glory of god

glory of god

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Healing in Charleston, Capernaum, and Hiroshima: A Sermon for Memorial Day Weekend

This past week, as the temperatures soared into the 80s and 90s, I finally clued in that summer is coming and I’d better make plans if I intend to do actually do anything. I’ve been in denial up until now. In fact, the snow shovel is still in the backseat of my car. But the calendar says it’s almost June, so I have started to think of travel options. Likely I’ll take my cancelled trip to Minnesota in August. The college committee I’m on will meet again then, and I have been considering going to Germany and Austria as well—Munich, Salzburg, and Vienna. When I was 14, I sang with a boys choir and we toured those cities, among others. I haven’t been back since, it so would be fun to go as an adult, when I can appreciate it fully.

That this is Memorial Day weekend is another clear sign that summer is closing in on us. Though, of course, Memorial Day is more than the start of the summer season, a time for big car sales or the opportunity to refresh your wardrobe with 70% off sales at Kohl’s. Memorial Day is a sacred time—to stop, to pray, and to give thanks for those who answered the call to service, and died fighting for their country. Many died in a valiant fight for justice and peace, and others in wars whose purpose were less clear. But regardless of government policy and what we think of any particular conflict, all were real life human beings, sons and daughters, people with dreams and hopes and lives to live. Lives that were taken too soon.

What’s particularly moving for me about Memorial Day is the fact that the soldiers we remember and honor were white and black, Native American and Chinese American; they were Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and atheist; they were straight and gay, married and single, some were parents and others barely out of high school. They were Democrats and Republicans alike. Most were men, but women die in military service, too. They are Americans, and more importantly, they are human beings, of every background.

While there are numerous stories and legends as to origins of Memorial Day, and claims by cities and towns to have hosted the earliest observance, it seems that the first widely publicized event was held in 1865, at the end of the Civil War. It was organized by liberated former slaves in Charleston, South Carolina, who beautified a burial ground for Union soldiers with flowers, inviting 3,000 freed African American school children, Union troops, black ministers and white missionaries to gather and pray together. An historian described the event: “African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina. What you have there is black Americans recently freed from slavery announcing to the world with their flowers, their feet, and their songs what the war had been about. What they basically were creating was the Independence Day of a Second American Revolution.” 

Over time there were more observances around the country, with numerous changes and developments along the way. For a long while it was held on May 30 and was called Decoration Day—that’s what my grandmother called it—until Congress formalized the name and re-established the date on the last Monday of May in 1968, principally to create a long holiday weekend. Many veterans groups would prefer it revert back to May 30.

So, it’s interesting that our gospel reading for today features a soldier—a centurion. A centurion was a commander in the Roman army, who had charge over 100 men, called a “century.” He wasn’t the highest authority in the army, but he wasn’t a nothing either. He was a mid-range officer—like a captain. Although strong, centurions were often the first killed or injured in battle because they usually led attacks, leading by example, rather than ordering their subordinates from behind. As a result, they were especially well regarded for their bravery, and also feared for their strength and fierceness.

Today’s gospel says that the centurion was in Capernaum, a village on the Sea of Galilee, and the hometown of several of Jesus’ disciples: the two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, and James and John, all fishermen, and also of Matthew the tax collector. It was a Jewish village, which served as the home base for Jesus’ ministry. Now, you might wonder why a centurion and his slave were there, probably with other men as well—maybe the whole century. Well, because they were Roman occupiers, making sure that the Jewish populace stayed in line and didn’t start any funny business, so that they knew who was boss. The centurion was a constant reminder of who was really in charge and had the power over people and their lives. And that was the Roman Emperor.

Luke suggests that this particular centurion and the Jewish populace got along well. He even helped them to build their synagogue. Though, it’s interesting that Matthew’s gospel, which also includes this story, makes no similar claim about the synagogue. Luke, who wrote a little later than Matthew, was probably trying to soften things, to make the centurion and his slave seem more deserving of Jesus’ mercy and healing power—in fact, he has the Jewish leaders come right out and say he’s worthy of mercy and healing. We should remember that Luke has a particular way of writing which makes the Romans seem more attractive than they really were, from the Jewish point of view—probably because he was trying to suggest to the Romans that Christians weren’t really a threat, they could live together, all of that. In reality, most of the people in Capernaum probably would have looked upon the centurion with suspicion and fear. He was a Roman soldier, an oppressor of the Jewish people, and as it happens, a man similar in to those who would one day crucify Jesus. 

Now, the healing in this passage is both interesting and significant. But to me, the more interesting and more significant aspect of the story is about transcending boundaries, overcoming prejudices, and accepting people for who they are, and not what they represent. What we think of as the miracle, the healing of centurion’s slave, is really the vehicle in the narrative (in fact we don’t even see the healing happen—it occurs off stage) for a profound and audacious act of boundary crossing by Jesus, who disregarded everything people had thought about who was acceptable and who was not, who was in and who was out. And in the end, the acceptance, the inclusion, and the healing of division ends up being the truly profound miracle. 

In a book called The Meaning in the Miracles, English theologian Jeffrey John has written: “It is important not to miss the extent to which the centurion in this story represents the foreigner, the oppressor, and worse. For Jesus’ contemporaries the centurion was a creature with supernaturally evil connotations, as well as being a symbol of all-too-real, earthly barbarism and cruelty. It was not for nothing that for three centuries Gentile soldiery had been thought of among Jews as beasts, subhumans or limbs of the devil. When Jesus so warmly commends the centurion for his faith, it is as if a survivor of Auschwitz has commended a Nazi kommandant. Yet for Jesus the weight of inherited group hatred counts for nothing. His immediate welcome of the man is an instance of his constant refusal to approach or judge people as members of a class, race, sex or category of any kind, but only as an individual. He deals with the human being, ignoring the label, and this is the heart of Jesus’ ‘inclusivity.’ To the consternation and disgust of others, he is completely non-tribal and prejudice-free….”
That’s powerful analysis, isn’t it? And, in fact, it’s exactly what we find throughout the gospels and throughout Jesus’ ministry: in the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, in Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan Woman at the Well and in the healing of the Syrophoenician Woman’s daughter, all foreigners or outsiders, whom the religious and social prejudices of the day would want exclude and ostracize. But not Jesus, who instead breaks down walls and barriers, borders and nations. Jesus calls us not to see enemies in our midst, but fellow human beings and even friends.

Of course, it can be hard to live up to that high calling. Sometimes it’s very hard, especially in societies that are so fractured and stratified and convinced that the only way for us to get ahead is by pushing others down. It can be hard in a world that is so addicted to war and death—in Jesus’ age, in our age, and in every age in between. But if Memorial Day reminds us of anything, it must be that life is better than death, that peace is better than war, and that friends are better than enemies—whatever their color, race, religion, nationality, or background.

We saw this lived out in a powerful way this week as President Obama visited Hiroshima. It was not an uncontroversial visit, of course. Healings across boundaries and difference rarely are uncontroversial, as Jesus showed us. But the result is, hopefully, a restored humanity. Now, no one apologized for the atomic bombs that took hundreds of thousands of lives and maimed even more, and neither did anyone apologize for the bombing of Pearl Harbor, nor for the horrors of the war that followed. The history and politics involved are probably just too complicated. Instead, they did what they could: they came together as human beings, in prayer and hope for a better future, for our people, for our nations, and for the world.

“Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed,” President Obama said. “The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace… What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.” It is powerful statement. It is a powerful hope.

But even more powerful than any words was the President’s embrace of the survivors of the Hiroshima bombing, and their embrace of him—people still bearing in their hearts, in their souls, and in their bodies the marks of that horrific day 71 years ago, when fire and death rained from the bright blue sky. The New York Times writes that the first of those survivors to embrace Obama was Mr. Sunao Tsuboi, aged 91, a chairman of the Hiroshima branch of the Japan Confederation of A-and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations. He gripped President Obama’s hand and did not let go until they had spoken for some time. “I held his hand, and we didn’t need an interpreter,” Mr. Tsuboi said. “I could understand what he wanted to say by his expression.”

Boundaries were crossed, divisions were transcended, and broken human lives began to be healed. On this Memorial Day weekend, if fallen soldiers and victims of war could reach out to us across time and across eternity, if they could grasp our hands and share with us the deepest thoughts and longings of their hearts, it would surely be much the same as we saw in Hiroshima. They would remind us of the preciousness of life. They would remind us of how short and uncertain life can be, and they would remind us of how we have to strive together for peace and understanding—so that their deaths will be the last. I believe if we in our time hear them, if we fulfill their hope for a better world, they won’t have died in vain. And Jesus’ vision of a restored humanity—manifest so powerfully in his encounter with the Roman centurion, breaking down walls and barriers and prejudices—well, that vision will truly come to life and we will all be healed. May we help God to make it so.

Let us pray:

O God our heavenly Father, look mercifully on the unrest of the world, and draw all people unto thyself and to one another in the bonds of peace. Grant understanding to the nations, with an increase of sympathy and mutual goodwill; that they may be united in a true brotherhood wherein are justice and mercy, truth and freedom, so that the sacrifice of those who died may not have been in vain; all this we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Prince of Peace. Amen.

© The Rev. Matthew P. Cadwell, PhD

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Choosing the Better Part: A Funeral Homily for Joyce Elliott

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’ Luke 10:38-42

I have to start by saying that perhaps like many, or even most, of you I am still in shock that Joyce has died. I am expecting to see her in church, working with the altar guild, in the office photocopying, or calling about this or that. It will take a good long while, for me anyway, to process this new reality. I will always treasure my memories of Joyce and will hold her in my heart—seeing her in her sparkly pink sweater, smiling brightly, bringing joy and love and care. And just as importantly, bringing her delicious Scandinavian almond cake to every church function. In many ways, she was like Emmanuel’s mother, grandmother, and aunt, all at once. 

As fast as everything has happened over the past few weeks, I also know that this is as Joyce wanted it—not us feeling loss as we do, but she being free from the health issues that made life so challenging and took so much from her in the last few years. And we know that she is reunited with the great love of her life, Ernie. Not a day went by, I think, that she didn’t think of him, and long for him—sometimes just the mention of his name made her well up with tears—of sadness I suppose, but also of love. In her last few weeks, seeing Ernie again was her greatest hope and anticipation. So, we can be happy for Joyce and Ernie—partners in life and now in eternity—even as we are feeling a little disoriented by this sudden change in our lives.

This morning’s gospel reading focused on two sisters, Martha and Mary of Bethany—friends of Jesus. Probably among his closest friends. It’s not one of the usual choices for a funeral, but I like it, as it tells of women of faith. Women a lot like Joyce.  Now, at first, one might think of Joyce as being more like Martha in this morning’s reading. Busy doing things. Rushing around. Making certain everything is perfect. Maybe a little anxious that every gets done as it should.

Whenever I hear that gospel I always sort of imagine Martha—the busy one—starting out subtly, making a little extra noise in the kitchen, banging pots and pans to get her sister’s attention and lure her out of the living room. It’s only after Mary doesn’t get the hint that Martha breaks a glass, blows up a little, and finally asks Jesus to intervene. I suppose we could see Joyce that way, women of the church often see themselves as Marthas—we even have a Martha stained glass window—with a small beehive depicted, the women of the church buzzing around, getting everything ready, as Joyce did week after week on the altar guild, and as church secretary during the 1980s and 90s.

But, of course, she was more than that. Because, like Mary in the gospel, Joyce also knew the importance of stopping to listen. Building and sustaining relationships were important to her. Knowing our stories was important to her. Somehow Joyce always seemed to know every detail about people's lives. Not in a gossipy kind of way, but in a concerned and caring way. Whenever I saw her, she was always asking how I am, how my family is—my mother in particular. Even when she wasn’t feeling well herself or in the hospital, she wanted to know about others. David and John shared that trips to the grocery store would typically include their mother striking up conversations with other customers in the check out line—people she had never seen before and might never see again. But she wanted to know them. She liked people. In fact, she loved people. With all of our gifts, with all of our mistakes, just as we are.

Time and again, like Mary of Bethany in the gospel, Joyce chose the better part, which can never be taken from her, or from us. That better part was opening her heart to us in love—whoever we are, wherever we are. And when you think about it, that is her greatest gift and legacy to us—her open heart. Well, that and the almond cake.

Nearly 8 years ago Joyce was one of the first parishioners I met. She made a point to welcome me to the parish—with the almond cake. Libby Berman and Anne Minton, the interim priests who preceded me, both said the same thing. They weren’t able to be here this morning due to family obligations, but they asked me to share how important Joyce’s welcome was to them, too. Over the years she shared details about the church and the town; more than once she guided me when I was lost, and of course, she offered lots and lots and lots of opinions. Usually when one such opinion was coming, or maybe a correction to something stupid I may have done, she would start with: “Now Matthew…” That was always a clue. Though, her most important opinion, which she reiterated often, was “it’s impossible to please everybody.”

Having been the church’s secretary for over a decade, working with 5 different ministers over the most tumultuous period in the church’s history, at least in the 20th century, she knew that better than just about anyone—it’s impossible to please everyone. Given that history, you’d think she would have stories to tell. And she did a little. But she never talked about rectors she didn’t like, or parishioners she didn’t like. Joyce’s guiding principle, so far as I could tell, was to like everyone. And to simply meet and accept us as we are. Joyce chose the better part.

My favorite Joyce story is of my first few months here at Emmanuel--in November 2008. She was having surgery at the Melrose-Wakefield Hospital and she called her whole family together prior to the operation. And by prior, I really mean prior—in the pre-op room. David and John and John were there, and me too—all crowded around her bed. At 7 in the morning or whatever it was. Always being a little nervous or anxious, she wanted prayers, just to be sure. I anointed her forehead, we prayed, and we talked.

And then, the surgeon came in to check on her. He probably made the mistake of asking if she had any questions. Because she did, but not about the surgery. She asked him: Did you sleep well last night? What did you eat for breakfast? She told him that she didn’t want any joking or silliness going on during the procedure. I think she even told him what kind of music she approved of and what kind she didn’t. If he was going to take her life into his hands, those hands had better be ready. We were all there together, until the very moment staff wheeled her into the OR. Of course, she came through just fine. After that, we were bonded for life. My great love of anything Swedish—expect lutfisk—that probably helped, too.

Like Mary of Bethany in this morning’s gospel, Joyce’s life was a life of faith. She believed in the steadfastness of God. She believed in the love of God. She believed in the power of God. While, like Martha in the gospel, Joyce was sometimes anxious about the many details of life, she was never anxious about the life of faith. Nor was she anxious about what comes next, on the other side of eternity. In fact, she looked forward to it, in faith and in hope. And, you know, it is that same faith and that same hope that draws us here together, and that allows us to commend Joyce to God, in the fullest, most certain confidence, that she is safe in God’s arms, that she is secure in God’s heart, that she is loved with the deepest, most all encompassing love possible.

We believe that because as Christians, we believe in the power of God. We believe in the power of the resurrection—both the resurrection of Christ 2000 years ago, and the resurrection that God continues to unleash in the world in our own lives. We believe, as Joyce believed for 81 years, that hope is always stronger than fear and that life is always stronger than death. This is the faith that sustained her, that gave her hope, and that led her to face the last weeks in strength, in courage, and in steadfastness of spirit.

The last time Joyce was here in church was for the Easter Vigil and tomorrow is the Day of Pentecost. It seems appropriate somehow that it is during this Easter season, this season of resurrection and new life, that Joyce that made her journey deeper and closer into the heart of God. Obviously, we would all want her to be here with us still. For more visits, for more joy, for more love, and definitely for more almond cake. But we also know that Joyce is now at peace. She is where she needs to be. She is finally, and fully, set free from all that constrained her, from all that made life hard over the last few years, and she is living at the heart of God, with Ernie, whom she loved so deeply.

So, we are called this morning to say goodbye. Not for ever. But for a while. Knowing that Joyce is safe. Knowing that she is at peace. Knowing that she is at home. Knowing that like Mary of Bethany, Joyce has chosen the better part that can never be taken from her. We miss her. I miss her. But our comfort, our consolation, and our hope comes in knowing that for Joyce, today and every day, is a bright Easter morning. For Joyce, today and everyday are days of joy and not sadness. They are days of life—eternal, abundant, resurrection, Easter life. And to that, what can we say but “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

I would like to close by offering a prayer—in honor of Joyce and Ernie both—in Swedish. And then I’ll read it in English, too. Let us pray.

Käre himmelske Fader. Vi tackar dig för att du genom Jesus Kristus har skänkt oss det eviga livets gåva. Hjälp oss att tro hålla fast vid att ingenting kan skilja oss från din kärlek. När vi mister någon, som står oss nära, hjälp oss då att ta emot tröst från dig och dela den med varandra. Vi tackar dig för vad du gav och genom Joyce och Ernie. Åt dig överlämnar vi oss som vi är med vår saknad och vår skuld. När rätta stunden är inne, låt oss då få dö i frid och se dig ansikte mot ansikte, du vår frälsnings Gud. Amen.

Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you that through Jesus Christ you have given us the gift of eternal life. Help us to hold fast to the belief that nothing can separate us from your love. When we lose someone close to us, help us then to receive consolation from you and to share it with each other. We thank you for all you gave us through Joyce and Ernie. We commit ourselves to you, as we are, with our longings and our faults. When the right time comes, let us die in peace and see you face to face, O God of our salvation. Amen.

© The Rev. Matthew P. Cadwell, PhD

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Distinguished Alumni/ae Award: Peter Selby


Distinguished Alumni/ae Award

The Right Reverend Dr. Peter Selby  ‘66

Bishop and Theologian
Visionary for Justice and Inclusion in Church and Society

In an article titled “Risk, Fear, and Faith”—focused on Britain’s banking system— Peter Selby wrote: “There is no human event, from falling in love to learning to swim, that does not involve at some level the overcoming of fear... Therein lies the meaning of the most repeated biblical injunction, ‘Fear not’: it is not that we are to avoid noticing what are the forebodings and anxieties that threaten to make fear the wellspring of action, and as a result to lead us into wrong decisions; rather it is a call to a proper assessment of our fears and the harnessing of the inner resources of love and faith to overcome them.”

This reflection has relevance beyond the contexts and issues originally addressed. Fear is all around us—in the rapidly changing institutions of theological education, in the wider community of the church, and in societies concerned with their own safety and prosperity. Since his graduation fifty years ago, Peter Selby’s ministry has focused on encouraging and empowering the people of God to overcome fear by harnessing the inner resources of love and faith.

Perhaps the first clue that his life and ministry would be characterized by this confrontation of fear with faith was his decision to leave Oxford and travel across the ocean to study in this place. Here on Brattle Street he met professors and classmates—likewise following the risky and faithful call of the gospel—who have challenged each other and sustained profound friendships across time and across oceans. One of those classmates, supporting and challenging, across time and space is Jonathan Daniels.

Peter Selby’s ETS education led him to answer an even riskier call to travel further west, to the other US coast, where he pursued Clinical Pastoral Education at none other than San Quentin Prison. It was a transformational experience that would lead to a life-long concern for criminal justice and, in particular, for ministry with prisons.

Upon graduation, Peter worked as a curate in an increasingly multicultural London parish, followed by educational ministry for the laity, doctoral studies in New Testament, and a canonry in Newcastle on Tyne. Along the way, he married Jan and raised three children. Jan undertook a leading ministry of her own. With friends she founded NOW—the Newcastle Ordination of Women group—meeting, lobbying, campaigning for the change that is only now coming to full realization with the ordination of women to all orders of ministry in the Church of England.

Peter Selby was appointed to the episcopacy during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, serving the Diocese of Southwark in south-west London. It was a ministry that required the skill of a faithful pastor at a time of social upheaval and divided visions for the nation. After 8 years, he turned his attentions to academe with a fellowship at Durham University. There he began pioneering work in thinking theologically on the nature economic debt. His book Grace and Mortgage: the Language of Faith and the Debt of the World has been cited as prescient of the financial crisis of 2007.

He returned to church leadership with an appointment as Bishop of Worcester in 1997, including membership in the House of Lords—surely not a typical honor for an EDS alumnus. But he used that position to advocate on criminal justice issues, leading to an appointment by the Archbishops of Canterbury, York, and Wales as Bishop to Prisons. Notably, he celebrated the Eucharist in a jail every Christmas Day, sharing the incarnate love of God with those often forgotten by society. Upon retirement, he assumed the presidency of the National Council for Independent Boards –monitoring the treatment of those in custody – both in prison and immigration detention. Subsequently he has worked with St Paul’s Institute, seeking to engage with the financial sector of London. His most recent book is An Idol Unmasked: a Faith Perspective on Money.

As bishop Peter Selby has consistently combated the institutional fear evident in the Lambeth Conferences’ and the Church of England’s sexuality-based restrictions on ordination. Instead he has drawn upon the inner resources of love and faith to argue in favor of marriage equality in church and society. And he has served as one of two Episcopal Patrons of the international No Anglican Covenant Coalition, helping to defeat it in England and across the Communion.

In his first book, Look for the Living: the Corporate Nature of Resurrection Faith, published in 1976, Peter Selby wrote: “I have been constantly aware of the debt which I owe to my teachers at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in particular to Dr Harvey Guthrie and Dr Lloyd Patterson, whose course on ‘Biblical Eschatology and the Church’ has continued to offer me a framework of theological thinking which can move critically with change.”

Bishop Peter Selby, over his long and extraordinary vocation in ministry, has confronted fear with faith, taken risks, and stood steadfastly for the gospel, thinking theologically and moving critically with change. In the process he has broken down barriers and shone the love of God in the darkest corners of society. For his extraordinary vision and commitment, for his lifetime of ministry embodying EDS’s historic and current mission, and most importantly for his embrace of the call to confront and overcome fear with faith, love, and risk, I am pleased to present Peter Selby ‘66 with the Episcopal Divinity School’s 2016 Distinguished Alumni/æ Award. 

Matthew P. Cadwell ‘99
Alumni/ae Executive Committee