Father Harrison’s Blog

By the Way …

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Posted on: January 23rd, 2015 by Father Harrison

Another “call” story for us this coming Sunday; this one written down for us by Mark (1.14-20).  We also hear Jonah (3.1-5) answer his call to, “Get up and go to Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.”  Jonah went bearing not so good news for the folks of Nineveh, but they responded to the message, better than the prophet probably thought they would, and their city was saved.  And then there is Paul’s message to the Corinthians that they ought not rely too much on their relationships and the things of this world because, “The present form of this world will pass away.”  Another way of saying, “All things will be made new.”  Three short, yet stunning, stories for us to consider this Sunday, but Mark’s story about Jesus calling Andrew and Peter, and James and John is the story we are most familiar with and perhaps (I feel) although familiar in its “follow me” theme, this story is also a bit worrisome if we consider it is speaking to us today – the Spirit of the Word here has something to say to us, again.

Most people then, in the 1st century, like us today, were probably bound to (they were more able to) consider and follow Jesus in a general, by and large, here’s what I can do to help, manner. Twenty centuries later, ours is the same approach – we are more agreeable with following Jesus in general, than dropping everything to follow.  We can’t.  We won’t.  Our lives are too general in their scope for us to consider one thing as “the” thing.

Here’s the good news, here’s the truth, here’s the thing:  We don’t follow Jesus “in general” at all.  Setting aside any out of reach biblical bench mark understanding of Mark’s story, and discerning the actual and well-defined ways one can follow, it becomes quite clear that we can and do say, “Yes,” we follow Jesus, and we do it “immediately.”  We do work that helps. We work in healthcare.  We become teachers.  We go to school. We volunteer at the hospital, the Veterans Home, the library, Habitat for Humanity.  We work for government agencies.  For peace and justice. We “serve and protect.” We pick up trash along the highway; pick up someone who has fallen down.  We look out for and listen to each other in times of need.  We know when to step back into estranged relationships (without condition) helping, caring, when hope of forgiveness and reconciliation seemed lost.  We are as generous as we can be with our money and time; even if it is spread thin, sometimes hardly enough.  We encourage others when it is ourselves that need encouraging.

These “following Jesus in general” approaches are what is at the heart of being a Christian.  “Being,” a Christian, not “becoming,” a Christian.  It is about “trying” to imitate him,“trying” to obey the Way of Christ – try to embrace, forgiveness, love, compassion, inclusiveness – at least try to accept the call to grow one’sClark fork faith.  That’s a good thing.

 

By the Way …

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Posted on: January 16th, 2015 by Father Harrison

This coming Sunday’s (1-18-15) scripture readings are two great stories about divine selection: “the call” and being “called,” considering the call, being told by God, what God would have us do and where to do it, and following – called to do something new perhaps at least imagining and trying to appreciate what the Spirit may be saying about the journey.

A sense of calling represents a step toward greater self-awareness. To become aware of a call is to be aware of oneself in a new way, to become one who will be of benefit to others, rather than one who will benefit from other’s or God’s favor.  It becomes clear that God has “sought you out” for something; then one stops asking, “what about me God,” and begins asking “what can I do to help, God?”

This sense of God’s call applies to a church congregation as well; what is God calling us to do?  How can we be aware of ourselves in a new way?  How can we draw others to God, through us?  Could it be that God would seek us out to do something new as a church in today’s community?

This Sunday, I mark and celebrate my 12th year in the priesthood of the Church.

After 2 quiet, sometimes holy, often isolated, and certainly difficult years of discernment, working in a boat-building shop, then a dairy farm – 15 years ago the good people of The Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, opened its doors to my admission and matriculation. In all that, I began to understand and answered my call to dedicate and prepare myself for this vocation and I will always rejoice in saying, “Yes, here I am” – I certainly hope all those who carried me, worried about me while I was gone, do as well!  I rejoice in having given into knowing myself as someone “called,” and now assuring others (as best I can) that they are known by God, no matter the circumstances of their lives, no matter where they go, they only need to listen.

Letting oneself become “known by God,” giving up on “that’s just the way things are,” or “that’s the way life is” is the best way out of the modern “poor little me” dilemma.  Rather than thinking oneself as victim of a random or illogical life, we can choose to live as one who is known by God, by name, and with a divine connection and purpose.  The same applies to a chruch congregation.

Obedience, or going out to the ends of the earth, or ordination are not required of us, (individually or as a congregation), just know and trust God will speak to you, through his human likeness, Jesus Christ – God will lead you through this life.

Just go that way, and you have answered the – your – call.

By the Way …

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Posted on: January 1st, 2015 by Father Harrison

The day the church recognizes as the day of the Epiphany, (the sudden and striking realization by 3 wise men that Jesus is the Messiah), occurs

this coming Tuesday, Jan. 6, and it marks the end of the Christmas season – Monday is the 12th day of Christmas. Matthew takes us to visit the nativity scene one last time in just a few short words from his gospel text this coming Sunday; “After the wise men were gone …” and with their departure the Holy Family fled for Egypt.

Right around this time each year I wish the days, the season we celebrate the birth of Christ could last a little longer. Easter lasts some 7 weeks.  Pentecost, around 21 weeks.  Lent 6.  Advent 4.  But Christmas, 12 short daysAnd, in some cases, if not for the song “The 12 days of Christmas,” some folks would not realize we can celebrate Christmas abundantly for more than 1 day.  Then, right in the middle of it all comes the importance of the New Year’s Eve traditions that shorten our attention span before Christmas is lost to resolutions to lose weight, exercise more, be a better person, end of year bills and taxes, the looming discussions about the business numbers of “being a church,” and so on.

Celebrating Christ born as one of us and with us always, I believe, ought to be a way of life, in everything we do.  I work at just that.  I try my best to emulate just that.  Hoping others may find peace and grace in attempting to consider the same.   Not with all the packed together effort we go through to celebrate the birth of Christ; food and drink feasts, gifts, parties, decorations, musical and church extravaganzas.  While the season and its celebrations pass, the hope and new life they promise are just beginning.

Truth is, Christmas is not over when we reach the day of Epiphany.  The birth of Christ propels us forward into new life, again.  A life that could be seasoned with sudden and striking realizations of Christ with us, year after year.IMG_20150101_121913

By the Way …

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Posted on: December 27th, 2014 by Father Harrison

Preachers ought to take a hint from John (the Evangelist) this Sunday morning, not only about what to preach about a few days after Christmas Day, but also how.  Given the “glorious grandeur” of our (and many others around the world) Christmas Eve services, this Sunday we have an opportunity to contemplate more quietly, more peacefully, more easily, the profound mystery of the Incarnation, which is the heart of Christmas.

Consider this this morning; John gives less attention to the details of Jesus’ birth because he is ultimately more interested in our birth, our new life as children of God.  According to John, Christmas is not really Jesus’ birthday at all, it is ours – All who take him in and believe in him become his children- born of God.

Christmas is the day we celebrate our birth as the “human” children of the “human” God.  We have received the gift of God keeping of all God’s divine promises.

It is the new beginning of all creation. DSCF1657

By the Way …

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Posted on: December 24th, 2014 by Father Harrison

crossI grew up in a family that celebrated Christmas most abundantly on Christmas Eve; so this night has always been very special to me.  Christmas day, for me, was somewhat anti-climactic. That changed all throughout the years that my own daughters were little girls; Christmas was celebrated Christmas morning.  But now they are grown and married and I’m back to relishing Christmas Eve as I did so many years ago, including opening presents on Christmas Eve.

I’m not actually sure how my family’s “Christmas” came to take place on Christmas Eve, but by the time we attended our church’s mid-night Christmas Eve service, rushed home to find what Santa had brought us, opened all the packages, gobbled some late night candy and cookies, goodies that no parent ought to allow their kids consume after mid-night, (before bed-time), after all that for all intents and purposes Christmas seemed over on Christmas Day.

We had Christmas dinner, of course; always at my Grandparents home.  They owned a “rooming house” in a German neighborhood of St. Louis, MO.  There was always an odd mix of folks who happened to be living in their 3 story, stone, row house at dinner, coming and going and mingling with my family, and other relatives there.  I had no idea who they were, but they added something special to the gathering –  happy people, happy to be with others on Christmas Day; all characters in the Christmas stories of my life. And that is what so much of Christmas is all about, story, gathering, happiness, at last.

When you get right down to it, the story of the birth of Jesus Christ seems downright improbable – hope and peace and grace, in the appearance of a baby – dog-gone impossible.  Think about it – that the creator of every cell of the universe would even care we exist, let alone love and cherish us the children of God?  That is almost too good to be true.  But just for that reason, we have this story we cherish, the story that brings us to a church on Christmas Eve, that we can hear again that God born as the human Jesus came here, offering hope against all hope.  It’s the one true story we encounter, year after year, for our lifetime; the one story that matters to us significantly.

This year let the story, and your birthday of Jesus Christ celebration be something more than a cherished tradition. Let it seep and ooze into the cracks of your heart and soul. Into those spaces where heartache is more prominent than happiness. Into those spaces of wondering if it is true.

This is the night to be of good cheer. Go home after church and open a present or two this evening, give the kids chocolate before bed, and “sleep in heavenly peace.”

 Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the Way …

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Posted on: December 19th, 2014 by Father Harrison

I spent a couple of days in retreat at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado this week.  St. Bernard Hermiatgewithdrew, recoiled, left, fled, drew back, ran away, gave some distance to most of what is usual and normal for me; hiding in a comfortable little hermitage overlooking the 3,000 acres the brothers who live and pray and work there oversee.  Much of the monastery grounds is used for grazing cattle and growing/selling hay these days. The pasture land is leased now, the brothers no longer raise cattle, but some do continue to work the hay fields. There was once a large egg production venture at the monastery, which fell out of prophet and favor in the 1970’s. These days the brothers support themselves through the sale of hay, holy hospitality through their retreat house and hermitages, and interestingly enough through the sale of cookies; online and at the gift shop in their main house.  I highly recommend the orange, almond, butter cookies.

I try to get lost, retreat to St.Benedict’s at least once each year, especially during Lent. The simple solitude, the quiet, the pastures and mountain views, even for a couple of days, renew and steady my balance, and I sense that God finds me, notices me, favors me, and I am reminded what I am all about.  Finally feeling disconnected from the usual and normal I settle in – then complete my first spiritual exercise, I always step outside my assigned hermitage and yell out over the pastures, “Well, God.  Here I am!  (“Harrison’s back, the brothers probably say.) 

It does not take long for me to be reminded I’d make a lousy monk.  I probably take too much of my most appreciated creature comforts along, especially books.  This time it was a small book by C.S. Lewis (The Great Divorce) one of his I had not read; so well recommended that I read it the afternoon I moved in St. Bernard Hermitage.  A new book of the life and times of 100 saints of the church and society; I’m a “saint junky.” And just to make sure the ancient classics of theology can still hold my attention I read and made notes on Justin Martyr’s First Christian Apology (written sometime around 160 A.D.) well into each night – “Justice is inquiry, not punishment!!  Never mind.

From my readings I came away with this from C. S Lewis:  “Every poet, musician, artist, but for grace, is drawn away from the love of the thing he tells, to the love of telling, and suddenly they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about God.  They sink lower – becoming interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations. Ouch!  Suddenly, I had something to reflect on while disappearing.

Of course the “thing” I tell about is God, but I am ever-interested in God, I love God, I tell of my love for God, and I do wish to be favored and noticed by God – my prayer time made that clear.

Here’s the thing to remember:  God favors all of us.  God notices us all the time – solitary retreat not required.

God notices us and favors us, wherever we are, whomever we are with, while we go about our “usual and normal” at home, work, and school, God takes us in.

By the Way …

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Posted on: December 4th, 2014 by Father Harrison

Its Advent, and the “prophets of old” are at it again.

We preachers know Advent as the days that will (at least ought to) suggest that Christmas means something, that something is coming, that something changes at Christmas. On the Sunday’s of Advent we preach the “wait and watch” theme using words and phrases like “incarnation” and “salvation,” “the word made flesh.”  For good measure we will sing that “He” comes, O Come, O Come Emmanuel.  We do our best to be reassuring modern day prophets ourselves, then we bless our people and send them all back into the real world of, “Are you through with your Christmas shopping yet – are you ready for Christmas?”

I wonder how do folks actually juggle and balance all the secular and religious aspects of Christmas?  We preach and assure that the world will suddenly become “all is right and all is bright,” that all the broken people will become whole and live abundantly as though Christmas really changes and fixes things, preach that God came and lived here as a human, to show us what God really intended for us, when the truth is we’re still watching and waiting, and shopping.  And the waiting will continue after we celebrate what we are waiting for; waiting for this planet and its inhabitants to be made right, still waiting for aching hearts to steady, hoping, praying, “Come Jesus, Come.”

Yes, it is soon Christmas time, but that doesn’t mean everyone and everything is well and good.   So unless I say this aloud, if I don’t be the prophet and announce that Advent also embraces the less than happy realities of our lives, make space for them and give voice to them, then I become part of the tinsel.

Advent, in its patience required waiting and watching for Christ to come again can be a profound time.

Advent lets us go to those places where we have buried stuff.  We can dig all that up, and out of the attic, hold it all out in front of us, hang it on the tree, and pray, “Come, O’ Come Jesus and take this stuff away.”  Advent allows us to dig up, wake up, hold up any sorrow, and sit and wait to let it go; give it up to Christ, who will accept it as so much gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

God already came to do just that. God has been with us since the beginning, since each of our beginnings.

At Christmas time we celebrate that sacred truth in fanciful, fantastic, whimsical, even sometimes bizarre ways, and eventually step into a church on Christmas Eve, trying to balance the secular and sacred. That’s how we live.

In and around that, you can count on me to declare what we cannot always see, I’ll promise hope in the face of hopelessness, I’ll point toward peace in the midst of conflict, I’ll notice joy in apathy, and assure all-forgiving love.  And I’ll probably do a little Christmas shopping.IMG_20131022_121212

 

By the Way …

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Posted on: November 21st, 2014 by Father Harrison

Thanksgiving characterizes November and this time of year.  It’s an unassuming and tender feast day, as I see it. There’s less focus on decorations, gift giving is not necessary, and far less last minute holiday shopping is required.  Bringing family and friends together to sit down, be together and share is the heart of Thanksgiving. Many folks leave their cities at Thanksgiving, wishing to return to the country to be around farms and a life lived closer to the land.  We are reminded and seek out what is important to us.  The desire to go home is so irresistible the day just before Thanksgiving puts most Americans headed that way – home.

The feast itself fairly mirrors the seasonal change and the new rhythm of our days: the Thanksgiving dinner preparation requires an early start, most likely at dawn, there is great haste to finish what needs to be done, then comes something of a delay before the big mid-afternoon dinner as we attempt to make the day linger as if we are clutching on to summertime, and suddenly the gathering gives itself over to the feast’s end almost too quickly to notice.  Just as abruptly, it is winter.

This is also the time of year in the Church we say goodbye to Pentecost. We also bid the Lectionary (the readings from Holy Scripture) for Year “A” farewell. The first Sunday of Advent, November 30, is also the first Sunday of Lectionary Year B (In the Episcopal Church we hear and consider Holy Scripture in a 3 year cycle: A-B-C.) Year A is laced with the gospel writings of Matthew; year B brings Mark to center stage.

Matthew has revealed to us that the kingdom of God (the land where God lives) is here, on earth; not up there, in heaven alone, but down here with us; unfortunately hidden by the world of human endeavor.  Matthew’s take on Jesus’ life and presence as the One who oversees, takes care, and intervenes is evident, mostly by surprise.  When Jesus does what Jesus does: someone is healed, a storm fades, the earthquake stops. When we feed one another, clothe, heal, give water to, visit or set one another free, Jesus lives among us – divine intervention in human endeavors; Christ comes again.

The world has changed in the years since the Gospel of Matthew, since all Holy Scripture was written: the numbers of hungry, thirsty, sick, lost, and imprisoned has only grown to large percentages of 7 billion people.  The margins where the people whose needs are overwhelming live are narrowing.  We wonder will things ever be right here on earth.

As we say goodbye to Matthew, a summary of his teaching offers a solution:  what matters most in human enterprise is how we make our choices about where to spend our time, our money, and our energy; giving the gifts that God gives us to each other.  Jesus said, (he assured his followers) when you take care of each other, when you do the things that make you love one another,  you are doing as I have done to you, and you are doing it to me; I am in you and you are in me, you cannot care for one another without caring for me as well.” Not caring (he said) will only torment you, isolate you, cast you into a place of darkness in this life.

It is often suggested we see Christ in other people; in strangers we are often taught to avoid and fear, in prisoners who have done unforgivable things, in the chronically ill who are most often condemned because we are88273b8b2c306a5055e58503b8294853 confident their lifestyle contributes to their illness, in the hungry who ought to be able to fend for themselves like the rest of us, in the foreigner.  If we do not recognize Christ in the “least of these,” it seems we fail Christ and that kind of failure is more than eternal punishment.

Jesus prays that we see ourselves and our world in a new way every day.  He taught us how to love, he assured us we could do it, he promised to live among us.

How we choose to share this remarkable gift with one another is entirely up to us.

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Posted on: November 19th, 2014 by Father Harrison

Thanksgiving comes and we start thinking about Christmas, or I should say Advent.  Those of us more familiar with the rhythm of the church calendar know we need this time of Advent to prepare for Christmas; that we “slow down, be quiet, wait and watch,” for God’s proof that God came to live as one of us, once and for all.  We need to be reminded of that.

Sometime ago while visiting one of my daughters we decided to take on the project of converting all the VHS videos I took of her and her sister growing up into DVD(s).  One afternoon we made up our minds to look at them – all of them.  The Christmas episodes seem to drag on and on.  The girls received a lot of gifts every Christmas.  Each year’s “must-have” toys for little girls were there each Christmas morning.  We laughed and we “awww(ed)” revisiting those Christmas mornings, and at one point we both fell silent.  As she glanced at me and caught my eye, I admitted, “Too much stuff?”  She smiled and nodded her head.

She went on to tell me some of what she remembered most about our Christmas’ past: me hoisting her on my shoulders to put the star at the top of the tree; the time a tree tied to the top of the car came lose and landed along the road home, we discovered it after we arrived home, no tree on top of the car, (an occasion for wild laughter); the Christmas Eve the three of us got all dressed up and went to a fine restaurant for a dad’s and daughter’s dinner; and the last time I took them both to sit on Santa’s lap.  They left a letter to Santa in a mailbox conveniently placed just outside Santa-land for those now too “grown-up” to sit on Santa’s lap.  She also said she could not recall a lot of the toys they received, even seeing them on film. It was apparent our love and the love of God that bound us together as one was fairly enough.

In my comings and goings I hear, I understand, that people are starved for a sense of meaning, worth, and belonging – What does what is happening to me mean?”  You are, we are, loved by God, who somehow gives us all we need, and our faith in that truth can be cause enough for celebrating the truth about the abundance of our earthly lives.

So in the spirit of Advent and Christmas traditions, waiting, watching, anticipating, giving, here’s the prayer I’ll be making for you in the days ahead; all throughout Advent:

I will pray that you have more. More peace, more joy, more contentment, a more profound awareness of belonging to God, and to each other, and above all else a more clear idea of just how precious you are to God.  God will not waver.  God is Virginia Riverstill healing and still creating.

That’s the truth.

 

By the Way …

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Posted on: November 14th, 2014 by Father Harrison

Recently, it has finally occurred to me that I’ll make a terrific grandfather.   Neither of my daughters (and their husbands) are “expecting”, yet, but I have been imagining that for a while now – being a grandfather – and that is something new for me. (The photo below is of my maternal grandparents, my mother being held by her father, grandmother behind him, and some of mother’s sisters; all long gone now).

I pray for our young families each day; for all families with young children.  They are so busy, so very, very busy, and children today (as we all were) are raised in very dangerous times – perhaps even more dangerous and difficult times – and in some ways they are less protected from danger and difficulty than we were; for instance, from guns taken to school.  The little girls in the photo may have had some days when they worried about having enough to eat after their father died within 4 years of the photo being taken.  They, no doubt, experienced “dangerous and difficult times” that I know nothing about.

I keep an eye on kids and parents when I’m out and about.  I sort of monitor their behavior, kids and parents alike, and often think to myself, “Been there, done that.”  Not out of some sense of relief that I am not likely to have to carry a tantrum-throwing toddler out of a public place, rather, more like I am offering a prayer that I know what they may be going through, what they have to go through, and (more importantly) they will get through these days well.

What I pray for most for our children, and their families is reassurance and well-being.  Still today, just as Paul warned the Thessalonians, difficult and dangerous occasions can happen without warning, with no apparent escape, but we remain people of hope, light, and grace is always present and near – everything will be alright.

That is part of my “monitoring” prayer as well (when I’m spying on kids and parents) “I have been there and done that and you can trust me – everything will be alright.”   I hope.  I hope.

G-grandma, G- grandpa Simmons, Aunt Ruby, Aunt Bobby, Aunt Maude, mom

 

By the Way …