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Luke 24:13-35         The Road to Emmaus

st-george-klooster-judea-woestijn-israël-27292972When you are on a long journey, hospitality matters. In the Middle East, where it is hot, dry, and rugged, hospitality really matters.

A number of years ago, I went on a 28 day pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a group from Virginia Seminary. Over that time, I experienced deep and radical hospitality. The first followed a two-hour hike out of Jerusalem to the Greek Orthodox St. George’s Monastery. St. George’s is perched on the side of a steep cliff, and within the complex is a cave. This is the cave to which the Old Testament prophet Elijah is said to have fled, where he experienced earthquake, wind, fire, then finally, the still small voice of God. As we wandered around the exterior courtyards of this ancient place, we saw no one. Suddenly, a young monk appeared. Bearing a silver tray with glasses and cold water, he welcomed us all to St. George’s. Here, in an ancient place, a total stranger greeted us with radical welcome and generous hospitality.

Another day, after exploring some ruins in Samaria, our group stopped for lunch in a small local family restaurant. First, they brought us fresh, cold water. Then they served what had now become a familiar salad plate: a row of tiny, sliced cucumbers, quartered fresh tomatoes, sliced green peppers, purple cabbage, slivers of carrots and green cabbage. Bowls of green olives. Continue Reading »

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Flowers Sm1. Grateful for the Easter Story that Unfolded Last Week. . .and the Easter Story that Continues This Week
All the Easter eggs have now been collected. Flowers are beginning to fade on the Easter cross outside St. Philip’s. We have taken down the Easter services banner from the fence. Easter must be over.
NO!  Easter, like Christmas, is a liturgical SEASON and not limited to one day. We focus on one day, but there are many more. Christmas has twelve days in its season. Easter has fifty.  Easter goes from Easter Day to the (feast) day of Pentecost, when we’ll celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the apostles gathered in Jerusalem.
This year, spring has been shy about showing her face. Winter seems to continue to taunt us. Yet all around us are signs of new life–flowers poking up, things blooming, and yes, folks struggling already with allergies.
As we celebrate the emergence of new life, the word GRATITUDE comes to mind.
2. Grateful for YOU at St. Philip’s Parish
There are several reasons for this gratitude. First, I am deeply grateful to all of you who worked so hard to make our Holy Week so amazing. If I begin to name people, I know I will forget someone. So I will just say that Altar Guild and Worship Committee figure heavily into my thanksgivings, as well as all of you who volunteered to read lessons and prayers.
It is true that clergy usually bear the heaviest lifting of Holy Week (what we lovingly refer to as “the Holy Week Marathon,” but equally true is that we clergy could not possibly do the best job we can do without help of a lot of people. So please know how grateful I am for the gifts so many of you have offered.
41RTjmwF9XL._AC_US436_QL65_3. A Book on Gratitude
A colleague of mine, Diana Butler Bass, has just published her new book. It is entitled Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks. Diana began writing this book early in 2016, and through a personal struggle, finally finished it. As many writers know, the book took a different turn than she had originally envisioned. (Note: I understand this, because sometimes I have a particular focus for a sermon, and somewhere in the midst of writing it, the sermon takes a different path!)
(Note: if you’d like to check it out, or buy it, click here:
https://smile.amazon.com/Grateful-Transformative-Power-Giving-Thanks/dp/0062659472/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?ie=UTF8&qid=1522943095&sr=8-1-spons&keywords=diana+butler+bass&psc=1

lilies of the field4. Grateful for My “Emergency Contact List”
Another reason I thought about gratitude was an e-mail I received two days ago. I subscribe to emails from Coach David Girt, who owns and manages LiveNow Fitness in Elkton. (http://www.livenowfitness.com) Several of our parishioners work out there. While I chose another place for my work-outs, I still get Coach Girt’s e-mails, because I find them to be inspirational.
This week, Coach Girt said we all have a person we want to be contacted in case of emergency. Yet he expanded that list, asking some questions for me to consider:
“Who mentors you and offers a baseline of wisdom?
Who challenges you to think?
Who cheers on your dreams?
Who cares enough to admonish you?
Who is kind when you have failed?
Who shares the load in high pressure moments without being asked?
Who brings the smiles, fun, and laughter?
Who lifts you up when life is getting you down?
Who loves you unconditionally?”
As I considered David’s questions, I mentally answered these questions for myself. In doing that, I found myself thanking God for people who are there in good times, in challenging times. For people who do share the load of my life. For those who cheer me on, for those who are kind when I mess up. And this week, especially grateful for those who are supporting my taking some much-needed time off. Today, in this Easter week, as we think about new life, I invite you to answer those questions for yourself.
Then say thanks to God that you have that kind of “emergency contact list.”  God is good. The Lord is risen. New life abounds. Thank you, God.
~Sheila+

Mark 16:1-8

images-3“So they went out and fled the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Terror. Amazement. Fear. Well. . . Happy Easter, everyone! You may be hearing Mark’s version of the resurrection with skepticism and doubt. Who in the world writes the greatest story ever told, then ends it with terror, amazement, fear and flight?  If this story ends in terror, fear and flight, why are we even here this morning?

If you are even a little bit disappointed, then congratulations. You just got the point of what Mark was trying to show us. So may I state the obvious? Eventually, the women do tell this story.  Peter becomes the head of the Church in Rome. James becomes the head of the Church in Jerusalem. Throughout the centuries, they, along with thousands of others, gave their lives as martyrs for the Christian faith. Men and women who believed in Jesus Christ were so passionate, they would give their very lives for the Holy One who showed us the most perfect way to God.

images-4 Yet on this Day of Resurrection, we stop for a few minutes in Mark’s gospel. We stand at an empty tomb with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James (who could be the mother of Jesus, since one of the James was his brother), and Salome—who may have been the wife of Zebedee, the mother of another James and John. For these women, it is not Easter Sunday. It is the morning after the Sabbath. the third day after a brutal crucifixion.  Dawn brings a dreaded reality: a reality that is like a nightmare, because their Lord is gone. Within eight days, there has been a joyful Palm Sunday procession, a Last Supper, a betrayal, an arrest, a denial. They have watched a whipping, taunts, and spitting. They have watched as their Lord stumbled through the cobbled streets of Jerusalem, bearing his own instrument of death. At the end, soldiers took Jesus’ body down from a cross. Then Joseph of Arimatheaa asked Pilate for Jesus’ body. It was he who wrapped the Lord’s body in a linen cloth, then laid him in a nearby tomb.

How did they get to this place of darkness, of grief, of such deep loss? The beginning of ministry in Mark had seemed so wonderful. So hopeful. It began in Galilee, after John the Baptist baptized Jesus. Jesus’ ministry began with powerful preaching, amazing teaching, miraculous healings. Continue Reading »

God & Gun Violence

Monday, February 19, 2018

This morning, a parishioner sent me a message with the link below. The blog article was entitled “God, Memes, and Terrible Theology” and focused on the following meme:

IMG_0100“Dear God, Why do you allow so much violence in our schools? Signed, A Concerned Student.”

The response was “Dear Concerned Student, I am not allowed in schools. God.”

The point of the author is that so much horrible theology follows tragedy. If you want to read this article, here is the link:  https://calledsent.blogspot.com/2018/02/dear-church-we-gotta-talk-god-memes-and.html?m=1

As I thought about it, I went back to my 2007 sermon archives to find a sermon I had written and preached the Sunday after the Virginia Tech shooting tragedy, in which a young man methodically killed thirty-two of his fellow students,  then took his own life.

First of all, I wrote a poem about that tragedy. Although it is eleven years later, it seems that human beings have not learned many lessons about “respecting the dignity of every (other) human being” (quote from Holy Baptism service in the Book of Common Prayer)  In fact, you have to wonder if we’ve learned much at all that is good and positive, anything of which God would be proud. I’ve lost count of the violent mass shootings in the United States since that fateful cold, gray, April day in Blacksburg, Virginia.

images

Here is the poem:

April Gun Metal Morning

(Dedicated to the Virginia Tech Hokie Nation)

I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.

Whoever has faith in me shall have life,

Even though he die.

And everyone who has life,

And has committed himself to me in faith,

Shall not die forever.[1]

 

Against April gun metal morning sky,

Snow flakes swirl, dip, dance.

Patches of crimson color move slowly.

Hooded, heads bent, blue-jeaned Hokie nation

Clutch coffee and books, bound to learn

ElementaryGermanIntermediateFrench

SolidMechanicsAdvanced Hydrology.

 

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives

And that at the last he will stand upon the earth.

After my awaking, he will raise me up;

And in my body I shall see God.

I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him

Who is my friend and not a stranger.

 

Against April gun metal morning sky,

A solitary silent man in tan and black

Chooses a final path to destruction.

Two lives taken, thirty-one left,

He prowls with stealth. Determination. Focus.

Snow flakes swirl, dip, dance

He does not notice their grace, their beauty, their lightness of being.

 

For none of us has life in himself,

And none becomes his own master when he dies.

For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,

And if we die, we die in the Lord.

So, then, whether we live or die,

We are the Lord’s possession.

 

Against April gun metal morning sky,

Norris Hall is secured. Chained. Ready for death.

Shots puncture peace in methodical madness.

Heads bend, bodies fall, coffee spills.

Crimson stained a blue-jeaned nation,

Spreads from one life to another.

Connects the living with the dead.

 

Lord, have mercy upon us.

Chris, have mercy upon us.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

 

Against April gun metal afternoon sky,

Wailing of mothers rips hearts open.

Anguish of fathers bruises souls.

Stunned silence of friends hangs suspended in cold air.

The early morning beauty of snowflakes explodes into crimson.

And the sweet souls of the innocent dance unexpectedly

From earth’s chains into the incredible lightness of heaven.

 

Happy from now on

Are those who die in the Lord!

So it is, says the Spirit,

For they rest from their labors.

The Rev. Sheila N. McJilton                    18 April, 2007.

[1] From “The Burial of the Dead” in The 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

 

VIRGINIA-TECH-SHOOTING-candlelight-vigil

Second, on the Sunday after the Virginia Tech tragedy, I preached the following sermon to parishioners at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Wilmington, DE, where I served as Interim Rector. As I have re-read it, I feel sad that my thoughts still apply, that we are no further down the road of peace, reconciliation and better ways to address both gun violence and mental health issues. And I still feel the same need to build up the faith of your children and young people in specific ways, because their world is still precarious and dangerous.

Easter 3, Yr C                                                 April 22, 2007

Reading:  Acts 9:1-20

Saul was a man on a mission. Convinced that he possessed the truth with a capital T, he set off on a murderous rampage. His goal? To bring followers of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem, to face religious persecution. Suddenly, on the road to Damascus, Saul was blinded by a dazzling light. After an unexpected and powerful encounter with the risen Christ, Saul’s life completely changed. In fact, it changed so dramatically, Saul changed his name to Paul, and the apostle Paul would spend the rest of his life as a witness to the love and life of Jesus Christ.

In the news this past week, we have heard about another man on a mission. Cho Seung-hui, a Virginia Tech student, believed that he possessed truth. Despite the bizarre multi-media manifesto that Cho mailed to NBC News, we will never know just what his mission was—other than some kind of delusional revenge. On Monday morning, this young man, armed with chains, knives, two semi-automatic pistols and a backpack full of ammunition, slaughtered thirty-two of his fellow students and teachers, then took his own life.

What was the difference between Saul, blinded by the light of Christ on a dusty road, and Cho Seung-hui, blinded by his own mental issues? Both believed they had the Truth with a capital T. Yet on the road to Damascus, the light of the risen Christ changed the life of Saul. No one reported seeing a divine light in Norris Hall at Virginia Tech last Monday. Where was God on Monday morning with those students and teachers? Why did God not send a divine light to blind a killer on the loose?

There are many questions in our hearts about this tragedy. I have wept as I watched and listened to the sights and sounds of senseless violence that has wrenched innocent people of all ages, all faiths and all cultures away from their families. And I have wondered how we know the difference between a vision of truth and an illusion of truth. What happens when the blinding light is from evil, not from good? How do we know the difference?

I wonder if community has something to do with this. When we hear the story of Saul today, we see that his repentance, his conversion, and the beginnings of his Christian faith did not take place in isolation. After this dazzling encounter with Christ blinded him, someone took care of him for three days. Then Ananias came to minister to him, to pray with him. Afterwards, Saul stayed with that Christian community. The power, the strength, and the support of this community of faith moved all of them beyond individual truth to a greater one. And it was out of the greater truth and love of Jesus Christ that these apostles changed the world. However, had truth not been worked out over time, in the context of community, our Christian faith would not be as strong as it is today. Why? Because as we live in community, we discuss, we argue, we ask questions. Sometimes we agree. Sometimes we disagree strongly. Yet we are family, united by, and grounded in, our faith in the risen Christ. Whatever our differences, we honor each other, we love each other, and we stumble together along our journey of life.

I thought about community this week when I heard about a mentally unbalanced young man who lived totally inside himself. Cho refused to abide by professors’ guidelines in class. He behaved in anti-social ways. He rejected help for his mental and emotional issues. He refused to engage in any kind of real community with professors, students, even his suite mates. Cho believed that he possessed some kind of truth, but that truth lived inside him. He never tested his inner reality with that of the community around him. Now given the information which has emerged in the last few days, it is likely that this young man was incapable of being in community. He was just too ill—and had been so for all of his life.

So is it possible that compassion and community work best in a more ideal world? The preacher does not have this answer. All she knows is that unfortunately, you and I do not live in an ideal world. Every day, we are reminded of that truth. Every day, thousands of our brothers and sisters lose their lives. Whether on an American college campus, a Baghdad neighborhood, a dusty road in Darfur or a refugee camp in Palestine, thousands of our brothers and sisters die in acts of violence. All we have to do is to open the newspaper or look online to see this truth. We do not live in paradise. We lost that world a long time ago. No, we live in a broken, sinful world where evil wins too often. Young people die too soon.

And so especially this week, we have more questions than answers. I did not personally know any of those young people or professors who died. I do not see my own son’s picture all over the internet or newspapers. Yet you and I are deeply connected to each one of them—just as we are connected to those parents who grieve this morning in Baghdad, or Darfur, or Palestine, or anywhere else in the world where people bury their loved ones today. God’s children are all connected in a community. For some of us, that is a community of faith. So even when we have more questions than answers, we are not alone. We have each other, and God is there in the midst of us.

My friends, God is always there in the midst of suffering. God was with Adam and Eve the day their buried their son Abel after his brother Cain murdered him. God was with Job when he buried everyone one of his sons and daughters, then sat in the dust and suffered with boils. God was with Jesus as he suffered on the cross on Good Friday. Throughout the story of God’s people, God has been there in suffering. On Monday morning, God was there at Virginia Tech. God was there with students who protected each other with their very bodies; who used their own hoodies to fashion tourniquets for one another; who held doors shut with their feet or with tables. God was there with Professor Librescue, a seventy-six year old Holocaust survivor, when he gave his own life to protect his students. God was there as police officers, emergency technicians, doctors, nurses, and chaplains responded with compassion and skill. God was there as one young man returned again and again to Norris Hall, carrying the bodies of his classmates out and laying them on the grass. When asked why he was doing that, he replied, “Well, somebody had to do it.”[1] God was there in the midst of a grieving community in Blacksburg, Virginia this week. God is here today, in the prayers, the compassion, the love of God’s people—all over this nation and this world.

We Christians believe that physical, human death—no matter how it comes—is not the end of our story. That is because Jesus’ death on a cross was not the end of the story.I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord. Whoever has faith in me shall have life, even though he die. And everyone who has life, and has committed himself to me in faith, shall not die forever.[2]  Yes!  And: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and giving life to those in the tomb.”[3]

 Yet we, like Saul on the road to Damascus, must choose to participate in this resurrection life. After we encounter the risen Christ in our lives, we must be willing to live our lives differently. This means commitment to a life of faith. This means that as parents, we bring our children to church regularly so that when they face dark times, they will have a solid spiritual foundation. They will know right from wrong. They will have a reservoir of spiritual strength from which to draw. We do not want the first time our children to utter a real prayer is on a Monday morning as they push their feet against a classroom door to keep a killer out.  So if we are to give our children more than a token social dose of Christianity, we have a responsibility to bring them into Christian community every Sunday. We have a responsibility to help teach them.

True Christian faith is not lived out in solation. True faith is living out within a community that pushes against us. Teaches us. Shapes us. Ultimately, one that stands with us in unconditional love. And where deep and abiding love remains, there is God. Today, with deep and abiding love, may we pray for all of God’s children who have lost their lives this week—from Iraq to Palestine to Darfur to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. May all of them rest in peace and rise in glory. And at the last day, may all of God’s children stand around the throne to worship the God who created us as God’s family. Amen.

(c) The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

[1] From a story told by Bishop George Packard to the Diocese of Delaware Convention on April 20, 2007.

[2] From “The Burial of the Dead: Rite Two” in The 1979 Book of Common Prayer, 491.

[3] Ibid., 500.

water-baptism copy

Epiphany 4, Year B                                             January 28, 2018

Holy Baptism of Beau Sterling Graham

“Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?”[1]

This morning, we welcome family and friends who have gathered to celebrate the sacrament of Holy Baptism for Beau Sterling Kirby. For those of you who do not know, Liz Newcomb Kirby grew up at St. Philip’s. Graham hails from Virginia, and I had the joy of officiating at their marriage a few years ago. Like many here, the circle of life continues, and today is a joyful day.  I would also like to note, for visitors and newcomers, that we have been doing a special message series during this Epiphany season—a Harry Potter series. While I generally focus on scripture readings for a sermon, today, there is only one verse among the four readings that really apply to today’s reflection: Psalm 111, verse 10:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.” [2]

So an awe of God, who creates us all, who redeems us all and who sustains us all, is something that I believe we are born with. The evidence for that is that not every time, but many times, in the moments just after I have poured water on a baby’s head three times in the sacrament of Holy Baptism, that child gets a faraway look in his or her eyes, and looks past me. Not at me. Past me. Sometimes I have looked over my left shoulder. No one standing there. So say what you will, but I believe that child remembers, maybe actually see, some recent, mysterious connection to God and to Home—that eternal and true Home from which we all come. To which we will all return. I believe that when we baptize an infant or toddler, they still understand the Psalmist’s mystery and awe. In fact, I suspect babies or toddlers still carry more than a little of God’s wisdom in their tiny bodies.

I turn now to the Book of Common Prayer, because today, I want to emphasize the truth that what we do here today in this sacrament is not a casual matter, not just a photo opp for baptismal gowns, delicious cake, and a family dinner. Holy Baptism is serious business. We do not “manage” it. We do not wave a wizard’s wand and proclaim, “There. Baptism managed. The Christian faith managed. Now, what’s next?”  No.

unnamed            Baptism is a serious—even dangerous—act of faith that we embody for ourselves or for our children. If we take baptism seriously, we must understand that words matter. Actions matter. In this service, we “renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” We “turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as [our] Savior.” We “promise to follow and obey him” as our Lord. Those are strong, courageous words. Those words, spoken out loud, heard and witnessed by a community of faith, are also potentially dangerous, because they signal that this child is transformed. Changed. So we never know what might happen next in God’s kingdom when God transforms people. Expect the unexpected, I say.

We Christians believe that when we follow the example of Jesus of Nazareth into the waters of baptism, that changes us. From that moment on, we belong to Jesus. We follow Jesus. We no longer ask “What would Jesus do?” We learn what Jesus did with his own light and love. Then we just go out and do the same thing—in our own broken, human ways, of course.  How we learn to follow Jesus is, of course, not contained in the few moments of Holy Baptism. It is a lifetime journey that requires practice, nurture, support, challenge. Not just by parents or grandparents, either. Godparents play a critical role here.

Best-Dumbledore-Quotes            One of my clergy colleagues and friends has written an excellent book entitled Teaching Faith with Harry Potter. In this book, Tricia Lyons notes that there is a crisis of godparenting across all denominations in the United States.[3] What does she mean?  Example: If you are, or have been a godparent, please raise your hand. Next question: “Are you proud of how you have godparented? Is it an active part of your faith life?”[4] If the answer to those questions is a rather shame-faced “No,” then do not fear. Tricia insists that the church has let you all down, because we have no ongoing formation for people in the pews about how that happens. More on that in a minute.

For the moment, I turn to Harry Potter for some amazing examples of godparenting. Did you realize that “the word godparent is mentioned over fifty times in the seven [Harry Potter] books”?[5] J.K. Rowling never mentions anything resembling a religious connection to this role; however, many people are godparents to Harry.

benjamin-dickerhof-290634          The first, very negative, example, is the Dursley family. Because Petunia Dursley is Lily Potter’s sister, this family has become Harry’s “Muggle”guardians, and he must live with them during holidays. However, the Dursleys are unloving, negligent, and abusive. For example, in Book Five, The Order of the Phoenix, we read this description of Harry: “He was a skinny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who had the pinched, slightly unhealthy look of someone who has grown a lot in a short space of time. His jeans were torn and dirty, his T-shirt baggy and faded, and the soles of his trainers were peeling away from the uppers.”[6] Hardly a description of a child who is loved and nurtured, right?

Nimbus_2000_1          Who are Harry Potter’s true godparents—the ones who are faithful, strong, courageous, and present to him, no matter what? In the Chamber of Secrets, Harry finds out that Sirius Black is his official godfather. In the Prisoner of Azkaban, Sirius sends a Firebolt racing broom as a Christmas present. At that point, Sirius sends it anonymously, yet it is just what his young godson most wants, if Harry is to become a successful Seeker in Quidditch matches.  Later, when Harry does learn who his godfather is, he depends on Sirius to show up, to give him good counsel, to be dependable and loving. Yet Sirius Black is not the only godparent Harry has. It takes more than one person to help support, nurture, and teach young Harry.

The same is true in our Christian faith practices. For example, in the baptism service in our Book of Common Prayer[7], I ask parents and godparents for specific answers to specific questions that involve repentance, turning, following. Then I turn to the faithful who are gathered and ask: “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support this child in his/her life in Christ?” Hopefully, when we get to that place this morning, I will get an enthusiastic response.

It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a Christian village to raise a Christian child. In Harry Potter’s village, he has many significant people who are faithful and loyal to raising him.

Minerva            One is Minerva McGonagall, the stern, not-to-be-fooled-with Transfiguration teacher who finds subtle ways to support Harry. Another is Professor Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts. In a scene in the Chamber of Secrets, Lucius Malfoy is about to take Dumbledore away from Hogwarts. Dumbledore pauses just before leaving Hagrid’s cottage. He looks towards Harry, Hermione and Ron, all hidden under the Invisibility Cloak. Dumbledore says, slowly and deliberately: “You will also find that help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.”[8] Throughout Rowling’s books, Dumbledore is a wise, dependable father figure for Harry. Yet there are more people in Harry’s village who love him, who are “stand up” kinds of people.

In the book I mentioned earlier, Tricia Lyons writes about a powerful godparenting scene that is not one we would ordinarily think of as godparenting. In chapter Four of The Deathly Hallows, Harry needs to be transported to a safe house before his seventeenth birthday. For upon the date of his seventeenth birthday, the rare protective magic that has surrounded the Dursley home will expire. Harry’s life is in danger. One night, a group of friends—members of the Order of the Phoenix—show up at 4 Privet Drive. Their plan to protect Harry during transit is that six of them will drink Polyjuice potion in order to turn into Harry Potters. Then there will be seven Harry Potters, not just one, and hopefully, Voldemort and his followers will be fooled.

856f3e68-e32c-4419-b9c1-a62bc6eb3959_560_420            Mad-Eye Moody, one of these six, and the eldest, warns that “the dangers are real and lives could be lost.”[9] Ironically, in the ferocious battle which ensues, Moody himself is killed, as is Harry’s beloved owl, Hedwig. George’s left ear is irreparably wounded. Hagrid is knocked out. When the group finally reaches safety at the Weasley home—stunned, weary and injured—they are all greeted by yet another of Harry’s godparents:  Molly Weasley. Molly has not physically been with the group as they rescued Harry.Instead, she “is waiting breathlessly, faithfully, hopefully, and prayerfully at the Burrow,” She has kept the light on, left the door open, kept nourishing food ready, and watches the horizon, “ready to run toward anyone walking toward her, not unlike the father of the prodigal son.” [10]

“Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?. . .Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?” These questions are critical questions to raising someone in a life of faith. What is required of us—all of us—is doing specific things for the children for whom we take responsibility—whether we are official godparents or not.

We may give them presents, but we must also give them presence.[11] We give them presence by teaching them. Parents teach them by making a commitment when you wrestle sleepy children out of bed on a Sunday morning—despite protests. You grab a quick breakfast (or eat in the car), get them dressed, trying your best to get them to Sunday School by 9:00. That may not look like a gift-present, but trust me, it will be over a lifetime of faith development.

Parents, grandparents and godparents can commit to teaching children the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm. Both are pieces of scripture. You can teach them—by example—how to hold hands and say a prayer of thanksgiving before a meal. You can sit with them as they go to bed, encouraging them to say a prayer before going to sleep. Children learn by doing, and by supporting them in these faith practices, we help nurture, strengthen—yes, even challenge them in a life that says yes, I am committed to following Jesus Christ.

No one waves a magic wand and becomes a good Christian person. That is not some magical moment. It is a lifetime journey, one that calls us to practice, as you would practice a sport or as you would practice the skills you use in your daily work lives.

Remember how clumsy or slow you were when you were just learning a new sport—like baseball or lacrosse? Remember the number of wrong notes you hit as you practiced a musical instrument? Or how, just out of your degree program, you took halting steps in your chosen vocation? You aren’t supposed to be perfect at this Christian life either. You practice. Over and over and over again. And none of us gets it “right” until the moment we get Home.

AlbusDumbledore           In the meantime, we ask for help, and we get help. For Albus Dumbledore spoke Truth in at least two different places. First he told Harry, “You will also find that help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.” At the end of Part Two of The Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore meets Harry beyond the point of earthly life. Both are dressed in white. They face each other on a white train platform at Kings Crossing. Dumbledore changes the quote now, telling Harry, “I would amend my original statement. Help would always be given, at Hogwarts,

to those who deserve it.” Then he continues, “Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living. Above all, those who live without love.”[12]

On this day of Holy Baptism, live with love. Unconditional, nurturing, courageous love. Remember that in God’s eyes, we are all God’s beloved sons and daughters. We all deserve God’s love, because we are part of God and God is part of us.

Now, all godparents, please stand up. Now, even if you are not an official godparent, please stand up.

I hereby challenge you, in the sacred Order of Jesus Christ, to renew your own faith this day, to step up, to be present to all who need your godparenting skills and love. If you do that, I promise that not only will someone else’s life be transformed. So will yours. Amen.

© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

[1] From the service of Holy Baptism in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, 302.

[2] Psalm 111:10.

[3] Patricia M. Lyons, Teaching Faith with Harry Potter: A Guidebook for Parents and Educators for Multigenerational Faith Formation, (New York: Church Publishing, 2017), 130.

[4] Ibid., 130.

[5] Ibid., 132.

[6] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, (New York: Scholastic Press, Inc., 2003), 1.

[7] From the service of Holy Baptism in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, 302-303.

[8] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets, (Scholastic Press, 1998), ch. 14.

[9] Idem, Teaching Faith with HP, 137.

[10] Ibid, 139.

[11] Lisa Kimball, “Being Godparent: A Dialogical Hermeneutic Study of Godparenthood” (PhD diss., University of Minnesota, 2007), 84-88. Referenced in Lyon’s book Teaching Faith with Harry Potter.

[12] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part II (Scholastic Publishing, 2007), ???.

Epiphany 3           Mark 1:14-20

7b908b_32867cc52dfc4643a56d9aff61a96768~mv2            How do you know the Chosen One? How do you know which leader to follow? Jesus of Nazareth is not the first person in scripture to be a chosen leader. God chose Samuel to be a prophet. God chose Saul to be king. Then God apparently thought better of that decision, and chose David instead. At one point in Israel’s history, God chose a Persian king, Cyrus—a foreigner—to lead God’s people.

Then John the Baptist strides out of the desert, calling people to repent, turn around and walk a new way. Be baptized. Live differently than the ones who think they are chosen, the ones who live in the centers of power. Yet John is clear that he is not THE one. No. He points to Jesus. Scripture never tells us just when Jesus understands that he is God’s Chosen One. God’s Anointed One. God’s Messiah. I have wondered about this for years. Was it when he was twelve years old, arguing with the teachers and elders in the Temple—so lost in his passion for God, he forgot to go home with his parents? Was it at the Jordan River, in that moment when the Spirit ascended on him like a dove and he heard God say “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”? Was it during those forty days and nights after his baptism, while he was out in the desert being tempted? We do not know the answer to that. We know that Jesus asks people “Who do people say I am?” “Who do you say I am?”

However, in the beginning, he takes up John’s work. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Just how sure Jesus is of his own identity in these early days of ministry, we do not know. My own sense of this question is that as Jesus lived more fully into his calling, and that calling was affirmed in many different ways—either by people supporting him, or opposing him so strongly—he knew.

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Identifying someone as the Chosen One can be tricky, of course. Early in the Harry Potter series, Harry has no clue who he is, really. He knows he is James and Lily Potter’s son. He knows they were killed in some mysterious way. Yet when Mr. Dursley takes the Dursley family to a remote island in one final attempt to get away from the increasing barrage of all the invitation letters to Hogwarts the giant Hagrid arrives. In the middle of a horrible storm, Hagrid breaks down the door of the cabin, and calmly lights a fire with his umbrella. Hagrid offers Harry a birthday cake for his eleventh birthday, then tells Harry exactly who he, Harry Potter, is. He is a wizard, like his parents. Harry had no clue, because the abusive Dursleys never wanted him to be special. Yet Harry was special. Somehow, as a baby, he had miraculously survived a murderous attack by Lord Voldemort—an attack that had killed both of his parents. When word spread about this, the wizarding world knew he was special. They hoped he was the Chosen One—the one destined to destroy Lord Voldemort.

Continue Reading »

The Baptism of our Lord   The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton@St. Philip’s in Laurel

07 January, 2018                                     Baptism of PMAB

Readings:  Genesis 1:1-5    Psalm 29               Act                      Mark 1:4-11

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Preaching Series:  “Down the Hallway of Faith with Harry Potter”

January 7 – February 11, 2018

 If you are a Harry Potter fan, you know that there is no overt rite of Holy Baptism in any of the books or movies. In fact, although J.K. Rowling is a Christian—in fact, an Anglican Christian—she never writes explicitly about the Christian faith. Rowling has drawn millions of people into a magical world. Yet her Christian connections to wizards and Muggles. . .(a Muggle is someone with no magical powers and doesn’t know about the world of wizards)[1]—her connections are subtle.

Yet while “the Harry Potter scenes do not have a direct religious or spiritual aspect. . .they [do] focus on ‘rebirth’ or renewal, taking characters (and readers) to new places, plot, and conflict. . .[This is] similar to how baptism brings Christians into a new life of Christ.”[2]

Baptismal watersWhat does the sacrament of baptism mean? Is it important? Is it just a sweet ceremony that gives us a chance to coo over babies and enjoy cake with family and friends? Even other traditions have some kind of rite for babies. The Jewish faith has the bris ceremony, performed on an eight-day old male, either in a home or synagogue. More evangelical faith communities don’t do infant baptisms. However, many have adopted a “naming” or “dedication” ceremony, to recognize babies in their congregations. Continue Reading »