Thursday, November 24, 2011

Little Stone Altars

Last month our parish was received into the Diocese of Quincy, at the 134th Synod. The last few years for Quincy have been marked by the fracturing of the Episcopal church, the retirement of a much loved bishop, the separation of the majority of the diocese from the national church, and the lawsuit filed by the Episcopal church against the diocese seeking their parishes, endowment funds, and name.

The threat posed by this lawsuit was discussed at Synod. These new brothers and sisters of ours face being forced from their parish homes by those who have no intention of ever occupying the little churches nestled between the corn and soy bean fields of west central Illinois.

Serving to illustrate the waste of it all, is the fact that if the Episcopal church wins, whatever they might recover won't even make a dent in what they've spent on legal fees. Any proceeds from the sale of these buildings will go into the fund set aside for more lawsuits. A fund which replaced the budget line item previously entitled "Missions."

The pain of what may come is one we know well, because we've been through it. We had a bishop who said we could rewrite the New Testament. In our case, there was no lawsuit, we were a single divided parish, but there was a world of hurt that came with walking out of the church we'd helped to build.

A lot of folks would point out that a church is just bricks and mortar, and that's not what Jesus died for, and they are right. But the pain exists because a church is also infinitely more than just bricks and mortar.

It is the physical place that we have our history and our home. We built it, or our parents or grandparents did, and our memories are there: our baptisms; our weddings; our grandpa's ashes. All there in a place where we came together and trusted that because there were two or more of us gathered in His name, He'd show up.

And that showing up is what makes those bricks and mortar holy ground.

Throughout Scripture, we see that those who went before us built altars made of stone in places that have names that are recorded. They did it as an homage to God. He'd do something amazing on a piece of land and they'd mark the spot. We know that we can never begin to repay God for saving us, and we know that what He requires is the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart and of praise and thanksgiving...we know all that, but our hands cannot keep still. The awe that compels us to the ground on our knees, compels us to build Him these altars.

Some are small, like the little Baptist box that we worship in in Wheaton. Some are soaring works of stained-glassed glory, like the cathedral at Chartres, built and re-built over a thousand years. Evidence of people who knew that nothing they could do would ever be thanks enough, but whose hands and hearts could not rest.

So is it wrong for them to be sad about possibly losing their parishes? I cannot say that it is. They are being sued by people who have sold former churches to Muslims and nightclub owners rather than allow the parishioners to "buy" back the building their parents or grandparents built.

Frankly, I think some righteous anger is fitting. We are not promised ease, and we know it. But we are to be working toward the Kingdom that is to come, participating in the building of the new earth. We plant altars as outposts, building blocks toward the future. To be required to hand these outposts over to those who are seeking to destroy the faith should bother us.

But it should also strengthen our resolve. The fact is that we built those altars because we know God acts in places. And if He does so in one building, He will do so in another, whether it is a living room holding folks perched on arm chairs to pray while Sunday School is held in the kitchen, or the local school gymnasium. We've lived through that, seen it happen, and are growing.

Against the wisdom of the world, five parishes from outside the state and four from within have come into the diocese. In the face of lawsuits and pain, Quincy is growing.

Because the reality is, too, that we know the end of the story. He will prevail against the powers and principalities of this world. And those little stone altars we built in faith - even though they be handed over to those who don't know how to honor God - will be redeemed.

Thanksgiving Day Proclamation - A. Lincoln

Proclamation Establishing Thanksgiving Day

October 3, 1863

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

A. Lincoln

Friday, November 11, 2011

Still True, Fifty Years Later

Yesterday was the 236th anniversary of the Marine Corps. Begun before our country, protecting it ever since. Started in a tavern and later storming Tripoli to save our interests against the lawlessness of the Barbary Pirates, which is fascinating reading by the way.

We enjoy freedoms we take lightly every day, largely because they are too many to count, because of the men and women who fought for them.

So once a year we have a day set aside to honor those who have fought for us, and to contemplate what their service has done for the existence of the the country we live in and love.

With a tip of my proverbial hat to Rev. Canon Dr. Kendall Harmon, Canon Theologian for the Diocese of South Carolina, for the link, I think this was a wonderful speech to start out a day of remembrance.

Veterans Day Remarks
Remarks by President John F. Kennedy
Veterans Day National Ceremony
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia
November 11, 1961

PRESIDENT KENNEDY: General Gavan, Mr. Gleason, members of the military forces, veterans, fellow Americans:

Today we are here to celebrate and to honor and to commemorate the dead and the living, the young men who in every war since this country began have given testimony to their loyalty to their country and their own great courage.

I do not believe that any nation in the history of the world has buried its soldiers farther from its native soil than we Americans -- or buried them closer to the towns in which they grew up.

We celebrate this Veterans Day for a very few minutes, a few seconds of silence and then this country's life goes on. But I think it most appropriate that we recall on this occasion, and on every other moment when we are faced with great responsibilities, the contribution and the sacrifice which so many men and their families have made in order to permit this country to now occupy its present position of responsibility and freedom, and in order to permit us to gather here together.

Bruce Catton, after totaling the casualties which took place in the battle of Antietam, not so very far from this cemetery, when he looked at statistics which showed that in the short space of a few minutes whole regiments lost 50 to 75 percent of their numbers, then wrote that life perhaps isn't the most precious gift of all, that men died for the possession of a few feet of a corn field or a rocky hill, or for almost nothing at all. But in a very larger sense, they died that this country might be permitted to go on, and that it might permit to be fulfilled the great hopes of its founders.

In a world tormented by tension and the possibilities of conflict, we meet in a quiet commemoration of an historic day of peace. In an age that threatens the survival of freedom, we join together to honor those who made our freedom possible. The resolution of the Congress which first proclaimed Armistice Day, described November 11, 1918, as the end of "the most destructive, sanguinary and far-reaching war in the history of human annals." That resolution expressed the hope that the First World War would be, in truth, the war to end all wars. It suggested that those men who had died had therefore not given their lives in vain.

It is a tragic fact that these hopes have not been fulfilled, that wars still more destructive and still more sanguinary followed, that man's capacity to devise new ways of killing his fellow men have far outstripped his capacity to live in peace with his fellow men.
Some might say, therefore, that this day has lost its meaning, that the shadow of the new and deadly weapons have robbed this day of its great value, that whatever name we now give this day, whatever flags we fly or prayers we utter, it is too late to honor those who died before, and too soon to promise the living an end to organized death.

But let us not forget that November 11, 1918, signified a beginning, as well as an end. "The purpose of all war," said Augustine, "is peace." The First World War produced man's first great effort in recent times to solve by international cooperation the problems of war. That experiment continues in our present day -- still imperfect, still short of its responsibilities, but it does offer a hope that some day nations can live in harmony.

For our part, we shall achieve that peace only with patience and perseverance and courage -- the patience and perseverance necessary to work with allies of diverse interests but common goals, the courage necessary over a long period of time to overcome an adversary skilled in the arts of harassment and obstruction.

There is no way to maintain the frontiers of freedom without cost and commitment and risk. There is no swift and easy path to peace in our generation. No man who witnessed the tragedies of the last war, no man who can imagine the unimaginable possibilities of the next war, can advocate war out of irritability or frustration or impatience.

But let no nation confuse our perseverance and patience with fear of war or unwillingness to meet our responsibilities. We cannot save ourselves by abandoning those who are associated with us, or rejecting our responsibilities.

In the end, the only way to maintain the peace is to be prepared in the final extreme to fight for our country -- and to mean it.

As a nation, we have little capacity for deception. We can convince friend and foe alike that we are in earnest about the defense of freedom only if we are in earnest -- and I can assure the world that we are.

This cemetery was first established 97 years ago. In this hill were first buried men who died in an earlier war, a savage war here in our own country. Ninety-seven years ago today, the men in Gray were retiring from Antietam, where thousands of their comrades had fallen between dawn and dusk in one terrible day. And the men in Blue were moving towards Fredericksburg, where thousands would soon lie by a stone wall in heroic and sometimes miserable death.

It was a crucial moment in our Nation's history, but these memories, sad and proud, these quiet grounds, this Cemetery and others like it all around the world, remind us with pride of our obligation and our opportunity.

On this Veterans Day of 1961, on this day of remembrance, let us pray in the name of those who have fought in this country's wars, and most especially who have fought in the First World War and in the Second World War, that there will be no veterans of any further war -- not because all shall have perished but because all shall have learned to live together in peace.

And to the dead here in this cemetery we say:

They are the race –
they are the race immortal,
Whose beams make broad
the common light of day!
Though Time may dim,
though Death has barred their portal,
These we salute,
which nameless passed away.