I’ve heard too many overly sentimentalized sermons and long winded extemporaneous prayers extolling our God, our nation, and the laundry list of things which ought to make us “count our blessings,” “give humble thanks” and all the other clichés uttered on Thanksgiving.
I wish I were in that place. I only see a culture that trivializes God, or a relationship with God, or the value of life itself. So many of the “isms” we thought we “fixed” in the sixties have raised their heads to prove that they really didn’t get solved. Where the anger and hatred that infect our world will lead us is beyond my capacity to predict or fix.
But late Sunday evening, even though I possess an unromantic soul, I was stunned at the depth of beauty, color and light that pierced the impending darkness of evening. Physiologically I know what “causes” a spectacular sunset. But spiritually, for one moment, that light that pierced into that shadow of death we call “night” reminded me that we can scoff and mock and deny and see any relationship with Christ as a sign of weakness, inconvenience or foolishness, but God (merely symbolized by the light) will ultimately triumph. In this, I believe. For this, I am thankful.
I have heard on “talk radio” that whether we choose to admit it or not, the most recent terror events in Paris (coupled by so many others this year) should remind us that World War III has begun. I have heard the expected rhetoric. There is so much I do not know or understand. And I am not going to insult your intelligence by reminding you that it is not the majority of those who are Muslims who are engaged in such acts of barbaric cruelty any more than the majority of Italians are connected to organized crime. In our culture, the people who kill dominate the headlines.
This is not a political reflection. I am (I hope) a man of God who takes my master’s words very seriously (as difficult as they are): that we must love our enemies and be prepared to do good to those who harm or persecute us. This is a mark of discipleship. His “kingdom” is not of this world and neither is ours. I have no easy answers; I ask you – each night – please put the condition of our now terror-torn world at the heart of your prayers. Please pray for peace:
Most holy God, the source of all good desires, all right
judgements, and all just works: Give to us, your servants, that
peace which the world cannot give, so that our minds may be
fixed on the doing of your will, and that we, being delivered
from the fear of all enemies, may live in peace and quietness;
through the mercies of Christ Jesus our Savior. Amen.
For me, November is that month that should remind us that “time” (especially the “life” we’re given to make something of our lives) is so short. Last week I was reminded of this when I was asked to officiate at a funeral of someone who had died unexpectedly and accidentally: all the “time” family assumed they would spend together – now ended.
As I wrote in last Thursday’s Reflection, these next two Sundays mark the end of the liturgical year. Christians are asked to focus on the fact that all time, all life, is fragile, limited and ultimately in God’s hands, not ours. Even yesterday, November 11 (Veterans’ Day) we should have paused and remembered that at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the “Guns of August” were silenced for a time. World War I (“the war to end all wars” – what a sad joke that was) had stopped. The lives of so many snuffed out in what simply ended up being the opening chapter of yet another and more devastating war.
November is a month for taking stock. Our life is a gift from God and it is brief. So little time! (“…all time is in [God’s] hands”). A life lived without faith in or love of God and others is shallow. A life that does not know hope as a sign of the coming of Christ’s Kingship is a meaningless journey “full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” Without a relationship with the Lord, life promises to be headed to an “undiscovered kingdom” that is cold, gray, sad and ultimately meaningless. What are you doing with the “time” you’ve been given?
“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire …”
The opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land have haunted me. I have always believed it is November that we should have deemed “the cruellest” of months. The warmth of summer is gone. The beauty of autumn is dying. The excitement of both the liturgical and secular festivities in preparation for Christmas have yet to begin (although commercials for holiday shopping are already assaulting us)!
November reminds me of endings. The sky is so often gray. The cold is now at times felt. The Sunday readings during November will reflect the ending of a liturgical year – life and death issues.
This is that time of the year that I, as a priest, have the obligation to remind you that the span of your physical life is limited. The “year” is dying, and guess what … little by little so are we! So as the Book of Common Prayer tells me, so I ask you: Have you made sure that you will provide for those who will survive you when your journey is ended? Have you made your WILL so that your wishes will be legally respected? Have you filled out the “funeral planning sheets” in the church office or met with your priest to plan your funeral liturgy at this non-stress time so that it reflects what you truly wish? Have you made sure that you will offer a final gift to that charity or good work that you believe in and you have been supporting? Have you remembered to include your church among those to whom you offer a gift? (Read p. 445 of The Book of Common Prayer.)
As we head into the Winter of our Lives, are you thinking about the people who love you and whom you love, “mixing memory and desire” as Eliot once wrote?