev. Heather gave in the early days of the pandemic. It is available on our website: https://www.saintsjamesandandrew.org/sermons/instructed-morning-prayer
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer
Consider trying out one of these sets of prayers from the daily office. If you want to start with something simple, try saying Compline in the evening. It has some of the most beautiful prayers in the entire prayerbook.
Digital Daily Office with Forward Movement
Forward Movement has put together a simple and fantastic digital format to engage in prayer Morning, Noon, Evening, or Compline. In addition to the liturgies themselves, they include the daily office readings, their forward day by day reflection on the day’s readings, and they even have an option to maintain a daily prayer list that is local to your device. You can also listen to Morning Prayer being led by another person on their site. https://prayer.forwardmovement.org/home/menu
If you are interested in reading the assigned readings for Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer, you will want to explore the Daily Lectionary:
Praying With Others
The pandemic has meant that thousands of faith communities have taken their worship online, and you can join other parishes for prayer Morning, Noon, Evening, or Compline. You might check out:
Prayers & Thanksgivings
Be sure to check out Prayers and Thanksgivings, which offers prayers for any occasion under the sun in The 1979 Book of Common Prayer, pages 810-841
by The Rev. Ted Thornton
My text this morning comes from our Epistle, The Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 11, verse 16: “...for he has prepared a city for them.”
And, two chapters later - 13:14 - we read a more extended development of this image, “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”
A city! According to the author of Hebrews, the Christian dream from the beginning has been an urban one, a community marked by all the features we'd expect from a city: cooperation and interdependence chief among them, and as a Christian city, defined further as a place where its citizens practice loving charity one with another.
Let’s listen to those lines again: “For he has prepared a city for them," and, "here we do not have an enduring city.”
These lines strike my ear at a time when they are especially hard to hear. When Covid struck, and more recently when Russia launched its attack on Ukraine, I, like many of you perhaps, began to feel even more acutely than usual the sense of impermanence that pervades our human existence on this planet: a military attack on a democratic country on top of a potentially deadly virus that just won’t go away, the relentless poisoning of our global biosphere, the senseless loss of life as people armed to the teeth with high tech weapons take life after life in our streets, churches, shopping centers, and homes, political, social, and cultural turmoil and divisiveness in our society, perhaps the worst since the Civil War and Reconstruction.
Yes, at times like these, I often succumb to what the Buddhists call a sense of the extreme impermanence of existence: a penetrating reminder that nothing this side of the grave lasts forever and, sometimes it seems, most of the good things hardly any time at all.
But then into these dark thoughts comes the lovely reminder of God’s promise. Our solace and salvation, Hebrews tells us, is our faith, based on God’s promise in scripture that all of us are in perpetual motion toward a perfect “city that is to come,” however that phrase may translate for each of us. For us Christians, beginning with the author of Hebrews, that city which is to come has been a heavenly version of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem? Jerusalem which to date has been sacked and burned to the ground over and over again by its neighbors near and far? Even the Mongols from far off East Asia raided it. There has been nothing permanent about the earthly Jerusalem to report in our telling of its story. Throughout its long history beginning in the fourth- millennium BC, Jerusalem has been attacked fifty-two times, captured and recaptured forty-four times, besieged twenty-three times, and completely destroyed twice.
Jerusalem? No, not the earthly, finite, transient, and vulnerable Jerusalem of our times. Not that Jerusalem, but "the city that is to come.” What a beautiful vision (if visions are to be trusted)!
Whatever we make of Jerusalem’s often grim history, it is true that cities are the result of relationships, relationships hewn from the trust - the faith - that human beings can cooperate and come together to build healthful, nurturing, and secure communities for the mutual benefit of all.
This morning, I find myself looking back nearly fifty years ago to my years in Divinity School and one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever known. His name was Dieter Georgi. Dieter was a German émigré to this country, a minister and New Testament theologian.
But, it wasn’t in college or seminary that Dieter Georgi became a scholar. He became a scholar, he used to say, at the age of fourteen, in 1944 and 1945 as whole swaths of his homeland of Germany were being reduced to rubble in the wake of the Allied advance. Much of that time he remembered spending on the move from bunker to bunker to escape the bombing raids. He was still too young to fully fathom the horror Hitler had been wreaking upon Europe or to be held responsible for any of it. He saw his home town of Frankfurt go up in flames. And, he was in an underground shelter in Dresden when the “firestorm” destroyed that city. These experiences taught him that the essence of life is impermanence, and the essence of faith is what Christian theologians call theologia viatorum: the theology of pilgrims, wayfarers, a people and a theology in perpetual motion, never at rest, always on the move. What this means is that our search for an understanding of God and God’s purpose is never complete this side of the grave. God is never revealed all at once, only by degrees as we journey through life. The best we can do is put ourselves on the path and journey on.
Our atheist friends think we’re fools. They always have. Yes, as Paul tells us in the first century, “we are fools for Christ’s sake (First Corinthians 4:10).”
Whether one is religious or not, the lesson seems to be that nothing stands still and none of us is ever everything we can be; and that, therefore, we should never seek refuge in static dogmas about ourselves, about others, or about this changeable “city” we call our world: no final judgments about anybody or anything. We are never complete; we are never finished products, not on this side of the grave anyway.
Dieter’s experience instilled in him an acute sensitivity to change, a critical capacity for anyone who aims to become a genuine historian or theologian. And, his experience, mediated through his teaching, cemented my own twin loves of history and theology. Dieter was the best teacher of both disciplines I’ve ever known. His principal lesson was that we’re always on the road, always in flux: this is the chief reality of life.
As Heraclitus taught the Greeks, we never step into the same river twice. So, we’d best be humble about any conclusions we’re tempted to draw about one another, and, we’d best nurture a healthy tolerance for ambiguity, a quality, it seems to me, that is in desperately short supply in our world today.
Dieter Georgi’s favorite novelist was William Faulkner, who, he used to say without a trace of irony, was also in his view America’s greatest theologian. One of his favorite Faulkner novels was The Reivers. Like many great novels, the story is about a journey, this one to Memphis in a stolen (or “reived”) automobile. There are many hilarious misadventures on this journey.
Along the way, the car gets traded for a racehorse who, it turns out, always comes in last because he likes to look at the other horses. His owners finally get him to win by slipping him one of the more innovative performance enhancing drugs out there: administered on the sly, of course, and rumored to be a sardine. The story is a metaphor for life as movement, life as surprise, life as a joyride, a joyride none of us asked to be put on and for which none of us has full permission.
Faulkner’s metaphor of life as a journey from one state of impermanence into another is a good fit for all our readings this morning. Notice that in our reading from Genesis when God promises Abraham an eternal line of descendants, the promise does not include what might happen to those descendants along their way through history. It doesn’t include what they will suffer, what adversities they will endure, only that the line of descendents will persevere; it will endure.
And maybe that’s the point: to persevere, to endure. The late Harvard University Chaplain Rev. Peter Gomes used to say that the most fundamental truth is perseverance in the face of human folly.
Implicit in Jesus’ warning in our reading from the gospels today - to be watchful, to be alert - is the discipline of perseverance. To me perseverance is best summed up in our frequent advice to one another to “hang in there,” to endure and in watching out for the return of the master to prepare ourselves to welcome the promised kingdom, God’s new and lasting reality, again, "the city that is to come.”
Jesus’ call for us to be alert, or, literally in the original Greek, to be watchful for the return of the master doesn’t contain a foretelling of what might happen to us while we wait, watch, and remain on alert through our years walking this earth. There is nevertheless a great blessing attached to being watchful. The Greek word Luke uses in 12:37 we translate as “watching” (or being alert) is the present participle γρηγοροῦντας (do you know any males named “Gregory?” They’re the “watchful ones”).
Jesus says, “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes.” More importantly, in asking us to be watchful for the return of “the master,” Jesus is asking us to be alert for signs that God is already at work in our worldly, our secular cities.
Another of my old teachers (still alive at the age of 93) is Harvey Cox, most famous for his 1965 best seller, The Secular City. That title and an insufficiently incomplete reading of the book led many to associate Cox with the “God is Dead!” movement of those times as people started looking for ways for us to carry on without God. Cox, who is an American Baptist minister as well as a theologian, says his original title was not “The Secular City” but “God and the Secular City.” His publisher thought the longer title wouldn’t sell as many books and insisted on the shorter one. But, it’s the longer one that gets at Cox’s real point: that God has not removed herself from the saeculum, the lifetimes of earthly cities and their citizens, but is already hard at work creating “that city that is to come.”
This coming week do your best to comfort someone, especially someone who appears to be in doubt or seems to be losing faith. Encourage them to be watchful, to be alert, to hang in there: in short, to become good “Gregories.” Encourage them to look for signs of God already at work on that “city that is to come” right here and now in our secular cities where people are working to heal, help, feed, shelter, and sustain others.
by the Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
This morning’s “teaching sermon” explores what those of us in “the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement” believe and do in relation to the end of life and the rituals of burial.
I don’t know whether you’ve noticed it, but in this sermon series we’ve been making our way through the Book of Common Prayer: we looked at Baptism and Eucharist, the Church’s primary and central sacraments, and then at the sacramental rites – confirmation, marriage, ordination, confession and healing. In the Prayer Book, these additional services come in the order in which we’ve looked at them, grouped together as “Pastoral Offices”. (One exception is that ordination services come under “Episcopal Services”, since they require the ministry of a Bishop.)
The last of the pastoral offices, or ways in which the Church supports and ministers to its members through the transitions and challenges of life, are Ministration at the time of Death and the Burial Office.
Let’s start with acknowledging that death is a hard thing to think about and talk about, for a variety of reasons. We all to want to live as long as we can – our lives are, after all, a gift from God, to be cared for and preserved. It is painful to lose those we love, hard to face the ways in which aging involves the loss of capacity for all of us who manage to live into old age, and really hard to see the suffering that often accompanies serious illness - painful both for the sick person and for those who love them. Death is scary in that we just don’t really know what comes after. And some deaths are simply tragic, especially when death involves a young person who has not lived a full life, or if death is sudden and unexpected.
The reality of the many ways in which death is difficult exists in a tension with what our faith teaches us about it. As followers of Jesus, we believe that death is not the end of life, but is, rather, a transition to another part of life in which we return to God, entering into a larger life than we can know or imagine now. We believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ assures us of this.
Secular culture has popularized images of a heavenly afterlife to a ridiculous degree. The Book of Revelation speaks about pearly gates and streets paved with gold (Rev. 21:21), but the ways in which this symbolic and mystical image has been taken literally and expanded – we’ve all heard plenty of jokes about Saint Peter as gatekeeper with clipboard in hand - are not biblical and definitely not helpful.
What scripture does promise us is that God’s love surrounds us even as we pass away out of this life, and that beyond life in this realm we are set free into a closer life with our God, with Love itself.
Here’s some of what scripture offers:
Jesus assured Martha of Bethany, at the time of her brother’s death, that “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever who believes in me, though they die, yet shall they live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-6)
Similarly, he assured the disciples, as he was preparing them for his own death, that “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places… And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:2-3)
Comfort is also found in Paul’s writings: he assures the Romans that “neither death nor life… will be able to separate us from the love of God.” (Romans 8:38-39), and in his wonderful dicussion Love, written to the Corinthians, Paul promises that “now we see in a mirror dimly, but then [we will see] face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. (I Cor 13:12)
We believe these things, and yet, when death comes, we grieve. The Church, in its ministries, seeks to honor and balance both of these truths.
The Prayer Book actually offers a series of opportunities for prayer around the time of death. Ministration at the Time of Death (BCP 462-465), which is often referred to as Last Rites, is a brief service of prayers asking God to comfort the dying, to protect them from pain and evil, to pardon sin and grant them a “place of refreshment” and “give them joy and gladness”. It includes a brief litany to be prayed with loved ones who are present, as well as the Lord’s Prayer, and we anoint the person with the oil of chrism, the same scented oil that we use at baptism. The service includes what I think is one of the most beautiful prayers in our tradition, the prayer of commendation, which is also included in the burial service itself:
Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your
servant. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive them into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen. (BCP p. 465)
Ministration at the time of death is a very precious, intimate, and privileged moment in ministry. The liturgy is ordinarily led by an ordained person, but it can also be offered by a lay person if a priest or deacon is not available. It is a tremendously powerful way to offer the concern of our hearts to God at the time of death. I have read it by myself when learning of a death I want to respond to but have not been present for, and have also read it together with family members who live far from a loved one who has passed away.
Following Ministration at the Time of Death in the Prayer Book are two additional short sets of prayers through which the Church can mark the processes of attending to death. “Prayers for a Vigil” (BCP 465-6) provides prayer for family and friends in the time between death and the funeral and, like Last Rites, expresses love and petition for God’s care for the one who has died. The Prayer Book also provides a brief liturgy for “Reception of the Body” (BCP 466-7), for use at the time the body is brought to the church.
In the Episcopal Church we now have a variety of funeral liturgies available. The Prayer Book offers two options for The Burial of the Dead – Rites I and II - and we also have an authorized alternative from the Enriching our Worship series; they all follow the same approximate format, but differ in the style of language. In a funeral service, hymns may or may not be sung, scripture is read, and prayers are offered both for the one who has died and for family and friends in their grief. The departed is often remembered with reminiscences by family members, and clergy may preach a homily. Holy Communion may be included. The service, if it is in in the church building, concludes with a Commendation of the individual to God’s care.
The final part of the service may follow directly after the first part of the burial rite, or it may be separated in time. During the Committal the body or ashes are placed in their permanent resting place – whether in the ground, at sea, in a columbarium, or otherwise – and again, prayers including the Lord’s Prayer are offered. It concludes with a dismissal based on the Easter affirmation:
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.
Funeral practices have changed in recent years, in large part because the pandemic has been a significant factor requiring families to adapt their expectations and their practices. For one thing, cremation has become much more accepted and commonplace, and it allows families to schedule services when it is convenient for those who need to travel. The limitations of safety protocols for indoor gatherings has resulted in many more families choosing graveside services, and those that Heather and I have presided over in the last couple of years have been lovely.
While restrictions on end-of-life rituals have made it difficult for some families to celebrate their loved ones as they might have wished, I think that the opening up of options has ultimately been a good thing. In comparison to other aspects of the Church’s life, our tradition allows broad leeway for personalizing the services that mark the end of a human life, and leeway is often called for as the individual needs, circumstances, and preferences of families can vary. As Heather and I work with families planning funerals, our focus is on helping the families move through and beyond their pain as they remember and celebrate the life of the one who has died.
I’m sure many of us have experienced the fact that the processes that follow death can be messy. While enduring a death can help us put things in perspective and bring out the best in us, deaths can also re-activate old family issues and conflicts. In our complex psyches, regrets, resentments and guilt can surface in unfortunate ways as we move through not only the religious rituals but also the other practical chores that accompany death, such as disposing of property. Whatever we can do to minimize the potential for additional hurt around times of death is something to strive for.
Which brings me to reflecting on implications for us here and now: (you know that Heather and I always try to offer things to think about and do as we leave our worship each week!) There ARE things we can do as we think about death.
It is not only a gift to those who love us but a personal responsibility for us to prepare for our own deaths, however little we may feel like doing so.
For one thing, it is really important to have a will that directs others in how we want our worldly assets used after our deaths. The process of making a will helps us to come to terms with our own mortality AND to think about what is important to us in the way we leave things behind. Making provision for distribution of our assets is not only an opportunity to provide for our families’ security, but also to be generous in charitable giving in the many places where there is need in the world.
Closely related to the importance of having a will is that of having advance health directives on record and having a health care proxy designated, a person who can make decisions for us if we are not able to express our wishes. Hopefully your health care provider has already had you complete these documents: if they haven’t, please take care of this soon.
I also urge each of us to do some funeral planning. It is not a morbid thing to do. It provides help to our family members who, after we pass away, will have plenty of things to take care of and decisions to make: providing them some guidance on how WE would like to be remembered in a funeral can make the process a little bit easier for them. Here at James and Andrew we have a form that reminds you of choices to be made for your funeral. You can take it home to think about, discuss it with your loved ones, and/or you can meet with one of us to talk about your wishes, and we can keep a copy of your completed form on file here for the day it is needed.
Our Faith Community Nurse, Kathryn Aubry-McAvoy, has also introduced us to a form called Five Wishes. It can be used as an official document that outlines what we would like the last stage of our life to look like. Kathryn tells me that she has numerous copies. I have completed it, and I commend it to you.
Taking care of these acts of planning is, in its way, an act of faith. It says that while we value our lives, we know that they will end, and we want to do what we can, now, to help end our lives responsibly and with love.
Amen. May it be so.
By Steve Houghton
Purpose: Reﬂect on how God gives extraordinary purpose to ordinary people.
In the name of the One God, who is Lover, Beloved, and Love Overﬂowing. Amen (Br. Aiden Owen, OHC)
When I was much younger I was in awe of, some might say venerated, the saints. That was likely because I attended parochial school and it was expected of me. As I have become older I am bold enough, some would say brash enough, to consider the human side of the saints and wonder what the heck was God doing with that gal or guy. That wonder is particularly keen concerning St. James the Greater.
Our James was the Greater, in all probability, because he was taller than James the Lesser. We can consider some other possibilities as we go along. For the moment I think it should be enough to know that many historians consider James’ height as the reason for his title of Greater.
We are blessed with quite a number of passages in scripture that reference James and some of his actions. This morning we heard two of them. In the Gospel we hear of his mother trying to get him honor at Jesus side. The second one was in the Epistle and records the very end of his ministry.
You might recall that In the Synoptic Gospels, James and his brother John were the third and fourth apostles to join Jesus as he taught along the Sea of Galilee. All four were ﬁshermen. It might be helpful to know a little about ﬁshing in the area of the Sea Galilee at the time of Jesus and his apostles.
Fishing was and is hard work. The actual ﬁshing took place at night when the ﬁsh wouldn’t see the nets and swim away to avoid them. The boats were about 23 feet long and seven feet wide, capable of carrying around a thousand pounds of ﬁsh or 11 to 13 people. It held a crew of ﬁve, four to row the boat and throw the nets and one to steer, watch for storms and supervise the casting and retrieval of the nets. By the way, the fact that they sailed at night and had to have someone on the lookout for storms might add a little ﬂavor to some of the other bible stories with which we are familiar. Back to the topic. The throwing of the nets and hauling back the catch to the boat and then lifting it into the boat was really only a part of the job. Most of the day for the ﬁshermen was spent mending the ﬂax or linen nets; drilling holes in stones and attaching them to the nets as weights; drying the nets; and storing them for the next night’s sail. There doesn’t seem to have been a lot of down time. (1)
The most successful ﬁshing ventures were undertaken by families that had good strong sons. The more family members in the crew the less money had to be paid out to day laborers to serve as rowers and net tenders. There were also licenses to be paid for, tolls to be paid and the ever present taxes. So you can see that Zebedee, James and John’s father, had three ﬁfths of the crew as part of his family; a deﬁnite ﬁnancial advantage. There was also a partnership with Simon (Peter) and Andrew and their boat, as referenced in Luke (5:10). It is likely that they had a rather proﬁtable venture going in their joint ﬁshing partnership. (2)
So at ﬁrst glance, reading only Mathew (4: 18-22) and Mark (1: 16-20), you might scratch your head a bit when you read that Jesus just came strolling along the shore, saw the four ﬁshermen, and said they should drop their nets and follow him . . . and they did. In the Gospel of John (1: 35-40), he states that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist and heard John the Baptist say of
Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God”. We might be able to guess from this that Peter, James and John were familiar with John the Baptist’s message through Andrew. In fact we read in John that Andrew carried that message to Peter. And if you read Luke’s account (5: 1-11) you realize that Jesus has just performed the miracle of telling Peter to cast his nets, in the daytime, after a nighttime of catching nothing and retrieving so many ﬁsh they almost sink the two boats and split the net, it begins to make a little more sense.
My guess is that Zebedee was too stunned at the catch to protest losing near his entire livelihood to this itinerant preacher. I wonder what his reaction was the next day. For that matter, I wonder what James was thinking when he woke up the next morning traipsing after this miracle worker.
I am left wondering what sort of men these four ﬁshermen and James in particular, were and why Jesus invited them to follow him. To be honest, if I were trying to get a movement going and needed people to help build and grow that movement, I would be a bit concerned about relying on someone who would abandon his work so easily and abandon his father who needed his help to succeed.
Of course if I were looking for people who could work tirelessly for long hours and in the face of a disappointing night on the water, someone who would keep going when all seemed lost, these might be the very people Jesus was looking for.
Whatever the reason he was invited along, James found himself in the inner circle of the twelve closest to Jesus. Along with Peter and John, James was invited in to the healing of Jairus’s daughter. Again along with Peter and John, he was present at the Transﬁguration. Then in the Garden at Gethsemane, Peter James and John were with Jesus as he prayed before being arrested.
Both Mark (10: 35-40) and Matthew (20: 20-23) recount a story where James and John ask to sit beside Jesus when he comes to power. Pretty bold! Even if they were in the inner circle of the inner circle, you have to think well of yourself to make that kind of request. Do you think you could ever make that request?
Just to top that request we have James and John, in the Gospel of Luke (9: 51-56), asking Jesus if he wants them “to command ﬁre to come down from heaven and consume” a village of Samaritans because “they did not receive Him, because his face was set on Jerusalem.” Of course the lesson in this section of scripture is about the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans and about Jesus’ concern for loving all and having malice against none. This does, however, give us insight into the character of James and John. They are not timid about their support of Jesus and his teachings. They are, perhaps, a little over zealous given the fact that they want to bring down ﬁre from heaven on villagers who don’t want to listen to their cultural enemies. And Jesus corrects them on that point. I have to wonder, though, if Jesus didn’t smile a little to himself witnessing how headstrong these two were about his mission.
I believe we all have met people in our lives who act like James did. They passionately believe in their cause and they will not be swayed. When I was protesting the war in Vietnam and protesting for Civil Rights in the late 60’s and early 70’s I knew a number of people like James. I found myself caught between wishing they would tone it down and wishing I had the courage to speak as boldly as they did. Can you picture a person in your life who stands out like that? Might it even be you? When I ﬁnally got my voice in the protest movement it certainly was me. I remember standing in the middle of the gymnasium at North Adams State College at the beginning of the Student Strike and throwing my books down and declaring I would not pick them up until we were out of Vietnam.
You see God never has had anyone but us to carry his message to the world. When Jesus walked in Israel he used ﬁshermen and tax collectors and rebels and all sorts of humans. That was one of the things that the Sisters of St. Joseph in my high school taught me about saints that has stuck with me as a truth. We all have the potential to do God’s work. Heck we have a hymn to that eﬀect here in the Episcopal Church. We often give it lip service. We don’t always believe it. If the church continues or fails; if Jesus’ teachings continue or fail; that is on us. We adopt saints names for our churches to remind us of that fact. Those saints serve as a reminder that we are capable of doing God’s work and with his grace we will do it.
In the end, James was beheaded in 44 CE by Herod Agrippa because he would not stop declaring Jesus’ life changing message at the top of his lungs. I do believe that St. James, that brash young ﬁsherman speaks to a strength of voice from which we can gain inspiration. When you hear his name spoken in reference to this church or in any conversation, ask yourself, what has God planned for my talents today?
1 James Campbell, D Min “Biblical Fishing101 Reeling in the First Fishers of Faith” Loyolapress.com
2 Ibid James Campbell
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