Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Sacred and the Real


Propers: The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 33), A.D. 2017 A

Homily:

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Imagine, if you will, the Temple of God.

Decreed by David and erected by Solomon, the Temple stood in Jerusalem, with one notable intermission, for a thousand years. It was a monumental edifice, gleaming in the sunlight, visible from the mountaintop for miles around. Night and day, clouds of sacrificial smoke billowed from between its pillars, as the priests besought atonement from God for the sins of the people and the world.

The building itself was a model, a microcosm, of the universe, of all of God’s Creation. There were the starry-decked heavens, the fruits of the Garden, the Tree of Life! And at the center of it all, the heart of the Temple from which the lifeblood flowed, there stood the Holy of Holies, the very presence of God on earth. Here was displayed for us a true picture of our world: the wonders of the cosmos and the beauty of life in all its forms, centered around the Creator and King of the universe. Life and Being, Goodness and Truth, radiated from this center like heat and light from the sun.

And in this sacred, holy place, where earth and Heaven, God and Man, dwelt together once more, the sacrifices and the Psalms re-enacted the mighty works of God in creating and redeeming and delivering His people. And by their re-enactment, in this place beyond space, in this eternity beyond time, subsequent generations did not simply learn about God’s actions in the distant past, but themselves became one with the event, one with the action, so that God had not simply liberated their ancestors in generations past but continued to liberate and claim and bless His people now, today, and forevermore!

God willing, this should all sound rather familiar. For indeed, the claims made by God’s people in the Old Testament regarding the Temple are the same claims that we as Christians make regarding our worship today. When we gather here in this Divine Liturgy, by that Font and at this Table, when we witness the mighty acts of God made known in Word and in Sacrament, we believe that God Himself comes down to earth, in bread and wine made Body and Blood. The Incarnation of God occurs again, right here, in us.

Here the saints and angels are gathered with us invisibly even now! Eternity has broken forth into our own time—which is why there are no clocks in this sacred space. Here we do not remember the acts of God as though they were some long-dead legend. Here we ourselves become part of the living story of God and Man made one in Christ Jesus. And thus transformed—thus renewed, thus resurrected!—we are then sent out to be Christ for a world still very much in need.

But there was a problem. It seems that in the time of the Temple there were those who severed the connection between our life of worship and the life of the world. They ceased to understand that what happens here, what happens in sacred space and time, exists to reveal to us the true nature of reality: God at the center of a cosmos teeming with beauty and life and a moral code of goodness sunk deep in the bones of the world. They denied the unity of the sacred with the rest of Creation. Such people professed one reality on the Sabbath, in the Temple, but quite another in the marketplace, in the home.

“The Lord will not do good,” they said, “nor will He do harm.” For such folk it was all well and good to sing about redemption and resurrection amidst the smells and bells on the weekend, but after that we must return to the real world. Zephaniah, in our readings today, refers to such people as those “who rest complacently on their dregs.” Actually, in Hebrew, it’s more like those who thicken on their dregs. It’s a wine metaphor, you see. Lots of those in the Bible.

God’s people are often compared to fig trees and grapevines, cultivated gardens meant to bear good fruit. Wine in particular is intended for health and for joy, but sour grapes bring benefit to no-one. Those who “thicken on their dregs” are thus wine which is intended to mature, to grow sweeter and finer, but who instead have no concept that all of their blessings come from God and are intended to be used for the good of those around us.

No sane vinter would keep soured, ruined wine. He must make room for the good stuff, the fine vintage that will bring honor to his house and joy to those he serves. So it will be, says Zephaniah, when the Lord searches His wine cellar with a lamp and casts out all those who have turned from God, turned from neighbor, turned themselves to vinegar! And the funny thing is that Zephaniah says this in a liturgy, in worship.

The call to be silent at the beginning of the reading is a call to attention. The proclamation of the Day of the Lord is an opening line of worship. Yet Zephaniah declares to his two-faced audience, to the hypocrites who only believe in God in a certain place and at a certain time, that the Day of the Lord will be no blessing to the petty, the cynical, the selfish and the cruel. For them it will be a horror, for the pious masks they wear shall be dashed to pieces, and the reality of their ingrown lives shall be revealed for all to see.

The Temple is meant to reveal the truth of the world, the reality behind it all. Instead, in the time of Zephaniah, it had become a box in which people thought to trap God, keeping Him safely tied and tame and out of our pocketbooks or personal lives. But the Truth is that God, in or out of the Temple, is every bit as wild and free and terrifying as He’s ever been, while we are the ones who become trapped by the smallness of our souls and the dreary cynicism of our centerless lives.

C.S. Lewis once wrote that if Christianity is not true, then it is of no importance, and if it is true, then it is of infinite importance. The one thing we cannot be with regards to Christ is moderate.

Just like our forebears in the days of Zephaniah, we too have a strong tendency to compartmentalize Christ. Church becomes one more extracurricular, one more obligation, one more option on an ever-growing menu of infinite choice. And if that’s all it is—one hour a week, stuck between these four walls—then of course we will choose other things: things that are more entertaining, things that are more diverting. As G.K. Chesterton quipped, the liturgy can of course be quite boring and repetitive, unless one happens to love God.

Now perhaps you’re thinking that this is all quite well and good for the clergy to say. Faith is our career and our paycheck, after all. Of course we want the Church to be the center of everyone’s life. Fair enough. But I tell you, when it comes to this sin, pastors are quite possibly the guiltiest of all. We know exactly what it is to compartmentalize Christ, to separate professional religiosity from the all-too earthly stresses of house and home. Too many of us speak to God only on Sundays. Too often we pay obeisance right up until the collar comes off.

But that’s not why we’re here. Church is not an extracurricular or a seminar or a sport. It’s not a gathering for socialization or self-improvement, though God willing a good bit of that does go on. And it sure as heck isn’t a concert or a career. We come to Church because God promises to meet us here, in Word and in water, in Body and Blood; in this assembly of sainted sinners, gathered, forgiven, raised from the dead, and sent out to wage peace everlasting against all the forces of sin, death, and hell!

In Church we find the very ground of reality, the one place where we can get a foretaste of the Feast to come; a glimpse of the sheer breadth and depth and radiance of a Creation whose full splendor has yet to be unveiled. Here is the cosmos revealed in its glory! Here are the saints and the angels, the Tree of Life and the Hosts of Heaven! Here is God at the center of it all! For Christ is our Temple now. He is the everlasting House by which God dwells here on earth.

The Church, brothers and sisters, is not simply a little piece of our world. It’s not a side dish, an elective, one more option to sandwich between death and taxes. The Church is the revelation of our world as it truly is, as God has made and sustains it, and of the indescribable beauty of the destiny promised to us all. And our job as Christians is to share this vision of reality with all the peoples of the earth.

Let us go, then, and live our lives as those who have seen the Truth face-to-face.

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Thanksgiving Eve


A Homily for Thanksgiving Eve

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The older I get, the more I appreciate Thanksgiving. It’s not flashy, as holidays go. It doesn’t have the same panache as a Halloween or a Christmas. But, Black Friday sales aside, it has proven remarkably resistant to consumer co-optation. Thanksgiving remains, at heart, a simple celebration of faith and of family. And that sort of thing is very hard to sacrifice to the gods of industry and entertainment. Faith and family withstand the test of time despite our reflexive skepticism. When all else fails, they hold true.

Thanksgiving as we know it began as a New England tradition, a way for the children of Puritans to celebrate Christmas, while still claiming not to celebrate Christmas. National days of thanksgiving were common enough in the early days of the Republic, but they were hardly festive. The Continental Congress declared more than half a dozen of them, and various Presidents followed suit. But Thanksgiving with a capital T—the nostalgic Thanksgiving of Puritan Pilgrims at Plymouth—was set in stone for us by none other than Abraham Lincoln.

He did so in the midst of our Civil War, a time of bloody strife and seemingly insurmountable division. Lincoln, a man who wrestled with the purposes of God throughout the war, called us all to remember the shared heritage and values that made us a people, made us Americans. And he called us to humble ourselves; to admit our hubris, our wickedness, and our sin. He called us to give thanks for all the material bounty entrusted to us, wealth and power far exceeding any previous civilization, while acknowledging that our own success had led us to neglect God—most notably God’s demand for justice.

Lincoln believed that God’s love for us places demands on us. We are blessed not simply so that we might have good things, but so that we ourselves might be good, and especially be good for others. After all, to whom much is given, much is expected. This is the sort of penitent humility that we rarely hear from leaders today, be they secular or religious. It represents a call to liberty very different from the sort we are used to hearing.

We speak of being freed from things—from responsibilities, from expectations, from societal obligation—but true Thanksgiving calls us to remember what we have been freed for, freed to do: freed to live rightly, freed to love God by loving our neighbor, freed to lay down our lives for those whom we love. Lincoln could see this with cannonballs flying all about him and bodies piled five-deep. We cannot see this past the screens of our smartphones and our five-dollar lattes. That’s why we need Thanksgiving. That’s why we need faith and family.

Faith and family humble us. They bring us home. They remind us that life is not about all the stuff we buy or the trips we take or the certificates hung on our walls. They remind us that happiness is not to be found in self-actualization or fad diets or an Amazon account.

Faith and family rescue us by tearing us out of ourselves—by pounding into us the stubborn realization that our world does not, in fact, revolve around us—and that the only way to truly be happy, to truly gain the world, is to give it all away: to live for others and for the world God has made; to make daily sacrifices for the ones we love, even when they drive us crazy; to wake up from the stupor of the world’s wealthiest society, which somehow always feels so poor, and to be thankful for all the blessings we cannot hope to itemize and auction off on Ebay.

Thank God for good food. Thank God for good government. Thank God for grandparents and parents and children. Thank God for a country that can admit the depth of her flaws while still remaining true to her real accomplishments. Thank God for a warm fire and a strong roof and the kids who remind me daily that I have such a long way to go, but they still love me anyway. Thank God that I have a good wife who works hard even though she never has it easy. And thank God that I have the freedom to pray. It’s the only way I ever feel free.

Faith and family, folks. That’s where it’s at. It may not be flashy. It may not be fashionable. But it sure as heck is real.

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Wisdom for Fools


Propers: The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 32), A.D. 2017 A

Homily:

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

In the Middle Ages, the Hallowtide was associated with marriage specifically because of this parable, the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids. Traditionally the Church has understood this to be a story of the saints. The saints are those who faithfully await the Bridegroom, even if He is delayed, even if the night has grown long and dark and we do not know when He will arrive.

“The Kingdom of Heaven will be like this,” the Lord proclaims. “Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”

The bridegroom, however, is delayed, and darkness falls. The bridesmaids grow drowsy, and by midnight are fast asleep. But then a cry in the night: “The bridegroom approaches! Come out to meet him!” So the wise trim and fill their lamps, while the foolish find that their fuel has been spent and they must run to buy more. By the time these latter return, the party has already begun. The wise bridesmaids have led the groom inside, and the foolish now find the door shut. They call out for entry but hear in stark reply, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.”

“Keep awake, therefore,” sayeth the Lord, “for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

So what are we to make of this parable, do you suppose? Most often it is explained as a prophecy of the Endtimes. Someday, the story goes, Jesus will return—we know neither the day nor the hour—and so we must keep alert lest we find ourselves excluded from the Kingdom. It reminds me of those billboards I used to see: “Jesus is coming. Everybody look busy.”

But I find this interpretation inadequate for a few reasons. Yes, it is true that someday Jesus will come again in glory. On that day the dead shall be raised, Heaven shall descend to earth, and the whole of Creation shall be renewed. Christ will dry every tear, heal every wound, and break every bond save that of love. Then shall be the mending of the world, when God at last will be all in all. This is the great Christian hope, the heart of our faith: nothing less than the redemption of the cosmos in Jesus Christ our Lord!

Which is why I think it would be hard to miss, right? It would be hard to be left out. If Revelation makes one thing clear, it’s that when the Kingdom of God comes down to earth, her doors shall never be shut. It says that explicitly. At the End of the Age, all shall stand before God to account for our lives. All shall be bathed and burned and purified in the pure and refining Light of unfettered Truth.

On that day, Jesus will not say to us, “I do not know you.” Rather He has promised us, “all that is hidden shall be revealed.” All shall be brought to the Light, no one and nothing left hidden in shadow. And certainly Jesus will not bar the door to those whom He has promised—again, from Revelation—“I have set before you an open door that none shall be able to shut.”

So I do not believe, brothers and sisters, that this is some simple parable of divine judgment, hanging like the sword of Damocles over our heads. Rather, this parable is about the Kingdom and Saints of God in this age, in this world, where Jesus is truly present but hidden, veiled, not yet revealed in glory.

What makes me say this? Well, according to the Gospel, Jesus tells this parable right before His death. He has ridden triumphally into Jerusalem, hailed by the crowds as the Messiah, the rightful King and Son of David. He has purified the Temple and outraged the authorities, and in the very next chapter—right after this parable—He is betrayed and arrested in the garden of Gethsemane.

You remember the story. Jesus gathers His Apostles at the Passover, the Last Supper, where He proclaims the prophesied New Covenant, for which God’s people have longed for centuries. And then very abruptly, before the Passover Meal is complete, He gets up and leaves—goes out into the night, down through the graveyard of the Kidron Valley, and partway up the Mount of Olives to Gethsemane, the garden of the oil-press.

And while He is there praying—knowing what comes next, knowing that the Kingdom of God will be inaugurated on a Cross—His friends, His companions, His beloved disciples cannot stay awake. It is midnight. They are exhausted. And they have no idea that the Kingdom has come, in the darkest hour of the night, and that the Bridegroom will now be taken back through the gates of the city in chains.

You see the parallel? Jesus tells a story of a bridegroom whose attendants cannot stay awake when he returns at midnight, and in the very next chapter His own Apostles cannot stay awake as He is arrested at midnight and forcibly returned to Jerusalem. No way that’s a coincidence.

This is the Kingdom of God, He is saying. This is the New Covenant in His Blood. A King on a Cross. A Crown of Thorns. And there with Him will be the faithful women, the wise bridesmaids, weeping at Calvary, the Place of the Skull, while the Apostles, those foolish bridesmaids, have been scattered to the night. Even Peter, who swore to stand by his Lord’s side come hell or high water, finds now the door to the High Priest’s palace shut. And when questioned by the serving girls before the gates whether he too is not a follower of this Jesus, Peter vehemently proclaims, “I do not know Him!”—and weeps. There’s your locked door.

Brothers and sisters, the Kingdom of God has come to earth. It came in the person of Jesus, the perfect union of God and Man. But it did not come as we expected, with fanfare and glory and victory in battle. It came in the Cross, upside-down, in the form of the opposite, as Lutherans like to say. We did not see it. We were foolish. Only those few women kept their lamps lit, and stayed by Him to the end. And so they received their just reward, becoming the first witnesses to the Resurrection on that glorious Easter Morn.

Dear Christians, the Kingdom of God is within you. It was given to you in Baptism, when the Holy Spirit made of your heart His home, and of your body His temple. It is given to us in bread and in wine, which become the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ upon this altar. When we confess our sins, it is Christ Himself who absolves us.

We here are the Kingdom of God! A Cross-Kingdom, an upside-down Kingdom! Sainted sinners gathered from every tribe and tongue and walk of life! We are the Body of Christ now! We are His hands and His feet and His voice in the world, still hard at work, still forgiving, redeeming, convicting and saving!

And we know that someday this work shall be complete. Someday, the Last Day, Christ will come again in glory, no longer hidden but unveiled—revealed—for all of humankind! Then shall come the mending of the world, and the New Jerusalem whose gates shall never be shut! This is the hope of our calling. This is the assurance of salvation. The wise bridesmaids are those who know that the King will come. And to know that He will come is already to possess Him, to have Him hidden in our hearts as our undying, eternal flame. Only the foolish forget Him. But that does not mean that He forgets them.

I know that it is dark. I know that the night is long. I know that the world groans with suffering and injustice, with murder and with war. But the King is coming. The Bridegroom is on His way. We do not know the day or the hour—tomorrow, or 10,000 years. But to know that He is coming is already to possess Him.

And so the desire for Wisdom leads to a Kingdom.

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

All Saints


Propers: All Saints (Hallowmas), A.D. 2017 A

Homily:

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

In most cultures it is difficult to distinguish between the divine and the dead. Ancestors are assumed to have a direct line to the powers that be, given that they are now become spirits themselves. And it is only natural, only human, that in time of need or joy we would appeal to a parent or grandparent who loved us in life, and assuredly still loves us in death.

So we have always had this confusion, this intermingling, of the pantheons of all religions with the great men and women of history. The Egyptians worshipped their pharaohs; the Greeks worshipped their heroes; the Romans worshipped their Caesars. The Norse and the Celts, the Africans and the Asians, all do likewise.

Americans are no different. We build temples to murdered Presidents. We read their prayers upon their feast days. One of the most famous works of art in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. is the Apotheosis—that is, the deification—of George Washington, a larger than life painting of the father of our country ascending into heaven as a god. As I said, it’s only natural, it’s only human, that we strive to maintain, with those whom we love and admire, a continued and meaningful relationship beyond the grave.

Christians are no different. We do, in a sense, worship our ancestors. But the Christian Cult of Saints is no hangover from a pagan past. It is, in fact, the longed-for fulfilment of the hopes and dreams of all of humankind. No longer is the grave our end. No longer must we say goodbye. In Christ, the dead live—and living, shall never die.

Death has always been a stumbling block for Christians, starting with Jesus’ own. It’s safe to say the Apostles did not see the Cross coming, despite Jesus explicitly warning them on at least three separate occasions. We did not expect God on earth to die, let alone be murdered and betrayed by those whom He loves and came to save.

But the Resurrection changed all that, transforming our despair into joy and death into new and everlasting life! The Cross, a weapon of agony and despair, became the very ensign of our hope in the Risen Christ! And all the things we used to fear—darkness, disease, death and the devil—none of these shadows were as anything before the infinite Light of Jesus on that glorious Easter morn.

And so when death came to the Apostles, each in their own good time, they greeted her without fear, as a defeated enemy, as an empty shell. They knew that were they to be united in a death like the Lord’s, they would surely be united in a resurrection like the Lord’s. They would live on beyond death, while death itself would die.

Those early centuries of the Church were a remarkable time. The Martyrs, those murdered for their steadfast faith in the Resurrection of Jesus, were hailed by friend and foe alike both for the dignity with which they met their gruesome ends, and also for the magnanimity that they lavished even upon those who killed them, forgiving those murderers who were sending them on to true and everlasting life.

The Church seemed almost morbid in the way that she gathered up the bones of her saints, washing and dressing them, venerating their relics, dabbing handkerchiefs in their blood. But you see, they believed—truly believed—that the death of these martyrs, these witnesses, was one in the same with Christ’s own death on the Cross, from which He poured out His life for the world. Because of this, their deaths were sanctified, were made holy, by their participation in the death and life of Jesus. And their bones were reverenced, because someday those bones would rise again, at the Resurrection on the Last Day: the mending of the world, when God at last will be all in all.

If you’ve ever gone to an old church, and thought the altar looked rather like a tomb, that’s not a mistake. The early Church did worship in tombs, in secret, celebrating the Lord’s Supper atop the bones of the saints. And to this day, cathedrals still bury the bones of their bishops beneath the altar, whence they cry out to God for justice, as we read in the book of Revelation.

Eventually Christianity was legalized, and chances to die for the faith became fewer and farther between. So people lived for the faith instead. Some became bishops, priests, or deacons. Some swore themselves to a life of service to the poor. Most led normal, everyday, holy lives by dedicating their work and their homes to the greater glory of God. A Christian shoemaker does not show his faith by putting little crosses on his shoes, Luther wrote. He shows his faith by making good shoes for an honest price.

These are the people we remember at the Mass of All Hallows, the Day of All Saints. We remember all those who have gone before us in the faith: bishops and beggars, missionaries and monks, scientists and soldiers; Christians all—sinners all!—hallowed, made holy, by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, by their participation in His life, death, and Resurrection. They were baptized at that same Font in which all of us are baptized. And they gather at this same Table at which all of us gather, to be fed and blessed and raised to new life, by the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

The dead are not dead! They are alive in Christ! They join us at this altar, the other side of which we cannot see. But they see us. And they love us. And they pray for us. And they do so not as rivals to the glory of God and the love of Jesus Christ, but by the Holy Spirit who is the love of God poured out upon the churches. They were our guides and companions and witnesses upon the earth, and now that they dwell directly in the ineffable Goodness and Truth and Beauty of God, they are more powerful and more alive than we can possibly imagine here below.

There is nothing wrong with praying to the saints—praying to the saints to pray for us! We are all to pray for one another. We are commanded to. This is how we participate in the Body of Christ. Because of course, we are all saints as well.

Not because we’re famous, or virtuous, or dead. We aren’t any of those things yet. But we are all saints because while we were yet sinners Christ first loved us. He claimed us as His own when we had not the power nor the wisdom nor the love to claim Him. Jesus makes us holy, because Jesus makes us Him.

And someday, when the veil of this broken world has passed, we will at last see things as they truly are. We will see the dead raised. We will see the world renewed. We will see all those whom we ever knew and loved, and we will know them and love them in ways we never dreamt possible. And we shall all be healed. And we shall all be forgiven. And we shall all be saints.

And on that day, our joy will know no end.

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Remember, Remember


Pastor’s Epistle—November, A.D. 2017 A

A season for joy, a season for sorrow.
Where she’s gone, I will surely, surely follow.
—The Hounds of Winter

The Western Church calendar traditionally dedicates November to holy souls, which is to say, the dead. This is most obvious in the Hallowtide, a celebration usually associated with October, but which actually occurs in early November. Halloween, after all, is the night before our Days of the Dead.

All Saints recalls those great heroes of the faith from ages past, sainted sinners from the Bible and Church history. All Souls the next day focuses more on the local and the personal, especially those loved ones who have passed on through the grave within the last year. Lutherans tend to combine these two—no sense making distinctions, as we are all saved by grace—but we haven’t forgotten their importance. Luther’s 95 Theses, often hailed as the opening shots of the Reformation, were nailed to the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg on the night of Halloween precisely because those pews would be chock-full at Hallowmas the next morning.

On All Souls, people would give treats to beggars—fruit, perhaps, or soul cakes—so that the prayers of the poor would ascend for loved ones who had died. It’s okay to pray for the dead, Luther opined, but we ought to be brief. After all, they rest now in the mercies of God. Have faith that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will treat them with both perfect justice and perfect mercy, born of perfect love.

November also honors our war dead, with Veterans Day. (Americans have a separate Memorial Day for those who died fighting our wars, but in Europe it’s still Remembrance Day.) It’s no accident that this holiday falls on St Martin’s Day, Martin being the patron saint of soldiers-turned-peacemakers. And a fortnight beyond Martinmas comes Thanksgiving, when we remember not only our national ancestors but all those family members who can no longer join us for the holidays.

In truth, Thanksgiving began as a way for New England Puritans to celebrate Christmas while still pretending not to celebrate Christmas, so it’s no surprise that this has become a sort of dry run for our yuletide festivities. Such holidays are always bittersweet: times of joy, yes, of feasting and family reunions, of old bonds renewed; but also times of sorrow, as we look back on days long since past, and remember loved ones who no longer have a place at the table.

If the holidays are difficult for you, please know that you are not alone. As Christians we understand that every celebration contains a tincture of mourning, and we hold to the promise of hope even as we walk through the valley of death. We remember, and we hold to the Resurrection faith.

My sister died quite recently. She leaves behind three children, two grandchildren, and more nieces and nephews than I care to count. We were not close. There were nearly three decades between us, and by the time I came along she had a family of her own and a career in the Navy that took them everywhere from Hawaii to Wales. But she was always kind, welcoming, and loving. She always greeted and introduced me as “brother.” And she held fast to a deep well of Christian faith throughout the various difficulties of her life, a faith that shone brightest at the very end. She died at peace, knowing full well that she was going on to glory.

In this season of joy, let us remember too our sorrows. They are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they seem inextricably intertwined: the Cross and the Crown, the womb and the tomb. Thanks be to God that as our days grow darkest we celebrate the birth of the Light.

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


A Stout Family Primer



A Stout Family Primer
Version 1.13

Fair warning: This post is aimed rather exclusively at my extended family. Others probably will not find it of terribly much interest. Caveat lector.

Origins
Our genealogical journey began when a close relative of ours found himself in need of a mental project for the next seven years or so, and over that period produced an 8,000-person strong family tree—names, dates, locations, relations—and growing. This body of work is the raw material I’ve been sifting for the past few years, using history to flesh out the bones of the family tree. And I’ve learned a couple things along the way about amateur genealogy in general and Stouts in particular.

Fact and Fiction
America is a land of amnesia. We escape anxiety by shucking off the past; hence, the New World. But even those of us with some sense of family history must admit that genealogy is often more legend than ironclad fact. Personally, I’m okay with that. I don’t need 100% confirmation of any given ancestor. Even with excellent records, there’s no guarantee that someone’s purported father is their biological father. And once you get a dozen or so generations out, genetic crossover makes it possible that you don’t share much if any blood connection even to direct ancestors.

What’s important to me are the stories, where our family intertwines with the greater story of Western civilization. I want tales to pass along to my children and grandchildren. And boy, howdy, do we have plenty of those. Can I prove our direct lineage to the Norse-Gaelic hero Somerled? Not conclusively, no. Does that make the story any less enjoyable? Not from where I’m standing. Ever since he was little, I’ve told my son that some stories are true and some are made up, but the best are found somewhere in between.

We Are All Descended from Kings
Or so the Irish say. And it’s true. Somewhere in the shrouded past, we have all manner of social strata in our ancestry, high and low. But genealogy skews toward aristocracy, because throughout history the wealthy have had both means and motive to preserve (and when necessary, manufacture) their pedigree. We are the product of a million loves, most all of them quiet and anonymous. Only a handful have been written down.

Nature vs Nurture
Culture is thicker than blood. When my wife and I got married, we had distinct family narratives: her family was Norwegian, and mine—largely on my mother’s side—was German. I came from a German-speaking family, in an area of Pennsylvania that had been culturally German since the Revolution. Lo and behold, when we took genetic analyses, we received surprising results. Genetically speaking, my wife turns out to be more German than I am, and I more Norse than her. My background breaks down to roughly one-third Norse, one-third Gaelic (Irish and Scots), and one-third everything else: British, Iberian, Greco-Roman, Eastern and Western European.

This doesn’t mean that my wife didn’t have Norwegian ancestors and my mother didn’t have German ancestors. They did. But those Norwegians married Germans who learned to speak Norwegian, and those Pennsylvania Germans married Scots-Irish lads who settled in the Appalachians and Lehigh Valley, where they learned to speak German and married the daughters of German farmers. Blood and culture can be quite separate things. My wife still loves lefse, and I’m still a sucker for German food and beer.

The Name Itself
Surnames are a relatively late development in Western history. The Stout surname arose independently in England, Orkney, and the Continent. We can trace the family name patrilineally back to Andrew Stout (1501-1576) in Aberdeen, Scotland. Stout is a relatively rare surname in the United Kingdom, and the overwhelming majority of Stouts in the UK hail from the Orkney and Shetland islands. Andrew’s last name could conceivably have come either down from Orkney (of Old Norse origin) or up from England (of Old English or Old French origin). But Aberdeen records, along with genetic analyses of modern Stout descendants, both indicate that our family name is likely of English origin, quite possibly from Nottingham.

Coats of Arms
Coats of Arms are granted to individuals, not families, though they may be inherited. Several Coats of Arms have been associated with various branches of the Stout family. A common motto found on some is Sans Cum Rege—an odd sort of pidgin meaning something like, “With or Without Kings.” I like to think of it as, “We Get S— Done.”

Where to Begin?
As one can imagine, with 8,000 branches on the family tree, one could tell stories from almost any angle imaginable. In truth, it’s a matter of preference. I like to tell our family story beginning with two brothers-in-arms from more than a thousand years back, who conquered Norway and bequeathed to their descendants the entire region of the North Sea. This is the nexus off of which thousands of stories may spin. But before we get into that, let’s touch upon the first Stouts in the New World, for theirs is a worthy tale.


The First American Stout
Richard Stout (c. 1615-1705) was my ninth-great grandfather. He may have had some aristocratic ties in his tree—some claim, for instance, that his great-grandmother was Mary Scott, descended from the original Kings and Queens of Scotland—but any riches had played out generations ago. When his father refused to let him marry his sweetheart, Richard joined up with the Royal Navy, and when his stint on the sea wrapped up, the Dutch hired him to defend New Amsterdam against Indian attacks.


The Unkillable Dutch Girl
Meanwhile, Penelope Van Princips was shipwrecked on her voyage from the Netherlands to New Amsterdam. Indians attacked the survivors, killing most of them, and horribly maiming Penelope. Her skull was fractured, her right arm rendered useless, and then they disemboweled her. Pushing her guts back in, she crawled into a hollow tree eating sap for a week and waiting to die.

Eventually two Indians, an older man and a younger, came walking down the beach, and Penelope crawled out, hoping they would put her out of her misery. These were men of a different tribe, however, and while the younger wanted to kill her out of mercy, the elder knew that Penelope could be valuable. They took her back to their tribe in what would become New Jersey, and nursed her back to health. Eventually they returned her to the Dutch in New Amsterdam, where she married Richard Stout. She was 22, and he 40.

Using her connections with the tribe that had saved her life, Richard and Penelope became the first white settlers in modern New Jersey. They had 10 children to whom they would bequeath 1800 acres and a Baptist church. And by the time Penelope died at almost a full century of age, she had something like 150 living direct descendants. Poems, dramas, and histories have been written about Penelope’s amazing life. Historical markers and commemorative medallions chronicling her life are still around today. When Abraham Lincoln first ran for public office, the fact that he could claim to be the fifth-great-grandson of Penelope Stout was considered a real selling point.

For more on Penelope, click here, here, here, here, and here. I particularly like the poem.

America the Beautiful
There are plenty of other American Stout stories. George Clooney, for example, recently played George Stout in the movie Monuments Men. He was a cousin of ours. Most Stouts living in the United States will probably be related to us in some way, regardless of how the name is spelled. (It used to be Straught, back in the day.) We worked our way South and North, then out West to Iowa and beyond. But Stouts in Canada are likely of Orcadian descent, and while we do have family roots in Orkney, as will be made clear below, the Stouts of England and the Stouts of Orkney are not the same family name.

Mayflower Family
We do have an ancestor who came over to America on the Mayflower. In fact, he had first traveled to the New World in Jamestown, got shipwrecked in the Caribbean on the way back, and wrote an account of his nine months as a castaway. This book became the inspiration for Shakespeare’s The Tempest. He later traveled to Plymouth on the Mayflower not as a Saint but a Stranger. His name was Stephen Hopkins (my 12th-great-grandfather), and he’s notorious as a bit of a bad boy amongst the pilgrims. We’re descended from him through his daughter Constance. Now, as I understand it, nobody seriously denies that Constance was Stephen’s daughter, but because the official records were lost in a church fire, the Stouts cannot claim recognition as an official “Mayflower Family.” Even genealogy has its politics.

North Sea Sagas
There is no way to tell this tale briefly and at the same time do it justice, but I shall do my best. Let me say from the get-go that the fuller story may be found in the Icelandic Sagas, notably: (1) the Heimskringla, a collection of historical sagas regarding the old Kings of Norway by Snorri Sturluson, the same guy who wrote the Prose Edda; and (2) the Orkneyinga Saga, the story of the Norse Jarls (Earls) of Orkney, probably written by an Icelandic bishop. They’re both great, and the Penguin edition of the Orkneyinga Saga has an invaluable family chart in the back.


Fairhair
Harald Fairhair (c. 850-932) is remembered as the first King of Norway. According to legend, his ancestry included the Skjoldings, the Ynglings, and the Volsungs—which is to say, the mythical heroes of Denmark, Sweden, and Germany. Amongst these are Sigurd Fafnirsbane, the dragonslayer; Ragnar Lodbrok, history’s most infamous Viking; and House of King Hrothgar, from none other than Beowulf. Needless to say, the Norse gods Odin, Frey, and Thor were worked into the tapestry as well. Quite the supposed pedigree! And Harald would live up to his inheritance.

Back then, Norway was a series of petty kingdoms linked by the sea and separated by primordial forests and mountains. Harald fell in love with a noblewoman, Gyda, who spurred his affections. Why marry a petty king, she teased, when she could marry the king of a great united kingdom such as Denmark or Sweden? Harald thanked her for reminding him of his duty, and swore that he would neither cut his hair nor return to wed Gyda until he had conquered all of Norway. It took him 10 years, but he managed it. The great triple-sword monument to his final success stands in Hafrsfjord today. Check it out.


Rognvald the Mighty
Harald’s best friend in all this was Rognvald Eysteinson. Some sources say these two were brothers, others that they were brothers-in-law. It was Rognvald who first called Harald “Fairhair” after he completed his vow and cut off 10 years’ worth of hair. Harald made his friend Jarl (Earl) of More. Rognvald too has a mythical pedigree, supposedly going back to Odin and the ancient petty kings of Denmark. But I’m more interested in his sons, three in particular: Hrolf, Turf-Einar, and Hrollaug.

Hrollaug became one of the leading chiefs of Iceland. One-eyed Turf-Einar, of whom Rognvald was not terribly fond, was made Jarl of Orkney, a collection of islands north of mainland Scotland. Like Shetland, Man, and the Hebrides—all of which would become part of the Jarldom of Orkney at one point or another—these were islands scattered about Ireland and Scotland that were ruled by Norse jarls and petty kings, nominally under the suzerainty of the High King of Norway. Orkney would become a great power in its own right during the Middle Ages, situated as it was between Britain, Scandinavia, Ireland, and Iceland. (Turf-Einar, by the way, would later blood-eagle the jealous sons of Fairhair after they murdered his father Rognvald. Nasty way to die, if there’s any truth to it.)

As for Hrolf, well, he took the Vikings to new heights. The beleaguered Emperor of the Franks grew so weary of Viking raids, some straight into the heart of Paris, that he gave Hrolf and his fellow Vikings a great swathe of French land—the Dukedom of Normandy—on the condition that they keep other Vikings out. Hrolf was baptized, learned to command cavalry, and became known as Rollo the Wise. In time, his Norman descendants would rule kingdoms in England, Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Sicily, and the Holy Land. It would be Normans who made up the backbone of the Knights Templar.

I could tell a lot of stories about these three brothers, but suffice to say for now that two branches of the Stout family claim descent from Hrolf, Duke of Normandy, and Turf-Einar, Jarl of Orkney.

Unmistakably Orcadian
The Norse Jarls of Orkney were simultaneously vassals of the Scottish and Norwegian kings, holding land in fief from both. They also intermarried with the Scottish and Norwegian royal families. Sigurd the Stout, one of the three greatest Jarls of Orkney (you wouldnt believe the stories I have about this guy), married a daughter of King Malcolm II of Scotland. Her ancestry can be traced back to Kenneth MacAlpin, First King of Picts and Scots. Sigurd’s son, Thorfinn the Mighty, married Ingibjorg Finnsdottir. Ingibjorg was the great-great-granddaughter of Harald Fairhair, tying the family to Norse royalty. (Her cousin, King Harald III Hardrada, is often known as “The Last Viking”; Harald’s half-brother, Olav the Stout, became King St Olav II.) Ingibjorg and Thorfinn had two sons, who ruled the Jarldom jointly.

Orkney is an amazing place. Plus they have delicious gins and scotches, and a beer named after one of our purported ancestors.


Macbeth!
After Thorfinn’s death, Ingibjorg remarried King Malcolm III Canmore of Scotland. For the record, Thorfinn, Malcolm, and Macbeth—you know, from Shakespeare?—were all cousins. (Nor are these the only Stout ancestors to show up in Shakespeare. Look up Sir Walter Blount in Henry VI, Part I.) And before I forget, there is another famous American who claimed descent from Jarl Thorfinn the Mighty: George Washington.

There is some debate as to whether Macolm’s first wife, Ingibjorg, was in fact Thorfinn’s widow, or whether she was instead a daughter of Thorfinn and Ingibjorg Finnsdottir (making her Ingibjorg Thorfinnsdottir). If the latter, that’s a second line that the Stouts can claim from the Jarls of Orkney. Furthermore, Malcolm had several children with his second wife, St Margaret of Scotland; we have at least two lines descending from this union as well. By one reckoning, St Margaret is my 31st-great-grandmother.

St Magnus
While Thorfinn’s sons got along in joint rule, his grandsons did not. Magnus Erlendson was treacherously murdered by his cousin Haakon Paulson, the details of which can be read in the Saga of St Magnus, amongst other sources. Magnus became the patron saint of Orkney, and a gorgeous cathedral—St Magnus, Light of the North—was constructed in his honor in Kirkwall. It contains the bones of St Magnus, as well as those of his nephew who erected the cathedral (also a Viking, Jarl, poet, and saint) and is a sight to behold. A pilgrimage route, St Magnus Way, tracing the path of his body when his relics were translated, recently opened.

Man, Oh, Man
Haakon Paulson, Magnus’ cousin and slayer, had a daughter, Ingibjorg Haakonsdottir, who married Olaf Gudrodarson, the King of Man. Olaf and Ingibjorg had a daughter, Ragnhild Olafsdottir, who married the famous Norse-Gaelic warrior and Scottish national hero Somerled MacGillebride. Somerled is a big deal. He was Thane of Argyll, King of Man, and Lord of the Isles. Several prominent Scottish Clans claim him as their paterfamilias. Somerled and Ragnhild had a daughter Agnes de Insula (or de l’Isle) who married an Anglo-Norman, Gilbert le Blount, the Fourth Baron of Ixworth. And it is to the Normans we shall turn next.

I should point out that there is some debate as to whether Agnes de Insula was one of Somerled’s daughters or not. Some claim yes, some no. We cannot settle the issue decisively, but I don’t particularly care, because the story is just too good not to tell. And according to our family tree, Somerled and Ragnhild were my 25th-great-grandparents.

Norman Invasion
When Hrolf and his Viking buddies settled in Normandy, they took as their wives French princesses descended from Charlemagne, whom the Pope crowned Emperor of the West on Christmas Day, A.D. 800. This gets us into the “Sceptered Isle,” the legendary genealogy of European royalty. Charlemagne supposedly claimed the family of Julius Caesar as his ancestors, and Caesar supposedly claimed the Emperors of Persia as some of his. If we were to take the Sceptered Isle seriously, the Stout family could stretch back to Xerxes and Darius in the Bible! But this is too deep a journey into legend even for me.

Due to some fascinating but rather involved political intrigue, Hrolf’s great-grandson William, Duke of Normandy, became William the Conqueror, King of England. A bunch of William’s Norman buddies got choice positions in the new regime, including the le Blount and de Bohun families. Both feature prominently in the Stout family tree.

Take, for example, Gottfried, son of the Danish King Harald Klak. Gottfried settled in France and married a Carolingian princess. His son, Sigfried the Dane, became First Count of Guines. It was Sigfried’s great-grandson, Robert “the Admiral” le Blount, who commanded the 10,000 Viking ships of William the Conqueror’s armada and thereby earned himself the Barony of Ixworth in England. Robert’s great-grandson, Gilbert le Blount, Fourth Baron of Ixworth, married Agnes de Insula. (Remember her from above, with Somerled and the Jarls of Orkney? Quite the family reunion!)

Plantagenets
Through the de Bohuns, the Stouts claim ancestry to the Norman Kings of England from William the Conqueror through John Lackland—Prince John of Robin Hood infamy—all the way down to a daughter of Edward the Longshanks (the villain from Braveheart). So for those keeping track, we’ve got the Kings of Scotland, Norway, England, and Man, as well as the Jarls of Orkney, Lords of the Isles, Emperors of the West, Barons of Ixworth, and Counts of Guines and Anjou. Why, the Plantagenets even claim descent from the Melusine, a mythical half-fairy noblewoman who appears on the Starbucks logo!


The Irish Connection
The biggest threat to Norman rule is usually other Normans. The Norman Kings of England had learned this the hard way, when the Kings of Scotland had invited Norman lords to settle farther north in Britain, leading to a rival Norman dynasty in Scotland. The Anglo-Normans kept their barons busy with the conquest of Wales, which occupied them for a time. But fresh opportunity soon knocked from across the Irish Sea.

Dermot MacMurrough was King of Leinster, one of the four provinces of Ireland. And he was having trouble with the Irish High King. Dethroned, MacMurrough came to Wales looking for help reclaiming Leinster, and in 1167 he found an eager ally in the Cambro-Norman lord Richard de Clare, Second Earl of Pembroke—better known as Strongbow. Strongbow drove a hard bargain, however; he demanded nothing less than the hand of MacMurrough’s daughter Aoife, and through her the kingship of Leinster. (“The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife” (1854) is an amazing painting. See above.)

The Normans came in like a wrecking ball, and might well have set up an independent Norman Kingdom of Ireland, had Henry II of England not nipped the problem in the bud by asserting his authority over Strongbow and the other Norman invaders. In time, the Normans who settled in Ireland would assimilate to Gaelic culture and become the “Old English,” hailed as more Irish than the Irish themselves. But the conflict with England would only grow.

High Kings and Crovans
Note that the Viking Norse living in Dublin around the eleventh to thirteenth centuries were of the Crovan dynasty, a Norse-Gaelic family who came over with Harald Hardrada in 1066, and who may or may not have been descended from Ragnar Lodbrok through his son, Ivar the Boneless. The Kings of Man, York, and Dublin were of the Crovan dynasty, and would be related to us through Somerled’s wife Ragnhild.

MacMurrough claimed descent from Brian Boru, the famed High King of Ireland who died—along with Sigurd the Stout and Brodir of Man—at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. Through the de Bohuns, the Stouts can thus claim Brian Boru, MacMurrough, and Strongbow: one of the most beloved, and two of the most hated, men in Irish history.

A Taste of Things to Come
So that’s the family story, such as it is. It is American, Dutch, Scottish, English, Irish, Orcadian, Norman, Norse, Welsh, and French, just to name a few. It could be told from any of a thousand different branches; I have chosen the ones that most appeal to me. Ours is a wild and woolly family tree, full of kings and killers, princes and priests. I just recently found a 22nd-great-grandfather who served as advisor to Emperor Frederick II and was called “the Wizard.” What might his story be? I for one can’t wait to find out.

Climb the tree, explore the branches, have yourselves a good time. Check out the photo write-ups in my online album. It’s true that we are all descended from kings—and ultimately all related to one another in the greater human family. But it’s really something to read history with fresh eyes, knowing that our family touched the events recorded. Not to know one’s history is to be a leaf that doesn’t know it’s part of a tree.



Some Fun Dates to Remember
Burns Night, national poet of Scotland, January 25th

Up Helly Aa, Shetland Viking holiday, last Tuesday in January
St Magnus Day, patron of Orkney, April 16th
St Olav’s Day (Olsok), Perpetual King of Norway, July 29th
St Rognvald’s Day, Orcadian saint, August 20th
St Michael and All Angels (Mikkelmas), patron of Normandy, September 29th
International Stout Day, early November
St Margaret’s Day, November 16th
St Thorlak’s Day (Thorlaksmessa), patron of Iceland, December 23rd


“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

—C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

Rhythm of Reform


Propers: Reformation, A.D. 2017 A

Homily:

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Every year we commemorate the Reformation as a historic event. But that’s not really what it is. Reformation is part of the very life of the Church—always has been, always will be.

There is a rhythm to Christian life, a rhythm reflected in the seasons and the hours of the day. We are gathered in, to be sent out, to be gathered in again. In and out, gathered and sent, like the ebb and flow of the tide, like the rhythm of breath or the beating of a heart. It is the very pattern of life.

Every night when we lie down, we die to ourselves, die to sin. And every morning when we rise, we are given a bright new birth, a new beginning, a new day. This is how we live out our baptism, forever daily drowning and rising again from the water—right up to that day when we lie down never to rise again, until the Resurrection at the End of the Age.

Likewise every Sunday we are gathered, forgiven, taught, fed, blessed, and then sent out to be the Body of Christ for a needy world. And at the end of the week we return, stained by sin and wearied by the world, to be cleansed and rejuvenated once more. We are gathered in, to be sent out, to be gathered in again. And we do this for the sake of the world! For the lonely and the suffering and the sinful, for the needy and the lost and the least—which is to say, for all of humanity: ourselves, our neighbors, our communities and our country. The world needs Christ, and so we are sent to be Christ for the world! Ours is a holy calling. Not easy! But holy.

Martin Luther, in the first of his 95 Theses, wrote: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ He intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” Repentance, after all, is a return to God, a turning to Christ. And that’s what our life as Christians is. We are forever turning back to God in Christ Jesus, forever being gathered and sent, sainted sinners sent out for the world.

We must always repent, because we are always in sin, forever drifting away from God, forever falling short of the mark. But God never tires of forgiving—ever! He never tires of absolving us, of gathering us in, of welcoming us home. We turn and are forgiven, period. And when we will not be turned, God comes out looking for us. He is tenacious, this God. His grace will not cease to flow.

Now, what we call repentance in individuals we call reformation in the Church. The Church is Christ’s Body at work in the world, and in this work we tend to get our hands dirty, not to mention our souls. We tend to drift away from the pureness and shocking intensity of the Gospel. It is too scandalous, too generous for us long to bear. The Church becomes crystalized, fossilized in human institutions, overgrown with accretions, and so we must be called back, gathered in, back to the Gospel, back to Jesus.

This was not invented by Luther or by Calvin. The entire life of the Church has been one of reformation, from the very day that she was first founded in that outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. The Church is always being sent out and gathered in, always sinning and being forgiven. Every 500 years or so, we seem to have a particularly firm shake-up, resulting in both great disturbances and also great flowerings of faith. This appears as a historical pattern of reformations within our greater life of reformation.

The legalization of Christianity and its adoption by the Roman Empire was one such great shake-up. The establishment of the mendicant friars was another. The Gregorian Reforms, the Great Schism, and, yes, the Protestant Reformation all resulted from such seismic shifts, these radical and regular re-centerings of the Church’s mission in the life of Jesus Christ. Radical, remember, means a return to the root—and the root of our faith is always our Risen Lord and Savior.

In and out, gathered and sent, dying and rising, confessing, forgiving. The whole life of the Christian is one of repentance. The whole life of the Church is one of reform.

We find ourselves as Christians reforming again today. It is a time of great disturbance in the Church, great shake-ups, great re-centerings. Never have there been so many members of Christ’s Body as there are today. One-third the population of earth, more than two billion souls alive, have been baptized into Christ Jesus. And as the Church spreads through Africa, Asia, and South America, baptizing new cultures, taking on new forms, she finds herself reforming, returning to the root of the Risen Christ, for this strange yet familiar age.

In the face of violent persecutions in the South and East, and secular apathy in the West, the old divisions of the past 500 or even a thousand years seem to mean little. We are united in an ecumenism of blood. Killers don’t care what sort of Christian they kill, and converts don’t care what sort of Christian baptizes them. Our enemies and our allies alike all know that we are baptized as one in Christ.

The Pope is commemorating the Lutheran Reformation this year, if you can believe that. Though honestly, ever since Vatican II, I’m of the opinion that our Roman brothers and sisters are often more Lutheran than most Lutherans. But that’s just me.

I met an elderly woman in the nursing home the other day, who is clearly approaching the terminus of her life. And she doesn’t care if the pastor visiting her is Apostolic or Assemblies or even UCC. She just wants Jesus and Him Crucified. Bring her the Word of God, bring her the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, and she will gladly gather at that Table. This, I suspect, is where ecumenism really occurs: not in history books or ivory towers, but in faith and love shared in the unlikeliest of places. For indeed, wherever two or three are gathered in His Name, there is Christ among us.

Brothers and sisters, I don’t know what the next 500 years will look like for the Church. I do know that her obituary has been written many times over, by the high and lofty of every age, only to have her outlive them all. And I know that as surely as Christ is Risen—and He is—He will continue to gather us in and to send us out, to saint we sinners, that we might then go and proclaim through word and deed the life and love and truth of God to a world still very much in need of resurrection.

We will always repent, we will always reform, until at last the mission of Christ’s Church on earth is complete, and God will be all in all.

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.